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.
SUSAN STRAIGHT-A touching letter (and photo) about her son Sensei Straight.
JASON POLAN-Polan writes to Kinko’s to express appreciation for the good job an employee named Mia has done. But he takes a very lengthy detour into why he doesn’t have a gym membership. Wonder if this was ever actually sent to Kinko’s.
DAVID LIDA-A letter about Peña Nieto whom Lida imagines will be the next President of Mexico. [And indeed he is the new President of Mexico–I don;t know when Lida wrote the letter, but it was before the election].
JOHN FLOWERS-A strangely erotic letter about flogging and Jesus Christ Superstar.
CIROCCO DUNLAP-Dunlap found long lost letters signed T.M. and assumes they must be from Timothy McSweeney. Ergo, they are related. Ergo, spread the wealth, man.
THOMAS McGUANE-“River Camp” with illustration by Matt Rota
Two old friends who have been frosty to each other as of late go on a kind of wilderness survival experience. Their host is clearly crazy and probably really unqualified. The story grows more and more surreal as the host does odder and odder things. But this does not bring the two closer. Then catastrophe strikes, in the form of bears. And everything changes. The tone was rather funny despite how dark the story proved to be, and the ending was really quite a surprise.
AIMEE BENDER-“Wordkeepers” with illustration by Gracia Lam
I really enjoyed this kind of silly (but really not) story about forgetting words. (“I can’t remember the words of things. The words for words… What’s this from? Is it the internet? Texting?”) This proves especially difficult as she is a teacher. The ending is very good.
STEVEN MILHAUSER-“American Tall Tale” with illustration by Kelsey Dake
This is an audacious tale indeed. Milhauser has created a Paul Bunyan story to rival all of the traditional stories. He really gets the tone and style down and although there is a somewhat more absurdist angle than the proper tales, it works very well as an actual Bunyan tale. The crux of this one is that Paul has a lazy skinny brother. He can eat a half of a pea and the energy of eating it puts him right to sleep. Paul is disgusted by this slugabed and on his regular visits challenges him to any content. Finally the brother challenges him to a sleeping contest. Naturally, Paul sleeps in the Grand Canyon (which he fills with all manner of bedding). The contest is a nail biter and goes on for years. I really enjoyed this and really enjoyed Milhauser’s dedication to keeping the story in the tradition of Bunyan tales.
VIVECA MELLEGARD-“A Land Rush in Iran”
This is a nonfiction piece which looks at property and building laws and practices in Iran since the 1978 revolution. It was a fascinating look at one aspect of a country in turmoil.
JESS WALTER-“The Wolf and the Wild” with illustration by Matt Rota
As this story opens Wade McAdam finds himself explaining futures trading to a drug dealer named Ricky. They are both on highway cleanup duty–both for getting caught at their “jobs.” After Wade serves his time (he still had plenty of money from his schemes), he decided to volunteer helping kids to read. Wade gets really involved with a few of the kids, and one in particular who seems to really need a father figure–a boy who only wants to read the same book over and over again. The story becomes really quite affecting by the end. I really enjoyed this one.
DEB OLIN UNFERTH-“Stay Where You Are” with illustration by Gracia Lam
This story is something of a fictionalization of Unferth’s memoir Revolution. If I had not read it so recently I may not have made the association so quickly, but it’s hard not to. This story concerns a young woman who goes into strife-riddled countries with her boyfriend/husband. She doesn’t really want to do it any more (it has been years and years since they have been in one place for any time) but he uses a kind of emotional blackmail to keep her at bay. The big difference with the fiction is that they are held at gunpoint for much of this story, bringing an interesting edge to their experience (especially when we get into the mind of their captor). Although I had a hard time distancing the story from the memoir, I still enjoyed it.
HENRY BEAN-“The Virago” with illustration by Kelsey Dake
This story was one of my favorites in the issue. I know it’s set in Hollywood and it’s all about producers and agents backstabbing, but the story was compelling and complex and has some delightful twists and turns. It also made me look up the word “virago.” AND, it had a character named Clark. That’s a good story!
J. MALCOLM GARCIA-“What Happens After Sixteen Years in Prison?”
In this non-fiction piece, Garcia looks at sisters who were convicted of a crime which they did not do. And how sixteen years of prison has impacted them.
JOWHOR ILE-“Afternoon Street” with illustration by Kelsey Dake
This story is three pages long. It’s about a fever dream and it reads like it. I fear I didn’t get it.
RYAN BOUDINOT-“Robot Sex” with illustration by Matt Rota
This story is about X-37 and his attempt to hook up with the new robot in the office iQ520. At first I thought that this was going to be a silly story about robots having sex in a human world, but Boudinot twists the story into something else entirely. By the end, I was totally on board with the story and I was delighted by the twist ending.
SIBYLLA BRODZINSKY AND MAX SHOENING-“You Can’t Live With the Doubt”
Another brutal nonfiction piece, this one about cocaine trafficking in Colombia.
JOHN BRANDON-an excerpt from A Million Heavens
I’m not sure that I like McSweeney’s issues including excerpts from the novels they publish. Of course, hell, they can do what they want, so why not promote a book they are particularly proud of, but I’d rather read something new. Anyway, this was new to me, as I have A Million Heavens but haven’t read it yet. The excerpt was a little confusing (I don’t know where it comes in the story) as the first part is about a sentient (kind of) wolf. The second part doesn’t seem to have any connection at all, and yet by the third part, the pieces gel nicely and it really made me want to jump into A Million Heavens. Well done, McSweeney’s.
Flynn talks a bit about aboriginal authors. The history of the few writers to garner mainstream appreciation and the new momentum that is behind young authors now. I really didn’t know what to expect from these stories. So I was a little surprised to see how “normal” they were–just regular people with regular problems. The one constant thread was alcohol and how that has impacted the community–much like with Native Americans.
TONY BIRCH-“The Promise”
In this story a man’s wife leaves him because he drinks too much. He promises (as he has promised before) to take the pledge to stop drinking. This time he has a friend who has swiped a bunch of the official forms which show that someone has taken the pledge. He shows up (drunk) to his wife’s parents house with the form, but things take a surprising turn. I was really engrossed in the story although the ending was a little odd.
EILEEN VAN NEERVEN-CURRIE-“S & J”
Esther and Jaye are a couple. They pick up a German woman named Sigrid who is… what, hitchhiking? and she proves to cause some trouble between them. This story was unusual in that I had a really hard time keeping details straight for the beginning of the story, and I’m not entirely sure if I know everything that happened. But really enjoyed the intensity of it. And the way the story turned near the end was very cool, too.
TARA JUNE WINCH-“It’s Too Difficult to Explain”
This is a story about Vincent, an incredibly fast runner who was about to represent Australia in the Beijing Olympics. He has great success in his home country, which is very important to him given his broken upbringing. He starts to date a woman who comes from a normal upbringing. When they go to her mother’s house, he realizes how much he does not fit in with their life and he feels judged by her mother. The story gets dark very quickly which explains why the beginning of the story shows him working a dead end job instead of training for the Olympics.
This story sounds like something you’d see on TLC (except the protagonists would be white trash rather than blackfellas). A woman “takes in” a neighbor’s daughter because the girl’s mother who is a nurse is also a junkie. Jesus. There’s a fight and everything. It was interesting to see that this sort of thing is universal.
This was another great issue from McSweeney’s. Although I appreciate that I learn a lot from the nonfiction, I’m starting to not look forward to it because it is inevitably a tale of woe. How about an occasional nonfiction piece that is either informative or funny? I mean, they’ve got the Voice of Witness series to handle the bummer news, right? But the fiction was consistently enjoyable and the art was really beautiful.