Archive for the ‘Propaganda’ Category

McSweeney’s 49: Cover Stories: Contemporary writers reimagining classic tales (2017)

SOUNDTRACKBIG K.R.I.T.-Tiny Desk Concert #714 (March 5, 2018).

A while back I downloaded one of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtapes and rather liked it.  Since then he seems to have become pretty huge and I feel like he has really expanded on his style.

K.R.I.T. sings/raps three songs from his new album.

4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double album in which he covers everything from blessings to depression while plumbing the carnal and spiritual depths of his own duality. All three songs performed here come from side two, titled after his birth name Justin Scott.

The first song “Mixed Messages” is really thoughtful.  He sings and raps

I gotta whole lotta mixed messages / in my songs am I wrong / to feel this way
I got me a lover but I still wanna cheat / I wanna be saved but its fuck the police
i never really liked the fake shit / but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits
i really wanna sing but id better rap

K.R.I.T.’s backing band, which includes Burniss Travis II on bass and Justin Tyson on drums, also features on keys Bryan Michael Cox — the hitmaking producer and songwriter behind a slew of Billboard chart-toppers. Together, the trio delivers stripped-down versions of the latest thought-provoking material in Big K.R.I.T.’s catalog.

Introducing the second song, “Keep The Devil Off” he says his grandmother introduced him to gospel.  She brought him to church and “she would wake me up when i fell asleep saying wake up you gotta hear this.”  He sings beautifully.  And then the rapped verses are really well structured.

And when he stops to pay homage to his church-going grandmother before performing “Keep The Devil Off,” it’s clear that everything she instilled in him is keeping him alive, too.

Definitely in these times we need to keep the negativity away–keep the devil off.

His grandmother was clearly very important to him.

Big K.R.I.T. has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.  So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Halfway through his three-song set at NPR Music headquarters, K.R.I.T. stops to pull out an old-school tape recorder — the same one his grandmother would use to record him singing and reciting poetry as a child. “I have to feel like my grandmother was my first mix engineer,” he says before pressing play to reveal him and his brother as kids singing a duet of R&B crooner Donell Jones’ 1999 slow burner, “Where I Wanna Be.”

He plays the tape and cracks up listening to it.  He gets the audience to sing the refrain with his younger sell.  And then his grandmother introduces he and his brother as an R&B singer, “but I’m sticking with the rap thing.”

It’s a sublime interlude — one that resonated so strongly with K.R.I.T. that he had to start his last song, “Bury Me In Gold,” over to catch the proper beat. “I’m super emotional from this, too,” he says, laughing in a moment so genuine it was only right to leave it unedited.

He says “Bury Me in Gold” is not about gold really, it’s about having something so that in the event he gets to heaven he’ll give everything away.

He tells us to remember that peace of mind and your soul are more important than gold.

I’ve always enjoyed thought provoking rap and K.R.I.T.’s lyrics combined with his voice really work wonders.

[READ: May 29, 2017] McSweeney’s 49

It has been a long time (three years or so) since the previous McSweeney’s volume.  During that silence, the publishing house went non-profit and that seems to have taken up a lot of their resources.  They even address this a bit in the interdiction to this book.

But regardless of the reasons why, it is great to have them back.

As the subtitle says, this is a book of “cover stories.” What that means is a little vague–the contemporary writers model their story after a classic story.  I try to compare it to music covers, although in music covers the music and words are typically the same with some kind of variations.  Typically, the words are the same but the music is different.  I liked to flip this idea on its head for describing these stories in that the words are different by the music is the same.

Since I don’t know most of the original stories here I don’t know how similar these are to the originals–same character names?  Same ideas?  Same plot?  I don’t know.  And perhaps it would affect the way I read these stories if I was familiar with theory original pieces.  But without knowing them, these just turned out to be good stories from good writers.

Interspersed between the stories were poems and, in a wonderful commentary on our current shitty president and the cowardly house of representatives who on the day I finished this voted to strip 24 million people of health care, are comparisons of classic historical figures’ speeches with the petty garbled tweets of out current crap in chief.  Can we impeach this motherfucker already?  And send the whole lot of them to jail, please.  #ITMFA

As many McSweeney’s do, this one opens with letters.  And of course they aren’t really letters at all, even if they are addressed to McSweeney’s.  Many deal with cover songs, but a few are much more serious, political and right on.

WAJAHAT ALI writes from Camp FDR in Washington DC where he and his fellow prisoners were finally able to cobble together WiFi.  Ali explains that the Executive Order was inevitable the ban, the vetting, the registry were all just prelude. The need to protect against terrorism outweighs the individual rights and the rights of American Muslims…read the Supreme Court decision.

NICK JAINA writes about the Sept 23, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Ray Charles appears and plays “Walk the Line” and then “Ring of Fire.”  The letter states that the creator of “Ring of Fire” is actually mis-attributed.  The story is that June Carter wrote it after seeing a page in her uncle’s book of Elizabethan poetry.  But Johnny first wife claims that Johnny wrote it while drunk about a certain female body part: “all those years of her claiming she wrote it and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”  Then it reverts back to Ray Charles’ performance with an unseen band playing behind him–especially a great baseline–and as the song ends he lets out one last shudder and cackle like he just invented the orgasm.  “Johnny returns to the stage looking like a man who just watched someone have sex with his wife but was so in awe of how good he was at it that he could only thank him.”

ROBIN TERRELL talks about trumpmania in the Czech Republic from the perspective of a black woman, lesbian, child of civil rights activists, mother of a black man living in Prague.  The look in the eyes of people after the election: The U.S. is going to fuck us over again.  It stunned Europeans that the U.S. could generate someone fouler than Europe’s own crop of white male extremists.  She is now a refugee from her own country.  #RESIST #ITMFA

KIMBERLY HARRINGTON says she always believed that even in the darkest times humor has its place.  But lately she’s been bursting into tears rather than cracking a smile.  She hopes she can find things to laugh at–even death in these horrible times.

