Monday, May 31, 2021
Friday, May 28, 2021
House Party - Part III
After the band had gone through the sound check they split off into small groups, catching up on the tricks life had been playing on them.
“I never thought we’d get this much of the band together again,” said Bennie, sipping a lemonade.
“Hard feelings soften with time, ” said Scott.
Bennie, one of the sax players, was out on the patio with Scott. When the band had kicked Scott out, 40 years ago, he and Bennie had been on opposite sides of the table. They had long ago made up and now were even close. Seeing the band re-assembled as it used to be, minus the dead guys, make Scott into thinking about the letter that he wrote after the break-up, a letter that he never sent:
With all the b.s. that‘s gone down in the last few weeks I thought I’d get my thought down on paper, just so I can see in in black and white. To talk about it one on one doesn’t do any good, it just ends up as a game of he-said, he-said. I’m still confused as why I was kicked out. Bennie said at the meeting it wasn’t due to anyone’s ability, it was just a question of style, but what was wrong with my style? I knew something was fishy when Eddy couldn’t stand to be in the same room as Vinnie. If someone said I don’t sing or play well enough that wouldn’t hurt as much as no one saying anything. I know this letter is a jumbled mess, but that’s how I’m feeling right now. Ned said the decision was made by Kevin and Eddy, that’s about all I’ve got to go on.Back in the kitchen Izzy and Irene, her old chum from elementary school, were prepping food for the reunion.
I’m about on the brink of insanity now, trying to answer questions that I don’t have any answers to. Its gotten to the point where I just can’t care anymore. I can’t come and see the band play because it hurts too much to see you guys on stage playing the music I really love and having fun and me not up there with you. That’s why I can’t be friends with you guys right now, I have to work it out for myself. I feel that my personality has change. I want to be alone.
It will take time to heal, just like a love affair. Kevin, don’t be upset from what my Mom said, she’s just trying to protect her son. Vinnie took it differently, he was laughing all the way to the end, but I don’t think the tears on my face are from laughing.
“Just like the old days with the block parties we used to throw,” said Izzy, “But without all that sugar.”
“It seems that everyone is diabetic, or pre-diabetic now,” answered Irene, who was a RN specializing in the disorder, “What were our parents thinking when they let us grow up on Fruit Loops and Coco Puffs?”
“My idea of a balanced breakfast in high school was a Snickers bar and a Coke… ”
“And a cigarette, of course,” said Irene, “I blame my bad teeth on all the cough drops I used to suck on, a box a day, every day.”
“You needed them after smoking those cigarettes!”
The both laughed.
“So, how has living with Bennie at home all the time with social distancing?” asked Irene, “His neuroses under control?”
“Grooming is a bigger issue. Hair growing everywhere but the top of his head,” said Izzy, “Bennie the Bezoar! We’re on a bi-weekly schedule now—buzz, buzz, buzz, goes the bumblebee.” Izzy made hand motions of using a trimmer, “It’s been better since we got Mollie, the new dog, they’ve both been trained to sit still while I cut their hair.”
“A Golden Retriever, again?” said Irene, “A puppy?”
“Yah, he’s at that rapid-growth stage.”
“What’s your philosophy about feeding him?”
“Bennie gets some special blend at the pet-food warehouse, I think, therefore: Iams.”
“You’re lucky it isn’t an equine, you’d put Descartes before de horse.”
“Ergo sum really bad puns.”
They both laughed again.
Back outside, Gregg was sitting with his guitar, unplugged, singing and playing quietly to himself as he went through the lyrics and the changes of an old country song his dad used to sing with the band:
I had written down a song
About how much I miss my home
Living on a this lonely road
Trying to put it in a poem
Like a man that cannot sleep
These troubles I do keep
My soul just wants to be free
But the end I cannot see
I gave you years of my time,
And everything that I was worth
But you were never really mine
You had the coldest heart in the North
Now the summer days have gone
The nights chill me to the bone
How will I ever make it home
What was it that I had done?
House Party - Part IV
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
This is a FITK rerun from May 24th, 2006
We had driven out of the city and found a side road in the country, away from lights and traffic.
