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SOUNDTRACK: ANDREA CRUZ-Tiny Desk Concert #836 (March 27, 2019).

I was really surprised by the music that Andrea Cruz played, especially when I learned she is from Puerto Rico.  It felt very folk-music, in the way she strummed and the trombone (Jomar Santana) was used more as a solo instrument rather than a dance-accompaniment.  That’s certainly reductive, and yet the blurb backs me up:

It’s important to note that the instrumentation of the band that traveled with her (keyboard, two percussionists and trombone) hardly fits what you’d expect music from the island to sound like these days. But Cruz is part of a movement in Puerto Rico that emphasizes largely acoustic instruments and a folk-based approach to interpreting life before and after the hurricane of 2017. It’s a bold creative statement in a land of reggaeton and salsa.

I was very pleased to see that Cruz’s live performance is very much like the stripped-down sound on her album and the handful of singles she’s released. In fact, I would say her music is a perfect soundtrack to a growing, back-to-nature movement in Puerto Rico that encourages local farming and a careful stewardship of the environment.

Cruz sings three songs, all from her first album, 2017’s Tejido de Laurel.

“No Toquemos Tierra,” opens with a lone trombone and Cruz’ guitar.  I love the delicate keyboard accents from Antony Granados. It looks funny that there are two of them playing the tiny percussion kit, but that changes later.  The way Cruz plays her guitar here I almost expected her to bust out into something like Laura Marling a few times.  The coda at the end is really pretty, too.

The emotion of the lyrics of the first song, “No Toquemos Tierra,” is evident in her angelic voice as she makes a declaration of love for the earth as a metaphor for a lover. The beauty of the song is in her poetic lyrics set to a melody that defies language.

“Santas Flores” is a prayer to the flowers.  I love in the middle that everything drops away except for the percussion and her voice.  I’m very curious how that trombone is so quiet.

“Canción de Amargura” begins with a martial beat from Francisco Marrero but when Ángel Rafael Rivera plays the cuatro venezolano, the mood lightens.  Despite the fact that this is an intense song

there was no mistaking the intense feeling behind her song about femicide on the island in the song, “Canción de Amargura.”

Their voices raised in harmony at the end are really powerful and the way her own voice just soars in the last few seconds is really lovely.

“Contigo” is listed as a fourth song but she doesn’t play it, I don’t think.

[READ: March 31, 2019] “The Match”

This is an excerpt from Whitehead’s not-yet-released book The Nickel Boys, which is set around 1964.

This part is about a boxing match at The Nickel Academy, a reform school for boys.  The main competitor is a black boy named Griff.   He is a miserable bully most of the time and the other boys really hate him.  But if he has the chance to defeat a white boy, they are all for him.

The “colored boys” had held the boxing title for fifteen years.  “Old hands on the staff still remembered the last white champion [Terry (Doc) Burns] and talked him up.”

Griff arrived at Nickel just after the last champ turned eighteen and was released back in to the free world.  Griff pulverized his opponents.  At the end of the school year, they would pit the dorm’s best fighters against each other and then in the finale, the best black fighter fought “whatever chump the white guys put up.”

Obviously, racism is inherent in this system.  Indeed, Trevor Nickel who opened the Academy was a member of the Klan.  During one of the brief asides, Turner, brought Elwood to the two trees in the back.  There were rings embedded in the trees, part of the trunk now: “Human bones would break before it came loose.”  This was where the black boys who disobeyed were brought.  The official word was that they escaped, obviously they did not. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Marine Midland Arena, Buffalo, NY (November 26, 1996).

This is the 13th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

It’s also only the second Rheostatics show recorded in the United States on the Rheostatics Live website.  There was an earlier recording of this show which was not a soundboard show.  My complaints about the show were mostly about the audience.  And you can’t hear them on this.  The recording is much clearer too.

They opened the show to “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz.   There’s no graceful segue into the music, Martin just starts playing “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.”  It sounds perfect.  Everyone is tight and right with the sounds and Martin hits those high note perfectly.  It’s an amazing and bold introduction to the band if you didn’t know them.

