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Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

colonySOUNDTRACK: JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD-Tiny Desk Concert #388 (September 6, 2014).

jlmI had an idea about who Jessica Lea Mayfield was.  I thought she was sort of a folkie/country singer who I had heard of but had no real exposure to.  So I was quite surprised to see this performer with pink hair, short shorts, no eyebrows and a ton of pink glitter under her eyes.

Turns out that her earlier records are kind of folkie but that for her 2014 album she was inspired by her grunge roots to make a noisy album.  This Tiny Desk concert has her playing three guitars–one for each song.  Each guitar is covered with glitter and one has stickers all over it.  For “Standing in the Dark” she plays her pink glitter 12 string guitar with lots of reverb.  It’s a fairly upbeat song.  The melody is simple and she sounds happy while singing it (this is notable).  The middle section has a solo which sounds really alien by itself (that 12 string with vibrato), but which works really well for the song.

She says she brought all of her guitars because she wanted to show them off.  Her speaking voice is cute and adorable.  And she seems almost childlike asking if “you have any cats” are you allowed to bring them to work.  Bob says that bands have brought their dogs and she says she wishes she’d brought hers.

“Party Drugs” is a slow song with more echo on the guitar.  It’s a slower , darker song “party drugs just make my head sing…  I won’t die in this hotel room, I’ll be here when you return.”  It ends with a dark chord and mildly distorted whammy bar and is rather creepy.

The final guitar is a hollow bodies white guitar.  The stickers on the knobs are ponies.  She says the direction of the ponies tells her how the knobs should go.  There’s a pony, an alien cat and a unicorn “system I got going on.”

“Seein* Starz” is slow chords (with more echo).  Her twangy accent peeks its way in a few times in this song.  I like the way the picking notes are vibrated enough to sound unpredictable.

There’s something really captivating and almost vulnerable (but not really) about her performance.   She says she could stay here and do this all day and show you how loud it usually is.   Bob mentions something about six hours implying that she traveled six hours just to play for them (like Trampled by Turtles did the previous show).

[READ: July 22, 2016] The Lost Colony 1

I read this book last year.  But since I wanted to  read the other two books in the series, I wanted to re-read this before moving on to Books 2 and 3.

My recollection is that I didn’t really like the first book all that much, so I wasn’t prepared to enjoy it this time around either.

But, as it turns out, I really did enjoy it (and I’m not reading wheat I wrote the first time, just to see how this reading compares).  I think perhaps I didn’t really know what I was getting into the first time.  And now with hindsight, and understanding how and when some of the things are supernatural, it made more sense. (more…)

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colonySOUNDTRACK: YES-9012Live: The Solos (1985).

9012liveYes had released live albums before, and most of them had been quite indulgent, but none were as strange and indulgent as this live EP–a tie in with the popularity of 90125.  And yes, I have it on LP.

There are seven songs (in 33 minutes).  Two of them are proper songs from 90125.  The other five are the titular “solos.”

The two songs, “Hold On” and “Changes” both sound quite good.  The are notably less perfect than the album which is to be expected, but it’s still a little disconcerting given how perfect that album is.  The guitars are heavy and Anderson (and the other singer) sound in very good form.

Then there’s the solos:

“Si” is a rather uninspired keyboard solo.  It lasts 2:30 and the biggest cheers come when he starts playing “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.”  I just have to wonder what Wakeman would have done with this–or if his head would have exploded at the sound of the disc.

“Solly’s Beard” is the guitar solo from Trevor Rabin.  Not unlike Howe, he plays mostly classical guitar.  It’s a good solo, although really not that mindblowing (or even as interesting as Howe’s “Clap”).  There are some keyboards in the background too, which I guess means this isn’t a solo.

“Soon” is Anderson’s solo.  He sings the end of “The Gates of Delirium” from Relayer.  I imagine that’s the only thing you’d hear from that album, so it’s a nice addition.

Chris Squire and Alan White get two solos together (so I guess they are duos, but then the title of the album is wrong).  The first is Squire playing “Amazing Grace,” which bleeds into the 8 minute “Whitefish.”  This is actually a medley of a few past performances like: “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus),” “Tempus Fugit” and “Sound Chaser.”  Since Anderson said he would never sing anything off Drama, you can only hear “Tempus Fugit” during this solo.

I’m not really sure anyone needs to hear this more than once or twice, but it was fun to dig it out all these years later.

[READ: April 25, 2015] The Lost Colony

I really enjoyed the graphic style of this book.  It has a look of a wood press–thick lines and dark colors.  It was also very cartoony, which was a great way to address many of the issues that were brought up here–especially slavery.

