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Archive for the ‘David Foster Wallace’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FLATBUSH ZOMBIES-Tiny Desk Concert #64 (August 13, 2020).

download (93)I’ve never heard of the Flatbush Zombies, but I really like their chill rap style.  Musically the songs are groovy and complex and the live backing vocalists (l-r: Danielle Withers; Nayanna Holley; Stevvi Alexander) really flesh out the sound.

Plus, there’s three lead rappers who have very different vocal styles and combine wonderfully.

Most of the music comes from keyboardist Brittani Washington and bassist Robin Bramlett.  But its the live drums (Drin Elliott) that really punch these songs (the cymbals sound really sharp and clean).

You’ve never really experienced Flatbush Zombies if you haven’t been to one of their live shows. The hip-hop group’s knack for tearing down festival stages is well documented and the energy transfer between members Zombie Juice, Meechy Darko and Erick Arc Elliott and their crowds is ferocious to put it lightly. So when I heard that they were recording a Tiny Desk concert from home, I was curious as to if and how that energy would manifest in a confined space.

It’s fun watching the band perform in this socially distanced house–everyone is far apart but clearly jamming off of each other, and the camera(s) are all over the room.

The Zombies present themselves like we’ve never seen or heard. Stripped down versions of “when i’m gone,” fan favorite, “Palm Trees” and the brand new James Blake-produced “Afterlife” are almost completely different from the recorded versions.

This may be yet another instance where a Tiny Desk Concert brings out the best of a rap band.  I don’t know what their recorded versions sound like, but the live band is great.  If this is really the first time they’ve played together, it’s a testament to how good they can all play together.

“when i’m gone” song starts out with Zombie Juice rapping.  He’s got a soft but intense delivery that I really like.  The backing vocals are really lovely.  Erick Ark Elliott takes the second verse.   His delivery is also quiet.  But it’s the addition of Meechy Darko’s gravelly, intense rapping that sets the song apart.  There’s also a nice instrumental breakdown at the end.

Between songs, the guys introduce themselves.  Erik says he is Erik The Architect and Meechy says his government name is Dimitri Simms (which makes everyone laugh).

Introducing “Palm Trees” Erik says this is the first time you’ll hear this song in this way.  Meechy sings the first part with his deep gravelly Jamaican vocals.   For the second half, Zombie Juice raps in a kind of comical falsetto that I really like.

Meechy is a hilarious hype man, making all kind of hype sounds [Blap blap. gaboom, r-r-r-rah, bakka, bakka] as they introduce the band members.

The guys stand up for “Afterlife.”  Erik takes the lead and the other two guys back him up nicely.  There’s fantastic backing vocals on this song and it’s pretty clear that these guys are terrific live.

I really enjoyed this set and am looking forward to hearing more from these Zombies.

[READ: August 15, 2020] “All My Pronouns”

This essay kind of updates the prescriptivist/grammar article that David Foster Wallace wrote in Harper’s almost 20 years ago.

Anne Fadiman addresses the increased usage of they/their as both a singular pronoun and for nonbinary persons.

She explains that she is a classic prescriptivist when it comes to language and to life.  She sorted her M&Ms by color before eating them.  (Apparently 18% of respondents to a survey responded that they did this while 82% said “no, that’s weird”).  I think that’s weird, but I do go along with her on some other “splitter” attitudes.

She separates splitters vs. lumpers.  Splitters makes distinctions rather than finding commonalities.  Splitters don’t say you’ve seen a bird, or even a hawk, say a red-shouldered hawk.  Splitters enjoy organization; splitters enjoy grammar.

Splitters tend to be presciptivitsts–this is how people should talk.  While lumpers tend to be descriptivists this is how people actually talk.

Prescriptivists are called (usually by descriptivists) elitists, killjoys, curmudgeons, cranks, fussbudgets, old farts, usage nerds and grammar fascists.  Descriptivists are called (usually by prescriptivists) corrupters, miscreants, barbarians and vulgarians.

But now prescriptivists have to address the issue of the pronoun “they.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BANANA SPLITS-“The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)” (1968).

traOf all the bubblegum pop songs, this is probably the one I know the best.

I was surprised to discover that the song and TV show were from 1968, because I used to watch it all the time.

But I see that the series originally ran from September 7, 1968 to September 5, 1970, but then it was in syndication from 1971 to 1982, which is when I watched it.  Amazingly, it was in syndication for 11 years and there were only 31 episodes made.

Is there anything catchier than a bunch of people singing tra la la, la la la la?

And then the lyrics couldn’t be simpler:

One banana, two banana, three banana, four
Four bananas make a bunch and so do many more
Over hill and highway the banana buggies go
Coming on to bring you the Banana Splits show
Making up a mess of fun
Making up a mess of fun
Lots of fun for everyone
Four banana, three banana, two banana, one
All bananas playing in the bright warm sun
Flipping like a pancake, popping like a cork
Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snork

This was the theme song for the TV show.  It was a minute and a half and is insanely catchy.

The Dickies did a punk cover in the 1970s, which doesn’t sound very different from the original, expect that instead of bright keyboards, the music is all guitars and drums.  It is faster-paced and yet longer because of a guitar solo and some extra sing along parts.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the Banana Splits were:

  • Fleegle — A greenish-brown dog wearing a large red bow tie, black buttons, brownish-orange chucks, with his tongue is always sticking out. He plays a guitar and sings.
  • Bingo — A nasal-voiced orange gorilla wearing white glasses and a yellow vest, featuring a toothy grin. He plays drums and sings.
  • Drooper — A lion with a very long tail wearing yellowish-orange glasses, spats on his feet, and speaks with a Southern drawl. He plays a bass guitar and sings.
  • Snorky — A mute furry elephant wearing pink glasses. He becomes a regular elephant in season 2, wearing a green vest with yellow stripes. He communicates through honking sounds akin to a clown horn, and one of the other Splits would translate what he is saying. He plays a keyboard.

What a great time to be a kid.

[READ: June 8, 2020] Bubblegum Week 5

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

A Fistful of Fists is a Handful

After the academia and “high brow” thoughts of Triple J’s essays, this week’s transcription of Triple J’s film A Fistful of Fists: A Documentary Collage is rather tough reading.  It reminded me of reading something like David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (The Part About the Crimes) in that there’s some really horrible things to witness but their inclusion serves to prove a point and even to further the plot and fill in some gaps.

A Fistful of Fists is a collage of twenty-seven short films all about the joy of killing cures.  The transcription is a print version of what is seen on the videos, sometimes in graphic detail.  Scenes of it reminded me of some of the “torture porn” stories that were trendy a while back. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FUN AND GAMES-“Elephant Candy” (1968).

indexI’d never heard of The Fun and Games before looking up this bubblegum pop song.

Amazingly there were six members of the band (and none of them were cartoons).

The band members and name were constantly in flux and they released only one album, Elephant Candy in 1968.

“Elephant Candy” is a two and a half minute pop delight.

The main music of this song sounds almost like the music of a merry-go-round–a kind of sugar-coated pipe organ.

The song opens with the preposterously catchy “elephant elephant candy did you know that elephants can be fun eating candy on the run.”  The second go-round features backing vocals of a steady “Ahhahahh” that sounds simultaneously unsettling and catchy: kind of like a fun house mirror.

The verse seems like its just an opportunity to pause in between the next appearance of the chorus.

If that weren’t catchy enough, the song moves up a step so it’s even more treacly. Somehow, the song even has time for two keyboard solos.

[READ: June 1, 2020] Bubblegum Week 4

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

Sometimes One Looks Like The Other, Bad Taste and Stupidity

This weeks reading was really intense.  It also showed things that I never imagined would come up.

  • A lengthy and carefully edited suicide note.
  • A lengthy treatise on transgendered persons/prostitution/homosexuality
  • Academic papers that are simultaneously well-written and yet obviously the work of a child.

Part Two, Section 5 of the book is called “Letters and Facts.”

This was an interesting place to stop/resume reading because, although they reference the same incident, the beginning of this section differs from the end of the previous section.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JESCA HOOP-Tiny Desk Concert #965 (April 3, 2020).

I really liked the Tiny Desk Concert that features Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop.  So much so that I bought the CD and it made me want to see both of them live.

Jesca Hoop last appeared at the Tiny Desk as a duet with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) in the spring of 2016. They sang songs from their collaborative record Love Letters For Fire.

This time it is just Jesca and I have realized that I liked her more as an accompanist rather than a lead singer.  Actually, that’s not exactly right.  Her voice is lovely.  I just find the songs a little meandering.

This time around, Jesca Hoop came to the Tiny Desk with just her guitars, her lovely voice, and brilliant poetic songs. She has a magical way with words, and she opened her set with “Pegasi,” a beautiful song about the wild ride that is love, from her 2017 album Memories Are Now.

“Pegasi” is nice to watch her play the fairly complex guitar melodies–she uses all of the neck.  The utterly amazing thing about “Pegasi” though comes at the end of the song when she sings an amazing note (high and long) that represents a dying star.

She wanted to sing it today so it could live on Tiny Desk.

The two songs that follow are from her latest album, Stonechild, the album that captured my heart in 2019, and the reason I reached out to invite her to perform at my desk.

“All Time Low” is a song, she says, for the “existential underdog.”  She switches guitars (to an electric) and once again, most of the melody takes place on the high notes of the guitar.  Her melodies are fascinating.  And the lyrics are interesting too:

“Michael on the outside, always looking in
A dog in the fight but his dog never wins
If he works that much harder, his ship might come in
He gives it the old heave-ho.”

After the song, she says, I’m going to tune my guitar, but I’m not going to talk so it doesn’t take as long. If you were at my show, I’d be talking the whole time and it would take a long time.

And for her final tune, she plays “Shoulder Charge.” It’s a song that features a word that Jesca stumbled upon online: “sonder,” which you won’t find in the dictionary. She tells the NPR crowd “sonder” is the realization “that every person that you come across is living a life as rich and complex as your own.” And that realization takes you out of the center of things, something that is at the heart of “Shoulder Charge” and quite a potent moment in this deeply reflective and personal Tiny Desk concert.

This word, sonder, came to my attention back in 2016 when Kishi Bashi first discovered it and named his album Sonderlust for it.

The song is like the others, slow and quite with a pretty melody that doesn’t really go anywhere.

I found that after three listens, I started to enjoy the songs more, so maybe she just writes songs that you need to hear a few times to really appreciate.

[READ: March 2020] Ducks, Newburyport

I heard about this book because the folks on the David Foster Wallace newsgroup were discussing it.  I knew nothing about it but when I read someone describe the book like this:

1 Woman’s internal monologue.  8 Sentences. 1040 pages

I was instantly intrigued.

Then my friend Daryl said that he was really enjoying it, so I knew I had to check it out.

That one line  is technically (almost) accurate but not really accurate.

The story (well, 95% of it) is told through one woman’s stream of consciousness interior monologue.  She is a mother living in Ohio.  She has four children and she is overwhelmed by them.  Actually she is overwhelmed by a lot and she can’t stop thinking about these things.

She used to teach at a small college but felt that the job was terrible and that she was not cut out for it.  So now she bakes at home and sells her goods locally.  She specializes in tarte tatin.  This is why she spends so much time with her thoughts–she works alone at home.  Her husband travels for work.  Whether she is actually making money for the family is a valid but moot question.

So for most of the book not much happens, exactly.  We just see her mind as she thinks of all the things going on around her.  I assume she’s reading the internet (news items come and go in a flash).  She is quite funny in her assessment of the world (how much she hates trump).  While I was reading this and more and more stupid things happened in the real world, I couldn’t help but imagine her reaction to them).  She’s not a total liberal (she didn’t trust Hillary), but she is no conservative either (having lived in Massachusetts and New York).  In fact, she feels she does not fit in locally at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MELLOTRON VARIATIONS-Tiny Desk Concert #954 (March 3, 2020).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts list the musicians and what instrument they play.  So I got a kick out of this lineup:

John Medeski: Mellotron; Jonathan Kirkscey: Mellotron; Robby Grant: Mellotron; Pat Sansone: Mellotron.  [that’s the lineup left to right].

Indeed, Mellotron Variations are four guys standing behind Mellotrons making a universe of sounds.

