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Archive for the ‘Books about writers’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DAWN-Tiny Desk Concert #774 (August 10, 2018).

I had no idea who DAWN (all caps, please) was.  According to the blurb

Dawn Richard–who went by D∆WN for a while, and now just prefers DAWN–Dawn Richard has a breathless enthusiasm for shape-shifting pop music.  Her discography is a bedazzled collage of heart-bursting rave and extraterrestrial dance-pop — but for her Tiny Desk, the L.A.-based singer and producer strips three songs to just the essentials, illuminating the impeccable songwriting behind the wild combination of sounds.

I love the verses of “Waves,” about female empowerment.  The blurb says she transforms “the trap-laced anthem for “underpaid, underappreciated, undervalued and undermined” women into a classic girl group song, flanked by two harmonizing vocalists” (Kene Alexander and Chaynler Stewart).  The music is just not my thing at all.

I love this:

“If you feelin’ stress up in yo chest / Cause they forgot that you the best / Wave ya money,”

But really “wave ya money, wave, wave ya money?”

“Waves” is followed by two songs. Both “Vines (Interlude)” and a funky revitalization of “Lazarus,” speak to Richard’s mission to expand our preconceptions about who gets to make what kind of music.

I like the way “Vines (Interlude)” starts a capella.  But I don’t like the R&B vocalizing throughout.  The electronic percussion is pretty fun though–William DeLelles is working really hard to get those little dinky sounds–he’s also playing the “synth” with his drumsticks.

DAWN explains that she was on a huge label and is now totally indie–no label, no promoter, no nothing.  She says

“I find it interesting when you’re a brown or black girl and you try to do something beyond R&B and hip-hop, it’s not always cool,” Richard says before performing “Lazarus.” “They don’t get it. They think you’re trying too hard. They don’t know where to place you. I wrote this record because sometimes you’re misunderstood. You know exactly who you are, but everyone else can’t quite figure you out. I wrote this record for that person.”

It’s interesting that she jokes, “You’re a folk singer and they label you as alternative R&B.” This song is not alternative or folkie at all, although it does have some cool sounding electronics to start.  But once that guitar (Ben Epand) comes in, you know its back to pop.  I do enjoy when she gets some attitude: “you all could snap a little bit–you aren’t too cute to snap.”

So I won’t be listening to DAWN, but I hope others do.

[READ: February 9, 2018] “From the Desk of Daniel Varsky”

This story started out as one thing–a break up of a long-term relationship.  And turned into something else–the story of a poet who was captured in Chile.

As the story opens, we see that the narrator is thinking about the winter of 1972 when R had just left her.   He had vague reasons but said something about a secret self, that she didn’t buy.

Things got worse but then were okay.  The hardest part was when they lowered his grand piano out the window–it was his last possession and was so large it was like he hadn’t left:  “I would sometimes pat it as I passed, in just the same way that I hadn’t patted R.  The only difference is that R always did, eventually, speak.”

After a few day, she had a phone call from a friend, Paul.  He told her about a crazy dream involving César Vallejo (she and Paul were both poets and they bonded in class over the poets whom others hated).  In the dream, Vallejo had put a mud mustache on Paul’s upper lip. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAC MILLER-Tiny Desk Concert #773 (August 6, 2018).

Man, I hate Mac Miller’s delivery on “Smaaaaaall Worlds.”  The way he drags out those words, the fact that his mouth i full of gauze,  The way he pauses from time to time which makes it seem like he forgot the words.  Although as with a lot of rappers at Tiny Desk, the live band including Alexander “Justus” West (Guitar) and Kendall Lewis (Drums) really make the music sound good.

The best part is when Thundercat comes over decked out ion his colorful regalia and plays the shaker midway through the song.  And when Mac acknowledges Thundercat on the shaker–why is Mac’s speaking voice so much clearer than his rapping voice?

