Archive for June 2008
I was hoping to end our Neil Young week last month with some of my favorite versions of Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand,” as suggested by dedicated J&B reader Brian Johnson. I found some good ones, among them…
a live acoustic version from Massey Hall, 1971
and a more recent live version from earlier this year.
And I’ll add one: Live in London, solo, during his 1973 tour with the Santa Monica Flyers (MP3 format, 15.3M), a distant audience-recorded bootleg, but a performance that manages to be both wavering and strong simultaneously
But wait. Those performances show only one side of Neil: the quiet, precise, intense solo side. The wild, messy electric attack on “Cowgirl” isn’t well-documented on YouTube or any video side I could find (let me know in the comments if you found anything) so Jewels and Binoculars wants to deliver a pair of messages from that side:
Live with Crazy Horse at the Fillmore East, 1970 (M4A format, 15M): Young and Danny Whitten trade scorching solos, Jack Nitzsche adds muscle to the rhythm section; at 16:09, this is way too short (Like it? Buy it.)
Live at Red Rocks in 2000 (M4A format, 16.9M): gets off to a rough start (roughly half the band, including Young, starts leaning into “Like a Hurricane” — with headphones on, you can hear a woman in the crowd yell “Like a Hurricane!” — until everyone agrees which song to perform), then they work up to the expected level. (Like it? Buy it.)
I finally figured out how to get the last six months or so of my Blogger posts into WordPress. The site will look weird for the next day or so while I make sure the transfers worked. Sorry for any inconvenience.
I have two tickets to see Dengue Fever at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on July 9. Turns out I can’t go. If you’re interested AND YOU AND I KNOW EACH OTHER ALREADY, please let me know and we’ll set up, as they say in crime shows, a drop.
For a few weeks, colleagues and friends have been pointing me to Wordle, a web app that takes text and presents it as a “word cloud.” I tried it with a few pieces of my own writing with the expected pedestrian results, but then I copied one of my favorite-ever pieces of someone else’s writing, the “Combray” intro to Proust’s Swann’s Way, and saw this work of art:
(You can click on the image for a larger version.)
Why is this so great? Because, despite being a mere text cloud, it tells the story of the first section with elegant precision. The young narrator is in tremendous psychic pain awaiting the arrival of his mother to kiss him goodnight. So “mother” and “mama” are in large type in the center of the image; even larger is the “room” to which he is confined, as is, just below it, “time,” the narrator’s great obsession. And then, in small type, hiding, is that elusive “kiss.” It’s an intriguing alternate way to consider or enter a story. I’ll play with it some more.
One of my regular correspondents has requested “Cowgirl in the Sand” to end Neil Young week. I’ve been scouring the Interweb for good versions to share. I’ve had no problem tracking down acoustic takes (including a pair from Massey Hall, 37 years apart), but I’ve had no luck locating many electric versions, either with Crazy Horse or the strong one from the Road Rock video. If anyone can direct me to sturdy cowgirls, please do!
(Brian, I’m trying…)
Maybe you like the rock video (a little cheesy):
Maybe you like this Crazy Horse version from 2003 (a little messy):
Maybe you like it with the E Street Band (!):
Maybe you like it with Pearl Jam (not bad, despite being Pearl Jam):
Maybe, like me, you think the performance on Saturday Night Live with the all-too-short-lived Lost Dogs, however contrived, stands as one of the wildest things Neil will ever do:
Neil Young week continues.
Here’s a good example of how the same song — in this case a more-than-quarter-century-old warhorse — can feel fresh when the band playing it every night is Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
I’m pretty sure the two versions of “Like a Hurricane” I’m pointing to here are from the band’s two nights at the Rock in Rio megaconcert in 2001. Please write me if I’m wrong.
The first version is the standard live version, exciting even in the little YouTube box on your computer screen, with an outstanding final solo:
The second version, though, which may be only one night away from the first, is dramatically different. It starts off on a less elevated plane, but Neil feels his way around the first solo to carve out some new wrinkles. Then, during a breakdown around five-and-one-half minutes in, one of Neil’s guitar strings breaks and chaos ensues. Rather than call for a new guitar, he lets the dead string sway against the five live ones, he moves briefly to the piano, he pulls out the other strings, he shakes the guitar, he supervises pandemonium. You must see this. The last two feedback-drenched minutes of this version are what the end of the world may sound like:
P.S. As a bonus, for the historians among you, let’s revisit the song as performed in 1976:
P.P.S. And let’s not forget its most unlikely cover:
Neil Young’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” backed by the then-current version of Booker T. and the MGs, was widely hailed as the highlight of the Bob Dylan “birthday” concert in 1993. Less heralded, but also tremendous, is his “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”: funny, loose-limbed, you can feel Young pull the band deeper into the song during his guitar breaks. Indeed, you can hear Neil and the MG’s coalesce as a band as this song progresses: he went on to tour and record with them.
