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SOUNDTRACK: LABESS-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 (January 11, 2021).

LabessGlobalFEST is an annual even, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.  

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second band on the first night is Labess.

This Algerian and Canadian band proves that music has no boundaries even in times of isolation. Recording its set from France and Colombia, Labess blends flamenco and Gypsy jazz-influenced North African chaabi into energetic soul music with a nonstop beat. Singing in Arabic, French and Spanish, lead vocalist Nedjim Bouizzoul mixes realism and hope, gentleness and fury, in stories about exile that illustrate the joys and the distress that pave the road from the native countries to new homes and back again. Through his poetry, he proposes we reflect on cultural diversity and the necessity to unite, no matter our differences.

“Yal Maknin” opens with Rabah Khalfa playing the derbouka hand drum and a great riff on the banjo from Simon Demouveaux.  Nedjim Bouizzoul sings lead.  As the song move on, Demouveaux plays a solo along with strings from Simon Lannoy (cello) and Loran Bozic (violin).  It’s a lot of different sounds that work well together.

“Yemma” is a much quieter ballad.  Bouizzoul plays acoustic guitar and sings.  Khalfa plays the derbouka and Demouveauz plays a grougious melody on the oud.

They end with “La Vida Es Un Carnaval.” Mike Rajamahendra opens with drums accompanied by François Taillefer and Julio Frias on percussion.  Pierre Bonnet played some excellent bass in the first song. It sounds even better in this song.  Bouizzol sings in Spanish on this one.  The middle of the sing shifts gears and sounds very Spanish, with great horns from Javier Villa (trombone), Rafael “Pachalo” Gavilan (trumpet) and Moises Marquez Leyva (saxophone).  Then comes a drum and percussion section (including Bouizzoul playing percussive guitar.   Finally, along comes the star of the song–Miche Molina plays a wonderful button accordion solo.

[READ: January 2, 2021] A Poor Season for Whales

After having not had much exposure to South African writers (or really much of anything South African), I’m now on my second book.  This one is fiction.

My ignorance of South Africa is pretty vast, so I had to do a bunch of looking things up while I was reading.  Race plays a pretty big role in this book, so i wante dto look up some information about that.

About 80% of South Africans are of Black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages. The remaining population consists of communities of European, Asian, and multiracial ancestry.

According to the 2011 census, the two most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%) and Xhosa (16.0%).  The two next ones are of European origin: Afrikaans (13.5%) developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most coloured and white South Africans; English (9.6%) reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life.

The vast majority of black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994.

So South Africa has a pretty intense history.  This story addresses that history in some ways–it seems almost unavoidable frankly–but it’s more about an older white woman and the relationship she forms with a younger colored man.

The book starts on November 20, 2018 and runs through the new year.

Margaret Crowley a white fifty-something woman.  She is an architect, is clever and rich and has just moved into a home she designed for herself in Hermanus.  She used to live in Cape Town but left all of her friends and family to find some space in the more bucolic suburbs. The only living creature she brings with her to Hermanus is her dog Benjy, a fun and loyal Doberman.  

There’s some more fascinating things I learned about South Africa.  This story is set at Christmas time and in South Africa, Christmas is warm.  There are also whales who come to calve outside of Hermanus, making it a very popular tourist destination.  The title “a poor season for whales” refers to the fact that not many whales came to calve this year.

Margaret has recently had more upheaval than just a new house.  After twenty-six years of marriage, her husband has left her for a younger man.  She is not angry about it–she’s coping rather well, but she is still disappointed in the way things turned out.

The back of the book draws you in with this

After nearly fifty six years in the world with very little to stress or vex her, it was therefore hardly to be foreseen that in her fifty-sixth year she would kill a man with a kitchen knife.

Things get exciting at the very start of the book.  Margaret is walking Benjy along the sea front when he spots some dassies and charges after them.

Okay, so what the hell are dassies?  That was the first thing I had to look up (they are an African rodent found among rocky outcroppings.)  They were several meters down the cliff.  Benjy went after them he had no way to get back up.  And if he went further over the cliff he would clearly plummet to his death.

As she is freaking out a young man calms her down.  He says he will help.  He rappels down the side of the cliff an helps poor Benjy up and back to safety.  Benjy has made a new friend for life.   The man is a twenty four year old named Jimmy Prinslii-Mazibuko. 

He is very handsome with gray green eyes and caramel skin.  Jimmy is what is known as “colored” in Africa–

In early 20th-century South Africa, the word “Coloured” was a social category rather than a legal designation and typically indicated a status intermediate between those who were identified as “white” and those who were identified as “black.” The classification was largely arbitrary, based on family background and cultural practices as well as physical features. Most South Africans who identified themselves as Coloured spoke Afrikaans and English, were Christians, lived in a European manner, and affiliated with whites

Margaret is obviously very grateful to Jimmy for saving Benjy.  She asks how she can repay him and Jimmy basically asks if he can stop by her house for coffee and maybe a clean up (he’s cut in a few places).  Margaret is hesitant obviously–she doesnt know this man at all–but Jimmy is persuasive and seems sincere enough.  She agrees.

As she puts the ointment on his leg (at his insistence), she finds the whole scene erotcialy charged–but what could a 24 year old want with a fifty-six year old woman?   

Jimmy stays for a time and is completely irritating to her.  He loves to argue and enjoys giving her grief about pedantic issues.  Their conversations are wonderful–funny and very believable.  Jimmy is clearly smart and knows how to turn convention on its head to get what he wants.

Jimmy has really left an impression on her, but she assumes she’ll never see him again.  But the next morning when she goes to the grocery store, she sees him hitchhiking.  He flags her down and she takes him in to town.  She assumes that’s the end of it but he’s waiting at the car when she is dione shopping. She gives him a ride back home and he helps unload the groceries and then offers to make a meal for her.  (She is a terrible cook and he studied to be a chef).

She really doesn’t know what to make of this young man.

One of the most wonderful things (and timely for today–ITMFA) about this book is how much their discussion revolves around eviscerating donald trump.

The ANC was off the wall, Brexit had been a colossal blunder and donald trump was a buffoon, albeit an extremely dangerous buffon.

Even better is Jimmy assessment of how trump won

“I know I’m not saying anything original, said Margaret, but it remains a mystery how a developed, prosperous country like America could have elected a vulgar huckster as its president”
He laughed, “What is democracy but vulgar hucksterism dressed up as the will of the people?
“But democracy is the will of the people,” she objected.  “At least of a majority of the people.”
“Okay fair enough, yea but what determines the will of the people?”  Most people wouldn’t know what to have for breakfast if their TV didn’t tell them.  It’s all showbiz, reality TV, and Trump wasn’t on reality TV for chicken shit. His deal is selling himself to people who like to believe hey too can live in gold-plated skyscraper and screw supermodels”
“But he’s so unappetising.”
… “Sure he’s unappetising but that’s part of his appeal.  Most of the people who vote for him aren’t that appetising either–you’ve seen them on TV, men with paunches, brassy blonde women with too many teeth.  It’s the Revenge of the Uncool, the people left behind in Gun-and-God Gulch, who at the snobbery of the cool, with their trigger warnings and their safe spaces and their gay marriages and their abortions, the people who fly over what they call flyover country and cannot understand how anybody can actually live there…and electing Donald fucking Trump doesn’t make them any more cool, but it sure makes the cool eat a lot of shit. Because the last revenge of the uncool is to annoy the cool.

The story also deals with race issues in an unexpected way.

Jimmy introduces margaret to his friend Thuthukile.

She says to Margaret, “as a black person, I feel unsafe in Sea Point, I feel my identity threatened by the rising tide of whiteness.”
“Excuse me,” Margaret could not help but saying, “but did you say ‘as a black person?'”
“Yes, sure I did, I mean just because I was born with a white skin that doesn’t mean I’m white, Right?”
“Oh, I thought that was exactly what it did mean.”
“No, that’s the old essentialist argument.  I have a while skin but I self-identify as black. I mean, you have people born with penises who self-identify as women, and people born with vaginas who self-identify as men, right?”

When she talks to her friends and family back home about Jimmy, they have amusing reactions. Her best friend Frieda is scandalized (but fascinated) by this young man and wants all of the salacious details.  Her daughter Celia is actually too interested in her own life to care all that much, but her son Carl is concerned.  He is the same age (almost) as Jimmy and goes to the same school that Jimmy did.  He finds out some things about Jimmy that Margaret is not too pleased about.

As Christmas approaches, Margaret get st the unwelcome news that her former cleaning lady Rebecca needs to move in with her.  When Margaret moved to this smaller place, she no longer needed Rebecca who went to live with her own daughter.  But now the cleaning lady finds her living situation unbearable and insists that Margaret allow her to live with her.  Margaret can’t say no largely out of guilt.

There was an earlier comment from Jimmy that I found interesting.  When Margaret told him that she no longer employed a cleaning lady he was offended that she had money and wouldn’t give a needy person a job.  She had felt a little guilty about employing someone to clean for her, but he says it’s better that she an income, right? 

Rebecca lives in a sketchy area and Margaret is nervous to go there, but Jimmy offers to drive. He also speaks isiXhosa which impresses Rebecca and her neighbors very much.

Another wonderful subplot comes when Maraget goes to her daughter’s engagement party.  No one is looking forward to it because no one really likes her fiancee.  But everyone has a pretty good time.  Margaret also runs into her ex-husband’s sister Felicity.  Felicity is a large brash woman–the exact opposite of her brother.  She is flirtatious (even with her nephew) and tells some wonderfully scandalous stories (she believes that her father killed her mother).

This all leads to a big event on Christmas Eve at Margaret’s house.  She invites Miriam, her children and Felicity.  Jimmy agrees to cook and serve.

The party is a disaster with Felicity getting drunk and offending everyone: “when did young people get so humourless.”  At the talk of politics, Felicity grew animated

with trump the troll in the white house, Timid Theresa in Number 10 and Balls-over-Brains Vlad in the Kremlin, we’re fucked.  America is fucked, of course, it goes without saying, but where America goes the planet goes, so the planet is fucked.  And you know why?  Because fifty-two percent of white American women want their pussies grabbed.  That’s the percentage of white America women who voted for trump, right?  In the full knowledge of his pussy-grabbing propensities.
Aunt Felicity are you saying women want to be sexually assaulted?
No love I’m saying that a politically significant number of white women, fifty two wpercent,to be exact don’t regard pussy grabbing as sexual assault otherwise they wouldn’t vote for that tangerine troll, would they?
They may think that trump’s other virtues cancel ot his less admirable propensities
What other virtues love?  His humility?  His honesty?

At this point Celia stormed off.  Felicity was too drunk to drive home. Her son was too drunk to drive home. Carl and Jimmy hit it off and Jimmy wound up spending the night, with Carl.  Margaret is not sure what to think of this.

Things get very intense after this.  Margaret finds out that Jimmy’s secretive past is quite bad–he is mixed up with some very bad people  She can’t decide if she wants him gone for ever or wants him around all the time.  Two big unexpected events happen–one with Jimmy and one with Jimmy’s associates.

And yes, she does stab someone with a kitchen knife. 

I really enjoyed this story a lot and it has led me to other South african authors who I have also liked a lot.  

Incidentally, this book has a blurb: “Pitch Perfect. Aclever, bitingly funny novel.  It had me riveted,” from Finuala Dowling and I just happen to have a book by her with a blurb from Heyns: “Alive with wit and intelligence and beautifully written, this novel will keep people talking and arguing for a long time.”

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SOUNDTRACK: BORROMEO STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #127 (December 15, 2020).

This is the second of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

The Borromeo String Quartet consists of Nicholas Kitchen: (first) violin, Kristopher Tong: violin, Mai Motobuchi: viola and Yeesun Kim: cello (who is Kitchen’s wife).

Beethoven doesn’t score high when it comes to positive personality traits. Paranoid, litigious and a micromanager, Beethoven didn’t suffer fools and often fought with friends. Still, he possessed a well-developed funny bone, which Nicholas Kitchen and company put on display here, along with their own whimsical tiny “desks.” Because of the virus, and the confined space, the players wear masks.

The humorous side of Beethoven’s personality seeps into his music, such as the false stops and musical giggles that fuel his two-minute-long Presto from the Quartet Op. 130, which opens this performance.

“String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, II. Presto” has many fast moments and interesting parts where the first violin pays fast melodies but the rest of the quartet plays slow triplets over and over.  This is one of Beethoven’s shortest movements and is full of variety and energy.

For contrast, the Borromeos follow with a serious movement from later on in the same piece, the prayerful Cavatina, which Beethoven said even got him choked up.

This movement is full of serenity and tranquil beauty.  This is called the beklemmt section meaning trouble breathing. 

Kitchen can barely contain himself about the humor in the next piece, “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, II. Presto.”  He says this has a playful melody and “berserk” middle with instruments going all over the place.

More hijinks ensue in the Vivace from the Quartet in F, Op. 135, where Kitchen says the music becomes “completely berserk.”

And finally, in the last movement of the same quartet, Beethoven inserts a musical inside joke, the brunt of which falls on a wealthy music lover who displeased the great composer by not showing up at an important concert.

Kitchen says that Beethoven never met an occasion when he did not have a pun.  And he enjoyed injection his own brand of humor into his pieces.  In “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, IV. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss” there is an inscription: question must it be?  answer: It must be it must be!  Kitchen explains there was a patron who did not attend the premiere of opus 130.  The next day the patron  asked Beethoven to send him the music so his court musicians could play it. Beethoven said he’d send it but “you not only have to pay the price of admission for the concert you missed but for everyone in your family.”  The man looked at him and said “Must It be?”  Beethoven wrote a canon for four men to sing “it must be it must be.”  Then he made that joke the basis of the last movement of Op. 135.

[READ: January 3, 2021] Dinner

The Linden Tree was an interesting trip down memory lane for Aira.  

Dinner, by contrast is a wild violent fantasy (translated by Nick Caistor).  But its starts in the mundane–with a man and his mother going to dinner.

The two of them went to his friend’s house.  The friend was a terrible storyteller.  But he and the narrator’s mother had one thing in common–they were great at remembering the names of everyone in Pringles.  They knew the genealogies and configurations of nearly all the families.

But the narrator was terrible at remembering names–he had no facility for it at all.  He had plenty of memories from the town, but could never put a name to an event.

Evernatully the friend brought out a precious toy that he had.  It wa an old and rather sophisticated wind-up toy.  Two separate gears would go at the same time.  As it began to run, the door to a bedroom opened an a fat man came out and started to sing (as well as an old 19th century toy could sing). An old woman was in bed and she began to move back and forth “as a blind person does.” Then the second mechanism kicked in an the bedspread began to move and it looks like flocks of birds were flying out from underneath it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DUA LIPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #121 (December 4, 2020).

I first encountered Dua Lipa a few years ago when I was watching the NPR series Field Recordings.  It showed Dupa Lipa in 2016 singing a song from a balcony.  An accompanying essay said that she was hoping to “break America.”  I said I thought her song was fine.

I guess she has now broken America as she was on lots of best of lists this year (and the blurb lists her as a “global megastar.”

I haven’t actually heard anything from this album (or any of her albums–oh, she only has two), so this is really my introduction to her.

Of Kosovar Albanian descent, Dua Lipa was raised in the UK and rose to super stardom in the three years since her eponymous debut album dropped in 2017.

The band gets a remarkably full sound for having just a bass (Matthew Carroll) and a guitar (Alex Lanyon).  Even when Lanyon solos, the recording is robust.

I do find it strange that she has FOUR backing singers, though (Naomi Scarlett, Ciara O’Connor, Izzy Chase, and Matthew Allen).  I can’t hear that any of them are doing anything different than the others, making me thing two or even one would suffice, but whatever, it’s good to give musicians a job, right.

And, this is the first time she has been able

to reconnect with her band for their only performance since their tour in support of her sophomore album, Future Nostalgia, was cancelled in March. This vibrant four song set of dance hits, all from Future Nostalgia, will surely have you cutting up the floor in your kitchen while quarantining in the cold weather.

All four of these songs are enjoyable but pretty forgettable.  Even though You can sing along by the end of the song, it’s not likely you’ll be humming them an hour later.

“Levitating” has a fun descending vocal melody and a funky bass line.  I do rather like th emiddle “rapped” section because I like hearing Lipa’s accent as she says her London o’s in

My love is like a rocket, watch it blast-off
And I’m feeling so electric, dance my ass off

“Pretty Please” is a fun dancer. “Love Again” has a lovely full guitar introduction.  And the refrain of “God damn, you got me in love again,” is quite arresting.

“Don’t Start Now” has a cool funky bass line and a catchy chorus–definitely fun to dance along to.

[READ: January 2, 2021] “Our Lady of the Quarry”

This story is written in second person plural (and translated by Megan McDowell).

A group of younger (16 year old) girls are jealous of an older girl, Silvia.  Silvia has a place of her own, a job with a salary, and a know-it-all attitude:

If one of us discovered Frida Kahlo, oh, Silvia had already visited Frida’s house with her cousin in Mexico.

Silvia’s hair was perfectly dyed, she always had money and, worst of all, Diego liked her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAC AYERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #118 (November 30, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Mac Ayers and while I respect the fact that he plays everything in this Tiny Desk Home Concert (and syncs things up nicely) and even wears different clothes for each instrument, this 15 minute set was pretty torturous for me.

If you were to ask what kind of singing do I hate the most, my answer would now be Mac Ayers.  I hate the tone of his voice, I hate the way he does those whiny ooooooh at the end of his lines (note in the first song the first verse the way he says “you” and then the way he ends the rhyming word do (he even makes a face like it hurts him as much as it hurts me.

Obviously my opinion is not the popular one, because Ayers is apparently a big star.  But not in my house.

The 23-year-old Long Island native shot this in his basement back in September (hence the ‘register to vote’ comment). Mac’s modus operandi lends itself to the Tiny Desk naturally. No over-produced beats, lots of live instruments and a stunning vocal range — and he handles all duties: guitar, bass, keyboard and background harmonies for three songs from previous albums and the premiere of a new song, “Sometimes.”

He plays “She Won’t Stay Long” and then fiddles on the keyboard as he introduces “Walking Home.”  This song is a little bit more enjoyable for me.  There are fewer grace notes.  Although I do dislike the chorus.

He talks to us from his guitar to introduce the third song (I like that he’s mixing things up).

“Sometimes” is a new song.  It reminds me a lot of Billy Joel (not his voice, but the melody–must be a Long Island thing).

“Easy” has some terrific harmonies, although I hate the lead vocals.  I give him a lot of credit for being an exceptional musician, I just hate the music he makes.

We were well on the way to hosting Mac Ayres at our D.C. offices until we had to shut down and pivot.

I hope this Home Tiny Desk means he doesn’t have to do one in the office.

[READ: December 13, 2020] Modern Times

I saw this book at work and, given some of the blurbs, I thought it might be, if not fun then at least unusual to read flash fiction from an Irish writer.  I also prefer this Australian cover (right).

The book starts out with a bang.  “A Love Story” is bizarre and memorable.  In a page and a half, Sweeney talks about a woman who “loved her husband’s cock so much that she began taking it to work in her lunchbox.”  The story is bittersweet and outrageous at the same time.  It was a great opening.

But I feel like the rest of the book lost some steam.  Possibly because I assumed all of the stories would be this short.  It felt like the longer stories dragged on a bit (which is strange for stories about 4 pages long).

Interestingly, “The Woman With Too Many Mouths” even addresses this (to me anyway) as the narrator says, “I could expend many pages recounting my time…. but you would become bored, and worse, you would forget all about the woman with two many mouths.”  The woman with too many mouths had moths (among other things) fly out of these mouths.

“A New Story Told Out of an Old Story” is, as the title suggests, a story within a story.  It feels like a fairy tale with a Woodcutter and a Miller’s Daughter.  There’s even a Grandmother and a Wolf.   In the internal story, the wolf attacks the grandmother.  She survives, but the scar from the wolf makes her husband not want to look at her and the villagers treat her badly.  When you get to the Grandmother’s story, she has a different take on things.

This book is very current and I am reading “The Palace” as being about the pandemic.  Specifically, the outrageous bungling of the response by the current (and soon to be ex!) administration in the U.S.  

The palace was sick  no one believed it, but it was true.  

In the story the palace physically deteriorates.  The king patches it up but doesn’t actually do anything about the problem.

Soon reports of the sickness were breaking in the news on a daily basis. The king gave a rousing speech about battling the forces of evil that had created the sickness and people screamed ‘Long live the King’ until they were hoarse.’

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTILLERS-Very Special Christmas Special, “Baby It’s Covid Outside” (December 18, 2020).

Despite going to many live shows, I haven’t watched a lot of streaming concerts. It’s not the same, and I don’t really like watching things on my computer anyway.

I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to buy a ticket for this one.  I saw The Distillers last year and enjoyed the show. But I feel like I didn’t get to fully appreciate it because the crowd was really rowdy and knew the band far more than I did.

So this seemed like a chance to see them “live” up close. The entire special was barely 40 minutes.  This is a bit of a bummer, but at the same time, it was really a perfect length for me.

In addition to the music, there were some skits.  As the show opens, Black Metal Santa unpacks some presents from his sack.  There’s a gun on a stack of presents, he pulls out a squeaking chicken dog toy and then a very adult toy.  He turns around, all Black Metal and says “Merry Fucking Christmas boys and girls, here’s The Distillers.”

On a well-decked-out Christmas-themed set The Distillers start to play.  There’s all kinds of Christmas things–blow up snowmen and giant stocking as well as digital flames.  And a full rig of lights. The band sounds great and the recording is well mixed.  The drums and bass sound huge.

They open with “Sick of It All.”  Brody Dalle is up front playing guitar and singing.  To her right is Tony Bevilacqua on guitar.  To her left is Ryan Sinn on bass.  All three are wearing Santa hats.  They all sing the opening verses and it sounds like a wall of vocals. Drummer Andy Granelli is not wearing a Santa hat, but he does have a knit cap on. The song sounds great–a blast of punk to celebrate the season.

They follow with the outrageously catchy punk of “Oh Serena.”  When I saw them, they opened with these two songs as well.  But this set list deviates somewhat. 

Up next is the quieter “L.A. Girl.”  It starts with everyone playing softly while Brody sings.  Then the whole band kicks in with massive drumming and some tasty bass fills. A martial drum beat opens “I’m a Revenant.”  Both guitarists play the lead riffs before Brody starts singing.  This song has some great sing-along moments as well as a brief part where it’s just Brody before the band marches in again.

“Sunsets” comes next.  They didn’t play this when I saw them.  Brody’s guitar is clean as the song opens.  She sings without a snarl.  The song does not turn into a balls out rocker.  It stays slow but gets very intense.  Bevilacqua makes interesting bendy sounds from his guitar in the middle jam section.  The song slows to a bass rumble before some Christmas music starts playing.

Black Metal Santa comes out and gives Brody a present.  It’s the album Faith by The Cure.  But there’s nothing inside–it’s just the cover. Black Metal Santa says, “Its my ‘Primary’ Christmas gift to you.  A cover.  Now play the damn song.”  It’s an amusing introduction to the song “Primary,” which I did not expect at all.  It sounds fantastic–close to the original, but heavier and obviously with Brody’s vocals sounding very different from Robert Smith’s.  She restrains her vocals until a loud snarling “oh remember” part.

Brody removes the Santa hat for “Dismantle Me” and the lights get brighter so you can see her more clearly.  This song has a great split with really fast guitars from Bevilacqua and slower guitars from Brody. 

The super fast chords continue into “Die on a Rope.”  This song also has some “Oh way oh” parts that are really catchy for such a dark song.  The middle jam is just bass and drums and Bevilacqua’s squeaky feedback while Brody sings.  There’s some thunderous drumming in the end as they jump into “City of Angels.”  This song is really catchy as she and the boys sing together.  There’s another cool middle section of just Brody’s guitar and noisy guitar sounds from Bevilacqua before the band roars off again.

The song ends and Brody looks off stage and says “Jesus.”  Granelli chides, “Brody, it’s Christmas.”  But she points off stage and Jesus comes out.  They ask what he’s doing there and he says it’s his birthday. They ask if he can make it snow.  Jesus says he makes miracles happen–he’s got a guy.   He calls a guy who comes down and the snow starts to fall.  Jesus and the guy get in a fight over who actually makes the miracles happen.  The guy says “ever since cofefe.”  But Granelli stops them, “we’re trying to do a Christmas show here, knock it off.”

Brody takes the mic and says “this year’s been a real ass kicker.  We’re looking forward to the new year.” 

Then they start Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”  It sounds great and is a perfect set ender for a holiday special.

The show ends and they play the Ramones song over the credits.  The band takes bows and makes snow angels.

It’s a fun special and totally worth the $15.

[READ: December 25, 2020] “The George Spelvin Players”

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 25.  Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers, could’ve sworn she left that porridge bowl right over there [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I started this story and thought it was so familiar that I was sure I had read it before.  But as it went along, it didn’t seem familiar anymore, so maybe there is a similar component of it that I had read in another story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Connection” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Six” December 15, 2020).

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

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

The sixth night is a 90s rocker: a short, fun, stomper from Elastica.

From Brit Milot to Britpop…here’s one of the coolest tracks from the 90’s….sung by the very cool…and Jewish…Justine Frischmann…ELASTICA!

“Connection” was a 90’s juggernaut (even if they did have to give money to Wire).  Justine Frischmann was a perfect frontwoman–sexy and snarly at the same time.

Kurstin plays the keyboards and gets the sound pretty spot on, especially the higher notes.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  After providing those opening low voiced “uhhs,” he sings in a slightly higher register, and his harmonies (in a video insert) are perfect.

Midway through the song they add in circles with handclaps.  It amuses me that hey start with two circles and move up to sixteen or so.  Once again, one of my favorite songs in the set is super short (not even three minutes).

[READ: December 16, 2020] “In the Mist of Everything”

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 16. Hilary Leichter, author of Temporary, is pretty sure she just felt a raindrop. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

It strikes me that this story was created because the phrase “in the midst of everything” was misheard as “mist.”

At first I didn’t care for the way the story was structured, but it only took a couple of paragraphs before I rather appreciated it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Rainy Day Women 12 & 35″ (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Five” December 14, 2020).

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

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

The fifth night is a classic rock staple: a singalong from Bob Dylan.

So now everybody must get stoned (not in the Law of Moses sense) as we put some blood on this track: Rainy Day Women 12&35 by the immortal Bob Dylan!

Anyone who has listened to classic rock radio has heard this song a hundred times.  And if you heard it when you were younger, it made you chuckle because he says “everybody must get stoned.”  I have often wondered if there is any more depth to the song than that.  Also, why it is called “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35.”

Kurstin plays the piano on this one–a bouncy barroom piano rag.  He also adds harmonica.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  These drums are about the simplest thing that he’s ever played–a two beat snare and bass drum. He doesn’t try to sing like Dylan (that would be too obvious), although he definitely sings more like Dylan than himself.

It’s a straightforward song and both of them have a lot of fun with it.

[READ: December 15, 2020] “The Game”

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 15. Kris Bertin, author of Use Your Imagination!, would like to buy a vowel. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story is about allowing fate to control your life.

The narrator and his friend Brad both work at a University.  They are both published authors although neither has written anything since they got the jobs.

Brad believed in “all that shit”–he got his fortune told,  did Tarot, I Ching, Ouija–he did it all. He believes that he is fucked on a cosmic level.  He is trying to bring his wife and child to where he is working, but he can’t afford to do so yet.

The narrator tries to convince him it’s all junk and says he’ll do a fortune for him right now.  But Brad knows that having any of that divination shit in your house is bad luck.  However, he does have a can of dice.

The dice are a large assortment of letters–from multiple Boggle games.  Brad tells him you roll the dice and you read what it says–not all the letters obviously, just what speaks to you.

The first roll produced

GOGET ON THE ROOF QIUCK

So they did.  The roof was beautiful–a lovely night, a lovely view, and a flat surface to keep rolling. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her first song “Black Like Me” is beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow.

[READ: December 7, 2020] “Cut”

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story started out is such an amusing way:

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: TIGRAN HAMASYAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #110 (November 11, 2020).

I have never heard of Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan.  I really enjoyed his solo pieces here and am somewhat surprised to read that he often plays with others.

The first piece,

“Road Song,” features a melody Hamasyan wrote in 2008, but recorded with a quintet on his imaginative 2013 album, Shadow Theater. He frequently plays a solo version of it live, but had never played it alone in a studio until now.

It starts quietly.  Then he begins whistling (!) which makes it even more haunting.  At around 4 minutes his  left hand rhythm remains slow and steady while his right hand flies all around the keyboard.  It’s wonderful.

That’s followed by “Our Film,” from Hamasyan’s latest and most enterprising release, The Call Within. This performance mirrors the intensity and sentimentality of the album version, but here it’s more intimate and fanciful.

It also has pretty, haunting melody (with more whistling).   It picks up the pace in the middle and gets almost frenetic (around 11 and a half minutes into the video) before settling down again.  It’s amazing how it all holds together with the more staid left hand.

The last tune, “A Fable,” is the title track of his 2011 solo album, which was inspired by 13th century Armenian writer Vardan Aygektsi.

This piece is flowing and a bit more upbeat.  He really gets into it and starts grunting at one point.

Hamasyan is a jazz pianist, but his foundation comes from Armenian folk music.  Perhaps that’s why i like this so much–it is very jazzy, but is grounded in traditional melodies.

[READ: November 30, 2020] “Ema, The Captive”

This is one of Aira’s earlier (and longer) stories.

I’m fascinated that his earlier stories seem to be grounded much more in reality–blood and gore–rather than fantastical ideas.  Although calling this story grounded in reality is a bit far fetched as well.

This is the story of Ema (at one point in the book it is mistyped as Emma) a woman who goes from being a concubine to running a successful business.  The story (translated by Chris Andrews) is broken into several smaller anecdotes as Ema’s life progresses.

But it starts out with no mention of Ema at all.

Indeed, the opening chapter is revolting. A wagon train carrying prisoners is heading across the Argentinian desert (set in the nineteenth century). (more…)

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