Mac real name Malcolm James Meyers McCormick is pretty funny when he’s just talking, too.  I was wondering how a young guy I’d never heard of could be so cocky at this Tiny Desk, then I saw

With nearly a decade under his belt at 26 years old, these words ring like an artist twice his age.  We were introduced to Mac Miller via 2011’s XXL Freshman Class, which featured a special crop of MCs such as Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill and YG, all of whom are now considered in the upper echelon of hip-hop. After his big splash, he’s been able to find a groove and consistently release quality rap records, ultimately keeping his name in the conversation with the other young greats. These consecutive triumphs amassed plenty of fame, fortune and insurmountable obstacles, causing a stumble here and there. Throughout the years, however, Mac has brushed himself off and put it in the music.

The real star of “What’s the Use” is Thundercat on bass.  I don’t even follow the words I’m so focused on Thundercat’s amazing six string bass work.  And when Thundercat sings “I Just Wanna Fly” and takes a credit, it wins over the room.

The other bassist Joseph Cleveland is also great, when Thundercat trades off for the final song.

For the final song, “2009” he says he wanted to have strings on this song but they couldn’t travel with strings.  So they sent the music to these guys (Robin Fay-Massie (Violin), YaShauna Swan (2nd Violin), Lelia Walker (Viola), Melanie Hsu (Cello)).  They just played it for the first time 20 minutes ago.  The strings are lovely with the piano (Javad Day).  The music deserves better than his lame drawl for a vocal line.  Even if the lyrics are introspective and “mature.”

[READ: November 11, 2018] “The Poor Girl”

F. Scott Fitzgerald kept a notebook for stories ideas.  This story comes from idea he never wrote about.  Nunez and other authors wrote stories from these ideas for McSweeney’s 22.  I didn’t write about individual stories in that post, so I get to here.

Nunez chose”Girl marries a dissipated man and keeps him in healthy seclusion.  She meanwhile grows restless and raises hell on the side.”

And she conveys it well, with some delicious details.

This is told by a third party, a friend of the dissipated man.  He explains that Calvin Trent had been a writer, now well into his decline, when he met the girl (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FLASHER-Tiny Desk Concert #770 (July 30, 2018).

I haven’t heard of Flasher, but the description of the band (noisy) makes me think I’d like them.  I’m also intrigued by the various guitar and bass lines.  The vocals are also really nice–wonder just how buried they are on record:

For its visit to the Tiny Desk, this young Washington trio set aside the distortion and worked up a semi-acoustic set of three songs — taken from its debut album, Constant Image.  Voices sometimes in unison, sometimes swapping leads, adding a shifting point of view to songs that, on record, give equal footing to a precise noise.

These three high school friends, Taylor Mulitz (guitar, vocals), Daniel Saperstein (bass, guitar) and Emma Baker (drums) have been bouncing around the D.C. punk scene of house shows and DIY venues for some time.

I rather got a kick out of this little “How Bob knows the band”

I’ve been aware of Taylor’s work for a while…in the potent D.C. band Priests; Daniel I’ve known (a bit) since he was a child, mostly from Hanukkah parties with his family (his mom was the executive producer at All Things Considered when I was the show’s director); Emma can be seen playing around town with another band, Big Hush.

I really enjoyed the stops and starts of “Pressure” I imagine it’s really fun when they rock.  It also has some really clever word play: “saving face / self-effacing / keeping pace / in a stasis.”  Most of the delicate harmony vocals come from the bassist (who is actually playing acoustic guitar), although when all three of them sing it sounds even better.

The interchange of electric and acoustic guitar works great on “XYZ.”  All three sing in tight harmony.

I love the way “Who’s Got Time?” seems to be constantly catching up on itself, like they are running out of time to finish the song–even though it never sounds like they are out of sync with each other.

Their overall sound is wonderful acoustic shoegaze.  At least at the Tiny Desk.

