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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: SUDAN ARCHIVES-Tiny Desk Concert #979 (June 22, 2020).

sudanSudan Archives at Johnny Brenda’s was a show I had really wanted to see.  When I realized she was playing there the show was already sold out.  Then Coronavirus came in and shows were starting to get cancelled.

A friend of mine went to this show (she had gotten tickets early) and said that so few people had actually shown up that they were letting people in.  I was torn about going but I had been out of work for the whole week already and it didn’t seem safe.

It was the last show I could have gone to for a long time.  It was also the last Tiny Desk Concert for the foreseeable future.

By the time Sudan Archives arrived at NPR in Washington, D.C., on March 11, everyone was concerned about the coronavirus threat. So we sanitized the desk, the mics and the cameras. We also kept our distance.

When the show was over and the small, socially-distant crowd of NPR employees dispersed, our crew began to wipe everything down with disinfectant wipes. Our incredible audio engineer, Josh Rogosin, started to set up for what we thought would be the next Tiny Desk show, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera p r i s m by Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins.

Josh Rogosin remembers the day clearly. “After the Sudan Archives concert, I optimistically went about setting up for a string quartet plus an eight-person choir and two vocal soloists, plus harp and conductor,” he told me. “About halfway through my set-up, our boss gathered us around the Tiny Desk and made the painful but obvious decision. No more Tiny Desks until further notice.”

It’s a shame that that is such an unforgettable part of this show because the 13 minutes of Sudan Archives are wonderful.

Normally–at least at Johnny Brenda’s, she played solo with looping pedals and acoustic and electric violins.  But for the Tiny Desk

She came not with an array of electronics, but with violinist Jessica McJunkins, violist Dominic Johnson and cellist Khari Joyner. The new arrangement at the top of “Confessions” was the perfect tension queller.  And those arrangements also heighten the lyrics. Listening again three months later, three weeks into police brutality protests, the words — “There is a place that I call home / But it’s not where I am welcome / And if I saw all the angels / Why is my presence so painful?” — take on new meaning.

“Confessions” is the song that’s all over WXPN.  This version opens with opens with a lovely string section arrangement–evidently new for this show.  Then as the cello plays the deep part (I love that a cello can keep rhythm this way) the other three play the familiar super catchy sliding melody.  Her voice sounds very clean and she is clearly smiling throughout (you can hear it in her voice).

“Glorious” is clearly inspired by traditional Irish music, but a bit more slinky.  The melody and rhythm that she plays in the lead sounds so trad and yet she sings with a very not-Irish style of singing.  It’s a great juxtaposition.  It’s fun to watch her groove as she plays it’s very danceable–especially for a string quartet.  And her soloing is pretty great with some really fast hammer-on soloing.

She says that this is the first time she is playing with the trio.

The last song is “Not For Sale” which she says is one of her favorite songs.  I love that as she’s getting the trio ready she does a kind of mindless guitar solo noodle–a fast solo including bending a bent string.  The song starts all pizzicato and she kind of raps part of the lyrics–another great juxtaposition of musical styles.

I’ll bet she was great live.  I hope she comes back around before too long.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “The Peace Lily”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The last piece is a poem. It is about a peace lily.

She bought it at Thrifty Foods for $4.99.

She was inspired by its poker-green leaves and flowers which looked like studded Jacobsen Egg Chairs.

She brought it home and put it on a sunny bookshelf.

Within a week, its leaves
had black spots.  A second
week saw its flowers gone.

She got advice from her mother and the internet.  She took the advice and it gave her one flower

which drooped before
ever really blooming

If anyone has ever failed to keep a flower, this sentiment is right on:

To say the peace lily died
would be an understatement.
like a famous connoisseur
of death, it took its time:
every last leaf withered
into a black ash that stuck
on the shelf

It was all the more frustrating because the more she did to see it thrive

the less interested
it seemed in living

Until finally, you reach the point where you’re happy it’s out of your life

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: HAMILTON LEITHAUSER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #37 (June 21, 2020).

hammyHamilton Leithauser seems to always be on the periphery of my listening experience. I hear his name a lot and hear his songs a bunch, but I’ve never actually looked for him.

