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Archive for the ‘Transgender’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MELANIE CHARLES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #165 (January 4, 2021).

I had never heard of Melanie Charles and boy was I in for a treat with this being my first exposure to her.

A Brooklynite proud of her rich Haitian heritage, Charles is conscious of the giant shoulders upon which she stands and takes steps to both honor and advance this music. Behind her, smiling pictures of her guardian angels, Mary Lou Williams and Billie Holiday, encourage Charles while she and her musicians blend the mystique of Haitian folk music with the sorrowful optimism of negro spirituals and the free space for elevation that jazz improvisation allows.

The video opens on a dark screen with samples being manipulated and twisted.  It’s amazing to have the camera fade from black into this really old-fashioned looking scene–upright bass, snare drum and a nearly sepia filter on the video.  And then there’s Melanie Charlie dressed in a beautiful but old-fashioned looking ensemble manipulating all of the sounds.

She is playing from the

Williamsburg Music Center, one of Brooklyn’s last surviving black-owned jazz venues… This performance was a full circle moment for Melanie Charles. The Williamsburg Music Center is owned by Gerry Eastman, a celebrated musician and composer who taught the jazz class Charles and her brother and saxophonist, Rogerst Charles, attended when they were in high school. According to Charles, Eastman “represents a special era of Brooklyn jazz musicians” and created a space that gave these artists a place to perform when all other doors were closed to them.

Then she starts singing French while Jonathan Michel plays a bass solo /melody.  This song is

“Damballa Wedo,” [in which] Charles channels her Haitian roots and delivers a modern twist of a traditional vodou song by Toto Bissainthe. She sings that when we seek transformation, we may become someone who those around us no longer recognize, but that the change is necessary and part of the ancestors’ divine plan. “C’est bon, c’est bon,” she sings.

Up next she offers a little Sun Ra vibration.  She plays a sample and dramatically shuts it off as it loops.  The starkness of the silence is very dramatic.   Then she starts singing

Charles’ arrangement of “Deep River” is inspired by her admiration for Sun Ra. The biography of the eccentric composer, arranger, musician, and early pioneer of Afrofuturism, Space Is The Place rests on a stand behind her. By really digging into his approach and arrangements and using his “spaceship setup as a performance guide,” she breathes new life into this spiritual, injecting it with a potency that is simultaneously somber and otherworldly.

While the sample continues the band picks things up.  The bass and sax play the main melody while Melanie plays some sharp and cool flute accents.

And what a voice!

Before the final song, she introduces the band:

Jonathan Michel: who looks like an upright bassist–he’s got that Ron Johnson turtleneck.  Shout out to Ron Johnson.  On drums, Diego Ramirez: coming in at the last minute and learning the songs over night.  On saxophone, Rogerst Charles, my blood brother, my heart.

The final song is “Dilemma.”

She finishes the set with “Dilemma,” a new song written to find the balance between self-care and showing up for those you love amid the cries for justice during the first summer of the pandemic. On our phone call, Charles explained that the song is an anthem that reminds us to not to “dim your light for anybody” and “remember how vibrant we are, despite what we as black people had to deal with in 2020.”

She plays keys and sings a soft song until the whole band joins in.  After a couple of minutes she she sings a high note and the sax plays the same note a wailing harmony of greatness.

With about two minutes left she starts singing the coda “we’ve been doing alright be we still shine bright.”  The band sings along and she interjects:

We’ve been doing alright
even though we didn’t get our stimulus.
But we still shine bright.

[READ: March 31, 2021] Only Righteous Fights

On December 31 of 2020 I donated some money to Elizabeth Warren (I’m not actually sure to what end it was used–presumably her Senatorial campaign?) to pre-order this collection of speeches (and get a laminated bookmark!).

There are few things more disappointing than reading amazing, inspiring and truly moving speeches by a person who lost a candidacy.

Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren were my number 1 and number 2 choices for President.  I didn’t have to worry too much about which one I would ultimately choose, I was just happy they both were so successful (until they weren’t).  Having Harris as V.P. is pretty awesome, and I will acknowledge that Biden (who was my last choice) has been doing a good job thus far (apparently having taken ideas from all the other candidates…which is rather a good idea).

But reading this book and seeing how genuine Warren was (or came across) and how much she cared (or appeared to) for the people she spoke to and about, it is crushing that her campaign didn’t last.

There are five speeches in the book as well as lots of photos.  There’s a few smaller sections as well, like photos from the Selfie Line, Letters to Elizabeth and Pinky Promises.

What’s impressive is how she manages to hit all of her main bullet points and yet how each speech is quite different. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RACHELE ANDRIOLI-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135/153 (January 13, 2021).

