Archive for the ‘Robert Walser’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: BERNIE AND THE BELIEVERS featuring ESSENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #804 (November 12, 2018).

I like to watch every Tiny Desk Concert at least twice before I write about them.  But there’s no way I can watch this one more than once.  It is just too emotionally draining.

I only know about Bernie because of the Tiny Desk Contest, when Bernie’s entry made me cry.  Although not for the song, for the story behind it. So I’m leaving all of Bob Boilen’s blurb here:

The story of Bernie and the Believers is the most powerful I’ve ever come across at the Tiny Desk. It’s about a beautiful act of compassion that ultimately led to this performance, and left me and my coworkers in tears.

I discovered the music of Bernie Dalton among the thousands of Tiny Desk Contest entries we received earlier this year. The band’s singer, Essence Goldman, had submitted the entry and shared Bernie’s story. You should hear her tell it in her own words at the Tiny Desk (and I choke up every time I hear it). In summary she said that a few years ago, Bernie — a father, a songwriter and a musician in his mid-forties, and an avid surfer with a day job as a pool cleaner — answered an ad she had posted offering voice lessons. Essence was a performer trying to manage her own career as a single mom, and Bernie was trying to improve his talents.

Bernie drove 90-minutes from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, eagerly showing up early to his voice lessons with Essence. But not long after they started working together, Bernie lost his voice. They didn’t think much of a it at first, but then things got worse. He had trouble swallowing and eating. Essence encouraged Bernie to see a doctor and after some tests Bernie Dalton was diagnosed with bulbar-onset ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He began to lose the use of his hands and, along with it, the ability to play guitar.

With a prognosis of only one-to-three years left to live, Essence offered to raise money so that Bernie and his daughter could travel together. But what Bernie wanted more than anything was to make a record. So he asked Essence to not just be his voice teacher, but his voice. From there, they got to business. Essence pulled together a team of producers, engineers and musicians, while Bernie guided the creative direction through gestures and a dry-erase board. They wrote and recorded a new song every day. Their first single, “Unusual Boy,” was the one they included in their 2018 Tiny Desk Contest entry.

Now Bernie’s friends have gathered here in Washington, D.C. to perform his songs. All the while, Bernie watched and listened from his hospital bed on the West coast, communicating with us in a live video feed through his eye-gaze device. What you are about to witness is the ultimate act of love: Essence sacrificing her own musical ambitions to fulfill the dreams of Bernie Dalton. Through tragedy there was beauty.

So it’s hard to be critical of any of the songs, which are all solid and good.  I happen to not like “In Your Shoes” because it’s too country for my tastes.  Although it is impressive that she can sing in a country-style as well as in the other styles.

But the first song “Unusual Boy” is sweet and powerful.  The lyrics are wonderful and Essence’s voice is terrific for this one.

In between the second and third song, Essence relates the above story with more detail.  If you’re not crying by the end, you have a heart of stone.

“Simon’s Hero” is a song Bernie wrote to his daughter’s future children.  Good Lord.

[READ: January 20, 2018] “The Great Talent”

This is more of a harangue than a story.

The great talent knew he was a great talent and this knowledge allowed him to do nothing.  He was used to being given money and praise for his talent and soon he began to expect the money from everyone.  He was never grateful for any gifts he received.  Indeed he was rude to everyone.

A great talent like that is a monster. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  HAYDEN-Live at Massey Hall (February 28, 2015).

The second season of Live at Massey Hall features ten videos from 2015.

A friend of mine from Vancouver got me into Hayden back in 1995.  Back then Hayden had a rough, bassy, somewhat peculiar voice.  Now, twenty years later, that rasp is almost all gone and his songs feel a bit more commercial.

He talks about the Toronto music scene and how important Massey Hall was.  But also the craziness of seeing Dinosaur Jr play at Massey Hall–it was unusual to see a band tearing it up on that stage.  All bands are excited to play there–the rumors of how good it sounds on stage are true.  Massey Hall is a musicians dream.

