Constantly risking absurdity—a playlist for impossible times, compiled by Tymon Smith

The JRB presents tunes and accompanying editorial from our EAP member Tymon Smith.

The people who know say that life is what happens when you’re making other plans. 

During the preparation for this playlist the pendulum of social, economic and political stability swung from one extreme to the other with more verve than an Ella Fitzgerald recording. 

Two old men shouted at each other in what purported to be a United States presidential debate. Then one of them contracted Covid and ‘forgot’ to tell the other one until the last possible minute. 2,2 million South Africans lost their jobs. Corrupt politicians were arrested or rumoured to be about to be arrested or will only be arrested when Jesus returns. Farmers in the Free State went straight up batshit and decided to go full Wild West on men accused of murdering one of them and the police who were holding them. A horse died during a protest over wages in Port Elizabeth and next thing you know animal lovers were calling for anyone with a shotgun to come defend their beloved equine friends by any means necessary. Toots Hibbert died, Eddie Van Halen died, Johnny Nash died. A very stupid and ill-advised shampoo advert threatened to bring down the country’s largest pharmacy chain. An earthquake of over 6 on the Richter scale rocked Cape Town. The travel ban was lifted but only for countries no one really cares about and whose tourism contribution to the GDP is less than Donald Trump’s tax return. The Israeli Prime Minister and his wife turned out to be using diplomatic trips as a cheap way to literally clean their dirty laundry. 

So many things in so little time. How to construct any kind of narrative in such mad, merry-go-round, sheer WTAF, hold-my-beer times? 

I have no idea, but there’s a bit of everything in this month’s playlist, which I hope swings uncertainly but manages to steadfastly maintain as logical an aural path through the noise of all the impossible things happening in the world right now as it can. 

Like Ferlinghetti’s trapeze artist it’s constantly risking absurdity but with luck over the course of its five hours there’s some sort of sense and sanity that prevails—from Woody Allen’s trip down South to Basil Rathbone’s deliciously ominous reading of Poe’s ‘The Raven’, with some pit stops at backwater country music and swamp rock, jazz, punk, post-punk, electronica and New York Noise ear-filling stations along the way. 

Next month will make more sense because, well, it just has to, right? Until then, keep that mask on, don’t wipe that incredulous look off your face just yet and keep on keeping on.

Listen here:


  • Tymon Smith is a member of The JRB Editorial Advisory Panel, and a freelance journalist who writes about the arts and South African history. Previously the literary editor of the Sunday Times, he is the recipient of a silver Standard Banks Arts Journalist of the Year Award for feature writing. He was the head researcher for the interactive DVD Between Life and Death: Stories from John Vorster Square, and is working on a book about the Johannesburg police station.
Header image: Joseph Pearson on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *