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Archive for the ‘Political Humor’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RANDY NEWMAN-Tiny Desk Concert #657 (October 10, 2017).

Randy Newman is a pretty amazing composer.  It’s really hard to believe that the guy who wrote “Short People” then went on to write at least three songs for Pixar that make me cry instantly upon hearing.

And yet I would never listen to him on purpose.

But Bob Boilen has some pretty wonderful things to say about the man:

I think Randy Newman is a national treasure. If he was just a funny guy making music, I’d be OK with that, but his wit is sardonic, satirical and politically on point. Mixing politics and humor with music is usually about the punchline, and his punchlines even make the singer smile.

Randy Newman paints lasting portraits of places and people, all the while poking fun and highlighting injustice, stupidity, power and humanity and he’s been doing it for half a century. Here are the opening lines to his recently released song “Putin”:

“Putin puttin’ his pants on / One leg at a time / You mean he’s just like a regular fella, huh? / He ain’t nothing like a regular fella.”

I happen to not like this song all that much, although there are some very funny lines.  And he is pretty funny in general.

Like when he says “Let me announce this [next song] a little bit: Here’s another one.”  “She Chose Me” is a wonderful tear-jerker (it will certainly be used in a film):

“I’m not much to talk to, and I know how I look / What I know ’bout life comes out of a book / But of all of the people there are in the world / She chose me.”

“It’s A Jungle Out There” is a more romping number although I once again can’t help but hear it as a soundtrack song.  It’s easy to picture a cartoon tiger singing: “I could be wrong now…don’t think I am though.”

He talks about the final song “Wandering Boy” and says: Every Labor Day people would get together at a family party that everybody went to.  He started going when he was 8 and was still going as an adult.  And you could see families change: So the lyric is: “First came here with my father then I brought my wife.”

It’s a sad song, possibly about his son dying?  I’m not willing to investigate further.

I love that Newman is so recognizable–his voice and style are all his own.  And I love that he is still making songs that will make me cry.

[READ: January 25, 2017] “Flooding the Zone”

George Saunders can be politically humorous from time to time (actually quite often).  But he also has solutions to political problems.  Like this one, which should very easily take care of all of the world’s problems.

There are approximately twenty-five million Iraqis in Iraq. There are approximately three hundred million Americans in America. This means that there are approximately twelve Americans for every Iraqi. This means that, if we all go, each American will be responsible for one-twelfth of an Iraqi. An Iraqi family of five will thus be attended by sixty Americans.

See how easy that is?  If we all go to Iraq, we can pamper all of the Iraqis.  We can cook for them while they relax.  We can clean up after them, bring them coffee or tea.  Even insurgents will be followed by friendly Americans asking questions and telling endless stories.  We can all bring a 30 day supply of provisions and that should take care of it. Well, and of course medicine and doctors and what not.

Iraqis swill become so happy and sated that there will be no more violence.

But that’s not all.  Wait till you hear Phase II. (more…)

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Gord Downie [1964-2017]

Gord Downie died yesterday after suffering from brain cancer.

Downie was the lead singer of The Tragically Hip a band I had wanted to see live but never did.

I first learned about The Hip in 1994. I was living in Boston and had access to Much Music, Canada’s music video channel.  I saw a video for “Nautical Disaster” and was blown away.  I loved everything about it.  This was from their fifth album, the one after the album that everyone cites as their best, Fully Completely.  But for me, Day for Night will always be my favorite.

Downie was an interesting and enigmatic guy–at least for a fan who didn’t know the band super well, but liked all their music.  Downie wrote interesting, thoughtful lyrics and he really brought people together.  As the CBC puts it: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11 1996).

This is the final show on Rheostatics Live in which the band is opening for The Tragically Hip.

For this show, the intro music is also from The Wizard of Oz, but this time it’s Judy singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  It’s just one verse before fading out and then guitars fading in for Martin to play “A Mid Winter Night’s Dream.”

Turns out that this setlist is similar to the one from Buffalo with a lot of new songs.  Although there are a few older/more popular songs in places.

The new songs include “Fat” which sounds great of course.  I gather they are maybe sharing a microphone because at the end Dave says “See you in the next song, Martin.”  “Okay, Dave.”  This leads into a perfect version of “All the Same Eyes.”

Martin says “We are the Rheostatics.”  Dave says “We are the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howell Brothers (?).  They couldn’t make it but we got their jackets.  It’s nice of you to come out early.  We’re playing selections from our new record. Get it before it’s reduced to clear.”  (You can hear someone laugh on tape).

This is a segue into the single “Bad Time to Be Poor.”  It’s followed by another Tim song, “Claire” with the acoustic guitar opening in place.  There’s another lengthy guitar solo, although it’s not quiet as exciting as some of the other ones.  But Martin was saving up for a spirited version of “California Dreamline.”

They end their set with a rough rocking “Feed Yourself.”  During the spoken part, they slow things down to just a bass and washes of guitar.  It’s a pretty intense ending and a good preparation for The Tragically Hip.

[READ: June 25, 2017] The Story of Canada in 150 Objects

In celebration of Canada’s 150th year, Canadian Geographic and The Walrus created this special issue–a fun way to describe many elements of Canadian culture through “objects.”

The objects are grouped in vague categories.  Some have just a few words written about them while others get a few pages.  Some are humorous, some are more serious.  Most are happy or amusing, some not so much.  And all of it together paints a diverse and complex portrait of the country–as well as teaching this person from South of the border a number of things I did not know.

It’s with comic pride and humility that the first object is politeness (which is not an object at all, of course).  The amusing thing about this article about “politeness” is that while the author of it is very pleased to be so polite, he also can’t wait for his fellow Canucks to forget to be polite so he can rub it in with a extra smarmy “You’re Welcome.” (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Clinton’s Tavern Toronto ON (October 20, 1990).

From the Rheostatics Live website:

Very good sounding show though a bit hot in places. I had to stitch it together from 2 tapes and a messed up order but I think I got it right. Interesting that back in 1990, before even Melville was recorded, they were playing such a large selection of songs from Whale Music and even Introducing Happiness plus a bunch of songs that didn’t end up on any album such as Fluffy, Seems Like, Woodstuck, Memorial Day etc. One of the only times they played all three Joey related songs in succession. Louis Melville guests as well as Jim Hughes of 13 Engines. I don’t believe this is the full show as they talk about to going into Edmund Fitzgerald but the tape ends.

I had planned to post about these Rheostatics live shows in order, but I’d somehow missed this one.  Interestingly though, they play a bunch of songs that they would not record for several years–some of them are early incarnations of songs, too.

As the Daves introduce the band, the phrase one fell swoop comes up.  And Bidini says that they are One Fell Swoop.  Then Clark says we are One Swell Poop.   Bidini continues: The Holmgren Brotehrs, Dave and Dave.  That’s Frosty Flake on bass and Ken “The Rat” Linseman on the rat pedal.  I gather that Bidini has a mustache (there’s a Freddy Mercury joke later in the show), but he says “The mods called me a rich kid on the street because of his mustache.  They called me dude too.  Which isn’t modish or contemporary.

After some noise and static Dave says the first song was supposed to start with a technological flourish of some kind.  It’s “Jesus Was Once a Teenager Too” [Introducing Happiness] and it is sung by Dave and Dave (!)  It sounds so strange and there’s no middle section at all.  Midway through they call out Lewis Melville from Guelph Ontario to play the guitar.

They play they crazy noisy staccato intro to “When Winter Comes” [Melville] and the song rocks out.  At the end Bidini says it is three songs rolled into one: Big Bear’s Birthday, When Winter Comes and Victoria.  They play “Northern Wish” [Melville] and “Woodstuck.”  Dave introduces “Seems Like” as written about a guy Martin met in Dublin who told the band they had no vision.  It includes the line:  “a sentimental flower child bawls me out for lacking vision…fuck you, dude.”