The Mellotron was a magical 1960s invention that predates sampling. It’s a keyboard instrument, with each piano key triggering a tape loop — the sound could be a string ensemble, a flamenco guitar, a saxophone and so much more. Think about the flute sounds on The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and you get the idea.

We’ve never had an original Mellotron at the Tiny Desk until now. Much like a Hammond organ, it’s big, heavy and fragile. When they fired it up, with all its mechanical gears turning tape loops and moving play heads, the 15-year-old geek in me blissed out.

Pat Sansone introduces the band and gives a fascinating history of the Mellotron and how it works.  Each of the 35 keys plays a magnetic tape like on a reel to reel player (I remotely understand that and it is cool to see the mechanism at work).  The modern ones, still made by Mellotron are all digital.

When Mellotron Variations keyboardist Robby Grant and I began discussing an all-Mellotron Tiny Desk, we quickly realized that having four of these beasts wouldn’t fit behind my desk. So Robby Grant, Pat Sansone (Wilco) and Jonathan Kirkscey performed on the portable — and still incredible-sounding — 21st-century version of the instrument. At the same time, John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) tackled the original beast.

The band plays three songs.  The first, “Agent Cha Cha” sounds like a trippy spy movie.  It’s really fun watching Medeski play the original machine and seeing him kind of forcibly make the sounds do what he wants–I guess he is literally slowing down the tape that’s playing?

Robby Grant seems to handle all of the drums and percussion.  It’s then fun to watch as Sansone holds down one key to get a 60’s cartoon melody mid song.

Jonathan Kirkscey and Robby Grant play some real spacey, synthy sounds as they segue into the next song.

“Dulcimer Bill” opens with some dulcimer sounds.  It is trippy and spacey sounding for a bit and then Sansone plays what S. immediately recognized as the opening to The Beatles’ “Bungalow Bill.”  I assume Sansone has simply sampled the guitar as he plays it with one key.  The end of the song sounds so incredibly 70s (Pink Floyd all over the place)

The sonic landscape they produce as Mellotron Variations is ingenious and impressive. It’s a score with the audience as collective filmmaker, each one of us capable of creating imagery in our heads to this music of mystery and sometimes comedy. In the words of my teenaged self, “it was a trip.”

The trip concluded with “Pulsar.”  The song opens with industrial space sounds from Kirkscey while Medeski plays flute loops. Grant adds the drums while Sansone plays a kind of harpsichord in space.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Futures”

This is a story about tennis.

It reminded me a lot of David Foster Wallace’s essay about Roger Federer.  Not because it was like it in any way, but because the one character felt about Federer the way Wallace did.

But that aspect is somewhat minimal in terms of the plot.

The story Toby lives with his father.  Toby was supposed to become an professional tennis player, but he was never quite good enough.  But Toby’s father insisted upon hosting a young Asian tennis player every year–in part to bet upon his success (Toby’s father was a gambler) but also to have a tennis pro around to help Toby get better. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHIANNON GIDDENS-Tiny Desk Concert #891 (September 16, 2019).

I have been aware of Rhiannon Giddens for some time.  I knew she played the banjo, but I didn’t know much else about her.  I saw her (as part of an ensemble) at the Newport Folk Festival.

For some reason I was sure that she had performed a Tiny Desk Concert before, but evidently not.  Maybe I watched this when it came out?  That doesn’t seem right either.

So I’ll stop thinking about it and write about this Tiny Desk Concert instead.

There is an intensity to Rhiannon Giddens I could feel from the moment she arrived at the Tiny Desk, and her songs reflect that spirit.

Giddens is a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops (and Our Native Daughters, who played at Newport), an old-timey string band.  But for this Tiny Desk Concert, she is accompanied by upright bass (Jason Sypher) and a whole bunch of other instruments played by Francesco Turrisi.

Giddens and Turrisi had recently collaborated on an album which World Cafe Live describes:

While Rhiannon’s work has focused on the influence of African traditions on what we think of as American music, Francesco is an expert in the often unacknowledged influence of Arabic and Middle Eastern music on what we think of as European sound. They found common ground in their quest to dispel false cultural narratives and turned it into gorgeous music on a new collaborative album called there is no Other.

