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Archive for the ‘Sheila Heti’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ADAM SCHLESINGER (October 31, 1967 – April 1, 2020).

Adam Schlesinger was best known as the co-founder of Fountains of Wayne.  I always appreciated the band because I was familiar withe the store Fountains of Wayne (in Wayne, NJ).  But I was never a big fan of the band.

They wrote indie pop songs, which were not really my thing in the late 90s (although I did really enjoy “Radiation Vibe”).

Ironically, Schlesinger was pretty much simultaneously involved with a band that I really did like called Ivy.  I liked Ivy a lot primarily for the vocals of Dominique Durand and had no idea that Schlesinger was involved.

Since then I have really come to appreciate Schlesinger’s songwriting (he’s written amazingly catchy songs for just about everyone).

The Coronavirus is devastating the world and Schlesinger’s death from it just amplifies the unfairness of this deadly virus.  That a man who made people happy with his melodies should be killed by it while people who are causing direct harm are not even infected by it just seems to show where we are in the world.

[READ: April 1, 2020] “Inside Tove Jansson’s Private Universe”

I’m a fan of the Moomin Universe and I know a bit about Tove Jansson.  I also know that her brother Lars (she called him Lasse) took over doing the Moomins at some point because she had burnt out.  She died in 2011 at age 86.

This essay is more or less a book review of a new collection of Jansson’s correspondence called Letters from Tove, which I might consider reading.

I did not know that Jansson wrote short stories. Her short story “Messages” is composed of snippets of letters she received: “Last time you didn’t make a happy ending.  Why do you do this?  We look forward to your valued reply soonest concerning Moomin motifs on toilet paper in pastel shades.”

It’s easy to see how forty years of these letters would be wearying. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: ANAÏS MITCHELL-Tiny Desk Concert #255 (December 6, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

anais Anaïs Mitchell is a singer-songwriter with a delicate, almost childlike voice (there’s a bit of Nanci Griffith in there).  Her songs are stories full of narrative.  Musically, the songs have complex picking melodies–it’s fun watching her hand fly around the fretboard on the first song.

She plays guitar and sings and is accompanied by Michael Chorney, her longtime collaborator.

For “Shepherd,” they play with a capo on the sixth fret m which really limits the notes they can play, but which doesn’t limit the musicality at all.

For “Young Man In America” she keeps her capo on 6, but he moves his up to the first fret, which allows some more bass notes into this song.  There’s a bit more drive in this song as well.  The storytelling is quite complex and fun to follow.

“Tailor” has the same set up as the previous song, but it is much slower.  I like the lyrics in the beginning,

When he said, when he said that he liked my cut of hair
I became a barber
When he said, when he said that my scent was eau de fleur
I became a perfumer
When he said, when he said that he liked the clothes I wore
I became a tailor

Although by the end, “didn’t I drink her nipple dry, who am I,” is a bit unexpected.

Her voice can get a little cloying at times–too childlike, perhaps?  And her songs don’t really have any hooks.  So fifteen minutes is about as much as I could take.  But an occasional song by her is quite pleasant.

[READ: December 18, 2016] “A Follower of Aeromat”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

Sheila Heti writes stories that puzzle me.  Sometimes I like them, sometimes I just don’t get them.  I often find that I enjoy parts of her stories quite a lot, but that overall I just don’t understand the point..

This is one of those.

It opens with a description of a mountain top which is a marvelous place for a picnic.  The climb up is rewarding but climbing down is much harder: “much harder to climb down from the height of your powers than it was to climb up to meet them.”  Very true.

The next paragraph speaks of the glimmering emerald at the bottom of the ocean–an item that no one can reach and for which people have perished.  I loved that.

The third paragraph tells us that the only thing in life is to tell the truth, if you can figure out what it is.

So far so good.   (more…)

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stupidSOUNDTRACK: DAN BEHAR-Songs from All Our Happy Days Are Stupid (2002).

beharIn the book, it says that you can hear all of Behar’s songs from the book here.  But that link takes you nowhere.  Bummer.  You can hear newer versions of four of the eight songs on Destroyer’s Your Blues album.

