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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LUCINDA WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #55 (July 27, 2020).

I don’t really like Lucinda Williams.  Her voice really bugs me. I don’t know if she always sang like this but this sort of drunken drawl just hurts my head.

I know that she’s a legend and everyone loves her, but I have a hard time getting through her songs.  And that’s a shame because her lyrics are great.  Well, maybe not her lyrics, but her sentiments.

Because the lyrics to “Bad News Blues” are not great.  It’s a pretty standard blues song in which she lists all of the bad news that she has around her.

Bad news on my left
Bad news on my right
Bad news in the morning
Bad news at night

The only thing interesting about this song really is the bluesy lead guitar work from Stuart Mathis.  Otherwise, it’s a blues song.

“Big Black Train” is a slower bluesy song about not wanting to get on board the train that’s barreling towards us.  Wow, her singing the chorus really hurts my ears.

“You Can’t Rule Me” is on the radio a lot and I’ve been turning it off when it comes on.  It’s obviously a song of empowerment but I can’t stand the drawl of her voice.  Although once again Stuart’s lead is pretty tasty.  In fact the guitar work from both of them is great throughout.

The set ends with “Man Without A Soul” and this is the song that made me think more highly of her.  Musically the song isn’t much.  In fact, it sounds pretty close to “Bog Black Train” in the chorus.  But its’ the words that are impactful.

It’s pretty clear who this song is about:

You’re a man without truth
A man of greed, a man of hate
A man of envy and doubt
You’re a man without a soul
All the money in the world
Will never fill that hole
You’re a man bought and sold
You’re a man without a soul
You bring nothing good to this world
Beyond a web of cheating and stealing
You hide behind your wall of lies
But it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
You’re a man without shame
Without dignity and grace
No way to save face
You’re a man without a soul

She says she wrote this to shake people up and wake people up.  I don’t know if it will do either, but I hope some people’s minds are changed by it.

[READ: July 31, 2020] “The Lottery”

This issue of the New Yorker is an Archival Issue.  It’s weird to me that at a time of unprecedented everything, the magazine would choose to have virtually no new content.

Except that the articles in it are strangely timely.

Calvin Trillin (he was writing in 1964?) was on a flight that Martin Luther King, Jr. was on and he overheard a white preppy-looking post-college boy who disagreed with King (believing that King was advocating violence and was therefore unChristian).  It was a remarkably peaceful conversation even if the boy never saw King’s point of view.

The second article is about Black Lives Matter with the subtitle “A new kind of movement found its moment.” What will its future be?”  But this article was written in 2016 and it ends “Black Lives Matter may never have more influence than it has now.”  How wrong that was?

And then there is the Shirley Jackson story, originally written in 1948.

I read this story in sixth or seventh grade and it has stuck with me all of these years.  I remember being rather blown away by it in school, thinking it was one thing and then realizing it was something else entirely.

I have not read it since. I felt that I didn’t really have to read it because it stuck with me so much.  But I’m glad I did re-read it, because although some details were still there, I had forgotten some pretty intense stuff.

(more…)

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download (62)SOUNDTRACK: NILÜFER YANYA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #54 (July 22, 2020).

download (61)Nilüfer Yanya is a pretty mesmerizing singer.  I feel lucky to have seen her live and would like to see her again.

In the meantime, this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert will have to do.

There’s something unique about the way Yanya constructs songs.  And her singing voice is really unlike anyone else’s that I’ve heard.

For this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, she plays four songs.  Three from her 2019 album and one new one.  All four are different from when she played Tiny Desk last year.

In her previous Tiny Desk Concert and when I saw her live, she had a full band. But for this one, it’s just her guitar and her voice.

For “Heat Rises,” she plays spare guitar lines and quiet chords as she sings in her unique style.  As the song moves along she adds high notes to the chords–fleshing things out in a subtle but effective way.

