Archive for the ‘Paula Fox’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NUBYA GARCIA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #81 (September 16, 2020).

Nubya Garcis is a jazz saxophonist and this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is unlike any other thus far.

Look to the left of Nubya Garcia’s Tiny Desk (home) concert and you’ll see a hanging plant swaying right above the keys. It never stops moving during the next 23 minutes, and it’s for a bizarre reason. Garcia’s (home) concert took place on a boat — a first in Tiny Desk history.

Garcia and her band are at Soup Studio, a recording facility built on a decommissioned floating lighthouse moored on the River Thames. It’s also where Garcia recorded her excellent new album, SOURCE. This set features three songs from the record; the title track starts it off with a reggae, dub vibe.

“Source” opens with some great low end from Daniel Casmir’s double bass.  The main melody comes from Joe Armon-Jones’s simple keyboard hits.  Sam Jones makes the drums almost a lead instrument as well, as he plays a lot of cymbals and interesting fills.

There are two backing singers for these songs.  Richie Seivwright and Cassie Kinoshi add some ahhs and oohs as needed.  They’re not intrusive and add a human element to Garcia’s otehriwse otherworldly saxophone soloing.

At around eight minutes, the singers do a lot of woohing and scatting which I find less interesting than the rest of the band does.

After nearly 12 minutes, everything slows down and Casmir does a bass solo as the introduction to “Pace.”  Armon-Jones plays piano with his right hand keyboards with his left to lay down a complex musical tapestry which Garcia weaves her saxophone all over.  Armon-Jones also gets a quiet piano solo, then the song takes off again, crashing to a wild conclusion with frenetic drumming and piano.

“Boundless Beings” opens with a slow saxophone introduction and the bass matching the notes. This song is only two minutes, and I assume that’s because time runs out on her video or her session.

[READ: September 15, 2020] “Whose Little Girl Are You?”

I had read Fox’s Desperate Characters after three authors that I like all championed it.  S. knows of Paula Fox as a children’s author.  I had no idea she had the kind of crazy childhood that this memoir lets on.  Indeed, this is an excerpt from her memoir Borrowed Finery.  And, while I’ve no doubt this is all true.  It is as exciting (and horrifying) as fiction.

When Paula was born her parents deposited her at an orphanage.  Paula’s mother Elise was a panicked nineteen-year-old and wanted to get rid of her as quickly as possible.  Her father Paul brought her to a Manhattan foundling house.  She was taken in by the Reverend Elwood Corning who raised her and whom she called Uncle Elwood.

Her maternal grandmother came to New York from Cuba and learned of her whereabouts.  She intended to take her back home to Cuba with her, but her grandmother worked as a companion to a rich old cousin and could not possibly look after a baby, so Paula stayed with Uncle Elwood.

When she was about five, her father came to see her. He had a large box which he dropped with a thud.  He looked at her and said “‘There you are,'”\ as if I’d been missing for such along time that he’d almost given up searching for me.”   The box contained a whole host of books. The next morning when Paula woke up he was not there anymore.

Later that year Uncle Elwood drove her to Provincetown where her parents were living.  The main memory she took from that visit (because all she ever did was visit her parents) was that she had found a large steamer trunk and was exploring it when her mother walked in and yelled, “What are you doing?”  And then, “Don’t cry!  Don’t you dare cry!”

A year later they were living in New York City and Paula visited them for a few hours.  When her mother came into the room she stared at Paula, her eyes like embers. Then she flung her glass and its contents at the girl.  Water and ice fell all lover her.

The next time, she went to see them they were staying in a hotel in New York.  They had room service for dinner and Paula ordered lamb chops.  It felt special.  When the meal came Paula said “There’s no milk.” Her father stood, grabbed the tray of food and dropped it down the airshaft saying “Okay, Pal, since it wasn’t to your pleasure.”  She had no dinner that night.

Her parents were often leaving Paula with strangers. One time she went to Grand Central Station on a train by herself and was met not by her father but by a couple–actors who knew her father–with Great Danes.  They expected her father to turn up any moment.  Two days later he showed up.

Another time she visited them in Los Angeles.  Her father’s sister Aunt Jessie took her.  Jessie stayed for a few days and on the day that she left, Paula’s parents went out for the evening leaving Paula by herself.  She wandered around and eventually wandered out the front door which locked behind her.

