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Archive for the ‘Rachel Kushner’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Gimme Some Truth” (2001).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

“Gimme Some Truth” was written by John Lennon during the Nixon administration.

Pearl Jam played this song live a bunch of times during the George W. Bush administration.  They had played it twice before recording this version at the Groundwork Benefit, Key Arena, Seattle. October 22, 2001.

It’s quite a faithful cover.  The original has angry guitars and Lennon’s growly voice. Although the original has a very distinctly Beatles-sound from the guitars (Which is obvious, but still somewhat surprising).  Even Lennon’s guitar solo has that Beatles sound.  The Pearl Jam version doesn’t have that feel at all–it sounds very much like a Pearl Jam song.

In fact, Eddie and the guys updated the lyrics for the George W. Bush administration.  I’ve listed both sets of lyrics at the bottom of the page.

The song is catchy and passionate and, frankly, is even more applicable now with the Liar in Chief’s administration literally incapable of saying a true word.

[READ: December 12 2019] “The Sacred Family”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

I have read a number of stories by Rachel Kushner.  I tend to enjoy them, although this one was more thought-provoking than interesting.

The story concerns a man, Hauser, who is warden at a women’s prison.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Passing Through” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song sounds the most like a Norwegian band from the 1980s.  It has a simple bass line with just a drum shuffle and synths.  And the vocals are a lot of “Hey! way oh way oh.”

The middle jam is probably the most Phish-like with page on piano and Trey playing a happy jam which turns into a really rocking set ending jam by the end

The crowd is really into it by the end singing the Heys for the band while they supply the way oh way oh.  This could turn into a crowd favorite and it wa sa great fan-participating way to end the set.

[READ: January 6, 2019] “Red Letter Day”

I have not read very much by Kushner, although I have wanted to.  I know that she writes about the art world and this essay solidifies her awareness of and proximity to the art world in a rather unexpected way.

She had moved into an apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  The first night she smelled cigarettes coming in through the outlet of her room.  The next day she discovered that the next door apartment was completely gutted and being renovated and the smoke came from the two guys who were working on it (and living there).  One of the men, who went by Red, was charming and eloquent but clearly homeless.

The next morning she woke up to find a six-foot length of drywall tape under her door.  On the tape was a lengthy poem/letter in which the man signed it Le Rouse, Redhead.  And that began a near daily one-way correspondence from Red to her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKALEJANDRA RIBERA-Live at Massey Hall (February 5, 2016).

I had never heard of Alejandra Ribera before. She has a beautiful deep voice that can really soar.

I love that she sings in English and Spanish (in the same song) and sometimes, because of her delivery it’s hard to tell which language she is singing.

The show begins with her talking about Massey Hall and how the trajectory from the [working in? a] bar to this moment is unexpectedly fast and natural (because when you’re in it, you’re in it) but it has been overwhelming with ‘pinch me’ moments.

She says, “I used to have a poster on my wall with all of these goals… to get played on the CBC and to play at Massey Hall.”

The band is minimal and they create terrific sounds with just (primarily) an acoustic guitar from Jean-Sebastien Williams and upright bass from Cedric Dind-Lavoie)

The first song “La Boca” has the acoustic guitar and upright bass moving briskly with her voice soaring (but low) on top of it–really mesmerizing.  She sings parts in Spanish.

“Goodnight Persephone” has a muted picked guitar and bowed upright bass (it opens in vaguely Velvet Underground “Heroin” way until the bowing becomes bigger and deeper).  Alejandra sings to Persephone in a wonderful wounded, pleading voice.  The ending build with the refrain “keep this light burning bright for me.”

Before starting the next song, “No Mi Sigas” she tells us (not the audience) that when she was a young girl, she had crushes on girls and at the time she knew it wasn’t okay so she started writing poetry that was metaphorical and laden in imagery so no one would know what she was writing about.  And now she’s older and it doesn’t matter who she is writing about but she has still taken this approach and it’s why all of her love songs are in Spanish because she lives in Canada.

It’s only a shame that they cut off part of this beautiful song so much while she is talking.  She plays guitar as well in this sultry love song while Jean-Sebastien plays some wonderful leads.

“I Want” is an award-winning song and her voice really reaches deep to sing it.  She sounds great in this moody piece.  And the lyrics are very cool too: “There’s so much labor just in breathing lately.”

“Carry Me” is a bit more uptempo and she sings with that great style of hers–I’d never guess she was Canadian, even with the line “all the snow in Montreal couldn’t bury this.”

Turns out she is of Argentine and Scottish descent but was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, and has been professionally based in Montreal, Quebec.