If you must see Neil Young sing “All Along the Watchtower,” why not with the E Street Band?
And, for balance, here’s a clip of Bob Dylan singing Neil Young’s “Old Man”:
Plenty of people hate this performance of Neil with 3/4 of Led Zeppelin performing “When the Levee Breaks” the night both of them were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Plenty of people voted for Barry Goldwater, too, so don’t let that stop you from enjoying this.
The naysayers have a point: It’s a long, messy performance. When you have Neil Young and Jimmy Page onstage, it’s perverse to have Robert Plant take a guitar solo. (Don’t worry; Neil solos, too.) Indeed, Page betrays something close to a genuinely human smile as Plant spits out his surprising solo.
That solo isn’t as perverse, though, as the jam, which develops/deteriorates into Plant helming a pre-Danger Mouse mashup, singing the words to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” over the music of “When the Levee Breaks” and trading brief, efficient solos with Young. It’s a glorious mess, a wonderfully sloppy example of what pros can do when they’re playing for their own entertainment, regardless of the presence of TV cameras and audience.
The cover story of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine is about equally shared parenting, which the Times has belatedly decided is a trend. (Last month, the Mag discovered that blogging is a trend, too. Thanks, guys.) The main couple profiled in the article run a website on the topic, and last year that site published a great, nuanced essay by Jane called “Family Dance Party” that captures the complexities, frustrations, and rewards of not-quite-equal modern parenting. Jane was onto this trend years before the Times caught up.
Back in March, I gave up print newspapers. Every day since then I’ve read all of The New York Times, most of The Wall Street Journal, and some of The Boston Globe and a few other dailies, but I’ve read them all online. It was hard getting used to; indeed, I’m still getting used to it.
So imagine my delight yesterday when I received my Father’s Day present:
This is what a paper newspaper feels like now: a luxury, a gift, a change of pace, maybe even an indulgence.
It’s 9 a.m. on a Monday; time to start wasting time. I’ve been on a Neil Young kick lately, so every day this week I’ll point you to some of my favorite rare Young material available on the Interwebs.
Let’s start with a double shot of “The Sultan,” an ultrararity that will be part of the Archives box coming (yeah, we’ll see) in the fall. It’s an instrumental recorded in 1963 by Young’s first band, the Squires, and it sounds a little something like this:
On his recent tour, which Eric and I had the pleasure to witness during its Boston stop, Young ended a few shows with “The Sultan.” It is, I believe, the first time he played the song live in more than 40 years. Here’s the Paris performance back in February:
What better way to start a new week than by winning a free copy of The Sandinista Project? The first person with a correct answer will win a copy of that semilegendary two-CD set. Good luck!
In what Steven Seagal vehicle is the lead character, played by “the world’s only aikido instructor turned movie star/director/writer/blues guitarist/energy drink inventor,” as he is identified in Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal, writing his autobiography on an Apple Newton?
First correct answer in the comments wins. Please don’t cheat. This isn’t Scrabulous.
Just read her Harvard commencement speech and some commentary on it. Regular readers here know I’m interested in mistakes and failure. Part of Rowling’s section in her speech on what failure taught her struck me as worth remembering and passing along:
“Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Jane (surprised): “Hey, that was interesting. Why don’t you put something like that on your blog for a change?”
I think the reasoning goes something like this:
If it happens to three people, it’s a trend.
If it happens to two people and I know one of them, it’s a trend.
If it happens to me, it’s a trend.
Back in October 2007, at the Web 2.0 Summit, I raved about Jonathan Zittrain’s talk on generativity and the web. Now you don’t have to take my word for it. Zittrain’s recent book, The Future of the Internet — and How To Stop It is now available via free download. Read, argue, decide for yourself.
