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Archive for the ‘Laura Healy’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE TRIBUTE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #8 (April 11, 2019).

I feel like I have been aware of John Prine forever.  Although I also feel like I only really became aware of who he was and what he had done in the last year or so.  Or at the very least since he had surgery and his voice changed dramatically.

I knew that he was a legend in folk circles, but I had no idea how many of his songs I knew–although likely from other artists.

I was not devastated when he died because I didn’t know him enough to be devastated.  But I did feel that it was unbelievably unjust of the world to have him survive cancer only to be beaten by this virus that could have been avoided.  While there are people out there actively doing harm to others, why would a person as thoughtful as him be the victim.

Every time I saw John Prine perform, he invited friends to join him. The outpouring of love and respect has always been so profound. And so when John Prine died on April 7 from complications related to COVID-19, I knew his friends and those he touched would want to pay tribute to him. Here are five artists performing their favorite John Prine tune in their home (or bathtub) in honor of one of the greatest songwriters of any generation.

Here are the five performances:

  • Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round”
    Recorded in their bathroom, with their baby entering the scene for the final verse.
  • Courtney Marie Andrews, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    She says that Prine was the best at putting humor and sadness in one song let alone one line.  Her version of this song (that I know very well) is too slow for my taste.
  • John Paul White, “Sam Stone”
    He says he is taking this harder than he thought. This song makes him cry every time.  I knew this song from someone else singing it, although I’m not sure who.
  • Nathaniel Rateliff, “All The Best”
    I didn’t know this one, but I do like it.
  • Brandy Clark, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    It’s a shame that two people did the same song since he has 19 albums out, but this song is quite lovely.  I like Clark’s version better than Andrews’ even if they aren’t that different.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Spirit of Science Fiction

I have read pretty much everything that has Roberto Bolaño has written which has been translated into English (many, like this book, by Natasha Wimmer).  This is one of the first novels he ever wrote and it was finally published posthumously in 2016.

It’s a very strange book with a very strange construction (a precursor to the construction of his later, larger books, for sure).

The book is told in three parts and it concerns three major characters.  The narrator, Remo, his best friend Jan Schrella and a third poet, Jóse Arco.

The book opens with Remo being interviewed by a journalist.  He has just won a literary prize.  This interview is spread out over many chapters, but it is sort of summed up by his reply:

you actually predict a bright future for art? You don’t realize that this is a trap. Who the hell do you think I am, Sid Vicious?

Remo lives with Jan, another serious poet, but one who has more or less taken to his bed–barely ever leaving the house at all.

Jan is seventeen and spends nearly all of his time reading, especially science fiction books.  He seems to want to single handedly get recognition for his country men and women.

He spends most of his time writing letters to famous science fiction authors: Alice Sheldon, James Hauer, Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Silverberg, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, (twice, first one unsent), and Dr James Tiptree, Jr.

Some of the letters are stories about his dreams, some are general notes of good will, but the overall tones is one asking them to support science fiction written by authors in Latin America.

Remo does go out though,  He goes to writing workshops.  At one of them Jóse Arco enters late.  Remo’s is instantly taken with him. As the first scene with Arco ends, Arco lays back in his chair and recites his new poem Eros and Thantaos from memory.  Arco was a daring fellow riding his (often broken down) motorcycle at 3AM.  Arco is based on Mario Santiago Papasquiaro.

Although Jan is not active, his imagination certainly is. He feels compelled to tell Remo about “Silhouette,” a science fiction short story by Gene Wolfe. (Yes, part of the book is someone describing another book ).

Meanwhile, Remo and Arco decide to investigate a publication called My Enchanted Garden which comments on the torrent of poetry magazines in Latin America.  There were 32 then it jumped to 661 and by the end of the year it was predicted there would be one thousand.

