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Archive for the ‘Joyce Carol Oates’ Category

june2020SOUNDTRACK: HADESTOWN-Tiny Desk Concert #977 (June 1, 2020).

hades

It’s unusual for a Tiny Desk blurb to tell us when the Tiny Desk happened.  Sometimes there are clues, but this blurb tells us straight out it happened on March 2, in “the Before-Times.”

Which you can tell because there are “16 performers bunch[ed] up behind the desk, singing formidably in close proximity as a large crowd gathers just off camera.”

I’ve never heard of Hadestown, but it sounds pretty interesting.  Evidently it is a Tony-nominated hit musical.

They’d wanted to get this Tiny Desk done, but kept running into delays until they finally managed to coordinate when “playwright Anaïs Mitchell–who wrote both the musical and the 2010 folk opera on which it’s based–was eight months pregnant.”  She also plays guitar and sings.

This is a “five-song distillation of a robust and impeccably staged Broadway production.”

A raucous full-cast tone-setter, “Way Down Hadestown” lets Hermes the messenger (André De Shields, in a role that won him a Tony–he also plays the train whistle) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable, filling in for Amber Gray) set the scene.  I love that Marable is acting (with her face) while listening to Hermes sing.  The song is a kind of piano-based rag song (played by Liam Robinson who later plays accordion) until midway when the whole band kicks in with a muted trombone solo from Brian Drye (who also plays glockenspiel!).

The musical is really about two loves stories: Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone.

A medley of “Come Home With Me” and “Wedding Song” finds Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) meeting and falling in love.

Gentle guitar from Ilusha Tsinadze opens as Orpheus sings his (comical) lyrics.

A singer , huh?
I also play the lyre.
Oh a liar and a player too.

As the song builds, strings are added from Megan Gould (violin) and Malcolm Parson (cello) and a pulsing upright bass from Chris Tordini.

“When the Chips Are Down” showcases the three Fates — spirits who often drive the characters’ motivations — as played by Jewelle Blackman (who also plays accordion), Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (who also plays violin) and Kay Trinidad (who also plays percussion).

It opens with some interesting picked and harmonic’d guitar and a bouncy piano and a funky off kilter beat (and percussion) from Ben Perowsky.  Liam Robinson also get s a fun piano solo.

In “Flowers,” Eurydice looks back with regret and resignation on her decision to leave Orpheus for the promise of Hadestown.

Mitchell herself plays guitar and sings the opening and then lets Eva take over vocals.

Finally, the set concludes with “Why We Build the Wall,” which quickly became Hadestown‘s most talked-about number. (Mitchell wrote it a full decade before the 2016 election, but you’d never know it.) Though the song includes the full cast, it’s also a show-stopping showcase for the sonorous thunder of Patrick Page, who performs with a gravity befitting the king of the underworld.

It opens with two acoustic guitars playing a slightly discordant melody. Page’s deep voice is incredible.  It’s a call and response song that is remarkably prescient:

The enemy is poverty and the wall keeps out the enemny and we build the wall to keep us free.

I don’t know what will happen to Broadway after the virus is gone, but it would be a shame to lose a show like this.

[READ: June 4, 2020] “Still Life”

This is an excerpt from Oates’ new novel Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.  The blurb tells what the story is about but this excerpt seems like the beginning of the story and context rather impacts the way you think about what you’re reading.

The story is about John Earle “Whitey” McClaren.  He is sixty-seven and is in the hospital trying to piece together what happened.  I feel like not knowing the reason he is in the hospital would make this story more compelling.  But having just the except without context would make the excerpt far less interesting.  So I won’t spoil.

He tries to explain what’s happening, but he can’t talk.  He realizes he’s not even breathing on his own. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE-DREAM-Tiny Desk Concert #886 (August 30, 2019).

I had never heard of The-Dream and couldn’t imagine why the name was hyphenated.  Turns out The-Dream is an R&B singer with a kind of gentle falsetto (not too high, but higher than expected).  The blurb says: “The-Dream delivered his lyrics with that signature high-pitched whisper, just shy of a falsetto..”