[READ: August 2, 2015] All Our Happy Days Are Stupid

Pretty much the only reason I read works by Heti is because she is often published by McSweeney’s (and since I subscribe to their book series, I’m going to read what they send me).  I tend to not really like her books–they often feel arbitrary and neither funny nor thoughtful enough to warrant the arbitrariness of the characters’ actions.  But this was a ply, written much earlier in her career.

This play was conceived in 2001.  She tinkered with it and rewrote it and it eventually became a convoluted mess.  She gave up on it and wrote her novel How Should a Person Be, in the mean time.  Then Jordan Tannahill read the novel and talked to her and learned about this play.  He asked to see the first draft and he liked it, so he put the play on.  Initially it was done a in small theater (about 30 people max) and since then it has been performed in larger venues.  This release corresponded with a joint Toronto and New York City series of performances in February 2015.

So this play is ostensibly about two families, the Oddis (who have a 12-year-old daughter, Jenny) and the Sings who have a 12-year-old son, Daniel).  They are both from Cedarvale (which I assume is in Canada) and they both happened to take a vacation to Paris at the same time.  The kids know each other from school but aren’t exactly friends.  Nevertheless, Jenny is super excited to see someone she knows.  In part that’s because she is generally pretty happy (even though her parents tend to shoot down her happiness), but also because she is sick of Paris because it appears that there is a parade every day and she hasn’t seen anything authentically French.

The families talk and immediately fail to hit it off.  Mrs Sing is intolerant of Ms Oddi and frankly none of the grown up appear to be very thoughtful or even nice.  By the end of their meeting, Daniel has run off.  And he remains missing for most of the play. (more…)

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may11SOUNDTRACK: WYE OAK-Tiny Desk Concert #52 (March 29, 2010).

wye oakI don’t know Wye Oak that well, except for some shows from NPR.  So this Tiny Desk Concert is a good closeup look at what they’re all about.

Wye Oak is just two people: Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack.  Wasner plays a wonderfully loud acoustic guitar.  She has great fingerpicking skills and there’s something about the way she uses her open low strings that adds a great percussive quality–she really wails on those chords!  It’s fun to watch her hands fly along the fretboard.

Stack plays a couple of drums with a mallet and bare hands (the percussion is subdued but effective), although evidently they are generally much louder in concert. But Stack also sings, plays keyboards and guitar.

“My Neighbor” comes from their then new EP My Neighbor/My Creator.  It’s a great song that showcases all of Wasner’s skills.  She has a great voice and I love the way she sings along to her playing. 

“Civilian” was, at the time, unreleased.  It is minor key and a bit darker.  Stack plays keyboard and drums simultaneously (something he evidently does in concert to amazing effect).

“Regret” comes from their first album. For this song, Stack takes over guitar (and the seat where the guitar is played) while Wasner sits behind the drums (to play keyboards).  This song is about not having health insurance.  It is a much more somber song and I don’t like it as much, even though it is pretty and Stack a has a nice voice.  I just like Wasner’s stuff better.

For the final song, they switch positions back.  It also comes from My Neighbor/My Creator and is called “I Hope You Die” (which she promises isn’t as dark as the title suggests).

I really enjoyed this show.  You can check it out here.

[READ: May 11, 2015] “My Life is a Joke”

I simply don’t get Sheila Heti.  And I assume that’s my fault.  But everything I read by her seems just so nebulous that I feel like I’m, missing something.

I liked the way this story started out: “When I died, there was no one around to see it.”  So the narrator is dead. Cool.

She says that her high school boyfriend wanted to marry her because he wanted to have a witness to his life (he eventually got married so he wound up okay).  The narrator never married and was hit by a car–she was not witnessed by anyone.  Well, at any rate the driver didn’t get there before she took her last breath, “So I can say I died alone.”

I even liked that the next paragraph started, “Now you can probably tell that I’m lying.”  About what?  Everything?  No, “If I really am O.K. with the fact that no one I loved witnessed my death, why did I come all he way back here from the dead?” (more…)

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julySOUNDTRACK: BECK-“I Won’t Be Long” (2013).

beckSo Beck has a new song out, too (on NPR they’ve been saying this is the year of the cicadas–bands are resurfacing after years of dormancy).  I’ve actually heard this a few times on WXPN, but I never realized it was Beck and it has left no impression on me.

