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Archive for the ‘Old Age’ Category

SOUNDTRACKCRO-MAGS-The Age of Quarrel (1986).

In a post from a couple of days ago, Rebecca Kushner mentions a bunch of punk bands that she either knew or hung out with.  I was amazed at how many of them I’d heard of but didn’t really know.  So this seemed like a good opportunity to go punk surfing.

Cro-Mags are another of those classic punk bands that I never really listened to.  I mean, sure I’ve heard of them.  And that album cover is well known to me.  I just never gave them a listen.

This is their debut album.  They are still together but have only released 6 records.  And their later stuff is much more heavy metal oriented.  But this first one is classic punk.

There a whole bunch of really short songs–eight under two minutes.  But there  were hints at the metal direction because there are also some longer songs too.  Opener “We Gotta Know” is over three minutes and even has a wild guitar solo from Parris Mitchell Mayhew.  “Seekers of the Truth” runs to over four minutes and is comparatively rather slow paced.

But the punk elements are there too.  Chanted call and response and a song like “World Peace” has a good moshing break down.

Overall, it sounds a bit like a few of the metal albums form the 80s that I really liked.  There’s no reason I shouldn’t have listened to this back then.  They’ve even got pointed lyrics that as a teen I would have really gotten into

Interestingly, their follow up album, Best Wishes, had a big lineup change.  Their bassist (and the only guy who has been with the band for all of these years) Harley Flanagan took over on vocals.  His singing style was very different.  The short songs are gone and the metal feel really dominates.

In Kushner’s essay she talks about Harley the hare krishna and you can see that spirituality in his lyrics

Days of Confusion which is only 2 minutes long has this lyric

In these days of confusion much illusions try to get you
Try to trick you Every single day
Much aggravation and frustration
Devastation always heading my way
And I know why I’m suffering
Looking for satisfaction my mind keeps leading me astray
And I know and I see spiritually there’s gotta be a better way
It’s nice when bands do the right thing.

[READ: February 2, 2021] “Passeur” 

A man is in Krakow, the only major Polish city to have survived World War II without its buildings being severely demolished.

He is staying in “a pension” (which I’m picturing as a hostel) and asks where the nearest ATM is.  I enjoyed this line:

It’s not far, she said, sighing regretfully, as if she wished she were sending me to the other side of the world.

He says he has never been in this square before, but he knows it by heart.   Or at least he knows the merchants–grandmothers selling vegetables and home-made goods.

Then he looks in a barbershop and he sees a man who looks comfortable there, Ken.

Ken was born in New Zealand and died there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS-“Salad Days” (1980).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate.

I’ve been aware of the Young Marble Giants forever, and yet I apparently knew nothing about them.  Like that they only put out one album (how are the so influential?) or that they were from Wales.

Young Marble Giants were a trio: Philip Moxham on bass, Stuart Moxham on guitar and organ, Alison Statton on vocals.  Yup no drums.

The songs on the record are short and seem to focus around the basslines primarily.  It’s really quite an unusual presentation–quite lo-fi and very engaging.

This song (the 12th of 15 on the album) is 2 minutes long.  It features a simple guitar riff, with a some extra detailed notes sprinkled at the end of the main riff.  Then comes a four note bass riff, with a little hammer on at the end of the riff.  After a minute, Alison quietly sings along with the melody:

Think of salad days
They were folly and fun
They were good, they were young

She sings for 15 seconds and then it’s all music until the end.  The bass drops out with 30 seconds left and the guitar plays that same melody with a few picked notes to the end.

It’s simple and delightful.  And as the start of a mix tape, it speaks volumes.

[READ: January 21, 2021] “Find and Replace” 

This story is written as a true story.  But there are plenty of little comments in the story that show how easy it is to change something in a story–maybe make it untrue?

The narrator, Ann, says her father died in hospice on Christmas Day–the day that she had left the country.  Her family was not the kind who communicated every day.

Her mother was not demanding.  She was a friendly person and had a million friends (she still wrote cards to a maid who cleaned their hotel room fifteen years ago).

Ann flew to Florida, rented a car and drove to her mother’s house.  Her mother showed her letters that she hoped Ann would help her make decisions about.  The last one was from a neighbor named Drake who asked her to move in with him.

