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Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #78 (September 10, 2020).

Phoebe Bridgers is in the White House!

Obviously anybody would be better in the White House than the current squatter, but Phoebe Bridgers would certainly be more fun than any other choices at the moment.

I love that Phoebe fully commits to being in the White House by having her band wear Secret Service-looking suits while she is wearing a very Presidential pantsuit (instead of that skeleton onesie she’s been in since the quarantine began).

For the first two songs she stands behind the oval office desk while Marshall Vore on drums and Harrison Whitford on guitar accompany her.

She opens with “Kyoto” one of my favorite songs of the year.  This more acoustic version loses a little bit of the magic from the recorded version, but that chorus is just so tasty and Phoebe’s voice (and the backing vocals) sound fantastic.

They open with “Kyoto,” a story song based on her first trip to Japan, followed with a sweet version of “Moon Song” and the sad details of loving someone who doesn’t love themself.

“Moon Song” is one of those beautiful songs that is lyrically very powerful but is just a hair too slow for me.  Of course after a few more listens (especially to the lyrics) it will sound perfect, I’m sure.  I had read an article recently about a line in this song

We hate Tears in Heaven
But it’s sad that his baby died

The article said that she originally wanted to say “We hate Eric Clapton,” but decided against it.  But that she really does hate Clapton:

I have such an Eric Clapton rant, because I think it’s just extremely mediocre music, but also he’s a famous racist.

I didn’t know this but apparently during an August 1976 gig in Birmingham, Eric Clapton made racist comments and praised Enoch Powell, inadvertently inspiring the Rock Against Racism campaign.

Wow.  Has he ever made amends?

The song picks up some power by the end, as Phoebe’s song tend to do.

And then comes the kicker, as Phoebe introduces herself with the words “I hope everybody’s enjoying their apocalypse,” the band kicks into her surreal doomsday tune “I Know the End.”

It starts like many other Phoebe songs–slow and thoughtful.  But this one builds and builds.  Midway through the song, they turn off the green screen projector and everyone walks (while the song is still playing) to another part of the room for the end.

And what an end it is: The trio expands to an ensemble

Whitford and Bridgers switch to electric guitar, Vore moves to a full drum kit, Emily Retsas joins on bass (looking bad ass in her blonde hair, dark suit and sunglasses), Nick White adds keyboards and Odessa Jorgensen plays violin.  The song feel so much louder (there’s been no bass so far).  You can feel the tension mounting

And then scattered throughout the screen are videos of Phoebe fans–recording from bedrooms, cars, backyards and trampolines–singing the chorus, air drumming and smiling big smiles.

And at the end everybody

lets out the kind of cathartic scream that has come to define 2020 for so many of us.

Followed by Phoebe’s winning smile.

[READ: September 10, 2020] “Dear Mr. President”

This story is written as a letter to The Honorable George Bush, President of the United States.

It is written by a Marine, Lance Corporal James Laverne.  [He is clearly a loser or a sucker, according to our current president].

He starts the letter with greetings and salutations and a fine memory of when Bush landed his helicopter at Laverne’s station in Iraq.  The men stood at attention for two hours while Bush was in a tent talking with someone.  Then when he came out he spoke to Laverne.  When Laverne said he was from Wisconsin, Bush said “Is cheddar better?” to which Laverne gave a hearty “yes sir!”

Then he tells a story of the time he was attacked.  He and Brecks went into a burned-out building where they’d heard there was sniper.  But when they got there it wasn’t a sniper, it was a dog.  Brecks went to rescue the dog, but when he bent over, someone on the ground threw a grenade onto the roof which blew Brecks to pieces. (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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download (71)SOUNDTRACK: THAO NGUYEN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #56 (July 28, 2020).

download (70)I have enjoyed a lot of music from Thao Nguyen and her band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.  She plays an idiosyncratic type of indie rock that’s catchy but also quirky.  Although I haven’t heard much from her lately.

She plays three songs here and she talks a lot between songs.  What she has to says is both powerful and meaningful.

For her Tiny Desk (home) concert, Thao Nguyen opens with a somber version of “Temple,” the dance-oriented title track from Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s new album. The song is an homage to her parents, who were refugees of the Vietnam War. Thao sings from the perspective of her mother, honoring their hard-fought freedom and their hopes that their daughter is blessed with the ability to pursue her own happiness. She recorded it as a trio with cellists (and neighbors) Elisabeth Reed and Andy Luchansky. It’s a powerful rendition that celebrates, in Thao’s words, “being queer and being out in my career, something that being out publicly has caused a lot of turmoil and unrest in my own life.”

I hadn’t heard the original of “Temple” before this, but after, I had to give it a listen.  The recorded version is faster and a lot more dancey.  This spare version is quite striking and really brings the lyrics to the fore.  Thao plays the guitar and the addition of Reed and  Luchansky makes the song far more somber.  She said they created this version just for Tiny Desk “because you deserve nice things.”

She says she’s been reading about addressing anti-black racism in Asian and Vietnamese culture.  She has become more educated about what has allowed Southeast Asian refugees to settle in America. Black civil rights leaders, the Black Power movement for directly and informed change in immigration law and made it less racist.

We also hear “Pure Cinema” from Temple which has another interesting twisting riff that she plays quietly as she sings.  She also plays a slightly atonal guitar solo which is really interesting, too.

She ends with a mandolin version of “Departure” from her 2016 album, A Man Alive.  Once again there’s a cool riff and she does some really cool slides up the fretboard as she plays.  I’ve not heard mandolin playing like this before.  I’d love for her and Chris Thile to do a mandolin show together.

[READ: July 31, 2020] “Heirlooms”

This story felt a lot like an excerpt.  I often wonder if pieces in the New Yorker are excerpts–usually when a story doesn’t feel like it ends properly.  This one actually ended pretty satisfyingly, but it just felt like there could be a lot more.

So this is an excerpt from Washington’s forthcoming novel Memorial.

I had read a story from Washington back in January that I really liked.  I’m not sure if that story is also from the novel, but it features a main character who is similar to the one in this excerpt.

The narrator is a man named Ben.  His boyfriend Mike has just left for Japan to be with his dying father.  Although the same day that Mike left, Mike’s mother Mitsuko came to visit.  This is not, apparently, a coincidence.

So this excerpt shows Ben trying to cohabitate with his boyfriend’s mother whom he has never met before.

Ben is angry at Mike.  Both because he has left his mother here, but also because Mike’s father left him for Japan when Mike was a teenager.  Mike hadn’t heard from him in over a decade, but he rushed off to him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOSES SUMNEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #61 (August 10, 2020).

Moses Somney has an otherworldly voice–it soars to unfathomable heights. He has a couple of albums and EPs out although I haven’t really explored them very closely.

He starts with “Bless Me” which starts with some washes of chords before he starts his amazing singing.  I love the addition of the guitar chords, which add a heavy grounding to this song.  When he loops his voice at the end of the song, it sounds just fantastic.

I am just so taken with his voice.  And in an interview about the album he said:

“With this album, I was like yo, I could die any minute so let me sing all the high notes but also all the low notes and also, also, also.”

His camera work is fascinating for this show.  There’s constant glitches and lines that make it look like it was recorded on a VHS.  Are these effects added afterward top make the footage look older, or is he possibly using old technology?

For the second song, “Me in 20 Years” the camera angle changes back and forth between a left and right view of him sitting at the keyboard.  But it seems to be random and you can’t even see the cameras.

The song is beautiful–more conventional than the soaring of “Bless Me” but focusing on some great songwriting.

Much of Somney’s latest album, græ, foreshadowed current events in ways he couldn’t even imagine, but his sense of humor about it is intact. “I’m performing songs off of my new album which I released in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, so that was fun,” he says, “but all of the songs are about loneliness and isolation so, who’s laughing now?”

“Polly” is played on guitar.  I love that the guitar work is simple and pretty but his voice floats all around the melody, soaring to the ether.  The song is quite long and tends to meander–it no doubt takes a few listens to really latch on to the melody.

For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, he recreates three songs from græ and closes with 2018’s “Rank and File,” yet another song all too relevant in 2020.  He introduces the song by saying that as he records this “The nation is ablaze with anti-police brutality protests.  This song is is dedicated to the protesters and the rioters and to black lives …  which matter”

“Rank and File” is my favorite song by far.  The song has a powerful message and the music is fascination.  In this case the music is created on the fly with looping.

He crates a beat by thumping his microphone.  He adds a “Hey” and some scratchy sounds on the mic.  He makes a melody with a cool vocal sound which he loops and shifts the pitch of.  Snapped fingers add a percussive element and he sets up the later refrain of “Hey 23456.”

He sings the powerful lyrics over all of this–which he judiciously adds and removes as needed.  He occasionally sings some really high notes.  The end of the song allows him to loop his soaring vocals as he improvises with the samples and some scatting.

Fantastic stuff.

[READ: August 10, 2020] “The Gamblers”

Two men, a bookkeeper and a poet are alone in a shack.  From morning until night they plated stuss.  Between them they had one pair of boots and no money.  They would forage for crusts of bread and kindling.

Then the poet had a stretch of good luck.  He won many hands, including winning the pair of boots back.

It was, thus, his turn to go out and forage.

The bookkeeper stayed inside.  Then he heard machine gun fire.  He stayed alone in the room all night long.

The next day the bookkeeper woke to a commotion outside.  Several women were surrounding a dead body.

The end adds a couple of surprising moments.

This is not, apparently, an excerpt.  It feels very Russian.  It was translated Joanne Turnbull.

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN LEGEND-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #58 (August 3, 2020).

I don’t know all that much about John legend.  I know he’s released a lot of popular music and that he seems to be famous for being famous at this point.

But wow, this set is great.  Legend has a terrific voice.  I’m not really sure what genre his music is–it’s very soulful–becuase it’s just really great songwriting.

They kick off the set with “Ooh Laa,” a song John calls “doo-wop meets trap” it’s also the lead-off track to his summer album, Bigger Love. 

I don’t know how the “trap” part fits into this song, but the combination is fantastic.  The song opens with a sample of the “shoo bop shoo bop” from The Flamingos’s “I Only Have Eyes for You.  It works as a great foundation for this song of love and romance.  It’s got a great chorus of, yes, “Ooh Laa,” which is a perfect line for this song.  It also has Kaveh Rastegar on upright bass, which adds a great slow jazzy feel.

“Wild” opens with a quiet guitar melody from Ben O’Neill that reminds me of a Beach House song (although it sounds very different with Legend singing).   It’s fascinating how different this song sounds from “Ooh Laa” even though it is very clearly a John Legend song.  It’s also got a fantastic wailing guitar solo, which was completely unexpected.

All of the songs filmed on this day are from Bigger Love, including “Conversations in the Dark,” which John says is “a good song for babies to dance to — you might want to get married to it, too, if you’re so inclined.” Meanwhile, behind the band on a big screen reads, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”

“Bigger Love” is catchy and bouncy with some great sounding drums from Jimmy “Rashid” Williams and simple keyboard splashes from Eugene “Man Man” Roberts.

[READ: August 1, 2020] “The Shawl”

This story is compact and written in a well-plotted style.

It begins with a story.  A story that the Anishinaabeg people on her street speak of.

A woman had two children whom she loved: a boy and a girl.  Then she had a baby girl with a different man.  She loved the new man more than her first man and decided to leave her family for the new man.  But she decided to bring her daughters with her.

On the way out of town, their carriage was attacked by wolves and the older girl fell out of the carriage and was killed.  All that was left of her was a torn and bloodied shawl. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-“Dinosaurs on the Mountain” (2020).

After a series of much harsher, darker albums, The Flaming Lips’ new record, American Head (due out next month) promises a much brighter, warmer experience.

They have already released a few singles from the new album, like this one.

“Dinosaurs on the Mountain” starts with a pretty, almost childlike musical synth melody.  Wayne Coyne’s (older and more raspy) falsetto voice floats above the music as he sings “I wish the dinosaurs were still here and now.  It would be fun to see them playing on the mountain.”

The song builds with slow drums and acoustic guitars as the it shifts to a large bridge with appropriate soaring backing vocals.  The song also has a suitably vibrato-filled guitar solo.  In other words, it sounds a lot like classic Flaming Lips.

This song (and album) is meant to hearken back to The Soft Bulletin, which it does, somewhat.  But the biggest difference is that the whole song feels like it’s hiding under an extra layer of distortion–like they couldn’t escape the production style of their latter albums.  Bulletin was very clean, and I do rather miss that cleanness on this lovely song.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “Jack and Della”

I had read an excerpt from this series of books a couple years ago.  I was really interested in that first excerpt.  Although this one I found a little less interesting.  Possibly because the main character of this story (who is briefly in the other excerpt) is down and out.  And without having seen how he got that way (which I think the other book showed), it’s hard to get fully into this character.

But he certainly comes across as an interesting fellow and knowing his past makes him somewhat more compelling.

Jack (full name John Ames Boughton) is the son of a preacher.  Most of his father’s sermons were directed at Jack, who was not always the best boy he could be.

Jack didn’t take much away from his father’s sermons, but the one about always having good manners did stick with him. So when a young black lady dropped some papers on the pavement, he crossed the street to help her gather them.  Her name was Della Miles. She thanked him and called him Reverend because of the black suit he was wearing (he had bought it for his mother’s funeral and was about to return it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LUCINDA WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #55 (July 27, 2020).

I don’t really like Lucinda Williams.  Her voice really bugs me. I don’t know if she always sang like this but this sort of drunken drawl just hurts my head.

I know that she’s a legend and everyone loves her, but I have a hard time getting through her songs.  And that’s a shame because her lyrics are great.  Well, maybe not her lyrics, but her sentiments.

Because the lyrics to “Bad News Blues” are not great.  It’s a pretty standard blues song in which she lists all of the bad news that she has around her.

Bad news on my left
Bad news on my right
Bad news in the morning
Bad news at night

The only thing interesting about this song really is the bluesy lead guitar work from Stuart Mathis.  Otherwise, it’s a blues song.

“Big Black Train” is a slower bluesy song about not wanting to get on board the train that’s barreling towards us.  Wow, her singing the chorus really hurts my ears.

“You Can’t Rule Me” is on the radio a lot and I’ve been turning it off when it comes on.  It’s obviously a song of empowerment but I can’t stand the drawl of her voice.  Although once again Stuart’s lead is pretty tasty.  In fact the guitar work from both of them is great throughout.

The set ends with “Man Without A Soul” and this is the song that made me think more highly of her.  Musically the song isn’t much.  In fact, it sounds pretty close to “Bog Black Train” in the chorus.  But its’ the words that are impactful.

It’s pretty clear who this song is about:

You’re a man without truth
A man of greed, a man of hate
A man of envy and doubt
You’re a man without a soul
All the money in the world
Will never fill that hole
You’re a man bought and sold
You’re a man without a soul
You bring nothing good to this world
Beyond a web of cheating and stealing
You hide behind your wall of lies
But it’s coming down
Yeah, it’s coming down
You’re a man without shame
Without dignity and grace
No way to save face
You’re a man without a soul

She says she wrote this to shake people up and wake people up.  I don’t know if it will do either, but I hope some people’s minds are changed by it.

[READ: July 31, 2020] “The Lottery”

This issue of the New Yorker is an Archival Issue.  It’s weird to me that at a time of unprecedented everything, the magazine would choose to have virtually no new content.

Except that the articles in it are strangely timely.

Calvin Trillin (he was writing in 1964?) was on a flight that Martin Luther King, Jr. was on and he overheard a white preppy-looking post-college boy who disagreed with King (believing that King was advocating violence and was therefore unChristian).  It was a remarkably peaceful conversation even if the boy never saw King’s point of view.

The second article is about Black Lives Matter with the subtitle “A new kind of movement found its moment.” What will its future be?”  But this article was written in 2016 and it ends “Black Lives Matter may never have more influence than it has now.”  How wrong that was?

And then there is the Shirley Jackson story, originally written in 1948.

I read this story in sixth or seventh grade and it has stuck with me all of these years.  I remember being rather blown away by it in school, thinking it was one thing and then realizing it was something else entirely.

I have not read it since. I felt that I didn’t really have to read it because it stuck with me so much.  But I’m glad I did re-read it, because although some details were still there, I had forgotten some pretty intense stuff.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A moment of silence (July 30, 2020).

[READ: July 30, 2020] “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation”

Congressman John Lewis is one of the most important civil rights leaders of the 20th and 21st century. His graphic novels March are required reading.

Lewis died on July 17.  He had the presence of mind to write this essay shortly before his death and asked The New York Times to publish it on the day of his funeral.

I am presenting it here in full because it is so full of hope, so full of love and so meaningful, that everyone should read it.

~~~~

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

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download (62)SOUNDTRACK: NILÜFER YANYA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #54 (July 22, 2020).

download (61)Nilüfer Yanya is a pretty mesmerizing singer.  I feel lucky to have seen her live and would like to see her again.

In the meantime, this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert will have to do.

There’s something unique about the way Yanya constructs songs.  And her singing voice is really unlike anyone else’s that I’ve heard.

For this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, she plays four songs.  Three from her 2019 album and one new one.  All four are different from when she played Tiny Desk last year.

In her previous Tiny Desk Concert and when I saw her live, she had a full band. But for this one, it’s just her guitar and her voice.

For “Heat Rises,” she plays spare guitar lines and quiet chords as she sings in her unique style.  As the song moves along she adds high notes to the chords–fleshing things out in a subtle but effective way.

After performing “Heat Rises,” Nilüfer Yanya pauses to say a few things about herself, something we’ve been asking artists to do for these Tiny Desk (home) concerts.

“One of the things that’s been on my mind a lot is the racism and violence and injustice going on towards Black people and people of color, not only in America but here in the U.K. and all over the world. As a person of mixed heritage” — Nilüfer’s father is Turkish and her mother is of Irish and Barbadian descent — “this issue is something close to my heart.” Nilüfer urges us all to see the hurt being done. It’s the only way forward.

She then plays “Paralyzed,” a song that she says relates to the issue.  She’s never played it live before.  The song has a cool four note chord progression followed by a sinister feeling five note riff.

Bob Boilen writes: “I hear these words so differently now:”

I hear strained screams from Heaven singin’
“save me”
This can’t be okay
Shadow’s lyin’ here
And it’s blocking out the light
(I am paralyzed)

The above part of the song turns musically bright as she sings those dark lyrics.

“Day 7” is the new song.  She sings in a similar style to the one she uses on “Baby Luv” where she sings with an accent or inflection that is impossible to place but is very compelling.  This song also features a simple but unusual riff as she builds the song using all of the neck of her guitar (the chords she plays during the “go go” section are so interesting).

She ends the set with the final track from her album, “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.”  This is the only song from this set that she played when I saw her.  I was blown away by the song when I saw her live because the song mixed quiet and range perfectly.  It’s more subtle here and demands that you listen closely to the words.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “Nobody’s Business”

I’ve wanted to read more from Jhumpa Lahiri for years–she’s yet another writer who I feel like I need more stories from.  And I really liked this story a lot.

The story is written in the third person.  It’s about a woman named Sang.  She is living in Boston, having just dropped out of a graduate program from Harvard.   Sang has two roommates, Paul and Heather.

What was so interesting about the way that it was written is that it seems to be Sang’s story.  She is, after all, the person with all the action.  But by the end of the story it becomes more about Paul.  I thought that shift of perspective was quite engaging.

Sang is Bengali and every so often she would receive a call from a Bengali man who was courting her. These men had heard that she was pretty and smart and unmarried at thirty, so they were trying to arrange something with her.  Sang was never rude to these men.  She even met some of them.  But Sang was very serious about her boyfriend, Farouk, who was presently in Cairo.  That’s not a ruse, she is really dating him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LENNY KRAVITZ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #52 (July 20, 2020).

Few people are as cool as Lenny Kravitz.  Look at how amazing this room in the Bahamas looks.  Listen to how good his voice sounds (both when he’s singing and when he’s speaking).  When he speaks between songs he sounds otherworldly.

This Brooklyn-raised bohemian rock icon brings us to his home and tropical paradise in Eleuthera in the Bahamas for this visually alluring Tiny Desk (home) concert.

The set begins with the wonderful “Thinking Of You.”  The guitar sound(s) of this song are just amazing. Between Craig Ross’s acoustic echoing notes and Lenny’s strums the room fills with warm echoing guitars.  Midway through the song Bahamian native Yianni Giannakopoulos plays a chill lead guitar with expressive wah wah.  I hadn’t heard this song before, and it’s really terrific.

After wrapping an evocative rendition of “Thinking of You,” a touching song he penned in 1998 about his late mother, Lenny Kravitz imparts what’s really weighing on him during this historic time. “In the midst of all that’s transpiring on our planet right now,” he says, “it’s a blessed time for introspection, more importantly action. … What side of history are you standing on?”

For “What Did I Do With My Life?”, Lenny and Craig step outside (under palm trees) to play this questioning ballad.  Ross gets a really good electric guitar sound out of his acoustic guitar.  Over the course of the song as Lenny asks the title question, it grows more intense with him searching for an answer.

And it’s only fitting that he ended with “We Can Get It All Together,” a message about the power of unity and oneness.

For this final song, all three players are back, this time in front of an expansive (stormy?) sky. Once again Craig’s acoustic guitar sounds huge.  And this time Yianni’s electric guitar has a Middle Eastern twang to it.

I often forget how much I like Lenny’s music.  This was a great reminder.

[READ: July 20, 2020] How to be an Antiracist 

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

There’s a lot of reasons people might have for not reading this book.  I’m not talking about people who are racist and simply would never read a book like this, but about decent people who think they are doing their part.  Maybe they’re afraid of being preached at or of being told they’re doing things wrong.  Or maybe they feel that they can’t handle a book that seems especially intense.

I had some of these concerns myself before reading this book.  But I can say that if you have those fears or concerns about reading this book, put them aside and jump in.

Ibram X. Kendi is not writing this to make you feel bad about yourself.  He is not here to tell you that you are bad and should be ashamed of yourself.

He is writing to tell his story–his realization that racism is a cancer that is eating away at the country and that we can all work together to change things.

He is also writing to talk about antiracism.  Antiracism is a fairly simple idea, but it is very hard to achieve.  Indeed, his first point is to undo accepted ideas of racism. (more…)

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