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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BRIDGET KIBBEY-Tiny Desk Concert #933 (January 8, 2020).

I love the harp.  Ever since I took a very brief class in grad school (like 4 weeks), where I learned exactly how to play one, I’ve wanted to buy one (that’s an expensive hobby).

Harps are usually thought of as celestial instruments, think “the stereotype of the genteel harp, plucked by angels.”

But the range on the harp is unreal–47 strings!  Such highs and lows.  And the things usually weigh a ton (not literally, or maybe literally).  When I saw Joanna Newsom, I was delighted to see her play a harp from relatively up close.

Now here is Bridget Kibbey.

Kibbey is crazy for the harp. She first heard one at a country church amid the Northwest Ohio cornfields where she grew up. Now she’s the go-to harpist for contemporary composers, some of whom who are writing pieces especially for her.

To be able to watch Kibbey play these pieces up close is breathtaking.  She starts with Bach (arr. Kibbey): “Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565.”  Yes, that one, the one we all know on the organ.  Well, hearing it on the harp is a whole new experience and watching her steamroll through as her fingers fly all over the place is wonderful.  You can marvel as she “offers tightly interwoven voices, like gears in a clock, with melodies and rhythms that sparkle.”

She says she transcribed the piece for the harp on a bet.  It gives her a chance to explore Baroque counterpoint and the drama of this piece.  And does she ever.

The second piece is by the “great living jazz artists Paquito D’Rivera” from Cuba.  He plays clarinet and saxophone and wrote “Bandoneon” (arr. Kibbey) for piano, which she transcribed for harp.   It is an Argentine tango and is really terrific.  I love how she keeps that bass line steady while the high notes fly around the harp.

Kibbey is really fun and boisterous and she’s very excited about her instrument.  It’s fun to hear her talk about what she’s going to be playing next.

The final piece is a “little ditty” she grew up singing in the cornfields of Ohio.  It’s Bach (arr. Kibbey): “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” from St. Matthew Passion.

I see that she has played Princeton a few times in the past.  I sure hope she comes back!

[READ: January 9, 2020] “The Country in the Woman”

This story was published this month in a collection of previously unpublished work.

I don’t believe I’ve read much by Hurston and I was a a little put off that this story is written in partial dialect.

Looka heah Cal’line, you oughta stop dis heah foolishness you got.

But I quickly got over that as I saw what she was doing with the story.

Caroline and her man, Mitchell, are from Florida but they have moved to New York City.  The New Yorkers all want Caroline to be more like a New Yorker but they know you can’t get rid of “the country in the woman.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Bob Boilen’s Favorite Tiny Desk Concerts of 2019.

For 2020, I intend to put more albums in my Soundtrack section.  But it’s amazing how time consuming that can be.

Nevertheless, I’ll always be posting about Tiny Desk Concerts because I watch all of them.  So I’ll start 2020 with Bob Boilen’s favorite Tiny Desk Concerts of 2019.

It amuses me that Bob Boilen and I often share very similar tastes in music, but our favorite things are usually quite different.

When we first started filming musicians playing behind the Tiny Desk in April 2008, the beauty was in the intimacy and simplicity of these concerts. Now into our 11th year, after more than 900 Tiny Desks, the other treasure I find in these concerts is the variety. I remember having the cast of Sesame Street here in May, with NPR parents and their children seated on the floor watching the Muppets. The following Monday we had the blood red-faced raging of Idles, climbing all over the desk and singing “I’m Scum.” The scope of music is invigorating, especially considering a world of listening where we can not only get comfortable with what we love, but where the quantity of music from any particular genre could keep us happy all year. Tiny Desk concerts are here to shake up your tastes a little and help you stretch your ears and discover something you never knew existed or convert you to something you never thought you’d like. Here are 10 great examples of that magic from 2019.

I don’t have a list of favoirtes, but I will make some observations about Bob’s.

Bob seems to really like bands who put their names in all caps.  Also bands who have a number (specifically 47) attached to their letters.

