Said and read – June 2018

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I can’t explain why, but June, despite having had some vacation time, wasn’t filled with as much reading as I’d have liked. This disappointing sentence seems to be a variation on my opening sentence for every single one of these monthly posts. I may finish about 20 (or a few more) books by the end of the month, which of course is shy of the book-a-day pace I’d (however unintentionally) set through most of the early part of this year. I realize it’s not about quantity, but somehow having neglected reading for so many years, I feel as though I am playing catch-up. And I know I will never ‘catch up’. Catch up to what exactly?!

…I’d prefer to begin with some riveting tale about how I feel that too much can be read within a person’s eyes – it’s out of their control and completely unguarded, and each time I try to tell myself to be more open, don’t judge anyone by what their eyes immediately tell me, my initial reaction to a person’s eyes seems accurate. I wish this were not the case. These stories, too, about people’s eyes betraying their true nature, might be more interesting than how I start these chronicles of my random reading.

It might also be more interesting to go on wild tirades about the tyranny and insanity of several world governments at the moment, but what can I really add to that collective outcry? Many books have been and are being written about related subjects – last month I unabashedly recommended Sarah Kendzior‘s The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America, for example; Peter Temin‘s The Vanishing Middle Class is another good one that illustrates that the US is not the ‘best country in the world’, as it boasts in the loudest, most bellicose, violent way possible but is rather a developing country. There are really too many to count.

I can also calmly reaffirm my great love for Scots and how it sounds. A friend shared The Allusionist podcast about my beloved Scots language with me, and I think it’s worth sharing onward.

Dig further into what I was reading, liking, thinking, hating in May, April, March, February and January, if you’re curious.

Thoughts on reading for June:

Highly recommended

*StonerJohn Williams

I did not know what to expect from Stoner – first mentioned to me by a friend not long ago, which caused me to add it to my to-read list. I was never sure when I’d get around to reading it. Some books, after all, linger aimlessly and endlessly on this expansive list (in many cases because the books are not available as e-books or because they are entirely out of print and not easy to get my hands on).

But the simplicity of the narrative – the heartbreaking simplicity and humanity – make Stoner an enduring, if under-the-radar, classic. William Stoner, a farm boy in Missouri who has modest aims and wants, goes to college to study agriculture, and ends up pursuing literature and philosophy and becoming a professor. His life is beset by the troubles and pains of … the average. He never sought much, and his modest needs and wants ensured that he had a life of contentment, marked by his principled nature, even if there were professional struggles, domestic unpleasantness and a brief but intense love affair that ends. It’s almost sad for its/his lack of striving, or at least never striving beyond what he could reach (apart from early on breaking away from a future in farming). Hard to describe what is so compelling, which is largely why it’s a must-read.

“And it might be amusing to pass through the world once more before I return to the cloistered and slow extinction that awaits us all.”

“In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.”

“Then he smiled fondly, as if at a memory; it occurred to him that he was nearly sixty years old and that he ought to be beyond the force of such passion, of such love. But he was not beyond it, he knew, and would never be. Beneath the numbness, the indifference, the removal, it was there, intense and steady; it had always been there.”

*Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the revenge of unintended consequencesEdward Tenner

The last book I read in June, and also the one that put me at 200 books for the year so far. Like many books I find myself immersed in, this was a random choice, a recommendation sourced through some other article. It’s hard to say exactly why I enjoyed this book. I think on the surface of it, it is interesting because it chronicles the unintended consequences of some of the most ingenious inventions and innovations (some good, some bad… some positively catastrophic), but at a deeper level, it coaxes the reader to think more holistically about how anything and everything can have unintended consequences and almost prompts one to think in a different or more careful way about planning and implementation of virtually anything, while at the same time, pointing out the folly of believing that even the most careful of risk assessments and examinations of ‘domino effects’ can foresee all the consequences.

“Doing Better and Feeling Worse.” This phrase from a 1970s symposium on health care is more apt than ever, and not only in medicine. We seem to worry more than our ancestors, surrounded though they were by exploding steamboat boilers, raging epidemics, crashing trains, panicked crowds, and flaming theaters. Perhaps this is because the safer life imposes an ever-increasing burden of attention.”

*FuelNaomi Shihab Nye

Poetry. Need I say more?

*Anything by Donald Hall

US Poet Laureate Donald Hall died near the end of June, and it was the perfect opportunity to revisit his poetry. I re-read a few volumes and don’t have one single book to recommend but think you’d do well to start with any.

When he died the other day, I reread and shared this piece about solitude and loneliness, moved anew by the love for solitude but the possibility of finding solitude while still coming together with another person, as Hall did with his partner, fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, with whom, as he wrote, he shared “the separation of our double solitude”, and from which each day they would emerge to be together as it suited them.