Then they introduce a song “about a great hockey player gone bad its called “Beer” [Would eventually be “Beerbash” on Whale Music].

Bidini says they are really the tragedy corner here–that was depressing so is this one (“Soul Glue”) [Whale Music] Tim says, “I thought you meant we were sucking.”  There’s no Benjamin Hayward in the lyrics.  And during the part about the police, someone chants “911 is a joke.”

Clark gives a bizarro story as an introduction to “Ditch Pigs”: he and Martin got into fisticuffs punch up in the Rockies.  They stole policeman’s peanut butter and smeared it on each other and then fell into a ditch.  None of that is true, someone points out.

Marty’s got a case of the bombastic flu–the four week flu.  And so they play “Martin’s First Day of School” [never released] although they claim it is from their forthcoming album Rheostatics Cut Their Head Off and Go Swimming or form their triple CD retrospective Smelling a Dog on a Sunny Day.

They play “Memorial Day” which is also kind of a downer [never recorded].  And then a fun introduction to “Who” [Whale Music]:

Just back from Neil Young’s ranch in Topanga Canyon Mr Jim Hughes of 13 Engines.   Then comes “Chanson les Ruelles” [Melville], “Sickening Song” [Whale Music] with lots of accordion that segues into “What’s Going On” [also Whale Music] with a nice solo at the end by Martin.

This leads into “Fluffy,” the only time it’s available live here.  Martin hits some absurd high notes–I wonder if they ever intended to record it.  Dave introduces a song called “Dealin at the 7-11” which would of course be Legal Age Life at Variety Store [Whale].  Then comes two songs from Melville: “Christopher” and “Horses.”  “Horses” starts acoustic ad kind of slow, but it gets really loud with some interesting guitar solo sounds and a few changed lines.

Clark says after a minute (my-noot) break they will be back momentarily.

When they come back Dave Bidini congratulates the Cincinnati Reds for winning the world series “Big Bad Jose Canceco arriving there on the hook, you got what you deserve, you big asshole.”  Yipes.  Clark diffuses this but apologizing to all hockey fans for the baseball season hanging on so long.  Long live hockey!  Death to the fat mans’ sport.  They Clark explains that they have challenged the Leafs to a fun game against their Rock and Roll Hacker Jets: Dave Tim and Dave on the front line and Rick “whomp um” Wamsley in goal.

Someone shouts that Judy quit her job.  They seem excited and then when martin sings “Record Body Count” he sings–“Judy pulled herself to her feet.”  Then they play “Joey 2” and “Joey 3.”  It’s followed by great versions of Saskatchewan” & “Dope Fiends.”

There’s a fun green sprouts theme (with someone singing loudly and out of key) and then a surprising “Rain Rain Rain” [Whale] described as a quiet version with Clark cracking up at the end for unknown reasons.  There’ s cool version of “Aliens” [Melville].   And then one of the last versions of “Good on the Uptake.”  It’s really long with some hearty jamming.

We find out that it is almost 1AM, and then there’s a nice version of “Lyin’s Wrong” [Melville].  Dave gasps and says “Martin transformed into a gay librarian right before my eyes.”  It’s clear that they are planning to play more songs.  Indeed it seems like they have many more songs to go.  Bidini says he’d love to play Edmund Fitzgerald tonight and then the tape cuts off.

For such an old tape, the sound quality is quite good and the song selection is really fascinating since they had barely released any of the songs.

[READ: August 17, 2016] “A Sigh and a Salute”

This is the second essay about an artist that Spiegelman had written for Harper’s in 2016.  I wonder if it will become a regular thing?

This essay is about Si Lewen, an artist of whom I’ve never heard.  It is actually from the introduction to Parade: An Artist’s Odyssey.

Spiegelman says he has one of Si Lewen’s “Ghosts” hanging in his studio.  Lewen began the series of Ghosts in 2008 and has made over 200.

