Friday, May 13, 2016

LINER NOTES: Every May I Write The Book

Every May I Write the Book Spotify playlist

I read a lot of non-fiction; check the year-end lists and you'll see the preference.

Nate reads a lot of fiction. So, his recommendations are a good counterbalance for my biases. He's passed along unfamiliar writers, like Karen Russell and Mohsin Hamid. It's good to get out of fact-collection mode and focus more on language and style.

The literature theme is my way of reaching across the aisle. It collects a number of songs with literary references (the vast majority are from fiction) -- a number of which I admittedly don't get because I haven't read a lot of these works. So, it's a fun way to share some discoveries with Nate, while giving us some new leads on future reads.

Elvis's "Every May I Write the Book" seems the most ideal way to kick off this theme, what with Declan's use of writing techniques and literary devices as simple metaphors. The middle-aged steppers' feel and '80s production of this recording has never endeared itself to me. But the writing, suitably, captures the essence of the theme.

There are plenty of book-related tunes, but I opted to skip over most of these in favor of more specific references. I stuck with the old guard of rawk to cover this base, so thanks, Mr. Diddley and the Monotones. Special mention should go to Los Campesinos! for the band's hilariously bitter "We Are All Accelerated Readers," which takes the idea of curling up w/ your favorite book to another logical conclusion -- seclusion from the frightening world of relationships! What would the Staple Singers think of the line, "You should have built a wall, not a bridge"?

I went with some familiar (literary) works for the evening's first mid-length poses. Lewis Carroll ("White Rabbit," and Aceyalone reading and breathing all over "The Jabberwocky") and Russian celebs, like Nabokov (I don't think I can listen to "Don't Stand So Close to Me" anymore) and Dostoyevsky (Magazine's "Song From Under the Floorboards is essentially a post-punk Cliff's Notes of Notes from the Underground).

The kid's influence creeps out with the Sendak Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack (and Alt-J's surprising "Breezeblocks") and some Shel Silverstein (those original recordings are still both chilling and entertaining).

My grasp of the references breaks up around the poetry section. I shared some Langston Hughes and Jack Kerouac because they both wrote extensively about music and recorded with music backdrops. Gang Starr's "DWYCK" is technically there because of the passing Hughes / can't lose when I cruise line, but moreso to inject some life in the proceedings (by the way, this is the notable track missing from both the YouTube and Spotify playlist; it's a remix from the "Take it Personal" 12). When we get to 'Pac's invocation of Walter Scott or Serge's homage to Baudelaire, I really can't comment. It's all new to me, but exciting because it gives me a new layer to reveal. Y'all have any recommendations for me?

We'll be back in June with a globetrotting theme. We'll explore tunes from around the world that focus on the body.

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Friday, April 15, 2016


xx/xy playlist

As an adult, my consistently favorite musical theme seems to be gender identity. I've often explored 'gender inversions' (my term) (e.g., Bill Withers' "Who is He?" begetting Gladys Knight & the Pips' "Who is She?" begetting Me'Shell NdegéOcello's "Who is He?"). I've never tackled gender as the central lyrical focus, so this was a welcome challenge.

The old, bloated elephant that has historically occupied most of the room is the cis-male-hetero idea of masculinity (and, because everyone has to have an opinion, of femininity, too). Because this has been the norm for years of pop music, I intentionally didn't give it much airtime. Instead, I selected a small batch to capture the essence of this ethos. Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man" embodies this spirit like few other songs, from its tough riffage to its blunt title. Plus, it felt good to bookend the session between that song and Neko Case's "Man" ("I'm not an identity crisis / This was planned"). I admittedly picked "Walk Like a Man" less for its outline of manly qualities, but more for the shits and giggles of hearing Frankie Valli's ridiculous falsetto punctuate this list. And I had to include the Bacharach-David composition "Wives and Lovers" for its stunningly bone-headed lyrics -- a useful reminder that misogyny does not begin and end with [fill-in-the-blank African-American-rooted popular music style]. And then there's Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy," which IMO trumps "I'm a Man." Waters has numerous recordings of this song. I goofed and played the Electric Mud version when I meant to play the Hard Again session (yes, I know there are some goofy ass players backing him on that record, but the relatively modern recording standards makes that record bang hard as fuck). Do yourself a favor and check it out in the playlist, if you aren't familiar. Well, he literally screams, "I'm a Man!!"

More interesting to me are the challenges to these standards. "Runnin'" leads the charge courtesy of Fatlip's soul-bearing verse which details an adolescence stripped of any Superman notions. Surrounded by a sea of aggression ("I can recall crip niggas throwin Cs in my face"), he knows what path he's supposed to follow, but has no tools to achieve it ("My pappy never taught me how to knock a nigga out"). Coupled with the song's hook, the running metaphor becomes a particular condemnation of macho standards.

I also focused on cis-female-hetero ideas of gender. The ideas of femininity range from the stereotypical traditional (Peggy Lee serving womanhood on a doily with "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and Joyce's fragrantly poetic "Feminina") to the prototypical feminist (The Slits' shit-talking "Typical Girls;" and even the solidly blue country of Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go 'Round"). Just like the straight fellas, homegirls give considerable attention to masculinity. Sylvan Esso's "Hey Mami"calls out catcalls, while PJ Harvey's "Dress" paints a fuller picture of the male's perverted gaze. Suzanne Vega's "As Girls Go" highlights the more subtle, but no less pernicious digs at women.

I clearly can't get enough of inversions, because a fair amount of the set explored various border crossings and non-binary states. Etta James' muscular vocal performance on "W-O-M-A-N" (and, in fairness, most everything she recorded) is a great example of simultaneously encapsulating and exploding traditional notions of femininity. The recording is sexy, smoky, sensual... but continue throwing superlatives at the wall and you quickly find the list weaving in husky, swaggering, ballsy... did we take a left turn? No, she sings with all those qualities, but is undeniably a W-O-M-A-N. Thank goodness for the Mats's "Androgynous," which paints such a natural, loving portrait of gender and sexual identity exploration ("Mirror image, see no damage / See no evil at all"). Sure, the ending is a bit of a middle-aged bummer, but kudos to Westerberg for being able to forecast that in his mid-twenties when he wrote this. "Masculine Women, Feminine Men" was included mostly as a historic document of how long hetero mania over border-crossing (or, the notion there is only one border or that borders even exist) has existed.

When I return to this theme (and I certainly will, given how much fun this was), I want to break out of the cis-male and cis-female hetero voices. A good chunk of Antony/ANOHNI's work is really a starting point for me. I'll have more to say after exploring this some more.

And a quick word about the name of this session, "xx/xy." I recognize that referring to chromosomes suggests biology and sex identity. I know this is not the best session name. I'm happy to revisit this theme with a new session title. Any suggestions?

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Love Song 2015

Thanks again for another lovely year. Lots more jams, lots more doodles, lots more fun in '16.


P.S. - the samples are built from songs released in 2015 or songs I was digging this year. Name 'em all and you'll have my respect. And I'll dig up something nice as an atta-kid.

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Kank, Not Konk: Best of the Kid 2015

Stuff the Kid Likes
Bob Dylan “Little Sadie”
Sofia Loren “Zoo Be Zoo Be
Oscar the Grouch “I Love Trash
Tegan & Sara “Everything is Awesome
mashing up “I Love Trash” with “Everything is Awesome” (it’s more or less “Everything is dingy and dusty and musty / Oh, everything is awesome!”)
Ocean 11 “Housewives Choice
“The Acorn Song” (“I’m a nut (cluck cluck) / I‘m a nut (cluck cluck)”
If you ask him what he’ll DJ at his “DJ gig,” he’ll say, “Twinkle, Twinkle; Old McDonald; and the Acorn song”
Saying the word, “Kank” and other variations of made-up words
The first 15 minutes of E.T.
Shinkansen trainwatching videos on YouTube
Anpanman episodes
Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, Alice Shertie (story), Jill McElmurry (art)
A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Philip C. Stead (story), Erin E. Stead (art)
日本の昔話 (Gakken Education Publishing)
Otogi Ressha Shuppatsu Shinko!, Naokata Mase (間瀬なおかた)
Once Upon a Potty, Alona Frankel
The “Kim and Carrots” segments of Babybug
Little Bear series Elsa Holmelund Minarik (story) Maurice Sendak (art)
How Little Lori Visited Times Square, Amos Vogel (story) Maurice Sendak (art)
Almost any Curious George
Horton Hatches the Egg, Dr. Seuss
Everyone Poops, Gomi Taro

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The Book of You: Best Static Visual Stuff of 2015

Batman: The Killing Joke Alan Moore (story), Brian Bolland (art)

Stuff I Read
Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys: A Memoir Viv Albertine
No comparison to Kim Gordon’s book, but more of what I was expecting in terms of mixing a look into the subject’s personal life, as well as the nerd details about the music. Probably helps that Albertine’s stint with the Slits was relatively short, so talking about music music music is a little more neat, perhaps? In any case, I knew little about the Slits or Albertine, so this was eye-opening in many ways. What a fucking life. So very happy that she has found her way back to music. The back half of the book that details her struggles with pregnancy, marriage, and working her way back to good health and art-making is absolutely essential.

A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel Marlon James
Solid writing. I'm already steeling myself for the inevitable disappointment of knowing this book will get optioned -- it screams 'make me into a film!' Which is exactly why it shouldn't. Beautiful handling of multiple characters. Really looking forward to reading more of James. 

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters Frances Stonor Saunders
I’m still making my way through this, but it’s a great follow-up (for me) to Legacy of Ashes. I suppose the tl;dr version is Damn, the CIA is fuckin’ up all up and down history.

Nimona and Lumberjanes, Vol. 1 Noelle Stevenson
I really shouldn’t talk about these two series in the same breath, because they are so distinct in message, style, story, etc. But I have to thank having nieces for encouraging me to think about books that speak more directly to being female. Which is pretty silly, I recognize. Hell, these are the sorts of stories my nephews would also benefit from. Anyway. Nimona spirals out into a much bigger story, which can be a bit overwhelming. However, it really nails a lot of the confusion of growing up in the modern world. Lumberjanes is plain silly fun, smart and enjoyable in a very different way. Really dig the art, too.

Batman: Year One Frank Miller (story), David Mazzucchelli (art)
I think I like this more than Dark Knight Returns.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal Willow Wilson
Love, love, love this series.

Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death, and the Roots of Southern Rap Brad Jordan and Benjamin Meadows Ingram
Almost done with this, but it’s a great take on the South/Houston scene.

The Squared Circle: Life, Death and Professional Wrestling David Shoemaker
My old homie Ben ‘gifted’ this to me for my bday. Another ‘almost-done’ joint, but it’s the sort of reading you can pick up and put down repeatedly.

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