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Archive for the ‘Kurt Vonnegut’ Category

[ATTENDED: November 25, 2019] Ice Nine Kills

I was unfamiliar with Ice Nine Kills until my son started talking about them.  Then his friend invited him to see a show at the Starland Ballroom on May 3 (Ice Nine Kills was not headlining–the lineup was Falling In Reverse, Ice Nine Kills, From Ashes to New and New Years Day).  So I was a little bummed that he didn’t go to his first club show with me, but it’s much cooler that he went with his friend.  He loved the show.

So when they announced that they were playing at TLA and headlining the Octane Accelerator Tour (a Sirius XM thing), I made sure we got tickets (even though it was a Monday night).

The show was (I’m exhausted just thinking about it) FIVE bands and started at 6PM (!).

The lineup was Ice Nine Kills, Fit For A King, Light The Torch, Make Them Suffer, & Awake At Last.

Since it was a Monday night, I knew it would be really hard to get there for the first band, so we decided we would assume we’d miss Awake at Last.  Then on November 5th, Make Them Suffer (who are Australian) announced:

Unfortunately we have had some serious setbacks with immigration, and were unable to secure the visas we needed in time for these shows.

TLA said the show would go on at the same time which was great for us since it meant we would get home about 30 minutes earlier.  I also figured I’d take my son for some good ol’ Philly cheese steaks before the show since Jim’s is just a few doors down.

We enjoyed out cheese steaks quite a lot and as we walked past the theater I asked the guy at the door which band was on.  He said the second band was on and since we had plenty of time, we decided to go to Atomic City Comics (which is a wonderful store).

We headed back to TLA figuring we’d be in the middle of Fit for a King.  But as we walked in, they were between bands.  The woman at the merch table said that ice Nine Kills was up in ten minutes!  We’d missed all of the opening bands! (more…)

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zoltar SOUNDTRACK: LOST IN THE TREES-Tiny Desk Concert #82 (September 23, 2010).

itt I thought I knew what Lost in the Trees sounded like, but this Tiny Desk Concert changed everything I thought I knew about them.  Band creator Ari Picker studied film scoring which must explain the cinematic scope of the band.  For this set the band includes, a violin, two cellos, two brass instruments, accordion and percussion as well as Picker’s acoustic guitar.   There’s 7 people in the band altogether.

I love the way “All Alone In An Empty House” builds several times and comes crashing to an abrupt hall before starting again.  I also love the hauntingly beautiful operatic backing vocals from the accordionist.  Lyrically, the song is creepy and compelling (“where’s the baby, I must be crazy”).  I love how the strings take the lead at one point and then the horns take over and back again.  It’s very dramatic and it runs to nearly 6 minutes.

“Song For The Painter” opens with gentle acoustic guitar and pizzicato cello strings.  Then there’s some dramatic violin and delicate xylophone.  This song is also rather dark (“to the painter with no arms… if I ever find my heart darling, I promise to come home again”) but the music is so uplifting.

“Time Taunts Me” has a sing-a long part (he says they want to reenact a Flaming Lips concert that he went to recently, although they don’t have a screen with a rocket ship blasting off.  This song is mostly string based with great dramatic flourishes and runs almost 7 minutes.  It is just wonderful the way it builds.  And the singalong is amazingly catchy.  I definitely need to hear more from them.

[READ: October 27, 2015] The Eye of Zoltar

Book Three was several years in the making, so I’m kind of glad that I only finished book two a few months ago.

Although Book Two seemed to wrap up pretty nicely, there were of course several unresolved threads.  But Book Three is more or less its own entity.

In fact, our heroes leave Kazam and the Kingdom of Snodd for most of the book.

The book opens with Jennifer Strange talking about having to capture a loose Tralfamosaur (love the nod to Vonnegut there).  Seems that Kazam’s magic caused the walls of the containment cell to fall apart meting this most ferocious beast loose in the city.  They capture it with the help of The Magnificent Boo, who always wants to help animals if she can.  She decides to transport the Tralfamosaur to the Cambrian Empire, where “danger vacations” are a big business.  And one of the most lucrative is Tralfamosaur hunting.

