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Archive for the ‘Books about writers’ Category

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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CV1_TNY_06_08_15_09.inddSOUNDTRACKKEVIN MORBY & KATIE CRUTCHFIELD-“Downtown’s Lights” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2018).

I don’t know if Bob Boilen ever explained how he starte dto get people doing South X Lullabies, but here he explains why he started doing them:

In the midst of all the chaos that is Austin, Texas during the SXSW Music Festival, we seek moments of calm. And so one night, as the week was nearing its end, we made our way to the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church, just a few blocks from the thousands of festival participants and onlookers. There we found a trickling garden-side waterfall, where Katie Crutchfield and Kevin Morby performed “Downtown’s Lights,” from Kevin Morby’s recent album, City Music.

I don’t know Kevin Morby.  I’ve heard of him, but aside from a Tiny Desk Concert, I’ve never explored his music.

“Downtown’s Lights” is a simple folk song.  He’s got a bit of a Bob Dylan delivery in what feels like a very deliberate folk song.  Katie Crutchfield is Waxahatchee who I’m excited to see in a few weeks.  Waxahatchee has been really rocking out the last few albums, so this folk song (and her Southern accent) stand out somewhat.

Their voices work nicely together, and that moment when you hear someone yelling, it almost sounds like a wolf howling.

“Downtown’s Lights” is a song of comfort and prayer for someone who is down and out in the city, and this version, with Katie singing — and the sounds of the city echoing in the background — is wistful and peacefully perfect.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “Two Emmas”

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 Roger Angell’s summer home in Maine.

He says that on late February nights his mind often returns to his family’s cottage in Maine and the books that are on its shelves.

Those books have been there for as long as he can remember, and have been read and re-read every summer.  The list is interesting:

Good Behaviour [Molly Keane], Endurance [Alfred Lansing], Framley Parsonage [Anthony Trollope], Get Shorty [Elmore Leonard], Daisy Miller [Henry James], Dracula [Bram Stoker], Butterfield 8 [John O’Hara], Goodbye to All That [Robert Graves], Why Did I Ever [Mary Robison], Oblomov [Ivan Goncharov], The Heart of the Matter [Graham Greene], Sailing Days on the Penobscot [George Savary Wasson], The Moonstone [Wilkie Collins], Possession [A. S. Byatt], Morte d’Urban [J. F. Powers], Quartet [Jean Rhys], Emma [Jane Austen] and dozens more. [I have to chime in and say that this sounds heavenly].

He says that fat books like Martin Chuzzlewit [Charles Dickens], Orley Farm [Anthony Trollope] and the Forsythe Saga [John Galsworthy] were saved for a tedious week of Down East fog. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.

 

[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALEX CLARE: Tiny Desk Concert #715 (March 7, 2018).

Alex Clare’s band is clearly having a beard-growing contest.  The drummer (Christopher Prendergasp) isn’t playing but everyone else suggests the stakes are high.  The bassist (Christopher Hargreaves) is winning.

Vocalist and songwriter Alex Clare is yet another soul disciple from the UK, and his visit to Bob Boilen’s desk is the perfect setting to bask in the power of his voice.

The first song, “Three Hearts,” is a love song dedicated to the moment he heard the heartbeat of his first child coming from his wife’s sonogram. Backed by a tight four-piece band, Clare’s tale of his family’s road to domestic tranquility captures the joy as well as the uncertainty of impending parenthood.

Lyrically it’s okay and sweet, it just sounds fairly typical.  Especially musically.  I thought we;d be getting 20 minutes of straight ahead soul with a little less charisma than The Commitments.

Next is “A song called ‘Love Can Heal.’  True story.”  The guitar (Jordan Peters) is far more interesting on this song.  In fact I found myself enjoying the guitar more than Clare’s voice.  I love the cool guitar licks at the end and the nifty harmonic note that ends the song.  Although, having said that, his voice is quite powerful.  And he shows it off even more on the next song.

In “Caroline,” he inhabits the words with passion and heartfelt pleading, bringing to mind some of the best soul shouters, completely lost in the sentiment of the lyric.

That is very true, he is completely swept up in this song (even he says it’s not about anyone in particular).

I really like the guitar on the final song “Open My Eyes.”   I like the whole vibe of this song–the way the song unfolds and the backing vocals as well.  Indeed I feel like each song has gotten a better as the show progressed.

While I found his music to be fine–nothing I’d go out of my way to listen to but I wouldn’t turn it off either. I found his backstory far more interesting:

The British singer-songwriter released his debut album, The Lateness of the Hour, on Island Records last summer. But the label soon discovered how serious Clare was about his faith [he is an Orthodox Jew, which I didn’t know when I made the beard contest joke] — especially when it came to the sabbath and high holy days, on which Orthodox Jews are forbidden to perform.

“When I signed to Island — you know, obviously a shomer Shabbos Jewish person — I don’t think they quite realized what that means,” Clare says. “I got offered a tour at Pesach, at Passover, and couldn’t perform.”

The offer Clare turned down was a slot opening for Adele. About four months later, he was dropped from Island’s roster, having failed to generate significant album sales or radio play. As Clare was figuring out his next move, he received a call from Microsoft, which was interested in using his song “Too Close” in a commercial. It was a deal that would make the song a hit and restart his career.

He doesn’t play that song here, which is too bad.  And the poor percussionist’s name is never given.

[READ: February 28, 2018] “Violations”

This is a story about writing stories and how autobiographical they are or are not.

It is written in close third person.  And the first sentence is really, really, really long.

It begins, “He had wanted to make sure she wouldn’t write about him…” and then it goes on in his mind about why he didn’t want to be written about and narcissism and all that kind of thing.  The short of it is that he never asked her not to write about him, but he never stopped craving assurance that she wouldn’t (and there’s a long entangled reason why not).

The “she” is his now ex-wife.  She moved out but he still gets her mail.  And she has not written about him.  He tries to get her mail to stop coming but he doesn’t cancel her magazines–especially the one that she always wanted to be published in but had never been. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT-Shruggy Ji (2013)..

Red Baraat’s second album feels a lot bigger than their debut.  The production is bigger, there’s (even) more diverse sounds.  And there’s a lot more vocals album.

I enjoyed the brrrrrr ah! vocals, but I’m a little less excited by the rapping. Primarily because the lyrics are pretty lame (party type lyrics for the most part). But that doesn’t diminish from the music, which is super throughout.  It feels big and solid–evidently the band was recorded playing all together with only minimal overdubs.

“Hala Bol” opens with a wild melody and some singing “bol bol bol, hala bol–RAISE YOUR VOICE!–baby baby bol hala bol.”  The song is pretty long (as most of these are and the middle features the guys chanting all manner of things in possibly different languages.

“Tenu leke” opens with a celebratory “Brrrrrrrrr ah” and chants of  “hoy hoy hoy.”  There’s a wonderful uplifting sense to the melody especially when the song takes a breath and the notes spring forth once more.

“Shruggy Ji” opens with some slow, ominous horns for about 25 seconds and then the dhol, percussion, and drums kick it up into a furious meld of go-go funk, hip-hop, jazz, and South Asian groove.  The powerful funk makes way for a good-natured rap: “Move your body and shake those hips / just feel the rhythm all under your skin / drip drop the sweat / shruggy ji lets begin.”  Nothing exciting, but fun.  The rap in the second half is less successful although I’ve read that it’s meant to be all in fun, so I guess a line like “I’m gonna ask you some question like I was Biz Markee” is just comical.  About the song band leader Sunny Jain says, “We like to think of ‘Shruggy Ji’ as that shadow lurking next to us, waiting to take over when the night falls and move our body with no inhibitions.”

“Burning Instinct” has the kind of booty shaking vibe that make you wanna move.  The dueling horn solos add to the fun chaos that the percussion is creating.

“Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” has lyrics in Hindi (I assume) which seems to work better because I’m not trying to figure out what he’s singing about.  “Sialkot” opens with some thundering dhol paying and lots of “brrrr ahs!”

“Private Dancer” also features rapping party vocals over some slow rolling funk.  I love that it begins with someone shouting “yo, turn that dhol up!”   “F.I.P.” is full of more fun and dance and lots of call and response. “Apna Punjab Hove” has a bit of an upbeat  reggae feel and a smidge of klezmer for a change of pace.  It’s still dancing, just a different step.  Lots of chanting of “ah -ha” and the like.

“Azad Azad” is an album highlight.  It’s got great percussion and a fun riff from the horns and lots of chanting.  Unlike some of the more partying songs, this one is more political: “no borders, no walls, freedom [sings / dances / rings] through us all.”

“Mast Kalander” is a fun song which proves that the more nonsensical the lyrics, the better the party: “jump in the sauce / throw your hands up and go crazy.”  I love how it gets faster and faster as it progresses.”

“Aarthi”ends the album with a cool, jazzy melody.  The party is over and it’s time to go home so lets chill things down a bit.  I love that the song opens with what sounds like someone blowing into a bass saxophone and making vocals sounds at the same time.  It’s pretty cool.

The lineup remains the same as the first album:
Sunny Jain – dhol ; Rohin Khemani – percussion ; Tomas Fujiwara – drumset ; Arun Luthra – soprano sax ; Mike Bomwell – baritone sax ; Sonny Singh – trumpet ; MiWi La Lupa – bass trumpet ; Smoota – trombone ; John Altieri – sousaphone.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “Maps and Ledgers”

I haven’t really enjoyed the stories by Wideman that much.  So I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.  But it proved to be pretty straightforward and quite compelling.

