What’s wrong with hymns without quotation marks?

Last year, popular sacred music composer David Haas was accused of sexually and spiritually abusing and assaulting 44 women. A recent conversation about his music took an interesting turn, and I thought I’d share some of it here.

First of all, it’s a shame that it even has to be said, but the guy’s music should never be played in church again. He shouldn’t be making royalties off songs he wrote and used explicitly to groom and manipulate women, and nobody should have to hear the words of a predator sung inside the walls of their church.

I have my own thoughts about separating the artist from the art, but this is different: The guy explicitly and recently used his celebrity as a religious artist to prey on women. He should be out for good, period. Yes, even if that one song of his was very meaningful and moving to you at some point in your life. You can always play it in your own home if you like it that much. Music is expendable, but people are not. Even if it were the most sublime music in the history of the church, it doesn’t belong in the church because of what he did.

Everyone agreed on that point, and we moved to the second point, which was more contentious, and which was this: Perhaps Haas’ music wasn’t sublime. Far from it: It was pretty terrible, so there’s a second (less urgent) reason it shouldn’t be played in church. Yes, I firmly believe that some music is objectively inferior to other music. Music that’s trite, coy, and formless is inferior. You don’t have to be a trained musician to develop a sensitive ear, which makes hearing bad music at church the equivalent of sitting on sticky, splintery pews or breathing air that smells like rotten eggs. Christ is still present, but gosh, it’s distracting.

Then came the third objection to Haas’ songs: The lyrics…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

What I saw (and of course heard) at the Green River Festival

On our absolute last day of summer vacation this Sunday, Clara and I went to the final day of Green River Festival in Greenfield, MA. The act she most wanted to catch was Bonny Light Horseman; my must-see was Son Little. 

I must warn you, I like a lot of what calls itself folk music, but I really despise the folk music scene, so this is a fairly cranky review. I did like a lot of the music. But I had forgotten how many people apparently attend shows like this to put on a show. There was so much “Can you guys even believe how ecstatic and unselfconscious I am right now?” stuff going on. 

The main stage show opened with Rachel Baiman, who has a nice enough voice, but delivered unremarkable lefty folk snark that didn’t hold my attention. Her new album is called Cycles (no, not Vagabonds, Martyrs, and Quilts) with a song called “Shame” and it’s all about how you shouldn’t shame women for having bodies. I know that’s what it’s about, because she told us so before she sang it (and she was right, that’s what it was about). Great works of art can always be summarized in a line or two, preferably a line that makes everyone go, “Wooooo!” I hope you’re writing this down so you, too, can be a artist. 

Bonny Light Horseman was next, and they are remarkable. They are a supergroup made up of Anaïs Mitchell (here’s my quick review of her astounding show Hadestown), Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats, and Josh Kaufman of various things I haven’t heard of (okay, I also haven’t heard of Fruit Bats). The first thing they did was turn the bass down, which I took as a work of mercy and professionalism. If you can’t reach your audience without blasting them to death, maybe you need to go back and craft your piece a bit more. 

Bonny Light Horseman does a lot reworked old English ballads mixed in with whatever other stuff they feel like, as far as I can tell.  All of it is interesting, and some of it is stunning — the material, the arrangements, the voices, the performances.

They performed a few new songs they’re still working on, which they described as “hot tub music.” I’m kicking myself for not writing down the lyrics of some of the new songs they performed, but they really got me. Here’s a clip of the actual show that someone posted on YouTube:

They were generous performers, too, and gave the impression that they like each other and liked being on stage. Crazy how many professionals just don’t do that. They put on a really soulful show that kept my attention the whole time. 

Anaïs Mitchell then introduced Ani DiFranco, and that’s when I started to wish we had set up our blanket on the other end of the field, upwind of the great wall of weed smoke. Weed has its uses, but it certainly does smell like poo. Yes, you can buy expensive weed, which then smells like expensive poo. 

Anyway, Ani DiFranco. She seems completely unchanged from twenty or thirty years ago, when she emerged as this tiny, intense ball of energy and angst and talent and rank immaturity. Whenever I hear her music, I think: “Wow, she’s so good! Why don’t I listen to her more?” and then a few songs in, I’m like, “Okay, that’s enough.”  She told the audience that they were her most enduring and reliable long-term relationship, and I know it was a joke, and I know that’s her schtick, but what a thing to say. 

And it’s not just that she’s too intense or too personal or something. Goodness knows I’ve made a buck or two off baring my soul to strangers. It’s that she can write very clever, wrenching, heartfelt lyrics . . . and a lot of the time, she doesn’t bother, because she knows she can get away with writing stuff like this, instead:

“You get to run the world
In your special way
You get much more
Much more than your say
Government, religion
It’s all just patriarchy
I must insist you leave
This one thing to me”

That’s just poorly written, and I’m not just saying that because I was sitting on a fleece Our Lady of Guadalupe blanket from Walmart and felt fairly uncomfortable in more ways that one at this point. (If you are wondering at what age one becomes officially too old to sit on the ground all day, it is 46) The song did extract a “WOOOOOO!” from the crowd at all the right moments, so I guess it did its job. Woo, woo, woo everybody. No shame! Tampons! I don’t know why I’m so unhappy but probably I shouldn’t change anything about my life! Wooo!

By the time we got up to “Swan Dive,” there were absolute phalanxes of stoned “this is what a feminist” dudes performatively shaking their potato-fed asses back and forth and jabbing their fingers defiantly in the air, and the sun was beating down through the clouds, and one braless lady in a crinkly broom skirt dragged a shrinking little chicken-winged girl up to the standing section, shoved a pride flag in her hand, and dragooned the child into a long, joyless dance in front of everyone, not that anyone was paying attention, because they were too caught up in their own grinning sweating triumphant vibe. Kid couldn’t have been older than 7 or 8 years old, and the music was frankly terrifying at this point –extremely intense and absolutely deafening, and designed to be emotionally overwhelming.

I wanted to arrest absolutely everyone there, on the grounds that you need to grow up.  It was the phoniness that got me. I don’t begrudge anybody to feel what they feel, but I can tell a faker when I see one, and there were a shitload of fakers in that crowd with their patched handkerchief skirts and their boho twine and copper bracelets and their floppy hats and their pedicures and their high priced poo. 

Well, then I got up and bought myself a falafel wrap and gobbled it up, and felt a little more cheerful. Chickpea products always cheer me up. I don’t make the rules. I also took a long walk around the field and got the heck away from the amps, which I should have done hours ago. 

It was late and we were tired but figured we had stayed that long, we might as well stick it out and wait for the one act I really wanted to see, which was Son Little. While we waited, we caught Sierra Ferrell on a side stage, and boy, was she fun. She has an old timey voice, clear as a bell, chewy as taffy, and she absolutely nails the aesthetic, but her songs sounded like originals. I can’t remember if she performed this one, but here’s a good example of how she sounds:

A real musician, a great performer. There was actual spontaneous dancing breaking out in front of this stage, and it was a pleasure to see. Apparently she and her band had some kind of calamitous time getting to the show, so Clara made a point of standing in line to buy one of her CDs and she said she was very nice in person. Definitely going to track down more of her work. Here’s another one she did:

Then finally, as the sun was setting, we saw Son Little.  I used to listen to him constantly, and poor tender-hearted Benny, who was a toddler, used to worry about him so much.

I still worry about him. He’s sort of unreliable. He sang “Loser Blues,” which didn’t sound like much when I heard it recorded, but hearing it live, I just about fell apart.

 

Anyway, after a long, hot afternoon of tampon music, it did not bother me one little bit to pick up my blanket, go sit in the shade, and listen to a young man sing about how he’s not sure why his girlfriend is mad, but what about if they just do it, huh? That’s what his songs are mostly about, and he has a point.

He tried to get the audience to sing along or at very least clap along, but by that time, we had all been fried by the sun for eight hours and, honestly, we may have just mostly been too white to begin with. I felt bad, but when people try and get me to clap along, I know it’s going to go badly eventually. So I just sat there and stared and then clapped politely at the end. I still think this was better than whatever that girl with the overalls and the hula hoop thought she was doing. 

I got myself a little paper cup of pork dumplings and coconut curry, and something that claimed to be Vietnamese ginger limeade and tasted an awful lot like Juicy Juice, but it had ice in it and it was fine. I also got a horrible sunburn, but that’s nobody’s fault but my own. 

And that’s my review. It was a well-run show, very orderly. Lots of great food vendors, plenty of bathrooms, everything was well-marked, and there was plenty of room to spread out so I wasn’t worried about covid.  I think everyone should smoke a little less weed and maybe give the patriarchy a second chance, like on alternate weekends, and then see if we can’t come up with some better music for the kids. Okay, thanks. 

 

The Britney Spears documentary is ambiguous but not (very) exploitative

The New York Times documentary on Britney Spears isn’t about her music. It’s not even entirely about Britney Spears. “Framing Britney Spears” is largely about the media, and the people who consume it. I watched to see if the Times could thread that needle, honestly critiquing media exploitation without being exploitative itself. I’m not sure if they pulled it off. 

The Times chose to tell her story now because she is in the midst of a long legal battle with her father over her conservatorship, by which Jamie Spears together with an attorney with the Dickensian name of “Wallet” has controlled almost every aspect of his daughter’s life since 2008. Such legal arrangements are usually made for elderly or infirm people who can’t be trusted to care for themselves or their money. Spears is 39. 

It is beyond dispute that her legal situation is odd. Her father, who was largely absent through her young adulthood, petitioned for legal control of her affairs after her series of public breakdowns; but the conservatorship continues even after Spears’ celebrated comeback and lucrative residency in Las Vegas. The lawyer Wallet petitioned the court to increase his share of her earnings, arguing that the conservatorship should be considered “more of a hybrid business model.” 

In other words, she is well enough to perform and make money hand over fist, but not well enough to decide what to do with that money. (Six days after the documentary first aired, Spears won a small concession concerning investment powers; but the bulk of financial control remains in her father’s hands. Another hearing is scheduled for next month, and Spears is expected to continue petitioning the court to remove her father as conservator.)

Most Americans are familiar with Britney Spears’s story: A small-town girl with a big voice is hurtled into fame, and she soon emerges from the safe and shiny world of “The Mickey Mouse Club”and uses every means but skywriting to announce that she is now a sexy and powerful woman in control of her own destiny. The world eagerly responds by alternately slut-shaming her and demanding more details about her breasts, her virginity, her sexual conquests. 

Lit by a constant strobe of camera flashes, she has an excruciatingly public romance and rift with Justin Timberlake, marries dancer Kevin Federline, has a baby and then another baby, checks in and out of rehab, divorces, shaves her head, attacks a paparazzo with an umbrella and is involuntarily committed to psychiatric care. It is a Russian novel of a life, lurid, pathetic, savage and ridiculous, and as it plays out it is played for laughs, with the whole world apparently in on the joke of this lunatic star who can’t seem to get it together just because everyone is watching her fail. 

I remembered all the details of her coming apart, but I gasped when I saw the clip of the game show “Family Feud” in the documentary. Contestants are asked to list things that Spears had lost that year, and the crowd laughs and cheers when they offer answers like “her hair,” “her dignity,” “her marriage,” “her mind.” It is breathtakingly cruel. And I remember how those who defended her were mocked, as well. 

There is no doubt that the media—invasive and predatory tabloids, as well as allegedly respectable journalists—did their best to destroy Britney Spears for ratings. It does not appear that she ever had anyone willing and truly able to defend her, or even to be fair to her. This documentary strives mightily to do both. 

Read the rest of my review for America magazine

Image: Screenshot from “Framing Britney Spears” on Hulu

A hymn for the end of the w̶o̶r̶l̶d̶ year

Someone on Twitter asked, “What is your favorite line from a hymn—one line that is so rich, you think on it over and over again?”

How strange and wonderful to read the responses. I was familiar with some of the verses that people carried with them, and had never heard of others. Some seemed like things that any human would take comfort from, and others pointed to the fact that there certainly are all sorts of people in the world with all kinds of taste; there certainly are.

My own choice? “He is Alpha and Omega; He the source, the ending, He.” This is from “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” the most musically and textually perfect hymn I know, and it has come back to me, over and over again, since the day I first heard it. Listen:

It is a doctrinal hymn, which explains why it gives you so much to think about (not that more emotional, lyrical ideas can’t grip your mind and stay with you!)

Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the Source, the Ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!

I’ll add the rest of the verses at the end. This hymn is a flawless marriage between sound and sense. This recording begins with what I consider the ideal arrangement: A single male voice with no accompaniment but some medieval bells and chimes. This puts it into that otherworldly space of quiet brilliance on blackness, as if you’re witnessing something outside of time, which is what the song is about.

The first two lines, “Of the Father’s love begotten/ere the worlds began to be” climb up and then slightly down the scale somewhat tentatively, like an explorer coming upon something that compels him but fills him with awe; but “ere the worlds began to be” ends on a long note, searching for a clear view of what we’re talking about. And then we see it: In  “He is Alpha and Omega,/He the source, the ending he,” the voice rises and then returns back down, digs down and then climbs back up, with the tune following the sense of the words: Wherever you go, Christ is there. Then finally, with the last three lines, I hear a little portrait of human life: “Of the things that are” gets a quick mention, and then “that ha-a-a-a-ave been” gets a more lingering treatment, because my gosh, we have been through a lot. And then “and that future years shall see” is almost muttered in a lower voice, because it is still shrouded in the future; but then: Evermore and evermore! Ah, back to Jesus. It’s always Him. All is cared for, in him. Nothing is unaccounted for. 

You guys, I got so lost this year. I can’t explain it here, but I became angry and hurt and confused, and I turned my back on Jesus until I couldn’t even remember what the big deal was anymore. You get used to being cold and you don’t feel cold anymore, and you forget what it’s like to be warm. But it is coming back to me.

I hear all the jokes about how 2021 is just going to be another miserable year, and how foolish it is to hope for something better. But I can’t help it! It’s not about the things that ha-a-a-a-ave been and that future years shall see. It’s about Jesus. I know everything’s a big mess. But nothing is unaccounted for; no one will be lost or forgotten.  He is so bright and so good, evermore and evermore.

Everyone who reads this, I pray for comfort and solace, answers and illumination, and rest in Jesus. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2 O that birth forever blessed,
when the Virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race;
and the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

3 This is he whom heav’n-taught singers
sang of old with one accord,
whom the Scriptures of the prophets
promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long expected;
let creation praise its Lord, 
evermore and evermore!

4 O ye heights of heav’n, adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing:
all dominions, bow before him
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
ev’ry voice in concert ring, 
evermore and evermore!

5 Christ, to thee, with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be,
honor, glory, and dominion
and eternal victory,
evermore and evermore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Image: Christ Anapenos (Eyes never-closed) Icon – By the hands of Christian Tombiling, of Indonesian Eastern Catholic Community CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons . The description reads: Christ is sitting on His bed with arms supporting His head, watching over us. He is inside the cave, eventhough the cave is too small to bear Him. Background is sky of star. The inscription is written, taken from the Psalm 120: “Behold he shall neither slumber nor sleep, that keepeth Israel”

 

What we’re watching, reading, and listening to this week: In which Woody Allen and Insane Clown Posse have redeeming qualities

How’s everybody doing? Okay? Remember the thing about …something something real talk, ladies, you are enough, etc. Don’t be cry. Me encourage you. Okay, here’s what we’ve been watching, reading, and listening to lately. I guess this should be Christmas or Advent stuff, but, it’s not. I put up a bunch of lights, we do candle things, and we’re going to confession, and I’m enough, dammit. 

If there’s a theme to these books, movies, and music, it’s “hey, there’s something to you, after all.” 

WATCHING

Hannah and Her Sisters (Where to watch. We rented it on Amazon Prime for $3.99)

We boycotted Woody Allen movies for a while – not because we thought it would be immoral to watch them, but because, ew. If you’re still in that place, I get it. But after a while I got a hankering to see if the good movies were as good as I remembered (and those are the ones he made before he became an open degenerate, anyway). 

Broadway Danny Rose was hilarious and sweet, and I liked it a lot, but Hannah and Her Sisters is terrific. It kept reminding me of a Tolstoy novel, where he just plunges you right in the midst of the lives of these fully-developed personalities in such a way that you understanding their pasts and their likely futures, and how they relate to each other.

I saw this many years ago and thought it was well crafted, but now, having gotten over two decades of marriage under my belt, I think it is a truly great movie about love. You want there to be good guys and bad guys, and there are, but there’s also regret, and recovery from passing madnesses, and redemption. Fantastic dialogue and acting, absolutely captivating setting and soundtrack, and a happy ending. Don’t get me wrong, it has people behaving very badly, indeed, but it shifts very deftly from wretched nihilism to a sort of tender, hopeful agnosticism that makes human life beautiful. Really kind of a masterpiece. 

Wait, I take it back. That architect is a bad guy.

We’ve also been watching Malcolm In the Middle (where to watch) with the kids ages 11 and up, and it’s still a very funny show, but I guess I didn’t notice the first time around how hard they leaned into the whole “everyone’s laughing, but if this were real, it would actually be abuse” thing, especially as the series went on (we are currently on season 5, which is a very funny season. We just watched the one where Reese joins the army and Hal is under house arrest). I think the target audience is people my age, among whom it is actually very common to have discussions about our childhoods that seemed normal at the time, but in retrospect were actually. . . . yeesh.

READING

Read aloud: The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander. The second in The Chronicles of Prydain.

I’m reading this aloud to kids ages 9 and 5, and they are enthralled. This one is more exciting and cohesive than the first. Lots of tests of character. I pause often to ask the kids, “Wow, what would you do in this situation?” and I am never gratified by their answers, but at least I can tell they’re paying attention. 

I won’t mind taking a break from Lloyd Alexander for our next read-aloud, though.He is a good, vivid storyteller, but he can be a bit clunky to read aloud. We started on Prydain when we lost our copy of Wind in the Willows just after Toad’s friend’s stage an intervention about the motorcar. It will be a nice change of pace to get back to Kenneth Grahame’s prose, which is so lushly, lovingly written. 

Benny also got a copy of Time Cat, also by Lloyd Alexander, for her birthday, but she hasn’t started it yet.  A talking, time-traveling cat who goes on adventures with a kid. Seems promising. 

