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Playwrights' Playlist: Sam Chanse

Playwrights’ Corner

Sam Chanse wears red glasses and smiles against a yellow background.
My folks didn’t much listen to music when we were growing up, or if they did they kept it a secret from us. My mom had NPR on mornings before work, my dad preferred no music (his entering a room usually involved his yanking out the stereo to silence whatever was playing at the moment). Even so, they had a haphazard collection of cassette tapes lying around which my music-starved sisters and I regarded with reverence, playing them on nonstop rotation as if they were the most precious works in existence (choice examples: Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat [original Broadway cast recording]; Country’s Greatest Hits Vol I & II, the Muppet Movie soundtrack). Eventually we moved on to expand our musical horizons, but not before I’d formed the habit of attaching to a single album or song and playing it over and over like it was the only music in the world.

With the songs I get attached to, it’s usually about some moment that elevates not just the song but the world around it -- could be an arrestingly potent image or brilliantly-set piece of lyric, or a specific emotional shift or build. The moment can feel brutal, maybe sort of fucked up, and demands you pay attention -- the bottom drops out or the sky cracks open and you lose your mind a little. Music’s always been a powerful force in my life, and it can communicate something immense & profound with exquisite economy. As a writer there’s a part of me that’s always chasing the same sort of magic in plays.

Like anyone tasked with this task, narrowing it down to fifteen songs that have inspired or influenced or defined remains a painfully impossible (but totally worthy) endeavor. These are a few that have seized me in some way, whether I came across them as a kid listening to a couple stray cassette tapes on rotation; or within the last few weeks of this horror show we find ourselves in, sharing a drink at a bar with a human I love; or some time & place in between.


1. The National, “Conversation 16”
2. Goh Nakamura, “Suitcase”
3. Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come”
4. Des Ark, “My Saddle Is Waiting (C’mon Jump On It)”
5. Nina Simone, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (written by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell, and Sol Marcus), in particular, this 1968 version recorded live at the 2nd Montreux Jazz Festival.
6. Neutral Milk Hotel, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”
7. Johnny Cash, “Boy Named Sue” (written by Shel Silverstein)
8. Alice Smith, “Desert Song”
9. The Smiths, “A Light That Never Goes Out”
10. Kate Bush, “Wuthering Heights”
11. Radiohead, “Karma Police”
12. Lauryn Hill, “Tell Him”
13. Stevie Wonder, “Heaven Help Us All”
14. Leonard Cohen “You Want It Darker”
15. Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson), “Rainbow Connection” (written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher)