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Archive for the ‘George Orwell’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: POCHONBO ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE-“Where Are You, Dear General?”

One thing the book does not mention is this song which is played every morning in Pyongyang at 6AM.

There’s a clip of the song being broadcast in front of Pyongyang Station here.

In this clip, the music is creepy and empty, played through exterior speakers and bouncing off of government buildings.  As one person commented, if this music had a color, it would be grey.

This recorded version, by North Korea’s most popular act, is a little different.  It’s much warmer with soft synth not unlike synthy new age from the 70s/80s.

Here’s some detail about the creators of this music (according the BBC):

The Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble were formed by Kim Jong-il in the early-80s and were the first North Korean band to use electric guitars, synthesisers and saxophone, drawing on Korean folk music, but also Chinese, Soviet and, to a smaller extent, Western pop. They take their name from the 1937 Battle of Pochonbo, in which a group of guerrillas were led by Kim Il-sung in an attack on occupying Japanese forces (yet, despite this, they have toured in Japan). They’ve released over 150 CDs.

After 2 minutes of spacey intro, the vocals come in–a big chorus of voices asking “Supreme Headquarters. Where are you? Lead us to you.”

At 3 minutes the lead vocals come in, sung by Hyon Song-wol.  The music stays much the same (with echoing sounds and trippy synths) but Hyon Song-wol’s voice soars over the top and is quite lovely as she sings unabashed propaganda wonder where their supreme general is and when he will keep them warm and safe.

For a longer essay about this mysterious wake up alarm, check out this article from nknews.

[READ: December 29, 2019] Pyongyang

I really enjoyed Delisle’s A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting.  It was very funny and I really liked his drawing style.  Delisle has written several other books (published by Drawn & Quarterly) and I was really excited to see this one come across my desk (it’s a 2018 printing although it doesn’t look like there’s anything added).

The introduction by director Gore Verbinsky sets the stage for what this book is.  In 2001, Delisle was allowed into North Korea to work on an animated cartoon for two months.

In animated movies, there are “key frames” which are sort of the highlight moments.  In between these key frames are where the North Korean animators draw–the in-betweens.  Canadian and Europeans (and some American) directors then supervise the completion–often trying very hard to get the animators to understand simple Western ideas.

Verbinsky says that Delisle “reduces the amplitude to get underneath the narrative and break down a belief system into something infinitely relatable.  He looks at the daily life of people existing in these “in-betweens” and looks at the citizens who “exist in a bubble of fear.”

The book was translated by Helge Dascher.

Delisle’s self-portrait character is a simply drawn man with a big nose, tiny eyes and a very expressive face. As the story opens he is at customs where they ask about the book he brought (1984–with a funny scene about that later) and his music Aphex Twin.  His driver picks him up from the airport–you don’t go anywhere in North Korea without an escort.  Delilse is shocked that the driver is smoking in than air conditioned car with the windows closed:  “Great.  I can’t breathe and I’m cold.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 25, 2019] Ice Nine Kills

I was unfamiliar with Ice Nine Kills until my son started talking about them.  Then his friend invited him to see a show at the Starland Ballroom on May 3 (Ice Nine Kills was not headlining–the lineup was Falling In Reverse, Ice Nine Kills, From Ashes to New and New Years Day).  So I was a little bummed that he didn’t go to his first club show with me, but it’s much cooler that he went with his friend.  He loved the show.

So when they announced that they were playing at TLA and headlining the Octane Accelerator Tour (a Sirius XM thing), I made sure we got tickets (even though it was a Monday night).

The show was (I’m exhausted just thinking about it) FIVE bands and started at 6PM (!).

The lineup was Ice Nine Kills, Fit For A King, Light The Torch, Make Them Suffer, & Awake At Last.

Since it was a Monday night, I knew it would be really hard to get there for the first band, so we decided we would assume we’d miss Awake at Last.  Then on November 5th, Make Them Suffer (who are Australian) announced:

Unfortunately we have had some serious setbacks with immigration, and were unable to secure the visas we needed in time for these shows.

TLA said the show would go on at the same time which was great for us since it meant we would get home about 30 minutes earlier.  I also figured I’d take my son for some good ol’ Philly cheese steaks before the show since Jim’s is just a few doors down.

We enjoyed out cheese steaks quite a lot and as we walked past the theater I asked the guy at the door which band was on.  He said the second band was on and since we had plenty of time, we decided to go to Atomic City Comics (which is a wonderful store).

We headed back to TLA figuring we’d be in the middle of Fit for a King.  But as we walked in, they were between bands.  The woman at the merch table said that ice Nine Kills was up in ten minutes!  We’d missed all of the opening bands! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSPIRIT OF THE WEST-Live at Massey Hall (June 6, 2015).

This proves to be a pretty powerful show.

I was introduced to Spirit of the West by my Vancouver based friend Amber back in the 1990s.  I didn’t really keep up with them, but I have long enjoyed their album faithlift.

But here it is 2015 and as the blurb at the beginning of the show says:

In 2014, at the age of 51, John Mann, Spirit of the West’s lead singer, was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  On June 6, 2015, Spirit of the West would play their one and only show at Toronto’s Legendary Massey Hall.

The rest of the band includes Hugh McMillan, Vince Ditrich, Tobin Frank and Matthew Harder all of whom play various instruments including keyboards, accordion and all things with strings.

Most of the band have never been in Massey or even seen it.  But they marvel at the venue and are genuinely moved by the end of this show.

They open with their hit (from faithlift) “And If Venice is Sinking.”  It’s got accordion and a big bass line and some funny lyrics and a full backing vocal chorus.

We made love upon a bed
That sagged down to the floor
In a room that had a postcard on the door
Of Marini’s Little Man
With an erection on a horse
It always leaves me laughing

John Mann is the lead singer, Geoff Kelly is the co-lead guy.  He does most of the speaking.  He says “This is as close as were every gonna get to Beatlemania.”

Next up is “King of Scotland” about a man who desperately wanted to be Scottish.  It, like many of their songs is a rousing half-trad/half rocking song.  Incidentally, Mann has been singing off of an iPad to help with his memory.

“Doin’ Quite Alright” is the first of many songs sung by Kelly.  he also plays bodhran.  It sounds quite trad and is much faster with a  cool bassline.  The addition of 70s sounding keyboards is a little odd though.

“July” sees the introduction of what I think is a bouzouki and sounds an awful lot like “Love is All Around” by Wet Wet Wet except for the fun and powerful chorus of JuLYYYYYYYY!

Kelly jokes that someone in the band is delighted by Massey Hall because it is finally something he’s found that is older than Kelly is.

Up next is “Political,” a song “we recorded on our Labour Day record in 1988ish and then again on Go Figure and then again with the Vancouver symphony.  I guess we really like this song.  Kelly is on flute and plays a wild harmonica solo.

Next up is their newest song, which is about 12 years old.  It’s about how every year New Year’s parties just get worse and worse.  “Another Happy New Year” starts out with slow staccato piano and then it really takes off (with Kelly on the penny whistle).

After sincerely thanking everyone for their kindness (it’s getting pretty emotional), they are going to play a drinking song called The Crawl.  The crowd really gets into the raucous song.

The night ends with Kelly saying this was the most awesome night ever.  They are going to leave everyone with “Home for a Rest.”  The audience sings along with Mann for the first verse and then Mann backs off and lets them sing it all.  It’s pretty great.  As is the song which ends with a wild instrumental jam that’s basically a flute-led jig which ends the sing and the show.

I imagine being there was pretty special.

[READ: May 15, 2018] “Nothing But”

This is a wonderful short essay on memory with the epigram: “The truth–that thing I thought I was telling.”

He begins by talking about a chapter in his book White Sands about a visit to the house of Theodor Adorno.  The essay takes its title “Pilgrimage” from a short story (why is it not considered a memoir?) by Susan Sontag in which she and her friend Merrill went to the house of Thomas Mann when she was 14.

It came out later that Merrill never understood why Susan left their friend Gene (who had gone with them) out of the story entirely.  (It happened in 1947, she wrote it in 1987).   This shows “a startling manifestation of the vagaries of memory and a vindication of what can sometimes seem like the fussiness of editorial fact-checking.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live in Brooklyn (2006).

Just over ten years ago I started this blog.  And sometime in May of 2007 I wrote about this disc.  Well, actually, I didn’t really write about it. Initially the “soundtrack” was just the record I was listening to that day.  I didn’t really write about the music at all.  The only thing I noted about this disc was that a 17 minute guitar solo is not such a good idea when you are sleepy.

So, now that I’ve often spent more words on the music than the stories, here’s a full review of this live album (their fifth “official” live record).

This show was performed on June 17, 2004–the opening night of what was promoted as the band’s final tour, before their 2004 breakup.

This show starts with “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.”  It is a rocking opening although it sounds a bit flat.  “Dinner and a Movie” is fun, an angular version with a perfectly jazzy end section.  It segues into a great 13-minute version of “The Curtain With” and then a short, fast “Sample in a Jar.”

“The Moma Dance” has a lengthy intro before the song starts and then a long jam afterwards.  It’s fifteen minutes long and then segues into an outstanding “Free.”  There’s a particularly cool razzy funky bass solo.  “Nothing” is a sweet song from Undermind, a nice mellow come down after Free and a good workout for Page on piano.  It’s followed by “Maze.”  This one sounds a little funny, but there’s some great soloing from Trey and Page.  Trey’s solo starts trippy and then turns wild and really rocking.  “Frankenstein” is not quite as faithful to the original as some earlier versions, but they’ve played it many times by this point.

Set 2 opens with the crowd chanting “It’s 1, 2, 3, strikes you’re out at the old ball game” and then it’s a 17 minute version of “46 Days.”  It mostly a guitar solo that segues into a long version of “Possum,” although this “Possum” is rather slow, comparatively.  The solo grooves along until it gets down to a quiet moment.  Then there’s a short “Oh Kee Pah” that launches into a rollicking 18-minute “Suzy Greenberg” with a great jam in the middle.  It segues into a super rocking “Axilla” and then segues into a groovy “2001.”  The jam on that song lasts 9 minutes and it’s connected to an excellent “Birds of a Feather.”

They dedicate the insane “Kung” to the people at the US Open next door.  They are going to sing it very loud so that the players can hear it.  And after the runaway gold cart marathon, Trey says they’re going to slow things down with “Mike’s Song,” but its’ got a very fast jam in the middle.  It does slow down to a mellow “I Am Hydrogen,” which segues into a romping “Weekapaug Groove.”

The encore is “Divided Sky.”   There’s a 1:15 pause while Trey doesn’t play the next note before beginning the rest of the show.  The crowd gets really restless.  It’s pretty funny.

This entire concert was simulcast on over 100 movie theater screens around the country.  The band was supposed to break up for good after this tour.  But here it is 13 years later and they are playing better than ever.

[READ: March 27, 2017] “Down and Out in Paris and London”

This issue of Lucky Peach includes an excerpt from a book by George Orwell.  Down and Out in Paris and London was the first full-length work by Orwell, published in 1933.  It is a memoir in two parts on the theme of poverty in the two cities.

What does it have to do with food?  Well, it was originally called “A Scullion’s Diary.”  And this excerpt comes from around Chapter III where the narrator obtains a job as a plongeur (dishwasher) in the kitchen at “Hotel X.”

He explains that one of the few humane jobs in the kitchen was polishing silver and glasses–at least the waiters might treat you as something of an equal.  Otherwise he was washing crockery–often for thirteen hours a day.

He marvels that the squalor of their kitchen–“we are in disgusting filth”–was only double doors away from the splendid dining room.  He says “we slithered about in a compound of soapy water, lettuce leaves, torn paper, and trampled food.” (more…)

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vonlastintSOUNDTRACKSURFER BLOOD-“Demon Dance” (Live at SXSW, March 27, 2013).

surfer blood

I’ve liked Surfer Blood since I first heard them.  They write catchy, mostly short, poppy songs.  And usually after a few listens, the hooks really grab you.  The strange thing about the band is that the hooks aren’t always readily apparent, which makes their songs sound kind of samey sometimes.

Of course, samey isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  Surfer Blood is quite distinctive and I tend to enjoy everything they do.  This new song sounds like their other stuff, which is fine.  But the most distinctive thing about the band of probably their singer who sounds like a less-affected Morrissey.

Having also listened to the song from the album I can say that the singer is far harder to understand live, so maybe live is not the best way to hear a new song from them, but for an old favorite, Surfer Blood has a great energy live.

Watch the show here and hear the studio version here.

[READ: March 27, 2013] The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Melville House has published a number of these “Last Interview” books, and as a completist I feel compelled to read them.  I have read criticisms of the series primarily because what the books are are collections of interviews including the last interview that the writer gave.  They don’t have anything new or proprietary.  The last interview just happens to be the last one he gave.   So it seems a little disingenuous, but is not technically wrong.

There’s so far five books in the series, and I figured I’d read at least three (Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolaño–the other two turned out to be Jorge Luis Borges–who I would be interested in reading about and Jacques Derrida (!) who I have always loved–I guess this series was tailor made for me).

At any rate, these interviews are from various times and locations in Vonnegut’s career.  There are six in total.  I don’t know if the titles they give here were the titles in the original publications but here’s what’s inside:

  • “Kurt Vonnegut: The Art of Fiction” from The Paris Review, Spring 1977 (by David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes)
  • “There Must be More to Love Than Death” from The Nation, August 1980 (by Robert K. Musil)
  • “The Joe & Kurt Show” from Playboy, May 1982 (by Joseph Heller and Carole Mallory)
  • “The Melancholia of Everything Completed” from Stop Smiling, August 2006 (by J.C. Gabel)
  • “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut” from U.S. Airways Magazine (!!!), June 2007 (by J. Rentilly)
  • “The Last Interview” from In These Times May 9, 2007 (by Heather Augustyn) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANDROIDS-“Fire’s Highway” (2012).

I regret dismissing the suggestions of the NPR folks the other day.  As the more I dig into their suggestions, the more I like–seems their selections are better than their descriptions of said selections.  Take this description of the Japandoids’ album: “snarling punk meets the fist-in-the-air anthemics of Born to Run-era Springsteen and his modern-day equivalents in The Gaslight Anthem.”  I’ve never really liked Springsteen (I know, a Jersey boy, too).  I think it’s more about production (and saxophone) than anything else.  So, comparing bands to him is never a sell for me (even if it may be true).  To me, this sounds much more like a low-key Arcade Fire (with literally no pretensions to anything–I mean, there’s only 2 Japandroids).  Granted, Arcade Fire owe a lot to Springsteen too, but they do something different with his sound, which is why I like them.  [I’m not going to be able to argue my way out of this].

Anyhow, this song is a four minutes of punky guitars and a stupidly catchy chorus.  The fact that it’s only two guys makes it all the more remarkable that it sounds like a full band.  And perhaps, the biggest difference for me is the singer’s voice which feels very early 90s alt rock/punk.  Whatever it is, I’m a fan and will certainly be listening to more of this album.

[READ: June 14, 2012] “The Clockwork Condition”

Like most young men of a certain bent, I loved A Clockwork Orange.  I’ve watched it dozens of times and I’ve read the book.  What I especially like about the story is that my feelings about it change as I get older—which, while not the point exactly, is certainly a theme in the story–how age makes things seem different.  The most important thing I learned from this article is that there was an epilogue in the British version of the book that was not available in the American version (or the film).  And it seems to be pretty important.  What a strange thing to leave out.

Incidentally, Burgess wrote the book in 1962 and the film came out in 1973, which is why he was wrote this in 1973.  He says he was asked about Issues that arose from the film.  And he talks a lot about them.

But he also gives a lot of background.  The title of the book comes from the expression “as queer as a clockwork orange” which is Cockney slang for something so weird it subverts nature.  It was a perfect title for an idea he was going to write about—how people suggested using aversion therapy to change juvenile delinquent behavior.

So this article goes on for a pretty long time, raising all kinds of questions.  It’s really articulate and fascinating and really makes me want to re-read the anti-authoritarian novels I read in high school: 1984, It Can’t Happen Here, Brave New World.   He even talks about B.F. Skinner, who proposed that aversion therapy (which is what Alex gets in the book/movie) was wrong and that positive reinforcement was always more effective.  Skinner worked with animals (Burgess jokes about that) and the whole “you get more flies with honey” attitude works better for training animals he says.  The same is true for people.  Besides, aversion therapy removes freewill. (more…)

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