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Archive for the ‘Funny (strange)’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ARLO PARKS-Tiny Desk Concert #80 (September 15, 2020).

I had never heard of Arlo Parks before this set and then today Spotify recommended her album to me.  How about that.

Arlo Parks was born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho in London.

She began writing poetry and songs because (according to her short bio) she spent her high school days “feeling like that Black kid in school who couldn’t dance for s***, listening to too much emo music and crushing on the girl in Spanish class.”

Accompanied by a guitar from her home in London, Parks opens with her latest single, “Hurt”, followed by the three songs that introduced her to the world and remind us that we really aren’t alone.

All of her songs sound similar in style–very gentle guitar and her soft, eloquent vocals.

“Hurt” is filled with nice details like

Charlie melts into his mattress
Watching Twin Peaks on his ones
Then his fingers find a bottle
When he starts to miss his mum

There’s a nice spoken word part–she has a lovely singing voice, but I enjoyed hearing her speaking voice as well.

It’s funny to hear a 19 year-old talk about introspection and reading through her “old journals.”  Especially since the next song, “Cola” is the first song she ever put out–way back in November 2018.

Playing “Cola” makes her reflect on the journey she;s had and what’s next to come.  It’s another pretty, gentle song with lots of specific details.

“Eugene” explores blurring the lines between romance and friendship.  It’s one of her favorite songs that she’s written.  It’s got a simple but really engaging guitar melody.

I had a dream we kissed
And it was all amethyst
The underpart of your eyes was violet
You hung a cigarette between your purple lips
We’ve been best buds since thirteen
I hold head back when you’re too lean
I hold the Taco Bell and you cried over Eugene

“Black Dog” is one of the most emotional songs she’s written.  It’s about mental health and has gotten a very string response from people.  Her voice is so tender, so delicate.  It’s quite lovely.

[READ: September 30, 2019] Personae

I really enjoyed De La Pava’s first and third books but somehow I missed this one, which is quite unlike the other two.  It is several hundred pages shorter and has far less of a narrative.  While the other books are chock full of details, this one feels like he was deliberately leaving things out.

Part 1 is called Our Heroine and begins with Detective Helen Tame.  She is the author of this report: “this Department is obsessed with reports and I am not; if I had to cop to any obsession it would be with the Truth.”

She is amusingly no nonsense.  When addressing a police officer on the case she says:

“You can go now,” I add, but he hesitates.  “That means leave in Etiquette.”

She is writing this report because she has found a dead body–a bloody dead body.  “He is more than century old; was.”  The victim an 111-year-old Colombian writer named Antonio Arce. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENEVENTO/RUSSO DUO-Play Pause Stop (2006).

This is the final release (so far) by the Benevento/Russo Duo.  There were two earlier ones that have not be reissued yet.  This follows in a similar style to the previous one, with great drumming and a wonderfully full sound from Benevento’s keys.

This album featured 9 songs and this reissue includes five live bonus tracks.  There’s a few shorter songs (under three minutes), but most are longer.  Like the title track, “Play Pause Stop” which is almost 8 minutes long.  It starts as a slow pretty melody with a lots of distortion on the keys.  There’s vocals on this track, but it still counts as an instrumental because the only words are whoa whoa–a happy inclusion for the chorus.

“Echo Park” is one of the shorter songs. It starts with simple piano melody and distorted washes of sound.  It turns into a super catchy, bouncy song.  Similarly, “Soba” starts slow and moody and turns into a rocking rager.

“Best Reason To Buy The Sun” features a lot of wild drumming.  It’s bookeneded by a pretty keyboard.  “Powder” opens with a pretty, staccato guitar melody.  The credits online don’t say who is playing the guitar.  The melody is looped as backwards solos are added.  It’s one of the trippier songs on the record until “Hate Frame” later on.

“Something For Rockets” opens like a Flaming Lips song with soaring chords.  It shifts to a singsong melody on the keys and then returns to the soaring melody.   The best title on the record is clearly “Walking, Running, Viking.”  It’s only 3 minutes long–a simple melody with a catchy solo near the end.

