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Archive for the ‘David Foster Wallace’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GOLDEN DAWN ARKESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #761 (June 29, 2018).

They came marching in from off stage in robes and masks, with instruments and face paint, in more colors than have ever been in one place.

And they began the first song with a cacophony of keyboards and percussion before playing the discofied funk of “Children of the Sun.”

There’s horns from “Malika” (Sarah Malika Boudissa–Baritone Sax, Vocals), and “Zumbi” (Chris Richards–Trombone, Vocals) who set the melody going while the percussion from “Lost In Face” (Rob Kidd–Drums–who does indeed have a mask covering his face) and “Oso the Great” (Alex Marrero-Percussion) keeps things moving.

There’s a slowdown in the middle with just bass “Shabuki” (Greg Rhoades-Bass), and keys from the leader himself “Zapot Mgawi” (Topaz McGarrigle-Vocals, Organ, Synth).

Throughout the songs you can hear some wah wah guitar from “Yeshua Villon” (Josh Perdue-Guitar) and vibes–a persistent instrument which sounds otherworldly and perfect.  They come from “Isis of Devices” (Laura Scarborough-Vocals, Vibraphone).  Behind her, dancing throughout the song is “Rosietoes” (Christinah Rose Barnett-Vocals, Tambourine).

So what do we know about this band?

The blurb says:

It was a late night at an unfamiliar club in Austin, Texas when the spirit, sound, lights and costumes of the Golden Dawn Arkestra put a huge, dreamy smile on my face. It took more than three years to get ten of the players and performers in this band (there are often even more) to my desk. I tried to transform the bright daylight of the NPR office with some of my handy, previously used holiday laser lights. But honestly, it wasn’t until their psychedelic jazz kicked in that the office transformation felt real. Band leader, Topaz squawked through his megaphone to join them on their journey, while singing “Children of the Sun.”

Topaz told me that the band’s inspiration for both the name and the spirit of the musicians is loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The organization, devoted to the study of the occult and paranormal activities, has been around since the 19th century.

Both of Topaz’s parents were heavily into spiritual movements and what happens here falls somewhere between high art and a circus, with music that feels connected to Sun Ra’s jazz, the extended musical adventures of The Doors and the surprise elements of Parliament-Funkadelic. You can dance and/or trance, or sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Before “The Wolf” he apologizes for an outbreak of cold on their planet.  But he wants to remind us that we are all human beings from the same planet and that we are all from stardust and vibrations. Together we can change the planet.

We would like there to be more light and love in the universe.  We must all stand together.  This is our fight song for that.

It moves quickly with the horns playing away and t he percussion flying.

The final song “Masakayli” opens with bongos from “Oso the Great” and clapping from everyone (including the audience).  The horn melody sounds a lot the theme from S.W.A.T. (there’s nothing wrong with that).  I feel like the guitar was kind of quiet through the other songs, but you can really hear “Yeshua Villon” on this one, especially the guitar solo.

This song ends with the jamming circus atmosphere that really takes off with a trippy keyboard solo from Topaz as “Rosietoes” plays with a light up hula hoop and “Zumbi” parades through the audience trying to get everyone hyped up.

It’s a tremendous spectacle and should bring a smile to your face.  Next time these guys are in town, I’m there.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Always Another Word”

These are the same remarks that were included in Five Dials Issue Number 10.

But since it has been some time since I posted them and since I am being a completist here, and since it has been nine years since Infinite Summer, I’ll cover these four in somewhat more details

Michael Pietsch
speaks about being DFW’s editor. He says that Dave loved to communicate through letters and “the phone messages left on the office answering machine hours after everyone had departed.”  He says he loved Dave’s letters and tore into them hungrily.  He gives examples of some communiques about cuts and edits of Infinite Jest.

I cut this and have now come back an hour later and put it back

Michael, have mercy.  Pending and almost Horacianly persuasive rationale on your part, my canines are bared on this one.

