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Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MATTHEW CAWS-“When History Comes” (2020).

Recently Rough Trade released an online album Talk – Action = Zero, Vol. 2.  It was a collection of songs with the intent of giving money to get out the vote organizations like Spread The Vote.  There were some 90 songs on it.  One of them was from Matthew Caws from Nada Surf.

On the most recent Nada Surf album, the song “So Much Love,” featured a lengthy spoken sort of rambling section.  Caws’ voice works quite well for that fast spoken section and when I saw them play it live, he was able to recite (or read, he had the lyric sheet in front of him) the whole thing while still playing which was pretty cool.

So this new song follows in that model.  The song is a simple riff that repeats.  And the lyrics are probably not spontaneous, but are pretty close.  There’s also a chorus.  It’s really catchy, just like all Nada Surf songs tend to be.

My contribution is a protest song; a get out the vote song. Will any Republicans hear this song outside of my liberal music bubble?  I don’t know.  I want them to.  Maybe there is a way.

What should a protest song say?

I protest the dismantling of the Postal Service which right now means the dismantling of democracy.

I protest the denial and protection of systemic racism.

I protest the dismantling of regulations that protect public land.

I protest the dismantling of the trust between a country and its media.

Am I naive enough to think that naively expressing these things can change anyone’s mind?  YES

I’m naive and a dreamer but also ambitious.  I believe in people.  I believe in change.

I’ll say this I vote Democrat but I don’t hate republicans.  I just hate this administration.

When history comes and sticks out its thumb / asking you for a ride / I hope that you see how fast it can be / it goes by in the blink of an eye.
We’re stuck in this boat / it’s barely afloat / we’re watching the water rise / History’s ill / it needs some good will / and we’re so tired of the lies

We’re all canaries in the coal mine.  We have to say what we see.  We’re all the band on the Titanic.  Don’t stop when the ship goes down.

Let’s be cheerleaders for postal workers.   Cheerleaders for voters for braving the long lines of the maskless.

We implore that you nurture your inner artist.  That you make something for yourself so that you have fulfillment.  So that you don’t seek satisfaction in the hot flame of mockery, the perversity of trolling, the thrill of baiting and phishing.

I believe that we’re all made out of love and good things.  We just get sick

When history comes and sticks out its thumb / asking you for a ride / I hope that you see how fast it can be / it goes by in the blink of an eye.
We’re stuck in this boat / it’s barely afloat / we’re watching the water rise / History’s ill / it needs some good will / and we’re so tired of the lies
Come out of your shell / the country’s unwell / we really need you to fight.

[instrumental break]

I’m an atheist and I had a friend in college who was Christian.  He belonged to a Christian group, I can’t remember which one but he wore a lapel pin with his name on it.  Anyway, really lovely guy.  We were both in film class and we’d get together once in a while to study.

Then one day we were saying goodby before winter break in front of the library.  The sky was dramatic, a whirlwind of leaves was nearby.  He gave me the hard sell. He said, “think about it… eternal life.”  It was moving.  I knew he wanted the best for me and in that spirit I’d like to say to you:

Imagine that the left don’t want to destroy America, because we don’t.  We just want it to be more fair. We want it to live up to its promise and that’s because we love it so much.  Don’t be afraid, we;re all right.  I’ll tell you what’s fake news… it’s that we’re bad people.   We’re not.   [It’s] that we want trump to fail.

I didn’t want him to fail. I wanted him to do great.  He didn’t.  But I wanted him to.

He makes me feel bad.  He makes other people feel bad too.  That doesn’t set a good example.  Sometimes it just comes down to that: don’t make people feel bad. And for every decision think about how it affects poor people the most.  Think about how it affects children.

You know…

Alright go register go vote.

So simply stated.  so true.  What a great song.  I hope people outside his bubble hear it.

[READ: October 21, 2020] “Suffocation Theory”

This story started out rather strange and I thought it was going to coalesce into something enjoyable.  But it never really did.

Out of the blue Amanda told the narrator they were moving.  He liked their apartment just fine and don’t want to move, but she told him the movers were already outside.

He watches a lot of news and everything is terrible.  Killings with guns, bombs and cars.  He is amazed that people have the irresistible idea “that killing a bunch of strangers would solve whatever problem they thought they couldn’t solve any other way.”

The new place is terrible.  It feels like a giant warehouse with rooms and lots of empty space. The bathroom doesn’t have a shower.  The neighborhood is terrible.  They also have a roommate.