He’s also written hits

for the likes of Beyoncé (“Single Ladies”) and Rihanna (“Umbrella”).

and apparently he is a big deal.

R&B hasn’t sounded the same since The-Dream changed the game. Maybe growing up off Bankhead on Atlanta’s west side gifted him with a hip-hop swag native to the soil. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that he preceded the current era of melodic, sing-songy rappers who disregard traditional lyricism for raw, heart-rending delivery.

All three songs here are about getting into the bedroom as one might guess from the title of his album: Ménage à Trois: Sextape Vol. 1, 2, 3.

The first song “Bedroom” (calling all bodies to the bedroom) is soft and steamy.  It’s also got some humor

All ladies read before 11
So you got all day to get your mother-n’ nails done
I know you soak that thing ’round 7
And it’s already 4, go get your mother-n’ hair done
Ooh, you look so sexy
Come and bless me

[I found out later that these lyrics are cleaned up for Tiny Desk].

There’s gentle horns from DeAndre Shaifer and Theljon Allen (trumpet) and Elijah Jamal Balbed (saxophone) and a smooth bass line from Justin Raines.

He is also amusing at the end of the song:

“It’s kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out,” The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR.

“Back In Love” has more simple echoing synths (from Carlos McKinney) and spare drums (from Larone “Skeeter” McMillian) and with some clever rhyming:

I miss that body in the hallway
I used to meet that body in the foyer
If you were right here, we’d have to skip the foreplay

and

I was mad at you, you was mad at me
C’est la vie, arrivederci
Still, all I loved was you

“I Luv Your Girl” is a less of a sexy song and more of a stealing-your-shawtie kind of song.

I hate the adenoidal “ahhhhh.” that apparently indicate sex, but the lyrics are pretty funny nonetheless.  Actually in looking at the actual lyrics I see that he has really made himself more PG-13 than X-Rated on these songs.

And she runnin’ Fingers through her hair, tryin ta call her over there but she like, Na Na Na Na!
She drop it down to the floor, I’m sayin shorty you should go, and she like Na Na Na Na!

Those na na’s are an amusingly safe version of the actual lyrics.  And after listening to the actual song, I found even the original to be kind of funny-while he’s stealing your woman.

As with a lot of R&B I prefer the Tiny Desk version because it’s much less produced.  Of course I still don’t know why there’s a hyphen in his name.

[READ: October 14, 2019] “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

This is a dark story (very Joyce Carol Oates) about the environment and how you can no longer flee to the country to get away from pollution–or worse.

It begins enigmatically with

“This matter of the mask for instance.”

Luce sometimes wears the mask–a half mask, green gauze mask–but never outside of the home.  She wore it any time the wind “smelled funny,” “smelled wrong.”  Especially from the industrial cities to the South.

She removes it if Andrew comes home. When he sees her he claims she is “catastrophizing” (Is that even a word?). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11, 1996).

This is the 22nd night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  This is the last date of the tour (so far) for which there are recordings.

The show opens with a great “Midwinter Night’s Dream” followed by a rocking “Fat.”  As the song ends with the “bye byes” Dave save “see you in the next song, Martin.”

“All the Same Eyes” is a rocking good time.  And then, after a little riff, Martin starts “Motorino” which sounds great.

Dave says, “Hi we’re the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howl Brothers–they couldn’t make it.  But we’ve got their jackets.”  He mentions that they have a new album out, “get it before its reduced to clear.”

During “Bad Time to Be Poor” after “feeling winter through a crack in the door,” Tim goes brrrrrr.  More Tim on “Claire” with some great soaring harmony vocals before Martin’s rather grunting solo.  Although at the end, instead of spelling C-L-A-I-R-E, Tim seems to be singing Steve L.A. yea yea yea confides in me”

The set ends with two scorching tracks.  A terrific “California Dreamline” and a roaring “Feed Yourself” (with a really intense ending).

As the feedback fades, Dave says, “Thanks to the Tragically Hip.  God bless.”

