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Archive for the ‘Dwight D. Eisenhower’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NICK LOWE AND LOS STRAITJACKETS-“Christmas at the Airport” (2014/2013).

I probably like Nick Lowe a lot more than I realize.  I know I like his songwriting more than I realize.  And I love Los Straightjackets.  A perfect pairing.

This is not a moving, treacly holiday song.  And yet neither is it a bitter, what-has-the-season-come-to song.  It’s just one of those things that happens, and he’ll take in (humorous) stride.

It wasn’t until celebrated songsmith Nick Lowe’s 2013 curio, “Christmas at the Airport,” that someone expressed in song what it was like to watch the hopes of holiday cheer fade right before our eyes, on a snow-covered runway in late December. Recorded live in 2014, at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, backed by Nashville’s neo-surf band Los Straitjackets, Lowe takes us through all the stages of Christmas-time travel grief, one verse at a time.

Stage One: Bemusement. Gazing out the window of his cab upon arrival at the airport, Lowe notices that the place is beginning to look more like the front of a Christmas card than an international travel hub. But even as the tarmac takes on ever-increasing layers of soft, white, wintry down, the full gravity of the situation hasn’t yet sunk in enough to truly unnerve him yet.

Stage Two: Realization. The cold, hard reality of the protagonist’s circumstances suddenly hits home. The fickle finger of fate is pointing at everyone in the airport as if to say, “Nobody’s going anywhere this Christmas. Have you seen that snow outside?” Tempers flaring all around him, Lowe sneaks into a secluded spot for a catnap, maybe hoping things will somehow look better when he awakes.

Stage Three: Transcendence. We’ve all had to buck up sooner or later in this kind of situation, find a way to make a homebound holiday fun. For Lowe, that process entails playing with the TSA equipment in the agents’ absence, turning the baggage carousel into an amusement-park ride, and even scrounging some fast food from the refuse.

And all set to a chipper, surf rock tune.

[READ: December 24, 2018] “Christmas Eve, 1944”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although this song is an NPR curio.

At first I was concerned because this is a Christmas war story (and those really only go one of two ways).  But in fact it turned out to be awesome.  One of the most moving stories I have read in a long time. (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 #577 (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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1973SOUNDTRACK: LUCINDA WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk Concert #412 (December 20, 2014).

lucindaI set tiny, manageable goals for this blog.  They often change over the course of the year, but I like to see if I can complete them.  One such goal was to write about all of the Tiny Desk Concerts from 2014.  And here’s the final one.  (Another such goal is to write about the remainder of the 2016 shows, which is doable).  I also want to write about all of the rest of the First Second Graphic Novels (there’s about 20 of them left).  Insignificant goals that I find satisfying to complete.

I’ve never been a fan of Lucinda Williams.  Although, while I’d certainly heard of her, I obviously didn’t know any of her music. The blurb talks about her distinctive voice.  And it is certainly that.  About 20 years ago a sort of friend of mine saw her open for somebody else and she dismissed Williams as trying to sound like a different singer (wish I could remember who it was).  The irony that Williams has been around since the late 1970s was not lost on me.

But Williams has changed her style over the years.  She originally sang country and has morphed into more of a folk and now a blues style.  This Tiny Desk Concert focuses on her bluesy songs.  I know she’s something of a legend, but I found her demeanor through the whole show off-putting until the end, when she loosened up a bit.

She sings four songs.  “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is rocking blues song.  And I have to say I was pretty shocked by her voice–rough and raspy and sounding not a little hungover.  Her lead guitarist was really the start for me, effortlessly playing some great groovy licks.

For “Cold Day in Hell” (she laughs at saying the title) she straps on an acoustic guitar and then sings like Tom Waits.  That seems like a joke, but the structure of the verses is pure Tom Waits–I would have even suggested he wrote the song.

The third song is the more bluesy “Protection.”  There seems something so inauthentic about this song.  I just don’t believe her rendition of it–I don’t believe that she actually needs protection.  It’s really disconcerting.

She finally smiles after this song and says “Now I’m kinda getting used to this … I’m not a wake yet, that’s what the thing is.  She straps on her guitar and says this is based on the story of the West Memphis Three.  It’ my favorite song of the four–she seems to really get into it.

But all the same, I really don’t like her voice all that much–she’s got a weird drawl and sounds like there are some marbles in her mouth. It’s very strange.  I listened to a bit of a song from a live show from 1989 and her voice was quite pretty–deep, yes, but very pretty.  By 2007, her voice has changed–it’s deeper, with a pronounced drawl.  At a show in 2013, she sounded kind of pretty again.  So, I don’t know what to make of it.  I’ll have to just go back to not listening to her.