Ann assumed it was a joke.  Then assumed her mother would laugh it off.  But indeed, she had said yes.  They might even move to Tucson. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAWN COLVIN-Happy Holidays from Shawn Colvin and McCarter Theatre Center! (December 19, 2020).

On December 19th, I received an email from McCarter Theatre:

Shawn Colvin, a dear friend of McCarter, gave us a special present to share with all of you!

I have enjoyed Shawn Colvin’s music over the years, but somehow was never quite aware that she played McCarter (apparently many times).  At the end of this session, she says that she is arranging something special with the Artistic Director of McCarter for 2021.

I think I’ll certainly have to check that out.

For this special concert, Shawn plays two Christmas songs from her home.

It amuses me that she says she wants to give us a little holiday cheer and then she plays “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  Good grief.

her version is lovely and her voice sounds very good.

The second (of two) songs is “Little Road to Bethlehem.”  I don’t know this song but it’s similar in tone and it suits Colvin perfectly.

This isn’t exactly the holiday pick-me-up it might have been, but Colvin sounds great and it is nice to hear her.

[READ: December 22, 2020] “The Ones We Carry With Us”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 22.  Sara O’Leary, author of The Ghost in the House, puts a bowl of candy on her front step with a sign that says “Help yourself.” [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the second story in this collection which I have read previously (that’s a good ratio 2 out of 22).  Here’s a link to the original post.  This is a slightly edited version of my original post:

This story starts with a fascinating sentence: ” A few years ago, I accidentally midwifed a death.”

This could literally mean many things, although figuratively it makes sense for what she actually means.

The narrator then goes on to tell us about three women whose lives have impacted her.

The woman who died was Agatha. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Fuck the Pain Away” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Four” December 13, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The fourth night is very family un-friendly, because it’s a song by Peaches.

Drake’s not the only musical Jew from Canada…tonight we feature a Canadian rock G-Dess…who coincidentally grew up around the corner from a Canadian Jewish rock G-D (G-ddy Lee). Straight out the mikvah, here’s Peaches!

I don’t know Peaches all that well, but I do know this song.

Kurstin plays the minimalist synth line, including the hand claps.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  There’s not much in the way of drums in this song (nor much in the way of lyrics either, actually).  There’s an inherent smile as Grohl sings “sucking on my titties.”

For such a hedonistic song, the pro-school verse is pretty surprising: IUD SIS, stay in school cause it’s the best.

The surprise in this one comes half way through the song when Peaches herself makes a remote appearance.  She sings the chorus with Dave (although they don’t acknowledge each other).

[READ: December 14, 2020] “The Professor”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 14. Sabrina Orah Mark, author of Wild Milk, regrets that she will be unable to attend office hours this week. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the second story in a row that I found very confusing and not very enjoyable.  I really used to enjoy weird stories like this, but my tolerance for this style has thinned as I get older I guess.

It starts plainly enough.  A student, Penny, is waiting for her professor.  Although when the professor calls, “we step over five students I’ve never seen before.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Mississippi Queen” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Three” December 12, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The third night is a rocking version of a Mountain song.

Talk about making a mountain out of a mohel … named Leslie Weinstein at his bris, the singer of our next band built a wailing wall of guitar as Leslie West. Check out our take on a track from Leslie’s monolithic band, MOUNTAIN.

Unlike yesterday’s song, I know “Mississippi Queen” very well. I’ve been a fan of Mountain and even saw them live thirty or so years ago.

Kurstin plays synth and the opening guitar line sounds perfect–he gets a really good guitar sound in this session.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  He’s singing in more of his screaming style for this song which works pretty well.

The joke in this one is that he is using a cup as a cowbell.  The cup is duct taped all over the place and as the song opens, Grohl says “I’m fucking this cup up real bad.”  Kurstin says it’s worth it.  And I agree.  This song rocks.

They play with split screen on this one–during the solo, there’s four shots of Kurstin’s hands.

The only bad thing about this song is that it’s so short!

[READ: December 13, 2020] “Our Humans”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 13. Meng Jin, author of Little Gods, always keeps carbon copies in triplicate. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I found this story very confusing and not very enjoyable.

