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Archive for the ‘Dystopia’ Category

SOUNDTRACKKeiyaA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #168 (February 11, 2021).

I had not heard of KeiyaA (and have no idea how to say her name), but i was quite stuck by this performance.

KeiyaA is a new performer, and her debut album

Forever, Ya Girl, appeared last year with kismet timing, unveiling her as a fully formed star. The 2020 release is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood.

The set opens with “Do Yourself a Favor.”  For this track KeiyaA sits behind the keyboard a while 13th Law plays a slow funky bass line plays accompanied by finger snaps and backing vocals from the amazingly named Nelson Bandela.

KeiyaA comes out front for the rest of the tracks.

Cornrows braided back with the precision of an architect. Stiletto nails commanding a sampling machine. Gold-glinted lids to match her light-up Beads Byaree earrings. With every move, KeiyaA shines so bright, it’s impossible to look away. And while your eyes are fixated on her person, the music KeiyaA conjures inside Brooklyn’s Electric Garden is what leaves you completely spellbound.

On “Hvnli,” Nelson Bandela plays keys behind a new slow funky bass line.  Keenyn Omari played guitar on the first song but he plays saxophone on this one.  It starts with soft bursts and then he really starts wailing.  With the sax and the syncopated drums from Buz “Hvnli” sounds like a spare jazz song.  She sings:

Gone for so long I prefer to spend time in my pain, hey / Gone for so long I can barely recall the last my phone rang,” she sings on “Hvnli.”

Her album

is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood. Whether it’s through jazzy woodwinds, heavy synths or prickly staccato, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares waves of anguish, depletion, love and elation in a swirling stream of consciousness.

She says that “Most of the work that has carried me has been the writing of Black women Jayne Cortez and Ntozake Shange [she holds up their books] who both speak unabashedly of the plight and joys and general experiences of the Black femme woman.  And those writings are paramount in my work.”

She opens “Finesse Without a Trace” with a wobbly sample and The 13th Law plays some bass chords and splashy drums.  The sample turns into some quotes while Omari plays some wild distorted flute.

The song ends with an improvised flute solo which KeiyaA accompanies with samples and some oohing.  The song slowly morphs into “Rectifiya” a funky piece with response vocals on the chorus.

She ends the whole set with the sampled quote from Nina Simone.

“Everybody is half-dead. Everybody avoids everybody. All over the place…in most situations, most of the time. I know I’m one of those everybodys. And to me it is terrible. And so all I’m trying to do, all the time, is just to open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That’s it.”

Apparently the album sounds very different than this Tiny Desk: (The “album version of these tracks boast much of KeiyaA’s own production, affirmations and layered vocals in chorus”).  Perhaps I’m better off just enjoying this and not looking further.

[READ: April 5, 2021] Parable of the Sower [end]

The end of the book provides something of a skeptical feeling of hope for our travelers.   I read in the Foreword that Earthseed was meant to be a trilogy; however, Butler only finished a sequel (and an unrelated novel) before she died.  The Foreword (by N.K. Jemisin also gives a spoiler to Parable of the Talents–uncool!  Even if the books are over twenty years old.

By the way, Jemisin sounds pretty interesting.  Anyone read her?

To me, it is astonishing how many big questions go unanswered in the book.

I had mentioned wondering about the Mars mission and there’s no mention of that again.  We never find out anything about any state east of Central California and we never find out What Happened.  Obviously that information is irrelevant for the characters–they just have to move on–but it’s frustrating not to have even a hint.  [I accept that it wasn’t relevant to Butler, but I’m still curious].  We never hear anything about the community that the corporation bought, either–although there is a kind of follow up with someone from a similar community telling about how badly it turned out for the people living there.

This section starts off with an earthquake.  Earthquakes are bad news in general but in this situation they are much worse because earthquakes tend to cause fires.  And we know who fires attract.  Zahra thinks that they might be able to scavenge for something they can use, but Lauren suspects, rightly, that it would be a dangerous thing to do–druggies and people more violent than they are would be there.  And this proves to be true.

In fact, it proves to be very smart to move on because they wind up putting some distance between themselves and the violent crowds that scavenged the burnt out houses. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #167 (February 10, 2021).

I bought Meshell Ndegeocello’s Plantation Lullabies back in 1993 on the strength of “If That’s Your Boyfriend,” a funky track that is still pretty great.  I didn’t realize she had been steadily putting out music ever since.

This Tiny Desk (home) concert … includes songs from throughout her career framed by her thoughts on the importance and influence of James Baldwin: “He deserves flowers every day. Most of all because he was willing to discuss things that were painful, hard to look at, hard to see, hard to accept.”

Ndegeocello is a bad-ass bass player with a serious funk edge.  And yet in this Tiny Desk Concert, she strips almost all of that away.

The first song comes from Lullabies, but in this version of “Step Into the Projects” she strips away all the music and turns the song into a spoken word piece (although she does keep the rhythm of the original).

For the next three songs she is accompanied by her longtime guitarist Chris Bruce.

“Price of the Ticket,” is from Ndegeocello’s recent project, Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin, “a 21st century ritual toolkit for justice” inspired by Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.  In the track, it’s just Bruce’s gentle guitar and Meshell’s quiet voice.

“Forget My Name” from Comet Come To Me (2014) is stripped down from its original reggae arrangement and lays bare the haunting imagery in the lyrics.

She plays some spare bass, but musically it’s all about Bruce–the cool low riff and the pretty high melody.

“Fool of Me,” from her acclaimed album Bitter (1999), ends the set with just vocals and guitar.

Like the other songs, it is spare and beautiful, allowing you to really hear the words.  I love Meshell’s funk, but this is a beautiful set.

[READ: March 29, 2021] Parable of the Sower [2026-2027 (chapter 19)]

I have not read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I don’t intend to.  But I feel like this book acts as a precursor to that one.  And that is something I did not in any way expect.

2026 opens in June, almost seven months after the previous entry.  I’m curious about the distance between entries.  It’s possible that Lauren has dozens and dozens of pages that just said, “today sucked” and we don’t need to see that.  But I am curious about the time jumps.

Is it a way for Butler to move us ahead quickly so that something that needed to take a few years to happen is given the time to do so?  I’m thinking about Mars a bit.  In two years a lot can happen with the space program.  Of course, the President was supposed to cancel the program.  So who knows what’s going on there.  Aside from basic passage of time, did we need to wait six months to see what came next?  I’m not sure.

In June Keith is back–bigger and more confident.  He’s not yet 14, but he’s very successful, bringing home money and gifts (but none for his father).  He has ingratiated himself into a gang by being the only literate one in the group:

They’re all older than me, but not one of them can read or write anything.  They stole all this great stuff and they couldn’t even use it.  Before I got there they even broke some of it because they couldn’t read the instructions. (105)

Lauren and Keith have a heart-to-heart–really their first ever.  He learns a bit about her and while he gains a little more respect he also tells her that she’d never survive out there–she doesn’t know enough.  He also tells her about these new crazies called Paints who paint their skin green or blue or yellow and eat fire and kill rich people.

Keith comes back on her birthday and gives her a present.  A month later he is dead–killed in a horrific and gruesome way.  He was clearly tortured and left to be found.  His death was a message for someone–a rival gang, probably.

But they don’t call the police:

cops liked to solve cases by “discovering” evidence against whomever they decided must be guilty.  Best to give them nothing.  They never helped when people called for help.  They came later and more often than not, made a bad situation worse. (114)

In October, a new component to the story crops up.

Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton and Company (KSF) has taken over a nearby town called Olivar.  It is small and well to do.  The citizens voted to let their town be taken over–privatized.  They intend to set up energy resources in the community–solar, wind, desalinization.  They mean to own great industries in an area that people have given up on.

Kagimoto, Stamm Frampton: Japanese, German, Canadian.  When I was young, people said it would come to this. Well why shouldn’t other countries buy what’s left of us if we put it up for sale. (121)

This is another aspect of the story that confuses me.  Is it basically that Los Angeles has exploded and the rest of the country is okay?  There’s talk about work up north, but why?  What happened to the country that they/we would let L.A. collapse but nothing else.  Or maybe it’s the entire South West?  Nobody knows anything about the East Coast, apparently.   I’m hoping that they will get explained a bit later on.

Olivar was accepting applications to live there.  They were looking for educated people.  And here we learn that both of Lauren’s parents have PhDs [a commentary on the invisibility of Black scholars?].  Her stepmother thinks it’s a great idea to go to Olivar.  They would be guaranteed safety and security.  But her father is against it, calling it “half antebellum revival and half science fiction” (122).

Anyone KSF hired would have a hard time living on the salary offered. In not very much time, I think the new hires would be in debt to the company.  That’s an old company-town trick–get people into debt, hang on to them and work them harder.  Debt slavery. That might work in Christopher Bonner’s America. Labor laws, state and federal are not what they once were. (121)

Come November, the Garfields have been accepted at Olivar.  The Garfieds include Joanne, Lauren’s one time best friend (who misplaced Lauren’s trust by tattling to her father).  Joanne has been serious with Harry Balter.  But Harry is staying in Rebledo.  Lauren suggests they get married and then Harry can move in with them, but she says that Harry wants to get married and travel north.  He thinks they way Lauren’s father does about Olivar.

But the Garfields are still going: “conservative and sensible and mature and wrong” (128).

In November, Lauren’s father did not come home one night.  They spend days looking for him with no luck.  The search parties uncover all kinds of remains, some of which they think might be her father’s but which turn out not to be.

The search also reveals an aspect of Lauren’s hyperempathy that we didn’t know–sound doesn’t trigger it (she hears a man screaming), only sight does.

Five days alter they have a Sunday survive that turns more or less into a memorial.  Lauren speaks at he service and proves to be powerful preacher.  She speaks of God but presumably she means her own god–the earthseed god.  By mid-December they have a formal funeral–they accept that he would have found his way home by now.

Later, when KSF came for the Garfields, it was in an armored truck

The two movers were a black and a white, and I could see that Cory considered that hopeful.  Maybe Olivar wouldn’t be the white enclave that Dad had expected. (139)

All along Lauren has been romantically involved with Curtis.  People anticipated that she would get married an have a baby with him–something she strongly resisted.  Indeed, her plan all along was to leave Rebledo without him.  But now with Lauren’s father gone (he was the reason she hadn’t left yet–she didn’t want to hurt him), Curtis suggests that they both go.  He’s upset that she wanted to go without him, but she explains that she didn’t want to force him to make that choice.

Two days later, someone burned down the Payne/Parrish house; while that was going on. they robbed three of the other houses including Lauren’s.

I’ve been frightened at the phrases that Butler says that prove eerily prophetic to the last few years:

People are setting fires because they’re frustrated, angry, hopeless. They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable.  And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it.  (143)

Interestingly, the drug that gave Lauren her hyperempathy–Paracetco–was initially a legitimate drug intended to help victims of Alzheimer’s disease.  Pyro was an accident–a homebrew on the East coast it made it was away across the country.

People on the fire drug get off on watching things burn.  Blaze, fuego, flash, sunfire.  The most popular name is pyro short for pyromania [I’m fascinated that she needed to spell that out as I feel that in 2021 (and much earlier) it was a common abbreviation].

As the year ends, the families try to make due with what they have left.

Then we enter 2027.  Once again it’s six months into the year.  And this is when things change dramatically.   Thieves drove a truck through their wall and set everything on fire.  Nearly everyone in the community was killed.  [I did wonder if it was worthwhile learning anyone’s names, and it was two people I didn’t think twice about who survived].  The description is a violent orgy of death, rape, fire and who knows what else.  It is brutally described.  Lauren escaped.  She had the forethought to run back in and put on clothe and shoes and grab her bug out bag.  No one else in her family had done so. She saw them n bare feet and pajamas and then she didn’t see them any more.  She managed to get outside and to hide until the next day,

She crept back into her community and went to her house which was being looted and stripped. She knew where there were some hiding places and she managed to get clothes for her family as well as money that was hidden in the ground.  She grabbed a gun and got out, looking like all the other miserable looters.

Lauren was sure she was alone.  Then out of the rubble came Harry Balter and Zahra Moss–the youngest wife of Richard Moss the polygamist.  Zahra’s baby was killed (brutally) and an attacker was about to (or had begun to) rape her when Harry saved her (and got beaten for his help).  Neither one had planned for anything like this and they are pretty hopeless.  Lauren decides that three is safer than one and invites them to go North with her.

Zahra’s backstory is interesting.  Richard bought her from her mother who was a drug addict and a prostitute.  Zahra has lived on the streets and she knows what’s what.  She takes them to Hanning Joss, the biggest secure store complex.  I’m fascinated to learn that there are are still megastores and that they have security allowing people to shop safely there–commerce always wins.

Then they do what everybody else does–they head North.  Lauren has decided to pass as a man.  She’s tall and muscular and can do so, so she cuts her hair short.  They encounter much danger and violence but manage to get relatively far north.  Harry is a trusting guy, trying to avoid violence in any way possible.  But Lauren (and Zahra) knows the reality of the situation–kill or be killed; steal or be stolen from.  And with Lauren’s hyperempathy, she can’t afford to let people around her suffer.  She winds up cutting a man’s throat to stop the hurting that he (and she) are feeling.  Harry is appalled at her.  So she finally admits to her hyperempathy assuming they’ll abandon her.  But they do not–three is better than two.

Zahra and Harry become a couple and have unprotected sex (what harm could come from that?)

Then the trio meet another family who seems to be tagging along after them.  Everyone is out for themselves, but Lauren takes pity on this mixed race couple with a baby.  She helps them out at the second Hanning Joss and a few days later, when Lauren saves their baby from a feral dog, they agree that five (or six) is better than three and two (or three).

The new people are Travis Charles Douglas, Gloria Natividad Douglas and six month old Dominic. They are going to Seattle where Travis’ aunt lives.  Travis is quite taken aback when he learns that Lauren is a woman–especially since she saved them, but he’s going to have to get over it.

All of this time, Earthseed has been running around in Lauren’s head, but it hasn’t really shown up.

Then in chapter 18, Lauren starts talking to them about Earthseed.  Travis is a (surprisingly) intelligent man–he knows about entropy.

Travis’s mother was a live in cook for a rich man.  But before that she had written for newspapers and magazines.  She taught Travis to read. The man she worked for had a library and she would sneak out one book at a  time–he didn’t want Travis touching his stuff.

Of course. Slaves did that two hundred years ago.  They sneaked around and educated themselves as best they could sometimes suffering whipping, sale or mutilation for their efforts. (218)

Natividad was a maid and the rich man let them marry:  The son of the cook marrying one of the maids. That was like something out of another era too.

They discuss her poems–Earthseed.  Travis pushes back against her ideas, although never in an aggressive way.

She argues that here is no pore pervasive power than change.  Travis says that nobody is going to worship change.  Lauren says she hopes not

This excerpt from God is Change summarizes this discussion nicely:

“I was looking for God. I didn’t know whether there was a god to find, but I wanted to know. God would have to be a power that could not be defied by anyone or anything.”
“Change.”
“Change, yes.”
“But it’s not a god. It’s not a person or an intelligence or even a thing. It’s just … I don’t know. An idea.”
“It’s a truth. Change is ongoing. Everything changes in some way— size, position, composition, frequency, velocity, thinking, whatever. Every living thing, every bit of matter, all the energy in the universe changes in some way.”
“Sort of like saying God is the second law of thermodynamics?”
“That’s an aspect of God. There are all kinds of changes in the universe.”
“But why personify change by calling it God? Since change is just an idea, why not call it that? Just say change is important.”
“Because after a while, it won’t be important. People forget ideas. They’re more likely to remember God— especially when they’re scared or desperate.”
“Your stuff isn’t very comforting.”
“It is after a while. I’m still growing into it myself. God isn’t good or evil, doesn’t favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought.”
“Your God doesn’t care about you at all.”
“All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace— and how to deal with the others.”
“But nobody’s going to worship change.”
“I hope not.  Earthseed deals with ongoing reality, not with supernatural authority figures. Worship is no good without action. With action, it’s only useful if it steadies you, focuses your efforts, eases your mind.”
“Praying makes people feel better even when there’s no action they can take. I used to think that was all God was good for.”
“That isn’t what God is for, but there are times when that’s what prayer is for. And there are times when that’s what these verses are for. God is Change, and in the end, God prevails. But there’s hope in understanding the nature of God— not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There’s comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There’s power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all. But there’s no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you. Best to understand that and return the effort: Shape God.”

Lauren thinks he might join her movement.  Zahra is already on board.

She imagines finding and isolated place on the coast and making a deal with the owners–if there were more of them and they were better armed, they could provide security as well as education.

This fantasy, this plan gives the first sign of hope in this bleak world of Lauren’s.  It seems impossible.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION-“Trouble Every Day” (1966).

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention would play all kinds of music over the course of their existence (even more genres added when Frank went solo).  It’s not even entirely clear how you’d describe their first album Freak Out!

This song opens up side three of the double album and is a bluesy song based around a four note (and one bent note) melody and includes harmonica solo.  The song runs almost 6 minutes long and doesn’t change much until after about five and a half the tempo increases dramatically until the song fades.

It was written after the Watts Riots.  It was an accurate description and also sadly prescient.

Right in the middle of the song Frank states:

Hey you know something people I’m not black But there’s a whole lots a times I wish I could say I’m not white

That seems like it was a pretty powerful thing to say (and something you’d be unlikely to hear on the radio) back in 1965.

The chorus sticks with us

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

He certainly predicted the state of 24 hour news

Well you can cool it, You can heat it…
Cause, baby, I don’t need it…

Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all THOSE unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head began to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsmen say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so
And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They’ll be the first to tell
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

Things haven’t changed since this song was written

And it’s the same across the nation
Black & white discrimination
They’re yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
And all the other crap they hand me
In the papers and TV
‘N all that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight

Perhaps the theme verse for recent events

Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no great society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store

It’s a shame this song still resonates.

[READ: March 22, 2021] Parable of the Sower [2024-2025]

I found Kindred to be an enjoyable (not exactly the right word, I know) novel.  I thought the premise was really cool and I thought the content was impactful and was conveyed really well.  It was a powerful story that did not shy away from brutality.

But it in no way prepared me for Parable of the Sower.

I didn’t know anything about this book at all before starting.  At first I thought it was neat that it was set in 2024 (hey that’s so close!)  And that, coincidentally, myself and my daughters are almost the same ages as the main character and her father (will this be our future?).

But then, holy crap, Butler doesn’t hold back.

The brutality of Kindred was based on reality.  It was horrible and, in retrospect, hard to believe that people could do such things.  The brutality of Sower, however, is all based on the future projection.  The book was written in 1993. Basically, she posits that in 30 years, America has become a rotting hellscape.  And while we haven’t reached quite the levels that she imagines, there are some pretty eerie accuracies.  I have to assume, given the natural of the elected politicians, that some things are going to get very very spookily prescient.

The book opens in 2024 with a quote from Earthseed.  We don’t know what that is yet, but by the end of this week’s read we’ll learn that Earthseed is a sort of manifesto written by the main character, Lauren Oya Olamina–I didn’t realize her name was given after the first quote from Earthseed until looking back on it.  Each chapter has another quote from Earthseed and then the story unfolds as a series of diary entries. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-3rd Annual Green Sprouts Music Week Night 5 (Ultrasound Showbar, Toronto Ontario September 20 1995).

It has been a while since I’ve listened to a live Rheostatics show.  Darrin at Rheostatics Live has added a number of new shows in the last eight months.  Like this full week of shows from the Third Green Sprouts Music Week.

Fifth night of the third annual Green Sprouts Music Week held at Ultrasound Showbar September 18-23 1995. The first song is Tim Vesely performing a rap he wrote along with Farm Fresh and Rheos and then perfected the following night. If you ever listened to or attended all the shows of a GSMW run you know how the band kind of builds through the week and really hits a stride a few shows in – this is one of those types of shows. Interesting to hear how even within single songs they were working on the transformation from night to night as they worked them out in front of a crowd – Desert Island Poem aka Drumheller is a great example. Song Of Flight/California Dreamiline/Digital Beach/Earth is a particularly great run from this show. Don sings Never Forget for the second time and also second time ever singing lead at a live show. Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine features Tamara Williamson who co-wrote the song. All in all a great show. It is funny looking back at shows that have the impression of classic setlists but in fact half of the songs had not even been recorded yet and were pretty unfamiliar to fans.

This recording opens with a freestyle rap from Farm Fresh.  I’m assuming that’s Tim on bass, and maybe someone else joining them?

Farm Fresh (Tyler, Pat and Ronnie) does “Space Song” and then Tim does a great story-rap about touring and listening to the Farm Fresh cassette and really loving it.  is tim playing bass with them

Then Farm Fresh does some more rapping and when they leave someone (Don?) says that seriously they fought over the Farm Fresh tape–which van would get to listen to it.

When everyone leaves there’s some weird swirling music that lingers while martin starts “A Mid-Winter Night’s Dream.”  He can’t reach the high note at the end–his voice kind of craps out but it’s still good.  The jam at the end makes up for it.

There’s a raw “Feed Yourself.”  Dave has changed “like a box of chocolates or a Beatles song” to “like Preston Sturges or a Beatles song.”  But they get the crashing end part perfect.

Tim’s “All the Same Eyes” has some fun harmonics on the second guitar.

Dave says: Friday night is rock night.  Each night is a like a snowflake–each one is unique.  Like, Martin’s guitar did not break down last night during that song.  And the new songs we have not yet worked out our dance moves yet.  Donny was playing the lower drums with his hands and the hi-hat with his feet.
Tim: and the crash cymbals with his teeth.
Dave: I aspire to have all gold teeth like Sticky Thompson in Ziggy Marley’s group.

They begin “Aliens” which I thought would make everyone pretty excited.  But there’s a lot of chatter.  At the end, Dave says, “that was nearly my chance to grab the brass ring of lead guitar.”

There’s a screaming person in the crowd again and Dave says, “nice scream. We hear you.”

