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Archive for the ‘Edwidge Danticat’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: AJ DAVILA-“Es Verano Ya” (Field Recordings, September 24, 2014). 

AJ Davila is part of the “unhinged Puerto Rican garage-rock band” Davila 666. For this Field Recording [Garage-Rocker AJ Davila Unplugs In A Hair Salon] he plays an acoustic song in a hair salon.

Davila says that New York is like another town of Puerto Rico.  That people from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have made their homes and communities here.

There’s a joke that says the biggest town in Puerto Rico is called New York. Several waves of diaspora have created a deep and complex relationship between Puerto Ricans and the city. Boricuas have had an immense influence on the Big Apple — its music, its literature, its landscape, and even its cuisine.

He says that a small place like a barbershop (or beauty salon) can feel like you’re in your house.  “This is a song about hanging out with your friends.  It’s a summer song.”

We asked Davila to delight a Spanish Harlem beauty salon with a summer song. It’s appropriate: He’s one of the warmest souls I know — someone with whom it’s a pleasure to discuss art and music, argue about politics or tell silly jokes. He’s also a uniquely talented musician, with a style that combines garage-rock, punk and even elements of hip-hop.

This song probably rocks, but this acoustic version is lighter, with some bouncy chords from the other guitarist Daniel Ortiz and delightful backing vocals from Lola Pistola.  It’s somehow even better when they laugh off a tiny mistake.

[READ: September 14, 2017] ”Sunrise, Sunset”

This is a story of three generations of a Haitain family.

Carole is elderly and is slowly forgetting a lot–a blank look comes over her face and she forgets that she put her keys in the fridge or that her daughter is related to her.

Her daughter, Jeanne, and son-in-law James (they were known as JJ) just had a son, Jude (now known as Triple J).  But Jeanne has been in the throes of post-partum depression. James is a saint about it but Carole is furious that her daughter is lying around.  Back in Haiti, Carole did not have the luxury of depression.

Carole lived under a dictator.  She watched her neighbors get dragged out of their houses by the dictator’s henchmen.  Carole’s father fled the country and she never saw him again. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

The video opens with Nils Edenloff saying that this concert is an amazing posterity thing.  That it’s ungraspable for them right now, but they’ll look back after the fact and say, “Oh wow, I looked great then.”

“As a scrappy indie band it feels wild to be allowed to set their gear on stage for a spell.”

I have hears some songs by the band, but, wow, live they are a powerhouse.

The way “Luciana” opens is incredible: Drummer Paul Banwatt is a maniac sounding like two or three drummers as he crashes through some snare drum pattern variants and cymbals galore.

Nils Edenloff’s guitar has a great loud sound–very electric and large.  It sounds like the strings are loose wires smacking against the guitar and the fretboard (bot not detuned or anything).  And he sings with abandon.

Amy Cole’s keys are not as powerful as the rest but they provide a foundation for the rest of the band to play on

Muscle Relaxants has Cole singing backing vocals which fleshes out their sound even more.  They make a large racket for a trio that’s almost all acoustic.  Between songs, Nils comments:

“Wow you guys are quiet, no phones out, I guess.”

Don’t Haunt This Place is slower.  The vocal melody is familiar if not common, but the drums are just so thumping, it sounds great.  And the backing vocals are perfect.

Introducing “Tornado 87” he says

For those not from Alberta, you don’t have to sing Alberta songs if you’re from here, it’s just something we stumbled on.  Oddly enough we played part of this song last weekend at the Stampeders home opener and there happened to also be a tornado while we played this song.  Lets hope for the best tonight.

The song continues with the intensity of the other songs but it has a wonderful quiet middle section which erupts into an explosion at the end.

Two Lovers is solo, just Nils and his guitar.  It’s a nice break from the intensity.

“Terrified” is a new song that opens with just a guitar but then …boom…  great harmony vocals and a powerful chorus.

The show ends with “Stamp” which has a great clap-along section and wonderful ooohs to end the song.

This was the final video in Season One of the Live at Massey Hall series.   There are four seasons in total thus far.

[READ: May 9, 2018] ”Without Inspection”

This is the story of a man falling to his death: “It took Arnold six and a half seconds to fall five-hundred feet” is how it opens.

The story zooms in on Arnold’s mind for those six and a half seconds and the few seconds that remain before he actually dies.

He sees his son, Paris and Paris’ mother, Darlene.  And he flashes back to how they met, what has happened since they met and what he hopes will happen after he is gone.

The fall was unplanned and occurred when his left foot slipped off a scaffold and he fell out of the loosened (or broken) safety harness.

The story also details the fall–faster by the second. (more…)

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TNY 11.24.08 cvr.fnl.indd SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY-Tiny Desk Concert #572 (October 17, 2016).

bragg-henryI don’t really know who Joe Henry is (although I see that he has released 13 albums).  I’ve heard his name mentioned a bunch of times, but I can’t really place him to any specific music.  Billy Bragg, on the other hand, I know very well.