Rachele AndrioliGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third artist of the third night is Rachele Andrioli from Italy.  She is (almost) a one-woman band and makes amazing music with her voice and a loop pedal.

Recording from southern Italy, Rachele Andrioli’s performance highlights her mix of old and new, of traditional music and modern technology. Her trance vocals and loop pedals create a sound all her own, mixing music from Italian, Indian, Lebanese, Albanian and Romani cultures and traditions.

She plays three songs.  For the first, “Te Spettu” (“I Respect You”) she loops a jaw harp (who would have thought that that could be the basis for a song).  Then she loops her voice crooning.  She picks up a hand drum that looks like a tambourine (and gets an amazingly robust sound from it).  Her vocal style feels Middle Eastern.  It’s a really impressive piece of music.

“Pranvera Filloi Me Ardh” (“Spring Started with the Coming”) is in Albanian.  As the song starts, her accompanists come out.  Redi Hasa picks up a cello and plays a harmonic note (looped) followed by a gentle plucked melody.  Then Rocco Negro plays the accordion.  The mournful accordion solo sounds very Italian.  Hasa plays a mournful melody and she sings gently with them both.

The men leave and it’s just her for  “Ederlezi.”   She loops her voice singing a single note and then accompaniments herself including a distortion on her voice making it a very deep harmony.  She plays another small hand drum which gets an amazing sound.

This is a wonderfully unique set that I really enjoyed.

[READ: January 22, 2021] Snapdragon

For a while, I was reading every single First Second book that was published.  Once the pandemic hit, I fell behind and have not really been able to catch up just yet.  But S. brought this book home and I thought it looked interesting even before I saw that it was from First Second.

The cover is a little disconcerting.  Snapdragon, the girl in the picture, has hair up in pig tails.  But with a ghostly deer behind her, the way her har is drawn, it almost looks like some kind of antler (probably not intended).  But there’s a lot of things that are confusing in this story at first (and even second and third) glance.  I assume that these other decisions are deliberate.

Many of the characters in this story are African-American, including Snapdragon.  But her skin coloring is very different from all of the other characters.  I don’t think it matters for the story, whether she is or not (until the very end anyhow).  But it was very nice to see so many characters of color in the book.  In a strangely similar way, a main character, Jacks, I was sure was a man, but indeed, she is not.  Snap recognizes her as a woman right away, but I wasn’t sure if that made a difference either.  In fact, Jacks’ masculine appearance is important in the story, but I’m not sure if the reader is supposed to think that Jacks is a man as well?

None of that matters, of course, because once you learn the reality, you can just move on.

So just what the heck is this story about?

Snapdragon is a girl (all the women in her family are named after flowers).  She’s a little odd and the other kids are happy to let her know that.  The only kid who is nice to her is her neighbor Louis.  Louis thinks Snap is weird, but Louis is also pretty unconventional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A Clockwork Orange soundtrack (1972).

I’ve had the CD of this soundtrack since the mid 1990s.  I recall playing it all the time.  I hadn’t listened to it in a while and it all came back as I listened again.

This CD is a collection of classical pieces, a few odds and ends and a number of pieces by Wendy Carlos.

I don’t intend to review the classical pieces which are familiar and sound great.  But the Wendy Carlos pieces deserve mention.

Title Music from A Clockwork Orange” (2:21) (From Henry Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary).  It is fascinating to realize that most of the carlos pieces on this soundtrack are actually classical compositions that she has arranged for the Moog (I assume she is playing the Moog on these).  This piece starts with swirling sounds which turn into a fast melody with drums that are probably low synth notes.  There’s a sprinkling of very odd sounds thrown in the mix which really give everything an unearthly feel.

“The Thieving Magpie (Abridged)” (5:57) [Rossini-Rome Opera House Orchestra]

Theme from A Clockwork Orange (Beethoviana)” (1:44) In the movie, the main character loves Beethoven.  So there are a number of pieces from Beethoven that Carlos has arranged here.  This one sounds amazing in this gentle piece with that otherworldly synthesizer music and of staccato notes and chords.

“Ninth Symphony, Second Movement (Abridged)” [Beethoven-Berlin Philharmonic] (3:48)

March from A Clockwork Orange (Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement, Abridged)” [Beethoven] (7:00)  This is the most striking song on the disc with the synthesized “voices” singing the melody on top of a complex synthesizer pattern.  After two minutes it slows and changes styles dramatically becoming more of a march with whistles and chimes and again those haunting voices.  The end of the piece has a full choir of the haunting voices which sounds even more amazing.  I’m so curious how she did this.  Are there actual voices that she recorded and manipulated or are they generated from notes and manipulated to sound like voices?  It says articulations by Rachel Elkind [now Rachel Elkind-Tourre], so I guess she sang and was manipulated?

William Tell Overture (Abridged)” (1:17) [Rossini]  This piece opens with the familiar horns but as this incredibly fast paced track moves along you can hear the synth notes especially in the quieter middle part.  I wonder if those horns were real?

“Pomp and Circumstance March No. I” (4:28) [Elgar]

“Pomp and Circumstance March No. IV” (Abridged) (1:33) [Elgar]

Timesteps (Excerpt)” (4:13) This is the only fully original piece on the soundtrack.  It sounds like nothing else.  It is a gorgeous spooky composition of tinkling sounds, low gonglike sounds and celestial voices.  It grows somewhat menacing with lots of fast unique sounds skittering around a low throbbing bass.  She adds in sounds that seems sped up (which makes no sense really), but they do.  At one pint the two melodies seem to run counterpoint–low notes going in one direction, high notes in the other.

“Overture to the Sun” (rerecorded instrumental from Sound of Sunforest, 1969) (1:40).  I have always loved this middle-ages sounding song, but I had no idea where it came from.  Turns out it is by the band Sunforest and comes from their only album Sound of Sunforest, 1969.  They were an English psychedelic folk group.  You can play some of the album on YouTube (which sounds a lot like Jefferson Airplane).

“I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper” (rerecorded song from Sound of Sunforest, 1969) (1:00).  This song is also on the Sunforest album, although it sounds very different here.  I’ve always assumed this was some kind of fifties song and had no idea that this is probably the only place most people know it from.  It’s a shame this album is so hard to find.

“William Tell Overture (Abridged)” (2:58) [Rossini-Rome Opera House Orchestra]

Suicide Scherzo (Ninth Symphony, Second Movement, Abridged)” (3:07) [Beethoven] The perfect use of Carlos’ bouncy synths sounds.  It’s amazing to hear her layering sounds as the song gets very big and seems to get away from her into an almost chaotic conclusion.

“Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement (Abridged)” (1:34) [Beethoven-Berlin Philharmonic]

“Singin’ in the Rain” (2:36) [Gene Kelly].  This is a cute ending and seems to tie in to “Lighthouse Keeper” even though it clearly doesn’t.

This is a really fun soundtrack.  It is too bad that Carlos’s music is unavailable anywhere because it  is really quite eye-opening even fifty years later.

[READ: October 15, 2020] “The Well-Tempered Synthesizer”

This article is a book review of Wendy Carlos: A Biography by Amanda Sewell.

I don’t plan to read the book, but I found the summary to be quite interesting.

I’ve known of Wendy Carlos for many years, primarily from her work on A Clockwork Orange soundtrack.  I remember initially seeing that the music was recorded by Walter and/or Wendy Carlos and assuming that they were siblings or spouses.  It was certainly a confusing listing and once that, it turns out, was rather offensive to her.

So I know a little bit about her personal story, but this review added a lot of details to her life that I didn’t know.

Most importantly is that none of her music is available online pretty much anywhere.  Even when people post it, it is taken down quickly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FLATBUSH ZOMBIES-Tiny Desk Concert #64 (August 13, 2020).

download (93)I’ve never heard of the Flatbush Zombies, but I really like their chill rap style.  Musically the songs are groovy and complex and the live backing vocalists (l-r: Danielle Withers; Nayanna Holley; Stevvi Alexander) really flesh out the sound.

Plus, there’s three lead rappers who have very different vocal styles and combine wonderfully.

Most of the music comes from keyboardist Brittani Washington and bassist Robin Bramlett.  But its the live drums (Drin Elliott) that really punch these songs (the cymbals sound really sharp and clean).

You’ve never really experienced Flatbush Zombies if you haven’t been to one of their live shows. The hip-hop group’s knack for tearing down festival stages is well documented and the energy transfer between members Zombie Juice, Meechy Darko and Erick Arc Elliott and their crowds is ferocious to put it lightly. So when I heard that they were recording a Tiny Desk concert from home, I was curious as to if and how that energy would manifest in a confined space.

It’s fun watching the band perform in this socially distanced house–everyone is far apart but clearly jamming off of each other, and the camera(s) are all over the room.

The Zombies present themselves like we’ve never seen or heard. Stripped down versions of “when i’m gone,” fan favorite, “Palm Trees” and the brand new James Blake-produced “Afterlife” are almost completely different from the recorded versions.

