Humans are not hunter-gatherers anymore, but we were for a long time. Nicholas Bate has a list of 50 skills we collectively gained from that era can go to waste in our modern existence, unless we realize how useful they still are. I like the list because it combines small practicalities with big-picture stuff. For example:
Tell stories that fire the imagination.
Use eyes for distances beyond the screen: look long, look up.
Remember what’s important.
Stare at night skies unpolluted by light.
Establish rituals: writing, building & crafting, reflecting
No elevators. No escalators. No PPT. No Facebook after the sun sets.
Be self-reliant: learn how it works, from pensions to mowers.
Goodreads tells me I read one less book this year than last. Though always tempted to read ever more and more, I’ve become less concerned about hitting arbitrary reading quotas, so I’m able to better enjoy the books I do read. Here are the 2017 books I enjoyed the most, with links to reviews I wrote when I read them:
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper (review)
Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler (review)
High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World by Damon Krukowski (review)
This is the view from my New Year’s Eve. Since I can count the number of degrees it is outside on one hand, I decided to stay in this morning to look back at my 2017 calendar and remember the notable events, trips, and people that made up my year. In chronological order:
Going down to Florida for my cousin’s funeral was the definition of bittersweet: horrible reason for being there, but good opportunity to see family we don’t see very often.
Sold two typewriters for more than I bought them for. It’s a seller’s market out there.
Went to Ann Arbor, MI, for the first time for a baby shower and hung out with far flung friends.
Starting a two-person book club with my friend Josh, where we get together to eat and discuss the book, along with politics, religion, and everything under the sun. I call them our “save the world” sessions because we sort through the miasma of current events and decide on the proper way to fix them. If only D.C. would listen in!
Bar trivia with Jenny and her cousins. Weren’t close to winning, but reminded me I should do bar trivia more.
Had neighbors over for dinner, which reminded me we should have neighbors over for dinner more.
Continued playing ultimate frisbee Sunday afternoons when I was able, and loving the feeling of a perfectly thrown touchdown.
Got to facilitate two dozen very cute interviews between 3rd graders for a local history project at my library.
Saw the Cubs lose to the Brewers at Wrigley Field on a cold and rainy day. Highlights within that include seeing two of Jenny’s cousins there, and Nick Offerman walking directly past us after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.
Went to my first local ward meeting, in a post-election effort to become more civically engaged.
Had a quick and haphazard solo recording session of some of my songs. Won’t be able to use most of it, but it reminded me of the agony and ecstasy of recording.
Called or hung out with several friends, new and old, to catch up and get to know each other, all of which I appreciate.
Drove to Toronto for a family wedding. The 8-hour drive wasn’t so great, but being there for the first time was.
Convened with family in Cape May, NJ, for a reunion of sorts, then caravanned to Elkins, WV, for grandma’s memorial service. Saw lots of extended family for the first time and got to hang with my cousins’ kids, who grow too fast.
Played golf for the first time in at least 15 years in Elkins the morning of the memorial. Grateful for my cousin’s husband’s caddying and encouragement the whole rushed 9. Sank one sweet putt and had one great approach shot, otherwise: A for effort.
My sister visited to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. We were planning to just listen from outside the ballpark as I did years ago with a friend for Paul McCartney, but on a whim we checked the box office for tickets and decided to jump on them as an early birthday present to me. Awesome show.
Saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, California Typewriter, and Columbus at the Music Box.
Hosted several friends and family overnight on our pullout couch-bed, having each of them leave a note in our guest book.
Went to college homecoming for the first time since graduating, and got an alumni discount on a t-shirt as a reward.
“Mvmt II: Begin and Never Cease” by The Oh Hellos, The Oh Hellos Family Christmas Album. You really ought to listen through the whole (short) album in one go, which is like one long medley, but the second movement’s ecstatic exuberance echoes Mumford & Sons mixed with Anathallo.
“Snow” by Sleeping At Last, Christmas Collection.O’Neal explains on a recent episodes of his podcast that it’s heavily inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life but also about the concept of home during the holidays.
“Silent Night” by Rosie Thomas, A Very Rosie Christmas. Rosie’s bouncy original “Why Can’t It Be Christmastime All Year” is always a fun listen, but don’t sleep on the rest of the album’s dreamy, riverine covers like this one. Great for a cozy nights staring at a twinkling Christmas tree.
