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Archive for the ‘Sexual Assault’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[READ: June 13, 2020] “White Noise”

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS WORLD TOUR (May 26-June 4, 2010).

Phoebe Bridgers is a fascinating person.  She sings the most delicate songs.  Her voice is soft and almost inaudible. Her music is simple but pretty.  And her lyrics are (often) devastatingly powerful.

And yet she is really quite funny.  Both in interviews and in her visual representation of herself.

Her logo when I saw her was a fascinating faux death metal style of her name.  And now with this world tour, you can see in the poster all of the metal bands referenced in the logos. (There’s Slayer in the kitchen for instance).

And then there’s the basic joke of this world tour.  No one can go anywhere, so she is travelling her world: kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom (second concert by popular demand??)

The first show last night raised money for Downtown Women’s Center.

After some introductory talking and even a magic show (!) from Ethan, her producer, she played five songs.  Midway through she agrees that the set was a bit of a downer, especially opening with these two sad songs.

“Scott Street”
“Funeral”

Then it was time for two new songs (and an electric guitar).

“Moon Song”
“I See You”

Before coming to the end, she delayed, because she was having so much fun (and raising so much money).  So she showed us around her kitchen and pitched the kind of guitar she was playing, the kind of capo (quite expensive!), and her Target-purchased kitchen ware.  

She ended the set with a boygenius song, “Me and My Dog ” dedicated to her dog Max who died at the age of 17 last year.

The first night of her tour was a success. Tonight is night two, from the bathroom.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.  You can watch it here.

[READ: May 27, 2020] “California Ghosts”

I don’t usually read profiles of artists I like.  But every once in a while, one strikes me as interesting.

Phoebe Bridgers is a pretty fascinating character (see the above part for some details).  So I though this might be an interesting profile.  And it was.

Bridgers was brought up in Laurel Canyon and came of age listening to emo.  I love that the writer has to define emo for the New Yorker crowd, “a sub-genre of punk focused on disclosure and catharsis.”  That’s probably the most concise definition of emo I have read.

She writes that Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes) is one of emo’s most beloved practitioners.  Phoebe grew up listening to him and then met him in 2016.  He says when he first heard her he felt like he was reuniting with an old friend.  In 2018 they made Better Oblivion Community Center together.

At Carnegie Hall (where she wore a tea-length black dress and high to Doc Martens), she sang a song with Matt Berninger of The National. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #12 (April 22, 2020).

I had a mixed reaction to Nick Hakim”s Tony Desk, although the blurb writer says he loved it.

Whenever I’m asked to name my favorite Tiny Desk concerts, Nick Hakim’s 2018 performance sits near the very top. He and his four bandmates reset the bar for intimacy at the Desk with their hushed groove.

Hakim plays three songs from his upcoming album WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD

from the corner of his dark bedroom with a keyboard, guitar and stacks of audio components.

His vocals on all three tracks are quiet and echoing, as if he is whispering down a long hall.  In fact all of the music sounds muted and soft, with a feeling of hazy smoke floating around,.

“QADIR,” is a haunting dedication to a fallen friend.  He plays guitar–mostly slow muted echoing guitar chords.  When the song ends, he activates a mini applause effect box which is pretty funny.

He takes a few loud slurps from his drink and gives a big “ahhh,” before starting the next song. For “GODS DIRTY WORK” he switches to the keys.  His singing style is exactly the same, although the song may be a little slower.

He adds a little more fake applause and then a somewhat creepy echoing laughter as he switches the drum beat for “CRUMPY.”

Honestly, all three songs sound a lot alike and seems really slow and hazy. It’s weird how upbeat and smiling he is, in contrast to the music.  I wonder how he makes everything seem so quiet.

[READ: April 15, 2020] Nicotine

I really enjoyed Nell Zink’s two other novels, but somehow I missed this one entirely when it came out.  I couldn’t imagine what it was about with that title and boy I never expected it to go where it did.

I actually had a slightly hard time getting into the book. That may have been because it was Quarantine and it was hard to ficus or it was because the opening of the book was so puzzling.  And yet by the end I was totally hooked.  But the beginning:

A thirteen year old girl stands in a landscape made almost entirely of garbage, screaming at a common domestic sow.

