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Archive for the ‘Trains’ Category

2020_03_16 (1)SOUNDTRACK: MOUNT EERIE-Tiny Desk Concert #945 (February 12, 2020).

maxresdefaultI’ve heard of Mount Eerie, but I didn’t really know that much about them. And when I say them, I really mean him, Phil Elverum.

Phil Elverum’s songs come full circle, swooping down like vultures and floating up like ashes from flames. Throughout his work in Mount Eerie and The Microphones, idealism comes up against realism, existence entangles with impermanence and love discovers new forms. So when he sings, “Let’s get out the romance,” in close harmony with Julie Doiron at the Tiny Desk, there’s a history going back nearly two decades to an isolated cabin in Norway where he first wrote the phrase.

I have never really enjoyed quiet, sad music.  It’s just not my thing.  So this Tiny Desk is definitely not my favorite.  Although I can appreciate the intensity of his lyrics and the beautiful way his and Julie’s voices combine.

They recorded an album, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2, last year.

the sparsely decorated, deeply felt album meditates on a heart still breaking and mutating, but also gently reckons with a younger version of himself. That refrain on “Belief” is performed here with only an electric guitar and a nylon-string acoustic bought in Stockholm during that Scandinavian trip many years ago.

“Belief” opens with quiet acoustic guitar and then the two of them singing together.  And it’s pretty intense:

Elverum remembers himself as a young man who begged “the sky for some calamity to challenge my foundation.” We then become the Greek chorus, witness to the unfolding tragedy: first, the death of his wife and mother to their child, the musician and illustrator Geneviève Castrée, in 2016; then the marriage to actor Michelle Williams in 2018 and their divorce less than a year later. “‘The world always goes on,'” Doiron sings in answer, quoting a Joanne Kyger poem, “‘Breaking us with its changes / Until our form, exhausted, runs true.'”

Doiron’s guitar contributions are so minimal, she doesn’t play for most of the song.   The song runs almost seven minutes and does seem to end mid-sentence.

When “Belief” suddenly ends, seemingly in the middle of a thought, Elverum’s eyes search the room. The audience responds with applause, but a version of this dynamic plays out everywhere he’s performed for the last three years — long silences broken up by tentative claps, nervous laughs struck by grief and absurdity.

The second song, “Enduring The Waves” is only three minutes long.  He begins it by speak/singing “Reading about Buddhism” and I wasn’t sure if it was a lyric or an introduction.  It’s a lyric.  This song features Julie and Phil singing seemingly disparate lines over each other until their final lines match up perfectly  The construction of this song is really wonderful even if it is still a pretty slow sad song,

“Love Without Possession” Julie sings the first verse and after her verse, Phil starts strumming his guitar in what can only be described as a really catchy sort of way.  They harmonize together and Doiron includes minimal electric guitar notes.  This is my favorite song of the bunch.

[READ: March 13, 2020] “My High-School Commute”

Colin Jost is one of the presenters on Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update.  I think he’s very funny and has a great sarcastic tone.  Although, I have to agree with the title of his new memoir: A Very Punchable Face.

This is an amusing essay about his daily commute to high school, in which he took “a journey by land, sea and underground rocket toilet.”

His grandfather always told him about the value of an education–protect your brain! was his constant refrain.

It was his brain that got him out of Staten Island.  It got him into a Catholic high school called Regis* *Regis Philbin was named after my high school but went to Cardinal Hayes High School which was full of kids who beat the shit out of kids who went to Regis.

Regis is one of the best schools in the country and it is free–tens of thousands of kids apply for 120 spots. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CATE LE BON-“Company in My Back” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Cate Le Bon is a fascinating character, an esoteric Welsh singer who experiments with interesting sounds.  I don’t know that there’s many people like her.  I’m looking forward to seeing her live with Kurt Vile in a couple of months.

Her take on this familiar song is pretty simple—she sings with a kind of deadpan delivery which really accentuates the words.  The verses are a sort of repetitive sound that sounds like a full-sized toy piano with some cool bass lines throughout.

When the chorus kicks in there’s all kind of unexpected horn sounds flitting about.

It’s pretty far from the original but is really fun.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust Vol. 2

Volume 2 resumes right where the last book left off.  We’re at the Taylor farm and Roman is looking at the pitchfork that Jesse used to stop the machine that was heading toward the farm.  But Roman has more questions about the pitchfork than the machine.  After inspecting it he decides that only Jesse’s grandfather, Mr. Aicot could have made a pitchfork that could stop a machine like that.

Roman fixes up the machine so that it will repair his truck.  But it seems to go after Jesse–it stops short of doing anything to her but it sure gives her the creeps.  This is a good point to say how cool these machine robots are.  Their faces are essentially a triangular Venetian blind look.  Horizontal lines with a pointed front (like a nose).  They are dressed in long coats and look incredibly menacing.

Meanwhile Jet is feeling weaker and weaker.  Oz is spying on him and sees Jet remove his power cell–Oz realizes that jet is a robot!  This freaks him out.  He bikes to Mr Aicot’s house and reveals the secret.  Mr Aicot says that he knew already, but he never said anything to anyone because no one would believe him,

Then he has some things to show Oswald. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Santa God” (1993).

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.

The song opens with a quiet guitar melody and Eddie’s droning style of vocal until the bass comes in and the song starts really moving.

It’s a flashback to childhood

Now and then I remember when
Us Adults were little Kids
And our only worry was
What we get from Santa Claus

There’s a little synth melody in between verses as the song seems to grow more positive.  The chorus is simple and reminds me in style of some of the later Nirvana songs (with the backing vocals especially).

It seems like it’s a sarcastic song, but indeed, it’s not

How I learned from right and wrong
Had to be good for Santa Claus
He made me, stop misbehaving
And once a year if I did my job
I’d be given my favorite toys
So simple, the principles

It’s a catchy enough song, but probably won’t run up the holiday music charts anytime soon.

[READ: December 7, 2019] “An Errand in the Country”

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 is a short short story.  It concern a Russian man who has been living in the United States for most of his life.  Gregory has been a successful businessman in New York City.  He was exacting and always on time.  Actually, he’s rather a a jerk.

He returned to Moscow infrequently, and when he did, his visits were brief.  He wanted to stay at the Ritz but his mother was always upset with him if he didn’t stay with her.  So he agreed to stay in her run down place, where he knew he would not be able to get the smell of her apartment out of his clothes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PITCH BLACK PROCESS feat. HAYKO CEPKIN-“Zahid Bizi Tan Eyleme” (2019).

Pitch Black Process is a Turkish heavy metal band.   All of the members played in a band called Affliction in the 90s and 2000s.  As PBP they have released an EP and two albums and have a new EP on the way from which this song comes.  And I found it because of the Hayko Cepkin connection.  Interestingly, some of the songs on their albums are in English, but this song is in Turkish.

Metal Shock Finland says of the song

In “Zahid Bizi Tan Eyleme”, Pitch Black Process interpret a poem from the 16th century, of which melody is anonymous. With this significant work by “Muhyî”, their aim is to contribute to bring the culture of this land to the world scene, via building a bridge between east and west. It is a modern but also a folkloric song which blends traditional and authentic instruments with rock/metal elements; it is emotional, touching and sombre, but at the same time it’s moving, encourages individuality and gives a sense of fight and battle.

This song opens with traditional instrument–drums, flute and oud (I believe).

After 45 second the band kicks in with heavy guitars sludging through a traditional-sounding melody.    I really love the way the heavy guitars produce the djent sound along with traditional riffs.  Midway though an instrumental break highlights the zurna, I believe.

The end of the song features Cepkin and PBP singer Emrah Demirel singing in harmony over a quiet musical interlude that builds to a crushing end.  It’s a short song but it’s a terrific mix of the traditional and the modern.

The video is pretty outstanding.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Hard Seat”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

Jennifer Egan is the only writer born in America writing in this series of essays and her perspective is as an America in another country.

In 1986 she turned twenty-four while travelling with a friend in China.  Her friend wasn’t quite as excited by this journey as the night before in Hong Kong rats had gnawed through her satchel at the youth hostel.

But they took a ferry to China (Guangzhou), a city full of tea shops and sunny gardens.  They stayed in a dormitory style hotel designed for travelers. (“this was practically a job description for most of our bunkmates, who’d been travelling in Asia for months.”  She felt silly around them–she was a grad student studying in England.  Hong King was still under British rule at the time and felt barely exotic). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JÚNÍUS MEYVANT-NonCOMM 2019 Free at Noon (May 15, 2019).

Júníus Meyvant is the stage name of Icelandic singer Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson.  His band is a soulful Iceland six-piece with outstanding musicianship.

The set started off strong with “High Alert.”  A cool bassline and organ propel the song forward with accents from trumpet and Sigurmundsson’s soulful voice.

The second song, “Holidays” is much slower as it starts with a wavering keyboard and groovy bassline.  It’s just as soulful though–possibly more so, with nice horn accompaniments.

