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Archive for the ‘Blindness’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SUNNY WAR-Tiny Desk Concert #910 (November 13, 2019).

Sunny War says twice that she’s not going to talk.  She saves all of her words for her songs.

Her voice is soft and gentle, but her words are strong.

The first song “If It Wasn’t Broken” features the chorus “how would you know you had a heart if it wasn’t broken?”

Further lyrics in this slow and simple song:

so you lost your baby
so you lost your job
so you lost all faith
in the one you call god.

Dang.

These are words from a young woman who has been homeless, busked on city streets and Venice Beach, left home feeling she was a burden to her distraught mother, had her life complicated by drugs, and yet still found a way to pick up a guitar and bring joy to others.

Her songs aren’t complicated, but they feature some really excellent fingerpicking.  “Got No Ride” has a lot of beautiful interludes (including one part where she is fingerpicking and bending a string at the same time).

Sunny War began learning guitar from her uncle at around the age of seven. One of the early songs she learned was The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” an almost prophetic tune with the line, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” But it was the fingerpicking that was the attraction for Sunny War. She loved playing guitar that way as opposed to strumming and, as you watch this Tiny Desk, you’ll see what a fluid and remarkable guitar player she’s become.

The song also features some extra bass lines from Aroyn Davis (The first song didn’t really have noticeable bass).

“Love Became Pain” is a lot faster, with some really impressive guitar work.  Clearly from the title, though, this isn’t a happy song either.  I like the shuffle drums that Paul Allen gets using brushes on the cajón.

The final song, “Shell” opens with the lines:

“Before you rip your girl to shreds / Be sure you really want her dead.”

With such a pretty melody, too!

Much like her name, Sunny War’s music is a wonder of contradictions.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust: Volume 4

This book concludes the Rust saga.

Like the first book, there are a ton of pages with no dialogue.  This story is wonderfully told with just visuals.  And Lepp’s visuals are really amazing–what he accomplishes with such  limited color palette is really impressive.

The book starts with a flashback to the war 48 years ago.  It’s been awhile since I read the first book but I feel like this intro pages are exactly the same.  We see Jet Jones rescue a man by creating a large shield.  I’m not sure if there;s some more significance.  I’m also not sure if we’re supposed to know who the man is.

But the story quickly jumps back to the Taylor’s farm.  The really menacing robots are closing in.  Oz has a shotgun in ready.  And the engineer is carrying Jet Jones’ limp body away with him.

The robots arrive (why does it amuse me that they open the door) and Oz shoots, which awakens the family.

A terrible battle commences in the house with all of the people getting hurt, but with all of them doing a good job of harming the robots.  Jet comes in at the last second and smashes up some of the robots.  In the process reveals his mechanical arm.  The family is shocked, except for Oz.  Roman is furious that Jet lied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CATE LE BON-“Company in My Back” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Cate Le Bon is a fascinating character, an esoteric Welsh singer who experiments with interesting sounds.  I don’t know that there’s many people like her.  I’m looking forward to seeing her live with Kurt Vile in a couple of months.

Her take on this familiar song is pretty simple—she sings with a kind of deadpan delivery which really accentuates the words.  The verses are a sort of repetitive sound that sounds like a full-sized toy piano with some cool bass lines throughout.

When the chorus kicks in there’s all kind of unexpected horn sounds flitting about.

It’s pretty far from the original but is really fun.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust Vol. 2

Volume 2 resumes right where the last book left off.  We’re at the Taylor farm and Roman is looking at the pitchfork that Jesse used to stop the machine that was heading toward the farm.  But Roman has more questions about the pitchfork than the machine.  After inspecting it he decides that only Jesse’s grandfather, Mr. Aicot could have made a pitchfork that could stop a machine like that.

Roman fixes up the machine so that it will repair his truck.  But it seems to go after Jesse–it stops short of doing anything to her but it sure gives her the creeps.  This is a good point to say how cool these machine robots are.  Their faces are essentially a triangular Venetian blind look.  Horizontal lines with a pointed front (like a nose).  They are dressed in long coats and look incredibly menacing.

