Gem Club is a quiet band. During this set there are three members: Christopher Barnes on keyboards and lead vocals, cellist Kristen Drymala and vocalist Ieva Berberian (who is eerily silent and still for much of the performance).
The first song, “Animal” features Barnes on keyboards, playing a simple melody and Drymala, playing a low and loud cello to accompany (when her first note comes in, it’s really striking). She also sings a wonderful harmony vocal. Barnes’ voice is almost a whisper, but between his voice and the vibrato on the keys, it sounds really big (but still quiet). I really enjoyed the way the only “melody” she played on cello was at the very end of the song–a brief riff to signal the end.
“Breakers” opens with some rough cello playing and then a gentle echoed keyboard. Ieva Berberian didn’t do anything in the first song, she just hovered mysteriously in the background. But for the second song she hits occasional tambourine notes (which sound practically like explosions amid the delicate echoing keyboards). Perhaps the most interesting part of the song is watching Drymala tap on some colorful bells with her foot to create a lovely melody.
For the final song, “252” Barnes says it is kind of a beast, (although it doesn’t sound any more complex than the previous two to me). The piano is echoed and Ieva Berberian finally sings backing vocals. Her voice is a little haunting and it works very nicely with Barnes’ voice. The melody is beautiful.
Incidentally, the blurb says that this is the first time they’ve amplified a singer’s voice (they ran his voice through a chorus pedal to give it that otherworldly echo). I have been listening to a lot of loud music lately, and this was a perfect counterpoint.
[READ: December 20, 2015] History’s Naughty Bits
This is the kind of book that promises to be very funny. And then it turns out to be mostly funny but also rather scholarly. Which is not bad thing, it’s just not as raucous as one might have imagined.
Dolby begins by dismissing the idea that “naughty” things are a recent invention and then proceeds to go through the history of human culture to show examples of things that would certainly be considered naughty today (some are quite shocking).
She starts with Classical Greece where women were expected to remain chaste, except for hetairai, high-class courtesans, who were well-educated and respected. That’s some choice. Adultery was considered less of a sin if was committed with a prostitute.
Roman women has a little more freedom. Lucretius a roman poet said that the best position for conception was to approach the woman from behind with he loins lifted high. They also shouldn’t move at all or enjoy any of it. Adultery was forbidden for women but not for men (which led to a lot of women becoming prostitutes).
On an unrelated note: Romans also used a mixture of goat’s milk and urine to whiten their teeth.
The Romans also has a puerile sense of humor. Like how the minor god Priapus is distinguished by his oversized erection. The Romans also created Bacchus. But that’s child’s play once you get to the stories of Tiberius and Caligula who regularly committed incest with his sisters and also selected his partners from his married dinner guests.
The Middle Ages are more known for their rules and restraint. St Augustine made sex dirty–he believed it should be done only in marriage and not for enjoyment. And yet for all of that, he believed that prostitutes were necessary–take away the sewer and you will fill the palace with pollution.
In England King Henry III established a red light district with places called “stewes” which were technically boarding houses, not brothels.
The most entertaining section about the middle ages comes from the street names (which have since become more respectable). There were many Cock’s Lane and Codpiece Lane. There was even a Gropecunt Lane (since renamed Grape lane). Similarly, in Paris there was Rue Trousse Puteyne (the slut’s slit) and Rue du Poil au Con (Street of cunt hair) which is now called Rue de Pelecan.
The middle ages also introduced chastity belts (marrying a virgin became a pinnacle of importance).
Prostitutes always held magical powers though. Many people believed that sex with a prostitute ensured immunity from infection of the Black Death.
Dolby then moves on to Popes and Saints–flagellants and the Inquisition (which also focused on immoral behavior and sexual sins). But there were also the Borgias and the convoluted and depraved tales of Cesare and Lucrezia’s depravity
It was Henry VIII who passed the two strictest laws limiting sexual freedom. He passed the Buggery Act of 1533 (defined an unnatural sex act including sodomy, incest, bestiality and witchcraft. Speaking of Henry, there is a whole chapter about the royal family and their need for and acceptance of mistresses. Many of their mistresses even went on to considerable public prominence. Charles II’s mistress Barbara Villiers, became a hugely powerful figure at the court. Women learned that they could move ahead by sleeping with the King.
There’s also the fascinating story of Nell Gwyn. She was originally an orange seller, then she became an actor and then became another mistress of Charles II. Her most famous comment came when she was mistaken for the kings’ French Catholic mistress while riding in a carriage. But she shouted, “Good people. You are mistaken, I am the protestant whore.” Despite some of the interesting stories in this section, I found it a little too long.
No book about this subject would be complete without a look at the Marquis de Sade, whom she says was not as debauched as tales would have us believe.
The chapter intriguingly titled Poodles and Panthers and is actually more about prostitution than anything else, with origins of the words to jilt (jilt was a mid 17th century word for harlot) and hooker (which came from General Joseph Hooker’s fondness for a row of bawdy houses which came to be known as Hooker’s Row).
Other establishments of vice were coffee houses, Parisian bordellos and bagnios. Casanova visited a bagnio and says “a rich man can sup, bathe and sleep with a fashionable courtesan… It makes significant debauch and only costs six guineas.”
Through the eighteenth and nineteenth century homosexuality was treated in a an out of sight out of mind way. Dolby then gives some details accounts of Oscar Wilde’s more famous dalliances.
She moves on to people’s letters and diaries which are full of wonderfully detailed accounts of intimacy. She spends a lot of time with Samuel Pepys’ diary which is detailed and apparently unafraid of revealing information. And of course James Boswell the biographer of Samuel Johnson. Boswell was an enthusiast of London’s seedier underside. There are also letters Ben Franklin, including his list of reasons why you should prefer sex with older women than younger ones. Eight and last on the list: “they are so grateful.”
The final chapter is devoted to women. She speaks of female hysteria. And how for quite some time vaginal massage was the preferred treatment for it. It was usually done by a doctor until the woman reached “hysterical paroxysms.” Thousands of women, who were not supposed to enjoy sex, went to their doctor for this treatment.
And what about devices? Vibrators were the first things to be electrified in the nineteenth century–not long after the sewing machine but way before the vacuum cleaner. The 19th century also saw a rise in cock shocking belts designed to cure impotence.
The book ends with the story of Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick. Cullwick was a chimney sweep and Munby was totally turned on by her strength and filthiness. There were definite racial overtones at work too as she was often covered head to toe in soot. Theirs is a fascinating story, worth looking into for a fascinating look into people’s personal lives.
So I did enjoy this book, but it wasn’t quite as fun as I thought it would be. I even learned a thing or too. Rats.