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Archive for the ‘Natasha Wimmer’ 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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SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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secretevilSOUNDTRACK: ABAJI-Tiny Desk Concert #47 (February 15, 2010).

abajiThis is the only time I have heard of Abaji. He is an unimposing man with roots in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and France.  He sings gently (often in Arabic with some English) and he plays while he sings.

The impressive thing about Abaji is his skill and love of musical instruments.  The notes say “when recording his latest album, Origine Orients, he played 10 different instruments, many of them simultaneously, with no second takes or overdubs. It took him just two days.”

“Min Jouwwa” (which means “From Inside”) is played on  what looks like a normal guitar but which sounds so very different. The notes say it’s “a tricked-out Western-style guitar with extra strings, giving it the sound of an Egyptian oud.”

“Steppes”  is a brief haunting instrumental.  It’s played by bowing a soft-toned kamancheh (a three-stringed instrument that you hold upright on your lap for a scratch, middle eastern sound).  He often times rocks the instrument instead of the bow back and forth.

The final song is played on the Greek bouzouki (with whistling as accompaniment).  “Summertime” is the Gershwin song (which is only recognizable from the words–the first verse anyhow, which he sings in English–the second verse he sings in Arabic).  It sounds nothing like the original with the serpentine riffs and that unique bouzouki sound.

I only wish the cameras were still rolling after the set because “he demonstrated a large duduk (an Armenian cousin of the oboe), an Indonesian suling (flute) and a Colombian saxophone (of sorts) made from bamboo that looked more like a snake.”

This is what I love about the Tiny Desk–seeing very different instruments and unconventional performers up close.  Abaji is fun to watch.

[READ: May 7, 2015] The Secret of Evil

This has got to be the final posthumous collection of writings from Bolaño.  The Preliminary note from Ignacio Echevarria explains that this book is a collection of the final fragments that were found on Bolaño’s computer.  As such, the book consists primarily of works that are unfinished (some barely even started).

This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds because Bolaño seemed to write very thoroughly right form the beginning with his stories.  So even though they are incomplete, the section that is written feels fully fleshed out–and you can imagine that more will be coming. Echevarria says that “Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definitive tone and atmosphere.”  This of course made it difficult for Echevarria to know what to compile here.

Not everything in this collection if unfinished.  And indeed, with Bolaño sometimes it’s unclear if the unfinished things were actually unfinished. (more…)

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lumpenSOUNDTRACK: WE ARRIVE ALIVE-“Walls” (2011).

wallsI discovered We Arrive Alive from the Girl Band bandcamp site (it says the bands are friends).  They are from County Wicklow and play very cool post rock instrumentals.  They have three EPs, all of which are available for free on their bandcamp site.

Their first is called Walls.  The opening song “Walls” has fast guitar with a slinky Sleater-Kinney kind of guitar progression. Unlike S-K, there is bass and no vocals. The middle section feels like any number of post-rock instrumentalists like Explosions in the Sky.  But it’s not derivative–it’s expansive and beautiful.  “Save Me from the Morning” is a much faster song with a more intricate bassline underneath the guitar riffs. The structure of the song makes it seem more like a conventional song (ie one with words). But there are no words, and the guitars fill in very nicely for where vocals might appear. But 90 seconds in, the songs switches gears and becomes a bit more jazzy.  Then around 3 minutes the bass takes over with big loud notes—it’s a great transition. There’s yet another part, a quiet section, that ends the song.  That’s a lot of music packed into 6 and a half minutes.

“This is a City” is the final song.  A seven minute slow building instrumental. It starts quietly and the intertwining guitars get louder as they echo more.  I love the way at around 5 minutes the song shifts gears entirely to a sort of electronic feel with pinging notes.  It ends with a  fantastic closing riff.

I’m glad to have discovered these guys, I love a good collection of instrumentals.

[READ: March 17, 2015] A Little Lumpen Novelita

This may be the final extant untranslated book by Roberto Bolaño.  Although I have yet to read The Secret of Evil (that fell right off my radar), as far as I can tell, the only things left untranslated are:

  • Diorama (this book is unpublished at all, so it’s unlikely to be translated anytime soon)  AND
  • Consejos de un discípulo de Morrisona un fanático de Joyce, 1984  [Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] which has yet to be translated and I don’t know why, so I assume it never will be.

I don’t fully understand the use of the word “Lumpen” in the title, but don’t let that odd word (which is in the Spanish title, so we can’t blame excellent translator Natasha Wimmer) keep you from reading this breezy and entertaining (if not a bit dark) book.

As with many books by Bolaño, there’s not a lot of plot, per se.  In this book, a young woman (Bianca) and her brother have been orphaned at a young age.  Their parents died in a car crash in Italy (which is where they live).  They try to cope as best they can, but they ultimately decide to drop out of school and do nothing except watch a movie a day.  Bianca tells her brother that they can’t afford that lifestyle (especially since he just seems to get X-Rated films), but he continues to do so anyway.

They realize that they will need money of course, so Bianca gets a job as a hair washer at a salon.  Her brother gets a job cleaning floors at a gym.  It seems to be enough for the time being. (more…)

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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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woesSOUNDTRACK: ATERCIOPELADOS-Live at Bumbershoot, September 5, 2010 (2010).

atercioA rock en Español band who have returned after a brief hiatus, Aterciopelados have changed a bit since their early more punk days.  Their last album Rio came out in 2008, I knew them back in the mid nineties.  This brief set (7 songs) at Bumbershoot showcases their more mellow tracks (there’s pan pipes) on “El Estuche.”  The Colombian band has always been political, but it seems like they are much more explicit about it on this record.  As singer Andrea Echeverri introduces a number of song, she talks about how they are “important” and are meant to bring attention to the troubles of Colombia.

“Ataque de Risa” has a wonderfully catchy melody (and I believe she says her daughter is singing with them on it).  The song “Bandera” (which means “Flag”) is pointedly directed at Arizona’s anti-immigrant law.  She introduces it as saying that all peoples are together under a rainbow flag.   It’s a more angry sound for Echeverri’s voice, but she does a great job.  Her voice is really impressive.  “Rompe Cabezas” has a rollicking chorus that’s a lot of fun and “Bolero Falaz” ends the set with a very cool and catchy song.

Here’s a video of El Estcuhe

[READ: December 2, 2012] Woes of the True Policeman 

This is yet another unfinished novel from Roberto Bolaño.  Bolaño knew that he was dying and he created a lot of work in anticipation of his legacy.  The afterword of the novel says that they found all of the various parts of this novel in various locations among his work–hand written and computer drafted.  And they all mention this titles, so they are pretty certain about the order and that it is as finished as it could be.

Unlike some of his other posthumous releases, this one must be deemed pretty significant since it was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux instead of New Directions (publisher of most of Roberto Bolaño’s other smaller works).

And really what it reads like is a kind of prelude to 2666.  For this is the same Amalfitano as in 2666.  But it is his story from before he moves to Sonora, Mexico–before all of the murders started.  Indeed, there are parts of 2666 which make Amalfitano’s past seem like it is unknown but this story fills in the gaps quite well.  One of the details in 2666 is that Amalfitano’s teaching contract had expired at the University of Barcelona, although this book gives the behind the scenes reason why it expired.

Bolaño has many many stories in which he explores the past of a character from a different story.  Typically, it is a novella in which a minor character from a bigger novel gets his or her own story told.  And that seems to be the case with this as well.

The story is set up in five sections (just like 2666).  Section I of this story (part of which was as excerpted in Harper’s recently) is called The Fall of the Berlin Wall and tells how Amalfitano, a professor, fell for a young poet named Padilla.  He wound up having an affair with him, which ended his career (I’m unclear whether it is because he is a student or because the affair was homosexual that the University wanted him out).  Amalfitano had never had homosexual desires before, and he was a proud husband and father, but he found that Padilla really affected him.

And so Amalfitano and Rosa, his daughter, moved to Sonora and the only school that would have him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD-Tiny Desk Concert #165 (October 8, 2011).

This was my first exposure to JEFF the Brotherhood, a rollicking duo who blast out the walls of the NPR studios.  The guitarist and drummer play simple, power punk (quite well) and they sound like a whole band, not just two guys.

“Diamond Way” reminds me of the Meat Puppets–echoey lazy-sounding punk.  ANd the oh oh oh oh oh is very catchy.  And then, after describing an NPR host as sounding like Ira Glass–if he were an old woman (and then apologizing if he offended anyone), they play “Bummer”–shirtless—presumably a first for the NPR offices.

“Bummer” is a mellower song and their sound doesn’t sound less full for the mellowess–especially when he kicks on the distortion pedal.  “Bone Jam” is one of my favorites–more ooh’s and the simple but wonderful lyrics “Gonna grind your bones to make my bread.”  It’ s amazing that two guys can sound this good.

[READ: August 17, 2010] “The Ruin of Amalfitano”

Natasha Wimmer has translated yet another posthumous work from Roberto Bolaño, this one called Woes of the True Policeman, due out this month.

