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Archive for the ‘Funny (strange)’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: March 16, 2022] In the Jaws of Life

The version pictured here is not the one I read–there’s no pictures of it online!  My copy was translated by Celia Hawkesworth and Michael Henry Heim.

This book is a collection of short stories from throughout Ugrešić’s career.

The book has three (or 8) stories in it.  I discovered Ugrešić through The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar (story #2).  “Lend Me Your Character” was weird and cool and was probably my favorite story in the collection (it’s here as well).

When I read a little about Ugrešić, I found that she was born in Croatia, but left the region when the war in Yugolslavia broke out, saying she was post-national and refusing to acknowledge her Croatian heritage.  She currently resides in Amsterdam.

Her stories are wonderful mash ups of fairy tales, feminist theory, “traditional women’s writing” and a lot of sexuality.

“Steffie Speck in the Jaws of Life (a patchwork novel)” (1981) [trans C.H.]
This story has so much going on that it’s easy to overlook that it’s a fairly straightforward story, just with a lot of filigree tacked on.  The story opens with a “Key to the Various Symbols” and includes things like — dotted lines with scissors (cut the text along the line as desired); slashes (pleats: make large thematic stitches on either side of the author’s seam); four equals signs (make a metatextual knot and draw in as desired).  And so on.  And the contents is actually listed as “The Paper Pattern” which lays out each section according to a sewing pattern.  Each section heading is given a parenthetical comment (tacking, padding, hemming, interfacing).

When you start the story you see that the symbols are indeed throughout the story, although honestly after a few pages I gave up trying to figure out what they might mean.

The story starts with the narrator saying that her friends told her to write “a women’s story.”  The author looks at several lonely hearts letters in the paper and picks the fifth one as the basis.  Steffie, aged 25, is a typist by profession.  She’s lonely and sad and lives with her aunt. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: January 26, 2021] The Big Score

This book came in at work and the blurbs raved all over it.  Since it was barely 100 pages I figured I’d give it a read.  I didn’t realize that this was number three in a series about Saloninus.  I’m not sure if it matters.

I had forgotten that I had read one of Parker’s books already Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City (The Siege #1) which I enjoyed rather a lot.

The story starts with the death of Saloninus.  And the subsequent realization that he fakes his death.

The story continues with Saloninus talking about himself and we quickly learn that Saloninus is the most naturally gifted, smartest, wittiest, and just generally wonderful person in the world.  Well, not wonderful, surely, as he is also a petty thief and general troublemaker who has been kicked out of more cities than we’ve ever heard of.

He gave a speech at his own funeral in which his sang his own praises as the author of such classics as Analects, Ideal Republic, and Beyond Good and Evil.  And as the creator of the telescope, synthetic blue dye, indoor sanitation and a potentially viable flying machine. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 17, 2021] “From the Fifteenth District”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

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 this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

I thought  had read more by Mavis Gallant, but apparently I hadn’t.  This is a light and amusing ghost story, set in the fifteenth district of Paris.

But Gallant has an amusing twist on the concept right from the start.

A deceased soldier says that he is haunted by the entire congregation of St. Michael and All Angels on Bartholomew Street.  Since he received his posthumous purple heart, people await for him to come and receive communion, and the crowd gets larger every year. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 3, 2021] “A Lovely and Terrible Thing”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

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 this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

You know this story is going to be unusual because the main character works for Ripley’s Believe It or Not (I didn’t know they had that in Australia).

He is off to investigate a claim when his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.  After a few hours of fruitless struggle, a local man approaches.  They decide that the place the driver is going is too far to walk so the local (named Angola) offers to let him spend the night at his place. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FAT JOE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #217 (June 1, 2021).

This Tiny Desk (Home) Concert opens with big chords from Eric Whatley’s bass and Simon Martinez’ guitar.  Then some record scratching from DJ Ted Smooth and crashing cymbals from Rashid Williams.

Fat Joe walks into a shop and is handed a mic as the Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts plays a menacing melody on the keys.  I like Fat Joe’s vocal style but “My Lifestyle” is just another story of bitches n’ hos.

