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Archive for the ‘Isaac Bashevis Singer’ Category

augSOUNDTRACK: YEASAYER-“Ecstatic Baby” (2019).

I220px-ER_artwork really enjoyed Yeasayer’s Odd Blood album, but I didn’t hear much about them after that. I had no idea they’d released four albums since then.

“Ecstatic Baby” is the fourth (!) single from the album.  Odd Blood had an early Depeche Mode-with-an-edge vibe.  This song is much poppier.  But I feel like the production feels kind of muted and claustrophobic.

The main melody is a fun sliding synth sound over a sliding bass.  There’s falsetto vocals that remind me a lot of pop songs from the 1980s.  But the song isn’t all that interesting.

I enjoy retro pop, but this song goes in places I don’t really like that much.

[READ: August 10, 2019] “Two Stories”

There are indeed two stories here.

“He Wants Forgiveness from Her” is written from the point of view of a boy.  The boy says he wants to be a writer.  His father is a rabbi and a man in his thirties has stopped in to ask him questions.

Essentially. the man explained, he had been engaged to a woman twelve years ago.  It is customary that when you break an engagement, you ask for the other party’s forgiveness.  But he never did.  He found someone new and moved on.  But he had been having terrible luck ever since.

His business failed, his children were stillborn.  He believed he needed forgiveness to move on.  So he asked the rabbi to call her to his office. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DESTROYER-Live at Massey Hall (July 10, 2014).

Destroyer is Daniel Behar (who is also part of New Pornographers and other bands).  Usually, Behar is surrounded by a lot of other people when he plays.  His music tends toward the symphonic.

But for this show (his first time at Massey Hall), it is just him with his acoustic guitar.

In the introduction he says that he gave up playing the guitar a long time ago, but he couldn’t just do a set with him signing a capella so….  He observes that he’s been playing with an 8 piece band–they solo forever and I’m barely singing anymore.  So this is quite something.

He seriously downplays the show saying he doesn’t even really like “guy with guitar” music, he’s more into Sinatra or the Stones.  “This is an anti-advertisement for the show I’m about to play.”

He plays songs from throughout his catalog.

“Foam Hands” is not that different, although I do prefer the recorded version.  In this version, though, I like the way he plays the end chords loudly and dramatically and the way the song abruptly.

“Chinatown” is a much bigger song on record with backing vocals and a rather cheesy sax throughout.  So I like this version better.

He introduces “Streets on Fire” this way: “Here’s a song I wrote 20 years ago.  Showing off because lots of you couldn’t write songs twenty years ago because you didn’t know how to say anything.  Couldn’t play guitar.  Didn’t know the chords didn’t know words.  Pathetic.

The song is from his debut when it was just him and a guitar.  This version sounds 100 times better.

“European Oils”  I love this song from Rubies and I especially love the orchestration of it.  So while I enjoy this stripped down version I’ll take the record.

The original of “Your Blood” is a romping fun song (also from Rubies).  This is slowed down but still nice.  And of course I enjoy that my daughter is mentioned; “Tabitha takes another step.”

“Savage Night at the Opera” has a great bass sound in the original, although this stripped down is very nice.

“Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Sea of Tears)” is a quiet song (the original has drums and piano but’s not that different from what’s here).  It’s quite pretty as is the whole set.  A real treat for fans of Destroyer.

[READ: May 3, 2018] “The Boarder”

This story was translated from the Yiddish by the author.  Singer died in 1991, so I’m not sure if this is a recently found story or an old one that has just been published..

This is a simple story about a pious man and a non-believer.

Reb Berish is the pious man.  He eats only twice a day; he prays for many hours a day.  He had recently retired from his business in fabric remains and had little to do.  Over the last forty years, his wife had died, his son had died and his daughter had married a gentile in California.

He didn’t want to live alone so he took in a border, Morris Melnik. Melnik paid $15 a month, but that wasn’t the point.  Berish was taking pity on the man who had literally nothing left in his life–no family, no job, no God.  Melnik was a heretic; a nonbeliever.

