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Archive for October, 2015

[ATTENDED: October 28, 2015] Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical

bobI have been a fan of Woody Allen’s movies since I took a class on him in college circa 1991. I loved the movie of Bullets Over Broadway which was a fun period piece (1920s) that starred John Cusack and Dianne Wiest among others.  The script was punchy and funny and addressed issues of morality and art.  And there were gangsters too.

Who would have guessed that the 1994 movie would have been turned into a musical twenty years later.  Evidently Allen did not want it turned into a musical until the idea of using songs from the period was introduced (with modified lyrics) and then he agreed.

The show ran on Broadway for about five months, which seems like it must not have been well received.  And yet, it did garner 6 Tony nominations and there were many positive reviews.  I don’t know enough about Broadway to know if a five month run means anything.  The Broadway version starred Zach Braff and Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy from The Sopranos).

The touring version of the musical is listed as Non-equity (I had to look up to see what that meant).  The long and short of it is that it means that you won’t have heard of anyone in the performance.  The director is also different.  I don’t know if that means things are very different from the original production.  I had read that typically a non-equity show has a lower budget, but I was quite impressed with the sets in this one.  The “train” was amazing, and I really liked the way they created the rooftop and the car and several other scenes. (more…)

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1959SOUNDTRACK: TOM TOM CLUB-Tiny Desk Concert #82 (October 6, 2010).

tomtom Tom Tom Club were a side project of the rhythm section of the Talking Heads.  They had a hit with their song “Genius of Love” (you’d know the melody instantly).  I’ll be honest–I thought they only had one album out, but I see they had quite a few out and had recently re-formed and put out new records.

This set contains three songs.  “Wordy Rappington” which was on their debut, but which I’d never heard of.  I am shocked to see that it was a double A side with “Genius of Love.”  The song is a kind of amusing rap with a chorus of the children’s song “A Ram Sam Sam.” It is very kid friendly.

I will also be honest that I didn’t like The Tom Tom Club when they came out.  So even though I know the melody of “Genius of Love” I don’t know the song very well.  It’s kind of amusing though in that it name checks all kinds of musicians.  At one point they repeat “James Brown” over and over and then climax with “hit me!”

The music is surprisingly spare: an acoustic guitar or two, some bongos and an accordion (which plays the “Genius of Love” melody).

“Only the Strong Survive” is a cover of song by zydeco band The Franks.  Lead vocals and washboard are supplied by Mystic Bowie.

The band is having a ton of fun.  Considering Talking Heads were always kind of serious it’s nice to see Chris and Tina being silly..

[READ: September 29, 2015] The Complete Peanuts 1959-1960

This book marks more or less the ten-year anniversary of the first Peanuts strip.  Even though Patty (not Peppermint Patty) is on the cover, she gets very little time in the book.

The big news in this book is the arrival of Charlie’s little sister Sally!  In May of 1959 Charlie’s mom goes to the hospital for a few days.  And then Charlie is a proud big brother.  For a time, Snoopy is jealous and acts like a “fuzzy baby.”  However much Charlie talks about Sally, we don’t actually see her until August!  On a random Sunday Charlie is seen pushing her in her stroller (and missing out on baseball because of it).  There’s no really babyness for Sally.  She has a bottle, but while we saw a lot of baby time for Linus, there’s hardly any for Sally.  In fact, in October Snoopy gets her to dance.  And much later she gives Schroeder a hard time when he won’t play a lullaby for her.

She doesn’t really come into the picture all that much.  But by August of 1960, Sally thinks (still no speaking) that Linus is the cutest thing and has hearts floating around her when she sees him.  Charlie even has to wonder what’s going on here.  But Linus says, “I’m almost five years older than she.” (more…)

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zoltar SOUNDTRACK: LOST IN THE TREES-Tiny Desk Concert #82 (September 23, 2010).

itt I thought I knew what Lost in the Trees sounded like, but this Tiny Desk Concert changed everything I thought I knew about them.  Band creator Ari Picker studied film scoring which must explain the cinematic scope of the band.  For this set the band includes, a violin, two cellos, two brass instruments, accordion and percussion as well as Picker’s acoustic guitar.   There’s 7 people in the band altogether.

