Books of 2019!

Growing up I had always loved reading and would dive happily into any series of books aimed at young readers. As I grew older and busier I found it more difficult to incorporate reading into my routine lifestyle; however, finding pleasant company in the different characters of my favorite fiction novels or unique and interesting anecdotes from my favorite non-fiction works always provided me a sense of enjoyment. When the pressures of school became more intense, I was still reading constantly for assignments and coursework but rarely found the opportunity to leisurely enjoy a book without an ominous deadline approaching in my mind.

I began to notice that when summer vacation would roll around, I would breeze through books and read more in mere weeks than I would throughout the entire year. I often found myself becoming engrossed in a book at the end of the summer, and then once I returned back to usual routine, the same book would remain untouched on my shelf for the weeks to come. This year, however, I decided to make it a goal of mine to try and integrate reading for pleasure back into my normal schedule rather than reserving it for vacation or time off, which we all know comes too infrequently.

In the first few months of 2019, I have read a few great books that I’d love to share, as a way to encourage you all to pick up a new book and to document my progress with this new goal!

The first book I read this year is titled Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer in which unpacks what it means to eat meat in the capitalist and industrialized fashion we operate under currently. What distinguishes this book from other works on the same subject matter is that Foer is first and foremost a writer who subsequently became fixated on the topic of animal agriculture and the social costs of eating animals, which leaves the reader with an inviting read that seamlessly guides the reader through the biggest components of a complex problem. As Foer’s family grows with the birth of his son, he begins to contemplate the best diet to nourish his young child and if that diet should include meat. What he unravels go far further than the diet of one individual, and attempts to discuss the multi-faceted ethical, social, environmental, and health-related problems that arise from our food production, that can be compelling to both meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike.

The second book I read this year is Cat’s Cradle, a work of science fiction by Kurt Vonnegut, that discusses the life of a fictional co-creator of the atomic bomb, Felix Hoenikker. The narrator, attempting to write a novel about what important American citizens were doing the day the atomic bomb was dropped, becomes obsessed with the life of the eccentric scientist and his surviving children. The novel deals with themes of religion and culture as Vonnegut develops the themes of ‘Bokonism’ – a peaceful yet cynical and mysterious religion that the narrator becomes deeply inspired by. Vonnegut’s writing is humorous at times and flows quickly through many succinct chapters.

I’m currently about 100 pages into Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, by Chuck Klosterman, who effortlessly creates intriguing cultural analysis from sometimes seemingly mundane subject matter. Let me know what you’ve been reading lately!

 

Big Easy Express

Thousands of miles of train track from Oakland to New Orleans covers some of America’s most scenic views, taking one through beautiful sights you’d all but miss on the more efficient plane ride. In 2012, three bands, folk-rock, indie, and bluegrass – Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show – rented a vintage train in California, creating the musical tour of dreams, playing shows along the way as they took the infamous train journey from Oakland to New Orleans covering four thousand miles.

The Big Easy Express is a cinematic music experience that combines a concert movie with a roadie documentary, bringing you in and behind the action of incredible music being made. The quality of the sound makes you feel as though you’re one of the spectators, tagging along at the train stops, dancing in the vibrant crowd at the shows and having a front row seat to their late-night jam sessions as the train speeds through the backcountry.

Baffled by the fact that such a movie could pay homage to New Orleans and I hadn’t yet seen it, a friend and I rented the movie and watched it two times through, and if you haven’t seen it I implore you to do so.

The three band’s sounds collaborate perfectly; in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find three bands who so humbly and beautifully respect and enhance each other’s music in such an inspiring setting. There’s a fleeting scene where the Ed Sharp guys are singing “All Wash Out” in between train stops, and you begin to notice the crowd of musicians encircling the band is also strumming along, adding their notes and rhythms to the song.

At the concerts along the way, the bands take turns performing their own songs for crowds jumping with excitement and anticipation, but the finale of the show is worth watching even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of any of the three bands. Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, take the stage together to cover Jonny Cash’s “This Train was Bound for Glory” which so perfectly captures the spirit and message behind the “tour of dreams” as the bands refer to it as. The energy on stage when the all of those talented people are together on stage is nothing short of magical – a symphony of country instruments all playing their hearts out.

Often you think of music as being the brainchild of one musician or at best an impressive feat of collective imagination, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how great music can come from anywhere. The closing scene of the film shows the bands sitting in a train car strumming a melody and brainstorming lyrics about the train experience. Seemingly out of nowhere the poignant lyrics come to fruition – “on a train to New Orleans, and all that country in between. Friends you and I, playing for our lives singing sweet dreams forever on a train in the sky.”

After watching the film, all I can say is how much I wish I was in New Orleans in the summer of 2012.

Would you believe me if I told you the name of the band was Rainbow Kitten Surprise?

Last Thursday night I checked something off of my Tulane bucket list that was regretfully long overdue – I went to a show at Tipitina’s. Tipitina’s is a famous venue for live music that has been around since 1977 hosting popular New Orleans artists such as Professor Long Hair. The venue pays tribute to him by naming the venue after his song “Tipitina” and the poster of his face that remains center stage. Now Tipitina’s is a home to artists big and small looking to find their place in the New Orleans music scene.

I was walking to class, listening to “Devil Like Me” a song by the band Rainbow Kitten Surprise, when a little banner popped up on my phone, announcing that the band was playing in my area. With a flutter of excitement, I opened the link to find that Rainbow Kitten Suprise would be hitting the stage of Tipitina’s the following day.

Who would I possibly get to accompany me to this random show? My one friend who even knows of the band’s existence lives in New York, and so I knew I would have to persuade my friends to come with me. “Tickets are only $15”, I emphasized.

After a few stressful hours of texting everyone I knew with a moderately good taste in music, and after getting a series of “What Band?” and “Who?” I was ready to go to the show solo. Until two of my suitemates texted me that they wanted to vibe to the live music, regardless of knowing the band or not.

So, we went. The venue was as cool and intimate as I imagined, and the sound of the opening act as we walked in made me only more excited to hear the band we came to see.I knew this act would only sound better live and was so impressed by the energy they carried on stage.

During the encore, the lead singer, Sam Melo, leaped into the crowd, and crowd surfed back for the last song. It was the closest I’ve ever come to being in the action of a performance, and the excitement and vitality rattled my entire body.

Heres a clip of that insane moment in time. If you’re ever in New Orleans, go to Tipitina’s. Even if it’s a band you don’t know, the excitement of the venue and the energy that it inspires will make it a show you won’t forget.