There’s a long tech delay so they do “My First Rock Concert.”  Dave asks, “Does everyone know who ELO was?”  When it’s done Martin says that was the mystery song.  We’ve never rehearsed it, we just let it develop live.  Dave then talks about the five flash pots and asks if the guy from the Yardbirds died when a flash pot blew up in his face.  Or is that like the pop rocks guy story.  Someone shouts Same guy!

Dave asks, Martin, if we play “Four Little Songs” will that cheer you up?  It will.  During Dave’s part he asks, “who votes for a guitar solo?”  The 4321 at the end is perfect and at the end (“now they’re gone”) he asks several people if “you took them?”

The noisy crowd continues to irritate.  Dave wishes there was a button you could use to highlight something or other and then Don says, a button to eject screaming fan.  Or let them live?  Someone shouts “make them buy beer.”  Then as Tim starts the next quiet song someone shouts “shut the fuck up!”

Tim get a few songs now.  “Connecting Flights” and “An Offer” (It’s only the third time we’ve played this, so be gentle).  The falsetto seems a bit of a struggle.

Then comes Don’s song, “Never Forget.” Dave asks if he ever sang in his old new wave band.  Only backing vocals.  “Last night was the first time I was completely naked in front of the people.”  So Dave introduces: Second time for the Don Kerr Band.

Dave invites Tyler from Farm Fresh on stage, but they are doing an interview.  They play “Drumheller” (or “Desert Island Poem” as it’s also called).  Drumheller’s a weird place man.  We had great Greek food there once and terrible Greek food in the same restaurant.

As Martin plays a gorgeous “Song of Flight” he makes cool whale sounds.  (Whales lived in Canada once).  It segues into a lovely “California Dreamline” and then into “Digital Beach” and then into a wild “Earth/Monstrous Hummingbirds.”  It’s, as Darrin says a great sixteen minutes.

Someone asks if “Earth” is about Dave’s family.  Bidinis were the first humans.

Someone shouts “Winnie Cooper.”  Dave: “The Wonder Years? I don’t follow.   Lets meet outback later and talk about it.”

A ripping “Queer” come next with a “riff so nice, play it twice.”  Dave messes up some words (which hardly ever happens).  There’s a jam of the intro to “King of the Past” but no vocals.  Did Tim just not want to play it?

Tamara from Mrs. Torrance is invited up, and while Dave is talking he says to someone “Hey don’t fuck with me” (!) [What happened?]  Dave: I wish we wouldn’t swear as much, but we don’t swear as much as the guys in Farm Fresh do.

Tamara wrote the chorus to “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  The two of them singing this together gives me goose bumps. Martin says: “That song was for Winnie Cooper.”  Dave: How do you know about The Wonder Years?  Martin: “Late at night, lonely, kind of lukewarm depressed.”

Dave: Was she like the Miss Beedle? [from Little House on the Prairie].  Martin: No, she’s like Jan.

Up next is “Fat” with a great jam at the end.  Martin says “You hurt me with your rocking.”  And then proceeds to rock out a cover of jane Siberry “One more Colour.”

The recording cuts off after about a minute of “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson,” so who knows what else happened on this Friday night. 

[READ: February 12, 2020] Ready Player Two 

I really enjoyed Ready Player One quite a lot.  It was certainly one of my favorite books of the year.  I didn’t know there was supposed to be a sequel, but when I heard about it, I imagined it might be a lot of fun.

And while the book is largely the same in structure, the tone of it was really disappointing to me.

Set several years after the events of the first book, Wade (Parzival) and his helpers Aech, Daito, and Art3mis are all in charge of the empire that controls the OASIS.  They have bought out their competition and are basically a giant monopoly.  They are the only company making legit equipment to access the OASIS and each of them multi-billionaires.

They do a lot of philanthropic activities, especially when it comes to giving poorer people access to the OASIS.  And each one of them his his and her own pet causes to which they donate millions of dollars.  But primarily they (or at least Wade) is taking care of himself.  His house is palatial and costs billions of dollars.  He has made everything fit his heart’s (nerdy) and he wants for nothing.  Much of his money and energy is spent on building security measures for himself. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GARCIA PEOPLES-Hear Here Presents (2020).

Sometimes it takes a band you like to introduce you to something you didn’t know about.

Like Hear Here Presents, a non-profit studio in Wisconsin that records bands in a small setting with great audio quality.  And there are some fantastic bands (and yes, many many more that I haven’t heard of) on their page.

The band just released their session from this live show on bandcamp.

Back in January, Garcia Peoples went into the studio at Hear Here Presents for a session.

I’m not sure how long the sessions usually are, but this one runs about 35 minutes and consists of two songs.

Up first is what they are calling “Hear Here Jam.”  It’s 12 plus minutes of  a jamming instrumental.   It’s impression how tight these guys are that they can improv for 12 minutes and not only not step on each others toes, but actually make a composition that sounds interesting.

There’s a raging guitar section at around three minutes and an impressive build to a peak around 8 minutes before finishing up a few minutes later.  Having the three guitar of Tom Malach, Danny Arakaki, and Derek Spaldo allows for terrific interplay and a depth of sound.

That depth of sound is really evident on the second song, which opens with the introduction to “One Step Beyond.”  Of course, before they start that, there’s some tuning to be done, with some snippets of recognizable riffs:  Close Encounters of the Third Kind, “Hey Joe,” “Sweet Child of Mine.”

But once everyone is ready, it’s down to business.  It’s fun picking out which guitars are playing what in the complex intro to “One Step.”  It’s impressive the way the three guitars can keep the looping melody original and changing while bassist Andy Cush more or less take a lead role.

It’s also important to keep an eye (or an ear) on drummer Cesar Arakaki because he can keep a beat and keep it from being dull as well.

