Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Suicide’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FROM THE TOP-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #230 (June 30, 2021).

Here’s three young classical performers playing some amazing piece of music.

From the Top is the radio program (distributed by NPR) that spotlights today’s terrific young players.

Teenagers from three locales around the country – Chicago, St. Louis and Palo Alto, Calif. – invite us into their homes for fresh takes on vintage classics, contemporary sounds and sophisticated pop arrangements.

Up first is a cello from Ifetayo Ali-Landing.  The song is by Yebba called  “Evergreen” (arr. Charles Yang).  I don’t know this song, but I really like it.  The cello sounds fantastic and the melody is delightfully complex and yet not unmelodic. I love the way she occasionally bounces the bow off the strings, for a really neat effect–very percussive.

Ifetayo Ali-Landing, an outstanding 18-year-old cellist from Chicago starts us off. She’s already performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and given her own TEDx talk. One of her calling cards is this propulsive performance of “Evergreen,” a pop song by Yebba, arranged for solo cello.

Up next is a guitar duo by Jack and Elle Davisson.  They play Paulo Bellinati’s “Jongo.” This is their favorite duo performance because of the rhythm and the beat.  Jack opens with some wonderful classical fingering and then Elle follows with a similar melody.  Then Jack plays a lead while Elle taps out a rhythm on the strings.  But from there it’s hard to pick out who is doing what–each player has something special and complicated going on.  Elle plays some lovely harmonics and a kind of bass string solo while Jack picks the complicated lead.  And just when you think you get the whole piece, the two of them play a lengthy percussive section tapping and slapping on all parts of their guitars–a drum solo in the middle of this classical piece.

Pairing up in Palo Alto, the Davisson Guitar Duo features Jack, 16, and his sister Elle, 13. Their signature piece is the rhythmically driven Jongo, which offers flavors from composer Paulo Bellinati’s native Brazil. The siblings finish each other’s musical phrases with startling lyrical precision.

The final piece is solo piano by Jerry Chang.  He performs Franz Schubert: “Impromptu Op. 90, No. 3.”  It sounds amazing and his description of the song that it reminds him of being in a garden, is really interesting.

Seventh-grader Jerry Chang, clad in his comfy exercise shorts, closes this cross-country Tiny Desk from home, playing Schubert’s G-flat major Impromptu like someone twice his age. The gentle, rippling effects he gets from his still-growing 13-year-old hands, and the way he makes Schubert’s wistful melody sing, is astonishing.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Now We Are Five”

Only Davis Sedaris could find humor in his sister committing suicide.  This piece is very poignant and quite moving but there’s still dark humor in there.

I begins by saying that his parents had six children and people were always startled to hear his.  Six kids!  But now that Tiffany had killed herself, they were only five.

Six months before she killed herself David rented a house on Emerald Isle in North Carolina.  The family had gone there when they were kids and he thought it would be a fun way for the family to get together.

When they were kids David always grabbed the master bedroom until he was kicked out.  Then he often wound up staying in the maid’s room–which was usually outside. The others banded together against him, since he was clearly the weakest at this point. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: NENNYTiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK: #202/196 (May 1, 2021).

Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK was the opening event of AFROPUNK’s “Black Spring” festival. The virtual celebration, hosted by Jorge “Gitoo” Wright, highlighted outstanding talent in Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean music across the globe. Our showcase featured four artists who honored their homes and celebrated the art their heritage has inspired.

With warm maroon box braids nearly sweeping the floor and glitter adorning her eyes, NENNY’s presence demands full attention before she even opens her mouth. Dressed in a flowy, all-white outfit accented with a pastel checker pattern and surrounded by a matching four-piece band, the 18-year-old Portuguese singer-songwriter and rapper appears otherworldly, almost heavenly, as she harmonizes with electric guitar and jumps across the room, dancing with her entire body. NENNY first appeared on heads’ radar in 2019 with her single “Sushi.” She’s continued to impress with several more singles and the release of her debut project, 2020’s Aura.

I love that her band is all dressed with the same fabric–pants on the guitarist, shirt on the bass player and sash on the drummer.  They play three songs.  I have no idea what she’s rapping about, but the flow in Portuguese is pretty great.

Jonatas gets some really great guitar sounds in the solo of “Bússola” and I love the deep bass that Peterson gets.

When she talks you can tell just how young she is.  She’s full of energy!

“Wave” opens with sampled acoustic guitar as Nenny sings this ballad.  I like that she switches from rapping to singing and her singing voice is really good.

Keyboardist Gui Salgueiro starts “Tequila” with an acoustic guitar sample and Ariel plays some cool percussive sounds while a spoken word (in English) interview plays.  When the song kicks in she’s rapping in Portuguese again and the electric guitar plays leads while the acoustic is still looping.

She really does seem to float around the room in this high energy Concert.

[READ: June 1, 2021] “Walkabout”

The June 11 issue of the new Yorker had several essays under the heading “Summer Movies.”   Each one is a short piece in which the author (many of whom I probably didn’t know in 2007 but do know now) reflects on, well, summer movies.

It’s interesting to me that Roger Agnell wrote about Quest for Fire, a small French Canadian production (with full nudity) and Jeffrey Eugenides writes about Walkabout a small Australian movie (with full nudity).

[This movie is permanently lodged in my own consciousness because I was living in Boston when it came out and it screened at the Brattle Theater for seemingly ever.  I often thought about seeing it, but never did].

Eugenides says that he saw it at his family’s yacht club (!).  His father and brother were sailing so he and his mother went to this movie that they knew nothing about.

