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Archive for the ‘Prison’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ORQUESTA AKOKÁN-“Mambo Rapidito” (2019).

Since this story is about something shameful in Cuba, I thought I’d tie it to something that is wonderful in Cuba: Orquesta Akokán

Orquesta Akokán is a band comprised of Cuban musicians and “Latin music freaks” from New York.   They play the kind of Cuban music that filled New York nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As their website explains:

Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and modernized through a synthesis of the rich compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond.

This song begins with a descending piano riff that quickly gives way to horn hits and a cowbell that doesn’t stop for the whole three minutes.

The main melody comes in as a swinging, wholly danceable riff with shouted refrains of “baile!”

Then lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez shows where the rapidito comes in as he sings an insanely fast vocal part ( I wouldn’t even guess what he’s saying).

The song is fun and swinging and should make everyone want to baile!

Then comes an awesome flute solo.  There’s a cool swinging instrumental sections in the middle before the call and response of the backing vocalists and Pepito.

Then a wild and cacophonous piano solo sprinkles the end of the song.  It is a ton of fun.  The NPR blurb says that

when globalFEST decided to host this year’s edition at New York’s Copacabana nightclub — a venue with a history that stretches back nearly 80 years and boasts a long association with Latin music — the festival’s organizers decided that Akokán had to be the first group they invited this time around.

Mambo!

[READ: December 23, 2019] Guantánamo Kid

This is a story of injustice.

Injustice at the hands of Americans.

Americans should be humiliated and outraged by this injustice.

Injustice that is utterly horrific to behold–and I suspect that this graphic novel holds back a lot of the really unpleasant details to make it readable.

This is the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, an innocent kid who was sent to Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

At the age of 14, Mohammed El-Gharani made money in the streets of Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His family was from Chad and, as such, he was treated like an outsider in Saudi Arabia.  He wasn’t allowed to go to school and the locals treated him badly.  He and his friend knew this was no way to make a living.

One day his friend told him that if he went to Pakistan he could learn how to fix computers.  He even knew people there who would put him up while he studied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Gimme Some Truth” (2001).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

“Gimme Some Truth” was written by John Lennon during the Nixon administration.

Pearl Jam played this song live a bunch of times during the George W. Bush administration.  They had played it twice before recording this version at the Groundwork Benefit, Key Arena, Seattle. October 22, 2001.

It’s quite a faithful cover.  The original has angry guitars and Lennon’s growly voice. Although the original has a very distinctly Beatles-sound from the guitars (Which is obvious, but still somewhat surprising).  Even Lennon’s guitar solo has that Beatles sound.  The Pearl Jam version doesn’t have that feel at all–it sounds very much like a Pearl Jam song.

In fact, Eddie and the guys updated the lyrics for the George W. Bush administration.  I’ve listed both sets of lyrics at the bottom of the page.

The song is catchy and passionate and, frankly, is even more applicable now with the Liar in Chief’s administration literally incapable of saying a true word.

[READ: December 12 2019] “The Sacred Family”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

I have read a number of stories by Rachel Kushner.  I tend to enjoy them, although this one was more thought-provoking than interesting.

The story concerns a man, Hauser, who is warden at a women’s prison.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FREDDIE JACKSON-“You Are My Lady” (1985).

I listened to this song after reading this story.

Somehow I assumed that this song was going to be a big old 60’s or 70’s powerful soul song.

So when I started the video on YouTube and the super cheesy 80s synths began, I thought it was accidentally playing “Endless Love” (1981) instead.

Interesting how this I created an entirely incorrect imagine of Jackson based on this story.

Reading the comments on the video, this song is hugely important to a lot of people.  I honestly can’t get past the production.

But his voice is pretty fine (well, except for that middle part which is the kind of singing I do not care for).

[READ: November 21, 2019] “Arizona”

I really haven’t enjoyed much by Wideman.  I just don’t like his style.  I think in everything I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed what the stories were about, but I didn’t like the way he wrote them.  This story was probably the one I’ve liked best by him, but it felt way too long and digressive.

It opens as a letter to “Mr. Jackson” which begins “Thank you for your music…”

I assumed it was to Michael Jackson.  But it turned out to be to Freddie Jackson, a soul singer who I don’t know.  Jackson is still alive which makes this story an actual letter to him (even if it as never “sent”) which is kind of weird.

The story is (as far as I can tell) largely autobiographical.  The crux of the story concerns Wideman’s son [one of his three children] who was convicted of a murder that he committed while he was a minor and was sentenced to life in prison in Arizona.  This is an unbelievably heartbreaking thing to have read and of course it fully colors the story (and makes me feel bad for saying I didn’t like parts of it).  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TAYLOR SWIFT-Tiny Desk Concert #901 (October 16, 2019).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts are from musicians that few people have heard of.

Not this one!

It’s hard to imagine exactly how it happened that Tiny Desk Concert managed to get Taylor Swift to play.  And to play with just a acoustic guitar and piano.  “It’s just me. There’s no dancers, unfortunately,” she quipped.

