Archive for the ‘Genocide’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ROKIA TRAORÉ-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136 (January 14, 2021).

Rokia Traore.GlobalFEST 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 artist of the fourth and final night is Malian singer Rokia Traoré.

Rokia Traoré performed at globalFEST in 2005, the music festival’s second year, and it’s a thrill to present her meditative performance as part of Tiny Desk meets globalFEST. Her work is rooted in the Malian musical tradition, but defies the confines of a single culture. Born in Mali to a diplomat father, Traoré had a nomadic upbringing that exposed her to a wide variety of international musical influences. She joins us from Blues Faso, a theater inside her Foundation Passerelle in Mali, which she created to support emerging, interdisciplinary artists, from music and the performing arts to visual arts and photography.

She plays three songs that more or less segue into each other.  I don’t know a lot about music from Mali, but the little I know I can recognize from the Ngoni played by Mamah Diabaté and the guitar played by Samba Diabaté, with lots of speedy runs.   In “Souba Lé” melody is played on the balafon by Massa Joël Diarra (although I wish they’d have shown us it up close).  Both this song and “Tiramakan” feature subtle bass from Aristide Nebout.  The final song “Fakoly” is a little louder and drummer Roméo Djibré is a bit more prominent.

But all of these songs are all about Rokia Traoré’s vocals which soar and ring out.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 3

Each book has gotten longer.  Book one was 121 pages, Book 2 was 187 and Book 3 is 246.

This book begins right after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.   You meet the victims before they were killed.  It continues through until the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.  Holy cow was there a lot of violence in these two years and the amazing art by Nate Powell never shies away from showing it.

Eagle Scouts at Klan rallies who then go on to kill Black teenager’s, hicks in pickups celebrating the deaths of the girls in the church with anti-integration chants and, as we see more and more in this book, police killing innocent people and not getting in any trouble because of it.

This book has opened my eyes to what Black people have known all along about police forces.  That they are completely corrupt and need to be restructured from the ground up.  When you see that it was their job to be racist in 1963, is it any surprise that they are still racist in 2021?

Reading a book like this I can’t help but think that the best thing we could have done for our country would have been to let the south secede.  Bring all people of color north and let the racists fester in their own lack of diversity.  Because their racism poisons the whole country.  And yet that is exactly the opposite belief that this book is based upon.

I’m embarrassed at how naïve I am. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKELISAPIE-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/156 (January 14, 2021).

ElisapieGlobalFEST 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 second artist of the fourth and final night is First Nations singer Elisapie.

Elisapie returns to Tiny Desk for a show-stopping performance from Montreal, with the disco globe of our dreams helping to light her set. Elisapie, in both her songs and work, is a resounding advocate of First Nations culture in Canada. In her set, she harnesses an incredible energy with electrifying, emotive vocals.

I had really enjoyed Elisapie’s previous Tiny desk.  I found her to be a less extreme, but no less dramatic performer than Tanya Tagaq.  Her band is outstanding creating all kinds of textures to surround her voice.

The first song is “Qanniuguma.”  It starts quietly with a single ringing guitar note from Jean-Sébastien Williams and little taps of percussion from Robbie Kuster.  Joshua Toal adds some quiet bass as the guitar plays some higher notes.  After a minute Elisapie starts singing.  Another 30 seconds later the drums get louder and Jason Sharp start sprinkling in some raw bass saxophone.  As the song grows more intense, Elisapie adds some breathing and chanting–throat singing.  Things quiet down and then build again with the sax and the guitar soloing as the drums and bass keep things steady

Behind her you can see Mont Royal, which has a lot of history.

The second song “Wolves Don’t Live by the Rules” is “a small song” but very meaningful.  It starts in a similar way with ringing notes an thumping drums.  She sings this one in  English and it feels like a much more conventional sounding song.  It’s pretty quiet but the instrumental breaks adds huge guitar chords and the end is really loud.

Introducing the final song, “Arnaq” (which means Woman) she says women tend to forget that we have a lot of strength and we should celebrate it loud and clear.  This one opens with a loud raw sliding guitar like an early PJ Harvey song.  The song’s chorus builds with an “ah ya ya ya” as the instruments add chunky noises–scratches from the guitar and skronks from the sax and all kinds of precious.  It’s a cool noise fest, although the guitar could be a smidge louder.

