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Archive for the ‘Prison’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PUMAS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #122 (December 7, 2020).

After hearing a couple of Black Pumas songs on WXPN, I had to get the album.  They played such an interesting and catchy style of “gritty, retro soul.”

I was pretty happy for them when the were nominated for a bunch of Grammies.  Then S. and I were laughing because so many people we knew (who follow pop music) had never heard of them.  So I guess they are quite the niche band.  But I’m glad to have heard them.  And I’m glad they get the Tiny Desk Home Concert.

The Austin-based rock band Black Pumas is having a good 2020. The group, led by singer Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada, was just nominated for three Grammys, including album of the year for Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition), and both record of the year and best American roots performance for the track “Colors.” The band’s turn behind a tiny desk (and chair) shows why its debut album — now more than a year old — is receiving so much recognition right now.

The band is socially distanced in a studio with singer Eric Burton in a bad ass leather jacket up front.

Behind him are terrific backing singers Lauren Cervantes and Angela Miller.

Then, masked in the back row are guitarist Adrian Quesada, drummer Steve Bidwell bassist, Brendan Bond and keyboardist JaRon Marshall.

They play four songs and

the intensity level builds gradually throughout this four-song set. It’s clear why the band’s live shows have won over fans. From the opening strains of “Red Rover,” Burton digs deep and by the time we get to the ballad “OCT 33,” he’s burning with old-school soul heartbreak.

“Red Rover” is on the second disc of the deluxe edition, so I wasn’t as familiar with it.  But it’s got a nifty wah wah and echoed guitar solo from Quesada.

Up next is “Fire.”  Burton grabs a guitar as a keyboard melody opens the song.  Quesada plays a cool surf riff and then Burton takes over the vocals.  His voice is outstanding and this song is crazy cathy (the backing vocals are just icing on the cake).  When Burton sings a note mid song and kicks it even higher, his hat falls off–that’s the kind of intensity they bring.

Burton opens “OCT 33” with a soft, echoing guitar melody.  It’s simple but instantly grabbing.  He starts to sing as bass is added.  The song slowly builds over the length of it to a wonderful moment mid song where Burton sings and Quesada plays a ripping fuzzy guitar solo.

They end with the wonderful “Colors.”  An echoing, instantly memorable guitar lick opens the song.  Burton’s voice sounds fantastic as he sings.  I love the “doo doo doo doo” part in the middle and JaRon’s extended old soul-sounding organ solo is a fantastic treat.

The Pumas are probably my favorite new band of 2020.

[READ: January 3, 2021] “Rwanda”

I’ve really had a hard time getting into Wideman’s stories in the past.  I don’t like his writing style and I often feel like I know what’s going on until he starts to get really elliptical and he loses me.  I feel like this is a failing on my part, but who knows.

This story is told in four parts.

Part I

The narrator asks his niece (and us) a thought experiment.  If you were in charge of running the world and you learned that life on earth was going to end shortly (6 months at most) would you tell the public?

Wideman ties the story to what’s happening in the world.

What if this deadly plague meant that all life would soon end.  Would they tell us?  How would people react?  Would people freak out and go crazy–everyone for himself, or would some carry on as normal? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSHIRLEY COLLINS: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #109 (November 10, 2020).

There is no denying the first line of this blurb: “Shirley Collins is a legend.”  But like many legends, I find that I know of her more than I know about her.  It’s possible that I’d never heard her before this set.  And that may not be an unreasonable thing

 Her life story took the sort of twists you hear in the songs she sings, in her case, a broken heart, a painful divorce, and the loss of her voice. For 30 years, she couldn’t sing.

I don’t exactly understand what happened to her voice (that link doesn’t explain it), but her first album in over 30 years came out in 2016.

Now, here she is playing songs from Heart’s Ease, only the second album she’s made in the past 40 years. You hear her sing of a young sailor boy who saves his ship from robbers and is promised by his captain both gold and his daughter’s hand in marriage. The lad sinks the robber’s boat, only to be left to drown by that very same captain.