MARY MILLER says that for the longest time she thought her uncles wrote “Stagger Lee.”  Her uncles were musicians who wrote songs but also threw some covers into their shows.  She believed that “Stagger Lee” was one of theirs. She realizes that they are not famous and that no one will remember them–but she promises them that she will remember them.

RICK MOODY writes at length about Elektra’s 1990 tribute album Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary.  I remember it coming out and I remember not getting it because it was too expensive. But Moody talks about what a great conceit this collection was to have contemporary artists cover classic songs.  He also talks about how the tribute album was quite popular in the 1990s (was it ever).  Some thought: He loves Bjork, but he thinks of the Sugarcubes as a cheeseball imitation of the B-52s (and that their “Motorcycle Mama” is pretty bad.  He mentions a few great tracks, like Kronos Quartet covering “Marquee Moon,” Metallica doing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and even a Howard Jones cover of “Road to Cairo” by the cult hero David Ackles.   But he says fully half of the collection is bad, some of it even awful–not worth its list price at the time but it has a great number of masterpieces on it.

Will Buttler (from Arcade Fire) wishes to make some amusing corrections: some errors during concerts, and apologizing for singing “I’m So Bored” with the USA because he is not.

ARIEL S. WINTER-This is an interesting philosophical question wondering whether or not Marty McFly actually created “Johnny B. Goode.”  How could he cover it before Chuck Berry had released the original.  As a child this blew her mind.  This facile beginning then goes on to say that before recorded music the notion of a cover didn’t really exist.  And indeed in the 1950s people recorded songs without concern for copyright.  It’s also true that when Chuck Berry plays Johnny B. Goode live, it’s not considered a cover of his original.  She concludes by that the Back to the Future is probably the first time she ever heard Johnny B. Goode.  So Marty McFly’s is the original to her (as it is to all the kids at the dance).  So in addition to a song having an original for the performer there is also an original for the listener.  Anyone who has loved a song for years before finding out that it’s a cover has had that experience.


This introduction talks about how the first time they did a “cover story” was in 1999 in issue 4.  Rick Moody covered Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg.”  They had been planning to do an entire issue of covers as far back as two years ago and then things happened in the McSweeney’s universe to delay it.  And now : this issue is being born in a moment of racial, social and economic reckoning and imminent fascism…into a country that looks much different from the one in which it began, fronted now by a mean and disingenuous imitation of a president.   As such: Tucked between these thirteen beautiful renditions of thirteen classic stories are instances when a cover is not an homage but rather a perversion of its predecessor”  And by that they offer examples of eloquent speeches by former leaders and then tweets from our pervert in chief.

GARY BURDEN-excerpt from Nobody Knows (an autobiography)

Gary Burden created the cover images for this issue.  I had no idea who he was, but this autobiography tells me just how interesting a fellow he was.  He has been responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the last 60 years!

These excerpt shows his origin story–he was 8 on December 7, 1941 and he has had vivid memories of WWII.  When he was 16 he joined the Marines.  But he was restless, got involved in bad things, was dishonorably discharged and got mixed up with even worse people (he says he can’t believe the things he did back then).  In 1964 he met “Mama” Cass Elliot. They spent a lot of time together and this opened him up to meeting all kinds of people: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.  Eventually he met and hung out with Jim Morrison and designed Morrison Hotel (a fascinating story that).  In one of the nicer things I’ve heard someone say he says that Jim was a real poet, someone who was unafraid of delving deeply into life irrespective of the personal cost.  Then he met Neil Young. He says that Buffalo Springfield has been his favorite band and then one day Neil came to Mama Cass’ house in his 1948 Buick Hearse.  He was also hanging around when CSN decided to become CSN&Y and then he and Neil became friends. and Neil sold him his house in Topanga.  Eventually he made the cover art for After the Gold Rush (and he gives a little story about the old lady there on the cover).  I’m kind of curious to read this whole book now, especially if it includes album covers.

EMILY RABOTEAU-“The Babysitter” after “Some Women” by Alice Munro
This is the story of a babysitter for Mrs Fagan.  She is a young girl and her employer is very rich and locally famous.  And quite eccentric (she went to East Africa and allegedly witness the Ark of the Covenant and then wrote a controversial book about it).  But in their town she was known as the white lady with black kids (Maya 3, Eddie 10 months old).  The story reflects back on the babysitter as child (she is now the same age as Mrs Fagan was when the babysitting began.  The babysitter’s mother is kind of jerk and is very sarcastic about this babysitting arrangement.  She is also a very strict Jehovah’s Witness, so when the narrator gets her first period rather than tell her mom, she just takes products from Mrs Fagan.  As the story opens Mrs Fagan’s son has just arrived and that changes the dynamic in the house.  How will Mrs Fagan take it when the narrator accidentally sets fire to the kitchen? I really enjoyed the way the end of the story plays on the notions of memories and the impact people have on others.

MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN-“The Lottery, Redux” after “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” seems like a pretty easy story to cover–I think everyone knows everything about it and it has been covered in things like The Hunger Games in their own ways.  I don’t know if this story references the original (with the redux),  for this story the people of the island of Timothy were exiled from America fifty years earlier for crimes against the environment.  They were gathering on July 27th, the day of the lottery.  And indeed the lottery is a death sentence, although it’s not entirely clear why.  Interestingly, the story is more about the girl chosen and what her life up to that point has been like.

ANTHONY MARRA-“The Tell-Tale Heart” after “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
This story doesn’t diverge all that much from the original except for the wonderful modern twist on the beating heart.  It’s hard to say more without giving things away but I loved the modernization.

JESS WALTER-“Falling Faintly” after “The Dead” by James Joyce
I didn’t know all that many stories before hand, but I knew this one very well and this is wonderful homage.  It is not in any way rewriting the story–it’s a very different story, but it alludes to the Joyce story and directly mentions it and it is quite clear where the connection between them is.
Michael is a writer.  He is married with kids but has moved temporarily out to New York to write for this new police procedural.  The show is doing well and the female star is quite beautiful.  They bond over cigarettes–she is foreign and smokes like a European, he recently started again.  As stories like this tend to go, Micheal gets the wrong idea about this young, hot actress.  And given that she is not American she misunderstands the subtleties of his behavior (which isn’t very subtle admittedly).  But he wants her to know that his story is a tribute to Joyce’s “The Dead.”  When he talks about the dead she thinks he means real dead people and is pretty freaked out.  This leads to a restraining order and a police intervention–not how he thought his life in New York would go.  What doe sit have to do with “The Dead”?  Well they are standing smoking in the snow as it gently floats to the ground falling through the universe, faintly falling.