He summarizes the little I know about it.  A father drives his children–a teenage daughter and young son–into the outback.  He then sets the car and himself on fire. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: MANIC STREET PREACHERS-“Die in the Summertime” (1994).

I really liked the Manic Street Preachers in the late 90s.  Perhaps ironically, I learned about them after the strange disappearance of lyricist and guitarist Richey Edwards, and really liked the first few albums that they put out without him.  I went back and listened to their older stuff later, but I still prefer Everything Must Go.

Nevertheless, The Holy Bible (where this song comes from) is a pretty great album.  And “Die in the Summertime” is really cool.  It opens with tribal drums and a nifty almost Middle Eastern sounding guitar riff.  When it kicks in after a brief intro, it’s more raw and heavy than their later stuff–was that Edwards’ influence?

I listened to this song a few times and will clearly have to dig out The Holy Bible for another listen.

Obviously Edwards looms over the band and clearly looms over this story.

The guitarist vanished on 1 February 1995 and is widely presumed to have taken his own life, but a body was never found and there is no definitive proof that he died by suicide.

[READ: May 31, 2021] The Forevers

This was a fairly simple (and familiar) story, but it was told in a very interesting way.

Ten years ago seven friends (or maybe not friends exactly) made a pact. They performed a ritual asking for fame and fortune.  And it worked.  They have all become very successful.

Each chapter has a title from a song.  The first is “Die in the Summertime” (3:07) [by Manic Street Preachers].

Ten years later we cut to Jamie Ashby–a strung out superstar singer (who looks an awful lot like the Irish guy from Lost, who was also a strung out rock star).  He is in a bad way.

Then we meet Daisy Cates.  She is a successful model,  But the person who takes her home does not have good intentions for her.

I liked the way their two stories paralleled on the same page with a different background wash of color.

Jamie does a show and when an old geezer says he’s washed up, he punches the guy and makes tabloid headlines,  We find out in the next chapter that the geezer was Robert Plant–ha!

Chapter 2 is “The Drugs Don’t Work”  (5:05) [by The Verve]. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: RINA SAWAYAMA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert (April 19, 2021).

Rina Sawayama had one of the most compelling album covers of last year (see below).  I expected her music to be out of this world.  The little I heard was a little disappointingly poppy.  But this Tiny Desk Home Concert perks things up a bit

Rina Sawayama is back in the office, clad in a periwinkle blazer with waist cut-outs and a high ponytail cleaner than the view of the city skyline. Make no mistake: even in fluorescent lighting, the Japanese British pop star performs with the same tenacity and drama you hear in her 2020 debut album, SAWAYAMA, a lustrous pop epic peppered with early aughts R&B, nu-metal and classic rock.

She starts with “Dynasty” which has some deep keyboard bass from Geordan Reid-Campbell and strings from the string quartet (Braimah Kanneh-Mason: violin; Ayla Sahin: violin; Didier Osindero: viola; Jonah Spindel: cello).  Then Vic Jamieson adds a quiet sense of distortion with the electric guitar.

Tears calcify in “Dynasty,” a song like a salve to wounds inherited from generations past. The heaviness of the music never overshadows her voice, which ascends heroically. “Won’t you break the chain with me?” she belts out.

Heavy drums from Simone Odaranile shifts the song to a more rocking orchestral sound.  Backing vocalists Phebe Edwards and Desrinea Ramus add some lovely additions.  Jamieson solos and then the song gets big and intense with some impressively powerful vocals.

She says she’s been dying to play this.  She was meant to go on tour last year–this is the first time we’ve played “Dynasty” live.

As if turning the other cheek, Sawayama swiftly moves into the sweet, cha-ching pop of “XS.”

I would never describe this song as sweet or cha-ching.  “XS”  opens with deceptively quiet strings and Jamieson on the acoustic guitar.  She speaks quietly and the song jumps to the main heavy descending powerful riff.  The chorus is stop and start and full of hooks.  It’s a pretty great song.

She ends the set with “Chosen Family.”  She says that the song is dedicated to people who are not accepted by their parents for who they are: their sexual orientation or gender identity or anything else–and this is a pure and honest love song to my friend (my chosen family) who have gone through this.  Then amazingly she says she got a call from Elton John who said he wanted to work on the song with her!

the soft-hearted ballad “Chosen Family,” rendered in the style of her 2021 collaboration with Elton John. The song was reborn, in part, because of John’s admiration for Sawayama and her ability to cross-pollinate genres, but also because the two held “Chosen Family,” both the song and concept, dearly.

It’s a beautiful straightforward ballad.  And if you’re at all human, it will easily tug at your heart strings.

[READ: May 9, 2021] “Future Selves”

This story opens with a young married couple looking for an apartment to buy.  They had been renting but were looking to upgrade–get a real kitchen, a bathroom without chipped tiles.

They looked at smaller, impeccably restored places, but they seemed too small; they looked at a loft ion factory building–it was spacious and allowed for lots of privacy for each of them but there was no community around it–no café for them to sit in and talk .

It was a tough decision.

Around the same time, she had gone to visit her cousin at college.  Tara was fully enjoying herself and had lots of friends–boys and girls (one of whom she had a crush on). There was also Simon, a kind of hanger-on. He was soft spoken and friendly, but a step behind everyone else.

When she returned home, Tara had posted some pictures of them together.  Tara said that when they finally settled on a place, she’d love to stay with them. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LUEDJI LUNA-Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK: #203/196 (May 2, 2021).

Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK was the opening event of AFROPUNK’s “Black Spring” festival. The virtual celebration, hosted by Jorge “Gitoo” Wright, highlighted outstanding talent in Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean music across the globe. Our showcase featured four artists who honored their homes and celebrated the art their heritage has inspired.

I don’t really understand why this is called AFROPUNK, as there is nothing even remotely punk about any of the music here.  I thought maybe it was a typo, but this music isn’t even terribly funky.  This music is very smooth jazzy

It is quite good though and Luna’s voice is understated and pretty as she sings in Portuguese.

Luna performs from her coastal hometown of Bahia in the city of Salvador, Brazil, where African culture flows in abundance. She is a powerhouse, entrancing and elegant, soulful and spiritual, as she uses her platform to discuss individual and systemic forms of anti-Blackness.

“Lençois” opens with some gentle piano from Gabriel Gaiardo and washes of cymbals (struck with mallets by Sergio Machado).  Then Luna starts singing in a kind of raspy, seductive whisper.  After a verse, Weslei Rodrigo (and his spectacular beard) lay down a smooth, anchoring bass line.

After the first song, she introduces the band.  After she introduces guitarist Vinicius Sampaio, he plays a solo and sings along with himself in a particularly jazzy way.

Elements of jazz and blues are infused with African rhythms as Luna uses music to express her ongoing struggles for autonomy as a Black woman.

She says,

“I feel that we are living in a crazy moment in a crazy time and music has been a safe place for me — the only safe place for me,” Luedji Luna says in a low, alluring voice as she explains the purpose of her latest album, Bom Mesmo É Estar Debaixo D’Água.

“Erro” opens with a slightly more rocking sound and a guitar solo intro.  I appreciate how different these songs sound from each other while still maintaining her overall vibe.  “Chororô” is a little funky, at least from Rodrigo’s bass.  But jazz is the overall vibe.

I really like the way the song’s chorus plays a five note and pause refrain to give a dramatic opening for the piano and guitar solo.  It’s also fun watching Luna dance.

[READ: May 3, 2021] Parable of the Talents [end]

I wound up reading this book very quickly.  I finished it before the deadlines of the first week’s read.  I was totally sucked in.  I hated parts of it–the woes of 2033 were unbearable–but I couldn’t stop reading it.

And wow, did Butler mess around with my head.

Contradict the first page of the story late in the book, but have it be a totally justifiable reason!  Check.

Not reveal why one of the character has a book published until almost the very end and have it be a real surprise!  Check.

Make me completely reassess the tone of the book and why Butler was writing it?  Check.

This break was a pretty fortuitous one because this week’s reading starts with a lengthy introduction from Asha Vere.  She began making up her own Dreamasks when she was 12.  When she was discovered he was punished. But that didn’t stop her from writing fictions to escape her own life.

When she was 15, an enemy in her school told her that her mother was a heathen and a whore–Asha punched the girl and broke her jaw.  She was spared detention by her stepfather who mostly just liked to molest her.

Once the diaries resume, we see what Olamina’s dealing with.  She is desperately seeking her daughter and is still trying to build up Earthseed.  Allie has actually been settling down with Justin.  She’s making furniture and instructing younger kids how to make it as well. But Olamina can’t stay in Georgetown.  She has decided to head up north.  Inexplicably she is going to go to Portland to find her brother–the brother who disagrees with everything she stands for and who ran away from her.

Allie has arranged a traveling companion for her–against her wishes.  Her name was Belen Ross but she went by Len.  She was born to a rich family; however, she was born from a surrogate and once the family had a natural birth, they gave the cold shoulder.  At 18 ,she was kidnapped and held for ransom.  But her family never paid it.  Eventually her captors just abandoned her.  When she returned home she found that her parents has moved to Alaska.  She had no other option but to go to Alaska.

So here were two people going in search of those who don’t want them. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACKDUCKWRTH-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #189 (April 5, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

DUCKWRTH decided to do something special for Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: brand new music. The dynamic R&B singer proceeded to debut two exclusives: a slow jam titled “make u go,” which he dedicates to the “lovers and freaks,” and the upbeat “Birthday Suit,” which KCRW astutely compared to Estelle’s “American Boy.”

The new material wasn’t the only thing that made this Tiny Desk such a treat. For this funky and flamboyant performance, DUCKWRTH dressed his backing band entirely in white and switched up the lighting for each song so that the hue matched the mood he was laying down.

“Kiss U Right Now” [red lights] opens with a muted guitar line from Justin “Jhawk” Hawkins.  After a  soft “Okay” from DUCKWRTH, a kind of sci-fi warbly keyboard comes in from Devin Smith.  And then with a slide on the bass from Solomon “Solo” Smith the song bounces to a start.  DUCKWRTH has a soft croon that he intermixes with rapping verses.   It’s quite inviting and not given to histrionics.

Before “make u go”  [purple lights] he says “Welcome to my Tiny Desk,” he says. “We are gonna play some new songs for y’all if that’s OK. Y’all ain’t got no choice!”  This is mostly gentle keys and then backing vocalists Olivia Walker and Amber Olivia Kiner start by singing the chorus.

He says “Birthday Suit” [white lights] is morning music.  With this amusing line “Meet me in my birthday suit / This ain’t Gucci, it’s way more cute.”  Amber Olivia Kiner sings the lead lines.  The song ends with this refrain:

we look better naked / better in the nude / bend it over baby while in public / we may end up on the news.

“Super Good” [blue lights] is a slow jam with an interesting drum pattern from Darryl Staves Jr.  I really enjoy the simple but synchronized dance steps at the end of the song.

