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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

[LISTENED TO: Summer 2019] Circus Mirandus

I checked out this book exclusively because Bronson Pinchot was reading it.  I will listen to just about anything that he reads.  So the fact that this story sounded even vaguely interesting (and age appropriate–Pinchot does tend to read a lot more adult books) meant I grabbed it right away.

This book is about Micah, a young orphan who is living with his sickly grandfather.  Taking care of Grandpa Ephraim is Ephraim’s sister Gertrudus.  Aunt Gertrudus is the meanest, most-horrible person ever.   She makes Micah drink bitter black tea, she makes him do all of the work in the house and she refuses to let him see his grandpa.

Micah loves his grandpa and he loves the stories that his grandpa tells.  It’s these stories that Gertrudus is trying to keep Micah from.

As the book opens we see the letter that Ephraim has sent to Circus Mirandus: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MANDOLIN ORANGE-Tiny Desk Concert #882 (August 23, 2019).

Mandolin Orange is one of my favorite new band names.  It’s funny and clever and tells you a lot about the band.

I so wish I liked them more.

In fact, their music is really lovely.  I guess it comes down to Andrew Marlin’s voice.  It really don’t like it.  Indeed, Emily Frantz’ backing vocals are delightful and if she sang lead I’d like them a lot more.

But clearly I am no judge, because their recent album (their sixth) was #1 on the following Billboard charts:

Heatseekers, Current Country, Bluegrass and Folk / Americana with Top 10 Entries on 5 Additional Charts.

So don’t listen to me.

Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz made everything seem so easy, pulling a few acoustic instruments out of their car and, in no time, huddling around a single microphone behind the Tiny Desk. With that, Mandolin Orange was ready.

Interestingly, “Golden Embers,” the first song that Mandolin Orange plays, doesn’t actually have a mandolin in it.  Rather, Frantz plays the violin while Marlin plays guitar.  I couldn’t get past his voice so I didn’t really hear the words beyond “it’s like an old friend,” but apparently he

sang about his mom being carried away in a hearse.

Yikes.

It’s the second song, “The Wolves” that features Marlin on mandolin and Frantz on guitar.  I liked this one a bit more perhaps because he seems to be speaking more than singing and that’s more palatable to me.  This song

 is a story song that … tells a tale on an older woman’s life, the “hard road” she’s taken and that feeling of wanting to howl at the moon when all is finally right.

The last track, “Wildfire” comes from their 2016 album Blindfaller.  He sticks with the mandolin as he sings about Civil War.

The lyrics to this song are pretty great

 It’s a song with a wish that the Civil War would have left racism to rot on the battlefield, and yet it still rages like “wildfire.” It’s a sobering message presented with a gentle tone.

And so I love their name, their music and their lyrics.  I just can’t get past his voice.  But what do I know.

[READ: October 14, 2019] “Are You Experienced?”

The title of this naturally made me think of Jimi Hendrix.  And I was correct to think this.  For this story concerns hippies about to shipped off to war.

Although Billy doesn’t know he is soon to be shipped of to Vietnam.  In fact, as the story opens, he is dropping acid with his girlfriend Meg near Lake Michigan.  Billy had hung a “Keep On Truckin'” poster on the wall.  The poster eventually started dancing, trying to lure her in.

Billy was always full of schemes.  He told her about his Uncle Rex and Aunt Minerva who had been farmers but had moved to Lansing.  He knew that Rex had a box of cash in his attic.  Rex doesn’t have the heart to spend the money because it came from the soil and “he lost his farm a few years back and he’s still not over it.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK. COME FROM AWAY: Tiny Desk Concert #889 (September 11, 2019).

When I first heard about story of Come From Away, I was intrigued.  Could you make a musical–a musical–about the events of September 11, 2001?

At the end of this performance, the narrator says that this is really a story about September 12, 2001.  And that is true.  And the story is powerful and fascinating and really really interesting.  And yes, the music is fantastic.

So is this story about the attacks?  No.  The story is set

In the aftermath of the Sep. 11 attacks, 38 planes carrying thousands of passengers were grounded in remote Gander, Newfoundland in Canada for five days. The creators of Come From Away traveled to Gander 10 years later and collected the tales that make up the musical.

In Gander there’s an expression that, if you’re visiting, you’ve “come from away.” The people of Gander took in the come-from-aways, and their stories have resonated with audiences worldwide. The Broadway cast recently celebrated 1,000 performances and there are simultaneous productions running in London, Toronto, Melbourne and a national tour.

