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Archive for the ‘Books about writers’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Rainy Day Women 12 & 35″ (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Five” December 14, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The fifth night is a classic rock staple: a singalong from Bob Dylan.

So now everybody must get stoned (not in the Law of Moses sense) as we put some blood on this track: Rainy Day Women 12&35 by the immortal Bob Dylan!

Anyone who has listened to classic rock radio has heard this song a hundred times.  And if you heard it when you were younger, it made you chuckle because he says “everybody must get stoned.”  I have often wondered if there is any more depth to the song than that.  Also, why it is called “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35.”

Kurstin plays the piano on this one–a bouncy barroom piano rag.  He also adds harmonica.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  These drums are about the simplest thing that he’s ever played–a two beat snare and bass drum. He doesn’t try to sing like Dylan (that would be too obvious), although he definitely sings more like Dylan than himself.

It’s a straightforward song and both of them have a lot of fun with it.

[READ: December 15, 2020] “The Game”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 15. Kris Bertin, author of Use Your Imagination!, would like to buy a vowel. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story is about allowing fate to control your life.

The narrator and his friend Brad both work at a University.  They are both published authors although neither has written anything since they got the jobs.

Brad believed in “all that shit”–he got his fortune told,  did Tarot, I Ching, Ouija–he did it all. He believes that he is fucked on a cosmic level.  He is trying to bring his wife and child to where he is working, but he can’t afford to do so yet.

The narrator tries to convince him it’s all junk and says he’ll do a fortune for him right now.  But Brad knows that having any of that divination shit in your house is bad luck.  However, he does have a can of dice.

The dice are a large assortment of letters–from multiple Boggle games.  Brad tells him you roll the dice and you read what it says–not all the letters obviously, just what speaks to you.

The first roll produced

GOGET ON THE ROOF QIUCK

So they did.  The roof was beautiful–a lovely night, a lovely view, and a flat surface to keep rolling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIDO PIMIENTA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #94 (October 13, 2020).

This set is utterly fascinating.

I’d never heard of Colombian vocalist Lido Pimienta, although apparently she

had one of the musical highlights of a year marked by tragedy and uncertainty. The healing magic of her album Miss Colombia transfers beautifully to this visually stunning Tiny Desk (home) concert.

Pimienta is dressed nicely with ribbons in her hair. Her hair is fascinating and, in braids, reaches the floor!

The set design is set up to recall a quinceañera.

I actually thought that Pimienta was a teenager (she is in her thirties), because after the first song she says:

Welcome the show that celebrates … me.  I am fifteen years old and I am a musical prodigy.

She even acts fifteen when she says, “you can hire us for the very cheap price of one million dollars USD” and “Wikipedia, get my birth date correct, I am fifteen and just starting out.”

The quinceañera design is

a coming of age tradition that Pimienta could not share with her mother who had to flee Colombia. With her mom, Rosario Paz, present at the video shoot, Pimienta uses her energetic performances to close a dramatic circle with her mom as we celebrate with her.

The first song “Eso Que Tu Haces” is mostly voice and percussion.  There is just so much percussion here, it’s hard to believe only two guys play it all: Brandon Valdivia and Reimundo Sosa.

The vocalists are varied and add such a wall of beautiful voices to the song.

Backed up by a bevy of international musicians based in her new home of Toronto (I see you, members of the Cuban group Okan).

Magdelys Savigne and Elizabeth Rodriguez of Okan sing along as do The Road to Avonlea choir: Felicity Williams, Robin Dann, Isla Craig, and Ivy Farquhar-McDonnell.

The song gets bigger and more musical as it moves along with a tenor saxophone solo from Karen Ng that combines with the trumpet from Tara Kannangara.

“Nada” starts as Ng plays flute (Pimienta comments that this is her show not Ng’s so she should stop being so multitalented).  It’s a catchy dancey song and the end is a beautiful mix of the backing vocals and Pimineta’s solo soaring voice.

When her mom comes out on stage she jokes, are you glad that I’m finally a woman?

Introducing “Coming Thru” she says she always likes to work with women and feminine energy.  The world needs feminine energy so we can heal.

As the song starts, Elizabeth Rodriguez plays violin while Lido sings.  They are joined by the horns which flesh out the sound nicely.  Lido really does have a wonderful voice.

And as the variety of sounds indicates,

you can hear… how Pimienta’s quartet of songs challenge the concept of just what qualifies as “Latin music” in a way that both honors and expands tradition.

They are also joined by Prince Nifty, who plays keys and fleshes out the songs.  Although the start of the final song, “Resisto Y Ya” begins with just voice and percussion.

Lida explains that the song means, “I just resist.”  She says it is about Colombia and all of its drama and beauty.  The country is full of anger and also breathtaking landscapes.  The full band joins in by the end and the song just grows and grows as the set ends.

This is a terrific introduction to Pimienta’s music, whatever her age is.

[READ: November 20, 2020] “The Ability to Cry” 

This essay came out over a month after yesterday’s essay.  But they seemed so thematically similar that they work well together.

I’ve really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories over the years.  This piece of nonfiction was remarkably sad.

It begins with the death of a valued friend.  Or maybe not a friend so much as a caretaker.  The woman Julia, was supposed to dog and baby sit for Yiyun while she was out of town before her husband got home.  But she never answered the phone calls.  Julia had dogsat for thame on many occasions in the past and she always took pictures of the dog to show how well the dog (and garden) were doing.

Yiyun Li says that death has been prominent in her life in the last year and a half.  Her eldest son, her mother-in-law and her father have all died.

She did not cry when any of then died.  But when she saw Julia’s obituary, she broke down.   She felt like she was part of the delayed crying club. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #93 (October 9, 2020).

The Flaming Lips have recently performed a live concert in front of an audience (Yes!).  They did this by putting themselves and every audience member in one of Wayne Coyne’s giant bubbles.  What an amazing idea and a wonderful experience, I’m sure (especially after nine months of no live music).

Back in October, The Lips did their very first Tiny Desk Concert.  And, being the Lips, they decided to do their home concert entirely in their own bubbles.  (Although technically two people share two bubbles).

This Tiny Desk Concert features two songs from their newest album American Head.

The Flaming Lips have always embraced the surreal. Drugs are undoubtedly part of the culture, and on their new songs from American Head, drugs are at the core. These are songs for the lost, the overdosed dreamers, the damaged, the car crashed.

The open the set with “Will You Return/When You Come Down,” a simply wonderful song.

On the album’s opening track “Will You Return/When You Come Down” (which also begins this concert), Steven Drozd asks in falsetto, “Will you return? Will you come down?” while Wayne Coyne responds, “Thinking back to those lost souls / And their ghosts / Floating around your bed / Hear it said / Now all your friends are dead.”

I love everything about his song.  Gentle bells (from percussion Nicholas Ley) open the song along with Steven Drozd’s falsetto singing the refrain.  (Drozd is an amazing guitarist but only plays the keys in this set).  Wayne begins singing the verse.  It’s gentle and pretty, and then with a drum flourish from Matt Duckworth in comes Michael Ivins’ typically wonderful bass lines.

The song builds beautifully into a big major chord with Derek Brown’s acoustic guitar leading the way.

Whenever I’ve seen The Lips live, Jake Ingalls almost always sits on the floor.  In this set he’s sitting with Steven.  I’m never quite sure what he does, but I imagine he’s creating all kinds of interesting sounds.  Ingalls’ band Spaceface is pretty wonderful, but the way.

“God and the Policeman” features one of Ivins’ coolest basslines around.  It’s a stuttering rumble that seems to come from nowhere and adds a fantastic element to this song.  Ley adds in some tubular bells and Wayne plays the siren on his megaphone.  The main musical melody is a pretty piano circuit that soars with Wayne’s voice.

On the record, Kacey Musgraves sings the backing vocals but Steven takes them here. Wayne says that he has a good Kacey-esque voice.

Steven replies:

It sounds like you’re saying something nice but I can’t hear anything you’re saying.

The go back to 2013’s The Terror for “Be Free, A Way.”  Wayne says he wrote this when he was depressed.  He’s only been really depressed once or twice and this song came out of one of them.  I love the echoing vocals as Steven follows Wayne’s lead.  The vocal melody of two word sentences is just fantastic.

