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SOUNDTRACK: TAYLOR SWIFT-Tiny Desk Concert #902 (October 16, 2019).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts are from musicians that few people have heard of.

Not this one!

It’s hard to imagine exactly how it happened that Tiny Desk Concert managed to get Taylor Swift to play.  And to play with just a acoustic guitar and piano.  “It’s just me. There’s no dancers, unfortunately,” she quipped.

I have seen people already complain that Tiny Desk is supposed to be for unknown artists blah blah blah.  But I think it’s pretty awesome that a) Taylor Swift is a fan of NPR and Tiny Desk and b) that this show will bring more notoriety to Tiny Desk and potentially other bands.

Plus–I had no idea that Taylor Swift was not a studio creation–that she’s actually a real and thoughtful person who wrote her own music.

She talks confidently and casually about songwriting and she seems pretty genuinely pleased to be there.

As she settled in for her Tiny Desk, she looked out at the 300-plus NPR employees and guests. “Wow! This is a lot of people in a tiny office!” she said. “I love it!”

She delightfully says, “It’s great to be in DC.  You guys had anything exciting going on in the last couple of weeks?  Any possible changes in play?”

And, hey, she writes good songs, too.

I’ve never really listened to her music–although I love “Shake It Off.”  I haven’t actually heard anything of her new album so this was all new to me.

After introducing herself, she explained her objective: “I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them.”

She talks a lot about each song and why she wrote them.

Opening with an acoustic rendition of “The Man,” from her 2019 album Lover, Swift delivered a critique of gender double-standards with a sense of humor (and a perfectly deployed hair toss), Leonardo DiCaprio name-check and all.

She says she has been thinking about the topic for many years and it was something she wanted to write about conceptually for a very long time because we have a bit of double standard issue in our society.  She wondered if there was a concise and catchy way to write a song about this?  So she decided to imagine what her life would be like if she said and did all the same things but if she was a man.

While not an original idea, she tackles it really well.  And I like that she’s using her platform to address the issue

I would be complex
I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay
For me to do
Every conquest I had made
Would make me more of a boss to you
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya…
What’s that like?

And it’s really catchy too.

At the end of the song she gives her pick to a little one in the audience (to a room full of awws).  Then she switches instruments.

She talks about the process of writing songs–when something comes and its easy, that’s wonderful.  But most days you show up… and the idea doesn’t.  Then you have to know the craft of songwriting–you’re not always going to be inspired and that’s okay.

Turning to the piano for Lover‘s title track, with a smile, she explained the guitar-string scars of the song’s bridge.

She says that she has scars on her hands from playing guitar when she was young–when she played until her fingers bled or when a string snapped and cut her.  In your life you received all kinds of scars–emotional and physical and if someone is going to take your hand, they’d better take your hand scars and all.

It’s a pretty piano ballad and her voice is really pure.

After the song she removes her blazer to reveal a velvet top (she must have been very hot).  “You guys ever had costume changes at Tiny Desk?” She then finds three more guitar picks to give to three other kids, one of whom you can quickly see is pretty darn excited.

Picking up the guitar again for “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” Swift confronted a question that she says has haunted her career: What will you ever do if you get happy?

She receives this question over and over that “has the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health.”  “What will you ever do if you get happy?  Will you just never be able to write a song again?    She says she used to reply that she started off when she was 12, she was writing songs about things she had no idea what she was talking about.  She wrote songs about heartbreak based on movies and books and character studies.  So she would say, “If stuff is going on in the world maybe she could hey inspiration from that.

But then she really asked herself that question.  “Would I not be able to write break up songs?  I love break up songs!  They’re so fun to write.”  She says she had friends going through breakups and she was watching movie and reading books about breakups and these ideas came to her.  She woke up with heartbreak lyrics in her head and realized “It’s still here!”

Across the song’s run-on thoughts and relentless searching, Swift offered an answer: She’ll continue to excel at crafting superb story-songs.

I rather like her songs on acoustic guitar–even if I’m not much of a fan of break up songs.

Before the final song, “All to Well,” she talks about how she never googles herself–she recommends you not do it either.  But her dad does.  He sends her links to lists that people rank her songs (she finds it very nice that people care enough to do that).  When the Red album came out, she said there’s a song and “I’m the only one who loves this song this much–because it happens to me and its personal.”  But it turns out that this song tops everyone’s favorite list.  “I’m happy that my opinion lines up with your opinion on that.”

I actually didn’t know this song at all–I guess I am really isolated from pop music.

She says, “here’s a sad song about fall.”  It’s very pretty on piano and once again her voice is really great.  I really like the way the words unfold and then reflect back on themselves.  It’s a really wonderfully crafted song.

This Tiny Desk Concert may not introduce Taylor Swift to a lot of people, but it pretty much did introduce me to her music.  And I was really impressed.

[READ: August 19, 2019] Lost Empress

I loved Sergio De la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. It was complicated and funny and clever and bizarre and thoroughly engaging.

Lost Empress is even better.

There’s a story about a woman running a football team–and being overlooked because she is a woman.

There is a storyline about 911 operators, and the guy who transcribes them.

The third story is about a tough, smart guy who is in jail.  He is his own defense for trying to get out.  And he hatches a plan that involves stealing artwork, the Paterson Falls and the Super Bowl.

I enjoyed it in part because much of it is set in Paterson, NJ.  I grew up next to Paterson and the city has for most of my life been in a state of decline.  Despite all of the great things it has to offer (like the Paterson Falls! which get a shout out in this book), Paterson gets no respect.  This book doesn’t exactly aim to correct that, but it does give the city something cool–a football team.

It also jokes about “what the hell is up with Paterson?”  The city had once tried to rebrand itself in which they staged a contest  for “an official slogan for the troubled city.”  Proposals emerged: “the verifiably untrue, the unintentionally insulting/intentionally insulating, the so vague that sense fails to be created, the rhyme or alliteration for its own sake, and the technically true but not even conceivably relevant.” (more…)

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