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Archive for the ‘Books about writers’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BOB WEIR AND WOLF BROS.-Tiny Desk Concert #952 (March 2, 2020).

Bob Weir is, obviously, a founding member of Grateful Dead.

This set goes on much longer than a typical one (and they’re not rappers or R&B singers).  I got a kick out of this comment in the blurb:

When I produce a Tiny Desk Concert, one of my most important jobs is to make sure they run on time and that the performance sticks to our set time limit (roughly 15-minutes). So when Bob Weir and Wolf Bros achieved lift-off during a pre-show sound-check, it was my unthinkable responsibility to tell the guy who practically invented the jam band to… stop jamming.

It also fell to me to keep looking at my watch during the performance, even as I realized that my favorite “Dark Star” jams alone lasted well beyond our fifteen-minute performance window.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Dead (despite how much I enjoy jam bands).  Their music is a bit too slow for my tastes.  But in the right mood (like a rainy Sunday), they can be right on.

These songs are slow and expansive and allow for a lot of jamming.  There’s not a lot of opportunity for jamming here as this is just a trio, but Weir is very comfortable stretching things out.

The trio make an interesting look with drummer Jay Lane in a tie-dyed shirt and upright bassist Don Was in all black.  Weir stand between them in a gray T-shirt and his gray hair.

The first song

“Only a River,” from Weir’s 2016 solo album Blue Mountain, feels like a memorial to Jerry Garcia, with a reference to the Shenandoah River, a body of water Garcia famously made reference to on the song, “A Shenandoah Lullaby.” Weir turns the chorus into a mantra and seems to evoke the spirit of his fallen bandmate.

This song references the melody of “Shenandoah” pretty directly n the middle, but the “hey hey hey” let’s you know that this is a very different song.

Before the second song, he says they just got clearance to play it.  I didn’t realize that “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was a Bob Dylan song, but I guess maybe I should have.

And what would a Grateful Dead-related performance be without a Bob Dylan song? The intimacy of the Tiny Desk turns Weir into a sage Master Storyteller during a version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” with its reference to Botticelli and a lonely Roman hotel room.

The set really comes to life when special guest, Mikaela Davis comes out to play harp.

The harp is always a magical-sounding instrument and amid the quietness of this trio, it really shines.  Davis basically takes the lead on “Bird Song” including bending strings (I’ve never seen a harpist do that before).

Midway through the song, Weir waves his hand and allows Davis to take a solo while Weir puts down his acoustic guitar.

When Weir switches to electric guitar midway during “Bird Song,” I looked at my watch because I knew we were in for some time travel. And the band didn’t disappoint as the rhythmic interplay between Weir and Davis showed off his singular rhythm guitar style, honed from more than thirty years of playing alongside one the most idiosyncratic lead guitarists in modern music.

Davis does some more note bending in her solo, which is so interesting.  When Weir joins in, their music melds really beautifully.

They jam the song out for 8 minutes and as the music fades Bob says, I’m pretty sure we’re over our time limit.

He says they were slated for 20 minutes and they’re at forty now (sadly we only get to see 26 minutes).  Someone shouts “keep going” and they do one more.

They play “Ripple” Grateful Dead’s fifty-year-old sing-along from their album American Beauty.  It demonstrates

the song’s celebration of hope and optimism, found in the spirit of all of the band’s music. Bob Weir continues to evoke that spirit every time he picks up a guitar; and as we all sang along at the end, we evoked that spirit too: “Let there be songs, to fill the air.”

I suppose it’s never too late to start enjoying a band, right?

[READ: March 25, 2020] “In the Cards”

This is exactly the kind of story I don’t like.  It seemed to go nowhere and in an oblique fashion. Plus the narrator was really hard to relate to.

The point of the story seems to be the last line: “You’re crazy when you’re a good writer.”

It starts with a discussion of playing cards and moves on to tarot cards.  Her friend Michel gave her a deck and she felt ill at ease just reading the directions.  But what most disturbed her was the image of The Fool.

The narrator says she is unfamiliar with playing cards and yet later she says when she was a child they played Mistigri which is a card game.  So go figure.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL NORGREN-Tiny Desk Concert #928 (January 3, 2020).

download (19)I feel like I’ve heard of Daniel Norgren, but I really don’t know anything about him.  In fact, when I first started playing this Tiny Desk Concert I was surprised at the kind of music this Swedish musician played because it was steeped in American roots music.

