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2010 SOUNDTRACK: ANTIBALAS-Tiny Desk #243 (October 4, 2012).

antibAntibalas (Spanish for “bulletproof”) is a Brooklyn ensemble.  Eleven members turned up for the Tiny Desk.  And they are quite the ensemble.  There are trumpets, saxophones, two guitars, a bass and a ton of percussion.  There’s a percussionist/keyboardist wearing a lucha libre mask (!) and the lead singer (singing in English and some other language) has what looks like tribal paint on his face. (He also plays conga and cowbell).

The blurb states:

There just aren’t many bands like Antibalas. These are jazz players making dance music: Their music is big and fun, and their guiding spirit is Fela Kuti, the brilliant big-band leader and Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. Afrobeat is a musical style featuring nearly endless songs, mixing funk and jazz, grooves and riffs, with the rhythm carried by not only the drums, but everyone. Everyone — horn players, bass players, guitarists — plays rhythm in Afrobeat music.

It’s one thing for a big group to make a big sound — and, sure, Antibalas does that — but what stands out is the subtlety of this ensemble; the way the horns weave in and out of each other, sometimes complementing and at other times inspiring and creating musical conversation between players. That extends to all the players, from vocals to guitar. When you start to listen to that conversation and you hear that build in a rhythm, it’s so powerful, so full of joy. If they come to your town, drop what you’re doing and go see them. Wear dancing shoes.

They play two songs, but they are long and full of rhythm.  “Dirty Money” runs just under 6 minutes. I really like the way the horns seems to echo and answer each other during the slow sections.  While the whole band sings the backing voices.  And when the masked guy switches from percussion to keyboards, it’s got a  groovy 70s sound coming out of that machine.   All of it is anchored by the bass, keeping a steady rhythm.  One of the trumpeters switches to trombone for a solo as well.

“Him Belly Go No Sweet” has an even funkier feel–lots of percussion and staccato horns slowly working with each other to create a big sound.  Even though there’s plenty if music in this song it’s impressive how much they use silences—things are never quiet (there’s always a bass line or percussion) but for such a big outfit they can really get things to quiet own.  The end half of the song sees the band singing “go up  go down” while the lead singer seems to improvise a whole bunch of stuff.

It is, indeed, hard not to dance to this.

[READ: July 10, 2016] “Baptizing the Gun”

This was a very dark story and, if nothing else, it made me never want to go to Lagos, Nigeria.

The story is told in first person by a priest.  He is not wearing his collar and is driving a borrowed VW Beetle through the traffic of Lagos.

As the story opens, a woman is screaming because a thief just pulled an earring out of her ear–tearing her earlobe. He is caught and, astonishingly, “ringed with tires, doused in petrol, and set ablaze.”  Even though there is barely any fuel to be had “there’s always enough for the thief.”

The priest believes his trip was a success and many parishes have promised his parish in the Niger Delta money and materials.

But on his way back (at 18:03) the car dies in traffic. (more…)

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moses SOUNDTRACK: WE ARRIVE ALIVE-One (2013).

oneThis is the final EP available from the We Arrive Alive bandcamp site.  In fact 2013 is the last I can find any information about this band at all.  This site, their Facebook page, there’s nothing after mid 2013.  I wonder what happened.

For this EP, the band has also grown to a 7 piece Andrew McGurk, Ben Healy, Adam Faulkner, Sean Dexter, Iain Faulkner, Michael Naude, Neil Dexter (still no idea who plays what).

“3 years” opens with some noise and fat propulsive bass and guitar.  The song feels more complex, although I’m not sure what the new musicians add to the song. There’s more noise (scraping guitar and whatnot ) that bring new dissonant textures to the song.  There may even be horns at the end (it’s a little hard to tell in the din). “Slow Fall” opens with a slow piano and an intricate drum pattern. A slow guitar line plays over the bass before some really noisy guitars are laid over the top.  At around 4 minutes the song shifts gear becoming faster and more broody.

