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Nas Interviewed by Elisa New, professor of American Literature at Harvard University

November 14, 2017

Nas

Anyone who follows my blog is bound to have picked up on just how much I love Amy Winehouse – her lyrics, her music, her covers, her production, her persona. I think she’s arguably the best female talent to come around in decades.

What sets her apart is the same twist of fate that Ella Fitzgerald was gifted – raw talent. They both were bona fide naturals when it came to delivering a song.

One of my favorite productions is Like Smoke (feat. Nas), a counterpoint/mashup done by Amy and Nas. It’s a brilliant coupling of talent and songs. While rap/hip hop has never appealed to me, when I listen to Nas, I come close to liking it. The guy is intelligent, informed and insightful – incredibly so for a kid who dropped out of school in 8th grade – and it comes through in his lyrics, pace, delivery and production.

I was thrilled to see the stuffy publication Poets and Writers feature an interview with Nas – an interview conducted by Elisa New, professor of American Literature at Harvard University. It’s a fascinating conversation.

Wiki page about Nas ~

 

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Old Crow Medicine Show Covers Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’

May 26, 2017

logo-old-crow-medicine-show
Tonight I sit in bed, bundled up against a cold that resides only in me, not in the room temperature. I’m supposed to be at the Boston tour stop of Old Crow Medicine Show as they promote their new album, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde – a cover of Bob Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde On Blonde.

My son John got us tickets to this show as a Mother’s Day gift. It was his way of thanking me for getting him into Dylan when he was in high school – years when he needed to find a voice that sang of his young heart and soul. Then, after living in Virginia for five years, he came home with an ear for bluegrass music and along with him came the songs of Old Crow Medicine Show, a band that’s remained a favorite of his, as well as the Avett Brothers. So it was a perfect gift – John and me going together to listen to Dylan music done by OCMS.

But several days ago I came down with a cold, a rare occurrence for me. I was sure I’d be well enough for tonight but no such luck. It would hardly have been fair to cough and snivel through the show, wrecking the experience for those inches from me in the cramped Orpheum Theatre, my favorite Boston venue – to top off my disappointment.

So, rather than cry away the evening, I’ve got my earbuds in and I’m rocking out, country/bluegrass style, to OCMS’s new album of live recordings, which is so much more than I expected it to be – because, really, how does a band come close to one of Dylan’s most beloved collections of songs? Well, first, to my ear, they approached it as an homage. Then they put in just the right amount of harmonica, and vocalizing in the same questioning, melancholic or riled-up voice that Dylan himself used.
Old-Crow-Medicine-Show-Blonde-on-Blonde

And perhaps best of all, their sound reminds us of Dylan’s connection to Nashville. What Dylan fan hasn’t watched him sing with Johnny Cash both his own Girl From The North Country  and Cash’s I Walk the Line? So, we all know he has a strong history in Nashville. But I think we kind of forget that as we put Dylan in his folk era or his long, amazing “unplugged” era.
(Side-note: Nashville Skyline is my favorite Dylan album. I know, go figure…I’m in a category of one!)

Rolling Stone wrote about OCMS’s cover of Blonde on Blonde in an April 27 article, quoted here in part:
“The band never felt daunted by the challenge of covering Blonde on Blonde, however. Fuqua in particular says he’s been prepping for the opportunity since Secor first introduced him to Dylan’s music in eighth grade. ‘We became sort of obsessed,’ he recalls. ‘We listened to everything Dylan did.’ Fuqua admits Blonde on Blonde was never his favorite of Dylan’s work – Blood on the Tracks is his go-to – but he says ‘the whole album was always in my brain somewhere.'”

For me, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands has always been a top-five favorite Dylan song. So I was anxious to hear OCMS’s redo. Perhaps that Dylan’s emotion is absent strikes me. It sounds a bit overproduced when I think of Dylan’s quieter, slower, introspective rendition of a wondrous ballad where the lyrics soar far above all other elements.

