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Archive for the ‘Teeth’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #957 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

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SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #915 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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 ganeSOUNDTRACK: DAVE BIDINI-The President of Mount Allison’s House, Sackville (July 28, 2007).

allisonUntil I looked it up, I didn’t know what Mount Allison was, nor why he would be playing at the President’s house.  I’m still not sure why he was playing there, but as part of his solo mini tour, Dave graced the beautiful house.

For this show he read for 17 minutes and played 5 songs.  He plays “My First Rock Show” as the only Rheos song.  And then plays the same four “new” songs as in yesterday’s post: “Song Ain’t Good,” “The List” “The Land is Wild” and “The Ballad of Zeke Roberts.”

He explains the Zeke Roberts song a bit more.   He spent a few days in Ghana and went to a Liberian refugee camp (all documented in the book Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs) which is how he learned about Zeke Roberts.

He talks about staying locally in the Marshland Inn and the scary doll in his room (and also how he hopes to have his picture among the famous people who have stayed there).

For the reading portion he talks about the guys he played with in China: Alun Piggins, drummer Jay Santiago and guitarist Dwayne Gale.  He talks about the scene where they get massages (very funny).  There’s another excerpt in which they meet some people on the street where a baby is playing with a lighter.  The band starts taking pictures and then—eventually one of the adults puts an unlit cigarette in the baby’s mouth, and much hilarity ensues.

Overall though, this reading gets pretty dark as he gets into fight with Jay about Rush, and he feels bad that the Rheos had broken up especially when he sees the up and coming band The Wombats loving their set.

As for the music in this set, it is too loud and peaks a lot in the recording.  There also seems to be a hornet pestering him.  It’s probably the least interesting of the three shows.

[READ: November 7, 2015] The Best Game You Can Name.

This book is about hockey.  Specifically it is about Bidini’s rec team the Morningstars and their quest for another championship (and how after winning two years in a row, they were the main target for all the other teams).  Much like how his book On a Cold Road included quotes and stories from musicians, this book includes quotes and stories from former NHL players (I didn’t really recognize any of their names, but then I wasn’t a hockey fan in the 70s and 80s).

So each chapter talks a bit about his team and then has several stories about a specific topic from the hockey guys.

He begins by talking about his athletic renaissance in his 40s (after having given up on professional hockey).  I enjoyed the stories from the hockey players who loved playing so much as kids that they would spend hours and hours and hours on the ice.  I also liked them saying that you could still become a pro if you only started playing at 15 unlike today when kids are starting at age 5. (more…)

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dec2014SOUNDTRACK: MYNABIRDS-“All My Heart” NPR Lullaby SXSW (March 19, 2015).

mynaFrom March 17-March 21, the SXSW festival raged on. And my friends at NPR Music were there so I didn’t have to be. In past years they have had a nightly recap of their favorite shows of the day. This year they upped the ante by inviting a musician to sing a lullaby.  Most of these lullabies occurred in some unexpected outdoor location at 2 or so A.M. after a long day of music.

For this lullaby, the NPR gang met by Waller Creek, giving Laura Burhenn a perfect backdrop to her 2 A.M. lullaby. It’s just her and her tiny Casio keyboard (which is on an interesting setting that makes it sound more like a harmonium).

This is an as yet unreleased song.  It is simple and charming.  And I really like the way she plays an unexpected note in the chorus. Her voice is dusky and quiet and it all works so well in this setting. It’s a beautiful lullaby.

Check it out here.

[READ: March 23, 2015] “My Mother’s Apartment”

This issue of Harper’s featured five essays (well four essays and one short story) about “Growing Up: five coming of age stories.”  Since I knew a few of these authors already, it seemed like a good time to devote an entire week to growing up.  There are two introductions, one by Christine Smallwood (who talks about Bob Seger) and one by Joshua Cohen who talks about the coming of age narrative.

I don’t know Barrodale’s writing.  She says that she was 24 and took a writing class but only lasted for one day in the class.  She felt that getting an MFA was dishonorable.  Rather, she wanted to a have a real job but to write fiction on the side:  “I wanted to be like William Gaddis.  I wanted to work, drink, wear normal clothes, pay my bills and write.”

She was 31 when she realized her plans were not going to come true. (more…)

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smileSOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES–Let It Be…Naked (2003).

220px-LetItBeNakedI talked about this once before and mentioned how I was anticipating a huge difference between this version and the original.  But really, most of the changes are quite subtle.  Reading a bit more about it, it seems like McCartney mostly wanted to fix “The Long and Winding Road” and then took the time to tweak little things (he fixes some bum notes for instance).

