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Archive for the ‘The Dog Dies’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: STEADY HOLIDAY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #187 (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.

Steady Holiday is the music of Dre Babinski. This video, filmed for our virtual SXSW showcase, finds her by the fireplace, a dog at her feet, an acoustic guitar in her arms. Steady Holiday is singing “Living Life,” a tune about a favorite topic of mine: the everyday, the mundane, and living in the moment. All the songs in this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Steady Holiday’s 2021 album Take The Corners Gently, a top record of mine this year.

As “Living Life” opens, Dre Babinski sings the first verse solo, then you can hear other musicians join in and she reveals their secret location (with some very loud shutters).  Derek Howa plays a pretty solo on the keys and by the end of the song drummer Brijesh Pandya is “da da daing” along to really flesh out the song.

Surprise guests aren’t the only surprise.  After the first song, her printer (with googly eyes and an arm) prints out the next song on the setlist.

“Tangerine” is a bouncy song with some heavier ends and an interesting chord progression.  Howa’s keys sound almost like a toy piano (but louder) and add a chiming quality.  It’s wonderfully catchy.  I’m curious how much bigger the proper version of this song sounds. Howa adds some creepy spacey effects in the middle, so I imagine the recorded songs have more going on.

The printer spits out a piece of paper: Your band is overdressed.  Then she tells us why the guys are outside (it’s pretty funny).

Laughing while her dog grabs a chew toy, she performs the album’s opening track, “White Walls,” a song about self-reflection and how doing the same thing over and over (“painting white walls white”) won’t make life better.

This is a slow bouncy song with a really catchy chorus: “painting white walls white just to kill the time.”

Then she shutters out her band and

As her printer cues the last song, (oops, small spoiler), Steady Holiday takes us out on a lovely tune, Love Me When I Go To Sleep”:

It’s just Bea and her guitar as she delicately sings

“Fragile aren’t we, who would guess / Here today, tomorrow’s taking bets.” Her refrain amplifies that fragility with a reminder to appreciate the gift of life. “Love me when I go to sleep / Love me with no certainty / Love me when I go to sleep.”

Her voice is clear and lovely and the final song feels like a lullaby.

[READ: April 20, 2021] Joan & The Man

This book came in at work and something about it made me want to read it (the shortness helped).

So this is a self-published book (I think–it could use some editing) that we received as a gift (from the author?).  It is Rykaczewski’s fourth novel and it is a wonderfully weird mix of reality and nonsense.

Chapter One focuses on Joan as she tried on some clothes in a mall–she is buying bralettes–imposed propaganda to younger hip girls.  Then it pushes back as she and The Man head to their place–the World Revolt Art Gallery.  But more on that place after a brief excursion to the Riverbend Arts Market.

Joan & The Man are artists living in Florida.  She works in paint and he works in words.  They spend time at the RAM hoping to sell some works, but really it’s a sucker’s market.  They often head down with their dog Duke,  Duke is a nasty dog to everyone but The Man. Then there’s a weird moment where Duke winds up trading places with a movie star dog (to the terminal end of the movie star dog).  But losing Duke frees them. (more…)

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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…)

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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.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION-“Trouble Every Day” (1966).

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention would play all kinds of music over the course of their existence (even more genres added when Frank went solo).  It’s not even entirely clear how you’d describe their first album Freak Out!

This song opens up side three of the double album and is a bluesy song based around a four note (and one bent note) melody and includes harmonica solo.  The song runs almost 6 minutes long and doesn’t change much until after about five and a half the tempo increases dramatically until the song fades.

It was written after the Watts Riots.  It was an accurate description and also sadly prescient.

Right in the middle of the song Frank states:

Hey you know something people I’m not black But there’s a whole lots a times I wish I could say I’m not white

That seems like it was a pretty powerful thing to say (and something you’d be unlikely to hear on the radio) back in 1965.