It’s tough to say it doesn’t sound like Beck since every album is different, but this song really doesn’t sound like him.  The drums are cheesy drum machine drums (like from the early 80s), the keyboards are cheesy keyboards (like from the early 80s), and the song is really really simple (with a strange instrumental break in the middle).  And its five minutes long.  It just doesn’t make a big splash like Beck usually does.

This is all leading me to say I don’t love it.  I usually really like Beck’s gamut of music, but this is a little too bland for me (the last minute or so adds some more details which are more interesting).  I suspect if it wasn’t Beck it wouldn’t get played at all.  I wonder if this is going to be a whole album of this style of music.

[READ: July 11, 2013] “Mini Ching”

This is an excerpt from “How to Be Good When You’re Lost.”  In it, Heti interprets six of the sixty-four hexagrams that comprise the I Ching.  I don’t know exactly what the I Ching is.  I mean, I know vaguely what it is but not exactly.  I assume that there is no real explanation for the hexagrams?

The four excerpted here are #53 Gradual progress; #24 Return  #49 Revolution #33 Retreat.

Again, I don’t know how many others have “interpreted” these mystical hexagrams.  But Heti creates are wise fortune cookie-sounding advice for each one. (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLY KELLY with DAVY JONES-“Me and My Brand New Haircut” (2010).

This is a fun and silly song in which the beat is kept by scissors.  It’s a very light song (as befits a song about a haircut).  Indeed it’s amazing how much you can sing about a haircut.

The lines that Davy speaks (there’s some call and response) reminds me a lot of Flight of the Conchords.  This is the kind of silly kids song that I really like.

I see that Billy Kelly has a few albums out.  He may be worth investigating further.

[READ: sometime in 2011] We Need a Horse

Like with Arthur Bradford, this book is Sheila Heti’s first children’s book.  I haven’t enjoyed Heti’s adult work all that much, but it’s hard to disagree with the message of this book.  The message is simple enough–you are what you are and what you are is valuable.  But I have to admit that the first few pages are a little unexpected (a horse talking to light, a sheep with a tennis racket, etc).  Nevertheless, it has a happy ending. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEAT PUPPETS-KEXP in studio November 10, 2009 (2009).

According to my stats, this is my 1000th post.  Wow!

I had liked the Meat Puppets somewhat when I was into SST back in the 80s, then I really got into them in the late 90s (when Nirvana introduced us to them).  I thought Too High to Die was a great album.  But they kind of fell from those heights (and Cris Kirkwood fell into serious trouble–drugs and jail) by the end of the decade.  So Curt Kirkwood continued without Cris and I kind of didn’t care anymore.

This session from 2009 sees the return of Cris (who came back for their 2007 album) with songs taken from their 2009 album, Sewn Together.  I don’t know what the album sounds like but this session is heavy on the country feel.  The new songs seem quite mellow, and a bit less bizarre than some of their earlier songs.

They sound good though.  Even with the drummer playing garbage cans and recycling bins.  As a sort of encore, they play “Plateau” (a Nirvana cover, ha ha).  About midway through, Curt messes up the lyrics and gives up singing.  But they play the extended coda regardless.

Curt doesn’t come across as the nicest guy in the world, but he’s been through enough to not give a toss what anyone thinks.  I’m glad the Puppets are back together and recording, but I don’t think I’ll be delving too deeply into their new stuff.

[READ: April 19, 2011] Five Dials Number 3

Five Dials Number 3 ups the page quantity a bit (26 in total) and also includes several art print reproductions  from Margaux Williamson, an artist who is mentioned in one of the articles.   This issue really solidifies the quality of this magazine.  It also introduces the possibility of correspondence with the readers.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Alibis and Public Views
As mentioned, this letter introduces the idea that people are writing to the magazine.  Sadly there is no letters column (even if Paul F. Tompkins hates letters to the editor, for this magazine, I thought they’d be interesting).

CHERYL WAGNER-Current-ish Event: “The Ballad of Black Van.”
This is a true account of Wagner’s life in post-Katrina New Orleans, where a man in a black van is squatting in abandoned properties and selling everything imaginable.  And there’s no cops to help.  It’s a sad look at the state of New Orleans.

DAVID RAKOFF-A Single Film: Annie Hall
I haven’t read much David Rakoff, but he persist in amusing me whenever I do (hint to self: read more by David Rakoff).  This is an outstanding piece about the beloved film Annie Hall.  It’ s outstanding and goes in an unexpected direction too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington DC (2010).

Best Coast made Carrie Brownstein’s best album of the year accolades, but when I listened to the track she selected for the post, I wasn’t all that impressed.

But I have to say that live, Best Coast blew me away.  Bethany Cosentino, the lead singer and guitarist has an amazing stage presence.  She is charming and funny and very silly (and I guess she loves cats).  The band sounded tight and impressive and even though the songs are kind of dopey bubblegum pop, they are drenched in enough noise and rock to make them really wonderful

They seem like they should have come around during the 90s, when all those rocking female bands were all over the map.  And so this is like a wonderful blast from the past.  Best Coast is sort of like The Muffs (except they write love songs) and other bands that play really catchy pop but bury it under a layer of fuzz and rock.  This is a great set available on NPR, and will definitely get me to check out their album a little more.

[READ: March 28, 2011] “Seven Love Letters”

Six of the seven letters here were later collected in the book Four Letter Word which I reviewed in September 2009.  When I reviewed the book, I didn’t give very much in the way of detail, I just summarized the letters.  I’m going to copy what I wrote then (since my thoughts didn’t change all that much), and I’m going to include a few more lines about some of the pieces (original stuff is in italics).  I’m also including titles which (for some reason) were not given in the book.

I’m also not sure why Sheila Heti’s story did not appear in the book.  (It’s only 4 paragraphs and is, indeed, a letter so why not include it?)  If you enjoyed the book, think of this story as a Bonus Feature. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMcSweeney’s #6 comes with a CD.

Most of the music on the CD is performed by They Might Be Giants (a rather perfect fit for McSweeney’s).  Some other musicians who appear are: M. Doughty, Philip Glass, Michael Meredith. Roger Greenawalt & S.E. Willis

Instructions included with book:

#3. The compact disc contains music.  There are 44 discrete pieces of music –“Tracks”–on this compact disc.  Each Track corresponds to a picture, series of pictures, or story–a Piece–in this journal.  When you are reading or looking at a certain Piece, we ask that you cue your compact disc to the corresponding Track on the disc.  The appropriate track number will appear prominently, usually under the title of each Piece.  Note: The track number will no appear on subsequent pages of the Piece.

#6. Please note that you may listen to Tracks without reading their Pieces and you may read Pieces without listening to their corresponding Tracks.  But this is not recommended.  You fucking bastard.

[READ: December 8, 2009] McSweeney’s #6

I’m finally getting back to reading some older McSweeney’s issues.  This was the final issue that I received from my initial subscription.  I distinctly remember being excited by the CD and maybe reading some of the book, but clearly never finishing it.

So yes, this issue comes with a CD.  The intro note explains that each Piece in the book has an accompanying  Track on the CD, and, you are to only listen to the Track that accompanies the Piece you are reading…never read a piece while listening to the wrong track.  Ever!  It explains that each Track has been created to be as long as it would take you to read each Piece.  But there are obviously many exceptions. The first story for instance is well over ten pages but the song is about 5 seconds long.  And, the Arthur Bradford Track is 8 minutes long when anyone could read the Piece much more quickly.

The bulk of the songs are by They Might Be Giants.  Anyone who knows TMBG knows you can’t summarize their work, and this book exercise is ideal for them: there are several pieces that are just a few second long.  But they also write some nice longer pieces as well.  And, of course, they are perfectly suited for mood music that works well with the writing.  Some of the songs have words which is a bit distracting while trying to read, but that’s okay.  I did try my best to follow the prescription about only listening to the appropriate song, but I admit to getting off pace from time to time.  (more…)

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