Coming to you in living color, from the heart of the global communications network to the darkest recesses of your imagination — this is the Popdose Conceptual Theater of the Airwaves.

Pull down the screen inside your head. Open your ears.

Are you comfortable? Then let’s begin.

Close your eyes…

And watch….

First things first, before we get to last things last: I want to take a moment to give a quick shout out to illustrator and comics artist Kazu Kibuishi, who created the gorgeous new cover designs from which the header images for this series have been derived. His work on the box set commemorating the 15th anniversary of the series has given us a new vision of the Harry Potter universe, both familiar and fresh — and he’s a gifted storyteller himself; the sixth volume of his graphic novel series Amulet will be released in August. Amulet conveys a sense of wonder and an emotional complexity worthy of the Potter books; it’s a tour de force of storytelling, and I give it my highest recommendation.

Now.

I approach the making of a mixtape with the same spirit as a writing project. And for me, the Number One Rule of writing is this: Have something to say. Indeed, that’s probably the only actual rule of writing; there are plenty of wisdom-biscuits that we call “rules,” but they mostly amount to suggestions. If you’re not saying something, though, you’re wasting everyone’s time — including your own.

I started making these mixes because I wanted to enhance the experience of reading the Harry Potter books with my son. Sam is our younger child, and consequently this was my second run through the series. With the elder, we jumped in as the story was still in its initial publication, and stood in line at midnight to get some of the later books. If I had tried to make these mixtapes then, between 2002 and 2007, they would have been very different — not just because some of the featured music would still be years in the future, but because they would be responding to a very different sort of cultural phenomenon.

When I read these books for the first time, Harry Potter was The Thing That’s Happening Now, and we were in the thick of it. The rules of children’s fiction, the rules of franchising, were being rewritten around us. It was something like buying Sgt. Pepper’s new in the shop must have been: We knew this was quality stuff, but didn’t get just how ground-breaking it was, didn’t understand at the time the template it was laying down, or how influential it would be. We didn’t know — although we may have suspected, even at the time — that this work was destined to be canon.

When we got on board, the Potter franchise was still something of a grass-roots phenomenon, passed from hand to hand by the kids themselves. By the time Sam and I did our re-read, this was no longer true — and the success of the books had so changed conditions on the ground that such a cult sensation might no longer even be possible. The publishing and movie industries have spent the last decade chasing after “the next Harry Potter,” and the rules of marketing no longer allow for cults to arise organically. Everything arrives pre-hyped and market-tested. Algorithms tell us that if you like that, you’ll like this. All content is curated, recommended, niche-targeted. It’s not impossible to stumble across the Next Big Thing all unawares, I suppose, but the rejiggering of the promotion and distribution systems that followed Potter’s success conspire to make it less likely. Much has been gained; but something, too, has been lost. Harry Potter was the beginning of a new model for fiction marketing — and the end of an era for underground literature.

That’s where things stand now, and where they stood when I read these books again in 2012 and 2013. These mixtapes have been about some thoughts that the Harry Potter books made me think at that time, and are dedicated to my son Sam — who made them both possible and necessary — on this, his 12th birthday. Love you, kiddo.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (1:20:50)

PLAYLIST

Conceptual Theater intro bumper

When the Spell Is Broken – Richard Thompson
The enchantments protecting Harry are dispelled on his 17th birthday.

Slip Kid – The Who
Off to the civil war.

Always On the Run – Lenny Kravitz

Voices – Russ Ballard
Pirate radio.

Hero Takes a Fall – The Bangles
The truth about Albus Dumbledore.

Secret Journey – The Police

Seek the Light – The Waterboys
The deluminator, and what Ron learned from it.

Bad Blood – Shakespeare’s Sister

Kyphos – New Fast Automatic Daffodils

The Funeral – Band of Horses

Back Where I Started – Box Of Frogs
The return to Hogsmeade.

Hog Eye Man – Martin Carthy and Family
Enter Aberforth Dumbledore, proprietor of the Hog’s Head Inn, owner of a mysterious blue eye.

If the Kids Are United – Sham 69

Lunatic Fringe – Red Rider

The Golden Path – The Chemical Brothers with the Flaming Lips
Harry’s radical adventures in the afterlife.

Emerald and Stone – Brian Eno

(resurrection montage: “Back Where I Started” reprise)

One Of Us – Wire
… will live to rue the day we met each other.

A Spell, A Rebel Yell – Coldplay

My Old School – Steely Dan
Goodbye to all that.

The Wizard – Matthew and the Arrogant Sea

[closing montage: Hedwig’s Theme – slight return]
Back where I started.

Conceptual Theater outro bumper

That wraps up my initial run here in the Popdose Conceptual Theater. Hope you’ve enjoyed it, and a heartfelt thank you for sticking with us throughout. We’d love to get your feedback on this series of mixes (all of which remain, for the moment, available for download, though they will not remain so forever), now that it is complete, so please — hit us up in the comments!

And keep watching this space! When Zack Dennis next returns, he’ll be bringing a Greatest Hits package with him — re-posting our legendary Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mixes in remembrance of the late Douglas Adams. I’ll be back in June with something else entirely; check back and see where it goes from here. Until then, keep your ears open, and don’t believe everything you see.