Then after nine and a half minutes of intro, the band shifts gears into the rocking “Feel So Great,” a terrific song with a fantastic musical bridge.  Ringing guitars and a super cool bass line propel the song before the chill chorus.

Not content to let a short, catchy song end their set, they proceed to stretch of “Feel So Good” starting around 15 minutes.  Multi-instrumentalist Pat Gubler trades his keyboard for flute as the psychedelia commences.  After some raging guitar work up until about twenty minutes, the band slows things down to ring to a close.

The only thing disappointing about this set is that when the song is over, you can hear them talking and someone says, “we can do another one,: just as the audio cuts out.  What else did they play????

[READ: September 24, 2020] We All Die Naked [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

[In 1896] Svante Arrhenius first calculated the increase in Earth’s surface temperature caused by increases in industrial carbon production — what we now know as the greenhouse effect. …  As far as I know, James Blish is the first science-fiction writer to imagine an apocalypse caused by climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions.  It’s a biting satire, simultaneously bleak and gregarious, that catches the characters on the brink of catastrophe through climate change.

To me, this story felt a little preachy.  But then, I’m reading it after fifty years of this kind of story already existing.  I imagine it was pretty impactful back in the era of Silent Spring (if sci-fi ever had an impact on anything).  And, indeed, it’s still pretty impactful given how many things he gets right.

The protagonist, Alexei-Aub Kehoe Salvia Sun-Moon-Lake Stewart, Sa. D., is forty and set in his ways.  He is the General President of Local 802 of the International Brotherhood of Sanitation Engineers.

Blish was eerily prescient to 2020 in one aspect of the story

Adjusting his mask–no matter how new a mask was, it seemed to let in more free radicals from the ambient air every day–he put the thought aside and prepared to enjoy his stroll and his lunch.

But some things are more grim.  The roads around Times Square, Wall Street and Rockefeller Center are all canals. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NUCLEAR POWER TRIO-“A Clear and Present Rager” (2020).

Today was one of the best days America has seen in four years.

Because here’s an EP to rock your politics off.*

Nuclear Power Trio is a band made up of Vladimir Putin on bass, Kim Jong-un on drums and Donald Trump on guitar.  And they totally rock. This first song from their new album is an absolutely rager, as the title says. It’s a three and a half minute instrumental that starts off with a monster riff and some really hightech fretwork from Putin on the bass.  When the main “verse” comes in, Trump shows his amazing dexterity on the eight string guitar.  He plays surprisingly tasteful licks in between the shredding. This is some pretty classic rocking instrumental stuff ala Joe Satriani, but with the whole band totally keyed in.

A big surprise comes a minute and 45 seconds in when an unnamed fourth member (in the video he appears as a secret service agent) plays an gentle acoustic guitar break, allowing Trump to do some gentle volume-controlled notes. This quiet section happens twice and after the second one, Putin just goes mental on the bass while Kim Jong-Un shows what impressive double bass capabilities he has.

The video for this song is rather disturbing.

But I gotta say, I’d much rather have these three nutcases in a kick ass band than in charge of any country.

[READ: September 24, 2020] The Space Merchants [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, which was translated by Andrea L. Bell, Romney writes

the wonders of robot-controlled automation allow people to live in ease within the perfect mechanism of a programmed city–but in the end lead to ineffable discord within the mind of the protagonist.

This story was a little hard for me to wrap my head around.  The story follows P. as he makes his way through his daily life in Arconia.

P. is an evaluator.  But P. was distracted.  Not only did he not mind having evaded his work, he felt euphoric about it. This was not normal. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK THOUGHT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #7 (April 9, 2020).

?uestlove is (in my mind at least) the heart (or at least the face) of The Roots.  So it’s easy to forget that Black Thought is the man behind the voice.

This video is fascinating because Black Thought is sitting in a comfy chair, legs crossed, casually sitting as he raps the hell out of these songs.

While our culture adjusts to the New Normal, artists are revealing the threads of our common humanity as they find new ways to bring their work to virtual communities. In this installment of Tiny Desk (home) concerts, hip-hop wordsmith Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought of The Roots crew, took the occasion to premiere three new songs.

On “Thought Vs. Everybody,” Thought calls for unity in response to the conditions of an encroaching dystopia.

It’s really fascinating that he can sound so powerful while chilling in his chair like that.  I also love that it starts with a sample saying “introducing the most powerful black man in the world.”

Thought talks about the Streams of Thought project that he’s been working on.  It started as a Steams of Thought mixtape/EP series he started in 2013.  “Thought Vs. Everybody” and “Nature of the Beast”  will appear on Streams of Thought Vol. 3.

Although the second song, “Yellow,” easily one of my favorite rap songs in years, is not on this EP.

“Yellow,” is song from his upcoming off-Broadway musical Black No More, an adaption of the 1931 Afrofuturist novel by George S. Schuyler, set during the Harlem Renaissance.

He is writing, producing and starring in the Broadway musical.  He says the plot is hard to summarize, but essentially, the main character a black man has decided he’s over the black experience.  There’s a machine that can turn black people white in an attempt to change the racial landscape of America.  Now this man wants everything yellow: yellow money, yellow women, yellow taxis.

Thought says that as a proud black man it challenged him to write from this perspective and to connect with feeling’s he’s never felt.

It is a fantastic song with a great 1920’s jazz score and although the lyrics are tough, he delivers them wonderfully (although I don’t really care for the chorus just repeating the word “yellow”).

He closes with “Nature of the Beast,” a collaboration with Portugal. The Man, who pop up on screen from a remote location.

This song has a really catchy singalong chorus.  I wonder how much of the music was from Portugal.

