Deborah Stein’s Playlist

It might seem strange that Deborah Stein sees more rock shows than she does plays, but it does much to explain the genesis of the Minneapolis playwright’s own new work, God Save Gertrude. A theatrical rock concert in the style of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Stein’s play also manages to riff on one of the stage’s most familiar tales, Hamlet. Never mind the overexposed prince and his poor, dear Ophelia; this time it’s Queen Gertrude going under the metaphorical knife. She’s a punk rocker now—replete with her own all-girl backup band, the Shortcuts, and a wardrobe of asymmetrical spiffs by local clothing designer Laura Fulk. Asked what kinds of tunes informed such a spectacle, Stein—whose list here is weighted toward live tracks—noted that her taste tends toward artists who can “tear out their heart and give it to us as a glorious, noisy gift.” Just like her Gertrude.

1. “Tomorrow,” Patti Smith
This is an outtake at the end of the last track of Land, a collection of greatest hits and B-sides. I think it’s from a New Year’s Eve show; she’s exhausted, her voice is shot, everyone is drunk. “Now I’m gonna sing a little song for my mother,” she says before launching into “Tomorrow” from Annie. Yes, that Annie.

2. “Success,” Iggy Pop and David Bowie.
They’re basically just taking the piss out of each other, making themselves laugh.

3. “Art Star,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Karen O puts on a sick live show, and this track (from the self-titled EP) exemplifies the experience. You can practically hear her sticking the mic in her mouth as she roars on the chorus.

4. “The Man That Got Away,” Judy Garland
Judy opens herself up raw for the audience, letting us see every crack and fissure.

5. “Jersey Girl,” Bruce Springsteen
This 1981 live recording is a real heartbreaker. You can hear the kids in the audience [at the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey] recognize themselves in this Tom Waits cover. They go nuts when Bruce hits the chorus.

6. “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” Tom Waits
I get chills every time I listen to this one. It’s basically a mind-fuck, where he gets you to sympathize with the narrator and then, in the last verse, yanks the rug out. I wish I could write a play that pulled off this trick!

7. Most recent mind-blowing live show: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
For the sake of choosing one song, I’ll go with “Ballad of the Sin Eater”—that build of “you didn’t know they could hate you, now did you?” sounds like it could go on forever, which is how it feels to see Leo live. There’s a certain excitement generated by both the best live music and the best theater—something unexpected or virtuosic, happening in real time in front of you.

8. Most recent song on “repeat”: “Oxford Comma,” Vampire Weekend
So catchy I almost can’t stand it. But I also can’t stop myself from starting the song over before it’s even finished.

9. Favorite local band of the week: The Shortcuts!
All-girl, adorable, and fierce. They’re playing in my show.

10. Best recent use of music in film: “Sonata for a Good Man” by Gabriel Yared, in The Lives of Others
As it is played during a crucial moment in the story, one character quotes Lenin on Beethoven: “If I keep listening to it I won’t be able to finish the revolution.”

God Saves Gertrude runs January 25–February 10 at the Playwrights’ Center, 2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis. For more information, visit For tickets, call 612-332-7481, ext. 20.