Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Music’

Live your life filled with joy and thunder—R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People is 25

November 11, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Music 5 Comments →

Since last year my playlists have been obituaries. David Bowie. Prince, goddammnit. George Michael. Chris Cornell. Steely Dan (half of them). So when I was reminded that R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People was released exactly 25 years ago, I had to celebrate the fact that everyone in the band is alive!!! They’ve disbanded, but they’re alive!! They’ve had medical emergencies, rumors of impending death, and hysterical success, but they’re alive!

And Automatic For The People is still gorgeous and moving—an extended meditation on mortality that makes you want to live. The title of this post is from “Sweetness Follows”. (Turns out I didn’t misremember it after all.)

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder

I loved Automatic so much that I wore out two cassettes from listening to it constantly, and I bestirred myself to get a passport so I could watch R.E.M. in concert. The first time I ever went abroad was specifically to see R.E.M. There’s a life-changing decision.

I first heard R.E.M. on bootlegs of bootlegs borrowed from my classmate. The ringing guitars, the odd vocals, the baffling lyrics and the sudden sweet melodic turns really got to me. I still know the lyrics to “It’s The End of The World As We Know It”, Leonard Bernstein. (This sounds prophetic now: “Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered.”) Out Of Time was their big breakout: “Losing My Religion” was suddenly playing in supermarkets. But their masterpiece, I think, is Automatic For The People.

A dying person says, “I have lived a full life/And these are the eyes that I want you to remember.” Someone thinks about his youth and “The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago/Turned around backwards so the windshield shows…” It’s beautiful.

Thor Ragnarok is the funniest superhero movie AND the most fun!!!

October 25, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies, Music 4 Comments →

It’s a scream, a hoot and a blast! (Plus lark, riot, barrel of laughs)

It’s anarchic and hilarious! A different kind of funny from Guardians of the Galaxy, which is pop culture-centric. Here the comedy springs from the disconnect between the characters’ ideas of themselves, what they say they’re going to do, and what they actually do. And the brightly colored CGI worlds look grotty, which make them seem more real.

It rescues Thor from the bottom of the Marvel superhero franchises! Yes, Thor is no longer the loser in the pack (I saw Thor: The Dark World in Czech and it still doesn’t work), and they saved it by allowing Chris Hemsworth to fall on his face and be funny.

It’s packed with guest stars, including actors not in the Marvel universe!

It has the rare villain (Cate Blanchett being the Anti-Galadriel) formidable enough to wipe out the heroes, plus planet-shaking consequences!

Led Zeppelin in Valhalla! Immigrant Song should be the Thor theme like Black Sabbath’s Iron Man should be Iron Man’s (it turns up occasionally) and Misty Mountain Hop should be Gollum’s (Yes, we all read the same things).

Jeff Goldblum in gold lame!

Taika Waititi is my favorite director name!

It must be discussed in exclamation points!

It has two credit sequences, FYI.

I don’t need to see another superhero flick until Black Panther! This year I’ve seen five good-to-great superhero flicks and will quit while I’m ahead.


* * * * *

I wasn’t the oldest person at the cinema (I saw it in the early afternoon, surrounded by senior citizens), but I was by far the happiest to hear Led Zeppelin in the battle sequences. “Hammer of the gods?” “We are your overlords?” Nothing could be more appropriate, not even Wagner, said my friend, a blues guitarist.

Since watching Ragnarok, I’ve been listening to Zeppelin constantly. I miss them. When I was a kid, they were schoolbus music: it was either Zeppelin or disco. Up to the 90s it seemed to me that on every overpass there was a beggar with a tinny amp singing “Stairway to Heaven”. In every dive where a band played, some drunks would inevitably start yelling “Stairway to Heaven”, which was the cue to take cover as bottles would start flying. Ah, childhood. Here’s a playlist.


An introduction to Steely Dan, my favorite cerebral-ironic jazz-rock nerd grouch band

September 20, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Music 2 Comments →

When I was 14 I got a Walkman, and from that moment on I was free to choose my own mental soundtrack. I never had to hear Air Supply or David Pomeranz again, unless my batteries died or I caught a stray high note while changing cassettes. The most pleasurable and most agonizing choice of the day was which four albums to take to school with me.

One of the first albums I bought with my own money was Gaucho by Steely Dan. I would never have heard of Steely Dan if “Hey, Nineteen” had not briefly cracked the the Top 40 chart. Obviously I did not relate to the band’s experience—I had no memory of 1967 and was not a dandy ogling teenage girls who did not know who Aretha Franklin was. (I had a vague idea who Aretha was.) I liked the funny-sarcastic lyrics, the sound (beloved of audiophiles), the way their songs had narrators, and the weirdly moving vocal harmonies. So I looked up their previous albums. Aja remains my favorite. I remember listening to “Home At Last” and sitting bolt upright as I realized it was the Odyssey. Luckily I always sat in the back during Physics lab.

Walter Becker died on September 3. I’m hoping Donald Fagen resumes his tour. But damnit, I’ll never see the whole Steely Dan perform live. And another thing has occurred to me: Do younger musicians, people 30 and below, listen to Steely Dan and play their songs? They should.

So if you have a band and you play Steely Dan, let me know. I’ll come to your gig, bring music nerd friends, write about you. We can talk about what the songs mean.

If you have no idea what Steely Dan is, here’s a basic playlist.

* * *

Goddamnit Donald Fagen was supposed to headline the Blue Note Jazz Festival in Yokohama this weekend and I’m in Yokohama and the festival has been cancelled!!!

I hereby make a vow to see Donald Fagen in concert as soon as possible.

Goodbye to my youth, part 3,047: Chris Cornell is off to the Superunknown

May 18, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Music No Comments →

Chris Cornell is dead at 52.

Goodbye to my youth, and the perpetual ringing in my ears, and looking for open restaurants at 3am (There were no BPOs then), and feeling very close to people I just met two seconds ago whose names I didn’t hear, and laughing at the idiotic things friends did because we were all young enough to get over them. And being happy listening to very loud, gloomy songs. Those were good times. In the bad times we has Chris Cornell’s music to see us through like a solid, indomitable brother.

His cameo in Singles.

Back-to-work links: Jerusalem cats, the Pope’s laundry, Salter, trashy movies, old book smells, and Prince’s death anniversary

April 17, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Cats, Health, Music No Comments →

Holy Cats! Jerusalem’s strays and their unsung guardian


Drogon is 5! This week he is The Oracle.

April 12, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Music 14 Comments →

It’s Drogon’s birthday! (I assigned the date because I don’t know exactly when he was born—it’s also the birthday of Koosi, the first cat who adopted me.) Drogon likes sitting at windows and watching the outside world. Unlike our eldest cat Saffy who is antisocial, he enjoys visiting his human’s friends on their movie nights. These days he plays tag around the house with our new cat, Jacob.

Drogon is also a ferocious hunter, with skills he seldom gets to practice as an indoor cat. The other night I noticed him sitting in the bathroom for a long time, staring unblinkingly at the wall. The following morning there was a broken dish by the sink, books fallen off the table, and in the center of the room, a small cockroach corpse. All hail the fearless hunter!

In keeping with our tradition, we declare Drogon the Oracle and invite you to post your questions and wishes in Comments. No rush—he’ll answer them throughout the long weekend.

Here’s one of Drogon’s favorite musicians, Thundercat, who is inspired by his cat, Turbo Tron Over 9000 Baby Jesus Sally, Tron for short.