Meanwhile Jet is feeling weaker and weaker.  Oz is spying on him and sees Jet remove his power cell–Oz realizes that jet is a robot!  This freaks him out.  He bikes to Mr Aicot’s house and reveals the secret.  Mr Aicot says that he knew already, but he never said anything to anyone because no one would believe him,

Then he has some things to show Oswald. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JIMMY EAT WORLD-Tiny Desk Concert #939 (January 29, 2020).

I’ll never understand the logistics of the Tiny Desk Concert setup.

This Concert features Jimmy Eat World, an unarguably huge band (at one time at least).  They’re doing something cool–playing their songs acoustically with no drums.

And they play for … less than 12 minutes.

Meanwhile the previous Tiny Desk Concert was by a young reggae person who, while she won a Grammy, is certainly not as well known or regarded as Jimmy Eat World.  And she got 15 minutes.  I’m okay with bands that I like playing a short set, it’s just frustrating that so many bands that I don’t know–usually in genres I don’t like as much–get two and sometimes three times as much air time.

But whatever.   Maybe the bands don’t want to play for that long.  But Jimmy Eat World came for their Tiny Desk Concert looking to have fun.

Jimmy Eat World showed up to the NPR Music office all smiles and no guitars, goofing off with toy instruments behind the Tiny Desk and cracking jokes. They borrowed a couple acoustics, a miniature gong and tambourine emblazoned with Bob Boilen’s face, which set the tone for a slightly silly, but altogether gracious performance.

They open with “Love Never” which features Jim Adkins singing lead and Robin Vining singing harmony.  I never noticed how fantastic their harmonies are–they are really spot on.  I wonder if it’s more noticeable in this stripped down format (or maybe it’s because Vining is a touring member and was picked because his voice is amazing).

What’s really funny during this song is that drummer Zach Lind is standing behind them the whole time doing nothing. And then for the last note, he hits Bob Boilen’s gong.  It’s pretty funny and everyone cracks up.

The next song, “All the Way (Stay)” comes from the band’s tenth album, Surviving.  [They have been around for twenty-seven years!].  Zach plays the tambourine.   Again, the vocal harmonies are outstanding as Robin picks out the melody while Jim strums.

Introducing the final song, Jim says their new songs reflect their earlier song ideas: “Your sense of self-worth coming from external validation is an empty pursuit,”

Guitarist Tom Linton joins the band for the final song.  During the introduction, Adkins gets distracted by Tom’s guitar (and goofs about throat singing) before getting everyone super excited that they’re going to play “The Middle.”

I’m fascinated to realize that I’ve known this song for nearly 30 years.  It’s still fun to sing along to–which the audience does.

this feel-good Bleed American single has remained a constant source of goodness in a sometimes bleak world. When the audience joins in for the last chorus, an uplifting catharsis streaked through our hearts as we all sang, “Everything, everything will be just fine / Everything, everything will be all right, all right.”

I’m always thrilled when bands like this get a Tiny Desk and I hope there’s more to come!

[READ: February 1, 2020] Rust Volume 1

Volume 1 picks up right where the prologue left off.  We are at Roman Taylor’s farm.  Roman is typing a letter to his (deceased?) father.  He says that mom is doing good and the little ones are fine. He hopes little Oswald will stick round, he could sure use help on the farm.

Then he tells about Jet Jones.

How on the day he arrived, Jet came screaming through the sky like he’d been shot out of a cannon.  He crashed through the barn and into the field.   When Roman went to look at him he heard a sound coming from behind the barn.   It was a large machine, clearly on a mission

The machine grabbed the boy and hurled him into a tree–which snapped in half. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KOFFEE-Tiny Desk Concert #938 (January 27, 2020).

I can honestly say I didn’t know that there were musicians making new reggae music.  I mean, obviously there are–it’s not like the genre just stopped or anything–but I never hear about them.

