Herb Sundays 58: Reilly Brennan
A "car guy" gets into his feelings. Art by Cina.
"But no song is simple text. It is also subtext, context, and pretext. It is a communication consisting of tone and time." - Dan Charnas (Herb 56) from Dilla Time
I got an email from the New York Times linking to a piece about adult friendships. It said to assume people will like you, which sounds wise. I’ve been thinking about the topic of friendship a bit lately, what it means, and if I am indeed good at it. I tend to focus on my failures. It’s like when you move out of an apartment or find an old playlist you made for someone or vice versa. They are both reminders of what you could have done better in the past, all patterns and themes.
Friendship is the theme today, so sharing a playlist from an old, dear friend feels right. Reilly Brennan is a “car guy” who helps entrepreneurs build the future of transportation (which includes all mobility I’ve come to understand). His newsletter, FoT, is a kind of weekly radar for what’s happening in the space and was a direct influence on me (this will be a theme) in starting a newsletter. The joy of “shipping” weekly is very appealing. He is also an educator and was Executive Director for Stanford’s automotive research program and taught in their School of Engineering and the d.school. His personal “land speed record” is 168 mph.
I was in San Francisco last weekend for our friend’s birthday and got to hang with Reilly a bit. We talked about Dilla, went to his fave vintage clothing spot, and argued about AI art. Getting a playlist from an old friend is interesting because you have so much shared experience and exposure, so it’s interesting to see what has stuck to their ribs from that same data set of songs. There is a lot of Venn in our music likes, and then there are inscrutable corners of his taste world for me: Zappa (who appears on this playlist) and Phish amongst them. I know I will have my moment with each of them but I haven't unlocked these yet.
As kids, we used to play basketball in his driveway with the wonky spray-painted three-point line that curved in suddenly because whoever painted it (Reilly?) cut the arc too wide for the ensuing grass. There was always music playing from a cassette boombox of some sort and on it, he played The Low End Theory (1991) and other tapes while we shot around.
Reilly changed my life with these tapes, no doubt. I caught the early wave of 90's hip-hop because of him and not just what Yo! MTV Raps served me. One key tape was Masta Ace's SlaughtaHouse (Old Heads: I'll contend belongs in the same breath as Black Moon's Enta da Stage). After these tapes, I was a Source Magazine (purchased at the same Mills Pharmacy where we procured Garbage Pail Kids) and a few Dr. Dre videos away from losing the plot completely.
I would eventually animorph into a DJ playing school dances and house parties. Reilly gave me a gig at the Jesuit high school he attended (see flyer below). The scale made it felt like Thunderdome compared to the rooms I had previously played. The principal or Dean or whomever, gave me a very stern command that if he did a certain gesture (motion to cutting his own throat) I had to stop the song and transition to something that the kids wouldn't get horny for. Luckily Reilly let me borrow a Phish double disc called A Live One for the evening, no one would be grinding to that.
Apart from semi-indirect influence, Reily gives good explicit life advice. One that I tease about often is his sage counsel when I was entering college which was to leave music playing in your room so that when you come in and out, it has a nice effect. Keep in mind this is the CD changer era, so it's more effortful, and noisier, to do this than now. It's actually really good advice. There would always be music playing, just like in his driveway.
You need a big sibling-type figure in your life. My big sister is where I gleaned so much music (one day I'll make public the playlist I made for her 40th bday feat The Sundays and stuff) and there were other friends but Reilly had that year or two edge on me which feels like a decade as a kid and reinforces his infallibility (his neighbor had an Amiga with Leisure Suit Larry for chrissakes). My adoration for Reilly got so bad that I started talking like Reilly (I still do), mimicking his intonation.
Reilly and I share playlists and songs a lot. Our mutual goal is to shock each other with a song/photo/reference via SMS that is either so obscure or profound that it can emotionally wound the other. I expected Reilly’s Herb to be something closer to his seminal Lite Beach playlist which is an approximation of driving “on the way to TJMaxx with mom” as a kid. Instead, his mix is less prescribed and truly lovely. It has some Ghostly deep cuts which is meaningful as Reilly has been a constant voice in my head with the label since the beginning, from listening to freshly burnt Dabrye Cd-Rs in my car, to eventually being the connective tissue to meet Dilla, to now. He even keeps a “Ghostly 100” playlist updated with his faves which he insists are the definite best from our catalog.
Hearing Cepia in here takes me to layovers in Minneapolis and reaching out to Mr. Cina for the first time (at the behest of Will Calcutt, more on him one day), petrified of the label not making it. Benoît Pioulard (aka Tom Meluch, early Ghostly staffer) takes me to an attended mastering session in NYC in between chasing my college gf around town to try to keep things going, to no avail really. I also love how it ends with Pearl Jam. A zenith moment. Is this the best music ever or not? You can hear the "?" hanging in the air. I love the doubt and I love the confidence.
I remember one of the tapes Reilly showed me was Plastikman’s Sheet One which had a song that has since been removed in subsequent reissues. The closing line in the spoken word song is “and then, I blew out the candle.” It’s a good preamble to Seamus Heaney here. A continuous loop.
From the field:
I made a playlist at the behest of Dave 1 (Herb 29) for his ace Juliet Records series. It’s comprised of all Ghostly cuts on the slower/beatier side.
One of the Detroit scenes which preceded/influenced Ghostly was covered by Herb Hero Michaelangelo Matos recently for the Detroit Metro Times. Long-time friend and collaborator Clark Warner (who even played Ghostly party #1 in 2000!), pictured below in situ, made a mix of that era’s cuts and it’s awesome.