I’d really like to see her live.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 2

Book Two picks up John Lewis’ life.

Like the first, it starts with Lewis’ preparations for the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Then it flashes back.  Lewis was in college and had moved to Nashville where the growing student movement was gaining strength.

The visuals are even more striking in this book.  The panels of the white woman pouring water and then soap (or flour) on the quietly sitting Black diners and then hosing them down is really arresting.  As is the sequence (which is almost entirely black) of a room full of peaceful protestors being locked in a room when the fumigator was set off.

I couldn’t believe that a man couldn’t really left us there to die.  Were we not human to him?

Then next round of protesta was at the segregated movie theaters.  I love that they chose the Ten Commandments to protest (the irony was lost on the whites in Alabama).  The Black protesters would line up and would be refused seating.  Hundreds of people who would then get back on line and be refused seating again.  Whites would throw things at them and hurl abuse at them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKEDWIN PEREZ-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/155 (January 14, 2021).

Edwin PerezGlobalFEST 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 first artist of the fourth and final night is Edwin Perez.

From the basement of the Bowery Electric in downtown Manhattan, composer and vocalist Edwin Perez and his 10-piece band come together to put on a show. With a strong backbeat and enough room to move around, Perez’s up-tempo energy brings the party and keeps it going. The theme of the night is salsa dura music, which originated in New York in the 1970s and gained acclaim thanks to acts like the Fania All-Stars and Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

This set is a lot of fun (even with the seriousness of the second song).  Cuban music is so full of percussion and horns it’s hard not to want to dance to it.  And this band has three percussionists: Nelson Mathew Gonzalez: bongo, cowbell (from Puerto Rico); Manuel Alejandro Carro: timbales (from Cuba); Oreste Abrantes: (from Puerto Rico).  The horn section is also pretty large: Leonardo Govin (from Cuba) and Michael Pallas (From Dominican Republic): trombone; Jonathan Powell (from USA) and Kalí Rodriguez (from Cuba): trumpet.

They play three songs. “La Salsa Que Me Crió” has lots of percussion and a great trumpet solo.  Perez even dances during the instrumental breaks.  And throughout, Jorge Bringas (from Cuba) keeps the bass steady.

After introducing the band, he says “Say her name Breonna Taylor.  Say his name Philando castile.  Say his name George Floyd.  End the abuse.”  This is the introduction to the quieter “No Puedo Respirar” (I Can’t Breathe).   Despite the subject, this song is not a dirge.  I don’t know what the words are but there is joy in the music as well.  There’s a jazzy keyboard solo from Ahmed Alom Vega (USA).

Yuniel Jimenez (From Cuba) opens the final song “Mi Tierra” with a fantastic introductory solo on the Cuban tres guitar.  The rest of the song brings back the Cuban horns and percussion. There’s even a drum solo (or two) in the middle.

[READ: February 25, 2021] March Book 1

I had heard amazing things about this trilogy of books.  I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading them.  Now that John Lewis is dead for almost a year, it was time to read them.

This is essentially a biography so it’s not easy to write about.  It’s also an incredible story of selflessness, fortitude and unbelievable courage.

The framing device is very well executed.  After a brief prologue that shows John and is marchers getting attacked by police, the book shows us Washington D.C. January 20, 2009, the day that Barack Obama is being inaugurated President.  Since John is (in 2009) in office he will be attending the ceremonies.

As he is preparing and getting ready to leave, a woman and her two children walk into his room hoping to look at Mr. Lewis’ office–a inspirational moment for her young boys.  But it happens that John (or Bob as he is called) is still in his office. They are embarrassed to interrupt, but he welcomes them warmly and shows them some of the things around his office.

Like photos of him meeting President Kennedy when Lewis was 23.  And from the March on Washington in 1963, where Dr King gave his “I have a dream” speech.

Then the boy asks him why he has so many chickens in his office.

The story then flashes back to young John (called Bob by his parents).  His father purchased 110 acres in Pike County, Alabama for $300. John was incharge of the chickens on the farm.  He also loved preaching.  He learned to read at 5 and began preaching to the chickens (they never said Amen or anything).