They end the set with “It’s Summertime” from 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Yoshimi is a fantastic album from start to finish, although this song is somewhat of a left-field choice–not one of the big hits from the album. Wayne gets a nice trumpet solo too.

This is a wonderful set to see.  And I really hope they bring their bubble shows to a theater near me.

[READ: November 20, 2020] “My Three Fathers”

I have not read any of Ann Patchett’s books, although I keep meaning to.  Her soon to be released novel is supposed to be fantastic.

This essay sounded kind of interesting even without knowing anything about her.  She talks about having had three fathers during her life.  She prefaces all of this by saying that marriage is irresistible to her family members: “we try and fail and try again.”  She and her sister have both been married twice, while her mother married three times (thus, three fathers).

Her first father was her biological father.  He and her mother divorced when she was little. Her second father was her mother’s second husband–he adopted her.  Her third father was her mother’s third husband.  Her mother married him when Ann was an adult.

She writes about this third wedding, the rare time when all three of Ann’s fathers were together and at which she got a picture of herself with the three of them.

Then she talks about all three men. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BTS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #82 (September 21, 2020).

BTS is the biggest band in the world right now.  As the news the next morning said

Korean boy band BTS played its first Tiny Desk Concert on Monday — and broke the series record for most YouTube views on its first day, which happened in about 25 minutes.

When I was younger I hated all boy bands on principle–they were fake creations with no soul.  But either I’ve mellowed with age (true) or I’m less exposed to pop music so no longer sick of it (true) or maybe I just get a kick out of band from South Korea making people excited in the U.S.  Whatever the reason, BTS makes me smile.

Partly, it’s the band members themselves:

V; Jin; Jimin; J-Hope; RM; SUGA and Jungkook [I have no idea if that’s a left to right listing or just a random assortment of names] all seem to be really enjoying themselves and each other.  Perhaps all boy bands have this camaraderie (I’ve never watched enough to notice), but these guys are pretty entertaining–right down to their fabulous clothing choices.

The little I’ve seen of BTS makes me think that they are known by their hair color choices: the blue one, the purple one, the blond one, the brown one, but in this set, aside from a blue and a blonde, the rest of the guys have black or brown hair.  So instead, you have to go by their voices I guess.

One of them (on the right) has a really fantastic falsetto, another has a much deeper voice.  One of them seems to be a rapper.  The rest I can’t really tell apart–I’m not entirely sure if it makes sense for there to be seven of them, but it works.

With BTS cooped up in Seoul, the group held true to the series’ spirit by convening a live band for its Tiny Desk debut, and even arranged to perform in a workspace with a music-friendly backdrop: the record store VINYL & PLASTIC by Hyundai Card in BTS’s hometown.

The following introduction makes me laugh because I have literally never heard this song (or really any BTS song, as far as I know)

Opening with this summer’s inescapable “Dynamite” — the group’s first single to hit No. 1 in the U.S., as well as its first song to be fully recorded in English

“Dynamite” has a real disco vibe and is really catchy.  Moreso than the other two songs, I feel.  Perhaps because its in English, but I don’t think so.  The melody and delivery is really spot on.  And I love the whoohoos and heys. 

I really like their live band.  It’s kind of hard to pay attention to them when you have seven guys singing and dancing around in front.  I don’t know if they normally play with a live band, but the guitar from Shyun is really grooving.  He also plays a lot of unobtrusive but wild solos throughout the songs.  The bass from Kim Kiwook is really smooth and funky

They introduce the next song in English. 

From there, the group dipped into its back catalog, seizing on the opportunity to showcase its quieter side while (mostly) staying uncharacteristically seated. The breezily propulsive “Save ME,” from 2016,

starts with a squeaky keyboard sound from DOCSKIM followed by the falsetto guy on the end (who seems to sing more than anyone else–I wonder if he’s the favorite) but they can all do some impressive falsetto notes in the verses as well.  I get a kick out of how they have a really hard time staying seated–with one or more of them seeming to need get up and dance. 

This song has a rap verse (in Korean I guess) which is pretty interesting to hear.

They discuss the song in Korean (with subtitles) and then introduce the final song in English.

