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Archive for the ‘John Cheever’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.

LETTERS

CORY DOCTOROW
Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

JAMIE QUATRO
Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

BENAJMIN PERCY
In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

ANTHONY MARRA
Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-First Listen Live: The National, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ (September 5, 2017).

On August 17, Union Transfer sent out a message that World Café and NPR Music present a First Listen Live with The National on September 5 at that very club.  I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant–was the audience going to sit there and listen to the record together?  Was the band going to be there?  I assumed they would play it live, but who knew.  I also didn’t really love The National enough to find out.  I like them sure, but I don’t know that I would have gone to see them anyhow.

I have since grown to really love “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” and while I probably couldn’t have gone to the show anyway (busy night) and it sold out pretty quickly anyhow, I was pretty glad that NPR has the show available for stream (right here).  The album sounds great and I was really delighted with how lighthearted singer Matt Berninger was and how good the band sounds.

I was also surprised by how piano-based these songs are.  Not that the band doesn’t have pianos in their songs, but I think of them as more guitar driven, while nearly every one of these songs is led by piano.  Since I don’t know all that much about the band, I also didn’t realize that in addition to Berninger, the rest of the band is two sets of brothers: guitar dueling by twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums.

Since I wasn’t there, I’ll reply on Bob Boilen’s description of the show:

The concert began with a sharply dressed Matt Berninger comically mixing up his own lyrics as he sang, “You said we’re not so tied together, what did you mean? Meet me in the bathroom in a second, for a glass of gin,” instead of “meet me in the stairwell.”  It foreshadowed Matt’s frenetic performance throughout the night as he cast off that sport coat, rolled up his sleeves and led the band in a fun and inspired performance of these new songs. The show ended with Matt pitching his plastic cup full of clear liquid into the crowd in a frenzy of strobe light mania.

The group was joined throughout the night by Arone Dyer of Buke and Gase (who also sings on the new record), along with Ben Lanz on trombone and keyboard (and everything else), Kyle Resnick on trumpet, keys and backing vocals (and everything else).

Unlike recent record release parties that didn’t really feel like record release parties, this show was what I expected the other ones to be like–a band playing their new album front to back (in fairness the other three shows of this ilk were more indie in nature (and weren’t on the radio) so they could do what they wanted).  So indeed, the band played the album front to back (and went on around 8PM, sop they were done by 9:30, I’d guess).

As the show began, Berninger came out and in his deep voice said, “Hows it going,  hello.”  Someone shouted, “Play ‘Karen.'”  Berninger laughed and said, “it’s pronounced Kuh-RIN, come on.  How many time do I have to…”  (“Karen” is a song on their earlier album Alligator and “Carin at the Liquor Store” is a new song).

The album feels quite spare with minimal instrumentation, but the spaces are full of interesting music.  There’s a lot of piano on “Nobody Else Will Be There.”  At the end, as it says above he says, “I screwed up the first verse.  The first verse was wrong.  [mock angry] Do it again. [Laughs and says in a mock pissy voice] “We’re going to do everything again until it’s right.”

“Day I Die” has squeaky guitars and a funky bass.  Berninger after the song: Oops can I get a towel [pronounced towl].  Thanks a lot.  Next is ‘Walk It Back.’  Is there a towel anywhere?  I kind of walked it back into my drink.  Thanks, Ev.  Evan Middlesworth!  [cheers]  That’s all he does.  [singsong] Evan, you missed a spot.  [chuckles].  The song is spare with piano and a rather complex drum pattern.  The l vocals are almost recited.

Arone Dyer from Buke and Gass helped a lot on this record.  This is the person you hear at the beginning of this song. This is “The System Only Dreams [cheers] Wait!  I’m not done with the title yet [laughs].  This may be one of my favorite songs this year.  It sounds a bit different here–not bad, just live.  But by the end it totally rocks out.

“Born to Beg” is a slow ballad with some lovely backing vocals from Dyer.  After the song Berninger announces “Johnny Brenda’s tonight at 11: Buke and Gass.”  Now that;s a show I would have really liked to see.  Had I gotten tickets to The National, I would have hung around town and gone to Buke and Gass for sure.  Berninger mentions their symbiotic partnership: “punch the glove, touch the glove, you know what that means? hand in glove? Nevermind.”

“Turtleneck” roars out with 2 scorching guitars.  Berninger is practically screaming (as are the backing singers).  he is normally such a sedate singer that this comes across really powerfully.

“Empire Line” returns to that more moody style.  The song kind of smooths along on a rumbling guitar line.”

Berninger introduces the next song: “This is called ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ … Did somebody boo?  The record’s not even out yet.  Someone went ‘oooo.'”  The song has a cool, complex drum rhythm with some nifty quiet parts and buzzy keys.  But the end gets bigger and louder with really powerful drums.

I love the glitchy opening sounds of “Guilty Party.”  The rest of the song is gentle piano and e-bow but the end builds with different instruments playing different spare sections around each other.  There’s also a cool guitar solo at the end.

One of the other guys in the band says “Thanks to NPR for doing this and thank you guys for coming out.  This is a good way for us to learn these songs… live on the radio.”  Berninger dedicates “Carin at the Liquor Store”:  “This is for Yoko.”  I wonder of that has to do with the chorus: “blame it on me. I really don’t care.  It’s a foregone conclusion.”

After the song he says: “Sorry, Scott, I fucked up your mic.  Hold on I gotta fix Scott’s microphone.  This is called ‘Dark Side of the Gym.’  A gymnasium in America is a multipurpose room where proms take place. In Europe they keep thinking it’s the dark side of the fitness club.  Some corner of the locker room Dark side of Equinox or something.”  This is a slower song with more piano.  “Arone Dyer is back.  Buke and Gass tonight, 11, Johnny Brenda’s.”  He sings the line “Hand in Glove” then says “Uh, never mind I almost told a story.”

The final song is “Sleep Well Beast” with more interesting electronic percussion and wavery synths.

The whole album sounds really good.  Mostly spare, but a few really rocking songs.  I’m now curious to hear if the album sounds like it.

It sounds like there’s an encore break.

When they come back: “Were going to play a few songs that are ten years old.  This is from Boxer.”  Introducing “Green Gloves” whoever is talking says “this is kind of a creepy song.”  Berninger agrees: “Don’t do any of the stuff in this song.”  There’s much more guitar.  It’s quite moody and sounds great.

“Apartment Story” is a bit more upbeat with fuzzy guitars that build and build over staccato drums.

Presumably that same guy from the beginning shouts, “Play Karen, please.”  But no, they play “Fake Empire” instead (I don’t think they heard him).  This is a piano-based song, but it builds and build and builds to a rocking climax.

The final song comes from High Violet.  “Terrible Love” totally rocks with big noisy guitars and drums crashing to an ending.  They practically scream “It takes an ocean not to… BREAK!” and the show ends with a crazy and wonderfully chaotic conclusion.

There audio just ends–no goodbyes or anything.  I assume the band didn’t hang around afterwards–there wer 1200 people there, after all .

On WXPN after the show, they played an interview: World Cafe host Talia Schlanger and I recently talked with Matt Berninger about how he and the band created their new album. Listen to that full interview here.

 

[READ: June 25, 2017] “Beneficence”

I am quite saddened to read that this is the final Lucky Peach issue that will see the light of day.  The magazine is going to retain an online presence, but there will be no more oversized, thick-papered profanely delicious quarterlies.  [Technically not true, there was one more final issue after this].

I am equally disappointed that the final story printed in this final issue is so irritating.

This story seems like it is a take on John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.”  That’s the overall vibe I get from the story.  If you don’t know that terrific story, a man drinks alcohol and swims through neighborhood backyard pools–and learns something along the way.

This had that same backyard neighborhood drinking feel to it.  But it was so overwhelmed by the phrase “A white person” that I was totally lost and distracted from any actually story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DR. DOG-Tiny Desk Concert #7 (October 20, 2008).

drdog

I have been hearing a lot about Dr. Dog lately (they are from Philly and the radio station we listen to is from Philly, so that makes sense).  But I had assumed they were a new band.  So imagine my surprise to see that they were the 7th Tiny Desk Concert and the first full band to play the Tiny Desk.  (Their first album came out in 2005!).

It’s fun to watch a five piece band squeeze into the Tiny Desk (the drummer is playing a small pink suitcase) and the fifth member of the band is playing some various percussions (I wonder if he does more in the band).  It’s also funny when one of the guitars breaks a string and the singer says “son of a bitch.”

Dr. Dog proves to be quite interesting.  Their first song is “The Beach.”  It’s a rocking awesome track–the guitar is great and bassist Toby Leaman’s move is raspy and powerful.  I really like this song a lot.  The second song is quite different, it’s a bouncy boppy song that sounds a bit like a more rocking Grateful Dead (that bass).  This song has a different singer–Scott McMicken, who plays lead guitar on “The Beach,” but acoustic guitar here.  (The other guitarist, Frank McElroy  played acoustic on The Beach and electric on this one).

After a lengthy discussion they play the third song (in a different version from the record) “How Dare.”  This song opens with their great harmonies (a wonderful feature of the band).  It also has a jam band quality (Toby’s back on vocals but less raspy and powerful, and more bluesy)/on this track.

The band seemed to think they were only to play two songs, and frankly it’s a shame they only play 3. At 12 minutes it one of the shorter Tiny Desk concerts.  But I am a convert to Dr. Dog, and I need to hear more from them.

[READ: November 10, 2013] “Reunion”

After listening to Richard Ford in yesterday’s podcast, I decided I wanted to read his take on the Cheever story “Reunion.”  And while I can definitely see that it was inspired by a kernel of an idea in Cheever’s story, I probably never would have put the two together had I not known.

Ford’s story opens the same way as Cheever’s with someone waiting in Grand Central Station.  It turns out that the person is Mack Bolger.  Bolger is waiting intently for someone.  We quickly learn that the narrator who spies Bolger had had an affair with Bolger’s wife, Beth about a  year and a half prior to this meeting.  It ended abruptly when Mack confronted them in their hotel room (in St. Louis).  Mack (who is a large man) boxed the narrator’s ears a bit and sent him running from the room in varying stages of dress (and without a precious scarf which his mother had given him).

He had not seen Mack again, although he did see Beth on one final instance–a sort of final closure.  They met in a bar and tied up loose ends, and that was that.

So when the narrator sees Mack he gets this sudden urge to speak to him:

just as you might speak to anyone you casually knew and had unexpectedly but not unhappily encountered. And not to impart anything, or to set in motion any particular action (to clarify history, for instance, or make amends), but just to speak and create an event where before there was none.  (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: November 19, 2013] “Reunions” podcast

podcastIn the very first New Yorker fiction podcast, Richard Ford reads a story by John Cheever from 1962.  This is an especially apt pairing because Ford explains that when he does author appearances, he often reads Cheever’s story “Reunion” before reading his own story “Reunion.”  The reason, he explains, is that the Cheever story inspired his own.  [I haven’t read the Ford story although it too appears in the New Yorker, but from the way he describes it, it doesn’t sound like it’s all that similar, just “inspired” by the Cheever piece].

I don’t know a lot of Cheever (which Ford says is a common and sad problem for American readers), but I have always loved his story “The Swimmer,” which I think is fantastic.

“Reunion” (the Cheever story) is very simple and yet it speaks a lot about family. (Both Ford and the New Yorker host talk about how remarkably short (about 1,000 words) and yet how powerfully concise it is.)  In the story, a young man has time to kill between trains in Gran Central Station.  He is en route from school and had about 90 minutes before his next train arrives. So he contacts his father to see about having lunch.  He hasn’t seen his father in about three years and he thinks this will be nice. (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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SOUNDTRACK: THE MOMMYHEADS-“Needmore, PA” (2010).

This is the first single from The Mommyheads’ new Dromedary release Finest Specimens.  The album (which is sort of a greatest hits, but not) comes out next month, but until then you can hear th is new track at a number of places, including the blog largehearted boy (which has all kinds of cool free listens on it).

This is a 7 minute (live) track.  It opens with some cool keyboards.  They feature what I’ve come to think of as Mommyheads style, in which the bass and guitars (or in this case keyboards) play different things that seem unrelated but which work together.  A great chorus pulls it all together.

This live song has about 3 minutes of instrumental jamminess at the end.  It doesn’t really help the memorableness of the song (as you’ve long forgotten the catchy “That’s right” hook by the end of it), but man they sound great jamming together like that: a tight, psychedelic freakout that just builds in coolness.  It’s almost like two songs in one.

[READ: September 11, 2010] “The Tuber”

This essay is about Wells Tower riding the rivers of Southern Florida in a tube.  It’s also about John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.”

One of the things that I like about Wells Tower is that even in his non-fiction, he ties things together with literary substance.  And so, he sets up this adventure as a twisted take on Cheever’s Neddy Merrill swimming the 8 miles of swimming pools in suburban New York: Tower wants to try to tube the rivers of Florida all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. (more…)

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