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Archive for the ‘Excerpt’ Category

download - 2020-05-13T095755.048SOUNDTRACK: BOB MOULD-“American Crisis” (2020).

mpodldBob Mould was once a punk icon.  He has since moved through various styles of music (some more successfully than others).  But now, with everything going on in America these days, he is back to doing what he does best–writing short, powerful, rocking punk songs that address issues.

“American Crisis” starts out with a bashing guitar intro and Mould screaming (he can still scream with authority). The verses pound forward, unrelenting.  The verses are short–all the better to get to the chorus which is also propulsive and fast but really catchy.

I love the third or fourth part (there’s quite a few parts in this brief song).  The lyrics: “You’re one of us or you’re one of them.”  He gives a great wave of a guitar slide leading to a brief guitar pause before the song takes off again.

He ends the song with a whispered statement that was true during the AIDS crisis and is true today.  “Silence=Death.  Never Forget.”  Check it out.

[READ: June 5, 2020] “Bedside Planner”

This is an excerpt from Coetzee’s novel The Death of Jesus.

Simón and Inés are the legal guardians of a young boy named David. David suffers from an unknown disease and is bedridden. David is often asleep but is occasionally lucid.

David wants to know if he will be recognized.  Simón says, as a hero?  Of course.  But first you will have to do the deeds that will get you remembered.  That way someone will write a book about you.

David asks if he has done anything and Simón assures him that he saved Simón and Inés. He also says that some of the good deeds that David did he did with the aid of Don Quixote. (more…)

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june2020SOUNDTRACK: HADESTOWN-Tiny Desk Concert #977 (June 1, 2020).

hades

It’s unusual for a Tiny Desk blurb to tell us when the Tiny Desk happened.  Sometimes there are clues, but this blurb tells us straight out it happened on March 2, in “the Before-Times.”

Which you can tell because there are “16 performers bunch[ed] up behind the desk, singing formidably in close proximity as a large crowd gathers just off camera.”

I’ve never heard of Hadestown, but it sounds pretty interesting.  Evidently it is a Tony-nominated hit musical.

They’d wanted to get this Tiny Desk done, but kept running into delays until they finally managed to coordinate when “playwright Anaïs Mitchell–who wrote both the musical and the 2010 folk opera on which it’s based–was eight months pregnant.”  She also plays guitar and sings.

This is a “five-song distillation of a robust and impeccably staged Broadway production.”

A raucous full-cast tone-setter, “Way Down Hadestown” lets Hermes the messenger (André De Shields, in a role that won him a Tony–he also plays the train whistle) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable, filling in for Amber Gray) set the scene.  I love that Marable is acting (with her face) while listening to Hermes sing.  The song is a kind of piano-based rag song (played by Liam Robinson who later plays accordion) until midway when the whole band kicks in with a muted trombone solo from Brian Drye (who also plays glockenspiel!).

The musical is really about two loves stories: Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone.

A medley of “Come Home With Me” and “Wedding Song” finds Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) meeting and falling in love.

Gentle guitar from Ilusha Tsinadze opens as Orpheus sings his (comical) lyrics.

A singer , huh?
I also play the lyre.
Oh a liar and a player too.

As the song builds, strings are added from Megan Gould (violin) and Malcolm Parson (cello) and a pulsing upright bass from Chris Tordini.

“When the Chips Are Down” showcases the three Fates — spirits who often drive the characters’ motivations — as played by Jewelle Blackman (who also plays accordion), Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (who also plays violin) and Kay Trinidad (who also plays percussion).

It opens with some interesting picked and harmonic’d guitar and a bouncy piano and a funky off kilter beat (and percussion) from Ben Perowsky.  Liam Robinson also get s a fun piano solo.

In “Flowers,” Eurydice looks back with regret and resignation on her decision to leave Orpheus for the promise of Hadestown.

Mitchell herself plays guitar and sings the opening and then lets Eva take over vocals.