UPDATE: Turns out there’s more Zittrain news today.
with The Band (1966)
with The Band (1969)
with Johnny Cash (also 1969)
with Rolling Thunder Revue (1975)
on the Never Ending Tour (1998 )
Just the tip of that particular iceberg…
Old means your comeback album is 30 years down the road…
One of the people at O’Reilly I hope I stay in close touch with is Roger Magoulas, who runs the company’s research group. Maybe we will, now that our conversations will no longer revolve around where that damn updated chart is. Roger sent me a great email about Bo Diddley and I asked if I could pass it along. So…
I was surprised at how strongly I was affected by the news that Bo Diddley (ne Elias Otha Batea, ne Elias McDaniel) had died on Monday. It got me thinking about why and then it hit me, Bo Diddley hacked rock’n'roll. From building his own guitars and electronic effects, to using nursery rhyme self-referential boasting, to the driving beat (yes, the beat was copped from elsewhere; yes, it still resonates) and distorted guitar sound, Bo seems to have single-handedly invented much of the rock vernacular. He influenced nearly everyone of merit over the last 50 years, really anyone trying express high-energy with a dirty ambience. I love that the list includes Buddy Holly, the Dead, Bruce Springsteen, ZZ Top ,and the Clash. And how can George Thorogood ever repay him?
It wasn’t just the music, check out this video – in just 94 seconds on The Big TNT Show you can see just how rock’n'roll the big guy was:
Check out the staging, the knowing smirk on Bo’s face when the song starts, the wall of amps, the strut and moves, the skintight dresses, how much fun everyone seems to be having. Bo played a major role defining what a rock show should be. And he had women playing a pivotal role in his band from the early 60s. The woman playing guitar in the video, Norma-Jeane Wofford, aka The Duchess, could really play, providing the lead fills so Bo could concentrate on the rhythm and singing.
Like many disruptive hackers, Bo never got his full due. But I’ll never forget as I sit strumming out that crazy beat with the distortion turned way up on my amp. Rest in peace Bo, seminal rock’n'roll hacker.
I dismiss things too quickly. For example, a while back, when some of my normally astute friends and colleagues were urging me to pay attention to The Secret and its law [sic!] of attraction, I simply assumed it was crazy and I was dealing with crazy people. I’ve got good company in my dismissiveness: See all of this great clip from Julia Sweeney and Jill Sobule, but I’m thinking of what Sweeney says about the law [sic!] of attraction starting around 4:11. (I also just realized — after watching the clip — that I quoted Sweeney without attribution last night. Sorry, Jane.)
Yeah, yeah, but I was reading the usually reliable Zen Habits blog yesterday and I was confronted with not-dismissive post about the law [sic!] of attraction.
Don’t worry. Leo Babauta hasn’t gone nuts. He does note that the law [sic!] of attraction is flat-out wrong. He also acknowledges that it’s pseudoscientific nonsense. But instead of dismissing it, a la Guterman and Sweeney, he goes on to point out what we can learn from it, even if it is nuts. He finds the useful in the dismissable. That’s quite an achievement. I hope I remember this next time someone tells me something I’m inclined to dismiss immediately.
Just got sent this: ZME Music anniversary contest
I don’t know anything about these people, but it’s sort-of funny in a “they can’t even give away my book unless they throw in a t-shirt” way.
Three people sent this to me today. Thank you, Internet! (Warning: language NSFW)
Someone sent me a note about the post earlier today about “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”. The subject line of the note was “Prove It.” Well, OK, here it is. (Thanks to Eric Mongeon for digging up the file so quickly.)
In 2005, I was part of a team that launched a fine but short-lived magazine for Forrester. In the first issue, which came out in March 2005, we led one section with an article headlined “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Next month’s cover story in The Atlantic, written by someone who wrote a piece for the Forrester magazine, is entitled, of all things, “Is Google Making Us Stoopid.” Not for the first time (I’m thinking of one barely-permitted-to-be-published article, “How Apple Gets Away With It,” and one outright-killed one, “The Post-Microsoft Era”), I want to congratulate my esteemed once-and-future colleagues Harris Collingwood and Eric Hellweg for being consistently ahead of pretty much any technology or media trend you can imagine. Note to The Atlantic: If you’re interested in what will be important to your readers three years from now, you might want to give Harris or Eric a call.
I am, apparently. See for yourself. (The image is small. Depending on your monitor and browser, you might need to click on it to make it readable.)
