New Music Crush

Robyn is weird.  I barely remember her former early 90’s self, which was largely forgettable over-produced, mediocre dance music/love ballads that sounded like the dance music/love ballads of the time.  But thanks to the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live, I was turned on to Robyn’s reinvented contemporary self, and she made some really cool choices.  She still is a pop dance type, but she’s a totally weird diva, instead of trying to fit in.  This is probably made more possible by the Coming of Gaga, but after obsessively reading interviews with Robyn, this sound and look was a long time in coming.  I look forward to listening to all three parts of her 2010 triptych, Body Talk.

Try out a few other songs after this one:  Indestructible, Call Your Girlfriend, and Be Mine (the Nobel Convention performance of this last one is fantastic).

Discovering Anita O’Day

I’m a fan of jazz and the blues. A big fan. But mostly of the old school stuff. And mostly the big names. But recently a friend of mine sent me these wonderful clips of Anita O’Day, who I hadn’t really listened to prior to my friend’s email. She’s written me a wonderful introduction to O’Day, which I am duplicating here for the benefit of any other potentially unfamiliar readers, followed by video clips that were a delight. I hope you enjoy them.

some background info:

in the summer of 1958, Newport RI had an extraordinary weekend that was captured on film in a documentary called Jazz on a Summer’s Day (avail on netflix instaplay). one of the greatest jazz fests in history, it had all the greats when they were in their prime — like Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson, Thelonius Monk, Dinah Washington… just amazing for a jazz lover.

one act stole the show and catapulted the performer to international success. Anita O’Day, known as the “Jezebel of Jazz” (for doing time for marijuana) was already 20 years into her career when this festival took place. in later interviews she claims this to have been the biggest day of her life. because of the press she got from this, Japan went nuts over her and she ended up spending many years there.

her performance is nearly flawless, and now legendary. but not only that, she looks frickin amazing. so elegant, so chic, so hip and swingin’ too.

and so very high on heroin! you can see it especially when she introduces “Mr Jones!” watch for it. she had a 16 year, very serious heroin addiction that she kicked when she overdosed and had to be brought back to life in 1968 (ten years after this performance).

she wasnt very educated. she dropped out of school and left home at 14 i think and joined a marathon dance troupe that travelled the country. she sang whenever they let her. when she was a kid she had her tonsils taken out and a “slip of the knife” took her uvula. she always asserted that her lack of a uvula made it impossible to carry long notes and make her voice vibrato without shaking her head around. so she overcompensated. and the result is that she is known for being a human instrument. she does things with her throat and velum that no one else thought to do. i’ve seen her sing one part of a piece that was composed for 4 saxophones. just her and three saxes. no lyrics, just scatting. mind blowing. she’s also known for what she does with time. her timing is amazing. and she never sang anything the same way twice. it was all improv, truly what jazz musicians are best known for. she’s just really really good. usually this is qualified with the phrase “for a white girl” which i think is completely unfair, and also the reason why it took me so long to give her a listen-to. she is every bit as good as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday.

when i watch her, i keep thinking stuff like “what a dame!” lol. but she is. she’s totally one of the guys too. but she looks so ladylike and sophisticated. she even joked that she was so much one of the guys, that the girls lined up to see her too after the show! it makes me sad that i didnt discover her until recently. i think she just passed away a few years ago. like 2006 or something. and she sang up till the end.

the other thing i love about this film is that it’s a great time capsule. it’s real Americans in their real clothes, not expecting to be filmed. and everyone is so cool! and diverse!this thing is SO American — and that is completely a wonderful thing here. (unlike nowadays when “American” seems to be more of a negative adjective.) also, just think about the footage you’ve seen from this time period. like the JFK stuff, whic is actually 6 years later. because this is from a documentary, the quality of the film is very good, and not grainy or choppy. this also means that it was edited and polished. so maybe the parts where the crowd look bored dont really match. but i like that too, that’s it’s not just someone’s home movie.

so — check out the clothes, the characters! the sunglasses alone are fun to see! i love everyone in this clip. you cant catch it all in one viewing. but first, watch Anita. and listen to her phrasing. this is her at her best.

p.s. bonus clip! here is the trailer for the documentary about her.

two more funny bits of Anita trivia:  she chose her stage name “O’Day” because it’s “dough” in Pig Latin.  she thought maybe it would bring her luck and she’d make some dough.

also, she once told her boss she was taking a 5min break between sets.  she went out for a walk… and 5 years later, she calls the guy from the Philippines and asks for a $1000 dollars to get back home.  and yes, he gave it to her.  haha.