“Across the Borders” showcased a psychedelic-jam side of Júníus Meyvant, as well as the pianist’s skills.  After some powerful trumpet, the song settles down into a slow groove.  Midway through, the drummer plays a cool little fill and the band launches into a fast keyboard-filled jamming romp.

“Love Child” is a sweet, smooth love song with gentle horns guiding the melody.

“Ain’t Gonna Let You Drown” had a rich, gospel sound to it, it’s his new single. He slowed down the tempo for their last song “Thoughts of My Religion,” a personal ballad with a catchy chorus.

It’s a lovely set which you can listen to here (for some reasons Night Two’s shows are much much quieter on the player).

[READ: May 15, 2019] “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” 

I have read many many stories by Boyle and I like him quite a lot.  I like that he writes about so many different topics from so many different perspectives.  He is even unafraid to be sympathetic to people who don’t seem to deserve it.

It was somewhat unfortunate that I read this story and the next one by him (written about 19 years apart) by him on the same day because they were both rather creepy and voyeuristic and sympathetic to people who really don’t deserve it.

This story is about a woman who chooses to take a three day train ride rather than a three hour plane ride to Dallas.   It wasn’t long after the school shootings.  The shootings had happened at her daughter’s school although the daughter was unharmed.  This had nothing to do with her choice of taking the train, exactly, but she felt it would afford her some down time.

At morning breakfast she was seated across from a young man–Eric–about her daughter’s age.  They had a pleasant light conversation–first about state capitals and “sexy” cities  and the dangers of Splenda “its made from nuclear waste.”  He soon revealed that he went to the same school as her daughter  And just to complicate things.  He knew the shooter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-“I’m a Stranger Now” (2019).

I’ve enjoyed The Tallest Man on Earth and I’ve been looking forward to seeing him live for a while.  I’ve actually had really back luck with his tours.  One time something came up on the night I was supposed to see him.  Another time he had to cancel his tour.  But, with luck, I will get to see Kristian Matsson live.

The Tallest Man on Earth sings simple folk songs.  The greatness of his songs comes from his voice and delivery.  There’s something about his voice and his style that is steeped in American folk, but the fact that he’s from Sweden changes his outlook and his accent.

This song from his album I Love You, It’s a Fever Dream follows in the style he is known for–spare, simple melodies and his often wordy lyrics.

Starting with fast acoustic chords (played high on the neck), Kristian begins singing in his familiar but unique style.  The bridge ends with a fast vocal melody that is a pure hook that leads to the singalong titular chorus.

After three minutes, the song slows down to a quiet guitar melody and near-whispered vocals.

[READ: May 1, 2019] The Man on Platform 5

I know Robert Llewellyn from the show Red Dwarf, of which I am a huge fan.

In fact, I didn’t know anything about this story, but I figured if Kryten wrote it, it must be good.  I had read his memoir, the wonderfully titled Thin He Was and Filthy Haired, and I was sure I had read this at the time as well.  But evidently not, because when I started flipping through it I realized I didn’t know a thing about this story.  I also see that he has written quite a lot more in the last two decades.

It seems fairly obvious from the get go that this story is a gender reversing story of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.  Instead of a man trying to improve a woman, in this story, a woman is trying to “improve” a man.  In some ways it’s very modern and progressive and in other ways it’s pretty stuck in gender stereotypes.  But hey it was the 90’s, before writers were enlightened.

The man who needs bettering is Ian Ringfold.  He is a trainspotter!  (I love that Llewellyn made that his hobby as I have heard of it but never knew exactly what it entailed).  He loves obscure facts, dry goods (he works in a supermarket) and being incredibly dorky.  He is deeply into what he likes and genuinely can’t understand why other people wouldn’t like those things.

Enter Gresham and Eupheme.  They are half-sisters and have spent pretty much their entire lives squabbling.  Their train breaks down on the same platform that Ian is currently trainspotting.  Eupheme, the more humane one of the two, bets Gresham that she can turn this sad “anorak” into a “useful member of society.”  Gresham says it cannot be done.  Eupheme (who is short on funds) says that if she can turn this loser into someone that Gresham would fancy that Gresham would pay her a tidy sum.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHAPEL OF DISEASESong of the Gods” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Even though Lars is all over the place with the style of music he loves, he tends to return again and again to metal, especially lately doom metal.  It is fitting that Chapel of Disease ends the set.  Lars has introduced me to a lot of really heavy music often with growly vocalists.  But Chapel of Disease, despite their name does not sound like that exactly.  The vocals are deep and kind of growly but they are audible (for the most part) (and sound like they come from miles away).