The two recorded an album this year.  And the NPR blurb is pretty interesting:

Earlier this year, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry set off on a journey. They boarded a train in Chicago, bound for Los Angeles. Each time the train stopped for more than 20 minutes in cities like St. Louis and San Antonio, they’d grab their guitars, hop off, find the waiting room and record an old railroad song. The result of this journey is an album called Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad.

Their voices sound very different and as a result they play off each other very well.

The duo used Lead Belly as a jumping off point for much of this music.  Bragg explains that the jumping off point for this music is a book he has been working on about when British pop music went from being jazz influenced to being guitar led.  In 1956 Lonnie Donegan became the first Briton to get into the charts playing the  Lead Belly song “Rock Island Line.”

On the second song “Hobo’s Lullaby” Henry explains, the railroad is a mythic poverty–railroads conjure a romance in all of us even if we’ve never ridden a passenger train.  As they start, Bragg hasn’t re-tuned his guitar.  He says it’s always him who messes up.  But he usually plays solo, so “If I put something in the wrong key I just sing it in that key and hope no one notices–fortunately my audience… no one comes to hear me sing.”

As they are about to start, he says, “Sorry mate it was a beautiful intro.”  Henry looks at him and says, “It was,” to much laughter.

Before the final song, Henry says he was listening to Lead Belly since he was 15.  “Midnight Special” was a train that ran past Sugarland Prison in Texas.  The story was if the train’s light shined on you as it swept across the yard, that you would be the next to get paroled.

Even though these songs are old,

This concept record could be seen as a nostalgia trip, but both Bragg and Henry will emphatically say that it’s not. These songs and this journey celebrate the modern railroad as a major economic engine and a still-vital form of transportation.

[READ: March 10, 2016] “Ghosts”

Danticat often writes about Haiti and the troubles that arise there.

This story is set in Bel Air–the Baghdad of Haiti. Children in the neighborhood enter art contests by drawing posters that say “It’s not polite to shoot at funeral processions.”

The protagonist is Pascal Dorien.  He is a good kid who tries to stay out of trouble.  His parents own a small restaurant which has the unfortunate location of being in the heart of gangland (his family lives in a nearby town which is a little safer).  Luckily for them (sort of) the gangsters who make the restaurant their evening hangout are kind to the family and think of their place as their haven.

The family originally sold pigeons (both live and as meat) but then the gangsters started buying them to use in a ritual which involved drinking the pigeons’ blood mixed with evaporated milk.  His parents hated this and eventually stopped selling the bird.   Nevertheless the money they made for this ritual allowed them to expand and make even more money.  Which they hoped would allow their children to flee Haiti for safer locations. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: November 20, 2013] “The Dating Game” podcast

outkoudIn the second New Yorker fiction podcast, Edwidge Danticat doesn’t read Díaz’s story but rather she discusses it and her connection to Díaz after listening to the audio from the New Yorker Out Loud 2 CD (the story is read by Junot Díaz with Gail Thomas doing the female voices).

I have yet to read Díaz’s Drown (for no real reason, I just haven’t), which is where this story appears.  And I enjoyed that this story is written in the same style as his later stories about Junior (sure, I suppose he will need to move beyond Junior as a character but it seems like he has plenty of stories to tell).  And I found this story unsettling and very enjoyable.

The story is a funny/obnoxious (I mean, re-read the title) story about, as the title suggests, how to date a girl–there are different specifics depending on her race (white girls will put out, but local girls you need to take to the fancy restaurant).  And be sure to take the government cheese out of the fridge so she doesn’t see it–but be damn sure to put it back before your mom gets home.

The reading is wonderful and having Thomas do the female voices really adds a nice touch.  I would say more about the story, but Danticat says a lot of what I was thinking about it.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).

I found out about Explosions in the Sky because of the events of 9/11.  Back when everyone was looking for albums to point fingers at in some kind of hysteria (that’s also how I found out about I am the World Trade Center who are not as exciting as Explosions…).

EITS make beautiful epic instrumental music (as well as the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).  They play music in a similar vein to Mogwai, but they take their epic instrumentals in a different direction.  And this album is perhaps their most commercial to date (as commercial as you can be when you write 10 minute instrumentals).  And while “commercial” is not usually an adjective that I give as praise, for this album it is indeed.

Take Care, Take Care Take Care is a terrific album.  It ‘s not as visceral as past releases; rather, it seems like a more experienced band playing with their sound and tweaking it in subtle ways to make it less obviously dramatic but somehow more powerful.

On “Last Known Surroundings,” there are soaring guitars that give way to simple, pretty guitar riffs.  Martial drums propel the songs forward, even if they lead to unexpected places.  It’s soundtrack music that’s not background music.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this album and previous ones is that this album doesn’t quite live up to the band’s name.  There’s no major explosive crescendos.  There are noisy bits but they’re not climactic per se.   “Human Qualities” slows to a quiet drum beat and while you’d expect to come out of that with a cacophonous explosion, it doesn’t.  The explosion does come later, but only after it has worked up to it again.

“Trembling Hands” features “voices.”  Or maybe just one voice.  It’s on a loop that becomes more of a sound than a voice.  The song is only 3 minutes long, but it’s an intense 3 minutes–more great drum work on this one.

“Be Comfortable, Creature” has a beautiful delicate guitar opening that drifts into a kind of solo.  After 3 minutes it settles into the main riff, a winding guitar line that send you on a journey.  “Postcard from 1952” is a great song. It begins as quiet intertwining guitars and slowly builds and builds into a gorgeous rocking conclusion.  7 minutes of steady growth with a nice epilogue at the end.

The final song, “Let Me Back In” also has kind of spooky voices that appears throughout the song (distorted and repeated).  But you know this song is a winner from the get go (even if the opening chord structure is a bit like Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.”)  It’s a slow builder, a cool, moody ten minute piece.  When you get to the beautiful descending guitar riff that shoots out after about 2 minutes, it’s an ecstatic moment–air guitars are mandatory.

And let’s talk packaging.  The album comes in a gate-fold type of cardboard.  If you open it up all the way it can be folded into a little house (with windows and a door and a chimney).  That’s pretty cool, guys.

If I have one compliant about the album it’s that the quiets are really quiet and he louds are really loud.  That makes this a very difficult album to listen to say, at work, or basically anywhere where other people will be blown away by your speakers.  The middle of “Human Qualities” for instance, is really quiet, you feel like you need to turn it up to hear the drum beat–there’s too much volume fiddling (listening in the car by yourself negates any reason for this complaint, of course).

Keep it up, guys.

More “controversy” from the band

[READ: September 10, 2011] New Yorker essays

Ten years ago, The New Yorker published several short essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  They were all written directly in the aftermath of the attacks and they were moving and powerful.  I was going to wait until today to re-read them and post about them, but for various reasons, I decided to do it on May 12.

Now, ten years later, The New Yorker has published several more essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  I note that none of the authors are the same (that might have been interesting) although Zadie Smith does quote from John Updike’s piece of ten years ago.

The strange thing to me about these pieces is that ten years seems to have hindered the writers’ ability to focus on the incident and to talk about What It Means.  In this collection of essays, we have a few that talk about an individual and how his life has changed since 9/11.  These are pretty powerful, although it’s odd that they would talk about another person and not themselves. We have a couple of essays that talk about the writer him or herself, but these seem kind of unfocused.  And then we have ones that talk about the state oft he world; honestly, what can you say about that.

It’s possible that I’m jaded or in a bad mood and that’s why I didn’t appreciate these essays.  Or perhaps I’m just facing the futility of things.

This is not to say that I think that writing about 9/11 is easy (you’ll notice I’m not doing it).  Indeed, I think talking about it in any kind of meaningful, non-strident, non-cliched way is nigh impossible.

But these writers do give it a try.  And I am grateful for that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRAD-Live from WXPN’s World Cafe (2010).

Brad are most known, if they are known at all, for being the side project of Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard.

I remember getting their first album and thinking it was okay.  But since then I have re-listened, and bought their other discs and found them to be an interesting side project from one of hard rock’s most enduring bands.  It’s also funny that Stone Gossard, by no means the most visible member of the band (surely Eddie Vedder wins for that and even lead guitarist Mike McCready gets more notoriety) should create a side band in which he is, again, not the main figure.  Lead singer Shawn Smith steals the show with his impressive voice.

This live set is brief (six songs in half an hour) and features four tracks from their recently released Best Firends? CD (which I haven’t heard).  The other two tracks “Buttercup” and “Screen” come from that first album.

The tracks from the new album seem like good classic rock (with “Low” being much harder than the other three and “Believe in Yourself” being a delicate piano ballad).  “Buttercup” still sounds good here as a sort of mellow jazzy number.  I’m not sure if Smith’s voice is as strong as it was, but he still sounds good.

It’s not a great show, but it’s a good collection of mellow rock songs.  You can listen to the set here.

[READ: October 11, 2010] “The Book of the Dead”

Edwidge Danticat is the next writer in the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 issue.

I love the name Edwidge Danticat, although I’ve never heard of her before and (therefore obviously) never read her stuff.  Actually I take that back, I had heard of her book Krik? Krak! but didn’t recognize her as the author.

This story is about a young sculptor.  Her subject is almost exclusively her father.  He was a prisoner in Haiti and had a chance meeting, on the day he was released, with the woman who would later become his wife (and the artists’ mother).  They escaped to America and have lived happily ever since.

The first sculpture that the young artist made is one that she has fondness for but one that she never thought was very “strong” as a piece.  But one day she is told that a celebrity, a Haitian beauty who now appears on an American television show, wants to buy this sculpture as a gift to her own father.  The sculptor is so excited, that she personally travels across the country to deliver the sculpture to the celebrity.  She invites her father along since he was the inspiration. (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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