*Olive KitteredgeElizabeth Strout

I had long ago seen the HBO film adaptation of Olive Kitteredge, so it was hard to form new ideas about the characters (e.g. Richard Jenkins as Henry and the formidable Frances McDormand as Olive… impossible to erase while reading). Still, I had forgotten so much of what happened in the film that the book was almost like a new experience, and I was carried away by the beautiful, fluid writing, the vivid characters and their lives (and stages of those lives) and by how moving the entire thing was overall.

“Sometimes, like now, Olive had a sense of just how desperately hard every person in the world was working to get what they needed. For most, it was a sense of safety, in the sea of terror that life increasingly became. People thought love would do it, and maybe it did.”

Good – really good – but not necessarily great

*What is the WhatDave Eggers

Dave Eggers isn’t really the story – he’s just the writer of the story. And the story is a heartbreaking and challenging story based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese child refugee who migrated to the United States under the Lost Boys of Sudan program.

“Humans are divided between those who can still look through the eyes of youth and those who cannot.”

*IndignationPhilip Roth

I came late to reading Roth (the last two years), and I don’t love everything he wrote. That said, there’s still quite a lot for me to read. I don’t want to recount the plot of Indignation, but there were some thoughts that I took away that have stuck with me for several days, which is, I suppose, one of Roth’s hallmarks: planting thought-provoking seeds, however little or much they have to do with the story.

“I persisted with my duties, determined to abide by the butcher-shop lesson learned from my father: slit the ass open and stick your hand up and grab the viscera and pull them out; nauseating and disgusting, but it had to be done.”

“If you ask how this can be—memory upon memory, nothing but memory—of course I can’t answer, and not because neither a “you” nor an “I” exists, any more than do a “here” and a “now,” but because all that exists is the recollected past, not recovered, mind you, not relived in the immediacy of the realm of sensation, but merely replayed. And how much more of my past can I take?”

“Because other people’s weakness can destroy you just as much as their strength can. Weak people are not harmless. Their weakness can be their strength. A person so unstable is a menace to you, Markie, and a trap.”

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*The Order of TimeCarlo Rovelli

I don’t know what I can write about Rovelli and the way he presents physics and complex concepts in … elegant and beautiful ways that make them transcend the page and provoke thought, imagination and curiosity indefinitely.

“How does one describe a world in which everything occurs but there is no time variable? In which there is no common time and no privileged direction in which change occurs?”

“The difference between past and future, between cause and effect, between memory and hope, between regret and intention . . . in the elementary laws that describe the mechanisms of the world, there is no such difference.”

Coincidences

* Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 QuestionsValeria Luiselli

In keeping with what I wrote above about all the books that chronicle our difficult times, in the most timely fashion, coinciding with the Trump administration’s child-migration concentration camps (I cannot even believe I am writing those words), I read the brief but important Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions, in which Valeria Luiselli writes about the legal crisis and cruelty facing children who come to the US from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, etc. She wrote her reflections before the latest nightmare (detention camps filled with children put in cages, separated from their parents), but it was nonetheless stark and painful in the narrative it painted. Who would have imagined it could get worse?

“From the beginning, the crisis was viewed as an institutional hindrance, a problem that Homeland Security was “suffering” and that Congress and immigration judges had to solve. Few narratives have made the effort to turn things around and understand the crisis from the point of view of the children involved. The political response to the crisis, therefore, has always centered on one question, which is more or less: What do we do with all these children now? Or, in blunter terms: How do we get rid of them or dissuade them from coming?”

We have also seen the resurgence of old books that foretold the kind of rise in tyranny and dictatorial rule that we’re seeing in chilling abundance now, such as Sinclair Lewis‘s hastily written 1930s/Depression Era *It Can’t Happen Here. As he himself writes, “The hell it can’t.”

And when I just can’t take more of the timeless and timely old warnings (yes, somehow the US avoided becoming a fascist/Nazi state in the 1930s, but just as well might not have, as Lewis imagines, or as the recently passed Philip Roth envisioned in his alt-future imagining, The Plot Against America. Having resisted these tendencies once certainly doesn’t inoculate one from future tyranny. The same concerns and fears seen, for example, in the 1930s, have echoed in the present day and led to a dictatorial moron to the WH. Despite some brilliant passages and predictions in Lewis’s book, the book itself was not smooth reading and felt both like it was rushed and dragged out at the same time.

“(but)… that couldn’t happen in America! Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!

“Why are you so afraid of the word ‘Fascism,’ Doremus? Just a word—just a word! And might not be so bad, with all the lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays, and living on my income tax and yours—not so worse to have a real Strong Man, like Hitler or Mussolini—like Napoleon or Bismarck in the good old days—and have ‘em really run the country and make it efficient and prosperous again.”

