books
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MY EFFIN’ LIFE
Geddy Lee
2023 Harper
 
One of the most innovative musicians in contemporary music, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Geddy Lee, sets the record straight in this candid autobiographical account of his life both inside and outside of Rush, the acclaimed Canadian hard-rock band.

Sex, drugs and the decadence of rock and roll? Forget it. The overriding themes in My Effin’ Life, Lee’s memoir debut, are more like marital discord, death-grieving and a fair share of score-settling. (OK, there are some drugs in it too.)

Most die-hard Rush fans will probably be put off by the chapter that Lee devotes to the story of his Polish Jewish parents and their horrific experiences in Hitler’s Nazi death camps during World War II. But this is indeed the most important chapter, and he is right to give it the prominence and space it deserves in the front of the book.
 
Geddy Lee (birth name: Gershon Eliezer, or Gary Lee, Weinrib) is bitten by the rock and roll bug as a bass-playing teenager in his native Toronto in the 1960s. He joins rock bands with his best friend from school, guitarist Alex Lifeson (birth name: Aleksandar Živojinović), a Canadian offspring of Serbian immigrants from Yugoslavia. Later in the mid-1970s, the two of them hook up with a local drummer, Neil Peart (birth name: Neil Ellwood Peart, pronounced peert), and the power-rock trio we know as Rush is off and running.

All of which goes to prove: You can have the goofiest names in the world and still go on to be millionaire rock stars, even if you never finish high school (which none of the three band members did).

Along with the band’s rising fame and fortune from the 1970s onward came easier access to all the excesses of life, including illegal substances, and Lee recalls in the book a number of episodes involving drugs and alcohol that luckily never made it into the news headlines at the time:

…It was after a gig in one Midwestern [American] city that I climbed aboard our bus to find a dealer sitting at the table up front with his briefcase snapped open and his scales set up, measuring out grams [of cocaine] for the crew as they popped by to pick up their purchases.

I was freaked out. That briefcase not only carried an enormous rock of coke but had a big-ass satellite phone built right into it too. Not normal — almost no one had cell phones back then. I was thinking,
Who is this effin’ guy? He must be a serious player. We found out afterwards that “serious” didn’t even cover it; he was a big-time dealer, definitely not the kind of dude we should be associating with, let alone doling out grams on our bus. What the fuck were we thinking? The guy was so dangerous that the FBI was sniffing around our next gig looking for him. Talk about a wake-up call.

Yes, Lee does drop a ton of f-word bombs throughout the 500 pages of My Effin’ Life, starting with the title, but that’s just his storytelling style. You get used to it. What is more annoying is Lee’s overuse of footnotes throughout the book, either to add tidbits of trivial information or to share the punch line of a joke. That writing habit gets really old, really fast.

And perhaps it is being the child of Holocaust survivors that makes Lee so sensitive to the deaths of those around him in Rush-world. That is understandable. He spends plenty of space in the book grieving over the loss of friends and colleagues who have died from one cause or another. So much so that the narrative almost feels like a wake at times.

One other indulgence that author Lee partakes in less graciously in the book is airing his grudges against those who have slighted him or the band over the years. “Yes, I
am a motherfucker who bears a grudge,” he states. Fair enough; it’s his book and he can write what he likes. But if getting even is your thing, why do it in a book? Why not put it out there on, say, digital social media, where it will hit its intended target with a bang and do some real damage?

But these questions are all beside the point. This book is a story about Lee’s life in the years before, during and after Rush, and there is much to savor in all the inside stories Lee shares publicly for the first time about (ahem) living in the limelight. Not least being the heavy strains on his marriage and family life that the whole Rush business had caused him over the years, something he comes back to repeatedly in the book.

The largest gig of Rush’s career took place in Toronto in 2003, where about half a million people (think: Woodstock) had gathered for “Toronto Rocks,” a daylong concert that featured a lineup of the most famous rock bands in the world doing a benefit show for frontline health care and hospitality workers fighting the SARS pandemic of that time. As Lee relates the experience:

Then we went on, and, my god, the view: people as far as the eye could see — the very horizon was moving. It’s an amazing feeling to play to such a crowd. I have tried many times to describe it, but maybe never successfully, so here goes again: before you hit the stage, you have the knowledge and the confidence of months of preparation and playing. You know the material by every possible metric. Still, however much you’ve warmed up in the dressing room, that first song is always about shaking off the cobwebs — especially if you’re singing — even if up there I do look like an organ grinder with everything but the tin cup, more than anything I’m focused on singing in key. On a good night, once I’m locked in, I enter a sort of dream state. I’m in awe but can’t just stand there gawping, I’ve got a job to do, and my brain sort of lifts off. That kind of awareness has always fascinated me: when you feel jacked into every little thing that’s going on around you but in another sense you’re not really there at all. The motor functions of your brain are firing on all cylinders, your fingers are flying up and down the neck of your instrument, but your thoughts are somewhere else entirely.