As the story opens we meet a man who says that in his first year teaching at the university, his father killed a man.  The narrator was barely established in the school–he had no phone in his office–so the call went to the English Department chair’s office.  It was his mother, sobbing and blubbering.  He had told her to call there only in an emergency, which this was, obviously.

The chair was a southern gentlemen and he respectfully left the room once the narrator had been called down.

But the story isn’t just about him.  The narrator’s Aunt C got his father a lawyer.  Aunt C was a pioneer.  She had served as a WAC office in WWII and submitted applications for jobs through the Veterans Administration.  She managed to get a job in the city planners office before they realized she was black.

They did not convict his father–the victim was black after all.  But things got worse for him.

And this is when another one of Wideman’s stories gets confusing.

My father’s son, my youngest brother, convicted of felony murder. And years later my son received a life sentence at sixteen. My brother, my son still doing time. And my father’s imprisoned son’s son a murder victim. And a son of my brother’s dead son just released from prison a week ago. And I’m more than half-ashamed I don’t know if the son, whose name I can’t recall, of my brother’s dead son has fathered son or daughter.

Gets confusing doesn’t it?

Yes it does. (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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SOUNDTRACK: JAMILA WOODS-Tiny Desk Concert #699 (January 29, 2018).

Jamila Woods is the Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, the non-profit organization behind the Louder Than a Bomb youth poetry slam festival.  She also did guest vocals on a slew of albums recently.

Last year she released her debut album HEAVN.  But there is so much more

Singer, songwriter, poet, educator and community organizer Jamila Woods is also a freedom fighter: a voice that celebrates black ancestry, black feminism and black identity. “Look at what they did to my sisters last century, last week,” goes a line from “Blk Girl Soldier,” her powerful opening number at the Tiny Desk.

A cool bass line from Erik Hunter opens “Blk Girl Soldier.”  I don’t love the music that much (too jazz lite for me) but the lyrics are outstanding

We go missing by the hundreds…
The camera loves us, Oscar doesn’t…
They want us in the kitchen
Kill our sons with lynchings
We get loud about it
Oh now we’re the bitches

Woods’ delivery is fantastic and the backing vocals (and keys) from Aminata Burton add a nice touch.  Throughout this song and the others the drums are great–different sounds and rhythms from Ralph Schaefer.

Woods followed “Blk Girl Soldier” with “Giovanni,” another anthem of black female pride, inspired by the Nikki Giovanni poem “Ego Tripping.” The original text includes no punctuation, not a single comma or period, and reveals a liberated prosody that is also illustrated in the song. Listen how her lyricism interplays with the rhythm section’s syncopated groove to create a captivating state of emotional buoyancy.

I love the stops and starts and the groovy bass and soaring guitars from Justin Canavan.  But once again, I’m more enamored of her lyrics

Little Bitty you wanna call me
100 motherfuckers can’t tell me
How I’m supposed to look when I’m angry
How I’m supposed to shriek when you’re around me

“Holy” opens with just keys and a punctuating drum beat.  This song is a slower one and it is all about self-empowerment.

Of particular note is her recurring theme of self-love, as heard in “Holy,” the last song in this set: “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me.” (What a refreshing affirmation to hear “loving me,” instead of the predictable “loving you.”)

I don’t like R&B, but I could see this album transcending that for me.

[READ: November 12, 2017] The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

I received an email from A.M. Homes touting this book (obviously, I wasn’t the only one).  It was quite an encouraging email so I decided to give this fascinating book a try.  Boy, did I love it.

The book opens with a clip from the Fall issue of Literature Magazine.   It is a story about Joan Ashby, wondering where she has been all of these years.  The article says that they have been allowed to look at her childhood notebooks.

At thirteen she wrote nine precepts she was determined to follow in order to become a writer

  1. Do not waste time
  2. Ignore Eleanor when she tells me I need friends
  3. Read great literature every day
  4. Write every day
  5. Rewrite every day
  6. Avoid crushes and love
  7. Do not entertain any offer of marriage
  8. Never ever have children
  9. Never allow anyone to get in my way

Eight years later she burst onto the scene with her first collection of short stories about incest, murder, insanity, suicide, abandonment and the theft of lives called Other Small Spaces.  Four years later in 1989 her second book Fictional Family Life was a collection of superbly interlocked stories.

She was considered brutal and unsparing and wrote very powerfully.

During all of this time, her parents were irrelevant–they didn’t seem to think much about her when she was young and when she became successful she had little to do with them.

The “magazine” prints excerpts from these stories and here is where Wolas really shines.  She creates story fragments that really show off what a great writer Ashby (and of course, by extension, Wolas) is.

These are followed by an interview and her last public sighting–a reading of her work.  It was at this reading that her first shock was revealed–she had gotten married.  And when she toured for the second book, the women who revered her were outraged by this betrayal.

The opening section is “continued after the break” which is basically the rest of the book. (more…)

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