What Your Favorite Writers Listen to When They Sweat

I’ve often wondered what other writers do for exercise—and what music they listen to when they do.

Nov 21 2013, 4:03pm

Photo via Flickr user Bigbadvoo

I’ve often wondered what other writers do for exercise—and what music they listen to when they do. Does a topless Salman Rushdie orgasm-face his way through pull-ups, while listening to Drake? Does Don DeLillo own a running mix titled “Rise & Grind,” consisting of only chains hitting water?  It’s very easy for me to imagine Murakami, out for his morning jog along the edge of some lush Japanese forest, listening to the type of music he so worships—jazz.  

Fewer than half of the writers I emailed asking for the songs they listen to while exercising responded. I’d guess that 1) most writers don’t in fact exercise, 2) if they do exercise, they don’t listen to music, or 3) they don’t care about me and my strange obsession with their workout music.  

Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver: “Raining Blood,” Slayer, “Devil's Island,” Megadeth, “Blasteroid,” Mastodon. 

Stephen Elliott, author of The Adderall Diaries: “Pretty (Ugly Before),” Elliott Smith, “California,” Joni Mitchell, “That's Not Me,” the Beach Boys.

Tao Lin, author of Taipei: “In The Same Room,” Julia Holter, “I Agree,” Thee Oh Sees, “Anonymous Collective,” Stereolab.

James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces: “Most of my exercise these involves my kids. Going to the playground with them, riding bikes with them, coaching their soccer teams. Not much music-listening going on during these activities. I do, though, listen to music with my six year old boy on the way to his soccer games. He loves tunes before the game. As soon we're in the car he says, “Let's listen to some rock, Dad.” His three favorites pregame tunes, which I also happen to love, are: “Back in Black” by AC/DC, Rocking in the Free World by Neil Young, Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin.”

Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State: “My Ultimate Workout mix has 244 tracks. My favorites are “Guilt” by Nero, “Pressure” by Nadia Ali & Starkillers, and “Turbulence” by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke. 

Michael Kimball, author of Big Ray: “I don't listen to music when I ride my bike because I want to hear that car that is going to run me over before it runs me over. And I don't listen to music when I'm playing softball unless somebody has a Boombox and, if they do, I have no control over that. But I do yoga at home before heading out to my softball games and there are three songs that are always in that mix: “In the Air Tonight,” the Tupac remix (featuring Phil Collins, “Sabotage,” the Beastie Boys, and “Let's Go Crazy,” Prince.

Dave Hill, author of Tasteful Nudes: “Headmaster Ritual,” The Smiths, “Fuck Your Enemy,” Superjoint Ritual, “No Scrubs,” TLC.

Laura Hemphill, author of Buying In: “The songs I listen to the most while running are “Jacqueline,” by Franz Ferdinand, “Bruises,” by Chairlift, and “Angeleyes,” by Melody Club.” 

Ben Brooks, author of Lolito: “The only exercise I do is walking up and down the landwehr canal most days. The songs I listen to most often are “If I should fall from grace with Bod,” by the Pogues, “All skreets,” by kool ad, “Kate Boosh,” by Hems.

Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Book of My Lives: “I am writing to you as Aleksandar Hemon's assistant, Catharine. In answer to your question, while exercising, Aleksandar favors ‘Natural's Not in It,’ ‘At Home He's a Tourist,’ and ‘I Found That Essence Rare,’ all by Gang of Four.”

David Shields, author of Reality Hunger: "I Wanna Destroy You," by the Soft Boys, "A Milli," by Lil Wayne, "North American Scum" by LCD Soundsystem.

Justin Taylor, author of The Gospel of Anarchy: I never listen to music when I exercise. When I used to run outside I liked being able to hear what was going on around me. When, owing to a minor but pesky knee problem, I switched to an elliptical at a gym, I tried to listen to music but I always managed to pick music that was exactly wrong: it would invariably be too slow or weird or a live bootleg of something that I'd pick because I'd think, Well I want to run for 30 minutes and this song is 30 minutes long so I'll just run until the song is over and that'll be that, forgetting that the middle 20 minutes of said song are mostly arrhythmic feedback or a drum solo or whatever. So now I read a magazine, or force myself to confront my own boredom and pass through it, some kind of low-budget zen thing, maybe.

Karolina Waclawiak, author of How To Get Into the Twin Palms: “Nylon Smile” by Portishead, “Signs of Life,” by Jon DeRosa, and “California” by EMA.

Blake Butler, author of There Is No Year: “Str8 Slammin’,” by Freddie Gibbs featuring Juicy J, “Who Da Neighbors, “ by Juicy J, and “Money Habits” by Gucci Mane. “But lately I've just been listening to Death Grips.”

Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins: “I'm too old to exercise with shit in my ears. And you can't wear earbuds and play basketball, which supplies almost all of my exercise (and much of my humiliation). But sometimes, I have to admit, when I make a shot, I will hear—as if straight from God's iPod—the chorus to Basketball Jones.”

Mitchell S. Jackson, author of The Residue Years: “Niggas in Paris,” by Kanye and Jay-Z, “Started From The Bottom,” by Drake, and “I'm On One” by DJ Khaled.

Laura van den Berg, author of Isle of Youth: “I’m addicted to Jillian Michaels’s DVDs, but I like to mute the volume and listen to music now because I have seen them enough to know what Jillian is going to yell when. Right now my top three songs are “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence & the Machine, “Bone Machine” by the Pixies, and “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order.

Kate Bernheimer, author of Horse, Flower, Bird: “Uberlin” by  R.E.M., “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,” by X, and “The Boyfriends” by Richmond Fontaine. 

Gene Gregorits, author of Dog Days: “I jog and kayak. My most frequent songs lately are ‘On the Ocean’ by Guster, ‘Shoot Out the Lights’ by Richard and Linda Thompson, and ‘Anchor’ by Alejandro Escovedo.”

Ken Baumann, author of Solip: “I do not exercise regularly. (Clearly.) BUT. When I used to train four times per week in a boxing gym—i.e. when I paid to get punched in the face by an angry 250+ lb TV writer while being yelled and laughed at by a professional fighter and former Army Ranger who got shot six times in Iraq with an AK-47—we all listened to a lot of rap. Three songs that were on heavy rotation: “Back then” by Mike Jones, “Down for My Niggaz” by C-Murder, and “Millenium” by OutKast.

Adam Robinson, author of Adam Robison and Other Poems: I don't exercise except for playing softball and I don't listen to music while playing softball but I do often go out and sing karaoke with the team and the songs I most often sing are Nazareth's version of "Love Hurts" and Crash Test Dummies’ weird-ass song, "Mmmmm Mmmmm Mmmmm."

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