A founding member of the D.I.T.C. (Diggin’ In the Crates) crew, Fat Joe Da Gangsta has managed to last nearly 30 years and multiple generations in the rap game without ever giving up his lease on the top of the charts.

He introduces DJ Ted Smooth and his protégé Angelica Vila and then the Terror Squad band.

That crew turns the rugged “My Lifestyle” into a visceral experience with layers of nuance added by Joe’s longtime DJ Ted Smooth.

“What’s Luv?” is a slow ballad.  Angelica Villa sings and her refrain of “whats luv” sounds remarkably like a sample–her voice is really amazing.

 On the 2002 smash “What’s Luv,” Angelica Vila takes the spotlight singing a hook originally performed by Ashanti.

It’s weird to see her dancing and grinding like it’s a music video, which I guess it is, but still.  There’s some salsa infusions in the song.

“Lean Back” has a bad ass riff and a repeated chant of “lean back.”  It’s really catchy.

Latino hip-hop legend Fat Joe muscled his way out of the streets of the South Bronx with his debut album, Represent, in 1993. He radiates a different energy in 2021, sauntering in his own uptown streetwear shop, fresh fitted in pink leather and a designer bucket hat, but he’s still got that old larger-than-life electricity.

And yet he still seems unreasonably angry–staring down the camera and shouting, “Tiny Desk don’t play with us like that, man.”  [What could that possibly mean in this context?]

Up next is “Sunshine (The Light)”

an effervescent new springtime jam that was spawned by 22-year-old internet sensation Amorphous, who mashed up Luther Vandross’s debut single “Never Too Much” with Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” Joe, who has always had a solid ear for new talent and a prowess for pinning down a buoyant hit record, came in and gullied this sparkling jam, renewing a glow that’s been dim for this last year.

It’s a pretty song and Angelica’s voice sounds really great.  I look forward to hearing more from her.

He shouts out to Luther and then goes on a little rant about being old and having everything ripped away and the coming back at 40.  I don’t know he seems pretty successful to me.

“All The Way Up” ends the set sounding similar to “Lean Back” but with a jazzy sample.  Throughout the song as he raps lines there’s a response.  I thought they were samples, but it turns out that the DJ is his hype man too.

I tend to like rappers in this Tiny Desk Home Concert better than on record, but I really liked Fat Joe’s style.  I’ll have to keep it limited to this though, I think.

[READ: May 20, 2021] Heist

I enjoyed this book so much I wanted to see what else Paul Tobin had written.  Lo and behold, he is responsible for a favorite graphic novel Claudette.  This story is a lot different and a lot darker, but it still has his sense of humor.

The book opens with a man fleeing from people trying to kill him. Glane Breld escapes and says he needs a drink…and a  crew.  He’s been out of prison for nine hours and he is ready for his next heist.

The people he wants are Celine Disse, master gunsmith, Gaville, master of disguise (she is crazy-she enjoys blowing things up and collecting famous peoples underwear).

Saving the best for last Eddy Lets.  Why is he the best?  Because the closest this planet ever had to a leader was Eddy’s mom Lera.  Her assassination was Glane’s fault.

When Glane heads to his rendezvous he is met by a local street urchin named Brady.  Brady latches on to Glane and Glane cant shake him.  But the kid proves useful.  Not only does he get Glane away from some assassins but he also gets Glane a splint for his brain–so his mind can’t be read.

Then Brady, believing he has a tourist with a lot of money, tells the history of planet Heist.  Right up to the story about Glane himself (Brady does not realize the man is Glane).

Dignity Corporation owns all of the planets in the area but this one (Heist).  Glane was hired by the Dignity Corporation to find incriminating evidence on Lera.   This faked evidence was used by Dignity to bring down Lera which eventually led to her assassination.  Soon after, Heist was taken over by Dignity Corp. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #192 (April 15, 2021).

CJ Camerieri is a co-founder of yMusic, which is how I know him (I saw him perform with Ben Folds).

