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Archive for the ‘John Updike’ Category

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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17208SOUNDTRACK: RAPSODY-Tiny Desk Concert #498 (January 5, 2016).

rapsAs part of my New Year’s resolution, I’m going to try to keep up with the Tiny Desk shows as they happen.

This is the first Tiny Desk Concert of 2016, and I’m afraid it was pretty disappointing.

Rapsody is a rapper, but I feel like she doesn’t have a lot of flow.  Or if she does, it’s kind of slow and meandering.  There was nothing really captivating about her style.  And her rhymes weren’t all that exciting either.

“Godzilla” is a very pro-God song (the twist on God and Zilla is interesting), but the song isn’t that inspired.  She spends most of the song asking people to clap (the room is full of students from Howard University).  Her rhymes are just not that interesting in this song.

Her second song (with a horrific cheesy sax solo throughout) has a great premise–a song about the boys who have grown up too fast because they lack strong black fathers.  The problem with it is that a song like this, which could be powerful as a message, has a chorus of “I been the motherfuckin ….”  Which ain’t going garner much airplay.

“Hard to Choose” is about being a black female in hip hop.  She wanted to be a good role model for young girls.  Once again, her flow isn’t that exciting and her rhymes don’t really  do much for me.  Of course, she disses hipsters who don’t understand, and I guess that’s me.

Rapsody has some great messages.  I wish her a lot of success and I hope that her positive messages are heard by millions.  I just wont be listening.

[READ: January 5, 2015] “Outage”

As part of my new year’s resolution, I’m going to read all of the old New Yorker stories from 2008-2015 to fill in any gaps (I’ve missed about 50 stories in seven years).  In a few months I should have all of the stories from 2008-2016 (or close to the current story as possible) read and posted.  How exciting!

This was something of a perfect short story and a great way to start the back issues.

I don’t read a lot of Updike, for no particular reason.  So I don’t really know if this is the kind of thing he typically writes.   But the way it was constructed and the details he put in made this story seem so effortless and very true.

Set in the suburbs of Boston, Brad Morris is working from home when a storm comes through the area.  The weatherpersons had made a huge deal out of it since they are “always eager for ratings-boosting disasters.”  But the actual weather seemed to be on and off heavy rain.

And then just as the storm seemed to be over, the power went our.  The description, “the house seemed to sigh, as all its lights and little engines, its computerized timers and indicators, simultaneously shut down.”  That is exactly right. (more…)

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5dials31SOUNDTRACK: BEACH SLANG-Tiny Desk Concert #431 (April 10, 2015)

beachslangI had never heard of Beach Slang before watching this Tiny Desk Concert.  Evidently they are a new band with only a couple EPs out.  The write up says they are a punk band.  But in this Tiny Desk show, it’s just lead dude James Snyder and his guitar.

He plays four songs.  They are all sort of jaunty acoustic songs.  They are almost anthemic, but not quite.  The strangest thing is Snyder’s super-raspy singing voice, especially since his speaking voice is gentle and his laugh is kind of high-pitched. He is very funny and nervous when he talks, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

Exploring a little their bandcamp site, I see that they do a cover of the Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way, and that sound is pretty apt.

Their recorded versions are heavier and actually sound a bit like the Goo Goo Dolls.

This is a brief but enjoyable set.  I find him so charming that I like it more than I might normally.

[READ: April 1, 2015] Five Dials 31

It has been quite a while since I’ve read a Five Dials.  And that’s no fault of the magazine–its all on me.  I always think, I’ll just put it off till I have time, and then I realize that I can always find something to read…so I just need to actually make time for Five Dials because it is totally worth it.

So this issue came out about a year ago.  Maybe that’s not too bad?

It begins with the contributors page and is followed by the Unable to Contribute page which lists five journalists who are currently in prison (find out more at the Committee to Protect Journalists).  Page 5 is a Table of Contents which I feel they haven’t done before.  It has a cool drawing on the bottom.  All drawings from this issue came from The Public Domain Collection of the British Library.

Then there’s a Frequently Asked Questions page.  Many pertain to corresponding with Five Dials, but others, well: (more…)

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McSweeney’s #13 (2006)

13SOUNDTRACKPARTS & LABOR-Stay Afraid (2006).

partslaborParts & Labor have changed t heir style over the years going from noisemakers who have a melody to being melodious noisemakers.  This album is one of their earlier releases when noise dominated.  Right from the opening you know the album is going to be a challenge.  The first song has pounding drums (electronics that sound like bagpipes) and heavy distorted shouty vocals.  By the end of the songs there is squealing feedback, punk speed drums and screaming distorted vocals (complete with space sound effects).  It’s an aggressive opening for sure.  Song two opens with a long low rumbling and then “Drastic Measures” proves to be another fast-paced song.

“A Pleasant Stay” is 5 minutes long (most of the rest of the album’s songs are about 3 minutes).  It continues in this fast framework, although it has a bit more open moments of just drums or just vocals.  The way the band plays with feedback in the last minute or so of the song  very cool.

“New Buildings” has a hardcore beat with a guitar part that sounds sped up.  “Death” is a thumping song (the drums are very loud on this disc), while “Timeline” is two minutes of squealing guitars.  “Stay Afraid” has a false start (although who knows why–how do these guys know if the feedback sounds are what  they wanted anyhow?).  The song ends with 30 seconds of sheer noise).  The album ends with the 5 minute “Changing of the Guard” a song not unlike the rest of the album–noisy with loud drumming and more noise.

The album is certainly challenging, it’s abrasive and off putting, but there;s surprising pleasures and melodies amidst the chaos.   Indeed, after a listen or two you start to really look forward to the hooks.  If you like this sort of thing, this album s a joy.  It’s also quite brief, so it never overstays its welcome.

