The theme of this week’s episode of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself, where I have the honor of being musical director, is … Dogs! (Or, as Rick calls them, “The Greatest of All the Animals.”)
I haven’t had such a great relationship with dogs over the years. The first dogs I remember were these two dobermans* I would see on the way to elementary school. Whenever I walked by the yard where they lived, they would SPRINT right at me, barking and snarling, only to be held back by a chain-link fence that didn’t seem quite as sturdy as it should’ve been. Scary stuff. In middle school, I regularly mowed a neighbor’s lawn, and next door to them was a giant dog cage with the two saddest dobermans** you’ve ever seen. It reeked of piss and shit, and the dogs just lounged in the hot sun all day. In retrospect, it raises a lot of questions, but at the time, I just worried about getting the job done, getting my ten bucks (or whatever it was), and getting out of there as fast as I could.
I warmed up to dogs in high school, when seemingly ALL of my friends (including Mr. Pecoraro himself) had one. They were generally sweet (the dogs, though also my friends), with names like Snickers and Ruffles and even a few non-snack names, too. I’m not great at remembering breeds, but I just learned that Snickers was a Westie, which seems like the fluffiest and kindest and friendliest and most energetic breed on the planet. How could you NOT love him? Still, they were all small dogs; big dogs still gave (and give) me trouble, as I learned when we visited one friend whose dog was normally kept in a closet. One afternoon, we convinced her to let the Clifford-sized dog out, and after sniffing around, it started to go after my knee before our friend could put it back in the closet. Not great.
In recent years, I’ve gotten to know my wife’s family’s dogs a bit, and we’ve come to an understanding: I generally play it cool around them, and they generally play it cool around me. I’ve also seen how her family interacts with them, how the dogs nuzzle up and shower them with affection, and I appreciate more deeply why people love dogs. They listen, they don’t ask too much of us, and they project a deep, unspoken empathy. I was reminded of that when reading a recent New Yorker piece on Syria’s “shadow doctors,” who attempt to provide medical care in a country best described as a hellscape. Suffice it to say those doctors have seen a lot, more than anyone should. When one was a guest of Queen Elizabeth II, she asked him how it was going:
The Queen pressed for details, but [Dr. Nott] couldn’t bring himself to tell her, and his bottom lip began quivering. At that point, “she summoned the corgis,” he said. For the next twenty minutes, Nott and the Queen petted the dogs and fed them biscuits under the table. As the lunch came to a close, he says, she remarked, “That’s much better than talking, isn’t it?”
And that’s the profound power of dogs. We’re lucky they keep us around.
On to the playlist: what you’ll hear here is a bit different than what you’ll hear on the show itself. The two differences:
-Neil Young’s “Old King” (which, ironically, inspired this theme in the first place) isn’t on Spotify, for reasons best explained by Neil. It’s a beautiful song, ragged and glorious, about the namesake hound, and comes after John Hiatt’s “My Dog and Me” on RPTtH.
-On the show, Bob Dylan’s “If Dogs Run Free” is the alternate version from Another Self Portrait, which is just better. Again, not on Spotify.
And don’t worry, the Baha Men get their due…
*At least I think they were dobermans.
**At least I think they were dobermans (redux).