Chad Comello

books, movies, libraries, typewriters

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Media of the Moment

An ongoing series on books, movies & more I’ve encountered recently:

Nurtured By Love by Shinichi Suzuki. Great little book on how to cultivate talent, specifically in children and music but also for anyone in anything.

On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor. Enjoyed the adventure of this winding, informative book on the nature of trails of all kinds. Like an erudite sequel to A Walk in the Woods.

The Million Dollar Duck. A documentary that follows 6 artists who enter their drawings into the apparently popular and lucrative annual Federal Duck Stamp design contest. Surprisingly dramatic.

Persepolis. Loved this graphic novel’s high-contrast black and white illustration style. Perfect mix of a girl’s light and funny memoir with the high drama of the Iranian revolution.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. It’s fun to watch Jim Carrey go full Method for Man on the Moon now, from a distance, but it looked like a nightmare for everyone else at the time. The Truman Show remains Carrey’s apex.

High Society. Great sick-day movie: Grace Kelly (in her final role) with a lot to do, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra quippin’ and singin’ around a mansion, plus a superfluous but lovely Louis Armstrong performance, in a funny and charming Philadelphia Story/Casablanca rehash that gives everyone a chance to shine. Hard to believe Kelly was only 26 when she retired from acting.

Phantom Thread. I realized pretty quickly this was a dark comedy, which helped me enjoy it in the moment. But not as much as everyone else seems to enjoy it. Pretty sure I was the only one laughing in my screening.

Ingrid Goes West. Taylor’s beefcake, possibly sociopathic bro holding valuable information hostage is the perfect metaphor for Silicon Valley right now, as is this movie overall.

Moonstruck. Can confirm that the conventional wisdom about this movie—”Nicholas Cage and Cher together in a rom-dramedy that strangely works well”—is correct.

How to have better conversations

Via Kottke, here are radio interviewer Celeste Headlee’s 10 tips for better conversations:

  1. Don’t multitask.
  2. Don’t pontificate.
  3. Use open-ended questions.
  4. Go with the flow.
  5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself.
  8. Stay out of the weeds.
  9. Listen.
  10. Be brief.

I’m better at some of these than others. I think about #6 a lot because it’s so easy to do, and I think about #5 a lot because, for me at least, it’s so hard to do.

Additionally, WSJ’s “Save Yourself From Tedious Small Talk” offers some conversation-openers that spark pleasure and deeper thinking beyond today’s weather and the traffic you hit on your way here:

  • Have you been working on anything exciting recently?
  • What was the highlight of your day?
  • Any exciting plans this summer?
  • What do you do to relax?
  • What’s keeping you awake at night?

School of Rock

“We’re not goofing off. We’re creating musical fusion.”

The video of a guy drumming to the “Just give up” speech from School of Rock inspired me to rewatch that 2003 Richard Linklater film for the first time in a while.

It’s a meaningful movie for me, coming out when I was in high school and a drummer in a rock band. Our guitarist/singer even had the same Gibson SG guitar that Jack Black’s Dewey uses.

At first, we’re meant to see Dewey as a delusional has-been, if a true believer in rock music’s ability to “change the world.” But in his new role as accidental teacher and musical mentor to a class of talented prep school kids, he finds a positive outlet for his enthusiastic idealism (if under shady circumstances). And his maxims about what rock is really about become sound wisdom for impressionable minds rather than just eye rolling platitudes.

This is evident in the scene where the band comes together to make something new together in Zach’s song. Not only does it capture the excitement of “creating musical fusion” with bandmates, but the smile that emerges on Dewey’s face as he steps back to watch the kids come into their own as musicians is a testament to the joy of creative potential being realized.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout, not even counting the “I have been touched by your kids” scene. You really have to be a Jack Black fan to enjoy most of them, if not the whole movie. But even if you aren’t, I can’t see how he wouldn’t win you over with his relentless, goofy energy and legit talent.

Ursula Le Guin on the ‘media golem’

A pox upon me for never having read Ursula Le Guin before she died last week. I’ll get right on that, as her reputation is high among many different kinds of readers.

Before diving into her novels, though, I encountered her blog (an 88 year old blogging!) on which last year she posted “Constructing the Golem”, pretty thoroughly diagnosing our political moment and offering advice for overcoming it:

When he does something weird (which he does constantly in order to keep media attention on him), look not at him but at the people whom his irresponsible acts or words affect — the Republicans who try to collaborate with him (like collaborating with a loose cannon), the Democrats and Government employees he bullies, the statesmen from friendly countries he offends, the ordinary people he uses, insults, and hurts. Look away from him, and at the people who are working desperately to save what they can save of our Republic and our hope of avoiding nuclear catastrophe. Look away from him, and at reality, and things begin to get back into proportion.

Or: just don’t look.

He is entirely a creature of the media. He is a media golem. If you take the camera and mike off him, if you take your attention off him, nothing is left — mud.

Oh, would that it were so simple. He is the president, and the office of the presidency is unable to be ignored no matter who occupies its office. This is the present conundrum.

Nicholas Carr, incisive as always, speaks to this in an essay at Politico. He first zooms in on the president’s Twitter addiction:

Thanks to Twitter, the national conversation is now yoked to the vagaries of Trump’s mind. Politics has been subsumed by psychology. Twitter’s formal qualities as an informational medium—its immediacy and ephemerality, its vast reach, its lack of filters—mirror and reinforce the impulsiveness, solipsism, and grandiosity that define Trump’s personality and presidency and, by extension, the times. Banal yet mesmerizing, the president’s Twitter stream distills our strange cultural moment—the moment the noise became the signal.

