August 28, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Dmitry Samarov's All Hack captures life as a cabbie through vivid essays and illustrations.
This book came together quickly, though its gestation period was long. I'd been unsatisfied with my second cabbie book ever since it came out in 2014. The publisher turned out to be a crook and he hired an incompetent designer who butchered the book to such an extent it took three people to reconstruct the thing into some semblance of coherence. There was also the second book/sequel problem; it was difficult to explain why there should even be a second cabbie book. I was never able to successfully explain that it wasn't a continuation of the first book.
Cut to the end of 2019. I'd just self-published Soviet Stamps and was thinking about what to write next. I wrote to the University of Chicago Press for permission to reprint the material in the first book in a new limited edition. They gave their okay and I got to work.
The virus lockdown provided the necessary block of isolated concentration to put this book together in a compressed amount of time. I wound up rewriting a lot of the old material. I also cut chunks that I just couldn't fix. I'd never taken a writing class prior to working on my first book, so it was basically a crash course in the process. I integrated vignettes from the two books into as coherent a flow as I could, then added essays I wrote after I quit driving cab in 2012 and reprinted the zines which started the whole project twenty years ago. The result is my final word on cabdriving and a kind of obituary for a job that's all but extinct in 2020.
This playlist, like the book, is a kind of remix/reconsideration rather than an attempt to set music to the experiences described. I couldn't truly travel back to the events I wrote about. Instead, I did my best to take everything I've learned about writing and book design and present this old material in its best light.
There's no way for me to talk about driving a cab without referencing Scorsese's Taxi Driver. I'd hear Bernard Herrmann's theme every time I drove over a steaming manhole cover. I've seen that movie more than any other.
Cheater Slicks remain a touchstone band for me. I've been a fan since the late-80s. "Weirdo on a Train" makes me think of a driver I saw around the garage a lot. He was such an outcast, no matter how hard he tried to connect with others. I could tell there was a constant inner monologue going in his head which would sometimes escape out of his mouth into the open. He was doomed like the creep on the train in the song.
I often eavesdropped on the phone conversations of my fares. There was no way to ignore them. One of the more disturbing ones was that of a soldier about to be redeployed to the Middle East. Naked Raygun's "Surf Combat" evokes some of the engulfing violence of that man's side of the call.
The episode I write about where I drive a mother and her two small children downtown has little in common with Lou Reed's heart-wrenching "The Kids" aside from its title. Then again a cabdriver rarely sees the entirety of their passengers' lives. She ignored her children during the ride and talked on her cellphone, while they peppered me with questions. So many of our experiences are colored and queued up to favorite songs/books/movies/pictures.
As a cabdriver I rarely had a positive interaction with a cop. They preyed on us because we were on the streets 24/7 just like them. Mudhoney's great cover of The Dicks' "Hate The Police" is as good an evocation of my feelings about them as any.
The Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion" is another example of an associative thing simply based on a song title. As I reworked material written ten to twenty years ago, I'd riff on the old titles in my head. That's how a vignette about driving on an extremely foggy day made me think of this song.
Driving a paranoid homeless man to a police station reminded me of Roky Erickson's "I Think of Demons".
I once sat in and alley and waited while three kids piled my taxi full of laundry bags. It was a forlorn process. By the time their mother came out and we drove to the all-night laundromat a picture of their lives presented itself to me. The Pretenders do a similar thing in her great "Watching the Clothes Go Round". It's whole world described through an everyday chore. The feeling of being stuck in an endless cycle.
Regina Spektor's "Après Moi" isn't about a literal flood, yet I thought of the song while rewriting the story of being caught in one in the cab. An ex put the song on a mixtape once. Did she mean to warn me of what life without her might be like? All I did was rescue some drenched drinkers from a storm.
Love's "A House is Not a Motel" is not about a suburban couple fucking in a taxi, yet that's the song which popped into my mind while revisiting that story. I call it "Love Hotel" in the book.
One of the more unexpected rides I ever had was a couple college kids in love with Charles Bronson. Hence Herbie Hancock's "Death Wish".
Another delightful one was a couple young women inordinately excited to see The Cars in the mid-aughts. It's so strange when later generations discover music I grew up taking for granted on the radio. It's all out of context but must mean something to them, I guess. So, "Let's Go".
I doubt the guy I drove home after giving flowers to an ex he was obviously still stuck on had ever heard P.I.L.'s wrenching, abrasive "The Flowers of Romance" but his feelings of frustration and resignation weren't unlike what John Lydon sang.
"Over the hill right now and you're looking for love" is a line that could apply to any number of my late-night passengers. The Velvets' "New Age" would start playing in my head during those last-call hours more times than I can recall.
Holidays in the cab were inevitably sad. Driving others to celebrate always made me feel left out, even when I had no desire to join them. X's "The Fourth of July", The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York", and Steely Dan's "Black Friday" cover the gamut of feelings brought on by "special occasions" that bring little joy.
Steve Earle's "Feel Alright" does double duty because it was the theme song of WGN Radio host Nick Digilio's overnight show and because Earle was a friend of the Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick. I drove both Digilio and Fitzpatrick for years and once shared a restaurant table with Earle.
Shortly before I quit driving in 2012, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel locked down the city for a meeting of NATO. Tim Kinsella's band, Joan of Arc, was supposed to play a protest in Grant Park downtown. He asked me to drive some of their equipment to the park for the show because the city was restricting vehicle access, but i never got the chance because the whole show was canceled. That's why I've included their song, "Stamina", from that time.
Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" is one of my favorite songs period. After becoming a cabdriver it gained added resonance with its references to nighttime wandering. That wistful feeling of looking for something beyond one's grasp is very much the resting state of most cabbies.
Dmitry Samarov paints and writes in Chicago. He is the author and illustrator of five books. He sends out a newsletter every Monday. An absurd amount of his work is collected at his website, which is sixteen years old now. Buy his art and books and read some of his journalism.