Archive for the ‘David Bezmozgis’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JON BATISTE AND STAY HUMAN-“Believe in Love” (Field Recordings, November 6, 2014).

I had never heard of Jon Batiste and Stay Human until he became the bandleader and sidekick on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

It’s always fun to read about a famous person from before they were famous.  But this blurb doesn’t say much about him (that’s him in the yellow suit and melodica).  But the story about this Field Recording [Jon Batiste Leads A Private Street Parade Atop A Fort] was too good not lead the whole thing in.

Jon Batiste is from New Orleans, where a street parade might assemble around the corner on any given day. Evidently, he likes a good walkabout: He’s liable to lead his band at a guerrilla concert in the New York City subway, or out of a venue, or — as he did at the Newport Jazz Festival — off stage and into the audience.

After playing a set at Newport, he and the Stay Human band kept walking. They walked past the backstage trailers, through the quad stage and up onto an overgrown rampart of Fort Adams — the 190-year-old edifice that houses the festival. After a long day of travel, interviews and a headlining performance, they were there to give us a special and private encore.

The song they played, “Believe in Love” which is upbeat and pleasant.   It is a pretty New Orleans-inflected  (must be the sousaphone bass) poppy/jazzy song.  It’s a lovely understated song, with simple instrumentation: Jon Batiste, voice/melodica; Eddie Barbash, alto saxophone; Barry Stephenson, bass; Ibanda Ruhumbika, tuba; Joe Saylor, tambourine; Jamison Ross, cowbell/backing vocals.

The keyboardist and bandleader calls his portable performances “love riots”: attempts to generate instant community through music.

I love at the end, before they finish, they simply turn around and walk off (even the upright bass), still paying as the music fades from the microphone.

[READ: October 9, 2017] “The Proposition”

This story is about a successful immigrant to Toronto.  His success is more or less everything he hoped for himself, but he wishes he had just a bit more.

Roman Berman had, like many Jews, migrated to this area of Toronto and because he was successful, he was always asked for various avenues of help.  He wanted to sell his old car, but before he could, a friend called and asked if he would sell this car to Svirsky.  So he waited in his office, but of course Svirksy (who bought a lemon of a car previously) did not show at the appointed time.

Berman was sympathetic to his plight but still angered about the delay.  But he knew that when he first arrived he was also looking for help from anywhere.  He worked very hard to get hat he had–and still worked very hard–to the point of irritating the people he relied on for referrals.  But it was necessary if he wanted to provide a good life. (more…)

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fivedials_no29SOUNDTRACK: BOB & DOUG McKENZIE-“The 12 Days of Christmas” (1981).

bob & dougThis is my preferred old school version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  It was one of the first parodies of the song that I had heard (and I was big in parodies back in 1981).

I loved how stupid they were (on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a beer).  I loved trying to figure out what a two-four was, and it cracked me up that they skipped a whole bunch of days.

I also enjoyed how they continued to snipe at each other throughout the song.  Not comedy gold perhaps (that would be “Take Off” recorded with Geddy Lee, but a nice way to start, or end, the season on these “mystery days.”

Evidently, decades after SCTV went off the air, Bob & Doug got an animated TV show (without Rick Moranis).  And they made a video of the song. Hosers.


[READ: December 3, 2013] Five Dials #29

Five Dials Number 29 was the first issue I had read in a while.  (I read this before going back to 26-28).  And it really reminded me of how great Five Dials is.  I don’t know why this isn’t Part 2 after Number 28’s Part 1 (there was no 28b either), but that’s irrelevant.  This is an independent collection of great writing.  I was instantly surprised and delighted to see that César Aria was included in this issue (I didn’t even know he had made inroads in England).

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: In Swedes and Open Letters
Taylor’s usually chipper introduction is saddened by the contents of this one.  The discussion centers on Sweden and the city of Malmo, where integration is proving to be tougher than they’d hoped.  Black skinned people are profiled pretty explicitly.  Taylor talks about meeting the writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri (who they subsequently published in issue 21) who deals with issues of race.  In March of 2013, Khemiri wrote an open letter to Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask after she brushed off concerns about racial profiling. The letter went viral including getting translated into 15 languages.  So I guess there is some positivity after all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TRENCHMOUTH-Vs the Light of the Sun (1994).

