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Archive for the ‘John Updike’ Category

ja1SOUNDTRACK: HAIM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #34 (June 17, 2020).

haimWhen Haim first came on the scene they were marketed as a kind of hard rocking sister act.  So when I heard them I was really disappointed because they are anything but hard rock.  In fact this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert shows just how nicely their music works as  kind of poppy folk songs.

I haven’t really liked most of their songs, but I do like first and third in this set (I was unfamiliar with the middle song).

“The Steps” is like a classic rock song that’s been around for ever.  “The sunny, take-no-prisoners assertion of independence of “The Steps” recalls the soft rock jams of their earlier albums.”  The very cool sounding lead guitar riff that opens the song is definitely missed in this version, but the song itself is really solid and their harmonies are lovely.  The bass is mixed too loudly in this song, which is a bit of a shame since the rest sounds so good.

Strangely, it’s only Danielle who speaks and introduces only herself.  So you need the blurb to tell you that on her left is her sister Este Haim (bass, keyboard, drum pad, vocals) and on her right is her sister Alana Haim: (guitar, vocals, bongos).

The second song is “the muted techno glimmer of ‘I Know Alone.'”  Este switches to keys, Danielle switches to a rhythm machine and keys and whole Alana keeps the acoustic guitar she is also playing keys.  I think she keeps the guitar for one dramatic harmonic moment..  This song is kind of bland–not much really happens in it.

In comes Henry Solomon (the screen splits into four) to add saxophone for the final song “Summer Girl,”

a song that wavers like a heat mirage reflected off New York’s summer sidewalks, thanks to Henry Solomon’s whisper-toned sax.

I had no idea this song was HAIM  I recognized that saxophone melody immediately and have hear it many times on the radio.   Once again the bass is too loud, which is a bummer since this song is so chill. This song also feels like it has been around forever–there’s a real timeless quality to it.

HAIM recorded its Tiny Desk set before the death of George Floyd, and released “Summer Girl” last year. The world has changed a lot in that time. With its opening line — “LA on my mind, I can’t breathe” — “Summer Girl” becomes another piece of music that takes on a parallel meaning in the evolving social and political landscape of 2020.

I didn’t enjoy Haim’s early stuff, but I have come around on this album.

[READ: June 19, 2020] “Free”

This was a short story about who love ages.

Henry was married to Irene, but he was having an affair with Lila, who was married to Pete.

Irene was stuffy, very proper.  Lila, by contrast, once stripped off all her clothes and skinny dipped into a cold lake in front of him–“her bottom a sudden white heart split down the middle, in his vision.”  Lila lived in the now and gave herself to him completely.  But Henry “was no good at adultery…because he could not give himself, entirely, to the moment.” (more…)

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92000SOUNDTRACK: U.N.K.L.E.-“Ar.Mour” (2019).

armourHaving learned that U.N.K.L.E. had not only been making music all of these years but even put out a new album this year, I thought I’d listen to something new and see what it was like.

I chose “Ar.Mour” because James Lavelle described it as a sci-fi beat jam.  It features vocals from Elliott Power and Miink.

A pulsing beat opens this five minute song.  Some deep echoing drums come in and slowly add tension and then after about a minute the slow trip-hop drum beat begins. Then a simple guitar line comes in and around two minutes voices swirl up from underneath.  There is definite sci-fi feel to the song.

The song seems to fade out around 2 and half minutes before picking up again and just when you think the whole song is an instrumental the vocals come in.  There’s a deep voice followed by a repeating higher voice.  Then there’s a rap.  All of the voices are enveloped in a soft echo, making the words hard to hear.

The end of the song has a catchy vocal melody as the whole song builds with all of the parts melding together.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Nelson and Annabelle” (Part 2)

I’m still not sure if this is a two-part, long short story or if it is an excerpt from a novel.

What was kind of strange was that this whole story was utterly chock full of details as if it were a novel, and yet the ending just sped through and finished up with a kind of epilogue tacked on.

This part starts at Thanksgiving dinner.  Nelson has invited Annabelle to his mother’s house for dinner with the family.  The family includes his mother’s new(ish) husband Ronnie and a bunch of Ronnie’s closest relations.

The conversation is cordial until they start talking politics.  Everybody hates Clinton and they are angry that Hillary might run for office in New York.  It was not enjoyable rehashing the political arguments from twenty years ago, but I was fascinated at how much the things they said about him could easily be applied to trump and I wondered if these fictional people were now pro- or anti- trump.

…he lied to us, the American people.  He said it right out on television….

…he’s a draft dodger.  If I were a soldier I’d tell him to stuff his orders….

He makes me ashamed of being an American he makes America look ridiculous.  Drowning us in sleaze and then flying around all over the world as if nothing whatsoever has happened. Its so brazen.

He makes Nixon look like a saint.  At least Nixon had the decency to get out of our faces.  He could feel shame.

Its the sleaze. What are children supposed to think.  What do you tell the Boy Scouts?

As people get drunker, Ronnie, who has been against Annabelle since she showed up tells her to her face that “You’re your mother’s daughter alright… She’d fuck anybody…  It must feel funny being the illegitimate daughter of hooer and a bum.”

Nelson takes Annabelle and leaves the house and swears he will never set foot in it again.

Next we met one of Nelson’s oldest friends, Billy.  Billy is now an oral surgeon and very rich.  He calls up Nelson and invites him out for dinner to catch up. They have a nice time so when New Year’s Eve comes around–the Y2K New Years–Nelson invites Billy out with him and Annabelle.

Also in town are Nelson’s ex-wife, Pru, and their son.  Their daughter, who is 20, decided to go somewhere else with her boyfriend.  Nelson is bummed about the visit.  He wanted to see his daughter and he imagined that they would all stay with him.

Pru is pleased that he finally moved out of his parents house (the two of them lived in his parents’ house when they were married), but she doesn’t want to stay in his new cramped place.

For New Years Eve, Nelson Pru and Billy plan to go out.  Nelson invites Annabelle to come with them–what else is she doing?

They go for dinner (Billy uses his pull as a n oral surgeon to get them a seat at a crowded restaurant) and a movie.  They see American Beauty and have lots to say about it–it’s fascinating how racist and homophobic these men are.

Annabelle and Billy hit it off.  Nelson didn’t intend for that to happen, but it did.  In fact, in the car, it sounds like maybe he can hear the zipper of her dress being undone a little.

They decide to spend the last minutes of 1999 at a club.  But as they head downtown, the streetlights go out.  Is it a terrorist attack (in central Pennsylvania?)

With the traffic lights out, Nelson thinks people will take turns through the intersection.  But when a jerk in an SUV tries to cut him off, Nelson guns it, making the SUV screech to a halt.

For the first time all night Pru is really nice to him, “Oh honey, that was great, the way you made that asshole chicken out.  I think I wet my pants.”  As they drive further Pru whispers that she might stay at his place tonight after all.

The epilogue is satisfying, if you care about these characters.  Which I kind of do.  I definitely wonder if there’s more to their story or if this was just Updike’s way of capping off the full Rabbit saga

 

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10222000SOUNDTRACK: U.N.K.L.E.–“Rabbit in Your Headlights” (1998).

unkleI was looking for a “rabbit” song to include with this story and I remembered this one from U.N.K.L.E., an album I had completely forgotten about.

In fact, I had forgotten all about U.N.K.L.E. and was surprised to read that not only was the album Psyence Fiction not a one off, but that he (James Lavelle) has been releasing music up until now.

A slow, mournful piano plays a two chord melody as Thom Yorke sings his best Thom Yorke.  Thumping electronic drums slowly build from nothing and then a spare bass line which seems to circle the piano is added.

After two minutes, the music drops out leaving just a piano and a spoken middle section.  The drums slowly build back and then Yorke begins singing again. As Yorke’s voice soars and soars the song feels like it’s going to end (at five minutes)  but it hits a crescendo moment and then drifts back in to a chill trip-hop beat as the noirish piano fades out.

This song came out after O.K. Computer but before Kid A, and the trip-hop beats sure nod to where Radiohead would be going.

I’m glad to know that trip- hop is still hanging in there and I’ll have to check out some of the other U.N.K.L.E. albums.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Nelson and Annabelle” (Part 1)

I have never read any of John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels.  I always meant to.  In fact, I owned a copy of the Updike Rabbit book that was always remaindered.  But I wanted to start with the first one and just never got around to it.

I feel like now it’s too late to read them.  I imagine that the stories are retrograde and old -fashioned and that I won’t appreciate the protagonists or the attitudes.  In fact, this story, which I enjoyed parts of, has some pretty unpleasant attitudes about women.

I initially felt I would have enjoyed this story more had I read the Rabbit books since the subtitle here is “the two children of Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom meet at last.”  There’s a lot of character introduction in the beginning–ex-husbands, ex-wives, lovers, children.  But once it settled in, I found it interesting and then re-read the first two pages to get everything straightened out.

So, in brief, Harry (Rabbit) was married to Janice.  They had a son, Nelson.  Harry died and Janice married Ronnie. Ronnie knew Harry for most of his life, but they seem to be somewhat antagonistic.

This story opens with the new that Harry slept with a woman, Ruth, and maybe have been the father of Ruth’s daughter, Annabelle.  Turns out Ronnie also slept with Ruth (before Harry did) and Ronnie describes her as the Brewer town whore.  Harry had also slept with Ronnie’s first wife (there’s a lot of convoluted infidelity going on). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KLESEY LU-NonCOMM 2019 (May 15, 2019).

I had just listened to a few songs from Lu’s album Blood and now here she is at NonComm.

It’s hard to guess what the crowd was expecting when they saw Kelsey Lu‘s six-piece band waiting for her on stage. Or when they saw her, with flowing black, red, and orange hair, and ring laden gloves. Despite what they assumed she would sound like, she dazed everyone with her ethereal four song set this evening on the NPR stage.

According to the blurb, she started with a song that’s not on the player.

Lu started, just her and her keyboardist, with the title track of her debut album Blood, which was released in April via Columbia records. The song is a touching tribute to the love that permeates all. She delivered it with such conviction, as did her band, who gradually all joined in.

From “Blood” she swerved straight into the glitter of “Due West” and got the crowd moving along with her.  “Due West” starts quietly with strings but the song adds a  super catchy melody as it bridges into the chorus which brings an even catchier hook.  The recorded version is very poppy, but live, the pop elements have been stripped out somewhat.

Lu is most known for her work as a cellist.  Tonight however, Lu did not touch a cello once. The focus was on her mind bending and majestic voice. She mostly sang with her eyes closed, showing that regardless of the fact that she performs them every night, these songs still affect her as much as they do her audiences. The cello was not entirely absent, as one of her band members impressively played an electric one. Another demonstrated expertise of the violin, especially during the dramatic and sultry “Foreign Car.”

“Foreign Car” opens with wavering synth stabs and creepy strings.  It has a catchy fluttery chorus which I rather like.  I also really like the interesting electronic sounds that are added.

The last song of the set, the shimmering “Poor Fake,” Lu introduced as her ode to disco and dance.

She said “I don’t know if any of you grew up around the disco era.”  The crowd mutters.  She is the most animated of the night when she says, C’mon I know some of you did.  I didn’t, but I’m a big fan.  This was an opportunity to have an ode to disco.”

The somber strings that start the track then caught the crowd off guard. Once the beat kicked in, all doubts and confusion were whisked away.

The bass and drums are pure disco and her voice seems to reach back to Donna Summer.

As Lu’s voice did acrobatics, her hair put on a show of its own. She tossed it back and forth, making her floor-length orange braid whip ferociously, matching the melodrama of the song.

Who would he ever guessed she could hit such impressive high notes based on the quiet of the other songs.

Lu’s record is interesting, but it sounds like her live show is where it’s at.

[READ: May 20, 2019] “Personal Archeology”

It’s coincidental that the story I read for yesterday was about old photos and a person’s history.  This story is also about history, but it is the history of a place.

I really enjoyed this personal archaeology because I have had a similar experience finding old things on our property.

Fritz Martin was older now–his golfing buddies had died or were not playing as much.  So he had a lot of free time. He spent it looking for the traces that the previous owners of his house had left behind.

He imagined there were four eras of the house’s history. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHROMEO-Tiny Desk Concert #797 (October 19, 2018).

I’m not sure if I’ve heard of Chromeo, but the name is pretty great.

The band consists of David Macklovitch (Dave 1–Vocals/Guitar) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg–Bass/Talk Box).  They have a pretty classic Prince/funk sound.  But how can they be so funky if they don’t have a live band?

Self-proclaimed “Funklordz” Chromeo played with a live band for the first time at the Tiny Desk. The duo usually performs their live shows over backing tracks with shimmering chrome guitars and keyboards mounted on mannequin lady legs.

I need to see that.  But for this show, there is a live band, which may change their desire to be just a duo, because they sound great.

For “Count Me Out” Dave 1 sings and plays guitar.  P-Thugg plays a great slap bass and, the biggest surprise–a keyboard-operated talk box.

Mid song they shift gears to a major funk storm in “Jealous (I Ain’t With It).”   I love hearing P-Thugg robot singing “I Ain’t With It” and then talk-boxing a synth solo.

But the story of Chromeo is pretty fun as well.

David Macklovitch (Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg) met when they were 15 while growing up in Montreal and have been cranking out the electro-funk jams ever since. At first glance, their Jewish and Arab partnership might seem unlikely. But their signature sounds are undeniably infectious, epitomized by P-Thugg’s Talk Box – an instrument that transforms his vocals into robotic sounds.  On being Canadian, P-Thugg announced in his robot voice “it’s very, very cold” to which Dave 1 quipped, “it’s cold… free healthcare.”

The backing band mostly adds synths and drums.  I assume that these could all be electronic, but it feels so much more real with everyone else there.  In the middle of “Jealous,” P-Thugg takes off his bass and Eric “E-Watt” Whatley starts playing a great funky bass of his own.  But the band looks like a cohesive unit (it’s amazing that this is the first time they’ve played together).

The band was outfitted in go-go-style matching uniforms custom embroidered with the words “Funk Lordz.”  The Philadelphia based line-up included keyboardist Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts and legendary percussionists Rashid Williams and Aaron Draper.

“Don’t Sleep” has a very 70’s sound–with some great synthy work from Man-Man.  I don’t know if the song always has this middle section, but Dave 1 shouts, “we’re in DC right?”

With a nod to DC’s own funky go-go music scene of the ’70s, their …. breakdown at the end of the song “Don’t Sleep” was a fitting tribute to NPR’s hometown, Washington, D.C.

Even though their songs seems to be kind of negative (Jealous, Don’t Sleep on Me), the music is fun and dancy.  The final song “Must’ve Been” continues that fun, talk-box hook-filled tunage.

 Listening to Chromeo is a joyous affair. Watching them get funky with a stellar band behind The Desk for the very first time, it’s impossible to sit still.

Chromeo completely won me over.  Also, how do they not have French accents?

[READ: November 28, 2018] “Snowing in Greenwich Village”

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 story felt a lot more timeless than the Stafford story.  It is about a young married couple and the first visitor to their new place.

The Maples had just moved in and their friend Rebecca Cune had come over for a drink.

Rebecca tells them about her previous living arrangement with a woman and that woman’s boyfriend.  The Maples had lived in a log cabin in a YMCA camp for the first three months of their marriage.

Drinks were passed around and Richard was playing the good ghost. (more…)

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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…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOCAL NATIVES-“Fountain of Youth” (Field Recordings, October 5, 2016). 

I know and like Local Natives, although I didn’t know this song.

In 2010, Local Natives came clattering into the indie firmament with the U.S. release of Gorilla Manor, an irresistible blend of in-vogue sonic signifiers like Afropop guitars, rich harmonies and the hint of a folk sensibility. In 2016, the band’s run has continued with the synth-heavy Sunlit Youth.

For their Field Recording, Local Natives played one of the singles off that album, “Fountain of Youth.” Though the recorded version is lush and electronic, Local Natives stripped the song to a driving core. The band played, and then it was off again — guitars in hand, headed for the evening’s show elsewhere in Brooklyn.

They sound great stripped to just two guitars and a tambourine standing on the water’s edge. [Local Natives Strips Down Its Sound For A Riverside Show].  I love this introduction:

The East River Ferry is a very fast boat. Local Natives came hurtling toward our crew up the river one overcast evening this summer, shouting three-part harmonies over roaring engines for a surprised clutch of fans. When the ferry docked, three of the band’s members hurried over to our pier off WNYC Transmitter Park to play this Field Recording.

I’m not sure which of the five Natives these are, but they harmonize wonderfully. And I really like that the main singer is playing his guitar while the second guitar is silent until later in the song when his higher notes are used as an excellent accent.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Kinderscenen”

This was a fascinating story because of how much detail was given and how little plot there was.

This is the story of a boy, Toby.  It is written in a kind of childish third person, almost by a benevolent guardian.

Sentences like:

What he does know is how Daddy’s cigarette looks in the evening when sitting on a wicker chair with the other grown-ups softly talking in a row, he flips it away its red star tracing lopsided loops before shattering into sparks on the bricks.

In his heart he knows that this is the best town in the world.

In the story, Toby helps his mother garden (by lifting the prickery bushes “holding up the bushes’ skirts” which has a naughty sound that nevertheless doesn’t make it fun. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KUINKA-Tiny Desk Concert #716 (March 9, 2018).

Kuinka are a happy band.  Smiles are on all four members’ faces as they play their three songs.

Miranda Zickler says that they spend all of their time in the van listening to NPR, so this is pretty exciting for them.

The blurb says:

Last year I came across Kuinka (coo-WINK-uh), a band from Seattle… Kuinka’s live performance knocked me out even more than the creative video they’d submitted for the contest.

Since then, Brothers Zach (guitar) and Nathan (mandolin) Hamer, along with Miranda Zickler (keys) and Jillian Walker (cello), have come to D.C. for an official performance at the Tiny Desk, bringing with them their great harmonies and unique blend of energetic, string-band music with a dose of synth.

I’m not sure what the band sounds like normally–if they typically play electronic drums or what, but as the blurb notes

The songs are performed here on relatively tiny instruments, including a ukulele, a drum pad, a small synth, a mandolin and a banjo, along with an electric guitar. But the performance is fleshed out beautifully with rousing vocal harmonies.

All three tracks performed here are from Kuinka’s 2017 EP Stay Up Late, and each one has its own charm.

“Curious Hands” has lead vocals by Miranda.  There’s a cello, keys and Nathan playing a small acoustic six string guitar (or ukulele?).  He gets a pretty big (largely percussive) sound out of that little thing.  But it’s the harmonies that are really spectacular.  I feel like the electronic drums are a little too electronic for this largely folk band but whatever.

For “Spaces,” Zach switches from electronic drums to electric guitar.  He also sings lead with an unexpected twang.  Nathan has switched to mandolin which gives the whole song a kind of Americana vibe.  The electronic drums sound they chose is awful, but there’s a really cool synth sound between verses that prevents this from being overtly in one genre.

Miranda “explains” the name of the band: Kuinka is like kuinka-dink but it doesn’t have anything to do with that, it’s just a coincidence [that’s our ‘bit’].

The blurb’s recommendation to stay until “Mistakenly Brave” is a good one as it is the most rousing song.  They revert back to previous instruments, although Miranda plays banjo.  The harmonies are terrific (much better than the solo vocals, honestly).  It’s got that whole The Head and the Heart vibe going on.  Big soaring vocals and a cool break that leads to a rollicking coda.  Mid way through, Zach switches back to electric guitar to add some oomph.

[READ: April 20, 2016] Endpoint

John Updike died in January 2009 after decades of writing for the New Yorker and elsewhere.  As the news settled in the magazine ran this tribute to him in the March 16 issue.

Rather than running a story, they published a ten-poem sequence called “Endpoint,” (I didn’t even know he wrote poetry).  Most of these poems were written in 2008, while presumably, he knew he was dying from lung cancer.

Endpoint (more…)

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manner SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk Concert #251 (November 19, 2012).

benBen Gibbard is the voice of Death Cab for Cutie.  His voice is instantly recognizable and his melodies are surprisingly catchy.

This Tiny Desk Concert (they say it’s number 250, but I count 251) is just him and his acoustic guitar.  I didn’t know he did solo work, but apparently he does (in addition to being in The Postal Service and All-Time Quarterback).

Gibbard just released a solo album, Former Lives, which he’s said is a repository for material that didn’t work as Death Cab for Cutie songs; from that record, only “Teardrop Windows” pops up in his Tiny Desk Concert. For the rest, he draws from Death Cab’s most recent album (“St. Peter’s Cathedral,” from Codes and Keys) and, of all places, last year’s Arthur soundtrack (“When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street”).

As mentioned he plays three songs and his voice is so warm and familiar I felt like I knew these songs even if I didn’t.

I knew “St. Peter’s Cathedral.” It is a lovely song with very little in the way of chord changes.  But the melody is gentle and pretty.  And the song appears to be entirely about this church.  Which is interesting because the second song is also about a building in Seattle.  “Teardrop Windows” is a surprisingly sad song about an inanimate object.  It’s written from the building’s point of view as he mourns that no one uses him anymore.  And such beautiful lyrics too:

Once built in boast as the tallest on the coast he was once the city’s only toast / In old postcards was positioned as the star, he was looked up to with fond regard / But in 1962 the Needle made its big debut and everybody forgot what it outgrew

The final song “When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street” was indeed for the Russel Brand movie Arthur.  Somehow I can’t picture those two together.  It’s a lovely song, too.

I prefer Gibbard’s more upbeat and fleshed out music, but it’s great to hear him stripped down as well.

[READ: January 2017] “My Writing Education: A Time Line,” “The Bravery of E.L. Doctorow,” “Remembering Updike,” and “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” 

I had been planning to have my entire month of February dedicated to children’s books.  I have a whole bunch that I read last year and never had an opportunity to post them.  So I thought why not make February all about children’s books.  But there is just too much bullshit going on in our country right now–so much hatred and ugliness–that I felt like I had to get this post full of good vibes out there before I fall completely into bad feelings myself. It;s important to show that adults can be kind and loving, despite what our leaders demonstrate.  Fortunately most children’s books are all about that too, so the them holds for February.

George Saunders is a wonderful writer, but he is also a very kind human being.  Despite his oftentimes funny, sarcastic humor, he is a great humanitarian and is always very generous with praise where it is warranted.

The other day I mentioned an interview with Saunders at the New York Times.  Amid a lot of talk with and about Saunders, there is this gem:

Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”

These first three pieces are all examples of his love and respect for other writers–both for their skill and for their generosity.

“My Writing Education: A Time Line”

“My Writing Education” comes from a book called A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors.  Saunders’ mentor was Tobias Wolff.  And for this essay, his admiration takes the form of a diary.  (more…)

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tny 5.26.08 cvr.inddSOUNDTRACK: PACIFICA QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #383 (August 18, 2014).

pacificaIn this Tiny Desk Concert, the Pacifica Quartet explore the world of a single composer, Dmitri Shostakovich.  They will play three movements from different Shostakovich quartets

The quartet consists of Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson on violins, Masumi Per Rostad on viola and Brandon Vamos on cello.

I’m going to quote a ton from the NPR blurb because they know from what they speak.  But I’m going to chime in that these pieces are really cool.  I like Shostakovich, but haven’t really devoted a lot of time to him. His music seems at times playful and at other times very dark.

In the first piece I love how that three note motif recurs in different places and then the piece turns into a delicate pizzicato section.

The second piece is so light-hearted as it starts–pastoral and lovely.  But there hangs a slightly menacing version of that pastoral riff.  I especially enjoyed watching the cellist bow aggressively.  It goes a little crazy towards the end but somehow remains upbeat.

The final piece plays off of the notes of Shostakovich’s initials (they explain all about this in the intro and what the S and H are in terms of musical notes).  It’s amazing to think that these different parts play with those four notes in a different way.  It’s an intense piece and reminds me a bit of Psycho.

From the blurb [with my comments in brackets]:

With the arguable exception of Béla Bartók’s six string quartets, it’s generally accepted that the 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich are the strongest body of quartets since Beethoven….  The Shostakovich quartets are intense, like page-turning thrillers, as they pull you into his world. They are dark and introspective, witty and sarcastic, and stained with the Soviet-era violence and hardship the composer lived through.

Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108 (1960) Allegretto
Eerie pizzicato and piercing stabs in the violins help color the twitchy, even sinister, opening movement of the Seventh Quartet. Stalin might have been dead since 1953, but hard-line Soviet politics (including the violent suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising) were still in place. The music’s lightness and transparency create a crepuscular feel.

Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73 (1946) Allegretto
The Third Quartet’s first movement looks back to a slightly more pleasant time before World War II. At one point Shostakovich considered a subtitle: “Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm.” The jaunty opening theme, like Haydn after a few beers [now that is a hilarious line], is among the most lighthearted in the 15 quartets. But the mood sobers with an intense double fugue before returning to the opening music and a flashy final page.

Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 (1960) Allegro molto
The Eighth Quartet is Shostakovich’s most popular — and one of his most hair-raising. He dedicated it to victims of fascism and war while at the same time creating his own epitaph. The entire quartet is built on a foundation of four notes that spell out his first initial and the first three letters of his last name [watch in the beginning of the piece as they demonstrate these notes]. The second movement juxtaposes violent energy with a tweaked version of a Jewish folk theme from an earlier work.

[READ: February 27, 2016] “The Full Glass”

I never understand how the New Yorker selects what it will publish each week.  Sometimes authors can go for years without a piece and sometimes they can go just a couple of months.  Such is the case with 2008 where there have been many duplicate authors in the span of a few months.  Updike’s last story in the magazine was in January of 2008–that’s barely five months.

Anyway, this story is written from the point of view of a man turning eighty.

He talks about retiring from his job as a wood floor re finisher in Connecticut.  He’s admitting he is his age and is taking a ton of pills every day and what not.

And he reflects on a many things in his life.  Like the bliss of a cold glass of water.  He hates the thought of drinking 8 glasses a day, but a cold glass at night is wonderful [I concur]. (more…)

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