The final song start with some ringing chords and a staccato guitar line. I like the way the new guitar introduces a melody to the proceedings. The song really starts to build at around 2 minutes, with some crashing cymbals shortly after.  There’s also a pretty middle section (which seems like a ticking clock).  The song end with a ringing guitar-and unexpected mellow ending to what I assumed would be a loud buildup to a song.

I’m intrigued by the direction the band went with this EP, although I like the sound of their previous one a bit more.  I am also concerned that they’ve broken up.  But if they have, they have three great EPs to their name.

[READ: March 24, 2015] Robert Moses

I can’t tell how ignorant I am that I’ve never heard of Robert Moses.  I mean his name sounded vaguely familiar, but I would never have known who he was (the master builder of New York City).  And I have to wonder if I am not alone.  For this book was originally written in French (and was printed in Poland and released in England).

This turns out to be a graphic novel biography of Robert Moses.  It’s hard to summarize how incredibly influential Moses was.  The back of the book says “From the streets to the skyscrapers, from Wall Street to the Long Island suburbs, every inch of New York City tells the story of one man’s mind.”

If you have seen the (excellent) book Wonderstruck, the mini model of New York City mentioned in the book was created for Moses.  New York Bound books describes the model thusly: “The Panorama, a miniature scale model of New York City that was commissioned by Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair, is a 9,335 square foot architectural model that includes every single building constructed before 1992 in all five boroughs, or a total of 895,000 individual structures.” (more…)

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dec2SOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-The Beatles (1968).

220px-TheBeatles68LPDespite the sound effects, it’s clear from the start that this album is going to be different from the psychedelia of previous albums.  And the whole album is very stark—guitars, bass, drums, occasional piano and organ but not much else.  True there are some strings and horns, but it’s all very much in the vein of rock and roll–nothing trippy.  Turns out that most of the songs were written during a Transcendental Meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India–a period that was free from drugs (except or marijuana of course).

“Back in the USSR” is a fun rocker, although it always confused me and there’s some explanation that this is sort of a joke on the Beach Boys.  “Dear Prudence” is a mid tempo song (with some cool bass lines).  I should have been keeping track of all the Beatles songs that I know better from other artists.  This one I know better from Siouxsie and the Banshees.  I had no idea what this song was about, and the story is weird and fascinating.  I love the way it builds band builds. “Glass Onion” has a really groovy sound, and I love all the self referential nonsense in it.  “the walrus was Paul” and “I told you about the Fool on the Hill” (McCartney overdubbed a record part to reference the original)–sounds like Lennon goofing around but making cool music out of it.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”is a goofy song (Paul is good at those it seems).  Evidently it was meant as a pastiche of ska (with Jimmy Cliff contributing initially).  According to Wikipedia this song is one of the factors that led to the break up of the band because they got so sick of it.  “Wild Honey Pie” is a weird 50 second snippet of a song.  This seems to foreshadow the medley tracks on Abbey Road.  Evidently it was just McCartney goofing around and referencing “Honey Pie” from later in the album.  “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” is a song that I always sort of liked because it’s so weird.  But I never understood it.  While it may not be necessary to know all of the details of songs, it’s fascinating to learn that this one was written by Lennon after an American visitor to Rishikesh left for a few weeks to hunt tigers. The recording features vocals from almost everyone who happened to be in the studio at the time. Yoko Ono sings one line and co-sings another.  The Spanish guitar at the beginning of the recording was overdubbed later by Harrison.

I’ve always really liked “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and thought Harrison was an underrated songwriter because of it (although I find that I don’t really like most of his other stuff that much).  I never knew that Eric Clapton played the leads on this song, which may be why I like it so much–not that I’m a huge fan of Clapton but he really scorched this song in a way that I don’t think Harrison every would have.

“Happiness Is A Warm Gun”always surprises me because the first verses sound so unlike the rest of the song–I really don’t recognize it as this song, always assuming it starts at the “I need a fix” part.  Of course, there are so many different parts that it’s really more like several different songs.  And that was all for side one.  Side Two opened with “Martha My Dear” a jaunty piano ballad played entirely by McCartney.  “I’m So Tired” reminds me a lot of “Bungalow Bill” and seems unnecessary.  “Blackbird” is, simply, a beautiful song.

“Piggies” is an interesting criticism of modern society–I love that they used a harpsichord for it (evidently Charles Manson was inspired by it as well as “Helter Skelter”).  Like “Bungalow Bill” I never really understood “Rocky Raccoon.”  McCartney’s crazy accent at the beginning and the whole premise of the song is peculiar–unless of course you don’t think of Rocky Racoon as a raccoon (which I have a hard time getting past).  It’s a pretty decent folk song. though, I suppose.  “Don’t Pass Me By” is a song I really don’t know at all–a honky tonk piano (which was the first solo song Ringo wrote).  It’s fine and kind of nice.

I had always assumed that “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” was a Lennon song, but it was all McCartney–Lennon didn’t even play on it.  It’s  just a weird noisy track (written when Paul saw monkeys doing it in the road in India)  Despite its brevity (less than 2 minutes), I actually find it goes on too long.  “I Will” is a sweet acoustic song.  I always assumed that “Julia” was a McCartney song, but it’s a beautiful Lennon ballad.

I asked Sarah, who was a huge Beatles fan, if she listened to sides 3 and 4 as much as sides 1& 2 because listening to these sides, I feel like I don’t really know them that well.  She says they did, so what do I know?

Of course I know “Birthday.”  i find it to be a weird song–why would you write a song about a birthday unless you didn’t want to sing the Happy Birthday song anymore?  It is evidently meant to be in the style of Little Richard.  I didn’t know and rather dislike “Yer Blues,” which I simply don’t believe the lyrics of.  And um, what is the reason why? It’s a pretty dull blues song although the guitars solos are pretty good.

I don’t really know “Mother Nature’s Son” that well–I feel like I know the little bass line between verses as significant but not the song itself.  It’s a pretty acoustic song that kind of reminds me of “Julia.”  “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” has some really sharp piercing guitars on it.  I like the ringing bells and c’mon c’mon section. The whole song is fun, whatever it’s about.  “Sexy Sadie” is a song I’ve never been too crazy about.  I like the middle part better than the verses.  Apparently this was originally called “Maharishi” and was written about him–he changed the words later–which makes it all make a bit more sense.

It’s a shame that Manson has co-opted “Helter Skelter” because it’s a wonderfully blistering song.  The guitars and vocals are just awesomely rocking and raw.  I also love that a helter skelter is just a slide and not something sinister (duh, Charles–see what happens when you try to read into Beatles lyrics).  I actually knew Siouxsie and the Banshees and Mötley Crüe’s versions before the original, but now I think the original is the best version.  I love that the song just never really ends–it’s got codas and extras and blisters on fingers.

“Long, Long, Long” is a song I don’t really know.  I like the melody although it’ a bit too slow for me.

“Revolution 1” is weird to me because I knew the more rocking version first and this sounds like a kind of jokey version (with the shoobie doo wops)–although it was actually recorded first.  “Honey Pie” is a cute dance hall/1920s era song–Lennon played the guitar solo on the track, but later said he hated the song, calling it “beyond redemption”.  (He was quite nasty about a lot of Paul’s silly songs).  “Savoy Truffle” is yet another Harrison song that I just don’t know–did radio stations ban his songs?  It’s a decent rocker with electric piano and saxophone.  “Cry Baby Cry” is a song that I kind of know. I like that there’s accordion on it.  It builds very nicely.  The end has a little coda called “Can You Take Me Back.”

“Revolution 9” is probably the most notorious track on the disc.  I have to assume it was left on because there was a lot of empty space to fill in order to make the album a double album.  It’s such a strange creation and has really been responsible for so many cut and paste songs I’m sure.  There’s some sophisticated tape manipulation going on, but at 8 minute sit is just too long for what it is.

“Goodnight” is a sweet song that I have to assume was often ignored by fans who took the needle off the record during “Revolution 9.”  i actually didn’t even know there was a song after revolution 9.  Indeed, I only know the song because it was on a children’s CD that I used to play for my kids every night.  And while Ringo’s voice is nice, I like the other version (which I can’t think of) a little more.

