'metrosongs' Musician Makes Metro His Muse (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

'MetroSongs' Musician Makes Metro His Muse

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. You've no doubt heard that famous quote by Thomas Edison, right, the one about genius being 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. And there is no doubt plenty of truth to that, but for the people we'll meet on this week's show inspiration is nothing short of huge. That's right, over the next hour we'll explore the idea of inspiration and what it is that gets our creative wheels turning.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:45
We'll find out what happens when a massive oil spill inspires you to ditch your four wheels and start pedaling around on two.

MS. MARGARET WOHLER

00:00:51
Most people think it's great. They don't think I'm nuts or anything.

SHEIR

00:00:54
We'll hear what keeps D.C.'s high-school valedictorians inspired, no matter how trying their circumstances.

MS. SHARON KINNEY

00:01:01
Not many people in my family went to college or even finished high school. So I wanted to, you know, go and make them proud.

SHEIR

00:01:07
And we'll explore how grown-ups are being theatrically inspired by puppets.

MR. DON BECKER

00:01:12
I still think in this country people think of it as, you know, an art for children. It's like, no, I'm a puppeteer. Oh, great. You know, how many birthday parties do you do a year?

SHEIR

00:01:31
So, naturally, inspiration can come from pretty much anywhere and anything. In the case of the guy we're about to meet, inspiration comes from a longtime love-it or hate-it fixture here in the D.C. region…

SHEIR

00:01:51
…the Metro system.

SHEIR

00:01:55
Jason Mendelson moved from his native Florida to the D.C. area a few years back. Mendelson is a longtime musician. He writes and sings songs, and he plays a whole scad of instruments. And in 2011 he decided to compose one song inspired by each and every station in the Metro system. Mendelson has just released the fourth volume of his series, "MetroSongs." It's called "Multi-Tracking," and features nine new tracks and/or stations, I guess, including "Friendship Heights."

SHEIR

00:02:41
I met with Mendelson and his band, The Open Doors, in Alexandria, Va., as they put the finishing touches on Volume 4. And I asked Mendelson how the whole "MetroSongs" endeavor began.

MR. JASON MENDELSON

00:02:52
One of the first songs I wrote after moving here was, "National," which is about the station renaming controversy at National Airport.

MR. JASON MENDELSON

00:03:30
I thought that was a really interesting story. And as a new resident I wanted to learn things like that about the city's history. And then I thought, well, there's probably a story everywhere, if I just do the research. So I kind of started this "MetroSongs" thing, just as a way to kind of get familiar with the area and hopefully contribute something that's interesting and relevant.

SHEIR

00:03:51
So was your plan, at that time, to do like one CD per line?

MENDELSON

00:03:55
Yeah, at first I thought I would do -- Oh, I'll do the blue line first. And that was just ridiculous because there's so many stations even just on the blue line or on any line. Plus, I wanted to write whatever I wanted to write about. I didn't want to be, you know, constricted to writing about a certain line. And, naturally, I started writing about stations on other lines. So by the time I got up to like 12 songs, I just, like, well, that's enough for an album, and just made a CD and started on the next one.

SHEIR

00:04:25
So in terms of your research, did you just ride the line and hang out at that station for awhile?

MENDELSON

00:04:31
It's really about the locations and the history of neighborhoods and characters, both real and fictional. "Gallery Place" was like that because we were in the Metro station at Gallery Place and there was a homeless guy in their shouting all kinds of gibberish. But one of the things he said was, "America, this is the home of the brave, the home of the homeless." And that's the first line of the song.

SHEIR

00:05:26
Before I turned the mic on you were talking about the concept for the song about Wheaton. It fascinates me. How did that idea come about?

MENDELSON

00:05:32
Well, the Wheaton escalator is the second longest in the world, the longest in the Western Hemisphere. And the escalator ride takes about two minutes and 45 seconds. And so I thought it would be kind of neat to have kind of an interactive song. So…

MENDELSON

00:05:51
…if you start the song on your headphones at the top of the escalator and ride down, it will end at the very bottom of the escalator.

MENDELSON

00:06:21
And along the way, as you pass each of the speaker boxes on the side of the tunnel there, there's various sound effects that will happen in either ear, depending on the side that they're on.

SHEIR

00:06:37
So it sounds like you combine a lot of styles of music.

MENDELSON

00:06:40
Yeah, we try and cover all different styles of music, you know, to base it on the character of the location. I mean one example, I guess, would be "Adams Morgan,"…

MENDELSON

00:06:51
…where there's a large Latino and Middle Eastern community. And so I did salsa with electric sitar for that song.

MENDELSON

00:07:15
And for "Archives," my first impression of Archives, moving here, was the ice skating rink that they set up there in the winter. And so that was my first impression of it. And I thought it would be neat to write a little song that sounded like the ice skating in the old Snoopy cartoons. So it's a Vince Guaraldi kind of jazz waltz.

SHEIR

00:07:50
So as you've been working on this, anything, like, sort of surprised you about the city itself, as you're sort of looking at the city in this different way, this musical way, this lyrical way?

MENDELSON

00:07:59
I'm probably more surprised about myself, that I can't believe I've lived in one place for 30 years, and now I have this whole playground to explore. So, yeah, check out "Volume 4: Multi-Tracking," not single-tracking. That's bad.

SHEIR

00:08:14
That's weekends on the red line. No offense WMATA.

SHEIR

00:08:19
That's local musician Jason Mendelson. Now, that "MetroSongs, Volume 4: Multi-Tracking," is out he's more than halfway through the Metro system. He just has 41 more stations to go. For more information on Jason Mendelson and The Open Doors visit our website, metroconnection.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.