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Archive for the ‘Steve Martin’ Category

SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE MARTIN & THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS-“Athiests Don’t Have No Songs” (2010).

We watched this Steve Martin performance on Austin City Limits last night.  Who knew that Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) won a Grammy in the bluegrass category!  I’m not a huge fan of bluegrass–basically I like it enough for a few songs, but a half an hour is a bit much.

Nevertheless, Steve Martin is an amazing banjo player.  Anyone who has his comedy albums from the 70s knows that.  He used to play banjo between jokes (“Oh…death and grief and sorry and murder).  Now he tells jokes between banjo songs (the joke about the Grammy is very funny).

This song does not feature his amazing banjo playing but it is very funny indeed.

I just love the crazy notes that Martin hits near the end, which sounds so out of tune and yet fit very well together.

[READ: July 27, 2011] Five Dials 18b

The bulk of this short special issue is the five poems by Michael Robbins, a poet with whom I am unfamiliar.  The only other items included here are Craig Taylor’s Letter and Laurence Scott’s Currentish Events about Galliano and Gaddafi.  Since Five Dials issues are of varying sizes to begin with, it was unclear why this issue was a “b” and not the next issue, but Taylor sets us all straight.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Spring and Robbins
They got into the publishing gig to be able to comment on things as they occur.  So this special issue is designed to usher in Spring and to introduce the world to the new poet whose title “Aliens v Predator” so impressed them that they asked him for five more. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LUTHER WRIGHT AND THE WRONGS-instrumentality (2006).

I loved Luther’s Rebuild the Wall, and I kind of thought of him as country, but not really country.  A sort of punky country (his song “Broken Fucking Heart” lead me in that direction, too).

But this album is all instrumentals (hence the title) and it’s very traditional bluegrass/banjo-fueled tracks.   Eleven tracks in all (totaling about 22 minutes).  There’s even a cover of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”  Listening to this I realized that I like banjo music (not as my favorite type mind you, but certainly more than a little).  Steve Martin (an excellent banjoist himself) once said:

“You just can’t sing a depressing song when you’re playing the banjo. You can’t go– [grins, plays and sings] “Oh, murder and death and grief and sorrow!”

And there’s something to be said for that.  With this fun collection of mostly 2 minutes songs, you’ll smile for twenty minutes or so.  (And the playing is top notch, too).

[READ: September 11, 2010] Handle Time

When I wrote about One Night @ the Call Center, several readers said I must read Handle Time, that it was the consummate Call Center novel and that it was much better than One Night.  So I tried to find it.  No libraries in New Jersey carried it.  And although I could get it at Amazon, there was precious little other information about it.  Well, I finally decided to add it to our library collection (so I didn’t have to pay for it) and to read it for myself.

My first surprise came when the first line of the text has the word embarrassed written in a super large font.  The font is so large in fact that it put a pretty sizable space between the lines of text (that’s called leading).  My second surprise came when I saw that littered throughout the text were a whole bunch of large words and crazy fonts and a bunch of clip art pictures that showed what was happening.  (I was especially surprised when one of them turned out to be Mr Burns from The Simpsons!).

So it turns out that there are different fonts throughout the book, some of them large and crazy, others fancy and scripty.  But the long and short of it is that this book is really only about 50 pages long (I mean I read the entire 188 pages in about 2 hours).

Okay, but what about the content.  Well the plot itself is fairly brief.  Chase gets a job at a call center.  She sits through orientation, begins working, gets demoralized and has a panic attack about her job.  That’s pretty much it.  But really what you read the book for is for the side bits, the comments, the snark, the sympathizing with call center workers.

Except that I’ve never worked in a call center and yet I have experienced many of the things in the novel.  So, this book, much loved by call center workers, could be about pretty much any shit job (except for the part about keeping your numbers up (and the part about not actually helping people because it skews your average handle time)).  But bad cafeterias, microwaves, bizarre HR nonsense, stupid powerpoints, they’re part of any corporate job.  And she does a good job in skewering them, they’re just not specific to call centers.   (more…)

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I am probably the only person in America to see this book: elton1.jpg

and get excited because I thought it was about Ben Elton. bene.jpg It didn’t even cross my mind that it would be about Elton John (nevermind that it doesn’t LOOK like Ben Elton, I only saw the title…plus he has sunglasses on and everyone knows that once you put on sunglasses no one ever recognizes you!). Now, clearly this is my own bias, but OH, what a disappointment.

This reminds me of days long ago (the early 90s) when I saw books by Steve Martini martini.jpgand thought they were by Steve Martin. stevem.jpg Just as I began to convince myself that I would never see a book by Steve Martin, he started writing books… (even though they don’t look like Martini’s books).

Does anyone else recall hearing the opening riff to the Smiths “How Soon Is Now?” (more…)

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What I learned today is that my vacation cost me a chance for unparalleled glory! While I was away, I decided to really sink into a vacation: absolutely no contact with email or blogs or even cell phones. Just total isolation. And, it was delightful. I really enjoyed relaxing and having fun with friends. [Note: Cleveland is far too maligned. It is a delightful city, with cool shops, access to a beautiful Great Lake, and charming houses. In fact, I have visited several towns in central Ohio which are so much more depressing that, you could shoot an hour south of Cleveland and easily have a more deservedly mocked city.] But I digress. (more…)

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I may be a hypocrite. In the short time that I’ve been keeping this blog, I have contradicted, or flip/flopped or undermined myself in almost everything I had originally stated! First I railed against the iPod, and then complained about getting screwned (see What I leaned… (5)) which is all but alleviated by the iPod. Next, I write a big post about not being able to leave a book unfinished, and less than a week later I leave one unfinished. Then I have a huge rant against memoirs, and, lo and behold, two of my last three books are memoirs. However, what I learned is that memoirs are a very different beast from novels. And I found while reading these two is that you really don’t have to pay attention when reading a memoir. When I was reading Sacred Games I had dozens of characters to try and keep straight, any of whom could pop up and do or say something meaningful at any time. When reading the Steve Martin memoir, the only character I had to keep in mind was Steve (since almost every time he would say My Mother or My Father or My Sister for the other important characters. In Daniel Tammet’s book he consistently explains who each person in his life is. So, I guess what it comes down to is that memoirs are much easier to read, and by extension, easier to pick up and put down. And in that respect, I really don’t like them. I enjoyed Martin’s because his career was funny and had an impact on my childhood, but in general, you won’t see too many more popping up here.

What’s interesting to me is that all of these changes of mind or opinion are a sign of growth for me. I said something, and then tried something else. Whether I liked the new way or not, there’s nothing wrong with admitting you were right or wrong. It’s funny how politicians are so fearful of changing their minds and being seen as flip-floppers. Whoever started that particular insult has pretty much condemned us to a group of leaders who can never change their minds. What a terrible display of leadership that is. How can you ever trust anyone who shows no sign of growth? So, hypocrite or open minded, you be the judge.

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martin.jpgSOUNDTRACK: TENACIOUS D-The Pick of Destiny (2006) & MUSE-Black Holes and Revelations (2006).

d.jpgTENACIOUS D-The Pick of Destiny: Let’s face it, The D are the greatest band in the world. However, this album, basically a soundtrack to their film, is not their greatest work. The interludes are pretty slight and while the tunes all rock, the lyrics are too much of an “advance the plot” rather than “just song” nature. Having said that, the opening song is awesome, and the rock-off with the devil is pretty amazing. My other gripe is how many “fuckings” there are on the record. It’s practically more than in Scarface! I’m no prude by any means, I just think it’s lazy writing.

SOUNDTRACK CONT.: MUSE-Black Holes and Revelations (2006).

When Muse firstmuse.jpg came out they were pegged as a Radiohead knock-off. But the thing was that they sounded like Radiohead USED to sound like circa OK Computer, and since Radiohead no longer sounded like that, we can be thankful for Muse for picking up that mantel. Now with this latest record they moved somewhat beyond Radiohead, although a voice is a voice after all (see DIGRESSION below), and are now verging into Queen territory. With a healthy dose of Philip Glass (or is that Michael Nyman?) thrown in. And it is filled with pretension, and overblown orchestration, and earth-saving geopolitical ideas, and it simply rocks! Not for everyone, that’s for sure (my friend’s wife cannot STAND this band), but if you like RadioheadmeetsRush, then check out Muse and be blown away.

[READ: June 2007] Born Standing Up.

I surprised myself, by actually reading this book very quickly and before it came out! I picked up an Advanced Copy at BEA. At a previous ALA I had picked up Sacred Games and it took me over a year to even look at it. This prepub attracted me immediately because the cover was Steve Martin in a b&w photo of him in a white suit with his bunny ears on. (more…)

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