Daniel Norgren has been self-releasing his analog recordings for nearly a dozen years. At the Tiny Desk, he and his band sampled music from three different records.

For the first song, “Putting My Tomorrows Behind,” Norgren plays piano.  There’s a slow, simple drum beat from Erik Berntsson.  And when the chorus comes along, all four sing with gorgeous harmonies.  There’s a pretty bluesy guitar solo from Andreas Filipsson.

Throughout the five minutes of this slow song, it feels like a piece of working-class Americana:

I hear myself saying, I’m doing fine
My life is a walk through the pines
But I’m sick and I’m tired, spending my time
Putting my tomorrows behind

The sky is big and white and I’m locked inside
Working all day with a frown
I guess I’m just a coward who would need to get fired
And banished from this town

For “Everything You Know Melts Away Like Snow” Norgren switches from piano to guitar.  This simple song runs 6 minutes with minimal lyrics.  But it has some lovely backing vocals and an interesting lead vocal melody that seems to go nicely with the guitar lines that are picked out.  As he played,

the bluesy Swedish musician kept his eyes tightly shut, as he seemed to tap into old souls to help conjure his tunes.  His body sway[ed] and writhe[d] as he and his band create[d] a dream state calming enough to slow the day’s hectic pace to a crawl.

Norgen takes the guitar solo on this song (mostly on the lower strings–a very bluesy kind of solo).  You’d swear this song came from an American band from the sixties.

You can’t really hear his Swedish accent (you can hear a fraction of it when he sings) until he introduces the band.  I also like that Anders Grahn plays the upright bass as Norgren is talking, giving everything they do a musical feel.

“Moonshine Got Me” is the oldest song he plays–it dates back to his 2011 EP Black Vultures.  The title sounds like Americana but the song also is not about “moonshine,” the liquor, it is about the actual moon shining. It’s over ten minutes long and opens with beautiful intertwining guitars–both he and Filipsson play different lines that feel like leads but which keep the melody perfectly.  His voice is the most aching on this song.

There’s a lengthy slow jamming middle section, in which both Andreas and Daniel take solos.  As the song slows, Daniel moves back to the piano and picks out a quiet melody to bring the song to a close.

[READ: January 6, 2020] “Linda Boström Knausgård’s Post-“Struggle” IKEA Trip

I don’t usually write about short pieces like this.  But this is about an author who I’ve recently read and whose new book I am quite interested in.  Plus, Linda Boström Knausgård is the ex-wife of Karl Ove Knausgård and she was written about so much in those books that I feel like I know her (fairly or unfairly).

This piece is, indeed, about Linda Boström Knausgård in an IKEA.  She is in New York for a book tour for her new novel Welcome to America.

It’s odd to feel you know things about a person when you have never met them and your only exposure to them is from someone else’s point of view.  There’s not a lot that Linda Boström Knausgård can do to get away from what we “know” about her.   But this little story does show her to be a bit more upbeat than the way she was left off in the novels.

It also made me laugh that the author of the piece felt the need to explain IKEA as “a notional store from Sweden.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEYES BLOOD–Tiny Desk Concert #922 (December 11, 2019).

The new Weyes Blood album has been on many people’s best of the of year lists. I hadn’t heard any of it but I’d read that it was lovely.

When I first listened to this Tiny Desk Concert, I really didn’t think much of it–couldn’t imagine what made this simple folk music so special.

But on a second (and third and fourth) listen, I heard a lot of the components that made it quite a beautiful set.

Nataile Mering sings and plays acoustic guitar.  Her voice reminds me a lot of Aimee Mann.

The blurb says that this set is

simple and restrained — a strummed guitar, two-part harmonies, a brushed beat — but still managed to re-create the majesty and wonder of the band’s latest release, Titanic Rising, one of 2019’s loftiest and most layered albums.

The music here is simple and straightforward–“rooted in ’70s folk-pop traditions, with mystical themes of rambling on to find meaning and purpose.”