[READ: April 19, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2035]

When this book started I thought that it was an interesting idea to have Lauren’s child go wholly against her.  I even wondered if it was Butler’s rethinking about Earthseed.   Larkin’s attitude about her mother doesn’t exactly change over these chapters, but it does morph a bit.  So much so that by the time chapter seventeen rolls around, Larkin comes across as a bit more of a petulant, jealous person than a critical thinker.

I wonder what my life would have been life if my mother had found me.  I don’t doubt that she would have stolen me from the Alexanders–or died trying.  But then what?  How long would it have been before she put me aside for Earthseed, her other kid?  I was her weakness.  Earthseed was her strength.  No wonder it was her favorite. (265)

2033 was a terrible time and, frankly, a painful read.  The chapter of 2035 tells us that all of Olamina’s diaries from 2034 are lost.  Which is just as well for me since 2034 was a year of the same torture and hellishness and I’m just as happy to not have to read it.

Larkin writes that she met some people who were at Camp Christian (we don’t know how yet) and spoke to a woman named Cody Smith who told her about the attempted uprising by Day Turner and his people–an uprising that failed and that caused a massive increase in suffering for everyone there.

Larkin tells us that everything that was done at Camp Christian was illegal–despite what Jarret tried to make legal. The one thing that seems to have been made legal was the removal of children from their families at the Mexican border because of vagrancy laws. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LIAM BAILEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #184 (March 23, 2021).

I had heard of Liam bailey but I didn’t really know anything about him.  I’m fascinated by his voice because his British accent comes through as he sings (in the way that Billy Bragg’s accent is quite audible).

For this performance, Bailey teeters between belting and crooning, with emotions that ignite the screen from the top of “Fight” to the closing notes of “Paper Tiger.”

“Fight” is a short song that is primarily made of percussive chords and slaps on the guitar.  For most of the songs, he is playing the chords and you can hear them change but there’s no ringing notes, just muted chords.  Until the very last lines when the music resumes and he sings powerfully.

So it’s all about his voice.

Wiping the sweat from his brow between songs, he exclaims, “We don’t normally have these glaring lights in my living room.  This is my front room by the way welcome. We’re not doing no studio productions. We’re keeping it real. Keeping it raw.”

I don’t know what “Vixit” means.  He says he wrote this and the next song in upstate New York.  The music is a little darker. Trying to figure out he lyrics:

I still have my memories I still hear your song. They were always so vindictive, you always got me wrong. I cherish every day now I’m happy to be alone.  I get every thing I want and I still get stoned.  I’m out of love, I’m out of love never seemed to make sense.

If only I had realized the other side was fine.  If only I had realized.

“Paper Tiger” is another powerful song and once again, the guitar is the vehicle for his voice and lyrics.  Which is not to say the song isn’t good, just that the melody is not as important as the words.

Perched atop an amplifier in front the peeling walls of his living room, he presents three selections from his latest album, Ekundayo, accompanied by one acoustic guitar. Ekundayo, which means “sorrows become joy” in Yoruba, fittingly describes the Nottingham, England, native’s music industry journey thus far. After various projects and record deals, he found it impossible to operate under the confines of a major label. He finally found the liberation he yearned for on Leon Michels’s Big Crown Records, which released Ekundayo last November.

This set is not even ten minutes long, but it’s really solid.

[READ: April 12, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2033]

2033 is a brutal year for Acorn and Earthseed.  The end of the section was really hard to read.

As the year opens, our narrator, who we later learn is named Larkin Beryl Ife Olamina Bankole says that her mother should have left Acorn and gone to Halstead like Bankole asked.  It makes it seem as though perhaps Bankole went without her, but he did not.

“Larkin” is a derivative of Lauren and from the Greek Laurel ,  “Beryl” was his mother–emerald is type of beryl.  “Ife” is the Yoruba word for “Love”

Olamina dna Bankole had actually stayed in Halstead for a short time.  A family was moving from Halstead to Siberia (!) for a better life.  The election of Jarret was the last straw for them.  Bankole is amazed:

If [when I was a boy] anyone had said that Americans would be giving up thier homes and their citizenship and going to make new lives in Siberia, the rest of us would have looked around for a straightjacket for him (130).

Olamina and Bankole stayed in the family’s house while Bankole was trying to decide if he should move there.  Well, he knew he should, he was trying to convince his wife.  She doesn’t want to move but says it was a good trip for her.  Living in a modern house with plumbing.  Being so close to the Ocean.  She could see the appeal.

Bankole had told people that they were leaving.  Or, more specifically, Marc was telling people they were leaving and the faithful were understandably freaked out.  But she convinced them, and herself, that she wasn’t leaving.

When I started this year I was taking notes on things that interested me, but after having finished it and reading all the horrors, it seems bizarre to include little observations about things that made me smile.  But I get to throw this one in because I am a cataloger for a library.

Olimani and Channa have been sorting and cataloging books for their library and Olamina hated to be interrupted, but not too much: “Still, cataloging is tedious” (137).

The first bad news comes from Marc.  After he had been rescued by Olimani and taken in by  Acorn, he decided that he wanted to preach his own Christian beliefs to the people.  He was going to do it without asking his suiter, but Olamina found out and told him to preach at their next Gatehring.  She warned him that he would be questioned about what he said and he was cocksure enough to go on with it. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACKSAMPA THE GREAT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #173 (February 23, 2021).

I thought that Sampa was actually Sammus, the indie rapper named after the character in Metroid.  So I was a little bummed to find out I had the wrong Sam… rapper.  But I quickly came over to Sampa’s style.

