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SOUNDTRACKKeiyaA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #168 (February 11, 2021).

I had not heard of KeiyaA (and have no idea how to say her name), but i was quite stuck by this performance.

KeiyaA is a new performer, and her debut album

Forever, Ya Girl, appeared last year with kismet timing, unveiling her as a fully formed star. The 2020 release is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood.

The set opens with “Do Yourself a Favor.”  For this track KeiyaA sits behind the keyboard a while 13th Law plays a slow funky bass line plays accompanied by finger snaps and backing vocals from the amazingly named Nelson Bandela.

KeiyaA comes out front for the rest of the tracks.

Cornrows braided back with the precision of an architect. Stiletto nails commanding a sampling machine. Gold-glinted lids to match her light-up Beads Byaree earrings. With every move, KeiyaA shines so bright, it’s impossible to look away. And while your eyes are fixated on her person, the music KeiyaA conjures inside Brooklyn’s Electric Garden is what leaves you completely spellbound.

On “Hvnli,” Nelson Bandela plays keys behind a new slow funky bass line.  Keenyn Omari played guitar on the first song but he plays saxophone on this one.  It starts with soft bursts and then he really starts wailing.  With the sax and the syncopated drums from Buz “Hvnli” sounds like a spare jazz song.  She sings:

Gone for so long I prefer to spend time in my pain, hey / Gone for so long I can barely recall the last my phone rang,” she sings on “Hvnli.”

Her album

is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood. Whether it’s through jazzy woodwinds, heavy synths or prickly staccato, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares waves of anguish, depletion, love and elation in a swirling stream of consciousness.

She says that “Most of the work that has carried me has been the writing of Black women Jayne Cortez and Ntozake Shange [she holds up their books] who both speak unabashedly of the plight and joys and general experiences of the Black femme woman.  And those writings are paramount in my work.”

She opens “Finesse Without a Trace” with a wobbly sample and The 13th Law plays some bass chords and splashy drums.  The sample turns into some quotes while Omari plays some wild distorted flute.

The song ends with an improvised flute solo which KeiyaA accompanies with samples and some oohing.  The song slowly morphs into “Rectifiya” a funky piece with response vocals on the chorus.

She ends the whole set with the sampled quote from Nina Simone.

“Everybody is half-dead. Everybody avoids everybody. All over the place…in most situations, most of the time. I know I’m one of those everybodys. And to me it is terrible. And so all I’m trying to do, all the time, is just to open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That’s it.”

Apparently the album sounds very different than this Tiny Desk: (The “album version of these tracks boast much of KeiyaA’s own production, affirmations and layered vocals in chorus”).  Perhaps I’m better off just enjoying this and not looking further.

[READ: April 5, 2021] Parable of the Sower [end]

The end of the book provides something of a skeptical feeling of hope for our travelers.   I read in the Foreword that Earthseed was meant to be a trilogy; however, Butler only finished a sequel (and an unrelated novel) before she died.  The Foreword (by N.K. Jemisin also gives a spoiler to Parable of the Talents–uncool!  Even if the books are over twenty years old.

By the way, Jemisin sounds pretty interesting.  Anyone read her?

To me, it is astonishing how many big questions go unanswered in the book.

I had mentioned wondering about the Mars mission and there’s no mention of that again.  We never find out anything about any state east of Central California and we never find out What Happened.  Obviously that information is irrelevant for the characters–they just have to move on–but it’s frustrating not to have even a hint.  [I accept that it wasn’t relevant to Butler, but I’m still curious].  We never hear anything about the community that the corporation bought, either–although there is a kind of follow up with someone from a similar community telling about how badly it turned out for the people living there.

This section starts off with an earthquake.  Earthquakes are bad news in general but in this situation they are much worse because earthquakes tend to cause fires.  And we know who fires attract.  Zahra thinks that they might be able to scavenge for something they can use, but Lauren suspects, rightly, that it would be a dangerous thing to do–druggies and people more violent than they are would be there.  And this proves to be true.

In fact, it proves to be very smart to move on because they wind up putting some distance between themselves and the violent crowds that scavenged the burnt out houses. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDAVIDO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #174 (February 24, 2021).

I thought I knew what Afrobeat was and that I was really starting to enjoy it, but Davido plays something other than what I was expecting.

Nigerian Afrobeats star Davido comes to us from his estate in Lagos with an intimate four-song performance that takes us on a mini-retrospective of his career.

He and his band create a sultry vibe with a unique rendition of “Gobe,” his smash 2013 single, to open the set.

“Gobe” doesn’t have the percussion and bounce that I thought it would, although drummer Stanley Unogu is pretty sharp.  The lyrics are pretty funny, though

Girl your behind is a killer
I can see you’re sensual
See gobe
Omo see gobe eh
When you wiggle and waver
You must be intentional

Bassey Kenneth and Sylvia Asuquo sing nice backing vocals.  Then he says that “Aye” is dedicated to his father.

Davido has long expressed pride in his father’s success. He titled his 2012 debut album Omo Baba Olowo, meaning “son of a rich man” in the Yoruba language. In his (home) concert, Davido cites his father as his inspiration in a sweet and tender moment: “A Nigerian American like myself that studied in the States…I went to an HBCU, you know… My dad went to one as well and my dad used to work at Burger King. … To become what he’s become today as a Black man starting off in America has been very, very inspiring to me.”

A cool bass slide and generally fun bouncy bass from Kenneth Ogueji make “Aye” a fun track.  The rest of the song is all keys from Gospel Obi and Orowo “Roy” Ubiene.