*My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace Ehud Barak

It does not exactly qualify as a coincidence so much as it was a random fluke that I decided to read this autobiographical account of Ehud Barak’s life. I never would have considered it except that one morning while heading out for a coffee in Oslo with AD, we ran into one of her acquaintances (because it’s impossible to go anywhere in Oslo without running into at least one person she knows). This particular acquaintance, squinting into the sun on one of Oslo’s blazing, and unusually, hot early June days, immediately started telling us how he was reading this particular book, and if I may say, sort of mansplained Israel, (cultural) Judaism, kibbutz culture and military strategy and Ehud Barak’s role in all of the key moments of Israel’s brief history. Yes, I suppose I have often complained about Norwegians knowing nothing about Judaism, so someone having a clue is surprising – but having a man (however ‘enlightened’ and committed to equality Scandinavian men are purported to be, middle-aged men of all nationalities seem particularly keen on demonstrating their knowledge… maybe in some bid to seem important, intelligent, relevant?) try to explain Judaism and Israel to me is not a surprise but is completely laughable.

Nevertheless, having heard him recount much of the book himself, I decided to read the book. Mostly I could have done without it, although there were a few key passages that capture, I think, fairly succinctly many of the strategies and ways of thinking behind Israeli military actions (not recent actions, as the country has moved further and further right). That’s not to say I would concede that any of the actions made sense – just to say that it was interesting to get the insight.

Overall the book itself could be skipped. Heavy on detail of Barak’s life running in parallel with the birth and development of the state of Israel and his role in it. Maybe a bit more detail than I needed at times, but, as I said, a valuable POV of someone who was inside the fateful moments and decisions in Israel and the Middle East as a whole – including some circumspection. Not perfect but … worth the read if only for the epilogue alone, which was oddly moving.

“The cause to which I’ve devoted my life—redeeming the dream of Zionism in a strong, free, self-confident, democratic Jewish state—is under threat. This is not mainly because of Hizbollah or Hamas, ISIS, or even Iran, all of which I feel confident in saying, as a former head of military intelligence, chief of staff, and defense minister, are real yet surmountable challenges. The main threat comes from inside: from the most right-wing, deliberately divisive, narrow-minded, and messianic government we have seen in our seven-decade history.”

Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)

*War & WarLászló Krasznahorkai

I didn’t despise anything I read, but for some reason had had high hopes for War & War, but it ended up being disappointing. I suppose this is because expectations always betray us. It was not a bad book – it just didn’t hold my interest.

“16. Should we die, the mechanics of life would go on without us, and that is what people feel most terribly disturbed by, Korin interrupted himself, bowed his head, thought for a while, then pulled an agonized expression and started slowly swiveling his head, though it is only the very fact that it goes on that enables us properly to understand that there is no mechanism.”

Images by SD 2018

Random gum: Halloween 2017

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The Good Goo of Random Gum – Halloween 2017
The Last Toast to the World & Cosmos

So, even though we are a full month out from Halloween, I have been extraordinarily organized and have finished putting together my Halloween CD mix for this year quite early. The mailings have begun going out in the post.

And, as I have written in the note that accompanies the CD, the time has come at last – this will be the last of my random gum CD mixes. At least of the physical, postal-mail variety. As technology has rendered the CD a useless would-be Frisbee, I am looking for another solution for sharing music (other than Spotify playlists at least). I may still send cards/greetings by post because I’m still old-fashioned like that. But continuing this effort is fruitless. It has been a roller coaster of randomness these 13 years that I’ve been making and sending these mixes. And to reflect an end as random as this gum has always been, I’ve chosen fittingly strange and random music.

Although I have not expressed these sentiments in the letter I included with the CD, I do feel like I am shedding a skin – or some kind of layer(s) – again – as though I am preparing for something else. I don’t know what it is. But I have largely left behind my TV addiction, my baking addiction, and now this (and most of my postal letter writing in general). I don’t know why these things no longer interest me the way they used to, except to say that my disconnection from feeling and indeed, often, from actually living, has dissipated. The end of the embargo against living, I suppose, means that new things and new people occupy my time and, more importantly, my heart.

Until I do find a better and personal sharing solution, you can follow me on Spotify and also find the full track listings and descriptions on my blog. Normally I seek out and post the YouTube video of these tracks, but instead… here is the list.

