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Archive for the ‘Funny (ha ha)’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Don’t Believe in Christmas” (2002).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

Although yesterday’s song was full of Christmas cheer, this one is a rocking raspberry for Christmas.

It’s a pretty standard blues riff with the verses being just drums and vocals.  And it’s all about how last year’s Christmas was a real downer so he has given up on the holiday

I hung my stocking on a wall
I didn’t get a thing at all

It’s got the simple sing-along chorus:

I don’t believe in Christmas
I don’t believe in Christmas
I don’t believe in Christmas
’cause i didn’t get nothin’ last year

But as always, there’s a sly wink with all the bah humbug

Well i tried to get a little kiss
From a pretty little miss
She slapped me down and said “you jerk
Mistletoe doesn’t work”

There’s a nice guitar solo and then a surprising organ solo before the song wraps itself up in an tidy bow.

[READ: December 4, 2019] “The Unsupported Circle”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This is the kind of story that I really like and J. Robert Lennon is an author I would like to read more from.

The story is a series of unrelated vignettes–each one a movie or video–described by a narrator who we don’t meet for a while.

The first one is of a corporate retreat situation–a trust fall of sorts.

Next is a boy rapping on the street.  He has a humorous accident mid-video. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GURR-“Christmas Holiday” (2018).

I really enjoyed Gurr when I saw them live this year.  I wanted to see what their studio music sounded like and I found this release called the Christmas Business EP.  There are two songs that feature Eddie Argos from Art Brut.

This first track has a very B-52’s vibe to it.  With Eddie Argos doing his thing and the women from Gurr singing lovely backing vocals, it sounds like a punkish update to their style.

A thumping beat introduces Eddie speaking (in his own distinct way) “Silent Night, holy night everything is gonna be alright.  Silent Night holy night, maybe not but lets pretend it might.”

Then the Gurr women sing a line (with lovely ahhs behind it).

The chorus is simple and catchy “We’re on Christmas holiday / sat around with nothing left to say / We’re on Christmas holiday / you don’t have to stay if you donb’t want to.”

The song is short (less than three minutes) and it continues with more great Eddie Argos lines like “We’ve got something cooking in the kitchen / it doesn’t fit in with your dietary restrictions” (this sounds the most like the with B-52’s since both women do the ahhs.)

After another chorus, Eddie ends the song with this heartfelt Christmas wish

I’ve gathered you all here today to say … I  hope you are all enjoying Christmas exactly the same amount as … I am enjoying Christmas.

Check it out here.

[READ: December 1, 2019]Beginnings

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

The story it is told in many different parts–22 numbered sections.  Number 1 is called “The Beginning” and in its entirety, it consists of

 I find you impossibly beautiful, the man tells me. Give it a year, I tell him, and you’ll find me impossible

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-“Don’t Mention the War” (2019).

The Divine Comedy contributed a song to the Amazon Prime series Modern Love.

I don’t know anything about the show, but I was delighted to hear a new song from Neil Hannon.

This is a much quieter songs than he has put out recently. It features acoustic guitars and strings and over a slightly bouncy melody, he gently sings.

Do you remember when? No I don’t either
All this remembering we’re none the wiser
It’s time to let go and say

The chorus is similarly bouncy but more nostalgic than happy.

Don’t mention the war
Don’t talk of those days
What good is it for?
Don’t mention the war
Let history lie
Kiss the old days goodbye
They’re no help anymore
Don’t mention the war

This song isn’t mind blowing (an apparently is a left over from something else). but it’s a delightful slice of chamber pop.  I’d like to think it might introduce him to a whole new audience who will love him, but realistically, I think it will get some nice plays on Spotify and that’s good enough.

[READ: November 29, 2019] “Hurricane Season”

Sedaris says that when you grow up in North Carolina, you know not to get too attached to a beach house. If this year’s hurricane doesn’t get you, next year’s will.  And so it was in 2018 that Hurricane Florence took away their house, the Sea Section.

While Hugh was devastated David could only think to mock the old fashioned hurricane names “they sound like finalists in a pinochle tournament.”  Where’s Hurricane Madison or Skylar? Category 4 Fredonté?

They were in London when the hurricane hit, so their friend, owner of the Dark Side of the Dune checked on their house for them.  The pictures made  the place look so tawdry he was embarrassed to share them.

Luckily for them they had purchased the house that’s next door to the Sea Section as well –preemptively avoiding a McMansion (eight bedrooms were common, spread over three or  four stories).  The place is ancient by Emerald Isle standards (vintage 1972).  But what you really didn’t want next door to you was a swimming pool.  All you hear is Marco Polo over and over. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SULTANS OF PING FC-“Wheres Me Jumper?” (1992).

The Sultans of Ping were, of course, named after the Dire Straits song.  They were named when “it was sacrilege to say anything whatsoever funny or nasty about Dire Straits.”

This song (or 30 seconds of it) was used as the opening  to the TV show Moone Boy.

The song was an unexpected, presumably novelty, hit in 1992.  It’s stupidly catchy and amusingly nonsensical and your appreciation for it is pretty much entirely dependent on your appreciation for Niall O’Flaherty’s voice which is comical and rather shrill in this song.  The other songs on the record are somewhat less so, but are still delivered in his speak-singing style.

I get a sense of them being like Ireland’s answer to The Dead Milkmen with a sprinkle of John Lydon on vocals–a fun punk band that flaunted a silly side.  Of course, I wasn’t in Ireland at the time, so perhaps they’re more akin to the Ramones in punk legacy.

The Sultans of Ping (later named The Sultans) were (a subconscious at least) predecessor to bands like Fontaines D.C.

But whereas Fontaines D.C. tackles existential life in Dublin, this song tackles a more urgent and pressing concern:

Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
“Where’s me jumper?

It’s all right to say things can only get better
If you haven’t just lost your brand new sweater
I know I had it on when I had my tea
And I’m sure I had it on in the lavatory
Dancing in the disco, go go go
Dancing in the disco, oh no, oh no
Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
Where’s me jumper?…

[READ: Summer 2019] Moone Boy

Chris O’Dowd is an Irish actor (we love him from the IT Crowd, and he has since been all over the place).  In 2012, he created Moone Boy as a sitcom based on his own childhood growing up in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland.

The show was a hit and they made three six-episode seasons.  This book came out around the time of the second season.

The story focuses on Martin Moone, a 12 year-old boy growing up in Boyle.  His friend Pádraic has an imaginary friend and Pádraic encourages him to get an imaginary friend (IF) of his own.  The rest of the book follows the exploits of Martin and his first (and second) imaginary friend.

But the book begins with some absurdist comedy.  Turns out he book is written from the point of view of the imaginary friend (we don’t really learn that until later) and he starts off with this:

Before we begin, I need to carry out a quick survey,

Are you reading this book because:

A. You have a scientific interest in the moon.
B. You have a scientific interest in the misspelling of the word “moon.”
C. You want to find out how quick and easy it is to obtain an imaginary friend that you’ll cherish for life.
D. You’ll read anything  You’re just like that.

If your answer is A or B, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.  There’s very little moon action in this story, apart from the brief appearance of a wrestler’s wrinkly bum.

If your answer is C, then you’ll be equally disappointed.  I suggest you pick up a copy of Imaginary Friends – The Quick and Easy Guide to Forever Friendship by a former colleague of mine, Customer Service Representative 263748.

If your answer is D, the good for you!  You’re my kind of reader.  I’m glad we got rid of that other bunch of idiots who picked A, B and C.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SNARKY PUPPY-Tiny Desk Concert #916 (November 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about Snarky Puppy lately.  So much so that I assumed they were a new band.  Wrong:

Snarky Puppy has been a force for a while now, earning the ears of millions for more than a decade.  The band started as college friends in the jazz program at the University of North Texas back in 2003. But the formative era came a few years later, after Michael League [bassist and bandleader] became a part of the gospel scene in Dallas and eventually brought the jazz students to church, where music plays a different role than it does in the classroom. In the pulpit, it’s a channel for spiritual healing, a communal experience between players and congregation. As an experiment, League pulled his jazz friends and his gospel bandmates into one ensemble, where the two groups bonded together and established ground-zero for building the sonic identity of Snarky Puppy

I also had an idea that (because the name sounds similar to Skinny Puppy) that they might be a, what, young bratty dark punk band?  Wrong again.

Their secret sauce? A long-simmered recipe of jazz, funk and gospel.  Thirteen albums later, you can still hear these gospel and jazz orbits crashing into each other.

Oh, and one more thing.  They only play instrumentals.

They’re a band whose lyric-less melodies are still yelled (sung back) to them at their concerts around the world, as a shared catharsis for everyone in the room.

I really couldn’t have gotten that more wrong.

The band plays two songs in this lengthy set.

The first is called “Tarova.”  It opens with a wonderful sequence of keyboards.  Shaun Martin plays the keyboards with that talk box thing (made famous by Peter Frampton).  He seems to be having a kind of call and response solo with Bobby Sparks.  Sparks has the most fascinating thing on his keyboard.  A very large whammy bar/lever that he is able to push really far down to bend notes far more than any keyboard I’ve ever heard.  It was so much fun watching him do this, I was very glad he was up front.

During all of this, “JT” Thomas is keeping time on drums.  The song proper jumps in with a fun funky riff with lots of trumpets.  Everybody gets to do something impressive in this song and there’s a bunch of solos as well.

I really like the middle funky section that’s mostly bass and keys.

The song builds to a moment when everyone stops–after a two second pause which makes everyone clap, they resume with a great percussion solo from Nate Werth.

When the song ends, League introduces everyone and says who soloed.  He jokes, “That’s what you;re supposed to do in jazz, right, say who soloed n case anyone was confused that there were solos going on.”

Then he addresses the crowd.  He says that most people there are employees and family and an abundance of interns.  He wants to turn the cameras around for a minute (only one or two turn around) and force you into a musical rhythmic experiment.  Turns out that

Seconds before we hit record, Snarky Puppy’s bandleader, Michael League leaned in to ask if he could “do a little crowd work.” I suspect he waited until the last second on purpose, but it’s been easy to trust this band when they have an idea, judging by the three Grammy Awards they get to dust off at home after every tour run.

What resulted was a Tiny Desk first: League divided the audience into two sections, one side clapping out a 3/4 beat and the other half a 4/4 beat, creating a polyrhythm that I’m sure a handful of coworkers didn’t feel so confident trying to pull off. But this band pulls you in with simple instruction and a little faith.

League says, “we’re going to a polyrhythm because things have to get nerdy and unenjoyable.”  The crowd does admirably well with the two rhythms going on.  They are aided by Nate Werth on percussion who is really amazing (not necessarily here, but in the two songs).  I believe that they are creating 7/4.

The audience is warned that this polyrhythm will be used in the second song “Xavi,” dedicated to their friends in Morocco.

The song opens a funky bass and a lovely flute melody from Chris Bullock.  Then after a short guitar lick by Chris McQueen the whole band jumps in with a really funky melody.  The riff is taken over by two trumpets Justin Stanton (whose trumpet has a mute) and Jay Jennings (no mute) and Chris Bullock who is now on sax.

I was going to say you really don’t hear much of the violin in this set as it gets kind of melded with everything else.  Then mid way through the song, Zach Brock takes a wild and, often, effects-riddled solo in the middle of the song.  It might be my favorite part of a set that has many highlights.

The clapping part is used twice.  In the first one, the band is kind of quiet and the clapping is aided with great percussion from Werth and another lovely flute.

The guitar and bass in this song are fantastic even if they are never entirely prominent.  There’s also a very cool keyboard solo from trumpeter Justin Stanton.

Then the clapping comes around a second time.  During this one, there’s a guitar and keyboard making all kinds of sounds while the drums keep hitting everything, there;s more percussion and a little more flute.

The whole set is tremendous fun.  Totally not what I was expecting and so much better.

[READ: August 15, 2019] The Idiot

I grabbed this book because I had written down the author’s name as someone I wanted to read.  I also got a kick out of the title (and the obvious allusion to Dostoevsky).

I started the book and enjoyed it and then realized that I had read an excerpt from this story already.  And that is why I had written the author’s name down.

This book was written as a kind of response to her first book.  In an essay in The Guardian, she explained that:

In her first book, The Possessed, New Yorker journalist Elif Batuman complained that as an incipient novelist she was always being told to eschew books and focus on life. Literature since Don Quixote had been seen as false and sterile; disconnected from lived experience. After years as a graduate student of Russian literature, she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books.

Of the excerpt I wrote quite a lot (and quite a lot that almost gets left behind after the excerpt): (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IGOR LEVIT-Tiny Desk Concert #917 (November 22, 2019).

Igor Levit is a 32 year-old Russian-born pianist.  I really don’t know anything about him, although the blurb implies that he plays Beethoven and little else.  It says that he

has been playing the German composer’s music for half his life. He recently released a box set of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and once again he’ll be performing complete cycles of the sonatas in various cities to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.

Most of us know many Beethoven pieces whether we realize it or not.  And, of course most of us know them by their “nickname” rather than their full name.  So when you see “Piano Sonata No. 14 ‘Moonlight,’ I. Adagio sostenuto” it’s easy to forget that that means “Moonlight Sonata,” the beautiful piece that is familiar with the very first notes.

Levit’s “Moonlight” emphasized the mesmerizing qualities in the music, with its oscillating pulse, smoldering low end and tolling bells.

After saying that “Moonlight” seemed like a good beginning to a Tiny Desk, he says he’s about to disrupt the situation as much and as hard as he can with anther sonata–this one a little bit earlier.  This one has no nickname, no title, no marketing gag, nothing.  Just G major sonata (officially “Piano Sonata No. 10, II. Andante”).

Levit says that this it is one of the funniest, wittiest pieces that Beethoven ever wrote. And…wait til the end.

The second piece proved Beethoven wasn’t always the grumpy guy he’s made out to be. His sly sense of humor percolates through the set of variations in a jaunty march rhythm, punctuated with a final, ironic, thundering chord.

After this, he returns to the familiar with “Bagatelle in A minor, ‘Fur Elise'”  Everyone knows ‘Fur Elise’ from the moment it starts.  Levit even jokes about playing it:

Sure, it’s a “total eye-roller,” Levit admits, but he also describes it as “one of the most beautiful treasures in the piano literature.”

He says people argue whether it was Beethoven’s piece–he thinks it is.

His playing is beautiful–I love that you can hear everything so distinctly.  He makes the familiar songs sound vibrant and alive.  And the unfamiliar piece (while not rolling-in-the-aisles funny or anything like that) does have little moments that will induce a smile.  He is also quite subtle in “Für Elise”–not emphasizing the most familiar parts.

Although many people have performed Beethoven over the years, I would absolutely look for his name if I wanted to hear a great performance.

 [READ: August 2019] American Housewife

This book had been sitting around our house for a few years.  I feel like I saw the cover of the woman on the toilet doing her nails every time I went into the spare room.  Then a TV show came out called American Housewife.  I knew that Sarah Dunn, the creator of the show, had written novels, but I had forgotten her name.  So I assumed that this book was the basis for the show.  Whatever the case, this book has nothing to do with the TV show.

This book is a collection of very short pieces and somewhat longer pieces.

Generally speaking, I found the shorter pieces a lot less funny as they seemed more like bullet point lists than actual jokes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOVINO SANTOS NETO-Tiny Desk Concert #903 (October 21, 2019).

Jovino Santos Neto plays piano–and then surprises by playing a lot more.

I have a come and go relationship with jazz.  I like some of it.  I like it sometimes.

But the blurb might explain why I liked this music right away:

Something happens for me when I hear jazz mixing it up with Brazilian rhythms. In the right hands it falls into the realm of magic.  Pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Jovino Santos Neto certainly cast a spell over those who gathered for this joyful turn behind the Tiny Desk.

I loved everything about this performance.

The trio rushed right out of the gate with the samba-influenced “Pantopé” that introduces the concept of the trio: seamless interaction between the musicians that make the band sound like one big, melodic rhythm machine.

“Pontapé” opens with slow piano and woodblocks from drummer Jeff Busch.  Then after about thirty seconds, the song takes off with some amazing piano playing and some great five-string bass from Tim Carey.

There’s a really impressive bass solo–Carey has got some really fast fingers.  Then, midway through the song–and a huge surprise if you’re not watching–Santos Neto pulls out a very solid-looking melodica and plays a really impressively fast solo on it.

It’s a solo that’s interspersed with some fun drum fills–cowbell, snare, wooblocks and a little whistle at the end.  It’s a wild and fun track for sure.

He explains that the name”Pontapé” means kick.  People who can play soccer can do amazing things with their feet.  But we do it with the notes instead.

Up next is “Sempre Sim.”  The song

starts with percussionist Jeff Busch riffing on the traditional percussion instrument called berimbau. 

It looks like a giant fishing rod.  Santos Neto says, “don’t be afraid it isn’t a weapon… I mean in the right hands.”  One plays the berimbau by hitting the instrument with a tiny drum stick (and also hits the cymbals with tiny stick).

its ethereal sound creating the perfect intro to the dreamy melody and solo from Santos Neto on piano, while bassist Tim Carey echoes the double beat on the bass drum that drives Brazilian music.

There’s some great piano and amazing bass.  The middle solo is an astonishing amelodic feast.  By then Busch has switched back to sticks and is playing drums.

They finish and Santos Neto seems to think they are done.  There’s a long pause with everyone looking off at someone.  Then he says Okay!  We’re going to play one more to much chuckling.

The final song is “Festa de Erê.”  He says that

Erê represents the spirits of children in the Brazilian Umbanda tradition, which makes “festa de Erê” an appropriate title for the intensely whimsical tune that weaves in and out of the different traditional rhythms performed by all three musicians.

The song starts bouncy and lively.  But they settle down so Santos Neto can play the main piano melodies.

Then midway through the song he surprises once again by playing a lengthy, pretty flute solo–the end of which consists of him playing the flute one-handed while he plays the piano with his right hand.

All the while Carey is tapping out the notes with both hands, but that impressive feat is overshadowed by the incredible stuff going on behind the piano.

Like the sometimes frenetic energy of the music they play, Jovino Santos Neto and his trio are perfect examples of musicians who have so much music coming from within, sometimes one instrument is just not enough.

Perhaps I like jazz best when it’s mixed with Brazilian rhythms too.

[READ: November 16, 2018] “The Trip”

I’ve only read one other story by Weike–a story of a difficult romance.

This story is also of a difficult romance, but in a very different way.

The story begins

In Beijing, he boiled the water.  It was August, so the hottest month of the year.  He put the water into a thermos and carried the thermos on a sling.  He called himself a cowboy because he thought he looked dumb. Other people in the group carried a thermos too, though he wife did not.

The opening is certainly confusing.  It continues to be so.  He and his wife go to the Great Wall.  She sprints along it to show him a particular spot hat her cousin showed her as a teenager.  Her cousin taught her the Chinese word for cool–imagine not knowing that word– shuang–until you were 13.  Can you imagine how that felt?  He says that she knew the word in English, though right?  She made a face and then sprinted on.

The trip had been a gift from her parents who wanted “her first husband to see China and have good memories from there and sample its regional foods and see the warmth of its people and not hate us civilians should our two great nations ever partake in nuclear war.”  At least that’s how she translated it. (more…)

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