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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2015 Tour Box (2015).

The Elements box set has become a tour staple since the band reformed in 2014.  This is the second set and it contains another fascinating cross section of music from throughout Crimson’s existence.

In addition to the music, these sets contain a booklet that is chock full of pictures and usually an essay that gives context to what you’re about to hear.

It also includes the seven Principles of King Crimson

  1. May King Crimson bring joy to us all. Including me.
  2. If you don’t want to play a part, that’s fine!
  3. Give it to someone else – there’s enough of us.All the music is new, whenever it was written.
  4. If you don’t know your note, hit C#.
  5. If you don’t the time, play in 5. Or 7.
  6. If you don’t know what to play, get more gear.
  7. If you still don’t know what to play, play nothing.

Of the four boxes, I think this is my favorite–although the second disc of 2017 is pretty awesome.  I really enjoy the first half of the first disc.  It’s all instrumental (even tracks that have words are instrumental versions).  It’s a great collection of  sometimes pretty, sometimes not, 70s prog rock.

The eight-minute instrumental version of “Epitaph” (Steven Wilson 2015 instrumental mix) is gorgeous.  Even though I like the words just fine, there’s something really thrilling about removing them on this song.  “Catfood” is (somewhat obviously) a rather goofy lyric, so hearing this complex song without words is also a treat.  “Bolero – The Peacock’s Tale” is listed as a Tony Levin overdub.  I don’t know exactly what that means, as it is taken from the Lizard recording sessions, but the song is lovely.

In addition to longer, complete songs, the Elements sets feature short snippets.  Like the two-minute extract of “Islands” (with oboe).  Or the four-minute jazzy “A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls” which is clearly the foundation for “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic.”

Although the set is largely chronological, there’s an excerpt from the 2014 tour rehearsals in which Fripp discusses how the band knows all of their parts.  They give a mellow example of how he and Jakko will play “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)” which is followed by the full 6 minute version from 1974.  It’s followed by an 11 minute live version of “Fracture” from 1974 (the previous box’s version was from 1973).

There’s a “guitar extract” of “One More Red Nightmare” (less than a minute long)  from 1974 followed by a full performance of the song from 2014 which doesn’t feel like a jump of forty years in any way.

The disc jumps to the 1980s era with an extended remix of “Elephant Talk” followed by 1981’s “Absent Lovers.”

1983’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III/Sleepless” is staggeringly good.

Disc Two suffers a bit in comparison, which I find surprising as I really like the later era of King Crimson–the more metal sounding stuff is really intense.

I enjoyed the first part–the late 1990s; work.  “Jurassic THRAK” sounds huge, and 2014’s drum solo “The Hell Hounds of Krim” works fine as a connector to the next four songs which highlight the late 90’s abrasive guitars.  It’s about 20 minutes of noisy coolness. “VROOOM,” “Coda: Marine 475” and “ProjeKction” (Performed by ProjeKct Four) all showcase that complicated music really delightfully.

Then things start to slow down somewhat. “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic – Part IV/the construKction of light” suffers in my mind because of the smallness of the band.  With only four members playing, the song doesn’t feel like a huge organism, it feels more like two guitarists playing next to each other.  Mind you, it sounds amazing if you can get away from the fact that it doesn’t feel terribly “full.”  Of course, I may be just spoiled from the great versions of LTIA I’ve seen with the 7-piece band.

Things really slow down and chill out for “Sus-Tayn-Z” (Performed by ProjeKct X), “Power to Believe,” “Ex Uno Patres” and the nine minute exceedingly mellow (with vocals) “The Light of Day.”  I do not love this style of Crimson.  It works as a palette cleanser between heavy songs, but too much is too much.

The “Ba Ba Boom Boom” drum solo and “ATTAKcATHRAK” ramp things up with the kind of noise that segues nicely into the blistering 2014 version of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

This box set once again demonstrates that King Crimson is a multi-headed beast, liable to go in any direction at any time.

[READ: January 6, 2018] Heroes of the Frontier

Somehow I missed that Eggers had written this book. I saw it in the bookstore recently and immediately grabbed it and devoured it.

I was worried that it was going to be a woman-moves-off-the-grid-and-life-gets-better story, but it’s not that at all.  It’s far more complicated and a bit more unsettling.

Josie is a dentist in Ohio.  But as we meet her, she and her children are riding in a crappy rented RV through the highways of Alaska.

Josie has a large sum of cash with her.  She had been sued by a patient for a sum she could not afford.  Rather than trying to raise th e money to save her practice or giving it over to woman, she sold her practice in total to a dentist friend.  So now, she has the cash and, temporarily, no future.

She was also in a terrible relationship.  Her children’s father, Carl, had taken off on them.  He was always aloof and a loser, but this disappearance to Florida was something else entirely.

She took her kids, Paul (8) and Ana (5) and got outta Dodge.  The children are an interesting pair.  Paul is nurturing and worrying, especially about his sister. He looks after her more closely than their mother ever does.  Ana, meanwhile, is a disaster–she seems to have a natural gift for how to break something–she can find the weak point of any structure or situation and cause havoc wherever she goes–and Paul is happy to fix the situation.

Why Alaska?  Because she has a stepsister (sort of) who lives in Homer.  Sam is independent and successful (which Josie was as well, although she was unhappy). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2014 Tour Box (2014).

When King Crimson reunited in 2013, they prepared to tour as a seven piece behemoth the following year.  There would be three drummers, two guitarists, bass and horns.

And they were totally reinvigorated.

To celebrate this tour, Fripp and his minions created this Elements Tour Box, a 2 -disc set dedicated to displaying the elements that made up the band from the beginning until now.  It was made up of alternate takes, excerpt (lots of excerpts), live recordings and rehearsals from the entirety of the Crimson canon, including some of the 2014 shows.

It is a treasure trove for Crimson fanatics.  But it is also an excellent resource for anyone looking to explore the Crimson underworld without buying $150 boxsets.

The discs follow a vaguely chronological overview, starting in 1969 and moving on through 2008.  But there are 2014 takes of old songs thrown in as well–some sound better than others, but overall the quality is quite good.

The first disc covers 1969-1974.  It opens with
“Wind Extract,” which is the sound of Fripp’s mellotron being turned on back in 1969.
“I Talk To The Wind” is an instrumental version of the second song on ITCOTCK.  Purists will be able to tell how many things are different between this version and the actually-released product, but in a nutshell, this is the album version with no vocals.  It’s really interesting to focus just on the music and not the words for a change.  The song is quite pretty, with lots of flute.

“Cadence and Cascade” is from In the Wake of Poseidon and no one involved in the recording remembered Greg Lake singing a version of it.  Guest vocalist Gordon Haskell sang the album version.  Then someone recently found this “guide vocal” version of Lake singing it for apparently the first and only time.

The boxes often contain brief excerpts like this one–fifteen seconds of Fripp’s classical sounding guitars from “Cirkus.”  This is kind of an acoustic bridge before we hear the full song recorded in 1971 on the Lizard tour.  This song in particular sounds very dated live and the middle “circus sounds” sections are 70s crazy.
“Hoodoo (extract)” is a 2014 rehearsal that’s all of 20 seconds which segues into a raucous recording of Fripp playing a wild guitar solo for “Sailor’s Tale.”  It’s wild and really shows Fripp throwing everything he can at the song.
“The Talking Drum” is an early alternate mix which sounds great to me.  It gets really crazy by the end.

The “Lark’s Tongues in Aspect I” excerpt is from 2014 and is just Mel’s flute for 2 minutes.  It’s followed by a 1972 extract that’s just violin and dulcimer and harp.

This turns into a great new mix of the 11 minute “Fracture.”
After a minute of gorgeous harmonics by Fripp from “Fallen Angel,” we get a full, gorgeous 6-minute instrumental version of the song.  Because Crimson songs are so complicated and so carefully constructed, they are one of the few bands whose songs can have lyrics removed without them falling flat.
There’s a weird-sounding version of “21st Century Schizoid Man” from 1974, which sounds so very mid-70s in the recording style.  It seems somewhat slapdash compared to the utter tightness of the 2014 band.  The disc ends with Mark Charig’s cornet recording for the end of “Starless.”  On the proper release they use Mel Collin’s saxophone, but the cornet sounds delightful.

