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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: AMADOU & MARIAM-“Wily Kataso,” (Field Recordings, April 11, 2012).

The story of Amadou & Mariam is fascinating.  I was really made aware of them in 2018, where I saw their Tiny Desk Concert and learned

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.

This Field Recording [Amadou And Mariam: Finding Mali In Harlem] is six years prior to the Tiny Desk and Amadou & Mariam are on a bench outside The Shrine in New York City.

One major gathering point for Africans and non-Africans alike in this neighborhood is The Shrine, a nightclub and restaurant whose clout belies its small size. So when Malian breakout superstars Amadou and Mariam happened to find themselves with an extra day in New York recently, we invited them up to The Shrine to sing a quick, unplugged set.

There’s not a lot in New York City that looks much like Bamako, the capital city of Mali, but there are pockets uptown where a West African might feel a little closer to home. With increasing numbers of immigrants to Harlem from countries like Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Gambia and beyond, jewelry shops sell the beautiful, bright gold twisted hoop earrings traditionally worn by Fulani women; men stride along the street wearing the elegant, flowing robes called grands boubous; and restaurants sell bissap, the sweet cold drink made from hibiscus flowers that’s beloved across the region.

Amadou plays a simply guitar melody and Amadou starts singing with a repeated refrain of “Baro bom baro negé ta na” which means something like: Away, away, Go home.

The song almost becomes a drone since the music is repeated almost constantly throughout.  There is one part near the end where Amadou plays something a little different on the guitar–a kind of solo–but that’s the only variation.

It was just their two powerful voices, Amadou’s blues-soaked guitar and an incredibly catchy melody that lit up The Shrine.

They are mesmerizing and their voices are wonderful.

[READ: January 10, 2017] “Of Window and Doors”

This story was depressing and brutally honest.

It is about Saeed and Nadia and how their (unnamed) city was constantly at war.  Neighborhoods fell to militants quite easily.  Nadia was living alone and Saeed was with his parents.  He continually tried to get her to move in–chastely of course–because it was so unsafe for her to be alone.  But she refused.  Until Saeed’s mother was killed.  Then she agreed to be with them.

The title refers to actual windows and doors.  Window were now the border through which death was likliest to come–windows could not stop ammunition and they turned into more shrapnel.  Many windows were broken, but it was winter and people needed to keep the cold out.

Saeed’s family did not want to give up the windows, so they covered them with bookcases and furniture to block out the light and visiblity and to make them less vulnerable.

Doors were something different.  Rumors began to spread that doors could take you elsewhere–to places far away.  Some people claimed to know others who had been through the doors. And that an ordinary door could becomes a special door at anytime.  But others believed that this was all superstition.

Saeed and Madia get word of a possible door through which they can escape.  The rest of the story concerns their attempts to escape without being captured by militants.

This story was well-written and powerful.  It made me really fear for what life would be like if our country ever turned into a lawless land like this.  It was really frightening and real.

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SOUNDTRACK: DRY THE RIVER-“Bible Belt” (Field Recordings, March 27, 2012).

The Field Recordings project was such a neat idea.  Kind of like the Tiny Desk, but not.  Many of them were planned ahead of time and some of t hem seem surreptitious.  It’s a wonder they didn’t do more or aren’t still doing them.

Since the whole NPR crew goes to SXSW, it just seems like these little songs would be easy to score.  I realize that they now do the South by Lullaby, but this is different (sort of).

This Field Recording [Dry The River: An Oasis Of Calm Amid The Feedback] is from a band I don’t know.  They were playing at SXSW and NPR got them to play on the secluded patio of Joe’s Crab Shack’s  overlooking the Colorado River (which is one thing that makes this cooler than a Tiny Desk).

“Bible Belt” is a gentle acoustic song with delightful harmonies–not unlike Fleet Foxes or Band of Horses.  Dry the River includes a violin which adds a slightly different quality.  But like those other bands, the song looks to soar:

Dry the River typically writes music with big, cathartic climaxes in mind: Songs on the band’s first full-length album, Shallow Bed, tend to start with miniaturized melodies that eventually burst into thunderous rock anthems.

You can feel like this song wants to be bigger, but they handle a quieter version nicely.

On this particular morning, Dry the River arrived in a more intimate formation, swapping electric guitars for acoustics and its full drum set for a single snare. While this performance of the gorgeous “Bible Belt” eases back on the loudness of the original, the band by no means lacks power. The result is a hushed, stirring performance that highlights the band’s many strengths.

My favorite part is the moment the band grows really quiet and you can hear some birds singing.  I’m very curious to hear just how big the original gets.

[READ: November 8, 2018] “Cattle Praise Song”

This is a story about genocide and cows.  The genocide is unavoidable but not explicit; the cows are the focus.

Starting in Rwanda, a seven-year old boy, Karekezi, watches his father with their herd of cows.  The cows are everything to them.  Karekezi even has a cow of his own: Intamati–all of the cows are named.  Every morning they look after the cows carefully–removing ticks or other insects, carefully inspecting them, calling them by their name and petting them–even worrying about a cow that takes too long to pee:

He’d hold her tail high and boldly lean forward–never mind that if the cow finally decided to urinate she might shower him.  Nobody dared to laugh.  Anyway, isn’t cow urine, amagana, considered to be a potent remedy?

The first few pages discuss the caring for and nurturing of these cows–the hand feeding, the fires to keep away flies; the special water only for the cows to drink.  And then the milking–a family event in which the best milkers milked and the others carried the bowls of milk like a priest with a chalice.  The young children drank hungrily from the fresh warm milk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICHOLAS PHAN-3 by Britten (Field Recordings, November 20, 2013).

This was 2013’s last Field Recording [Britten Goes Back To Brooklyn With Nicholas Phan].

In addition to providing some powerful vocals and introducing many (including me) to Benjamin Britten’s more down to earth songs, this Field Recording also provides a lot of historical information.

Composer Benjamin Britten, whose 100th birth anniversary falls on Nov. 22nd [2013], is so deeply associated with his native England that he’s on a new 50-pence coin issued by the Royal Mint. This British cultural icon felt so strongly his music should be of a particular place that he set down roots in the seaside town of Aldeburgh, England and stayed there for nearly 30 years until his death in 1976. But he had a surprising two-year sojourn living far from home — in a boisterous, bohemian group house in Brooklyn.

Coaxed to the borough in 1939 by a friend, poet W.H. Auden, Britten and his longtime partner, tenor Peter Pears, moved into 7 Middaugh Street in Brooklyn Heights (an address long claimed by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). Their housing situation there could only fairly be described as bohemian. Along with Auden, the house’s revolving cast of residents included novelist Carson McCullers, composer and writer Paul Bowles, and burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee.

So in hopes of evoking something of that 1930s Brooklyn boho vibe, we invited an extremely fine young American tenor Nicholas Phan (pronounced “paan”), who’s become a champion of Britten’s vocal music, to return to Brooklyn on Britten’s behalf, accompanied by harpist Sivan Magen. We shot this Field Recording at 70 Fox House, a communal house in the Fort Greene neighborhood not all that far from where Britten and Pears lived and made their own art.

Amazingly Britten was still writing in the 1970s, and he made arrangements for these in 1976.

Witty and surprising, these songs are full of odd — but beautifully moving — harmonies and textures. It’s a perfect match for Britten and Brooklyn.

The first, “Lord! I married me a wife” is as funny as the title suggests.  Phan sings with great passion and exasperation: “I married a wife, she made me work in the cod rain and snow.”

“She’s like the swallow” is a prettier song with lovely harp playing to accompany it

“Bird Scarer’s Song” is a very different piece, with fast plucked harp that sounds more like piano than a harp and Phan singing aggressively and, yes, frighteningly.  With a big “Ha!” at the end.

[READ: November 5, 2018] “Backpack”

I have enjoyed several of Tony Earley’s stories, but I see that he hasn’t had a piece published in the New Yorker in several years.

Well, this one was great.

It is set up with something specific in mind.  John goes to various stores, buys several slightly questionable items, pays cash, and then heads home.

John is a professor, happily married for decades with a daughter just out of college.  But it is clear he is up to something.

From the items you can kind of imagine what he has planned. It is clear he is going to do harm to someone–either himself or someone else.  And when his wife leaves for the day, John shaves his head and shaves his beard (except for a Fu Manchu mustache), puts on sunglasses and a pirate bandanna and assumes the identity of Jimmy Ray Gallup. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN CARPENTER-“Halloween-Main Title” (1979).

This song is so wonderfully creepy.  Even some 40 years after it was made, it still can give you shivers.

It opens with that piano melody in 10/8 time.  It adds minor key synth chords.  And it keeps going–morphing, changing slowly but never straying far from the original.  It adds intense strings as it progresses.  And all along it has this ticking metronome that is going very fast–much faster than anything else in the song, like a ticking time bomb.

Somewhere in the middle of the song a drum beat is added.  But it’s not so much a drum beat as it is a footstep.  It’s subtle at first–you kind of feel it in there.  You don’t really notice it.  But when the music all drops away at 2:30 to just the piano and the ticking, that footstep is there with you.

Don’t settle for covers or samples.  Don’t accept the version that has the thumping drum right from the start.

Take that late-1970s recording, that old quality, the weird drum footstep sound, it’s all perfect.

It’s the original or nothing.

[READ: October 31, 2018] “The Pale Man”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BAUHAUS-“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (1979).

This was Bauhaus’ first single–a nine minute ode to being undead.  It’s considered the foundation of Goth music.

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” starts with noises and feedback–echoing guitar scratches and atmospherics.

After about a minute and a half the simple three note bass line begins–slow and menacing.

Another minute later the vocals begin–Peter Murphy’s low voice reciting the lyrics.

White on white translucent black capes
Back on the rack
Bela Lugosi’s dead
The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Undead undead undead

The guitars are primarily high notes as the chords change and for a brief moment in the chorus, the three-note melody goes up in stead of down.

The remainder of the lyrics:

The virginal brides file past his tomb
Strewn with time’s dead flowers
Bereft in deathly bloom
Alone in a darkened room
The count
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Undead undead undead

Around five-minutes the song quiets down to just drums and echoing scratched guitars.  Around seven minutes, Murphy starts wailing “Bela’s undead.”  The last minute or so returns to the beginning with echoed guitars sounds and scratches.

Lo-fi creepiness.

[READ: October 29, 2018] “Uncle Tuggs”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILL CALLAHAN-“Small Plane” (Field Recordings, November 11, 2013).

Many episodes in the Field Recordings series travel far and wide to exotic locations.  For this Field Recording [Bill Callahan Sings ‘Small Plane’ In A Serene City] Bill Callahan travel to exotic downtown New York City.

When we first approached Bill Callahan to do a Field Recording in New York City, we asked him if he had any special place in mind. His reply surprised me: “A community garden.” I guess I’d stereotyped him in my head, because after all those years of dark, thoughtful songwriting — first as Smog and then on the pensive records he’s made under his own name — I’d imagined a library, someplace quiet and dark.

The video starts with the hustle and bustle of the city and then slowly moves into a quiet, peaceful garden, complete with a pond (and turtles jumping into it), birds, tomatoes, and a microphone.

As it turned out, the brightly lit 6th & B Community Garden, with its lush greenery and mellow wildlife, provided just the right setting. The noise of cabs, buses, trucks and the occasional siren wound up punctuating Callahan’s calm, deep baritone, but he makes it easy to ignore.

He sings about being a lucky man flying this small plane.  And he setting compliments his contentment.  It’s just him and his quiet electric guitar and all is well.

[READ: October 26, 2018] “Waugh”

Last week’s New Yorker story was called “Flaubert Again.”  This week’s is called “Waugh.”  The last one was tangentially about Flaubert but this one is (as far as I can tell) not about Evelyn Waugh at all.

This was one of those fascinating stories that was very simple but in which all of the details about the story were so vague that I couldn’t figure anything about it for many many pages.

This is a story of five unrelated boys who live together–they all pull tricks to make rent.  Rod was their defacto leader–not their pimp exactly, because he tricked too, but more like an elder watchmen.  He was tough and very strict.  You could be kicked out of the house for many infractions, and at the first sign of Sickness.

I assumed that this story was set in the 1970s in San Francisco.

Then one of the boys is named Google, so clearly it can’t be set in the 70s. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEAD KENNEDYS “Halloween” (1982).

This Halloween song is also about Halloween.  It comes from Dead Kennedys’ final album.

It’s breakneck paced, snarky and full of socio-political commentary, as you might expect.

Because you’re still hiding in a mask
Take your fun seriously
No, don’t blow this year’s chance
Tomorrow your mold goes back on
After Halloween, after Halloween
You’ll go to work tomorrow
Shitfaced tonight
You’ll brag about it for months
“Remember what I did, remember what I was, back on Halloween?”

The body of the song is pretty simple musically (although the guitar gets to go a bit nutty here and there).  But it’s as the song reaches the end that it gets pretty intense.

Much like the way Ministry’s “(Everyday is) Halloween” mocked those for conforming, this song takes it one step further.

Because your role is planned for you
There’s nothing you can do
But stop and think it through
But what will the boss say to you?
And what will your girlfriend say to you?
And the people out on the street they might glare at you
And whadaya know, you’re pretty self-conscious too?
So you run back and stuff yourselves in rigid business costumes
Only at night to score is your leather uniform exhumed
Why don’t you take your social regulations, shove ’em up your ass?

So yea, this one is a but less suntle than Ministry (who would’ve’ thought anything could be?)

[READ: October 28, 2018] “Abraham’s Boys”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

Read Full Post »

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