It’s a nice way to end the tour–but maybe someday we’ll hear those last two shows.

[READ: April 9, 2019] “The Unexpected”

This was a darkly amusing story (yes, it is Joyce Carol Oates) that I had to wonder if it was in any way autobiographical or just horrifyingly possible.

The story is about a writer receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the community college near her home town in update New York.  She left and never came back, but has been writing about her home town for much of her career.

She is awkward from the start, “Thank you for the honor.  I am very–honored.”

She receives applause–not thunderous, but polite, even warm .  But her speech seems to fall flat (if it can even be heard over the fighter jets).  But when she is finished, she pauses and the response is enthusiastic and she wonders “Is there where I belong now?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHILLING THRILLING SOUNDS OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1964).

The cover during Phish’s 2014 concert was of this album.

Apparently many people grew up with this record.  I personally didn’t know it, but if you read the comments (don’t read the comments!) on any YouTube clip of the album you will see how popular it is.

Wikipedia describes it as  intended for “older children, teenagers, and adults” released by Disneyland Records (now known as Walt Disney Records). The album was mainly composed of sound effects that had been collected by the sound effects department of Walt Disney Studios. The album was released in several different forms. The album was first released in 1964 in a white sleeve, with a second release in 1973 with an orange sleeve. In both versions, the first side contained 10 stories narrated by Laura Olsher, complete with sound effects. The second side contained 10 sound effects meant for others to create their own stories.

Despite the title, most of the cuts had nothing to do with haunted houses or witches or ghostly spirits. Featured were such situations as an ocean liner hitting rocks, an idiotic lumberjack, a man crossing an unsafe bridge, someone lighting a stick of dynamite and a spaceship landing on Mars. Also, there are tracks with several examples of cats, dogs and birds (similar to “The Birds”) becoming enraged for some reason, as well as a skit about Chinese water torture. In addition, some of the screams were taken directly from the scene where Miss Havisham catches fire in the 1946 David Lean film Great Expectations.

The full track listing is

  • “The Haunted House” 3:00
  • “The Very Long Fuse” 1:28
  • “The Dogs” 1:13
  • “Timber” 1:45
  • “Your Pet Cat” 0:49
  • “Shipwreck” 1:39
  • “The Unsafe Bridge” 1:21
  • “Chinese Water Torture” 2:02
  • “The Birds” 0:46
  • “The Martian Monsters” 1:41
  • “Screams and Groans” 0:57
  • “Thunder, Lightning and Rain” 2:01
  • “Cat Fight” 0:37
  • “Dogs” 0:48
  • “A Collection Of Creaks” 1:54
  • “Fuses and Explosions” 1:11
  • “A Collection Of Crashes” 0:45
  • “Birds” 0:33
  • “Drips and Splashes” 1:18
  • “Things In Space” 0:53

Nothing is especially scary–although maybe for a kid, as many adults claim to have been really frightened by it.  Everything is quite over the top, especially the screams and cat howls and dog snarling.  Even the stories are a little silly, although having them in the second person is pretty genius.

But things like “one night as you lie in your lonely room in your stone hut on the moors…”  (What?).  And the Martian one.  Just keeping with continuity: if “you,” meaning me, went on the trip, then I couldn’t hear the crunching as it ate me.  Or the silly voice saying “I wonder what that was.”

And the less said about the horribly racist Chinese Water Torture the better.  I mean, the opening is bad enough: “The ancient Chinese were a very clever race” but the end of the song is really awful.  But if we can look past that, the rest of the record has fun with sound effects and is generally pretty enjoyable.

During the John Congleton interview, he also talks about this album and says (at 40:28) “the speakers are 180 degrees out of phase to make it sound extremely stereophonic.”  He says now as an engineer it is totally painful to listen to.  Bob says it sounds like it comes from the back of your head.

[READ: October 15, 2017] Half-Minute Horrors.

The premise of this book (edited by Susan Rich) is simple: how scared can you get in 30 seconds?  To me, the answer is actually not very.  I guess for me fear builds over time.  It’s hard to get genuinely frightened over something that just suddenly happens (unless it is just trying to frighten you quickly, of course).

