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Archive for the ‘Jorge Luis Borges’ Category

borgesSOUNDTRACK: SEU JORGE-Tiny Desk Concert #79 (September 13, 2010).

seuSeu Jorge was the melancholy singer in Wes Anderson’s movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He sang the David Bowie songs and was amazingly soulful and brought a completely unexpected quality to the Bowie songs.

He plays these five songs with his band Almaz.  For reasons unclear to me only one of the songs is on the video, but the other four are available in audio format.

He sings three songs in Portuguese, and his voice is husky and passionate, so even if you don’t know what he’s singing about, you can feel the emotion.

The first song in English “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” has a cool trippy 70s vibe, with some cool keyboards.  Although I don’t love his version of “Rock with You” which I imagine was super fun to sing, but it’s so different from the Michael Jackson version that it’s hard to reconcile the tow.

  • Cirandar” (Audio Only)
  • “Saudosa Bahia” (Audio Only)
  • “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” (Audio Only)
  • “Pai Joao”
  • “Rock With You” (Audio Only)

[READ: October 19, 2015] The Last Interview and Other Conversations

I have never really read any Borges (a piece here and there sure, but I have his Collected Fictions waiting for me and just haven’t gotten to it. However, when I saw this book at work I decided to give it a read. I have very much enjoyed the other books in The Last Interview series (there are ten and I have read four) so I thought I’d like this too, and I did.

Borges is a fascinating individual. He was legally blind from a youngish age and was completely blind by the time of the last interview. He was humble (but not exactly humble—he genuinely didn’t think he was that great of an author). He was a pacifist (remaining neutral even in WWII) and basically spent his whole life immersed in books.

This book contains three interviews

“Original Mythology” by Richard Burgin (from Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, 1968)

“Borges and I” by Daniel Bourne, Stephen Cape, Charles Silver (Artful Dodger 1980)

“The Last Interview” by Gloria Lopez Lecube (La Isla FM Radio, Argentina, 1985) [translated by Kit Maude] (more…)

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secretevilSOUNDTRACK: ABAJI-Tiny Desk Concert #47 (February 15, 2010).

abajiThis is the only time I have heard of Abaji. He is an unimposing man with roots in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and France.  He sings gently (often in Arabic with some English) and he plays while he sings.

The impressive thing about Abaji is his skill and love of musical instruments.  The notes say “when recording his latest album, Origine Orients, he played 10 different instruments, many of them simultaneously, with no second takes or overdubs. It took him just two days.”

“Min Jouwwa” (which means “From Inside”) is played on  what looks like a normal guitar but which sounds so very different. The notes say it’s “a tricked-out Western-style guitar with extra strings, giving it the sound of an Egyptian oud.”

“Steppes”  is a brief haunting instrumental.  It’s played by bowing a soft-toned kamancheh (a three-stringed instrument that you hold upright on your lap for a scratch, middle eastern sound).  He often times rocks the instrument instead of the bow back and forth.

The final song is played on the Greek bouzouki (with whistling as accompaniment).  “Summertime” is the Gershwin song (which is only recognizable from the words–the first verse anyhow, which he sings in English–the second verse he sings in Arabic).  It sounds nothing like the original with the serpentine riffs and that unique bouzouki sound.

I only wish the cameras were still rolling after the set because “he demonstrated a large duduk (an Armenian cousin of the oboe), an Indonesian suling (flute) and a Colombian saxophone (of sorts) made from bamboo that looked more like a snake.”

This is what I love about the Tiny Desk–seeing very different instruments and unconventional performers up close.  Abaji is fun to watch.

[READ: May 7, 2015] The Secret of Evil

This has got to be the final posthumous collection of writings from Bolaño.  The Preliminary note from Ignacio Echevarria explains that this book is a collection of the final fragments that were found on Bolaño’s computer.  As such, the book consists primarily of works that are unfinished (some barely even started).

This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds because Bolaño seemed to write very thoroughly right form the beginning with his stories.  So even though they are incomplete, the section that is written feels fully fleshed out–and you can imagine that more will be coming. Echevarria says that “Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definitive tone and atmosphere.”  This of course made it difficult for Echevarria to know what to compile here.

Not everything in this collection if unfinished.  And indeed, with Bolaño sometimes it’s unclear if the unfinished things were actually unfinished. (more…)

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220px-The_Invention_of_Morel_1940_Dust_JacketSOUNDTRACK: RODRIGUEZ-“Sugar Man” (1971).

RodriguezcoldfactThis song was played a lot on WXPN, and when I first heard it I couldn’t imagine what new artist was talking about “sweet Mary Jane.”  So it turned out that this song was over 40 years old but it had been resurrected for a movie called Searching for Sugar Man, which is a documentary about Sixto Rodriguez and how he released two albums and then disappeared.

There’s something extremely catchy about this song–the loud down strums that stand out over the quieter strumming, the crazy high frequency sound that sails throughout the song and that hint of horns that gives more depth to this simple folk song.   All of these elements make this song more complex than it might have been.  In fact, the song seems like it’s going to end after about two minutes but there’s the instrumental section full of crazy sounds and electronics.

And even though it seems over after that there’s one more verse and chorus to go.  And then the song just drifts away echoing into nothingness.  It’s quite a catchy little number.

[READ: June 4, 2013] The Invention of Morel and Other Stories

Roberto Bolaño recommended this main story (the other ones as well, I assume).  He’s a big fan of Bioy Casaraes.  But also, Jorge Luis Borges has a prologue to the story in which he states of “The Invention of Morel”

“I have discussed with the author the details of his plot.  I have reread it.  To classify it as perfect is neither an imprecision nor a hyperbole.”

Holy crap.

I can’t say exactly that it I perfect although it is quite fine.  It deals with all kinds of interesting issues and is inspired by (maybe that’s not exactly the right word) The Island of Dr Moreau.  The funny thing is that Morel is neither the main character, nor even a major character for half the book.

The story starts on an island with the narrator writing this book down to leave a  record of “the adverse miracle.”   We learn that the narrator is a fugitive and he was told by an Italian rug seller in Calcutta that the only possible place for a fugitive like him is an uninhabited island.  And on this particular island in 1924 a group of white men built a museum, a chapel and a swimming pool.  But no one dares to go there—not Chinese pirates, not even the Rockefeller Institute because there is a fatal disease located on the island—anyone who has visited there has been found later dessicated. (more…)

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bolano

SOUNDTRACK: OS MUTANTES-“Fool Metal Jack” (2013).

Iosmut have known about Os Mutantes for years.  I never knew anything about them (and never really understood their name–although now that I have been working with Brazilian books at work I realize that their name is Portuguese for The Mutants (it was the Os that always threw me off).  I had no idea that a) they’d been around since the 60s and were part of the psychedelic scene or b) that they were still around (after some breakups and with a largely new lineup) or c) that they sang in English (which they do on several songs on this album) or d) that their new album kicked so much ass.

The album is called Fool Metal Jack and it is a fantastic mixture of fast heavy rock, Brazilian traditional sounds, what I assume are Native Brazilian chants and a heavy dose of weirdness.  All wrapped up in an anti-war stance, like on this track “Fool Metal Jack.”

A creepy, distorted  bassline introduces this song which sounds like the guy from Gogol Bordello singing a Tom Waits march.  It’s about a soldier in the middle of a war.  The bridge means more voices come in, bringing in an even more disorienting sound.  And the chorus chanted “Yes.  No More War” completes the song.  By the time the wailing guitar solo comes in the chants of “This is the war of hell” have even more impact.

This stomping song was a great introduction to this band who I now need to explore further.

[READ: April 18. 2013] The Last Interview

I enjoyed Kurt Vonnegut’s “Last Interview” and since I had always intended to read Bolaño’s I was delighted to see that our library had it.  Bolaño is a fascinating interview subject because you never really know what he is going to say.  There are even serious questions about the veracity of his life story which many people believe he fabricated for more dramatic effect.

But the one thing that is absolutely consistent about Bolaño is that he always praises writers whom he respects (and will trash those he doesn’t, although that seems to come more from the interviewer’s  instigation (not that he needs a lot).    So the last interview that he did is the one from Mexican Playboy which has been collected in Between Parentheses.  But the other three are earlier and, it seems, a little more “truthful” or at least less naughty-seeming.

What’s fascinating about this book is that the introduction by Marcela Valdes (“Alone Among the Ghosts”) is over 30 pages long!  The article originally appeared in The Nation on Dec 8, 2008 (read it here).  As such it’s not an introduction to this book, it’s introduction for English readers to Bolaño circa 2666.  And it’s a great read.  It is primarily about 2666, which Valdes has read many times.  She goes into interesting depth about the story but mostly she relates it to Bolaño’s own experiences while writing the book.  It focuses especially on his research about the real murders.  His interest was genuine and he sought help from a reporter who was doing genuinely decent work (ie. not accepting the word of the state about what was going on).

Bolaño has said he wished he was a detective rather than a writer, which explains The Savage Detectives and Woes of the True Policeman.  But Valdes also points out how almost all of his shorter novels have some kind of detective work involved–seeking someone who is lost or hiding.  The article was really great and is worth a read for anyone interested in Bolaño, whether you have read him or not. (more…)

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vonlastintSOUNDTRACKSURFER BLOOD-“Demon Dance” (Live at SXSW, March 27, 2013).

surfer blood

I’ve liked Surfer Blood since I first heard them.  They write catchy, mostly short, poppy songs.  And usually after a few listens, the hooks really grab you.  The strange thing about the band is that the hooks aren’t always readily apparent, which makes their songs sound kind of samey sometimes.

Of course, samey isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  Surfer Blood is quite distinctive and I tend to enjoy everything they do.  This new song sounds like their other stuff, which is fine.  But the most distinctive thing about the band of probably their singer who sounds like a less-affected Morrissey.

Having also listened to the song from the album I can say that the singer is far harder to understand live, so maybe live is not the best way to hear a new song from them, but for an old favorite, Surfer Blood has a great energy live.

Watch the show here and hear the studio version here.

[READ: March 27, 2013] The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Melville House has published a number of these “Last Interview” books, and as a completist I feel compelled to read them.  I have read criticisms of the series primarily because what the books are are collections of interviews including the last interview that the writer gave.  They don’t have anything new or proprietary.  The last interview just happens to be the last one he gave.   So it seems a little disingenuous, but is not technically wrong.

There’s so far five books in the series, and I figured I’d read at least three (Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolaño–the other two turned out to be Jorge Luis Borges–who I would be interested in reading about and Jacques Derrida (!) who I have always loved–I guess this series was tailor made for me).

At any rate, these interviews are from various times and locations in Vonnegut’s career.  There are six in total.  I don’t know if the titles they give here were the titles in the original publications but here’s what’s inside:

  • “Kurt Vonnegut: The Art of Fiction” from The Paris Review, Spring 1977 (by David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes)
  • “There Must be More to Love Than Death” from The Nation, August 1980 (by Robert K. Musil)
  • “The Joe & Kurt Show” from Playboy, May 1982 (by Joseph Heller and Carole Mallory)
  • “The Melancholia of Everything Completed” from Stop Smiling, August 2006 (by J.C. Gabel)
  • “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut” from U.S. Airways Magazine (!!!), June 2007 (by J. Rentilly)
  • “The Last Interview” from In These Times May 9, 2007 (by Heather Augustyn) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TRACY THORN & JENS LEKMAN-“Yeah! Oh Yeah! from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

This cover makes me think that I like The Magnetic Fields for their songs, but not really for their singing or arrangements.  This song is pretty hilarious (every yeah oh yeah is in response to something awful (Do you want to break my heart?  Yeah, yeah, Oh yeah!).  The cover by the wonderful Tracy Thorn & Jens Lekman is much more understated than the original, with simple instrumentation.

The original is a chiming, kind of noisy track.  While the cover has Thorns beautiful voice languorously singing the lines while Lekman chimes in.  The backing music is delicate and almost sweet (a nice contrast to the lyrics).  I think the song is fantastic, but once again, I like the cover more than the original.  This is especially surprising as the cover is actually slower than the original.  But, really, it’s hard  to pass on Jens Lekman.

[READ: April 30, 2012] “Borges on Pleasure Island”

When I browsed for Rivka Galchen articles the other day, I found a few published works that were not in Harper’s or The New Yorker.  So, yes, I’m going to write about them here.  And since I’m caught up with the end of Gravity’s Rainbow, these short non-fictions were a nice balm.

I have been encountering a lot about Borges lately.  Roberto Bolaño loves him, there was a recent article in Harper’s about him (a review of some new translations called “The purloined Borges: Translation and traduction” by Edgardo Krebs) and now I get this article.  This article is a strange one–and I’m not entirely sure where it would have appeared in the Times.  It’s strange because it’s kind of a review of a new collection of Borges’ work (this one called On Writing, the first of three Borges’ related works published that month).  Although really she only talks about one essay, “Literary Pleasure.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUBLIC ENEMY-Fear of a Black Planet (1990).

NPR recently broadcast a PE show from the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival.  I didn’t know that PE was still touring, so that was a surprise to me.  The show was largely a celebration of Fear of a Black Planet, which meant that I had to go back and listen to the original.

Man, is this a solid album.  The lyrics pack a punch even twenty years later and what is perhaps more amazing is that the sound collages that Terminator X created, which were something of an oppressive sonic assault are now fairly mainstream-sounding (forward thinking or what?).

What I like about this (and most PE) albums, is that  they have little skits between songs, but unlike most rap skits they’re not one-not jokes that you listen to once and then skip every future time.  A wonderful skit (for lack of a better word) is “Incident at 66.6 FM” in which we hear an amazing amount of racist epithets thrown at PE apparently on the radio.  Or the rather disturbing “Meet the G That Killed Me.”  “Anti-Nigger Machine” is a great collage of samples like “Think” and James Brown and a dozen more songs.

“Can’t Do Nuttin for Ya, Man!” is a (sort of) comic song from Flav that is catchy as anything. While “Reggie Jax” is a confusingly titled song that has nothing to do with baseball, but everything to do with funk.

Of course, this disc has some of PE’s best songs as well.  From the awesome “911 is a Joke” to one of the best rap songs ever, “Welcome to the Terrordome” (my favorite story of this song is when I was wearing a  Welcome to the Terrordome shirt and my philosophy professor asked me quite pointedly, “What in the hell is a terrordome.”  That was a fun conversation).  “Terrordome” is still amazing–powerful, musically intense and for all of its lyrical acuity, it still has funny moments….boing.

And of course, “Burn Hollywood Burn” is an amazing critique of the movie industry (and it’s catchy too).  I got Black Caesar back at the crib, right Lar?

I’ve always been a little confused by “Pollywannacracker.”  Not lyrically, but vocally, as Chuck’s (is it really Chuck?) voice is treated in a surprisingly tinny way.  I liked the song more on this listen than any other, I guess in the past it just kind of snuck by me.

The album is a little front loaded with greatness.   “Power to the People” is another powerful song, but it’s not quite as memorable as the other tracks.  “Fear of a Black Planet” has some really cool sounds on it (where did they get that “black man, black woman, black baby” sample?).   “Revolutionary Generation” is a great track in which Chuck and Flav stand up for black women: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, my sister’s not my enemy.”  Not your average rap subject.

And the last couple of proper songs, “B Side Wins Again” and “War at 33 1/3” are fast paced and furious, but they don’t really have much in the way of a hook.  Nevertheless, lyrically they are really great, and I love to hear Chuck D flow that quickly.

The biggest surprise for me is the censored version of “Fight the Power” (the song that got me into PE in the first place, thanks Spike).  It’s really surprising to me that PE allowed their music to be bleeped–unless it was just for a deliberate radio play (which I can accept).  Although they also list a title as “Leave This Off You Fu*Kin Charts” (did I buy a Columbia House version or something?)

This is an amazing album, one that still sounds fresh and sadly, is still relevant.

[READ: October 15, 2011] Between Parentheses

I never expected to get so addicted to Roberto Bolaño.  And despite his death, there is no shortage of works coming out in English (that is one of the advantages to reading a translated author–even death doesn’t cease the available materials).  Indeed, this year alone, New Directions is publishing Between Parentheses, and Tres and FSG is publishing The Third Reich (a collection of non fiction, a collection of poetry and a novel respectively).

When I really get into an author, I fall for his or her works, not necessarily him or her as a person (heck, some author are downright jerks).  But there are some authors that I want to know about, personally.  Bolaño is a pretty polarizing figure–he seems obnoxious, his works don’t shy away from very specific opinions, and sometimes it’s unclear what kind of views Bolaño himself has in his works (or if he’s even telling the truth about his so-called truths).  One thing in particular is the constant use of the word “faggot.”  It is used often in 2666 (and I know that is a translator’s choice, but still) and used derogatorily.  Now, clearly the context is everything for something like that.  But it seems to speak badly of Bolaño.  And yet, when reading these essays he is not homophobic in the least.  He is obviously well aware of institutionalized homophobia in Latin America, and he is obviously not supportive of it.

But that’s just one interesting thing about this book.  So let me back up. (more…)

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