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Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACKJAN VOGLER AND ALESSIO BAX-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #128 (December 16, 2020).

This is the third of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. This was my favorite. The first was just piano the second was a quartet of strings.  But this one, a combination of the two, was the most exciting.  I love the way the cello (Vogler) played off of the piano (Bax).

For this Tiny Desk (home) concert, we pay a visit to the doctor’s office. Actually, the venue is called Rare Violins of New York and it’s something of a second home to cellist Jan Vogler, who pops in frequently to have the experts give his 1708 Stradivarius cello a thorough checkup. If your multi-million-dollar fiddle has a cough or the sniffles, or even needs a full-blown restoration, Rare Violins, which sits just a block away from Carnegie Hall, can help. The firm also has a lovely music room, kitted out with a fine piano – something Vogler lacks at his place.  With help from the fine pianist Alessio Bax, Vogler makes a convincing case for Beethoven as one of the great heroes of the cello. Beethoven, whose 250th birthday falls this week, wrote five cello sonatas, plus other works for the instrument, which, before his time, was primarily relegated to beefing up the bass line in various chamber music situations.

Beethoven, in essence, liberated the cello. Listen to how it dances and struts in the opening scherzo from the Sonata in A, Op. 69.

“Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69: II. Scherzo” starts with a piano and the cello quickly jumps back in.  The song builds and swells and then quiets down to a pretty piano and cello melody.

Like Jonathan Biss, these two are very chatty. They are mostly chatty with each other, but they do direct their answers to the camera sometimes too.

Up next is a short piece from the beginning of his career “12 Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus: Variation XI: Adagio.”   In this piece the cello “sings sweetly.”  Vogler says that Beethoven was friendly with a fantastic cellist and he may have inspired the composer to write more pieces for the cello.

Although the piece starts with a lovely piano intro and has several moments of just piano, the cello adds so much to it.

Before the final song the two talk about how the pandemic has changed them and what they are looking forward to doing when it is over.

And finally there’s the opening to Beethoven’s last cello sonata, which Bax — whose role is far more than just an accompanist here — says is compact with emotion, yet “stretches the boundaries” for the instrument.

“Cello Sonata in D, Op. 102: I. Allegro con brio” feels like a call and response–two instruments in conversation.  And they had a lot to say.

[READ: December 20, 2020] The Disaster Tourist

In continuing with my around-the-world reading, I picked up this novel that was originally written in Korean (translated by Lizzie Buehler).

This story sounded really weird and interesting.

Yona works for a company called Jungle which specializes in offering vacations in areas that have suffered a disaster.

On a disaster trip, travellers reactions usually went through these stages

shock; sympathy and compassion, maybe discomfortable gratefulness at their own lives; a sense of responsibility that they’d learned a lesson and maybe a feeling of superiority for having survived where others didn’t.

For instance, a tsunami had hit Jinhae–in an instant everything was underwater.  Yona travelled there because Jungle currently didn’t offer any tours there.  But they would soon.  Yona would give donations and offer condolences to the community.  Then she would create a vacation package that involved viewing the aftermath along with volunteer work.

Yona had worked at Jungle for over ten years.  She was something of a star.  But apparently, her star was starting to fade because she had all of sudden been asked to handle some customer service phone calls–never a good sign.

Things got even worse when a supervisor named Kim got on the elevator with her.  He said:

Johnson is asking me to send my greetings to you.
Who?
Johnson.  My Johnson. Kim pointed to his crotch.

At this point I had to wonder.  Is this level of harassment something that happens in Korea?  Is this  shocking incident for any reader?  Is this a hyper real fiction in which everything is just a bit beyond reality?  I don’t know.

Then Kim grabs her bottom and put his hand in her blouse.  The gesture suggested that Kim didn’t care if he was caught.

Yona was upset, but not because of the sexual assault. Because Kim was known to only target has-beens. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORROMEO STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #127 (December 15, 2020).

This is the second of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

The Borromeo String Quartet consists of Nicholas Kitchen: (first) violin, Kristopher Tong: violin, Mai Motobuchi: viola and Yeesun Kim: cello (who is Kitchen’s wife).

Beethoven doesn’t score high when it comes to positive personality traits. Paranoid, litigious and a micromanager, Beethoven didn’t suffer fools and often fought with friends. Still, he possessed a well-developed funny bone, which Nicholas Kitchen and company put on display here, along with their own whimsical tiny “desks.” Because of the virus, and the confined space, the players wear masks.

The humorous side of Beethoven’s personality seeps into his music, such as the false stops and musical giggles that fuel his two-minute-long Presto from the Quartet Op. 130, which opens this performance.

“String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, II. Presto” has many fast moments and interesting parts where the first violin pays fast melodies but the rest of the quartet plays slow triplets over and over.  This is one of Beethoven’s shortest movements and is full of variety and energy.

For contrast, the Borromeos follow with a serious movement from later on in the same piece, the prayerful Cavatina, which Beethoven said even got him choked up.

This movement is full of serenity and tranquil beauty.  This is called the beklemmt section meaning trouble breathing. 

Kitchen can barely contain himself about the humor in the next piece, “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, II. Presto.”  He says this has a playful melody and “berserk” middle with instruments going all over the place.

More hijinks ensue in the Vivace from the Quartet in F, Op. 135, where Kitchen says the music becomes “completely berserk.”

And finally, in the last movement of the same quartet, Beethoven inserts a musical inside joke, the brunt of which falls on a wealthy music lover who displeased the great composer by not showing up at an important concert.

Kitchen says that Beethoven never met an occasion when he did not have a pun.  And he enjoyed injection his own brand of humor into his pieces.  In “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, IV. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss” there is an inscription: question must it be?  answer: It must be it must be!  Kitchen explains there was a patron who did not attend the premiere of opus 130.  The next day the patron  asked Beethoven to send him the music so his court musicians could play it. Beethoven said he’d send it but “you not only have to pay the price of admission for the concert you missed but for everyone in your family.”  The man looked at him and said “Must It be?”  Beethoven wrote a canon for four men to sing “it must be it must be.”  Then he made that joke the basis of the last movement of Op. 135.

[READ: January 3, 2021] Dinner

The Linden Tree was an interesting trip down memory lane for Aira.  

Dinner, by contrast is a wild violent fantasy (translated by Nick Caistor).  But its starts in the mundane–with a man and his mother going to dinner.

The two of them went to his friend’s house.  The friend was a terrible storyteller.  But he and the narrator’s mother had one thing in common–they were great at remembering the names of everyone in Pringles.  They knew the genealogies and configurations of nearly all the families.

But the narrator was terrible at remembering names–he had no facility for it at all.  He had plenty of memories from the town, but could never put a name to an event.

Evernatully the friend brought out a precious toy that he had.  It wa an old and rather sophisticated wind-up toy.  Two separate gears would go at the same time.  As it began to run, the door to a bedroom opened an a fat man came out and started to sing (as well as an old 19th century toy could sing). An old woman was in bed and she began to move back and forth “as a blind person does.” Then the second mechanism kicked in an the bedspread began to move and it looks like flocks of birds were flying out from underneath it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN BISS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #126 (December 14, 2020).

This is the first of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

Biss is uniquely qualified for the task at hand. The 40-year-old pianist has recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s freewheeling sonatas, performed them worldwide and has taught an online course in the music.hat’s impressive. Still, what’s more astounding is the personal story behind Biss’ obsession with Beethoven. The recording project alone took nearly 10 years and the things Biss says he gave up – relationships, even his sense of self – in order to live the dream is heartbreaking. The pandemic has shut down the life and livelihoods of many musicians, and for Biss the down time offered space to confront his relationship to Beethoven and his own demons. He tells his story in a raw and insightful audio memoir called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven.

You can hear some of Beethoven’s own struggle in these perceptive performances. The bittersweetness of the Bagatelle Op. 126, No. 1, the moments of fragility in the Sonata, Op. 90, and the interior perspective that reaches outward from the Sonata Op. 109, all prove that Beethoven’s music is as meaningful today as ever.

Jonathan Biss is a chatty pianist.  After playing the lovely if brief “Bagatelle in G, Op. 126, No. 1” (it’s under 3 minutes), he explains that the six bagatelles were the last thing Beethoven ever wrote for the piano. 

He also jokes that he had the overwhelming urge to introduce himself via the “invent your NPR name” by inserting your middle initial somewhere in your first name and your last name is the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled.

He says that didn’t expect to be drawn back to Beethoven during the pandemic because hos music is so intense and so much.  He thought he’d rather be drawn to comfort food.  But he can’t get away from Beethoven.

The pandemic has sidelined many big Beethoven birthday plans. Jonathan Biss was slated to play concerts around the globe in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Instead, he’s home in Philadelphia. So it’s no surprise that for this all-Beethoven Tiny Desk concert, Biss chose music that explores the composer’s own isolation, brought on by deafness and an uncompromising personality.

He talks about cancelling his tour in March.  He came home  and decided to read more–do he randomly picked out How to Be Alone as if the fates were telling him something.  Biss feels that beethoven provided a guide to being alone.  He was alone for most of his life–his personality was rather off putting, but he was also functionally deaf–the most profound form of isolation.  He retreated into his imagination to create these songs.

“Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90: I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck” is a piece that shows his vulnerability–a rare things for Beethoven.

He plays the first two movements of “Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109: I. Vivace, ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo, II. Prestissimo.”  You can hear him humming an grunting along.

He signs off with his “NPR name” which I can’t quite make out.  Then he concludes with the final bagatelle, “Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 126, No. 3” which ends by drifting into the ether.

[READ: January 1, 2021] The Linden Tree

I’ve had a few César Aira books sitting around that I wanted to finish and the beginning of a new year seemed like a great opportunity.

It’s not always clear if his stories are fiction, non-fiction or some combination of the two.  The back of this book calls it a “fictional memoir,” as if that clears things up.  Chris Andrews translated this fictional memoir.

The book opens with the narrator explaining that his father used to go into the town square to take leaves and flowers from the linden trees (in particularly one unusually large tree) and make a tea out of them.  This had some kind of regenerative properties for him–they cured his insomnia at any rate.

From there, as happens with Aira stories–it goes everywhere.

About a different Aira story Patti Smith once wrote:

I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything, like a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.

And THAT is exactly the way Aira books work for me too.  I have to go back through them just to try to remember the details.

So, in this story the narrator’s father is black (mixed race marriages were unusual in Pringles at the time of their marriage).  His mother, who he praised for marrying a black man, was also flawed in many ways, including being very short and very bossy.

But the main thing about this story is the rise and fall of Peronism. (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: PJ MORTON-Tiny Desk Concert #120 (December 2, 2020).

PJ Morton did a Tiny Desk Concert back in 2018 and he won me over musically (although I didn’t love his voice).

If we invite artists to return to the Tiny Desk, we ask that they do something completely different from their first show. For PJ Morton, the obvious shift would’ve been to come solo. After all, he defied the laws of space back in 2018 and managed to squeeze 14 bodies behind the Desk. This time around he’s just as generous with the spotlight, but puts a new focus on gospel.

Gathered in a big airy space in his hometown of New Orleans, PJ and his band performed three selections from the now Grammy-nominated The Gospel According To PJ, his very first gospel album. He grew up playing gospel music, but chose secular music as his professional path. The album brings him back full circle, a journey mapped out in conversations on the album with his father, Bishop Paul S. Morton.

I like the sound of gospel, although lyrically I’m not that interested in it.  I’m also not that keen on his guest vocalists.

PJ only sings lead on one song but is clearly the maestro for this Tiny Desk (home) concert.

I like that the guests appear on TV screens in the middle of the room.

They open with the reggae-infused “So In Love,” featuring Darrel Walls and Zacardi Cortez.

This song opens with the standard reggae drum fill from Ed Clark before the reggae guitar of Shemaiah Turner and bass of Brian Cockerham join the trumpets from John Perkins and Stephen Lands and saxophones of Tajh Derosier and Brad Walker.

Darrel Walls sings first; Zacardi Cortez has an interesting raspy style of singing.  But I am far more interested in the backing singers who sound fantastic: Tiondria Norris, Jarell Bankston and Ashton Fortner Francis.

The song slows way down to just some lovely horns and piano as the song segues into the very religious song “All In His Plan.”  Morton sings this one and again, I love the backing singers.

The set closes with “Repay You,” featuring J Moss.

I’ve also never heard of him.  He’s got a Stevie Wonder kind of delivery.   I really don’t like the grace notes that he uses, but when he tells PJ to “let him be intimate” and he sings quietly it sounds really nice.  Morton’s piano is also really good.

[READ: December 30, 2020] “Acting Class” 

In 2019, the New Yorker experienced a cartoon takeover issue.  The same has happened to end 2020.  There are many many cartoons in it, including this excerpt from a Drawn & Quarterly.

I don’t know Nick Drasno’s work.  At first I thought it looked a lot like Chris Ware (lots of detail).  But Drasno’s people look very different from Ware’s.  Drasno’s people are realistic but with very limited line work–he conveys a lot with just a few lines.

This story opens in a car–there’s a neat moment in an early panel where he has light fall on one of the characters to show movement–a simple but elegant touch.  They are driving from the city to the middle of nowhere to go to an acting seminar. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAC AYERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #118 (November 30, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Mac Ayers and while I respect the fact that he plays everything in this Tiny Desk Home Concert (and syncs things up nicely) and even wears different clothes for each instrument, this 15 minute set was pretty torturous for me.

If you were to ask what kind of singing do I hate the most, my answer would now be Mac Ayers.  I hate the tone of his voice, I hate the way he does those whiny ooooooh at the end of his lines (note in the first song the first verse the way he says “you” and then the way he ends the rhyming word do (he even makes a face like it hurts him as much as it hurts me.

Obviously my opinion is not the popular one, because Ayers is apparently a big star.  But not in my house.

The 23-year-old Long Island native shot this in his basement back in September (hence the ‘register to vote’ comment). Mac’s modus operandi lends itself to the Tiny Desk naturally. No over-produced beats, lots of live instruments and a stunning vocal range — and he handles all duties: guitar, bass, keyboard and background harmonies for three songs from previous albums and the premiere of a new song, “Sometimes.”

He plays “She Won’t Stay Long” and then fiddles on the keyboard as he introduces “Walking Home.”  This song is a little bit more enjoyable for me.  There are fewer grace notes.  Although I do dislike the chorus.

He talks to us from his guitar to introduce the third song (I like that he’s mixing things up).

“Sometimes” is a new song.  It reminds me a lot of Billy Joel (not his voice, but the melody–must be a Long Island thing).

“Easy” has some terrific harmonies, although I hate the lead vocals.  I give him a lot of credit for being an exceptional musician, I just hate the music he makes.

We were well on the way to hosting Mac Ayres at our D.C. offices until we had to shut down and pivot.

I hope this Home Tiny Desk means he doesn’t have to do one in the office.

[READ: December 13, 2020] Modern Times

I saw this book at work and, given some of the blurbs, I thought it might be, if not fun then at least unusual to read flash fiction from an Irish writer.  I also prefer this Australian cover (right).

The book starts out with a bang.  “A Love Story” is bizarre and memorable.  In a page and a half, Sweeney talks about a woman who “loved her husband’s cock so much that she began taking it to work in her lunchbox.”  The story is bittersweet and outrageous at the same time.  It was a great opening.

But I feel like the rest of the book lost some steam.  Possibly because I assumed all of the stories would be this short.  It felt like the longer stories dragged on a bit (which is strange for stories about 4 pages long).

Interestingly, “The Woman With Too Many Mouths” even addresses this (to me anyway) as the narrator says, “I could expend many pages recounting my time…. but you would become bored, and worse, you would forget all about the woman with two many mouths.”  The woman with too many mouths had moths (among other things) fly out of these mouths.

“A New Story Told Out of an Old Story” is, as the title suggests, a story within a story.  It feels like a fairy tale with a Woodcutter and a Miller’s Daughter.  There’s even a Grandmother and a Wolf.   In the internal story, the wolf attacks the grandmother.  She survives, but the scar from the wolf makes her husband not want to look at her and the villagers treat her badly.  When you get to the Grandmother’s story, she has a different take on things.

This book is very current and I am reading “The Palace” as being about the pandemic.  Specifically, the outrageous bungling of the response by the current (and soon to be ex!) administration in the U.S.  

The palace was sick  no one believed it, but it was true.  

In the story the palace physically deteriorates.  The king patches it up but doesn’t actually do anything about the problem.

Soon reports of the sickness were breaking in the news on a daily basis. The king gave a rousing speech about battling the forces of evil that had created the sickness and people screamed ‘Long live the King’ until they were hoarse.’

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTILLERS-Very Special Christmas Special, “Baby It’s Covid Outside” (December 18, 2020).

Despite going to many live shows, I haven’t watched a lot of streaming concerts. It’s not the same, and I don’t really like watching things on my computer anyway.

I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to buy a ticket for this one.  I saw The Distillers last year and enjoyed the show. But I feel like I didn’t get to fully appreciate it because the crowd was really rowdy and knew the band far more than I did.

So this seemed like a chance to see them “live” up close. The entire special was barely 40 minutes.  This is a bit of a bummer, but at the same time, it was really a perfect length for me.

In addition to the music, there were some skits.  As the show opens, Black Metal Santa unpacks some presents from his sack.  There’s a gun on a stack of presents, he pulls out a squeaking chicken dog toy and then a very adult toy.  He turns around, all Black Metal and says “Merry Fucking Christmas boys and girls, here’s The Distillers.”

On a well-decked-out Christmas-themed set The Distillers start to play.  There’s all kinds of Christmas things–blow up snowmen and giant stocking as well as digital flames.  And a full rig of lights. The band sounds great and the recording is well mixed.  The drums and bass sound huge.

They open with “Sick of It All.”  Brody Dalle is up front playing guitar and singing.  To her right is Tony Bevilacqua on guitar.  To her left is Ryan Sinn on bass.  All three are wearing Santa hats.  They all sing the opening verses and it sounds like a wall of vocals. Drummer Andy Granelli is not wearing a Santa hat, but he does have a knit cap on. The song sounds great–a blast of punk to celebrate the season.

They follow with the outrageously catchy punk of “Oh Serena.”  When I saw them, they opened with these two songs as well.  But this set list deviates somewhat. 

Up next is the quieter “L.A. Girl.”  It starts with everyone playing softly while Brody sings.  Then the whole band kicks in with massive drumming and some tasty bass fills. A martial drum beat opens “I’m a Revenant.”  Both guitarists play the lead riffs before Brody starts singing.  This song has some great sing-along moments as well as a brief part where it’s just Brody before the band marches in again.

“Sunsets” comes next.  They didn’t play this when I saw them.  Brody’s guitar is clean as the song opens.  She sings without a snarl.  The song does not turn into a balls out rocker.  It stays slow but gets very intense.  Bevilacqua makes interesting bendy sounds from his guitar in the middle jam section.  The song slows to a bass rumble before some Christmas music starts playing.

Black Metal Santa comes out and gives Brody a present.  It’s the album Faith by The Cure.  But there’s nothing inside–it’s just the cover. Black Metal Santa says, “Its my ‘Primary’ Christmas gift to you.  A cover.  Now play the damn song.”  It’s an amusing introduction to the song “Primary,” which I did not expect at all.  It sounds fantastic–close to the original, but heavier and obviously with Brody’s vocals sounding very different from Robert Smith’s.  She restrains her vocals until a loud snarling “oh remember” part.

Brody removes the Santa hat for “Dismantle Me” and the lights get brighter so you can see her more clearly.  This song has a great split with really fast guitars from Bevilacqua and slower guitars from Brody. 

The super fast chords continue into “Die on a Rope.”  This song also has some “Oh way oh” parts that are really catchy for such a dark song.  The middle jam is just bass and drums and Bevilacqua’s squeaky feedback while Brody sings.  There’s some thunderous drumming in the end as they jump into “City of Angels.”  This song is really catchy as she and the boys sing together.  There’s another cool middle section of just Brody’s guitar and noisy guitar sounds from Bevilacqua before the band roars off again.

The song ends and Brody looks off stage and says “Jesus.”  Granelli chides, “Brody, it’s Christmas.”  But she points off stage and Jesus comes out.  They ask what he’s doing there and he says it’s his birthday. They ask if he can make it snow.  Jesus says he makes miracles happen–he’s got a guy.   He calls a guy who comes down and the snow starts to fall.  Jesus and the guy get in a fight over who actually makes the miracles happen.  The guy says “ever since cofefe.”  But Granelli stops them, “we’re trying to do a Christmas show here, knock it off.”

Brody takes the mic and says “this year’s been a real ass kicker.  We’re looking forward to the new year.” 

Then they start Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”  It sounds great and is a perfect set ender for a holiday special.

The show ends and they play the Ramones song over the credits.  The band takes bows and makes snow angels.

It’s a fun special and totally worth the $15.

[READ: December 25, 2020] “The George Spelvin Players”

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

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

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

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

It’s December 25.  Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers, could’ve sworn she left that porridge bowl right over there [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I started this story and thought it was so familiar that I was sure I had read it before.  But as it went along, it didn’t seem familiar anymore, so maybe there is a similar component of it that I had read in another story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NIGHT BEFORE–WXPN (December 24, 2020).

Every year, from Midnight on December 23 to Midnight on December 24, DJ Robert Drake plays TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of the most esoteric Christmas music around.  Sure, there’s some familiar songs, but mostly, this is weird, wonderful Christmas music.  It is a MUST LISTEN for your Christmas Eve.  Especially around 11PM, when he’s been up for over 24 hours.

Check out the stream here and read all about this fascinating history below

It was 28 years ago when WXPN came to me, with those puppy-dog eyes, hoping that I’d fill in on December 24. Seems no one was available, and in those days before digital, you needed a body to oversee any programming. So, I agreed – as long as they gave me complete freedom to spin an aural web of sounds of the season – direct from my collection of holiday tunes.

What they didn’t know was that I had already developed a fascination for Christmas songs. Not the burnt cookies anyone can hear up and down the dial in December. My collection was chock-full of unique nuggets – some not given the light of day for decades.

So, they agreed to give me three hours and I delivered. The three hours went to four – which went to six and then to twelve, to celebrate twelve years of tradition! The following year management asked what I planned to do to top my 12-hour marathon. I said, how ’bout 24 hours?! After checking my pulse and temperature – just to be sure I wasn’t babbling under some illness – they agreed. Ever since, I’ve been on the air for 24-nonstop hours every Christmas Eve.

And now I am doing it all again!

Within my 24 hour radio takeover on December 24, I will air some special programming that have become traditions within the tradition! Every Christmas Eve morning at 10am, I replay Home For The Holidays hosted by Helen Leicht. An amazing selection of regional artists perform classic sounds of the season.

At noon it’s my annual broadcast of STRIKING TWELVE – a wonderful and creative retelling of “The Little Match Girl”, a short story by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen and performed here by GroveLily.

Later in the evening at 7pm, I broadcast It’s A Wonderful Life – the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed … a perfect way to showcase the magic of radio on this most magical of nights!

Here’s a few songs you’ve already missed today

Bailen – Christmas Is All Around
The Piano Guys – Carol Of The Bells
Weird Al Yankovic – Christmas At Ground Zero
Asleep At The Wheel – Christmas In Jail
Wall Of Voodoo – Shouldn’t Have Given Him A Gun For Christmas
John Flynn – Christmas Balls

[READ: December 24, 2020] “A Portrait of an Unnamed Man”

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

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

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

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

It’s December 24.  Edward Carey, author of The Swallowed Man, writes his phone number on his hand for just such an occasion. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story read like a Mad Lib to me and I don;t understand why it was written.

It starts out fairly normally.  After a bad storm the air is full of the smell of rotting photographs.  That’s very specific, but I get it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAWN COLVIN-Happy Holidays from Shawn Colvin and McCarter Theatre Center! (December 19, 2020).

On December 19th, I received an email from McCarter Theatre:

Shawn Colvin, a dear friend of McCarter, gave us a special present to share with all of you!

I have enjoyed Shawn Colvin’s music over the years, but somehow was never quite aware that she played McCarter (apparently many times).  At the end of this session, she says that she is arranging something special with the Artistic Director of McCarter for 2021.

I think I’ll certainly have to check that out.

For this special concert, Shawn plays two Christmas songs from her home.

It amuses me that she says she wants to give us a little holiday cheer and then she plays “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  Good grief.

her version is lovely and her voice sounds very good.

The second (of two) songs is “Little Road to Bethlehem.”  I don’t know this song but it’s similar in tone and it suits Colvin perfectly.

This isn’t exactly the holiday pick-me-up it might have been, but Colvin sounds great and it is nice to hear her.

[READ: December 22, 2020] “The Ones We Carry With Us”

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

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

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

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

It’s December 22.  Sara O’Leary, author of The Ghost in the House, puts a bowl of candy on her front step with a sign that says “Help yourself.” [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the second story in this collection which I have read previously (that’s a good ratio 2 out of 22).  Here’s a link to the original post.  This is a slightly edited version of my original post:

This story starts with a fascinating sentence: ” A few years ago, I accidentally midwifed a death.”

This could literally mean many things, although figuratively it makes sense for what she actually means.

The narrator then goes on to tell us about three women whose lives have impacted her.

The woman who died was Agatha. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Frustrated” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Seventh” December 16, 2020).

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

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

The seventh night is a song from a band who, to most people’s knowledge only ever released one song. I know I have certainly never heard this song from The Knack before.

Tonight we’re featuring 4 nice Jewish boys whose biggest hit was a song about a nice Jewish girl… “My Shalom-a” or something like that… We’re huge fans of New Wave (as well as the “old wave” that came after Moses parted the Red Sea)…so we were psyched to get to cover one of our favorites…The Knack!

The Knack put out three albums from 1979-1981, then three more in the late 90s-2000s.  And yet the only song they ever released is “My Sharona,” right?

“Frustrated” is a pretty simple late 70s new wave song.  Catchy (but not super catchy).  Kurstin plays the keyboards and it sounds pretty new wavey.  He also rips a pretty good solo.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  The drums are pretty simple although I like that the verses alternate between snare and tom dominance. I don’t know how close he comes to the original voice but the (inserted video) harmony vocal i quite lovely.

It’s nice that they chose something other than the obvious hit, although the obvious hit is a hit for a reason.

[READ: December 17, 2020] “Ersatz Panda”

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

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

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

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

It’s December 17. Lucy Ives, author of Loudermilk, has a nickname for every cat she’s ever met. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I really enjoyed the way this seven-part story began.  In a store there is a cat.  It is black and white.  Its name is Panda.  The narrator sends videos of Panda being cute to her feed.

Then one day the woman goes to the store and Panda has been replaced by another cat.  It’s also black and white but looks nothing like Panda.  This one is also loud and hairy.  The owner says that someone took Panda and replaced her with this cat.  A friend calls it “Ersatz Panda.”  The narrator decides she can’t go back to that store.

She goes to a new store.  They also have a cat.  This one is orange.  It’s name is K.C. for Kitty Cat.  K.C disappeared for a while, but she came back.

But then Part 2 shifts gears.  It comments on what we have just read: “narration is the act of organizing discrete events into a series.”  The narrator defines ersatz and says that ersatz is a beautiful word. (more…)

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