Archive for the ‘Herman Melville’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON-Grizzly Man Soundtrack (2005).

This is a largely instrumental soundtrack by Richard Thompson.  It features some wonderful guitar work (no surprise there).  There are several slow acoustic numbers (“Tim & the Bears,” “Foxes”–which is in the style of his old traditional folk ballads) there’s also the slow impassioned electric guitar solo (set over a simple beat) of “Main Title.”  “Ghosts in the Maze ” is a dark piece, the exact opposite of “Glencoe” a traditional-sounding song, both of these are under two minutes long.  “Parents” adds a cello, which means a sombre song.  “Twilight Cowboy” is one of the longer pieces, and it really conveys an openness of nature.

“Treadwell No More” is a slow six-minute dirge type song.  “That’s My Story” has spoken dialogue by Treadwell, over a simple unobtrusive guitar.  But as the title of the record says, Music composed and performed by Richard Thompson.  Which means there are other musicians on the soundtrack too.  “Small Racket” is where things start to get noisy and a little uncomfortable.  There’s some squeaks and slashes of sound, but it’s mostly a tense guitar feel.  Then comes the darker, scarier stuff.  “Bear Fight,” is a series of cello noises and swipes.  “Big Racket” is indeed that, with guitar from Henry Kaiser and noises from Jim O’Rourke.  “Corona for Mr Chocolate” is all Jim O’Rourke, it’s also odd noises and moods.  None of these three songs are terribly off-putting but they reflect a very different tone.

The album ends with “Main Title Revisited,” which is what it says and “Coyotes” by Don Edwards which has some coyote yodels.

It’s a good soundtrack, really conveying what the movie is about, and while not essential Richard Thompson, it is still some great guitar work

[READ: July 23, 2012] Magic Hours

I thought that I had never heard of Tom Bissell, but I see that I have read three of these articles already (I guess I don’t always pay attention to the author’s name).

This collection of essays comes from the last eleven years (2000-2011).  The articles have appeared in The Believer & The New Yorker (these are the ones I have read) and Boston Review, Harper’s, New York Times Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Times Book Review and Outside (which I am starting to think I should really check out more).

Primarily they are articles about writing–he looks at fiction, non-fiction, film or a combination of them.  Bissell is a strong writer and he does not hold back when he sees something he likes or dislikes.  I found his articles (all of which are quite long–about 30 pages each) to be engaging, funny and very persuasive.  I’m really glad I read the book (and was even glad to re-read the articles that i had read before). (more…)

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This song appears as a bonus track on the Bidiniband album.  But I’ve been aware of it since 2007 when he played it on his solo tours.  It is essentially a list of 4 Canadians who are “killing us, killing us now.”  The list includes Tim Horton’s (purveyor of delicious donuts), Chad Krueger (from Nickelback), Zack Werner (a judge on Canadian Idol), and Stephen Harper (I shouldn’t have to tell you).

But the key to the song is the chorus: “where are the angry young ones….”  This song should become the unofficial song from Occupy Wall Street.  It would be very easy to modify.  Hey Dave, if you’re free you should head on down and serenade these angry young ones.

Here’s a great live version done in a record store in which he is close enough to have a casual chat about the very song he is singing in the middle of the song.

He also ends it a little differently than the original.  It’s catchy and easily adaptable.  Good on ya, Dave.

[READ: November 19, 2011] “Who Wrote Shakespeare?”

No one has traded off of his Monty Python fame as much as Eric Idle.  All of the other Pythons have moved on in one direction or another, but Eric keeps the torch alive (see Eric Idle Sings Monty Python and Spamalot).  He even has a little nod to MP in this essay with the asterisk next to his name which leads to (*Most likely Michael Palin, really).  This refusal to let go of Python has at least kept his wit sharp, as we see in this Shouts & Murmurs.

My main problem (as I’ve said before) with the Shouts & Murmurs is that they are usually too long.  But, as Python knew, keep it short and funny and you’ll succeed.  So this two-column piece never really flags in its simple premise.

Which is that everyone knows that Ben Jonson really wrote all of Shakespeare.  Idle presents a list of all of the famous books that were really written by someone else.  For example, “Simone de Beauvoir wrote all of Balzac and a good deal of ‘Les Misérables,’ despite the fact that she was not born yet when she did so.”   And my favorite: “‘Moby Dick’ was written not by Herman Melville but by Hermann Melbrooks, who wrote most of it in Yiddish on the boat from Coney island.”  The joke about Henry James is very funny and too good to spoil. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUBLIC ENEMY-Fear of a Black Planet (1990).

NPR recently broadcast a PE show from the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival.  I didn’t know that PE was still touring, so that was a surprise to me.  The show was largely a celebration of Fear of a Black Planet, which meant that I had to go back and listen to the original.

Man, is this a solid album.  The lyrics pack a punch even twenty years later and what is perhaps more amazing is that the sound collages that Terminator X created, which were something of an oppressive sonic assault are now fairly mainstream-sounding (forward thinking or what?).

What I like about this (and most PE) albums, is that  they have little skits between songs, but unlike most rap skits they’re not one-not jokes that you listen to once and then skip every future time.  A wonderful skit (for lack of a better word) is “Incident at 66.6 FM” in which we hear an amazing amount of racist epithets thrown at PE apparently on the radio.  Or the rather disturbing “Meet the G That Killed Me.”  “Anti-Nigger Machine” is a great collage of samples like “Think” and James Brown and a dozen more songs.

“Can’t Do Nuttin for Ya, Man!” is a (sort of) comic song from Flav that is catchy as anything. While “Reggie Jax” is a confusingly titled song that has nothing to do with baseball, but everything to do with funk.

Of course, this disc has some of PE’s best songs as well.  From the awesome “911 is a Joke” to one of the best rap songs ever, “Welcome to the Terrordome” (my favorite story of this song is when I was wearing a  Welcome to the Terrordome shirt and my philosophy professor asked me quite pointedly, “What in the hell is a terrordome.”  That was a fun conversation).  “Terrordome” is still amazing–powerful, musically intense and for all of its lyrical acuity, it still has funny moments….boing.

And of course, “Burn Hollywood Burn” is an amazing critique of the movie industry (and it’s catchy too).  I got Black Caesar back at the crib, right Lar?

I’ve always been a little confused by “Pollywannacracker.”  Not lyrically, but vocally, as Chuck’s (is it really Chuck?) voice is treated in a surprisingly tinny way.  I liked the song more on this listen than any other, I guess in the past it just kind of snuck by me.

The album is a little front loaded with greatness.   “Power to the People” is another powerful song, but it’s not quite as memorable as the other tracks.  “Fear of a Black Planet” has some really cool sounds on it (where did they get that “black man, black woman, black baby” sample?).   “Revolutionary Generation” is a great track in which Chuck and Flav stand up for black women: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, my sister’s not my enemy.”  Not your average rap subject.

And the last couple of proper songs, “B Side Wins Again” and “War at 33 1/3” are fast paced and furious, but they don’t really have much in the way of a hook.  Nevertheless, lyrically they are really great, and I love to hear Chuck D flow that quickly.

The biggest surprise for me is the censored version of “Fight the Power” (the song that got me into PE in the first place, thanks Spike).  It’s really surprising to me that PE allowed their music to be bleeped–unless it was just for a deliberate radio play (which I can accept).  Although they also list a title as “Leave This Off You Fu*Kin Charts” (did I buy a Columbia House version or something?)

This is an amazing album, one that still sounds fresh and sadly, is still relevant.

[READ: October 15, 2011] Between Parentheses

I never expected to get so addicted to Roberto Bolaño.  And despite his death, there is no shortage of works coming out in English (that is one of the advantages to reading a translated author–even death doesn’t cease the available materials).  Indeed, this year alone, New Directions is publishing Between Parentheses, and Tres and FSG is publishing The Third Reich (a collection of non fiction, a collection of poetry and a novel respectively).

When I really get into an author, I fall for his or her works, not necessarily him or her as a person (heck, some author are downright jerks).  But there are some authors that I want to know about, personally.  Bolaño is a pretty polarizing figure–he seems obnoxious, his works don’t shy away from very specific opinions, and sometimes it’s unclear what kind of views Bolaño himself has in his works (or if he’s even telling the truth about his so-called truths).  One thing in particular is the constant use of the word “faggot.”  It is used often in 2666 (and I know that is a translator’s choice, but still) and used derogatorily.  Now, clearly the context is everything for something like that.  But it seems to speak badly of Bolaño.  And yet, when reading these essays he is not homophobic in the least.  He is obviously well aware of institutionalized homophobia in Latin America, and he is obviously not supportive of it.

But that’s just one interesting thing about this book.  So let me back up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON-New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges [CST075] (2011).