I’m also reading Dragonwings by Lawrence Yep to myself (it’s a children’s book suitable for kids about grade 5 and up). Yep has a good, plain style and doesn’t flinch away from the awful realities of life for Chinese immigrants in California at the turn of the century, so it may not be great for especially sensitive readers. The protagonist is an eight-year-old boy who leaves his mother in China to live with his father, a former master kite-maker who now works in a laundry. It does a nice job of showing how myth makes its way into a family’s understanding of the world, a theme that fascinates me. 

I’ve also been picking up Notes From Underground by Doestoevsky and reading passages at random before bed, which may not be great for my mental health, but I don’t think it’s doing any harm to the book. 

And I ordered a paper copy of Cat Hodge’s Unstable Felicity, which is currently on sale for $8.99, because I will scroll through Facebook and Twitter for three hours straight, but I simply cannot read a book on a screen. Can’t do it. And I do want to read this book. (An audio version is also now available.)

LISTENING TO

Uh, Miracles by Insane Clown Posse

Damien made a reference to “fucking magnets, how do they work?” and I didn’t know what he was talking about, so he showed me this:

Okay, so this is objectively terrible work by some powerfully rotten entertainers, but I kind of love it. My mother would have loved it. Three cheers for the divine spark in every human, that makes even no-talent creeps in stupid face paint want to make a video encouraging people to think about how cool it is that there are mountains and rivers, and that children look like their parents, and there are stars and pelicans and shit. This is not good art, but it is real art, and even Juggalos need real art. Me gusta.

If you’re looking for something you can actually enjoy, you could do worse than the Hannah and Her Sisters soundtrack

How about you? Watching, reading, or listening to anything that’s good – maybe better than you expected? 

 

 

 

What we’re watching, reading, listening to: Exploring Music, Lady Gaga, The Repair Shop, Unstable Felicity, etc.

I’ve been doing a lot more watching and listening than reading, these days. Working on it!

What are we watching?

The Repair Shop This is a BBC show, five seasons, now streaming on Netflix. A crew of British restoration experts team up to repair and restore cherished items people bring to them. You see the owners come in and give a short explanation about why the accordion or piano bench or whatever means so much to them, and then you see highlights of the various experts disassembling, problem-solving, hunting for materials, and carefully restoring the items, and then the owner comes back to the shop and sees the item made new again. 

We’ve only seen a few episodes of this, and I gather some of the episodes have spectacular discoveries and surprises; but many of them are just straight forward repair jobs.

There are two elements that make this show so gratifying. One is watching people doing what they were meant to do in life, which is something I always enjoy. The restorers clearly get so much true joy out of practicing their craft. I enjoy this aspect of it, seeing people following their vocation, even more than seeing the actual work they do; although it’s also fascinating and emotionally restorative to see shabby, broken, neglected things put to rights again. 

The second element is the “reunion” at the end, when the owner has something precious restored to them. In one episode, a woman brought in a clock made by her father, who had lost his vision. She remembered that the clock used to chime, but she couldn’t quite remember the tune. The restorers made the clock work again, and somehow reconstructed the music it played, so the woman heard the tune again for the first time in decades. These are British people, so they are not extremely effusive and sentimental about it, and you don’t get that “eeek, I’m not sure I should be watching this intense personal moment” feeling. They keep it pretty understated.

But it’s a restorative show in more ways than one, and it’s especially gratifying in late 2020 to watch  skilled people doing worthwhile things for the purpose of making other people happy. 

We’re also devouring The Mandalorian with the whole family, and The Crown for just me and Damien. Both excellent with great use of music; more on those in some other post. Oh, and. GILLIAN ANDERSON AS MARGARET THATCHER. Hot damn. If you ever wondered to yourself, “Is X Files actually a good TV show or not?” just think about what they did to Gillian Anderson for so many years, and you will have your answer. 

What am I reading?

Unstable Felicity

Like I said, I’m a terrible person and hardly read anymore. I know I can make my phone stop giving me weekly reports about how much my screen time has increased over the last week, but I feel like I deserve it. It’s never good news.

I have started Cat Hodge’s (yes, Cat Hodge of Darwin Catholic) new novella, and I love it so far. Very easy to read, light but literate, engaging, and promising, and the only reason I put it down is because I’m terrible and, as mentioned, don’t read anything. The premise is: If you described the protagonist’s life, it would sound exactly like one of those cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies. But when you’re actually living through it, it’s neither tidy nor adorable, but actually kind of Shakespearean, in a King Lear way.

Here’s the official blurb: 

Jill O’Leary’s December has all the hallmarks of a feel-good holiday special. She’s a successful Los Angeles career woman summoned home to small town Ohio to save the family business. There, she’ll have to navigate a White Elephant gift exchange, decorate the tree, and meet not one but two tall dark handsome strangers.
 
But it will take a miracle to make this Christmas merry and bright. Jill’s baggage is waiting for her at home: Regina, the demanding mother she hasn’t talked to since her father’s funeral four months ago; Reagan and Del, her sisters with their own agendas; Garrett French, a local real-estate mogul trying to snap up her family’s inn; and Heath Albany, the married ex-boyfriend who’s suspiciously eager to reconcile with her. 
 
Jill is determined to get in, fix the family finances by herself, and get back to the big city as soon as possible. But keeping her mother from turning Christmas into a tragedy proves more drama than she can handle on her own. It’s going to take her conniving sisters, the division of an empire, sudden blindness, a journey through a pitiless storm, and an unlikely hero to give this tragicomic tale a happy ending. 
 
When you cross a conventional Christmas plot with Shakespeare’s King Lear, you get Unstable Felicity.
Available in Kindle or paperback, with a cover by the talented John Herreid, of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning With a Chainsaw fame. 
 

What are we listening to?

I recently discovered I can use iHeart Radio on our TV, which means when we go screen free from 7:00 – 9:00 (which we do only sporadically), I can play Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin. So I guess that’s my first recommendation. 

McGlaughlin is a composer and conductor with a public radio show that gently and engagingly helps the listener listen better. Each hour-long show has a theme, and he sits at his piano and picks out little bits of whatever recording he’s about to play for you. 

Here’s a representative excerpt from an episode on Schubert. The graphics are pretty cheesy, as it’s meant to be audio only. 

His delight in the music is very evident, and it’s contagious. If you’re looking for a painless way to get your family more connected with classical music, this is a great way. His voice is very pleasant and cozy, too. 