These unimaginable tales and that unadorned voice have influenced both British and American folk music since the 1960s, from Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny to The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. These tales of woe and whimsy are as timeless as Shirley Collins

So here is Shirley Collins, at 85, seated in the living room of her cottage in Lewes, East Sussex, accompanied by guitarist Ian Kearey, singing along to a few stringed instruments

She sings five songs.  At 85, her voice doesn’t sound amazing, but it does sound good.  And it’s more about the emotion she puts into these songs than the power of her voice.

She explains that in the 1950s, she took a field recording trip across the United States with Alan Lomax.  She heard “The Merry Golden Tree” in Arkansas.  It was still sung in England but had traveled across the Atlantic and then across the continent.

Kearey plays guitar for the first song, but switches to banjo for “Sweet Greens and Blues” a song her first husband Austin John marshall wrote 50 years ago.   She says the first line seems apt in 2020: “If we don’t make it this year let’s see what next year will bring.”

She heard “Wondrous Love” from a rural Alabama congregation.  The church was full of people from all over.  They sang this hymn in their old voices–“shrill and beautiful at the same time: the most incredible lovely noise you could hope to hear.”  Kearey gets a very cool metallic slide guitar sound for this song.

Before singing “Tell Me True” she tells the story of an American friend in Montana who sent her a vast British ensign flag from the Royal Navy.  He found it in a barn when he was 16 on holiday in rural Vermont.  He took it!  Now he sent it to her.  She thinks its from 1812, the Battle of Lake Champlain in vermont.  Woah

“Old Johnny Buckle” is a nonsense song, an upside down song that’s good fun to sing.  I imagine it could have been sung by Boy and Girl Scouts.  With silly lyrics like this

Old Mrs. Buckle went a’fishing one day
She caught her left leg in the clay
The toads and frogs all wobbled about
She ran to get a shovel to dig herself out

[READ: December 8, 2020] “Reflections”

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 8.  Sofia Samatar, author of A Stranger in Olondria, is glad she remembered to pack those seasickness tabs..  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story was a challenge for me.  First because I didn’t realize that the two letters (the story is two letters on facing pages) were meant to be read separately.  At first I thought it was a series of disjointed, unfinished letters–a sort of failed attempt at communication.  Obviously that is very far from what the story is mean to be about. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GroundUP FAMILY DINNER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #103 (October 27, 2020).

This is a sort of family affair Tiny Desk (multiple Home) concert.  The family is the GroundUP label.

This three-act, 18-person Tiny Desk (home) concert was conceived by Michael League, Snarky Puppy’s composer and bandleader. He and his cadre of artists on the GroundUP record label believe in two important points: that music and politics are inextricably linked, and the best way to connect people is through song.

The first song, “Heather’s Letters To Her Mother.” is a beautiful folk song that’s mostly Becca Steven and her guitar.  But there’s some beautiful subtle  piano from Brad Mehldau and simple but very effective bass from Chris Tordini.  I really liked this song with its ever so true refrain “This is not the America I know” and I liked it even more when I heard what it was all about.

The concert features three distinct ensembles, beginning with Becca Stevens and her song “Heather’s Letters To Her Mother.” “I wrote this for Heather Heyer, who was killed on August 12, 2017, while peacefully protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville,” she says. “In my heart this song has always been a rallying cry to come from a place of compassion in our actions and reactions. It’s a reminder to continue the fight for equality from a determined and compassionate stance regardless of what is happening around us. And it’s a reminder to stay grounded in love because without a foundation of love we are truly lost.”

I was surprised that the second song was in a language I didn’t know.

The second song features League’s world music group Bokanté performing the Creole song “Réparasyon,” meaning “reparations.” Bokanté vocalist Malika Tirolien wrote the song, which appears on the band’s Grammy-nominated album What Heat. “With the rise of black liberation movements around the world, this is a crucial time to remind everyone that people of African descent need the slave trade officially recognized as a crime against humanity and need reparations and restitutions of stolen goods,” Tirolien says. “Getting justice is the only way we can begin a process of forgiveness and healing.”