After performing “Heat Rises,” Nilüfer Yanya pauses to say a few things about herself, something we’ve been asking artists to do for these Tiny Desk (home) concerts.

“One of the things that’s been on my mind a lot is the racism and violence and injustice going on towards Black people and people of color, not only in America but here in the U.K. and all over the world. As a person of mixed heritage” — Nilüfer’s father is Turkish and her mother is of Irish and Barbadian descent — “this issue is something close to my heart.” Nilüfer urges us all to see the hurt being done. It’s the only way forward.

She then plays “Paralyzed,” a song that she says relates to the issue.  She’s never played it live before.  The song has a cool four note chord progression followed by a sinister feeling five note riff.

Bob Boilen writes: “I hear these words so differently now:”

I hear strained screams from Heaven singin’
“save me”
This can’t be okay
Shadow’s lyin’ here
And it’s blocking out the light
(I am paralyzed)

The above part of the song turns musically bright as she sings those dark lyrics.

“Day 7” is the new song.  She sings in a similar style to the one she uses on “Baby Luv” where she sings with an accent or inflection that is impossible to place but is very compelling.  This song also features a simple but unusual riff as she builds the song using all of the neck of her guitar (the chords she plays during the “go go” section are so interesting).

She ends the set with the final track from her album, “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.”  This is the only song from this set that she played when I saw her.  I was blown away by the song when I saw her live because the song mixed quiet and range perfectly.  It’s more subtle here and demands that you listen closely to the words.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “Nobody’s Business”

I’ve wanted to read more from Jhumpa Lahiri for years–she’s yet another writer who I feel like I need more stories from.  And I really liked this story a lot.

The story is written in the third person.  It’s about a woman named Sang.  She is living in Boston, having just dropped out of a graduate program from Harvard.   Sang has two roommates, Paul and Heather.

What was so interesting about the way that it was written is that it seems to be Sang’s story.  She is, after all, the person with all the action.  But by the end of the story it becomes more about Paul.  I thought that shift of perspective was quite engaging.

Sang is Bengali and every so often she would receive a call from a Bengali man who was courting her. These men had heard that she was pretty and smart and unmarried at thirty, so they were trying to arrange something with her.  Sang was never rude to these men.  She even met some of them.  But Sang was very serious about her boyfriend, Farouk, who was presently in Cairo.  That’s not a ruse, she is really dating him. (more…)

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download (59)SOUNDTRACK: TOM ADAMS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #53 (July 21, 2020).

download (60)I had heard of Tom Adams from Bob Boilen, but I guess I hadn’t actually heard him before.  This performance is otherworldly. It reminds me in some ways of Sigur Rós, although only in the ethereal moments.

Tom’s 2017 album Silence features Tom singing and playing minimal piano.  But here

what we have is Tom Adams at his home in Cornwall, England, playing four brand-new songs with minimal electric guitar and an enthralling mix of tech-altered sounds.

For the basis of this performance Adams is playing a subdued and lovely electric guitar (finger-picked).   He sings some fairly simple folk melodies, but it’s when he starts “oohing” and crooning high notes that things transcend the familiar.  Because even though his singing voice is fairly deep, he has an amazing falsetto.   And it’ s that falsetto that he manipulates in fascinating way.

That box with all the wires in the foreground is a Eurorack modular synthesizer which, in real time, processes his majestic voice in ways unpredictable even to Tom. He wrote to tell me that, “Once the system is set in motion, you never know exactly what will happen next… I like to think of it as being a bit like the waves on the beach; to some extent, they are all predictable, yet each wave is still unique.”

“The Turning Of The Year” is a delightful folk ballad with delightful lyrics

What a day / What a day / to share with these good friends
We sing the songs we always sing until / we’ve sung them all
and through the evening our voices ring / in the rafters of the hall.

But when the Eurorack takes over, that simple trip with friends feels very different.

“A Flower Disappearing” is a slower song with a deeper guitar sound.  It’s easy to forget about his falsetto and the electronics until he throws them briefly in after the verses.

