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Archive for the ‘Babies’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: AJ DAVILA-“Es Verano Ya” (Field Recordings, September 24, 2014). 

AJ Davila is part of the “unhinged Puerto Rican garage-rock band” Davila 666. For this Field Recording [Garage-Rocker AJ Davila Unplugs In A Hair Salon] he plays an acoustic song in a hair salon.

Davila says that New York is like another town of Puerto Rico.  That people from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have made their homes and communities here.

There’s a joke that says the biggest town in Puerto Rico is called New York. Several waves of diaspora have created a deep and complex relationship between Puerto Ricans and the city. Boricuas have had an immense influence on the Big Apple — its music, its literature, its landscape, and even its cuisine.

He says that a small place like a barbershop (or beauty salon) can feel like you’re in your house.  “This is a song about hanging out with your friends.  It’s a summer song.”

We asked Davila to delight a Spanish Harlem beauty salon with a summer song. It’s appropriate: He’s one of the warmest souls I know — someone with whom it’s a pleasure to discuss art and music, argue about politics or tell silly jokes. He’s also a uniquely talented musician, with a style that combines garage-rock, punk and even elements of hip-hop.

This song probably rocks, but this acoustic version is lighter, with some bouncy chords from the other guitarist Daniel Ortiz and delightful backing vocals from Lola Pistola.  It’s somehow even better when they laugh off a tiny mistake.

[READ: September 14, 2017] ”Sunrise, Sunset”

This is a story of three generations of a Haitain family.

Carole is elderly and is slowly forgetting a lot–a blank look comes over her face and she forgets that she put her keys in the fridge or that her daughter is related to her.

Her daughter, Jeanne, and son-in-law James (they were known as JJ) just had a son, Jude (now known as Triple J).  But Jeanne has been in the throes of post-partum depression. James is a saint about it but Carole is furious that her daughter is lying around.  Back in Haiti, Carole did not have the luxury of depression.

Carole lived under a dictator.  She watched her neighbors get dragged out of their houses by the dictator’s henchmen.  Carole’s father fled the country and she never saw him again. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKLISA LEBLANC-Live at Massey Hall (June 6, 2015).

I thought I didn’t know who Lisa LeBlanc was, but it turns out that I knew her song “5,748 km” from a NPR episode.  How funny.

LeBlanc thanks Massey Hall for putting her on and for supporting new artists.  It’s so legendary, she can’t imagine what’s going to happen right now.

The show, in which LeBlanc opens for Spirit of the West, opens with this formal introduction.

Welcome to Massey Hall. To get the night going when you have a band like Spirit of the West who is dynamic and fun, who else can you bring to match that kind of excitement?  Please welcome to the stage Lisa LeBlanc.

She walks out on stage, grabs the banjo and plays a slow banjo melody.  After a beat or two she starts whistling a forlorn melody–a perfect Western-sounding instrumental (her whistling is very impressive).

Her whistling is great.

Then she gets a sly look and starts playing her banjo a little faster.    And then completely unexpectedly (to me anyway) her drummer (Maxime Gosselin) and baritone guitarist (Jean-Phillipe Hebert) start trashing like lunatics.  “Gold Diggin’ Hoedown” is a song that perfectly meets what her style is called: “trash rock” It is crazy and fun.

She says she grew up in New Brunswick playing music in the “kitchen party” scene.  She played with her uncles in the garage instead of going partying with the cool kids.  “I was kind of a loser.”

The next song is in the same style, but it is sung in French.  “Cerveau ramolli” which she translates as “My Brain is Mushy.”  This song is totally rocking with great thumping floor toms.

I can’t find the names of all of the songs (usually the video names them, but not this time).  There’s another song in French.

She switches banjos and then talks about “Katie Cruel,” a song that no one knows where it came from and it’s her favorite song of all time.  There’s a quiet part in the middle with just banjo and then nearly a capella before rocketing back to life.

She gets a new banjo and sings quietly over gentle picking:

Don’t try to figure out what’s going on his head / he ain’t trying hard to see whats going on in yours….  I love these lyrics:

He’ll give you the shirt off his back but he wont give you his heart.

She tells the audience she’s from New Brunswick.  Cheers from half the crowd.  Then she says she’s from a town of 51 people.  She was trying to date someone from Vancouver.  Canada is really big.  This is an introduction to “5.748 km” in which she plays guitar instead of banjo.  It’s a spoken/sung song.

