Dan Zanes has been playing guitar since he was eight. He achieved rock fame early, when his college duo, Del Fuegos, was named “Best New Band” of 1984 by Rolling Stone. After a stint in the Catskills growing chard and chopping firewood, Zanes moved to New York City with his wife, Paula, and new daughter, Anna, where he began playing with other fathers he met at playgrounds, honing a genre all his own, which he calls “21st-century all-ages social music.” From the first recording, “Rocket Ship Beach,” it was an instant smash hit. The New York Times Magazine brimmed, “Zanes kids’ music works because it is not kids’ music; it’s just music—unsanitized, unpasteurized, and organic.” Subsequent rambunctious recordings showcase diverse instrumentation including banjo, tuba, accordion, pump organ, djembe and saw, and feature guests Roseanne Cash, Lou Reed, Dar Williams, Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Natalie Merchant and Philip Glass. House Party was nominated for a Grammy.
Zanes loves Brooklyn, calling it “a treasure trove of songs.” We sat down with the famously coiffed genius in his gorgeous Cobble Hill kitchen for a taste of the rocket fuel that feeds his fires.
We’ve been living in Brooklyn for eight years and have done a lot of exploring. Brooklyn’s the best place I’ve ever lived in terms of food without a doubt. Everybody’s here from around the world. It’s like a little world. African, Arab, Puerto Rican, West Indian. My daughter, Anna, and I go to the West Indian parade every year just to eat.
Music and food are two of my favorite ways of getting to know each other. Everyone here is so will- ing to share their traditions from around the world. I love that in Brooklyn we’re in touch with our cultures. The idea that we can celebrate each other is so fantastic. And we’re just at the beginning of what could be, people sitting together at the welcome table. The willingness is there, it seems like anything could happen.
I think the Park Slope Food Co-op is the best shopping situation by far, with the best produce. But we’ve been kicked out twice. We can’t keep up with our shifts. We can’t keep it together. I loved working checkout, meeting my neighbors. I love the social aspect of food. I always get mad when I hear people talk about the nuttiness at the Co-op in a negative way. I think the nuttiness is great. But now we go to Fairway. We drive over every couple of weeks. It’s great, it’s fine. I was vegetarian for 10 years but got sick of doubling up on potatoes. I stopped three years ago, now I’ll eat anything. But not fast food.
We don’t go out to eat much. The Smith Street restaurant scene seems cool. I’m sorry to see the social clubs go but it’s vibrant. The Grocery is great. Saul is amazing. Probably the place we’ve gone more than any other is Brawta. I love that place. I get the Ital stew or sometimes vegetable roti.
The thing that I love about Brooklyn is also the thing that drives me crazy about it. We have so much progressive thinking, but not at the upper leadership level. Look at Atlantic Yards. When I moved here I thought this could be one of the great urban success stories, talked about in a hundred years.
Everything you need is right here. Everybody is here from around the world. It’s an incredible array of cultures, everybody connected in some way. Brooklyn could set a tone for what America could be, I’ve always felt that. It’s not going to be a success story on its own, but the raw ingredients are here. It’s a wonderful place to live. I’m grateful every day.
Michael Anchin made all these crazy glasses. These are his rejects. They’re wacky shapes. That’s the way we like them.
It grows in the cracks in the schoolyard at PS 29. We pick this a lot and cook it with pinto beans. We started eating it a long time ago when we lived in California. We’ve been to Mexico and they cook it in masa. It’s paradise there, the best eating experience in the world, out of the trunks of cars.
Hole in the pantry floor:
I cut a hole so we can run mics up and record here in the kitchen. It’s great then because you’re closer to the food. Eating is a big part of recording. Corn chips are essential.
Cobble Hill Honey:
John Doe is a famous musician in a band called X. We used to open for them. His brother lives a few blocks away and has hives on his roof. The honey is delicious. We put it in tea. You’re welcome to try some.
Wilklow Orchards cider:
I like this because it tastes like real cider. I got it at the Borough Hall farmers market this morning. I go there after I drop my daughter at school. I don’t have to remember what day it is because I can see the market down the street. For a while I thought it was all about organic. Now I think locally grown food is at least as important. If we don’t support local farmers, they’ll disappear. I’m frightened by agribusiness and everything I know about it. It seems like there’s nothing good in it for anybody. I try not to put my dollars there.
Mariage Freres tea tin:
We do drink fancy tea.
This was our breakfast today, this and boiled eggs. They say not to eat anything bigger than your head.
I’m starting to think this might be the best stuff in the entire house. It’s outrageous how great it is for washing hair.
I didn’t grow up eating fresh mozzarella. In fact I haven’t been around much great Italian food until now. The standard lunchtime deal is bread and mozzarella.
Jim Beam, Candy and Soymilk:
That’s the three of us right there. My wife’s happy hour, Anna’s candy, and my drink of choice, soymilk. I have it in coffee, on cereal and by the glass.
I’m from New Hampshire so maple syrup is an important part of my life. My mom still lives there. She has a garden, runs a soup kitchen, and has a real positive relationship to food. She’s fine to eat roadkill, she doesn’t want to see anything go to waste. She’s walking the walk.
We got a lot in Mexico. You can get them in Sunset Park too. We’re not into cooking with plastic. That’s why my CDs come in board book packaging. These poor kids, their lives are just filled with plastic crap.
These are the big staple because it’s such a song and dance to make our own. When we have people over we usually make fresh tortillas and have tacos. Or we make pizza—we got a great pizza stone at Cook’s Companion. Or we make a ton of pasta. Lately we’ve been doing more than the usual amount of rehearsing. We fed The Blind Boys of Alabama. They really wanted fried chicken so we got takeout.
This is from our CSA. We’ll probably make cole slaw. We’ve belonged to a CSA for about five years now. The thing about CSA is you have to seize the day, figure out what to do with the burdock root. There’s always the inevitable buildup of something. Right now it’s sweet potatoes. But every aspect of the CSA is wonderful. The food, seeing my neighbors, supporting a farmer. I’ve played a few informational events to help promote it. I like the idea of knowing where my food comes from, who’s behind it. I feel the same way about my record company. When we started, for me the most important thing was that the CD cases be made of recycled paper, but they were printed in Asia, which wasn’t sustainable. The last few we’ve printed here. I’m trying to get it as light of a footprint as possible. We haven’t figured it all out, but we’re trying. It’s a process.