I love the way “All Alone In An Empty House” builds several times and comes crashing to an abrupt hall before starting again.  I also love the hauntingly beautiful operatic backing vocals from the accordionist.  Lyrically, the song is creepy and compelling (“where’s the baby, I must be crazy”).  I love how the strings take the lead at one point and then the horns take over and back again.  It’s very dramatic and it runs to nearly 6 minutes.

“Song For The Painter” opens with gentle acoustic guitar and pizzicato cello strings.  Then there’s some dramatic violin and delicate xylophone.  This song is also rather dark (“to the painter with no arms… if I ever find my heart darling, I promise to come home again”) but the music is so uplifting.

“Time Taunts Me” has a sing-a long part (he says they want to reenact a Flaming Lips concert that he went to recently, although they don’t have a screen with a rocket ship blasting off.  This song is mostly string based with great dramatic flourishes and runs almost 7 minutes.  It is just wonderful the way it builds.  And the singalong is amazingly catchy.  I definitely need to hear more from them.

[READ: October 27, 2015] The Eye of Zoltar

Book Three was several years in the making, so I’m kind of glad that I only finished book two a few months ago.

Although Book Two seemed to wrap up pretty nicely, there were of course several unresolved threads.  But Book Three is more or less its own entity.

In fact, our heroes leave Kazam and the Kingdom of Snodd for most of the book.

The book opens with Jennifer Strange talking about having to capture a loose Tralfamosaur (love the nod to Vonnegut there).  Seems that Kazam’s magic caused the walls of the containment cell to fall apart meting this most ferocious beast loose in the city.  They capture it with the help of The Magnificent Boo, who always wants to help animals if she can.  She decides to transport the Tralfamosaur to the Cambrian Empire, where “danger vacations” are a big business.  And one of the most lucrative is Tralfamosaur hunting.

In the previous books, some characters were killed (and some are in this one as well), but to start with, a new character is added.  Jennifer is invited to castle Snodd where King Snodd (not a nice guy) and his wife Queen Mimosa (a super nice lady) are waiting.  They have a task for Jennifer–turn their snotty nosed, spoiled rotten princess into a respectable human being.  And the Queen assures that this will be done by doing mind swap on the Princess and having her switch places with the handmade Laura Scrubb.

Soon after, Jennifer is given the titular plot of the book.  The Mighty Shandar comes out of his granite hibernation once in a while for important business and this here is such a business. He tells Jennifer that her work with the dragons (in previous books) has caused him embarrassment and financial hardship.  He has half a mind to kill those last two pesky dragons.  But he says he won’t if she is able to find the mythical Eye of Zoltar–a super powerful gem that can turn the possessor into lead.

Through the work of the remarkable Kevin Zipp, Kazam’s clairvoyant, they deduce that they might get some information about the Eye’s whereabouts if they go to the Cambrian Empre and talk to ex-sorcerer Able Quizzler who is said to have seen it when it was around the neck of Sky Pirate Wolff.  Of course all of the people in question are questionable in their truthfulness (or even in their existence).  But our team decides to set out for the possible fictional Leviathan’s Graveyard to see if Sky Pirate Wolff’s lair is there.

Leviathans by the way are lighter than air beasts who can fly but are the size of whales.  No one is even sure if they exits because they are basically translucent.  Neat.  Oh and since they are heading to the Cambrian Empire, they might want to get the Magnificent Boo out of jail.  Seems that she was arrested for illegal transportation of a Tralfamosaur.

And so Jennifer, Perkins and the Princess set out for the dangerous Cambrian empire.  It is very dangerous but quiet regulated–you will mostly likely be kidnapped or robbed, but your assailants will always explain whey they did it and may even give you a receipt.  Our team will need a guide, and soon enough on turns up in 12-year-old Addie Powell, a powerful tracker with an excellent success rate.

Addie says that they will succeed but there will be a 50% death rate in their party.  Not liking those odds, Addie picks up a few more stragglers–really reprehensible people like Gareth (a guy I thought was just being a jerk because he was really someone in disguise, but no he’s just a jerk).  And his friend Ignatius, a cowardly fool.  And their third friend Ralph.  They were all just looking for adventure and possibly the option to score some hits of magic.  When Ralph starts doing hits of unspecified magic, his life is spared by Perkins, but the only way that can happen is by resetting his DNA–turning him into a caveman,

Since there are always people wandering bout, the party picks up another person–Wilson the ornithologist.  He has a fascinating story to tell about his past which explains why he is here now.

About midway through the book, the real trek begins–they set out for the Empty Quarter, a truthfully named area where there is basically nothing.  But they have had some trouble along the way–Perkins was kidnapped and Addie swore she would get him back.  But they haven’t seen either of them for a few days.

When the newly numbered team arrives in their first destination Llangurig we find a number of strange things afoot–like a war between two railroad companies.  This war has gone on for centuries and has resulted in countless death , all in the hope of winning a lucrative contract with the city.  And the whole town seems to exist only to place bets on who will win.  Oh and the princess (who looks like a handmaiden) was captured, but because her financial acumen is so good (there are hilarious stories of futures and the market) she actually comes out ahead in the deal.

After all is tidied up the screaming members of their party head out for the final leg of the venture–the mountain of Cadir Idris and the possible Leviathans graveyard.

When they finally reach the foot of the mountain they learn a secret about why the top is so hard to see.  They also learn that it is being guarded by drones and that no one has returned alive in years.

Will anyone survive this adventure (the 50% death rate proves to be distressingly accurate) and what about this Eye of Zoltar.  Will they find it?  And more importantly, if they do, hoe will they carry it?

One thing that I love about these books is that Fforde throws in little details throughout the book that seem like they are just funny moments, but they all pay off later on.  The princess’ economic savvy, Ralph’s handbag and the fact that no news is able to travel beyond the borders of the Cambrian Empire.

And then he has little funny details like the Isle of Wight being a drivable island which goes on reconnaissance missions, or that the best way to communicate is through a homing snail.  Or that the dragon is named Colin.

When their quest (it was upgraded to a quest even without telling the Quester’s guild), is finished, there are still surprises waiting for them.  Like remember how the trolls were proven to be not so scary in the last book?  Well, that may have been exaggerated somewhat.  Because the Mighty Shandar has very specific plans ahead.  Plans which means that the princess may have to put her new leadership skills to the test sooner than she could have imagined.

And many other surprises which will be dealt with in Book 4.

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kazam2 SOUNDTRACK: EEF BARZELAY-Tiny Desk Concert #81 (September 20, 2010).

eefEef Barzelay is the singer and songwriter for the band Clem Snide.  I’ve never listened to them–I was turned off by the name. But I’m really curious to hear what they sound like because Barzelay’s voice is really quite nice and his song writing skills–both musical and lyrical are really good.

For this Tiny Desk it is just Eef and his guitar (in addition to records with Clem Snide, he has released some solo albums).

The first song “With Nothing to Show Of It” has great lyrics and a wonderful delivery.  I was instantly hooked to Eef after this song started.

The second song, “something Beautiful” has a fun jaggedy melody.  This song is a bit darker, with wry, amusing lyrics.  I enjoy how the verse, which has been a series of “You make me want to…” ideas ends with “You make me want to break… something beautiful.”

During a pause, Bob asks him about his office experience.  He says he never worked in an office but he watered plants in an office (most of his clients were in the Twin Towers–yipes).

“We Are Flowers” is a Clem Snide song that never made it onto a record—he says it’s a deep cut, and a  very NPR kinda song.  Upon hearing this, Bob is concerned but Eef says he means it in the best way. And the lyrics are “we are flowers blooming in the dark…we can save the world in our beds tonight.”

The final song, “Denver” is dark and surprising.  And yet he plays it on a baritone ukulele, which takes some of the darkness out of the music.

Sometimes you can’t judge a band by its name.

[READ: June 1, 2015] The Song of the Quarkbeast

Book One ended with a satisfying wrap-up but left a rather sad moment lingering.

But this book has moved on from the events of book one by…about a week.  So not much has changed since Jennifer Strange became the Last Dragonslayer and averted a huge disaster.

Well, except that she’s not really the Dragonslayer anymore–there doesn’t appear to be a need for one at the moment.  So she is still working at Kazam, trying to keep the wizards in working order.

The book starts off with a suspiciously generous case–the magicians are asked to find a ring for a wealthy person.  It’s an easy gig.  But when they try to get the ring out of the ground, magical forces fight against them pretty hard.  They do succeed (which almost costs Tiger Prawns his life), but Jennifer refuses to give the ring over just yet–something is unsavory about this deal.

At the same time, Lady Mawgon is trying to hack into the Dibble Storage Coils.  They are a storage facility that houses untold amounts of magic.  If the house can access it, they will never have a shortage of magic again.  The problem is that when Lady Mawgon tries to hack in, as soon as she determines the passthought (think about it), a curse immediately turns her to stone.  Rats. (more…)

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kazam1 SOUNDTRACK: ALISA WEILERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #80 (September 15, 2010).

alisaI have concluded that the cello is my favorite solo classical instrument and Alisa Weilerstein plays a beautiful cello indeed.

She plays three songs: two pieces from Bach and one from Golijov.

I can’t speak to specifics about Weilerstein’s style or skills, but she plays beautifully.

J.S. Bach: “Bourree & Gigue” (from Solo Cello Suite No. 3)
Osvaldo Golijov: “Omaramor”

[READ: May 15, 2015] The Last Dragonslayer

I have loved Jasper Fforde’s books.  His Thursday Next series is brilliant (and I plan to re-read it someday).

This is the first book of his 4 part (not a trilogy!) YA series (called The Chronicles of Kazam) and it was fantastic.

The story is about Jennifer Strange.  Jennifer is a foundling who has been working for the past four years at Kazam Mystical Arts Management.  Foundlings from The Lobster are sent for indentured servitude for six years.  She has been quite successful at Kazam and when the owner Zanarerilli disappeared several months ago (she wont say how) she has basically been in charge of the building.  Not bad for a 16 year old  (well, she’ll be sixteen in a couple of months).

Kazam is in the Kingdom of Hereford in the Ununited Kingdoms.  Kazam is the home to some of the most powerful wizards alive.  Sadly there aren’t that many left.  Magic has slowly been dying and as the magic goes so goes the fancy titles of the wizards.  And now you have to fill out all kinds of paperwork every time a wizard is going to cast a largish spell.   They are stuck doing basic magical deeds for people–lifting illegally parked cars, magically rewriting houses, etc.

Also in the house is the Quarkbeast–the most ferocious creatures every created. Well, at least he looks that way.  He is actually quite sweet. (more…)

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dragonsSOUNDTRACK: THE NELS CLINE SINGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #78 (September 7, 2010).

nelsNels Cline has played guitar with Wilco for over a decade, but he has also played with punk rockers and jazz musicians.

The Nels Cline singers are an instrumental collective  that consists of Cline on guitar, upright bassist Devin Hoff and distinctly jazzy drummer Scott Amendola (he plays a lot of percussion including hitting a cymbal with what looks like a chopstick).  They also have special guest Yuka Honda from Cibo Matto on keyboards.

Cline gets some great sounds out of his old beat up guitar (I have genuinely never seen anyone play harmonics on the guitar in the manner that he does).

The music is airy and spacey (especially “B86 (Inkblot Nebula)” which features bowed bass and interesting sounds from Honda and a fascinating array of bell and cymbals on the drum set.

For “Thoughts on Caetano” he switches guitars.  Unfortunately the video seems to keep cutting out around this point so the rest of the show has to be on audio only.  But the sounds that they create are very cool and interesting.

The biggest surprise to me in these pieces is that they are mostly fairly short.  They seem like they could be side-long explorations, but “You Noticed” comes in around 4 minutes or so, and “B86” is only around 3 minutes as is “Thoughts on Caetano.”

The final song has a more jazzy feel.  Complete with a  bass solo and some very interesting drum sounds (I wish I could see how he’s doing them).  This last song is the longest it’s about 7 minutes.

I was really surprised by this Tiny Desk–I had no sense of what Nels Cline would play, and it was a real treat to hear.

[READ: August 19, 2015] Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales

Obviously death has never stopped anyone from releasing books.  So here is one of the first collections of posthumous stories from Sir Terry Pratchett.

Interestingly, these are stories from when Terry was a young lad.  This is a selection of children’s stories that were first run in the Bucks Free Press (he was a junior reporter).  They are simple but clever, with lots of ideas that Pratchett would explore in greater details as he got older.

There are 13 stories in the book, and they explore variations on Pratchett’s themes like that the unfamiliar is not the enemy (necessarily) and that people can and often will be surprised by how others react.  He also has some a story idea that would blossom into the carpet people stories later on.

“Dragons at Crumbling Castle” (1966) is a story of everyone overreacting when they find a dragon in the castle  (it proves to be a little baby dragon).

“Hercules the Tortoise” (1968) is the story of a brave tortoise who crosses his pond.

“The Great Speck” (1969) is an interesting story of huge worlds on tiny specks and how even they can be territorial

“Hunt the Snorry” (1966) is  a very funny story about brave hunters going in search of an elusive thing which proves to be something else entirely (and which they inadvertently catch).

“Tales of the Carpet People” (1965) is similar to the Speck story in that it talks about very small people living in a carpet and their adventures as they try to see the world beyond (the dreaded linoleum).  I actually found this first story to be kind of dull and confusing, but I can see how it became the basis for greater things.

“Dok the Caveman” (1966) invents all kinds of things but they usually go wrong–nevertheless the inventions themselves are pretty spectacular.

“The Big Race” (1968) differs from all the other stories in that it is about technology (although it is very Pratchettian in the end).  It proves to be a race between a gas-powered car and a steam-powered car (and anyone else who wishes to join the race and cheat if necessary).

“Another Tale of the Carpet People” (1967) was more successful perhaps because they actually got off of the carpet and met new people.

“The Great Egg Dancing Championship” (1972) was a funny story about how cheaters never win (and about dancing on eggs).

“Edwo the Boring Knight” (1973)  Sometimes boring people to sleep can be your greatest weapon.

“The 59A Bus Goes Back in Time”  (1966-67) This story was fun in its time travel (going to the major historical epochs) but more so because of the way the locals reacted to the bus.  And that the bus should always try to stay on schedule.

“The Abominable Snowman” (1969) had a lot of fun with the conventions of exploration and how easy it is to derail a planner.  It also works with the idea of a very tiny creature that everyone is searching for.

“The Blackbury Monster” (1968) is all about how fame may not be the best thing for a small town after all.

“Father Christmas Goes to Work” (1973)  How is Father Christmas supposed to make any money on the other 364 days of the year?  Get to work!  But what can he possibly do?  Not much it seems.  (There’s a happy ending of course).

The text is manipulated to make it very kid friendly (large print when people yell, different fonts, dark pages when it is a dark scene, that sort of thing.  It also has illustration by Mark Beech, but I found them to be really basic sketches.  I would have loved to see more by Pratchett artist Paul Kidby.

I tried to imagine my kids enjoying these stories, but I didn’t really think they would.  Perhaps because they aren’t British and it isn’t forty years ago.  But I enjoyed them.  And each one brought a smile to my face.

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borgesSOUNDTRACK: SEU JORGE-Tiny Desk Concert #79 (September 13, 2010).

seuSeu Jorge was the melancholy singer in Wes Anderson’s movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He sang the David Bowie songs and was amazingly soulful and brought a completely unexpected quality to the Bowie songs.

He plays these five songs with his band Almaz.  For reasons unclear to me only one of the songs is on the video, but the other four are available in audio format.

He sings three songs in Portuguese, and his voice is husky and passionate, so even if you don’t know what he’s singing about, you can feel the emotion.

The first song in English “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” has a cool trippy 70s vibe, with some cool keyboards.  Although I don’t love his version of “Rock with You” which I imagine was super fun to sing, but it’s so different from the Michael Jackson version that it’s hard to reconcile the tow.

  • Cirandar” (Audio Only)
  • “Saudosa Bahia” (Audio Only)
  • “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” (Audio Only)
  • “Pai Joao”
  • “Rock With You” (Audio Only)

[READ: October 19, 2015] The Last Interview and Other Conversations

I have never really read any Borges (a piece here and there sure, but I have his Collected Fictions waiting for me and just haven’t gotten to it. However, when I saw this book at work I decided to give it a read. I have very much enjoyed the other books in The Last Interview series (there are ten and I have read four) so I thought I’d like this too, and I did.

Borges is a fascinating individual. He was legally blind from a youngish age and was completely blind by the time of the last interview. He was humble (but not exactly humble—he genuinely didn’t think he was that great of an author). He was a pacifist (remaining neutral even in WWII) and basically spent his whole life immersed in books.

This book contains three interviews

“Original Mythology” by Richard Burgin (from Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, 1968)

“Borges and I” by Daniel Bourne, Stephen Cape, Charles Silver (Artful Dodger 1980)

“The Last Interview” by Gloria Lopez Lecube (La Isla FM Radio, Argentina, 1985) [translated by Kit Maude] (more…)

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