Finally, the set concludes with “Why We Build the Wall,” which quickly became Hadestown‘s most talked-about number. (Mitchell wrote it a full decade before the 2016 election, but you’d never know it.) Though the song includes the full cast, it’s also a show-stopping showcase for the sonorous thunder of Patrick Page, who performs with a gravity befitting the king of the underworld.

It opens with two acoustic guitars playing a slightly discordant melody. Page’s deep voice is incredible.  It’s a call and response song that is remarkably prescient:

The enemy is poverty and the wall keeps out the enemny and we build the wall to keep us free.

I don’t know what will happen to Broadway after the virus is gone, but it would be a shame to lose a show like this.

[READ: June 4, 2020] “Still Life”

This is an excerpt from Oates’ new novel Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.  The blurb tells what the story is about but this excerpt seems like the beginning of the story and context rather impacts the way you think about what you’re reading.

The story is about John Earle “Whitey” McClaren.  He is sixty-seven and is in the hospital trying to piece together what happened.  I feel like not knowing the reason he is in the hospital would make this story more compelling.  But having just the except without context would make the excerpt far less interesting.  So I won’t spoil.

He tries to explain what’s happening, but he can’t talk.  He realizes he’s not even breathing on his own. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAUGHTER OF SWORDS-Tiny Desk Concert #971 (April 29, 2020).

Alexandra Sauser-Monnig is part of Mountain Man (who did a Tiny Desk Concert some time ago).  Daughter of Swords is her solo project.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is just as quiet and delicate as Mountain Man but with a little more instrumentation.

Though she’s joined by a full band here, Daughter of Swords was originally envisioned as a solo project for Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. … With a few hushed folk songs, the music was so eerily still, you could have heard a phone vibrate.

This has to be one of the quietest four-piece bands ever on Tiny Desk.

As “Long Leaf Pine” begins, all you hear is a low rumble–the floor tom from Joe Westerlund.  Then Alexandra Sauser-Monnig begins singing quietly.  Maia Friedman supplies soft backing vocals from time to time.  Sauser-Monnig sings high and quiet and amazingly hits and even higher note before the end.

I like the sound of “Shining Woman” more. I think Alex Bingham’s bass stands out a bit more.  Or maybe it’s because Friedman plays an electric guitar accompaniment.  This song starts with a smattering of interesting percussion from Westerlund and while it is in no way loud, it moves faster than the previous song.

When Mountain Man was here, they talked about breakfast food.  Alexandra reprises that by asking what people had for breakfast.  Answers: a banana, a soft-boiled egg.  Alexandra had a green smoothie and goes on about the large piece of toast she had.  She doesn’t normally eat bread and this felt crazy to her [that should tell you all you need to know about Sauser-Monnig].  Bassist Alex Bingham says, “wild day so far.”

For the final song, “Prairie Winter Wasteland” Friedman plays the guitar to start this song–quietly ringing electric guitar.  There’s an interesting bass line from Bingham on this song and Westerlnd is using a small whisk brush on the cymbals.

[READ: April 20, 2020] “Ride or Die”

This is an excerpt from the novel The Last Taxi Driver.

Set in Mississippi, this excerpt follows a cab driver with one fare, a man just released from prison.

He says they never tell him what they were in for, only that they just got out.

This man–white dude, mid-thirties, a few missing teeth, a few prison tats–is in a fantastic mood.  He’s carrying a twelve-pack of Bud Light and asks to go to the Bethune Woods Project.

The driver says he didn’t even know these projects existed before he started driving a cab.  Most of the other cab companies shun the projects.  He knows that Uber is coming to town “I’ve never used an Uber and don’t understand how that works”), and he assumed they will shun the projects too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RODRIGO Y GABRIELA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #15 (April 28, 2020).

The only thing better than seeing Rodrigo y Gabriela live (which is amazing) is getting to see them up close just to be even more amazed by what they can do.

