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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: AJ DAVILA-“Es Verano Ya” (Field Recordings, September 24, 2014). 

AJ Davila is part of the “unhinged Puerto Rican garage-rock band” Davila 666. For this Field Recording [Garage-Rocker AJ Davila Unplugs In A Hair Salon] he plays an acoustic song in a hair salon.

Davila says that New York is like another town of Puerto Rico.  That people from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have made their homes and communities here.

There’s a joke that says the biggest town in Puerto Rico is called New York. Several waves of diaspora have created a deep and complex relationship between Puerto Ricans and the city. Boricuas have had an immense influence on the Big Apple — its music, its literature, its landscape, and even its cuisine.

He says that a small place like a barbershop (or beauty salon) can feel like you’re in your house.  “This is a song about hanging out with your friends.  It’s a summer song.”

We asked Davila to delight a Spanish Harlem beauty salon with a summer song. It’s appropriate: He’s one of the warmest souls I know — someone with whom it’s a pleasure to discuss art and music, argue about politics or tell silly jokes. He’s also a uniquely talented musician, with a style that combines garage-rock, punk and even elements of hip-hop.

This song probably rocks, but this acoustic version is lighter, with some bouncy chords from the other guitarist Daniel Ortiz and delightful backing vocals from Lola Pistola.  It’s somehow even better when they laugh off a tiny mistake.

[READ: September 14, 2017] ”Sunrise, Sunset”

This is a story of three generations of a Haitain family.

Carole is elderly and is slowly forgetting a lot–a blank look comes over her face and she forgets that she put her keys in the fridge or that her daughter is related to her.

Her daughter, Jeanne, and son-in-law James (they were known as JJ) just had a son, Jude (now known as Triple J).  But Jeanne has been in the throes of post-partum depression. James is a saint about it but Carole is furious that her daughter is lying around.  Back in Haiti, Carole did not have the luxury of depression.

Carole lived under a dictator.  She watched her neighbors get dragged out of their houses by the dictator’s henchmen.  Carole’s father fled the country and she never saw him again. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAZMINE SULLIVAN-“Stupid Girls” (Field Recordings, August 12, 204).

NPR and Jazmine Sullivan were in New Orleans’for the Essence Music Festival.

I’m intrigued that this Field Recording [Jazmine Sullivan Fades A New Orleans Barber Shop] is the second one set in a barbershop (technically, this is the first one as I have been watching them in backwards order).

This barbershop, Claer-Vue, is just a few blocks from the Superdome, just off Canal Street. It has been in business since 1948.  It is a men’s barbership and I know that a barbershop is part of the culture but nearly every man waiting to get their hair cut has really short hair already–like closely buzzed.  Are they hanging out or do they get it cut daily?

I had never heard of Jazmine, but she was apparently known to at least some of the patrons

When she walked in, patrons and barbers alike were wary. But they knew who she was, from hit songs like “Bust Your Windows” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” And when she began to sing, wearing her powerhouse instrument lightly, everyone ceded her a floor that had been previously occupied by a heated debate about college football.

With just an acoustic guitar accompanying her, she sings her beautiful song.  Her voice is clear and pretty and devoid of all the trills and filigree of pop singers.

To a roomful of captivated men, she sang a brand new song, “Stupid Girls,” that warns women to be careful with their hearts.

You can see most of the men nodding along. Most are deferential, with side-eyed glances.   There’s polite applause ta the end, but Jazmine is pretty pleased with herself–as she should be.

[READ: September 14, 2018] “Cecilia Awakened”

Tessa Hadley continues to make wonderful stories where nothing seems to happen, but there is a lot going on internally.

Like the way this one starts:

Cecilia awakened from her childhood while she was on holiday in Italy, the summer she turned fifteen.  It was not a sexual awakening, or not exactly–rather, an intellectual or imaginative one.

Cecilia is described as an odd child, but one who fit in perfectly with the oddity of her parents.  Her father worked at a university library and her mother, Angela, wrote historical novels.  Most of all they both loved the past.  When they had Cecilia–late in their lives–they did not feel any need to conform to society any more than they already did.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WILD BEASTS-A Simple Beautiful Truth” (Field Recordings, October 23, 2014).

I don’t know if there was an initial mission statement for Field Recordings, but I feel like this one fits my model of Field Recordings perfectly.  For this Field Recording [A ‘Beautiful Truth’ In A Beautiful Bar], NPR brought a band into Grand Central Station to play a song.

