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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FRANCES CARROLL & HER COQUETTES featuring VIOLA SMITH-“Snake Charmer” (1939).

Drummer Viola Smith died a couple of days ago at the age of 107.  ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN (a month shy of 108). That’s pretty fascinating in itself.  But even more fascinating is that she was an amazing drummer at a time when women didn’t play drums.  And not “amazing for a woman” or anything patronizing like that, check out the video of her playing “Snake Charmer.”

Check out her drum kit, check out the speed, check out the power.  Check out the arial toms and the way she hits them without it even seeming like she is. Wow, I wish I’d heard of her sooner.

Here’s some relevant quotes from an obituary in The Guardian

Smith took up drumming as a teenager in Wisconsin, when her father assembled the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra with his eight daughters. Her showcase was “The Snake Charmer,” a jazzy arabesque with explosive drum-fills.

Because she was the sixth daughter in the family, she said, her older sisters got the strings and brass.  “My dad said, ‘Now, we need a drummer!’ Thank God, I was it.”

In 1938, Smith formed another all-female orchestra, The Coquettes, with her bass playing sister Mildred. The band moved to New York in 1942, where Smith studied under the legendary snare-drum innovator Billy Gladstone.

In the same year, as men were being drafted to war and women taking their place in factories, Viola wrote a now-famous article for Down Beat magazine, arguing for the inclusion of women in the big bands of the day.

“Many of the star instrumentalists of the big name bands are being drafted,” she wrote, under the title Give Girl Musicians A Break! “Instead of replacing them with what may be mediocre talent, why not let some of the great girl musicians of the country take their places?

“We girls have as much stamina as men. There are many girl trumpet players, girl saxophonists and girl drummers who can stand the grind of long tours and exacting one-night stands. The girls of today are not the helpless creatures of an earlier generations.

Smith found it difficult to lead the orchestra from behind the drums, so she turned over those duties to Frances Carroll.  But at the height of her success, Smith performed with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb, as well as at the second inauguration for the 33rd president, Harry Truman, in 1949.

I haven’t even mentioned how good The Coquettes are.  They swing big time and this song is really fun.  The only thing worse than hearing about a great musician after they have died is realizing that there are almost no recordings of her playing.

Here’s another page from The Future Heart with lots of videos and interviews with Viola.

[READ: October 26, 2020] “Nettle”

I really enjoyed the way this story opened.  It is about Willie, who, as the story opens, is a young boy.  Willie’s teacher told the class that she would be guarding them and that “not one of them would be lost, except the one who was destined to be lost.”

When the boy told his mother what Miss Rita said, his mother replied,

That happens to be from the Bible… When people take words from the Bible and repeat them to young children, or to anyone, for that matter, they’re nuts.  Don’t pay any attention to her.”

She says that maybe when he’s older he can leave that school and go to the one his daddy went to.

He would visit his daddy often in his room. His daddy was always playing the same piece to music.  He told his daddy about a book he was reading in class. His daddy replied that he had read that same book when he was younger: rewrite the whole thing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MATTHEW CAWS-“When History Comes” (2020).

Recently Rough Trade released an online album Talk – Action = Zero, Vol. 2.  It was a collection of songs with the intent of giving money to get out the vote organizations like Spread The Vote.  There were some 90 songs on it.  One of them was from Matthew Caws from Nada Surf.

On the most recent Nada Surf album, the song “So Much Love,” featured a lengthy spoken sort of rambling section.  Caws’ voice works quite well for that fast spoken section and when I saw them play it live, he was able to recite (or read, he had the lyric sheet in front of him) the whole thing while still playing which was pretty cool.

So this new song follows in that model.  The song is a simple riff that repeats.  And the lyrics are probably not spontaneous, but are pretty close.  There’s also a chorus.  It’s really catchy, just like all Nada Surf songs tend to be.

My contribution is a protest song; a get out the vote song. Will any Republicans hear this song outside of my liberal music bubble?  I don’t know.  I want them to.  Maybe there is a way.

What should a protest song say?

I protest the dismantling of the Postal Service which right now means the dismantling of democracy.

