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Archive for the ‘Dreams’ Category

McSweeney’s 49: Cover Stories: Contemporary writers reimagining classic tales (2017)

SOUNDTRACKBIG K.R.I.T.-Tiny Desk Concert #714 (March 5, 2018).

A while back I downloaded one of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtapes and rather liked it.  Since then he seems to have become pretty huge and I feel like he has really expanded on his style.

K.R.I.T. sings/raps three songs from his new album.

4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double album in which he covers everything from blessings to depression while plumbing the carnal and spiritual depths of his own duality. All three songs performed here come from side two, titled after his birth name Justin Scott.

The first song “Mixed Messages” is really thoughtful.  He sings and raps

I gotta whole lotta mixed messages / in my songs am I wrong / to feel this way
I got me a lover but I still wanna cheat / I wanna be saved but its fuck the police
i never really liked the fake shit / but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits
i really wanna sing but id better rap

K.R.I.T.’s backing band, which includes Burniss Travis II on bass and Justin Tyson on drums, also features on keys Bryan Michael Cox — the hitmaking producer and songwriter behind a slew of Billboard chart-toppers. Together, the trio delivers stripped-down versions of the latest thought-provoking material in Big K.R.I.T.’s catalog.

Introducing the second song, “Keep The Devil Off” he says his grandmother introduced him to gospel.  She brought him to church and “she would wake me up when i fell asleep saying wake up you gotta hear this.”  He sings beautifully.  And then the rapped verses are really well structured.

And when he stops to pay homage to his church-going grandmother before performing “Keep The Devil Off,” it’s clear that everything she instilled in him is keeping him alive, too.

Definitely in these times we need to keep the negativity away–keep the devil off.

His grandmother was clearly very important to him.

Big K.R.I.T. has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.  So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Halfway through his three-song set at NPR Music headquarters, K.R.I.T. stops to pull out an old-school tape recorder — the same one his grandmother would use to record him singing and reciting poetry as a child. “I have to feel like my grandmother was my first mix engineer,” he says before pressing play to reveal him and his brother as kids singing a duet of R&B crooner Donell Jones’ 1999 slow burner, “Where I Wanna Be.”

He plays the tape and cracks up listening to it.  He gets the audience to sing the refrain with his younger sell.  And then his grandmother introduces he and his brother as an R&B singer, “but I’m sticking with the rap thing.”

It’s a sublime interlude — one that resonated so strongly with K.R.I.T. that he had to start his last song, “Bury Me In Gold,” over to catch the proper beat. “I’m super emotional from this, too,” he says, laughing in a moment so genuine it was only right to leave it unedited.

He says “Bury Me in Gold” is not about gold really, it’s about having something so that in the event he gets to heaven he’ll give everything away.

He tells us to remember that peace of mind and your soul are more important than gold.

I’ve always enjoyed thought provoking rap and K.R.I.T.’s lyrics combined with his voice really work wonders.

[READ: May 29, 2017] McSweeney’s 49

It has been a long time (three years or so) since the previous McSweeney’s volume.  During that silence, the publishing house went non-profit and that seems to have taken up a lot of their resources.  They even address this a bit in the interdiction to this book.

But regardless of the reasons why, it is great to have them back.

As the subtitle says, this is a book of “cover stories.” What that means is a little vague–the contemporary writers model their story after a classic story.  I try to compare it to music covers, although in music covers the music and words are typically the same with some kind of variations.  Typically, the words are the same but the music is different.  I liked to flip this idea on its head for describing these stories in that the words are different by the music is the same.

Since I don’t know most of the original stories here I don’t know how similar these are to the originals–same character names?  Same ideas?  Same plot?  I don’t know.  And perhaps it would affect the way I read these stories if I was familiar with theory original pieces.  But without knowing them, these just turned out to be good stories from good writers.

Interspersed between the stories were poems and, in a wonderful commentary on our current shitty president and the cowardly house of representatives who on the day I finished this voted to strip 24 million people of health care, are comparisons of classic historical figures’ speeches with the petty garbled tweets of out current crap in chief.  Can we impeach this motherfucker already?  And send the whole lot of them to jail, please.  #ITMFA

As many McSweeney’s do, this one opens with letters.  And of course they aren’t really letters at all, even if they are addressed to McSweeney’s.  Many deal with cover songs, but a few are much more serious, political and right on.