Are you reading?

Last week I posted an excerpt from the introduction to Interfictions 2 here, and a link to the whole deal.  But we also now have two of our Annex stories live online.  Have you checked them out yet?  The first one is Genevieve Valentine’s “To Set Before the King” and this week’s addition is F. Brett Cox’s “Nylon Seam” which comes along with a song written and sung by Brett, who is also totally rockin’ the guitar as well.  A blend of music and story.  I love stuff like that.  If you’ve got a free moment, and work is slow and boring anyway, or the kids are in bed, etc, take a swing over to the Interstitial Arts Foundation website for all the free content that is going to keep appearing over the next few weeks until the second volume of Interfictions itself appears in November.  I just looked over the copyedits for the book this past week, by the way, and was reminded of how kick-ass the table of contents is.  I can’t wait to re-read the book, and wait till you see the full cover.  Sweet, sweet stuff.

Damn, I love making books.

The Oasis Video

Okay, so this video is now officially making the rounds in the blogosphere.  It’s a song by Amanda Palmer, of the Dresden Dolls, whom I love, and before I say anything else, I’ll say I love this song and the video.  But I have a sort of critique of it, too.  So far I’ve read a lot of posts online that are defending this video because over in Britain, where Amanda is launching her tour for her new album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, the BBC was possibly going to censor this song/video, spoiling Amanda’s marketing team’s ambitions to have it be a radio/music channel release, which would totally have been depressing, I agree.  But in fact, if you ask me, Amanda has nothing to complain about.  If someone was going to censor one of my books, I would be totally down for it.  Everyone knows that censored material actually gains more audience than art that does not spark a nerve with the culture.

Which brings me to my other aspect of this semi-critique.  As much as I love this video, I don’t think it’s being contextualized correctly.  Even Amanda has sort of talked about it as a sarcastic, ironic and sad critique of the sort of girl she’s portraying in this video, but really I think it’s less a critique of that sort of girl so much as it is the culture that’s produced her.  And in my mind, she’s sort of a hero, adamantly denying not just the Fundamentalist Christians who tell her Jesus hates her, but all of the other ridiculous elements of American society that inspire a sort of blithe disregard for anything but self and now and fun in her.  She seems more angry to me than stupid, acting like a caricatured version of the most normative roles we outline for kids to grow into at this juncture.  Whatever.  It doesn’t really matter in the end how it’s interpreted.  In the end, it’s sad and funny, the sort of thing I like in any kind of art, whether it be story, song, painting, film or persona, which is an art form in and of itself.  You can take Amanda Palmer as an example of that last form, really.  She’s sort of interstitial that way, the music and the persona itself both being integral to what she’s doing, and what she’s doing is an angry, funny, sad, beautiful thing.

On any given day

I’m redistributing this link via Christopher Rowe, because it’s a really beautiful recommendation from Ralph Stanley, who I would listen to on any given day.  Hearing it made me smile (non-ironically), which is a really nice thing to be able to do these days.

If for some reason you don’t know who Ralph Stanley is, go here for a recap.  Then go get a cd or download something on your i-whatever, and start listening.

Straight from the Underground, by Nitro Microphone Underground

I think I was only in Japan for a few weeks before I found myself venturing out to media stores alone, trying to figure out what was all around me. So much of what we in America know of Japan isn’t contemporary Japan. Most books present Japan at various stages of its history, and seem to always have a geisha featured in them. Same with movies, except for Lost in Translation, which I watched last night when I wanted to ‘visit’ Tokyo again for a couple of hours. This trend is also one that we follow with Japanese music. Before I went to Japan, I thought it was all bamboo flutes and three-stringed bone harps (or some other fantastically old instruments). What I found when I got there, though, was a music scene (and many other kinds of scenes) that felt much more global and diverse than what we have here (or at least what we have making itself to a wide audience). I was absolutely floored to hear, for example, this group, The Nitro Microphone Underground, rapping in Japanese.

