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Living with Music: A Playlist by Rebecca Walker, The New York Times

Rebecca WalkerRebecca Walker (David Fenton)

On Wednesdays, this blog is the delivery vehicle for “Living With Music,” a playlist of songs from a writer or some other kind of book-world personage.

This week: Rebecca Walker, whose most recent book, “Baby Love,” is available in paperback.

Rebecca Walker’s May 2008 Playlist:

I think of music as a soundtrack for life. There is a playlist for every stage. I don’t listen when I’m actually writing — I’ve got my son’s bilingual Professor Pocket CD looping in the background for that — but I do plug in the iPod when I ponder how to fill the screen with words that mean something.

Right now I’m inching my way into a new book — a melancholic, sensual memoir full of love and longing. Here’s what I’ll be listening to today.

1. Here Comes the Sun, by Nina Simone. Who knew Nina covered this Beatles classic? I found it by chance on iTunes while buying her version of “Everything Must Change.” If I remember to play this in the morning, Nina’s light touch and big heart takes me all the way to lunch.

2. Shine, by Joni Mitchell. I’ve been a Joni fan since my ex-girlfriend called me from Brussels and told me to buy “Night Ride Home” and listen to “Two Grey Rooms.” It’s a miracle I didn’t slit my wrists. “Shine” is everything “Two Grey Rooms” isn’t. It’s acceptance and hope wrapped in a shimmery, soulful sound.

3. Angel of the Morning, by Bettye Swann. Now a Jehovah’s Witness named Betty Barton, Swann had a string of R&B hits in the 60s. I put this on to impress my sweetheart. He’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of R&B and I have to remind him I can pull a little known masterpiece once in a while.

4. Mushaboom, by Feist (Mocky Re-mix). The combination of longing for kids and worrying about real estate gets me every time. “In the meantime we’ve got it hard / Second floor living without a yard / It may be years until the day / My dreams will match up with my pay.” Ah, the life of an artist.

5. Brown Skin Lady, by Black Star. Before Mos Def became an actor, he and Talib Kweli made up Black Star, one of the most message-positive hip-hop duos of all time. I always feel compelled to sing along to this ode to brown women: “Your skin is the inspiration for cocoa butter / You inspire a brother.” Indeed.

6. Into the Mystic, by Van Morrison. I heard this in the movie “Immediate Family” in 1989. I was 22 and in love. I ran to the now closed Tower Records on Broadway to buy the CD, which ushered in a long Van Morrison period in my life. This song about a man at sea returning to his love makes me weep.

7. Mustt, Mustt (Lost in His Work), by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I saw this Sufi master perform at the Beacon a few years before he died. Audience members danced in the aisles and threw money at the stage as Khan took us to higher and higher states of ecstasy. If Khan were alive, I’d take my son to hear him.

8. LES Artistes, by Santogold. I found Santi White on MySpace, put this song on my profile, and watched as all my “friends” did the same. I interviewed her for Interview magazine the day Obama took Iowa. The world was spinning, but she was like the eye of the storm. Santi makes risky, startlingly fresh music. I like her style.

9. White Sandy Beach of Hawaii, by Israel Kamakawiwo. Iz, as he’s widely known in Hawai’i, is the Bob Marley of the most isolated island archipelago in the world. He sings about Hawai’i before missionaries, sugar plantations, tourism, and Whole Foods. The purity of his devotion to his people and land transcends place, time, and culture.

10. Like a Knife, by Mia Doi Todd. I had a writing studio once, at the Headlands Center for the Arts. It looked out over the ocean and was freezing cold all day long. I was trying to write a novel. Mia Doi Todd kept me company. This song is haunting, stark and beautiful. Just like the studio.

11. Ode to Boy, by Yaz. This electro-soul song from the 80s still rocks. It’s a bit tragic, but steamy nonetheless. Listen to it when you’re thinking about the sexy guy that got away. Listen to it when you’re thinking about the sexy guy in your bed. Listen to it when you’re a sexy guy and want to know what wanting you sounds like.

12. Sun, Moon, Child, Imani Uzuri. I caught Uzuri’s set when she played Joe’s Pub in New York, but wish I could have seen her in Moscow last year. Uzuri has resisted packaging, categorization and all manner of corporate incursions. This paean to free-loving children of the 60s and 70s reminds me there’s a place in the universe for all of us.

13. Walking Wounded, by Everything But the Girl. One word: Stonehenge. I was 25 and with, yes, another love. I got a driver to take us from Bloomsbury to visit Stonehenge and the amazing stone circles at Avebury. This song was playing when the monoliths first came into view.

14. River, Herbie Hancock and Corrinne Bailey Rae. Arguably the most amazing song on my list, words cannot do justice to Hancock and Rae’s interpretation of this Joni Mitchell song, so I won’t even try. Go listen to it. Right now.

15. Lay Your Head Down, by Keren Ann. This Israeli-born French pop-star sounds like Malibu. Not the Malibu of houses on fire but the Malibu of our collective imagination. It’s sunny and the waves lap against the shore on the other side of double-paned glass. People and dogs run, play and laugh but it’s all muted, encapsulated in a dream. I want to sing this song to my son as he falls asleep — in my arms.