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Archive for the ‘Memoirs’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE ROOTS feat. JILL SCOTT-“You Got Me” (1999).

I’ve wanted to listen to more from The Roots ever since I was exposed to them on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  But as typically happens, I’m listening to other things instead.  So this seemed like a good opportunity to check them out (based on Samantha Irby’s rave below).

One of the best things about this recording (and The Roots in general) is Questlove’s drumming.  In addition to his being a terrific drummer, his drums sound amazing in this live setting.

Erykah Badu sings on the album but Jill Scott (Jilly from Philly) who wrote the part, sings here.

It starts out quietly with just a twinkling keyboard and Scott’s rough but pretty voice.  Then comes the main rapping verses from Black Thought.  I love the way Scott sings backing vocals on the verses and Black Thought adds backing vocals to the chorus.

Midway through the song, it shifts gears and gets a little more funky.  Around five minutes, the band does some serious jamming.  Jill Scott does some vocal bits, the turntablist goes a little wild with the scratching and Questlove is on fire.

Then things slow down for Scott to show off her amazing voice in a quiet solo-ish section.  This song shows off how great both The Roots and Jill Scott are.  Time to dig deeper.

[READ: November 1, 2020] Wow, no thank you.

This book kept popping up on various recommended lists.  The bunny on the cover was pretty adorable, so I thought I’d check it out. I’d never heard of Samantha Irby before this, but the title and the blurbs made this sound really funny.

And some of it is really funny. Irby is self-deprecating and seems to be full of self-loathing, but she puts a humorous spin on it all.  She also has Crohn’s disease and terribly irritable bowels–there’s lots of talk about poo in this book.

Irby had a pretty miserable upbringing.  Many of the essays detail this upbringing.  She also has low self-esteem and many of the essays detail that.  She also doesn’t take care of herself at all and she writes about that.  She also doesn’t really want much to do with children or dogs.  And yet somehow she is married to a woman with children.

From what some of these essays say, it sounds like she is married to this woman yet somehow lives an entirely separate life from the rest of the house.  It’s all rather puzzling, although I suppose if you are already a fan, you may know many of the details already. (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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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Archive Volume One “Live 96-98” (2005/2020)

In early August, Boris digitally released six archival releases.  Volume One is called “Live 96-98” and that’s what it contains.  There’s eight songs all recorded in the same place Koenji 20000V, once a year or so.

Originally released in 2005 from the US label “aRCHIVE”, limited to 600 copies which sold out immediately. Compiled from live recordings during Boris’s “Power Violence” period 1996 – 1998, including songs from the 1998 studio album “Amplifier Worship” and Archive Volume Zero “Early Demo”.  (Reissued as part of Archive 1 on March 5, 2014. Limited to 1,000 copies).

The first two songs were recorded in December 1996.  They are not for the faint of heart.

“Huge” is a ten minute drone.  It’s full of feedback and slow chord progressions that repeat until after five minutes, when Wata hits a high note and Atsuo starts screaming along with the thumping drums.  It segues into “Hush” which is 53 seconds of thrash: pounding guitar and drums, including something of a drum solo by the end while someone sings to it.

The next chunk of songs were recorded six months earlier.  “Soul Search You Sleep” is nearly 9 minutes of crashing chords with lots of screamed vocals.  There’s a brief fast section before the slow drones return.  Wata takes a guitar solo near the end which segues into “Vacuuum” which is a minute and a half long.  It starts with that wailing guitar solo until the pummeling drums and screamed vocals take over.  It ends with feedback that segues into “Mosquito” a slower song that has chanted vocals from both Atsuo and Takeshi.

“Mass Mercury” was recorded almost a year later.  Things aren’t radically different, but they allow some of the noise to drop away a bit more.  It opens with feedback and fast riffing guitars.  After a minute and a half everything drops out but some pulsing bass and guitar effects from Wata. The pulsing runs through to the end after a middle section of growls and drums.  It segues into “Scar Box,” which is a big slow riff.  Unexpectedly, mid song it briefly turns into a crushing hardcore song with shouted growly vocals until it slows back to crashing heavy chords.

The final track is the newest of the bunch.  It’s 8 minutes long and starts as a fast hardcore song.  Then a bass and drum rumble takes over and things slow down while Wata makes some airplane-like sounds it her guitar.  The solo loops and phases through to the end until about a minute left when both singers start shouting through to the crashing end.

I’m not sure if they are singing in Japanese or just growling, but it’s a pretty intense 45 minutes of live music.

[READ: August 12, 2020] A Very Punchable Face

I wasn’t really sure how I felt about Colin Jost.  I like him on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and yet as the title of his book says, he has a very punchable face.  And, as I say every time I read a memoir–I don’t really care about memoirs all that much.  And yet here’s another one I’ve read.  And it’s yet another one from a cast member of Saturday Night Live–a show that I don’t think is all that great (but the memoirs are usually quite good).

There was an excerpt form this book in the New Yorker and it made me laugh at loud, so I looked forward to reading the rest of the book.

The beginning is interesting in that he says he had a hard time learning to speak–an odd thing for a TV news presenter.  But really the most fun part starts when he tells us about the astonishing amount of bad fortune he has had–his delivery about it all is hilarious.

The chapter “You’re Gonna Need Stitches” lists the six times (throughout his life) that he has had to get stitches–one was from getting a surfboard to the face!  Indeed there are two stories of surfing –not something I expected from a guy from Staten Island.  The second one involves being saved by Jimmy Buffet (and how much Jost enjoys eating at Margaritaville restaurants–I can’t get over how much alcohol must be consumed at a this franchise).  There’s also a crazy story about him visiting Google and getting injured by the VR machine.  He even somehow managed to possibly have insect eggs laid under his skin.  Ew! (more…)

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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: 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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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-“Kyoto” (2020).

phoebeI’ve heard this song a bunch and I like it more each time.

Phoebe Bridgers’ songs tend to be sad lyrically (and sometimes musically), but this song just overflows with wonder, melody and (apparent) happiness.

The song starts with a gentle keyboard but soon adds a fast bassline as Phoebe sings quietly.  Then pow, a big joyous chorus comes in.  Horns play a gorgeous melody and Phoebe harmonies (with herself?).  The way she sings “tokyp skies” gets me every time.

When the verse returns it feels a bit louder.  But the song is about her complicated feelings for her estranged father:

With my little brother
He said you called on his birthday
You were off by like ten days
But you get a few points for tryin’

The chorus resumes feeling even bigger and happier and yet the outro, featuring those same ebullient horns:

I wanted to see the world
Through your eyes until it happened
Then I changed my mind
Guess I lied
I’m a liar
Who lies
‘Cause I’m a liar

Phoebe said that this song was originally slow but she was tried of singing slow songs so she punched this one up.  It really reflects the mixed feelings you can have for someone.  And if you don’t care so much about the words, it’s a catchy gem.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “Dancing Bear”

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

The first piece is the memoir, written by Dimitri Nasrallah.   I had assumed that this would be a First Nations piece with a title like that.  But it is far from that.  It starts in Beirut.

The neighborhood where Dimitri grew up was a battleground between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israel military so his family left for Greece when he was four.

He stayed quiet while they tried to acclimate–they felt covered by the stench of war and wanted to keep a low profile. Then one night his father took the family out to the square.  As they walked around marveling at the sights, he saw a crowd gathered a round a man.

He was showing off a giant brown stanigng on its hind legs, muzzled.  The man made the bear “talk” and dance  Everyone laughed.  But that night Dimitri couldn’t get the sight of the bear out of his mind.  He imagined that he was the bear–muzzled, not wanting to dance.

The next day he told his father that he felt bad for the bear. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LANG LANG-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #11 (April 17, 2020).

Lang Lang is a superstar pianist whom I have never heard of.  But I agree with the blurb that it’s neat to see a fantastic pianist playing at home.  He seems relaxed and loose.  And the camera angle allows us to see his fingers (and his whole swaying body) pretty clearly.

Here’s something unique: a chance to eavesdrop on the superstar pianist Lang Lang at home.

The 37-year-old pianist, who typically plays sold-out shows to thousands, says he’s taking his recent solitary time to learn new repertoire at home in Shanghai, China. And home is where he thinks we should all be.

He opens with Chopin’s calming “Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor.”  I loved watching him slowly and deliberately play that last note.  It seems like he holds his finger above it for minutes, but it fits in perfectly.

Lang Lang’s latest passion is Bach – specifically the Goldberg Variations, a 75-minute-long cycle of immense complexity grounded in the composer’s durable beauty. Lang Lang offers the “18th and 19th variations,” pieces that in turn represent the strength of logic and the joy of the dance. It’s music, Lang Lang says, that “always brings me to play in another level of artistic thinking.”

These pieces are just magical.  Even if I don;t know them well, I can tell pretty immediately that they are Bach.  Lang Lang’s fluidity is wonderful, as is the way his whole body seems to be absorbing the music as he plays.

[READ: April 11, 2020]: Carnet de Voyage

From March 5 thru May 14, 2004 Craig Thompson was on an international book tour celebrating the success of his (fantastic) book Blankets.

This journal was his visual diary (no cameras were used, only his memory) of his trip.  His editors thought it would be interesting for him to document his trip (and it is).

He flies into Paris then a 2 hour plane trip to Lyon.  He draws pictures of where he has been and the people he has met (and some of their fascinating stories).  There’s some wonderful sketches of rooftops from hotel windows.

He does interviews for radio and magazines. He laughs that one of the photos shoots was in the streets of Paris, where he is all dressed up.  But really he’s a county bumpkin from Wisconsin. The drawing of himself as a glamorous guy and his bumpkin alter ego together is pretty hilarious.

On March 15 he left for Marrakesh, Morocco and this exotic location rally sets the stage for most of his artwork and what is sort of the only “plot” in the book.

He had also just broken up with his girlfriend which weighs on his mind quite a lot on the tour. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-Tiny Desk Concert #893 (September 20, 2019).

It used to be that no one was invited back to play a Tiny Desk Concert.  The rules have been relaxed somewhat as of late (I would have thought that maybe they’d wait until 1000 shows).

The blurb explains why they (she) was invited back though.

Luz Elena Mendoza has such a far-reaching creative spirit that it’s almost impossible to confine her to a single musical identity. Which is why she’s one of just a handful of artists who’ve been invited back to the Tiny Desk to offer a revised musical vision.

Y La Bamba was on back in 2011 and they played a more acoustic style of music–accordion, percussion, guitar and lot of singers.  For this show, lead Bamba, Luz Elena Mendoza looks quite different.  In 2011, her hair was black and long, here it is silver and short–the neck tattoo is the same, though.

When she was here last with the band Y La Bamba, it was a vocal-heavy, folk outfit. The band’s sound has always been about vocals and her music has become even more so over the years.

Back in May, Y La Bamba played Non-Comm and Mendoza was pretty confrontational.  She is less so here, allowing the music to speak for her.

And the music is quite different.  It’s almost all in Spanish this time.  There’s a second guitarist (Ryan Oxford), a bass (Zachary Teran), and a drummer (Miguel Jimenez-Cruz).  She also has two backing singers, Julia Mendiolea who also plays keyboard and Isabeau Waia’u Walker.

I knew that Y La Bamba was the project of Mendoza, but i didn’t realize she did everything herself:

Y La Bamba’s albums are meticulously crafted sonic treats with her vocals layered like a choir made with a single voice. But in our offices, she called on vocalist Isabeau Waia’u Walker to replicate their distinct sound.

There’s a great variety of styles in this Tiny Desk.

“Paloma Negra” (“Black Pigeon”) [also played at Non-Comm] benefits from the voices of the entire band in a high-energy mediation on rhythm and voice.

It’s got a groovy, funky bassline and some cool echoing guitars.  There’s a tension in the verses that is totally relieved in the super catchy chorus.

This song segues into “Rios Sueltos” which is a kind of rap–but sung.  It’s bouncy and catchy but I sense is probably not a happy song, despite the catchy “hey ey ey heys” in the middle.

The song ends with a rumbling from Mendoza’s guitar as she starts up “Bruja de Brujas” [also played at Non-Comm].

There is a bruja energy and spirit to their performance, and not in the negative connotation that is the Spanish word for “witch.” In Luz Elena Mendoza’s hands a brujeria spirit is all about conjuring the kind of magic that took place on this video.

The song opens with a cool bass line and a somewhat menacing feel.  It starts quietly, but when all three vocalists sing together it’s really lovely.

At the end of the song she sinks to the ground to play with her effects as the song fades out with trippy sounds.   She jokes, “And aliens came down.:

Then she realizes, “we forgot to do one more.  Sorry the aliens did come down… and took my brain.”

The final song is the fantastic “Cuatro Crazy” [also played at Non-Comm].  It is sweet and pretty and has echoing guitars and a vocal style not unlike a Cocteau Twins song.  It even ends with a lot of “dah dah dah dahs.”

I really enjoy their music quite a lot and should really look into their stuff more.

[READ: October 6, 2019] “Abandoning a Cat”

This essay is, indeed, about abandoning a cat.  The cat story has a happy ending (although another one might not).  But mostly the essay is about how mundane events trigger memories of our parents.

He says that when he was little, his family had an older cat and they needed to get rid of it.  “Getting rid of cats back then was a common occurrence, not something that anyone would criticize you for.  The idea of neutering cats never crossed anyone’s mind.”

His father took the bike and he sat on the back with the cat in a box.  They rode to the beach about 2 km from their house, put the box down, and headed back.

When they returned home, they opened the door and there was the cat “greeting us with a friendly meow, its tail standing tall.”  His father’s expression of blank amazement “changed to one of admiration and, finally, to an expression of relief.  And the cat went back to being out pet.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOB SNIDER-“Old Nova Scotian” (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.

This song by Bob Snider is another story song.  This one is about a Old Nova Scotian far from the ocean.  He’s a derelict dead on his feet.

This song is a slow ballad–it feels like an old Irish ballad especially with this accordion.  Although a whipping violin solo would perk the song up.

Snider has been playing music since the 1980s.  Moxy Fruvous covered his amusing song “Ash Hash,” which makes sense as it didn’t sound like one of their songs.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Fishing with a Straight Hook”

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.

Jackson talks about one summer when she went fishing on Lac Catherine, a small lake in Quebec.  She and her husband rent a chalet fora  a month each summer.

Their son’s friend Roberto, an experienced fisherman, came to visit and she hoped to learn a thing or two from him.  Roberto had many sage things to say about fishing (as fishermen are wont).  Roberto’s secret: “put the worm where the fish wants to eat and if you’re lucky you will catch a fish.” (more…)

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