Sampa Tembo is better known as Sampa The Great, an understated title. In her Tiny Desk (home) concert, the poet, rapper and singer-songwriter delivers evidence that it’s more like Sampa the Greatest.  Initially raised in Botswana, Sampa moved to Australia as a young adult and established herself in Sydney’s hip-hop scene. There, she released two mixtapes, 2015’s The Great Mixtape and 2017’s award-winning Birds and the BEE9, all the while generating buzz. She had been based in Melbourne for the last four years, but the next chapter of her musical journey will find her at home in Zambia.

She plays four tracks and her live band is really solid.  She opens with “Rhymes To The East” which features a nice guitar riff by Samuel Masta.  I like the way the backing singers (l-r: Joy Tusankine Namwila, Mwanje Tembo, Tio Nason) sing the end of the rapped lines.

When Sampa really starts flowing her voice is great–a rough gravelly cadence with a Southern African/Australian accent.  It’s especially cool when she introduces the third verse with a snarl

Rhymes beast mother fucker
Tembo from the east put the beast in a trucker
Timbuktu, as I question all the loyalty
Build a big wall when you stole all of the royalties

The end of the song is really catchy, too.

The next three are from her 2019 album The Return.

“Mwana” opens with a drum solo Kasonde “Tek1” Sunkutu.  The song is mostly sung by the backing singers.  Then Sampa starts her flow.  Musically this song is much more spare with gentle keyboards Lazarus “Lalo” Zulu playing around the drums.

As she introduces the band, they jam, with some funky bass from Mapalo “Mapskeys” Mapalo which leads into an improv  that sounds like an island fun.

“Freedom” is up next.

Sampa Tembo is in Lusaka, Zambia, her landlocked African home country.  [She says] “Freedom is what we feel when we perform. And freedom is what the world is in need of right now. In this pandemic it feels like we all need a sense of freedom.”

“Freedom” features some terrific backing vocals. The end has a rocking jam as the singers all give up whooos and Masta plays a ripping solo.

When the camera is in full frame you can see that Sampa’s dress has a really long train which covers almost the entire floor (no wonder she sits through the whole set).

The set ends with “Final Form,” my favorite song of the set.  It’s got a big, heavy noisy riff with thumping bass and wailing guitars.  Her delivery is raw and raspy and really affecting.

The end is particularly cool as the band rocks out punctuating along and singing “Black power!” “Louder!” “Black power!”

Sampa is pretty great, indeed.

[READ: April 12, 2021] Parable of the Talents [2032]

Parable of the Sower ended on a vaguely optimistic note:  Lauren felt that they were ready to set up Acorn, the home of her Earthseed community.  Bankole thought there was no chance it would work.  But this is Lauren’s story, so we’ll assume that the story is tipped in her favor somewhat.

Plus, there’s a sequel, so things must work out reasonably well, right?

Well, surprise!

Parable of the Talents opens up with the news that Lauren is dead.

She is mostly called Olamina during this book because Bankole “doesn’t like my first name, so he ignores it.  That’s fair.  I didn’t like his first name either. It’s Taylor, by the way and I ignore it” (122).

This book is narrated by Olamina and Bankole’s child–unspecified gender and age in the Prologue, although by the end of this week’s reading we can assume the writer is their daughter [Bankole wants her named Beryl and Olamina wants her named almost anything that isn’t Beryl–“such an old fashioned name” (122).  The narrator later says something about high school, so it must be around 2050.

The child shares Olamina’s diary entries, but her basic attitude is that she hates her mother and thinks well of her father and wishes she knew him.

The book opens with this narrator saying “they’ll make a god of her” and the continues with something surprising about that

I think that would please her, if she could know about it.  In spite of all her protests and denials she’s always needed devoted, obedient follower–disciples–who would listen to her and believe everything she told them.  and she needed large events to manipulate.  All gods seem to need these things.  (7)

I never got the sense that Lauren wanted to be a god.  But maybe Olamina does.

She also tells us that Lauren’s middle name “Oya” is the name of a Nigerian Orisha–goddess f the Yoruba people (goddes of the wind, fire, and death, more bringers of great change (50).

Butler wrote this book five years after the Sower.  As I read Talent, I wondered what the intent of this story was. Had she planned all along to have a follower (child or otherwise) criticize Earthseed?  Had five years of thinking about Earthseed made her question the validity of Lauren’s ideas?  I don’t know anything about Butler, about whether she “agreed” with Lauren’s ideas or not.  I don’t have anything besides textual evidence to know how she felt about religion in general.  So was this book a commentary on her own ideas/ideals from five years earlier?  Or is this just interesting storytelling by having a new protagonist dispute the doctrine of the previous protagonist.  Especially if the bulk of this book is made up of Olamina’s diary entries (just like the first book was).

That’s right, even though the book is set after Olamina has died, the book so far is primarily her own diary entries from 2032, By the end of 2032, she is pregnant with, presumably, the person who is narrating this book and criticizing Olamina’s ideas. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACKKeiyaA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #168 (February 11, 2021).

I had not heard of KeiyaA (and have no idea how to say her name), but i was quite stuck by this performance.

KeiyaA is a new performer, and her debut album

Forever, Ya Girl, appeared last year with kismet timing, unveiling her as a fully formed star. The 2020 release is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood.

The set opens with “Do Yourself a Favor.”  For this track KeiyaA sits behind the keyboard a while 13th Law plays a slow funky bass line plays accompanied by finger snaps and backing vocals from the amazingly named Nelson Bandela.

