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Archive for the ‘Marriage Trouble’ Category

ja1SOUNDTRACK: HAIM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #34 (June 17, 2020).

haimWhen Haim first came on the scene they were marketed as a kind of hard rocking sister act.  So when I heard them I was really disappointed because they are anything but hard rock.  In fact this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert shows just how nicely their music works as  kind of poppy folk songs.

I haven’t really liked most of their songs, but I do like first and third in this set (I was unfamiliar with the middle song).

“The Steps” is like a classic rock song that’s been around for ever.  “The sunny, take-no-prisoners assertion of independence of “The Steps” recalls the soft rock jams of their earlier albums.”  The very cool sounding lead guitar riff that opens the song is definitely missed in this version, but the song itself is really solid and their harmonies are lovely.  The bass is mixed too loudly in this song, which is a bit of a shame since the rest sounds so good.

Strangely, it’s only Danielle who speaks and introduces only herself.  So you need the blurb to tell you that on her left is her sister Este Haim (bass, keyboard, drum pad, vocals) and on her right is her sister Alana Haim: (guitar, vocals, bongos).

The second song is “the muted techno glimmer of ‘I Know Alone.'”  Este switches to keys, Danielle switches to a rhythm machine and keys and whole Alana keeps the acoustic guitar she is also playing keys.  I think she keeps the guitar for one dramatic harmonic moment..  This song is kind of bland–not much really happens in it.

In comes Henry Solomon (the screen splits into four) to add saxophone for the final song “Summer Girl,”

a song that wavers like a heat mirage reflected off New York’s summer sidewalks, thanks to Henry Solomon’s whisper-toned sax.

I had no idea this song was HAIM  I recognized that saxophone melody immediately and have hear it many times on the radio.   Once again the bass is too loud, which is a bummer since this song is so chill. This song also feels like it has been around forever–there’s a real timeless quality to it.

HAIM recorded its Tiny Desk set before the death of George Floyd, and released “Summer Girl” last year. The world has changed a lot in that time. With its opening line — “LA on my mind, I can’t breathe” — “Summer Girl” becomes another piece of music that takes on a parallel meaning in the evolving social and political landscape of 2020.

I didn’t enjoy Haim’s early stuff, but I have come around on this album.

[READ: June 19, 2020] “Free”

This was a short story about who love ages.

Henry was married to Irene, but he was having an affair with Lila, who was married to Pete.

Irene was stuffy, very proper.  Lila, by contrast, once stripped off all her clothes and skinny dipped into a cold lake in front of him–“her bottom a sudden white heart split down the middle, in his vision.”  Lila lived in the now and gave herself to him completely.  But Henry “was no good at adultery…because he could not give himself, entirely, to the moment.” (more…)

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20000000SOUNDTRACK: KAWABATA MAKOTO [河端一]-I’m in Your Inner Most (2001).

a3548319280_16Recently, Kawabata Makoto [河端一], mastermind behind Acid Mothers Temple, revealed a new bandcamp site for some newer releases.

This is Kawabata Makoto’s minimal music works by his own ensemble reissued in 2002 with a bonus track.

This album is in fact two parts of the same song (technically). And they’re the first of his solo works to predominantly feature organ.  It also features artwork by Kawabata Sachiko

“I’m In Your Inner Most Part.1″ (19.11)  starts with a repeated organ riff and (the inevitable) high-pitched feedback sounds.  This one also has the voice of Audrey Ginestet repeating one word (drift? drip? something in French?).  Every few measure a new item is added and repeated–mostly organ notes in a pattern or a scale.  The last five minutes or so feels like a two note siren as the high notes soar around the top.”

I’m In Your Inner Most Part.2″  (20.24)  opens with that repeated word.  This piece feels a biot more like an improv with organ and the tambura rotating through.

Kawabata Makoto is credited with electric organ, electric harpsichord, violin, tambura, percussion, electronics and electric guitar on this release.

The bonus track is called “Osculation (remix version)”  (15.32).  I can’t tell exactly what it is remixing as it sounds like parts of both songs are melded together.  There is a lot of church organ sounds and repeating motifs.  But around 11 minutes a grinding noise comes into the song and start to take over until the end is just all noise.

Like most of Kawabata’s solo album, this one feels improvised and off the cuff.  The inclusion of the organ however, makes this one solitary in his vast catalog.

