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Archive for the ‘Yuck!’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stupidly catchy chorus:

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

which is of course repeated about ten times.

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

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

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

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

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

Spectacular.

[READ: June 29, 2020] Bubblegum Week 8

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

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

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

Hitting Back on the Brickhorse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from Bubblegum Reviews:

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

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

[WHAT?  HOW DID THIS GUY BECOME PRESIDENT?]

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

How timely.

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

[READ: June 15, 2020] Bubblegum Week 6

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

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[READ: June 15, 2020] Bubblegum Week 6

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

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

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

Coffee with Honey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TEA PARTY-“Isolation” (2020).

It seems like a number of bands have been covering Joy Divison’s “Isolation” lately. It is appropriate after all.

The Tea Party are a Canadian band known for its sound, which blends classic rock and influences from many countries around the world.  I like that they are referred to as “Moroccan Roll.”

Musically this songs sounds quite a lot like the original. I don’t think of The Tea Party has being especially synthy, but they get the synth sound pretty spot on.  Usually The Tea Party has all kinds of middle eastern instrumentation, but there’s nothing like that here.

Jeff Martin has a deep resonant voice that often sounds like Jim Morrison.  Here he gets the same tone as Ian Curtis, but his voice is much better, much more full than Curtis’.  In fact, the whole song sounds bigger–a sound that befits a band that is often compared to Led Zeppelin rather than an indie British club band.

The original certainly conveys “isolation” better (I mean, it is Ian Curtis after all), but this version sound great too and it really rocks.

[READ: May 11, 2020] “The Resident Poet”

I was surprised to realize that I had never read anything by Katherine Dunn.  Her novel Geek Love is one of those books that I feel is always mentioned as being notable.  I always assumed it was about nerds.  I just found out it is about carnies–circus geeks.  My mind is blown.

If I was wrong about the entire premise of her most famous book, I clearly have no idea what the rest of her output is like.

I didn’t realize she was the author of this story (I saw the author’s name but didn’t connect her to anything).  I doubt that knowing she wrote it would have made me think any differently about the story.  Mostly because I don’t know what to think about the story.

Essentially this story follows a college-aged woman as she deliberately degrades herself for a poet who comes to teach at their school.  But she seems empowered by her degradation, so I’m not sure how to read it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #12 (April 22, 2020).

I had a mixed reaction to Nick Hakim”s Tony Desk, although the blurb writer says he loved it.

Whenever I’m asked to name my favorite Tiny Desk concerts, Nick Hakim’s 2018 performance sits near the very top. He and his four bandmates reset the bar for intimacy at the Desk with their hushed groove.

Hakim plays three songs from his upcoming album WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD

from the corner of his dark bedroom with a keyboard, guitar and stacks of audio components.

His vocals on all three tracks are quiet and echoing, as if he is whispering down a long hall.  In fact all of the music sounds muted and soft, with a feeling of hazy smoke floating around,.

“QADIR,” is a haunting dedication to a fallen friend.  He plays guitar–mostly slow muted echoing guitar chords.  When the song ends, he activates a mini applause effect box which is pretty funny.

He takes a few loud slurps from his drink and gives a big “ahhh,” before starting the next song. For “GODS DIRTY WORK” he switches to the keys.  His singing style is exactly the same, although the song may be a little slower.

He adds a little more fake applause and then a somewhat creepy echoing laughter as he switches the drum beat for “CRUMPY.”

Honestly, all three songs sound a lot alike and seems really slow and hazy. It’s weird how upbeat and smiling he is, in contrast to the music.  I wonder how he makes everything seem so quiet.

[READ: April 15, 2020] Nicotine

I really enjoyed Nell Zink’s two other novels, but somehow I missed this one entirely when it came out.  I couldn’t imagine what it was about with that title and boy I never expected it to go where it did.

I actually had a slightly hard time getting into the book. That may have been because it was Quarantine and it was hard to ficus or it was because the opening of the book was so puzzling.  And yet by the end I was totally hooked.  But the beginning:

A thirteen year old girl stands in a landscape made almost entirely of garbage, screaming at a common domestic sow.

Then a white man comes and takes the girl away.  Her name is Amalia. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LANG LANG-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #11 (April 17, 2020).

Lang Lang is a superstar pianist whom I have never heard of.  But I agree with the blurb that it’s neat to see a fantastic pianist playing at home.  He seems relaxed and loose.  And the camera angle allows us to see his fingers (and his whole swaying body) pretty clearly.

Here’s something unique: a chance to eavesdrop on the superstar pianist Lang Lang at home.

The 37-year-old pianist, who typically plays sold-out shows to thousands, says he’s taking his recent solitary time to learn new repertoire at home in Shanghai, China. And home is where he thinks we should all be.

He opens with Chopin’s calming “Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor.”  I loved watching him slowly and deliberately play that last note.  It seems like he holds his finger above it for minutes, but it fits in perfectly.

Lang Lang’s latest passion is Bach – specifically the Goldberg Variations, a 75-minute-long cycle of immense complexity grounded in the composer’s durable beauty. Lang Lang offers the “18th and 19th variations,” pieces that in turn represent the strength of logic and the joy of the dance. It’s music, Lang Lang says, that “always brings me to play in another level of artistic thinking.”

These pieces are just magical.  Even if I don;t know them well, I can tell pretty immediately that they are Bach.  Lang Lang’s fluidity is wonderful, as is the way his whole body seems to be absorbing the music as he plays.

[READ: April 11, 2020]: Carnet de Voyage

From March 5 thru May 14, 2004 Craig Thompson was on an international book tour celebrating the success of his (fantastic) book Blankets.

This journal was his visual diary (no cameras were used, only his memory) of his trip.  His editors thought it would be interesting for him to document his trip (and it is).

He flies into Paris then a 2 hour plane trip to Lyon.  He draws pictures of where he has been and the people he has met (and some of their fascinating stories).  There’s some wonderful sketches of rooftops from hotel windows.

He does interviews for radio and magazines. He laughs that one of the photos shoots was in the streets of Paris, where he is all dressed up.  But really he’s a county bumpkin from Wisconsin. The drawing of himself as a glamorous guy and his bumpkin alter ego together is pretty hilarious.

On March 15 he left for Marrakesh, Morocco and this exotic location rally sets the stage for most of his artwork and what is sort of the only “plot” in the book.

He had also just broken up with his girlfriend which weighs on his mind quite a lot on the tour. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKKING PRINCESS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #6 (April 8, 2020).

I’ve heard a lot of buzz around King Princess–that she’s fun and puts on a wild show.

This home Tiny Desk is not wild in any way.

“Welcome to the quarantine shed!” King Princess exclaims. She’s in jogging pants and sitting on a fluffy white chair, with two guitars, an amp and a tiny keyboard at her side. “I’m in Hawaii and brought as much gear in the carry-on of my plane ride as possible.”

She calls herself KP, which I rather like.  These songs are really quiet. She plays “the three songs from her late 2019 album, Cheap Queen, in ways I never would have imagined.”

“Isabel’s Moment” is played on a quiet keyboard.  She says it’s an homage to people experiencing quarantine thirstiness–texting their exes and ex friends and everyone.  It’s my least favorite of the three because I don’t like the keyboard sound she chose.  But her voice is excellent.

“Prophet” is played on one of her guitars (with lots of echo and slightly out of tune she admits).  The chorus turns surprisingly bright. She says it’s about the entertainment business and it is now more relevant than ever.  We’re all out of jobs right now.

She says this is back to making music in my room, trying to find that creative spark we had as children, when I could sit in my room and make things for hours.

“Homegirl” is also on that guitar and sounds really pretty, too.  I really like her singing voice quite a lot. It holds up well in this quiet setting–so if Bob says that it’s very different from what he’s used to, I’m very curious about what her live show is like.

But I really don’t like her speaking voice, I must admit.

[READ: February 2020] Burning Bridges to Light the Way

Evidently I asked S. for a book by David Thorne a few years ago.  I don’t know what book it was, I don’t recognize any of his titles and I didn’t even recognize his name when I saw this book.  She didn’t get me the book then, but she did get me one this past Christmas.

Turns out that David Thorne is an Australian smart ass.

As the foreword from Peter Goers puts it, this book is full of “barely coherent rants about friends, family, and colleagues.”  He continues,

David isn’t a dreadful human being all the time.  He has to sleep and I know he cares a lot about squirrels.  There are parts of this book that even hint at a certain degree of empathy for other human beings.  Some human beings, not all of them, maybe three.

