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Archive for the ‘Alejandro Zambra’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LILA DOWNS-Tiny Desk Concert #590 (January 13, 2017).

This is yet another example of musicians, artists who are bridging the divide that certain politicians have been trying to wedge int our country.  Between the translated works of Zambra and the multilingual works of Lila Downs, it’s pretty obvious that cultural racism is just stupid.  #ITMFA

The blurb tells us

Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

She can also coax the most tender moments from romantic boleros. But Downs is at her best when she and her band gather all of those influences to create cross-cultural expression that breaks down musical barriers. Entertaining and inspiring, she’s as much a storyteller as a singer, and her between-song banter lays bare the Mexican soul, only to have it punctuated in song.

She plays four songs and dedicates the first “Humito De Copal” to “all the journalists in the line of fire.”

Even though this song has many components of traditional Mexican folk, the size of the bad (nine pieces) and the big sound she creates transcends folk and makes it sound really catchy for all.  I love it when midway through, the song takes off in a fun fast dancing section

She is really striking and her voice is amazing.  She’s also playing a cool scratchy/grater item.

“La Promesa” comes from a series of song about he ritual and the offering of the Day of the Dead.  She asks, “what does the homeland mean to us as Latin Americans as Mexicans and as Mexican Americans. It begins with a great electric guitar sound and cool organ accompaniment.  And then she sings in quite a low voice holding notes for amazingly long (about 18 seconds).  It turns into a bluesy song with a lengthy bluesy guitar solo.

The third song, “Viene La Muerte Echando Rasero” was written by a campesino, a farm worker, about rich and poor and young and old being taken by death.  He says “even hit men are going to die.”  She switches to a jarana, a small eight-stringed guitar-like instrument.  After a slow intro the song picks up a bit with a kind of reggae feel.  There’s already a big echo on the mic already but in the middle she cups her hands and gives the whole sound a much bigger echo.  It has a catchy ending with everyone singing along.

She introduces the final song, “La Patria Madrina” by saying “In Mexico, you wake up and put on the news and see a lot of depressing things and you wake up and hope today will be better…and it isn’t.  But despite all of this everything will be better tomorrow.”  It’s a slower song with more reggae sounds and dramatic flourishes.  This time there’s a kind of slide guitar running through the song.

The band consists of : Lila Downs (vocals, jarana); Paul Cohen (sax); George Saenz, Jr. (trombone); Hugo Moreno (trumpet); Marcos Lopez (seated percussion); Yayo Serka (seated drums); Rafael Gomez (electric guitar); Leo Soqui (jarana); Luis Guzman (bass).

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 3” 

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Zambra’s works and this one is no exception.  I’m particularly intrigued by the “quiz” portion at the end of the piece which really takes the story in a different direction.

The structure of the story is similar to other stories I’ve read by him–I have to assume that he is being reasonably autobiographical about his youth and his life with the woman who would be his son’s mother.  If not then he has really appropriated this character.

A man is writing a letter to his son.  I loved the way the beginning started with the narrator telling his son to forget all of the thing that he has said or done: “mitigate my shouting, my inappropriate remarks, and my stupid jokes.” (more…)

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zambraSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Arnold Schoenberg and the Berlin Cabaret (2003).

schoenIn 1901, Arnold Schoenberg wrote eight Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs).  The songs were short and fun with naughty (cabaret influenced) lyrics.  Some 100 years later, inspired by the Art of Time Ensemble who commissioned Nick Buzz to play pieces for their Schoenberg show.

So the guys from Nick Buzz got together and recorded four of the eight pieces.  Then Martin Tielli released this disc as number 2 of his Subscription Series.  Some of us were a little disappointed when this came out since it was only 15 minutes of music, but the art is wonderful and I have recently rediscovered this disc and have enjoyed it immensely.

Basically the Buzz guys have interpreted the songs in their own style, but they have remained faithful to the original melodies and lyrics (which were in German but are now in English).

“Gigerlette” explores electronic manipulations (presumably by Hugh Marsh) and offers lots of fun samples (what I assume is some earlier recordings of the song in German).  It opens with sampled female singing and staccato piano as well as other unusual effects. Then Martin’s vocals come in and the effects clear out and the song becomes simple piano ballad for a brief moment.  Then the noises come back in again, playing around with this amusing song.  It’s a song of romance and love with the sweet punchline being that cupid is driving their coach and four.  At over 5 minutes this is the longest song by far, even if the basic song is just over two minutes.

