The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser – My Life In Music

“I’ll defend Jim Morrison to the death!”

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The Walkmen‘s frontman Hamilton Leithauser on his earliest musical gurus: “I’ll defend Jim Morrison to the death!”


EPIC, 1982
The first record I ever bought was . I listened to it more than anything else from the ages of six to ten – I know every single note and every single word of the record, still. Unfortunately, Michael Jackson was a child molester. That tainted everything he’s done, in my mind. The day after I saw that documentary I was in Home Depot and they were playing “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”. I was like, ‘Oh my God, somebody’s gotta turn this off!’ But I still hold up “Billie Jean” as one of the greatest recordings ever made. The sound and the production is just perfect. It’s a lot easier to hate on .


When I was younger, rap music hit me so hard. The guys were saying such terrible shit that we would hide the cassettes under our beds, it was like having like porn in the house. And the one that really kicked it off for me was Eazy-E’s first solo record. I played that cassette to death – only the first side, the second side sucks. But that triggered all of my rap interest for the next two decades. is not a great record, but it does have some really good hooks on it, and he’s pretty funny. He’s just got a nasty little voice that will stick with me for the rest of my life.


England’s Newest Hit Makers

LONDON, 1964
My dad had a copy of the first Rolling Stones record. It was the record that in England was called , I think it’s one track different. He had the vinyl, and I guess he had a cassette too, because I didn’t have a record player in my room. I had a little cassette player and I would put that on repeat. I was young enough to remember playing with my GI Joe action figures and listening to over and over again. That kicked off my lifelong love of The Rolling Stones. I thought Mick Jagger was so cool. I thought they’d written all those songs, I had no idea that they were all covers.

Morrison Hotel

In eighth grade I discovered The Doors, probably after hearing “Light My Fire”. I wanted to hear more about them and somehow I ended up with , which is definitely not their best record, but it’s the one that I had. I just fell in love with Jim Morrison: he’s so rebellious, and all his cringey poetry was such a treat for me at age 12 or whatever. My dad would laugh at me, but I still love Jimbo to this day, I’ll defend him to the death. Morrison Hotel has nice songs like “Indian Summer” but “Maggie M’Gill” makes me laugh out loud. I’m not laughing at Jim Morrison, I’m laughing with him. It’s hilarious, it gets me going.

Ritual De Lo Habitual

When I felt myself maturing from The Doors, I discovered Jane’s Addiction. I liked the hits, obviously, like “Been Caught Stealing”. But I would also sit there and listen to the entirety of “Three Days” and “Then She Did…” It was so mysterious and dangerous and weird to me. I’d never been to California and I didn’t know anything about it. I always thought Perry Farrell was a charismatic frontman. I never liked metal when I was younger, but I liked that heavy distortion that he used sometimes. It was the first time I felt like I was becoming like a tastemaker, which is so stupid. But that’s what I thought.


Bad Brains

ROIR, 1982
I grew up in Washington DC but I was too young to be a part of the really awesome hardcore scene that was happening when I was a baby. As I got a little bit older, I noticed all those posters being around – ‘Bad Brains’ was graffitied on the bridge right by my house. But I wasn’t very interested in them when I was younger. It was so hard, it just sounded like noise. And then the switch flipped one day and I realised that these guys had created this thing that nobody had ever created before, and were some of the best players of all-time. I never saw them play, but it was fun to know that they were from right down the street.


Fugazi were at their pinnacle when I discovered them. They had this rule where they would only play all-ages shows, and it could only cost $5 to get in. So I found myself going to a lot of Fugazi shows and really getting into them – it’s nice to have that hometown hero kind of feeling. Actually, the guy who recorded all the records is a very old friend of my dad. Fugazi were straight-edge and clean-living, sort of the opposite of Jane’s Addiction. My friends and I didn’t entirely get the message because we would usually show up with 40 ounce bottles of malt liquor and get trashed.

Rum, Sodomy & The Lash

I was probably at the end of high school when I discovered this. It was very tough and hard-hitting, but they were using mandolins and acoustic guitars, and Shane MacGowan’s words were crazy – he was such a wild man. When we started The Walkmen, I remember there was a moment when we were warming up and doing a big rumble sound. We realised it was sort of like a Pogues rumble, and that became one of our signatures. We had never really discussed it, but we all independently loved The Pogues. I feel like that was a huge moment for us, realising how inspired we were by them.


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