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My Favorite Songs: Anthony Bourdain

The world-famous chef and host of 'Parts Unknown' runs down the tunes that changed his life

Anthony Bourdain
Isaac Brekken/WireImage
April 11, 2014 9:40 AM ET

Anthony Bourdain — the notoriously snarky chef, writer, and world traveler — is returning to CNN on April 13th with a new season of Parts Unknown, where he will continue to excavate local gastronomy in global locales, from street food in the Punjab to quotidian grub amidst the drug wars in Mexico. “We try to make each episode look as different as possible, with different physical cinematography," Bourdain says. "We'll use different equipment, different lenses, a different sort of reference of films - specifically tailored to each episode. We want each episode to look and feel different than the one before, and we want those episodes to sound different as well.”  

Watch the Black Keys and Anthony Bourdain Devour BBQ

The show's one constant, according to the celebrity chef: music. “I look out the window at some pretty outrageous landscapes these days — so a lot of the music that I'm loading into my phone is designed to go along with whatever location we're shooting at," Bourdain said about his deliberate scoring choices. "Often, I'll request a style of music that specifically emulates certain songs or previous film soundtracks to get a certain kind of feel. For example, Depeche Mode  sounds good when you're barreling through a rice paddy on a lawnmower, or when you're in the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia. We try to do it much the same way that you would score a movie, commissioning musicians rather than using tracks from a library.” Bourdain noted that Das Racist’s Himanshu Suri is writing and recording a special EP for the forthcoming Punjab episode: “This is an example of how we get unique. I love his sensibility…it’s a perfect fit.”

Bourdain's passion and proclivity for music goes back to his childhood, when he was exposed to different artists and records thanks to his father's job at Columbia Records. "For the first two thirds of my life, I built my identity almost entirely by what albums I was listening to — and what drugs I was taking. If everybody else loved the Allman Brothers, I hated them. My musical tastes reflected those feelings, I think, of being in opposition to everything. I'd like to say I've since grown up, but in fact, I still seek out music that essentially serves as a soundtrack to whatever movie is running in my head." Here are a few choice cuts that Bourdain says still come up regularly on his mental playlist.

"Anemone," The Brian Jonestown Massacre
“Drenched in opiates and regret, I heard this song once and became besotted by it. It sounds like lost love, past lives, unforgiven mistakes and transgressions.”

"Pusherman," Curtis Mayfield
"Ahhh...cocaine. I wanted it. And even though the Superfly soundtrack (unlike the film) is decidedly anti-drug and cautionary, it sure made coke sound desirable to me.  The lush arrangements are timeless, whatever your position. This is still in heavy rotation on my iPod long after I gave up the powders." 

"What's Going On," Marvin Gaye
“A great song from one of the greatest albums of all time and the soundtrack to a summer on Cape Cod, the only good time in an otherwise mostly embarrassing decade.”

"Do the Strand," Roxy Music
“Two years of college and this was all I remember."

"Chinese Rocks," The Heartbreakers 
“My early honeymoon period with heroin; this song made an otherwise ill considered lifestyle option seem like a good idea.”

"Personality Crisis," The New York Dolls
 “An answered prayer. The antidote to all the lousy music of the era. Loud, unapologetically sloppy.  Johnny Thunders guitar made life worth living again and gave permission to everything good that followed, like New York punk. Joyously nihilistic.”

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