He also loved going to school.  He would even away from his house on the days his father insisted all the children work in the field because he didn’t want to fall behind.  (Even if it meant getting in trouble).

One of the first being moments in his life wa when his Uncle Otis drove him North.

Otis knew which places offered colored bathrooms and the ones where you would never get out of the car: “Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky.  These were the states we had to be careful in as we made our way North.”

It wasn’t until they got to Ohio that his uncle relaxed.  They arrive in Buffalo 17 hours later and John was amazed to see white and black people living next door to each other. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PUMAS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #122 (December 7, 2020).

After hearing a couple of Black Pumas songs on WXPN, I had to get the album.  They played such an interesting and catchy style of “gritty, retro soul.”

I was pretty happy for them when the were nominated for a bunch of Grammies.  Then S. and I were laughing because so many people we knew (who follow pop music) had never heard of them.  So I guess they are quite the niche band.  But I’m glad to have heard them.  And I’m glad they get the Tiny Desk Home Concert.

The Austin-based rock band Black Pumas is having a good 2020. The group, led by singer Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada, was just nominated for three Grammys, including album of the year for Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition), and both record of the year and best American roots performance for the track “Colors.” The band’s turn behind a tiny desk (and chair) shows why its debut album — now more than a year old — is receiving so much recognition right now.

The band is socially distanced in a studio with singer Eric Burton in a bad ass leather jacket up front.

Behind him are terrific backing singers Lauren Cervantes and Angela Miller.

Then, masked in the back row are guitarist Adrian Quesada, drummer Steve Bidwell bassist, Brendan Bond and keyboardist JaRon Marshall.

They play four songs and

the intensity level builds gradually throughout this four-song set. It’s clear why the band’s live shows have won over fans. From the opening strains of “Red Rover,” Burton digs deep and by the time we get to the ballad “OCT 33,” he’s burning with old-school soul heartbreak.

“Red Rover” is on the second disc of the deluxe edition, so I wasn’t as familiar with it.  But it’s got a nifty wah wah and echoed guitar solo from Quesada.

Up next is “Fire.”  Burton grabs a guitar as a keyboard melody opens the song.  Quesada plays a cool surf riff and then Burton takes over the vocals.  His voice is outstanding and this song is crazy cathy (the backing vocals are just icing on the cake).  When Burton sings a note mid song and kicks it even higher, his hat falls off–that’s the kind of intensity they bring.

Burton opens “OCT 33” with a soft, echoing guitar melody.  It’s simple but instantly grabbing.  He starts to sing as bass is added.  The song slowly builds over the length of it to a wonderful moment mid song where Burton sings and Quesada plays a ripping fuzzy guitar solo.

They end with the wonderful “Colors.”  An echoing, instantly memorable guitar lick opens the song.  Burton’s voice sounds fantastic as he sings.  I love the “doo doo doo doo” part in the middle and JaRon’s extended old soul-sounding organ solo is a fantastic treat.

The Pumas are probably my favorite new band of 2020.

[READ: January 3, 2021] “Rwanda”

I’ve really had a hard time getting into Wideman’s stories in the past.  I don’t like his writing style and I often feel like I know what’s going on until he starts to get really elliptical and he loses me.  I feel like this is a failing on my part, but who knows.

This story is told in four parts.

Part I

The narrator asks his niece (and us) a thought experiment.  If you were in charge of running the world and you learned that life on earth was going to end shortly (6 months at most) would you tell the public?

Wideman ties the story to what’s happening in the world.

What if this deadly plague meant that all life would soon end.  Would they tell us?  How would people react?  Would people freak out and go crazy–everyone for himself, or would some carry on as normal? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Tripping Party/FFF” (2018).


 Los Bitchos are a London-based quintet who play “tequila cumbia instrumentals.”

Although they reside in London the band has an international base, with members hailing from Perth, Montevideo, Stockholm and Croydon.  The band is made up of Serra Petale on lead guitar, Carolina Faruolo (guitar), Augustina Ruiz (keytar), Josefine Jonsson (bass), and Nic Crawshaw (drums/percussion).

The band has been around for two years but only have eight songs on bandcamp (spread over five releases).  This is their first single.  Both songs are terrific evocative instrumentals.