He mocked Berish for praying “to the God who made Hitler and gave him the strength to kill six million Jews.  Or perhaps to the God who created Stalin and let him liquidate another ten million victims.”

It sounds like the premise for a sitcom, but this story does not do that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AMADOU AND MARIAM-Tiny Desk Concert #695 (January 19, 2018).

Amadou & Mariam are musicians from Mali.  And they have a pretty fascinating history.

The story of Amadou and Mariam is still worth telling almost 40-years (and eight albums) into their career because it speaks well to who they are, the obstacles they’ve had to overcome and the positive yet realistic attitude that has made them such an international success. Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met when they were children in Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind. Both had lost their sight when they were young and they began performing together. Later, in the 1980s, they married and began a career together.

As Amadou and Mariam said when their newest album, La Confusion was released, “We seek to make people happy with our music, help humanitarian causes and share positive messages about the good work being done by people in every corner of the world.”  Amadou & Mariam  bring some of the most lyrical melodies and joyful sounds we’ve ever had at the Tiny Desk, and their performance comes while their country endures great turmoil, including a coup and insurgencies.

Typically, they play with a bigger band but they stripped down their sound to a keyboard, a percussionist and a backup singer while the couple holds it all together with Amadou’s stuttered melodic guitar and Mariam’s sweetly gruff voice.

They play three songs.

“Bofou Safou” has a great slinky keyboard opening melody.  Amadou plays this cool understated guitar that’s pretty much always in motion But mostly I love watching the drummer pound on that giant gourd thing.

I love the clothes that Mariam and Amadou are wearing–a cool purple on blue pattern with each of the outfits made from the same material, but with the stripes going in different directions on each.

“Dimanche à Bamako.” opens with more of that cool riffing from Amadou and the audience clapping along.  Amadou actually sings leads on most of this song.

“Filaou Bessame” opens pretty big and clappy with a kind of disco feel to it.  It slows down in the middle with Mariam taking a little vocal section before it starts up again.  I love the discoey bass keyboard riff at the end.

The music from Mali is really fun and I’d love to see a show like this live.

[READ: July 21, 2016] “Inventions”

This story was translated from the Yiddish by Aliza Shevrin.  Singer died in 1991, so I’m not sure if this is a recently found story or an old one.

What’s particularly fascinating about this story is thew way it is framed.  The narrator says that since he moved to the country, he finds that he falls asleep by ten o’clock and he sleeps soundly until about 2 AM.  He feels totally rested and ready to do something.

One night he was inspired to create a story.  It would be about a Communist theoretician who attends a leftist conference on world peace and sees a ghost.

So he just summed up what his story would be about and then he proceeds to tell the story.  But it is told very casually–as a man retelling a dream, rather than as someone writing a short story. (more…)

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jan2017SOUNDTRACK: DECLAN McKENNA-Tiny Desk Concert #589 (January 3, 2017).

declanI only know Declan McKenna from NPR’s coverage of SXSW last year.  He played a SOUTH X Lullaby of the third song in this set.

And although he looks a little different, his singing style hasn’t changed.  He has an interesting delivery–with notes that sound like they crack as he sings.  But he is in total control.

The blurb notes:

It’d be easy to look and listen to this young English singer and think he’s just another sensitive songwriter with a guitar, singing about his troubles. But Declan McKenna writes about a much bigger world than you or I might expect from a singer who only recently turned 18. He came to NPR this past summer, a bit nervous but passionate. He stripped down three of his songs to their musical essence, and the power of their words eclipsed the hooks for which they’re equally known. “Bethlehem” tackles religion:

Because I’m in Bethlehem
I’ve got a seat in heaven
And though I’m heaven sent
I can do as I want and you don’t have the right to choose

McKenna’s most famous tune, “Brazil,” is a song about football, money and poverty that also touches on religion.

But even without the blurb, his music pretty well speaks for itself.  “Bethlehem” begins slowly, with him singing in a deeper voice but when he gets to the chorus his voice starts to break in his trademark way.  And as the song moves on he shows off a strong falsetto as well.  He opens “Brazil” with a little guitar flub which makes him laugh before he starts again.  The song sounds very much like other versions I’ve heard—his vocal style is all deliberate.  The chorus is so catchy (whatever it’s about):

I heard he lives down a river somewhere
With 6 cars and a grizzly bear
He got eyes, but he can’t see
Well, he talks like an angel
but he looks like me.

And I love how after all of this catchy stuff, he throws in a third section that is even catchier than the rest:

I wanna play the beautiful game while I’m in Brazil
Cause everybody plays the beautiful game while in Brazil
It’s all you’ve ever wanted, and it’s all that you want still
Don’t you wanna play the beautiful game out in Brazil?.

It’s practically a different song.  But so good.

This is the first I’ve heard “Isombard” (which I looked up afterward and is much more synthy).  He says he’s never done this acoustic before. He describes the song as being “somewhere between baroque pop and riff rock so it doesn’t translate easily.”  It’s got a very pretty melody and his slower singing style.  The song is also catchy and I’m surprised he hasn’t caught on a bit more yet.

[READ: January 17, 2017] “A Window to the World”

The narrator tells us that there were two writes at the Yiddish Writers’ Club in Warsaw.  Each of these men had talent and earned a reputation but then seem to have been silenced forever.

The two men were Menahem Roshbom (who had written three novels before he was 30) and the other was Zimel Hesheles (who had written one long poem at the ages of 23).  Since then, nothing–Roshbom was now in his 50s and Hesheles in his late 40s.  The two played chess and although Roshbom was a better player, he would always lose patience near the end which would cost him the match.

Roshbom had taken to journalism.  He was a chain-smoker and he carried on with women, mostly from the Yiddish theater.  He had divorced three times and was currently with another man’s wife.  By contrast Hesheles was small, reserved and silent.  He was poor but came to the club every day at noon and left at 2 when others came for lunch. (more…)

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1968_12_28-200SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON (November 08, 2001).

horsetavThis is the final show for 2001 at the Rheostatics Live website.  This show is the second of eleven (11!) straight shows at The Horseshoe.  Since it was part of their Green Sprouts “week,” it is chock full of guests.

Kevin Hearn is playing this night (and a few others), but there’s also guest vocals from Sean Cullen and Gord Downie!

The recording is not quite two hours which I assume means that parts were cut off.  I mean, a Rheos show that’s under two hours during Green Sprouts week?  Unheard of.  Earlier that evening Bob Dylan was playing in town, so it seems like the early parts of the show were a bit quieter than usual.

The show stars with “Fat” which sounds like it may have been coming in from something else or that’s the intro music–hard to say exactly.  Then they play two new songs–“The Fire” (with a funny joke about someone’s folk apparatus (a harmonica)) and “We Went West.”  Then comes their first guest, Canadian comedian and songwriter Sean Cullen.  They play his Stompin’ Tom tribute/parody “I’ve Been Beaten All Over This Land.”

I love the version of “Junction Foil Ball” with th every amusing comment that a Globe and Mail reviewer described one part of the song as “a hippo jumping into a giant puddle of mud.”

There’s a very cool section that’s a Kevin special.  Songs from Group of 7 and Harmelodia: Boxcar Song, Landscape And Sky, The Blue Hysteria, Yellow Days Under A Lemon Sun, Easy To Be With You, Loving Arms and I Am Drumstein.

Then Gord Downie comes out–sadly his introduction is cut off, so we don’t get to hear what they say about him (or the fan reaction).  They start in the middle of his song “Chancellor” from Coke Machine Glow.  Then they play “Canada Geese.” And then Dave asks if they can sing one of the Rheos’ songs (“sure thing, Tim, uh, Dave”).  Ha.  And Gord sings “Take Me in Your Hand.”

