Colbert carol covers, new Malick trailer, win a subscription!

Well. What a month we've had so far. Before I jump into the meat of this possibly final 2012 artRecs, two brief things:
  1. Sandy coverage has slowed, but there are still many needs. Hope for New York lists several ways to help with ongoing relief efforts.
  2. My latest (and possibly) last piece of the year was a profile for my employer, a story I really enjoyed hearing and retelling: From goat-based pricing to eye injury radio dramas: how an ophthalmologist tackled improving eye health in Pakistan
Be sure to enter my Books and Culture contest! Enter by posting a sentence or two in the comments below, about why you should win. Haiku entries encouraged but not required. Be sure to include your contact info in the appropriate field.

:: reading/food for thought ::I discovered K'Naan by way of a catchy song iTunes gave away. The lyrics were probably more somber than I realized (the song's called "Bang Bang"), but I'm notoriously slow to hear the words shaping melody and rhythm. This recent piece in The New York Times, however, brought me back to the question, "Why create?"

The last two months have been a whirlwind of travel and writing -- a mix of sweat, celebration, joy and grief that ultimately leaves me grateful for this longing season of Advent, in which bitterness and hope comingle.

Diana Krall's Glad Rag Doll has been a cheerful companion for drives, but at home I've favored brooding piano concertos and Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas. Behind it all looms the specter of longer-form writing, not even tapping on the window -- just standing there, waiting to see if I will meet her eyes through the glass.

I want to believe the things I'm really supposed to do will seize hold of me with such force that I'll have to write until the muse relents. But excuses blossom as readily as the good ideas I've discussed, begun ... and discarded when real sweat was required.

Why create?

Dana Gioia said something at a reading earlier this year, about how stories give us models for life -- examples of how people handle surprises, reversals, betrayal, forestalled hopes finally satisfied. And I can attest, in small part: Tolkien gave me a portrait of courage, while Dostoevsky showed me the folly of social isolation.

This lovely little story on NPR foretells the longer story of a Paraguayan orchestra born in a dump, the young musicians playing instruments made from trash. (Watch the clip if you click no other link in this email.)

When I hear of creative tenacity like that, or play Cohen's "Going Home" another time, excuses wither. But I'm not sure I can forge on toward a completed first draft of any long story without accountability and community.

I'm not quite sure what that means, but wanted to throw it out to all of you as you work away in your various media. Would any of you be interested in some kind of monthly or bi-monthly get-together to share current works-in-progress and encourage each other to persist?

As you mull on that, join me in congratulating one of the better persisters among us, who got some very good news last week: Laura won the 2013 California Writers Exchange contest for fiction!

Lastly, don't forget to enter my Books and Culture subscription contest! Winner gets a print or online subscription (your choice) and a regular stream of book reviews and commentary from the likes of Andy Crouch, Lauren Winner, John McWhorter and lots of other folks you haven't heard of but would surely enjoy reading.

Merry Christmas!

:: upcoming concerts ::
:: tunes ::
  • Ravi Shankar has died. If, like me, you know more about his work than the work itself, NPR has compiled a short list of essential tracks, which you can stream on their site.
  • Beck has a new album out, which is being released as a songbook for listeners to record and share themselves. He did a great Q&A with McSweeney's about the concept. Seriously, one of us has to buy this, and then a bunch of us should get together for a playing/listening party. :D I absolutely love that he's done a project like this, in case you can't tell.
  • Stephen Colbert, Diana Krall and Elvis Costello perform "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (via Paste). This is actually just the latest in a series of Colbert-Costello Christmas duets, which includes: 2008's excellent "Much Worse Things to Believe In." Colbert's celebrating the holiday with several other duets, too:
  • Charlie Peacock performs "Go, Tell It on the Mountain" with Ruby Amanfu (vocalist on Blunderbuss)
  • December's listicle free-for-all has begun, which means everyone and their neighbor has an end-of-year reflection to help you make up for all the stuff you could have done/read/heard instead of eating, working and checking your handheld device for new updates.
  • I don't watch much TV, generally, but I recently discovered some of the musical performances Jimmy Fallon's done with the Roots since assuming the helm of Late Night -- and I gotta say there's some pretty inventive stuff.
:: visual art, film & theater ::
:: food ::
  • Despite intentions otherwise, I wasn't able to attend ReImagine's recent discussion on alcohol, but Dani Scoville provided a nice summary on her blog. Though I only attended the discussion on sex, which I was part of, I really appreciate the different topics they've taken on with this more or less monthly series. Keep them on your radar for 2013.
  • I was talking with one of you recently about the Eric Felten mini-cocktail story I shared last time. Said conversation provided a chance to enlarge on my love for Felten's writing, so I thought I would share a few highlights here.


Brubeck, Douthat, 46 free songs + Books and Culture giveaway

The Rathaus Christmas market in Vienna.
Truly, I did not think I could possibly find this much in the few days since I've been back from Europe, but go figure. December brings too much of almost everything. I've only had one article published since my last email, but I think it applies to holiday eats in general.
And coming next month, I return to the actual pages -- not just the servers -- of Books and Culture, with a review of Christian Smith's book Lost in Transition. Which brings me to my holiday giveaway.

Since the viability of publications like Books and Culture enables me as a writer to not just reach interested readers, but actually get paid for my efforts, I'm giving away a one-year subscription to Books and Culture this month -- your choice of print or online edition. (After all, as artists, we all ought to "support media," no?) To enter, write a one- or two-sentence comment below about why I should give you the subscription (be sure to include your email address in the appropriate comment field). I'll notify the winner shortly before Christmas.

:: events ::
  • Tonight! New York Times columnist Ross Douthat speaks on his new book Bad Religion, 6:45-9 p.m. at Christ Church (Cedar and Walnut in Berkeley, 10 minutes' walk from the Downtown Berkeley BART station). Tickets may be scant, but purchase them here.
  • Sunday: Open Studio at Mills College, noon to 4 p.m. I do believe Dave Young Kim may be one of those with work on display ...
  • Monday: Join the folks at ReImagine for Filled with the Spirit(s): Towards a Healthy Relationship with Alcohol. People of faith have often had a simple relationship with alcohol: don’t drink. Yet, wine "that gladdens the heart" was praised in the Psalms and the first miracle of Jesus was turning water into wine. Many Christian communities haven't talked about the proper use of alcohol, because it was forbidden. But if we are going to be spiritual people who also enjoy spirits then we need to be thoughtful about how we drink-- inviting each other into honest self-reflection and develop best practices for alcohol consumption. Join us for an evening of lively story-telling and group discussion.
:: tunes ::
  • Jazz legend and one-time Bay Area son Dave Brubeck has died -- one of probably very few such musicians whose death could become a Twitter trending topic, as it did this morning. Death is never good news of course, but the jazz lover in me thrills to see the medium touching so many tongues and ears, however briefly. Here's a small roundup of the obituaries and assessments of his career and musical impact.
  • Noisetrade is giving away a 28-song holiday road trip mix featuring Guster, Young the Giant and others (note: you'll need to "like" them on Facebook to get the songs).
  • And Noisetrade and Paste have teamed up on a free, 18-song holiday sampler featuring Sufjan, Leigh Nash and others.
  • Paste has compiled a nice holiday gift guide for music lovers, most of which have wrapable mass. For those of you considering electronic gifts, however, say of the Andrew Bird album Break It Yourself, I'm still trying to sell my unused download code so I can buy a real CD version (emails to the record label having gone unanswered; I know you're as shocked as I am). My Christmas special price is $7.50 + mystery holiday treat, probably edible and homemade.
  • Album streams:
  • Lastly, you can now hear Ryan Adams' contribution to the soundtrack of Judd Apatow's forthcoming movie, This is 40.
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • Even if you're not a writer, this analysis of C.S. Lewis' success with Mere Christianity provides food for thought on boundaries in work and ministry (to the extent those are distinct things!). When we feel strongly about certain issues, it can be so tempting to weigh in -- and channels like Facebook and Twitter give us increasingly public platforms for doing so, yet as Lewis' example suggests, restraint can afford long-term fruit.
  • The New York Times profiles the woman behind the great Brain Pickings blog I've shared from in the last few months.
:: visual art ::
  • Writer Tony Carnes' New York City Religion projects shares a cool video on Mako Fujimura's latest painting Golden Sea. The accompanying text reports that some of his works at the Dillon Gallery escaped damage, but I haven't yet found further substantiation of that.
  • Two recommendations from the Grotto folks:
      "Throughout his career," writes Alex Baker in the exhibition catalog, "Barry McGee has continued to surprise and contradict expectations." Including rarely seen early etchings, letterpress printing trays and liquor bottles painted with his trademark cast of down-and-out urban characters, constellations of vibrant op-art painted panels, animatronic taggers, and an elaborate re-creation of a cacophonous street-corner bodega, along with many new projects, this first mid-career survey of the globally influential San Francisco-based artist showcases the astonishing range of McGee's compassionate and vivacious work. Through Dec. 9.
      Check out some truly amazing and novel artworks created by IPhone art applications, of all things, in the exhibition "The Third Wave," at the Garden Gate Creativity Center in Berkeley. Artists include DIY types and professional photographers, and contributors have made images from fantastic animals to painterly landscapes to provocative nudes. Garden Gate Creativity Center, 2911 Claremont Avenue, Berkeley. Through Jan. 30.
:: food ::
  • Eric Felten, one of my favorite writers for the Wall St. Journal returns to his old beat, cocktails, for a piece on downsizing libations, which is right in step with my experience at two hip Chicago cocktail spots last month. And, the piece includes 11 drink recipes. Merry Christmas.
  • While in Vienna, I discovered this easy recipe for chicken breasts, which really does take about an hour to make, start to finish.


Homemade hot sauce, 'Old Man' animation, new Bird

This will probably be my last artRecs for a few weeks -- Thursday morning I set off for roughly three full weeks of travel. I've tapered off the writing a bit, but a new piece was published on the Art House America blog since my last post:
In other news, Image journal has announced the lineup for next year's Glen Workshops. Hard to believe it's already time to register again!

:: Sandy's impact ::
Though the storm hasn't yet produced any art I'm aware of, it's unfortunately taken a great deal from some artists and galleries who stored work in low-lying areas.
Some of Mako's works, seen in a basement drawer in the
Dillon gallery, October 2011
  • Mako Fujimura reported via Twitter that the Dillon Gallery, which had some of his work, was under 12' of water and "there were significant amount of works destroyed, including the most recent Elm Grace." When I was there last October, I so remember going down to Dillon's basement with an assistant, who opened several drawers to show me some of the letter paintings from Mako Four Gospels project. Other Chelsea galleries also lost a lot of work, Business Week reports. The New York Times also reports on the galleries' losses: Where Creations Faced Destruction.
  • On the music front, a small but respected record label housed in Redhook, Brooklyn, lost a lot of equipment and files, which weren't covered by any flood insurance (due to the landlord's refusal).
I'll keep you posted as I hear more, especially about any benefits or other efforts to help East Coast artists recover.

:: film & television ::
:: tunes ::
:: visual art ::
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • As I've probably mentioned before, I really love what little of Dave Hickey's writing I've read, especially one essay in his book Air Guitar. However, I've also retained a lot of his thesis in the shorter volume The Invisible Dragon -- and there aren't many books I read that long ago that I could still summarize. All that to say, I therefore perked up when I saw his name come through my Twitter feed ... in an announcement that he has supposedly quit the art world. The piece that followed was an interesting look at the current state of the fine art world.
  • I'm not a huge fan of books by and about celebrities, but Dwight Garner's review of The Richard Burton Diaries is enticing.
  • Purists are probably shuddering at this, but some guy figured out how to make a plastic guitar with 3D printing or something.
:: food ::
  • I've been cutting back on cooking a tad, pre-trip, but recently I made a quarter batch of this hot sauce recipe, using regular serrano chilis. It makes about of pint of the condiment, which turns out beautifully if you roast the peppers first. This is an easy recipe for occasional cooks, too -- after roasting the peppers in the oven (split them in half, brush lightly with oil, then roast at 400 until they start to char), you basically blend them up with a few other things. I found it kept several months in the fridge.
  • When I get to Chicago, I hope to visit a bar called the Aviary, which apparently makes a pretty wild hot chocolate. I plan to try Tasting Table's recipe for reproducing it once I get back, though I'll have to make my first ever purchase of tobacco.


Peacock show, new Andrew Bird, the origins of the 'albatross' idiom

Only one new article since last time, but I just posted a reminiscence of Les Paul, for one of the items below. That sort of counts, right? The new, new post:
:: events ::
  • If you've been too busy to make it to Litquake, take heart: you can still catch an afternoon's worth of East Bay events tomorrow, thanks to the Berkeley Ramble. View the full Saturday schedule for all locations here.
  • Charlie Peacock plays Hotel Utah Thursday (Oct. 18). If you haven't heard him before, he's worth making time for.
:: tunes ::
  • Among other probably un-hip music styles, I've long had a fondness for gypsy swing, as popularized by Django Reinhardt. Not surprisingly then, I enjoyed every track on this look at Django's legacy, which includes a song from the (local) Hot Club of San Francisco. Django even played a part in my brief meeting with Les Paul, early on in my New York Days. I'd gone to hear a Mark O'Connor show, thanks to a free ticket from a friend, but when I heard that Les was there that night, I had to go say hello afterward. I confess, I wasn't quite sure why I knew he was sort of a big deal (that fact I googled later), but we actually had a nice, brief chat that was utterly free of the worshipful fan/celebrity dynamic I so despise. A class act, he was.
  • Andrew Bird covers Townes Van Zandt's "If You Needed Me" from his new album Hands of Glory  So, so love the direction he takes on this song. I always love his forays into the Americana catalog.
  • Philip reports on Buddy Miller's recent set at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and reflects on Christian liturgy.
  • If you like the new Avett Brothers CD, check out this song-by-song video commentary on The Carpenter.
  • Jack Black has a new video out for the song "I'm Shakin'" off his recent album Blunderbuss (via Paste). 
  • Paste has a stream of Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard's new solo album, which features at least one Aimee Mann guest vocal, if my ears don't deceive me. 
  • Morrissey does the Colbert Report (via Paste). I haven't actually watched this yet, but it's said to be very funny. I wish I could share a good recollection of the Morrissey show I once saw at the Apollo, but that's a story for another time.
  • I'm not sure I've ever viewed or shared footage/reporting from Al Jazeera before, but this story and 47-minute video on Mongolian rappers looks pretty interesting. 
:: visual art ::
:: reading ::
  • This piece on Americans' increasing fondness for Britishisms was a right spiffing read, and gave me hope I might yet start dropping some latter-day phrases from Wodehouse into the mix, without causing complete confusion.
  • Stray remarks can lead down the most interesting alleys. The other day I was discussing my brother's birthday with my mom, and remarked that an afghan I began for him quite some time ago was a real "albatross." After she joked about seeing a bird fluttering near me, we discussed the phrase, I turning to my dictionary of idioms (yes, I have one), which cited a Samuel Coleridge poem as the origin of the phrase. Sharing this on Twitter later, a discussion of memorizing poetry commenced, which prompted John Wilson to share this piece on poetry memorization as a physical act. I've thought for a while now that I might like to memorize Dana Gioia's "Summer Storm," so I could always have it at the ready for quoting when I wanted. Maybe this is just the push I needed to do it.
:: food ::
  • Inside the wooly world of buffalo mozzarella: apparently, getting authentic milk is more difficult than it seems. (I will say, though, that living in New York all but cured me of using anything besides the buffalo version except in the odd baked pasta dish called for grated mozz.)
  • Last weekend, Berkeley Bowl's excellent bargain bin had bags of dill of scallions. Naturally I couldn't resist, which led to the problem of how to use three whole bunches of dill, when most recipes call for a mere tablespoon or two of the herb. Part of the solution was trying the dill variation of this Mark Bittman lentil soup, which proved exceedingly delicious. I even forced samples on coworkers several days later, and they all agreed it was delicious. With a leek substituted for the onion, it was surprisingly hearty, too.
  • What I'd really like to make this weekend, though, is a batch of ginger liqueur. Yum.

throwback: Meeting the Man (wherein I shamelessly name-drop)

A throwback from the archives, this email was originally sent to friends and family west of New York on Nov. 13, 2003.

The pocket notebook in which I occasionally jot random thoughts acquired a gem tonight:

"Hi Doll.
Les Paul"

Yes, that's THE Les Paul. As in the 88-year-old guitar legend. I wish I could scan the page of my journal in and include it here, just so you could see the precious wavering old-man script of his handwriting.
I don't usually get all mushy-gush over celebrities -- (rattles off in fast talking) except when I passed Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart on the street -- but that wasn't really meaningful anyway. A month ago I was privileged to see a really exclusive, intimate Norah Jones show I only heard of through word of mouth. Totally cool gig, and in a small Lower East Side scene where I could've gotten the autograph. But I didn't even bother approaching her. Seemed disingenous. What would I actually say, that approached normal conversation.

But Les is a different story.

This afternoon a friend invited me to a jazz performance at Iridium, a jazz club I'd never heard of. I'd also never heard of the "jazz" violinist before (Mark O'Connor, in case you've heard of him) but he's won at least a Grammy I guess. The show was styled as a tribute to Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt. That caught my attention, because just this week at work I've discovered Django's guitar playing and "gypsy swing," thanks to a friend's really cool world-music magazine. So I found a friend free at the last minute, and we met up at Iridium, an unpretentious downstairs club in the bustle of Midtown-just-north-of-42nd.

As we sit down, I start flipping through the flyer on the table, which profiles all the acts playing this fall. At the top is a blurb about Les Paul, whose name I mostly recognize from the guitar line. Apparently he plays this club every Sunday. "Wow, I didn't know he wasn't dead!" I think. I experience a passing interest in catching one of his shows, though without the comp ticket I enjoyed, 35 bucks is a bit steep for my budget.

The trio takes the stage in captivating form. And then midway through the 90-minute set, the violin player dedicates a song to Les Paul. But not until a subsequent comment does it become apparent he's actually THERE, in the crowd. At this point I started to get excited.

After the show, in the lady's room, I complimented the scarf of a woman about the age of my grandmothers. We start chatting and knitting and crocheting and tatting, so walk out of the bathroom together. As we're walking to our tables, I realize she's headed toward the table I think Les Paul was at, and where there's a conspicuously empty seat. By this time it had entered my head to get an autograph -- except that I don't actually know what Les looks like, and there's at least three gray heads at the table over yonder. But the lady mentioned a husband!

"Excuse me," I ask, "are you sitting at that table over there?" "Yes." "Is Les Paul your husband?" I blurt. She's very nice about it. "No, but my son works with him." "Do you think he'd mind if I asked for an autograph?" "No, he'd be delighted." A friend of hers agrees -- and luckily they point me to the corner where Les is standing. Because really, if you ask for someone's autograph, shouldn't you at least know which person to ask?!!

I hurry back for my noteback and walk over to where it seems a long line should be forming. But there's really no one. Just a stooped older man chatting with the guitar player from the trio, leaning over a railing as they talk.

Within minutes I'm shaking the Man's hand and explaining how I started playing guitar when I was six (I guess being a "pretty young girl" is sometimes useful). Les was just as nice as could be. At his age, it's probably not often to be approached by those of my generation. Despite his legendary career, he's unassumingly geriatric with hands a bit like my grandfather's. He signs the book, spelling my name right (with some discussion). And then we start talking guitar. Before I know it, I'm explaining about my dilemma at work today, trying to find a guitar feature in the Django Reinhardt song I want 7th graders to hear.

"You've got to break it down the way Stephane and Django did," he says. Not with MY music theory! I'm thinking. "Stick close the melody. When you're writing music, you're writing the melody." And then he starts going on about -- of all things, coming from a JAZZ musician! -- his disfavor for improvisation. "These guys are all technical," he says, gesturing toward the stage. "But I want someone to know what I'm playing when they come in -- not to have to wait until the end of the song." It was one of those amazing moments.

I don't often have experiences I find truly amazing. It's rare that I actually sit someplace and think, "I am having a terrific time. I don't want this to end." I have a lot of good times, don't get me wrong, but a lot of things you don't treasure until they're photographs. Tonight though ... is a moment I feel like I'll be reliving -- and of course retelling ;) -- a very long time. As soon as I left the building, I started scrolling through my mobile phone book in search of friends who would know who Les was and appreciate my story. Only one answered her phone, so it was all I could do not to accost some stranger on the train with my story. Had the musician in my car carried a guitar instead of a horn of some kind, I definitely would have bent his ear.

But instead I get to bend all of yours. :D I hope you don't mind my exuberance ... I'm just pretty stoked about the whole thing. The coolest thing, I think, is that we actually had a neat conversation. There was some kind of substance to our passing. So now I'll buy some Les Paul records, and probably drop the $35 to hear him live. Hey, at least I discover his music while he's alive! None of that posthumous fan-club guilt I have with Johnny Cash, where I'm aware of joining a large crowd that bought his records only when he died. :( :(
And now good night from briefly magical New York!


Squirrel Stew, Mumford, Muscle Music

Well. I think a month has passed between these, which explains the length of the following. I'm slowly posting the archives here, but it's proceeding slowly -- too many other writing deadlines of late! Speaking of which, I had three new pieces published last month, with more to come this month.
A very busy weekend coming up, event-wise! Hardly Strictly runs Friday through Sunday, roughly the same schedule as Fleet Week. Litquake is Oct. 5-13. Don't miss the upcoming concert from Charlie Peacock at Hotel Utah! That should be a real treat.

Lastly, if you've been meaning to buy Andrew Bird's latest album Break It Yourself, and you're partial to mp3s, would you consider buying the download code that came with my ticket? I'd really prefer a CD, but it chaps my hide to buy the album twice. I'm happy to match the iTunes price ($9.99) and would even throw in some homemade granola or something. Money refunded if the download doesn't work, of course, but I promise I haven't used the code, and I'm not aware of an expiration.

:: film & video ::
  • I'm slow to share this trend, but the Korean music video for "Gangnum Style" has become something like this summer's "Macarena," the Wall Street Journal reports, though its originator, Psy, told Ellen DeGeneres the mindset of the song is "dress classy, dance cheesy."
  • In case you missed it, Old Spice returns with a "muscle music" video. Kind of creepy, but funny.
  • A new documentary on health care system follows several patients and the staff of Oakland's Highland Hospital. The New York Times reports on The Waiting Room.
:: visual art ::
:: tunes ::
  • Charlie Peacock has a new album out -- and a Bay Area show in October. You can catch him at Hotel Utah Oct. 18. Stream his new album on Paste.
  • This is the fascinating story of a violin the Nazi leader Goebbels gave to a Japanese violinist, an instrument that has always been followed by rumors about its origin. Now a Berkeley scholar is trying to research instruments stolen by the Nazis
  • I forget how I heard about Nick Waterhouse, he has a cool sound ... and he's coming to San Francisco later this month (playing Bimbo's on the 20th, if I'm not mistaken).
  • My friend Adjoa has a new album out called Songs for Tall Women and the Short Men Who Love Them. I first met her at Charlie's house (the gent from bullet #1), which will be no surprise once you've heard her sing.
  • Paste has a full-length stream of Bettye LaVette's new album, Thankful 'n Thoughtful, which includes a number of covers -- Bob Dylan and Gnarls Barkley among them. Not a bad album, if you like your songs bluesy and soulful.
  • Mumford and Sons' second album Babel debuted last week, and NPR has video of one song from it, "Whispers in the Dark." On a related note, this Ann Powers piece is an interesting look at the nature of rock-n-roll (must such musicians always be outsiders?) and why some critics have disliked the Brits' sound.
  • Jazz flute probably sounds like the basis of a solid SNL skit, but it also describes some decent tunes, as this NPR piece demonstrates. A standout is the track by Yusuf Lateef, whose transfixing song "The Plum Blossom" I heard on the radio recently.
  • File under fun music: nine-year-old banjo player and his brothers perform on Letterman
  • Two years into my time in New York, I switched which Redeemer Sunday service I attended, trading the classical-themed morning service for the jazz-themed evening one. Keller's repeated emphasis on grace was doing something to my heart, but the morning service felt too formal and sterile for me to really let go; I couldn't let my guard down. Once at the evening service, though, I wept frequently and freely. The band never got quite as close to true gospel-music territory as I wished they would, but sometimes they came mighty close. One song I particularly remember was Cannonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" -- a piece whose joyfulness this NPR feature says is typical.
  • The Wall Street Journal has a preview of Diana Krall's new album, Glad Rad Doll, due Oct. 2. I've not bought one of her CDs in more than a decade, but this one sounds intriguing.
  • Beck covers Brazilian Caetano Veloso as part of a new tribute album (Paste).
  • Bob Dylan's 35th album Tempest was released last month. Here's a round-up of reviews (funniest so far goes to the Guardian). On a related note, there's also a video for his new song "Duquesne Whistle," which the Brits got first. That video's offered on a blog I just heard about from Bryan, part of the Guardian's cultural coverage.
:: reading ::
:: food ::
  • Have you been drinking real buttermilk? Probably not, according to this New York Times story. I'm on the hunt for a local provider of the butter by-product, but I may just have to try making my own butter to get it.


mucha music (Avetts, Dylan, Hawley!) + Cindy Sherman, molasses cookies

The last few weeks saw a 2,800-mile road trip to the Glen Workshop (sans a/c, con Thermador), a stubborn cold and a laptop demise that might or might not have been water-related, hence the gap in emails. But ya'll were probably enjoying your own summer vacations, right?