Yes, I know I published this long post several months ago on my old blog. But, according to the WordPress dashboard, plenty of people are visiting this new blog looking for it. The posts from they old blog are not here yet, because I have yet to figure out how to make the Blogger-to-WordPress tool work. So, to satisfy those who might be interested, here it is. I gave a talk on “Why screwing up is the smartest thing you can do” at the “university” part of TED in late February and delivered a (not as good) stripped-down version of it a week later at ETech. I was asked by several Jewels and Binoculars readers who weren’t at either event to post the presentation as a blog entry. Here it is. I recognize that a flat blog post doesn’t capture the experience of a live presentation, but I want to get the material out here. And, as an added benefit, you don’t have to look at or listen to me present it!
Being here first thing in the morning, I feel like the opening act at the beginning of one of those long package shows of rock bands. I feel like Yngvie Malmsteen, a godawful heavy metal guitarist not often celebrated at TED.
Indeed, “Yngvie,” as we all know, is Swedish for “opening act.”
So here we go…
I edit Release 2.0, an expensive newsletter, so I hear a lot from readers. Sometimes they’re looking for rules, some secrets to guarantee success. I want to justify their investment in the newsletter, of course, so I tell ‘em what I’ve learned.
And what I’ve learned is that they should screw up.
While anyone who’s spent time with any of the members of Guns N Roses might find them to be screwups, the reason you haven’t heard anything new and substantial from them on the radio for 16 years — 16 years! — is that they’ve committed the opposite of screwing up: overplanning. Since the mid-’90s, by which time every original member of the band except singer Axl Rose had left for one reason or another, Guns N Roses has been working on a new album called Chinese Democracy.
Rose and his co-conspirators have been thinking and recording Chinese Democracy for 14 years, gone through at least six producers, 17 band members, and $16 million in recording costs. It’s not out yet. They’ve waited so long, perfecting and planning, planning and perfecting, that the industry Axl Rose once ruled no longer exists. Democracy may arrive in China before Chinese Democracy arrives in record stores.
Oh — wait — there really aren’t record stores any more, either. Too much planning, too much process, means no art, no product, nothing.
For a different approach, let’s consider the TV series Twin Peaks from the early ’90s. To refresh your memory…
This man, Leland Palmer…
…possessed by the spirit of a supernatural character named BOB…
…turned his daughter, Laura Palmer…
But where did BOB, the conceptual lynchpin of the series, come to be? Surely he was there from the beginning.
No. His introduction into the series came as a result of an accident while the cameras were running.
In a scene late in the Twin Peaks pilot, Laura Palmer’s mother experiences a vision while sitting on her living room couch. On the wall behind her, barely in the shot, there is a mirror. In the bottom corner of the mirror, there’s the reflection of Frank Silva, a set dresser on the crew, unaware he’s in the shot. You or I wouldn’t have noticed it unless we were looking for it — but on the set of a television show, there is someone whose job is to look for just such mistakes.
After the take, that person alerted director David Lynch to the accident and began to set up a reshoot. Lynch stopped him. He spoke to Frank Silva, the set dresser in the mirror. “Can you act?” Lynch asked. This was Los Angeles, so you know the answer…
…and the malevolent, mysterious character of BOB, the key to the weird mystery of the series, was born — from an accident.
Many popular products, advances, and countless works of art have emerged from accidents. In the Internet world, we have Blogger and Twitter. And those two are just from one guy: Evan Williams.
Things may go better with Coke, but Coke was originally designed to go better with pain. It was intended to be a pain remedy.
in 1928, Alexander Fleming, researching the flu, noticed that a mold had taken over one of his petri dishes. That mold, he saw, had stopped bacteria in the dish. Voila! Penicillin. Indeed, the very idea of vaccines was discovered by accident, when Edward Jenner noticed that people who worked with cows didn’t get smallpox.
In 1894, John Harvey Kellogg left some cooked wheat to sit while he attended to some pressing matters at his sanitarium. When he returned, the wheat had gone stale. Because he was either cheap or broke — historians disagree — he tried to save the wheat by forcing it through rollers, expecting to get long sheets of dough he could use. Instead, he got … flakes. He toasted them. He served them to his patients. He got very, very rich.
Post-It notes came to be by accident, too, but the story isn’t that interesting, so I’ll just mention it and keep going.