“Hate Frame: is 8 minutes long. It’s centered around a pulsing that sounds like an alarm followed by a rumbling bass.  By the middle of the song the music has turns utterly trippy, shooting off in all directions until it comes crashing back down with some fast frenetic drums.  The disc ends with “Memphis,” a slow loping song that sounds like it would work for a Western.

The bonus tracks are live versions of “Echo Park,” “Soba,” Walking, Running, Viking,” and “Something for Rockets” which all sound like jamming versions of the original.  The biggest change comes in the live version of “Play Pause Stop.”  It runs to nearly eleven minutes and stars with several minutes of noise and nonsense.  It’s surprising how long the noise goes on–they must have been having a blast.

[READ: August 31. 2020] Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come

I bought this book for my son on a whim.  It was his birthday and the title made me laugh.  Now, he’s not much of a reader these days and it’s pretty unlikely that he would read a book like this, anyhow.  I knew when I bought it that if he didn’t read it I would certainly give it a go.

I thought that this book was going to be a funny look at an introvert going out and having a hilariously awkward time at various events.  I assumed it was comic essays.  Boy was I wrong.  This is, as the subtitle says, a book about Jessica Pan’s decision to start doing things.  This may not sound that compelling and when I first realized what the book was, I was a little disappointed–I wanted funny essays.  But then I read on about the things she actually said “yes” to and the book became inspiring (even if I’ll never do the things she did).

Pan starts out by saying that she doesn’t think anyone needs to be “cured” (introvert extrovert or otherwise).  But that she was unhappy and wanted to make a change.

Then she divides people in to two categories–those who would happily go to the Glastonbury festival and those who watch it on TV as if it was a horror show.  Obviously, as a painfully shy introvert she would not be going to Glastonbury.

Nearly one third of the population identify as introverts–people who gain their energy from being alone.  Meanwhile, extroverts get their energy from being around other people.   But there are two other parameters: shy and outgoing.  Some introverts can be confident in groups or when giving a presentation–they just can’t take the stimulation of large crwds for extended periods of time.  Then there are other like her who are shy as well–this is what she felt was making her miss out on things. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ROCK & ROLL DUBBLE BUBBLE TRADING CARD CO. OF PHILADELPHIA-19141 – “Bubble Gum Music” (1968).

19141I thought it was a very clever idea posting about bubblegum music for this book.  If only I had known how much music was actually mentioned in the book and, ultimately, how inappropriate these songs are to the book–in tone and content.

However, I have really enjoyed discovering some of these songs that i’d never heard of before.  Like this one.

This might be may favorite bubblegum song of all.  In addition to being catchy (obviously) with a simple swinging horn melody, the lyrics are hilariously self-referential.

A bubblegum song about bubblegum songs which mentions some of the most popular bubblegum songs.

Since most of the bubblegum songs were written by the same few people (under different band names), it’s very likely that they are singing about some of their own songs.

The stupidly catchy chorus:

Give me more, more, more Of that bubble gum music
Makes me feel so good Oh, I never want to lose it
Let me dance, dance, dance To that bubble gum music
If you really want to turn me on

which is of course repeated about ten times.

But then come the lyrics which mention a while bunch of bubblegum hits

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wonder what she`s doin`
While the Monkees are singing for Valleri
Simon says take you down to LuLu`s
You`re gonna feel yummy, yummy, yummy

The second verse is even funnier because it turns into a kind of diss track

Well the Grateful Dead just leave me cold (ooo!)
And Herbie Alpert makes me feel too o-old (feel too old)
I can groove to rhythm and blues (rhythm and blues)
But if I had to choose, if I had to choose If I had to choose,

All of this wrapped up in one of the most ridiculously lengthy band names ever.

Spectacular.

[READ: June 29, 2020] Bubblegum Week 8

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

Hitting Back on the Brickhorse

With this week, the book comes to an end and I can’t help but feel disappointed by the ending.  At some point a few years ago I realized that endings are often the worst part of a book.  Endings can’t ever do what the reader really hopes will happen, especially if the reader has a different idea of what the book is doing.  I must have had a very different idea of what this book was a bout because I left that last page with so many questions–questions that Levin clearly had no intention of answering.

Like what if the entire book from after Belt gets his cure until the very end is all in his head.  He is just crazy and none of these things happened.  There are no cures.  Everything that seems off about his world is because his perception is skewed.  He has the wrong date and perpetrator of 9/11.  He misunderstands The Matrix, he believes he was given hundreds of thousands of dollars from the creator of The Matrix.  His father is dating the mother of the wife of an author that he likes.  But really he’s just in Costello house imagining he’ll meet up with Lisette someday.

I don’t really think that’s what happened, but there’s so much left out after the ending, that I have to fill it in somehow.

I was particularly interested in this first section being called AOL.  There has been no real explicit nudge from the author that there is no internet in the book, but this title was clearly a wink at us.  Particularly since Belt doesn’t know what it stands for either. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASENETZ-KATZ SUPER CIRCUS-“Up in the Air” (1968).

katzReading about bubblegum music has led me to a fascinating trove of information.  Like that most of the songs were written by two guys who “created” many of the bands.  Most of these bands have a revolving cast live but had the same band on record.  The two creators were Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz.

In 1968, Kasenetz and Katz created a “supergroup” which consisted of members of their “Super K Production.”

Their first album was hilarious, because according to the inner gatefold cover’s liner notes, the “supergroup” consisted of 46 members. However, the album cover itself only shows 33 members (plus Kasenetz and Katz in tuxedos) while the individual inner cover photos total 37 (excluding the non-existent St. Louis Invisible Marching Band, whose photo is represented by a white block). To add to the confusion of the actual number of participants, the LP package came with a page of stamps with each member of the “supergroup”, including their names and the individual group he or she represents. The members of The Teri Nelson Group (except Teri Nelson herself) are shown as INVISIBLE BAND on the stamps. Side 2 opens up with Music Explosion leader Jamie Lyons announcing the individual members of the newer or lesser-known groups. Some of the names mentioned do not coincide with the members shown on the stamps.

Hilarious and crazy.  This song “Up in the Air” comes from the supergroup’s second album in a year.  They renamed it “Kasenetz-Katz Super Circus” and the roster was reduced to five groups: The 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express and Music Explosion, with the other groups replaced by Shadows Of Knight (who had just been acquired by Super K and signed to Buddah’s Team label) and White Whale label group Professor Morrison’s Lollipop (formerly the Coachmen of Nebraska). Despite these representations, the tracks were actually recorded by studio musicians with lead vocals by Ohio Express lead vocalist Joey Levine.

That’s a lot of setup for an amusing almost novelty song.

There are two different guitar lines. One playing high notes and the other playing a melody).  Thumping bass and drums enter and then the song shifts to a groovy bassline and vocals that seem sped up.  And the lyrics are sort of political.

I don’t read poems by Poe
Look at Palooka Joe
Watch the Ed Sullivan Show
I love Governor Reagan

There isn’t a real chorus, just a repeated final line about Governor Regan (pronounced “Reegan” for some reason–like “Regan,” the King Lear character).

Don’t dig Joe Pepitone (la la la la la)
Or talk on the telephone (la la la la la)
One thing stands all alone
That’s my governor Reagan

Hail, Hail, hail our leader!
[Clavichord solo while backup singers chant “Hail Reagan, Hail to the Chief”]

Reagan was governor of California at the time.  The creator of the site Bubblegum Reviews asks, What is Reagan actually being criticized for here? He hadn’t actually done much to damage American democracy at that time.

Some may say he’s the Gip
Some say he’s lost his grip
I say that he’s a pip
He’s my Governor Reagan

A man who has so much hair
A man that is not all there
A man who just loves the chair
That’s my governor Reagan

More from Bubblegum Reviews:

The song seems to be making fun of him for having an inane persona derived from his good looks and movie career (“he’s the Gip”/”so much hair”).  It also denigrates him for having a feeble intellect or a weak grasp on sanity (“lost his grip”/”not all there”).  His supporters are equally dimwitted: instead of reading poetry, they look at Palooka Joe.

