Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Single-Payer Is Out, but a Public Option Still Might Be, well, an Option


While we would have preferred a single-payer system, this year's health care reform bill should at the very least include a robust public option, but in the past few days, even the chances of that have seemed slim. Despite the Blue Dog Coalition's attempt to chop the head off of a public option, it looks like some Senators are still working for the people and pushing for a public option in the health care reform bill. I hate it when people ask me to sign petitions, but come on, this one's important!

Conceived by Senators Leahy, Schumer and Durbin, here's the short, simple message on the petition:

With nearly 50 million Americans lacking health insurance, and premiums rapidly rising, it's time to address the health care crisis in our country. All Americans deserve access to affordable, quality health care -- and today, nearly one-in-six of us don't have it.

I join Senators Durbin, Leahy, and Schumer in their efforts to pass strong health care reform legislation this year. In particular, I support the creation of a public health insurance option that would foster greater competition in the marketplace, create more choices for consumers, and lead to lower costs and better quality for all.

Please reform our health care system this year!

Monday, July 27, 2009


Here are two stark and stunning shots by our friend Liad Cohen that somehow breathe new life into the oft-photographed Flatiron building...

The Farallones

Here is our good friend Lauren Sommer reporting on the fascinating Farallon Islands off the coast of northern California...

QUEST on KQED Public Media.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Things to Read, Drinks to Drink: J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, and Hacker-Pschorr's Sternweisse

J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace and Hacker-Pschorr's Sternweisse

Of 2003 Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee's novels, one of the most devastating and moving is undoubtedly 1999's Disgrace, a book for which Coetzee was awarded that year's Booker Prize (the second of his career). The novel tells the story of an aging and disaffected professor in Capetown who effectively ruins his career by having an affair with a student. At once a portrait of shifting power dynamics and racial hierarchies in post-apartheid South Africa, the novel also grapples with notions of redemption. David Lurie, the novel's protagonist, is venomously pig-headed and arrogant, but when his near-redemption is ripped from him, it's oddly heartbreaking. Worse is his unwillingness to stand back up and brush himself off. The final pages of the novel are some of the most difficult I've ever read... As far as last lines of a novel go, these are some of the saddest and best.

While we could have gone with a more exotic pairing for this novel, we're suggesting that you pick up a couple of 500ml bottles of Hacker-Pschorr's Sternweisse and find a deep porch where you can sip and read. The Munich-based brewery has been operating since 1417 and (here's where the South Africa connection comes in) was founded as the Hacker Brewery. In the late 18th century, Joseph Pschorr bought the Hacker Brewery from his father-in-law and then went on to found a brewery in his own name. The two companies produced beers separately until the 1970s, when they merged to form the Hacker-Pschorr company. That's a story of a happy reunification if I've ever heard one. Their Sternweisse is an incredibly smooth, unfiltered amber wheat beer. The nose is both toasty and sweet, and the creamy head lasts for a long while after the pour. As a bonus, the swing top bottles are reusable for home brewers (which, admittedly, is why I initially bought a case of the Sternweisse. Instead of buying a case of expensive, empty swing top bottles, why not buy a case of beer in swing top bottles and then reuse them?).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yo La Tengo on French TV!

I'm getting more and more psyched for YLT's upcoming Popular Songs!

Cass McCombs walks through a crowd...

...and it is mesmerizing. Here is the video for "You Saved My Life" from the superbly subtle and infectious Catacombs, which came out last week and which has had a steady home atop the turntable at home.

And here is the equally beguiling video for the equally sublime "Dreams Comes True Girl," featuring the spectral, sultry vocals of Hollywood legend Karen Black...

Buy Catacombs HERE. (Use coupon code brokenstring10 at Insound.com until August 1 for 10% off!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

An Interview with The Saw Lady!

Natalia "The Saw Lady" Paruz with Garrison Keillor after her performance on A Prairie Home Companion

This coming Saturday, July 18, marks the 7th annual Musical Saw Festival. We had the privilege of asking the festival's founder/director, Natalia "The Saw Lady" Paruz, a few questions about her passion for the distinctive instrument and her goal to steal a Guinness World Record from Poland...

