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On My Bookshelf

I’ve been reading A Year with Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno’s Diary by, well…Brian Eno. It’s literally his diary, but from 1995, and I’ve been matching my reading with the actual entry dates.

Anyway, it’s chock-a-block with quotable aphorisms and witty asides, from the banal-yet-relatable…

“Home early. Cinema: The Madness of King George – between so-so and OK. Like most movies, I shall probably never think of it again.”

…to the utterly profound:

“Saying that cultural objects have value is like saying that telephones have conversations.”

It’s not only great reading, it’s also a beautifully designed book. Highly recommended.

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other

On the one hand, 61 percent of Americans reported undesired weight gain during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Check out the average poundage for millennials!)

On the other hand, Krispy Kreme is giving away free doughnuts: “The chain says it will offer a free original glazed doughnut to anyone who shows their vaccination card for the rest of 2021, starting today. And the offer is not a one-time deal.”

I need to get me some of that vaccine, stat.

Just a Puff Between Your Cheek and…Cheek

The practice of smoke enemas—something that “early modern Europeans in particular took up with a surprising degree of enthusiasm”—was apparently so widespread by the 1780s that “a charitable foundation, the Royal Humane Society, installed a series of emergency tobacco-enema kits along the banks of the River Thames.”

No, really. There are pictures and everything.

But…why along the river?

Because Richard Mead, a prominent physician at the time, had written that the first step in resuscitating a drowning victim “should be to blow up the smoke of tobacco into the intestines.”

Makes sense, I guess. I mean, why not?

All I know is that, after reading “Our Strange Addiction,” I really want a cigar. That’s not weird, is it?

One of the Greats

Somebody check the temperature in Hell. Rolling Stone has actually published something worth reading:

For a brief moment in the early Seventies, Judee Sill was one of L.A.’s most promising artists. She was one of the first musicians signed to Asylum Records, a label David Geffen started with Elliot Roberts that became famous for its roster of the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, and others. Sill was produced by Graham Nash, and her songs were covered by the Turtles, the Hollies, and Cass Elliot. But unlike her labelmates, she never found fame and success. When the decade of the singer-songwriter ended, she ended with it, dying on November 23rd, 1979, of a drug overdose.

I only just discovered Sill last year, courtesy of The Album Yearsthe podcast from Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness, now in its second season.

But man, when I first heard “The Kiss,” from Sill’s second and final album Heart Food, I was gobsmacked. XTC’s Andy Partridge says it best: “Unfortunately, I can’t listen to ‘The Kiss’ anymore because it just presses the ‘sob your heart out’ button. I’m just destroyed for the next hour. I actually think it’s the most beautiful song ever written by anybody.”

Amen, Brother Andy. Here it is, in one of the few known videos of Sill performing live:

Kudos to Angie Martoccio for a sympathetic, well-written portrayal of an artist who deserves to be known. “More than 40 years after her death,” asks the article’s subhead, “could the world finally be ready to appreciate her?”

I dunno. But it damn sure ought to be.

Curmudgeonly Post of the Week

In an article about my favorite record label over at City Journal, Ted Gioia closes with an astute observation about the difference between art and entertainment:

Entertainers work to please the audience—after all, that’s the definition of entertainment—but genuine art requires the audience to adapt to it. That’s why the artistic experience is more powerful than mere entertainment. It forces the audience to go places and experience things they may have never anticipated. The artistic experience is broadening and expansive, while entertainment is narrowing and repetitive.

He’s right, of course. And it reminds me of an old joke—not sure where I first heard it—about a certain pop culture phenomenon that happens around this time every year: The GRAMMYs is a music awards show for people who don’t like music.

Miscellany

In the 1930s, the USSR began building hundreds of lighthouses along its 3,500-mile arctic coastline. Eventually, neither keepers nor electricity were needed to run them—thanks to radioisotopic thermoelectric generators: nuclear batteries.

How secure is your password? Here’s a handy chart that will should terrify you. (And here‘s my recommended solution.)

Random question: At what point did we decide that the addition of end to result and user was necessary? Isn’t end result redundant? Isn’t an end user just a, you know…user? So annoying. Not to mention completely unnecessary.

Real-life LEGO (sort of) houses you can build yourself.

What’s the point of fiction? According to Erik Hoel, the novel is “the only medium where there is no wall between the intrinsic and the extrinsic…a possible world where thoughts and feelings are just as obvious to an observer as chairs and tables.”

Preach, Sister!

More than five years have passed since Sandy Hingston spoke truth to power:

Daylight Saving Time is killing us. It increases your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, increases air pollution, decreases economic production, causes skin cancer, and has been linked to increased rates of depression and suicide. It’s damned inconvenient, and nonsensical, too.

And yet here we are, again pretending that we somehow have the power to manipulate the fourth dimension (sav•ing n. 1. Rescue from harm, danger, or loss. 2. Avoidance of excess expenditure; economy. 3. A reduction in expenditure or cost. 4. Something saved.*).

Basically, Daylight Saving Time benefits golf courses and the barbecue industry at the expense of our lives and well-being. Sounds about right.

*American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition.

Quote of the Day

“I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.”

Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955–1967

And You Thought We Were the Advanced Species

Dr. Robert J. White: “Someday, God willing, medical technology will have sufficiently advanced—and the line between research and ethics appropriately blurred—to enable a skilled surgical team to successfully transplant a sick patient’s head onto an entirely different body.”

Sea slugs: “I got you fam.”

Lock Your Doors and Hide Your Daughters

I’m not entirely sure what sort of incantation is required to change the molecular structure of stone—or whether the boulders themselves, having somehow assumed sentience, are deceiving us for purposes yet unknown—but one thing is certain: Sorcery is afoot near Kettle Falls.

Advice for Aspiring Writers

A new, “compulsively readable” biography of Philip Roth contains, according to reviewer Christian Lorentzen, “a blueprint for enduring literary stardom”:

Its lessons include: never marry; have no children; lawyer up early; keep tight control of your cover designs; listen to the critics while scorning them publicly; when it comes to publishers, follow the money; never give a minute to a hostile interviewer; avoid unflattering photographers; figure out what you’re good at and keep doing it, book after book, with just enough variation to keep them guessing; sell out your friends, sell out your family, sell out your lovers, and sell out yourself; keep going until every younger writer can be called your imitator; don’t stop until all your enemies are dead.

So this is why I’m not famous.

Stop! Grammar Time!

“Omit needless words.”

That’s Rule 13 in my copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (second edition), and it should be the mantra of anyone who wants their writing to be, you know…read.

Unfortunately, too many of us interpret the rule as “use fewer words.” But that’s not what it means at all. It means that every word must tell.

Case in point: In an otherwise harmless article about the New Yorker recently adding a crossword puzzle to the back of the magazine, we read that in February, “the publication announced that every print issue going forward will include a crossword puzzle.”

So what purpose does “going forward” serve here?

After all, will is a verb in the future tense; “going forward” is redundant. And redundancy and repetition are exactly what Rule 13 was designed to fix. “Every print issue will include a crossword puzzle” says exactly the same thing, and—bonus!—it doesn’t employ a tiresome cliché.

I Me Mine

Forget all the social and political baggage associated with pronouns these days: Bryan Garner has some thoughts on the subject that are definitely worth reading.

In fact, he argues that the use of the singular they is so ubiquitous these days as to be passé. “What’s new,” he writes, “isn’t the generic pronoun but the referential pronoun.…People are deciding for themselves how they want to be referred to behind their backs—in the third person.”

If you were addressing them directly, he points out, you’d just use you and your. But now “a social movement is behind the idea that people get to decide how references to them should sound when they’re absent.”

Things were so much simpler in the 70s.

Quote of the Day

This seems particularly appropriate for the last weekend in February (the worst of all the months, it’s only redeeming feature that it’s also the shortest):

“When besieged by doubt or depression, take a shower and change your clothes.” – Donald Justice

Timewaster

Behold the Theremix—a “cross-platform virtual theremin” created in celebration of the 100th anniversary of  Léon Theremin’s invention.

Best part about it? If you enable the camera on your device, the program uses motion capture to “simulate the gestural movements of playing a physical theremin.” (A word of caution: You might want to wait till you’re alone before enabling that camera.)

And yes, I spent an inordinate amount of time yesterday trying to perform the theme to Star Trek. I was not successful. But it did remind me that I’d read somewhere that there are actually lyrics, penned by Gene Roddenberry himself. My gift to you:

Beyond
The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand’ring in star-flight
I know
He’ll find in star-clustered reaches
Love,
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.

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