So I was pretty surprised to play this Tiny Desk Concert and hear a reggae song start up.

Koffee is a 19 year-old Jamaican reggae star.  She just won a Grammy for best Reggae album (for an EP).  She is the first woman and the youngest artist to win the category.

She sings four songs.

“Raggamuffin” opens with her shouting out NPR quite a lot (is that all improvised or is she modifying existing lyrics?).  While the music has the typical reggae rhythm (although faster than old school reggae to be sure), her delivery is really amazing.  She sing (raps?) so fast during the verses.  It’s really an impressive display even if I can’t understand a word she says.

Her band is from different places around the world

“Rapture” has her singing along with her backing singers, Zhayna France and Shanice Drysdale (both from Jamaica) who really flesh out her voice.  There’s some cool moments where the lyrics pause to allow her to say a pointed word.  This song has a guitar solo from Thomas Broussard (from Paris).  It’s also really fun watching drummer Stephen Asamoah-Duah (London) and percussionist Stephen Forbes (Jamaica) communicating with each other and high-fiving at the end of the song.

Koffee centers her music around faith, resilience and gratitude. She has a new perspective to add to the pantheon of mostly male reggae greats and it’s resonating with a new generation that’s just getting hip to the iconic sounds. As her Tiny Desk performance shows, Koffee makes the best of her surroundings, channeling the day’s buzzy energy into a balancing act of youthful heart and old-pro precision, proving why she has become one of the most invigorating voices in reggae.

“Toast” opens with a fun keyboard melody from David Melodee (London).  Then the full song kicks in with a groovy five string bass from Nana Pokes (London) and acoustic guitar strumming from Broussard.  Mid song he switches back to electric for a brief solo.

“I want to thank everybody who’s been involved,” Koffee told the crowd halfway through her show. “You have now become a part of my journey.”

The final song “W” is her latest single.  It’s a slower ballad.  I realize that she has a pretty heavy Jamaican accent but I really can’t tell how many times she says the letter W in the song.  It sounds lie a lot, but perhaps she’s rhyming it with something ele.

[READ: February 1, 2020] Rust Volume 0

Royden Lepp was born in the Canadian prairies which I’m sure had some impact on the design of this book–set in fields and farms and colored with sepia tone.

I saw this book series at the library and thought it looked really interesting.  Royden Lepp’s artistic style (and color palette) are really cool and the premise of a military weapon that looks like a little boy is pretty fascinating.

The book starts 48 years ago in the middle of a war.  Amid the human carnage there is a boy with goggles on.  He has on a jetpack and appears to be flying around saving people.  He saves them from a large robotic monster/creature which someone calls a kamikaze drone.

The first forty or so pages are almost wordless–its’ all battle sequences.  It is quite exciting, but it is also without question, a little confusing,   Especially since this a world that is not quite like ours.  (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2019] The Schwa Was Here

I know about Neal Shusterman because Sarah really loved his Arc of a Scythe series.  I love the cover design of that series, but I haven’t read the books (yet).

I was looking for audio books for our summer vacation and found that Shusterman had written a lot of books before the series.  Including this one, The Schwa Was Here.

I have always loved the word “schwa.”  I never full understood it I just knew it was represented by the upside down e [like this: ǝ].  The epigram of the book actually explains a schwa pretty well.  So here’s the simple version:

The schwa sound is the most common vowel sound. A schwa sound occurs when a vowel does not make its long or short vowel sound.

I also had no idea that this was part a series until I looked it up.  The series is called the Antsy Bonano Novels.  Now I ‘m curious to see where this series goes.

I loved the audio book because Shusterman reads it in his greatest Brooklyn accent. And while the characters aren’t thoroughly diverse is voice, they are diverse enough to keep the characters straight.  But his accent is awesome.  And it’s relevant because Antsy is a Brooklyn boy through and through and he addresses the way they talk.