01 Aliza Gabbai – “Mimigdal Shalom”
Israeli pop from the 1960s. Too cute
02 Rola Saad – “Min Bein Alkoul”
Because Lebanon
03 DIANA – “What You Get” …Echo comes back to your lonely room/Said my head, my heart, I can’t take it anymore…
Stuck so much in 2017 on the concept of place – real, imagined; in the world or in the mind
04 Savoy Motel – “Souvenir Shop Rock”
Nashville is for dancing
05 Tindersticks – “My Sister” …Here I am, this is me/I am yours and everything about me,/everything you see,/If only you look hard enough/I never could…
Had this spun up but was unsure til I talked to a Norwegian in the mountains who was listening to Tindersticks. “Our life was a pillow fight…”
06 Trio Esperança – “Filme Triste”
Yummy 50s-60s Brazilian pop. Can you see where we’re going here?
07 Dean & Britta – “Night Nurse” …I am the night nurse, I am the most/I am the visitor, you are the host…
08 Blouse – “1000 Years” …I move the furniture around/And trick you into lying down…
“I would never hurt you/Or disappear/I’ll love you for a thousand years”
09 Jillian & the Giants – “Mr Airplane” …I don’t even mind…
Up in the air. “Here we go again, sure was nice for a little while/That rosy pink glow/turns red hot when you go/Too high into the other side”
10 Aquaserge – “Virage sud”
Vive la France
11 Connie Kim – “Lý Luận Tình Yêu”
Vietnam. The 70s. What more can one say?
12 Snail Mail – “Thinning” …I don’t think there’s anything wrong…
13 The Horrors – “Sea Within a Sea” …So you might say/The path we share is one of danger/And of fear/Until the end…
For J, the sea within my sea – a sea of constant gentle waves interrupted with the occasional giant waves
14 Lindstrøm – “I Feel Space”
For me, it’s Norway meets Chicago
15 Melike Demirağ – “Hasret”
Türkiye!
16 Meshell Ndegeocello, Sinéad O’Connor – “Don’t Take All Night”
For the love of all that is good in the world
17 Weyes Blood – “Names of Stars”
Places like beauty, simplicity and the cosmos
18 U.N.P.O.C. – “Beautiful to Me” …From time to time I think I must be going blind…
The dear, green place that is Glasgow
19 Evinha – “Vou Seguindo”
Year 2000! Goin’ to Rio! (Naomi)… and our ears take us back to some other time (SD: “I’ll get a job some other time!”)
20 Palace Winter – “Soft Machine”
Not frequent that I get to include Denmark (especially with a dose of Australia). “Acting so obscene/Well by all means/Now that you and I are free/And I’m off my knees”
21 Kristin Hersh – “Nerve Endings” …We’re idiotic optimistics/Rubbing salt into my wrists/Till I feel almost nothing…
So far from soft-eject beige
22 Damien Jurado – “QACHINA”
Seattle. “I lost my mind, so I stepped out for a time/Went for a walk on a long road to unwind”
23 Khruangbin – “Ma Be Ham Nemiresim”
Texas, if you can believe it
24 Destroyer – “Hey, Snow White” …When the company goes public, you’ve got to learn to love what you own…
Oh, Canada…
25 Solar Bears – “Cosmic Runner”
Ireland
26 First Hate – “The One” …You treated me so carelessly/You kept imagining the one…
Copenhagen… another Danish set… so much like the 80s
27 Lea Porcelain – “Out Is In”
My sort of cities (Berlin/London)
28 Moon Duo – “Cold Fear”
Portland
29 Monomono – “Tire Loma Da Nigbehin”
Nigeria… and memories of Billy, Travis and me in happening Årjäng
30 Luna – “Chinatown”
Winter 2017
31 Suburban Lawns – “Flavor Crystals”
Sounds sort of fresh but is almost as old as I am; everything old is new again
32 The Breeders – “Fortunately Gone” …I wait for you in heaven/On this perfect string of love…
It’s so good those days are gone. The past, too, is a place. Both distant and near
33 Richard & Linda Thompson – “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”
34 Mary Timony – “Return to Pirates”
Lost in the particular Mary Timony sound. “I cannot love you more/Said the doctor to the whore/I wanna be in the garden of love/Led by a lamb and a little white dove/I know you can/But I don’t think I can/Swim in your river/And sleep on your sand”
35 Miss Universum – “Fertilize” …I need a man, I need him quick/I need his sperm, I need his dick/I do not need to be seduced/I just need to be reproduced…
When I first heard this, I didn’t really expect it to be Swedish.
36 Hand Habits – “All the While”
“Bring me to the deepest pit/You can push me right off the edge/And when I show up in your dreams/You got away with it”
37 Eefje de Visser – “Ongeveer”
Dutched up. Almost convinced Dutch could be pretty…
38 Mark Eitzel – “The Last Ten Years” …Spent the last ten years/Trying to waste half an hour…
39 Aimee Mann – “Labrador”
“Daisy, you/shouldn’t do the things you do/but you’re just so incapable of changing/you lie so well/I could never even tell/what were facts in your artful rearranging”
40 Joel Alme – “The Way We Used to Beg”
Göteborg. “You were a cold hard stone/But how does it feel to be alone”
41 Teleman – “Glory Hallelujah” …However do you haunt me…
42 San Mei – “Until You Feel Good”
Thank you to Travis
43 Mallu Magalhães – “Culpa do Amor”
Gone back to Brazil, yet again
44 Mazzy Star – “Blue Flower”
Kitchen singalongs and traumatic high-school-era memories
45 Wooden Shjips – “Everybody Knows” …The longing for home/We’re only alone…
46 Aamina Camaari – “Rag waa Nacab iyo Nasteexo”
Bet you couldn’t have guessed I’d take us to Somalia?
47 Blonde Redhead – “Where Your Mind Wants to Go” …If it’s not me or you, then why?…