LAUREN GROFF-“Once” after “Wants” by Grace Paley
I loved the way this story started.  I saw my enemy at the beach.  With that as a groundwork we slowly learn just how this woman has an enemy (it’s an old boyfriend’s mother) and how they have grudgingly begun to respect each other decades after the two broke up. I really enjoyed this short piece.

ROXANE GAY-“Men on Bikes” after “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
I can’t imagine what the original of this story is.  The actual story of this is pretty peculiar itself.  Basically, the men in town have all started riding bicycles everywhere.  It started when one of them was arrested for drunk driving.  He didn’t lose his license but his wife took it away from him.  He dug out a bike and began riding it.  She thought he looked ridiculous, but when another man had his license taken away, they began riding together.  It was quite a sight, although I’m not sure what the point of it was.

NAMWALI SERPELL-“Company” after “Company” by Samuel Beckett
I like Beckett, and I know that he can be confusing.  I don’t know what “Company” is about so I have no idea how it relates to it, but man I did not get this at all.

It was confusing and really long.  It is broken into many small sections which might be connected.  The first is about the brightening which happened although many people missed it. Then we learn about the ship which is electro epidermal, which is cool but not really explained  and then the story turns into a quest for melanin and just when you think it’s a sci-fi story, it becomes a story about race.  There is a pale man tied to a tree hitting a sack (pound pound).  There’s a lot of vomit.  If the white man inseminates even one person, finding pure stem cells is impossible.  Dark skin marked you as  lucky when the darkening came.  But then she says the mission is over.  There’s more vomiting.  A fellow is supposed to be invisible in the village but Pound sees him.  There’s more vomit, a section titled rape, where Pound rapes Lila every once in a while and then who the hell knows what happens at he end.

KIESE LAYMON-“And So On” after “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Weeks ago 64 black folks changed the world.  You are the 11th.  Aside from the direct address to the reader the story is pretty straightforward and interesting.  Chanda Stewart was 8th, the narrators research assistant was 9th and Doug E., Chandra’s boyfriend was 1st.  They are at a fancy restaurant, Chandra, the narrator and you.  She swears that Doug is a porn star, but the narrator argues that having 1089 twitter followers and awkward consensual sex with a few white women filmed on an iPhone 2 in his fake Timberlands, blue knee brace and yellow wrist bands makes you a porn participant, not a star.  The story comes down to which side the narrator is going to choose.   sides or run for our lives.  Because while they were talking, Doug E. and about sixty young black kids were marching down the street.  To the school.  They each had an ax and a shovel.

MEG WOLITZER-“If You’re Happy and You Know It” after “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” By J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this Salinger story in a long time, so I don’t really know how it connects to this, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the way that it was written which was a little confusing but in an intriguing way.  Set in a hotel on Miami there is the young woman in 609 who arrived with her new husband.  She’d sent him off to the beach.  We see her telling her parents that he is taking it easy, but they want to know if he is taking the Klonopin.  Later that night in the lobby, a four year old girl, Chloe, is in the lobby of that hotel watching a man play piano.  The man is a guest also and he is playing and really getting into it.  Another boy asks if he can play This Old Man and the player jokes about the boy calling him old.  But Chloe asks if he can play “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  He says he might be happy but he may not know it. She is puzzled by that.  He says she is breaking his heart.  We soon realize that the pianist is the Klonopin man, and while things don’t get dark exactly, they certainly get strange.  And Chole’s parents have foisted her off on a poor babysitter the whole time.  This was one of my favorites in the book.

T.C. BOYLE-“The Argentine Ant” after “The Argentine Ant” by Italo Calvino
I can’t imagine what the original story is like, but this one from Boyle was really icky and really fantastic.  Its’ a fairly simple premise–a family moves to a rental property in Argentina, only to find that it is swarming with ants.  The ants are everywhere–even crawling all over their baby.  They run to the next door neighbor’s house only to see that they know about the ants and might have a secret weapon.  But mostly they just seem to be putting their furniture in jugs of water–presumably as a deterrent.  There is also an Ant Man who might be fighting the ants or who might actually be bringing more.  What is great about the way Boyle writes this is that the guy renting the house is working on an academic theorem that his wife thinks is rather frivolous.  And that tension underpins everything.

ALICE SOLA KIM-“One Hour, Every Seven Years” after “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Again I don’t know the original, but this story was great, and also weird. The weird part is that the story seems to start over multiple times. And that’s because there is a kind of time travel component to it.  The title refers to how often the sun comes out on Venus.  There is a girl, the main character, named Nargit. She was born on Earth and so she saw the sun.  The other kids are pretty angry at her for it (as if it’s her fault).  They are abusive to her, and the time travelling is the girl’s attempt to protect her younger self.  Many things go wrong but they bring about different results.

CHRIS ABANI-“Sleepy” after “Sleepy” by Anton Chekhov
This story was pretty horrific.  Kemi, a sixteen year old black girl who is now an orphan is working for a white family.  The family has two little children, one of whom is a baby.   The family is horrible to Kemi.  Pretty unrelentingly horrible.  Kemi is tired and never gets a break and the baby cries all the time.  She can’t soothe the baby and the family blames her for her failures.  Her exhaustion builds and builds until you pretty much know the ending several pages before it happens.

TOM DRURY-“The Yellow Wallpaper” after “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know the original story although not super well.  But this version feels almost exactly the same. I honestly can’t tell what the difference is (without having re-read the original again to compare).   Jane and John are renting a place on an island for the summer.  John thinks Jane is not strong and keeps her hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.  He more or less runs everything in her life until she starts seeing people through the wallpaper.  You know things can’t go well from there.