For the first song, Turrisi plays banjo (although this one looks different from a typical banjo) while Giddens sings and Sypher adds deep slow resonating bass notes.

“Ten Thousand Voices,” the first song in the set, was inspired by Rhiannon reading about the sub-Saharan slave trade.

The combination of Giddens’ lyrics with Turrisi’s middle-eastern sounding banjo is wonderfully compelling.

She explains that the second song, “At the Purchaser’s Option”

was inspired by the American slave trade and a New England newspaper ad in the late 1700s of a young woman “for sale” and her 9-month old baby who was “at the purchaser’s option.” Rhiannon Giddens’ thoughts of this young woman and how her life and her child were not under her control.

That is a pretty intense introduction and inspiration for a song.

Despite its weightiness, Rhiannon Giddens’ music is entertaining, and her voice, the melodies, and her accompaniment are engaging. But it is music infused with lessons and deep purpose — something all too rare in popular music in my opinion.

Turrisi switches to piano which really changes the texture of the music. Sypher plucks the strings on this songs which gives it a bit more of a “song” feel than a “composition” feel.  The chorus is also memorable both for the melody and the powerful lyrics.

My favorite track is the third one, “I’m On My Way.”

Rhiannon picks up a replica of an 1858 banjo for “I’m On My Way,” which she says helps her access her ancestors. “So much beauty and so much horribleness wrapped up together seems to be our story,” she says.

While Turrisi is certainly an excellent banjo player, it’s great to hear Giddens play as well.  Especially this fascinating fretless banjo.  Turrisi plays the frame drum–different from an Irish bodhran in that it seems to have snares in it.  The plucked bass along with the addition of percussion and the great banjo melody are just fantastic. When Sypher switches to bowing, for a solo, it adds a whole new dimension–especially when he slides all the way up the neck to get the highest note possible.

T final song is the gospel tune, “He Will See You Through.”  Giddens puts down the banjo again (awww).

For her closing number, she focuses on the beauty. “You can call it whatever you want, ‘gravity,’ ‘God,’ whatever. There’s a force that I believe in, and that’s what I focus on.”

[READ: July 3, 2019] “Stuart”

I love the way that this story unfolded.  It begins in one location and moves only a few blocks by the end.  But the kicker is that it starts with one character and ends with someone else.  It read kind of like an early David Foster Wallace story.

The story opens by telling us about two Greek immigrants working at a hot dog truck.  They are described in vivid (rather unflattering) detail.  While they get their food ready, three teenage boys walk up.  They are pretty much identical except for the color of their shirts  She describes them vividly as well.

They have man-sized hands sprouting from elongated, spindly limbs like the extremities of flamingos, and their feet are so huge they might be prehensile.  There’s nothing in the backside of their immense, baggy jeans.

They boys order hot dogs and ask for them quickly “before they fucking catch up with us, eh?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID BYRNE AND BRIAN ENO-My LIfe in the Bush of Ghosts [Remix website] (1981, 2006).

I’m stealing the bulk of these comments from a Pitchfork review of the album reissue because I have never actually listened to this album which I’ve known about for decades.

When Eno and Byrne released My Life in 1981 it seemed like a quirky side project.  But now, Nonesuch has repackaged it as a near-masterpiece, a milestone of sampled music, and a peace summit in the continual West-meets-rest struggle. So we’re supposed to see Bush of Ghosts as a tick on the timeline of important transgressive records.  Nonesuch made an interesting move that could help Bush of Ghosts make history all over again: they launched a “remix” website, at www.bush-of-ghosts.com, where any of us can download multitracked versions of two songs, load them up in the editor of our choice, and under a Creative Commons license, do whatever we want with them.

The only thing is, at the time this review was written, the site was not up yet.  And as I write this in 2019, there’s nothing on the site except for a post from 2014 about Virgin Media and Sky TV.  Alas.

[READ: May 1, 2019] “The Ecstasy of Influence”

Back in the day I was a vocal proponent of free speech.  It was my Cause and I was very Concerned about it.

