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Archive for the ‘Funny (strange)’ Category

[LISTENED TO: August 2018] Tuck Everlasting

Normally when we go on long car rides we listen to many audio books.  This summer, we drove to Chicago (12 hours each way) and listened to only two!  Two!  And this one was only three discs long.

I actually didn’t know anything about this story when we started it (somehow this classic children’s book written during my childhood totally escaped me).

What’s fascinating about this story is how little there is to it.  This is not a criticism.  It’s a remarkably compact plot.  Although there is an awful lot of description.  And while Peter Thomas did a great job with the action of the story, the descriptions tended to drag on a bit (you could blame Babbitt or Thomas I suppose).

The story focuses on the Tuck family.  Tuck, whose first name is a rarely used but is Angus, is the father.  Mae is his wife.  They have two children, Jesse who is 17 or so and Miles is 22 or so.

There is also Winnie Foster, a ten-year old girl.  Her family is the oldest family in Treegap, New Hampshire. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LALAH HATHAWAY-Tiny Desk Concert #769 (July 25, 2018).

I have no idea who Lalah Hathaway is.  The blurb doesn’t really help, giving her familiar lineage but not much more.

Lalah Hathaway comes from royalty: Her late father Donny Hathaway’s … set the bar for inspired, old-school soul singing. But living in that kind of shadow can also be a burden, robbing the offspring of an identity apart from that of the famous parent.

This was by my estimation, the most boring Tiny Desk Concert I’ve seen.  The blurb raves about her once but I found it dull and flat.  Her lyrics were uninspired and the music was spare to the point of nothingness.

I always watch a Tiny Desk twice to see if I miss anything the first time.  This one was painful to watch twice. At least it was only 11 minutes.

The younger Hathaway’s appearance behind the Tiny Desk pulls back the curtain a bit for a close-up encounter with her powerfully expressive voice  [powerfully expressive?]

In “Change Ya Life,” Hathaway’s dusky contralto paints an exciting portrait of blissful cohabitation — but on her terms. “I’m going to teach you how to treat me like I deserve,” she sings, adding, “I’ll give you the world.” She draws on a tradition of romance and sensuality in the best soul music, but with a feminist twist that eschews old-school, male-centric lyrics and attitudes.

I like the feminist twist, but when a song has twinkling keys (Lynnette Williams) and a cheesy bass line (Eric Smith) the line “I can fuck around and change your life” just doesn’t seem to fit.

“Boston,” her ode to her second home (she’s from Chicago), is a meditation on self-discovery and longing. The band perfectly straddles slow-jam R&B and a jazz-ballad sensibility.

She was signed in college and told to move to L.A. because Arsenio is there (did she work with him?).  She wrote this song about Boston .  It’s a slow torch song type of song (tikki tikki drums) that name checks tons of Boston area locations (Charles River, Cambridge, Downtown Crossing)

So much of the most powerful music from the Civil Rights Era wasn’t about literal accounting of injustices; many of those songs enshrouded morality plays in the guise of romantic longing. Hathaway introduces the set-closing title track of her new album Honestly as an explicit reflection “of my country at this time.” If you heard it for the first time without the introduction, it comes across as a lover’s lament. But Hathaway’s soaring vocals infuse it with the passion of resistance to bring her set to a close on a hopeful, joyous note.

I love the premise of this song and how it was written.  But even a cool, angry song like this is so tepid.  She asks the audience to sing along to these great lines:   “I don’t even want you no more.  You can walk out that door.”  And you can barely hear them (and the audience is certainly loud between songs).  She does a little of that R&B vocal gymnastics that I dislike at the end just to cap it off.

Not my thing, I guess.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Family Means Nothing to Me”

This is an except from a story called “Family Means Nothing to Me and I Dislike Children.” I can’t really imagine what the context of the rest of the piece is, but this is  a funny/honest appraisal of the narrator’s self.

She says she finds her nephews and nieces odious.

She has had pets in the past but when she breaks up with a boyfriend she makes him keep the pet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PALEHOUND-A Place I’ll Always Go (2017).

Ellen Kempner’s voice is a bit louder in the mix so you can really hear the words despite the fact that she is still singing mostly in a whisper.

It’s a logical step from her previous album and every thing sounds a bit bigger and a bit better.

“Hunter’s Gun” is slow and a little creepy with the echo on her vocals and her whispered lyrics.  There’s also some great weird effects floating around in the background–especially by the end as the echo more or less takes over.

“Carnations” starts simply enough with a quiet chugging riff.  But the chorus is a wonderful–louder guitar with the guitar and vocals doing the same catchy melody.  It also has some great lyrics

They’re still in love with their ex
And I’m not feeling my best
This is a bad combination

‘Cause I’ve been dreaming I might
Just up and bail on this plight
And maybe go on vacation

Pack up my shit in the dark
And if the car doesn’t start
It spares us both conversations

“Room” is slower more acoustic-feeling.  It’s a sweetly romantic song with the lovely chorus line “She keeps me…  at night.”

“If You Met Her” starts out kind of sinister musically, but it has a really catchy chorus as well  It’s a wonderful song about breakup and new love perfectly summed up with this ending line

I’m with someone new
And I know that you would love her if you met her

The set up of rocker followed by slower song continues with  “Silver Toaster,” a loose, acoustic song that reminds of a snarky/simple Nirvana song (with a banjo solo!)

“Turning 21” has a big shoegaze guitar sound and a wonderfully catchy melody in the bridge.

“Flowing Over” mixes some good guitar lines and a rocking mid bridge section but its the oh oh oh oh section and the way it changes throughout the song that is the major hook.

“Backseat” opens with pulsing keys.  It’s a dark mediation that segues into the beautiful guitar of “Feeling Fruit, ” a pedestrian-seeming lyric that is much deeper and quite moving.

“At Night I’m Alright With You.” is a quiet moody song with a real Twin Peaks vibe.

These two releases are great but to really get to see how amazing Ellen is, check her out live.

[READ: January 23, 2018] “A Change in Fashion”

When I read this recently it sounded really familiar.  Clearly I had read it back in 2006 and it was so striking that I remembered it 12 years later.

And indeed, it is a memorable story, even if it’s not especially profound or funny–it’s mildly amusing and thoughtful.

Basically, this is an account of the way fashions changed after the Age of Revelation.  Girls and women were happily showing off their thongs but it was as if, after a half a century of reckless exposure, a weariness had overcome women…a disenchantment to invite a bold male gaze.

At first girls were opposed to it–it reminded them of old photographs in boring albums.  But soon it became stylish to wear dresses that brushed the floor–wearing lambskin gloves and rising collars. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VANILLA FUDGE-Vanilla Fudge (1967).

I’m still puzzled by the existence of Vanilla Fudge.  By 1967 I wouldn’t think that a band who existed primarily on covers would be viable.  I also wouldn’t think that an album that is all covers would have been marketable.  But I guess the fascinating sound of Vanilla Fudge–lots of organ, screamed vocals and a heavy rhythm section covering recent hits at a drastically reduced speed was a sensation.

Evidently they influenced everyone (Led Zeppelin opened for them and Richie Blackmore and Jon Lord loved the organ sound and wanted it for Deep Purple) and are considered a link between psychedelia and heavy metal.

The first song is a cover of The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” of all songs. The Beatles released it in 1965 and two years later the Fudge put heir spin on it.  It is pretty much unrecognizable until they get to the lyrics.  Singer Max Stein takes the lyrics smooth and slow until he starts screaming like a heavy metal song (I can hear an Ian Gillan precedent).   After the “Ri-ii-iide,” in the chorus there’s a little guitar riff that stands out amid all of the organ.

“People Get Ready” (also originally from 1965) also starts unrecognizable until 90 seconds in when there’s a nod to the main riff and then a lot of harmony vocals. By nearly 2 minutes, the main melody of the song is played slowly on a church style organ and they sing the chorus in a kind of church choir.  The whole song is pretty much all organ and Stein crooning.

“She’s Not There” (recorded by The Zombies in 1964) is organ heavy with a build up for each line The song feels really psychedelic with Stein’s screamed vocals, and Appice’s drumming.  I really rather like the backing vocals.

“Bang Bang” (1966) was written by Sonny Bono is noisy with crashing drums and intermittent guitar surrounded by the Hammond organ.  About 2 minutes in, he sings in a childlike voice “Ring Around The Rosy” and “A Tisket a Tasket.”  I don;t know the original at all, but can;t imagine how it went.

After an introduction called “Illusions of My Childhood, Pt. 1” which is basically 20 seconds of keys, they get into their first hit a cool, slow cover of “You Keep Me Hanging On.”  I find that with the Vanilla Fudge, it’s the songs I don’t know as well that I enjoy their treatment of more.

“Take Me for a Little While” is less than 3:30 after the introductory “Illusions of My Childhood, Pt. 2.”  It ends with a melody of the Farmer in the Dell before the martial beat introduces us to the next song.

After the 25 seconds of “Illusions of My Childhood, Pt. 3” the official cover of “Eleanor Rigby” begins completely unlike any version of the song.  It’s just keys and such until about 3 minutes when they start singing “oh, look at all the lonely people” in a kind of choir.  When the actual lyrics come in, they are sing quietly or in a group chorale.  They end the song by chanting “they do, they do.”  It’s a complete reinvention of the songs.

The record ends with them singing a denouement of “nothing is real, nothing to get hung about.”

There really is nothing else like this band.  But they seem far more like a novelty than a foundation of a musical style.  And they’re still touring today.

[READ: February 1, 2016] “The Actual Hollister”

I really like Dave Eggers’ writing style. It always seems casual yet dedicated.  Like he might not really care that much about what he’s going to tell you but that he paid a lot of attention while he was getting ready to bring it to you.  That attitude kind of helps especially when reading something that you yourself don’t really have a care about (to start with).

This story is about Hollister, California.  Eggers says he was inspired to go there because he had been seeing those sweatshirts that say Hollister on them.  [At this point I have t confess that I have seen them, but don’t really register them and didn’t know it had anything to do with Abercrombie and Fitch].

And thus the story bifurcates into the story of the brand and the story of the town.  And never shall they meet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: REV SEKOU AND THE SEAL BREAKERS-Tiny Desk Concert #765 (July 10, 2018).

I was not at all interested in a preacher and his church band, but wow these guys rock.

Rev Sekou says that the Seal Breakers are from Brooklyn but he’s from Arkansas.  I didn’t like the way he started the show by talking about his grandparents who worked from can’t see morning to can’t see night and then they’d go to the juke joints and then to church on Sunday.  I thought it was going to be rather preachy (he is Pentecostal) but no,

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekoum this author, activist, intellectual, pastor and singer tosses off his large-brimmed, black hat, shakes his dreadlocks and demands freedom with these words: “We want freedom and we want it now!”

Do you wanna get free?  He sounds like Richie Havens at Woodstock–gravelly voice but with a preacher intonation.  The song has got some gospel flow but with a roaring distorted electric guitar.   It’s got a big catchy chorus and a wailing guitar solo.

Resist!  Resist when they tell you what you can and can’t do.

Before the second song, he says he went to Charlottesville to organize against the white supremacist march but they couldn’t leave the church because of the Nazis.

When he went outside, he watched Heather Heyer take her last breath.  He says this is an anthem for Charlottesville called “Bury Me.”

he recalled the horrors of the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va. last summer. He said he spent weeks in preparation, organizing clergy for what he says was “the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history,” then watching the activist “Heather Heyer take her last breath” after she was struck by a car that plowed into a crowd of marchers. The song “Bury Me” is a bluesy anthem to freedom that honors those who have died in that struggle for racial equality and freedom. In his free-form preamble to the touching ballad, Rev. Sekou works himself into a passionate frenzy, before airing his intense indignation for President Trump.

Bury me in the struggle for freedom…say my name.  He powerfully sings the names of people who have died in racially motivated hatred.  There’s power in the name.

The songs with a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,”

The Rev. says they need to leave that one, “I’m Pentecostal, I can go 2-3 hours, but I don’t think Brother Bob wants us in here that long.”

The  end with “The Devil Finds Work” which opens with bluesy piano.

After two minutes it becomes a big clapfest as suddenly The Saints Go Marching In.  They swing, and Rev. Sekou and we pray that you get free and he walks off while the band finishes.

Osagyefo Sekou (Vocals), William Gamble (Keys), Reggie Parker (Bass), Cory Simpson (Guitar), James Robinson Jr. (Drums), Gil Defay (Trumpet), Chris McBride (Saxophone), Brianna Turner (Background Vocals), Rasul A Salaam (Background Vocals), Craig Williams (Percussions)

[READ: January 25, 2018] “Company Towns”

This is an excerpt from “Work and Industry in the Northern Midwest.”

I’m not really sure what to make of these three short stories about work.  I found them rather comical because each supposedly normal business event ended in some kind of peculiar death.

The Whitefish Bay Merchant and Traders Bank
In 1947 the narrator traveled from Interlakken Switzerland to Whitefish Bay, Michigan to check on a bank that his father had acquired in a set of financial trades).  The bank had become extremely profitable and his father wanted to know why.  He flew to the states, stopped for two weeks in New York and another week in Cleveland before getting to Michigan.  The employees were quite jovial–in fact the guy who picked him up shared a flask with him–they were both drunk by the time they got home.  They also had a very formal, fancy diner.  The bank made its money because of an ambitious cook.  He helped to innovate the short line cooking process–a way to cook for 100 men quickly.  He was aided by a chef who ensured they used quality food.   The bosses didn’t think the employees needed this kind of delicious food, but when they saw how much it improved morale and didn’t cost that much they were on board.  And the bank, in addition to giving them a loan, took a 20 percent stake in the firm and they made a ton of money.

The narrator asked to meet these men but both had recently died.  One from drinking something he shouldn’t have and the other was involved in a shooting– the details are what makes the deaths amusing, if not really funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ELLIOTT BROOD-Live at Massey Hall (April 8, 2017).

Elliot BROOD formed in 2002 as an alt-country band although their style has been described as “death country” or “frontier rock,” which I rather like.

The more I hear alt-country bands and the more alt-country bands that I like the more I realize what I dislike about country music primarily is the vocalist.  I hate twangy singers.  And most Canadians don’t have a Southern twang, so that solves that for me.  And just to settle it, Elliott Brood rips and rocks and stomps and it is awesome.

They say they always thought it would be amazing to play Massey Hall.  It’s a pinnacle.  They’re really excited–friends and family are coming from all over.  They say they play a lot of places late at night but “we’re not going to edit ourselves for 8 o’clock.”

They open asking “Can we get some claps” for “Without Again.”  After an un, dos… un, dos, tres, quatro, Mark Sasso starts singing lead vocals and playing banjo (and banjo, ukulele, and harmonica).  He has a rough gravelly voice that is instantly appealing to me.  This is a catchy stomping sing along.

“Nothing Left” is a breakup song.  Stephen Pitkin on drums opens the song on keyboards, playing a melody that sounds like toy piano on the sampler.  For a breakup song, it rocks even harder with Sasso switching to acoustic guitar and Casey Laforet playing electric guitar.

Their friend Aaron Goldstein comes out to play pedal steel drums for the next few songs.

He introduces “If I Get Old” by saying it’s been 100 years since Vimy Ridge.  “We’re not a perfect country yet, but we’re pretty lucky to be in this one.”  They wrote a record a few years back about WWI.  We’re lucky to be this age and to not have been in a war.  This song is for the WWI soldiers, it’s called “If I Get Old.”  It is touching and lovely.

“Oh Alberta” is a wonderfully fun song with lots of slide guitar.  The lyrics are playful and funny:

Oh Alberta, don’t you cry, listen to me, it’ll be alright, uh huh oh yeah
Don’t hate Saskatchewan, never meant no harm to anyone
Manitoba, don’t you know you’re out where you won’t make it home
Back to Ontario

And it ends with this funny twist

North Dakota, don’t you that you don’t belong in this song
Where did we go wrong?

“The Banjo Song” is a shorter one that’s “about the life of a banjo.  It’s a hard life they lead.”  Hey “cheap seats, help us out like this,” [clap, clap] “expensive seats too….  We need more handclaps and footstomps if you please.”

The title of their album Work and Love comes from a Constantines song:

work and love will make a man out of you, work and love are the things that will take your childhood away from you.  Your focus changes to your children, you start writing from a different point of view.

“Fingers and Tongues” has a rocking loud sound, it’s a rollicking end to a great show.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “The King’s Teacup at Rest”

I often enjoy stories that are, simply put, odd.  But I like the story to have either some grounding in the familiar or none whatsoever.  It’s the stories that seem like they are part of something I should be familiar with but which are ultimately really divorced from reality that give me a problem.

And this is one of those stories. There are two threads to this story, each one is equally strange.

As it opens we encounter His Royal Highness, the King of Retired Amusements.  He has just purchased? acquired? Liebling’s Sunday Morning Carnival and Midway.  Of course he has a retinue with him–a steward, a scout, and a dancing bear (with a fez and a ruff, balanced n a ball).

They explore the carnival, and the king tells them to find refreshment.  The refreshment proves to be very very old hot dogs “a few bloated green wieners still floating in a steel pond of brine.”  The king insists on eating them despite the steward’s warnings.  The king declares them passable and then goes on the rides.

Pretty weird, but possible. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARLINGSIDE-Pilot Machines (2012).

The first Darlingside EP had no information about the band.  It was almost a blank slate.  This, their first full album at least gives us this:

Darlingside consists of David Senft, vocals and guitar; Harris Paseltiner, cello, guitar and vocals; Auyon Mukharji, mandolin, violin and vocals; Don Mitchell, guitar and vocals; and Sam Kapala, drums and vocals.

Yes, drums.  This is the final Darlingside album with drums and the final Darlingside album with a sound that is not their current sound.  At this time Darlingside was more of an indie folk rock band who sang with great harmonies and had some unusual instruments.  But they still rocked in a fairly conventional way (in fact the drums are often front and center).

“Still” bursts forth with harmonies (ahhhs) and loud drums. They play with a loud/quiet dynamic within the verses.  It sounds like Darlingside if you squint your ears.  The lyrics are pretty funny, (and now a message from our sponsor) and it’s really catchy too.  But those drums really modify everything.

“The Woods” opens with the kind of harmonies that Darlingside would become known for.  But this song has a propulsive drum moves things forward.  It also highlights some great wild violin and a short spaced-out outro with some heavily processed vocals.  “The Woods” and “Ava,” both have really big loud moments.  Ava starts with a thumping bass and picking guitars but it builds nicely with some great tension between the vocals and guitars.

“Drowning Elvis,” has a very spaced-out drum groove, lots of strings and a clean guitar sound.  “The Company We Keep” features mandolin and high voices.  It’s a pretty, folkie song.

“Blow the House Down” is familiar to fans because they have re-recorded it and play it live consistently.  “The Ancestor” was also recorded without the drums for their next album.  This version has a kind of low thrum underneath the song but the drums are just a kick drum.  It sounds pretty close to the familiar version.

I’d actually like to hear this whole album re-recorded in their current style (no disrespect to their drummer), but the rock band format changes the whole sound of the songs and it would be interesting to hear how they differ.

Having said that, this rock band format also makes some great songs.  “Only Echoes” starts as a slower, moodier piece but midway through it dramatically shifts gears and grows really loud with a buzzy bass and distorted guitar and smashing drums.  It’s the most un-Darlingside song I can imagine, but it’s really great.

“When Fortune Comes” and “My Love” are quieter songs.  “Fortune” focuses on their harmonies (there’s no drums).  While “My Love” has shuffling drums and an upright bass.  The lyrics are also a bit rougher than expected: “You weren’t the first to call me….an arrogant son of a bitch but…”

“Terrible Things” opens with snapping drums a rocking staccato guitar line.  The singers do a series of single note “coo” sounds that’s pretty neat.  The vocal harmonies are really cool and a little spooky, too.  It’s a neat song.

“Sweet an Low” has a very smooth sound (and an extra vocalist–Caitlyn Canty).  The final two minute are kind of an extended jam with this little electronic device.

When I first listened to this after falling in love with Darlingside’s current sound, I didn’t like this very much.  But having listened a few times, I really like these songs.  They’re very well crafted with some excellent details.

[READ: February 5, 2018] “Fletcher Knowles”

This excerpt is from a then novel-in-progress and it is a doozy.  It’s very funny and very meta and once again I can’t imagine where the story is going to go from here.

The story begins with the character saying that his name is Fletcher Knowles.  And he is going to tell his story.  He says that he is going to tell everything from memory and that you should never doubt your own memory.  Nor should you trust anyone who says that they doubt their own memory.

So he is going to tell his story exactly as he wants to.  Which means he is not going to: (more…)

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