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Archive for the ‘Futility’ Category

SOUNDTRACKDakhaBrakha-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133/141 (January 11, 2021).

DakhaBrakhaGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The final band on the first night is DakhaBrakha.  I have wanted to see DakhaBrakha live for years–ever since I saw them ona Tiny Desk Concert.  It’s wonderful to see them again, this time with new songs.

Tonight marks DakhaBrakha’s return to globalFEST and Tiny Desk. The Ukranian band’s first globalFEST performance was in 2014, and their 2015 Tiny Desk concert remains a favorite. We’ve had them in our spaces, so it’s a real treat to see them in theirs, the Dakh Theater in Kiev. Coming together, their performance maintains the energy and joy that define their music, bouncing off each other musically and emotionally. DakhaBrakha aims to keep Ukraine’s musical and storytelling tradition alive by making it more accessible to a younger, international audience, a kind of self-proclaimed “ethno-chaos.” They craft stunning sonic worlds for traditional songs, reinventing their heritage with a keen ear for contemporary resonances.

I was initially disappointed that they only played two songs, but these are long complex and varied song.  And they are both great.

“Komora” is a new song.  It opens with Nina Garenetska singing while slowly bowing the cello. Keyboardist Iryna Kovalenko and drummer Olena Tsybulskajoin join in on backing vocals with great harmony and sweeping high notes.  Then Nina starts playing a bass line on the cello and accordion player Marko Halanevych and the other ladies seem to be having a conversation of sounds.  Iryna takes over on lead vocals.  Marko adds some accordion while Olena plays soft drums.  Nina is back to bowing then it returns to cello/bass line and lots of oohing from all the singers.

Then Marko sings a lead line and the women seem to be answering him.  The song starts getting faster and faster as they call to each other leading to a spectacular ending.

“Vynnaya ya” is from their latest album.  It opens with Iryna and Olena clappin a rhythm and Nina plucking the cello.  Marko sings lead and they sing back in a call and response.  Nina takes over on vocals to mostly drum and cello accompaniment.  Then Marko plays a “horn” solo using just his hands.  It sounds like a duck call or muted trumpet and is weird and wonderful.

Olena sings the next verse and then Iryna sings the final verse.  When her verse is done, Marko puts down the accordion, stands up and plays another “trumpet” solo with his hands.  Then the whole band kicks up the tempo to nearly double speed as they race to a wild conclusion.

I can’t wait to see them in person!

[READ: November 15, 2020] Starlite Memories

I had never heard of Dov Fedler.  The title of this book made me look at it twice and then I skimmed the back cover blurb.

Beloved political cartoonist Dov Fedler had the opportunity in the 1990s to make a lifelong dream come true: Directing a movie. …  A laugh-out loud story of pitfalls follows.

Turns out he was a political cartoonist for The Star for over 50 years.

Then I saw that Fedler is from South Africa.  I’d never read anything by anyone from South Africa before this, I don’t think.  So I was curious to see what a comedy from South Africa was like.

Somewhere along the line I completely missed that this was a memoir.

So I spent the first 2/3 of the book believing that this was based on something that really happened but that he was making up names and other details to protect the innocent.  Especially since in the beginning the note to the reader says writing is always about the story.

There are times when a writer may have to embellish, obfuscate, conflate and conjure to keep the thing alive.

Again, somehow I glossed right over that word memoir (actually I thought it was a the main character talking about writing a memoir or something).

None of that really changed the way I would have read this.  I had no idea who he was or any of thing the things he did, so it might as well have been fictional.  But I think it’s funnier that it really happened.

This memoir proved to be mostly funny with a lot of thoughtfulness thrown in for good measure.  It is written by a political cartoonist who has always loved movies.  He is a Jewish man in South Africa.  There are not very many Jewish families in South Africa, but there are enough to have a small cultural center there.

Each chapter of the memoir is titled after a film.  He then summarizes the film in a few words.  The chapter is tangentially tied to either what happens in that film or to the title of the film.

Dov explains that he was hired to directed the film Timer Joe Part 3.  This crazy film title is a real film–the third after two popular movies.  But this one is clearly made simply to ash in on the popularity of the other two.  The film is basically the brainchild of his producer Moe Mankowitz.  Moe says, “I make films for black audiences.  Black people like the same moveis we do, but they like them with black people.”  Timer Joe 1 and 2 were a success, so he wants Dov to write the script for 3.  What’s it about?  All he knows is that it’s a comedy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MICKEY GUYTON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #108 (November 9, 2020).