The other thing I’m listening to is, uh, “Sinner’s Prayer” by Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is so annoying. She has such a wonderful voice and such terrible taste. But this song is pure stupid fun. My kid told me she had made a country album (Joanne), and it turned out to be not really that at all, but it’s . . . something. This particular song is sort of a spaghetti western love song, I guess? Anyway it’s stuck in my head.

Now it can be stuck in yours, too.

***
Okay, that’s it! What are you watching, reading, and listening to that you can recommend? 

What I’m watching, reading, and listening to: Over the Garden Wall, The Secret Sisters, and Joyce Cary

Oh, I have so much good stuff to recommend today. Here’s what I’ve been watching, reading, and listening to:

WATCHING
Over the Garden Wall (2014) 

If you’re looking for a spooky Halloween show for your whole family, this is the one. I’m still amazed it got broadcast, because it’s so weird and beautiful and thoughtful. It’s an animated miniseries of 12 short episodes (the whole thing is under two hours), and every one is gorgeous, creepy, funny, and strangely moving, with crazy, memorable music.

Two half-brothers find themselves lost in the woods on Halloween, and as they try to make their way home, they quickly become entangled in some terrifying otherworldly business. It’s loosely inspired by The Divine Comedy, but I wouldn’t push that too far. 

Here’s the first episode (11 minutes)

Some of the characters and situations are extremely creepy, so while we did let our five-year-old watch it, she has a very high tolerance for scary stuff, and many kids under the age of nine would probably find it too scary. (Here’s a specific list of creepy stuff.) There is a lot of very silly and hilarious stuff that fixes you right up when you get creeped out. No gore, graphic violence, or sex. There is a persistent melancholy tone, but all the relationships in the show get worked out very satisfactorily, and familial love is the true theme of the miniseries, and all is restored in the end. 

This show also contains one of the most realistic depictions of a goofy little boy we’ve ever seen. We’ve come to burgle your turts! Lots of quotes and songs have become part of our family culture.

Here’s a beast costume

a Wirt costume

and a Wirt and Greg cake:

The whole thing is crowded with allusions and suggestions and portents, and you can either pursue them or just enjoy them. It originally ran on Cartoon Network in 2014. It doesn’t appear to be streaming for free anywhere right now. We bought it to stream on Amazon.

***

READING
The Moonlight by Joyce Cary (1946)

It’s criminal that Joyce Cary isn’t in every list of great English language novelists. You may have seen the movie The Horse’s Mouth based on his novel of the same name, and that’s a vastly entertaining book about a dissolute old painter intoxicated by naked women and William Blake; but The Moonlight and Charley Is My Darling are deeper waters. 

Cary originally wrote The Moonlight (as in the “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven, and also as in . . . moonlight) because he was so incensed by Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata. I haven’t read Kreutzer in a long time but, although I adore Tolstoy in general, we all know he could be a little

y
i
k
e
s

about women and sex and ideal love, and I recall that Kreutzer is an extreme example of this tendency. The Moonlight deals with two generations of women living through social transformations of sexual mores, and the choices they make, the hardships they can’t escape, and what it does to their souls. That makes it sound tiresome, but it’s super dramatic, but also extraordinarily true to life, very tender and funny and sometimes shockingly, horribly familiar. 

Cary is one of those authors who understands human nature very deeply, and also loves his characters very deeply, even as they allow themselves to do stupid and monstrous things. The book would be a wonderful portrayal of the interior lives of women in any case, but the fact that the author is a man makes the book extraordinary. Love, suicide, pregnancy, art, sisterhood, beauty, sex, taxes, dead sheep: this novel has it all, and it’s so fluidly and engagingly written, and always with the element I admire most: clarity.  This is my current “pluck strangers by the sleeve and try to get them to read it” book.

I always feel like I choose the wrong excerpt and turn people off books I love, so I’ll just give you the opening page, and you see what you think.

If you’re thinking, “Oh, like Jane Austen,” you are mistaken. Maybe it’s like if someone took Jane Austen characters and gave them souls. I said what I said. 

The book is hard to find, so you’ll want to go third party seller on this one!

***


LISTENING TO

The Secret Sisters

What a find! My favorite radio station, WRSI, recently played “He’s Fine” and I had to go find out who the heck that was singing. It is two sisters from Alabama, Laura and Lydia Rogers, plying that magical sibling harmony and here to make you Feel Things. Here’s “He’s Fine,” which is currently Corrie’s favorite song:

Here’s one that really knocked my socks off: “Mississippi.” It carries such a weight of old-fashioned menace — man threatening doom on a young woman — but he gets a little backstory and interior life of his own. Men like this come from somewhere.

I can’t help it, I’m going to give you the whole lyrics. 

All my life
I ain’t never been a lucky man
Saw the back of my daddy’s hand
Lost your momma to the promised land 

In my time
I’d never had a thing that’s mine
Till they handed me a baby fine
My little girl 

There’re only two things I know
I get ugly when the whiskey flows
Wanted you to know I love you so
And I would kill before I let you go 

Taking off for Mississippi
Wearing someone else’s name
Brought you in this world and I
Can take you from it just the same 

If you leave for Mississippi
I will beat you at your game
Brought you in this world and I
Can take you from it just the same.
 
My dear one
Heard you’re whispering your plans to run
Off to marry some rich man’s son
I bet he’s never met a poor man’s gun
 
In the darkness you could not see
The drunken devil instructing me
Two bullets in a crimson sea
Now I’m certain that you’ll never be 

Taking off for Mississippi
Wearing someone else’s name
Brought you in this world and I
Can take you from it just the sameIf you leave for Mississippi
I will beat you at your game
Brought you in this world and I
Can take you from it just the same

Grief and sin
When the righteousness of you sets in
And the blood in my veins
begins to ramble on

Now I know we can
stand and judge the execution man
But we all have to make a trembling stand
before the sun

Maple tree
Can your branches carry me?
Before the war, before the wine
Before I stole what wasn’t mine
Can you bring my baby back to me?

 
Co-written by Faulkner, I guess. What a complex song, not only the lyrics but harmonically and structurally. Brilliant. This is a sequel to Iuka, which is from the young woman’s point of view, urging her lover to take the risk despite her father’s jealousy. (It doesn’t go well.)
 

I heard a clip of a concert where the sisters laughingly apologized for the fact that their lives were going so well now. They had sung a lot about betrayal and loneliness and grief, but then they got married and had babies, and now they sing happy songs, and who wants that?

I DO. Here is one that keeps going through my head: “Late Bloomer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeWtjx4XAJk
 

It’s so unapologetically encouraging, very motherly, and I sure need that right now. 

And here’s one that was apparently in The Hunger Games, which I haven’t seen. Wonderful song: “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”

Even their sad songs are full of comfort and promise: (to all the girls who cry)

I just love them, that’s all. 

Okay! What are you watching, reading, and listening to that you can recommend? 

***
Images: Joyce Cary from a 1950’s Penguin book cover, via Wikipedia, fair use
Screenshot from Over the Garden Wall ep. 1 and The Secret Sisters from Rattle My Bones

What we’re reading, watching, and listening to, Sept. 2020

It’s been a while! I’m trying to make a point of keeping my oar in with stuff that has nothing to do with [gestures vaguely toward steaming heap of current events]. Here’s what I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to that I can recommend to you. 

READING

Moby Dick

If you’ve never read it before, but have filed it away under “classics that people get forced to read because good literature means suffering,” then you are wrong-o. It’s a long book, yes, and some passages are insanely dense. And yeah, one of the overall themes is encountering the ineffability of God. But it’s far more accessible than you may expect, and it’s also hilarious. In the first few chapters, there’s this passage where he just goes off about how much he likes eating chicken. And it’s so exciting! And you will love Queequeg. I really, really want you to read this book, because I don’t want you to die without having met Queequeg. The chapters are fairly short, and I’m giving you permission to skim the prologue and just dive in. Read it aloud with someone!

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

Here’s another book you may have been avoiding because you expect it to be stodgy and stuffy. It is not. Wharton is a luminous writer, and frequently comes up with descriptions or turns of phrase that make you stop with a gasp and go back to have the pleasure of reading it again. She is absolutely merciless not only to the society she is critiquing and exposing, but also toward her characters — all of them — because she understands them so well. This one is about a poor but lovely young woman who is running out of time to capture a rich husband so she can settle into a comfortable life of glittering wealth at the end of the 18th century in New York. It’s not exactly a pick-me-up — none of Wharton’s work is — but it’s a joy to read and a fascinating look into a very different world full of strangely familiar people. 

Here’s a passage that gives you a little taste of Wharton’s skill:

Lily had abundant energy of her own, but it was restricted by the necessity of adapting herself to her aunt’s habits. She saw that at all costs she must keep Mrs. Peniston’s favour till, as Mrs. Bart would have phrased it, she could stand on her own legs. Lily had no mind for the vagabond life of the poor relation, and to adapt herself to Mrs. Peniston she had, to some degree, to assume that lady’s passive attitude. She had fancied at first that it would be easy to draw her aunt into the whirl of her own activities, but there was a static force in Mrs. Peniston against which her niece’s efforts spent themselves in vain. To attempt to bring her into active relation with life was like tugging at a piece of furniture which has been screwed to the floor. She did not, indeed, expect Lily to remain equally immovable: she had all the American guardian’s indulgence for the volatility of youth.

She had indulgence also for certain other habits of her niece’s. It seemed to her natural that Lily should spend all her money on dress, and she supplemented the girl’s scanty income by occasional “handsome presents” meant to be applied to the same purpose. Lily, who was intensely practical, would have preferred a fixed allowance; but Mrs. Peniston liked the periodical recurrence of gratitude evoked by unexpected cheques, and was perhaps shrewd enough to perceive that such a method of giving kept alive in her niece a salutary sense of dependence.

Bonus book: I’m reading The Book of Three aloud to the little kids (ages 8 and 5) (with older kids pretending they’re not listening in). It’s a bit above the 5-year-old’s head, but she is more or less following along. The eight-year-old is really digging it. The story moves right along, and something exciting happens in each chapter. Taran is exactly as whiny as I remember him (it takes several books for him to move past the “But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!” stage, as I recall); and the style is a little bit earnestly overwrought and corny. We don’t really need eleven different reminders that Gwydion has green-flecked eyes and that his shaggy head is wolf-like. I guess it’s supposed to echo a kind of repetitive epithets in epic poems, but it doesn’t quite come off. However, the lack of subtlety make these books very appealing for the right audience, and are about salutary things like courage, patience, and loyalty, and not being deceived by appearances. If your child likes fairy tales or adventures, this is a good step up to the next level of complexity, with some magic and humor thrown in. Based loosely on Welsh mythology and ancient culture.

WATCHING:

Medium

We watched this show when it was on TV, and it’s held up pretty well so far on the re-watch (currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu). The hook is that a young mom who was interning to be a lawyer discovers that her real talent is as a psychic, so she works as a consultant to the DA, helping solve crimes by talking to the dead and seeing the invisible. Creepy and fairly intense sometimes, so probably good for high school age and up. I like Patricia Arquette’s character so much, and for some reason her sometimes appallingly wooden acting just makes her more endearing. Her husband is kind of awful, but there is a persuasive chemistry between them, and the depiction of the chaos in family life is pretty good. Good characters in general, good pacing, original stories, and a solidly entertaining show, often funny and very clever. I remember there were one or two episodes that I thought crossed a line of decency, but I forget why, so, beware.

 

My Name Is Earl

Also a show that’s holding up well since we last saw it when it was originally broadcast. (I think we’re watching it on Hulu right now.) The conceit is that a good-for-nothing trailer park dude wins the lottery, loses the winning ticket, and then against all odds finds it again, so he decides to pay back karma by making amends for all the bad things he’s done in his life. Here’s another show where the main character is one of the weaker actors, but that doesn’t really harm the show. We are showing it to high school age and up. They caught on right away that it doesn’t really matter if karma exists, because Earl’s quest to do good deeds for the people around him is good both for him and for them, and they often have a ripple effect (and he sometimes discovers that his bad deeds hurt more people than he realized). I especially enjoy Joy and Darnell (Jaime Pressly as Joy doesn’t hold back and keep herself halfway cute, the way so many American actresses will do), and his feeble-minded brother Randy is wonderful. The little motel bed scenes at the end are priceless. It’s a very funny show in general. It can be a bit raunchy and of course tasteless and occasionally a bit dark, so not for the easily offended, but contains much more sweetness and mercy than you’re used to seeing on TV.

LISTENING:

Bach’s Brandenburg concertos

When I feel bad, which is always, I will often go to Bach for some of what I suppose you’d call “centering.” Going back to the well so you remember that life is worth living and humans beings really do have a divine spark in them. Bach reminds me of Josef Ratzinger: A thoroughly civilized man, by which I mean he has used all of his strength to develop the talents God gave him and to bend what could be flaws into something in service of virtue. Or so it seems to me. But at the same time they are also men’s men, with a kind of unbending ardor that’s almost alarming when you realize the kind of blindingly brilliant force that’s being held in check. Ahem! Anyway, that’s what I hear when I listen to Bach sometimes. I usually go for the more passionate and moody solo pieces for piano or cello, but lately I’m returning to the Brandenburg concertos, which are just a pure feast. You’ll come out feeling like life is good and makes sense. 

On the other hand if you do want to feel terrible, but only for good old fashioned reasons of love and betrayal and impending death and gorgeously exhausted disgust, may I recommend Lucinda Williams’ new album, Good Souls Better Angels?

Williams is 67 years old and sounds . . . .1,067. She sounds like a star that’s starting to collapse, or a misshapen deep sea creature glowing steadily away down in the midnight zone, or a campfire that’s been smothered and doused with water and stirred with a stick, but in the morning there’s still a pale tendril of smoke coming up. Somebody get this lady a hassock so she can put up her feet, and maybe a lozenge so she can put up her larynx. Really jagged, gritty, gnarly stuff, maybe not profound but it really delivers.

Here’s “Big Black Train”

Okay, that’s it for now! How are you spending your days, that you can recommend? 

A quick review of Hadestown, which you should sell a kidney to see

Yesterday, Clara and I saw the Broadway production of Hadestown for her birthday. It was the best thing I have ever seen on stage.

Hadestown is written, words and music, by Anaïs Mitchell, who originally made a musical, then recorded it as a concept album with Ani DeFranco, then re-worked it as a new musical that premiered in 2012. If you still think of Mitchell as a somewhat pretentious, precious, indie folk cutie, you need to get caught up! This is a mature and stunning work that’s hard to classify. WordPress is having fits over me trying to insert audio right now, but you can hear the Broadway cast recording here

It’s based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hades and Persephone, and it’s set in a Depression-like era perhaps near the end of the world, complete with squalid barroom and post-apocalyptic New Orleans folk jazz, I guess? Normally I could do without old stories cleverly transposed into unconventional settings — this Onion article springs to mind — but that’s not really what Hadestown is. Part of the conceit is that we’re all always telling these same stories over and over again, and that we must. And in spirit, it’s truer to to Greek tragedy than any Greek tragedy I’ve seen performed straight, complete with an omniscient narrator in the person of a dazzling urbanite Hermes (André De Shields):

Image from this Theater Mania video

a chorus of the three pitiless, inexorable fates (Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad), who are on no one’s side;

screen shot from this Theater Mania clip

and so much catharsis, the ushers had to go around with a spatula, scraping the melted puddles of the audience out of their seats after the final curtain. 

I’ll do a more thorough review at some point, but in the meantime you can read Leah Libresco Sargent’s take here

The lyrics are real poetry, but also clear and clever, studded with allusions you can take or leave. Each song, lyrically and musically, was worthwhile in itself, and didn’t exist merely to move the plot along or to give equal time to every performer. Clara and I agreed that Orpheus’ song — the one that has so much power in the story– really did have that much power. You didn’t have to tell yourself, “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure this feels very magical if you’re part of that word.” The hairs standing up on your arm spoke for themselves. 

The stage set was so well-conceived, they could build worlds with lighting and shadows and the three concentric circles of the stage floor, which rotated independently and could be raised or lowered. Without complicated special effects, they placed us indoors and outdoors, in Hell, and in uncanny in-between places.

(These photos are before the show began, obviously.)

All the musicians were part of the action or otherwise integrated into the set, and many of the actors played instruments as well. It was mind-boggling how much talent was on display. 

Orpheus (Reeve Carney)’s voice was powerful and disturbing and he sometimes lost control of his falsetto, which was affecting, rather than otherwise.

He had the air of a floppy theater kid ingénue.

Image from Theater Mania videoo

At first I thought his acting skill wasn’t quite on par with the rest of the cast, but I believe this radical immaturity was part of his tragic flaw. Hermes introduces him this way:

Now Orpheus was the son of a Muse
And you know how those Muses are
Sometimes they abandon you
And this poor boy, he wore his heart out on his sleeve
You might say he was naïve to the ways of the world
But he had a way with words
And the rhythm and the rhyme
And he sang just like a bird up on a line
And it ain’t because I’m kind
But his Mama was a friend of mine
And I liked to hear him sing
And his way of seeing things
So I took him underneath my wing
And that is where he stayed
Until one day…

Well, one day the gods get involved. Toward the end of the show, Persephone takes up the bird theme again, singing:

Hades, my husband, Hades, my light
Hades, my darkness
If you had heard how he sang tonight
You’d pity poor Orpheus!
All of his sorrow won’t fit in his chest
It just burns like a fire in the pit of his chest
And his heart is a bird on a spit in his chest
How long, how long, how long?

Hades (Patrick Page), from his gleaming hair to his gilded shoes, was downright terrifying, in voice and presence. You felt that presence every second he was on stage.

I thought at first his basso profundo was something of a party trick, but he knew how to deploy it, and he seemed more than a man. Which made it all the more gripping when, as a god, he is faced with a terrible choice of his own. 

Persephone (Amber Gray) in this work is not an abducted maiden in mourning, but an aged and aggrieved queen and wife who’s prowled back and forth between summer and the underworld countless times, and who knows full well that “a lot can happen behind closed doors.” She’s developed some coping strategies, and they are not ideal. With her gravelly powerhouse voice and desperate green velvet and shimmies, she is alarming, pathetic, malevolent, and ultimately completely winning, as well as miraculously light-footed in her spike-heeled boots. 

Image from Theater Mania video

The only quibble I had was the casting of Eurydice (Eva Noblezada). She did a good job, but I didn’t lose my heart to her, as I did to every other character. It wasn’t a stumbling block, though; and at one point, Hermes directly chides the audience for holding Eurydice to too high a standard. I was content to award the real heart of the story to Persephone and Hades. Eurydice and Orpheus are, after all, still very young in this iteration. It did hurt to see how she held him at arm’s length even as she was falling in love.