The book opens with a man in a green suit and bowler hat hanging up signs for a slave auction.  There’ a little girl, Bertha Snodgrass, who sees the sign and thinks that she can afford one.  She follows the stranger as he heads to an island (the lost island presumably) in which Alexander Hamilton Snodgrass seems to have made himself president and treasurer.  There are black and white people on this island.

Obviously, there’ a lot of racial issues in this story.  There’s a “Chinaman” named Pepe Wong who dresses in a “bathrobe” and offers Chinese medicine but also speaks in Spanish (Madre dios!).  There’s a black woman who distrusts the heathen Chinaman and wants nothing to do with the slave auction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT AND THE NATIONAL-“Sleep All Summer” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

This cover is by The National with St. Vincent singing a duet with The National’s singer.  The original, by Crooked Fingers, is also a male/female duet, so this works nicely.  Indeed, having listened to the original, there’s not a lot of difference between these two versions.

The singer from The National has a distinctively deep voice.  And I really like St Vincent, although on this song, she’s not really doing anything amazing, she’s just singing (very nicely, but she could be anyone).

It’s a perfectly nice song, in both versions.  The original is a bit more interesting musically, but I like the vocals in the new version better.

[READ: March 15, 2012] “Gentleman’s Servant”

If you have read my other three posts about articles from Colonial Williamsburg, you have seen the cover of this magazine.  And, man, does it make me uncomfortable.  About as uncomfortable as I feared this article was going to make me.  I almost didn’t read it.  In the previous article I mentioned how the photos look…wrong.  And none look more wrong to me than the series of pictures for this article.

However, this article was not about slaves exactly.  It was more about servants or valets.  The article immediately puts us at our ease by telling us that there are schools today that teach how to be a valet, primarily in England.  And they make it out to be not such a bad gig.  It puts me in mind of Jeeves and Wooster, and what a lark it must all be.

Of course in the 18th century things were quite different (although it is described as similar duties–caring for the master and the master’s clothes and horse and such).  This paragraph tucks in a key phrase as it tries to make it all seem casual: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: tUnE-yArDs-Tiny Desk Concert #179 (December 1, 2011).

tUnE-yArDs perform three songs in this Tiny Desk concert.  Merrill Garbus doesn’t chat a lot between songs, but she’s clearly having a good time (witness them all jumping at the end of “You, Yes You” and how much she smiles at the end of the set.  This is a wonderful opportunity to see and hear her live sampling technique in a small setting (with close up cameras!).

Her voice sounds great–she pulls off all of those voices that she conjures on the record.  And her ability to sample herself and make it work is wonderful to witness (I never imagined that some of those “sirens” and “keyboards” are actually her voice).

The live band is also really hot.  The bassist really hold everything together and the horns sound great–duplicating the sound of the record with just enough flare to keep it original.

And to think she’s making all of  that guitar noise with a ukulele!  It’s pretty groovy.

Watch it here.

[READ: January 21, 2012] The End of War

This is a non-fiction book in which Horgan believes that in the not too distant future (his lifetime I believe), we will see the end of war.  Not the end of violence, nor anger nor aggression–he’s not crazy–but military campaigns against another country could be ended if we reversed our fatalism about war’s inevitability.

Horgan is a writer for Scientific American and in this book he uses the scientific method to show that ending war is utterly possible.  Now, although Horgan is himself kind of a pacifist (he’s not entirely one, this interview explains), his family is not–his father and grandfather are both veterans and his son is looking to enlist in the army.  Nevertheless, Horgan feels that war is not a viable way to solve problems and that the cost of human life is never worth it.

His research shows him that war should be thought of as a solvable, scientific problem—like curing cancer.  The difference is that cancer is outside of our control, while war is not.  But like cancer, war can infect any society–there is no “reason” for it, but it is like a virus–it infects all cultures, even peaceful ones.  If one culture is aggressive the peaceful neighbors need to prepare for war or move away.

Horgan anticipates skepticism, indeed, many of the sources he quotes are skeptics, and he deals with all of their arguments accordingly.  He looks at those who say that war is genetically part of humanity (as many people believe) or that the best way to prepare for peace is to prepare for war (as just about everyone seems to believe).  He looks at those who say that scarcity causes war (not necessarily true), to those who say that as long as there are guns there will be war (he disagrees).  He has a reasonable, believable argument for all of these doubts.  He even shows that the whole “alpha male, XXY chromosome” argument has been disproven and while men are more prone to violence, they are not more prone to wage war.

He also shows scientific evidence that war has not been around as long as people (or even apes) have existed.  Indeed, the first evidence for “war” (as opposed to violence) is 10,000 years ago (not much in humanity’s timeline).

He culls data from previous wars to show that the causes of wars can never be narrowed down to one thing.  And yet, rather than seeing this as a negative–that so many things cause war, he sees it as a positive–that causes of war are not monolithic and impervious to breakdown.

I was skeptical of this book when I started reading it.  I was willing to accept the various scientific answers that he showed (that war is not innate, for example) but my skepticism came because of what I guess you call the military industrial complex–that our military budget is huge and is not going to go down any time soon.  Just see how much protest is garnered by the miniscule amount that President Obama wants to reduce it.  [Everybody knows this truth but it’s worth seeing in print–our military budget is more than almost every other country combined.  China, who spends the next largest amount on their military has a budget that is 1/6 the size of ours.  That is shocking and depressing and a horrific waste of money].

But his point is that like with so many other things that we have outlawed or abolished over the years: slavery, apartheid, monarchy (as opposed to democracy), acceptance of torture; if we have enough consensus we can also abolish war.  He gives examples that it’s actually not as hard as we might think.  Germany and Japan become pacifist virtually overnight (it was forced on them, but they have taken to it with no problem) and even better, Sweden and Switzerland are pacifist voluntarily.

He also points out that war is already on the wane–although the United States was in two wars very recently, the warlike nature of the world is much less than it was even as recently as the first half of the 20th century.  The number of casualties from war has dropped dramatically compared to World War I.  We simply need to find ways to solve crises that do not involve killing people.

All of the chapters were interesting in this book (the book is more or less set up to deal with an issue per chapter).  Some of the chapters were a little long but at 186 pages (plus a bunch of citation pages) this book is short overall.  I appreciate all of his scientific rigor and his ability to show the arguments and then knock them down.

For me, the most interesting and satisfying chapter was the one that found that preparing for war, despite claims that it is necessary, actually does not keep a people safe. That the allocation of resources towards war removes resources from things that actually make people’s lives  better: art, culture, medicine, health.  Preparing for war doesn’t keep us safe, it actually harms us.

Similarly, he shows that competition for resources is not necessarily a cause for war.  To the contrary they have found that in some cultures scarcity brings out altruism.

In short, he says that the only thing that prevents us from abolishing wars is our fatalism that war is inevitable.  The more fatalistic we are about war the more we accept hawkish ideas which perpetuates more war. Once we stop believing that and we try to work towards the end, he believes that we war can end very quickly.

Horgan doesn’t really calm my fears about the military industrial complex–but who knows with enough popular opinion, maybe voters can change things.  It’s a wonderful thought.  And here’s hoping that this post can spread the good word.

And here’s an interview with Horgan that addresses a lot of these questions.

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SOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres [CST079] (2011).

This is an abrasive album.  Not only does it has some massively skronking free-jazz, but it is also aggressively political, dealing with slavery and race.   So, if the heart-rendered screams of Roberts don’t make you uncomfortable, the description of a woman on the auction block will do it.

I listened to this album a number of times and kept thinking that it would probably work much better live than on record.  Lo and behold, if I’d read the liner notes more closely I would have known that it was performed live.   (The final song has an introduction and cheers at the end, but none of the rest of the album indicates that it’s live).

I like free improv jazz (when I’m in the mood of course) and I also like noise jazz (John Zorn mostly).  So I’m not averse to a lot of the genre.  But there was something odd about this recording to me.  And this is where that whole “live” recording comes into play.  This music felt like it was being performed for an audience.  I don’t know what the difference is, but it’s one I heard.  I can imagine images going along with the show.   And because of that, I feel like I was missing a crucial element.

The liner notes don’t explain anything about the show itself, nor how this person apparently named Coin Coin relates to her (it seems vaguely autobiographical, but I’d love to know more).

There are moments of rather conventional beauty on this recording.  The song that contains the “Bid ‘Em In” section is a great singalong (of course, when you realize what you’re singing about, you’re horrified).  And there are some other sections where Robert’s voice melds perfectly with her band and with Gitanjali Jain’s backing vocals.

The final song is a very moving song written for her mother.

The only thing I really don’t like about the album is Roberts’ poetry-slam-type singing.  I have complained before about this type of sing-song delivery, which just irks me.  I can see that there are times on the album where it works, but for the most part it feels arbitrary (as it always seems to me).  And when you have crazy improv jazz you need something to hold it down.  The poetry slam lyrics don’t do that.

This is not for everybody, but it is certainly a powerful album.

[READ: January 16, 2012] Vicky Swanky is a Beauty

McSweeney’s has gotten me to like a lot of things that I never thought I would–a cooking magazine, a sports magazine, long out of print unheard of titles.  But they simply cannot get me to like flash fiction.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Deb Olin Unfurth is quite a master of the genre.  But man, I just cannot get into Williams’ short short stories.

The majority of these stories are two pages long.  This means 12 lines on the first page and anywhere from a quarter to a full-page on the second.  But there are also some stories that end after one page (12 lines).  So here’s the little drinking game I invited.  Since Williams’ stories end so arbitrarily, try to guess which ones end after those first twelve lines and which ones continue on to the next page (it’s not really a fair game because some stories end in ten lines or so, but you get the idea).

Take “Cockeyed” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVILA 666-“Eso Que Me Haces” (2011).

The Davila 666 album Tan Bajo made NPR’s Best Albums of the Year list.  And they cite this song as an example. 

This is a fuzzy, kind of tinny guitar song (that reminds me a bit of Wavves).  It’s only two minutes long and the riff is simple and catchy.  The vocals are shouted and the chorus is gang shouted.   And there’s a big “Oh Oh!” to really grab you.

So basically it’s catchy but nothing original.  The novelty of the song is that the whole thing is sung in Spanish.  If you don’t speak Spanish the vocals sound distorted enough that you may not even realize they’re in Spanish.  This band is from Puerto Rico.  And this album has been a hit both in Puerto Rico and in garage rock circles in the States. 

I’m pretty intrigued, and I’m going to have to check out the rest of their album.  NPR says it’s kind of offensive–maybe I need to re-learn Spanish.

[READ: January 4, 2012] “Chechnya”

Karen Carlson also recommended this story.  She wrote: “I didn’t think I’d like this, but it grew on me, and by the end it had me in the palm of its… well, if a story had a hand, it would’ve had me there.” 

This was a dark story.  It was a little slow to get going but once it started flowing it was really gripping.  It was as if the story picked up adrenaline as it (and the danger) progressed.  While at first the story seemed pretty obviously about Sonja, it is really about Chechnya. 

As the story opens, we meet Sonja, a nurse in war-torn Chechnya.  We learn that she works in the only hospital in the area and that even they were bombed not too long ago.  All that is left is a maternity ward and a trauma ward, and they can’t spare any electricity because their generator can’t handle anything more.  Sonja is one of the few nurses on call.  She hasn’t been home in ages and she just sleeps at the hospital. 

When Sonja wakes up, she hears that a man is waiting to talk to her.  He asks if the hospital will take in an eight-year-old girl, since both of her parents were killed.  Sonja informs the man that they are not an orphanage.  But the man, whose name is Akhmed, says that he will work at the hospital (he was in training when his wife got sick) if they will help the girl.  he immediately gets to work. 

The story then follows the parallel lives of Sonja and Akhmed as they work at the hospital.  Akhmed’s wife is delusional and dying at home.  So he can be out for 16 hours at the hospital and she doesn’t realize how long he has been gone.   Sonja forgets immediately about the girl and just stets about healing the sick.  What else can she do? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAD-“The Old Prince Still Lives at Home”(2007).

Canadian rapper.  Oxymoron?  Not at all.  I had heard about Shad from CBC Radio 3.  The single, “Yaa I Get It” is fantastic.  And I have ordered his new CD TSOL based on it.  (No idea what TSOL stands for).

CBC Radio 3 contains a whole bunch of tracks from his first two discs.  His music is kind of slow and loping, but it’s his lyrics that are really fantastic.  He’s clever, funny and very thoughtful.  “Yaa I Get It” has this opening couplet: “Maybe I’m not big, coz I don’t blog or twitter, heh, not that I’m bitter.”  Or this amusing couplet from “I Don’t Like to”  “I don’t really like to start verses with I you  know, but… iTunes eyepatch, I’m in the same boat where the pirates be”

This earlier album sounds a bit more R&B to me, but there’s a few really great tracks on it.  “The Old Prince Still Lives at Home” reminds me of the Fresh Prince’s style (a comical look at the waste of time that is the dentist).  But he takes it a step further when, midway through the song the music stops.  Shad explains that he couldn’t afford the whole beat.  And they just “have to vibe with it” until the end.

It’s a bit gimmicky, but he’s right, the track is really strong.

[READ: July 4, 2010] “Dayward”

The photo opposite this story is of a terrifying Rottweiler bearing its fangs.  I mention this because it is so striking (the other stories mostly had drawings to accompany them.  This photo is also scarily appropriate for the story, which is about two young slaves escaping from their master.  The kicker is that slavery has already been outlawed, but who says the masters have to let them go peacefully?

When Lazarus told his mistress that he and his sister were going to reunite with their family in New Orleans, she told them that they would have half a day’s start and then she’d release the dogs on them.  Evidently she wasn’t joking. (more…)

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