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Archive for the ‘Italo Calvino’ Category

McSweeney’s 49: Cover Stories: Contemporary writers reimagining classic tales (2017)

SOUNDTRACKBIG K.R.I.T.-Tiny Desk Concert #714 (March 5, 2018).

A while back I downloaded one of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtapes and rather liked it.  Since then he seems to have become pretty huge and I feel like he has really expanded on his style.

K.R.I.T. sings/raps three songs from his new album.

4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double album in which he covers everything from blessings to depression while plumbing the carnal and spiritual depths of his own duality. All three songs performed here come from side two, titled after his birth name Justin Scott.

The first song “Mixed Messages” is really thoughtful.  He sings and raps

I gotta whole lotta mixed messages / in my songs am I wrong / to feel this way
I got me a lover but I still wanna cheat / I wanna be saved but its fuck the police
i never really liked the fake shit / but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits
i really wanna sing but id better rap

K.R.I.T.’s backing band, which includes Burniss Travis II on bass and Justin Tyson on drums, also features on keys Bryan Michael Cox — the hitmaking producer and songwriter behind a slew of Billboard chart-toppers. Together, the trio delivers stripped-down versions of the latest thought-provoking material in Big K.R.I.T.’s catalog.

Introducing the second song, “Keep The Devil Off” he says his grandmother introduced him to gospel.  She brought him to church and “she would wake me up when i fell asleep saying wake up you gotta hear this.”  He sings beautifully.  And then the rapped verses are really well structured.

And when he stops to pay homage to his church-going grandmother before performing “Keep The Devil Off,” it’s clear that everything she instilled in him is keeping him alive, too.

Definitely in these times we need to keep the negativity away–keep the devil off.

His grandmother was clearly very important to him.

Big K.R.I.T. has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.  So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Halfway through his three-song set at NPR Music headquarters, K.R.I.T. stops to pull out an old-school tape recorder — the same one his grandmother would use to record him singing and reciting poetry as a child. “I have to feel like my grandmother was my first mix engineer,” he says before pressing play to reveal him and his brother as kids singing a duet of R&B crooner Donell Jones’ 1999 slow burner, “Where I Wanna Be.”

He plays the tape and cracks up listening to it.  He gets the audience to sing the refrain with his younger sell.  And then his grandmother introduces he and his brother as an R&B singer, “but I’m sticking with the rap thing.”

It’s a sublime interlude — one that resonated so strongly with K.R.I.T. that he had to start his last song, “Bury Me In Gold,” over to catch the proper beat. “I’m super emotional from this, too,” he says, laughing in a moment so genuine it was only right to leave it unedited.

He says “Bury Me in Gold” is not about gold really, it’s about having something so that in the event he gets to heaven he’ll give everything away.

He tells us to remember that peace of mind and your soul are more important than gold.

I’ve always enjoyed thought provoking rap and K.R.I.T.’s lyrics combined with his voice really work wonders.

[READ: May 29, 2017] McSweeney’s 49

It has been a long time (three years or so) since the previous McSweeney’s volume.  During that silence, the publishing house went non-profit and that seems to have taken up a lot of their resources.  They even address this a bit in the interdiction to this book.

But regardless of the reasons why, it is great to have them back.

As the subtitle says, this is a book of “cover stories.” What that means is a little vague–the contemporary writers model their story after a classic story.  I try to compare it to music covers, although in music covers the music and words are typically the same with some kind of variations.  Typically, the words are the same but the music is different.  I liked to flip this idea on its head for describing these stories in that the words are different by the music is the same.

Since I don’t know most of the original stories here I don’t know how similar these are to the originals–same character names?  Same ideas?  Same plot?  I don’t know.  And perhaps it would affect the way I read these stories if I was familiar with theory original pieces.  But without knowing them, these just turned out to be good stories from good writers.

Interspersed between the stories were poems and, in a wonderful commentary on our current shitty president and the cowardly house of representatives who on the day I finished this voted to strip 24 million people of health care, are comparisons of classic historical figures’ speeches with the petty garbled tweets of out current crap in chief.  Can we impeach this motherfucker already?  And send the whole lot of them to jail, please.  #ITMFA

As many McSweeney’s do, this one opens with letters.  And of course they aren’t really letters at all, even if they are addressed to McSweeney’s.  Many deal with cover songs, but a few are much more serious, political and right on.

WAJAHAT ALI writes from Camp FDR in Washington DC where he and his fellow prisoners were finally able to cobble together WiFi.  Ali explains that the Executive Order was inevitable the ban, the vetting, the registry were all just prelude. The need to protect against terrorism outweighs the individual rights and the rights of American Muslims…read the Supreme Court decision.

NICK JAINA writes about the Sept 23, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Ray Charles appears and plays “Walk the Line” and then “Ring of Fire.”  The letter states that the creator of “Ring of Fire” is actually mis-attributed.  The story is that June Carter wrote it after seeing a page in her uncle’s book of Elizabethan poetry.  But Johnny first wife claims that Johnny wrote it while drunk about a certain female body part: “all those years of her claiming she wrote it and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”  Then it reverts back to Ray Charles’ performance with an unseen band playing behind him–especially a great baseline–and as the song ends he lets out one last shudder and cackle like he just invented the orgasm.  “Johnny returns to the stage looking like a man who just watched someone have sex with his wife but was so in awe of how good he was at it that he could only thank him.”

ROBIN TERRELL talks about trumpmania in the Czech Republic from the perspective of a black woman, lesbian, child of civil rights activists, mother of a black man living in Prague.  The look in the eyes of people after the election: The U.S. is going to fuck us over again.  It stunned Europeans that the U.S. could generate someone fouler than Europe’s own crop of white male extremists.  She is now a refugee from her own country.  #RESIST #ITMFA

KIMBERLY HARRINGTON says she always believed that even in the darkest times humor has its place.  But lately she’s been bursting into tears rather than cracking a smile.  She hopes she can find things to laugh at–even death in these horrible times.

MARY MILLER says that for the longest time she thought her uncles wrote “Stagger Lee.”  Her uncles were musicians who wrote songs but also threw some covers into their shows.  She believed that “Stagger Lee” was one of theirs. She realizes that they are not famous and that no one will remember them–but she promises them that she will remember them.

RICK MOODY writes at length about Elektra’s 1990 tribute album Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary.  I remember it coming out and I remember not getting it because it was too expensive. But Moody talks about what a great conceit this collection was to have contemporary artists cover classic songs.  He also talks about how the tribute album was quite popular in the 1990s (was it ever).  Some thought: He loves Bjork, but he thinks of the Sugarcubes as a cheeseball imitation of the B-52s (and that their “Motorcycle Mama” is pretty bad.  He mentions a few great tracks, like Kronos Quartet covering “Marquee Moon,” Metallica doing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and even a Howard Jones cover of “Road to Cairo” by the cult hero David Ackles.   But he says fully half of the collection is bad, some of it even awful–not worth its list price at the time but it has a great number of masterpieces on it.

Will Buttler (from Arcade Fire) wishes to make some amusing corrections: some errors during concerts, and apologizing for singing “I’m So Bored” with the USA because he is not.

ARIEL S. WINTER-This is an interesting philosophical question wondering whether or not Marty McFly actually created “Johnny B. Goode.”  How could he cover it before Chuck Berry had released the original.  As a child this blew her mind.  This facile beginning then goes on to say that before recorded music the notion of a cover didn’t really exist.  And indeed in the 1950s people recorded songs without concern for copyright.  It’s also true that when Chuck Berry plays Johnny B. Goode live, it’s not considered a cover of his original.  She concludes by that the Back to the Future is probably the first time she ever heard Johnny B. Goode.  So Marty McFly’s is the original to her (as it is to all the kids at the dance).  So in addition to a song having an original for the performer there is also an original for the listener.  Anyone who has loved a song for years before finding out that it’s a cover has had that experience.

INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITORS

This introduction talks about how the first time they did a “cover story” was in 1999 in issue 4.  Rick Moody covered Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg.”  They had been planning to do an entire issue of covers as far back as two years ago and then things happened in the McSweeney’s universe to delay it.  And now : this issue is being born in a moment of racial, social and economic reckoning and imminent fascism…into a country that looks much different from the one in which it began, fronted now by a mean and disingenuous imitation of a president.   As such: Tucked between these thirteen beautiful renditions of thirteen classic stories are instances when a cover is not an homage but rather a perversion of its predecessor”  And by that they offer examples of eloquent speeches by former leaders and then tweets from our pervert in chief.

GARY BURDEN-excerpt from Nobody Knows (an autobiography)

Gary Burden created the cover images for this issue.  I had no idea who he was, but this autobiography tells me just how interesting a fellow he was.  He has been responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the last 60 years!