[READ: June 8, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974

I really enjoyed this volume a lot.  There were a lot of really funny jokes and the characters are really nicely distributed by now.  I don’t want to say that Schulz hit his stride around this time, because he’s been pretty solid right from the start, but this book was easily my favorite so far.  Possibly because it contained so much of Marcie and Patty who have easily become my favorites.

The year starts off somewhat inauspiciously with the anticlimactic return of Poochie.  She shows up, realizes that Snoopy isn’t a cute puppy anymore and leaves.  Never to be seen again.

More interesting is that Linus decides that since Charlie has been their manager for so long and worked so hard that they ought to throw him a commemorative dinner. They plan it for a couple of weeks and when he finally hears about it, his smile is awesome.  They even get Joe Schlobotnick to agree to come. Of course, then Marcie starts saying that they’d all be hypocrites if they actually showed up and said nice things about him since he’s a terrible manager.  And so they cancel it at the last-minute–while Charlie is there. (more…)

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maha SOUNDTRACK: MASHROU’ LEILA-Tiny Desk Concert #543 (June 24, 2016).

mashrouMashrou’ Leila is a band from Beirut.  And because I love this kind of thing, here is their name in Arabic script: مشروع ليلى

They are on their second ever tour in the U.S.  They sing in Arabic but their music is full of rock and indeed dance motifs.

There are five members of the band: singer and lyricist Hamed Sinno, violinist Haig Papazian, keyboardist and guitarist Firas Abou Fakher, Ibrahim Badr on bass and drummer Carl Gerges.  And the band make up is rather diverse:

Sinno is openly gay, and Mashrou’ Leila is well acquainted with the targeting of LGBT people. The band has faced condemnation, bans and threats in its home region, including some from both Christian and Muslim sources, for what it calls “our political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom.” And yet, when Mashrou’ Leila performs in the U.S., its members are often tasked with representing the Middle East as a whole, being still one of the few Arab rock bands to book a North American tour.

Their set took place on the morning after the dead club murders in Orlando (June 12), and since the band has had direct experience with this, they modified their intended set list.

I want their music to speak for itself, because it’s really good.  But since it’s sun in Arabic, some context helps

“Maghawir” (Commandos), is a song Sinno wrote in response to two nightclub shootings in Beirut. In the Beirut incidents, which took place within a week of each other, two of the young victims were out celebrating their respective birthdays. “Maghawir” is a checklist of sorts about how to spend a birthday clubbing in the band’s home city, but also a running commentary about machismo and the idea that big guns make big men.

It begins with a low menacing bass (keyboard) note and some occasional bass (guitar) notes until the echoed violin plays some singularly eerie notes.  Sinno’s voice is really interesting–operatic, intense and not really sounding like he’s singing in Arabic exactly.  He has rock vocal stylings down very well, and the guttural sound of Arabic aids the song really well.  I’m really magnetized by his singing.  And the lyrics:

“All the boys become men / Soldiers in the capital of the night,” Sinno sings. “Shoop, shoop, shot you down … We were just all together, painting the town / Where’d you disappear?” It was a terrible, and terribly fitting, response to the Florida shootings.

For the second song, “Kalaam” (S/He),Sinnos says it’s about the way “language and gender work in nationalism.  In Arabic, words are feminine or masculine and it’s about being in between while trying to pick someone up at a bar.”

Sinno dives deep into the relationships between language and gender, and how language shapes perception and identity: “They wrote the country’s borders upon my body, upon your body / In flesh-ligatured word / My word upon your word, as my body upon your body / Flesh-conjugated words.”

There’s interesting percussion in this song.  And more of that eerie echoed violin.  But it’s when the chorus kicks in and there’s a great bass line (which comes out of nowhere) that the song really comes to life.  There’s a cool middle section in which the keyboards play a sprinkling piano sound and there some plucked violins.  All along the song is catchy but a little sinister at the same time.

The final song, “Djin,” is based on Joseph Campbell’s archetypes.  Sinno describes the comparison between Christian and Dionysian mythologies but it’s also about just about “getting really messed up at a bar.”

“Djin,” is a perfect distillation of that linguistic playfulness. In pre-Islamic Arabia and later in Islamic theology and texts, a djin (or jinn) is a supernatural creature; but here, Sinno also means gin, as in the alcoholic drink. “Liver baptized in gin,” Sinno sings, “I dance to ward off the djin.”