This song is amazing with some absolutely fantastic solos throughout. The song starts out with four, yes four, percussionists playing a pumping rhythm: Keita Ogawa, Jamey Haddad, André Ferrari, and Weedie Braimah.

Then bassist Michael League follows the same rhythm making it a melody.  Three guitars join in.  A lap steel from Roosevelt Collier and more guitars from Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bob Lanzetti and Chris McQueen one of whom plays a fantastic ethereal solo in the middle of the song.  It’s followed by a hand drum solo After a little bass solo one of the frummers (the one with the full kit) amusingly hits a tiny cymbal to get the song moving again.

Alina Engibaryan introduces the final song “We Are.”    She explains that the song

strives to bring people together, “I wanted to write a song that has a message about people, where regardless of our beliefs, our political views, our race, color, we are all human beings and made of the same thing,” Engibaryan says. “I hope people will understand that one day and will learn to love, respect and accept one another.”

It’s a time when hate has reached its limits.

It opens with gentle piano from Taylor Eigsti and some soft but complex drumming from Eric Harland. Chris Potter plays an introductory saxophone melody.  Alina Engibaryan playing Rhodes and Moog bass sings the first verse (and is backed up by Michael League).  Then in a surprise, Gregory Porter jumps in to sing the middle verse.

Whether or not this was meant as an introduction to the bands on the label, it is a terrific way to experience them in a short time with great songs.

[READ: December 5, 2020] “Fast Hands, Fast Feet”

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 5. Maurice Carlos Ruffin, author of We Cast a Shadow, refuses to part with his cassette collection.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the kind of story that I knew I wouldn’t like because of the way it started.

Sentences like “Who still on cassettes, anyway? What year they think this is, 1980?” made me knew it wasn’t really meant for me.

But still, the story was engaging.

A young girl (woman?) has been breaking into cars, looking for something valuable.  A man spies her and tells her it’s cool, but she’s not about to wait and see what he’s all about.

She runs (“fast feet”) for the underpass where she and Queen Elizabeth Two call home.  But while she is settling in, a hand grabs her.  It’s the same man.  She panics but he calms her down. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE-“Killing the Name” (1991).

I was living in Boston when this song came out.  It was an electrifying shot across the bow of institutional racism–thirty years before that terms was on everyone’s lips.

This song was amazingly catchy and very vulgar.

It had few lyrics, but they were repeated over and over–a chant, a call to action.

Some of those that work forces
Are the same that burn crosses…
Well now you do what they told ya…
Those who died are justified
For wearing the badge
They’re the chosen whites
You justify those that died
By wearing the badge
They’re the chosen whites…

The song begins with a staccato opening, then some thumping bass and drums.  A cow bell and off goes the riff.  It’s as jagged and aggressive as angry as the lyrics.

The bridge is a pounding three note blast as the sections repeat.

Then comes a guitar solo.  One thing I remember distinctly when this album came out was that most of the talk was of Tom Morello’s guitar playing.  The album stated in the liner notes “no samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record.”  It was an odd disclaimer, but with the bizarre sounds that Morello made, it was fascinating to wonder how he did it all.

The solo came at the four minute mark and, if radio wanted to play the song, they could fade it right there (that’s still plenty long for the radio).  But if they didn’t, then the chaos began, with crashing drums, and a slow build as Zach de la Rocha started quietly and got louder the simple but effective refrain

Fuck you. I won’t do what you tell me.

A band anda  room full of people chanting that song might just frighten the authorities a bit.

And that’s why in 2020, that song is being played a lot.

[READ: October 15, 2020] “On Defense”

A quote attributed to Dostoyevsky (who evidently never said it) is”

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

This quote is in the visitor center of the Manhattan Detention Complex (known as The Tombs). De La Pava says The Tombs is “one of the most hideous places on earth.”

I have really enjoyed Sergio De La Pava’s fiction.  I knew that he was involved in the New York City court system (his novels were too detailed about the system for him not to be).  This essay is a non-fiction account of his time as a public defender (he is still in the system, and is now the legal director of New York County Defender Services).

It seems like the public defender is not always appreciated–he or she stands in the way of putting criminals behind bars.  But De La Pava’s experience (along with many of the accused) shows that he has the really hard but important task of keeping innocent people from unfair punishment. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LINDA DIAZ-Tiny Desk Concert (October 5, 2020).

In the past I’ve been quite aware of the Tiny desk Contest winner.  But this year, with the pandemic , it passed me by completely.

So I don’t know anything about Diaz or any of the other competitors, except for what I just looked up now.

And I find it a little cheaty that she won because

Diaz actually made an appearance at the Tiny Desk last year, as a backup singer for Jordan Rakei.

However, she seems very nice and I’m happy for her that she won, especially after reading the blurb she wrote for this concert.

At one point, we finally had everything set and ready to go. Then, days before the shoot, I tested positive for COVID-19. I will spare you all the details (lots of tears, lots of phone calls), but I am so grateful for my band, the NPR Music team and the Javits Center for going above and beyond for me, the human as much as me, the musician.

That’s right, the Javits Center.  This set is filmed on op of the Javits Center fifty days before the election.  That’s September 15–potentially a chilly day to be on top of a New York City building.  Also, who knew the top of the Javits Center was green and lush?

But more important than any of that is this quote that she reiterates in the set and mentioned earlier this year, that “Black joy is radical.”

“I do think it is a radical thing to be like, ‘I’m happy and I’m focusing on my joy and I’m focusing on my purpose and I’m not necessarily focusing on an audience or what other people want from me,’ ” she says. “But truly, I am recognizing the things in my life that are good, and many of those things are coming from my community. I think in that way, it’s super radical to love yourself as a Black person in this time.”

She sings three songs from her Magic EP.  She says that the EP was inspired by her favorite book The Ten Loves of Nishino Paperback by Hiromi Kawakami.  I find it a little strange that he favorite book came out only last year but whatever.

I don’t know a lot about R&B (duh), so I can’t honestly see what would have set her apart from the 6,000 other entries.  Her voice is lovely.  Her songs, like “Magic” are gentle and sweet.  But I don’t find her any more memorable than many other singers.

Having said that, her Tiny Desk Contest winning song “Green Tea Ice Cream” is really catchy and of the three is the most musically interesting.  It opens (like the other two songs) with sprinkling of gentle keys from Jade Che and a mildly funky bass from “Fat Mike” Mike Fishman (who co wrote and produced the record).  Her backing singers, Bianca B. Muniz and Jacqueline A. Muniz (the only two who aren’t socially distanced up there because they are sisters) really shine in their backing vocals here.

Throughout the set drummer Andrés Valbuena plays some cool drums and percussion sounds, but they really stand out on this song.

After showing some of the personal effects she brought with her (I wonder if doing the Tiny Desk here instead of at the actual desk with the in house audience was less nerve-wracking), she encourages everyone to vote.

Then it’s on to the final song “Honesty” which is about “speaking your mind and talking about what’s important to you and communicating with others and how that’s a really scary thing to do.”

The set is pleasant and enjoyable, but far less memorable than past winners.

[READ: October 2, 2020] “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

In this story an imprisoned Black woman is forbidden to speak because her words are too powerful.  I’m including it here for two reasons. First, because it captures my central theme of predicting not just individual pieces so technology, but also what t feels like living in 2020.  I read this story an I recognized its truth: that a woman’s words can be powerful, but they can just as often be viewed as dangerous.  The second reason I included it is because it is really, really good.

Romney is right, this story is really, really good. It is also pretty simply summed up by her first sentence.

The story is written as a report for The National Journalists’ Association for the Recovery of The Freedom of the Press.

The report is from the journalist who was able to meet Margaret A. in prison. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRANDY CLARK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #85 (September 23, 2020).

Brandy Clark is just too country for me.  I do like her lyrical content, but there’s just too much twang in her voice.