48 Jane Weaver – “The Architect”
Be the architect of your spaces and places
49 The Bombay Royale – “I Love You Love You”
Melbourne
50 Yma Sumac – “Karibe Taki”
51 Feist – “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” …I was so disappointed I didn’t know what to do…
52 Young Marble Giants – “Brand – New – Life”
Cymru am byth
53 Eerie Wanda – “I Am Over Here” …And I found you and we make/Sweetest memories/Now I’m here and you are overseas…
We are the world: Dutch band, Dutch-Croatian singer
54 Hater – “Cry Later”
Malmö
55 Richard Hawley – “Tonight the Streets are Ours”
56 Tennis – “Night Vision”
Can’t listen to Tennis without thinking of Esteban
57 Guided by Voices – “Game of Pricks”
“Prick with fork” – love to my mom and to Naomi
58 The Novacs – “Found”
Airdrie! (The Scottish one, not the weird, middle-of-nowhere Airdrie in the Edmonton-Calgary, Alberta corridor)
59 Haifa Wehbe – “Albi Habb”
もう少し Lebanon
60 The Kills – “Monkey 23”
61 Big Thief – “Shark Smile” …she said woo/baby take me…
“She held us, gunning out 90 miles down the road of a dead end dream
she looked over with her part smile, caught up in the twinkle it could take awhile”
62 Linda McCartney – “I Got Up”
Getting up is also a place, a real place
63 Haley Bonar – “Kismet Kill”
“I was impossible when I was beautiful and now/Cartoon deaths just don’t seem so funny”
64 Blouse – “Trust Me”
Famous last words: “Trust me, I’m the one who loves you”
65 Globelamp – “Washington Moon” …I want a California sun/And a Washington moon…
66 Jessica Pratt – “Bushel Hyde” …Words mean more that they did before/In that other place…
67 Robyn Hitchcock – “Sayonara Judge”
October in Oslo
68 Linda Perhacs – “Chimacum Rain”
Lichen. Lichen. Lichen. Oh, dear T’Pow
69 Amália Rodrigues – “Abril”
I love Amália Rodrigues and was surprised to see that that particular tune was one of the least-ever listened to on Spotify. I decided to remedy that all on my own
70 Life Without Buildings – “Sorrow” …Difficult people slip away…
Glesga Glesga Glesga (Glasgow for those not in-the-know)
71 J&L Defer – “Hard Fiction Road”
For SD: Refer to theme song of Canadian children’s show “The Littlest Hobo” at this time. How’s that for random? Even though this is a band from Winterthur, Switzerland, y’know?
72 Wand – “Melted Rope”
“Desire, I barely thinking/In the dark/And life, life is what you wanted/It’s what you are”
73 Koncz Zsuzsa – “Keresem a szót”
Hungarian. And had to choose… for the name Zsuzsa. Just for Martina.
74 She-Devils – “I Wanna Touch You” …can you read my mind?…
Montréal
75 Kikagaku Moyo (幾何学模様)- “Kogarashi”
Tokyo
76 The Limiñanas feat Peter Hook – “Garden of Love”
To France and beyond
77 Yasmine Hamdan – “Samar – Oriental Skeee Remix”
No escape from Lebanon
78 Cold Beat – “62 Moons” …It’s cold but I don’t mind/I’m accustomed to ice…
The Bay Area…
79 Kerem Güney – “Sicak Bir Sevda”
Istanbul grooves
80 Alvvays – “In Undertow” …You made a mistake you’d like to erase and I understand
“What’s left for you and me?”…
On, on Toronto – pulled in and pulled under
81 The Magnetic Fields – “Strange Powers”
Song is so New York, so Las Vegas, so outer space
82 Cults – “Go Outside” …I think I want to live my life and you’re just in my way…
83 ShitKid – “Sugar Town”
Sweden remakes
84 Santo & Johnny – “Pineapple Princess”
Aloha from this arctic hula doll
85 Sam Cohen – “Kepler 62”
“Strange neighbors as you know/They come and go/They live in a world without you”
86 Imarhan – “Assossamagh”
Algeria/Tuareg
87 Whyte Horses – “The Snowfalls”
Manchester
88 Rana Alagöz – “Vah Bacim Vah Mehmedim”
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks…
89 EL VY – “Paul is Alive” …Nobody stays above/Out in the waves of love…
90 Carla dal Forno – “What You Gonna Do Now?”
Aussie. Transcends
91 Sanisah Huri – “Joget Malam Berinai”
Singapore/Malaysia. I said I’d show you the world, baby. I just didn’t say it’d be through your ears
92 Monument Valley – “Dear John Letters”
93 Lea Porcelain – “The Love”
94 Grizzly Bear – “Mourning Sound” …Let love age/And watch it burn out and die…
“I stare at the face/Looking through my eyes/I move at a pace/That I cannot survive”
95 Marjan – “Kee Seda Kard Mano”
Iran
96 Heavens to Betsy – “Axemen”
Like being in a high school gym pep rally (as in the song) or first miserable year of uni
97 Mia Doi Todd – “Pancho and Lefty”
A pretty version of best-songwriter-ever (and now-near-ubiquitous) Townes van Zandt tune
98 Pridjevi – “Ako Je”
Hrvatska
99 Widowspeak – “When I Tried” …I was more alive when I tried…
100 The Proper Ornaments – “Cremated (Blown Away)”
London. “I would like to be cremated and blown away…”
101 Věra Příkazská, Plzeňský lidový soubor, Lidová chodská, Zdenek Blaha – “Ó radost má”
Czech check. Love to Martina, Anne
102 Cigarettes after Sex – “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby”
“Whispered something in your ear/It was a perverted thing to say/But I said it anyway/Made you smile and look away”. Lovely but also sounds like it belongs in an 80s John Hughes romance
103 Adia Victoria – “Mortimer’s Blues” …Heaven help me how it hurts…
Back to Nashville
104 Patti Smith – “My Madrigal” …You pledged me your heart/Till death do us part…
“We waltzed beneath motionless skies/All heaven’s glory turned in your eyes”