These excerpt shows his origin story–he was 8 on December 7, 1941 and he has had vivid memories of WWII.  When he was 16 he joined the Marines.  But he was restless, got involved in bad things, was dishonorably discharged and got mixed up with even worse people (he says he can’t believe the things he did back then).  In 1964 he met “Mama” Cass Elliot. They spent a lot of time together and this opened him up to meeting all kinds of people: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.  Eventually he met and hung out with Jim Morrison and designed Morrison Hotel (a fascinating story that).  In one of the nicer things I’ve heard someone say he says that Jim was a real poet, someone who was unafraid of delving deeply into life irrespective of the personal cost.  Then he met Neil Young. He says that Buffalo Springfield has been his favorite band and then one day Neil came to Mama Cass’ house in his 1948 Buick Hearse.  He was also hanging around when CSN decided to become CSN&Y and then he and Neil became friends. and Neil sold him his house in Topanga.  Eventually he made the cover art for After the Gold Rush (and he gives a little story about the old lady there on the cover).  I’m kind of curious to read this whole book now, especially if it includes album covers.

EMILY RABOTEAU-“The Babysitter” after “Some Women” by Alice Munro
This is the story of a babysitter for Mrs Fagan.  She is a young girl and her employer is very rich and locally famous.  And quite eccentric (she went to East Africa and allegedly witness the Ark of the Covenant and then wrote a controversial book about it).  But in their town she was known as the white lady with black kids (Maya 3, Eddie 10 months old).  The story reflects back on the babysitter as child (she is now the same age as Mrs Fagan was when the babysitting began.  The babysitter’s mother is kind of jerk and is very sarcastic about this babysitting arrangement.  She is also a very strict Jehovah’s Witness, so when the narrator gets her first period rather than tell her mom, she just takes products from Mrs Fagan.  As the story opens Mrs Fagan’s son has just arrived and that changes the dynamic in the house.  How will Mrs Fagan take it when the narrator accidentally sets fire to the kitchen? I really enjoyed the way the end of the story plays on the notions of memories and the impact people have on others.

MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN-“The Lottery, Redux” after “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” seems like a pretty easy story to cover–I think everyone knows everything about it and it has been covered in things like The Hunger Games in their own ways.  I don’t know if this story references the original (with the redux),  for this story the people of the island of Timothy were exiled from America fifty years earlier for crimes against the environment.  They were gathering on July 27th, the day of the lottery.  And indeed the lottery is a death sentence, although it’s not entirely clear why.  Interestingly, the story is more about the girl chosen and what her life up to that point has been like.

ANTHONY MARRA-“The Tell-Tale Heart” after “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
This story doesn’t diverge all that much from the original except for the wonderful modern twist on the beating heart.  It’s hard to say more without giving things away but I loved the modernization.

JESS WALTER-“Falling Faintly” after “The Dead” by James Joyce
I didn’t know all that many stories before hand, but I knew this one very well and this is wonderful homage.  It is not in any way rewriting the story–it’s a very different story, but it alludes to the Joyce story and directly mentions it and it is quite clear where the connection between them is.
Michael is a writer.  He is married with kids but has moved temporarily out to New York to write for this new police procedural.  The show is doing well and the female star is quite beautiful.  They bond over cigarettes–she is foreign and smokes like a European, he recently started again.  As stories like this tend to go, Micheal gets the wrong idea about this young, hot actress.  And given that she is not American she misunderstands the subtleties of his behavior (which isn’t very subtle admittedly).  But he wants her to know that his story is a tribute to Joyce’s “The Dead.”  When he talks about the dead she thinks he means real dead people and is pretty freaked out.  This leads to a restraining order and a police intervention–not how he thought his life in New York would go.  What doe sit have to do with “The Dead”?  Well they are standing smoking in the snow as it gently floats to the ground falling through the universe, faintly falling.

LAUREN GROFF-“Once” after “Wants” by Grace Paley
I loved the way this story started.  I saw my enemy at the beach.  With that as a groundwork we slowly learn just how this woman has an enemy (it’s an old boyfriend’s mother) and how they have grudgingly begun to respect each other decades after the two broke up. I really enjoyed this short piece.

ROXANE GAY-“Men on Bikes” after “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
I can’t imagine what the original of this story is.  The actual story of this is pretty peculiar itself.  Basically, the men in town have all started riding bicycles everywhere.  It started when one of them was arrested for drunk driving.  He didn’t lose his license but his wife took it away from him.  He dug out a bike and began riding it.  She thought he looked ridiculous, but when another man had his license taken away, they began riding together.  It was quite a sight, although I’m not sure what the point of it was.

NAMWALI SERPELL-“Company” after “Company” by Samuel Beckett
I like Beckett, and I know that he can be confusing.  I don’t know what “Company” is about so I have no idea how it relates to it, but man I did not get this at all.