According to Wikipedia, “in Reagan’s campaign, he emphasized two main themes: “‘to send the welfare bums back to work,’ and, in reference to burgeoning anti-war and anti-establishment student protests…’to clean up the mess at Berkeley.’”  In one incident, his actions led to the death of one protester and the blinding of another;

[WHAT?  HOW DID THIS GUY BECOME PRESIDENT?]

later, he sent out the National Guard to occupy Berkeley.  It may have been his anti-protest stance that rankled with Levine et al. — youthful revolt seems to have been something people in the music biz were generally in favor of, even if they weren’t particularly interested in what was being revolted against. This autocratic approach to free speech may also be what’s behind the song’s implication that Reagan demanded unquestioning fealty (“hail, hail, hail the leader”).

How timely.

Is this a bubblegum song?  It’s hard to say for sure.  Kasenetz & Katz wrote most of the biggest bubblegum songs so they knew what they were doing.  Maybe they were trying to branch out.  It’s really nifty. I’ll have to listen to more.

[READ: June 15, 2020] Bubblegum Week 6

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

You Can Be Right and Kind At The Same Time,
or: Why Would You Hate a Part of Speech, Dude?

I was really looking forward to seeing Jonboat again.  He has been this looking figure–billionaire, astronaut, husband of the most beautiful woman in the world, father of Triple J.  And we know very little about him besides that.  And WOW does he make an impression.  Sort of.  Actually, he doesn’t make any impression except on Belt’s psyche.

This section begins with a bit of a misdirection: Belt picking up a magazine at the White Hen because astronaut Jonboat was on the cover. Flipping through, he couldn’t find the article (typical of big glossy magazines) and wound up looking at an article about the famous chef Clem.

Clem (I’m guessing inspired by Emeril?) was eggplant shaped with arms like noodles–he looked like a combination of Ringo Starr and Yasser Arafat–he seemed all wrong and yet he looked fantastic.  This was because everything in the room was custom made just for him.  He was measured for an oven, molds were made of his hands for his knives etc.  Somehow the objectively handsome assistant looked unfit in the room because everything fit Clem.

I love the librarian joke that Pang shouts at him: You think my name is Marian? (and a wonderful discursive joke about this not being a library).  But Belt didn’t buy the magazine because he needed money for Quills.

This is all a set up to say that Jonboat looked in his office as if every inch of it was measured to fit him.

As Belt walks in, Jonboat says “Hey, you,” and holds out his arms for a hug.  It take a second before Belt realizes he’s talking to Fondajane who is next to him.

There’s some playful banter between Jonboat and Fon.  And yet I can’t decide how to read this.  Is Jonboat a pedantic jerk or is he fun and good at teasing?

She says “As the kids say…Now we’ve come to the part where I make my exit.”  I love that Fon either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what the kids actually say.  Jonboat suggests they say, “I guess that’s my cue [to leave].”  But Fon retorts that that was two eras back.  They gave that up for their name and out: “Fondajane: out.”  Jonboat says that he never heard of it: “Jonboat: incredulous.”

When Belt tries to interject into the banter, Burroughs pats his arm to tell him to keep out of it.  As Fondajane leaves she says she has to meet Robbie bin Laden for dinner. This story’s skirting of 9/11 with lines like this is fascinating and I wonder if there will be any kind of payoff, or if it’s just reminders of the slightly-off timeline.

Finally Jonboat turns his attention to Belt.  He gets out his business gear (he is there to sign the contract for Triple J) and Belt notices a cure running on top of a globe.  Jonboat is trying to train it to walk on four feet, but it is disposed to walk on two–a sort of glorious defect.

The cure is really cute.  Even for Belt.  Belt starts to get uneasy–so much so that Burroughs steps in his line of sight to avoid any trouble.  Belt is surprised and dismayed that he didn’t just want to hold it, he wanted to squeeze it–and he imagined in some detail what the experience would have been like. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY-“Goody Goody Gumdrops” (1968).

19101910 Fruitgum Company has a great, bizarre name.  Especially for a band that released such poppy songs.

I thought I knew most of the bubblegum hits just from casual awareness of them.  I was quite surprised how many of these chart-hitting songs I’ve never heard before.

I don’t think I knew this one before, and I quite like it.

The opening verses are quiet, almost dark, with just a chugging guitar and a stomping drumbeat.

It segues into a chorus that is really catchy (of course).  I really like the chord change from “goody goody gumdrops, my heart is doing flip flops” to “gee what love can do.”  It feels like perhaps a minor chord introduction.  There’s even some mildly interesting drum patterns in the middle.