It’s impossible to say this album is better than the original. But as I listen to it, I can’t imagine any other band pulling this off so well. The Nashville sound makes it. So does the fact that every recording is live. I almost feel as if I’m at the Orpheum!

Buy 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde at the Old Crow Medicine Show site! How does this much great music sell for a mere $11.99 (CD or download) or $21.99 (vinyl)? With the money you expected to spend on it but didn’t, get the original, Dylan’s 1966 Blonde on Blonde!

 

 

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat Painting Sells For A Cool $110.5 Million

May 19, 2017

jean-michel-basquiat-untitled-painting
I am thrilled by today’s art buzz – that Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s painting, “Untitled,” shown above, sold for $110.5 million at auction yesterday.

Ever since I watched the film, Basquiat, in the mid 90’s I have been a huge fan of this graffiti artist. I don’t know that I love his works of art as visual pieces, but I do love what I perceive as being the boundaries that he was pushing against. I love his work because they take me to the edges of a frontier.

Because his career spanned only seven years (he died of a drug overdose at age 27 – the mystical age at which so many brilliant talents are lost), there is a limited number of finished works by Basquiat. So, as his recognition increases, so does the value of these works.

What especially pleases me is that the 41 year-old, billionaire buyer, Yusaku Maezawa (who maintains an art collection that includes a Picasso and other Basquiat paintings), plans to build a museum in Japan that will house these works and keep them available for public viewing.

Basquiat’s work so impressed me that when I was writing Love’s Compass I used the influence of his work, observed through the main character, Liv, to describe a painting that her love interest had painted. “In the center of the room, lying flat on the floor was a large canvas. She estimated it to be six feet by nine feet. Studying it for several minutes made her think of what she’d learned of Jean-Michel Basquiat in a movie about his life, and Jackson Pollock through a book she’d borrowed from a friend. In shades of red, pink, yellow, and sky blue, the background was divided into uneven and irregular panes of color, suggestive of a Basquiat underlay. However, over this backdrop it looked as if Pollock had passed through the room, dripping and flicking paint from large saturated brushes, in three colors; black, red, and lime green. Where Basquiat’s signature skeletons and mock graffiti were absent, Pollock-like spattering and drizzling of paint, in perfect balance, though less dense, was present.”

Thank you Yusaku Maezawa for bringing into light, for all to see, a Basquiat painting that has not been viewed in nearly 30 years.

An Author Who Loves Her Own Books!

May 5, 2017

 

Love-Topaz-by-Mary-McAvoy

After a three-year hiatus from writing (because my daughter was sick with cancer – but at the moment is doing well), I have this year finally found the focus to revisit works that were actively in progress in the spring of 2014. At last, I’m advancing the writing of Kaleidoscope Chips, my fourth novel, as well as editing my third novel, Love, Topaz. While writing KC is utterly draining (thematically, it’s about domestic abuse), editing Love, Topaz is pure delight for me. I hadn’t read it in nearly three years. It’s as fresh and as engaging as I thought it to be while I wrote it.

Written as a subtle comedy of manners set in a writers retreat, Love, Topaz has the magical quality that sparks my inner joy whenever and wherever love abounds, as it does with increasing amounts as the story progresses.

Briefly, the now-a-day storyline is this: Jerome is a young, anxious writer who can’t write without his love, his muse, Topaz, nearby. So he sneaks her into a writers retreat where he’s in residence for a week. Jerome and Topaz’s love is so enormous it cannot stay contained in their little room, and as time goes by, their pure love begins to seep out into the retreat house and to spill and spread throughout the tiny Virginia hamlet in which the writers retreat is located. The results are enchanting as the infectious nature of love works its magic.

Love, Topaz has a naive tone. I have worried that the book is not edgy enough to fit into a top genre market. But this week I saw the movie La La Land and I la-la-loved it! Apparently, despite its heartwarming innocence, so did lots of people, as shown in its awards success as well as its tremendous box office sales. This gives me great hope that a book like Love, Topaz will find an audience.