Mickey Guyton is a country singer, which is probably why I have never heard of her.  And yet, when Guyton sang her first song, I never would have guessed she was a country singer.

Her first song “Black Like Me” is beautiful.

In June, after the killing of George Floyd, Guyton released “Black Like Me,” which tells her own story in a way that gently but resolutely calls for change.

Her desk holds the book that inspired it.  Her voice is powerful and there’s not a twang in sight.  The lyrics are sensational, with the excellent chorus:

if you think we live in the land of the free
you should try to be black like me.

The only problem I have with the song is that although the piano accompaniment from Lynette Williams is lovely, I feel that the song deserves a much bigger arrangement.

I love the arrangement of the next song “Salt.”  Soulful keyboards, the Afro-Caribbean instruments of percussionist Paul Allen, Jon Sosin’s acoustic guitar.  She sounds a lot more country music in her delivery (there’s an actual delivery style that you can hear as she sings, even without the twang).  I liked this song, and I think it’s clever, but after the resonance of the other two songs, this one–a warning to men about women–seems beneath her.  Although the lyrics are pretty clever.

In February, as protests against sexism intensified in the country world, she debuted “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” and it caused an instant sensation.

She sang the he song at the ACM awards and was the first African-American woman to sing an original song at the awards–in 2020!

It’s back to just piano again–maybe the more important songs are more spare?  For some reason, the music of this song makes me think it could fit into Hamilton.  And the lyrics, once again, are terrific.

She thinks life is fair and
God hears every prayer
And everyone gets their ever after
She thinks love is love and if
You work hard, that’s enough
Skin’s just skin and it doesn’t matter
And that her friend’s older brother’s gonna keep his hands to himself
And that somebody’s gon’ believe her when she tells
But what are you gonna tell her
When she’s wrong?

Wow.

[READ: December 7, 2020] “Cut”

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 7. Catherine Lacey, author of Pew, presses every button in the elevator on her way out.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I read this story back in April, when it was printed in the New Yorker.  It’s the only story in this collection that I’ve read before so far.  It was bizarre and I loved it.  I’m going to post a briefer version of my original post which you can read here.

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL THE MAN-“Live in the Moment” (Weird Al Remix) (2018).

Portugal. The Man asked Weird Al to remix two songs. This is the second one.  This remix starts with the Weird Al polka medley treatment–lots of fast accordions.  The vocals sound a little different, although maybe that’s just because all of the proper music has been removed and replaced with the oompah bass, accordion and horns blasts.

The transition between verses is tackled with that Weird Al polka flourish, fitting perfectly.

The song definitely feels more frenetic with that intense bass thumping but the chorus is still just as catchy.

After the (serious) second chorus there’s a wild and silly polka instrumental break.  Then Al takes over lead vocals for the final verse.  Since Al’s voice is synonymous with funny, it’s a little strange to hear him sing straight lines–but his voice works operfectly.

[READ: October 10, 2020] The Wolf [excerpt]

K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City contained two excerpts from other books tacked on at the end.  The second is an excerpt from Leo Carew’s complicatedly named The Wolf: Under a Northern Sky: Book One.

The blurb says

In Leo Carew’s thrilling and savagely visceral debut epic fantasy, The Wolf, violence and death come to the land under the Northern Sky when two fierce races break their age-old fragile peace and begin an all-out war.

Roper surveys the scene.  At nineteen, this would be his first battle.  They are in a deluge of rain, which he imagines will shorten the battle–men fight less fiercely in the rain. Ropers father Lord Kynortas says they have no battle plan, they are unsure what they will face. But they have ninety thousand soldiers of the Black Legion marching behind them.

The Sutherners had amassed a similarly large army and threatened the balance of power in Albion.

Kynortas introduces Roper to Uvoren, the warrior that every young boy of the Black Legion aspired to be like.  Uvoren is kindly to the boy and tells him that his father is a lot of fun to watch in a parley situation.

Roper had never seen a Sutehrner before and he was shocked to see that the looked just like him, only smaller. They were childlike.

As the leaders approached, Kynortas announced that the Sutehrners had invaders their land. They had burned and plundered.  Kynortas towered over the Sutherner leader.  Kynortas told him to take his men and leave or he will unleash the Black Legion soldiers and show no mercy.

