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SOUNDTRACK: SESAME STREET-Tiny Desk Concert #856 (June 10, 2019).

Yes, Sesame Street.  Not the OTHER puppet band Fragile Rock, the actual Sesame Street characters.

It’s a convergence of NPR and PBS!

And there they are at the Tiny Desk: Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Rosita, Abby Cadabby and Cookie Monster, all singing about a sunny day and how everything is A-OK. The Sesame Street crew — including Elmo, Grover and other surprise guests — visited NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Sesame Street’s 50 years of teaching the world its A-B-Cs, its 1-2-3s, how to be kind and how to be proud, all while spreading love and joy.

Everyone knows Sesame Street, but it’s also worth talking about how awesome it is.

Sesame Street has won more major awards than any other group to play the Tiny Desk, including 11 Grammys and 192 Emmys. There was a lot of love as the cast of Sesame Street got to meet NPR hosts and newscasters, who in turn got to geek out meeting their favorite Muppets and the creators behind the felt and fur. These folks include Matt Vogel, Sesame Street’s puppet captain and performer, and music director Bill Sherman.

The Muppets get through six songs in 15 minutes (no soloing here).

Count von Count and the NPR kids count us down: 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1!

Andwhat Sesame Street show could begin without “The Sesame Street Theme (Sunny Days)” (Rosita & Elmo, Ernie & Bert, Abby Cadabby, and Big Bird and Cookie Monster).

Then it’s on to Grover singing “People In Your Neighborhood” with Rosita.  Grover oberves a person making sounds with a soundy-making thingy.  Rosita is there to help learn about musicians.  Then a Reporter comes out to talk about what she does.  Finally Bob Boilen himself comes out (Grover: “who might you be sir, you do not appear to be doing anything.”  Bob: “I’m the producer, Grover.”  Grover: “Oh well that explains it”).

I even got to sing with Grover. And I’ll also say, on a personal note, that this may well have been the hardest-working, most dedicated group of performers I’ve ever worked with. I’m so proud of these Muppets and so happy to celebrate all that they’ve meant to the world for these 50 years.

Then they sang two new songs (imagine them having new sings in the last fifty years).

“What I Am” sung by Abby, Ernie and Elmo, a sweet song if ever there was one.

There’s even some full-sized Muppets in the audience (although the kids don’t seem that excited to be near them).

And then it’s Bert’s turn.  But Bert’s kinda shy and is nervous.  Thankfully Big Bird is there to sing a song together (and then confuse the proceedings): I

Its simple.  We’re gonna sing a song and we’re gonna sing it all together and i’ll start singing the song and then they’ll sing then song when I sing what I sing in the song and the you come in singing the song after i sing what i gonna sing when the song starts and we’ll sing the song.

There’s even more fun when Big Bird sings a long high note and Bert says: really?

Cookie monster wants a cookie, but it’s time for the medley” “Whats the name of that song?” (Elmo) then “Rubber Ducky (Ernie) and “C is fr Cookie” (Cookie Monster).  Then Big Bird sing a line before a funky piano and bass riff for “12345, 678910, 11 12… TWELVE!” (my personal favorite).

It segues into perennial happy song “Sing.”

Then Oscar comes on and tells everyone to scram.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “The Children”

This story reads like a fairy tale.  It has a slow inevitability in the pacing and real lack of urgency.

It is called an adventure of lost heirs.  It runs concurrently with a series of beheadings that were happening on Anjavavy island.  The story is quick to point out that the beheadings do not impact the story, they are just mentioned for context.

It begins in the early 2000’s on the island.  Giustinia was visiting Shay in Anjavavy for two weeks before heading off to Madagascar.  They are staying at Shay’s house which is mostly empty.  Shay lives on the island for part of the year and in Italy for the rest of the year.  Shay’s husband will be returning soon.

Giustinia is a poet and a critic  She and Shay became friends when Shay translated some of her essays for an American magazine.   Her family has ancient roots in Tuscany and has an unconscious regal air.

Shay hopes news of the beheadings doesn’t reach them during the fortnight. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAJOR HIT-Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards Remix (2018).

Who is Major Hit?  No idea.

Is this remix very good?  Not really.  It’s only a minute or so.

Is it hilarious?  Yes.

Is it satisfying?  Hell Yes.

Will you listen to it more than once?  Probably not.

But will you feel a little bit better about your taxes after hearing this?  Well, probably not.

Actually, it might make you feel a little better.  And you probably find yourself quoting De Niro, too.

 

[READ: April 4, 2019] The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors. For this particular book, proceeds to benefit Proceeds to benefit Granada House.

Originally appearing at the heart of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous semi-novel, this extended monologue brilliantly rambles its way around the circumstances that brought its narrator out of his ‘wastoid’ childhood and into maturity at the IRS. Along the way, he falls under the spell of a fake Jesuit, considers the true meaning of a soap opera station break, and narrowly escapes a gruesome death on the subway.

This is the final Madras Press book that I had left to read.  Since I has already read The Pale King, I was in no hurry to read this one.  But now it’s nice to say that I’ve finished all of the Madras Press books.  And that I could post this just in time for the massive Republican tax scam in which thanks to trump and his evil puppet mcconnell, my tax return dropped over $3,000.  Bastards.   May they all rot in prison.  And then hell.

Interestingly, back when I read this during Pale Summer (2014), this entire section was one week’s reading.  So my post from that week is still relevant.    It is posted almost in its entirety below:

This book is an excerpt from The Pale King.  In the book, it is almost 100 pages of one person’s testimony.  Without the novel for context, this excerpt stands on its own just fine.  It is basically an unnamed person’s introduction.  This narrator is so detail oriented that everything gets the same amount of importance–snowfall, the way to score drugs, the effects of drugs, Christian roommates, his father’s death, his mother’s lesibianism, oh and taxation.

So much of it is “irrelevant,” that I hate to get bogged down in details.  So this is a basic outline of ideas until the more “important” pieces of information surface.

For the most part, this is all inside one man’s head as he talks about his life in college, after college, and into the Service.  Mostly this is simply a wonderful character study, full of neuroses and problems that many people face at some point (to one degree or another).  The interviewee states that “A good bit of it I don’t remember… from what I understand, I’m supposed to explain how I arrived at this career.”

Initially he was something of a nihilist, whose response to everything was “whatever.”  A common name for this kind of nihilist at the time was wastoid.  He drifted in and out of several colleges over the years, taking abstract psychology classes.  He says that his drifting was typical of family dramas in the 1970s–son is feckless, mother sticks up for son, father squeezes sons shoes, etc. They lived in Chicago, his father was a cost systems supervisor for the City of Chicago. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Le Colisee, Quebec City QC (November 30 1996).

This is the 16th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. This is the same show that the Double Live version of Saskatchewan was taken from. It is also the show Dave wrote about in On A Cold Road.

The site has recently added a DAT version of the show in conjunction with the existing fan-recorded version (which is quite different and an interesting perspective).

The show opens with a recording of (maybe) a French-language hockey game?  I love how the opening guitars of “Saskatchewan” just start during the cheering.

Obviously this is a great version if they chose it for their live album.

It segues right into “Fat” which opens a little funky.  It runs to about seven minutes with the rocking ending being fun as usual.  “Fat” segues into a quiet and beautiful “Digital Beach” with great guitars from Martin and then, surprisingly into “Claire.”  Martin’s solo sounds very different–single notes played in a unusual (for him) style.  I like the change and it works well for the song.

Dave asks: Whats the shouting?  more shouting.  Martin: WHAT!?  (on the other recording you can hear that some guy is shouting: “Bad. Time. To. Be. Poor.”  The guy then deliberately shouts: “We came here to see you guys.”  Shame it’s not acknowledged).

Dave says, “We’re gonna do four songs in one from our new album, The Blue Hysteria.  Thanks to the whistling bats over there.”

“Four Little Songs” is goofier than usual.  And then Don, ever the salesman says “this next song is the current single from our brand new record which you can buy here at the venue.”  When they do play “Bad Time to Be Poor,” (those guys must have gone nuts), it sounds great.

Dave: “Thanks very much.  Save a bit for The Tragically Hip.  I don’t want you to….”

On “Sweet Rich, Beautiful, Mine,” Martin hits a slight wrong note before the roaring midsection which is kind of shame, but he recovers fine and the rest of the song is spot on.

A lovely “Dope Fiends” ends the show with a cool acoustic guitar and drum middle.  Martin has some fun with the “dark side of the moon” ending growling it somewhat and Dave says “By Pink Floyd.  Side two.”  Just before Martin roars his awesome guitar ending.

The song and show ends with Martin playing and then singing “You Are Very Star.”  It’s a very sweet ending.

[READ: June 2018] Start Without Me

I really enjoyed this story.  It was funny and dark and played with all kinds of twisted family portraits.

As the book opens Adam wakes up in the house he grew up in.  But in the basement.
A young child sizes him up, “Who are you?”
“I’m Adam.  Uncle Adam.”
The boy shakes his head. “My uncle’s Travis.  He lives in Texas.”
“I’m your other uncle.”
“Why are you on the couch?”

Indeed, why is it?  It is Thanksgiving.  One of his siblings or their offspring is in his old room.  They weren’t sure if he would show.

Finally it dawns on the boy, “Are you the uncle who smashed the pinata?”
“Jesus, that’s what you remember?”  Did he actually owe apologies to the kids, too? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y&T-“Mean Streak” (1983).

In the early 1980s Y&T had a couple of albums that made it onto my radar.   This one, Mean Streak, had this song which I liked enough. It’s got some cool riffs and Dave Meniketti’s raspy but distinctive voice.

I remember liking this song, even though I really had no idea what was going on in the lyrics.  The chorus where everyone sings “mean streak” behind his lyrics was certainly the catchy selling point.   But this is hard rock more than metal and is not really my thing.

I may have bought this album, but I know I have the follow up In Rock We Trust, which was more poppy (and they were more pretty).  I had forgotten all about “Lipstick and Leather” yet another cheesy pop metal song about, well, lipstick and leather.

People who were fans of Y&T (like Posehn) were die-hards, but even listening now I see why I never really got into them, even if I liked them for a bit.  Maybe it was a California thing.

[READ: January 2019] Forever Nerdy

S. got this for me for Christmas after we saw Posehn on a late night show and he talked about his nerdy obsessions, including Rush.  It seemed like an obvious fit.  And it totally was.

Posehn is a few years older than me, but if he had lived in my town we would have totally been friends (except I would have never talked to him because he was older).  Anyhow, we had more or less the same obsessions and the same nerdy outlook.  Although I was never really picked on like he was so perhaps I was a little cooler than he was.  Although I never smoked or drank when I was in high school so maybe he was cooler than me.

Things to know about before reading this–Posehn is a vulgar dude–there’s not much kid friendly is in this book.  Also this book isn’t really an autobiography exactly. I mean it is in that he wrote it and its about him, but if you were dying to find out fascinating stories about his crazy life, this book isn’t really it. I t’s more about the things he was obsessed with–in true nerdy fandom.

Although, Brian, what nerd doesn’t have an index in his own book? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAROLINA EYCK AND CLARICE JENSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #816 (January 11, 2019).

There have been a lot of bands I have first heard of on Tiny Desk and whom I hope to see live one day.  Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen are two women I would love to see live–together or separately.

The concert opens with a looping voice (Carolina’s) and what appears to be her using a theremin to play looped samples.  And then soon enough, she starts showing off how awesome she is at the futuristic 100-year-old instrument.

Carolina Eyck is the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely “fingered” articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

After playing a remarkably sophisticated melody on the theremin (with suitable trippy effects here and there), for about three minutes, she explains how the instrument works.  She even shows a very precise scale.

The position of the hands influences electromagnetic fields to produce pitch and volume. Recognized as one of today’s preeminent theremin specialists, Eyck writes her own compositions, such as the pulsating “Delphic” which opens the set, and she’s got big shot composers writing theremin concertos for her.

Up next is Clarice Jensen with “her wonderful cello.”

Joining Eyck for this two-musician-in-one Tiny Desk is cellist Clarice Jensen. When she’s not making gorgeous, drone-infused albums like last year’s For This From That Will be Filled, Jensen directs one of today’s leading new music outfits, ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Jensen doesn’t explain what’s going on, but she makes some amazing sounds out of that instrument–she’s clearly got pedals and she modifies and loops the sounds she’s making.

“Three Leos,” composed by Jensen, offers her masterful art of looping the cello into symphonic layers of swirling, submerged choirs with a wistful tune soaring above.

Vak Eyck comes back for the final song, a wonderfully odd duet of cello and theremin.

The two musicians close with “Frequencies,” a piece jointly composed specifically for this Tiny Desk performance. Amid roiling figures in cello and melodies hovering in the theremin, listen closely for a wink at the NPR Morning Edition theme music.

Van Eyck make soaring sounds, while Jensen scratches and squeals the cello.  Within a minute Jensen is playing beautiful cello and Van Eyck is flicking melodies out of thin air.

[READ: June 24, 2017] Less

It wasn’t until several chapters into this book that I realized I had read an excerpt from it (and that’s probably why I grabbed it in the first place).  I also had no idea it won the Pulitzer (PULL-It-ser, not PEW-lit-ser) until when I looked for some details about it just now.

It opens with a narrator talking about Arthur Less.  He describes him somewhat unflatteringly but more in a realistic-he’s-turning-fifty way, than a displeased way.

And soon the humor kicks in.

The driver who arrives to take Less to an interview assumes he is a woman because she found his previous novel’s female protagonist so compelling and persuasive that she was sure the book was written by a woman (and there was no author photo).  So she has been calling out for “Miss Arthur,” which he has ignored because he is not a woman.  This makes him late and, strangely, apologetic.

He is in New York to interview a famous author H. H. H. Mandern who has, at the last moment, come down with food poisoning.

It takes only ten pages to get the main plot out of the way:

Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrived in the mail: his boyfriend of the past nine years is about to be married to someone else. He can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and he can’t say no–it would look like defeat. The solution might just be on his desk –a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  Can he simply get out of town, and go around the world, as a way to avoid looking foolish? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This is probably the most memorable of all of the songs on the disc.  The keyboards are funky, the bass is funky and the wa- wah is funky.  The verse is a nice, slow slinky build up to the big chorus which is dumb and easy to remember, and–more to the point–really fun to sing along (hi-ho-hi-ho-hi-ho).

The post chorus of “This is what space smells like (you will always remember where you were)” is more or less screamed and makes it pretty unforgettable.  What does S.A.N.T.O.S. stand for?

Well, most of the time Tom Marshall writes the songs with Trey, but according to a Live for Live Music report:

Trey and Tom have been best friends and songwriting partners since elementary school, but Tom explains that he had absolutely nothing to do with Phish’s mastermind curveball they threw for Halloween, and remained in the dark, just as Phish’s entire fanbase did. Trey remains extremely tight-lipped following Phish’s debatably greatest prank ever, but according to Tom Marshall, the one thing Trey divulged is what the acronym S.A.N.T.O.S. stands for. Whether we believe it or not, Trey evidently told Tom that S.A.N.T.O.S., from Phish’s new tune “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”, stands for “Subterranean. Arctic. Neuro. Technology. Orientation. Station.”

Whatever it stands for, it’s great.

[READ: December 7, 2018] “I Flirted with the Women”

This is an excerpt from a book whose subtitle is A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight.  I don’t know what that means and that makes this excerpt which is largely about Mary Karr even more puzzling.  (After re-reading I see now that it is Hayes interviewing Mary Karr about Etheridge.)

It begins with someone saying

One day Mary Karr sort of appeared along my path like a brush fire.  She’s incendiary, combustible, she’s a walking flame.  She’ll light up the whole house or she’ll burn that motherfucker down.  Recently when I told her I described her that way to people, she paused and said, “I don’t know if that’s a compliment or a complaint.”  I meant it the way she heard it.

I myself only really know about Mary Karr because of her association with David Foster Wallace.  I don’t think I’ve ever read her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKCROON AND SWOON: A Classic Christmas (1998).

I grew up listening to big band and crooners.  Bugs Bunny taught me a lot about crooners, too.  So if there’s a Christmas album dedicated to them, I’m all over it.  It’s amazing how many songs are here that are not on other compilations as well (even though it’s really hard to tell since all of the singers basically did all of the songs at some point).

BING CROSBY & THE ANDREWS SISTERS-“Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  This is a pretty traditional take on the song with a but of fun from the Sisters.

LENA HORNE-“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”  This is done with Lena’s typical zest and verve.  It’s a really fun version.  I have come to really appreciate Lena this year.

JOHNNY MATHIS-“Winter Wonderland.”  This version sounds a bit fast, frankly.  It doesn’t quite sound like his smooth voice although he still sounds great.  The middle section includes an extra verse I don’t know

Over the ground lies a mantle of white
A heaven of diamonds shine down through the night
Two hearts are thrilling
In spite of the chill in the weather, ooh the weather
Love knows no season, love knows no clime
Romance can blossom any old time
Here in the open
We’re walking and hoping together
Together, together, together

Although I understand that other singers have included it as well.  He has a lot of fun with the song after this including a wonderful run through some octaves after the other kiddies knock him dooooooooooowwwwnnnnn.

LEROY ANDERSON-Sleigh Ride.  This is the classic instrumental that is used all of the time.  It’s awesome and comes complete with the woodblocks for horse hooves and a horn whinney.

ANDY WILLIAMS-“Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  Pure Christmas spirit wrapped around a singer.

PERRY COMO-“There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” This is sung by a big group of happy people.  Classic-feeling.  Although the line “gee the traffic is terrific” is always hilarious.

ANGELA LANSBURY-“We Need a Little Christmas” This is taken from the musical “Mame”  Its a fun musical version with a full cast which really adds to the song.

BING CROSBY-“It’s Beginning To Look a Lot like Christmas.”  A classic crooner from Bing.

GENE AUTRY -“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”  This one sounds sweet and cute, almost like a children’s version.  Even the instrumentation feels kid-friendly.  I love it.

DORIS DAY-“Here Comes Santa Claus.”  I associate this version with children as well, but Doris Day is kinds of sexy right?  I don’t know much else by her, but this song is sweet.  She has a chorus of men singing with her. They sing the “Santa knows that we’re Gods children.”  That and “gives thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight” is always a weird disconnect.

TONY BENNETT-“My Favorite Things”
Not a Christmas song in any way.  It’s a crazy over the top Tony Bennett croony version.  I don’t care for what he’s done to the song and it doesn’t belong here anyhow.

JUDY GARLAND-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  A Christmas song by Judy was on the other day.  I can’t recall the song but I hated it, it sounded so mournful and depressing.  For this song she sounds so wavery and frail that I can’t stand it.  I don’t know if this is just how she sings all the time or if it’s a particularly bad recording but it hurts! it hurts!

RAY CONNIFF-“Silver Bells” This is a strangely stiff version of the song.  The men in particular are very dull but the women add some spark

MABEL MERCER-“The 12 Days of Christmas”  No idea who she is but she is operatic and formal and over the top and its fairly strange–the way she rolls her rs on “five golden r-r-r-rings is pretty funny.  But i know she is deadly serious despite the absurdity of the song

GENE AUTRY-“Frosty the Snowman” is also cute and kid-friendly.  It’s very sweet with a clopping feet rhythm.

PEGGY LEE-“Days of Christmas.”  I don’t know this song at all..  How is there an old-timey Christmas song that I don’t know?  It’s very sweet.  I like that it starts with the melody of “The First Noel” and then turns into something else entirely with the lyric:  “This song of mine in three-quarter time.”

PERRY COMO-“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” This version is slow and croony and lovely.

ROSEMARY CLOONEY-“White Christmas.”  This is a lovely straightforward version of this classic song.

Overall this is a great collection of songs.

[READ: December 10, 2018] “One Gram Short”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This story appeared in the New Yorker on December 1, 2014.  I enjoyed it then and I think I enjoyed it more this time.  here’s some of what I wrote then: (more…)

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