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Archive for the ‘Jennifer Egan’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WILCO-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Wilco set; stream it while it’s still active.

I have been really enjoying Wilco’s most recent albums, but it’s their live shows that are exceptional.

Opening with “Random Name Generator” they segue into a very string-heavy “Via Chicago” (a one-two punch of greatness that would leave me flabbergasted).  The recording of this song is particularly great because you can really hear the craziness that Nels Cline adds to the noisy sections.  And the strings also loom large, which I find interesting.  It sounds like a full string section, but maybe its’ just synths?

Wilco have so many albums and so many songs.  Most of their live shows run over two and a half hours.  So this barely-over-an-hour set means excising.  And yet they don’t just play a hits set.  There’s quite a few songs from their latest album, Schmilco and a deep cut from Wilco (The Album).  That particular song “Bull Black Nova” has a cool guitar solo back-and-forth between Cline and whoever else was on guitar at the time.

A mellow “Reservations” leads to a lengthy “Impossible Germany” with an extended guitar solo from Cline.  “Misunderstood” gets a big round of applause (and a suitably chaotic middle section–a mini freakout).

Earlier, Jeff Tweedy said “I don’t feel like talking” but before “Heavy Metal Drummer he says, “I guess I feel like talking a little bit…  Nah.”  Then “Hope we didn’t ruin your lovely day, we didn’t mean to if we did.”

They play a fairly shambolic “I’m the Man Who Loves You” which means not that they play it sloppily but that they play it noisily–from time to time one instrument or another has a little noisy fun while everyone else keeps playing like normal.

As the set starts winding down and Tweedy starts to chat with the crowd, someone shouts something and he says

Happy birthday?  Don’t bring that up.  It’s nowhere near my birthday.  [pause] I might never have another one. [groans from the audience] I just wanted to draw everyone’s attention back to our mortality.  I thought we were having too much fun… it sucks. [pause]  You guys have been heartwarming and reassuring.  Every time I think that everything in the world completely sucks we get to play in front of an audience and share something with people that I know is real and I know it exists and will always exist…  And there will always be more of this than whatever the fuck that is.

They play a lovely “Hummingbird” and a crowd pleasing “The Late Greats.”  Tweedy tells us that “my dad says ‘life is happy and sad and it hurts,’ I wrote about 1,000 songs to say that.”

Tweedy can’t help impart some more advice for our troubled times:

Just show up.  Just show up for everybody and things will be all right.

Before the final two songs, he says, “A lot of people have been yelling for this song, which is understandable.”  It’s from the Billy Bragg & Wilco album of Woody Guthrie songs and it’s called “Christ for President.”  It’s more true now than ever.

For the final song, Billy Bragg himself comes out (that’s what so cool about Newport Folk Festival) and they play a rousing rendition of “California Stars.”

Festivals are never quite as good as regular concerts if you really want to see one band. The sets are always shorter than you want.  But this is pretty fine.  And the recording quality is superb.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “The Countess’s Private Secretary”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Jennifer Egan was indeed the private secretary to a Countess.  The Countess was a woman of some authority.  One time Egan was on her way to work for her.  There was some kind of fire emergency in the building and pedestrian traffic was halted.  The Countess shouted out the window to the emergency crews insisting that Egan be let through.  And she was.

Egan said that being the private secretary often meant “becoming” her–starting at 1PM their lives were more or less the same. It helped that Egan herself was tall and slender, Catholic and full of nervous energy.  She was also short-tempered, just like the Countess.  Indeed, even their handwriting matched pretty well.  Although the Countess told Egan that she liked and her, Egan always knew she was just a servant.  The Countess was not above telling her that garlic oozed from her pores for days after she ate it.  Plus her cowboy boots were coarse, her spelling was atrocious and so on.

(more…)

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goonSOUNDTRACK:BOWERBIRDS-Tiny Desk Concert #35 (November 16, 2009).

bowerThis show was recorded July 7, 2009.  It’s fascinating that it didn’t get posted until four months later.

As the Bowerbirds first started I didn’t think I would like them primarily because of the opening lyrics of “Hooves” “Back to when I was born on a full moon, I nearly split my mama in two.” It just seemed an offputting way to start especially when sung over very simple acoustic guitar.  But after the first verse, the band joins in with some Ahhs, which flesh out the song very nicely.  The accordion and violin fill in where necessary and make this a much more compelling-sounding song.

The second song, “Teeth” opens with a very full sound–I really like it–bowed double bass, violin, accordion and guitar and when the backing vocals complement the lead vocal, it’s really quite beautiful.  “House of Diamonds”  is a folkie song, but the final track “In Our talons” (which comes from their first album) is really dramatic, with a some great vocals, a cool section that slows down the tempo and rousing accordion-driven conclusion.  (There’s something a bout an accordion that when played right can add incredible tension to a song).

