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Archive for the ‘McSweeney’s’ Category

[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Danger Goes Berserk

After how much we loved Brixton Brothers Books 1 through 3 we were excited to get to Book #4 (which appears to be the final book since it has been six years, despite what was hinted at in the end).

However, there is no audio book!  No Arte Johnson guiding us through the mysteries of these teenage sleuths.  No one to say Rick (pause) Jerk.

Gasp.

So we did the next best thing.  Sarah read it to us on a long car ride.  This is second best because it’s exhausting for Sarah to read out loud for that long and to have the constant complaints of “can you turn it up” which makes me laugh every time one of the kids says it.

It was great to be involved with Steve Brixton and his chum Dana once again.

The detectives are back (in Steve’s hilarious new office) and there are two cases to look into.  One is about surfing.

The other is about… gym shorts.

Someone has been stealing Brody Owen’s gym shorts.  Brody even paid Steve to take the case.  But Steve doesn’t want to take it.  Both because it’s stupid and because he’s got more important, bigger cases to deal with. (more…)

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McSweeney’s 49: Cover Stories: Contemporary writers reimagining classic tales (2017)

SOUNDTRACKBIG K.R.I.T.-Tiny Desk Concert #714 (March 5, 2018).

A while back I downloaded one of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtapes and rather liked it.  Since then he seems to have become pretty huge and I feel like he has really expanded on his style.

K.R.I.T. sings/raps three songs from his new album.

4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double album in which he covers everything from blessings to depression while plumbing the carnal and spiritual depths of his own duality. All three songs performed here come from side two, titled after his birth name Justin Scott.

The first song “Mixed Messages” is really thoughtful.  He sings and raps

I gotta whole lotta mixed messages / in my songs am I wrong / to feel this way
I got me a lover but I still wanna cheat / I wanna be saved but its fuck the police
i never really liked the fake shit / but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits
i really wanna sing but id better rap

K.R.I.T.’s backing band, which includes Burniss Travis II on bass and Justin Tyson on drums, also features on keys Bryan Michael Cox — the hitmaking producer and songwriter behind a slew of Billboard chart-toppers. Together, the trio delivers stripped-down versions of the latest thought-provoking material in Big K.R.I.T.’s catalog.

Introducing the second song, “Keep The Devil Off” he says his grandmother introduced him to gospel.  She brought him to church and “she would wake me up when i fell asleep saying wake up you gotta hear this.”  He sings beautifully.  And then the rapped verses are really well structured.

And when he stops to pay homage to his church-going grandmother before performing “Keep The Devil Off,” it’s clear that everything she instilled in him is keeping him alive, too.

Definitely in these times we need to keep the negativity away–keep the devil off.

His grandmother was clearly very important to him.

Big K.R.I.T. has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.  So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Halfway through his three-song set at NPR Music headquarters, K.R.I.T. stops to pull out an old-school tape recorder — the same one his grandmother would use to record him singing and reciting poetry as a child. “I have to feel like my grandmother was my first mix engineer,” he says before pressing play to reveal him and his brother as kids singing a duet of R&B crooner Donell Jones’ 1999 slow burner, “Where I Wanna Be.”

He plays the tape and cracks up listening to it.  He gets the audience to sing the refrain with his younger sell.  And then his grandmother introduces he and his brother as an R&B singer, “but I’m sticking with the rap thing.”

It’s a sublime interlude — one that resonated so strongly with K.R.I.T. that he had to start his last song, “Bury Me In Gold,” over to catch the proper beat. “I’m super emotional from this, too,” he says, laughing in a moment so genuine it was only right to leave it unedited.

He says “Bury Me in Gold” is not about gold really, it’s about having something so that in the event he gets to heaven he’ll give everything away.

He tells us to remember that peace of mind and your soul are more important than gold.

I’ve always enjoyed thought provoking rap and K.R.I.T.’s lyrics combined with his voice really work wonders.

[READ: May 29, 2017] McSweeney’s 49

It has been a long time (three years or so) since the previous McSweeney’s volume.  During that silence, the publishing house went non-profit and that seems to have taken up a lot of their resources.  They even address this a bit in the interdiction to this book.

But regardless of the reasons why, it is great to have them back.

As the subtitle says, this is a book of “cover stories.” What that means is a little vague–the contemporary writers model their story after a classic story.  I try to compare it to music covers, although in music covers the music and words are typically the same with some kind of variations.  Typically, the words are the same but the music is different.  I liked to flip this idea on its head for describing these stories in that the words are different by the music is the same.

Since I don’t know most of the original stories here I don’t know how similar these are to the originals–same character names?  Same ideas?  Same plot?  I don’t know.  And perhaps it would affect the way I read these stories if I was familiar with theory original pieces.  But without knowing them, these just turned out to be good stories from good writers.

Interspersed between the stories were poems and, in a wonderful commentary on our current shitty president and the cowardly house of representatives who on the day I finished this voted to strip 24 million people of health care, are comparisons of classic historical figures’ speeches with the petty garbled tweets of out current crap in chief.  Can we impeach this motherfucker already?  And send the whole lot of them to jail, please.  #ITMFA

As many McSweeney’s do, this one opens with letters.  And of course they aren’t really letters at all, even if they are addressed to McSweeney’s.  Many deal with cover songs, but a few are much more serious, political and right on.

WAJAHAT ALI writes from Camp FDR in Washington DC where he and his fellow prisoners were finally able to cobble together WiFi.  Ali explains that the Executive Order was inevitable the ban, the vetting, the registry were all just prelude. The need to protect against terrorism outweighs the individual rights and the rights of American Muslims…read the Supreme Court decision.

NICK JAINA writes about the Sept 23, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Ray Charles appears and plays “Walk the Line” and then “Ring of Fire.”  The letter states that the creator of “Ring of Fire” is actually mis-attributed.  The story is that June Carter wrote it after seeing a page in her uncle’s book of Elizabethan poetry.  But Johnny first wife claims that Johnny wrote it while drunk about a certain female body part: “all those years of her claiming she wrote it and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”  Then it reverts back to Ray Charles’ performance with an unseen band playing behind him–especially a great baseline–and as the song ends he lets out one last shudder and cackle like he just invented the orgasm.  “Johnny returns to the stage looking like a man who just watched someone have sex with his wife but was so in awe of how good he was at it that he could only thank him.”

ROBIN TERRELL talks about trumpmania in the Czech Republic from the perspective of a black woman, lesbian, child of civil rights activists, mother of a black man living in Prague.  The look in the eyes of people after the election: The U.S. is going to fuck us over again.  It stunned Europeans that the U.S. could generate someone fouler than Europe’s own crop of white male extremists.  She is now a refugee from her own country.  #RESIST #ITMFA

KIMBERLY HARRINGTON says she always believed that even in the darkest times humor has its place.  But lately she’s been bursting into tears rather than cracking a smile.  She hopes she can find things to laugh at–even death in these horrible times.

MARY MILLER says that for the longest time she thought her uncles wrote “Stagger Lee.”  Her uncles were musicians who wrote songs but also threw some covers into their shows.  She believed that “Stagger Lee” was one of theirs. She realizes that they are not famous and that no one will remember them–but she promises them that she will remember them.

RICK MOODY writes at length about Elektra’s 1990 tribute album Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary.  I remember it coming out and I remember not getting it because it was too expensive. But Moody talks about what a great conceit this collection was to have contemporary artists cover classic songs.  He also talks about how the tribute album was quite popular in the 1990s (was it ever).  Some thought: He loves Bjork, but he thinks of the Sugarcubes as a cheeseball imitation of the B-52s (and that their “Motorcycle Mama” is pretty bad.  He mentions a few great tracks, like Kronos Quartet covering “Marquee Moon,” Metallica doing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and even a Howard Jones cover of “Road to Cairo” by the cult hero David Ackles.   But he says fully half of the collection is bad, some of it even awful–not worth its list price at the time but it has a great number of masterpieces on it.

Will Buttler (from Arcade Fire) wishes to make some amusing corrections: some errors during concerts, and apologizing for singing “I’m So Bored” with the USA because he is not.

ARIEL S. WINTER-This is an interesting philosophical question wondering whether or not Marty McFly actually created “Johnny B. Goode.”  How could he cover it before Chuck Berry had released the original.  As a child this blew her mind.  This facile beginning then goes on to say that before recorded music the notion of a cover didn’t really exist.  And indeed in the 1950s people recorded songs without concern for copyright.  It’s also true that when Chuck Berry plays Johnny B. Goode live, it’s not considered a cover of his original.  She concludes by that the Back to the Future is probably the first time she ever heard Johnny B. Goode.  So Marty McFly’s is the original to her (as it is to all the kids at the dance).  So in addition to a song having an original for the performer there is also an original for the listener.  Anyone who has loved a song for years before finding out that it’s a cover has had that experience.

INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITORS

This introduction talks about how the first time they did a “cover story” was in 1999 in issue 4.  Rick Moody covered Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg.”  They had been planning to do an entire issue of covers as far back as two years ago and then things happened in the McSweeney’s universe to delay it.  And now : this issue is being born in a moment of racial, social and economic reckoning and imminent fascism…into a country that looks much different from the one in which it began, fronted now by a mean and disingenuous imitation of a president.   As such: Tucked between these thirteen beautiful renditions of thirteen classic stories are instances when a cover is not an homage but rather a perversion of its predecessor”  And by that they offer examples of eloquent speeches by former leaders and then tweets from our pervert in chief.

GARY BURDEN-excerpt from Nobody Knows (an autobiography)

Gary Burden created the cover images for this issue.  I had no idea who he was, but this autobiography tells me just how interesting a fellow he was.  He has been responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the last 60 years!

These excerpt shows his origin story–he was 8 on December 7, 1941 and he has had vivid memories of WWII.  When he was 16 he joined the Marines.  But he was restless, got involved in bad things, was dishonorably discharged and got mixed up with even worse people (he says he can’t believe the things he did back then).  In 1964 he met “Mama” Cass Elliot. They spent a lot of time together and this opened him up to meeting all kinds of people: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.  Eventually he met and hung out with Jim Morrison and designed Morrison Hotel (a fascinating story that).  In one of the nicer things I’ve heard someone say he says that Jim was a real poet, someone who was unafraid of delving deeply into life irrespective of the personal cost.  Then he met Neil Young. He says that Buffalo Springfield has been his favorite band and then one day Neil came to Mama Cass’ house in his 1948 Buick Hearse.  He was also hanging around when CSN decided to become CSN&Y and then he and Neil became friends. and Neil sold him his house in Topanga.  Eventually he made the cover art for After the Gold Rush (and he gives a little story about the old lady there on the cover).  I’m kind of curious to read this whole book now, especially if it includes album covers.

EMILY RABOTEAU-“The Babysitter” after “Some Women” by Alice Munro
This is the story of a babysitter for Mrs Fagan.  She is a young girl and her employer is very rich and locally famous.  And quite eccentric (she went to East Africa and allegedly witness the Ark of the Covenant and then wrote a controversial book about it).  But in their town she was known as the white lady with black kids (Maya 3, Eddie 10 months old).  The story reflects back on the babysitter as child (she is now the same age as Mrs Fagan was when the babysitting began.  The babysitter’s mother is kind of jerk and is very sarcastic about this babysitting arrangement.  She is also a very strict Jehovah’s Witness, so when the narrator gets her first period rather than tell her mom, she just takes products from Mrs Fagan.  As the story opens Mrs Fagan’s son has just arrived and that changes the dynamic in the house.  How will Mrs Fagan take it when the narrator accidentally sets fire to the kitchen? I really enjoyed the way the end of the story plays on the notions of memories and the impact people have on others.

MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN-“The Lottery, Redux” after “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” seems like a pretty easy story to cover–I think everyone knows everything about it and it has been covered in things like The Hunger Games in their own ways.  I don’t know if this story references the original (with the redux),  for this story the people of the island of Timothy were exiled from America fifty years earlier for crimes against the environment.  They were gathering on July 27th, the day of the lottery.  And indeed the lottery is a death sentence, although it’s not entirely clear why.  Interestingly, the story is more about the girl chosen and what her life up to that point has been like.

ANTHONY MARRA-“The Tell-Tale Heart” after “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
This story doesn’t diverge all that much from the original except for the wonderful modern twist on the beating heart.  It’s hard to say more without giving things away but I loved the modernization.

JESS WALTER-“Falling Faintly” after “The Dead” by James Joyce
I didn’t know all that many stories before hand, but I knew this one very well and this is wonderful homage.  It is not in any way rewriting the story–it’s a very different story, but it alludes to the Joyce story and directly mentions it and it is quite clear where the connection between them is.
Michael is a writer.  He is married with kids but has moved temporarily out to New York to write for this new police procedural.  The show is doing well and the female star is quite beautiful.  They bond over cigarettes–she is foreign and smokes like a European, he recently started again.  As stories like this tend to go, Micheal gets the wrong idea about this young, hot actress.  And given that she is not American she misunderstands the subtleties of his behavior (which isn’t very subtle admittedly).  But he wants her to know that his story is a tribute to Joyce’s “The Dead.”  When he talks about the dead she thinks he means real dead people and is pretty freaked out.  This leads to a restraining order and a police intervention–not how he thought his life in New York would go.  What doe sit have to do with “The Dead”?  Well they are standing smoking in the snow as it gently floats to the ground falling through the universe, faintly falling.

LAUREN GROFF-“Once” after “Wants” by Grace Paley
I loved the way this story started.  I saw my enemy at the beach.  With that as a groundwork we slowly learn just how this woman has an enemy (it’s an old boyfriend’s mother) and how they have grudgingly begun to respect each other decades after the two broke up. I really enjoyed this short piece.

ROXANE GAY-“Men on Bikes” after “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
I can’t imagine what the original of this story is.  The actual story of this is pretty peculiar itself.  Basically, the men in town have all started riding bicycles everywhere.  It started when one of them was arrested for drunk driving.  He didn’t lose his license but his wife took it away from him.  He dug out a bike and began riding it.  She thought he looked ridiculous, but when another man had his license taken away, they began riding together.  It was quite a sight, although I’m not sure what the point of it was.

NAMWALI SERPELL-“Company” after “Company” by Samuel Beckett
I like Beckett, and I know that he can be confusing.  I don’t know what “Company” is about so I have no idea how it relates to it, but man I did not get this at all.

It was confusing and really long.  It is broken into many small sections which might be connected.  The first is about the brightening which happened although many people missed it. Then we learn about the ship which is electro epidermal, which is cool but not really explained  and then the story turns into a quest for melanin and just when you think it’s a sci-fi story, it becomes a story about race.  There is a pale man tied to a tree hitting a sack (pound pound).  There’s a lot of vomit.  If the white man inseminates even one person, finding pure stem cells is impossible.  Dark skin marked you as  lucky when the darkening came.  But then she says the mission is over.  There’s more vomiting.  A fellow is supposed to be invisible in the village but Pound sees him.  There’s more vomit, a section titled rape, where Pound rapes Lila every once in a while and then who the hell knows what happens at he end.

KIESE LAYMON-“And So On” after “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Weeks ago 64 black folks changed the world.  You are the 11th.  Aside from the direct address to the reader the story is pretty straightforward and interesting.  Chanda Stewart was 8th, the narrators research assistant was 9th and Doug E., Chandra’s boyfriend was 1st.  They are at a fancy restaurant, Chandra, the narrator and you.  She swears that Doug is a porn star, but the narrator argues that having 1089 twitter followers and awkward consensual sex with a few white women filmed on an iPhone 2 in his fake Timberlands, blue knee brace and yellow wrist bands makes you a porn participant, not a star.  The story comes down to which side the narrator is going to choose.   sides or run for our lives.  Because while they were talking, Doug E. and about sixty young black kids were marching down the street.  To the school.  They each had an ax and a shovel.

MEG WOLITZER-“If You’re Happy and You Know It” after “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” By J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this Salinger story in a long time, so I don’t really know how it connects to this, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the way that it was written which was a little confusing but in an intriguing way.  Set in a hotel on Miami there is the young woman in 609 who arrived with her new husband.  She’d sent him off to the beach.  We see her telling her parents that he is taking it easy, but they want to know if he is taking the Klonopin.  Later that night in the lobby, a four year old girl, Chloe, is in the lobby of that hotel watching a man play piano.  The man is a guest also and he is playing and really getting into it.  Another boy asks if he can play This Old Man and the player jokes about the boy calling him old.  But Chloe asks if he can play “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  He says he might be happy but he may not know it. She is puzzled by that.  He says she is breaking his heart.  We soon realize that the pianist is the Klonopin man, and while things don’t get dark exactly, they certainly get strange.  And Chole’s parents have foisted her off on a poor babysitter the whole time.  This was one of my favorites in the book.

T.C. BOYLE-“The Argentine Ant” after “The Argentine Ant” by Italo Calvino
I can’t imagine what the original story is like, but this one from Boyle was really icky and really fantastic.  Its’ a fairly simple premise–a family moves to a rental property in Argentina, only to find that it is swarming with ants.  The ants are everywhere–even crawling all over their baby.  They run to the next door neighbor’s house only to see that they know about the ants and might have a secret weapon.  But mostly they just seem to be putting their furniture in jugs of water–presumably as a deterrent.  There is also an Ant Man who might be fighting the ants or who might actually be bringing more.  What is great about the way Boyle writes this is that the guy renting the house is working on an academic theorem that his wife thinks is rather frivolous.  And that tension underpins everything.

ALICE SOLA KIM-“One Hour, Every Seven Years” after “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Again I don’t know the original, but this story was great, and also weird. The weird part is that the story seems to start over multiple times. And that’s because there is a kind of time travel component to it.  The title refers to how often the sun comes out on Venus.  There is a girl, the main character, named Nargit. She was born on Earth and so she saw the sun.  The other kids are pretty angry at her for it (as if it’s her fault).  They are abusive to her, and the time travelling is the girl’s attempt to protect her younger self.  Many things go wrong but they bring about different results.

CHRIS ABANI-“Sleepy” after “Sleepy” by Anton Chekhov
This story was pretty horrific.  Kemi, a sixteen year old black girl who is now an orphan is working for a white family.  The family has two little children, one of whom is a baby.   The family is horrible to Kemi.  Pretty unrelentingly horrible.  Kemi is tired and never gets a break and the baby cries all the time.  She can’t soothe the baby and the family blames her for her failures.  Her exhaustion builds and builds until you pretty much know the ending several pages before it happens.

TOM DRURY-“The Yellow Wallpaper” after “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know the original story although not super well.  But this version feels almost exactly the same. I honestly can’t tell what the difference is (without having re-read the original again to compare).   Jane and John are renting a place on an island for the summer.  John thinks Jane is not strong and keeps her hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.  He more or less runs everything in her life until she starts seeing people through the wallpaper.  You know things can’t go well from there.

POETRY:

REBECCA LINDENBERG-“Having a Coke with You” after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem for Keats” after “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

STEPHEN BURT-“A Nickel on Top of a Penny” after “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo

BRIAN TURNER-“The Metaphor Program” after “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

STEPHEN BURT-“Roofers” after “The Armadillo” by Elizabeth Bishop

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting” [the first two lines are taken from “A Poem on the Occasion of the Consecration of Sandford and Shippon Churches” by Rev. F. Wilson Kittermaster, 1855]

STEPHEN BURT-“Suspense” after “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane

KEVIN MOFFETT-“Second Wonder”-a monologue that will air on The Organist.
I found this puzzling at best.

PATTY YUMI COTTRELL-excerpt from Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
I read this book not too long ago.
This except was about two young children who invented a game called “Confession” in which the boy confesses his real or imagined sins to his sister.

~~~~~

The comparison quotes are called Great Speeches from History vs. the Tweets of Donald J. Trump:  I can’t bring myself to write any of the jerks tweets.

Mahatma Gandhi from the “Quit India” speech, 1942 vs. a Feb 4 2017 tweet

Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address” 1863 vs. a Feb 18 217 tweet (about fake news)

Martin Luther King Jr from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vs. Feb 21 2017 (crowds planted by liberal activists)

Frederick Douglass from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” 1852 vs. Feb 6 2017 (negative polls are fake news).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, inauguration speech 1933 vs. Jan 22, 2017 (including all my enemies)

 

The bad thing about this issue is that the last four or five stories were all real downers, making it a pretty tough slog.  But I loved the idea, and I liked that they found the time and space to point out how stupid trump sounds and looks and is.

For ease of searching, I include: Cesar Vallejo

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNA MEREDITH-Tiny Desk Concert #713 (March 2, 2018).

I have never heard anything like this.  From sound to melody, to intensity, to instrumentation, this whole thing just rocked my world.

The melody for “Nautilus” is just so unexpected.  It opens with an echoed horn sound repeating.  And then the melody progresses up a scale, but not a scale, a kind of modified scale that seems off kilter just as it seems familiar.  The cello plays it, the guitar plays it, the sousaphone (!) plays it.  And it continues on in like fashion until only the high notes remain and then a menacing low riff on sousaphone cello and guitar breaks through–a great villain soundtrack if ever there was.  While everyone plays this riff, Anna returns to the keys to play the modified scale.

Meanwhile, the drummer has looked like he’s asleep behind his small kit.  And then 3 anda half minutes in he wakes up and starts playing a loud but slow rhythm.  The guitar begins soloing and as it fades out that main riff begins, now with a simple drum beat–not matching what anyone else is playing, mind you.  The sousaphone (which must have an echo on it or something and the cello pick up the low menace and it seems like everybody is doing his and her own thing.  But it all works amazingly.

So just who is Anna Meredith?

Anna Meredith was a former BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Composer in Residence. Two of the three songs performed here come from her 2016 release called Varmints.

Bob Boilen was also impressed when he first saw Anna Meredith live:

I first saw this British composer a year ago, in a stunning performance at the SXSW musical festival. It was one of the best concerts of my life. The music I heard sent me into a state of reverie. If music could levitate my body, this is how it would sound. It carried me away and thrilled my soul. I was giddy for days.

Now, I know this isn’t music for everyone. … But if you know and love the music of Philip Glass, King Crimson or Steve Reich — music that’s electrifying, challenging and sonically soars and ripples through your body — then crank this up.

Lest you worry that she couldn’t translate it to the Tiny Desk (she says they normally have 23 suitcases full of crap so this has been an exciting challenge to squeeze in here)

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I’ve experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It’s all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

The second song, “Ribbons” is quieter.  It’s and new song and it has vocals.  Her vocals aren’t great (“hard when you’ve got the voice of a five-year old boy”) but the melody she builds around it shows that her  voice is just one more instrument (albeit saying interesting words).  Actually, that’s not fair, they are just so different from the noise of the other two songs that it feels very faint in comparison.

It opens with a quiet guitar and electronic drum.  And slowly everyone else joins in.  A nice string accompaniment from the cello (Maddie Cutter), bass notes on the sousaphone (Tom Kelly) and even backing vocals from everyone.  By the third go around the drummer (Sam Wilson) is playing the glockenspiel.  By that time the song has built into a beautiful round and the quietness of her voice makes complete sense.  As the song nears its end, Sam has switches to a very fast but quiet rhythm on the floor tom.

She introduces the band and wishes a happy birthday to guitarist Jack Ross.  She says this is a great present as “so far all we’ve gotten him is an apple corer, the gifts have been a bit low grade.”

They make some gear switches, “we have a bit of a logistics problem with all our gear we can’t quite afford to bring enough glockenspiels, we pass the pure crap glockenspiel  around ans everyone gets to go ‘my turn!'”

“The Vapours” opens with a wonderfully wild guitar riff–fast and high-pitched and repeated over and over.  Anna Meredith adds waves of synths and then in comes the sousaphone and plucked cello.  Then fast thumping on the floor tom propels the song along.  The song slows a bit a Anna plays the clarinet (!).  The song dramatically shifts to some complicated time signature while Anna plays glockenspiel.  After a few rounds, while this complex guitar riff continues the drum and sousaphone start playing a pretty standard beat the contradicts everything else that’s going on and then Anna just starts pounding the crap out of some more toms.

All through this there are electronic sounds adding to the chaos and I have no idea who is triggering them, but it’s really cool.

The end is almost circusy with the big sousaphone notes and yet it’s like no circus anyone has every heard.  When the camera pulls back and you can see everyone working so hard and yet smiling ear to ear (especially Maddie), you know this is some great stuff.

The end of the song winds up with a hugely complicated tapping melody on the guitar and everyone else working up a huge sweat.

I couldn’t get over how much I loved this.  I immediately ordered Varmints and checked her touring schedule.

How disappointed was I to see that Anna Meredith had played Philly just last month and has now gone back to Europe!  I do hope she comes back soon.

[READ: August 30, 2017] McSweeney’s 48

For some reason, I find the prospect of reading McSweeney’s daunting.  I think it’s because I like to post about every story in them, so I know I’m in for a lot of work when I undertake it.

And yet I pretty much always enjoy every piece in each issue.  Well, that explains why it took me some three years to read this issue (although I did read Boots Riley’s screenplay in under a year).

This issue promised: “dazzling new work; a screenplay from Boots Riley with a septet of stories from Croatia.”

LETTERS

GARY RUDOREN writes about using the Giellete Fusion Platinum Razor every day for 18 days and how things were good but have gotten a little ugly.  On day 24 he had a four-inch gash under his nose.  Later on Day 38 it was even worse–a face full of bloody tissue squares.  By day 67 he is writing to thank McSweeney’s for whatever they did perhaps it was the medical marijuana but now his face is baby butt smooth even without shaving.  He wants to change the slogan to Gilette Fusion the shave that lasts forever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.

LETTERS

CORY DOCTOROW
Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

JAMIE QUATRO
Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

BENAJMIN PERCY
In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

ANTHONY MARRA
Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE LEMON TWIGS-Tiny Desk Concert #694 (January 17, 2018).

I first heard The Lemon Twigs on All Songs Considered and found their albums to be quite a lot of retro pop fun.

So it’s no surprise they wound up  at a Tiny Desk Concert, although this one is in support of an EP which I haven;t heard yet.

Bob Boilen notes: It’s as if brothers Brian (20) and Michael (18) D’Addario fell from the sky, victims of a transporter beam gone awry in 1971, and landed here at my desk with guitars in hand.  It was almost eerie seeing two young adults at my desk who look an awful lot like I and many of my friends did back around 1970. It’s uncanny, almost as if Brian and Michael have been somehow shielded from the 21st century

I really loved the production excess on The Lemon Twigs’ album, so I was a bit taken back at this stripped down version (no drums!).

At this Tiny Desk Concert, the layers of sound found in The Lemon Twigs’ recordings are stripped away, which makes the lyrics more noticeable, words that at times feel destined for a Broadway stage.  It’s fair to say that the strength of The Lemon Twigs is in the songwriting and the way they layer their recordings with their multi-instrumental talents. I love what they do, not as nostalgia but for its explorations of melody, harmony and lyrics that are memorable. Even stripped down, they are a whole lot of fun.

After the surprise of the stripped down sound wore off, I really started to like these songs for what they are.  Amusingly all three songs were written by Brian, which Michael is somewhat snarky about.

“Beautiful” is a delicate ballad with Brain singing and playing acoustic guitar.  The addition of simple electric guitar licks and backing harmony vocals really elevates the song.  Despite the pretty melody, the lyrics are rather dark

He concludes that it all is a dream
Can’t accept that sometimes a life is just destined for pain
I can’t do anything
I am nothing
Our lives are meaningless
Swim in the sunshine

But there’s a surprise twist at the end: I am nothing / I’m no one / It is wonderful

“Why Didn’t You Say That” is far more upbeat with bouncing piano.  It sound s bit fuller with the piano chords and a full electric guitar (chords and a solo).  The addition of some minor chords adds a dramatic twist to this mostly happy sounding song.  I enjoyed him sliding his pick up the strings at the end for an extra bit of noise.

Because their album is called Do Hollywood, I had it in my head that they were from California.  But hearing Michael talk, they are clearly from Long Island.  Especially when he jokes that they’re doing another one of Brian’s songs.  Brian says, “you’re the spokesperson.”  Michael says, “You’re so quiet.  Is something wrong?”  Brain brightly responds, “everything’s right!”  After some silence, Michael says, “No, I’m fine” to much chuckling.

“Light and Love” ends the set back on the acoustic guitar with some nice falsetto vocals.  The ending is a bit sloppy, but in a charming way.

Evidently when they play live, they do have a full band.  I’d be interested in seeing them live, but not as a stripped down project–I like their production too much.

[READ: October 5, 2017] “September All Year Long”

I have enjoyed many stories from Etgar Keret.  This is the first one I’ve seen illustrated.

And to have it illustrated by Novgorodoff  is pretty great too.   She uses her watercolor and pen style to create a feeling of lightness within heaviness.

The story talks about NW: nice weather, the status symbol for wealthy families.  As the ads say:

If you lived in Arctic Greenland and the snow and grayness were driving you crazy, swipe your credit card and they’ll set you up with ‘a perfect autumn day in Cannes’ on your balcony every day of the year

Novgorodoff illustrates this with a man drinking an umbrella drink on his balcony–a ray of sunshine beaming down on him while a blustery cold wind is blowing in the gray night sky. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMES TAYLOR-At Christmas (2006).

James Taylor is a folk icon with a smooth voice.  It seems like it would be perfect for a chill Christmas album.

Well, since I last heard Taylor (1976’s Greatest Hits album) he has gotten a little away from that folk sound (imagine that) and more into a kind of bland(er) adult-contemporary sound.  This album has hints of light jazz in it too.  And, worse yet, he tries to lighten some of it up with humor.  Gasp.

When we got this disc we were so disappointed that I don’t think it has been listened to since.  Well, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but it’s a pretty long slog through the holidays (and it was nominated for a Grammy, of course).  Almost any one of these songs is a fine addition to any Christmas mix, but too many will put everyone to sleep.

This was originally released in 2004 and distributed by Hallmark Cards, which really does tell you all you need to know.  This was resequenced and a couple new songs were added.

“Winter Wonderland” has all the jazz trappings–muted trumpet, brushes on drums and Taylor’s voice which isn’t quite as comforting as it used to be.

“Go Tell It On the Mountain” sees him modifying this song somewhat and turning it far away from the gospel tradition.

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” has him scatting and be-bopping a little…which is not really his forte I hate to say.

“Jingle Bells” has him making it jazzy.  It’s a bit too much frankly.  Especially when it’s followed by

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” a duet with Natalie Cole, which really tells you everything you need to know about this disc–safe, safe choices.  The “joking” in this song was meant to be cute, but it comes off a little creepy.

After getting annoyed by the first half, I felt like the rest of the album worked pretty well.  He lays off the jazzyness and focuses on his voice.

“River” open with a pretty “Good King Wenceslaus,” on the acoustic guitar.  It switches to a fine version of Joni Mitchell’s “River.”  This is my favorite song on here and it was not included on the original Christmas release of 2004.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sticks in my head because he changes the words from “from now on” to “in a year our troubles will be out of sight.”  Why so specific?  And why every time?

“The Christmas Song” In this nice version, he sings “some holly and some mistletoe” like Paul McCartney does.  Interesting, as I don’t think he’s a vegetarian.

“Some Children See Him.”  This is a song I was unfamiliar with until a couple of years ago.  It’s quite sweet and suits him well.

“Who Comes This Night” I didn’t know this song at all.  But again the piano and bells suit his voice better than the jazzy songs.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” is a slow song, but man he slows it down even more.  And the disc ends with “Auld Lang Syne” which is surprisingly long and would be much better served without the “wailing” guitar solo.

Not every Christmas CD can be a winner.

[READ: June 16, 2017] Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine

This is the third McSweeney’s book in a row (all read around the same time) that I really didn’t like.

It’s not surprising, as I tend to not like Diane Williams’ stories at all (looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever liked anything she’s written).  I only read this because McSweeney’s sent it to me.

The book jacket is just covered with hagiography about what great writer she is and how she upends convention and stuff like that.  But to me, these aren’t stories at all.  And most of them don’t even make sense as themselves.

Rather than saying much more, I’m just posting some stories in full, to show what I mean. (more…)

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