[READ: June 13, 2020] “Man-Eating Cats”

Twenty years apart, Murakami has two surreal stories about animals. Actually, this one is far less surreal than the monkey story, but there is a supernatural component for sure.

The story opens with the narrator reading to Izumi from the newspaper.  The article is about a woman who died and her cats ate her–they had been alone in the apartment for about a week with no food.

Izumi wants to know what happened to the cats, but the paper doesn’t say.  She wonders if he were the town’s mayor or chief of police, would he have the cats put down?  He suggests reforming them into vegetarians, but Izumi didn’t laugh at that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS WORLD TOUR (May 26-June 4, 2010).

Phoebe Bridgers is a fascinating person.  She sings the most delicate songs.  Her voice is soft and almost inaudible. Her music is simple but pretty.  And her lyrics are (often) devastatingly powerful.

And yet she is really quite funny.  Both in interviews and in her visual representation of herself.

Her logo when I saw her was a fascinating faux death metal style of her name.  And now with this world tour, you can see in the poster all of the metal bands referenced in the logos. (There’s Slayer in the kitchen for instance).

And then there’s the basic joke of this world tour.  No one can go anywhere, so she is travelling her world: kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom (second concert by popular demand??)

The first show last night raised money for Downtown Women’s Center.

After some introductory talking and even a magic show (!) from Ethan, her producer, she played five songs.  Midway through she agrees that the set was a bit of a downer, especially opening with these two sad songs.

“Scott Street”
“Funeral”

Then it was time for two new songs (and an electric guitar).

“Moon Song”
“I See You”

Before coming to the end, she delayed, because she was having so much fun (and raising so much money).  So she showed us around her kitchen and pitched the kind of guitar she was playing, the kind of capo (quite expensive!), and her Target-purchased kitchen ware.  

She ended the set with a boygenius song, “Me and My Dog ” dedicated to her dog Max who died at the age of 17 last year.

The first night of her tour was a success. Tonight is night two, from the bathroom.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.  You can watch it here.

[READ: May 27, 2020] “California Ghosts”

I don’t usually read profiles of artists I like.  But every once in a while, one strikes me as interesting.

Phoebe Bridgers is a pretty fascinating character (see the above part for some details).  So I though this might be an interesting profile.  And it was.

Bridgers was brought up in Laurel Canyon and came of age listening to emo.  I love that the writer has to define emo for the New Yorker crowd, “a sub-genre of punk focused on disclosure and catharsis.”  That’s probably the most concise definition of emo I have read.

She writes that Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes) is one of emo’s most beloved practitioners.  Phoebe grew up listening to him and then met him in 2016.  He says when he first heard her he felt like he was reuniting with an old friend.  In 2018 they made Better Oblivion Community Center together.

At Carnegie Hall (where she wore a tea-length black dress and high to Doc Martens), she sang a song with Matt Berninger of The National. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JERU THE DAMAJA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #16 (April 30, 2020).

I’ve always liked Jeru the Damaja’s name; I find it very satisfying.  It’s amusing to me that with a name like that he raps about positive things.

He used the concert to share his inspiring philosophy of self-knowledge. Jeru drops lyrics about what it takes to achieve self-actualization in tough conditions for not just himself, but for the culture.

I don’t actually know any of his songs; this is a “medley of his classics.”  Jeru’s got a great, deep voice that adds a lot of strength to his lyrics.

Like Black Thought, Jeru sits in a chair, surrounded by his gear.  Unlike Black Thought, Jeru is in motion pretty consistently bobbing and waving his hand like he does care.

He starts with 50 seconds of “Can’t Stop the Prophet” after which he says “we need a superhero and we forget that the superhero resides within us.”  he encourages everyone to be creative in this time because idle hands do the devil’s work.  This is his lead into the 90 seconds of “Ain’t The Devil Happy.”

His prescient lyrics remain as relevant as ever as he addresses the deepening fissures of socioeconomic inequalities exposed by the coronavirus crisis.

He even updates the lyrics of “Scientifical Madness”

Mind Jah lick you with disease
So I inflict MC’s like Ebola Corona
Or some other man made cancer

He says he doesn’t want to be inside, but he’s grateful that he has a place to be because living outside is “So Raw.”  I really like the slow grooving beat of this song.

After the 90 seconds of “My Mind Spray” he says his mind is always working.  He’s always wondering if this and if that. But the old saying goes “If if’s were fifth, we’d all be drunk.”  In the song “If” he adds “If if was a spliff, we’d all get smoked up.”

He closes his set from his home in Berlin with a new song, “The Power,” and offers up a message we all need: “No matter who you are, the power resides in you…We can overcome anything if you put your mind to it, you just can’t get in your mind too much.” The prophet cannot be stopped.

“The Power” is a full song which was inspired by a things his mother used to say that he didn’t understand until he got older: “nothing matters except for how we treat people.”

[READ: May 6, 2020] “Shelter Seekers”

This story is written as a letter to the “scholarship liaison officer.”

The letter writer received a $4,000 Daniel White Foreign Study Scholarship via the Government of Canada.  The money was to fund three months in Argentina to study how the region is “adapting its approach to housing in the interest of sustainability.”

This letter is the final report which is “unconventional in form, long overdue and in excess of the stipulated two-page limit.”

The writer left her husband for three months to undertake this challenge.

On the flight to Patagonia ($1,297) she read the Award Holder’s Guide.  She imagined building clay houses and hanging out with her fellow researchers, drinking Fernet and Coke.  She even considered the idea of an affair with an attractive researcher.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JON BATISTE-Tiny Desk Concert #972 (May 4, 2020).

This Tiny Desk Concert was originally (sort of) posted on January 6, 2020 with this disclaimer

Jon Batiste’s Tiny Desk Concert was published prematurely. The new publication date is March 2020.

I don’t know if there was actually a video posted on Jan 6, but I’m curious if people got to see an unfinished version.

Regardless, here it is May (not March) and the Jon Batiste Concert is up. I now know Jon Batiste as the band leader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but I knew of him before that from an NPR recording with Stay Human back in 2014.

Batiste is a multi-talented musician, playing keys, and guitars.  He’s also a charming front man.  But he really lets his backing band shine here.

The New Orleans musician came to the Tiny Desk not with his late-night house band, but with an all-new cast. His all-female collaborators — Endea Owens on acoustic bass, Negah Santos on percussion, Sarah Thawer on drums, and Celisse Henderson on guitar and vocals — were an inspiration.

Batiste took us through some of the many sides of his rich musical history,

The soulful ballad titled “Cry” which features Batiste playing the Wurlitzer organ.  This is probably my favorite song of the set–I love the sound he gets.  He is a really impressive keyboard player, handling the cool Wurlitzer solo with ease.  The surprise for me came when Celisse Henderson played a great soulful guitar solo.  I just assumed he’d be doing all of the soloing, but everyone in the band had a moment to shine.

Before the song ended properly, Endea Owens started the next song with a great upright bass riff for the start of the jazz and hip-hop inspired “Coltrane.”  Batiste does an opening rap before the song slows down for the chorus where batiste jumps to the piano and the backing band sings along.

As is often the case when musicians perform in Washington (and especially blocks from the Capitol) the banter hinted at the political. Jon Batiste stopped to tell the NPR crowd, “we’re playing some music, and we’re coping. The times are in an interesting place, but music is always that universal language that can bring people in a room together.”

Then he says, “it’s the first time we’re ever playing these songs, and it’s the first time we’re playing together.”

Then Batitste picks up a square guitar to start the rocking Motown-inspired tune “Tell The Truth,” which he says is self explanatory.  Even though Batiste is on the guitar, Henderson gets the ripping solo again.    The middle of the song has a drum solo from Sarah Thawer but the real star is Negah Santos on percussion as her bongos really stand out.  Then Batiste takes out the melodica (like he uses on Colbert) and gets a terrific sound for a quick solo.

He ends the show with a bit of church.  He says “When times get weird we forget about the simple things, so I like to write a basic song to remind us of that.  That song is “I Need You.”  It opens with an amazing piano solo.  Batiste so casually plays all up and down the keys, it’s really impressive.  As is the solo he plays mid song.

[READ: May 1, 2020] “Padua, 1966”

Despite the title the story is actually set around Newark in contemporary times.  The 1966 part comes in a story told later.

I really enjoyed the way this story seemed to self-correct.