“Tripping Party” has a great Western swing sound, but with a rock foundation.  After about a minute the guitars take on a kind of ska vibe with a slinky lead guitar solo.  A lower guitar solo comes in after the first one–adding a new dimension to the sound.  By the end of the song, the swinging sound returns and ends with a great vibe.

“FFF” is a slower, some what more Middle Eastern sounding song.  There’s some great percussion throughout as the Middle Eastern soloing vibe runs throughout.

This is a great introduction to the band whose newer songs are even better.

[READ: July 14, 2020] “The Book of My Life”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

This essay is surprisingly dark.

Hemon grew up in Sarajevo and studied under Professor Nikola Koljevic.  The course was in Poetry and Criticism and Hemon learned the New Critical method.  When he graduated he phoned his professor to thank him.  This was unusual, but Koljevic was flattered and invited him for a walk to discuss literature.

Soon after, Hemon began working for an independent Sarajevo magazine and Koljevic gained a high position in the Serbian Democratic Party run by Radovan Karadzic, “a psychiatrist and talentless poet.”  He would soon become the most wanted war criminal in the world.

Whenever Karadzic gave a speech on TV, Koljevic was there beside him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: M. WARD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #39 (June 25, 2020).

I don’t really know all that much about M. Ward. I was supposed to see him live on many occasions that never panned out (I think at least three shows were either cancelled or I couldn’t go).  But then I did get to see him live at the She & Him Christmas show.  I was really impressed with his guitar playing in that set.  And I’m even more impressed in this set.

He opens here with two beautiful finger-picked songs.  The first is “just” an “Instrumental Intro.”  I don’t know if it’s an actual song or just an improv, but it’s terrific (with nice harmonics).  It segues seamlessly into “Duet for Guitars #3.”  I’m not sure how you play a duet with just one guitar but it, too, sounds wonderful.

His tuning is nonstandard for all of these songs, which somehow makes them more chill and pretty.  His playing is effortless and really fun to watch.

For me, M. Ward would be the perfect artist to sit next to while he played his songs, perhaps on a couch in a small room. And that’s pretty much what you get with this Tiny Desk (home) concert. We see M. Ward in the lounge of BOCCE, a recording studio in Vancouver, Wash.

I didn’t really know his singing voice, but the blurb sums it up nicely:

That tender wispy-rasp in his voice and flowing acoustic guitar make M. Ward a musician I’d want to hear up close.

He explains that he took requests from various social media for this set.  He plays four requests and one new song.

Ward’s delivery reminds me of Sandro Perri, although a little more conventional.  “Chinese Translation” and “Requiem” are softly strummed songs and his vocals are mostly deeper with an occasional high note added in.

In between the requests he plays a new song.

Those songs fit so well with music on his new record, Migration Stories, from which he plays “Coyote Mary’s Traveling Show.”

This song sounds a little different in style–a more traditional bluesy style, I guess.  Then it’s on to

 comforting and memorable older tunes like “Poison Cup” (2006)

for which he switches to a different guitar–this one smaller (and presumably tuned differently).

Then it’s back to the first guitar for “Voice at the End of the Line” (2003). There’s some really lovely guitar work in this song.  I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to see him live but maybe one of these opening gigs will actually happen someday.

[READ: June 22, 2020] “Grief”

This story is about genocide and how to cope with it–especially if you are far away from when it happened to your family.

The narrator found it worse that no one would say the word genocide, just wry observations like “weird stuff goes on in your country.”  She had not given up hope that he mother, father, brother, sisters, her whole family back in Rwanda might still be alive.

In her homeland, the word was

gutsembatsemba, a verb, used when talking about parasites or mad dogs, things that had to be eradicated, and about Tutsis, also known as inyenzi—cockroaches—something else to be wiped out.

A Hutu classmate once told her he  had asked his mother who those Tutsi people were that he’d heard about and his mother said, they were nothing–just stories.

The narrator tried to get in touch with her family but heard nothing.

Finally, she called her older brother in Canada.  He told her that he was now the head of the family.  She received a formal letter in June confirming the deaths.  Why didn’t she have a photo of any of them? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DRY THE RIVER-“Bible Belt” (Field Recordings, March 27, 2012).

