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Archive for the ‘Anti-war’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: March 16, 2022] In the Jaws of Life

The version pictured here is not the one I read–there’s no pictures of it online!  My copy was translated by Celia Hawkesworth and Michael Henry Heim.

This book is a collection of short stories from throughout Ugrešić’s career.

The book has three (or 8) stories in it.  I discovered Ugrešić through The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar (story #2).  “Lend Me Your Character” was weird and cool and was probably my favorite story in the collection (it’s here as well).

When I read a little about Ugrešić, I found that she was born in Croatia, but left the region when the war in Yugolslavia broke out, saying she was post-national and refusing to acknowledge her Croatian heritage.  She currently resides in Amsterdam.

Her stories are wonderful mash ups of fairy tales, feminist theory, “traditional women’s writing” and a lot of sexuality.

“Steffie Speck in the Jaws of Life (a patchwork novel)” (1981) [trans C.H.]
This story has so much going on that it’s easy to overlook that it’s a fairly straightforward story, just with a lot of filigree tacked on.  The story opens with a “Key to the Various Symbols” and includes things like — dotted lines with scissors (cut the text along the line as desired); slashes (pleats: make large thematic stitches on either side of the author’s seam); four equals signs (make a metatextual knot and draw in as desired).  And so on.  And the contents is actually listed as “The Paper Pattern” which lays out each section according to a sewing pattern.  Each section heading is given a parenthetical comment (tacking, padding, hemming, interfacing).

When you start the story you see that the symbols are indeed throughout the story, although honestly after a few pages I gave up trying to figure out what they might mean.

The story starts with the narrator saying that her friends told her to write “a women’s story.”  The author looks at several lonely hearts letters in the paper and picks the fifth one as the basis.  Steffie, aged 25, is a typist by profession.  She’s lonely and sad and lives with her aunt. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Right-wing lies about the Insurrection (2021).

[READ: November 2021] Small Blows Against Encroaching Totalitarianisms: Volume Two

Two years into the previous administration, McSweeney’s published two small books which railed against everything the Criminal in Chief stood for and had done.

Reading these books in 2021 after he had been soundly trounced in the election and with the possibility of jail time (for any of multitude of the illegal things that he did) is somewhat calming.   I think if I had read this in 2018 it would have been thoroughly dispiriting.  Because even though these essays provide hope, they are just full of recounting of the horrors that that [fill in the blank] and his crew of reprobates did.

It has been a year since the brainwashed masses tries to overthrow our government.  And still nothing has happened.  Our country is broken.  These essays don’t really fix it, but it’s nice to know you’re not alone in thinking this way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The sounds of trump supporters violating our National Buildings in a failed Insurrection plot (2021).

[READ: December 2021] Small Blows Against Encroaching Totalitarianisms: Volume One

One year ago trump and his lackeys tried to overthrow the government.  Thankfully they failed.  But one year later not enough people have been punished.

Two years into the previous administration, McSweeney’s published two small books which railed against everything the Criminal in Chief stood for and had done.

Reading these books in 2021 after he had been soundly trounced in the election and with the possibility of jail time (for any of multitude of the illegal things that he did) is somewhat calming.   I think if I have read this in 2018 it would have been thoroughly dispiriting.  Because even though these essays provide hope, they are just full of recounting of the horrors that that [fill in the blank] and his crew of reprobates did.

Not even including the attempted insurrection and overthrow of our country.

It has been a year since the brainwashed masses tries to overthrow our government.  And still nothing has happened.  Our country is broken.  These essays don’t really fix it, but it’s nice to know you’re not alone in thinking this way. (more…)

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download (71)SOUNDTRACK: THAO NGUYEN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #56 (July 28, 2020).

download (70)I have enjoyed a lot of music from Thao Nguyen and her band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.  She plays an idiosyncratic type of indie rock that’s catchy but also quirky.  Although I haven’t heard much from her lately.

She plays three songs here and she talks a lot between songs.  What she has to says is both powerful and meaningful.

For her Tiny Desk (home) concert, Thao Nguyen opens with a somber version of “Temple,” the dance-oriented title track from Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s new album. The song is an homage to her parents, who were refugees of the Vietnam War. Thao sings from the perspective of her mother, honoring their hard-fought freedom and their hopes that their daughter is blessed with the ability to pursue her own happiness. She recorded it as a trio with cellists (and neighbors) Elisabeth Reed and Andy Luchansky. It’s a powerful rendition that celebrates, in Thao’s words, “being queer and being out in my career, something that being out publicly has caused a lot of turmoil and unrest in my own life.”

