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Archive for the ‘Sex’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE ROCK & ROLL DUBBLE BUBBLE TRADING CARD CO. OF PHILADELPHIA-19141 – “Bubble Gum Music” (1968).

19141I thought it was a very clever idea posting about bubblegum music for this book.  If only I had known how much music was actually mentioned in the book and, ultimately, how inappropriate these songs are to the book–in tone and content.

However, I have really enjoyed discovering some of these songs that i’d never heard of before.  Like this one.

This might be may favorite bubblegum song of all.  In addition to being catchy (obviously) with a simple swinging horn melody, the lyrics are hilariously self-referential.

A bubblegum song about bubblegum songs which mentions some of the most popular bubblegum songs.

Since most of the bubblegum songs were written by the same few people (under different band names), it’s very likely that they are singing about some of their own songs.

The stupidly catchy chorus:

Give me more, more, more Of that bubble gum music
Makes me feel so good Oh, I never want to lose it
Let me dance, dance, dance To that bubble gum music
If you really want to turn me on

which is of course repeated about ten times.

But then come the lyrics which mention a while bunch of bubblegum hits

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wonder what she`s doin`
While the Monkees are singing for Valleri
Simon says take you down to LuLu`s
You`re gonna feel yummy, yummy, yummy

The second verse is even funnier because it turns into a kind of diss track

Well the Grateful Dead just leave me cold (ooo!)
And Herbie Alpert makes me feel too o-old (feel too old)
I can groove to rhythm and blues (rhythm and blues)
But if I had to choose, if I had to choose If I had to choose,

All of this wrapped up in one of the most ridiculously lengthy band names ever.

Spectacular.

[READ: June 29, 2020] Bubblegum Week 8

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

Hitting Back on the Brickhorse

With this week, the book comes to an end and I can’t help but feel disappointed by the ending.  At some point a few years ago I realized that endings are often the worst part of a book.  Endings can’t ever do what the reader really hopes will happen, especially if the reader has a different idea of what the book is doing.  I must have had a very different idea of what this book was a bout because I left that last page with so many questions–questions that Levin clearly had no intention of answering.

Like what if the entire book from after Belt gets his cure until the very end is all in his head.  He is just crazy and none of these things happened.  There are no cures.  Everything that seems off about his world is because his perception is skewed.  He has the wrong date and perpetrator of 9/11.  He misunderstands The Matrix, he believes he was given hundreds of thousands of dollars from the creator of The Matrix.  His father is dating the mother of the wife of an author that he likes.  But really he’s just in Costello house imagining he’ll meet up with Lisette someday.

I don’t really think that’s what happened, but there’s so much left out after the ending, that I have to fill it in somehow.

I was particularly interested in this first section being called AOL.  There has been no real explicit nudge from the author that there is no internet in the book, but this title was clearly a wink at us.  Particularly since Belt doesn’t know what it stands for either. (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: KASENETZ-KATZ SUPER CIRCUS-“Up in the Air” (1968).

katzReading about bubblegum music has led me to a fascinating trove of information.  Like that most of the songs were written by two guys who “created” many of the bands.  Most of these bands have a revolving cast live but had the same band on record.  The two creators were Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz.

In 1968, Kasenetz and Katz created a “supergroup” which consisted of members of their “Super K Production.”

Their first album was hilarious, because according to the inner gatefold cover’s liner notes, the “supergroup” consisted of 46 members. However, the album cover itself only shows 33 members (plus Kasenetz and Katz in tuxedos) while the individual inner cover photos total 37 (excluding the non-existent St. Louis Invisible Marching Band, whose photo is represented by a white block). To add to the confusion of the actual number of participants, the LP package came with a page of stamps with each member of the “supergroup”, including their names and the individual group he or she represents. The members of The Teri Nelson Group (except Teri Nelson herself) are shown as INVISIBLE BAND on the stamps. Side 2 opens up with Music Explosion leader Jamie Lyons announcing the individual members of the newer or lesser-known groups. Some of the names mentioned do not coincide with the members shown on the stamps.

Hilarious and crazy.  This song “Up in the Air” comes from the supergroup’s second album in a year.  They renamed it “Kasenetz-Katz Super Circus” and the roster was reduced to five groups: The 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express and Music Explosion, with the other groups replaced by Shadows Of Knight (who had just been acquired by Super K and signed to Buddah’s Team label) and White Whale label group Professor Morrison’s Lollipop (formerly the Coachmen of Nebraska). Despite these representations, the tracks were actually recorded by studio musicians with lead vocals by Ohio Express lead vocalist Joey Levine.

That’s a lot of setup for an amusing almost novelty song.

There are two different guitar lines. One playing high notes and the other playing a melody).  Thumping bass and drums enter and then the song shifts to a groovy bassline and vocals that seem sped up.  And the lyrics are sort of political.

I don’t read poems by Poe
Look at Palooka Joe
Watch the Ed Sullivan Show
I love Governor Reagan

There isn’t a real chorus, just a repeated final line about Governor Regan (pronounced “Reegan” for some reason–like “Regan,” the King Lear character).

Don’t dig Joe Pepitone (la la la la la)
Or talk on the telephone (la la la la la)
One thing stands all alone
That’s my governor Reagan

Hail, Hail, hail our leader!
[Clavichord solo while backup singers chant “Hail Reagan, Hail to the Chief”]

Reagan was governor of California at the time.  The creator of the site Bubblegum Reviews asks, What is Reagan actually being criticized for here? He hadn’t actually done much to damage American democracy at that time.

Some may say he’s the Gip
Some say he’s lost his grip
I say that he’s a pip
He’s my Governor Reagan

A man who has so much hair
A man that is not all there
A man who just loves the chair
That’s my governor Reagan

More from Bubblegum Reviews:

The song seems to be making fun of him for having an inane persona derived from his good looks and movie career (“he’s the Gip”/”so much hair”).  It also denigrates him for having a feeble intellect or a weak grasp on sanity (“lost his grip”/”not all there”).  His supporters are equally dimwitted: instead of reading poetry, they look at Palooka Joe.

According to Wikipedia, “in Reagan’s campaign, he emphasized two main themes: “‘to send the welfare bums back to work,’ and, in reference to burgeoning anti-war and anti-establishment student protests…’to clean up the mess at Berkeley.’”  In one incident, his actions led to the death of one protester and the blinding of another;

[WHAT?  HOW DID THIS GUY BECOME PRESIDENT?]

later, he sent out the National Guard to occupy Berkeley.  It may have been his anti-protest stance that rankled with Levine et al. — youthful revolt seems to have been something people in the music biz were generally in favor of, even if they weren’t particularly interested in what was being revolted against. This autocratic approach to free speech may also be what’s behind the song’s implication that Reagan demanded unquestioning fealty (“hail, hail, hail the leader”).

How timely.

Is this a bubblegum song?  It’s hard to say for sure.  Kasenetz & Katz wrote most of the biggest bubblegum songs so they knew what they were doing.  Maybe they were trying to branch out.  It’s really nifty. I’ll have to listen to more.

[READ: June 15, 2020] Bubblegum Week 6

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

You Can Be Right and Kind At The Same Time,
or: Why Would You Hate a Part of Speech, Dude?

I was really looking forward to seeing Jonboat again.  He has been this looking figure–billionaire, astronaut, husband of the most beautiful woman in the world, father of Triple J.  And we know very little about him besides that.  And WOW does he make an impression.  Sort of.  Actually, he doesn’t make any impression except on Belt’s psyche.

This section begins with a bit of a misdirection: Belt picking up a magazine at the White Hen because astronaut Jonboat was on the cover. Flipping through, he couldn’t find the article (typical of big glossy magazines) and wound up looking at an article about the famous chef Clem.

Clem (I’m guessing inspired by Emeril?) was eggplant shaped with arms like noodles–he looked like a combination of Ringo Starr and Yasser Arafat–he seemed all wrong and yet he looked fantastic.  This was because everything in the room was custom made just for him.  He was measured for an oven, molds were made of his hands for his knives etc.  Somehow the objectively handsome assistant looked unfit in the room because everything fit Clem.

I love the librarian joke that Pang shouts at him: You think my name is Marian? (and a wonderful discursive joke about this not being a library).  But Belt didn’t buy the magazine because he needed money for Quills.

This is all a set up to say that Jonboat looked in his office as if every inch of it was measured to fit him.

As Belt walks in, Jonboat says “Hey, you,” and holds out his arms for a hug.  It take a second before Belt realizes he’s talking to Fondajane who is next to him.

There’s some playful banter between Jonboat and Fon.  And yet I can’t decide how to read this.  Is Jonboat a pedantic jerk or is he fun and good at teasing?

She says “As the kids say…Now we’ve come to the part where I make my exit.”  I love that Fon either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what the kids actually say.  Jonboat suggests they say, “I guess that’s my cue [to leave].”  But Fon retorts that that was two eras back.  They gave that up for their name and out: “Fondajane: out.”  Jonboat says that he never heard of it: “Jonboat: incredulous.”

When Belt tries to interject into the banter, Burroughs pats his arm to tell him to keep out of it.  As Fondajane leaves she says she has to meet Robbie bin Laden for dinner. This story’s skirting of 9/11 with lines like this is fascinating and I wonder if there will be any kind of payoff, or if it’s just reminders of the slightly-off timeline.

Finally Jonboat turns his attention to Belt.  He gets out his business gear (he is there to sign the contract for Triple J) and Belt notices a cure running on top of a globe.  Jonboat is trying to train it to walk on four feet, but it is disposed to walk on two–a sort of glorious defect.

The cure is really cute.  Even for Belt.  Belt starts to get uneasy–so much so that Burroughs steps in his line of sight to avoid any trouble.  Belt is surprised and dismayed that he didn’t just want to hold it, he wanted to squeeze it–and he imagined in some detail what the experience would have been like. (more…)

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ja1SOUNDTRACK: HAIM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #34 (June 17, 2020).

haimWhen Haim first came on the scene they were marketed as a kind of hard rocking sister act.  So when I heard them I was really disappointed because they are anything but hard rock.  In fact this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert shows just how nicely their music works as  kind of poppy folk songs.

I haven’t really liked most of their songs, but I do like first and third in this set (I was unfamiliar with the middle song).

“The Steps” is like a classic rock song that’s been around for ever.  “The sunny, take-no-prisoners assertion of independence of “The Steps” recalls the soft rock jams of their earlier albums.”  The very cool sounding lead guitar riff that opens the song is definitely missed in this version, but the song itself is really solid and their harmonies are lovely.  The bass is mixed too loudly in this song, which is a bit of a shame since the rest sounds so good.

Strangely, it’s only Danielle who speaks and introduces only herself.  So you need the blurb to tell you that on her left is her sister Este Haim (bass, keyboard, drum pad, vocals) and on her right is her sister Alana Haim: (guitar, vocals, bongos).

The second song is “the muted techno glimmer of ‘I Know Alone.'”  Este switches to keys, Danielle switches to a rhythm machine and keys and whole Alana keeps the acoustic guitar she is also playing keys.  I think she keeps the guitar for one dramatic harmonic moment..  This song is kind of bland–not much really happens in it.

In comes Henry Solomon (the screen splits into four) to add saxophone for the final song “Summer Girl,”

a song that wavers like a heat mirage reflected off New York’s summer sidewalks, thanks to Henry Solomon’s whisper-toned sax.

I had no idea this song was HAIM  I recognized that saxophone melody immediately and have hear it many times on the radio.   Once again the bass is too loud, which is a bummer since this song is so chill. This song also feels like it has been around forever–there’s a real timeless quality to it.

HAIM recorded its Tiny Desk set before the death of George Floyd, and released “Summer Girl” last year. The world has changed a lot in that time. With its opening line — “LA on my mind, I can’t breathe” — “Summer Girl” becomes another piece of music that takes on a parallel meaning in the evolving social and political landscape of 2020.

I didn’t enjoy Haim’s early stuff, but I have come around on this album.

[READ: June 19, 2020] “Free”

This was a short story about who love ages.

Henry was married to Irene, but he was having an affair with Lila, who was married to Pete.

Irene was stuffy, very proper.  Lila, by contrast, once stripped off all her clothes and skinny dipped into a cold lake in front of him–“her bottom a sudden white heart split down the middle, in his vision.”  Lila lived in the now and gave herself to him completely.  But Henry “was no good at adultery…because he could not give himself, entirely, to the moment.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY-“Goody Goody Gumdrops” (1968).

19101910 Fruitgum Company has a great, bizarre name.  Especially for a band that released such poppy songs.

I thought I knew most of the bubblegum hits just from casual awareness of them.  I was quite surprised how many of these chart-hitting songs I’ve never heard before.

I don’t think I knew this one before, and I quite like it.

The opening verses are quiet, almost dark, with just a chugging guitar and a stomping drumbeat.

It segues into a chorus that is really catchy (of course).  I really like the chord change from “goody goody gumdrops, my heart is doing flip flops” to “gee what love can do.”  It feels like perhaps a minor chord introduction.  There’s even some mildly interesting drum patterns in the middle.

The return of the opening verse brings back a slightly darker mood before the return of the joyful chorus.

It feels like it slightly defies the conventions of the pure bubblegum song.  Maybe that’s why it only got to #37.

[READ: June 15, 2020] Bubblegum Week 6

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

Coffee with Honey

Part IV of the book is called Compound. In it, Belt visits the Jonboat housing compound (they took over most of a cul-de-sac).

There’s a few interesting revelations here, and a remarkably lengthy discussion of a sexual practice that I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed–certainly not at length–in a book before.  But overall this section does what I like best about this book–have lengthy passages that don’t move the plot along but make me laugh at the ideas and the extent to which Levin is willing to stretch out an idea.

Part IV Section 1 is called “New Modes of Fascination.”

As Belt wakes up his pillow is talking to him.  This is new.  Or, not new exactly, but unusual.  Indeed, the pillow is mad because Belt hasn’t talked to it at least six years (and it’s grumpy because of it).  There’s not much more with inans in this section (aside from a false interaction with a bracelet at the compound), but it’s probably important not to forget about them.

One interesting idea that the pillow suggests is that it can talk with books.  Belt wonders why he never talked with books.  Or had he?  Was the book reading the words to him as he held it or did books have other things to say besides the words on the page?  That idea must be tabled for now.

Belt runs into his dad who is standing in the kitchen acting like he’s had a stroke. He’s acting very strangely, frying up a huge pack of bacon and getting grease on a Jonboat shirt.  There’s a nice call back to Belt smashing the frame that held the Jonboat Says t-shirt.  For this is the shirt that Clyde has.  Clyde essentially believes that he blacked out and smashed the frame but doesn’t remember doing it.  he finds this disturbing because he distinctly remembers why he wanted to do it, but is concerned that he blacked out and doesn’t remember that part.  Belt does not put his mind at ease with the truth.

Belt also learns that his father never really liked Jonboat–he wasn’t rubbing it in by buying that T-short–rather it was … overcompensation because he felt bad that he didn’t like belt’s new friend.  This made Belt feel very good about his dad and they even shared a lengthy, sincere hug.

This week’s reading had several sections that I just loved.  The don’t advance the plot.  They are long-winded, almost set-pieces.  And each one delights me.

Like when Belt decides to sweeten his coffee with honey. (more…)

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waljuneSOUNDTRACK: KEVIN DEVINE-“Freddie Gray Blues” (2016).

a1265312378_16This week, Rough Trade and Bank Robber Music released a compilation on bandcamp called Talk – Action = Zero: A Compilation Benefitting Black Lives Matter.   On one day they raised $12,000 for Black Lives Matter, which is pretty fantastic.

The record features 100 songs, a majority of which are previously unreleased and some of which seem to have been written in the past week.

This Kevin Devine song is not new.  In fact, it has been recorded twice.  First with a band on his Instigator album and then reimagined as an acoustic song on his We Are Who We’ve Always Been record.  The acoustic version is included on the compilation and it really allows you to hear these lyrics.

It’s depressing that he wrote this song four years ago after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black American man who was arrested by Baltimore Police for allegedly carrying a switchblade on April 12, 2015.

Gray fell into a coma in the back of a police van and passed away on April 19.  An investigation found that the arresting officers failed to follow safety protocols “through acts of omission” due to the spinal injuries Gray received during the police transport, which led to his death.  The six police officers were not convicted but faced various charges from second degree-murder to manslaughter.

Here it is four years later and the song is just as relevant and fits in this compilation all too well.

The lyrics are straightforward, the melody simple.

I’m talking Freddie Gray blues
I’m talking what happened to you
You were just 25
When they ended your life
When “to serve & protect”
Meant break your leg, snap your neck
Meant to kill you, to sever your spine
No matter what, there’s no good reason why

Devine also speaks from personal experience because of his family’s association with the police:

When I’m talking these killer cop blues
I’m kinda talking my family to you
See, my dad was a cop
And his dad was a cop
And my uncles were cops
And my cousins were cops
I’m partly here because of cops
And I love all those cops
And I know not every cop
Is a racist, murdering cop
But this is bigger than the people I love
The system’s broken
Not breaking
It’s done

And then, like any white person who is an ally, he realizes his position.

I’m talking white privilege blues
I’m talking confession to you
I don’t know what it’s like
To be afraid all my life
Looking over my shoulder
Behind each officer, a coroner
Entrenched inequality
No access, no empathy
Crushed in stacked decks
Institutions & death
This is not my reality
I’m afforded the luxury
Of shaking my head
I shut the screen, go to bed
I can turn off what you never can
And watch it happen again and again (and again and again and again and again, and again).

[READ: June 5, 2020] “Rookie”

I can’t get over how many stories there are about tree-planting, something that I feel like no one in the States ever does but which seems to be a rite of passage in Canada.

Every story talks about how horrible it is.  You can make a lot of money if you can put up with the conditions.  The cold, the backbreaking work, the pressure, living in a trailer or hotel for months.  Although you could make $10,000 in two months if you were good. And, pretty much everyone there let the drugs and drink and sex flow.

There’s always people who thrive and can plant 4,000 trees a day (at 9 cents per tree) called highballers.  While a rookie is lucky to plant 1,000 (which would mean breaking even after camp costs, like food).

In this case the highballers are Skye and Jen who seem to be a couple.  The rookie is Jake and the story is mostly about him.  Jake is a religious twenty-something.  He is God-fearing and serious.  He intended to go tree-planting with his friends from Bible College.  Elmer was the group leader and they would keep tabs on each other to make sure they didn’t smoke, do drugs or have sex.  Jake decided to join up, but by that time, Elmer’s crew was full, so he wound up with another crew in Ontario. (more…)

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indexSOUNDTRACK: LARA DOWNES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #29 (May 30, 2020).

laraI don’t know Lara Downes, although from the picture you can see that she is a pianist, obviously.  But she also works in communities with young people–something she has been unable to do since the coronavirus took over.

This Tiny Home Desk is visually more interesting than most of the others, because she has a mobile cameraman, her son Simon, who walks around and zooms in on her fingers and elsewhere.

She plays three songs

all from her recent album Some of These Days… They are strong statements that resonate in new ways. From Margaret Bonds, one of the first celebrated African-American women composers, there’s “Troubled Water,” a poignant riff on the spiritual “Wade in the Water” that Downes says takes a “journey from classical virtuosity to gospel, jazz, blues and back again.”

It has a very fluid feel but is also quite dark.

The next piece surprised me not because of the song but because of the arranger.  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, yes the author, created this arrangement of “Deep River.”  I’m surprised that there is nothing else said about him.  I had no idea he was musical as well.

She says there are many interpretations of the river in this song.  For some, it is crossing over into the afterlife.  In the time of slavery, it meant crossing to freedom.  For Downes it represents “crossing over” the coronavirus crisis, to something better.

She is looking to raise money for FeedingAmerica.  If you go to her site and donate you can get a signed copy of her new album.

The final song is Florence Price’s “Some of These Days,” which she sees as a vision of better times ahead.  It is a beautiful slow piece.

The set ends with a jump edit to her snuggling her beloved pooch, Kona.

[READ: May 31, 2020] “Two Nurses, Smoking”

This story is broken up into titled paragraphs.  The title often works as the first part of the first sentence.  At first I didn’t understand this technique, but by the end it made a lot of sense.

The story is indeed about two nurses smoking.

Gracie grew up living in a motel that people paid for week by week.  A high school counselor encouraged her to go to nursing school.  Marlon grew up on the Shoshone reservation then his mother moved East and married a man who drank as much as she did.  He had been in the war and has a scar from an IED. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: D SMOKE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert (May 29, 2020).

The lineup of musicians for the Tiny Desk Home Concerts has been a fascinating mix of known and unknown folks.

I have never heard of D Smoke.  Apparently it’s not surprising that I don’t know who D Smoke is because

last year, the rapper and pianist, born Daniel Farris, rose to national acclaim when he won Netflix’s MC battle show Rhythm + Flow.

Winning allowed him to quit teaching and produce music full-time.  He plays four songs.

D Smoke’s songs here — taken from his latest album Black Habits, out earlier this year — acknowledge the disparities impacting the black experience that are simultaneously personal and universal. The opening selection, “No Commas,” is a heart-wrenching lament on injustice and inequality. The gentle touch of D’s fingers moving across the keys complement the song’s poignant lyrics, which he raps in English and Spanish.

I am really quite amazed at what rap sounds like without a beat, with no percussion of any kind.  These songs are performed with just the piano.  Stark and powerful.

I enjoyed the lyrics to “No Commas”

I told ’em I’m the one for the job, no commas
And I’m serious, period, no commas
Wanna enjoy my family and my friends with no drama

The song segues into “Closer to God” which has a more jazzy/lounge vibe.  He sings the chorus and has a lovely voice.

This is his first time playing and rapping “Seasons Pass.”  Although he is rapping, his is very musical about it, kind of singing more than straight ahead rapping.  But when he gets rapping, his flow is fast and impressive.

He also performed “Black Habits II,” the affecting finale to Black Habits, for the first time in a live setting.

The album is about his upbringing growing up, for the first nine years, with a single mother and then his pops coming home [from being incarcerated] and being a good role model.

He cautions us that it’s his first time playing it live so, “If I stumble a bit we gonna pick it back up.”  He does stumble a bit but it sounds great.

[READ: May 25, 2020] “Demolition”

It’s always interesting to read a story set in a different country.  I guess one always imagines a story is set somewhere familiar unless you are told otherwise.  It wasn’t until about half way through the story before I realized it was not set in the States.  And I think it was very close to the end that I realized it was set in Australia.

But the setting doesn’t matter so much because the story is about the house across the street which is being torn down today.

Eva lives across the street and is sad that the Biga house is being torn down.  Her husband, Gerald, is happy to see the eyesore go.  As they looked through the blinds, they watched people come and take souvenirs from the place.

Then came the media. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRAXTON COOK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #20 (May 8, 2020).

I thought I didn’t know who Braxton Cook was, but I have actually seen him as support in three different Tiny Desk Concerts: Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah in 2015, Tom Misch in 2018 and Phony Ppl in 2019.

Braxton Cook is a Juilliard-trained, genre-jumping artist whose music feels both contemporary and timeless. This time around, Cook takes the center seat, so to speak, from the comfort and safety of his sunny New Jersey home.

He plays four songs and all kinds of instruments in this concert.

Cook says he usually performs his original work with a full band, but obviously that isn’t an option in the time of social distancing. So instead, the ambidextrous talent uses loops to support his vocals, saxophone and guitar throughout the laidback set.

“Shooting Star” is set to a backing saxophone loop as Braxton plays guitar and sings.  It’s a smooth jazz song and he plays a sweet solo over the end while the loops slowly fade.

For “We Major” he starts a saxophone loop, lays down some keys and then plays a sax solo over the top.  It’s a pretty instrumental and the saxes intertwine nicely.  I love that he manages to get the whole song to stop abruptly on time.

For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, Cook jumped around his discography, performing tracks from his 2017 album, Somewhere in Between, all the way up to his latest project, 2020’s Fire Sign.

“Never Thought” is for his wife.  He’s got a looped guitar and a live guitar.  He sings a smooth R&B love song and then lays down a sax solo at the end.

Closing out this cozy session, Cook dedicates the stirring “Hymn (for Trayvon Martin)” to everyone affected by the current pandemic.

I feel like I have heard “Hymn (for Trayvon Martin)” somewhere before. It’s anj instrumental in essentially two parts.  It begins as a fast and pretty saxophone piece.  After a bit, he stands up and begins a lengthy looping section.  It’s slow and mournful and really lovely–the sax is the perfect instrument for it.    melody.  He loops a slow part and then plays a beautiful slow solo over the top.

[READ: May 14, 2020] Five Years #1

I loved Strangers in Paradise.  I started Rachel Rising, but now realize I never finished it.  I saw that Terry was creating Five Years, but I had no idea it tied in to the rest of the stories in any way.  Apparently it brings all of his different stories together.  So, I’m glad I discovered this just as he finished Issue 10.

I clearly need to start, if not the whole series, then at least the other two series to fill in some missing pieces, because this story went from vengeance and personal vendettas to global annihilation.

This issue opens with Katchoo, Francine and their two girls on a beach.  The voice over talks about nuclear bombs including the fascinating detail that there were so many nuclear explosions in the ’50s that two new isotopes are now in the atmosphere that didn’t exist before Hiroshima.  Oil paint made since the war contains these isotopes, It has become a foolproof way of testing for forgery in the art world.

That is fascinating. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TEA PARTY-“Isolation” (2020).

It seems like a number of bands have been covering Joy Divison’s “Isolation” lately. It is appropriate after all.

The Tea Party are a Canadian band known for its sound, which blends classic rock and influences from many countries around the world.  I like that they are referred to as “Moroccan Roll.”

Musically this songs sounds quite a lot like the original. I don’t think of The Tea Party has being especially synthy, but they get the synth sound pretty spot on.  Usually The Tea Party has all kinds of middle eastern instrumentation, but there’s nothing like that here.

Jeff Martin has a deep resonant voice that often sounds like Jim Morrison.  Here he gets the same tone as Ian Curtis, but his voice is much better, much more full than Curtis’.  In fact, the whole song sounds bigger–a sound that befits a band that is often compared to Led Zeppelin rather than an indie British club band.

The original certainly conveys “isolation” better (I mean, it is Ian Curtis after all), but this version sound great too and it really rocks.

[READ: May 11, 2020] “The Resident Poet”

I was surprised to realize that I had never read anything by Katherine Dunn.  Her novel Geek Love is one of those books that I feel is always mentioned as being notable.  I always assumed it was about nerds.  I just found out it is about carnies–circus geeks.  My mind is blown.

If I was wrong about the entire premise of her most famous book, I clearly have no idea what the rest of her output is like.

I didn’t realize she was the author of this story (I saw the author’s name but didn’t connect her to anything).  I doubt that knowing she wrote it would have made me think any differently about the story.  Mostly because I don’t know what to think about the story.

Essentially this story follows a college-aged woman as she deliberately degrades herself for a poet who comes to teach at their school.  But she seems empowered by her degradation, so I’m not sure how to read it. (more…)

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