In collaboration with the Alternate Sound band, Davido strips back “Aye,” a hit from 2014, with an unfettered rendition showcasing his natural voice devoid of any vocal effects.

It’s followed by “Risky” which is a bit more poppy.

Rounding out this Tiny Desk (home) concert, he concludes with “Jowo,” a single from the album that of conjures hope for better times ahead.

“Jowo” is a sadder ballad.  I like the song, but I cant help but think that by the end the backing singers are off key.

[READ: March 24, 2021] This is Not the Jess Show

I subscribed to the Quirk books newsletter some time ago.  And that explains why I received so much promotion for this book which I’d never otherwise heard of.

I read the blurb and it sounded fun, so I checked it out of the library.  And I was hooked instantly.

The book set in 1998 and it rather revels in 90s culture.   I though this was a lot of fun (since I am quite fond of the 90s myself).  At times it seemed like the book was maybe overdoing it with the 90s love (how many reference points are there: Titanic, Jewel, Scott Wolf, Savage Garden, Chumbawamba, Tori Amos), but whatever, Jess is a teenage girl and pop culture is pretty important in a teenager’s life.

As are crushes.  Her oldest friend Tyler has suddenly become… more interesting to her.  When they were younger, Tyler had buckteeth and rust colored hair.  He was fun but dorky.  And yet suddenly, she couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Her two best girl friends Kristen and Amber just didn’t get it.  They still thought of Tyler as a dork and they really discouraged Jess form pursuing him.  They teased her that she was like the song “Lady in Red”

It’s like, really?  You’ve known her this whole time and you’re only into her now, after seeing her in a red dress?  Isn’t that a little …fickle?

In fact, they know that Patrick Kramer, the hunky soccer player (and local hero!) is going to ask Jess to the spring formal.  How could she pass this up?  (Because Jess thinks Patrick is dull as dirt). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK2 CHAINZ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #170 (February 17, 2021).

I’ve never heard of 2 Chainz, but I love that his Tiny Desk comes from Pamper Atlanta–his nail salon!

He’s a pretty fascinating dude

Colored in royalty, neon hues of lavender, fuchsia and violet, in his high-end nail studio Pamper (yes, he owns it, and he’s not shy about letting you know), 2 Chainz is feeling himself throughout his five-song set. Getting a champagne-soaked pedicure, rolling one and periodically shouting out his sixth and latest studio album, So Help Me God!, the rapper exudes Black excellence in the way of luxurious comfortability.

“Southside HOV” is a fascinating brag track with lines like

I’m from the gutter, diamonds studded, I am too for real
Name another rapper that got a Versace shoe deal

His unbridled braggadocio so clearly comes from the freedom of security after being denied opportunities, not just individually but generationally.

He ends the song with a statement to the little ones:  “Listen carefully, this is a grown man speaking to you … pedicure in this bitch. too.”

“Vampire” is another new song that he casually raps while getting his legs massaged.

Then the set jumps to another room with 2 Chainz sitting in the spotlight as his partially obscured band plays.

He rewinds the clock and samples [his] stacked discography (“Good Drank,” “I’m Different”)

“Good Drank” has a grooving bass line from Tyler Sherard with some cool soloing from Josh Sneed.  “I’m Different” opens with a quiet piano melody from Mark Polynice–it’s almost like a horror movie.  Most of the songs have a chill rap style, but in the middle of this one he really lets it fly for a verse–rather impressive.  There’s some great drumming from Alex Turner on this track too.

The set ends with “Grey Area” and good grief with these lyrics, so much for inspirational).

All this sh- that I have done, I can not believe in karma (yeah)
Old enough to be your Daddy
Young enough to f- your Mama (boom, boom, boom!)
Young enough to f- your sister, young enough to f- your auntie
I ain’t messing with your Grannie, I just juuged her out them Xannies (true!)

It’s surprising then, that he gets all thoughtful at the end of the set.  As Polynice plays some backing chords, 2 Chainz says “Let me inspire.”

“There are a lot of people who have been moving the needle forward for Black people. And they have been for some time,” says an earnest, almost plaintive 2 Chainz. In a heart-filled sermon, he cites Martin Luther King Jr., Tyler Perry and Puffy as trailblazers, practicing gratitude for Black leaders who inspire him and the world at large. It’s a sober moment of euphoria — and a drastic shift from the first 17 minutes of the Grammy winner’s flashy Tiny Desk.

When thinking of inspirations he thinks of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I played from M.L.K.” he says (this must be metaphorical since King died almost ten years before Chainz was born).  Then when asked to name names of black people “who are currently like breathing and accessible in entertainment and tech” he says there’s so many who have inspired him he really can’t think of any names, even though there are so many black billionaires … “their names logged in my phone.”

The jump from M.L.K. to Tyler Perry may be the only time that connection was ever made.  But at the end he admits

I wasn’t specific when answering the question.  I just said what my heart told me to say.

But damn, if Pamper Atlanta doesn’t look really nice.

[READ: March 31, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat 3

While I enjoyed Book 2, I thought that Book 3 was a bit more fun.

Because it has dogs!

Raj’s parents are heading to Hawaii for a dental conference (Raj’s dad is a dentist, which you know because he is wearing a “plaque is wack” shirt.  Dad said it was work, but Raj was pretty jealous.  He wasn’t allowed to go because he was in school.  And that could mean only one thing: his ajji (grandma) was going to come stay with him.  Ajji was old-school Indian and brought three suitcases worth of cooking supplies.  And a dog.

