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Archive for the ‘Books about writers’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MOUNT EERIE-“Ocean Roar” (Field Recordings, January 3, 2013).

For reasons I’m unclear about, I had been posting about these Field Recordings in reverse order.  So I decided to mix it up for the 2013 releases and do them in proper order–it feels better that way.

This particular one makes you wonder how much work they went to in order to record less than 3 minutes of music.  This Field Recording [Mount Eerie Plays ‘An Absurd Concert To Nobody‘] was taped in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s gorgeous Elizabethan-style theatre in Washington, D.C., just across the way from the Supreme Court.

Mount Eerie is a band I’ve heard of but don’t really know.  I don’t know if this stripped down song is in any way representative.  The band is the brain child of Phil Elverum who sings songs of “life-affirming, death-obsessed mysticism.”

“Ocean Roar” is a smart tangle of words; its alternate stories oddly complement and complicate each other, while telling of lost thoughts and wandering souls. On record, the song chimes with guitars and drums that subdivide the dreaminess, but at the theatre, it’s just Elverum, a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar and touring band members Allyson Foster and Paul Benson singing soft harmonies at his side.

The song starts with them singing some lovely harmonies, they add lovely notes to flesh out the brief song throughout.

“We just played an absurd concert to nobody,” Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum says, as he faces a sea of empty red seats.

[READ: October 20, 2018] “Flaubert Again”

I have not enjoyed much by Anne Carson–she’s just not my type of writer.

This story also left me flustered.

This is about a writer who seeks to write less and less, not more. Other writers have tried, Barthes, Flaubert, but she hopes to go further.

To be a different kind of novel it would have to abolish things–plot, consequence.  And fully abolish, not just renounce, which is a weak and egoistic attitude.  She felt the pleasure of reading derived from answers withheld. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENJAMIN BOOKER-“Have You Seen My Son” (Field Recordings, September 3, 2014).

This Field Recording [Benjamin Booker: Newport Folk Gets The Summertime Blues] opens with Benjamin Booker taking his tuner off of his guitar and dropping it down a rain grate, never to be seen again.

Like many of the Field Recordings, this one also takes place at the Newport Folk Festival. NPR has a great relationship with the Newport Folk Festival, but they don’t have as much footage that’s available at any time as they used to.

There’s some kind of archway that they seem to use a lot for these Recordings.  Although in this instance, he is not in the archway, but just outside of it.

In 2014, Booker released his debut album.  As of now in 2018, he has quite a following. I know I hear his name on the radio a lot.  Booker has a distinctive voice, raspy and old, even though he himself is young (much younger than I realized).  And, as I thought last time, his speaking voice is so very different from his singing voice.

Even before releasing his debut album last month, Booker’s gravelly voice and bluesy swagger had guitar fans buzzing with anticipation. It didn’t hurt that he’d nabbed a gig touring as the opening act for Jack White, one of his idols.

With a borrowed acoustic guitar, Booker joined us outside one of the secluded secret tunnels in the heart of Fort Adams State Park after his set at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. While we were setting up for this Field Recording, Booker offhandedly mentioned that a few years prior, he’d applied to become an NPR Music intern. He didn’t get that gig, but he told us that missing out spurred his desire to explore another side of his passion for music.

“Have You Seen My Son?” is a quiet shuffle of a song.  Frankly it’s not that impressive as a song, at least you wouldn’t think much of him from just this song.  Except for that voice of course.

[READ: October 7, 2017] I Know What You Read Last Summer

This essay opens with an epigram by Ruth Franklin from Slate, May 8, 2017.

Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.

LeGuin has a lot of fun with this premise.  She begins with a scary opening about something crawly, squelching, stomping–an unknown force smelling of broken rotting flesh: Goddamn that Chabon, dragging it out of the grave where she and the other serious writers had buried it.

Could he not see that Cormac McCarthy–although everything in his book (except the wonderfully blatant use of an egregiously obscure vocabulary) was remarkably similar to a great many earlier works of science fiction about men crossing the country after the holocaust–could never under any circumstances be said to be a sci-fi writer, because Cormac McCarthy was a serious writer and so by definition incapable of lowering himself to commit genre. (more…)

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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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