There’s a great version of “Stolen Car” and they end the show with three songs from the then new album: “P.I.N.,” “Mumbletypeg” and “Satan is the Whistler.” It’s the best live version of “Satan” that I’ve heard so far–perfect whistling, and they don’t mess up the fast part at the end.

I’m sure the other ten nights were equally great.  But this is all we have to close out 2001.

[READ: May 12, 2015] “The Cafeteria”

I read this story because it was alluded to in David Albahari’s “Hitler in Chicago.”  In Albahari’s story, a character on a plane is reading Singer’s book and the person next to him asks if he knows Singer’s story about a woman seeing Hitler in New York.

Indeed, in this story, there is a woman who sees Hitler in New York, so it was a nice full circle, and I applaud Albahari for playing around with an extant story like that.

This story, translated from the Yiddish by Singer and Dorothy Straus, is set in Manhattan.  The narrator, Aaron, has lived there for nearly 30 years–about as long as he lived in Poland.  He has many friends who he meets up with in the cafeteria.  They speak Yiddish and talk about the Holocaust or the state of Israel.  He looks forward to talking with them but he is a busy many (writing novels or articles) so he can’t stay too long.

Most of the people he meets with are men, but one day a woman, who looked younger than the rest of them, appeared.  She spoke Polish, Russian and some Yiddish.  She had been in a prison camp in Russia.  The men hovered around her, listening to her every word–she was surprisingly upbeat. (more…)

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harperioctSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Icehouse, Victoria, BC (July 18 2001).

ice-house-oyster-bar-tofinoAfter playing the free show earlier that afternoon, the Rheos played a show at The Icehouse that evening.  And it seems like quite a number of people showed up.  And they were not disappointed.  They also got to see Michael Phillip Wojewoda on drums.

Although the show begins with some slightly sketchy sound quality, it clears up pretty quickly.  This show starts with a bunch of great older material “King of the Past,” “Fat,” “Northern Wish.”  There’s an amazing guitar solo in “Christopher.” And “Fat” is one of the best live versions I’ve heard.

When they play “Four Little Songs” it gives MPW a chance to sing his bit.  But when someone requests “Guns” Dave says that MPW doesn’t do poetry.  At what I believe is a fan’s request, the play “The Pooby Song,” and then joke that they are going to play the entire Nightlines Sessions. 

Then they talk about Stompin’ Tom Connors and how they met a 65-year-old man who scares the Canadian into you.  This is an intro to “The Ballad of Wendel Clark” which includes two Stompin’ Tom fragments “Gumboot Clogeroo” and “The Ketchup Song.”  The seven minute version of “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” ends with a crazy riff and noisy drums–a rare jam section.  There’s more great drums on “Song of Flight” and excellent harmonies on “California Dreamline.”

This is a really fantastic show–one of their best.  And as Lucky notes the “Dopefiends -> California Dreamline -> Song of Flight -> Self-Serve -> Winter Comes Reprise” is killer.  The end of the show tacks on an amazing version of “Horses.”  But it doesn’t seem like it’s from this show.  The sound is a little different, and it seems pretty certain that the night ended after “Record Body Count.”  But who knows.

[READ: April 19, 2015] “Hitler in Chicago”

This short story, from the book Learning Cyrillic, is fascinating in the way it begins as one thing and then turns into something else entirely.  David Albahari is a Serbian novelist and the story was translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać.

As the story opens, the narrator talks about how afraid he is of flying on planes.  He would much rather ride by carriage.  Why is everyone in such a hurry, anyway?  But he needs to fly and so he does.  He pays careful attention to the stewardesses and then tries as quickly as possible to fall asleep.

On this flight to North America, he falls asleep pretty well, but when the book he was reading falls off his lap, it wakes him up.  His seat mate picks up the book and smiles.  The book is by Isaac Bashevis Singer and is called Enemies, A Love Story (a real book).  The woman says that knows Singer and asks if he has read the story where Singer met Hitler in New York.  He has.

Then she says,

“I spent a night with him.”
“Hitler?”
“No, she said, I would never have allowed myself such a thing.  I meant Singer.”

(more…)

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