Quinn was the Tiny Desk Contest winner.  Sesame Street is pretty iconic.  Taylor Swift is something of a surprise, but was clearly the biggest name they’ve ever had.  And yet, Lizzo’s Tiny Desk has twice as many views as Taylor Swift’s (5 million to 2.5 million!).

Looking forward to their 1,000th show later this year.  I wonder who it will be.

[READ: January 6, 2020] “Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”

This was a great short story about playing a video game.

For decades, the video game industry has been releasing video games in which a protagonist kills people from other countries.  Since I don’t play these games, I never really thought about what it would be like to be from that country and to play those games.

Surely people from all around the world like to play video games, and they probably want to play the popular ones as well.

In this story an an Afghani-American kid, Zoya, who works at Taco Bell has saved up all of his money (the money that he doesn’t give to his out of work father) to buy the final game in the Metal Gear series.  He has been playing this series which has becomes “so fundamentally a part of your childhood that often, when you hear the Irish Gaelic chorus from “The Best is Yet to Come” you cannot help weeping softly into your keyboard.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE COMET IS COMING-Tiny Desk Concert #927 (December 13, 2019).

I had recently heard good things about The Comet is Coming.  But when I listened to some of their CD I wasn’t all that interested in them.

As a result I wasn’t really expecting much from this Tiny Desk Concert.

But HOLY CRAP!

This was amazing.  So amazing that I immediately looked to see if they were playing anywhere near me, because I must see them live!

Turns out they played the Foundry in Philly back in March.  I sure wish I had seen that, but am just happy they didn’t play there last week or something, because it means they might be back in a few months!

The musicians are King Shabaka on saxophone; Danalogue on synthesizer and Betamax on drums, and they are each amazing to behold.

I actually thought this might have been one long 20 minute jam, but in fact it is three separate songs from their second album Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery.

The set began with a deep drone from keyboardist Dan Leavers, aka Danalogue. It kicked into full gear when he leaped into the air and, on descent, drummer Max Hallett, aka Betamax, whacked the snare drum, setting off a transformative 19-minute concert.

The Comet is Coming is a force of nature. The British trio’s approach to the Tiny Desk was ferocious. Shabaka Hutchings, aka King Shabaka, blew his sax hard while his effects pedal added reverb, expanding not only his sound but altering the office and making it a little eerier.

As soon as Danalogue hit the ground, the drums and sax absolutely take off–fast notes and drum hits as the song intros with sirens and electric bleeps and bloops.  Its hard to even know if the song itself has started or if its just a warm up.  But things mellow out as Danalogue and Betamax slow down.  But just as quickly, that rest is over and the drums and synth are off playing what I assume is now “Super Zodiac.”  King Shabaka plays a wild sax riff and off the song goes.  It’s about five minutes of fast heavy riffage and freeform sax.  There’s even a call and response with the keys and the sax at one point.

Then at around 4 minutes, the beat changes up and things sort of slow down a bit. The song pretty much ends at around 5 minutes, but the synth and drums continue as they begin a slow pounding introduction to the next song.

King Skabaka soon comes in with his sax as the pace picks up.  At around 7 minutes “Summon The Fire” begin with a great saxophone riff.  Moments later, the middle is wild and chaotic fun as King Shabaka gets sweatier and sweatier.  Danalogue must also be super sweaty in his full track suit.  Only Betamax seems calm back there as his arms are flying all over the place.

At 11 minutes, the whole thing comes almost comes to a halt until King Shabaka starts paying the opening riff of “Blood Of The Past.”  The song is more of that great riff making on synth and sax–fast and furious until about half way in when things slow down and there’s a lengthy trippy keyboard solo while the King takes a much-needed breather.

At 16 minutes the set seems like it’s over with rumbling drums and synths but they still have a little energy left– a squealing sax solo followed by Danalogue making all kinds of computer chip and glitch sounds as the set comes to a close.

I had to watch this three times in a row and I am certainly going to give their record another listen on the way home.

[READ: December 23, 2019] “Only Orange”

This was an excellent story to end the year with.  It was so good I saved it for S. to read because there were so many lines I wanted to share with her, I figured she should just read it herself.