Of course, they can’t have the band play in the middle of Grand Central Station (well they could and that would be awesome–but not if they want a lush version of the song, which they do).  So they had them play in The Cambell Apartment, a bar tucked into Grand Central Station. What?

You can be 10 feet from The Campbell Apartment, a bar tucked into the corner of New York’s Grand Central Station, and not have any idea it’s there. The office of a member of the New York Central Railroad’s Board Of Directors in the 1920s (and later a storage closet and a jail), the room is intimate in spite of its 25-foot ceilings and the enormous leaded-glass window that faces Vanderbilt Avenue.

The band Wild Beasts does not in any way live up to their name.  There’s hardly anything wild or beastly about them.  They play a kind of new wave, almost old-time music (Roxy Music-ish): “The band’s sound — from the street-urchin-inspired lyrics of its early songs to the new-wave synths woven through its latest album, Present Tense — arrived fully intact via time machine.”

“A Simple Beautiful Truth” has a delicate synth line and loud electronic drums.  It wouldn’t make sense in Grand Central Station.  I’m not entirely sure it make seen here, but the band’s overall vibe does make sense in this old-timey bar.

[READ: October 10, 2017] “A Report on Our Recent Troubles”

This story is indeed written as a report.  The recent troubles are a euphemism for the rampant suicide that has struck a village.

But because the story is written as a report, it has a formal, detached tone that really allows for much thinking about suicide.  The suicide is so rampant that families have moved away, leaving those who remain to deal with their shattered existence.

The town was once pleasant–connected to the city and culture and yet with a rural sensibility.

They the undersigned are reluctant to look for one thing that changed everything but they can’t help but note that when Richard And Suzanne Lory killed themselves, things seemed to change.  Each in their early fifties, happily married and with lots of friends.  They killed themselves and left no note. An investigation turned up no scandal.

Two weeks later a 74-year-old retired high school math teacher killed himself.  He had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver.  This was less scandalous and almost understandable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DIDONATO-“When I am Laid in Earth’ (Dido’s Lament)” (Field Recordings, February 4, 2015).

Joyce DiDonato is an opera singer with a wonderful voice.  She is also an outspoken LGBT+ advocate.

DiDonato, 45, straight and a native Kansan, is outspoken on LGBT issues and one of today’s most sought-after opera stars. At London’s popular Proms concerts she capped off the 2013 festival with “Over the Rainbow,” saying it was devoted to LGBT voices silenced by Russia’s anti-gay laws. At the Santa Fe Opera, she dedicated a performance to a gay New Mexican teen who took his life after being bullied.

For this particular performance, she was drawing attention to Mark Carson, a gay man fatally shot almost two years prior. The city’s police commissioner stated Carson’s death was clearly a hate crime.

The murder happened just blocks away from the famous Stonewall Inn, a historic gay bar.  And that is where she chose to perform this piece [Joyce DiDonato Takes A Stand At Stonewall].

“The idea of a murder happening blocks away from the Stonewall Inn is incomprehensible to me,” DiDonato says. “It shouldn’t happen anywhere. It tells me that we’re not done talking, and we are not done working for people to comprehend what equality is about and why it is important.”

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. A riot broke out, sparking successive nights of protest and, many say, the emergence of the modern gay rights movement.

LGBT rights have come a long way since that summer night 46 years ago, when there were still laws criminalizing homosexuality. But mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato believes there’s still work to be done, so she chose the Stonewall to gather a few friends, talk about equality and sing a centuries-old song that still resonates.

For this memorial she chose to perform a piece from Henry Purcell’s 17th-century opera Dido and Aeneas. The piece is called “When I am Laid in Earth” also known as “Dido’s Lament.”  She explains the piece: “‘Dido’s Lament’ is about a woman who is dying and she asks for absolution.  When I am in the earth, I hope that I haven’t created any trouble.  Remember me but don’t remember my fate.”

The aria unfolds slowly yet purposefully, with a refrain that seems to predict the mournful strains of an African-American spiritual.

The piece is beautiful and mournful.  And the musical accompaniment (students from Juilliard415) is understated and lovely.  The inclusion of the viola de gamba and the therobo is inspired.  Musicians:  Francis Liu and Tatiana Daubek, violins; Bryony Gibson-Cornish, viola; Arnie Tanimoto, viola da gamba; Paul Morton, theorbo.