The return of the opening verse brings back a slightly darker mood before the return of the joyful chorus.

It feels like it slightly defies the conventions of the pure bubblegum song.  Maybe that’s why it only got to #37.

[READ: June 15, 2020] Bubblegum Week 6

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

Coffee with Honey

Part IV of the book is called Compound. In it, Belt visits the Jonboat housing compound (they took over most of a cul-de-sac).

There’s a few interesting revelations here, and a remarkably lengthy discussion of a sexual practice that I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed–certainly not at length–in a book before.  But overall this section does what I like best about this book–have lengthy passages that don’t move the plot along but make me laugh at the ideas and the extent to which Levin is willing to stretch out an idea.

Part IV Section 1 is called “New Modes of Fascination.”

As Belt wakes up his pillow is talking to him.  This is new.  Or, not new exactly, but unusual.  Indeed, the pillow is mad because Belt hasn’t talked to it at least six years (and it’s grumpy because of it).  There’s not much more with inans in this section (aside from a false interaction with a bracelet at the compound), but it’s probably important not to forget about them.

One interesting idea that the pillow suggests is that it can talk with books.  Belt wonders why he never talked with books.  Or had he?  Was the book reading the words to him as he held it or did books have other things to say besides the words on the page?  That idea must be tabled for now.

Belt runs into his dad who is standing in the kitchen acting like he’s had a stroke. He’s acting very strangely, frying up a huge pack of bacon and getting grease on a Jonboat shirt.  There’s a nice call back to Belt smashing the frame that held the Jonboat Says t-shirt.  For this is the shirt that Clyde has.  Clyde essentially believes that he blacked out and smashed the frame but doesn’t remember doing it.  he finds this disturbing because he distinctly remembers why he wanted to do it, but is concerned that he blacked out and doesn’t remember that part.  Belt does not put his mind at ease with the truth.

Belt also learns that his father never really liked Jonboat–he wasn’t rubbing it in by buying that T-short–rather it was … overcompensation because he felt bad that he didn’t like belt’s new friend.  This made Belt feel very good about his dad and they even shared a lengthy, sincere hug.

This week’s reading had several sections that I just loved.  The don’t advance the plot.  They are long-winded, almost set-pieces.  And each one delights me.

Like when Belt decides to sweeten his coffee with honey. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-“Everything Has Changed” (2020).

I’ve enjoyed most of the Best Coast songs I’ve heard–simple power pop songs from Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno that can be surprisingly dark.

Although Best Coast is a duo, this song is multi tracked with all kinds of overdubs–lots of backing vocals and guitar solos.  It sounds bigger than anything they’ve done before with loud crunchy guitars and a really simple riff.  And it is catchy as anything.

I like this couple of lines

I used to cry myself to sleep/ Reading all the names they called me,
….
Did they think? No, of course they didn’t.

After the big chorus she talks about what has changed

Now I’m walking a little dog on a leash
Now I live in a big pink house
I escape to witch mountain every day

I honestly don’t know if that’s a positive or sarcastic change.  But the chorus “everything has changed and I like it this way” certainly sounds positive.

One thing I particularly like about this song is that while it is all pretty simple verse/chorus, there is a third part that changes the tone and sound of the song, if only briefly, before returning to the catchy riffage.

I have plans to see them this spring and I’m looking forward to hearing this new record live.

[READ: January 15, 2019] “Who is She?”

In this brief story a woman has an existential crisis and her public reaction to it causes others to suggest ways to help her.

She says a long time ago someone told her that it was important to “locate and deploy” your own story.  This theory is put into question when she starts seeing graffiti around that says in white paint WHO IS SHE?

She saw it in a number of places and couldn’t get the idea out of her mind.   As she was crossing a boulevard, she decided to lie down on the grass in the median strip.

It was early on a Sunday and therefore very quiet but soon enough cars began passing.  Across the street from her was a gym and there were people working out with ruthless, glistening intensity,  And then (I rather enjoyed this), (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: POCHONBO ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE-“Where Are You, Dear General?”

One thing the book does not mention is this song which is played every morning in Pyongyang at 6AM.