The bridge of this song is quite compelling with the three of them singing just notes the rise through a scale–strangely compelling.  And then Ribera gives a great whistling solo–which people want to applaud for (and should) but no one does.

In the last segment, she says that before playing music publicly she had gone through a nasty depression.  She had seen that Ron Sexsmith was playing at Massey Hall and she wanted to go see him.  But the depression was too powerful and she checked into St Mike’s across the street.  She had checked in for a time and then one night went to the stairs to smoke and saw the Ron was playing at Massey Hall that night.  That was the pivotal moment–she was so close–and she decided to get on the other side of that door.

Once again, it’s a shame she talks over so much of her song “Led Me To You” which starts quietly but builds to a great powerful ending (with her on guitar again).

This series has been excellent in introducing me to new artists, and Ribera is a great one I hope to explore more.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “Fifty-Seven”

If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that I have been posting these old New Yorker stories on the date that they were published (no matter what the year).  There have been some exceptions (like when there was more than one story in an issue), but I thought it would be a fun thing to keep up).  I am making an exception for this because when I read this story and the one after it I felt like they were connected in some way.  So I’m moving this to July  because there’s a ton of stories to go in November.

I feel like this story was trying to make a point.  And I didn’t like it because of that.  Although I will say that it seems like Kushner really did a lot of work (unless she happens to know this much about the penal system).

This is the story of a murderer.  It is third person but from his point of view. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IBEYI-Tiny Desk Concert #703 (February 7, 2018).

ibeyiI have been fascinated with Ibeyi since I first heard them a couple years ago.  Their more recent song “Deathless” is just outstanding.  I’d also heard they put on a great show.

So I was looking forward to this Tiny Desk.

But just who are they?

They come by their connection to the Afro-Cuban culture by way of their late father, Miguel “Anga” Diaz, an in-demand Cuban percussionist who was part of a vanguard musicians who reinvigorated Cuban music before he died prematurely at age 45 in 2006. The sisters, Lisa-Kaindé (in blue) and Naomi (in orange) Díaz, carry that calling in their DNA, and how they’ve manifested it into their own art is nothing short of amazing.

The show begins with the sisters singing a capella: an invocation of a West African Yoruba deity called “Oddudua.”

The first song they play is “Deathless.”  “This song is dear to our hearts.  It’s made for you; for us.  Whatever happens, this moment is deathless.  We made it for you to feel for three minutes and believe it.”  Naomi hits a sampler to get the horns going and then Lisa-Kaindé plays the nifty buzzy keyboard melody and vocal samples.  Then Naomi starts playing the batá, which is really fun to watch.  Lisa-Kaindé sings lead (her voice breaks on one of the high notes)

The twins (Ibeyi means ‘twins” in Yoruban) perform their music with the batá drums associated with Yoruban sacred music and their elaborate vocal arrangements channel the call-and-response of traditional African music. The melding of their voices when they harmonize can be breathtaking, but the same can be said about the messages behind their songs, themes that inspire both inward introspection and celebrations of life.

The drums are such a cool percussive element that I didn’t expect.  The chorus is so uplifting and joyful even as it has a tinge of menace.  They get he audience to sing along in a rather inspiring call and response of the chorus.

“Valé” is a lullaby written for their niece–she sings frozen and she’s really into it.   Naomi sings leads while Lisa-Kaindé plays the pretty piano melody.  It is a delicate, quiet song (a lullaby, duh).  Then Lisa-Kaindé sings lead and Naomi plays cool percussion on a box drum which include lap-slapping as well.

Lisa-Kaindé says “Transmission” is the heart of their album.  It’s nearly seven minutes long and goes through several changes throughout.  They are both by the keys for the start of this one, with Naomi playing bass notes and both of them singing out of the same microphone.

The audience sings the gentle “Transmission” chorus as Naomi speaks in Spanish and then she adds the batá and sings some lovely harmonies.  It’s quite moving.

[READ: February 6, 2018] “Stanville”

I’ve been meaning to read one of Kushner’s novels for a while now because of great reviews.  But in the meantime, I have these short stories.

I’m not sure if this is an excerpt or not.  It feels pretty full on its own, but I coud easily see it going much further.

This story is done from two points of view.  A third person POV for the one main character, Gordon Hauser.  And then, later, a first person point of view for another major character Romy Hall.

Gordon Hauser is teaching G.E.D. classes in a women’s prison.  He was surprised to find that people would much rather teach in men’s prisons.  Indeed, no guard wanted to work in a women’s prison “female prisoners bickered with the guards and contested everything, and the guards seemed to find this more treacherous than having to subdue riots.” (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist Season 1

organistGiven my love of the McSweeney’s empire, it seems logical that I would have listened to The Organist sooner than this.  But I didn’t.  It has been on for a couple of years, so i assumed I’d never catch up.  But then I saw that there were only 50 episodes and most of them were quite short.  So it was time to see what it was all about.

And, since it is more or less in conjunction with The Believer, it should come as no surprise that it is sort of an aural equivalent to that magazine–longish pieces about esoteric subject, but geared specifically to “radio.”

The Organists first season was done as a monthly podcast starting on Feb 1.  Each episode was about 50 minutes long and covered a variety of subjects with fun guests and other ephemera.

Episode 1: (February 1, 2013)
The inaugural episode kicks off with Nick Offerman spouting some hilarious nonsense about podcasts.  The rest of the show includes an interview with George Saunders talking about the voices of his fiction; Greil Marcus discusses the impact of the first Bikini Kill EP now that it is reissued.  Perhaps the most unusual and interesting piece is when Amber Scorah tells the story of her defection from the Jehovah’s Witnesses while working as a missionary in Shanghai; In short pieces, Brandon Stosuy editor of Pitchfork, presents five five-word record reviews of interesting new guitar rock and then musicians Matmos take a song from their new album apart, piece by piece, revealing its brilliant, pulsating innards.  Basically they used thought control to get people to “create” a song for them.  It’s a really neat process even if the final result doesn’t really sound like the sum of its parts. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKnov2014YES-Yesterdays (1975).

yesterdaysAfter Relayer, Yes decided to explore solo projects.  And their label released this compilation.  Oddly enough, it consists entirely of songs from Yes and Time and a Word (and is a great collection of those two middling albums).  It also includes a B-side called “Dear Father” and, most unexpectedly, a 10 minute version of the Simon and Garfunkel song “America.”  All the songs have the original lineup except “America” which features Howe and Wakeman and was recorded in 1972.

“Looking Around” and “Survival” from Yes and “Time and a Word,” “Sweet Dreams” “Astral Traveler” and “Then” from Time and a Word.

“Dear Father” is a  sounds very much like a B-side from Time and a Word (meaning it has elements of Yes, but not enough to make the song especially interesting).  The bass is thumping, but there’s also strings which add a less dramatic element than intended.  The ending sounds very 1970s (almost like a TV special) especially in the way the strings swell, but it’s a cool sounding end to the disc.

The sound of “America” (which opens the disc) is pure early 70s’s Yes, with loud guitars and some good bass lines.  They play around with the original quite a lot (and most of the time it is unrecognizable).  I really enjoy that the guitar and bass throw in lines from the West Side Storys “America.”  There’s moments where you know the S&G original (like the “I don’t know why” line and they play it totally wrong (but in very Yes fashion), but other parts like “counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike” sounds different but also really good.  This is the kind of cover I like, when a band completely make a song their own.  I still prefer the original, but this is an interesting interpretation.

The cover of the album is the last one that Roger Dean would do for the band for a while.  It’s pretty bizarre (even for a Dean cover) with a little boy peeing on the back.

[READ: March 27, 2015] “The Great Exception”

This story comes from The Strange Case of Rachel K.  I assume it is a short story, as I can’t even imagine what it might have to do with Rachel K in general.

This piece opens with Part 1 in which there is a brief history of people’s beliefs in the flatness and/or roundness of the Earth.  The Admiral goes to the queen to inform her that the Earth is actually shaped like a pear or violin and he requests gold for his expedition.  But when he is in her presence, and a little drunk and a little bold, he informed her that the earth was really shaped like a woman’s breast.  The orient was the protrusion.  And the nipple–he locked eyes with the queen–was warm and tumultuous.

The Cardinal had given him excessive jewels to wear on his hand and they flash as he makes the shape of breasts in the air in front of the queen.  She gave in to his request and he set sail with no instruments, using only his instincts. (more…)

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krausSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-The Terror (2013).

terror After the distortion heavy and heaviness of At War with the Mystics and Embryonic (to say nothing of their other experimental releases), I wasn’t sure what to expect from an album called The Terror.  Yet with a title like that the album is far more invested in psychological terror than in pummeling you with scary noises and music.  The album is more unsettling and spooky with existential dread.

Wayne Coyne has always been a pretty optimistic guy–weird, sure, dealing with feelings of dread, sure, but never so dark and insular.  But I learned that before recording this album and most likely as an impetus to record it,  Coyne separated from his partner of 25 years, Michelle, and Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd temporarily relapsed into addiction.

In an interview, Drozd says the album is like a crisis of life confidence.  He also says that the uniformity in sonic style was intentional: “Instead of writing songs and then figuring out sounds, we’d write the other way around: create sounds then make songs out of those sounds.”

So the vocals are quite low in the mix, and there is not a lot of “music” in the album.  Rather there are layers of sounds–swishing synths, spiraling noises, percussion effects that seems to almost cover up the vocals, giving it a very claustrophobic effect.  “Look… The Sun Rising” opens the disc.  It is primarily percussion with some noisy sounds and really sharp piercing guitars (that play noisy counterpoint to the soothing chorus of Oh Oh Ohs).  And yet after all of that noise and chaos, the very lovely “Be Free, A Way” surfaces as a quiet introspective song.  There are gentle keyboard notes (not unlike on Yoshimi) that propel this song along.  “Try to Explain” is a pretty song with some unusual sound effects swirling around it (The Lips can’t so straight up pretty, right?).  And yet lyrically, this song, along with the rest, is very dark indeed.

“You Lust” is a 13 minute (!) invocation about various forms of lust.  It opens with the couplet: “You’ve got a lot of nerve/A lot of nerve to fuck with me.”  The middle of the song is a kind of Pink Floydian keyboard workout.  It’s a  lengthy jam that’s kind of samey, but I’ll bet if you can really sit (with headphones) and close your eyes and focus it’s pretty intense.  After about ten minutes of that repetitive claustrophobia, some lightening occurs with sprinkled keyboard notes.

“The Terror” is primarily in Coyne’s falsetto, and it seems gentle until the mechanized noises come bursting forth.  “You Are Alone” is the shortest thing here, under 4 minutes of squeaking noises.  And again, a lovely melody despite the title.  I feel like this song summarizes the album pretty well.  In it, Coyne sings “I’m not alone” while a deeper voice replies, “you are alone.”  Whose voice will ultimately win?

  “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” returns to that abrasive guitar of the earlier tracks, but the main body of this 7 minute song is just bass, keening keyboards and Coyne’s whispered voice.  There’s a recurring synth line that is magical and/or creepy depending on your frame of mind.  It, along with many of the other songs, have a kind of coda that links the songs.  This one is mostly just choral voices, but it twists the ends of the songs in a different direction. “Turning Violent” is a quiet track, in which Coyne sounds nearly defeated until the second half of the song grows louder and more animated with layers of vocals.  The disc ends with “Always There…In Our Hearts” which seems to offer some hope…maybe.  There’s signs of uplift in the melody, and when the drums kick in at the end, it seems to propel the song into a more intense frame of mind.

And lyrically, despite all of the darkness that is always there in our hearts, there is a light peeking out: “always therein our hearts a joy of life that overwhelms.”

Although most reviewers find this album unremittingly bleak, I find the music to be beautiful in an aching sort of way–a beautiful way to deal with pain (better than getting the same tattoo as Miley Cyrus, anyway).

[READ: October 31, 2014] The Kraus Project

The title page of this book read: The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen with assistance and additional notes from Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann.

So just what is this thing anyhow?  Well Karl Kraus was a German writer (1874-1936) whose main contributions to letters were some essays and a newsletter Die Fackel (The Torch).  The authors compare the newspaper (favorably) to a blog (while also complaining about what blogs have done to letters).  He started Die Fackel in 1899 and he continued to direct, publish, and write it until his death.  He used the paper to launch attacks on hypocrisy, psychoanalysis, corruption of the Habsburg empire, nationalism of the pan-German movement, laissez-faire economic policies, and numerous other subjects.  For the first ten or so years, Kraus was the editor, accepting contributions from around the German speaking word.  But in 1911, he became the sole contributor to the newsletter.

He also wrote many essays (he did not care much for fiction), including the two main ones that compression this book: “Heine and the Consequences” (1910) and “Nestroy and Posterity” (1912).  The book also includes two follow up essays: “Afterword to Heine and the Consequences” and “Between Two Strains of Life: Final Word to Heine and the Consequences” (1917) and a poem: “Let No One Ask…” (1934).

The essays themselves are quite brief.  Despite the first coming in at 135 pages, note that the left pages are all in German (so reduce 135 by half), nearly all of the English pages are filled with footnotes (reduce by half again) and some of the footnotes run for several pages.  So the essay could be said to be about 25-30 pages.

The same is true for all of the pages in the book.  The left sides are in German (except the footnotes) and most pages are split in half because of the footnotes.  Which means that Franzen and friends write far more than Kraus did.  Ultimately, this book is actually three things: It is a collection of Kraus’ essays with Franzen’s fine translation; it is an explication of Kraus’ attitude and about life in Germany during Kraus’ life and finally it is an insight into Franzen as a young man living in Germany and why Kraus was so appealing to him.

The first part: Kraus’ essays. (more…)

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