I listened to the soundtrack when it was streaming on NPR.  I was able to get through about half of it–the songs were great and the kindness shown was incredible.  I have yet to hear the end and I sort of imagine I might try to see the performance someday.  So for now, I’ll just enjoy these excerpts.

Sixteen performers from the Broadway production of Come From Away recently climbed out of a chartered bus in front of NPR and crammed behind Bob Boilen’s desk. They condensed their nearly two-hour show about the days following 9/11 into a relatively tiny 17 minutes. By the end of the diminutive set, there were more than a few tears shed.

In the show, the songs have full orchestration.  But here, the songs are played with great Irish instrumentation: keys, accordion (Chris Ranney); fiddle, fiddle in Gb; (Caitlin Warbelow); high whistles, low whistles, flute (Ben Power); bodhran, cajon (Romano DiNillo) and acoustic guitar (Alec Berlin:)

I don’t know who the lead vocalists are.  But two women take the majority of the songs.  And one of the men narrates the truncated version of the story.  The vocalists here include:

Petrina Bromley; Holly Ann Butler; Geno Carr; De’Lon Grant; Joel Hatch; Chad Kimball; Kevin McAllister; Happy McPartlin; Julie Reiber; Astrid Van Wieren and Jim Walton.

They sing five tracks:

“28 Hours/Wherever We Are” sets the stage–people were on the planes for 28 hours–just imagine that.

“I Am Here” is wonderful. The way the singer has to interrupt herself as if she were on a phone call–it’s a great performance.

“Me and the Sky” is based on an interview with Beverly Bass the first female pilot for American Airlines.  She was flying from Dallas to Paris when she was grounded.  It’s an amazingly personal story–I’ll bet she loves it.

“Something’s Missing” is a song I hadn’t heard before. It’s amazingly powerful–the reactions of people who returned to New York and New Jersey to see what they didn’t know anything about–and to see what’s left.  The most incredible line:

I go down to Ground Zero which… its like the end of the world.  It’s literally still burning.  My dad asks were you okay when you were stranded?  How do I tell him I wasn’t just okay. I was so much better.

They end with the uplifting “Finale.”

As one of the actors explains, “The story we tell is not a 9/11 story, it’s a 9/12 story. It’s a story about the power of kindness in response to a terrible event, and how we can each live, leading with kindness.”

This is a great tribute to not only Gander, but also to the victims of the attacks.

[READ: June 20, 2019] The War Bride’s Scrapbook 

Seven years ago, Caroline Preston created The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt.

I summarized it:

it’s a biography of a lady named Frankie Pratt from the ten or so years after she gets out of high school.  She went to high school in Cornish, New Hampshire in the early 1920s; that’s when this scrapbook starts.  Over the decade, Frankie goes to college, gets a job in New York City, travels to Paris and then returns home.  That is the basic plot, but that simple summary does a grave, grave injustice to this book.

For Preston has created a wondrous scrapbook.  Each page has several images of vintage cutouts which not only accentuate the scene, they often move the action along.  It feels like a genuine scrapbook of a young romantic girl in the 1920s.

For this book, take that premise and move it forward twenty years.

This is the scrapbook of a woman, Lila Jerome, who was a bit of a wallflower, who then married a soldier just before he went off to World War II.  The book is structured in four parts: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-Tiny Desk Concert #892 (September 20, 2019).

It used to be that no one was invited back to play a Tiny Desk Concert.  The rules have been relaxed somewhat as of late (I would have thought that maybe they’d wait until 1000 shows).

The blurb explains why they (she) was invited back though.

Luz Elena Mendoza has such a far-reaching creative spirit that it’s almost impossible to confine her to a single musical identity. Which is why she’s one of just a handful of artists who’ve been invited back to the Tiny Desk to offer a revised musical vision.

Y La Bamba was on back in 2011 and they played a more acoustic style of music–accordion, percussion, guitar and lot of singers.  For this show, lead Bamba, Luz Elena Mendoza looks quite different.  In 2011, her hair was black and long, here it is silver and short–the neck tattoo is the same, though.

When she was here last with the band Y La Bamba, it was a vocal-heavy, folk outfit. The band’s sound has always been about vocals and her music has become even more so over the years.

Back in May, Y La Bamba played Non-Comm and Mendoza was pretty confrontational.  She is less so here, allowing the music to speak for her.

And the music is quite different.  It’s almost all in Spanish this time.  There’s a second guitarist (Ryan Oxford), a bass (Zachary Teran), and a drummer (Miguel Jimenez-Cruz).  She also has two backing singers, Julia Mendiolea who also plays keyboard and Isabeau Waia’u Walker.

