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Archive for the ‘Marriage Trouble’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: HEATHER LEIGH-“Soft Season” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Opening with a kind os squealing feedback and heavy bass and drums, it is pretty hard to believe that Heather Leigh is playing the pedal steel guitar but Lars assures us that’s what’s happening

Heather Leigh is among a group of artists who are reshaping the sound of the pedal steel guitar. [Her new] solo album stretches her noise/improv background into songwriting territory. With an elastic sense of time and a beguiling voice, Heather Leigh hears a new world drenched in aqueous echo.

After a brief opening Leigh starts singing–a kind of high operatic voice that works well with the feedbacking style of guitar she’s playing–like she’s almost singing along to the guitar melody, but not exactly.  The middle is quieter, more mellow, a “prettier more conventional sound.”  The song cycles through the original noisy sound, and back to the quieter music before ending on that feedback opening.  That powerful music crescendoes and then the song closes out with an a capella couple of lines.

You can her it and a couple other songs on her bandcamp site.

[READ: January 3, 2019] “Come In, Come In”

This story concerns a woman and her contractor, Louie.  He came highly recommended but he is taking forever.  Every time she assumes he will finish a project in her bathroom, he seems to have messed something up and needs to replace it.

The tiles were askew.  Even the tub was askew. He apologized and fixed it of course, but come on.

And if that weren’t bad enough, he had just sent her a text love letter.  “Lady Joanna, the more I see you the more I want to see you.”

She was annoyed at the absurdity “single woman + contractor = absurd.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPoolside Yuletide: 51 Songs To Paint Your Holidays Pink Season’s greetings from roséwave, the soundtrack for living your best life (2018)

This summer, Lars Gottrich, my favorite All Songs podcast contributor, took some friends and started something called roséwave, which is:

Roséwave is a one-word joke I made on Twitter that was less about a genre (that does not exist) and more a lifestyle (that very much exists). Without thinking too hard, y’all can probably think of five pop songs one might tipsily shout along to, whether at karaoke, in the back of a cab, out with your besties spilling a little bit of the pink drink on your new shoes. This is how a spiraling playlist sprang from friends all over the country, just in time for the first official day of summer.

It’s terrible.  Ironically or not.  And yet there’s some good songs on the list too (Lars has great taste as well as terrible taste).  So for the holidays, he created a Roséwave playlist.

It is also terrible.

Poolside Yuletide is the holiday playlist for both basics in warmer climes (hello Australia!) and those of us who need to escape the winter blues, or at least require a reflective mix of sweet and sad while staring out frosty windows. (We see you, “Blue Christmas” as sung by noted mope Conor Oberst.) Saxophones stream across Carly Rae Jepsen’s faithful, yet undeniably Queen of Christmas cover of “Last Christmas” and Bruce Springsteen’s high-kickin’ “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” There’s the drum-machine joy of Saint Etienne’s should-be-classic “I Was Born On Christmas Day” and the perfectly titled “Dashing Through the Snow in High Heels” by K-pop group Orange Caramel. PJ Morton puts a New Orleans bounce spin on “This Christmas” while Big Freedia twerks all over “Rudy, The Big Booty Reindeer.” A La Face Family Christmas offers not one, but two tidings: TLC’s bopping “Sleigh Ride” (Left Eye’s “giddiup, giddiup, giddiup and away we go” will single-handedly make your spirits bright) and a reminder that OutKast’s very first single was a “Player’s Ball” wrapped in “nonsense about some silent night.”

But your halls just aren’t properly decked without some classics, including The Supremes’ lush orchestration of “My Favorite Things,” Otis Redding’s “Merry Christmas Baby” and, yes, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” — Christmas doesn’t even begin until we hear this song, don’t @ us. We made Poolside Yuletide three hours long not just to soundtrack holiday parties and long drives home, but because we know the season contains every shade of e•mo•tion.

For the most part I do not like this play list.  But even if Lars has gone off the deep end into pop cheese, he is still Lars and he is able to dig out some great gems that I didn’t know about (and some old favorites too)

Here is the full list of songs.  Should you dare to find the playlist, it is here.

I’ve bolded songs I liked (using generous terms for “like” because it’s Christmas), but didn’t go into too much detail about anything.  Next year I’ll dig out some of these favorites and make a mix of my own.

Carly Rae Jepsen-Last Christmas
Saint Etienne-I Was Born on Christmas Day
DWV-Christmas Ain’t Christmas
Ronald Isley-What Can I Buy You
PJ Morton, HaSizzle-This Christmas
OutKast-Player’s Ball
John Legend-No Place Like Home
Joseph Washington, Jr-Shopping (okay)
Kayne West, CyHi The Prynce, Teyana Taylor-Christmas in Harlem
The Waitresses-Christmas Wrapping
RuPaul, Markaholic-Hey Sis, It’s Christmas (terrible but good but I may not ever listen again)
The Supremes-My Favorite Things (they’ve made this an xmas song with sleigh bells)
Fountains of Wayne-Valley Winter Song
Casey Musgraves Christmas Makes Me Cry
Bright Eyes-Blue Christmas
Chance the Rapper-Blessings
Whitney Houston-The First Noel
Britney Spears-My Only Wish (This Year) (surprisingly not bad)
Bruce Springsteen-Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
The Killers, Toni Halliday-A Great Big Sled (nice to hear guitars for xmas, even if the song is bland)
The Spook School-Someone to Spend Christmas With (my favorite song on the list)
Natalie Merchant-Children Go Where I Send Thee
Khuangbin-Christmas Time is Here (slow and trippy interesting)
Otis Redding-Merry Christmas Baby
TLC-Sleigh Ride
Brenda Lee-Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day
Mariah Carey-All I Want for Christmas Is You
Boys II Men-Let It Snow
Amy Grant-Emmanuel
Ariana Grande-Wit It This Christmas
Orange Caramel, Nu’est-Dashing Through the Snow in High Heels (K-pop)
Phoenix-Alone on Christmas Day
Yumi Zouma-December
Beyonce-Ave Maria (not that song, exactly)
Cocteau Twins-Frosty the Snowman
Phoebe Bridgers-Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Tracey Thorn-Joy
Tom Petty-Christmas All Over Again
Taylor Swift-Christmas Must Be Something More  (I like the music but the lyrics are too preachy)
Michael McDonald-That’s What Christmas Means to Me
Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue-100 Degrees
Earth, Wind & Fire-December (a December version of their song September)
The Weather Girls-Dear Santa Bring Me a Man This Christmas) (goofy)
Big Freedia, Ms. Tee (Rudy, the Big Booty Reindeer)  (The first verse is funny, but no)
Justn Beiber-Mistletoe ( I don’t hate this. How is that possible?)
Feist-Mushaboom (is this a Christmas song in any way?  Oh, it mentions snow in the chorus)
Booker T. & The M.G.’s-Winter Snow (a little slow but I love Booker T.)
Aretha Franklin-‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (spoken word and funny)
Clarence Carter-Back Door Santa (the sample for Run DMC)
Eartha Kitt-Santa Baby
The Orioles-What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve

Boy there are a lot of songs that I hate up there.

[READ: December 23, 2018] “Legends of the Seoul Dogs”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.  But this particular Soundtrack comes from the deep NPR Christmas archive. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: H.E.R.-Tiny Desk Concert #811 (December 12, 2018).

I vaguely remember H.E.R. from the concert they mention below (my entire mention of that Concert which I did not like at all is that she has a nice voice).

It’s nice that she came back and her concert is much better than the guy she guested on.

H.E.R. stunned us as a special guest for Daniel Caesar’s Tiny Desk concert earlier this year, in an appearance that showcased her vocal mastery. That earned her an invite to play again, front-and-center. She attacked her second go ’round with more fervor than the first, highlighting her skills as a multi-instrumentalist, maneuvering between acoustic and electric guitars, then the Fender Rhodes.

She plays four songs.  The first “Going” (Interlude) is short and very cool.  A nice introduction to her electric guitar playing and her cool deepish voice.  It leads into “Feel A Way” which showcases her deep soulful voice.  Her backing singers are great, but the highlight for me is the instrumentation in the middle of song–the guitar and piano both play excellent riffs together.  It sounds fantastic–it’s a shame the singers have to vamp all over it.

For “Hard Place” she switches to an acoustic guitar which sounds even better with the piano.  The melodies and vocals are quite nice on this song, although I hate the way she sings the end the song–find a note and stick to it.

The final song is apparently her biggest hit and I hate it.  She switches to keys, which are lost among the piano.  But the problem for me is that she just goes off on that awful R&B warbling that plagues so many pop songs. I know that’s what people love, but I HATE it.  The pseudo-scatting at the tail end is much more preferable to that nonsense.  But man it makes the okay song just endless.

While H.E.R. stands for “Having Everything Revealed,” she’s an artist who’s built her reputation on a certain degree of anonymity. The cover art for her debut, 2016 EP, H.E.R. Volume 1, shows a woman’s silhouette over a blue backdrop. Her visuals never provide the audience a clear shot of her face and her signature accessory for every outfit is a pair of large, dark sunglasses.

Most other bands only get three songs.  I wish she did as well.

[READ: January 6, 2017] “Bedtimes”

This was a short, sad story about a marriage disintegrating.

And the way it was done was wonderfully subtle.

Thomas and Mary have grown children.  On Monday night, he is working on his laptop and Mary is Skypeing.  She decides that he is working all night so she goes to bed.  When he comes up an hour later, she is “sound asleep, face to the wall.”

On Tuesday, Mary takes their dogs for a walk around bedtime.  So Thomas decides to go up to bed.  When she comes up later, he is “Sound asleep, face to the wall”.

On Wednesday, she goes to sleep first. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DIRTY PROJECTORS-Tiny Desk Concert #809 (December 4, 2018).

In my head Dirty Projectors are a noisy, chaotic band who make weird songs.  But this Concert could not be further from that understanding.

The music is beautiful, the harmonies are outstanding and the instrumentation is gentle and pretty.

The blurb seems to suggest that the music is often quirky:

Dirty Projectors’ eighth album is often loving and forgiving. It’s full of the quirks of production and rhythm and rhyme that had me fall for their music when I first heard it about a dozen years ago.

and maybe some of their earlier music exaggerates the quirks.  But watching this band with their acoustic guitars and candles makes this a delightfully warm and sweet Tiny Desk.

When Dirty Projectors let us know they couldn’t make it to the band’s Tiny Desk performance until late in the day, we were sad because the clocks had recently turned back for the fall, we knew that our beautiful, natural light would be gone and it’d be dark. But with candles left over from a late-winter day performance by Rhye — and some LED panels and spots — we were set up right on time for David Longstreth to sing these words: “The sky has darkened, earth turned to hell / Some said a light got shined where darkness dwelt / So I won’t cry or collapse, overwhelmed / Time like a song just might rhyme with itself.”  What’s wonderful about this Tiny Desk Concert is watching these talented people arrange this complicated music without amplification and seeing the joy on their face when it all worked out.

The band plays three songs:

The first one, “That’s a Lifestyle” has such a delightful guitar melody.  I love it.  I also love that the three female singers sometimes harmonize, sometime follow and sometimes both.  Felicia Douglass (vocals, percussion, keys), sings “that’s a” over and over while Kristin Slipp (vocals, Rhodes, Wurlitzer), follows each instance with a series of words.  I also love that both Longstreth and Maia Friedman (vocals, guitar), are playing this wonderfully complex guitar section–while he sings leads and she contributes extra backing vocals as well.

“Right Now”  has a great middle section where Douglass sings the first “Now… Now” and then Friedman and Slipp harmonize the repeated “nows” after that.  Slipp plays an awesome little melody on the keyboard as well.  And all along there’s a rather complicated guitar going throughout.

Nat Baldwin (bass) switches between finger plucked and bowing on the upright bass to add yet more textures to the music.

“What Is The Time?” opens with a wonderfully complicated drum pattern (Mike Johnson) before settling down into more delicate folk.  There’s more gorgeous harmonies on the chorus and an amusing moment where the lyrics are “say hello” and Longstreth waves “Hey, NPR.”

All in all, this blew away all my expectations for Dirty Projectors and was a great Tiny Desk.  I’ll have to explore their music a little more.

[READ: January 18, 2017] “Spiderweb”

This is a very long story in which not a lot happens, but in which tension builds and builds between major characters.

The narrator goes to visit her aunt and uncle in Corrientes:

My aunt and my uncle were the custodians of the memory of my mother, their favorite sister, who was killed in a stupid accident when I was seventeen.

But the aunt isn’t happy about the situation: “You got married and we haven’t even met your husband!  How is that possible?  You’re hiding him from us?”  She explains: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PET SHOP BOYS-“Always on My Mind” (1987).

I certainly have my favorite Christmas songs.  But it never occurred to me to winder what the perfect Christmas song was.

I love music; I don’t care about “perfect” songs or “algorithms” or anything like that.  I just like what speaks ti me.  But there are those who want to figure out things like the perfect song .

So the geniuses at Ostero Music ran their data, crunched the numbers and determined that Pet Shop Boys’ “Always on My Mind” was the perfect Christmas song (even if  it’s not a Christmas song).

S how did hey figure this out?  They analyzed every (UK) Christmas No. 1 from the past 50 years and found the winning combination of four different components – song duration, key, tempo and the artist’s age.

They also found most Christmas hits tend to be ballads and cover versions – and they are almost all about something other than Christmas.

So this is more about sings that are #1 at Christmastime instead of Christmas songs.

At any rate, the perfect formula is

1. Song duration of 3:57
2. In the key of G major
3. Tempo of 114 bpm (beats per minute)
4. Performer is 27 years old

“I think we’re a long way from an algorithmically-generated Christmas number one,” said Howard Murphy, founder of Ostereo. “But certain characteristics do make a song more likely to resonate with audiences at Christmas.”

So why did the Pet Shop Boy win?

If the formula is applied to all the Christmas No. 1 songs from the past 50 years, the song that comes out on top is the Pet Shop Boys’ 1988 cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Always On My Mind’. The duo covered the song in G major at a speed of 125 bpm, and the song lasts 3:55. The duo’s average age at the time of its release was 31.5, a few years off the ‘perfect’ 27, but combine this with the length, key and tempo, and you find the Christmas No.1 sweet spot…apparently.

So be sure to include this song on your next holiday mix and see everyone observe how perfectly it fits.

[READ: December 19, 2018] “In This Fantasy”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although today’s SOUNDTRACK is a special 2018 holiday news item (sort of).

Kim Fu summarizes her story rather well in the Q&A with Kim Fu. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE INNOCENCE MISSION-Tiny Desk Concert #807 (November 28, 2018).

I bought the third Innocence Mission album, glow, back in 1995.  The single “Bright as Yellow” was (and is) absolutely gorgeous.  It was a lovely, dream pop album.  But they took four years to make their next album and I guess I forgot all about them.

So what a delightful surprise to hear and see that they are still playing music together in their more or less original lineup.  After glow, their drummer left and they continued as a trio without drums.

The three songs they play are different in style, but not intent from “Bright As Yellow.”  “Bright” has a hazy/dreamy electric guitar sound.  These three song are gentle folk songs all on acoustic guitars.

The Innocence Mission, ever the most careful cultivators of quiet, encouraged us to come closer, to discover the “thing beautiful enough” in the moment it’s delivered.

They do not play “Bright as Yellow” (I wonder if they ever do anymore).  Instead they play two new songs and one old song.

The trio — now three decades into its existence — bookends this performance with two songs from 2018’s Sun on the Square. “Green Bus” and “Light of Winter” thread the long and winding needle of Karen Peris’ evocative words with her husband Don Peris’ decorative-but-nuanced guitar and Mike Bitts’ deft bass lines.

“Green Bus” sounds a lot like the recorded version, but warmer, somehow.  The end of the blurb says that Peris is a little under the weather.  It makes her voice seem even more fragile, which somehow makes the lyrics and the song even more intimate.

In some of my favorite lyrics of the year, Karen Peris tangles the tender and the tempestuous:

And what could I bring you,
now in the meantime?
Fruit from the sunlight,
quartz from the bay?
And where will I find this,
perfect and wondrous?
I look into shops,
I slip into rain.

Between those newer songs, The Innocence Mission plays “Tomorrow on the Runway,” the opening cut from 2003’s Befriended.  This song has a lovely guitar melody and Peris; delicate voice sounds wonderful.

Nursing a small cold, Peris’ voice slightly breaks when she sings, “Did you still leave the darkness without me? You’re always miles ahead” — but the humbling effect, however unintended, lingers in your being.

“Light of Winter” has a stunning chorus–the way the music weaves with her voice is gorgeous.  The verses are quiet and subtle but the way that chorus comes us–wow.

It was great to hear them again, and I think they may need to get added to a nightly bedtime rotation..

[READ: December 13, 2018] “Time for Their Eyes to Adjust”

This is a story of a woman’s relationship with her father.  A relationship that is strained and tested by many factors.

The narrator says she is 48, the same age her father was when she was born.  She is aware of her parents’ time together, but mostly through hearsay:

you can never know much about other people’s lives, least of all your parents’, especially if your parents have made a point of turning their lives into stories that they then go on to tell with God-given ability of not caring in the least about what’s true and what’s not.

Her recollection of her parents is that she was his child and her child, but never their child.  She spent a lot of time with her mother and then 1 month every year with him at Hammars, or Djaupadal (Sweden), as it was known in the old days. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ERASURE-Snow Globe (2013).

Rather than making a straight up Christmas album, Erasure created a hybrid of original songs and traditional songs for the holidays.  I’m not even sure if some of the original songs can be considered holiday songs at all.  What’s interesting is that while the songs are clearly Erasure (Andy Bell’s voice is unmistakable), they don’t exactly sound like Erasure.  Musician Vince Clarke said, “Everything about Christmas has been written already. We thought it would be more interesting to look into the darker side of the season. For a lot of people, Christmas is not a happy time.”  So a lot of the songs feel stripped down or perhaps eerie.

The first song “Bells of Love (Isabelle’s of Love)” is a song of hope.  It has an Erasure feel (especially in the chorus), but it’s definitely not as full as a typical song from them.  It may not be especially Christmasey what with these lyrics:

I don’t believe in your religion
I only know what I can see
So many sad, so many lonely
It’s only love that sets us free

But the sentiment is what’s at the heart of Christmas sprint

What we want
What we need
Is a touch of the healing hand
With a little emotion
Can you hear the bells of love?
One day they’ll be loud enough

“Gaudete” is absolutely wonderful.  It’s a 16th century Christmas Carol (which means “rejoice”).  Erasure could easily make an album doing this with traditional songs and it would be amazing.  They stick to the traditional melody, but it just feel so powerful.  The backing vocals, thee Latin, the bells and subtle bass.  Everything about this song is very cool.  It doesn’t really scream Christmas, but clearly it is a Christmas song.

“Make It Wonderful” has a cool synth riff after the chorus and a somewhat poppy feel.

“Sleep Quietly” is a by Ruth Heller (originally called “Sleep Quietly My Jesus”) who I can find no information about.  This version feels eerie for sure with the synth choices and the nearly whispered vocals by Bell.  These songs about Jesus seem odd for Erasure, since their song “Bells of Love” specifically mentions not believing.

“Silent Night” is a beautiful song and they do a lovely job with it–layered synths and Bell’s gently echoed vocals.  It’s lovely.  “Loving Man” feels most like an Erasure song–bouncy synths and clacking drums.

“The Christmas Song” is one of the most unsettling songs on the disc because Bell sings the song fairly traditionally, but the music sounds like an 8-bit video game.  That is until the chorus which sort of takes off in a dance direction.

Next up is a delicate take on “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  It is pretty and gentle and as with many of these songs I love the attention to care that they band put into the backing vocals and production.

“Blood on the Snow” hardly seems like a Christmas song, but it is about the snow.  It’s quite sinister, especially that powerful five-note bass line and those eerie mechanical synths sounds.  The lyrics make it seem like a take on the three wise men story, but with a darker twist

Star don’t lose your shine
Be sure to light the way
Your essence is divine
For these three gifts we bring
It’s only a small offering of time

“There’ll Be No Tomorrow” is a pure Erasure dance song.  It doesn’t feel bleak like the other songs because its got that whole “party like there’ll be no tomorrow vibe,” and yet lyrically that’s a pretty bleak thought:

All bets are off, the party’s on
So let’s away and drown out our sorrows
So don’t be late and celebrate
And party like there’ll be no tomorrow

“Midnight Clear” is the traditional song. Bells’ vocals are lovely.  The music is a little weird–deep almost ghostly backing vocals and a very cool, but unexpected, melody between verses.

“White Christmas” is definitely eerie.  And since the song is actually quite a sad song, it makes sense.  The vocals are distant and almost sound like they are over the phone.  In fact, with the intro and outro sound effects, it seems like maybe it’s meant to be sung on a train.  And again, there’s that spare mechanical music accompanying.

“Silver Bells” is a simple, pretty take on the song.  It’s softer than the other more mechanical songs, with some sweet backing vocals.  A slightly happy ending to a rather sad Christmas album.

[READ: December 17, 2018] “Deer Season”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the second story I have previously read in the New Yorker.   I assume that since I read it before I read it differently because I feel like I got more out of it this time.  On the original read it seemed like a guy writing a story about a girl who wants to have sex.  What I found interesting on this read was realizing that a young girl having sex in a small town can have consequences–and not the typical ones (she doesn’t get pregnant). (more…)

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