KeiyaA comes out front for the rest of the tracks.

Cornrows braided back with the precision of an architect. Stiletto nails commanding a sampling machine. Gold-glinted lids to match her light-up Beads Byaree earrings. With every move, KeiyaA shines so bright, it’s impossible to look away. And while your eyes are fixated on her person, the music KeiyaA conjures inside Brooklyn’s Electric Garden is what leaves you completely spellbound.

On “Hvnli,” Nelson Bandela plays keys behind a new slow funky bass line.  Keenyn Omari played guitar on the first song but he plays saxophone on this one.  It starts with soft bursts and then he really starts wailing.  With the sax and the syncopated drums from Buz “Hvnli” sounds like a spare jazz song.  She sings:

Gone for so long I prefer to spend time in my pain, hey / Gone for so long I can barely recall the last my phone rang,” she sings on “Hvnli.”

Her album

is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood. Whether it’s through jazzy woodwinds, heavy synths or prickly staccato, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares waves of anguish, depletion, love and elation in a swirling stream of consciousness.

She says that “Most of the work that has carried me has been the writing of Black women Jayne Cortez and Ntozake Shange [she holds up their books] who both speak unabashedly of the plight and joys and general experiences of the Black femme woman.  And those writings are paramount in my work.”

She opens “Finesse Without a Trace” with a wobbly sample and The 13th Law plays some bass chords and splashy drums.  The sample turns into some quotes while Omari plays some wild distorted flute.

The song ends with an improvised flute solo which KeiyaA accompanies with samples and some oohing.  The song slowly morphs into “Rectifiya” a funky piece with response vocals on the chorus.

She ends the whole set with the sampled quote from Nina Simone.

“Everybody is half-dead. Everybody avoids everybody. All over the place…in most situations, most of the time. I know I’m one of those everybodys. And to me it is terrible. And so all I’m trying to do, all the time, is just to open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That’s it.”

Apparently the album sounds very different than this Tiny Desk: (The “album version of these tracks boast much of KeiyaA’s own production, affirmations and layered vocals in chorus”).  Perhaps I’m better off just enjoying this and not looking further.

[READ: April 5, 2021] Parable of the Sower [end]

The end of the book provides something of a skeptical feeling of hope for our travelers.   I read in the Foreword that Earthseed was meant to be a trilogy; however, Butler only finished a sequel (and an unrelated novel) before she died.  The Foreword (by N.K. Jemisin also gives a spoiler to Parable of the Talents–uncool!  Even if the books are over twenty years old.

By the way, Jemisin sounds pretty interesting.  Anyone read her?

To me, it is astonishing how many big questions go unanswered in the book.

I had mentioned wondering about the Mars mission and there’s no mention of that again.  We never find out anything about any state east of Central California and we never find out What Happened.  Obviously that information is irrelevant for the characters–they just have to move on–but it’s frustrating not to have even a hint.  [I accept that it wasn’t relevant to Butler, but I’m still curious].  We never hear anything about the community that the corporation bought, either–although there is a kind of follow up with someone from a similar community telling about how badly it turned out for the people living there.

This section starts off with an earthquake.  Earthquakes are bad news in general but in this situation they are much worse because earthquakes tend to cause fires.  And we know who fires attract.  Zahra thinks that they might be able to scavenge for something they can use, but Lauren suspects, rightly, that it would be a dangerous thing to do–druggies and people more violent than they are would be there.  And this proves to be true.

In fact, it proves to be very smart to move on because they wind up putting some distance between themselves and the violent crowds that scavenged the burnt out houses. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #167 (February 10, 2021).

I bought Meshell Ndegeocello’s Plantation Lullabies back in 1993 on the strength of “If That’s Your Boyfriend,” a funky track that is still pretty great.  I didn’t realize she had been steadily putting out music ever since.

This Tiny Desk (home) concert … includes songs from throughout her career framed by her thoughts on the importance and influence of James Baldwin: “He deserves flowers every day. Most of all because he was willing to discuss things that were painful, hard to look at, hard to see, hard to accept.”

Ndegeocello is a bad-ass bass player with a serious funk edge.  And yet in this Tiny Desk Concert, she strips almost all of that away.

The first song comes from Lullabies, but in this version of “Step Into the Projects” she strips away all the music and turns the song into a spoken word piece (although she does keep the rhythm of the original).

For the next three songs she is accompanied by her longtime guitarist Chris Bruce.

“Price of the Ticket,” is from Ndegeocello’s recent project, Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin, “a 21st century ritual toolkit for justice” inspired by Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.  In the track, it’s just Bruce’s gentle guitar and Meshell’s quiet voice.

“Forget My Name” from Comet Come To Me (2014) is stripped down from its original reggae arrangement and lays bare the haunting imagery in the lyrics.

She plays some spare bass, but musically it’s all about Bruce–the cool low riff and the pretty high melody.

“Fool of Me,” from her acclaimed album Bitter (1999), ends the set with just vocals and guitar.

Like the other songs, it is spare and beautiful, allowing you to really hear the words.  I love Meshell’s funk, but this is a beautiful set.

[READ: March 29, 2021] Parable of the Sower [2026-2027 (chapter 19)]

I have not read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I don’t intend to.  But I feel like this book acts as a precursor to that one.  And that is something I did not in any way expect.

2026 opens in June, almost seven months after the previous entry.  I’m curious about the distance between entries.  It’s possible that Lauren has dozens and dozens of pages that just said, “today sucked” and we don’t need to see that.  But I am curious about the time jumps.

