Earlier tonight, right after dinner, in an attempt to delay having to clean the kitchen, I took the dog for a walk. One of the places we stopped was a convenience store across the main street, a place where the employees are reasonably friendly to me and exceedingly friendly to the dog.
At the convenience store, I saw that the clerk was having trouble communicating with a young woman who was unable to explain to him what she wanted to buy from the store’s small drugstore section. She spoke only Spanish; the clerk spoke only English. I handed her my smartphone, thinking she might type what she wanted into the search box. Then, maybe, the phone could translate and we humans could figure it out together.
She took the phone, and typed, without hesitation or error, “pastillas para el periodo menstrual,” I directed her to Midol, used the smartphone to translate the words on the box into Spanish, and she was soon on her way.
That young woman was remarkably poised for someone who was in menstrual pain and likely not enjoying talking, or trying to talk, to two strange men about it. I didn’t consider it at the time, but now I realize how impressive she was in the moment.
Because she spoke only Spanish in a place where no one else did, it was quite a lot of work for her to advocate for herself and get what she needed. I hope it ended well, but if it did there was some luck involved.
That got me to thinking about some of the unluckiest people at the edge of our country right now, the many thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America desperate to get away from the violence in their home countries and into the U.S. One of their biggest problems right now is that they don’t know how to communicate in English, the language of power, making it much harder for them to advocate for themselves.
When I hear the anger and outrage so many express against these children, I want those who people who feel that anger and outrage to imagine what life might be like for them, only partway through a long and tortuous journey, having trouble describing their most basic and personal needs. And then I want them to think about how they might want to be treated in such circumstances if they faced similarly bad luck.
Dialogue guaranteed reported verbatim:
Other person: You posted your first media diet piece more than a month ago. Where’s part 2?
Me: I have job, a family, a house …
Other person: No, really. How long can it take to do something like this? It’s just a damn list.
Me: I don’t want to publish a list. Lists are boring.
Other person: Two of your books are just lists.
Me: (pause) Oh. I’ll get to it right now.
Other person: Good.
Here’s what I’ve listened to most recently, according to the Recently Played playlist on my phone. All records listed here are definitely endorsements.
William Onyeabor, Anything You Sow (extra-scratchy-downloaded-illegally-from-the-Internet version; track for track it’s almost as solid as the Luaka Bop best-of)
Brand New Wayo (more early-’80s Nigerian funk, but less precise than Onyeabor’s; ideal running accompaniment and rigorously documented)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye (what a band!)
Country Funk (terrific compilation that lives up to its name)
Istanbul 70 (strong introduction to Turkish rock)
Debo Band, Flamingoh (almost everything they do is great: just pledge already)
Courtney Barnett, The Double EP (Dylanesque, hilarious, cutting)
Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX and other people, “Fancy” (hilarious, cutting, not at all Dylanesque)
Wipers, Is This Real (exquisite Northwestern punk; Eli got me listening to it again)
Camp, WRUV, Graveyard Shift 1, July 29, 2014 (late-night college radio at its dreamiest)
Joe Grushecky, New Project Demos (sorry, I can’t give anything away)
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, Simigwa (1975, Ghanaian funk at its funkiest)
Nils Lofgren, Face the Music (all I’ve heard is the alternate take of “Keith Don’t Go” that they’re teasing; maybe Concord will send me the whole thing?)
The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Vol 1. (mysteries inside mysteries inside mysteries inside …)
Lucinda Williams, 25th Anniversary Version (the remastering helps you hear that the performances are as outstanding as the compositions)
Bob Dylan, Down the River (random bootleg, includes one outtake with the world “polka” in it)
Old 97’s, Most Messed Up (tales from the road, often — but not always — with insights that rock as hard as the rhythm section)
Drive-By Truckers, Dragon Pants (Chuck Berry lives!)
Antibalas (Fela lives!)