I hadn’t heard the original of “Temple” before this, but after, I had to give it a listen.  The recorded version is faster and a lot more dancey.  This spare version is quite striking and really brings the lyrics to the fore.  Thao plays the guitar and the addition of Reed and  Luchansky makes the song far more somber.  She said they created this version just for Tiny Desk “because you deserve nice things.”

She says she’s been reading about addressing anti-black racism in Asian and Vietnamese culture.  She has become more educated about what has allowed Southeast Asian refugees to settle in America. Black civil rights leaders, the Black Power movement for directly and informed change in immigration law and made it less racist.

We also hear “Pure Cinema” from Temple which has another interesting twisting riff that she plays quietly as she sings.  She also plays a slightly atonal guitar solo which is really interesting, too.

She ends with a mandolin version of “Departure” from her 2016 album, A Man Alive.  Once again there’s a cool riff and she does some really cool slides up the fretboard as she plays.  I’ve not heard mandolin playing like this before.  I’d love for her and Chris Thile to do a mandolin show together.

[READ: July 31, 2020] “Heirlooms”

This story felt a lot like an excerpt.  I often wonder if pieces in the New Yorker are excerpts–usually when a story doesn’t feel like it ends properly.  This one actually ended pretty satisfyingly, but it just felt like there could be a lot more.

So this is an excerpt from Washington’s forthcoming novel Memorial.

I had read a story from Washington back in January that I really liked.  I’m not sure if that story is also from the novel, but it features a main character who is similar to the one in this excerpt.

The narrator is a man named Ben.  His boyfriend Mike has just left for Japan to be with his dying father.  Although the same day that Mike left, Mike’s mother Mitsuko came to visit.  This is not, apparently, a coincidence.

So this excerpt shows Ben trying to cohabitate with his boyfriend’s mother whom he has never met before.

Ben is angry at Mike.  Both because he has left his mother here, but also because Mike’s father left him for Japan when Mike was a teenager.  Mike hadn’t heard from him in over a decade, but he rushed off to him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LUCINDA WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #55 (July 27, 2020).

I don’t really like Lucinda Williams.  Her voice really bugs me. I don’t know if she always sang like this but this sort of drunken drawl just hurts my head.

I know that she’s a legend and everyone loves her, but I have a hard time getting through her songs.  And that’s a shame because her lyrics are great.  Well, maybe not her lyrics, but her sentiments.

Because the lyrics to “Bad News Blues” are not great.  It’s a pretty standard blues song in which she lists all of the bad news that she has around her.

Bad news on my left
Bad news on my right
Bad news in the morning
Bad news at night

The only thing interesting about this song really is the bluesy lead guitar work from Stuart Mathis.  Otherwise, it’s a blues song.

“Big Black Train” is a slower bluesy song about not wanting to get on board the train that’s barreling towards us.  Wow, her singing the chorus really hurts my ears.

“You Can’t Rule Me” is on the radio a lot and I’ve been turning it off when it comes on.  It’s obviously a song of empowerment but I can’t stand the drawl of her voice.  Although once again Stuart’s lead is pretty tasty.  In fact the guitar work from both of them is great throughout.

The set ends with “Man Without A Soul” and this is the song that made me think more highly of her.  Musically the song isn’t much.  In fact, it sounds pretty close to “Bog Black Train” in the chorus.  But its’ the words that are impactful.

It’s pretty clear who this song is about:

You’re a man without truth
A man of greed, a man of hate
A man of envy and doubt
You’re a man without a soul
All the money in the world
Will never fill that hole
You’re a man bought and sold
You’re a man without a soul
You bring nothing good to this world
Beyond a web of cheating and stealing
You hide behind your wall of lies
But it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
You’re a man without shame
Without dignity and grace
No way to save face
You’re a man without a soul

She says she wrote this to shake people up and wake people up.  I don’t know if it will do either, but I hope some people’s minds are changed by it.

[READ: July 31, 2020] “The Lottery”

This issue of the New Yorker is an Archival Issue.  It’s weird to me that at a time of unprecedented everything, the magazine would choose to have virtually no new content.

Except that the articles in it are strangely timely.