Miranda was tall and as dark-haired as they come.  I say was and not is and that is inaccurate because she is still around and I really am not.

Miranda was married to Luke, A WASP.  They had a daughter named Caroline, “a name I’ve never understood.”

How’s this for a line:

They fell out of love because they never were in love.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FOGERTY’S FACTORY – JOHN FOGERTY + FAMILY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #14 (April 24, 2020).

I’ve never given much thought to John Fogerty.  I like some CCR songs; dislike others.  He’s a legend for sure, but I never thought about him.  I certainly never thought about whether he had children (much less grown children).

Watching this Tiny Desk where Fogerty and his three grown kids are playing along to some utterly classic songs is pretty weird.  Imagine if your dad wrote “Centerfield”?  It’s not my favorite song.  I don’t even especially like it, but I’ve heard it a million times.

And there you on video playing guitar and bass with your dad who wrote the song.  Is that surreal and wild or is it just what dad does?

When John Fogerty breaks out his baseball bat guitar and swings into that famous guitar lick from “Centerfield” to open his Tiny Desk (home) concert, I can almost taste the Cracker Jacks. Welcome to Fogerty’s Factory, the tricked-out basement where the Fogerty Family (John, his sons Tyler (mustache) and Shane (no mustache), and his daughter Kelsy) make music in these quarantined times.

Fogerty jokes about his own tiny desk.

His desk is the road case his band Creedence Clearwater Revival used when they played Woodstock, and John shows off a guitar he played at the festival as well.

After “Centerfield” he plays

three of his CCR classics from 50 years ago (still singing in the same key), surrounded by family and sending out words of encouragement to all of us.

I have a hard time believing he wrote “Down on the Corner” if only because it seems like a song that’s been around forever (which it has).

It’s amusing hoe much he acts like a grandpa (which he just might be), when talking to us and to his daughter (who has wise words to say about missing her graduation).

I don’t really know “Long As I Can See the Light.”  Maybe I do, it sounds vaguely familiar, but all CCR songs sound vaguely the same (his voice is unmistakable–and he still sounds pretty good).  he plays organ on this song, which is a slight change of sound.

“Proud Mary” is another song that I just can’t believe he wrote. Can you imagine being the guy who wrote that song?  Again, not a song I especially like, but everyone has sung it.  Everyone knows it.  It seems like it was a blues standard or something.  But this guy wrote it.

That’s pretty wild.

[READ: April 26, 2020] “Bedtime Story”

Ezra Washington’s wife walked in on him telling a story to their younger child.  It was about the time he was rollerblading and Julia Roberts crashed into him.

At first she doesn’t realize that he is talking about Julia Roberts, she thinks he is talking about her (“That laugh you’d know anywhere”).  But none of the details sound familiar.  It’s when the child says, “She’s the one that plays the mom…with the big teeth and the long brown hair?” that she realizes it’s the Julia Roberts story.

The dad confirms and the child reiterates, “Julia Roberts went right between your legs?”

“Yes, but don’t repeat that.”

She was the biggest movie star in the world.  Back then. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TARRIONA ‘TANK’ BALL-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #3 (March 26, 2020).

Tiny Desk loves Tank and the Bangas, who won the 2017 Tiny Desk Contest.  Of the five winners so far, they have certainly had the most success that I’m aware of.

I really enjoy their attitude, although their music is surprisingly repetitive for the amount of creativity in the band.

This Home Concert might be entirely improvised (there’s not “setlist” provided).  Tank seems to be riffing around a refrain of “don’t go out to the cookout.”  She is playing a rather cool electronic melody on “a version of Korg’s music software called iKaossilator.”

The rest of the music comes from percussive instruments that include a suitcase, [that she received when she was nominated for a Grammy.  She didn’t win but she got a suitcase, which is just as good], a jar of cocoa butter and a cassette box.

The middle of the song has a lengthy rap/poem/freestyle.

Mostly she is trying to convince everyone to stay home, bitch.  She even modifies the State Farm theme: like a good neighbor, stay over there.

It’s OK to be alone by yourself, eat by yourself, chill by yourself, read by yourself.

It is clear that she is having a really good time–laughing, clapping along.  She also says “I’m obviously practicing social distancing cause my group is not here.”

[READ: April 13, 2020] “The Other One”

I really liked the way this story was constructed.

When Heloise was 12, in 1986, her father was killed in a car crash.

Her father was supposed to be in Germany at a conference. But the crash happened in Paris.  In the car with him were his mistress (who also died) and her friend (who survived).

Heloise had false memories about this event.  She was sure she went with her mother to view the body (that never happened). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JESCA HOOP-Tiny Desk Concert #965 (April 3, 2020).

I really liked the Tiny Desk Concert that features Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop.  So much so that I bought the CD and it made me want to see both of them live.

Jesca Hoop last appeared at the Tiny Desk as a duet with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) in the spring of 2016. They sang songs from their collaborative record Love Letters For Fire.

This time it is just Jesca and I have realized that I liked her more as an accompanist rather than a lead singer.  Actually, that’s not exactly right.  Her voice is lovely.  I just find the songs a little meandering.

This time around, Jesca Hoop came to the Tiny Desk with just her guitars, her lovely voice, and brilliant poetic songs. She has a magical way with words, and she opened her set with “Pegasi,” a beautiful song about the wild ride that is love, from her 2017 album Memories Are Now.

“Pegasi” is nice to watch her play the fairly complex guitar melodies–she uses all of the neck.  The utterly amazing thing about “Pegasi” though comes at the end of the song when she sings an amazing note (high and long) that represents a dying star.

She wanted to sing it today so it could live on Tiny Desk.

The two songs that follow are from her latest album, Stonechild, the album that captured my heart in 2019, and the reason I reached out to invite her to perform at my desk.

“All Time Low” is a song, she says, for the “existential underdog.”  She switches guitars (to an electric) and once again, most of the melody takes place on the high notes of the guitar.  Her melodies are fascinating.  And the lyrics are interesting too:

“Michael on the outside, always looking in
A dog in the fight but his dog never wins
If he works that much harder, his ship might come in
He gives it the old heave-ho.”

After the song, she says, I’m going to tune my guitar, but I’m not going to talk so it doesn’t take as long. If you were at my show, I’d be talking the whole time and it would take a long time.

And for her final tune, she plays “Shoulder Charge.” It’s a song that features a word that Jesca stumbled upon online: “sonder,” which you won’t find in the dictionary. She tells the NPR crowd “sonder” is the realization “that every person that you come across is living a life as rich and complex as your own.” And that realization takes you out of the center of things, something that is at the heart of “Shoulder Charge” and quite a potent moment in this deeply reflective and personal Tiny Desk concert.

This word, sonder, came to my attention back in 2016 when Kishi Bashi first discovered it and named his album Sonderlust for it.

The song is like the others, slow and quite with a pretty melody that doesn’t really go anywhere.

I found that after three listens, I started to enjoy the songs more, so maybe she just writes songs that you need to hear a few times to really appreciate.

[READ: March 2020] Ducks, Newburyport

I heard about this book because the folks on the David Foster Wallace newsgroup were discussing it.  I knew nothing about it but when I read someone describe the book like this:

1 Woman’s internal monologue.  8 Sentences. 1040 pages

I was instantly intrigued.

Then my friend Daryl said that he was really enjoying it, so I knew I had to check it out.

That one line  is technically (almost) accurate but not really accurate.

The story (well, 95% of it) is told through one woman’s stream of consciousness interior monologue.  She is a mother living in Ohio.  She has four children and she is overwhelmed by them.  Actually she is overwhelmed by a lot and she can’t stop thinking about these things.

She used to teach at a small college but felt that the job was terrible and that she was not cut out for it.  So now she bakes at home and sells her goods locally.  She specializes in tarte tatin.  This is why she spends so much time with her thoughts–she works alone at home.  Her husband travels for work.  Whether she is actually making money for the family is a valid but moot question.

So for most of the book not much happens, exactly.  We just see her mind as she thinks of all the things going on around her.  I assume she’s reading the internet (news items come and go in a flash).  She is quite funny in her assessment of the world (how much she hates trump).  While I was reading this and more and more stupid things happened in the real world, I couldn’t help but imagine her reaction to them).  She’s not a total liberal (she didn’t trust Hillary), but she is no conservative either (having lived in Massachusetts and New York).  In fact, she feels she does not fit in locally at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #958 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

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SOUNDTRACK: BABY ROSE-Tiny Desk Concert #944 (February 10, 2020).

I had not heard of Baby Rose, which I suppose makes sense since she put out her debut album last year.

The blurb makes it sound like she has been through a lot more than her 25 years might suggest.

But when the voice behind those words is as seasoned and vintage as Baby Rose’s, everything it utters reverberates like the gospel truth. The D.C. native — who came of age in Fayetteville, N.C. before coming into her own as an artist in Atlanta — returned to her birthplace.

She even speaks like a much older person:

“I would not be able to write with such emotion about these things without my fair share of regrets.”

It sounds like a sincere statement until you realize it’s a bit, an introduction to the song strangely spelled “Ragrets.”

But that is my favorite song here.  It’s got a great opening guitar riff from John Scherer that is duplicated on the bass (with some great high notes) by Craig Shephard.  Backing vocalist Erika JaNaé is there with her throughout–matching her with lovely backing ooohs.

Baby Rose has a voice that sounds a bit like Antony from Antony & the Johnsons–wavery and operatic.  Especially as the Concert opens with “Sold Out” which features strings from Jasminfire on viola, Yuli on violin and Noah Johnson on cello.

It’s also evident in the third song “Over.”  In the middle of the song she sings low and it sounds very Antony, although I suppose another comparison would be “the bluesy melisma of Nina Simone and the deep register of Sarah Vaughan–two of her idols.”  This song is, surprisingly, less than two minutes long.  It has a simple piano melody from Timothy Maxey.  In addition to Erika JaNaé, Jasminfire and Yuli sing backing vocals.  I like the bass slide at the end, which seems like it’s a transition to another part of the song, not the end.

The next song is “Mortal” which opens with a loud drum hit from Tauseef Anam and quiet shimmering guitars.  There’s a lot of backing singing on this song and they all sing very nicely.

As this song is ending she introduces the band and says

“This is what real love sounds like.  This is what it feels like.”

The blurb says

From any other new artist, a Tiny Desk declaration like that might sound a tad bit presumptuous if not altogether premature.

I actually thought pretentious was the word.

She asks if she can do one more (because of course an artist I’ve never heard of gets an 18 minute set).  And in introducing “All To Myself,” she says she is

Dedicating the song to herself — and “to anyone here that’s ever wanted to call or text somebody that you know you should not call or text” —  congratulating those of us who’ve refrained from squandering our emotions on the undeserved.

Her voice is really impressive on this song and I like that the blurb acknowledges that she’s not using autotune

In an era when the over-reliance on Autotune has nearly everybody in radio R&B land sounding like automatons, her unadulterated voice is almost otherworldly. It’s confounding how a vocal tone so weathered and wise emerges from her so effortlessly.

I was a bit cynical about her at first, but Baby Rose really brings the goods.

[READ: July 10, 2019] Who is Rich?

Rich Fischer is a cartoonist.  As the book opens, Rich is beginning his annual week-long teaching assignment at a New England beachside Arts Conference.  Rich was once sort of famous for his first (and only) published book and that’s why he was initially invited to instruct.  In the intervening six years, he has not really produced anything except drawings for magazines, but the head of the council still likes him, so Rich has that annual work to look forward to.

Although he doesn’t really look forward to it.  People come from all over to study all kinds of arts with esteemed faculty.  It’s a place where writers, artists and historians show off that they are really drunkards and perverts and are willing to do anything to dance naked on a beach in a drum circle.  At this point, he knows what he is and how he fits along with the rest of the teaching staff:

unknown nobodies and one-hit has-beens, midlist somebodies and legitimate stars.

His was a four day intensive workshop that cost $1500.  He details his students–a former high school art teacher (who tried to take over the class), a med student who didn’t want to start med school, a trans kid, a Vietnam War veteran, a grandmother and a teenager skulking in the back.

But he was also sick of it.  The same faces year after year.  Nadia Klein  “was widely mocked an imitated.”  Larry Burris skipped his meds one year and wore a jester’s cap to class and lit his own notes on fire.  And yet when he was asked to name another cartoonist he could vouch for to teach a second comics workshop, he didn’t answer the director, “because of the way my career had gone, I worried that I’d be hiring my replacement.”

He talks about his precocious success–at first it seems like a mistake, but you get used to it quickly. You assume it will always be there.  Until it isn’t.

(more…)

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