Ajji doesn’t have a dog, but she was foster sitting this fluffy creature named Wuffles and brought it with her.  Since Wuffles needed a seat, Raj’s appi (grandfather) had to stay home!

Obviously Klawde is not happy to see that the “mortal enemy of all felines” was going to stay with them (the drawing of Wuffles on the “mortal enemies” page is hilariously adorable.  As Klawde sneaked up to get a better look, Wuffles exploded, snarling and barking right in Klawde’s face.

Klawde surveys the creature from atop the fridge:  It has the good sense to walk on four legs and has proper anatomical parts: fur, tail, whiskers and claws. But the whiskers were short (and couldn’t possibly be intergalactic sensors) and the ears were flopped over–clearly broken. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ÓLAFUR ARNALDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #177 (March 4, 2021).

Ólafur Arnalds is an Icelandic composer who creates (mostly) beautiful soothing songs.

I really enjoyed his previous Tiny Desk Concert where he displayed his high tech player piano gadget (used in one of these songs although it’s hard to tell).

He and his accompanying quartet (Geirþrúður Ása Guðjónsdóttir, Sigrún Harðardóttir and Karl James Pestka on violins; Unnur Jónsdóttir on cello) play four tracks.

The pensive set opens with an older tune, “Happiness Does Not Wait,” with Ólafur Arnalds seated at a short upright piano known as a Danish ‘pianette.’

“Happiness Does Not Wait” opens the set with a beautiful looping melody on the piano and gentle strings added on top.  Then the strings take over playing the piano melody and the backing melodies as Arnalds preps his next song.

The remaining three songs are form 2020’s, some kind of peace. 

For “Woven Song” he winds up an Edison “Fireside” cylinder phonograph which plays a haunting melody–a traditional Amazonian healing song sung by the late shaman Herlinda Agustin Fernandez.  He plays a complex piano melody on top of the song.  Then strings layer on top and then once again take over the melody as he stops playing and heads to his other piano.

He explains that in the tribe where Fernandez sings, they weave their melodies into cloth to write them down.

Then moving from the wax cylinder to his high tech Stratus music software.

Look closely at the piano toward the back of the studio during the tune “Spiral,” and you’ll see a piano playing seemingly without a performer. That piano is reacting to Ólafur Arnald’s real-time performance using algorithms he and his coder friend, Halldór Eldjárn, developed.

The song opens with the violin and then the rest of the strings flesh the song out while he begins the piano.  Then the instruments fall back leaving just one violin along with the piano for the end.

For the final song, he moves back to the first pianette to play “We Contain Multitudes” which has an otherworldly echoing quality to it.

It’s a lovely calming session.

[READ: March 21, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat 2

Book 2 picks up soon after the events of Book 1.  In other words, summer is over and it’s time for Raj to go to his new school.  The good news is that the friends he made at camp–Cedar and Steve–will be there.  The bad news is so will his enemies Scorpion and Newt.

In the introduction, Klawde explains that his name is not Klawde, it is Lord High Emperor Wyss-Kuzz, the Magnificent.  He says he hated the planet Earth when he was exiled here and he hates it even more now.

Raj is freaking out about school, but Klawde is not interested in his pathetic classes. Where is Battle Tactics?  The Art of Slash-and-Claw? The Art of Ambush?  And that made Klawde think–he will start his own school–a school for warriors.

Marciano wrote this book in 2019 but how crazily prescient was this.  Raj goes into his classroom but there is no teacher.  Instead a voice came from speakers

Now, y’all may think it’s weird to have a teacher on a screen, but it’s part of a new wave in education… remote instruction! [And] no you cannot do whatever you want… I may be sitting down here in Alabama, but … I have a split screen monitor right here with every student’s face on it.

Spooky! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #167 (February 10, 2021).

I bought Meshell Ndegeocello’s Plantation Lullabies back in 1993 on the strength of “If That’s Your Boyfriend,” a funky track that is still pretty great.  I didn’t realize she had been steadily putting out music ever since.

This Tiny Desk (home) concert … includes songs from throughout her career framed by her thoughts on the importance and influence of James Baldwin: “He deserves flowers every day. Most of all because he was willing to discuss things that were painful, hard to look at, hard to see, hard to accept.”

Ndegeocello is a bad-ass bass player with a serious funk edge.  And yet in this Tiny Desk Concert, she strips almost all of that away.

The first song comes from Lullabies, but in this version of “Step Into the Projects” she strips away all the music and turns the song into a spoken word piece (although she does keep the rhythm of the original).

For the next three songs she is accompanied by her longtime guitarist Chris Bruce.

“Price of the Ticket,” is from Ndegeocello’s recent project, Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin, “a 21st century ritual toolkit for justice” inspired by Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.  In the track, it’s just Bruce’s gentle guitar and Meshell’s quiet voice.

“Forget My Name” from Comet Come To Me (2014) is stripped down from its original reggae arrangement and lays bare the haunting imagery in the lyrics.

She plays some spare bass, but musically it’s all about Bruce–the cool low riff and the pretty high melody.

“Fool of Me,” from her acclaimed album Bitter (1999), ends the set with just vocals and guitar.

Like the other songs, it is spare and beautiful, allowing you to really hear the words.  I love Meshell’s funk, but this is a beautiful set.

[READ: March 29, 2021] Parable of the Sower [2026-2027 (chapter 19)]

I have not read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I don’t intend to.  But I feel like this book acts as a precursor to that one.  And that is something I did not in any way expect.

2026 opens in June, almost seven months after the previous entry.  I’m curious about the distance between entries.  It’s possible that Lauren has dozens and dozens of pages that just said, “today sucked” and we don’t need to see that.  But I am curious about the time jumps.

