Archive for the ‘Sergio De La Pava’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TAYLOR SWIFT-Tiny Desk Concert #902 (October 16, 2019).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts are from musicians that few people have heard of.

Not this one!

It’s hard to imagine exactly how it happened that Tiny Desk Concert managed to get Taylor Swift to play.  And to play with just a acoustic guitar and piano.  “It’s just me. There’s no dancers, unfortunately,” she quipped.

I have seen people already complain that Tiny Desk is supposed to be for unknown artists blah blah blah.  But I think it’s pretty awesome that a) Taylor Swift is a fan of NPR and Tiny Desk and b) that this show will bring more notoriety to Tiny Desk and potentially other bands.

Plus–I had no idea that Taylor Swift was not a studio creation–that she’s actually a real and thoughtful person who wrote her own music.

She talks confidently and casually about songwriting and she seems pretty genuinely pleased to be there.

As she settled in for her Tiny Desk, she looked out at the 300-plus NPR employees and guests. “Wow! This is a lot of people in a tiny office!” she said. “I love it!”

She delightfully says, “It’s great to be in DC.  You guys had anything exciting going on in the last couple of weeks?  Any possible changes in play?”

And, hey, she writes good songs, too.

I’ve never really listened to her music–although I love “Shake It Off.”  I haven’t actually heard anything of her new album so this was all new to me.

After introducing herself, she explained her objective: “I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them.”

She talks a lot about each song and why she wrote them.

Opening with an acoustic rendition of “The Man,” from her 2019 album Lover, Swift delivered a critique of gender double-standards with a sense of humor (and a perfectly deployed hair toss), Leonardo DiCaprio name-check and all.

She says she has been thinking about the topic for many years and it was something she wanted to write about conceptually for a very long time because we have a bit of double standard issue in our society.  She wondered if there was a concise and catchy way to write a song about this?  So she decided to imagine what her life would be like if she said and did all the same things but if she was a man.

While not an original idea, she tackles it really well.  And I like that she’s using her platform to address the issue

I would be complex
I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay
For me to do
Every conquest I had made
Would make me more of a boss to you
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya…
What’s that like?

And it’s really catchy too.

At the end of the song she gives her pick to a little one in the audience (to a room full of awws).  Then she switches instruments.

She talks about the process of writing songs–when something comes and its easy, that’s wonderful.  But most days you show up… and the idea doesn’t.  Then you have to know the craft of songwriting–you’re not always going to be inspired and that’s okay.

Turning to the piano for Lover‘s title track, with a smile, she explained the guitar-string scars of the song’s bridge.

She says that she has scars on her hands from playing guitar when she was young–when she played until her fingers bled or when a string snapped and cut her.  In your life you received all kinds of scars–emotional and physical and if someone is going to take your hand, they’d better take your hand scars and all.

It’s a pretty piano ballad and her voice is really pure.

After the song she removes her blazer to reveal a velvet top (she must have been very hot).  “You guys ever had costume changes at Tiny Desk?” She then finds three more guitar picks to give to three other kids, one of whom you can quickly see is pretty darn excited.

Picking up the guitar again for “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” Swift confronted a question that she says has haunted her career: What will you ever do if you get happy?

She receives this question over and over that “has the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health.”  “What will you ever do if you get happy?  Will you just never be able to write a song again?    She says she used to reply that she started off when she was 12, she was writing songs about things she had no idea what she was talking about.  She wrote songs about heartbreak based on movies and books and character studies.  So she would say, “If stuff is going on in the world maybe she could hey inspiration from that.

But then she really asked herself that question.  “Would I not be able to write break up songs?  I love break up songs!  They’re so fun to write.”  She says she had friends going through breakups and she was watching movie and reading books about breakups and these ideas came to her.  She woke up with heartbreak lyrics in her head and realized “It’s still here!”

Across the song’s run-on thoughts and relentless searching, Swift offered an answer: She’ll continue to excel at crafting superb story-songs.

I rather like her songs on acoustic guitar–even if I’m not much of a fan of break up songs.

Before the final song, “All to Well,” she talks about how she never googles herself–she recommends you not do it either.  But her dad does.  He sends her links to lists that people rank her songs (she finds it very nice that people care enough to do that).  When the Red album came out, she said there’s a song and “I’m the only one who loves this song this much–because it happens to me and its personal.”  But it turns out that this song tops everyone’s favorite list.  “I’m happy that my opinion lines up with your opinion on that.”

I actually didn’t know this song at all–I guess I am really isolated from pop music.

She says, “here’s a sad song about fall.”  It’s very pretty on piano and once again her voice is really great.  I really like the way the words unfold and then reflect back on themselves.  It’s a really wonderfully crafted song.

This Tiny Desk Concert may not introduce Taylor Swift to a lot of people, but it pretty much did introduce me to her music.  And I was really impressed.

[READ: August 19, 2019] Lost Empress

I loved Sergio De la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. It was complicated and funny and clever and bizarre and thoroughly engaging.

Lost Empress is even better.

There’s a story about a woman running a football team–and being overlooked because she is a woman.

There is a storyline about 911 operators, and the guy who transcribes them.

The third story is about a tough, smart guy who is in jail.  He is his own defense for trying to get out.  And he hatches a plan that involves stealing artwork, the Paterson Falls and the Super Bowl.

I enjoyed it in part because much of it is set in Paterson, NJ.  I grew up next to Paterson and the city has for most of my life been in a state of decline.  Despite all of the great things it has to offer (like the Paterson Falls! which get a shout out in this book), Paterson gets no respect.  This book doesn’t exactly aim to correct that, but it does give the city something cool–a football team.

It also jokes about “what the hell is up with Paterson?”  The city had once tried to rebrand itself in which they staged a contest  for “an official slogan for the troubled city.”  Proposals emerged: “the verifiably untrue, the unintentionally insulting/intentionally insulating, the so vague that sense fails to be created, the rhyme or alliteration for its own sake, and the technically true but not even conceivably relevant.” (more…)

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dec2000SOUNDTRACK: FLY ASHTRAY-“Also Muffins” (2013).

flyRecently I was thinking to myself that I don’t hear much music that is just weird anymore.  It could be that I am exposed to it a lot less than I used to be (when I was music director at my college station I received all kinds of crazy stuff) or maybe people just don’t do unconventional music as much.  This latter option seems very unlikely give the preponderance of cheap home recording equipment.  But bands that are not exactly novelty acts, but who are just totally out there (and amazingly used to get album releases).

And then my friend Paula forwarded me this absolutely weird song from Fly Ashtray.  Not only was I delighted to hear a weird song, I loved how good it was.

“Also Muffins” starts with big sloppy guitars and a piercing guitar riff which is simple but slightly off.  This goes for about 20 seconds before a staccato decrescendo brings the riff to a halt.  This fun chaos is repeated three times. It’s a crazy wonderful punk intro.

Then at a minute an a half the song turns almost folkie, with strummed acoustic guitars.  The band starts singing together (in no-part harmony) about how good their delicatessen is (they also sell muffins).  They all seem somewhat flat in their delivery, as a deliberate let down from the frenetic earlier section.  Then for part 3, an electric guitar comes back in with a kind of great alt 90s solo and a series of fast chords.  I love this section a lot.

The final section comes in and opens with another simple riff that is at once catchy even if the last note is flat.  It is fast and vaguely sinister (with a kind of siren sound in the background) and with some skittery guitars and an occasional bass element thrown in.  This last part lasts for over a minute and then the whole song fades out.

The video is low budget and fun and gives a kind of explanation to the music, although I have found that i enjoy it without the video as well.

And visit the band’s website.

[READ: November 1, 2013] “All is Vanity”

This is not an actual article by Bissell, it is one of those “annotation” items in Harper’s in which an advertisement or press release is critiqued.  in this one they analyze an Xlibris ad.

Bissell was an editor at Henry Holt (and may still be) when he wrote this.  And he is snarky from the start (as the Annotation always is), emphasizing the “Publishing Services Provider” and noting with numbers why Xlibris is a foolish vanity project.

“70 percent of the books the company has sold have been bought by their own authors.”

And how in general

“90 percent of the half-million [books] written each year remain unpublished.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAD & DALLAS-“Live Forever” (2010).

Shad and Dallas Green (from Alexisonfire) recorded an EP called Two Songs and the profits go to Skate4Cancer.  The A Side is the new song “Live Forever.”  Shad is a great rapper, and make no mistake, this is a Shad song.  Green sings the hook-filled chorus (and an intro line).

Shad’s rapping is great and his rhymes are clever and interesting (he even does a fast double-time section which I’d never heard him do before). But the music itself is kind of bland.  I listened to it three times and I never really got into the flow of it.

I rather hope that sales are good (for the charity’s sake) but I’m afraid I’m not that excited by the track.

[READ: January 23, 2011] “Choynski”

I recently noticed that I had reviewed a whole bunch of stories from The Walrus.  So I wondered just how many stories there were in previous issues of the maagzine that I hadn’t posted about.  The magazine only started in 2003, and I still have all the issues (yes, that’s right…  I bought Issue 1 on the newsstand), so it wasn’t that hard to figure out.  In the early days, not every issue had fiction in it.  I started calculating and discovered that there were only about 25 stories to go.  So I thought, why not go back and read them all, eh?

This story was in Issue #2, and I have to say, good for them for picking David Bezmozgis to be their first author.  His issue bio reads that his first short story collection Natasha will be published in June.  And if you check now, you’ll see that Natasha won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book.  Not bad.

There are essentially two stories in this piece and they tie together quite nicely.  The first arc concerns the narrator’s dying grandmother.  She is an old Russian Jew whose English isn’t great so she tries to speak in Yiddish to make up for it.  Her family understands but few others (like her doctor) know what she’s talking about.  As the story progresses, her family tries to keep the truth of her condition from her, but she is no dummy.

The second story concerns the narrator’s attempt to learn more information about Joe Choynski.  Choynski was being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Old Timers division) and the narrator was going to the ceremony.  In trying to learn more about Choynski (considered America’s frst great fighting Jew), he enlists the help of Charley Davis, an old man who knows more than just about anyone else about the Choynski.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RADIOHEAD-Hail to the Thief (2003).

After the claustrophobia of Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief was a nice compromise between their earlier guitar rock and the ambience and the technology of Kid A.  “2 + 2 =5” is one of their most satisfying songs, opening with a nice guitar lick and Thom Yorke’s keening vocals, it abruptly jumps into a full-fledged rocker.  “Sit Down Stand Up” has similar properties–it opens quietly with a distant guitar riff.  The song builds and builds into a manic intensity.  By the end, when the pace is much faster and the lyrics are repeating “the raindrops” over and over, it’s a glorious mess.

“Sail to the Moon” is a keening piano-based ballad.  Not one of their best, but with very nice melodies.  “Backdrifts” flashes back to the experimental side of Kid A, with lots of percussive noises tapping into the electronic groove.

The band surprises everyone with a very acoustic sounding song, “Go to Sleep.”  It’s a really wonderful track, especially placed amidst the electronica of the other tracks.  The bridge brings Yorke’s vocals into the stratosphere (and the guitars get noisier and noisier).  “Where I End and You Begin” is a noisy staccato piece of fun with effects and more effects trying to hide Yorke’s voice.

“We Suck Young Blood” is a spare, almost completely stripped song composed of pianos and handclaps.  It is eerie and not a little disturbing.  While “The Gloaming” is practically all electronics.  It’s one of those transitional songs, not terribly exciting in itself, but not throwaway either.  And it leads into the gorgeous quintessential Radiohead of “There There” which could be an OK Computer outtake.

“I Will” is mournful dirge with just guitar and multitracked voice that lasts only 2 minutes and leads into the experimental “A Punchup at a Wedding.”  “Punchup” opens with that rarest of Radiohead sounds: a solo bass.   But it is quickly swallowed by more electronica.

“Myxamytosis”  is a nother great rollicking track with a great slinky keyboard riff that propels the song through the murky depths.  “Scatterbrain” features a cool guitar motif that shows that they can still play pretty music and which leads to the album closer, “A Wolf at the Door.”  “Wolf” ends the disc wonderfully with a cool guitar song and awesome almost-spoken lyrics.  It is kind of sinister and kind of sad at the same time.

This is a disc that rewards repeated listens (and headphones). If OK Computer was difficult, Thief is much more so, but for very different reasons.  But it pays wonderful dividends.

[READ: January 6, 2011] A Naked Singularity

I received a copy of this book about a year ago in March.  It is self-published and seems to have been sent to many folks who blogged during Infinite Summer (because it’s a big book, you see).  I was interested in reading it, but I had a lot of other things that I was reading first, so I put it aside until last month.  And I am really bummed that I waited this long.

A Naked Singularity is a wondrous, beautiful mess of a book that I was so absorbed in, I couldn’t put it down.  The writing style is great: funny, clever, funny, philosophical, funny, legal, funny and at times rather violent.

I’m torn when writing this how much of the “story” to give away.  I didn’t know anything about the book (the blurb on the back is just a quote from the book–there’s no summary or anything).  So I’m going to rob you a little of the “what the hell is going on in this story” aspect that I had, but I’m not going to give anything major away.

The story opens in a the middle of a conversation between a prisoner and a lawyer.  It’s a bit confusing until the story pulls back and we get the whole deal.  The story is about Casi.  He is a wunderkind lawyer who has never lost a trial (in 14 attempts).  He plays the system, but he’s also dedicated to getting his clients off (even though he–and everyone else on staff–knows they are guilty) mostly because he is undefeated.

The entire first Part of the book (320 pages) introduces us to Casi, to his workload, to his clients, to his coworkers and to his family.  His clients are mostly drug dealers. His coworkers are mostly jaded and are no longer excited by their jobs.  His family is wonderful, a group of Colombian immigrants who love each other and fight with each other loudly.  (The early scene at his family’s house is hilarious scene in which unattributed dialogue overlaps–it’s wonderful).

And yet for all of that, the first part never quite gives us a plot.  This might be a problem for some books, but the whole set up is so compelling that you just go with it, from one amusing (or hilarious) segment to the next.

In addition to introducing us to his cast of drug addicts and low level criminals, Casi also indicts the New York Justice system (in hilarious detail).  There are quite a few chapter spent talking about “bodies” (criminals) and how many of them sit in jail for 72 hours until they see a lawyer.

Of course, when he gets home, all is not normal there either.  His apartment is free (because his downstairs neighbor’s father owns the building and Casi squats there).  The neighbors are a curious bunch of college students.  One of them is a total TV junkie.  And, there’s a bizarre, wonderful subplot about him trying to bring Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners to life in his room by watching the shows nonstop for weeks.  Yes.

Textually, the story also plays with lots of styles.  In addition to the dramatic scene with his family, we also see many court transcripts.  The second one with Mr McSlappahan is quite funny not least of which because the judge cannot get the poor man’s name right and the official transcript changes his name throughout the case.  There are also letters to and from one of the clients.   There’s a chapter-long epic poem (which was probably the hardest thing in the book for me to digest).  There’s even a recipe for empanadas (which sounds delicious).

In addition to some wonderful wordplay and punning there is also childish gross-out humor.  A scene with frozen burritos (pp. 150-158) had me laughing out loud for several pages.  But there’s also a lot of commentaries on society.  For instance Television is always capitalized and treated as a proper noun.  The mayor of New York is named Toad.  There are street vigilantes with cameras everywhere and, most amusingly, there’s an in-the-making TV show: Clerical Confessions.

By the time Part Two comes around a plot starts forming.  I was concerned that all of part two would follow this nascent plot, but it doesn’t. The book continues in a similar vein with the plot-instigator [coworker and lawyer, Dane, one of the most consistently amusing characters I’ve read in a long time] continually popping up on Casi’s periphery to try to get him to help him with…the perfect crime.

And that’s when boxing comes into play.  Casi is a fan of boxing, specifically a fan of Wilfred Benítez (who I didn’t know was a real boxer, but whenI looked him up I found this part of the story even more compelling).  And so, interspersed throughout the rest of the book is Benítez’ biography and fight history. It’s a rather lengthy character study of the man himself and boxing in general.  Now, I’m not a fan of boxing, I’ve never watched a fight, but I was totally engrossed by the storytelling.

Because he is setting up a whole story about muiddleweight champiosn, the novel follows many boxers who I had heard of and knew from pop culture (I checked and even Sarah knew who most of these boxers were, so they really must get into the pop culture world): Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns (I didn’t know him, but De La Pava’s description of the 3 round Hearns-Hagler fight is so exciting that I’m going to watch them on You Tube) and Roberto Durán (she didn’t know him).  And so the story of these middleweight fighters trying to knock each other over for the title becomes something of a metaphor for the Casi’s life pre- and post- crime.  In fact, when they go to execute the perfect crime, the first half of that chapter is taken up with a story about Benítez…that’s quite unexpected.

While the crime is beign set up, Toom, one of Casi’s coworkers asks him to help with a case in Alabama.  A severely mentally retarded man is to be executed and Toom has taken on the case to rescue the man.  This plot adds a surprising amount of pathos to the story, especially when Casi flies to Alabama and meets the man.  But even that sequence is lightened by a wonderfully absurd hotel scene.  I totally want to stay at this hotel.

Part Three of the story is where the whole thing devolves into a crazy quilt of insanity.  The crime has happened, and it is messing with everything. There is a city-wide blackout, Casi has no heat, no cars are allowed on the streets so he can’t even escape to his mother’s house.  There’s also a strange guy in is building who looks and sounds suspiciously like Ralph Kramden.  And, Casi is accused of contempt (and is about to be ousted by his law office’s morals group, the childish but amusingly named Committee to Oust Casi Kwickly). Both trials are as absurd as a Marx brothers movie (Karl of Groucho?).

The lead up to the end is very satisfying will all kinds of loose ends tied together (things that I thought he’s never address were in fact cleared up!).  But with a story this all over the place, it’s hard to imagine how you would finally end it.  The ending goes in a direction that is supported by the title (and is a little overwhelming).  It’s a little unsatisfying, but aside from a tidy happy ending (which you knew you weren’t getting) I don’t know how else you could have ended the book.

Ending aside, this is a fantastic novel.  There is just so much going on in it (I didn’t even mention the discussion of Hume vs Descartes “I guessed there was nothing wrong with Hume provided it was acknowledged that Descartes was The Man” (510)) or the whole subplot about the two kids who kidnap a baby), and it is very well constructed and tied together.

Somebody please publish this book officially!  Yes it’s long, yes it’s multifaceted, yes it demands a lot of the reader,but the payoffs are wonderful and, frankly, this is the kind of unexpected story that could be embraced by, well, not the general public, but a niche market who enjoys clever books (and yes, probably fans of David Foster Wallace (and his progenitors)).

Give De La Pava a contract, huh!  You can read an excerpt here.

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