The amazing thing in this video is the view from her apartment.  The day doesn’t look very clear, but the view is still lovely. Who knew Nashville looked like that?

If you’re going to be stuck at home during a pandemic, it helps to have an awe-inspiring living room view. Stellar singer-songwriter Brandy Clark highlights hers in this charmingly casual set recorded in her loft-like Nashville apartment. The city’s verdant hills roll out behind her as Clark plays these four songs.

“Bigger Boat” is a standard slow country song with the rhythm provided by Vanessa McGowan on upright bass.

The song addresses serious issues

The floods down south, the fires out west
You turn on the news, scares you to death
Give me that hammer, somebody hold my coat
Yeah, we’re gonna need a bigger boat

But in an winking, funny way

We’re springing a leak, we’re coming apart
We’re on the Titanic, but we think it’s the ark
Sharks in the water got me thinking ’bout a movie quote
Yeah, we’re gonna need (we’re gonna need)
A bigger boat (a bigger boat)

I like the way Kaitlyn Raitz’ cello is the lead instrument.

“Can We Be Strangers” feels like a classic old country ballad with a clever country lyrical twist

We struck out as lovers
We struck out as friends
Is it too much to ask
Can we be strangers Again?

There’s some very nice harmonies here from Vanessa and Cy Winstanley (whom she just met today) who plays a simple solo at the end of the song.

She says that she was only going to do songs from the new record but “I can’t think of a show in the last six years that I haven’t done this song.”  She says “Hold My Hand” is her absolute favorite.

“I keep saying thank you, because we’re used to playing live, it’s kind of weird,” she says after a particularly poignant rendition of her fan-favorite “Hold My Hand.” “I hope everybody’s clapping in their living room.”

She has a poignant but amusing introduction to the last song, “Who You Thought I Was”

She was at Americana awards and John Prine came out to introduce Iris Dement and there as lengthy ovation for him. He said “Well, I’m John Prine, but I’d like to go back to who you thought I was.”

She wrote that down as she imagined every songwriter did that night and she went the next day and wrote the song first.

I don’t really care for the very Nashville verses, but I do like the chorus:

There’s a lot of things I used to wanna be ’til I met you
Now I wanna be honest
Now I wanna be better
Now I wanna be the me
I should’ve been when we were together
I wanna be at least almost close to worth your love
I want to be who
You thought I was

She’s a singer with great lyrics who I will never listen to because of the kind of music she makes.

[READ: September 23, 2020] “From the ‘London Times’ of 1904”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  Get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

This story is from Mark Twain. He wrote it in 1898 and it is set in1904.

“Printed” on April 1, 1904, this correspondence from the ‘London Times,’ Chicago was written by the reporter Mark Twain.

He writes to keep us updated about the extraordinary event that has the whole globe talking. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: clipping.-“Chapter 319″/”Knees on the Ground” (2020).

On June 19, clipping. released this excellent track, “Chapter 319.”

clipping. has often released music that is harsh and unpleasant (great, but not “pleasant”).  This song, removes a bit of the musical harshness to focus on the vocals.  It’s still abrasive and cacophonous, but it’s meant to be heard by a lot of people.

After a sample, Daveed Diggs raps over a rumbling bass line.

Left, right, left

How long can we holler when it ain’t no breath?
You keep killing fathers without no regrets
Then keep on countin’ dollars ’til it ain’t none left
So the streets gon’ keep on marching like
Left, right, left

The middle of the song adds some complicated drums and effects but the focus is the lyrics:

This march a foot in yo fucking throat to choke out
The whole assumption that you are here to protect … us
This government doesn’t respect … us
And somehow they seem to expect … us to accept
The power a piece of shit millionaire president wants to project

Diggs raps in a normal flow and then adds some remarkably fast verses.  But the spotlight comes with this section, repeated twice.  It is not the chorus, it is more of a hook, with the music pausing at the full stop.

donald trump is a white supremacist / full stop
if you vote for him again, you’re a white supremacist / full stop

Full stop.

