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A Reminiscence

You’ll have to forgive me for all the depressing death posts of late, but I couldn’t not say something about the legendary pianist Chick Corea, who died Tuesday from a rare form of cancer. He was 79.

No matter what his creative output—whether it was the work with Miles Davis in the late 60s, the duets with vibraphonist Gary Burton, the jazz-rock explorations with Return to Forever, or the late-80s Elektric Band—Corea had a profound influence on the development of my musical vocabulary.

I was in Paris in the summer of 1989. My friend Tom and I had just spent several hours exploring the Louvre, and needed some time to process the fact that we had just been in the presence of the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Emerging from the museum and squinting into the late afternoon sun, we set our sights on the Place de la Concorde, less than a mile distant. (Having been to Notre Dame that morning, it made sense to us to head in the opposite direction.) We had just entered Tuileries Garden when we heard the sound of a piano—a sound that, though faint, was familiar to both of us.

“Is it…?”

“Nah. Couldn’t be.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“But this is Paris. Maybe….”

Tom and I followed our ears until we came across a small crowd of spectators gathered in front of a portable stage. And on that stage, practically within spitting distance, was Chick Corea, performing with bassist John Patitucci. It was one of those magical moments that seems, in retrospect, too far-fetched to be true.

We watched the remainder of the set, marveling not only at the musicianship on display, but also at the relative indifference of the crowd. Parisians, I thought. They’re too cool even for Chick.

I got a text from Tom late last night. He asked if I remembered that afternoon.

How could I forget? Rest in peace, Mr. Corea.

Thursday Eye Candy

“Enough with all the words,” I imagine most of you saying every time I post something. “Give us something cool to look at.”

Fine.

The winners of this year’s Underwater Photographer of the Year competition have been announced.

And here’s a short film about a rainy day in Pyongyang…

Happy?

At the End of the Day, It Is What It Is

The results from a 2019 GetResponse survey, which polled 1,000 employees to determine the worse offenders in the category of business jargon, are in:

And while synergy is indeed a loathsome word, there’s a phrase I keep seeing that’s far, far worse—yet it doesn’t even appear on the list: lean in. By my troth, if you utter these words within thirty feet of me, you shall surely taste my wrath.

An All-Time Fave

I know we’re supposed to remember Hal Holbrook for his portrayal of Mark Twain during the six-decade run of his one-man stage show—or even for playing Deep Throat in All the President’s Men—but when I learned that Holbrook died a couple of weeks ago, all I could think of was Into the Wild, the 2007 film based on Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name.

The missus and I rewatched the movie over the weekend. And the two scenes that still bring a tear to my eye are due entirely to Holbrook’s performance as the lonely widower Ron Franz. Here’s one of them:

If you’ve not seen the film, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Great acting, brilliant direction, beautiful cinematography, and, as if all that isn’t enough, some truly great songs performed by Eddie Vedder.

As for the story itself, forget what you may have heard—particularly from those who seem intent on deliberately missing the point—and watch it because it’s, as Anthony Sacramone once suggested, “a prose poem on the beauty of life for its own sake, despite its pain and disappointments” and “a poignant plea for humility and forgiveness.”

Words of Wisdom

When Duke Bootee died last month, he left us with not only “the greatest song in hip-hop history” (according to Rolling Stone)…

…but also some of the sagest advice I’ve ever come across: “Figure out a way to take care of yourself, legal. Find somebody you can stand that can stand you. Pay your taxes. Take care of your teeth.”

Amen.

Stop! Grammar Time!

Good news: “Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson said Thursday it has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization for its one-dose Covid-19 vaccine, setting in motion a process that is all but sure to see a third such vaccine authorized.”

Bad news: “FDA scientists will now pour over the data generated in the various clinical trials J&J has conducted on the vaccine.”

Pssst: It’s pore over, nerds. As in “to scrutinize.” But hey, I’m no scientist. Maybe something actually gets dumped on the numbers during the approval process. Which, now that I think about it, explains an awful lot.

Harold Budd, RIP

One of my favorite composers died last December, yet another victim of this godforsaken pandemic. The irony, of course, is that Harold Budd’s music remains the closest thing to a curative that we have for these troubled times.

I came to Budd several years ago through his work with Brian Eno, specifically Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl. Today, a quick perusal of my album collection reveals 30-some records with his name somehow attached. Whether it’s his solo piano work, the collaborations with Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie or Eraldo Bernocchi or Daniel Lenz, or the stunning Avalon Sutra—released as his “final album” (not really) on David Sylvian’s boutique Samadhi Sound label, there’s always been a thread connecting Budd’s music: pure, unadulterated beauty.

In a remembrance over at 4Columns—which is really worth a regular visit, by the way—Geeta Dayal really captures the essence of what made Harold Budd…Harold Budd. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Miscellany: Science Edition!

Did you know that wombats make cube-shaped poo? And scientists have just figured out how they do it. No, really. There’s even a video:

In 2009, Andrew Smith, a graduate student at Oregon State University, combined yttrium, indium, manganese, and oxygen in a 2,000° F furnace. What came out—a “never-before-seen brilliant blue compound”—is the first chemically made blue pigment in 200 years.

The Hewlett-Packard HP-35, the “first electronic slide rule,” was introduced to the world 49 years ago today. Sadly, it was the beginning of the end for these little guys.

In 1995, a wide-eyed optimist and a curmudgeonly Luddite placed a $1,000 bet on the future of tech and the fate of civilization. So who won? Depends.

Yes, there are dumb people who don’t realize they’re dumb—just as there are people who are confident despite their ignorance. But that doesn’t mean the Dunning-Kruger effect is real.

Our Fearless Leader

The phone’s been ringing off the hook since the latest issue of The Independent“Serving Chewelah and Stevens County since 1903” – dropped last week. Readers of the “Remember When” column are wondering: Is Chuck Anderson…CK Anderson?

Yes. Yes, he is. Before he was the design mogul we all know and love – and fear – CK was a star athlete in high school and a diligent pupil in college. Come on: you’re not surprised, are you?

Stop! Grammar Time!

It’s been nearly ten years since I patiently explained that one doesn’t “hone in on” anything. And yet somehow none of the writers, editors, and proofreaders over at the Spokesman-Review were paying attention. I mean, check this headline out.

Fine. You don’t want to listen to me, a hack writer with no credentials whose sole qualification for the job is that no one else wants to do it? Then at least pay attention to Paul Brians, retired professor and “national authority on English grammar,” whose Common Errors in English Usage ought to be required reading for aspiring writers everywhere.

“You home in on a target (the center of the target is ‘home’),” writes Professor Paul. “‘Honing’ has to do with sharpening knives, not aim.”

Told you so.

Art in the Time of the Singularity

Apropos of my previous post, in which I wax rather Eeyore-ish on what Big Tech has wrought, allow me to point you to the latest album by the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

On paper, Data Lords sounds almost comically un-hip: a double-disc concept album performed by an 18-piece jazz band that includes accordion and contrabass trombone—until you realize that two of its members, Ben Monder and Donny McCaslin, backed David Bowie on his final album Blackstar, while Schneider herself cowrote one of the tunes.

Comprising two thematic halves—”The Digital World” and “Our Natural World”—Data Lords explores our relationships with both while “searching for sonic beauty in all of it.” Here’s how Schneider explained it when she launched the project:

In the digital world, data lords, who are in a race to amass the entire world’s information, hypnotize us with conveniences, endless information at our fingertips, limitless entertainment, “curated” content, and endless other enticements. While many of those things offer us wonderful tools that enhance our lives and societies in mind-bending ways, a vast number of the enticements numb our minds and lure us into submissiveness. And almost without fail, the enticements, tools and conveniences delivered to us by these data lords, force us into a Faustian bargain of bartering our personal privacy and individuality for these often fleeting benefits. With the additional consequence of less and less face-to-face contact and no real accountability, humans’ internal compasses that measure empathy, along with their sense of self and purpose, are often hijacked. Fueled by silicon chips, rare earth metals, energy-hungry server farms, this digital world often feels right out of a science fiction novel.

In the natural world, magic is revealed if we intentionally divert our attention away from the virtual world long enough to embrace silence. Not long ago, the natural world was our only world. With a brain much freer of clutter, our minds could coast and daydream – a state of mind that produced many of our world’s greatest ideas. This space also left our senses keenly alert. Our eyes and ears were truly hungry for absorbing new artistic creations. And while far less music was instantly available literally at our fingertips, I think most of us remember longingly how intentional and deep our listening was. Many more people reveled in nature, and the myriad of mysteries one would encounter there, ignited questions and a search for meaning and purpose. A vacuum of space in our lives left humans reaching out to others for discourse and real connection. In this organic, analog world, we feel rooted to the earth as unique beings. Fueled by sunlight and oxygen, along with 117 other elements, this mind-blowingly complex and bewildering world, inversely, offers us a centering simplicity as well.

It’s an intense yet gorgeous work, almost Ellingtonian in its grandeur; the kind of music that can raise the hair on the back of your neck while simultaneously bringing a tear to your eye. I’m honestly not sure I’ve heard anything quite like it. Highly, highly recommended.

End Times (continued)

“Technosolutionism is a way of understanding the world that assigns priority to engineered solutions to human problems” writes Christine Rosen. “Its first principle is the notion that an app, a machine, a software program, or an algorithm offers the best solution to any complicated problem.”

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. In fact, it’s made things far, far worse, according to Alana Newhouse:

Once people accepted the idea of an app, you could get them to pay for dozens of them—if not more. You could get people to send thousands of dollars to strangers in other countries to stay in homes they’d never seen in cities they’d never visited. You could train them to order in food—most of their food, even all of their food—from restaurants that they’d never been to, based on recommendations from people they’d never met. You could get them to understand their social world not as consisting of people whose families and faces one knew, which was literally the definition of social life for hundreds of thousands of years, but rather as composed of people who belonged to categories—“also followed by,” “friends in common,” “BIPOC”—that didn’t even exist 15 years ago….

Reminds me of a conversation I had with a millennial a few years ago. I was making fun of her generation—I know, I know, shooting fish in a barrel and all that—when she rather indignantly pointed to the creation of social media as an example of what her peers had done to contribute to the greater good. And then she threw down the gauntlet: “What’s your generation done?”

Given the choice of doing nothing and unleashing Facebook on the world, I told her, I think I’d rather be known for being a slacker.

Signs and Wonders

If any doubt remains as to whether we are, in fact, living in the End Times, please take a gander at the following headlines, courtesy of the inestimable New York Post:

Colombia’s ‘cocaine hippos’ must be stopped, scientists warn

Rapper A Boogie Wit da Hoodie sued for allegedly clogging toilets at NJ mansion

Video shows knife-wielding squirrel in woman’s backyard

Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘vagina’ candle reportedly explodes in UK woman’s home

How to get a free bag of marijuana with the COVID-19 vaccine

At least we can talk about something other than politics.

Poetry Break

ART
Herman Melville

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art.

Words of Wisdom

Benjamin Robert Haydon, in his diary entry for January 14, 1825, offers up some advice for the aspiring artist: “The nipple should always be a little above the centre. In Rubens and common nature it is below, which gives a flabby, infirm look.”

Then again, Charles Dickens considered Haydon’s art to be “quite marvellous in its badness,” so…grain of salt and all that.

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