The roommate is a jerk.  He jokingly points a gun at the narrator. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE LAST BISON-“Switzerland” (2011).

The Last Bison is a band based out of Virginia.  They seemed to ride the wave of aggressive folk rock that came out with Mumford and the Lumineers.  They described their sound as “mountain-top chamber music” as they added classical elements (strings mostly) to their alt-folk.

This was the the first song I’d heard by them and I found it really compelling.

The song opens with a quiet melody played on an acoustic guitar or mandolin.  It feels pastoral and I loved that the melody was accented with a percussive banjo or guitar strum.

The vocals are high and rustic with nice harmonies.  After the introduction, a quick acoustic guitar propels the verse (in which singer Ben Hardesty sings high enough to be almost out of his range).

About half way through, tehs ong shifts gears to a minor chord and the heavy strings come in–deep cello and a soaring violin solo.  The song slows down to gentle strums and vocals as he sings the chorus once more before everything builds up one more time.

In 2018, The Last Bison released a new album with a new lineup and a reinvented sound with more keyboards and percussion.

[READ: October 20, 2020] “Switzerland”

The narrator’s family moved to Switzerland when she was 13. Her father was a doctor who wanted to specialize in trauma and Switzerland had the best hospital for trauma study (which was ironic given that Switzerland “is neutral, alpine, orderly”).  She was too young to live on campus, so she resided with her English tutor, a Mrs Elderfield.

Two other girls, both eighteen, were also staying there. The girls were Marie who came from Bangkok via Boston and Saroya who came from Tehran via Paris.  The older girls laughed at her naivete but they were always kind to her.

Marie and Saroya were sent to Switzerland because of their troubled past–sex, stimulants, and a refusal to comply.  Their parents hoped the school would “finish” them, but the schools knew they were finished already. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL THE MAN-“Live in the Moment” (Weird Al Remix) (2018).

Portugal. The Man asked Weird Al to remix two songs. This is the second one.  This remix starts with the Weird Al polka medley treatment–lots of fast accordions.  The vocals sound a little different, although maybe that’s just because all of the proper music has been removed and replaced with the oompah bass, accordion and horns blasts.

The transition between verses is tackled with that Weird Al polka flourish, fitting perfectly.

The song definitely feels more frenetic with that intense bass thumping but the chorus is still just as catchy.

After the (serious) second chorus there’s a wild and silly polka instrumental break.  Then Al takes over lead vocals for the final verse.  Since Al’s voice is synonymous with funny, it’s a little strange to hear him sing straight lines–but his voice works operfectly.

[READ: October 10, 2020] The Wolf [excerpt]

K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City contained two excerpts from other books tacked on at the end.  The second is an excerpt from Leo Carew’s complicatedly named The Wolf: Under a Northern Sky: Book One.

The blurb says

In Leo Carew’s thrilling and savagely visceral debut epic fantasy, The Wolf, violence and death come to the land under the Northern Sky when two fierce races break their age-old fragile peace and begin an all-out war.

Roper surveys the scene.  At nineteen, this would be his first battle.  They are in a deluge of rain, which he imagines will shorten the battle–men fight less fiercely in the rain. Ropers father Lord Kynortas says they have no battle plan, they are unsure what they will face. But they have ninety thousand soldiers of the Black Legion marching behind them.

The Sutherners had amassed a similarly large army and threatened the balance of power in Albion.

Kynortas introduces Roper to Uvoren, the warrior that every young boy of the Black Legion aspired to be like.  Uvoren is kindly to the boy and tells him that his father is a lot of fun to watch in a parley situation.

Roper had never seen a Sutehrner before and he was shocked to see that the looked just like him, only smaller. They were childlike.

As the leaders approached, Kynortas announced that the Sutehrners had invaders their land. They had burned and plundered.  Kynortas towered over the Sutherner leader.  Kynortas told him to take his men and leave or he will unleash the Black Legion soldiers and show no mercy.

The leader of the Sutherners was named Earl William.  He was not intimated despite the size difference.  He told Kynortas that his men were very comfortable there and that they have a strong position.  He demanded thirty chests of gold for them to leave.

Roper knew that thirty chests was an absurd number. His kingdom did not have much use for gold and could never procure thirty chests.  Roper concluded that Earl William did not want his offer accepted.

Kynortas said that they neither had that much gold nor would they “satisfy your greed for things that are soft and impotent.”  Then he jumped forward and seized Earl William’s breastplate.  He pulled it off and flung it aside leaving Earl William exposed.

Earl William’s men stormed off.  Except for one named Bellamus.  He snorted at Kynortas and said “being blessed with bone-armor, I cannot imagine you know how it felt for Earl William to have his defences taken so contemptuously from him.  Before this battle is over, I will show you how that feels.”

When Roper asked if this was typical negotiation, Kynortas nodded.  Negotiation is just n exercise in intimidation

When Roper said that they weren’t serious about their gold request–Earl william was goading them into attacking.

Kynorta smiled assuming the Sutherners were overconfident.

I’m vaguely interested in this story, but with so many other books I want to read, I don’ imagine I’ll continue with this story.

 

 

 

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SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL THE MAN-“Who’s Gonna Stop Me” (feat. “Weird Al” Yankovic) (2020).

Portugal. The Man and “Weird Al” (punctuation buddies, clearly) have worked together in various ways in the past.  But here is something totally weird for Weird Al.  He is providing serious verses to a serious song.

Portugal. The Man songs tend to be dancey and fun, but this song is quite serious (and the video is fantastic).

A quiet opening of drums and echoing keyboard notes.  The hook comes when the vocals speed up in the middle of the first verse.

There are some gorgeous “ooohs” and then Al’s verse comes.  Al obviously has a great voice–he can mimic anyone–he is perfectly matched to the original vocal line and his voice sounds great singing “sneaking out, jumping over backyard fences, we’re always looking for freedom.”

After some more of those haunting oohs, a loud drum fill introduces the second half of the song which elevates the song into a slightly more danceable section full of drums and voices.

And then comes the incredible hook of “toooooooo high!”  The vocal range from the deep “too” the soaring “high” is outstanding.

It sounds like Portugal. The Man are taking their music in yet another direction and this one is quite a good one.

[READ: October 10, 2020] Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

I read a positive review of K.J. Parker’s “follow up” to this book called How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It.  When I picked up that book, I saw that the back cover said it was the follow up to Sixteen.  I assumed that meant it was a sequel and that I should read Sixteen first.  Well, Sixteen ends pretty definitively.  It turns out that Empire takes place seven years later and while I haven’t read it yet, I think it’s good I read this one first.

Also, K.J. Parker is the pseudonym of Tom Holt, a fantasy author I have not read but whom I gather I would like a lot.  So it was a good thing to read the review of Empire.

Parker has written several trilogies as well as a few stand-alone books.  I bring this up because I’ve read that some of the characteristics of this story reference other parts of his stories (this is a stand alone story, but I guess there might be parts that refer to his other books).

Like, for instance, the blues and the greens. These are two of the dominant races in the book.  I had a hard time telling them apart because there was no real introduction of either group. It was clear they hated each other, but I couldn’t figure out why (which I assumed was the point). At any rate, another reviewer says that the blues and greens are part of his other books, so maybe they are explained elsewhere.

The City appears to also be a thing that Parker likes to play around with.  In this book, the City is run by the Robur, a dominating group who have successfully conquered much of the surrounding lands. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LITTLE BIG TOWN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #91 (October 6, 2020).

Little Big Town is a country band that has been around for a while.  I feel like I’ve heard of them, but I’m not sure.

Evidently the band is really the four main singers, but they have added more touring members for this Concert.

They open with “Nightfall.” It has nice folkie guitar and Karen Fairchild sings with a strong folksinger style. The snaps from Hubert Payne’s drums really ring out in a cool way.  Thee upright bass John Thomasson adds a nice anchor to the melody.

I thought maybe they weren’t all that country after all.  But as soon as the chorus jumps in and the accents start flying–especially the high notes from Kimberly Schlapman–the country has come into the house.  The song is catchy though.

Up next guitarist Phillip Sweet jokes is the “most profound thing” they’ve done.  “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” opens with a surprise trumpet intro from Jacob Bryant.  Although songs about drinking are about as cliché as they come, the stompin,’ dopey tone is quite fun and Jimi Westbrook’s lead delivery sells it well.

They apparently use some songwriters known as the Love Junkies who came up with “Girl Crush.”  There’s some nice harmonies on this track.  You really can’t hear keyboard player Akil Thompson on the other songs, but his chords ring through here.  Westbrook puts down his guitar while Sweet plays.

They end with “Boondocks” their first hit about where they come from.  I like the bowed bass and Evan Weatherford’s slide guitar lead, but the thought of thousands of people stompin’ along to these lyrics is a tad disturbing.

[READ: October 5, 2020] Parable of the Talents [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes:

I’ve ended this collection with a meteor.  An African -America woman born with “hyperempathy” must navigate the 2020as and 2030s in a hellscape formed by climate change disasters…  The reader is introduced to a rising demagogue whose slogan in “make America great again.”  Did that send chills down your spine?

At the time she was writing, however, it’s more likely she was inspired by the past than by the future.  When Ronald Reagan accepted the presidential nomination from the 1980 Republican National Committee, he gave a speech in which he promised, “For those who’ve abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.  Butler perceived the problems behind that phrase and used science fiction to explore how such a mindset could lead to history repeating itself, resulting in story that is even more powerful today than when she first wrote it.

I first looked at the date of 1998 and thought it was so current, not exactly realizing it was 22 years (and a lifetime) ago.  Without even reading the story, just reading the above paragraph, it’s pretty easy to see exactly what Reagan wrought.  He really was the beginning of the end for the country.

And Butler could totally read the writing on the wall.

Not much happens in this excerpt.  A farm is burned and most people killed. the refugees take shelter with the narrator at their farm/commune.

It’s the details below that are so chilling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JHENÉ AIKO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #89 (October 1, 2020).

This is the 89th Tiny Desk Home Concert (if I’m counting correctly) and I am really surprised that this is probably the 40th one (not counting at all) in which I’ve never heard of the artist even though they are referred to as a star or at least wildly popular.

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, R&B star Jhené Aiko coasts through an eight-song medley that plays like the ultimate nod to her legions of fans — fans who’ve been begging for a Tiny Desk for a long time.

Is “star” warranted?  I don’t know.  But here’s her raving blurb:

The Los Angeles native’s star status is a result of her music’s versatility and vulnerability. Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo has carved out a space of her own over the past decade, despite a rapidly changing R&B landscape. As a songwriter, she leaves no stone unturned, explicitly expressing her struggle, joy and sexuality while always administering the vibe.

The set begins with Aiko stirring a singing bowl, which I admit is pretty nice. I have a tiny one, but it’s nowhere near as cool as hers are.

Backed by an ensemble of masked players, Aiko bookends her set with a sound bath of singing bowls that’s peace personified through sound.

I appreciated the way the note of the singing bowl segues perfectly into Julian Le’s opening piano for “Lotus (Intro).”  Aiko has an old-fashioned vocal style–deep and breathy.

The short song fades out and in comes Brain Warfield’s thumping percussion and a gorgeous harp trill from Gracie Sprout that signals “Stranger.”

It is also short and as it fades and she drinks some tea, the bass from Bubby comes sliding in to open “Do Better Blues.”  The song pauses and she says she wants only three things in a relationship:

Eyes that won’t cry ; lips that won’t lie ; love that won’t die

Things slow down to the piano and chimes as the band jumps into “To Love & Die.”  Iam quite impressed wit her vocal restraint.  There’s a few moments of R&B diva wailing, but mostly, she sings very nicely and prettily with no histrionics.

This works especially well on “Born Tired” which opens with just a harp.  It’s impressive how well this acoustic setup works with these songs.

This medley of songs is disconcerting because everything is so short. She only plays two minutes of “Born Tired,” before Bubby’s high chords on the six string bass introduce “W.A.Y.S.” which has the most R&B styled-vocals so far.

“Summer 2020” opens with harp and piano and a spoken introduction from Jhené  as she introduces the “quarantine edition” of her band.  After a verse she throws in a verse from “Everything Must Go” without changing the music.  I do have to wonder about the mindset of someone who writes the lyrics:

I am no god or messiah
But here’s what I know

Three chimes on the singing bowls introduce “Eternal Sunshine” as she sings almost a capella.  The band comes in to flesh out the song and she ends with a lengthy R&B warble which quickly fades out as the song comes to an end.

I’m still not sure if she’s a star, but I am really impressed with her voice and musical choices in this set.  Often, I have found that when I really like an R&B performer’s Tiny Desk, it’s because of the way it is stripped down–both instrumentally and in production terms.  So I’m not going to listen to her album because this set was a perfect introduction to her and just enough for me to enjoy.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “The Intensive Care Unit” 

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

When I first thought about stories for this collection, I knew J.G. Ballard had to make an appearance.  Initially, I had chosen an entirely different piece.  Then COVID-19 came to the United States and I learned how very bad I was at predicting the future.  ‘The Intensive Care Unit’…is a story about living entirely in isolation: no human-to-human contact, ever. Even families live together through screens, not physically in the same space.

Frustratingly, she ends with

I’ll leave you to guess which other Ballard story this one replaced.  [I don’t know him well enough to even hazard a guess].

I haven’t read many J.G. Ballard stories, but I have it in my head that all of his stories are very dark and very violent.  The few that I have read certainly were.  And this one is no exception.

It’s starts off with a violent sentence: “Within a few minutes the next attack will begin.”

The room he is in is filled with his wife’s faint breathing, his son’s irregular movements, marked by smeared hand prints on the carpet, and his daughter’s limp body under the fallen lamp. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NUBYA GARCIA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #81 (September 16, 2020).

Nubya Garcis is a jazz saxophonist and this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is unlike any other thus far.

Look to the left of Nubya Garcia’s Tiny Desk (home) concert and you’ll see a hanging plant swaying right above the keys. It never stops moving during the next 23 minutes, and it’s for a bizarre reason. Garcia’s (home) concert took place on a boat — a first in Tiny Desk history.

Garcia and her band are at Soup Studio, a recording facility built on a decommissioned floating lighthouse moored on the River Thames. It’s also where Garcia recorded her excellent new album, SOURCE. This set features three songs from the record; the title track starts it off with a reggae, dub vibe.

“Source” opens with some great low end from Daniel Casmir’s double bass.  The main melody comes from Joe Armon-Jones’s simple keyboard hits.  Sam Jones makes the drums almost a lead instrument as well, as he plays a lot of cymbals and interesting fills.

There are two backing singers for these songs.  Richie Seivwright and Cassie Kinoshi add some ahhs and oohs as needed.  They’re not intrusive and add a human element to Garcia’s otehriwse otherworldly saxophone soloing.

At around eight minutes, the singers do a lot of woohing and scatting which I find less interesting than the rest of the band does.

After nearly 12 minutes, everything slows down and Casmir does a bass solo as the introduction to “Pace.”  Armon-Jones plays piano with his right hand keyboards with his left to lay down a complex musical tapestry which Garcia weaves her saxophone all over.  Armon-Jones also gets a quiet piano solo, then the song takes off again, crashing to a wild conclusion with frenetic drumming and piano.

“Boundless Beings” opens with a slow saxophone introduction and the bass matching the notes. This song is only two minutes, and I assume that’s because time runs out on her video or her session.

[READ: September 15, 2020] “Whose Little Girl Are You?”

I had read Fox’s Desperate Characters after three authors that I like all championed it.  S. knows of Paula Fox as a children’s author.  I had no idea she had the kind of crazy childhood that this memoir lets on.  Indeed, this is an excerpt from her memoir Borrowed Finery.  And, while I’ve no doubt this is all true.  It is as exciting (and horrifying) as fiction.

When Paula was born her parents deposited her at an orphanage.  Paula’s mother Elise was a panicked nineteen-year-old and wanted to get rid of her as quickly as possible.  Her father Paul brought her to a Manhattan foundling house.  She was taken in by the Reverend Elwood Corning who raised her and whom she called Uncle Elwood.

Her maternal grandmother came to New York from Cuba and learned of her whereabouts.  She intended to take her back home to Cuba with her, but her grandmother worked as a companion to a rich old cousin and could not possibly look after a baby, so Paula stayed with Uncle Elwood.

When she was about five, her father came to see her. He had a large box which he dropped with a thud.  He looked at her and said “‘There you are,'”\ as if I’d been missing for such along time that he’d almost given up searching for me.”   The box contained a whole host of books. The next morning when Paula woke up he was not there anymore.

Later that year Uncle Elwood drove her to Provincetown where her parents were living.  The main memory she took from that visit (because all she ever did was visit her parents) was that she had found a large steamer trunk and was exploring it when her mother walked in and yelled, “What are you doing?”  And then, “Don’t cry!  Don’t you dare cry!”

A year later they were living in New York City and Paula visited them for a few hours.  When her mother came into the room she stared at Paula, her eyes like embers. Then she flung her glass and its contents at the girl.  Water and ice fell all lover her.

The next time, she went to see them they were staying in a hotel in New York.  They had room service for dinner and Paula ordered lamb chops.  It felt special.  When the meal came Paula said “There’s no milk.” Her father stood, grabbed the tray of food and dropped it down the airshaft saying “Okay, Pal, since it wasn’t to your pleasure.”  She had no dinner that night.

Her parents were often leaving Paula with strangers. One time she went to Grand Central Station on a train by herself and was met not by her father but by a couple–actors who knew her father–with Great Danes.  They expected her father to turn up any moment.  Two days later he showed up.

Another time she visited them in Los Angeles.  Her father’s sister Aunt Jessie took her.  Jessie stayed for a few days and on the day that she left, Paula’s parents went out for the evening leaving Paula by herself.  She wandered around and eventually wandered out the front door which locked behind her.

A neighbor found her and brought her to his house where his wife made dinner for her.  The next day she walked home and opened the door shouting “Daddy!”  Her father jumped out of bed–the woman next to him was not her mother–and whisked her out of the bedroom quickly.  He sat on a chair and began to spank her. The maid stopped him–Paula years later realized how brave it was for her to speak out.  A Few days later he dropped her off in the care of an older woman.  Years later he told her it was his motehr’s reaction to Paula that made him send her away–either she goes or I go.

A few years later in Malibu, she visited on weekends. The house had a deck that jutted into the ocean.  One day, her father gabbed her hands and dropped her into the Pacific . She freaked out fearing that she was drowning, but her father laughed because it was so shallow.

One night she told her father that she had a toothache.  He mother had entered the room and said I’ll fix it for you.  She put Paula in the rumble seat of the car and drove madly through the winding roads.  Paula was shaken like a rattle. They drove for twenty minutes (it felt like forever).  Finally they returned home and her mother looked at her and said “Do you still have a toothache?”

When Paula was eight (all of that happened before she was eight!), her Spanish grandmother came for her.  She had lighter duties in Cuba and brought Paula home with her.  Paula lived there, in Hormiguero for many years, going to school there–having a crash introduction to Spanish. She had nothing but freedom there but soon grew very bored and lonely.

When she was ten in 1933, her family fled to he country for New York because the President of Cuba, Gerargo Machado, had been overthrown.

Good lord, how did she ever get through it without going crazy.  And what on earth are her children’s stories like?

 

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #78 (September 10, 2020).

Phoebe Bridgers is in the White House!

Obviously anybody would be better in the White House than the current squatter, but Phoebe Bridgers would certainly be more fun than any other choices at the moment.

I love that Phoebe fully commits to being in the White House by having her band wear Secret Service-looking suits while she is wearing a very Presidential pantsuit (instead of that skeleton onesie she’s been in since the quarantine began).

For the first two songs she stands behind the oval office desk while Marshall Vore on drums and Harrison Whitford on guitar accompany her.

She opens with “Kyoto” one of my favorite songs of the year.  This more acoustic version loses a little bit of the magic from the recorded version, but that chorus is just so tasty and Phoebe’s voice (and the backing vocals) sound fantastic.

They open with “Kyoto,” a story song based on her first trip to Japan, followed with a sweet version of “Moon Song” and the sad details of loving someone who doesn’t love themself.

“Moon Song” is one of those beautiful songs that is lyrically very powerful but is just a hair too slow for me.  Of course after a few more listens (especially to the lyrics) it will sound perfect, I’m sure.  I had read an article recently about a line in this song

We hate Tears in Heaven
But it’s sad that his baby died

The article said that she originally wanted to say “We hate Eric Clapton,” but decided against it.  But that she really does hate Clapton:

I have such an Eric Clapton rant, because I think it’s just extremely mediocre music, but also he’s a famous racist.

I didn’t know this but apparently during an August 1976 gig in Birmingham, Eric Clapton made racist comments and praised Enoch Powell, inadvertently inspiring the Rock Against Racism campaign.

Wow.  Has he ever made amends?

The song picks up some power by the end, as Phoebe’s song tend to do.

And then comes the kicker, as Phoebe introduces herself with the words “I hope everybody’s enjoying their apocalypse,” the band kicks into her surreal doomsday tune “I Know the End.”

It starts like many other Phoebe songs–slow and thoughtful.  But this one builds and builds.  Midway through the song, they turn off the green screen projector and everyone walks (while the song is still playing) to another part of the room for the end.

And what an end it is: The trio expands to an ensemble

Whitford and Bridgers switch to electric guitar, Vore moves to a full drum kit, Emily Retsas joins on bass (looking bad ass in her blonde hair, dark suit and sunglasses), Nick White adds keyboards and Odessa Jorgensen plays violin.  The song feel so much louder (there’s been no bass so far).  You can feel the tension mounting

And then scattered throughout the screen are videos of Phoebe fans–recording from bedrooms, cars, backyards and trampolines–singing the chorus, air drumming and smiling big smiles.

And at the end everybody

lets out the kind of cathartic scream that has come to define 2020 for so many of us.

Followed by Phoebe’s winning smile.

[READ: September 10, 2020] “Dear Mr. President”

This story is written as a letter to The Honorable George Bush, President of the United States.

It is written by a Marine, Lance Corporal James Laverne.  [He is clearly a loser or a sucker, according to our current president].

He starts the letter with greetings and salutations and a fine memory of when Bush landed his helicopter at Laverne’s station in Iraq.  The men stood at attention for two hours while Bush was in a tent talking with someone.  Then when he came out he spoke to Laverne.  When Laverne said he was from Wisconsin, Bush said “Is cheddar better?” to which Laverne gave a hearty “yes sir!”

Then he tells a story of the time he was attacked.  He and Brecks went into a burned-out building where they’d heard there was sniper.  But when they got there it wasn’t a sniper, it was a dog.  Brecks went to rescue the dog, but when he bent over, someone on the ground threw a grenade onto the roof which blew Brecks to pieces. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: clipping.-“Chapter 319″/”Knees on the Ground” (2020).

On June 19, clipping. released this excellent track, “Chapter 319.”

clipping. has often released music that is harsh and unpleasant (great, but not “pleasant”).  This song, removes a bit of the musical harshness to focus on the vocals.  It’s still abrasive and cacophonous, but it’s meant to be heard by a lot of people.

After a sample, Daveed Diggs raps over a rumbling bass line.

Left, right, left

How long can we holler when it ain’t no breath?
You keep killing fathers without no regrets
Then keep on countin’ dollars ’til it ain’t none left
So the streets gon’ keep on marching like
Left, right, left

The middle of the song adds some complicated drums and effects but the focus is the lyrics:

This march a foot in yo fucking throat to choke out
The whole assumption that you are here to protect … us
This government doesn’t respect … us
And somehow they seem to expect … us to accept
The power a piece of shit millionaire president wants to project

Diggs raps in a normal flow and then adds some remarkably fast verses.  But the spotlight comes with this section, repeated twice.  It is not the chorus, it is more of a hook, with the music pausing at the full stop.

donald trump is a white supremacist / full stop
if you vote for him again, you’re a white supremacist / full stop

Full stop.

The other song on this release is called “Knees on the Ground” which was originally released in 2014.

The fact that lyrically it could have been written in 2020 is a succinct testament to systemic racism in four minutes.

Six thumps that sound like someone pounding on a door are the only sound bedsides Diggs’ lyrics (and some sound effects).   The pounding is unnerving as you can imagine who is on the other side.

An intense middle section has this quickly rapped verse:

Brown boy sitting on his knees with his eyes shut
Hands behind his head fingers woven pinkies up
Saying he ain’t even doin’ nothing what you want T
hey threw him on the ground when he called them all punks
Retro blue and white Jordans tongues out
Over the black jeans cuffed just the right amount
To make them bunch by the calves how he like
Just ran out of boxer briefs so he wearing tighty-whities
With a white t-shirt and the breeze catch it just so
Pressing it tight against his chest so the red hole
Is getting wider and the blood is soaking in the fabric
And pooling on the ground he looks down automatic
And the dark pavement gets darker when it’s wet
He’s losing balance slow with his hands on his head
So his face hits first and his eyes go dead
And the air is sucked out of the world with his last breath

Then the pounding comes back for another verse.  The chorus has some eerily quiet echoing chords as he recites:

Keep your knees on the ground where they belong.

It ends with noise and static.

Proceeds from the sale of the song go to organizations for racial justice.

[READ: July 20, 2020] Stamped

This book has been on the top of everyone’s recommended lists for being proactive about understanding systemic racism.

I didn’t quite understand what the subtitle meant by a remix, but the acknowledgements explain that Kendi wrote his book Stamped from the Beginning as

a history book that could be devoured by as many people as possible–without shortchanging the serious complexities–because racist ideas and their history have affected us all. But Jason Reynolds took his remix of Stamped from the Beginning to another level of accessibility and luster…that will impact generations of young and not so young people.

Reynolds is a multi-award-winning author of books for children.  He is also a teacher.  He knows how to write a compelling story.

I haven’t read Stamped form the Beginning, but this remix is outstanding. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENEVENTO/RUSSO DUO-Best Reason To Buy The Sun (2005).

I’ve become a huge fan of Marco Benevento over the last few years.  When I saw that he was releasing these earlier records with Joe Russo (of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead) I was intrigued.

This set up is indeed a duo.  It’s just Russo on drums and Benevento on all manner of keyboard sounds.  (There are a couple of guests later in the record).  The sound is really full–Marco’s low end is fat and heavy and never wavers no matter what melodies he plays.

This album is all instrumental and there’s quite a lot of diversity in the sounds.  Most of the songs are relatively short (around the 4 minute mark), but a few do stretch out.

The disc opens with “Becky” which has a great funky bass and drums.  There’s some typically weird sounds from Russo’s drums to start (showing that he’s not only going to be keeping time) and a nice distortion filter on the keys.  “Welcome Red” starts with accordion!  It morphs into a slow grooving song with a pretty melody that’s accompanied by bells.  “Sunny’s Song” is brighter and bouncier with a pretty main riff on the keys and the bells.  Half way through the song gets bigger and it rocks harder with lots of cymbals.  Smokey Hormel adds some guitar to this song.

“Vortex” is slower and trippier with a kind of ice-skating rink vibe.  Eventually the song kind of takes off into an outer space sound.  “9×9” pushes past the six minute mark with a slow melody that’s accented by sprinklings of trippy sounds.  There’s some really dynamite drumming in this song.  By the end, it takes off, really rocking as it segues into “Scratchitti.”

On “Scratchitti,” Skerik plays some horns and Mike Dillion adds percussion (it’s impossible to know what he is playing that Russo isn’t).  This is the first weird song on the record.  It’s off kilter with noisy funk (Skerik is all over the place).  Although it does have a really catchy melody and a great bass sound from Marco.  There’s a middle section where things stretch out nicely turning kind of spacey–a trait for this album.

All three guests appear on “Three Question Marks.”  It’s a piano-based song and is jazzy in a kind of free jazz, everybody soloing kind of way.  Midway through the song Marco plays the strings of his piano, making a kind of harp sound before Russo (and Dillon?) get a drum solo.  With about a minute left, the song turns into a manic freakout with Skerik’s wailing sax and Hormel’s wailing guitar both fighting for dominance.

MIke Dillon appears on “Bronko’s Blues” which is slow and jazzy with a 1970s style keyboard solo.

The disc ends with “My Pet Goat” which is a slow jamming song that runs about 15 minutes.  Skerik, Dillon and Hormel all appear.  The first 8 minutes are slow chords over a fast syncopated drum pattern.  About half way through, there’s a pause and the second half of the song picks up with a new slow section based around some big bass notes.

I enjoyed this album a lot and thought it was really fun.  It’s a solid record of catchy, but not poppy insturmentals with a jazzy feel despite not being a jazz album.

There’s a bonus track–a 9 minute version of “The Three Question Marks.”  This is a big jamming monstrosity of a song. I don’t really recognize the original in it, but then I don’t think the original is all that recognizable.  This song has lots and lots of drums in it.

[READ: September 1, 2020] “The God of Dark Laughter”

This story is quite dark and it is written in a style that makes it feel much older than it actually is.

It listen as a report from a district attorney who is investigating a grisly crime.  The introduction to the report says

I make the following report in no confidence that it, or I will be believed, and beg the reader to consider this, at least in part, my letter of resignation.

Two boys found a dead body.  They were not innocent children–they had been killing squirrels and were covered in blood–but even they were disturbed by what they found.  The body was dressed like a clown and was surgically mutilated.

Only two weeks earlier the Entwhistle-Ealing Bros. circus had left town, so the D.A. called the circus owner to see if they knew of a missing performer.  The owner would check, but he wanted the D.A. to know that clowns have unsuspected depth–who knew what hey might get up to..

Sometime later they found the clown’s effects.  He had been living in a cave near by.  The cave smelled terrible.  Among his effects, they found clown makeup and clothes as well as some intellectual books including one in German by Friedrich von Junzt.

The D.A. went to the library to research this von Junzt fellow.  There was nothing in the card catalog for Von Junzt–not surprising for a small town–and no reference materials mentioned him. But there was a word in von Junzt’s book that stood out.  When he saw it again in another book, he had to put them together.

With the help of a dictionary the D.A. started clumsily translating the book which was written around 1895.  He learned that in Northern Armenia there were two competing cults.  The first supported Ye-Heh, the god of Dark Laughter.  They viewed the world as a cosmic hoax–the world was terrible but you had to laugh about it.  The descendants of this cult grew paler and some believe that the idea of white face for clowns comes from this cult.  The other cult worshiped Ai the God of Unbearable and Ubiquitous Sorrow.  They also believed the world was terrible bit that you should cry about it.  They set about killing all of the Ye-Heh believers.

As a man of the law, he had always followed the principles of Occam’s Razor, but this made him question everything.

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