He continues that David’s love affair with English was a great romance of our time.  How he was so excited to be selected to the American Heritage Dictionary‘s Usage panel. But that was surpassed by his own mother’s excitement about it,

Michael thinks he may have tried to use every word in the dictionary at least once.  When he, Michael, suggested a book that opened with the word “picric,” David’s instant response was “I already used that!.”

Zadie Smith
addresses the critics of BIWHM who thought the book was an ironic look at misogyny. She felt it was more like a gift.  And the result of two gifts.  A MacArthur Genius grant and a talent so great it confused people.  His literary preoccupation was the moment the ego disappears and you’re able offer your love as a gift without expectation of reward.

She says that she taught students to read BIWHM alongside Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

The most impassioned recommendation he gave her was Brain Moore’s Catholics, a novella about a priest who is no longer capable of prayer. Don’t think of David as a God-botherer–think of it as ultimate value.

You get to decide what you worship, but nine time out of ten it turns out to be ourselves.

For David, Love was the ultimate value, the absurd, the impossible thing worth praying for.

George Saunders
speaks of reading BIWHM and finding that it did strange things to his mind and body.  He says it was like if you were standing outdoors and all of your clothes were stripped away and you had super-sensitive skin and you were susceptible to the weather whatever it might be–on a sunny day you would feel hotter; a blizzard would sting.

The reading woke him up, made him feel more vulnerable, more alive.  And yet the writer of these works was one of the sweetest, most generous dearest people he’d ever known.

He met Dave at the home of mutual friend in Syracuse.  While he feared that Dave would be engaged in a conversation about Camus, and he would feel humiliated, Dave was wearing a Mighty Mouse T-shirt and talked about George and his family, asking all about them.

Saunders says that in time the grief of his passing will be replaced by a deepening awareness of what a treasure we have in the existing work.  The disaster of his loss will fade and be replaced by the realization of what a miracle it was that he ever existed in the first place.   But for now there is just grief.

For now, keep alive the lesson of his work:

Mostly we’re asleep but we can wake up. And waking up is not only possible, it is our birthright and our nature and, as Dave showed us, we can help one another do it.

Don DeLillo
says that Dave’s works tends to reconcile what is difficult and consequential with what is youthful, unstudied and often funny.  There are sentences that shoot rays of energy in seven directions.

It’s hard to believe that in September, he will be dead ten years.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-The Dark (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the second release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The Dark is described as

This EP is a collection of remixes and covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, from the 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.” It is not ironic. “Dancing in the Dark” is © Bruce Springsteen and Columbia.

And that is literally what this is. Five tracks that rethink “Dancing in the Dark” each one called “Dancing in the Dark.”

Track 1 opens with someone doing a kind of Elvis impersonation (or is it actually Bruce?) of the first line of the song: I get up in the evening…”  It then gets echoed and looped on itself until it is inaudible.  After a minute a guitar comes in strumming music backwards, I believe.  The big takeaway is the rolling “I” repeated over and over.  After 1:30 there’s a rather pretty sax solo. which may be from the song, I don’t know it that well.

Track 2 is an ambient piece with electronic claps and a kind of slow almost pixelated pipe organ version of the main melody of the song.  There’s some of those 80s processed “ahhhhs” added to the end.  It would eerily make you think of the song without knowing exactly why.

Track 3 is a noisy track.  Electronic drums played very rapidly and then some glitchy guitars playing the melody in triple time.  It is the least recognizable of the five pieces.

Track 4 is a fingers-on-chalkboard electronic screech with what I assume is the song played in reverse.  It’s a tough minute before the noise clicks away and we’re left with the backwards vocals.  If you didn’t know it was “Dancer in the Dark” you might not recognize the melody but if you do, you can kind of hear it.