[READ: April 18, 2020] “The Media”

This was a real challenge to read and honestly I’m not sure what happened in it even after reading it three times.

It begins with Ben walking at dusk recording “this prose poem on his phone.”

He calls someone to ask about their trip–asks the person to call him back.  He’ll be around “until late nineteenth century, when carved wood gives way to polished steel.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HANNAH GEORGAS-Live at Massey Hall (March 5, 2018).

Hannah Georgas grew up outside of Toronto and always thought it was a treat to come to Massey Hall.  She says “My 18-year old self would be pretty psyched to play here.”

Georgas has two backing musicians Robbie Driscoll on bass/ableton and Dean Stone on drums/SPD.  She also plays keys but not for every song.

Most of her songs are quite spare–primarily featuring her voice.  The music is often slow washes and a drumbeat.

“Elephant” opens with warping synth sounds and Hannah singing.  The song builds nicely over four minutes with an interesting guitar accent and some powerful drumming.  Hannah also jumps  on the keys a bit for the end.

“Lost Cause” starts with Hannah playing keys and singing.  It’s spare with just the piano and drums and a nice melody.  Her voice is quite lovely.

“Rideback” has great interesting sounds from her keyboard–like horns or harmonicas or something.  I’m more intrigued by these sounds than the song itself.

“Naked Beaches” sounds like a slow dance song–a simple beat with a single note keyboard riff ringing through the song.  Her voice is echoed a lot on this song (both echos and harmonies) and it sounds really nice.

“Don’t Go” is another spare track.  It’s almost all drums with washes of synth and Hannah’s voice.

I was surprised to see her play a cover.  It was the Eurhythmics’ “Love is a Stranger.”  Hannah doesn’t sound like Annie Lennox, but she doesn’t sound all that different from her–it’s a good pairing for her and her band.

“Waste” has a whole series of wonderfully weirdo noises in its melody.  It starts fairly quietly but after the first few vocal lines, a kind of distorted synth line starts the melody, but its the chorus that really adds the weirdness with horns that sound like horns but also like screams.  Its really fun and funky, and is my favorite song of her set.

“Waiting Game” is a pulsing song with some chugging guitar and synth stabs as accents.  The set ends with “Enemies,” a quiet song with pulsing synths and drums and lights to accompany them.  For the chorus, things smooth out with some nice synth washes.

This show was on the same night as Rhye, and I honestly can’t tell who was the headliner.

[READ: May 15, 2019] “Going Up the Mountain” 

I loved this short story which speculates how our lives might turn out in a few years.

The story begins “The mountain sits in the middle of town.”  The mountain has always been there and it will continue to always be there.  It’s right in the middle–a brief walk for everyone.  You can’t miss it.

When people see each other in town the ask if they have gone up the mountain that day.

A neighbor “grins a tight grin and gives the sort of shrug people always give when they haven’t gone up the mountain.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKAMANDA PALMER-“The Ride” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

This show is the most interesting visually because Palmer is sitting at her piano and the camera is at all angles–so you can see the crowd and how close they are to the performers.

The blurb is also interesting because I had no idea the performers only played for about 15 minutes.

When Amanda Palmer heard she’d have around 15 minutes for her Tiny Desk Family Hour performance, she assumed there wouldn’t be time for most of the songs on her new album, There Will Be No Intermission, a sprawling masterwork with epic tracks clocking in at 10 minutes or more. So, she showed up with just her ukulele in hand, prepared for a stripped-down, abbreviated set. But when we wheeled out a grand piano just for her – and after I gushed to the crowd about Palmer’s brilliant new opus on the nature of humanity called “The Ride” – she decided she had to play it.

Like many of the tracks on There Will Be No Intermission, “The Ride” is a deep, existential dive into fear, death, loneliness and grief, with the tiniest glimmer of hope or comfort at the end. This is Palmer’s first album in seven years and it documents all she’s been through in that time. It’s also an album she says wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t decided to make it on her own, with crowdfunding support from fans. “It’s a very intense record. It’s been a very intense seven years of my life since I put out my last one,” she told the crowd at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church. And without having a label to answer to, she said she was able to “write an entire album with songs that are really long and about miscarriage and abortion and about the kind of stuff I don’t want to take up to ‘Steve’ in marketing to try to explain why this record should exist.”

It’s a powerful song–simple and mostly unchanging–where the focus is on the words.  But those few times when the vocal melody changes or she adds that circus melody it’s a jarring change from the story she’s presenting.

Though she’s played abbreviated versions of “The Ride” in past shows, this is one of her earliest performances of the full, album-length song. Two days after her Tiny Desk Family Hour set, Palmer returned to the Central Presbyterian Church for an epic, two-and-a-half hour concert with just her ukulele and piano.

[READ: February 2019] Future Home of the Living God

I’m not sure what drew me to this book. I have read (and enjoyed) many short stories by Erdrich, so I assume her name stood out.  The title is also pretty cool.

But I really had no idea what was coming.  I also didn’t know that Erdrich is Turtle Mountain Chippewa, which obviously lends weight to her Native American depictions.

This story is about Cedar Hawk Songmaker, an adult woman who was adopted by “Minnesota liberals” as a baby.  When she went to find her Ojibwe parents, she learned that she was born Mary Potts.

The book is written as Cedar’s diary.  It begins August 7 (year unstated).  The book is set in the future.  A cataclysmic event has happened and I absolutely love that since this book is written from Cedar’s point of view, she doesn’t know what happened.  She will never learn what happened, and neither will we.  It is just understood that evolution as we know it has stopped.  People seem to be devolving. Or more specifically babies are being born in a state of devolution.  Again, no more details are given. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Fall Nationals, Night 5 of 10, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (November 15, 2004).