This week's email is a little music-news heavy, but then September's a huge month for new releases: the Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons and Bob Dylan. There's even a new Richard Hawley out!

With the road trip, my writing slowed down a little, but I finally made a proper contribution to Paste magazine this summer -- an essay on the new book Overdressed that I wanted to title "Underwear Quilts in an Immaterial World."

I actually went to the Glen to work on fiction, but that's a more slowly gestating form. The Glen has workshops of many kinds, though -- songwriting, photography, poetry, life drawing and so on -- which is one of the reasons I'd encourage all of you to think of going at some point. I feel like I'll have to have a cocktail party where I can explain more, but it was a really great week. Get a small peek from this slideshow. It is something you might need to save up for, but if you start now, $80 a month would cover the cheapest option.

:: tunes ::

  • New Bob Dylan! NPR has the first track from his forthcoming -- and 35th -- album Tempest, out Sept. 11. Play Duquesne Whistle and try to sit still. Dylan gave Rolling Stone a few quotes on truth, the Titanic and the title's possible Shakespeare reference.
  • NPR's First Listen feature alone has really won me over to their music coverage, but I was recently reminded that they also do a decent job highlighting bands living or with substantial roots outside the U.S. A recent example is the Sierra Leonan musician Janka Nabay, who is frequently dubbed the "king" of bubu music (yeah, I didn't know what that was either). Paste has more on Nabay and his Brooklyn-based band's new album, but apparently "bubu" is a music style that draws on Muslim music and chant. In Nabay's hands, however, bubu's become a popular style in some dance clubs. Play more of his music on MySpace to see why.
  • The Avett Brothers talk to NPR about their new album, which will be a First Listen stream beginning Aug. 30.
  • Current First Listens of note: Cat Power, Animal Collective and Deerhoof, plus the wonderful Gaby Moreno. She happens to sing in Spanish, but her album's not anything like most of the songs featured as free "Latino" giveaways on iTunes. Highly recommended.
  • Late in June, NPR Music gave a preview of upcoming albums, including the Avett Brothers' The Carpenter. I didn't like all of it, but my favorites so far are Bill Fay's "Never Ending Happening," which is just wonderful; Ivan and Alyosha's addictive, harmony-driven "Be Your Man"; and, of course, the Avetts' "Live and Die."
  • Mumford and Sons will join the Avett Bros. in a September release. New album Babel is out Sept. 25. Watch the album trailer.
  • Richard Hawley has a new album out, too, but so far Paste and NPR are mum on the topic. The British Independent rounds up a few other reviews, however.
  • I don't know that many of you share my taste for jazz, but as some of you know, it extended to a couple stints as the pianist in jazz ensembles, first in high school, then my freshman year in college. Though I ultimately transferred schools, the leader of that college jazz band was a wonderful mentor and musician named Gabriel Espinosa. Imagine my surprise and delight, then, to hear his name on KCSM the other day, during a Latin-jazz program. Could it be the same Gabriel, I wondered? It must be, because his new album Celebrando, released in April has steadily risen up the jazz charts, from 342 in June to as high as number 12! Hear clips from the album on contributor Hendrik Meurkens' website.
  • Bill Cosby is probably best known for his comedic work, especially as Cliff Huxtable, but he also has a talent for scat, as shown off on "Hikky-Burr," the theme song from his first sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show. Cosby may or may not appear on other tracks from the show's soundtrack album, Original Jam Sessions 1969 (AllMusic seems a bit inconsistent on that point), but it's a great, funky album.
  • This story of "Ipanema's" enduring popularity is worth listening to for the clip of Mike Tyson's cover alone (yes, really!). 
  • I think I shared a video of this Russian-grandma singing group a while ago, but the New York Times reports their continued fame and recent second-place finish in this year's Eurovision have helped their village water pipeline and other improvements. They've even earned enough money in a rebuilding fund to finally start reconstructing a long-demolished church
  • Lastly, if you've been on the fence about subscribing to Paste's new mPlayer format ($2.99/month for weekly issues, each with seven new downloads), you get three issues free with a special offer they're running.
:: visual art ::
  • Last week's big story in visual art got so much coverage most of you have probably already heard about it, but in case not, here's the botched restoration of a Spanish fresco of Jesus that the BBC's correspondent compared to "a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic."
  • Photo-series stories seem to be the latest itiration of "listicles" (articles built around the structure of a list), at least if you read SFGate much, but these portraits of famous people jumping -- Richard Nixon, Marilyn Monroe and Salvador Dali among them -- was fun to look through.
  • In case you've missed the posters around town, photographer Cindy Sherman has an exhibit at SFMOMA thru Oct. 8. Hers is an interesting body of work, nearly all self-portraiture, that is probably all the more relevant in the age of social media and obsessive self-presentation. I actually got to participate in a focus group on marketing the show, and I believe this may be the first major show of her work at SFMOMA.
:: your stuff ::
:: food ::
  • After surviving the road trip, I managed to send my housing thank-you notes with cookies for once. One of my favorite recipes for such care packages is a yummy molasses treat from the old Betty Crocker cookbook both my grandma and mom have owned. Both dough and cookie keep well, although that may not matter if you have a sweet tooth. The recipe's fairly quick to make, but does require some chilling time in the fridge before baking (try the freezer if you're short on time).


