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Archive for the ‘Playboy’ Category

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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rek2SOUNDTRACK: OF MONTREAL-Tiny Desk Concert #263 (January 28, 2013).

of-montrealWhen I saw that Of Montreal was doing a Tiny Desk Concert I really had no idea what to expect.  I mean, it could have been anything.  The blurb even jokes that Of Montreal concerts have been described as “wildly theatrical,” “flamboyant,” “synchronized dancing” and having “strange, wandering creatures that look like amoebas.”

So I was absolutely not expecting to see two guys with acoustic guitars and a woman singing a gentle folk song.  I actually double checked to make sure I was watching the right show.

Evidently around this time, Kevin Barnes (the man behind Of Montreal) had been working on quieter, more personal work. And so we get these three songs which are, more or less, Barnes solo.

The first song, “Feminine Effects” has the assistance of singer Rebecca Cash and guitarist Bryan Poole.  Cash sings the entire song, and it’s quite lovely, if not a little dark.

The next two songs “Imbecile Rages” and “Amphibian Days” are Barnes by himself, strumming guitar and singing.  The music is fairly straightforward, although he does throw in some unexpected chords which makes the songs stand out. And, of course, his lyrics and delivery are quirky. His enunciation is peculiar and even more pronounced in this setting.

This is a real surprise for Of Montreal fans, and frankly almost a red herring for anyone new to the band.

[READ: December 31, 2016] The Impossible Fortress

Sarah received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from her friend Mary Lynn and thought I would like it.  And boy did I ever.  I read this book in half a day.  It’s a quick read and while not profound of life-changing, it was really fun and funny–with a fairly dark twist.

There are two major plots in this book and they intertwine very nicely.

The first–the “action” plot–involves the Vanna White Playboy issue.  The second–the main character plot–involves coding a video game on a Commodore 64.  For this book is set in 1987 in the suburban New Jersey town of Wetbridge.  Our protagonists are 14-year-old boys who never really fit into other cliques.

The story is about Billy Marvin.  He never knew his father and his mother has started working the overnight shift at the Food Mart to make an extra dollar an hour.  Billy’s mom has really high hopes for Billy.  But his school life is pretty dismal.  His mom believes that Billy is really smart and she tries to get Billy into honors classes.  But his grades indicate remedial classes.  If he can succeed in these classes he can get moved up.  But he does not succeed. At all. (more…)

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bolano

SOUNDTRACK: OS MUTANTES-“Fool Metal Jack” (2013).

Iosmut have known about Os Mutantes for years.  I never knew anything about them (and never really understood their name–although now that I have been working with Brazilian books at work I realize that their name is Portuguese for The Mutants (it was the Os that always threw me off).  I had no idea that a) they’d been around since the 60s and were part of the psychedelic scene or b) that they were still around (after some breakups and with a largely new lineup) or c) that they sang in English (which they do on several songs on this album) or d) that their new album kicked so much ass.

The album is called Fool Metal Jack and it is a fantastic mixture of fast heavy rock, Brazilian traditional sounds, what I assume are Native Brazilian chants and a heavy dose of weirdness.  All wrapped up in an anti-war stance, like on this track “Fool Metal Jack.”

A creepy, distorted  bassline introduces this song which sounds like the guy from Gogol Bordello singing a Tom Waits march.  It’s about a soldier in the middle of a war.  The bridge means more voices come in, bringing in an even more disorienting sound.  And the chorus chanted “Yes.  No More War” completes the song.  By the time the wailing guitar solo comes in the chants of “This is the war of hell” have even more impact.

This stomping song was a great introduction to this band who I now need to explore further.

[READ: April 18. 2013] The Last Interview

I enjoyed Kurt Vonnegut’s “Last Interview” and since I had always intended to read Bolaño’s I was delighted to see that our library had it.  Bolaño is a fascinating interview subject because you never really know what he is going to say.  There are even serious questions about the veracity of his life story which many people believe he fabricated for more dramatic effect.

But the one thing that is absolutely consistent about Bolaño is that he always praises writers whom he respects (and will trash those he doesn’t, although that seems to come more from the interviewer’s  instigation (not that he needs a lot).    So the last interview that he did is the one from Mexican Playboy which has been collected in Between Parentheses.  But the other three are earlier and, it seems, a little more “truthful” or at least less naughty-seeming.

What’s fascinating about this book is that the introduction by Marcela Valdes (“Alone Among the Ghosts”) is over 30 pages long!  The article originally appeared in The Nation on Dec 8, 2008 (read it here).  As such it’s not an introduction to this book, it’s introduction for English readers to Bolaño circa 2666.  And it’s a great read.  It is primarily about 2666, which Valdes has read many times.  She goes into interesting depth about the story but mostly she relates it to Bolaño’s own experiences while writing the book.  It focuses especially on his research about the real murders.  His interest was genuine and he sought help from a reporter who was doing genuinely decent work (ie. not accepting the word of the state about what was going on).

Bolaño has said he wished he was a detective rather than a writer, which explains The Savage Detectives and Woes of the True Policeman.  But Valdes also points out how almost all of his shorter novels have some kind of detective work involved–seeking someone who is lost or hiding.  The article was really great and is worth a read for anyone interested in Bolaño, whether you have read him or not. (more…)

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vonlastintSOUNDTRACKSURFER BLOOD-“Demon Dance” (Live at SXSW, March 27, 2013).

surfer blood

I’ve liked Surfer Blood since I first heard them.  They write catchy, mostly short, poppy songs.  And usually after a few listens, the hooks really grab you.  The strange thing about the band is that the hooks aren’t always readily apparent, which makes their songs sound kind of samey sometimes.

Of course, samey isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  Surfer Blood is quite distinctive and I tend to enjoy everything they do.  This new song sounds like their other stuff, which is fine.  But the most distinctive thing about the band of probably their singer who sounds like a less-affected Morrissey.

Having also listened to the song from the album I can say that the singer is far harder to understand live, so maybe live is not the best way to hear a new song from them, but for an old favorite, Surfer Blood has a great energy live.

Watch the show here and hear the studio version here.

[READ: March 27, 2013] The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Melville House has published a number of these “Last Interview” books, and as a completist I feel compelled to read them.  I have read criticisms of the series primarily because what the books are are collections of interviews including the last interview that the writer gave.  They don’t have anything new or proprietary.  The last interview just happens to be the last one he gave.   So it seems a little disingenuous, but is not technically wrong.

There’s so far five books in the series, and I figured I’d read at least three (Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolaño–the other two turned out to be Jorge Luis Borges–who I would be interested in reading about and Jacques Derrida (!) who I have always loved–I guess this series was tailor made for me).

At any rate, these interviews are from various times and locations in Vonnegut’s career.  There are six in total.  I don’t know if the titles they give here were the titles in the original publications but here’s what’s inside:

  • “Kurt Vonnegut: The Art of Fiction” from The Paris Review, Spring 1977 (by David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes)
  • “There Must be More to Love Than Death” from The Nation, August 1980 (by Robert K. Musil)
  • “The Joe & Kurt Show” from Playboy, May 1982 (by Joseph Heller and Carole Mallory)
  • “The Melancholia of Everything Completed” from Stop Smiling, August 2006 (by J.C. Gabel)
  • “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut” from U.S. Airways Magazine (!!!), June 2007 (by J. Rentilly)
  • “The Last Interview” from In These Times May 9, 2007 (by Heather Augustyn) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OF MONSTERS AND MEN-Live from Iceland Airwaves (2011).

This brief set was recorded at KEX hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland (how on earth KEXP in Seattle was there I don’t know).  This set was performed before the release of their debut EP, although “Dirty Paws” which they play was not on that EP.  “Little Talks” their (reasonably) huge hit them was on the EP and is on their full length album–it’s a great duet (and reminds me a bit of Stars).

There’s an amusing fail in the horn solo on “Lake House,” which is kind of surprising, but not terribly tragic or anything.  The band sounds great, especially in front of a home country crowd (I love hearing them say “Takk” at the end of the songs).  There’s five songs in all, and by  the final one, they feel  sound like they’re really enjoying themselves.

[READ: September 1, 2012] Wampeters, Foma & Granfaloons

This collection contains essays reviews and speeches.  So it’s non-fiction.  Except that, ever the contrarian, Vonnegut includes one fiction piece–a short play.  The title of this book comes from three words from his novel Cat’s Cradle: “a wampeter is an object around which the lives of many otherwise unrelated people may revolve.  The Holy Grail would be a case in point.  Foma are harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls.  An example: ‘Prosperity is just around the corner.’ A granfallooon is a proud and meaningless association of human beings.”

That all comes from the preface.  The preface also says that there are people who have collected everything he has ever written (even stuff he has forgotten about) but he will not let most of that see the light of day.  Here he has whittled down the least embarrassing stuff for publication.  He also explains that at some point (supported by reading this) he decided to stop giving speeches; to stop “talking” and to concentrate on writing.  So he did.

The final straw for this was a comment from the President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Vonnegut had prepared a speech.  The president reread it and hated it, but the president told Vonnegut that nobody would actually listen to the words: “People are seldom interested in the actual content of a speech.  They simply want to learn from your tone and gestures and expressions whether or not you are an honest man.”

While Vonnegut’s essays are powerful and effective, it’s the Preface that really tells it straightg.”Not nearly as many Biafrans were butchered by the Nigerians at the end of the war as I had thought would be.  At a minimum those damaged children at the exact middle of the universe will be more honorable than Richard M Nixon.  [Nixon] is the first president to hate the American people and all they stand for.”

Get ready for a happy collection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-“Smoke on the Water” (2012).

There’s a new Deep Purple tribute album coming out shortly (is this the year of tributes?  what’s going on?).  Anyway, the lineup isn’t all that inspired, but I was curious to see what the Flaming Lips would do with that song

As with their recent reinterpretation of Dark Side of the Moon, this cover is respectful and utterly disrespectful.  Musically the song is pretty accurate. Well, the notes are the same.  But the style is very different, kind of wahwahed delicate chords–no heavy bass or anything.  But it’s the vocals that are the contentious point–he recites the entire song (which kind of works because it is a story) in a stilted, faux British accent.

The second verse has a very computerized voice singing an autotuned melody along with the recitation–sort of a harmony but not.  This voice continues through to the chorus (which the main vocals also simply recite).

I appreciate the Flaming Lips’ approaches to popular songs, but this version renders a big loud song kind of anemic.  Which is so weird because the last few Lips albums were so loud and bass-heavy.  I listened twice, I probably don’t need to listen again.

So, this is yet another tribute I won’t be buying.

[READ: August 22, 2012] Don’t Get Too Comfortable

I’m already making good on my promise to read more David Rakoff.  Indeed, as soon as I heard that he died, I put this book on hold at the library.  The strange thing about this book is that I feel like I read parts of it already.  I don’t feel like I read the whole book because some things were unfamiliar to me, and yet there was a strange feeling of déjà vu throughout the book.  But I looked in the front of the book to see where these essays had appeared and I don’t read any of the magazines where they initially showed up.  And while I like This American Life, I don’t really listen to it very often.  So either I read this book seven years ago or these pieces are inspirations for other pieces I have read (which is possible–two or three articles in here reminded me of things that A.J .Jacobs has since done).

So this collection of essays takes place during the early 2000s, George W. Bush’s first term (not the happiest time to be a gay Canadian living in New York).  But in addition to the first essay which is all about his quest for citizenship, it seems that Rakoff was now gainfully employed as a freelance writer.  Most of these essays seem to have been requested for magazines–like they sought him out to write them.  So his fame was clearly growing.  And, again, like A.J. Jacobs, he seems to have been picked as a guinea pig for certain pieces.   I don’t really know if this is a “genre” per se, I mean lots of un-knowledgeable people have gone into new experiences to write about them (insert inevitable David Foster Wallace reference here–but of course he wasn’t the first either).  But Rakoff’s subjects in the last couple essays seem to be closer to what Wikipedia calls Jacob’s “stunt” journalism. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TARKIO-Live on KGBA (from Omnibus) (1998).

Tarkio released an album called Live on KGBA in 1998.  Omnibus collects 4 songs from that release (according to various websites, the other tracks include “Kickaround” “Neapolitan Bridesmaid” “Helena Won’t Get Stoned” “Caroline Avenue” and “Candle”  (from the I Guess… album) “Weight of the World” (from Sea Songs) and “Whipping Boy” (the only song that’s not elsewhere on Omnibus).  This live record was distributed in some fashion way back when and there are copies floating around the internet.  I’m not willing to risk a virus by clicking on these links though, so I’ll stick with the few tracks on Omnibus.

The sound is excellent, and the full collection would no doubt be a welcome addition to anyone’s Tarkio fandom.

“Carrie” has a very Neil Young feel, from the rough acoustic guitars to the aggressive strumming technique.  It doesn’t sound like any Neil Young song in particular but you can imagine Neil looking on and smiling.  Even the solo is kind of Neil-ish (electric guitar over the acoustic main song).  “Am I Not Right?” sounds like a newer Decemberists song—there’s some very cool abrasive chords at the chorus “Knowledge!”  “Mess of Me” is a boppy acoustic number that’s fun to sing along to.  It opens kind of like the Decemberists song “The Infanta” but quickly turns into something else entirely.  “Goodbye Girl” is a cover of the Squeeze song done with a dominant banjo.  Although it lacks the original’s punch, it works well as a folk number.

[READ: June 5, 2012] “The Golden Age”

I feel like I’ve really been missing out by not reading any Le Guin.  The more I read from her now, the more I feel like I should be dropping everything and reading her output.  And I will read at least some of Earthsea eventually.

But in the meantime, I can enjoy pieces like this.  She talks about how science fiction has never really been considered “literature” and how it’s always been relegated to the genre ghetto.  Be that as it may, she’s also disappointed when science fiction writers try to deny their ghetto by saying, “Pay no attention to the spaceships…[this] is Literature.”  She thanks Michael Chabon for smashing down at least some of the ghetto walls.

Which allows her to look back at the past and the early Science Fiction Writers of America conventions.  She remembers the fun talk and open mindedness—except for a notable few who were deeply conservative, a surprise for a group of men who were supposed to be looking forward, not back.  And yes…men.  There were very few women sci-fi writers back in the fifties (in “The Golden Age”).  Indeed one SFWA member wanted to create a members-only necktie! (more…)

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