It’s now some thirty years later and I don’t really have a Cause anymore.  It’s not that I care less about free speech, but I do care less about the Idea of free speech.

Had I read this article in the 1990s, I would have framed it.  Right now I’m just very glad that people are still keeping the torch alive.

Lethem begins this essay about plagiarism by discussing a novel in which a travelling salesman is blown away by the beauty of a preteen girl named Lolita  That story, Lolita, was written in 1916 by Heinz von Lichberg.  Lichberg later became a journalist for the Nazis and his fiction faded into history.  But Vladimir Nabokov lived in Berlin until 1937.  Was this unconscious borrowing or was it “higher cribbing.”

The original is evidently not very good and none of the admirable parts of Nabokov’s story are present in the original.

Or Bob Dylan.  He appropriated lines in many of his songs.  He borrowed liberally from films, paintings and books.  Perhaps that is why Dylan has never refused a request for a sample. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEBO BAND-“Ney Ney Weleba” (Field Recordings, May 16, 2012).

This is yet another Field Recording [Debo Band: Ethiopian Funk On A Muggy Afternoon] filmed during SXSW at the patio of Joe’s Crab Shack.

I was not familiar with Debo Band.  They are led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by magnetic singer Bruck Tesfaye.  The group infuses its dance-friendly songs with the Ethiopian pop and funk music of the 1960s and ’70s.

Compared to a dark club full of dancing fans, a muggy Austin afternoon with the sun peeking out over our isolated spot at Joe’s Crab Shack isn’t the ideal setting for a Debo Band performance. But once the group began digging into “Ney Ney Weleba” — a classic song by Alemayehu Eshete — it didn’t take long to get caught up in Debo Band’s deep, infectious groove.

This is a bizarre song to write about because there are just so many elements and so many things going on.  Lead accordion, violin, horns and lyrics in Amharic.  But with guitar, bass and drums and a rocking beat.

This vibrant 11-member group collects its influences like trading cards: It finds common ground in jazz, classic soul, psychedelic rock and New Orleans party bands, playing with song forms, manipulating rhythms and finding space for improvisation.

Plus, the fact that the band is signed to Sub Pop — a label more known for indie-rock and pop — represents something of a statement. Debo Band is a rock group first and foremost, and one that can bring joyful intensity to listeners who might not otherwise naturally gravitate to this music. It’s a winning cross-cultural stew of sounds that grabs you instantly, and ought to have you bobbing along and sweaty in no time.

The whole song lurches along with a really fun beat, and then there’s a trumpet solo and a very psychedelic echoing guitar solo.  It ends with a rocking jam from the two saxes and then a re-visitation of the opening.

I have no idea what the song is about but I like it.

[READ: November 2008] “It All Gets Quite Tricky”

I thought I had read everything that David Foster Wallace had published in Harper’s but as I was going through back issues, I found this little thing.  It’s basically correspondence between Wallace and some students.

These letters were written about in the David Foster Wallace Reader.

Anne Fadiman’s Afterword about the State Fair (which these letters reference) in the book is my favorite because she talks about using the essay in her classes. She focuses on just one section (the one about food) and asks them to really parse out its structure and content.  She also says that one student got to write to DFW each semester and that he would answer their questions for him.  His letters always ended with, “Tally Ho, David Wallace.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOLDEN DAWN ARKESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #761 (June 29, 2018).

They came marching in from off stage in robes and masks, with instruments and face paint, in more colors than have ever been in one place.

And they began the first song with a cacophony of keyboards and percussion before playing the discofied funk of “Children of the Sun.”

There’s horns from “Malika” (Sarah Malika Boudissa–Baritone Sax, Vocals), and “Zumbi” (Chris Richards–Trombone, Vocals) who set the melody going while the percussion from “Lost In Face” (Rob Kidd–Drums–who does indeed have a mask covering his face) and “Oso the Great” (Alex Marrero-Percussion) keeps things moving.

There’s a slowdown in the middle with just bass “Shabuki” (Greg Rhoades-Bass), and keys from the leader himself “Zapot Mgawi” (Topaz McGarrigle-Vocals, Organ, Synth).

