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Archive for the ‘Hospitals’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: AURORA-“Thank U” (2020).

The Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series is soon to be releasing a record Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls.

Unfortunately, the site doesn’t list the songs on the disc (yet).

The first song from it that I’m aware of is Aurora’s cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Thank U.”

 I don’t know that I’ve heard Aurora sing another person’s song before.  I kind of expected her version to be radically different–uniquely Aurora.  But in fact, her version is quite faithful to the original.

The music is understated (Aurora’s music is a little softer) and when Aurora starts singing, it almost sounds like Alanis.  The big difference comes in some of the vowels, in which Aurora’s voice glides through the sounds in a slightly different way (a little smoother, perhaps).

In the original, Alanis’ “thank you silence” line is a little harsh sounding.  Aurora’s is a little as well–it must be a very sharp note or tone to hit.

Alanis’s song is based around some thumping drums and bigger swells.  Aurora keeps the whole thing lower key and the cover works beautifully.

[READ: October 24, 2020] “Face Time”

This is actually the second story I’ve read about COVID.  As I was reading it I was surprised that it was about COVID–that it was so current.  The story even mentions Tom Hanks having COVID which happened in March.  This story was published in September and was clearly finished before then (I don’t know how much lead time a story needs). So that’s pretty quick.  And it’s pretty spot on.

There’s not a lot to the story, in a sense.  A woman, one of three adult daughters, is FaceTiming her father who is in a nursing home.  Her father caught COVID while in the facility.  He is now in an isolation room being monitored by nurses in full hazmat gear.

The daughters can only talk to him through FaceTime.  He is older and does not understand the technology, so the nurses have to set up the connection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PROTOJE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #76 (September 7, 2020).

Protoje is another reggae singer (who I’d never heard of before this Tiny Desk) who seems to be breaking the mold of what reggae sounds like.

Protoje is a not-so-secret treasure who’s been a vital force in the reggae revival movement these last several years. Perched in the hills of Irish Town on the fringe of Kingston, Protoje welcomes us into his backyard (which doubles as The Habitat Studio) for a uniquely fresh spin on a Tiny Desk (home) Concert. With a custom-designed set flanked by lush greens and mountains in the distance, this creative backdrop complements the uplifting feeling of Protoje’s music.

He performs three songs from his fifth album In Search of Lost Time and ends his set with an older song.

“Deliverance” has a loud bassline from Donald Dennis and an electronic drum sound from Peter Samaru.  Protoje sings and raps with a really fast delivery.

He speaks to his spiritual philosophy and faith on “Deliverance” with a chorus stating, “I hold my order, give my praises / Oh Jah, deliver me through these days, Jah deliver me / Sometimes really hard to go and face it / Oh this life can truly be amazing, amazing.”

The song is catchy and uplifting.

I really like that Lamont Savory is playing an acoustic guitar.  It’s never obtrusive.  In fact it often fades into the background, but it’s always there keeping the rhythm and melody afloat.  As the song ends he walks over to Sean Roberts and starts messing around on Roberts’ looping box.

“Strange Happenings” opens with Savory’s quiet, pretty guitar melody.  I usually find reggae to be samey and kind of dull, but these songs have a lot of vitality.  And lyrically they are sweet and powerful.

to me life was easy, it was just fun and games
Until I saw that people were filled with so much pain
It’s harder to share sometimes, easier to pretend
The way we treat each other, I just don’t comprehend

And then it came as a surprise to me that Sean Roberts busted out a violin and began playing a kind of mournful solo.

“Same So” has the standard reggae rhythm but the bass line is a bit more interesting.  It feels warm and inviting–much like the place where he is playing (which seems so placid it almost looks like a photograph backdrop).

After joking that “this is awkward” he proposes one more song.

He wraps his performance with his most recognizable chart-topping hit, “Who Knows,” which featured Chronixx on the original recording.

This song also has a pretty guitar opening and Protoje singing in a high, soft register.

Who knows / I just go where the trade wind blows / sending love to my friends and foes.

A message of peace in a time of hostility,

[READ: September 5, 2020] “What is Remembered”

In this story Meriel and her husband Pierre are getting ready to go to a funeral.  They had to come travel to Vancouver from Vancouver Island and it was their first night in a hotel alone since their wedding night–they always traveled with their children.