The chorus sticks with us

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

He certainly predicted the state of 24 hour news

Well you can cool it, You can heat it…
Cause, baby, I don’t need it…

Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all THOSE unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head began to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsmen say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so
And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They’ll be the first to tell
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

Things haven’t changed since this song was written

And it’s the same across the nation
Black & white discrimination
They’re yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
And all the other crap they hand me
In the papers and TV
‘N all that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight

Perhaps the theme verse for recent events

Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no great society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store

It’s a shame this song still resonates.

[READ: March 22, 2021] Parable of the Sower [2024-2025]

I found Kindred to be an enjoyable (not exactly the right word, I know) novel.  I thought the premise was really cool and I thought the content was impactful and was conveyed really well.  It was a powerful story that did not shy away from brutality.

But it in no way prepared me for Parable of the Sower.

I didn’t know anything about this book at all before starting.  At first I thought it was neat that it was set in 2024 (hey that’s so close!)  And that, coincidentally, myself and my daughters are almost the same ages as the main character and her father (will this be our future?).

But then, holy crap, Butler doesn’t hold back.

The brutality of Kindred was based on reality.  It was horrible and, in retrospect, hard to believe that people could do such things.  The brutality of Sower, however, is all based on the future projection.  The book was written in 1993. Basically, she posits that in 30 years, America has become a rotting hellscape.  And while we haven’t reached quite the levels that she imagines, there are some pretty eerie accuracies.  I have to assume, given the natural of the elected politicians, that some things are going to get very very spookily prescient.

The book opens in 2024 with a quote from Earthseed.  We don’t know what that is yet, but by the end of this week’s read we’ll learn that Earthseed is a sort of manifesto written by the main character, Lauren Oya Olamina–I didn’t realize her name was given after the first quote from Earthseed until looking back on it.  Each chapter has another quote from Earthseed and then the story unfolds as a series of diary entries. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Someday at Christmas” (2004).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

“Someday at Christmas” is a cover of the Stevie Wonder song.  I don’t know the original, but this version is a delightful Christmas song, one which I’m really surprised isn’t in regular Christmas song rotation.

The song is simple and catchy.  After a little guitar jingle of “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” the songs moves fluidly along with some nice bass lines from Jess Ament.

The lyrics are really wonderful, too

Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth

After the first two verses the song moves up a note and there’s some nice wah wah guitars added in.  There’s no chorus, just a bunch of verses which plead for a peaceful Christmas time.

There’s a slightly downer note at the end, although the song remains ever optimistic and ends with the guitar line playing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, once again.”

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime.

Now that it’s out in the ether, lets mix it in with the standard radio songs, eh?

[READ: December 3, 2019] “Save-A-Lot”

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

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

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

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story is by Anthony Doerr.  I thought I had read a lot more by him, but apparently I’m mostly just familiar with his name.  Which is a shame because this story is really enjoyable, even if it starts very dark.

The story is broken into fifteen numbered sections.

I was amused that the first one started “On the one hand there’s Bunny.”  We learn about Bunny’s life–she fled Texas at 17 and earned a nursing degree and a job in Bangor, Maine.  She is beloved at Woodlands Assisted and is so energetic, she is nicknamed The Prius: small, sensible, an a million miles to the gallon.

Then, when Bunny turned 22, Mike Ramirez impregnated her and fled for Tampa.  She keeps hearing her mother’s drunken voice–you’re as dumb as box of hair, you’re not worth spit.

But the baby, whom she names Hanako after the oldest elephant in the world, is very smart.  And Bunny is resilient.  She is doing okay. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE BUSH-“Under Ice/Waking the Witch” (1982).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

Esquire didn’t pick this song, but the inclusion of Kate Bush yesterday reminded me of this pairing of songs which I find incredibly creepy–especially late at night wit headphones.

This comes from side two of the Hounds of Love album.  Side Two is a suite or a story called The Ninth Wave.  Kate makes full use of sound effects and vocal panning so that you can hear the voices all around your head as they whisper, call or threaten.

The side begins with the gentle “And Dream of Sheep” which shows a young woman falling asleep (later we find it’s not as innocent as it seems).  This segues into “Under Ice” which begins with slow string notes that sound like someone skating.

Kate’s voice is deep, slow and echoey as she sings about skating on the ice.  You can hear a voices calling, but she doesn’t heed them:

I’m speeding past trees
Leaving little lines in the ice
Cutting out, little lines in the ice
Splitting, splitting sound
Silver heels spitting, spitting snow

and then in a more tremulous voice (with great watery sound effects) followed by a chorus of voices:

There’s something moving under
Under the ice moving
Under ice through water
Trying to
It’s me
Get out of the cold water
It’s me
Something
It’s me
Someone, help them

The two minute song segues into “Waking the Witch” which opens with a whispered “Wake up!” and an early morning wake up call while voices from all over the headphones try to get you to wake up–some more gently than others.

After a minute or so of this the song becomes an intensely scary four minutes.  A voice of someone, pleading, but garbled and cut up–perhaps under water? It is a nightmarish attempt at communication when a deep scary male voice states (with Kate singing the parenthetical)

You won’t burn (red, red roses)
You won’t bleed (pinks and posies)
Confess to me, girl (red, red roses, go down)

With a pretty melody, a voice whispers Spiritus Sanctus in nomine.  It cuts to another chopped up and manipulated voice praying “Bless me, father, bless me father, for I have sinned.”

The deep voice returns in accusation:

I question your innocence
She’s a witch
(Help this blackbird, there’s a stone around my leg)
Ha, damn you, woman
(Help this blackbird, there’s a stone around my leg)
What say you, good people
(Guilty, guilty, guilty)
Well, are you responsible for your actions?
(This blackbird)
Not guilty (help this blackbird)
Wake up the witch

As the four minutes fades off, we hear a helicopter flying through the air and a man shouting

Get out of the waves!
Get out of the water!

The story continues from there and gets a bit more positive, but man, the cinematic detail of this is staggering. Apparently she was finally able to stage this suite when in 2014, she performed her first concerts since 1979.  I would have loved to have seen that.

[READ: October 23, 2019] “The Distributor”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This has been quite possibly my favorite story in any of the Ghost Boxes.

Richard Matheson wrote I am Legend and many episodes of The Twilight Zone and this story was the epitome of dark suburban paranoia come to life.  It is also scarily timeless and, aside from some of the words used in the story, could easily have been written today. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: 47SOUL-Tiny Desk Concert #884 (August 26, 2019).

I had never heard of 47Soul and, surprisingly, the blurb doesn’t give any real background about the band.  So I had to turn to Wikipedia.

47Soul is a Jordanian Palestinian electronic music group.  The band’s first album, Shamstep, was released in 2015 and they are one of the main forces behind the Shamstep electronic dance music movement in the Middle East.

So what the heck is Shamstep?

Shamstep is based on mijwiz (a levantine folk musical style) and electronic dance.  ‘Sham’ refers to the local region of “Bilad al-Sham”, and ‘step’ refers to dubstep. The band’s music is also associated with the traditional dance called Dabke.

So, that’s a lot to take in, especially if you don’t know what half of those words mean.

The blurb does help a little bit more:

Shamstep is the creation of 47SOUL. At its heart is Arab roots music laced with dub, reggae and electronic dance music, including dubstep. It’s positive-force music with freedom, celebration and hope for the people of the Sham region (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria).

47SOUL play three songs and their instrumentation is pretty fascinating.  Three of the guys sing.  They also play bass drum (Walaa Sbeit); darbuka– a small hand drum (Tareq Abu Kwaik); guitar (Hamza Arnaout) and synthesizers (Ramzy Suleiman).

So what do they sound like?