The moon was setting, the noises of the night had diminished.
I moved closer to her, this was hardly the first time for either of us, but tonight she seemed tense and distant.
“What is it? There’s something on your mind, isn’t there?”
“I heard about a couple that was attacked in their car, it was out west here somewhere… ”
Now I was the one feeling tense.
Suddenly, it got very quiet.
“OK, let’s get out of here…”
I took her home without speaking.
The dark side won that night.
There would be other nights, however…
Monday, May 24, 2021
Mondays in Iceland - #116
Ólafur Arnalds and JFDR “Virtual Airwaves” Show
I had seen them perform together last winter, but this show started with JFDR performing a couple of tunes with her old Samaris buddy Áslaug as well as a cellist in Gamla Bío (in a recorded piece) and ended with Ólafur on keyboards augmented by a string quartet and his two “robotic” pianos playing in Iðno. While the process of signing up for the viewing was relatively painless it was not cheap; it is a way for these artist to make some concert revenue in these constrained times; some of the money went to the venues themselves.
This will be as close to Iceland Airwaves as I’ll get this year, maybe 2022?
Friday, May 21, 2021
Annie’s Nicer Tuesday on a Friday
FITK’s favorite graphic designer for film (Wes Anderson, Steven Speilbeg), Annie Atkins, has been posted on YouTube. Her vivacious charm and artistic intelligence is shown over the duration of a half-hour Zoom meeting with Matt Alagiah, editor-in-chief of It’s Nice That, a graphics art-themed website. Alas, due to legal reasons there are no teasers from the upcoming The French Dispatch or the new West Side Story, but for me its always to see Annie and hear her speak about her passion.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
A North Fifth Street Story
I stitched together the above panorama (click to embiggen) of three images from the Minnesota Historical Society archives. Many of the buildings had already been demolished by the time I moved in and, by the time the City redeveloped the area in the 1990s, all of the properties shown here had been razed, replaced by freeways, light industry and bus garages.
Pictures of places where you lived before you lived there are a curious form of history. A ghost world of sorts, this had once been the fabric of a vibrant community but by the time I moved in it had already started to fray.
Those of us who lived there in its final days cherished it; now it is we who are the ghosts.
Monday, May 17, 2021
Mondays in Iceland - #115
This is a re-post from FITK, May 16, 2011
In 2009 a group of four young Icelandic women began performing what they called “Friendly Concerts” in Reykjavík under the name Pascal Pinon. In October they appeared at the Iceland Airwaves Festival where I was most impressed by their performance. Although I didn’t know it at the time, they had already recorded an entire concept album which they later released independently; it was picked up by Morr Music in Berlin and re-released worldwide. Last October my blog-pal DJ Cousin Mary (from radio station KFJC in Los Altos Hills, California) went to the 2010 Iceland Airwaves where she saw them perform. Recently Mary did a three-hour special on Icelandic music and during the show interviewed Jófríður Ákadóttir, the primary songwriter for the group. A transcript of that interview follows:
MARY MACDONALD: I’m talking to Jófríður from Pascal Pinon… Now tell us about your band, it’s you and your sister right?
JÓFRÍÐUR ÁKADÓTTIR: Yes, it’s called Pascal Pinon and we mostly just play indie-acoustic pop music. It’s always written in my bedroom so I think you can sort of hear it, because it has a lot of shyness in it because we’re both very shy… when I’m writing I always do it in my bedroom and I always play very low so I hope that nobody can hear…
JÓFRÍÐUR: … I think that maybe I can hear that in the music because it always colors it, how it comes into the world, I think, and that’s sort of where my music is born.
MARY: Is there anyone other than your sister and you in the band?
JÓFRÍÐUR: We always play four girls when we play concerts, but we just get session players for the shows because we used to be four in the band, two other girls with us, but then after a year of working together they decided to quit because it was getting a bit hard, and me and Ásthildur were doing everything, mostly, so we all just agreed, they just stopped being in the band… sometimes playing with us, sometimes doing other things… it actually works out a lot better this way.
