Archive for the ‘Joshua Cohen’ Category

may2015SOUNDTRACK: GAELYNN LEA-“Someday We’ll Linger In The Sun” (TINY DESK CONTEST WINNER 2016).

gaelynnYou never know what is going to win the Tiny Desk Contest–there are so many genres represented.  Will it big a big rocking band, a scrappy bluesy band, will it be a sweet lullaby, or, unexpectedly, will it be a haunting song by a woman with a fiddle.

Gaelynn Lea plays a violin which she loops.

As the song opens, the first violin notes are slow and haunting, almost hesitating.  Then she plays harmony notes over those (the spareness here reminds me of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.”  Then she plays some pizzicato notes over the top of these.  It’s a beautiful, haunting melody.

After a minute her voice comes in.  It is unexpected.  It sounds slightly off, and yet somehow even more hauntingly beautiful for it.  Especially when she gets to the simple “chorus” of “and I love you.”  The melody doesn’t change through the song, that constant repeating riff, those slow pulls on the bow, the intermittent pizzicato notes and Lea’s voice continue as lyrics flow over you.

And what lyrics:

Our love’s a complex vintage wine
All rotted leaves and lemon rind
I’d spit you out but now you’re mine

Don’t tell me we’ve got time
The subtle thief of life
It slips away when we pay no mind

We pulled the weeds out til the dawn
Nearly too tired to carry on
Someday we’ll linger in the sun


After a few verses, she plays a solo over the top of it all.  It is as aching as the rest of the song.  Try not to cry while listening to it.

You can watch the video here.

[READ: January 8, 2015] “From the Palo Alto Sessions”

This is an excerpt from Cohen’s Book of Numbers.  I vaguely know Cohen (his first book Witz, was 800 pages and BoN is almost 600), but I don’t really know his writing.

This excerpt (I don’t know where it comes from the book) is a bit hard to get into: “Toward the end D-Unit had been working on the touchscreen.  Do not interrupt, we do not digress.”  Turns out that D-Unit is a person and the narrator is plural (or the royal we).  The story follows as “we” investigate D-Unit’s house and computer supplies.

There’ s a ton of tech speak, as well as what appears to be slang (I never figured out what “cur” meant in this book).

The language just piles up with sentences that build and stop and resume in another way.  I enjoyed this: “This career vegan who after his wife left him for a woman stuffed his freezer with enough cuts of venison to make 1.33 deer.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN DEACON-“Call Me Maybe Acapella 147 Times Exponentially Layered” (2012).

Dan Deacon (whose twitter handle is “ebaynetflix” ha!), created a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” for a digital album with 43 artists covering the pop delicacy.  I listened to a few samples from the album and they span the gamut from kind of serious to kind of crazy to mocking to Deacon.

Stereogum describes Deacon’s version this way: “Dan Deacon piles “Call Me Maybe” on itself over and over again, creating the most dissonant, harrowing take on Carli Rae Jepsen’s [sic] hit known to man.”

He begins with a sample from the verse, then he adds some lines from the chorus (while the verse is playing). You can hear “here’s my number, so call me maybe” a few times, but the background is growing in intensity and menace.  By 90 seconds in, you can still hear her a little bit, but she is almost entirely consumed by noise.  Then around 2 minutes, things seems to calm down a bit (she’s still plugging away at the chorus).  By 4 minutes the whole thing has seemingly collapsed in on itself.  And the whole time, there seems to be a steady beat that you can dance to.  This track may indeed produce insanity.

You can listen to Deacon’s monstrosity below, or go to the original site.

  To see the lineup for the whole album, go here.

[READ: August 22, 2012] 3 Book Reviews

I don’t quite understand how Cohen pulled this off, but in the July issue of Harper‘s right after his story, “The College Borough,” which I mentioned yesterday, he also had three book reviews.  How does one get two bylines in Harper’s?  Has that ever happened before?

Because I liked the story so much, I decided I would read these reviews too.  Cohen sets up the reviews with the idea of political gestation periods (12 months for donkeys, 22 months for elephants) and how novelists work even slower when it comes to writing about events.  Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead came out 32 months after V-J Day, John Steinbeck wrote about the depression from 1937-1945.  So now in 2012 we see the “spawn of Bush’s two terms of excruciating contractions.”  Books that fictionalize the realities of post-9/11 life: “that the canniest distraction from class war is war-war.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN DEACON-“Guilford Avenue Bridge” (2012).

I only know Dan Deacon from his “cover” of “Call me Maybe” (in which he layered the song on top of itself 147 times).  Deacon has a new proper album out and while it’s not quite as outlandish as the “Call Me Maybe” cover, it’s still pretty out there.

This is the opening track–a noisy barrage of sound set to a really catchy drum beat and bassline.  But you almost have to listen hard for that beat because it is just a wall of noise that goes on for 90 seconds until the song completely stops and is replaced by a manipulated banjo solo (I think).  This slowly morphs into pianos and then waves of delicate keyboards (all of which I’m sure is some kind of manipulated sound).  With about 30 seconds left the noise comes back and the songs ends much like it started.  Although it ends with a very happy chord.

This is definitely not for most, but the experimental nature is quite fun, and it’s definitely not something you’re going to hear on the radio very often.

[READ: August 22, 2012] “The College Borough”

I hadn’t read any Joshua Cohen before this story (he wrote the 800+ page buzz book Witz, but is NOT the author of a book called Leverage which Sarah reacted very strongly to–that would be Joshua C. Cohen, this one is Joshua A Cohen).  Also, I put it off because it was long.

Before I summarize, I want to state that this story is flipped on its own head by the final line.  The final few words completely changed how I felt about this story.  And I have to wonder what the risk is for a writer to do something like this.  For the entire story we don’t know why the narrator acts the way he does (in the present).  The flashback that the story provided is very thorough and detailed but it does not answer our pressing question.  Even when we return to the present, and the past comes to meet them, it still doesn’t explain it. It is literally the last few words that justify everything.  That’s audacious.

I’ll say more about this at the end.

It also begins with an audacious statement: “I helped build the Flatiron Building though I’ve never been to New York.”  Indeed, it seems that the narrator never wanted to go to New York.  But ow that his daughter, a junior in high school, wants to go to college in Manhattan (they hope she’ll stay in-state), he agrees for them all to go to New York City.

The narrator met his wife, Dem, in college (at in-state college).  They were both in the writing program and they’d had some classes together before they enrolled in Professor Greener’s seminar.

The beginning of the story is mostly the narrator’s complaints about New York.  I especially enjoyed this line: “I know no city can contain all the amenities you’d find at a place like our alma mater.”  Back home they have more pools, more StairMasters and their very own Flatiron Building (dubbed the Fauxiron).

Then the story pulls back so we can figure out what the hell this guy is talking about. (more…)

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