REBECCA LINDENBERG-“Having a Coke with You” after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem for Keats” after “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

STEPHEN BURT-“A Nickel on Top of a Penny” after “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo

BRIAN TURNER-“The Metaphor Program” after “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

STEPHEN BURT-“Roofers” after “The Armadillo” by Elizabeth Bishop

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting” [the first two lines are taken from “A Poem on the Occasion of the Consecration of Sandford and Shippon Churches” by Rev. F. Wilson Kittermaster, 1855]

STEPHEN BURT-“Suspense” after “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane

KEVIN MOFFETT-“Second Wonder”-a monologue that will air on The Organist.
I found this puzzling at best.

PATTY YUMI COTTRELL-excerpt from Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
I read this book not too long ago.
This except was about two young children who invented a game called “Confession” in which the boy confesses his real or imagined sins to his sister.


The comparison quotes are called Great Speeches from History vs. the Tweets of Donald J. Trump:  I can’t bring myself to write any of the jerks tweets.

Mahatma Gandhi from the “Quit India” speech, 1942 vs. a Feb 4 2017 tweet

Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address” 1863 vs. a Feb 18 217 tweet (about fake news)

Martin Luther King Jr from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vs. Feb 21 2017 (crowds planted by liberal activists)

Frederick Douglass from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” 1852 vs. Feb 6 2017 (negative polls are fake news).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, inauguration speech 1933 vs. Jan 22, 2017 (including all my enemies)


The bad thing about this issue is that the last four or five stories were all real downers, making it a pretty tough slog.  But I loved the idea, and I liked that they found the time and space to point out how stupid trump sounds and looks and is.

For ease of searching, I include: Cesar Vallejo


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SOUNDTRACK: JULIEN BAKER-Tiny Desk Concert #690 (January 10, 2018).

Julien Baker joins a handful of artists who have now made a second appearance at a Tiny Desk Concert.  (If they start inviting artists back regularly, they’ll never get ANY work done at the NPR offices).

I was quite enamored with Baker when I watched her first Tiny Desk Concert.  And I was totally smitten with her when I saw her open for The Decemberists.

Julien plays three songs here.  I’m intrigued that in the blurb Bob says “I reached out to ask if she would be willing to do something different this time around.”

It makes it sound as if she’s going to do some kind of dance/electronica show.  But I guess the difference is that last time, she just played electric guitar and this time she mixes up instrumentation and adds a violinist.

The first two songs, “Hurt Less” and “Even,” were accompanied by Camille Faulkner, with Julien on piano for the opening tune and acoustic guitar on the second.

If Julien Baker sounds delicate with just her electric guitar, she’s twice as delicate on piano.  But her voice sounds exquisite–powerful, honest and a little raspy, adding a slight edge.

I love seeing her sticker-covered acoustic guitar as she sings on “Even”:

Putting my fist through the plaster in the bathroom of a Motel 6 / I must have pictured it all a thousand times / I swear to God I think I’m gonna die / I know you were right / I can’t be fixed, so help me

She tends to play her guitar a little louder than the piano, so this one is a bit more dynamic.  The violin adds some aching sounds over the top.

I love that she plays each song in a very different style:

For the final song, Julien put together an arrangement of “Appointments” that begins on electric guitar, which then was looped as a backdrop to her on piano and voice.

It’s always fun watching someone loop guitar melodies.  And I like that she continues to loop long after it seems like the looping is done.  This allows for some of her gorgeous ringing chords.  They continue to ring out as she plays the piano.  It’s even cooler that she can stop parts of the guitar looping while she is completing the song.

All along her voice, which seems so delicate when she starts proves to be really powerful, especially during “Appointments” when she builds to a powerful high.    When I saw her live, she held a really long note that was quite impressive.  Don’t be fooled by the quietness of her music, Julien Baker rocks.

[READ: October 27,2017] Threads of Blue

This is the sequel to Beautiful Blue World, a book I really enjoyed.

In the first book, Mathilde’s country of Sofarende was being attacked by Tyssia.  She was sent to a special location to work on the war effort–they needed precocious children and she was picked for her empathy.  As the book ended, Mathilde followed her empathy and, while their encampment was under siege, released a teenaged prisoner of war because she felt that he was a good person who was just caught up in the war.

This act caused her to leave her group (and her best friend Megs) and to miss the conveyance to safety.

As this book opens, Mathilde wakes up on a boat that is bringing her to the country of Eilean.  She has secret documents and an order to be secretive.

The book picks up right where the previous one left off (I could have used a slight refresher, honestly). (more…)

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instruct SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Record Body Rheos Day#6, Toronto, ON (November 12, 2001).

Sometimes you would go see Rheos and they would play a show packed with rarely played songs. This is one of those shows – The Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos, SRBM, Onilley’s, Jesus Was Once A Teenager Too, Public Square, Halloween Eyes, Satan Is The Whistler, PROD, Martin’s First Day Of School, Home Again…a treasure trove for hardcore fans. This was night 6 of Winter Nationals 2001 aka Record Body Rheos.

This is the only show remaining in 2001.  It is also only the second show of this run available on RheostaticsLive.

The recording of this show is spectacular—loud and very clear soundboard recording.  It features Michael Phillip Wojewoda on drums–the band’s final drummer before their dissolution in 2007.

Dave as always is very chatty: “Is it the first night for a lot of you folks here?  Oh you’ve been here before?  Cool.  We mixed it up for you tonight.  We got a lot of stuff we haven’t played over the last 4 or 5 nights.

Mike says, “A lot of stuff I haven’t played.”  Apropos of nothing Martin says, “We’re going to play a new song called ‘Couscous.'”  [They don’t].

The show starts with “The Midnight Ride Of Red Dog Ray.”  I’d always assumed this song was by Stompin’ Tom, but in fact it was by Washboard Hank Fisher.  The songs sounds sounds big and full–much louder than other versions of this song.  Tim has lots of backing vocals: “riiiiide” “Raaaaaay.”  Dave rolls his rs in the last chorus.  It ends and Dave asks “That wasn’t too hard was it, Mike?”