When you learn that Stetson played saxophone for Tom Waits, it makes perfect sense.  The middle of the second song, “Judges” sounds like the instrumental break for any of Waits’ newer songs.  Of course, once Stetson starts really wailing you realize that Stetson doesn’t need Waits’ lyrics to tell a story. With just one big-assed bass saxophone, Steston can say quite a lot.  He plays with circular breathing, meaning that he doesn’t have to stop to take a breath, he breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth at the same time (this is of course impossible).  The bass saxophone weighs some 20 pounds and is massive and Stetson makes it sound like everything from an oil tanker to a field of runaway horses.  Oh, and he also has pretty melodies and songs that sound longing.

This disc is part two of a trilogy, but this is the first of his records that I bought (thanks to a release via the folks at Constellation–I wonder if they will redistribute Pt 1).  There is a story that runs through these discs, although honestly, I’m not entirely sure what it is.  But that doesn’t matter to me, what matters is Steston’s amazing skills.

There are evidently a couple of overdubs on this disc, but for the most part it is just him and his saxophone (and 24 microphones).  The microphones were placed all over the room, on the instrument itself (to pick up the clacking of the keys) and even on his throat (when he makes those “voices muffled by a pillow” sound, that’s the throat mike picking up voice–singing while he is playing (which is impossible)).

The album features a couple of spoken word sections by Laurie Anderson, whose clipped, non-inflected voice gives this otherworldy music an even more otherworldy feel.  And there’s two songs sung by Shara Worden.  Other than that, it’s just the man himself.

Prepare to be amazed by this man’s talent.  But also prepare to be a little frightened by what you hear.  This is not timid music by any stretch.  There’s some scary stuff on this record, especially if you listen in the dark.  More especially if you listen loud (which you absolutely must do to hear all the nuances).  On first listen, this may sound like a noisy jazz record, but the more you get into it, the more amazing it becomes.

[READ: October 11, 2011] Moby Dick-in Pictures

Matt Kish has accomplished an amazing thing.  He has drawn a picture a day (more or less) to accompany every page of the 552 page paperback version of Moby-Dick.  He takes a small passage from each page and renders an image for it.  One thing this book is not is an illustrated version of Moby-Dick.  It doesn’t purport to be.  You won’t get the whole story from this book.  It’s not a cheat sheet for high school students.  If you haven’t readMoby-Dick, this will give you a taste for the story–almost like a preview for a movie.  And hopefully it will compel people to read the original.  If you have read Moby-Dick, this is a wonderful companion.  Not only will the pictures give you fascinating insights into the story (and into Kish, of course), but seeing sentences excised from the book to stand alone makes you aware of the book in ways you just aren’t when you’re reading it as a novel.

Kish admits he is not an artist, which while not false modesty, is certainly selling himself short.  He has an awesome style of illustration.  I am especially excited by his vast pictures with small details (lots of pages where there are small circles with lines in them or, for instance, the details on Queequeg’s face) and when he uses bold lines to create vast, weighty iconic pictures.  Here’s one example of his awesome use of multiple straight lines.  I mean, it’s gorgeous.

But I also love the whole conceit that an artistic shortcoming for him has turned out to be an absolute boon.  Kish says he cannot render the human form and so he made the conscious decision to make the seamen more like avatars than people.  It’s daring and a little odd, but it works wonders.  I admit that I was a little less than excited by the very first page of the book–I was disconcerted by Ishmael and his utter lack of features. (I actually like the way he is rendered later in the book better–call it an artistic growth).  But by the time her gets to Queequeg, or the  gorgeous Tashtego  it’s obvious that his decision was genius.  Just take a look at the marvel that is is Ahab (left).  First off, the colors are amazing.  As are the details of the whale in the corners.  But look at him–he’s a metal machine–shiny and tough–part ship, part whale.  Look at the awesome shading and detailing of the blue “coat” that he’s wearing.  He’s even got the badge of Moby-Dick on his belt!  And then there’s the pegleg–the most beautifully drawn pegleg ever.  It’s really stunning.

Now you’re also noticing that there’s all kinds of diagrams behind Ahab.  Kish used to work at a bookstore and he hated seeing old pages of books thrown away (he has since become a librarian, which makes sense–although as I librarian I learned that librarians are actually quite cavalier about throwing away old books once they are beyond use).  So he brought these pages home.  And, given the density of the layers of meaning in Moby-Dick, he decided to draw his pictures on these old pages.  So on virtually every page you can see something in the background.  Most of the time they are these circuital diagrams, which are wonderful. But there are several drawings where the found pages are pages of text from books.  And I have to say if these were serendipitous findings then he has amazing fortune.  Some of the pages tie in so perfectly it is wonderful.

Like the page that is headed “Cetology” and is from what, a textbook on whales?  Or several other pages that I wish I had taken notes on, because they were really wonderfully chosen.  He even has a drawing on a title page of Moby-Dick. I have to ask, did he really find that or did he buy it for the project? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MASTODON-Leviathan (2004).

This is the CD that started it all.  Well, for me and Moby Dick- related music, anyhow. My friend Andrew asked if I would be reviewing it along with Moby Dick.  And, yes I am.

Leviathan is sort of a concept album about Moby Dick. I say sort of because it’s not entirely about Moby Dick.  The opener, “Blood and Thunder” features the chorus: “White Whale.  Holy Grail.  And it also features lyrics that seem to come straight from the book: “break your backs and crack your oars, men.”  There’s also the tracks “I am Ahab” and “Seabeast,” the latter features the lyrics: “Dear Mr Queequeg you have been informed your life’s been saved”

And yet, not everything is about Melville’s saga: “Island” bears no resemblance that I can see and the final track, a slow instrumental is called Joseph Merrick (who was the elephant man).

Musically the disc runs from bludgeoning metal (“Island”) to complex and intricate bludgeoning metal (“Iron Tusk,” which features a stereophonic drum solo opening).  “Blood and Thunder” has some great catchy riffs with some vocals that demand a lyric sheet for clarity.  “I am Ahab” features some extended vocal notes!  But there’s more to it than that.  “Seabeast” has a great slow intro guitar solo and features a two different vocalists to very good effect.

And the whole disc is chock full of time changes, crazy drum fills (how can he play so many different drums so quickly?).  “Megalodon” has a great odd guitar riff in the middle break section (and has nothing to do with Moby Dick at all).

As you near the middle of the album you get a couple of amazingly complex tracks.  “Naked Burn” features a great melodic middle section (coupled with really catchy vocals, too).  And the highlight is the thirteen plus minute “Hearts Alive.”  It begins as a very pretty acoustic guitar piece.  After about two minutes the heavy guitars kick in and there’s several different middle sections with varying degrees of melody.  By the midway point we’ve heard a few more very beautiful picked guitar sections, until it ends with some strong heavy guitar chords that slowly fade away.

So it’s a super heavy progressive rock/speed metal concept album for people who don’t like real concept albums (but who like their metal literate).  Who would have guessed it would have made so many best of the year lists?

[READ: Week of June 28, 2010] Moby-Dick [Chapters 111-End]

The end is here and BOY did I not see that coming.  I honestly had no idea how the book ended (how is it I knew the basics of the story but didn’t know the ending?  Talk about everyone agreeing to the spoiler alert!).  The other thing that surprised me was how damned exciting those last 70 pages were.  Now it could be a simple build up from the slowly paced early chapters–we were all lulled by the waves and the diversions–but man, when Melville wanted to, he produced the goods.  If you want young people to read this book, just assign them the last 70 pages.  I realize that all the art and such will be lost, but if they read just the end parts, they’ll come away with a much better perception of the book, and maybe they’ll want to read the rest later.  [I’m not a fan of abridged things of course, so I’d want them to read the original full text, just the end of it].

And I absolutely cannot believe [spoiler alert–okay the whole post is a spoiler, even if I didn’t know, the book is over 150 years old, so chances are you may have heard…] (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DECEMBERISTS-“The Mariner’s Revenge Song” (2005).

This was the hardest week for music tied to Moby-Dick. (I’m saving Mastodon for the grand finale).  I don’t really have anything that relates directly to the book.   I have a number of nautical-themed songs, but very little in the way of albums.  And, it’s true that this song doesn’t have anything to do with Moby-Dick directly.

However, it’s a 9 minute song about a mariner getting swallowed by a whale just for revenge.  So, it’s sort of related.

The Decemberists are one of your more nautical bands (and I’ve reviewed all of the albums here somewhere).  Their first album, Castaways and Cutouts featured an album cover with a ship with ghosts drifting from it.

This song has an accordion fueled shanty feel as we follow the tale of a young lad who seeks revenge on the rake who used and abused his mother and left her a poor consumptive wretch.  After fifteen years, he finally hears tale of the rake–he’s now a captain at sea.

So the lad hires on with a privateer and hunts down the captain’s ship.  As he is about to fire muskets upon him, a giant whale crashes on their ships, swallowing the two men whole (tell me, Ishmael, what kind of whale might do that?).

And it’s from inside the whale the we hear this tale.  The lad’s mother’s dying words echoing among the ribs of the beast:

“Find him, bind him
Tie him to a pole and break
His fingers to splinters
Drag him to a hole until he
Wakes up naked
Clawing at the ceiling
Of his grave

And it’s catchy as all heck, too!

[READ: Week of June 21, 2010] Moby-Dick [Chapters 87-110 ]

Pirates!  I didn’t expect pirates in the book.  Week 5 opens with Ishmael discussing pirates in the low shaded coves of Sumatra.  Ahab intends to sail right through those piratical waters to get to Java because sperm whales are known to frequent the area.  And indeed they do.  A whole fleet of sperm whales is seen but at about the same time, the pirates come out and give chase.  My notes in the margins are a little diagram of a fleet of whales with an arrow and then a tiny Pequod and another arrow and then a jolly roger.

The Pequod easily outruns the pirates and still manages to keep the whales in sight.  So, they jump into the fray and start harpooning away.  However, as the saying goes, “The more whales the less fish” (389). (more…)

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The Rheostatics are from Etobicoke Canada.  Their second album was called Melville (named after a town in Saskatchewan, but it has a whale on the cover so…).  Their third album (this one) is called Whale Music (inspired by the novel by Paul Quarrington).  When they made a film of Whale Music, the Rheostatics were asked to make the soundtrack for it, which they released as Whale Music.  So, the band have 2 albums called Whale Music and one called Melville.  Perfect soundtrack to Moby-Dick.

The album is chock full of all kinds of music: country tracks, folky tracks, metal tracks, and hooks galore.  And it’s all wrapped up in the oddity that is the Rheostatics.  This album features guest spots by the Barenaked Ladies and Neil Peart as well as horns, strings, spoken word parts, and “power tools”.

“Self Serve Gas Station” is a great opening.  It begins with swirling guitars and a beautiful solo (Rheostatics guitar lines sound so elemental as to seem like they’ve always been around).  But just as the vocals begin, the song becomes a sort of country track: a folkie song about adolescnece.  But it returns to a good rocking (and falsetto fueled) rock track.

“California Dreamline” is a wonderfully weird track, with more gorgeous guitar melodies.  It also has a disjointed section with squealing guitars.   While “Rain, Rain, Rain” opens with a lengthy percussion section (played by Neil Peart of Rush) with a weird time signature.  It’s a fun singalong.  “Queer” meanwhile has some great chugga guitars that turn into a rocking tale of an ostracized brother (and features the great line: “But I wish you were there to see it/When I scored a hat-trick on the team/That called you a fucking queer.”

“King of the Past” is another great track, with a wondrous string sound near the end.  It’s a gorgeous song with (again) different sections conveying shanties and jigs (and you can dance to it).  Like Moby from last week, Rheostatics, also bust out a fast metal track, but this one works well: “RDA (Rock Death America)” has a major hook and name checks everyone from The Beatles to The Replacements.

“Legal Age Life at Variety Store” is a great folky singalong (and features the piercing harmonies of Martin Tielli).  “What’s Going On Around Here?” is the most traditional song of the bunch, a poppy little ditty which avoids complacency with a rocking coda.

“Shaved Head” is a moody piece, wonderful for its roller coaster sensibilities, which is followed by the beautiful Tim Vesely sung ballad “Palomar.”  This track is followed by the humorous (but serious) shouted-word piece “Guns” which also features Neil Peart.

“Sickening Song” is an accordion based shanty song.  Followed by another pretty, poppy-sounding track, “Soul Glue.”  Drummer Dave Clark sings “Beerbash,” an upbeat song.  And tye final track is the epic, “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds.”  It opens with a beautiful acoustic intro and a wonderfully catchy wheedling guitar solo.  It ends delightfully: “Where the dope fiends laugh And say it’s too soon, They all go home and listen to
The Dark Side of the Moon.”

I had been listening to the band live a lot recently, and they play these songs a lot.  So it was quite a treat to go back and hear the original with all its full instrumentation.

[READ: Week of June 14, 2010] Moby-Dick [Chapters 62-86]

I never thought I’d ever say this, but I really enjoyed Moby-Dick this week.  So far, these twentysome chapters have been my favorite (even the gruesome whale sections), there weren’t any chapters that I thought really dragged.  So, good for me!

This week’s read begins with Ishmael stating that harpooners should not have to paddle and then be expected to harpoon as well.  They should save their strength for that last, all important act.  And that seems logical to me, although one also expects that the harpooners would feel kind of bad while everyone else is paddling. (more…)

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