And I still meet journalists today that always have this, ‘If it’s done with a computer it doesn’t have a soul’ — that argument. But it’s not about the tool. You cannot rely on a guitar to put the soul in a song. Or a violin. Or a laptop. If there is not soul in it, it’s because the human did not put it there.
I said Wow out loud while listening to this epic media move via The Rebooting Show podcast: The new owners of the 95-year-old publisher Flying are building a 1,500-acre air park to center itself in the lives of its pilot-readers. They’ve already pre-sold $27 million worth of property. Not bad for an old niche media brand. (As host Brian Morrisey responds, “You’re not gonna webinar your way to that $27 million.”)
I also loved that the owners doubled the magazine’s production costs to boost the quality — this readership can afford it.
The full story is worth taking in, either through the episode or by reading Morrisey’s companion blog post.
“I had a post that went absolutely viral on LinkedIn,” said the influencer, who uses the name Natalie Rose in her work. The post, a crying selfie with a caption about anxiety and the reality of being an influencer, got over 2.7 million impressions. “That led to me having some business opportunities with anxiety apps, things like that,” she said. “I got a lot of connections and followers from it, all because I chose to be vulnerable in a post.''
The US Open with Sagi Haviv — A Change Of Brand: An enjoyable episode of what’s become one of my favorite podcasts. Interesting to hear how confidently (and, ultimately, triumphantly) the experienced Haviv answered a prospective client’s unreasonable request.
If you imagine the 4.5 billion odd years of Earth’s history compressed into a normal earthly day, then life begins very early, about 4 A.M., with the rise of the first simple, single-celled organisms, but then advances no further for the next sixteen hours. Not until almost 8:30 in the evening, with the day five-sixths over, has Earth anything to show the universe but a restless skin of microbes. Then, finally, the first sea plants appear, followed twenty minutes later by the first jellyfish and the enigmatic Ediacaran fauna first seen by Reginald Sprigg in Australia. At 9:04 PM. trilobitee swim onto the scene, followed more or less immediately by the shapely creatures of the Burgess Shale. Just before 10 P.M. plants begin to pop up on the land. Soon after, with less than two hours left in the day the first land creatures follow.
Thanks to ten minutes or so of balmy weather, by 10:24 the Earth is covered in the great Carboniferous forests whose residues give us all our coal, and the first winged insects are evident. Dinosaurs plod onto the scene just before 11 P.M. and hold sway for about three-quarters of an hour. At twenty-one minutes to midnight they vanish and the age of mammals begins. Humans emerge one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight. The whole of our recorded history, on this scale, would be no more than a few seconds, a single human lifetime barely an instant. Throughout this greatly speeded-up day continents slide about and bang together at a clip that seems positively reckless. Mountains rise and melt away, ocean basins come and go, ice sheets advance and withdrawal. And throughout the whole, about three times every minute, somewhere on the planet there is a flashbulb pop of light marking the impact of a Manson-sized meteor or one even larger.
The fiery Beethoven fared better in 1800 against challenger Daniel Steibelt (1765–1823), a man known for depicting storms at the keyboard by means of broad tremolos (quivering chordal effects executed with a rapid rotation of the wrists). Steibelt went first, tossing a page of his music aside with a dramatic flourish. When it was Beethoven’s turn, he simply picked up Steibelt’s discarded sheet, turned it upside down, and proceeded to improvise variations on the overturned manuscript while picking apart Steibelt’s music in a totally humiliating way. The challenger hurriedly left, vowing never to return to Vienna as long as Beethoven was still there.
Being a decade-long Monocle subscriber and a fan of exploring how agencies document their work, I was happy to get my hands on Knowing Wink, first published in 2018 by Winkreative, the media org’s sister agency. Turns out it was as easy as sending them a nice email and asking how I could order it; they popped one in the mail with thanks for the interest. The chunky, nice-to-the-touch volume highlights 20 years of work from the boutique firm. Smart, crisply designed work confidently presented.
In his concise and incisive book What Tech Calls Thinking, Adrian Daub examines and punctures a range of tech proclamations and tropes that many of us have just gotten used to hearing in recent decades.
That may sound sober, but it was an engaging read. Here’s Daub — a Stanford professor who’s primarily focused on the humanities — on Ayn Rand (whom he writes about in the context of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Pixar):
In other words, there is a weird (and acknowledged) tendency here to treat an effort like architecture, which by definition requires a group and—dare I say it—collectives, as though it were the art that an individual makes in the solitude of a studio or a favorite writing nook. This is what historians of ideas call a ‘genius aesthetic’: it describes our tendency to think that the meaning of a work of art comes out of the specific mind of its creator, not out of the preexisting rules that creator worked within nor the broader spirit of the society and time. When you’re talking about a novel, that makes a certain amount of sense. But Rand extended this sense of individual brilliance to some of humanity’s most communal undertakings. Have you ever looked at a rail line and thought, I wonder what the one genius who decided to build a bridge over this valley was thinking? Rand has. And notice that, thanks to Elon Musk, we actually finally do have a billionaire whose weird tunnel-boring projects are basically a form of performance art—a pure emanation of individual genius, and sort of useless to anyone else.
I’d been told I’d be wow’d by Venice, and I was. The light, the water — everyone was right. The textures, the weathered colors. Everything snug. The dimensions of every view. Already, just two weeks home, I’m thinking of how and when we can return.