And yet, I like him and his music.  And, indeed, as this blurb says,

This is the most adorable thing you may see all day.

Known best as the The Walkmen singer, Hamilton Leithauser is the singer of The Walkmen, although I know him better for his solo work.

Here he plays songs from his 2020 solo album, The Loves of Your Life.

Leithauser’s voice is a solid folk-singer voice and he hits a lot of high notes (with a deliberate straining style).  “In a Black Out” features his father Mark Leithauser on harmonica.  It’s a very touching Father’s Day moment.

But it’s made even more magical when for “The Garbage Men” he calls out his band: his daughters Georgiana and Frederika Leithauser and his nieces May and Lucy McIntosh.  The kids sing backing ahhs (quite well) and they all enjoy singing “till the garbage men go by!”  They also do the quiet “oohs” very nicely as well.  And they dance on haystacks.

“Here They Come” is about a friend who would go to the movies and sneak into film after film to avoid going home.  The kids sing the lyrics (pretty well) and dance even more adorably for this rocking song.  It’s important not to forget his wife, Anna Stumpf on congas and percussion way in the back for the middle three songs.

His daughter makes fun of him introducing the tiny desk “Dad you sound so stupid” and Hamilton laughs at the mocking.  They also show that they have a tinier tiny desk from the Calico Critters.

Then he introduces “The Stars of Tomorrow” by saying he and his girls met a Polish woman on the beach.  The woman told them her life story (they’d hadn’t asked).  It had a lot of drama and a lot of contradictions.  Everything in the story is true from what he can remember she told him, “but I can’t vouch for her story.”

The final song “Isabella” is, to me, the most Leithauser of the five songs.  A real folks song slow and passionate.  The girls do a fantastic job singing the “they all go riding home” responses in the chorus.  I’m very impressed with how well they sing.

There have been a lot of cute and sweet Tiny Desk’s but none have been as adorable.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “Lottery Poetry”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The fifth piece is fiction and it is very timely.

Maisy Wu learned fortune-telling from her mah-mah who’d read faces and palms in a stall in Hong Kong.  Maisy had been doing fortunes at college parties and eventually decided to quit her job at the Vancouver Public Library and go public with her talents.

She read palms and offered her own variation on Kau chim or lottery poetry.

Then the pandemic hit. At first people still came–they wanted her reassurances.  But when she was declared nonessential, she was financially hit hard.

She decided to go mobile with her skills, inspired by take out drivers.  She called it Curbside Divinations.  She received some likes on social media but no calls.  She imagined them saying, “If you’re so good at predicting the future, why did you book a  trip to Mexico in March?”

Then she had a request from a man named Pete.   He was a white man in sweats somewhere between forty-five and sixty-five.

She almost lefty when he asked “If you Chinese were so good at predicting the future, how’d you all get us into this in the first place?”

But as she turned to leave, he said he’d already paid.  And she needed the money.  (more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: BENNY THE BUTCHER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #36 (June 19, 2020).

bennyI’d never heard of Benny the Butcher and when I was listening to his boasts, I assumed that maybe he was really old school.  He makes a crack about Nicki Minaj that made me think he was like 50, but in fact she is older than he is (which is pretty funny).

Benny the Butcher is part of “the triple threat emcee collective from Buffalo, N.Y., consisting of Westside Gunn, Conway, and Benny the Butcher” known as Griselda.  They were supposed to do a Tiny Desk until the coronavirus hit.

Benny the Butcher blessed us with a five-song set from the living room of his current home in Atlanta. (Due to some recording snafus, some of the audio and video in this video doesn’t always sync up.)

I really like when they do five or so songs in under fifteen minutes–it’s like a highlight reel.

There’s something really amusing about these guys rapping some hardcore stuff (the n-word is mentioned about fifty times in 13 minutes) while  they are sitting in a suburban-looking house on a gray couch with plants and baby pictures on the table.  But somehow, without all of the posturing and video effects, i gets you to listen to the words more closely.    And I really liked his lyrics.

“Crown for Kings” is like an old school song full of braggadocio and lots of similes (I assumed it was a twenty year old track) at first, until he rapped

I sat back, a vet, and watched beginners winnin’ my belts
Burned my bridges, came back a good swimmer like Phelps

and then this really funny bit about going to Philly, which includes the Nicki Minaj line

What’s the dealy? I’m only ’bout six hours from Philly
That’s an hour on the plane, I’ll make it three in the Bentley
My bitch keep sayin’ I’m famous, but it ain’t hit me
I’m too ghetto, mellowed out, this Hollywood shit tricky
See, before I knew an A&R, I was weighin’ hard
Back when Nicki Minaj was in a trainin’ bra

and

“Rubber Bands & Weight” was a cool song.  Slow and intense with creepy music.  I really appreciated the slow delivery in this song.  Even though I think the challenge is to see how much you can fit into a verse, sometimes slow gets the point across better.  I also liked that this song had a recognizable chorus and the video included jump cuts of him shouting it out.

For the third track, Benny is joined by Rick Hyde and Heem, two artists on his new BSF label imprint, for a live performance of “Da Mob,” the first single off an upcoming label compilation titled Benny The Butcher & DJ Drama Presents: Gangsta Grillz X BSF Da Respected Sopranos.  This track is dark and distorted sounding.  Hyde’s style is gruff (he jump cuts to Benny’s couch). Then Heem comes in for his verse–they don;t cross paths so I assume it’s all socially safe.  Benny returns for the final verse and his is definitely the best voice of the three.

“Cruiser Weight Coke” is a title I don’t get, but I like the sinister sounds on this song–very cool low notes an what sounds like processed vocals. vocals.  This line stuck out to me:

If we link up and make plans (shake hands), it’s a done deal if we shake hands
You won’t understand me ‘less you move your family to a place they feel safe in (alright)

This track is really short (less than 2 minutes) and skips the last verse.

It seems to be saving room for “5 to 50.” “5 to 50” and “Crown” come “from his critically acclaimed 2019 album, The Plugs I Met.”  It continues in this aggressive style.  He seems to pause to really let the final section sink in.  And as the song reaches its end, the music cuts out–intentional or not, I can’t tell.  I’ve never heard a rap end a capella before, but it really makes the words hit haard and show how good his flow is even with out a beat

I can turn your front door to a drug store
Make any kitchen to a lab
Man, I hear these drug stories and I laugh
Talkin’ ’bout the Coke sales they never had
Pull up on a nigga, you gon’ know the pad
Only house with a Bentley on the grass

As the video ends, he is very pleased. He says

“5 to 50,” “Crown for Kings” “Rubber Bands & Weight,” Oh my goodness!  That’s why I’m a legend.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “Lord Mayor Magpie”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The fourth piece is a poem.  It is a simple, but lovely descriptive poem about a magpie.

This poem is five long stanzas.

Magpie idles in a limousine
of black feather with a slash of white
piping that outshines all chrome

he has the brazen glamour of a motorcade.

(more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: ALICIA KEYS-Tiny Desk Concert #978 (June 15, 2020).

aliciaMy family was playing an online game where you have to give clues to name a person or thing.  We did a pop culture round and Alicia Keys came up I think twice.  And I asked my daughter is she knew who that was.  She said no and asked me if I did and I said no.  I couldn’t think of a song she sang and wondered if she was even still singing.

Literally the next morning, NPR posted this Tiny Desk Concert.  I still don’t know what her music sounds like on record, bu this Tiny Desk version was really nice.  I came away really impressed by her and her band.  And I loved how much everyone smiled through the set.

Alicia Keys radiates compassion and kindness. This spirit is the key to Keys’s songwriting, which is rooted in introspection and mindfulness.As she approached her piano, a bit surprised at the amount of people in the room, she smiled and remarked over her shoulder, “Gee, the Tiny Desk is tiny!”

