Category Archives: listenables

4th of july weekend

a few photos from this past long weekend:

toots & the maytals show

carnival + fireworks

carnival rides

ferris wheel

view from the top

dog-sitting

not pictured:

* awesome (and free!) Neko Case show at stern grove. LOVE her.

* watching the entire 1st season of “game of thrones” on-demand

* a view of the july 4th fireworks over tiburon and SF

* home-made mojitos

covers: cuties

I, unlike many people, love a good cover… of a song, that is. I’m actually a total sucker for a good cover, the further off from the original the better. I’ll try to share some favorites here and there, if I remember.

first up in this “series” of sorts are two lovely, sort of sad, and very re-imagined covers done by two artists I like, who are both adorable cuties.

here is mirah’s version of bruce springsteen’s 1984 hit, “dancing in the dark.” the video isn’t really a video, just an audio file. while I’m not really a fan of the boss (although I did see him a few years ago at jazzfest, and I will say he puts on a heck of a show), I love what mirah did with her version. it’s certainly *very* different from the original.

next is swedish alt-pop delight lykke li’s version of “will you still love me tomorrow” written by carole king (a favorite of mine–how can you not love her?!)  and gerry goffin, it was a huge hit for the shirelles in 1960, although I prefer carole’s version, which she did with james taylor.

no offense to the shirelles, though, as I also love me some mid-century girl groups.

the shirelles version is much swoonier, poppier, and puppy-love-crush-sick than carole’s, which is much sadder and prettier, but it retains a redemtive quality that lifts it out of the totally depressing bin. carole certainly knows her way around a sad but redeeming ballad.

lykke li’s version, as you’ll see (er, hear), brings the sad to a new level… she makes it seem like a desperate sadness, a truly lovesick ache. and damn if I’m not a sucker for that kind of stuff.

stay tuned for more covers. I’ll try to avoid anything too hackneyed… a dear musician friend of mine once told me that “everyone thinks they can play a good cover of ‘use me’*… and they can’t.”

well said. if I ever take up the ukulele (the only instrument I think  might stand a chance at mastering) I’ll keep that in mind.

*I hope this isn’t necessary, but I am obviously referring to bill withers’s epic tune.

sympathy for the devil

it’s wednesday morning. what is one to do when she boards the subway ten minutes late to find a crazy man preaching a book of revelation-esque hellfire and brimstone version of christianity on the very subway car she has selected?

the only logical thing is to get a seat facing away from said crazy man (check) and listen to something reasonably loud on one’s headphones (check).

for this morning’s ride, I selected early rolling stones as my drown-out-the-crazy music of choice:

ignore with me their current status as the band who annoyingly won’t quit and keeps touring forver. ignore that the stones do not command the cool factor they once did, and may have drifted into “music that old goofy white people like to awkwardly boogie to” territory:

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let it die, chaps! let us remember you as you were, instead of forcing us to see you as saggy old sober men who try to strut about like teenagers and open every show with the ear-numbingly-obvious choice of “start me up.” (full disclosure: I have seen them live twice, and yes, it was kind of awesome, if not partially due to the spectacle aspect of it all). ignore with me also the culture’s never-ending fascination with keith richards (not that he’s not interesting, but aren’t we over that yet?)

let’s just focus, as I did this morning, on some of their music from the ’60s and ’70s. because much of that was legit, right? right.

this morning’s playlist included the following gems:

1. “it’s only rock ‘n’ roll” (1974) a song with which I have randomly become recently obsessed. it’s my imaginary karaoke song (I do not karaoke). I dig the lyrics and it’s kind of a rockin tune, though I wouldn’t classify it as intensely significant or meaningful. the video is a hoot: sailor suits, bubbles and mick’s patent winning-attitude-but-kind-of-awkward-british-strut.

2. “gimmie shelter” (1969) is perhaps one of their best. aside from being what seems like a timepiece for an era of social and geopolitical turmoil, it’s just so solid musically and lyrically. it’s one of the only major stones songs to prominently feature a female voice (vocalist merry clayton, who makes the track, in my opinion–her powerful and twice-cracking voice lends a “form matching the content” kind of vibe).

3. “sympathy for the devil” (1968) perhaps the perfect antidote to a wacky subway preacher, if only in a literal sense. lyrically a bit of an epic (which may be an overstatement, but I guess a pop singer appropriating the voice of lucifer over 40 years ago is pretty epic, if you ask me). when listening to it today, I noticed for the first time the cool piano instrumentation, which is definitely there, despite being somewhat overshadowed by the vocals and electric guitar. not sure if it’s a “challenging”  piano piece, but it sure is cool and I bet it could have some legs just played alone. this track is famous for it’s “whoo whoo” lyric repetition, which was allegedly anita pallenberg’s idea (at least I think I read that once) and the thing that made the song work when it was being written. very cool.