“All I Need Is Love” by CeeLo Green & The Muppets. For successfully turning “Mahna Mahna” into a Christmas song.
“First Snowfall” by Over the Rhine, Blood Oranges in the Snow. Leave it to OTR to capture a different kind of Christmas, ramshackle and real, far from the Norman Rockwell scenes traditional Christmas songs paint.
“12 Days of Christmas” by Relient K, Let It Snow, Baby… Let It Reindeer. There aren’t a lot of great versions of this song because it’s such a pain to make 12 repetitive verses interesting. But Relient K pulls it off with verve.
1) The Lives of Others (technically 2006, but released in the U.S. in 2007)
5) Michael Clayton
6) No Country for Old Men
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
10) 3:10 to Yuma
As you can see, There Will Be Blood did not make the list. I remember in the theater being impressed but bored, which was not the case for its Oscar “rival” that year, No Country for Old Men. Because of that I predicted Blood wouldn’t win Best Picture; compared to the tight plotting and propulsive thrills of No Country, its sprawling scope and tonal opacity would be a tough sell in a popularity contest.
I’d still give Best Picture to No Country. But a second viewing of Blood brought it way up in my estimation. What P.T. Anderson’s films lack in scrutability they more than make up for in production design, soundtrack, and acting prowess. What superlative could I use for Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t already been beaten to death with a bowling pin? The man is mesmerizing. In a 158-minute movie, I couldn’t take my eyes off him for one of them. He shares MVP with the cinematographer Robert Elswit, who similarly has earned the hyperbole around his work.
So where would I rank There Will Be Blood now? Making a new list without rewatching all the films I rated highly but haven’t seen since then, like Waitress and Michael Clayton, is a bit of a fool’s errand.But as it stands now, including the 2007 films I’ve seen since making the list, here’s what it looks like:
1) The Lives of Others
4) No Country for Old Men
7) There Will Be Blood
8) Michael Clayton
10) Into the Wild
Sorry, Juno, 3:10 to Yuma, and Sweeney Todd, but I had to make room for There Will Be Blood,Into the Wild, and Munyurangabo. Honorable mention goes to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hairspray, and Enchanted. Pretty great year overall!
For a while I only listened to Christmas music in December. This rule kept that music fresh, even sacred (something I like to do), and tethered to the season it’s meant for. But as a compromise to my wife—a Yuletide hedonist if there ever was one—a few years ago I bumped up the unleashing of my Christmas collection to the day after Thanksgiving. This allowed me to enjoy Thanksgiving before switching gears to the Christmas season.
This year we kicked things off, as I always do, with Christmas With the Rat Pack, followed by She & Him’s Christmas Party. It’s not even December and I’ve already listened to the Christmas albums of Nat King Cole, Relient K, Perry Como, Hanson, The Oh Hellos (quickly becoming my favorite), Count Basie, Marty Robbins, and the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. But I’ve got plenty of stuff left to accompany me to the end of the year, when I send them back into digital storage to await their annual calling.
Here’s an incomplete, totally subjective playlist of music that reminds me of fall. Let me know in the comments what music reminds you of autumn.
“October” by Eric Whitacre. Played the orchestral version of this in high school, but the choral version is just as good and beautifully evocative of the season.
“Oh Shenandoah” folk song. Sang the choral version in high school, though really any version of it is bound to be good.
Keep It Together by Guster. Not really sure why. I don’t like any other Guster music, but this is the first of three indie-pop-rock albums I discovered in college that have clung to my consciousness in a specific seasonal way.
You Are My Sunshine by Copeland. Have a distinct memory of listening to this while walking through downtown Chicago at night in late November on my way back to my suburban college campus. “On the Safest Ledge” still gives me goosebumps. Eat, Sleep, Repeat is also a great autumnal album.
Everything In Transit by Jack’s Mannequin. Like Guster, I don’t listen to any of their other music, and again mostly the first half of the album resonates for some reason. Usually play this only once a year on a brisk overcast late November day, all the better if I’m in an emo mood.
