Archive for the ‘Allegra Goodman’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL BACHMAN-“Song for the Setting Sun II” (Field Recordings, May 21, 2015).

Daniel Bachman plays a gorgeous six string acoustic guitar.  He plays wonderful instrumentals full of melody and feeling which tell a story in their own way.

Bachman grew up around the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg. It’s a quiet town in Northern Virginia that still has a pharmacy with cheap sandwiches and milkshakes.

The 25-year-old has been at the solo-guitar game since he was a teenager.  That’s why it felt right to bring Bachman back to the area that inspired River, a record surrounded by history, but guided by hands and a heart that know its bends and bumps.

In early March, we met Bachman in Fredericksburg to drive an hour east to Stratford Hall, home to four generations of the Lee family, which includes two signers of the Declaration of Independence; it’s also the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. Bachman knows it well, not only because his dad works there, but also because he can’t help but bury himself in history books about the region.   Bachman plays a version of “Song For The Setting Sun II” in what was the performance space at Stratford Hall. The song leaps boldly around the sunlit, symmetrical room, bouncing off walls decorated with paintings of buxom women and men in powdered wigs.

It’s a gorgeous piece with ringing strings that sounds massive in this Great Hall.  In the second half, he strikes a low E and it sounds like a cannon.  And when you hear that melody amid all of the ringing notes, it’s just sublime.

[READ: January 29, 2015] “F.A.Q.s”

Phoebe is in her mid 20s.  She returns from college withdrawn and single. Her parents are delighted that she is single, but not happy that she is so withdrawn.

Phoebe is also pretty unhappy with the changes that have occurred since she was at school.

A new coffeemaker was where the compost bucket had been.  The chicken coop lay empty (they had reverted so quickly to supermarket eggs).  An exercise machine was in her old room–however after several minutes of exercise Melanie usually ended up lying on Phoebe’s bed.  Her mom tells her that she bought rice milk and oat cakes   Later on she even tries to make her parents granola (her father was supposed to watch his cholesterol but didn’t and her mother nibbled Icelandic chocolate),

One of the few things that remained was Grandma Jeanne’s violin on the top shelf of her closet.  It was unmentioned. (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: TAKEN BY TREES-Tiny Desk Concert #253   (November 29, 2012).

treesTaken By Trees plays only 2 songs, and it’s one of the shortest Tiny Desk Concerts I can think of (it’s not even 7 minutes long).  I clearly have gotten Taken By Trees confused with a number of bands with similarly constructed names (band with By and The in the title), for I had no idea what this band sounded like.

They are a four-piece with a lead singer, Victoria Bergsman, who sings in such an understated way that it’s almost melodic speaking.

“I Want You” has a reggae feel to it—the quick guitar chords and slow bouncy bass, but with Bergsman’s delivery the song couldn’t sound less reggae.

“Only You” is a bit more uptempo.  It was in this song that I noticed Bergsman’s accent (she and the band are from Sweden).  The set up of this song is similar to the previous one–a deep bass running through under high guitar chords.  It doesn’t sound reggae this time, but it sounds very delicate.

This was a gentle concert, which I enjoyed, although I don’t know that I’d ever want to see them live.

[READ: July 14, 2016] ”La Vita Nuova”

I enjoyed the fragmentary way that this story was constructed.  The story begins on the day that Amanda’s fiance left her.

Her parents were upset and angry.  Her friends said that he was no good.

She walked home, took out her wedding dress and brought it to work where she had all of the children at her school “decorate it.”  The school didn’t appreciate this gesture: “your personal life is not an appropriate art project for first grade.”

Then she lost her job at the school and later that year her ex-fiance married someone else (as her friend said he would). (more…)

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Achoclnd after all of that, we catch up to present day Primus.  And this time Tim Alexander is back with them again!  I was supposed to see Primus at a small theater when they toured for the chocolate Factory.  And because of a planning snafu I didn’t get to go.  I had wanted to see the show live before hearing the album.  Sigh.

I was thinking about Les Claypool and covers.  He does a lot of them.  Even though he is clearly a creative tour de force, he also likes to revisit stuff.  His live albums are full of covers, and the Duo de Twang mostly revisited songs he had already done, not to mention how he has re-recorded almost all the songs from Primus’ debut at one point or another.

So it comes as no surprise to me that they would cover the entire Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack.

The thing to know right off the bat is that Les Claypool is a rather dark and disturbed individual.  And that means that this cover recording is really much more dark and nightmarish than the original (which is quite sweet).  Now true, Wonka is a really dark and creepy figure, and maybe that’s what Les was playing off when he constructed this carnivalesque, dark funhouse mirror version of soundtrack.

And your tolerance for that (and your love of the original) will say whether or not you enjoy this.

This is not fun goofy Primus, this is dark Primus of the “My Name is Mud” and Mushroom Men variety.

“Hello Wonkites” opens this disc with dark and slow bass strings and a slow and menacing melody.  “Candy Man” one of the sweetest songs ever is turned incredibly dark with hypnotic vibes and weird bowed bass sounds.  The way they speed up parts of the song are really disturbing and his vocals are creepy as anything.  This tells you all you need to know about this recording.

“Cheer up, Charlie” is a little bit sweeter as it opens with cellos. But Les’ vocal is weird and a little, yes, disturbing,  Although I don’t really like the original very much so this one works better for me.  “Golden Ticket” is also quite sinister with the mad carnival sounds and the stomping bass.  “Lermaninoff” is a cool 5 second reprise of the Rachmaninoff lock in the movie.

“Pure Imagination” is probably the least creepy of all the songs, although it is still dark and ominous.   It features a lot of percussion, and I read somewhere that Tim doesn’t really play drums on this record, he just hits all kinds of crap that’s around him.  There’s a long instrumental section that is pretty cool.

There are four versions of the Oompa Loompa song, just like in the movie.  Each one is about a minute and a half long.  They’re each quite similar and faithful to the original’s creepy vibe.  They might do better to be spaced out more, but it’s still fun.  The “Semi Wondrous Boat Ride” is actually not nearly as creepy as the original.  “Wonkamobile” is just over a minute long and it is just Les being Les.

“I Want It Now” features lead vocals by Ler!  I don’t know that we’ve ever heard him sing anywhere before.  He doesn’t have a great voice (or he’s trying to be bratty, it’s hard to tell), but it’s such a welcome change to have someone else singing on the disc.

My favorite track is “Goodbye Wonkites” which has a very cool Pink Floyd feel.  The instrumentation is the same as “Hello” but the guitars have this great echo, and the chords that Ler is playing (yes normal chords) sound very much like Pink Floyd to me.  It’s a cool instrumental.

Even though I don’t love this soundtrack, I’d still like to see the stage show that they create for it, which I imagine is just insane.

And that brings an end to the Primus land–a month’s worth of Les and the boys.

That there’s a bad egg.

[READ: January 29, 2015] “Apple Cake”

This story is about a woman who has just entered hospice care.  And yet surprisingly it is not all that sad.

Jeanne was the youngest sister.  Her to older sisters Sylvia and Helen are very different but both were quite upset that it was their baby sister who would die first (even though none of them was actually young).

Since she was in hospice, the family was gathered around pretty much all the time.  The sisters were there constantly and her sons and nieces and nephews all took time off to pay their last respects.  But Jeanne lingered–despite doctors saying that she had only a day or two left, she continued to seem rather strong and coherent.

And really this story turns out to be more about the fighting between the healthy sisters–and their children.  Will they defer to Jeanne’s wishes–like when she asks for a bagel even though she hasn’t eaten solid foods in weeks?  And, most importantly, will they honor Jeanne’s wishes about her death–she wants no funeral, no ceremony, not even a burial.  Or will they follow tradition and have a rabbi preside over her.

And so this fight comes down to Helen and Sylvia.  Even though Jeanne has made her intentions clear to her sons, Helen and Sylvia have always been at odds and will continue to be so: “There was simply the great divide between them: Helen told the truth, while Sylvia tried to paper over everything.”  Helen is insistent that Jeanne see a rabbi and have a proper burial.  But Sylvia and everyone else finds it disrespectful.

And in her grief, Helen begins baking.  After all, she was the baker of the family–Sylvia hadn’t baked in years because her husband was diabetic.  She made apple cake (which was pretty good), almond cookies (which were less so) and a pecan bar which was, well, left uneaten.  And so the food starts piling up, because Helen never threw anything away.

Then one day Sylvia brought in an apple cake, warm and fragrant.  Even Jeanne remarked on how good it smelled.  Which gets Helen indignant.

“It’s my recipe,” Helen said, “I gave that recipe to Sylvia twenty years ago.”
“Yes I remember,” Jeanne said, “she bakes a very good apple cake.”
“I bake the same one!  I brought you apple cake last week.”
“I know, but I like hers better,” Jeanne said.

Eventually Helen convinced the rabbi to see Jeanne.  The rabbi is friendly and accepts that Jeanne is an atheist–Jeanne was looking for a fight but he was very kind.  And she even concedes that she could be buried in her plot.

When Jeane eventually dies, they agree to a simple ceremony.  Helen tries to make it more religious–saying that Jeanne agreed to it–but she is unable to hijack the ceremony.  Sylvia is off course pot off by Helen’s behavior and gets rather sulky.

At the gathering afterward, they agreed it would be catered and no one would bring baked goods.  But as the day dragged on, there suddenly came the smell of fresh-baked apple cake.  The nuclear option had been pulled.

I really enjoyed this story and the inner workings of passive aggressive family troubles.  And the way that Jeanne seemed to supervise the whole thing.

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SOUNDTRACK: DAS RACIST-“You Oughta Know” (2010).

Since “Combination” was a such an odd and obvious novelty song I thought I’d try the other song by Das Racist that was mentioned in the New Yorker article.  “You Oughta Know” samples Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” extensively (and is the only music in the song).  I rather like the use of the sample, although it’s not really used very creatively.

I really don’t understand the “chorus” of the song in which the guys sing/mumble/mock the chorus of the Billy Joel song.  I mean, I understand the desire to mock Billy Joel, but I really just don’t “get” that aspect of the song.

The actual rap part is kind of interesting: “sick of arguing with white dudes on the internet” but the bulk of the song is taken up with the infernal nonsensical Billy Joel mocking.

I concede that I’m absolutely not the right audience for this band.

[READ: November 19, 2010] “Linzer Torte”

Of the five food-related articles in this issue, this one made me laugh the most.

Goodman explains that her mother was the cook in the family.  And she trucked no nonsense in the kitchen: no “little children sticking fingers into the bowl.”  As a result, Allegra never learned how to cook.

This worked out fine in her own family because both her husband and her oldest son were excellent cooks themselves.  But when her son went to college…she found herself eating only leftovers. (more…)

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The first track “A Small Definition” is a surprisingly slow track from them.  Even when the band kicks in about midway through, it’s still a fairly mellow sound  And yet it is not a light track by any means.  (A nice squalling guitar solo certainly helps.)  But in case you thought the band had mellowed, track two “Her Royal Fisticuffs” brings back their punky bratty sound.

The third track, “The Mine Has Been Returned…” brings in a new sound altogether.  It opens with a heavy heavy destorted bass riff (instead of the usual guitars).  But the real surprise comes with the very distorted organ sound that throws the bass into sharp relief

The final song, “Hero,” is part surf rock part detective song, and continues the interesting departures that Superchunk explore on this disc.

And then there’s the bonus track.  It’s a radio broadcast from WXYC a radio station in Chapel Hill.  The track is a 42 minute deconstruction of “Hyper Enough.”  It’s a few guys (and radio callers) dissecting the song in incredible detail.  (hey listen to one verse about 20 times).   The track starts about 20 minutes into the show, and they have just gotten past the first verse).  At about 10 minutes into the track, the discussion turns into a fascinating look at deconstruction and the primacy of the author.  There’s a caller’s snide comment that the band is all on crack and they should stop wasting their time–which of course, leads to a discussion of how drugs might impact the lyrics of the songs.  It’s a crazy track and a crazy radio show.  And shows how much fun college students can have when they really enjoy something.  I listened to it when it came out, but haven’t listened to it again until this week.   And I enjoyed it just as much this time. Perhaps I’ll try again in another 15 years.  Oh, and until iTunes, I never knew the song was called, “Cool-Ass Mutherfuckin’ Bonus Track.”

[READ: October 1, 2010] “The Local Production of Cinderella”

Allegra Goodman was the next writer in the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 issue.

The opening paragraph of this story confused me greatly.  I wasn’t sure exactly what the author was trying to say.  I re-read it three times, and then it finally clicked.  And after that, the story flowed very nicely.   The story is set in Hawaii in 1978.  Two women, Roselva and Helen, have worked at the Hawaii Dept of Human Services at adjoining desks for years.

Roselva is Chinese-Hawaiian, very religious and a real believer in her job.  Helen is of German descent and was born in Maine.  She wanted out of human services. (more…)

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While I was looking around for Jonathan Franzen pieces in the New Yorker, I stumbled upon the first 20 Under 40 collection from 1999.  Since I had received so much enjoyment from the 2010 version, I decided to read all of the 1999 stories as well.  It was interesting to see how many of the authors I knew (and knew well), how many I had heard of but hadn’t read, and how many were completely off my radar.

I initially thought that they had published all 20 authors in this one issue, but there are five stories (including Franzen’s) that were just excerpted rather than published in full.  And I will track down and read those five in their entirety.  But otherwise, that’s a lot of fiction in one magazine (a few of the stories were quite short).  And it features a cover by Chris Ware!

So here’s the list from 1999.

**George Saunders-“I Can Speak™”
**David Foster Wallace-“Asset”
*Sherman Alexie-“The Toughest Indian in the World”
*Rick Moody-
“Hawaiian Night”
*A.M. Homes-
“Raft in Water, Floating”
Allegra Goodman-
“The Local Production of Cinderella”
*William T. Vollmann-
“The Saviors”
Antonya Nelson
-“Party of One”
Chang-rae Lee-
“The Volunteers”
*Michael Chabon-
“The Hofzinser Club” [excerpt]
Ethan Canin-
“Vins Fins” [excerpt]
*Donald Antrim-
“An Actor Prepares”
Tony Earley-
“The Wide Sea”
*Jeffrey Eugenides-
“The Oracular Vulva”
*Junot Diaz-
“Otra Vida, Otra Vez”
*Jonathan Franzen-
“The Failure” [excerpt]
***Edwidge Danticat-
“The Book of the Dead”
*Jhumpa Lahiri-
“The Third and Final Continent”
*Nathan Englander-
“Peep Show” [excerpt]
Matthew Klam-
“Issues I Dealt with in Therapy” [excerpt] (more…)

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