“Fat” is next.  It’s more conventional, but there’s some really amazing guitar work from Martin.  And the band is really into it by the end.  It sounds fantastic.  “All the Same Eyes” is up next and it sounds rocking and fluid.

Tim introduces the band in this way:
We’re the Rheostatics from Toronto, Canada.

Then Dave says:
We’re B.T.O. from Red Deer, Alberta.
We’re The Spoons from Burlington, Ontario.
We are every Canadian band that ever was and some that haven’t even been born yet.

The play “Motorino” which is dedicated to Brad May, the Buffalo Sabres player.  It’s a bit chaotic, and Martin sounds a bit unhinged, but I love that he speak/sings in Italian.

Tamara Williamson joins them for “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  She and Martin sound great together.  I love that she gets a few solo moments.  And when they both hit those incredibly high notes–she goes even higher than him–goosebumps!  Martin breathes very heavily into the mic after the song–it’s so hard to tell if he’s having fun or is really going mental.

Don says “So far all of these songs have been from our brand new record.  And this next one is too.  And I think the only place it’s available in the States is right here in the lobby.”

They play a great “Bad Time to Be Poor” which Dave dedicates to “Chrissy?” “for playing our record.”  I feel like Tim emphasizes the “don’t give a shit no more” line.  He sings the whole song very clearly, which is nice.  Then they move on to a great “Self-Serve Gas Station” with excellent backing vocals from Tim.

Dave says “To all those people in the cheap seats, we can hear your cheers.  We appreciate them.”

The roaring ending segues into the quiet opening of the final song “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson.”  Instead of shouting “Michael” the first time around, Dave shouts “Triumph!”

During the verse, Dave says, “I see two angels with funny lights on their heads in the 11th row.  It’s like some kind of dream or something.”

Martin plays some fun wild soloing including a bit of “Sweet Child of Mine.”  There’s some wildness by the end with them all singing parts and martin soloing but they tack on a quieter ending, with martin noodling about and Dave whispering “big white buffalo”  Tim and martin end it with several falsetto “It feels good to be alive”.

As they leave, they thank The Tragically Hip, the best guys in the land.

[READ: March 23, 2019] “Childhood”

Mark is bringing his son Reuben to a doctor’s appointment.  They stopped at an Indian restaurant which caps off a pretty amazing trip so far since there was so much usual in their routine.  Riding a bus, strange smells.  A year earlier he wouldn’t have set foot in such a strange restaurant.   He was eight now and seemed to be doing better.

He could now read proficiently in English and French and seemed to remember the lyric to every song he heard.  He even got invited to friend’s houses.

Although group dynamics were still awkward.  There were also fits of temper and absent-mindedness.  And general spaciness.  But was all this normal?  What was the margin of error?

School wasn’t always a help–“report cards were composed in a language that bore only a faint resemblance to English.  Parent-teacher conferences had thepolite, anxious feel of second dates.”

Mark wonders about his only childhood, did he have any really distinct memories before he was turned eight?  Or twelve?  Everything felt like a brown haze.

So he and his wife put off the appointment until “it felt too irresponsible an cowardly not to.  And then they put it off some more” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary AB (November 16, 1996).

This is the 7th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  These are the only recordings of “Queer,” “Soul Glue” and “Introducing Happiness” from the tour.

The opening music tonight is “Good Times” by Chic.  Which seems odd.  After a quick “hello,” Martin begins playing “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.”  The sound quality of this recording is excellent (as the others are) and this version is pretty outstanding.

Dave says “We’re very nervous.  This is very big place.  We’re very purple.  We’ll do 8 songs tonight and then the Tragically Hip will play.  We’re playing across the country with them and eating all their doughnuts.

“Bad Time to Be Poor” is dedicated to Gord.  It’s another Tim two-fer with “Introducing Happiness” which is “for my cats.”

Up next, Dave introduces “a song about being gay and playing hockey.”  “Queer” sounds great and the band is really into it.  It’s followed by a bouncy and fun “Soul Glue” (three from Tim!) with a grooving solo from Martin.  “Soul Glue is such an underrated gem.  I love the way the middle section is chaotic with the three singers singing different parts and then it segues into the great harmonies of the final “ooooh” section.