I learned about Trenchmouth from an interview with Fred Armisen on The Sound of Young America.  He informed us that he was the drummer in Trenchmouth before he was on SNL.  And he and Jesse Thorn had an amusing discussion about how he was sure they would make it big.  I can’t recall if they played a snippet of the band or not, but it’s a pretty laughable thought that Trenchmouth might be his claim to fame.  Because they are awesome, but they are totally NOT commercial.

In fact, just a few seconds into the lead-off track “Washington! Washington!” will tell you how noncommercial they are.  (It’s a sort of fast heavy punk version of prog rock–jazzy guitars, independent bass, wonderful drumming (Armisen kicks ass) and the screamed hyperkinetic vocals of Damon Locks (he’s passionate, man).

There’s a lot of atonal work here (“Washington! Washington!” opens with drums and Lock’s ragged voice), and once the guitars kick in, it actually makes the song more confusing.  “A Prescription Written in a Different Language” opens with wavering harmonic notes before busting into a full on punk noisefest.  The album lurches around to different styles of weird noise rock (most of the songs are quite short, although “A Man without Lungs” runs over 6 minutes).

But before making it sounds like this is a mess of a record, a few listens will reveal the sanity beneath the chaos.  There are even some discernible choruses: “Here Comes the Automata”‘s “Everybody needs protection” and “Bricks Should Have Wings”‘ “Let the bricks fly” are fun to sing along to.  Similarly, the guitar work that opens “Set the Oven at 400” is rather conventional and quite pretty.

This disc is not for most people, but Trenchmouth is a cool band that has been unfairly lost to the annals of history.

[READ: April 4, 2011] “Rome, 1974”

I had received a pre-pub of Bezmozgis’ novel The Free World, but I haven’t read it yet.  I am interested in Bezmozgis’ writing and was planning to read the book.  As it turns out this “story” is really an excerpt from the novel.

The story is about the Krasnansky family, a Jewish extended family emigrating from the Soviet Union to Italy.  The opening scenes detail the physical hardship that such a move would have taken (it’s played for somewhat comic effect when the large duffel bags are thrown off the train).  There is much dissent among the family members although they sem to settle in well–except for patriarch Samuil who is disconcerted by everything and unhappy to have left the communist country he feels comfortable in. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington DC (2010).

Best Coast made Carrie Brownstein’s best album of the year accolades, but when I listened to the track she selected for the post, I wasn’t all that impressed.

But I have to say that live, Best Coast blew me away.  Bethany Cosentino, the lead singer and guitarist has an amazing stage presence.  She is charming and funny and very silly (and I guess she loves cats).  The band sounded tight and impressive and even though the songs are kind of dopey bubblegum pop, they are drenched in enough noise and rock to make them really wonderful

They seem like they should have come around during the 90s, when all those rocking female bands were all over the map.  And so this is like a wonderful blast from the past.  Best Coast is sort of like The Muffs (except they write love songs) and other bands that play really catchy pop but bury it under a layer of fuzz and rock.  This is a great set available on NPR, and will definitely get me to check out their album a little more.

[READ: March 28, 2011] “Seven Love Letters”

Six of the seven letters here were later collected in the book Four Letter Word which I reviewed in September 2009.  When I reviewed the book, I didn’t give very much in the way of detail, I just summarized the letters.  I’m going to copy what I wrote then (since my thoughts didn’t change all that much), and I’m going to include a few more lines about some of the pieces (original stuff is in italics).  I’m also including titles which (for some reason) were not given in the book.

I’m also not sure why Sheila Heti’s story did not appear in the book.  (It’s only 4 paragraphs and is, indeed, a letter so why not include it?)  If you enjoyed the book, think of this story as a Bonus Feature. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAD & DALLAS-“Live Forever” (2010).