The other song on this release is called “Knees on the Ground” which was originally released in 2014.

The fact that lyrically it could have been written in 2020 is a succinct testament to systemic racism in four minutes.

Six thumps that sound like someone pounding on a door are the only sound bedsides Diggs’ lyrics (and some sound effects).   The pounding is unnerving as you can imagine who is on the other side.

An intense middle section has this quickly rapped verse:

Brown boy sitting on his knees with his eyes shut
Hands behind his head fingers woven pinkies up
Saying he ain’t even doin’ nothing what you want T
hey threw him on the ground when he called them all punks
Retro blue and white Jordans tongues out
Over the black jeans cuffed just the right amount
To make them bunch by the calves how he like
Just ran out of boxer briefs so he wearing tighty-whities
With a white t-shirt and the breeze catch it just so
Pressing it tight against his chest so the red hole
Is getting wider and the blood is soaking in the fabric
And pooling on the ground he looks down automatic
And the dark pavement gets darker when it’s wet
He’s losing balance slow with his hands on his head
So his face hits first and his eyes go dead
And the air is sucked out of the world with his last breath

Then the pounding comes back for another verse.  The chorus has some eerily quiet echoing chords as he recites:

Keep your knees on the ground where they belong.

It ends with noise and static.

Proceeds from the sale of the song go to organizations for racial justice.

[READ: July 20, 2020] Stamped

This book has been on the top of everyone’s recommended lists for being proactive about understanding systemic racism.

I didn’t quite understand what the subtitle meant by a remix, but the acknowledgements explain that Kendi wrote his book Stamped from the Beginning as

a history book that could be devoured by as many people as possible–without shortchanging the serious complexities–because racist ideas and their history have affected us all. But Jason Reynolds took his remix of Stamped from the Beginning to another level of accessibility and luster…that will impact generations of young and not so young people.

Reynolds is a multi-award-winning author of books for children.  He is also a teacher.  He knows how to write a compelling story.

I haven’t read Stamped form the Beginning, but this remix is outstanding. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SLITS-Cut (1978).

This album is mentioned in this story.  It’s interesting to me how this band is so associated with the punk scene when musically they are very far from what most people consider punk (and from what the band in this story sounds like).

The Slits went from being unable to play their instruments, to playing an interesting bass heavy, guitar-slashing style.  It’s reggae and dub inspired but sounds nothing like reggae. Ari Up’s vocals are defiant and brash but in addition to screaming and shrieking, she can also sing quite nicely.

The rest of the band are fully invested–chanting along and fleshing out this, at times, bizarre album.

The bass sound (from Tessa Pollitt) on the album is fat and round–it’s a great sonic feeling and is a perfect low end for the detached guitar style (from Viv Albertine) in the songs.  Founding member and drummer Palmolive left the band apparently because she didn’t want to do the cover shoot.  She was replaced by eventual Siouxsie and the Banshees drummer Budgie.

“Instant Hit” is anything but.  With clanging guitars playing opposite a slow grooving bass as all three sing. The drums are complex with a lot of percussion.  When the verse starts the guitar chords are unconventional for sure.  You can sense a melody in all of the sounds, but it is buried.  The album takes off a bit with “So Tough” a much faster song with bass lines that run up the neck, fast drumming and Ari Up’s vocals hitting a higher register for “You can’t take anymore now you’re getting weak / So tough /
Don’t start playing hide and seek.”

“Spend Spend Spend” pairs nicely with “Shopifting.”  “Spend” is a slow loping song as the lyrics (sung in a sometime off-key mocking warble) mock consumerism:

Going home, into bed when I’ve treated myself
I’ve been quite hard, after a hard day’s work
I have found a hundred ways to get rid of all my worries

“Shoplifting” is the antidote.  “Spend” is 3 minutes while “Shoplifting is barely 90 seconds.  The bass line on this song is fast and feels like it’s running as much as the chorus: do a runner

A kind of reggae slash of guitar:

Put the cheddar in the pocket
Put the rest under the jacket
Talk to the cashier, he won’t suspect
And if he does…  And if he does…

Shouted by all of them:  Do a runner! Do a runner! Do a runner! Do a runner!

Ten quid for the lot
We pay fuck all
Babylonian won’t lose much
And we’ll have dinner tonight
Do a runner!

After the third verse She screams “Run!” like a banshee as the chords ascend in speed and notes.

“FM” is a twist on the radio band: I’m waiting to hear what program is next.  What program is next? (FM) Frequent Mutilation transmits over the air. This slow song has one of the catchier upfront melodies.  Up next is the longest song on the disc.  At over four minutes long, it is the antithesis of punk.  A slow echoing guitar-just scratches on the strings as the bass meanders around the clattering percussion.   After a minute and a half though it gets catchy with a funky bass and some reggae chords that play through to the end.

“Love und Romance” is a fast pulsing song with quick bass and guitar chord stabs.  And, I’m guessing an ironic look at love:

I’m so HAPPY!
You’re so NICE!
Kiss kiss kiss!
Fun fun LIFE!
Fun fun fun I’m having fun
Hee hee hee!
It’s such a love
Hee hee hee!
Now we’re one
Life’s a gas all the time
You’re so lovely, you’re so fine!
(She wants you, she wants you)
Are you ready for this?
Are you ready for this?
Gimmee a great big kiss

“Typical Girls” has a two note bass line and …piano!  The whole song is sort of chanted along while the chorus has a jazzy bassline and noisy guitars.

My favorite song is the final one, Adventures Close to Home,” which is surely one of the more unusual songs on an unusual album.  A funky bass opens with some quiet almost out of tune sounding guitars.  The vocals intertwine and sound almost mocking withe the different singers interrupting each other as she sings follow love follow (hate).  It’s as if all of the parts are doing different things but they all fall together in a fascinating way that I can’t stop listening to.

The album comes with a jagged and rather fun version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” which is a pretty good introduction to the band if you’re looking for a familiar song to explore their sound.

[READ: July 6, 2020] “A Transparent Woman”

This is a dark story about (former) East Germany.

Monika doesn’t want to be like the horrible sows living in the socialist “future” apartment blocks.  She moves out of her parents house and into a hostel.  She gets a terrible job (it is illegal not to have a job) but refuses to join the Free German Youth.  Life sucks until she sees a group of punks in Alexanderplatz.  Then her world opens up.

She shaves her head, puts food coloring in whats left and starts hanging out with the kids with spiked hair and dog collars.  She went to a punk show and it was exhilarating.  She met two girls there who wanted to start a band and they asked her to join them on drums.  She didn’t play drums.  They didn’t care.  Katja was the lead singer and lyricist.  Ellie played guitar.  They were terrible  It was wonderful.  They called themselves Die Gläsernen Frauen [The Transparent Women].

Punk was pretty much illegal in East Germany–a sign of the decadent West.  Wherever punks sat, they were moved along within ten minutes.  And bands like D.G.F. were definitely illegal in the G.D.R.  Only properly approved bands were allowed to play out, so every show was a real danger.

After one of the shows a man approached her at work the next day.  He was attractive but had an air of malice.  He offered her a cigarette and then gave her a copy of The Slits’ album Cut.  She knew they were good, but the semi-nude cover felt wrong coming from him.   She tried to blow him off but he insisted that she meet with him next week.

Instead of meeting with him, she went on a tour with the band.  They went to some big cities and played small shows.  They were tired and scared and every D.G.F. show had a threat of violence.

But the real trouble was when she got back home. (more…)

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june8SOUNDTRACK: KAWABATA MAKOTO [河端一]-That Awaking: Good​-​bye Me (2020).

a0192176181_16Recently, Kawabata Makoto [河端一], mastermind behind Acid Mothers Temple, revealed a new bandcamp site for some newer releases.

This album is his most recent release (and I believe the impetus for this new site).

This album has two sons, each over a half an hour.

On “Summoning Souls To Meet” (35:47), a quiet, pretty acoustic guitar melody plays throughout the background while on top comes a series of electric guitar noises an explorations.  It’s a pretty improvisational song that never goes too crazy in the experimentation (although there are a few times when he plays some wild solos).  That acoustic melody keeps it grounded.

“That Awaking : Good-bye Me” (31.29) opens with a piercing sound which slowly morphs into another beautiful acoustic melody.  He then overdubs a pretty electric wah wah guitar solo.  It’s a lovely piece of music, although I wish that piercing ringing note was not there (it wouldn’t be Kawabata if there weren’t some high frequency sound floating around).  Eventually, you lose that high note amid the wonderful soloing he’s doing.  It’s soaring and psychedelic, sometimes fast sometimes echoing.  The last ten minutes or so seem to have some backwards looping going on.

Kawabata Makoto recorded this in May 2020 using electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and driftbox.

[READ: June 13, 2020] “White Noise”

This story is about Harvey Weinstein, except that it technically isn’t.

It’s about a movie mogul named Harvey who is on trial for abusing women.  It basically covers a short time before his verdict.

I wondered why Cline would feel compelled to write this fictionalized account of such a dreadful man.  I don’t often read the accompanying interviews with writers (I guess I should). The important takeaway is that “Curiosity about a consciousness doesn’t translate into endorsement.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BANANA SPLITS-“The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)” (1968).

traOf all the bubblegum pop songs, this is probably the one I know the best.

I was surprised to discover that the song and TV show were from 1968, because I used to watch it all the time.

But I see that the series originally ran from September 7, 1968 to September 5, 1970, but then it was in syndication from 1971 to 1982, which is when I watched it.  Amazingly, it was in syndication for 11 years and there were only 31 episodes made.

Is there anything catchier than a bunch of people singing tra la la, la la la la?

And then the lyrics couldn’t be simpler:

One banana, two banana, three banana, four
Four bananas make a bunch and so do many more
Over hill and highway the banana buggies go
Coming on to bring you the Banana Splits show
Making up a mess of fun
Making up a mess of fun
Lots of fun for everyone
Four banana, three banana, two banana, one
All bananas playing in the bright warm sun
Flipping like a pancake, popping like a cork
Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snork

This was the theme song for the TV show.  It was a minute and a half and is insanely catchy.

The Dickies did a punk cover in the 1970s, which doesn’t sound very different from the original, expect that instead of bright keyboards, the music is all guitars and drums.  It is faster-paced and yet longer because of a guitar solo and some extra sing along parts.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the Banana Splits were:

  • Fleegle — A greenish-brown dog wearing a large red bow tie, black buttons, brownish-orange chucks, with his tongue is always sticking out. He plays a guitar and sings.
  • Bingo — A nasal-voiced orange gorilla wearing white glasses and a yellow vest, featuring a toothy grin. He plays drums and sings.
  • Drooper — A lion with a very long tail wearing yellowish-orange glasses, spats on his feet, and speaks with a Southern drawl. He plays a bass guitar and sings.
  • Snorky — A mute furry elephant wearing pink glasses. He becomes a regular elephant in season 2, wearing a green vest with yellow stripes. He communicates through honking sounds akin to a clown horn, and one of the other Splits would translate what he is saying. He plays a keyboard.

What a great time to be a kid.

[READ: June 8, 2020] Bubblegum Week 5

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

A Fistful of Fists is a Handful

After the academia and “high brow” thoughts of Triple J’s essays, this week’s transcription of Triple J’s film A Fistful of Fists: A Documentary Collage is rather tough reading.  It reminded me of reading something like David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (The Part About the Crimes) in that there’s some really horrible things to witness but their inclusion serves to prove a point and even to further the plot and fill in some gaps.

A Fistful of Fists is a collage of twenty-seven short films all about the joy of killing cures.  The transcription is a print version of what is seen on the videos, sometimes in graphic detail.  Scenes of it reminded me of some of the “torture porn” stories that were trendy a while back. (more…)

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