This may be yet another instance where a Tiny Desk Concert brings out the best of a rap band.  I don’t know what their recorded versions sound like, but the live band is great.  If this is really the first time they’ve played together, it’s a testament to how good they can all play together.

“when i’m gone” song starts out with Zombie Juice rapping.  He’s got a soft but intense delivery that I really like.  The backing vocals are really lovely.  Erick Ark Elliott takes the second verse.   His delivery is also quiet.  But it’s the addition of Meechy Darko’s gravelly, intense rapping that sets the song apart.  There’s also a nice instrumental breakdown at the end.

Between songs, the guys introduce themselves.  Erik says he is Erik The Architect and Meechy says his government name is Dimitri Simms (which makes everyone laugh).

Introducing “Palm Trees” Erik says this is the first time you’ll hear this song in this way.  Meechy sings the first part with his deep gravelly Jamaican vocals.   For the second half, Zombie Juice raps in a kind of comical falsetto that I really like.

Meechy is a hilarious hype man, making all kind of hype sounds [Blap blap. gaboom, r-r-r-rah, bakka, bakka] as they introduce the band members.

The guys stand up for “Afterlife.”  Erik takes the lead and the other two guys back him up nicely.  There’s fantastic backing vocals on this song and it’s pretty clear that these guys are terrific live.

I really enjoyed this set and am looking forward to hearing more from these Zombies.

[READ: August 15, 2020] “All My Pronouns”

This essay kind of updates the prescriptivist/grammar article that David Foster Wallace wrote in Harper’s almost 20 years ago.

Anne Fadiman addresses the increased usage of they/their as both a singular pronoun and for nonbinary persons.

She explains that she is a classic prescriptivist when it comes to language and to life.  She sorted her M&Ms by color before eating them.  (Apparently 18% of respondents to a survey responded that they did this while 82% said “no, that’s weird”).  I think that’s weird, but I do go along with her on some other “splitter” attitudes.

She separates splitters vs. lumpers.  Splitters makes distinctions rather than finding commonalities.  Splitters don’t say you’ve seen a bird, or even a hawk, say a red-shouldered hawk.  Splitters enjoy organization; splitters enjoy grammar.

Splitters tend to be presciptivitsts–this is how people should talk.  While lumpers tend to be descriptivists this is how people actually talk.

Prescriptivists are called (usually by descriptivists) elitists, killjoys, curmudgeons, cranks, fussbudgets, old farts, usage nerds and grammar fascists.  Descriptivists are called (usually by prescriptivists) corrupters, miscreants, barbarians and vulgarians.

But now prescriptivists have to address the issue of the pronoun “they.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ROCK & ROLL DUBBLE BUBBLE TRADING CARD CO. OF PHILADELPHIA-19141 – “Bubble Gum Music” (1968).

19141I thought it was a very clever idea posting about bubblegum music for this book.  If only I had known how much music was actually mentioned in the book and, ultimately, how inappropriate these songs are to the book–in tone and content.

However, I have really enjoyed discovering some of these songs that i’d never heard of before.  Like this one.

This might be may favorite bubblegum song of all.  In addition to being catchy (obviously) with a simple swinging horn melody, the lyrics are hilariously self-referential.

A bubblegum song about bubblegum songs which mentions some of the most popular bubblegum songs.

Since most of the bubblegum songs were written by the same few people (under different band names), it’s very likely that they are singing about some of their own songs.

The stupidly catchy chorus:

Give me more, more, more Of that bubble gum music
Makes me feel so good Oh, I never want to lose it
Let me dance, dance, dance To that bubble gum music
If you really want to turn me on

which is of course repeated about ten times.

But then come the lyrics which mention a while bunch of bubblegum hits

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wonder what she`s doin`
While the Monkees are singing for Valleri
Simon says take you down to LuLu`s
You`re gonna feel yummy, yummy, yummy

The second verse is even funnier because it turns into a kind of diss track

Well the Grateful Dead just leave me cold (ooo!)
And Herbie Alpert makes me feel too o-old (feel too old)
I can groove to rhythm and blues (rhythm and blues)
But if I had to choose, if I had to choose If I had to choose,

All of this wrapped up in one of the most ridiculously lengthy band names ever.

Spectacular.

[READ: June 29, 2020] Bubblegum Week 8

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

Hitting Back on the Brickhorse

With this week, the book comes to an end and I can’t help but feel disappointed by the ending.  At some point a few years ago I realized that endings are often the worst part of a book.  Endings can’t ever do what the reader really hopes will happen, especially if the reader has a different idea of what the book is doing.  I must have had a very different idea of what this book was a bout because I left that last page with so many questions–questions that Levin clearly had no intention of answering.

Like what if the entire book from after Belt gets his cure until the very end is all in his head.  He is just crazy and none of these things happened.  There are no cures.  Everything that seems off about his world is because his perception is skewed.  He has the wrong date and perpetrator of 9/11.  He misunderstands The Matrix, he believes he was given hundreds of thousands of dollars from the creator of The Matrix.  His father is dating the mother of the wife of an author that he likes.  But really he’s just in Costello house imagining he’ll meet up with Lisette someday.

I don’t really think that’s what happened, but there’s so much left out after the ending, that I have to fill it in somehow.

I was particularly interested in this first section being called AOL.  There has been no real explicit nudge from the author that there is no internet in the book, but this title was clearly a wink at us.  Particularly since Belt doesn’t know what it stands for either. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASENETZ-KATZ SUPER CIRCUS-“Up in the Air” (1968).

katzReading about bubblegum music has led me to a fascinating trove of information.  Like that most of the songs were written by two guys who “created” many of the bands.  Most of these bands have a revolving cast live but had the same band on record.  The two creators were Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz.

In 1968, Kasenetz and Katz created a “supergroup” which consisted of members of their “Super K Production.”

Their first album was hilarious, because according to the inner gatefold cover’s liner notes, the “supergroup” consisted of 46 members. However, the album cover itself only shows 33 members (plus Kasenetz and Katz in tuxedos) while the individual inner cover photos total 37 (excluding the non-existent St. Louis Invisible Marching Band, whose photo is represented by a white block). To add to the confusion of the actual number of participants, the LP package came with a page of stamps with each member of the “supergroup”, including their names and the individual group he or she represents. The members of The Teri Nelson Group (except Teri Nelson herself) are shown as INVISIBLE BAND on the stamps. Side 2 opens up with Music Explosion leader Jamie Lyons announcing the individual members of the newer or lesser-known groups. Some of the names mentioned do not coincide with the members shown on the stamps.

Hilarious and crazy.  This song “Up in the Air” comes from the supergroup’s second album in a year.  They renamed it “Kasenetz-Katz Super Circus” and the roster was reduced to five groups: The 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express and Music Explosion, with the other groups replaced by Shadows Of Knight (who had just been acquired by Super K and signed to Buddah’s Team label) and White Whale label group Professor Morrison’s Lollipop (formerly the Coachmen of Nebraska). Despite these representations, the tracks were actually recorded by studio musicians with lead vocals by Ohio Express lead vocalist Joey Levine.

That’s a lot of setup for an amusing almost novelty song.

There are two different guitar lines. One playing high notes and the other playing a melody).  Thumping bass and drums enter and then the song shifts to a groovy bassline and vocals that seem sped up.  And the lyrics are sort of political.

I don’t read poems by Poe
Look at Palooka Joe
Watch the Ed Sullivan Show
I love Governor Reagan

There isn’t a real chorus, just a repeated final line about Governor Regan (pronounced “Reegan” for some reason–like “Regan,” the King Lear character).

Don’t dig Joe Pepitone (la la la la la)
Or talk on the telephone (la la la la la)
One thing stands all alone
That’s my governor Reagan

Hail, Hail, hail our leader!
[Clavichord solo while backup singers chant “Hail Reagan, Hail to the Chief”]

Reagan was governor of California at the time.  The creator of the site Bubblegum Reviews asks, What is Reagan actually being criticized for here? He hadn’t actually done much to damage American democracy at that time.

Some may say he’s the Gip
Some say he’s lost his grip
I say that he’s a pip
He’s my Governor Reagan

A man who has so much hair
A man that is not all there
A man who just loves the chair
That’s my governor Reagan

More from Bubblegum Reviews:

The song seems to be making fun of him for having an inane persona derived from his good looks and movie career (“he’s the Gip”/”so much hair”).  It also denigrates him for having a feeble intellect or a weak grasp on sanity (“lost his grip”/”not all there”).  His supporters are equally dimwitted: instead of reading poetry, they look at Palooka Joe.

According to Wikipedia, “in Reagan’s campaign, he emphasized two main themes: “‘to send the welfare bums back to work,’ and, in reference to burgeoning anti-war and anti-establishment student protests…’to clean up the mess at Berkeley.’”  In one incident, his actions led to the death of one protester and the blinding of another;

[WHAT?  HOW DID THIS GUY BECOME PRESIDENT?]

later, he sent out the National Guard to occupy Berkeley.  It may have been his anti-protest stance that rankled with Levine et al. — youthful revolt seems to have been something people in the music biz were generally in favor of, even if they weren’t particularly interested in what was being revolted against. This autocratic approach to free speech may also be what’s behind the song’s implication that Reagan demanded unquestioning fealty (“hail, hail, hail the leader”).

How timely.

Is this a bubblegum song?  It’s hard to say for sure.  Kasenetz & Katz wrote most of the biggest bubblegum songs so they knew what they were doing.  Maybe they were trying to branch out.  It’s really nifty. I’ll have to listen to more.

[READ: June 15, 2020] Bubblegum Week 6

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

You Can Be Right and Kind At The Same Time,
or: Why Would You Hate a Part of Speech, Dude?

I was really looking forward to seeing Jonboat again.  He has been this looking figure–billionaire, astronaut, husband of the most beautiful woman in the world, father of Triple J.  And we know very little about him besides that.  And WOW does he make an impression.  Sort of.  Actually, he doesn’t make any impression except on Belt’s psyche.

This section begins with a bit of a misdirection: Belt picking up a magazine at the White Hen because astronaut Jonboat was on the cover. Flipping through, he couldn’t find the article (typical of big glossy magazines) and wound up looking at an article about the famous chef Clem.

Clem (I’m guessing inspired by Emeril?) was eggplant shaped with arms like noodles–he looked like a combination of Ringo Starr and Yasser Arafat–he seemed all wrong and yet he looked fantastic.  This was because everything in the room was custom made just for him.  He was measured for an oven, molds were made of his hands for his knives etc.  Somehow the objectively handsome assistant looked unfit in the room because everything fit Clem.

I love the librarian joke that Pang shouts at him: You think my name is Marian? (and a wonderful discursive joke about this not being a library).  But Belt didn’t buy the magazine because he needed money for Quills.

This is all a set up to say that Jonboat looked in his office as if every inch of it was measured to fit him.

As Belt walks in, Jonboat says “Hey, you,” and holds out his arms for a hug.  It take a second before Belt realizes he’s talking to Fondajane who is next to him.

There’s some playful banter between Jonboat and Fon.  And yet I can’t decide how to read this.  Is Jonboat a pedantic jerk or is he fun and good at teasing?

She says “As the kids say…Now we’ve come to the part where I make my exit.”  I love that Fon either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what the kids actually say.  Jonboat suggests they say, “I guess that’s my cue [to leave].”  But Fon retorts that that was two eras back.  They gave that up for their name and out: “Fondajane: out.”  Jonboat says that he never heard of it: “Jonboat: incredulous.”

When Belt tries to interject into the banter, Burroughs pats his arm to tell him to keep out of it.  As Fondajane leaves she says she has to meet Robbie bin Laden for dinner. This story’s skirting of 9/11 with lines like this is fascinating and I wonder if there will be any kind of payoff, or if it’s just reminders of the slightly-off timeline.

Finally Jonboat turns his attention to Belt.  He gets out his business gear (he is there to sign the contract for Triple J) and Belt notices a cure running on top of a globe.  Jonboat is trying to train it to walk on four feet, but it is disposed to walk on two–a sort of glorious defect.

The cure is really cute.  Even for Belt.  Belt starts to get uneasy–so much so that Burroughs steps in his line of sight to avoid any trouble.  Belt is surprised and dismayed that he didn’t just want to hold it, he wanted to squeeze it–and he imagined in some detail what the experience would have been like. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY-“Goody Goody Gumdrops” (1968).

19101910 Fruitgum Company has a great, bizarre name.  Especially for a band that released such poppy songs.

I thought I knew most of the bubblegum hits just from casual awareness of them.  I was quite surprised how many of these chart-hitting songs I’ve never heard before.

I don’t think I knew this one before, and I quite like it.

The opening verses are quiet, almost dark, with just a chugging guitar and a stomping drumbeat.

It segues into a chorus that is really catchy (of course).  I really like the chord change from “goody goody gumdrops, my heart is doing flip flops” to “gee what love can do.”  It feels like perhaps a minor chord introduction.  There’s even some mildly interesting drum patterns in the middle.

The return of the opening verse brings back a slightly darker mood before the return of the joyful chorus.

It feels like it slightly defies the conventions of the pure bubblegum song.  Maybe that’s why it only got to #37.

[READ: June 15, 2020] Bubblegum Week 6

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

Coffee with Honey

Part IV of the book is called Compound. In it, Belt visits the Jonboat housing compound (they took over most of a cul-de-sac).

