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Archive for December, 2013

[LISTENED TO: December 29, 2013] A Christmas Carol

patAfter enjoying the play of A Christmas Carol, we decided that since we were on a longish trip for Christmas, that we’d listen to the audiobook and see what was different.  The kids were certainly less engaged than a more kid-friendly book, and that’s understandable—the language is pretty opaque from time to time.  But I was pleased at how they were able to tell where we were in the story (as compared to the place) most of the time.

I felt that the play was different, so i was listening for them.  I don’t know anything about the adaptor of the play and his choices to change things—I don’t even know if the version we saw is a standardized version of the play (I feel like next year we should see it somewhere else for comparison).  But there were more than a few things that were changed. (more…)

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fivedials_no30SOUNDTRACK: Random songs at the roller rink (December 29, 2013)

skateWe went rollerskating on Sunday and they played all kinds of pop hits.  They played “Dancing Queen” and “YMCA,” sure, but they also played a lot of recent big hits.  And I said to myself either I have grown more tolerant of pop songs or pop songs are simply better than they were in the 80s and 90s.

Because I thoroughly enjoyed hearing “Gangnam Style” (perhaps a pop song where you don’t know the words is really the way to go) and “What Does the Fox Say?” (or perhaps when the words are so preposterous).  “Blurred Lines” is incredibly catchy (although it would be better without the offensive lyrics).  I also enjoyed “Call Me Maybe” which is treacly sure, but the melody is super catchy and “Rolling in the Deep” because Adele kicks ass.

Of course when I looked at the list of #1 hits for 2013, I literally didn’t know any of them (except “Blurred Lines” and “Royals,”) so maybe pop is not what I think it is.  Maybe I just like YouTube sensations.

Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!  Happy New Year.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Five Dials #30

I was surprised to get this issue of Five Dials just as I was reading the other recent ones.  It allowed me to finish up Five Dials and the year at around the same time.  This issue introduces a new graphics editor: Antonio de Luca and he really changes the look of the magazine.  (He also used to work for The Walrus).  Rather than pictures being centered in the page, they spread from one page to another (which works well online but less so if you print it out).  The illustrations are also much bolder.

This is a short issue (which I appreciated).  And it does what I especially like about Five Dials–focusing tightly on one thing, in this case Albert Camus, who I like but who I have not read much.  It’s his centenary and many things have been said about him, so what else is there to say?  They find two things worth saying.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Tony, On Dean, On Camus, On Algiers
Taylor talks about the illustrations of the issue–they were spray painted on walls by an Algerian-French collective known as the Zoo Project.  The new editor took photos and then Photoshopped away the extraneous stuff to leave us with just the graphics–giving them a permanence that they would normally not have.  Taylor also says goodbye to Dean Allen, the outgoing art director.  Then he gets to the heart of this issue: Albert Camus and Algiers (where Camus is from).  Curtis Gillespie decided to go to Algiers to find out how much the people there know and love Camus (and he found it to be a much more difficult trip than he imagined). (more…)

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fivedials_no29SOUNDTRACK: BOB & DOUG McKENZIE-“The 12 Days of Christmas” (1981).

bob & dougThis is my preferred old school version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  It was one of the first parodies of the song that I had heard (and I was big in parodies back in 1981).

I loved how stupid they were (on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a beer).  I loved trying to figure out what a two-four was, and it cracked me up that they skipped a whole bunch of days.

I also enjoyed how they continued to snipe at each other throughout the song.  Not comedy gold perhaps (that would be “Take Off” recorded with Geddy Lee, but a nice way to start, or end, the season on these “mystery days.”

Evidently, decades after SCTV went off the air, Bob & Doug got an animated TV show (without Rick Moranis).  And they made a video of the song. Hosers.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2oPio60mK4]

[READ: December 3, 2013] Five Dials #29

Five Dials Number 29 was the first issue I had read in a while.  (I read this before going back to 26-28).  And it really reminded me of how great Five Dials is.  I don’t know why this isn’t Part 2 after Number 28’s Part 1 (there was no 28b either), but that’s irrelevant.  This is an independent collection of great writing.  I was instantly surprised and delighted to see that César Aria was included in this issue (I didn’t even know he had made inroads in England).

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: In Swedes and Open Letters
Taylor’s usually chipper introduction is saddened by the contents of this one.  The discussion centers on Sweden and the city of Malmo, where integration is proving to be tougher than they’d hoped.  Black skinned people are profiled pretty explicitly.  Taylor talks about meeting the writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri (who they subsequently published in issue 21) who deals with issues of race.  In March of 2013, Khemiri wrote an open letter to Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask after she brushed off concerns about racial profiling. The letter went viral including getting translated into 15 languages.  So I guess there is some positivity after all. (more…)

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fivedials_no28SOUNDTRACK: PHINEAS AND FERB-The Twelve Days of Christmas (2010).

phineasWhile The Bird and the Bee has become my new favorite serious version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, this Phineas and Ferb version is my new favorite silly version of the song.  Sure it’s especially funny for fans of the show but, as anyone who has seen the show knows, Dr. Doofenshmirtz is comedy gold and so his wishes for Christmas and his updates and concessions (and the fact that he is a traditionalist) absolutely make this worthy of repeat listens.

