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Archive for the ‘Gore Vidal’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FLORENCE + THE MACHINE-Tiny Desk Concert #795 (October 16, 2018).

Florence + the Machine has slowly won me over.  When I first heard their (her) songs, I wasn’t impressed.  I felt there was something missing.

I don’t know if I changed my mind on those early songs, or if she did something more in her layering but I suddenly found her songs intense and really powerful.

Florence Welch and her band play three songs at the Tiny Desk.  I have so much grown to love the full production that I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it as much when stripped down.  For the Tiny Desk it’s just her on vocals, with a guitars a synth an d a harp!  And man her voice has just become a force unto itself–she could sing a capella and it would be great.  But the backing vocals add an amazing and unexpected punch.

She starts the show with the lovely “June.”  It begins with her voice and some harp notes.

Florence performed with her eyes closed.  Within seconds of hearing her first note, the raw power of her un-amplified voice was chilling.

Then the guitar joins in and the lovely “oh ooh, oh ooh, woah” fill in the gaps perfectly.  Even something as simple as Florence’s hand clap add an interesting percussive element to the climax of the song.

It’s impossible to talk about Florence without her backing band. Tom Monger adds exquisite ethereal textures to the songs with his stunning mastery of the pedal harp. Hazel Mill’s backing vocals and anthemic power chords on the keys accentuate the poignancy of the lyrics at just the right moments. And Robert Ackroyd’s rhythmic, steady acoustic guitar drives the music forward.

The second song “Patricia” builds slowly over its time.  The harp plays a kind of haunting melody that is accentuated by two almost sinister deep notes.  The song feels like it’s heading to an end after about three minutes, but that’s just the middle section.  After a big smile, the hand claps continue as the song grows louder and louder as they sing “it’s such a wonderful thing to love.”

The intensity of the musicality is almost secondary to the message in her lyrics. Ear-worm melodies coupled with repetitive phrases create universal, awe-inspiring anthems.

Her nervousness was palpable and stood in stark contrast to her fully produced stage show. “I’m sorry I’m shy,” Florence Welch told the crowd of NPR family and friends gathered for her Tiny Desk performance. “If this was a big gig, I’d probably be climbing all over here and running around.”

The final song is the one that won me over, “Ship to Wreck.”  She reveals her humorous side when she says, “We haven’t practiced this.  It could be terrible.  Especially for you.”

I love the hugeness of the recorded version of the song.  This version replaces some of the power with more interesting subtleties in the harmonies and the lovely melodies.  It’s a striking version of the song.

[READ: November 28, 2018] “A Diamond to Cut New York”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This particular piece is a collection of vignettes from Dawn Powell’s diaries which range from 1933 to 1963 (she died in 1965).

I have wanted to read Dawn Powell for years and yet I keep finding other books that jump in front of me first.  As I read this I wondered if maybe Powell isn’t for me, as I really didn’t know what in the world she was talking about for many of these entries.  but there were many glimmers of the wit that Powell is known for poking through.

There’s also the problem of context.  I have virtually none for most of these entries, so even if there are clever comments, I probably have no idea. (more…)

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PalmSundayFrontandBackSOUNDTRACK: THE STATLER BROTHERS-“Class of ’57” (1972).

stalerI don’t know much about The Statler Brothers.  They are considered country, although this song is hardly country–it’s more folk with some bluegrass and, the real selling point–great harmonies (especially the bass singer with the big mustache).

The song is a wonderful coming of age song, sad and funny with a list of what happened to everyone in the class of ’57.  Like:

Betty runs a trailer park, Jan sells Tupperware,
Randy’s on an insane ward, Mary’s on welfare.
Charlie took a job with Ford, Joe took Freddie’s wife,
Charlotte took a millionaire, and Freddie took his life.

John is big in cattle, Ray is deep in debt,
Where Mavis finally wound up is anybody’s bet.

But the kicker comes at the chorus:

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
Oh, we all thought we’d change the world with our great words and deeds.
Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs,
The class of ’57 had its dreams.

And then at the end:

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
But living life from day to day is never like it seems.
Things get complicated when you get past eighteen,
But the class of ’57 had its dreams.

Vonnegut quotes the entirety of this song in the book and I’m glad he did, it’s a very moving song and really captures American life.

[READ: May 26, 2013] Palm Sunday

After writing several successful novels, Vonnegut paused to collect his thoughts.  And Palm Sunday begins: “This is a very great book by an American genius.”  It is also a “marvelous new literary form which combines the tidal power of a major novel with the bone-rattling immediacy of front-line journalism.”  After all the self praise, he decides that this collage–a collection of essays and speeches as well as a short story and a play which is all tied together with new pieces (in TV they would call this a clip show)–this new idea of a book should have a new name and he chooses: blivit (during his adolescence, this word was defined as “two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag.”  He proposes that all books combining facts and fiction be called blivits (which would even lead to a new category on the best seller list).  Until then, this great book should go on both lists.

This book is a collection of all manner of speeches and essays, but they are not arranged chronologically.  rather they are given a kind of narrative context.  What’s nice is that the table of contents lists what each of the items in the book is (or more specifically, what each small piece is when gathered under a certain topic).

Chapter 1 is The First Amendment in which he talks about Slaughterhouse Five being burned and how outraged he was by that–especially since the people so anxious to burn it hadn’t even read it (and the only “bad” thing is the word motherfucker).  The first speeches included are “Dear Mr. McCarthy” to the head of the school board where his books were burned and “Un-American Nonsense” an essay for the New York Times about his book being banned in New York State.  The next two are “God’s Law” for an A.C.L.U. fund raiser–it includes his confusion as to why people don’t support the A.C.L.U. which is working for all of our own civil liberties. (more…)

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Gore Vidal [1925-2012]

Gore Vidal died last night at age 86 because of complications from pneumonia.

When I was younger, back in college, I loved Gore Vidal.  I read almost all of his essays and I tried to read most of his novels (I didn’t succeed–he has published some 50 books).  His book United States: Essays 1952–1992 is one of the best collection of political essays I have read.

People who know Vidal at all know him for different reasons.  Some know him as a writer of historical novels known as the Narratives of Empire: Burr (covering 1775-1805 and 1833-1836), Lincoln (1861-1865) 1876 (1875-1877), Empire (1898-1907), Hollywood (1917-1923), Washington D.C. (1937-1952) and The Golden Age (1939-1954).

Others know him for his outspoken pro-homosexuality stance.  His third novel 1948’s The City and the Pillar caused quite the controversy for presenting sympathetic gay characters.  He also wrote Myra Breckenridge about a transsexual character.  His published quote from about sexuality (from 1969) is:

We are all bisexual to begin with. That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality. Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it. But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime … despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word ‘natural,’ not normal.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WILD FLAG-Live at the Black Cat, October 20, 2011 (2011).

It’s interesting to compare this show by Wild Flag with their SXSW show.  This set is longer, but they retain the same raw energy and intensity.  It also sounds as though the tour has been rough on Carrie’s voice, which sounds a bit strained and hoarse (even when she talks!).

They play most of their debut album, but they also throw in a couple of new songs and even a few covers.  Perhaps the most fascinating part is the 15 minute (!) version of “Racehorse.”  There’s a lengthy noodling section as well as a cool part where Carrie goes a little crazy asking about money.

Janet Weiss is absolutely amazing here too.  And the keyboards, definitely complement everything well, but they are always the most notable flubs, and there’s the same one as in the SXSW show (not as bad, but noticeable).

Without a doubt the most interesting thing is the hearing that Mary Timony gives guitar lessons in Washington DC.  She lives there and evidently earns extra cash by doing guitar lessons.  Wow.  How cool would that be?

Check out the show here.

[READ: January 15, 2012] The Influencing Machine

Brooke Gladstone is one of two reporters who works on NPR’s On the MediaOn the Media is an awesome show which dissects things that happen in the world and examines the way the media portrays the events.  They work pretty hard to see who is reporting bias, who is exposing bias and how things are getting out to the average media consumer.  It’s worth anyone’s time to read (it doesn’t take very long).  And it’s also fun and enjoyable.  As anyone who has heard the ending of On the Media: “and edited [dramatic pause] by Brooke” knows, there’s always a smirking grin attached to the program.

When I heard that this book came out I was pretty excited to read it.  And then I promptly forgot all about it.  Lucky for me, my wife can take a hint, and she got it for me for Christmas.

The first surprise of the book is that it is written as a graphic novel–illustrations by Josh Neufeld (who has drawn for Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor).  The funny thing about the illustrations is that I have no idea what Brooke Gladstone looks like (which I rather prefer about my NPR announcers), but I really like the cartoony style of her avatar (which reminds me of Elaine from Seinfeld and which inspired me to draw a kind of similar version on my drawing site.

On to the book.

This book works as a primer for understanding media ownership, media consolidation and media power.  The opening few chapters are going to be nothing new for anyone who has read Chomsky or Vidal on the media.  But since most people haven’t, it’s a wonderful way into some of these thorny issues of who tells us what and why. (more…)

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