I knew that Y La Bamba was the project of Mendoza, but i didn’t realize she did everything herself:

Y La Bamba’s albums are meticulously crafted sonic treats with her vocals layered like a choir made with a single voice. But in our offices, she called on vocalist Isabeau Waia’u Walker to replicate their distinct sound.

There’s a great variety of styles in this Tiny Desk.

“Paloma Negra” (“Black Pigeon”) [also played at Non-Comm] benefits from the voices of the entire band in a high-energy mediation on rhythm and voice.

It’s got a groovy, funky bassline and some cool echoing guitars.  There’s a tension in the verses that is totally relieved in the super catchy chorus.

This song segues into “Rios Sueltos” which is a kind of rap–but sung.  It’s bouncy and catchy but I sense is probably not a happy song, despite the catchy “hey ey ey heys” in the middle.

The song ends with a rumbling from Mendoza’s guitar as she starts up “Bruja de Brujas” [also played at Non-Comm].

There is a bruja energy and spirit to their performance, and not in the negative connotation that is the Spanish word for “witch.” In Luz Elena Mendoza’s hands a brujeria spirit is all about conjuring the kind of magic that took place on this video.

The song opens with a cool bass line and a somewhat menacing feel.  It starts quietly, but when all three vocalists sing together it’s really lovely.

At the end of the song she sinks to the ground to play with her effects as the song fades out with trippy sounds.   She jokes, “And aliens came down.:

Then she realizes, “we forgot to do one more.  Sorry the aliens did come down… and took my brain.”

The final song is the fantastic “Cuatro Crazy” [also played at Non-Comm].  It is sweet and pretty and has echoing guitars and a vocal style not unlike a Cocteau Twins song.  It even ends with a lot of “dah dah dah dahs.”

I really enjoy their music quite a lot and should really look into their stuff more.

[READ: October 6, 2019] “Abandoning a Cat”

This essay is, indeed, about abandoning a cat.  The cat story has a happy ending (although another one might not).  But mostly the essay is about how mundane events trigger memories of our parents.

He says that when he was little, his family had an older cat and they needed to get rid of it.  “Getting rid of cats back then was a common occurrence, not something that anyone would criticize you for.  The idea of neutering cats never crossed anyone’s mind.”

His father took the bike and he sat on the back with the cat in a box.  They rode to the beach about 2 km from their house, put the box down, and headed back.

When they returned home, they opened the door and there was the cat “greeting us with a friendly meow, its tail standing tall.”  His father’s expression of blank amazement “changed to one of admiration and, finally, to an expression of relief.  And the cat went back to being out pet.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-Negativland (1980).

Negativland was (is?) a weird “band” who released absurdist sound collages.  Their purpose was culture jamming and they created quite a stor throughout their “career.”    The band was more or less created by David Wills (born 1954) also known as “The Weatherman”.. He was a cable repairman when he joined the group with a then-teenage Mark Hosler (1962) and Richard Lyons (1959-2016) also known as Dick Vaughn, Dick Goodbody, and Pastor Richard Seeland.

Their first record came out in 1980 and had twenty untitled tracks.  The “songs” were mostly sound effects, radio broadcasts and home recordings. There was some original guitar and drum machine, but mostly it is just collage.

About the tracks:

[SIDE 1]

1. You can hear a spoken word news announcer in the background as a guitar line comes in followed by a drum machine.  Then comes a woman (David’s mother, I believe ) reciting “This is Negativland.”

2. A ticking clock with a pretty guitar melody and then increasingly loud table saws (one in each ear)

3. A drum machine with a spoken word announcer.  This blurb comes from a fan on YouTube:

The man speaking, Mitch Werbell, worked for U.S. covert operations. At the time, (late 70s) there was a big problem with urban terrorism in Argentina. They had threatened to kidnap Coca-Cola reps in Buenos Aires. Werbell is explaining (on the ABC TV show 20/20) what he told the terrorists would happen if they tried, when he was hired to go help the executives escape the area.

4. Horns playing single notes.  It abruptly ends with ringing alarms

5. Guitars (electric and acoustic) playing and echoing.  This is the longest track at almost 5 minutes. Lots of spoken words among the trippy sounds and boopers.

6. Drum machines and noises and then after a violin line comes the most famous early phrase from NegativalndL “Seat Be Sate” (Play Black Sabbath at 78).  The “poem” is soon taken over by noise and a looped spoken word.

