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Archive for the ‘Nathan Englander’ Category

SOUNDTRACKCROON AND SWOON: A Classic Christmas (1998).

I grew up listening to big band and crooners.  Bugs Bunny taught me a lot about crooners, too.  So if there’s a Christmas album dedicated to them, I’m all over it.  It’s amazing how many songs are here that are not on other compilations as well (even though it’s really hard to tell since all of the singers basically did all of the songs at some point).

BING CROSBY & THE ANDREWS SISTERS-“Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  This is a pretty traditional take on the song with a but of fun from the Sisters.

LENA HORNE-“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”  This is done with Lena’s typical zest and verve.  It’s a really fun version.  I have come to really appreciate Lena this year.

JOHNNY MATHIS-“Winter Wonderland.”  This version sounds a bit fast, frankly.  It doesn’t quite sound like his smooth voice although he still sounds great.  The middle section includes an extra verse I don’t know

Over the ground lies a mantle of white
A heaven of diamonds shine down through the night
Two hearts are thrilling
In spite of the chill in the weather, ooh the weather
Love knows no season, love knows no clime
Romance can blossom any old time
Here in the open
We’re walking and hoping together
Together, together, together

Although I understand that other singers have included it as well.  He has a lot of fun with the song after this including a wonderful run through some octaves after the other kiddies knock him dooooooooooowwwwnnnnn.

LEROY ANDERSON-Sleigh Ride.  This is the classic instrumental that is used all of the time.  It’s awesome and comes complete with the woodblocks for horse hooves and a horn whinney.

ANDY WILLIAMS-“Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  Pure Christmas spirit wrapped around a singer.

PERRY COMO-“There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” This is sung by a big group of happy people.  Classic-feeling.  Although the line “gee the traffic is terrific” is always hilarious.

ANGELA LANSBURY-“We Need a Little Christmas” This is taken from the musical “Mame”  Its a fun musical version with a full cast which really adds to the song.

BING CROSBY-“It’s Beginning To Look a Lot like Christmas.”  A classic crooner from Bing.

GENE AUTRY -“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”  This one sounds sweet and cute, almost like a children’s version.  Even the instrumentation feels kid-friendly.  I love it.

DORIS DAY-“Here Comes Santa Claus.”  I associate this version with children as well, but Doris Day is kinds of sexy right?  I don’t know much else by her, but this song is sweet.  She has a chorus of men singing with her. They sing the “Santa knows that we’re Gods children.”  That and “gives thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight” is always a weird disconnect.

TONY BENNETT-“My Favorite Things”
Not a Christmas song in any way.  It’s a crazy over the top Tony Bennett croony version.  I don’t care for what he’s done to the song and it doesn’t belong here anyhow.

JUDY GARLAND-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  A Christmas song by Judy was on the other day.  I can’t recall the song but I hated it, it sounded so mournful and depressing.  For this song she sounds so wavery and frail that I can’t stand it.  I don’t know if this is just how she sings all the time or if it’s a particularly bad recording but it hurts! it hurts!

RAY CONNIFF-“Silver Bells” This is a strangely stiff version of the song.  The men in particular are very dull but the women add some spark

MABEL MERCER-“The 12 Days of Christmas”  No idea who she is but she is operatic and formal and over the top and its fairly strange–the way she rolls her rs on “five golden r-r-r-rings is pretty funny.  But i know she is deadly serious despite the absurdity of the song

GENE AUTRY-“Frosty the Snowman” is also cute and kid-friendly.  It’s very sweet with a clopping feet rhythm.

PEGGY LEE-“Days of Christmas.”  I don’t know this song at all..  How is there an old-timey Christmas song that I don’t know?  It’s very sweet.  I like that it starts with the melody of “The First Noel” and then turns into something else entirely with the lyric:  “This song of mine in three-quarter time.”

PERRY COMO-“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” This version is slow and croony and lovely.

ROSEMARY CLOONEY-“White Christmas.”  This is a lovely straightforward version of this classic song.

Overall this is a great collection of songs.

[READ: December 10, 2018] “One Gram Short”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This story appeared in the New Yorker on December 1, 2014.  I enjoyed it then and I think I enjoyed it more this time.  here’s some of what I wrote then: (more…)

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38SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-“Crueler Kind” (2013).
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This was the final song that NPR played in their summer new music collection.  It was a band that Bob didn’t know, but he liked the song and then saw them live and put the song here.

It opens very simply, quietly with beautiful harmonies over a simple synth.  After about 45 seconds, the drums and horns (!) kick in and the backing harmony vocals take on more of a choral sound (AHHHH!) that punctuates rather than accompanies the vocals.

The main riff stems from that horn—a bass saxophone?  And yet during the verses, everything resorts to that pretty, mellow sound.

It’s a very interesting mix of musics, and it reminds me of some of the more experimental bands of the 1990s.  I’ll bet they would be fun to see live.  And I’d like to hear more from this album.

[READ: June 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #38

And with this book, I have now read all of the McSweeney’s issues (except that Mammoth Treasury which I will get to, probably by the end of the year).  This one was a great collection of fiction and non-fiction, it also had an inserted comic.  The book itself was paperback, with a nice, textured cover and a cool design for the numbers. In looking for a picture I learned that it came in two colors (the yellow that I received and a black cover with white lines).

It continues with the later issues’ less frivolous style (in that there’s nothing weird about the book) and throughout, the quality of the work is great.  I really enjoyed this book.  It opens with letters and contains color pictures, too.

Letters (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ELFIN SADDLE-Wurld (2010).

Yesterday I mentioned the Wurld DVD.  Today I wanted to talk about the music.

There are three songs that come on the audio extras portion of he DVD: “Wurld Soundtrack (abridged),” “A River of Horses” and “A Tree in Dark Water/A Sinking Celebration.”  The “Wurld Soundtrack” is indeed the music from the film.  The abridged version is about 15 minutes long, while the movie is about 23.  I’m not sure what got cut or why it needed to get cut, but it’s a good reference to the movie–dark, a little creepy with moments of beautiful melody.

“A River of Horses” is dominated by a xylophone melody and a cool piano riff.  It has a loping quality that I really like.  It’s instrumental (and serves as one of the main themes of the DVD).  “A Tree in Dark Water” is a slower dirge-like piece which features Honda’s “Da Da Dee Da” vocals.  It more or less morphs into “A Sinking Celebration” which has a sound not unlike a carnival, but a very slow, almost sad carnival.  Both of these songs work as backing music for other aspects of the DVD–I’m not sure if they were songs first that they decided to use for the DVD or vice versa.

For the full Elfin Saddle experience, though, it’s worth watching the live show that comes on the DVD.  The show is a 7 song set that they performed before the opening of the Wurld exhibit in Montreal.  So yes, this show was performed Live at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art.  Nearly all of the songs come from their debut album Ringing for the Begin Again.

The band plays a kind of droney world music. And it has a very homemade feel–cobbled together, but brilliantly.  There’s an accordion, a bowed saw and a bunch of other percussive items–things that look like found metal.  There are two singers, Jordan McKenzie does most of the singing and he sings in a deep voice and sometimes in a higher voice that has a middle eastern feel.  Emi Honda is Japanese and that’s evident in her intonations, whether she is singing backing or lead vocals.  The band is also utterly multi-instrumental. McKenzie sings, plays accordion and xylophone at the same time (must be seen to be believed) while Honda switches from saw to ukulele to drums all in one song.  She also later bows cymbals for a very eerie sound.  Although they make most of the noise themselves, they are accompanied by a cellist and a double bass (which acts as a percussive time keeper).  Once they add a tuba, the song sounds much more klezmerish (although there are elements of klezmer throughout).

In the background of the show, on the projection screen, is the spinning wurld from their art exhibit.  The whole show is mesmerizing.  Songs include: “The Bringer,” “Sakura,” ” Muskeg Parade,” “Wind Songs,” “Garden,” ” The Procession,” ” The Ocean.”

[READ: October 15, 2012] Five Dials #25B

The issue continues the theme of the short story and Frank O’Connor.  It features a hugely long story by Nathan Englander and a couple more unusual short stories as well.  I enjoyed Part 2 of the Cork Issue more than Part I.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Englander and Lists
In addition to introducing us to Nathan Englander and wondering if we’ve all read his award-winning book What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, Taylor talks about lists.  The staff was pooled for their opinions with the intent to make it seem like the staff was an individual with specific tastes in Books, Music, Movies, Food, etc. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA-Angry Birds Theme (2011).

My son, Clark, loves Angry Birds.  I’ve played it a few times and found it enjoyable, but he is obsessed.  He is absolutely the target market for this song.  And who knows maybe it will get him to like classical music.

I wasn’t sure if I’d recognize the tune, but it is already ingrained in my head.

This version is wonderful.  It sounds like it might be from a Tim Burton movie. 

The full CD is a collection of video game themes.  We don’t have a console, so I don’t know any of the other songs on the disc. But I do rather like this one.  I can’t wait to see his face when he hears it.

Check it out on NPR!

[READ: December 15, 2011] “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank”

This story went from being a (rather) funny piece about Hasidic Jews to being a (rather) emotional story about marriage, religion and self-preservation.

As the story opens, Mark and Lauren are visiting the narrator and Deb.  Deb and Lauren grew up together.  But after school Lauren met Mark and they moved to Israel where they became Hasidic (and took the new names Shoshana and Yerucham).  As the story opens, the narrator (a non-observant Jew) is trying to hold his tongue while these religious folks are well, kind of judging  them.  It’s wonderfully summed up by this comment:

“Jewish to you?” I say.  “The hat, the beard, the blocky shoes.  A lot of pressures, I’d venture, to look jewish to you.  Like, say, maybe Ozzy Osbourne or the guys from Kiss, like them telling Paul Simon, ‘You do not look like a musician to me.'”  [Is there a joke in there since the guys from Kiss are indeed Jewish, or no?]

The narrator and Deb has a son, Trevor, who is sixteen.  The scene where he comes into the room to discover the Hasidic couple is hilariously subtle (very well written).  Then we learn that Shoshana and Yerucham (which Deb calls them) have ten children–all girls.  Yikes.  But the narrator continues to refer to them (at least in his story) as Mark and Lauren.  And the more questions he asks the more we find out that although they keep Holy the traditions, they are a bit lax about some of the rules (maybe?)  I actually don’t know the rules so I don’t know if what they’re doing is “wrong” or not.  And, amusingly there’s a bit in the story in which Yerucham complains about non-Jews giving them shit for what they do–“Can you eat in there?” kind of questions.

So, when the narrator asks if they can drink, Yerucham says he can make the whiskey kosher.  And that starts them on their way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Don’t Do It” (2010).

This song is available from NPR’s All Songs Considered.  I’d never heard of Sharon Van Etten before, so I didn’t know what to expect.  And this was a great way to learn about someone new (to me) and to find a song that I fell in love with.

This is a dreamy kind of track, sort of like later period Cocteau Twins, but less ethereal.  And I have to say on first listen I was really blown away because what starts as a simple song really blossoms into a full blow epic.

The song isn’t staggeringly original, by which I mean I can hear many precedents in the song (Throwing Muses, perhaps, but again, not as extreme).  And yet, she takes this template and really makes it shine in her own way.  This song is layered and textured with more depth of sound coming on each verse.  And it feels like by around the third minute or so, you’re totally caught up in the song.

On further listens, that effect is still there.  It’s very subtle, but really effective.  And I keep getting sucked right in.  I’ll definitely check out her full length, Epic.

[READ: October 20, 2010] “Peep Show”

This was the final story of the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 collection that I read (there’s one more after this, but I read them out of order).  The excerpt in the main issue was intriguing but very short and the whole story blew my mind with its unexpected surrealism.

Allen Fein, a man with his shit together, trips over a curb on his way to Port Authority.  It throws off his stride and his whole day.   When he straightens up, he looks up to see a barker offering peep shows for 25 cents.  Fein had been to a peeps how once before as a teen, and he sort of thinks that his day is a mess anyhow, so why not.

When he goes in, things are not as the were when he was a kid.  In fact, the glass that usually keeps peeper from peepee is removed, and the first word that the woman says when the door goes up is “Touch.”  And Allen finds himself in a weird position, especially when he touches the woman and his erection won’t subside. (more…)

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While I was looking around for Jonathan Franzen pieces in the New Yorker, I stumbled upon the first 20 Under 40 collection from 1999.  Since I had received so much enjoyment from the 2010 version, I decided to read all of the 1999 stories as well.  It was interesting to see how many of the authors I knew (and knew well), how many I had heard of but hadn’t read, and how many were completely off my radar.

I initially thought that they had published all 20 authors in this one issue, but there are five stories (including Franzen’s) that were just excerpted rather than published in full.  And I will track down and read those five in their entirety.  But otherwise, that’s a lot of fiction in one magazine (a few of the stories were quite short).  And it features a cover by Chris Ware!

So here’s the list from 1999.

**George Saunders-“I Can Speak™”
**David Foster Wallace-“Asset”
*Sherman Alexie-“The Toughest Indian in the World”
*Rick Moody-
“Hawaiian Night”
*A.M. Homes-
“Raft in Water, Floating”
Allegra Goodman-
“The Local Production of Cinderella”
*William T. Vollmann-
“The Saviors”
Antonya Nelson
-“Party of One”
Chang-rae Lee-
“The Volunteers”
*Michael Chabon-
“The Hofzinser Club” [excerpt]
Ethan Canin-
“Vins Fins” [excerpt]
*Donald Antrim-
“An Actor Prepares”
Tony Earley-
“The Wide Sea”
*Jeffrey Eugenides-
“The Oracular Vulva”
*Junot Diaz-
“Otra Vida, Otra Vez”
*Jonathan Franzen-
“The Failure” [excerpt]
***Edwidge Danticat-
“The Book of the Dead”
*Jhumpa Lahiri-
“The Third and Final Continent”
*Nathan Englander-
“Peep Show” [excerpt]
Matthew Klam-
“Issues I Dealt with in Therapy” [excerpt] (more…)

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