It’s the full-on power ballad, 2017’s reflective “Spring Day,”

which seemed especially true to BTS’s hopeful nature: Introduced with a few optimistic words from rapper and singer RM (“It’s been the roughest summer ever, but we know that spring will come”), the song reflects on a need to wait out hard times, even as the weight of present-day pain feels oppressive.

The song builds from a slow intro to a pretty big ending with some notably solid drumming from KHAN.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this tiny concert.

[READ: September 22, 2020] Birthday

Birthday is not a novel, it is an autobiographical essay.  It’s important that this distinction is made because many of Aira’s novels feel autobiographical.  But this one is meditative and a very personal–it was translated by Chris Andrews.

Aira turned 50 in 1999 (he dated this work July 18, 1999).  He imagined it as an opportunity to prepare for the future. But nothing really changed.  He went on as usual.

It was a short time later, when walking with his wife, Liliana, when he stated that the phases of the moon could not be produced by the earth’s shadow as he had learned.  But his wife said there was no way anyone thought that’s how the moon’s phases were created.  He felt so dumb for thinking this, that he spent the next several days going over in his head what else he didn’t know.  He spends most of the book mocking himself for his ignorance. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“The Link is About to Die/Turkish Delight” (2020)

linkdieThis is Los Bitchos’ most recent single.  The cover has the same style as their previous one which makes it seem like an album is in the works.  Although it has been nine months between releases.

“The Link is About to Die” really fleshes out the band’s sound.  It opens with some funky percussion–bongos and cowbells–before the groovy bassline introduces the guitar melody.  There’s discoey synths on this track too.  There’s even a surf-sounding echoing guitar slide straight out of the beach.  This song even features a percussion solo. It’s still clearly Los Bitchos, but the new elements are a fun treat.

“Turkish Delight” is slower with a more reggae feel in the bass.  The funky percussion is still there, perhaps even more pronounced. About two minutes in a new guitar sound in introduced which changes the feel of the song and makes it that much more interesting.I’m really looking forward to them putting out a whole album. 

[READ: July 14, 2020] “Big Skies, Empty Places”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

Annie Proulx says that her biggest influence is the landscape of the hinterlands.  She writes about rough weather, rural people living in isolation and with the decisions of the powers in distant urban areas.

She does not do this for nostalgia, but rather she likes imagining histories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Pista (Great Start)/Frozen Margarita” (2019).

pistaThis was Los Bitchos’ second release of 2019.  This one had a decidedly different look on the cover.

This single has two songs.  The first, “Pista (Great Start)” opens with whooping–a party is in full swing.  Musically, this is a great mix of cumbia and reggae with a smattering of Taureg in the guitar sound.

The song feels like they are partying in the desert no doubt drinking the title of the next song.

Although “Frozen Margarita” comes in at a quieter pace.  There’s a grooving bassline and a slinky lead guitar line.  It’s a very pretty piece.

[READ: July 14, 2020] “Johnny Tremain”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

This essay later appeared in Saunders’ book The Braindead Megaphone under the name “Thank You, Esther Forbes.”

Saunders talks about his school days in Catholic school when Sister Lynette was a nun that he fell in love with.  He imagined her leaving the church for him (he was in third grade, but whatever). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Bugs Bunny” (2018).

bugsThis is another single from Los Bitchos.

Of all of their releases, this one is the least interesting to me.  But I like their songs a lot so it’s not like I dislike this one.

I rather like the way the song shifts speed midway through though–it certainly adds some fun to the song.  And the whole ending is a wild ride of excitement.

I’m not really sure what the music has to do with Bugs Bunny, though.

[READ: July 14, 2020] “Single-Handed”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

I feel like Barnes gives the most honest answer to the question of who your Influences are.

He says that when British writers go to Spain they are asked if they are always asked if they influenced by Tom Sharpe–a writer of jocose farce: “student embarrassed by  acquiring large quantities of condoms, inflates them with gas, stuffs them up his chimney, someone lights the fire, the chimney explodes.” Sounds hilarious, can’t believe I’ve never heard of him.  The trick when asked this question is to keep a polite face while pretending to ponder this question. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Trapdoor” (2018).

trapThe first time I played this song I thought it sounded vaguely familiar.  I don’t know that I ever would have guessed that it was a cover.  But upon reading that it is a King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard song, it absolutely makes sense.