The leader of the Sutherners was named Earl William.  He was not intimated despite the size difference.  He told Kynortas that his men were very comfortable there and that they have a strong position.  He demanded thirty chests of gold for them to leave.

Roper knew that thirty chests was an absurd number. His kingdom did not have much use for gold and could never procure thirty chests.  Roper concluded that Earl William did not want his offer accepted.

Kynortas said that they neither had that much gold nor would they “satisfy your greed for things that are soft and impotent.”  Then he jumped forward and seized Earl William’s breastplate.  He pulled it off and flung it aside leaving Earl William exposed.

Earl William’s men stormed off.  Except for one named Bellamus.  He snorted at Kynortas and said “being blessed with bone-armor, I cannot imagine you know how it felt for Earl William to have his defences taken so contemptuously from him.  Before this battle is over, I will show you how that feels.”

When Roper asked if this was typical negotiation, Kynortas nodded.  Negotiation is just n exercise in intimidation

When Roper said that they weren’t serious about their gold request–Earl william was goading them into attacking.

Kynorta smiled assuming the Sutherners were overconfident.

I’m vaguely interested in this story, but with so many other books I want to read, I don’ imagine I’ll continue with this story.

 

 

 

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SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL THE MAN-“Who’s Gonna Stop Me” (feat. “Weird Al” Yankovic) (2020).

Portugal. The Man and “Weird Al” (punctuation buddies, clearly) have worked together in various ways in the past.  But here is something totally weird for Weird Al.  He is providing serious verses to a serious song.

Portugal. The Man songs tend to be dancey and fun, but this song is quite serious (and the video is fantastic).

A quiet opening of drums and echoing keyboard notes.  The hook comes when the vocals speed up in the middle of the first verse.

There are some gorgeous “ooohs” and then Al’s verse comes.  Al obviously has a great voice–he can mimic anyone–he is perfectly matched to the original vocal line and his voice sounds great singing “sneaking out, jumping over backyard fences, we’re always looking for freedom.”

After some more of those haunting oohs, a loud drum fill introduces the second half of the song which elevates the song into a slightly more danceable section full of drums and voices.

And then comes the incredible hook of “toooooooo high!”  The vocal range from the deep “too” the soaring “high” is outstanding.

It sounds like Portugal. The Man are taking their music in yet another direction and this one is quite a good one.

[READ: October 10, 2020] Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

I read a positive review of K.J. Parker’s “follow up” to this book called How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It.  When I picked up that book, I saw that the back cover said it was the follow up to Sixteen.  I assumed that meant it was a sequel and that I should read Sixteen first.  Well, Sixteen ends pretty definitively.  It turns out that Empire takes place seven years later and while I haven’t read it yet, I think it’s good I read this one first.

Also, K.J. Parker is the pseudonym of Tom Holt, a fantasy author I have not read but whom I gather I would like a lot.  So it was a good thing to read the review of Empire.

Parker has written several trilogies as well as a few stand-alone books.  I bring this up because I’ve read that some of the characteristics of this story reference other parts of his stories (this is a stand alone story, but I guess there might be parts that refer to his other books).

Like, for instance, the blues and the greens. These are two of the dominant races in the book.  I had a hard time telling them apart because there was no real introduction of either group. It was clear they hated each other, but I couldn’t figure out why (which I assumed was the point). At any rate, another reviewer says that the blues and greens are part of his other books, so maybe they are explained elsewhere.

The City appears to also be a thing that Parker likes to play around with.  In this book, the City is run by the Robur, a dominating group who have successfully conquered much of the surrounding lands. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Lighting Strikes the Postman: The Flaming Lips Remix (2016).

This release came out on Record Store Day 2016.  It is, simply put, the Lips’ album Clouds Taste Metallic but remixed to remove all of the vocals and to highlight all of Ronald Jones’ guitar playing.  This was Jones’ last album with the band and he has become pretty reclusive since then.

You can hear the very basic structure of all of the songs–drums, bass and rhythm guitar are all there, but mixed low.  The rest of the CD is Jones’ rather unique style of playing–noisy, feedbacky, almost improv-y, but never out of control.

The release also comes with a comic book penned by Wayne Coyne.  The comic pretty much explains Jones’ guitar playing.

You see, after the band released the album, Ronald was abducted by aliens. Why would they take him? Because back then he had one of the most elaborate homemade pedal boards on earth.   He would hook together an endless amount of gadgets, some that were not meant to go together.  One night he connected to a giant antenna.  Then while searching for a sound to enhance the ending of “Placebo Head Wound,” he found the sound of the dreaded Zorgodrites’ freaky 2 way radio and boy were they mad.

They came down and took him away and he was never seen from again.

And so that’s what you get.  Around 55 minutes of guitar freakouts.  But unlike an album of just noisy, weird stuff, this collection is based around songs.  Some of the songs are the same length as the final product.  Others are a bit longer.  The opening track “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” is about three minutes longer than the album version–mostly for Jones’ noodling. 

I tried to sync up the disc to the original via Spotfiy with varying degrees of success.

If you know the album pretty well, you’ll recognize the songs–the verses and choruses are in tact, it’s just that you get to hear some wild guitar around those melodies instead of the melodies themselves.

It can be a disconcerting listen if you are expecting to hear the songs, but if you put that aside and just listen to the kind of things Jones is doing it’s a pretty cool exploration of the guitar.  But definitely not for everyone.

[READ: October 1, 2020] Cycling: The Craze of the Hour

I love books like this.  This is a collection of pamphlets from around the turn of the 20th century, both pro and con for bicycles.  The first item is an instruction manual about how to ride a modern bicycle.  The second talks about the dangers (to your heart) of riding a bicycle.  The third and fourth are humorous stories in which bicycles feature prominently.

The first bicycle was invented at the turn of the nineteenth century but the craze really took of in the 1890s. And so you get:

“The Modern Bicycle (with Practical Illustrations)” (1877) by Charles Spencer

Spencer was an early proponent of the bicycle.  In 1869, he rode from Trafalgar Square to Brighton in fifteen hours (Google maps says it should now take you a little over five on a bicycle, so that’s pretty impressive for 1896.)

This instruction manual is fascinating.  Now, the bicycle they are talking about is more or less a penny-farthing.  The “modern bicycle” may be slightly shorter than a pennyfarthing.  And yet, as a person who can ride a bike today, I can”t imagine riding one of these death traps. (more…)

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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: TRUPA TRUPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #44 (July 3, 3030).

Trupa Trupa is a band from Poland who play some really great indie rock.  They were supposed to be touring the U.S. and doing a Tiny Desk, but instead they are home.

In a little dirty rehearsal room basement in Gdańsk, we find Poland’s great rock band Trupa Trupa on lockdown. Had it not been for COVID-19, this band would have been behind my desk this week, but as it is, they’ve settled into their rehearsal space.

Their songs are pretty intense, but this Home Tiny Desk features lighter versions of the songs.

They open their set with “Another Day,” from the 2019 record Of The Sun.  It has a great throbbing bassline Wojciech Juchniewicz while singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski plays acuostic guitar.  He says its the first time he’s played the acoustic guitar in a really long time.

There’s a cool theremin-type sound that is coming from Rafał Wojczal.  The credits say the instrument is called an ondes Martenot, but this is a homemade device–and it sounds pretty cool.

I’ve seen them perform this; it’s always had an apocalyptic feel, but now the words “another day, waiting for another,” prompts Grzegorz to mention how this has turned into a quarantine song.  Grzegorz tells us that life in Poland has been difficult in this young democracy, but they are staying optimistic and playing music.  There’s darkness in the basement, yet their music is a bright beacon.

“Dream About” starts with a snappy drum from Tomasz Pawluczuk.  Kwiatkowski plays as scratchy rhythm on the guitar before  Juchniewicz plays a great rolling bassline that runs throughout the song until it abruptly stops for a some single notes.  Then it resumes again.  Wojczal adds some guitar before bringing that Martenot back.

“None of Us” is slow and deep basslines.  Initial vocals come from Juchniewicz who has switched to guitar.  The acoustic guitar is more prominent on this song.  And Juchniewicz’  fuzzy electric guitar sound is deep and menacing.

Their U.S. Tour was cancelled, but they weren’t going to play near me.  Maybe when they come back they can squeeze in a Philadelphia date.

[READ: June 20, 2020] Bagombo Snuff Box

This is a short story collection that I read when it came out.  When I read all of Vonnegut’s books a few years ago, I decided to re-read this collection.  It has only taken me several years to get to it.