7. A menacing static noise and very sci-f sound effects couple with a German language instruction tape.

8. Static noises and de-tuned acoustic guitar strumming as someone sings a bit

9 A looping string of interesting sounds–booper, waves of sound and a clip o kids singing and then Don’s family speaking, all looped into a rhythm.  Finally a classroom rule about silent E

10. Drum machine with a whispered singing vocal and a catchy guitar riff with (of course) lots of distorted noises.

The lyrics:

Cara mia, why
Must we say goodbye
Each time we part
My heart wants to die
Darling, hear my prayer
Cara mia fair
Here are my arms
You alone will share

All I want is you
Forever more
To have, to hold
To love, adore
Cara mia mine
Say those words divine
I’ll be your love
Till the end of time

My cara mia
My cara mia
My cara mia

[SIDE 2]

11. French speaking and the an a loop of an older man saying “everything’s going fine, no trouble just get set and get going. Amen.

12. Warbled distorted vocals of a man and woman reciting the Hail Mary.

13. A family scene with people talking over a news broadcast (WCBS news time).  You can hear David saying “It’s not alive, Drew.”

14. Some more kids talking with all kinds of jammer sounds over them.  The final line has a woman saying “Reading the book by the seamen within would be very helpful.”

15.  Blues on an acoustic guitar (pretty well played) although by the end the solo is out of tune and crazy.

16. Boopers and outer space sounds.  Multiple radio broadcasts overlapping including one about a bedpans in hospitals.  And a joke ( I can’t guess the comedian, but he sounds a bit like Bob Goldthwait or Les Claypool, but it obviously isn’t) “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth.”  The punchline is obscured then the laughter come in.

17. A slow drum beat and random noises on a guitar

18. A family scene David’s mother talking about the affordability of buying meat by the pound.

19. A low deep siren sound followed by this dire message from the Emergency Broadcast Network: “The office of civil defense has issued the following message “this is an attack warning” this is an attack warning.  An attack warning means an actual attack against this country has been detected.  Then there’s David inviting Everett to a barbecue that afternoon.  It’s followed by some audio from the American Airlines 191 plane crash from 1979.  This segues into a family scene where the dad is telling a joke about cannibals.  A man walked among cannibals with cases of Pepsi.  The cannibals drank the Pepsi and ate the man.  All except his thing.  When they were later asked why they didn’t eat his thing, they sang, “Things go better with Coke.”

20. The final track states, “Now hear how a real parakeet should sound.”  Then a woman says good morning and then a crazy raspy voice repeats here.  The album ends with this oscillator sound that my parents had in the 1970s–a kind of looping really fake bird chirping.  No idea why they had it.

This actual release of this record was accomapnied by all kinds of original magazine clippings and artwork. And the CD came with pins and other cool things.  It’s a weird artifact from the dawn of culture jamming.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “The Glass House”

I decided it would be interesting to go back to the year 2000 and to read all of the New Yorker stories up to the present.  I think as of now I have read through 2005.  By the time I have finished (next year, I’m sure) I’ll have 20 years of stories read.

This story is set during the Civil War.  The main character, Will, has just enlisted.  His brother, Sam, was killed at Bull Run and Will came to take his place.  His Captain was very happy to have him because Sam was a brave and well-liked man.  But Will, as he himself would admit, was neither of those things.

After Sam’s death, the Captain intended to go to Sam’s house personally to pay his regards to their family.  Had Sam’s mother seen the Captain, she would have spit on him.  But before that could happen, Will decided to enlist.  He forged his mother’s signature and didn’t tell anyone when he left. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Molson Centre Montreal, QC (December 9, 1996).

This is the 21st night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. According to this host of the RheostaticsLive site: This in my opinion is the best show of the tour.

This show opens with the recording of the French language hockey game.  This time you can clearly hear him shouting Esposito!  After the recording fades,

It opens in a very amusing way.  I imagine that Dave and Martin are lying on the stage, because Dave asks, “Martin can you sleep?  I should have been asleep hours ago.”
Martin: “No, I can’t sleep.  I was up all night listening to the Local Rabbits.  Those riffs will keep anybody awake.”
[Tim starts playing the bass].
Dave “I had this weird dream we were playing in a giant rock stadium, opening for Ringo’s All Stars.  It felt really weird.  And everyone was speaking a different language.”
Martin: “Ringo’s really giving it this tour.”
Dave: “I’m just gonna get out of bed and see what Tim and Don are doing.”