The Field Recordings project was such a neat idea.  Kind of like the Tiny Desk, but not.  Many of them were planned ahead of time and some of t hem seem surreptitious.  It’s a wonder they didn’t do more or aren’t still doing them.

Since the whole NPR crew goes to SXSW, it just seems like these little songs would be easy to score.  I realize that they now do the South by Lullaby, but this is different (sort of).

This Field Recording [Dry The River: An Oasis Of Calm Amid The Feedback] is from a band I don’t know.  They were playing at SXSW and NPR got them to play on the secluded patio of Joe’s Crab Shack’s  overlooking the Colorado River (which is one thing that makes this cooler than a Tiny Desk).

“Bible Belt” is a gentle acoustic song with delightful harmonies–not unlike Fleet Foxes or Band of Horses.  Dry the River includes a violin which adds a slightly different quality.  But like those other bands, the song looks to soar:

Dry the River typically writes music with big, cathartic climaxes in mind: Songs on the band’s first full-length album, Shallow Bed, tend to start with miniaturized melodies that eventually burst into thunderous rock anthems.

You can feel like this song wants to be bigger, but they handle a quieter version nicely.

On this particular morning, Dry the River arrived in a more intimate formation, swapping electric guitars for acoustics and its full drum set for a single snare. While this performance of the gorgeous “Bible Belt” eases back on the loudness of the original, the band by no means lacks power. The result is a hushed, stirring performance that highlights the band’s many strengths.

My favorite part is the moment the band grows really quiet and you can hear some birds singing.  I’m very curious to hear just how big the original gets.

[READ: November 8, 2018] “Cattle Praise Song”

This is a story about genocide and cows.  The genocide is unavoidable but not explicit; the cows are the focus.

Starting in Rwanda, a seven-year old boy, Karekezi, watches his father with their herd of cows.  The cows are everything to them.  Karekezi even has a cow of his own: Intamati–all of the cows are named.  Every morning they look after the cows carefully–removing ticks or other insects, carefully inspecting them, calling them by their name and petting them–even worrying about a cow that takes too long to pee:

He’d hold her tail high and boldly lean forward–never mind that if the cow finally decided to urinate she might shower him.  Nobody dared to laugh.  Anyway, isn’t cow urine, amagana, considered to be a potent remedy?

The first few pages discuss the caring for and nurturing of these cows–the hand feeding, the fires to keep away flies; the special water only for the cows to drink.  And then the milking–a family event in which the best milkers milked and the others carried the bowls of milk like a priest with a chalice.  The young children drank hungrily from the fresh warm milk. (more…)

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deogrataisSOUNDTRACK: JOSH RITTER-Tiny Desk Concert #119 (April 11, 2011).

ritterNot too many performers mention the actual day that they are performing their Tiny Desk Concert.  But Ritter mentions Valentine’s Day twice during his set so I thought I’d post it on Valentine’s Day even if the actual date of the posting is much later.

I don’t really know Ritter, I’ve heard of him, but I’m not too familiar with him.  Nevertheless, I was quickly won over by him.  He is charming and polite and is certainly having a good time (he even laughs at some lines in his songs).

His first song “The Temptation Of Adam”sounds vaguely familiar.  The melody is very catchy and his voice is strong and excellent.  Lyrically the song is quite interesting.  I especially loved this section: “We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside/ ‘What five letters spell apocalypse?’ she asked me/ I won her over saying, W.W.I.I.I.’/ She smiled and we both knew that she misjudged me.”

“Lark” is a faster song, but still very folksy and clever.  I love that although the melody is fairly simple, the way he plays it (with very fast fingerpicking) makes the song sound more complicated.  “Rattling Locks” is a dark minor chord song, louder and heavier than the other two.

The site says there is an audio only track called “Pale Blue Eyes,” but I can’t find it.  For the last track, his 2003 song “Kathleen,” he introduces the song by saying, “I think Valentine’s Day is the most awkward self-imposed holiday — even worse than New Year’s — so this is an awkward song.”  It’s a louder song, with Ritter’s voice reaching great intensity.  It’s a great way to end the set.