She says “Let’s talk about cowboys” and then sings a song in French called (I believe) “J’pas un cowboy.”

For the final song she says the title “You look like trouble but I guess I do too” is quite self-explanatory.  After a few verses they take off.  That baritone guitar is so low and rumbling.  Things slow down in the middle where she plays a great banjo solo and then the sing thrashes to an end.

Over the credits she sings part of one more song this time with electric guitar.

LeBlanc is multi-talented and a lot of fun.  She’d be an excellent opener for anyone.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Mum’s the Word”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparison and contrasting of the stories is really interesting.

This is a funny (sort of) essay about being a parent and how “as a parent I spend a good amount of time talking about things that don’T interest me like My Little Pony, or pasta, or death.”

The death part is funny because her four-year old daughter is suddenly obsessed with it.  But in unusual ways: “When I die…I want to die in Egypt so that I can be a mummy.”  After half paying attention, Rivka nods assent then her daughter says “Mummies make other mummies.  With toilet paper.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CONSTANTINES-Live at Massey Hall (May 27, 2015).

From the clips I’ve seen, Constantines are (were?) an incredible live band.  They have so much intensity.

In the opening, they are asked  Are you guys nervous?  They don’t seem to be although they concede that “Nervous is good, it keeps you on your toes.”

At some point we decided to run the band where we would play anywhere with a three-pronged outlet.  It led to playing a lot of amazing spaces…non-performance spaces like skate shops and basements and art galleries.  This feels like an incredible extension of that to play Massey Hall… a historic venue.

“Draw Us Lines” opens the show with thunderous drums and squalling feedback as the band gets the audience clapping along to a simple rhythm while Bry Webb sings in his deep raspy voice.  I love how much noise the keyboardist makes just pounding on keys–at times leaning on the machine with his whole arm.

“Our Age” has martial beats and an interesting low riff that runs through the verses–but the choruses burst forth really catchy.  “On to You” was a single I believe.  It has loud verses and a quiet, understated chorus.  I love how much they raise their guitars–the bassist even plays with the instrument raised over his head

“Young Offenders” rocks as hard as anything else they play, but it adds the surprising lyric: “young hearts be free tonight … time is on your side,” before launching into the heady section with the crowd shouting “Can I get a witness.”

“Nighttime/Anytime {It’s Alright)” has a great slinky guitar intro and sounds very familiar–as if it’s quoting another song, but I can’t figure out what.

More thumping drums (the drummer must be exhausted) and some distortion and feedback introduce “Young Lions” which starts as kind of catchy rocks song but features wonderful noise section in which everyone plays with feedback and the keyboardist actually sits on the keys before returning to that really catchy section.

The show ends with “National Hum,” a blistering loud track with discordant chords and intense vocals.  The drums just seem to go faster and faster as the song goes on.

They play this show like it’s the most important show they’ve ever played.  And the crowd responds accordingly.  It’s unclear to me if Constantines are broken up or not, but if they ever come around, they are a must-see show.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “What is Possible”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparison and contrasting of the stories is really interesting.

I love the opening of this essay in which Mohsin says that his mom worked an entry-level job at what would now be considered a Silicon Valley tech business.  They made audiocassettes.

His father made peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and picked Mohsin up from school on his bike.  His dad had a mustache and sideburns but no hair.  They went to the university where his father was studying.  Or they went home to watch cartoons on the small black and white TV.

Mohsin says he always saw colors on it “though I was told by friends that this wasn’t possible.”  I relate to this because I had a black and white TV in my room growing up and I was sure it was color until one day when I went to my parents TV and compared sided by side and saw just how colorful their TV was. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHAD VANGAALEN-Live at Massey Hall (May 27, 2015).

The name Chad VanGaalen sounded familiar to me, and it turns out I know a couple of his songs from NPR.  But I didn’t recognize them here.

As the show opens, he says he only recently heard of Massey Hall and he was blown away by the architecture

He’s glad he’s playing acoustic but even more so that he’s dong the whole one man band and not just a guy with a guitar–he never been that good at playing guitar, so he needs more.  He is playing with Julie Fader “saved his ass on multiple occasions.”   She is one of his favorite people to play with–she does harmonies very well plus it’s nice to play with a  female….  I’m always playing with a bunch of dudes its nice to temper the energy a bit.

“Pine and Clover” opens the show.  Chad play a pretty guitar intro (not power chords-which is what he claimed was all he could play).  As the camera pulls back, you see that he is also playing bass and snare drum with his feet.  Julie sings backing vocals and plays flute.  Next up is “Broken Bell.”  It’s a pretty, slower song.  I love the lyric: “I sit and do a drawing, a portrait of my dad, I should really visit him before he is dead.”  This lyrics gets a big reaction: “Should I take the advice of the graffiti on the wall telling me to go suck it? / should Ii listen to the voices ringing in my head like a broken bell?”

“Hangman’s Son” slows things down a little further, but “Weird Love” is kind of a stomper with some interesting slightly dissonant flute (or maybe its the guitar that is dissonant).

“Peace on the Rise” gets some applause from the start, as does “Willow Tree” which is a quieter, picked guitar song.  For “Cut My Hair” he switches to capo 7 and plays a lovely melody.  But it soon becomes a real stomper: “I will never learn my lesson.”

The final song is dedicated to his daughters. He says he has been teaching them to fish.  Which is “way more fun than doing this….  Not saying this isn’t fun….  It’s really stressing me out…  Holy shit.”  He says he doesn’t like killing he fish but his 7-year-old is like “oh yeah!’  She’s the henchman and he’s in charge of the barbeque, “Which is what you should do with kids–don;t let them run the barbeque.”

“So ‘Burning Candle’ goes out to my girls….  If I fuck this up I’m the worst dad in the world.  It’s pretty and quite short and no, he doesn’t fuck it up.”

[READ: June 2, 2018] “My Father’s Face”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparison and contrasting of the stories is really interesting.

Chang-rae says that a clear childhood memory of “my father washing his face.”

His father was very particular about it–“with a vigor and thoroughness that made me feel somehow cleaner for simply having watched him.”  This was the early 1970s and his father was settling into to his first doctoring position as a Bronx V.A. hospital.

Their flat was small but suitable with a place for he and his sister to play. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSHAD-Live at Massey Hall (March 27, 2015).

Shad is a terrific Canadian rapper.  His beats rock, his lyrics are great and he has some really interesting samples.

As this episode starts, he talks about Massey Hall as having a value in tradition.  When people come here they are excited.  It’s fun for his fans to come to this place to see Shad like they’ve seen him before but its different–a bit more excitement.  It’s like being with your friends you usually hang out with but now you’re going to the semi-formal and it makes it more memorable

The show opens with a trumpet (Tom Moffett) and bass (Ian Koiter).  As Shad walks out on stage, the drummer (Matthew Johnston) plays the cymbals to loud fanfare and Shad hypes the crowd.  The violin (Andrew Forder) swells, the turntable scratches and the melody starts for “Compromise.”  There’s so many great lines in this song:

Your hearts warm, mine’s on fire and I’m antsy
I know it’s so cliche but I’m angry
That some can’t eat, meanwhile I’m letting a damn feast
Of pastas and canned meats, rot in my pantry
Like, Lord please, can we speak on this frankly?
Like, God why you letting this happen? Amen
He answered, “Son, I’m asking you the same thing
Cause you’re supposed to be my servants out there working
Like you’re my hands reaching out to those that’s hurting
You don’t have long on this Earth and
I hope you won’t compromise, I said I hope you won’t compromise”

It ends with some cool organ sounds and then a sample from “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” (which Shad calls some “feel good music”).  “Rose Garden” has more great lyrics and the cycling sample of “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden.”

I love that so many rap songs (not just Shad’s) have pop culture references that make the songs incredibly dated.  But if you knew the song when it was relevant you don’t mind

“Stylin” has a great funky bass line and more terrific lyrics

Please, I’m ahead of my time, wait, [scratch] now I’m ahead of the times
Sped up ahead of the beat, speaking of time whenever I head to the meet
I’m always ahead of the heat, head of my class egg head with glasses
Leaving these heads with a classic, now let me just head to the back
With my head, I’m a nap for a bit

and then this ‘ with help from rapper Saukrates

See I got fans that say “Oh hey Shad, I hate rap but I like you, ”
Well I hate that, but I like you at least I like that you
Like me so I won’t spite you, it’s not your fault you’re a white dude
Likes white music I like too, just don’t be surprised by my IQ
Please, it’s like back in high school they said “highbrow”
I said, “hi who?” That Shakespeare, that’s a haiku
I like the high road so I was like dude that’s basic
That’s like crude but you’re old placed to my iTunes
Use your common sense, matter fact use Common Sense
For that matter use Ice Cube, don’t think that we nice too
Cus we don’t look like you, cus we don’t know how to tie ties
And our grandparents weren’t tycoons?

The next song (“Progress: Part 1”) starts like an improvised spoken word.  He says that he and his friends were listening to a song on the radio and he started riffing:

Bye-bye Miss American Pie
Drove a block to that shop with the liquor inside
Singing “Gin and Juice”, drinking whiskey and rye
Thinking “This’ll be the day that I…”

His says his full name is Shadrach Kabango and he wrote a song called “A Good Name” to celebrate it.  This was the first song I’d heard by him and I really liked it back then.  It sounds great live with the band behind him.

But my favorite song of the night is “We Myself and I” from the same album TSOL.  The guitar riff (Tom Ionescu) is simple but totally rocking and the drums are completely intense.  There’s some great turntabling “T Lo (Terence Lo) on the decks.”

The show ends with the less rocking “Remember to Remember,” a thoughtful song with synths from Max Zipursky.

This is a great show.  It’s amazing how much rappers come to life with a live band.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Finding Yourself in Film”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparisons and contrasts of the stories is really interesting.

In this story, Kushner says she relates her parents’ life (and her own) to the movie The Leather Boys.  It came out in 1964, her parents saw it in 1965, before she was born.

When she was a kid, her father rode a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle like the Rockers in the movie.  Her dad was no Rocker, but he liked the bar featured in the film the Ace Cafe.  (where most people rode Triumpshs, BSAs and Nortons.

In the movie, two bikers meet at the Ace.  Pete is an eccentric lone wolf and Reg is in an unhappy teenage marriage to Dot.  Peter tells Reg to leave her.  Dot tries to keep him from leaving her by claiming she is pregnant. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Parachute Live from Brooklyn Bowl (2013).

In 2014, Guster released three CDs of them playing their early CDs live in their entirety (excluding for some reason their second disc Goldfly).  So this is a recording of their first album ‘Parachute’ performed and recorded live in concert at Brooklyn Bowl on December 1, 2013.

This album sounds quite different from the other Guster albums.  I don’t really understand what the difference is.  It sounds like Guster, but not exactly.  Is it that they both sing in harmony through most of the songs?  Is it that Ryan sings “better?”  Are the songs just more folkie?

Whatever the case, even after several albums that don’t sound like this album and nearly twenty years, the band jumps right back into it (the harmonies on “Window” are perfect, for example).

They aren’t the same three-piece they were back in 1994 (they have drums now for instance), but it all works very well.  They also aren’t terribly funny between songs.  Usually Ryan is pretty silly in a show, but they seemed to take it more or less seriously.

After “Dissolve” Ryan says, “we’re playing in a bowling alley I just realized.  Cool.”  You can hear someone in the crowd shout “steeerike.”

I know the guys have made jokes about their song “Happy Frappy” a few times when I’ve seen them, so it’s no surprise that before the song, Ryan shouts, “Alright its ‘Happy Frappy’ time, stoners.”  Although I have no idea what the song is actually about.

When the disc is over Ryan shouts, “Parachute the album–19 and a half years old!”

I think it sounds even better than the original.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Orange World”

I love when a title gives you an idea but it is totally not the idea of what  the story means–and the new idea is even better than what you had imagined.

“Orange World” conjured up many things to me, but not the devil, not a woman nursing the devil and not a woman nursing the devil every night because the evil saved her baby’s life.

When Rae was pregnant she was worried about a lot of things: ABNORMAL RESULT, HIGH RISK, CLINICAL OUTCOME UNKNOWN.  When the third test came back, she started begging for anything to save her baby from the unknown.

Between 4 and 5 A.M. one night something answered and it promised the baby would be okay.

So what does this have to do worth orange world?  Well, “Orange World is where most of us live.”  It is a nest of tangled electric cords and open drawers filled with steak knives.  It’s a used crib  It’s compromises that could hurt the safety of your baby.  You take a shower with your baby and suddenly….

“Green World” is a fantasy realm of soft corners and infinite attention. The Educator say that Green World is ideal but Orange World is the reality.  Next week’s class is “Red World” and Rae doesn’t want to think about it.

Rae takes the baby doll.  Its head falls off and she steps on the blanket.  Sneaker bacteria: Orange World; decapitation: Red World.  The educator encourages her to go to new moms group. (more…)

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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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