Having said that, I enjoyed this book a lot (look at the list of authors!).  I liked the arbitrary goal of writing a scary story in a paragraph or two (or more).  And some of them were really quite creepy.

I was originally going to point out which ones I felt were the most creepy, but there are so many stories, I kind of lost track.  So instead, here’s a rundown and a brief summary. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-University of Calgary (September 5, 1992).

This set is also them opening for Barenaked Ladies, just following the release of Whale Music.  It comes four months after the previous show online and I love that the set is almost entirely different.

It opens with a slightly cut off “PROD.”  I can’t believe they’d open with that.  AS they pummel along, the song pauses and the band starts whispering “what are they gonna do?  I don’t know.”  Then they romp on.

Bidini says they have three records out.  The first you can’t get, the second is called Melville and this is “Record Body Count.”

They’d been playing “Soul Glue” for a long time, this one sounds full and confident.  Then they introduce “King of the Past,” as “a song about looking for Louis Reil’s grave site. You know who he is, right?  Canada’s first and foremost anarchist.”  It’s a gorgeous version.

When it’s over they announce “Timothy W. Vesely has picked up the accordion!”  (Earlier Dave said that anyone who could guess Tim’s middle name would in a free T-shirt). They play a fun if silly version of “Whats Going On.”

“Legal Age Life” is a fun folky romp.  They get very goofy at the end with everyone making funny sounds and then Clark shouting “everyone grunt like a seal.”  Bidini asks “Is Preston Manning in the audience tonight?”  Clark: “No fuckin way.”  Near the end of the song they throw in the fine line “Eagleson ripped off Bobby Orr!”

Martin almost seems to sneak in “Triangles on the Wall.”  This is a more upbeat and echoey version than the other live shows have.  The end rocks out with some big drums.

As they preapre the final song, Bidini says, “We’re going to play one more song and then we are going to leave like sprites into the woods.”  He asks if anyone knows “Horses” and if they wanna “sing Holy Mackinaws with us?”  But they need more than 1–we need at least 3.  The three “imposters” are named Skippy and His Gang of Fine Pert Gentlemen.  They are told to behave until the chorus or “I’ll get Steve Page to sic ya.”

Then, back to the audience he says, “This is a song about Peter Pocklington and what a fucking asshole he is.”  [Pocklington is perhaps best known as the owner of the Oilers and as the man who traded the rights to hockey’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, to the Los Angeles Kings].  The fans aren’t very vocal during the shouting, but the band sounds fanasttsic.  Just a raging set.  It segues into a blistering version of “Rock Death America.”

Not saying that they upstaged BNL at all, but that would be a hard opener to follow.

[READ: January 17, 2017] “The Quiet Car”

This is the story of a writer who had been granted a temporary teaching job at a prestigious University.  I don’t exactly know Oates’ history with Princeton, so I don’t know if she was ever in the same position as the character of this story, but I was secretly pleased when she mentioned the Institute of Advanced Study, so that it was obvious that the prestigious University was indeed Princeton.

But the story starts many years after he has left the University.  R— is standing on a train platform.  The story begins with this excellent observation: “nowhere are we so exposed, so vulnerable, as on an elevated platform at a suburban train depot.”

While R– is standing on the platform waiting for the train to New York City he notices that someone is unmistakably looking at him.  He has been recognized before–there’s a small subset of the population who really likes his books. And, in what is a wonderful detail that tells you a lot about this man: “if the stranger is reasonably attractive, whether female or male, of some possible interest to R—, he may smile and acknowledge the recognition.”

This detail proves important because as he gets on the train he begins to think about the stranger–he believes he recognized her face. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NINET-Tiny Desk Concert #602 (March 3, 2017).

One of the things I’d hoped to do this year was to finish posting about all of the Tiny Desk Concerts.  I didn’t know how I’d do it, but at some point I just decided to plow through them all.  And as of today, I have posted about all of the Concerts from the first one through March of this year.  There’s about 25 newer ones left.  It’s a pretty good feeling to accomplish arbitrary goals.

