Gagosian Quarterly

November 16, 2022


Shaw StudioSing-along Songs

In this Shortlist series we invite artists and writers to tell us about works of art, literature, film, or music that have influenced their work or are at the forefront of their minds today. Here Jim Shaw shares a selection of songs he listens to while working, from new discoveries to childhood staples. Shaw writes of the balance between delight and regret, hope and gloom in his playlist. 

Jim Shaw performing in the exhibition Left Behind at CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, France, 2010. Photo: courtesy Jim Shaw Studio

Jim Shaw performing in the exhibition Left Behind at CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, France, 2010. Photo: courtesy Jim Shaw Studio

Jim Shaw

Since the 1970s, Jim Shaw has mined the dreams and conflicted realities of American culture, finding inspiration in comic books, pulp novels, rock albums, protest posters, and thrift store paintings. Blending the personal, the commonplace, and the uncanny, Shaw’s works frequently place in dialogue images of friends and family with world events, pop culture, and alternate realities, often unfolding in long-term narrative cycles. Photo: LeeAnn Nickels

I get a little anxious if I’m working in silence, so music is integral to relieving the tension. I guess I hew to the dark, morbid, and sad side of life. Artists like Scott Walker and the Fatima Mansions really refract back that tendency, something I should get professional help for, I suppose. The Mansions’ “Brunceling’s Song” is especially apt.

I’ve opened this playlist with John Fahey’s “America,” which keeps a delicate balance between delight and regret. I tried to alternate so the gloom doesn’t overwhelm. I represented my forbidden love, prog rock, with Chris Squire’s piece “Safe (Canon Song).” All of these songs are my favorites, but maybe “Scope J,” written and produced by Scott Walker and sung by Ute Lemper, is my favorite to listen to, especially when I’m working alone and can sing along with no one to hear. As I enter my seventies, I look to the work Walker did in his seventies as a hopeful example for us old fogies.

The things I listen to are all over the map. Some, like the Prokofiev piano concerto, go back to my childhood. The Incredible String Band goes back to my teen years; I had a hippie English teacher friend at the local junior college—where I went after a mini mental breakdown about the terrors of going to Cooper Union with no dorm and no friends in a strange city—who couldn’t get over the fact that I loved the Incredible String Band equally to the Velvet Underground, as he much preferred the former. I did realize that the New York environs that sounded so cool in the Velvet Underground’s songs were too scary for me to live in at the age of eighteen.

Shaw Studio Sing-along Songs

CDs in the artist’s studio. Photo: courtesy Jim Shaw Studio

What I mostly listen to are compilation CDs of different sorts—lots of gospel, blues, jazz, and “world” 78s from the 1920s and ’30s, as well as ’60s psychedelic compilations that keep coming out. My favorite compilation CD of the last few years is Great Googly Moo, a collection of (mostly doo wop) nonsense-word tracks, of which “Shombalor” by Sheriff & The Ravels is an example on the playlist. There are so many good ones; “Boom-A-Lay” by the Astro-Jets is not on Spotify but was my first choice, because it seems to be a lament for all the “Others” who’d been killed in the white man’s push to run the world.

If I had the space, I would include “He’s Gonna Step on You Again,” a great song by John Kongos that I had never heard before listening to a ’70s compilation by Jon Savage, “Sun in Your Eyes” by my neighbor’s band Grizzly Bear, and many, many more . . .

I’m never done discovering new music. While creating this playlist, I came across a five-CD compilation of all the recordings that were made for On the Corner by Miles Davis, and I’ll be worming my way through that for a while.

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