[READ: April 15, 2016] “The Lower River”

This story looks at a man from Medford.  As the story opens its says the man, whose names is Altman, always imagined he’d one day return to Africa, to the Lower River.  He had loved it there when he volunteered in a village called Malabo.  He stayed for four years (longer than anybody else had).  He helped to build a school and taught at it.  He felt a real connection with the people there.

And now, some forty years later, as he was getting tired of Medford, as his clothing store was failing, as his marriage was failing, as he had very little left for himself in Medford, he decided, why not.  Why not go back to Africa and see if people remembered him at all.

The Lower River is the southernmost region of the southern province of Malawi, the poorest part of a poor country.  It is also the home of the Sen people.  They were a neglected tribe and rather despised by those who didn’t know them.  They were associated with squalor, credulity and incompetence.  And indeed, when he went there the first time people, were afraid to take him as far as the Lower River.

Now, Malawai is something of a vacation destination where rich people are pampered by the poor locals.  But when Altman arrives and asks for transport to the Lower River, people are hesitant to take him, there, making sure he knows where he is going.    Even after his driver drops him off he speeds away without any concern for formalities. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FEDE GRAÑA Y LOS PROLIJOS-“”El Gigante” (Field Recordings, May 5, 2015).

Fede Graña Y Los Prolijos are from Uruguay and play a stomping bluegrass (which is why this is called A Bluegrass Ditty By Way Of Uruguay).

Every year SXSW hosts a night of music from Uruguay.

Nestled between Argentina and Brazil way down on the southern tip of the Americas, Uruguay spends way too much time in the shadows of its better-known neighbors.

But a closer listen reveals something for just about everyone: rockeros, sure, but also fans of hip-hop, folk-influenced downtempo music and singer-songwriters with distinct voices and stories to tell.

With an electric bass and a small hand drum laying down the thumping rhythm and an accordion adding to the flair, the fascination comes from the very American-sounding guitar solo that introduces the song.  But once you comfortably know that this is bluegrass, it’s even more surprising when they all sing in Spanish.

After a couple of verses, there’s an accordion solo followed by an acoustic guitar solo (from the other guitarist).  There’s a slow down that seems like an ending but it’s a fake out as the song takes off once more,.

There’s some great guitar fingerwork by he singer as the song races to an end

What a fun song, although I never heard the word “Gigante” once..

[READ: January 5, 2017] “Chicken Hill”

Joy Williams’ stories never do what I expect them to do–for better and worse.

This is the story of Ruth.

It begins with Ruth going to a memorial fundrasier at the Barbed Wire, a biker bar “in a somewhat alarming part of town.”  She had donated $30 to the memorial of a boy, Hector, who has been run over by a sheriff’s deputy.

Ruth was pleased that the father was suing the sheriff–then she found out it was the boy’s fault–he had run in to traffic against the light.

The transition is a strange one: “It was probably just a coincidence that a child appeared not long after that.”  This was a girl who lived in a house nearby.  She was the daughter of a doctor and rather than introducing herself she said to Ruth “I would like to draw you in plein air.” (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL BACHMAN-“Song for the Setting Sun II” (Field Recordings, May 21, 2015).

Daniel Bachman plays a gorgeous six string acoustic guitar.  He plays wonderful instrumentals full of melody and feeling which tell a story in their own way.

Bachman grew up around the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg. It’s a quiet town in Northern Virginia that still has a pharmacy with cheap sandwiches and milkshakes.

The 25-year-old has been at the solo-guitar game since he was a teenager.  That’s why it felt right to bring Bachman back to the area that inspired River, a record surrounded by history, but guided by hands and a heart that know its bends and bumps.

In early March, we met Bachman in Fredericksburg to drive an hour east to Stratford Hall, home to four generations of the Lee family, which includes two signers of the Declaration of Independence; it’s also the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. Bachman knows it well, not only because his dad works there, but also because he can’t help but bury himself in history books about the region.   Bachman plays a version of “Song For The Setting Sun II” in what was the performance space at Stratford Hall. The song leaps boldly around the sunlit, symmetrical room, bouncing off walls decorated with paintings of buxom women and men in powdered wigs.

It’s a gorgeous piece with ringing strings that sounds massive in this Great Hall.  In the second half, he strikes a low E and it sounds like a cannon.  And when you hear that melody amid all of the ringing notes, it’s just sublime.

[READ: January 29, 2015] “F.A.Q.s”

Phoebe is in her mid 20s.  She returns from college withdrawn and single. Her parents are delighted that she is single, but not happy that she is so withdrawn.