Dave jokes: “Hey, Martin, if you’re gonna play stadiums you need to know how to flick the pick.”  Then Dave gives a big shout out to Recordland on 9th: “the greatest record store in the celestial universe.”  And it’s still in business in 2019!

The guys don’t banter too much as openers, but they have this exchange about the people down front:

DB: They’re having too much fun.
MT: Is there such a thing?
DB: Yes as you know first hand.
DB: Does everyone wanna party?  [crowd roars] I was afraid you’d say that.
MT: Well, this song is a real downer.

It’s “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” which sounds great with some really interesting chaotic parts in the middle–Martin seems to be either having fun or going a little crazy with the sounds and soaring vocals and lots of growled “rich”s.

Feed Yourself starts out really weird (a missing guitar maybe).  After a verse or so it sounds fuller.  The middle has no crazy chanting, but when the middle slow part end, it roars back.  It segues instantly into “California Dreamlike.”  When he sings “disillusioned porpoise,” the guitar sounds kind of dolphin-y.  The crowd is totally into them by this point.

They end the show with “RDA.”  Martin seems to start it twice then re-tunes and the blast through it properly.

Although a long rambling Rheostatics show is a thing of beauty, these short sets are pretty spectacular–like a great short story.

[READ: February 21, 2019] Quirk’s Quest 2

I had the exact same reaction from book one as I did for this book.  About Book One I said:

This story threw out so much disconnect for me that I never really determined if I liked it.

The artwork is adorable–the characters look like Fraggle Rock creatures–soft and furry with big round ping pong ball eyes.  Even the bad guys (much taller with four eyes) don’t look all that fierce.

And yet.

In the first 30 pages, these monsters kill and eat some of the cute Fraggle Rock creatures. What?!

This book looks ostensibly like a children’s book.  It is really cute.  But the diary entries of the Captain are written in a cursive that even I had a hard time reading (particularly because the captain’s named is Quenterindy Quirk and he is sailing on the H.M.S. Gwaniimander (hard enough to read that, imagine trying to figure it out in cursive!).

The cursive is still there (they name a river “Mabooglaqui” in cursive), and while there’s less death in the beginning of book two, there is a fairly astonishing scene where a creature eats smalls creatures and is then blown to bits (somehow adorably). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Northlands Coliseum Edmonton AB (November 13, 1996).

Rheostatics opened for The Tragically Hip in Fall 1996.  Some of the shows were online already, but in 2018, Rheostatics Live added about ten more shows.  This is the 5th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. Only recordings of Shaved Head and Earth from this tour.

This is their second night in Edmonton and they play some of what I consider their more risky opening-set songs.  The show begins with Martin playing “Digital Beach.”  It’s a quiet song but the crowd seems really respectful.  And Martin sounds in great voice with his falsetto hitting all the right notes.

The end segues perfectly into “Earth.”  I feel like it takes a little while to get Earth going (again, thinking as an opening act and it’s such a slow song)–I find a very risky.  But the loud part of “Monstrous Hummingbirds” roars out and Martin’s guitar sounds great and they have surely won people over by now.

Up next is “Claire.”  Tim sounds in good voice and Martin has some cool phasing for his guitar solo.

Dave doesn’t sing a ton, but he thanks Edmonton.  “Thank you, Edmonton the whole city’s here tonight.  I see the mayor.  I see the coach.  I see the wizard.”

They rip into a great “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” (some of you are here tonight).  Everyone is right on and the vocals are terrific.  There’s even a bit of a drum solo.

Dave mentions the cross country tour, the big crowds, the hockey rinks–shrines to the game of professional hockey.  They’re happy to be there “despite the fact that they still let Peter Pocklington in here [Pocklington owned the Oilers and is quite a divisive figure–he sold Wayne Gretzsky to Los Angeles, among many other things.  He will appear again in this show, shortly.]

Dave also says that they just released a record The Blue Hysteria, and if you get a chance to buy it we’d like that very much.

Up next is an amazing “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  The vocals are wonderful–Martin is in top form tonight.  I believe Tim is singing the really high backing vocals too.  The song feels like a show stopper the way Martin’s voice soars majestically at the end–higher and higher.

