Some Obsessions, Hatreds and Habits

Max Raskin interviews me about stereos, cities, art, New Jersey and New York, and all kinds of other stuff that's not politics.

I stat for an interview with my friend Max Raskin. He’s a really gifted interviewer, on top of everything else, and we gets into a bunch of different non-political topics—stereo, cities, art, habits—and all kinds of other stuff. I hope you enjoy.


Max Raskin: What curse word do you think you say the most?

David Reaboi: “Motherfucker.”

MR: Do you say it a lot?

DR: Yeah.

I went through a period of saying it quite a bit because I grew up in Jersey and I delivered pizza, so it was more like punctuation. The same the same goes for “dude,” which is a very New Jersey word. I'm not sure why, but “dude” begins and ends a sentence, and so can “motherfucker.” If you're in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant in New Jersey, you're definitely dropping “motherfucker” with some frequency.

MR: How do you feel about being from Jersey?

DR: I love it. When I lived in New York, I felt a lot of my friends who were real New Yorkers from the old Downtown Scene – many of us were from Jersey. There's just something about the periphery of an area that makes it kind of weird and more hardcore and different. And with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

MR: I’ll say that New York is more like New Jersey than the rest of New York.

DR: I think that may be right.

MR: There’s a really cool clip of Trey Anastasio talking about how there’s no point trying to be Jerry Garcia because he didn’t grow up in California listening to Del McCoury and the blues. Trey grew up in New Jersey in the 1970s listening to the music that was on at the mall. He says, “The suburban white kid is part of American music history whether you like it or not.”

DR: Right. It’s funny, I never really thought about Phish as coming from New Jersey. Though I did run into Mike while I was living in New York. It was 3 a.m. and I was walking back from where the old Knitting Factory used to be. I ran into a guy with a Segway. This was early Segway days. There was some conversation and it turned out to be Mike Gordon.

MR: It’s amazing we immediately got into music. How much of your day revolves around music?

DR: A lot. There’s always something playing in the background or the foreground.

MR: What’s the last song you listened to start to finish?

DR: I don’t know why I thought of this – maybe the conversation with you – but Graceland, the Paul Simon record. 

I'm going through this weird phase now where I'm listening to music from the early-to-mid ‘80s that always sounded like crap on a digital format like CD when I was growing up. It never made sense – it always sounded like it was recorded in a in a box. For example, Graceland and Peter Gabriel. I just never understood until I got them on vinyl. I realized – holy shit! It’s not supposed to sound like digital. And so that's what I've been doing. 

And I do this a lot – if there's something I'm particularly involved in or listening to, I'll go on Amazon and I'll send my little sister and her husband a record. They love records and they have good taste, so this morning I sent them Graceland as I was listening to it.

MR: What was the last track on the album?

DR: Oh, it would have been the last track off it. What is it called? Ah. “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints.” This is the other thing with music – I think of records as of a piece, most of the songs fit together like a suite. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll remember the song titles, but usually not the lyrics.

MR: Phil Schaap doesn’t agree with you.

DR: I’m sure he doesn’t. He’s approaching it from a different scholarly point of view.

MR: He told me that grouping music by albums is a stupid, arbitrary way of doing it. Which I think is wrong.

DR: It’s totally wrong! I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt here – maybe he’s thinking of it through recording sessions—which is fine, for some music. But you can’t think of the Zombies’ Odyssey and Oracle that way. 

MR: Do you use headphones to listen to music?

DR: Only at the gym and walking around.

MR: What kind of headphones do you use?

DR: Bose SoundSport Bluetooth headphones. I probably purchased 15 different pairs because I will lose them or smash them under a huge dumbbell. I’ve even set a pair on fire. I’ll tear them apart in one way or another.

MR: What is your sound set up at home?

DR: So, I love the McIntosh sound. It’s a classic tube-y, warm sound. It’s very clear, but it's not analytical. It's not dry, it's not particularly fatiguing . . . I can listen to it all day. It took me many years to put together a stereo that I love. I thought I was this real audiophile junkie for a while because the minute I would buy something, I’d have the itch to upgrade. I’d move on to see what's better out there. But once I put together a system that I really love, it all went away. I’ve got no burning desire to upgrade.

The speakers are Klipsch RF-7 II’s, and I like them because they're massive, dynamic, big box speakers with piercing horns. I've got the McIntosh C-48 preamp, which is a solid state digital and analog preamp. For an amplifier, I’ve got a new McIntosh 275 with gorgeous green glowing tubes. The tubes are Russian, and I’ve spent some time ‘tube-rolling,’ which means experimenting with different tubes to really dial in the sound you want. The turntable is a Clearaudio dark wood. And the cartridge is a Hana ML moving coil. I usually have Dynavector cartridges, but I just wanted to try something else and so far, it’s been great.