There’s a clip of the song being broadcast in front of Pyongyang Station here.

In this clip, the music is creepy and empty, played through exterior speakers and bouncing off of government buildings.  As one person commented, if this music had a color, it would be grey.

This recorded version, by North Korea’s most popular act, is a little different.  It’s much warmer with soft synth not unlike synthy new age from the 70s/80s.

Here’s some detail about the creators of this music (according the BBC):

The Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble were formed by Kim Jong-il in the early-80s and were the first North Korean band to use electric guitars, synthesisers and saxophone, drawing on Korean folk music, but also Chinese, Soviet and, to a smaller extent, Western pop. They take their name from the 1937 Battle of Pochonbo, in which a group of guerrillas were led by Kim Il-sung in an attack on occupying Japanese forces (yet, despite this, they have toured in Japan). They’ve released over 150 CDs.

After 2 minutes of spacey intro, the vocals come in–a big chorus of voices asking “Supreme Headquarters. Where are you? Lead us to you.”

At 3 minutes the lead vocals come in, sung by Hyon Song-wol.  The music stays much the same (with echoing sounds and trippy synths) but Hyon Song-wol’s voice soars over the top and is quite lovely as she sings unabashed propaganda wonder where their supreme general is and when he will keep them warm and safe.

For a longer essay about this mysterious wake up alarm, check out this article from nknews.

[READ: December 29, 2019] Pyongyang

I really enjoyed Delisle’s A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting.  It was very funny and I really liked his drawing style.  Delisle has written several other books (published by Drawn & Quarterly) and I was really excited to see this one come across my desk (it’s a 2018 printing although it doesn’t look like there’s anything added).

The introduction by director Gore Verbinsky sets the stage for what this book is.  In 2001, Delisle was allowed into North Korea to work on an animated cartoon for two months.

In animated movies, there are “key frames” which are sort of the highlight moments.  In between these key frames are where the North Korean animators draw–the in-betweens.  Canadian and Europeans (and some American) directors then supervise the completion–often trying very hard to get the animators to understand simple Western ideas.

Verbinsky says that Delisle “reduces the amplitude to get underneath the narrative and break down a belief system into something infinitely relatable.  He looks at the daily life of people existing in these “in-betweens” and looks at the citizens who “exist in a bubble of fear.”

The book was translated by Helge Dascher.

Delisle’s self-portrait character is a simply drawn man with a big nose, tiny eyes and a very expressive face. As the story opens he is at customs where they ask about the book he brought (1984–with a funny scene about that later) and his music Aphex Twin.  His driver picks him up from the airport–you don’t go anywhere in North Korea without an escort.  Delilse is shocked that the driver is smoking in than air conditioned car with the windows closed:  “Great.  I can’t breathe and I’m cold.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“I Believe in Miracles” (2003).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

Recorded in Santa Barbara California on October 28, 2003 this is a song that the band has played many times live.  I actually forget that its a Ramones song because of how un-Ramones their version is.

They do play it loud and rocking, but this version is a quieter, acoustic version. It’s also kind of slow so you can hear all the words.

There’s two lengthy acoustic guitar solos (very different from the Ramones) as well.  And of course, Eddie sounds nothing like Joey Ramone.

Despite the different style of play, this cover is quite faithful to the original.  But this acoustic version is particularly cool and the crowd is really into it.

[READ: December 11, 2019] “The Wild Man of Mississippi”

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.

I know Jack Pendarvis exclusively from McSweeney’s issues–particularly from the Letters columns–and The Believer.

I’m a little sad to say that overall my impression of his writing is not great.  I wrote this a long while back:

Pendarvis writes my least favorite piece in The Believer.  His monthly column Musin’s & Thinkin’s is a faux hillbilly column that is purposefully absurd and in my mind really really forced.

However, I did enjoy some of his short stories, which seem to be, not exactly parodies, but anachronistic tales that play around with the expectations of formula.

This story continues in that vein.

The titular Wild Man of Mississippi is an author and he is very much aware of his persona as The Wild Man of Mississippi.

As the story starts he is heading to near the Canadian border to read to a college class.  He couldn’t fit into his peacoat and had his tailor move the buttons: “an identifying feature of peacoats seemed to be the faraway buttons.  Well, fuck that.”

