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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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: January 2022] The Discworld Almanak

I assumed that this book would pair well with Nanny Ogg’s cookbook since in Maskerade, there’s a plot point about the Almanak getting published.  But as happens with this sort of thing, this companion book was published five years later.

There’s really nothing in here that’s relevant to any of the plots of the books, so that’s fine.

This diversion is basically an opportunity to explore the lighter side of Ankh-Morpork and astrology.  It also doubles as a journal for whatever year you may wish to use it in (no days of the week are supplied for the two dozen pages of empty calendar dates.

The book has the look of an old fashioned almanac (as you can see by the cover) with lots of little pieces of text in all manner of places.  There’s also old designs and bordered and even a place where you can punch a hole to hang a string so you can put the book in the privy.

As with Nanny Ogg’s cookbook, there are pinned notes from the publisher to the overseer of the book which add an extra level of humor to the proceedings.

The book also sets out the Discworld calendar year–it’s not quite the same as our as it has 400 days an a thirteenth month that no one talks about.

The book starts with a warning that the turtle is likely to turn upside down this year (fear not). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: July 2021] The Imperfects

I saw this book at work–I didn’t think I’d be seeing as many interesting books at work with my new position, but here was one that I wanted to read!

The title was interesting and the concept was eye catching right from the start.

The story seems fairly simple.  There is a grandmother–Helen Auerbach–and three grandchildren.  The grandchildren are estranged from their mother, who is peripherally in contact, and their father, who thy have not seen in decades.  They are also kind of estranged from each other because of some bad choices each of them has made.  Incidentally all of the children are Millers, not Auerbachs from their estranged father.

The book opens in Vienna 1918 with a historical moment that weighs heavily on the rest of the story.  I didn’t really like the writing style of that section–it was not what i was expecting and I hoped the rest of the story wouldn’t be written in that way (and it wasn’t, thankfully).  But I enjoyed the way that moment ultimately tied into the story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: June 19, 2021] On Juneteenth

In recognition of Juneteenth this year, my University gave anyone who wanted one a copy of this book.

Gordon-Reed begins the preface by saying that Juneteenth was originally a Texas thing.  June 19, 1865 was the day that enslaved Texans were told that slavery had ended.  That was two year after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.

What’s interesting though is after stating this she says that she was initially annoyed that people outside of Texas were celebrating this day because it was a supposed to be a Texas thing and she has great pride in her home state–despite the above.

This short book is written with anecdotes and history in an attempt to not only talk about the history of Black people in Texas but also to help understand how she can have pride in a place that seemed to not want her.

Indeed, the first chapter is about Texas and how it came to be–a brief history lesson for Texans and non-Texans alike.  Most importantly though is the image of Texas:  Texas is a white man.  Her essays look to find out what that means for all not-white, not-men in the State. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMES NEWMAN-“Embers” (England, Eurovision Entry 2021).

.Eurovision 2021 is over and the big news (aside from drug-taking accusations against the winner) is that the entry from England received zero.  Nul points.

This is not unique, but it’s not something that anybody wants.  It’s actually better to not make the finals than to make the finals and get nul points, because no one is going to forget that.

So just how bad was “embers?”

I’m not going to defend the song, because I would never listen to it on purpose–it’s not my thing.  But by the same token I can think of a lot of songs that are much worse than this.

This song is just kind of bland.  It thinks its big and catchy with the horns and the “light up the ROOM!” line.  But really it just doesn’t do much.  I could see this song playing in a club and people would dance to it and then forget it.  No one would ask who it was or request it again.

And maybe that’s worth nothing.

[READ: May 26, 2021] 52 Times Britain was a Bellend

Bellend is such a great insult and it is exclusive to Britain, which is a shame.

Also a shame is just how terrible Britain as a country has been throughout history.

Obviously any global superpower is going to be dickish–you get power by crushing others.  You could write this same book about the United States and cover just the last four years.

But Felton, whom I’ve never heard of before, but who is apparently a huge Twitter presence, narrowed history down to 52 (one a week) examples of Britain being absolutely horrible (and somehow managing to make it funny).

How did he decide on these events?  Well, they are judged by today’s standards (saying “I’m from the past” is no excuse).

What you’ll get here is a good overview of fun and horrifying times when we were cartoonishly evil, from a comedian just as appalled as you are about what shits it turned out we were in the past.

Most of the terrible behavior involves other countries.  Like starting wars with China because they wouldn’t buy British opium.  Or making Zanzibar pay for the bombs that Britain dropped on  them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YASSER TEJEDA & PALOTRÉ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW #188 (April 6, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

Yasser Tejeda, a New York-based guitarist from the Dominican Republic, started his musical career on the Dominican cuatro (a folkloric guitar-like instrument) and has incorporated guitar stylings that have made him a “go-to guy” for Dominican artists looking for passionate elegance in their sound.

They play three songs in fifteen minutes.  And as with much music from this part of the world, the drums (Victor Otoniel Vargas) and percussion (Jonathan “Jblak” Troncoso) are unstoppable.

Yasser Tejeda and his band Palotré begin their set behind a home desk with “Amor Arrayano,” weaving a vaguely Caribbean feel with a killer R&B hook.

“Amor Arrayano” is a smooth love song gently echoing guitars and a smooth grooving bass.

After a brief introduction of his bandmates Tejeda launches into “La Culebra,” the track that caught my attention from their album Kijombo. Palotré is a powerful groove machine behind Tejeda’s virtuosic guitar playing and his playful dance moves.

“La Culebra” (The Snake) opens with percussive rattlesnake sounds from “Jblak.”   Kyle Miles plays a bouncy bass while Tejeda plays a cool virtuosic lead.  This (mostly) instrumental rocks on in various tempos for the duration of the song.

Tejeda has stated one of the goals of this project is to explore the crossroads between Afro-Dominican musical traditions with anything else that pops onto their radar. Their final song here,”Nuestras Raices,” [Our Roots] has become one of my favorites because I hear the essence of Africa mixed with jazz and maybe a hint of heavy metal, as Tejeda steps on his distortion pedal to kick the band into overdrive with guest tenor saxophonist Mario Castro in tow.

“Nuestras Raices,” opens with a ton of drums and Castro playing the intro melody on the sax.  The songs shifts gears to a quiet verse and then Tejeda stomps the distortion pedal for a brief foray into ripping guitar before pulling back for another quiet verse.  After some faster sections, the song slows down to a kind of moshing feel with all kinds of wild time changes, jazzy sax and heavy metal chords.

It’s pretty fantastic.

[READ: March 30, 2021] Charlie Thorne and the Lost Island

This is the first book in the Charlie Thorne series. I read the second one last month.  I don’t like to read things out of sequence, but it didn’t really impact this story all that much.  The only thing that I “knew” was that Charlie escaped at the end of the story.  But that’s pretty obvious since there was a second book.

This book was also good for some of the background information I was seeking.  Although, it turns out that Gibbs didn’t include a ton of background info on Charlie.  We learn just enough to understand how she is the way she is without getting bogged own in details.

The story starts with a Prologue set in Princeton, NJ in 1955.  It’s the evening of Einstein’s death and after being given some (unwanted) painkillers, he starts muttering something.  By the end of the night the secret service are all over his small house trying to uncover whatever it was he muttered (in German) about.

The book properly starts at CIA Headquarters as Dante Garcia is heading a team.  He is insisting that they call in the help of Charlie Thorne, a super-smart 12-year old girl with a potential criminal past.  His boss is skeptical but trusts Dante, so she agrees.  he also says he wants to work with Milana Moon, one of the best agents in the force.

Cut to a ski slope in Colorado where we are introduced to Charlie and her amazing mathematical mind.  She is able to picture the angles and speed she needs to conquer Deadman’s Drop.

The way she does it is pretty cool and it also sets up the first exciting chase.  She recognizes Dante and his partner as agents.  She doesn’t know why they are here but she knows she needs to evade them.  This leads to the first of many exciting chase scenes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE HOLIDAY-“Strange Fruit” (1939/ (live1959)).

This haunting song is sung with minimal piano accompaniment.  In between verses, the original version has some stark trumpet solos, although they are not present in this live version.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

She sings the words slowly (the song is 3 minutes long despite the relatively few words), letting the image linger in your mind as she stretched out “burning flesh”  and “for the crows to pluck.”  The way she agonizingly sings “drop” and “crop” really emphasizes the last lines.

The studio version has a haunting guitar line–the only guitar in the song–as a little coda.  It’s a remarkable addition and really affecting.

I can’t imagine the courage it took to sing these words in 1959 let alone 1939.

This song has a fascinating origin.

Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith were two Black men who were hanged in a spectacle lynching in 1930.  A photograph was taken by studio photographer Lawrence Beitler.  He sold thousands of copies of the print [which is amazingly disturbing and I can’t imagine who would have bought them].  In 1937 Abel Meeropol, a Jewish school teacher from New York City saw a copy of Beitler’s 1930 photograph which “haunted [him] for days” and inspired his poem “Bitter Fruit” which was published in The New York Teacher in 1937 (under the pseudonym Lewis Allan). Meeropol then set his poem to music, renaming it “Strange Fruit” which Billie Holiday recorded in 1939.

[READ: March 8, 2021] Kindred [the fight]

This week took us to the end of the book.

Dana arrived home with Kevin this time.  He’s initially happy to be home, but is soon very restless. He was in the past for five years.  They have only been in their new house together a few days–noting is familiar here.  He is agitated and irritable.  He tells her about some of the horrible things he’s seen like a woman dying in childbirth.  It’s interesting that this horror comes from Kevin telling Dana about a woman’s whose master beat her until the baby fell out of her.

I feel like Kevin is overreacting to his return–his agitation seems way too great.  I realize that things are new in this house, but you’d think that even after five years, being home wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  And then he tells a story like the above and while I still don’t understand why it’s not just a relief to be out of there, i can see that he’s got PTSD.

But he was jumpy–the sound of jet overhead freaked him out.  Again, would five years without a jet overhead make you forget that they existed before hand?

Earlier Dana had been concerned that Kevin could be “won over” to the bad side. But he tells her that he had been helping slaves to escape.  he even imagined that they might both want to go back to help more slaves escape–to do good historically speaking. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NINA SIMONE-“Mississippi Goddamn” (Live in Antibes, July 24-25, 1965).

This song is amazing for so many reasons.

Nina Simone wrote this song in less than an hour as a response to  the murders of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers in Mississippi, and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama (see the posts from John Lewis’ March).

It is simple and straightforward.  She pulls no punches, from the title to the explicitness of the lyrics.

The intro (and chorus) get right to the point

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi, goddamn

She doesn’t stop there.

Don’t tell me, I’ll tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying
“Go slow!”

But that’s just the trouble “too slow”
Washing the windows “Too slow”
Picking the cotton “Too slow”
You’re just plain rotten “Too slow”
You’re too damn lazy “Too slow”
The thinking’s crazy “Too slow”
Where am I going What am I doing I don’t know

Having the band chant back “too slow” during the bridge is a nice call for support.

What’s most scary about this song is how little has changed since she wrote it fifty years ago,

Picket lines, school boycotts
They try to say it’s a communist plot [substitute Antifa or BLM now]
All I want is equality
For my sister, my brother, my people, and me

In the Antibes version, she substitutes Governor Wallace in one of the lines–and you can tell how intensely she feels these words.

Then there’s the music–a sort of bouncy jazzy number that could easily be about anything.  The lyrics are straightforward, but the music almost softens the bite, or at least.  In the Carnegie Hall recording she even jokes “This is a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it, yet.”

The middle section, which is a little quieter, definitely sounds a bit more sinister.  And justifiably

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Watching this video is really intense.  I wonder how impactful this was in France. And I can’t imagine what the impact was like at Carnegie Hall.

[READ: March 8, 2021] Kindred [the fight]

This week’s read is one long, painful chapter.

After the first few sections have established the scenario, the more you think about it, the more you realize how many things can (and likely will) go wrong for Dana.

Each time Dana is sent back in time, the gap between instances grows.  Time doesn’t pass in the present the same way it does when she goes back.  She had been gone for nearly two months but when she returned home she had been “gone” for less than a day.

Now that Kevin has remained, she fears for him as well and those fears are completely reasonable–he was treated well in that world because he was white.  He looked forward to watching the expansion of our country West.  Could he become a hardened white person if he was there for too long?  Kevin seems like a pretty decent fellow and doesn’t seem like he would become an owner of anyone, but you could see him getting caught up in everything that’s happening. (more…)

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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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