There goes the neighborhood

The Lutheran church across the street from my apartment building set up a little performance area tonight, with a backdrop cloth that said “Elvis Lives”. When the sun went down, fifteen cars showed up, then people got out of their cars with folding chairs and arranged them about fifty feet across the parking lot from the Elvis Lives platform. Someone turned multi-colored lights on the backdrop, and then Elvis came out and sang Elvis karaoke. Everyone sat in their chairs. No one clapped or got up and danced, except for one heavy-set woman who kept venturing out, shaking her booty, clapping, who would occasionally turn around to the other audience members and try to encourage them to come closer towards the parking lot Elvis. No one did. Elvis complained a little in a light-hearted way about their bad manners. He sang a few more songs. I was sitting on the front stoop of my apartment building, catching a breeze and watching the surreality occur across the street from me. A black girl carrying a plastic sack of groceries in her grip was walking down the street toward me. When she came to the spot on the sidewalk in front of me, she stopped, looked over at the Elvis impersonator and the zombie crowd of Lutherans watching him, then turned to me and said, “There goes the neighborhood,” and carried on her way.

Choux Pastry Heart

I am a sucker for this song for more than one reason. 1.) I’ve been sucked in by Corinne Rae Bailey’s bluesy voice, and I love bluesy voices. And 2.) The way I was introduced to her was just the other day when my friend Paul forwarded me this video because it has part of the counting crows rhyme–the rhyme that I derived the title of my novel from–as part of its lyrics.

I wish I could find the original video for it, but until then, watching this version, made of clips from other Corinne Rae Bailey videos, will suffice.

You can stand under my umbrella

A return to a mood I have not felt in a while.

Recently I have been sort of obsessed with the song “Umbrella” which is sung by the very popular Barbados-born Rihanna. And when I say popular, I mean popular. You go to this woman’s myspace page and look at how many “friends” she has. Over 900,000. That just sort of blows my mind, people myspacing so much that you can get over 900,000 people under the same virtual tent. But back to my recent obsession with “Umbrella”. Like most Rihanna songs, it both attracts and repels me. I love the general tune, and the sentiment of the lyrics really grab me, but Rihanna herself sings them in way that feels less sincere than the lyrics themselves. At least, this is the case for “Umbrella”. In another case, the lyrics are kind of a problem as well as Rihanna singing the song in the first place. Such as “Unfaithful” a big hit of hers when was it? Last year or two years ago? I’m not sure. I’m not going to look it up either, but you know, in the recent past. The problem with “Unfaithful” is that the singer is basically feeling bad and guilty because she Can’t Stop Having Sex With Other Men and can see how this hurts her boyfriend so much that he is slowly dying. She says, “I don’t want to be a murderer.” And yet it seems to me like she’s saying, But I Can’t Stop Having Sex With Other Men! What a dilemma! Boyfriend slowly dying, sex with other men, I don’t know, which is more important?

It’s easy to forgive a song like “Unfaithful” because the song itself is so utterly flawed and stupid because of the basic narrative of the lyrics. I just can’t sympathize, you know? But songs like “Umbrella”, which has actually quite touching lyrics, irk me, because I love their essence and become irritated because they feel less “felt” or “sincere” when in particular being sung by Rihanna.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite my Rihanna bashing here, it’s done with love. I can’t help but like the girl, I guess. She’s so cute and despite her not being the person I think best for some of her songs, she has an interesting sound in the way of commercial music. And she’s from Barbados. Awesome.

When it comes to “Umbrella” though, I find myself kind of crushing on Scott Simons’ version, which I found the other day and have been obsessing on in a happy way, as opposed to my frustrated obsessing over Rihanna’s version. In any case, I’m playing the Scott Simons version of the song over at my Myspace page, and you should go take a listen. You can also follow the link to Rihanna’s Myspace and listen to her version and also the aforementioned terrible song “Unfaithful”. I’m charmed by Scott Simons’ version. I will now go stand under his umbrella.