It is set in some kind of futuristic society, but hat doesn’t seem to matter all that much.  The narrator works at a job “in those day we still employed a number of humans.”

She was an unusual sight there–being (somewhat) young and (clearly) female.  Most people assumed she was a consultant.

Once she leaves work, the story changes entirely.

On the train she sees a little girl–unsupervised: “young people are rarely seen in the city these days.”

The train breaks down in the middle of nowhere.  The girl encourages the narrator to go with her.

Everyone in the story calls her jiejie (which means older sister).  She seems disconcerted by this.

As they walk through the dark, the little girl tells her that they have become their shadows.  They can’t walk through any unlit spaces, obviously.

She gets back to her apartment. It is pitch dark.  She feels she has lost herself but then she bumps into Duowen, a man from work.  Their mouths meet.

This story really lost me.  I was really interested in the futuristic society and the bots (and their gradual falling apart), but the whole thing with the shadows just didn’t seem very compelling.

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SOUNDTRACKCOPLAND HOUSE: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #110 (November 13, 2020).

Every Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is unique.  But this one seems extra special.

the desk – and the home setup – for this performance beats them all. The location is the home, and not so tiny writing desk, of Aaron Copland, America’s beloved composer.

Copland, who would have turned 120 on Nov. 14, gave us Appalachian SpringFanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo, among many other works that helped define a singular American sound.

These pieces are familiar to anyone who has listened to any classical music anywhere (or Emerson, Lake & Palmer).  But these three pieces were ones I didn’t know at all.

The set begins with one of the composer’s earliest pieces in a jazzy vein.

The piece is called “Three Moods: III. Jazzy.”  It is an upbeat, yes, jazzy, bouncy piano piece.  That last all of 80 seconds.  It is indeed, as Michael Boriskin says, delectable.

Michael Boriskin plays Copland’s own piano. He’s the artistic and executive director of Copland House, located an hour north of New York City in the lower Hudson River Valley. What was once Copland’s home is now a creative center for American music.

Up next, Boriskin plays a duet with violinist Curtis Macomber.

The Violin Sonata that follows embodies America’s wide open spaces, filled with possibilities.

“Sonata for Violin and Piano: I. Andante semplice – Allegro” is the only major piece Copland wrote for violin. It is sombre and pretty, with a kind of back and forth violin and piano.  There’s lots of lengthy, slow, almost mournful violin parts.

Macomber departs and is replaced by flutist Carol Wincenc.  They play “Duo for flute and piano: II. Poetic, somewhat mournful; III. Lively, with bounce.”  Those descriptors are part of the title and also describe how the music is to be played.  This piece

 was actually written at the very desk seen in this video.

The first part is slow and sad, while the second one is much more fun and bouncy.  The middle of the second part has a a sow staccato dialogue between the flute and piano.  There’s a fun moment where the flute and piano play the exact same very high note and the sound is really unusual.

I found these pieces to be less engaging than his more famous pieces.  But maybe that’s just because I am much more familiar with them.

[READ: December 9, 2020] “Parade for the Dead and Dying”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 9.  Kelly Luce, author of Pull Me Under, can always pull a quick U-turn if she misses the exit. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I love how this story started in a kind of surreal location and then did a U-Turn and wound up in an even more surreal place.

Palmsville, Florida, has decided to have a parade for the dead and dying.  The floats were from various hospitals.  County supplied four bodies from the morgue to ride on the back of one of the floats.  Mount Sinai putthree geriatrics (and their ventilators) in a convertible. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MICKEY GUYTON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #108 (November 9, 2020).

Mickey Guyton is a country singer, which is probably why I have never heard of her.  And yet, when Guyton sang her first song, I never would have guessed she was a country singer.

Her first song “Black Like Me” is beautiful.

In June, after the killing of George Floyd, Guyton released “Black Like Me,” which tells her own story in a way that gently but resolutely calls for change.

Her desk holds the book that inspired it.  Her voice is powerful and there’s not a twang in sight.  The lyrics are sensational, with the excellent chorus:

if you think we live in the land of the free
you should try to be black like me.

The only problem I have with the song is that although the piano accompaniment from Lynette Williams is lovely, I feel that the song deserves a much bigger arrangement.

I love the arrangement of the next song “Salt.”  Soulful keyboards, the Afro-Caribbean instruments of percussionist Paul Allen, Jon Sosin’s acoustic guitar.  She sounds a lot more country music in her delivery (there’s an actual delivery style that you can hear as she sings, even without the twang).  I liked this song, and I think it’s clever, but after the resonance of the other two songs, this one–a warning to men about women–seems beneath her.  Although the lyrics are pretty clever.

In February, as protests against sexism intensified in the country world, she debuted “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” and it caused an instant sensation.

She sang the he song at the ACM awards and was the first African-American woman to sing an original song at the awards–in 2020!

It’s back to just piano again–maybe the more important songs are more spare?  For some reason, the music of this song makes me think it could fit into Hamilton.  And the lyrics, once again, are terrific.

She thinks life is fair and
God hears every prayer
And everyone gets their ever after
She thinks love is love and if
You work hard, that’s enough
Skin’s just skin and it doesn’t matter
And that her friend’s older brother’s gonna keep his hands to himself
And that somebody’s gon’ believe her when she tells
But what are you gonna tell her
When she’s wrong?

Wow.

[READ: December 7, 2020] “Cut”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 7. Catherine Lacey, author of Pew, presses every button in the elevator on her way out.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I read this story back in April, when it was printed in the New Yorker.  It’s the only story in this collection that I’ve read before so far.  It was bizarre and I loved it.  I’m going to post a briefer version of my original post which you can read here.

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BTS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #82 (September 21, 2020).

BTS is the biggest band in the world right now.  As the news the next morning said

Korean boy band BTS played its first Tiny Desk Concert on Monday — and broke the series record for most YouTube views on its first day, which happened in about 25 minutes.

When I was younger I hated all boy bands on principle–they were fake creations with no soul.  But either I’ve mellowed with age (true) or I’m less exposed to pop music so no longer sick of it (true) or maybe I just get a kick out of band from South Korea making people excited in the U.S.  Whatever the reason, BTS makes me smile.

Partly, it’s the band members themselves:

V; Jin; Jimin; J-Hope; RM; SUGA and Jungkook [I have no idea if that’s a left to right listing or just a random assortment of names] all seem to be really enjoying themselves and each other.  Perhaps all boy bands have this camaraderie (I’ve never watched enough to notice), but these guys are pretty entertaining–right down to their fabulous clothing choices.

The little I’ve seen of BTS makes me think that they are known by their hair color choices: the blue one, the purple one, the blond one, the brown one, but in this set, aside from a blue and a blonde, the rest of the guys have black or brown hair.  So instead, you have to go by their voices I guess.

One of them (on the right) has a really fantastic falsetto, another has a much deeper voice.  One of them seems to be a rapper.  The rest I can’t really tell apart–I’m not entirely sure if it makes sense for there to be seven of them, but it works.

With BTS cooped up in Seoul, the group held true to the series’ spirit by convening a live band for its Tiny Desk debut, and even arranged to perform in a workspace with a music-friendly backdrop: the record store VINYL & PLASTIC by Hyundai Card in BTS’s hometown.

The following introduction makes me laugh because I have literally never heard this song (or really any BTS song, as far as I know)

Opening with this summer’s inescapable “Dynamite” — the group’s first single to hit No. 1 in the U.S., as well as its first song to be fully recorded in English

“Dynamite” has a real disco vibe and is really catchy.  Moreso than the other two songs, I feel.  Perhaps because its in English, but I don’t think so.  The melody and delivery is really spot on.  And I love the whoohoos and heys. 

I really like their live band.  It’s kind of hard to pay attention to them when you have seven guys singing and dancing around in front.  I don’t know if they normally play with a live band, but the guitar from Shyun is really grooving.  He also plays a lot of unobtrusive but wild solos throughout the songs.  The bass from Kim Kiwook is really smooth and funky

They introduce the next song in English. 

From there, the group dipped into its back catalog, seizing on the opportunity to showcase its quieter side while (mostly) staying uncharacteristically seated. The breezily propulsive “Save ME,” from 2016,

starts with a squeaky keyboard sound from DOCSKIM followed by the falsetto guy on the end (who seems to sing more than anyone else–I wonder if he’s the favorite) but they can all do some impressive falsetto notes in the verses as well.  I get a kick out of how they have a really hard time staying seated–with one or more of them seeming to need get up and dance. 

This song has a rap verse (in Korean I guess) which is pretty interesting to hear.

They discuss the song in Korean (with subtitles) and then introduce the final song in English.

It’s the full-on power ballad, 2017’s reflective “Spring Day,”

which seemed especially true to BTS’s hopeful nature: Introduced with a few optimistic words from rapper and singer RM (“It’s been the roughest summer ever, but we know that spring will come”), the song reflects on a need to wait out hard times, even as the weight of present-day pain feels oppressive.

The song builds from a slow intro to a pretty big ending with some notably solid drumming from KHAN.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this tiny concert.

[READ: September 22, 2020] Birthday

Birthday is not a novel, it is an autobiographical essay.  It’s important that this distinction is made because many of Aira’s novels feel autobiographical.  But this one is meditative and a very personal–it was translated by Chris Andrews.

Aira turned 50 in 1999 (he dated this work July 18, 1999).  He imagined it as an opportunity to prepare for the future. But nothing really changed.  He went on as usual.

It was a short time later, when walking with his wife, Liliana, when he stated that the phases of the moon could not be produced by the earth’s shadow as he had learned.  But his wife said there was no way anyone thought that’s how the moon’s phases were created.  He felt so dumb for thinking this, that he spent the next several days going over in his head what else he didn’t know.  He spends most of the book mocking himself for his ignorance. (more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: LITTLE DRAGON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #35 (June 18, 2020).

As I was looking at concert listings, I kept seeing an upcoming show for Little Dragon.  I’d never heard of them but the promo made it sound like I should have (they have been around since 1996!).

Indeed, this Tiny Desk blurb says as much.

The group’s latest album, New Me, Same Us, is their grooviest, most concentrated in years, and I was eager to hear these songs as Little Dragon’s music is best experienced: live on stage. “Some of you might know that we were supposed to be on tour in the states, but due to these crazy times it got canceled,” lead singer Yukimi Nagano says.

So I was interested to check out this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.  Unfortunately, I was was rather unimpressed by this set, because it seemed to be a lot more “Little” than “Dragon.”  However, the blurb indicates that this is not what they might normally be like:

these stripped-down iterations from the band’s home studio in Sweden move me but in a different way. I find myself focusing on the songwriting and how all the instruments come together for these numbers, proving just how strong the tracks from New Me… are.

Little Dragon is a four piece.  In this home concert they are (maybe) socially distanced–maybe they live together.

The first song “Rush” features prominent bass from Fredrik Wallin, trippy keys from Håkan Wirenstrand, gentle drums from Erik Bodin and very soft vocals from Yukimi Nagano.  Nagano plays the wood blocks or whatever they are and then loops them-which is neat.  Midway through the song during a lengthy, chill an instrumental break, Wallin switches to acoustic guitar as Nagano, oohs.  Then he’s back to the bass for the funky end.

“Where You Belong” ratchets up the fuzz on the bass.  This song doesn’t sound all that different, although that bass is pretty great sounding,

Then as a bonus, Little Dragon played an oldie, “Forever,” which is still my favorite track from this genre-bending band.

“Forever” is the first song they ever wrote together.  It comes from their first album from 2007.  It’s a bit bouncier and funkier and sounds like they may have been a bit more dancey back in the day.

They end the set with “Every Rain” which returns to the trippier sound of the first two songs–echoing keys and Nagano’s soft croon.  Although this set doesn’t make me want to see them live.  I am curious to hear what they sound like when they are not stripped down.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “The Ones We Carry With Us”

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

The third piece is fiction although it reads a lot like a memoir.

It starts with the fascinating sentence: ” A few years ago, I accidentally midwifed a death.”

This could literally mean many things, although figuratively it makes sense for what she actually means.

The narrator then goes on to tell us about three women whose lives have impacted her.

The woman who died was Agatha. (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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