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Archive for the ‘Infinite Zombies’ Category

SOUNDTRACKDUCKWRTH-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #189 (April 5, 2021).

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

DUCKWRTH decided to do something special for Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: brand new music. The dynamic R&B singer proceeded to debut two exclusives: a slow jam titled “make u go,” which he dedicates to the “lovers and freaks,” and the upbeat “Birthday Suit,” which KCRW astutely compared to Estelle’s “American Boy.”

The new material wasn’t the only thing that made this Tiny Desk such a treat. For this funky and flamboyant performance, DUCKWRTH dressed his backing band entirely in white and switched up the lighting for each song so that the hue matched the mood he was laying down.

“Kiss U Right Now” [red lights] opens with a muted guitar line from Justin “Jhawk” Hawkins.  After a  soft “Okay” from DUCKWRTH, a kind of sci-fi warbly keyboard comes in from Devin Smith.  And then with a slide on the bass from Solomon “Solo” Smith the song bounces to a start.  DUCKWRTH has a soft croon that he intermixes with rapping verses.   It’s quite inviting and not given to histrionics.

Before “make u go”  [purple lights] he says “Welcome to my Tiny Desk,” he says. “We are gonna play some new songs for y’all if that’s OK. Y’all ain’t got no choice!”  This is mostly gentle keys and then backing vocalists Olivia Walker and Amber Olivia Kiner start by singing the chorus.

He says “Birthday Suit” [white lights] is morning music.  With this amusing line “Meet me in my birthday suit / This ain’t Gucci, it’s way more cute.”  Amber Olivia Kiner sings the lead lines.  The song ends with this refrain:

we look better naked / better in the nude / bend it over baby while in public / we may end up on the news.

“Super Good” [blue lights] is a slow jam with an interesting drum pattern from Darryl Staves Jr.  I really enjoy the simple but synchronized dance steps at the end of the song.

[READ: April 19, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2035]

When this book started I thought that it was an interesting idea to have Lauren’s child go wholly against her.  I even wondered if it was Butler’s rethinking about Earthseed.   Larkin’s attitude about her mother doesn’t exactly change over these chapters, but it does morph a bit.  So much so that by the time chapter seventeen rolls around, Larkin comes across as a bit more of a petulant, jealous person than a critical thinker.

I wonder what my life would have been life if my mother had found me.  I don’t doubt that she would have stolen me from the Alexanders–or died trying.  But then what?  How long would it have been before she put me aside for Earthseed, her other kid?  I was her weakness.  Earthseed was her strength.  No wonder it was her favorite. (265)

2033 was a terrible time and, frankly, a painful read.  The chapter of 2035 tells us that all of Olamina’s diaries from 2034 are lost.  Which is just as well for me since 2034 was a year of the same torture and hellishness and I’m just as happy to not have to read it.

Larkin writes that she met some people who were at Camp Christian (we don’t know how yet) and spoke to a woman named Cody Smith who told her about the attempted uprising by Day Turner and his people–an uprising that failed and that caused a massive increase in suffering for everyone there.

Larkin tells us that everything that was done at Camp Christian was illegal–despite what Jarret tried to make legal. The one thing that seems to have been made legal was the removal of children from their families at the Mexican border because of vagrancy laws. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIAM BAILEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #184 (March 23, 2021).

I had heard of Liam bailey but I didn’t really know anything about him.  I’m fascinated by his voice because his British accent comes through as he sings (in the way that Billy Bragg’s accent is quite audible).

For this performance, Bailey teeters between belting and crooning, with emotions that ignite the screen from the top of “Fight” to the closing notes of “Paper Tiger.”

“Fight” is a short song that is primarily made of percussive chords and slaps on the guitar.  For most of the songs, he is playing the chords and you can hear them change but there’s no ringing notes, just muted chords.  Until the very last lines when the music resumes and he sings powerfully.

So it’s all about his voice.

Wiping the sweat from his brow between songs, he exclaims, “We don’t normally have these glaring lights in my living room.  This is my front room by the way welcome. We’re not doing no studio productions. We’re keeping it real. Keeping it raw.”

I don’t know what “Vixit” means.  He says he wrote this and the next song in upstate New York.  The music is a little darker. Trying to figure out he lyrics:

I still have my memories I still hear your song. They were always so vindictive, you always got me wrong. I cherish every day now I’m happy to be alone.  I get every thing I want and I still get stoned.  I’m out of love, I’m out of love never seemed to make sense.

If only I had realized the other side was fine.  If only I had realized.

“Paper Tiger” is another powerful song and once again, the guitar is the vehicle for his voice and lyrics.  Which is not to say the song isn’t good, just that the melody is not as important as the words.

Perched atop an amplifier in front the peeling walls of his living room, he presents three selections from his latest album, Ekundayo, accompanied by one acoustic guitar. Ekundayo, which means “sorrows become joy” in Yoruba, fittingly describes the Nottingham, England, native’s music industry journey thus far. After various projects and record deals, he found it impossible to operate under the confines of a major label. He finally found the liberation he yearned for on Leon Michels’s Big Crown Records, which released Ekundayo last November.

This set is not even ten minutes long, but it’s really solid.

[READ: April 12, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2033]

2033 is a brutal year for Acorn and Earthseed.  The end of the section was really hard to read.

As the year opens, our narrator, who we later learn is named Larkin Beryl Ife Olamina Bankole says that her mother should have left Acorn and gone to Halstead like Bankole asked.  It makes it seem as though perhaps Bankole went without her, but he did not.

“Larkin” is a derivative of Lauren and from the Greek Laurel ,  “Beryl” was his mother–emerald is type of beryl.  “Ife” is the Yoruba word for “Love”

Olamina dna Bankole had actually stayed in Halstead for a short time.  A family was moving from Halstead to Siberia (!) for a better life.  The election of Jarret was the last straw for them.  Bankole is amazed:

If [when I was a boy] anyone had said that Americans would be giving up thier homes and their citizenship and going to make new lives in Siberia, the rest of us would have looked around for a straightjacket for him (130).

Olamina and Bankole stayed in the family’s house while Bankole was trying to decide if he should move there.  Well, he knew he should, he was trying to convince his wife.  She doesn’t want to move but says it was a good trip for her.  Living in a modern house with plumbing.  Being so close to the Ocean.  She could see the appeal.

Bankole had told people that they were leaving.  Or, more specifically, Marc was telling people they were leaving and the faithful were understandably freaked out.  But she convinced them, and herself, that she wasn’t leaving.

When I started this year I was taking notes on things that interested me, but after having finished it and reading all the horrors, it seems bizarre to include little observations about things that made me smile.  But I get to throw this one in because I am a cataloger for a library.

Olimani and Channa have been sorting and cataloging books for their library and Olamina hated to be interrupted, but not too much: “Still, cataloging is tedious” (137).

The first bad news comes from Marc.  After he had been rescued by Olimani and taken in by  Acorn, he decided that he wanted to preach his own Christian beliefs to the people.  He was going to do it without asking his suiter, but Olamina found out and told him to preach at their next Gatehring.  She warned him that he would be questioned about what he said and he was cocksure enough to go on with it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSAMPA THE GREAT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #173 (February 23, 2021).

I thought that Sampa was actually Sammus, the indie rapper named after the character in Metroid.  So I was a little bummed to find out I had the wrong Sam… rapper.  But I quickly came over to Sampa’s style.

Sampa Tembo is better known as Sampa The Great, an understated title. In her Tiny Desk (home) concert, the poet, rapper and singer-songwriter delivers evidence that it’s more like Sampa the Greatest.  Initially raised in Botswana, Sampa moved to Australia as a young adult and established herself in Sydney’s hip-hop scene. There, she released two mixtapes, 2015’s The Great Mixtape and 2017’s award-winning Birds and the BEE9, all the while generating buzz. She had been based in Melbourne for the last four years, but the next chapter of her musical journey will find her at home in Zambia.

She plays four tracks and her live band is really solid.  She opens with “Rhymes To The East” which features a nice guitar riff by Samuel Masta.  I like the way the backing singers (l-r: Joy Tusankine Namwila, Mwanje Tembo, Tio Nason) sing the end of the rapped lines.

When Sampa really starts flowing her voice is great–a rough gravelly cadence with a Southern African/Australian accent.  It’s especially cool when she introduces the third verse with a snarl

Rhymes beast mother fucker
Tembo from the east put the beast in a trucker
Timbuktu, as I question all the loyalty
Build a big wall when you stole all of the royalties

The end of the song is really catchy, too.

The next three are from her 2019 album The Return.

“Mwana” opens with a drum solo Kasonde “Tek1” Sunkutu.  The song is mostly sung by the backing singers.  Then Sampa starts her flow.  Musically this song is much more spare with gentle keyboards Lazarus “Lalo” Zulu playing around the drums.

As she introduces the band, they jam, with some funky bass from Mapalo “Mapskeys” Mapalo which leads into an improv  that sounds like an island fun.

“Freedom” is up next.

Sampa Tembo is in Lusaka, Zambia, her landlocked African home country.  [She says] “Freedom is what we feel when we perform. And freedom is what the world is in need of right now. In this pandemic it feels like we all need a sense of freedom.”

“Freedom” features some terrific backing vocals. The end has a rocking jam as the singers all give up whooos and Masta plays a ripping solo.

When the camera is in full frame you can see that Sampa’s dress has a really long train which covers almost the entire floor (no wonder she sits through the whole set).

The set ends with “Final Form,” my favorite song of the set.  It’s got a big, heavy noisy riff with thumping bass and wailing guitars.  Her delivery is raw and raspy and really affecting.

The end is particularly cool as the band rocks out punctuating along and singing “Black power!” “Louder!” “Black power!”

Sampa is pretty great, indeed.

[READ: April 12, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2032]

Parable of the Sower ended on a vaguely optimistic note:  Lauren felt that they were ready to set up Acorn, the home of her Earthseed community.  Bankole thought there was no chance it would work.  But this is Lauren’s story, so we’ll assume that the story is tipped in her favor somewhat.

Plus, there’s a sequel, so things must work out reasonably well, right?

Well, surprise!

Parable of the Talents opens up with the news that Lauren is dead.

She is mostly called Olamina during this book because Bankole “doesn’t like my first name, so he ignores it.  That’s fair.  I didn’t like his first name either. It’s Taylor, by the way and I ignore it” (122).

This book is narrated by Olamina and Bankole’s child–unspecified gender and age in the Prologue, although by the end of this week’s reading we can assume the writer is their daughter [Bankole wants her named Beryl and Olamina wants her named almost anything that isn’t Beryl–“such an old fashioned name” (122).  The narrator later says something about high school, so it must be around 2050.

The child shares Olamina’s diary entries, but her basic attitude is that she hates her mother and thinks well of her father and wishes she knew him.

The book opens with this narrator saying “they’ll make a god of her” and the continues with something surprising about that

I think that would please her, if she could know about it.  In spite of all her protests and denials she’s always needed devoted, obedient follower–disciples–who would listen to her and believe everything she told them.  and she needed large events to manipulate.  All gods seem to need these things.  (7)

I never got the sense that Lauren wanted to be a god.  But maybe Olamina does.

She also tells us that Lauren’s middle name “Oya” is the name of a Nigerian Orisha–goddess f the Yoruba people (goddes of the wind, fire, and death, more bringers of great change (50).

Butler wrote this book five years after the Sower.  As I read Talent, I wondered what the intent of this story was. Had she planned all along to have a follower (child or otherwise) criticize Earthseed?  Had five years of thinking about Earthseed made her question the validity of Lauren’s ideas?  I don’t know anything about Butler, about whether she “agreed” with Lauren’s ideas or not.  I don’t have anything besides textual evidence to know how she felt about religion in general.  So was this book a commentary on her own ideas/ideals from five years earlier?  Or is this just interesting storytelling by having a new protagonist dispute the doctrine of the previous protagonist.  Especially if the bulk of this book is made up of Olamina’s diary entries (just like the first book was).

That’s right, even though the book is set after Olamina has died, the book so far is primarily her own diary entries from 2032, By the end of 2032, she is pregnant with, presumably, the person who is narrating this book and criticizing Olamina’s ideas. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKKeiyaA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #168 (February 11, 2021).

I had not heard of KeiyaA (and have no idea how to say her name), but i was quite stuck by this performance.

KeiyaA is a new performer, and her debut album

Forever, Ya Girl, appeared last year with kismet timing, unveiling her as a fully formed star. The 2020 release is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood.

The set opens with “Do Yourself a Favor.”  For this track KeiyaA sits behind the keyboard a while 13th Law plays a slow funky bass line plays accompanied by finger snaps and backing vocals from the amazingly named Nelson Bandela.

KeiyaA comes out front for the rest of the tracks.

Cornrows braided back with the precision of an architect. Stiletto nails commanding a sampling machine. Gold-glinted lids to match her light-up Beads Byaree earrings. With every move, KeiyaA shines so bright, it’s impossible to look away. And while your eyes are fixated on her person, the music KeiyaA conjures inside Brooklyn’s Electric Garden is what leaves you completely spellbound.

On “Hvnli,” Nelson Bandela plays keys behind a new slow funky bass line.  Keenyn Omari played guitar on the first song but he plays saxophone on this one.  It starts with soft bursts and then he really starts wailing.  With the sax and the syncopated drums from Buz “Hvnli” sounds like a spare jazz song.  She sings:

Gone for so long I prefer to spend time in my pain, hey / Gone for so long I can barely recall the last my phone rang,” she sings on “Hvnli.”

Her album

is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood. Whether it’s through jazzy woodwinds, heavy synths or prickly staccato, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares waves of anguish, depletion, love and elation in a swirling stream of consciousness.

She says that “Most of the work that has carried me has been the writing of Black women Jayne Cortez and Ntozake Shange [she holds up their books] who both speak unabashedly of the plight and joys and general experiences of the Black femme woman.  And those writings are paramount in my work.”

She opens “Finesse Without a Trace” with a wobbly sample and The 13th Law plays some bass chords and splashy drums.  The sample turns into some quotes while Omari plays some wild distorted flute.

The song ends with an improvised flute solo which KeiyaA accompanies with samples and some oohing.  The song slowly morphs into “Rectifiya” a funky piece with response vocals on the chorus.

She ends the whole set with the sampled quote from Nina Simone.

“Everybody is half-dead. Everybody avoids everybody. All over the place…in most situations, most of the time. I know I’m one of those everybodys. And to me it is terrible. And so all I’m trying to do, all the time, is just to open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That’s it.”

Apparently the album sounds very different than this Tiny Desk: (The “album version of these tracks boast much of KeiyaA’s own production, affirmations and layered vocals in chorus”).  Perhaps I’m better off just enjoying this and not looking further.

[READ: April 5, 2021] Parable of the Sower [end]

The end of the book provides something of a skeptical feeling of hope for our travelers.   I read in the Foreword that Earthseed was meant to be a trilogy; however, Butler only finished a sequel (and an unrelated novel) before she died.  The Foreword (by N.K. Jemisin also gives a spoiler to Parable of the Talents–uncool!  Even if the books are over twenty years old.

By the way, Jemisin sounds pretty interesting.  Anyone read her?

To me, it is astonishing how many big questions go unanswered in the book.

I had mentioned wondering about the Mars mission and there’s no mention of that again.  We never find out anything about any state east of Central California and we never find out What Happened.  Obviously that information is irrelevant for the characters–they just have to move on–but it’s frustrating not to have even a hint.  [I accept that it wasn’t relevant to Butler, but I’m still curious].  We never hear anything about the community that the corporation bought, either–although there is a kind of follow up with someone from a similar community telling about how badly it turned out for the people living there.

This section starts off with an earthquake.  Earthquakes are bad news in general but in this situation they are much worse because earthquakes tend to cause fires.  And we know who fires attract.  Zahra thinks that they might be able to scavenge for something they can use, but Lauren suspects, rightly, that it would be a dangerous thing to do–druggies and people more violent than they are would be there.  And this proves to be true.

In fact, it proves to be very smart to move on because they wind up putting some distance between themselves and the violent crowds that scavenged the burnt out houses. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #167 (February 10, 2021).

I bought Meshell Ndegeocello’s Plantation Lullabies back in 1993 on the strength of “If That’s Your Boyfriend,” a funky track that is still pretty great.  I didn’t realize she had been steadily putting out music ever since.

This Tiny Desk (home) concert … includes songs from throughout her career framed by her thoughts on the importance and influence of James Baldwin: “He deserves flowers every day. Most of all because he was willing to discuss things that were painful, hard to look at, hard to see, hard to accept.”

Ndegeocello is a bad-ass bass player with a serious funk edge.  And yet in this Tiny Desk Concert, she strips almost all of that away.

The first song comes from Lullabies, but in this version of “Step Into the Projects” she strips away all the music and turns the song into a spoken word piece (although she does keep the rhythm of the original).

For the next three songs she is accompanied by her longtime guitarist Chris Bruce.

“Price of the Ticket,” is from Ndegeocello’s recent project, Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin, “a 21st century ritual toolkit for justice” inspired by Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.  In the track, it’s just Bruce’s gentle guitar and Meshell’s quiet voice.

“Forget My Name” from Comet Come To Me (2014) is stripped down from its original reggae arrangement and lays bare the haunting imagery in the lyrics.

She plays some spare bass, but musically it’s all about Bruce–the cool low riff and the pretty high melody.

“Fool of Me,” from her acclaimed album Bitter (1999), ends the set with just vocals and guitar.

Like the other songs, it is spare and beautiful, allowing you to really hear the words.  I love Meshell’s funk, but this is a beautiful set.

[READ: March 29, 2021] Parable of the Sower [2026-2027 (chapter 19)]

I have not read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I don’t intend to.  But I feel like this book acts as a precursor to that one.  And that is something I did not in any way expect.

2026 opens in June, almost seven months after the previous entry.  I’m curious about the distance between entries.  It’s possible that Lauren has dozens and dozens of pages that just said, “today sucked” and we don’t need to see that.  But I am curious about the time jumps.

Is it a way for Butler to move us ahead quickly so that something that needed to take a few years to happen is given the time to do so?  I’m thinking about Mars a bit.  In two years a lot can happen with the space program.  Of course, the President was supposed to cancel the program.  So who knows what’s going on there.  Aside from basic passage of time, did we need to wait six months to see what came next?  I’m not sure.

In June Keith is back–bigger and more confident.  He’s not yet 14, but he’s very successful, bringing home money and gifts (but none for his father).  He has ingratiated himself into a gang by being the only literate one in the group:

They’re all older than me, but not one of them can read or write anything.  They stole all this great stuff and they couldn’t even use it.  Before I got there they even broke some of it because they couldn’t read the instructions. (105)

Lauren and Keith have a heart-to-heart–really their first ever.  He learns a bit about her and while he gains a little more respect he also tells her that she’d never survive out there–she doesn’t know enough.  He also tells her about these new crazies called Paints who paint their skin green or blue or yellow and eat fire and kill rich people.

Keith comes back on her birthday and gives her a present.  A month later he is dead–killed in a horrific and gruesome way.  He was clearly tortured and left to be found.  His death was a message for someone–a rival gang, probably.

But they don’t call the police:

cops liked to solve cases by “discovering” evidence against whomever they decided must be guilty.  Best to give them nothing.  They never helped when people called for help.  They came later and more often than not, made a bad situation worse. (114)

In October, a new component to the story crops up.

Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton and Company (KSF) has taken over a nearby town called Olivar.  It is small and well to do.  The citizens voted to let their town be taken over–privatized.  They intend to set up energy resources in the community–solar, wind, desalinization.  They mean to own great industries in an area that people have given up on.

Kagimoto, Stamm Frampton: Japanese, German, Canadian.  When I was young, people said it would come to this. Well why shouldn’t other countries buy what’s left of us if we put it up for sale. (121)

This is another aspect of the story that confuses me.  Is it basically that Los Angeles has exploded and the rest of the country is okay?  There’s talk about work up north, but why?  What happened to the country that they/we would let L.A. collapse but nothing else.  Or maybe it’s the entire South West?  Nobody knows anything about the East Coast, apparently.   I’m hoping that they will get explained a bit later on.

Olivar was accepting applications to live there.  They were looking for educated people.  And here we learn that both of Lauren’s parents have PhDs [a commentary on the invisibility of Black scholars?].  Her stepmother thinks it’s a great idea to go to Olivar.  They would be guaranteed safety and security.  But her father is against it, calling it “half antebellum revival and half science fiction” (122).

Anyone KSF hired would have a hard time living on the salary offered. In not very much time, I think the new hires would be in debt to the company.  That’s an old company-town trick–get people into debt, hang on to them and work them harder.  Debt slavery. That might work in Christopher Bonner’s America. Labor laws, state and federal are not what they once were. (121)

Come November, the Garfields have been accepted at Olivar.  The Garfieds include Joanne, Lauren’s one time best friend (who misplaced Lauren’s trust by tattling to her father).  Joanne has been serious with Harry Balter.  But Harry is staying in Rebledo.  Lauren suggests they get married and then Harry can move in with them, but she says that Harry wants to get married and travel north.  He thinks they way Lauren’s father does about Olivar.

But the Garfields are still going: “conservative and sensible and mature and wrong” (128).

In November, Lauren’s father did not come home one night.  They spend days looking for him with no luck.  The search parties uncover all kinds of remains, some of which they think might be her father’s but which turn out not to be.

The search also reveals an aspect of Lauren’s hyperempathy that we didn’t know–sound doesn’t trigger it (she hears a man screaming), only sight does.

Five days alter they have a Sunday survive that turns more or less into a memorial.  Lauren speaks at he service and proves to be powerful preacher.  She speaks of God but presumably she means her own god–the earthseed god.  By mid-December they have a formal funeral–they accept that he would have found his way home by now.

Later, when KSF came for the Garfields, it was in an armored truck

The two movers were a black and a white, and I could see that Cory considered that hopeful.  Maybe Olivar wouldn’t be the white enclave that Dad had expected. (139)

All along Lauren has been romantically involved with Curtis.  People anticipated that she would get married an have a baby with him–something she strongly resisted.  Indeed, her plan all along was to leave Rebledo without him.  But now with Lauren’s father gone (he was the reason she hadn’t left yet–she didn’t want to hurt him), Curtis suggests that they both go.  He’s upset that she wanted to go without him, but she explains that she didn’t want to force him to make that choice.

Two days later, someone burned down the Payne/Parrish house; while that was going on. they robbed three of the other houses including Lauren’s.

I’ve been frightened at the phrases that Butler says that prove eerily prophetic to the last few years:

People are setting fires because they’re frustrated, angry, hopeless. They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable.  And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it.  (143)

Interestingly, the drug that gave Lauren her hyperempathy–Paracetco–was initially a legitimate drug intended to help victims of Alzheimer’s disease.  Pyro was an accident–a homebrew on the East coast it made it was away across the country.

People on the fire drug get off on watching things burn.  Blaze, fuego, flash, sunfire.  The most popular name is pyro short for pyromania [I’m fascinated that she needed to spell that out as I feel that in 2021 (and much earlier) it was a common abbreviation].

As the year ends, the families try to make due with what they have left.

Then we enter 2027.  Once again it’s six months into the year.  And this is when things change dramatically.   Thieves drove a truck through their wall and set everything on fire.  Nearly everyone in the community was killed.  [I did wonder if it was worthwhile learning anyone’s names, and it was two people I didn’t think twice about who survived].  The description is a violent orgy of death, rape, fire and who knows what else.  It is brutally described.  Lauren escaped.  She had the forethought to run back in and put on clothe and shoes and grab her bug out bag.  No one else in her family had done so. She saw them n bare feet and pajamas and then she didn’t see them any more.  She managed to get outside and to hide until the next day,

She crept back into her community and went to her house which was being looted and stripped. She knew where there were some hiding places and she managed to get clothes for her family as well as money that was hidden in the ground.  She grabbed a gun and got out, looking like all the other miserable looters.

Lauren was sure she was alone.  Then out of the rubble came Harry Balter and Zahra Moss–the youngest wife of Richard Moss the polygamist.  Zahra’s baby was killed (brutally) and an attacker was about to (or had begun to) rape her when Harry saved her (and got beaten for his help).  Neither one had planned for anything like this and they are pretty hopeless.  Lauren decides that three is safer than one and invites them to go North with her.

Zahra’s backstory is interesting.  Richard bought her from her mother who was a drug addict and a prostitute.  Zahra has lived on the streets and she knows what’s what.  She takes them to Hanning Joss, the biggest secure store complex.  I’m fascinated to learn that there are are still megastores and that they have security allowing people to shop safely there–commerce always wins.

Then they do what everybody else does–they head North.  Lauren has decided to pass as a man.  She’s tall and muscular and can do so, so she cuts her hair short.  They encounter much danger and violence but manage to get relatively far north.  Harry is a trusting guy, trying to avoid violence in any way possible.  But Lauren (and Zahra) knows the reality of the situation–kill or be killed; steal or be stolen from.  And with Lauren’s hyperempathy, she can’t afford to let people around her suffer.  She winds up cutting a man’s throat to stop the hurting that he (and she) are feeling.  Harry is appalled at her.  So she finally admits to her hyperempathy assuming they’ll abandon her.  But they do not–three is better than two.

Zahra and Harry become a couple and have unprotected sex (what harm could come from that?)

Then the trio meet another family who seems to be tagging along after them.  Everyone is out for themselves, but Lauren takes pity on this mixed race couple with a baby.  She helps them out at the second Hanning Joss and a few days later, when Lauren saves their baby from a feral dog, they agree that five (or six) is better than three and two (or three).

The new people are Travis Charles Douglas, Gloria Natividad Douglas and six month old Dominic. They are going to Seattle where Travis’ aunt lives.  Travis is quite taken aback when he learns that Lauren is a woman–especially since she saved them, but he’s going to have to get over it.

All of this time, Earthseed has been running around in Lauren’s head, but it hasn’t really shown up.

Then in chapter 18, Lauren starts talking to them about Earthseed.  Travis is a (surprisingly) intelligent man–he knows about entropy.

Travis’s mother was a live in cook for a rich man.  But before that she had written for newspapers and magazines.  She taught Travis to read. The man she worked for had a library and she would sneak out one book at a  time–he didn’t want Travis touching his stuff.

Of course. Slaves did that two hundred years ago.  They sneaked around and educated themselves as best they could sometimes suffering whipping, sale or mutilation for their efforts. (218)

Natividad was a maid and the rich man let them marry:  The son of the cook marrying one of the maids. That was like something out of another era too.

They discuss her poems–Earthseed.  Travis pushes back against her ideas, although never in an aggressive way.

She argues that here is no pore pervasive power than change.  Travis says that nobody is going to worship change.  Lauren says she hopes not

This excerpt from God is Change summarizes this discussion nicely:

“I was looking for God. I didn’t know whether there was a god to find, but I wanted to know. God would have to be a power that could not be defied by anyone or anything.”
“Change.”
“Change, yes.”
“But it’s not a god. It’s not a person or an intelligence or even a thing. It’s just … I don’t know. An idea.”
“It’s a truth. Change is ongoing. Everything changes in some way— size, position, composition, frequency, velocity, thinking, whatever. Every living thing, every bit of matter, all the energy in the universe changes in some way.”
“Sort of like saying God is the second law of thermodynamics?”
“That’s an aspect of God. There are all kinds of changes in the universe.”
“But why personify change by calling it God? Since change is just an idea, why not call it that? Just say change is important.”
“Because after a while, it won’t be important. People forget ideas. They’re more likely to remember God— especially when they’re scared or desperate.”
“Your stuff isn’t very comforting.”
“It is after a while. I’m still growing into it myself. God isn’t good or evil, doesn’t favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought.”
“Your God doesn’t care about you at all.”
“All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace— and how to deal with the others.”
“But nobody’s going to worship change.”
“I hope not.  Earthseed deals with ongoing reality, not with supernatural authority figures. Worship is no good without action. With action, it’s only useful if it steadies you, focuses your efforts, eases your mind.”
“Praying makes people feel better even when there’s no action they can take. I used to think that was all God was good for.”
“That isn’t what God is for, but there are times when that’s what prayer is for. And there are times when that’s what these verses are for. God is Change, and in the end, God prevails. But there’s hope in understanding the nature of God— not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There’s comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There’s power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all. But there’s no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you. Best to understand that and return the effort: Shape God.”

Lauren thinks he might join her movement.  Zahra is already on board.

She imagines finding and isolated place on the coast and making a deal with the owners–if there were more of them and they were better armed, they could provide security as well as education.

This fantasy, this plan gives the first sign of hope in this bleak world of Lauren’s.  It seems impossible.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION-“Trouble Every Day” (1966).

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention would play all kinds of music over the course of their existence (even more genres added when Frank went solo).  It’s not even entirely clear how you’d describe their first album Freak Out!

This song opens up side three of the double album and is a bluesy song based around a four note (and one bent note) melody and includes harmonica solo.  The song runs almost 6 minutes long and doesn’t change much until after about five and a half the tempo increases dramatically until the song fades.

It was written after the Watts Riots.  It was an accurate description and also sadly prescient.

Right in the middle of the song Frank states:

Hey you know something people I’m not black But there’s a whole lots a times I wish I could say I’m not white

That seems like it was a pretty powerful thing to say (and something you’d be unlikely to hear on the radio) back in 1965.

The chorus sticks with us

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

He certainly predicted the state of 24 hour news

Well you can cool it, You can heat it…
Cause, baby, I don’t need it…

Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all THOSE unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head began to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsmen say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so
And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They’ll be the first to tell
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

Things haven’t changed since this song was written

And it’s the same across the nation
Black & white discrimination
They’re yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
And all the other crap they hand me
In the papers and TV
‘N all that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight

Perhaps the theme verse for recent events

Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no great society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store

It’s a shame this song still resonates.

[READ: March 22, 2021] Parable of the Sower [2024-2025]

I found Kindred to be an enjoyable (not exactly the right word, I know) novel.  I thought the premise was really cool and I thought the content was impactful and was conveyed really well.  It was a powerful story that did not shy away from brutality.

But it in no way prepared me for Parable of the Sower.

I didn’t know anything about this book at all before starting.  At first I thought it was neat that it was set in 2024 (hey that’s so close!)  And that, coincidentally, myself and my daughters are almost the same ages as the main character and her father (will this be our future?).

But then, holy crap, Butler doesn’t hold back.

The brutality of Kindred was based on reality.  It was horrible and, in retrospect, hard to believe that people could do such things.  The brutality of Sower, however, is all based on the future projection.  The book was written in 1993. Basically, she posits that in 30 years, America has become a rotting hellscape.  And while we haven’t reached quite the levels that she imagines, there are some pretty eerie accuracies.  I have to assume, given the natural of the elected politicians, that some things are going to get very very spookily prescient.

The book opens in 2024 with a quote from Earthseed.  We don’t know what that is yet, but by the end of this week’s read we’ll learn that Earthseed is a sort of manifesto written by the main character, Lauren Oya Olamina–I didn’t realize her name was given after the first quote from Earthseed until looking back on it.  Each chapter has another quote from Earthseed and then the story unfolds as a series of diary entries. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

This song has a fascinating origin.

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

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

This week took us to the end of the book.

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

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

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

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

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

This song is amazing for so many reasons.

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

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

The intro (and chorus) get right to the point

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

She doesn’t stop there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACKMARTHA REDBONE-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135/154 (January 13, 2021).

Martha RedboneGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The fourth artist of the third night is Afro-indigenous appalachian performer Martha Redbone.

Martha Redbone performs her Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST performance from her home studio in Brooklyn’s Navy Yards. Native and African-American singer-songwriter Martha Redbone is known for her mix of folk, blues and gospel from her childhood in Harlan County, Ky., which she infuses with the eclectic grit of pre-gentrified Brooklyn. Inheriting the powerful vocal range of her gospel-singing African-American father and the resilient spirit of her mother’s Cherokee, Shawnee and Choctaw culture, Redbone broadens the boundaries of American Roots music.

“The Garden of Love” starts with Martha playing percussion sounds.  Keyboardist Aaron Whitby is playing some backing chords while guitarist marvin Sewell is playing some interesting slide guitar sounds.   Martha sings in a very traditional style.  Then the song starts proper with an old sounding blues riff and the song feels old and gospel-like.

She tells us her inspiration is the Appalachian mountains where she grew up–rattles, soul music, the blues.

“Talk About It” is a prayer for stronger communication around the world.  It’s a more conventional sounding soul song, with heavy keyboards and Redbone’s vocals taking the fore.

“Underdog” is a very pretty ballad with slide guitar sounds and gentle keys.  But it’s all about her gorgeous voice.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Kindred [prelude-the fall]

I’m always happy to start a new group read with the fine folks at Infinite Zombies. Normally we read big books by white men.  So this time it was decided to pick a different kind of author.

I was pretty pleased to see that Octavia E. Butler would be the new reading choice.  I had only recently heard of her and had recently read Mind of My Mind, which I really liked.  So it was a great opportunity to read more from her.

Kindred is Butler’s most famous book.  I was looking forward to reading something different from Mind (although I do intend to read the rest of that series).

I didn’t know what this book was about.  The cover of this book gives absolutely no indication is what’s going inside.  In fact, it looked pretty much exactly like what is not happening in this book.

I was blown away by the first sections of this book.  Butler’s style is not fancy and I found this direct writing to be really effective at conveying what is going on.

Butler basically puts a horrifying slave narrative into a science fiction story.

It starts very abruptly with the prologue.  The narrator, Dana says that she lost her arm on her last trip home.  The police question her husband Kevin but she assures them it is not his fault.

Then the story resumes with The River.  It flashes back to when this all started–June 9, 1976.

In The River, Dana and Kevin are unpacking books in their new California home when suddenly Dana feels dizzy.  She is pulled through space into a river where a young red-haired boy is drowning.  Dana thinks quickly and stomps into the river to rescue the him.  She even does some mouth to mouth

The boy’s mother starts blaming Dana for what’s happening even while she is trying to resuscitate the woman’s son.  Dana succeeds and just as the boy, whose name is Rufus comes to, his father holds a shotgun at Dana’s head.  What is the black woman (who is dressed like a man) doing with her mouth on his son?

Rufus’s father is Southern and they seem very, very old-fashioned.  But just as Dana fear the worst from the shotgun, she flies back to her bedroom.  She is covered in mud and soaking wet, but Kevin says she was gone maybe ten seconds.  He has a hard time believing her (who wouldn’t) despite the proof of the mud on her clothes.

What in the hell just happened? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ROCK & ROLL DUBBLE BUBBLE TRADING CARD CO. OF PHILADELPHIA-19141 – “Bubble Gum Music” (1968).

19141I thought it was a very clever idea posting about bubblegum music for this book.  If only I had known how much music was actually mentioned in the book and, ultimately, how inappropriate these songs are to the book–in tone and content.

However, I have really enjoyed discovering some of these songs that i’d never heard of before.  Like this one.

This might be may favorite bubblegum song of all.  In addition to being catchy (obviously) with a simple swinging horn melody, the lyrics are hilariously self-referential.

A bubblegum song about bubblegum songs which mentions some of the most popular bubblegum songs.

Since most of the bubblegum songs were written by the same few people (under different band names), it’s very likely that they are singing about some of their own songs.

The stupidly catchy chorus:

Give me more, more, more Of that bubble gum music
Makes me feel so good Oh, I never want to lose it
Let me dance, dance, dance To that bubble gum music
If you really want to turn me on

which is of course repeated about ten times.

But then come the lyrics which mention a while bunch of bubblegum hits

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wonder what she`s doin`
While the Monkees are singing for Valleri
Simon says take you down to LuLu`s
You`re gonna feel yummy, yummy, yummy

The second verse is even funnier because it turns into a kind of diss track

Well the Grateful Dead just leave me cold (ooo!)
And Herbie Alpert makes me feel too o-old (feel too old)
I can groove to rhythm and blues (rhythm and blues)
But if I had to choose, if I had to choose If I had to choose,

All of this wrapped up in one of the most ridiculously lengthy band names ever.

Spectacular.

[READ: June 29, 2020] Bubblegum Week 8

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

Hitting Back on the Brickhorse

With this week, the book comes to an end and I can’t help but feel disappointed by the ending.  At some point a few years ago I realized that endings are often the worst part of a book.  Endings can’t ever do what the reader really hopes will happen, especially if the reader has a different idea of what the book is doing.  I must have had a very different idea of what this book was a bout because I left that last page with so many questions–questions that Levin clearly had no intention of answering.

Like what if the entire book from after Belt gets his cure until the very end is all in his head.  He is just crazy and none of these things happened.  There are no cures.  Everything that seems off about his world is because his perception is skewed.  He has the wrong date and perpetrator of 9/11.  He misunderstands The Matrix, he believes he was given hundreds of thousands of dollars from the creator of The Matrix.  His father is dating the mother of the wife of an author that he likes.  But really he’s just in Costello house imagining he’ll meet up with Lisette someday.

I don’t really think that’s what happened, but there’s so much left out after the ending, that I have to fill it in somehow.

I was particularly interested in this first section being called AOL.  There has been no real explicit nudge from the author that there is no internet in the book, but this title was clearly a wink at us.  Particularly since Belt doesn’t know what it stands for either. (more…)

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