Then a white man comes and takes the girl away.  Her name is Amalia. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SOCCER MOMMY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #1 (March 21, 2020).

Since the quarantine began, many many many musicians have been playing shows at home.  There are so many online home recordings that it is literally impossible to keep up with them.  I have watched a few, but not many.  I’m not sure how many of the online shows are going to be available for future watching, but at least these are saved for posterity.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

On Monday March 30, Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, was to perform a long awaited Tiny Desk concert at my desk. Now the world has changed, and with the coronavirus keeping us at a distance, we’re taking a break from filming Tiny Desks at the office for a while.

Sophie wanted to share her music and her thoughts with you. So we’re kicking off our Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts series with Soccer Mommy from her home in Nashville.

Soccer Mommy was supposed to play a show in Philly on March 31. I had a choice between this show and a show from Vagabon.  I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to go to.  Well, now I get this home concert instead.

This Home Concert (as most will be) is Sophie and her acoustic guitar.  Since I don’t really know (most of) the originals, I can’t compare them.

All three songs have catchy melodies.  It’s cool watching her hands up close to see he playing modifications to the chords in “Bloodstream” so it’s not as simple a melody as it seems.

Her voice is soft and high (although a little hard to hear in this mix).

“Circle the Drain” has been getting some airplay and I rather like it.  It reminds me of a Lemonheads song in style.  This acoustic version is nice, but I prefer the studio version (that extra guitar line is a nice touch).  She says it’s about being depressed and staying inside all day.  “I’m sure some of you can relate to that right now.”

Before the final song, “Royal Screw Up” she asks if anyone can guess what tuning she is going from and into.  My guess is that she is going into standard E tuning, although I’m not sure from what.

Most of her melodies remind me of the singers I liked in the 90s, and I think with a slightly better production I would have really enjoyed this set.  I might have to check out her album a little more closely.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Customer is Always Wrong

I enjoyed, Mimi Pond’s first memoir(ish) book, Over Easy, but I grew tired of it by the end.  It was an look at late 1970s San Francisco and all of the low-level drug dealers and users who worked and ate at the restaurant where Madge was a waitress.

And yet, I came away from it with enough good vibes that I was interested in reading this second volume.  And this second volume had the heart and soul that I felt the first one lacked.

The story begins with some of Mimi’s past boyfriends (good boys whom her mother loved).  Then it moved on to bad boys who treated her like crap.  Finally, she meets Bryan, a nurse who treats her kindly–and the sex is amazing.

But the shine starts to wear off and a turd is slowly revealed–the way he breaks up and gets back together (he loves the drama), the way he watches the World Series at her house even though she doesn’t care about baseball (or own a TV–he brought his own).  Oh, and the way she finds out later that he lied about nearly everything.

The drug dealer characters from the first book are still there of course.  The most prominent one is Camille, a “straight looking” and pretty young woman who has hooked up with Neville, a real dirtbag (but one who tells great stories).  She has big dreams–they will sell a ton of coke, make a ton of money and go to Paris.  Of course that never happens.

And then there’s Lazlo.  Lazlo is the real main character of the story.  Even though it is Madge’s story, it all more or less revolves around Lazlo.  Lazlo runs the diner where Madge works and he is always around–wearing his cool hat, telling great stories (he is a poet).  It’s hard to remember that he is married.  Hard for him to remember too, apparently. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WALE-Tiny Desk Concert #935/Tiny Desk Fest October 30, 2019 (January 21, 2020).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 30th was rap night featuring Wale.

Washington D.C. rapper Wale stands as one of the most distinctive figures in hip-hop today. More than 10 years ago, the man born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin created a local buzz in the D.C. area through a host of mixtapes showcasing his skills atop popular instrumentals. What separated him from the hundreds of hopeful MCs trying to make names for themselves online was his ability to fuse go-go music — D.C.’s homegrown spin on funk — with hip-hop.

I’m always amazed when I have never heard of someone who is objectively huge.  So Wale (whose name I didn’t know how to pronounce until he said it) is a hugely popular rapper.

In 2011, Wale joined forces with Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group and had a real breakout with “Lotus Flower Bomb,” the lead single from his sophomore album, Ambition. It went on to earn him a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Song in 2013.

A native of the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area (or DMV), Wale’s calling card remains the rap ballad, a streak he continued on his 2019 album, Wow… That’s Crazy, which debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s Top 200. It reveals a man more self-aware than ever, exposing flaws and struggles while keeping his self confidence fully intact.

One of the things I really like about Tiny Desk is hearing rappers performer with a live band.  In this case, the band is

Tre And The Ppl (formerly UCB). Tre is Wale’s right hand on stage and their effortless chemistry has been intact since the beginning.

Tre was founder of the go-go band UCB which almost succeeded in “introducing go-go’s hyper-local rhythms to the rest of the planet.”

Tre sings mostly choruses but some leads to Wale’s rapping.  And Tre sounds just like Aziz Ansari when he sings.  I guess Tom Haverford would have supported UCB back in the day.

What really struck me about Wale was his frankly astonishing ego for someone who is somewhat understated.  Things like

This is a big stage but luckily I’m a giant as well.

and

I’m at an important place in my career … and I got here because of this city.

He is full of love for D.C. (“don’t mute D.C.” he says at the end).  And when he introduces

“Lotus Flower Bomb” he says, “Have you heard of this before?  If you haven’t, you can leave now.”  He’s very funny, making amusing mellow jokes throughout the show.

This song is really pretty with gentle keyboards from Glenn Cobb and some quiet guitar licks from Stanley Thompson.

Wale asks, “Are you all allowed to clap in here? I saw Lizzo got you clappin'”

“LoveHate Thing” has a cool five-string bass line from Daniel Bennet that jumps to a funky middle section.  I love the addition of the percussion from Jerry Venable throughout all the songs.

Wale shouts out to D.C. and says, “I hope the Nationals win tonight.” (They won the world series that evening).

He says he wants to introduce “some of my b sides.”  The song “CC White” [Cocaine White] is “written in metaphor about something that plagued this city since the 80s.”

As the song starts he holds up a little Washington D.C. flag that he wants to “put here for aesthetics.”  The little flag won’t stand up after several tries.  He says, “I knew that wasn’t going to fit … that was a gag by the way.”

He takes a sip of tea and then says “how many of you think that’s tea in there?”

Up next is “Sexy Lady” which is sung by Tre and which Wale says “is one of the classic songs that came out in any genre.”  Tre encourages everyone to “feel free to dance if you want to.  Feel free to get close to each other if you want to.”  People sing along right from the start.  I enjoyed the dirty but not lyric

“I’m gonna pick you up on Saturday, maybe you can give me some whats her name.”

For this show, Wale gets more than three tracks,  He gets six, in fact.  The second to last song is “Sue Me”  which he says “is special to me.  I feel like I’m a next level person when I get to the last verse.”  I was pretty fascinated by his lyrics

Maybe ’cause I was searchin’, I found me the perfect person
But me and her didn’t work out, she buried what she worked for
And I carried the bitterness of a kola nut
Nigerian shit, my parents never showed much
Womanizer, probably could’ve been a feminist
‘Cause I respect ’em, but Lord, I got polygamy problems

But it’s the chorus that is so nice:

Sue me, l’m rootin’ for everybody that’s black

He also says “pro-black isn’t anti-white” which a lot of people forget.

There’s some cool guitar and keyboard soloing in this song some cool soloing.  And I like the open hi-hat sound that Eric Curry uses on this song and some others.

He ends the set by saying, “I got one of the biggest songs in the country right now so let’s get into it.”  Again, I’ve never heard of it, I guess the music world is horribly siloed.  Before the song starts he thanks the audience for their energy:

It’s not like a show live crazy turnt up energy.  It’s more like a I gotta get to work in the morning, I’m not as turnt up as you.  And maybe like some of my superiors are watching me so…  shout out to everybody with a Finsta who can show they here

For “On Chill” he encourages everyone “You ain’t gonna get in trouble for clapping for yourself.”

Wale really won me over by the end of this set.  I went from never having heard of him, to hoping for more success for him.  And I’m not the only older white guy to feel that way.

