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Archive for the ‘Suicide’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LEE FIELDS-“Still Hanging On” (Field Recordings, April 18, 2012).

This was another Field Recording from SXSW filmed on the patio of Joe’s Crab Shack [Lee Fields: Early Morning Soul].

Lee Fields is soul singer who I don’t know.  Evidently he toured in the 1970 sand resurfaced in the ’90s.  He’s got a great powerful voice, but you can tell he’s a bit wiped out.

It was Friday morning during South by Southwest, and Lee Fields was gassed. The veteran soul singer told us he’d given his all in a concert the night before, and you could tell that our early appointment at Joe’s Crab Shack in Austin, Texas, had left his voice gravelly and raw.

He has steadily put out funk-tinged blues and gospel records, crooning love songs and belting world-weary anthems with an expressive voice full of swagger and regret.

So on that March morning, Lee Fields reached deep, fought off the morning fog and gave a passionate, stripped-down performance of “Still Hanging On” with the help of guitarist Vince John. It was a rare peek at a legendary, impossibly gracious singer who proved that, after all these years and even with little sleep, he’s still got it.

Somehow the rawness and weariness of his voice makes it all the more poignant and impressive.

[READ: January 8, 2017] “The Weir”

This was a fascinating story that went in a few different directions.

It begins with a fifty-something year old man throwing tennis balls to his dogs.  He is on a large swath of land that abuts a river.  He is using this time with his dogs to think about his family.  His wife left him six weeks ago and he feels he is coping well (the dogs help).

But his son was the real problem.  He was gone missing.  For years.  His wife had even said that it would be better if he were dead.

While in his thoughts, he sees a young woman hugging the cliffs on the edge of the river.  As he watches her he realizes that she is going to jump in (the river is extremely fast and dangerous).  He rushes to try to stop her, but she can’t hear anything with the noise of the river.

Without even realizing he did it, his jacket and shoes were off and he was jumping in.  The river is crazy and violent and he is tossed around.  Finally he catches up to her, but she is attacking him–whether on purpose or not he doesn’t know.  Eventually he is able to drag her to the shore.  The water was really cold.  The air is cold.  She is cold and he is cold.  She is breathing but not responsive.

He hauls her back to the car and wraps the dogs’ rug around her. The only thing she says is “not the hospital.”  So he brings her to his house.

It’s all really exciting. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALISA WEILERSTEIN-“Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 5” (Field Recordings, February 16, 2012).

One thing I love about the Field Recordings series is the wonderfully unexpected places they have the performers play.  Like this Field Recording [Alisa Weilerstein: Playing Bach With The Fishes] which is set at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Strategically positioned above a tank full of stingrays, Weilerstein unpacked her cello to serenade the sea creatures — and dozens of pleasantly surprised aquarium visitors — with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. She chose the Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 5 for unaccompanied cello. The music’s tranquil power and meandering melodies became an extraordinary soundtrack to the majestic rays as they roamed through the water, rising occasionally to catch a note or two.

The music is sublime–sad and powerful but ever so fluid.  And the setting is just perfect–you can almost see the fish appreciate it.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Four Fictions”

Breytenbach confounds me with his stories.  This is a collection of four really short pieces and while I enjoyed parts of some of them, overall they were a big huh?

Race
This appears to be a race through the sea?  On foot?  A tractor charges into the waves and a Jeep follows. The route will take them through the sea to Germany and back to Stockholm.  Their friend Sven is running in the race (he’s from Lapland).  When the race is over he still has to run through the house to the balcony.  When they gather for the results , how many drowned, etc, the story ends with another man removing his top hat and his hair looking sunken and dry.

What? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICHOLAS PHAN-3 by Britten (Field Recordings, November 20, 2013).

This was 2013’s last Field Recording [Britten Goes Back To Brooklyn With Nicholas Phan].

In addition to providing some powerful vocals and introducing many (including me) to Benjamin Britten’s more down to earth songs, this Field Recording also provides a lot of historical information.