The Mexican duo known as Rodrigo y Gabriela travel the globe playing to crowds who are captivated by their almost telepathic acoustic guitar interplay. But they make their home in Mexico in a sunny Pacific beach town called Zihuatanejo (remember The Shawshank Redemption?). For this performance we get a peek at their home studio, where they surround themselves with guitars and dress down in sneakers and casual clothes. They run through tunes from throughout their recorded history, including a song they played at the Tiny Desk back in 2009. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s picking and strumming feel more relaxed than usual but maintains their intense focus.

“Tamacun” and “Diablo Rojo” come from their album Rodrigo y Gabriela (2006).  Rodrigo plays the amazing and catchy leads and it’s terrific to watch him.  But I think that Gabriela with her unconventional and at times mind-blowing rhythm section that is even better to watch.  I never quite know what she’s doing with her right hand.  Is she specifically hitting different strings with different fingers, or is it just an elaborate strum?

The percussive sound they both get on “Diablo Rojo” is fantastic.  That they can keep the song interesting while just hitting their guitars is so cool.

“Hanuman” is from the album 11:11.  Each song on that album is a tribute to an artist who has inspired them.  This is a tribute to Carlos Santana (whom they met after this song was released).

“Mettavolution” is the title track from their newest album.  I love that they are album to write so many instrumentals with just two acoustic guitars and have them all sound so different.  Near the end of this one Rodrigo says that normally they ask people to sing along (woah oh ohs), but since there’s no crowd, maybe you’ll sing along at home.

It’s hard not to.

[READ: April 25, 2020] “No. 13 Baby”

This is an excerpt from Barry’s novel Night Boat to Tangier.

I have mixed reactions to Barry’s stories.  I usually like the details, but sometimes the the overall story is too intense (I don’t especially like stories about drug dealers) .

Set in the Plaza de la Constitución in Spain, Maurice Hearne is waiting for someone. The man arrives and says Maurice needs to pay half of the money first before he can meet Karima.  Then the man tells him that he should have his head examined: Just forget these people, go back to Ireland and have some kiddies.

He called home to Cynthia to assure her that everything was going to be okay.  Then he went to meet Karima. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLDPLAY-Tiny Desk Concert #957 (March 9, 2020).

Once, long ago, a Tiny Desk Concert was for a quiet, presumably up and coming band to play a short show for an internet audience.

Then there was Lizzo and Taylor Swift and now Coldplay (I’m actually not sure if Coldplay or Taylor Swift is actually bigger).  But what makes it fun when a huge band does this is that they have an opportunity to do something very different.

For this Tiny Concert, Coldplay was reduced to just singer (and keyboardist) Chris Martin and guitarist Jonny Buckland (bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion were “hiding under the desk” because it was so tiny.  But Coldplay was also expanded with the addition of the For Love Choir: Denise Green; Shaneka Hamilton; Dorian Holley; Stephen Mackey; Lamarcus Eldridge; Lawrence Young; Surrenity Xyz; Tiffany Smith and Mabvuto Carpenter.

Watching Martin at the keys, with the For Love Choir behind him and Coldplay guitarist Jonny Buckland at his side, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the happiest day of his life. Laughing, bouncing to the music and playing off the crowd, Martin and company gave one of the most jubilant, uplifting and memorable performances we’ve ever had at the Tiny Desk.

I’m not sure it’s the most memorable, but it is certainly fun watching Chris Martin (who the rest of the time seems very serious) laugh and smile and joke his way through the set (while being musically spot on).

It’s a bit unfortunate, to me, that Coldplay did this show after their newest album, Everyday Life, from which I haven’t heard a thing (which is crazy since most of their other stuff is so overplayed).

The first song, “Cry Cry Cry” features the choir, but to me the “Cry Cry” of the chorus sounds so much like Janis Joplin “Cry Baby” I can’t get past it.

I also had to laugh that the crowd was responsive to this song (and the other two songs from the new album), but they went berserk for “Viva La Vida.”  And as as he plays those notes and starts singing it becomes really clear that this is Coldplay.  I didn’t really notice Buckland on the first song, but he adds some nice guitar moments to this one.  Everyone lives the choir for these songs, but I feel like their backing lines are not right for the verses.  Their oohs and ahhs are nice though and the end “woah oh ohs” are really splendid with all of those voices.