Is it a way for Butler to move us ahead quickly so that something that needed to take a few years to happen is given the time to do so?  I’m thinking about Mars a bit.  In two years a lot can happen with the space program.  Of course, the President was supposed to cancel the program.  So who knows what’s going on there.  Aside from basic passage of time, did we need to wait six months to see what came next?  I’m not sure.

In June Keith is back–bigger and more confident.  He’s not yet 14, but he’s very successful, bringing home money and gifts (but none for his father).  He has ingratiated himself into a gang by being the only literate one in the group:

They’re all older than me, but not one of them can read or write anything.  They stole all this great stuff and they couldn’t even use it.  Before I got there they even broke some of it because they couldn’t read the instructions. (105)

Lauren and Keith have a heart-to-heart–really their first ever.  He learns a bit about her and while he gains a little more respect he also tells her that she’d never survive out there–she doesn’t know enough.  He also tells her about these new crazies called Paints who paint their skin green or blue or yellow and eat fire and kill rich people.

Keith comes back on her birthday and gives her a present.  A month later he is dead–killed in a horrific and gruesome way.  He was clearly tortured and left to be found.  His death was a message for someone–a rival gang, probably.

But they don’t call the police:

cops liked to solve cases by “discovering” evidence against whomever they decided must be guilty.  Best to give them nothing.  They never helped when people called for help.  They came later and more often than not, made a bad situation worse. (114)

In October, a new component to the story crops up.

Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton and Company (KSF) has taken over a nearby town called Olivar.  It is small and well to do.  The citizens voted to let their town be taken over–privatized.  They intend to set up energy resources in the community–solar, wind, desalinization.  They mean to own great industries in an area that people have given up on.

Kagimoto, Stamm Frampton: Japanese, German, Canadian.  When I was young, people said it would come to this. Well why shouldn’t other countries buy what’s left of us if we put it up for sale. (121)

This is another aspect of the story that confuses me.  Is it basically that Los Angeles has exploded and the rest of the country is okay?  There’s talk about work up north, but why?  What happened to the country that they/we would let L.A. collapse but nothing else.  Or maybe it’s the entire South West?  Nobody knows anything about the East Coast, apparently.   I’m hoping that they will get explained a bit later on.

Olivar was accepting applications to live there.  They were looking for educated people.  And here we learn that both of Lauren’s parents have PhDs [a commentary on the invisibility of Black scholars?].  Her stepmother thinks it’s a great idea to go to Olivar.  They would be guaranteed safety and security.  But her father is against it, calling it “half antebellum revival and half science fiction” (122).

Anyone KSF hired would have a hard time living on the salary offered. In not very much time, I think the new hires would be in debt to the company.  That’s an old company-town trick–get people into debt, hang on to them and work them harder.  Debt slavery. That might work in Christopher Bonner’s America. Labor laws, state and federal are not what they once were. (121)

Come November, the Garfields have been accepted at Olivar.  The Garfieds include Joanne, Lauren’s one time best friend (who misplaced Lauren’s trust by tattling to her father).  Joanne has been serious with Harry Balter.  But Harry is staying in Rebledo.  Lauren suggests they get married and then Harry can move in with them, but she says that Harry wants to get married and travel north.  He thinks they way Lauren’s father does about Olivar.

But the Garfields are still going: “conservative and sensible and mature and wrong” (128).

In November, Lauren’s father did not come home one night.  They spend days looking for him with no luck.  The search parties uncover all kinds of remains, some of which they think might be her father’s but which turn out not to be.

The search also reveals an aspect of Lauren’s hyperempathy that we didn’t know–sound doesn’t trigger it (she hears a man screaming), only sight does.

Five days alter they have a Sunday survive that turns more or less into a memorial.  Lauren speaks at he service and proves to be powerful preacher.  She speaks of God but presumably she means her own god–the earthseed god.  By mid-December they have a formal funeral–they accept that he would have found his way home by now.

Later, when KSF came for the Garfields, it was in an armored truck

The two movers were a black and a white, and I could see that Cory considered that hopeful.  Maybe Olivar wouldn’t be the white enclave that Dad had expected. (139)

All along Lauren has been romantically involved with Curtis.  People anticipated that she would get married an have a baby with him–something she strongly resisted.  Indeed, her plan all along was to leave Rebledo without him.  But now with Lauren’s father gone (he was the reason she hadn’t left yet–she didn’t want to hurt him), Curtis suggests that they both go.  He’s upset that she wanted to go without him, but she explains that she didn’t want to force him to make that choice.

Two days later, someone burned down the Payne/Parrish house; while that was going on. they robbed three of the other houses including Lauren’s.

I’ve been frightened at the phrases that Butler says that prove eerily prophetic to the last few years:

People are setting fires because they’re frustrated, angry, hopeless. They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable.  And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it.  (143)

Interestingly, the drug that gave Lauren her hyperempathy–Paracetco–was initially a legitimate drug intended to help victims of Alzheimer’s disease.  Pyro was an accident–a homebrew on the East coast it made it was away across the country.

People on the fire drug get off on watching things burn.  Blaze, fuego, flash, sunfire.  The most popular name is pyro short for pyromania [I’m fascinated that she needed to spell that out as I feel that in 2021 (and much earlier) it was a common abbreviation].

As the year ends, the families try to make due with what they have left.