Dave says, “we’ll stay in Ontario for this next number.”  It’s a nice, spare version of “Christopher.”  I like when Martin is singing “we used to take trips,” he plays the melody on the guitar the same notes.  And when he “setters” ‘trips’ a second time he plays the guitar note as well.  They have a really hard time with “The Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos.”  They play it twice way too fast for Tim to sing.  The guitar in the beginning feels way too fast even if you don’t know the song.  Tim says, “Hey this is way too fast.”  Martin agrees: “Bit of a wrist twister.”  Tim: “I only go so fat.”  They try again, Martin slows down but the drums are the problem.  It’s pretty much the same tempo.  Then MPW gets it right and Tim does a good job—it’s still a pretty fast song.   During the end part they mess up that final riff, but they do manage it after another try.

Martin jokes: “The woods are full of caca” (chukcle).

Tim says, “Speaking of that band, Gordon Cummings’ new band Precious Little is playing with us this week.”  He asks when and Dave says “It’s in the paper, Tim.”  Tim: “‘I don’t subscribe to such things.”

A fan says something and Dave replies, “I’m not smoking.  My playing is pretty hot, but I’m not smoking, sir.”  He then tells a story about playing hockey at 2PM at the Annual Green Sprouts Game.  He says he normally wears full pads, but this time he wore pants and water got all over him–it looked like I peed myself.  Tim: “remember that gig in Victoria when you actually peed yourself?”  Dave says something about a toilet and then says “And you were drawing it in your sketchbook.”

Martin has his new robotic voice synthesizer and speaks “SUPERdifficult.”  It’s fun to hear this song after so much time in the mid-1990s.

Dave: “I sense that you are a loud crowd.  Sometimes smaller bodies of people should be louder”
Martin: “The example of the Belizian howler monkey–small body, loud sound.”
Dave: “Any howler monkeys here tonight?”

They thank the opening acts: Some Guy with a Guitar (is that the guy’s name or are they joking about who it is?  I can’t find anyone with that name).  And The Keep On Keepin’ Ons  they should lose that Dave Love guy he’s gonna destroy them if he doesn’t destroy himself.  [Can’t find anything out about him either].

Martin introduces “PIN”:  “This is a song about stuff that goes like this.”  But for “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” Dave says, it’s a song from The Blue Hysteria which we recorded in 1996.”
Martin: “Really eh?  This is song about probiscis monkeys and how good they are at sweeming…swimming.”
When they start there’s a terrible flat note on bass.
Martin says, “No, no, its not gong to be that interesting.”
Dave: “I mean how many fucking songs do we have to have about proboscis monkeys who swim?  Shit.”
Tim: “Martin, can you stretch a little?”
Martin: “All my songs are about apes.”  Fan: “What about ‘That’s How They Do It in Warsaw’?”  Martin: “Polish apes.  It’s about a zoo I visited there in the elate 60s.  Zoos at the at the time, ooh la la.
Before this gets out of han Dave says “Let’s go capo monkey.”
When Martin gets to the “sweetest ass” part he chimes in: “all red and blue and such.”

When the song ends, Martin says “Archie” in Edith’s voice (why he is talking about All in the Family I have no idea).  Dave says, “All I could think of the tragedy in the towers.  (this show is just a couple months after 9/11) Archie Bunker lived in Queens and when they showed the footage of the plane wreckage all the houses looked like Archie Bunker’s house.”  Martin: “704 Hauser Street.”  Dave: “Alright Tim [Mech], atta boy.  Pretty good to have a guy feeding you lines in the wings.”
Tim: “No more monkey jokes, Tim.”
Martin: “Yeah, cool it on the ape shit.”

While they’re bantering, someone says, “That last song was really fucking good.  Dave: “Thank you, sir.”

This next song [“Mumbletypeg”] is dedicated to Tim’s tie.  Dave says that Night of the Shooting Stars is out in a couple weeks.  The album cover is a cross between Spinal Tap, Charlie’s Angel’s and Metallica’s black album.  And it sounds like a cross between those three things.
Martin: “Precisely.  With nothing else.”
Mike: “As a total marketing move the last night of our run here is the night of the shooting stars.  So everyone should go up north and watch the Leonids
Martin: “When does the meteor shower start, Mike?”
Mike: “Well 4 in the morning. Until the 18th”
Dave: “We should probably end the night with a processional chant of LEE-OH-NiD.”
Mike: “With flutes and a bus.”
Martin: “The flute bus!”
Dave: “The flute bus, I think The Medieval Babes have it.  They did beautiful older music but they added a sexy edge to it.”

They play another song from NotSS called “Reward”: “We’re gonna do a song we did last night but it didn’t turn out to good, so we’re going to try it again for you. No, No, for us.  For the greater good. We are true artists.”

“Oneilly’s Strange Dream” sounds so much like “Saskatchewan” in parts.   Those three harmonica notes before the solo are just like in “Claire.”  Dave seems to fill in on some of the words if Martin forgets them.  The end of the song has a really noisy section of chaotic chords and drums.  Martin ends the song with the lyrics from the first verse instead of the final verse.  Dave rescues the song and Martin finishes it.

Tim: All we did was smoke pot in the Bahamas when we recorded that album.  Sorry about that.

Dave tells a very long story about he Bahamas that is very funny (drinking, missing planes, throwing up).

This leads to a mellow, almost acoustic “Jesus.”  Martin messes up a lyric and Dave feeds him a line, so he continues.

Dave: “Pretty great fun for a Monday night for us.  We’re usually at home watching Golden Girls by this time.

They go all the way back to their debut album for “Public Square,” a song they didn’t even play that much back then.

Someone shouts “Halloween Eyes.”  Dave: Halloween has passed, ma’am.”  But they play it anyhow. Really goofy.  They don’t play it much at all: “Don’t look at me with your Halloween eyes.  Don’t hit me with your pumpkin pies.  Devils got horns devils got a tail.  666 gonna fuck you up.  Some even say that he’s got scales. 666 you’re a sitting duck.”  Dave: “They actually really were stones when they wrote that.”

This next song [Bad Time to be Poor] is dedicated to the retirement of Mike Harris [Harris was the 22nd Premier of Ontario from June 26, 1995 to April 14, 2002. He is most noted for the “Common Sense Revolution”, his Progressive Conservative government’s program of deficit reduction in combination with lower taxes and cuts to government spending].

“Satan is the Whistler” is sloppy but rocking with more of that robotic voice “he is the whistler.”

There’s an interesting surf guitar like opening to “Four Little Songs.”  The whole thing is crazy fun.  For Tim’s: “Lets go to France, beautiful France.”
I’m not sure who is singing Don’s part, but they stop “we should get these guy to sing that one.”

Huge creatures prowl the streets tonight
Moon and antlers set the sky alight

Martin: “These beast have antlers, perhaps they’re just moose.”  After the first attempt, Dave chides, “Wait that’s really terrible, hold on.”   They resume the middle part and then the audience sings along pretty well.  During the Neil Young part there’s some gentle jamming with funky bass from Tim.  Whoever sings it has a crazy voice.  They slow things down at the end for “and my brain goes….”  The sound goes slow and woozy.
When they stop that, Martin says, “This is the morning after” and they resume properly, except Dave sings “We drank all our beer and ate all our pizza.” at the end.  And then he introduces, “Drunk guy.  Drunk guy.  Thanks, Justin.”  Mike says, “Dave, I love it we your son gets up to sing with us.”

On his way out Martin says, “Rush never sleeps.”

Thanks to The Keep on Keepin’ Ons and the Poppy Salesman (this makes me think the guy with a guitar was Martin).

The encore starts with “CCYPA.”  Dave says this is the lead off track or the emphasis track about Canadian politics.  As the song ends, Martin says, “Pleased to meet ya.  Dave Love of Love Your Stuff Records.”

It’s followed by a wild “PROD.”  Dave: “Tim’s got the urge, we got the urge”  ….Tim gets a small bass solo.  Then “Let’s give the drums some space.” (a small solo).  And then they say goodbye.

They come back and Tim asks Martin for a few bars of “Martin’s First Day of School.”  “I’ve always liked that song.”  Martin: “The last time we played that was in 1992.”  Dave: “Not even.”

Martin: “Before the world changed.   Before the horrible events of Dave’s birthday.”  Dave’s birthday is September 11.  He said people were calling him up saying, “Dave, happy birthday.  What a tragic day, terrible day, your birthday.”

They end with “Home Again” from Harmelodia and then “Song of the Garden” which they re-recorded fro NotSS.

As they head out, Dave reminds everyone: Tomorrow’s free, so you got no excuse.  Tomorrow night: Precious Little at 9:30.  John Ford at 10: 25 and  Rheostatics later on.

[READ: June 30, 2016] The Instructions

I put off reading this book for six years.  And I see that I started to write about this over a year ago.

The book is massive!  (Category Thirteen even created a web page comparing the size of the book to other things).

It has been a major conversation piece.  I was reading it at the mechanics and an elderly lady and I wound up talking about books for 20 minutes because of it (she was reading Michael Chabon).

I had heard that even though it was big, it was not particularly challenging to read.  So while it is physically bigger than Infinite Jest (see the link above), it has about 40 fewer pages (and while it does have footnotes, there are not very many).

This story is all about Guiron ben-Jusah Maccabee, a ten-year old Israelite who may just be the next Messiah.

The book itself looks like a Bible (from the sheer size) and, indeed, as it opened we see that The Instructions were written by Guiron and translated and re-translated from the Hebrew and the English by Eliyahu of Brooklyn and Emmanuel Liebman.

Then there is a note from the publisher in 2013 (the book came out in 2010) saying that Guiron received no fanciable remuneration for his work, but money will go to the Scholars Fund.  Whether the U.S. Government “convicts, acquits, or fails to prosecute him for crimes relating to “The Damage Proper,” “the 11/17 Miracle,”: or any other event pertaining to “The Guironic War,” note that the Scholars Fund “in neither a terrorist organization nor a sponsor of terrorist organizations.”

That’s a pretty intense introduction.

The whole 1000 page book takes place in just a few days Starting November 14, 2006 (between second and third period).
Although the book is about Guiron, there are dozens of characters in the book–those who are “faithful” to Guiron and those who are not.

Benji Nakamook and Vincie Portite are his two closest allies.  They go to school with him at Aptakisic Junior High.  And they are all in The Cage.  The Cage is sort of a detention class–a high-security education experiment–the kids have all of their classes in this one room that has more security than any other room.

Guiron has been expelled from two other Jewish day schools.  In both instances he was considered brilliant and a genuine scholar but he was removed from both because of his violent tendencies.  And those violent tendencies are right up front.  As the book opens, Benji, Vince and Guiron are trying to waterboard each other. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALSARAH & THE NUBATONES-Tiny Desk Concert #585 (December 9, 2016).

The Tiny Desk Concerts have introduced me to a ton of bands I’ve never heard of before.  They’ve also introduced me to styles of music I’ve never heard before.  Alsarah and the Nubatones play music inspired by her home country of Sudan.  But I believe she (they) include pop elements to make the music more accessible (and danceable).

And this Concert was great–I listened to it over and over.

The instrumentation is all fairly simple: Rami El Aasser plays all kinds of percussion.  I love the sound that he gets out of that hand drum.  Brandon Terzic plays an amazing oud and  Mawuena Kodjovi’s bass holds the whole thing together in an incredible way–something that I think this traditional music lacks.

But most important are the singers’ voices.  Alsarah sounds great by herself but when she and Nahid harmonize, it is enchanting.  Especially in the chorus of the first song, “Ya Watan” when their voices work together so perfectly

But what’s Alsarah’s deal?  The blurb is really helpful:

When singer Alsarah left her native Sudan, she was just a child who’d shown an interest in music. She’s said it served as her coping mechanism during a subsequent transition to life here in the U.S. That passion led her to a university degree in ethnomusicology.

It also drew her to musicians who were passionate about the intersection of culture, music and migration. Together, their one-of-a-kind expression has been called “East African retro pop.” But that tag only scratches the surface: In their hands, the music pulses, breathes and comes alive with a mix of tradition and contemporary influences.

I don’t know what the song names mean, but I love “Ya Watan.”  The song is really catchy, but when the bass did a big slide at the end of the middle slow section to announce the final part, I was hooked.

I have no idea why there’s a 3 in this titular word, but that makes me even more intrigued by “3roos Elneel.”  Before the song she says (in perfectly unaccented English), “I’m going to tell a story because I think I can do whatever I want.”

She says that the song is inspired by “girls music” performed at wedding ceremonies in Sudan.  But she tries to merge it with an old myth.  The Nile River would flood every season because the gods were angry and lonely.  So the Sudanese people would sacrifice the most beautiful maiden in the village.  But she wonders what happens after she goes in the river.  And what happens next season when there’s a new girl–that’s a lotta wives.  So, she likes to think there’s trade off.  You go in to the river and do 3 months as a Nile god bride and then you swim off.  Maybe the bottom of the Nile is full of ex-Nile-god-divorcees giving birth to mermaids.  Yes, she claims mermaids as a Nubian invention.

The song begins with a call and response. It sounds rather traditional.  But after a few lines, the song stops with a four-beat clap-along section.  And then everything shifts.  First the bass plays a cool riff then the oud joins in with some fast playing and then the percussion makes it utterly danceable.  There’s even a cool oud solo.

The first section of “Fulani” is the chorus repeating the word Fulani over and over (in call and response style), but it’s done in wonderfully melodious fashion, including a catchy stop start section with more clapping.

The song is really great and I love the way all the instruments are able to make the song fade out.

This music was totally captivating.

[READ:January 27,2017] Beautiful Blue World

Sarah brought this book home and read us a little bit of it and I decided I had to read it, too.

The part she told us about was about a girl taking a test to see if she would be useful for the army.  But it was no ordinary test, it was more like Bletchley Circle–puzzles and observations more than facts.  That sounded great.

What she didn’t tell us was the general set up of the story.

So, this story feels like a World War II story, with a country like England being attacked by a country like Germany.  But what makes this book special is that these are not the countries. The countries are called Sofarende (the attackees) and Tyssia (the attackers). But despite these countries having fantastical names, the story feels very real.


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SOUNDTRACK: PATTY GRIFFIN-Tiny Desk Concert #282 (June 24, 2013).

I have Patty Griffin’s first two albums—I like her folkie sensibilities and her voice which I tend to think of as a little unusual.  And yet it’s not unusual here at all.  She sings powerfully and beautifully.

For this Tiny Desk Concert she’s playing some from her then new release:

she takes care to balance the exquisite mourning of “Faithful Son” — and the sweetly somber “That Kind of Lonely,” which Griffin describes as “a song about finally letting go of your delayed adolescence” — by closing her set with the playfully bawdy, kindly celebratory “Get Ready Marie.” Inspired by a favorite photo of her grandparents, the song finds Griffin viewing two complicated lives with the generous, hopeful eye she’s been casting on her subjects for three fruitful decades now.

She opens with “Faithful Son.” I love how the middle of this has a cool section where the two acoustic guitars (played by Griffin and Dave Pulkingham) face each other and strum hard for a bit.  The problem for me with this song is that the baritone guitar (played by Craig Ross) is either out of tune or the Ross hits a few wrong notes.  Since it resonates a bit louder than anything else, it’s really noticeable.  The accordion (played by John Deaderick) isn’t loud enough either.

“That Kind Of Lonely” is, as noted, a song about finally letting go of your delayed adolescence.  It’s a pretty, quiet number.  A good contrast to “Get Ready Marie.”  She says she is always picking on her family for stories.  She says she got this idea from a photograph of her grandparents taken just after they wed in the 1920s.  Her grandmother is looking at the camera like maybe she made the biggest mistake of her life and her grandfather (who looks really handsome) looks like he can’t wait to get his hands on her. They had a wild relationship—plates were lying.  This is a comic bawdy song that sounds like a traditional drinking song with some great lyrics:

No this isn’t the end of our story
No our marriage stuck like a habit
But I had a good hunch, when she kissed me a bunch
She could do other things like a rabbit

It’s in ¾ time and the accordion is louder here and it all sounds terrific.  It’s hard to believe that she’s been playing for 30 years, but she sure sounds like a pro.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis 2

I found Persepolis to be an amazing book.  A peek inside a regime that was sort of mythically wicked during my childhood. Marjane’s personal story was interesting of course, but I enjoyed seeing just what was happening in this world that seemed so mysterious when I was growing up.

This sequel is a little less exciting because it is more or less about a lonely teenager in Europe.  I think if the first book wasn’t so groundbreaking, this one wouldn’t feel as disappointing.  Her story is interesting and her experiences are story-worthy, but compared to the first book this one is the awkward teenage years.

We see that Marjane’s being sent to Europe didn’t go quite as planned.  She stayed with her mom’s friend.  But the friend fought with her husband all the time and their house was not a happy one. They felt that they couldn’t look after Marjane so they sent her to boarding school in Vienna–Marjane didn’t speak German. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG-Tiny Desk Concert #281 (June 17, 2013).

I really like Billy Bragg.  Not necessarily all of his music, but I like a lot of it and I certainly love what he stands for.  If you like his instantly recognizable voice (which I do), then just about anything he does sounds good.  But no doubt some songs are catchier than others.

Bragg played a Tiny Desk Concert in 2016 with someone else as part of a duo.  I’d listened to that one first, but I liked this one more.

For this one he is accompanied on the first two songs by dobro player C.J. Hillman.

Bragg talks a lot–he has many lengthy stories between songs–and he’s pretty much always funny or thoughtful.  He introduces the first song by saying that moving into a new building always has troubles–you’ll always need someone to fix things up.  With that, his first song is called “Handyman Blues.”

It’s a great story song.  I especially like this line:

Don’t be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed / but I can write a song about how much I love you instead.

It’s amusing that in the next song workers actually interrupt his song.  They were “met with lot of hammering on our rooftop by some real handymen as they put the finishing touches on NPR’s new home.”

For the second song they

channeled the spirit of legendary American folksinger Woody Guthrie, with whom Bragg collaborated — albeit posthumously, in Guthrie’s case — when he took Guthrie’s unsung words and set them to song with the help of Wilco. Here, he takes a song Guthrie himself co-opted and altered: a gospel tune (“This World Is Not My Home”) he’d turned into an anthem against inaction.

Bragg introduces this song as saying he took it over when the U.S. was having the debate about universal health care.  He says that people still face all the same problems that this classic song talks about–people losing homes to banks or families struggling to make ends meet.  But the middle verse is about a wife who dies on the floor for want of proper health care.  Bragg says that that doesn’t happen in his country anymore and it’s hard for people in his country to imagine that a generous country like the US still hasn’t resolved that issue (and five years later things are even worse with Trumpcare–#ITMFA #RESIST).

Guthrie called the song “I Ain’t Got No Home (In This World Anymore”).  After he sings a verse, the hammering starts and they pause the song to wait for the work to finish before he re-starts the song.  In the meantime they talk about what his band should do in Washington.  Someone says the National Archives and he jokes the Nashville Archive?  He says that they really enjoyed Nashville.  Then he mentions the National Archive to CJ and says

We can find out how the Americans started the war of 1812.  (chuckles).  I just played Annapolis, they’re still sore about it over there.  Never mind who won the war but who started it.

It’s another nice story song.  The dobro works perfectly with it.

“Sexuality” is the only song on this set that I knew.  It’s an old favorite that is serious and funny as well (and very progressive for when it was written).  It sounds terrific and is super catchy.  Although he comments that the acoustics aren’t that great in this new building–there’s not much bounce back off the walls “for those of us who technically aren’t great singers.  But for those of us who are buskers like myself, it’s not bad.”

Introducing the final song, “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” he says he read an article on the BBC about a kid who proved that economics professors were wrong and the article commented that “the trouble with economics is that no one knows nothing anymore.”  He says that had just written a song with that same name, so he’s with the zeitgeist.

He also interjects that there will be pedants–“and there are one or two who listen to NPR, I’m sure” who will write in to say it should be ‘no one knows anything any more.’  But the first thing they teach you at songwriting school is that alliteration trumps grammar.

And then he starts strumming “Sexuality “and says “Oh, I’ve just played that.”

“No One Knows Nothing Anymore” is a nice folkie, very-Billy Bragg song–good melody and really good lyrics.

At the end, as the camera fades to black he says “Chris, pass the hat around.”

I’m so happy that Billy Bragg is still making music.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis

This graphic novel is legendary, and I’m embarrassed it has taken me 13 years to read it.

Persepolis is a memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran during the 70s and 80s.  I appreciated the contextualizing introduction in which she explains the history of the country.

The introduction lays out a basic outline of the history of Iran and the Middle East (that goes all the way back to B.C years).  She explains that Iran has always been a rich nation and has constantly been under attack.  When oil was discovered, the West came calling.  Great Britain wielded a powerful influence over Iranian economy.  During WWII, Iran remained neutral but then was invaded by the west.

The Prime Minister of Iran (not the Shah) nationalized the oil industry in 1951 which led to an embargo and a coup organized by the CIA.  The leader, Reza Shah was succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Shah–known simply as the Shah of Iran.  The Shah stayed in power until 1979 when he fled to escape the Islamic Revolution.

She says that since the Islamic revolution Iran has been associated with fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism, but she knows that this is far from the truth.  And that’s what inspired her to writ this book.


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zahraSOUNDTRACK: WEAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #539 (June 10, 2016).

weaves There’s been quite a few mellow bands on Tiny Desk as of late so this rocking quartet from Toronto are a fun change of pace

And boy do they stand out.  Lead singer Jasmyn Burke is wearing a psychedelic dress and has a pretty wild afro.  She sings in a way that seems like maybe she could be doing something else, but always with a wry smirk.  And her voice is unusual–almost talking, but sometimes hitting slightly off-sounding notes (and at times seeming almost childish) but it all works really well within the songs.  And then there’s the music.  A bass, guitar and drum, and Morgan Waters, the guitarist, playing as if he’s doing several different songs at once.

“Coo Coo” features some picked guitar parts, some distorted chord parts, a part that mirrors her vocals (during the delightful chorus of “You’re so coo coo / I’m so coo coo  / I’m so crazy.”  And then there’s the part during the final chorus which features him playing something different after each time she says “I’m so coo coo” –trash metal guitar, simple guitar lines, then squeaky fractured notes.   It’s hard to know who to watch more.  And the bassist is no slouch either, as he keeps up pretty nicely with the wild playing.

As they start the next song, “Shithole,” the drummer starts the wrong one but they correct him and say that they are gong to play “Shithole” in this nice building.  It opens with a delicate guitar riff and a pulsing bass line.  The song is surprisingly mellow until the middle section when a noisy solo kicks in, but this song is primarily bass and vocals with a really abrupt ending

“One More” is a fast punky song which is again mostly bass and drums until the loud distorted guitars check in to accompany the vocals. I get a kick out of the odd way she sings “One more” (accompanied by a suitably squeaky guitar).

Mostly Jasmyn doesn’t seem to be singing all that hard until portions so this song when all four are going a little crazy.

They are fun band that I need to explore some more–I’ll bet they are a lot of fun live.

[READ: March 1, 2016] Zahra’s Paradise

This book is a fierce indictment of the Iranian Islamic revolution and the questionable election that took place in 2009 which brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

It was written (by Amir) and drawn (by Khalil) pseudonymously so that they could avoid prosecution (or worse) in their home country of Iran.  In fact, while the story was amazing and really powerful, it was the afterword that I found so important.

But the story first.  And the part that will make no one want to read this book–a bag full of puppies is killed.  Yup, getting that out of the way right from the start.  And in fact, there doesn’t really seem to be a lot of justification for it.  It gets referenced a few times in the story, but nothing else is quite as graphic as the prologue (so you can skip that if you don’t want to see an image that you won’t be able to get out of your head). (more…)

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