“Andromeda,” an astral ode to love, set the tone with the acoustic guitar.  After a minute and a half there is a really cool otherworldly-sounding guitar solo from Stephen Heath.  It is just a slide on an electric guitar but it sounds very cool amid the folky quiet.  There is a very traditional organ sound from Walt McClements  filling in the spaces, but I think what really makes the song transcend folk are the fantastic backing vocals from bassist Eliana Athayde.  Whether it’s oohs and ahhs or harmonies, her contributions are monumental.

“Wild Time” is next and Athayde’s oohs are there supporting Mering’s gentle leads.  Like the previous song the acoustic guitar sets the pace with the keys filling in the gas and Andres Renteria’s drums keeping pace.  This time the standout sound from Heath’s guitar is a buzzing e-bow–an otherworldly insect buzzing around the song.  Near the end, Heath turns that buzz into a proper guitar solo and there’s a brief moment where I think Althayde and Mering are singing different lines at the same time.  The end of the song rings of early Pink Floyd with the piano sound and Heaths now noisy scratchy e-bow filed soloing.

The final song, “Picture Me Better,” is “a heartbreaking remembrance of a friend who died by suicide while Mering was working on the album.”  It’s the quietest song of the bunch.  Renteria leaves and it’s just acoustic guitar and keys with gentle electric guitar notes and Mering’s voice.  This time Athayde’s backing vocals add an otherworldly quality as we get lost in this song of loss and yearning.

It’s quite a lovely set, and if this is stripped down, I do wonder what a full-on, layered album must sound like.

[READ: December 16, 2019] “Sevastopol”

This was a story about writing stories.

The narrator, Nadia, receives a postcard from Klaus.  The postcard is of Sevastopol, although Klaus has never been there–he probably got it from a site like easterneuropeanjunk.com.

Klaus had rented a theater space in São Paulo (the story was written in Portuguese and translated by Zoë Perry) and called Nadia to insist that she come and help him fix it up.

They had met at the museum where she works.  He led a drama workshop and since staff could take classes for free she decided to check it out.  Klaus had directed a play which ran in a local theater.  Nadia hadn’t seen it, but her friend said it was awful.  Nevertheless, Nadia liked Klaus. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“I Believe in Miracles” (2003).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

Recorded in Santa Barbara California on October 28, 2003 this is a song that the band has played many times live.  I actually forget that its a Ramones song because of how un-Ramones their version is.

They do play it loud and rocking, but this version is a quieter, acoustic version. It’s also kind of slow so you can hear all the words.

There’s two lengthy acoustic guitar solos (very different from the Ramones) as well.  And of course, Eddie sounds nothing like Joey Ramone.

Despite the different style of play, this cover is quite faithful to the original.  But this acoustic version is particularly cool and the crowd is really into it.

[READ: December 11, 2019] “The Wild Man of Mississippi”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

I know Jack Pendarvis exclusively from McSweeney’s issues–particularly from the Letters columns–and The Believer.

I’m a little sad to say that overall my impression of his writing is not great.  I wrote this a long while back:

Pendarvis writes my least favorite piece in The Believer.  His monthly column Musin’s & Thinkin’s is a faux hillbilly column that is purposefully absurd and in my mind really really forced.

However, I did enjoy some of his short stories, which seem to be, not exactly parodies, but anachronistic tales that play around with the expectations of formula.

This story continues in that vein.

The titular Wild Man of Mississippi is an author and he is very much aware of his persona as The Wild Man of Mississippi.

As the story starts he is heading to near the Canadian border to read to a college class.  He couldn’t fit into his peacoat and had his tailor move the buttons: “an identifying feature of peacoats seemed to be the faraway buttons.  Well, fuck that.”

The tailor was late and thanked him for his patience.  How presumptuous to think he had patience.  After several other small indignities, he is booked on American Airlines–not his first choice. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Angel” (1993).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

This song goes back to 1993 and has the logo from Vs.

It’s not a Christmas song (not every year end 7″ was Christmas themed).  Rather this sounds like an outtake from Vitalogy more than Vs.  Interestingly, they played it at the Fenway Park show that S. and I went to in 2016 (August 7), although I obviously didn’t know it.  I’m secretly impressed that I was there when they played this song–only  the sixth time they’ve ever played it.

It’s a quiet acoustic guitar-based song.  The chords sound a little off–a little unsettled.

The song opens with the first section, the “like an angel” section.  When the second part comes next, a second guitar is added in along with some backing vocals, (especially on the word “tortured”) giving the song an eerier harmony.  The guitar on this part is consistent until the 80 second mark when it suddenly shifts to a pretty melody.

There’s upbeat chords with some lovely backing vocals as Eddie sings lyrics he can’t seem to get out fast enough and some surprisingly high notes.

It’s certainly an oddball song–three minutes with no chorus and some certainly odd chords.  But the sentiment is quite nice.

[READ: December 5, 2019] “Acknowledgements”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story was fantastic.  I loved everything about it–tone, content, style, humor.  This had it all.

It is about a young writer who named his writer-protagonists after himself and wrote about how underappreciated he was as a writer.  The acknowledgements that the title refers to are in his debut novel which was just published.  It is called The Canon According to D. M. Murphy by D. M. Murphy.

But before getting to the people who impacted this novel, he gives us some extensive background about himself–birthday, birth method, etc.  He reveals his name is Daniel Manitou Murphy.  He liked the “Manitou” part although why his parents would name him after the islands in Lake Michigan (whose legend is that they were the Great Spirit’s memorial to her dead cubs) was always confusing to him.  He thought about going by D. Manitou, but he feared that it would be seen as appropriation.  And then of course there are the awkward years: “I had somewhere entered that phase of bourgeoisie adulthood in which one uses brunch as a verb.” (more…)

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shoppingSOUNDTRACK: MATT MAYS-Live at Massey Hall (May 4, 2018).

I had never heard of Matt Mays.  He was once a part of the Canadian country band The Guthries (who I also don’t know).  Perhaps the most surprising (and disappointing) thing to me about this show is when I saw an ad for this concert and saw that Kathleen Edwards was opening for him (!).  And that so far they haven’t released the Kathleen Edwards show.

Before the show he says he wants all feelings present–happy, sad–he praises the expression “all the feels” because that’s what he wants to happen tonight.  He wants the night to be “like a Nova Scotia kitchen party.”  You laugh you cry you dance and you fight all in one kitchen.

He starts with “Indio.”  Like most of these songs, it is a rocking guitar song with a definite country-rock feel.  It’s also interesting that a Nova Scotia guy is singing about “old fashioned California sin.”  There’s a ton of lead guitar work from Adam Baldwin.  Mays also plays guitar and there’s an acoustic guitar as well from Aaron Goldstein  The song breaks midway through to a piano melody from Leith Fleming-Smith.  Mays asks “You feel like singing Toronto? It’s real easy.”  And it is: “Run run run you are free now.  run run run you are free.”

For “Station Out of Range,” he invites his dear friend Kate Dyke from St Johns, Newfoundland.  She sings backing vocals.  It opens with some big crushing drums from Loel Campbell.  It has a slower tempo, but it grows really big with some really massive drum fills.

“Building a Boat” opens with a repeating keyboard pattern before a real rocking riff kicks in.  Ryan Stanley also plays guitars.  The song rocks on with a lot of little guitar solos.  Mays takes one and then Baldwin follows.  They jam this pretty long.

“Take It on Faith” starts with a simple piano before the guitars come roaring in with two searing solos.  The melody is really catchy, too.

“Terminal Romance” is a slower number.  Mays puts his guitar down and its mostly piano and bass
(Serge Samson).  Eventually a guitar with a slide is added.  It builds as more guitars come in.  They jam this song for about 8 minutes.

He ends the show with “Cocaine Cowgirl,” an oldie that still means a lot to him.   He says he’s been playing Toronto since he was 19 years-old in font of tow people.  He’s thrilled to be at Massey Hall.  His band is his best buds from Nova Scotia.   It’s an absolutely wailing set ender with Mays throwing in some wicked solos.  The song seems like its over but Mays plays some really fast guitar chords and aftee a few bars everyone joins in and rips the place part with intensity.  It runs to nearly ten minutes and it’s a  really satisfying ending.

[READ: August 3, 2019] “Shopping in Jail”

When an author releases a lot of books and essays in various formats, it’s pretty inevitable that you’ll wind up re-reading one or two.  Especially if some of those essays are reprinted in other books.

So it turns out that I read this small book five years ago (it’s understandable that I didn’t remember that after five years).  Here’s what I said about it five years ago:

Just when I thought I had caught up with everything that Douglas Coupland had published, I came across this book, a collection of his recent essays.  I enjoy the very unartistic cover that Sternberg Press has put on this.  It looks extremely slapdash–look at the size of the print and that the contents are on the inside front cover.  But the essays contained within are pure Coupland and are really enjoyable.

I have read a number of his older essays in recent years.  And here’s the thing: reading old Coupland essays just makes you think, ho hum, he knew some things.  But you don’t really think that he was on the forefront of whatever he was thinking.  So to read these essays almost concurrently is really fascinating.

His thoughts are science fiction, but just on the cusp of being very possible, even probable.  He also looks at things in ways that the average person does not–he notices that on 9/11 people didn’t have picture phones–imagine how more highly documented it would have been.  These essays are largely about technology, but they’re also about the maturation and development of people and how they relate to things.  Coupland can often seem very ponderous, and yet with these essays he seems prescient without actually trying to predict anything.  I enjoyed this collection very much.

I’m going to include what I said last time (in italics), but I felt the need to add some five-years later thoughts on each essay. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHONY PPL-Tony Desk Concert #829 (March 4, 2019).

This is another case where a band I’ve never heard of gets four songs and twenty minutes.  It’s petty to be bugged by that, but when band I like sometimes play 9 minutes, it’s a bummer.  However, by the end of the 20 minutes this jazzy, rocking r&b band won me over.

Phony Ppl is from Brooklyn.  They are fronted by an incredibly happy and smiling guy named Elbee Thrie.  In fact everyone seems really happy and full of energy

Phony Ppl is a group that emits a vigorous energy on and off stage. In this case, the spirit was exchanged between the band and the NPR staff from the moment they gathered behind the desk and gave a zesty greeting.

I thought they seemed very confident for a new band and it turns out they’re not new at all.

The Brooklynites formed in high school and stand out as one of a handful of R&B bands in the industry that makes eclectic choices in fashion and lyrical narratives. Their fifth full-length, 2015’s Yesterday’s Tomorrow, was praised for the way the band seamlessly melds jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

The songs are certainly jazzy (with a near-continuous sax from guest Braxton Cook).  If he’s a guest I wonder if I would enjoy them more without the sax.

They opened with “Compromise,” a highlight from Yesterday’s Tomorrow, and locked into an up-tempo pocket as if it was a second skin.  Midway through, during a quiet part where he claps along, Thrice says that the song’s “about meeting somebody at the wrong time” he says midsong.  There’s some awesome fuzzed out guitar solos from Elijah Rawk.  And I like when Rawk and bassist Bari Bass star swinging back and forth in sync, just enjoying themselves.

From there, they wove in three more songs, including two from their latest project, mō’zā-ik.

Thrice says that “One Man Band” is very special to him.  Hopefully you can feel it and I don’t have to explain why.  The middle sees a shift to reggae chords with some grooving bass and some delightfully gentle piano from Aja Grant.

“Cookie Crumble” features a kazoo solo that sounds a bit like a muted trumpet.   And by the final song, (uno mas, uno mas) “Why iii Love the Moon” they have totally won me over.  I love the way he interacts withe everyone on hand–“oh wait, she’d not ready.”  “You ready yet?”  “Oh she;s ready, we can play now.”

Maybe it was the nice backing vocals from drummer Maffyuu or the amazing moment when Cook and Rawk played the same solo on guitar and sax at the same time.  It was a great moment of synergy–they sounded amazing together.  And they totally won me over.

[READ: March 4, 2019] “The Starlet Apartments”

This is the story of a couple of young men fresh out of Yale.  The narrator was working for F.S.G. in New York City. Then he got invited by an old classmate, Todbaum, to move out to Hollywood to work on scripts–for projects that were already vetted!

The narrator, Sandy was delighted with the arrangement.  They lived in the Starlet Apartments a classic thirties two-story complex with a swimming pool. They drank a lot and tried to pick up women,  They fancied themselves great writers.  They wrote a ton and sold none.

After a few month, Sandy heard from his younger sister.  She had just graduated and wanted to come out to L.A. (anywhere but home).  He imagined having an attractive woman with them would only help their chances. (more…)

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