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Archive for the ‘J.D. Salinger’ 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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jdSOUNDTRACK: PET SHOP BOYS-Electric (2013).

psbAfter the sombre, more reflective Elysium, Pet Shop Boys came back with the far more upbeat and dancey Electric.  Right from the start, you know this is back to high energy fun (with of course sardonic lyrics). The opening track, “Axis,” is a major dance song with processed vocals and a great riff–I love how the song goes very electronic and artificial sounding around 4 minutes in.  “Bolshy” has a classic PSB sound–dancey keyboards and Neil Tennant’s ageless voice.  I don’t really quite know what the song is about but it is really fun to sing along to. It is followed by “Love is  Bourgeois Construct” (I sense a strangely political theme here–and I love that the follow-up line is “just like they said at University” ), I love the way the song gets really muddy while the synth line plays and that it emerges bigger and better than ever–the sound reminds me of the synth songs in A Clockwork Orange and the riff is on Michael Nyman’s “Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds.” The way the music is so epic-sounding for such a simple idea of a song is great,

“Flourescent” is a darker song, with big synths and cowbells ringing in the song.  It’s got a steampunky wheeze as the drum beat and a echoey synth note which all coalesces before Tennant’s vocals which come in–two minutes into the song.  It’s a very moody piece and even at 6 minutes doesn’t feel overly long.

“Inside a Dream” is a dancey song with a fast melody.  “The Last to Die” is a Bruce Springsteen song from his album Magic (I had no idea) which they electrify and make synthy, but not dancey exactly.  They do a very good job of capturing the Springsteen vibe in their own way.  “Shouting in the Evening” is a very dancey song, one of may favorites on the record–I love the way Chris Lowe distorts his keyboards on this track.  “Thursday” has a great vocal line–“It’s Thursday night, let’s get it right.  I want to know you’re gonna stay for the weekend.”  It’s a catchy song with the repeats of the days: “Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday.”  I could do without the rap (by Example) which reminds me way too much of Blondie’s rap in Rapture–stiff and kind of forced.

The final song “Vocal” I find odd in the lyrics.  It’s about songs that he likes, which is fine, but the line, “every track has a vocal, and that make a change” is weird–do dance songs not have vocals anymore?  Well, how would I know, i don’t listen to a lot of dance music.  Anyhow, it’s super catchy and dancey.  I like the way it builds to the big chorus even if the song isn’t very complex.

While I enjoyed the introspective Elysium, it’s great to have a big loud Pet Shop Boys album as a return to form.

[READ: October 22, 2014] Three Early Stories

I found this book on the shelf at work.  I had no idea that a) Salinger had written so many stories that have yet to be collected (according to Wikipedia there are about a dozen) or that these three had been collected in this very strange edition.  The book collects three stories and includes illustrations by Anna Rose Yoken.  The illustrations are fine, but not worth getting the book for (and feel a bit more like a children’s book illustration than a Salinger story).  The other strange thing is that the text is only on the right side pages, so although the book is 69 pages, there’s really only about 35 pages of story.

I had never read any of these stories, so I was glad to find this book.  They were written before Catcher in the Rye, and it’s interesting to see what was on his ind before he created Holden Caufield.  These stories seem to focus on college-aged women and the way they behave.  The portraits of these women are not flattering, but they are fairly realistic.

“The Young Folks” is set at a party (I can’t believe how many cigarettes are smoked in these three stories).  At 11PM during the party, Lucille Henderson, (the college-aged host) sees that her friend Edna Phillips is by herself, still.  So she introduces her to William Jameson.  Jameson is more interested in the laughing (and presumably drunk) blond girl who is sitting amid three guys from Rutgers who are hanging on her every word.

As soon as Jameson is introduced to Edna, he starts making excuses that he should leave the party–he has a theme due on Monday.  But Edna clings to him  with conversation. She asks about his theme, she tells him about the guy who was too forward with her–she’s no prude, but come on.  She offers him cigarettes and invites him to the balcony.  He is too polite to tell her off, but he is giving major signals that she must see and is perhaps saving up as ammunition for later. (more…)

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laurenSOUNDTRACK: PIXIES-“Bagboy” (2013).

pixies-bagboyThe first Pixies song in nine years…doesn’t feature Kim Deal on it.  Which is kind of a shame.  She was with them for a lot of the recent tours, but she went back to the Breeders recently.  I assume that everyone else from the lineup is still in the band.

But the real question is what does the song sound like?  Well, to me it doesn’t sound like the Pixies.  It sounds very much like a 90s song, but by… some other bands of the time.  Even Frank Black’s (or is it Black Francis’) voice sounds different—less brittle (despite the brittleness of what he is saying).

The song begins with keyboards and a kind of dance (electronic) drum sound.  I actually thought I clicked the wrong link when it started.  There’s chanted backing vocals while Black is singing/talking.  It all sounds very familiar but not like the Pixies.  Even the guitars sound different–less bright with a bit more flash in the solos.

The part that does sound like the Pixies is the chorus which has soaring guitars and a female singer (unknown to me at this point but she sounds a lot like Deal) singing “bagboy” while Black shouts the same.  The chorus is a comforting reminder of the Pixies’ sound.

I understand that in nine years (and countless Frank Black albums) the Pixies are going to sound different.  And while the tone is definitely Pixies, something is missing from the track, which I hope the rest of the album (should there be one) replaces.

[READ: June 28, 2013] Someday, Someday Maybe

I’ve been a fan of Lauren Graham the actress since I had a major (age appropriate) crush on her during The Gilmore Girls.  I haven’t seen everything she’s been in, but I also enjoy Parenthood quite a bit and initially tuned in because of her.  And now she’s written a book.

This book is pretty far from my usual thing (and in an interview on Huffington Post she says she doesn’t think many men will read the book).  I gather they won’t but I’m glad I did.

Set in 19995, Graham creates a wonderfully flawed character in Franny, a struggling actress who has moved to New York City and has given herself three years to become successful.  At the end of the three years, if she hasn’t made it, she’ll move back to Chicago to be with her long-term boyfriend, Clark.

She lives in Brooklyn with her best friend who is also in the business but as a production assistant (it’s nice to have them not be fighting for the same jobs).  They recently added a new roommate Dan, a writer who seems oblivious to the women (he is so focused on his screenplay that he doesn’t even seem to notice them watching TV).  It seemed apparent from the get go that there was going to be a romantic interest there.  And there was.

But first we get to see Franny’s trials and tribulations starting two and a half months until her deadline.  She’s still taking acting classes, and while she hasn’t gotten offered anything yet, she seems to be well-regarded in class.  And, she has the big showcase coming up—the performance when agents come to watch them do their thing.

And then, hurrah! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPEARL JAM-Austin City Limits (2009).

Pearl Jam records (and sells) most of their shows and they occasionally videotape them as well.  But they don’t do TV all that much (excepting the recent Late Late Show episodes).  There seemed to be something special, or at least different, about Pearl Jam on Austin City Limits.  Think of it almost like Unplugged Updated.

It opens slow with Eddie on an acoustic guitar and strings behind him.  In fact, the whole set seems less heavy than many of their sets.  But that’s not to say that the band doesn’t rock out, because they do.

The first six songs of the set come from Backspacer.   And then they bust out “Army Reserve” (which makes sense given who is in the audience, see below).  Then there’s a wonderfully raucous version of “Do the Evolution” (one of my favorite PJ songs).

After that riotous track, they bring the strings out for one more song.  It’s a rather funny little joke because it’s just the strings and Eddie on acoustic guitar playing “Lukin,” the 80-second song that is so fast you can barely hear the words.

For an extra treat, touring mate Ben Harper comes out to play slide guitar on “Red Mosquito” (which is always a treat).  And the set ends with an amazing version of “Porch” with a super long guitar solo in which Mike McCready really shows off his chops.  There’s even a moment where Mike and Stone are riffing off each other, classic rock style.
The set ends the Eddie talking about playing for the wounded veterans in the audience and how it was quite moving for him given all they have done for us.  Over the closing credits you see the band mingling with the veterans (including a guy who has lost a leg).  It’s all surprisingly touching for a rock show.

[READ: November 20, 2011] “Perchance to Dream”

A while back I read all of the Jonathan Franzen articles that were published in The New Yorker.  I thought I had read everything he’d published until I realized I had forgotten to read this piece (possibly his most famous) that was published in Harper’s.  It fits in well with this weekend’s theme because it was mentioned in Evan Hughes’ article that I talked about yesterday and because David Foster Wallace is mentioned in it.

As with most of Franzen’s non-fiction, it’s not easy to write about critically unless I want to argue with him, which I don’t necessarily want to do.  So instead, I’ll try to summarize.  Of course, this is a long and somewhat difficult article, so let’s see what we can do with it.

The first surreal thing is when you see the byline: “Jonathan Franzen is the author of two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, and is writing a third.”  It’s hard to imagine he got a huge article in Harper’s before he wrote The Corrections.

The second surreal thing comes in the text: It opens with “The country was preparing for war ecstatically, whipped on by William Safire (for whom Saddam Hussein was ‘this generation’s Hitler’) and George Bush, whose approval stood at 89 percent.”  And it is only a few paragraphs later when he mentions Patriot missiles that it clicked that this was written in 1996 and not 2001 and that he was talking about the 1991 Iraq invasion.  He mentions this as a prelude, saying that he was trying to sequester himself in order to start writing again.

Then he talks about Paula Fox’s novel Desperate Characters as a benchmark in terms of insight and personal conflict, even if it is so crazily outdated (that someone would throw an inkwell!).   He talks about this book quite a bit. I’m, not sure I found it compelling enough to want to read, but it’s always interesting to hear a fan write about a book I’ve never heard of.  He will return to this book throughout the essay. (more…)

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Howard Zinn [1922- 2010]

The death of J.D. Salinger totally overshdowed the death of Howard Zinn (which I just found out about today while reading a tribute to Salinger).

Howard Zinn was one of my favorite political writers, and I would have to say the one who has influenced me the most.  I first learned about him through You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, and have read most of his works since then.

His People’s History of the United States is an amazing read, and will make you rethink what you learned (or didn’t) about American history.    Zinn always spoke up for the underdog, and he tried to get people to see history (and current events) through the eyes of the average worker, not just the people who make and write history.

He was also a very outspoken anti-war activist.  He even spoke publicly against “popular” wars; railing against the military industrial complex and the inevitable injustices that war creates.

And in all of his writings and speeches, he was never stodgy or dull.

I’m not sure who will pick up the torch that he has now dropped.  But he will surely be missed.

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J.D. Salinger [1919-2010]

J.D. Salinger died two days ago.  I was saddened to hear this, but I think mostly because he’s everyone’s favorite recluse, and there are so few people actively avoiding fame these days.

Everyone loves Catcher in the Rye (somehow there are three copies of it in our house).  In fact so many people say it is their favorite book, that when you meet someone who says that you kind of grimace and wish they thought of something more original.  Of course, I loved it when I read it, too.  I loved it so much that I read all of Salinger’s published works (which is all of 4 books).   And I enjoyed them all.

This was about twenty years ago.  There’s no reason not to read them again, frankly. But I know if I start right now I’ll seem like a goddamned phony, so I’ll put it off for a little while.

It’s hard to be terribly sad that the man’s dead (from a reader’s point of view, that is). I mean, he hadn’t written anything in over 40 years as far as we know.  But still, it’s always sad to hear news like that.

Raise High the Roofbeam.

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