Then we enter 2027.  Once again it’s six months into the year.  And this is when things change dramatically.   Thieves drove a truck through their wall and set everything on fire.  Nearly everyone in the community was killed.  [I did wonder if it was worthwhile learning anyone’s names, and it was two people I didn’t think twice about who survived].  The description is a violent orgy of death, rape, fire and who knows what else.  It is brutally described.  Lauren escaped.  She had the forethought to run back in and put on clothe and shoes and grab her bug out bag.  No one else in her family had done so. She saw them n bare feet and pajamas and then she didn’t see them any more.  She managed to get outside and to hide until the next day,

She crept back into her community and went to her house which was being looted and stripped. She knew where there were some hiding places and she managed to get clothes for her family as well as money that was hidden in the ground.  She grabbed a gun and got out, looking like all the other miserable looters.

Lauren was sure she was alone.  Then out of the rubble came Harry Balter and Zahra Moss–the youngest wife of Richard Moss the polygamist.  Zahra’s baby was killed (brutally) and an attacker was about to (or had begun to) rape her when Harry saved her (and got beaten for his help).  Neither one had planned for anything like this and they are pretty hopeless.  Lauren decides that three is safer than one and invites them to go North with her.

Zahra’s backstory is interesting.  Richard bought her from her mother who was a drug addict and a prostitute.  Zahra has lived on the streets and she knows what’s what.  She takes them to Hanning Joss, the biggest secure store complex.  I’m fascinated to learn that there are are still megastores and that they have security allowing people to shop safely there–commerce always wins.

Then they do what everybody else does–they head North.  Lauren has decided to pass as a man.  She’s tall and muscular and can do so, so she cuts her hair short.  They encounter much danger and violence but manage to get relatively far north.  Harry is a trusting guy, trying to avoid violence in any way possible.  But Lauren (and Zahra) knows the reality of the situation–kill or be killed; steal or be stolen from.  And with Lauren’s hyperempathy, she can’t afford to let people around her suffer.  She winds up cutting a man’s throat to stop the hurting that he (and she) are feeling.  Harry is appalled at her.  So she finally admits to her hyperempathy assuming they’ll abandon her.  But they do not–three is better than two.

Zahra and Harry become a couple and have unprotected sex (what harm could come from that?)

Then the trio meet another family who seems to be tagging along after them.  Everyone is out for themselves, but Lauren takes pity on this mixed race couple with a baby.  She helps them out at the second Hanning Joss and a few days later, when Lauren saves their baby from a feral dog, they agree that five (or six) is better than three and two (or three).

The new people are Travis Charles Douglas, Gloria Natividad Douglas and six month old Dominic. They are going to Seattle where Travis’ aunt lives.  Travis is quite taken aback when he learns that Lauren is a woman–especially since she saved them, but he’s going to have to get over it.

All of this time, Earthseed has been running around in Lauren’s head, but it hasn’t really shown up.

Then in chapter 18, Lauren starts talking to them about Earthseed.  Travis is a (surprisingly) intelligent man–he knows about entropy.

Travis’s mother was a live in cook for a rich man.  But before that she had written for newspapers and magazines.  She taught Travis to read. The man she worked for had a library and she would sneak out one book at a  time–he didn’t want Travis touching his stuff.

Of course. Slaves did that two hundred years ago.  They sneaked around and educated themselves as best they could sometimes suffering whipping, sale or mutilation for their efforts. (218)

Natividad was a maid and the rich man let them marry:  The son of the cook marrying one of the maids. That was like something out of another era too.

They discuss her poems–Earthseed.  Travis pushes back against her ideas, although never in an aggressive way.

She argues that here is no pore pervasive power than change.  Travis says that nobody is going to worship change.  Lauren says she hopes not

This excerpt from God is Change summarizes this discussion nicely:

“I was looking for God. I didn’t know whether there was a god to find, but I wanted to know. God would have to be a power that could not be defied by anyone or anything.”
“Change.”
“Change, yes.”
“But it’s not a god. It’s not a person or an intelligence or even a thing. It’s just … I don’t know. An idea.”
“It’s a truth. Change is ongoing. Everything changes in some way— size, position, composition, frequency, velocity, thinking, whatever. Every living thing, every bit of matter, all the energy in the universe changes in some way.”
“Sort of like saying God is the second law of thermodynamics?”
“That’s an aspect of God. There are all kinds of changes in the universe.”
“But why personify change by calling it God? Since change is just an idea, why not call it that? Just say change is important.”
“Because after a while, it won’t be important. People forget ideas. They’re more likely to remember God— especially when they’re scared or desperate.”
“Your stuff isn’t very comforting.”
“It is after a while. I’m still growing into it myself. God isn’t good or evil, doesn’t favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought.”
“Your God doesn’t care about you at all.”
“All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace— and how to deal with the others.”
“But nobody’s going to worship change.”
“I hope not.  Earthseed deals with ongoing reality, not with supernatural authority figures. Worship is no good without action. With action, it’s only useful if it steadies you, focuses your efforts, eases your mind.”
“Praying makes people feel better even when there’s no action they can take. I used to think that was all God was good for.”
“That isn’t what God is for, but there are times when that’s what prayer is for. And there are times when that’s what these verses are for. God is Change, and in the end, God prevails. But there’s hope in understanding the nature of God— not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There’s comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There’s power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all. But there’s no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you. Best to understand that and return the effort: Shape God.”

Lauren thinks he might join her movement.  Zahra is already on board.

She imagines finding and isolated place on the coast and making a deal with the owners–if there were more of them and they were better armed, they could provide security as well as education.

This fantasy, this plan gives the first sign of hope in this bleak world of Lauren’s.  It seems impossible.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION-“Trouble Every Day” (1966).

