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Archive for the ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MAC MILLER-Tiny Desk Concert #773 (August 6, 2018).

Man, I hate Mac Miller’s delivery on “Smaaaaaall Worlds.”  The way he drags out those words, the fact that his mouth i full of gauze,  The way he pauses from time to time which makes it seem like he forgot the words.  Although as with a lot of rappers at Tiny Desk, the live band including Alexander “Justus” West (Guitar) and Kendall Lewis (Drums) really make the music sound good.

The best part is when Thundercat comes over decked out ion his colorful regalia and plays the shaker midway through the song.  And when Mac acknowledges Thundercat on the shaker–why is Mac’s speaking voice so much clearer than his rapping voice?

Mac real name Malcolm James Meyers McCormick is pretty funny when he’s just talking, too.  I was wondering how a young guy I’d never heard of could be so cocky at this Tiny Desk, then I saw

With nearly a decade under his belt at 26 years old, these words ring like an artist twice his age.  We were introduced to Mac Miller via 2011’s XXL Freshman Class, which featured a special crop of MCs such as Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill and YG, all of whom are now considered in the upper echelon of hip-hop. After his big splash, he’s been able to find a groove and consistently release quality rap records, ultimately keeping his name in the conversation with the other young greats. These consecutive triumphs amassed plenty of fame, fortune and insurmountable obstacles, causing a stumble here and there. Throughout the years, however, Mac has brushed himself off and put it in the music.

The real star of “What’s the Use” is Thundercat on bass.  I don’t even follow the words I’m so focused on Thundercat’s amazing six string bass work.  And when Thundercat sings “I Just Wanna Fly” and takes a credit, it wins over the room.

The other bassist Joseph Cleveland is also great, when Thundercat trades off for the final song.

For the final song, “2009” he says he wanted to have strings on this song but they couldn’t travel with strings.  So they sent the music to these guys (Robin Fay-Massie (Violin), YaShauna Swan (2nd Violin), Lelia Walker (Viola), Melanie Hsu (Cello)).  They just played it for the first time 20 minutes ago.  The strings are lovely with the piano (Javad Day).  The music deserves better than his lame drawl for a vocal line.  Even if the lyrics are introspective and “mature.”

[READ: November 11, 2018] “The Poor Girl”

F. Scott Fitzgerald kept a notebook for stories ideas.  This story comes from idea he never wrote about.  Nunez and other authors wrote stories from these ideas for McSweeney’s 22.  I didn’t write about individual stories in that post, so I get to here.

Nunez chose”Girl marries a dissipated man and keeps him in healthy seclusion.  She meanwhile grows restless and raises hell on the side.”

And she conveys it well, with some delicious details.

This is told by a third party, a friend of the dissipated man.  He explains that Calvin Trent had been a writer, now well into his decline, when he met the girl (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JORJA SMITH-Tiny Desk Concert #753 (June 11, 2018).

I’s never heard of Jorja Smith before.  But the blurb really sets the scene for the R&B that followed.

It’s a good thing the weather was gloomy the day Jorja Smith rolled in for her Tiny Desk concert. Even though the skies threatened rain and thunder, the overcast light lingering in our dimmed office space allowed the teardrop pendant lights, hung from the ceiling by her lighting team, to cast the desk in a warm, honey-hued glow. And while the nimble guitar strings and double-time drums of her supporting band was enough to dizzy the focus in the room, it was the U.K. singer’s slow, silky cadence that anchored the performance in tranquility.

Smith sings three songs.

“On My Mind” starts out wonderfully with slick trippy drum beat (lots of double-time rim shots) and a great funky bassline.  The keys add nice touches on top of the songs.  But when Jorja sings, she sounds just like a soulful British pop singer, which I just don’t like all that much.  There’s some interesting and at the same time cheesy-sounding electric guitar that accents the ends of the verses.   In other words, there’s a lot to like but overall I just don’t.

It is followed by “Teenage Fantasy” (a ballad to love lost written when she was 16).  It’s a lot poppy and less funky.

When she closed her eyes to deliver the rap verse of “Blue Lights,” the anti-injustice song that first positioned her as a SoundCloud darling in 2016, a hush fell over the room in awe of her precision.

She ends with “Blue Lights” a more R&B poppy song.  Again I like the drums but don’t like the R&B keening.

After she finished, but before retreating to the comfort of Supreme sweats, Smith and her band bestowed the Tiny Desk with a blue lava lamp signed by every member. Keep an eye out for that Easter egg in future episodes.

[READ: February 4, 2018] “The Education of Mr. Bumby”

This was a previously unpublished sketch included in a new edition a A Movable Feast, which I’ve never read.

I’m not a huge fan of Hemingway, and this excerpt (even if it is a sketch) didn’t appeal to me much.

This is non-fiction.  The narrator and his son Bumby spent much time in cafes.  I know that Hemingway is known for his brevity so this long sentence was quite surprising.

Touton had a great part in the formative years of Bumby’s life and when there would be too many people at the Closerie des Lilas for us to work well or I thought he needed a change of scene I would wheel him in his carriage or later we would walk to the café on the Place Saint Michel where he would study the people and the busy life of that part of Paris where I did my writing over a café crème. Everyone had their private cafés there where they never invited anyone and would go to work or to read or to receive their mail. They had other cafés where they would meet their mistresses and almost everyone had another café, a neutral café, where they might invite you to meet their mistress and there were regular, convenient, cheap dining places where everyone might eat on neutral ground. It was nothing like the organization of the Montparnasse quarter centered about the Dôme, Rotonde, Select, and later the Coupole or the Dingo bar which you read about in the books of early Paris.  As Bumby grew to be a bigger boy he spoke excellent French and, while he was trained to keep absolutely quiet and only study and observe while I worked, when he saw that I was finished he would confide in me something that he had learned from Touton.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AIMEE MANN-Tiny Desk Concert #618 (May 8, 2017).

Aimee Mann is pretty legendary at this point.  Starting out in ’til Tuesday, she has since made a name for herself as a solo artist (and collaborator).  Her solo albums are sweetly sad: she writes pretty melodies with rather downcast lyrics that sometimes have humor in them.  She has done a previous Tiny Desk with Ted Leo–they were called The Both.

Her voice is calm and kind of deep and she casts rather an imposing figure given her height.  I saw her live about ten years ago and while I don’t remember all that much from it, I know I enjoyed her.

I have a few of her albums, but I haven’t really gotten anything recently because she’s a bit to melancholy for me, and I feel like her songs tend to sound a bit the same–I keep waiting for all of these songs to end with the chorus of “I’ve Had It” (one of her earlier songs that I rather like).

Despite these criticisms, there’s no doubt that her songs are quite lovely, and when Jonathan Coulton sings backing vocals it’s pretty great.

She plays four songs from her new album, Mental Illness. On “Rollercoasters” it’s just her and Coluton.  The second song is “You Never Loved Me”–“It’s another cheery, optimistic number.”  For this track, Aimee plays guitar and is joined by Paul Bryan on bass and Jamie Edwards on piano.  The band fleshes out the sound nicely, with a good bottom end.

The title of “Goose Snow Cone” is never explained, which is a shame.  There’s a lovely guitar melody on this song.   “Patient Zero” opens with a backing ooooh vocal.  There’s some great deep bass notes from the piano and I love the way the end of the song features the guys singing a chorus while Aimee sings a counterpoint vocal.  It’s my favorite moment in the show.

[READ: March 2, 2017] “The I.O.U.”

I didn’t think I’d read any storied by Fitzgerald (aside from Gatsby) but it turns out I had read a short story by him about five years ago.  I described it as enjoyable but slight.

This story from 1920 is clever and funny and was previously unpublished.

I enjoyed the initial construct:

The above is not my real name—the fellow it belongs to gave me his permission to sign it to this story. My real name I shall not divulge. I am a publisher. I accept long novels about young love written by old maids in South Dakota, detective stories concerning wealthy clubmen and female apaches with “wide dark eyes,” essays about the menace of this and that and the color of the moon in Tahiti by college professors and other unemployed. I accept no novels by authors under fifteen years old. All the columnists and communists (I can never get these two words straight) abuse me because they say I want money. I do—I want it terribly. My wife needs it. My children use it all the time.

Interesting opening, right?

So the unnamed publisher tells his story that six months ago he contracted for a book that was going to be a sure thing.  It was by Dr Harden, the psychic Research man.  He had published Harden’s first book in 1913 and it was a huge success.  This one promised to be even bigger.  The crux was that Harden’s nephew had been killed in the war and Dr. Harden had been able to contact him with psychic powers.  Harden was a distinguished psychologist–no fruitcake–and his book was neither callous nor credulous.  He even mentions in the book how a man named Wilkins had comes to his door claiming that his deceased nephew owed him three dollars and eighty cents–but Dr Harden refused to ask his dead nephew about the money–that was like praying to the saints about a lost umbrella.

When the book was finally done (and it looked beautiful), they sent copies everywhere–300,000 first print run.

The book was a success already and he decided to visit Dr Harden to celebrate.  He hopped on the train with some free copies of the book.  He handed them out to people on the train

Before we came to Trenton, a lady with a lorgnette in one of the staterooms was suspiciously turning the pages of hers, the young man who had the upper of my section was deeply engrossed in his, and a girl with reddish hair and peculiarly mellow eyes was playing tic-tac-toe in the back of a third.

The publisher fell asleep and when he woke he saw the man reading the book seemed deeply agitated.  The publisher asked him what the matter was and the man said that the value of the book depended entirely on whether the young man was actually dead or alive.  The publishers said the the man must be in Paradise not–in Purgatory.  The man said it would be even more embarrassing if he were in a third place.

Like where?

Like Yonkers.

For, it turns out that the man reading the book was in fact Cosgrove P. Harden: “I am not dead; I have never been dead, and after reading that book I will never again feel it quite safe to die.”

I loved this joke:

The girl across the aisle was so startled at my cry of grief and astonishment that she put down a tic instead of a tac.

The rest of the story concerns our publisher’s attempts to figure out what to do about this mess.  Surely the not-dead boy wouldn’t spoil all of the fun (and money).  They wind up going to the doctor’s house where the publisher meets Thalia, the woman who was in love with Cosgrove.  And she is angry at the Doctor for humiliating Cosgrove in death.

And the publisher gets an idea.

So he plays out his idea as best he can and things seem to be going along pretty smoothly but then Fitzgerald does something rather unexpected and I really got a kick out of it.  It turned this story which was pretty funny into a story that was pretty funny and really clever as well.

I wonder why it was never published.

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textsSOUNDTRACK: MANATEE COMMUNE-“Wake” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2015).

manateeLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  And I want to draw extra attention to a couple of them.

I know very little about these bands, so I assume that Manatee Commune is just this one guy doing some pretty electronic music (with some live flourishes on top–but not looped apparently).

When there’s a cheesy black curtain, you know that it is either hiding something or covering something up.

Manatee Commune’s setting looks like he’s trying to hide something.  He plays it up by having furniture in front of the curtain which is slowly removed.  And then we learn what he is hiding—it’s a pretty magnificent reveal

The song is pretty cool too. It’s electronic (I’m not sure how it’s all playing–I don’t know much about electronic equipment these days). But the drums sure seem live when he bangs on them.  (And I enjoyed the way he discards the sticks when he is done). The live violin at the end is also a nice touch.

The song is interesting, although it’s not my favorite.  This is one where the video really sells the song.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qdtVdqbenw]

[READ: January 3, 2015] Texts from Jane Eyre

Sarah brought this book home from the library.  When I first heard about it a while back I thought it was a re imagining of Jane Eyre as text messages.  And I thought that was a really lame idea (and honestly isn’t the Jane Eyre trend over yet?).

That’s not quite what this book is though (note the subtitle).

Rather, it is a collection of imagined text messages between two (or more) characters from famous classics (and some non classics) of literature.  Knowing the originals helps tremendously, although sometimes even just knowing what the originals are about will do enough to make the jokes funny.

But the thing I found was that even though I fancy myself a well-read person who has read many of the stories, I didn’t always “get” what the joke was about.  I mean, I could tell obviously from the conversation what they were talking about, but I couldn’t always connect it to the story.  So basically this book made me feel really dumb. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Smashes, Thrashes + Hits (1988).

This was Kiss’ second greatest hits collection (Double Platinum being the first).  This was before there were literally hundreds of Kiss Greatest Hits collections.  Seriously, look at the list on AllMusic.  This was also the era in which bands would release a greatest hits collection and include one song to sucker fans into buying it.  And we did.

Kiss also re-recorded a bunch of songs for this disc (something they would do many times in the future as well).  I’m not exactly sure what has been re-recorded, although the one obvious change is that Eric Carr sings on “Beth.”  But some of the other songs get tweaks as well.

As for the two new songs, it seems like maybe they were leftovers from the Crazy Nights sessions–they are poppy with keyboards.  “Let’s Put the X in Sex” sounds a lot like Robert Palmer, which is pretty embarrassing.  Although interestingly, the song itself seems to serve as a model for a couple of songs on Hot in the Shade (as if maybe they thought Kiss fans wouldn’t buy the greatest hits?).  “(You Make Me) Rock Hard” is another okay song (which sounds a lot like another song on Hot in the Shade).  Both of these songs are just filled with sex similes, I swear they have more than any other writers in the world.  Both songs would be better without those pesky keyboards.  I rather liked the songs at the time as they are both better than anything on Crazy Nights, although neither one has held up all that well.

And “Beth,”  Kiss’ biggest hit, which may be largely forgotten by the general public by now, has Eric Carr on vocals.  He sounds a bit like Peter Criss, but without Criss’ years of hard living in his voice.  It’s a weird choice, although I understand it from a business standpoint–which is clearly more important than the music, right?

[READ: August 10, 2012] “Paris in the Twenties”

This story starts out with a paragraph that I found very confusingly written.  There’s a very long sentence with several clauses that, after reading the story, make perfect sense, but which up front are more than a little confusing.  The upshot of that paragraph is that in 1972, when the narrator was a senior in high school, a whole bunch of bad things happened to her in a short period of time–just before they were to hear which of the Seven Sisters had accepted them.

The catalyst was that her father threw a tumbler of scotch at the giant window of their penthouse apartment.  The window shattered but did not fall and the glass came back into the room.  The irony of course is that he had chosen the apartment for the gorgeous panoramic views those windows afforded.  Her father had been riled up about the state of the world, and felt that the sexual revolution meant that monogamy was outdated.

Their father was also very conscious of wealth and was very conscious of appearing wealthy–even if “he usually had more credit than money and now had very little of either.”

The narrator escaped into fantasies of Paris in the twenties–she read A Moveable Feast and was determined to move to Paris even if the party was over decades ago. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS-“Cigarette Dangles” (1993).

TPOH’s “I’m an Adult Now,” (especially the first version) was a favorite song of mine back in the late 1980s.  It was raw and funny and fun to listen to.  TPOH has had a hard time of it over the years, getting bumped from labels and whatnot, but they’ve consistently released decent hits.

By 1993, Moe Berg’s voice is remarkably conventional.  Indeed, there’s not all much that’s alternative about this song at all.  It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s just kind of blah, the roughness has been smoothed off and despite words like: “Cigarette dangles, makes me hard,” the backing vocals and such make it sound like a poppy B-52s.

Huh, given what I just wrote, why wasn’t this song massive?  Cool guitar sound too.

[READ: August 2, 2012] “Thank You for the Light”

I always like when the New Yorker throws in a “classic” story, although I do wonder if contemporary artists are pissed by their famous elders coming back. In all fairness though I would think this story was chosen for its length (it’s only one page).

This is a straightforward and simple story.  Mrs Hanson is a pretty, forty-year-old divorcee.  She’s a saleswoman and has been given a new contract closer to her home state of Ohio.  When she gets to her new territories, she learns that people frown on smoking: “It’s not that I mind, but it has a bad influence on the employees.”   But man, she really wants a smoke, especially after a long day: “Smoking meant a lot to her sometimes.”  And so, she tries to find a place to light up without anyone seeing her.  And that’s pretty much it.  (more…)

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