Well, the first song “Mo Light” opens with some very synthesized “traditional” Middle Eastern music.  It sounds like an electronic version of traditional instrumentation.  The guitar comes in with a sound that alternates between heavy metal riffage and reggae stabs.  The three singers take turns singing.  Walaa Sbeit is up first singing in Arabic.  Then there’s a middle section sung by Tareq Abu Kwaik who is playing the darbuka and an electronic drum pad.  His voice is a bit rougher (the Arabic is quite guttural).  Meanwhile Ramzy Suleiman adds backing vocals and seems to sing loudest in English.

For the next song, Tareq Abu Kwaik does the narration while introducing Walaa Sbeit:

“Is it ok if I do a little dance on your desk?” asked 47SOUL singer and percussionist Walaa Sbeit on first seeing the Tiny Desk. I thought a minute, went under the desk, tightened the bolts, stuck some splints of wood under a few of the uneven legs and (feeling reassured) gave him the nod. It would be our first traditional Middle Eastern Dabke dancing atop the Tiny Desk and the first sounds of Shamstep (a kind of electronic dance music) behind it.

The dancing involves a shocking amount of deep knee bends!

“Don’t Care Where You From” opens with a cool synth rhythm and then sung in English.  It’s fun watching Walaa Sbeit walk around with the bass drum slung over his shoulder as he does some dancing while playing.  The song is one of inclusion

Well you might be from Philly (?) or Tripoli / from the mountains or from the sea
maybe got the key to the city / don’t mean anything to me.

They don’t care where you’re from, it’s where you are that counts.

47SOUL’s message of equality, heard here at the Tiny Desk (and on the group’s current album, Balfron Promise) is meant for all the world. This is music without borders, mixing old and new, acoustic and electronic from a band formed in Amman Jordan, singing in Arabic and English. It’s one big, positive and poignant party.

It segues into “Jerusalem” with the controversial-sounding lyric: “Jerusalem is a prison of philosophy and religion.”  The middle of the song had an Arabic rap which sounds more gangster than any gangster rap.  The end of the song is an electronic dance as everybody gets into it–clapping along and banging on drums.

It’s pretty great. I hope they tour around here, I’d love to see them live.

[READ: August 27, 2019] Submarine

I saw this book on the shelf and was attracted by its busy cover.  I also thought the authors name sounded familiar.   And so it was.  I have read some of Dunthorne’s poems in Five Dials magazines.

This was his first novel.  And it sounded unusual.  The back cover had this excerpt:

I used to write questionnaires for my parents. I wanted to get to know them better.  I asked things like:

What hereditary illnesses am I likely to inherit?
What money and land am I likely to inherit?

Multiple choice:
If you child was adopted at what aged would you choose to tell him about his real mother?
a) 4-8
B) 9-14
C) 15-18

Dunthorne is from Wales, which made this story a little exotic as well.  It is set in Swansea, by the sea (where people surf!) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS-Tiny Desk Concert #838 (April 3, 2019).

There is nothing worse than liking an artist and then having another artist with a similar name come along at the same time.

When I first heard of Courtney Marie Andrews, Courtney Barnett was just releasing her latest album.  And so every time I heard the name Courtney, I tuned in to see what Barnett was up to.  When it was followed by Marie Andrews, I was always disappointed.  Especially since I didn’t find this Courtney all that interesting.

Courtney Marie Andrews is part of that incessant tide of country musicians trying to crossover.   Okay technically she’s Americana, but certainly on the country side of Americana.

On the plus side, Courtney has a really powerful voice which is a pretty impressive thing indeed.   But I don’t really care for these three songs all that much.

“May Your Kindness Remain” opens with just keys (Alassane Gregoire Diarra) and her singing.   Even with little accompaniment, her voice is powerful and string.  And the lyrics are interesting:

“And if your money runs out
And your good looks fade
May your kindness remain
Oh, may your kindness remain”

The drums are brushed (William Mapp) and for the most part the song is pretty quiet.  Courtney herself is playing some simple chords and notes.  But as the song (and her voice) build toward the final chorus, she hits a big fuzzy guitar chord which really wakes up the song.

