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Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MADAME GANDHI-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #38 (June 24, 2020).

I have never heard of Madame Gandhi.  That’s a constant theme with these Home Tiny Desks–they seem even more geared toward introducing lesser known artists to the world.

Madame Gandhi’s is surrounded by her yellow bongos and congas, a yellow desk from her youth and a yellow nightstand, her Tiny Desk (home) concert lighting nods to the lavender-lemon artwork of her 2019 Visions EP.

Her music is mostly prerecorded.  The live elements are her vocals (soft and gentle with a lot of nonsense syllables amid the good vibe lyrics) and her wonderful hand drums.

Her music is inspired by her South Indian heritage and she lights a stick of palo santo.

For the first two songs she plays the damaru (I think).  “Waiting For Me” is about returning to the earth–returning to nature.  I enjoyed the way it began:

Wake up in the morning / hit space bar and start recording

She plays cool-sounding drums–she has wonderfully diverse sounds from that tiny hand drum.  And they seem to be modified in some way, too.

Before “Moon in the Sky,” she says “I don’t want our identities defined according to how oppressed we are.”

She’s intentional with everything she does, including activism that focuses primarily on gender liberation. She uses music to help elevate and celebrate female voices, from working with primarily queer women BIPOC on tour and video sets, to writing socially-conscious lyrics that challenge the white male-dominated music industry.

She continues, “if we are not brave enough to tell our stories end to end, somebody else will.  And they will get it wrong.

on tour and video sets, to writing socially-conscious lyrics that challenge the white male-dominated music industry.. Madame Gandhi’s clear, soft voice and swells of percussion give you the necessary space to meditate on her message of inclusion and equality.

She says her music is Indian trap.  The music has fun beats and a downplayed vocal delivery. I rather like it.

For the final song, “Bad Habits,” she stands up and plays the bongos: “put your phone down and stand with me.”  The catchy chorus of the song is “all my bad habits have got to got to go.”

Her parting words are that each person’s contribution is unique and valuable and can be of service to my community and my family.

This has been a great introduction to a new form of music for me.

[READ: June 28, 2020] “The Rescue Will Begin In Its Own Time”

I really don’t understand what was going on with these previously unpublished stories by Kafka (translated by Michael Hofmann). There are four flash fiction pieces and they seem much more like story ideas than stories.

In the first section he talks about the four ways the Prometheus legend can be viewed.  After the fourth, it ends, “The real riddle was the mountains.”

In the second part, there is a large load of bread which the Father of the family cannot cut.  The Father is not surprised, “Isn’t it more surprising if something succeeds than if it fails?”  When the children woke the next morning he had been up all night but had not managed to cut it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALEX ISLEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #21 (May 15, 2020).

Alex Isley’s father is one half of the Isley Brothers, purveyors of some of the baddest-ass riffs in rock and soul.

So how strange is it that Alex’s song have literally no low end.  Her voice is very high, her keys are soft and gentle chords and her rhythm is finger snaps.  These songs are gossamer and will easily blow away.

From her Los Angeles home, Isley takes us on a tour of her discography, starting with “About Him” from 2013’s Dreams in Analog.

The blurb describes “About Him,” as opening with an “angelic riff,” but I found it more demonic than angelic.  The song is like five minutes long and nothing happens.  The melody just swirls around and she repeats a few lines a lot–yes, this song is about you.

“Into Orbit” is much the same although this song is about her grandfather I think–it’s really hard to focus on what she;s saying because it’s all so ethereal.

Before the third song she gives a shout out to 9th Wonder, apparently a storied hip-hop producer who produced her brand new song, “Rain Clouds,”  This song actually has a drum beat on it and it’s short. There’s also a nice backing vocal track.  This feels like an actual song.

She closed with her latest single, “Gone.”  Even with a slightly interesting synth bass line, the rest of the song is so in the ether that it just seems to drift away.

And the whole show was forgotten just like that.

[READ: May 18, 2020] “The Afterlife”

There was a lot going on in this story but I really have no idea what it was.  The fact that it was divided into short numbered passages really didn’t help in any way.

R. is on a shuttle bus to the afterlife.  The building is unfeasibly large with side rooms.  The place was crowded and he wondered if he’d see anyone he knew.

Then he hears people, his, people muttering nonsensical sentences.  Until finally he sees someone writing something down.  He hopes the man is a poet.  But when R. talks to the man and asks if anything here adds up, the man says

“It doesn’t add up to anything at all. Not unless you saw the sequel.”
“The sequel?”
Avengers: Endgame.”

What?  Are you kidding me? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAPTAIN GROOVY & HIS BUBBLEGUM ARMY-“Captain Groovy And His Bubblegum Army” (1969).

Was there ever a band made for its time more than Captain Groovy And His Bubblegum Army?  In addition to the hippie component, there’s even “bubblegum” in the title.  [The “golden age” of Bubblegum Music was 1966-1970].

I’ve never heard of them or this song before.  It made it to #128 on the charts.  So who were they?

This band was a studio project constructed by bubblegum music kings Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, who were also the masterminds behind the Ohio Express, the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Music Explosion.

They released one 45 (‘Captain Groovy And His Bubble Gum Army’ b/w ‘Dark Part Of My Mind, Part 1’) on the Super K label in 1969. Joey Levine, lead singer of the Ohio Express, provides vocals on the record, which was originally intended to be the soundtrack to a cartoon series titled ‘Captain Groovy And His Bubble Gum Army’, but it never got off the ground.

Perhaps it never got off the ground because they couldn’t decide if it was “bubblegum” or “bubble gum.”

Despite the name, his song seems to defy the concept of bubblegum music.  There’s not a lot of music in the song.  There’s a melody but it’s mostly provided by the bass and vocals.  The drums are also too loud for bubblegum.  Indeed, this song feels much more psychedelic, which makes sense given the time.  I guess the name is misleading in several ways.

The bridge of the song features a slowly increasing riff that leads a lot of tension and the guitar solo at the end is quite anarchic.

I can’t imagine what the show would have been like.

[READ: May 18, 2020] Bubblegum Week 2

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

Facts are Subjective Anyway

I wasn’t planning on focusing on names again this week, but there are a few things that came up that put names back on my radar.  The first of which was the fact that he mentions Adam Levin, author of the novel The Instructions, as a person who smoked as much as he does.  But speaking of this, there is a lot of fiction within fiction revealed here.  So these were two interesting ideas.

In fact though, this was a tough section to write about because a lot happened.  With more action, there seemed to be less to ponder because so much moved things forward.  Not a lot happened in the first week, but comparatively, this was action galore.

Chapter 1, Section 4 “All-Encompassing and Tyrannical”

As this part opens, Belt muses about Lotta’s conspicuous generosity.  As with many other things in this story so far, Belt is super analytical.  He decides that her generosity had to mean something.  But what.

  • What she too spidged to realize she’d given so much money?
  • Was it a communication of some kind?  But what?
  • Was she hinting that she loved him?
  • If she did, it was not mutual but he didn’t want to offend her.  So how should he proceed with the loan?  Anything he did might offend her, which he didn’t want to do.

He “knew a stalemate of hypotheticals when [he] saw one.”

The question of if he should spend the money is mooted when his father returns early.

His father tells a lengthy story about why he left the fishing trip.  He’d gotten a fight with his friends who claimed that Belt was a puker.  Belt did once puke  on a fishing trip.  Clyde’s friend Rick’s son Jim pretty much butchered a fish trying to take the hook out and belt threw up.  Rick said they call Belt “the Duke of Puke.” So Clyde got into a fight with his best friend.  He also realized he’d forgotten to leave Belt money so he came home early.

Clyde is a prickly dude to be sure.  Here’s a couple of example of Clyde’s behavior to his son.

He asked if it was I who’d left the water on the kitchen table, and, if so then why had I left the water on the kitchen table, but before I could answer either question, he’d already begun to sarcastically offer a number of reasons why someone who has just celebrated his thirty-eighth birthday might feel entitled to leave water on a table instead of feeling obligated to spill it in a sink and wash its container or, at the very least, rinse its container. He didn’t say container, but he didn’t only say tumbler.  He named a large assortment of containers–glass, cup, mug, tankard, stein, grail, chalice, etc.–as if he felt that uttering a exhaustive list of names of containers from which one might drink was necessary to bringing his point across with clarity.
When at least he finished speaking, I told him I wasn’t yet finished with the water.
“So finish it,” he said.

We also learn that Clyde had not only purchased one of the “Jonboat Say” T-shirts, he mounted it in a glass frame (and assumed that it bugged Belt.  It did, but doesn’t any longer.

Chapter 1, Section 5 “On the Chin” also has a lot of “action.”

Belt talks to a few inans and it’s interesting to learn that the inans have opinions about each other.

The slide is a whiner and mocks Belt for having to talk to the inans out loud rather than in his head.  The slide encourages him to try to talk in his head, but it’s so muffled the slide rips him apart.

He leaves the slide and when his feet hit the ground, the SafeSurf spoke up.  The SafeSurf is empathetic. and here we get some more incorrect names.  The SafeSurf initially calls him Blight Magnificat.  ||I knew Magnificat sounded off||.  SafeSurf also reveals how much he dislikes the slide because the slide has been calling him |not pebbles| because it replaced pebbles, I guess. But even that’s insulting because SafeSurf didn’t replace pebbles it replaced woodchips which replaced the pebbles.

Then comes the frankly astonishing information that there is a girl, unnamed of course, who can also speak to inans.  Belt has known about this girl for some twenty years and had been looking for her.  But how do you find someone who is talking to inanimate objects?  Especially if she is talking to them in her head.  The inans can’t tell people apart aside from gender, so they’re no help.

Then we hear that ten years ago she had killed herself with pills in the bathtub (news travels slowly among inans but it does travel).  But now the SafeSurf tells him there is a new girl who an talk to inans and it has encountered her.

Then comes some real drama and real action.

Five fourteen year old boys all wearing identical baseball hats embroidered with “yachts” approach.  Their names are on the brims: LYLE, BRYCE, CHAZ, CHAZ JR.  There was a fifth who was further back and called Triple-J (or Trip).  Belt had let Blank out and the boys spotted it immediately The boys think Blank is adorable and want to buy it.  The fifth boy is ignoring them as he is doing something by the slide.

Belt gets tense about the boys closing in on him and he lashes out at them.  Triple-J comes over and subdues him but jumping on his kidneys.  But in a remarkably restrained manner.  He even makes sure that Belt is okay.  But belt has figured out who this boy is.  When Triple-J said “Dicksneeze,” Belt knew that it was Jonboat’s son.

After the beating Belt passed out.  When he wakes up he find a cure taped to the slide–Triple-J had taped him there with Band-Aids.

Belt brought the cure home and wanted to save it.  He doesn’t want to dact on the cure because he wants to remain innocent of that experience.  He assumes that the cure has bonded with Triple-J, so he knows he will need the Independence

He thinks of Chad-Kyle because of his Bic lighter. The sound it makes is claimed to be a flick but it is duosyllabic and it sounds a lot like CHAD-kyle.

Chapter 1, Section 6 is called “Toe”

The cure that belt brought home died over night (Belt tried to save it but wound up killing it instead).  The cure had been in the process of laying a reproductive pearl.

Belt is actually burying the dead cure in the backyard when his father sees him.

It begins with a possibly touching moment between Belt and Clyde.  Clyde got a cure from the cuddlefarmer at the brothel the night before with the intent of then both dacting on it together–a bonding experience.  But it was so cute that Clyde couldn’t get it to his mouth fast enough.

When Clyde sees him burying a cure, he assumes they both self-dacted which makes them even.

But then there’s more of Clyde’s prickliness.

Speaking of forgot, I hope you’re better at remembering which hook you took that spade from than you are at remembering to lock the shed door.
I had locked the shed door.  “It’s locked,” I said.
“Sure,” said my father, “I can see it’s locked now, but it wasn’t while you did whatever you were doing with my spade over there for however long you did it.”
“No one would’ve broken in while I was standing in sight of it.”
I didn’t say they would.  I’m talking about habits. The more often you fail to lock the shed when you leave it, the more likely you are to forget to lock the shed.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Trust me,” he said.
“I trust you,” I said.
“Don’t get all autistic, I’m fucking with you Billy.  Lighten up.  Take it easy.

As Belt leaves the scene, Clyde says he’ll just dig up whatever Belt has buried (which Belt said was a 25 year-old cure).

Belt goes to the bank to return Lotta’s money and to talk to Chad-Kyle about Independence.

He has an awesome conversation with Gus about handkerchiefs and how the demise of the handkerchief is essentially responsible for the death of romance and the rise of child beating (its pretty spectacular).

Gus is an interesting character and Belt likes him.  He even says “I really like your name.  It’s an old-timey name.  A tough kind of name, but not like a bully.  Just straight up tough.

When Belt reveals that his father is Clyde Franklin Magnet, Gus knows him–he was Clyde’s supervisor (before he retired or, you know, was fired).

Later Gus says to Belt, “And so your name’s uh–its’ Cuff, right?”

Belt says he’ll give him an autographed copy of No Please Don’t.  And soon enough Belt’s book will come into prominence in the story.

But first he goes to talk to Chad-Kyle who is trying to get his Independence cure (and two others) to do a (violent) trick which he thinks will get him on the marketing plan for Independence.

Chad-Kyle goes on a long, hilariously inaccurate, diversion about the inventor of dynamite.  “I can’t remember his name” [Aflred Nobel].  Nobel created it to blow up mountains but then someone realized it could be used as a weapon in WWI against the Nazis.  That’s when he had his Topeka moment.  When Belt says he doesn’t think that’s right, Chad-Kyle says, “facts are subjective anyway.”

Finally Lotta Hogg drags Belt away (No worries, Beltareeno) and says she wants to take Belt to lunch.  She says she hates the idea of killing cures–and this makes him think twice about her.  He calls CK a “wang scab” but she says he’s not that bad.  She is playing Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” the first music mentioned in the book, I believe.

They go to Arcades Brothel.  They recently started serving pizza (which Belt decides isn’t very good).  Lotta orders them a flight of slices (ha).  It turns out Lotta’s mother is the cutefarmer who sold Clyde the cure last night.

Belt goes into the bathroom trying to decides if he could actually like or even love someone like Lotta.  When he returns he sees that she has a cures toe in her cleavage.  (His mind comes up with some repulsive alternatives before realizing what it actually is).

She tries to get him to eat one, “PWEESE? Aw we want is Cwoseness.”  But Belt will have none of it.

Chapter 1, Section 7 “What the Gold Should Have Done”

The final section of the chapter features Triple-J at the Magnet house.  It also features a lot of detail about No Please Don’t.

Belt says there are three vaguely autobiographical moments in the novel.  Although he won’t spoil the novel by revealing anything more than that Gil Benjamin MacCabby is mourning the loss of his beloved Bam Naka action figure and the chipmunk episode resonates for him in a way it really didn’t for Belt.  (I’m not detailing the chipmunk episode).

When Belt gets home, Triple-J greets him with a quote from the book, “What should gold have done.”

Triple-J says he loves No Please Don’t.  It’s the first book he ever loved and he has read it many times.

Jonboat’s former driver is now driving around Triple-J.  His name is Burroughs.  Belt tells Burroughs to call him “Belt,” but his father says “Call him Billy.”

Clyde and Burroughs get into a tough guy conflict that leads to nothing.  Eventually, Triple-J (Burroughs calls him Trip) invites Belt and his father to “the compound.”

Before they leave, Burroughs takes Belt aside and says that Jonboat was convinced that Belt modeled Bam Naka after him.  He was quite upset about it but has since gotten over it.  Belt assures him that Jonboat is tangentially involved in the narrator if at all.

Triple-J asks if Belt will watch his movie  A Fistful of Fists, and read his two papers “On Private Viewing,” and “Living Isn’t Functioning.”

But despite how much Belt would like to engage with Trip’s media, he decided to reread Chapter 9 (the end of part 1–this is also the end of part 1) of No Please Don’t, the first time he’s read it since he wrote it.

Gil MacCabe is 9 years old.  He was given a ring by his father and he suspects it is not real gold.  Like any good watcher of cartoons, he decides to test the realness of the gold by biting it, as any good cartoon prospector would do.  of course he [like me] doesn’t know what the biting is supposed to prove.

He winds up ruining the ring, but doesn’t know what it even means.

Of all the nugget-biters in the Westerns Gil’s seen…not one of them ever even once explains just what the nugget did or didn’t do between his teeth to assuage his suspicions of its being fools’ gold or confirm his hopes of its being real gold.

This leads to Gil remembering back when he was 3 or 4 years old.  Gil thought about how on shows glass would break.  So when his mother served him water in a glass instead of a sippy cup he wanted to know what kind of glass this was.  His mother doesn’t understand and says it’s just glass.  Glass is glass.

But Gil doesn’t believe his mom wasn’t horrible enough to give him dangerous glass.  So he bit the rim.

It hurt. He bled.  It was all her fault.

Triple-J related to this accusing line that it was all her fault, although Belt didn’t mean it the way Trip took it.

Gil was wrong that it was his mother’s fault.  He was just too young to know it.  But Trip must have made a psychological connection because of his own mother’s alcoholism and subsequent death in a car collision.  Darla Pellmore-Jason, née Field, may not have been an alcoholic when they were married, but she became one after Jon Jon left her for Fondajane Henry.  Presumably Trip felt that Belt also didn’t think very highly of mothers.

On the plus side, Belt takes Triple-J’s misunderstanding as a good sign.  When he was younger, Belt misunderstood J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey) and Kafka (“A Hunger Artist” this time) when he first read them.  Now he sees Trip’s misreading of his book as making him comparable to Salinger and Kafka.

He ends the section by referencing the section above “All Encompassing and Tyrannical” and the time he refused his father’s invitation to go see the Mustangs game and get ice cream.  he promises to mention other times when No Please Don’t was autobiographical in the next few sections.

~~~~

Language is so clearly very important to Levin.  You can see it in misunderstandings–as in No Please Don’t or in getting people’s names wrong.

But also in Levin’s use of exotic words.

He emphasizes the word taction (which the dictionary says is obsolete) as the unexpected word for the act of touching.  Belt says, “It seemed important to recall the word.”

And also in this phrasing after Belt gets beaten up: “I was, somewhat literarily, yards from where I’d lain when my father first taught me all he knew about suffering. [emphasis mine].

The use of literarily hearkens back not only to the meta-novel within a novel but also to Belt’s referencing The Instructions earlier in the section.

~~~~

Aside from Salinger and Kafka and The Instructions, there’s no other stories mentioned, I don’t think.

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SOUNDTRACK: LIANNE LA HAVAS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #18 (May 5, 2020).

This Tiny Desk is wonderful because you can clearly see the interesting chords that Lianne La Havas is playing.

She looks quite comfortable in her cozy space. I love the effect of the close camera placement; her essence penetrates the fourth wall like she’s singing just for me. Lianne performed the tender “Paper Thin” and “Bittersweet,” two recent singles that will be included on her self-titled new album set to drop in July. The intimacy of the performance matches the lyrics of the new songs, personal vignettes about her life and growth over the last five years.

After “Paper Thin” she says “I just felt like playing it first.”

Also included in the set is “Midnight,” a wistful gem from her 2015 album, Blood.

There’s some really wonderful guitar work here too.  She plays a complicated picking melody complete with occasional harmonics.  At one point her vocals take of and get much louder.  So loud that she kind of overloads her mic.

“Bittersweet”  continues with the quite guitar and powerful voice.  I’m curious what these songs will be like when they are fully produced.

[READ: May 3, 2020] “Witness”

This story is set in Berbice, Guayana.

Quammie had gone there to visit cousin Calib and tells the narrator his story.

Noting much happened, he didn’t buy any souvenirs.  Although that night there was to be a rally for President Ramotar.

It was rare that the Guyanese election made international ripples.  Oil had been discovered in the ocean, so Guyana and Venezuela were fighting over whose water the deposits were submerged in.

The polls were predicting a narrow loss for Ramotar who had decreed a state media blackout on all ads and coverage for his rival.

Quammie said they got out before the rally started, but on their way out of the city, they had to pull over for the President’s motorcade.

You saw Ramotar?

No, just his car. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TŌTH-Tiny Desk Concert #967 (April 13, 2020)

For reasons I’m unclear about, I thought that Tōth was a heavy metal band.  Well, they aren’t.  At all.

The last time we saw Alex Toth at the Tiny Desk, he was standing against the shelves, trumpet to his lips. He performed in 2015 with Rubblebucket and his partner Kalmia Travers was singing lead. This time around, Alex sings about their relationship’s end in the song “Copilot.”

It’s a quiet song with gentle guitar and throbbing synths from Ben Chapoteau-Katz.  Alex Toth sings softly and drifts into a high falsetto during the chorus. There’s even some whistling.

“Copilot” is one of two songs Tōth performed at the Tiny Desk from his album Practice Magic and Seek Professional Help When Necessary. These songs are thoughtful, honest reflections on the end of his personal relationship with Kalmia Travers (although it continues professionally).

The arrangements here are spare but textured with bits of Alex on trumpet and touches from Ben Chapoteau-Katz on sax and electronics. The rhythm section of drummer Rebecca Lasaponaro and bassist Ryan Dugre pin it all together.

Rebecca Lasaponaro drums with And The Kids and she is fantastic.  Her drumming here is a bid more subdued, but she has a lot of electronics at her disposal which is fun.

“No Reason” is a slower song which features some mellow drums, but  also some lovely twinkling keys and Toth’s trumpet solo in the middle.

He says he’s thrilled to be drinking tea out of an NPR mug at NPR.

Up next is an excerpt from a new record:

The new tune “Turnaround (Cocaine Song)” is a funny/sad (and I’ll assume true) tale of poorly timed indulgence at his Aunt Mary’s funeral in New Jersey.

It’s a slow meandering (silly sounding) story about an embarrassing incident involving cocaine.  There’s a muted trumpet solo and a simultaneous sax solo from Chapoteau-Katz.

Toth says “Juliette” has an amazing and weird video starring Maya Hawke from Stranger Things.  There’s also audience participation which he’ll teach during the song.  Oh, he also has to take his beanie off.

The song begins with everyone shouting wha wha / wha wha ooh ooh. A simple bass line from Ryan Durge runs through the whole song as everything else is quietly performed (including more sax solos).  The song is sweet and odd but pretty catchy.

At the end, while everyone sings along, Toth recites a romantic scene

there’s a double rainbow and children dance all around us with ice cream cones and red balloons and lots and lots of puppies!

Sometimes I’ll see a band at my desk and wish I could jump in and join. That’s what happened when Tōth played the Tiny Desk. I felt a deep connection to both the fun and emotion in their music. Besides, I loved their outfits.

I’m not sure how memorable these songs are, but they are sure fun to listen to.

[READ: April 30, 2020] “Five Stories”

Here is yet another installment of microfiction from Diane Williams.

Every time I read stories from her I try to imagine how they were constructed.  I have considered that she takes pieces from other stories and jams them randomly together into short fiction.  But now I’ve decided that the way she writes her stories is that she writes a longer story and as she edits it, she accidentally deletes more than she meant to but then just leaves it.

Her stories just leave me going… huh? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE TRIBUTE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #8 (April 11, 2019).

I feel like I have been aware of John Prine forever.  Although I also feel like I only really became aware of who he was and what he had done in the last year or so.  Or at the very least since he had surgery and his voice changed dramatically.

I knew that he was a legend in folk circles, but I had no idea how many of his songs I knew–although likely from other artists.

I was not devastated when he died because I didn’t know him enough to be devastated.  But I did feel that it was unbelievably unjust of the world to have him survive cancer only to be beaten by this virus that could have been avoided.  While there are people out there actively doing harm to others, why would a person as thoughtful as him be the victim.

Every time I saw John Prine perform, he invited friends to join him. The outpouring of love and respect has always been so profound. And so when John Prine died on April 7 from complications related to COVID-19, I knew his friends and those he touched would want to pay tribute to him. Here are five artists performing their favorite John Prine tune in their home (or bathtub) in honor of one of the greatest songwriters of any generation.

Here are the five performances:

  • Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round”
    Recorded in their bathroom, with their baby entering the scene for the final verse.
  • Courtney Marie Andrews, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    She says that Prine was the best at putting humor and sadness in one song let alone one line.  Her version of this song (that I know very well) is too slow for my taste.
  • John Paul White, “Sam Stone”
    He says he is taking this harder than he thought. This song makes him cry every time.  I knew this song from someone else singing it, although I’m not sure who.
  • Nathaniel Rateliff, “All The Best”
    I didn’t know this one, but I do like it.
  • Brandy Clark, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    It’s a shame that two people did the same song since he has 19 albums out, but this song is quite lovely.  I like Clark’s version better than Andrews’ even if they aren’t that different.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Spirit of Science Fiction

I have read pretty much everything that has Roberto Bolaño has written which has been translated into English (many, like this book, by Natasha Wimmer).  This is one of the first novels he ever wrote and it was finally published posthumously in 2016.

It’s a very strange book with a very strange construction (a precursor to the construction of his later, larger books, for sure).

The book is told in three parts and it concerns three major characters.  The narrator, Remo, his best friend Jan Schrella and a third poet, Jóse Arco.

The book opens with Remo being interviewed by a journalist.  He has just won a literary prize.  This interview is spread out over many chapters, but it is sort of summed up by his reply:

you actually predict a bright future for art? You don’t realize that this is a trap. Who the hell do you think I am, Sid Vicious?

Remo lives with Jan, another serious poet, but one who has more or less taken to his bed–barely ever leaving the house at all.

Jan is seventeen and spends nearly all of his time reading, especially science fiction books.  He seems to want to single handedly get recognition for his country men and women.

He spends most of his time writing letters to famous science fiction authors: Alice Sheldon, James Hauer, Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Silverberg, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, (twice, first one unsent), and Dr James Tiptree, Jr.

Some of the letters are stories about his dreams, some are general notes of good will, but the overall tones is one asking them to support science fiction written by authors in Latin America.

Remo does go out though,  He goes to writing workshops.  At one of them Jóse Arco enters late.  Remo’s is instantly taken with him. As the first scene with Arco ends, Arco lays back in his chair and recites his new poem Eros and Thantaos from memory.  Arco was a daring fellow riding his (often broken down) motorcycle at 3AM.  Arco is based on Mario Santiago Papasquiaro.

Although Jan is not active, his imagination certainly is. He feels compelled to tell Remo about “Silhouette,” a science fiction short story by Gene Wolfe. (Yes, part of the book is someone describing another book ).

Meanwhile, Remo and Arco decide to investigate a publication called My Enchanted Garden which comments on the torrent of poetry magazines in Latin America.  There were 32 then it jumped to 661 and by the end of the year it was predicted there would be one thousand.

Through Arco, Remo meets young poets Angélica and Lola Torrente and their friend Laura, as well as the queen of local poets, Estrellita. Remo invites them back to his apartment.  Although Lola is the more experienced of the two, it’s Angélica who falls for Jan.  The scene where they first meet is crazy.  Jan was in bed (of course) when they came in

Jan jumped up, his skinny ass exposed and his balls dangling golden, and in two or three swift movements his back to the group, he jammed his papers under the mattress and got back into bed.

What a lovely young man, said Estrellita And his darling balls are the color of gold.

Jan laughed

It’s true, I said

That means he’s destined for greatness.  Golden balls are the mark of a young man capable of … great deeds.

They’re not exactly golden, said Jan.

Shut up.  She thinks they look golden, and so do I. That’s all that matters

And I do too, said Angélica.

It was at this party that Remo fell for Laura.  She was with Cèsar at the time, but that didn;t stop them from kissing.  But when she says they could fuck right there, he says I don’t think I could.

What do you mean, you don’t think you could?  You mean you couldn’t fuck?
Yeah, I couldn’t get it up.  I couldn’t get an erection. It’s the way I am.
You don’t get erection?
No I mean, I do, but it wouldn’t work right how.  This is a special moment for me, if that makes sense, and its erotic too, bu there’s no erection.  Look, feel.  I took her hand and put it on my crotch.
You’re right. it’s not erect, said Laura with a barely audible laugh.

He falls for her immediately though and gives her a nickname–Aztec Princess.

Later in part 2 an actual Aztec Princess–a motorcycle with that phrase stenciled on it, comes into Remo’s life.   How can he refuse to get it?  Even if he has no money, cannot drive a motorcycle and has no licence?

This barely touches half of the ideas that float through this book.  There’s a lot of information about a potato farmer; a lieutenant (Boris Lejeune) watching a recruit shoot a colonel in the chest; Father Gutierrez visiting Pierre LeClerc; and a lengthy story about a village becoming obsessed with woodwork, to the detriment of everything else.  There’s also Jan’s dream of a Russian cosmonaut, and the final chapter called “Mexican Manifesto.”

This last section is all about Remo and Laura going to baths and the strange sexual things that happen in steam.  This section was excerpted in The New Yorker in 2013(!).  That version was translated by Laura Healy.

About it I wrote:

The narrator is the man and the woman, Laura, is the more adventurous of the two.  She is the one who encourages them to go to the baths in the first place and, while he also thinks it is wonderful, it is she who wants them to explore as many different baths in the city as possible.

The first bath that they go to is a nice one, an upscale bath where the man in charge (who is pointedly referred to as an orphan) is very nice and as a result people treat him with courtesy.  There’s never any trouble at this bath.  It’s very nice, but Laura wants to explore other houses.  So they ask him for a list.  And they set out on their voyage of discovery.

It is at these less reputable baths that most of the action takes place (both in the story and out of the story).  People mingle more freely (with sexual contact common), they also share drugs and other entertainments.  The story focuses on one instance in which the entertainment was two young boys and an older man.  The man instructs the boys to begin masturbating each other.  But the boys are tired (as is the old man).  They say they haven’t slept in days.  The old man falls asleep. And with the steam, the boys begin to fall asleep as well.  The steam gets thicker and thicker and soon Laura is squatting nearer to the boys.  The narrator can’t really see what’s happening but it all seems like such a dream that he’s not even sure what to think.

I’m not really sure what this section has to do with the rest.  I’m not really sure what happens in the book at all.  The revelation of Jan’s alias is pretty fascinating though.

This is strange book to be sure and I didn’t really enjoy it that much–I just couldn’t get into it.  But it seems to forecast the kind of (much better) writing that Bolaño would eventually become known for,

I wondered how different the 2013 Healy translation was from this one.  The content is of of course, the same, but they are notably different.

Here is the last sentence first from Healy

The color of the pool’s rocks, doubtless the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some faces, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were certainly there.

Now from Wimmer

The color of the stones around the pool, surely the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some gazes, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were surely there.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, here are the remaining untranslated works

  • 1976 [Reinventing Love] 20-page booklet in México (first publication)
  • 1983[Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] Novel written in 1983 in collaboration with A. G. Porta
  • 2011 [Bolaño By Himself] Collection of interviews with Bolaño (1998–2003)
  • ? [Diorama] not yet published

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK THOUGHT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #7 (April 9, 2020).

?uestlove is (in my mind at least) the heart (or at least the face) of The Roots.  So it’s easy to forget that Black Thought is the man behind the voice.

This video is fascinating because Black Thought is sitting in a comfy chair, legs crossed, casually sitting as he raps the hell out of these songs.

While our culture adjusts to the New Normal, artists are revealing the threads of our common humanity as they find new ways to bring their work to virtual communities. In this installment of Tiny Desk (home) concerts, hip-hop wordsmith Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought of The Roots crew, took the occasion to premiere three new songs.

On “Thought Vs. Everybody,” Thought calls for unity in response to the conditions of an encroaching dystopia.

It’s really fascinating that he can sound so powerful while chilling in his chair like that.  I also love that it starts with a sample saying “introducing the most powerful black man in the world.”

Thought talks about the Streams of Thought project that he’s been working on.  It started as a Steams of Thought mixtape/EP series he started in 2013.  “Thought Vs. Everybody” and “Nature of the Beast”  will appear on Streams of Thought Vol. 3.

Although the second song, “Yellow,” easily one of my favorite rap songs in years, is not on this EP.

“Yellow,” is song from his upcoming off-Broadway musical Black No More, an adaption of the 1931 Afrofuturist novel by George S. Schuyler, set during the Harlem Renaissance.

He is writing, producing and starring in the Broadway musical.  He says the plot is hard to summarize, but essentially, the main character a black man has decided he’s over the black experience.  There’s a machine that can turn black people white in an attempt to change the racial landscape of America.  Now this man wants everything yellow: yellow money, yellow women, yellow taxis.

Thought says that as a proud black man it challenged him to write from this perspective and to connect with feeling’s he’s never felt.

It is a fantastic song with a great 1920’s jazz score and although the lyrics are tough, he delivers them wonderfully (although I don’t really care for the chorus just repeating the word “yellow”).

He closes with “Nature of the Beast,” a collaboration with Portugal. The Man, who pop up on screen from a remote location.

This song has a really catchy singalong chorus.  I wonder how much of the music was from Portugal.

[READ: April 18, 2020] “The Media”

This was a real challenge to read and honestly I’m not sure what happened in it even after reading it three times.

It begins with Ben walking at dusk recording “this prose poem on his phone.”

He calls someone to ask about their trip–asks the person to call him back.  He’ll be around “until late nineteenth century, when carved wood gives way to polished steel.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SOCCER MOMMY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #1 (March 21, 2020).

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

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

On Monday March 30, Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, was to perform a long awaited Tiny Desk concert at my desk. Now the world has changed, and with the coronavirus keeping us at a distance, we’re taking a break from filming Tiny Desks at the office for a while.

Sophie wanted to share her music and her thoughts with you. So we’re kicking off our Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts series with Soccer Mommy from her home in Nashville.

Soccer Mommy was supposed to play a show in Philly on March 31. I had a choice between this show and a show from Vagabon.  I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to go to.  Well, now I get this home concert instead.

This Home Concert (as most will be) is Sophie and her acoustic guitar.  Since I don’t really know (most of) the originals, I can’t compare them.

All three songs have catchy melodies.  It’s cool watching her hands up close to see he playing modifications to the chords in “Bloodstream” so it’s not as simple a melody as it seems.

Her voice is soft and high (although a little hard to hear in this mix).

“Circle the Drain” has been getting some airplay and I rather like it.  It reminds me of a Lemonheads song in style.  This acoustic version is nice, but I prefer the studio version (that extra guitar line is a nice touch).  She says it’s about being depressed and staying inside all day.  “I’m sure some of you can relate to that right now.”

Before the final song, “Royal Screw Up” she asks if anyone can guess what tuning she is going from and into.  My guess is that she is going into standard E tuning, although I’m not sure from what.

Most of her melodies remind me of the singers I liked in the 90s, and I think with a slightly better production I would have really enjoyed this set.  I might have to check out her album a little more closely.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Customer is Always Wrong

I enjoyed, Mimi Pond’s first memoir(ish) book, Over Easy, but I grew tired of it by the end.  It was an look at late 1970s San Francisco and all of the low-level drug dealers and users who worked and ate at the restaurant where Madge was a waitress.

And yet, I came away from it with enough good vibes that I was interested in reading this second volume.  And this second volume had the heart and soul that I felt the first one lacked.

The story begins with some of Mimi’s past boyfriends (good boys whom her mother loved).  Then it moved on to bad boys who treated her like crap.  Finally, she meets Bryan, a nurse who treats her kindly–and the sex is amazing.

But the shine starts to wear off and a turd is slowly revealed–the way he breaks up and gets back together (he loves the drama), the way he watches the World Series at her house even though she doesn’t care about baseball (or own a TV–he brought his own).  Oh, and the way she finds out later that he lied about nearly everything.

The drug dealer characters from the first book are still there of course.  The most prominent one is Camille, a “straight looking” and pretty young woman who has hooked up with Neville, a real dirtbag (but one who tells great stories).  She has big dreams–they will sell a ton of coke, make a ton of money and go to Paris.  Of course that never happens.

And then there’s Lazlo.  Lazlo is the real main character of the story.  Even though it is Madge’s story, it all more or less revolves around Lazlo.  Lazlo runs the diner where Madge works and he is always around–wearing his cool hat, telling great stories (he is a poet).  It’s hard to remember that he is married.  Hard for him to remember too, apparently. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOB WEIR AND WOLF BROS.-Tiny Desk Concert #953 (March 2, 2020).

Bob Weir is, obviously, a founding member of Grateful Dead.

This set goes on much longer than a typical one (and they’re not rappers or R&B singers).  I got a kick out of this comment in the blurb:

When I produce a Tiny Desk Concert, one of my most important jobs is to make sure they run on time and that the performance sticks to our set time limit (roughly 15-minutes). So when Bob Weir and Wolf Bros achieved lift-off during a pre-show sound-check, it was my unthinkable responsibility to tell the guy who practically invented the jam band to… stop jamming.

It also fell to me to keep looking at my watch during the performance, even as I realized that my favorite “Dark Star” jams alone lasted well beyond our fifteen-minute performance window.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Dead (despite how much I enjoy jam bands).  Their music is a bit too slow for my tastes.  But in the right mood (like a rainy Sunday), they can be right on.

These songs are slow and expansive and allow for a lot of jamming.  There’s not a lot of opportunity for jamming here as this is just a trio, but Weir is very comfortable stretching things out.

The trio make an interesting look with drummer Jay Lane in a tie-dyed shirt and upright bassist Don Was in all black.  Weir stand between them in a gray T-shirt and his gray hair.

The first song

“Only a River,” from Weir’s 2016 solo album Blue Mountain, feels like a memorial to Jerry Garcia, with a reference to the Shenandoah River, a body of water Garcia famously made reference to on the song, “A Shenandoah Lullaby.” Weir turns the chorus into a mantra and seems to evoke the spirit of his fallen bandmate.

This song references the melody of “Shenandoah” pretty directly n the middle, but the “hey hey hey” let’s you know that this is a very different song.

Before the second song, he says they just got clearance to play it.  I didn’t realize that “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was a Bob Dylan song, but I guess maybe I should have.

And what would a Grateful Dead-related performance be without a Bob Dylan song? The intimacy of the Tiny Desk turns Weir into a sage Master Storyteller during a version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” with its reference to Botticelli and a lonely Roman hotel room.

The set really comes to life when special guest, Mikaela Davis comes out to play harp.

The harp is always a magical-sounding instrument and amid the quietness of this trio, it really shines.  Davis basically takes the lead on “Bird Song” including bending strings (I’ve never seen a harpist do that before).

Midway through the song, Weir waves his hand and allows Davis to take a solo while Weir puts down his acoustic guitar.

When Weir switches to electric guitar midway during “Bird Song,” I looked at my watch because I knew we were in for some time travel. And the band didn’t disappoint as the rhythmic interplay between Weir and Davis showed off his singular rhythm guitar style, honed from more than thirty years of playing alongside one the most idiosyncratic lead guitarists in modern music.

Davis does some more note bending in her solo, which is so interesting.  When Weir joins in, their music melds really beautifully.

They jam the song out for 8 minutes and as the music fades Bob says, I’m pretty sure we’re over our time limit.

He says they were slated for 20 minutes and they’re at forty now (sadly we only get to see 26 minutes).  Someone shouts “keep going” and they do one more.

They play “Ripple” Grateful Dead’s fifty-year-old sing-along from their album American Beauty.  It demonstrates

the song’s celebration of hope and optimism, found in the spirit of all of the band’s music. Bob Weir continues to evoke that spirit every time he picks up a guitar; and as we all sang along at the end, we evoked that spirit too: “Let there be songs, to fill the air.”

I suppose it’s never too late to start enjoying a band, right?

[READ: March 25, 2020] “In the Cards”

This is exactly the kind of story I don’t like.  It seemed to go nowhere and in an oblique fashion. Plus the narrator was really hard to relate to.

The point of the story seems to be the last line: “You’re crazy when you’re a good writer.”

It starts with a discussion of playing cards and moves on to tarot cards.  Her friend Michel gave her a deck and she felt ill at ease just reading the directions.  But what most disturbed her was the image of The Fool.

The narrator says she is unfamiliar with playing cards and yet later she says when she was a child they played Mistigri which is a card game.  So go figure.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: INDIGO SPARKE-Tiny Desk Concert #951 (February 26, 2020).

I was sure that I had heard of Indigo Sparke before–in some kind of NPR context.  But I can’t find any evidence of that.

The only thing I can figure is that I must have listened to this Tiny Desk Concert when it was first published, because I remembered her telling the story about driving a car (before the second song).

Indigo Sparke is an Australian singer-songwriter.  She sings quietly and plays an electric guitar almost without amplification (aside from occasionally loud drone sounds).  Bob says,

I asked everyone to gather a little closer than usual around my desk for this one.

“Colourblind” starts the set off as she quietly strums and sings.

Up next is “the day i drove the car around the block.”  She introduces the song by telling about

trying to learn how to drive on the other side of the road while in Los Angeles, with a huge vehicle and a stick shift.

After that introduction, you might think the song was amusing.  But it is not

It is a tale of defeat and solace:

“Take off all my clothes, kiss me where the bruises are,” …
“Love is the drug, and you are in my blood now.”

Sparke sings a little too slowly for my liking–the kind of stretched out vocals that make it hard for me to follow the thread of the song (or maybe that you need a few listens to fully appreciate).

Before the final song, she invites her partner, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief up to play guitar with her.  She tells us that the song is so new it has no title–if you think of one while she’s playing it, let Bob know.  It has since been named “Burn.”

Lenker’s addition of chords (and lovely harmonics) add a nice extra layer to the song.

[READ: March 21, 2020] Paradox Girl: First Cycle

Who doesn’t love a story that begins: “Do you know what happens when you violate causality?”

Paradox Girl is a time-traveler who has changed her past so many times she doesn’t know what he truth is.  She also lives with about a hundred copies of herself.

Her partner in crime-fighting is Axiom Man.

This book had so much that I love in a superhero story–strong female characters, wild humor and all kinds of time-travel paradoxes.  It even had fantastic artwork from Yishan Li–I love the light purple lines that indicate some time travel magic.

But I guess I learned that this is something of a one-note premise.  Which means that most of the stories are variants on the one idea that she can appear anywhere at anytime and that her other selves will be there as well.

Often this works pretty well, but I guess reading six comics in a row gets a bit samey. (more…)

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