A neighbor found her and brought her to his house where his wife made dinner for her.  The next day she walked home and opened the door shouting “Daddy!”  Her father jumped out of bed–the woman next to him was not her mother–and whisked her out of the bedroom quickly.  He sat on a chair and began to spank her. The maid stopped him–Paula years later realized how brave it was for her to speak out.  A Few days later he dropped her off in the care of an older woman.  Years later he told her it was his motehr’s reaction to Paula that made him send her away–either she goes or I go.

A few years later in Malibu, she visited on weekends. The house had a deck that jutted into the ocean.  One day, her father gabbed her hands and dropped her into the Pacific . She freaked out fearing that she was drowning, but her father laughed because it was so shallow.

One night she told her father that she had a toothache.  He mother had entered the room and said I’ll fix it for you.  She put Paula in the rumble seat of the car and drove madly through the winding roads.  Paula was shaken like a rattle. They drove for twenty minutes (it felt like forever).  Finally they returned home and her mother looked at her and said “Do you still have a toothache?”

When Paula was eight (all of that happened before she was eight!), her Spanish grandmother came for her.  She had lighter duties in Cuba and brought Paula home with her.  Paula lived there, in Hormiguero for many years, going to school there–having a crash introduction to Spanish. She had nothing but freedom there but soon grew very bored and lonely.

When she was ten in 1933, her family fled to he country for New York because the President of Cuba, Gerargo Machado, had been overthrown.

Good lord, how did she ever get through it without going crazy.  And what on earth are her children’s stories like?


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SOUNDTRACK: SUNN O)))-Flight of the Behemoth (2002).

I hadn’t really heard Sunn O))) until this record (which may not be typical as they collaborated with Merzbow on this one).  I knew that Sunn O))) played loud droney “music.”  And so it is here.  On “Mocking Solemnity” (9 minutes) and “Death Becomes You” (13 minutes) (which meld into each other seamlessly), the songs are mostly slow drones on electric guitar.  The chords are heavy and heavily distorted and they ring out for a few bars–not until the chords die naturally, there is a kind of pacing involved, but for a few bars until the chords are played again (often the same chord).  This is for those who thought Metal Machine Music was too complicated.

On paper this sounds unimpressive (or downright awful, depending) but in reality it is a very physical experience (if played loud enough).

The staticy noise of “Death” melds into track 3 “O))) Bow 1” which adds what sounds like radically modified piano playing a kind of melody.  It’s about 6 minutes and it really changes the tone of the record to suddenly add an atonal racket to the almost calming drone of the bass.  But by the middle of the song, the piano becomes what sounds like a chainsaw.  Merzbow mixed that track and  “O))) Bow 2” which is 13 minutes of the same slow pulsating noise.  It’s not exactly soothing.

The final track is “F.W.T.B.T.” a “remake” of “Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  I can’t hear a thing that sounds like the original, but that’s what makes a cover interesting.  Although admittedly around the four and a half minute mark there’s some faster chords (for this band anyhow) that could be Metallica-like.  There are also drums (and vocals, although I have no idea what they are saying) on this ten-minute workout.

Not for the faint of heart (or fans of melody).

[READ: November 17, 2012] How to Be Alone

I read most of the articles in this book already.  But I read them over two years ago, so I thought it would be safe to wade into the world of Franzen again.  What I find most interesting about the title of this book is just how many of these articles are about being alone, wanting to be alone or feeling like you are alone.  Obviously that is by design but it seems surprising just how apt the title proved to be, especially given the variety of subjects  his father’s brain, being a novelist, the US Postal Service, New York City.

I’m not going to go into major detail about each article this time, although I am providing a link to the earlier review–my feelings didn’t really change about the pieces (except that from time to time I got a bit exhausted at his…whininess?  No, not that exactly…maybe his persecution complex.  But I will give a line summary about each one just to keep everyone up to speed.  The four pieces that I hadn’t read before I will give a few more words about.

One overall feeling is that when Franzen isn’t writing about the state of the novel (which he is very passionate about) his articles are well researched well documented which is kind of surprising given the state of panic he seems to be in the novel articles.  It’s also kind of funny how out of touch these articles seem (some are almost 20 years old and are kind of laughably outdated), but it’s also funny to see how poorly his predictions panned out.  The death of the novel is rather overrated (just see the success of his own Freedom.

