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Archive for the ‘Cancer as plot device’ Category

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: KUINKA-Tiny Desk Concert #716 (March 9, 2018).

Kuinka are a happy band.  Smiles are on all four members’ faces as they play their three songs.

Miranda Zickler says that they spend all of their time in the van listening to NPR, so this is pretty exciting for them.

The blurb says:

Last year I came across Kuinka (coo-WINK-uh), a band from Seattle… Kuinka’s live performance knocked me out even more than the creative video they’d submitted for the contest.

Since then, Brothers Zach (guitar) and Nathan (mandolin) Hamer, along with Miranda Zickler (keys) and Jillian Walker (cello), have come to D.C. for an official performance at the Tiny Desk, bringing with them their great harmonies and unique blend of energetic, string-band music with a dose of synth.

I’m not sure what the band sounds like normally–if they typically play electronic drums or what, but as the blurb notes

The songs are performed here on relatively tiny instruments, including a ukulele, a drum pad, a small synth, a mandolin and a banjo, along with an electric guitar. But the performance is fleshed out beautifully with rousing vocal harmonies.

All three tracks performed here are from Kuinka’s 2017 EP Stay Up Late, and each one has its own charm.

“Curious Hands” has lead vocals by Miranda.  There’s a cello, keys and Nathan playing a small acoustic six string guitar (or ukulele?).  He gets a pretty big (largely percussive) sound out of that little thing.  But it’s the harmonies that are really spectacular.  I feel like the electronic drums are a little too electronic for this largely folk band but whatever.

For “Spaces,” Zach switches from electronic drums to electric guitar.  He also sings lead with an unexpected twang.  Nathan has switched to mandolin which gives the whole song a kind of Americana vibe.  The electronic drums sound they chose is awful, but there’s a really cool synth sound between verses that prevents this from being overtly in one genre.

Miranda “explains” the name of the band: Kuinka is like kuinka-dink but it doesn’t have anything to do with that, it’s just a coincidence [that’s our ‘bit’].

The blurb’s recommendation to stay until “Mistakenly Brave” is a good one as it is the most rousing song.  They revert back to previous instruments, although Miranda plays banjo.  The harmonies are terrific (much better than the solo vocals, honestly).  It’s got that whole The Head and the Heart vibe going on.  Big soaring vocals and a cool break that leads to a rollicking coda.  Mid way through, Zach switches back to electric guitar to add some oomph.

[READ: April 20, 2016] Endpoint

John Updike died in January 2009 after decades of writing for the New Yorker and elsewhere.  As the news settled in the magazine ran this tribute to him in the March 16 issue.

Rather than running a story, they published a ten-poem sequence called “Endpoint,” (I didn’t even know he wrote poetry).  Most of these poems were written in 2008, while presumably, he knew he was dying from lung cancer.

Endpoint (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: THE CRANBERRIES-Tiny Desk Concert #197 (February 23, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

cranbI really liked The Cranberries’ first album, but was turned off by them when they got overplayed on their second album (If I never heard “Zombie” again…”).

I didn’t realize that they launched a comeback of sorts back in 2012.  And this Tiny Desk Concert was a stop on their tour.  They play five songs–far more than most bands.  They may have been one of the biggest st bands to play up until now.

For this set, they strip down to acoustic guitar, tambourine, electric bass and Dolores O’Riordan’s vocals.

One of the things I liked about their first album was her delicate voice.  She found her more aggressive voice on later songs (where her accent really leaks through).  And that brash style is present here.  Which makes “Linger” sound a little odd and a little less pretty.

They play two then new songs which I rather like: “Tomorrow” and “Raining in My Heart.”  Since I’ve no expectations about them, I find her voice works very well with them.  They also seem much simpler than some of their earlier songs and she not doing anything unusual with her voice..

“Ode to My Family” (the doo-doodoo-doo song) sounds pretty good in this setting.  Although I always laughed about the “does anyone care” refrain because well, sometimes I didn’t.

They take a request to play “Zombie” and I have to say I really like it in this acoustic format.  She straps on an acoustic guitar and plays most of the “leads.”  She definitely does some unusual things to her voice, but overall its sounds good.  Somehow the electric bass really adds to all of the songs–I never noticed how much it added before,

Overall, the “lads” sound good and her voice has maintained its power.  Although I can help but think she looks a lot like Billie Joe Armstrong with that haircut.

[READ: December 24, 2016] “Being Mary”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This is theoretically the final book in the Short Story Advent Calendar (wow that went fast).  But there is a bonus story for tomorrow (how cool!).  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This short story is about a girl, Laura, who is supposed to be Mary in the school Christmas pageant.  She has always wanted to be Mary (she is six now) and feels she was destined to play her.  Last year she was an angel, which was disappointing.  But at least she wasn’t Jezebel or Judas or “poor old Leah, the unwanted older sister.”

But tragedy has struck.  Literally. (more…)

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june2015SOUNDTRACK: THE ARCS-Tiny Desk Concert #504 (January 25, 2016).

arcsOkay so the Tiny Desk folks make a pretty big deal out of this being their 500th show and I am stating that it is their 503rd show.  I have to guess that they post some shows out of order because I have counted twice and gotten the same number.  So we will choose to disagree with our numbering system, but I will also agree that this was their 500th episode because, why would they lie?