I’m not sure who Peter Goers is, but his introduction is very funny.  Don’t skip it:

I once asked David if he’s autistic and he replied, “It’s pronounced artistic and no, not really, I can draw a cat though.”  I assume he was joking but it’s hard to tell with David.

In the first essay, David says that every year when he releases a new book friends and associates say that they are going to sue him if he says anything derogatory about them in his book.  But he’s not worried. Nobody he knows has enough money to hire a lawyer. (more…)

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81HkprYowjLSOUNDTRACK: SNOH AALEGRA-Tiny Desk Concert #947 (February 18, 2020).

maxresdefault (2)In what seems to be a new trend at the Tiny Desk, here’s another artist whom I’ve never heard of somehow and who manages to cram five songs into 16 minutes.  (I won’t complain about the length of this show because it’s not that long, but everyone knows you get three songs).

The most fascinating things about Snoh is that she is Iranian-Swedish.  And that her band is enormous.  And that they all have great names like: O’Neil “Doctor O” Palmer on keys, George “Spanky” McCurdy on drums and Thaddaeus Tribbett on bass.  There’s also Jef Villaluna on guitar whose name isn’t that crazy,

Unfortunately her songs and albums have terrible names.

Her new album is called Ugh, those feels again and her previous album is called Feels. (and she’s not even millennial).  And then the third song is called “Whoa.”  Good grief,

“Whoa” is a sweet love song that is detailed but not explicit.  Except the chorus which is “you make me feel like, whoa.”

The rest of her songs have a very delicate soft-rock vibe.  Especially with the string section of Ashley Parham on violin, Johnny Walker, Jr. on cello, Asali McIntyre on violin and Brandon Lewis on viola.

But apparently that’s not what her music typically sounds like.

On this day in particular, Aalegra’s tracks were stripped of their punchier, album-version kick drums and trap echoes. In their absence, it’s Aalegra’s delicate vocal runs and chemistry with her supporting singers that resonated most. “I Want You Around” and “Whoa,” which usually rest on a bed of glitchy, spiraling production, felt lighter thanks to the dreamy string section.

All of the songs featured her backing vocalists Ron Poindexter and Porsha Clay,  but they were especially prominent on “Fool For You” which ran all of two minutes.

Snoh seemed a little too cool up there, which did not endear me to her.  Her voice is certainly pretty though, even if I didn’t like her songs.

[READ: March 15, 2020] Best Friends

This book is a sequel of sorts to Real Friends.

It continues the story of young Shannon in sixth grade and how she deals with the minefields that middle school can present.

The same cast is back–the good and bad friends, the girls and boys and all of the insecurities that are practically a character in themselves.

As the book opens, Shannon realizes that she and her friends are not really in sync. She can’t keep up with the pop songs that they like–how do they always know the newest cool song (her family doesn’t listen to pop music so she is way out of the loop).

But aside form that, things seem good.  Shannon is best friends with Jen, the most popular girl in their class.  And since they are the oldest grade in school, Jen is therefore the most popular girl in school.

But the girls are always sniping at each other or trying to get Shannon so say nasty things about one of the other girls behind her back (while the girl was listening).  Shannon never did, though, because she is really a good person.  Something the other girls could use some help with, (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RIO MARA-Tiny Desk Concert #906 (October 25, 2019).

Rio Mara sings (and speaks) entirely in Spanish for this Tiny Desk.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this if you don’t know Spanish.  The musical is wonderful–full of percussion and a wonderfully vibrant wooden marimba that feels utterly tropical.

Rio Mira takes its name from a river that separates Ecuador and Colombia and empties into the Pacific Ocean.

For just about fifteen minutes, the members of Rio Mira created a living and very melodic connection to Africa. Set behind a large marimba — and drums that are unique to their corner of the world — the members of the band performed music that is the legacy of enslaved people who were in both Ecuador and Colombia.

Rio Mira’s three songs in this performance are dominated by the marimba and accompanied by drums from both Europe and Africa. “La Pepa de Tangaré” references the culinary joys of life and, like the rest of their set, celebrates life along the river: soft breezes, loving friends, the embrace of Africa and, of course, lots of festejando (partying)!

Karla Kanora sings lead vocals, while Esteban Copete plays the amazing marimba.

Introducing the band (and the instruments) we meet Carlos Loboa on the cununos (a hand drum that looks like a conga).  Tito Ponguillo on the bombo hembra (a two headed drum that you wear on a strap), while Sergio Ramírez plays the bombo macho (the “male” version of the two headed drum). Fernando Hurtado plays the shaker and sings.

Benjamín Vanegas sings lead on “Román Román” with a fun and enjoyable style.  The chorus is really catchy. The middle has an extended spoken part.

If you’re a little rusty on your college Spanish classes, the extended narration in “Román Román” tells the tale of a village man who has healing powers and challenges death.

For the final song “Mi Buenaventura” Fernando Hurtado sings.  It is a fast song with the marimba going wild.  I really appreciate how very different each singer’s style is amid all of this fun percussive music.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Kid Positive”

I really enjoyed Adam Levin’s massive book The Instructions.

This story is the first thing I’ve read by him since that, and while I love his writing style I hated the content of this story.

Each section of the story shows a year in Adam’s childhood with a title to accompany it.  Like Shitty Little Tevye, Big Brother, 1980.

In this flashback, we see a young Adam enjoying it when his parents had friends over to dinner.  He would crawl through their legs to get to the bathroom and they would joke…  Is there a dog in here?  On one occasion, he came back from the bathroom singing what he thought was his father’s favorite song “If I Were a Rich Man.”  (It wasn’t his favorite song).  Adam sang it and the adults all thought it was cute except for his father, who said “Okay.”  But he didn’t mean it, it wasn’t okay.  Adam climbed back under the table and continued to sing and his father said “he’s acting like an idiot, a real fucking idiot.”

In Puppet, 1981 a puppet that Adam enjoyed watching on TV said “I think therefore I am.”  This existential phrase upset Adam and he worried that if the puppet thought he was real, how did he know if anyone was real.  Maybe his mother was a puppet too.

The Rabbits, 1982 section is a terrible part about baby bunnies dying.

In Turtle and Sensei, 1984, there;s a story about a dying (probably) turtle and how he wanted to name it Mergatroid.   The other part is a bit funnier–about his family going to see a sensei perform a demonstration. His father did not believe it–saying the board was perforated.

Adam told people about this event and then made up that at the end of the demonstration his father went to shake the sensei’s hand but then pulled him close and whispered in his ear.  When he let go, the sensei looked afraid.

In The Frost and the Frogs, 1985-86 he talks about throwing his cat.  What the hell is wrong with this story. They also kill a snake.

In Hum, 1988, all of the kids push Giles Crowley because when they do he would said “Hum.”  So they would shove him to see how many Hums he would say.  If they shoved him harder and he stumbled four steps, he would say “Hum um um um.”  It’s possible he enjoyed the attention.

Throughout, the narrator says things like

Had you asked me if I thought Giles Crowley had feelings, I would probably have told you that I had feelings because that would have addressed what I would have thought you were secretly trying to get at with your question and I’d have wanted you to know that I was smarter than you.

The story ends with Splash Pad, 2015.

Adam is grown up and married.  They are hanging out with friends who have kids at a Splash Pad–a giant fountain for kids to frolic in. The kids have a great time. The pleasure is contagious and Adam realizes that he is positive about kids–he is kid positive.

Adam was so pleased with the way the kids played so nicely that he told his friends that kids now played so much nicer than they did when they were kids.  He hoped these good childhood memories would foster

deep with them greater capacities for kindness and decency than the people of our generation possessed and that, down the line, these greater capacities for kindness and decency would grant these kids the strength they’d need to neutralize and overcome what would otherwise be our generation’s malforming influence and eventually turn the whole country, perhaps even the whole world, into a safer and friendlier place.

Are you making fun of our children, they asked.

Its nice to see that a seeming sociopath like that kid actually turned out okay.  But I’m still not a fan of this story.

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SOUNDTRACK: MEGAN THEE STALLION-Tiny Desk Concert #918/Tiny Desk Fest October 28, 2019 (December 2, 2019).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 28th was rap night featuring Mega Thee Stallion.

I’ve heard a lot about Megan Thee Stallion and how she is raunchy and sexually explicit and how what she’s doing is revolutionary.

And I’m for her bragging the way men brag and showcasing women’s needs and desires.  I think it’s fantastic.

Megan’s lyrical content lies in subverting established sexual dynamics, and no matter the level of raunch she deploys, empowering women remains the artist’s manifesto.

But wow, I found that by the middle of the first song I was overwhelmed by the language.  Now, I’m not prudish by any means, and I listen to songs with all kinds of language.  But the barrage of four-, five- and six- letter words was just nonstop.  Honestly it just seemed to lose any impact and seemed pretty monotonous by the third or fourth song.

But clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about because

the brilliant and bodacious rapper has ascended to major festival stages, become one of the most sought-after features on other stars’ songs and electrified late-night television audiences.

I will say that she comes across as really fun and joyful while she’s bantering

Of course, most of her bantering was bragging about which of her songs have gone gold or platinum.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing to me is that this was her first performance with a backing band.  Because I found her band was everything in this set.  I couldn’t imagine seeing her yell

I keep it realer than real
Fuck all the critics and fuck how they feel
I’m getting money, it is what it is
They wanna know how I did what I did
Don’t worry ’bout why I do what I do (bitch)
‘Cause I ain’t worried bout you (bitch)
Nah, I don’t wanna be cool (bitch)
Still hanging with the same crew (ay)

without a live band to back her up.  I mean, jeez, that would just be somebody standing on a corner ranting.  I got tired of men singing things like that years ago, so even if it’s cool for her to turn it on its masculine head, it’s still just yelling and bragging.

Her band is Phony Ppl, who played a Tiny Desk Concert last March and who I liked quite a bit.  The band is Elbee Thrie on vocals (and genral hype), Elijah Rawk on guitar, Maffyuu on drums, Aja Grant on keys, Bari Bass on bass.  I’m unclear if Ebony Joi is with Ppl or Megan, but she sings some lovely backing vocals.

And I totally agree with this idea (although I won’t compare her without the band)

From “Hot Girl Summer” to the platinum-selling “Cash S***,” Hot Girl Meg’s raunchy hits took on new life thanks to a live backing band, Brooklyn’s Phony Ppl, who seamlessly blend jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

I liked the horror-movie sounding music of “Realer.”  I was amused that she described “Big Ole Freak” as more chill but it’s still raunchy.

Elbee Thrie sings the chorus on “Hot Girl Summer” (and I can’t believe she doesn’t have him singing along all the time).

Midway through the spirited set, Megan and Phony Ppl surprised the audience by premiering an unreleased collaboration, a bouncy banger titled “F*****’ Around.” After the first verse/chorus, the adoring crowd was singing along as if they’d known the song for years.

Thrie sings the lyrics and it really doesn’t seem like Megan does all that much, so I’m nit sure how much of a collaboration it is.  Although she likely wrote the lyrics, since she says “We don’t condone that shit, but sometimes….”

The final song is about how much money she’s got.  There’s some cool guitar licks on it.

So, despite all the raves for Megan Thee Stallion, I won’t be buying any of her mixtapes.  But then I am clearly not the target audience.

[READ: February 28, 2020] Fight Like a Girl Vol. 1

Never has my desire to like a story been so undermined by its execution.

This book was advertised in Princeless and, since it was also by Action Lab Comics and was clearly a feminist story, I was all over it.

But oh, the execution.

The book opens in a kind of black and white chamber.  It looks like a courtroom with the characters are talking to the heroine.

The characters are: Tartarus, Chronos, Apollo, Loki, Mercury, Fortuna, Fulla.  I can’t decide of this Pantheon of gods is meant to be multicultural or if it’s weird that the first four are Greek, Mercury and Fortuna are Roman, and Loki and Fulla are Norse,

And it’s in these pages that the typos begin. So many typos!  Which is weird since I suspect the book is hand lettered.

There’s some missing periods, an errant comma and then this line “and more importantly has the chance to be the next, artisan. [sic].”

But back to the plot, the judges have decided that Amaroso’s wish is acceptable and she will return in five days to enter the wishing well.

Then we flashback. Amarosa is talking to her boyfriend Kaiden saying that her brother is dying.  She has tried everything and her last resort is the wishing well.  Kaiden is concerned about what will happen if she fails but he convinces himself and her that she won’t fail.  She can’t.

Next, Amarosa is in the wishing well with nine trails to attempt.

But the real typo problems come with the fairy that is assisting her on her trials.  From awkward phrasings like “your nine trials awaits [sic] your grand arrival” to “let me run you down with [sic] the rules.”

Typos aside, the rules are simple.  Amarosa chooses a door and fights what is inside.  If she defeats the creature, a new door appears and she moves on through the nine trials. If she loses. Well, you know. (more…)

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