“Almost Everything.” is from his 2013 album and features him on piano (and harmonica).  I like the organ sound (from J.J. Ipsen) on the song and, lyrically, the song is pretty great:

But I’m recording once again
While my kid is upstairs in bed
And I’ll admit now and then
That some nights when I’m strumming
Or maybe just drumming
The music is still everything…
Well almost everything

“Bass Song” is about “self-defense using a bass guitar.”  This is an earlier song and his delivery is a bit closer to that earlier style of singing.  The song has a really satisfying and fine melody line and riff throughout.  As the song builds to the end, Hayden himself starts playing more and more weird and dissonant chords on the piano while playing a great harmonica solo.  Strangely enough the bassist Jay McCarrol plays drums for this song, while the drummer Taylor Knox switches to bass (but just for this song).

“No Happy Birthday” was written for his five-year-old daughter who is nonverbal. When he tries out new songs or “back catalog classics” with her, she gives the sign for “all done” really quickly.  (Someone shouts, I love you).  She loves me too, she just doesn’t love my songs.  Her favorite song in the word is “Happy Birthday.”  How do you compete with that?  The song is just him on guitar and harmonica.

Taking a break, he says, “You always see musicians fawning over this building. I don’t really see what the big deal is.  [pause] I have to say I’m kidding.  I started feeling really bad there.

“Next is a song about a bar.”  It’s from the soundtrack to Trees Lounge.  It sounds a lot like the original because he’s singing with his bassist’s deep additions to the vocals.

“Hey Love” is a new song with wonderful harmonies. The middle section has him taking out the plug for his guitar and touching the metal part so that it buzzes rhythmically.

“Dynamite Walls” gets a big response. It’s an older song and is very catchy.  There’s a lengthy cool jam session at the end.  It’s nearly three minutes long and it gets really noisy and chaotic with the drummer in particular going crazy by the end.  Then it settles down for the end.

It’s a really solid concert.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “People Who Are Refined”

This is a collection of four stories.  I didn’t really like any of them, but I was absolutely fascinated by the way these stories were discovered.   I remember hearing about this when it happened and it is still fascinating.  So, far more interesting than the content is this:

By Robert Walser (translated by Susan Bernofsky), four stories from The Microscripts, to be published next month by New Directions and Christine Burgin Gallery. Written on scraps of paper in markings often only a millimeter tall, the microscripts were at first mistakenly thought to be a secret code when they were discovered after Walser’s death in 1956. Magnification of the texts revealed them to be a miniaturized form of standard German script.

The first story is about a sorrowful man who disregarded desires.  He was full of loneliness and could not escape his worries.  Midway through he says, “Here I would appear to have completed the first section of my essay.  Now I shall turn to his son or progeny (how did a man living life in loneliness have a son?  Unclear).  The son did not have his father’s worry.  He was happy-go-lucky.  It appears that his soul was unhappy but the language kind of got away from me.

The second story is about a man given a book by a good woman who was married to bad man.  She was delicate and he was trivial.  While she was single she didn’t mind being a charming idealist.  But her husband changed her mind and now she wanted to be bad.  Being good regardless of the circumstances–oh how difficult this was proving to be. She went to what I gather is a brothel

The third is more of a statement about his will to shake a refined individual to rattle him about as if he were a scraggly tree bearing only isolated jittery leaves.  But the abuse is verbal and seems to be a back and forth more than straightforward abuse.

The fourth story is about a man who numbered among the good and refined. He created an enterprise which required the support of other nice, good, devout, refined people.  Surely this was reckless. Yes, they left him in the lurch and abandoned him.  The rest of the story turns into a sort of color scheme.  He is Mr Brown, he meets Mrs Black whom he hates because they harmonize so well.  They met a rascal clad in sky blue who smiled in yellow, cast down his eyes in fiery red, and spoke a deep green.

This ends with “his is certainly a peculiar story, and in any case it has never before appeared in print.”

The same could be true of all four.

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Kiss put out Alive! after just three albums.  Alive II also came out after three albums.  Alive III has 14 albums between it and Alive II (if you count the solo albums as 4).  I guess poor sales and poorly attended concerts don’t really suggest live albums.  But Revenge revitalized them somewhat so it was time for a new one–their first with no makeup!  And it’s a pretty good one.

But it’s also like Kiss has forgotten all about being Kiss.  There’s no “You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the world…Kiss” (which would have been untrue at the time anyhow, but since when has that stopped Kiss?)  The tracklisting is pretty darn good though.  For Alive II, the band didn’t want to repeat any tracks from Alive! (that’s such an endearing thing to say about the band with 400 repackaged hits records).  Since there are tons of records since Alive II, you’d assume Alive III was all 80s songs.  But that’s not the case.  There are a few inevitable duplicates (how could there not be–all their biggest hits were from the 70s), but I’m surprised they didn’t throw more current stuff on the disc.

It opens with “Creatures of the Night” a great heavy version.  Then they go way back to “Deuce” which is a cool surprise.  Since this was the tour for Revenge, you’d think there might be more songs from it, but there’s only three: “I Just Wanna” “Unholy” and “Domino.”  “I Just Wanna” was perfectly crafted for Paul to banter with the audience and get them to sing “I just wanna fuck” (which was edited from the album I understand).  And in this live setting “Unholy” sounds great.

“Heaven’s on Fire” works well live, even if I don’t really like the song–but the band can really ham it up here.  The big surprise has got to be “Watching You,” a totally unexpected song form the past.  And even if it was on Alive!, this version is quite different (no Peter Criss cowbell).  I don’t think much of “Domino” anyhow (well, the music is great but the lyrics, ick), but in this version Gene just seems kind of bored.

Another surprise comes in “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”  true it’s one of Kiss; biggest hits but they often try to distance themselves from the “disco” era.  Nevertheless this version sounds revitalized.  And since there were no live albums in the 80s, there’s no official live recordings of it.  “I Still Love You” is another great chance for Paul to shine.  “I Love It Loud” sounds great (although the harmonies get a little sketchy at times.  But it’s weird to hear “Rock N Roll All Nite” in the middle of the set instead of at the end.  It’s also odd to start off this song with “It ain’t bullshit when you say rock and roll all nite and party every day.”   The intro to “Detroit Rock City” is also very strange “It doesn’t matter where you’re born ,it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where your head is at. This one;s called Detroit Rock City.”  Huh.

There’s not much you can do with a dreadful song like “Lick It Up,” and ad-libbing “I wanna lick you” doesn’t make it any better.  The disc ends with “God Gave Rock n Roll to You II,” which I don’t like, but which sounds good live, a lot of energy.  And it wraps up with a very odd thing–a guitar solo version of the Star Spangled Banner.  It doesn’t compare to Alive! or Alive II, but Alive III is a good live album from a good live band.

[READ: August 15, 2012] “From the Pencil Zone”

This is a review of the microscripts of Robert Walser, an author whom I have never heard of.  Walser was born in Switzerland in 1878 and he published several shorts and several novels (which were admired by Kafka!).

As the market for shorts dried up, so did his career, and he moved into smaller and smaller places.  Accordingly, his handwriting grew smaller and smaller, too.  Eventually he cheeked himself into a series of mental institutions.

Walser’s early novels dealt with everyday life, like the “young boyish man” who wants to become a bookshop proprietor in The Tanners.  The character (whose name we don’t learn for a long time) is effusive, praising the job to the heavens as a divine calling!  And lo he is given the job.  A week later he declares, “the entire book trade is nothing less than ghastly.”  Wasler himself had a multifaceted career: butler, inventor’s assistant, clerk, journalist.  But he was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and is responsible for this quotable quote: “I’m not here to write.  I’m here to be mad.”

After Walser died, people discovered a treasure trove of 526 pages of “microscripts.”  The writing was so small that these 526 pages, when written in book form came to six VOLUMES of books.  They were released as Aus dem Bleistifsebiet (From the Pencil Zone).  Galchen’s review here is for the short one volume New Directions collection called Robert Walser: Microscripts.  Interestingly, most of the stories have no title and some seem unfinished.  New Directions (and Harper’s) include images of this man’s microscopic writings (all done in pencil of course).  He wrote in Kurrent, a widely used script at the time which was a version of medieval shorthand and which dramatically reduced the number of strokes per character.  His letters were often one or two millimeters tall.  He was able to fit six stories on a postcard received from a newspaper editor. (more…)

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