New Avetts track, haiku warning signs, a great soup

I seem to be doing more long-lead writing lately, but one piece that just got published is a commentary on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on the health-care reform law.

:: tunes ::
  • Rolling Stone talks to the Avett Brothers about their forthcoming album, The Carpenter (due out in September) and dealing with the cancer of their bassist's daughter. Their first single, "Live and Die" (which you can stream at the end of the article) made me bummed I missed their recent show at the Greek.
  • Upcoming concert highlights: I've fallen a bit off my game in terms of trying to hear at least one live show a month, but I'm interested in a couple upcoming shows. Anyone else up for going?
    • Dr. John @ the Independent, 8/16 and 8/17
    • Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples @ the Greek, 9/14
:: visual art ::
:: film ::
:: dance ::
  • You probably remember the dancing-guy meme from a few years back ... and now he's back with a new video that shows a lovely evolution in his celebrity. (via Andy Crouch) 
:: food ::
  • Wednesday night, I was looking for something I could make for dinner, without having to buy a ton of ingredients, and decided to try this chicken-chickpea harira recipe. I wasn't familiar with the Moroccan soup before, but the results were fantastic. It took maybe 90 minutes start-to-finish, produced close to 3 quarts, and resulted in a beautiful, delicious soup that only improved the next day. I will definitely be making this again.


Fiona Apple, artist rights and lovely lentils

If you're short on time, I'd check out NPR's Fiona Apple stream first, as they'll probably pull that down within hours. Then, I'd read the piece on paying for music (under "food for thought"), which is one of the most important and sobering discussions of music economics I've read. It kind of went viral yesterday, at least in some circles, and rightfully so. It's long, but raises some important questions about our willingness to pay for the technology by which we story and access music, but not the songs themselves.

No new articles from me this week (I've been working on more long-lead type stuff), but I should have my first paid contribution to Paste coming sometime in July, and maybe another piece for Her.meneutics. At some point in the next week or, I also hope to launch a small blog version of this newsletter. It probably won't replace the email version, but should make it easier to share content and refer back to more-evergreen tips.

:: events ::

  • From Oaklandish: From Ugandan breakdancing to the future of soul food, the Oakland Innovation Film Lab (June 18-21) has something for everyone. Tickets are $10, and the trailers are always free. Get a sampling here: http://oifl.eventbrite.com/
:: visual art & film ::
  • I haven't finished reading this story yet, but this LA artist makes figures out of cardboard -- mostly of invisible workers like janitors and housekeepers -- and installs them in wealthy areas.
  • Soon-to-be-tossed books are the medium of choice for this artist, who constructs whimsical outdoor sculptures with the unsold books from a community book sale.  
  • The first trailers for Disney Christmas animated film are just out - the movie is called Wreck-It Ralph -- and it actually looks pretty good. The premise is that the destructive villain in an old-school video game decides he wants to do something good for a change and "jumps games" to a different kind of story.
  • And lastly, you might remember a photographer I mentioned recently, who photographs people with albinism and other disabilities. A fellow contributor to the blog I sometimes write for has a new post on his work.
:: tunes ::
  • Fiona Apple's new album drops today, which you can probably catch NPR's stream of for a little longer. If not, though, here's a recent performance on Late Night with Jimmie Fallon with the Roots. They perform her new song "Anything We Want" and cover Paul McCartney's "Let Me Roll It."
  • A tidbit for those Mumford fans who've been breathlessly awaiting news of their second album: Paste reports it's due out this September.
  • More than a year ago, I caught an Over the Rhine concert at Great American Music Hall, a few months before the release of their latest album. During the show, Karin read a beloved Charles Bukowski poem, "Bluebird," before singing a song it had inspired, from their latest album, The Long Surrender. Now the Brainpickings editor has shared another pieces inspired by the poem, a lovely animation (write-up includes the text of the poem, too, if you don't know it).
  • Musician Fela Kuti has already been the subject of a Broadway musical (the energetic Fela!), but he's also getting a new tribute compilation, rumored for a fall release. The first track, a cover of "Lady" features tUnE-yArDs and The Roots' ?uestlove. Stream it at Paste or buy it on iTunes.
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • This was recommended by several friends on Facebook, and with good reason: it's one of the most in-depth, thoughtful examinations of music economics and artists rights I've read. For context: over the weekend, a new intern for NPR wrote this blog post about how she's paid for almost none of the 11,000 songs in her iTunes library. This response is worth reading and pondering. A couple quotes for the doubtful:
    • "Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?
      Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?"
    • "Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy “fair trade” coffee that insures the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly ... Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China ... On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation. Except for one thing. Artist rights."
And a handy chart that breaks down the artist's share vs. the label's for all major formats, plus how the volume of sales in each to earn one month's minimum wage. Pretty nuts.
  • Andy Crouch on the "10 Most Significant Cultural Trends of the Last Decade"
  • Challenging the Darkness: This Os Guinness lecture, from Redeemer Presbyterian's "gospel and culture" series, includes a fascinating discussion of the Reformation and abandonment of the Holy Spirit in response to superstition. You can also watch the Guinness lecture on Youtube, as part of the Center of Faith and Work's new channel, which features a ton of great video lectures. Hear from Tim Keller, writer Andy Crouch, philosopher James K.A. Smith, bookstore owner Byron Borger and many others.
  • How to talk about books you haven't read: An interesting post about a book on the topic, which I naturally haven't read (yet). ;) The post resonated with me, however, because I've often faced a similar challenge regarding films or TV shows I haven't read. In most conversations, however, it suffices to know something about why it's popular and significant; I don't actually need to have personally viewed it. With books, though, I think it's easier to have incomplete knowledge based on a skim. Yet is that always inferior? I don't know. With non-fiction books, not always; well-constructed ones usually introduce the main themes in the introduction or opening chapter, elaborate on the point in the body of the work, and reiterate the point in the concluding chapter. I'm also not convinced I lost much by skipping a chapter of Moby Dick that focused mainly on blubber harvesting (?).
  • Though it may not always be clear from these emails, a fair amount of my "arts" tips come from Twitter. This piece reviews one such instance of the medium, which I especially liked for looking at how Twitter is distinct from other communication forms. Plus @tweenhobo sounds pretty amazing and funny (though, sadly, not even the likes of Steve Martin, aka @stevemartintogo, have been able to maintain new-user momentum)
:: food ::
  • My cocktail-making's been languishing lately, but Saturday I finally tried a recipe for lentil minestrone that I printed a while back. It took a bit longer than two hours to make, but wasn't super prep-intensive, used mostly inexpensive vegetables and pantry goods, and made about 4 quarters. For a vegetarian main dish, it was also pretty hearty. 


