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Archive for the ‘Poets’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MERRY CLAYTON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #222 (June 9, 2021).

Merry Clayton is a woman who every music fan has heard but probably doesn’t know it.

 Clayton has been making great music for almost 60 years. Clayton is one of rock’s most important backup singers (for starters, see The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Carole King’s Tapestry). She recorded several excellent solo albums that never broke big, but eventually received the recognition she deserved in the 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.

Clayton is not singing rock in this set, she is firmly in the gospel tradition.  And her voice still sounds amazing.

Members of The Waters and Take 6 (Maxine Waters, Julie Waters, Oren Waters, Alvin Chea and Alfie Siles) provide excellent backing vocals.

Merry Clayton’s Tiny Desk concert begins with the essentials. After a brief piano intro, she begins to sing “Beautiful Scars” — the title track of her new album — in a powerful and knowing voice.

Terry Young plays the slow piano and Nathan East provides the soft bass.

In 2014, she was in a serious car accident that required months in the hospital and extensive rehabilitation. With encouragement from her longtime friend and producer Lou Adler she decided to record a new album.

“Oh What a Friend,” written by Terry Young, features soaring call-and-response vocals between Clayton and the vocalists.

Charles Fearing’s guitar is not really noticeable amid the piano and bass but Harvey Mason’s drums snap and pop on the beat.

They conclude with a stirring and joyous version of Sam Cooke’s 1956 classic “Touch the Hem of His Garment.”

This song is acapella with the backing singers providing all of the music (including the foot stomps, maybe).  I love the bass notes from Alvin Chea.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Spirit at Summer’s End”

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

The final piece is a poem.  And it is summer themed.

Indeed, it is a visceral account of the end of the season:

scent

dust

bent straw

bee music

shrunken honeysuckle

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROSTAM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #221 (June 8, 2021).

Rostam Batmanglij was a founding member of Vampire Weekend and I was really quite bummed when he left (it was on good terms, apparently).

I assumed that his solo music would be very different from Vampire Weekend, but I never thought it would sound like this folkie sit-in.

Rostam and a group of backing musicians play two cuts from … Changephobia, a collection of songs that simultaneously look to the past and the future.

They opens with the

relatively breezy, escapist ballad “4Runner.”  It opens with Julian McClanahan Calvert on mandolin and Logan Kane on upright bass.  Conor Malloy plays some cool muted drums (with brushes) as Rostam sings in his soft croon.  Rostam himself doesn’t start playing the guitar until almost half way through before he jumps on the harmonica.

The band is sitting ion a circle with the camera on a track around them

My great-grandmother always used to say, “Life is a train. People get on. People get off.” And it just keeps going. Watching Rostam’s Tiny Desk performance, it’s easy to imagine you’re on that life-train, traveling around and around, catching glimpses of instruments and faces as they pass by, before coming back where you started. It’s a clever, if sometimes dizzying nod to the overarching themes of Rostam’s Changephobia.

For the reflective “These Kids We Knew,” Benji Lysagh starts the song with guitar.  McClanahan Calvert has switched to guitar as well.  Rostam plays a few lead licks, which are more of a nice riff for the song than anything approximating a solo.  Henry Solomon switches from congas to harmonica for this song.

The group closes with “In a River,” a one-off single from 2018 that sits perfectly alongside the newer songs as he recalls a warm night skinny dipping with a friend.

“In a River” opens with Julian McClanahan Calvert on mandolin.  Solomon adds some deep bass notes from his drum pads.  As the song nears the end, Rostam whoops, Benji Lysaght plays a quiet solo in the middle and Logan Kane bows the upright bass.

The setting feels perfect for a song like this. If only the candles were a campfire.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Observed and Observing, That’s Him”

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

The fourth piece is a poem. It reads a bit like flash fiction, but it’s really good, even with the odd title.

It begins with a man on a roof doing repairs.

I love the way the story describes him from “the glances from the backyard across the street.”  He is a shambles of a man with holes in his clothes.  And while on that ladder, he looks like a man “barely hanging on.”

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOM JONES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #220 (June 7, 2021).

Tom Jones does not look as sexy as he once did (he was 81 on June 7), but wow his voice is as powerful as ever.

It’s a poignant moment in the life of a singer whose career spans 56 years and more than 100 million records sold; the passing of his wife, Linda, in 2016 after 59 years of marriage was devastating and resulted in the longest break between recordings of his career. But now Tom Jones is back with a new album, Surrounded By Time, and ready to share his deepest feelings, channeling songs by others with a voice still rich and muscular.