Ninet is the first of the newest Concerts.  Ninet Tayeb is an Israeli singer but she doesn’t sing any kind of “ethnic” or “world” music.  Rather, she and her band simply rock out.

As the first song, “Child” opens, the band sings in great harmony.  I love that the drummer (Yotam Weiss) is using a box drum but also a small hand drum (tapping with his fingers) and a cymbal (playing with his hands perfectly).  Ninet herself plays acoustic guitar and I love that you can hear her strumming and scratching on the guitar even with everyone else playing.  After a few verses, the whole band starts to rock out.  The great guitar sounds come from the electric guitarist (and main backing vocalist)–Joseph E-Shine Mizrahi.  I loved watching his guitar solo and the way he was occasionally hitting all of the strings to make them ring them out as he soloed.

I love the melody of Elinor–the way the guitars and bass (Matt McJunkins) play the same thing but in different tones.   The song takes off and runs nonstop with some great riffing in the middle and Ninet’s angry, snarling but catchy voice rising over it all.  I also love the great use of snyths (Doron Kochli) to play divergent and dark swells underneath the main riffs.

The song rocks to an end and they laugh as the guitarist picks some things up off the floor and says sorry Bob.  To which he says “what did you break now?”  That remains unresolved–I’m not even sure when it happened.

“Superstar,” the final song has the same snarling coolness as the previous two.  But it adds an interesting middle Eastern vibe from the keys as well as during the vocal lines near the end.  It sounds amazing.

The blurb has this to say:

“[Ninet is] one of the most famous entertainers in Israel today.”  She has recently settled in the States.  She has released five albums, “and their most recent, Paper Parachute, is the home of the songs she brought to us. It’s filled with a her husky-toned voice and guitar lines straight out of stateside ’70s rock, with a Middle Eastern lean. It’s a winning sound, performed by an unrestrained talent.”

I really enjoyed this set–her voice is really captivating and the riffs are wonderful.  As the song ends, Bob says “and that was the stripped down version,”  I’d like to hear the full on rocking version too!

[READ: January 12, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

Just the other day I learned that Yiyun Li would be joining Princeton University’s Creative Writing team.  That’s pretty exciting. If I was a groupie it would be even more exciting.  It would certainly be awkward to go to her office and thank her for all of the great fiction she’s written.  But how cool would it be to walk down the hall and see her and Jeffrey Eugenides, A.M. Homes, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Joyce Carol Oates chatting by the literary water cooler?

This is the story of Becky.  Becky’s son, Jude has autism and is being seen by two specialists.

She is in the remodeled San Francisco museum, talking to a man who says he hates museums–he hates sharing art with others.  The man is wearing a red tie that reminds her of Spongebob Squarepants.  She will write about him in her journal (mentioning only the red tie).  Her journal is comprised solely of descriptions of people.  She imagines that one day Jude will read it and be appreciative for all of her words. (more…)

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nov 2013SOUNDTRACK: VIC CHESNUTT-Tiny Desk Concert #2 (June 5, 2008).

chesnuttVic Chesnutt seems to have come into my life at random times. I bought the charity record/tribute album (Sweet Relief II) only because I liked a lot of the artists on it–I’d never heard of him at the time.  More recently his records were released on Constellation, a label I trust wholeheartedly.  And then just as I was really starting to appreciate him, he died in 2009 from an overdose of muscle relaxants.

He was a fascinating person.  A 1983 car accident left him partially paralyzed; he used a wheelchair and had limited use of his hands (which you can see in the video).   He struggled with drugs and alcohol and depression.  Despite all of this, he released his first album in 1990.

Robin Hilton, music dude at NPR, introduces him here and talks about how much he loves his music.  But even Hilton’s association with Chesnutt is checkered.  He writes that when he was younger and went to see him in concert, “[Chesnutt] was often drunk and sometimes belligerent. I walked out of at least one performance,” and “all of this probably made it easy to dismiss Vic Chesnutt’s music. He was a challenging guy, and his unpolished, idiosyncratic songs weren’t easily digested.”