Through Arco, Remo meets young poets Angélica and Lola Torrente and their friend Laura, as well as the queen of local poets, Estrellita. Remo invites them back to his apartment.  Although Lola is the more experienced of the two, it’s Angélica who falls for Jan.  The scene where they first meet is crazy.  Jan was in bed (of course) when they came in

Jan jumped up, his skinny ass exposed and his balls dangling golden, and in two or three swift movements his back to the group, he jammed his papers under the mattress and got back into bed.

What a lovely young man, said Estrellita And his darling balls are the color of gold.

Jan laughed

It’s true, I said

That means he’s destined for greatness.  Golden balls are the mark of a young man capable of … great deeds.

They’re not exactly golden, said Jan.

Shut up.  She thinks they look golden, and so do I. That’s all that matters

And I do too, said Angélica.

It was at this party that Remo fell for Laura.  She was with Cèsar at the time, but that didn;t stop them from kissing.  But when she says they could fuck right there, he says I don’t think I could.

What do you mean, you don’t think you could?  You mean you couldn’t fuck?
Yeah, I couldn’t get it up.  I couldn’t get an erection. It’s the way I am.
You don’t get erection?
No I mean, I do, but it wouldn’t work right how.  This is a special moment for me, if that makes sense, and its erotic too, bu there’s no erection.  Look, feel.  I took her hand and put it on my crotch.
You’re right. it’s not erect, said Laura with a barely audible laugh.

He falls for her immediately though and gives her a nickname–Aztec Princess.

Later in part 2 an actual Aztec Princess–a motorcycle with that phrase stenciled on it, comes into Remo’s life.   How can he refuse to get it?  Even if he has no money, cannot drive a motorcycle and has no licence?

This barely touches half of the ideas that float through this book.  There’s a lot of information about a potato farmer; a lieutenant (Boris Lejeune) watching a recruit shoot a colonel in the chest; Father Gutierrez visiting Pierre LeClerc; and a lengthy story about a village becoming obsessed with woodwork, to the detriment of everything else.  There’s also Jan’s dream of a Russian cosmonaut, and the final chapter called “Mexican Manifesto.”

This last section is all about Remo and Laura going to baths and the strange sexual things that happen in steam.  This section was excerpted in The New Yorker in 2013(!).  That version was translated by Laura Healy.

About it I wrote:

The narrator is the man and the woman, Laura, is the more adventurous of the two.  She is the one who encourages them to go to the baths in the first place and, while he also thinks it is wonderful, it is she who wants them to explore as many different baths in the city as possible.

The first bath that they go to is a nice one, an upscale bath where the man in charge (who is pointedly referred to as an orphan) is very nice and as a result people treat him with courtesy.  There’s never any trouble at this bath.  It’s very nice, but Laura wants to explore other houses.  So they ask him for a list.  And they set out on their voyage of discovery.

It is at these less reputable baths that most of the action takes place (both in the story and out of the story).  People mingle more freely (with sexual contact common), they also share drugs and other entertainments.  The story focuses on one instance in which the entertainment was two young boys and an older man.  The man instructs the boys to begin masturbating each other.  But the boys are tired (as is the old man).  They say they haven’t slept in days.  The old man falls asleep. And with the steam, the boys begin to fall asleep as well.  The steam gets thicker and thicker and soon Laura is squatting nearer to the boys.  The narrator can’t really see what’s happening but it all seems like such a dream that he’s not even sure what to think.

I’m not really sure what this section has to do with the rest.  I’m not really sure what happens in the book at all.  The revelation of Jan’s alias is pretty fascinating though.

This is strange book to be sure and I didn’t really enjoy it that much–I just couldn’t get into it.  But it seems to forecast the kind of (much better) writing that Bolaño would eventually become known for,

I wondered how different the 2013 Healy translation was from this one.  The content is of of course, the same, but they are notably different.

Here is the last sentence first from Healy

The color of the pool’s rocks, doubtless the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some faces, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were certainly there.