Throughout the songs you can hear some wah wah guitar from “Yeshua Villon” (Josh Perdue-Guitar) and vibes–a persistent instrument which sounds otherworldly and perfect.  They come from “Isis of Devices” (Laura Scarborough-Vocals, Vibraphone).  Behind her, dancing throughout the song is “Rosietoes” (Christinah Rose Barnett-Vocals, Tambourine).

So what do we know about this band?

The blurb says:

It was a late night at an unfamiliar club in Austin, Texas when the spirit, sound, lights and costumes of the Golden Dawn Arkestra put a huge, dreamy smile on my face. It took more than three years to get ten of the players and performers in this band (there are often even more) to my desk. I tried to transform the bright daylight of the NPR office with some of my handy, previously used holiday laser lights. But honestly, it wasn’t until their psychedelic jazz kicked in that the office transformation felt real. Band leader, Topaz squawked through his megaphone to join them on their journey, while singing “Children of the Sun.”

Topaz told me that the band’s inspiration for both the name and the spirit of the musicians is loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The organization, devoted to the study of the occult and paranormal activities, has been around since the 19th century.

Both of Topaz’s parents were heavily into spiritual movements and what happens here falls somewhere between high art and a circus, with music that feels connected to Sun Ra’s jazz, the extended musical adventures of The Doors and the surprise elements of Parliament-Funkadelic. You can dance and/or trance, or sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Before “The Wolf” he apologizes for an outbreak of cold on their planet.  But he wants to remind us that we are all human beings from the same planet and that we are all from stardust and vibrations. Together we can change the planet.

We would like there to be more light and love in the universe.  We must all stand together.  This is our fight song for that.

It moves quickly with the horns playing away and t he percussion flying.

The final song “Masakayli” opens with bongos from “Oso the Great” and clapping from everyone (including the audience).  The horn melody sounds a lot the theme from S.W.A.T. (there’s nothing wrong with that).  I feel like the guitar was kind of quiet through the other songs, but you can really hear “Yeshua Villon” on this one, especially the guitar solo.

This song ends with the jamming circus atmosphere that really takes off with a trippy keyboard solo from Topaz as “Rosietoes” plays with a light up hula hoop and “Zumbi” parades through the audience trying to get everyone hyped up.

It’s a tremendous spectacle and should bring a smile to your face.  Next time these guys are in town, I’m there.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Always Another Word”

These are the same remarks that were included in Five Dials Issue Number 10.

But since it has been some time since I posted them and since I am being a completist here, and since it has been nine years since Infinite Summer, I’ll cover these four in somewhat more details

Michael Pietsch
speaks about being DFW’s editor. He says that Dave loved to communicate through letters and “the phone messages left on the office answering machine hours after everyone had departed.”  He says he loved Dave’s letters and tore into them hungrily.  He gives examples of some communiques about cuts and edits of Infinite Jest.

I cut this and have now come back an hour later and put it back

Michael, have mercy.  Pending and almost Horacianly persuasive rationale on your part, my canines are bared on this one.

He continues that David’s love affair with English was a great romance of our time.  How he was so excited to be selected to the American Heritage Dictionary‘s Usage panel. But that was surpassed by his own mother’s excitement about it,

Michael thinks he may have tried to use every word in the dictionary at least once.  When he, Michael, suggested a book that opened with the word “picric,” David’s instant response was “I already used that!.”

Zadie Smith
addresses the critics of BIWHM who thought the book was an ironic look at misogyny. She felt it was more like a gift.  And the result of two gifts.  A MacArthur Genius grant and a talent so great it confused people.  His literary preoccupation was the moment the ego disappears and you’re able offer your love as a gift without expectation of reward.

She says that she taught students to read BIWHM alongside Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

The most impassioned recommendation he gave her was Brain Moore’s Catholics, a novella about a priest who is no longer capable of prayer. Don’t think of David as a God-botherer–think of it as ultimate value.

You get to decide what you worship, but nine time out of ten it turns out to be ourselves.

For David, Love was the ultimate value, the absurd, the impossible thing worth praying for.

George Saunders
speaks of reading BIWHM and finding that it did strange things to his mind and body.  He says it was like if you were standing outdoors and all of your clothes were stripped away and you had super-sensitive skin and you were susceptible to the weather whatever it might be–on a sunny day you would feel hotter; a blizzard would sting.

