Season 4, Episode 6
Laurie Woolever + Mike Ruffino

Laurie Woolever

Photo by David Scott Holloway

There was a day in Sri Lanka that Laurie Woolever thought she had gotten herself killed over a bucket of fried chicken and a bottle of whiskey. She was there on a shoot with Anthony Bourdain, who had asked Laurie to arrange a get-together for the weary crew of Parts Unknown. Like a lot of the people who worked with Bourdain, Laurie says she’s still processing grief and loss in the wake of his death.

“There’s a lot of transition,” Laurie says. “There’s a lot of trying to understand who we are and where we’re going without our North Star.”

Laurie worked with Bourdain for many years, and her most recent book is Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography, a collection of remembrances and stories about the celebrated personality and chef. Still, though Bourdain makes an appearance in the story she tells on SongWriter, Laurie did not want it to be about him.

“I wanted to make it more about my experience, going along for this ride,” Laurie says.


Photo by Mink Rockmoore

The shoot in Sri Lanka was particularly intense. The crew was filming the Madai religious festival in Jaffna, during which devout Hindus pay their spiritual debts through fasting and acts of physical suffering. Composer Mike Ruffino, who wrote the song in response to Laurie’s story, describes just how brutal these devotions appear to Western eyes.

“These guys [get] things you’d hook a swordfish on through their backs,” Mike says. “Ropes were attached to the hooks, and he’s hanging below the platform.”

Like Laurie Woolever, Mike also worked with Bourdain for many years, and was the composer for both Parts Unknown and No Reservations. Because of his long history with the shows, Mike still has all of the audio recorded in Sri Lanka, and he used those samples as inspiration, instruments, and soundscapes for his song, “Devotion Cycle Part II: Climate Control.”

“The director, Tom, was always really good about collecting sounds,” Mike says. “The song here, the rhythm was taken from the wheels of the train, riding from Colombo to Jaffna.”

The song is a gorgeous meditation on transition and loss. It opens with a train whistle, as a Sri Lankan voice in the background announces imminent departure.

“Looking for your lotus-face,” Mike sings, “To tell me death is just a phase.”