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[LISTENED TO: March 2017] The Organist

organistAfter really enjoying The Organist in 2015, the season ended and I hadn’t heard that there were going to be anymore.  So I stopped looking for them.  And then the other day I got an email reminding me about recent episodes.  Well, sure enough there had been an entire season last year and they were already part way through this year’s season.

So I’m playing some catch up here.  But they are timeless, so it’s okay.

Each cast has a section in brackets–this text comes from the Organist’s own site.  The rest is my own commentary.

The Organist is a free podcast from KCRW & McSweeney’s.  As of this writing, they are up to episode 82. (more…)

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manner SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk Concert #251 (November 19, 2012).

benBen Gibbard is the voice of Death Cab for Cutie.  His voice is instantly recognizable and his melodies are surprisingly catchy.

This Tiny Desk Concert (they say it’s number 250, but I count 251) is just him and his acoustic guitar.  I didn’t know he did solo work, but apparently he does (in addition to being in The Postal Service and All-Time Quarterback).

Gibbard just released a solo album, Former Lives, which he’s said is a repository for material that didn’t work as Death Cab for Cutie songs; from that record, only “Teardrop Windows” pops up in his Tiny Desk Concert. For the rest, he draws from Death Cab’s most recent album (“St. Peter’s Cathedral,” from Codes and Keys) and, of all places, last year’s Arthur soundtrack (“When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street”).

As mentioned he plays three songs and his voice is so warm and familiar I felt like I knew these songs even if I didn’t.

I knew “St. Peter’s Cathedral.” It is a lovely song with very little in the way of chord changes.  But the melody is gentle and pretty.  And the song appears to be entirely about this church.  Which is interesting because the second song is also about a building in Seattle.  “Teardrop Windows” is a surprisingly sad song about an inanimate object.  It’s written from the building’s point of view as he mourns that no one uses him anymore.  And such beautiful lyrics too:

Once built in boast as the tallest on the coast he was once the city’s only toast / In old postcards was positioned as the star, he was looked up to with fond regard / But in 1962 the Needle made its big debut and everybody forgot what it outgrew

The final song “When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street” was indeed for the Russel Brand movie Arthur.  Somehow I can’t picture those two together.  It’s a lovely song, too.

I prefer Gibbard’s more upbeat and fleshed out music, but it’s great to hear him stripped down as well.

[READ: January 2017] “My Writing Education: A Time Line,” “The Bravery of E.L. Doctorow,” “Remembering Updike,” and “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” 

I had been planning to have my entire month of February dedicated to children’s books.  I have a whole bunch that I read last year and never had an opportunity to post them.  So I thought why not make February all about children’s books.  But there is just too much bullshit going on in our country right now–so much hatred and ugliness–that I felt like I had to get this post full of good vibes out there before I fall completely into bad feelings myself. It;s important to show that adults can be kind and loving, despite what our leaders demonstrate.  Fortunately most children’s books are all about that too, so the them holds for February.

George Saunders is a wonderful writer, but he is also a very kind human being.  Despite his oftentimes funny, sarcastic humor, he is a great humanitarian and is always very generous with praise where it is warranted.

The other day I mentioned an interview with Saunders at the New York Times.  Amid a lot of talk with and about Saunders, there is this gem:

Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”

These first three pieces are all examples of his love and respect for other writers–both for their skill and for their generosity.

“My Writing Education: A Time Line”

“My Writing Education” comes from a book called A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors.  Saunders’ mentor was Tobias Wolff.  And for this essay, his admiration takes the form of a diary.  (more…)

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lizzie SOUNDTRACK: BLACK DUB-Tiny Desk Concert #89 (November 8, 2010).

black dubBlack Dub is the collaboration between Daniel Lanois and Trixie Whitley (daughter of Chris Whitley).

I think I might have been more excited about this if I hadn’t seen Daniel Lanois’ other performance on Tiny Desk, where he came across as kinda jerky.  I also had not heard of Whitley (who was 23 at the time).

Whitley has a huge voice (especially given how tiny she is).  It’s big and brash and bluesy in a Janis Joplin sorta way.  And she’s really passionate about what she’s singing–look at her face, for crying out loud).  But it’s actually too bluesy for my liking.  And it almost seems over the top given Lanois’ simple acoustic guitar strumming.