YSC: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the musical saw?

TSL: The far past of the art form is shrouded in fog, but we are pretty certain that it existed at least 300 years ago. It started with lumberjacks & carpenters in many different countries and continents around the world, without one knowing of the other.

At first it was a folk tradition, used for sing-alongs around the camp fire.

Paolo the Clown playing a musical saw in 1954Fast forward 100 years, and you can find the musical saw in liturgical music: priests and missionaries used it to lead hymn singing at their churches.

Fast forward another 100 years and you find the musical saw in show business: there was practically no vaudeville show in the USA that didn't have a musical saw player in it. In Europe, circus clowns used it in their acts (please see www.sawlady.com/Clowns.htm).

Since WWII there was a steep decline in the popularity of the art form but at the dawn of the 21st century a resurgence of interest began.

YSC: How and when did you first discover the instrument and your skill with it?

TSL: 16 years ago I was a professional dancer. I was a trainee with the Martha Graham Dance Company of Contemporary Dance. I was a tap-dance teacher and demonstrator for Dance Masters and Dance Educators of America. I earned a living performing in musical theater—in short, I was a happy dancer—until… One day, on my way home from Lincoln Center, I crossed the street and was hit by a speeding taxi-cab. This was the end of my dance career. I suffered permanent damage to my upper spine.

Needless to say, I was devastated. I have dedicated my life to dance, and now what was I going to do?

To cheer me up, my parents took me on a trip to Austria. You see, as a kid I loved the movie The Sound of Music. I went to the movie theater 14 times just to see it on the big screen! So, my parents took me to the country where this film was made. While there we attended an Austrian folklore show. One of the acts was… you guessed it—a musical saw player! Now, I have never seen nor heard of a musical saw before. This was totally new to me, and it blew me away. I thought the sound was phenomenal, and what really appealed to me was the visual—the fact that the whole instrument moved and the sawist’s upper body along with it. It was like a dance!

I went back stage to talk with the sawist. With my broken German I managed to ask him to give me lessons. His answer was a flat and resounding "No." Of course I said I would pay him, and asked how much he wanted, but he just told me that I didn’t need a teacher. “Pick up a hand saw, hold it the way you have seen me do on stage, and you’ll figure it out” was his instruction. As a “bonus hint” he told me that the more expensive a saw I get, the better it would sound.

Armed with these instructions I borrowed my landlady’s old saw. It was rusty from time and woodwork, so it only had 6 notes left on it.

A trip to the local hardware store was an interesting experience. The owner was furious about the “whistling” that somebody was doing in his store… He was very puzzled when he saw where the sound was coming from, but let me continue to test all his saws when he realized I was going to purchase an expensive saw…

Indeed the Austrian sawyer was right. I did figure it out all on my own, and I am very grateful to him now, for having given me the satisfaction of being able to say that "I did it all on my own."

YSC: Do you have any personal favorite songs that feature the saw? Have you heard of Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel and The Music Tapes, and an avid singing saw enthusiast?

TSL: I wish somebody would tell Julian Koster about the saw festival; I would love for him to play but I don't know how to reach him.

I have recorded the saw for many singer-songwriters. Some of my favorites:
...to name a few.

YSC: When did the Musical Saw Festival begin and what is your involvement with the festival?

TSL: I am the founder/director of the annual NYC Musical Saw Festival. I started it 7 years ago. I had 5 sawists the first year and it looks like there will be 50 sawists this year. We've grown!

YSC: When did you decide to show Poland what's what and break their Guinness World Record for "Largest Musical Saw Ensemble? Are you confident you will walk away victorious this year?

TSL: Poland was my inspiration. I thought that the art form of playing music on a carpenter's handsaw could benefit from the publicity that a Guinness World Record attempt can bring. It would expose a whole new set of people to the possiblity of learning to play a saw.
The current world record is 27 people playing the saw together. So far 50 sawists registered to perform at the NYC Musical Saw Festival, so I am pretty confident that we will set a new record.

YSC: What are you looking forward to most about this year's festival? What should those attending expect to see and hear?

TSL: You mean besides looking forward to all the hard work of putting the festival on to be behind me?!

I'm looking forward to meeting all the saw players with whom I've been corresponding over the years and haven't met yet. Some of them I've "known" for 10 years through e-mail.

People attending the festival will experience the different styles and techniques of playing the musical saw through a diverse group of performers who each use different types of saws, bows, different playing techniques, and play different genres of music. Solos, duets, saws played through electronic devices, and of course the 'Chorus of the Saws'—all sawists playing together. That is really wild. Not only the visual of 50 people ages 18 to 83 playing saws together, but the sound is like a wall of sound. It's like nothing else.

Four world premiers of music written for the musical saw will be featured, with participation of a string quartet and handbell group. There is also an art exhibit of paintings that have to do with the musical saw. This will be the largest festival, with 2 sawists coming from Japan, 3 from Germany, 1 from Belgium, 3 from Canada and the rest from all over the USA—a real 'once in a lifetime' experience.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"It's not because I always hold out; it might be I always hold on."

"You're the reason I'll move to the city. You're the reason I'll need to leave"

Sharon van Etten - "Give Out"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rain Drops and Glow Sticks

This endearing video is definitely a hoot and a half, especially since I was just reacquainted with glow sticks a couple weeks ago at a birthday party! They are used to great effect here, along with loads of other clever tricks with a few dozen webcams...

This music video was shot for Sour's 'Hibi no Neiro' (Tone of everyday) from their first mini album 'Water Flavor EP'. The cast were selected from the actual Sour fan base, from many countries around the world. Each person and scene was filmed purely via webcam.

Director: Masashi Kawamura + Hal Kirkland + Magico Nakamura + Masayoshi Nakamura

Monday, July 6, 2009

Skygreen Leopards

Gorgeous Johnny, the latest release from San Franciscan duo and Jewelled Antler affiliates The Skygreen Leopards, is out July 21 on the always reliable Jagjaguwar. I picked up a promo copy at a stoop sale for just a buck! It's on heavy rotation, as they say, at the homestead, and Crouton and I are both really diggin' it. Perfect for cooking on a lazy summer Sunday!

"Dixie Cups in the Dead Grass" (download)

The Pastels + Tenniscoats!!!

Very very very excited about this...

Pastels/TenniscoatsTwo Sunsets
Release Date: September 7 (UK), September 22 (U.S.)
Label: Geographic/Domino

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Cove

One of the must-see films of the year...

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, The Cove follows a high-tech dive team on a mission to discover the truth about the international dolphin capture trade as practiced in Taiji, Japan. Utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, including hidden microphones and cameras in fake rocks, the team uncovers how this small seaside village serves as a horrifying microcosm of massive ecological crimes happening worldwide.

The Cove exposes not only the tragedy of dolphin slaughtering in Japan, but also the dangerously high levels of mercury in dolphin meat and seafood, the cruelty in capturing dolphins for entertainment, and the depletion of our ocean’s fisheries by worldwide seafood consumption. We also see how the mandate of the International Whaling Commission has been manipulated by the Japanese Fisheries Agency for its benefit and its subsequent effect on the rest of the world.

From Scott Weinberg on Cinematical:
"Wow. Just wow. This is easily one of the most powerful, heartfelt, and (yes, I'll say it) important 'nature' documentaries I've ever seen. Here's a brutally honest and effortlessly fascinating film about one specific cove in Taiji, Japan, in which approximately 23,000 dolphins are killed every year. Yes, you read that right: 23,000. Dolphins. Annually. And here's the really twisted part: Given the amount of mercury that's found in these creatures, they're practically poison. But where there's money to be made, there are atrocities to be committed."

Learn more about The Cove HERE.