So the book contains: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Animalize (1984).

This year, 1984, was the first time that I saw Kiss live.  Sadly I remember more about the opening band (Loudness) asking if New York was having a good time (and the fans screaming that we were in New Jersey). But I still have my booklet from the show and I do remember a few things from the show (again, sadly they were not in makeup).  So this album holds a special place for me, even though in retrospect it’s not as good as Lick It Up.

“I’ve Had Enough (Into the Fire)” starts the album off with a bang—blistering solos from new guitarist Mark St. John.  But, as with Lick It Up, the album for me is overshadowed by the (massive) single.  “Heaven’s On Fire.”  It’s such a lame little sing-along (and yes I do remember that song from 1984 show—Paul really milked it).  But man it’s such a bad song.  Musically, “Burn Bitch Burn” is interesting, but what were they thinking with those lyrics “I want to put my log in your fire place…burn bitch burn?”  That’s a far cry from “I am the doctor of love.”  “Get All You Can Take” is, to my knowledge, the first time Kiss has said the word fuck in a song (“What fucking difference does it make?” Is sung by the deeper response voices in the chorus.  It’s a catchy song with an interesting riff.  “Lonely is the Hunter” has a kind of 70s southern rock feel.  It also seems to be calling back to some earlier songs in the style of singing—which only reminds you how much better the earlier song was.   The band is relying a lot on call and response vocals on this album.  And they’re okay but seem like a something of a crutch..

“Under the Gun” continues as another sort of generic fast rocker from this era.  “Thrills in the Night” is one of my favorite songs on the disc–it sounds so much like Kiss of the 70s.  And with Paul’s vocals and the guitars, this could have come off of his solo album.  “While the City Sleeps”  is a fairly uninspired Gene song.   None of these songs are bad, really, they’re just not as exciting as they might be.  “Murder in High Heels” has more of that 70s rock swagger that Gene likes to pull off.  It’s just not always clear that the 70s swagger rock works well with the heaviness of other songs on the record, like the band wasn’t sure which direction to go in.  So even though this disc is the one that brought me back to Kiss, it has some good songs, but it doesn’t really hold up all that well.

[READ: August 1, 2012] Desperate Characters

David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen and Tom Bissell have all championed this book.  Bissell was instrumental in getting it republished once it went out of print.  Franzen wrote the introduction to the newly published version.  David Foster Wallace blurbed the book: “A towering landmark of postwar Realism….A sustained work of prose so lucid and fine it seems less written than carved.”  It was also on his syllabus.  Zadie Smith has also written favorably about Fox’s fiction.

So why did it take me so long to read this book?  (I read the original version, which is what the library had.  I’m curious about Franzen’s introduction and will get to it eventually).

S. knows Paula Fox as a children’s author, which surprised me even more when I read the grittiness of this book.

It is submerged in downtrodden New York City of the late 60s, where people throw garbage out their windows, where racial tensions run high and where everything feels dirty.  This powerful description late in the book sums up the attitude about the City:

They drove through miles of Queens, where factories, warehouses, and gas stations squeezed up against two-story, two-family houses so mean and shabby that, by contrast, the ranks of uniform and tidy tombstones rising from cemetery islets that thrust up among the dwellings seemed to offer a more humane future. Sidewalks, brutal slabs of cracked cement, ran for a block or two, then inexplicably petered out, and along the center of the tarmac streets, short lengths of old trolley tracks occasionally gleamed among the potholes. Here and there, the skeletons of a vast new apartment complex sat on the rent ground; tree roots and rocks and earth rolled up around its foundation. Cries of boredom and rage were scrawled across the walls of factories, and among these threats and imprecations, invitations and anatomy lessons, the face of an Alabama presidential candidate stared with sooty dead eyes from his campaign posters, claiming this territory as his own. His country, warned the poster – vote for him – pathology calling tenderly to pathology. [For those ignorant of history like me, that candidate was George Wallace.  This was his third time running, this time as part of the American Independent Party].

But that’s just the descriptions.  What is this story about?  Simply, it is about Otto and Sophie Bentwood, a successful childless couple living in Brooklyn.  Otto is a lawyer, and, Sophie is a successful translator (I liked that Sophie was employed and not “just” a housewife).  But Sophie hasn’t felt up to translating lately and Otto’s successful practice hits a bump when long time partner Charley decides to leave to work on more important causes.

