Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘George Saunders’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Pista (Great Start)/Frozen Margarita” (2019).

pistaThis was Los Bitchos’ second release of 2019.  This one had a decidedly different look on the cover.

This single has two songs.  The first, “Pista (Great Start)” opens with whooping–a party is in full swing.  Musically, this is a great mix of cumbia and reggae with a smattering of Taureg in the guitar sound.

The song feels like they are partying in the desert no doubt drinking the title of the next song.

Although “Frozen Margarita” comes in at a quieter pace.  There’s a grooving bassline and a slinky lead guitar line.  It’s a very pretty piece.

[READ: July 14, 2020] “Johnny Tremain”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

This essay later appeared in Saunders’ book The Braindead Megaphone under the name “Thank You, Esther Forbes.”

Saunders talks about his school days in Catholic school when Sister Lynette was a nun that he fell in love with.  He imagined her leaving the church for him (he was in third grade, but whatever). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: IVY-“Beautiful” (1995).

Ivy was a trio consisting of Andy Chase and Adam Schlesinger.  They wrote beautiful gentle indie pop songs.  But what set them apart was singer Dominique Durand.  Dominique was from Paris, living in New York and studying English.  She sings in a delightfully accented style (not unlike Laetitia Sadler of Stereolab).

The band released five albums over about fifteen years and their sound morphed in different ways, although it never strayed from the blue print of gentle, catchy echoing melodies.

“Beautiful” was the song that introduced me to the band.  It’s a bit faster than some of their later songs, with a fast drum beat and some (relatively) loud guitar chords.

The chorus, with some ripping guitars over Durand’s gently soaring “Don’t you look beautiful,” so exemplifies the late 90s for me, that it should be locked in a time capsule.

And it’s all over in two and a half minutes.

Fascinatingly, this article from Variety lists seven of Ivy’s “best” songs and “Beautiful” is not one of them.  Shows what they know.

[READ: April 1, 2020] “Love Letter”

This is a tremendously political short story written as a letter.

The letter is written on February 22, 202_

It is from a grandfather to his grandson Robbie.  Robbie wrote an email but the grandfather is hand writing back (not sure emailing is the best move).

He uses initials so as not to cause any more trouble for G., M., or J. (good folks, all, we very much enjoyed meeting them).

Believe me, I am as disgusted as you are with all this.

He believes that “they” think that M. “should” have let someone in authority know about G. “since being here is a privilege and not a right.”  And what of J?  Even if J is a citizen, they may say she forfeited certain rights by declining to report G & M. (more…)

Read Full Post »

30SOUNDTRACK: TANYA TAGAQ-Toothsayer EP (2019).

toothEarlier this year, Tanya Tagaq released a five-song EP to accompany the British National Maritime Museum’s “Polar Worlds” exhibit.

Tagaq’s music doesn’t radially change from release to release but she does vary things quite a bit within the style she creates.

This album feel more electronic than organic.  It’s full of drones and pulsing sounds.

“Icebreaker” opens with a low rumbling drone joined by a pulsing drum beat.  Then her heavy breathing/growling enters and she moved between guttural throat singing and high squeals.  A vocal melody appears around 2 and a half minutes but it is quickly swallowed by the main pulsing rhythm.

Tagaq uses katajjaq which Pitchfork explains is the vocal game traditionally played among Inuit women while men are away hunting. It involves two women standing face to face, exchanging repetitive vocal motifs until one fails to keep the pattern going. In older recordings of katajjaq, it’s easy to sense just how entertaining they were: Many games end with laughter.

When Tagaq does katajjaq she is solo (and not laughing).

 “Snowblind” is next.  with slow pulsing synths (from the Iranian-British electronic musician Ash Koosha) and a delicate piano as she sings a gentle wordless melody. The piano starts to pick up half way through and the low note grow more ominous as her voice grows more urgent.

“Toothsayer” features guttural breathing underneath while her voice soars above.  Midway through, it resolves into some gentle voices and an harsh stabbing guitar solo.

The most exciting track to me is “Submerged,” her katajjaq is delivered over what sounds like Inuit drumming, but Inuit drumming underwater–echoing and slightly underwater sounding.  Deep, slow clicking and heavy gasping breaths make up most of the song until about three minuets when a chord comes crashing in and her voice soars like a scream.  The pulsing continues and her voice sounds more ragged.  As it reaches its climax so does her voice shrieking louder and higher louder and higher until it abruptly ends.

