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Archive for the ‘Communists’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: AMADOU AND MARIAM-Tiny Desk Concert #695 (January 19, 2018).

Amadou & Mariam are musicians from Mali.  And they have a pretty fascinating history.

The story of Amadou and Mariam is still worth telling almost 40-years (and eight albums) into their career because it speaks well to who they are, the obstacles they’ve had to overcome and the positive yet realistic attitude that has made them such an international success. Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met when they were children in Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind. Both had lost their sight when they were young and they began performing together. Later, in the 1980s, they married and began a career together.

As Amadou and Mariam said when their newest album, La Confusion was released, “We seek to make people happy with our music, help humanitarian causes and share positive messages about the good work being done by people in every corner of the world.”  Amadou & Mariam  bring some of the most lyrical melodies and joyful sounds we’ve ever had at the Tiny Desk, and their performance comes while their country endures great turmoil, including a coup and insurgencies.

Typically, they play with a bigger band but they stripped down their sound to a keyboard, a percussionist and a backup singer while the couple holds it all together with Amadou’s stuttered melodic guitar and Mariam’s sweetly gruff voice.

They play three songs.

“Bofou Safou” has a great slinky keyboard opening melody.  Amadou plays this cool understated guitar that’s pretty much always in motion But mostly I love watching the drummer pound on that giant gourd thing.

I love the clothes that Mariam and Amadou are wearing–a cool purple on blue pattern with each of the outfits made from the same material, but with the stripes going in different directions on each.

“Dimanche à Bamako.” opens with more of that cool riffing from Amadou and the audience clapping along.  Amadou actually sings leads on most of this song.

“Filaou Bessame” opens pretty big and clappy with a kind of disco feel to it.  It slows down in the middle with Mariam taking a little vocal section before it starts up again.  I love the discoey bass keyboard riff at the end.

The music from Mali is really fun and I’d love to see a show like this live.

[READ: July 21, 2016] “Inventions”

This story was translated from the Yiddish by Aliza Shevrin.  Singer died in 1991, so I’m not sure if this is a recently found story or an old one.

What’s particularly fascinating about this story is thew way it is framed.  The narrator says that since he moved to the country, he finds that he falls asleep by ten o’clock and he sleeps soundly until about 2 AM.  He feels totally rested and ready to do something.

One night he was inspired to create a story.  It would be about a Communist theoretician who attends a leftist conference on world peace and sees a ghost.

So he just summed up what his story would be about and then he proceeds to tell the story.  But it is told very casually–as a man retelling a dream, rather than as someone writing a short story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LYDIA AINSWORTH-“Afterglow” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 23, 2017).

I was unfamiliar with Lydia Ainsworth, but I was instantly struck by the setting of her lullaby.

We asked Lydia Ainsworth to perform in Raum Industries’ Optic Obscura installation. Surrounded by dim, long-hanging optical fibers that look like an infinity room of cat’s whiskers, she sings a stripped-down version of the slow-burning “Afterglow,” accompanied only by an upright bass and light percussion.

I’m not sure what the original song sounds like, but this version is moody and intense.  The upright bass opens the song as Lydia’s whispered, sensual vocals come forth.  She has a beautiful voice and it is especially haunting in this setting.  It reminds me a bit of someone else although I can’t decide who.

The starkness of the silence when she stops singing is intense.  And I really like the way the song ends, not abruptly exactly, but rather unexpectedly.

[READ: March 21, 2016] T-Minus

Jim Ottaviani did the amazing graphic novel Feynman, and in the blurb about him in that book, it said that he also wrote T-Minus.  Coincidentally I had just brought T-Minus home for Clark and I to read.  He read it quickly and said it was very good.  It took me a little longer to read (I’m sure he didn’t read all the details) because Ottaviani jam packs this book with interesting facts.

As the title says, this is about the race to get a man to the moon.  It begins 12 years before the actual date occurred.  And it toggles back and forth between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On the margins of many pages there are drawings of all of the various attempts each country had to get a rocket into the air.  The drawings show the design and then at the bottom it states the duration of the flight, the date and some other details.  The USSR’s first rocket (1957) lasted all of 20 seconds before exploding.  The U.S’s first rocket lasted about 7 seconds.

We meet a handful of people who were instrumental in the design and origination of these rockets.  (Ottaviani explains that many of these people are composites of real people involved–if he wanted to include everyone, there would be 400 people in every panel). (more…)

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after-room SOUNDTRACK: NICOLA BENEDETTI-Tiny Desk Concert #274 (May 6, 2013).

nicolaNicola Benedetti is a Scottish violinist who has had a storied career already.

Benedetti was mentored by Yehudi Menuhin starting at age 10, and won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award a decade ago.  She plays a 1717 Gariel Strad. (It’s worth some $10 million.)