Spiegelman gives Lewen’s complex history: Born in Poland in 1918, his family moved to Berlin as World War I ended.  They were trying to escape Polish antisemitism and found the German version. When Hitler became Chancellor, Si Lewen aged 14, decided to leave Germany.  He and his brother left the family behind and went to Paris.  There was some luck on his side.  Si’s uncle in America had organized a fund-raiser for Admiral Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole.  Byrd’s brother, a Senator, arranged for Si’s entire family to get Visas in America in 1935.  But even America wasn’t great for Si.  In 1936, while sitting in Central Park after visiting the Met, a policeman upon hearing his accent grabbed him, rowed him out to the island in the center of the lake, bludgeoned and robbed him.  What the holy fuck? (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: BLUE MAN GROUP Tiny Desk Concert #566 (September 26, 2016).

This Tiny Desk Concert is probably the most fun right from th get go.

It opens with three men in blue marching through the NPR offices.  They go through backstage places, grabbing items.  The go through the DJ booth and even interrupt Corva Coleman’s weather forecast.

They even pull Bob away from his desk as they set up.  And then we see the blue men in action.

I remember seeing ads for Blue Man Group when I worked in Manhattan decades ago.  But I never actually saw them (something i regret).  And indeed, I’m not the only one who remembers their humble beginnings:

Josh Rogosin, our engineer for the Tiny Desk, first saw them in their early days, some 25 years ago at New York’s Astor Place Theatre. He told me how the Blue Men would retrofit some of their theatrical magic — including their custom-made instruments, confetti cannons and streamers — to fit this small desk space.  instead of installing their entire signature PVC instrument, what ended up behind the desk was about a third of it. On the right side of the desk, their Shred Mill makes its internet debut: It’s a drum machine triggered by magnets that changes rhythm depending where they are placed on the home-made variable-speed conveyor belt. They also invented something called a Spinulum, whose rhythmic tempo is controlled by rotating a wheel that plucks steel guitar strings.

So the guys, covered in blue (closeup cameras suggests to me that they are wearing gloves and masks?) play a number of home-made instruments (you can read a full description on the instruments below).  In addition to thw home made instruments, there is a Chapman stick bass guitar and a conventional drummer.

And they sure do get some cool sounds out of these items.

“Vortex” has its melody on the PVC pipes with the spinumlum and once the song really gets going in the middle, with the stick playing a cool melody and the cimbalon playing a sweet plucked melody, it’s really quite a pretty song.

For “The Forge,” the stick plays some cool scratchy melodies while two guys play the PVC tubes (I like that there’s a mirror mounted above them so you can see what they’re doing).  The cimbalon is put to good use in more pretty melodies.

“Meditation for Winners” is hilarious.  They play an old scratchy record with a really intense guy doing intense meditation.   They play really catchy music behind it.  They go into the audience and grab people to breathe in and out, and stretch.  Or doing dragon breath.  Then they chant a positive affirmation “I am the best at being relaxed.”  The way the meditation goes from Namaste into something else is pretty great as are the confetti cannons.

This makes me wish I had seen them 25 years ago even more now.

[READ: February 15, 2017] Chew: Volume Twelve

This is the concluding arc to the amazing (and disturbing) series Chew.  It covers issues 56-60 and includes Demon Chicken Poyo.

Chapter 1 begins with an introduction to Tony Chu, Cibopath.  By now we know who he is and what he does–he eats things (or people) and knows the history of whatever he just ate.  We are reminded that the only food that he does not get a psychic sensation from is beets.

The end of the previous book showed the death of Mason and his instruction that in order to save the world Tony must eat him.  Tony does not want to (obviously) but he must.  But the joke is on him because the last thing that Mason ate before killing himself was a big plate of beets–meaning he is totally blocking Tony’s abilities and that Tony will have to suffer through Mason’s long and tedious explanation of everything (this makes Colby crack up, which is quite funny). (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TYPHOON-Tiny Desk Concert #314 (October 26, 2013).

As the show begins, you hear Bob inviting all the short people up front.  Bob suggests the band could organize something like that at their shows: Height night–order everyone as they come in where to stand, that way everybody meets different people and people who never get to see a show in their lives could finally see.  The lead singer says he hates to go to shows for that reason (he seems quite short), although the drummer is way over 6 feet tall.

I first heard Typhoon from NPR, where the song “Young Fathers” was strange, somewhat disjointed and incredibly catchy.  I loved the full band sound and big backing vocals.

The blurb notes: The group from Portland, Ore. crafts rock anthems like emotional tidal waves, propelled by the stories of frontman Kyle Morton. His deeply personal tales are often full of grief and loss. But just as often they celebrate and praise life’s simple wonders. Morton himself is a very grateful (and lucky) man who writes songs as if he were living on borrowed time. That’s because a random bug bite when he was a child left him with a monstrous case of Lyme disease that led to multiple organ failures. Morton’s own father donated a kidney to save his son’s life.

I love when Bob gets excited by a band, as when he talks about Typhoon:

At 27, with a backing band of a dozen musicians, Morton and the rest of Typhoon are making some of the most poignant pop tunes around. We’ve been following this group for a few years now, but Typhoon has never done anything quite like what you can hear on its latest album, White Lighter. The songs are by far the best arranged and most compelling of the group’s nearly 10-year run.  Somehow everyone in Typhoon not only managed to fit behind the Tiny Desk, but also managed to shine in this performance.

The opening of “Young Fathers” is so distinctive, the way the chords start and then pause completely for a second before starting again. When I first heard the that opening section, I was hooked.  The drama is still here in this Tiny Desk, although it’s acoustic so a bit less so.  But the backing vocalists sound great.  The whole band is really tight and it’s impressive that a dozen or so people can be and so quiet when they need to be.   And then singing in harmony and loudly!  Mid song the sound drops out and the two women sing a quick and gentle melody. As the song gets near the end all of those clappers and singers pick up their horns and add a cool melody.

“The Lake” has a simple and beautiful melody all the way through.  I also really like the guitar’s sliding low/high “solo.”  When the vocals join in singing some ooohs, it’s quite lovely.  The end of the song slows down to some staccato horn blasts,  almost martial, which leads to a dramatic ending.

The final song is the surprisingly named “Dreams of Cannibalism.”   There’s another gentle guitar introduction with some cool drums and cymbal buildups.  Once again, there are some dramatic moments where things grow quiet and it’s just him and his guitar and then he gets to belt out the lyrics (his voice is so interesting–raspy and powerful with a slight Oregonian accent).

I’ll leave the last word for Bob: “If you’re looking for music that touches your heart, that helps you appreciate the everyday, sit back and get ready for Typhoon to carry you away.”

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Ten

Book Ten covers issues 46-50.  And it open with Poyo in hell.  He has everyone there running scared.  Although there is a Disclaimer: “this doesn’t happen.”

Tony is furious with Colby and refuses to work with him.  So instead he is paired up with D-Bear.  Their first assignment is to look into a destructive candy scene. A CEEOSAKARER who can turn anything with glucose and fructose into machinery.  He appears to have gone insane and destroyed a town with gummi tanks and a jaw-breaker cannon.  And his message was about the coming dominance of E.G.G.  But he proves to be under the spell of the MINTHAMPERIOR who can hypnotize with peppermint candy.

D-Bear turns out to be a surprisingly good detective, and they work well together, even taking down a VECTUCIBORUTARE who can produce a noxious eruption (A fancy-assed word for “burps”) based on the age of what he eats.  But then Tony gets news that Mason has escaped from the hospital and taken Tony’s daughter Olive and Tony’s wife Amelia with him.  That’s the last straw.

Book 3 opens with FDA director Mike Applebee and special agent Cesar Valentino returning to duty.  The doctors have each been given one mechanical enhancement.  Caesar’s is a big claw while Mike’s is more… dramatic. (more…)

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