WAJAHAT ALI writes from Camp FDR in Washington DC where he and his fellow prisoners were finally able to cobble together WiFi.  Ali explains that the Executive Order was inevitable the ban, the vetting, the registry were all just prelude. The need to protect against terrorism outweighs the individual rights and the rights of American Muslims…read the Supreme Court decision.

NICK JAINA writes about the Sept 23, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Ray Charles appears and plays “Walk the Line” and then “Ring of Fire.”  The letter states that the creator of “Ring of Fire” is actually mis-attributed.  The story is that June Carter wrote it after seeing a page in her uncle’s book of Elizabethan poetry.  But Johnny first wife claims that Johnny wrote it while drunk about a certain female body part: “all those years of her claiming she wrote it and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”  Then it reverts back to Ray Charles’ performance with an unseen band playing behind him–especially a great baseline–and as the song ends he lets out one last shudder and cackle like he just invented the orgasm.  “Johnny returns to the stage looking like a man who just watched someone have sex with his wife but was so in awe of how good he was at it that he could only thank him.”

ROBIN TERRELL talks about trumpmania in the Czech Republic from the perspective of a black woman, lesbian, child of civil rights activists, mother of a black man living in Prague.  The look in the eyes of people after the election: The U.S. is going to fuck us over again.  It stunned Europeans that the U.S. could generate someone fouler than Europe’s own crop of white male extremists.  She is now a refugee from her own country.  #RESIST #ITMFA

KIMBERLY HARRINGTON says she always believed that even in the darkest times humor has its place.  But lately she’s been bursting into tears rather than cracking a smile.  She hopes she can find things to laugh at–even death in these horrible times.

MARY MILLER says that for the longest time she thought her uncles wrote “Stagger Lee.”  Her uncles were musicians who wrote songs but also threw some covers into their shows.  She believed that “Stagger Lee” was one of theirs. She realizes that they are not famous and that no one will remember them–but she promises them that she will remember them.

RICK MOODY writes at length about Elektra’s 1990 tribute album Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary.  I remember it coming out and I remember not getting it because it was too expensive. But Moody talks about what a great conceit this collection was to have contemporary artists cover classic songs.  He also talks about how the tribute album was quite popular in the 1990s (was it ever).  Some thought: He loves Bjork, but he thinks of the Sugarcubes as a cheeseball imitation of the B-52s (and that their “Motorcycle Mama” is pretty bad.  He mentions a few great tracks, like Kronos Quartet covering “Marquee Moon,” Metallica doing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and even a Howard Jones cover of “Road to Cairo” by the cult hero David Ackles.   But he says fully half of the collection is bad, some of it even awful–not worth its list price at the time but it has a great number of masterpieces on it.

Will Buttler (from Arcade Fire) wishes to make some amusing corrections: some errors during concerts, and apologizing for singing “I’m So Bored” with the USA because he is not.

ARIEL S. WINTER-This is an interesting philosophical question wondering whether or not Marty McFly actually created “Johnny B. Goode.”  How could he cover it before Chuck Berry had released the original.  As a child this blew her mind.  This facile beginning then goes on to say that before recorded music the notion of a cover didn’t really exist.  And indeed in the 1950s people recorded songs without concern for copyright.  It’s also true that when Chuck Berry plays Johnny B. Goode live, it’s not considered a cover of his original.  She concludes by that the Back to the Future is probably the first time she ever heard Johnny B. Goode.  So Marty McFly’s is the original to her (as it is to all the kids at the dance).  So in addition to a song having an original for the performer there is also an original for the listener.  Anyone who has loved a song for years before finding out that it’s a cover has had that experience.

INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITORS

This introduction talks about how the first time they did a “cover story” was in 1999 in issue 4.  Rick Moody covered Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg.”  They had been planning to do an entire issue of covers as far back as two years ago and then things happened in the McSweeney’s universe to delay it.  And now : this issue is being born in a moment of racial, social and economic reckoning and imminent fascism…into a country that looks much different from the one in which it began, fronted now by a mean and disingenuous imitation of a president.   As such: Tucked between these thirteen beautiful renditions of thirteen classic stories are instances when a cover is not an homage but rather a perversion of its predecessor”  And by that they offer examples of eloquent speeches by former leaders and then tweets from our pervert in chief.

GARY BURDEN-excerpt from Nobody Knows (an autobiography)

Gary Burden created the cover images for this issue.  I had no idea who he was, but this autobiography tells me just how interesting a fellow he was.  He has been responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the last 60 years!

These excerpt shows his origin story–he was 8 on December 7, 1941 and he has had vivid memories of WWII.  When he was 16 he joined the Marines.  But he was restless, got involved in bad things, was dishonorably discharged and got mixed up with even worse people (he says he can’t believe the things he did back then).  In 1964 he met “Mama” Cass Elliot. They spent a lot of time together and this opened him up to meeting all kinds of people: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.  Eventually he met and hung out with Jim Morrison and designed Morrison Hotel (a fascinating story that).  In one of the nicer things I’ve heard someone say he says that Jim was a real poet, someone who was unafraid of delving deeply into life irrespective of the personal cost.  Then he met Neil Young. He says that Buffalo Springfield has been his favorite band and then one day Neil came to Mama Cass’ house in his 1948 Buick Hearse.  He was also hanging around when CSN decided to become CSN&Y and then he and Neil became friends. and Neil sold him his house in Topanga.  Eventually he made the cover art for After the Gold Rush (and he gives a little story about the old lady there on the cover).  I’m kind of curious to read this whole book now, especially if it includes album covers.

EMILY RABOTEAU-“The Babysitter” after “Some Women” by Alice Munro
This is the story of a babysitter for Mrs Fagan.  She is a young girl and her employer is very rich and locally famous.  And quite eccentric (she went to East Africa and allegedly witness the Ark of the Covenant and then wrote a controversial book about it).  But in their town she was known as the white lady with black kids (Maya 3, Eddie 10 months old).  The story reflects back on the babysitter as child (she is now the same age as Mrs Fagan was when the babysitting began.  The babysitter’s mother is kind of jerk and is very sarcastic about this babysitting arrangement.  She is also a very strict Jehovah’s Witness, so when the narrator gets her first period rather than tell her mom, she just takes products from Mrs Fagan.  As the story opens Mrs Fagan’s son has just arrived and that changes the dynamic in the house.  How will Mrs Fagan take it when the narrator accidentally sets fire to the kitchen? I really enjoyed the way the end of the story plays on the notions of memories and the impact people have on others.

MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN-“The Lottery, Redux” after “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” seems like a pretty easy story to cover–I think everyone knows everything about it and it has been covered in things like The Hunger Games in their own ways.  I don’t know if this story references the original (with the redux),  for this story the people of the island of Timothy were exiled from America fifty years earlier for crimes against the environment.  They were gathering on July 27th, the day of the lottery.  And indeed the lottery is a death sentence, although it’s not entirely clear why.  Interestingly, the story is more about the girl chosen and what her life up to that point has been like.

ANTHONY MARRA-“The Tell-Tale Heart” after “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
This story doesn’t diverge all that much from the original except for the wonderful modern twist on the beating heart.  It’s hard to say more without giving things away but I loved the modernization.

JESS WALTER-“Falling Faintly” after “The Dead” by James Joyce
I didn’t know all that many stories before hand, but I knew this one very well and this is wonderful homage.  It is not in any way rewriting the story–it’s a very different story, but it alludes to the Joyce story and directly mentions it and it is quite clear where the connection between them is.
Michael is a writer.  He is married with kids but has moved temporarily out to New York to write for this new police procedural.  The show is doing well and the female star is quite beautiful.  They bond over cigarettes–she is foreign and smokes like a European, he recently started again.  As stories like this tend to go, Micheal gets the wrong idea about this young, hot actress.  And given that she is not American she misunderstands the subtleties of his behavior (which isn’t very subtle admittedly).  But he wants her to know that his story is a tribute to Joyce’s “The Dead.”  When he talks about the dead she thinks he means real dead people and is pretty freaked out.  This leads to a restraining order and a police intervention–not how he thought his life in New York would go.  What doe sit have to do with “The Dead”?  Well they are standing smoking in the snow as it gently floats to the ground falling through the universe, faintly falling.

