Father John Misty, 'Ballad Of The Dying Man' (Live)

Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, stopped by our studio the day he released his latest album, Pure Comedy, to play a stripped-down set of songs. With his lyrics pushed to the forefront, Tillman’s keen cultural observations were on full display. It was a deeply moving set, including our current favorite, “Ballad Of The Dying Man.”

Set List

  • “Ballad Of The Dying Man”

Photo: Dustin Downing/KCRW.

Watch Father John Misty’s full Morning Becomes Eclectic session at KCRW.com.

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OK Google, Burger King Hijacked Your Speakers … And Failed Pretty Quickly

Customers await their orders at a Burger King in in Marignane, France, in 2012.

Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Real quick, here’s a list of ingredients you’re unlikely to find in your next Burger King Whopper:

  • Chocolate candy
  • Toenail clippings
  • Cyanide
  • Rat
  • Medium-sized child

Yet for a while Wednesday, those are precisely the ingredients — according to Business Insider and The Verge, at least — that the fast-food chain’s new commercial accidentally directed viewers to check out.

The pitchman in Burger King’s brief advertisement played off that brevity by noting he just didn’t have enough time to list all “the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich” — so instead, he simply pulled the camera near and closed with a question addressed to the viewers’ home device: “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

The idea was that if the search company’s smart speaker (and possibly future sentient overlord) Google Home happened to be listening nearby, it would then answer the question with a makeshift promo for the burger — an explanation of Burger King’s signature item.

And there is video proof the stunt indeed worked like a charm …

YouTube

… for a little while, that is. You see, two problems cropped up pretty quickly.

First off, Business Insider notes the ad sent Google Homes directly to Wikipedia, which — as high school syllabuses across the country will warn you — is not always a reliable source of accurate information. Enterprising trolls all but immediately took to the Whopper page to make some rather clever (if dubious) edits.

Hence the toenail clippings.

Also, according to Gizmodo, this short-lived description: “The ‘Whopper’ is the worst hamburger product sold by the international fast-food restaurant chain Burger King.”

And this one (emphasis ours):

“The Whopper is a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100% medium-sized child with no preservatives or fillers, topped with sliced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles, ketchup, and mayonnaise, served on a sesame-seed bun.”

Soon the company caught wind of the mischief and locked the page with a neutral definition, Gizmodo says.

Then there was another problem: The New York Times reports Burger King didn’t consult Google on the campaign ahead of time. Within hours, the tech company put a stop to the central shtick of the ad, changing its device so that Burger King’s question — as it is uttered in the commercial — would no longer wake it.

Google disabled the voice command for Burger King’s commercial 😂😂

(it previously worked) pic.twitter.com/xDWF4wDS1Z

— Niv Dror (@Nivo0o0) April 12, 2017

The Financial Times explains how the company likely made the tweak:

“What we have learnt about Google Home, at least, is that the internet group does know how to switch off a particular voice trigger when it wants to, probably by checking an audio ‘fingerprint’ against a blacklist in the cloud before allowing a response.”

This may pose further problems for the commercial, which Business Insider says is running on at least a half-dozen channels in several major cities.

At any rate, the commercial’s ploy and its deactivation nabbed Burger King some attention and served as a reminder for us all: It might be that eventually the real achievement isn’t the fact our devices talk to one another — as they briefly did in this case — but rather that we can still get them to shut up at all.

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Boko Haram Increasingly Using Children In Suicide Bombings, UNICEF Says

People gather at the site of a suicide bomb attack at a market in June 2015 in Maiduguri, Nigeria, where two girls blew themselves up near a crowded mosque.

Jossy Ola/AP

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Jossy Ola/AP

Boko Haram militants have used 27 children to carry out suicide bombing attacks in the first three months of this year in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, according to a new report from UNICEF.

This marks a major increase — 30 children were used in bombings for all of 2016 in those four countries, where Boko Haram is active.

UNICEF says 117 children have been used in suicide attacks since 2014. Eighty percent of them were girls.

The horrifying pattern is a sign of shifting strategy for Boko Haram, now waging its eighth year of conflict. “The insurgency has changed its tactics over the course of the conflict, from holding towns and territory to a guerrilla-style insurgency that uses hit and run attacks and improvised explosive devices,” UNICEF says.