I protest the denial and protection of systemic racism.

I protest the dismantling of regulations that protect public land.

I protest the dismantling of the trust between a country and its media.

Am I naive enough to think that naively expressing these things can change anyone’s mind?  YES

I’m naive and a dreamer but also ambitious.  I believe in people.  I believe in change.

I’ll say this I vote Democrat but I don’t hate republicans.  I just hate this administration.

When history comes and sticks out its thumb / asking you for a ride / I hope that you see how fast it can be / it goes by in the blink of an eye.
We’re stuck in this boat / it’s barely afloat / we’re watching the water rise / History’s ill / it needs some good will / and we’re so tired of the lies

We’re all canaries in the coal mine.  We have to say what we see.  We’re all the band on the Titanic.  Don’t stop when the ship goes down.

Let’s be cheerleaders for postal workers.   Cheerleaders for voters for braving the long lines of the maskless.

We implore that you nurture your inner artist.  That you make something for yourself so that you have fulfillment.  So that you don’t seek satisfaction in the hot flame of mockery, the perversity of trolling, the thrill of baiting and phishing.

I believe that we’re all made out of love and good things.  We just get sick

When history comes and sticks out its thumb / asking you for a ride / I hope that you see how fast it can be / it goes by in the blink of an eye.
We’re stuck in this boat / it’s barely afloat / we’re watching the water rise / History’s ill / it needs some good will / and we’re so tired of the lies
Come out of your shell / the country’s unwell / we really need you to fight.

[instrumental break]

I’m an atheist and I had a friend in college who was Christian.  He belonged to a Christian group, I can’t remember which one but he wore a lapel pin with his name on it.  Anyway, really lovely guy.  We were both in film class and we’d get together once in a while to study.

Then one day we were saying goodby before winter break in front of the library.  The sky was dramatic, a whirlwind of leaves was nearby.  He gave me the hard sell. He said, “think about it… eternal life.”  It was moving.  I knew he wanted the best for me and in that spirit I’d like to say to you:

Imagine that the left don’t want to destroy America, because we don’t.  We just want it to be more fair. We want it to live up to its promise and that’s because we love it so much.  Don’t be afraid, we;re all right.  I’ll tell you what’s fake news… it’s that we’re bad people.   We’re not.   [It’s] that we want trump to fail.

I didn’t want him to fail. I wanted him to do great.  He didn’t.  But I wanted him to.

He makes me feel bad.  He makes other people feel bad too.  That doesn’t set a good example.  Sometimes it just comes down to that: don’t make people feel bad. And for every decision think about how it affects poor people the most.  Think about how it affects children.

You know…

Alright go register go vote.

So simply stated.  so true.  What a great song.  I hope people outside his bubble hear it.

[READ: October 21, 2020] “Suffocation Theory”

This story started out rather strange and I thought it was going to coalesce into something enjoyable.  But it never really did.

Out of the blue Amanda told the narrator they were moving.  He liked their apartment just fine and don’t want to move, but she told him the movers were already outside.

He watches a lot of news and everything is terrible.  Killings with guns, bombs and cars.  He is amazed that people have the irresistible idea “that killing a bunch of strangers would solve whatever problem they thought they couldn’t solve any other way.”

The new place is terrible.  It feels like a giant warehouse with rooms and lots of empty space. The bathroom doesn’t have a shower.  The neighborhood is terrible.  They also have a roommate.

The roommate is a jerk.  He jokingly points a gun at the narrator. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AURORA-“Thank U” (2020).

The Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series is soon to be releasing a record Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls.

Unfortunately, the site doesn’t list the songs on the disc (yet).

The first song from it that I’m aware of is Aurora’s cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Thank U.”

 I don’t know that I’ve heard Aurora sing another person’s song before.  I kind of expected her version to be radically different–uniquely Aurora.  But in fact, her version is quite faithful to the original.

The music is understated (Aurora’s music is a little softer) and when Aurora starts singing, it almost sounds like Alanis.  The big difference comes in some of the vowels, in which Aurora’s voice glides through the sounds in a slightly different way (a little smoother, perhaps).

In the original, Alanis’ “thank you silence” line is a little harsh sounding.  Aurora’s is a little as well–it must be a very sharp note or tone to hit.

Alanis’s song is based around some thumping drums and bigger swells.  Aurora keeps the whole thing lower key and the cover works beautifully.

[READ: October 24, 2020] “Face Time”

This is actually the second story I’ve read about COVID.  As I was reading it I was surprised that it was about COVID–that it was so current.  The story even mentions Tom Hanks having COVID which happened in March.  This story was published in September and was clearly finished before then (I don’t know how much lead time a story needs). So that’s pretty quick.  And it’s pretty spot on.

There’s not a lot to the story, in a sense.  A woman, one of three adult daughters, is FaceTiming her father who is in a nursing home.  Her father caught COVID while in the facility.  He is now in an isolation room being monitored by nurses in full hazmat gear.

The daughters can only talk to him through FaceTime.  He is older and does not understand the technology, so the nurses have to set up the connection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE LAST BISON-“Switzerland” (2011).

The Last Bison is a band based out of Virginia.  They seemed to ride the wave of aggressive folk rock that came out with Mumford and the Lumineers.  They described their sound as “mountain-top chamber music” as they added classical elements (strings mostly) to their alt-folk.

This was the the first song I’d heard by them and I found it really compelling.

The song opens with a quiet melody played on an acoustic guitar or mandolin.  It feels pastoral and I loved that the melody was accented with a percussive banjo or guitar strum.

The vocals are high and rustic with nice harmonies.  After the introduction, a quick acoustic guitar propels the verse (in which singer Ben Hardesty sings high enough to be almost out of his range).

About half way through, tehs ong shifts gears to a minor chord and the heavy strings come in–deep cello and a soaring violin solo.  The song slows down to gentle strums and vocals as he sings the chorus once more before everything builds up one more time.

In 2018, The Last Bison released a new album with a new lineup and a reinvented sound with more keyboards and percussion.

[READ: October 20, 2020] “Switzerland”

The narrator’s family moved to Switzerland when she was 13. Her father was a doctor who wanted to specialize in trauma and Switzerland had the best hospital for trauma study (which was ironic given that Switzerland “is neutral, alpine, orderly”).  She was too young to live on campus, so she resided with her English tutor, a Mrs Elderfield.

Two other girls, both eighteen, were also staying there. The girls were Marie who came from Bangkok via Boston and Saroya who came from Tehran via Paris.  The older girls laughed at her naivete but they were always kind to her.

Marie and Saroya were sent to Switzerland because of their troubled past–sex, stimulants, and a refusal to comply.  Their parents hoped the school would “finish” them, but the schools knew they were finished already. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-Popular Manipulations (2017).

The Districts third full length sees a change in style and sound for the band. They are clearly still The Districts, but they are far less shambolic.  Their sound is fuller, more complicated and less “sloppy.”  They also keep things reigned in with the longest song here being under five minutes.

The band also plays off of Rob Grote’s higher notes with excellent backing vocals, especially on “If Before I Wake.”  He sings the high notes while the someone else in the band sings a low counterpoint.  The lead guitar brings a catchy melody to the song which is all about the propulsive bassline.

“Violet” is one of the catchiest thing they’ve done.  From the chiming guitar sounds to Grote’s high pitched verses and smooth, catchy chorus, this song is marvelous.  Even the quiet bridge is attention grabbing amid the thumping drums.  But “Ordinary Day” tops “Violet” by having three separate catchy melodies in it.  There’s an immediate melody in the vocal line at the top, a bridge that is instantly gripping and a chorus that plays perfectly off the angst of the bridge.  Fantastic stuff.

“Salt” plays with a few different guitar sounds before hitting the catchy chorus.  Then comes “Why Would I Wanna Be,” a shorter song (under three minutes) with acoustic guitar a and a echoing drum keeping a very fast pace.  Spooky atmospheric sounds–keys? vocals? float through the song giving it a slightly warped feeling.

The catchiness comes back with the bouncy “Point,” a simple melody that resolves into a fun singalong chorus. “Airplane” sounds a bit more like their older style (all the way back to their last album), but updated and a bit more catchy (it’s amazing what a simple guitar riff can do for a song–in the beginning and in the lengthy one at he end). There’s also piano added on this track.

“Fat Kiddo” is the acoustic song–the guitar sounds great, but the song really takes off with the addition of the rumbling bass.   It’s a nice slowdown before the faster “Capable,” with its cool opening guitar sound and riff.

“Rattling of the Heart” is a faster song that works as a nice segue to the finale “Will You Please Be Quiet Please?” which is pure Districts–the vocals are unmistakable and the sound of the song is catchy and distinctly them.

It’s great to see a band retain its sensibility while exploring new sounds.

[READ: September 30, 2020] “The Sand Banks, 1861”

This story feel like an excerpt because there seems like there should be a lot more.  I’m not sure if it is or not.

The story is set in remote Roanoke in antebellum South.

An assortment of people stood on the peer looking at the oysters.  Ebo Joe Meekins, the old Negro, “was either fifty or a thousand.”

There were six pre-teen boys, five colored and one white.  The narrator’s name is Dick.  He is one of the colored boys and is, in factor Master’s John B’s son.  But not really his son.

Among isolated people, increasing your slave stock was as difficult as finding new blood for brides.  Mulattoes were the result, open secrets.

The boys were friendly, if not friends, including Patrick, the white one.  Patrick was Mass. John B’s nephew and he was willing to take chances.  Instead of seeding the oysters in the oyster bed, he ate them.  As John B. walked away Patrick mocked him, but Dick would never dare. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-A Flourish and a Spoil (2015).

A Flourish and a Spoil feels like an extension of The Districts‘ EP. And that’s no bad thing.

It’s got more of the same vibrato guitars and thumping bass all wrapping around Rob Grote’s angsty voice.  The big difference from the EP is that most of the songs are shorter (around four minutes with the exception of the end of the album).

A propulsive bass opens up the super catchy “4th and Roebling.”  The song starts somewhat quietly but turns into a raucous brawl by the end with crashing cymbals, smacking drums, and the whole band singing along.

“Peaches” has a fuller sound as the whole band plays the main parts until the catchy chorus where the guitar gets to play the lead melody along with the vocals.  “Chlorine” starts loud and then slows down for the verses.  Followed by the catchy chorus which is bigger and louder.  “Hounds” is built out of a simple riff that is played with a little delay so that it lurches interestingly until the shambolic ending of “hounds in my head, hounds in my head.”

“Sing the Song” is a slower song with a loud but spare chorus.  It’s got a rousing ending and then a lovely delicate denouement.

“Suburban Smell” is under three minutes. It’s a pretty acoustic song with some lovely guitar melodies and Grote’s more delicate vocals (and yes, there’s a questionable lyric in there). The song ends with a mic shutting off, like a real bedroom recording. It’s followed by a full on echoing drum intro of “Bold.”  The song is full of noises and sounds like a song in search of something.  It finds it with the soaring catchy ending section, fast chords, highs notes and a powerful repetition.

“Heavy Begs” is the last short song on the record.  It features the one thing that has been missing: some “oohs” (although only once).  It’s also got a new sound introduced in the guitar solo–a buzzing that works nicely with their overall sound.

“Young Blood” stretches out to almost nine minutes.  After a siren-like introduction, the song settles into a relaxed lope with catchy vocal melody.  The first four minutes jump back and forth between verses an chaotic crashing chorus.  Then comes a pause followed by a quiet bass line while the other instruments slowly add sounds and melodies (and what sounds like a party in the background).  This instrumental section builds on itself for two minutes until the coda.  The quiet “it’s a long way down from the top to the bottom” which repeats until the drums start pounding  before the final guitar solo takes the song out with a riff that sounds like it came from Built to Spill.

That feels like an album ender to me, but they put in one more song, the nearly 6 minute “6AM.”  This song also sounds like a bedroom recording–it sounds raw and rough–and it never sounds too long.

[READ: September 30, 2020] “Rainbows”

I liked the way this story seemed to be settling into a time frame and then leaped away from it to move on to something else.

The story is told in first person, by an Irish woman named Clodagh.  She came to America when she was twenty-three.  She’d never heard of mentors or office hours or anything like that in an educational system.  She was getting a Master’s Degree in Applied Analytics. 

She decided to audit a class in anthropology just to take her mind off the degree.  The teacher, Paola Visintin, became something of an unexpected mentor to her.  Paola was twenty years older, but cool in a way that younger teachers weren’t.  The bonded in coffee shops and talked about many of Clodagh’s problems.  Paola’s answers were short, direct and sometimes beside the point.

The passage of time is delivered in a fun way:

My kitten grew into a cat, turned into an old lady, died. The obstetrician lifted a red-blue creature from behind a blue paper curtain–and, flash, the creature, Aoife, turned eighteen. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUP-“Rot” (2020).

Pup has a new EP coming out in October.  It’s called This Place Sucks Ass. Ha.  This is the first single.

It’s three minutes of angry catchy punk (so a PUP song).  The verses are sung by the lead singer while the chorus is sung by the whole band–chanted and rocking.

The bridge changes things a little bit and adds some tension to this otherwise catchy but dark song.  It celebrates the paradoxes of life

The more I’m reckless The less I break
The more I care about money The less I make
The less I care about everything The better it goes
And the better it gets The more I lose control
And when I’ve lost it all I self-sabotage

Looks like PUP has been busy over the quarantine.

[READ: September 18, 2020] “Along the Frontage Road”

In this story, the narrator remembers going to pumpkin patches as kid around Halloween.  I love that his father is fastidious and hates to get his hands dirty–especially with food–but is also a surgeon and has expert precision as he operates on the pumpkin.

But he now lives in the city and instead of farm pumpkin patch, they go to an abandoned lot on the frontage road where every year people set up a booth with pumpkins and Halloween items. It slowly morphs into a Christmas store and then disappears again until next all.

The narrator is sad that his son, Nicky, seems to love this otherwise gloomy stretch of land.  His son was intrigued by the decorations–a rubber snake crawling through a skull’s eye socket.  The scarecrow at the entrance had a pumpkin for a head and wore a Friday the Thirteenth goalie mask

I forbid myself absolutely to consider the proposition that in the orchards of my youth it would neve have occurred to anyone to employ a serial killer motif as a means of selling Halloween pumpkins to children.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUNFLOWER BEAN-“Moment in the Sun” (2020).

When Sunflower Bean first came out they were a wonderful poppy guitar band.  They sounded like a classic indie pop band from the 90s with Julia Cummings great vocals and Nick Kivlen’s delicate guitar sound that also worked in some roaring solos.

Their last EP was a lot more synth and even more poppy.  This new track, “Moments in the Sun” continues in that poppy synthy style.

The song opens with a slinky disco bass line and guitar chords.  Cumming’s voice sounds husky until the end of the each verse which has a catchy echoing falsetto vocal.  Bouncy synths accompany the vocals.

The propulsive chorus strips out the synth for a really catchy vocal harmony between Cummings and Kivlen.

The song sounds vaguely familiar–very catchy and simple

This aggressively poppy direction is a bit surprising given their earlier sound.  It’s not all that far afield from their initial sound, but I do miss Kivlen’s excellent guitar work.

[READ: September 14, 2020] “The Englishman”

This is the second story of Stuart’s to appear in the New Yorker this year.

In this story, a college-aged Scottish man has answered a want ad to help an older Englishman named William.  The young man (who is nicknamed Caspar by William) was expected home from college for the summer.  His family farmed on a Scottish isle and were often buffeted by the harsh Atlantic winds.  His older brothers had been saving up the worst chores for his return.  So when he said he wouldn’t be coming home, they were furious at him.  His father was also disappointing–he said nothing when Caspar told him he was spending the summer in London.

The position paid four hundred quid a week.  William was a wealth man, with much cash at his disposal–he offered to fly William in from Scotland.  William was fastidious in his dress but his house was a shambles.  (The narrators mother would have died to have her house look like this). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BURT BACHARACH & DANIEL TASHIAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #75 (September 3, 2020).