At that point I’m living the music, it’s become an extension of me. My fingers are connected directly to my brain and my heart is spurred on by the crowd. I’m sweating, hyperaware, lost in the moment. I’m aware not only of my partners, but of every soul in the building. I have a psychic peripheral vision that makes me feel connected to everything. And when the three of us are in that same mode, there’s no feeling like it. [T]here’s no more rewarding experience I’ve ever had on earth, with the possible exception of…Okay, hey, wait a second. Just calm down there, please. If you thought I was gonna say something stupid like “an orgasm,” well, I wasn’t. I was going to say “a glass of 1978 Musigny” [wine].


Lee’s final wake in the book comes with the death of Rush drummer Neil Peart at age 67 in 2020. Peart had retired from the band five years earlier due to health issues and domestic home-life priorities. He barely had time to enjoy his post-Rush retirement before being diagnosed with a lethal form of brain cancer. The Covid pandemic then hit and brought even more reason for Lee to grieve.

But life goes on.
My Effin’ Life is Lee’s second effort as an author, following his first book, a bass guitar encyclopedia of sorts, a few years ago. He has recently hosted a television series about bass players as well. Alex Lifeson is in a new band altogether and is busy releasing albums with his current bandmates. And Neil Peart himself has a new book coming out this year, the last book he had completed but never got published before passing on.

Rush as a band is no more, yet the music lives on. That is where the greatest stories of the band’s 40-plus years together are to be found, if the truth be told — in the music, not in any books. Fortieth anniversary editions of iconic albums in the Rush catalogue continue to be released and there are some real gems still to be found there, especially in previously unreleased live recordings. As Nancy Wilson of the rock band Heart once generally put it: “It’s about the effin’ music.”

And if you’re Geddy Lee, it’s about an effin’ memorable life in and outside of the musical legacy of Rush. As far as autobiographies in popular music go, and there are many out there, this one truly rocks.
音楽 music
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COMPASSION
Vijay Iyer Trio
2024
Maelstrom
Vijay Iyer Trio
 
High synergy is at play on Compassion, the new studio recording from jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and virtuoso collaborators Linda May Han Oh on bass and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.

Individually, each of the musicians ranks as among the best in the music world. Together, the music they produce is so much greater than the sum of their separate selves.

Just as they did on their last album together, Uneasy, released a few years ago, the band members synergize on both original compositions by Iyer and on covers of other artists’ works. A common link between the two albums is the coronavirus pandemic and how it has affected the world.
 
“Maelstrom” (audio clip above) is a dynamic number with an undulating groove over a strong backbeat. This tune, along with two others on the album composed by Iyer — “Panegyric” and “Tempest” — perfectly captures the feeling of those frantic, deadly days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Compassion,” the title track, shows just how naturally the three band members’ playing interweaves, with Sorey’s polyrhythms laying down a solid foundation for this pensive piece. Check out the full-track video version of this jam.

It’s always a joy to hear a song by pop icon Stevie Wonder get covered right by another artist, and Iyer and crew do just that on “Overjoyed” — the version of Wonder’s 1980s hit song as interpreted by the late jazz pianist Chick Corea.

Iyer is a musician with a social conscience who values social connection, and that comes through viscerally on “It Goes,” a reflective, soulful solo piece on piano. This and two other Iyer compositions on the album, “Ghostrumental” and “Where I Am,” were part of an ensemble project inspired by the writings of Eve L. Ewing, the renowned Chicago-based author, scholar and cultural organizer.

Homage is paid to Iyer’s mentor, the jazz elder and avant-garde saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell (still living), on a cover of Mitchell’s tune “Nonaah,” a freestyle vortex of a jam.

“Arch,” featuring some solid bassline phrasing by Oh, is an upbeat, celebratory song that Iyer wrote in tribute to the late South African icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It catches the spirit of the man superbly.

And on “Free Spirits/Drummer’s Song,” the trio pays remembrance to two jazz performers and educators who have since passed on to the Great Beyond — saxophonist John Stubblefield and the late, great pianist Geri Allen — by organically unifying two different stylistic compositions.

“We developed all of this music onstage,” Iyer says in the liner notes of Compassion, “out in the world, in spaces of community and encounter.”

All three musicians continue to make the best of two worlds: academia and music. Not that those worlds are mutually exclusive. In these artists’ hands, the work of the mind and the work of the spirit go hand in hand.

Vijay Iyer actively records in the studio and performs live, in addition to teaching at Harvard University. Linda May Hanh Oh, a Malaysian musician who hails from Australia, is based in New York City and teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Tyshawn Sorey continues to receive accolades for his compositions, recordings and performances across the genres of jazz and classical music. He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.

As Iyer so eloquently concludes about the post-pandemic situation in the liner notes: “I hope that this word [compassion], placed alongside this music, offers us all a reminder, an assurance, a plea, and perhaps an inspiration — to find each other in this together.” What the world needs now is indeed more compassion, the emotive kind, and more Compassion, the musical kind, released by ECM Records of Germany.

The high level of artistic synergy at which these three master musicians continue to create together bodes well for their future collaborations and for all of jazz music. Long may the Vijay Iyer Trio carry on with its own inspiring brand of synergy, both in the studio and on stage.
映画 film
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20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL
Mstyslav Chernov, director
2023 95 min.
 
Russian tanks push into a local neighborhood, crashing past abandoned city buses in the industrial port city of Mariupol in Ukraine. One tank suddenly stops, its turret methodically swiveling around and aiming toward the upper floors of a hospital, where two Ukrainian journalists are discreetly peering down below.

The sight of the tank’s barrel being pointed directly at them sends fear into the journalists working for the Associated Press, the American news agency, and they scramble for cover, knowing that in seconds they could be the next civilian targets of Russia’s military onslaught on the city.

The Russian tank did not fire at that hospital at that moment, but if it had, the story of the siege of Mariupol would likely never have been told in this hard-hitting documentary film, 2
0 Days in Mariupol, directed by AP video reporter Mstyslav Chernov. He was one of the camera persons filming that day from the hospital window.
 
Jointly produced by the AP and the Frontline program of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in the United States, this visual chronicle of the full-scale Russian military invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February-March 2022 covers the first three weeks of Russia’s attack on Mariupol as recorded by the AP’s Ukrainian team on the ground — videographer Chernov, still photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and field producer Vasilisa Stepanenko — at great risk to their own lives.

Chernov, who was born in Ukraine, narrates the film as well in a riveting first-person account. The video images of the sheer devastation of what once was a thriving modern metropolis often need no accompanying words at all.

The AP journalists arrive in Mariupol an hour before Russia starts bombing the city on 24 February 2022. As the air attacks increase and Russian ground troops, with ominous white Z symbols painted on their military vehicles, push closer to the Mariupol city center, the AP crew is there to record it.

Some of the local Ukrainian people in the streets call the journalists media whores for appearing to take advantage of the destruction and suffering just to get some good shots. “I understand their anger. Their country is being attacked,” Chernov narrates. “It’s our country too, and we have to tell its story.”

Others want the journalists to record everything and send the footage out to the world. One doctor insists the reporters film the medical workers’ desperate efforts to save the lives of drastically increasing numbers of victims being brought into his hospital’s emergency rooms — with a few choice words for Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, instigator of the war, to boot.

“Film how these motherfuckers are killing civilians,” one doctor in a frantic operating room demands of the journalists. “Show this Putin bastard the eyes of this child, and all these doctors who are crying.” The child patient soon dies. It is all the doctors and nurses can do to hold themselves together amid such heart-wrenching tragedy.

The Ukrainian journalists, Chernov and Maloletka, must also contend with propaganda that the Russian government, military and news media are broadcasting nonstop, especially Russia’s insistence that it is not targeting civilians in Ukraine. The footage that the two Ukrainian journalists manage to send of Russian tanks in Mariupol shelling large residential apartment buildings and other civilian targets exposes the Russians’ official lies for what they are.

In one of the most disturbing scenes in the film, a children’s and maternity hospital is all but flattened by a Russian military attack. The dramatic scene of a pregnant woman being rushed away on a stretcher is captured by Chernov and Maloletka; the woman and her baby could not be saved by doctors.

Apart from the Ukrainian civilians themselves, the film’s protagonist is Volodymyr Nikulin, a Ukrainian police officer who helps guide and protect the AP journalists. At one point he speaks directly into the camera and appeals to the world to save his city: “Russian troops commit war crimes,” he says. “Please, help Mariupol.”

Day 16 of the siege of Mariupol, as Russian troops continue closing into the city center: “The night is sleepless,” Chernov narrates. “Feverish thoughts of past, present and future race through my mind. I want all of this to stop, but I have no power over it. My memory keeps carrying me back home and back to war.”

“If someday my daughters ask me, ‘What did you do to stop this madness, this sadistic virus of destruction?’, I want to be able to give them an answer.”

Only about 40 minutes of that AP video footage had actually made it out to the world in real time due to poor Internet connections during the Russian attacks. Chernov and his colleagues were finally able to escape Mariupol after 20 days, and he compiled the more than 30 hours of dramatic scenes they had shot into this film.

20 Days in Mariupol is indeed a fearless piece of filmmaking that tells an intense, gripping story of the plight of Ukrainian civilians trapped in the Russian siege of their city, and tells it well.

At the same time, the film offers insight into the challenges of journalists reporting from a major conflict zone and how this type of honest, straightforward journalism can have an international impact. The movie and the Ukrainian AP journalists’ original reporting have garnered awards and prizes aplenty, and deservedly so.

And as for the human toll, more than 25,000 people are reported to have died in the siege of Mariupol. The city was eventually overtaken by the Russians and is still under Russian occupation today, as Ukraine fights on.

All that remains to be asked now is: When are we going to see a hard-hitting documentary film like this of Israel’s siege of Palestine and the slaughter of innocent civilians that is happening there as we speak? May the Associated Press be bold enough to tell the Palestinian people’s story with the same conviction and pursuit of the truth that the American news organization has shown with Ukraine.