LAUREN GROFF-“Once” after “Wants” by Grace Paley
I loved the way this story started.  I saw my enemy at the beach.  With that as a groundwork we slowly learn just how this woman has an enemy (it’s an old boyfriend’s mother) and how they have grudgingly begun to respect each other decades after the two broke up. I really enjoyed this short piece.

ROXANE GAY-“Men on Bikes” after “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
I can’t imagine what the original of this story is.  The actual story of this is pretty peculiar itself.  Basically, the men in town have all started riding bicycles everywhere.  It started when one of them was arrested for drunk driving.  He didn’t lose his license but his wife took it away from him.  He dug out a bike and began riding it.  She thought he looked ridiculous, but when another man had his license taken away, they began riding together.  It was quite a sight, although I’m not sure what the point of it was.

NAMWALI SERPELL-“Company” after “Company” by Samuel Beckett
I like Beckett, and I know that he can be confusing.  I don’t know what “Company” is about so I have no idea how it relates to it, but man I did not get this at all.

It was confusing and really long.  It is broken into many small sections which might be connected.  The first is about the brightening which happened although many people missed it. Then we learn about the ship which is electro epidermal, which is cool but not really explained  and then the story turns into a quest for melanin and just when you think it’s a sci-fi story, it becomes a story about race.  There is a pale man tied to a tree hitting a sack (pound pound).  There’s a lot of vomit.  If the white man inseminates even one person, finding pure stem cells is impossible.  Dark skin marked you as  lucky when the darkening came.  But then she says the mission is over.  There’s more vomiting.  A fellow is supposed to be invisible in the village but Pound sees him.  There’s more vomit, a section titled rape, where Pound rapes Lila every once in a while and then who the hell knows what happens at he end.

KIESE LAYMON-“And So On” after “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Weeks ago 64 black folks changed the world.  You are the 11th.  Aside from the direct address to the reader the story is pretty straightforward and interesting.  Chanda Stewart was 8th, the narrators research assistant was 9th and Doug E., Chandra’s boyfriend was 1st.  They are at a fancy restaurant, Chandra, the narrator and you.  She swears that Doug is a porn star, but the narrator argues that having 1089 twitter followers and awkward consensual sex with a few white women filmed on an iPhone 2 in his fake Timberlands, blue knee brace and yellow wrist bands makes you a porn participant, not a star.  The story comes down to which side the narrator is going to choose.   sides or run for our lives.  Because while they were talking, Doug E. and about sixty young black kids were marching down the street.  To the school.  They each had an ax and a shovel.

MEG WOLITZER-“If You’re Happy and You Know It” after “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” By J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this Salinger story in a long time, so I don’t really know how it connects to this, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the way that it was written which was a little confusing but in an intriguing way.  Set in a hotel on Miami there is the young woman in 609 who arrived with her new husband.  She’d sent him off to the beach.  We see her telling her parents that he is taking it easy, but they want to know if he is taking the Klonopin.  Later that night in the lobby, a four year old girl, Chloe, is in the lobby of that hotel watching a man play piano.  The man is a guest also and he is playing and really getting into it.  Another boy asks if he can play This Old Man and the player jokes about the boy calling him old.  But Chloe asks if he can play “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  He says he might be happy but he may not know it. She is puzzled by that.  He says she is breaking his heart.  We soon realize that the pianist is the Klonopin man, and while things don’t get dark exactly, they certainly get strange.  And Chole’s parents have foisted her off on a poor babysitter the whole time.  This was one of my favorites in the book.

T.C. BOYLE-“The Argentine Ant” after “The Argentine Ant” by Italo Calvino
I can’t imagine what the original story is like, but this one from Boyle was really icky and really fantastic.  Its’ a fairly simple premise–a family moves to a rental property in Argentina, only to find that it is swarming with ants.  The ants are everywhere–even crawling all over their baby.  They run to the next door neighbor’s house only to see that they know about the ants and might have a secret weapon.  But mostly they just seem to be putting their furniture in jugs of water–presumably as a deterrent.  There is also an Ant Man who might be fighting the ants or who might actually be bringing more.  What is great about the way Boyle writes this is that the guy renting the house is working on an academic theorem that his wife thinks is rather frivolous.  And that tension underpins everything.

ALICE SOLA KIM-“One Hour, Every Seven Years” after “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Again I don’t know the original, but this story was great, and also weird. The weird part is that the story seems to start over multiple times. And that’s because there is a kind of time travel component to it.  The title refers to how often the sun comes out on Venus.  There is a girl, the main character, named Nargit. She was born on Earth and so she saw the sun.  The other kids are pretty angry at her for it (as if it’s her fault).  They are abusive to her, and the time travelling is the girl’s attempt to protect her younger self.  Many things go wrong but they bring about different results.

CHRIS ABANI-“Sleepy” after “Sleepy” by Anton Chekhov
This story was pretty horrific.  Kemi, a sixteen year old black girl who is now an orphan is working for a white family.  The family has two little children, one of whom is a baby.   The family is horrible to Kemi.  Pretty unrelentingly horrible.  Kemi is tired and never gets a break and the baby cries all the time.  She can’t soothe the baby and the family blames her for her failures.  Her exhaustion builds and builds until you pretty much know the ending several pages before it happens.

TOM DRURY-“The Yellow Wallpaper” after “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know the original story although not super well.  But this version feels almost exactly the same. I honestly can’t tell what the difference is (without having re-read the original again to compare).   Jane and John are renting a place on an island for the summer.  John thinks Jane is not strong and keeps her hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.  He more or less runs everything in her life until she starts seeing people through the wallpaper.  You know things can’t go well from there.

POETRY:

REBECCA LINDENBERG-“Having a Coke with You” after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem for Keats” after “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

STEPHEN BURT-“A Nickel on Top of a Penny” after “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo

BRIAN TURNER-“The Metaphor Program” after “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

STEPHEN BURT-“Roofers” after “The Armadillo” by Elizabeth Bishop

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting” [the first two lines are taken from “A Poem on the Occasion of the Consecration of Sandford and Shippon Churches” by Rev. F. Wilson Kittermaster, 1855]

STEPHEN BURT-“Suspense” after “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane

KEVIN MOFFETT-“Second Wonder”-a monologue that will air on The Organist.
I found this puzzling at best.