They get the opening guitar sounds perfectly right and the lead guitar even sounds vaguely flute-like.

Of course, since the original is jam packed with words, it’s easy to not realize it’s the same song, but the melody is so great it works perfectly as an instrumental as well.

Los Bitchos keep the psychedelic feel of the song and just slow it down a bit (until the end) to make it even more dreamy.

Incidentally, I found out about Los Bitchos because their song came on right after King Gizzard’s new song on YouTube.  Good programming, there!

[READ: July 14, 2020] “My Madeleine”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

Spark starts by saying that Marcel Proust is well-known for his Madeleine fetish.  He put the cookie to his lips and is memories flooded back.

Spark’s “Madeleine” is an empty notebook–as soon as she sees one she wants to fill it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Tripping Party/FFF” (2018).

fff

 Los Bitchos are a London-based quintet who play “tequila cumbia instrumentals.”

Although they reside in London the band has an international base, with members hailing from Perth, Montevideo, Stockholm and Croydon.  The band is made up of Serra Petale on lead guitar, Carolina Faruolo (guitar), Augustina Ruiz (keytar), Josefine Jonsson (bass), and Nic Crawshaw (drums/percussion).

The band has been around for two years but only have eight songs on bandcamp (spread over five releases).  This is their first single.  Both songs are terrific evocative instrumentals.

“Tripping Party” has a great Western swing sound, but with a rock foundation.  After about a minute the guitars take on a kind of ska vibe with a slinky lead guitar solo.  A lower guitar solo comes in after the first one–adding a new dimension to the sound.  By the end of the song, the swinging sound returns and ends with a great vibe.

“FFF” is a slower, some what more Middle Eastern sounding song.  There’s some great percussion throughout as the Middle Eastern soloing vibe runs throughout.

This is a great introduction to the band whose newer songs are even better.

[READ: July 14, 2020] “The Book of My Life”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

This essay is surprisingly dark.

Hemon grew up in Sarajevo and studied under Professor Nikola Koljevic.  The course was in Poetry and Criticism and Hemon learned the New Critical method.  When he graduated he phoned his professor to thank him.  This was unusual, but Koljevic was flattered and invited him for a walk to discuss literature.

Soon after, Hemon began working for an independent Sarajevo magazine and Koljevic gained a high position in the Serbian Democratic Party run by Radovan Karadzic, “a psychiatrist and talentless poet.”  He would soon become the most wanted war criminal in the world.

Whenever Karadzic gave a speech on TV, Koljevic was there beside him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARLINGSIDE-“Ocean Bed” (2020).

oceanToday, Darlingside announced the release of a new song–a wonderful surprise–and an upcoming new album.

The basic sound of Darlingside doesn’t change (thank goodness), but on their last album, they mixed things up by throwing in some electronic sounds.

There’s no electronic sounds on this song (which doesn’t mean there are non on the album) but there is a lot more percussion than usual.

It opens up with some thumping drums.  Is there a drummer?  It’s more than the kick drum they usually use.  Then comes the mandolin and some clapping.  A smooth grooving bass slides in and then, as the voices come in, everything settles down into pure Darlingside.

The verses are individual voice but the bridges are gorgeous harmonies.  The song moves swiftly with a percussion backing as the lead voices sing.

Then the surprise–the middle is practically a drum solo–with rumbling percussion and some kind of low pulsing note (is that secret electronics after all) that adds almost a sinister feel. But that segue leads right back to the mandolin.

I love that this song can sound so much like Darlingside and yet also shows them changing things up. In some ways it’s a step back since their first album had a drummer and their later ones did not.  But this drumming and percussion is a very different sound.  very exciting–how will they do it live?

[READ: July 10, 2020] “Black Mountain, 1977”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

Donald Antrim’s essay is considerably shorter and much more harrowing than the previous one.

Antrim tells of the horrible situation that his mother grew up in.  His mother’s mother was a cruel parent, carrying out “an aggressive campaign against her daughter’s body, even going so far as to advocate unnecessary surgeries for her only child,”

His mother’s father was a meek and cowed alcoholic who never stood up to his wife. (more…)

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