Calvin Trillin (he was writing in 1964?) was on a flight that Martin Luther King, Jr. was on and he overheard a white preppy-looking post-college boy who disagreed with King (believing that King was advocating violence and was therefore unChristian).  It was a remarkably peaceful conversation even if the boy never saw King’s point of view.

The second article is about Black Lives Matter with the subtitle “A new kind of movement found its moment.” What will its future be?”  But this article was written in 2016 and it ends “Black Lives Matter may never have more influence than it has now.”  How wrong that was?

And then there is the Shirley Jackson story, originally written in 1948.

I read this story in sixth or seventh grade and it has stuck with me all of these years.  I remember being rather blown away by it in school, thinking it was one thing and then realizing it was something else entirely.

I have not read it since. I felt that I didn’t really have to read it because it stuck with me so much.  But I’m glad I did re-read it, because although some details were still there, I had forgotten some pretty intense stuff.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SELFISH CUNT-“Britain Is Shit” / “Fuck the Poor” (2003).

I had not heard of this band until reading about them in yesterday’s Nick Hornby essay.  He didn’t name them, but he mentioned a review in which the band were described as combining ‘the hammering drum machine and guitar of controversial 80’s trio Big Black and the murky noise of early Throbbing Gristle.”

The band was formed in early 2003 by Martin Tomlinson and Patrick Constable, and was noted for provocative lyrics, aggressive stage shows, and electronic-influenced rock.  In 2004, The Guardian placed Selfish Cunt at #40 on its list of “top 40 bands in Britain today.”  They broke up in 2008.

This was their first single.  It surprises me that both of these songs are over three minutes long as they seems like they would be about 45 seconds.

“Britain is Shit” opens with a fast electronic drum beat with jagged guitar stabs and shouted vocals.  Big Black is an excellent touchstone.  After a few verses, all the music drops out except for the drum machine–it’s quite a bold musical statement (not to mention the lyrics).  A ringing guitar chord keeps the semblance of melody going.  The lyrics resume:

Are you having fun / when war is on
put your kettle on / cause the war is on.
Britain is shit / it’s full of lies
white men start their shit / in their shirts and ties.

“Fuck the Poor” is quite similar.  A simple drum machine beat with loud distorted guitars as the only musical element.  The lryics:

Fuck the poor / make war

sung in a heavy British accent,  After the first verse a second guitar chimes in with a guitar riff on top. and more distorted guitar.  The melody doesn’t change.  The song ends in a cacophony of noise.

These songs aren’t original (although combining the sharp electric drum with punk guitars is pretty novel) but they are provocative.  Evidently their live show was quite something.

A 2004 thread on Drowned in Sound describes the live show

I saw them last night, not sure if they could live up to the hype. I went with an open mind but thinking they might not pull it off.

But fuck me. They pulled it off. They fucking rocked. The singer was incredible, hypnotic, acrobatic, snarling, wearing a ripped up catsuit and eye makeup, prowling round the crowd and singing in people’s faces, coming on to all the straight boys, singing in the girls’ ears… like some kind of crossover between iggy, rotten and … grace jones or something. he threw himself around, doing these balletic poses, completely confident and… fucking ace.

Songs? yeah, there were some, they were loud and good. Britain Is Shit is the best anti war song I’ve heard. Fuck The Poor is an anthem. And, one more time, for the record, when he says those vile things like “bang bang another nigger dead” it’s not his own opinion, it’s the voice of someone else – soldier, politician, whoever. It’s a PROTEST not an advocation. come on, haters, get with the fuckin programme.

I think racist types are not really going to latch onto Selfish Cunt because Tompkinson is one of the most obviously gay frontmen i’ve ever seen, and i doubt many racist bigots are particularly accepting of gay people… and i honestly think that the disdain with which he spits out the lyrics make it pretty obvious that there’s something more going on than just the straight lyric.

Of course, you’ll never get a song on the radio with a name like that.

[READ: June 3, 2019] “The Male Gaze”

I enjoyed the tone of this story although the main character was a bit of a puzzle.  She is sophisticated and aware of the male gaze, but seems willing to succumb to it anyway.

Phoebe is a young, sexually active New Yorker: “sometimes she felt like hot shit, sometimes just like shit.”

The first section of the story is called The Most Important Artist of the Post-Second World War Period.

At a party, Phoebe meets Pablo Miles who approached her and says “you’re very fuckable.”

Of all the affronts!  But Phoebe knew the game and made big eyes at him and said “Do you really mean it?” (more…)

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