MR: How do you collect music?

DR: I've got several hard drives – easily about 10 terabytes of digital music that I've put together. I started by digitizing CDs right after 9/11. I was living in New York at the time, and it’s not really practical to move 5,000 CDs around with you all the time, from one tiny apartment to another in the City.

MR: Do you use Spotify?

DR: I do not. I use TIDAL.

MR: What’s the last album you kicked back and did nothing but listen to the music – and what were you drinking?

DR: I'm drinking water because I drink about a gallon and a half a day. I’ve become obsessed with the early ‘80s records by Djavan. The album I’ve been digging the most is his second one from 1978, called Djavan.

MR: How do you feel about bossa nova generally?

DR: I love it. It was the thing that drew me into Brazilian music when I was in high school.

MR: Do you dance?

DR: I used to dance. They used to call me the black Michael Jackson.

Pumping Iron with the Clarinet

MR: You work out very seriously. What do you do?

DR: I lift every day of the week. I don't do cardio every day of the week, but I should. 

MR: Do you have a routine? 

DR: I do have a routine. I used to have a more traditional bro split routine. Now my coach has given me a push-pull configuration.

MR: You worked out today?

DR: No not yet. I’m trying hard to figure out a set time for when I go to the gym. The best time to go in my mind is like 2 p.m., but if you’re working, you can’t always go at 2 p.m. If I work out at 2 p.m. the rest of my day is shot. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted, and the last thing I want to do is get down to work. I’ve been slowly moving it back until the time I usually go now is around 7 p.m.

MR: What are you going to do today?

DR: Today’s a push day, so that’ll mean shoulders and chest.

MR: Bench pressing?

DR: Yeah, different variations on bench pressing. And other things, too.

MR: How much do you bench?

DR: I guess max is 130-pound dumbbells for a set of ten. I'm not really interested in lifting a very heavy weight just once or twice.

MR: What kind of cardio do you do?

DR: I’ve got flat feet, so what I do is elliptical or stepper. Anything like a treadmill destroys my shins.

MR: What do you listen to when you are at the gym?

DR: It's weird because it's non-contextual – sometimes I really want to listen to things that are not gym appropriate. I’ll say I want to listen to this fucking Marisa Monte tune.

MR: You don’t have to listen to pump-up music?

DR: I don't have to, but sometimes I do. I think the best pump-up music for the gym is this European performance from Eric Dolphy playing “The Way You Look Tonight” at a blazing tempo. It’s fucking awesome. There’s moment—just a split second—where he’s blowing like crazy, and the rhythm section just kind of loses the plot.

MR: I love Eric Dolphy.

How much water do you drink a day?

DR: I should be drinking about a gallon and a half.

MR: Why do you drink so much?

DR: Because I don't want to get dehydrated. I went through a period of a couple years when I had unexplained migraines – terrible, debilitating migraines. I went to emergency rooms; I went for testing and all kinds of scans. Nobody knew what it was. Finally, I decided to quit drinking anything and switch to water. And then I quit dairy as well, and it seemed to go away. Knock on wood; it’s been years and years.

MR: Do you snack during the day?

DR: No, I don't snack that much – I’m eating every two and a half hours.

MR: What do you have? Do you plan out your meals before the week?

DR: I'll go and I'll meal prep for the week or maybe five days.

MR: What’s the most common thing you eat?

DR: I'm kind of blessed in the sense that I don't really get sick of the same food every day. If you're doing bodybuilding, that's gold. 

Right now, I eat a mix of ground turkey and ground beef with green beans, mushrooms, and onions, cooked in a sugar-free tomato sauce. And then for carbs, either I eat gluten-free English muffins, gluten-free oatmeal, or sweet potatoes. For my high carb meals, I would eat almost a pound of sweet potatoes per meal. That can be nearly three pounds of sweet potatoes per day during a bulk.

MR: Wow. That’s a lot of sweet potatoes.

DR: Luckily, I don’t get sick of it. Whereas I do get sick of rice. I think anybody can get sick of rice.

MR: Do you nap during the day?

DR: I used to. I used to love napping – I still like napping – a nice five-to-ten-minute nap is really good. 

“I Love Pavement (In the Springtime)”

MR: What’s your favorite app on your phone that you think most people don’t know about?

DR: I’m gonna plug my friend’s app – Locals, which is Dave Rubin’s platform for content creators.

MR: What do you think your most used app is?

DR: Undoubtedly, it’s Signal – so many based Signal chats with a lot of folks.

MR: Do you know how much you are on your phone? Can you check?

DR: Arg! 11 hours daily average. I'm in front of the phone a lot more than I'm in front of the computer because I can do my job from the phone. But I should change that; it’s terrible.