PATTY YUMI COTTRELL-excerpt from Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
I read this book not too long ago.
This except was about two young children who invented a game called “Confession” in which the boy confesses his real or imagined sins to his sister.

~~~~~

The comparison quotes are called Great Speeches from History vs. the Tweets of Donald J. Trump:  I can’t bring myself to write any of the jerks tweets.

Mahatma Gandhi from the “Quit India” speech, 1942 vs. a Feb 4 2017 tweet

Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address” 1863 vs. a Feb 18 217 tweet (about fake news)

Martin Luther King Jr from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vs. Feb 21 2017 (crowds planted by liberal activists)

Frederick Douglass from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” 1852 vs. Feb 6 2017 (negative polls are fake news).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, inauguration speech 1933 vs. Jan 22, 2017 (including all my enemies)

 

The bad thing about this issue is that the last four or five stories were all real downers, making it a pretty tough slog.  But I loved the idea, and I liked that they found the time and space to point out how stupid trump sounds and looks and is.

For ease of searching, I include: Cesar Vallejo

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.

LETTERS

CORY DOCTOROW
Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

JAMIE QUATRO
Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

BENAJMIN PERCY
In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

ANTHONY MARRA
Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

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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: SHABAZZ PALACES-Tiny Desk Concert #662 (October 23, 2017).

Shabazz Palaces is really nothing like anything else I’ve heard.

“On the ground we have leopard skin carpets Only the exalted come in and rock with us.”

With those words, spoken in the opening moments of Shabazz Palaces‘ Tiny Desk performance, Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler, also of Digable Planets fame) lays the ground rules for all present to enter the group’s metaphysical headspace.

And, man, talk about being transported to the other side. It’s impossible not to envision the Seattle studio, Black Space Labs, where Shabazz’s otherworldly soundscapes emerge to provide the ideal backdrop for shining a light on the fake.

 It’s the perfect proxy for the growing sense of alienation we’re all suffering, to some degree or another, in today’s space and time.

Shabazz Palaces is perhaps the most unusual rap band I’ve heard. There are hardly any beats. The songs are trippy with washes of synths and other sound effects.  There’s no heavy bass, it’s just up to Palaceer Lazaro to keep the flow.

There’s an 80 second intro in which Palaceer Lazaro introduces the band and talks about their sacred study, safe from the “Colluding Oligarchs.”

The first proper song “Colluding Oligarchs”says that “sacred spaces still exist / safe from colluding oligarchs.”  Theirs almost glitchy (but pretty) synth melodies (which I think Palaceer Lazaro triggered before he started rapping).  His partner Tendai Maraire plays a hand drum and congas (as well as some synth triggers).  And all the while he is singing echoed backing vocals.  Meanwhile, Otis Calvin plays an intertwining, slow, almost improved bass line.

For “They Come In Gold” there is no bass.  He says “this one we wrote to our phones.”  There’s a weird repeating melody that sounds like  snippet of vocals. Once again there’s lot of percussion–shakers, cymbals etc.  Half way through, he puts a filter on his voice to slow it down (a cool spacey effect) and then speeds it back up.

“Shine A Light” includes some squeaky synths and Palaceer Lazaro singing into a different mic.  When the music starts formally, the melody is a looped sample from Dee Dee Sharp’s 1965 song “I Really Love You.”  The bass is back playing some simple but groovy lines.  That second mic is connected to a higher-pitched echoed setting when he sings shine a light on the fake.

[READ: March 15, 2017] Punch

I don’t know much about Pablo Boffelli aside from that he is an Argentinian artist–he creates music as well as visual arts.

This book is a collection of line drawings (which remind me a lot of things that I draw when I am doodling).

Since the book is published in Spanish, with no English information anywhere (it’s not even on Goodreads), I couldn’t get a lot of information about it.  So from the publisher’s website I got (in translation):

In the PUNCH world, space is a character that unfolds and unfolds in millions of scenes. Cynicism and the absurd coexist with hints of synthetic humor.

Punch is the book drawn by Feli. His imprudent stroke runs through the pages building a city in which everything can happen. In the Punch world, space becomes a character that unfolds and unfolds in millions of possibilities. The urban landscape eats everything, the exteriors become interior and the fantasies materialize in the most unforeseen forms. The cynicism and the absurd coexist with hints of humor: the joke to discover for that spectator who contemplates in a disinterested way.

Punch is tender and corrosive, is infinite and minimal. It reverses the logic of physics and plays with the scale: stacked things, types or giant landscapes, a springboard that does not point to the pool, soccer balls in a refrigerator, humans without head, debauchery and micro-obsession. Put another way: this book is crazy. We recommend looking with a magnifying glass.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHOVELS AND ROPE-Tiny Desk Concert #304 (September 16, 2013).

This Tiny Desk Concert starts with the most fun opening of any—the duo of Shovels & Rope brought their dog along, and as they are warming up, the dog roams around, getting pet by people and sneaking treats.

As the blurb notes:

But once Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent showed up, the office quickly lost sight of the approaching performance, as the murmurs began: “There’s a dog in the office there’s a dog in the office there’s a dog in the office!” You could practically see our coworkers’ brains short out from a combination of cognitive dissonance and canine adoration.

I’ve enjoyed Shovels and Rope’s punky folky country music, But I didn’t know much about them:

As endearing as our new friend was, Shovels & Rope soon won back the crowd’s attention [with] the husband-and-wife duo’s mix of rowdy folk-rock and rootsy balladeering. After opening with the plaintive ballad “Carnival,” the South Carolina duo ripped through one of its signature rockers — “Birmingham,” during which the pair held eye contact sweetly while singing in unison — before closing with “Bad Luck,” a clattering gem for which the two swap instruments (he on guitar, she on drums). The song, originally from a Michael Trent solo album, most recently appeared on a deluxe version of Shovels & Rope’s 2012 debut, the winning and appropriately titled O’ Be Joyful.

The band’s music is definitely steeped in country and yet there’s something about it that I like—they have country spirit without all the twang—or perhaps it’s just the gorgeous harmonies that elevate it above pedestrian country fare.

“Carnival” is a slow, sweet song.  She plays guitars, he plays keys and he gets a harmonica solo.  For “Birmingham,” he jumps up and switches to drums. And it’s amazing how much power that simple drum beat puts into these songs.  This is a hootin’, hollerin’, country stompin’ song.  There’s a punky element to it- sort of an X vibe (although I think its more like The Knitters than X) with their voices mingling.

As that song ends, they switch places–he takes guitar she takes the drums.  Before starting, he asks, “Where’d our dog go?  Anyone got a line on a hound dog?”  She jokes, “If your ham sandwich is half eaten?”  Then corrects: “He won’t half eat it, he’ll get it all.”

The final song “Bad Luck” is a big stompin’ fun song. There’s simple loud punky drums and she hollers the vocals for extra fun

The dog even gets an on-screen handshake at the end (and then the duo shake each others’ hands, too).

[READ: July 30, 2016] The Metamorphosis

I’ve been enjoying the art of Peter Kuper lately.  So I found a few of his older books, like this adaptation of The Metamorphosis, which is pretty great.

I don’t know if this is meant to be a complete telling of the story.  I’ve read it a few times, but I don’t know all of the details.

I liked that he clearly doesn’t include all of the dialogue or text–it’s not a comprehensive version of the story.  Rather, he uses a the art to move the story along.

The cockroach is drawn in Kuper’s very blocky, very robotic style–it’s cool and creepy.  But not bug-creepy just inhuman-creepy.

As the book opens, he flashes back to his life and job as a traveling salesman .  He hates the work–it is exhausting–and if his parents didn’t need the money he would have quit a long time ago.

But while he’s thinking all this he realized that he is late for work.  He tries to get up and that’s when the limitations of being a cockroach really hit him.

His supervisor comes to tell him that he is fired because of poor performance and when his family sees him, they are disgusted by him.

Only his sister Grete treats him kindly–bringing him scraps of foot (real food at first and then rotting food, since he is a bug). We learn that in the family only Grete and Gregor are close–their father is distant and cold.  The father is really annoyed at Gregor the bug still being in the house–how do they even know he is that creature or if he is even still “in” there.  He throws an apple at Gregor and it gets embedded in his back (ew).

Without Gregor’s income the family must take in lodgers, who are bossy and inconsiderate  Gregor wants them out but when they see him, they freak out and storm out without paying.

Can a story like this find any happiness at the end?  Well, sort of, in a very unexpected place.

Even though this is primarily a visual work, it really conveys the horrors of the original in a very clever way.

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SOUNDTRACK: HEM-Tiny Desk Concert #306 (September 28, 2013).

Hem is one of All Songs Considered‘s earliest discoveries. Back in 2002, we received a beautiful and unique album called Rabbit Songs. It was a homey, fireside kind of record, with a sound that could be called country or Americana, and the arrangements by Dan Messé made it feel quaint and warm. To top it off, there was singer Sally Ellyson, an untrained natural talent with an effortless yet breathtaking voice. Hem has gone on to make five more albums since Rabbit Songs; their latest, Departure and Farewell, finds the group still writing songs that feel as if they’ve always been there.

Bob is quite right about the feel of this band, the drums are actually foot stomping and piano tapping, and that makes the band sound like they are siting around cozy room with friends.   And then there’s her voice.  There’s nothing specific about it that stands out, and yet it really does.  Her voice feels incredibly warm and welcoming, making you want to stop and listen.  And perhaps it’s something about the recording which makes everything feel soft (but not muddy) and warm.

And even in the songs themselves, it feels like friends hanging out.  During “Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing” they say “go George” as the intro to the bass solo and then “go Heather” for the violin solo.   “Tourniquet” has some great lyrics, between the alliteration at the beginning and the great metaphor of the song, I was so taken with the lyrics that I didn’t even realize how pretty the melody was:

Brooklyn, I’m broken — I’m breaking apart
Oh Brooklyn, your bridges are bound up in light —
Every artery’s clogged as you pull the belt tight —
And this tourniquet turns even tighter until
Traffic comes to a standstill

When the song suddenly takes off near the end (but only briefly) it really elevates the song which was already delightful.  Introducing the final song, “Seven Angels” she says they are excited to be there, playing in this format.  She says the song can be seen as a lullaby–she likes to sing it for her sister.  She says she doesn’t write the songs but she can pretend this one is hers.

It’s hard to imagine this band playing a venue much larger than this one–they seems right at home in a small space.

[READ: July 31, 2016] Stop Forgetting to Remember

This is a fascinating story about the comics artist Walter Kurtz.  I know very little about Peter Kuper, but I gather that this is sort of his life but written as an autobiography of somebody else.  (For instance, Kurtz was born on the same day as Kuper).

The back cover blurb also states how daring it was for Kurtz to write all of this –showing the embarrassing details, etc.: “My spouse would have killed me!”

This book is a collection of “stories” (not sure if they were ever published separately) that are joined by the narrative thread of Kurtz telling us about his life.  And the “occasion” for this reflection is the pending birth of his first child.  He is freaking out a bit–when he was young he never wanted kids, and then maybe he was cool with it, but recently he’s become terrified again.  He’s particularly afraid because he’s engaged with the world and he sees that as each month goes by, things get worse: AIDS, global warming, overpopulation, famine, wars (and that’s just 1996). (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: ARBOREA-Tiny Desk Concert #218 (May 17, 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.

arboreaArborea is a totally captivating band.

The band consists of Shanti and Buck Curran.  They play three songs and each one is really different, but all with in a spooky, mellow Appalachian feel.

“Song for Obol” features Buck playing an electric guitar with an e-bow and a slide—creating single-note sirens that roar and fade.  The sounds are magical.  But they’re not the most interesting part of this song.  Because Shanti is playing the Ban-Jammer–“a sweet little hybrid that’s part banjo, part mountain dulcimer.” Shanti also sings and her voice is high and delicate—sometimes almost a whisper.  The Ban-Jammer is such an interesting and compelling sound and those washes of electric guitar so enticing that I didn’t want this song to end—even if I never really paid attention to what she was singing about.

For the second song Bob Boilen himself goes behind his desk to play harmonium with them.  Shanti plays acoustic guitar and tells us that the harmonium is

Inspired by the tales in Maine about fishing boats that were lost to the ocean—this song is about a woman who loses her lover to the sea—the harmonium is the ocean and the wind.

The harmonium isn’t very loud, but it keeps constant background while Buck pays the electric guitar (with slide, but no e-bow) and Shanti picks out the acoustic guitar melody.

The final song “A Little Time” is played on an acoustic tenor guitar.  Both Shanti and Buck sing for this track.  At first I wasn’t crazy about his voice accompanying hers, but he really gets the same tone very nice;y.  And her oh-hoos are beautifully haunting.

I’d really like to hear more from these guys.  And it is pretty fun to actually see Bob behind his Tiny Desk.

[READ: December 6, 2016] “Dream Girl”

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 (a few days late for advent, but that was my fault for ordering so late) I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I wasn’t aware of Katie Coyle before reading this story.  Perhaps the only reason I might have known about her is because she is a YA author from New Jersey.

But I’d like to know more about her because this story was wonderful.  The point of view of the story was fantastic and the whole concept was weird and cool.

The narrator is never revealed, but I love this beginning:

This all started when Winston’s girlfriend Sheila dumped him at his high-school graduation party.  Or maybe it started when Sheila began to notice that Winston didn’t understand her.  Certainly it never would’ve happened had she not turned to Winston in their Modern Conflicts class nine months earlier and said, “It’s Winston, right?”

Such intrigue! (more…)

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