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention would play all kinds of music over the course of their existence (even more genres added when Frank went solo).  It’s not even entirely clear how you’d describe their first album Freak Out!

This song opens up side three of the double album and is a bluesy song based around a four note (and one bent note) melody and includes harmonica solo.  The song runs almost 6 minutes long and doesn’t change much until after about five and a half the tempo increases dramatically until the song fades.

It was written after the Watts Riots.  It was an accurate description and also sadly prescient.

Right in the middle of the song Frank states:

Hey you know something people I’m not black But there’s a whole lots a times I wish I could say I’m not white

That seems like it was a pretty powerful thing to say (and something you’d be unlikely to hear on the radio) back in 1965.

The chorus sticks with us

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

He certainly predicted the state of 24 hour news

Well you can cool it, You can heat it…
Cause, baby, I don’t need it…

Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all THOSE unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head began to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsmen say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so
And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They’ll be the first to tell
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

Things haven’t changed since this song was written

And it’s the same across the nation
Black & white discrimination
They’re yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
And all the other crap they hand me
In the papers and TV
‘N all that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight

Perhaps the theme verse for recent events

Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no great society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store

It’s a shame this song still resonates.

[READ: March 22, 2021] Parable of the Sower [2024-2025]

I found Kindred to be an enjoyable (not exactly the right word, I know) novel.  I thought the premise was really cool and I thought the content was impactful and was conveyed really well.  It was a powerful story that did not shy away from brutality.

But it in no way prepared me for Parable of the Sower.

I didn’t know anything about this book at all before starting.  At first I thought it was neat that it was set in 2024 (hey that’s so close!)  And that, coincidentally, myself and my daughters are almost the same ages as the main character and her father (will this be our future?).

But then, holy crap, Butler doesn’t hold back.

The brutality of Kindred was based on reality.  It was horrible and, in retrospect, hard to believe that people could do such things.  The brutality of Sower, however, is all based on the future projection.  The book was written in 1993. Basically, she posits that in 30 years, America has become a rotting hellscape.  And while we haven’t reached quite the levels that she imagines, there are some pretty eerie accuracies.  I have to assume, given the natural of the elected politicians, that some things are going to get very very spookily prescient.

The book opens in 2024 with a quote from Earthseed.  We don’t know what that is yet, but by the end of this week’s read we’ll learn that Earthseed is a sort of manifesto written by the main character, Lauren Oya Olamina–I didn’t realize her name was given after the first quote from Earthseed until looking back on it.  Each chapter has another quote from Earthseed and then the story unfolds as a series of diary entries. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMAX RICHTER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #150 (January 22, 2021).

I really enjoyed Max Richter’s Tiny Desk Concert back in January of last year.  The pieces were pretty and sad and had a modern classical feel.

For his Home Concert, he seems to be one of the few people who actually plays in his home.

Shot in artful black and white, their simplicity and beauty invite us into a world as we once knew it, where fresh air wafts through open doors and dogs peacefully snooze (canine cameos by Evie and Haku) in the late summer sunshine in southern England.

These half-dozen short pieces can offer two very different modes of experience.  There’s a mysterious potency in instrumental music, where the mind is open to wander and free-associate. Max Richter taps into that power with singular grace and humanity.

His entire set is 16 minutes, so indeed all of these pieces are quite short.

He played “Vladimir’s Blues” when he was at the Tiny Desk.  There’s no blurb about it here, but the first time, the blurb told us

Its delicately toggling chords are an homage to novelist Vladimir Nabokov who, in his spare time, was a respected lepidopterist, obsessed with a subfamily of gossamer-winged butterflies called the blues. Richter plays the piano with the practice pedal engaged for a warm, muted sound.

It’s a 2004 piece that’s only a minute and a half and it is quite lovely.

Up next are the

gently swaying chords of “Origins,” where the music lumbers in the lower half of the keyboard.

It reminds me a lot of a famous piano piece which I can’t quite remember the name of.  After about three minutes of the piece, one of the dogs who had been lying outside gets up and walks almost up to the camera.

Infra is a ballet he made with Wayne MacGregor for the Royal ballet in London in 2008.

He plays the “soothing, oscillating figures” of “Infra 3” and follows it with the mellow but more upbeat “Horizon Variations.”  This piece also lasts less than two minutes as well.  It’s lovely.

“Prelude 6” from Voices which has a much faster melody than the other pieces.  About half way through, the other dog (who looks like a puppy) comes in all tail-wagging and heads over to dog number 1 (both off camera now).

“Fragment” is a pretty, sad piece to end the set (also about a minute in a half).  As he signs off he says

“Looking forward to the time when gigs can come back and we can do this for real,”

As the video ends, both dogs get up and walk into the lovely sunshine.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat

I saw this book at the library (actually I saw book 5, I think) and thought it sounded funny. They had book one so I decided to start from the beginning.

The title says it (almost) all.  Klawde is an evil alien warlord cat.  The book opens on the planet Lyttyrboks where Klawde (whose Lyttyrboks name is Wyss-Kuzz) is on trial.  He is found guilty of clawing his way to power and committing crimes against felinity.

The elder says that thousands of years ago the punishment’s on Lyttyrboks was banishment to a vast wasteland of a planet inhabited by a race of carnivorous ogres.  For generations they sent their convicts there, but eventually that punishment was deemed to cruel.  However, given the severity of Wyss-Kuzz’s crimes, they have resurrected this punishment.  He is transported across the galaxy to the horrible planet known as Earth.