“Der genugsame Liebhaber” (The Modest Lover) opens with what sounds like a distorted harp (presumably the piano) and scratchy records (from Marsh).  This song is about a man going to see his lover, but his over’s pussy loves his bald head so much that she continually climbs atop it.  It is charmingly naughty. There’s some wonderful violin from Hugh Marsh on this song

“Galathea” is the most conventional of the three songs.  A lovely piano ballad to Galatea.

“Arie aus dem Spiegel von Arcadien” (Aria from the Arcadian Mirror) is super fun. The music is weird and goofy with a very drunken feel.  And the chorus is just wonderful “my heart begins to thump and dance just like a hammer’s blow it goes boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom (getting faster and faster).  I’ve listened to the original and it is very much the same, although Nick Buzz’s version is much better.

You can find some of these songs on line from a recording at Lula’s Lounge (Dec 9, 2010)

It’s cool to see how they recreate the album so faithfully in a live setting. It’s only a shame that the video isn’t a little closer so you could see just what they are doing.

Nick Buzz-December 9 2010 Lula’s Lounge

[READ: September 1, 2015] My Documents

I have enjoyed some of Zambra’s stories in other locations, so I was pretty excited that McSweeney’s released this collection (translated by Megan McDowell).  The book is pretty much all short stories, although the first items feels a bit less fictional and more memoirish.

“My Documents”
This is a brief historical account of Alejandro as a child and as a writer.  He talks about when he started working on computers and what happens when the computer dies with the information inside.  He explains that this file is in his My Documents folder and he’s going to publish it “even though it’s not finished.  Even though it’s impossible to finish it.”

“Camilo”
I read this story in the New Yorker.  It concerns the relation of a man and his godfather, whom he has not seen since his father and godfather had a falling out years ago.  See my link for a more complete synopsis.  I enjoyed it just as much the second time.

“Long Distance”
The narrator worked as a phone operator in 1998.  He liked the job–his boss was cool and would let him do anything he wanted so long as he answered the phones quickly. The job was in a travel insurance office and one day he received a call from a man named Juan Emilio. After speaking for a time about various things, the narrator realized it had been 40 minutes since they first started talking.  They were expected to call clients back 14 days later as a follow-up and this time Juan Emilio talked with him foe a while and, upon learning that the narrator studied literature, asked if they could meet and discuss books.   The narrator was already teaching classes at night, and these two situations overlapped somewhat.  I loved the way all of this information is used as backdrop to a romance he has with a student known as Pamela.  And the final line is great.

“True or False”
The titular phrase is uttered by a boy, Lucas,  who declared, based on an inscrutable internal feeling, that things were True or False.  An armchair might be true, while a lamp might be false.  Hid father Daniel had a cat, Pedra, even though pets were forbidden in his building.  Lucas loved the cat.  Then the cat had kittens.  There is a metaphor at work about the fatherless kittens and Daniel’s own behavior toward his son. I really enjoyed this story and the strangeness of the true or false brought a fascinating childlike quality to the story

“Memories of a Personal Computer”
The conceit of this story is great.  A PC remembers what it was like to observe a relationship as it begins and then ebbs–and how the PC was moved around into different rooms as things changed in the relationship.

“National Institute”
At the school where the narrator went, they were called by number.  He was 45.  The main subject of his story was 34, although he doesn’t know the boy’s real name.  34 had failed the grade and was made to repeat it, but rather than being sullen about it, he was popular and fun.  All of the students were worried about failing–the final test was very hard.  But one day 34 approached 45 and told him he had nothing to worry about.  The other students didn’t know what to make of it, but he slowly assessed everyone and told them whether they had anything to worry about.  By the end of the story, when 45 is brought to the inspector of schools, he is told a lesson he will should never forget.

“I Smoked Very Well”
A look back on smoking and how quitting smoking made him a different (though not necessarily better) person.

“Thank You”
She is Argentine, he is Chilean and they are not together (even though they sleep together).  They were in Mexico City when they were kidnapped together.  The incident has unexpected moments. It’s a weird story (with some really unexpected moments) but a really good one.

“The Most Chilean Man in the World”
A Chilean couple has decided to separate once she was accepted to school in Belgium.  After several months he is convinced that she wants him to visit, so he spends a ton of money and heads out to Belgium.  Without telling her.  And it goes very badly.  But he can’t just leave Belgium, now can he?  So he goes to a pub where he meets some new friends who call him the chilliest man in the world.  The story hinges on a joke, but the story itself is not a punchline.

“Family Life”
I read this story in Harper’s.  I thought it was fantastic–it was one of the stories that made me want to read more of his works.  This is story of a man house sitting and the false life that he constructs around him.  It was surprisingly moving.

“Artist’s Rendition”
I loved the way this story began.  It tells us that Yasna has killed her father.  But we slowly learn that Yasna is character in a detective story that an author is trying to write.  We learn how the author constructs details about this character and the things that she has experienced which make her who she is.  As this story unfolds we see how those first lines proved to be true after all.

This was a great collection fo short works and I really hope to see more from him translated into English.

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harp febSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scherzo Pub, Kingston, ON (October 15, 2000).

rheoscerzoThis show has some fun art work to go with it.  The notes say:

“Rare original drawing by local artist “tully” drawn during the october 15 2000 rheos gig at the now defunct scherzo pub, kingston, ontario. the story goes that “tully” goes to shows, does a drawing of the band, and just leaves it on a random table for someone (like me!) to find it. i actually found it on the floor!”

The other joke on the set list over here is the Smoke that carp joke which is from Martin talking about something before the set even starts.

They play a lot of songs from the then unreleased NotSS.  The version of “Four Little Songs” is crazy fun–lots of wildness, and a superfast ending.

In addition to playing “Majorca” they play two songs from Introducing Happiness and then talk about Martin’s guitar with the maple leaf on it.  They challenged Gordie Johnson from the band Big Sugar to put a leaf on his guitar. Dave says that not only did he put the leaf on his guitar (on the back) but he plays O Canada at every show now.

In the middle of “Junction Foil Ball” Dave talks about how much he struggled to get the riff (earlier Martin said Dave was very proud of the riff).  It’s a very lengthy talk with demonstration about the riff–quite amusing.

The end of the show has what sounds like an acoustic unplugged set.  Not quite acapella, but Don is only playing the tambourine.  It sounds like perhaps they are in the crowd or near the crowd or something.

Srheoscerzo2o for “Record Body Count,” the crowd sings along beautifully and “Bead, Meat, Peas and Rice” is also done in this format.  For “Northern Wish” Martin say he’s going to start it acoustic while the rest of the band goes back to their instruments.  It’s a great version of the song. In fact all three are wonderful, and it’s cool to hear them sounding so different.

There’s another long chat from Martin about Burton Cummings and how they saw him playing a casino.  It’s very funny.  Then he insists on a “golden drag” on his cigarette before starting the next song.

The disc ends oddly with “Take Me in Your Hand” also done in that acoustic format as the earlier songs–which makes me think it should have been earlier and was placed at the end by mistake.  It sounds great either way.

This is definitely a great show and one for any Rheos fan to enjoy.

[READ: March 5, 2015] “Family Life”

I had recently read something about Zambra that made me want to read him, and then, here he was in Harper’s.  I like serendipity.

This story was translated by Megan McDowell, and I gather is part of a collection of stories called My Documents which will be out soon from McSweeney’s.

This story is a simple one, although it has an unusual beginning.

Martín is headed to a house for a job.  He is to house-sit for a family while they are away for four months.  I enjoyed the way the family members were laid out for us to meet: in alphabetical order: Bruno, the husband, Consuelo the wife (well, actually not the wife, because they never married although they act like a married couple) and Sofía their daughter.

We learn that Bruno sand Martín ‘s fathers were cousins.  Martin’s father has just died.  They barely know each other, although they did know each other when they were kids.  But Bruno tries to strengthen this familial connection, because it builds trust.  Otherwise they have a stranger in their house for four months.

When Martín arrives Sofi runs past him (“These days kids don’t say hi”) chasing the cat Mississippi.  Consuelo is friendly and gives him instructions, which largely entail looking after the cat (who has a swinging door which is open all the time).  When Martín looks at a large hour glass, Sofi runs up and says it last 12 minutes.

To pass the time Martín plays Sofi in chess.  And when they get bored, he changes the rules so that the object is to get beaten, which Sofi enjoys more.

While Sofi is going to bed, Martín and Bruno talk.  Bruno suggest that he “use the time to have ago with one of the neighbors.”  Martín thinks (but thankfully doesn’t say out loud) that he’s like to have a go with Bruno’s wife.

After they leave, Martín discovers a photo of Consuelo and puts it up on the wall.

Martin plans to try a different route every day (different stores, different roads) so as not to make an impression on anyone in the town. But one day Mississippi doesn’t return from his nightly stalking.  Two days go by and Martín grows concerned. So he puts posters up around town.  But when he emails Bruno he doesn’t say anything.

A few days later he sees that someone has posted lost dog posters up over each one of his lost cat posters.  He calls the number (while drunk) and talks to Paz, the woman who put up the posters. He complains about what she has done. The next day she does around moving her posters off of his.  He gets some courage and goes to talk to her about their lost animals.

A week later he sees a dog that looks like hers and he calls her.  They go looking for the dog but don’t find it.  Then, after a month, Mississippi returns. He is beaten up , bloody and gross.  Martín takes him to the vet and gets medicine that he must apply to Mississippi every night.  When Paz calls him, he tells her about the cat and she comes over.

Paz scrutinizes his house–the photo of Consuelo–and he creates and elaborate fiction about his former life with Consuela and their daughter.  How they are broken up and he is reluctant to date.  Later, they have sex and start seeing each other every day.

Things are going quite well, although of course, it is all based on a lie. And the time of Martín’s departure (and Bruno’s family’s return) is coming up.  But the sex is great and he really like her.  She even invites him to go to a wedding with her.

What will happen when it’s time for Bruno and Consuela to return?

This is an unusual story (I guess) to start with because I’m not sure if Zambra’s other fiction is anything like this.  This story was erotic and a bit salacious and was predicated on a lie.  I enjoyed the idea of the main character being someone else and then realizing that he could be that person forever.  (Even if that’s not an original concept).  But Zambra’s handling of the story was really good and I’m interested to read more from him.

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CV1_TNY_05_26_14Steinberg.inddSOUNDTRACK: LIGHTNING DUST-Tiny Desk Concert #38 (December 7, 2009).

lightingLightning Dust is a side project of heavy psychedelic band Black Mountain.  Lightning Dust is a kind of folk version of the band (with Amber Webber on vocals instead of Joshua Wells).  Her voice is full of vibrato (she almost sounds nervous at times).  The songs are simple, as folk songs tend to be, performed mainly on the acoustic guitar with organ backing tones.

“Antonia Jane” is very pretty, especially the tone of the organ that accompanies the acoustic guitar.  “History” has a nice unexpected chord change when the chorus rolls around.  For the final song, “I Knew”, Wells switches to 12 string guitar instead of keyboard–something he says he never does.  The song is faster and more upbeat, not necessarily because of the extra guitar, but it really broadens the sound a lot and makes it even catchier (even if it does give it a more countryish feeling).  And the backing vocals are quite wonderful.

I prefer Black Mountain to Lightning Dust but the songwriting is quite good.

[READ: May 27, 2014] “Camilo”

I don’t know Zambra’s work. This one was translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell and I thought it was terrific.

The story is fairly simple, although it is revealed via a lot of layers which is very interesting.  It opens with a young man yelling “I’m Camilo…your daddy’s godson” and the narrator being suspicious of this statement.  But it turns out to be true.   This boy is his father’s godson.

The narrator’s father had been good friends with Camilo’s father Big Camilo.  They were best friends until they had a huge fight and never spoke again.  That was (obviously) after Camilo was born.  But in addition to this fight and lack of talking, Big Camilo later left the country all together and moved to Paris where he started a new family, leaving Camilo and Camilo’s mother back in Chile.

Soon the narrator and Camilo became almost inseparable.  Camilo was a few years older and was something of a protective presence for him.  Even the narrator’s older sister was infatuated with him.  In fact, even the narrator’s father liked him, although he did remind him a bit too much of Big Camilo.  The one difference was that Big Camilo (and the narrator’s family) loved soccer, but Camilo didn’t know a thing about it. (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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