MR: How do you schedule your day?

DR: I use the Apple Calendar. I should probably do something more elaborate than that. I use Evernote quite a lot for everything.

MR: Do you schedule time to do nothing?

DR: No. I probably should. This is a big failing. This is probably my life's biggest failing – my sense of organization.

MR: What about hiking?

DR: I hate to hike.

MR: Do you like nature?

DR: I hate nature. I mean, to the extent that nature equals looking at a beautiful beach – yeah.

MR: You don’t like the mountains?

DR: I don’t like the mountains. I've never been a hiker. I've never been someone that likes to commune with nature. It’s one of the reasons I love New York. I love the pavement.

The Streets of Miami

MR: Do you love New York now?

DR: No. I haven't loved New York in a long time. I haven't loved New York since I left in 2003, 2004.

MR: But you said you love New York.

DR: I should have put it in past tense. It’s now play-acting at the thing that it once was. It’s a lot more like Epcot New York than the New York I remember. There was one point that New York was the coolest place in the world. It was amazing. It had to do with who was there, and what was around, and what was going on.

MR: Do you think the cool place today is a location? Is it online?

DR: I think Miami is one of the coolest places right now to be, and I'm sure there are many other places.

MR: Where's your favorite restaurant in Miami?

DR: It just reopened – there’s a Cuban place I absolutely love – Cafe La Trova on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.

MR: What’s your favorite thing to get there?

DR: The short rib is amazing. Last time I got a branzino and it was out of control.

MR: Do you drink smoothies?

DR: In the morning, I have what you’d call a smoothie – whey protein, ice, a banana, and Athletic Greens, which is just a green powder.

MR: You have a very simple life, it seems.

DR: I think I have a very simple life. I used to have a very complicated life, you know, when I was playing music in New York – so much running around and doing things. I feel I’ve settled down in many ways. I don't miss the other thing. There’s one talent I think I’ve been blessed with, which is the ability to know when to leave a city. I have a weird sixth sense about the energy in a city. So, for example, I graduated college in the late ‘90s, and I moved out to San Francisco. Insanely, I was expecting San Francisco in the ‘40s. It was end of Dot Com era — it was a completely different city, half a century hater — but I wanted to see what was going on at the Black Hawk. I was reading Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, hoping to live that kind of life. Boy, was I let down when I didn’t find it!

As soon as I got there, I started listening to the music being made on the Downtown Scene in New York. One day you just wake up and you say, “Ok we’re done here.” Within a couple months I moved to New York to be close to the music, and I got myself into that scene. 

MR: If you had to give up music or politics which would you give up?

DR: Oh, I would give up politics.

MR: But you can’t give up politics.

DR: I can’t. It’s how I make a living. I’m very interested in the meta-political conversation and the larger societal issues going on, even if I’m not interested in the day-to-day.

MR: Is there anyone whose politics you think are despicable, but you think has great taste.

DR: Fred Kaplan. He’s a guy I disagree with profoundly about everything, except music. I love to read his takes on music and audio.

I follow a lot of folks on Twitter who are in the jazz world whose opinions I’m sure I would definitely disagree with. They always follow me back, and then I'm sure they unfollow or mute me, but I always hope that we can get past that.

MR: Do you think there’s something political or ethical about the kind of music you enjoy? Does it say something deep about who you are beyond that you like it?

DR: I don't think so. It's so ephemeral. It's so weird. It's too abstracted to apply these kinds of things to it.

Cubism and African Jazz

MR: How do you feel about art? Do you have a lot of art in your apartment?

DR: It’s full of art. I’m a kind of Cubist obsessive.

MR: Who do you have the most of?

DR: I’m a big Léger guy. And of course, Picasso.

MR: What do you like about it?

DR: So there's this painting I actually have in the back here that I found – it’s an unnamed Cubist piece. I remember this piece of art hanging in my house when I was two years old. And I remember staring at it, and really, really loving it. I have no idea what it is, or if it's famous, if it's not famous – but it's definitely a late Cubist collage work, or something done later in that style.

MR: And what do you like about it?

DR: I like the energy of it, the hyperactive obsessiveness. And I like the palette. 

MR: Do you get a feeling from it?

DR: I don't get a feeling from visual art as much as appreciate how it hits me when I see it. Is it beautiful? Is it beautiful according to its own internal logic? In other words, does it exist confidently within its own aesthetic universe? 

MR: Do you dream?

DR: I wish I did. I only dream when I’m sick and I’ve taken medication, and then I have nightmares.

MR: If people wanted to check out African jazz for the first time, where would you recommend they start?

DR: I would go to Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim).

MR: What about Ethiopian?