They play four songs, “Surely” which pushes five minutes; “Silverado” which has a nice duet between Whitley and Lanois to start (and then I feel like she adds too much during her section); “I Believe in You.”  For the final song, Whitley straps on an electric guitar and plays a rocking riff (I enjoyed the accidental feedback that Lanois created).  Her voice works a little better with the extra volume of the guitar.  Although the song builds and buildups and never really goes anywhere.

I just never got into this Concert.

[READ: July 1, 2015] That Should Be a Word

I heard a big hyped review of this book, so I was really excited when Sarah brought it home.  But I wound up being a little disappointed by it.

I imagine that since these items come from her newspaper column, it might be more fun to read a few at a time rather than all at once.  Because while I enjoyed the premise, I got tired of the punny schtick after a few sections.  And that’s a shame.

The one major gripe I have is that nowhere in the book does it ever acknowledge the pioneering work of Rich Hall and Sniglets, the guy who really spawned the idea of creating words for every day things.  Skurnick does things differently of course, but I feel like at least a nod to the man would have been nice (especially since she is–admirably–so into the whole retro thing).

The premise behind this book (and the column is that Skurnick (and readers, I gather) create words for things that don’t exist.  But the real premise is that the newly created words are sort of punny based on two other words (which Sniglets didn’t do). (more…)

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CV1_TNY_10_14_13McCall.inddSOUNDTRACK: GRIPE-In His Image (2014).

gripeinhisimageWith the new year, I was excited to see what albums NPR would be streaming.  Imagine my surprise when the prominent album was by a grindcore band called Gripe.  I’d never heard of Gripe before.  But Lars, the guy who posted the album, said that they’ve released two albums and two singles (most of which you can download for free at Grindcore Karaoke).

I downloaded their album Pig Servant and their split single with Chulo (all 15 songs fit in under 13 minutes).  And now I’m giving this one a listen.

So grindcore is a fair name for the sound of the music–take hardcore but make it sound like it is grinding against something.  On Pig Servant, the longest song was 1:47, and that included a lengthy sample.  I have to assume it took longer to draw the elaborate cover than to record the album.  It sounds fast and noisy and chaotic and like it was recorded on a boombox.  I was surprised that there was a liner note with the download because I didn’t believe that the noise he was making was actually lyrics, but if you follow along you can kind of tell that he’s screaming actual words.

In his Image is a more sophisticated sound.  The drums don’t sound like tin plates, there’s an actual bass sound and one of the songs is over 3 minutes long.  You still can’t understand any words. But song titles like “7 Billion Reasons Not to Reproduce,” “Assisted Genocide” “Stuff Your Wretched Face” and “Nothing Left But Hate” give you some idea of what you’re in for.  I was surprised by how articulate the words from  Pig Servant were–not poetry mind you, but articulate at least.  There’s no lyrics sheet for this so I have no idea what to make of the words here.

This album is 23 minutes, which is a bit long for grindcore (and may be longer than all of their existent recorded output).  I just like the idea that you can listen to this on NPR.  If you dare, check it out.

By the way, this recording has literally nothing t do with this story.  Nothing.

[READ: January 8, 2014] “Katania”

Wow, I really liked this story a lot. It is fairly simple and the end may be a bit obvious and/or gimmicky, but Vapnyar earned it.

It opens with the narrator, Katya,  reflecting back to when she was a little girl living in Russia.  She did not have a lot but compared to some, her family was comfortable (they had a three room apartment).  But the thing that held her interest and love was her doll family.  They lived in a shoebox.  It was painted to look like a house.  It also had furniture and even some animals–a cow, a pig and a very large chicken.

As for the doll people there were only girls.  One became a mother, one became the daughter (or herself) and a hedgehog head on a human body was the grandma.  But there was no father.

Katya suggests that this was not uncommon for the time and location–there seemed to be no fathers around.  Her own father had died, but many other fathers had simply run off.  Like the neighbor’s father who shouted “I’m sick of all of you” and then left.

Then her uncle brought her a father doll.  He was perfect–he fit in with the family and had a beautiful smile.  He did have a disjointed leg, but the narrator didn’t mind.  Until Tania made fun of it. (more…)

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bothfleshSOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-Von brigði [Recycle Bin] (1998).

recycleAfter releasing their first album, Sigur Rós was approached by Icelandic musicians to remix the album. And thus came Recycle Bin.  I realized too late that I really just don’t like remix albums all that much–they’re mostly just faster drums plopped on top of existing songs.  And such is the case here.  Despite the interesting musical pedigrees of the remixers, there’s nothing anywhere near as interesting as on Von itself.  There are ten tracks, but only 5 songs.

”Syndir Guðs” gets two remixes:

Biogen keeps the bass but adds some more drumlike sounds.

Múm removes the bass, adds some wild drums and trippy textures and reduces the 7 minutes to 5.  It is quite pretty but very far from the original.

“Leit að lífi” gets three remixes

Plasmic takes a spacey 3 minute wordless noodle and turns it into a heavy fast dance song with speedy drums, big bass notes and with spacey sounds.

Thor brings in some fast skittery drums and keeps the spacey sounds (which sound sped up).  And of course bigger bass noises.

Sigur Rós recycle their own song into a dance song by adding funky bass and drums.

“Myrkur” gets two remixes.  the original is a fast-paced groovy track.

Ilo begins it as a spacey non-musical sounding piece.  After two minutes they add a beat of very mechanical-sounding drums.  It’s probably the most interesting remix here.

Dirty-Bix adds big, slow drums.  It keeps the same melody and vocals as the original but totally changes the rhythm and texture of the song, (removing the guitar completely).

The remaining three songs get one remix each.

The original “18 Sekúndur Fyrir Sólarupprás” is 18 seconds of silence.  Curver turns it into “180 Sekúndur Fyrir Sólarupprás” and makes a muffled drum beat and some other samples from the album, I think.  It constantly sounds like it is glitching apart until the end where it practically disintegrates–an interesting remix of silence.

“Hún Jörð” 7 min Hassbræður increases the drums and adds a more buzzsaw guitar sound and makes the vocals stand out a bit more.

“Von” has delicate strings and Jónsi voice.  The remix by Gusgus adds low end bass and drums making it a thumping rather than soaring track.

I prefer the original, but I much prefer their next album to the first one.

[READ: end of October to early November 2013]  original articles that comprise Both Flesh and Not

As I mentioned last week, I decided to compare the articles in Both Flesh and Not with the original publications to see what the differences were.  I had done this before with A Supposedly Fun Thing… and that was interesting and enlightening (about the editing process).

This time around the book has a lot more information than the original articles did.  Although as I come to understand it, the original DFW submitted article is likely what is being printed in the book with all of the editing done by the magazine (presumably with DFW’s approval).  So basically, if you had read the original articles and figured you didn’t need the book, this is what you’re missing.

Quite a lot of the changes are word choice changes (this seems to belie the idea that DFW approved the changes as they are often one word changes).  Most of the changes are dropped footnotes (at least in one article) or whole sections chopped out (in others).

For the most part the changes were that the book version added things that were left out or more likely removed from the article.  If the addition in the book is more than a sentence, I only include the first few words as I assume most readers have the book and can find it for themselves.  The way to read the construct below is that most of the time the first quote is from the original article.  The second quote is how it appears in Both Flesh and Not.  At the end of each bullet, I have put in parentheses the page in BFAN where you’ll find it.  I don’t include the page number of the article.  And when I specifically mention a footnote (FN 1, for example), I am referring to the book as many times the articles drop footnotes and they are not always in sync.

Note: I tried most of the time to put quotes around the text, but man is that labor intensive, so if I forgot, it’s not meant to be anything significant. (more…)

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febSOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS FIVE-The Sound of the Life of the Mind (2013).

bffThe first Ben Folds Five album in over a decade opens with a big noisy sound and then quickly shows the diversity of the band by pulling back and showing a mellow verse with Ben’s piano and occasional bass.  But then the chorus comes in and Robert Sledge’s bass is once again masterful.  While Ben is clearly the leader of the band, there is something about the BFF’s bass that is so notable.  And this album rocks in BFF’s unique way–rollicking piano, and noisy buzzy bass.

“Michael Praytor, Five Years Later” has some great harmonies (the kind that BFF do so well).  “Sky High” is the kind of social commentary ballad that Ben excels at. And the title track is a fast moving rocker that has more great harmonies.

“On Being Frank” is a Sinatra inspired song with strings.  While “Draw a Crowd” continues Ben’s humorous vulgarity in a very unexpected way: “if you’re feeling small, and you can’t draw a crowd…draw dicks on a wall.”  “Do It Anyway” the single, which inexplicably wasn’t huge, gets more and more fun with each listen–to scream along with “OKAY!” is very cathartic.

“Hold That Thought” is one of those mellow but speedy numbers that I love from Ben.  And when then bass plays that high solo bit near the end (oh that bass), the song kicks into new levels of excellence.  “Away When You were Down” is another string-filled mellow song.  The final track “Thank You for Breaking My Heart” reminds me of “Boxing”, a mellow piano ballad which is, obviously, heartbreaking.

This is a great return to form.  There’s some heavy rockers and some pretty ballads. It’s nice to hear the Five back together again.

[READ: October 5, 2013] 3 book reviews

This month Bissell reviewed three books.

The first book is a biography of Flavius Jospehus called A Jew Among Romans jar by Frederic Raphael (who also wrote the screen play for Eyes Wide Shut).  I had never heard of Flavius Jospehus but evidently without him we would have no historical accounts of time from around the beginning of the Common Era.  His writings are pretty much the only works that have survived.

And his story itself is interesting too. In 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. This attack has had more impact on current life than can be explained.  Judaism lost the Second temple, Jewish Christianity soon disappeared beneath the waves of Gentile Christianity, even Islam was shaped by this because a Mosque now stands where the Second Temple was.  And nearly all modern forms of anti-Semitism can be traced back to this attack in some way.  Flavius Jospehus chronicled this time as a Jew in a reasonably impartial way (which led many to call him a traitor).  His books Jewish Antiquities and The Jewish War are the sources for almost all of our knowledge of that era, including about Pontius Pilate. (more…)

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PalmSundayFrontandBackSOUNDTRACK: THE STATLER BROTHERS-“Class of ’57” (1972).

stalerI don’t know much about The Statler Brothers.  They are considered country, although this song is hardly country–it’s more folk with some bluegrass and, the real selling point–great harmonies (especially the bass singer with the big mustache).

The song is a wonderful coming of age song, sad and funny with a list of what happened to everyone in the class of ’57.  Like:

Betty runs a trailer park, Jan sells Tupperware,
Randy’s on an insane ward, Mary’s on welfare.
Charlie took a job with Ford, Joe took Freddie’s wife,
Charlotte took a millionaire, and Freddie took his life.

John is big in cattle, Ray is deep in debt,
Where Mavis finally wound up is anybody’s bet.

But the kicker comes at the chorus:

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
Oh, we all thought we’d change the world with our great words and deeds.
Or maybe we just thought the world would change to fit our needs,
The class of ’57 had its dreams.

And then at the end:

And the class of ’57 had its dreams,
But living life from day to day is never like it seems.
Things get complicated when you get past eighteen,
But the class of ’57 had its dreams.

Vonnegut quotes the entirety of this song in the book and I’m glad he did, it’s a very moving song and really captures American life.

[READ: May 26, 2013] Palm Sunday

After writing several successful novels, Vonnegut paused to collect his thoughts.  And Palm Sunday begins: “This is a very great book by an American genius.”  It is also a “marvelous new literary form which combines the tidal power of a major novel with the bone-rattling immediacy of front-line journalism.”  After all the self praise, he decides that this collage–a collection of essays and speeches as well as a short story and a play which is all tied together with new pieces (in TV they would call this a clip show)–this new idea of a book should have a new name and he chooses: blivit (during his adolescence, this word was defined as “two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag.”  He proposes that all books combining facts and fiction be called blivits (which would even lead to a new category on the best seller list).  Until then, this great book should go on both lists.

This book is a collection of all manner of speeches and essays, but they are not arranged chronologically.  rather they are given a kind of narrative context.  What’s nice is that the table of contents lists what each of the items in the book is (or more specifically, what each small piece is when gathered under a certain topic).

Chapter 1 is The First Amendment in which he talks about Slaughterhouse Five being burned and how outraged he was by that–especially since the people so anxious to burn it hadn’t even read it (and the only “bad” thing is the word motherfucker).  The first speeches included are “Dear Mr. McCarthy” to the head of the school board where his books were burned and “Un-American Nonsense” an essay for the New York Times about his book being banned in New York State.  The next two are “God’s Law” for an A.C.L.U. fund raiser–it includes his confusion as to why people don’t support the A.C.L.U. which is working for all of our own civil liberties. (more…)

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