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Archive for the ‘Soul Coughing’ Category

indexsep18SOUNDTRACK: RADIOHEAD-“Paperbag Writer” (2004).

I had recently read a review of Radiohead’s Kid A by Nick Hornby.  he really did not like the album at all.  He bemoaned their lack of musicality and, I gather, catchiness.  The bass line in “Is Chicago” reminded me a tad of this song and I thought it would have been a funny dig at him to include this modern Radiohead song that is almost a Beatles song but in fact nothing like a Beatles song.

Washes of strings and jittery quiet percussion open the song as Thom Yorke quietly mumble/sings:

Blow into this paperbag,
Go home, stop grinning at everyone.
It was nice when it lasted,
But now it’s gone.

After about a minute a bass comes in.  A series of two notes followed by the one main melodic moment of the song–a bass line that ascends a scale.  The song follows this pattern–strings, clicks and this bassline.

There’s a middle instrumental section which is just the strings and clicks.

Then Yorke returns, muttering “Blow in to this paper bag,”

The end of the song is pretty much all this bassline, now modified to not include the melody part just a repeated Morse code kind of sequence.

It’s not always easy to know what Radiohead are playing at. But the title of this song is strangely funny.

[READ: September 10, 2019] “Issues”

It’s hard to read a story about a man who hits a woman.   Even if he feels badly about it. Even if the woman doesn’t seem all that perturbed by it.  Even if he does get his comeuppance.

The story begins with Steven Reeves and his wife Marjorie driving to a party.  This observation about them was interesting: “They were extremely young, Steven Reeves was twenty-eight, Marjorie Reeves a year younger.”  Twenty-eight is “extremely” young?

As the story opens, Marjorie confesses that she had an affair with George Nicholson, the man of the house they are going to right now.  She doesn’t confess that the affair went on for a while–until they got tired of it.

I liked that the women in their neighborhood didn’t care for Marjorie.  They thought she was a bimbo who wouldn’t stay married to him for long and that his second wife would be the “right” wife. (more…)

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yorkernSOUNDTRACK: SOUL COUGHING-“Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago” (1994).

soul cI really enjoyed Soul Coughing’s output, and Ruby Vroom stands out as a great debut.  They had a terrific blend of great music played behind a more or less spoken word.  The idea wasn’t unique, but they made it work as more than a gimmick.

The musicians of Soul Coughing were tremendous and Mike Doughty’s voice has a wonderful resonance for telling is offbeat/absurd stories/poems.

This track seems especially appropriate when talking about Saul Bellow.

Starting with rhythmic guitar chunks, an upright bass plays a very cool rising and falling bass run.  It sounds like modern noir.

Then Doughty tells us “a man drives a plane into the Chrysler building.”  It’s difficult to hear it now, but in 1994 it was simply a fantastical image.   The drums come in as the guitar starts making shapes and slashes of sounds.

The chorus is a rather boppy moment amid the noise as things slow down for the recited “Is Chicago is not Chicago.”

Then the bridge(s):

Saskatoon is in the room
Poulsbo is in the room
Bennetsville is in the room
Palmyra is in the roomKhartoum is in the room
Phnom Penh is in the room
Pyongyang is in the room
Cairo is in the room

The song ends with a wonderful cacophony of guitar scratches and drum beats that definitively ends the song without it having to end itself.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Re-Reading Saul Bellow”

I decided to read this article because I like Philip Roth and because I have never read any Saul Bellow.  In fact, although Saul Bellow is a name I was familiar with, I wasn’t entirely sure what he had written. So I was pretty surprised to read that he wrote The Adventures of Augie March, which I had without a doubt heard of, but which I knew very little about.  I was also really surprised to find out that he was still alive when Roth wrote this esay (Bellow died in 2005).

Roth knew Bellow, of course, and Bellow had once told him that his Jewish heritage led him to doubt himself as a writer.  This was mainly because “our own WASP establishment, represented mainly by Harvard-trained professors considered a son of immigrant Jews unfit to write books in English.”

By the time he wrote Augie March, he was prepared to open not with a line like “I am a Jew, the son of immigrants,” but “I am an American, Chicago born.”

Roth summarizes a few of Bellow’s works and talks about how he progressed as a writer.  Of course, he writes this re-reading as if we ourselves have read the books (so, spoiler alerts).

He more or less dismisses the first two novels Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) and moves straight on to The Adventures of Augie March (1953) saying how the transformation from the earlier writer to the writer of Augie is remarkable.  It won the National Book Award.