Image by S Donaghy 2017

Lunchtable TV Talk – Dig: More subtitled entertainment

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I have been a fan of A Fine Frenzy for years. I had no idea when I started watching Dig – a show that is not (so far) great by any means, but which has enough twists and turns and depth to keep me watching – that A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol is one of its standout characters.

While it does not seem to be a great show yet, it fits squarely into the category of shows I have been considering and writing about lately – those shows that use languages other than English extensively (and thus a liberal use of subtitles). With Dig, it’s Hebrew.

Jason Isaacs often shows up in programs that are a bit too obscure and conceptual – and thus do not seem like they will be long for this world. Awake is a good example. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t bring exceptional insight to his roles. He plays grief and confusion quite well. This large cast, in addition to Isaacs and Sudol, includes some great talent; notably, Regina Taylor (also seen in The Unit and the great, long-gone but not-forgotten I’ll Fly Away), Anne Heche (also seen in Hung and Men in Trees), Lauren Ambrose (also seen in Six Feet Under and Torchwood), Richard E. Grant (also seen most recently in Downton Abbey and Girls – among a million other things) and David Costabile (also seen in Suits, Ripper Street, Breaking Bad, Flight of the Conchords, Damages and many others).

With Dig, which has a few related storylines in play in parallel, it might be too slow, too intricate and again, obscure, for most viewers. But I will give it a shot… and like every time I watch a film from Israel, wish that I knew Hebrew.

With Dig, which has a few related storylines in play in parallel, it might be too slow, too intricate and again, obscure, for most viewers. But I will give it a shot… and like every time I watch a film from Israel, wish that I knew Hebrew.

Do what makes you happy – RIP Arik Einstein & RIP investigative skills

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A clear, sun-filled, beautiful day at home in the woods. Being here turns my mood around 180 degrees.

Some places I have lived have always filled me with some sense of satisfaction. Many people will claim that happiness has nothing to do with “place” – but I have always felt otherwise. It is a big contributing factor. I was never happy living in the US for some reason, and while I had bounced around to different places looking for the right place (a place to feel at home, grounded), I landed in Iceland. To this day, although I don’t live there anymore, just being in Iceland and seeing the panorama across Faxaflói Bay or being back in the “subdivision” of Reykjavik in which I used to live (Seltjarnarnes), makes me feel at home (or rather, homesick). I don’t imagine ever moving back – but being there and the place/surroundings – affected how I felt.

Now that I split my time between my home in the Swedish woods and Gothenburg, and have been doing so for a year, I have no bad feelings toward Gothenburg – but I know that being at home is where I want and need to be. I don’t want to move to or be in the city even though a year ago that sounded like a good idea. Truth be told, I needed a change, but a move to the city was not the change I needed. Sometimes, though, you have to try something to see that it is not right for you.

Thinking back to the time in Seltjarnarnes, which I wrote briefly about the other day, reminiscing about baking there – it is hard to believe that I was only living in that apartment for two years. It was such a defining time, but such a short span of time.

For whatever reason, I watched quite a bit of television when I lived in Seltjarnarnes (2001-03) – my friend had given me a tv, and I often turned it on just for noise (this was before there were really great internet connections). For some reason MTV was the Israeli version, so I saw a lot of TV commercials in Hebrew – and every commercial break was this same one advertising (I suppose) a kind of “greatest hits of…” album for some unidentified Israeli musician. Since I cannot understand or read Hebrew, I had no idea who he was – nothing about the commercial could give me a clue as to his identity, but because of the ad’s ubiquity, I became obsessed with trying to find out who he was. It was not until 2009, when I was in Oslo, that I found out that this iconic singer is Arik Einstein. I am not even sure how I found out his identity – I think that I may have Googled “Israeli singer” and something like “Fiddler on the Roof” because one of the clips in the commercial I had seen looked like it could be some kind of musical, like “Fiddler on the Roof” – I know, it sounds like a crazy and stereotypical long shot. BUT… it actually led me to the name of some other Israeli musician, which in turn led me to a lot of information about other Israeli singers, which finally (FINALLY!) led me to a picture of the man I had seen in the commercial so many years earlier.

Arik Einstein!

After that, I actually listened quite a bit to his music, much of which I really enjoyed. Quite by chance, yesterday I was looking for information about the musician Keren Ann, and she wrote on her Facebook page on 26 November that Arik Einstein had died. I would never have found out otherwise, so it was an interesting path of… chance. Like so much information discovery these days. I am thus remembering these old stories of how I first discovered this Israeli mystery man, found out who he was, and really came to appreciate the music. (My god the world is so much smaller, and information so much easier to find than in the “old days”. My mom and I used to go on pre-internet wild goose chases to find different music we would hear in tv commercials and shows. That was always a challenge. It is so much easier to find everything now, but then, our investigative and questioning skills are certainly suffering for it.)

RIP Arik Einstein!

RIP research and investigative skills (or at least the kind that are not online)! (And this is for the average person. Plenty of academic and scientists still do plenty of hands-on research and investigation and more traditional, well-trained journalists will follow leads and actually talk to people, track down other forms of information – as they should!)

“Get a grip; this is the world we live in”

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History is written to say/it wasn’t our fault” -Sam Phillips – “Love & Kisses”

Which side of the fence are you on?

I am going to start this post by writing that I am well-aware of the gross oversimplification of everything I am writing. It is a train of thought I am following without delving into any specific issues in a meaningful way. I just had a lot of thoughts following Nelson Mandela’s passing on the nature of justice, race and humanity that I wanted to express, however disjointed and surface-level they are.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, and even during his life, he had achieved a kind of sainthood status, untouchable… which is fine except that he was human. A great human, yes. But, as some media outlets have reported, he had a lot of “non-mainstream” things to say that exposed the hypocrisies he saw in all kinds of things, such as, and perhaps most notably, American power/hegemony. Most of these key statements are left out of the soft version of his obituaries, and the powers-that-be who might be less than comfortable with that part of Mandela can easily ignore those things.

His death brings forth the question, for example, “Who is a terrorist?” It depends on who asks the question. Who defines what a terrorist is – and how does that change? When Nelson Mandela went to prison, he was seen as a terrorist. Many South Africans of all races went to jail and fought for his  cause and the cause of racial equality (making it something of a “badge of honor” – at least according to the South Africans I have known who had criminal records for political agitation and protesting) to have a criminal record within the apartheid system. What better evidence is there of the commitment to social justice or to any cause of conscience? The whole concept of a criminal record automatically carrying a negative connotation is flawed because the offense makes a difference.

Nelson Mandela was branded a terrorist. But then, the United States labels all kinds of countries, people/individuals and organizations as terrorist or as official sponsors of terrorism. The other day, out-of-touch old man US Senator John McCain threw a fit because President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuba’s Raul Castro at Mandela’s memorial services. SO WHAT? McCain shook hands with Qaddafi at some point. These labels assigned conveniently to people who are enemies of the state one day and the next are not are arbitrary and self-serving.