Obviously, Burt Bacharach needs no introduction.  He has written hundreds of songs that everyone knows. It’s rankly amazing that he is still living given his long and storied history.  Well, it turns out he is 92 (!).  And he can still play and compose.

I don’t know who Daniel Tashian is, but I see that he is a songwriter who seems to have written for a lot of country singers.

For this Tiny Desk Home Concert, the two have written music together for an EP called Blue Umbrella and they perform three songs while far apart: “Bells of St. Augustine,” “Blue Umbrella,” and “We Go Way Back.”

The melodies are lovely, as you’d expect.  Tashian is a lyricist, so the lyrics are very good as well.  I guess the one unknown turns out to be Tashian’s voice.  I found that I liked it quite a lot.  He reminded me a lot of Jim James in his delivery.  It’s also fascinating to watch his beard grow over the three songs.

In between songs, first Daniel addresses us.  he says that music is an oasis of calm and peace.  He says, seriously that he hopes this time next year we’re looking at a different picture of where this country is headed.

A love of songcraft brought these tremendous talents together, writing songs of friendship, songs that have been a comfort for both of them in these challenging days.

Bacharach talks about what it’s like being 92 and being sequestered like this.  He’s been out of his house once–to a small party at a friend’s house.  But he is happy to be at home with his wife.

And he has a direct message to the anti-maskers out there.

It’s okay to wear a mask.  You’re not proving anything walking around without a mask like some kind of hero.  You’re not.  You know who the heroes are.  They’re all walking masks and working in hospitals.

[READ: September 11, 2020] “End of the Line”

This is an excerpt from Franzen’s The Corrections.  

The Corrections is a large book that covers, in depth, a large family.   I enjoyed the novel very much and this refresher (I read the novel nine years ago), was a nice reminder of the novel.

The family has three adult children: Gary, a banker in Philadelphia who is (more or less unhappily) married with three children; Chip, a former school teacher and current playwright who sponges off of his younger sister while he tries to live the high life in New York City; and Denise, a very successful chef who also lives in Philadelphia.

This excerpt is about Denise.

It is a story about her as a youngish woman working in her father’s railroad office.  She is a strong, hard-working young girl in an office full of men.  And they don’t know what to do about her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NUBYA GARCIA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #81 (September 16, 2020).

Nubya Garcis is a jazz saxophonist and this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is unlike any other thus far.

Look to the left of Nubya Garcia’s Tiny Desk (home) concert and you’ll see a hanging plant swaying right above the keys. It never stops moving during the next 23 minutes, and it’s for a bizarre reason. Garcia’s (home) concert took place on a boat — a first in Tiny Desk history.

Garcia and her band are at Soup Studio, a recording facility built on a decommissioned floating lighthouse moored on the River Thames. It’s also where Garcia recorded her excellent new album, SOURCE. This set features three songs from the record; the title track starts it off with a reggae, dub vibe.

“Source” opens with some great low end from Daniel Casmir’s double bass.  The main melody comes from Joe Armon-Jones’s simple keyboard hits.  Sam Jones makes the drums almost a lead instrument as well, as he plays a lot of cymbals and interesting fills.

There are two backing singers for these songs.  Richie Seivwright and Cassie Kinoshi add some ahhs and oohs as needed.  They’re not intrusive and add a human element to Garcia’s otehriwse otherworldly saxophone soloing.

At around eight minutes, the singers do a lot of woohing and scatting which I find less interesting than the rest of the band does.

After nearly 12 minutes, everything slows down and Casmir does a bass solo as the introduction to “Pace.”  Armon-Jones plays piano with his right hand keyboards with his left to lay down a complex musical tapestry which Garcia weaves her saxophone all over.  Armon-Jones also gets a quiet piano solo, then the song takes off again, crashing to a wild conclusion with frenetic drumming and piano.

“Boundless Beings” opens with a slow saxophone introduction and the bass matching the notes. This song is only two minutes, and I assume that’s because time runs out on her video or her session.

[READ: September 15, 2020] “Whose Little Girl Are You?”

I had read Fox’s Desperate Characters after three authors that I like all championed it.  S. knows of Paula Fox as a children’s author.  I had no idea she had the kind of crazy childhood that this memoir lets on.  Indeed, this is an excerpt from her memoir Borrowed Finery.  And, while I’ve no doubt this is all true.  It is as exciting (and horrifying) as fiction.

When Paula was born her parents deposited her at an orphanage.  Paula’s mother Elise was a panicked nineteen-year-old and wanted to get rid of her as quickly as possible.  Her father Paul brought her to a Manhattan foundling house.  She was taken in by the Reverend Elwood Corning who raised her and whom she called Uncle Elwood.

Her maternal grandmother came to New York from Cuba and learned of her whereabouts.  She intended to take her back home to Cuba with her, but her grandmother worked as a companion to a rich old cousin and could not possibly look after a baby, so Paula stayed with Uncle Elwood.

When she was about five, her father came to see her. He had a large box which he dropped with a thud.  He looked at her and said “‘There you are,'”\ as if I’d been missing for such along time that he’d almost given up searching for me.”   The box contained a whole host of books. The next morning when Paula woke up he was not there anymore.

Later that year Uncle Elwood drove her to Provincetown where her parents were living.  The main memory she took from that visit (because all she ever did was visit her parents) was that she had found a large steamer trunk and was exploring it when her mother walked in and yelled, “What are you doing?”  And then, “Don’t cry!  Don’t you dare cry!”

A year later they were living in New York City and Paula visited them for a few hours.  When her mother came into the room she stared at Paula, her eyes like embers. Then she flung her glass and its contents at the girl.  Water and ice fell all lover her.

The next time, she went to see them they were staying in a hotel in New York.  They had room service for dinner and Paula ordered lamb chops.  It felt special.  When the meal came Paula said “There’s no milk.” Her father stood, grabbed the tray of food and dropped it down the airshaft saying “Okay, Pal, since it wasn’t to your pleasure.”  She had no dinner that night.

Her parents were often leaving Paula with strangers. One time she went to Grand Central Station on a train by herself and was met not by her father but by a couple–actors who knew her father–with Great Danes.  They expected her father to turn up any moment.  Two days later he showed up.

Another time she visited them in Los Angeles.  Her father’s sister Aunt Jessie took her.  Jessie stayed for a few days and on the day that she left, Paula’s parents went out for the evening leaving Paula by herself.  She wandered around and eventually wandered out the front door which locked behind her.

A neighbor found her and brought her to his house where his wife made dinner for her.  The next day she walked home and opened the door shouting “Daddy!”  Her father jumped out of bed–the woman next to him was not her mother–and whisked her out of the bedroom quickly.  He sat on a chair and began to spank her. The maid stopped him–Paula years later realized how brave it was for her to speak out.  A Few days later he dropped her off in the care of an older woman.  Years later he told her it was his motehr’s reaction to Paula that made him send her away–either she goes or I go.

A few years later in Malibu, she visited on weekends. The house had a deck that jutted into the ocean.  One day, her father gabbed her hands and dropped her into the Pacific . She freaked out fearing that she was drowning, but her father laughed because it was so shallow.

One night she told her father that she had a toothache.  He mother had entered the room and said I’ll fix it for you.  She put Paula in the rumble seat of the car and drove madly through the winding roads.  Paula was shaken like a rattle. They drove for twenty minutes (it felt like forever).  Finally they returned home and her mother looked at her and said “Do you still have a toothache?”

When Paula was eight (all of that happened before she was eight!), her Spanish grandmother came for her.  She had lighter duties in Cuba and brought Paula home with her.  Paula lived there, in Hormiguero for many years, going to school there–having a crash introduction to Spanish. She had nothing but freedom there but soon grew very bored and lonely.

When she was ten in 1933, her family fled to he country for New York because the President of Cuba, Gerargo Machado, had been overthrown.

Good lord, how did she ever get through it without going crazy.  And what on earth are her children’s stories like?

 

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