“Adagio-Andante con moto” by George Gershwin. My friend Tim and I made a lot of live action and stop-motion movies together in middle school and high school. One (that was ultimately aborted) was a sort of impressionistic music video of our hometown, which at the time (and after) ranked among the Best Places to Live in America. We went to extreme lengths to try to align the footage with the music, including Tim sprinting through his house to turn out lights in time with the end notes of the song.
Meet Joe Black soundtrack by Thomas Newman. Tim had this on CD. We’d listen to it all the time and use it in our movies. I still have never seen Meet Joe Black and I’d like to keep it that way. (Runner-up Thomas Newman soundtrack: Little Women.)
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Though appropriate for listening any time, this was another album (along with the Lord of the Rings soundtracks) Tim and I kept in heavy rotation when hanging out. Have you figured out yet that we weren’t cool in high school?
It’s been almost 10 years since I last did a “music of the moment” post (then called “soundtrack of the moment”), so I figured it was time for another. There’s no use trying to summarize a whole decade of musical discoveries and interests, so I’ll just try for the last few weeks.
“Hole in Your Soul” by ABBA, ABBA: The Album Last weekend I was going through our LP collection initially just to clean the vinyls, but I realized there were several albums I hadn’t listened to in a while or at all. It’s so easy to jump to what I have on my phone when I want to hear something, but if I’m gonna have LPs around then I ought to use them, right? So I decided I’d listen to at least one a week, if only to weed out the ones that weren’t worth taking up our limited space. This mission paid off immediately when I pulled out ABBA’s self-titled album, which has some classics like “Take a Chance on Me” and “Thank You for the Music” but also this new-to-me gem:
What an electrifying mix of arena rock and typical ABBA-esque quirkiness. I’d love to play drums on that one. After hearing that I of course set off on an ABBA kick, which led me to “Bang-A-Boomerang”, off of ABBA. (Get more creative album titles, Swedes!) These tracks are why I try to seek out full studio albums, especially from artists I’m just getting into. I still end up with many Greatest Hits albums, but it’s easy to miss these great deep cuts when just sticking with compilations.
“Bye Bye Love” by Ray Charles, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music A bookstore by my place was going out of business 😢 and everything was $1 😁. I didn’t end up getting books but I did spot this album on vinyl in their small collection. I’d never heard of it, but its price, striking cover, and renowned reputation made it an easy buy. Just listen to the cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” that kicks off the album:
“You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me” by John Mayer, The Search for Everything Perhaps because I knew someone with a strong John Mayer aversion, I’ve always felt the need to apologize for liking him. No more: the dude’s been an incredible songwriter going all the way back to his debut album. I find I prefer when he leans toward melancholic pop or country rather than blues. His latest album isn’t my favorite of his, but its final track shows off Mayer’s talent for delicate melodies and apt arrangements:
“I Just Want to Celebrate” by Rare Earth, One World Once I found out Rare Earth was the first all-white Motown band, curiosity compelled me to check them out. It’s a scattershot discography, but I love this this groovy sunny-day song and its fist-pounding chorus hook. Sounds very 1971.
“You’re a Special Part of Me” by Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye, Diana & Marvin Speaking of Motown, this was one of a few discoveries from reading Adam White’s Motown: The Sound of Young America. Obviously I knew of Gaye and Ross, but not of their duet album recorded at the peak of their musical prowess:
“Sugar Dumpling” by Sam Cooke, Twistin’ the Night Away I had The Best of Sam Cooke for a little while before I realized, Oh right, Sam Cooke is incredible. Maybe I should get more of his music. Having done so, I’m thinking he might be the best singer ever?
“Honey and Smoke” by case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs One of the few modern albums I have on vinyl because of how much I love it. “Honey and Smoke” precisely describes the sound of this Neko Case, K.D. Lang, and Laura Veirs supergroup together trading tracks: a smooth, sexy, smoky blend of alt-rock and pop and lounge music. I don’t listen to any of them individually, but with their musical powers combined I am hooked:
“Big Iron” by Marty Robbins, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs Though I’d heard Robbins before (most notably “El Paso” in the Breaking Bad series finale), it wasn’t until seeing this album on someone’s favorite music list a few years ago that I pursued his oeuvre. Perfect for road trips and daydreaming about the Wild West: