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Archive for the ‘Prospect’ Category

[ATTENDED: April 11, 2012] David Sedaris

I have enjoyed David Sedaris for a number of years now.  When our friend Melissa went to see him a few years ago, she said he was hilarious.  I’ve heard several readings done by him and had to agree with her–he’s very funny live.

I find that he’s much funnier when I hear him read his stuff than when I read it myself.  Indeed, when I read his stories I try to imagine it in his voice, just so it will be funnier.  Turns out he does a much better David Sedaris than I do.  Each of the stories was very funny (tear-inducingly funny) and very typically Sedaris.

This show was him on stage reading from a number of his pieces and from his diary.  I didn’t know the first piece, called “Understanding Owls,” which was about Owls and taxidermy.  It was also about trying to find the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for his boyfriend of 20 years (wow!), Hugh.  He wanted to buy a stuffed owl because of a long running joke about all of the owl tchotchkes in their house.  The setup alone was hilarious and the sequence in the taxidermist was very funny and rather uncomfortable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK SABBATH-Paranoid (1970).

Black Sabbath’s second album is certainly their most famous.  I mean, it features “Iron Man,” the first song everyone learns to play on the guitar.

But the whole first side of the disc is pretty famous.  “War Pigs” is a wonderful anti-war song.  “Paranoid” was their first big hit, and I read recently that it was a last minute addition to the album.  And it’s really short, too!

The next track, “Planet Caravan” is, in context, insane.  It is an incredibly slow, meandering track.  Back in the day, we used to skip this track all the time.  But since then I’ve grown to appreciate this trippy psychedelic song.  It feels a bit long, especially when you want to rock out, but it’s still pretty interesting.

And then there’s “Iron Man,” and, well, there’s nothing much to say about it that hasn’t been said elsewhere.   Except of course that it rocks!

Side Two was pretty unlistened to before CDs made it all one side.  “Electric Funeral” is a major downer about nuclear war, but it has an amazing opening riff with a wonderfully wah-wahed guitar.  “Hand of Doom” begins slowly with what’s more or less just bass and vocals.  And then guitars blare forth like sirens leading to some cool heavy sections.  About half way through it turns into this fast rocking song and becomes yet another anti-drug song.  This anti-drug stance is rather surprising given what lies in store in the not too distant future.

“Rat Salad” is a short instrumental.  It’s one half extended guitar solo with the second half comprising a drum solo.  Despite that, the riff of the song is pretty awesome.  The final track is the wonderfully named “Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots.”  The opening is another cool riff with lots of drums that melds in to a wonderfully heavy, bad-assed song (“a fairy with boots dancing with a dwarf”).  It ends the album very well.

For a record that’s nearly 40 years old, it’s still remarkably heavy and it set a great standard for heavy metal.

[READ: November 29, 2009] “The Not-Dead and the Saved”

This was a sad story about a woman with a dying child.  The child is older (late teens) and he has been coping with this issue for all of his life.  Consequently, he is cynical and more than a little bitter.

It’s hard for me to be critical of the story seeing as how it won the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize.  However, I didn’t find the story all that compelling. I think it was the completely detached narrator (third person distant, I would say) or maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, I just couldn’t connect to it.

[UPDATE:  December 15, 2009.  The story also just won the National Short Story Award.  Maybe I need to re-read it]. (more…)

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I received my second issue of Prospect magazine just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I’m pleased to say that this issue not only confirmed my suspicions of the magazine, it actually impressed me a little bit more.  And it sort of made me wish I had done something similar with all the magazines:  do a write up and then see how the latest issue compares (but I won’t).

I’m not going to go into extravagant detail with this issue, since I just wrote about the previous issue, but I wanted to mention the article that I was not only fascinated by, but that made me wonder why I had to cross the Atlantic to read about them. (more…)

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propsectI recently received an e-mail from a nice person at Prospect (a British magazine).  The email asked if I’d like to review their magazine.  After being completely flattered, I said, “Of course!”  And then I waited nervously hoping that the magazine was good and that I wouldn’t have to say anything mean about it, because I would.  Oh yes, I would.

ctBut I don’t have to. They grabbed me right off the bat because the c & the t in the title are connected by a little filigree doodad.   I love typography, so that little flourish was a selling point (okay a superficial one, but I liked it immediately).

The “subtitle” of the magazine is “Good Writing About Things That Matter” and it is a totally apt description.  Prospect is a monthly magazine that covers all aspects of society: British, European, American and the world.  And, indeed, the writing is quite good.

In many ways it reminded me of The Walrus, a favorite magazine of mine.  (It’s a weird comparison since The Walrus has only been around for a few years, while Prospect has been around for about 13 (the November issue is number 164, so I’m guessing here), but it’s an apt comparison for its coverage: politics, culture, arts and more.

Because this was a new (to me)  magazine (and because I knew I’d be reviewing it), I decided to read every article.  There were a few that I thought I wouldn’t care much about.  But the writing totally grabbed me.  For instance, the article about Princess Diana (about whom I am indifferent) was fantastic.  It was cynical and funny and totally engaging.  And the same was true for just about every article in the magazine.

Normally I like to have at least two issues to refer to when reviewing.  So there may very well be things about this issue that are different from the others.  So, forgive, please, if I generalize incorrectly. (more…)

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prospectSOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-can our love… (2001).

loveAfter Simple Pleasure, Tindersticks continued in this looser, less chamber-pop vein.  This disc features more organ fueled songs.  And– in something of a departure–they made many of the songs quite long (two are over seven minutes, one is almost nine!).  You could almost say these are jams, but that would give the wrong impression.

The band still sounds like Tindersticks (there’s no mistaking that voice), but they feel looser, less intense.  Yet they’re still passionate.  In fact, “People Keep Coming Round” and “Can Our Love” are two of their best tracks.  “People” has this really long keyboard section that my wife said sounded like the Doors, and she’s quite right about that.  But it’s more than just a Doors-keyboard solo.  It’s a catchy yet haunting single.

It’s easy to be feel disappointed about the latter Tindertsicks discs because they don’t rival the crazed intensity of their earlier ones.  And yet, Tindersticks is now a different band, playing a different kind of music.  It’s still beautiful, still affecting, it’s just different.

“No Man of the World,” the second to last song is a slow, meandering, deceptively simple song.  It features spoken lyrics and gently sung backing vocals.  And on first listen it’s nothing special, but the more you listen, the more elements you notice: strings, horns, sadness.  It’s really quite moving.

The disc ends with “Chiletime” another deceptively simple song that begins with an organ drone and simple strings.  Staples whispers his way through the first few bars.  But then the track builds to a full band with gorgeous vocals.  Then it slows down as if coming to and end, but it builds once more, this time to a beautiful finish.  It’s a perfect ending to this disc.

[READ: November 3, 2009] “The Girt Pike”

De Bernières wrote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (which I’ve neither read nor seen the film).  In fact, this is the first story by him that I’ve read, and I’m fascinated by his style.  I don’t know if his other works are like this but I’m rather intrigued by this one.

This is a fairly simply story of a boy going fishing.  (I don’t fish myself, and I don’t really care all that much about fishing, but I’ve gotten a great deal of pleasure out of fishing stories (Paul Quarrington’s Fishing with My Old Guy was a surprise treat)).

The story opens with an endearing style that I would consider almost fairy-tale-like.  (The second sentence does indeed open with “Once upon a time”).  But the words are not of fairy-tales, rather, they reflect a somewhat nostalgic past: when boys fished in ponds with sticks and then threw the sticks to their dogs who splashed in the ponds.  Such an idyllic set up is altered somewhat once the “action” starts with the sentence: “On the morning that concerns us, however….” (more…)

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