[READ: April 15, 2011] McSweeney’s #13

I have been looking forward to reading this issue for quite some time.  Indeed, as soon as I received it I wanted to put aside time for it.  It only took eight years.  For this is the fabled comics issue.  Or as the cover puts it: Included with this paper: a free 264 page hardcover.  Because the cover is a fold-out poster–a gorgeous broadside done by Chris Ware called “God.”  And as with all Chris Ware stories, this is about life, the universe and everything.  On the flip side of the (seriously, really beautiful with gold foil and everything) Ware comic are the contributors’ list and a large drawing that is credited to LHOOQ which is the name of Marcel Duchamp’s art piece in which he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  It’s a kind of composite of the history of famous faces in art all done in a series of concentric squares.  It’s quite cool.

So, yes, this issue is all about comics.  There are a couple of essays, a couple of biographical sketches by Ware of artists that I assume many people don’t know and there’s a few unpublished pieces by famous mainstream artists.  But the bulk of the book is comprised of underground (and some who are not so underground anymore) artists showing of their goods.  It’s amazing how divergent the styles are for subject matter that is (for the most part) pretty similar: woe is me!  Angst fills these pages.  Whether it is the biographical angst of famous artists by Brunetti or the angst of not getting the girl (most of the others) or the angst of life (the remaining ones), there’s not a lot of joy here. Although there is a lot of humor.  A couple of these comics made it into the Best American Comics 2006.

There’s no letters this issue, which makes sense as the whole thing is Chris Ware’s baby.  But there are two special tiny books that fit nearly into the fold that the oversized cover makes.  There’s also two introductions.  One by Ira Glass (and yes I’d rather hear him say it but what can you do).  And the other by Ware.  Ware has advocated for underground comics forever and it’s cool that he has a forum for his ideas here.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose from him before. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AUDIOSLAVE-Audioslave (2002).

Despite the pedigree of this band: Rage Against the Machine + Chris Cornell, I wasn’t all that interested in the band when they came out.  I was over Rage and was bored by Cornell’s solo stuff.  But then recently, someone donated a copy of this album to th elibrary, so I thought I’d see what all of the fuss was about (nine years ago).

There are times when this album is really superb.  The Rage guys get an amazingly full sound out of their instruments (the choruses of “Show Me How to Live” are so full).  And when it works, and Cornell’s amazing voice is in full force, this seems like a genius pairing.

But there’s a lot that feels kind of clunky here (and there’s some really bad choices of guitar solo work by Tom Morello–the weird noises that compriose he solo of “What You Are”–in Rage the noises were weird but exciting and inflammatory, these are just kind of dull.  Worse yet, is the, well, stupid solo in “Like a Stone”–boring and ponderous at the same time).  Although he redeems himself somewhat with the cool solo on the otherwise dull “Intuition”.

The biggest surpise comes in “Like a Stone” which is insanely catchy and mellow–something one assumed Rage didn’t know how to do).  Lyrically the song is pretty stupid (as are most of the songs), but the combination of melody and Cornell’s great vocal lines really raise this song high–shame about the solo).  Also, a song like “Shadow of the Sun” seems to highlight Cornell’s more mellow moments (and shows that the Rage guys can actually play that slow), and they all seem to be in synch.

And there are several songs that rock really hard, sounding at times like Rage and at time like Soundgarden, but working on all cylinders together.  “Cochise” and “Set It Off” are simply great riff rock songs.

But ten or so years later, and twenty years since Badmotorfinger (my favorite Soundgarden album), it’s nice to hear Cornell rocking again.  Although man, the record is too long!

[READ: June 1, 2011] Five Dials Number 8

For Issue Number 8, Five Dials went to Paris.  And so the whole issue is given over to French concerns and ideas.  For a magazine that didn’t need a change of pace, it’s a delightful change of pace.  The feel of the magazine is different, and there’s an air of vacation about it (which is not to suggest that it is slacking off in any way), and it feels really vibrant.

I don’t know a lot about France in general.  I mean, I’ve been there, and I keep up with things, but I am not a Francophile by any means. So a lot of this stuff was simply new to me, which is always fun.  What I especially liked about the issue was that they were not afraid to show some of France’s uglier sides as well–it’s not just a tourism booster.

It even starts out differently than the other issues. (more…)

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[READ: September 24, 2001 & May 9, 2011] Talk of the Town

After 9/11, I read everything about the incident (like the multiple comics that came out).  About a week after 9/11 my friend Al and I went down to Hoboken and absorbed the decay (and I can’t help but wonder if that’s why I’ve developed adult asthma).  My 9/11 story is no more compelling than anyone else’s and may even be far less compelling (you can read a snippet at Al’s blog, should you care to).  Anyhow, when this issue of The New Yorker came out (with the amazing cover that you can’t really see here–the towers are in a shiny black that reflects the light), I read all of these accounts and recollections.

I came upon them again recently when I was doing a New Yorker search for Jonathan Franzen.  I recently read all of his New Yorker entries, but when I saw that he had one that was part of this 9/11 issue, I decided to put it off.  It was reasonably close to the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, and I told myself I’d wait until then to reread and see what I thought.

And then President Obama gave the order to capture and kill Osama bin Laden (hooray!) and that seemed like a far more propitious reason to go back and re-read these articles.  Now I can feel a bit lighter about the whole thing (just a bit, but a bit can be a lot).  And so, here’s a somewhat facile reaction to these reactions.

I’ll preface by saying I can’t imagine what it must have been like to write something, anything at that time.  Some people respond well to pressure and tragedy and perhaps that’s what happened here.  I can’t help but wonder how paralyzing it must have been for other writers (as it was for most people).  So that these writers had the wherewithal to write anything coherent is pretty amazing.  And the fact that the could express the range of emotions that they do is extraordinary. (more…)

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