While Hadestown is raucous, funny, stylish, and vastly entertaining, it is also profoundly in earnest, and doesn’t try to dazzle or deceive the audience about what’s the show really means. It has elements of politics, of social commentary, of lessons about the environment and worker’s rights and industrialization; but what it’s really about is . . . well, art, love, and death.  

In elementary school, some student would always complain, “Why do we have to read Greek myths?” The anemic answer came: “They teach us about our own lives.” This makes no sense when you’re fourteen years old and reading a fleshless synopsis of a tale about people in togas making inexplicable choices and being randomly smitten by the gods. But in Hadestown, which keeps most of the myth’s major plot points intact, the very overt point is: What you’re seeing right now will happen to you. Rather than asking you to suspend your disbelief for the show, they insist you resist forgetting, and that you acknowledge how personal it is. As Hermes tells Orpheus: “It’s not a trick. It’s a test.” 

As the action moved inexorably toward the final shattering blow, I was in agony, not only suffering with the characters, but wondering whether the show would have the guts to end with naked tragedy.

And they did. They did not flinch, but let the terrible thing happen. But the way it was framed, what they showed us was tragedy, not nihilism. Real tragedy, which tells you something true about life. Real tragedy which gives you something, rather than taking everything away.

What a contrast there is between the circular reasoning in “Why We Build the Wall” and mystical cycle of hope that Hermes reveals at the end. The whole show is marked by a pattern of openly asking and answering questions, and leaving it up to the audience to decide whether the answers satisfy or not. My friends, I was satisfied. 

***

Clara drew a picture of the show the night before, and several of the cast members signed it.



One more note: The Walter Kerr Theater was wonderful. It’s a small theater, and although our balcony seats were unexpectedly high up, they were still good seats. The sound was great, the theater is gorgeous, and the courteous, placid staff managed the tight crowd exceedingly well, directing streams of antsy New Yorkers in a serpentine line for lady’s room with aplomb. Overall a near-flawless experience.  If there’s any way at all you can get to see this show, I beg you to try! 

The show says it’s recommended for people age 12 and up. That seems about right to me. There isn’t any sex or violence or cussing that I can recall, but it sure is sad. 

An awesomely awkward living room show with Samantha Crain

The other day, two goons stepped way out of their comfort zone and went to a Samantha Crain living room concert on a Tuesday evening in Boston. Best idea we’ve had in a long time!

I’ve written a bit about Crain, who has one of the most extraordinary voices I’ve ever heard. She’s a Choctaw-American Okie who sings, plays the guitar, and writes songs that pass right through your chest like a steel girder that loves you very much. Wonderful to discover she’s even better live.

After the show, I told her about the first time I heard her voice on the radio, and I was late picking up my kid from work because I had to pull over a cry for a little bit. She sang that song the other night. Here is “Elk City:”

She’s relaxed, chatty, and self-deprecating in between songs, and her frank face and demeanor put you at ease; but once she gets to singing, she has a trick of bowing her head right in behind her guitar, as if she’s climbing right inside the song. I was very impressed at how she committed to each piece, even though this show was the last in a long series, and the audience was maybe fifteen rather stiff, unresponsive folks. She tuned her guitar incessantly between songs, and absolutely filled the room with her voice, which, as I said, makes me think of a cold brook running in and out of sun and shade.

Her newest album, You Had Me At Goodbye, has less of a folk feel (although “folk” isn’t quite the right word) and more unconventional instrumentation and structure than her previous albums, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Listen to the deeply old-fashioned soulful wail of “When the Roses Bloom Again”

You never heard anything else like it, anyway, right? I wish Johnny Cash had recorded a song or two with her.

She performed the slyly funny “Antiseptic Greeting,” which she described as a song about the experience of having resting bitch face.

Here’s “Red Sky Blue Mountain” in the Chahta language, which she didn’t sing in this concert, but I’m including it to show how she sounds live:

So intense. Her guitar playing is also very deft and sets a complete mood. Some of her songs are . . . shattering. Many of her songs start out with some familiar sentiment, and you think, “Ah, this is going to be such-and-such type of song, for ladies,” and then the lyric veers away a bit, putting you off balance; and then comes the hook, which just flattens you. “When You Come Back” was one of those.

I do wish you could have heard this live in a small room. Her voice was so raw and direct. She also sang something I think was called “Tough For You” which I may never recover from. Damien almost fell out of his chair, too. I think she said she had just recorded it for her next album, so that explains why I can’t find it anywhere. Keep an ear out, but hold onto your butt.

Her lyrics are always well worth listening to, and you get the impression that she’s read a lot of things and listened quietly to a lot of people, and inside her head, it all weaves itself into something a little bit frightening but dreadfully familiar. There was another one, I guess also a fairly new one, where she can’t talk to the guy because she’s just an echo, and after a while even an echo fades away, and he melts like a pat of butter but she evaporates like water in a pan. Well, you’d have to hear it.

She said she rarely sings old songs she wrote a long time ago, because it’s like eating the same food over and over and over again, and it just tastes bad after a while. She called “Sante Fe” the pizza of her songs, because she still always enjoys it, and so do I:

She also did a rare cover song, “Slip Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon, because I wasn’t already steadily leaking tears, and my nose needed to start leaking, too. Good grief, I just sat there and cried for an hour like a giant weirdo. But it was fine. Afterwards, a woman came up and excitedly told her that the Dolores in the song was actually about her mother Dolores, and Crain said that lots of people have told her the same thing about their mothers, Dolores! Ha.

About living room concerts: This one was actually in a small home furnishings store called A Curated World, but most are in actual living rooms, and the tickets are very cheap.  Crain explained that concert promoters lose interest in you if you don’t put out an album every year, and she wanted to devote more time to her next album; so living room concert series are an increasingly popular way to bridge that gap. There are few to no middle men, so the performer gets most of the profit; and the audience gets the incredible benefit of spending an intimate hour with the artist. They had invited us to bring beer or wine. We brought a nice bottle of red wine, and it turned out we were the only ones who had. Too bad!

Anyway, if Samantha Crain ever comes anywhere near you, it’s well worth a drive to go see her. It was an unforgettable hour with a top notch performer.