Posted in All Songs Considered, Dead Can Dance, Death, End of the World, Graphic Novel, History, Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, KCRW 89.9 FM--Santa Monica, CA, Smarty Pants, Violence, War on April 24, 2013 |
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SOUNDTRACK: DEAD CAN DANCE-”Children of the Sun” (Live at KCRW, April 24, 2013).
Dead Can Dance are timeless. Their music sounds ancient and modern at the same time. And Brendan Perry’s voice has an unearthly majesty to it that never seems to age.
I’ve known the band for decades (during which time they have broken up and reunited and broken up and reunited). And in all that time, while their sound has changed in subtle ways, the band is instantly recognizable. I’ve never really thought of them as a live entity–they just seem like such a creation of the studio that it would be impossible to do justice to their wash of music live. Of course that was truer three decades ago before it was easy to fit an entire orchestra on an iPod.
You can watch this song on NPR. It’s fun to watch a band with two keyboardists (and Lisa Gerrard on…autoharp?) and see all of them making very different sounds. The only disappointing thing about watching this is that they have so many cool instruments strewn about which do not get used on this song (you can see the whole show here and watch him bust out that bouzouki).
This song is a new one and it doesn’t have quite the ponderous nature as their older material. Which is a bit of a shame, as they were so over the top it was fabulous, but maybe they’re just settling into New Old Age.
[READ: April 20, 2013] Trinity
Sarah brought this book home because it was on YALSA Hub Reading Challenge for 2013. I’m unlikely to do the challenge as I have so many other books to read, but I have already read 5 of the required 25. Not too bad, although since the challenge is from Feb to June and I read a couple last year, I don’t even qualify for some of the ones I DID read. Anyhow, she told me I’d like this and she was right (as usual).
Trinity is the story of the development of the atomic bomb done as a graphic novel.
It outlines how we came to develop and test the bomb and of course, the aftermath of its use. What I liked about the story is that leading up to the detonation of the bomb, the quest for its discovery is presented in a fairly neutral way. Essentially, once it was discovered that we could split the atom, it was deemed inevitable that someone would make a bomb out of it. It stood to reason that if Hitler or the Japanese figured it out before us they would use it on us (since we were at war with them). The intention was that America would be decent and not use it with impunity (which is not to say we wouldn’t use it at all). The book presents that American can do spirit that the forties seem to be all about–a sort of gee whiz, let’s figure this out mentality.
I knew some of the history of the bomb, but there was a lot here that I didn’t know: that thousands of people moved to New Mexico to work on the bomb—housing was put up and families moved in, some 80,000 people in all. And most of the people had no idea what they were working on. It’s hard to fathom that there were thousands of people whose work helped to create a nuclear bomb and yet they can feel neither pride nor shame because they had no idea that’s what they were doing. Weird. (more…)
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Posted in All Songs Considered, Biography, Book Reviews, Books about writers, David Foster Wallace, Free Speech, Funny (ha ha), George Orwell, George Plimpton, History, In These Times, Interview, Jacques Derrida, Jill Krementz, Joe Perro, Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Marriage (Happy), Martin Amis, Morrissey, Norman Mailer, Playboy, Ralph Ellison, Religion, Roberto Bolaño, Short Books, Sports, Stop Smiling, Surfer Blood, The Nation, The Paris Review, U.S. Airways Magazine, Uncategorized, Violence, War on March 28, 2013 |
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SOUNDTRACK: SURFER BLOOD-”Demon Dance” (Live at SXSW, March 27, 2013).
I’ve liked Surfer Blood since I first heard them. They write catchy, mostly short, poppy songs. And usually after a few listens, the hooks really grab you. The strange thing about the band is that the hooks aren’t always readily apparent, which makes their songs sound kind of samey sometimes.
Of course, samey isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Surfer Blood is quite distinctive and I tend to enjoy everything they do. This new song sounds like their other stuff, which is fine. But the most distinctive thing about the band of probably their singer who sounds like a less-affected Morrissey.