This was their second funeral as a married couple.  The first was a fellow teacher of Pierre’s.  He was in his sixties and they felt that that was okay.  What difference did it make if you died at sixty-five or seventy-five or eighty-five?

But this funeral was for Pierre’s best friend Jonas–aged twenty-nine.  When she told Pierre that Jonas had died, Pierre immediately guessed suicide.  But no, it was a motorcycle accident.  Why had he been so certain it was a suicide?

They went to Jonas’ parents house for the reception.  There’s an amusing sequence with Pierre’s mother treating Pierre like a child.  But then Pierre’s mother and Jonas’ mother were distracted by the doctor who had looked after Jonas. They both approved of the man. (more…)

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june2020SOUNDTRACK: HADESTOWN-Tiny Desk Concert #977 (June 1, 2020).

hades

It’s unusual for a Tiny Desk blurb to tell us when the Tiny Desk happened.  Sometimes there are clues, but this blurb tells us straight out it happened on March 2, in “the Before-Times.”

Which you can tell because there are “16 performers bunch[ed] up behind the desk, singing formidably in close proximity as a large crowd gathers just off camera.”

I’ve never heard of Hadestown, but it sounds pretty interesting.  Evidently it is a Tony-nominated hit musical.

They’d wanted to get this Tiny Desk done, but kept running into delays until they finally managed to coordinate when “playwright Anaïs Mitchell–who wrote both the musical and the 2010 folk opera on which it’s based–was eight months pregnant.”  She also plays guitar and sings.

This is a “five-song distillation of a robust and impeccably staged Broadway production.”

A raucous full-cast tone-setter, “Way Down Hadestown” lets Hermes the messenger (André De Shields, in a role that won him a Tony–he also plays the train whistle) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable, filling in for Amber Gray) set the scene.  I love that Marable is acting (with her face) while listening to Hermes sing.  The song is a kind of piano-based rag song (played by Liam Robinson who later plays accordion) until midway when the whole band kicks in with a muted trombone solo from Brian Drye (who also plays glockenspiel!).

The musical is really about two loves stories: Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone.

A medley of “Come Home With Me” and “Wedding Song” finds Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) meeting and falling in love.

Gentle guitar from Ilusha Tsinadze opens as Orpheus sings his (comical) lyrics.

A singer , huh?
I also play the lyre.
Oh a liar and a player too.

As the song builds, strings are added from Megan Gould (violin) and Malcolm Parson (cello) and a pulsing upright bass from Chris Tordini.

“When the Chips Are Down” showcases the three Fates — spirits who often drive the characters’ motivations — as played by Jewelle Blackman (who also plays accordion), Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (who also plays violin) and Kay Trinidad (who also plays percussion).

It opens with some interesting picked and harmonic’d guitar and a bouncy piano and a funky off kilter beat (and percussion) from Ben Perowsky.  Liam Robinson also get s a fun piano solo.

In “Flowers,” Eurydice looks back with regret and resignation on her decision to leave Orpheus for the promise of Hadestown.

Mitchell herself plays guitar and sings the opening and then lets Eva take over vocals.

Finally, the set concludes with “Why We Build the Wall,” which quickly became Hadestown‘s most talked-about number. (Mitchell wrote it a full decade before the 2016 election, but you’d never know it.) Though the song includes the full cast, it’s also a show-stopping showcase for the sonorous thunder of Patrick Page, who performs with a gravity befitting the king of the underworld.

It opens with two acoustic guitars playing a slightly discordant melody. Page’s deep voice is incredible.  It’s a call and response song that is remarkably prescient:

The enemy is poverty and the wall keeps out the enemny and we build the wall to keep us free.

I don’t know what will happen to Broadway after the virus is gone, but it would be a shame to lose a show like this.

[READ: June 4, 2020] “Still Life”

This is an excerpt from Oates’ new novel Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.  The blurb tells what the story is about but this excerpt seems like the beginning of the story and context rather impacts the way you think about what you’re reading.

The story is about John Earle “Whitey” McClaren.  He is sixty-seven and is in the hospital trying to piece together what happened.  I feel like not knowing the reason he is in the hospital would make this story more compelling.  But having just the except without context would make the excerpt far less interesting.  So I won’t spoil.

He tries to explain what’s happening, but he can’t talk.  He realizes he’s not even breathing on his own. (more…)

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indexSOUNDTRACK: LARA DOWNES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #29 (May 30, 2020).

laraI don’t know Lara Downes, although from the picture you can see that she is a pianist, obviously.  But she also works in communities with young people–something she has been unable to do since the coronavirus took over.

This Tiny Home Desk is visually more interesting than most of the others, because she has a mobile cameraman, her son Simon, who walks around and zooms in on her fingers and elsewhere.

She plays three songs

all from her recent album Some of These Days… They are strong statements that resonate in new ways. From Margaret Bonds, one of the first celebrated African-American women composers, there’s “Troubled Water,” a poignant riff on the spiritual “Wade in the Water” that Downes says takes a “journey from classical virtuosity to gospel, jazz, blues and back again.”

It has a very fluid feel but is also quite dark.

The next piece surprised me not because of the song but because of the arranger.  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, yes the author, created this arrangement of “Deep River.”  I’m surprised that there is nothing else said about him.  I had no idea he was musical as well.

She says there are many interpretations of the river in this song.  For some, it is crossing over into the afterlife.  In the time of slavery, it meant crossing to freedom.  For Downes it represents “crossing over” the coronavirus crisis, to something better.

She is looking to raise money for FeedingAmerica.  If you go to her site and donate you can get a signed copy of her new album.

The final song is Florence Price’s “Some of These Days,” which she sees as a vision of better times ahead.  It is a beautiful slow piece.

The set ends with a jump edit to her snuggling her beloved pooch, Kona.

[READ: May 31, 2020] “Two Nurses, Smoking”

This story is broken up into titled paragraphs.  The title often works as the first part of the first sentence.  At first I didn’t understand this technique, but by the end it made a lot of sense.

The story is indeed about two nurses smoking.

Gracie grew up living in a motel that people paid for week by week.  A high school counselor encouraged her to go to nursing school.  Marlon grew up on the Shoshone reservation then his mother moved East and married a man who drank as much as she did.  He had been in the war and has a scar from an IED. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #958 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA STEVENSON-Tiny Desk Concert #946 (February 14, 2020).

maxresdefault (1)I don’t know Laura Stevenson, but she has a very pretty voice.

She is a singer-songwriter who I gather plays fairly stripped down songs.  But Bob Boilen wanted to spruce things up–I’ve never heard of him directly interfering in a Tiny Desk before–I wonder how often he does,

It was supposed to be so simple. Laura Stevenson, a singer-songwriter whose new material radiates warm intensity, would come in and knock us out with an intimate acoustic solo set … So I came to Bob with the idea … but Bob is nothing if not a pesky dreamer — a man who lives his life in pursuit of beauty and the creation of hard work for other people — so he suggested a wrinkle. What if we commissioned string arrangements for three songs from Stevenson’s newest album, The Big Freeze?

And there they are.

So arranger Amy Domingues, who doubles as a marvelous D.C.-area cellist, dreamed up some charts and gathered a small ensemble (herself and violinists Shelley Matthews and Winston Yu) for accompaniment so gorgeous, Stevenson couldn’t stop remarking on it between songs.

After the first song, “Lay Back, Arms Out” she says “.”  Then she talks about being six months pregnant and how she wasn’t pregnant when she booked this show.  She says she has to move her guitar a bit but it looks cool.

“Living Room, NY” is really lovely–Stevenson’s voice is clear and pure and makes the lyrics even more poignant.

The final song is called “Dermatillomania” (which she doesn’t even define, but which is chronic skin-picking).  She says it’s the saddest one but it is the happiest-sounding.

And that’s true, at least the happy-sounding part–it’s super catchy.

But apparently the most exciting part happened after the set was over

we also got to witness what’s almost definitely the first-ever Tiny Desk marriage proposal. Shortly after Stevenson’s set had ended, Jonathan Zember got down on one knee as unobtrusively as possible and proposed to his girlfriend, Dena Rapoport; the two were attending the show as guests of an NPR staffer, and he figured it’d be a memorable spot for their big moment.

Dena said yes.  No word if Laura will write a song about it.

[READ: March 13, 2020] “The Liver”

I enjoyed Klam’s novel Who is Rich, which I found funny and fun.  So I was looking forward to this story which has a title I wasn’t sure how to emphasize.

Boy, was I surprised to read that this is a story about a premature baby.

In fact, the majority of the story is about the narrator’s stresses about this premature baby.

The story begins with Kathy in the hospital after having given birth–two month before her due date. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHAI-Tiny Desk Concert #905 (October 23, 2019).

What sounds like circus music plays as four women dressed in hoods with colorful bangles run out behind the desk and start dancing.

The lyrics begin: C-H-A-I.  CHAI.  We are CHAI.

The choreography continues for about a minute and a half when they take off their robes to reveal the four of them wearing matching pink and orange outfits.

The quartet made its grand entrance wearing hooded pom-pom outfits, with loosely choreographed dance moves, while the band’s song “This Is CHAI” played boombox style. It felt adorable. But once the hoodies came off, revealing their matching pink, crop top uniforms, the serious fun began.

In yet another example of how the best Tiny Desk Concerts are unfairly short, this super fun and adorable set is not even 11 minutes long.

Although CHAI does manage to play 4 songs in that time.

My face hurt from smiling so much! That’s what I remember most about CHAI’s Tiny Desk. CHAI is a sweet, colorful blanket of joy. These four women from Japan — twin sisters Mana and Kana, along with Yuna and Yuuki — are on a mission to expand the conventional notion of what we think of as “cute” or “kawaii” as it’s called in Japan.

They open with “Hi Hi Baby.”  Yuna plays drums while Mana and Kana start singing.  Then Yuuki starts playing the bass–a fast rumble while Mana and Kana keep singing (and doing choreographed arm gestures).

Their voices are high and they are decked out in pink.

CHAI’s music leans punkish, and the outfits quite pinkish. The songs played at the Tiny Desk come from both the band’s 2017 album Pink and the 2019 album appropriately named Punk. The group’s lyrics bounce back and forth from Japanese to English, often in the same sentence.

For “N.E.O.” Yuna sits at the drum kit and plays a cool, complex pattern while Yuuki’s bass brings in a great low funky riff.  Kana adds some guitar licks as they sing in a kind of staccato style (in harmony).

The song ends and the three of them raise their arms and say We are CHAI!

“Fashionista” is one of these songs where you can tell it’s Japanese and English.  There’s big thumping bass as the vocals kinds of whisper the lyrics.  I don’t know what they’re saying–except the chorus “we are fashionista.”  There’s some cool chunky guitar and a great sliding bass (their bass sound is terrific).  Mid-song Kana plays guitar by itself while singing before the band jumps back in together.

Before the last song.  They introduce themselves:

I’m Mana and I’m Kana and we are twins!   Same face!  Same face!
I’m Yuna and I’m Yukki.  We are … not twins.

CHAI chose “Future” for the final song, with more lyrics to brighten my smile and the smile of those around me.

“This is just my FUTURE!
This song about us forever!
Are you ready?
Never seen before!
It’s just what I imagined!
Come on!”

For “Future” Kana plays a futuristic synth sound while Yuuki plays a slow, low bass and Yuna hits the drums and percussion with her hands.

I’ve been looking forward to this Tiny Desk and it did not disappoint.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Unbuttoned”

This is a another essay about Sedaris’ father.  Sedaris’ father is 96 and quite frail.

David himself was in the hospital about to undergo “a pretty disgusting procedure: in a few hours’ time, a doctor was scheduled to snake a multipurpose device up the hole in my penis” when his sister called to say that their father was dying.

The urologist said the device had a camera that showed what was going on inside: There’s your sphincter!

He says his previous exam like this involved his prostate

I’m fairly certain it involved forcing a Golden Globe Award up my ass.  I didn’t cry or hit anyone, though.  Thus it annoyed me to see what he English radiologist who’d performed the test had written in the comment section of his report: “Patient tolerated the trans-rectal probe poorly.”

They bought next-day plane tickets for the U.S.  En route DAvid learned that his father had been taken out of intensive care and sent back to his Assisted Living Facility.

When his father woke up, David said “I figured you’d rally as soon as I spent a fortune on last-minute tickets.”  He said he knew “that if the situation were reversed he’d gave stayed put, at least until a discount could be worked out.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Falling Down” (2010).

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

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

This song, released in 2010 was recorded in 1994 at Red Rocks.  This was the only time it was played.

“Falling Down” is a quiet, mellow song.  It is typically cryptic in meaning. The chorus is louder than the verses and features some powerful vocals from Eddie.  It has a very 1994-Pearl Jam feel to it.

The middle of the song turns into an unlikely (but still mellow) jam with two guitars intertwining in a simple guitar solo and backing melody.

The song runs to nearly six minutes.  After the instrumental break, the verse returns as quietly as before until the song fades out.

[READ: December 8, 2019] “Bridgewalker”

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

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

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

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story originally appeared on BBC Radio 4.  I imagine it was probably more enjoyable to hear it because of the conversational nature of the story.  It was a rather elliptical short short story that I didn’t care for all that much.

It is written as a one-sided conversation with a man who used to live in an unspecified location (Details make it seem like it’s set in a small town in Oregon).  He explains that he “just hitched out with my band and got lucky for a while.”  He has returned to visit his brother in the hospital. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE EILISH-“Bury a Friend” (2019).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

There’s a ton of reasons why Billie is an unlikely pop sensation.  I won’t bother going through the myriad reasons, I’ll just talk about the music of this song–a suitably creepy song to kick off a series of Spooky Stories.

The song starts with a muted, almost musical drumbeat and clicks.  Then Billie’s processed voice sings with what I assumed is a slowed down version of her voice singing parallel with her.

After a muttered “come here,” and a screech, the verse starts.  It’s no less creepy and possibly more hypnotic.  It leads to a bridge in which at the end of each features a voice that cries quietly (and then reverses n the next line).

The repeated refrain of “I wanna end me” is probably the least creepy section of the song.

There’s one more part, a quickly spoken line ending with three thumps that lead to the next line.

Then it all repeats.

There’s no prettiness, no poppiness. It’s like a slightly more dancey version of Portishead.  It’s pretty darn cool.

I have no idea why it/she is so popular.  But good for her.

And the video is really freaking creepy too.

[READ: October 17, 2019] “The Foghorn”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

Gertrude Atherton had a story in the previous Ghost Box.  I was pretty impressed by it.

This story is also pretty twisted–fans of the macabre should really check her out.

(more…)

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New_Yorker_September_11_2000-2015_02_20_13_56_46-1000x1400SOUNDTRACK: KAWABATA MAKOTO [河端一]-INUI 1 (2000).

a2061426618_16Kawabata Makoto [河端一] is the guitarist and mastermind behind Acid Mothers Temple.  The band is hugely prolific.  But he still had time to record solo albums.  Often times without any guitar.

This was Kawabata’s first solo LP, now available on bandcamp

from way back in 2000 (about 100 releases ago, in Kawabata terms). Originally released by the mighty SIWA label in a tiny, hand printed edition of 300, this has long been the most sought-after Kawabata item, pretty much impossible to track down without a wallet full of ebay slush funds. The music, as on all of Kawabata’s INUI series releases, is intensely personal and introspective, with long tracks built up of soft-focus layers of mid-fi violin, sarangi, oud, sitar, bouzouki, etc.

And that’s what this is.

The credits indicate that he plays violin, sarangi, oud, sitar, bouzouki, lyra, shou, nei, and sings.

There are three tracks.

“Shin” (11:09) is a quiet drone of him playing any or all of the instruments mentioned.  I like the middle eastern drone style paired with a kind of lead bowing improv.  The piece ends with a fifteen second moaning voice.  The voice is French film maker and musician Audrey Ginestet.

Tai (9:45) is combination of drones and plucked notes.  He sings a melody along with a bowed solo, making this song very calming.

Son (21:45) is nearly twenty minutes of unchanging drones.  It can really make you feel transcendent.  After about 16 minutes his voice comes in, echoing and distant.

This album is not for everyone, but it can certainly put you in a different head space.

[READ: August 15, 2019] “Water Child”

Nadine is a nurse.  She has moved to Brooklyn from Haiti and is living by herself.

The story opens wit her receiving a letter from her parents. It is positive and warm and asks her to call them.  Nadine wants to call but does not. For days and weeks.  But she reads the note several times a day, marveling at the lightness of the airmail paper.

Nadine ate lunch by herself.  A fellow nurse, Josette’s lunch began when Nadine’s ended and they crossed paths every day.  But their conversations were brief and functional. (more…)

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