In the previous books, some characters were killed (and some are in this one as well), but to start with, a new character is added.  Jennifer is invited to castle Snodd where King Snodd (not a nice guy) and his wife Queen Mimosa (a super nice lady) are waiting.  They have a task for Jennifer–turn their snotty nosed, spoiled rotten princess into a respectable human being.  And the Queen assures that this will be done by doing mind swap on the Princess and having her switch places with the handmade Laura Scrubb.

Soon after, Jennifer is given the titular plot of the book.  The Mighty Shandar comes out of his granite hibernation once in a while for important business and this here is such a business. He tells Jennifer that her work with the dragons (in previous books) has caused him embarrassment and financial hardship.  He has half a mind to kill those last two pesky dragons.  But he says he won’t if she is able to find the mythical Eye of Zoltar–a super powerful gem that can turn the possessor into lead.

Through the work of the remarkable Kevin Zipp, Kazam’s clairvoyant, they deduce that they might get some information about the Eye’s whereabouts if they go to the Cambrian Empre and talk to ex-sorcerer Able Quizzler who is said to have seen it when it was around the neck of Sky Pirate Wolff.  Of course all of the people in question are questionable in their truthfulness (or even in their existence).  But our team decides to set out for the possible fictional Leviathan’s Graveyard to see if Sky Pirate Wolff’s lair is there.

Leviathans by the way are lighter than air beasts who can fly but are the size of whales.  No one is even sure if they exits because they are basically translucent.  Neat.  Oh and since they are heading to the Cambrian Empire, they might want to get the Magnificent Boo out of jail.  Seems that she was arrested for illegal transportation of a Tralfamosaur.

And so Jennifer, Perkins and the Princess set out for the dangerous Cambrian empire.  It is very dangerous but quiet regulated–you will mostly likely be kidnapped or robbed, but your assailants will always explain whey they did it and may even give you a receipt.  Our team will need a guide, and soon enough on turns up in 12-year-old Addie Powell, a powerful tracker with an excellent success rate.

Addie says that they will succeed but there will be a 50% death rate in their party.  Not liking those odds, Addie picks up a few more stragglers–really reprehensible people like Gareth (a guy I thought was just being a jerk because he was really someone in disguise, but no he’s just a jerk).  And his friend Ignatius, a cowardly fool.  And their third friend Ralph.  They were all just looking for adventure and possibly the option to score some hits of magic.  When Ralph starts doing hits of unspecified magic, his life is spared by Perkins, but the only way that can happen is by resetting his DNA–turning him into a caveman,

Since there are always people wandering bout, the party picks up another person–Wilson the ornithologist.  He has a fascinating story to tell about his past which explains why he is here now.

About midway through the book, the real trek begins–they set out for the Empty Quarter, a truthfully named area where there is basically nothing.  But they have had some trouble along the way–Perkins was kidnapped and Addie swore she would get him back.  But they haven’t seen either of them for a few days.

When the newly numbered team arrives in their first destination Llangurig we find a number of strange things afoot–like a war between two railroad companies.  This war has gone on for centuries and has resulted in countless death , all in the hope of winning a lucrative contract with the city.  And the whole town seems to exist only to place bets on who will win.  Oh and the princess (who looks like a handmaiden) was captured, but because her financial acumen is so good (there are hilarious stories of futures and the market) she actually comes out ahead in the deal.

After all is tidied up the screaming members of their party head out for the final leg of the venture–the mountain of Cadir Idris and the possible Leviathans graveyard.

When they finally reach the foot of the mountain they learn a secret about why the top is so hard to see.  They also learn that it is being guarded by drones and that no one has returned alive in years.

Will anyone survive this adventure (the 50% death rate proves to be distressingly accurate) and what about this Eye of Zoltar.  Will they find it?  And more importantly, if they do, hoe will they carry it?

One thing that I love about these books is that Fforde throws in little details throughout the book that seem like they are just funny moments, but they all pay off later on.  The princess’ economic savvy, Ralph’s handbag and the fact that no news is able to travel beyond the borders of the Cambrian Empire.

And then he has little funny details like the Isle of Wight being a drivable island which goes on reconnaissance missions, or that the best way to communicate is through a homing snail.  Or that the dragon is named Colin.

When their quest (it was upgraded to a quest even without telling the Quester’s guild), is finished, there are still surprises waiting for them.  Like remember how the trolls were proven to be not so scary in the last book?  Well, that may have been exaggerated somewhat.  Because the Mighty Shandar has very specific plans ahead.  Plans which means that the princess may have to put her new leadership skills to the test sooner than she could have imagined.

And many other surprises which will be dealt with in Book 4.

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200px-FatesWorseThanDeathSOUNDTRACK: THE STATLER BROTHERS-“Flowers on the Wall” (1965).

flowersonthe Vonnegut mentions this Statler Brothers song in Palm Sunday as well.  I know this from Pulp Fiction–a song that I found very amusing and never would have guessed was a classic country song.  Country music was very different in 1965 than it is now.  I don’t even know if there was a folk or bluegrass category back then, and this song, with its banjo and bouncey acoustic guitar is a great example of the kind of country music I like.  And those harmonies!

This song certainly seems to be about insanity–about a man counting flowers on the wall, playing solitaire with a deck of 51 cards, smoking cigarettes and watching Captain KAN Kangaroo.  Don’t tell him he’s nothing to do.  What a weird little song.  And man is it catchy.  No wonder it was a #1 hit.

[READ: May 31, 2013] Fates Worse Than Death

After reading Palm Sunday I learned that Fates Worse Than Death was a kind of autobiographical sequel to that non fiction book.  I also learned that the two essays that make up Nothing is Lost Save Honor which is impossible to find (and for which I can’t even find a cover) are available in FwtD.  However, since there is no real contents or index, you do have to read the whole thing to find out which chapters contain the essays.  Or you can just look here and see that “The Worst Addiction of Them All” (which was published in The Nation) is in Chapter XIV and “Fates Worse Than Death” appears in Chapter XV.

The last time I read a bunch of Vonnegut together I got a bit burnt out on him and the same thing happened here.  The problem with Vonnegut’s nonfiction is that he tends to repeat himself.  A lot.  And while this book is ostensibly about the 1980s, he talks an awful lot about his family and his friends from the war and his other literary acquaintances., like he did in Palm Sunday.  In a number of places, he says that he doesn’t like to read himself in English, and it would seem that he doesn’t proofread to see if he said something already either.

This is not to say that the book is not worth reading.  Indeed, if you read Palm Sunday in the 80s and then this one in the 90s, you might not remember all of the details that pop up again, but when you read them days apart…well. (more…)

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PalmSundayFrontandBackSOUNDTRACK: THE STATLER BROTHERS-“Class of ’57” (1972).

stalerI don’t know much about The Statler Brothers.  They are considered country, although this song is hardly country–it’s more folk with some bluegrass and, the real selling point–great harmonies (especially the bass singer with the big mustache).

The song is a wonderful coming of age song, sad and funny with a list of what happened to everyone in the class of ’57.  Like:

Betty runs a trailer park, Jan sells Tupperware,
Randy’s on an insane ward, Mary’s on welfare.
Charlie took a job with Ford, Joe took Freddie’s wife,
Charlotte took a millionaire, and Freddie took his life.

John is big in cattle, Ray is deep in debt,
Where Mavis finally wound up is anybody’s bet.

But the kicker comes at the chorus:

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
Oh, we all thought we’d change the world with our great words and deeds.
Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs,
The class of ’57 had its dreams.

And then at the end:

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
But living life from day to day is never like it seems.
Things get complicated when you get past eighteen,
But the class of ’57 had its dreams.

Vonnegut quotes the entirety of this song in the book and I’m glad he did, it’s a very moving song and really captures American life.

[READ: May 26, 2013] Palm Sunday

After writing several successful novels, Vonnegut paused to collect his thoughts.  And Palm Sunday begins: “This is a very great book by an American genius.”  It is also a “marvelous new literary form which combines the tidal power of a major novel with the bone-rattling immediacy of front-line journalism.”  After all the self praise, he decides that this collage–a collection of essays and speeches as well as a short story and a play which is all tied together with new pieces (in TV they would call this a clip show)–this new idea of a book should have a new name and he chooses: blivit (during his adolescence, this word was defined as “two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag.”  He proposes that all books combining facts and fiction be called blivits (which would even lead to a new category on the best seller list).  Until then, this great book should go on both lists.

This book is a collection of all manner of speeches and essays, but they are not arranged chronologically.  rather they are given a kind of narrative context.  What’s nice is that the table of contents lists what each of the items in the book is (or more specifically, what each small piece is when gathered under a certain topic).

Chapter 1 is The First Amendment in which he talks about Slaughterhouse Five being burned and how outraged he was by that–especially since the people so anxious to burn it hadn’t even read it (and the only “bad” thing is the word motherfucker).  The first speeches included are “Dear Mr. McCarthy” to the head of the school board where his books were burned and “Un-American Nonsense” an essay for the New York Times about his book being banned in New York State.  The next two are “God’s Law” for an A.C.L.U. fund raiser–it includes his confusion as to why people don’t support the A.C.L.U. which is working for all of our own civil liberties. (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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stringer SOUNDTRACK: HAIM-“Falling” (Live at SXSW, March 17, 2013).

haim

Haim are three sisters and a drummer.  The sisters play guitar and sing, play bass and percussion and play keyboards.  And yes, they look a lot alike (an a lot like Alanis Morrissette).  But they sound very classic rock–kind of like Heart, with a more modern, noisy twist.

I didn’t really care much for the sound of this song–it seems kind of anemic to me.  The sisters are all quite talented and when the lead singer/guitarist started wailing they were really good.  But the overall feel of the song seemed more high school than rock show–like they couldn’t get the mix right, like the keyboards (which were little bopping notes, rather than waves of music) were the main force behind the song–which I don’t think is true.

Maybe they’d sound better on record, or if they had a better mix on stage.

[READ: March 26, 2013] Like Shaking Hands with God

I had been reading a lot of Vonnegut, but I got a little burnt out by him.  However, when I was checking his bibliography all those months ago, I found that Princeton University had a book that I couldn’t find anywhere else.  Well, given my new employment situation, it was time to take advantage of that connection.  So I went to the Firestone library and grabbed this book (and a few others that I didn’t see elsewhere).

It’s a lot of fuss over an 80 page book, but I’m glad I read it and it did get me back in the mood to read more Vonnegut (I have five books of his left to read, although I believe more posthumous stuff seems to come out all the time).

This book is essentially a transcription of two conversations that Vonnegut had (one public and one private) with the author Lee Stringer and the moderator Ross Klavan.  The first conversation occurred on October 1, 1998 at a bookstore in Manhattan.  The second was a private affair in January 1999  (which was of course, recorded), in which they followed up on some of the same ideas.

Stringer had written one book (Grand Central Winter) when the first conversation took place (he has written two more since).  Stringer says he always admired Vonnegut and Vonnegut talks about how much he liked Grand Central Winter (which Vonnegut wrote a forward to).  GCW is nothing like Vonnegut’s books, it is a serious book about being homeless (Stringer himself was homeless for a long time) and it is real and gritty.  It sounds good, although maybe a little too gritty and real for me. (more…)

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