Disc two covers 1981-2008.

  This is pretty much the Adrian Belew era.  Belew was not invited back for the new incarnation, so that’s a little awkward.

It begins with an alternate take of the instrumental “Discipline.”  After a 45 second drum intermission, there’s a track called “Manhattan (Neurotica)” which is an instrumental version of “Neurotica.”  I love that the opening guitar sounds like sirens and car horns.
A minute and a half of the middle of “Neal and Jack and Me” is followed by the Steven Wilson mix of “Sleepless (Bearsville)” with an incredibly 80’s sounding slap bass from Tony Levin.

Then there’s a recording session of “Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream.”  We hear lots of stops and starts, bass only, guitar parts and someone repeating “this is tough, tough shit.”
There’s a live version of “THRAK” followed by a minute of Fripp soloing around “Larks Tongue” called “Venturing Into Joy.”

This is followed by two tracks from Fripp’s side ProjeKcts,  “The Deception of the Thrush” is performed live by ProjeKct Four in 1998 with big thumping almost splatting-sounding drums.  Then there’s a trippy and ambient early version of “Heaven & Earth” by ProjeKct X.

After a scorching “Level Five” from 2008, there’s a minute long drum solo which would ultimately morph more fully into “The Hell-Hounds of Krim” and then two tracks from A Scarcity of Miracles.  “Separation” is an edited version of the bonus track (the disc label calls it something else).  And there’s an alternate take of “A Scarcity Of Miracles”–still long and a little too jazz-lite for me.

This is a really solid collection of all eras and styles of Crimson.  And it also showcases the various parts coming together.  A great production all along.

[READ: January 19, 2018] Monsters of the Ivy League

This book collects a series of Ivy League graduates and puts them in context with a they have a lot of support for all of their declarations.  Each entry gives a brief (biased) biography that highlights their flaws, outrages and downright unforgivable behavior.

So, rather than rewrite summaries of these assholes, I’ll present a grid with the shortcut (and some choice tidbits).  You can find the book and read the details for why our Ivy leagues have bred so many shitheads, including current miscreants:

Samuel Alito, Ben Carson, Ann Coulter, Ted Cruz, Laura Ingraham, Henry Kissinger, Dr. Oz, trump, and many more.

The introduction says that the term Ivy League refers to a bunch of football teams. (That’s why it says “league”).  The League was formed in 1954 to formalize the sporting relationship between eight teams: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Univ of Penn, Princeton and Yale.

Of course, no one goes to these schools for sports, they go to find the best future contacts for your budding careers.

But read this book and remember:

An ivy education doesn’t force you to become a hideous person, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent it, either.

What follows is a smart-shopper warning to those applying, a count-your-blessings consolation to those who have been rejected and a watch-your-back caution to those already attending.

(more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

I might be one of the few people in America to have never read anything by James Patterson.  Well, Clark really enjoyed this series (and his other books for young readers) so we decided to listen to this on a car ride. (Both kids had seen the film already, although I hadn’t).

I have to say that right off the bat I was turned off by the introduction of this book because there was this hard rocking guitar that they played through about 3 minutes of opening text.  And it was too loud!  It was really hard to hear the narrator.  I kind of tuned out because I feared that the whole book would feature this (it doesn’t).  And while I won’t say I was confused by what I missed, I did wonder if I’d missed some things that were revealed later (also, some of the main character’s motivation).

Rafe Khatchadorian is starting Hills Village Middle School.  It’s a new school (sixth grade).  Rafe seems to have a hard to succeeding in school in general.  There’s also a lot going on at home.  His mom has been dating a jerk named Bear.  Bear is unemployed, and living with them while Rafe’s mom is working two jobs and is hardly ever home.

The only person who seems to help Rafe cope with things is his friend Leo the Silent.  Leo doesn’t talk much, but he is an awesome artist.  And he also encourages Rafe to do things that maybe he shouldn’t.

When Rafe arrives at school, he is given a rule book with over 100 rules that he must follow.  Given the possibility of hanging out, being good and following the rules or having fun and enjoying school, he and Leo make a choice.  And they come up with “Operation R.A.F.E.” (which stands for Rules Aren’t For Everyone).  The operation is set up like a video game.  Rafe is going to try to break every rule in the handbook. Leo will award him points.  But he will also only have three “lives,” which he will lose if he gets caught or otherwise fails in his quest. (more…)

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815SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-DEAR (2017).

The plan was that after 25 years, Boris would retire.  They recorded songs for Dear, but then toured the anniversary of the album Pink.  This inspired them to write more songs, and somehow through all of that, Dear was created (with apparently enough music for two more albums).

Then they toured Dear (a tour I was lucky enough to see) and are still going.  Who knows if they are done.  Who knows if this is their final album.  Either way, this is a doozy.

10 songs and 70 minutes (on the U.S. release), Dear specialized in slow droney heavy songs.  The album opens with seven smacks of a drum before loud heavy chords signal the beginning of “D.O.W.N -Domination of Waiting Noise.”  The vocals are loud but just loud enough to add to the overall drone sound.  Things slow down further with “Deadsong” a deep bass drone with whispered, rather spooky/demonic vocals.

Despite the drones there are moments of catchiness (relative).  “Absoluego” is a faster, downtuned song with a big shouted chorus and “Beyond” is a quiet, moody song featuring Wata on vocals.  About 90 seconds into the song there is blast of metal guitars and drums that lasts for 30 seconds or so before fading out.  When it happens again, one of the guys starts singing too, a faster heavier, catchier melody.

“Kagero” opens with a low rumble.  Eventually a slow, heavy guitar comes in with near falsetto singing.  “Biotope” has a steady pulsing bass drum through the track.  The guitars are slower with an occasional plucked string that resonates. This song even has some ooohs in it.

“The Power” has my favorite Boris riff since “Tu la la.”  It’s got six notes all of which are strangely menacing and yet catchy at the same time. This was a great song to see live.  “Momentio Mori” is slow and menacing with cool echoed/chorused vocals–there’s an Alice in Chains vibe to the vocals.  With about a minute left, the song slows down and grows quiet almost as a lead in to the 12 minute “Dystopia -Vanishing Point.”  This song opens with two minutes of warbly accordion (I loved watching Wata play this part live) and some thundering drums.  It all fades away into some quiet ringing guitars and whispered vocals.  This continues for a few minutes as waves of guitars are added.  And then at 7 minutes the loud guitars and drums blast forth and Wata gets to do a screaming solo for the final 4 minutes.  She is still soloing as the song abruptly ends and switches to the final track.

“Dear” opens with those low downtuned guitars echoing.  I love that the guitars simply slide up to a very high note and hold it until sliding back down.  There’s a muffled chug on the low chords while the heavily echoed vocals ring out.  The song continues like this, a mountain of low rumble, for 9 minutes until it starts to consume itself–feedbacking and disintegrating until it sounds like all of the plugs are pulled.

There’s not a lot of diversity on this disc, which resembles some of their earlier music.  I’m very curious to see what they do next.

[READ: February 9, 2016] “The Republic of Bad Taste”

This story (it feels complete and not like an excerpt, although the title seems unlikely as a short story title) was 20 pages long in this issue of the New Yorker.  That’s one of the longest pieces I’ve seen in the magazine.

And it covers a lot of ground.

Like how does an at-risk-youth counselor agree to commit murder?

It begins by introducing us to Andreas Wolf in East Germany circa 1987.  He is a disaffected youth, an atheist with a super libido and he has found employment at the church on Siegfeldstrasse.  Andreas felt the whole regime was ridiculous.  In fact he felt that a lot of things were ridiculous.  The Republic was just so German that it couldn’t even go after misfits unless it was by the book.

His “job” at the church was as a youth counselor.  He was surprisingly good at it. In part because he really didn’t care and in part because he himself was almost at risk.  He wasn’t really at risk because his father had a good position with the government, but they had more or less disowned him (aside from agreeing to make sure he never got into real trouble).  Plus, he was pretty good-looking so many of the at risk girls found him attractive–with all that implies.

He took advantage of this.  He found that his monetary reward was so pitiful that a reward in beautiful girls made up for it.  At the same time, he did have some scruples.  He never had sex with anyone underage or anyone who had been sexually abused.  What a guy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AHI-Tiny Desk Concert #693 (January 16, 2018).

AHI is apparently, inexplicably pronounced “eye.”  He is an Ontario-based singer.  There’s nothing strikingly original about his sound, but his songs are pretty and thoughtful and his voice has a pleasing rough edge.

Bob says,

AHI’s gruff but sweet voice and openly honest words were my gateway to this young Ontario-based singer. AHI says he sings Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” at the end of every set with a sense of hope. It was powerfully moving, without a note that felt clichéd or overly nostalgic. At that moment, I knew he needed to play a Tiny Desk Concert.

With a tasteful band comprised of Frank Carter Rische on electric guitar, Robbie Crowell on bass guitar and Shawn Killaly (a man of a million faces) on drums, AHI put his heart into three songs in just about 11 minutes, all from his debut album We Made It Through The Wreckage, which came out a year ago this week.

“Alive Again” builds slowly, but by the time the chorus comes around and he adds some whoops, the song really moves. I’m quite intrigued at the constant soloing from guitarist Frank Carter Rische.  It’s virtually nonstop and really seems to propel the song along.  It’s a catchy and fun song the way each round seems to make the song bigger and bigger.

About “Closer (From a Distance)” he says, we all have relationships.  Some are good; some are bad and some are just awful.  You may care about someone with your whole heart only to realize that you care about that person more than they care about themselves.  No matter how strong you are your strengths may not be as strong as their weaknesses.  Sometimes the only way to save the relationship is to walk away–“maybe we’ll be closer from a distance.”   This is a really heartbreaking song.  The lyrics are clearly very personal and quite powerful.  And the soloing throughout the song is really quiet and beautiful.

“Ol’ Sweet Day” is bouncy and catchy with a propulsive acoustic guitar and lovely licks on the lead acoustic guitar.  The drums are fun on this song as Killaly plays the wall and uses his elbow to change the sound of the drum at the end of the song.

The burning question that is never addressed is way he is wearing a helmet –motorcycle? horse riding?  It stays on the whole time.  At one point he even seems to “tip” his hat.  How peculiar.

[READ: December 8, 2017] Glorious and or Free

The Beaverton is a satirical news source based in Canada.  It began as a website in 2010 and then added a TV Show in 2016 (now in its second season).  To celebrate 2017, the creators made this book.

They have divided the history of Canada into 13 sections.  As with many satirical history books, you can learn a lot about a country or a time from the kinds of jokes made.  Obviously the joke of each article is fake, but they are all based in something.  Historical figures are accurate and their stereotypes and broadsides certainly give a picture of the person.

Some of the humor is dependent upon knowing at least a little about the topic, but some of the other articles are just broadly funny whether you know anything about it or not.

When we made this book our goal was to transport readers back to grade school to remember what they were taught n Canadian history class.  And so what if your teacher was hungover most of the time?

~30,000 Years of History in About Four Page (3,200,000,000 BCE – 1496)

“What the hell is that?”  –God after forgetting he made beavers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VOIRVOIR-The Free-P (2016).

I got this Free Ep at a VoirVoir (not Voir Voir) show in Bethlehem.  This EP contains four songs.

Two of them are new and two are re-recordings of songs from their debut album.

“Quit It All” is a bit poppier than their debut album.  The 90s synth is a nice touch to this song which, make no mistake, still rocks.   The middle noise section (skronking guitar solo and great drums) is a highlight as are the catchy verses.  The band even submitted a video for the Tiny Desk Contest (I had no idea).

“Sides” is perhaps one of the best catchy alt rock songs I’ve heard in years and I am bummed that they didn’t get recognized for it.  It’s got a great 90s alt-rock sound and wonderful harmonies in the backing vocals.  There’s a video for this song as well.  You can also stream the song on bandcamp.

The other two songs, “Stupid for Now” and “There are No Good Goodbyes” were recorded at WDIY (Lehigh Valley’s Community NPR Station) in a stripped down format.  You can stream the songs here.  It’s interesting to hear them without the fuzz and drums.  The songs are solid and work very well although I do like the originals better.  The show also includes an interview with the three members who play the stripped down show.  The DJ asks their influences and while main singer guitarist Matt Molchany demurs,  April Smith says Built to Spill) and Josh Maskornick says Primus and Superchunk.

And if you can’t get enough (since they haven’t released that much) here’s a live show from Shards.

[READ: January 10, 2016 & January 10, 2018] Goldfish Memory

For some reason, I read this book back in 2016 and then didn’t post about it–I felt like I needed to read it again, and so I waited almost exactly two years and re-read it and enjoyed it even more this second time.  Almost like actual goldfish memory.

The back of this book made the stories sound really compelling:  “what does it mean to have a connection with someone? This is the question these brilliant short stories try to answer.”  The note said that this was the first translation of Monique Schwitter’s form-breaking work.  The translation was by Eluned Gramich.

I’m not sure how form-breaking these stories are, but they are certainly interesting.  They remind me in some ways of Julie Hecht–a narrator who is connected to people but very distantly.  But while Hecht’s narrators are critical and dismissive of everyone, Schwitter’s narrators just seem to be incapable of connecting properly.  You can feel the longing in the distance between them.  I also like how these missed connections cover all kinds of relationships–familial, sexual, friendship, professional, even passing acquaintances.

Few of the characters seem to be able to tell anyone else how they really feel–even when they are dying.  There is sadness at loss, but a kind of c’est la vie about it as well.  And all along, Schwitter’s writing is consistently excellent and the stories are really enjoyable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CIGARETTES AFTER SEX-Tiny Desk Concert #684 (December 13, 2017).

I only know of Cigarettes After Sex from when NPR played a song of theirs and Bob asked us to guess whether the singer was a man or a woman.

Greg Gonzalez has one of those wonderful voices that is deep and husky and sounds feminine (although his speaking voice is very deep).

This Tiny Desk Concert is very quiet (like The XX).  It is just Gonzalez on heavily echoed guitar and vocals and his unmoving, emotion-free longtime bandmate Phillip Tubbs on spare keyboards.

Although there’s not a lot to these songs, the melodies are truly terrific.

The three songs sound very similar–unmistakably them.

“K.,” the opening track to this Tiny Desk Concert – and the opening cut to the band’s eight year-long awaited debut album – is especially memorable. The lyrics are simple and easy to remember: “Kristen, come right back/I’ve been waiting for you to slip back in bed/When you light the candle.”

Amazingly, for almost half of each song, there are no keyboards, just the guitar.  So that extra, gentle wash of music sounds huge.  “Apocalypse” has the lovely swooning chorus of “you’ve been locked in here forever and you just can’t say goodbye” and “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” follows that same pretty structure (although it’s my least favorite of the three).  With the minimalism:

each note and each word seems to count for more  …  and the office environment of the Tiny Desk Concert [may work better] than in a club, where just the chatter of a crowd can drown out this gentle music.

[READ: November 1, 2017] The Hunting Accident

I loved this book. Everything about it was utterly fantastic.  The story, the way it was told, and the amazing drawings of Landis Blair

The book opens on a snowy day in Chicago in 1959.  A boy whose mother has just died has moved from sunny California to miserable Chicago to live with his blind father, Matt.   The boy had lived with his mother since he was four (his mother’s mother thought that his father was a trouble and that they needed to get away from him).  So he barely knew his father.  And now it was time to find out everything about the man.  Like, first off, how he became blind.

The father told the boy all about the hunting accident.  He and his friends were screwing around, playing by the train tracks.  They were having fun scaring each other.  All the kids were afraid of real life bogeymen Leopold & Loeb local murderers.  The boys even believed they found the pipe in which Leopold & Loeb stuffed their victim.

There’s even little reminder of the crime:

In 1924, two wealthy educated men kidnapped and brutally murdered Bobby Franks, a 14-year-old neighbor…just for the thrill of it… to see if they could commit “the perfect crime.”

Anyhow, the boys had a shotgun and heard a deer.  When one of those boys shot at the deer he missed and his Charlie’s father right in the face.

Soon Charlie must learn what it is like to live with a blind man–how everything must be in the exact same place.

Charlie’s father writes all the time (on a braille machine).  He writes about morality and poetry.  He quotes Dante.  And soon, Charlie’s dad was having Charlie help with the writing–by proofing and checking things (Charlie learned a lot at the same time).

Charlie’s grandmother also said that Chicago was dangerous, but not for Charlie.  He got along fine. He even made friends with Steve Garza–the coolest kid in the neighborhood.    Garza was so cool he bummed cigarettes off of Charlie (from his dad–even though Matt, counted them and got mad about it).

Charlie also began getting involved in extracurricular activities–he loved tap dancing and tried the cello–two things his father appreciated. But soon Steve and his buddy started pressuring Charlie.  He “left” his tap shoes at the park, he stopped playing cello and he got involved in some ugly things.

Garza wanted to join the JPs–a local mob related gang.  But he was too young so he started the Junior JPs and soon enough that involved theft.  And since they were dumb, they were easily caught.

And that’s when the truth comes out.

I was already hooked into the story and then I was blown away.  Charlie’s dad did not lose his sight in a hunting accident.  Charlie is furious that his dad lied to him.

Garza convinces Charlie to head for Canada to avoid the cops.  (The third guy has already gotten there and is at a free-love commune or something).  Charlie is prepared to drive them both (he’s the one with the car after all).  And then his dad tells him the whole truth, which gets Charlie to pause.

The rest of the book cover’s Matt’s story.

He was poor in 193os Chicago and got mixed up with the wrong crowd.  His did go blind from a gun shot, but it was a very different setting–and it led to prison.

On the day he got to prison, the same prison that Leopold and Loeb were in, Richard Loeb was killed in the shower.  This left Leopold alone.

Charlie asks if he met Leopold.   And Charlie’s dad says that Nathan Leopold is the reason for his divorce.  What?

Turns out hat not only did Charlie’s dad know Nathan Leopold. He was Leopold’s cell mate.  Since Loeb was killed there was concern that Leopold might be next.  And since Matt was blind, they were put together under watch.

After Matt was out of prison, Leopold sent him a letter (in braille) which the grandmother intercepted.  Matt had never told anyone he was in jail, and that made Matt a Liar.

Matt was miserable in jail.  He couldn’t see, his father was disappointed in him and he had nothing to live for.  He just wanted to die, but that was pretty hard to do under constant supervision. We see daily life for a blind man in jail–food stolen all the time and knocking his cellmate’s things over.

Leopold was angry and bitter and wanted nothing to do with a blind man.  But soon, Leopold began talking to Matt about the life of the mind–something he realized that Matt lived all the time.  Because he couldn’t see everything was in his mind. Leopold used to hold educational lessons in the library at the jail.  He also showed Matt how to make a Glim Box (a way to use a spinning coin to light a fire to light cigarettes).

Matt tells Leopold that he has no family.  Meanwhile, Leopold’s dad visits every two weeks (the visits are awkward and uncomfortable but are a way for Leopold to get things from the outside).

Soon, Leopold is trying to convince Matt to learn Braille.  Why?  well, this gave opportunity for Leopold to learn it to and thereafter he could read after lights out.  (Leopold was a master of many languages and picked up braille easily).

And that’s when Leopold persuaded Matt to read Dante’s Inferno.

The story of Matt’s imprisonment jumps back to the present where Charlie is still annoyed with his father, but is really interested in the story. Especially when he leans that his father almost committed suicide there.

I loved the philosophical ideas in the story–they way the book interprets both Plato and Dante for the everyman .  I loved that Matt’s story runs throughout the book and I loved the whole idea of a blind man helping one of the most notorious criminals of he 20th century.

This story is thought-provoking and exciting at the same time.

The only thing that I feel was left out–did Charlie wind up going to jail or not?  It’s never addressed.

The end of the story and that final two-page spread are just breathtaking.

I also love that David L. Carlson more or less found out about this amazing true story by accident.

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