That is my totally biased critique of my own book, Love, Topaz! 🙂  I’ll keep you posted as my editing progresses and its publishing date draws near.

I’ve added a new page to this site. Visit Love, Topaz and read sample excerpts from the book! Enjoy!

Samsung Phone and Safety Assistance

April 10, 2017

Posting Sunday about shopping for a new cell phone (specifically Android vs iPhone) reminded me of another Samsung phone feature that I stumbled upon in an amusing way.

For Christmas, my loving and generous children gave me a Samsung tablet. They chose Samsung knowing I have a Samsung phone (s5) that I’ve been really pleased with.

I was still adapting to the tablet when one evening I sat at the dining room table enjoying dinner alone though my daughter was home, working in another room. I had both my tablet and my cell phone with me. I was deeply into reading the 12 novel Poldark series by Winston Graham. I was reading the books through Kindle on my tablet.

Not wanting to be disturbed by my phone as I ate and read, I reached to lower its notifications volume.

The story has to divert here for additional info…
My new tablet has both the power button and the volume buttons on the right-hand side. My cell phone has the power button on the right-hand side, while the volume button is on the left-hand side.

Anyway, in my aging brain, I confused where the buttons are on each of the devices. I reached to turn down the volume on my phone and repeatedly pressed the button on the right hand side – the power button, thinking it was the volume button.

About three seconds later, my daughter appeared behind me and asked, “Mum, are you okay?” She was very serious. I said, “I’m great, just having my dinner!” She said, “Are you sure?” I looked at her and could see consternation on her face as she studied me and then her eyes suspiciously glanced around the room.

I assured her, “I’m perfectly fine. Why are you asking?”

She said, “You just sent an emergency alert out through your phone.”

“Who did I send it to?”

I don’t know. Who did you set up to receive it?”

“I have no idea what it is. I don’t think I ever set up anything.
Oh, God, did I sent it to all my contacts? How did I send it?”

Now we’re nervously laughing!

“Quickly text your brother and tell him I’m fine!”

At this point I study my phone. Two new images have arrived in my gallery – in a never-before-seen file labeled “Emergency.” One image is completely black. The other is an image of a small portion of my head and the dining room ceiling! I am amazed! And confused. (In retrospect, I think the phone automatically shot images from both sides of the phone. As it was face down on the table, one was completely black. The other shot caught a bit of me and the ceiling.)

My kids were able to reassure me that it looked as if I only sent the alert to them. So, I studied my settings to see what possibly could have happened. And here’s what I found:

Samsung has Safety assistance as a setting, which, now that I know about it, I love. When set to “On” the user can rapidly press the power button three times (as I did thinking I was lowering the volume…) and a message will go out to up to four pre-chosen contacts. I still have no idea how or when my children were chosen. But I love knowing this function is available on my phone.

On their end, what they received is text messages saying “SOS” and “I need help” as well as my google maps location. An audio recording is also sent out from the phone. (Click to open images and see captions).

Though the recording is short, I imagine that if the mic had picked up any sound, it would have kept recording.

I am amazed by this technology. I now carry my phone in hand with my thumb on the power button whenever I’m in a parking garage or parking lot or any other place where I don’t feel totally safe!

Thank you, Samsung!

Android vs iPhone = Android

April 9, 2017

I want this technology:
the-jetsons-jetsons-clipart_304-244

Not this technology:

flintstones-car-free-clipart-flintstone-car-clipart_590-287

I’m in the market for a new phone. My Samsung Galaxy S5 is well into its third year and I’ve put it through its paces as I take tons of photos. The battery is showing signs of not holding a charge as well as it once did and the phone is acting a bit sluggish, I’m sure from processing a bazillion pixels.

I buy a phone based on the reviews of its camera. As a photographer the camera function is as important to me as the communications abilities. So I began my phone camera research last week and by this weekend the dual lensed iPhone 7 Plus and LG v20 were the top contenders. Never before have I considered an iPhone for its camera.

