Portrait: Matthew Leifheit
Rebecca Bengal
July 23, 2023

At long last, in conjunction with the release of her first book, writer Rebecca Bengal joins me with an idiosyncratic mixtape plumbing the depths (and looking up to the heights) of American life. Rebecca’s ability to combine dedication to her own writing with an intelligent respect and devotion to the work of other artists, particularly photographers and musicians, was an early inspiration for The Selection Committee Radio Show. She leavens journalistic bravery with remarkable sensitivity and humor in her collection of essays and interviews, Strange Hours: Photography, Memory, and the Lives of Artists, recently published by Aperture. Her skill as a storyteller is obvious when she talks about Graceland with William Eggleston, Paisley Park with Alec Soth (who used to live next door to Prince), and the Standing Rock protests with Alessandra Sanguinetti. Rebecca doesn’t just talk about the artists, however—some of my favorite parts of her book examine the lives of their fans, and I think we all can relate to that. Rebecca’s personal website is rebeccabengal.net, and she recently contributed a short story to the Kristine Potter monograph Dark Waters (Aperture).

Complete playlist below; tracks in yellow were cut for time.

  1. Don’t Be Cruel, Billy Swan, 1974
  2. The Tide Is High, U-Roy, 1970 
  3. Railroad Bill, Etta Baker, 1999
  4. Someone’s Gone, Brother Theotis Taylor
  5. Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 2), Outkast, 1998
  6. Margaritas at the Mall, Purple Mountains, 2019
  7. Everybody’s Gotta Live, Arthur Lee, 1972
  8. U Got the Look, Prince, 1987
  9. Eye Know, De La Soul & Otis Redding, 1989
  10. Crazy, Pylon, 1983
  11. Dr. Doom (Alternate); Hall, Sutherland, 13th Floor Elevators, 2012
  12. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Waylon Jennings, 1964
  13. I Pity the Country, Willie Dunn, 1971
  14. If You Want Me to Stay, Sly and the Family Stone, 1973
  15. Sorry You’re Sick, Ted Hawkins, 1982
  16. Son Of a Gun, The Vaselines, 1992
  17. Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, 1975
  18. Here Come the Warm Jets, Glenn Mercer, 2015
  19. Back to the Future (Part I), D’Angelo, 2014
  20. Amassakoul ’N’ Ténéré, Tinariwen, 2004
  21. Pendulum, Broadcast, 2003
  22. Time, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, 1982
  23. Fire and Brimstone, Link Wray, 1971
  24. Strawberry Letter 23, The Brothers Johnson, 1977
  25. Where Eagles Dare, Bratmobile, 1994
  26. Suspect Device, Stiff Little Fingers, 1979
  27. Breaker, Breaker, GZA, 1999

Rebecca Bengal: Born and raised in rural western North Carolina, formerly of Austin, Texas, currently living in Brooklyn, plus many places in between, I’m a writer of fiction and nonfiction. My collection Strange Hours: Photography, Memory, and the Lives of Artists was published in June 2023 by Aperture, with an essay by Joy Williams. A new short story by me appears in Kristine Potter’s monograph Dark Waters, also just published by Aperture.

I am a MacDowell fellow, a contributing editor at Oxford American, and a past editor at DoubleTake, American Short Fiction, The Onion, and Vogue.com, among others. I received my MFA in fiction as a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers. My stories, interviews, essays, reported pieces, and collaborations with artists have been published by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Criterion Collection, Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Paris Review, The Believer, The Guardian, Aperture, Guernica, Pitchfork, The Washington Post Magazine, SSENSE, and Transgressor, among others. My short fiction has been published in Southwest Review, Greensboro Review, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and by Aperture Books. Many of my stories center on place; all on language. My sister, the photographer Joanna Welborn, and I are working on a project about our family’s history of Deafness, a unique rural sign language, and moonshine. (I’ve written short fiction loosely connected to this for Southwest Review, edited by Ben Fountain). I write about literature, photography, music, film, and nature (I’ve reported extensively from Standing Rock and the U.N. on the climate emergency).

Some of my other favorite stories to write are the hardest to classify: whether looking into the unsolved disappearance of the musician Jim Sullivan, dropping in on Prince’s former houses in Minneapolis, with the Artist’s onetime neighbor Alec Soth, or telling the story of eden ahbez. But I’m also partial to an essay I wrote about Charles Portis’s Norwood, and this one, looking back at the time I interviewed Linda Manz.