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[LISTENED TO: September 13, 2017] Believe Me

When I saw that Eddie Izzard had a book out I was pretty interested to read it.  I have loved his stand-up since 1997 or 1998 and I was lucky enough to see him on his Circle Tour (on the date they recorded it!).  I have been keeping up with his career and trying to see him in whatever he does (although I like my comedy more than drama and he has certainly made the shift towards drama in recent years).

I thought an autobiography or memoir by him would be pretty interesting (even if he claims to be boring).  But when I saw that he read the audiobook, I knew I had to give it a listen (even if it was 12 discs)!

Amusingly, there was a long delay at the library.  The lady at the counter (who is not the librarian–we librarians know the difference) said if I knew his voice, I could just read the book to myself in his voice.  It was an amusing thought, and I possibly could do that, ….yes, but Eddie’s voice is just so fantastic that it never would have worked properly.  Plus, he throws in easily an extra hours worth of footnotes and rambles that aren’t in the print book!  That’s right, an extra hour’s worth of nonsense if you do the audio.   True you don;t get to see the pictures, but it’s a fair trade-off.

Well the book finally came in and I had plenty of driving time to make short work of this 12 hours behemoth.  And I laughed and laughed.  And cried and cried.

Because while Eddie Izzard is an action transvestite (transgender, now) and one of the best stand-ups around, he is also an extremely warm and thoughtful person. He worked very hard to become the success he is.  And he has used his fame to do some absolutely wonderful things for humanity–including raising millions of dollars.  Not bad for an atheist who is sometimes in girl mode and sometimes in boy mode. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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peasSOUNDTRACK: VILLAGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #69 (July 19, 2010).

villagersVillagers is the work of Conor O’Brien. On their debut album he played all the instruments and created the cover art.  Live, he has a full band, but in this Tiny Desk show it’s just him and his guitar.

He looks incredibly young (that haircut), but when he sings, he sounds sophisticated and mature.  And his guitar playing is equally sophisticated (with some really interesting chords on the high notes of his strings).

His playing is crisp and clean and his voice is really lovely.  He doesn’t do anything fancy, he just sings and plays, but he has a lot of power and honesty in what he does.

And lyrically, he is quite clever.  He surpasses many singer-songwriters.

His three songs “Ship of Promises,” “Becoming a Jackal” and “Twenty Seven Strangers” are all on his debut album Becoming a Jackal.  He hits an amazing series of high notes in “Ship of Promises,” and the way the song takes some unexpected (albeit brief) pauses is quite dramatic.

I like the way he slowly and confidently states the title “Becoming a Jackal.”  This song is a bt faster and more dramatic, especially the quiet ending.

“Twenty Seven Strangers” is a story song about taking the bus.  It is an unexpected perspective and quite an interesting look at a mundane event.

[READ: August 2, 2015] Peas & Queues

I was disappointed with the previous etiquette book, which was supposed to be funny and I think wasn’t all that serious.  But this one, which is indeed serious, was also really funny, and was a real delight to read.

According to her bio on the book, Sandi Toksvig is “a well-known broadcaster for both television and radio.”  But I’d never heard of her.  It seems that she is big in Britain, but I believe is unknown here.  Nevertheless she has written over twenty books, including fiction, non-fiction and children’s.  So maybe I’m just out of touch.

Anyhow, I grabbed this book because it sounded interesting (and I liked the jokey spelling of the title).

Toksvig explains in her introduction that in 1520 when Erasmus wrote his book on manners it was dedicated to an 11 year old boy (a son of a prince).  This book is dedicated to “a delightful child in my life” called Mary who is currently 8.  But it is not a book for children, it is meant for Mary as she grows up.  And you can tell right from the start that Sandi is pretty funny as she says “I hope it will prove useful to anyone not planning to live as a hermit.  [Unlike Erasmus] I have made it easier for her (and you) by not using Latin (very much).”

And then Toksvig explores good manners from birth through death.  She even starts with “Why do we need good manners” (a question my kids currently ask).  The first thing to say is that basic manners apply no matter where you are or what you are doing.  They are even a good idea when no one is watching.  Having a code of behaviour will help you know how to react to the unexpected.

But it’s also important to know that rules about manners are not laws or rules, they are suggestions–propositions for behaviour to help grease the wheel of the great social machine. (more…)

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rich nameSOUNDTRACK: AN OLDE WORLD CHRISTMAS (European Holiday) (1990?).

olde worldWhile yesterday’s Norwegian Christmas album was awesome, this one falls very very short.  The premise of the album is so promising: Christmas songs from around the world.  There are Spanish, French, English, German, Scandinavian and Italian songs here!

Well, the problem is that this entire record was recorded (apparently) by one guy on a keyboard with five preset sounds.  It is so disappointing.  I mean sure it’s pretty (sort of).  But there is no sense at all that these are different countries’ songs.

For instance, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  Who knew that that was originally a French song?  Not me.  And in no way does this keyboard instrumental version of “Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes” convey that it is anything other than “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  How about the fact that we get “O Tannebaum” instead of “O Christmas Tree”?  Well, without words, what’s the difference?

So, there are pianoish sounds and harpsichordish sounds and a flute-ish sound.  And this would probably be a nice thing to put on as you were falling asleep on Christmas Eve and wanted visions of synthesized sukker plomme dancing in your tête.  Thank goodness I got it for 99 cents.

[READ: December 16, 2014] What in God’s Name

When I grabbed Simon’s Rich’s last story collection, I also grabbed this novel, assuming that, you know, it would be hilarious.  And it is.

This story is set in Heaven, Inc.  The CEO, God, is more interested in watching NASCAR than actuality attending to any miracles or crises on earth.  In fact, we learn that Earth was created primarily to produce Xenon, and that humans were just a pet project of some angels.

Angels, yes.  The entire story is written from the point of view of some angels working in heaven.

We meet Craig who has been in Miracles for a few years.  And there’s a new addition to the team Eliza who spent many years working in Prayer Intake but really wanted to move up to Miracles because it just sounded so much more interesting.

One of the best parts about the story is the way Rich envisions angels performing small miracles every day–adjusting the world without transgressing any of God’s major laws (gravity, physics, that sort of thing).  When an angel goes too far (like when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 pints in a game because God liked him and the angel wanted to impress Him), that angel gets punished.  So I loved watching the convoluted ways angels did things to make people act or react.  Small things to help avoid getting a paper cut or assist in catching a fish. (more…)

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lastgSOUNDTRACK: SHE & HIM-A Very She & Him Christmas (2011).

shehimI love the packaging of this disc (the envelope with the Christmas letter/liner notes is charming).

I really enjoyed Zooey Deschanel’s singing in Elf, I thought it was really pretty and surprisingly unaffected.  So it’s not too surprising that she stared making records herself.  And M Ward seems like a perfect accompaniment to her slow, rather old school style of singing.

I have a hard time getting into the She & Him records though.  They’re just, yes, too slow for me.  The tempo is perfect for her voice, which is naturally very pure and clean.  And she even has a good crooning style, I just need the songs to be a little peppier.  Or like on “Run Run Reindeer,” I find her version is kind of abrupt, perhaps she doesn’t really hold her notes for very long which I find disconcerting.

I like the first two songs, “The Christmas Waltz,” and “Christmas Day” because they are songs I didn’t know already, so I had no expectations.  “Christmas Wish” is really nice with Ward taking lead vocals.   As for Zooey’s leads, I like “Sleigh Ride” quite a lot.  And their version of “Silver Bells” on ukulele is just beautiful.

This collection of songs is quite nice, if not a little too mellow.  It sets a mood and follows through all the way, which is good.  I really do wish I liked it more.

[READ: December 5, 2014] The Last Girlfriend on Earth

I love Simon Rich, but sometimes I lose touch with just how many books he releases.  So when he was on Seth Meyers the other night I learned that he had a new book out, which was great.  But then I also learned that I missed his last two books!  Jeez.  One is a novel and this one is a collection of short stories.

I have said before that I love Rich’s really short pieces–he is so good with a set up and punchline.  Most of these stories are longer, and they are pretty much all very funny indeed.

The book is set up in three parts: Boy Meets Girl, Boy Gets Girl and Boy Loses Girl.  And indeed, the stories in each section do match up to that general setup (it’s quite clever) although they are not connected to each other.  Several of these stories appeared in the New Yorker and it was fun to read them again and to see them in this new context.

Incidentally, they are making a TV show based on this book, airing in the new year on FXX, called Man Seeking Woman–I hope it’s good. (more…)

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5.20SOUNDTRACK: ELEKTRA-“I Don’t Do Boys” (2009).

elektraI found out about this band and video because of my recent reading of the Icelandic magazine Séð og Heyrt and this post on I Love Icelandic Music.

This song was listed as one of Iceland’s musical scandals because of the aggressively lesbian imagery.

The song is simple enough.  Piano chords play slowly until the tone changes for the bridge and the very simple chorus (which reminds me of Blur’s Boys and Girls in a way, although it doesn’t sound anything like them): “I don’t do Boys, I just do Girls, I just do girls with style and class. I don’t do boys I just do girls I just do girls with kissable ass”). It’s poppy but a little more aggressive than a typical pop song (and not as metal as a pop metal song).  There’s an interesting style to the backing vocals that seems to make it more than a pop song as well.  I’m not saying it’s good, but it’s more than typical.

As for the video, I can’t tell if this is male fantasy lesbianism or what, but since this story is all about kissing, here’s a video that’s all about kissing.  See if it’s as scandalous as Iceland thinks.

[READ: May 16, 2013] “Leaning In”

The five brief pieces in this week’s New Yorker are labeled as “Imagined Inventions.”  And in each one, the author is tasked with inventing something.

Mindy Kaling is always funny, especially when you’re not sure how serious she is.  As when she begins her essay, “One of the perks of my job is that I regularly get to kiss men—often married men—with zero repercussions for anyone involved.”  Of course she’s talking about acting, but as she says—who is to know if she slips out of character while kissing?

She explains that kissing new people is one of the great joys in life and, while being in a committed relationship is also wonderful, she feels that removing the joy of kissing new people is a terrible drag.  She agrees that marriage is a serious business but kissing is not.  “Kissing in and of itself can’t create offspring or cause life-threatening disease.”  She offers an example of how if you just kissed someone you would never be stuck having to listen to his post-coital ramblings afterwards. (more…)

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