Composer Benjamin Britten, whose 100th birth anniversary falls on Nov. 22nd [2013], is so deeply associated with his native England that he’s on a new 50-pence coin issued by the Royal Mint. This British cultural icon felt so strongly his music should be of a particular place that he set down roots in the seaside town of Aldeburgh, England and stayed there for nearly 30 years until his death in 1976. But he had a surprising two-year sojourn living far from home — in a boisterous, bohemian group house in Brooklyn.

Coaxed to the borough in 1939 by a friend, poet W.H. Auden, Britten and his longtime partner, tenor Peter Pears, moved into 7 Middaugh Street in Brooklyn Heights (an address long claimed by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). Their housing situation there could only fairly be described as bohemian. Along with Auden, the house’s revolving cast of residents included novelist Carson McCullers, composer and writer Paul Bowles, and burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee.

So in hopes of evoking something of that 1930s Brooklyn boho vibe, we invited an extremely fine young American tenor Nicholas Phan (pronounced “paan”), who’s become a champion of Britten’s vocal music, to return to Brooklyn on Britten’s behalf, accompanied by harpist Sivan Magen. We shot this Field Recording at 70 Fox House, a communal house in the Fort Greene neighborhood not all that far from where Britten and Pears lived and made their own art.

Amazingly Britten was still writing in the 1970s, and he made arrangements for these in 1976.

Witty and surprising, these songs are full of odd — but beautifully moving — harmonies and textures. It’s a perfect match for Britten and Brooklyn.

The first, “Lord! I married me a wife” is as funny as the title suggests.  Phan sings with great passion and exasperation: “I married a wife, she made me work in the cod rain and snow.”

“She’s like the swallow” is a prettier song with lovely harp playing to accompany it

“Bird Scarer’s Song” is a very different piece, with fast plucked harp that sounds more like piano than a harp and Phan singing aggressively and, yes, frighteningly.  With a big “Ha!” at the end.

[READ: November 5, 2018] “Backpack”

I have enjoyed several of Tony Earley’s stories, but I see that he hasn’t had a piece published in the New Yorker in several years.

Well, this one was great.

It is set up with something specific in mind.  John goes to various stores, buys several slightly questionable items, pays cash, and then heads home.

John is a professor, happily married for decades with a daughter just out of college.  But it is clear he is up to something.

From the items you can kind of imagine what he has planned. It is clear he is going to do harm to someone–either himself or someone else.  And when his wife leaves for the day, John shaves his head and shaves his beard (except for a Fu Manchu mustache), puts on sunglasses and a pirate bandanna and assumes the identity of Jimmy Ray Gallup. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS WALLA AND J. ROBBINS-Create ‘Mercury’ (Project Song: October 12, 2009).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fourth one they did was over a year and a half after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) and a performer he’d admired, J. Robbins (of Jawbox and Burning Airlines).

What made this project especially difficult was that the two had never even met before they stepped into NPR’s performance studio.

I supplied some inspiration for their song: photo collages created by artist Tom Chambers [The picture are really, really cool]. They chose a photograph of a house in a canyon filled with water, tilted and flooded. Not far from the house is a dog on a boat, floating either toward or away from the house. I also supplied a series of words. They selected the word “cerebral” and promised when they wrote the song not to be too cerebral about it.

Unlike the pairing from Georgie James, this pair is instantly excited at the possibilities–changes and ideas.

Robbins says he will not write any lyrics, it takes him a month and a half to hone them,

But it didn’t take long for Robbins to pick up his bass guitar, for Walla to pick up a guitar, and for the two to begin their musical friendship.

They were inspired by JG Ballard and his drowned world series. In these books there are people who know the world is dying but they embrace it as a forward movement into the unknown

J. get a great bass line right away (its sounds very Death Cab, interestingly).  Bob asks about the music and J. says the music sounds like a dog on a boat heading towards a half-submerged house.  And Walla is singing the word “mercury.”

Walla and Robbins were joined by Robbins’ friend, drummer Darren Zentek.

He adds a wonderful beat and the song sounds great.  They get excited filling out the possibilities–end on the bridge!

Walla goes off by himself to write lyrics.  And Robbins works on a piano part.  And then things really come together when Walla picks up the 12 string.

The song they created, “Mercury,” takes its subject matter from that photograph, which is a bit of a cataclysmic scenario turned into a song about the climate crisis.

The result has a definite Death Cab feel, but with Robbins and Walla alternating lead vocals it is a different, wonderful thing.

[READ: July 23, 2018] “I Walk Between the Raindrops”

This story centers around Valentine’s Day.  But it’s a T.C. Boyle story so there’s always something else to look forward to.

I love the way this story opens with Brandon the narrator telling us.

This past Valentine’s Day, I was in Kingman, Arizona, with my wife, Nola, staying in the Motel 6 there, just off the I-40. You might not think of Kingman as a prime location for a romantic getaway (who would?), but Nola and I have been married for fifteen years now, and romance is just part of the continuum….  Were we slumming?  Yes, sure.  We could have stayed anywhere we liked…and if it’s not ideal, at least it’s different.

They were there because Nola’s father lives nearby and they decided to pay a visit and to let Nola search for antiques.  They went to Denny’s (the only place her father will eat), and after eating, Nola went antiquing and Brandon went to a bar to wait for her.

It’s not unfriendly (despite some graffiti like “fuck you, liberal pussies” (which he chooses to take as ironic), but he doesn’t order a Pinot Noir or anything.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PARTNER-Tiny Desk Concert #744 (May 18, 2018).

I know of Partner from the All Songs Considered podcast.  Their song “Everybody Knows” (about being high) is pop-punk catchy and really funny.

That’s the only song I knew from them, but I assumed this Tiny Desk would be of a rollicking hilarious similar vein.

Imagine my surprise to hear them do pretty much everything but pop-punk.  There’s a theme song, a country song, a song for Céline Dion and a song that makes the lead singer cry:

This is one of the sweetest, funniest and most endearing Tiny Desk performances I’ve seen. From the moment they began playing, it was clear best friends Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, who perform as the Canadian rock band Partner, were there to leave their mark and have a whole lot of fun doing it.

Known for their sense of humor, joyful spirit and screaming riff rock, Partner opened their Tiny Desk not with their guitars plugged in, but with kazoos and a goofy little piano piece they dubbed the “Tiny Desk Theme.” Dressed like she was in an ugly sweater contest, Caron bounced along behind the keys with a beaming smile while the group (including drummer Brendan Allison, Kevin Brasier on keys and Daniel Legere on guitar) sang, “It’s the best Tiny Desk!”

The theme song is but a minute long and will hopefully be used for every future Tiny Desk endeavor.  It comes complete with bopping piano, kazoo and cowbell.

The impish left turns didn’t stop there. Immediately following the makeshift theme, Caron peeled off her sweater (revealing a Tegan and Sara T-shirt) and grabbed an acoustic guitar as the band broke into “Tell You Off” its first-ever country song, a track they’d premiered at a live show just days earlier.

Lucy Niles picks up the bass and plays a simple riff.  The rest of the band joins in (with Legere playing a very country guitar solo).

They could barely contain their laughter while singing “Tell You Off,” a boom-chicka story song about giving a good tongue-lashing to anyone who gets in your way:

“I heard what you said about my dog / that he shit on your lawn / well that’s not my fault / say it to my face or I’ll be pissed off / I’ll come over to your house and tell you off.

The third song is the one that Caron hope Céline Dion will sing.  She says it was inspired by a poem that her boss wrote.  “It’s a bad ass poem about going to down to hell to face your greatest fears and to reclaim a peaceful life for yourself.  The life that you deserve.”

In addition to playing a great rocking solo, Caron sings the final verse in French (for Céline to sample).

Partner closed out its set with a surprisingly emotional version of “Creature In The Sun,” a reflection on appreciating the gift of just being alive.

Caron plays a cool intro riff with a guitar slide.  And the song is the most rocking of the bunch.  And then

About halfway through the song, Caron took a moment to tell the audience why it was so special to them. Choking back tears, she said she wrote it about freeing the mind of desire. “It’s a very healing place… And you can just experience the fullness of life. I just wanted to… remind everyone that that stuff is right there with you all the time.”

It’s surprisingly emotional and Caron is clearly embarrassed at her emotional outpouring, but the audience is receptive and she still manages to play that great slide guitar apart tat the end.

And, to break some of the emotional tension the drummer hits a nice cowbell sound at the end.