Bruce Springsteen, American Beauty (you’d expect an EP of outtakes from an LP of outtakes to be bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, but you’d be wrong)
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Brisbane 2-26-14 (greatest. e street setlist. ever.)
This Is Marijata (more ’70s funk from Ghana)
Graham Parker and the Rumour The Up Escalator (it’s no Squeezing Out Sparks — what is? — but this showcases a band at its peak, which led me to listen to …)
Graham Parker and the Rumour, Official Bootleg Box (six CDs of similar setlists is more than a normal person might want to hear, but I’m not a normal person. Steve Goulding!)
Rough Francis, Maximum Soul Power (Burlington VT’s hardest-rocking band — but not featuring my favorite bass player in Burlington)
Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound (the world that created Prince, along with the sound of Prince creating himself)
Ariana Grande and a bunch of other people, “Problem” (wonderful combination of items that shouldn’t fit together but does, like finds at a yard sale)
The Replacements, Let It Be (the reunion tour bumbles into Boston next month)
Lorde, Pure Heroine (the beginning of a long, satisfying, twisting story, I’m hoping)
The Mekons Rock’n’Roll (Steve Goulding’s other band at its peak)
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill (probably their last, featuring the greatest song ever written that takes place in a Ramada Inn)
Bob Dylan, Now Your Mouth Cries Wolf (I’m holding out for a complete “She’s Your Lover Now” someday, but I’m not optimistic)
I’m trying, and half-succeeding, to read less and write more. I read more than enough. (You don’t want to know how many times I’ve been through Proust, for example — one of the good things about having a tablet is that it’s easier to hide my habits/obsessions.)
I’m trying to cut down my inputs dramatically so I can focus more on my output. But someone asked me earlier this year to be part of a media roundup she was assembling for some editorial people. I never got around to it, but I thought it might be useful, for me anyway, to write down want I’m reading/listening to/seeing this summer. I’ll start with podcasts.
Here are five I recommend highly. There are far more great ones than anyone with a job, a family, or creative aspirations could listen to, but here are five I listen to regularly every week with consistent pleasure.
Song Exploder, in which musicians take apart their songs and share how they put ‘em together in the first place. Not all the music is to my taste, but the discussion of what it takes to construct a work is engaging and sometimes inspiring.
Joe Bussard’s Country Classics, in which the legendary record collector (and Fonotone proprietor) digs into his bottomless pile of ’78s and reveals outstanding cut after outstanding cut of pre-WWII country, blues, and gospel, augmented by authoritative commentary, brought to you by the geniuses at Dust-to-Digital.
99% Invisible, a design podcast that digs deep into a topic every week, full of surprises and insight. And this uses the broadest definition of design possible: last week’s episode was all about the history of skyjacking.
On the Media is better known as an NPR show, but I listen to it on podcast just to make sure I don’t miss it when it’s on the local public radio station. I’ve listened to this media-news-and-comment show for years and still learn or am provoked by something new almost every week.
Jimmy hadn’t been accurate when he told Barry that there were only ten in the audience. There were twelve. But that figure grew to thirteen when the drummer left the band halfway through their crowd pleaser, ‘Your Happiness Makes Me Puke,’ but hung around for the rest of the gig so she could drive Barry home.
– Roddy Doyle, The Guts
Lucinda Williams once chased Flannery O’Connor’s peacocks … When Williams was kindergarten age in the late ‘50s, she and her father, the poet Miller Williams, drove from Macon, Ga., to Milledgeville, Ga., to visit the great Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor as invited guests. “She had a strict daily schedule when she was writing,” Williams said … “She wasn’t ready to receive guests when we got there so we sat on the porch until she finished writing. I chased her peacocks all around the yard. My father loves to tell that story.”
Lucinda Williams draws from where the spirit meets the bone (Tallahassee Democrat)
Aside from walls made from whiteboards, it feels like a place where people would go to sit around, smoke pot, and listen to John Legend.
Spotify Hits 10 Million Paid Users. Now Can It Make Money? (Businessweek)