Having also listened to the song from the album I can say that the singer is far harder to understand live, so maybe live is not the best way to hear a new song from them, but for an old favorite, Surfer Blood has a great energy live.
Watch the show here and hear the studio version here.
[READ: March 27, 2013] The Last Interview and Other Conversations
Melville House has published a number of these “Last Interview” books, and as a completist I feel compelled to read them. I have read criticisms of the series primarily because what the books are are collections of interviews including the last interview that the writer gave. They don’t have anything new or proprietary. The last interview just happens to be the last one he gave. So it seems a little disingenuous, but is not technically wrong.
There’s so far five books in the series, and I figured I’d read at least three (Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolaño–the other two turned out to be Jorge Luis Borges–who I would be interested in reading about and Jacques Derrida (!) who I have always loved–I guess this series was tailor made for me).
At any rate, these interviews are from various times and locations in Vonnegut’s career. There are six in total. I don’t know if the titles they give here were the titles in the original publications but here’s what’s inside:
- “Kurt Vonnegut: The Art of Fiction” from The Paris Review, Spring 1977 (by David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes)
- “There Must be More to Love Than Death” from The Nation, August 1980 (by Robert K. Musil)
- “The Joe & Kurt Show” from Playboy, May 1982 (by Joseph Heller and Carole Mallory)
- “The Melancholia of Everything Completed” from Stop Smiling, August 2006 (by J.C. Gabel)
- “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut” from U.S. Airways Magazine (!!!), June 2007 (by J. Rentilly)
- “The Last Interview” from In These Times May 9, 2007 (by Heather Augustyn) (more…)
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Posted in Adrian Tomine, Africa, Alex Robinson, Alison Bechdel, All Songs Considered, Anarchy, Ander Nilson, Archer Prewitt, Art Spiegelman, Ben Katchor, Books about music, Books about writers, Boredom, Bud Fischer, Bust, Canadian Content, Charles Burns, Charles Schulz, Chester Brown, Chip Kidd, Chris Ware, Chris Ware, Collecting, Comic Strips, Consumerism, Corporate skewering, Culture Shock, Daniel Clowes, David Collier, David Heatley, David Lasky, Death, Debbie Dreschler, Depression, Dreams, Drinking, Drugs, Essays, Esther Pearl Watson, Excerpt, Funny (ha ha), Funny (strange), Gary Panter, Gay/Lesbian, Ghosts, Gilbert Hernandez, Gilbert Shelton, Glen David Gold, Graphic Novel, History, HOB, Huh?, Ira Glass, Ivan Brunetti, Jaime Hernandez, Jeffrey Brown, Jesse Reklaw, Joe Matt. Seth, Joe Sacco, Joel Priddy, John McLenan, John Porcellino, John Updike, John Woodring, Jonathan Bennett, Julie Doucet, Justin Hall, Kaz, Kim Deitch, Kurt Wolfgang, Lili Carré, Lloyd Dangle, Louis Reil, Lynda Barry, Malachi B. Cohen, Mark Beyer, Mark Newgarden, Marriage Trouble, Masturbation, McSweeney's, Memoirs, Michael Chabon, Military, Milt Gross, Oddities, Olivia Schanzer, Parts & Labor, Philip Guston, R. Crumb, Rebecca Dart, Richard McGuire, Richard Sala, Rick Geary, Rodolphe Töpffer, Ron Rege, S. Kierkegaard, Seth Tobocman, Sex, Short Story, Sonic Youth, Supernatural, Surreal, Tim Samuelson, Tom Hart, Violence, Virginity (Loss of), War, William Faulkner, World Cafe Live on January 29, 2013 |
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SOUNDTRACK: PARTS & LABOR-Stay Afraid (2006).
Parts & Labor have changed t heir style over the years going from noisemakers who have a melody to being melodious noisemakers. This album is one of their earlier releases when noise dominated. Right from the opening you know the album is going to be a challenge. The first song has pounding drums (electronics that sound like bagpipes) and heavy distorted shouty vocals. By the end of the songs there is squealing feedback, punk speed drums and screaming distorted vocals (complete with space sound effects). It’s an aggressive opening for sure. Song two opens with a long low rumbling and then ”Drastic Measures” proves to be another fast-paced song.