The first piece she plays was instantly recognizable–where had I heard it before?  Ah yes, the mournful and harrowing music from Schindler’s List.  [Williams: Theme from ‘Schindler’s List’].  She plays it perfectly, of course.  It’s evocative and instantly brings back scenes from the film.  And then apologizes for it being a bit of  sombre start.

 Then she plays a piece by Bach–he wrote six sonata and partitas trying to emulate many instruments at once.  This one is Bach: “Chaconne from the Partita for Solo Violin in D Minor.”  She says she’s not playing the whole thing because it’s 16 minutes long.  But she plays the first third which is also recognizable.  Once again, it sounds beautiful.  The blurb speaks of “the way she makes room for silence in Bach’s Chaconne before tearing deep into its dense warp and weft.”  And it is indeed enchanting.

[READ: May 30, 2016] The After-Room

This is the final book in a trilogy (what is it about trilogies that are so popular?) that began with The Apothecary.

This book is set in 1955.  (Sarah and I were commenting on how this era of history is an unusual one for stories to be set and how that’s a nice change).  Janie and Benjamin are safely back in Michigan after the deadly exploits of the previous book.

Benjamin’s father was killed at the end of the previous book and Janie’s parents have agreed to take care of him–so he is living with them.  Janie’s father is quite suspicious of a romance between the two of them and he has every right to be.  Janie is certainly in love and Benjamin probably is too, but he has other things on his mind right now.

I had planned to read this book when it came out, but I was involved with a very big book when it came out.  But I was at the library with nothing to do so I grabbed this and started reading it and I was hooked immediately.  In fact, I found this book so good, so fast paced and exciting that I put down my other reading and just flew through this. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_12_14Chast.inddSOUNDTRACK: TIMBER TIMBRE-Tiny Desk Concert #355 (May 10, 2014).

timberI wanted to like this band because I think their name is very clever. But I just don’t enjoy this kind of slow song.  Ten years ago I wouldn’t have even given this a chance, but since I have embraced the Tindertsicks, I have a lot more patience from this kind of music, but I just can’t get into this—it’s way too slow and meandering for me.  They play three songs, “Hot Dreams,” “Run From Me,” and “Grand Canyon.”  The second song “Run For Your Life” has a mellow Elvis vibe (I don’t like Elvis either), and when they break into the staccato guitar chords it sounds like Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared” (Nope, don’t like Orbison either).  I do like the way it builds but it’s not enough to sell the song for me.  And when you get to the lyrics, I’ll just say that the world did not need another song in which the singer calmly says “Run from me, darlin’, you better run for your life.”

[READ: June 4, 2014] “The Fugitive”

I really loved this story by Ulitskaya (which was translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich).  What I liked about it was that there wasn’t a lot of plot exactly, because it centered on the mind of the “fugitive” who is an artist in Communist Russia and is persecuted for his drawings.

As the story opens, the police have come to his house and question his wife.  They are there for Boris Ivanovich (yes, there is a problem for me with compound Russian names, but I found this was pretty easy to get through after a few pages) because he has made some drawings that put Communism in a bad light (letters made of bologna that spelled out “Glory to the Communist Party” with a price tag of 2 rub. 20 kop.

Once the police leave (he presents a document that gives him temporary safety), he flees Moscow to the distant village of Danilovy Gorki–a tiny settlement of five houses.  He stays with his friend and fellow artist Nikolai.  The country life is a novelty as he does all of the things that country folk do.  And he feels largely safe because he is far enough away from prying eyes.  He doesn’t even write to his wife for fear of giving himself away.  This also means that he can have wild sex with a woman who is visiting for the holidays–Anastasia (“She’s so educated.  But such a slut!”).  Eventually he tells his friend that he loves this life because it is so anti-Soviet, but the friend replies that it is not anti-Soviet, simply a-Soviet.  (more…)

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apprenticesSOUNDTRACK: EBONY BONES-“I See I Say” (2013).

ebonyI don’t really know what to imagine about this album from this one song.

The song opens with a skittery sampled vocal chant of “I See I Say” bouncing around.  It has a vaguely Indian sound to it (and reminds me of Ofra Haza).

After a bout a minute the voices slow to a halt which made me think something new was afoot.  But no, the voices start again, with more layers of keyboards and what is more or less a lead vocal keening away.

Then there are some actual sung words (and people chanting I See I Say), making the song sound fuller and fuller.

At first it didn’t really sound like a song so much as an introduction to something, but after a few listens, I can hear that there’s a lot more going on than I realized.   I just can’t imagine what the rest of the album will sound like.

[READ: June 30, 2013] The Apprentices

This is the second book in a trilogy (what is it about trilogies?) that began with The Apothecary.

This book is set two years after the action of the first book.  The kids are 16 now and have not seen each other since. (The book helpfully fills in the things that we have all forgotten since we read the first book, like that Benjamin’s father gave Janie and everyone a forgetting potion so that they would stay out of danger).

Now Janie is back in America, attending a private school (on a scholarship) while her parents are back making movies.  I would have loved to see more of Janie’s school, believe it or not, but the little we do see if enough to set the action in motion.  Janie, a very smart girl and a whiz at math, is accused of cheating by her roommate and (sort of) friend.  The friend is jealous of Janie because her dad keeps talking about how smart Janie is (and consequently how un-smart his own daughter is).

Obviously Janie is upset, but she is more upset because she has been working on an experiment in the chemistry lab.  She has been trying to remove the salt from salt water.  She has been getting memories of her time with Benjamin and one of the things she remembered was the desalinator.  She has been piecing together the formula and has just had a breakthrough.  But what will happen to her stuff (which is actually the school’s stuff?)

Benjamin has also been sending Janie cryptic messages.  She finally realizes that there is a code in which he is letting her know where he is.  It turns out Benjamin and his father are in the jungle saving people. Benjamin’s father has been using his apothecary skills to create some healing potions that are saving lives in the war-torn jungle.  But their mission is secret and Benjamin’s father doesn’t know that Benjamin is communicating with her. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_08_13Ulriksen.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE POSTAL SERVICE-“A Tattered Line of String” (2013).

postalI enjoyed The Postal Service record but I wasn’t as big of a Death Cab for Cutie fan at the time.  Now, having enjoyed DCFC so much in the last couple of years, this song sounds much more like a DCFC song but with keyboards (Ben’s voice is so distinctive).

This song has been released with the reissue of the Postal Service album.  It’s not on the original but it also sounds like it might be a remix (the skittery backing vocals make me think remix).

Either way this is a supremely catchy song (Gibbard knows from melody) and when you throw the keyboards and dancey beats on it, it’s even more poppy than DCFC’s stuff.  I wonder why the album wasn’t bigger when it came out.

[READ: April 21, 2013] “Valentine”

Tessa Hadley has written another story that I enjoyed–with that same quaint feeling of love in 1970s England.

The story opens with the narrator Stella and her friend Madeleine waiting at the bus stop.  They are fifteen, have never kissed boys, and think about nothing else (especially since they go to an all girls school).   Madeleine is willowy with long curls a “kitten face” and “luscious breasts” while Stella is small, plump and shapeless.

As they wait for the bus, Valentine approaches (yes I though the title was about the day not a person).  He is in school as well but he is new to them.  Valentine has just moved to the area from Malaya.  And, as he sizes them up, offering them each a smoke, when it comes down to it, amazingly, he chooses Stella.

She likes him because he is different as she is different–they are clearly soulmates.  While her parents (well, Gerry is her stepdad) don’t ‘t approve of him (his hair, his dress, his attitude).  He barely talks to her parents when they interrogate him and then he imitates their voices when they are alone.  Regardless of what others thought or really, because if it, they are soon hanging out all the time.  And soon he is her boyfriend.  And soon enough she had lost weight (because all they did was talk and smoke), they died their hair black (a proto-goth in the hippie 70s) and they basically began to look alike. (more…)

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200px-FatesWorseThanDeathSOUNDTRACK: THE STATLER BROTHERS-“Flowers on the Wall” (1965).

flowersonthe Vonnegut mentions this Statler Brothers song in Palm Sunday as well.  I know this from Pulp Fiction–a song that I found very amusing and never would have guessed was a classic country song.  Country music was very different in 1965 than it is now.  I don’t even know if there was a folk or bluegrass category back then, and this song, with its banjo and bouncey acoustic guitar is a great example of the kind of country music I like.  And those harmonies!

This song certainly seems to be about insanity–about a man counting flowers on the wall, playing solitaire with a deck of 51 cards, smoking cigarettes and watching Captain KAN Kangaroo.  Don’t tell him he’s nothing to do.  What a weird little song.  And man is it catchy.  No wonder it was a #1 hit.

[READ: May 31, 2013] Fates Worse Than Death

After reading Palm Sunday I learned that Fates Worse Than Death was a kind of autobiographical sequel to that non fiction book.  I also learned that the two essays that make up Nothing is Lost Save Honor which is impossible to find (and for which I can’t even find a cover) are available in FwtD.  However, since there is no real contents or index, you do have to read the whole thing to find out which chapters contain the essays.  Or you can just look here and see that “The Worst Addiction of Them All” (which was published in The Nation) is in Chapter XIV and “Fates Worse Than Death” appears in Chapter XV.

The last time I read a bunch of Vonnegut together I got a bit burnt out on him and the same thing happened here.  The problem with Vonnegut’s nonfiction is that he tends to repeat himself.  A lot.  And while this book is ostensibly about the 1980s, he talks an awful lot about his family and his friends from the war and his other literary acquaintances., like he did in Palm Sunday.  In a number of places, he says that he doesn’t like to read himself in English, and it would seem that he doesn’t proofread to see if he said something already either.

This is not to say that the book is not worth reading.  Indeed, if you read Palm Sunday in the 80s and then this one in the 90s, you might not remember all of the details that pop up again, but when you read them days apart…well. (more…)

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