MARY: You began playing when you were very young, isn’t that true? How old were you when you started?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Well, this band we started when we were fourteen, and today we are sixteen, almost seventeen.
MARY: Oh, I see, so you’re still in school…
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes, and it’s actually Easter break now and we’re using the Easter break to make the second album.
MARY: Oh, how exciting…
JÓFRÍÐUR: It’s very exciting!
MARY: You and your sister are twins, isn’t that true?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes, we’re twins.
MARY: You say you’re shy, yet you get up and perform… Do you enjoy performing?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yeah, I think it‘s really, really fun to perform. The first concert—it was terrifying! My feet were shaking and we couldn’t stand because I was so nervous and we had to sit down and my feet were both shaking really, really fast. It was awful because I was so nervous and afraid and shy—and that was the first concert. And then you just sort of learn that people aren’t really that mean, they always kind of seemed to be really positive, and after playing many, many concerts, and people seem to be very happy, it’s not that frightening anymore, it really gets kind of fun and you start to enjoy it a lot because its really really fun to play your own songs in front of an audience.
MARY: There's a sweetness and a warmth to your music, at least that’s why I enjoy your music, so I would think that would appeal to a lot of people.
JÓFRÍÐUR: I think our music, because its been called very cute, and I think that it is very cute, and it’s very warm and it’s very happy, in a way. It’s kind of if you would imagine something very soft. I have nothing against being soft, but I also think that it cannot be too soft, and it cannot be too cute and it cannot be too much of anything. I think it’s very important that all of the things that you write, all this cuteness, and the shyness, that it doesn’t get too much of anything.
MARY: Now, have you written new songs for your new CD that you’re mixing?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes we have fifteen songs that we’re going to choose from, and we have recorded fourteen.
MARY: The songs that you’ve composed, have they changed over time, from the first songs?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Well, um, we’re experimenting a bit, on the second album, with shakers and a bit of drums, because if you heard the whole album you notice that there are no drums, or shaker, or anything at all, on the whole entire album, we’re experimenting a bit with that. I think that maybe the compositions, in general, haven’t changed that much. I mostly noticed that the sound is improving and we’re exploring a bit of kind of different sound world on the second album. There’s one song that is very different from all the other songs. I think the most, the biggest difference with this album and the other is that the first album is a really, really whole unit. It’s a really whole album—it has a very similar sound to all the songs and it kind of forms a very special wholeness—if that makes sense (laughs) because it was recorded in five days and we had been practicing these songs for a long time and we knew exactly what we were going to record and we just did it. This album is recorded in three different places. It was recorded first of all in the summer, the summer of 2010, when we had a recording session, and again, when we had the next break from school—it was the Christmas break—and then we did some recordings now, in the Easter break. So we’re using all our breaks to record. And the songs we’ve been adding, more and more songs to the album with time. There’s not much similarity in all the songs as it was in the first album, so the sound is kind of different from each song. But in a way, I think that’s also interesting, to make an album that has a very mixed diversity, or at least more diversity than the first album.
MARY: What kind of musical education do you and your sister have?
JÓFRÍÐUR: We have both studied classical music, and we are studying now. Ásthildur is a really good piano player, a classical piano player, and I play the clarinet, I have been playing the clarinet since I was eight years old and we are very much busy at the music school all the time, except for the breaks, then when we have time to be in a band. I also play piano too, but very little. Ásthildur plays the bassoon.
MARY: Are you attending a music school right now?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes we are, we are in the Music School of Reykjavík.
MARY: Is that at the high school level?
MARY: When will you be going to university?
JÓFRÍÐUR: In three years from now, it's a different system…
MARY: Well, that’s a long time.
JÓFRÍÐUR: We’re also very young… so it kind of adds up.
MARY: You’ll have plenty of time to do what you're doing right now.
JÓFRÍÐUR: Um-hmm. I think we just don’t really realize how young we are. We have all this time to do so many things. Sometimes we kind of get lost in always comparing ourselves to some people who are older and have been doing this thing for a lot longer time. I thinks that’s one sort of mistake that you make and you have to be very careful sometimes because we are very young and we have to sometimes be careful not to compare ourselves too much.