Phoebe is also pretty unhappy with the changes that have occurred since she was at school.

A new coffeemaker was where the compost bucket had been.  The chicken coop lay empty (they had reverted so quickly to supermarket eggs).  An exercise machine was in her old room–however after several minutes of exercise Melanie usually ended up lying on Phoebe’s bed.  Her mom tells her that she bought rice milk and oat cakes   Later on she even tries to make her parents granola (her father was supposed to watch his cholesterol but didn’t and her mother nibbled Icelandic chocolate),

One of the few things that remained was Grandma Jeanne’s violin on the top shelf of her closet.  It was unmentioned. (more…)

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july 28SOUNDTRACKJazz Lives At Duke Ellington’s Resting Place (Field Recordings July 2, 2015).

Playing jazz at a cemetery during the day seems like an odd decision.  But it’s all part of the one-day Make Music New York festival (MMNY) which celebrates music and community.  It happens every June 21 with more than 1200 outdoor concerts across the five boroughs running from morning till night.

For the 2015 edition, the festival’s organizers invited musicians to six different burial grounds across the city to riff on the idea of “exquisite corpse,” a surrealist parlor game popularized by artists and poets in the 1920s. In the game, someone writes a phrase (or draws part of a figure or scene), folds that part of the page over, and then passes it to the next player, who then does the same. The game ends when everyone has had a turn. That game is a natural bridge to the art of improvisation, and to jazz.

Woodlawn Cemetery is a mecca for the jazz world — it’s the final resting ground of royalty like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and many others, including Ornette Coleman now as well. So as a tribute to their musical forerunners, the group — singers Michael Mwenso and Vuyo Sotashe, trumpeters Alphonso Horne and Bruce Harris, saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, pianist Chris Pattishall, bassist Russell Hall, drummer Evan Sherman and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman — took as their point of departure W.C. Handy’s 1914 tune “St. Louis Blues,” a tune essential to jazz’s DNA. But they made it their own via surprising and turns that saunter through many textures, colors and rhythms.

The song begins with vocals from “St. Louise Blues” from Vuyo Sotashe and accordion from Chris Pattishall.  After a verse, Michael Mwenso (whose voice sounds very different) takes over.  The accordion drops out and it’s just voice and bass.

They pass the baton along to the horns, two trumpets, one with a mute in, the other using the mute  and a saxophone play a lively instrumental break.  This is followed by the percussion.  Evan Sherman and Michaela Marino have a percussive call and response.  I could have watched that part for a lot longer.

When that’s over the whole group joins together to end the song.

[READ: September 10, 2018] “Audition”

The first line of this story reads, “The first time I smoked crack cocaine was the spring I worked construction for my father on his new subdivision in Moonlight Heights.”

A first implies a second (especially with crack).

The story is about a 19-year-old college dropout. He went to school to study theater but “unmatriculated” and has been working for his father’s construction firm.  His father came from nothing and build up this firm which is presently creating a development.  His father is not too happy about him wanting to be an actor and as such is paying him the same as everyone else (which isn’t much).

He still acts–in community theater, but usually to 15 people at a time.

No one knew that he was the owners son and he liked it that way–he was using this time to study the laborers to learns their mannerisms–he was acting in his job, too,   New workers came through all the time (the pay was lousy after all).

The crack came from a coworker Duncan Dioguardi who was not acting.  He was a laborer living in his mother’s basement and longing to party.

The narrator knew “party” meant get high. When Duncan’s car died and the narrator drove Duncan home (an hour out of his way), Duncan invited him to party. The narrator was intimidated, then intrigued so he did.  And that was the first time he smoked crack.

He marveled how the lump of crack looked like some drywall that could easily be swept away.  Duncan showed him how to smoke it.  It tasted like nothing.  It smelled like nothing.  It was ant climatic except for his new-found fondness for Duncan whom he now considers a good friend.

That following spring he received a call from his old acting teacher to audition for a role  It was a stage show. The character would be on stage for all three acts but would not speak a word.  The narrator didn’t know if this was a step forward or backward.  The audition went well and he was sure he would get the gig.

Duncan’s car broke down again and the narrator told him all about the potential role.  But the narrator was more excited about the option of partying some more.

The story ends soon after this, which is a little disappointing as it is told from many years later and we never learn how he turned out.  But i did like the details of the past like “wiring th ehouse for internet, whatever that was.”

For ease of searching, I include: Said Sayrafiezadeh

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