[READ: August 15, 2018] “A Refugee Crisis”

I didn’t love Wink’s last story (about killing cats), but I found this one fascinating because of how many elements were included here.

The narrator is a writer living in a place where one can cross-country ski regularly (Bozeman, MT).  The trail is mostly unused except for a guy who runs tours by dogsled–and there is plenty of dog shit on the trail to show where the sled went.

When he gets home, M is lying on his couch.  She says she let herself in since she knew the key was still under the mat.  She says she just came back from Serbia.  (She had been in Athens, Budapest and Frankfurt among other places).  The refugee camps there were really bad–people are trying to get across Hungary and the military is beating them, shooting at them.

She is twenty-three but looks forty and her personal hygiene is atrocious.  They have sex anyhow.  She says they can’t get pregnant because she already is–from a nineteen year old boy from Raqqa.  She didn’t tell the guy.  She is planning to get an abortion shortly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID BECKINGHAM-Live at Massey Hall (December 5, 2017).

I don’t know Beckingham or his main band Hey Ocean.

Beckingham says that he and Ashleigh Ball from the Hey Ocean started playing together in their early 20s.  They met Dave and formed Hey Ocean and it took off in a surprising way.

He’d always wanted to do something solo but felt he wasn’t ready and then they took time from Hey Ocean and worked on it.  But he never expected to play Massey Hall.

The show begins with “Explosion” which has a sweet vocal line and a very friendly sound with strings.  As he starts “Window Frame” they interrupt it with an interview in which he says that Hey Ocean is more around Ashleigh and her vocals while the solo stuff is more personal.  He feels a lot more exposed physically as well as with the material.

Adi’s Song is a quiet powerful ballad

Late in the evening
She starts to cry
She’d been down on her luck since summer now she’s stuck
In the longest ever winter of her life

She called the doctor
Asking for pills
To make it all seem far away like the stars in outer space
She says the feelings doesn’t hurt, she says it kills

And the salt in her tears carves a line down her cheeks
So when the drops reach her mouth, well you’ll almost believe she was smiling

Just when the light hits it right

During “Slowly” he gets the crowd to sing along “don’t it take the words from you sometimes.”

The final two songs are his biggest: “Soldier” and “Forest.”  His music is quite consistent–pretty and folkie without a lot of drama.  But these last two songs have something extra.  The bridge in “Soldier” bombs overhead / trying my best to find you / I was blind and deaf is really powerful with the strings.  “Forest” has a distinctive catchy melody up front, which a lot of these songs don’t.

He’s joined by Mike Rosen on the keyboards and a small string section Michelle Farhermann (cello) Rachael Cardiello (viola) and Kelly LeFaive (violin) and he thanks them for pulling this all together in a few days time.

[READ: January 7, 2017] “Stuff”

“Stuff” is a terrible name for a story.  But this story is pretty much full of stuff, so maybe it does work here.

I’m not really sure what happened to this story because it started out so linear and interesting (a little weird, yes, but interesting) and then it turned into something else–much more weird.

Henry was in the doctor’s office.  His own doctor was not there, so he was seeing a new doctor.  This new doctor told Henry that he had lung cancer and would die soon.

Henry talked about the cigarettes he smokes–called the work sticks because they help him write. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YISSY GARCÍA & BANDANCHA-Tiny Desk Concert #755 (June 15, 2018).

Yissy García & Bandancha from Cuba give jazz just what it needs–a wicked turntablist (and some amazing drumming from Yissy García herself).

The blurb tells us:

There is a sonic revolution happening in Cuba these days. A new generation of musicians are taking the training they received in Cuba’s fabled classical music academies to new heights by incorporating not just jazz, but hip-hop, funk and any manner of experimental music. Yissy García and Bandancha may be the best example of that vanguard.

I love that the opening song, “Última Noticia” (which runs about 7 and a half minutes) starts with static and a tuning of radio stations (in Spanish).  Then the jazz begins–piano, trumpet, bass, turntables and Yissy’s fast and complex drumming.

The compositions (all by García) are modern and reflect the cosmopolitan attitude that is common in big city life in Cuba. For example,

About 2 and a half minutes in, the song goes from smooth jazz to a really funky riff (with great scratching and a cool catchy trumpet solo (it is still jazz after all).  But it’s a lot of fun to see Yissy, with her Mohawk and somewhat shaves head playing cowbell and the rims of the drums.

After a lengthy piano solo, it’s Yissy’s turn to show off her chops:

“Ultima Noticia” is highlighted by the riffs thrown back and forth between drummer García and the turntablist, DJ Jigüe. The command of time and imagination García displays in her first drum solo of the set is simply astonishing.

It’s followed by “Universo” which features a rap in Spanish.

The rapping on “Universo” reminded me of Cuba in the early 1990s when hip-hop entered the national consciousness as the Soviet Union left the island to fend for itself economically. On this track, it’s a celebration of the universal goodness we all share.

The song is slower, more commercial with a grabbing riff by the trumpet and that smooth rap.  It’s also got a great 1970s sounding keyboard solo (very Stevie Wonder

The band winds up their time behind the desk by going back to Cuba’s African roots for a rumba-soaked jam “Te cogió lo que anda” which has sampled Afro-Cuban drums and rhythms. The complexity of the music meshes lockstep with passionate singing and dancing.

He plays lots of samples on the keyboards, including a repeat of “habla…”  But when the trumpeter sings in his rich voice, the whole song comes together.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Wow, Fiction Works!

I’ve really enjoyed Colson Whitehead’s works and this essay makes me like him even more.

This is part of a talk given at the Tin House Writers Workshop, the whole thing was called “James Root on How to Read”

He starts by saying that in his writing classes he teaches people how to write but for this lecture he will teach them how to read.

“By returning to the beginning of the sentence to perform close reading, we unlock its essence. I learned this skill at university.”  I imagine the humor was evident more in the reading, but the deadpan is just wonderful.

He speaks of Raymond Carver and a line from Carver that has stick with him for years.  After a lengthy build up, he says: “As Carver put it, channeling the sublime: ‘He lifted the cup.’  This is minimalism at its well-marbled finest.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Live at Massey Hall (September 11, 2015).

Having now seen Sloan twice, it’s nice to compare this earlier show with mine.  And I get  to say that my shows were longer!  Much longer.

This edited for the web version leaves out 11 songs (including the ones which drummer Andrew Scott sings on–so there’s no switching instruments).  Having said that, the band sounds great and the set list is really strong.  I also had no idea that Gregory MacDonald had been touring with them for that long.

Jay Ferguson compares Massey Hall to Carnegie Hall and then regrets comparing something Canadian to something American).  Chris Murphy says “I don’t often use the word “hallowed,” but it is a “hallowed hall.”

He continues, “We are quite loud, we wondered, Do we try to tailor our set for Massey Hall–more like a theater set of songs?  We didn’t do that essentially because we’re incapable:   everybody turn down and then its like a volume war everybody turning up until we’re as loud as ever.”

They start with a great Jay song “You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind.”  The band sounds great although the dominance of keyboards from Greg is surprising as the first song.

Introducing “The Rest of My Life,” Chris says, “You don’t have to stand but… sing along please.  Of course everyone sings “I know that I’ll be living it in Canada.”  As the song rings out, Chris starts a clap which segues into Patrick singing “Ill Placed Trust.”

Chris says, “We never got giant but we enjoy an audience that has followed us for a long time.  Thank you.”

The start the great guitar riff on the dark “The Other Man.”  There’s lots of sing-alongs in this one, too.

Jay is back with the super catchy “Who Taught You to Live Like That.”  And as the song fades out the siren roars the intro for “Money City Manis.”  Chris notes, “You actually have to stand up for this one.  You have to.”

Patrick and Chris take turns on lead vocals and then during the instrumental break Chris calls a six-year-old girl up on stage who dances, plays the tambourine and knows all the words.  Patrick says, “like I’m gonna be able to solo over that–that’s the solo right there.”  Chris wonders, “When you look at this stage, where does your eye go?”  She is amazingly self-possessed.

They end with the obvious–but a wonderful obviousness with “Underwhelmed.”  They (and the audience) have a ripping time of it.

It’s interesting just how long the band played in reality.  But yes, even after all this time, Sloan is a dynamic live act.  And this is great proof of that.

  1. O Canada
  2. Deeper Than Beauty
  3. If It Feels Good Do It
  4. C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started)
  5. Carried Away
  6. Keep Swinging (Downtown)
  7. Snowsuit Sound
  8. Fading Into Obscurity
  9. Forty-Eight Portraits
  10. Unkind
  11. You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind
  12. The Rest of My Life
  13. Ill Placed Trust
  14. The Other Man
  15. Who Taught You to Live Like That
  16. Money City Maniacs
  17. encore
  18. People of the Sky
  19. Underwhelmed

[READ: May 10, 2018] “Dinner Party”

This is an excerpt from a novel Kudos.  It being an excerpt does explain some of the sparseness, but it feels like such a unique event that I can’t imagine even who the main character is supposed to be involved with in previous and future pages.

A writer enters a restaurant.  She is at a writing conference and she and the other delegates are to be treated to dinner.  I love this line “The delegates were reluctant to [sit], knowing their fate would thus be settled for the duration of the meal.”

The narrator recognized a woman from an all-female panel discussion who recognized her and instantly came over to talk to her.  The woman introduced herself “with the pragmatic directness of someone who accepts rather than fears the likelihood of such things being forgotten.” (more…)

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CV1_TNY_06_08_15_09.inddSOUNDTRACKLUCY DACUS-“Historians” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 21, 2018).

I’m looking forward to seeing Lucy Dacus live in a few weeks.  Her music is often spare but grows very intense.  For this particular song it is just her and her guitarist who is creating textures and sounds as Lucy sings clearly and starkly.  She plays the (almost) title track from her new album Historian.

The idea behind our South X Lullaby series was to offer intimate moments with musicians as an antidote to the commotion and deluge that is the SXSW music festival. When we met Lucy Dacus for her Lullaby and found out she’d perform “Historians,” a most somber song from her deeply personal and triumphant album Historian, it felt just right. It’s a song of reflection, the story of two intertwined partners and the way they document one another’s lives and preserve each other’s memories.

With simple but compelling swirls of sound, Dacus begins singing clearly with a bit of softness on the edges of her words.  It’s fascinating to watch her face illuminated by the video around her (the same video that Stella Donnelly performed in front of).

The song is warm despite the sadness inherent in it.

The setting for this performance, by Lucy Dacus and guitarist Jacob Blizard, is an interactive art installation by the multidisciplinary Israeli artist Ronen Sharabani that’s part of the SXSW Art Program. This work, titled “Conductors and Resistance,” explores human-machine interaction in our ever-evolving technological world. The images projected behind Lucy and Jacob are two coffee cups, one empty and one that’s been almost drained, both tangled in and tugged at by a complex series of wires, representing what I think is human communication and miscommunication.  This is just one of three walls onto which images are projected in this installation — you can see another wall behind Stella Donnelly in her South X Lullaby video.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “The Magic Mountain”

Back in June of 2009, The New Yorker had their annual summer fiction issue.  Included in that issue were three short essays under the heading of “Summer Reading.”  I knew all three authors, so I decided to include them here.

This essay was about Aleksander Hemon’s childhood in Sarajevo.

He says that (not unlike Angell) his family had a cabin on the mountain called Jahorina.  His family would spend winter breaks there skiing and partying.  His parents thought it was heaven up there.  But he and his sister hated to go there in the summer. (more…)

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