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Archive for the ‘Shirley Jackson’ Category

McSweeney’s 49: Cover Stories: Contemporary writers reimagining classic tales (2017)

SOUNDTRACKBIG K.R.I.T.-Tiny Desk Concert #714 (March 5, 2018).

A while back I downloaded one of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtapes and rather liked it.  Since then he seems to have become pretty huge and I feel like he has really expanded on his style.

K.R.I.T. sings/raps three songs from his new album.

4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double album in which he covers everything from blessings to depression while plumbing the carnal and spiritual depths of his own duality. All three songs performed here come from side two, titled after his birth name Justin Scott.

The first song “Mixed Messages” is really thoughtful.  He sings and raps

I gotta whole lotta mixed messages / in my songs am I wrong / to feel this way
I got me a lover but I still wanna cheat / I wanna be saved but its fuck the police
i never really liked the fake shit / but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits
i really wanna sing but id better rap

K.R.I.T.’s backing band, which includes Burniss Travis II on bass and Justin Tyson on drums, also features on keys Bryan Michael Cox — the hitmaking producer and songwriter behind a slew of Billboard chart-toppers. Together, the trio delivers stripped-down versions of the latest thought-provoking material in Big K.R.I.T.’s catalog.

Introducing the second song, “Keep The Devil Off” he says his grandmother introduced him to gospel.  She brought him to church and “she would wake me up when i fell asleep saying wake up you gotta hear this.”  He sings beautifully.  And then the rapped verses are really well structured.

And when he stops to pay homage to his church-going grandmother before performing “Keep The Devil Off,” it’s clear that everything she instilled in him is keeping him alive, too.

Definitely in these times we need to keep the negativity away–keep the devil off.

His grandmother was clearly very important to him.

Big K.R.I.T. has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.  So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Halfway through his three-song set at NPR Music headquarters, K.R.I.T. stops to pull out an old-school tape recorder — the same one his grandmother would use to record him singing and reciting poetry as a child. “I have to feel like my grandmother was my first mix engineer,” he says before pressing play to reveal him and his brother as kids singing a duet of R&B crooner Donell Jones’ 1999 slow burner, “Where I Wanna Be.”

He plays the tape and cracks up listening to it.  He gets the audience to sing the refrain with his younger sell.  And then his grandmother introduces he and his brother as an R&B singer, “but I’m sticking with the rap thing.”

It’s a sublime interlude — one that resonated so strongly with K.R.I.T. that he had to start his last song, “Bury Me In Gold,” over to catch the proper beat. “I’m super emotional from this, too,” he says, laughing in a moment so genuine it was only right to leave it unedited.

He says “Bury Me in Gold” is not about gold really, it’s about having something so that in the event he gets to heaven he’ll give everything away.

He tells us to remember that peace of mind and your soul are more important than gold.

I’ve always enjoyed thought provoking rap and K.R.I.T.’s lyrics combined with his voice really work wonders.

[READ: May 29, 2017] McSweeney’s 49

It has been a long time (three years or so) since the previous McSweeney’s volume.  During that silence, the publishing house went non-profit and that seems to have taken up a lot of their resources.  They even address this a bit in the interdiction to this book.

But regardless of the reasons why, it is great to have them back.

As the subtitle says, this is a book of “cover stories.” What that means is a little vague–the contemporary writers model their story after a classic story.  I try to compare it to music covers, although in music covers the music and words are typically the same with some kind of variations.  Typically, the words are the same but the music is different.  I liked to flip this idea on its head for describing these stories in that the words are different by the music is the same.

Since I don’t know most of the original stories here I don’t know how similar these are to the originals–same character names?  Same ideas?  Same plot?  I don’t know.  And perhaps it would affect the way I read these stories if I was familiar with theory original pieces.  But without knowing them, these just turned out to be good stories from good writers.

Interspersed between the stories were poems and, in a wonderful commentary on our current shitty president and the cowardly house of representatives who on the day I finished this voted to strip 24 million people of health care, are comparisons of classic historical figures’ speeches with the petty garbled tweets of out current crap in chief.  Can we impeach this motherfucker already?  And send the whole lot of them to jail, please.  #ITMFA

As many McSweeney’s do, this one opens with letters.  And of course they aren’t really letters at all, even if they are addressed to McSweeney’s.  Many deal with cover songs, but a few are much more serious, political and right on.

WAJAHAT ALI writes from Camp FDR in Washington DC where he and his fellow prisoners were finally able to cobble together WiFi.  Ali explains that the Executive Order was inevitable the ban, the vetting, the registry were all just prelude. The need to protect against terrorism outweighs the individual rights and the rights of American Muslims…read the Supreme Court decision.

NICK JAINA writes about the Sept 23, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Ray Charles appears and plays “Walk the Line” and then “Ring of Fire.”  The letter states that the creator of “Ring of Fire” is actually mis-attributed.  The story is that June Carter wrote it after seeing a page in her uncle’s book of Elizabethan poetry.  But Johnny first wife claims that Johnny wrote it while drunk about a certain female body part: “all those years of her claiming she wrote it and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”  Then it reverts back to Ray Charles’ performance with an unseen band playing behind him–especially a great baseline–and as the song ends he lets out one last shudder and cackle like he just invented the orgasm.  “Johnny returns to the stage looking like a man who just watched someone have sex with his wife but was so in awe of how good he was at it that he could only thank him.”

ROBIN TERRELL talks about trumpmania in the Czech Republic from the perspective of a black woman, lesbian, child of civil rights activists, mother of a black man living in Prague.  The look in the eyes of people after the election: The U.S. is going to fuck us over again.  It stunned Europeans that the U.S. could generate someone fouler than Europe’s own crop of white male extremists.  She is now a refugee from her own country.  #RESIST #ITMFA

KIMBERLY HARRINGTON says she always believed that even in the darkest times humor has its place.  But lately she’s been bursting into tears rather than cracking a smile.  She hopes she can find things to laugh at–even death in these horrible times.

MARY MILLER says that for the longest time she thought her uncles wrote “Stagger Lee.”  Her uncles were musicians who wrote songs but also threw some covers into their shows.  She believed that “Stagger Lee” was one of theirs. She realizes that they are not famous and that no one will remember them–but she promises them that she will remember them.

RICK MOODY writes at length about Elektra’s 1990 tribute album Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary.  I remember it coming out and I remember not getting it because it was too expensive. But Moody talks about what a great conceit this collection was to have contemporary artists cover classic songs.  He also talks about how the tribute album was quite popular in the 1990s (was it ever).  Some thought: He loves Bjork, but he thinks of the Sugarcubes as a cheeseball imitation of the B-52s (and that their “Motorcycle Mama” is pretty bad.  He mentions a few great tracks, like Kronos Quartet covering “Marquee Moon,” Metallica doing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and even a Howard Jones cover of “Road to Cairo” by the cult hero David Ackles.   But he says fully half of the collection is bad, some of it even awful–not worth its list price at the time but it has a great number of masterpieces on it.

Will Buttler (from Arcade Fire) wishes to make some amusing corrections: some errors during concerts, and apologizing for singing “I’m So Bored” with the USA because he is not.

ARIEL S. WINTER-This is an interesting philosophical question wondering whether or not Marty McFly actually created “Johnny B. Goode.”  How could he cover it before Chuck Berry had released the original.  As a child this blew her mind.  This facile beginning then goes on to say that before recorded music the notion of a cover didn’t really exist.  And indeed in the 1950s people recorded songs without concern for copyright.  It’s also true that when Chuck Berry plays Johnny B. Goode live, it’s not considered a cover of his original.  She concludes by that the Back to the Future is probably the first time she ever heard Johnny B. Goode.  So Marty McFly’s is the original to her (as it is to all the kids at the dance).  So in addition to a song having an original for the performer there is also an original for the listener.  Anyone who has loved a song for years before finding out that it’s a cover has had that experience.

INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITORS

This introduction talks about how the first time they did a “cover story” was in 1999 in issue 4.  Rick Moody covered Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg.”  They had been planning to do an entire issue of covers as far back as two years ago and then things happened in the McSweeney’s universe to delay it.  And now : this issue is being born in a moment of racial, social and economic reckoning and imminent fascism…into a country that looks much different from the one in which it began, fronted now by a mean and disingenuous imitation of a president.   As such: Tucked between these thirteen beautiful renditions of thirteen classic stories are instances when a cover is not an homage but rather a perversion of its predecessor”  And by that they offer examples of eloquent speeches by former leaders and then tweets from our pervert in chief.

GARY BURDEN-excerpt from Nobody Knows (an autobiography)

Gary Burden created the cover images for this issue.  I had no idea who he was, but this autobiography tells me just how interesting a fellow he was.  He has been responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the last 60 years!

These excerpt shows his origin story–he was 8 on December 7, 1941 and he has had vivid memories of WWII.  When he was 16 he joined the Marines.  But he was restless, got involved in bad things, was dishonorably discharged and got mixed up with even worse people (he says he can’t believe the things he did back then).  In 1964 he met “Mama” Cass Elliot. They spent a lot of time together and this opened him up to meeting all kinds of people: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.  Eventually he met and hung out with Jim Morrison and designed Morrison Hotel (a fascinating story that).  In one of the nicer things I’ve heard someone say he says that Jim was a real poet, someone who was unafraid of delving deeply into life irrespective of the personal cost.  Then he met Neil Young. He says that Buffalo Springfield has been his favorite band and then one day Neil came to Mama Cass’ house in his 1948 Buick Hearse.  He was also hanging around when CSN decided to become CSN&Y and then he and Neil became friends. and Neil sold him his house in Topanga.  Eventually he made the cover art for After the Gold Rush (and he gives a little story about the old lady there on the cover).  I’m kind of curious to read this whole book now, especially if it includes album covers.

EMILY RABOTEAU-“The Babysitter” after “Some Women” by Alice Munro
This is the story of a babysitter for Mrs Fagan.  She is a young girl and her employer is very rich and locally famous.  And quite eccentric (she went to East Africa and allegedly witness the Ark of the Covenant and then wrote a controversial book about it).  But in their town she was known as the white lady with black kids (Maya 3, Eddie 10 months old).  The story reflects back on the babysitter as child (she is now the same age as Mrs Fagan was when the babysitting began.  The babysitter’s mother is kind of jerk and is very sarcastic about this babysitting arrangement.  She is also a very strict Jehovah’s Witness, so when the narrator gets her first period rather than tell her mom, she just takes products from Mrs Fagan.  As the story opens Mrs Fagan’s son has just arrived and that changes the dynamic in the house.  How will Mrs Fagan take it when the narrator accidentally sets fire to the kitchen? I really enjoyed the way the end of the story plays on the notions of memories and the impact people have on others.

MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN-“The Lottery, Redux” after “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” seems like a pretty easy story to cover–I think everyone knows everything about it and it has been covered in things like The Hunger Games in their own ways.  I don’t know if this story references the original (with the redux),  for this story the people of the island of Timothy were exiled from America fifty years earlier for crimes against the environment.  They were gathering on July 27th, the day of the lottery.  And indeed the lottery is a death sentence, although it’s not entirely clear why.  Interestingly, the story is more about the girl chosen and what her life up to that point has been like.

ANTHONY MARRA-“The Tell-Tale Heart” after “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
This story doesn’t diverge all that much from the original except for the wonderful modern twist on the beating heart.  It’s hard to say more without giving things away but I loved the modernization.

JESS WALTER-“Falling Faintly” after “The Dead” by James Joyce
I didn’t know all that many stories before hand, but I knew this one very well and this is wonderful homage.  It is not in any way rewriting the story–it’s a very different story, but it alludes to the Joyce story and directly mentions it and it is quite clear where the connection between them is.
Michael is a writer.  He is married with kids but has moved temporarily out to New York to write for this new police procedural.  The show is doing well and the female star is quite beautiful.  They bond over cigarettes–she is foreign and smokes like a European, he recently started again.  As stories like this tend to go, Micheal gets the wrong idea about this young, hot actress.  And given that she is not American she misunderstands the subtleties of his behavior (which isn’t very subtle admittedly).  But he wants her to know that his story is a tribute to Joyce’s “The Dead.”  When he talks about the dead she thinks he means real dead people and is pretty freaked out.  This leads to a restraining order and a police intervention–not how he thought his life in New York would go.  What doe sit have to do with “The Dead”?  Well they are standing smoking in the snow as it gently floats to the ground falling through the universe, faintly falling.

LAUREN GROFF-“Once” after “Wants” by Grace Paley
I loved the way this story started.  I saw my enemy at the beach.  With that as a groundwork we slowly learn just how this woman has an enemy (it’s an old boyfriend’s mother) and how they have grudgingly begun to respect each other decades after the two broke up. I really enjoyed this short piece.

ROXANE GAY-“Men on Bikes” after “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
I can’t imagine what the original of this story is.  The actual story of this is pretty peculiar itself.  Basically, the men in town have all started riding bicycles everywhere.  It started when one of them was arrested for drunk driving.  He didn’t lose his license but his wife took it away from him.  He dug out a bike and began riding it.  She thought he looked ridiculous, but when another man had his license taken away, they began riding together.  It was quite a sight, although I’m not sure what the point of it was.

NAMWALI SERPELL-“Company” after “Company” by Samuel Beckett
I like Beckett, and I know that he can be confusing.  I don’t know what “Company” is about so I have no idea how it relates to it, but man I did not get this at all.

It was confusing and really long.  It is broken into many small sections which might be connected.  The first is about the brightening which happened although many people missed it. Then we learn about the ship which is electro epidermal, which is cool but not really explained  and then the story turns into a quest for melanin and just when you think it’s a sci-fi story, it becomes a story about race.  There is a pale man tied to a tree hitting a sack (pound pound).  There’s a lot of vomit.  If the white man inseminates even one person, finding pure stem cells is impossible.  Dark skin marked you as  lucky when the darkening came.  But then she says the mission is over.  There’s more vomiting.  A fellow is supposed to be invisible in the village but Pound sees him.  There’s more vomit, a section titled rape, where Pound rapes Lila every once in a while and then who the hell knows what happens at he end.

KIESE LAYMON-“And So On” after “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Weeks ago 64 black folks changed the world.  You are the 11th.  Aside from the direct address to the reader the story is pretty straightforward and interesting.  Chanda Stewart was 8th, the narrators research assistant was 9th and Doug E., Chandra’s boyfriend was 1st.  They are at a fancy restaurant, Chandra, the narrator and you.  She swears that Doug is a porn star, but the narrator argues that having 1089 twitter followers and awkward consensual sex with a few white women filmed on an iPhone 2 in his fake Timberlands, blue knee brace and yellow wrist bands makes you a porn participant, not a star.  The story comes down to which side the narrator is going to choose.   sides or run for our lives.  Because while they were talking, Doug E. and about sixty young black kids were marching down the street.  To the school.  They each had an ax and a shovel.

MEG WOLITZER-“If You’re Happy and You Know It” after “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” By J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this Salinger story in a long time, so I don’t really know how it connects to this, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the way that it was written which was a little confusing but in an intriguing way.  Set in a hotel on Miami there is the young woman in 609 who arrived with her new husband.  She’d sent him off to the beach.  We see her telling her parents that he is taking it easy, but they want to know if he is taking the Klonopin.  Later that night in the lobby, a four year old girl, Chloe, is in the lobby of that hotel watching a man play piano.  The man is a guest also and he is playing and really getting into it.  Another boy asks if he can play This Old Man and the player jokes about the boy calling him old.  But Chloe asks if he can play “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  He says he might be happy but he may not know it. She is puzzled by that.  He says she is breaking his heart.  We soon realize that the pianist is the Klonopin man, and while things don’t get dark exactly, they certainly get strange.  And Chole’s parents have foisted her off on a poor babysitter the whole time.  This was one of my favorites in the book.

T.C. BOYLE-“The Argentine Ant” after “The Argentine Ant” by Italo Calvino
I can’t imagine what the original story is like, but this one from Boyle was really icky and really fantastic.  Its’ a fairly simple premise–a family moves to a rental property in Argentina, only to find that it is swarming with ants.  The ants are everywhere–even crawling all over their baby.  They run to the next door neighbor’s house only to see that they know about the ants and might have a secret weapon.  But mostly they just seem to be putting their furniture in jugs of water–presumably as a deterrent.  There is also an Ant Man who might be fighting the ants or who might actually be bringing more.  What is great about the way Boyle writes this is that the guy renting the house is working on an academic theorem that his wife thinks is rather frivolous.  And that tension underpins everything.

ALICE SOLA KIM-“One Hour, Every Seven Years” after “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Again I don’t know the original, but this story was great, and also weird. The weird part is that the story seems to start over multiple times. And that’s because there is a kind of time travel component to it.  The title refers to how often the sun comes out on Venus.  There is a girl, the main character, named Nargit. She was born on Earth and so she saw the sun.  The other kids are pretty angry at her for it (as if it’s her fault).  They are abusive to her, and the time travelling is the girl’s attempt to protect her younger self.  Many things go wrong but they bring about different results.

CHRIS ABANI-“Sleepy” after “Sleepy” by Anton Chekhov
This story was pretty horrific.  Kemi, a sixteen year old black girl who is now an orphan is working for a white family.  The family has two little children, one of whom is a baby.   The family is horrible to Kemi.  Pretty unrelentingly horrible.  Kemi is tired and never gets a break and the baby cries all the time.  She can’t soothe the baby and the family blames her for her failures.  Her exhaustion builds and builds until you pretty much know the ending several pages before it happens.

TOM DRURY-“The Yellow Wallpaper” after “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know the original story although not super well.  But this version feels almost exactly the same. I honestly can’t tell what the difference is (without having re-read the original again to compare).   Jane and John are renting a place on an island for the summer.  John thinks Jane is not strong and keeps her hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.  He more or less runs everything in her life until she starts seeing people through the wallpaper.  You know things can’t go well from there.

POETRY:

REBECCA LINDENBERG-“Having a Coke with You” after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem for Keats” after “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

STEPHEN BURT-“A Nickel on Top of a Penny” after “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo

BRIAN TURNER-“The Metaphor Program” after “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

STEPHEN BURT-“Roofers” after “The Armadillo” by Elizabeth Bishop

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting” [the first two lines are taken from “A Poem on the Occasion of the Consecration of Sandford and Shippon Churches” by Rev. F. Wilson Kittermaster, 1855]

STEPHEN BURT-“Suspense” after “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane

KEVIN MOFFETT-“Second Wonder”-a monologue that will air on The Organist.
I found this puzzling at best.

PATTY YUMI COTTRELL-excerpt from Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
I read this book not too long ago.
This except was about two young children who invented a game called “Confession” in which the boy confesses his real or imagined sins to his sister.

~~~~~

The comparison quotes are called Great Speeches from History vs. the Tweets of Donald J. Trump:  I can’t bring myself to write any of the jerks tweets.

Mahatma Gandhi from the “Quit India” speech, 1942 vs. a Feb 4 2017 tweet

Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address” 1863 vs. a Feb 18 217 tweet (about fake news)

Martin Luther King Jr from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vs. Feb 21 2017 (crowds planted by liberal activists)

Frederick Douglass from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” 1852 vs. Feb 6 2017 (negative polls are fake news).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, inauguration speech 1933 vs. Jan 22, 2017 (including all my enemies)

 

The bad thing about this issue is that the last four or five stories were all real downers, making it a pretty tough slog.  But I loved the idea, and I liked that they found the time and space to point out how stupid trump sounds and looks and is.

For ease of searching, I include: Cesar Vallejo

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47_2_(1) SOUNDTRACK: MARY MARGARET O’HARA-Christmas E.P. (1991)

marymarMary Margaret O’Hara is a fascinating recluse.  She released a cool, weird  album in 1988 then did nothing for three years when she released this Christmas EP.  Since then she hasn’t really released anything (except for a soundtrack).

O’Hara’s voice is her most notable feature (she warbles and swoons and is almost otherworldly–sometimes crazily so).  She is the backing shrieker in Morrissey’s “November Spawned a Monster.”  So one expects a pretty weird Christmas album from her.

 But it’s actually fairly conventional and I have to admit a bit dull.  “Blue Christmas” is just too slow for me.  O Hara’s voice doesn’t have any oomph here.  The cheesy violin solo doesn’t help either.  “Silent Night” is, I feel, too pretty of a song for O’Hara’s voice which wobbles in weird ways for this track.  “What Are You Doing New Years Eve?” suffers from the same as everything else on this disc–it’s too slow and languid.  I know this song can be wistful, but I need this to be faster.  “Christmas Evermore” fares the best on this disc because it isn’t familiar (to me).  The music is a bit more uptempo (if still eccentric).  And you don’t have other version to compare it to.

So, overall this proves to be a somewhat disappointing EP.

[READ: December 5, 2014] McSweeney’s 47

I love McSweeney’s issues that come in boxes with lots of little booklets.  It somehow makes it more fun to read the stories when they are in little booklets with individual covers.  In this instance, all of the booklets look basically the same–ten different cool pencil (and red) drawings on the cover done by Carson Murdach and a red back cover.  The outer slipcase art is by Jason Polan.

There are ten booklets.  One has a few letters and the rest are short stories.  There’s even a surprise in here–the very exciting discovery of two lost Shirley Jackson stories.  But there’s also the slightly disappointing realization that two of the books contain excerpts from McSweeney’s books (which I already own).

LETTERS: (more…)

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CV1_TNY_McCall_HorseCarriage.inddSOUNDTRACK: AGES AND AGES-Tiny Desk Concert #358 (May 20, 2014).

ages I knew one song from Ages And Ages so far (the wonderful song “Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)”), and I was interested to hear what else the band did.  Well, they open this Tiny Desk Concert with a great burst of multiple harmonies and fugues—when you have 8 people in your band you can really showcase diversity in vocals (there’s only 6 here at the Tiny Desk and there’s 7 in the band photo but NPR says 8 so, your guess is as good as mine). “Light Goes Out” has that great opening and then it turns into a pretty quick indie rock song.  I really enjoy the way the different vocalists (and three guitars and one piano) really pile on the sounds.  Even the percussion elements add something to this joyful song.

“Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)” sound great in this context—the way the women play with harmonies is just fantastic.  It starts slowly, with a strummed acoustic guitar, then more and more voices join the mix.  The harmonies that the women sing (which I don’t think are on the record sound great).  “No Nostalgia” has a traditional folk sound (with that shaker as a cool percussive element).  It’s probably the most traditional sounding song of the bunch, but again those many voices of harmonies sound great.

They are one of the few bands to stretch out to 4 songs on a recent Tiny Desk, and their fourth is “Our Demons” a great song with more great voices coming in.

If I was unsure just how good Ages and Ages is, this tiny Desk Concert sold me.

[READ: June 1, 2014] “The Man in the Woods”

This is the second of a group of recently uncovered stories from Shirley Jackson’s papers which the New Yorker has published.

Even though this story is timeless–there is really no indication of when it is set, and any clues seem to be more mythological than real–when reading it I assumed it was written a while ago.  There’s something about the language that just reads “not contemporary.”  And I think that’s interesting in and of itself.

But as I said, this story feels timeless–it has a mythological/fairy tale mystique about it which starts right off the bat when we see the main character, Christopher, walking in a very deep, very dark forest.  He has been walking for countless days and the forest has been getting more and more close–as if the trees were leaning in on him.  He is all alone until a cat starts following him “trotting along in the casual acceptance of human company that cats exhibit when they are frightened.”  And thus, the two continue deeper into the woods with Christopher saying to the cat that the path must lead somewhere.

And it does, an hour or so later, they come upon a bend in the path which leads to a small house.  He approaches cautiously but is quickly welcomed by the young “not so young as he would have liked, but too young, seemingly, to be living in the heart of a forest” lady named Phyllis.  There is another lady called Circe who is making food.  The warmth of the cabin and the smell of the food warms Christopher to his core.  And the cat makes himself at home quickly as well.  But the ladies are a little odd, and Christopher dare not make himself too comfortable.  Especially when they call out the head of the house. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_08_05_13Cuneo.inddSOUNDTRACK: JACKSON SCOTT-“Evie” (2013).

jacksonscottWhat if My Bloody Valentine were a little creepier–playing with the speed of voices and using their hazy shoegaze sound to slightly more sinister ends.  You’d get something of what Jackson Scott sounds like on this track.

I don’t know who Jackson Scott is, but the NPR podcast that introduced me to him makes him sound like a very interesting guy (and that Melbourne is kind of a downer album.

This is a lo-fi recording (his first) that’s then played around with on the computer.  His voice is pitch shifted (which is what gives it a creepy feel).  But the guitars are beautiful and dreamy, floating to the outer reaches.

[READ: August 6, 2013] “Paranoia”

When I saw that Shirley Jackson was the author of this story I thought. “Isn’t she dead?”  [She is}.  And then I thought, “Did she write anything other than “The Lottery”?” [She did—6 novels, 4 short story collections and, gulp, 4 children’s stories].

I’m always confused when the New Yorker publishes a story like this.  Has it never appeared before?  Is it anthologized and they just wanted a story to fill the space?  Are they contractually obligated to run a “classic” song twice a year?   Whatever the case, I adored this story—which makes me think I should be reading more Jackson.

What I loved especially about this story is that as soon as I started reading it, I knew it was an older story—not because of any internal clues (it’s not until ¾ of the way into the story when he pays a nickel for a bus ride that an approximate date can be pegged to the story), but just the style, the spookiness without graphic-ness.  It’s psychological without being violent or necessarily creepy.  It feels like people don’t write psychological thrillers like this as much as they did.  And sure the thrills are mild, but they are definitely psychological.

The story is a simple one, an average man, Mr Beresford, looks like all the other average men coming home from work in NYC.  But Beresford remembered his wife’s birthday and is delighted that he bought her candies.  He plans to take an early bus home and take her out to dinner.  He’s very happy and looking forward to a nice night.

Until a man in a light gray hat, with a small mustache) approaches him.  He makes eye contact, seems to frown at Beresford and then moves on.  Beresford is confused by this, but puts the gray hat man out of his mind until he goes to climb on the bus and the same man pushes him from behind very hard until the gray hat is on the bus and the doors are closed in Beresford’s face.

Beresford is puzzled and more than a little annoyed. But he decides that his day is too good to be ruined by this man, so he puts him out of his mind and looks for another way home.

But then he sees the thin man again. And the man seems to be coming at him.  So Beresford hops into a souvenir shop to escape the man, but when he tries to leave the clerk accosts him and engages him to look at more things.  Then Beresford sees the gray hat man is approaching as well.  Now Beresford is really freaking out.  But what does this man want? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HELIUM-The Dirt of Luck (1995).

Mary Timony fronted Helium for a few years.  In that time she was recognized as something of a guitar wizard–not in her speed and flash, but in the weird sounds she conjured from the instrument.

She also had very peculiar musical sensibilities (these songs are quite odd) and a cool feminist attitude.  This album features the amazing song “Superball” (one of the best songs of the mid 90s–check out the video and watch the guitarist playing the strings with a screwdriver!  Man I miss the 90s) as well as a number of unpolished gems like “Medusa” and “Pat’s Trick” (the dual vocals are very cool and the dispassionate “oh oh oh” is very interesting, plus I love the lyric about “long-ass curly hair”).

Her singing style is often quite slacker-y, like in the opening of “Medusa”–she’s not always audible, and she often seems like a kind of buzzy sound more than a voice.   She sounds like she’s singing from very far away–seemingly powerful and yet quiet at the same time.

But combine that with the cool scratchy/noisy guitar sounds she gets and she’s pulling off a very cool combination (think Dino Jr without the hooks and killer solos).

Like “Baby’s Going Underground” features some crazy shoegazer guitar washes for most of its 6 minutes which really changes the pacing of the record.  There’s also the great “Skeleton,” a riff so cool that Sonic Youth used it for “Sunday.”

She also has a way with haunting melodies as on the piano  instrumental “Comet #9” and on “All the X’s Have Wings” which sounds very medieval. I think of Timony as a guitarist and yet there is there are lots of keyboards on the album too–mystical keyboards that are fascinating and seem out of character with the guitars, but actually work quite well.   But the prettiest song is “Honeycomb.’  It’s a sweet song with a wonderful melody.  It is followed by the ender “Flower of the Apocalypse” a guitar-based instrumental that is mostly feedback but is also surprisingly melodic.

Helium had mild accolades back in the 90s.  They released a couple of albums and then Mary Timony went solo.  It’s nice to have her playing now with Wild Flag.

[READ: November 11, 2011] Five Dials Number 21

This is the first issue of Five Dials that I was ready to read when it was sent to me (I’ve been all caught up for a while now).  So that’s pretty exciting!

I was tempted to say that i enjoyed this issue more than other issues, but I have enjoyed most Five Dials issues equally.  But this one is definitely a favorite.

CRAIG TAYLOR–A Letter from the Editor: On Turning 21 and Thinking About Rock Stars and Greece.
The magazine introduction jokes about them now being legal to drink in the U.S. and also about now being old enough to run for M.P. in England.  He also tells us about their “new” section Our Town, which has vastly expanded in this issue.  He also explains that there are many rock stars on hand to give the magazine tutelage (authors that the rock stars enjoy) and three short stories.  He ends with a notice that they have gone to Greece where they are gathering material for Issue 22. (more…)

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