MARY: Well, not to compare you to other people, but to compare Iceland to other countries, it seems to me that there are a lot of musicians in Iceland, given the small population, do you agree?
JÓFRÍÐUR: I agree, and I think that there are strangely many good musicians here. I really like this whole indie community that had been formed here, and this whole music scene. I really like it and there are a lot of people in it, and it’s really lucky to be a part of it.
MARY: I agree. Do think there's anything particular about Iceland that has made this happen?
JÓFRÍÐUR: No, I really cannot tell because it’s so hard to spot something that you’re a part of. It’s really hard to look at it as an outsider. I don’t really know why it has become the way it is. I really always think it is a huge misunderstanding that it has anything to do with nature. I think that’s just something that Björk created. Sometimes, when we do interviews, and there are people from other countries, they ask: “Has the nature affected your music in any way?” and we always say “No!” (laughs) because I cannot see how nature can possibly be connected with music, at least not the type of music that we make. But I understand maybe Björk always talks about how she's hiking in the mountains and looking at the wilderness… I think maybe this somehow works for her, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the rest of the Icelandic music scene. I haven’t really thought about this very much. I like the way it is and I haven’t been wondering why everything is the way it is. I’m kind of just thankful for it.
MARY: Are there other Icelandic Musicians that you particularly like, or that you feel influenced you?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes. I really like Sóley, who is also with Morr Music, and I also really like Sin Fang, who is also with Morr Music and Sóley is playing with him, and I also like Nolo a lot. They’re not very famous, but they are really, really good.
MARY: OK, I’ll have to look for them.
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes. I would look for Nolo on gogoyoko- have you been visiting gogoyoko.com?
MARY: No, that sounds like a good idea.
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yeah, that’s a really good site… it’s a music webshop…
MARY: What about other musicians that have influenced you, in the whole world? Is there anyone in particular?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes, we were quite obviously interested in Tegan and Sara when we were beginning the band, when I was 14 the only thing I could listen to was Tegan and Sara and I think that without realizing it I was becoming very influenced by their music in my own compositions, maybe I Wrote a Song, which was one of the first songs we played together. Tegan and Sara, they’re Canadian twins—but they’re identical twins. Maybe it’s different.
MARY: Could be. Did you study composition or did you just start writing songs?
JÓFRÍÐUR: No, I’ve been doing this for a long time, it started when I first got my guitar… it was a Christmas present from my parents when I was eleven. I got an electric guitar and I got a book to learn how to play the guitar. I learned the chords and one of the first things I did was to write very, very awful songs on it and they were all very, very bad. Then later I started writing better songs (laughs). Then we got the idea of maybe starting a band and I was the only who could stand up and say “I have written a song—maybe we can play it?”
MARY: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our listeners about your music or Iceland?
JÓFRÍÐUR: I think its really really fun to be in concert in Iceland, I think it’s really a special atmosphere in concerts in Iceland. I think because everybody seems to know each other… all the musicians are watching the other musicians, this whole scene is really connected. It’s sort of like it is a family.
MARY: I could sense that, even being an outsider. I could definitely sense that. Thank you so much for talking with me and with my listeners, and I wish you all the best of luck.
JÓFRÍÐUR: Thank you.
And thanks again to DJ Cousin Mary and radio station KFJC for supporting Icelandic music and airing this interview.
Photo: Lilja Birgisdóttir
Interview Copyright KFJC, 2011. USED BY PERMISSION
Friday, May 14, 2021
House Party — Part II
“One, two, three, four, one, two, three… ” Snare triplet on four followed by a cymbal crash and the saxes (with short echo) on the one and the rest of the band on two and we’re off into the intro, I-IV-V, three times and then four bams! and the lyrics begin. Make sure that Eddie’s vocal is on top, while the B-3 Hammond Leslie speaker (slow rotation) pans between the mains. Kevin and Ricky have a nice guitar interplay going (exceptionally well tonight), this is going to be a good set. Now get set for the instrumental bridge, keep the organ just below the vocal, the four bams! again, with the alto sax going up an octave on the fourth one, add the organ through the rear speakers, and the bridge explodes. The four bams! signal a return to the verse, with the organ still in surround sound, the harmony voices with a little deeper echo, then the instruments stop and the voices are acapella. Killing the delay makes the vocals seem as if they move inside the listener’s head. The band (with delay) comes back in, and little a boost to the bottom end makes the dancers go nuts.“Tommy… are you there?” asked Doug
Tommy snapped out of his reverie of a gig they had played forty years ago.
“Yeah, just a flashback.”
“LSD or otherwise?”
“Let’s Start Dancing, yeah I guess it would be otherwise… ”
“Not the Cross lake gig?”
The gig where Ned dropped acid and the one. We had finally gotten to the point of some decent gigging with he summer holiday trifecta: Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day in a nice club in the lake district of central Minnesota. Most bands would have killed for that opportunity and the crowd had some real money, not like the scruffy hippies that showed up at the West Bank gigs. Ned managed to both drop LSD and get laid by one of the locals. Her regular boyfriend was out of town, so we were spared the job of bringing back his corpse. Kevin’s wife thought that with him being away she could get some action of her own going, something that would make him redirect his attention to her. It was a risky move on her part but she had wanted Kevin to quit the muic biz for a long time and her gambit worked; he was out the band by Halloween. A year later they moved out west and stayed there, making a life for their family. He wouldn’t be here tonight.The rest of the band trickled in, exchanging greetings and horrible jokes. The set-up was easier than it used to be, nearly every piece of equipment was lighter than what was used forty years ago. Scott had brought two amps– “In case Bob Dylan shows up.” It was an old running gag in the band. The closest anyone in the band had got to Bob was when Dylan bought a sharkskin suit that Ricky had put in a consignment shop. “Bob Dylan wears my old clothes,” was Ricky’s mantra for a couple of days.
Ricky wouldn’t be here either, he had died in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago. There wasn’t a toxicology report, but Ricky’s living on the edge had been subsidized by a variety of illict substances. After that disaster, Tommy had sworn off taking any recreational drugs. Ricky’s son Gregg had made a moderately successful career as an Americana singer-songwriter and would be here tonight, Tommy hoped that Gregg would do a couple of his father’s signature tunes.
Ricky’s ex-wife (the mother of Gregg), Jaylene, walked in. To Tommy’s eye she seemed to be lost in thought, perhaps, like him, she was reliving some of the highs and lows of that earlier time.
Well, I knew this was going to be difficult. The band was why I got interested in Ricky in the first place. I had been seeing an intern, ‘Dick Wright’ if you can believe it. God’s gift to women, if you bought into his narcissism, and I had had just about enough of it when I discovered this scruffy band and shy the guitarist who played with his back to the audience most of the time. He was my Hank, I was his Audrey, we fought long and hard over almost everything, most of which I’ve forgiven or forgotten but some of it, like his escapade with his ‘French Whore’, still gets my goat. She even went up to Cross Lake with him while I had to work! She said she was she was a ‘writer’ doing a feature piece on the band. In French for a French magazine. An unlikely story. She ended up living on a ramshackle houseboat on the Mississippi River moored at the Bohemian Flats and ultimately died from AIDS. Still, for all his faults, Ricky was the most gorgeous man I ever knew. And our children were beautiful.“Hey, Jaylene, how’s it going?” said Tommy, “Glad you could make it.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, well maybe I would for a Bob Dylan concert.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Tommy, as he un-spooled a mike cable, “Scott hinted that we might have a surprise tonight.”
“The horns are finally going to be in tune?”
“I said a surprise, not a miracle.”
Jaylene smiled and went over to talk with Izzy. Tommy’s thought returned to those days when he worked with the band full time.