And yet for all of that Chesnutt seems rather shy and unsettled in this Tiny Desk setting.  He seems unsure about what he wants to play and often asks if he should play this or that song.

He plays 5 songs (for 26 minutes total).  The opener is “When the Bottom Fell Out.”  A lot of Chesnutt’s songs, especially in this setting sound similar.  His voice is incredibly distinctive, as is his playing.  But since most of his songs are just him strumming and singing, they sound quite similar.  The second song, “Very Friendly Lighthouses” sounds a little different because he plays a “horn” solo using his mouth as a trumpet. It is a web request which he says he’ll “try” to do (and that he needs a cheat sheet).  I don’t know the song but it sounds fine to me.  He also emphatically states that the song is not about Kristin Hersh (something she has claimed).

“Panic Pure” also has a Kristin Hersh connection (she recorded it on Sweet Relief).  He says he stole the melody from “Two Sleepy People” by Hoagy Carmichael.  He turned it to a minor key and wrote his song.

For the next track, he asks if he should try a new song that he just wrote–more or less asking permission to do this unreleased track.  “You really want me to try out a new song that might suuuck?” (resounding yes). “We Were Strolling Hand in Hand” proves to be a very good song indeed.

The final track “Glossolalia” comes from North Star Deserter, the album I own.  It’s about being an atheist songwriter in a Christian country.  It’s funny that he says he hasn’t played it in a long time (it’s from his then new album…).

Chesnutt was not for everyone, clearly.  But his music is haunting and beautiful in its own way, and this is a very engaging setting to see him perform.

[READ: November 8, 2013] “Lovely, Dark, Deep”

Karen told me to check out this story and while I was planning to, she got me to move it up higher on my pile.  And I’m really glad she did because there is so much going on in this story that I was glad to be prepared for it.

The story seems simple enough, a young girl goes to interview famed poet Robert Frost at a writer’s workshop.  She is an unknown writer writing for a small college journal (Poetry Parnassus) and really has no business interviewing the Poet Himself.  She is shy and literally virginal.  When she walks up on Frost, he is sound asleep on a porch.  She dares to take a few pictures of the man (which later sold for a lot of money…although presumably not for her).

When Frost wakes up he is surprised and a little disconcerted by the young girl.  And then he gets cocky with her, suggesting she sit on the bench with him.  She demurs and begins trying to be as professional as possible.

Frost proves to be an obnoxious interviewee, full of ego for himself and nothing but disdain for all other poets.  She is intimidated by him, fearing that all of her questions are silly.  Then she tries to ask him some insightful questions but he tends to dismiss them as obvious or simply ignore them.  Eventually she asks one personal question too many and he becomes blatantly offensive.  He asks about her panties and if they are now wet (the cushion she is sitting on is damp from rain).  And he bullies her terribly.  She is offended but remains strong and continues to ask him questions. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_07_01_13Brunetti.inddSOUNDTRACK: AMANDA PALMER–Live at Newport Folk Festival (2013).

palmernewAmanda Palmer has been in the news a lot lately, although more for her actions than for her music.  First she crowdsourced for her album (earning praise and vilification), she gave a TED talk about the experience and recently made the British tabloids because her nipple popped out at the Glastonbury Festival.  (Of course, unlike another famous incident like that. Palmer handled it wonderfully, criticizing not only the Daily Mail but also the entire media industry for caring so much about (female) nudity).  I’ve gained a lot of respect for Palmer in the last year or so and yet I (still) didn’t know all that much about her music.

So there she is at the Newport Folk Festival.  I don’t really know what her “normal” music sounds like, but nearly this whole set was performed on a ukulele (as befits a folk festival).  She plays a few songs on piano and also has some surprise guests–her dad (duetting on Leonard Cohen’s “One of Us Cannot be Wrong” and Neil Gaiman (her husband) coming out to sing the very disturbing song “Psycho”).  She also did a Billy Bragg cover (which was actually a cover of a cover, but Bragg’s version is more well known) of “The World Turned Upside Down.”