Otto is rather cut off emotionally–Charley has been his friend and partner for decades yet he can barely muster a proper goodbye when he steps out the door.  And while Otto and Sophie are mostly happy, he has more or less pushed her into the arms of another man.  She looks back on this brief affair with fondness.  However, the fact that the affair is never suspected and the fact that it ended the way it did are just more indignities that Sophie has to suffer.

But what sets off the action in the story is an act of kindness.  Sophie sees a cat that is hanging around the alley behind their brownstone.  Amid the people throwing garbage out the window and hanging up sheets to act as curtains, Sophie decides to do a nice deed for this cat.  She brings it some milk. It hungrily laps up the milk and when Sophie goes to pet it, it bites her really hard on the hand.  And literally the rest of the story follows the swelling of her hand. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON-Grizzly Man Soundtrack (2005).

This is a largely instrumental soundtrack by Richard Thompson.  It features some wonderful guitar work (no surprise there).  There are several slow acoustic numbers (“Tim & the Bears,” “Foxes”–which is in the style of his old traditional folk ballads) there’s also the slow impassioned electric guitar solo (set over a simple beat) of “Main Title.”  “Ghosts in the Maze ” is a dark piece, the exact opposite of “Glencoe” a traditional-sounding song, both of these are under two minutes long.  “Parents” adds a cello, which means a sombre song.  “Twilight Cowboy” is one of the longer pieces, and it really conveys an openness of nature.

“Treadwell No More” is a slow six-minute dirge type song.  “That’s My Story” has spoken dialogue by Treadwell, over a simple unobtrusive guitar.  But as the title of the record says, Music composed and performed by Richard Thompson.  Which means there are other musicians on the soundtrack too.  “Small Racket” is where things start to get noisy and a little uncomfortable.  There’s some squeaks and slashes of sound, but it’s mostly a tense guitar feel.  Then comes the darker, scarier stuff.  “Bear Fight,” is a series of cello noises and swipes.  “Big Racket” is indeed that, with guitar from Henry Kaiser and noises from Jim O’Rourke.  “Corona for Mr Chocolate” is all Jim O’Rourke, it’s also odd noises and moods.  None of these three songs are terribly off-putting but they reflect a very different tone.

The album ends with “Main Title Revisited,” which is what it says and “Coyotes” by Don Edwards which has some coyote yodels.

It’s a good soundtrack, really conveying what the movie is about, and while not essential Richard Thompson, it is still some great guitar work

[READ: July 23, 2012] Magic Hours

I thought that I had never heard of Tom Bissell, but I see that I have read three of these articles already (I guess I don’t always pay attention to the author’s name).

This collection of essays comes from the last eleven years (2000-2011).  The articles have appeared in The Believer & The New Yorker (these are the ones I have read) and Boston Review, Harper’s, New York Times Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Times Book Review and Outside (which I am starting to think I should really check out more).

Primarily they are articles about writing–he looks at fiction, non-fiction, film or a combination of them.  Bissell is a strong writer and he does not hold back when he sees something he likes or dislikes.  I found his articles (all of which are quite long–about 30 pages each) to be engaging, funny and very persuasive.  I’m really glad I read the book (and was even glad to re-read the articles that I had read before). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPEARL JAM-Austin City Limits (2009).

Pearl Jam records (and sells) most of their shows and they occasionally videotape them as well.  But they don’t do TV all that much (excepting the recent Late Late Show episodes).  There seemed to be something special, or at least different, about Pearl Jam on Austin City Limits.  Think of it almost like Unplugged Updated.

It opens slow with Eddie on an acoustic guitar and strings behind him.  In fact, the whole set seems less heavy than many of their sets.  But that’s not to say that the band doesn’t rock out, because they do.

The first six songs of the set come from Backspacer.   And then they bust out “Army Reserve” (which makes sense given who is in the audience, see below).  Then there’s a wonderfully raucous version of “Do the Evolution” (one of my favorite PJ songs).

After that riotous track, they bring the strings out for one more song.  It’s a rather funny little joke because it’s just the strings and Eddie on acoustic guitar playing “Lukin,” the 80-second song that is so fast you can barely hear the words.