The reading woke him up, made him feel more vulnerable, more alive.  And yet the writer of these works was one of the sweetest, most generous dearest people he’d ever known.

He met Dave at the home of mutual friend in Syracuse.  While he feared that Dave would be engaged in a conversation about Camus, and he would feel humiliated, Dave was wearing a Mighty Mouse T-shirt and talked about George and his family, asking all about them.

Saunders says that in time the grief of his passing will be replaced by a deepening awareness of what a treasure we have in the existing work.  The disaster of his loss will fade and be replaced by the realization of what a miracle it was that he ever existed in the first place.   But for now there is just grief.

For now, keep alive the lesson of his work:

Mostly we’re asleep but we can wake up. And waking up is not only possible, it is our birthright and our nature and, as Dave showed us, we can help one another do it.

Don DeLillo
says that Dave’s works tends to reconcile what is difficult and consequential with what is youthful, unstudied and often funny.  There are sentences that shoot rays of energy in seven directions.

It’s hard to believe that in September, he will be dead ten years.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-The Dark (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the second release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The Dark is described as

This EP is a collection of remixes and covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, from the 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.” It is not ironic. “Dancing in the Dark” is © Bruce Springsteen and Columbia.

And that is literally what this is. Five tracks that rethink “Dancing in the Dark” each one called “Dancing in the Dark.”

Track 1 opens with someone doing a kind of Elvis impersonation (or is it actually Bruce?) of the first line of the song: I get up in the evening…”  It then gets echoed and looped on itself until it is inaudible.  After a minute a guitar comes in strumming music backwards, I believe.  The big takeaway is the rolling “I” repeated over and over.  After 1:30 there’s a rather pretty sax solo. which may be from the song, I don’t know it that well.

Track 2 is an ambient piece with electronic claps and a kind of slow almost pixelated pipe organ version of the main melody of the song.  There’s some of those 80s processed “ahhhhs” added to the end.  It would eerily make you think of the song without knowing exactly why.

Track 3 is a noisy track.  Electronic drums played very rapidly and then some glitchy guitars playing the melody in triple time.  It is the least recognizable of the five pieces.

Track 4 is a fingers-on-chalkboard electronic screech with what I assume is the song played in reverse.  It’s a tough minute before the noise clicks away and we’re left with the backwards vocals.  If you didn’t know it was “Dancer in the Dark” you might not recognize the melody but if you do, you can kind of hear it.

Track 5 plays the original song in the middle ear. But in the left ear is another song (as if the radio was staticky and in the right ear is another even louder song.  But Bruce is squarely in the middle.  It’s pretty disconcerting.  Ultimately, the left ear gives way to people talking and the right ear reveals itself to be “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”  It fades and for about ten seconds during which you can hear pretty much only the Bruce song, but then it all falls apart into glitchy noise.

The longest track is 2:15; the rest are about 2 minutes.  No one will say this disc is enjoyable, but it is kind of ugly fun.

[READ: January 30, 2017] Liō ‘s Astonishing Tales from the Haunted Crypt of Unknown Horrors

I have observed before about the maddening publication life of Liō books.  It’s going on four years since a new collection has been published.

But at the same time there are a number of books that cover the same territory.  Like this one.

This book collects “Liō” (which I take to mean Happiness is a Warm Cephalopod) and Silent But Deadly.  But what puts this book head and shoulders above the others (and just about any other collection of any series) is that it is almost completely annotated.

I didn’t compare the two books to see if all of the strips were indeed included.  But I’ll assume that claim is true.

Tatulli doesn’t comment on every strip but he does on a lot of them.  Like the very first one (in which he criticizes his–admittedly horrible-looking–spider.

He has at least three comments about what a genius Charles Schulz was.  Including the first time he tried to draw Lucy and Charlie: “I wanted to use the retro 1950s Peanuts look, but it was a bitch to reproduce…Schulz just make it look so simple.”

He’s also very critical of his drawing style of Mary Worth: “I won’t even tell you how embarrassingly long it took to make this lousy copy.” (more…)

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