4. “under my thumb” (1966) the track that makes all the feminists cringe due to some of its more unsavory lyrics (“she’s the sweetest pet in the world” type stuff, and referring to a woman as a “squirming dog, who’s just had her day”). but taken less seriously, as intended, it’s an ok track. the element I find most interesting is the use of the marimba and its juxtaposition with the fuzzbox. apparently that was all early member brian jones’ influence, since he was a multi-instrumentalist, and it seems as though he made a lot of cool musical contributions (he’s often credited with advancing the band’s early sound).

5. “paint it black” (1966) one of the best examples of early badass stones and a very influential track (anyone else think the clash’s 1982 “rock the casbah” and “paint it black” sound like distant cousins?). its trademark sound was achieved through use of the sitar, which brian jones apparently taught himself to play after a visit with george harrison (who famously used the sitar in my very favorite beatles song “norweigan wood” in 1965). an excellently quirky and uptempo but sad pop song.

so, if nothing else, my point is this–headphones can really make or break your daily commute.

highly recommended radio

I love radio. and radio podcasts. so naturally, free downloadable podcasts and free online streaming of awesome radio shows are two of the best things ever.

seriously, if you’re not on this train, then it’s time to get hip to the boogie. (I like a good mixed-metaphor now and then). many great shows make a weekly free podcast download available, enabling one to listen at her leisure, such as while riding the subway.

I’ve long been a fan off the universally-loved-and-adored this american life. I have a gigantic crush on ira glass. (I mean, who doesn’t? my best pal F saw him in an airport once and I nearly died of jealousy, insisting that she tell me the story at least three times.)

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the show is brilliant and just one of those things with a totally well-deserved sterling reputation. there isn’t much bad to say about it. (although it was hilariously referenced in an early 2000’s teen tv show as “that show where the know-it-all-hipsters talk about how fascinating ordinary people are”–this primtime incident was subsequently mentioned on TAL by mr. glass himself). TAL’s short-lived tv show was lovely, too.

I also enjoy the new yorker’s fiction podcast, where each month, a writer chooses a story from the new yorker archives to read and discuss. I actually find a lot of the discussion (just a few minutes between the reader and the magazine’s fiction editor) to be boring, banal, and pedestrian. (wow that sounds like something a stuck-up jerk would say–but trust me, I’m not one). the questions posed by the editor quite often seem so arbitrary, lame, and beneath the quality of the work being discussed.
but I love the podcast anyway, as it does amazing things like allowing me to hear mary gaitskill (be still, my fiction-loving heart!) read nabokov.

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By the way, I had the good fortune to see my homegirl m gaitskill in the flesh last month at the brooklyn book festival—reading from her most recent book on a panel about “primal impulse in fiction”  (swoon!)—and was blown away yet again by just how fabulous she is. (at this point I will also mention that we share the same birthday).
I also recently listened to a reading of that stalwartly seminal work of american short fiction that’s de-rigueur in high school english classes, shirley jackson’s “the lottery.” I hadn’t read it since high school, and was so thrilled to find it even creepier and masterful than I remembered. absolutely chilling.
this week’s podcast is also nice, a reading of raymond carver’s “chef’s house”, which is totally classic carver. although, it’s markedly similar in plot to a posthumously-published (I believe) story  of his, “call if you need me” (from the book “call if you need me: the uncollected fiction and other prose”, which I received for my 20th birthday).  in many ways, I think,  “call if you need need me” is a much better (but perhaps “less carver-ish”) piece. in fact, hearing “chef’s house”, lovely piece though it is, just made me want to read “call if you need me” for the 1,000th time. I’m not sure of what the editorial process for “call…” was like, but I would suspect that mr. lish, carver’s editor (and subject of that famous debate/discussion), did not have a chance to take a crack at it… interestingly enough, according to the commentary of the “chef’s house” podcast-reading, mr. lish also didn’t have a chance to edit “chef’s…” hmm… what a fascinating topic: the nature of editing, how far is too far, and where the line between revealing and sculpting/manipulating a writer’s voice is. so whatever one’s opinion of lish and carver’s relationship may be, we can at least thank them for making us think about it in a way we might not have collectively done otherwise.

look at me, I start talkin’ radio an end up on fiction. that happens with me I suppose; it’s a conversational hazard–I’ll nerd out and start beginning sentences with “so back to the cultural and gendered biases of the term ‘magical realism’…” and saying asinine things like “so you’ve read ‘court in the west eighties’ by carson mccullers, right?”

in fact, I wanted to write this post to give props to another radio show, aside from TAL and the NYFP, one with which I have only recently become totally obsessed (I’m a scorpio like that)–the genius that is radiolab. two parts hardcore science-stuff and one part funny, insightful chatter.  it’s just the right type and presentation of science-y stories to a scientifically-curious-but-not-so-much-inclined chap as myself: stories about the science of the afterlife! of monkey language! whale rescues! malcom gladwell lectures! stories about nuns! jane goodall! (who is back on my hero list in bold-faced type, p.s.) head on over to their website and stream episodes while you work; you will be pleased.