This song is seven minutes long and opens with an almost middle-eastern sounding quiet guitar intro.  After 20 or so seconds, the main riff enters and sounds even more Middle Eastern, but when the bombastic bass and drums come in and the song turns from pretty guitar to heavy metal, that riff becomes a total classic rock song.  After 2 and a half minutes, the vocals come in, and honestly they are a little too low and growly for the music.  They almost feel like an afterthought for the music they are making.  At least the chorus (where that riff comes back) is easy enough to understand.

The guitar solo is actually quite pretty and understated–the whole song kind of pulls back a bit until we hit about 5 minutes when then real metal shows up and the raging solo and double bass drum take the song to a heavier point than they’ve hit thus far.   By 6 minutes, in true classic rock fashion it returns to the riff and the chorus and they play us to the end.

Lars calls this “Death-metal Dire Straits” and then immediately says “No, wait, come back!”  I don’t really hear the Knopfler guitar but I’ll allow it.  I totally agree with him that on their

third album Chapel of Dissease embraces ’70s hard-rock swagger, proggy sorcery and, most surprisingly… fluid melodicism… all atop death-metal growls and chugged riffs. There’s no reason why this should work, and it’s a testament to Chapel of Disease’s heavily worn record collection, as the group now raises fists and beer to the storm.

There’s only 6 songs on the album and none are shorter that 6 minutes.  It’s a cool change form typical death metal.

[READ: January 6, 2019] “Train Dreams”

This is an excerpt from a novel, which means that the ending is not as open-ended as it seems.

Xiao Yuan was a teacher but now she mostly took business trips as an administrator.  While she is setting up her train’s bunk for the night, a man settles in across from her.  He is Dr. Liu and he sells herbal and non-herbal medicines.  As they lay down in bunks that faced each other, Xiao Yuan put out a pocket watch, a small digital clock and a radio next to her pillow.

Dr Liu was made restless by her timepieces–he sensed an evil aura from the woman across from him.  He got up to switch bunks but Xiao Yuan immediately asked him what he was doing.  She said it was 2 in the morning “Do you want to die?  You’ll be taken for a criminal and arrested.  What a hick…”

She laughed as Dr Liu looked at her and he saw her tuning her radio.  It regularly reported the time but each instance stated it was eleven PM.  Dr Liu knew he could not sleep so he lay wake until Xiao Liu asked him about his job.  She hated Chinese medicine, believing it was mystical and always associated with sex.  But she found herself agreeing with a lot of what Dr Liu said.

She then conceded that she was controlling the radio with her thoughts. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: PHISH Live Bait 14 (2018).

Phish has just released its 14th compilation of free downloads.  This one is a little over two hours with seven long songs.

Harry Hood (8/2/97 Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA) 18:11
After a slow intro–it’s about two and a half minutes before the vocals come in–then there’s jazzy bass and funky keys.  The jam is pretty mellow, he even asks to have them kill the lights “so I can have the outdoor vibe here.”  A relaxed piano comes in around 12 and it’s not until 17 minutes that they sing the end of the song.

McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters (10/29/98 Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA) 11:45
This is a fun treat as they don;t play this song much anymore.  The piano opening is very quiet, but the middle is cool with a piano and splash cymbals.  The ending is twinkling piano that segues perfectly (despite being nearly a year later) into the next song.

Wolfman’s Brother (9/24/99 South Park Meadows – Austin, TX) 18:55
opens with a quiet piano but it quickly grows upbeat with a hot jam. Although the final section is dark for a bout a minute before it ends.

Gotta Jibboo > Saw It Again > Magilla (7/4/00 E Centre – Camden, NJ) 39:28
Gotta Jibboo brings back the lightness again. It’s got a happy solo with a pulsing high keyboard note that runs for almost ten minutes while Trey solos.  It turns funky/groovy around fifteen minutes in and then around 17 minutes in it shifts gears and grows slowly noisy and chaotic before sequing to Saw It Again.  Around 34 minutes, it slows down and segues into Magilla with really cool drums.

What’s The Use? (6/25/00 Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek – Raleigh, NC) 9:52
This is an instrumental that starts out sounding quite raw–the guitar is sharp with feedback moments.  After  couple of minutes the guitar fades and it gets quiet and pretty before the guitar returns and grows noisy again.

Runaway Jim (7/9/99 Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD) 12:21
As always this song rocks.   Although the jam is pretty mellow and pleasant sounding.