[READ: February 14, 2016] Deogratias

Here’s another story that I would never have read if it were not for First Second’s #10yearsof01 challenge.  The thought of reading a story about the genocide in Rwanda just seems to depressing to undertake.  And yet in the spirit of reading things outside of your comfort area, I decided to read this this weekend.

And I am incredibly glad that I did.

I feared that this story would be one of rampant genocide–struggle and death and mutilation and everything else that I could imagine.  But rather, what Stassen has done is created a story about how the toll of genocide can impact one person.  Yes, it affects him directly and the story is incredibly sad, but it was a very different story than I expected, and it was so personal that it made it more tragic without having the oppressive unreality of millions of dead people in the plot.

The introduction alone is worth reading, as translator Alexis Siegel gives a brief summary of the Rwandan tragedy.  I’ve always found the conflict to be really hard to grasp.  Hutus and Tutsi, a privileged minority, a brutal majority.  The back and forth was so hard to grasp, and the names of the tribes were similar as well.  It is hard for a lazy person to keep straight.

But I found Siegel’s explanation to be succinct and very effective. (more…)

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april 2002SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-The Siket Disc (1999).

siketThis is an (almost) entirely instrumental disc.  It’s exactly the kind of thing that people think of when they imagine Phish—long jams with no structure.  But unlike some of their more frenetic jams, this is a kind of enjoyable chilling out disc.  The compositions are actually select excerpts from the long-form improvisations of the “Ghost Sessions.”

There are 9 songs and most of them are short.  Except for “Whats the Use” which is an 11 minute track with a very cool guitar riff (that reminds me again of Frank Zappa) and some cool accompanying keyboard sounds.

“Me Left Toe” is about 5 minutes and has a nice build up within  it.  And “The Name is Slick” is a bit more staccato and less smooth than the other songs and it holds up for 4 minutes.

Most of the other songs are short jams (with 4 tracks being about 2 minutes or less).  Although there are a couple of weird, nonsensey tracks like “Fish Bass” which is just a weird series of noises.  Or “Quadrophonic Toppling” which has some spoken words (just the title repeated) as does “Title Track” which has the repeated word “Siket”and laughing.  “Insects” is a little unsettling as well.

“The Happy Whip and Dung Song” is 5 minutes long and, despite some weird effect on the keyboards, feels like a full song.  “Albert” is a short, pretty, gentle ballad.  It’s a nice ending to this disc.  While this is by no means an essential Phish disc, it is an interesting insight into their recording process and is as I said, a good chill out album.

[READ: October 28, 2013] “Eternal Winter”

I had never heard of the Aral Sea before reading this article and I am surprised that I haven’t and I’m shocked by what has happened there.  Near the city of Karalpakistan (no connection to Pakistan), near Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, lies the Aral Sea. It was once the fourth largest body of water on Earth, larger than lake Michigan.  It is now shrunk by approximately 74%.

It was through the Soviet Union’s thirst for development and “progress” that canals were built which diverted water away from the Sea.  This effectively slowly dried out the lake (which the Soviet Union knew would happen).  The Soviet Union also dumped insecticides and toxic waste into it, rendering what is left of the sea bed largely poisonous. Anything that is not poisonous is heavily salinated making it worse than useless.  And to make it worse (if that is possible), the windstorms that frequently occur simply pick up the toxic dirt and dust and blow it all around the land.  Without the water, the temperature soars in the region–often reaching 120 degrees.

One of the reasons for the diversion of the water was cotton.  Cotton is a thirsty crop and it was discovered that Uzbekistan was well suited to the climate for the crop.  They just needed more water.  And so in the 1950s, the Amu Darya river was diverted away from the Aral Sea and into the Uzbekistan deserts.  And cotton flourished there.  Then in 1960, the Aral Sea began to shrink. (more…)

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questionableshapeSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait Vol 09 (2013).

live bait 9I just recently realized that Live Bait 9 has been released.  So I grabbed it just in time.  Vol 9 is full of long jams.  The shortest track here is 10 and a half minutes and there are three over 30 minutes (true, some of them are actually multiple songs melding into one track, but they still retain that long jam feel).