It has a great funky beat and dance quality.  The way the chorus comes in with the simple backing vocals is great.

There’s some pretty heady stuff in their lyrics, and that works on the level of their band name as well:

The most common translation of “Mashrou’ Leila” is “The Night Project,” which tips to the group’s beginnings back in 2008 in sessions at the American University of Beirut. But Leila is also the name of the protagonist in one of Arabic literature’s most famous tales, the tragic love story of Leila and Majnun, a couple somewhat akin to Romeo and Juliet. Considering Mashrou’ Leila’s hyper-literary bent, it’s hard not to hear that evocation.

I hope they get some airplay in the States. Sadly their album is only available as an import, but it is downloadable at a reasonable price.

[READ: June 10, 2016] Omaha Beach on D-Day

Nobody picks up this book for fun.  I mean, look at that title. You know this isn’t going to be a laugh.  But it is an amazing book and I think  perhaps the title does it a bit of a disservice.

This book is not exactly about the massacre that was Omaha Beach on D-Day.  It is about that certainly, but the book is really about Robert Capa, the photographer who took the most iconic photos of Omaha Beach on D-Day.  This book is far more of a biography of him than an account of the war.  And in typical First Second fashion, they have made a gorgeous book full of photorealistic drawings that really exemplify the work that the book describes.

The book opens in Jan of 1944 with Capa carrying bottles of champagne amid the burned out wreckage of war.  He is bringing the celebratory drink to his fellow reporters who have been hiding out for a few days. Capa says he is leaving for London. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ATTACK ATTACK!-“Stick Stickly” (2010).

I discovered this video (again, considerably later than the controversy for it) because my friend Rich said he didn’t know there was a genre called “crabcore.”  A search for crabcore suggests that it is a goof “genre” named specifically for this band and the goofy way they dance around.

This song starts with very heavy riffing and some growls and screaming and then jumps quickly into an auto-tuned very catchy chorus (they sound like a more polished and poppy version of Alexisonfire).

Then comes the verses which are screamed very loudly and heavily followed by a bridge (?) that is even more cookie monster-vocals like (with a strange cartoon effect thrown at the end of each line of the chorus).  It’s almost like commercial death metal, and I kind of liked it.  They’re pushing boundaries

Then there’s more chugga chugga heavy riffing and the song is reaching the end and then WHAT? the songs shifts gears into a keyboard fueled discoey dance song.  First it’s hi energy and then it slows into a mellow auto-tuned bit that proceeds to the end.

What the hell?  I’m all for a band pushing the boundaries of genres, but holy cow.  And just to add one more gimmick, they’re a Christian band as well (although you’d never know from the lyrics, whatever the hell he’s singing about).  This is no “Jesus is My Friend,” let me tell you.

So yea, I don’t really know what to make of it. The video makes me laugh with their all black outfits and synchronized everything–and that may be why they have replaced it with a new video which is much more boring.  I assume they’re just anther trendy band that will disappear soon enough (there’s a lot of snarky fun at their expense at this definition of “crabcore“).

I don’t have a clue what the title is supposed to mean, nor half of their other titles on the album: “Fumbles O’Brian” “Renob, Nevada.”  I listened to some samples of the other songs and they seem far more dancey/discoey than death metal, so I’m not really sure what’s up with the rest of the record.

But whatever.  In the meantime, enjoy the silly video

[READ: July–September 10, 2010] K Blows Top

I heard about this book through a great interview on NPR in June of 2009.  It sounded like a really funny book and I was seriously considering reading it.  Of course, then I forgot about it.

About 8 months later, the library received a huge donation of books, and this was right on top, just begging me to read it.  So, I saved it for myself and decided it was about time to crack it open.  Several months after that I finally opened it and was totally hooked.

I didn’t know much about Khrushchev before reading this.  I knew vaguely about “the shoe” incident, but that was it.  In fact, the whole beginning of the cold war era was a bit of a mystery to me.  Since I lived through Reagan, I never felt compelled to find out what had caused the 80s.

But I’m super glad that I read this.  The book follows Khrushchev’s visits to the United States when he was premiere of  the Soviet Union. Carlson combed through tons of newspaper reports about his visit here (ostensibly to visit with Eisenhower, but more just to enjoy himself in the American heartland), and pulls together a fascinating story from a number of sources.

But more than just an interesting look at history, this book is very funny. (more…)

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