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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s pretty clear who this song is about:

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

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

[READ: July 31, 2020] “The Lottery”

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

Except that the articles in it are strangely timely.

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: BENNY SINGS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #50 (July 14, 2020).

I watched a Benny Sings Tiny Desk Concert back in 2016.  I wasn’t that impressed.  I thought it sounded fine, describing him as a slower Elton John.  Since then, he has apparently gone on to bigger things (and must have many fans).

I’ve never come across a moderate Benny Sings fan. The Dutch singer-songwriter and producer has maintained a cult following for over 15 years and performed in the United States for the very first time at the Tiny Desk back in 2016.

Benny and his band play three songs.

Recorded at his studio in Amsterdam, the set list reads like an inventory of quarantine essentials, opening with “Apartment” from last year’s Free Nationals LP (shout out to Anderson .Paak).

As with all of the songs, the music is lightly R&B with some disco flavors.  Each song has a loud low end from  Bram Wassink’s bass and crisp drums from Colin Lee.  The songs are gentle and catchy.  “Apartment” is less than three minutes long.

“Sunny Afternoon” was written with PJ Morton and is a bit catchier (and sweeter).  There’s a nice backing vocal “oooh” solo from June Fermie while Adam Bar Pereg play s anice piano solo.

The set ends with “Music.”  Honestly I can’t imagine a worse title for a song than “Music,” but it is about music.  And the blurb admires the sentiment:

The hook reminds me that I’m not the only one who continues to seek refuge in song. He sings, “Music help me through this / I can’t do this on my own / But music help me through this / Whenever I’m down.”

I will not be an immoderate Benny Sings fan.  His music is pleasant, but forgettable.  Although he seems like a very nice fella.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “The Dinner”

As the United States roils with protests about institutional racism and out immoral leaders conduct illegal schemes of violence against citizens, it was an very charged time to read this story about racism in Ireland.

As Roddy Doyle stories tend to do, this story has a lot of heart and humor in it.  It begins by introducing Larry Linnane and his family.  He loves his family.  He loves his girls (he and his wife have four) and his son.

But he especially loved hearing his intelligent girls as they talked about everything at the dinner table.  And, as usual, Doyle’s ear for dialogue is spot on.  Larry is a pretty open minded guy, he doesn’t even mind hearing his daughters talking about their love lives.  Nothing they said or did ever shocked him.

Until Stephanie brought home the black fella. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHICANO BATMAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #46 (July 7, 2020).

I first became aware of Chicano Batman (what a great name) a couple years ago either from WXPN or from a Tiny Desk.  I didn’t know they’ve been around for ten years.

They have an interesting mellow psychedelic sound that seems to center around Bardo Martinez’ soft croon.

they’ve crafted their musical identity with layers of sound, from vintage organs to the most nuanced of funk grooves.

Although I feel like their music is pretty recognizable, the blurb says that their new album Invisible People

is a major shift in their group sound. As you hear in songs like “Polymetronomic Harmony,” their sound is now much denser, with full-on references to a variety of influences, including the 1973, Herbie Hancock funk-jazz classic Head Hunters, which makes a walk-on appearance in the stack of vinyl just behind guitarist Carlos Arévalo.

“I know It” starts the song in perfect style with Bardo playing guitar and singing along to the melody he’s playing.  There’s a funky bass line from Eduardo Arenas and the soft echoing guitar chords from Carlos Arévalo.  The time changes at the end of the verses are a nice touch.

Bardo introduces the band and then for “Moment of Joy” Bardo switches from the guitar to a great retro-sounding keyboard.  Carlos plays a slow echoing guitar as the band lays a groove around them.

“Color my life” opens with great sliding then high note bass from Eduardo with scratchy wah wah from Carlos and clicky drums from Gabriel Villa.  Carlos plays some unexpectedly wild buzzy guitar solos throughout and then ends the song with another sound change for the guitar before the song abruptly ends.

