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Archive for the ‘Jonathan Franzen’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GREGORY PORTER-“Be Good (Lion’s Song)” (Field Recordings, May 14, 2013).

The still from this Field Recording [Gregory Porter: A Lion In The Subway] certainly led me to think that Porter would be singing on an actual moving train car (the ambient noise would be IMPOSSIBLE to filter out).

Of course, it wasn’t the most practical (or legal–bands and other musical acts need to audition to even set up underground. And those are just the “official” performers) thing to actually get Gregory Porter to perform on an operational MTA train. So we asked him if he’d perform for us at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn, a collection of vintage memorabilia and reconditioned cars housed in a former subway station. All the better: Porter has a way with vintage suits, and there was a fortunate coincidence about the way it all felt right among the period-specific ads which flanked him. Accompanied by pianist Chip Crawford — who perfectly punches and beds the gaps here — Porter sang his original “Be Good (Lion’s Song),” a parable of unrequited affection.

The only thing I know about Gregory Porter comes from his Tiny Desk Concert.  I marveled that he wore a hat with ear flaps the whole time.  Well, he does the same thing during this song.

Gregory Porter has the frame of a football linebacker — maybe because he once was one, for a Division I college — and the rich, booming voice you might expect from a guy with such lungs. It cuts through a crowd with its strength, in the manner of an old-school soul singer; it demands attention with its sensitivity. If Porter weren’t winning over the international jazz club and festival circuit, he’d rise above the din wherever he went.

This is a sweet, quiet song, befitting him and the location.  The lyrics are a clever metaphor about lions and love.

[READ: October 22, 2017] “Scared of the City”

This is an essay about being white in New York City.

Franzen says that in 1981 he and his girlfriend were finishing college and decided to spend a summer in New York City– a three-month lease on the apartment of a Columbia student on the comer of 110th and Amsterdam.  It had two small bedrooms and was irremediable filthy.

The city seemed starkly black and white “when a young Harlem humorist on the uptown 3 train performed the ‘magic’ act of making every white passenger disappear at Ninety-Sixth street, I felt tried and found guilty of my whiteness.”

A friend of theirs was mugged at Grant’s Tomb (where he shouldn’t have been) and now Franzen was morbidly afraid of being shot.  The impression of menace was compounded by the heavy light-blocking security gates on the windows and the police lock on the door.

Franzen made some money when his brother Tom came into the city to do some work for hot shot photographer Gregory Heisler at Broadway and Houston.  Franzen was a gopher and made trips around the Bowery and Canal Street but he knew not to go to Alphabet City. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JUANES AND MON LAFERTE-Tiny Desk Concert #746 (May 23, 2018).

Juanes did a solo Tiny Desk Concert back in 2011.  Amusingly, seven years ago the blurb said: The blurb says that “he usually plays arenas and large venues, so it’s a treat to see him up close like this,” (see the third quoted paragraph below).

Colombian pop star Juanes and Chilean singer Mon Laferte recently wrapped up a sold-out tour of the United States, which (lucky for us) included a stop at the Tiny Desk.

Laferte began the concert solo with the torch song “Pa’ Dónde Se Fue” (Where Did You Go?). She sang the break-up story with a smirk that belied the heartache hiding in her poignant lyrics. Then… Juanes joined her to perform the duo’s sultry single, “Amárrame” (Tie Me Up).

It’s rare to see Juanes in such an intimate setting. After almost two decades of performing solo, the Latin pop star is more of a stadium and arena kind of guy. It’s a treat to hear his voice unencumbered by loud speakers or crowd noise, and to see his facial expressions as he sings lyrics that many of us know by heart. This marked a return to the intimacy that fueled his earliest days and that’s still present in the personal lyrics that have sold millions of records.

That intimacy was heightened by the presence of Laferte. The duo performed a PG-13 version of “Amárrame,” a passionate pop song with lyrics reminiscent of 50 Shades Of Grey. You can sense an obvious chemistry between the two during that song, as well as on the Juanes classic “Fotografia” (which originally featured Nelly Furtado).

Juanes closed out the concert solo with a stripped-down version of “Es Tarde” from his last album, Mis Planes Son AmarteThe performance demonstrates why Juanes and Laferte’s duet tour sold out across the U.S. this year. There is a magic here that makes for repeated viewing. It’s that much fun to watch.

SET LIST

  • “Pa’ Dónde Se Fue” (Where Did You Go?) by Mon Laferte. She sings and plays guitar and has a beautiful, powerful voice.
  • “Amárrame {Tie Me Up} [feat. Juanes]” by Mon Laferte.  An additional guitarist plays the cool funky riff while Mon Laferte sings (and rolls her r’s beautifully).  Juanes sings (and makes some asides, “Mon Dios!”) the (beautiful, soaring) chorus and alternating verses.  They sound fantastic together, with his voice being particularly sultry and steamy.
  • “Fotografía [feat. Mon Laferte]” by Juanes.  This is a sweet ballad, with again both singers playing off of each other and joking with each other (there’s a phone gag that is pretty funny).  It’s delightful.  And their voices meld perfectly once again.
  • “Es Tarde” by Juanes.  It’s just him singing on this one (with the guitarist on accompaniment).  His voice has a slight gravel to it but is mostly smooth and delightful.  The middle of the song has a kind of whispered spoken word.  It’s quite obvious why he is a megastar.

[READ: January 22, 2017] “The End of the End of the World”

This is an essay about birding in the Antarctic and the death of Franzen’s Uncle Walt.  Both of these stories were fascinating.

Two year earlier, Franzen’s Uncle Walt died and left hims $78,000.  Wow.  (My uncle left me a pitchfork and sheep shears).  He wasn’t expecting it, so he decided to do something special with it in honor of his Uncle.  He had been planning a big vacation with his longtime girlfriend, so this seemed like the thing to us it for.  When he suggested a deluxe cruise to Antarctica, she was puzzled but agreed.

After booking the cruise, he was filled with reservations, and so was she.  Her concerns were more serious–an ailing parent–and his were just nerves.

He intersperses this trip with memories of his Uncle.  Like in August of 1976 when he found out that Walt’s daughter had died in a car crash.  Walt and his wife Irma were his godparents, although his mother couldn’t stand Irma (Franzen’s father’s sister).  She said that Irma had been spoiled at the expense of his father.  Walt was far more likable anyhow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.

 

[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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815SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-DEAR (2017).

The plan was that after 25 years, Boris would retire.  They recorded songs for Dear, but then toured the anniversary of the album Pink.  This inspired them to write more songs, and somehow through all of that, Dear was created (with apparently enough music for two more albums).

Then they toured Dear (a tour I was lucky enough to see) and are still going.  Who knows if they are done.  Who knows if this is their final album.  Either way, this is a doozy.

10 songs and 70 minutes (on the U.S. release), Dear specialized in slow droney heavy songs.  The album opens with seven smacks of a drum before loud heavy chords signal the beginning of “D.O.W.N -Domination of Waiting Noise.”  The vocals are loud but just loud enough to add to the overall drone sound.  Things slow down further with “Deadsong” a deep bass drone with whispered, rather spooky/demonic vocals.

Despite the drones there are moments of catchiness (relative).  “Absoluego” is a faster, downtuned song with a big shouted chorus and “Beyond” is a quiet, moody song featuring Wata on vocals.  About 90 seconds into the song there is blast of metal guitars and drums that lasts for 30 seconds or so before fading out.  When it happens again, one of the guys starts singing too, a faster heavier, catchier melody.

“Kagero” opens with a low rumble.  Eventually a slow, heavy guitar comes in with near falsetto singing.  “Biotope” has a steady pulsing bass drum through the track.  The guitars are slower with an occasional plucked string that resonates. This song even has some ooohs in it.

“The Power” has my favorite Boris riff since “Tu la la.”  It’s got six notes all of which are strangely menacing and yet catchy at the same time. This was a great song to see live.  “Momentio Mori” is slow and menacing with cool echoed/chorused vocals–there’s an Alice in Chains vibe to the vocals.  With about a minute left, the song slows down and grows quiet almost as a lead in to the 12 minute “Dystopia -Vanishing Point.”  This song opens with two minutes of warbly accordion (I loved watching Wata play this part live) and some thundering drums.  It all fades away into some quiet ringing guitars and whispered vocals.  This continues for a few minutes as waves of guitars are added.  And then at 7 minutes the loud guitars and drums blast forth and Wata gets to do a screaming solo for the final 4 minutes.  She is still soloing as the song abruptly ends and switches to the final track.

“Dear” opens with those low downtuned guitars echoing.  I love that the guitars simply slide up to a very high note and hold it until sliding back down.  There’s a muffled chug on the low chords while the heavily echoed vocals ring out.  The song continues like this, a mountain of low rumble, for 9 minutes until it starts to consume itself–feedbacking and disintegrating until it sounds like all of the plugs are pulled.

There’s not a lot of diversity on this disc, which resembles some of their earlier music.  I’m very curious to see what they do next.

[READ: February 9, 2016] “The Republic of Bad Taste”

This story (it feels complete and not like an excerpt, although the title seems unlikely as a short story title) was 20 pages long in this issue of the New Yorker.  That’s one of the longest pieces I’ve seen in the magazine.

And it covers a lot of ground.

Like how does an at-risk-youth counselor agree to commit murder?

It begins by introducing us to Andreas Wolf in East Germany circa 1987.  He is a disaffected youth, an atheist with a super libido and he has found employment at the church on Siegfeldstrasse.  Andreas felt the whole regime was ridiculous.  In fact he felt that a lot of things were ridiculous.  The Republic was just so German that it couldn’t even go after misfits unless it was by the book.

His “job” at the church was as a youth counselor.  He was surprisingly good at it. In part because he really didn’t care and in part because he himself was almost at risk.  He wasn’t really at risk because his father had a good position with the government, but they had more or less disowned him (aside from agreeing to make sure he never got into real trouble).  Plus, he was pretty good-looking so many of the at risk girls found him attractive–with all that implies.

He took advantage of this.  He found that his monetary reward was so pitiful that a reward in beautiful girls made up for it.  At the same time, he did have some scruples.  He never had sex with anyone underage or anyone who had been sexually abused.  What a guy. (more…)

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peanuts4SOUNDTRACK: BRIAN COURTNEY WILSON-Tiny Desk Concert #76 (August 25, 2010).

bcwBrian Courtney Wilson is not Brian Wilson. Rather, this Wilson sings  lovely religious songs.

This is an overtly Christian performance and as such I did not really enjoy it. Having said that, his voice is terrific and his backing vocalists are subtle and uplifting without overpowering the music.

He sings three songs: “All I Need” “Believe” and “Already Here.”  For some reason, there’s no video for “Believe” so you have to listen to the audio only track to hear it.

[READ: September 29, 2015] The Complete Peanuts 1957-1958

Some new themes emerge in this, the fourth volume of the Complete Peanuts.  Charlie seems to get branded with the “wishy-washy” curse a lot more (except when it’s raining and he’s not willing to give up his baseball game).

The angst is getting heavier now too with Charlie Brown saying “sometimes I think my soul is full of weeds).   Then in April 1958 he says “It always rains on the unloved.”   Even the normally chipper Snoopy (who at one point says “to live is to dance, to dance is to live”) gets a little mopey and introspective “when I was a puppy every day was a happy day suddenly bang, and I’m in my declining years.”

I feel like Lucy and Linus are showing up a lot more.  And Pig-Pen, really a one-joke character is appearing less but has not been forgotten.

I particularly enjoyed the concern that the earth was overpopulated (from Lucy).  And after she says “The earth can’t feed this many people” Linus replies “Why Don’t You Leave?” (more…)

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zinkSOUNDTRACK: PAUL WELLER-Tiny Desk Concert #457 (July 28, 2015).

wellerPaul Weller is a highly regarded and well respected elder statesman of rock.  Some of his songs with The Jam are my favorite songs from the 80s.  Weller hops from genre to genre quite a lot, and I did not care for The Style Council at all.  So even though he’s been making music forever, I haven’t really paid him much attention.  In this tiny Desk, he brings a fairly large band (6 people (4 guitars!)) to sing an acoustic collection of songs. There’s a drums (just a snare) and a percussionist too. And everyone sings.

His voice sounds fantastic—older but still really strong.

They play four songs. Three are from his new album Saturns Pattern.  Like “Dusk Til Dawn” which is a delightful folk song.  The band sounds really loud, or not loud but big, like there are really 6 people out there.   This is especially true on “I’m Where I Should Be” which also has some great harmony vocals and percussive guitar techniques.  I love how much the harmonies contribute to the song and the general song structure is great.

“Out of the Sinking” goes back to Weller’s most popular album Stanley Road (which I don’t know). It’s a wonderful song.  It showcases Weller’s gruffer vocals and nice finger picking. There’s some more great harmonies from the bongo player.  And the song has a real nice campfire song feel (it reminds me a bit of Van Morrison’s folkier songs).

For “Going My Way” Weller switches to piano. It’s a simple song with some great backing vocals and harmonies, (and hand claps), although I prefer the middle two songs.

I hadn’t really given much thought to Weller in the last few decades, but this set was really enjoyable.

[READ: August 7, 2015] The Wallcreeper

This is Nell Zink’s first published novel (she has another novel, 1998’s Sailing Towards the Sunset by Avner Shats) which I read about that I would love to find, but I don’t think it has ever been published).

I really enjoyed Zink’s Mislaid and wanted to see what her earlier work was about.  There was an article in the New Yorker which gave an interesting background to this story which involved a long correspondence with Jonathan Franzen and resulted in a book that I would suggest is not completely unlike something he might create–expect that it is way shorter and slightly more erratic.

Zink does not follow conventional story structure exactly.  This is not to say that the story is weird or avant garde, not at all.  She just doesn’t like to set things up conventionally.  For instance, the first sentence of the story is: “I was looking at the map when Stephen swerved, hit the rock, and occasioned the miscarriage.” (more…)

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freedomSOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Jingle all the way… (2002).

ctdEven though the Crash Test Dummies are often seen as a joke band or a one hit wonder (which I guess they are), I’ve liked them for a while (their earlier stuff a lot more than their later stuff, admittedly).  But it seemed like they’d have a fun take on Christmas music.

And it starts out in a comical sort of way with Brad Robert’s deeper-than-ever voice reciting about his life in Los Angeles, where it is warm and sunny at Christmas time.  I like that he rhymes 24th with up north.  The spoken section is quite loud in the mix (it sounds like he is right in your ear).  Unfortunately, that is the case when he starts singing too–he is uncomfortably loud in the mix and it sounds like he is holding back because of it–he doesn’t sound great and his voice sounds more comical than interesting.  Which is a shame because the music (with cheesey keyboards) is great.

Roberts sings lead on about half of the songs.  Ellen Reid sings lead on the other half except for a couple where they split lead duties.

The rest of Robert’s songs include: “Jingle Bells” (which is certainly comical–it sounds like a chain gang song with the “Hey!s” sounding almost like a prison chant).  It’s weird and cool though (even if his voice is once again too loud in the mix).  “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” has his voice mixed much better–he seems to be really singing.  And this version–a loungey/jazzy rendition is much great fun.  “God King Wenceslas” sounds proper (with Reid’s close backing vocals).  It has a pretty penny whistle keeping the song going.

Ellen Reid has a great voice and I love hearing her sing.  But in the first two songs she sings lead on in this disc she sounds like she is singing too slowly.  “O Little Town of Bethlehem” especially sounds like the music is going to pass her up at any minute.  I also don’t like the country vibe of the song.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” is also (intentionally) slow, which I don’t like.  Perhaps I just don’t like this song (although I do think the melody is lovely).  “The Little Drummer Boy” is beautiful and Robert’s bass backing vocals are perfect.  “Silent Night” is done in a countryish style, but I like this version.  Although normally this song can make me cry, this version absolutely does not–too honky tonkish.

The final song, “The Huron Carol” is quite formal and proper–just Reid and a piano opening the song.  It sounds very holy, very pretty.  When Robert’s bass backing vocals come in, it adds more depth to the song.  And it’s a lovely way to end.

[READ: October 30, 2014] Freedom

I read this a couple months ago and then got so caught up in reading other things that I never got around to posting about it.  And that’s a bummer because I really liked the book a lot and I fear that I won’t remember everything I wanted to say about it.

I had read a couple of excerpts from the book in the New Yorker (quite some time ago).  They were helpful in grounding the story for me, but they didn’t prepare me for the breadth of the story.  It follows one family, the Berglunds, through several decades, focusing on each of them in great detail as they navigate through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and a smidge of the Obama years.

The Berglunds are a liberal family.  They were among the first white families to move onto their urban street in St. Paul, Minnesota (after white flight to the burbs).  Patty is a charming (some say smug) homemaker and Walter is a lawyer (public defendant, naturally).  They have two kids, Jessica and Joey.  Patty dotes on Joey to an embarrassing degree (Joey is embarrassed by it, Jessica is infuriated by it and even Patty is kind of embarrassed when she really thinks about it).  At the same time she is rather neglectful of Jessica.  Naturally, Jessica becomes quite the success (loves reading, committed to the environment), while Joey rebels and finds all kinds of ways to disappoint them and make money.  (This isn’t a bad thing, but the family has plenty of money and Joey doesn’t need to (especially not the way he goes about it).  Not to mention Walter and Patty are not into the money for money’s sake thing.

The book opens that there was some “news” about Walter. He and Patty had moved to Washington DC two years earlier.  He clearly did something bad (we won’t find out until much later).  But that serves as an introduction to the Berglunds.  And then we go back to see them, years earlier, settling into St Paul. (more…)

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