They launch into “Fat.”  I really like the nice little bass tag Tim adds to the end while Martin sings “Bye Bye.”

“Aliens” is a nice surprise–I feel they just don’t play it all that much.  The feedbacking guitar segues nicely into a rocking “All the Same Eyes.”

It’s followed by a fun and bouncy “Michael Jackson.”  At the end, Martin says, “It feels good to be alive.”  Tim deadpans, “sometimes.”

Thanks to CSRG & CHUM FM and C5 for coming down and talking to us today.  This is a song [“Bad Time to Be Poor”] that’s getting played on the radio in all the finer dentist offices in the land.

Some cool sounds from Martin open up “California Dreamline.”  The ending part totally rocks until the denouement where it sounds like someone rocks so hard they may have de-tuned their guitar.

They wish Happy birthday to Gary Stokes, the finest soundman in the land.  Which leads to a lovely “Claire” that segues into a quiet intro for “Horses.”  It builds slowly and powerfully.   Lots of repeated lyrics in the middle–threaten to chop, chop.  These signs will wilt–they’re just paper ink and paper.

While martin ends with some wailing horse noises, Dave sings the first two lines of “Another Brick in the Wall” to end the show.

[READ: April 9, 2019] “Both Sides Now”

This is an excerpt from Gainza’s novel Optic Nerve which was translated by Thomas Bunstead.

It’s a little hard to guess what the whole novel is about since the excerpt worked so well by itself.

The narrator notes that one day you develop a fear of flying.

Before you turned twenty-five, flying seemed natural, but now it seems insane.  Nevertheless, you are supposed to fly to an art convention in Geneva. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Memorial Stadium, St John’s, NL (December 04, 1996).

This is the 18th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. Only recording of “Record Body Count” from the tour.

The opening music for this show is “Good Times” by Chic.  And they jump right in with the opening of “Fan Letter.”  Dave says, “Nice to see you again, we’re the Rheostatics and we want to be your friend.”  It’s a terrific version and the end segues beautifully into Martin playing the intro to “California Dreamline.”  He gets lost in the lyrics for the first verse and then comes out of it just fine.

Washes of guitar end the song which segues in a wonderfully weird way into “Claire.”  It’s like a minute of whale songs before the guitar for “Claire” starts.   The solo is an almost synth chorus sound from martin before going into a more typically wild Martin solo.

While chatting, Martin says, “scruncheons.”  He continues: “they’re not small people, are they?  I mean the scruncheons.”  Whatever he’s talking about I have no idea.  Then he says, It’s great to be in St Johns.  This is a song about death.  “Feed Yourself” has some whispering in the middle but nothing too intense.   But the crashing chords near the end totally rock out.  The noisy feedback segues into “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”

Dave says “we played in a place called Boomers last time we were in St John’s–an Australian themed bar on Water Street.  Unusual place.  Some people wanted us to play there again and we’re not.  We’re sorry we’re not.   Those who emailed us… those people waving their arms, I’m guessing.  Good arm waving.  The best in Canada.”

A solid “Bad Time” is followed by that solitary “Record Body Count,” which the crowd loves.  It goes out to “our new friend Darren, good luck in PEI.”

After hearing this RBC, it sends home just how long most of the songs are that they are playing–many of them running six and seven minutes.  Not exactly pop radio friendly.  Like the set-ending “Fat,” which sound great and stretched out comfortably.  There’s some great bass lines at the end of this song, too.  Tim is n his heyday.

[READ: April 3, 2019] Idle Days

This story started really dark and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it.  But the combination of the stunning art from Simon LeClerc and the fascinatingly intriguing story from Desaulniers-Brousseau proved to be fantastic.

World War II is crashing to its end.  This story is set in Canada and we hear about the final weeks on radio broadcasts.  Jerome Beauvais is a Quebecois deserter from the Canadian Forces.  It’s a strange setup.  Because his desertion doesn’t exactly have anything to do with the story of the plot.

He is back home but he is not living at home.  His mother has sent him to live with his moody grandfather in the woods to avoid any detection.  In fact, as the book opens, his mother is very unhappy to see him in town.  She knows (and he knows) that if he is spotted he will be arrested for desertion.  Signs say, “See someone hiding? Help your country.  Get Cash.”

His grandfather is rebuilding an old house that he bought.  The house has a history–rumored and real–of death (the woman commuted suicide) and a possible haunting.  So Jerome is there to help.  He’s kind of useless, but is becoming more practical and useful to his snarky grandfather. (more…)

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