This is his new project, CARM.  Camerieri is also a member of Paul Simon’s band, a collaborator with Bon Iver and a Tiny Desk alum. (You can hear his French horn with The Tallest Man On Earth from their 2019 Tiny Desk Concert.)

“Soft Night” is the first track and introduces us to what CARM is about.  He plays trumpet while Trever Hagen plays electronics and sets up the melody and drums.  Then Camerieri switches to French horn while Hagen plays some trumpet.  Then in a fun moment, Camerieri picks up the trumpet with his right whole still holding the French horn in his left.  He plays the trumpet melody and then puts down the trumpet and starts on the French horn.  For the rest of this five-minute instrumental, the two jump back and forth playing trumpet riffs and leads as the electronics build satisfyingly.

For CJ Camerieri … home is where the art is. He performed his concert at the Pablo Center in Eau Claire, Wisc., where [he] conceived and recorded all the songs for his 2021 debut solo album, CARM. “This particular community has been a really big part of my musical life for 10 years,” CJ says after playing the calming tune “Soft Night,” “so it seems like the perfect place to be doing this.”

He made “Song of Trouble” with Sufjan Stevens.  They wrote it before the pandemic but the lyrics have taken on new meaning.  S. Carey plays piano and sings.  This is another mellow song with some lovely muted trumpet and simple electronics backing the song.

“Nowhere” is a little stranger.  It opens with jittery trumpet and skittery and loud electronics.  The juxtaposition of the organic horns and the electronic instruments is very cool.

“Slantwise” opens with some rapid and wild drum loops.  Then Camerieri loops the French horn and trumpet giving the song a rather majestic feel.

[READ: May 11, 2021] A Complicated Love Story Set in Space

The librarian in West Windsor recommended this book to my son.  He didn’t read it, but I loved the title and was really interested in reading it.

And wow, did I enjoy it.

I have not read anything by Hutchinson before, so I’m not sure how this compares to his other books, but this was, indeed, a very complicated love story.  In the acknowledgments Hutchinson says that originally the story was called Gays in Space.  And while that is a fun title, I think the final title is wonderfully compelling.

The story opens on Noa.  Noa is a normal teenager from Seattle.  But he has just woken up and he finds himself in a spacesuit, floating outside of a spaceship.  He has no recollection of how he got there.  There’s a note that says “You are in space floating outside a ship called Qriosity.  There is no reason to panic.”

Well, thank goodness for that.

After getting his bearings, a voice speaks to him.  The voice is from a teenaged boy named DJ.  DJ is from Florida and he is aboard the Qriosity.  He also has no idea how he got there.

They are each tasked with a pressing problem and if they don’t fix them immediately, the ship will explode.  Noa panics (as he tends to do) but DJ calms him and talks to him as they work together to fix the ship.  Which they do.  But as Noa is heading to the airlock, his tether is not attached and he is flung from the ship.  He has nowhere near enough oxygen and soon enough, he is dead.

That’s a rough start for the protagonist of the story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NATHANIEL RATELIFF-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #190 (April 12, 2021). 

Nathaniel Rateliff treads a fine line between country and rock.  But between this album and his work with the Night sweats, I tend to prefer him to others like him.

The Mercury Café is one of the first places Nathaniel frequented when he moved to Denver in 1998, hearing jazz, dancing, and eventually playing many shows there. For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, he’s assembled a dozen players including a string section, backing singers, and some of his oldest friends: Joseph Pope III on bass, Mark Shusterman on keys, Luke Mossman on guitar and Patrick Meese on drums.

On the opening song and the title track to his 2020 album, And It’s Still Alright, they’re restrained as Nathaniel sings about loss, “I’ll be damned if this old man / Don’t start to counting his losses / But it’s still alright.”

This song is so darned catchy, despite how sad it is.  Mossman plays lead guitar and Shusterman keeps the keys going throughout. The addition of strings (Chris Jusell: violin, Joy Adams: cello, Adrienne Short: violin and Rachel Sliker: viola) add a new component that sounds great.

“All Or Nothing” has an interestingly picked guitar with lots of bouncy bass from Joseph Pope III.  Midway through, the song starts rocking out with two drummers.