The story begins with the narrator, Jeanne, saying to her brother’s girlfriend that she must like beige a lot since she wears it all the time…or maybe oatmeal?

Audrey, the girlfriend is taken aback and says that her pants are green.  And just like that Audrey found out she was color-blind.  She spent the rest of their family vacation asking the color of things.

Her parents thought this was so interesting and really loved talking to her about it but Jeanne thought she was faking–Audrey was twenty-six after all.  Audrey and Lino lived in the U.S. but Jeanne lived in Paris so this family vacation was their first time meeting.  When she asked where Audrey went to school and the answer was “Lewis & Clark,” Jeanne thought she was making it up, thinking fondly of the TV show Lois & Clark.

Jeanne’s brother, Lino, is annoyed at the way she starts acting toward Audrey, but then, he was never nice about Jeanne’s boyfriend Matt.  He only ever said Matt’s name to discuss the qualities of “an average human being” as in “people like Matt don’t care about contemporary theater.”

Jeanne was also jealous of Audrey because she Audrey was adopted:

to be able to look at the people who love you the most and not have to worry that you’ll turn out exactly like them must be amazing, I thought. An endlessly renewable source of relief.

Jeanne is also annoyed about how gullible her mother is being abut Audrey–how could she have read so many novels and still take anything anyone ever said at face value. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOONCHILD-Tiny Desk Concert #928 (December 16, 2019).

Here’s another band that I’ve never heard of.  I rather assumed with a name like Moonchild, that the band would be kind of trippy.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  What they are, though, are amazing musicians.  It’s almost comical when the camera cuts back to each one who always seem to be playing a different instrument.

Amber Navran, Max Bryk and Andris Mattson joined forces in 2012 at the University of Southern California and their debut album, Be Free soon followed. This year, they released their fourth album, Little Ghost, intricately meshing jazz, R&B and hip-hop sounds under Amber’s subtle vocal feats.

I love so many parts of these songs, that it’s a shame I don’t really like the songs themselves.

“Money” has some quietly funky music with cool bass sounds from Andris Mattson’s keyboard.  There’s also some interesting echoing sounds from Max Bryk’s keys.

But Amber Navran’s voice is just too 70s soft rock for me.  Even Efa Etoroma Jr. on the drums seems kind of wasted with the simple beat he is providing.  I really didn’t like the song once she started singing.  But then Bryk played a flute melody and Navran played a second flute melody at the same time (and I’m very much into flutes at the moment), so that was great.  There was also a very cool keyboard/bass line later in the song from Mattson.

The backing vocals from Erin Bentlage, Michael Mayo and Micah Robinson are very pretty.  But I really wasn’t digging it.

And then Bryk stops playing the keys and plays a saxophone melody.  Then they cut to Mattson and he is playing the fluegelhorn and the keybaord bass at the same time.  Then they cut back to Amber who is also playing a saxophone.  Wow.

I was blown away by them. I just didn’t like the song.

For “The Other Side” Mattson switches to acoustic guitar (is there anything he can’t do?) and Erin Bentlage picks up a ukulele.  They pay a lovely acoustic melody with nice piano sounds from Bryk.   It’s a shame this song went in the direction it did (the repeated lyric “the grass is always greener on the other side” isn’t terribly inspired either).  It’s so soft and gossamer that it could just float away.

After the is song, Amber

took advantage of the moment and amplified a cause near and dear to her heart. She asked us to “spend our privilege” and do more in the fight for people of color in the United States. They closed with a jam from 2017’s Voyager.

She spoke for a minute or so about finding a good cause that is helping people of color (even though she is not a person of color) and saying that if you earned something because of privilege it isn’t yours anyway, so it’s time to give it back.  I love the quote that “it’s not charity, its solidarity.”

The final song, “The List” is a jazzy number.  And once again I wish I liked it more, mostly because Amber is so nice.  As the blurb notes:

From the moment Amber walked into the building and throughout the performance, she wore a smile on her face and expressed sincere gratitude for the Tiny Desk platform.

I enjoyed the end of the song with the whistling.  There’s also an amusing moment when she says “give em some bass”  (there is no bassist) but Mattson plays a really funky bass line to take the song out.

[READ: December 5, 2019] “Old Hope”

I had been putting all of the New Yorker stories on the day the issue came out.  However, with the Short Story Advent Calendar taking up all of the Mondays in December, I figured I’d throw these pieces at the end of the year.

This is the kind of story that I really enjoy.  I’m not sure what about it speaks to me, but I enjoyed everything about it.

I like the vaguely specific opening of “When I was about halfway between twenty and thirty.”  The story is also chock full of details that I need to quote.  Like “I lived in a large, run-down house that other people thought was romantic.”  Her roommates are boys (not men, not really) who were often shirtless and smoked bongs that they didn’t clean.

One afternoon the narrator wrote an email to her high-school English teacher “because I remembered him as handsome in a remote way.”  She believed he went to a prep school, although “in college I learned that going to these schools entailed a lot of lacrosse and furtive blow jobs.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS LOBOS-Tiny Desk Concert #929 (December 18, 2019).

One of my favoirte Christmas songs is “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” so I’m always pleased to hear someone play it (it’s not overplayed yet).  I didn’t realize that this Tiny Desk Concert was a Christmas themed one, so when Los Lobos opened with this song, I knew it had to go on Christmas Day.

The band called up tunes from the Latin holiday song book, straight from their recently released, first-ever Christmas album, Llegó Navidad, a bilingual collection of songs from across Latin America and the U.S.

Imagine my surprise to read this about my favorite Christmas song:

They kicked it off with an obscure novelty hit that was once popular in Latino households in the Southwest, “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” It was originally a lushly orchestrated affair that is now a “lowrider oldie.”

The percussion is in full effect on this song with Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez on drums, Marcos Reyes on congas and Louie Perez on a washboard type scratcher.  The song features a cool baritone sax solo from keyboardist Steve Berlin and a little acoustic guitar solo from singer Cesar Rosas.

David Hidalogo on 12 string electric guitar takes lead vocals on the new album’s title cut, “Llegó Navidad.” The song

is actually a classic from the Fania Records catalog originally performed by the Puerto Rican composer and singer Ismael Rivera. Los Lobos retains its pan-Latin callout to holiday celebrations across Latin America, set to a slow burning montuno groove.

There’s some cool low notes from the baritone sax and Hidalo’s gentle voice over the top.

For the third song, “Christmas and You” Louie Perez plays a jarana and Hidalgo sings lead.  It’s interesting to me that I am more familiar with Rosas as the lead singer.  I wonder how many songs he actually sings.

The band adds a David Hidalgo and Louie Perez original to the Latin holiday songbook with “Christmas and You,” a plaintive ballad about desperate loss that we would easily call a carte vena (vein cutter). The great Mexican essayist Alma Guillermoprieto once wrote that it’s not a real Mexican party “until someone cries,” and this song does the trick.

A brief keyboard/bells solo from Berlin keeps the holiday spirit in the song.

For the final song “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” Hidalgo picks up the accordion and the bouncy bass from Conrad Lozano makes this a fun polka style holiday song.

The party ends by sending everyone home, dancing with “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” a song by the great Tex- Mex troubadour, Freddy Fender. It’s a Los Lobos scorcher, complete with accordion and good times that would get even abuelita dancing.

The Tiny Desk holiday shows are always fun, I wish there were more.

[READ: December 25, 2019] “A Hint for Next Christmas”

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.

Yes, this is the creator of Winnie the Pooh.  I didn’t know he wrote essays, but I definitely want to read more after this.  This essay appeared in Milne’s 1920 collection If I May and it rings true almost 100 years later in nearly every way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LETTERS TO CLEO-Ok Christmas (2019).

After a lengthy hiatus and a comeback EP, Letters to Cleo have returned with a Christmas EP.

It’s four songs and the title is a pretty funny indicator that the songs here are not full of great cheer–things are okay.

It’s a bit of a surprise for such a happy-sounding band.

The first song is a fun rocking version of The Kink’s “Father Christmas.”  This song always seems happy until you listen to the lyrics.  This version is a bit more pop punk than the original, but not by much.  However, Kay Hanley has updated the lyrics from

But give my daddy a job ’cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
But if you’ve got one I’ll have a machine gun
So I can scare all the kids on the street

to

But give my daddy a job ’cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
And can you melt down all the machine guns
so the kids are safe on the street

“Miss You This Christmas” is an original that sounds like classic Letter to Cleo and could easily have been written and recorded back in the 90s.  Its a song of longing (obviously) with a positive twist at the end–coming home to kiss me New Year’s Eve.

“If I Get Home on Christmas Day” was sung by Elvis.  It’s a poppy little number that sounds upbeat and has a lovely lap steel guitar. But it has a lot of questioning about being together for the holidays.

The final song “X Mas Time (Sure Don’t Feel Like It”) I heard recently by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  I assumed it was their song–it suited their sound very well (and its about Boston).  But it turns out it was originally by The Dogmatics (which makes sense because it’s a bit too dark for the Bosstones).

It’s the twentieth of December
Rain is coming down
Kenmore squares deserted, now
The college kids have left town

This version is a little less dark than the Bosstones’ since Kay Hanley’s voice is so much prettier than Dicky Barrett’s but it’s still not a very happy ending.

I understand what the band was doing with this OK Christmas, but I do wish it ended a bit more happily. Because that album cover (a great design by Daykamp Creative) is just fabulous.

[READ: December 24, 2019] “Vigil”

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.

This story is a memory of Christmas Eve,  It also includes a bunch of Polish words.

On the Holy Night vigil, Wigilia (which means “to watch” in Polish), the young narrator and his family sat around while his father read “The Night Before Christmas.” They were ready for bed when there was a knock on the door. It was the grizzled, kooky old taxidermist from downstairs.

The man presented them with a large unwieldy package.  They invited him in, but he wouldn’t stay.  They wished him Wesolych Swiat and closed the door.

The present proved to be a very large carp wrapped in newspaper with a pinkish bronze tail and a gray thick-lipped snout with its white mustachios. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-“Little Saint Nick” (2019).

It was only a few years ago that I realized that this song is about a car.  For years you can sing words to a song and not realize what you’re actually saying.

The song is a fun upbeat Christmas song that I rather like.

Best Coast is a rock duo: Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno.  They sing California indie pop with a rocking edge.

This version of “Little Saint Nick” is not radically different from the original.  The biggest musical difference is how fuzzy and distorted the main guitar is.  But her deliver of the lyrics is pretty clean (with some very nice backing vocals).

I appreciate this version because it finally taught me what the deep-voiced part is in the song “he don’t miss no one.”  I could never tell form the Beach Boys version.

This is a delightful poppy version that with just enough edge to get you moving for the holiday.

[READ: December 23, 2019] “The Adventists”

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.

Ian Williams has my favorite answer to one of the Q&A questions:

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

IW: I wrote “The Adventists” because Michael Hingston asked me for a story for the Short Story Advent Calendar project. I pretty much already had a title from the invitation. He said that the story didn’t have to be religious or about Christmas, so, good lawkeeper that I am, I wrote a story that was religious and about Christmas.

Indeed, this story is about Adventists.  Seventh-Day Adventists.  The narrator is the father of a family of Adventists and his daughter has just come back from college in Leeds for Christmas.

The story begins, “Our daughter is trying to persuade us that the world is more  than 6,000 years old.” She’s also got quite the posh British accent (after being away for a semester).

She doesn’t dismiss the Bible out of hand–it gives comfort to many people.  But not you? her father wonders.  She says you can’t deny science.  He retorts, “You’re going to trust some rocks above the Word of God?”

Soon enough, his daughter took out her phone and started “texting or tweeting or whatever she does when she has no retort for the real world.”

The Monday before Christmas [that’s today!] they went to Walmart.

I love this aside:

For a significant period our family refused to celebrate Christmas in protest against its pagan origins.  Made no dent on the economy.  Now we were back, somewhat grudgingly to being standard Protestants.

(more…)

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