For an extra treat, touring mate Ben Harper comes out to play slide guitar on “Red Mosquito” (which is always a treat).  And the set ends with an amazing version of “Porch” with a super long guitar solo in which Mike McCready really shows off his chops.  There’s even a moment where Mike and Stone are riffing off each other, classic rock style.
The set ends the Eddie talking about playing for the wounded veterans in the audience and how it was quite moving for him given all they have done for us.  Over the closing credits you see the band mingling with the veterans (including a guy who has lost a leg).  It’s all surprisingly touching for a rock show.

[READ: November 20, 2011] “Perchance to Dream”

A while back I read all of the Jonathan Franzen articles that were published in The New Yorker.  I thought I had read everything he’d published until I realized I had forgotten to read this piece (possibly his most famous) that was published in Harper’s.  It fits in well with this weekend’s theme because it was mentioned in Evan Hughes’ article that I talked about yesterday and because David Foster Wallace is mentioned in it.

As with most of Franzen’s non-fiction, it’s not easy to write about critically unless I want to argue with him, which I don’t necessarily want to do.  So instead, I’ll try to summarize.  Of course, this is a long and somewhat difficult article, so let’s see what we can do with it.

The first surreal thing is when you see the byline: “Jonathan Franzen is the author of two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, and is writing a third.”  It’s hard to imagine he got a huge article in Harper’s before he wrote The Corrections.

The second surreal thing comes in the text: It opens with “The country was preparing for war ecstatically, whipped on by William Safire (for whom Saddam Hussein was ‘this generation’s Hitler’) and George Bush, whose approval stood at 89 percent.”  And it is only a few paragraphs later when he mentions Patriot missiles that it clicked that this was written in 1996 and not 2001 and that he was talking about the 1991 Iraq invasion.  He mentions this as a prelude, saying that he was trying to sequester himself in order to start writing again.

Then he talks about Paula Fox’s novel Desperate Characters as a benchmark in terms of insight and personal conflict, even if it is so crazily outdated (that someone would throw an inkwell!).   He talks about this book quite a bit. I’m, not sure I found it compelling enough to want to read, but it’s always interesting to hear a fan write about a book I’ve never heard of.  He will return to this book throughout the essay. (more…)

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Another great entry in the BBC Sessions series, this collection of 26 recordings, shows the band in fine form.  This works as a pretty excellent Greatest Hits collections (and surprisingly for a BBC Sessions recording there is only one duplicate song).

On the other hand, there’s not a whole lot of difference between these recordings and the originals.   Some notable exceptions include “Traveling Light” and “Buried Bones” which do not feature the female duet.  “Her” is also notably different since it’s on piano and not guitar.

But I have no criticism about the quality of the recordings. The band sounds wonderful.  Staples’ voice is great and the orchestration is perfect.  And, of course the recording quality is superb (as are all of the BBC sessions that I have are).

If you have the Tindersticks records already, there’s no compelling reason to get this set, but if you’re a fan of the band, it’s nice to have some slightly different versions of these great songs.

[READ: May 18, 2011] 2 book reviews

This month’s review is of two books.  The first is Paula Fox’s new book, News from the World: Stories and Essays.  (The book is also reviewed by Joan Acocella in The New Yorker, May 16, 2011 issue–she takes a much different angle than Zadie, and has a lot more biographical background, so the reviews work in conjunction very nicely).  I don’t know Fox (although perhaps I should, she has written a number of adult books and tons of children’s books), but Fox’s Desperate Characters has been championed by Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace.

Fox sounds like an interesting character (her father was “a writer and a drunk”) and her granddaughter is Courtney Love.  And Zadie asserts that Fox has cultivated self-control and empathy and (in Fox’s own words) “a living interest in all living creatures.”  And in this new collection the interest spreads across fiction, memoir, lecture and essays (with no formal distinction between genres).

Although Zadie is fond of Fox (especially her fiction) she’s harder on Fox the essayist.  She suggests that many of Fox’s essays seem to boil down to the cliché: things were better back then.  But Zadie does make her fiction sound wonderful.  Acocella’s review is similar, saying that no one should start reading Paula Fox with this collection–the reader should go back and start with Fox’s earlier, better works. (more…)

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