The rest of the set included, as I said, mostly ukulele songs (with an occasional foray into piano).  Some highlights include “Map of Tasmania” (a very funny song based on Australian slang) and “Coin-Operated Boy” a Weill-ian song (which is very vulgar).  The rest of the songs are long(ish) meanderings about Palmer and her reactions to life.  Her songs are interesting in their story-telling sensibilities.   Like, “The Bed Song” and “In My Mind” and “Bigger on the Inside” (which is her response to things around her and a fan’s questions to her–it’s very long and rather samey, but lyrically it’s quite effective).   Her delivery is a bit over the top (in perfect theatricality that some will hate).  Her melodies are quite nice (although it must be admitted the piano based song “The Bed Song” has some of the prettiest music)–you can’t really do a lot with melody on the ukulele.

My favorite song is “Ukulele Anthem” a funny song about rocking the ukulele.  I think it speaks to Palmer’s strengths–stream of consciousness, funny and sardonic lyrics set to a simple melody.  It’s a fun song to listen to and see how it evolves.

So overall I enjoyed this set quite a lot.  Although interestingly I still don’t really know what her music normally sounds like.  I assume she doesn’t often play the ukulele, but who knows.  This was an interesting set and Palmer is proving to be a fascinating person.

NPR had this show online although I don’t see it anymore.

[READ: July 30, 2013] “Mastiff”

I read this story the day after I read “Stars,” and while I know there’s no connection between the two, this story also features a woman walking in the woods.  She is also something of a misanthropist (“Sometimes, in the midst of buoyant social occasions, something seemed to switch off.   She could feel a deadness seeping into her, a chilly indifference…and the coldness in her would respond, I don’t give a damn if I ever see any of you again).  And there is a big dog (never described like a wolf but it is about as a big).  That’s a bit too much coincidence for me.   In fact, JCO is so prolific I wouldn’t be surprised if she read McGuane’s story on Monday and wrote her response to it for the following issue.

This story begins with a man and a woman on a trail.  They see a huge mastiff pulling a youngish guy up the trail.  The woman is terrified of the beast (and is embarrassed to have shown that to her boyfriend), but she has a huge sense of relief when the dog and the young man take a different trail.

Her companion makes a joke about the woman’s unease.  They have been dating for a short period and she hated her role in their relationship (she also hated that she was petite which tended to keep her submissive, anyhow).  She resents his comments but says nothing.  They continue hiking.

The man loved to hike and he asked her on this hike as a special treat.  He had told her to pack accordingly but she didn’t listen—no backpack, no extra layer, not even a water bottle.  This seemed to upset him (and made him patronize her).   [We have a third person narrator who is mostly with the woman but occasionally seems to peek into the man’s head—I found this a little disconcerting].  After a few minutes when they reached a plateau (and she was ready to leave), he took out his camera and started taking pictures—more or less ignoring her.

While the man is taking pictures she muses about him and her bad relationships in the past.   She as popular among her fiends, but she was insecure especially around men.  After the dog incident, she had made a point of being friendly to other dog owners (there were a lot on the trail)—just to show him, you know, that she wasn’t afraid.  She also spoke to the strangers, although he wondered, “What’s the point of talking to people you’ll never see again.”

As happens in a story named “Mastiff.” they run into the dog again.  There’s a part earlier in the story where we learn that she was attacked unprovoked by a German Shepard.  Once again, we have an unprovoked dog attack–the mastiff charges at her growling and snarling [although the breed is not known for this].  But then the man jumps in to save her—absorbing much of the abuse himself.

And suddenly the story goes in another direction, with the woman accompanying the man to the hospital, going through his things to find his cards and suddenly feeling much closer to him than she felt that far—being rescued will do that.

There were some wonderful turns of phrase that I liked: “Naked and horizontal, the man seemed much larger than he did clothed and vertical.”  Although I had to take issue with this character owning an art gallery—that easiest of cliche professions—although it wasn’t really relevant to the story.  But aside from that, this was an enjoyable fast paced story.  It explored people’s darker moments and used the dog as a catalyst for human interactions.