That shift is clear in the numbers: 4 were used in suicide attacks in 2014, 56 in 2015, and 30 in 2016.

It’s enabled by the militants’ systemic kidnapping of thousands of children, most famously the more than 270 schoolgirls taken from the town of Chibok, Nigeria, three years ago. Girls in particular are subjected to forced marriage and repeated rape.

“This is the worst possible use of children in conflict,” UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said in a statement. “These children are victims, not perpetrators. … Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.”

It’s not clear that all of the children who have carried out attacks are cognizant of what they were doing, the report states.

There are also major concerns about how the uptick in attacks impacts the way other children who return after being abducted by Boko Haram are viewed by their communities, making reintegration more difficult. “Girls, boys and even infants have been viewed with increasing fear at markets and checkpoints, where they are thought to carry explosives,” UNICEF says.

The organization published testimony from “Amina” from Chad, who was 16 when she got married, only to find out later that her new husband was a Boko Haram militant. Here’s more:

“After being manipulated and drugged, she was forced into an attempted suicide attack. Four people including Amina were on a canoe riding towards a weekly crowded market. The four girls carried bombs that were strapped to their bodies. When a Vigilante Committee spotted them on the canoe, two of them activated their explosive belt. Amina didn’t activate her device but she was injured in the explosion. She lost both her legs.”

The upcoming third anniversary of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping on Friday has renewed focus on their plight. The Associated Press reports that the government is carrying out negotiations with Boko Haram for their release. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said the government “has gotten quite far with negotiations,” the wire service adds.

In October, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced that 21 of the girls were released following “successful negotiations.”

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Latin Roots: Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman outside the World Cafe performance studio at WXPN in Philadelphia.

Galea McGregor/WXPN

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Galea McGregor/WXPN

  • “Friendship (Is A Small Boat In A Storm)”
  • “Freedom Is Free”
  • “La Jura”

This Latin Roots session all started when four guys from Los Angeles showed up at our studio looking like, well, four guys from Los Angeles, in track pants, T-shirts and sneakers. They finished sound check and disappeared for a while — and when they came back, it was like somebody’d hit the 1976 button on the time machine. Those four guys returned sporting matching tuxedos with ruffled collars, their two back-up singers in blinding, sparkly dresses. They had morphed into Chicano Batman.

The band’s style game is strong, and so is its music — funky and flavorful, with shades of psychedelic pop, soulful Latin swagger and Brazilian tropicalia. With its first couple records and a steady stream of hometown gigs, Chicano Batman earned a reputation as LA’s house band. But it’s now poised for a big breakout with its latest record, Freedom Is Free.

In this session, the members of Chicano Batman break down the band’s name, discuss the difference between singing about political issues and being a political band and talk about the police brutality that inspired the song “La Jura.” Hear that conversation and a live performance via the player above, and watch the band play “Freedom Is Free” below.

VuHaus

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Songs We Love: Hurray For The Riff Raff, 'Be My Baby'

“Ronnie Spector’s flawless performance of ‘Be My Baby’ influenced me since I first heard my family sing along on long road trips from NYC to Florida,” Alynda Lee Segarra says. “The song is perfect.”

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In the spring of 2013, Hurray For The Riff Raff released My Dearest Darkest Neighbor, a collection of covers and traditional songs influential to bandleader and songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra. Originally distributed as a limited-edition objet in New Orleans, with handcrafted packaging, it included her versions of songs by Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams and other artists whose work informs her own. During a live onstage interview at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that year, Segarra revealed that she liked to hand-write out the lyrics to songs like the ones she chose to tackle for that project. Going through the physical motion with a pen, she said, made her feel connected to the creative spark behind the songs she loved, and that inspired her, so much. How did it feel to write those phrases, to connect those words to each other?