Before the first song, Alicia plays the piano and chats to everyone.  Saying how everyone wants to be shown love.  I thought it was just a nice opening, but it was a lead in to the song “Show Me Love.”  Everyone in the audience sang along to the chorus very nicely.

 She kicked off the set with an uncanny ode to combat the darkness of this moment in American history: “Show Me Love,” a single she released in 2019. No one could have predicted then how much her lyrics and musical healing would be crucial during this emotionally fraught time of unprecedented political and racial unrest, heightened by three months of quarantine due to a global pandemic.

The first song has an acoustic guitar from Curt Chambers (played in a gentle finger-picked style with occasional slapped notes).  Omar Edwards sprinkles keys all over the song while (married) backing vocalists RAII and Whitney hitting some high notes and soft deeper notes (they are both very impressive).

Keys’ voice is really nice.  She doesn’t do anything show off-y or divaish.  She just sings beautifully (occasionally showing off all of her vocal chops).

After the song she steps away from the piano and says she’s her own personal tech–bang set change.

As she introduced her new song “Gramercy Park” she asked for some “talking vibes” so Chambers played some quiet backing music as she talked about how much we contort and conform and adjust ourselves for other people–with the best of intentions.  We are so concerned about making other people happy that we lose ourselves.

The stand-out moment during her Tiny Desk was the premiere of “Gramercy Park”, a song from her upcoming self-titled album, ALICIA, which is set to be released this fall. It’s one of those timeless songs that will transcend radio formats and genres, with lyrics that address how utter selflessness and worrying about making everyone happy but yourself can throw your own center askew. The song’s spiritual refrain is sure to be a sing-along moment for the rest of Keys’s career.

It starts with a slow beat from Mike Reid with some lovely acoustic guitars. And the lyrics say

I’ve been trying to be everything I think you want me to be
I’ve been doing all the things I think you want to see
I’ve been trying to fulfill you and your every need
Now you’re falling for a person who’s not even me.

She said she’s speaking out a lot more.  We should speak out in the moment instead of letting it pass, ignoring it, forgetting it, but you never really forget it and then six years later…

Introducing her latest single “Underdog” she asked what we would learn if we actually sat and talked to people.  It’s a great song, inspiring to anyone who has felt put upon.  This is such a good verse:

She’s riding in a taxi back to the kitchen
Talking to the driver ’bout his wife and his children
On the run from a country where they put you in prison
For being a woman and speaking your mind
She looked in his eyes in the mirror and he smiled
One conversation, a single moment
The things that change us if we notice
When we look up, sometimes

There’s cool oooohs from the backing vocalists and a nice upright bass from Ant Parrish.

After crowdsourcing suggestions, she and her band delivered a riveting rendition of Keys’s breakout 2001 single, “Fallin’.”

I didn’t know this song and I wonder how different it sounds from the original.  She sets up the beginning with some brash singing and the backing singers do some cool loud vocals.

Keys also impressed me with her great piano playing.

I’m embarrassed that Ii didn’t know who she was, because she’s pretty great.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “School of Xerex Fino”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features two pieces of fiction, one memoir and three poems.

The second piece is a poem.  I don’t know what Xerez Fino is and can’t find anything about it.

There are five stanzas. The first sets up that the club where they met was Toxic.

The third sets up the scene in detail: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-“The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead” (1994).

 Crash Test Dummies are mostly known for Brad Roberts’ deep voice.   But for this song Roberts only says the opening “Let’s begin” while the main verses are sung by Ellen Reid.  Reid has an amazing voice and was often underutilized by the band.

Musically, the song is pretty similar to the original–guitars and harmonica and the like.  The choruses are a little bigger because Roberts contributes his bass vocals to Reid’s lead.

It is still catchy as all get out.

For the final verse, they bring the music down and focus on Reid’s vocals.  The big difference comes with the “awful lot like me” line.  Where XTC plays a big guitar chord, CTD has more of a keyboard buildup.  It still works though.

It’s a really solid cover.

Hooray!

[READ: October 31, 2019] “Dead Man’s Hate”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This is a bonus story printed on the inside of The Ghost Box.

There’s no context, no biography, not even a year (I had to look that up).  So this poem stands on its own.

It is written in rhyming couplets with an easy meter and is quite easy to follow. (more…)

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december 11SOUNDTRACK: CITY AND COLOUR-“Strangers” (2019).

a3590330773_16City and Colour is Dallas Green (get it?).  He was part of the rocking band Alexisonfire.  He went solo about fifteen years ago and has settled into the sort of indie folk troubadour life.

His voice has always been gentle, but he seems to have leaned into it even more while he is solo.

“Difficult Love” comes from his soon to be released sixth solo album A Pill for Loneliness.  It’s upbeat with a simple, but catchy melody.  The verse has a great flow (his voice sounds really great) and the chorus pushes it along even more with a lovely falsetto turn on his voice.

The bridge leads to new heights as Green really shows off what his voice can do.

It’s still hard to believe that was one of the guys responsible for a rocking song like “This Could Be Anywhere in the World” (although Dallas was the “clean” singer in Alexisonfire, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising).

[READ: September 25, 2019] “Post and Beam”

Usually I find Alice Munro’s stories to be straightforward and powerful.  This one felt a little convoluted to me.  I had trouble even following the beginning because so many names were introduced in somewhat unusual ways.

The story is about a woman named Lorna.  Lorna is married to Brendan and is talking to her friend Lionel.  Lionel was Brendan’s former student.

It’s confusing because the story starts with Lionel talking about his mother’s death.  Lorna had met Lionel’s mother a few months earlier and she called called Lorna “my son’s belle amie.”  Lorna didn’t know what she was implying and didn’t want to find out.

Lorna told Lionel about her own childhood.  She lived in a house on a farm with her father.  In the neighboring house were her grandmother her aunt and her cousin Polly–who had no father.  Lorna thought that Polly had no father in the way that a manx cat had no tail. Lorna describes her as “more…competent.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CELTIC GALES-“Sittin’ on Top of the World” (Moose: The Compilation, 1991).

Back in the 1990s, it was common to buy a compilation or soundtrack or even a band’s album based on one song.  Only to then find that you didn’t really like anything else on it.

Maybe that single sounded like nothing else on the album.  Maybe the movie was almost entirely one genre, but they had that one song that you liked over the credits.  Or maybe the compilation was for something but a song you really wanted was on it, too.

With streaming music that need not happen anymore.  Except in this case.

I bought this compilation, used, recently exclusively for one song, Rheostatics’ “Woodstuck.”  It’s a goofy song and this is the only place you can get the studio version.  The actual compilation was not well documented, so I didn’t know what the other bands on it might sound like.  It turns out to be a compilation for Ontario based Moose Records which specialized in Rock, Folk, World & Country.  They put out another compilation in 1992 and that’s all I can find out about them.

Celtic Gales was, apparently, a trio of Audrey, Linda and Wanda Vanderstoop.  I can’t find anything else about them.

This is a traditional song with some nice guitar work from Scott Rogers.  I rather enjoyed the introductory guitar playing and rather hoped it would be an instrumental.  Their vocals (even if the three part harmonies are lovely) are a little too country for my liking.  There’s the addition of a kona as an instrument on this song but I can’t tell what it is doing

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue. This year’s issue had two short stories, a memoir, three poems and a fifteen year reflection about a novel as special features.

This poem addresses several images. The first is Max Liebermann’s “The Flax Barn at Laren.”

He described it very powerfully.

He then mentions a photo of Walter Benjamin: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THOU-Tiny Desk Concert #847 (May 6, 2019).

I saw Thou play a show last year and they were loud, abrasive and intimidating.  So much so that when I saw this collective of people behind the Tiny Desk, I had to double check to make sure it was the same band.

I mean, the band I saw had a male singer who growled/screamed all of the lyrics.  This band had three women singing and was entirely quiet.

I had a ticket to a show recently featuring Screaming Females (who headlined for Thou last time, too) and what was listed as a rare acoustic show from Thou.  I assume it must have sounded something like this.

And this is pretty awesome.

But what is going on?

The first-ever metal band at the Tiny Desk is a little bit of a head fake. Make no mistake, Thou makes some of the heaviest, most tortuous music around; but the band also constantly experiments with beautifully ornate arrangements that balance its most extreme measures. In a set culled from the acoustic-driven Inconsolable — one of six full-lengths, EPs and splits the band released last year (no, really) — Thou shows us just how crushing quiet can be.

Guitarist KC Stafford plays guitar and sings lead.  The song is brooding and powerful in its slow quietness.

“This is the softest I’ve ever played,” guitarist KC Stafford told me during sound check.  Yes, their downtuned guitars are turned down low at the NPR Music office, but the weight is still ever-present. Stafford takes the lead on “The Hammer” as co-vocalists Emily McWilliams (blonde) and Melissa Guion (dark hair) sing, “Bring down the hammer / A bludgeon to my shrines / Bring down the hammer / To the corpse of my worship.”

McWilliams’ more high -pitched voice is an excellent companion to Stafford’s deeper delivery.

Guion also makes ambient-pop music under the name MJ Guider and MJ Guider was the opening act for the quiet show.

Stafford played bass when I saw them.  The bassist at this show, Mitch Wells, doesn’t look familiar from that night although he and rhythm guitarist Andy Gibbs are founding members (along with lead guitarist Matthew Thudium).  Perhaps Mitch was not around for that tour?  But he certainly brings some mirth to the proceedings.  He;s wearing a crazy bright shirt (not typical for a doom metal band) and he says that playing the Tiny Desk was a big old bucket list.

Even though the band’s line up has stayed pretty consistent since they began in 2005, they have had three drummers.  Tyler Coburn (who might be the reincarnation of Andy Kaufman) joined in 2018 which means I probably didn’t see him at my show.

The cryptic lyrics and melodies are largely written by Bryan Funck, who normally screams his existential despair for Thou. But for these songs and this Tiny Desk, he lurked in the audience.

So that’s where he was.  Turns out that for the Inconsolable EP, he didn’t sing anything, allowing guest vocalists to sing everything.

For the second song “Come Home, You Are Missed” McWilliams sings lead.  She sang on the EP as well.  Guion accompanies her very nicely.  For this song Stafford’s guitar seems tuned down so far you can hear the string vibrating and rumbling as she plays open chords.

The final lines, “Privacy is priceless to me” are repeated three times.

Thou’s decade-plus discography is an exercise in exploration and refinement, finding new textures in heft, which is why this set offers such a slow-burning thrill to its oeuvre.

I am now regretting even more not going to that show.  I can’t get over what a different experience it would have been.

The closing cut, “The Unspeakable Oath,” lead by guitarist Matthew Thudium, is a twinkling grunge song that overlaps guitar melodies with the grace and grandiosity of a whale.

I don’t believe that Thudium ever sang when I saw them, but his voice is fantastic.  He doesn’t even sing on the EP.  His voice seems wasted in a screaming band.

I really like this song a lot.  I like the way the verses quietly build up and then release with a simple but effective guitar riff as a segue to the next part.  The final part of the song also features some interesting/creepy “ahhhs” from McWilliams and Guion which conclude the song very tidily.

[READ: May 6, 2019] “The Escape”

Eddie Prior is the protagonist of this story and he makes a grand entrance.

As the story opens, Eddie has entered the Pavilion and is heading down the grand staircase when he slips (leather dancing shoes on parquet floor).  But he keeps smiling and manages to tap out the beat with each step, rescuing himself as he comes to a stop between two striking women.  Both women are named Millie and both are embarrassed by his attention.

The blonde Millie is dismissive.  The brunette Millie is embarrassed, but finds him handsome.  Later she agrees to dance with him and a year later agrees to marry him.

As with another recent New Yorker story, this one jumps ahead quickly.  There are children, a war, and bitter words but through it all they are Catholic, so they just get on with it. (more…)

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