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CV1_TNY_06_10_13Schossow.inddSOUNDTRACK: PAUL WILLIAMS-“The Hell of It” (1974).

pwI learned of this song because the guys in Daft Punk said it was one of their favorite songs.  I don’t know all that much about Paul Williams except for a few things:

He wrote a bunch of songs that you don’t know he wrote, like: “Rainbow Connection,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and “An Old Fashioned Love Song.”  And, back in the 80s a random customer at the grocery store that I worked at said I looked like him (which I did not consider a complement).  I have since been told I look like Philip Seymour Hoffman, so I’ve got that going for me.

So this song starts with a rather dark and dramatic guitar riff.  When Williams starts singing, the lyrics are really dark and mean:

Winter comes and the winds blew colder
While some grew wiser, you just grew older
And you never listened anyway,
And that’s the hell of it.

But then the bridge comes in and it’s bright and uplifting (with chipper backing vocals and bouncy pianos). Although the lyrics remain dark dark dark:

Good for nothing, bad in bed
Nobody likes you and you’re better off dead
Goodbye, we’ve all come to say goodbye (goodbye)
Goodbye (goodbye)
Born defeated, died in vain
Super-destructive, you were hooked on pain
Though your music lingers on
All of us are glad you’re gone.

And then there’s another very short section section that is even more musically uplifting.  And yet the lyrics: are the most ruthless:

If I could live my life half as worthlessly as you
I’m convinced that I’d wind up burning too.

The music returns to that sinister guitar riff and the verses continue:

Love yourself as you loved no other
Be no man’s fool and be no man’s brother
We’re all born to die alone, you know, that’s the hell of it.

The last minute of the song  is all instrumental with that dark guitar sound underpinning a bright vaudevillian piano.  And since the song was from a  movie, I wonder if the end if all closing credits?

This song was written for the movie Phantom of the Paradise.  I have never heard of the film.  But I see that it was made by Brian DePalma, is a musical, starred Williams and was a mixture of of The Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Faust, with hints of Frankenstein, Psycho and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  Who would have guessed why it flopped (or why it now has a cult following).

Enjoy the strangeness:

[youtubehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuYdFYltUr0&feature=player_embedded#!]

[READ:June 17, 2013] “After Black Rock”

Joyce Carol Oates has the final True Crimes story in this weeks New Yorker.  And her story is quite different from the others.  Indeed, it was quite delightful how varied the topics of this special series were.

This piece concerns JCO’s historical family.  Back in 1917, her mother’s father was killed in a bar fight (he was Hungarian and prone to violence).  This devastated their family because he was the primary source of income.  Her mother’s mother had nine children.  Most of JCO’s siblings already worked (long hours for little pay, because immigrant kids didn’t go to school and there were no labor laws at the time).

And then came the shocking thing:  JCO’s mother’s mother gave JCO’s mother away.  She was none months old, they couldn’t afford to feed her, so they gave her to newlywed relatives who desperately wanted a child.  They were John and Lena Bush (the Americanized version of Bùs).  She was raised by them–given some school and some farm work and basically treated as their own. (more…)

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[WATCHED: December 16, 2012] McSweeney’s #11

11

THE DVD that came with Issue #11 was listed as a “Deleted Scenes” bonus feature for this issue.  The colophon of the book explains in great detail what they wanted to do and how they went about doing it all.  And that’s all quite amusing in itself.

Now, of course, there are no “deleted scenes” up front.  The DVD is, at first glance, authors reading from the works in the book.  But as you scroll down the menu, there are some deleted scenes, as well as behind the scenes features and audio commentary.  All in all there’s about two hours worth of stuff crammed in here and some of it is quite interesting.

DELETED SCENES

This is where the authors read from their works.  They each read between 3 and 6 minutes, with some of them reading different sections (Samantha Hunt), but most of them reading a chunk.   (more…)

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