So there’s the big white album–an album I never owned until recently.   It could probably have been reduced to a single album, but there are some undoubtedly brilliant songs on it.

[READ: July 3, 2014] “Road Kill”

I was curious to see how many short stories of older New Yorker magazines I had read.  It turned out that I have read nearly every story in every issue for the last several years from 2009-2014 (and many from 2008).  However, I have missed a few over the years.  Like this one.  I had typed up a post but just never finished it for some reason.

So, I’ve decided that I will go back and make sure that I’ve read each story from each issue from 2008-2015 (but not right away, I’ve done a lot of New Yorker stories recently.  So, I’ve got 13 from 2009, 6 from 2010, 2 from 2011, 1 from 2013 and 1 from 2014 (and, uh 27 from 2008–that’ over half, so maybe I wasn’t quite in the spirit of things yet back then).  But in the meantime, here’s one from 2013.

This is a brief story about a taxi driver in Sri Lanka.  He has been traveling the same route (across country) for two years.  This necessitates a stop in Kilinocchi, a town associated with the nerve center of terror (it is even commented on that it sounds brutal in English).  But the driver is a pro now—he says all you have to do to stay safe is keep your eyes open to drive all night.

On this trip, he is driving Mr and Mrs Arunachalam to see their soon-to-be house.  She is hugely pregnant and complains much of the way and they are both relieved when the hotel pulls into view. (more…)

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fivedials_no30SOUNDTRACK: Random songs at the roller rink (December 29, 2013)

skateWe went rollerskating on Sunday and they played all kinds of pop hits.  They played “Dancing Queen” and “YMCA,” sure, but they also played a lot of recent big hits.  And I said to myself either I have grown more tolerant of pop songs or pop songs are simply better than they were in the 80s and 90s.

Because I thoroughly enjoyed hearing “Gangnam Style” (perhaps a pop song where you don’t know the words is really the way to go) and “What Does the Fox Say?” (or perhaps when the words are so preposterous).  “Blurred Lines” is incredibly catchy (although it would be better without the offensive lyrics).  I also enjoyed “Call Me Maybe” which is treacly sure, but the melody is super catchy and “Rolling in the Deep” because Adele kicks ass.

Of course when I looked at the list of #1 hits for 2013, I literally didn’t know any of them (except “Blurred Lines” and “Royals,”) so maybe pop is not what I think it is.  Maybe I just like YouTube sensations.

Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!  Happy New Year.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Five Dials #30

I was surprised to get this issue of Five Dials just as I was reading the other recent ones.  It allowed me to finish up Five Dials and the year at around the same time.  This issue introduces a new graphics editor: Antonio de Luca and he really changes the look of the magazine.  (He also used to work for The Walrus).  Rather than pictures being centered in the page, they spread from one page to another (which works well online but less so if you print it out).  The illustrations are also much bolder.

This is a short issue (which I appreciated).  And it does what I especially like about Five Dials–focusing tightly on one thing, in this case Albert Camus, who I like but who I have not read much.  It’s his centenary and many things have been said about him, so what else is there to say?  They find two things worth saying.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Tony, On Dean, On Camus, On Algiers
Taylor talks about the illustrations of the issue–they were spray painted on walls by an Algerian-French collective known as the Zoo Project.  The new editor took photos and then Photoshopped away the extraneous stuff to leave us with just the graphics–giving them a permanence that they would normally not have.  Taylor also says goodbye to Dean Allen, the outgoing art director.  Then he gets to the heart of this issue: Albert Camus and Algiers (where Camus is from).  Curtis Gillespie decided to go to Algiers to find out how much the people there know and love Camus (and he found it to be a much more difficult trip than he imagined). (more…)

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ornerSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Hoist (1994).

hoistI always think of Hoist as a kind of goofy album because of the way they are dressed on it (and the crazy cover).  But it is absolutely not.  Indeed, opener “Julius” sounds like a ZZ Top song.  In fact, every time they’ve played it live I assumed it was a cover.  It is less restrained in the live setting, because this version has more acoustic guitar.  There’s even backing vocalists and horns.  “Down with Disease” has that great watery bass, but the song (which sounds good) here is a little stiffer than the live version.  It also has something of an R&B feel (with backing vocals) even if the guitar is certainly not R&B at all.  It bleeds right into “If I Could” a pretty harmony-voiced mellow song.  The big surprise comes from the Alison Krauss vocals–she gets a solitary line or two and then harmonies.  The song is very pretty but the strings are overkill.

“Riker’s Mailbox” is indeed a reference to the Star Trek character, although the 30 second burst of noise is pretty hard to explain. Nevertheless, the trombone is played Mr Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes.  It jumps into the rocking “Axilla, Pt. 2” which is usually a little faster live (I like the sloppier crazier live version better). There’s some vulgar dialogue in the middle of the song.

“Lifeboy” is a mellow acoustic song that builds from just guitar.  Lyrically it’s interesting: “God never listens to what I say…and you don’t get a refund if you overpray.”  It folds into “Sample in a Jar,” which is just as good here as any live set.  “Wolfman’s Brother” ahs horns thrown on top and some interesting sound effects.  Although overall l don’t like this version nearly as much—I don’t care for the horns or the backing vocals plus in the live version they emphasize the bruh of brother more which is cooler.  (Although I do enjoy the weird “Shirley Temple” line at the end).  “Scent of  Mule” opens so strangely with crazy guitars and a thundering drum.  The singing is very silly (with silly voices) and has a very twangy style (complete with banjo and yeehah).

“Dog Faced Boy” is a sweet (but weird) acoustic guitar number.  “Demand” is a ten minute song which I don’t really know at all.  It has a strange, staccato style riff.  At 2 minutes in, a car starts and after a commercial on the radio the driver pops in “Split Open and Melt” (a nod to “Detroit Rock City,” perhaps?).  This goes on until 9:30 at which time there’s a car crash and choir of angels (sick!).

I don’t car for the horns and R&B flavoring of this album, but the song selection is really quite good.

[READ: September 24, 2013] Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge

I read about this book in Tom Bissell’s reviews recently.  He really made it sound like an interesting book.  So when I saw that we had just received a copy, I grabbed it and brought it home for the weekend.

There are 52 short stories in the short book (which is less than 200 pages).  Some of the stories are very short (1 page) with a few coming in at 5 or 6.  The 1 page stories are like flash fiction but they seem to be more of snapshots than actual full stories and they seem like they might be diary entries or something. The fact that a number of them are italicized with dates at the end make them seem like a selection from the same person rather than individual stories.

The stories are set all over the world, although they tend to focus on Chicago and Boston.  They are pretty universally dark with themes of death and loss permeating the collection.  And yet despite their overall negative feeling, the stories aren’t really depressing, exactly.  Bissell described the narrators as like someone telling a story about someone telling a story.  And that is true and that distance seems to take some of the edge off the stories.

But what’s impressive is the consistently strong and powerful writing.  The way that Orner is able to convey so much with such few words.  Some stories are just a scene, others are a whole lifetime.  But either way they are all really gripping.

I wasn’t going to write about each story, but it would have nagged at me if I didn’t, so here’s a few words about 52 stories. (more…)

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5.20SOUNDTRACK: IGGY AND THE STOOGES-“Job” (2013).

iggyNickelodeon’s favorite dad has just released a new album.  In the lead up to this song on NPR, Bob Boilen said that the live show that NPR streamed from Iggy and the Stooges was a matinée and there were kids as  well as adults there.  Who takes a kid to see Iggy Pop? Even if he was on The Adventures of Pete and Pete?

So this song is a dopey punk song and I love the guitars as the song starts–just classic punk sound and riffage. And then Iggy’s unmistakable voice “I gotta job…but it don’t pay shit.  I gotta job… and I’m sick of it.”  Is there any sentiment less authentic than Iggy Pop singing this?  Probably not.  And yet it’s a fun song for any working class guy to sing along to

And it’s frankly amazing that Iggy and the Stooges are still putting records out.

[READ: May 16, 2013] “Just Drive”

The five brief pieces in this week’s New Yorker are labeled as “Imagined Inventions.”  And in each one, the author is tasked with inventing something.