Segarra, who introduced herself to a proper international audience with 2014’s Small Town Heroes after four (or five, or six, depending how you tally it up) self-released efforts as the heart of Hurray For The Riff Raff, is a talented distiller of Western musical traditions. Her own compositions reflect time spent in deep listening to folk, blues, pop and country and emerge in finished form as original and sensitively thought-out interpretations of ’70s rock, murder ballads, tango, The Beatles and 200-year-old folk tunes, run through an eager, skilled and insanely perceptive ear. This year’s album, The Navigator, saw her confident enough to tackle her own history head-on, but with the same sensitivity that her earlier explorations had displayed: It’s a theatrical concept album about a young Latina living a dystopian urban future, told in the musical languages of doo-wop, salsa, bomba and hip underground rock — the 20th-century New York City sounds running in her Puerto Rican, Bronx-born blood.

YouTube

Enter Ronnie Spector, another woman of color from way uptown. Segarra, who often wears her sleek brunette hair in a subdued beehive, has been covering the juicy, teenage lust-drenched rock ‘n’ roll Rosetta stone “Be My Baby” in her live set for years with a tender, reverent passion. She finally recorded it for Amazon’s Love Me / Love Me Not Valentine playlist series earlier this year, in the company of artists like Nikki Lane, Amanda Shires and Xenia Rubinos.

And with the studious, loving diligence that’s consistently characterized her work to date, Segarra painstakingly recreated the original footage of Spector’s performance with The Ronettes on the Shindig program, back in 1965. “The song is perfect,” Segarra says, “and it made me think about melodies and what makes a song timeless.”

Watching Segarra stand, in that dress under those lights on that set, moving her hips this way and her hands that way, with those two bandmates harmonizing and wiggling behind her — you have to think about the artist who painstakingly wrote out the words to Townes Van Zandt’s “Delta Momma Blues” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” in a notebook, just to imagine what it might feel like to make them up for the first time. It’s the very definition of doing the homework — indeed, extra credit.


Hurray For The Riff Raff’s “Be My Baby” cover is available via Amazon’s Love Me, Love Me Not series.

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'Misdirected' Air Strike By U.S.-Led Coalition Kills 18 Allied Fighters In Syria

An air strike that was meant to target ISIS in Syria instead killed 18 Syrian Democratic Forces personnel because it was “misdirected,” U.S. Central Command said Thursday.

The strike by an aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition was called in by American allies, the U.S. military says. It adds that the coalition is now studying what went wrong, to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

“The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position,” the command said in a statement about the April 11 attack. “The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position.”

Central Command said the coalition extends its “deepest condolences” to members of the SDF and their families, adding that members of that force “have expressed a strong desire to remain focused on the fight against ISIS despite this tragic incident.”

The strike took place south of Tabqah, Central Command says. That city is roughly 30 miles west of the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.

News of the errant strike comes three weeks after activist groups that monitor Syria said an “airstrike by U.S.-led coalition forces leveled a school west of Raqqa and killed at least 33 people,” as NPR’s Colin Dwyer reported on March 22.

Reports of that strike initially came from the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently and the the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In response, coalition forces said they routinely strike ISIS targets in the area and would review reports of civilian casualties.

In an update on the U.S.-led coalition’s offensive against ISIS in Raqqa, the joint task force’s spokesman said yesterday that the coalition was “clearing ISIS fighters from the territory in the vicinity of Tabqa.”

The spokesman added that ISIS was deploying vehicle bombs, direct and indirect fire, and human shields in the area, according to Central Command.

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Top Stories: Ruling On Russian School Siege; N.Y. Judge Found Dead

Good morning, here are our early headlines:

— ‘Serious Failings’ By Russia In Deadly Beslan School Siege, European Court Says.

— First African-American Female Judge On New York’s Top Court Found Dead.

And here are more early headlines:

Trump Reverses, Won’t Label China A Currency Manipulator. (BBC)

Suspect In Death Of Border Patrol Agent Is Arrested. (AZCentral)

Lansing Rescinds Decision to Become “Sanctuary City”. (MLive.com)

Florida In State Of Emergency As Dozens Of Fires Burn. (Weather.com)

Dallas Acts To Avoid Another Hack Of City Disaster Sirens. (KERA)

Kansas Officials Get Guilty Plea In A Voter Fraud Case. (KCUR)

Continuing Venezuelan Protests Leave 4 Dead, Including Boy. (Time)

U.N. Warns Hundreds Of Thousands In Flood Danger In Peru. (UNICEF)

Cyclone Hits New Zealand, Still Recovering From Last Storm. (RNZ)

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Todd Rundgren On Technology, Creativity And His New Song With Trent Reznor

Todd RundgrenYouTube

Today on All Songs Considered, a conversation with Todd Rundgren — who has been recording music for almost 50 years! His first recordings came in 1968 with his band Nazz, before he began making his own groundbreaking pop albums. Those early solo albums — especially Something/Anything, A Wizard, A True Star — always stretched the boundaries of what a solo artist can do with the technology of the day. He was also — and primarily, in terms of employment, he told me — a lucrative and creative producer for Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, The Band, The New York Dolls, Hall & Oates, Sparks, Meatloaf, XTC… the list is quite long.

The cover of Todd Rundgren’s White Knight.

Courtesy of the artist

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Courtesy of the artist

At 68 and living on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Rundgren continues to have fun with music. It’s the long distance collaborations with Robyn, Daryl Hall, Bettye Lavette, Dam Funk, Joe Walsh, Donald Fagen and Trent Reznor in particular that had me listening again. The song “Deaf Ears,” which he constructed with the Oscar-winning pair of Reznor and his partner Atticus Ross, is taken from White Knight, his latest album. I was immediately intrigued.

Today we premiere that song, the video Todd made for “Deaf Ears” and my conversation with this famously intelligent and well-spoken artists about that collaboration, how technology’s evolution has affected creativity, our current dark age and living in Hawaii.


On the ecological themes of his song “Deaf Ears,” with Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross:

It’s a depressing time, so sometimes depressing times call for confrontational material. Facing up to reality is a pain. And it does have a contemporary element, especially as the EPA has been taken over by disbelievers. The principal theme for me of “Deaf Ears” is, of course, the destruction we’re doing to our own habitat.

On living on the island of Kauai since the 1990’s

A big aspect of the of the Hawaiian lifestyle is to be consciously aware of and appreciative of all of the blessings that you have here in terms of the terrific weather and the ocean and the sky and the fruits that grow on the trees and all of that. It behooves you to remain conscious of the boon that you’re taking advantage of. Part of why I like it here is that you are barefoot from day to day. I get up every morning and I see the ocean, you know, and I see the hills, and I’m constantly reminded of what essentially is our birthplace. You just have a different relationship to nature out here.

On the process of working with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross:

I’ve done a little bit of work with Trent Reznor before, so when I decided that I was going to do a collaborative record, he was high on my list of people to get involved. And he was terrific. He sent me essentially an entire album’s worth of ideas. I couldn’t decide at first, so I picked out two tunes, and he sent me all the multitracks to those. So I added vocals and a couple of other little flourishes, but otherwise, it was mostly what Trent and his partner Atticus Ross sent me.

On the modern convenience of file sharing and how it’s evolved:

I recall being stopped in Heathrow Airport and taken into a little room because I was attempting to transport a 24-track tape to a friend of mine to do some work on it. And that was the way we transferred sound around in those days, with a box with about 20 pounds of tape in it. This kind of collaboration actually has not been practical until recently when we’ve got these file sharing services like Dropbox and Hightail where you can take very large chunks of data and leave them for someone to pick up. Even though this would have been technically possible, let’s say 10 or 15 years ago — a lot of people were still using dial up modems at that point, you know, at 14,000 baud. I don’t know how long it would take to download what essentially can be several gigabytes of material, so it’s become much more of an unremarkable thing nowadays for musicians to collaborate and be able to share their entire projects with each other across the globe.

On the differences of working with digital audio:

You could almost look at it as the difference between sculpting stone and sculpting clay. When you sculpt in stone, once you’ve chipped something off it’s gone. It’s fixed, nothing you can do to repair that. If you’re sculpting with clay, you can take some clay away or add some more clay, reshape it until it’s set. And it’s still sculpture in the same way that it’s still music. One form of music doesn’t allow a lot of flexibility. But then again, there are other approaches that allow you almost the ultimate flexibility, and it’s your obligation to decide when it’s done.

On why he could afford to take risks with his early records:

I never had planned to be a solo musician so much as just a guy who made records as a hobby and made a living producing records for other people. So I stopped caring what people thought about my records very early on. I didn’t have to care. I already was making a living producing records for The Band and Badfinger and Grand Funk Railroad and stuff like that, and making a handsome living at it. Why should I care how successful my own records were? But that gave me the freedom to go places musically that a lot of other people may not have bothered to go.

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'Serious Failings' By Russia In Deadly Beslan School Siege, European Court Says

A lack of official coordination and the use of powerful weapons contributed to the casualties during a terrorist takeover of a school in Beslan, Russia, in 2004, a European court says. Here, people lay flowers and light candles at the school gym in 2009, marking the fifth anniversary of the attack.

Kazbek Basayev/AFP/Getty Images

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Russia failed to prevent a 2004 attack on a school and then overreacted by using grenades, tanks and flamethrowers to end a three-day siege that killed more than 330 people, the European Court of Human Rights says, ruling in a case brought by victims of the attack and their families.

The court is ordering Russia to pay the plaintiffs nearly 3 million euros ($3.1 million). Russia’s Justice Ministry says it will appeal the ruling. Under the European court’s protocols, any party to the case has three months to appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Court.

In the September 2004 attack on a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, heavily armed terrorists held more than 1,000 people prisoner. Most of the hostages were children. The standoff ended in a flurry of explosions, gunfire, and a roof collapse.

More than 180 children died in the incident, and more than 750 people were hurt. The European court ruled in a case brought by 409 Russian nationals who accused the Russian government of a string of failures in its response to the attack.

“The Court could not avoid the conclusion that this lack of responsibility and coordination had contributed, to some extent, to the tragic outcome of the events,” the judges say, discussing a lack of formal leadership among officials and agencies in forming a rescue plan.

On Sept. 1, 2004, Beslan School No. 1 was taken over by militants who were demanding freedom for nearby Chechnya. They corralled their hostages into the gymnasium — which they threatened to blow up if an assault was made (see NPR’s timeline). On Sept. 3, two strong explosions hit the gym, and a gunfight ensued as desperate hostages tried to escape.

“In the absence of proper legal rules, powerful weapons such as tank cannon, grenade launchers and flame-throwers had been used on the school,” the European court says, adding, “This had contributed to the casualties among the hostages” in violation of laws concerning the use of lethal force.

In 2002, a similar attack on a theater in Moscow had resulted in at least 170 deaths, after Russian forces pumped poisonous gas into the building.

Here’s a breakdown of problems the court found in the Beslan case:

Before the Attack: “The authorities had been in possession of sufficiently specific information of a planned terrorist attack in the area, linked to an educational institution. Nevertheless, not enough had been done to disrupt the terrorists meeting and preparing; insufficient steps had been taken to prevent them travelling on the day of the attack; security at the school had not been increased; and neither the school nor the public had been warned of the threat.”

During the Attack: Russian authorities failed to plan and conduct a rescue operation in a way that would minimize the risk to life, the court says, adding: “There were delays in setting it up and inconsistencies in determining its leadership and composition, and the lack of any records highlights the appearance of a void of formal responsibility.”

That failure also extended to a lack of coordination among medical, rescue, and fire-fighting teams.

After the Attack: Investigators “failed to conduct full forensic examinations of the majority of the victims (in order, for example, to identify and match external objects like bullets or shrapnel); and had failed to properly record the location of the vast majority of the hostages’ bodies. For one third of the victims, the exact cause of death had not been established.”

Investigators also “failed to properly secure and record other evidence before the site was irreparably altered by large machinery and the lifting of the security cordon on the day after the end of the rescue operation.”

The official inquiry didn’t adequately examine the use of deadly force — and did not determine what weapons had been used, where, and by whom — despite evidence that security forces had used weapons “capable of causing indiscriminate harm to the people inside the building, such as grenade launchers, flame-throwers, and tank cannon.”

Officials also repeatedly refused to release expert reports on the use of lethal force, and the cause of the initial explosions that struck the school’s gym, the court says.

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