Now from Wimmer

The color of the stones around the pool, surely the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some gazes, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were surely there.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, here are the remaining untranslated works

  • 1976 [Reinventing Love] 20-page booklet in México (first publication)
  • 1983[Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] Novel written in 1983 in collaboration with A. G. Porta
  • 2011 [Bolaño By Himself] Collection of interviews with Bolaño (1998–2003)
  • ? [Diorama] not yet published

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univSOUNDTRACK: BECK-Mutations (1998).

mutationsThis is the first album that shows a wholly different side to Beck. It is pretty much an entirely traditional album.  There’s no samples, just consistently strong songwriting.  The overall feel is mellow and it comes as quite a shock after the chaos of Odelay!

Although the album has a very consistent vibe, it’s not all samey.  There’s a lot of different instrumentation like the harpsichord on “Lazy Flies,” and the old-timey piano and slide guitar on “Canceled Check” which has a very country feel.  It’s not all simple and normal though, as “Check” ends with a strange musical breakdown that keeps it from being a smooth song.  “We Live Again” is a very mellow track with Beck singing sweetly over the waves of music.

As befits the name “Tropicalia” has a very tropical feel, it’s totally danceable and was a very wise choice as a sample.  “Dead Melodies” has a classical music feel (with vocals of course).  “Bottle of Blues” is, unsurprisingly, a somewhat rowdy blues song.  “O Maria” is a slow but upbeat piano song that also feels old timey.  “Sing It Again” has a melody that is similar to “Norwegian Wood,” but the song is nothing like that Beatles classic.  This is gently sung and played acoustic guitar number.  And “Static” is a quiet disc ender.

This disc also feature a “bonus” track, and this is the first one that is actually enjoyable.  It is a fleshed out song (and a good one at that). It is comparatively rambunctious and noisy and quite different from anything else on the disc.  It’s called “Diamond Bollocks” and has a great bass line and cool backing vocals.  This song could easily have been a hit if it weren’t tucked away at the end of the disc.  (Well, and there are some weird moments to, but overall, easily a hit).

Despite all that Beck is known for his crazy songs and samples, Mutations is an extremely cohesive record with enough diversity to keep it from ever getting dull.  It’s a great record and is somewhat overlooked in his catalog.

[READ: March 16, 2014] The Unknown University

This is a collection of almost all of Roberto Bolaño’s poetry.  Some (but not all) of the poems from his collection The Romantic Dogs are included here, although some of those are apparently modified a little.  It also includes what was earlier released as Antwerp but is here called “People Walking Away.”  (I found Antwerp and “People” to be quite unusual and would never remember what is the same in the two.  But translator Laura Healy says that she more or less uses Natasha Wimmer’s translation of Antwerp for the parts that are the same (a task which must have been harder than it sounds if the two pieces weren’t exactly the same).

This book is 830 pages with facing pages of Spanish and English.  According to the publisher’s note, this collection was found on Bolaño’s computer as is—a collection of all of his poems from throughout his career.

Most of the early poems were written when Bolaño was young (in his 20s).  Even at such a young age, he writes powerfully.  Not all of his poems are great of course (how could they be when there are so many) but there are dozens and dozens of poems that I thought were fantastic.  I’m going to include some below, but I also wanted to get some criticisms out of the way too.

He tends to revisit ideas quite a lot, which is normal for a poet, but it seems weird to revisit an idea in subsequent poems (especially when the poems are just a few lines long each).  It almost feels like he fixated on a subject and thought of a number of ways to work with it and rather than make one long poem, he made several short ones.  Like this strange occurrence: (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_22_13Pearson.inddSOUNDTRACK: MIKAL CRONIN-MCII (2013).

mciiMikal Cronin has a very pleasant middle range voice—conventionally good.  Indeed, there’s nothing especially unique about this record.  But it is a great summer pop album.  Lots of great big choruses that are fun to sing along to.  And, Cronin is a talented multi-instumentalist.  I believe he plays everything on the record, although I’m not sure about that.

The album is 37 minutes.  The first song, “Weight” has a simple melody and is incredibly catchy. There’s a nice falsetto before the big loud guitar chorus kicks  in.  “Shout It Out” is another great pop song—big fuzzy guitars and a wonderfully catchy melody.   And I love how it gets mildly chaotic at the end.  “Am I Wrong” is a straightforward rocker, with more big crunchy guitars.  There’s a fun fiddly keyboard solo (with lots of flubs, which is kind of endearing).  This song (and several others) remind me of Sloan.

“See It My Way” has a shambolic feel to it, I can do without the oddball sax solo, but there’s something so oddball about it that I think it works in the end.  “Peace of Mind” has a nice harmony vocal on it that gives this simple song a fuller sound.    There’s an unexpected violin solo in here.  “Change” opens with a real grungy loud guitar which is quickly replaced by a  speedy drum over a simple, catchy verse.  And a speedy chorus.  There’s an interesting middle section with another violin solo (and some unusual squeaky violin noises as well).  “I’m Done Running From You” is a fun fast bit of pop with a rocking guitar solo.  And “Don’t Let Me Go” is a slow ballady type song (as much as one can be on a rocking record like this).  “Turn Away” brings the rock back, although “Piano Mantra” ends the disc with a solo piano intro.  But the song builds and builds into a rollicking violin-fueled conclusion.

I’d never heard of Mikal Cronin before, and when i first started listening to the disc I thought it was an okay pop punk album.  But the more I listened to it, the more I enjoyed it.  It’s still as simple pop punk album but it’s done so very well.  I’m going to have to check out his debut as well.

[READ: May 2, 2013] “Mexican Manifesto”

I love that stories from Roberto Bolaño keep popping up.  I realize that most of these have been published in Spanish somewhere, but it seems like even if we know that his next book is going to be all poetry (Unknown  University coming out in June), somehow there’s at least one short story in it (I assume it comes from here, where else would it have come from?).  So, since it seems like there’s a new Bolaño book out every six months, I assume that barrage will come to an end now.

Unknown University is, as far as I can tell, the last thing that will be translated by Bolaño.  Wikipedia suggests that there are four other titles that could be translated: A Lumpen Novella (which he completed but which has not been translated), Diorama, an unfinished novel, something being called Part 6 of 2666 (who knows what that means) and an early book that he cowrote Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic which I would really like to read–the title is so intriguing–but who knows is it will ever find a translator.

But that’s got nothing to do with this short story.  This short story is about a couple who frequent steam baths. The narrator is the man, and the woman, Laura, I the more adventurous of the two.  She is the one who encourages them to go to the baths in the first place and, while he also thinks it is wonderful, it is she who wants them to explore as many different baths in the city as possible. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKKHÔRA’s-Silent Your Body Is Endless [CST071] (2011).

This is the third and final disc from Constellation’s MUSIQUE FRAGILE 01 collection.  Khôra is Matthew Ramolo doing solo work on the guitar.  But unlike any other guitar album you may have heard, this one is processed and manipulated so that much of the album sounds nothing like a guitar.

Most of the sounds on the disc are washes and waves of guitars that grow and fade.  Although the opening track “Natura Naturans” has a recognizable acoustic guitar melody, the washes are all processed guitar sounds.  This sound also has an echoing church bell, the kind of sound that would bot be out of place on a black metal album although this is as far from black metal as you can get.

The church bell, by the way is a field recording, and in addition to the guitars there are plenty of field recordings on the disc.

He generates a wonderfully expansive amount of moods as well.  There are haunting melodies like on “Body Aperbut also beautifully upbeat ones like on “Hushed Pulse of the Universe”

I find the artwork that accompanies the Khora album to be the most satisfying of all three.

[READ: February 15, 2012] Tres

Another month, another posthumous Roberto Bolaño release.  Tres is so-called because there are three pieces in it.  They are described as poems, although I have a hard time seeing them as such.  It has the Spanish title because it was originally published as Tres and the English version is actually a bilingual version with facing Spanish and English pages (translated by Laura Healy–I guess if Laura Healy translated it, it must be poetry as she is Bolaño’s poetry translator).

Tres is also amusing to me because it is so clearly a way to make a very small book seem bigger.  In addition to the facing pages of the text, most pages have a paragraph or two at most (short ones at that).  So it’s total 173 pages is really half that and then, given how much white space there is, it’s easily half that as well.  None of this is a complaint, it’s just an observation.

The reason I’m confused about calling it poetry is because of the three pieces only one “looks” like poetry (with line breaks and what not).  Indeed, the first piece, “Prosa del otoño en Gerona” literally translates as “Prose from Autumn in Gerona.”  The second piece (the one that looks like poetry) is called “Los neochilenos” or “The Neochileans” and the final one is a series of numbered paragraphs (again, with no poetry conventions) called “Un paseo por la literatura” or “A Stroll through Literature.”  I read each of these pieces three times primarily because I found them hard to follow and wondered what I was missing.  Multiple readings did help, although I find with Bolaño’s longer short pieces, the details are exquisite while the overall picture is a bit confused. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON: “Horn of Plenty” (interview, NPR’s All Things Considered) (2011).

I’ll be mentioning some recordings by Stetson shortly, but as an introduction to this man and his bass saxophone, this ten minute piece from NPR is absolutely essential.  I had listened to his recent album and NPR has two concerts from him that are downloadable.  I enjoyed the music, but after listening to this interview it gave me so much more appreciation for what the man is doing.

For a lot of classical and jazz, knowing what the author “meant” can help.  Knowing that The Moldau is a river makes Bedřich Smetana’s piece all the more interesting and moving.  Similarly, knowing that “Judges” is about horses… well, holy crap yes it is.

More importantly, knowing how he does what he does–circular breathing: taking air in through your nose while breathing out through your mouth (try it…it’s not possible) allows Stetson to essentially never have to stop playing.  (Tenacious D has a very funny version of this called “Inward Singing,” although it lacks the gravitas of Stetson.)

Also, the bass saxophone weighs twenty pounds nad is almost as tall as him.  The picture is preposterous.  Who even thinks of making music with such a thing.  And yet he does.  Unsettling music, sure, but music nonetheless.   Listen to this interview and be amazed.

[READ: 2010-2011 and beyond] Natasha Wimmer

Many readers don’t read anything that was written in a different language.  And those of us who do probably give little thought to the translator.  Until recently I didn’t give much thought about them either.  Often I assumed that if I didn’t like a book, it was the author not the translator.  And that could be true, but it may also not be so easy a judgment.

Natasha Wimmer has translated many of Roberto Bolaño’s English publications (she has not translated them all–see below–and, she has also translated other writers).  But she has famously translated The Savage Detectives which rocketed her to prominence, and then she managed his unwieldy 2666.  She has also recently translated Between Parentheses, the book I am currently reading.

Between Parentheses is a collection of newspaper columns, essays and pseudo-fictions.  It is a far cry from the convoluted masterwork that is 2666 and yet Wimmer has made this collection of essays utterly readable (I’ll review the book proper when I finish it).  Again, obviously the work is Bolaño’s and he deserves the credit.  But as I’m reading these newspaper articles, I am aware that they were written in Spanish.  And yet the word choices that Wimmer uses, from idioms to real seventy-five-cent words make the essays flow, give them real impact and really convey the kind of writer that Bolaño was.  Let’s take just one example picked not at random but because it uses a real seventy-five-cent word and it mentions David Foster Wallace (can I go a week without mentioning him?).  In “All Subjects with Fresán”, Bolaño states that he and Rodrigo Fresán spend much of their time talking about various subjects;  he lists 30.  Number 22 is “David Lynch and the prolixity of David Foster Wallace.”  I have no idea what word Bolaño used in Spanish (he has an amazing vocabulary, so I’m sure it was a Spanish 75 cent word) but how many translations would have used the word prolixity?  [Okay I had to look it up, he uses “palabrerío” which Collins translated as “verbiage, hot air.”  How much more outstanding is “prolixity”!–Oh, and as if Bolaño wasn’t prone to palabrerío himself]. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS-University A Capella (2009).

The story goes that Ben Folds heard some a capella bands and decided to give them some airtime.  So he had them record a bunch of his songs.

I have been surprised at how much I enjoy some kinds of a capella music.  Ed Helms’ stuff on The Office is certain fun, but on a more serious level, it’s amazing what these singers can do with their voices in terms of diversity, range and even sounds.

But at the same time, it’s the lead vocalist on most a capella tracks that sell the song.  And, on this disc there are a lot of lead singers I don’t like. Part of it is because I don’t like R&B vocal stylings, which I find too over the top at times.  Although I do admit that there;s one or two on here that work very well.

Overall, I enjoy this disc.  It’s fun to hear different interpretations of songs that I know and like.  Although I think realistically its the songs that Ben himself sings that I enjoy the most.

[READ: April 25, 2010] Romantic Dogs

This is the final Bolaño book that I’m going to read before finishing 2666 (Savage Detectives you’re next).  And it happens to be a collection of Bolaño’s poetry.

I have a complicated relationship with poetry.  I have written (and had published) a few poems.  I dated a woman who was (and I suppose still is?) an excellent poet (hi, Paula).   When I worked for a literary magazine, I learned how to judge poetry.  And yet, I don’t really read it.  And I think the reason for that is that, in my head, poetry deserves more attention than I’m usually willing to give it.  I feel like a poem should be pored over, read and re-read and, if good enough, memorized.

I have memorized about two poems in my life.  And since I often don’t feel like devoting a ton of time to poems,  I just don’t really read them.  And that’s a shame for me, because while poetry does demand a closer look, it’s not a precious item that should be put on a pedestal and looked at only when company comes over.

And Bolaño is as good a poet as anyone to demonstrate that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CUPPA JOE-Busy Work EP (1993).

This EP was one of the first releases on the Dromedary label.  It contains 3 songs.  Whenever I think of cuppa joe, I think of them being a somewhat lightweight band; charming and fun, but lightweight.

And I think most of this is due to the lead singer’s voice.  It’s quite delicate and veers towards, but never quite reaches whiny territory.  Comparisons to They Might Be Giants are not unfounded.

But the thing is that, musically, the band plays a wonderfully diverse selection of styles, some of which emphasize the singer’s delicate voice, and others which play in a wonderful contrast to it.

Take their brilliant first song on the EP, “Bottlerocket”.  The chords are masterful and intriguing as the song opens, moving towards a fast, propulsive verse and an insanely catchy chorus (with backing vocal harmonies!).  It’s a tremendous song, and cuppa joe could easily rest on their laurels after creating such a masterpiece.

The other two songs on the EP are more of that delicate style that I think of as distinctly cuppa joe.  “French Toast” is a very quiet little ditty about, yes french toast.  It’s catchy and seems to be an ideal b-side, sounding almost like a demo.

The third track, “Surface Area” starts out almost as an homage to R.E.M. “I am Superman” with the jangly guitars and all, but the jazzy bassline totally changes the tone of the song.  Overall it splits the difference of the other two, being a fully realized song that gets a surprise lift from loud and raucous guitars about halfway through.

It’s a really great representation of this cool indie band.  And it will be available for download in a few days right here.

[READ: February 17, 2010] 2 Poems

These are the first two Bolaño pieces that I found while looking around online.  These poems are very likely published elsewhere.  However, since I’m not a big reader of poetry, I don’t think I’ll be reading his poetry collections in full.

Both poems were translated by Laura Healy. While it’s impossible to know if she did a good job of translation (since I can’t do it myself), all I can comment on is the quality of the English words. And in both cases, she chooses very exhilarating words to convey these images. (more…)

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