This one’s more interesting. Fred Katz introduced the cello to modern jazz. One night in the late 1950s, during a break between sets while he was playing piano with a jazz band, Katz pulled a chair to the front of the stage and played some solo cello. When the rest of the band returned to the small stage, there was no room for Katz to return to his piano. Not sure what to do — the set was starting, the band was playing — Katz decided to play the piano lines on his cello. Out of his accident, his real, half-century-long, career began.
Next time you enjoy some ferocious rock’n'roll encased in feedback, thank these guys. A spray of amplifier feedback at the beginning of The Beatles’ 1965 recording of “I Feel Fine,” an accident, sounded so unusual — and so great — that they kept it on the record. And, since I’m talking about brands favored by aging boomers…
…Viagra was first thought to be a promising drug for angina. During 1992 clinical trials in a town in Wales, Pfizer researchers discovered that…
…the drug had a different effect altogether.
So mistakes can be great things. What do we do about ‘em? How do we harness ‘em? Well, if you’re the Harvard Business School, the font of management wisdom (and — disclosure — a client), you’re not quite sure. Sometimes they tell us to be afraid of mistakes…
…sometimes they tell us we can manage accidents, thus making them not accidents. We might call this the Pee-Wee Herman “I meant to do that” theory of managing mistakes…
..and, once, squeezed almost as an afterthought — or, maybe, an accident — as the very last entry in an issue of the Harvard Business Review, they celebrate it, thanks to a terrific, brief essay by Danny Hillis. I’m not trying to pick on Harvard. You can find similar advice from the other Ivy schools, even Stanford. But this is the conventional business wisdom. You can’t be built to last or go from good to great or whatever unless you’re careful to avoid mistakes, the thinking goes. Imagine the difference between the reaction if you tell your boss “I’m planning” and the one you get if you say, “I’m making mistakes.”
Established institutions are in the business of supporting the status quo. And mistakes, if nothing else, go against the status quo, the conventional wisdom, the expected. As Esther Dyson used to sign her emails, “Always make new mistakes!” A key part of planning is being open to mistakes.
The unexpected kiss, the unpredictable punch line: they’re so much of what makes life worth living. Shouldn’t we let the unexpected into our business work as well? It’s by screwing up that we learn and discover. We can’t predict accidents. But we can take advantage of them.
You never know where a mistake is going to lead. Maybe nowhere, maybe somewhere. But it’s definitely nowhere if you don’t at least lean forward and peer down the road after you screw up.
You want the secret of success that my newsletter readers want to know? It’s no secret. It’s that, chances are, whatever you’re looking for — that’s not what you’re going to find.
For obvious reasons, I’m listening to Bo Doddley’s Beach Party today.
I know that Ellis McDaniel has been the subject of some fine compilations (stop reading this and buy The Chess Box immediately), but I want to celebrate this album’s awesome grunge. Forget The Kingsmen on Campus, forget Nuggets. This live album is the most delightfully primitive rock’n'roll album ever. Recorded during two hot nights in July 1963 at the Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Bo Diddley’s Beach Party is Bo at his most brazen and caustic, despite the safe-for-a-white-audience album cover. The sound quality lies somewhere below horrible, with vocals and instruments sliding in and out of earshot; even Diddley’s legendary rectangular guitar settles in the murk from time to time.
But what never sinks from center stage is Bo Diddley’s barbed-wire presence. He never ventures from his unshakable boasts — “Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger,” “Hey Bo Diddley,” “Bo Diddley’s Dog,” and “Bo’s Waltz” suggest the relative breadth of his interests. (No doubt that Universal, which owns the Chess catalog, is sitting on a tape of “Bo Diddley Is God.”) Bo is in love with himself, all right, but he is more in love with music. Specifically, he’s enamored of the electrified shave-and-a-haircut/two-bits stomp that he gave rock’n'roll and which subsequently has been picked up by everyone from Buddy Holly to Chrissie Hynde. Ben Vaughn cut a tune to Bo’s beat called “I’m Not Bo Diddley.” No one argued.
So all here reduces to beat. “What’s buggin’ you?” he asks as a throwaway deep into Side Two. “Well, knock it off.”
Amusing consumer note: Long out of print, the version of Bo Diddley’s Beach Party I have is a Japanses vinyl reissue, including a riotous lyric sheet that translates the line “Bo Diddley at the O.K. Corral” as “My poor Lily and ol’ Greg Morell.” Words don’t matter, though. Bo’s beat speaks in all languages.