Martin jokes that he was happy to step inside the internet to be on the Tiny Desk and to see that Bob is a real person.  Then he shouts out everyone in the choir without looking (I didn’t realize they’d been playing together for a while, otherwise I was really impressed that he could remember that many names so easily).

The choir is prominent on “Broken” and Martin joked that, “In a very real way, they’ve Photoshopped our songs to be much better than they actually are.”

As the song fades out he starts playing the opening to Prince’s “1999.”  How unexpected.  Each of the singers in the choir takes a line or two and everyone is really into it.  It sounds great.

They end with “Champion Of The World.”  Martin says that after releasing the new album, they stayed in semi-hibernation.  But this Tiny Desk is pure and wonderful and makes us remember that this is why we do what we do,

Even if they only played one song I would have wanted them to play, it’s still a very positive and joy-filled show.

[READ: March 29, 2020] “Here and There”

McCann has written a novel called Apeirogon which is a fictionalized account of the lives of Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli.  Aramin’s ten-year-old daughter, Abir, was killed by an Israeli soldier.  Elhana’s 13-year old daughter, Smadar, was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber.

This excerpt only looks at Rami’s story.

Smadar had her grandfather’s watch on her wrist when she was killed.  It was still running.  She made sure to wind that watch every night lest it signal that her other grandfather Yitzak had died during the night too.

Smadar and her grandfather were buried side by side under a grove of knotted carob trees. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAPHAEL SAADIQ-Tiny Desk Concert #920/Tiny Desk Fest October 31, 2019 (December 5, 2019).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 31st was R&B night featuring Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq did a Tiny Desk Concert in 2009 and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  It was a stripped down show–more acoustic than R&B and I was really impressed with his guitarist Rob Bacon.  I either forgot or didn’t know that he “lit the fuse for soul’s popular revival as the lead for Tony! Toni! Tone!”

Well, Bacon is still with him and he is the highlight of this set for me.

This was  the final Tiny Desk Fest show and it runs just over 30 minutes, with Saadiq playing seven songs.

“I’m Feeling Love” is slow and sexy with some quiet wah wah (from Bacon and Saadiq) guitar running through it.  I rather enjoyed this part

I live my life like Willy Wonka
It’s that TV Edith Bunker
Uncle Fred and Jimmy Walker
George Jefferson had that walk

After this first song Saadiq brings out a special person.  After a big introduction it turns out to be Lucky Daye (whom I’ve never heard of) although the blurb says he is a “rising soul singer and songwriter.”

They sing Saadiq’s song “Be Here.”  I liked Saadiq’s voice last time but I found Lucky Daye’s voice to be way too poppy for my taste.  But this song features some funky slap bass DaQuantae “Q” Johnson and cool synths from Daniel Crawford.  Without question, though, the highlight is Rob Bacon’s ripping guitar solo.

Up next is my favorite song of the set.  It’s called “This World Is Drunk” (and the people are mad).  It is slow and pretty, with thoughtful lyrics.  I like the story telling better than the macking.

Lucky Daye comes back out and they’re going to do two of his songs. He says he wants to sing “Call,” but Saadiq says No, let’s do “Love You Too Much” first.  Daye sings and I really don’t think much of this R&B ballad.

I like “Call” better because Bacon switches to acoustic guitar and there some nice percussion (rim shots) from Alvin Ford.  I feel like this song is a bit less poppy and more interesting.

Before the last song Saadiq jokes about when he played there ten years ago: “it was really a tiny desk.”

“And honestly we were kinda complaining about it,” Saadiq laughs, recalling that performance in 2009, back when hosting intimate little concerts behind Bob Boilen’s desk was still a fledgling idea at NPR Music. “Like, we kinda didn’t wanna do it,” he admits in hindsight. It wasn’t until the video-taped version of his set hit the Internet and began picking up views that the lightbulb went off for Saadiq, too. “It’s like probably the biggest streaming I ever had, so it’s kinda good to be back — not kinda good; it’s really good to be back.”

The final song, “Still Ray” was inspired by southern marching bands… black colleges.  I didn’t go to one of those and my school did not have a marching band.  But one day I was gonna put a tuba in my song and it was gonna be the main thing in the song.  They asked where the hook?  The hook is the tuba!

Brent Gossett comes out (technically with a sousaphone) and I really like this song a lot.  He’s right, the tuba is the hook.  Near the end of the song he cuts out the music:  Just me and the tuba.  I’ve been waiting for this my whole life!

I still prefer his 2009 set, but there’s no denying Saadiq’s charisma.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Spellbound”

This is an excerpt from the novel Hurricane Season translated by Sophie Hughes.

This except opens with an estate, agent saying that the woman never really died, even though her body was found in the irrigation cancel. They say she changed shape as she was being stabbed.  Perhaps she was a bunny or a lizard or bird.

But once her body was found people were quick to break into her house to see if they could find treasure.

The say Rigorito and his men broke down walls and dug up the floors. They even broke down the door of the Old Witch in the back of the room–where the Old Witch’s mummy lay preserved.  The mummy crumbled in front of them and those men fled town never to return.

That’s what some people say. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THOR HARRIS, DUMB NUMBERS-“Carol of the Tubular Bells” (2019).

I really like Joyful Noise Records.  They release some really beautiful music as well as some really out there stuff.  They are the home of Kishi Bashi and Ohmme as well as a number of other terrific bands. But they also release lots of noisy chaotic bands (call it joyful noise perhaps).

For 2018 they released JNR Holiday Party, Vol. 2 and eclectic bunch of holiday songs.

This song was recorded by Thor Harris & Dumb Numbers with David Yow, Ohmme, and CJ Boyd.

Thor Harris is, well, his Wikpedia page says he is “an artist, sculptor, musician, painter, carpenter and handyman.”  Musically he is a composer and percussionist who plays every instrument in the universe (on his last album he was credited with marimba, flute, vibraphone, voice, organ, duduk, tubular bells, gongs ,etc.”

Dumb Numbers is the project Adam Harding whose musical style has been described as doom, sludge, and “swooning feedback pop.”  He has worked with all kinds of people including David Yow, singer of The Jesus Lizard.

That’s the background for this nearly three minutes of bizarreness.

The song starts with a toy piano playing Carol of the Bells.  Soon enough, OHMME sing beautifully the actual song, including the ding dong ding dong.  Meanwhile the counterpoint vocals (normally “Hark how the bells, Sweet silver bells…”) features David You singing “Don’t go insane, don’t go insane” to that melody.

That’s all that Yow sings, over and over for nearly 3 minutes.  And he clearly starts to go a little insane.  His vice fades to a whisper, turns into a rant, and sometimes even gets back on track to the timing.  Meanwhile OHMME sounds really beautiful.

Around 2 minutes in, Yow seems to have lost it entirely, mumbling incoherently until he screams “look out mama, there’s a….”

OHMME stop singing and then the melody of “Carol of the Bells” suddenly morphs into Mike Oldfields’ “Tubular Bells” and the song takes on a whole new tone.

As the song fades Yow screams “Faaaaaaaaalllllllll on your knees.”

This is the song you play when you want everyone to leave your Christmas party.

You can watch Yow sing over the backing track here.

[READ: December 16, 2019] “Show Me Your Dantes”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth 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

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

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.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story was delightfully surreal.  I am very intrigued that it is an excerpt from an upcoming novel which is the second of a trilogy about  character named Prin.  Initially I thought Prin was a woman, because, why not.  But that was quickly settled, when it was obvious Prin was a forty-year old man.

The excerpt starts with Prin being interviewed by a Charlie Tracker.  Charlie asks him what he knows about this job and Prin says that if he got the job he would be working with Charlie but would be working for Hugh, Charlie’s son.

The story seemed to be pretty normal–a man getting interviewed–until Charlie says he is impressed that the Prin wore new shoes to the job interview, “most of the professors I’ve met over the years show up in shoes they stole from hobo camps.”  Since I didn’t know when this story was set I didn’t know how literal that was meant to be. (Apparently not at all).

As the interview gets going Charlie offers to let Prin see “the finest private collection of Dante manuscripts and Dante memorabilia in the United States.”   Charlie is a little disappointed that Prin wasn’t more excited about that but Prin says he’d be more excited if he knew what this position was all about.

Charlie gives a lengthy and affecting explanation of how he got into Dante (it had to do with the Vietnam war and a very disturbing scene).  We also learn about Charlie’s business background and how he succeeded after the war. (more…)

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92000SOUNDTRACK: U.N.K.L.E.-“Ar.Mour” (2019).

armourHaving learned that U.N.K.L.E. had not only been making music all of these years but even put out a new album this year, I thought I’d listen to something new and see what it was like.

I chose “Ar.Mour” because James Lavelle described it as a sci-fi beat jam.  It features vocals from Elliott Power and Miink.

A pulsing beat opens this five minute song.  Some deep echoing drums come in and slowly add tension and then after about a minute the slow trip-hop drum beat begins. Then a simple guitar line comes in and around two minutes voices swirl up from underneath.  There is definite sci-fi feel to the song.

The song seems to fade out around 2 and half minutes before picking up again and just when you think the whole song is an instrumental the vocals come in.  There’s a deep voice followed by a repeating higher voice.  Then there’s a rap.  All of the voices are enveloped in a soft echo, making the words hard to hear.

The end of the song has a catchy vocal melody as the whole song builds with all of the parts melding together.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Nelson and Annabelle” (Part 2)

I’m still not sure if this is a two-part, long short story or if it is an excerpt from a novel.

What was kind of strange was that this whole story was utterly chock full of details as if it were a novel, and yet the ending just sped through and finished up with a kind of epilogue tacked on.

This part starts at Thanksgiving dinner.  Nelson has invited Annabelle to his mother’s house for dinner with the family.  The family includes his mother’s new(ish) husband Ronnie and a bunch of Ronnie’s closest relations.

The conversation is cordial until they start talking politics.  Everybody hates Clinton and they are angry that Hillary might run for office in New York.  It was not enjoyable rehashing the political arguments from twenty years ago, but I was fascinated at how much the things they said about him could easily be applied to trump and I wondered if these fictional people were now pro- or anti- trump.

…he lied to us, the American people.  He said it right out on television….

…he’s a draft dodger.  If I were a soldier I’d tell him to stuff his orders….

He makes me ashamed of being an American he makes America look ridiculous.  Drowning us in sleaze and then flying around all over the world as if nothing whatsoever has happened. Its so brazen.

He makes Nixon look like a saint.  At least Nixon had the decency to get out of our faces.  He could feel shame.

Its the sleaze. What are children supposed to think.  What do you tell the Boy Scouts?

As people get drunker, Ronnie, who has been against Annabelle since she showed up tells her to her face that “You’re your mother’s daughter alright… She’d fuck anybody…  It must feel funny being the illegitimate daughter of hooer and a bum.”

Nelson takes Annabelle and leaves the house and swears he will never set foot in it again.

Next we met one of Nelson’s oldest friends, Billy.  Billy is now an oral surgeon and very rich.  He calls up Nelson and invites him out for dinner to catch up. They have a nice time so when New Year’s Eve comes around–the Y2K New Years–Nelson invites Billy out with him and Annabelle.

Also in town are Nelson’s ex-wife, Pru, and their son.  Their daughter, who is 20, decided to go somewhere else with her boyfriend.  Nelson is bummed about the visit.  He wanted to see his daughter and he imagined that they would all stay with him.

Pru is pleased that he finally moved out of his parents house (the two of them lived in his parents’ house when they were married), but she doesn’t want to stay in his new cramped place.

For New Years Eve, Nelson Pru and Billy plan to go out.  Nelson invites Annabelle to come with them–what else is she doing?

They go for dinner (Billy uses his pull as a n oral surgeon to get them a seat at a crowded restaurant) and a movie.  They see American Beauty and have lots to say about it–it’s fascinating how racist and homophobic these men are.

Annabelle and Billy hit it off.  Nelson didn’t intend for that to happen, but it did.  In fact, in the car, it sounds like maybe he can hear the zipper of her dress being undone a little.

They decide to spend the last minutes of 1999 at a club.  But as they head downtown, the streetlights go out.  Is it a terrorist attack (in central Pennsylvania?)

With the traffic lights out, Nelson thinks people will take turns through the intersection.  But when a jerk in an SUV tries to cut him off, Nelson guns it, making the SUV screech to a halt.

For the first time all night Pru is really nice to him, “Oh honey, that was great, the way you made that asshole chicken out.  I think I wet my pants.”  As they drive further Pru whispers that she might stay at his place tonight after all.

The epilogue is satisfying, if you care about these characters.  Which I kind of do.  I definitely wonder if there’s more to their story or if this was just Updike’s way of capping off the full Rabbit saga

 

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10222000SOUNDTRACK: U.N.K.L.E.–“Rabbit in Your Headlights” (1998).

unkleI was looking for a “rabbit” song to include with this story and I remembered this one from U.N.K.L.E., an album I had completely forgotten about.

In fact, I had forgotten all about U.N.K.L.E. and was surprised to read that not only was the album Psyence Fiction not a one off, but that he (James Lavelle) has been releasing music up until now.

A slow, mournful piano plays a two chord melody as Thom Yorke sings his best Thom Yorke.  Thumping electronic drums slowly build from nothing and then a spare bass line which seems to circle the piano is added.

After two minutes, the music drops out leaving just a piano and a spoken middle section.  The drums slowly build back and then Yorke begins singing again. As Yorke’s voice soars and soars the song feels like it’s going to end (at five minutes)  but it hits a crescendo moment and then drifts back in to a chill trip-hop beat as the noirish piano fades out.

This song came out after O.K. Computer but before Kid A, and the trip-hop beats sure nod to where Radiohead would be going.

I’m glad to know that trip- hop is still hanging in there and I’ll have to check out some of the other U.N.K.L.E. albums.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Nelson and Annabelle” (Part 1)

I have never read any of John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels.  I always meant to.  In fact, I owned a copy of the Updike Rabbit book that was always remaindered.  But I wanted to start with the first one and just never got around to it.

I feel like now it’s too late to read them.  I imagine that the stories are retrograde and old -fashioned and that I won’t appreciate the protagonists or the attitudes.  In fact, this story, which I enjoyed parts of, has some pretty unpleasant attitudes about women.

I initially felt I would have enjoyed this story more had I read the Rabbit books since the subtitle here is “the two children of Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom meet at last.”  There’s a lot of character introduction in the beginning–ex-husbands, ex-wives, lovers, children.  But once it settled in, I found it interesting and then re-read the first two pages to get everything straightened out.

So, in brief, Harry (Rabbit) was married to Janice.  They had a son, Nelson.  Harry died and Janice married Ronnie. Ronnie knew Harry for most of his life, but they seem to be somewhat antagonistic.

This story opens with the new that Harry slept with a woman, Ruth, and maybe have been the father of Ruth’s daughter, Annabelle.  Turns out Ronnie also slept with Ruth (before Harry did) and Ronnie describes her as the Brewer town whore.  Harry had also slept with Ronnie’s first wife (there’s a lot of convoluted infidelity going on). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ANGELUS-“The Young Birds” (2019).

Every once in a while I like to check in with Viking’s Choice on NPR’s All Songs Considered.  Lars Gottrich specializes in all of the obscure music that you won’t hear on radio.  For this month, he did a special focus on Patient Sounds. a small label based out of Illinois.

[UPDATE: At the end of 2019, Patient Sounds closed shop. I’m not sure if any of these songs are available outside of Bandcamp].

Lars had this to say about the label

Matthew Sage, who runs the label, knows that dynamic drone, jittery footwork, oddball drone-folk, hypnagogic guitar music and cosmic Americana can exist in the same space.

The second song of the week is by The Angelus.  Lars describes the song:

Redemption often comes at the hands of something bigger than yourself, but as The Angelus’ soul-rattling doom-gaze reminds us, the love of young children will make you humble.

This song starts with crashing heavy chords–cymbals and loud guitars.  But then it settles down to a groovy death riff.  The surprise to me was when the singer began singing.  He has a soft melodic voice which totally changes this from a heavy dark song into a kind of melodic slow heavy song.  The chorus is surprisingly heavy and even ends on a kind of positive mood.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Class Picture”

This story surprised me because it started

Robert Frost made his visit in November of 1960, just a week after the general election.  It tells you something about our school that the prospect of his arrival cooked up more interest than the contest between Nixon and Kennedy.

If Nixon had been at their school, they would have glued his shoes to the floor.

This is quite a lengthy story and there are a lot of components.  Wolff fleshes out this school very well.  So well, in fact, that I could see this being developed into a novel [It is actually an excerpt from a novel]. Although for the purposes of this story, the plot is dealt with fully.

It also makes me wonder if such a school could actually exist.  Certainly not in 2020, but even in 1960?  Because this school exhibited pride in being a literary institution. Glamorous writers visited three times a year and the English masters carried themselves as if they were intimates of Hemingway.  The teachers of other subjects (math, science) seemed to float around the fringe of the English masters’ circle.

The tradition at the school was that one boy would be chosen to meet the famous author who was coming next.  This year it is Robert Frost.  Each boy would submit an entry (in the case of Frost it would be poetry).  The author himself would select the winner.  And these meetings were a big deal to everyone on campus.

The narrator is very excited but he knows that his poems are subpar–he writes fiction.  He was on the school’s literary magazine board so he was familiar with the other great writers in his class.  There were three.

George Kellogg was a proficient writer of poetry, although the narrator found the boring.

Bill White was the narrator’s roommate.  He’d written most of a novel already and his poems were impressive.

Jeff Purcell was the third.  He was also on the literary magazine and was quick to dismiss others.  Could that translate to his own writing?

The one detour from the poetry angle is about smoking.  The school forbade smoking but a lot of boys did anyway.  The narrator said he loved smoking.  He smoked in storage closets and freezers, steam tunnels and bathrooms.  He even went out for cross-country so he could smoke while running in the woods.

If you were caught smoking you were expelled.  It happened every once in awhile.  A person was sent home just before the Frost Poem deadline.  This made the narrator quit smoking on campus.

The narrator wrote a poem for the occasion but he didn’t think it was good enough.  So he decided to submit an older one on the off chance that Frost liked it.

I won’t spoil the winner, but Frost did come to the school and he read some of his poems aloud.  During the Q&A that followed a master asked a question.  Interestingly he misstated the title of the poem.  He called it “Stopping in Woods” which Frost corrected instantly to “Stopping by Woods on a  Snowy Evening”  The master continued the question asking about iambic lines  Frost says “Good for you, they must be teaching you boys something here.”

The boys all laughed and Frost seemed pleased–had he made a mistake about the master or had he known all along?  The boys were surprised to learn later that Frost was quite funny.

The end of the story shows the winner of the contest questioning the value of his poem.  He felt that Frost mis-read it and that perhaps he won for the wrong reasons.  Should he blow off Robert Frost?  Is he crazy?

I really enjoyed this piece and found myself thoroughly engaged.  If this is part of a novel, I would be very curious to read it.  Turns out it is an excerpt from the novel Old School.

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