Wale‘s Seinfeld-inspired The Album About Nothing an extension of his 2008 The Mixtape About Nothing, marks the first time the comedian has featured on a Number One album.   You can hear about the 60-year-old comic’s unlikely friendship with the 30-year-old rapper and what attracted him to the Wale’s music in this NPR interview.

[READ: January 26, 2020] “You Will Never Be Forgotten”

This story starts out in a shocking way: “The rapist is such an inspiraton that he started a newsletter to share his story.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

The rapist chronicles his transformation from a nerdy ducking into the muscular entrepreneur swan he is today.

It turns out this newsletter began “as a motivational tool for his annual charity triathlon” but it is now a meditation on health, tech culture and “of course, pushing through limitations and not understanding the meaning of the word ‘no.'”

Then we see the whole story: “the woman has been following the rapist on social media since the rape, though her accounts don’t officially ‘follow’ the rapist.”

I love that the story  doesn’t let up on calling him what he is.

But I also loved that the story is about more than this.   For the woman works as a content moderator at the world’s most popular search engine, in a room with no windows or ventilation system. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ORQUESTA AKOKÁN-“Mambo Rapidito” (2019).

Since this story is about something shameful in Cuba, I thought I’d tie it to something that is wonderful in Cuba: Orquesta Akokán

Orquesta Akokán is a band comprised of Cuban musicians and “Latin music freaks” from New York.   They play the kind of Cuban music that filled New York nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As their website explains:

Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and modernized through a synthesis of the rich compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond.

This song begins with a descending piano riff that quickly gives way to horn hits and a cowbell that doesn’t stop for the whole three minutes.

The main melody comes in as a swinging, wholly danceable riff with shouted refrains of “baile!”

Then lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez shows where the rapidito comes in as he sings an insanely fast vocal part ( I wouldn’t even guess what he’s saying).

The song is fun and swinging and should make everyone want to baile!

Then comes an awesome flute solo.  There’s a cool swinging instrumental sections in the middle before the call and response of the backing vocalists and Pepito.

Then a wild and cacophonous piano solo sprinkles the end of the song.  It is a ton of fun.  The NPR blurb says that

when globalFEST decided to host this year’s edition at New York’s Copacabana nightclub — a venue with a history that stretches back nearly 80 years and boasts a long association with Latin music — the festival’s organizers decided that Akokán had to be the first group they invited this time around.

Mambo!

[READ: December 23, 2019] Guantánamo Kid

This is a story of injustice.

Injustice at the hands of Americans.

Americans should be humiliated and outraged by this injustice.

Injustice that is utterly horrific to behold–and I suspect that this graphic novel holds back a lot of the really unpleasant details to make it readable.

This is the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, an innocent kid who was sent to Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

At the age of 14, Mohammed El-Gharani made money in the streets of Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His family was from Chad and, as such, he was treated like an outsider in Saudi Arabia.  He wasn’t allowed to go to school and the locals treated him badly.  He and his friend knew this was no way to make a living.

One day his friend told him that if he went to Pakistan he could learn how to fix computers.  He even knew people there who would put him up while he studied. (more…)

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92000SOUNDTRACK: U.N.K.L.E.-“Ar.Mour” (2019).

armourHaving learned that U.N.K.L.E. had not only been making music all of these years but even put out a new album this year, I thought I’d listen to something new and see what it was like.

I chose “Ar.Mour” because James Lavelle described it as a sci-fi beat jam.  It features vocals from Elliott Power and Miink.

A pulsing beat opens this five minute song.  Some deep echoing drums come in and slowly add tension and then after about a minute the slow trip-hop drum beat begins. Then a simple guitar line comes in and around two minutes voices swirl up from underneath.  There is definite sci-fi feel to the song.

The song seems to fade out around 2 and half minutes before picking up again and just when you think the whole song is an instrumental the vocals come in.  There’s a deep voice followed by a repeating higher voice.  Then there’s a rap.  All of the voices are enveloped in a soft echo, making the words hard to hear.

The end of the song has a catchy vocal melody as the whole song builds with all of the parts melding together.

[READ: September 1, 2019] “Nelson and Annabelle” (Part 2)

I’m still not sure if this is a two-part, long short story or if it is an excerpt from a novel.

What was kind of strange was that this whole story was utterly chock full of details as if it were a novel, and yet the ending just sped through and finished up with a kind of epilogue tacked on.

This part starts at Thanksgiving dinner.  Nelson has invited Annabelle to his mother’s house for dinner with the family.  The family includes his mother’s new(ish) husband Ronnie and a bunch of Ronnie’s closest relations.

The conversation is cordial until they start talking politics.  Everybody hates Clinton and they are angry that Hillary might run for office in New York.  It was not enjoyable rehashing the political arguments from twenty years ago, but I was fascinated at how much the things they said about him could easily be applied to trump and I wondered if these fictional people were now pro- or anti- trump.

…he lied to us, the American people.  He said it right out on television….

…he’s a draft dodger.  If I were a soldier I’d tell him to stuff his orders….

He makes me ashamed of being an American he makes America look ridiculous.  Drowning us in sleaze and then flying around all over the world as if nothing whatsoever has happened. Its so brazen.

He makes Nixon look like a saint.  At least Nixon had the decency to get out of our faces.  He could feel shame.

Its the sleaze. What are children supposed to think.  What do you tell the Boy Scouts?

As people get drunker, Ronnie, who has been against Annabelle since she showed up tells her to her face that “You’re your mother’s daughter alright… She’d fuck anybody…  It must feel funny being the illegitimate daughter of hooer and a bum.”

Nelson takes Annabelle and leaves the house and swears he will never set foot in it again.

Next we met one of Nelson’s oldest friends, Billy.  Billy is now an oral surgeon and very rich.  He calls up Nelson and invites him out for dinner to catch up. They have a nice time so when New Year’s Eve comes around–the Y2K New Years–Nelson invites Billy out with him and Annabelle.

Also in town are Nelson’s ex-wife, Pru, and their son.  Their daughter, who is 20, decided to go somewhere else with her boyfriend.  Nelson is bummed about the visit.  He wanted to see his daughter and he imagined that they would all stay with him.

Pru is pleased that he finally moved out of his parents house (the two of them lived in his parents’ house when they were married), but she doesn’t want to stay in his new cramped place.

For New Years Eve, Nelson Pru and Billy plan to go out.  Nelson invites Annabelle to come with them–what else is she doing?

They go for dinner (Billy uses his pull as a n oral surgeon to get them a seat at a crowded restaurant) and a movie.  They see American Beauty and have lots to say about it–it’s fascinating how racist and homophobic these men are.

Annabelle and Billy hit it off.  Nelson didn’t intend for that to happen, but it did.  In fact, in the car, it sounds like maybe he can hear the zipper of her dress being undone a little.

They decide to spend the last minutes of 1999 at a club.  But as they head downtown, the streetlights go out.  Is it a terrorist attack (in central Pennsylvania?)

With the traffic lights out, Nelson thinks people will take turns through the intersection.  But when a jerk in an SUV tries to cut him off, Nelson guns it, making the SUV screech to a halt.

For the first time all night Pru is really nice to him, “Oh honey, that was great, the way you made that asshole chicken out.  I think I wet my pants.”  As they drive further Pru whispers that she might stay at his place tonight after all.

The epilogue is satisfying, if you care about these characters.  Which I kind of do.  I definitely wonder if there’s more to their story or if this was just Updike’s way of capping off the full Rabbit saga

 

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SOUNDTRACK: iLe-Tiny Desk Concert #874 (August 3, 2019).

It’s not very often that you hear a song that is all percussion.  But the first song of this set is only percussion and (Spanish) vocals.

iLe is a singer in the Puerto Rican band Calle 13.  Her most recent solo album Almadura:

is filled with metaphors and allegories about the political, social and economic conditions in Puerto Rico.

When vocalist Ileana Cabra Joglar and her band visited the Tiny Desk, they’d just arrived from the front lines of the historic demonstrations taking place in Puerto Rico. Two days earlier, they were part of a crowd of tens of thousands who were on the streets calling for the resignation of embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. (Rosselló recently stepped down, effective August 2.)

Right from the start, it was clear what was on iLe’s mind in her song “Curandera” — “I am a healer / I don’t need candles to illuminate / I bring purifying water to cleanse / Removing pains so they never return” — as congas and percussion shook the room with an Afro-Caribbean beat.

This is the song in which all of the band members play percussion–primarily congas although Ismael Cancel is on the drum kit.  While everyone plays congas, it is Jeren Guzmán who is the most accomplished and who plays the fast conga “solo.”

In the chorus of the slow-burning “Contra Todo,” iLe sings about channeling inner strengths and frustrations to win battles and remake the world. Her lyrics are rich with history, capturing the spirit of the streets of San Juan even as she stood, eyes closed, behind the Tiny Desk. Her entire performance is a startling reflection of this moment in Puerto Rican history.

“Contra Todo” has a rich deep five string bass from Jonathan Gonzalez and two trombones (Joey Oyola and Nicolás Márquez). Two guitars (Bayoán Ríos and Adalberto Rosario) add a kind of percussive strumming and a quiet song-ending riff.  Jeren Guzmán plays the congas with mallets, something I’ve never seen before.

By the time iLe and her band launched into “Sin Masticar,” they’d already captured the full power of protest, as their musical arrangements raged with the intensity of a crowd joined by a shared cause and pulse.

“Sin Masticar” has a super catchy chorus, perhaps the best way to get people involved in a protest.

[READ: August 2019] Midnight Light

Two years ago Dave Bidini co-founded The West End Phoenix, a newspaper that is for people in Toronto’s West End.  It’s print, it’s old school, and it’s pretty awesome.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to the West End, but I find the writing and the content to be interesting and really enjoyable.

It’s no surprise that Bidini has worked in journalism and loved and hated it.

I’ve always loved newspaper: the smell of the ink and the rough of the newsprint weighted in my hands, their broadsheets flapping like Viking sails.  When I was a kid, our family read them all–the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, The Sun, and before that The Telegram–at the kitchen table with each person drawing out whatever they needed: comics, sports, business, entertainment (and yet never Wheels, the Star’s automotive supplement).

He started writing before he picked up a guitar.  When he was 11 he submitted a poem about a hockey player to The Sun‘s “Young Sun” section.  It was accepted and he won a T-shirt.

In 1991, he was asked to write a regular column for a Star satellite weekly called Metropolis.  The day his first piece was to be in print he waited at the nearest newsbox for the delivery man.

But he had no stamina and fewer ideas and he was eventually let go.  Which led to writing books.  But he still wanted to write for the paper and then he remembered: Hey, Yellowknife had a newspaper.

This book is about journalism.  But it’s also about the Canadian North.  And while the journalism stuff is interesting–and the way it ties to the North is interesting too, it’s the outsider’s perspective of this region of the world (that most people don’t even think about) which is just amazing to read about–the people, the landscape, the conditions.  It’s fascinating. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RADCO-“Didn’t You Know” (2017).

Since this essay is about Mennonites, I decided to see if I could find any Mennonite rock bands.  Well, Radco was a “punk” rock band from Vancouver, BC.

Drummer Amber Banman described their music as

A heart crushing, unstoppable, rock and roll machine. Ha-ha .We like to say we’re too polite for punk rock as we all generally mind our P’s and Q’s. But oh boy, can we rock!

They have a few songs on bandcamp.

This song does rock (although there is a xylophone melody at the end).  It’s catchy with solid guitars.

The lyrics are indeed a polite diss track:

Pay attention
Before you miss
All of these things
That you could have kissed
Didn’t you know I wanted to go
But you left me standing by my front door

As of 2018 Radco were no more, although three of them went on to form The Poubelles (Amber sings lead in this band).

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Mennonites Talking About Miriam Toews”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue. This year’s issue had two short stories, a memoir, three poems and a fifteen year reflection about a novel as special features.

I really enjoyed Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows.  I haven’t read her book A Complicated Kindness, but I gather that it (like Sorrows) shines a light on Mennonite culture.

The introduction to this piece says that Kindness introduced the world to the Mennonites of Manitoba’s Bible belt.  Her 2018 novel Women Talking is a fictionalized account of women living in the aftermath of sexual assault in an ultraconservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia (that book sounds painful to read).

This piece is a collection of cartoon panels each one a person expressing a real sentiment about Toews (although the panels are fictionalized). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ENSEMBLE SIGNAL PLAYS JONNY GREENWOOD-Tiny Desk Concert #850 (May 20, 2019).

The blurb for this piece is actually by Jonny Greenwood (instead of an NPR staffer), so I’ll keep the whole thing.

I’ve watched a lot of Tiny Desk concerts over the years. It’s good to see musicians in the raw, away from stage lighting and backing tracks — as if they’ve just stopped by an office to play over a lunch break, with desk-bound employees watching on. The performances should expose flaws, but instead they tend to expose musicians being casually brilliant, like the members of Ensemble Signal, who certainly play these pieces beautifully.

Unfortunately, I was nowhere near Washington, D.C. for this recording. And I still find it bizarre that you can put a musical idea on paper and have it reproduced at such a distance — and with such added life. We’re used to sounds and images being shared as exact clones of one another, but the pleasure in using ink and paper is that the music is interpreted rather than just reproduced. All those years of practice, in all those players, distilled into 15 minutes of music. It’s a big privilege — and a continuing motivation to write the best I can.

The first piece, Three Miniatures from Water, was originally a sketch for an Australian Chamber Orchestra commission in 2014. I thought it’d be easier to approach writing for full orchestra by starting with a piano miniature and scaling it up. In fact, only some of the material made it to the final commission, and I always felt the original three miniatures hung together well enough as its own piece of music.

I’m a big admirer of composer Olivier Messiaen, and one of the musical scales he favored was the octatonic mode. It’s a lot like an Indian rag in that it’s a rigid set of notes, yet isn’t necessarily in a major or minor key. There are hundreds of rags in Indian music, but I was surprised to find that Messiaen’s octatonic scale isn’t one of them. Despite this, it sits nicely over a drone — and that was the starting point for this music. That and the glorious sound of the tanpura, the drone instrument that underpins everything in classical Indian music.

The piece is called Water, after the Philip Larkin poem with the same title, and was especially inspired by the final stanza:

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

The second piece, called 88 (No. 1), is also in one of Messiaen’s modes in the first half, before becoming a celebration of the mechanical nature of the piano. The performer has to put fingerless gloves on halfway through, partly in tribute to the immortal Glenn Gould, and partly because the technique requires some painful hammering. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the music is dark or angry: It is — or is meant to be — joyful.

“Three Miniatures from Water” features lots of drones from the strings ( Lauren Radnofsky on cello and Greg Chudzik on bowed upright bass).  There’s also the excellent tanpura drones from Paul Coleman and Elena Moon Park. The violin from Olivia De Prato plays a slow melody that seems to appear and disappear while the piano plays a somewhat spooky pizzicato melody.

“88 (No. 1)” is a solo piano piece by Lisa Moore (who played piano on the other piece as well).  It does seem to use all 88 keys in various fashion.  Indeed, she does put on fingerless gloves a little more than half way through the piece where she does play quite possibly every note (I can’t imagine what that looks like on paper).  For the last 45 seconds, she seems to be banging relentlessly (but tunefully–are there chords?) all over the keys.

Neither one of these pieces seem particularly joyful to me–they both seem kind of scary, but I am fascinated at the kind of compositions the guy from Radiohead makes.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “Then Again”

This is an excerpt from The Other Half, a manuscript that Ciment is writing to rebut her own 1996 memoir, Half a Life.

In that original memoir, she wrote about meeting her husband.  At the time she was seventeen and he was forty-seven (and her art teacher).

She asks what should she call him now.  “My husband”?  Yes, if it is the story is about the man she married and lived with for forty-five years.  But what if it is about an older man preying on a teenager.  Should she call him “The artist” or “the art teacher.”

She says he didn’t know what to expect when he kissed her for the first time–she could have screamed or slapped him.  But she had fantasized about him for the last six months, so that was not going to happen. (more…)

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