Archive for the ‘Spies’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“The Hamilton Polka” (2016). 

Lin-Manuel Miranda has declared his love and respect for “Weird Al” on many occasions.  So it makes perfect sense that he would ask Al to contribute to the online Hamilton project known as HamilDrops.  The Decemberists’ “Ben Franklin’s Song” is amazing too.

But seriously, how could Al parody a more or less biographical story of a historical figure (that’s two hours long)?.  By not parodying it at all.

Rather, he makes one of his polka mashups which he’s been doing hilariously since his second album.  They are often a highlight of each new album.  This song compresses (almost) the entire musical into 5 minutes.

“The Hamilton Polka,” provides what’s essentially a CliffsNotes-style run-through of the musical’s hooks and highlights — just enough to get the entire musical stuck in your head all over again.

I love the way in the original, the third sister, poor Peggy, is sort of musically dissed whereas Al is just explicit about it.  And of course, how could he refuse to include some actual gun shots for “Not Throwing Away My Shot?”

So they cram in 

Alexander Hamilton
Wait For It
The Schuyler Sisters
You’ll Be Back
The Room Where It Happens
Guns and Ships
Washington On Your Side
History Has Its Eyes On You
My Shot

And Al can really sing and rap some of those lyrics quickly.  It’s a really fun mashup.

[READ: January 11, 2018] Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

Before the musical, most people’s familiarity with Alexander Hamilton probably came from this (awesome) commercial (even if none of us could remember what it was ultimately for).

Actually, my father worked for (and owned for a time) Alexander Hamilton Printing in Paterson, NJ, so Alexander Hamilton has always been a part of my life.  Although I had no idea why.  Not really.

There’s a new reason why people know about Alexander Hamilton (can you even say his name without singing it?).

And I’m sure that reason has something to do with the creation and publication of this book.  But Hennessey is not just jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Well, maybe he is, but he has two other historical graphic novels out already: The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (2008) and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (2012).  He also has books called The Comic Book Story of Beer, and The Comic Book Story of Video Games so he’s not all stuffy.

The musical is far more catchy than this book–far more steamy.  But this book is really chock full of details that the musical skips (for various reasons, obviously).  The book is a lot less interested in the romantic dalliances of the founding father, although it certainly does acknowledge them.

Indeed, the book is 176 fully illustrated pages jam-packed with information.  It reads a little, if not dull, then certainly more academic.  That’s because there’s a lot of text and a lot of history. (more…)


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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Danger Goes Berserk

After how much we loved Brixton Brothers Books 1 through 3 we were excited to get to Book #4 (which appears to be the final book since it has been six years, despite what was hinted at in the end).

However, there is no audio book!  No Arte Johnson guiding us through the mysteries of these teenage sleuths.  No one to say Rick (pause) Jerk.


So we did the next best thing.  S. read it to us on a long car ride.  This is second best because it’s exhausting for S. to read out loud for that long and to have the constant complaints of “can you turn it up” which makes me laugh every time one of the kids says it.

It was great to be involved with Steve Brixton and his chum Dana once again.

The detectives are back (in Steve’s hilarious new office) and there are two cases to look into.  One is about surfing.

The other is about… gym shorts.

Someone has been stealing Brody Owen’s gym shorts.  Brody even paid Steve to take the case.  But Steve doesn’t want to take it.  Both because it’s stupid and because he’s got more important, bigger cases to deal with. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Le Colisee, Quebec City, QC (November 30, 1996).

This is the same show that the Double Live version of “Saskatchewan” was taken from. It is also the show Dave wrote about in On A Cold Road.

This is also one of only two shows on Rheostatics Live that was recorded in Quebec.  Once again, they are opening for The Tragically Hip.

The show opens with some recording in French–no idea what it is–a hockey game?

The “Saskatchewan” is of course beautiful.  I love the way it gets really heavy near the end.  It’s also fun to hear a different recording of it (you can really hear them chanting “home Caroline, home Caroline.”

Next comes “Fat” one of the few songs they also played in Buffalo.  And then after a very brief “Digital Beach” they segue into “Claire.”  This version of “Claire” is really pretty on all counts.

As the band introduces themselves: “We are the Rheostatics,” you can hear someone in the audience shout slowly and clearly: “Bad. Time. To. Be. Poor.”  Dave asks what’s that man shouting?  “Bad. Time. To. Be. Poor.”  Martin shouts: “WHAT?”  The guy then deliberately shouts: “We came here to see you guys.”  I don’t think the band ever heard it, which is a shame as it’s such a nice sentiment and well executed.

The band plays “Four Little Songs” which is always fun live.  Afterwards, Martin says, “See four songs in one.”