You can watch it here.

[READ: February 13, 2014] A Visit from the Good Squad

This book made many best of list at the end of 2010.  I’ve wanted to read it for some time now, so when I saw it remaindered at Barnes & Noble, I grabbed it (yes, the library is cheaper, but I find that sometimes I will read things more quickly if I buy them).

I was expecting to be blown away by the book.  But I wasn’t.  At least not at first.  And the real reason for that was because I read it over too long of a span of time.  There are a lot of intricacies in this book that demand attention.  It’s not a difficult book, but the structure of the book is not linear, and there are connections that are made and lost and resumed.  And if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to miss them.  I enjoyed it quite a lot and I really liked the way the story filled in parts as it went along (you’ll see why that is significant shortly).  And I loved the way the end tied everything together so nicely.  But I found that I got even more out of it while writing this recap because it helped me to make connections I initially missed.  So definitely read this, but either read it quickly or read it twice in a row.

So this book is set up that every chapter is narrated by or focuses on a different person at a different time in the story’s history.  It’s a fascinating way to tell a story for the obvious reasons, but also because most of the characters are interrelated in some way (which was the clever part).  And other characters arrive and disappear while still keeping continuity in the story.

There are thirteen chapters, which means 13 stories.  Naturally there are more than 13 characters, so this makes for an interesting look at this world.

The first chapter and more or less the thread throughout the stories is Sasha.  In the first chapter, (which is third person but in which Sasha is the protagonist), we see her planning to steal the wallet from a woman in the bathroom stall next to hers.  She is on a date with a man named Alex, who is new to New York and is still kind of wide-eyed about it.  He is amazed when later on he sees that Sasha has a bathtub in her kitchen (which she never uses).  Sasha’s chapter is interspersed with her at the therapist’s office as she talks about her kleptomania and about her life as the assistant for Bennie Salazar–THE Bennie Salazar, record producer extraordinaire who discovered The Conduits. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-“Is It Too Much” (2013).

raraI loved the first Ra Ra Riot album The Rhumb Line.  This song expands on some of the ideas from that album, but I fear that it goes in the one direction I would have preferred they not go.  The album had strings, nice harmonies and a great singer all melded into an interesting rock structure.

This song retains all of the elements that were interesting, but it removes it from the rock structure, making it  sound much more lightweight.  It’s pushing too far into easy-listening.  And do I hear autotune on the vocals?  The instrumental middle section is the most interesting part of the song.  But Ra Ra Riot seems to have removed the riot part of their sound.  If this is the direction of the album, I’m afraid I won’t be following.

[READ: January 8, 2013] “Consider the Writer”

I just finished the D.T. Max biography of David Foster Wallace.  I was curious what kind of reception it received.  And lo, here’s a review by Rivka Galchen (something I would have read anyhow since I enjoy her so much).

Galchen opens with two main points–the biography is gripping (and it is, I’ll be saying more about that tomorrow, too).  She writes: “In writing a chronologically narrated, thoroughly researched, objective-as-­imaginable biography, Max has created a page turner.”

The second idea is that you keep thinking “that you just don’t find Wallace all that nice”  (which I also thought).  But then she wonders if it is fair to be worried about that.  We should not judge others after all.  Especially since, as she points out, “We don’t always find ourselves asking whether a writer is nice. I’ve never heard anyone wonder this at length about, say, Haruki Murakami or Jennifer Egan.”  So why is that a concern about Wallace?  Because niceness is what Wallace wrote about, tried to encourage.  And perhaps “One understandably slips from reading something concerned with how to be a good person to expecting the writer to have been more naturally kind himself.”  But that is not necessarily the case–people strive for things that they cannot achieve.   I like her example “the co-founder of A.A., Bill W., is a guru of sobriety precisely because sobriety was so difficult for him.”   And her conclusion: “Wallace’s fiction is, in its attentiveness and labor and genuine love and play, very nice. But what is achieved on the page, if it is achieved, may not hold stable in real life.”

And Galchen talks a bit abut DFW himself (the book is a biography after all).  How he wore the bandana because he sweated so much–how self conscious he was about that and by extension nearly everything he did.  This mitigates his not-niceness somewhat.  It also ties in to his alcoholism  drug use and depression.  And his competitiveness, which is obvious in the biography.  She enjoys the pleasure of Wallace’s correspondences, “especially with his close friend and combatant Jonathan Franzen, but also with just about every white male writer he might ever have viewed as a rival or mentor. Aggressive self-abasement, grandstanding, veiled abuse, genuine thoughtfulness, thin-skinned pandering — it’s all there.”  I rather wished that the authors’ own reactions were included (of course it’s not biographies of them, and they are still alive), just to see if they sparred back with Wallace or if they were put off by yet indulgent of his needs. (more…)

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12SOUNDTRACK: FRANK OCEAN-“Bad Religion” (2012).

frankoI didn’t know anything about Frank Ocean until I started looking at all of the  Best Albums of 2012 lists.  He was on everyone’s list and was pretty near the top of all of them.  So it was time to check him out.

It  turns out that he’s affiliated with the Odd Future collective, whom I’ve talked about in the past.  But he’s also been on a lot of big name records.  Channel Orange is his debut album (that’s not a mixtape) and the big surprise seems to be that this song (which he sang live on Jimmy Fallon) is about a male lover.  And I guess that’s progress.

So Ocean sings a slow R&B style, and I have to say his voice reminds me of Prince a lot.  Which is a good thing.  I really like this song.    It has gospelly keyboards (but in that Purple Rain kinda way).  And a really aching vocal line.  It’s really effective and it’s really simple.  And I think that’s what I liked best about this song and others that I’ve heard–he’s really understated.  Crazy, I know.

Now I do not like R&B, it’s one of the few genres that I just don;t get.  And yet there’s something about this album (the tracks I’ve listened to) that is really compelling.  It’s not awash in over the top R&B trappings, and it doesn’t try too hard.  It’s just Frank  (not his real name) and his voice over some simple beats.  A friend of mine recently said that all of a sudden she “got” this album, and  I think I may have to get it as well.

[READ: December 30, 2012] McSweeney’s #12

At the beginning of 2012, I said I’d read all of my old McSweeney’s issues this year.  I didn’t.  Indeed, I put it off for quite a while for no especial reason.  Now as the year draws to an end, I’m annoyed that I didn’t read them all, but it’s not like I read nothing.  Nevertheless, I managed to read a few in the last month and am delighted that I finished this one just under the wire.  For those keeping track, the only issues left are 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 10, 38, (which I misplaced but have found again) and 42, which just arrived today.  My new plan in to have those first four read by Easter.  We’ll see.

So Issue #12 returns to a number of different fun ideas.  The cover:  It’s a paperback, but you can manipulate the front and back covers to make a very cool 3-D effect (by looking through two eyeholes) with a hippo.  The colophon/editor’s note is also back.  Someone had complained that he missed the small print ramble in the beginning of the book and so it is back, with the writer (Eggers? Horowitz?) sitting in Wales, in a B&B, and hating it.  It’s very funny and a welcome return.

As the title suggests, all of the stories here are from unpublished authors.  They debate about what exactly unpublished means, and come down on the side of not well known.  And so that’s what we have here, first time (for the mos part) stories.  And Roddy Doyle.

There are some other interesting things in this issue.  The pages come in four colors–each for a different section.  The Letters/Intro page [white], the main stories [pink], the Roddy Doyle piece (he’s not unpublished after all so he gets his own section) [gray] and the twenty minute stories [yellow].  There’s also photographs (with captions) of Yuri Gagarin.  And a series of drawing that introduce each story called “Dancewriting”–a stick figure on a five-lined staff.  They’re interesting but hard to fathom fully.

LETTERS (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JACK WHITE-“Sixteen Saltines” (2012).

I really liked the first White Stripes album.  After that things were just a little too samey to me.  So I pretty much stopped listening to him.  This new album is all the rage (as is everything he does), and this is a song that NPR picked as one of their favorites of the year so far.

And as with everything Jack White does, it’s immediately fun.  It’s also simple as anything, with a raw and aggressive sound–just like everything else he does.  I usually don’t mind when an artist plays the same stuff over and over, I mean it’s called a signature after all, but for some reason it bugs me with him.  Or maybe I just don’t like him as a “person.”

Anyhow, I can’t deny that this song is fun (the vocals done in a kind of R&B vein (sounding like Michael Jackson a bit?) and the addition of keyboards half way through are a nice touch.  But I can’t say that I’ll remember the song much after it’s over.

[READ: June 16, 2012] “Black Box”

I have been meaning to read Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad for quite some time.  But in the meantime, I’m happy to have read this short story, which I assume is nothing at all like her novels.

“Black Box” is written in a series of small numbered black boxes.  And each box contains a number of statements in the second person.  It’s a striking and unusual way to concoct a story.  I didn’t really think it would be all that intriguing because the tone is so matter of fact and instructional.  But I was thrilled with how much of a story Egan created out of this style.  And, yes, it is a full story.

So Box number one begins: “People rarely look the way you expect them to, even when you’ve seen pictures.”  Then, “The first thirty seconds in a person’s presence are the most important.”  Then, “If you’re having trouble perceiving and projecting, focus on projecting.”  Then, “Necessary ingredients for a successful projection: giggles; bare legs; shyness.”

So, what is this?  instructions?  advice?  quips to live by?  Well, it turns out that they are instructions to a “beauty.”  And this beauty is working for her country, to take down a bad guy.  She is a spy, although not a professional spy, she’s just a beauty doing her country’s work.  The instructions show (in a very unexpected way) how the story unfolds: “‘Shall we swim together toward those rocks?’ may or may not be a question.”  And so, “you” and your Designated Mate swim to an island where sex in inevitable.  “Begin the Dissociation Technique only when physical violation is imminent.”  For indeed, “you” are married, but your husband approves of this mission, for the good of United States and the world.

As the story unfolds, the reader realizes that this is not just a beautiful woman who has been called into the service of he country, but something a little more. “If you are within earshot of his conversation, record it.”  Well, how will she do that one wonders.  “A microphone has been implanted just beyond the first turn of your right ear canal.”

Cool. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOSH CATERER-“Ask” (2011).

Josh Caterer is the main guy behind The Smoking Popes, whose first album, Born to Quit, Morrissey has said was his favorite –and which is also not only no longer in print, it’s not available on Spotify! (the first album that I have looked for which was not available).

Anyhow, this cover comes from The Onion’s A.V. Club’s Undercover series.  (The current series offers a list of 25 songs from which the bands can choose to cover–but each time a song is chosen, it is removed from the list.  Soon, bands will cover songs they may not even like!)

Anyhow again, this cover is delightful.  I was going  to say that “Ask” is one of my favorite Smiths songs, but I think they’re all my favorite songs.  Nevertheless, this one is pretty high on my list.  And this version is, indeed delightful.  Caterer is accompanied by a guitar, a violin and a viola.  The strings cover most of those catchy melodies, while the guitars keep the song propulsive (you don’t even miss a rhythm section).  Caterer’s voice, while not as distinctive as Morrissey’s is perfect for the song.

Overall, an excellent cover.  Watch it here.

[READ: July 20, 2011] “Archeology”

This was the first of five “Starting Out” pieces in the New Yorker’s fiction issue.  The Starting Out pieces are one page (or less) and are a look into the author’s childhood/adolescence.

Egan, who wrote  A Visit from The Goon Squad, talks about what she wanted to be as a child.  First, she wanted to be a surgeon.  She saw blood and that was the end of that.  Then she thought that maybe she could be an archaeologist.  She desperately wanted to become one, even sending her resume (which was: high school and a desire to dig) to every place she could think of (only one even bothered to write back). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CITY AND COLOUR Live at the Sasquatch Festival, May 29, 2011 (2011).

City and Colour have a new album coming out soon.  So it’s kind of surprising that this seven-song show is three songs from their previous album, two from their first album, a cover, and only one new track (“Fragile Bird”).

This is the first time I’ve heard City and Colour live with a band (most of the recordings I have by them are just Dallas Green solo).  It’s nice to hear how powerfully they work together (giving some of those songs an extra push).

Despite the brevity of the set (and the amusing banter about airport etiquette) you get a pretty good sense of what the “pretty-voiced guy” from Alexisonfire can do on his own.   I found the cover, Low’s “Murderer,” to be a really perfect choice–one that suits the band and their slightly-off harmonies, rather well.

I’m looking forward to their new release–“Fragile Bird” is another beautiful song.  But in the meantime, this is a good place to hear what they’ve been up to.

[READ: early June 2011] 2011 Fiction Issues

Five Dials seems to always generate coincidences with what I read. Right after reading the “”Summer’ Fiction” issue from Five Dials, I received the Fiction Issue from the New Yorker.  A few days later, I received the Summer Reading Issue from The Walrus.

I’m doing a separate post here because, although I am going to post about the specific fictions, I wanted to mention the poetry that comes in The Walrus’ issue.  I have no plan to write separate posts about poetry (I can barely write a full sentence about most poetry) so I’ll mention them in this post.

The main reason I’m drawing attention to these poems at all is because of the set-up of The Walrus’ Summer Fiction issue.  As the intro states: “We asked five celebrated writers to devise five guidelines for composing a short story or poem. They all traded lists–and played by the rules.”  I am so very intrigued at this idea of artificial rules imposed by an outsider.  So much so that I feel that it would be somewhat easier to write a story having these strictures put on you.  Although I imagine it would be harder to write a poem.

The two poets are Michael Lista and Damian Rogers.  I wasn’t blown away by either poem, but then I don’t love a lot of poetry.  So I’m going to mention the rules they had to follow. (more…)

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