Shad and Dallas Green (from Alexisonfire) recorded an EP called Two Songs and the profits go to Skate4Cancer.  The A Side is the new song “Live Forever.”  Shad is a great rapper, and make no mistake, this is a Shad song.  Green sings the hook-filled chorus (and an intro line).

Shad’s rapping is great and his rhymes are clever and interesting (he even does a fast double-time section which I’d never heard him do before). But the music itself is kind of bland.  I listened to it three times and I never really got into the flow of it.

I rather hope that sales are good (for the charity’s sake) but I’m afraid I’m not that excited by the track.

[READ: January 23, 2011] “Choynski”

I recently noticed that I had reviewed a whole bunch of stories from The Walrus.  So I wondered just how many stories there were in previous issues of the maagzine that I hadn’t posted about.  The magazine only started in 2003, and I still have all the issues (yes, that’s right…  I bought Issue 1 on the newsstand), so it wasn’t that hard to figure out.  In the early days, not every issue had fiction in it.  I started calculating and discovered that there were only about 25 stories to go.  So I thought, why not go back and read them all, eh?

This story was in Issue #2, and I have to say, good for them for picking David Bezmozgis to be their first author.  His issue bio reads that his first short story collection Natasha will be published in June.  And if you check now, you’ll see that Natasha won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book.  Not bad.

There are essentially two stories in this piece and they tie together quite nicely.  The first arc concerns the narrator’s dying grandmother.  She is an old Russian Jew whose English isn’t great so she tries to speak in Yiddish to make up for it.  Her family understands but few others (like her doctor) know what she’s talking about.  As the story progresses, her family tries to keep the truth of her condition from her, but she is no dummy.

The second story concerns the narrator’s attempt to learn more information about Joe Choynski.  Choynski was being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Old Timers division) and the narrator was going to the ceremony.  In trying to learn more about Choynski (considered America’s frst great fighting Jew), he enlists the help of Charley Davis, an old man who knows more than just about anyone else about the Choynski.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAS RACIST-“Combination PIzza Hut and Taco Bell” (2010).

This issue of the New Yorker featured an article from Sasha Frere-Jones about two underground rap sensations.  One of them is Das Racist.  I’d heard of them especially regarding this “hit,” but I hadn’t actually heard the song until now.

This song is pretty much exclusively a novelty song.  what else could it be?  The entire lyric is about being at the Pizza Hut/Taco Bell.  It’s kind of funny, and as Frere-Jones says, I can see this being huge at college parties.  But I have to say that–as a guy who typically loves novelty songs–that this song has literally no substance.  Even the backing beats are kind of dull.

I really wanted to like this song.  The guys seem funny (all their promo photos are amusing) and yet they also seem to have serious ideas.  But it just never really did anything for me.  And yet, for all of how much I don’t get this song and really don’t like it, it’s catchy as all hell, and I know that after listening to it just twice, I will have the inane lyrics in my head for months, cropping up no doubt every time I see a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

[READ: November 19, 2010] “Pickled Cabbage”

The Thanksgiving issue of the New Yorker features five one page articles from different writers all about families and food.  And so, for the holiday I’m going to write 5 brief posts about articles about food.

I’ve enjoyed Bezmozgis’ pieces in the past although I don’t typically enjoy pickled cabbage.  Nevertheless, this was a fascinating look at Soviet life and at cooking.  He observes that many people have multiple cookbooks on their shelves but that his family cooked entirely from memory (this is a common theme in these essays).  For his family, food was for sustenance, not for pleasure. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RUSH-Oak Oppression: Cobo Hall, Detroit, December 17, 1978 (1978).

This is another bootleg from Up the Down Stair.  This is a 1978 show, right after the release of Hemispheres.  I have always loved this era of Rush, and the fact that they play so many looooong songs in this show is music to these ears.

We’ve got a 12 minute “Xanadu”, a 10 minute “Cygnus X-1”, followed by “Cygnus X 1 Book 2 Hemispheres” (18 minutes), a 10 minute “La Villa Strangiato” and and 18 minute complete “2112.”  That they can fit 10 more songs into this concert is pretty amazing.

The show is of good quality, although aside from the track listing there aren’t a lot of surprises here (Rush shows don’t deviate all that much from the records).  The nice surprise is in the drum solo.  It’s pretty much the same one from All the World’s a Stage, but it has some really fun effects on it at the end.

[READ: August 4, 2010] “The Train of Their Departure”

David Bezmozgis is another of the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40.  I enjoyed this story, set in Russia in 1976, because it was like two different stories combined into one saga.

Polina is a twenty-one year old married woman.  As the story opens, we learn of the cute courtship that her husband Maxim treated her to.  He followed protocol, her treated her very nicely.  He waited every step of the way, from kissing to petting to more.  He even used contraception (something most Russian men didn’t bother with).  Their courtship felt inevitable, even if Polina was never really smitten with him. (more…)

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This week’s New Yorker contains a list of the 20 authors under age 40 that they predict we’ll be talking about for years to come.  Their criteria:

did we want to choose the writers who had already proved themselves or those whom we expected to excel in years to come? A good list, we came to think, should include both.

They have published eight of these authors in the current issue and are publishing the remaining 12 over the next 12 weeks.  I’m particularly excited that they chose to do this now.  Since I’m currently involved in two big book projects, it’s convenient to be able to read a whole bunch of short stories to intersperse between big posts.

I’ve read half of the authors already (likely in The New Yorker and McSweeney‘s).  And have heard of many of the others.   The list is below: (more…)

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LoveLettersSMSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-SYR 7: J’accuse Ted Hughes/Agnès B Musique (2008).

syr7The first side of the disc (for it was only released on vinyl) is a ballsy blast of music.  Ballsy because it was the opening track of their live set at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2000.  And who opens up their set at a festival that features bands like Super Furry Animals, Sigur Rós, and Stereolab (basically a who’s who in awesome Brit-rock) with this 22 minute shriek of noise?

The set was so derisively received that the cover of the NME (hilariously reproduced on the cover of the LP) stated “Goodbye 20th Century, Goodbye Talent.”

The noise is palpable: squeals and squalls and all manner of feedback.  Kim even gets a strange little spoken word section in the middle.  I would think fans might have enjoyed it for 5, maybe even 10 minutes, but by 23 it’s pretty numbing.  The rest of the set included instrumentals from the not yet released NYC Ghosts and Flowers.  It almost seems like the set was payback for the invitation.

The B-side is an 18 minute “soundtrack” of sorts.  Agnes B. is a French clothing designer and yet somehow the music feels like it could be for some scary kids’ movie.  It has a number of creepy elements to it.  I kept picturing people sneaking around a little cottage.

The liner notes are written in Arpitan, a steadily-declining-in-use language spoken mostly in Italy and Switzerland.

Not for the faint of heart (or the vinylphobic).

[READ: August 31, 2009] Four Letter Word

I read about this book in The Walrus and then I ordered it from Amazon.ca as it doesn’t seem to be available in the US.

The book is a collection of “love letters.”  What is so very interesting about the collection is the varied nature of the letters themselves.  It’s not just: “I love you XOXO” (of course).   There are letters to mothers, stepmothers, mountains, and the Earth itself.  There are letters of love, lust, anger and respect.

I was most attracted to the book by the great list of authors, some of whom I read religiously and many others whom I just really like (and of course a bunch who I’ve never heard of).

It’s hard to review a collection of short stories that is as varied as this, especially when the pieces are this short (as most of them are).  And, I guess technically, they aren’t even short stories.  They are just letters. I would never base my opinion of these authors from this work.  Although some of the authors that I know well definitely retain their signature style.  There were only one or two letters that I didn’t enjoy, but for the most part the entire collection is very good.  And if you like any of these authors, it’s worth checking out.

I’m going to list all of the authors, mention who the letter is to, and any other salient features (without trying to give anything away–several letters have a surprise in them)! (more…)

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