“Rough Around the Edges” opens with piano and bass (Ole Kirkeng) and vocals.  It’s a delicate song that definitely leans more country.

“This House” is dedicated to the best dog who ever lived (it would churlish to mock that the golden retriever is named Tucker–I’m sure it had a red bandanna too).  So yes, dead Tucker is buried near This House and he gets a mention in the lyrics. It’s that kind of song.

[READ: April 3, 2019] “Lulu”

This is a story of twins in China.  The narrator was born first “indignant and squalling,” while Lulu came next –perfectly quiet.  Lulu was precocious, and their parents showed their fondness for that.   She was always reading and easily got honors.  While the narrator… didn’t.  He rebelled against her brilliance by playing lots of video games.

Their parents were workers–their mother in a warehouse, father as a government employee.  They believed in the system and stood fast by it.

When it was time, Lulu scored high enough on exams to earn a place at university.  Their parents were thrilled.  The narrator also went to college, but with far less fanfare.  He says he didn’t really miss her then (he wasn’t old enough to realize it).  Plus Lulu was a huge user of social media.  He was able to find her “anonymous” account pretty easily since he knew so much about her and that’s how he kept tabs on her.

She came to visit when her school was in town for a debate and they had dinner.  They talked mostly about him.  Lulu thought video games were a waste of time but he said “it’s a profession now, you know… you can win big prize money.”

By the end of the night he finally asked Lulu about herself.  She said she was pregnant but would be getting an abortion. The father, Zhangwei, was a good man and they would be staying together: “He’s very noble.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014).

Even though this record came soon after Oddments, this has been considered the first major release by KGATLW (maybe that’s because it was the earliest recording that was still in print (until the reissues).  This album is a major step forward in their psychedelic garage rock sound.

The first four songs are more or less a continuous suite.  Not really, but all four songs contain the same breakneck drum pace and rumbling bass line and each one segues into the next.

“I’m in Your Mind” has a simple guitar riff, lots of wickedly distorted harmonica and a catchy vocal line.  It segues into “I’m Not in Your Mind” which is a three-minute jam based around a guitar solo.  The tone has changed slightly, but only slightly.  The solo features the main melody from “The Streets of Cairo or The Little Country Maid” (which we in the States think of as the Egyptian song or the snake charmer song because it was in every cartoon from the 1950s). The end of the song features a bass rumble which segues into the intro to the classic KGATLW song “Cellophane” (where the lyrics are nearly all nonsense singing and the word “cellophane”–catchy as anything).  The quartet returns to the opening song with the reprise called “I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.”   The same guitar melody and tempo resume with a similar-sounding chorus.

A click opens the next song, “Empty,” which halts the fast-paced bass and drums and grows much slower.  With a new rhythm and a more staccato delivery, this song maintains the fuzzy sound and distorted vocals and adds, I believe, a flute.  It’s followed by the wonderful “Hot Water.”  It’s an uptempo song with muted delivery in the vocals and guitars.   It’s also got the simple chanted chorus of “Hot Water” all surrounding this cool 70s sounding melody.

“Am I in Heaven” begins as a folkie acoustic song.  It’s pretty gentle for about 45 seconds until it turns into a screaming and thumping rocker with all kinds of wailing—guitars, vocals, harmonica.  Then at 3 minutes it returns briefly to that original folkie melody until, once again, the loud rocking just overtakes the whole thing with psychedelic soloing.

“Slow Jam 1” slows things down a lot. “I need to slow my mind down” is the lyrical opening.   It is slow and hazy for a few gentle minutes.  “Satan Speeds Up” sounds like it might be an old lost psychedelic/metal song–a cool vibrato guitar riff and flutes play this excellent opening.  The verses are gentle–falsetto singing as the band chills out around it.