I have seen people already complain that Tiny Desk is supposed to be for unknown artists blah blah blah.  But I think it’s pretty awesome that a) Taylor Swift is a fan of NPR and Tiny Desk and b) that this show will bring more notoriety to Tiny Desk and potentially other bands.

Plus–I had no idea that Taylor Swift was not a studio creation–that she’s actually a real and thoughtful person who wrote her own music.

She talks confidently and casually about songwriting and she seems pretty genuinely pleased to be there.

As she settled in for her Tiny Desk, she looked out at the 300-plus NPR employees and guests. “Wow! This is a lot of people in a tiny office!” she said. “I love it!”

She delightfully says, “It’s great to be in DC.  You guys had anything exciting going on in the last couple of weeks?  Any possible changes in play?”

And, hey, she writes good songs, too.

I’ve never really listened to her music–although I love “Shake It Off.”  I haven’t actually heard anything of her new album so this was all new to me.

After introducing herself, she explained her objective: “I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them.”

She talks a lot about each song and why she wrote them.

Opening with an acoustic rendition of “The Man,” from her 2019 album Lover, Swift delivered a critique of gender double-standards with a sense of humor (and a perfectly deployed hair toss), Leonardo DiCaprio name-check and all.

She says she has been thinking about the topic for many years and it was something she wanted to write about conceptually for a very long time because we have a bit of double standard issue in our society.  She wondered if there was a concise and catchy way to write a song about this?  So she decided to imagine what her life would be like if she said and did all the same things but if she was a man.

While not an original idea, she tackles it really well.  And I like that she’s using her platform to address the issue

I would be complex
I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay
For me to do
Every conquest I had made
Would make me more of a boss to you
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya…
What’s that like?

And it’s really catchy too.

At the end of the song she gives her pick to a little one in the audience (to a room full of awws).  Then she switches instruments.

She talks about the process of writing songs–when something comes and its easy, that’s wonderful.  But most days you show up… and the idea doesn’t.  Then you have to know the craft of songwriting–you’re not always going to be inspired and that’s okay.

Turning to the piano for Lover‘s title track, with a smile, she explained the guitar-string scars of the song’s bridge.

She says that she has scars on her hands from playing guitar when she was young–when she played until her fingers bled or when a string snapped and cut her.  In your life you received all kinds of scars–emotional and physical and if someone is going to take your hand, they’d better take your hand scars and all.

It’s a pretty piano ballad and her voice is really pure.

After the song she removes her blazer to reveal a velvet top (she must have been very hot).  “You guys ever had costume changes at Tiny Desk?” She then finds three more guitar picks to give to three other kids, one of whom you can quickly see is pretty darn excited.

Picking up the guitar again for “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” Swift confronted a question that she says has haunted her career: What will you ever do if you get happy?

She receives this question over and over that “has the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health.”  “What will you ever do if you get happy?  Will you just never be able to write a song again?    She says she used to reply that she started off when she was 12, she was writing songs about things she had no idea what she was talking about.  She wrote songs about heartbreak based on movies and books and character studies.  So she would say, “If stuff is going on in the world maybe she could hey inspiration from that.

But then she really asked herself that question.  “Would I not be able to write break up songs?  I love break up songs!  They’re so fun to write.”  She says she had friends going through breakups and she was watching movie and reading books about breakups and these ideas came to her.  She woke up with heartbreak lyrics in her head and realized “It’s still here!”

Across the song’s run-on thoughts and relentless searching, Swift offered an answer: She’ll continue to excel at crafting superb story-songs.

I rather like her songs on acoustic guitar–even if I’m not much of a fan of break up songs.

Before the final song, “All to Well,” she talks about how she never googles herself–she recommends you not do it either.  But her dad does.  He sends her links to lists that people rank her songs (she finds it very nice that people care enough to do that).  When the Red album came out, she said there’s a song and “I’m the only one who loves this song this much–because it happens to me and its personal.”  But it turns out that this song tops everyone’s favorite list.  “I’m happy that my opinion lines up with your opinion on that.”

I actually didn’t know this song at all–I guess I am really isolated from pop music.

She says, “here’s a sad song about fall.”  It’s very pretty on piano and once again her voice is really great.  I really like the way the words unfold and then reflect back on themselves.  It’s a really wonderfully crafted song.

This Tiny Desk Concert may not introduce Taylor Swift to a lot of people, but it pretty much did introduce me to her music.  And I was really impressed.

[READ: August 19, 2019] Lost Empress

I loved Sergio De la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. It was complicated and funny and clever and bizarre and thoroughly engaging.

Lost Empress is even better.

There’s a story about a woman running a football team–and being overlooked because she is a woman.

There is a storyline about 911 operators, and the guy who transcribes them.

The third story is about a tough, smart guy who is in jail.  He is his own defense for trying to get out.  And he hatches a plan that involves stealing artwork, the Paterson Falls and the Super Bowl.

I enjoyed it in part because much of it is set in Paterson, NJ.  I grew up next to Paterson and the city has for most of my life been in a state of decline.  Despite all of the great things it has to offer (like the Paterson Falls! which get a shout out in this book), Paterson gets no respect.  This book doesn’t exactly aim to correct that, but it does give the city something cool–a football team.

It also jokes about “what the hell is up with Paterson?”  The city had once tried to rebrand itself in which they staged a contest  for “an official slogan for the troubled city.”  Proposals emerged: “the verifiably untrue, the unintentionally insulting/intentionally insulating, the so vague that sense fails to be created, the rhyme or alliteration for its own sake, and the technically true but not even conceivably relevant.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS-Tiny Desk Concert #838 (April 3, 2019).

There is nothing worse than liking an artist and then having another artist with a similar name come along at the same time.

When I first heard of Courtney Marie Andrews, Courtney Barnett was just releasing her latest album.  And so every time I heard the name Courtney, I tuned in to see what Barnett was up to.  When it was followed by Marie Andrews, I was always disappointed.  Especially since I didn’t find this Courtney all that interesting.

Courtney Marie Andrews is part of that incessant tide of country musicians trying to crossover.   Okay technically she’s Americana, but certainly on the country side of Americana.

On the plus side, Courtney has a really powerful voice which is a pretty impressive thing indeed.   But I don’t really care for these three songs all that much.

“May Your Kindness Remain” opens with just keys (Alassane Gregoire Diarra) and her singing.   Even with little accompaniment, her voice is powerful and string.  And the lyrics are interesting:

“And if your money runs out
And your good looks fade
May your kindness remain
Oh, may your kindness remain”

The drums are brushed (William Mapp) and for the most part the song is pretty quiet.  Courtney herself is playing some simple chords and notes.  But as the song (and her voice) build toward the final chorus, she hits a big fuzzy guitar chord which really wakes up the song.

“Rough Around the Edges” opens with piano and bass (Ole Kirkeng) and vocals.  It’s a delicate song that definitely leans more country.

“This House” is dedicated to the best dog who ever lived (it would churlish to mock that the golden retriever is named Tucker–I’m sure it had a red bandanna too).  So yes, dead Tucker is buried near This House and he gets a mention in the lyrics. It’s that kind of song.

[READ: April 3, 2019] “Lulu”

This is a story of twins in China.  The narrator was born first “indignant and squalling,” while Lulu came next –perfectly quiet.  Lulu was precocious, and their parents showed their fondness for that.   She was always reading and easily got honors.  While the narrator… didn’t.  He rebelled against her brilliance by playing lots of video games.

Their parents were workers–their mother in a warehouse, father as a government employee.  They believed in the system and stood fast by it.

When it was time, Lulu scored high enough on exams to earn a place at university.  Their parents were thrilled.  The narrator also went to college, but with far less fanfare.  He says he didn’t really miss her then (he wasn’t old enough to realize it).  Plus Lulu was a huge user of social media.  He was able to find her “anonymous” account pretty easily since he knew so much about her and that’s how he kept tabs on her.

She came to visit when her school was in town for a debate and they had dinner.  They talked mostly about him.  Lulu thought video games were a waste of time but he said “it’s a profession now, you know… you can win big prize money.”

By the end of the night he finally asked Lulu about herself.  She said she was pregnant but would be getting an abortion. The father, Zhangwei, was a good man and they would be staying together: “He’s very noble.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKLEIKELI47-“Money” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

This was the final show recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

Leikeli47 was the ninth and final Tiny Desk Family Hour act to take the stage at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW last week. So naturally, the charismatic, genre-smashing masked rapper closed NPR Music’s big night with as much intensity, joy and free-wheeling fervor as the moment required.

I hadn’t heard of Leikeli47 until recently when she did a Tiny Desk Concert.  I don’t know much about her except that she wears a bandanna over her face (with eye and mouth holes–it’s pretty impressive how well it stays on), because she’s about the music, not the cult of personality.

This song is fun and bouncy but the lyrics are so blah–money, money money.  I think the music is great, though–the TSA band jams nicely.  And Leikeli47 herself is full of fun and verve.

Backed by the four costumed players who make up The TSA Band (Timmy Manson Jr: drums; Justus West: guitar; Simba Scott: bass; Portier: piano, vocals). Leikeli47 exhorted the crowd to dance, sway, sing and snap along through a five-song set that just kept getting lighter and more infectiously sweet-natured. The budding star softened some of her saltier material in deference to the setting — “The Lord knows my heart,” she said through a visible smile — and closed out the night with “Money,” a springy and appropriately titled banger.

I don’t think the song is enough of a banger, frankly.

[READ: March 22, 2019] “Run Me to Earth”

It is 1977 after 7 years in prison, Vang and Prany were finally released after pledging loyalty to the country.  Their re-education was complete.

When they are released the guard explains that they are lucky to live where they do.  They will have jobs that will make them work hard–under the old regime we were not working hard enough…corrupted by the Japanese, the French, the Americans.

They are to be self-sufficient–providing for their village which will provide for the country.

When they were arrested–the guard wondered why they resisted so long–they both had their fingers broken.  Vang recovered but Prany lost the use of his left hand.  Now Prany was twenty-five.  Vang was almost 40. (more…)

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