Jones may be 81, but you can see the generations of musicians who want to play with him here.  Stephanie Ward (with a great organ sound) could be his granddaughter and I’ve seen drummer Jeremy Stacey play with King Crimson!

The songs on the album (and for this Tiny Desk) deal so eloquently with time and aging. Tom Jones sings Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee” and going “down to the valley below.”

“One More Cup of Coffee” opens with some slow upright bass  and gentle drums.  I love Ward’s organ sound on this track.  Spare but perfect.

Then, he takes on Malvina Reynolds’ folk tune “There’s No Hole In My Head” and turns it into a fierce statement about being yourself.

For “There’s No Hole In My Head” Ethan Johns gets a surprisingly Indian (sitar?) sound out of his guitar.  Nick Pini switches to electric bass and Jeremy adds percussive sounds to his drums.  Tom really belts out the song.

He ends the set with “I’m Getting Old” a slow, sad ballad.  Ward plays piano and Jones sings these words.

When Tom Jones was 33, and after one of his infamous shows in Las Vegas, jazz composer Bobby Cole presented him with the song “I’m Growing Old.” With lyrics including “I’m growing dimmer in the eyes / I’m growing fainter in my talk / I’m growing deeper in my sighs / I’m growing slower in my walk.” Tom Jones didn’t feel old enough to do it justice, but he held on to it. His performance here brought me to tears and is well worth the wait.

I love to think of Jones as a young stud belting out songs.  Hearing him singing about being old is pretty intense.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Dream Fragment”

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

The second piece is a poem. It is about the winter, which is a little odd for a summer reading issue.

An unnamed woman was seen at her door speaking to each of the seasons.  She had a clear preference for winter.

The weather was jealous and would see what it could make of her face. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-“South Gotta Change” (2020).

Adia Victoria is a singer songwriter who describes her music as “Gothic blues” and that’s pretty apt.  She has two albums out.

On her first album Beyond the Bloodhounds, she has a song entitled “Stuck in the South” (she is based in Nashville).  This song featured a wonderful couplet:

“I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”

Her voice is raspy and powerful and she’s not opposed to letting that raspiness really shine through–especially when her songs rock out (which some do).

“South Gotta Change” is her latest single (not attached to a third album yet) and it is a moody piece of perfection which she describes as a

promise to engage in the kind of ‘good trouble’ John Lewis understood necessary to form a more perfect union.

The song opens with a six-note echoing reverbed guitar and Victoria’s clean vocals

You’ve been running from the ghost
You keep it hidden in your past
The veil before your face is falling, and it’s falling fast

When she gets to the direct chorus

“The South gotta change”

a guitar solo rips through the quiet and then a chorus of voices sing “Change!”

She sings the same verse several times throughout the song with each version changing somewhat.  By the end when she sings

‘Cause I love you, I won’t leave you
Won’t let you slip away
Come what may
We’re gonna find a way

Her voice is imploring and demanding.

[READ: April 3, 2021] “Let America Be America Again” 

Rae Khalil read part of this poem during her Tiny Desk (home) Concert.  I had never heard of this poem before and I was sure that she had written it because it seemed so pertinent.  The title alone seemed like a n excellent response to what we’ve just been through.

Then she said it was by Langston Hughes and I had to look it up.  And I saw that it was 86 years old.  And it is staggeringly apt.

Whether or not you can say you have the same experience as the narrator (America never was America to me)–and I can’t say that I can–it is certainly easy to empathize with him.  As more and more injustice comes to light and as public figures are more upfront about their racist hearts than they have been in eighty-some years, this poem needs to be more prominent.

“Let America Be America Again” 

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

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 SOUNDTRACK: THE REDNECK MANIFESTO-The How (2018).

Despite a terrible name that would keep me away from wanting to see them, The Redneck Manifesto are a very interesting and complicated band.  I discovered them through the book of Irish drummers.  TRM drummer Mervyn Craig is in the book.

The How is the band’s fifth album (and first in eight years).  The album is chock full of instrumentals that touch all genres of music.

There are jazzy elements, dancey elements and rock elements.  There are solos (but never long solos) and jamming sections.  Most of the songs are around 4 minutes long with a couple running a little longer.

“Djin Chin” has jangly chords and quiet riffs that switch to a muted melody.  All the while the bass is loping around.  It shifts tempos three times in the first two minutes.  Around three minutes the bass takes over the lead instrument pushing the song along with deep notes.

“The Rainbow Men” has a circular kind of riff with swirling effects that launch the song during the musical pauses.  After a minute and a half it drastically shifts direction and the adds in a cool solo.

“Sip Don’t Gulp” starts with a catchy bouncy guitar riff and bass lines.  At two minutes it too shifts gears to a staggered riff that sounds great.

“Kobo” is the shortest song and seems to tell a melodic story.  The two guitars play short, fast rhythms as call and response while the bass rumbles along.

“Head Full of Gold” is over 6 minutes with a thumping bass, rumbling drums and soft synths.  “No One” is nearly 7 minutes and feels conventionally catchy until you try to keep up with the beats.  After a middle series of washes from various instruments, the back half is a synthy almost dancey rhythm.

“Sweep” is a pretty song until the half-way mark when it just takes off in a fury of fast drumming and complex chords.  The end builds in upward riding notes until it hits a calming ending

“We Pigment” is a poppy staccato dancey number.  The second half turns martial with a series of four beat drum patterns and a soaring guitar solo.  More staccato runs through to the end.  “The Underneath Sun” also has a lot of staccato–fast guitar notes interspersed with bigger chords.  The end of the song is just littered with sweeping guitar slides until the thumping conclusion.

This album is great and I’m looking forward to exploring their other releases.

[READ: January 10, 2021] A History of Ireland in 100 Words

This book looks at old Irish words–how they’ve evolved and how they show the way Irish history came about.  The authors say:

our store of words says something fundamental about us and how we think.  This book is meant to provide insights into moments of life that may be otherwise absent from history books.  The focus is on Gaelic Ireland throughout as Gaelic was the native language of the majority of the inhabitants of the island for the last 2000 years. It yielded its primacy to English only in the last 150 years.

We selected words with the aim of illustrating each of our themes as broadly as possible.  We wanted the words in all their richness to tell their story … like how the word that originally meant noble came to mean cheaper (saor).

Almost all of the entries reference The cattle raid of Cooley (The Ulster Cycle) which features the hero Cú Chulainn.  This story is at the heart of most of historical Ireland and it’s pretty fascinating how many of these Gaelic words either originate with that story or get their foundation from the story.

There’s a general pronunciation guide although I wish each word had a phonetic guide because anyone who speaks English will look at Irish a if it is just a jumble of nonsensical consonants.

The book is broken down into sections, although the authors insist that there is no correct way to read the book.

  • Writing and Literature
  • Technology and Science
  • Food and Feasting
  • The Body
  • Social Circles
  • Other Worlds
  • War and Politics
  • A Sense of Place
  • Coming and Going
  • Health and Happiness
  • Trade and Status
  • Entertainment and Sport
  • The Last Word

There are also delightfully weird wood carving-like drawings from by Joe McLaren scattered throughout the book.

The words are listed below with either a definition or an interesting anecdote included. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DON BRYANT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #116 (November 24, 2020).

I was not familiar with Don Bryant, although I must have heard his music over the years.

Bryant, almost 80, has been in the music business since the early days of rock and roll; he wrote his first hit, the Five Royales’ “I Got to Know,” in 1960. He went on to his biggest success as a songwriter for Hi Records in Memphis …. For a number of years he only recorded gospel music, until 2017 when he began releasing soul records again, backed by members of the Bo-Keys.

Although

Classic soul music feels best in a club, with a lead singer and big band, preferably with horns, playing off the excitement of a sweaty crowd, drawing them in to stories of love, or love lost, or love reclaimed. It’s a hard feeling to find in our pandemic times.

Bryant manages to play some gorgeous old-school soul with just a guitarist (Scott Bomar) and a keyboardist (Archie “Hubbie” Turner).  And his voice, of course.

Wearing an elegant black and grey jacket matching his salt-and-pepper hair, Bryant evokes style and experience – someone who has been in it for the long haul.

This set is three songs from his latest record, You Make Me Feel, all written by him

His voice is powerful and resonant, deeply rooted in gospel. The keyboard sound is a classic soul sound and the guitar provides a mixture of rocking riffs and mellow accompaniment.

In “Your Love is to Blame” he even gives some good James Brown yelps.

Between songs he sounds like a preacher:  I’m going to give these songs to you as strong as I can.

“Is It Over” is slower and more mellow.  His voice sounds great, hitting high notes and unlike contemporary singers, his grace notes sound great–strong and not whiny.

“Your Love is Too Late” is a classic soul kiss-off track: “I found somebody new to do the things I wanted you to do.”  It opens with an old fashioned guitar riff and moves on from there with grooving guitars and fleshed out keyboards.

I don’t listen to much soul, but I do rather like it.

[READ: December 26, 2020] By the Way 2

This is Ann Lane’s second book about public art in Ireland.  She compiled the first in 2010.  I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know what is in it.

She says that in the ten or so years since the first book, more art has been added and she had been made aware of all of the art that she had missed.

But the fact that there are over 1,000 images in this book, that this is her second book and that in the introduction she says that she pretty much ignores the big cities (due to size constraints of the book) makes me think that Ireland is absolutely amazing with the amount of public art that the country has.  Ireland is about the same size as Indiana, and I would bet a ton of money that Indiana does not have 2,000 (some absolutely gorgeous) piece of public art to look at.

This book is broken down by county.  Lane includes many pieces of art from each county and provides some context for the piece, whether it is the impetus for the creation, some comment about its construction or even an occasional personal reflection.

It isn’t easy to photograph pubic art.  Some pieces absolutely fail when taken out of context or when trying to encompass an entire piece of art with a tiny photo.  Sometimes you cannot do justice to a piece because it must be seen from different angles to be really appreciated.  But Lane does a great job conveying these pieces.  And if her main goal is to get you to want to come to Ireland see them, then she has succeeded.

I marked off dozens of pictures in here because they were either my favorites or they were interesting in some way.

I followed this format.
COUNTY
Town: Title (Artist) Location.  Comments. (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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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE TRIBUTE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #8 (April 11, 2019).

I feel like I have been aware of John Prine forever.  Although I also feel like I only really became aware of who he was and what he had done in the last year or so.  Or at the very least since he had surgery and his voice changed dramatically.

I knew that he was a legend in folk circles, but I had no idea how many of his songs I knew–although likely from other artists.

I was not devastated when he died because I didn’t know him enough to be devastated.  But I did feel that it was unbelievably unjust of the world to have him survive cancer only to be beaten by this virus that could have been avoided.  While there are people out there actively doing harm to others, why would a person as thoughtful as him be the victim.

Every time I saw John Prine perform, he invited friends to join him. The outpouring of love and respect has always been so profound. And so when John Prine died on April 7 from complications related to COVID-19, I knew his friends and those he touched would want to pay tribute to him. Here are five artists performing their favorite John Prine tune in their home (or bathtub) in honor of one of the greatest songwriters of any generation.

Here are the five performances:

  • Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round”
    Recorded in their bathroom, with their baby entering the scene for the final verse.
  • Courtney Marie Andrews, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    She says that Prine was the best at putting humor and sadness in one song let alone one line.  Her version of this song (that I know very well) is too slow for my taste.
  • John Paul White, “Sam Stone”
    He says he is taking this harder than he thought. This song makes him cry every time.  I knew this song from someone else singing it, although I’m not sure who.
  • Nathaniel Rateliff, “All The Best”
    I didn’t know this one, but I do like it.
  • Brandy Clark, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    It’s a shame that two people did the same song since he has 19 albums out, but this song is quite lovely.  I like Clark’s version better than Andrews’ even if they aren’t that different.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Spirit of Science Fiction

I have read pretty much everything that has Roberto Bolaño has written which has been translated into English (many, like this book, by Natasha Wimmer).  This is one of the first novels he ever wrote and it was finally published posthumously in 2016.

It’s a very strange book with a very strange construction (a precursor to the construction of his later, larger books, for sure).

The book is told in three parts and it concerns three major characters.  The narrator, Remo, his best friend Jan Schrella and a third poet, Jóse Arco.

The book opens with Remo being interviewed by a journalist.  He has just won a literary prize.  This interview is spread out over many chapters, but it is sort of summed up by his reply:

you actually predict a bright future for art? You don’t realize that this is a trap. Who the hell do you think I am, Sid Vicious?

Remo lives with Jan, another serious poet, but one who has more or less taken to his bed–barely ever leaving the house at all.

Jan is seventeen and spends nearly all of his time reading, especially science fiction books.  He seems to want to single handedly get recognition for his country men and women.

He spends most of his time writing letters to famous science fiction authors: Alice Sheldon, James Hauer, Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Silverberg, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, (twice, first one unsent), and Dr James Tiptree, Jr.

Some of the letters are stories about his dreams, some are general notes of good will, but the overall tones is one asking them to support science fiction written by authors in Latin America.

Remo does go out though,  He goes to writing workshops.  At one of them Jóse Arco enters late.  Remo’s is instantly taken with him. As the first scene with Arco ends, Arco lays back in his chair and recites his new poem Eros and Thantaos from memory.  Arco was a daring fellow riding his (often broken down) motorcycle at 3AM.  Arco is based on Mario Santiago Papasquiaro.

Although Jan is not active, his imagination certainly is. He feels compelled to tell Remo about “Silhouette,” a science fiction short story by Gene Wolfe. (Yes, part of the book is someone describing another book ).

Meanwhile, Remo and Arco decide to investigate a publication called My Enchanted Garden which comments on the torrent of poetry magazines in Latin America.  There were 32 then it jumped to 661 and by the end of the year it was predicted there would be one thousand.

Through Arco, Remo meets young poets Angélica and Lola Torrente and their friend Laura, as well as the queen of local poets, Estrellita. Remo invites them back to his apartment.  Although Lola is the more experienced of the two, it’s Angélica who falls for Jan.  The scene where they first meet is crazy.  Jan was in bed (of course) when they came in

Jan jumped up, his skinny ass exposed and his balls dangling golden, and in two or three swift movements his back to the group, he jammed his papers under the mattress and got back into bed.

What a lovely young man, said Estrellita And his darling balls are the color of gold.

Jan laughed

It’s true, I said

That means he’s destined for greatness.  Golden balls are the mark of a young man capable of … great deeds.

They’re not exactly golden, said Jan.

Shut up.  She thinks they look golden, and so do I. That’s all that matters

And I do too, said Angélica.

It was at this party that Remo fell for Laura.  She was with Cèsar at the time, but that didn;t stop them from kissing.  But when she says they could fuck right there, he says I don’t think I could.

What do you mean, you don’t think you could?  You mean you couldn’t fuck?
Yeah, I couldn’t get it up.  I couldn’t get an erection. It’s the way I am.
You don’t get erection?
No I mean, I do, but it wouldn’t work right how.  This is a special moment for me, if that makes sense, and its erotic too, bu there’s no erection.  Look, feel.  I took her hand and put it on my crotch.
You’re right. it’s not erect, said Laura with a barely audible laugh.

He falls for her immediately though and gives her a nickname–Aztec Princess.

Later in part 2 an actual Aztec Princess–a motorcycle with that phrase stenciled on it, comes into Remo’s life.   How can he refuse to get it?  Even if he has no money, cannot drive a motorcycle and has no licence?

This barely touches half of the ideas that float through this book.  There’s a lot of information about a potato farmer; a lieutenant (Boris Lejeune) watching a recruit shoot a colonel in the chest; Father Gutierrez visiting Pierre LeClerc; and a lengthy story about a village becoming obsessed with woodwork, to the detriment of everything else.  There’s also Jan’s dream of a Russian cosmonaut, and the final chapter called “Mexican Manifesto.”

This last section is all about Remo and Laura going to baths and the strange sexual things that happen in steam.  This section was excerpted in The New Yorker in 2013(!).  That version was translated by Laura Healy.

About it I wrote:

The narrator is the man and the woman, Laura, is the more adventurous of the two.  She is the one who encourages them to go to the baths in the first place and, while he also thinks it is wonderful, it is she who wants them to explore as many different baths in the city as possible.

The first bath that they go to is a nice one, an upscale bath where the man in charge (who is pointedly referred to as an orphan) is very nice and as a result people treat him with courtesy.  There’s never any trouble at this bath.  It’s very nice, but Laura wants to explore other houses.  So they ask him for a list.  And they set out on their voyage of discovery.

It is at these less reputable baths that most of the action takes place (both in the story and out of the story).  People mingle more freely (with sexual contact common), they also share drugs and other entertainments.  The story focuses on one instance in which the entertainment was two young boys and an older man.  The man instructs the boys to begin masturbating each other.  But the boys are tired (as is the old man).  They say they haven’t slept in days.  The old man falls asleep. And with the steam, the boys begin to fall asleep as well.  The steam gets thicker and thicker and soon Laura is squatting nearer to the boys.  The narrator can’t really see what’s happening but it all seems like such a dream that he’s not even sure what to think.

I’m not really sure what this section has to do with the rest.  I’m not really sure what happens in the book at all.  The revelation of Jan’s alias is pretty fascinating though.

This is strange book to be sure and I didn’t really enjoy it that much–I just couldn’t get into it.  But it seems to forecast the kind of (much better) writing that Bolaño would eventually become known for,

I wondered how different the 2013 Healy translation was from this one.  The content is of of course, the same, but they are notably different.

Here is the last sentence first from Healy

The color of the pool’s rocks, doubtless the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some faces, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were certainly there.

Now from Wimmer

The color of the stones around the pool, surely the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some gazes, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were surely there.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, here are the remaining untranslated works

  • 1976 [Reinventing Love] 20-page booklet in México (first publication)
  • 1983[Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] Novel written in 1983 in collaboration with A. G. Porta
  • 2011 [Bolaño By Himself] Collection of interviews with Bolaño (1998–2003)
  • ? [Diorama] not yet published

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