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Archive for the ‘Eulogy’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GOLDEN DAWN ARKESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #761 (June 29, 2018).

They came marching in from off stage in robes and masks, with instruments and face paint, in more colors than have ever been in one place.

And they began the first song with a cacophony of keyboards and percussion before playing the discofied funk of “Children of the Sun.”

There’s horns from “Malika” (Sarah Malika Boudissa–Baritone Sax, Vocals), and “Zumbi” (Chris Richards–Trombone, Vocals) who set the melody going while the percussion from “Lost In Face” (Rob Kidd–Drums–who does indeed have a mask covering his face) and “Oso the Great” (Alex Marrero-Percussion) keeps things moving.

There’s a slowdown in the middle with just bass “Shabuki” (Greg Rhoades-Bass), and keys from the leader himself “Zapot Mgawi” (Topaz McGarrigle-Vocals, Organ, Synth).

Throughout the songs you can hear some wah wah guitar from “Yeshua Villon” (Josh Perdue-Guitar) and vibes–a persistent instrument which sounds otherworldly and perfect.  They come from “Isis of Devices” (Laura Scarborough-Vocals, Vibraphone).  Behind her, dancing throughout the song is “Rosietoes” (Christinah Rose Barnett-Vocals, Tambourine).

So what do we know about this band?

The blurb says:

It was a late night at an unfamiliar club in Austin, Texas when the spirit, sound, lights and costumes of the Golden Dawn Arkestra put a huge, dreamy smile on my face. It took more than three years to get ten of the players and performers in this band (there are often even more) to my desk. I tried to transform the bright daylight of the NPR office with some of my handy, previously used holiday laser lights. But honestly, it wasn’t until their psychedelic jazz kicked in that the office transformation felt real. Band leader, Topaz squawked through his megaphone to join them on their journey, while singing “Children of the Sun.”

Topaz told me that the band’s inspiration for both the name and the spirit of the musicians is loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The organization, devoted to the study of the occult and paranormal activities, has been around since the 19th century.

Both of Topaz’s parents were heavily into spiritual movements and what happens here falls somewhere between high art and a circus, with music that feels connected to Sun Ra’s jazz, the extended musical adventures of The Doors and the surprise elements of Parliament-Funkadelic. You can dance and/or trance, or sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Before “The Wolf” he apologizes for an outbreak of cold on their planet.  But he wants to remind us that we are all human beings from the same planet and that we are all from stardust and vibrations. Together we can change the planet.

We would like there to be more light and love in the universe.  We must all stand together.  This is our fight song for that.

It moves quickly with the horns playing away and t he percussion flying.

The final song “Masakayli” opens with bongos from “Oso the Great” and clapping from everyone (including the audience).  The horn melody sounds a lot the theme from S.W.A.T. (there’s nothing wrong with that).  I feel like the guitar was kind of quiet through the other songs, but you can really hear “Yeshua Villon” on this one, especially the guitar solo.

This song ends with the jamming circus atmosphere that really takes off with a trippy keyboard solo from Topaz as “Rosietoes” plays with a light up hula hoop and “Zumbi” parades through the audience trying to get everyone hyped up.

It’s a tremendous spectacle and should bring a smile to your face.  Next time these guys are in town, I’m there.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Always Another Word”

These are the same remarks that were included in Five Dials Issue Number 10.

But since it has been some time since I posted them and since I am being a completist here, and since it has been nine years since Infinite Summer, I’ll cover these four in somewhat more details

Michael Pietsch
speaks about being DFW’s editor. He says that Dave loved to communicate through letters and “the phone messages left on the office answering machine hours after everyone had departed.”  He says he loved Dave’s letters and tore into them hungrily.  He gives examples of some communiques about cuts and edits of Infinite Jest.

I cut this and have now come back an hour later and put it back

Michael, have mercy.  Pending and almost Horacianly persuasive rationale on your part, my canines are bared on this one.

He continues that David’s love affair with English was a great romance of our time.  How he was so excited to be selected to the American Heritage Dictionary‘s Usage panel. But that was surpassed by his own mother’s excitement about it,

Michael thinks he may have tried to use every word in the dictionary at least once.  When he, Michael, suggested a book that opened with the word “picric,” David’s instant response was “I already used that!.”

Zadie Smith
addresses the critics of BIWHM who thought the book was an ironic look at misogyny. She felt it was more like a gift.  And the result of two gifts.  A MacArthur Genius grant and a talent so great it confused people.  His literary preoccupation was the moment the ego disappears and you’re able offer your love as a gift without expectation of reward.

She says that she taught students to read BIWHM alongside Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

The most impassioned recommendation he gave her was Brain Moore’s Catholics, a novella about a priest who is no longer capable of prayer. Don’t think of David as a God-botherer–think of it as ultimate value.

You get to decide what you worship, but nine time out of ten it turns out to be ourselves.