As soon as his brother says a bad word, their mother “hauls off and whacks him on the head in her own special way… ‘You watch your mout!’  Mom says ‘mout’ not ‘mouth.’  We got a problem here with the ‘th’ sound.”

They also have problems with vowels.  He is Anthony, but known as Antny (which became Antsy).  And, his family are Catlick. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CIGARETTES AFTER SEX-Tiny Desk Concert #684 (December 13, 2017).

I only know of Cigarettes After Sex from when NPR played a song of theirs and Bob asked us to guess whether the singer was a man or a woman.

Greg Gonzalez has one of those wonderful voices that is deep and husky and sounds feminine (although his speaking voice is very deep).

This Tiny Desk Concert is very quiet (like The XX).  It is just Gonzalez on heavily echoed guitar and vocals and his unmoving, emotion-free longtime bandmate Phillip Tubbs on spare keyboards.

Although there’s not a lot to these songs, the melodies are truly terrific.

The three songs sound very similar–unmistakably them.

“K.,” the opening track to this Tiny Desk Concert – and the opening cut to the band’s eight year-long awaited debut album – is especially memorable. The lyrics are simple and easy to remember: “Kristen, come right back/I’ve been waiting for you to slip back in bed/When you light the candle.”

Amazingly, for almost half of each song, there are no keyboards, just the guitar.  So that extra, gentle wash of music sounds huge.  “Apocalypse” has the lovely swooning chorus of “you’ve been locked in here forever and you just can’t say goodbye” and “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” follows that same pretty structure (although it’s my least favorite of the three).  With the minimalism:

each note and each word seems to count for more  …  and the office environment of the Tiny Desk Concert [may work better] than in a club, where just the chatter of a crowd can drown out this gentle music.

[READ: November 1, 2017] The Hunting Accident

I loved this book. Everything about it was utterly fantastic.  The story, the way it was told, and the amazing drawings of Landis Blair

The book opens on a snowy day in Chicago in 1959.  A boy whose mother has just died has moved from sunny California to miserable Chicago to live with his blind father, Matt.   The boy had lived with his mother since he was four (his mother’s mother thought that his father was a trouble and that they needed to get away from him).  So he barely knew his father.  And now it was time to find out everything about the man.  Like, first off, how he became blind.

The father told the boy all about the hunting accident.  He and his friends were screwing around, playing by the train tracks.  They were having fun scaring each other.  All the kids were afraid of real life bogeymen Leopold & Loeb local murderers.  The boys even believed they found the pipe in which Leopold & Loeb stuffed their victim.

There’s even little reminder of the crime:

In 1924, two wealthy educated men kidnapped and brutally murdered Bobby Franks, a 14-year-old neighbor…just for the thrill of it… to see if they could commit “the perfect crime.”

Anyhow, the boys had a shotgun and heard a deer.  When one of those boys shot at the deer he missed and his Charlie’s father right in the face.

Soon Charlie must learn what it is like to live with a blind man–how everything must be in the exact same place.

Charlie’s father writes all the time (on a braille machine).  He writes about morality and poetry.  He quotes Dante.  And soon, Charlie’s dad was having Charlie help with the writing–by proofing and checking things (Charlie learned a lot at the same time).

Charlie’s grandmother also said that Chicago was dangerous, but not for Charlie.  He got along fine. He even made friends with Steve Garza–the coolest kid in the neighborhood.    Garza was so cool he bummed cigarettes off of Charlie (from his dad–even though Matt, counted them and got mad about it).

Charlie also began getting involved in extracurricular activities–he loved tap dancing and tried the cello–two things his father appreciated. But soon Steve and his buddy started pressuring Charlie.  He “left” his tap shoes at the park, he stopped playing cello and he got involved in some ugly things.

Garza wanted to join the JPs–a local mob related gang.  But he was too young so he started the Junior JPs and soon enough that involved theft.  And since they were dumb, they were easily caught.

And that’s when the truth comes out.

I was already hooked into the story and then I was blown away.  Charlie’s dad did not lose his sight in a hunting accident.  Charlie is furious that his dad lied to him.

Garza convinces Charlie to head for Canada to avoid the cops.  (The third guy has already gotten there and is at a free-love commune or something).  Charlie is prepared to drive them both (he’s the one with the car after all).  And then his dad tells him the whole truth, which gets Charlie to pause.

The rest of the book cover’s Matt’s story.

He was poor in 193os Chicago and got mixed up with the wrong crowd.  His did go blind from a gun shot, but it was a very different setting–and it led to prison.

On the day he got to prison, the same prison that Leopold and Loeb were in, Richard Loeb was killed in the shower.  This left Leopold alone.

Charlie asks if he met Leopold.   And Charlie’s dad says that Nathan Leopold is the reason for his divorce.  What?

Turns out hat not only did Charlie’s dad know Nathan Leopold. He was Leopold’s cell mate.  Since Loeb was killed there was concern that Leopold might be next.  And since Matt was blind, they were put together under watch.

After Matt was out of prison, Leopold sent him a letter (in braille) which the grandmother intercepted.  Matt had never told anyone he was in jail, and that made Matt a Liar.

Matt was miserable in jail.  He couldn’t see, his father was disappointed in him and he had nothing to live for.  He just wanted to die, but that was pretty hard to do under constant supervision. We see daily life for a blind man in jail–food stolen all the time and knocking his cellmate’s things over.

Leopold was angry and bitter and wanted nothing to do with a blind man.  But soon, Leopold began talking to Matt about the life of the mind–something he realized that Matt lived all the time.  Because he couldn’t see everything was in his mind. Leopold used to hold educational lessons in the library at the jail.  He also showed Matt how to make a Glim Box (a way to use a spinning coin to light a fire to light cigarettes).

Matt tells Leopold that he has no family.  Meanwhile, Leopold’s dad visits every two weeks (the visits are awkward and uncomfortable but are a way for Leopold to get things from the outside).

Soon, Leopold is trying to convince Matt to learn Braille.  Why?  well, this gave opportunity for Leopold to learn it to and thereafter he could read after lights out.  (Leopold was a master of many languages and picked up braille easily).

And that’s when Leopold persuaded Matt to read Dante’s Inferno.

The story of Matt’s imprisonment jumps back to the present where Charlie is still annoyed with his father, but is really interested in the story. Especially when he leans that his father almost committed suicide there.

I loved the philosophical ideas in the story–they way the book interprets both Plato and Dante for the everyman .  I loved that Matt’s story runs throughout the book and I loved the whole idea of a blind man helping one of the most notorious criminals of he 20th century.

This story is thought-provoking and exciting at the same time.

The only thing that I feel was left out–did Charlie wind up going to jail or not?  It’s never addressed.

The end of the story and that final two-page spread are just breathtaking.

I also love that David L. Carlson more or less found out about this amazing true story by accident.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE KLEZMER CONSERVATORY BAND-Oy Chanukah! (1987).

For the first day of Hanukkah, it’s time for a Chanukah album.

This is a collection of traditional Chanukah songs interspersed with brief stories and a history of the holiday.

It works as a musical collection, although the dialogue does obviously stop the flow every couple of minutes.

Klezmer music is fun (provided you like the clarinet), but it really can’t be dissociated from the stories behind it.

The first narrator talks about the Maccabees and the Festival of Lights.  There’s the tales of Judith and Hannah and memories of klezmorim coming to the shtetl.  There’s even a recipe for latkes and the story of the dreydl.

Some of the songs have words (sung in Yiddish) but just as many are instrumentalist.  The majority of the songs are traditional, of course, but my favorite is “Klezzified,” which is written by one of the band.

This disc is a good introduction to Chanukah music.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Souterrain”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

This story was really powerful and it revealed all of the details and connections in a slow and excruciating way–once you realized what was happening.

There are several characters in the story which takes place primarily in France.   (more…)

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