But restraint lets loose on the chorus of “Redemption,” a song about breaking free of the past and written for Apple original film Palmer.

“Redemption” is a powerful song that has a simple but big chorus “Just set me free.”  The backing vocals from Larea Edwards, Chrissy Grant and Kinnie Maveryck sound fantastic.

The ender, a tune called “Mavis,” truly is a grand finale, a song that conjures up images of The Band singing Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” — and what a fabulous release it is.

Half way through the song builds to a really full sound.  Rateliff sounds great and so do his songs.

[READ: May 7, 2021] “The Shape of a Teardrop”

I really love the diversity of style and subject matter that T. Coraghessan Boyle brings to his stories.

This one is told from two different points of view.

We open on Justin, a belligerent person, angry that his parents have kicked him out of his room. It took three final straws–dropping him from the family cell phone plan; putting a lock on the fridge and the final final straw was the eviction notice on his door.

Alternating sections are are supplied by the first narrator’s mother. She says how much they loved their son and tried to give him everything they could.  They had tried so hard to have children, including expensive in vitro.  And then one day their miracle was born.

Their son doesn’t have a car (it’s on blocks in the driveway) and doesn’t have any motivation to get a job.  But he does have very expensive salt water fish and a bar that he likes to go to (he enjoys the bartender whose name is apparently Ti-Gress. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUCK MEEK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #185 (March 25, 2021).

Buck Meek is the guitarist for Big Thief.  I loved the first Big Thief album, but have found the newer ones to be a little too soft for my liking.

Initially I would have thought that Buck Meek would be a harder guitarist.  But I don’t really know that much about his contributions to the band, so it should probably come as no surprise that he writes folky songs.  Although even Bob Boilen seems a bit surprised.

The back of a van on a sunny day holding an acoustic guitar is a far cry from the usual setting where I’d see Buck Meek. More likely, I’d be in a dark club; Buck’s intense electric guitar and backing vocals are a part of what makes up my favorite rock band these days, Big Thief. But here, home is Buck’s Toyota Land Cruiser in Topanga Canyon, Calif.

Buck plays a pretty acoustic guitar and his voice is soft and gentle.  He reminds me a lot of Nick Drake.  He plays three songs from his 2021 album, Two Saviors.

“Pareidolia” is, as Buck Meek explains, “this human instinct to put symbol to stimulus.” He says, “I’ve been spending this time of solitude in the canyon here spending a lot of time observing the clouds and things” — in other words, finding shapes and objects in clouds and objects where none intended to exist and perhaps turning them into stories or songs or just letting your mind wander.

He follows that with the title track “Two Saviors” and “Halo Light,” two more songs that continue the soft and gentle style.

The Texas native has a tender voice with a bit of a yodel and a resplendent way with words. After three songs from Two Saviors, Buck treats us to a new song written in quarantine titled “The Undae Dunes,” once again drawing pictures in the sky, this time of rockets and perhaps an astronaut and a love, all from the back of a Cruiser.

He says that “The Undae Dunes,” is dedicated to the woman he loves who may be an astronaut.  She’s applying to the space program.  That’s pretty fascinating in and of itself.

I enjoyed this chill Tiny Desk/Van set.

[READ: April 10, 2021] Pobby and Dingan

I had never heard of Ben Rice or this story until one of his other stories was in a New Yorker issue from 2001.  I enjoyed that story and when I looked him up, I saw that he had written this story. And nothing else!

Which is weird because this story

was joint winner of the 2001 Somerset Maugham Award and shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. It has been made into the 2006 film Opal Dream, a 2010 play for children by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company and a 2012 play The Mysterious Vanishment Of Pobby & Dingan for Bristol theatre company Travelling Light.

Perhaps he decided to leave on a high note.

The book is a novella (about 90 easy-to-read pages) set in the opal mining community of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales.  That’s over 400 miles from the nearest big city (Brisbane).  So while I don’t know if it’s in “the bush,” it’s certainly not suburban.

