Even an irreligious man such as myself is open to a bit of wisdom from a Roman Catholic saint:
The enemy often tries to make us attempt and start many projects so that we will be overwhelmed with too many tasks, and therefore achieve nothing and leave everything unfinished. Sometimes he even suggests the wish to undertake some excellent work that he foresees we will never accomplish. This is to distract us from the prosecution of some less excellent work that we would have easily completed. He does not care how many plans and beginnings we make, provided nothing is finished. — Saint Francis de Sales from Finding God’s Will for You
Last year I quit Rdio. I made a few comments about it to co-workers (okay, maybe more than a few; sorry) but otherwise kept quiet. Part of this was because I knew people that worked at Rdio and I didn’t want my personal decision to somehow be a judgement of their work (it is not).
The reason I quit Rdio is because I was unhappy with how my music habits had changed in a world of the all-you-can-eat buffet of songs and albums. I found myself impatiently grazing on music, popping from one album to the next. I would blast through several albums in a day and never go back.
The idea of music as an investment (of time, money, emotional energy) was gone. Rdio had no boundaries and I had no limits. I just grazed and grazed. I was never full because I never stopped to really listen.
John Roderick of The Long Winters was recently interview on the Cmd+Space podcast where he talked about the work behind writing, recording, releasing, and promoting an album. In classic Roderick fashion, John had an honest (perhaps poignant) take on the state of music (transcript excerpt from Marco Arment’s post on the same topic):
When a Marvin Gaye record came out 40 years ago, presumably, you went and spent your record-buying allowance on it, and you brought it home and listened to it exclusively for 2 weeks. It was an investment. This was it! You’re going to listen to this, or you’ve got an AM radio and a newspaper.
Now, we’re just clicking through songs. “How does this one sound? Oh, that’s good. How does this one sound? Pretty good. This one’s good.”
We’re just flipping through index cards.
That was me with Rdio. Even in the age of iTunes, where music costs much less than it did when I was a kid, the act of paying per album forces you to consider the music you listen to. Switching back to iTunes, direct artist purchases, and vinyl + mp3 releases, was how I broke myself of the habit of mindlessly grazing on music.
I’ve spent a lot more on music in the last year than I ever did on Rdio but the result is a collection I adore because I listened to every album dozens of times. Just like I used to.
Currently indulging in:
Previously, I was talking about the intersection of John Prine and Roger Ebert during the Chicago folk revival.
Another key player in that—and one less well-known because of his early death—is Steve Goodman. Steve who?
Steve “The guy who wrote City of New Orleans” Goodman, that’s who.
Steve Goodman also penned songs that Jimmy Buffet covered and is considered the songwriters songwriter. I discovered Steve through John Prine and then started digging more and eventually got ahold of some of Steve’s first show at Austin City Limits in 1977 on DVD through the Austin Public Library.
On that DVD I was introduced to the Steve I had read about and heard about in interviews with his friend and contemporaries. His high-energy performance of The Twentieth Century is Almost Over was my favorite of the set.
(I’ve been to two Austin City Limits tapings, but oh how I wish I could’ve been in the audience of some of those early tapings. What an amazing history.)
Steve Goodman was diganosed with leukemia in 1969, at only 20 years old, and fought it off for the next 14 years, until he died in 1984. He was only 36 years old.
And just to keep Ebert tied into this, he wrote a great tribute to Steve in 2012.
I don’t remember the first time I purposely listened to John Prine. I think it was through the same friend that introduced me to Harry Nilsson. It would make sense because I hold both artists in high, high regard. That friend of mine had (I haven’t seen him in 10 years) never told me to listen to something I didn’t end up liking.
I got to see John Prine play live back in August 2003 (thank you, world wide web, for allowing me to look that up) in North Carolina where he played with Nancy Griffith. We had third row seats at the Regency Park Ampitheater in Cary. Awesome show and a big music education.
After Prine was in the armed forces stationed in Germany, he went to Chicago where he spent his days as a postal worker and eventually got the guts to perform open mic sessions at local clubs at night. He became part of the folk revival in Chicago.
And who else was in Chicago at the same time? None other than Roger Ebert. In fact, in 1970 Ebert wrote the first review of John Prine. When Ebert wrote this review John Prine had only been performing for three months.
In a note before he reprinted the review on his blog, Ebert wrote:
Through no wisdom of my own but out of sheer blind luck, I walked into the Fifth Peg, a folk club on West Armitage, one night in 1970 and heard a mailman from Westchester singing. This was John Prine.
He sang his own songs. That night I heard “Sam Stone,” one of the great songs of the century. And “Angel from Montgomery.” And others. I wasn’t the music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, but I went to the office and wrote an article. And that, as fate decreed, was the first review Prine ever received.
After the show, Ebert had this to say:
He appears on stage with such modesty he almost seems to be backing into the spotlight. He sings rather quietly, and his guitar work is good, but he doesn’t show off. He starts slow. But after a song or two, even the drunks in the room begin to listen to his lyrics. And then he has you.
Read the review, pick up some Prine, and then tell me you’re not hooked, too.
The first story in Richard Feynman’s fine collection of personal stories is about his work as a boy fixing radios. Early on, Feynman learned that he was much more successful when he stopped and thought before approaching a problem.
He was fixing a radio for a man who didn’t understand this.
So the guy says, “What are you doing? You come to fix the radio, but you’re only walking back and forth!”
I say, “I’m thinking!”
After fixing the man’s radio, Feynman got some referral work.
He got me other jobs, and kept telling everybody what a tremendous genius I was, saying, “He fixes radios by thinking!”