…and then zooms out on its larger implications:

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the nation and its institutions have become a sort of drug-delivery system engineered to feed the compulsions of a single, unusual man. And given what we know about the way media technologies shape society, a bigger question looms: Are we stuck here for good?

Dear lord I hope not.

A president’s pronouncements will always be news, but they don’t have to grab headlines the way Trump’s tweets routinely do. The messages’ enduring power to seize attention and shape debate springs from a deeper source. It reflects the polarized state of the country and its politics. Among both the president’s fans and his foes, the tweets provoke extreme reactions, which serve to reinforce each side’s confidence in the righteousness of its cause. We listen so intently to Trump’s tweets because they tell us what we want to hear about the political brand we’ve chosen. In a perverse way, they serve as the rallying cries of two opposed and warring tribes.

And when you’re stuck between these two warring tribes, you don’t even get to enjoy the psychological benefits from tribalism. You just witness the carnage and wonder which side you’d rather see lose.

Drumming to Dewey Finn in “School of Rock”

File this under “things I’d never think of but now make perfect sense”: drumming synced to Dewey Finn’s “Just give up” speech in School of Rock.

Incredible. He has a bunch more too, like Willy Wonka and Fawlty Towers.

School of Rock was a formative movie for me. It came out when I was in high school and a drummer in a rock band. I still think of it first when I hear “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. (Thor: Ragnarok second.)

See also: the cast’s 10-year reunion show.

Films Galore and other groovy ’70s library brochures

Digging around my library’s local history collection, I found a stack of trifold brochures promoting the services of the old North Suburban Library System (now RAILS) my library is part of. I’m guessing they’re from the 1970s since NSLS started in the late ’60s. Look at all these groovy logos and colors:

And then there’s the one that summarizes all the services:

All reference desks should have a “Just Ask” sign on them to encourage shy patrons. Maybe I’ll turn it into a button.

I’d love to talk to whoever designed these. Were the icons specially made for these brochures or did they come from somewhere else? Perhaps they could be repurposed for a digital marketing campaign, or at least a cool collage project.

Desire lines in dictatorships

I’m in the midst of Robert Moor’s fascinating On Trails: An Exploration, and he mentions desire lines. Defined as paths “created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal traffic,” they are usually a shortcut through grass that’s a more direct line between two points.

“They can be found in the parks of every major city on earth,” Moor writes, including those of repressive authoritarian regimes, where dictatorial architects despise them as “geographic graffiti” because they belie the “authoritarian failure to predict our needs our desires.” Efforts to remove or impede desire lines are almost always fruitless: “Wise designers sculpt with desire, not against it.”

Once you realize what a desire path is, you’ll see them everywhere. I love discovering terminology for everyday phenomena that I didn’t realize actually had a name. Here are a few more I like:

Slip lane: The diagonal lane at an intersection that allows you to turn right at an intersection without entering it.

Rumble bars (aka drunk bumps, growlers, drift lines): The slotted lines on highway shoulders that cause your tires to rumble when you drive over them.

Road verge (aka curb lawn, devil strip, easement, parkway, and many more): the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road.

They are specific but simply worded, almost onomatopoeic in how they describe common but often invisible design. Can’t wait to add more to this list. Any suggestions?

Refer Madness: A Patron Mount Rushmore

My latest Refer Madness column for Booklist‘s Top Shelf Reference newsletter—“A Patron Mount Rushmore”—concerns those patrons who are so iconic yet so mysterious that they deserve to be chiseled into stone, or at least wondered about. Curiosity, after all, is an important tool of the library trade.

Filed under: Refer Madness

Sgt. Better: ‘Lonely Hearts Club Band’ remastered

By no means am I an audiophile. Play an MP3, ACC, and WAV file of the same song back to back and I most likely couldn’t tell the difference. (Correction: I definitely couldn’t tell the difference, having failed this quiz.)

But when I listened to the newly remastered 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I could tell the difference.

That’s because this new edition does more than just reformat the original tracks. Since the original album was configured for mono rather than stereo, the mix when played in two speakers or earbuds is often awkwardly lopsided. This new version was remixed from the ground up, using the original master tapes to create a balanced sound that’s optimized for our modern stereo ways.

(Looks like #BetterTheBeatles goes beyond this blog.)

That’s what I read anyway. I wanted to listen for myself to hear just how different the mixes were. After loading up both versions, I eschewed my typical earbuds and opted for my Sennheiser headphones to go back and forth between the old and new cuts. Even my simple ears noticed a huge difference.

Play, for example, the original version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Notice the opening organ only comes through one ear. This is the version we’ve had to live with for 50 years, until now, where the notes in the remix float evenly across the soundscape.

Paul’s melodious bass lines and Ringo’s drumming are the overall winners of this remix. On top of the overall songwriting prowess, those two elements are what make Sgt. Pepper’s such an aurally rich and relistenable experience.

Would that they performed this sonic sorcery on every Beatles album!

Aly Raisman’s remarks to abuser Larry Nassar: ‘You are nothing’

Former Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman spoke at the trial of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who’s accused of abusing scores of young gymnasts over decades. Her remarks are 🔥🔥🔥:

I am here to face you, Larry, so you can I see I have regained my strength, that I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. I am no longer that little girl you met in Australia, where you first began grooming and manipulating. As for your letter yesterday, you are pathetic to think that anyone would have sympathy for you. You think this is hard for you? Imagine how all of us feel.

She goes on to recount precisely how Nassar abused her and so many other young athletes, and how the system of complicity around him enabled it to go on for so long.

I shouldn’t be surprised Raisman was so poised and confident; she’s a three-time Olympic gold medalist in a sport that seems to me to be one of the mentally toughest. But she was far from the mat here, and I applaud her and the many other young women who have come forward to share their stories.

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