It was confusing and really long.  It is broken into many small sections which might be connected.  The first is about the brightening which happened although many people missed it. Then we learn about the ship which is electro epidermal, which is cool but not really explained  and then the story turns into a quest for melanin and just when you think it’s a sci-fi story, it becomes a story about race.  There is a pale man tied to a tree hitting a sack (pound pound).  There’s a lot of vomit.  If the white man inseminates even one person, finding pure stem cells is impossible.  Dark skin marked you as  lucky when the darkening came.  But then she says the mission is over.  There’s more vomiting.  A fellow is supposed to be invisible in the village but Pound sees him.  There’s more vomit, a section titled rape, where Pound rapes Lila every once in a while and then who the hell knows what happens at he end.

KIESE LAYMON-“And So On” after “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Weeks ago 64 black folks changed the world.  You are the 11th.  Aside from the direct address to the reader the story is pretty straightforward and interesting.  Chanda Stewart was 8th, the narrators research assistant was 9th and Doug E., Chandra’s boyfriend was 1st.  They are at a fancy restaurant, Chandra, the narrator and you.  She swears that Doug is a porn star, but the narrator argues that having 1089 twitter followers and awkward consensual sex with a few white women filmed on an iPhone 2 in his fake Timberlands, blue knee brace and yellow wrist bands makes you a porn participant, not a star.  The story comes down to which side the narrator is going to choose.   sides or run for our lives.  Because while they were talking, Doug E. and about sixty young black kids were marching down the street.  To the school.  They each had an ax and a shovel.

MEG WOLITZER-“If You’re Happy and You Know It” after “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” By J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this Salinger story in a long time, so I don’t really know how it connects to this, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the way that it was written which was a little confusing but in an intriguing way.  Set in a hotel on Miami there is the young woman in 609 who arrived with her new husband.  She’d sent him off to the beach.  We see her telling her parents that he is taking it easy, but they want to know if he is taking the Klonopin.  Later that night in the lobby, a four year old girl, Chloe, is in the lobby of that hotel watching a man play piano.  The man is a guest also and he is playing and really getting into it.  Another boy asks if he can play This Old Man and the player jokes about the boy calling him old.  But Chloe asks if he can play “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  He says he might be happy but he may not know it. She is puzzled by that.  He says she is breaking his heart.  We soon realize that the pianist is the Klonopin man, and while things don’t get dark exactly, they certainly get strange.  And Chole’s parents have foisted her off on a poor babysitter the whole time.  This was one of my favorites in the book.

T.C. BOYLE-“The Argentine Ant” after “The Argentine Ant” by Italo Calvino
I can’t imagine what the original story is like, but this one from Boyle was really icky and really fantastic.  Its’ a fairly simple premise–a family moves to a rental property in Argentina, only to find that it is swarming with ants.  The ants are everywhere–even crawling all over their baby.  They run to the next door neighbor’s house only to see that they know about the ants and might have a secret weapon.  But mostly they just seem to be putting their furniture in jugs of water–presumably as a deterrent.  There is also an Ant Man who might be fighting the ants or who might actually be bringing more.  What is great about the way Boyle writes this is that the guy renting the house is working on an academic theorem that his wife thinks is rather frivolous.  And that tension underpins everything.

ALICE SOLA KIM-“One Hour, Every Seven Years” after “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Again I don’t know the original, but this story was great, and also weird. The weird part is that the story seems to start over multiple times. And that’s because there is a kind of time travel component to it.  The title refers to how often the sun comes out on Venus.  There is a girl, the main character, named Nargit. She was born on Earth and so she saw the sun.  The other kids are pretty angry at her for it (as if it’s her fault).  They are abusive to her, and the time travelling is the girl’s attempt to protect her younger self.  Many things go wrong but they bring about different results.

CHRIS ABANI-“Sleepy” after “Sleepy” by Anton Chekhov
This story was pretty horrific.  Kemi, a sixteen year old black girl who is now an orphan is working for a white family.  The family has two little children, one of whom is a baby.   The family is horrible to Kemi.  Pretty unrelentingly horrible.  Kemi is tired and never gets a break and the baby cries all the time.  She can’t soothe the baby and the family blames her for her failures.  Her exhaustion builds and builds until you pretty much know the ending several pages before it happens.

TOM DRURY-“The Yellow Wallpaper” after “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know the original story although not super well.  But this version feels almost exactly the same. I honestly can’t tell what the difference is (without having re-read the original again to compare).   Jane and John are renting a place on an island for the summer.  John thinks Jane is not strong and keeps her hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.  He more or less runs everything in her life until she starts seeing people through the wallpaper.  You know things can’t go well from there.

POETRY:

REBECCA LINDENBERG-“Having a Coke with You” after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem for Keats” after “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

STEPHEN BURT-“A Nickel on Top of a Penny” after “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo

BRIAN TURNER-“The Metaphor Program” after “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

STEPHEN BURT-“Roofers” after “The Armadillo” by Elizabeth Bishop

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting” [the first two lines are taken from “A Poem on the Occasion of the Consecration of Sandford and Shippon Churches” by Rev. F. Wilson Kittermaster, 1855]

STEPHEN BURT-“Suspense” after “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane

KEVIN MOFFETT-“Second Wonder”-a monologue that will air on The Organist.
I found this puzzling at best.

PATTY YUMI COTTRELL-excerpt from Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
I read this book not too long ago.
This except was about two young children who invented a game called “Confession” in which the boy confesses his real or imagined sins to his sister.

~~~~~

The comparison quotes are called Great Speeches from History vs. the Tweets of Donald J. Trump:  I can’t bring myself to write any of the jerks tweets.

Mahatma Gandhi from the “Quit India” speech, 1942 vs. a Feb 4 2017 tweet

Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address” 1863 vs. a Feb 18 217 tweet (about fake news)

Martin Luther King Jr from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vs. Feb 21 2017 (crowds planted by liberal activists)

Frederick Douglass from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” 1852 vs. Feb 6 2017 (negative polls are fake news).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, inauguration speech 1933 vs. Jan 22, 2017 (including all my enemies)

 

The bad thing about this issue is that the last four or five stories were all real downers, making it a pretty tough slog.  But I loved the idea, and I liked that they found the time and space to point out how stupid trump sounds and looks and is.

For ease of searching, I include: Cesar Vallejo

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATCIS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, Ontario (August 24, 1995).

The blurb tells us: This was the first proper Don Kerr show in Toronto. They had played the Roadside Attraction tour but this was the first in Toronto. It also features 4 songs played for the first time – Connecting Flights (aka Two Flights of Stairs), Four Little Songs, Sweet,Rich,Beautiful and Mine, and All The Same Eyes (aka Crescent II). Also the only known cover version of Joe Jackson’s I’m The Man.

As the show opens, you can hear Martin playing some cool sounds but you can also hear people asking questions on the tape, like “what are you guys doing after?”  “It depends on who has what where.”  And the snarky response, “Oh I think I know who has what and I can tell you where it is.”

Then you can hear even more chatter: “We got the best seats in the house.  You’ve seen them before haven’t you?  We have to get right up front.  When we finish our drinks.”

Martin’s noodling resolves into a lovely “Song of Flight,” and once the song starts properly you can’t hear the talkers (aside from occasional shouts).  This segues into a gentle “California Dreamline.”   After Martin sings the line, “in love with each other” Dave chimes in “and all of them wearing shirts like that” (this is not the first time I wish there was a visual).  Shockingly, or not, you can hear the chatter again during the quiet section of the song.

There’s a kind of weird version of “MJ”—it feels like they’re being a little goofy with it.  It segues into a more folkie sounding than usual “Cuckoos.”

Dave chimes in that these “songs feature all kinds of strange beings and creatures cuckoos Michael Jackson (Martin: that’s the weirdest one of them all) whale people, bird people, turtle people, and people from space;  not to be confused with People from Earth [the opening band] who use their talent for good not evil.”  This is a lengthy intro to “Aliens” a song I love which I feel they hadn’t been playing very much.

This is the first known recording of “Fat” which wouldn’t come out until 1996.  It sounds great.

For some reason, Dave says, “I told you you shouldn’t have worn such a flashy shirt, Martin.”

For “Introducing Happiness,” Dave says, “Make us happy Tim, send us a little message of joy.”

“Claire” opens with Tim singing a couple of lines Spirit of the West’s “Scaffolding”  (from their then-new  album).  “Claire” features Tim oohing in the beginning (with a la la thrown in), I think this was  fairly recent convention.  There’s a pretty wild solo from Martin.  The whole song is nearly 7 minutes and when it’s over, Dave says, “That’s the weirdest version of ‘Claire’ we’ve ever done.  And that’s something, I think.”

Dave says they’re going to debut some new material tonight (I guess they’d played “Fat” before?).  The first is Tim’s brief “Connecting Flights.”

“Fishtailin'” has a quiet ending.  But it’s followed by a rocking “Dope Fiends.”  Dave says it’s a song about Etobicoke.  The middle features a drum solo (a good one with different drum sounds like in the previous show which also featured Don Kerr–although Dave calls him  something else.  It has a great soaring ending.

Dave says, “We’re going to do a very serious piece now. I think it’s our most profound work to date.  Tim chimes in: Especially the very end.   Before continuing, Tim says, “I think this is  our first proper show in Toronto with Don Kerr on the drums.”   Dave: “It won’t be our last we’re playing here tomorrow and Saturday.”

The “serious” song is “Four Little Songs” which they mess up right away and then start again.  The song sounds pretty much as the record does, except he says “I had a dream I was in Neil Peart’s kitchen.”

There’s a kind of cut in the tape and when it comes back, someone is shouting “finally, finally, it’s about fuckin’ time” and Dave says “no kidding eh, it’s about time we got serious and …”  Then he is interrupted: “you want me to take off my hat?  That’s a steel-rimmed hat.  That’s a Kodiak hat.  (Tim: it’s pure dachshund, that’s very expensive).  Dave: Do you want to wear it or do you just want to touch it?  What do you want to do?  There’s a thing with the scabies on the scalp. Not cooties… scabies.  Or is it rickets?

Dave continues, “We had a great summer we opened for The Tragically Hip on their Roadside Attractions tour.  They played with Eric’s Trip.  Julie from Eric’s Trip is going to open for us… Welcome Julie to Toronto! and Benji and Julie’ husband whose name I forget.”

They play another new one: “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  After the song, Dave says, “Martin, I think that can be the slogan for the 90s what do you say.”

We’ll complete our new song trilogy with another new song: “All the Same Eyes” is another gentle Tim song which segues into a furious “RDA.”

Introducing “Self Serve Gas Station,” they tore down the gas station and the hopes and dreams of little Rexdale boys everywhere.  I’m awfully settlement about it.  How about you?”  Martin: “little boys love gas stations.”

Martin thanks the People From Earth for opening.  Some shouts they sounded too much like you… Martin replies.: “they’re related”  (Martin’s brother John Tielli was the lead singer).

“Self Serve” starts and then Martin stops it: “I thought Dave hit a wrong note but he was tuning, I forgive him.”

“Soul Glue” is as usual boppy and fun.  After the “They dragged the bottom of the lake” line, there; s a rough scratching guitar noise and Dave shouts “I found a shoe!.”  When they get to the end section Martin sings “didn’t say anything at all” (he hits a really high note–atypical for this song and it sounds great.”

They start the vocal introduction (you you you you) to “Horses” and someone in the audience shouts “Here we go.”  After Dave does a little chant the band starts.  It’s a very unusual version as the first verse is very quiet with Dave practically whispering the lyrics and the only loud thing is Tim repeating the “you you you” the song itself grows really intense, as it should.

During the encore break, Tim says “Don had to go to the bar to get beer for them. Sorry it took a little while.”

They end the show with two covers.  Dave announces that Jane Siberry has a new album out (that would be Maria). This is from her new wave period, her pink period, which is my personal favorite period.  “One More Colour,” obviously.  It’s followed by a fast, wild and chaotic version of Joe Jackson’s “I’m the Man.”  I can’t quite tell who is singing lead.

This is a really fun show with the introduction of new songs and some experimenting.  It was the last show of 1995 (on this site) excluding the Group of Seven show which was quite a different thing entirely.

[READ: March 4, 2009] “The Adventure of a Skier”

This is the first piece I have read by Italo Calvino.  Calvino’s name has been around for ages, but I honestly didn’t know a thing about him.

So, with that in mind, Italo Calvino was, at the time of his death, in 1985, the most translated contemporary Italian writer.  This story was translated by Ann Goldstein.

This was a simple, very simple story.

It begins with a bunch of disorderly boys clamoring for the ski lift.  There’s some wonderful details of just what an uncoordinated pack of rowdy boys looks like. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOM WAITS- Foreign Affairs (1977).

This album is kind of a split between Waits’ bluesy songs and his “poetic rants.”  The only problem with the album per se is that he’s been doing this kind of stuff for five albums now and while he’s still good at it (great at it, actually), it’s probably time for a change (which he does on the next album).  This is not to say that the songs themselves are weaker than others, or that they are not at least slightly unexpected (the eight minute “Potter’s Field” is quite unexpected), just that when you know what he’s going to be doing,  this album feels like a pre-transition, one might even say a rut.

The disc opens with a pretty piano waltz (“Cinny’s Waltz”) that segues right into his jazzy nightclub sounding (ie. piano and sax) track “Muriel.”  The third track, “I Never Talk to Strangers” is a duet with Bette Midler (which I think makes sense given her persona, but I have simply never liked her–maybe that’s why I don’t like this album as much as I could).

“The Medley of Jack & Neal (about Kerouac and Cassidy) is a long rambling story about the two beats, it ends with a riff on “California Here I Come.”  In a similar vein–alluding to appropriate music–“A Sight for Sore Eyes” opens with the music from “Auld Lang Syne” before turning into one of Waits’ weepy ballads.

The second half of the disc is more storytelling as song.  “Potter’s Field” tells a lengthy story with occasional blasts of saxophone.  About midway through, it begins to sound like more of a musical–with the music adding dramatic effects to the lyrics–this may be a kind of foretelling of his more operatic music from Swordfishtrombones.  “Burma-Shave” is another long story (over 6 minutes).  This one is much darker (a fairly straightforward story of meeting a bad guy and going for a drive), but it’s a pretty good story for all of its noirishness.  “Barbershop” has a great bassline, but it is indeed about getting a haircut.  The album ends with the title cut, a sung ballad.

His next album, Blue Valentine, features electric guitars and keyboards and will change the sound of his songs quite a bit.

[READ: September 25, 2011] “Beatrixpark: An Illumination”

I don’t think I have read too many contemporary Italian authors (Italo Calvino is the only one who springs to mind).  Realistically, this shouldn’t make any difference to anything but this story seemed so off to me that I have to wonder if it’s something about Italian authors or if it is Voltolini is particular.  This story was translated by Anne Milano Appel.

The story begins by explaining that the main character is a man from the south.  Being very conscious of the fact that the author is Italian, not American, I worked hard to think of the bottom of the boot as opposed to Alabama.  Of course, being from Southern Italy doesn’t mean anything to me really, but I kept it in mind.   Then I find out the story is set in Amsterdam.  And then several paragraphs in, we learn that he is from Southern Europe somewhere.  Sigh.  To quote the story, “Gimme a break, provincial middle-aged man from the south!  Fuck off, why don’t you?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ODDS-Bedbugs (1993).

This CD features the minor “novelty” hit “Heterosexual Man” (the video featured some of the Kids in the Hall in it).

This disc feels like a big step forward from their first disc.  It isn’t radically different, but it feels more accomplished and maybe more confident.

The bluesy tracks feel bluesier (“Car Crash Love”), the rocking tracks feel more rocking (“The Little Death”) and the acoustic songs feels more substantial (“What I Don’t Want”/”Fingertips”) with really nice harmonies.

And of course, there’s “Heterosexual Man” a great, funny rocker with a fantastic sing-along chorus.  Odds are still doing poppy, slightly alternative rock, but they’ve simply gotten better at it.

[READ: September 13 2010] Light Boxes

I received this book from the Penguin Mini at BEA.  It’s been sitting on my shelf tempting me since then and I decided that I would give it a read (even though I am anxious to start the two books that are next on my list).  Well, it was certainly a good book to read first as it is even shorter (and faster) than its tiny size suggests (it’s 150 pages).

I’d never heard of Shane Jones before (he’s a poet and this is his first novel), but the premise sounded so intriguing: a small town is experiencing perpetual February (going on some 900 days now).  It is cold and dark and depressing and for many, sunlight is but a distant memory.

And plotwise, the story is interesting: a spirit/god/being (let’s call him February) is playing tricks on the townsfolk to keep them in this state of February.  He convinces them that someone in town (let’s call him February) is causing the perpetual cold.  He also seems to be inspiring the town’s children to go missing.  And all of this is a punishment for men’s attempts at flight: kites, balloons, even birds are now verboten (and the priests enforce the rule). (more…)

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harpers-maySOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Yield (1998)

yieldThis Pearl Jam disc is something of a return to form after the experimentation of No Code.  Part of me feels bad that they experimented less, because I do enjoy a band’s wild side, and yet these songs are uniformly fantastic, and they include some of my favorites by Pearl Jam.

“Brain of J” bursts out of the speakers, as one of their heavier opening tracks.  Catchy and fast.  “Faithful” starts as a ballady song but the choruses once again build into a great sing along.  “No Way” is a more experimental sounding song.  It’s right in the middle of their speeds, but the guitar has a mysterious echo on it that gives it an eerie feel. “Given to Fly” is a classic: slow, building, anthemic.  “Wishlist” is another of Sarah’s favorites: a simple, catchy melody that builds and builds.

“Pilate” is a rather confusing song: “Like Pilate, I have a dog”  Okay.  A gnashing rocking chorus with verses that are actually catchier.  “Do the Evolution” quickly became my favorite Pearl Jam song from the live sets.  This studio version is a little slower, and to me it sounds off.  But it’s such a weird little song, what with the “choir” singing “alleluia” and yet it is just a perfectly tidy punk song.  Certainly one of my favorite PJ songs.  The next untitled song (a red dot) is one of those weird, forgettable tracks that PJ throws on their albums, it’s less than a minute of steel drum inspired chanting.  It’s quickly followed by another of my favorite songs “MFC” a rocking song that sounds like its subject matter (driving).

“Low Light” is a slow song that builds, but it is a very full song; the whole band plays, keeping it from being dull. “In Hiding” has a great guitar opening and one of those great Pearl Jam singalong choruses. “Push Me, Pull Me” is another weird little track, that reminds me of some of the Who’s wackier numbers. “All Those Yesterdays” ends the disc on a quirky song.  It’s catchy but not as catchy as some tracks.

The album ends with an untitled hidden track. It’s a Middle Eastern style guitar solo. Amazon says the song is called “Hummus.”

I really enjoy this disc, it’s a shame it took me so long to discover it as I had given up on PJ after No Code.  But now it ranks as one of my favorites.

[READ: April 24, 2009] “Two Cosmicomics”

I’m not sure why all of these Calvino stories are appearing in magazines all of a sudden.  But after the one in the New Yorker not to long ago, I figured I’d give this one a try, too. (more…)

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ny223SOUNDTRACK: THEE SILVER MT. ZION ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND-Thirteen Blues for Thirteen Moons [CST051] (2008).

13-bluesI’ve enjoyed most of the output by (A/Thee) Silver Mt. Zion (Orchestra (& Tra-La-La Band)) over the years.  So, I naturally picked up this one when it came out.  And I’m torn by the record.

This disc contains 4 lengthy tracks.  But unlike fellow Constellation label mates Godspeed you Black Emperor, they are not orchestral pieces that ebb and flow until they reach a climax.  Rather, they are almost punk-orchestral pieces.  They have different sounds throughout the disc, sounds that are powerful, tender, angry and very raw.

And musically I think the album is pretty great.  The problem I have, which I hadn’t noticed on previous releases, was how much I don’t like singer Efrim’s voice.  He simply doesn’t have a very good or strong voice.  It sounds weak and exposed, and, given the content of what he’s singing about, that is either perfectly appropriate or wildly off base.  It seems to work well on “1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound” and yet for “blindblindblind” I just want him to be quiet and let the gorgeous backing choir take over.

And that’s the thing about SMZ, the backing vocal chantings are sublime: whether they are beautifully supportive or disconcertingly discordant, they are perfectly apt to the songs.

I guess when I think of SMZ I think of them as a collective band, an orchestra who works together to create their sound, and in many instances on Thirteen…  Efrim just stands out too much.  And who knows, maybe that’s the point, maybe that’s the punk aesthetic they wanted to bring to the album, I just think it takes a little something away from the beautiful noise they make.

[READ: March 4, 2009] “The Daughters of the Moon”

This is the first piece I have read by Italo Calvino.  Calvino’s name has been around for ages, but I honestly didn’t know a thing about him.

This story was written in 1968 (and was just translated into English) and as soon as I began reading it, I knew that it was a dated piece.  Not because of things like mentioning Life magazine, but because the naked women that populate the story were all referred to as “girls.”  And there was something about it that made my pop culture references hit upon Woody Allen’s early 1970s movie where he calls all the women that he’s interested in “girls.”  It seems strange that that stood out to me so much, but it just came across as something that a writer wouldn’t write anymore, or even pre 1960s.  At least as far as naked women were concerned.

And, about the naked women…

The story concerns the disintegration, capture and removal of the moon.  It is told by Qfwfq, who fills in the details of this extraordinary event.  Despite the fact that the narrator is named Qfwfq and it concerns the destruction of the moon, the story is set in Manhattan.

The moon is off course, it is wobbly and disconsolate.  And so are the residents of Earth.  One night, when Qfwfq is passing Central Park, he sees a naked woman in the park; she has removed all of her clothes and is lying prostrate to the moon.  She climbs on to his car and they race across the city to a large junkyard, where she and many other naked women support the moon with their power.

But soon a crane comes and tries to add the moon to the junkyard’s pile of old, discarded materials.

The story is a thinly veiled allegory of consumerism and disposable culture.  And I suppose that the allegory is so thinly veiled that I found it a little too obvious.  Maybe, it’s because the story is nearly 40 years old, and the topic is always in discussion now, but it seemed very obvious to me.

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