Some episode locations are chosen because of historical obsessions (Congo, Vietnam), previous experiences (Lebanon), sheer curiosity (West Virginia), personal connections (Rome, Armenia, French Alps), the sheer challenge of going to the same place again and doing it differently (LA, Sri Lanka), the work of cinematographers or editors I’m inspired by (Shanghai, Rome, Paraguay, Tokyo), or, in some cases, music.
I was driving across the American desert a few years back with my friend Josh Homme, and he played me a few songs by Mark Lanegan. I was immediately inhabited by his voice, his lyrics, the experience of his songs—the darkness, pain, and longing. I went back and listened to nearly everything he’d done to date with his ’90s band, Screaming Trees; with Josh and Queens of the Stone Age; his incredible solo stuff; his many collaborations with an astonishingly diverse spectrum of brilliant musicians. I was mesmerized.
When I moved over to CNN and was looking for music for the opening title of Parts Unknown, I called Josh with an idea for a song: something that started out filled with hope and wonder but segued ominously into darkness and dread. A “happy” song, like Joey Ramone’s version of “It’s a Wonderful World,” but more explicit in its anticipation of something … random … and awful. Josh responded with one word: “Lanegan.”
So that’s Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan who wrote and performed our title track, just in case you didn’t know.
I love Seattle. I’ve had many happy experiences there. From the beginning of my writing career, it’s a town that has welcomed me—probably because it was one of the first cities in America to embrace chefs and new restaurant ideas, to loudly celebrate their local ingredients and local producers. It was a foodie town long before the word foodie existed and will be when that loathsome term is long dead and buried. Demographically speaking, it’s a town that likes talking about food, eating food, reading about food—and, in my case, stories about people who make food.
It’s a strange and beautiful place: gray, rainy, moody, and culturally rich—a place that seems to weed out those who are less than determined to reinvent themselves, break away from the pack, do their own thing however oddball it may be. It’s also yet another American city in transition: changing from company town to music town to tech center, with all the good and bad that comes with that.
But that’s not why I made this show.
I wanted to work with Mark Lanegan. I wanted to do an hour of television absolutely saturated with, scored by, and featuring Mark Lanegan and his music. I wanted to hear some of my favorites played over wide shots of the Puget Sound. I wanted to smoke weed legally, listening to his songs. And I wanted every single person who watches my show and isn’t already a fan of his to experience his music. It’s that simple.
But where would I do that? Well, Mark is from Washington state and began his career playing with Screaming Trees and others in Seattle during the unfortunately named “grunge” years. He had a helluva lot of formative experiences in Seattle—some good, many bad—so that was enough for me. I think his music fits perfectly.
I want to thank and acknowledge the great filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson here. We shamelessly ripped off a particularly beautiful concept from his film Magnolia for the final sequence of the show. It worked out so well the first time—and, as you will see, it works powerfully again.