There’s a few interesting revelations here, and a remarkably lengthy discussion of a sexual practice that I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed–certainly not at length–in a book before.  But overall this section does what I like best about this book–have lengthy passages that don’t move the plot along but make me laugh at the ideas and the extent to which Levin is willing to stretch out an idea.

Part IV Section 1 is called “New Modes of Fascination.”

As Belt wakes up his pillow is talking to him.  This is new.  Or, not new exactly, but unusual.  Indeed, the pillow is mad because Belt hasn’t talked to it at least six years (and it’s grumpy because of it).  There’s not much more with inans in this section (aside from a false interaction with a bracelet at the compound), but it’s probably important not to forget about them.

One interesting idea that the pillow suggests is that it can talk with books.  Belt wonders why he never talked with books.  Or had he?  Was the book reading the words to him as he held it or did books have other things to say besides the words on the page?  That idea must be tabled for now.

Belt runs into his dad who is standing in the kitchen acting like he’s had a stroke. He’s acting very strangely, frying up a huge pack of bacon and getting grease on a Jonboat shirt.  There’s a nice call back to Belt smashing the frame that held the Jonboat Says t-shirt.  For this is the shirt that Clyde has.  Clyde essentially believes that he blacked out and smashed the frame but doesn’t remember doing it.  he finds this disturbing because he distinctly remembers why he wanted to do it, but is concerned that he blacked out and doesn’t remember that part.  Belt does not put his mind at ease with the truth.

Belt also learns that his father never really liked Jonboat–he wasn’t rubbing it in by buying that T-short–rather it was … overcompensation because he felt bad that he didn’t like belt’s new friend.  This made Belt feel very good about his dad and they even shared a lengthy, sincere hug.

This week’s reading had several sections that I just loved.  The don’t advance the plot.  They are long-winded, almost set-pieces.  And each one delights me.

Like when Belt decides to sweeten his coffee with honey. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BANANA SPLITS-“The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)” (1968).

traOf all the bubblegum pop songs, this is probably the one I know the best.

I was surprised to discover that the song and TV show were from 1968, because I used to watch it all the time.

But I see that the series originally ran from September 7, 1968 to September 5, 1970, but then it was in syndication from 1971 to 1982, which is when I watched it.  Amazingly, it was in syndication for 11 years and there were only 31 episodes made.

Is there anything catchier than a bunch of people singing tra la la, la la la la?

And then the lyrics couldn’t be simpler:

One banana, two banana, three banana, four
Four bananas make a bunch and so do many more
Over hill and highway the banana buggies go
Coming on to bring you the Banana Splits show
Making up a mess of fun
Making up a mess of fun
Lots of fun for everyone
Four banana, three banana, two banana, one
All bananas playing in the bright warm sun
Flipping like a pancake, popping like a cork
Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snork

This was the theme song for the TV show.  It was a minute and a half and is insanely catchy.

The Dickies did a punk cover in the 1970s, which doesn’t sound very different from the original, expect that instead of bright keyboards, the music is all guitars and drums.  It is faster-paced and yet longer because of a guitar solo and some extra sing along parts.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the Banana Splits were:

  • Fleegle — A greenish-brown dog wearing a large red bow tie, black buttons, brownish-orange chucks, with his tongue is always sticking out. He plays a guitar and sings.
  • Bingo — A nasal-voiced orange gorilla wearing white glasses and a yellow vest, featuring a toothy grin. He plays drums and sings.
  • Drooper — A lion with a very long tail wearing yellowish-orange glasses, spats on his feet, and speaks with a Southern drawl. He plays a bass guitar and sings.
  • Snorky — A mute furry elephant wearing pink glasses. He becomes a regular elephant in season 2, wearing a green vest with yellow stripes. He communicates through honking sounds akin to a clown horn, and one of the other Splits would translate what he is saying. He plays a keyboard.

What a great time to be a kid.

[READ: June 8, 2020] Bubblegum Week 5

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

A Fistful of Fists is a Handful

After the academia and “high brow” thoughts of Triple J’s essays, this week’s transcription of Triple J’s film A Fistful of Fists: A Documentary Collage is rather tough reading.  It reminded me of reading something like David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men or Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (The Part About the Crimes) in that there’s some really horrible things to witness but their inclusion serves to prove a point and even to further the plot and fill in some gaps.

A Fistful of Fists is a collage of twenty-seven short films all about the joy of killing cures.  The transcription is a print version of what is seen on the videos, sometimes in graphic detail.  Scenes of it reminded me of some of the “torture porn” stories that were trendy a while back. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FUN AND GAMES-“Elephant Candy” (1968).

indexI’d never heard of The Fun and Games before looking up this bubblegum pop song.

Amazingly there were six members of the band (and none of them were cartoons).

The band members and name were constantly in flux and they released only one album, Elephant Candy in 1968.

“Elephant Candy” is a two and a half minute pop delight.

The main music of this song sounds almost like the music of a merry-go-round–a kind of sugar-coated pipe organ.

The song opens with the preposterously catchy “elephant elephant candy did you know that elephants can be fun eating candy on the run.”  The second go-round features backing vocals of a steady “Ahhahahh” that sounds simultaneously unsettling and catchy: kind of like a fun house mirror.

The verse seems like its just an opportunity to pause in between the next appearance of the chorus.

If that weren’t catchy enough, the song moves up a step so it’s even more treacly. Somehow, the song even has time for two keyboard solos.

[READ: June 1, 2020] Bubblegum Week 4

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

Sometimes One Looks Like The Other, Bad Taste and Stupidity

This weeks reading was really intense.  It also showed things that I never imagined would come up.

  • A lengthy and carefully edited suicide note.
  • A lengthy treatise on transgendered persons/prostitution/homosexuality
  • Academic papers that are simultaneously well-written and yet obviously the work of a child.

Part Two, Section 5 of the book is called “Letters and Facts.”

This was an interesting place to stop/resume reading because, although they reference the same incident, the beginning of this section differs from the end of the previous section.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SOCCER MOMMY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #1 (March 21, 2020).

Since the quarantine began, many many many musicians have been playing shows at home.  There are so many online home recordings that it is literally impossible to keep up with them.  I have watched a few, but not many.  I’m not sure how many of the online shows are going to be available for future watching, but at least these are saved for posterity.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

On Monday March 30, Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, was to perform a long awaited Tiny Desk concert at my desk. Now the world has changed, and with the coronavirus keeping us at a distance, we’re taking a break from filming Tiny Desks at the office for a while.

Sophie wanted to share her music and her thoughts with you. So we’re kicking off our Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts series with Soccer Mommy from her home in Nashville.

Soccer Mommy was supposed to play a show in Philly on March 31. I had a choice between this show and a show from Vagabon.  I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to go to.  Well, now I get this home concert instead.

This Home Concert (as most will be) is Sophie and her acoustic guitar.  Since I don’t really know (most of) the originals, I can’t compare them.

All three songs have catchy melodies.  It’s cool watching her hands up close to see he playing modifications to the chords in “Bloodstream” so it’s not as simple a melody as it seems.

Her voice is soft and high (although a little hard to hear in this mix).

“Circle the Drain” has been getting some airplay and I rather like it.  It reminds me of a Lemonheads song in style.  This acoustic version is nice, but I prefer the studio version (that extra guitar line is a nice touch).  She says it’s about being depressed and staying inside all day.  “I’m sure some of you can relate to that right now.”

Before the final song, “Royal Screw Up” she asks if anyone can guess what tuning she is going from and into.  My guess is that she is going into standard E tuning, although I’m not sure from what.

Most of her melodies remind me of the singers I liked in the 90s, and I think with a slightly better production I would have really enjoyed this set.  I might have to check out her album a little more closely.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Customer is Always Wrong

I enjoyed, Mimi Pond’s first memoir(ish) book, Over Easy, but I grew tired of it by the end.  It was an look at late 1970s San Francisco and all of the low-level drug dealers and users who worked and ate at the restaurant where Madge was a waitress.

And yet, I came away from it with enough good vibes that I was interested in reading this second volume.  And this second volume had the heart and soul that I felt the first one lacked.

The story begins with some of Mimi’s past boyfriends (good boys whom her mother loved).  Then it moved on to bad boys who treated her like crap.  Finally, she meets Bryan, a nurse who treats her kindly–and the sex is amazing.

But the shine starts to wear off and a turd is slowly revealed–the way he breaks up and gets back together (he loves the drama), the way he watches the World Series at her house even though she doesn’t care about baseball (or own a TV–he brought his own).  Oh, and the way she finds out later that he lied about nearly everything.

The drug dealer characters from the first book are still there of course.  The most prominent one is Camille, a “straight looking” and pretty young woman who has hooked up with Neville, a real dirtbag (but one who tells great stories).  She has big dreams–they will sell a ton of coke, make a ton of money and go to Paris.  Of course that never happens.

And then there’s Lazlo.  Lazlo is the real main character of the story.  Even though it is Madge’s story, it all more or less revolves around Lazlo.  Lazlo runs the diner where Madge works and he is always around–wearing his cool hat, telling great stories (he is a poet).  It’s hard to remember that he is married.  Hard for him to remember too, apparently. (more…)

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