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Archive for the ‘LGBTQ’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: IRIS-Verftet Online Music Festival 2020 (April 1, 2020).

In April 2020, Norway’s Verftet Music Festival streamed an online concert:

Get ready for Verftet Online Music Festival, Bergen’s largest virtual concert festival, where we can enjoy great music together. We want to turn despair and frustration into innovation and positivity, and invite everyone to a digital festival experience out of the ordinary – right home in your own living room.

I was completely unfamiliar with Iris, but she was the only other singer whose set was still streaming.  Because Aurora is a Norwegian singer in the same range, I feel like Iris’ voice sounds similar to hers.  But that’s a lazy comparison.

I suspect that she is a bit more poppy than this set lets on.  Like the Silja Sol set, it feels like a more “unplugged” kind of show.

It opens with “crawl for me” with she her singing to a guitar.  It’s quiet and powerful.  The rest of the band comes out for “mercy” which is “how i would like to to not show me any.”  There are washes of guitar s and keys, including a very cool, almost sinister keyboard sound in the end.

A cellist arrives for “kroppsspråk” which is a cover of a Lars Vaular song.  It’s kind of rapped–but in Iris’s more singing way.  It seems like the original is very dancey and she has dialed it back.

After a gentle piano solo version of “giving in” (her voice is lovely in the spare setting), she played “from inside a car,” my favorite song of the set which  has a breathy quality that I really like.

Then she throws in a Beatles cover.  “Here, There and Everywhere” is a beautiful gentle cover with just her voice and an acoustic guitar.

“hidden springs” stays with the acoustic sound, but she moved to a more techie processed vocal for “your mind, the universe.”  She has a few technical glitches for this song but when they are resolved her voice sounds very cool as it starts and then turns into a much bigger song.

As they prepare the next song she jokes that you shouldn’t eat crackers in bed, which proves to be the opening line of “hanging around you/crackers,” a sweet sounding breakup song.

Before the final song she mentions that all of her band is wearing band T-shirts: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss and um, Reservoir Dogs(?).  It’s an amusing look for such a gentle show.

Before starting “romance is dead” she encourages everyone to visit my You Tube channel for recipes.  This set ending song is soft and lovely, just piano and strings and her beautiful voice.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Road Trips”

When David was a kid, his father rallied the families on their street in Raleigh to plant maple trees.  For years they were tiny, pathetic things.  Now, decades later they are tall and majestic creating a canopy down the street where his father still lives.

He was home visiting his father who brought him to a block party.  At the party a teenager saw David’s father and groaned “Lou Sedaris, who invited her?”

“My son is gay,” the boy’s mother announced as if none of us had figured this out yet.  David was blown away that someone could casually announce this on the street where he grew up.  As a young homosexual David played all the games that the other closeted kids did.  Dated girls and claimed that sex before marriage was what dogs did–a true union of soles could take eight to ten years!

He kept his secret until he was twenty.  But he would have kept it longer had a couple not picked him up when he was hitchhiking.  It was 1 AM and he was picked up by a Cadillac with people his parents’ age in it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PINO PALLADINO + BLAKE MILLS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #225 (June 17, 2021).

This is a mellow, jazzy set with four musicians all playing at equal strength.  I’ve only heard of Blake Mills (although I might be getting him mixed up with Buck Meek or James Blake or Mike Mills).  But apparently I should know more of them.

 Pino Palladino is a prolific bassist whose sound you’re already intimately acquainted with (even if you don’t know it). Blake Mills, a guitarist and two-time Grammy nominee for producer of the year, has an impressive catalog of his own. Together, in the studio, the topshelf sidemen are in their element, distilling the sonic creativity that is the first release under Palladino’s name, Notes With Attachments.

“Just Wrong” opens the set

Eight pulsing calls from saxophonist Sam Gendel usher us into Just Wrong a melodic meditation that unfolds like a blossom in timelapse. Guitar, bass, sax and Abe Rounds’ colorful dustings of percussion in this song are magical; we soar with the musicians through varied repetitions of the melody before they gently set us back on our feet.

All three musicians slowly play one note to start.  Then Pino Palladino meanders up the neck of his fretless bass while Blake Mills plays higher and higher chords on the guitar.  Then he switches to an interesting picked note melody while Abe Rounds adds gentle percussive bells.  Sam Gendel on the sax plays the main lead while Paladino adds gentle harmonics. Eventually the drums get louder and Mills and Gendel seems to be responding to each other with leads.   Gendel’s sax sounds like it’s processed in interesting ways, making unusual sounds.

“Ekuté,” is a tune that explores traditional West African music, jazz and rock influences with a few modern touches of technology.

A soft shaker opens the song as Palladino plays a fretted bass melody as a lead.  Gendel starts adding in some swirling sax melodies before Mills throws in some cool wah wah guitar forms.  As the song takes off it’s like a conversation between guitar and bass, both more or less playing lead.  Gendel lays some random skronking sax notes over the bed the guitars lay down.  Eventually the song settles into a nice groove while Mills plays a fascinatingly complex solo.

“Djurkel” the final offering in this set, is also experimental in nature. Palladino’s trademark bass sound lies in the cut, the fertile ground on which Mills, Gendel and Rounds dance dreamily around each other.

This one opens with sax and guitar washes before Palladino takes over with a cool lead bass line.  Mills is playing a fretless guitar on this songs, allowing him to create a really interesting mix of sounds.

I really enjoyed the diverse amount of sounds and the mellow exploration that this set provided.

[READ: June 27, 2021] Heartstopper 3

I’ve really enjoyed this series so far and I’m quite pleased to see that there’s going to be another book after this.

This book centers around a school trip to Paris.  Both Charlie and Nick had signed up already.

After Charlies’ mom signs the permission, he bashfully says he has something to tell them.  His dad jokingly says “Are you trying to come out again, because we already know.”  Charlie laughs and then tells them about Nick and his parents are very happy because they saw how much he liked him.  But Nick is definitely banned from sleepovers forever now.  (Dad, stop saying “hanky panky.”)

When Nick sees Charlie at school the next day, Nick tells him that he came out to his mum last night and she was really supportive, too. They share a kiss and Nick jokes tat kissing at school is still a terrible idea.

In a later scene Nick’s friends Christian, Sai and Otis apologize to Nick for what happened that night when Nick got into the fight with Harry–they admit that they should have told Harry to fuck off. They all agree that they like Charlie and the four are friends again.  When Nick walks away one of them says what was I supposed to say we know you and Charlie are a thing and that’s fine??

Later, after the rugby coach sees the two of them kissing, she calls Nick into her office  After offering him the position of captain, she says that she met her wife at university.

People gave us a lot of shit.  Things are a little better now but you never know.

It’s a nice moment.

Followed by an unpleasant one, when Nick’s brother has come home from university. He says to Nick that he is talking to Charlie to meet the guy who turned his brother gay.  It turns ugly with Charlie lamenting why does being out have to be so complicated.

But there’s the Paris trip, which is definitely going to be cool. The chaperones say…no rooming between boys and girls which gets groans from everyone except for Tara and Darcy and Charlie and Nick. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ACID MOTHERS GONG-Live Tokyo (2006).

Gong is a band that started in Paris in 1967 by Daevid Allen.  The band is still active and has seen many many lineup changes over the years.  From 2003-2004 the band included members of Acid Mothers Temple.  They released a weird (well, all Gong albums are pretty weird) album called Acid Motherhood.  And then released this live document in 2006.

The line up was Daevid Allen – guitar gliss, vocals/fx; Gilli Smyth  – space whisperer; Josh Pollack – guitar, megaphone; Kawabata Makoto – guitar, voices; Cotton Casino – synth, voices; Hiroshi Higashi – synth, voices; Yoshida Tatsuya – drums, sampler; Tsuyama Atsushi – bass, whistle, vocals.

Gong used a sped up vocal technique a lot, which you can hear in the opening 40 second song called “Gnome.”  Gnome introduces Acid Mother Gong and  segues into “Ooom Ba wAH!” which is improvised processed sped up vocal nonsense.

“Crazy Invisible She” is a nearly 4 minute spoken piece by Gilli that segues into “The Unkilling Of Octave Docteur DA 4J.”  This is a nine minute jam with trippy chords and a two note riff.  There’s wild soloing and trippy space keys.  “Avahoot Klaxon Diamond Language Ritual” has more nonsensical spoken word with wild drums and guitars.  The guitar turns into a siren as chanting begins and segues into “Rituel: Umbrage Demon Stirfry & Its Upcum,” a three minute fast chanted piece with distorted voices and rocking chords.

“Jesu Ali Om Cruci-Fiction” is a ninety second swirling feedback segue into “Ze Teapot Zat Exploded” (“Flying Teapot” alternate title) a nine minute song that feels like a proper song.  It starts with a riff and then the whole band jumps in.  About halfway through someone starts singing (in English!).

“Eating Colonel Saunders Upside Down” sounds like a 7 minute transmission from outer space with a slow beat then turns into a kind of tribal chanting and ends with a high pitched voice singing a wild melody.  “Vital Info That Should Never Be Spoken” is a spoken word piece in which the sound regularly cuts out making it very hard to understand this vital info.

“Parallel Tales Of Fred Circumspex” is a five minute recited piece about Frederick in English and possibly translated into Japanese as they go?  Or is it something else?  By the end he is chanting how everyone is nude.  I guess the nude people then go to “The Isle Of Underwear.” I’m not sure why its called this as it is “Pink Lady Lemonade.”  Aafter 8 minutes someone gently sings the words of “Pink Lady Lemonade.”

“Ohm Riff Voltage 245″is 8 minutes of faster and faster chanting with lots of drums.  Then it turns into slow jamming until the end.  It segues into “Totalatonal Farewell To The Innocents” which is full of soaring sounds and deep sing song chanting that turns into a bouncy jam. By the end, the gnome voice is back.  And the show ends.

You have to be in a very specific headspace to really get into this.

[READ: June 20, 2021] Heartstopper 2

I enjoyed Heartstopper Volume 1 so much I couldn’t wait for Volume 2.  The story is so sweet and kind, I was happy that volume 2 kept up that level of joy.

I also enjoyed that Iseman opened the book with a little drama, but that it was resolved pretty quickly.

In Volume 1 we meet Charlie, who is gay.  He befriends a boy named Nick who is straight.  Charlie is unlike anyone who Nick has hung out with–he usually hangs out with jocks. Charlie is so much the opposite it’s a breath of fresh a air for Nick.  And suddenly, Nick realizes that he is falling for Charlie.

At the end of Volume 1 they kissed…

But as Volume 2 opens we see Charlie’s diary and he is very upset because Nick ran off and didn’t text or anything.  He thinks he ruined everything.  Then we see Nick trying to type his feelings in a text.  He’s sorry for running off, he really likes Charlie, he was just scared.  But he decides it would be better to say something in person.

The next morning, Charlie wakes to the doorbell.  He is in his PJs and with behead and Nick is standing there.  Nick explains everything and suddenly they are having a wonderful day together.

I love the way Iseman draws them–so sweet and loving. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUZZY LEE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #218 (June 2, 2021).

Everybody sounds better in the bathroom, right?

There’s a comfort to be found singing in a bathroom; we all sound better with our voices bouncing off the tiles. For Sasha Spielberg, a.k.a. Buzzy Lee, she took it a step further, recording her Tiny Desk (home) concert in her childhood bathroom, which her parents decorated with images of fairytales.  … “I’d spend hours on end in here dreaming of singing in front of people. It’s also where I wrote my first song, age 5, ‘You’re Just Like Pie Crust.’ It was a pop song. Huge hit.”

Buzzy Lee’s Home Tiny Desk is filmed in her bathroom.  The show opens with her sitting on the edge of her tub playing the keys and gently singing “Strange Town.”  After 43 seconds, she adds a bass note with a second keyboard and the song fleshes out.  But when the camera pulls back you can see Adam Gunther sitting in the bathtub playing modular synth and modular bass (it sounds really good later in the song).

After a minute and a half the song changes from soft washes to a super catchy synth riff and Jorge Balbi Castellano who has been sitting on the toilet all this time, starts adding electronic drums.  Once the riff kicks in the song is really catchy and Spielberg’s voice proves to have a lot of different sounds (including a really cool mic that is like an echo chamber unto itself).

For the rest of the four song set

we hear songs and tales with different themes: obsession, love, attachment, and self-doubt, all filled with playful wordplay and her passionate voice.

It’s weird to hear her ask Gunther to “pull up the file for ‘Coolhand.'”  But it’s all smiles as he “types” in to the keyboard on the tiniest Tiny Desk yet.  This song is poppy and bouncy with some really fun singing in the verses.

When the song ends, she says “We’re going to play ‘Spoiled Love,'” and hands Jorge a newspaper.  He puts down his sticks to read while sitting on the trouble.  This song is a gentle ballad (with no drums).  I love the use of that crazy echoing microphone.

To start the final song, “What Has A Man Done,” she reaches over and “starts” the computer.  Her keyboard has a really soulful sound as she sings this slow, moody piece.  I love the way her voice goes from deep to a really high falsetto as it shifts from verse to chorus.

[READ: June 1, 2021] Heartstopper 1

Sometimes a simple love story which is told very well, can be a real joy to read.  It’s even better when there are wonderful illustrations.

The story opens on Charlie (a quiet boy) and Ben (a much louder boy) kissing in the library at school.  But the bell rings and class starts–and Ben seems a little jerky.

Charlie has a note that says he’s in a new class with kids from all four grades in it.  Charlie is in grade ten and he is placed with Nicholas Nelson an 11th grader.  As their eyes meet, the title–Heartstopper–flashes across the page

Nick is a big strong guy–a rugby player–and although he is very nice to Charlie, Charlie assumes that Nick is messing with him.  Charlie doesn’t trust the jocks–and with good reason.  When it got out that Charlie was gay (in an all boys school) news travelled fast and people weren’t nice to him.  But he seems to be pretty well accepted now–at least by some. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURIE ANDERSON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #212 (May 20, 2021).

Anyone who likes original or avant garde music knows Laurie Anderson.  Even forty years later, her music is unlike most other music out there.  Her music still sounds futuristic.

Which doesn’t mean it’s always enjoyable.  But some of it is quite good and it’s all pretty fascinating.  It’s also fascinating that you know instantly that it’s Laurie Anderson.  Her voice hasn’t changed in years–true she doesn’t sing, but it’s still the same.

She begins this set, which feels incredibly minimal with her keyboardist (and so much more–she played on and produced Big Science with Laurie Anderson in 1982) Roma Baron playing a simple clicking beat track.  She speaks (with her voice processed):

I met this guy and he looked like he might have been a hat check clerk at an ice ring.  Which in fact he turned out to be.  And I said oh boy, right again.

And Rubin Kodheli on the cello is playing gentle strings, including high notes sliding down the fretboard.

Is the song a story?  Does it have a narrative?  Or is it just stream of consciousness?  I’m not sure.

Laurie Anderson is a revolutionary artist who has mixed storytelling, music and technology for the past four decades plus. This Tiny Desk (home) concert celebrates the truly breathtaking breakthrough album she put out in 1982, Big Science. On that record, she used a few different voice processors; one of them was a Vocoder. By singing into a microphone attached to a keyboard, you can hear how it effectively adds harmony to her voice on “Let x=x.”

Laurie Anderson’s music seems so serious, so it’s delightful to hear her be so loose and chatty (and funny) between songs.

She introduces Rubin Kodheli, her favorite musician, with whom she plays all the time.  They create what’s listed here as “Violin Cello Improv.”  It’s about a minute of vaguely dissonant string music.

Then comes the big song, the one that people know Laurie Anderson for.  If it wasn’t a hit, it was certainly popular.

Laurie Anderson also used that [Vocoder] effect, creating what I think of as ‘the voice of authority’ in her storytelling, on “O Superman,” a song unlike anything music I’d heard when it came out in 1981. She made use of a vocal loop, something ever-present these days in sampling, but here she uses an Eventide Harmonizer, looping the single syllable “ha” as the rhythm of the song. It’s a song about dealing with the technological revolution, about compassion; if it’s your first time hearing it, take it in and see what strikes you.

The song has always felt very mechanical to me (it must be the looping and the synthesized voice), but it’s really interesting to hear how it changes live. Not drastically, but it feels like a living breathing song, which is pretty neat.  As is Bob Boilen’s story:

On a personal note, I was a lover of Laurie’s music back in those days; they were also the days I played synthesizer in my band Tiny Desk Unit. We opened for Laurie Anderson in 1981, and Laurie joined us onstage for a song. I bring this up because the Tiny Desk name (created by our guitarist Michael Barron) was familiar to Laurie long before this NPR series existed. At the end of her home concert, Laurie, I assume, mistakenly, thanks Tiny Desk Unit for having her. It made me smile and sparked so many memories. Thank you, Laurie.

Laurie Anderson is 74 and she seems as vibrant as ever.

[READ: June 10, 2021] Gravity’s Pull

I really enjoyed everything about Book 1 of this series and I was delighted to see that Volumes 2 and 3 were already out.

Volume 2 follows the same characters and is laid out in the same way (with each section following one of the characters but having the timeline stay linear.  MariNaomi also seems to be having even more fun with her drawings,

The first part is about Nigel Q. Jones (just like in the last book).  He’s in class when his teacher announces that the girl who was missing in book one (Claudia Jones–no relation) has suddenly returned and is coming back to school.  The teacher asks that everyone just give her space.

We realize it has been four months since the last book so Claudia has been gone along time.

Meanwhile Nigel still thinks about Emily (who has a cool new haircut–when a friend said she finally has good hair, the insult is not unnoticed) but realizes it’s time for him to move on.  As he’s thinking this Claudia Jones walks into the building and Nigel falls instantly in love with her.  How does she suddenly look so beautiful?  Almost otherworldly.  Here’s where MariNaomi has fun with the illustrations, making Nigel’s dreadlocks look like a kind of glove the way she draws his head. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMES NEWMAN-“Embers” (England, Eurovision Entry 2021).

.Eurovision 2021 is over and the big news (aside from drug-taking accusations against the winner) is that the entry from England received zero.  Nul points.

This is not unique, but it’s not something that anybody wants.  It’s actually better to not make the finals than to make the finals and get nul points, because no one is going to forget that.

So just how bad was “embers?”

I’m not going to defend the song, because I would never listen to it on purpose–it’s not my thing.  But by the same token I can think of a lot of songs that are much worse than this.

This song is just kind of bland.  It thinks its big and catchy with the horns and the “light up the ROOM!” line.  But really it just doesn’t do much.  I could see this song playing in a club and people would dance to it and then forget it.  No one would ask who it was or request it again.

And maybe that’s worth nothing.

[READ: May 26, 2021] 52 Times Britain was a Bellend

Bellend is such a great insult and it is exclusive to Britain, which is a shame.

Also a shame is just how terrible Britain as a country has been throughout history.

Obviously any global superpower is going to be dickish–you get power by crushing others.  You could write this same book about the United States and cover just the last four years.

But Felton, whom I’ve never heard of before, but who is apparently a huge Twitter presence, narrowed history down to 52 (one a week) examples of Britain being absolutely horrible (and somehow managing to make it funny).

How did he decide on these events?  Well, they are judged by today’s standards (saying “I’m from the past” is no excuse).

What you’ll get here is a good overview of fun and horrifying times when we were cartoonishly evil, from a comedian just as appalled as you are about what shits it turned out we were in the past.

Most of the terrible behavior involves other countries.  Like starting wars with China because they wouldn’t buy British opium.  Or making Zanzibar pay for the bombs that Britain dropped on  them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAÐI FREYR OG GAGNAMAGNIÐ-“10 Years” (Iceland, Eurovision Entry 2021).

I first learned about Daði og Gagnamagnið last year when Eurovison didn’t happen.  I have no idea how they came on my radar (something in Instagram, I assume).

Daði og Gagnamagnið is the creation of Daði Freyr Pétursson.  Much like The ROOP, the visuals from Daði and his band are what really sells the song(s).

Daði is the composer/musician and in performances, he is supported by his sister Sigrún Birna Pétursdóttir (backing vocalist), wife Árný Fjóla Ásmundsdóttir (dancer), and friends Hulda Kristín Kolbrúnardóttir (backing vocalist), Stefán Hannesson (dancer), and Jóhann Sigurður Jóhannsson (dancer)—known as “Gagnamagnið”. Gagnamagnið, means “the amount of data”, and is the Icelandic word for “data plan”.

And the real selling point?  Teal green sweaters with pixelized portraits of themselves on them.  Last year’s “Think About Things” was pretty awesome (the video is incredible).  A blast of disco fun.

This year’s “10 Years” opens with a string quartet playing a sad sounding melody and then Daði appears singing in his deep clipped style.  Then a huge disco bass line comes in and before you know it, the song is in full dance mode–a swinging disco confection with the remarkable hook

Everything about you [pause} I like.

Add in some disco wah wah guitars and some irresistibly dopey dance moves and its impossible to look away.

And what on earth are the weird keytars?  Presumably homemade and non-functioning except that now they shoot sparks from the bottom.

Just when you think its all over, up pops a fairly large choir of little girls to sing along before the disco resumes.

And then it’s over but they are not done because after an awkward pause of them standing there, one of the guys shoots a confetti cannon at the camera.

Novelty?  Sure.  Funny?  Absolutely.  Catchy?  Definitely.

UPDATE: This song came in fourth.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Girl Crazy”

Back in the mid to late 1990s, David Sedaris wrote a few Shouts & Murmurs for the New Yorker.  It’s interesting to see a writer whom you know for a certain style of writing crafting jokes in a very different manner.  Shouts & Murmurs are rarely actually funny, and that’s true of most of these.

Obviously the topical nature of most of these means there’s a component of “wait, what was going on?”, but the set up usually explains everything pretty well.  Now we are more likely to say, “Aw, remember when that’s all we cared about?”

This piece is about when Ellen DeGeneris’s character Ellen was about to come out on Ellen.  (Wow, remember when that was a big deal?).  And like several of these pieces, these are written as letters to the person in charge.

There are five letters here.

The first suggests that a six year old boy from North Carolina wouldn’t have gotten in trouble for sexual harassments for kissing a girl in his class if only he had kissed a boy.  The network best not mess with Regis and Kathie Lee. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #192 (April 15, 2021).

CJ Camerieri is a co-founder of yMusic, which is how I know him (I saw him perform with Ben Folds).

This is his new project, CARM.  Camerieri is also a member of Paul Simon’s band, a collaborator with Bon Iver and a Tiny Desk alum. (You can hear his French horn with The Tallest Man On Earth from their 2019 Tiny Desk Concert.)

“Soft Night” is the first track and introduces us to what CARM is about.  He plays trumpet while Trever Hagen plays electronics and sets up the melody and drums.  Then Camerieri switches to French horn while Hagen plays some trumpet.  Then in a fun moment, Camerieri picks up the trumpet with his right whole still holding the French horn in his left.  He plays the trumpet melody and then puts down the trumpet and starts on the French horn.  For the rest of this five-minute instrumental, the two jump back and forth playing trumpet riffs and leads as the electronics build satisfyingly.

For CJ Camerieri … home is where the art is. He performed his concert at the Pablo Center in Eau Claire, Wisc., where [he] conceived and recorded all the songs for his 2021 debut solo album, CARM. “This particular community has been a really big part of my musical life for 10 years,” CJ says after playing the calming tune “Soft Night,” “so it seems like the perfect place to be doing this.”

He made “Song of Trouble” with Sufjan Stevens.  They wrote it before the pandemic but the lyrics have taken on new meaning.  S. Carey plays piano and sings.  This is another mellow song with some lovely muted trumpet and simple electronics backing the song.

“Nowhere” is a little stranger.  It opens with jittery trumpet and skittery and loud electronics.  The juxtaposition of the organic horns and the electronic instruments is very cool.

“Slantwise” opens with some rapid and wild drum loops.  Then Camerieri loops the French horn and trumpet giving the song a rather majestic feel.

[READ: May 11, 2021] A Complicated Love Story Set in Space

The librarian in West Windsor recommended this book to my son.  He didn’t read it, but I loved the title and was really interested in reading it.

And wow, did I enjoy it.

I have not read anything by Hutchinson before, so I’m not sure how this compares to his other books, but this was, indeed, a very complicated love story.  In the acknowledgments Hutchinson says that originally the story was called Gays in Space.  And while that is a fun title, I think the final title is wonderfully compelling.

The story opens on Noa.  Noa is a normal teenager from Seattle.  But he has just woken up and he finds himself in a spacesuit, floating outside of a spaceship.  He has no recollection of how he got there.  There’s a note that says “You are in space floating outside a ship called Qriosity.  There is no reason to panic.”

Well, thank goodness for that.

After getting his bearings, a voice speaks to him.  The voice is from a teenaged boy named DJ.  DJ is from Florida and he is aboard the Qriosity.  He also has no idea how he got there.

They are each tasked with a pressing problem and if they don’t fix them immediately, the ship will explode.  Noa panics (as he tends to do) but DJ calms him and talks to him as they work together to fix the ship.  Which they do.  But as Noa is heading to the airlock, his tether is not attached and he is flung from the ship.  He has nowhere near enough oxygen and soon enough, he is dead.

That’s a rough start for the protagonist of the story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUSSY RIOT-“Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” (2012).

This song, barely two minutes long, is what caused all of the stir around Pussy Riot.

Pussy Riot are an anarchic artistic collective in Russia.  They aim to provoke and provoke is what they do.

Their history and legacy (even the Wikipedia summary) are pretty fascinating.

So in this song (and video), a “choir” sings a holy-sounding chorus for 22 seconds.  Abruptly, a raw home recorded punk song takes over.

Everything is sung in Russian:

(choir) Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away Рut Putin away, put Putin away (end chorus)

Black robe, golden epaulettes All parishioners crawl to bow
The phantom of liberty is in heaven
Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend His Holiness Women must give birth and love
Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit! Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!

(Chorus)

The Church’s praise of rotten dictators The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
Go to class – bring him money!
Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin Bitch, better believe in God instead
The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

After 50 seconds its back to the choir (and the chorus) and  then the punk verses start again.

It’s fairly catchy given what it’s doing.  There’s one more chorus at the end of the song at 1:30 and just like that, it’s over.

Provocation complete.

[READ: April 26, 2021] We Are Pussy Riot Or Everything is P.R.

As the subtitle of this play suggests, this is a reenactment (of a kind) of the Pussy Riot art installation that got them arrested, and the subsequent trial and imprisonment of two members.

The above video shows the events of that day in February 2012 when five masked (in balaclavas) women climbed onto the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and…danced.

The women were provocatively dressed (by Moscow church standards–they wore bright colors and tights under dresses) and they went on to the altar–a place where no woman (except the cleaning lady) was to ever set foot.

The dialogue of the play inspired by trial transcripts and statements by public officials (Vladimir Putin, Patriarch Kirill) which are available on the internet.  So while Hammond does use creative license, this is a pretty realistic reenactment of events.

The Dramatis Personae is listed in various formations depending on the size of your cast.  But the important main characters are Nadya, Masha and Katya as well as Sergei, a composite of male political activists, prisoners and artists.

The Russian feminist art collective Pussy Riot was formed in the fall of 2011.  Pussy Riot was inspired by the yurodivy (Holy Fools) of Russian history whose purpose was to wake people up to what was going on around them.

In February 2012 they uploaded the above video, “Virgin Mary, Chase Putin Away.”  The video, as you can see, is set on that altar, where women are forbidden.  The Kremlin and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church took notice.  Three of the four women were hunted down and arrested for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”

When this play was written, Vladimir Putin had just changed the constitution so he could be president for life.  In the story Sergei comments, “So he likes his job. Who can blame him?”

The introduction says that in 2014 Pussy Riot became a brand–this branded Pussy Riot was set to tour the U.S. and I had a ticket until the pandemic cancelled everything.

Nadya has always said that “Feminism that doesn’t benefit men is not my feminism.”  The members are female but they are fighting for all.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the play is the way it starts. The doors to the theater are locked and everyone–cast and audience are milling about while a group of guards block the way in.  Eventually Pussy Riot members start to cause a scene in the lobby and then blend in with the audience.  When the audience is allowed in they are given a scarf as a head covering.  But pussy riot members try to give them balaclavas instead–the play is quite interactive. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MELANIE CHARLES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #165 (January 4, 2021).

I had never heard of Melanie Charles and boy was I in for a treat with this being my first exposure to her.

A Brooklynite proud of her rich Haitian heritage, Charles is conscious of the giant shoulders upon which she stands and takes steps to both honor and advance this music. Behind her, smiling pictures of her guardian angels, Mary Lou Williams and Billie Holiday, encourage Charles while she and her musicians blend the mystique of Haitian folk music with the sorrowful optimism of negro spirituals and the free space for elevation that jazz improvisation allows.

The video opens on a dark screen with samples being manipulated and twisted.  It’s amazing to have the camera fade from black into this really old-fashioned looking scene–upright bass, snare drum and a nearly sepia filter on the video.  And then there’s Melanie Charlie dressed in a beautiful but old-fashioned looking ensemble manipulating all of the sounds.

She is playing from the

Williamsburg Music Center, one of Brooklyn’s last surviving black-owned jazz venues… This performance was a full circle moment for Melanie Charles. The Williamsburg Music Center is owned by Gerry Eastman, a celebrated musician and composer who taught the jazz class Charles and her brother and saxophonist, Rogerst Charles, attended when they were in high school. According to Charles, Eastman “represents a special era of Brooklyn jazz musicians” and created a space that gave these artists a place to perform when all other doors were closed to them.

Then she starts singing French while Jonathan Michel plays a bass solo /melody.  This song is

“Damballa Wedo,” [in which] Charles channels her Haitian roots and delivers a modern twist of a traditional vodou song by Toto Bissainthe. She sings that when we seek transformation, we may become someone who those around us no longer recognize, but that the change is necessary and part of the ancestors’ divine plan. “C’est bon, c’est bon,” she sings.

Up next she offers a little Sun Ra vibration.  She plays a sample and dramatically shuts it off as it loops.  The starkness of the silence is very dramatic.   Then she starts singing

Charles’ arrangement of “Deep River” is inspired by her admiration for Sun Ra. The biography of the eccentric composer, arranger, musician, and early pioneer of Afrofuturism, Space Is The Place rests on a stand behind her. By really digging into his approach and arrangements and using his “spaceship setup as a performance guide,” she breathes new life into this spiritual, injecting it with a potency that is simultaneously somber and otherworldly.

While the sample continues the band picks things up.  The bass and sax play the main melody while Melanie plays some sharp and cool flute accents.

And what a voice!

Before the final song, she introduces the band:

Jonathan Michel: who looks like an upright bassist–he’s got that Ron Johnson turtleneck.  Shout out to Ron Johnson.  On drums, Diego Ramirez: coming in at the last minute and learning the songs over night.  On saxophone, Rogerst Charles, my blood brother, my heart.

The final song is “Dilemma.”

She finishes the set with “Dilemma,” a new song written to find the balance between self-care and showing up for those you love amid the cries for justice during the first summer of the pandemic. On our phone call, Charles explained that the song is an anthem that reminds us to not to “dim your light for anybody” and “remember how vibrant we are, despite what we as black people had to deal with in 2020.”

She plays keys and sings a soft song until the whole band joins in.  After a couple of minutes she she sings a high note and the sax plays the same note a wailing harmony of greatness.

With about two minutes left she starts singing the coda “we’ve been doing alright be we still shine bright.”  The band sings along and she interjects:

We’ve been doing alright
even though we didn’t get our stimulus.
But we still shine bright.

[READ: March 31, 2021] Only Righteous Fights

On December 31 of 2020 I donated some money to Elizabeth Warren (I’m not actually sure to what end it was used–presumably her Senatorial campaign?) to pre-order this collection of speeches (and get a laminated bookmark!).

There are few things more disappointing than reading amazing, inspiring and truly moving speeches by a person who lost a candidacy.

Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren were my number 1 and number 2 choices for President.  I didn’t have to worry too much about which one I would ultimately choose, I was just happy they both were so successful (until they weren’t).  Having Harris as V.P. is pretty awesome, and I will acknowledge that Biden (who was my last choice) has been doing a good job thus far (apparently having taken ideas from all the other candidates…which is rather a good idea).

But reading this book and seeing how genuine Warren was (or came across) and how much she cared (or appeared to) for the people she spoke to and about, it is crushing that her campaign didn’t last.

There are five speeches in the book as well as lots of photos.  There’s a few smaller sections as well, like photos from the Selfie Line, Letters to Elizabeth and Pinky Promises.

What’s impressive is how she manages to hit all of her main bullet points and yet how each speech is quite different. (more…)

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