Alternating chapters are written from the point of view of Klawde’s and an earth boy named Raj.  Raj’s family recently moved from Brooklyn to Elba, Oregon and he is bored and alone.  So when a spaceship lands in front of his house and the doorbell rings… well how exciting to find a cat without a tag.  Even if this cat meows like nothing he’s ever heard before and seems kind of mean.

The book is full of illustrations by Chenoweth.  I love the wickedness of Klawde and Raj’s parents are a hoot as well.

Klawde sees the humans as furless ogres and fears what they will do to him.  They put him in a cage (kitty carrier) and force him to eat horrible food–what is this torture?  Raj’s dad names him: “like clawed, but spelled in a more exciting way.  Why use a C when you could use a K?  K is the alphabet’s party letter.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CECIL TAYLOR-Jazz Advance (1956).

As the biography below states, Cecil Taylor was ahead of his time and harshly criticized for being so.  This was his first album and it made waves–as did his subsequent performance at Newport Jazz Festival (it’s like when Dylan went electric, but for jazz).

Since I’m not a big jazz follower, I’ll start with those who are.  Here’s some notes on the album from The Guardian.

A Taylor group comprised of Buell Neidlinger on bass and Dennis Charles on drums is augmented here and there by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy; the repertoire mixes tunes by Ellington, Monk and Cole Porter with the leader’s fearlessly personal reinventions of the blues. Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” is played even more cryptically and succinctly, the lines breaking up into jagged fragments and jutting chords. Taylor’s “Charge Em Blues” is a 4/4 walk with a surprisingly straight Lacy sax solo, and “Azure”‘s lazily struck chords and delicate treble sounds might even remind you of Abdullah Ibrahim, until the cross-rhythmic improvised piano patterns clattering chords typical of later Taylor emerge. …  It’s a historic document that still sounds more contemporary than most jazz piano music being made today.

As I listened I first thought it didn’t sound all that shocking and I wondered if that was because I was listening in 2021 and not 1956, but around two minutes into “Bemsha Swing” he starts throwing in some atonal and dissonant notes.  You can tell that he knows how to play, but that he’s deliberately hitting either “wrong” notes or just letting his fingers fly where they will.   And it still sounds surprising today.

“Charge ‘Em Blues” sounds far more “normal” at least in the beginning.  Lacy’s sax solo is fun and bouncy.  Then around 5 minutes a back and forth starts with Taylor’s wild free-jazz atonal improv and a drum solo.

“Azure” is a more chill track although about halfway through the improv starts going off the rails.

About half way through “Song” the solo is all over the place–sprinkling around the piano and pounding out a few chords here and there.  It’s dissonant and off-putting, but seem more like it’s trying to wake up the listener. When Lacy’s pretty sax comes in and plays a delightful improv and Taylor is bopping around behind him, the contrast is stark.

“You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” is the only song on the record that I knew before and I never would have recognized it here.  As AllMusic puts it

At his most astonishing, Taylor slightly teases, barely referring to the melody of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” wrapping his playful, wild fingers and chordal head around a completely reworked, fractured, and indistinguishable yet introspective version of this well-worn song form.

This is a solo piece and he is all over the place.  At no point did I recognize the original melody.

“Rick Kick Shaw” features some lively drums and walking bass while Taylor goes to town.  He plays some really fast runs which slowly turn experimental. I’m very curious if future renditions of this song were in any way the same or if all of this soloing was improvised each time.

“Sweet and Lovely” is very slow and more traditional sounding.  Without the speed of his solos, this song comes across as almost like a standard jazz song.  Although at the very end he throws in a few sprinkles of chaos just because he can.

[READ: February 2, 2021] The Musical Brain

I’d only read a couple of short stories from César Aira (all included here).  His novels are so short it almost seems weird that he’d write short stories, but some of these stories are very short indeed.  They do also tend to meander in the way his novels do which makes it seem like some of them don’t end so much as stop.

“The Musical Brain” was the first story I’d read by Aira, and what I wrote about the story has held true for pretty much everything I’ve read by him:

There are so many wonderful and unexpected aspects to this story that I was constantly kept on my toes.  This also made it somewhat challenging to write about.

“A Brick Wall”
I thought I had read this story before but I guess I hadn’t.  It begins with the narrator saying that he went to the movies a lot as a kid–four or six films a week (double features). He says he has an impressive memory for details.  He remembers seeing Village of the Damned decades ago.  A small village’s children are all born as zombies. The zombies can read everyone’s minds so the hero thinks–erect a brick wall.  He also remembers North By Northwest which was titled in Argentina: International Intrigue.  He and his friend Miguel loved the elegance of the movie. And they decided to become spies.  So they created a game in which they would “forget” that they were spies. They would leave notes for each other and then “discover” them so that when they came upon them they were new and exciting.  It was surprisingly easy to forget the game, apparently. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS with MERZBOW-Gensho (Disc One: Boris) (2016).

In 2016, Boris teamed with Merzbow to create Gensho, a 2 CD package that was designed to have both CDs played at the same time.  Not the easiest thing for many people, but with the advent of digital recordings it’s now pretty easy to play both discs at the same time (this release is on Spotify).

Disc 1 was all Boris.  Disc 2 was all Merzbow.

Boris’ album is unusual in that it is re-recordings of some of the bands music as well as a couple of new tracks and a cover.  The unusual part is that there are no drums.  There are percussive elements, especially on one track, but there’s no regular drum beat to any of these tracks.

“Farewell” (from Pink) is a simple two note guitar melody with washes of sound behind it.  New notes expand that repeating motif. After two minutes a roaring chord comes in and holds while the vocals sing an uplifting melody.  The chord progression is very very slow with chords that drone. When the melody shifts to a higher note it feels like the whole song is elevated.  There’s a pretty little guitar solo in the middle and even a gong hit.  It’s one of Boris’ prettier songs and it fades softly into the noise that is “Huge.”