This may already exist, but I hope someone is compiling a family tree of all of the Bolaño characters who have appeared in different locations.  For instance, the Amalfitano in this story appeared in 2666, indeed he has a whole chapter about himself.  And we know it’s the same Amalfitano because they both have a daughter named Rosa.  This story is set before 2666 and these fascinating events would shed some light on the state of Amalfitano when we do meet him in the novel.  Of course, Bolaño’s writings don’t seem to follow a conventional strategy so who knows if he intended any of this to be part of the “missing” Part 6 of 2666.

Anyhow, this story is about Amalfitano, but it opens with Padilla who decided to become an artist at the age of 13.  After dabbling in theater and film, he settled on poetry.  By 17, he was a sarcastic angry kid who could be easily provoked to violence (he claims that when fighting Nazis, anything is permitted).

At 18, he published his first book of poetry and when he was 21 he showed the poems to Amalfitano.  Amalfitano was a teacher of Latin America writers at the University.  He liked Padilla’s poetry, although he didn’t much like Padilla who didn’t come to class very much.  But once Amalfitano gave him praise for the poems, Padilla never missed another class. He even invited Amalfitanoto his house for parties.  After many such parties, the two became lovers.

Once the University learned of this, Amalfitano was fired.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SWELL SEASON-Strict Joy (2009).

I bought this disc for Sarah after it came out.  I didn’t think that I would enjoy it that much because while I loved the movie Once, I wasn’t sure if I needed more from Glen and Marketa.  But then I found a whole slew of free concerts from NPR and I became hooked on the band.

The disc opens with “Low Rising” (what I think of as the “Van Morrison” song).  It gets better with each listen.  It’s a slow ballad which is followed by “Feeling the Pull,” a more up-tempo song that really highlights Marketa’s beautiful harmonies.  “In These Arms” is a gorgeous song.  The verses are downbeat and somber “if you stay…with that asshole…it will only lead to harm” but again the harmonies are gorgeous.  “The Rain” is a more rocking tune (within reason, of course).  It has an interesting middle section that quiets down, but it’s a solid folk rocking song.

“Fantasy Man” is Marketa’s first lead vocal song on the disc.  I like her voice but sometimes I find her lead songs to be a bit too wispy, too quiet.  I like this song, but it feels long (and at 5 minutes, it is).  “Paper Cup” is one of Glen’s quiet ballads.  It’s a pretty song.  “High Horses” is one that I didn’t know from the live sets, I guess it’s not too popular with the band, but I think it’s strong.  It runs a little long but that’s because it has a cool middle section that keeps building and building with more instruments and voices.  “The Verb” is another song that I didn’t know.  It has a cool intensity to it and while it doesn’t stand out as a hit, it’s certainly an enjoyable song.

“I Have Loved You Wrong” is another pretty Marketa song, but again it’s very slow and very long.  I don’t think I could buy her solo album because although her voice is lovely and her melodies are nice, they’re just so ephemeral I can’t really get into them.  “Love That Conquers” is an interesting song.  It sounds nothing like The Swell Season (must be the banjo).  It’s a nice addition to the album and should maybe have been placed a little earlier to break up the sound style a bit more.  “Back Broke” ends the disc very strongly.  Although I think the song works better live (with audience participation), the melody and tone of the song are somberly beautiful.

There are moments of this disc when it turns out to be what I feared the whole disc would be–bland folkiness. But overall this is an enjoyable album for a rainy day.  And Hansard really has an amazing voice.  However, I really like them better live.

[READ: December 26, 2011] Third Reich

I was pretty excited when I heard about this book, although I must admit I was a little concerned by the title.  Bolaño has a kind of weird Nazi fascination.  There is Nazi Literature in America and then a whole section of 2666 is given over to Nazi Germany.  He doesn’t like Nazis or anything but he writes about them a lot and it can be a little exhausting.  So it was with some relief that I learned that Third Reich is the name of a game that the main character plays.  It is a kind of historical reimagining kind of game (I guess like Risk but more specific and with more at stake).  It is set during the time of the Third Reich and the players represent various countries (or perhaps even powers).

I am giving up on explaining the game from here on because a) there’s a lot about the game in the book and b) I’m not sure if it wasn’t explained very thoroughly or if I just missed out on exactly what was happening.  During the book he talks about Hexes 65 through 68 and so on.  So I assume the map of the world is a hex grid.  But he never gives any context (or even a picture!–and this makes sense as it’s written as the diary of a well-regarded player who is not trying to teach us the game).  So while I understand the general tenets and play of the game (there’s a die (or dice) and tokens that reside on the board), the specifics are completely nebulous.  But that’s okay.  Because the game specifics don’t impact the book, but the game overall is at the heart of the book.  I think it’s neat that Bolaño invented a game (and several others games are named, but no details are given).  He is clearly very gifted at inventing people, games, things.

But as I said, the game is only a part of the book and in fact, the game details don’t enter into the book until about half way through. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUBLIC ENEMY-Fear of a Black Planet (1990).

NPR recently broadcast a PE show from the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival.  I didn’t know that PE was still touring, so that was a surprise to me.  The show was largely a celebration of Fear of a Black Planet, which meant that I had to go back and listen to the original.

Man, is this a solid album.  The lyrics pack a punch even twenty years later and what is perhaps more amazing is that the sound collages that Terminator X created, which were something of an oppressive sonic assault are now fairly mainstream-sounding (forward thinking or what?).

What I like about this (and most PE) albums, is that  they have little skits between songs, but unlike most rap skits they’re not one-not jokes that you listen to once and then skip every future time.  A wonderful skit (for lack of a better word) is “Incident at 66.6 FM” in which we hear an amazing amount of racist epithets thrown at PE apparently on the radio.  Or the rather disturbing “Meet the G That Killed Me.”  “Anti-Nigger Machine” is a great collage of samples like “Think” and James Brown and a dozen more songs.

“Can’t Do Nuttin for Ya, Man!” is a (sort of) comic song from Flav that is catchy as anything. While “Reggie Jax” is a confusingly titled song that has nothing to do with baseball, but everything to do with funk.

Of course, this disc has some of PE’s best songs as well.  From the awesome “911 is a Joke” to one of the best rap songs ever, “Welcome to the Terrordome” (my favorite story of this song is when I was wearing a  Welcome to the Terrordome shirt and my philosophy professor asked me quite pointedly, “What in the hell is a terrordome.”  That was a fun conversation).  “Terrordome” is still amazing–powerful, musically intense and for all of its lyrical acuity, it still has funny moments….boing.

And of course, “Burn Hollywood Burn” is an amazing critique of the movie industry (and it’s catchy too).  I got Black Caesar back at the crib, right Lar?

I’ve always been a little confused by “Pollywannacracker.”  Not lyrically, but vocally, as Chuck’s (is it really Chuck?) voice is treated in a surprisingly tinny way.  I liked the song more on this listen than any other, I guess in the past it just kind of snuck by me.

The album is a little front loaded with greatness.   “Power to the People” is another powerful song, but it’s not quite as memorable as the other tracks.  “Fear of a Black Planet” has some really cool sounds on it (where did they get that “black man, black woman, black baby” sample?).   “Revolutionary Generation” is a great track in which Chuck and Flav stand up for black women: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, my sister’s not my enemy.”  Not your average rap subject.

And the last couple of proper songs, “B Side Wins Again” and “War at 33 1/3” are fast paced and furious, but they don’t really have much in the way of a hook.  Nevertheless, lyrically they are really great, and I love to hear Chuck D flow that quickly.

The biggest surprise for me is the censored version of “Fight the Power” (the song that got me into PE in the first place, thanks Spike).  It’s really surprising to me that PE allowed their music to be bleeped–unless it was just for a deliberate radio play (which I can accept).  Although they also list a title as “Leave This Off You Fu*Kin Charts” (did I buy a Columbia House version or something?)

This is an amazing album, one that still sounds fresh and sadly, is still relevant.

[READ: October 15, 2011] Between Parentheses

I never expected to get so addicted to Roberto Bolaño.  And despite his death, there is no shortage of works coming out in English (that is one of the advantages to reading a translated author–even death doesn’t cease the available materials).  Indeed, this year alone, New Directions is publishing Between Parentheses, and Tres and FSG is publishing The Third Reich (a collection of non fiction, a collection of poetry and a novel respectively).

When I really get into an author, I fall for his or her works, not necessarily him or her as a person (heck, some author are downright jerks).  But there are some authors that I want to know about, personally.  Bolaño is a pretty polarizing figure–he seems obnoxious, his works don’t shy away from very specific opinions, and sometimes it’s unclear what kind of views Bolaño himself has in his works (or if he’s even telling the truth about his so-called truths).  One thing in particular is the constant use of the word “faggot.”  It is used often in 2666 (and I know that is a translator’s choice, but still) and used derogatorily.  Now, clearly the context is everything for something like that.  But it seems to speak badly of Bolaño.  And yet, when reading these essays he is not homophobic in the least.  He is obviously well aware of institutionalized homophobia in Latin America, and he is obviously not supportive of it.

But that’s just one interesting thing about this book.  So let me back up. (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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