Archive for the ‘William Shakespeare’ Category


[READ: Summer 2021] Wyrd Sisters

This story reintroduces everyone to Granny Weatherwax.  It also introduces two other beloved characters: Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick the other two witches in the region.  It took six books to bring about Nanny Ogg!

This book owes a debt of plot to MacBeth.  It even begins with the familiar opening scene.  Three witches stand around a bubbling cauldron and one asks portentously, “When shall we three meet again.”  And another, after a lengthy pause says.  “I can do next Tuesday.”

The three witches are Granny Weatherwax, the scary, stiff, witch who takes no guff.  There’s Nanny Ogg, the smiling, raunchy, seemingly good natured witch who also takes no guff.  She has a brood of countess children and grandchildren and she loves them all (except the young girls who marry her sons).  She also has the most evil cat in the world (Greebo, whom she thinks is a sweetiepie).   And then comes Magrat Garlick, the youngest witch who is really into occult symbols and books and trinkets.  The other two think this is a load of tosh and know that witch magic is all about headology. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE RADIO DEPT.-Clinging to a Scheme (2010).

In this final book, Karl Ove mentions buying a record on a whim by The Radio Dept.  Given the timing of the book, I assume it’s this record.  So I’m going to give it a listen too.

I really enjoyed this record which has a feeling of a delicate My Bloody Valentine fronted by The Stone Roses.  The key word in all of this is delicate.  It’s a very soft and gentle record (except for one song).  It hits all the buttons of 90s Britpop and to me is just infectious.

“Domestic Scene” opens the disc with pretty guitars intertwining with an electronic thumping.  After the first listen I was sure the whole record was synthy, but this track has no synths at all, just like five or six guitar lines overdubbing–each opener just as pretty as the others.  The voice sound a lot the guys from The Stone Roses on the more delicate tracks.

“Heaven’s on Fire” opens with bouncy synths and a sampled (from where?) exchange:

People see rock n roll as youth culture.  When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do.  Do you have any idea?
I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.

Then come the jangling guitars and the introduction of synths.

“This Time Around” has a cool high bass line (and what sounds like a second bass line). I love the overlapping instruments on this record.  I couldn’t decide if it was a solo album or a huge group, so I was surprised to find it’s a trio.

“Never Follow Suit” continues this style but in the middle it adds a recorded voice of someone speaking about writing.

“A Token of Gratitude” has some lovely guitars swirling around and a percussion that sounds like a ping-pong ball or a tap dancer.   The last half of the song is a soothing gentle My Bloody Valentine-sque series of washes and melody.

“The Video Dept.” is full of jangly guitars and gentle blurry vocals while “Memory Loss” has some muted guitar notes pizzicatoing along and then what sounds like a muted melodica.

David is the one song that sounds different from the rest.  It has strings and synth stabs and drums that are way too loud.  Most of the songs don’t have drums at all, but these are deliberately recorded too loud and are almost painful.

The final two songs include “Four Months in the Shade” which is an instrumental.  It is just under 2 minutes of pulsing electronics that segues into the delicate album closer “You Stopped Making Sense.”  This song continues with the melody and gentleness of the previous songs and concludes the album perfectly.

I really enjoyed this record a lot.  It’s not groundbreaking at all, but it melds some genres and styles into a remarkably enjoyable collection.

[READ: September and October 2018] My Struggle Book Six

Here is the final book in this massive series.  It was funny to think that it was anticlimactic because it’s not like anything else was climactic in the series either.  But just like the other books, I absolutely could not put this down (possibly because I knew it was due back at the library soon).

I found this book to be very much like the others in that I really loved when he was talking conversationally, but I found his philosophical musings to be a bit slower going–and sometimes quite dull.

But the inexplicable center of this book is a 400 plus page musing on Hitler.  I’ll mention that more later, but I found the whole section absolutely fascinating because he dared to actually read Mein Kampf and to talk about it at length.  I’m sure this is because he named his series the same name in Norwegian.  He tangentially compares Hitler to himself as well–but only in the way that a failed person could do unspeakable things.

But in this essay, he humanizes Hitler without making him any less of an evil man.  His whole point is that in order to fully appreciate/understand Hitler’s evil, you have to realize that he was once an ordinary person.  A teenager who had dreams about becoming an artist, a boy who was afraid of sex and germs.  If you try to make him the inherent embodiment of evil, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a child, a teen, a young man who was not always evil.

Why Karl Ove does this is a bit of a mystery especially contextually, but it was still a fascinating read especially when you see how many things gibe with trump and how he acts and behaves–especially his use of propaganda.  It’s easy to see how people could be swayed by evil ideas (and this was written before trump was even a candidate). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 10, 2018] The Comedy of Errors

Our friends Jonathan and Carrie take their kids to the Shakespeare Theatre regularly and they invited us along for The Comedy of Errors.

I’m not the only one who enjoys performed Shakespeare about 100 times more than reading Shakespeare, and I felt like this show really brought the play (which I didn’t know) to life.  It also made me laugh at how this play is basically the foundation of every mistaken identity slapstick story every written.

The play ran for a little over an hour–perfect for kids (it was listed as appropriate for grades 3 and up).  It’s usually around 90 minutes, so they cut out some stuff, I guess, which was fine.

The story itself is very funny with “two sets of identical twins, mistaken identities, colorful characters and a madcap chase sequence.”

What really impressed me about the production was that rather than having two people in the twins’ roles, they had the same actor (and actress, in this case) play both roles.  Antipholus the main character was very funny.  But Dromio, the servant, was an awesome comic character who stole the show.  I’m sorry I can’t find the woman who played him.  When it came time to have them both on stage, there was lots of very clever misdirection to allow the “double’s” face never to be seen. (more…)

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6616 SOUNDTRACK: YANN TIERSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #219 (May 21, 2012).

yannYann Tiersen scored the soundtrack to Amélie.  But he also writes and sings lovely chamber-pop music.

The first song “The Gutter”  opens with Tiersen playing a swirling violin melody accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a ukulele and keys.  Tiersen doesn’t sing, but the lead singer’s voice is yearning and delightfully accented as well.  (No names are given for the rest of the band).  I liked the way the song built in intensity even while his voice retained that quiet style of singing.

For the second song, “Monuments” everyone switches around.  Tiersen plays a lead 12 string acoustic guitar, the ukulele player is on keys and all four sing harmony lead.  You can tell that Tiersen is not American because of the way the word “Monuments” is sung “all monYOUments…” which adds an exotic flavor to the song.  The delicate keyboard sounds float nicely over the acoustic guitars.

They stay with this lineup for “Tribulations.”  The singer from the first song and the acoustic guitarist sing lead.  And everyone else joins on harmony.  “The Trial” opens with the four singing a beautiful “ooh” in harmony.  Then the other three sing a complex backing vocal while Tiersen sings lead.

There’s some really lovely melodies in this concert.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Where is Luckily”

The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue.  It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.” 

Having a child is like rereading your own childhood.

Galchen has a young daughter and that daughter has a some favorite stories.  One is a Moomin (which I love), another is a Piggy & Gerald.  Galchen says that if you read children’s book enough times, “they start to seem like Shakespeare.”

But she says that her daughter doesn’t read in a linear fashion.  “What happens next” doesn’t seem to cross her mind.  She reads them more like eternal landscapes: “In that sense, nothing is happening, and she reads for that nothing.” (more…)

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rjSOUNDTRACK: YUSUF/CAT STEVENS-Tiny Desk Concert #411 December 9, 2014).

catAs this Tiny Desk Concert opens, Bob Boilen tells his story of being 17 years old and saving up money to buy a guitar so he could learn Cat Steven’s “Father and Son.”  He says he’s now old and has a son and the song still means a lot.  And that introduction makes the song even that more emotional when he plays it later.

It’s a shame that he is so known for the controversy about the fatwa back in the 1980s, but his conversion to Islam is pretty interesting: “In 1976, Cat Stevens almost drowned off the coast of Malibu. In his panic, he says, he shouted, “Oh, God! If you save me, I will work for you” — at which point he recalls a wave that came and carried him ashore. He converted to Islam, changed his name and left the pop world after one last album in 1978.”

He released his first non-spiritual album in decades in 20o6.  He released another one in 2014, which was a record of some originals mixed with standards and blues covers.  He plays two songs from this album here (which is a bit of a disappointment, as I could have easily listened to him play the entire Greatest Hits album).  But these two songs are quite nice.  “I was Raised in Babylon” is a bit dark, although his voice sounds great.  “Doors” was originally written for the musical Moonshadow.  It’s a delicate ballad.  And it also as a religious impact with the final line being “God made everything just right.”

In between these two he says he doesn’t know what to play next, but he has some kind of gadget that he scrolls through.  And he chooses “The First Cut is the Deepest.”  He comments maybe some people know I wrote this one, it wasn’t Rod Stewart.  I really like this song a lot.  It sounds different from the record because it’s just him and his guitar, but his voice is unmistakable. and he sounds great.  And if it makes him feel better, I’ve never even heard the Rod Stewart version.

He dedicates “Father and Son” to Bob and it’s just as beautiful as the original.  And yes, it should make you tear up, especially if you have a child.

After listening to this Tiny Desk I really wanted to see him play live.  I know that he is currently on tour and will actually be in Philly on this very night.  There are still tickets available, but since the cheapest seats cost nearly $200, I’ll be skipping this one.

[READ: April 4, 2016] The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, in which the zoo animals put on a play of Macbeth.  Well, the zoo is ready again for their next performance.  I enjoyed that the audience is aware of the previous play–the kids are even wondering why it’s another tale of woe instead of something happy.  Later when the lion (who was in Macbeth) comes out, someone addresses him as the character from that play.

What I thought was interesting about the way this play was done was that they made the story kid friendly.  I liked this and that it allowed me to share this story with my kids.  Rather than being lovers, Romeo and Juliet want to have a play date, and rather than killing themselves at the end, they wind up hibernating. (more…)

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harpnovSOUNDTRACK: BEN SOLLEE-Tiny Desk Concert #141 (July 11, 2011).

solleeI’d never heard of Ben Sollee before this Tiny Desk and I’m a little surprised by that–he seems like the kind of musician I’d have run into somewhere.  For this set (I have no idea what his sets are usually like), they are a trio.

Sollee plays cello  and sings (!), Phoebe Hunt plays violin and sings backing vocals and Jordan Ellis plays drums (in this case one of cool those snare drum boxes).

But despite the strings-dominated sound, the songs feel very rock-oriented.  Although as the blurb says, they are kind of genre defying.  Each song has a very different feel.

On “Hurting” Sollee opens with some great big plucked bass notes from the cello.  Then Sollee switches between plucking and bowing the cello.  And that transition really impacts the overall sound, making it sound like more than a trio.  The violin plays some accented notes and then some big long notes (like the cello).  But it’s the drums (brushes on the box) that add a lot of character to this song.  Sollee has a good strong voice and it fits the song well.

“Captivity” is about being in prison (he wrote it after watching a documentary about a maximum security prison) both physical and metaphorical.  For this song he strums (in an interesting, folky way) the cello.  He plays some bass notes while strumming the rest of the instrument–it’s a great sound.  And I love how different this sounds from the first song.  Once again the percussive sounds add so much.

“The Globe” about the Globe Theatre and how it was burnt down twice.  So he wrote a story about a frustrated loverboy burning it down.  The song names checks some of Shakespeare’s characters and while not comical is kind of funny too.  Musically the song is great with builds and sudden stops.  It’s also quite funky at times, with all kinds of different rhythms from the cello and violin as well as the percussion (which in this case is hand claps).  He says that they’ve been having fun playing it live and that really comes through.  I really like the sounds that Sollee makes from the cello at the end of the song.

“Inclusions” is an a capella song.  He says they’d been working on it in the van on the way down.  I expected a simple song, but they have wonderful harmonies as well.  For percussion, Phoebe is rattling a can of cacao nibs. (There was recently a very funny cacao nibs joke on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, otherwise I’d never have heard of them–I like that Sollee beat Brooklyn by five years though).

This was a wonderful find and I definitely want to hear more from Sollee–I’m curious to see what he gets up to in the studio.

[READ: January 10, 2016] “The Hanged Man”

November was a dark month for stories in Harper’s.  This story along with the one I posted a while back from John Edgar Wideman both deal with suicide.  This is an excerpt from War, So Much, War, and it opens with a man cutting down a sack which was hanging in a tree.

The sack contains a body–“his face was white, his tongue black, his lips purple.”  When he cuts down the sack, the body’s head hits a rock and the protagonist is worried because the body is actually alive and he’s afraid it is now damaged.

The body doesn’t speak for a long time. But when it does it is angry that the man has cut him down. (more…)

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textsSOUNDTRACK: MANATEE COMMUNE-“Wake” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2015).

manateeLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  And I want to draw extra attention to a couple of them.

I know very little about these bands, so I assume that Manatee Commune is just this one guy doing some pretty electronic music (with some live flourishes on top–but not looped apparently).

When there’s a cheesy black curtain, you know that it is either hiding something or covering something up.

Manatee Commune’s setting looks like he’s trying to hide something.  He plays it up by having furniture in front of the curtain which is slowly removed.  And then we learn what he is hiding—it’s a pretty magnificent reveal

The song is pretty cool too. It’s electronic (I’m not sure how it’s all playing–I don’t know much about electronic equipment these days). But the drums sure seem live when he bangs on them.  (And I enjoyed the way he discards the sticks when he is done). The live violin at the end is also a nice touch.

The song is interesting, although it’s not my favorite.  This is one where the video really sells the song.


[READ: January 3, 2015] Texts from Jane Eyre

Sarah brought this book home from the library.  When I first heard about it a while back I thought it was a re imagining of Jane Eyre as text messages.  And I thought that was a really lame idea (and honestly isn’t the Jane Eyre trend over yet?).

That’s not quite what this book is though (note the subtitle).

Rather, it is a collection of imagined text messages between two (or more) characters from famous classics (and some non classics) of literature.  Knowing the originals helps tremendously, although sometimes even just knowing what the originals are about will do enough to make the jokes funny.

But the thing I found was that even though I fancy myself a well-read person who has read many of the stories, I didn’t always “get” what the joke was about.  I mean, I could tell obviously from the conversation what they were talking about, but I couldn’t always connect it to the story.  So basically this book made me feel really dumb. (more…)

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swingI love big band music.  It’s what I grew up listening to.  So this seemed like an ideal collection for the holidays.  I mean all of the big names in big band are here.  It’s a little less raucous than I would have imagined, but for a low key kind of swinging party, it works very well

GLENN MILLER-“Jingle Bells” starts off the collection right, with big horns and fast beats.  I don’t love the main singer (I do like the way he twists some of the lyrics), but I do enjoy the really really un-hip backing vocalists.
RALPH FLANAGAN-“Winter Wonderland” is the kind of swing I like–big horns, more horns, all louder than the last.  I also tend to like my big band as instrumental, so this one is aces for me.
TOMMY DORSEY-“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” opens with a verse that I’d never heard before.  It sounds like it is coming from a tiny transistor radio, but is fun nonetheless.
FREDDY MARTIN-“Sleigh Ride” sounds like a very traditional version of this with pizzicato violins and smooth orchestration.  When the vocals come in, it sounds like it may have been used in every Christmas TV special during the 1940s and 1950s (the “horse” whinny at the end especially).  Perhaps a little too smooth for my liking.
VAUGHN MONROE-“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” features Monroe’s deep bass voice.  They tinker with the standard melody somewhat–singing on an occasional minor note, which is interesting.  But it’s still a nice romantic version of the song.
CLAUDE THORNHILL-“Snowfall” is a slow piano instrumental. It definitely does not swing.
SAMMY KAYE-“White Christmas” is, as I’ve said, really a sad song underneath, but this one actually sounds like it could have the backing vocalists wailing in tears as Kaye sings along.  Again, there will be no swinging here.  Never have the words “merry and bright” sounded so sad.
LARRY CLINTON-“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” is a big swingin’ horn fueled romp (it has nothing to do with the The Nutcracker).  It always makes me laugh when the first minute or so of a big band song are rollicking and wild, and then when the vocalist comes in, the horns drops out and the song becomes really quiet (that happens here).
FATS WALLER-“Winter Weather” is not really a swinging song, but Waller’s voice sounds great and raspy in this piano and guitar based song.
BENNY GOODMAN-“Santa Claus Came in the Spring” is a song I’m unfamiliar with.  It’s got a good swinging feel, although lyrically it’s a bit suspect (if not sweet).
FATS WALLER-“Swingin’ Them Jingle Bells” is a swing version of Jingle Bells, with a lot of rollicking piano.  It’s good fun until the really weird vocals come in.  I guess it was something of a novelty (Waller seems to be having a lot of fun at any rate).
SPIKE JONES-“All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” is one of the oldie songs that I really don’t like.  I love Spike Jones, and I appreciate that it was a novelty hit (my father used to say this line every year).  But at 3 minutes of that weird squeaky voice, it feels way too long–and the fact that the middle just goes on and on is so weird.
GUY LOMBARDO-“Auld Lang Syne” is a pretty orchestral version of the song–probably the one you’ve heard every year.  A nice end to the party.

[READ: December 3, 2014] The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

I grabbed this at the library, not entirely sure what it was.  Could it really be a version of Macbeth?  Set in a zoo?  Well, yes it is.  It’s a version of Macbeth for kids as performed by animals in the zoo.

The plot is the same, but it is utterly simplified and made not only kid-friendly, but also funny.  Yes, Macbeth as comedy!

So the lion is Macbeth, a heroic figure if ever there was.  And the owl is the king.  Everything is great until th elion is hungry for…power!  Various other animals play different parts (some of them very humorously–like the blind mole as the guard).  And many other animals are in the audience (of course) and they get to comment on the performance too.   I particularly enjoyed the two tiny creatures (no idea what they are), one of whom loves the violence and the other one hates it. (more…)

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toriSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Boo Radley’s Guelph ON (December 3 1999).

booLike the previous show, this one is also a shortened set because of technical problems in the recording.  We don’t hear the technical problems–the bad songs were just left out.  There’s some static on the first song, but otherwise the sound quality is very good.

Dave tells everyone that Harmelodia is coming out on Tuesday.  They play a lot of songs from the album and some that are not, like “Used to It” and “Superdifficult” (which would eventually come out on Shooting Stars.

There’s some wonderfully crazy nonsense in “Four Little Songs.”  It’s practically Phish-like with the silliness they throw into it, and it ends with a great dig new wave sequence.  “Stolen Car” has been getting some great renditions in the last few shows, and this ne is no exception. There’s an excellent solo and an interesting ending which is basically a cappella.

This is another great show that nearly closes out 1999.

I have found real evidence that Boo Radley’s existed as a club as late as 2002, but amazingly there are no pictures of the place.  Someone needs to make a book out of small clubs across Canada.

[READ: March 6, 2014] The Light Princess

I had no idea that Tori Amos was involved in a musical.  I saw this book at work and was really intrigued.  Evidently it has been in the works for many years and was even supposed have been finished in 2012, but these things take time.  The book was a little vague about the history of the musical, but after a little searching I discovered that the story is based on a 19th-century Scottish fairytale (see a summary of the Fairy Tale from Wikipedia).  This version has music and lyrics by Tori Amos and a book and lyrics by Samuel Adamson.  They have morphed the story quite a bit but it definitely retains some of the original elements.

As it turns out those original elements were the things I liked best about it–maybe i should just watch the children’s version of the story that i saw on YouTube.  In this version the princess, whose name is now Althea,’ was the only person in her village not to cry when her mother died when she was 6.  This makes her lighter than air and she can only remain on the ground if she is tethered.  I liked this idea a lot and I was hoping for an interesting fantastical world to enter.

There are two countries which are at war, Althea’s country of Lagobel (which is rich in gold, but has no water) and Sealand (which has water, but no gold)–there is a dangerous Wilderness (full of dragons) that separates the two countries.  They are at war for resources (although we know that Lagobel is better because it is Sealand that starts the fight).  Sealand attacks Lagobel effectively destroying its military.  The King of Sealand believes that by killing Althea (the last in line to the throne), he will have all the gold to himself.  So the king sends his son Prince Digby to kill Althea.  (There’s a lot more backstory and deaths of family members which sets up this challenge). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 14, 2013] Much Ado About Nothing

much adoDespite all of my reading, I am fairly ignorant of Shakespeare. I’ve read or seen most of the big ones, but I don’t know a lot of his works first hand.  As a young reader I realized that reading Shakespeare was hard—as, really, any play with dozens of characters tends to be.  It’s not easy to keep character straight when there are no descriptors about them.  So I more or less gave up on reading Shakespeare and decided I would watch him when I could.

When the Princeton University theater offered us tickets to see Much Ado About Nothing, it seemed a great opportunity to brush up.

This was a student production, and I have to complement all of the students on their wonderful performances.  They never broke characters, and their Shakespearean dialogue was flawless (as far as I know).  What I found interesting was that it took about fifteen minutes before I was absorbed in the dialogue and understood, well, about 45% of it.  Well, maybe 60%.  They did speak a little fast sometimes.

What was incredibly helpful about the dialogue was…the actors.  Duh.  But really, the language comes to life when you see people actually performing the lines (making Shakespeare’s bawdy jokes that much more bawdy).  And while some of the performances seemed almost over the top, I have little doubt that that is how it was performed back in the day—why would they go for subtle when there’s jokes about sex? (more…)

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