This seemed like a chance for Paul to take the record back from Phil Spector, although I guess Spector didn’t really do all that much to the album—he really only tweaked four songs: Across The Universe, I Me Mine, Let It Be and The Long And Winding Road.  And so Paul removes Phil’s hand on those–and those are really the most notable changes.  As for the rest of the disc, he took out all the chatting between and silly songs (Dig It and Maggie Mae) and adds “Don’t Le Me Down,” from the rooftop concert.

I assume that if I were a Beatles die hard, I would immediately notice all of the changes on this disc.  But, for a casual listener, here’s what I noticed: “Get Back” is even shorter than the original.  “Dig a Pony” is the same rooftop, although it seems to be mixed better.  “For You Blue” has a bit more acoustic guitar but is otherwise not too different.

“The Long and Winding Road” has the most notable changes.  The strings and chorus are removed.  The dramatic BUH BUH before the chorus is still there–almost more pronounced on the organ.  I like this version more than the original, although I have to say it sounds an awful lot like Wings or McCartney solo in this version.

“Two of Us” doesn’t sound all that different—a little cleaner maybe.  “I’ve Got a Feeling” sounds a bit cleaner too–apparently it is a composite of the two versions from the rooftop concert.  “1 after 909” sounds about the same–a little cleaner and with out the Danny Boy at the end.  This version makes it sounds even more like an “old” song since the rawness of the recording has been removed.

“Don’t Let Me Down” was not on the original.  This version was taken from the rooftop concert.  And it sounds great here.  Strange that it wasn’t included in the first place.  “I Me Mine” removes the chorus and overdubs, and sounds a bit more rocking.  “Across the Universe”–I like this version a lot better.  It’s much cleaner and really lets the music shine, rather than there being so much echo on it.  “Let It Be” is stripped down as well, and the guitar solo sounds a little different.

In general, I like this version better, although I do miss the funny bits a little.  This feels more like a record than a soundtrack to a film.  But again, the changes aren’t that substantial overall.

[READ: January 10, 2015] Smile

I had heard of this book–I’d heard that it was a huge sensation.  Of course it wasn’t really on my radar of books, so I wasn’t really sure what it was about.  I read an interview with Telgemeier recently which made the book sound really interesting so I decided to check it out (and was frankly surprised that there was a copy in the library).

And I really liked the book a lot.  From the little I knew about it, I assumed it was just her life with braces (and from the interview, I gathered that her little sister was really a pain–she apparently is a big presence in the sequel).  Well, the sister is a pain, but that’s mostly in the beginning of the book (the sister is very funny and they tease each other mercilessly).  Yes, the book is about braces, but it ‘s about much more than that.

Oh and it’s also autobiographical, which was pretty obvious.

So, Raina is in 6th grade and she is scheduled to get braces.  She is freaked out about this, of course, because everyone makes fun of people with braces.  (Although they never made fun of me and I understand they don’t anymore, but we’ll see if my kids need them).  Although she has lots of friends, so they should support her. (more…)

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harpjuneSOUNDTRACK: FATHER JOHN MISTY-“Bored in the U.S.A.” (2014).

 boredNot a cover of the Clash song (“I’m So Bored with the U.S.A”) this is a piano dirge about the materialism of American culture.

I loved Father John Misty’s debut, and the way it addressed serious topics but with beautiful songs and Misty’s wonderful voice.  But this song is a dark and dreary tale of life in contemporary America.  Father John laments about, well, just about everything:

I’ve got all morning to obsessively accrue
A small nation of meaningful objects
And they’ve got to represent me too

or

Now I’ve got a lifetime to consider all the ways
I’ve grown more disappointing to you
As my beauty warps and fades

with the staggering next line

I suspect you feel the same

Te melody is pretty, but solemn (there’s no ironic poppy chord structure for this lament).  Rather, it’s a slow minor key piano melody with Misty’s beautiful aching voice drifting over the chords: “Save me white Jesus.”

By the next verse, while the melody and singing stay at the same pace, he adds a laugh track to his life: “They gave me a useless education / A subprime loan, Craftsman home / Keep my prescriptions filled / Now I can’t get off, but I can kind of deal / Oh, with being Bored in the USA.”

If this is the single, what can the album have in store?

 Save me President Jesus.

[READ: November 17, 2014] “Long in the Tooth”

This is a Czech story (translated by Stacey Knecht) written by Hrabal (who died in 1997).  I don’t know anything about him except that he wrote “many novels.”

But this story I find quite puzzling.  It’s not hard or complicated, indeed, it is quite a straightforward piece.  I’m just puzzled by why he wrote it (unless the conceit of false teeth was so novel that it needed to be written down).

In this story, the main character (who is a woman although that isn’t revealed until quite late in the story) is marveling at how she (and her husband) have aged without them realizing it.  She says that suddenly she was sixty and then sixty-five when she contracted paradentosis (which can cause massive tooth loss). (more…)

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