Is it a way for Butler to move us ahead quickly so that something that needed to take a few years to happen is given the time to do so?  I’m thinking about Mars a bit.  In two years a lot can happen with the space program.  Of course, the President was supposed to cancel the program.  So who knows what’s going on there.  Aside from basic passage of time, did we need to wait six months to see what came next?  I’m not sure.

In June Keith is back–bigger and more confident.  He’s not yet 14, but he’s very successful, bringing home money and gifts (but none for his father).  He has ingratiated himself into a gang by being the only literate one in the group:

They’re all older than me, but not one of them can read or write anything.  They stole all this great stuff and they couldn’t even use it.  Before I got there they even broke some of it because they couldn’t read the instructions. (105)

Lauren and Keith have a heart-to-heart–really their first ever.  He learns a bit about her and while he gains a little more respect he also tells her that she’d never survive out there–she doesn’t know enough.  He also tells her about these new crazies called Paints who paint their skin green or blue or yellow and eat fire and kill rich people.

Keith comes back on her birthday and gives her a present.  A month later he is dead–killed in a horrific and gruesome way.  He was clearly tortured and left to be found.  His death was a message for someone–a rival gang, probably.

But they don’t call the police:

cops liked to solve cases by “discovering” evidence against whomever they decided must be guilty.  Best to give them nothing.  They never helped when people called for help.  They came later and more often than not, made a bad situation worse. (114)

In October, a new component to the story crops up.

Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton and Company (KSF) has taken over a nearby town called Olivar.  It is small and well to do.  The citizens voted to let their town be taken over–privatized.  They intend to set up energy resources in the community–solar, wind, desalinization.  They mean to own great industries in an area that people have given up on.

Kagimoto, Stamm Frampton: Japanese, German, Canadian.  When I was young, people said it would come to this. Well why shouldn’t other countries buy what’s left of us if we put it up for sale. (121)

This is another aspect of the story that confuses me.  Is it basically that Los Angeles has exploded and the rest of the country is okay?  There’s talk about work up north, but why?  What happened to the country that they/we would let L.A. collapse but nothing else.  Or maybe it’s the entire South West?  Nobody knows anything about the East Coast, apparently.   I’m hoping that they will get explained a bit later on.

Olivar was accepting applications to live there.  They were looking for educated people.  And here we learn that both of Lauren’s parents have PhDs [a commentary on the invisibility of Black scholars?].  Her stepmother thinks it’s a great idea to go to Olivar.  They would be guaranteed safety and security.  But her father is against it, calling it “half antebellum revival and half science fiction” (122).

Anyone KSF hired would have a hard time living on the salary offered. In not very much time, I think the new hires would be in debt to the company.  That’s an old company-town trick–get people into debt, hang on to them and work them harder.  Debt slavery. That might work in Christopher Bonner’s America. Labor laws, state and federal are not what they once were. (121)

Come November, the Garfields have been accepted at Olivar.  The Garfieds include Joanne, Lauren’s one time best friend (who misplaced Lauren’s trust by tattling to her father).  Joanne has been serious with Harry Balter.  But Harry is staying in Rebledo.  Lauren suggests they get married and then Harry can move in with them, but she says that Harry wants to get married and travel north.  He thinks they way Lauren’s father does about Olivar.

But the Garfields are still going: “conservative and sensible and mature and wrong” (128).

In November, Lauren’s father did not come home one night.  They spend days looking for him with no luck.  The search parties uncover all kinds of remains, some of which they think might be her father’s but which turn out not to be.

The search also reveals an aspect of Lauren’s hyperempathy that we didn’t know–sound doesn’t trigger it (she hears a man screaming), only sight does.

Five days alter they have a Sunday survive that turns more or less into a memorial.  Lauren speaks at he service and proves to be powerful preacher.  She speaks of God but presumably she means her own god–the earthseed god.  By mid-December they have a formal funeral–they accept that he would have found his way home by now.

Later, when KSF came for the Garfields, it was in an armored truck

The two movers were a black and a white, and I could see that Cory considered that hopeful.  Maybe Olivar wouldn’t be the white enclave that Dad had expected. (139)

All along Lauren has been romantically involved with Curtis.  People anticipated that she would get married an have a baby with him–something she strongly resisted.  Indeed, her plan all along was to leave Rebledo without him.  But now with Lauren’s father gone (he was the reason she hadn’t left yet–she didn’t want to hurt him), Curtis suggests that they both go.  He’s upset that she wanted to go without him, but she explains that she didn’t want to force him to make that choice.

Two days later, someone burned down the Payne/Parrish house; while that was going on. they robbed three of the other houses including Lauren’s.

I’ve been frightened at the phrases that Butler says that prove eerily prophetic to the last few years:

People are setting fires because they’re frustrated, angry, hopeless. They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable.  And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it.  (143)

Interestingly, the drug that gave Lauren her hyperempathy–Paracetco–was initially a legitimate drug intended to help victims of Alzheimer’s disease.  Pyro was an accident–a homebrew on the East coast it made it was away across the country.

People on the fire drug get off on watching things burn.  Blaze, fuego, flash, sunfire.  The most popular name is pyro short for pyromania [I’m fascinated that she needed to spell that out as I feel that in 2021 (and much earlier) it was a common abbreviation].

As the year ends, the families try to make due with what they have left.

Then we enter 2027.  Once again it’s six months into the year.  And this is when things change dramatically.   Thieves drove a truck through their wall and set everything on fire.  Nearly everyone in the community was killed.  [I did wonder if it was worthwhile learning anyone’s names, and it was two people I didn’t think twice about who survived].  The description is a violent orgy of death, rape, fire and who knows what else.  It is brutally described.  Lauren escaped.  She had the forethought to run back in and put on clothe and shoes and grab her bug out bag.  No one else in her family had done so. She saw them n bare feet and pajamas and then she didn’t see them any more.  She managed to get outside and to hide until the next day,

She crept back into her community and went to her house which was being looted and stripped. She knew where there were some hiding places and she managed to get clothes for her family as well as money that was hidden in the ground.  She grabbed a gun and got out, looking like all the other miserable looters.

Lauren was sure she was alone.  Then out of the rubble came Harry Balter and Zahra Moss–the youngest wife of Richard Moss the polygamist.  Zahra’s baby was killed (brutally) and an attacker was about to (or had begun to) rape her when Harry saved her (and got beaten for his help).  Neither one had planned for anything like this and they are pretty hopeless.  Lauren decides that three is safer than one and invites them to go North with her.

Zahra’s backstory is interesting.  Richard bought her from her mother who was a drug addict and a prostitute.  Zahra has lived on the streets and she knows what’s what.  She takes them to Hanning Joss, the biggest secure store complex.  I’m fascinated to learn that there are are still megastores and that they have security allowing people to shop safely there–commerce always wins.

Then they do what everybody else does–they head North.  Lauren has decided to pass as a man.  She’s tall and muscular and can do so, so she cuts her hair short.  They encounter much danger and violence but manage to get relatively far north.  Harry is a trusting guy, trying to avoid violence in any way possible.  But Lauren (and Zahra) knows the reality of the situation–kill or be killed; steal or be stolen from.  And with Lauren’s hyperempathy, she can’t afford to let people around her suffer.  She winds up cutting a man’s throat to stop the hurting that he (and she) are feeling.  Harry is appalled at her.  So she finally admits to her hyperempathy assuming they’ll abandon her.  But they do not–three is better than two.

Zahra and Harry become a couple and have unprotected sex (what harm could come from that?)

Then the trio meet another family who seems to be tagging along after them.  Everyone is out for themselves, but Lauren takes pity on this mixed race couple with a baby.  She helps them out at the second Hanning Joss and a few days later, when Lauren saves their baby from a feral dog, they agree that five (or six) is better than three and two (or three).

The new people are Travis Charles Douglas, Gloria Natividad Douglas and six month old Dominic. They are going to Seattle where Travis’ aunt lives.  Travis is quite taken aback when he learns that Lauren is a woman–especially since she saved them, but he’s going to have to get over it.

All of this time, Earthseed has been running around in Lauren’s head, but it hasn’t really shown up.

Then in chapter 18, Lauren starts talking to them about Earthseed.  Travis is a (surprisingly) intelligent man–he knows about entropy.

Travis’s mother was a live in cook for a rich man.  But before that she had written for newspapers and magazines.  She taught Travis to read. The man she worked for had a library and she would sneak out one book at a  time–he didn’t want Travis touching his stuff.

Of course. Slaves did that two hundred years ago.  They sneaked around and educated themselves as best they could sometimes suffering whipping, sale or mutilation for their efforts. (218)

Natividad was a maid and the rich man let them marry:  The son of the cook marrying one of the maids. That was like something out of another era too.

They discuss her poems–Earthseed.  Travis pushes back against her ideas, although never in an aggressive way.

She argues that here is no pore pervasive power than change.  Travis says that nobody is going to worship change.  Lauren says she hopes not

This excerpt from God is Change summarizes this discussion nicely:

“I was looking for God. I didn’t know whether there was a god to find, but I wanted to know. God would have to be a power that could not be defied by anyone or anything.”
“Change.”
“Change, yes.”
“But it’s not a god. It’s not a person or an intelligence or even a thing. It’s just … I don’t know. An idea.”
“It’s a truth. Change is ongoing. Everything changes in some way— size, position, composition, frequency, velocity, thinking, whatever. Every living thing, every bit of matter, all the energy in the universe changes in some way.”
“Sort of like saying God is the second law of thermodynamics?”
“That’s an aspect of God. There are all kinds of changes in the universe.”
“But why personify change by calling it God? Since change is just an idea, why not call it that? Just say change is important.”
“Because after a while, it won’t be important. People forget ideas. They’re more likely to remember God— especially when they’re scared or desperate.”
“Your stuff isn’t very comforting.”
“It is after a while. I’m still growing into it myself. God isn’t good or evil, doesn’t favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought.”
“Your God doesn’t care about you at all.”
“All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. ‘God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.’ We decide which aspect we embrace— and how to deal with the others.”
“But nobody’s going to worship change.”
“I hope not.  Earthseed deals with ongoing reality, not with supernatural authority figures. Worship is no good without action. With action, it’s only useful if it steadies you, focuses your efforts, eases your mind.”
“Praying makes people feel better even when there’s no action they can take. I used to think that was all God was good for.”
“That isn’t what God is for, but there are times when that’s what prayer is for. And there are times when that’s what these verses are for. God is Change, and in the end, God prevails. But there’s hope in understanding the nature of God— not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There’s comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There’s power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all. But there’s no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you. Best to understand that and return the effort: Shape God.”

Lauren thinks he might join her movement.  Zahra is already on board.

She imagines finding and isolated place on the coast and making a deal with the owners–if there were more of them and they were better armed, they could provide security as well as education.

This fantasy, this plan gives the first sign of hope in this bleak world of Lauren’s.  It seems impossible.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »