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Archive for the ‘Political Humor’ Category

Terry Jones [1942-2020]

Terry Jones died last night at age 77 because of complications from a rare form of dementia.

I was a huge Monty Python fan back in the day.  I’ve seen all the episodes (even the German ones) and the movies.  I have the records and the books and just about everything they’ve done.  They influenced me terrifically.

Terry Jones was a founder of Monty Python and while I tended to not think of him as my favorite on screen person, thinking about all of the amazing characters he played over the years, I think I’ve unfairly put him too low.  Especially as I think of some of the most quotable lines and how he either said them or was in the skit that spawned it (wafer-thin, anyone?).  Not to mention he did some of the best women’s voices in the series.

Most of the Pythons have been slowing down as of late, which is to be expected.  I was supposed to see John Cleese live recently but my plans fell through. Terry Gilliam is making some unfortunate comments in the media lately.  Eric Idle seems to always be about.  Michael Palin has been doing fantastic work travelling and writing no-fiction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHARLY BLISS-Tiny Desk Concert #899 (October 9, 2019).

I wanted to wait until I saw Charly Bliss live before I watched this Tiny Desk Concert–even if the promo picture was certainly intriguing.

Lead singer Eva Hendricks was so much fun live, so full of joy and energy, that I’m glad I wasn’t expecting anything when I saw them.

In this Tiny Desk Concert, she is no less subdued, and her outfit–a pink tulle flouncy dress–is as vibrant as she is.  There’s even a whole bunch of gold balloons!

Charly Bliss arrived at the Tiny Desk with roughly 20 gold balloons, a burst of energy and some glitter to match. The vibrancy, especially from singer Eva Hendricks, can feel childlike and candy-coated. On the other hand, the subject of these songs is more about the pain of entering adulthood and leaving some of that sweetness behind.

Actually she is somewhat subdued because these songs have been changed for the Tiny Desk.  There’s even a small string section! (Rogue Collective: Kaitlin Moreno: violin; Alexa Cantalupo: violin; Natalie Spehar: cello).

They start with “Capacity” (which they started with when I saw them).

This song started with a drum machine because drummer Sam Hendricks was playing keys.  But what’s surprising (and was surprising when I saw them is that the lead “synth” line of the song is actually played by guitarist Spencer Fox.  Bassist Dan Shure is also playing keys on this song.

One of the most wonderful things about this song is how you can hear Eva Hendricks smile as she sings this song.  Even if, as the blurb says

 The three songs performed at the Tiny Desk, all from the band’s second album, Young Enough, are dark songs laced with the hope of bettering oneself.

After about two minutes, Dan switches to bass as the strings kick in and the song really takes off.  Eva even does some pogoing (she never stopped bouncing when I saw them, although she seems to be restraining herself somewhat here).

Up next is “Young Enough,” which is the name of their second album.

While introducing the title track, Eva Hendricks tells the NPR crowd, “It’s been really incredible rearranging these songs for this [Tiny Desk Concert] because it makes you remember how you were feeling when you wrote it all. And this song is kind of about when you finally realize that you made it out to the other side of something really painful.”

One thing that was really great when I saw them (and here) is when all the band members sing along.  Presumably that’s because

Eva Hendricks and her brother Sam Hendricks write the songs along with the other band members.

“Young Enough” starts quietly with just the keys (from Sam) before the gentle guitars chords strum in.  For the first few verses, it’s the bass that is prominent as Eva sings.  She is very into these songs–you can feel the emotion on her face (even with the eye shadow and glitter) as she sings.  Midway through, she adds acoustic guitar and the strings fill in more.

Sam switches to drums for the final song, “Chatroom.”  Eva introduces it with, “one of the most important things you have to do to grow is to cut some toxic people out of your life.”

When I saw them live, this song was a rocking fun fest.  It’s certainly more subdued here (no pogoing or wailing solos) , but you can feel the infectious nature of the songs in the way everyone gets into it (including Rogue Collective).  And the string crescendo at the end is a nice touch.

This is a band that is fantastic live–in any setting.

[READ: November 15, 2019] “On the First-World Campaign Trail”

I’m not sure how often Larry David writes for the New Yorker.  I feel like this is the first piece, but I’m probably wrong about that.

This piece is political–sort-of-and is timeless in the sense that it could apply to any campaign of the last thirty years.

This piece isn’t crazy funny, but it is much funnier if you read it in Larry David’s voice.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROSANNE CASH-Tiny Desk Concert #893 (September 23, 2019)

I don’t know all that much about Rosanne Cash (I couldn’t recall how she was related to Johnny).  I also assumed that she would be a country artist.  Yet this set is anything but country.  But I guess the key to that is that her voice isn’t country at all, it’s just good.

This blurb also blows my mind a bit about how quickly (or not) they post concerts.  This show was posted in September but was recorded in January–she had to wait quite a while to see it.

Rosanne Cash and her band arrived at NPR to play the Tiny Desk on a freezing cold, bright sunny day in January — one of those brittle, crystal clear winter days when the snow reflects the sun and there’s nowhere to hide from the light. Her intense performance had that same balance of heat and ice.

Cash plays four songs

most taken from her 2018 album She Remembers Everything, have a lot of emotional heat, but they’re shaped and sculpted by the wry wisdom of age and experience. More than at any time in her career, her spirit and approach to performance these days reflects the influence of her father, the legendary country singer Johnny Cash.

“She Remembers Everything” opens with John Leventhal on with Rosanne on acoustic guitar.  Like most of these songs, it feels slow and powerful–kind of bluesy with a dramatic chord progression.  Mid song, Leventhal switches to guitar and plays a great little solo.

When the song is over she praises everyone: “So attentive.  Like a listening room at the NPR offices.”

Up next is “The Only Thing Worth Fighting” which she co-wrote with T Bone Burnett and Lyra Lynn  This song is not so much country as western-sounding.  There’s more nice guitar work from Leventhal.

Zev Katz on bass and Dan Rieser on drums don’t do anything to single them out except for keeping the songs moving properly.  The bass does do some nice lines, but mostly, these are simple songs which need little accompaniment.

For “Everyone But Me” she takes off the guitar.  This is a lovely piano ballad after which she says, “I don’t know if the young people can relate to this song but it means more as you get older.”

The last song is from her album The River and the Thread.  She says the album won a Grammy and the last time she won a Grammy, Ronald Reagan was president.  From this she plays the cool bluesy “A Feather’s Not A Bird.”

This isn’t the kind of music I enjoyed, but I liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot more than I thought I would based on what I thought I knew about Rosanne Cash.

[READ: August 26, 2019] The Adventures of Barry & Joe

After the election that has sent the country spiraling into a level of hell, Adam Reid wanted to do something to make decent-thinking people laugh.

When I saw first saw this, I assumed that Adam Reid was Adam Reed, the creator of Archer and other delightfully dark cartoons.  It took a while for me to realize that he isAdam Reid who is responsible for The Tiny Chef Show.

Aside from that, I don’t really have any familiarity with him.  So that’s kind of interesting, I suppose. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Polygondwannaland (2017).

KGATLW continued to amaze in 2017 with their fourth record of the year.  This record was given away for free in November–it was released under an open source licence—meaning the band did not sell copies of the album, but uploaded the master tapes online, encouraging fans to make their own copies and bootlegs of the album. They wrote:

Make tapes, make CD’s, make records.  Ever wanted to start your own record label? GO for it! Employ your mates, press wax, pack boxes. We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.  P.S. If u wanna make cassettes I don’t really know what you would do.  Be creative. We did it once but it sounded really shit.

As of 2019, Louder tells us

They put the master tapes and artwork online, and indie labels all over the world filled their boots. According to Discogs there are currently 246 different versions of the album, coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There’s the label who released a triple vinyl 8″ lathe-cut edition of 101 copies. Australian label Rhubarb Recordings released an edition of 500 housed in a reflective silver foil laminated gatefold sleeve with psychedelic UV printing. Pocket Cat Records released a run of 20 with the grooves cut into blank laserdiscs. Aural Pleasure Records used a Kickstarter campaign to fund their edition of five “Glitter Lizard” LPs, with transparent blue and yellow vinyl featuring embedded glitter and “lizards.” It all got a bit crazy out there.

Conventional wisdom would say that obviously if they’re giving it away, it must not be very good.  But that’s the surprise (or not, given the quality out put of these guys)–this album is just as good as their others, and in many places better.  They really seem to have unified their sound for the bulk of this album, incorporating so many aspects of previous albums, but successfully merging them into a coherent whole.  There’s an epic song, a whole bunch of songs that segue into other songs, songs that refer to other songs, loud vocals, quiet vocals, flutes, harmonica, and it’s all wrapped up in an early Pink Floyd-era synth sound. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD with MILD HIGH CLUB-Sketches of Brunswick East (2017).

It was August of 2017 and KGATLW had already released two albums–one that explored microtonal music and a another that was a heavy metal concept album that wound up destroying the universe.  Where do you go from there?

KGATLW decided to join forces with Mild High Club and the results are forty minutes of … rather delicate retro jazzy psychedelia.  The instruments on this album (in addition to the standard bass, guitar, keys and drums), include: mellotron, flute, electric piano, glass marimbas, microtonal organ, omnichord, bongos, güiro, maracas, and of course harmonica.

I didn’t know Mild High Club, which it turns out is basically one guy, Alex Brettin.  Andtheir music is according to All Music, “pleasantly woozy and laid-back, but shows a subtle attention to detail without being excessive or indulgent.”

So that explains the overall sound of the album which is certainly woozy and laid-back.  But there are so many elements of Gizz-ness that it’s obvious how much the two fed off each other.

Like the previous album, there is a song with parts, (Sketches of Brunswick East I, II, III) that recurs throughout the album.  The album opens an interesting pattern of a 1 minute song followed by a 3 minute song followed by a 1 minute song etc.  That first song is “Sketches of Brunswick East I.”  It has a great bass line (the album is chock full of interesting, compelling bass lines).  There’s an awesome flute melody that floats throughout the song as well as acoustic piano from Brettin  and light drums from Michael Cavanagh.

“Countdown” follows.  It’s a gentle, breezy number with Mackenzie’s falsetto vocals floating over the top of jazzy music.  “D-Day” introduces some of their microtonal riffs into this gentler version of the band. Brettin, Mackenzie, and multi-instrumentalist Joey Walker all play microtonal instruments on a theme that sounds like jazz, Middle Eastern folk and rock.  The microtonal riffs do add a but of a harsher edge to the songs.

“Tezeta” is the chanted refrain of the next song that is a crazily retro easy listening exploration with vibes and spoken words and a fantastic bridge that repeats throughout the song.  The spoken word goes

Come here, girl
Who are you?
I am true perspective
Followed by the chorus
Tezeta, tezeta
Tezeta, tezeta
Nostalgia, nostalgia
Tezeta, tezeta
and then :
Come here, boy
Are you God?
I am that which I am
After a middle section that’s kind of a slow jam with great bass lines and interesting guitar melodies, the song re-emerges at a faster tempo!

“Cranes, Planes and Migraines” is another one minute song with a nifty bass line and intricate.  The melody segues into the easy listening jazz y joy of “The Spider and Me” which has a great vocal zippy vocal melody and concurrent musical riff.

On “Sketches of Brunswick East II,” breaks the 1 minute/3 minute pattern.  This is a longer version of the main theme.  It opens with (I assume) a tape of an old jazzy standard which slows down until the main melody starts up. A Fender Rhodes-like electric piano plays, and you can’t tell from the credits whether it’s Mackenzie or Brettin playing because both contribute electric piano to the tune.

In fact, the credits are really fascinating for this because everyone plays on the record but some people far more than others.  See:

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

  • Stu Mackenzie – mellotron (tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13), vocals (track 2, 3, 6, 9, 12), bass guitar (tracks 1, 4, 7, 8, 13), flute (tracks 1 4, 7, 11, 13), wah-wah guitar (tracks 2, 6, 11, 12), electric piano (tracks 1, 7), acoustic guitar (tracks 4, 12), microtonal guitar (track 3), glass marimbas (track 5), microtonal organ (track 9), synthesizers (track 11), piano (track 11), electric guitar (track 13); recording, mixing (tracks 1, 3-13), production
  • Joey Walker – bass guitar (tracks 5, 6, 9, 10), shaker (tracks 3, 4), synthesizers (tracks 4, 5), microtonal bass guitar (track 3), glass marimbas (track 4), acoustic guitar (track 4), vocals (track 4), electric guitar (track 4), omnichord (track 11), piano (track 11), bongos (track 12), güiro (track 12); additional overdubbing
  • Michael Cavanagh – drum kit 1 (all tracks), bongos (tracks 1-5, 7-9, 11, 13), drum kit 2 (track 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9-13), floor toms (tracks 1, 3, 7, 9, 13), maracas (tracks 1, 7, 11, 13), cowbell (tracks 4, 5, 9), snare brushes (tracks 1, 8), vibraslap (tracks 1, 8), tambourine (tracks 3, 9)
  • Cook Craig – electric guitar (tracks 1, 4, 5, 8, 9), fretless bass guitar (track 8, 11), vocals (track 8), synthesizers (track 8), bass guitar (track 11); additional overdubbing
  • Lucas Skinner – electric piano (tracks 2, 4, 6, 9), mellotron (tracks 2, 6), piano (track 11); additional overdubbing
  • Ambrose Kenny-Smith – harmonica (tracks 10-12), vocals (track 6)
  • Eric Moore – drum kit 2 (track 4)

Mild High Club

  • Alex Brettin – electric piano (tracks 2, 6-8), synthesizers (tracks 2, 5, 7, 9), bass guitar (tracks 2, 8, 12), electric guitar (tracks 8, 10, 13), microtonal synthesizers (tracks 3, 5), optigan (tracks 3, 7), organ (tracks 4, 12), acoustic piano (track 1), electronic drum kit (track 7); additional overdubbing, mixing (track 2)
  • Andrew Burt – guitar (track 11)

You get the feeling that people popped in, did some things and then left.  Like usual main dude Ambrose Kenny-Smith is only on a couple of songs.  But I guess if you release five albums in a year, you can slack off a little for one of them.

The second part of the album features longer songs like “Dusk to Dawn on Lygon Street.”  Again, the bass is great and it works nicely with the gentle vocals and sweet backing vocals.   It segues into the longest song on the disc, the five-minute, “The Book,” which features more great bass lines and a psychedleic keyboard intro.  It feels very 60s mod as it opens.  The really weird singing from Stu is a fun change of pace, too.  I love that at 4 minutes in the song sorts of halts with just the staccato keyboard melody and spare drums pushing it forward  until everyone jumps in again.

“A Journey to (S)Hell” picks up the pace and volume a little bit.  It’s by far the most psychedelic freakout song on the record.  There’s tape fluctuation and manipulation and the sounds of every-increasing synth notes like something taking off.

“Rolling Stoned” (has no one thought of that title before?) returns to the gentle sound of the rest of the record with a pretty, easy-listening melody.  There’s a very 70s sounding synth solo and it’s all quite groovy.  “You Can Be Your Silhouette” is a gentle jazzy number with whispered vocals.  It really encapsulates the whole album in one track.

The disc ends with “Sketches of Brunswick East II,” which opens with tape rewinding and then a reprise of that original melody once more.  This time the pacing and rhythm is very different with a very rubber guitar sound and a wash of sort of woozy synths.  It’s a very soothing ending to a very soothing disc.

How many ideas do these guys have?

[READ: February 1, 2019] The King of Kazoo

I saw this graphic novel while I was in the kids section.  I knew it was aimed pretty young, but the drawing style appealed to me–classic cartoon animal style with round head, oval eyes, oversized ears and a reluctance to adhere to physics–just my thing.

The story opens with a young girl, Bing, reading a book when Gypsy, a blue bird, flies in.  It sings, she listens attentively and then says “Wow!  I wish I spoke bird.”  But then she uses some magic, touched the bird’s beak and is able to see everywhere that Gypsy has been.  Gyspy saw a tunnel on Mount Kazoo which no one knew was there.  Bing runs to tell King Cornelius (her father).

But the King is busy thinking Kingly thoughts and cannot be bothered.  He is mostly thinking of his legacy–what can he put his name on?  (was this written immediately after the 2016 election?)  He has some big ideas, but they are all terrible.  Although he just assumes that you have to be a king to appreciate them.

They are interrupted by Torq, the inventor.  Torq has just created the Gonkless carriage.  Bing wonders if it runs on Magic, but the King says that no, it runs on Science.  The King says that Science is magic that anyone can use.  Bing wonders what the fun in that is.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Oddments (2014).

After the psychedelia of the previous album, KGATLW released this varied collection of songs.  Indeed, none of the 12 songs sound anything like the others.  It’s hard to say if this is a collection of leftover songs or an attempt to make a varied record.  After all, they had released four and a half albums in three years.

Nothing is really more than 3 minutes except “Work This Time.”  Everything goes by so quickly it’s hard to know what to think.

“Alluda Majaka” opens this record with an instrumental that has every style of music thrown into it–funky bass, organ, Indian music, there’s also sound effects and clips from a movie or two and really loud drums.  It’s a crazy opening for a crazy album.

“Stressin'” slows things down with a falsetto vocal and a gentle groove including a warbly wild guitar solo.  It’s followed by “Vegemite,” a nonsensical ode to vegemite with a great beat and an easy to sing along chorus (sung by Ambrose, I believe): Veg-e-mite…I like.

“It’s Got Old” is slower simple rocker (complete with flute and handclaps) and somehow is followed by the trippy, synthy swirls of “Work This Time.”  It opens with a rumbling wild drum intro and then becomes really gentle with more soft falsetto vocals.

“ABCABcd” is 17 seconds of garage rock nonsense before the sweet rocking acoustic guitars of “Sleepwalker.”

“Hot Wax” sounds like an old(er) KG garage rock song.  There’s creepy vocals from Stu and a simple riff and a chorus that literally repeats chorus from “Surfin Safari” but with their own muffled, fuzzy garage rock chords.  “Crying” has an old soul sound with its simple three note melody.  It even has spoken word parts (the way you act, girl) and everything.

The end of the disc throws in even more craziness in the last five or so minutes.  “Pipe Dream” is a one minute instrumental that doesn’t really do anything except evoke a psychedelic moment.  It fades out just as a riff begins.  But it’s not the riff to “Homeless Man in Addidas” which is a quiet acoustic folk song that sounds an awful lot like “April She Will Come” by Simon & Garfunkel.  The disc ends with “Oddments,” a 25 second piece of silliness that’s like a commercial for the disc which even chants out the disc name.

Unlike their more cohesive albums, this is not a necessity exactly, but it is a fun opportunity to see just how much KGATLW can do in 30 minutes.

[READ: November 2018] Cluetopia

This is a brief history of the crossword puzzle as broken down by year.

David Astle (whose name must be a crossword answer) is a crossword maniac.  What makes this book especially interesting to me is that he is from Australia, which means he has a very different perspective on the crossword puzzle than someone like Will Shortz.  For there is a great American/British (and Australian) divide when it comes to crosswords.

Astle is a huge fan of British-style cryptic puzzles and he really delves into some of the best ones over the last century.

A neat summary of the different types of puzzles comes from Always Puzzling: (more…)

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