“A Pleasant Stay” is 5 minutes long (most of the rest of the album’s songs are about 3 minutes). It continues in this fast framework, although it has a bit more open moments of just drums or just vocals. The way the band plays with feedback in the last minute or so of the song very cool.
“New Buildings” has a hardcore beat with a guitar part that sounds sped up. ”Death” is a thumping song (the drums are very loud on this disc), while “Timeline” is two minutes of squealing guitars. ”Stay Afraid” has a false start (although who knows why–how do these guys know if the feedback sounds are what they wanted anyhow?). The song ends with 30 seconds of sheer noise). The album ends with the 5 minute “Changing of the Guard” a song not unlike the rest of the album–noisy with loud drumming and more noise.
The album is certainly challenging, it’s abrasive and off putting, but there;s surprising pleasures and melodies amidst the chaos. Indeed, after a listen or two you start to really look forward to the hooks. If you like this sort of thing, this album s a joy. It’s also quite brief, so it never overstays its welcome.
[READ: April 15, 2011] McSweeney’s #13
I have been looking forward to reading this issue for quite some time. Indeed, as soon as I received it I wanted to put aside time for it. It only took eight years. For this is the fabled comics issue. Or as the cover puts it: Included with this paper: a free 264 page hardcover. Because the cover is a fold-out poster–a gorgeous broadside done by Chris Ware called “God.” And as with all Chris Ware stories, this is about life, the universe and everything. On the flip side of the (seriously, really beautiful with gold foil and everything) Ware comic are the contributors’ list and a large drawing that is credited to LHOOQ which is the name of Marcel Duchamp’s art piece in which he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa. It’s a kind of composite of the history of famous faces in art all done in a series of concentric squares. It’s quite cool.
So, yes, this issue is all about comics. There are a couple of essays, a couple of biographical sketches by Ware of artists that I assume many people don’t know and there’s a few unpublished pieces by famous mainstream artists. But the bulk of the book is comprised of underground (and some who are not so underground anymore) artists showing of their goods. It’s amazing how divergent the styles are for subject matter that is (for the most part) pretty similar: woe is me! Angst fills these pages. Whether it is the biographical angst of famous artists by Brunetti or the angst of not getting the girl (most of the others) or the angst of life (the remaining ones), there’s not a lot of joy here. Although there is a lot of humor. A couple of these comics made it into the Best American Comics 2006.
There’s no letters this issue, which makes sense as the whole thing is Chris Ware’s baby. But there are two special tiny books that fit nearly into the fold that the oversized cover makes. There’s also two introductions. One by Ira Glass (and yes I’d rather hear him say it but what can you do). And the other by Ware. Ware has advocated for underground comics forever and it’s cool that he has a forum for his ideas here. I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose from him before. (more…)
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Posted in Airlines, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Community, Deadwood, Essays, Frou Frou, Glee, Groundhog Day, Heroes, History, imogen Heap, Keep My Grave Open, Memoirs, Pranks, Stephen Tobolowsky, That 70's Show, The Mindy Project, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Theater on January 17, 2013 |
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SOUNDTRACK: iMOGEN HEAP-Speak for Yourself (2005).
I really liked Heap’s first album i Megaphone, but I didn’t really think to much about her after that. Sometime last year I heard a track she was in with Frou Frou, which I liked. So I thought I’d get this album which was highly regarded.
The problem with it is that I have listened to it a bunch of times, often several times in a row and it really just never sticks with me. I keep relistening to see if it ever does but it’s just a kind of nebulous dancey pop. Heap has an interesting voice–she can hit major highs, but she can also do a raspy voice that is unusual and intriguing. But I suppose the problem is that there’s so much going on that she is effectively lost in the sound.
The standout track is “Hide and Seek” but that’s because her voice is manipulated by a vocoder, making her sound like a machine. It’s a very cool effect, especially when she hits a very high note, but it can’t really be a good sign that the most memorable track on the album is the one where you sound like a machine.
This is not to say that the album is bad–there are a number of interesting moments on it, unfortunately there aren’t a lot of great songs. When I was looking this disc up to see other comments about it, I see that it was very highly regarded in the dance genre. And maybe given those parameters I should revise somewhat as well. As dance music this is more interesting than your average four on the floor stuff. I can see how it led to the duet of Frou Frou. And yet, compared to i Megaphone, I fear that it’s a lot less exciting.
[READ: January 12, 2013] The Dangerous Animals Club
I don’t often read autobiographies or memoirs. I really never even look for them. But I was waiting online at the library and this book jumped out at me. I don’t really know why. The title is kind of interesting and catchy. And the author’s named seemed, if not familiar, then at least compelling in a very-long-and-Polish-or-Russian way. So I started flipping through it. And it sounded interesting.
But who the hell is Stephen Tobolowsky? Well, if you have seen just about any movie or TV show, you have seen him. He has been in a ton of things. He was in Groundhog Day, he was in Heroes, he is in Glee, he was in The Mindy Project briefly. Community? yup. The New Adventures of Old Christine? you bet. Deadwood for a lot of the show. That 70′s Show for one episode. He was in the unaired pilot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He was even in a 1976 movie called Keep My Grave Open!
So who is he? (more…)
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Posted in Adventure, Boredom, Children's Books, Clark Debraski, End of the World, Fantasy, History, Mad Scientists, Phineas and Ferb, Technology, Tony Abbott, Waffles on December 16, 2012 |
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SOUNDTRACK: PHINEAS AND FERB-The Twelve Days of Christmas (2009).
To get you in the mood for the holidays, I present The Phineas and Ferb Twelve Days of Christmas. Each character gets a wish, even Perry. And of course, Ferb’s wish on the 12th day is great.
Obviously, Doofenschmirtz is the comic relief of the song (although most of the wishes are funny in themselves). Doofenshmirtz hilariously wishes for the entire tri-state area and then slowly backs down to one state, admitting he was overreaching at the beginning.
I can’t find a video from the show, but there are plenty cobbled together on YouTube. Like this one. Enjoy!
[READ: July 2012] Time Surfers series
We’re still working through all of the different Tony Abbott series. And this series, Time Surfers, is another early collection of eight books about young kids going on adventures. This series was also difficult to find (although it has recently come back into print (with much better illustrations). The think I have yet been able to figure out about Abbott’s earlier series–they seem like he planned to do more. Or more specifically, they seem unfinished. I wonder if he gave up or if the publishers gave up on him.
So this series seems to have a few arcs in it. New villains emerge, which is interesting, although as Clark pointed out, what happened to Vorg from the first four books, he just seemed to go away.
Book #1, Space Bingo starts the series in an interesting way (Tony Abbott’s exposition is always interesting–indeed all of th ebooks open up with a scene the seems to be one thing but is revealed to be something else). Ned Banks has moved to a new city far away from his home and his best friend. He has to start a new school and he’s not too happy about it. His sister has been calling him Nerd instead of Ned and the nickname is starting to spread, especially since such bad luck things are happening to him in school. So he does what any clever kid would do–he creates a communicator (and tells his best friend Ernie how to make one) so that they can talk to each other whenever they want (and not have phone charges!). When Ned turns the communicator on, however, it opens a time portal in his closet and two kids from the year 2099 come flying out. (more…)
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Posted in Aimee Bender, All Songs Considered, Boredom, Cassandra C. Jones, Chris Flynn, Death, Deb Olin Unferth, Drinking, Drugs, Eileen Van Neerven-Currie, Essays, Excerpt, Funny (ha ha), Funny (strange), Gracia Lam, Henry Bean, History, J. Malcolm Garcia, Jess Walter, Jesus Christ Superstar, John Brandon, Jowhor Ile, Kelsey Dake, Letters, Marriage Trouble, Matt Rota, Max Shoening, McSweeney's, Memoirs, Native Americans, Racism, Robots, Ryan Boudinot, Sex, Short Story, Sibylla Brodzinsky, Steven Milhauser, Swans, Tara June Winch, Thomas McGuane, Tony Birch, Track, Violence, Viveca Mellegard, War on December 14, 2012 |
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SOUNDTRACK: SWANS-Live at All Tomorrow’s Parties, October 2, 2011 (2011).
Before Swans released this year’s amazing The Seer, they toured supporting their previous album (with a number of songs from The Seer included). This set has two songs from The Seer, “The Apostate” and “The Seer, Pt 1″ together they comprise 50 minutes of the nearly two hour show. The set also includes “No Words No Thoughts” (24 minutes) and “Jim” (a teeny 6 minutes) from 2010′s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. The final track is an eleven minute version of “I Crawled” which goes all the way back to 1984′s Young God EP.
I would never have thought of Swans as a jam band, and yet here they are, with 5 songs in 2 hours. Although unlike jam bands, they aren’t showing off their musical chops or noodling solos, they are created expressive and moody soundscapes–not as scary as in days of old, but very intense nonetheless.
The set sounds great, although I imagine this would be more enjoyable to watch than to listen to (there a great swaths of music where there’ s not a lot happening). I wonder what Gira is doing during these stretches. My friend Phil (or Phillipe Puleo as Gira calls him here) plays drums on the album and on this tour, and I have to say he must be exhausted–man he hits the drums hard.
I listened to this show before I heard The Seer, but it didn’t prepare me for what the album would contain. Now having heard that album, I appreciate this live show even more–they really master these long songs. I am going to have to try to see them the next time they swing by. I admit I used to be afraid at the thought of seeing them because their early music was so intense, but this seems to be a different Swans now, one that an old man like myself could even handle.
The set is no longer available on NPR.
[READ: December 10, 2012] McSweeney’s #41
The cover of this issue has a series of overlapping photographs of lightning. I didn’t really look at it that closely at first and thought it was an interesting collage. Indeed, Sarah said it looked like a science textbook of some kind. But when I read the colophon, I learned that Cassandra C. Jones finds photographs of lightning and (without manipulating them digitally) places them together so that the lightning bolts create shapes. And indeed, that is what is going on. And it’s amazing!
The cover’s pictures create a greyhound running (front and back covers show different stages of the run). There’s also circles and a rabbit running. It’s incredibly creative and very cool. You can see some of her work at her site.
The feature of this issue is that there are four stories from Australian Aboriginal Writers, a group that I can honestly say I have never read anything from before. There’s also beautiful art work accompanying most of the longer stories, three gritty non-fiction pieces and some letters, most of which aren’t very silly at all.
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Posted in Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky, Chess, First Aid Kit, History, Indigo Girls, KEXP 90.3 FM--Seattle, WA, Lara Vapnyar, New Yorker, Russia, Short Story, Swedish Music on October 18, 2012 |
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SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-Live on KEXP, April 1 2012 (2012).
I’d never heard of First Aid Kit before listening to this set. They are primarily comprised of two Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg– although there are other musicians on the album and live here. And they’re quite a formidable band. They play a kind of folkie alt-country, but when the two sisters harmonize (one with a slightly disconcerting low voice) is sends chills up my spine The chorus of ”The Lion’s Roar”: “I’m a god damned coward but then again so are you” makes the hairs on my next stand up. ”Emmylou” really highlights their songwriting skills. They talk about this song in the chat with the DJ, and she admits that she wasn’t sure if the metaphor worked, but the DJ and I agree it does.
The harmonies on “Blue” are just spectacular and the subtle application strings and glockenspiel really flesh out the sound. I’m thinking of them as a maybe a more dynamic/indie sounding Indigo Girls.
They DJ also mentions their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” which has garnered the attention of Fleet Foxes (and millions of views). You can add to that number :
You can also hear their set.
[READ: October 16, 2012] “Fischer vs. Spassky”
This story opens with the unusual note that Marina cried for a long time after her husband died–she would bite her arm in grief, leaving marks that looked like “irregular postage stamps.” Her husband died 30 years ago and she can still feel the marks tingle.
I say that note was unusual because the story is a flashback that is brought on by the death of Bobby Fischer. Marina remembers back to the monumental chess match between American Bobby Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky. Although most of Soviet Russia supported Spassky, many Russian Jews supported Fischer because of the freedom he represented.
Indeed, Marina and her husband followed the match very closely and her husband even made a pact that if Fisher won, they would flee Russian for America. Marina didn’t believe that he was serious, so she went about her daily life as any practical person would. (more…)
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SOUNDTRACK: SISKIYOU-”Bad Days” (2012).
Siskiyou has had some medical problems and have canceled their recent tour. They are also going on a brief haitus. This is a shame as after their second album, they really had momentum and they sounded better than ever.
As a kind of peace offering to fans who would not be able to see the band, they recorded a cover of The Flaming Lip’s “Bad Days.” The cover souds remarkably like the original, with one big difference: rather than squalls of feedback, Siskiyou uses only piano. And it works very well, getting down to the basics of the song and sounding a bit like Wayne Coyne singing.
It’s a nice tribute and a nice “until later”
[READ: August 27, 2012] Agapē Agape
I have a long history with this book.
I was working at Baker and Taylor, a book supplier, when this book was released. Some of the higher ups were able to get free books from the publishers they dealt with. The guy who dealt Viking was not the friendliest guy, but since B&T paid absoluet crap wages, I was going try to get any books I could for free. So, I asked for this book. It was embarrassing enough to walk in and say this title with confidence, since I knew how it was pronounced (yes I took Greek in college), but knew he didn’t. After some groveling, his reaction led me to think I wouldn’t be getting it.
But lo and behold a few weeks later it was sitting on my desk.
And now, ten years later, I’ve finally read it.
In JR, Jack Gibbs is writing a book with the name Agapē Agape, it is a jumbled history of the mechanization of the arts, starting with the player piano. JR was finished in 1975–who knows for how long he had been working on it until then. According to the Afterword of this book by Joseph Tabbi, Gaddis was pretty all-consumed by the idea of the player piano. (It’s really quite an obsession).
This book is the culmination of all of Gaddis’ work on the player piano and how it removed all of the artistry from music (this theme of art and mechanization is in JR as well). But rather than write this as an essay, which he didn’t think would be very effective, Gaddis decided to make this a novel. I admit to not really knowing if he finished it–Gaddis died in 1998. While it doesn’t feel unfinihsed, I’m just not sure if he was “done” with it. (more…)
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SOUNDTRACK: FUJIYA & MIYAGI-Live at Gibson Showroom, New York (2008).
This set is available for Download from KEXP. I don’t know Fujiya & Miyagi all that well, but I really enjoy everything I’ve heard from them. They place a keyboard-heavy, almost-dance music, but they use a lot of guitars to propel their songs further.
The most noteworthy thing about the band is the vocals–they are whispered (and often nonsensical–”Vanilla, strawberry, knickerbocker glory”) but the whisper seems to make the song move faster somehow–adding an almost sinister edge to the tracks (although sometimes it can feel sensual as well–it’s a neat trick).
This show has five songs from the album Lightbulbs–and it’s their first tour with a live drummer, which adds a nice complexity to their set. One of these days I’m going to have to check out their studio releases.
[READ: September 8, 2012] “My Journey to the Outer Limits of Funk”
Here’s another author I admire writing a short piece in Rolling Stone. This one, unlike Lethem’s recent contribution, is about something he himself has done. This article is a kind of music-based background explanation of his new book, Telegraph Avenue.
The premise of one of the plotlines is that two guys work in a record store, Brokeland Records, and are aficionados of jazz. But he felt that was kind of dull, so Chabon delves into how he was able to get his characters to feel more interesting. He didn’t wan them to just be “into jazz”–blah–he needed to add even more details so that they were more than just jazzies. So he talks a bit about what he learned from Wax Poetics a magazine that refracted black popular culture through hip hop. (more…)
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