Track 5 plays the original song in the middle ear. But in the left ear is another song (as if the radio was staticky and in the right ear is another even louder song.  But Bruce is squarely in the middle.  It’s pretty disconcerting.  Ultimately, the left ear gives way to people talking and the right ear reveals itself to be “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”  It fades and for about ten seconds during which you can hear pretty much only the Bruce song, but then it all falls apart into glitchy noise.

The longest track is 2:15; the rest are about 2 minutes.  No one will say this disc is enjoyable, but it is kind of ugly fun.

[READ: January 30, 2017] Liō ‘s Astonishing Tales from the Haunted Crypt of Unknown Horrors

I have observed before about the maddening publication life of Liō books.  It’s going on four years since a new collection has been published.

But at the same time there are a number of books that cover the same territory.  Like this one.

This book collects “Liō” (which I take to mean Happiness is a Warm Cephalopod) and Silent But Deadly.  But what puts this book head and shoulders above the others (and just about any other collection of any series) is that it is almost completely annotated.

I didn’t compare the two books to see if all of the strips were indeed included.  But I’ll assume that claim is true.

Tatulli doesn’t comment on every strip but he does on a lot of them.  Like the very first one (in which he criticizes his–admittedly horrible-looking–spider.

He has at least three comments about what a genius Charles Schulz was.  Including the first time he tried to draw Lucy and Charlie: “I wanted to use the retro 1950s Peanuts look, but it was a bitch to reproduce…Schulz just make it look so simple.”

He’s also very critical of his drawing style of Mary Worth: “I won’t even tell you how embarrassingly long it took to make this lousy copy.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-“My Missing Eye” (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the first release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The bandcamp site describes this song as

“Garbage thrown together on a free trial of Reason. Song’s about missing a fucking eye. Real music soon.”

This is two minutes of noisy instrumental metal math rock.  There’s a lot of different sounds in this two minute song.

It opens with some staccato pummeling sounds–the guitars are interesting in that they sound like they are chords yet ringing out at the same time.  The middle is a really fast pummeling section that reminds me of Ministry.  Those opens stringed chords come back late in the song, and they sound really cool.

I’m curious to see what TETA’s “real music” is going to sound like.

[READ: July 20, 2017] Reheated Liō

I have really enjoyed the Liō books (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

The strip has been going on for some 12 years now, which is pretty amazing.  And yet, there don’t seem to be any new or recent collections out.

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos.  Over the years his character hasn’t changed much but Tatulli has given him some surprising tenderness, which is a nice trait. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Railway Club Vancouver (March 16, 1988).

This is a “very good sounding show considering it is from 1988. This has a mix of unreleased songs, Greatest Hits songs, Melville songs and even a couple that would end up on Whale Music.”

Like the 1987 show here, this is also their last night in Vancouver. It’s hard to believe that previous show was the same band, as just a few months later (Nov-Mar), the sets are radically different.

It opens with the end of “Lyin’s Wrong,” and then moves into a fun version of Stompin’ Tom’s “Bridge Came Tumbling Down,” and then one of my favorite unreleased songs: “Woodstuck.”

The opening is to the tune of Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done”

I called on Crosby and I called on Nash / I asked them if they want to buy some hash / Oh the deal is done / Hanging out with Stephen Stills, I asked him if he wants to buy some pills / Oh the deal is done.

And then the main body is a rocking bluesy number with the chorus: “You can’t go back to Woodstock baby, you were just two years old.   You weren’t even born” and a big chant of “BAD KARMA!”

Things slow down with a version of “Triangles on the Walls.”

During the banter, Dave Clark talks about going up Grouse Mountain in his jeans and he says he was automatically a “Wofuh”–as soon as you get into the skis you’re going to start saying “Woah… fuck.”

A great sounding “Dope Fiends” is followed by “Green Sprouts” which is “the silliest song of all… about the worms of New Jersey.”  “What’s Going On” has an accordion!  And “Italian Song” has them singing in over the top Italian with an almost ska beat and melody.

There’s a goofy, slap funk cover of “Take the Money and Run.”  It’s fast and rocking, but they leave out the signature five claps after some verses.  Nevertheless there are some great harmonies at the end.

They play an unreleased song “Sue’s Mining Town” which is a bit of a rocker, and then one from Greatest Hits (released the previous year) called “Churches and Schools.”  The set ends with a slow and pretty “Higher and Higher.”

This is the only place you can hear “Italian Song” and “Sue’s Mining Town” and one of the few places you can hear “Woodstuck” (except for this video)

[READ:August 28, 2016] Tennis Lessons

I’ve enjoyed some stories by Dyer but I was actually reading this because he reviews the new David Foster Wallace collection String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis.

But it turns out that this is not so much a book review as a delightfully funny discussion of Dyer’s own tennis playing and how he also wanted to write a book about tennis–but never did.

Dyer proves to be a funny protagonist. In 2008, (age 50) he was about to sell his novel to a new publisher and he imagined writing a book about taking up tennis at age 50. Dyer is British and the popularity and success of Andy Murray was making tennis very popular in Britain again.  It seems like a great idea.

And then Dyer is honest with us:

as a perennial bottom feeder for whom writing has always doubled as a way of getting free shit, I as also hoping that a top-notch coach might be willing to give e free lessons in return for the massive exposure guaranteed by inclusion in the book.

(more…)

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two-worse  SOUNDTRACK: CHEICK HAMALA DIABATEN-Tiny Desk Concert #285 (July 6, 2013).

hamalaNPR Music has been the sole source of my exposure to music from Mali.  I have really grown to like its slightly unusual patterns which are all based on a fairly standard rock structure.  But unlike some of the other Mali musicians I’ve been exposed to, Diabaten does not play guitar.  He plays banjo and the ngoni (but there is plenty of guitar in the song too).

The blurb tells us

Malian tradition lies at the heart and foot-stomping soul of Cheick Hamala Diabate and his band, but their melodies and undeniable rhythms cut across age and ethnicity. Diabate primarily plays the ngoni and the banjo; think of the ngoni as a great-grandfather to the banjo and it all makes sense, because both instruments share the ability to convey melody and plucked percussive rhythm.

Diabate is from Kita in Mali and born into a family of griots, or storytellers; his first cousin is the legendary kora player Toumani Diabate. Cheick Hamala Diabate makes his home these days in a Maryland suburb a few miles over the D.C. line, and his musicians are American-born and inspired by this lively lyrical music, which often tells a tale about Mali and its people as part of the sway and shake.

“Mali De Nou” sounds fairly traditional–with all of the percussion.  And then about a minute and half in a noisy scratchy guitar solo plays over all of the music–a very Mali sound.  But it’s interesting that, for the beginning anyhow, Diabate isn’t doing all that much.  In fact, the song feels almost overwhelmed by percussion (but in a good way). There’s a shaker or two, big floor drums (congas?) and a drum held between the knees and there’s even that big round gourd drum.

There’s also a sax and a bass, the lead guitar and of course, Cheick’s banjo.  By the middle of the song,  Chieck does some lead banjo playing.  And then it sounds like he’s put some effects on the banjo making it sound almost like a kettle drum—he even plays the strings below the bridge.  He really gets a lot of cool sounds out of the instrument

After this song he chats briefly and wants to “Invite you guys to visit Mali, it’s a beautiful country, you’ll be more happy.”

For “Talcamba” he switches to the ngoni.  He explains that the original ngoni had 4 strings, but his has 7 so he can play…more.  This instrument can play reggae, salsa, everything.  This is when he says the American banjo is like the grandson of ngoni.

Tacamba is a dance from north Mali—you can move your body (he waves his arms).  There are vocals but they are mostly a chanted refrain   The solo on the ngoni isn’t a conventional solo, it’s him flicking the strings making a very interesting sound.  I could have used more close-ups of this instrument as you could barely see the strings, and I’d love to see how he fit 7 on that small neck.  Half way through the song it shifts gears and the tempo really picks up—there’s a fast guitar solo with all that percussion keeping up.  And then the percussionist puts down her shaker and starts dancing in the center of the room.  It feels inspired and impromptu and it’s a lot of fun to watch.  While she’s doing that, Cheick picks up a hand drum and starts creating a new rhythm.  It is joyful and celebratory.

For the final song, “Djire Madje,” he switches to acoustic guitar which he plays lefty upside down (so the high notes are at the top).  He plays the lead riff.  At one point the electric guitar is also playing a lead but in a very different styles and they work very well together.

[READ: October 10, 2016] The Terrible Two Get Worse

I really enjoyed The Terrible Two, and this sequel is just as enjoyable.  The pranks are bigger, but the victim has changed.  Why?

Because Niles Sparks’ and Miles Murphy’s pranks got their principal fired!

Principal Barkin was the perfect guy to play a prank on–he had no sense of humor, he was pretty jerky and his face got really purple when he was upset.  But Principal Barkin is nothing compared to his father.  We met his father in the previous book–he yelled a lot, especially at Principal Barkin.  You see, the principal’s father was the previous principal, and he was a tough guy–he took no guff from anyone.

So after a delicious opening prank, Niles and Miles set about to making a great prank on Photo Day.  One of the great things about these books is the illustrations (by Kevin Cornell).  Sometimes the text incorporates the illustrations into the story. Like with Picture Day–the hilariously bad “pictures” absolutely make the sequence.  But it’s what they do to Principal Barkin’s son (who has paid the extra $10 for a gray background) is frankly genius.

But even better is what they have done to the whole school photo– a prank many months in the making.

(more…)

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bythewaySOUNDTRACK: KAYHAN KALHOR-Tiny Desk Concert #203 (March 24, 2012).

kayhanWhy not continue February’s Resistance with an Iranian performer?

Kayhan Kalhor plays the kamencheh, a four-stringed fiddle-like instrument.  The piece he plays is a 12 minute improvisation.  It is otherworldly and unlike anything I’ve heard–although the blurb makes it sound like a fairly common instrument in his native country.  I don’t have much to say about the piece, so I’ll let the blurb do most of the talking:

For Persians, the New Year comes not in the dead of winter, but right at the vernal equinox. As spring renews the earth, people celebrate this fresh beginning as Nowruz, a joyous 12-day festival to celebrate beauty and abundance. We were lucky enough to have a master musician and composer from Iran, Kayhan Kalhor, visit us in time to celebrate with his gorgeous and deeply moving music.

As one of our interns observed during Kalhor’s mic check, Kalhor’s instrument does the dancing as he kneels with his legs folded beneath him. (This performance actually marks a Tiny Desk Concert first: having a musician perform on top of Bob Boilen’s desk, covered for the occasion by a rug, as Persian tradition dictates.) As Kalhor plays, his bowed, four-stringed kamencheh, a spiked fiddle, spins this way and that, swaying gracefully from side to side.

Before Kalhor played for us, I asked him what he was going to perform. He told me that it was to be an improvisation: “I don’t know yet where I’ll start, or where I’ll end up,” Kalhor said simply. That humble comment aside, Kalhor is a great master who embodies the core principles of this style of music: the ability to perform, entirely by heart, a huge amount of music composed over centuries — but then to take that tradition to new places through the art of improvisation. For us, he then proceeded to spin out a soulful, contemplative and beautifully moving improvisation in the mode of Nava.

The piece has been given the title: “Improvisation In Dastgah Nava.”

As the screen goes black, Kalhor asks: “Was this enough for you? I wanted to go on but I wasn’t sure how much time you had.”

[READ: February 1, 2017] Congratulations, By the Way

Children’s books will commence shortly. But as hatred continues to spread in Washington, one more post on kindness.

Have you ever read George Saunders’ convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013?  It is stunning and moving and profound.  And yet at heart it is so simple–be kind.

This book, much like David Foster Wallace’s This is Water, is a padded-out book version of Saunders’ speech.  (With illustrations of stars by Chelsea Cardinal).  I am generally opposed to this sort of cash grab book ($14 list price for content that is freely available), but as with Wallace’s book, the speech is so great that any way it can get into people’s hands is a good thing.

There’s not much I can say about the speech, because it is all true and beautiful and doesn’t bear me summarizing.  But I wanted to compare the wisdom of this speech with our horrifying new President and his band of hate-spreaders.  As you read this and know it to be true, wonder what in the hell happened to the people currently running our country that they have fallen so far from the common decency of this speech.

I was thinking how we are taught as children not to lie (Trump lies daily, egregiously) to study hard (Trump is unqualified and none of his cabinet picks are qualified–half of them are downright simpletons), to be kind and obey the golden rule (Trump is literally harming / hurting / damaging / ostracizing / potentially killing people every day with his executive orders).  How did a wicked liar actually win?  Why aren’t the good guys coming to take him out?  I am prepared to RESIST, but it get harder every day with every evil thing he and his minions do.  And watching our spineless elected officials (on both sides, but especially Democrats who were pushed around for eight years) cave to this dictator’s dreams is the most disheartening thing I have ever experienced.

And so, it takes someone liked George Saunders to lift you up.  To believe that somehow this will all be made right.  And to espouse try to kindness where you can.  Because it sure isn’t coming from anyone elected.

The full content of the speech is below.  Read it all, it’s worth it.  Share it with everyone.

(more…)

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sky  SOUNDTRACK: MITSKI-Tiny Desk Concert #467 (August 31, 2015).

mitskSome recent Tiny Desk Concerts have been running long, but Mitski Miyawaki plays 3 songs in 8 minutes.

Her songs are simple—three chords at most.   And she is unaccompanied here (her recorded versions are much more fleshed out)–just her voice and her electric guitar.  But it’s the intensity of her lyrics and her delivery that really dominate the show.

“Townie” is the most rocking song  The way her voice rises and almost breaks as she sings “I’ve tried sharing and I’ve tried caring and I’ve tried putting out” is really heartbreaking.  And the follow-up “but the boys keep coming on for more, more, more.” It’s all of 2 minute long but it packs a punch.

“Class of 2013”  is almost a capella.  She plays a chord and lets it fade away while she sings.

Mom, am I still young? / Can I dream for a few months more? / Mom is it alright if I stay for a year or two…and I’ll leave once I can figure out how to pay for my own life too.

Interestingly, se plays an open-stringed guitar (it must be a special tuning).  One loud chord that rings and fades.  Even in the most unsettling moment, when she plays a chord and then screams the lyrics into the pick-up of her guitar–giving it a far-away and tinny quality as the chord echoes to a close.

The final song “Last Words Of A Shooting Star” has some simple opens string finger picking (again, must be an alternate tuning).  As she sings quietly she seems to be exposing every ounce of herself.

One would be concerned for her psyche and yet she seems pretty happy and smiling when the show is over.

[READ: October 19, 2016] Understanding the Sky

This book is a long-format version of a short article/essay/something-else-entirely that was published in Afar in 2015.

This book reminds me of the publication of David Foster Wallace’s This is Water in that it is a brief essay/story spread out over hundreds of pages.  Most often with one line per page.  The difference between this and Water is that Water felt like a weird cash grab and this feels like a chance to show off more of Egger’s photos (there are not many in the article).

There is a photo on each page–most often with text–but sometimes without.  And it works rather well.

The narrative is structured as a dialogue–each “person” is on a facing page, so the right page answers the left page.  And it is done in a kind of removed third person.  Thus it begins: “Who is this man?”  “He wants to fly.”  In this opening section the pictures are presented very thin–less than an inch wide in total but stretching from top to bottom of page in the center of the spread. (more…)

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