The tailor was late and thanked him for his patience.  How presumptuous to think he had patience.  After several other small indignities, he is booked on American Airlines–not his first choice. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SULTANS OF PING FC-“Wheres Me Jumper?” (1992).

The Sultans of Ping were, of course, named after the Dire Straits song.  They were named when “it was sacrilege to say anything whatsoever funny or nasty about Dire Straits.”

This song (or 30 seconds of it) was used as the opening  to the TV show Moone Boy.

The song was an unexpected, presumably novelty, hit in 1992.  It’s stupidly catchy and amusingly nonsensical and your appreciation for it is pretty much entirely dependent on your appreciation for Niall O’Flaherty’s voice which is comical and rather shrill in this song.  The other songs on the record are somewhat less so, but are still delivered in his speak-singing style.

I get a sense of them being like Ireland’s answer to The Dead Milkmen with a sprinkle of John Lydon on vocals–a fun punk band that flaunted a silly side.  Of course, I wasn’t in Ireland at the time, so perhaps they’re more akin to the Ramones in punk legacy.

The Sultans of Ping (later named The Sultans) were (a subconscious at least) predecessor to bands like Fontaines D.C.

But whereas Fontaines D.C. tackles existential life in Dublin, this song tackles a more urgent and pressing concern:

Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
“Where’s me jumper?

It’s all right to say things can only get better
If you haven’t just lost your brand new sweater
I know I had it on when I had my tea
And I’m sure I had it on in the lavatory
Dancing in the disco, go go go
Dancing in the disco, oh no, oh no
Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
Where’s me jumper?…

[READ: Summer 2019] Moone Boy

Chris O’Dowd is an Irish actor (we love him from the IT Crowd, and he has since been all over the place).  In 2012, he created Moone Boy as a sitcom based on his own childhood growing up in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland.

The show was a hit and they made three six-episode seasons.  This book came out around the time of the second season.

The story focuses on Martin Moone, a 12 year-old boy growing up in Boyle.  His friend Pádraic has an imaginary friend and Pádraic encourages him to get an imaginary friend (IF) of his own.  The rest of the book follows the exploits of Martin and his first (and second) imaginary friend.

But the book begins with some absurdist comedy.  Turns out he book is written from the point of view of the imaginary friend (we don’t really learn that until later) and he starts off with this:

Before we begin, I need to carry out a quick survey,

Are you reading this book because:

A. You have a scientific interest in the moon.
B. You have a scientific interest in the misspelling of the word “moon.”
C. You want to find out how quick and easy it is to obtain an imaginary friend that you’ll cherish for life.
D. You’ll read anything  You’re just like that.

If your answer is A or B, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.  There’s very little moon action in this story, apart from the brief appearance of a wrestler’s wrinkly bum.

If your answer is C, then you’ll be equally disappointed.  I suggest you pick up a copy of Imaginary Friends – The Quick and Easy Guide to Forever Friendship by a former colleague of mine, Customer Service Representative 263748.

If your answer is D, the good for you!  You’re my kind of reader.  I’m glad we got rid of that other bunch of idiots who picked A, B and C.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SNARKY PUPPY-Tiny Desk Concert #913 (November 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about Snarky Puppy lately.  So much so that I assumed they were a new band.  Wrong:

Snarky Puppy has been a force for a while now, earning the ears of millions for more than a decade.  The band started as college friends in the jazz program at the University of North Texas back in 2003. But the formative era came a few years later, after Michael League [bassist and bandleader] became a part of the gospel scene in Dallas and eventually brought the jazz students to church, where music plays a different role than it does in the classroom. In the pulpit, it’s a channel for spiritual healing, a communal experience between players and congregation. As an experiment, League pulled his jazz friends and his gospel bandmates into one ensemble, where the two groups bonded together and established ground-zero for building the sonic identity of Snarky Puppy

I also had an idea that (because the name sounds similar to Skinny Puppy) that they might be a, what, young bratty dark punk band?  Wrong again.

Their secret sauce? A long-simmered recipe of jazz, funk and gospel.  Thirteen albums later, you can still hear these gospel and jazz orbits crashing into each other.

Oh, and one more thing.  They only play instrumentals.

