Archive for the ‘Wells Tower’ Category

dec2014SOUNDTRACK: TORRES-“A Proper Polish Welcome” NPR Lullaby SXSW (March 21, 2015).

torresFrom March 17-March 21, the SXSW festival raged on. And my friends at NPR Music were there so I didn’t have to be. In past years they have had a nightly recap of their favorite shows of the day. This year they upped the ante by inviting a musician to sing a lullaby.  Most of these lullabies occurred in some unexpected outdoor location at 2 or so A.M. after a long day of music.

The final lullaby comes from new to me singer Torres. She has one of my favorite songs from the NPR Austin 100 “Strange Hellos.” It starts slow and builds and builds.  This is not that song (which would never work as a lullaby).

This is the only lullaby to feature an electric guitar.  And even though it is played quietly you can hear her fingers sliding up and down the strings squealing away.  This is a song from her new album Sprinter.  And it’s quite lovely.  I’m looking forward to hearing the full album when it comes out.

Check it out here.

[READ: March 23, 2015] “Hammer Island”

This issue of Harper’s featured five essays (well, four essays and one short story) about “Growing Up: five coming of age stories.”  Since I knew a few of these authors already, it seemed like a good time to devote an entire week to growing up.  There are two introductions, one by Christine Smallwood (who talks about Bob Seger) and one by Joshua Cohen who talks about the coming of age narrative.

I’m not sure why Wells Tower submitted fiction rather than an essay (he comfortably does both), but I’m glad he included this story as I think it’s a really interesting one.  And yes it does cover growing up–and may even be based on fact, who knows.

This is written from the point of view of a seventeen year old girl, Maxine.  She has been invited to Hammer Island (of the coast of Maine) for the summer to watch the (frankly wicked) daughter of famed film producer Morris Walls.  Walls terrifies people in Hollywood, but when he comes to Hammer Island he is treated like everyone else.  I loved this example:

Morris flicked a cigarette butt over the boardwalk rail. A teenage boy walking behind us retrieved it. He jogged up to Morris, tapped him on the shoulder, and slipped the cigarette butt into his palm. “No littering,” said the boy. “I know you’re new here, but we take it pretty seriously. Technically, there’s a three-hundred-dollar fine. I’m not going to report you, but just so you know, most people would.”  In California or New York, threatening Morris Walls and handing him garbage would have been a sure way to get sworn at, slapped, doused with hot coffee. But Morris understood that attacking the boy would be pointless. The boy was of the island, and he spoke with the full authority of the place behind him.

And I loved the general pretension of the island:

Whenever anybody walked by, you had to call, “Hello! Come up, come up! We’re picking crabs!” Or you had to say that if you owned the house and the person passing by owned a house on Hammer, too. If you had been coming to Hammer Island for thirty summers, renting the same house for $4,000 a week, you did not get summoned to a porch for crab picking. You were still looked upon as an interloper and a thug.

Interestingly, this is all just set up for the real story which has little to do with Walls and nothing exactly to do with the island.  For this story is about Maxine and a teenaged boy, Todd Greene.  When Maxine is able to get a way from Lola (the brief story about Lola is hilarious), she would watch Todd play tennis.  He was masterful.  And after his matches he would talk with her.  And soon enough he invited her onto his boat.

When she arrived at the dock, a short, dwarfish man was polishing the boat and Todd was nowhere to be seen.  The man seemed to have nothing but admiration for Todd, talking about what a good sailor he was and making the boat perfect for the young man.  When Todd finally arrives, he takes the keys, says nothing to the man and he and Maxine head out to open waters, where “Todd talked me out of some but not all of my clothes.”

Two days later, Maxine was invited to the Greene’s house where she discovered that the “dwarf” was actually Todd’s father.  Todd’s mother and brother are, like Todd, gorgeous, and she can’t figure out the father’s place.  But it seems that his place is simply to serve everyone.   And when he makes a mistake with dinner, the whole family reams him out.  But this time, having had enough, the father storms out and is not seen on the island again that summer.

Maxine is surprised that Todd keeps in touch over the year with quarterly updates on his exploits.  And they both plan to return to Hammer Island next summer.  When they do return Todd’s father is there waiting (and he has a plan).  The end of the story is exciting and emotionally complicated.  It’s a very satisfying story indeed.

I’m looking forward to more fiction from Tower.

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soundcheck There are so many places to listen to free music.  But i prefer places where you can (legally) download free music.  So here’s a place I’ve just discovered: WNYC Radio’s website which features a section called “Gig Alerts.”  The feature talks about a different interesting band playing that night (in New York).  After a small blurb, there is (almost always) a free downloadable track.   There’s twenty listings per page and 86 pages.  Do the math and that’s a lot of songs.

The feature covers virtually every genre, although there is a preponderance of alt- and indie- rock (mostly lesser known bands).  If you are interested in new (to you) music and in exploring different artists, this is a great resource for a ton of free music.  So, check out Gig Alerts here.

[READ: May 20, 2014] McSweeney’s #44

I was pretty pleased with myself when I got caught up on the McSweeney’s issues.  But I remember wanting to take a break when this one came in.  I now see it has been almost a year since I read the last issue.  So the break was too long and now I have three issues to catch up on again.  Sigh.  But this one proved to be a great issue to return on.

This is a pretty quintessential issue of McSweeney’s.  It’s got letters, some fiction, a special section dedicated to Lawrence Weschler (which includes a lot of art), and a cool, interesting section of plates with full color art.  It’s also got an interestingly designed hardcover with a kind of raw cardboard in the back, a slightly raised colorful section for the spine and then a further raised section for the giant 44 on the front cover.

LETTERS (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEFTONES-Diamond Eyes (2010).

diamondBefore releasing Diamond Eyes, Deftones had two band crises. The first was that they didn’t really seem to like each other anymore.  The previous album was fraught with tension and they barely toured.  After deciding that they wanted to remain as a band, they were invigorated and made an album called Eros.  But during the recording, bassist Chi Cheng was in a car accident and was in a coma.  As of yet he has not fully recovered.  So they shelved Eros, hired a temporary bass player Sergio Vega and set about recording Diamond Eyes.  And for whatever reason, it proved to be one of their best releases so far.

“Diamond Eyes” opens with a heavy down-tuned guitar–very abrasive–until the chorus come in and it’s their most beautiful ones yet–with soaring keyboards and  harmonies.  And then the heavy guitars come back–it’s what Deftones do so well–beauty and ugly together.  Stephen Carpenter really shines, as always.  “Royal” is a fast song with a great harmonizing chorus.  “Cmnd/Ctrl” has a shocking low riff that explodes into a  bright chorus.  “You’ve Seen the Butcher” has guitars that seem almost untuned as the song starts.  But it morphs into a kind of sexy butt-shaking chorus.  And Abe Cunningham’s drums are, of course, fantastic.

“Beauty School” is the first that doesn’t really start out heavy, it’s a got a gentle guitar intro and the first song where Vega’s bass is really prominent as a separate instrument and it creates a beautiful alternative song–great vocals throughout.  “Prince” brings in a lot of new textures to the album, including a clanging guitar sound and a great screamed chorus. “Rocket Skates” is one of my favorite songs on the record, it has a classic metal riff and the great screamed-beyond-comprehension chorus of Guns, Razors Knives and a weird little whoooo that ends the chorus.

“Sextape” is a surprisingly gentle song, opening with an echoed guitar riff and one of Chino’s most gentle choruses.  “976-Evil” has an echoey guitar and voices not unlike the Cocteau Twins.  “This Place is Death” has another great alt rock feel–a big song with bright guitars and dark lyrics.  I haven’t really mentioned Frank Delgado on keyboards and samples.  He’s been with the band since White Pony, and I feel like his presence was made notable on a few songs here and there.  But it seems like on this disc he really comes to the fore, adding new textures and sounds to the album which really fill it out.

[READ: March 12, 2013] McSweeney’s #14

After the colorful extravaganza of the Comics Issue of McSweeney’s #13, this book settles down into something more somber  The book is softcover and all white.  The cover depicts a cartoon of George Bush with both legs blown off and the caption, “I Am So, So Sorry.”  On the spine in small print: “We’re praying as fast as we can.”  It is the most context-full cover they’ve done yet and, nearly a decade away it seems like a rather mean cover, but if I remember correctly at the time it seemed apt and delicious, especially in light of the upcoming election.

Yet despite the overtly political cover, the content inside is not political or even thematic (although it is pretty dark stuff).  Nevertheless, the table of contents gives us a small joke when it says “To help you know which stories to read first, we have indicated with either a * or a † those that deserve special consideration from you, the reader.  If you see either a * or a †, do not miss that story.”  Of course every story has either a * or a † but they cleverly did not put any kind of pattern to the symbols.

The colophon explains that when they were in Ireland, they met an actual Timothy McSweeney.  He had been given a copy of Issue #3 and then promptly forgot about the magazine.  But when McSweeney’s was in Galway to do a reading at the Galway Arts Festival, Timothy (Ted) McSweeney traveled from Dublin to check it out (not a short trip).  This also resulted in a letter from Mr McSweeney which is actually quite funny.

There are also illustrations in the book, although they are small illustrations and are placed on the title of each piece in the book.  All of the illustrations are old, mostly coming from the 1800s, although one dates back to 1670.  They illustrations are all technical scientific ones and don’t have anything to do with the stories. (more…)

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After enjoying yet another article from Outside, I figured it was time to subscribe, you know, give the magazine makers some money for their work.

I decided to wait for three issues to offer a verdict because the first two were really disappointing.  Subscriptions run $2 an issue with a list price of $7.  I haven’t really talked about subscription prices of other magazines before but this one is quite high.  It’s staggeringly high for the amount of ads that are in the magazine, too.  They have a half a dozen advertorials which look like articles (which I hate) and all those personals in the back.  Plus the mag is littered with ads for gear (which I know gear people love but still  it should impact the price of the magazine.  Sheesh).

So the articles I’ve enjoyed in the past were personal stories (from the likes of Wells Tower, etc).  They are extended pieces by reasonably famous authors and they have a great voice.  In the issues I’ve received so far, the feature stories have been the 50 Best Jobs and Are You Tough Enough?  That Jobs one seems like a fun article and indeed the places they chose were interesting.   Although this was more of a fluff piece than a real article–no one is getting a job looking at these companies–certainly not just because they read about it here.  Also, note that none of the companies are East of the Mississippi.  There’s also later article on adventure seeking entrepreneurs.  Yawn.  I gather that the Are You Tough enough type of article is the real meat and potatoes of the magazine, with headlines like “Eat Like a Champion” and “Surfing Monster Waves,” the actual target audience for this magazine must be slim indeed.  I know it’s not me. (more…)

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Hellbender is a band that Wells Tower was in before he became a professional writer.  He played guitar and sang backing vocals (and wrote some lyrics, but not on this album).  The drummer, Harrison Hayes is now the drummer for Les Savy Fav and the bassist and singer Al Burian is most notable for his zine Burn Collector (for a time he was the most famous former Hellbender, although I’d never heard of him).  They were always pretty small time, although their third album did receive some attention.

This first album is pretty rough–quickly made and cheaply mastered and yet there are good dynamics, cool breaks and a whole lot of punk.  Al Burian’s voice is in shouty punk mode (lyrics are not all decipherable) and although his voice works it’s a bit samey throughout the disc.  The drums don’t always sound great, but there are often cool drum breaks.  And the guitars are quite assured.  Despite the punk attitude, it’s not all flat out speed.

There are some dynamic breaks, like in the second track “Housebroken,” which has some cool moments when the drums highlight an unexpected tempo changed.  “Clocked Out” was the single they released prior to the CD and it has some real production values (and a very funny intro from a local DJ).  The guitar highlights the trebly end in a kind of ska riff which is quite different from the rest; there’s also some discernable bass lines and a cool bass/guitar solo (punk, yes, but branching out a bit).  It’s a great track.

“Two Twenty Two” made it onto a couple of local compilations.  It has a slightly less heavy feel, with some interesting guitar lines.  “Aisle Ten” has verses that end with some really heavy (reminding me of Metallica) riffs that really punctuate the vocals.  “Peeling” has some cool backing vocal chanting (as well as what sounds like an answering machine message) that sets it apart from the other songs.  “Clarence” has a really long instrumental opening (1 minute out of a 2 and a half-minute song) that shows of more of Burian’s bass lines.

“Couch” was the B-side to “Two Twenty Two” and it has better production values as well–and lots more dynamic parts.  The final song, Retread” is a sorta political song, “Do you remember when we were young–revolution seemed like fun.  I thought I could get things done by yelling at the top of my lungs.”  Not mind-blowing lyrically but a good sentiment nonetheless.

The band is very tight–their breaks and starts and stops are right on–many of their songs end suddenly and the band pulls it off very well.  When I first listened to the album, I thought it was kind of pedestrian, but after really listening, I realized this is a very well-formed debut. It’s an interesting addition to any punk fan’s collection and an interesting footnote for any fan of Wells Tower.  You can find a copy of the disc at Metro/Sea.

[READ: September 30, 2011] Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

After talking about Wells Tower for a while and reading all of his uncollected stories and nonfiction, I finally got around to reading his short story collection.  And I think I have an interesting perspective on the book because at least two of the stories were totally reworked from their original release.  Not simply updating a thing or two, but totally revamped.  In my experience, aside from the David Foster Wallace essays that were truncated in their original form, this is the only book I know where the stories inside were totally rewritten for the compilation.

There are nine stories in the collection.  And I have to say as an overview to this book, I can’t get over how much I enjoyed them.  I mean, I knew I liked Tower from what I had read before, but I didn’t expect to enjoy this book quite so much because Tower writes a very manly kind of story.  He usually writes about tough guys and men who have a hard time interacting with their fathers and other situations that are out of my ken.  But Tower upends many conventions in his stories and his prose is tight and succinct and his stories are very quick to read and really enjoyable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Raditude (2009).

I didn’t buy this Weezer album when it came out because I had heard really bad things about it (like the “guests”), but when I saw it cheap I decided to check it out.  This has to be the most polarizing Weezer album of them all.  I listened to it twice yesterday.  The first time I thought I had been too harsh on it.  The second time I thought it was godawful.  It’s amazing what a couple of hours can do.

It opens with a wonderful bit of poppy wordplay ala Cheap Trick: “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.”  It’s catchy as anything and is a wonderful start to the album, even if it is probably their poppiest song ever.  From there though, the album really degenerates.  And mostly it’s because it’s so dumb.  I mean the album title should tell you what you’re in for, but who would have expected the moronic sub-pop-metal of “The Girl Got Hot” or even the reprehensible lyrics of “I’m Your Daddy” “You are my baby tonight And I’m your daddy.”  It’s just creepy.  Or gah, a song about the mall?  “In the Mall.”  It’s not even worth mocking.  And really, try to picture Rivers Cuomo in a mall.  Any mall.

But nothing could prepare anyone for “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Unlike Andrew WK’s ouvre, which is so sincere about partying that you can’t take it seriously, this song really seems to be about the guys partying.  It’s laughable.  The anemic rap but Li’l Wayne certainly doesn’t help.

Even the collaboration with Indian musicians on “Love is the Answer” (yes, seriously) doesn’t really work.  It feels like they wrote the song and then said, “Hey let’s throw some sitar on it.”  It’s not enough to be exciting but too much to ignore.

This is not to say that these songs aren’t catchy.  I mean, geez, I still have “Can’t Stop Partying” in my head while I’m listening to something else.   Rivers knows how to write a pop trifle.  And the more he writes songs like this, it makes me thing that Pinkerton was the fluke.  Which is fine. The music world needs poppy songs, right?

[READ: early August 2011] various nonfictions

I thought about doing individual posts for all of Arthur Bradford’s non-fiction that’s available on his website (that’s right,  yet another author that I have read short uncollected pieces by without having read any of his bigger works–I’m looking at you Wells Tower).  Bradford has links to all of his nonfiction ( I assume) on his website.  There are 12 links in total.  One is to his blog (which I’m not reviewing).  The rest are for articles covering a pretty broad array of topics from a pretty broad variety of sources.  (more…)

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I learned about this song when John Lydon was a DJ on NPR’s All Songs Considered.   His collection of songs included Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” Jimi Hendrix’ “All Along the Watchtower” and Planxty’s “The Well Below the Valley.”  The other song was this Dudley Moore/Peter Cook number from the movie Bedazzled (the Brendan Frasier movie was a remake which Lydon says was a travesty compared to the original).

This song is wonderfully bizarre.  It’s got a groovy 60’s beat with female singers seducing Peter with their come on lines.  And after each line from the women, Peter deadpans a line about how disinterested he is.  As Lydon says, the best couplet is:

THE GIRLS: You drive me wiiiiild
PETER: You fill me with inertia.

Obviously the song is comic, but the music is cool and slinky and fun in a completely retro sort of way.   I’m only disappointed that I’ve never heard it before.  Thanks Mr. Rotten.  Oh, and I see the soundtrack just got a reissue!

Hear the song (and all of Lydon’s) DJing here. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126559893

[READ: December 9, 2010] “On the Show”

I don’t really care about carny stories (and yet I’m surprised by just how many there are).  But this story was interesting because of the twist that sucked me into the carny.

The story opens with the narrator describing his carny boss.  And what I loved about this set up is that the carny boss is a tough-guy, braggart, asshole.  [He knocked out Steve Martin on the set of one of his movies].  And the stories are wonderful precisely because we hear them through the ears of the narrator who thinks this guy is full of shit.  I realize that I dislike tough guy stories in general, but you could tell me a tough guy story and have the guy he’ talking to say he’s a jerk and I’ll think it’s okay.  Call me the anti-Hemingway.

We flashback to how this narrator, who we don’t know all that much about, got here.  Turns out the flashback is about twelve hours ago (which is also pretty funny).  The narrator is a young college kid who was home for the summer.  His stepfather really doesn’t like him and they have a huge fight (which gets physical) so he runs off and, yes, joins the circus. (more…)

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