“Her and I (Slow Jam 2)” returns to that acoustic mellow sound, this time with some extra fuzzy notes sprinkled around the song.  After about a minute and a half (of the 8 minute song), the tempo picks up and there’s a cool guitar solo which returns a couple of times by the end adding harmonica and wah wah guitar.

This is a very cool album that really shows what KGATLW is all about.  At least until their next release.

[READ: February 18, 2019] “White Out”

This issue of Harper’s had two stories and I didn’t really enjoy either one.

This first one was written in Korean and was translated by Deborah Smith.  What I didn’t like about it was that I wasn’t sure if these nine short pieces were sections of a big story or individual (somewhat) connected stories.  Either way the blocks of text were all quite short and not always complete.

Frost
This tells us that she was born on a day of frost but her father chose seol, snow, as one of the characters for his daughter’s name.  I found that pretty interesting and would have liked to know more about that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JUPITER & OKWESS-Tiny Desk Concert #784 (September 7, 2018).

Jupiter Bokondji comes from the troubled capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He and his band Okwess dress in wonderfully colorful garb.  Jupiter’s jacket is practically a zoot suit with blue and white stripes on one side, a red field on the other and giant white stars  He has a big hat as well.  But he can’t hold a candle on the shirtless drummer who is wearing a red white and blue wrestling mask the whole show.

The guitarist has a beautiful patterned gold shirt with blue lapels and the percussionist in addition to wearing another cool hat has on a terrific sweater.

The band plays “the vibe of Kinshasa street musicians, that feels both African and American” and indeed, “their fierce energy here is an astonishing performance.”

Then of course there’s Congolese rumba, the popular dance music from as early as the 1940s, not too dissimilar from some Cuban music of the day. And the message of the music has been steeped in the complicated politics of the region, stumbling between chaos, anarchy and oppression.

This is urgent music … that stems from the gut but has thought and theatrics to flesh out the feelings. It’s music to be experienced. This is your entry point.

They play 3 songs each with a similar feel but with a very different sound.

“Ofakombolo” is so wonderfully catchy with the percussionist and drummer chanting the chorus on the first time around.  On the second the rest of the band sings too, for a nice harmony.  The bassist gets what sounds like a rap guest verse before playing a kind of funky bass solo.  The percussionist is great for shouts and trills animals noises, too.  The music is nonstop, propulsive and fun, with a distinctive guitar solo sound.

“Pondjo Pondjo” starts with a quiet guitar intro.  But it is joined by the drummer whistling and the percussionist pulling a string through a plastic container, making a crazy squeaky sound that works wonders as a percussive sound.  The bassist seems to be singing lead on this song (a very different voice).

 Jupiter introduces “Ekombe” by saying “Let’s go to dancing!” It opens with a funky bass line and the drummer playing a fast hi-hat beat and chanting.  It’s a very dancey with a slinky guitar line running throughout the song.  There’s a nifty breakdown in the middle which features some fun on the bass and a wild solo to end the song.

This is a wonderful introduction to Congolese music.  Stay for the end, as they end the show with a post-credits kung fu pose.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “In the Act of Falling”

Boy this was a dark, dark story.  After the last line I actually said aloud, “Jesus, Danielle, what the hell.”

This is the story of a family: a woman, her husband and their nine-year-old son, Finn.  Finn was recently suspended from school for punching a fellow student in the mouth.

They live in a an old house that they imagined fixing up but two years later even the dining room is unfinished.

Finn is in the yard setting up a volleyball net–but he is doing it sideways like a hammock.  It turns out he is setting it up to catch ducks as they fall from the sky.  Birds were the next heralders of the apocalypse.  And, she had seen that all of the ducks in St Stephen’s green were dead–all of them.  She probably shouldn’t have told Finn this, but she did. (more…)

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