Paste’s partnership with Ben Arthur and his music/literature podcast SongWriter continues today (Sept. 24) with the premiere of the show’s ninth episode, a week ahead of its Oct. 1 wide release. Today’s exchange of story and response song comes courtesy of retired New York City police captain Rita Mullaney alongside Byron Isaacs, a songwriter and session musician best known as The Lumineers’ bassist.
Mullaney pulls from her 25 years as a NYC police officer to recount the story of two homeless people who secretly spent years living in the precinct police station where she worked; meanwhile, Isaacs taps into the NYC of it all by playing a song inspired by both Rita’s stories and Lou Reed.
“From those experiences, I took a lot of photographs,” Mullaney says of her years on the beat. “And I also went back and did a lot of documentary work on the subjects that I photographed to get their story … I wanted to go and kind of put them on the map. Because some of their stories really were never told publicly. And I thought that they should be.”
The stories Mullaney shares on SongWriter are those of the red-headed, red-lipsticked Millie, who spent decades living in a police station house closet, hiding in plain sight, and of José, who continued to live in the precinct for years after he retired from his job as a cleaner there.
It’s Millie’s story in particular that resonates with Isaacs: “My mom used to have the flaming red hair, and the bright red lipstick, and also was a hoarder,” says the musician. “I spent a lot of years in a house with my mom where there was basically a single file path from the door to the bed.”
“Rita’s story took my breath away,” says Arthur, “especially the way it connected on so many different levels with Byron’s experience with his mother, and Byron’s song wraps up the story in such a lovely, comprehensive way!”
Recent episodes of SongWriter to premiere at Paste have featured Rick Moody and Xenia Rubinos, and Kurt Andersen and Vienna Teng. Still to come in Season One are appearances by Jonathan Lethem, Denise Reis, Cindy Lee Berryhill and more. Stay tuned to Paste for early access to the rest of SongWriter’s forthcoming first season.
Listen to episode nine of SongWriter via NoiseTrade here.