What I especially liked about this set was that it included a few songs that I feel like aren’t represented all that well in the Live Bait catalog.  Like “Foam” from 1994—a solid rocking jam (at 10:47).  And “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” (from 2004—I like how they splice the cuts together, so in this case they jump a decade but it doesn’t sound it).  I feel like this song is not played as much, so it’s nice to hear.  And then there’s a lively “The Moma Dance” from 2000.

There are a number of quirky moments in many of the songs.  Like “Split Open and Melt” which comes in at 31 minutes.  Around 11 minutes, they morph into “Kung,” and what’s weird about this version (aside from the fact that the song itself is bizarre) is that instead of it just being them making noise and shouting, there’s actually music behind it—mostly drums—I’ve not heard it done like that before.  During the jam, at around 15 minutes, Mike plays Collective Soul’s “Shine” riff on the bass, but the rest of the guys don’t join in.

“Mike’s Song” (from 1999) begins a 40 minute jam.  The song seems slower than usual, which I find odd.  But it works well for the very mellow jam that constitute the big instrumental section—they even use the echoey guitar the runs for a few minutes keeping the beat and setting a pace.  At 17 minutes the song morphs into a rousing version of “Twist”.  Then at 31 minutes they morph into “Weekapaug Groove” (with Gordon’s great bass opening.  At 36 minutes Trey starts playing the Macarena, although not exactly right, which is pretty funny in and of itself.

“David Bowie” (from 1995) is a 25 minute jam that gets pretty dark in the middle.  Then comes the most interesting juxtaposition of songs jam.  From “AC/DC Bag” one of their earliest songs to “Ghost” one of their then newest ones.  “Tube” a, to my mind, underplayed song is next.  It has a funky jam and is appreciated.

This free set ends with “Undermind,” one of my favorite new songs (this one recorded n 2012). It opens with a staccato riff which gives it a kind of reggae feel.  But it soon returns to its normal sound and proves to be a great ender to this “set.”

I can’t say enough good things about the Live Bait series.  I’m not one to buy many concert sets, but having free samples is really cool.

[READ: July 28, 2013] A Questionable Shape

Karen read this book and not only raved about it, she personally recommended it to me. So imagine my surprise to find out that it’s a zombie novel!  But it is a zombie novel like no other.  If Colson Whitehead (in Zone One) made a zombie novel that was literary, Sims has gone one step further, making a zombie novel that is philosophical.

The story is set in Baton Rouge and takes place some time after a zombie epidemic has broken out. In the time since the zombies started appearing (worldwide, it is suggested), the police and emergency teams have managed to contain the worst of it (already that’s something new).  Panic has subsided somewhat and the government has even released a pamphlet on how to deal with everything that’s been going on (called Fight the Bite–I never checked to see if there was a version online, it would make a great “online extra” (having now read Karen’s review, I’m glad to see she agrees)).

The book focuses on two primary characters: the narrator (Michael Vermaelen–referred to mostly as Vermaelen whose name is not given until very long into the story) and Matt Mazoch.  There is a third important character–the narrator’s live-in girlfriend, Rachel, who plays as something of a foil.

The simple plot takes place over a week.  Mazoch is searching for his father.  Mr Mazoch died just before the epidemic and Matt believes that he is among the walking dead.  And so Matt has asked Michael to go with him to try to find him.  There’s a couple things to note right off the bat (the pun was not intended, although Matt carries a bat with him as his line of defense and who knows what else).  Matt and Mr. Mazoch had a weird relationship, one which fell apart considerably over the last few years. Mr Mazoch let himself go completely and seems opposed to everything that Matt believed in–physical fitness and intellectual pursuits (or, as Michael points out, perhaps Matt pursued them to be the exact opposite of his father). The second is that while Michael is happy to go along with Matt, he has no idea and is even afraid to ask what Matt plans to do should he find his father.  And this issue comes to a head later with Rachel.

Matt has given them exactly one week to find his father, with the explicit instructions that after a week thy give up pursuit so that it doesn’t drag on indefinitely.

Okay so far so good–they are going zombie hunting.  But the thing is, the zombies have become a part of the landscape, but they have been tamed.  It is illegal to kill them (what an interesting twist).  Despite their zombie-ness (it’s actually considered an insult to call them zombies), and their desire for human flesh, rather than eradicating them, they are being rounded up and put in camps.  Naturally there are still a number of stragglers (zombies get everywhere), but there is a hotline to call if you see one and within minutes the police come and quarantine them.

So, what’s one to do on a day long adventure hunting zombies–or more specifically, one zombie–if you aren’t actually hunting them?  Well, mostly, you talk.  Michael is a philosophy student (he intended to read all of the important philosophical works although the outbreak has taken him off his goal somewhat), Matt is a literature student (Rachel is an art history major), so the discussions get very philosophical.  In addition to quoting Heidegger, Kant, Nietzsche and many other big names, they also talk video games and seek for metaphors for the zombie invasion.  The video game discussion was quite fascinating–Matt imagines the grid of zombie takeovers to be like a video game–going into blank nothingness. But Michael imagines it more like a filmy haze.

Indeed, since this is all told from Michael’s first person point of view, we learn a lot about what is in his head.  And it turns out that Michael is obsessed with the zombies (which is understandable, really).  But his obsession is different.  When the outbreak first happened he, like everyone else, refused to go outside.  But soon, when the government gave the all clear, Rachel not only went outside, she volunteered at the facilities. But Michael refused–seeing potential contamination everywhere. Indeed, even though he goes out with Matt every day, he still imagines and worries what would happen if and when someone he knows is infected. When they go to a diner, Michael won’t even eat the food, imagining some kind of contamination.

He even tries demilitarization exercises with Rachel (which she is understandably freaked out by).  But as the story moves on Michael’ footnotes (did I say there were footnotes? There are–almost one per page) spend more and more time wondering what the zombies are experiencing–he seems to be trying to pick the best one.  And he goes over and over these ideas in great detail.

After a few days (each chapter is a day) Rachel needs to know what Matt is intending to do if (when) he finds Mr Mazoch, especially since Matt suddenly believes he has some “evidence.”  Michael doesn’t want to know, which enrages Rachel.  She assumes the worst (that he wants to kill his father).  She assumes he would kill him out of malice towards zombies, but Michael suggests it would be to put him out of his misery).

Rachel has a personal stake in this issue.  Her father died before the epidemic, but she was convinced that he would be turned (before they proved that the longer-dead weren’t rising, it was only the recently dead).  So she waited at his graveyard, with the intent of digging him up if need be.  She proves to be a real bleeding heart on the issue.  To make her case, she gives the recent example of a scientist training a  zombie to speak.  She discusses the emotions of the woman whose father was the zombie.  She says this shows that these creatures still have humanity in them and to kill them all would be genocide.

By the end of the book, Matt has taken a polar opposite position–hurricane season is coming and these things are a security risk for all the living.   They should all just be killed.  For the safety of everyone.   Michael–always the intellectual–has a somewhat more nuanced position–he feels that perhaps they should be spared because we have so much to learn from them. And each case is made rather convincingly.

There are some wonderful passages–the discussion about leaves and greenery and the amazing description of Michael’s first encounter with a zombie (not at all frightening, just chilling) show what a great writer Sims is.

The strange thing about this book (aside from the whole “it’s about zombies, but not” premise) is that for such a short book (just over 200 pages), it’s a pretty slow read.  Between the footnotes and the philosophy, the book doesn’t exactly flow quickly.  It’s not light reading by any stretch.  And at times it’s a little…dull?  too in its own head?  Something?  But those moments seem few and far between, because ultimately the language is so interesting and fulfilling.

The end is one of those endings that’s not a real ending–it’s more of a “what would you, the reader, do?” kind of ending.  That’s always unsatisfying.  And yet at the same time, I have not stopped thinking about what I would do in his case.  And so it almost becomes the perfect ending.

Bennett Sims was a student of David Foster Wallace and although this book does have footnotes, the author he resembles most is Nicholson Baker–where not much happens in the body of the work and all of the “action” (which is really thought) is in the notes.

Karen put Bennett Sims along  with Seth Fried and Manuel Gonzales on her “magnificently weird” list, a list that I am intrigued enough by to hunt down these other two authors (and Sims’ story “House-Sitting” which i don’t seem to be able to find online.  So thanks Karen, i wouldn’t have found this one on my own.

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