The Arcs are a band that I wished I liked more.  Everyone seems to enjoy them, but I really don’t.  Of course, I don’t like The Black Keys either, so this is no surprise, really.  Nevertheless, Dan Auerbach, who is in both bands, has a great voice and writes some interestign songs, I just don’t care for his arrangements–the very soulfulness that attracts fans, I guess.

They are accompanied by three members of  the Mariachi band Flor de Toloache, who did a Tiny Desk Concert a few weeks earlier (although I’m guessing it was the same day, hint hint).  They play a great accompaniment–sometimes all of them play, sometimes just one, and they add interesting elements to the songs.  They also sing backing vocals.

The band plays three songs from their album.  “Pistol made of Bones” which I like in this version (I don’t know the original, I don’t think).  I especially like the way the horn and violin play along with the melody and give it a very Mexican feel.  It removes some of the soul that I don’t really like about the songs.

The other two songs are the two singles from the album and I find that I like them less (I guess I’m a deep cuts kinda guy).

“Stay in My Corner” is a fine song.  I like the guitar lines and the way he sings it.  It’s just not my thing.  I really enjoy the backing vocals by drummer Homer Steinweiss, who has this hilarious style of tapping out these beats while leaning (practically asleep) on the drum machine–totally low key.

I really enjoy Auerbach’s singing delivery in “Outta My Mind.”  I just wish the song would do more.  I want it to be…something else.

So the 500th (ish) episode was probably a lot more fun in the Offices than it was for me.  Although I enjoyed the confetti cannons.

But congratulations anyway!  Here’s to 500 more–but take a break for a few weeks so i can play catch up, okay?

[READ: January 4, 2016] “Interesting Facts”

I hadn’t been reading all that many short stories at the time that I read this because I had been focusing on graphic novels and books.  So jumping back into the short stories at Harper’s has been a real treat.  And I really enjoyed this one.

Although I’m always leery of stories that center around a main character with cancer, I thought the way this was done was clever and interesting and it absolutely drew me in to the story.  Plus it was funny (at least at the beginning).

I loved the way it started: “Interesting fact: Toucan cereal bedspread to my plunge and deliver.”  It doesn’t even fully make sense by the end of the story but an essential part does and I enjoyed the way it was presented like this.

The story is told from the point of view of * a woman who developed breast cancer a few years back.  She says that “I’m going to discuss the breasts of every woman who crosses my path.”  And indeed she does. (more…)

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  uberSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Casbah, Hamilton, ON (November 12, 2005).

casbahThis is the first show of their’s that I’ve heard open with a kind of jazzy instrumental.  MPW is playing a jazzy beat on drums and Martin seems to be noodling on mellow chords (or is that Tim?).

And then they kick into a mellow version of “Bad Time to Be Poor” which I feel doesn’t sound quite right.  It may be the recording levels (the quality is crystal clear), but it feels very sharp and not very relaxed.

For “Aliens,” Martin forgot the words a bit.  And when he starts “The Tarleks” Dave interrupts after the first line to say that Frank Bonner (Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati) emailed him and said that he’s on an internet soap opera now.  Then they start talking about Green Day (who Martin describes as “chicken little punk”–the sky is falling but I’m drinking bottled water.  But he is mostly upset because instead of holding up lighters people are holding up their fucking cell phones.

Once again the “Song of the Garden” is punky–fast and fun.  They also have a ton of fun with “Four Little Songs.”  Ford Pier is playing keys again, and his contribution is an old song called “Nanaimo.”  He had asked if they should do “Mustang Sally” and Dave said that if they play that it will automatically be the worst gig ever.  And they throw in the (I believe intentionally) worst rendition of “Smoke on the Water” I’ve ever heard.  Later on, Martin throws in the riff from “Hey Hey My My” into “Feed Yourself” and as that song ends he starts singing the Neil Young song, but he’s got the words all wrong too.  It’s pretty funny, especially when he sings “It’s better to burn out than it is to fuck up.”

“Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne” has a lengthy intro about Billy Joe Rent–I have to wonder if this and the middle part of “Feed Yourself” about the dead body are impromptu things Dave makes up and then maybe sticks with.

“Satan is the Whistler” i sloppy but good.  Until they get to the fast section which totally falls apart.  Then they count off 1,2 ,3 4 and speed through it much better.

Martin talks about his CBC movie Black Widow, which I’d love to see.  Is it available for viewing anywhere?

Paul McLeod (his band Hibakusha opened, I believe) sings a great version of “Jesus was Once a Teenager Too.”  They follow it with a great version of “Stolen Car” (with some amazing backing vocals in the “marijuana” section.

In the previous show, “Try to Praise his Mutilated World” was amazing, but this one falls a little flat I’m afraid.  But it is all made up for by the hilarious synth “Record Body Count, Now!” done to the tune of “Everybody Dance Now.”