Many would cite Palestinian organizations and individuals as terrorists, and Israel certainly treats them like they all are. But who is the real terrorist in that scenario? How can a country occupied by people whose forebears went through something as ghastly as the Holocaust ever treat another people in the ways the Israelis treat the Palestinians? Isn’t that kind of treatment another form of terrorism? What is the difference between armed resistance and terrorism? Or even just resistance versus terrorism? We have seen history filled with people who resisted, armed or not, who seem to be called terrorists for their way of thinking, for their ideas. What about, for example, the Kosovo Liberation Army that sought independence from the Yugoslav union in the 1990s. Compared to the military apparatus of Serbia, from which it aimed to secede, you could hardly call the KLA a well-armed adversary. Serbs will tell stories about all the “terror” perpetrated by the KLA, but in the end it was the Serbs who were found guilty of violence and terror by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

That said, many people believe in causes, to the degree that they would die for them. At what point are those causes deemed morally just by the mainstream? That is not to say “majority” – but by a loud and vocal enough mainstream that whatever the cause is becomes bigger and favour for one side or the other of a cause tips in one direction or another. Apartheid is an easy one for the liberal, equality-minded person.  On the whole, it is wrong, and there are no two ways about it. On the surface, of course, the United States ended slavery and race becomes less divisive all the time. After all, the first African-American, truly multicultural president was elected to the highest political office in the nation. I personally did not think that would happen in my lifetime. But these strides do not mean that race is not still an issue. For some people, for reasons I cannot begin to understand, it is. Whether or not people in American society face a lack of opportunity or are more likely to experience poverty, etc. Is tied to race or is a multifaceted problem that is more socioeconomic in nature, with race playing one part in the bigger picture, I cannot say with any degree of expertise. It is always much more complicated than just one thing. But to say that there is equality would be complete and total bullshit.

The point, though, was to say that some issues carry a certain moral certitude (even if this is only in hindsight and the passage of much time). Slavery and apartheid are two such issues.

But then, something like gay marriage has been, at least in the United States and some of the more conservative parts of Europe, illegal without much to push the issue either way until recently. In 25 or 50 years (??) it may be that we can look back on the fight to love and marry whomever you want to and shake our heads at how it was ever a question. In 25 years, maybe this “moral certitude” will creep in. The tide in much of America has shifted away from trying to legislate gay marriage into non-existence and has been replaced in many cases by total indifference and in even more cases outright support. I am well aware that there are large swaths of the population who will never support it, never accept it and will fight until the day they die for a Constitutional amendment to try to ensure that marriage is a man-woman thing. But assuming that the current trend continues to move forward on the path it is currently on, at some point perhaps gay marriage will become passé. Wouldn’t that be something? It’s so common no one bothers to comment on it or think about it. (It’s a little bit like that in Scandinavia already – it just does not matter who you are paired up with. It’s your life.)

But many people believe in causes and take them to extremes. Some of those causes are questionable but clearly meant something to the people involved in them. As an example, I watched the film The Baader-Meinhof Complex, based on the true story of the Red Army Faction (or Baader-Meinhof Gang), which conducted its own acts of “protest”, mostly in the 1970s, in militant and violent opposition to the then-West German government (which they considered fascist). It was considered a terrorist organization, and most of its activities were indeed violent. But they did indeed believe in their cause. But cult leaders and their followers also believe in a cause. (Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple and suicide-by-KoolAid in Guyana; David Koresh and the Branch Davidians who were killed by US federal agents at their compound in Waco, Texas, etc. The list could go on.) Did a cause like the Red Army Faction start off with such terrible intentions? Or is it just the tactics that eventually make the cause insupportable?

Anyway, back to race and the general state of affairs in the world we live in. Most alarming is that while we want to believe in the triumph of “racelessness” – Mandela “united” and reconciled a nation left in tatters thanks to apartheid; Obama became president in a fairly racist country… some of the (somehow) more unexpected racism comes from places that seem, at the same time, both improbable and common – beauty pageants. Not to start down the road of “what is beauty” (which is also a minefield) – but when an Indian-American woman won the Miss America title a few months ago, there was an uproar in social media channels that re-exposed the raw reality of American racism and the tendency toward discrimination. And why? Today I see that the newly crowned Miss France, who is mixed-race (white French and Beninese), is experiencing the very same hatred from all these anonymous sources who insist that she is “not French”.

But – short of exploring the complex questions of national identity (what makes someone a citizen and what makes them essentially that nationality or what makes them feel at home in that country?) – how is she any less French than any other? And in America, the “melting pot of the world” as is so often falsely cited, how is a woman of Indian origin any less American than someone of Irish origin or of Japanese origin or any other origin?

Basic questions because they demand basic answers. This kind of discrimination is so patently stupid and hateful that I cannot bring myself to analyze it further. All I want to do is slap the people who are most vocally hateful and say, “Get a grip – this is the world you live in.” I long for a day when all people are so obviously mixed in terms of race and nation that things are never obviously cut and dry.

Cleansed of the past – 2006 in soundtrack form

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