This is a very surprising set, and one that I imagine is unique in their live performances.

[READ: May 21, 2018] “The Long Black Line”

This is the story of Jesuit Priesthood, circa 1954, and a man trying to join.

Finn is described this way: “priests were still thought to be holy, and Finn…Well…”

When Finn is close to completing his term of study one of the Brothers, Brother Reilly who is manuductor (he who leads by the hand) seems to think poorly of Finn.  Reilly wrote in his diary that Finn seemed self-important.  And then Brother Reilly went to confess these thoughts.  Brother Reilly’s superiors felt that Reilly was not suited to the role of manuductor and therefore it was useful for him to be given the task.

Father Superior told them: “feelings are always to be distrusted.  The good Jesuit may feel excited or depressed, but–remember–he never shows it.  He is never singular. He disappears into the long black line [of priests]….  If you feel sad, smile.  If you feel elated, exercise self-restraint.  If you dislike someone, pray for him.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CORNELIUS-Tiny Desk Concert #718 (March 19, 2018).

I was familiar with an artist known as Cornelius, but I guess I didn’t really know anything about him, because this blurb came as a total surprise:

As Cornelius, Keigo Oyamada has stretched his vision across frenzied indie rock, lush ’60s-style pop, psychedelic funk and glitched electronics, all deconstructed and reassembled like a neon cubist-pop sculpture. After a little more than two decades, no one can really imitate his complex cool.

Sporting a pair of sunglasses (always), Oyamada recently brought his band from Japan to the Tiny Desk on a rare U.S. tour, including his longtime collaborator and Pizzicato Five session musician Hiroshisa Horie, drummer Yuko Araki (Mi-Gu, Cibo Mato’s live band) and synthesist Yumiko Matsumura (Buffalo Daughter). They’re all musicians who tease and poke at music’s fringe territory, but still know how to make a song buzz and pop with gleeful curiosity.

So I guess I know Cornelius from Pizzicato Five.  But I was not prepared for the trippy synthy music that this band created.

Cornelius performs three very different songs from last year’s Mellow Waves. There’s the robotic groove of “Helix/Spiral,” which repeats and mutates the same phrase and melodic fragments in a delicate and strange dance.

“Helix/Spiral” is all synth with his vocals auto-tuned into robotic sounds.  The lyrics are mostly him speaking those two words over and over (which I thought was saying Alex Spy-lo, but that is clearly me not understanding his accent.  The synths are great.  One is doing cool trippy backing sounds while the main riff is a disjointed melody that begins confusing and ends as an earworm.

“In a Dream” is a star-swept landscape that invites the subconscious to search for meaning, its keyboard flourishes and light acoustic strums so breezy you could almost call it a kind of retro-futuristic yacht rock.

I love the full synth sound (and swirling bass of “In a Dream”).  I believe he is singing in Japanese.  The chorus of the song is so incredibly catchy in an almost light folk sort of way.

But set closer “If You’re Here” is the real marvel to behold live, as the band performs at different tempos, gradually solving a polyrhythmic puzzle of a slow jam. The song also features one of my favorite guitar solos in recent memory — it’s unflashy, but twists, spits and resolves in the most unexpected ways.

“If You’re Here” is a longer song–nearly 7 minutes–with a kind of slow building feel.  Those electric guitar solos from Cornelius himself are very cool indeed.  There’s a lengthy instrumental coda at the end which is very trippy and cool.

I really enjoyed this set and every new listen brought in something new.

[READ: January 9, 2018] “The Send-Off”

This is an excerpt from a novel called Inhumaines which has just come out in English (translated by Camille Bromley).

The previous piece that I read from Claudel was pretty surreal.  This one is as well.

It begins

Last night, Roger Turpon, from dispatching, invited us to his suicide.  There were twenty of us.  Family and friends only.

Turpon has been talking about killing himself for a while now, but boy “A suicidal person is tiresome.”

Finally Dupond helped him out by calling him a coward, saying he won’t do it.  They stood in the parking lot in mid-autumn with leaves blowing all around them.  “It was lovely.”

Three days later they received the invitation: Mr and Mrs Turpon are delighted to invite you to Roger’s suicide this Saturday. (more…)

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