For David, Love was the ultimate value, the absurd, the impossible thing worth praying for.

George Saunders
speaks of reading BIWHM and finding that it did strange things to his mind and body.  He says it was like if you were standing outdoors and all of your clothes were stripped away and you had super-sensitive skin and you were susceptible to the weather whatever it might be–on a sunny day you would feel hotter; a blizzard would sting.

The reading woke him up, made him feel more vulnerable, more alive.  And yet the writer of these works was one of the sweetest, most generous dearest people he’d ever known.

He met Dave at the home of mutual friend in Syracuse.  While he feared that Dave would be engaged in a conversation about Camus, and he would feel humiliated, Dave was wearing a Mighty Mouse T-shirt and talked about George and his family, asking all about them.

Saunders says that in time the grief of his passing will be replaced by a deepening awareness of what a treasure we have in the existing work.  The disaster of his loss will fade and be replaced by the realization of what a miracle it was that he ever existed in the first place.   But for now there is just grief.

For now, keep alive the lesson of his work:

Mostly we’re asleep but we can wake up. And waking up is not only possible, it is our birthright and our nature and, as Dave showed us, we can help one another do it.

Don DeLillo
says that Dave’s works tends to reconcile what is difficult and consequential with what is youthful, unstudied and often funny.  There are sentences that shoot rays of energy in seven directions.

It’s hard to believe that in September, he will be dead ten years.

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Gord Downie [1964-2017]

Gord Downie died yesterday after suffering from brain cancer.

Downie was the lead singer of The Tragically Hip a band I had wanted to see live but never did.

I first learned about The Hip in 1994. I was living in Boston and had access to Much Music, Canada’s music video channel.  I saw a video for “Nautical Disaster” and was blown away.  I loved everything about it.  This was from their fifth album, the one after the album that everyone cites as their best, Fully Completely.  But for me, Day for Night will always be my favorite.

Downie was an interesting and enigmatic guy–at least for a fan who didn’t know the band super well, but liked all their music.  Downie wrote interesting, thoughtful lyrics and he really brought people together.  As the CBC puts it: (more…)

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manner SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk Concert #251 (November 19, 2012).

benBen Gibbard is the voice of Death Cab for Cutie.  His voice is instantly recognizable and his melodies are surprisingly catchy.

This Tiny Desk Concert (they say it’s number 250, but I count 251) is just him and his acoustic guitar.  I didn’t know he did solo work, but apparently he does (in addition to being in The Postal Service and All-Time Quarterback).

Gibbard just released a solo album, Former Lives, which he’s said is a repository for material that didn’t work as Death Cab for Cutie songs; from that record, only “Teardrop Windows” pops up in his Tiny Desk Concert. For the rest, he draws from Death Cab’s most recent album (“St. Peter’s Cathedral,” from Codes and Keys) and, of all places, last year’s Arthur soundtrack (“When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street”).

As mentioned he plays three songs and his voice is so warm and familiar I felt like I knew these songs even if I didn’t.

I knew “St. Peter’s Cathedral.” It is a lovely song with very little in the way of chord changes.  But the melody is gentle and pretty.  And the song appears to be entirely about this church.  Which is interesting because the second song is also about a building in Seattle.  “Teardrop Windows” is a surprisingly sad song about an inanimate object.  It’s written from the building’s point of view as he mourns that no one uses him anymore.  And such beautiful lyrics too:

Once built in boast as the tallest on the coast he was once the city’s only toast / In old postcards was positioned as the star, he was looked up to with fond regard / But in 1962 the Needle made its big debut and everybody forgot what it outgrew

The final song “When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street” was indeed for the Russel Brand movie Arthur.  Somehow I can’t picture those two together.  It’s a lovely song, too.

I prefer Gibbard’s more upbeat and fleshed out music, but it’s great to hear him stripped down as well.

[READ: January 2017] “My Writing Education: A Time Line,” “The Bravery of E.L. Doctorow,” “Remembering Updike,” and “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” 

I had been planning to have my entire month of February dedicated to children’s books.  I have a whole bunch that I read last year and never had an opportunity to post them.  So I thought why not make February all about children’s books.  But there is just too much bullshit going on in our country right now–so much hatred and ugliness–that I felt like I had to get this post full of good vibes out there before I fall completely into bad feelings myself. It;s important to show that adults can be kind and loving, despite what our leaders demonstrate.  Fortunately most children’s books are all about that too, so the them holds for February.

George Saunders is a wonderful writer, but he is also a very kind human being.  Despite his oftentimes funny, sarcastic humor, he is a great humanitarian and is always very generous with praise where it is warranted.

The other day I mentioned an interview with Saunders at the New York Times.  Amid a lot of talk with and about Saunders, there is this gem:

Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”

These first three pieces are all examples of his love and respect for other writers–both for their skill and for their generosity.

“My Writing Education: A Time Line”

“My Writing Education” comes from a book called A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors.  Saunders’ mentor was Tobias Wolff.  And for this essay, his admiration takes the form of a diary.  (more…)

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Terry Pratchett [1948-2015]

tpI have been reading Terry Pratchett since I lived in Boston (circa 1993).  I “discovered” him from the book Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman (who I had also recently discovered).  I recently learned that even though I purchased Good Omens, I had never actually read it.  Duh.  Perhaps I was planning to read it in order after reading his Discworld books.

My fondest memory of reading Discworld is that when I first bought the Discworld books (not easy to get in the States back in 1993), the only versions I could find were these tiny editions (which now I can’t even find evidence of online–perhaps I am the only one who owns them).  I have no idea why they were printed in this preposterous format (the couldn’t have been more than 5 inches square with stupid tiny print).  And I remember diligently reading them at lunch at work.  Which must have looked absurd.  I have these books at home and will have to look up the ISBNs to see their virtual existence.

At any rate, those first four books in the Discworld series all came in that format and I read them all.  And then I proceeded to read through the rest of the series (which would have been up to about book number 17  or so).  At the time of his death there were some 41 books in the Discworld series, including YA books and, geez well so many other things.

And what were they about?  Everything.  Literally. He talked about religion and science.  He talked about metaphysics and witches, he talked about working and police.  He eventually started using popular culture as the basis for a lot of his books–riffing on something or other but never simply parodying them.  His later books advanced the civilizations on Discworld from a more medieval setting to a more contemporary one with newspapers, telephones, money and steam engines.  And of course, there was always Death.  Amazingly he managed to make all of this funny–usually a good laugh every page or two. (more…)

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Pete Seeger [1919-2014]

seegerPete Seeger died last night at the age of 94.  I love his anti-war quote: “Sometimes I think [about] that old saying,’The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Well, my one hope is the guitar is gonna be mightier than the bomb.”

When I was a kid, I knew a few of his songs (and didn’t really like them) because of an organ songbook we had (did everyone have an organ in the 70s?).  I can remember pounding on the wheezing organ and making up silly lyrics to “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  It’s amazing to think that these songs, which were written in the sixties, are often seen as eternal classics.  It’s also amazing to think that Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which I never associated with him.  Indeed, like Woody Guthrie, much of American folk music can be traced to Pete Seeger (even if he adapted much of it himself).

I really started getting into Seeger when I had kids, as I found his music was fun to teach the kids to sing along to–it was designed for singing along to.  In fact, he wrote a ton of children’s music as well. (He released FIFTY-TWO studio albums, along with 22 live albums and 23 compilations).  His first solo album was a collection of traditional folk songs for children (he didn’t write them, which may be why it’s confusing to know which songs were actually his).  And I don’t even know anything about his first band The Weavers, who had hits with “Goodnight Irene,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know You)” and “Wimoweh.”

(more…)

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David Rakoff (1964-2012)

David Rakoff died Thursday from a resurgence of cancer.  For those unfamiliar with his work, think of darker, more cynical David Sedaris (did you think that was possible?).  The biggest difference between Rakoff and Sedaris is that Rakoff is Canadian.  And he is more of a world traveler.  I say this not really knowing anything about how much they actually traveled.  I mean, sure, Sedaris travels the world for book tours and such, but Rakoff actually lived in foreign lands.  Wait, you say, Sedaris lives in France.  Yes, but Rakoff lived in Tokyo (which automatically makes him more exotic).  And he actually knew Japanese (kind of) whereas Sedaris seems to have not learned any French in the years he has lived there–if his essays are to be believed.

All of this is by way of introduction to using Rakoff’s description of himself as a “New York writer” who also happened to be a “Canadian writer”, a “Jewish writer”, a “gay writer'” and an “East Asian Studies major who has forgotten most of his Japanese” writer.

I’ve only read one of Rakoff’s three books, Fraud.  And about that I said: (more…)

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Gore Vidal [1925-2012]

Gore Vidal died last night at age 86 because of complications from pneumonia.

When I was younger, back in college, I loved Gore Vidal.  I read almost all of his essays and I tried to read most of his novels (I didn’t succeed–he has published some 50 books).  His book United States: Essays 1952–1992 is one of the best collection of political essays I have read.

People who know Vidal at all know him for different reasons.  Some know him as a writer of historical novels known as the Narratives of Empire: Burr (covering 1775-1805 and 1833-1836), Lincoln (1861-1865) 1876 (1875-1877), Empire (1898-1907), Hollywood (1917-1923), Washington D.C. (1937-1952) and The Golden Age (1939-1954).

Others know him for his outspoken pro-homosexuality stance.  His third novel 1948’s The City and the Pillar caused quite the controversy for presenting sympathetic gay characters.  He also wrote Myra Breckenridge about a transsexual character.  His published quote from about sexuality (from 1969) is:

We are all bisexual to begin with. That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality. Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it. But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime … despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word ‘natural,’ not normal.” (more…)

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