They’re a band whose lyric-less melodies are still yelled (sung back) to them at their concerts around the world, as a shared catharsis for everyone in the room.

I really couldn’t have gotten that more wrong.

The band plays two songs in this lengthy set.

The first is called “Tarova.”  It opens with a wonderful sequence of keyboards.  Shaun Martin plays the keyboards with that talk box thing (made famous by Peter Frampton).  He seems to be having a kind of call and response solo with Bobby Sparks.  Sparks has the most fascinating thing on his keyboard.  A very large whammy bar/lever that he is able to push really far down to bend notes far more than any keyboard I’ve ever heard.  It was so much fun watching him do this, I was very glad he was up front.

During all of this, “JT” Thomas is keeping time on drums.  The song proper jumps in with a fun funky riff with lots of trumpets.  Everybody gets to do something impressive in this song and there’s a bunch of solos as well.

I really like the middle funky section that’s mostly bass and keys.

The song builds to a moment when everyone stops–after a two second pause which makes everyone clap, they resume with a great percussion solo from Nate Werth.

When the song ends, League introduces everyone and says who soloed.  He jokes, “That’s what you;re supposed to do in jazz, right, say who soloed n case anyone was confused that there were solos going on.”

Then he addresses the crowd.  He says that most people there are employees and family and an abundance of interns.  He wants to turn the cameras around for a minute (only one or two turn around) and force you into a musical rhythmic experiment.  Turns out that

Seconds before we hit record, Snarky Puppy’s bandleader, Michael League leaned in to ask if he could “do a little crowd work.” I suspect he waited until the last second on purpose, but it’s been easy to trust this band when they have an idea, judging by the three Grammy Awards they get to dust off at home after every tour run.

What resulted was a Tiny Desk first: League divided the audience into two sections, one side clapping out a 3/4 beat and the other half a 4/4 beat, creating a polyrhythm that I’m sure a handful of coworkers didn’t feel so confident trying to pull off. But this band pulls you in with simple instruction and a little faith.

League says, “we’re going to a polyrhythm because things have to get nerdy and unenjoyable.”  The crowd does admirably well with the two rhythms going on.  They are aided by Nate Werth on percussion who is really amazing (not necessarily here, but in the two songs).  I believe that they are creating 7/4.

The audience is warned that this polyrhythm will be used in the second song “Xavi,” dedicated to their friends in Morocco.

The song opens a funky bass and a lovely flute melody from Chris Bullock.  Then after a short guitar lick by Chris McQueen the whole band jumps in with a really funky melody.  The riff is taken over by two trumpets Justin Stanton (whose trumpet has a mute) and Jay Jennings (no mute) and Chris Bullock who is now on sax.

I was going to say you really don’t hear much of the violin in this set as it gets kind of melded with everything else.  Then mid way through the song, Zach Brock takes a wild and, often, effects-riddled solo in the middle of the song.  It might be my favorite part of a set that has many highlights.

The clapping part is used twice.  In the first one, the band is kind of quiet and the clapping is aided with great percussion from Werth and another lovely flute.

The guitar and bass in this song are fantastic even if they are never entirely prominent.  There’s also a very cool keyboard solo from trumpeter Justin Stanton.

Then the clapping comes around a second time.  During this one, there’s a guitar and keyboard making all kinds of sounds while the drums keep hitting everything, there;s more percussion and a little more flute.

The whole set is tremendous fun.  Totally not what I was expecting and so much better.

[READ: August 15, 2019] The Idiot

I grabbed this book because I had written down the author’s name as someone I wanted to read.  I also got a kick out of the title (and the obvious allusion to Dostoevsky).

I started the book and enjoyed it and then realized that I had read an excerpt from this story already.  And that is why I had written the author’s name down.

This book was written as a kind of response to her first book.  In an essay in The Guardian, she explained that:

In her first book, The Possessed, New Yorker journalist Elif Batuman complained that as an incipient novelist she was always being told to eschew books and focus on life. Literature since Don Quixote had been seen as false and sterile; disconnected from lived experience. After years as a graduate student of Russian literature, she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books.

Of the excerpt I wrote quite a lot (and quite a lot that almost gets left behind after the excerpt): (more…)

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