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Archive for the ‘Letters’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #78 (September 10, 2020).

Phoebe Bridgers is in the White House!

Obviously anybody would be better in the White House than the current squatter, but Phoebe Bridgers would certainly be more fun than any other choices at the moment.

I love that Phoebe fully commits to being in the White House by having her band wear Secret Service-looking suits while she is wearing a very Presidential pantsuit (instead of that skeleton onesie she’s been in since the quarantine began).

For the first two songs she stands behind the oval office desk while Marshall Vore on drums and Harrison Whitford on guitar accompany her.

She opens with “Kyoto” one of my favorite songs of the year.  This more acoustic version loses a little bit of the magic from the recorded version, but that chorus is just so tasty and Phoebe’s voice (and the backing vocals) sound fantastic.

They open with “Kyoto,” a story song based on her first trip to Japan, followed with a sweet version of “Moon Song” and the sad details of loving someone who doesn’t love themself.

“Moon Song” is one of those beautiful songs that is lyrically very powerful but is just a hair too slow for me.  Of course after a few more listens (especially to the lyrics) it will sound perfect, I’m sure.  I had read an article recently about a line in this song

We hate Tears in Heaven
But it’s sad that his baby died

The article said that she originally wanted to say “We hate Eric Clapton,” but decided against it.  But that she really does hate Clapton:

I have such an Eric Clapton rant, because I think it’s just extremely mediocre music, but also he’s a famous racist.

I didn’t know this but apparently during an August 1976 gig in Birmingham, Eric Clapton made racist comments and praised Enoch Powell, inadvertently inspiring the Rock Against Racism campaign.

Wow.  Has he ever made amends?

The song picks up some power by the end, as Phoebe’s song tend to do.

And then comes the kicker, as Phoebe introduces herself with the words “I hope everybody’s enjoying their apocalypse,” the band kicks into her surreal doomsday tune “I Know the End.”

It starts like many other Phoebe songs–slow and thoughtful.  But this one builds and builds.  Midway through the song, they turn off the green screen projector and everyone walks (while the song is still playing) to another part of the room for the end.

And what an end it is: The trio expands to an ensemble

Whitford and Bridgers switch to electric guitar, Vore moves to a full drum kit, Emily Retsas joins on bass (looking bad ass in her blonde hair, dark suit and sunglasses), Nick White adds keyboards and Odessa Jorgensen plays violin.  The song feel so much louder (there’s been no bass so far).  You can feel the tension mounting

And then scattered throughout the screen are videos of Phoebe fans–recording from bedrooms, cars, backyards and trampolines–singing the chorus, air drumming and smiling big smiles.

And at the end everybody

lets out the kind of cathartic scream that has come to define 2020 for so many of us.

Followed by Phoebe’s winning smile.

[READ: September 10, 2020] “Dear Mr. President”

This story is written as a letter to The Honorable George Bush, President of the United States.

It is written by a Marine, Lance Corporal James Laverne.  [He is clearly a loser or a sucker, according to our current president].

He starts the letter with greetings and salutations and a fine memory of when Bush landed his helicopter at Laverne’s station in Iraq.  The men stood at attention for two hours while Bush was in a tent talking with someone.  Then when he came out he spoke to Laverne.  When Laverne said he was from Wisconsin, Bush said “Is cheddar better?” to which Laverne gave a hearty “yes sir!”

Then he tells a story of the time he was attacked.  He and Brecks went into a burned-out building where they’d heard there was sniper.  But when they got there it wasn’t a sniper, it was a dog.  Brecks went to rescue the dog, but when he bent over, someone on the ground threw a grenade onto the roof which blew Brecks to pieces. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IVY-“Beautiful” (1995).

Ivy was a trio consisting of Andy Chase and Adam Schlesinger.  They wrote beautiful gentle indie pop songs.  But what set them apart was singer Dominique Durand.  Dominique was from Paris, living in New York and studying English.  She sings in a delightfully accented style (not unlike Laetitia Sadler of Stereolab).

The band released five albums over about fifteen years and their sound morphed in different ways, although it never strayed from the blue print of gentle, catchy echoing melodies.

“Beautiful” was the song that introduced me to the band.  It’s a bit faster than some of their later songs, with a fast drum beat and some (relatively) loud guitar chords.

The chorus, with some ripping guitars over Durand’s gently soaring “Don’t you look beautiful,” so exemplifies the late 90s for me, that it should be locked in a time capsule.

And it’s all over in two and a half minutes.

Fascinatingly, this article from Variety lists seven of Ivy’s “best” songs and “Beautiful” is not one of them.  Shows what they know.

[READ: April 1, 2020] “Love Letter”

This is a tremendously political short story written as a letter.

The letter is written on February 22, 202_

It is from a grandfather to his grandson Robbie.  Robbie wrote an email but the grandfather is hand writing back (not sure emailing is the best move).

He uses initials so as not to cause any more trouble for G., M., or J. (good folks, all, we very much enjoyed meeting them).

Believe me, I am as disgusted as you are with all this.

He believes that “they” think that M. “should” have let someone in authority know about G. “since being here is a privilege and not a right.”  And what of J?  Even if J is a citizen, they may say she forfeited certain rights by declining to report G & M. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ADAM SCHLESINGER (October 31, 1967 – April 1, 2020).

Adam Schlesinger was best known as the co-founder of Fountains of Wayne.  I always appreciated the band because I was familiar withe the store Fountains of Wayne (in Wayne, NJ).  But I was never a big fan of the band.

They wrote indie pop songs, which were not really my thing in the late 90s (although I did really enjoy “Radiation Vibe”).

Ironically, Schlesinger was pretty much simultaneously involved with a band that I really did like called Ivy.  I liked Ivy a lot primarily for the vocals of Dominique Durand and had no idea that Schlesinger was involved.

Since then I have really come to appreciate Schlesinger’s songwriting (he’s written amazingly catchy songs for just about everyone).

The Coronavirus is devastating the world and Schlesinger’s death from it just amplifies the unfairness of this deadly virus.  That a man who made people happy with his melodies should be killed by it while people who are causing direct harm are not even infected by it just seems to show where we are in the world.

[READ: April 1, 2020] “Inside Tove Jansson’s Private Universe”

I’m a fan of the Moomin Universe and I know a bit about Tove Jansson.  I also know that her brother Lars (she called him Lasse) took over doing the Moomins at some point because she had burnt out.  She died in 2011 at age 86.

This essay is more or less a book review of a new collection of Jansson’s correspondence called Letters from Tove, which I might consider reading.

I did not know that Jansson wrote short stories. Her short story “Messages” is composed of snippets of letters she received: “Last time you didn’t make a happy ending.  Why do you do this?  We look forward to your valued reply soonest concerning Moomin motifs on toilet paper in pastel shades.”

It’s easy to see how forty years of these letters would be wearying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THUNDERCAT-“Black Squalls” (2020).

I really liked Thundercat’s album “Drunk.”  At first I wasn’t sure about it because it tends into some smooth R&B which I don’t really like.  But his musicianship and lyrics were just too good, that he won me over.  And when he gets his bass fingers moving, it’s a marvel.

Thundercat is touring around here soon and I’m thinking about getting a ticket.  I didn’t realize he’d be releasing a new album.  This song “Black Squalls” comes from it.

“Black Squalls” marries the two parts of Thundercat’s work with a great opening funky fat bass line and Thundercat’s falsetto vocals.

A wavery synth line introduces the catchy chorus

‘Cause there’s no more livin’ in fear
No more livin’ in fear
If we don’t talk about it on the web

I love Thundercat’s falsetto backing vocals while Steve Lacy and Steve Arrington sing the post-chorus.

The juxtaposition of smooth and thumping bass is fantastic.  This is the single edit of the song.  The album version will have a contribution from Childish Gambino.  Now THAT should be cool.

[READ: January 15, 2020] “Saturday Project”

I really enjoyed this story and its divergent plot lines.

I also enjoyed the somewhat confusing way it started.  Geoff and his wife Laura had discussed “cutting the cord” and I couldn’t quite picture what that meant.

Then the UPS man brought some boxes which made the reality come home.

Soon enough it becomes clear that they are cutting the cable cord and switching to a satellite dish.  Laura is concerned, can they still watch local news? He assured her it was a good idea.  And yet those boxes stayed unopened in his workroom for months. (more…)

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30SOUNDTRACK: TANYA TAGAQ-Toothsayer EP (2019).

toothEarlier this year, Tanya Tagaq released a five-song EP to accompany the British National Maritime Museum’s “Polar Worlds” exhibit.

Tagaq’s music doesn’t radially change from release to release but she does vary things quite a bit within the style she creates.

This album feel more electronic than organic.  It’s full of drones and pulsing sounds.

“Icebreaker” opens with a low rumbling drone joined by a pulsing drum beat.  Then her heavy breathing/growling enters and she moved between guttural throat singing and high squeals.  A vocal melody appears around 2 and a half minutes but it is quickly swallowed by the main pulsing rhythm.

Tagaq uses katajjaq which Pitchfork explains is the vocal game traditionally played among Inuit women while men are away hunting. It involves two women standing face to face, exchanging repetitive vocal motifs until one fails to keep the pattern going. In older recordings of katajjaq, it’s easy to sense just how entertaining they were: Many games end with laughter.

When Tagaq does katajjaq she is solo (and not laughing).

 “Snowblind” is next.  with slow pulsing synths (from the Iranian-British electronic musician Ash Koosha) and a delicate piano as she sings a gentle wordless melody. The piano starts to pick up half way through and the low note grow more ominous as her voice grows more urgent.

“Toothsayer” features guttural breathing underneath while her voice soars above.  Midway through, it resolves into some gentle voices and an harsh stabbing guitar solo.

The most exciting track to me is “Submerged,” her katajjaq is delivered over what sounds like Inuit drumming, but Inuit drumming underwater–echoing and slightly underwater sounding.  Deep, slow clicking and heavy gasping breaths make up most of the song until about three minuets when a chord comes crashing in and her voice soars like a scream.  The pulsing continues and her voice sounds more ragged.  As it reaches its climax so does her voice shrieking louder and higher louder and higher until it abruptly ends.

The disc ends with the prettiest song, “Hypothermia.”  It is a quieter song, awash with keyboards.  Her voice soars like a siren.  Like the feeling of hypothermia, you are lulled by beauty when really your body is shutting down.

In “Hypothermia,” her katajjaq takes on the desperate cadence of someone panting, while the crystalline harmonies of “Snowblind” are both a vivid evocation of landscape and a bittersweet expression of pain—the pain of knowing that this could all be gone.

[READ: December 30, 2019] “I Can Speak!™”

The end of the year issue is called the Cartoon Takeover: A Semi-Archival Issue.  So there’s a lot of cartoons, but there’s also some old stories. Like this one.

This was originally published in the January 14, 1999 issue of the New Yorker.  I’ve now read it a few times, but it has been a while and I enjoyed it more this time than any other time.

The story is actually a letter to a customer unsatisfied with her I Can Speak!.  The customer service rep from KidLuv says he is on his lunch break–that’s how much he cares about her satisfaction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS LOBOS-Tiny Desk Concert #926 (December 18, 2019).

One of my favoirte Christmas songs is “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” so I’m always pleased to hear someone play it (it’s not overplayed yet).  I didn’t realize that this Tiny Desk Concert was a Christmas themed one, so when Los Lobos opened with this song, I knew it had to go on Christmas Day.

The band called up tunes from the Latin holiday song book, straight from their recently released, first-ever Christmas album, Llegó Navidad, a bilingual collection of songs from across Latin America and the U.S.

Imagine my surprise to read this about my favorite Christmas song:

They kicked it off with an obscure novelty hit that was once popular in Latino households in the Southwest, “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” It was originally a lushly orchestrated affair that is now a “lowrider oldie.”

The percussion is in full effect on this song with Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez on drums, Marcos Reyes on congas and Louie Perez on a washboard type scratcher.  The song features a cool baritone sax solo from keyboardist Steve Berlin and a little acoustic guitar solo from singer Cesar Rosas.

David Hidalogo on 12 string electric guitar takes lead vocals on the new album’s title cut, “Llegó Navidad.” The song

is actually a classic from the Fania Records catalog originally performed by the Puerto Rican composer and singer Ismael Rivera. Los Lobos retains its pan-Latin callout to holiday celebrations across Latin America, set to a slow burning montuno groove.

There’s some cool low notes from the baritone sax and Hidalo’s gentle voice over the top.

For the third song, “Christmas and You” Louie Perez plays a jarana and Hidalgo sings lead.  It’s interesting to me that I am more familiar with Rosas as the lead singer.  I wonder how many songs he actually sings.

The band adds a David Hidalgo and Louie Perez original to the Latin holiday songbook with “Christmas and You,” a plaintive ballad about desperate loss that we would easily call a carte vena (vein cutter). The great Mexican essayist Alma Guillermoprieto once wrote that it’s not a real Mexican party “until someone cries,” and this song does the trick.

A brief keyboard/bells solo from Berlin keeps the holiday spirit in the song.

For the final song “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” Hidalgo picks up the accordion and the bouncy bass from Conrad Lozano makes this a fun polka style holiday song.

The party ends by sending everyone home, dancing with “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” a song by the great Tex- Mex troubadour, Freddy Fender. It’s a Los Lobos scorcher, complete with accordion and good times that would get even abuelita dancing.

The Tiny Desk holiday shows are always fun, I wish there were more.

[READ: December 25, 2019] “A Hint for Next Christmas”

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

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

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

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

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

Want a copy?  Order one here.

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

Yes, this is the creator of Winnie the Pooh.  I didn’t know he wrote essays, but I definitely want to read more after this.  This essay appeared in Milne’s 1920 collection If I May and it rings true almost 100 years later in nearly every way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATHLEEN EDWARDS-“It’s Christmastime (Let’s Just Survive)” (2019).

I really like Kathleen Edwards and I was so delighted to hear that she was coming out of … semi-retirement?… this summer.  In the last few years, she has opened up her own coffee shop, in Stittsville, Ontario called Quitters Coffee [road trip?].

I couldn’t believe that she played XPN Fest on the year that we had tickets to the Newport Folk Festival.  I had hoped she’s play Newport as well, but sadly no.  She played two new songs and a few older ones and her voice sounds great (thanks YouTube).  In the spirit of coming back, she has released this wryly amusing Christmas song. Like many of her songs, there is a nice mix of humor and bite in this song–set to a very catchy melody.

With a slow lap steel guitar starting the song, she begins

It’s a wonderful time where we all descend to my parent’s house in the West End.  [Hope they subscribe to the West End Phoenix].

Then the song gets to the point:

Uncle Dave and Susan bring their feral cat / and homemade wine that tastes like crap.

There’s a few more examples of amusingly bad Christmas happenings.  One of my favorites is

Someone let the dog lick the gravy boat / and now the air in here unbearable

I also enjoyed this line, because it hits home:

You have a meltdown when we play scrabble / Its not my fault you’re only left with vowels.

Musically, the song is quite lovely.  There’s a pretty bridge where she sings lyrics that sound sweet until you listen closely, “tell me a story we’ve heard before and drag it out even more.”

And just when you think the song is only dark and cynical, the instrumental break adds a refrain of Kathleen quietly singing “meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow.”

I truly hope that this song gets played a lot during this and future holidays.  It may not make it to #1 like “All I Want for Christmas is You,” but it’s a lot more honest–and really catchy.

I’m so excited that Kathleen is back that I’m posting the video for the song right here!

I have also just learned that this song comes from a new Christmas album called A Dualtone Christmas. (although I don’t really like much else on it).

[READ: December 19, 2019] “Letter from San Francisco”

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

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

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

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

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

Want a copy?  Order one here.

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

This story is indeed a letter from San Francisco.

There are a few things redacted from it–the sender and the recipient’s names and two lines in the middle which are the details of their huge fight. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ZEUS-Live at Massey Hall (September 11, 2015).

I had never heard of the Canadian band Zeus.  They seem pretty well-known (and have since become the backing band for Jason Collett when he’s not doing Broken Social Scene).

The band has been active for nearly a decade, but have only released a couple of albums (it is mentioned during the set that they are working on new material, but that was three years ago).

They talk about the amazing sound in Massey Hall.

Massey Hall is the furthest from a giant gnarly arena you can get.  We’ve played places with similar capacity and similar sound but there is something different here.  It sound really good and clean.  Maybe I would be intimidated if I played on this stage but you remember that not just anybody gets to pay here–you get asked to play here. This takes some of the onus off of being intimidated–you feel important in here.

Carlin says, “You never wanna say you had a shitty show at Massey Hall.  But you can hear yourself really well here, maybe that’s why they are all so good.  There’s always legendary shows there.

Everyone in the band switches instruments throughout.  It’s hard to keep track of what everyone is doing.  The only one who doesn’t move is Mr Robert Anthony Drake on the drums.

“Come Home” starts with a Carlin Nicholson on bass and Mike O’Brien on the electric guitar.  They share a microphone and the harmonies.  Neil Quinn is on acoustic guitar off to the side. adding a third voice.  It’s a surprisingly short song.

“Where is My Love” has Neil, still on acoustic, singing lead with his deep voice and an occasional falsetto on certain notes.  This song is quiet for the beginning with just the acoustic guitar and keys before the rest of the band kicks in.  The song shifts gear and musically sounds like a slower Sloan song (whom they were paired with that night) but the vocals are quite different.  Mike has shifted to keys with Carlin still on bass.  Jason Haberman is also playing multiple instruments–he’s on guitar for this one.

“Miss My Friends” has a kind of funky, almost disco rhythm.  Carlin has switched to keyboards and Mike O’Brien is on bass where he sings lead vocals.  Neil Quinn plays electric guitar and c Habermans has switched to electronic percussion.

Carlin introduces the next song, “This goes back to the very first Zeus record, “I Know.”  It’s got Carlin on keys and lead vocals. Neil on bass, Mike on guitar and Haberman on acoustic guitar.  Carlin invited people to sing is they know it but I can’t hear of anyone does.

Neil shifts to a pretty melody on the keys with a gorgeous intertwining melody from Mike.  It’s a great opening to “Heavy on Me.”  There’s cool 70’s sounding keyboards and a great bass rumble.  There’s a lot of quieter moments where the bass is all there is and the riff is cool and slinky.  The song ends with great jamming session with a noisy rocking guitar solo and heavy drums.

After the applause, Neil says, “Thank you.  This is just what this band needs right now–a house fill of love like this.”

“Air I Walk” has a shuffling beat with (questionable) electronic percussion hits.  Carlin back  bass with Neil on acoustic guitars and lead vocals.  It sound kind of mid 8os Dire Straits

“Throwdown” doesn’t sound like a throw down as it opens.  There’s quiet guitars and gentle vocals from Mike.  But it gets really big by the middle and sounds like a non-synthy 80s classic rock songs.

The show ends with “Are You Gonna Waste My Time.”  Just like the opening, Neil is on guitar and vocals, Mike plays a great lead guitar and Carlin is on bass.

I really enjoyed this set quite a lot.  Zeus is a little soft rock for my tastes, but their musicianship and songwriting is top notch.

[READ: May 21, 2018] “Seven Years of Identity Theft”

Rick Moody had his identity stolen.  We all hear about this happening, but he really shows you how much of a real pain in the ass it is.  It’s not just a matter of getting new credit cards.

This essay is written as a series of letters.

The first letter is to the Most Honorable President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.  He writes of leaving his bank card in an ATM in Macon, Georgia and that’s when he assumes it all started–the theft of his identity–back in 2011.

A week later his replacement card was rejected and ultimately deactivated due to fraudulent transactions. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LILA DOWNS-Tiny Desk Concert #591 (January 13, 2017).

This is yet another example of musicians, artists who are bridging the divide that certain politicians have been trying to wedge int our country.  Between the translated works of Zambra and the multilingual works of Lila Downs, it’s pretty obvious that cultural racism is just stupid.  #ITMFA

The blurb tells us

Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

She can also coax the most tender moments from romantic boleros. But Downs is at her best when she and her band gather all of those influences to create cross-cultural expression that breaks down musical barriers. Entertaining and inspiring, she’s as much a storyteller as a singer, and her between-song banter lays bare the Mexican soul, only to have it punctuated in song.

She plays four songs and dedicates the first “Humito De Copal” to “all the journalists in the line of fire.”

Even though this song has many components of traditional Mexican folk, the size of the bad (nine pieces) and the big sound she creates transcends folk and makes it sound really catchy for all.  I love it when midway through, the song takes off in a fun fast dancing section

She is really striking and her voice is amazing.  She’s also playing a cool scratchy/grater item.

“La Promesa” comes from a series of song about he ritual and the offering of the Day of the Dead.  She asks, “what does the homeland mean to us as Latin Americans as Mexicans and as Mexican Americans. It begins with a great electric guitar sound and cool organ accompaniment.  And then she sings in quite a low voice holding notes for amazingly long (about 18 seconds).  It turns into a bluesy song with a lengthy bluesy guitar solo.

The third song, “Viene La Muerte Echando Rasero” was written by a campesino, a farm worker, about rich and poor and young and old being taken by death.  He says “even hit men are going to die.”  She switches to a jarana, a small eight-stringed guitar-like instrument.  After a slow intro the song picks up a bit with a kind of reggae feel.  There’s already a big echo on the mic already but in the middle she cups her hands and gives the whole sound a much bigger echo.  It has a catchy ending with everyone singing along.

She introduces the final song, “La Patria Madrina” by saying “In Mexico, you wake up and put on the news and see a lot of depressing things and you wake up and hope today will be better…and it isn’t.  But despite all of this everything will be better tomorrow.”  It’s a slower song with more reggae sounds and dramatic flourishes.  This time there’s a kind of slide guitar running through the song.

The band consists of : Lila Downs (vocals, jarana); Paul Cohen (sax); George Saenz, Jr. (trombone); Hugo Moreno (trumpet); Marcos Lopez (seated percussion); Yayo Serka (seated drums); Rafael Gomez (electric guitar); Leo Soqui (jarana); Luis Guzman (bass).

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 3” 

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Zambra’s works and this one is no exception.  I’m particularly intrigued by the “quiz” portion at the end of the piece which really takes the story in a different direction.

The structure of the story is similar to other stories I’ve read by him–I have to assume that he is being reasonably autobiographical about his youth and his life with the woman who would be his son’s mother.  If not then he has really appropriated this character.

A man is writing a letter to his son.  I loved the way the beginning started with the narrator telling his son to forget all of the thing that he has said or done: “mitigate my shouting, my inappropriate remarks, and my stupid jokes.” (more…)

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