But what a great bunch of short stories.

The Preface explains that these stories were written in the 1940s and printed in magazines before he had written his first big novels.  After the War, there were many magazines that featured fiction, so Kurt was able to make some good money on the side while he worked at General Electric.  He left the company in 1950.

Vonnegut has an introduction as well.  He talks about the beneficial effect short stories can have on a person.  He also says he generally feels good about these stories although he feels a bit badly for the way some (many) of the women are treated–not that Vonnegut specifically treated them badly, but that was sort of the way it was then. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JERU THE DAMAJA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #16 (April 30, 2020).

I’ve always liked Jeru the Damaja’s name; I find it very satisfying.  It’s amusing to me that with a name like that he raps about positive things.

He used the concert to share his inspiring philosophy of self-knowledge. Jeru drops lyrics about what it takes to achieve self-actualization in tough conditions for not just himself, but for the culture.

I don’t actually know any of his songs; this is a “medley of his classics.”  Jeru’s got a great, deep voice that adds a lot of strength to his lyrics.

Like Black Thought, Jeru sits in a chair, surrounded by his gear.  Unlike Black Thought, Jeru is in motion pretty consistently bobbing and waving his hand like he does care.

He starts with 50 seconds of “Can’t Stop the Prophet” after which he says “we need a superhero and we forget that the superhero resides within us.”  he encourages everyone to be creative in this time because idle hands do the devil’s work.  This is his lead into the 90 seconds of “Ain’t The Devil Happy.”

His prescient lyrics remain as relevant as ever as he addresses the deepening fissures of socioeconomic inequalities exposed by the coronavirus crisis.

He even updates the lyrics of “Scientifical Madness”

Mind Jah lick you with disease
So I inflict MC’s like Ebola Corona
Or some other man made cancer

He says he doesn’t want to be inside, but he’s grateful that he has a place to be because living outside is “So Raw.”  I really like the slow grooving beat of this song.

After the 90 seconds of “My Mind Spray” he says his mind is always working.  He’s always wondering if this and if that. But the old saying goes “If if’s were fifth, we’d all be drunk.”  In the song “If” he adds “If if was a spliff, we’d all get smoked up.”

He closes his set from his home in Berlin with a new song, “The Power,” and offers up a message we all need: “No matter who you are, the power resides in you…We can overcome anything if you put your mind to it, you just can’t get in your mind too much.” The prophet cannot be stopped.

“The Power” is a full song which was inspired by a things his mother used to say that he didn’t understand until he got older: “nothing matters except for how we treat people.”

[READ: May 6, 2020] “Shelter Seekers”

This story is written as a letter to the “scholarship liaison officer.”

The letter writer received a $4,000 Daniel White Foreign Study Scholarship via the Government of Canada.  The money was to fund three months in Argentina to study how the region is “adapting its approach to housing in the interest of sustainability.”

This letter is the final report which is “unconventional in form, long overdue and in excess of the stipulated two-page limit.”

The writer left her husband for three months to undertake this challenge.

On the flight to Patagonia ($1,297) she read the Award Holder’s Guide.  She imagined building clay houses and hanging out with her fellow researchers, drinking Fernet and Coke.  She even considered the idea of an affair with an attractive researcher.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARGO PRICE & JEREMY IVEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #2 (March 26, 2020).

Since the quarantine began, many many many musicians have been playing shows at home.  There are so many online home recordings that it is literally impossible to keep up with them.  I have watched a few, but not many.  I’m not sure how many of the online shows are going to be available for future watching, but at least these are saved for posterity.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

I respect Margo Price’s lyrics and attitude. But her music is just too country for my tastes.  I don’t know anything about her husband Jeremy Ivey (turns out he released his first album this year at age 41).

In this concert, Margo’s accent is subdued and her songs sound great.  Plus, she says what we are all thinking between the first and second song.

Margo Price and her husband, Jeremy Ivey, performed a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert from their Nashville attic. Behind them are two handmade signs inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In For Peace that simply reads “Stay Home” and “Save Lives.”

They play three songs

They played “Stone Me,” a song they co-wrote and included on Margo’s upcoming album, That’s How Rumors Get Started.

Maybe it is best is Margo stays in the country world, because her lyrics really stand out against the status quo:

Love me, hate me
Desecrate me
Call me a bitch
Then call me baby
You don’t know me
You don’t own me
Yeah that’s no way
To stone me

Plus it’s really catchy.

