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Archive for the ‘Norman Mailer’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FLORENCE + THE MACHINE-Tiny Desk Concert #795 (October 16, 2018).

Florence + the Machine has slowly won me over.  When I first heard their (her) songs, I wasn’t impressed.  I felt there was something missing.

I don’t know if I changed my mind on those early songs, or if she did something more in her layering but I suddenly found her songs intense and really powerful.

Florence Welch and her band play three songs at the Tiny Desk.  I have so much grown to love the full production that I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it as much when stripped down.  For the Tiny Desk it’s just her on vocals, with a guitars a synth an d a harp!  And man her voice has just become a force unto itself–she could sing a capella and it would be great.  But the backing vocals add an amazing and unexpected punch.

She starts the show with the lovely “June.”  It begins with her voice and some harp notes.

Florence performed with her eyes closed.  Within seconds of hearing her first note, the raw power of her un-amplified voice was chilling.

Then the guitar joins in and the lovely “oh ooh, oh ooh, woah” fill in the gaps perfectly.  Even something as simple as Florence’s hand clap add an interesting percussive element to the climax of the song.

It’s impossible to talk about Florence without her backing band. Tom Monger adds exquisite ethereal textures to the songs with his stunning mastery of the pedal harp. Hazel Mill’s backing vocals and anthemic power chords on the keys accentuate the poignancy of the lyrics at just the right moments. And Robert Ackroyd’s rhythmic, steady acoustic guitar drives the music forward.

The second song “Patricia” builds slowly over its time.  The harp plays a kind of haunting melody that is accentuated by two almost sinister deep notes.  The song feels like it’s heading to an end after about three minutes, but that’s just the middle section.  After a big smile, the hand claps continue as the song grows louder and louder as they sing “it’s such a wonderful thing to love.”

The intensity of the musicality is almost secondary to the message in her lyrics. Ear-worm melodies coupled with repetitive phrases create universal, awe-inspiring anthems.

Her nervousness was palpable and stood in stark contrast to her fully produced stage show. “I’m sorry I’m shy,” Florence Welch told the crowd of NPR family and friends gathered for her Tiny Desk performance. “If this was a big gig, I’d probably be climbing all over here and running around.”

The final song is the one that won me over, “Ship to Wreck.”  She reveals her humorous side when she says, “We haven’t practiced this.  It could be terrible.  Especially for you.”

I love the hugeness of the recorded version of the song.  This version replaces some of the power with more interesting subtleties in the harmonies and the lovely melodies.  It’s a striking version of the song.

[READ: November 28, 2018] “A Diamond to Cut New York”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This particular piece is a collection of vignettes from Dawn Powell’s diaries which range from 1933 to 1963 (she died in 1965).

I have wanted to read Dawn Powell for years and yet I keep finding other books that jump in front of me first.  As I read this I wondered if maybe Powell isn’t for me, as I really didn’t know what in the world she was talking about for many of these entries.  but there were many glimmers of the wit that Powell is known for poking through.

There’s also the problem of context.  I have virtually none for most of these entries, so even if there are clever comments, I probably have no idea. (more…)

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dec20133SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Arena Hostile (VPRO Radio Recordings) [CST017] (2001).

sparo2I didn’t love Sparo’s debut album, but a year later while on tour with A Silver Mt. Zion (whom I do love) he went into a studio in Amsterdam to re-record some of those songs.  I’ll let the Constellation site tell you what this EP is and why I like it so very very much,

In January 2001, Frankie Sparo toured Europe with a Silver Mt Zion. Musicians from the latter group worked on new arrangements of songs from Sparo’s debut record My Red Scare, adding strings, organ and electronics to Frankie’s guitar and beatbox compositions. Some of the results were captured in a live studio performance recorded live to 2-track at VPRO radio in Amsterdam, where a feverish flu found Sparo in a ravaged, hallucinatory state – which only added to the dark magic of these recordings. The four songs on this EP are all first takes, beautifully recorded by the good people at VPRO. Along with 3 songs reworked from the debut album, the EP also includes a heartbreaking cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I Am Waiting”, which Sparo performed solo a number of times in concert.

“Diminish Me NYC” is great in this version with an off-kilter electronic arrangement and strings. “The Night That We Stayed In” which I singled out on the debut album has two violins, turning the song into an even cooler number (although the “throw your hands in the air” line seems moderately less comical now).  “Here Comes The Future” has an almost dance beat—a slow dance mind you, but still, a good one and ends with some organ waves.  And the cover of “I am Waiting” must be the slowest cover of a Stones song ever.  I don’t know the original, but I bet it sounds nothing like this.

I really like this EP a lot and it makes me want to like the debut album even more–if I had more patience with it.

[READ: April 15, 2014] 3 book reviews

noveltyThis month Bissell reviewed non-fiction three books.

The first is Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North.  In this book North argues that newness, that novelty, has always been a problem: “one of the very first ideas to trouble the consciousness of humankind.”  This dates all the way back to Aristotle who argued that nothing came from nothing; that everything came from something else.  Even the Renaissance, that period of great exploration and creativity was really just mimicking classics (hence the word renaissance).  The new tends to be looked at askance, so we get terms like “novelty act.”

North says that one thing which is genuinely new is our proclivity to turn everything into information as gigabits or as abstract knowledge.

I’m intrigued by the premise of this book but not enough to want to read it and frankly, Bissell doesn’t make it sound that compelling.

Bissell connects this attitude about newness and novelty to the rock world (and rightly so).  Where we (well, some people) value novelty and criticize anything that is derivative.  Which leads to the second book (another one I don’t want to read but for different reasons).  Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian.  The Beatles were arguably the most original band ever since no one did what they did before them.  And then, bvssarguably, the Rolling Stones came along and did just what the Beatles did a little bit afterwards.

Some easy examples:

  • The cover of the Rollings Stones’ first album is compositionally similar to the cover of The Beatles’ second album.
  • A few months after the Beatles released their ballad “Yesterday,” the Stones released their ballad “As Tears Go By.”  (The song was recorded earlier but was initially dismissed as not Stones enough).
  • After the Beatles used a sitar in “Norwegian Wood,” the Stones used one (in a different way) in “Paint It Black.”
  • And quotemaster himself, John Lennon, once said, “Everything we do, the Stones do four months later.”  [The Stones did still released some great music after The Beatles broke up, of course, even if now they play nothing they wrote after 1981 on tour anymore].

And this Lennon quote is typical of this book which is a gossipy casual look at the differences between the Beatles and Stones [Beatles when you’re writing, Stones when you’re jogging; Beatles when you’re alone, Stones when you’re with people).  But in addition to comparisons, he includes scenes like when the Beatles attended a Stones show and when Jagger and Richards were at Shea Stadium for The Beatles’ arrival.

There are many similarities between the bands, although the biggest different seems to be that the Stones never really became friends, while The Beatles were friends till the end.

Of course, the Stones has always been cooler than the Beatles, which is a nice segue into Bissell’s third book: The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground by Glenn O’Brien.

coolschoolO’Brien’s thesis is the seemingly obvious one that “cool” is not a new thing–that early tribes doing war dances had cool people playing syncopated drums in the corner.  But he is not arguing about coolness, he is collecting “a louche amuse bouche [that must have been fun to write]…a primer and inspiration for future thought crime.”  The book includes works by the likes of Henry Miller, Delmore Schwartz, LeRoi Jones and Eric Bogosian.  I like some of these guys, but as soon as I see them assembled together, I know I’m not going to be going anywhere near this book.

Bissell says that there is some cool stuff here: Miles Davis writing about Charlie Parker for example, but most of the cool seems to be trying too hard.  Like the “charmlessly dated” Norman Mailer piece, “The White Negro.”

I appreciate the way Bissell sums up what comes through from the book: “to be cool…is to make the conscious choice, every step of the way through life, to care about the wrong damn thing.”

It is comforting to come away from one of these book reviews without wanting to read anything.

 

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CV1_TNY_05_06_13Schossow.inddSOUNDTRACK: BOY-“Little Numbers” (Live at The Current, April 6, 2013) (2013).

boyI am totally hooked by this single–a song which sounds like the next huge Feist hit.  It’s got a great piano melody that just grabs on and won’t let go.

So how does the song hold up on acoustic guitars?  In a recent interview the two Swiss/German band members, Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass, say that the song was originally written in this slower more acoustic vein.  On first listen this version is not very appealing–there’s something so bubbly and bouncy and joyous about the single version.

The immediacy of the song is gone and the “woah-o” section seems more mournful than joyous.  I suppose it is actually more true to the original intent of the song (I read your name on every wall, is there  cure for me at all).  Although this version features Boy’s beautiful harmonies, especially the concluding moments, I still prefer the more upbeat single version.

[READ: May 21, 2013] “The Gray Goose”

When this story started, I was a little concerned that it was going to be another story about a repressed childhood under the thumb of an oppressive Jewish mother.  It begins by telling us that Miraim’s father left in 1948, when she was little.  One of the only presents she had been given was an album by Burl Ives.  And that album could be played on her family’s hi-fi/radio housed in a rosewood cabinet—“the most fantastical item of furniture in their lives.” Her father hated that they gave into consumerism to buy such a thing, but it was revered.  And all vinyl was held very delicately, as if a breath of air might warp it.

“The Gray Goose” was her favorite song and she listened to it often, trying to scrutinize the songs—just what was this gray goose that could not be killed, Lord, Lord, Lord.  (The traditional meaning of the gray goose that could not be killed appears to have something to do that with the hunter went hunting on the Sabbath, so the goose could not be killed). Although in the story, Miriam’s mother, Rose, says that the goose represents the heart of the working class.  For Rose and her husband, Albert were fiercely Communist.  We learn about Rose and Albert’s marriage—they were passionate about their beliefs, and this passion seemed to transmit to each other.  And then Rose got pregnant, so they married.  And then Rose had a miscarriage, but now they were stuck with each other so they decided to have a child—Miriam.  (His parents didn’t approve of any of it, especially Rose).

Then Albert was offered a job back in Germany—the only Jew to return to Germany so soon, and Rose and Miriam were on their own.  Well, Miriam was on her own, Rose had many many suitors, although none could stay the night.

That’s all back story for the evening of the action—the evening that Miriam and some friends have gone to Greenwich Village to a jazz club.  Miriam is precocious, having finished school a year early and started college (and apparently already dropped out).  She is out with some friends, the wonderfully named Rye Gogan, the horn-rimmed glasses-wearing Porter, assorted girlfriends and Miriam’s boyfriend who is referred to hilariously as Forgettable.  As in “of course Forgettable weighed in with, ‘What?’” (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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dtmaxSOUNDTRACK: TOM WAITS & KEITH RICHARDS-“Shenandoah” (2013).

roguesgallery-f8be47f3887d51de57ea842a129f0a722e53ef74-s1This tune comes from the album Son Of Rogues Gallery.  The album is, of all things, a sequel to the album Rogues Gallery.  The full title is Son Of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.  The first album was a kind of novelty–I can’t even say novelty hit as I don;t know if it was.  But it must have had some success because here’s a second one (and there’s no Pirates of the Caribbean movie to tie it to).

The album has 36 songs (!) by a delightful collection of artists, including: Shane MacGowan, Nick Cave, Macy Gray, Broken Social Scene, Richard Thompson, Michael Gira and Mary Margaret O’Hara (among many others).  I enjoyed the first one, but I think the line up on this one is even better.

“Shenandoah” is not a song that I particulalry like.  Because it is traditional, I have a few people doing versions of it, but I don’t gravitate twoards it–it’s a little slow and meandering (like the river I guess) for me. And this version is not much different.  What it does have going for it is Waits’ crazed warbling along with even crazier backing viclas from Keith Richards (there;s no guitar on the track).

[READ: January 7, 2012] Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

I had mixed feelings about reading this biography.  I’m a huge fan of David Foster Wallace, but I often find it simply disappointing to read about people you like.  And yet, DFW was such an interesting mind, that it seemed worthwhile to find out more about him. Plus, I’ve read everything by the guy, and a lot of things about him…realistically it’s not like I wasn’t going to read this.  I think I was afraid of being seriously bummed out.  So Sarah got me this for Christmas and I really really enjoyed reading it.

Now I didn’t know a ton about DFW going into this book–I knew basics and I had read a ton of interviews, but he never talked a lot about himself, it was predominantly about his work.  So if I say that Max is correct and did his research, I say it from the point of someone full of ignorance and because it seems comprehensive.  I’m not claiming that he was right just that he was convincing.  And Max is very convincing.  And he really did his research.

It’s also convenient that DFW wrote a lot of letters–Max has a ton of letters to quote from.  And DFW wrote to all kinds of people–friends, fellow authors  girlfriends, colleagues….  Aside from old friends, his two main correspondents were Don DeLillo, whom he thought of as a kind of mentor, and Jonathan Franzen, whom he considered one of his best friends and rivals.  I guess we can also be thankful that these recipients held on to the letters. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN DEACON-“Call Me Maybe Acapella 147 Times Exponentially Layered” (2012).

Dan Deacon (whose twitter handle is “ebaynetflix” ha!), created a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” for a digital album with 43 artists covering the pop delicacy.  I listened to a few samples from the album and they span the gamut from kind of serious to kind of crazy to mocking to Deacon.

Stereogum describes Deacon’s version this way: “Dan Deacon piles “Call Me Maybe” on itself over and over again, creating the most dissonant, harrowing take on Carli Rae Jepsen’s [sic] hit known to man.”

He begins with a sample from the verse, then he adds some lines from the chorus (while the verse is playing). You can hear “here’s my number, so call me maybe” a few times, but the background is growing in intensity and menace.  By 90 seconds in, you can still hear her a little bit, but she is almost entirely consumed by noise.  Then around 2 minutes, things seems to calm down a bit (she’s still plugging away at the chorus).  By 4 minutes the whole thing has seemingly collapsed in on itself.  And the whole time, there seems to be a steady beat that you can dance to.  This track may indeed produce insanity.

You can listen to Deacon’s monstrosity below, or go to the original site.

  To see the lineup for the whole album, go here.

[READ: August 22, 2012] 3 Book Reviews

I don’t quite understand how Cohen pulled this off, but in the July issue of Harper‘s right after his story, “The College Borough,” which I mentioned yesterday, he also had three book reviews.  How does one get two bylines in Harper’s?  Has that ever happened before?

Because I liked the story so much, I decided I would read these reviews too.  Cohen sets up the reviews with the idea of political gestation periods (12 months for donkeys, 22 months for elephants) and how novelists work even slower when it comes to writing about events.  Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead came out 32 months after V-J Day, John Steinbeck wrote about the depression from 1937-1945.  So now in 2012 we see the “spawn of Bush’s two terms of excruciating contractions.”  Books that fictionalize the realities of post-9/11 life: “that the canniest distraction from class war is war-war.” (more…)

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