As the show comes to an end they play “Legal Age Life” and someone shouts “Take it, Ford,” and he seems stunned and then plays an incredibly lame (again, I believe intentionally) solo.

It’s a sloppy but fun show and comes up to their multi-night run at the Horseshoe.

[READ: September 10, 2015] “The Last Cut”

This is a very short story and an emotionally draining one at that.

The premise is fairly simple.  Eric, a hairdresser, is happily cutting his new client’s hair.  She is pretty and is willing to try a dramatic new cut, which he believes will really accentuate her looks.  He is mid-way through the cut when he gets a phone call.

It is Mrs. Swenson.  She is Renee’s client, but Renee is out for a couple of days.  Mrs. Swenson says that she needs to have her hair cut tonight.  And then there’s this dramatic line: “His throat and eyes ached. His chest, too. He wished he had found a way to say no to Mrs. Swenson.” (more…)

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how you dieSOUNDTRACK: DIARRHEA PLANET-“Lite Dream” Live on KEXP (2014).

dpHow to pass up a band with a name like this?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  Who would even want to say their name?

The name conjures images, no, let’s not go there.  The name conjures music that is just abrasive and rude–ten second punks songs.  But in reality, their music is pretty traditional old school heavy metal.  They have 4 lead guitarists after all! (There’s 6 guys in the band altogether, surprisingly, there’s no women).   One of the lead guitarists even plays with his teeth (for a few seconds).

This song is about heavy metal, although I’m not sure what about it.  There’s some big riffs, solos galore.  There’s even a classic 80s style dual lead guitar solo.  There’s big loud drums.  There’s feedback.  It’s everything you think of as heavy metal, with a seeming wink and nod thrown in.

This is basically a goofy feel good band, playing fast heavy metal.  Shame about the band name, though, really.

Watch it all here.

[READ: spring and summer 2014] This is How You Die

It is quite disconcerting to open a Christmas present from your wife and have the first thing you see be the words “This is How You Die.”  To then look at her confusedly and try to interpret the look of excited delight on her face as she wonders why you’re not excited.  Then she explains that it is a sequel to the interesting collection Machine of Death that you both had read several years ago (but which I evidently never posted about).  Sighs of relief and then Christmas can proceed with more merriment.

So over the course of the new year I read these stories and I enjoyed most of them quite a lot.

The premise of the book is that there is a Machine of Death.  This machine states how you will die, but it does not give you a time, place or real definition of what it means by hope you will die.  Statements seem obvious but may in fact be different in some twisted way.  As it says on the back of the book, OLD AGE could mean either dying of natural causes or being shot by an elderly bedridden man in a botched home invasion.  The book revels in the irony that you can know how it’s going to happen , but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

The way the machine works is that you insert your finger, it takes a blood sample and gives you a card with the way you die printed on it.  No matter how many times you do it you will get the same result.  These are the guidelines, and each author made a story with just that set up.

Pretty cool right?  The first collection was really great.  And so is this collection, done by writers and cartoonists that I had never heard of before.  There are 34 stories and 12 comic strips (it’s a hefty collection).  Because each story is basically about how a person dies, I had to think about how best to review the book–without giving away any twists.  So I think the title and a very brief plot will have to suffice.

There’s even a funny promo video for the book (at the end of the post). (more…)

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flinchSOUNDTRACK: HAUSCHKA-“Improvisation,” “Random Gifts” and “Mt. Hood” in the NPR studios (2010).

hausckaHauschka is German composer Volker Bertelmann and he plays the prepared piano.  What that means is that he places things on and in the piano to alter the sound of it.  (Nothing he does creates any permanent damage).

Mostly he creates percussive sounds with things like bottle caps,Tic Tac boxes and skewers.  And while it sounds simple, it is really quite ingenious.

This Vimeo link shows him talking to Guy Raz at NPR about the random materials that Raz has given him and then demonstrating how they change the sound of things.  Then he plays the “Random Gifts.”

The Youtube Video below shows another improv piece from the same day using different items.

This Vimeo link to him playing “Mt. Hood” shows off his use of ping pong balls.

All of his songs are fairly simple and fairly slow, primarily because the preparations add resonances and percussion that would overwhelm if he played faster.  Thus his pieces are often moody and reflective

Hauschka has a new album out as of this month called Abandoned City.  Every track on the new CD is named after a city that has been abandoned, that is vacant.  And his spare oftentimes eerie music goes very well with that theme.

There’s lots more videos of him on YouTube which are worth checking out.

[READ: June 23, 2014] Flinch

I was grabbed by the cover of this graphic novel.  The book is so short that I was really surprised to see that it was actually a collection of short stories.  As you can tell from the subtitle, this work is going to be dark and more than a little creepy.  And it is.  And while there are some similar visual styles, it’s interesting to see just how different these 13 stories can be.  Most of the stories use very few words, relying instead on the power of the visuals.  And it works pretty well.

I didn’t think any of them were especially creepy or dark, although the first one is kinda gross.  I enjoyed them for what they were, short stories that revel in the darker side of life.  I hadn’t heard of most of the artists.  The only one I knew was Shaun Tan. (more…)

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