We didn’t know how little time we would have to put it all together. I remember turning down gigs, four days in a row because… why? Interfering with our quality drinking/doping time? Or the inane bickering in practice. But at least we did practice, which was more than some bands I worked with did. And it was something, even the endless jams were worthwhile, we were imprinting modes into our sub-consciousness, things that would come out later in inspired moments. But it was hard to get everyone on the same page. Or in the same book, or even the same library it seemed at times. And then it all fell apart, not that a casual fan would notice. We still got ovations every night, but it wasn’t the same.House Party - Part III
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
a winery tour last Saturday. Masks were still worn inside, but we had all been vaccinated and could forgo them outdoors.
We had a tasting, more wine than I’d care to drink at noon, but it was certainly worth the ensuing headache.
Monday, May 10, 2021
Mondays in Iceland - #114
By Ragnar Jónasson
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Minotaur Books, 2021
Reading Ragnar’s Icelandic crime novels has been a bit of a roller-coaster for me. They are all competent, if sometimes less than inspired. This book, the latest title to be translated from this prolific author, is more on the uninspired end of the spectrum. Ragnar’s prose has always been a bit terse, never more so than here. This is the story of Una, a 30-year-old Icelandic woman who answers an ad for a teacher in remote Skálar, a fishing village as far away from Rekjavík as you can get. The 10 inhabitants who live there are polite but distant to the newcomer. Una gets lodging with Salka and her eight-year-old daughter Edda, who is one of the two students in Una’s care.
A parallel story in the book concerns the presumed murder and disappearance of two young men, allegedly by two punks and a girlfriend of one of the missing men. That narrative was loosely based on a real-life Icelandic miscarriage of justice. The two stories become intertwined with the addition of a town secret and an apparition that plagues Una. As the book reaches its climax Ragnar veers into Shirley Jackson territory, forgoing his usual Agatha Christie ending.
Is The Girl Who Died worth reading? If you want something not too challenging, perhaps something to read on the couch with a glass of wine as you get over your second Covid vaccine shot, this might fill the bill. If you want a true thriller with a lot of action and vivid characters, stay away.
Friday, May 07, 2021
Its construction was ingenious, with thicker twigs on the lower level, and a layer of slender twigs inter-woven with scraps of candy wrappers and other trash in the middle (to stop wind?); finally a layer of fine grass on the top. The bird that made this was hip to recycling, making beauty from dross.
I am humbled by the artistic sense of these ‘lesser’ creatures.
Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Monday, May 03, 2021
Mondays in Iceland - #113
Iceland Writers Retreat - 2021
Although the virtual format is almost the exact opposite of the “bodies in a room” experience that I signed up for (way back in 2019!) it was still something, and something about Iceland is usually better than nothing, right? My previous experiences with Zoom had been OK, if somewhat clumsy. This was on a different scale of magnitude, instead of a half-dozen former classmates I was one of a 150 or so fellow-seekers of literary enlightenment, interacting with numerous writers, poets and even an editor! Held over three seven-hour days, there were 27 presentations to peruse in real-time (and to review later at my leisure.)
So, how did it go?
Better than I had hoped.
The three Icelandic authors were the highlights of the retreat for me. Andri Snær Magnason (LoveStar) had a low-key, almost conversational presentation, as did Ragnar Helgi Ólafsson (in green box above). Hallgrimur Helgason (Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning, Reyjkjavík 101) gave a wonderful history lesson on modern Icelandic writers, I could have listened to him speak for another ninety minutes. There were non-Icelandic notables as well, I was very impressed by Adam Gopnik’s talk on memoir and was pleasantly surprised by The New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul’s wide ranging discussion on how to write a book review. I saw the bulk of nine presentations and am looking forward to seeing most of the others when they are available on replay.
I did run across Emily Lethbridge who I “knew” from Laxness in Translation; we had an exchange of private messages. Other chat-room denizens were also entertaining and informative.
The technical side was handled very well except for a few participants whose equipment/connection wasn’t really up to snuff. I found that several participants hid in the shadows; a simple desk lamp would have turned their presence from distant to palpable.
The big question: would I do it again, in person, in Iceland, in 2022?
As Björk once sang: Possibly Maybe…