DR: There’s one particular Ethiopian musician, Mulatu Astatke, who made a couple of records that I didn’t really know about until the Jarmusch film, Broken Flowers. The album you’ve got to check out is Ethiopiques, Volume 4. It’s cool, it’s modal, and it’s lo-fi as anything.

MR: Is there any country you want to visit that you haven't visited? 

DR: Brazil.

MR: Why have you never been?

DR: I mean, I hate to travel.

MR: What do you hate about traveling?

DR: I hate traveling because I like routine. I feel like my ideal travel situation is, maybe I rent a place somewhere for a month, and within that time I manage to develop a routine.

Marathon Man

MR: Let me ask about your morning routine. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

DR: First thing I do is I’ll have a coffee.

MR: No, I mean the literal first thing. 

DR: Oh, well that's sad – I check my phone.

MR: What do you check?

DR: My notifications to see if the world has blown up. Usually, the first thing I check is my Twitter notifications.

MR: Do you floss?

DR: I should floss. I don’t floss. I’m a mouthwash person.

MR: What kind of mouthwash do you use?

DR: I like the more violent, strong mouthwash. I feel like I’m getting the real thing. Different types of Listerine.

You know what’s a trip – I don’t know if you’ve ever done it before – oil pulling.

MR: What’s that?

DR: You take some coconut oil, put it into a little cup, and take a mouthwash-sized gulp. And then you rattle it around in your mouth for at least a half hour. You just keep going – it gets tiring, it gets horrible. But it pulls everything from between your teeth. It pulls from your sinuses. When you spit this thing out, your teeth are gleaming. It's as if you had just visited the dentist. Everything comes out.

MR: Do you have sinus problems?

DR: I do. I have sinus problems, I got lactose intolerance, I got thyroid problems. The whole Ashkenazi nonsense.

MR: Where do you get your news from in the morning?

DR: Twitter.

MR: Who do you retweet the most?

DR: I retweet my friends the most probably.

MR: Is there a friend who just delights you who you always love hearing their take?

DR: There’s so, so many. This is maybe a cheesy answer, but it brings me so much delight to see friends who I've known for a long time – who I know who be great, smart people – achieving so much success.

MR: Who’s an example?

DR: People like Jordan Schachtel, Kyle Scheidler, Liz Sheld, Mollie Hemingway, Julie Kelly, and so many others.

MR: Where are your glasses from?

DR: I’ve been getting glasses from Moscot on the Lower East Side for a long time.

MR: How bad is your vision?

DR: Not so bad. I was the only kid without glasses in junior high. I kind of wanted glasses to fit in. I need them for distances. I wouldn’t drive without them.

MR: Name me the first song that comes to your head right now.

DR: This Djavan tune from the album Luz called “Sina,” which is catchy as fuck.

MR: What’s the first movie that comes to your head.

DR: I was just thinking about David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner.

MR: What about the first sports team that comes to your head?

DR: I'm not a sports guy, I never was. I'm lucky if I can attach the sport to the team name.

It's just something like faith and religion that I never understood. I just don’t get it – I don’t have a taste for it.

Dave’s Hungarian Cucumber Salad Recipe

MR: What Jewish food brings you fond memories?

DR: Cholent. My grandmother was a wonderful cook. More Hungarian food then Jewish food because Hungarian food is far, far better. The simple things – like cucumber salad, which I still make. Not the way she made it; I do an updated version.

MR: How do you make it?

DR: I don't use vinegar, whereas she would use vinegar. I cut up cucumbers into larger chunks. Traditionally it’s paper thin. I use olive oil. I use salt and three different types of paprika. I'll use a spicy paprika, a regular paprika, and a smoked paprika. I only got into the smoked in the last couple of years and it's amazing. 

My buddy hipped me to smoked salt – I have Maldon smoked salt – I don’t know where it’s been all my life. I just sprinkle a little bit on everything. I like the cucumber salad to be dry and crunchy, as opposed to more slimy. Maybe slimy is a negative word – marinated?

On the Turntable

Nick Lowe is so much more than a national treasure. I’m not particularly a lyrics guy, but “not just magazines, but other, more serious things” is—for whatever reason—pure gold.

I Read A Lot (Nick Lowe)

I read a lot, nowadays
Much more than before
You left me high and dry
In a loveless land
With nothing but time on my hands

I read a lot, not just magazines
But other, more serious things
To get me through the day
Nighttime too
Whilst wondering how in the world to go on without you

"Lonely" isn't the word for me now
"Blue" doesn't describe it somehow

I read a lot, I can't put it down
While others are painting the town
You'll find me in a world
Of fantasy.
Population: one. That's me.

So if you ask me how I stop
Contemplating what I now have not
I'll reply, “I read a lot.”