Milk Made Mixtape: Station to Station

Station to Station is Californian visual artist Doug Aitken’s baby: a nomadic happening that started in New York and ended in San Francisco, where the train became a moving platform for artistic experimentation.

We stopped in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles and also more remote locations like Raton, New Mexico, and Barstow, California…an exquisite corpse of constantly changing locations, musicians, artists, journalists and travelers crossing the country. Passengers spent one day on the train, the next at the event, alternating every day for almost a month.

I was brought onto the project a few months before it started, to help curate the music, which included bringing on cult icons like Patti Smith, Suicide and the Congos, to lesser known acts like THEESatisfaction and Sun Araw, to local bands such as Bloodbirds and The Conquerors from Kansas City and The Handsome Family and Brute Heart from Minneapolis. They were invited to sing at one or multiple stops and to also come on the train for a leg of the journey and record original or existing material in the recording car while the train chugged along to the next city.

For my playlist, I’ve chosen a few tracks by some of the artists who stood out to me and who I also became friends with on the train, namely Eleanor Friedberger, Giorgio Moroder, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Thurston Moore, and Cat Power. One of my favorite songs performed live was Chan’s version of I Wanna Be Your Dog by the Stooges but unfortunately I couldn’t find a recording of that so I chose Salty Dog instead!

I also made my own song on the trip, using sounds I recorded on the train. I created a Kraftwerkian beat using Chris the Whip Guy’s whip cracking sounds, which Bob Boilen and I recorded in the Pennsylvanian. At each event, a male and female professional auctioneer would slowly walk through the audience as they rapped numbers with increasing vigor, while Chris joined in with his piercing, rhythmic whip cracking to create a really powerful piece of performance art. I recorded Denise, one of the auctioneers, and chopped her vocals up to make the chorus of the song. I also used a clip from an interview I did with Ariel Pink, and Giorgio Moroder quoting the title, Fight the War Against Boring People, in his famous accent. The title is an homage to Doug Aitken’s poster:

Photo 1: The Hiawatha – For the three-and-a-half-week journey, Station to Station borrowed 9 privately owned vintage coaches, each designed to have a purpose. There was a recording car decked out with Moog synthesizers where musicians were invited to jam and record; a film editing suite; an elevated dining dome with kitchen and home to slow-food chef Leif Hedendal below; the Levis car where 5:01 happy hours kept us, well, happy; sleeping quarters; and the Cedar Rapids hang out lounge, which dates back to 1948. It was Frank Sinatra’s favorite car and in the 1950’s and early 60’s he would rent it for his friends to chill in for a mere $48!

At each of the nine stops, the crew constructed nomadic sculptures, home to art installations by the likes of Carsten Höller, Ernesto Neto, Urs Fischer, and Liz Glynn but, most impressively, the train itself was designed to be a moving installation, tricked out as a “kinetic light sculpture,” with strips of metal along the cars peppered with L.E.D. lights that reacted to motion and audio, pulsing and changing color in response.

Photo 2: Martin Rev and Alan Vega from Suicide – Suicide is one of my favorite bands. I love the song Dream Baby Dream, which I’ve included a cover of by Neneh Cherry in my mix. There’s a Four Tet remix of that version worth checking out as well. They have influenced so many musicians and it’s hard to believe they’re still going. They played to a backdrop of Doug’s psychedelic train footage so at times it actually seemed as if they were performing on the tracks.

Photo 3: Patti Smith – Patti played with her son Jackson Smith in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and it was one of the most moving performances I’ve ever seen. She is such a force, people in the audience were screaming out "Patti Smith for President." I read her book Just Kids a few years ago, about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and even though they soon discovered he was gay, the way she wrote about their relationship was so moving it’s hard to imagine any couple ever being as close as they were to each other. She went on to marry guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, which is apparently where Sonic Youth got it’s name from, a funny anecdote as Thurston Moore also performed that night with his new band Caught on Tape.

Patti had the entire crowd raising their hands to "feel freedom." There was an extreme air of empowerment in the room until she moved almost everyone to tears by singing her hit Because the Night, which she dedicated to her late husband. I was almost speechless when I found myself on the same bus back to the hotel as her and Jackson, but I built up the courage to ask Patti for her autograph and she signed it "People Have the Power." Respect!

Photo 4: Beck – Beck headlined the Barstow show, which took place at this old drive-in movie theater that was built about 40 years ago and is used for film sets these days. As Beck sang my favourite of his songs, “Where’s It’s at, Bah-Bum-Bum-Bum, I’ve got Two Turntables and a…. UFO,” I turned around and there was a pink, sparkling UFO hanging from a helicopter. It was an art piece by Peter Coffin. I didn’t even need psychedelics to appreciate that one.

Photo 5: Chris the Whip Cracker

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