“Polymetronomic Harmony” opens with a pretty guitar intro and thumping bass.  The song just feels like it’s building to something and after a fake out with soft keys after the first verse, the song takes off with roaring guitars and the propulsive rhythm section.

This is a really fun set and I’ll bet they are great live.  They were scheduled to play in Philly during the quarantine.  I’m definitely going to have to check them out next year.

[READ: July 11, 2020] “The Birthday Present”

I wanted to like this story more than I did.  It had an intriguing premise but it seemed to get lost in the musings of the main character.  Some of what she thought about was interesting, but I think it could have been much shorter.

Ariel has been married to Roberto for many years.  She is younger than he is (she is his second wife). Things have gotten steady and calm in their marriage.

She has classic American beauty–she is tall and solid–which is something of a novelty in Italy.  Roberto’s friend Flavio had often pursued Ariel but had recently given up.  He now liked to give her a hard time instead.  She had been talking to Flavio and he suggested that she get Roberto a prostitute for his fifty-fifth birthday.  He wanted to see how she would react (she was believed to be an American prude), so she told him she thought it was a great idea.  And she called the woman he had jokingly suggested.

Ariel believed wholly in fidelity.  But she she was Roberto’s second wife.  He had a few indiscretions during their marriage.  But she felt this would be an interesting gift.

She would make a date with Roberto for dinner.  But she would arrange for two prostitutes to show up and dine with him.  And then they would all go back to Flavio’s apartment to do whatever they wanted.

On his birthday, their children greeted him as is tradition–waking him up early and jumping on him.  Ariel gave him a package that he was not supposed to open until dinner–it contained money and silk underwear.  The underwear was to go to the woman he liked better.

Then she had the whole day to herself.  She never once had misgivings about her plan.

She drives around, checking out the prostitutes who line Italy’s streets–she felt badly about them being there when she first arrived in the country.  But she has gotten used to them.  There were one or two that she slowed down in front of to really look at–they were very pretty.  She wondered about the women who were with her husband.

He called her at 8:15 to say his surprise had arrived, They weren’t dressed for a fancy restaurant and he did not look forward to eating with them.  But he thanked her for the present.

She spent he rest of the evening in her own head and then was pleased at how clean he smelled when he arrived home that night.

I’m not sure what I expected from this story but it was too meandering.

 

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SOUNDTRACK: DIRTY PROJECTORS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #45 (July 6, 2020).

  I have a mixed reaction to Dirty Projectors.  I love some of their songs but am indifferent to a lot of other ones.  They have a new song “Overlord” (performed here) that I absolutely love.  But the final two songs are just okay to me.

That said, I love the overall sound of this session.

David Longstreth’s guitar sounds fantastic on “Lose Your Love”.  Although the highlight is obviously lead vocalist Felicia Douglass (her dancing is super fun).  The soaring gorgeous high notes of backing singers Maia Friedman and Kristin Slipp (with the keytar) are otherworldly.

Kristin introduces the second song, “Overlord” the one that I think is so great.  The lead vocals are from Maia.  There’s great guitar sound from David and a lot of fun percussion from Mike Johnson (and Felicia).  But once again it’s those vocals that are wonderful.

Kristin stars lead vocals on “Inner World” while David starts on piano and then jumps to bass.  Maia plays guitar on this one and it’s fun to see everything that Mike is banging on.  “Search for Life” ends the set with no drums.  David is back on guitar and Maia sings lead.  For this song she sings in a very deep voice–it’s quite arresting.  The backing vocals soar high as she sings.

Dirty Projectors’ lineup is always changing.

The lineup often shifts, but the creative nature of this band, headed by David Longstreth, doesn’t. It’s a band in which any member can take the lead, and that’s the beauty here. The band is releasing 5 EPs this year.

I think it’s time I give them more of my time.

[READ: July 10, 2020] “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away”

Stephen King is a truly masterful writer.  He can write a story about a man looking to commit suicide and have you laugh out loud in the middle of it.

It’s not explicitly stated why Alfie wants to kill himself.  He is a salesman (ahh).  He is (happily?) married and has a daughter.  It seems like perhaps the life of a salesman has gotten to him.  He plans to go to a motel and shoot himself.

So how can this terribly sad, genuinely terribly sad, story be funny?

Because for the last dozen years or so Alfie has been collecting graffiti in a book–a small spiral bound book that he has been carrying with him forever.  He looks for graffiti in bathrooms, in phone booths, anywhere he might find some.  He is not interested in the mundane–the ones you might see everywhere: Here I sit, broken hearted–he is looking for the poetic. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RODDY RICCH-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #47 (July 8, 2020).

Here’s another rapper I hadn’t heard of, but who is apparently huge.  (Huge enough to have Ty Dolla $ign join him).  The blurb assures us

This was slated to be Roddy Ricch’s summer. He was having the breakout moment that I’ve seen from so many other Compton emcees before him… including the biggest song in the world in “The Box,” which spent 11 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 and will probably go down as the last pre-COVID club anthem.

Richh raps in front of a fantastic band.  They have a fantastic groove and really jam fantastically.

Backed by the juggernaut musical collective 1500 or Nothin’, this set exhibits the many dimensions of his [suddenly prophetic] debut album title — Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial.

Christopher “Brody” Brown brings a fantastic bass sound throughout the set.  You can hear it right from the first song “Perfect Time” which showcases the band and Richh’s rapping skills.  Richh even plays keys at the end of the song.

It segues perfectly into “Bacc Seat.”  The band tightly and seamlessly shifts gears from that rocker to this slower song.  The song features a cool guitar riff from Charles “Uncle Chucc” Hamilton and a guest appearance from Ty Dolla $ign who sings and plays guitar!

The backing vocalists are great; however, they are not social distancing at all.  Shaunise R. Harris, Garren Edwards, and Tayler L. Green are all shoulder to shoulder back there, which makes Richh’s shirt “that’s an awful lot of cough syrup” seem more ominous than funny.  T

But the band is on fire and there’s some serious drums from Nick Smith at the end of the song.

Gentle keys from Lamar Edwards open “High Fashion.”  Edwards has a few banks of keys getting all kinds of interesting sounds.  Richh says this song is about the type of relationship he like to be in–high fashion: “I like to be fly, like shorties be fly.”

Once again, this song ends with some great drums from Smith and percussionist Larrance Dopson.

Richh is pretty young so it’s surprising to hear him say that he doesn’t spend a lot of time on the internet: I don’t like to be bothered” (which jibes with the Anitisocial title).

The final song “War Baby” opens with a quiet, lovely piano. But the song builds to a big jam by the end with some great guitar soloing from Uncle Chucc interspersed with some fantastic drum soloing from both Smith and Dopson.

I’m not all that impressed with what Richh is rapping about–lots of vulgarities so i started tuning out–but the band is fantastic.

[READ: July 8, 2020] “The Canal”

With a title like this I didn’t expect this story to be about World War II.  Although it is set at a party several years later.

Two couple are drinking and talking.  Lew and Betty Miller are bored out of their minds listening to Tom Brace tell yet another war story from his days in Germany.  Tom’s wife Nancy couldn’t have been prouder, listening to him go on and on.

At some point, something that Tom says reminds Betty of something that Lew told her about the way.  She asks if Lew was in the same place as Tom.  Lew says no, although he grudgingly admits that he was in the same area at the same time. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SLITS-Cut (1978).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A kind of reggae slash of guitar:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: TRUPA TRUPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #44 (July 3, 3030).

Trupa Trupa is a band from Poland who play some really great indie rock.  They were supposed to be touring the U.S. and doing a Tiny Desk, but instead they are home.

In a little dirty rehearsal room basement in Gdańsk, we find Poland’s great rock band Trupa Trupa on lockdown. Had it not been for COVID-19, this band would have been behind my desk this week, but as it is, they’ve settled into their rehearsal space.