After the song Ivey jokes that you can hold your applause until the end.  But then Margo gets serious saying the last time they did Tiny Desk trump had just gotten elected and didn’t think things gcould ever get worse…here we are.

The second song, “Just Like Love” is from an EP.  It’s a minor key song, less catchy but more affecting with Ivey’s excellent backing vocals and guitar solos.

Margo and Jeremy dedicated this concert to all those that are struggling right now and thank “all the people still out there working, the doctors, all the sanitation people, everybody out there just doing what they have to do to so we can survive, all the people working in grocery stores. And to everyone who has lost their job, we feel you.”  In addition to the rapidly spreading virus, Nashville was recently ravaged by tornadoes.

The video cuts to black and Margo returns saying Take 25, while carrying a hand drum.

They ended the set with a premiere, a song called “Someone Else’s Problem,” that they wrote together on an airplane while Margo was pregnant. It’s a song dealing with the guilt many of us have, being part of a problem instead of part of a solution.

This is another minor key song and it’s quite long (about 7 minutes).  It’s almost like a Bob Dylan story song (including a harmonica solo).

She ends the set by looking at the camera and asking, Where’s the ventilators” if only the stereotypical country fan would listen to her and maybe change their minds about the impeached president.

[READ: March 30, 2020] The Adventure Zone 2

I loved this book.  It is a graphic novel realization of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  It is based on a podcast called The Adventure Zone.  The podcast is fun and is a real scenario of friends (in this case brothers) playing D&D.  The podcast is pretty funny if a little unedited.

Book Two picks up more or less where the last book left off.  Our heroes Taako the elf mage, Merle the dwarf cleric and Magnus the fighter meet with the leaders of the Bureau of Balance, a volunteer organization dedicate to finding and eliminating weapons of magical destruction.

They are given new gear, they level up, they shop at Magic Costco.  Then they are to board the Rockport Express train and retrieve the Oculus, a magical object.  The person who had it, Leeman Kessler, was killed for it.

The train is pretty cool with a crypt safe that can only be opened if the engineer’s hands are on it for an hour.

There a bunch of hilarious NPCs in the game including the engineer, Hudson, and the guy who is there to help them, Jenkins.  Jenkins brings their food and shows them the magic portal room (it’s not-only-a sex thing).  The fun that the characters have at Jenkins’ expense it totally worth the reading of the book.

Also on board is a young boy (I’m ten, not eight) Angus McDonald the self-proclaimed world’s greatest detective who offers to help him (and sound snotty doing it).   Angus knows about Leeman Kessler’s death and he is out to find “The Rockport Slayer.”  The three adventurers agree to help him.  As they go snooping around they discover another dead body.  His hands and head were cut off.

Coincidentally also on board is the professional wrestler, Jess the Beheader (Magnus loves her and has both her action figures, the regular one and the rare one).  But Merle snarks: “Don’t you know wrestling is made up fantasy bullshit?”

The rest of the book becomes kind of a mystery story–finding the Rockport Slayer and eventually getting the magical oculus out of the cryptsafe. There’s magical spells, serious hit point damage, a large  crab, preposterous story lines and a nice plot twist.

The fun part at the end comes when our heroes hand over the oculus (come on that’s not a spoiler) but the head of the BOB reveals that there are a total of seven magical items that they must retrieve and thanks to our heroes, they now have two.

So you’re telling us that you and your big organization and secret moon base and flying snow globes have been doing this for however long and your score is zero?!

Two?

No that’s our score…BOB Incorporated has a big old goose egg.

As the book ends a mysterious hooded figure who has been lurking throughout the book crosses out the oculus on a list.  The phoenix fire gauntlet is already crossed out.  That leaves Five to go.

I really enjoyed this story even if it was more of a mystery than a good old D&D story.  Although honestly I haven’t looked at D&D since the 70s so maybe it’s different now.

Although, more specifically there is no way this is how a D&D story could work.  The repartee and the battles are too clean cut and plotted.  Now I realize that the book borrows liberally from various things to create the story line.  So maybe they have taken the podcast and taken the highlights and best quips and made this story from it  I mean, it works as story but it doesn’t work at all as a campaign.  Which is fine, since this is a story not a campaign.

I’m just curious how the actual campaign worked.

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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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