The Rheostatics, live at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, November 14, 2004. This was the 5th night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.

Most of the shows they played a lot of the same songs, but this one has a lot of unique shows for this Fall Nationals.  About four or five that are only played tonight (and maybe on guest vocalist night).

The show begins with the only instance of “Onilley’s Strange Dream,” a long mellow jamming intro with Tim playing bass and Dave strumming while Martin plays some melodies and then begins the song properly.  Its slow and quite pretty and it’s nice to hear.  It’s followed by the crazy squealing guitar melody intro of “When Winter Come.”  Martin has to play the whole intro three times as it seems like they’re messing with him.  Mike says “that’s a big matzo ball hanging out there.”  The band sounds great playing this (although lyrics are certainly messed up).  Martin: “That was a memory test.”  Dave: “Indeed, a middling grade.”  Then Mike jokes: “That’s a nice shirt, Martin, did you and Selina go shopping at the same time?”  You can hear them talking about Valu Village “There’s an umlaut over the U at the one in Yorkville.”

Then they play the only version of “Superdifficult.”  It sounds great because Tim is certainly reliable.  As evidenced by the greatness of “Marginalized,” too.  “Polar Bears and Trees” is rocking and fun.  And then he introduces the opening track from our new album, “Shack in the Cornfields.”  As with many of these longer songs, each night’s show makes the song sound even better.

Even though I tend to like the sound quality of the Clarkson download, you can hear a lot of chatter in the background during the quiet parts.  You also can’t hear the poem during “Try To Praise This Mutilated World.”

For “Pornography,” Dave plays a different opening, which is nice.  And Chris Stringer is on the tambourine.  Dave says that Chris should take a solo next time.  On the tambourine?  No the guitar.   There’s some strange whooping in the crowd and Mike acknowledges the “pack of bonobo monkeys.”  Then comes
“Who Is This Man, And Why Is He Laughing?” written by “Michael Alexander Wojewoda “a direct descendant of Czar Nicolas” and Jennifer Eveline Foster on the accordion.  The song sounds wonderful with the accordion.  You can hear Mike talking in Polish.  It’s followed by the mellow “Here Comes The Image” with two keyboard solos full of synth trippiness.

For “Power Ballad For Ozzy Osbourne” they are going to play the intro this time.  They sing it–Dave says he hasn’t sung it in so long.  “I think you sing it higher.”  They futz their way through it and then get to the main song.

Dave starts talking to the crowd after the song: “No I haven’t smoked weed in a long time.  A little bit of hash every now and again.”  Mike: “It’s like your shift from beer to Fine Scotch.”  Dave: “But formerly lots of dope.”  The crowd goes crazy.  Dave: “oh, you like me, now.”

You can really hear the lyrics on “In This Town,” which gets two plays during the series, as does Christopher.  You can hear Martin say “we haven’t played Christopher.”  So they do.  It’s kind of slow but Martin is really into it and  he plays a cool echo-filled solo.

After yesterday’s karate discussion, there is no trouble during “Little Bird, Little Bird” and only one hoo and one ha.  But the song is surprisingly intense for such a mellow piece.  Dave thanks everyone for coming out on a Monday night.  He talks merch an Martin gets mad because he sang the song with Dave’s book title, but he forgot to plug it.  Dave says from now on he could sing “On a cold road {by Dave Bidini} somewhere in the south of Ontario.”  Someone in the audience shouts, “Dave, your books are great.” Dave: “Thank you, ma’am, should not everybody have a copy?”  Mike: “Shameless.”  Martin: “I read your new book too.  It was way more ambitious than I thought.  You said it was just teaching kids how to play music.”  Dave says he just pulled it out of his ass.  Mike: “you just pulled that out of your ass?  You’ve got a great ass!”  Dave: “All the girls in Vancouver wanted to touch my bum.  I wanted to ask Claudia if that was a trend.  The band starts playing a jazzy riff: “Merch music!”  It’s not like its going to be half off on Friday or Saturday because we want to get rid of it,  It’s already half off.  You know that place in Yorkville, Value Village with the umlaut over the u?  It’s way better than that.

They finally get to “Fat” which has a lot so synth in the intro with staticky washes.

They leave for an encore break that’s about 2 and a half minutes of Martin’s guitar echoing.

When they come back Dave plays Memorial Day.  Dave says they’re going to do a Rheostatics song from a long time ago that he was thinking about.  We have people from America and we’ll play this for our American visitors.  Someone shouts “Kill George Bush.”  “Me?  I’m not the man for that job.”

You hear people shouting requests.  Dave says, “You’re not just reading song titles off the CDs over there?”  The guy retorts, “Don’t make me say ‘Claire.'”

Then comes the only “Shaved Head” of the run.  It’s suitably slow and intense.   The slow twinkling guitar at the end segues perfectly into “One More Colour” which totally rocks.  There’s no coda ending on it, it’s just done and so are they.

The End.

[READ: April 14, 2017] Decelerate Blue

The only other story I know from Adam Rapp was a violent one called Ball Peen Hammer.  The art in that story was really dark and violent.

This book is very different from that one.  There’s a different artist first of all–Mike Cavallaro whose style is great: really sharp black and white images with a lot of expression in the faces.  But the story is very different as well, and I thought it was great.

Set in the not too distant future when speed is everything.  People read abridged versions of stories, they sleep standing up (it’s more efficient) and they say “Go” at the end of their sentences.

The story starts out with people putting go on the end of their sentences, which is puzzling.  But it really works–it lets people know that you are done talking and it is their turn to speak. (more…)

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