I wondered though if all of the songs would be manipulated–would his regular voice hav a chance to shine?  It does on “If My Love Was A Guitar.”  He sings some delightful ooohing without any electronics.  His songs and vocal style reminds of Nick Drake, and this song in particular fits that bill (except for the falsetto, of course).

If my love was a guitar / it wouldn’t matter where you are
you could just take me in your arms / and hear the music in my heart
…playing gently

And if I was a melody / then you could take me when you leave
and anytime you felt a need / you could just sing along with me
…in perfect harmony

His amusing reaction at being out of tune is a nice moment of levity in this otherwise mellow performance.  “Postcards From The Road” features an entire section in beautiful unaltered falsetto.

all the friends you still miss / you kept in touch but cast adrift / you walked away but now you’re looking back

all the stories left behind / but when you read the final lines / turn a page and start to write something new

because all the choices that you make / these are not regrets to take / with you they’re just postcards from the road.

I love the cool effects that the Eurorack provides, but it’s great to hear him sing without it as well–his voice is really great.

[READ: July 24, 2020] “The Ethicist”

This is a Shouts and Murmurs piece that is a series of questions.  Typically I think this style works better than trying o stretch out a joke to a full page.

So in this one, people are writing in to The Ethicist with their problems.  The Ethicist is a real column in The New York Times Magazine and people write in with serious ethical issues.  Some people really like reading this column.  It was started in 1999 by a humorist, Randy Cohen, who did take the ethical questions seriously.  he stepped down in 2011 and others have run the column in his stead.

So this piece was written after the column had been around for two years or so.

Martin is his delightfully absurd self with his questions: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DIANA GORDON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #51 (July 15, 2020).

I was immediately attracted to this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert because I (still) have the exact same neon green iBook.  I don’t know how old Gordon is, but I have to wonder if it’s original.

I don’t know anything about Diana Gordon.  That’s probably logical since although she’s been in the music world for a while, it was mostly a s songwriter and under a different name.

After years of writing hits for others and releasing music under the moniker Wynter Gordon, the Queens, N.Y., native has awakened new aspects of her artistry in recent years that she’s finally ready to share under her given name.

So if she wrote hits, her music must be poppy, right?  Not exactly

But while her earlier work routed through the pop and dance worlds, Wasted Youth balances influences of Whitney Houston, Alanis Morissette and The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan.

I actually hear a lot of Natalie Merchant in her quieter singing–especially with the gorgeous acoustic guitar of her masked-up guitarist, Davin Givhan.

Like the workplace props that flank her, [folders, boxes and a Curb Your Enthusiasm mug and check out that phone!] Gordon’s latest EP, 2020’s Wasted Youth, feels so fitting for these unprecedented times.

Starting with “Rollin,” you can hear “Gordon’s nihilistic invincibility” in a song that name checks Nirvana.  It starts with a great deep guitar riff (it even sounds bad ass on the acoustic guitar).  She adds a raspy vocal intro before singing with a cool (dis)affected 90’s alt rock vocal style.  I really dig it (the record version has a more thumping bass sound making it more danceable but also more distorted).

When the song is over she demonstrates a yodeling sound that underpins her singing in “Rollin.”

“Wolverine” is a quiet ballad that showcases her “forlorn lilting yodel.” It’s a more traditional song with her Natalie Merchant-esque delivery.  This is a pretty song from one of her earlier EPs.

The blurb describes “Wasted Youth” as “a sonic eyeroll-shrug,” but I feel it’s more of an intense song of pain.  Although not to be prudish but I wish there wasn’t quite so much cursing in it.  I mean every instance if the phrase “wasted youth” (several times per chorus) is preceded by “fuckin.”  It would be effective once, but just gets worn out for an entire song.  It’s a really good song otherwise.

“Once A Friend” is another ballad. This one features her “tear-jerking honesty.”  The record version sounds much the same–acoustic guitar, straightforward vocals and a gut punch of a lyric–all in less than two minutes.

I’m definitely going to have to listen to her some more.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “The American Persuasion”

This was a New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs.  These pieces are usually one page, but this one was three.   It’s also labelled “Part 1: The Scent of Liberty.”  I can’t decide if that means there are actually more parts or if that is part of the joke (there’s no part two in a future issue).

The premise of this piece is amusing, it is even more amusing reading it after Hamilton has come out because it also deals with the founding fathers in an unusual way.

The piece starts with George Washington trying to impress the Marquis–the man who would “be known as the noble Lafayette.”  Washington is a dandy, admiring himself in the mirror with fragrance dabbed behind his ears.  He “understood the power of his beauty, and he was not above using it now.”  Lafayette finds him hard to resist.

Washington was assisted in his Revolutionary quest by “noted voluptuaries and lovers of pleasure” Paul Revere, John Hancock and the Adamses. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENNY SINGS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #50 (July 14, 2020).

I watched a Benny Sings Tiny Desk Concert back in 2016.  I wasn’t that impressed.  I thought it sounded fine, describing him as a slower Elton John.  Since then, he has apparently gone on to bigger things (and must have many fans).

I’ve never come across a moderate Benny Sings fan. The Dutch singer-songwriter and producer has maintained a cult following for over 15 years and performed in the United States for the very first time at the Tiny Desk back in 2016.

Benny and his band play three songs.

Recorded at his studio in Amsterdam, the set list reads like an inventory of quarantine essentials, opening with “Apartment” from last year’s Free Nationals LP (shout out to Anderson .Paak).

As with all of the songs, the music is lightly R&B with some disco flavors.  Each song has a loud low end from  Bram Wassink’s bass and crisp drums from Colin Lee.  The songs are gentle and catchy.  “Apartment” is less than three minutes long.

“Sunny Afternoon” was written with PJ Morton and is a bit catchier (and sweeter).  There’s a nice backing vocal “oooh” solo from June Fermie while Adam Bar Pereg play s anice piano solo.

The set ends with “Music.”  Honestly I can’t imagine a worse title for a song than “Music,” but it is about music.  And the blurb admires the sentiment:

The hook reminds me that I’m not the only one who continues to seek refuge in song. He sings, “Music help me through this / I can’t do this on my own / But music help me through this / Whenever I’m down.”

I will not be an immoderate Benny Sings fan.  His music is pleasant, but forgettable.  Although he seems like a very nice fella.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “The Dinner”

As the United States roils with protests about institutional racism and out immoral leaders conduct illegal schemes of violence against citizens, it was an very charged time to read this story about racism in Ireland.

As Roddy Doyle stories tend to do, this story has a lot of heart and humor in it.  It begins by introducing Larry Linnane and his family.  He loves his family.  He loves his girls (he and his wife have four) and his son.

But he especially loved hearing his intelligent girls as they talked about everything at the dinner table.  And, as usual, Doyle’s ear for dialogue is spot on.  Larry is a pretty open minded guy, he doesn’t even mind hearing his daughters talking about their love lives.  Nothing they said or did ever shocked him.

Until Stephanie brought home the black fella. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOM MISCH AND YUSSEF DAYES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #49 (July 13, 2020).

mishTom Misch and Yussef Dayes play a light jazz with lots of interesting elements floating around the songs.  The blurb says the music “evokes a dreamy utopia, blending live electronica, psychedelia and avant-garde jazz.”

I didn’t realize that Misch was British until the chorus–the way he sings “the dash.”  Actually I first realized when he spoke after the song, but then it was obvious when he sang.

Producer/guitarist Tom Misch and drummer Yussef Dayes released a surprising and stunning collaborative album earlier this year called What Kinda Music,. This Tiny Desk (home) concert — recorded across six different musicians’ homes — features two songs from that album, “Nightrider” and “Tidal Wave.”

“Nightrider” has cool echoing slow guitars and fantastically complex drumming.  But the focus of this song seems to be the wonderfully busy five string bass from Tom Driessler.  Jordan Rakei provides backing vocals and

special guest John Mayer provides a closing solo, just as he did at last year’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.

It’s weird the way Mayer stares at the camera at the end though.

“Tidal Wave” has a different cast.  It features Rocco Palladino on bass, which is not as complex.  Although Yussef’s drumming is fantastic once again.

There’s a nice lead guitar line before the vocals kick in.  I almost wish the song were an instrumental until Joel Culpepper adds his wonderful high backing vocals.

This is some good chill out music.

[READ: July 10, 2020] “Calling”

I know I’ve read Richard Ford stories before, but this stories was so fascinating to me–it felt very different from so many other stories that I read.

Set around Christmas in 1961, the narrator’s father has left him and his mother in New Orleans while he has moved to St. Louis to be with a male doctor.

His mother, meanwhile, had begun a singing career, which essentially meant that she was sleeping with her African American singing coach.

What’s fascinating about the story (aside from how trasnsgressive his parents seem in 1961) is that the narrator is telling the story from the present:

They are all dead now.  My father.  My mother.  Dr. Carter. The black accompanist, Dubinion.

These interjections of the present allow for some reflections on this tumultuous period in his life.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JACOB COLLIER-Tiny Desk Concert #48 (July 9, 2020).

collierI had never heard of Jacob Collier until his recent Tiny Desk Concert.  He was an impressive fellow to be sure.  He has an amazing vocal range and he can play just about any instrument you can think of.

So it should come as no surprise that Collier’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is over the top as well.

But even knowing all of that, it is a still mind-blowing.  Because he has seamlessly spliced four videos of himself together.  So you have four Jacobs in four outfits playing everything in a room that is full of instruments.

The set starts with “All I Need.”  Lead singer Jacob is sitting on the floor in front of a steel drum.  This Jacob also plays the melodica solo.  On the left is keyboardist Jacob who plays the organ and, of course, mid song switches to piano and back again.  On the right is bassist Jacob who plays some excellent bass–including a nice solo at the end.  Way in back is Jacob on drums.  You can’t see him all that well, but you can hear his contribution perfectly.

Polymath musician Jacob Collier has been championing this style of one-man-band music videos since 2012, singing every note and playing every instrument. His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”earned him a devout YouTube following at the age of 19, and he hasn’t slowed down since. The London wunderkind owns four Grammy Awards already, including two at the age of 22 in 2017…. Now 25, and with nearly a decade of experience producing every aspect of his own music from his home, Collier is uniquely positioned to crank out his best work from quarantine. In this video, each of the four parts was recorded in a single take. Pay close attention ; it’s easy to get tripped up inside Jacob’s head as he arranges this Rubik’s Cube of a video production, which feels both like a magic trick and a no-strings-attached bedroom session.

Introducing the next song, one of the Jacobs (they fight over who is the actual Jacob), says that “Time Alone With You” is a little funky–hope you don’t mind.  It’s groovy bass line and smart snapping drums.   The end of this song is a wonderful musical freakout with a vocal section that leads to a series of four fast drum hits (including Jacob banging on the piano and some bass rumblings as well).  There’s even a jazzy breakdown (real jazzy bass lines) which allows one of them to whisper “jazz.”  Because even though he is super talented and a very serious musician, he’s also goofy (look at his clothes).

He’s in the middle of releasing his ambitious four-volume record, Djesse. The last song in this video is the premiere of his new single “He Won’t Hold You,” which will appear on Vol. 3, due out later this year.

When piano Jacob changes the mutes in the piano bassist Jacob talks about the record.  “He Won’t Hold You” song starts a cappella in four part harmony (with himself). He can ht some really deep notes and the harmonies are super.

The only problem for me is I don’t really like his style of music.  Which is a shame because he’s so talented, I want to watch him all day.  It’s just not my musical scene.

[READ: July 10, 2020] “Immortal Heart”

This is a lengthy, somewhat complicated and ultimately devastating story.

The story is quite long and it revolves around a woman and her Precious Auntie living in the Western Hills south of Peking.  Their village is called Immortal Heart and The Liu clan (her family) has lived there for six centuries.  They were ink stick makers. They had expanded to a shop in Peking–a sign of great success.

Precious Auntie was born across the ravine in a town called Mouth of the Mountains.  The village was known for dragon bones, which poor men collected from the Monkey’s Jaw cave.  Precious Auntie’s father was a renowned bonesetter and he used these dragon bones as part of his work.

Precious Auntie could not speak.  She communicated with the narrator. Lu Ling, through sign language which only the two of them knew.  Precious Auntie was rather naughty and their silent language allowed her to speak her mind freely (she disapproved of bound feet for instance). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“The Link is About to Die/Turkish Delight” (2020)

linkdieThis is Los Bitchos’ most recent single.  The cover has the same style as their previous one which makes it seem like an album is in the works.  Although it has been nine months between releases.

“The Link is About to Die” really fleshes out the band’s sound.  It opens with some funky percussion–bongos and cowbells–before the groovy bassline introduces the guitar melody.  There’s discoey synths on this track too.  There’s even a surf-sounding echoing guitar slide straight out of the beach.  This song even features a percussion solo. It’s still clearly Los Bitchos, but the new elements are a fun treat.

“Turkish Delight” is slower with a more reggae feel in the bass.  The funky percussion is still there, perhaps even more pronounced. About two minutes in a new guitar sound in introduced which changes the feel of the song and makes it that much more interesting.I’m really looking forward to them putting out a whole album. 

[READ: July 14, 2020] “Big Skies, Empty Places”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

Annie Proulx says that her biggest influence is the landscape of the hinterlands.  She writes about rough weather, rural people living in isolation and with the decisions of the powers in distant urban areas.

She does not do this for nostalgia, but rather she likes imagining histories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Pista (Great Start)/Frozen Margarita” (2019).

pistaThis was Los Bitchos’ second release of 2019.  This one had a decidedly different look on the cover.

This single has two songs.  The first, “Pista (Great Start)” opens with whooping–a party is in full swing.  Musically, this is a great mix of cumbia and reggae with a smattering of Taureg in the guitar sound.

The song feels like they are partying in the desert no doubt drinking the title of the next song.

Although “Frozen Margarita” comes in at a quieter pace.  There’s a grooving bassline and a slinky lead guitar line.  It’s a very pretty piece.

[READ: July 14, 2020] “Johnny Tremain”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

This essay later appeared in Saunders’ book The Braindead Megaphone under the name “Thank You, Esther Forbes.”

Saunders talks about his school days in Catholic school when Sister Lynette was a nun that he fell in love with.  He imagined her leaving the church for him (he was in third grade, but whatever). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Bugs Bunny” (2018).

bugsThis is another single from Los Bitchos.

Of all of their releases, this one is the least interesting to me.  But I like their songs a lot so it’s not like I dislike this one.

I rather like the way the song shifts speed midway through though–it certainly adds some fun to the song.  And the whole ending is a wild ride of excitement.

I’m not really sure what the music has to do with Bugs Bunny, though.

[READ: July 14, 2020] “Single-Handed”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

I feel like Barnes gives the most honest answer to the question of who your Influences are.

He says that when British writers go to Spain they are asked if they are always asked if they influenced by Tom Sharpe–a writer of jocose farce: “student embarrassed by  acquiring large quantities of condoms, inflates them with gas, stuffs them up his chimney, someone lights the fire, the chimney explodes.” Sounds hilarious, can’t believe I’ve never heard of him.  The trick when asked this question is to keep a polite face while pretending to ponder this question. (more…)

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