Forgiveness, ebook covers, infusion tips

This wasn't the most exciting week for First Listens, but there were a couple great photography-related items I came across, plus several other things. I've been busier knitting that writing these days, but two recent posts cover friendship and egg-banking.
:: events ::
  • Tonight: The June art murmur. Judging by the weather today, it should be a nice night for it. Head to the 19th St. BART station and walk north up Broadway from there (map).
  • Tomorrow: Healing prayer brunch/meeting at the Davises house, 10 a.m. This will be an information session and discussion of the book we've been reading, Francis McNutt's Healing. So far it's been a very thought-provoking look at the church's changing view of the body and suffering, among other topics.
  • June 16: Better world bake-off, organized by the Beardsleys and a few other Christ Church families. Come for the eats or to enter your fair-trade baked good!
:: visual art ::
:: dance & other arts ::
  • The minute I saw "Astaire" in the headline for this blog post, I knew I had to see what it was about. Ever since I discovered him sometime in junior high or early high school, thanks to the Phoenix library's video collection, I have adored the onscreen dancing of Fred Astaire. If you're not familiar with his work, it can be easy to dismiss, but routines like this inspired number in a gym, where he dances with coat rack and various pieces of athletic equipment and the stylish "Puttin' on the Ritz" exemplify why his dancing has such enduring appeal. For more on Astaire, read the full, 3,700-word book review that inspired the blog post. Or better yet, add one of his films with Ginger Rogers to your Netflix queue (though you might secure a copy faster at your local library branch).
  • I'm sure not every 86-year-old paper folder would nab a story in The New York Times, but her boxes are truly beautiful!
:: tunes ::
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • This is a slide show that was recently shared at a tech conference. The first several slides are a bunch of stats on internet/mobile adoption and so on, but about midway through, the presenter started looking at the re-imagination of various media/activities like photography, drawing, etc., which I thought might interest you all.
  • In this week's New York Times Magazine, the focus is innovations. Some ideas sound interesting, some unsettling, none boring. For some reason, the only one I can remember was an implant for your teeth that would somehow notify you of bacteria growth.
:: food ::
  • If you've ever eaten soup at the St. Clairs, you know that Catherine is a master of garnishes. That's just the part of the recipe I'll often leave out, but with this excellent dal I found online a while back, the "tomato relish" garnish is essential. Plan on about two hours making it, start to finish, but about half of that is simmer time. Yield: about 10 cups.
  • Infusion tip: During a tasting at Alameda's St. George Spirits last night (aka, the Hangar 1 vodka folks), I learned that the vodka you use for infusions really does matter. According to the bartender, lower-proof vodkas only break down the fruit or other organic items soaked in them, but don't actually extract the juices, etc. For that you need a high-proof vodka, ideally something like Everclear, though you can't get that in California. He said the higher-proof vodkas are also infused with flavor much faster than lower-proof (regular vodka is about 40 proof, I believe). So far I've been using a 100-proof vodka from Bevmo for my infusions, but thought I'd share that tip for the cocktail purists out there.