Despite how amazing that is, they start right up with “Horses.”  For years I have wondered what events this song commemorated.  I wasn’t really sure how to find out. And then, here Dave introduces the song and tells all: “This is a song about the strike at the Gainers meat-packing plant in the mid-1980s.  It is a privilege to sing this song here tonight.

This is where Pocklington returns.  Dave doesn’t mention this, but I looked it up and found out [from Wikipedia]

Perhaps Pocklington’s most notorious setback was the result of a six-month strike with the United Food and Commercial Workers union that crippled Gainers, which at the time was Canada’s second-largest meat packer. Pocklington used strikebreakers, primarily from Quebec, to keep the plant operating despite the picket lines, a decision that earned him the enmity of Canada’s labour movement. Eventually, he agreed to settle the strike and rehire the striking workers at the request of the Alberta government.

So not only did Pocklington trade Gretzky, he was the inspiration for “Horses.”  No wonder Dave hates him so much.

“Horses” is energized and spectacular and Martin plays a noisy, wild electrified solo with some great horse sounds at the end.

Normally this might end a show but they segue right into “Shaved Head” (someone in the audience screams twice–loudly like an actual shriek–I wonder if that was good or bad).  Martin continues to sounds great–he’s hitting those high notes like nothing.  A beautiful, powerful ending leads into the jolly intro of “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson.”  Once again, everyone sounds great with this song.

They end the show with everyone repeating the refrain of “It feels good to be alive.”  The voices all stop except Martin who sends everyone off with his gorgeous falsetto singing “it feels good to be alive.”

What a great opening act to see.

[READ: February 5, 2019] “All Will Be Well”

This story opens with a comic line, but the story is hardly a comedy.

“Once upon a time, I was addicted to a salon.”

I have really enjoyed the way Yiyun Li develops character and setting.  In this story the salon is run by Lily.  The magazines are in Chinese and Vietnamese and the TV is tuned to a Mandarin channel.  It is in a neighborhood where armed robberies were common.  Lily unlocks the door when she sees customers coming and immediately locks it again.

The narrator teaches at a local college, but she pretends that she is going to school for fiction-writing.  The best part of her character is that she lied and told Lily that she “had been adopted by a couple from Holland when [she] was a year old and moved to America when she was in Middle School.”   Because of this she was forgiven for not speaking one of the preferred languages.

She went to the salon more often than was necessary.  She says if she had been superstitious, she would swear Lily put a spell on her.  The narrator seemed mostly entranced by Lily’s stories–Lily loves to talk, and it gave the narrator a way out of her own life.  “I listened, smiled, and asked questions–these were my most tiresome traits, and I used them tirelessly.”  Normally she had to give her opinions all day (she was a teacher after all) but here she could forget about herself. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-12 Bar Bruise (2012).

12 Bar Bruise is the first full-length album from KGATLW.  It sounds even rawer than their EP.  But there’s no drop in intensity.  It’s an intense mix of punk, psychedelic blues, surf rock and boogie all filtered through a buzzing, fuzzy sound.  Distortion rules this album, but never enough to obscure what are remarkably simple but catchy riffs.  Most songs are just around 3 minutes long.

Once again, lyrics take a lesser place than great music. So “Elbow” has some bad words in it, but you can’t tell.  It’s more about whoops and tricked out guitar solos and chants of “ey ey ey.”  “Muckraker” introduces the surf punk elements and “Nein” has my favorite lyric thus far: “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, Nein, Nein, Nein, Nein, Nein”

“12 Bar Bruise” is the longest song on the disc at 3:47.  It is indeed a simple blues with muffled vocals.  “Garage Liddiard” introduces the concept of surf rock in a garage.  The guitar slides like a surf rock song but the whole vibe is garage with “ooh ooh” backing vocals and a harmonica solo that sounds like someone singing at the same time.