Shteyngart’s is clearly the most practical and is based on something the he knows already exists. He explains that he is unabashedly a terrible driver: “My greatest failure in life has been my inability to drive a car safely between two locations.”  This is despite the fact that he has always loved cars.  Right from the day that his father bought their first car and he saved up to buy a similar matchbox car (more similar when they painted it the same color), he has loved t he freedom that cars represented.  And I loved the idea that he and his family felt that although America was a large country, the road atlas made it seem like you could drive anywhere.

But Shteyngart’s driving problem seem to be more fundamental—an inability to tell left from right (the way his father tried to teach him is quite funny… if misguided).  And now that Shteyngart lives in the country, he needs to drive more than ever. (more…)

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PlayerOne_Coupland

SOUNDTRACK: THE TRAGICALLY HIP-Now for Plan A (2012).

hip man

This is the latest Tragically Hip record and it bounces back from the more country feel of We Are the Same and provides eleven solid rocking songs (two of which are actually ballads and not rocking at all but are still good).  “At Transformation” starts with a big bass notes and some feedback, like an alternative indie rocker, but as soon as Gord Downie’s voice comes in it is unmistakably Hip.  This is one of their rockier songs and shows that they are back in fine form.

I recently wrote about “Man Machine” and “Now for Plan A” but I think they both work better in the context of the record.  “Man Machine” contrasts nicely with “At Transformation” and “Plan A” gives the album a chance to relax before the more rocking second half.  “The Lookahead” is the other duet with Sarah Harmer, although I fear she may be a little underutilized here.  It’s a great big chorused song that The Hip do so well.

“We Want To Be It” has a recurring “drip drip” section that I find mesmerizing.  I like the way drip drip turns into click click and then cricket and how it is alternately whispered and screamed.  I’ve never really heard a song where words were used in this way before.

I love the way “About This Map” starts slow but adds a great bridge/chorus that adds a lot of tension.  Take Forever” is a straightforward rocker which along with “The Modern Spirit” and “Streets Ahead” really exemplify the modern sound of the Tragically Hip–simple rockers with big choruses and thoughtful lyrics.  On the other end of the spectrum, “Done and Done” is a simple ballad that works nicely as the song before the closer.  “Goodnight Attawapiskat” (an aboriginal settlement in Northern Ontario) is the kind of amazing minor key, could-be-an epic that Hip fans always love.  It’s scaled down to 4 minutes, but it lets us know that they still have this kind of song in them.

The Hip will never release another record like Fully Completely or Day for Night and while there is something sad about that, it’s nice to see a band evolving and modifying their sound.  This album isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it is a solid collection of great songs.

[READ: May 15, 2013] Player One

I didn’t really understand what a CBC Massey Lecture was.  It was kind of explained, but I was confused how his lecture would have been a full length novel.  And while it is described as a novel in five hours, I doubt his lecture lasted five hours (the story takes place in real time over five hours, but surely no one would have listened to him read for five hours).  Well, thanks to Wikipedia: Each of the book’s five chapters was delivered as a one hour lecture in a different Canadian city: Vancouver on October 12, Regina on October 14, Charlottetown on October 19, Ottawa on October 25 and ending in Toronto on October 29. The lectures were broadcast on CBC Radio One’s Ideas, November 8–12.   Coupland felt that “a narrative seemed like the most efficient and accessible way of putting forth a large number of propositions about life in the year 2010.”

So this turns out to be a story that takes place over five hours, although like many stories with this conceit there are flashbacks (how could there not be).  There are five main characters: Karen, Luke, Rick, Rachel, and Player One.  Although Player One is a confusing character who may or may not really exist.

Karen is a divorced mom and has decided to travel across the country (from Winnipeg to Toronto) to meet a man in an airport bar for a possible fling.  She’s not proud of it but she thinks, why the hell not–she still feels good about herself.  In fact, on the airplane a boy takes some pictures of her with his phone, because she looks pretty hot.  And in the last one she gives him the finger.  (The whole reality of that–that someone may take a picture of you anywhere for any reason is pretty bizarre).  She arrives in the airport bar where she meets Rick, the bartender. (more…)

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