The disc ends with the prettiest song, “Hypothermia.”  It is a quieter song, awash with keyboards.  Her voice soars like a siren.  Like the feeling of hypothermia, you are lulled by beauty when really your body is shutting down.

In “Hypothermia,” her katajjaq takes on the desperate cadence of someone panting, while the crystalline harmonies of “Snowblind” are both a vivid evocation of landscape and a bittersweet expression of pain—the pain of knowing that this could all be gone.

[READ: December 30, 2019] “I Can Speak!™”

The end of the year issue is called the Cartoon Takeover: A Semi-Archival Issue.  So there’s a lot of cartoons, but there’s also some old stories. Like this one.

This was originally published in the January 14, 1999 issue of the New Yorker.  I’ve now read it a few times, but it has been a while and I enjoyed it more this time than any other time.

The story is actually a letter to a customer unsatisfied with her I Can Speak!.  The customer service rep from KidLuv says he is on his lunch break–that’s how much he cares about her satisfaction. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LIZZO-Tiny Desk Concert #872 (July 29, 2019).

Obviously everyone knows who Lizzo is.  I had only recently heard of her and had heard amazing things about her live show. I even tried to get us tickets when she played the TLA, but it was sold out (good for her..I’m quite certain she will never play as tint a venue again soon).

Once we opened the room, there were as many people as we’ve ever had at a Tiny Desk concert, hanging on Lizzo’s every word as she held court and waited for the cameras to roll. She literally needed no introduction; one of us usually says a few words and gets the crowd to applaud for the start of the performance, but Lizzo was master of ceremonies from the second she walked in. Naturally, she needed all of two seconds to blow everyone’s hair back once more.

She starts out saying, “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. So I think I’ll do it today.  At this Tiny-Ass Desk.”

Lizzo belted out “Cuz I Love You,” the title track from her wonderful new album, with nothing off her fastball; if you were standing six feet away at the time, you’d swear the gale force of her voice was blowing your hair back. She was the star and the mayor rolled into one, at once ingratiating and commanding.

Lizzo’s voice is truly amazing.  A powerful instrument in which she can hold a long powerful note for a really long time.

Lizzo usually performs with dancers and a backing track; the former, though much-missed here, stood in the crowd and bobbed along… [while the backing] band assembled, at Bob Boilen’s request, just for the occasion.

Lizzo looks back at keyboardist Devin Johnson and says “Devin’s into this shit.”

After the song she says,

I’m crying cuz I love you but sometimes I’m crying cuz you get on my fuckin nevres.  Niggaz ain’t shit sometimes.  Bitches ain’t shit sometimes too and all the nonconforming genders in between you can be ain’t shit too.

There’s some great funky bass (Vernon Prout) and drums (Dana Hawkins) during “Truth Hurts.”  Walter Williams adds some quiet but nice melodies throughout.  And her singing the deep bum bum bum dad bum bum is really fun.

Then came

the literal and figurative show-stopper, “Juice,” which gave her the opportunity to pick up the flute she’d been waiting the whole set to bust out.

I had no idea Lizzo played the flute but she plays an awesome solo that adds so much to a song that I’ve heard so many times.

Lizzo was a lot of fun and very funny and wow, did she impress me wit her voice.  I now wish more than ever that I’d gotten a chance to see her in the tiny club.

[READ: August 18, 2020] “Elliott Spencer” 

George Saunders tends to write things in rather unique ways.  Sometimes it’s just in the concept that he is working worth.  Other times it is the way he presents it.  In this case it is both.

This story starts out in a very hard-to-read fashion:

Today is to be    Parts of the   Parts of my

Sure, Jer  Please do  Point at parts of me while saying the name of it off our list of Words Worth Knowing

Agespot

Finger

Wrist

What the hell is going on?

It is clear that whoever the narrator is, he or she or it is learning.

Next, Jer teaches the narrator Bellow and then the words to below: bastard, Turd, Creep, Idiot.

Then Jer informs 89 that from now on, 89 will be known as Greg.