To consider the iPhone was a big change for me as I’ve used Android phones (HTC and Samsung) exclusively for several years, though my first smartphone was an iPhone. I switched to Android years ago because they had better cameras.

All those years ago, when I switched from the iPhone to an Android, it was like being born again. The Android system was far more intuitive and “smart” than Apple’s phone and it had features that made sense for real life (an example to come below…). But I did miss the syncability to my MacBook Pro and still do. So it was with a little bit of excitement that I drove to the phone store this weekend, thinking I might again enjoy that mega perk of brand loyalty.

I arrived at the store prepared to compare the iPhone to the LG. Once in the store, I went to the iPhone first. It’s certainly an attractive phone, shiny and sleek. But as soon as I opened the texting app my heart sank as it always does with the iPhone interface. Looking back at me from the screen was the most archaic keypad.
This is the sum total of it.iPhone keyboard

To me, an Android user, the iPhone keypad looks like this, a child’s game.
child's keyboard
(from Looney Tunes Phonics)

With the iPhone if you want numbers or punctuation marks, you have to click to switch to a separate keypad, then back again for your letters. That’s a ton of wasted clicks and time. Not very smart.

iPhone has had this keypad forever. Zero forward motion toward anything hipper or more efficient. This one feature alone, halted my considering the iPhone. The sales rep and I checked for an app that might override this three-line toddleresque interface, but there isn’t one that offers numbers and punctuation on the main keypad.

For comparison, here’s what an Android keyboard looks like:

Samsung phone keyboard

Without taking up much screen view real estate, it has numbers across the top and each letter key has a dual function that is activated by simply pausing for a fraction of a second when you tap the key. This is the keypad of a smart phone. (Note: The user can switch to the symbols keyboard if he/she prefers.)

So I left the Apple area of the store and went to look at the LG, which is way too big for me. I know I’d drop it a lot as my fingers can barely wrap around its edges.

In addition to the keyboard issue of the iPhone and the size of the LG, much to my surprise, neither the iPhone nor the LG has my favorite Samsung Galaxy feature – the Ultra power saving mode. I realized the tremendous value of this a few years ago when a rogue snowstorm knocked out the power in my New England home the day before Thanksgiving. Anticipating the possibility of losing power, I had charged my phone. As soon as the power went out, I switched to Ultra power saving mode. The phone switches to a black and white screen (that alone saving lots of power I’m sure) and the home screen presents access to six apps (of the user’s choice, from a menu of nine apps): Phone, Messages, Internet, Calculator, Clock, Facebook, Google+, Memo, and Voice Recorder. A full charge gives you 8-12 days of use in Ultra power saving mode, depending on the amount of phone time you engage in. Now that’s smart. (Samsung also has the standard power saving mode that most phones offer.)

I’ve used Ultra power saver a half dozen times while owning my current phone. It gives a great sense of security when you need it – like during Boston’s greatest traffic jam a couple of years ago when I moved barely two blocks in four hours. Seriously. To know that I can get significantly more hours or days out of my phone in a crisis has become key to me.

Anyway, between the infantile keyboard on the iPhone, the size of the LG and no other phone but Samsung having Ultra power saving mode, I think I’m going to end up with Samsung Galaxy again (yes, despite the battery issue of last year) and I anticipate getting the Samsung Galaxy S8 which has a really good camera. A new camera is expected to come out in the Samsung fall model. The sales rep says I can upgrade then if I prefer the new phone without having to pay for whatever monthly fees are still due through my carrier plan on the phone I buy now.

I can’t believe that I am walking away from the iPhone’s new camera because I just cannot accept its archaic keyboard.

Get smart, Apple!

(Top two images courtesy of ClipartFest)

Poldark vs. Warleggan

February 14, 2017

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Happy Birthday, Valentine Warleggan (or is it Poldark…?!)!

Thank you Winston Graham for your twelve wonderful historical fiction novels about the Poldark family in Cornwall, England, 1783-1820. And thank you PBS for your amazing films based on the Poldark series.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all! 💘

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