[READ: December 19, 2013] Five Dials Number 28

Five Dials #28 is vaguely thematic–about heroes.  Some items are literal (the writers-as-heroines drawing), some are speculative (my favorite conceit–the stories of quickly killed side characters in movies), and some are unrelated at all–the guy who helped out Will Self.  This issue was launched from Sydney, Australia.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Heroes and Convicts
Taylor talks about everything mentioned above and then talks about Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore and his primer on modern art: The Shock of the New (which has an accompanying documentary series). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BIRD AND THE BEE-12 Days of Christmas (2008).

The+Bird+and+the+Bee++la+classeI first heard a bit of this song in a Sephora a few years ago.  Then they played it on New Girl (in two separate Christmas episodes).  But I never knew who the artist was. Then some kind soul pointed me to the band and lo, I found the track.

I don’t know much else about the Bird and the Bee, but this is hands down my favorite rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas.  In addition to the great, groovy sound (which reminds me of the Cocteau Twins), I just loved how…different the song sounded.  Turns out, according to their soundcloud page, “we changed the song so that every repeat is a completely different progression.”  I love it.

The song never gets boring and her voice is simply gorgeous.  I only wish it was available for sale or download or something.

[READ: December 16, 2013] Five Dials #27

I was a little harsh on Five Dials Number 26, but overall, it still kept up the greatness that has been Five Dials.  And #27 keeps up the excellence.  Since Five Dials likes globetrotting, this issue is based in and around Greece, the county that is in tumult.

This one also has letters from Our Glorious Readers.  One of the readers sensibly comments that the Berlin issue would keep her busy throughout the winter.  Wish I had doled mine out better.  I feel that Toronto gets a little knock from the editors who seem to think it is not as cool as Berlin.  I also enjoyed the reader’s description of Peter Stamm’s writing as being like skiing.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Timelines and Greek Photographs
Taylor talks about the timelines that tend to appear in newspapers, most of which seem to talk about the collapse of something or other (like the Greek economy).  After visiting Athens, Five Dials felt it was time to bring some Greek writing to English readers. The letter talks about the contents within and gives good context to Dimitris Tsoumblekas’ photos which are quite good but are even better when you know what they are doing–especially the one about his father. (more…)

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fivedials_no26SOUNDTRACK: BOB DYLAN-Christmas in the Heart (2009).

220px-Bob_Dylan_-_Christmas_in_the_HeartI have been a dabbler in Dylan over the years.  I like his hits, I like some of his albums, but I’ve never been a huge huge fan.  So the biggest surprise to me was that Bob Dylan now sounds like Tom Waits.  His voice is so crazily gravelly, it’s almost (almost) unrecognizable as Dylan.

That said, on some of the tracks it works very well–like he’s had too much to drink and is enjoying the revelry of these traditional songs.  I imagine him as a benevolent uncle trying to get the family to sing along.  And sing along they do.  He has a group of backing singers who sound like they are straight out of the forties and fifties (on some songs the women sing incredibly high especially compared to Dylan’s growl).  I’m not always sure it works, but when it does it’s quite something.

The first three songs are a lot of fun. However, when he gets to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” it really sounds like he has hurt himself.  He seems to really strain on some of those notes–note the way he pronounces “herald” (heeerald).

The more secular songs fare better with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sounding especially Waitsian and being all the better for it.  Although I feel that perhaps he made up some lyrics–“presents on the tree?”  It’s interesting that in “O Come, All Ye Faithful” he sings the first verse in Latin (I don’t know that I’ve heard any other pop singers do that) and it works quite well.

A less successful song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in which the music just seems to be too slow for him.  His verses end early and it seems like the backing singers are just out in the middle of nowhere.  Perhaps the best song is “Must Be Santa.”  I love this arrangement (by Brave Combo) and Dylan has a ton of fun with it (and the video is weirdly wonderful too).

“Christmas Blues” is a bit of a downer (as the title might suggest).  I’d never heard this song before and Dylan is well suited to it.  Dylan’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” is also very good–he croons gently and his voice sounds really good.  I was surprised to hear him do “Christmas Island,” a song I have come to love this year–his version is quite fun as well, with the backing singer doing Aloha-ays.

Finally, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is pitched a wee bit high for him (and the Waits voice is more scary than avuncular here).

So overall it’s a weird collection (to say nothing of the artwork–both the cover and the inside cover), but I think it’s well suited to the day after the festivities.

[READ: December 15, 2013] Five Dials #26

I was shocked to realize who many Five Dials issued I had put off reading (and that this one came out over a year ago!).  I knew 26 was a large issue, so I put it off.  And then put it off.  And then put it off, until Issue 29 came out.  (I read 29 before this one, which got me to jump back and tackle this large one).

I have to admit I did not enjoy this one as much as previous Five Dials.  The bulk of the issue was taken up with German short stories, and I don’t know if it was the choices of the editors, but (a few) of the stories just didn’t grab me at all.  Having said that, there were one or two that I thought were very good.  But with this being such a large issue, perhaps it deserved to be spaced out a little better–Weltanschauung fatigue, no doubt.

This issue starts with Letters from Our Glorious readers and other sources.
I feel like this is a new feature for Five Dials (although again, it has been a while).  There is applause for the Bears (From Issue #24) and the acknowledgement of Zsuzsi Gartner’s first adoptees of her story ideas (Issue #25 Pt 1).  There’s also the amusing story of a guy who got nailed at work for printing the color issue (something I used to do at my old job as well) and a refraining of answering spam.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Ewen and German
Taylor doesn’t say much in this intro, since the “heavy lifting” is done by Anna Kelly.  He does mention Paul Ewen (and his food writing) and the first Five Dials questionnaire (which I assume it is too late (and too far away) for me to submit for that free HH book).

ANNA KELLY
She explains about wanting to know secrets, and how when she was little, learning Pig Latin was a such a huge boon to her secretive life.  Then her sister started studying German, and Anna herself was hooked.  She says that reading German works in German is like flying.  And she wants to share German language writers with us.  Of course, we won’t be reading them in German, so there will be no flying.  (more…)

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hawk SOUNDTRACK: BAD RELIGION-Christmas Songs (2013).

brThere’s been plenty of press about this Bad Religion Christmas album.  Greg and Brett have been interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

So what is a Bad Religion fan to make of this disc?  Bad Religion has, as its name states, no tolerance for any religion, especially Christianity.  So what the hell?

Well, as anyone who has grown up in America knows, these songs are ubiquitous.  But more importantly, these songs are quite good.  So why not give a try at punking them up.  What I appreciate about his album is that the band plays these songs absolutely straight.  Whatever their beliefs, they do not mess with the songs.  (I have absolutely enjoyed mocking versions of these songs, and I have many many goofy versions of them, but Bad Religion has never been goofy, so they sound like real Bad Religions songs–lyrics aside).

And so we get fifteen minutes (seriously) of great respectful punk renditions of traditional religious and secular Christmas songs.  In true Bad Religion form, the songs barely make it over 2 minutes long, but the lyrics are completely understandable and their harmonies are outstanding.  (Bad Religion has always had great harmonies but they are used to wonderful effect here).  Their version of “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing” is amazing (even if I find it unsettling that some of his rhymes are weird (like that he pronounces it BethleHAIM to rhyme with proclaim).  The acapella opening is really impressive (Brett was in choir as a kid).  When the band hits the line where the drums play a counterpoint (for just one line), it’s really fantastic.  “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is just straight out punk.  “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” features some great backing vocals.  The Ramones-feel of “White Christmas” is a weird touch, but their delivery is spot on.

“The Little Drummer Boy” (a song I’m not terribly fond of in general) is quite good in this rendition–especially after hearing Brett say how complicated the measures are in this song.  It’s hard to do a bad version of “Angels We Have Heard on High” when you can harmonize as well as this band does.  And their version is great (I love the backing vocals on this as well).  Theirs is certainly the most aggressive version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” I’ve ever heard (and I rather like it).  And “What Child is This?” has a solid riff to start with (it’s interesting to hear it on the guitar).  And again, the chorus is stellar.

They finish off the album with a remix of “American Jesus” a very anti-religion song (and perhaps a palette cleanser).  I didn’t notice how it is a remix, but it still sounds good.

Of course if you don’t like punk, you won’t like this, but I was really impressed with the care they put into these renditions.

[READ: December 24, 2013] Bad Santas

This book looks at the history of Christmas, but specifically at the creatures who caused mayhem and violence during the long winter holidays.  Indeed, our “traditional” Christmas celebration is a relatively new construct (you will be shocked to see how new it actually is).

kallikantzaroi_free_christmas_by_gpapanto-d5or453In Greece, during the twelves days of Christmas, goblins called Kallikantzaoi would steal things, destroy property and even abduct children.  In Finland, an evil goat called Joulupukki would demand gifts and punish evil children (he has since been turned into basically Santa Claus.

krampusAnd in parts of Italy and Germany, the witch Perchta would climb down the chimney.  But instead of giving presents to children, she would rip out their intestines and replace them with straw and stone.  (There’s a wonderful doll of Perchta here).  And anyone who has recently since the Grimm Christmas episode now knows of Krampus who is not only a real Christmas creature, (meaning Grimm didn’t make him up), he is still active and you can get Krampus cards.

(more…)

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