Lightning Ridge is apparently the opal capital of Australia.  Much like during the American gold rush, prospectors flocked to Lighting Ridge to try to get rich.  This story is about one such family.  The dad, Rex, is the prospector, the mom has followed him here from England.  She clearly misses her old life (they refer to her as Pom and her mother as Granny Pom).

The narrator is Ashmol Williamson, a ten or so year old boy.  But the story is about his sister Kellyanne.

He thinks that his sister is a fruit loop.  Because she is old enough to be going to school but she refuses to admit that her imaginary friends Pobby and Dingan are imaginary.  She talks to them constantly.  It drives Ashmol mental. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL-“Ballad of the Times” (1985).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate.

Of course I know of Everything But the Girl, they really took off a few years after this album came out.  Indeed, their sound changed quite a lot since this first album.

But I never really listened to them.  Of course, I knew their song “Missing” (“like the deserts miss the rain”) which was pretty ubiquitous in mid 1990s.  But in the mid 1980s, the band’s sound was very different–characterized by jangly guitars and a more upbeat feel.

Love Not Money was the band’ second album.  The first song on the album “When All’s Well” has a very distinctive feel like The Smiths–with the picked echoing guitars and louder grooving bass.  But “Ballad of the Time” is a bit more downbeat (as a ballad should be).  There’s some big overdubbed guitars on top of the pretty picked melody.  It’s catchy in a very “of its time” way.

Interestingly, this album apparently sounds unlike anything else in their collection, which makes me think Stuart wouldn’t have pit a later song on the mix.

[READ: December 29, 2020] Solutions and Other Problems

Seven years ago I read and loved Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh’s first book.  So I was pretty excited that Allie Brosh had a new book out. Apparently she has gone through some stuff in the last seven years which I won’t go into.

Instead, I want to talk about how freaking funny this book is.

I hadn’t considered or realized that her art style had changed much since the last book.  Although comparing the covers, I see that her drawings do seem more sophisticated–which somehow makes her characters look even crazier.  I love that that yellow oval on her head is her hair.  And the massive eyes.  And that crazy smile.  It’s bonkers and hilarious.

This book starts out with a bang–a very funny story about a young Allie getting stuck in a bucket. But the best part is that she was in the bucket because she felt the need to get her whole body into the bucket.  She looked at the bucket and looked at her body and decided that one needed to be in the other.  The look on her face (and then later on her parents’ faces when they find her in the bucket) makes me laugh just thinking about it.

“Richard” is all about a person who lives next door.  Young Allie couldn’t quite grasp the idea that someone lived not in their house.  She never even thought about the next door house until Richard walked out of it one day.  So she snuck in through the cat door and started investigating the neighbor,  She would also steal trinkets on each trip.  And occasionally leave a “gift” (like a creepy drawing).  When her parents found some things, they asked her about it and she said she was “hanging out” with Richard.  This obviously made her parents…uneasy.  Poor Richard.  She went too far when she stole Richard’s cat. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Connection” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Six” December 15, 2020).

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

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

The sixth night is a 90s rocker: a short, fun, stomper from Elastica.

From Brit Milot to Britpop…here’s one of the coolest tracks from the 90’s….sung by the very cool…and Jewish…Justine Frischmann…ELASTICA!

“Connection” was a 90’s juggernaut (even if they did have to give money to Wire).  Justine Frischmann was a perfect frontwoman–sexy and snarly at the same time.

Kurstin plays the keyboards and gets the sound pretty spot on, especially the higher notes.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  After providing those opening low voiced “uhhs,” he sings in a slightly higher register, and his harmonies (in a video insert) are perfect.

Midway through the song they add in circles with handclaps.  It amuses me that hey start with two circles and move up to sixteen or so.  Once again, one of my favorite songs in the set is super short (not even three minutes).

[READ: December 16, 2020] “In the Mist of Everything”

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

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

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

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

It’s December 16. Hilary Leichter, author of Temporary, is pretty sure she just felt a raindrop. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

It strikes me that this story was created because the phrase “in the midst of everything” was misheard as “mist.”

At first I didn’t care for the way the story was structured, but it only took a couple of paragraphs before I rather appreciated it. (more…)

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