“Huge” (from Amplifier Worship) is two feedbacking guitars introducing distorted chords and lots of gong hits.  They’re followed by a ponderous drone-fueled six chord progression.  At around five minutes the vocals–a growl really–starts up.  At 8 minutes a new pattern emerges.  Two chugging chords and then a roaring low note–practically trademark Boris.

“Resonance” was a new song for Boris.  It is only echoed percussion–randomly and slowly hit.  The title makes sense as these sounds echo and resonate for a long time after they are sounded.  It’s not particularly interesting by itself but it works well with the Merzbow track tacked on.

“Rainbow” comes from the album Rainbow, a collaboration with Michio Kurihara.  I don’t know this record, but if this is any indication of that release, it sounds like a string record.  This is a quiet, pretty song–a sliding bass and a quietly echoing guitar riff as the song whispers along.  Then Wata starts singing quietly as the bass slinks around.  After three minutes a fuzzy guitar solo comes in drawing all attention to itself.  It rips through and ends in a wall of noise before the vocals start again.  This sounds very much like a Sonic Youth song.

Pulsing electronic noses open up “Sometimes” (a My Bloody Valentine cover).  After a minute, feedback and chords come in.  The vocals are nicely buried an you can clearly hear this is Boris’ take on MBV.  It’s a slow drone wall rather than a wall of different sounds.

It segues into “Heavy Rain” (from Noise) which opens as just a series of electronic rumbles and feedback jamming until a pretty echoing chord comes in and Wata sings very quietly.   After a minute and a half big droning chords ring out.  Then its back to the quiet–whispered vocals and gentle echoing notes over a slow meandering bass.   It soars quietly like this until the last 44 seconds which returns to the noise of the opening.

“Akuma No Uta” (from Akuma No Uta) is full of washes of notes, drones and gongs.  Over the course of the 11 and a half minutes of this song, it morphs into loud distorted chords drones ending with a slow heavy two note riff that fades with gongs.

“Akirame Flower” (originally from Golden Dance Classics a split EP with 9dw that I don’t know) opens with watery noises and electronic beat before raw guitar and vocals come in.  This is a softer drone with a pretty guitar solo on top of the fuzz.  The last note rings out and segues into the distorted bent chords of “Vomitself.”

“Vomitself” is the heaviest thing here–heavily distorted chords pummel along while growled vocals creak though.  It’s remarkable how heavy it is with no drums.

[READ: February 5, 2021] “Jamaica”

In this story, a man who is not allowed to go to his wife’s book club, finds a way to be a part of it

Everett is the narrator and he tells us about his family.  His daughter Theresa is dating a man much older than her (of whom Everett disapproves highly); Thomas his son who was born blind.  TJ their dachshund is as much a part of the story as anyone else.  His wife, Jillian, hosts the The Gorgon Book Club.

The attendees are Theresa, Dorry Smith a semi-professional archer–right down to carrying a bow and arrow with her wherever she goes, Luce Winningham who has “a Peter Pan haircut and a perky disdain for wearing a brassiere.”  There’s also Gwen Kirkle who loves animals more than anything (and often brings conversations to a halt when she talks about them).  The final attendee is Abigail Van Roost.

Everett and Abigail dated in high school. Then she had a terrible accident.  Everett (out of cowardice) broke up with her and started dating Jillian.  Amazingly, Abby (who is in a wheelchair) is fine with the arrangement,  She is happily married herself now and treats young Thomas like a prince. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WEATHER PROPHETS-“Almost Prayed” (1987).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate

I’ve been listening to all of these songs on Spotify.  So far, most of the songs have been deep cuts, but this one was The Weather Prophets’ number one song.

I’d never heard of them.  They put out two albums on the Creation label (in fact, Creation head honcho Alan McGee played bass in the band for a short time), and so it’s probably no surprise that they sound a but like The Stone Roses.  This is, so far, the bounciest and most immediately catchy song on the mixtape.

The guitars jangle, although not as much as in some of the other songs.  Like in most of the other songs, the singer kind of sing-speaks, although less than the others.  The biggest difference with this is that it really moves along a clip–much faster than the other songs.  A good pick me up in a mix tape.

[READ: January 20, 2021] “Bulldog”

I know that fiction is not true.  I know that.  But realistic fiction tends to be based on something.  So if this is based on something, then either Arthur Miller lived a very different life than I could imagine or things were very different in the 1920s.  I also had no idea that Arthur Miller was still alive in 2001 (he died in 2005).

This is a fairly simple story: a thirteen year-old boy sees an ad for puppies for sale.  They are brindle bulldogs for sale for $3 each.  The boy has some money (although $3 is a large chunk of it).  He bought an apple tree and a pear tree last year (30 cents each), so he is accustomed to spending money.  But his family has never had a dog–his brother even makes fun of him for wanting one.  What are you going to feed it, soup?

He travels across the city to the apartment in Brooklyn.  The woman opens the door in a robe and seems annoyed.  When he says he’s there for the dog, she loosens up and invites him in.  She asks his age and when he says 13 she seems tickled by that.

The look at the puppies.  He had looked up what the puppies should look like in the World Book, but there were no pictures of brindle bulldogs.  He thought these puppies were just brown and didn’t look like a bulldog at all.

While he was holding the puppy, she sat next to him and her robe opened.  She was naked.  She kissed him and soon they were on the carpet together. (more…)

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