Tweezer > Prince Caspian (8/22/15 Magnaball, Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, NY) 34:17
Most of the songs on this compilation are from the turn of the century, but this one is from just a couple years ago and it’s a big old “Tweezer” exploration.  This version sounds pretty loose–Trey even modifies the open chord riff somewhat.  Even the “Uncle Ebeneezer” noise is somewhat subdued.  It grows fairly calm before a funky guitar solo.  By 11 minutes, there’s a lot of piano added and then through 17 minutes “Prince Caspian” begins.  It’s a typically fun version of the song.  And by 31 minutes it feels like the song is circling back around to “Tweezer,” but it never actually gets there.  It just kind of ends.

Hard to complain about a free compilation, and there’s not much to complain about here.  Good selection of songs and great performances.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The Blade”

This is story of tramps.  Hoboes.

There is a young kid who reminded Ronnie of himself from way back.  But it generally assumed the kid will be tossed off the train car before two long.

After some silence Vanboss and Stark begin talking.  Vanboss tells of a head on collision between two cars going 100 mph and how the cars were melded into a small cube but somehow a baby escaped unharmed.  No one believes that, so they talk of other deaths, brutal and extraordinary. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Danger Goes Berserk

After how much we loved Brixton Brothers Books 1 through 3 we were excited to get to Book #4 (which appears to be the final book since it has been six years, despite what was hinted at in the end).

However, there is no audio book!  No Arte Johnson guiding us through the mysteries of these teenage sleuths.  No one to say Rick (pause) Jerk.

Gasp.

So we did the next best thing.  S. read it to us on a long car ride.  This is second best because it’s exhausting for S. to read out loud for that long and to have the constant complaints of “can you turn it up” which makes me laugh every time one of the kids says it.

It was great to be involved with Steve Brixton and his chum Dana once again.

The detectives are back (in Steve’s hilarious new office) and there are two cases to look into.  One is about surfing.

The other is about… gym shorts.

Someone has been stealing Brody Owen’s gym shorts.  Brody even paid Steve to take the case.  But Steve doesn’t want to take it.  Both because it’s stupid and because he’s got more important, bigger cases to deal with. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song) Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride (1963).

When producer/musicians John Congleton was a guest DJ on NPR, he played some expected and then some very unexpected songs. The most surprising (although it does make sense) was this song from the Disney Haunted Mansion.

Maybe this song is the reason why he likes the dark so much.

It’s a fun bouncy song, like most Disney stuff it’s hard to believe anyone was really afraid of it, and yet as a kid, that voice and those sounds could certainly be frightening.  The song has all kinds of sounds in it–keys, tubular bells, xylophone, hammered percussion marimba, and a lot of backing vocals.  And of course the amazing vocals (and laughs) Thurl Ravencroft and others.  There’s also great effects with analog tape.  He also points out that the chord progression is quite chromatic: A to B flat to B which is jagged and close together and not easy to listen to.

Congleton says (listen around 34:50):

The vocals are done by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was the voice of Tony the Tiger and the Grinch. I mean, This is Tom Waits before Tom Waits. When I was a kid, I was so attracted to this song, but I was scared of it. The record would sit with my other records and I would see it in there, and I would be like, ‘Do I have the bravery to listen to it right now?’ And sometimes I would, and I was mesmerized by it. But the then I grew up, and I went back and listened to it, and was like, ‘This is brilliant. This is really, really well done.’ I never in my entire life heard background vocals that sounded as tight as that. Never in my life. The harmonies are the tightest harmonies I have ever heard ever. And it’s like, this is for a silly kid’s record — but they were committed to making something special. Everything about that song is incredible to me.”

And yes, it is a silly song, but the recording is really impressive.

[READ: April 20, 2017] Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

It has been almost two years since I read Book 3.  The fact that I’ve had book 4 all this time and simply not read it was not a good sign.  And, ultimately, I found this story ending to be strangely annoying, vaguely compelling and ultimately unsatisfying.

This book mostly follows young Snicket on his solo mission.  He awakes in the middle of the night to see his chaperone S. Theodora Markson sneak out of their room.  He follows her to a warehouse where she steals something and then to a train.  She boards but he is unable to.

The train used to make stops in town but it no longer does and Snicket jumps on board at the only place he can think of).  While he’s hanging on the outside of the train, Moxie drags him in through the window.  That’s about the first third of the book.  It was nice to have another character for him to talk to.

Then a murder happens (this is a pretty violent series for kids).  And the blame is laid at the wrong person’s feet. (more…)

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