“Sam Cherry’s Last Shot” is the one very different song on this record.   It is played like a Western and it features spoken word.   Broderick Smith [of The Dingoes] is harmonica player Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s father.  He is an absolute Western nut so he narrated page 521 and 522 of the book “Our Wild Indians: Thirty-Three Years’ Personal Experience among the Red Men of the Great West” by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, Aid-de-Camp to General Sherman.  This is certainly the set up for their next album, Eyes Like the Sky which is a full album of Western music with narration from Smith.

“High Hopes” is almost as long as “12 Bar,” but it has an intro of electronic drums and video game sounds before it switches back to the standard rocking sound.  There’s a lengthy, wickedly distorted harmonica solo.  “Cut Throat Boogie” features a different vocalist (I think Ambrose Kenny-Smith).  It’s a garage rock boogie.

Despite the title, “Bloody Ripper” is a slower, quieter less frenetic and really catchy song.  “Uh oh, I Called Mum” wins for best song title.  It opens with everyone chanting “mum” and lots of backing vocals.  The lyrics: “I bought a funny glob / I put it in my gob.”  “Sea of Trees” is the least distorted track.  It’s a catchy swinging song with a cool harmonica solo.

The disc ends with “Footy Footy,” a two-minute stomper dedicated to playing footy.  The chorus:
Footy footy, all I wanna do is
Footy footy, all I wanna kick is
Footy footy, they catch the ball, kick, play on!
Footy footy, footy footy footy!

But the verses are presumable great players:

Ang Christou / Che Cockatoo-Collins / Phillip Matera / Gavin Wanganeen / Gary Moorcroft / Aussie Jones / Bruce Doull, the ‘Flying Doormat’ / ‘Spida’ Everitt / ‘Spider’ Burton / Craig Bradley / The 1995 Carlton football team

and

‘Diesel’ Williams / Dale Kickett / ‘Sticks’ Kernahan / Darren Jarman / Chad Rintoul / Ashley Sampi / Mick Martyn / Dean [?] / Clint Bizzell / The Brisbane Bears / Aaron Hamill / Everyone

with the final line: “I hate what this game has become.”

It’s a lot of fun crammed into 35 minutes.

[READ: February 1, 2019] Checkpoint

This book was a pretty controversial work back in 2004.

Released before the re-election of George W. Bush, this book is, very simply, a dialogue between two men.

The topic?  Jay wants to assassinate President Bush.  Ben, his oldest friend, wants to talk him out of it.

There was a lot of discussion about the merits of this book–regardless of the politics–and I didn’t want to read it because of all of that.

In the real world, it’s fifteen years later and we are suffering through a trump–far worse than Bush could have even imagined being–although clearly Bush marched the Republican party off the cliff that had trump at the bottom of it.

So, how does one come down on this spicy subject fifteen years later? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIANA HATFIELD-Sings Olivia Newton John (2018).

When I was a kid, I loved Grease.  My parents took me to see it multiple times and I loved the soundtrack.  There are still things from the movie that I am just “getting” now because I was so young when I first heard it.  I listened and sang along to Grease thousands of time.  I didn’t care for Saturday Night Fever (too dark and grown up), but i did love Xanadu.  So clearly I loved Olivia more than John.

I did not love “Physical,” the only other ONJ song I had heard, but honestly who didn’t dance around singing the chorus.

Aside from those songs I didn’t know a lot about ONJ’s career.   I had never heard of “Have You Never Been Mellow” until I bought the 1984 album by The Feederz.  They covered the song in the only way that a band whose album cover was literally sandpaper (to mess up the neighboring albums) would do.

Decades later I loved Juliana Hatfield.  I saw her live at Boston College (she opened for the B-52s and I left between acts because I was too cool for the B-52s).  She sung heartfelt and direct songs in a sometimes childlike voice.  But she rocked pretty hard too.

Juliana seems like an obvious choice to cover Olivia, except I didn’t think that Juliana had the range.  But boy was I surprised.  She hits high notes that I don’t recall her hitting before.  And while her singing style is still pretty soft, she really powers through a lot.  She also multitracks her voice from time to time to give it more power.

Plus, how great is that cover?

I didn’t know all of the songs on this but I grew to like the all.  I like the gentle synths and the cool guitar line on “I Honestly Love You.”  But she really impressed me with her take on Xanadu’s “Suspended in Time.”  She hits some beautiful notes and really makes the song wonderful.  I particularly like the e-bow.  “Magic” from the soundtrack also sounds great.  I’ve always liked this song so a cover has to meet some tough standards.  “Xanadu” is another great version–JH nails this soundtrack.

She hits some really wonderful high notes on “Have You Never Been Mellow?”  I’m still not sure if I’ve heard ONJ’s version.

“A Little More Love” adds some of Juliana’s crunchy guitar to the verses, but the chorus is pure ONJ.

I also had no idea she sang “Please Mr. Please,” which I remember from when I was a kid.  Who was listening to country stations in New Jersey back then?  Apparently much of ONJ’s pre-Grease career was in the country realm.

As I was going through this collection I discovered that ONJ sang a ton of versions of songs that I had no idea about.

Songs that she did a cover of which do not appear here:

  • God Only Knows
  • Jolene
  • Me and Bobby McGee
  • If You Could Read My Mind
  • Angel of the Morning
  • Take Me Home Country Roads
  • Summertime Blues
  • Ring of Fire
  • He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother [!]
  • Don’t Cry for Me Argentina [!]

And that was all before she did Grease.

This collection mostly covers her records from Grease (1977) to Physical (1981), but there’s a couple of older songs too.

I had given up on her by Physical, but JH’s version of the title song has some nice chunky guitars and emphasizes the cool riff in the song–it’s much less discoey than the original.  There’s even a loud (but short) guitar solo and some cool noise at the end.  She also sounds a lot more like Juliana than Olivia on this one.

I didn’t know anything from Totally Hot, the album in which she dressed all in leather (like Sandy!).  I feel like “Totally Hot” is the least successful song here.  The lurching style is kind of clunky.  Although JH is clearly having fun by the end with the multitarcked vocals.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” is not the Journey song.  It sounds so very ONJ to me (with the high vocal notes at the end of each line).  JH sounds a lot like ONJ on this one.

The biggest challenge has to have been “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”  It’s the only song from Grease that she tackles. JH sounds a little flat (not in notes, but in…power?) during the verses.  But the multi tracking on her voice makes the chorus sound wonderful.

“Dancin’ Round and Round” comes from that rockin’ Totally Hot album and JH covers it perfectly.  “Make a Move on Me” has some interesting guitar and synth sounds.

The “I Honestly Love You” reprise is more fun because of the extended noisy guitar at the end.

This is a really fun collection of songs, including many songs I had forgotten I liked.

  1. I Honestly Love You [various, depending on country of release, you know, like The Beatles]
  2. Suspended In Time [X]
  3. Have You Never Been Mellow [HYNBM]
  4. A Little More Love [TH]
  5. Magic [X]
  6. Physical [P]
  7. Totally Hot [TH]
  8. Don’t Stop Believin’ [DSB]
  9. Please Mr. Please [HYNBM]
  10. Hopelessly Devoted To You [G]
  11. Xanadu [X]
  12. Dancin’ ‘Round And ‘Round [TH]
  13. Make A Move On Me [P]

X = Xanadu ; HYNBM = Have Yo Never Been Mellow ; [TH] = Totally Hot ; [P] = Physical ; [DSB] = Don’t Stop Believin’ ; [G] = Grease

[READ: January 29, 2019] Is This Guy for Real?

I enjoyed Box Brown’s Andre the Giant book.  In fact I’m quite the fan of Box Brown’s work.  So you bet I was going to read Brown’s biography about the enigma who was Andy Kaufman.

I was old enough to be aware of Kaufman (from Taxi, mostly), and young enough to be interested in the wrestling aspect of what he was doing.  Even if I had no idea what was real during the whole thing.  Apparently no one else did either.  What’s interesting is that you probably couldn’t get away with these kinds of stunts now because of the pervasive media.

Andy Kaufman grew up as a pretty normal kid who liked Mighty Mouse, Elvis and wrestling.  He also liked to imitate all three.  The one unusual component of his arsenal of favorite things was Babatunde Olatunji a Nigerian drummer who played his high school.  Andy was transfixed by the drums and set his mind to playing them.  All of these would comprise his stand up act, (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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