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Alex Carnevale

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Kara VanderBijl

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is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in kara vanderbijl (76)


In Which Almost Nobody Is Dirty At All

Young and Unafraid


Les Misérables
dir. Tom Hooper
157 minutes

1. Wait, this didn’t happen during the French Revolution? I thought that was the only element of French history worth talking about!

2.  As voiced by a young man on the way out of the theater with his grandmother, “There was a lot of singing.”

3. It is generally assumed that all Europeans speak with British accents, regardless of their nationality.

4. This is a bizarre sort of artistic colonialism.

5. There are a limited number of British actors. As such, Helena Bonham-Carter appears in almost all films that require a woman with a British accent.

6. This is forgivable, because she really is quite good.

7. Anne Hathaway’s performance of poor Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” was beautiful, and should win her all sorts of prizes. Regardless, I got a kick out of imagining her lip-synching to Susan Boyle’s rendition.

8. At some point or another, most people will claim that they wish they could have been born in a previous era, just to “see what it would have been like”. However, most of these poor saps imagine transporting back to a charmed time where they'd sit in front of a roaring fire in silks eating grilled meat off a bread platter in a well-guarded, well-cleaned castle. Les Misérables reminds us that most of us would have been lucky to have been working-class.

9. Speaking of which, I saw a hashtag on Rich Kids of Instagram the other day that said — I kid you not — “1% for life”. Really? Really? They are actually people walking around in the world vocalizing that kind of nonsense and they’re not being trampled by hordes of angry peasants? 

10. Let’s build some barricades in Beverly Hills!

11. My cousin shared with me before the show that the man who plays the Bishop in this version of Les Misérables, Colm Wilkinson, originated the role of Valjean in the West End and on Broadway.  This trivia made me blubber almost uncontrollably at the end when he welcomes Hugh Jackman into the embrace of heaven, essentially blessing him as the heir of a timeless tradition.

12. Everyone should aspire to welcome Hugh Jackman into the embrace of heaven.

13. Who knew he could sing and didn’t tell me?

14. Let’s play a game where we count how many people on our morning trains will now be reading Les Misérables. I played this last month, but with Anna Karenina. Nobody I saw had ever made it past the first hundred pages. Some of them were frowning. All of them had bought the edition with the movie cover on the front. I predict that by now, most of those editions are now collecting dust on the bottom shelf of a bookcase.

15. There’s an old joke floating around that the Koreans didn’t appreciate how long The Sound of Music was, so they cut out all the songs. I have no idea whether or not it is based on fact or whether it is just a racist jab, which I am more inclined to believe, but if I could perform similar magic on Les Mis I’d cut out all the parts with Russell Crowe, who plays Inspector Javert.

16. Javert should be fearsome and loathsome both. Crowe’s performance allowed us to empathize with the character a bit too much, and I don’t want to understand Javert as much as fear and hate him. Also, his shoulders should be at least as wide as Jackman’s if we are to believe that they are archenemies.

17. Pronouncing the “s” at the end of Misérables is like a person wearing a neon-colored polo shirt who then pops the color of said shirt in that I will forgive neither of them.

18. It was a mystery to me, until viewing the film, why Cosette’s face should be on the poster of every production, stage or cinematic, of this story. Amanda Seyfried’s depiction was precious, although her voice reached ear-splitting heights only before attained by the mice from Cinderella. Cosette is only interesting in that she inspires other characters to greatness. She is a small symbol of the revolution, sort of like a New Year’s resolution.

19. I sat very close to the screen during my viewing. This was not my choice, because I suffer from motion sickness and had to close my eyes during what I felt were key action sequences. I often opened my eyes to a very close shot of Hathaway or Jackman or Redmayne belting out their numbers, which felt very personal, although I never did feel the need to be that intimate with their dental work.

20. This was interesting camera work on Tom Hooper’s part, giving the audience the impression that we were viewing a sort of anachronous musical reality television special, straight from the slums of Paris.

21. Eponine (Samantha Barks) would make a great reality-TV show character. Not only is she the neglected angle of a tense love triangle, but she also dies, saving anyone from having to kick her off the... barricade.

22. Everyone has seen some high-school or college production of this musical; there were so many people crying in the theater at the end that it felt a little bit like my tenth birthday party.

23. Visually, Les Misérables is a smorgasbord. Its birds-eye views of Paris and high-definition details of dirty teeth achieve what the musical will never be able to on stage, which seems a bit unfair. How many people will now say, “Well, Les Mis is in town, but I have it on DVD, so why bother?”

24. You know which one is next, right? Wicked.

25. There was a trailer for an awful-looking movie starring James Franco which had something to do with Oz and it looked so bad that I almost left the theater before the movie even started.

26. There should be a word for forgetting which movie you have paid to see by the time the previews are over.

27. Thanks to this, one might almost be able to forget the 1998 version of Les Misérables starring Liam Neeson in which he falls in love with Fantine and Geoffrey Rush isn't a pirate and almost nobody is dirty at all. 

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about the scavengers. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"Slow Beginnings" - Alameda (mp3)

"Swollen Light" - Alameda (mp3)


In Which We Have A Good Idea Of What Needs To Be Done

Is This Allowed?


I am civilized. My feelings are not.

- Jeanette Winterson

I have planted a nice garden here. Tracing over the past two years, my writing has visibly improved. This is good. I get emotional thinking about it. I nearly gave up writing. You know? It’s easy to be confused. Introspection can be just as dense as the lack thereof.

I have only been happy in short bursts, some of them terribly short. It is my fault. I inherited resignation, the tendency to blame outside of myself. The pendulum swings back to extreme guilt, self-deprecation. I have allowed happiness to become digital, or at least, sublimated. As if thinking correctly could make you happy. As if wrapping emotions into layers of text and subtext could produce joy.

I don’t think that happiness is the goal of a life. At least, it’s not the goal of my life. I don’t believe that unhappiness means necessary doom. But in long stretches it is indicative of a lack of gratitude. I am certainly disconnected, not only from what is most important but also from myself. From others. I’ve divorced parts of myself that need tending. I need to touch and feel and smell and smile. I need to be touched. I need to feel very small and allow myself to slowly be built up.

Because everybody keeps telling me I have so much time I don’t want to waste a second of it. I want to laugh and laugh some more and admit that I’m wrong. Is this allowed? Is it really any more complicated than this?


Everybody loses something. Keys. Bus passes. A comb.

I don’t lose things. Circling around a board game, I nominate myself the dice-thrower of one team or another. I throw some good pairs, some mediocre, three great. I can’t be blamed for the outcome. It is a game of weight, of fate.

Lost: receipts, bookmarks, socks.

Soon after moving to France, I had my mother dye my hair auburn. I did not want to blend in. When I didn’t know the right words to formulate my thoughts, I kept quiet. I did not want to stick out.

A mitten. A penny. Phone reception.

Cheap sweaters disintegrate in the dryer. Misguided intentions, spooning rent money into my mouth, living month to month. I can’t even afford what I need, how can I give? This is a lean time, but give out of weakness. Fold the two dollars bills in your wallet, stuff them into a frozen cup on the sidewalk.

Wallet. Passport. Country.

Thirteen years ago today my family moved into another language, took up residence with the irregular verbs. Humans don’t conjugate easily. I wasn’t happy with my handwriting, and so I rewrote my lessons over and over again. I learned the verbs by accident. None of us live there anymore.

A slim, crinkled roll of paper towels fell into the kitchen sink when I tried to put it back in its proper spot and I looked at it and said, “Fuck you,” without thinking, because if I had been thinking in that moment I would have realized what a terribly ridiculous thing it is to a. insult a roll of paper towels, especially when they’re more absorbent than the leading brand and b. to do this so vehemently, as if the rogue paper towels had killed my family before my eyes.

Later, I was baking with a very hot oven (Wikipedia tells me that anything between 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit classifies as a very hot oven.) As it popped and clicked its way to that infernal temperature I worried that the expansion of gas was going to blow the door open or that it was simply going to spontaneously combust, which I imagine is altogether within its range of capabilities. The oven beeps so faintly when it is done preheating, as if to belie the roar of the ignitor and the dull orange flame I can just see when I open the door to peek inside. I cannot let my guard down with this appliance. I have often dreamed of sacrificing small odds and ends in its favor, building a shrine, much like the employees of a hair salon in Los Angeles I once frequented, who offered up bowls of rice and day-old donuts to a particularly moody blow dryer.

Here begins the smaller subplot with the smoke detector. This is one I do not intend to flesh out any more than strictly necessary. Two minutes before the raisin buns were done baking, it came shrilly to life. The next thing I remember, its parts were exposed and I was holding two 9-V batteries in a floured hand. What if there is a fire in the next two minutes and I don’t even know about it? What if when I put the batteries back in, it resumes beeping and doesn’t stop, ever? What will I tell my landlord? Why doesn’t this have a mute button?

I consumed several buns to fortify myself and left the windows open. I replaced the alarm’s batteries and mask; it cried out once, and I shook my finger at it. “Now you behave,” I said.

At the front door of my building, the button next to my apartment number is the only one illuminated. It is a beacon in the night, drawing drunks from the bar kitty-corner to my door like moths to a flame. Punctuate the night with the doorbell ringing. 2 o’clock, the first wave of sloshing bellies spill into cabs, catch the last train south. 3 o’clock, raucous laughter, ring. 4 o’clock, the stragglers shuffle by, think they are somewhere that they are not. At 5 a.m. the first bus passes by on my street, its automated voice more faithful than any alarm: “It’s morning.”

I live alone but I have not been lonely, although perhaps my voice has tended towards disuse. This home and the street speak to me daily; I’m just too young yet to talk back.

With a dream, my feelings change. I feel soft as clay when I wake up, like a child. I am not afraid of all the things that I could be: good, better, worse. The only thing that frightens me is no longer being able to change, no longer being able to study the interminable facets of any given person or situation.

It’s you that I choose to study. I’m a poor student, but even when I’m baffled, I pull these books to my lap. I leave a finger between the pages when my thoughts fly elsewhere.

I can’t imagine a single right answer. In the early morning, I often hear arguments out on the street. Often it’s between two men, a father and son, or two friends who have had too much to drink. The yelling wakes me up and I’m frightened. From the outside, my apartment doesn’t seem secure, but when I’m inside it feels like a fortress. I’m not sure which perception is closer to reality.

Almost nothing is as I expected. It’s better. As I open myself up to possibility, my ideals, these ghostly dreams, disappear for something more painful, more instructive, more creative. I am being chiseled down to the beautiful bits.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about the scavengers. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by the author.

"That Baby" - Grouper (mp3)

"Early November" - Grouper (mp3)


In Which We Spy Through The Panes



Christmas Eve was an excuse to get out of the house. Shortly after lunch, we’d pile into the car with some idea of a place we had never visited and a vague sense of how to get there. Dad drove. Even after the invention of compact discs, we listened to a cassette my parents had picked up during their honeymoon in Indonesia, a black market recording of Boney M and The Eagles singing carols.

When we lived in California we returned each year to Balboa Island, which is the West Coast’s idea of Venice, Italy, all charming wrinkles removed. Celebrities and business tycoons and doctors and lawyers and heirs and the deeply deeply in debt build lavish homes along complex cul-de-sacs of water canals that eventually lead to the Pacific. We walked, jaws slack, fog-chilled hands wrapped around cups of hot chocolate, along the narrow sidewalks between the mansions and the water and looked through wide-open windows as strangers enjoyed their Christmas dinner and opened their presents.

Far from any relatives of our own, we spied through panes frosted with spray-on snow, attempted to understand what it is like when people and their loved ones willingly stay in one place, go through the same golden motions all silent, holy night. We each picked a house we would live in, given the chance, a spot on the map in which we’d want our story to take place.

Some years later we were stranded on an island a few miles off the Bay of Marseille. My father had asked the ferry attendant whether or not there was anything open on Christmas Eve on either of the two islands we were to visit, one of them home to Monte Cristo’s Chateau d’If, the other a sad strip of summer condominiums and a small convenience store; the man had said, yes, yes, of course, everything is open, restaurants, bars, the Chateau! The prison was indeed open for our visit — boring, empty, drafty — and as our stomachs rumbled in anticipation we climbed back onto the ferry and drifted further from the city towards the second island, where a restaurant reputedly served a Christmas duck just for hungry VanderBijls. When we finally realized that we'd been hoodwinked  — that the only thing barely open on the island was the convenience store, cashier nodding off into the dusk, the ferry had turned its back on us, not to return for two and a half hours. 

It almost never snows in Southern France but it gets cold, especially on the water in December. The mistral howled against tightly-closed shutters. My mother purchased chocolate, gone chalky with age, from the little store and we huddled in a small shelter on one corner of the island waiting, hungry, foreign and terribly alone in the deepening darkness. By the time the ferry came back, we were dancing and belting carols at the top of our lungs just to keep warm. 

In subsequent years we returned to resort towns like St. Tropez, small enough that most people around for the holiday could crowd eagerly into cafes to have a croissant and a hot chocolate at 4 PM, hours away from the beginning of the festivities. They’d return home in plenty of time to grandparents and the traditional thirteen desserts, one for each of the disciples and one for Christ, which they would lay lovingly on the table before attending Mass at midnight, turning up the corners of the tablecloth so visiting saints would feel welcome to partake in their absence. 

Our own return home was quiet. We came together, later, around the table, just like our neighbors’ scavenging saints; it was laden with a few reminders of my mother’s Mennonite childhood — ham, potato salad, pfeffernusse, cold fruit soup. Before bed my brother and I were allowed to open one gift, but we could not choose which one. This was a reconciliation between my mother’s traditions and my father’s. She grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve to Julie Andrews records, whereas my father opened his on Christmas morning in the house his father built in the Indonesian tropics. Joel and I would pull the last chocolate from our Advent calendars, let it melt on our tongues as we blew out the candles and said goodnight.

For the past few Christmases it has not been the meals or the music that I have missed as much as the excitement we all felt climbing into the car on our way to whatever sense of home we could find. And how is it fair that we can’t do it this year? When we learned so early on that nothing mattered but being together, and because we were together we could face the many moves and the foreign language and the wind blowing across the Mediterranean? When thousands of other families won’t even look at each other across the table, will spend their time staring into screens, dragging fingers under the sharp folds of shiny paper?

I had never had to limit my imagination by telling myself that I may never return home: I sincerely believed we would settle, even if it were just two or three of us. But last year we reunited in Marseille for the last time, two-thousand twelve's map already charted and exploding in diverse directions. And had we ever considered that visiting a place for the last time is a lot like visiting it for the first time? My mother pushed trinkets from our home into my hands, possessions that she and my father planned to give away before leaving for the Middle Eastern desert. My brother waited for a call from his Air Force recruiter. On my last morning, he fried me an egg and sat across the table watching me eat and cry. We drove to the airport, and I looked long at the smallest details, opening the window to catch the last of the marine air.

There is nothing fair about the leanness of this time of year, when we must drag ourselves back to our roots to be counted, pulling our baggage behind us. Some of us will sleep in bedrooms converted into gyms or offices, others in caves (because there was no room for us), exiled by quarrel or by choice or just by growing up. So if you get the inkling that you may have come home this year, even if it is just for a moment, leave your curtains open. Turn up the corners of your tablecloth. 

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about seeing other people. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

"Bitten by the Night" - Jenee Halstead (mp3)

"Garden of Love" - Jenee Halstead (mp3)