Don (who is not as chatty as Dave Clark but does talk quite a bit) tells everyone “This next song [Bad Time to Be Poor] is the current single from our new record which you can buy here at the venue.”  Dave: “Well said, Donnie.”

The crowd is quite enthusiastic about the band prompting Dave to advise: “Save a bit for The Tragically Hip.”

This version of “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” does not feature Tamara Williamson, but it still sounds good.  Although toward the end of the song things get kind of staticky which is a bummer.  The warpy sound continues for a bit but it clears up near the beginning of “Dope Fiends.”  The song is wonderful.  At the end, Martin repeats “dark side of the moon” first quietly and then a lengthy falsetto on “moooooooooon.”   The guys mutter things during this section: “Pink Floyd,” “Side 2” before launching into the rocking ending.  The roaring song ends with a gentle version of the “You Are Very Star” lullaby, possibly the first version on the site.   There is whistling and falsetto lyrics as the band whispers good night.

It’s like a complete show in miniature.

[READ: June 21, 2017] “In the Palace of Cats”

This is The Walrus‘ Summer Fiction Issue with new fiction & poetry from 6 writers in total.  I won’t be reviewing the poetry, but I’ll be talking about the three short stories.

This story was really fun and weird.  It began as one thing, turned into a few other things and then resolved itself all with bizarre turns without ever losing its internal logic.

The story opens as a teen spy caper with Andrew bringing Hillary a message in secret code.  The message from Andrew is for Hillary so obviously no code is needed,  But they are spies, so everything must be encoded.   She goes off to decipher it–using a dictionary and selecting the word just prior to the word that Andrew wrote.

Greetings Math Princess.  The Candy Ninja is ready to move.

She was amused/dismayed that even copying words out of the dictionary he spelled one wrong: needeled (for needled). (more…)

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deweySOUNDTRACK: OMAR SOSA & PAOLO FRESU-Tiny Desk Concert #272 (April 22, 2013).

omarOmar Sosa plays piano and Paolo Fresu plays trumpet and flugelhorn.  Many types of music could come from this combination, but this duo creates beautiful, mellow music that is calming and lovely.  Fresu often places a digital delay on his horns which offer occasional notes and echoes.  He also clacks on the horn itself to give some percussive sounds.

Here’s the blurb about this show:

You don’t really listen to an Omar Sosa concert so much as experience it. The Cuban-born pianist’s overall demeanor exudes a sense of calm and deep reflection, while a spiritual connection to music and his ancestors comes through in his piano playing.

You can hear Sosa draw on more than 100 years of Cuban piano in the recognizable rhythms of his country’s music. But in Sosa’s hands, it’s not all fiery and bombastic; he’s most effective when he uses Afro-Cuban tradition as a guide to his distinct, subtle and nuanced approach.

In Paolo Fresu, Sosa has found a sympathetic musical partner. Fresu’s work on trumpet and flugelhorn provides a perfect foil for Sosa’s introspective intersection of jazz, Afro-Cuban sounds and a chamber-music mentality.

Sosa and Fresu’s quietly energetic performance behind Bob Boilen’s desk enveloped everyone in attendance like a soft mist. Fresu’s use of digital delay never clashed with Sosa’ acoustic piano, instead adding another color to the palette; at times, Fresu uses it to add a layer of rhythm with either the ring on his finger or a blowing technique into his horn.

I didn’t hear any of the Afro-Cuban traditions in this music.  It was all just very pleasant.  They play two long songs,”Alma” and “S’Inguldu.”

I loved the strange sounds that Fresu got out of his horns.  At the end of the second piece, he seems to be blowing into the mouthpiece not like he wants to “play” it but as if he just wants the air to go through it.  And the pitches and wind sounds het gets are echoed through the delay.  He also seems to be clicking his mouth to get even more interesting percussive sounds.  I’ve never seen anyone do what he does with the horns before.

And of course, when he is actually playing the horns, they sound wonderful.  I haven’t really mentioned Sosa at all, but his playing is tremendous too.  There’s nothing flashy or fancy about it, it’s just solid, beautiful piano playing with a gorgeous melody and tone throughout.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Dog Gone Dog

This is a book that I funded on Kickstarter.  I thought my kids would enjoy it–especially the gadgets in the back.  Turns out I’m the first one to read it, but Tabby expressed interest in it too.

The story in this book is pretty good, although I feel like the real “selling point” is the back half of the book which teaches you how to make all the cool gadgets that Dewey Mac uses.

As far as kid detective/spy stories goes, this one is pretty simple–although the mystery is satisfyingly complicated.  The story begins with Dewey Mac (short for McClain) sitting in school listening to an announcement from his mayor.  The mayor calls some volunteers on stage. Dewey wasn’t paying attention, so he doesn’t know why, but he is picked but as he gets on stage he knocks over the microphone and breaks it.

Using some items that are around, he makes a new microphone (called Canned Music in the back of the book). (more…)

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trinitySOUNDTRACK: GREASY KID STUFF–WFMU 91.9, New York City (1997-2006).

grekidIn my vast exploration of Greasy Kid Stuff (seriously, at least 15 minutes at work), I found the WFMU website.  It turns out that Greasy Kid Stuff, the radio show broadcast weekly from WFMU from 1997 until 2006.  Then they moved to Portland and couldn’t manage the remote connections properly, so the show ended on WFMU.

The good news is that you can hear weekly playlists of all of the shows from 2000-2006 on the playlist page.  They have playlists that date back to the beginning, but there’s only audio starting in 2000.  The bad news is that you the shows are all archived in Real Audio.  Which, I don’t know, may or may not really work anymore.

But for a historical look at a funny and weird kids show check out the archives, and if you still have Real Player, give it a listen.

[READ: June 17, 2014] Operation Trinity

The Cahill Files were a series of “books from the vault” of the Cahill family.  They were originally released as e-books and some of them have been collected as print books.  The first was Operation Trinity.  And like Vespers Rising, it chronicles the history of the Cahill Family.

The story is broken into three parts, each one chronicling the “life” of a painting.  The painting in question is Jan Van Eyck’s altarpiece (see bottom of post for picture of it). The first part is set in Ghent in 1566.  In reality, the painting was finished in the 15th century and was installed in the Saint Bavo Cathedral.

The story follows Matheus Jacobs, an ordinary, some might say even less than ordinary, boy whose family doesn’t seem to think all that much of him.  Until one day when his mother says that she wants him to become an altar boy so he can protect this altarpiece from the Vespers.  (His father doesn’t think he is worthy, but she disagrees).  He doesn’t know why his mother chose him, or what his mother has to do with anything like this, until she reveals that she can speak several languages and is well versed in the history of the Vespers.  He rides his untrusty mule to the church, where he marvels at the beautiful painting.

He soon meets Father Gerard who sends him on an errand.  While away, he hears a man inciting a mob against the church.  The mob grows incensed, as mobs do, and sets out trying to weed out the Catholics in the village.  Matheus is freaked because they are heading for his home village.  And when he arrives, he sees that the mob is trying to burn down his house.  In the fracas, one of his family members is killed, and the rest of his family insist that he head back to the protect the altarpiece because the Vespers are behind the mob and they are headed for the church. (more…)

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HarpersaprilSOUNDTRACK: CHVRCHES-“The Mother We Share” (SXSW, March 23, 2013).

chvrchesThis year NPR doesn’t seem to be offering many full shows from SXSW for download.  But they do have a number of streaming songs.  And since I have recently reduced the amount of time I can dedicate to posts, I’m going to talk about a few songs rather than albums for a bit.

I’ve never heard of Chvrches although NPR leads me to believe they have a buzz around them.  They’re from Glasgow (I like the Glasgow scene), but this song is really way too poppy for me.  At least in this live incarnation, it’s so spare and keyboardy.  The lead singer has a great voice but it is firmly placed in the pop realm (especially with the Oh Oh Ohs).

The band is good though, and I enjoyed the synth guy making most of the sounds of the song.    I’d be curious to hear more (especially t hat cover of “Purple Rain.”  Watch it here.

[READ: March 18, 2013] “A Delicate Truth”

I have never read John Le Carré before.  Indeed, I don’t typically read any kind of spy/thriller type books.  I realized recently that I like mysteries but I don’t have a lot of time for hard spy novels (if I may use the language of sci-fi to describe a spy novel–perhaps spy-fi?).

We recently watched some of Skyfall (the Redbox had to go back so we didn’t finish it–I think I’m not down with the Redbox, it’s just as inconvenient as a video store), so this British spy-fi story seemed nicely timed.

This was an excerpt from Le Carré’s forthcoming book.  And regardless of the story itself, I’m delighted that it was a self-contained excerpt.  It is a mission and the mission ends by the end of the chapter   Obviously there is a lot more to the book, but I was pleased that the excerpt didn’t having any kind of cliffhanger.  And now I don’t feel like I have to read anymore of the story.

So this is the story of Paul Anderson or, “Paul Anderson,” a “middle-ranking British civil servant  hauled from his desk in one of the more prosaic departments of Her Majesty’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office to be dispatched on a top-secret mission of acute sensitivity.”  That pretty much sums up the story and you can tell from that sentence whether or not you’ll like the book.  I have no idea if this sort of thing happens in real life at all.  And maybe that’s not the point.  In the Afterword, Le Carré talks about The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, his first novel, which everyone assumed was all true (he says you know it’s not true because they printed it).  And he;s always been annoyed that people think of his as a spy who started writing rather than an author who did some spy work.

So I guess that means he knows of what he speaks. (more…)

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Harpersmaerch13SOUNDTRACK: DEFTONES-White Pony (2000).

Iwhitepony had forgotten how much I loved this album when it came out.  It’s been a while since I listened to it but it still sounds great.  I remembered thinking Around the Fur was the album that blew me away but it proved to be White Pony.  I have the “limited edition” red cover for whatever that’s worth (not much really, although I did get a bonus song).  This album really explores their more alternative side, with quiet guitars and very non-metal sounding songs including some trip-hop drums on a track.  But there are three or four really heavy songs showing they’re not giving up their heavy roots by any means.  It’s a really accomplished and complex album and is definitely a high point in alt-rock.

The album starts with “Fieticeira” which has a cool alt guitar sound (Stephen Carpenter really displays an amazing range on this album) and some lurching verses.  The choruses get big and loud (in the way that the Foo Fighters do now), although there is a weird noisy section that keeps it from being a totally polished track.  “Digital Bath” is a dark creepy song where the guitars are nearly as menacing as Chino Moreno’s whispered voice.  The drums are actually the loudest instrument and you can hear how intricate the Deftones drumming can be.  I haven’t mentioned the other members in the other two write ups and shame on me.  Abe Cunningham’s drumming is great–far beyond most metal drummers.  But when the bridge kicks in the song lifts up and by the chorus it’s a big vocalled song.  “Elite” shows that the Deftones haven’t given up their heavy side–it’s a loud screaming distorted fast thrasher.  It never lets up and by the end the voice is distorted almost beyond human sounds.  “RX Bath” is one of my favorite songs on the disc.  It’s slow but with a cool slinky bass (Chi Cheng, always outstanding).  “Street Carp” is a short song–with loud guitars for the verses and a creepy slow chorus that I’ve always loved: “Here’s my new address…six six four oh I forget.”

“Teenager” is the biggest surprise  it has a slow acoustic guitars and a kind of trip hop drum beat with glitchy effects.  It’s followed by “Knife Party” a song that opens with flanged guitars until the big chords crash in.  It’s probably their most commercial sounding song yet, except when after the second chorus Rodleen Getsic starts singing a wild vocal solo (like a crazed version of Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”), some of the notes she hits are inhuman.  “Korea” returns to the heavy dropped D sound with big noisy guitars and screams.  It’s one of their mist abrasive tracks.

“Passenger” is one of two songs that’s over 6 minutes long.  It’s a duet with Maynard from Tool–it’s unusual how their voices are so similar  They don’t sound alike but they have that same wavery tenor and vulnerability   It’s a perfect match.  “Change (In the House of Flies)” starts as a slow slinky song with a big chorus (and a great chorus of Ah ahs which somehow make the song seem even more claustrophobic.  It proves to be surprisingly catchy.  “Pink Maggit” ends the disc proper with a beautifully, agonizingly slow guitar and vocal intro–the guitars are buzzy and slow and sound almost out of tune (but aren’t).  Chino’s voice strains itself before the song proper starts.  I love songs like this when the chorus does one thing and the vocals play a slightly different melody (as if he;s singing a minor note and the guitars are playing a  major note), it’s very cool and a little spine tingly. At seven minutes this is a wonderfully claustrophobic alt rocker.   The album ends with what sounds like a heart beat (again, another Pink Floyd nod).

The red version has a bonus track called “The Boy’s Republic,” a big heavy song that encapsulates a lot of the album down into one track–the great vocal/guitar interplay, swelling chorus and interesting interplay of the instruments.  Even though it’s clearly a bonus song (you don’t have a song that ends with a slow heartbeat and not have it actually end your album), it fits in perfectly with the set and is a real treat.

Even though this album is 13 years old it still sounds fresh and amazing.  It really is a masterpiece.

[READ: February 25, 2013] “So Who Could I Tell the Story To”

According to Harper’s this is an excerpt from City of Angels: Or, the Overcoat of Dr. Freud.  It was translated by Damion Searls.

The excerpt begins in the middle of a question: “–the story that now needed to be told, even though it wasn’t a story at all?”  A very strange opening to be sure, and not as compelling as one might want.  And that was how I felt about this whole thing.  I wanted to be more excited by it but I never was.

There was something confusing about the whole setup.  The narrator is talking to Francesco.  But the narrator is talking about and apparently to “you.”  So there are lots of you’s floating around but we also know she’s talking to someone.  And while it’s all about clandestine behavior, the whole proceeding was confusing. (more…)

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