Then Greg is on Job One.  They go to trees, but something is wrong

Our tree.in our HandiPic has squirrel No squirrel at all near these trees!

Greg and the others line up to shout the four words at the others.  They are across the river.  This river is actually police looking nervous. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: WIRE-Kidney Bingos (1988).

Wire’s first three albums are punk and post-pink classics.  So classic that a Britpop band ripped off one of their songs to make an even bigger hit.  (I rather like Elastica too).

After their hiatus in the early 1980s, they returned with a new sound.  Like King Crimson only with fewer notes.

Their second post-hiatus album A Bell is a Cup even had a single, “Kidney Bingos.”

This song is remarkably far from their early punk sound. It’s almost as if on their first albums, their guitars only had the low strings,  And on this one, they only have the high strings.

The guitars on this song are gentle and jangly.  The bass is pretty similar–nice and deep with a great resonance, although the tempo is much slower and more chill.

The chorus is a really catchy bit if pop fun, even if for 30 years I had no idea that he was saying

Money spines paper lung kidney bingos organ fun

which makes as much sense as what I thought he was saying.

The end of the song throws in some synths and a wordless singalong that shows a real depth to Newman’s voice.

[READ: June 29, 2019] “Pastoralia”

I was sure I had read this story before.  But it turns out I’ve had his collection Pastoralia on my “too read” list but had never actually read it.  In the collection, this story is almost 70 pages.  It’s pretty long in the New Yorker, but i do have to wonder if it is an excerpt as there’s so much that is unexplained.

This story is set in what I think of as the Saunders future.  There’s no ProperName objects as there usually are.  But this future has a lot of the mildly dystopian qualities that Saunders tends to put in his stories

This one includes an exhibit where humans act out historical scenarios in a museum of sorts (the details are never given).

The narrator’s name is never given.  Over the course of a few pages we determine that he is a caveman in an exhibit.  Every day he is supposed to “eat grubs,” “see” a herd of animals and not speak English.  He has a “wife,” Janet.  She is not his real wife, he has a real wife and children.  In fact he doesn’t especially like Janet. She tends to speak English a lot and disregards most other work protocols.

In many respects it doesn’t matter because hardly anyone comes into the museum.  But they are doing a job and they do have supervisors.

When the light dims as if it were night time they each go to their separate personal quarters where they have such modern amenities as a fax machine (this was written in 2000 so that’s not a goof, I don’t think).  (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: THE EMPTY POCKETS-Snow Day (2018).

The Empty Pockets have sent me two offers to get their CDs for free (plus a nominal shipping charge, of course).  This second one was a Christmas CD.  I hadn’t listened to their first CD yet but I do love a Christmas CD, so I thought why not add it to the pile.

There are five songs on this CD and after listening to this I’m wondering if I don’t really like The Empty Pockets.  It’s hard to bass the sound of a band on their Christmas collection, but I was pretty bummed by this disc.

The first song is called “Snow Day” and it says it was written bu Daniel McCormick although I can’t find out who that is.  It has got a  kind of smooth rock feel which is okay for a Christmas song but doesn’t bode well beyond that.

Next up is a version of “Silent Night.”  And they commit a few atrocities in this song right off the bat.  You can make the song more rocking, but you cannot mess with the vocal melody.  And they do that right off the bat.  The thing that rally bus me though is Erika Brett’s voice which is just super loud and yelling and kind of all over the place.  Never out of tune or anything like that just waay over the top.  This is just too much.  The guys also join in on verses, although I don’t know who is who [Josh Solomon, guitar and lead vocals; Nate Bellon, bass and lead vocals; Danny Rosenthal, drums].  But honestly, no one needs to sing “talking ’bout heavenly host sing alleluia.”  One of the men sounds like Darius Rucker which is just kind of unfortunate.

“One More Kiss” is a big powerful song from Brett with good backing vocals.  She overdoes it a bit, but its poppy and catchy and is not tampering with a classic beautiful so, so that’s okay.

“Eskimo Lady” is a little cheesy (not to mention offensive).  It’s a little discoey and grows cheesier with each listen.

“All Eight Days” has a fun guitar riff–like they are doing a heavy metal solo, but the song is far from heavy metal.  I like that it’s about Hanukkah, and the lyric “Just like a Maccabee, i have to wait and see,” is pretty funny.  But the song just veers too far into pop singing I guess.

“The Tree That Refused to Grow” seems like a retelling of A Charlie Brown Christmas from the point of view of the tree.  Except we see into the Charlie character’s future.  I really want to like it but it just comes off as maudlin.

I’m especially bummed by this disc because they quoted Caddyshack in the note that accompanied it.  Sigh.

[READ: December 8, 2018] “Festive”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I read this short piece and thought it was incredibly sad.

Then I watched a reading of it (on the Stephen Colbert show) and the audience was laughing quite a lot.  Perhaps it’s his delivery?  But I hate the clipped style of writing (probably true for a diary but awful to read or hear). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-Live at Newport Folk Festival (July 28, 2018).

I saw Phoebe Bridgers three days after this set at Newport Folk Festival (I had no idea).  She plays five more songs at my show than here (yay, me).

The size of the crowd does’t seem to intimate her in any way and she sounds just as great (and intimate) as she did in the small club where I saw her.

A few songs into her sun-drenched Saturday Newport Folk set, Phoebe Bridgers paused and proclaimed, “I am a puddle of sweat.” It was a one-liner that primed those huddled at the Harbor Stage for the 2018 Slingshot artist’s catalog: details delivered with specificity and a subtle sense of humor.

I will say the one thing about this recording is that I don;t think you can hear all of the percussion as clearly as I could at Asbury Lanes.

The show started much the same as mine did with a beautiful languid version of “Smoke Signals” and a try-to-hold-back-the-tears reading of “Funeral.”

For the next song, “Georgia,” she brought out songwriter Christian Lee Hutson who is “going to help me sing harmonies.”  Whether it was the song itself of Hutson’s addition, but Bridgers’ voice really soars on this song.

Even Bridgers’ stage banter reflected her striking style, mixing straightforward address and astute observation. “This song is about how every time I smoke weed, I remember why I don’t smoke weed,” she said of the plainspoken plea “Demi Moore.”

She continued: “I face plant and my brain is erased for many hours and I think I’m thinking too loud.”

There’s some gorgeous harmonies on the darkly sweet song, “Killer.”  Then she played “Steamroller” solo on the acoustic guitar.

Later, she called “Steamroller,” a devastatingly candid cut from her 2015 EP, Killer, “another dark love song, thanks.”

Introducing Gillian Welch’s song “Everything Is Free” she said. “This is my friend Marshall.  We’re going to sing my favorite song about music streaming ever written.”  I loved hearing this live and it sounds just as solid here.

Up next was a song she did not play at my show.  She welcomed Christian Lee Hutson (playing guitar with Jenny Lewis) and Sharon Silva (from The Wild Reeds) played bass with me for exactly one week and I waited for a really bassist…Emily.  Chris wrote this song for me.”  The chorus goes “”lets get the old band back together again, and there’s even a line, “with Emily on bass, it doesn’t feel the same.”

The crowd reacts strongly, as they should to her awesome song “Motion Sickness.”

Despite its venom, it’s a song that unspools with a sonic ease that feel refreshing, even for an overheated festival audience.

The songs sounds great live and she holds a 17-second note just for kicks.  The sets ends (as did ours) with “Scott Street.”  She says “This is about L.A. where we live;  where it’s hot all the time.”  It’s a quiet song, sounds and represents her music pretty perfectly–quiet, sad, with clever lyrics.

At our show, we got two encores after this, so again, yay for us.  But this is a great example of her live show.

[READ: April 22, 2016] “Playing with Dynamite”

Back in February of 2017, I posted about an essay by George Saunders from 2009 in which he remembers John Updike “Remembering Updike“.  He says that back in 1992:

 It was going to be in Tina Brown’s first issue and they marked this occasion by running two stories contrasting the new writers (Saunders) with the established.  Of course the establishment writer was going to be Updike.  Saunders said he was chagrined because he knew the contrast would go something like this:

Wonderful, established, powerful representative of the Old Guard kicks the butt of the flaky, superficial, crass poseurish New Guy.  Saunders’ story was “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz.”

I can see why they paired the George Saunders story with this particular Updike story.  Both stories deal with grief and memory loss, although Updike’s does so in a very different way.  On the other hand, their writing styles are so very different that it’s nearly impossible to compare the two stories.

The story begins with an interesting image from childhood: “one aspect of childhood Fanshawe had not expected to return in old age was the mutability of things–the willingness of a chair, say, to become a leggy animal in the corner of his vision.”  But living now “in death’s immediate neighborhood” he allowed that things like that might happen and it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

There is then an episode in Fanshawe’s day when his wife, who was younger and more spry than he, passed him going down the stairs.  She caught her heel on her dress and fell down the stairs.  It was only after all the guests had left that she said to him, “Wasn’t I good, not to tell everybody how you pushed me me?” (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACKDAVE MATTHEWS-Tiny Desk Concert #760 (June 27, 2018).

Dave Matthews Band superfandom is one of those entities that I just don’t get.  I know they had a pretty big hit back in the day, but I was really shocked a few years ago that they had a following like Phish with people seeing him/them dozens of times.

I don’t really dislike them, but I don’t really like them either.  I appreciate the musicianship and chord progressions that they play but I have a hard time with his lyrics–when they are not (somewhat) insightful, they are awfully questionable.

But to me their sound isn’t unique enough to build a fellowship out of.  Perhaps it’s a live thing and you have to see it for yourself.

So here is Dave himself–just him and his acoustic guitar(s). He sings five songs.  I don’t know if this is like heaven for DMB fans or if they prefer the whole live shebang.

He talks about getting used to singing

by himself since he is touring with his band:

We sound good at the moment but more importantly we feel good.  It’s a different feeling to play by myself.  I have to get used to it, you know first you have to get used to being alone because I’m used to having [various mugging over-the-top sounds and faces about a band making big rock sounds] but for me it’s just [makes wimpy sounds of playing a tiny guitar] a little thing”

This leads to uproarious laughter.  And that’s the one thing I don’t like about this Concert.  The music is fine, his voice sounds fine, but he is mugging for the audience so much and, presumably all Daveheads (or Dmbheads?–I kid) are hanging on his every word which they all deem hilarious.  I hate being with sycophantic fans who think any statement is a gut buster (this happened recently with someone I saw live–not every statement is one to quote on instagram).

The first two songs are from their new album.  After the first song, “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin),” he complains about his voice even though it sounds fine:

“Singing shouldn’t be such a struggle.  Some people make it look so easy [sings nonsense in operatic style]. I’m like [ggggg ggg].”  Crazy laughter ensues.  After “Here On Out,” he states inexplicably, “That was a close one” and the laughter rolls on.

Dave plays a full five songs–nearly 25 minutes:

when Matthews shed his backing players to swing by the Tiny Desk for a solo gig, he couldn’t just knock out three songs and bail. Instead, he played a set so long — so defiantly un-Tiny — that his between-song banter could have filled a Tiny Desk concert on its own.

“Don’t Drink the Water” is probably my favorite Dave song.  I especially love the way the song is mostly mellow but then turns into a great dark section at the end.  Indeed, it’s the dark section that I really like, not so much the earlier part.

He says that “The last administration sent a bunch of artists to Havana to have a party.  I’m not sure if that’s was the goal… [hamming it up] go down there and… culturally…. vibe.”   I wish he’d elaborated more on that.

There’s two final songs, “Mercy” and “So Damn Lucky” on which he hits some great powerful falsetto notes.  His voice is really quite good in this setting.  I suspect this is probably a real treat for fans, so if you;re one, you should check it out.

[READ: July 3, 2018] “Little St. Don”

When you have a subject who is so contemptible so utterly crass and repulsive, a “person” who does the most unconscionable things and still manages to have supporters, it is impossible to make him look bad.

Even if you are trying comedy.  How do you try to make someone look worse than they actually are when they are lower than scum, when they treat people like animals, when they think it is okay to mock the handicapped, to brag about grabbing women, when they are willing to let people die for their own insipid and un-thought-through ideas?

This living piece of excrement has a sudden flash to destroy the lives of thousands of people and two days later decides to blame it on someone else.  And, for reasons that no one can explain, people actually believe this liar, this clearly unsound lunatic.

So how does a subtle and thoughtful writer go about making comedy about this lying dictator? (more…)

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »