Archive for the ‘William T. Vollmann’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-“Woodstuck” (Moose: The Compilation, 1991).

Back in the 1990s, it was common to buy a compilation or soundtrack or even a band’s album based on one song.  Only to then find that you didn’t really like anything else on it.

Maybe that single sounded like nothing else on the album.  Maybe the movie was almost entirely one genre, but they had that one song that you liked over the credits.  Or maybe the compilation was for something you didn’t know, but a song you really wanted was on it, too.

With streaming music that need not happen anymore.  Except in this case.

I bought this compilation, used, recently exclusively for one song, Rheostatics’ “Woodstuck.”  It’s a goofy song and this is the only place you can get the studio version.  The actual compilation was not well documented, so I didn’t know what the other bands on it might sound like.  It turns out to be a compilation for Ontario based Moose Records which specialized in Rock, Folk, World & Country.  They put out another compilation in 1992 and that’s all I can find out about them.

I’d heard this song on several live bootlegs, but I was very curious about the original recording.

It’s a stomping folk song with great backing vocals and a very funny chorus.

You can’t go back to Woodstock baby, you were just two years old You weren’t even born

And this wonderful verse

Before they were kissing the earth now they’re washing their cars
Before they were feeling stoned now they’re feeling bored
Sure you shed your clothes but you shed no blood
Poor hippie child don’t sit and wait for another summer of love

Was it worth getting this whole compilation for a two and a half minute joke song?  You bet.

[READ: July 20, 2019] “Just Keep Going North: At the border”

William T. Vollmann continues to amaze me with his dedication to writing about issues that matter.

This lengthy essay is Vollmann’s attempt to discover what is happening at the border after trump warned of migrant caravans coming up from Mexico in February of 2019.

He decided to go to the Arizona border, a place he knew little about, to save himself from prejudgment (he is from California and knows that border situation a little better).  He went to the internationally bifurcated town of Nogales.  Nogales said it would sue the federal government if it did not remove the new coil of razor wire.

He talks to an immigration lawyer from Tucson who says in the old days it was no big deal to cross the border–you could come and go. There were some small changes in the mid-eighties.  Then 9/11 caused big changes.  It had been bad before trump but trump’s policies at least opened peoples eyes to what was happening here. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MASTA ACE-Tiny Desk Concert #723 (March 30, 2018).

Even though Masta Ace tells us that he had a huge hit on the radio a few years ago, I had never heard of him.  Turns out he was…

An early member of producer Marley Marl’s iconic Juice Crew.  The Brooklyn-bred Masta Ace emerged shoulder-to-shoulder in the late-’80s with a host of iconic emcees, including Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Craig G and more. When Ace showed up at the Tiny Desk, he brought with him stripped-down versions of the concrete-shaking classics that built his legacy, backed by the impressive Lee Hogans & Pursuance band.

I really enjoyed Masta Ace’s flow and his lyrics which were thoughtful.  I especially loved “Son of Yvonne,” which is about his mom and his childhood:

Son of Yvonne, better get the best grades
Couple of B’s, a C and the rest A’s
Not top of the class, but not nearly last
I beat your ass if you think you gon’ barely pass
But all my best friends, they be ditching school
Every week is like a Friday ritual
You got a mind of your own, so let it be known
Son of Yvonne, sharp as a kitchen tool

The live trumpets [Lee Hogans and Anja-Christin Nielsen] are a nice touch and “my man Dave” [David Stolarz] plays a pretty piano solo.

In the elevator, minutes after wrapping, one of his bandmates noticed that he’d gotten a little emotional during the performance. Ace relayed that the intimacy of the Tiny Desk set had allowed him to hear anew the personal nature of the lyrics he’d shared about his late mother; a bittersweet nostalgia that’s palpable during his performance of “Son of Yvonne.”

Introducing “Born To Roll/Jeep Ass Nig**” from the 1993 album SlaughtaHouse, he says, “I had one big record on the radio in my career and I think its only right that I bless you all with the one opportunity for me to be on commercial radio.  You know you hear Drake all the time well there was a time when I was on the radio that much too.”

The first verse has a specific almost sinister sound to it.  Weird little horn flourishes and creepy descending keyboards dominate the sound.  But after the first verse when everyone claps, he says, “hold It, we ain’t done yet.  That was only the first verse.”  He explains that what they played was the remix for radio.  But the original “version of that joint is this joint right here and we’re going to do the second and third verse like this.”  Its more funky (a cool funky bass solo from Rob [Rob Collazo] and a lot more interesting.

I really liked this verse:

Black boy, black boy turn that shit down
You know that America don’t wanna hear the sound
Of the bass drum jungle music go back to Africa
Nigga I’ll arrest you if you holding up trafffic
I’ll be damned if I listen, so cops save your breath and
Write another ticket if ya have any left and
I’m breaking ear drums while I’m breaking the law
I’m disturbing all the peace cause Sister Souljah said war
So catch me if ya can, if you can here’s a donut
Cause once you drive away, yo I’m gonna go nuts
And turn it up to where it was before nice try
But ya can’t stop the power of the bass in ya eye
I wonder if I blasted a little Elvis Presley
Would they pull me over and attempt to arrest me
I really doubt doubt it, they probably start dancing
Jumpin on my tip and pissing in they pants and
Wiggling and jiggling and grabbing on they pelvis
But you know my name so you never hear no Elvis

In the final song he looks back on a life lived in the public eye on “Story Of Me.”  This joint takes you through my entire journey in a three verses–a song from the time I got in to the time I got out.  There’s backing vocals from Pearle Gates who is apparently a little sick so Masta Ace [whose real name is Duvall Clear helps him out].

Once again, there’s some great lyrics

A product of the same and when I got into the game
Initially my moms was really shocked and ashamed
She was like: “Boy you got a Bachelor’s”
And I was like: “Why they call it a b.s?”
Bullshit walks as far is what I was taught
Yet I ain’t had one job interview and she stressed

There’s some very cool sounds on the guitar [Jameison Ledonio doing all kinds of interesting things].  The song slows down and it feels like it’s going to end.  But he introduces: “That’s Biscuit on the drums y’all.  He gets down.”  James “Biscuit” Rouse plays a mean drum and at that moment he is playing the snare drum with his hands.

The song starts up again with the third verse.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a song that detailed a person’s career before, but it’s a good primer if you wants some information about the guy.

[READ: January 10, 2018] “I am Here Only for Working”

William T. Vollmann goes on fantastic expeditions to get stories.  I have no idea who pays for these trips (he seems to always be on a tight budget) but he is always writing a (usually very long) book about his experiences.

He has lived with homeless people he has visited war zones.  He has written all kinds of investigative journalism.  But he never seems like a reporter or a journalist, exactly. He seems utterly human and he is always looking for the human angle on a story.  That’s what makes his essays about subjects that I don’t care about not only compelling but also really enjoyable.  Well, enjoyable may not be the right word exactly.

For this trip Vollmann went to Dubai. Ooh! luxury at last.  But not exactly as he is staying in a 1 star hotel.  It was so hot that his laptop malfunctioned.  Of course he slept in air conditioning, but he says he would turn it off when he left (like a good Californian), but the staff would always turn it back on.  He went to the famous indoor skating rink a prodigious show of energy consumption

But mostly Vollmann wanted to ask people: Is oil good? (more…)

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harp marchSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Vertigo, Victoria British Columbia, (January 22, 2000).

vertigoOne of the things that I like about listening to Rheostatics live shows is that when they play a couple nights in a row, they play such different sets both nights.  In the two nights at Vertigo, they played 44 songs and only 5 of them were duplicated (all from the newest album and a song that was on the live album).  That is a fan pleasing band.

It’s hard to even say which night is better.  Night 2 had more deep cuts and yet, they’re not exactly rare tracks for them to play either.

Lucky’s notes for this one say that the band were given cell phone type gadgets and that Martin played with his throughout the show.  You can hear that as the set opens and Martin is goofing off with his.

Overall for these shows I found that the band was playing a lot of songs in a bit more mellow vibe.  It’s not the way I like to hear them, but I wonder what it was like live.  However, “King of the Past” one of my favorite songs was played too slow on this night, as was “Christopher.” And “Northern Wish” sounded quite different–it had an almost meandering quality to it. Even “Stolen Car” has a slow moody quality (which Martin agrees with).

But the band is clearly having fun.  On “Four Little Songs there’s a crazy drum solo.  And as it ends and “The Royal Albert” starts, there’s some odd guitar sounds which Martin describes as change falling in an elevator.

The stage banter is certainly fun tonight, especially the talk about Sean Brodie and ordering a pizza (which was terrible).

The final song is a great version of “Aliens.”   But before that they play a cover of Reverend Ken and the Lost Followers’ “The Midnight Ride of Red Dog Ray ” which is all about a guy who drove to Quebec when there was a beer strike in Toronto.

Here’s the original

Although I love the song choices in this set, I feel like its slowness makes me prefer the previous night’s set a little more.

[READ: March 2, 2015] “Invisible and Insidious”

Vollmann is one of the more prolific writers I know (or at least his one collection of works is over 3,000 pages).  I sort of have designs on reading his output but there’s so many other authors I like and Vollmann has so much out there that I think my best bet is to keep up with his writing when I see it and just let it go at that.

So he occasionally writes non-fiction for Harper’s.  And they are usually pretty dark and unhappy pieces about the state of the world–Vollmann is not afraid to go to dark places.  In this article he talks about living in Japan and he reminds us that not that long ago (March 2011) there was a tsunami and a huge nuclear meltdown in that country.  And how most likely we all assume it must have been fixed, since we don’t hear about it anymore.

I don’t wish to overwhelm with details–that’s Vollmann’s job.  But he does a few interesting things in Japan.  He explores locations that are off-limits (or at least in the evacuation zone) and he talks to people who live and work in these areas.  He also (of course) has a dosimeter (which I assume must be pretty common in a radiated site).

The nuclear utility that monitors the plant, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has issued various information over the years, although none of it seems verifiable.  In August 2013, The Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority said the leak was re-categorized from level 1(anomaly) to level 3 (a serious accident).  And the Japan Times says a the radioactivity was about 100 times more than what TEPCO had been allowing to enter the sea each year before the crisis. (more…)

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Harpers-1404-302x410SOUNDTRACK: BECK-Midnight Vultures (1999).

midnightIt’s not entirely clear to me how serious Midnight Vultures is meant to be. The songs are all quite good musically, but they are so very different from anything Beck has done so far—and they have a sheen of R&B that at times feels like a parody (especially coming from someone like Beck, especially when the lyrics are included).  The music is definitely designed to party (when I first heard it I found it rather Prince-like), and while I didn’t really like it very much, i have since grown to relax and enjoy the funk.

“Sexx Laws” has horns that work very well as accents. And yet for all of of its party slickness, there’ a banjo solo at the end of it.  That’s the kind of party music Beck makes.  “Nicotine & Gravy” is a slinky song with a weird chorus: “I think I’m going crazy, her left eye is lazy, she looks so Israeli, nicotine and gravy.”  What is someone supposed to do with that?  “Mixed Bizness” is an incredibly funky song that reminds me a lot of Prince’s “Dance Music Sex Romance.”  “Get Real Paid” has female leads vocals and a funky but staccato style–it’s unlike anything Beck has done up to this point.  “Hollywood Freaks” stands out for the weird and some would say bad lyrics—it feels a little like old school Beck and out of place with this new funky dancey Beck.

“Peaches & Cream” is another Prince-inspired track and is super catchy.  It has backing vocals (very high pitched) that sounds a lot like Beck, I just can’t imagine he’s doing them).  “Milk & Honey” is a 70s style rock song, less dancey but with all kinds of funky effects  “Beautiful Way” and “Pleasure Zone” are okay–the party seems to be ending a little here.  But the disc ends with “Debra,” which is super fun.  Beck sings in an incredible (for him) falsetto.  The song is about a ménage a trois. It is meant to be humorous (I hope) about a guy picking up a girl in his Hyundai.  But it sounds so much like Flight of the Conchords, that it’s hard to even consider it seriously in retrospect.

There is a very lengthy silence before our “bonus” track, which in this case is about a minute of fast drums and spacey noises, then some lounge music and some crazy voices.  Again, not worth the wait.  So I’m mixed on this one.  As with a lot of Beck CDs it seem like your own mood determines whether you’ll enjoy this one.

[READ: March 17, 2014] “The Grave-House”

I’ve read more of Vollmann’s non-fiction than fiction, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect with this short story.  And I did not expect a man who is in a house which is trying to eat him.

As this story opens, with once upon a time, the narrator has built a house by himself.  But since it was not paid for, it was condemned to be knocked down.  So instead, he bought a house with all the furnishings—it was all paid for.  But as soon as he decided to go outside, the house refused to let him. (more…)

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harper septSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Lawn Boy (1990).

220px-Lawn_Boy_coverFor what I consider a guitar dominated band (Trey Anastasio is certainly the frontman), the early Phish albums have a lot of piano dominated tracks.  It’s not the guitar is absent but the piano is mixed quite loudly which gives these songs a slightly different emphasis than when they are played live.

Also was with many songs on Junta, “Reba” feels slower than the live versions.  It also has some funny backing vocals (a common occurrence with these early songs).  “My Sweet One” is a lot more honky tonk than the live versions, which often feel almost barbershoppy.  In “Split Open and Melt,” the vocals are done in a very funny mumbly way (with weird background vocals).  There’s also horns (crazy horns) and female vocals –giving it  vaguely R&B feel.

“The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” (for origins of the phrase, check out this) is a live favorite that’s a fun and funky guitar solo (with a retro feel) and in this version there is much laughing and carrying on in the background).  “Bathtub Gin” opens with the crazy seemingly out of tune piano that they do live (although not as much).  There’s more funny voices on the chorus and crazy sound effects throughout.  Earlier Phish were a lot sillier than later Phish.

“Run Like an Antelope” also has crazy sound effects and it’s funny how I forget that the song is almost entirely introductory guitar solo wailing.  It’s not until 8 minutes that we get to the “rye rye rocco” section and the actual “run run run” part.   In this studio version, the “set your gear ship for the heart of your soul” section is spoken so quietly.  And the song is not quite ten minutes long.  “Lawn Boy” sounds clean and jazzy in ways that it doesn’t live.  And “Bouncing Round the Room” sounds a lot like the live version.  It’s a little slower, with a few more details thrown in.

Overall, Lawn Boy is a great early Phish album, with every song being a success.

[READ: October 3, 2013] “Life as a Terrorist”

William Vollmann was a suspect in the Unabomber case.  All because a “concerned citizen” alerted the FBI about his fiction.

This sounds utterly crazy, but it is true.

Vollmann has written about all kinds of things, both fiction and non-fiction.  For his non-fiction, he has traveled extensively, to Afghanistan and other places where terrorists reside.  So when he was detained upon reentering the United States from Yemen, he didn’t think too much of it.  But when he was detained a second time, years later–for seven hours and treated like a criminal–well, that got him mad.  And he used the Freedom of Information Act to see what the FBI had on him.

This is a sobering look at how the justice system in its zealotry to protect us can actually do far more harm than good, at least to innocent individuals. Vollmann uses this as the basis of his essay which looks at the omnipresent Unamericans: those who would attack without provocation and intimidate the weak. (more…)

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yitaSOUNDTRACK: WXPN (88.5 Philadelphia) xpnand wxpn.org online-Prog rock Marathon (2012-??).

Every January, Dan Reed plays a prog rock marathon on WXPN.  This year I was able to enjoy portions of it.  I rather wish the playlist was still available (you can search, but only by artist), because I’d love to rave about the tracks they played (like the live “Supper’s Ready.”)

I was delighted by the great mix of songs they played and (as I learned from reading this book) I was surprised by how many prog artists I didn’t even know.

In 2014 I’ll be listening again and maybe this time I’ll copy the playlist to document what I’ve missed.

[READ: July 7, 2013] Yes is the Answer

This book was sitting on a cart outside of my cube.  I was intrigued by the title (it didn’t have that trippy cover, so I didn’t know what it was).  But “Yes is the Answer” was calling me.  Especially when I looked at the cover and saw that the cover had an excerpt from a William Vollmann story in which the protagonist plays In the Court of the Crimson King (track 5) for Reepah and watches her face as they band went Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!.

Quoting Vollmann (from The Rifles), playing King Crimson?  What could this book be?   Then I saw the subtitle and I knew I had to read it all.

I’m not going to review these essays because that would be like making a radio edit of a side long track, but I’ll mention the band the author focuses on and any other relevant details. (more…)

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artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

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