He especially likes “the narcissistic enthusiasm for life in all its hybrid forms” that is propelling Augie.  He cries out to the world “Look at me!”

What appeals to me about the way Roth describes this book is the “engorged sentences” as “syntactical manifestations of Augie’s large, robust ego.”  That sounds like a fun 500 page book to me.

Up next was Seize the Day (1956) which is a short novel and the fictional antithesis of Augie March–a sorrow-filled book about the culmination of a boy who is disowned and disavowed by his father.  Whereas Augie’s ego soars, Tommy Wilheim’s is quashed beneath its burden.  Tommy cried out to the world “Help me!”

Bellow seemed to alternate between comedy and tragedy and I would much rather read the comedies myself.

Next came Henderson the Rain King (1959) which contain an exotic locale, a volcanic hero and the comic calamity that is his life.  Henderson is a boozer, a giant, a Gentile, a middle-aged multimillionaire in a state of continual emotional upheaval.  He leaves his home for a continent peopled by tribal blacks who turn out to be his very cure. Africa as medicine.

According to Wikipedia, Bellow became very conservative and somewhat (or very) racist as he got older.  I hesitate to read this book although it was written when he was younger.  On the other hand, I do enjoy that Roth calls it “a screwball book but not without great screwball authority.”  So that’s a tentative maybe on reading this.

Herzog (1964) also won the National Book Award.  Moses Herzog is a labyrinth of contradiction and self-division. He is Bellow’s grandest creation.  Herzog is American literature’s Leopold Bloom.  Although in Ulysses, “the encyclopedic mind of the author is transmuted into the linguistic flesh of the novel and Joyce never cedes to Bloom his own great erudition… whereas in Herzog, Bellow endows his hero with a mind that is a mind.”

Much of the plot is given away in the review, presumably because a 50 year-old award-winning book is pretty well known.

Roth says that Herzog is Bellow’s first excursion into sex in a novel. Adding sex allows Herzog to suffer in ways that Augie March never did.  He also says that “in all of literature  I know of no more emotionally susceptible male, of no man who brings a greater focus or intensity to his engagement with women than this Herzog.”

In Herzog, there is barely any action that takes place outside of Herzog’s brain.  Roth suggests, the best parts of the book are the letters that Herzog writes.

This book sounds rather appealing.  Unlike Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970) which also won the National Book Award (dang this guy must be good).  Roth gives it a rather short write up, but it appears to be about a man dealing with the culture around him.  It is a darker story, that sounds like a critique of the sixties.

That leads to Humboldt’s Gift (1975) which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature [that is an impressive amount of awards Mr Bellow].  Roth describes it as the “screwiest of the euphoric going-every-which-way-out-and-out comic novels.”  It is “loopier and more carnivalesque” than the others.  It’s like the tonic that helps him recover from the suffering in Sammler.

Interestingly. Roth doesn’t really talk about the rest of Bellow’s works: The Dean’s December (1982); What Kind of Day Did You Have? (1984); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); A Theft (1989); The Bellarosa Connection (1989); The Actual (1997); Ravelstein (2000).  Rather he continues with Humboldt and talks about Bellow’s relationship with Chicago.

Roth says that in Bellow’s early books Chicago was barely mentioned–a few streets here and there, but by Humboldt Chicago infuses the book.

Perhaps Below didn’t seize on Chicago at the start of his career because he didn’t want to be “a Chicago writer” any more than he wanted to be “a Jewish writer.”

Roth does in fact mention The Dean’s December, but only to say that the exploration of Chicago in this book is not comical but rancorous.  Chicago has become demoniacal.

It feels like Bellow is no longer a part of Chicago.

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cleoSOUNDTRACK: JOHN REILLY & FRIENDS-Tiny Desk Concert #418 (February 3, 2015).

johnI started this show without observing who it was (it was just next on my queue) and I listened without watching first.  At first I thought, hmm, interesting old timey songs.  And then the guy spoke and I thought, wow, he sounds a lot like actor John C. Reilly, I wonder if he’s from the same place.  And then I clicked over and saw that it was John C. Reilly, in full beard and hat playing old timey, spiritual songs.

A lot of actors have vanity music projects, but there’s nothing vain about this. It’s all old music (they use an old timey microphone) and they’re clearly not looking to top any charts.  Rather, Reilly plays acoustic guitar and sings—he has a great, solid voice. And his backing group is full of great musicians who all have careers doing other things: Tom Brousseau on guitar and harmony vocals, Becky Stark from Lavender Diamond on harmony vocals, Andru Bemis on banjo and fiddle, as well as Soul Coughing’s Sebastian Steinberg.

I didn’t recognize any of the four songs they played–which is probably the point.  He explains that Tom is their archaeologist and he uncovered a number of these songs.

The second song references Jesus and after the song Reilly talks tells everyone that he’s a lapsed Catholic but it seemed a shame to ignore all these beautiful songs because of religion.  So when they say Jesus you can think Buddha or… Satan or… the ocean. Becky Stark comes across a bit more, um, something, with her comment “we are advocates for deathless bliss.” (Reilly deflates the silence by saying “deathless bliss” is their other band).

It’s a charming group of songs and would not sound out of place with some tracks from O Brother, Where Art Thou.

[READ: January 8, 2015] Cleopatra in Space Book One

I brought it home for C. but it looked really fun so I read it too.  I enjoyed this book so much that I can’t wait for the next part.

I love Maihack’s artistic style, it’s simple and very clean, and his drawings of the people and aliens are cool and expressive

The basic setup here is that Cleopatra, yes, that Cleopatra, is about to have her 15th birthday.  This means she is about ready to rule the country.  But in the meantime she is stuck going to school and taking Algebra, ugh.  She gets her friend Gozi out of class (by hitting him with a pebble and making him yell).  So they sneak out.  I loved the joke when he asks where she got the slingshot since her father confiscated them all–“It’s not like they’re hard to make, Gozi.”

While they are shooting rocks at things, they uncover a giant tomb door.  When it opens, they see all kinds of cool artifacts.  One of them is a panel of some sort.  And when Cleo (she prefers Cleo) reads it, she is sucked into a portal to a new planet generations into the future.  The great great great great grandson of her cat is there (and he can talk–in fact all the cats can talk).  And they inform her that she is the prophecy sent to defeat the Xerx.  The Xerx are a race of brutes who are ruled by Xaius Octavian, a power-hungry dictator.

He evidently sent out some kind of EMP to destroy all of the electronic records in the world but also managed to keep copies for himself.  So he has all the knowledge in t universe.  And it was written that Cleopatra would come and save them from this terrible scourge. (more…)

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adidasSOUNDTRACK: TV ON THE RADIO-Dear Science, (2008).

sciencThe problem with TV on the Radio for me is that their first EP is so damned good that anything else they do pales in comparison.  Having said that, Dear Science, comes really close to topping that EP.  I liked Cookie Mountain (their previous disc) but I felt like they put so many elements into the mix that it detracted from the best part of the band: Tunde Adepimbe & Kyp Malone’s vocals.

And so, on Dear Science, the vocals are back up front where they belong.  This disc is a lot less busy, which may seem a little like selling out, but instead, it just heightens the complexity and originality of the band’s work.  The disc rocks hard but it also heightens some really cool jazz and dance elements.    But it all comes back to the melodies and vocals for me.  And on Dear Science, they pretty much outdo themselves.

And you can dance to it!

[READ: September 30, 2009] Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp and Other Essays

After reading David Foster Wallace’s essay in this book, I looked at the other articles here and decided to read the whole thing.  And I’m really glad I did.  It’s an interesting book full of, funny and often thought-provoking pop culture articles circa 1996.  As with some of the other pop culture/political books that I’ve read several years after they were relevant, it’s often weird to look back and see what things fully occupied the popular landscape at the time.  And, when a piece is completed dated, it’s pretty obvious, and sometimes unintentionally funny.  But there are many pieces here that are timeless (or at least hold up for a decade), and those are still really good reads.

This book also does a good job of summarizing the tenor of the defunct Might magazine.  A dose of irony, a splash of humor and a lot of criticism of what’s trendy.

The strange thing to me about this book, though is the targets that they chose to go after sometimes.  Rather than critiquing right-wing attitudes or corporate shenanigans (which they do touch on), they really seem to be after pop and rock celebrity.  For instance, there are two separate articles which take a potshot at Eddie Vedder (this was around the time of the Ticketmaster fiasco which didn’t put him in the best light but which could hardly be seen as only self-serving).  This seems rather unfair, unless his sincerity could really be called into question by a bunch of ironic jokesters.  Magazines like Radar and Spy used to do snarky articles like this. I’d always thought that Might was a little better than that.  But indeed, there’s one or two pieces here that have a holier- (or perhaps indier)-than-thou attitude.   Which may have been fine in the 90s but which seem petulant now.

But aside from those, the irony-free pieces are very enjoyable.  (more…)

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