Their songs are pretty intense, but this Home Tiny Desk features lighter versions of the songs.

They open their set with “Another Day,” from the 2019 record Of The Sun.  It has a great throbbing bassline Wojciech Juchniewicz while singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski plays acuostic guitar.  He says its the first time he’s played the acoustic guitar in a really long time.

There’s a cool theremin-type sound that is coming from Rafał Wojczal.  The credits say the instrument is called an ondes Martenot, but this is a homemade device–and it sounds pretty cool.

I’ve seen them perform this; it’s always had an apocalyptic feel, but now the words “another day, waiting for another,” prompts Grzegorz to mention how this has turned into a quarantine song.  Grzegorz tells us that life in Poland has been difficult in this young democracy, but they are staying optimistic and playing music.  There’s darkness in the basement, yet their music is a bright beacon.

“Dream About” starts with a snappy drum from Tomasz Pawluczuk.  Kwiatkowski plays as scratchy rhythm on the guitar before  Juchniewicz plays a great rolling bassline that runs throughout the song until it abruptly stops for a some single notes.  Then it resumes again.  Wojczal adds some guitar before bringing that Martenot back.

“None of Us” is slow and deep basslines.  Initial vocals come from Juchniewicz who has switched to guitar.  The acoustic guitar is more prominent on this song.  And Juchniewicz’  fuzzy electric guitar sound is deep and menacing.

Their U.S. Tour was cancelled, but they weren’t going to play near me.  Maybe when they come back they can squeeze in a Philadelphia date.

[READ: June 20, 2020] Bagombo Snuff Box

This is a short story collection that I read when it came out.  When I read all of Vonnegut’s books a few years ago, I decided to re-read this collection.  It has only taken me several years to get to it.

But what a great bunch of short stories.

The Preface explains that these stories were written in the 1940s and printed in magazines before he had written his first big novels.  After the War, there were many magazines that featured fiction, so Kurt was able to make some good money on the side while he worked at General Electric.  He left the company in 1950.

Vonnegut has an introduction as well.  He talks about the beneficial effect short stories can have on a person.  He also says he generally feels good about these stories although he feels a bit badly for the way some (many) of the women are treated–not that Vonnegut specifically treated them badly, but that was sort of the way it was then. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: M. WARD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #39 (June 25, 2020).

I don’t really know all that much about M. Ward. I was supposed to see him live on many occasions that never panned out (I think at least three shows were either cancelled or I couldn’t go).  But then I did get to see him live at the She & Him Christmas show.  I was really impressed with his guitar playing in that set.  And I’m even more impressed in this set.

He opens here with two beautiful finger-picked songs.  The first is “just” an “Instrumental Intro.”  I don’t know if it’s an actual song or just an improv, but it’s terrific (with nice harmonics).  It segues seamlessly into “Duet for Guitars #3.”  I’m not sure how you play a duet with just one guitar but it, too, sounds wonderful.

His tuning is nonstandard for all of these songs, which somehow makes them more chill and pretty.  His playing is effortless and really fun to watch.

For me, M. Ward would be the perfect artist to sit next to while he played his songs, perhaps on a couch in a small room. And that’s pretty much what you get with this Tiny Desk (home) concert. We see M. Ward in the lounge of BOCCE, a recording studio in Vancouver, Wash.

I didn’t really know his singing voice, but the blurb sums it up nicely:

That tender wispy-rasp in his voice and flowing acoustic guitar make M. Ward a musician I’d want to hear up close.

He explains that he took requests from various social media for this set.  He plays four requests and one new song.

Ward’s delivery reminds me of Sandro Perri, although a little more conventional.  “Chinese Translation” and “Requiem” are softly strummed songs and his vocals are mostly deeper with an occasional high note added in.

In between the requests he plays a new song.

Those songs fit so well with music on his new record, Migration Stories, from which he plays “Coyote Mary’s Traveling Show.”

This song sounds a little different in style–a more traditional bluesy style, I guess.  Then it’s on to

 comforting and memorable older tunes like “Poison Cup” (2006)

for which he switches to a different guitar–this one smaller (and presumably tuned differently).

Then it’s back to the first guitar for “Voice at the End of the Line” (2003). There’s some really lovely guitar work in this song.  I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to see him live but maybe one of these opening gigs will actually happen someday.

[READ: June 22, 2020] “Grief”

This story is about genocide and how to cope with it–especially if you are far away from when it happened to your family.

The narrator found it worse that no one would say the word genocide, just wry observations like “weird stuff goes on in your country.”  She had not given up hope that he mother, father, brother, sisters, her whole family back in Rwanda might still be alive.

In her homeland, the word was

gutsembatsemba, a verb, used when talking about parasites or mad dogs, things that had to be eradicated, and about Tutsis, also known as inyenzi—cockroaches—something else to be wiped out.

A Hutu classmate once told her he  had asked his mother who those Tutsi people were that he’d heard about and his mother said, they were nothing–just stories.

The narrator tried to get in touch with her family but heard nothing.

Finally, she called her older brother in Canada.  He told her that he was now the head of the family.  She received a formal letter in June confirming the deaths.  Why didn’t she have a photo of any of them? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MADAME GANDHI-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #38 (June 24, 2020).

I have never heard of Madame Gandhi.  That’s a constant theme with these Home Tiny Desks–they seem even more geared toward introducing lesser known artists to the world.

Madame Gandhi’s is surrounded by her yellow bongos and congas, a yellow desk from her youth and a yellow nightstand, her Tiny Desk (home) concert lighting nods to the lavender-lemon artwork of her 2019 Visions EP.

Her music is mostly prerecorded.  The live elements are her vocals (soft and gentle with a lot of nonsense syllables amid the good vibe lyrics) and her wonderful hand drums.

Her music is inspired by her South Indian heritage and she lights a stick of palo santo.

For the first two songs she plays the damaru (I think).  “Waiting For Me” is about returning to the earth–returning to nature.  I enjoyed the way it began:

Wake up in the morning / hit space bar and start recording

She plays cool-sounding drums–she has wonderfully diverse sounds from that tiny hand drum.  And they seem to be modified in some way, too.

Before “Moon in the Sky,” she says “I don’t want our identities defined according to how oppressed we are.”

She’s intentional with everything she does, including activism that focuses primarily on gender liberation. She uses music to help elevate and celebrate female voices, from working with primarily queer women BIPOC on tour and video sets, to writing socially-conscious lyrics that challenge the white male-dominated music industry.

She continues, “if we are not brave enough to tell our stories end to end, somebody else will.  And they will get it wrong.

on tour and video sets, to writing socially-conscious lyrics that challenge the white male-dominated music industry.. Madame Gandhi’s clear, soft voice and swells of percussion give you the necessary space to meditate on her message of inclusion and equality.

She says her music is Indian trap.  The music has fun beats and a downplayed vocal delivery. I rather like it.

For the final song, “Bad Habits,” she stands up and plays the bongos: “put your phone down and stand with me.”  The catchy chorus of the song is “all my bad habits have got to got to go.”

Her parting words are that each person’s contribution is unique and valuable and can be of service to my community and my family.

This has been a great introduction to a new form of music for me.

[READ: June 28, 2020] “The Rescue Will Begin In Its Own Time”

I really don’t understand what was going on with these previously unpublished stories by Kafka (translated by Michael Hofmann). There are four flash fiction pieces and they seem much more like story ideas than stories.

In the first section he talks about the four ways the Prometheus legend can be viewed.  After the fourth, it ends, “The real riddle was the mountains.”

In the second part, there is a large load of bread which the Father of the family cannot cut.  The Father is not surprised, “Isn’t it more surprising if something succeeds than if it fails?”  When the children woke the next morning he had been up all night but had not managed to cut it. (more…)

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