Really enjoyed Rethink the Business of Creativity by Ian Grais, Tom Shepansky, and Chris Staples, of Canada-based Rethink agency. Smart, crisply written guidance on how to lead a profitable, good-hearted creative organization. Especially valued these lines on the conditions for valuable work:
Sadly, advertising is like most creative industries in its cult-like celebration of the hard-core creative life…. Many of the most celebrated creative businesses almost seem to fetishize chaos and overtime as the only way to achieve greatness.
We call bullshit.
Creativity comes from living. If your people don’t have time to lead a good life, they won’t do good work… As the quality of their life improves, so will the quality of their ideas.
But mostly we learned not to be scared of order and discipline—these things actually set you free. They create protected spaces that allow teams to soar. Order allows more time for courageous, proactive creative thinking.
The book’s handsomely designed and feels substantial and well-made in the hands. Good one to add to the shelf. 📚
Enjoyed the new book “Build” by Tony Fadell, of Apple and Nest. He’s got strong, proven points of view on management (“Being exacting and expecting great work is not micromanagement”), communication (“Honesty is more important than style”), the importance of having a beginner’s mindset when tackling a problem or assessing new work, the value of great storytelling, and the need to understand and establish the “why” of a product (“The best ideas are painkillers, not vitamins”). 📚
What a supremely fine and lovingly crafted book this was. Astute, admiring, and entertaining scrutiny of decades of rap lyrics. Huge kudos to author Daniel Levin Becker. A few especially great passages I drew circles around in my copy:
I will go to my grave wishing my self-conscious rhetorical throat-clearings could sound so cool. What Nas seems to toss off here is not just a very efficient overview of the themes he’s spent his career elaborating—decadence, gunplay, activism, divinity—but also a rare window onto his composition process, his creative deliberations, the whole inner monologue around medium and message that is at once so tantalizing in a rapper and so often viewed as beside the point. Most of all, though, what I hear in it is a true statement about what it’s like to speak on something so much bigger than yourself, so much more expansive than the present, something inexhaustible and infinite that is also right here. It’s what it feels like, for me, to put words to a way with words that so often leaves me, before the rest colors itself in, speechless.
All the discrete and interwoven pattern recognitions in this book, assembled with joy and leaving me no closer to a unified theory of how it all fits together, seem to be proof of rap’s multitudes, its dynamism, its knack for illuminating a bigger picture by obscuring many smaller ones. This is what the best art does, and I think it’s also why we play with puzzles. It’s not about the completed image, but about the slow, oddly suspenseful progress we make toward resolution and completeness—otherwise we’d just look at the picture on the box the puzzle comes in, right? There is so much in the world that is at least provisionally more awesome, more arresting, more puzzling than good. The endlessly deferred promise of understanding, being in the dark and working ever toward the light, just might be what makes the whole thing, impossibly, float.
“An Ode to Hotel Rooms” — Terrific studied riff by James Parker for The Atlantic, in which he explores that “sense of your self-in-waiting”:
The old gravity asserts itself, the old you-ness; you spread out your things, you build your shrines, you start making your little traditional messes. You arrive, and then you arrive.
“Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid” — Jonathan Haidt’s bleak, incisive essay in The Atlantic about social media and society. (Interestingly, the print piece I read in my issue this evening has the less clickbaity headline “After Babel.” Was that replaced because it would have performed less well on social?)
Favorite recent podcast find: The Rebooting show from Brian Morrison, who was president and EIC at Digiday Media. Informed, in-depth conversations about media and publishing, from start-ups to the HBRs of the world.
Continue to be highly impressed with Puck. In such a short time, they’ve established an upper-tier, intelligent, vibrant brand, one where the sum and the parts (elite writers heading up the various sections) coexist so nicely. Seems likely I’ll be another one of the readers willing to pony up $100 a year.
Still impressed with this luxury mattress company’s choice of positioning: Let’s not lead with sleep — let’s lead with what it leads to.
I was very impressed with “The Lost Daughter,” based on the Elena Ferrante novel, streaming on Netflix. An absorbing, assured, sensitive directorial debut from Maggie Gyllenhaal. Incisive comments here from her about how the material’s meant to expand the spectrum of the parental behavior we see and judge. Parents aren’t just ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ We have our moments. (Relatedly, it was … interesting to hear two non-parent critics refer to one of the film’s kids as “a terror” and “a brat,” respectively. I’m assuming like millions of others who spend their weeks guiding young toddlers through a day’s ups and downs, I just found her to be a kid going through a spiky 30 minutes.)
I’ve enjoyed stretches of the recent Bond movies, and I’m always rooting for Daniel Craig. Interesting guy who brought some heft to the role. I found “No Time to Die” an uninteresting let down with a burdensome 2:45 running time. Bummer.
“First Cow,” on the other end, was original and humane and memorable. Made by Kelly Reichardt, whose “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Certain Women” I also greatly enjoyed. Two-thirds of the way through, I realized that beyond the indie artistry I was happy to take in, the story had me on edge more than any moment of the Bond thriller. So grateful Reichardt’s making her signature films, and that I can watch them.
I was knocked out by Teju Cole’s Blind Spot in 2017. Just finished Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time, and it’ll surely be a highlight of 2022. Sensitive, probing essays about humanity and the humanities. Such a privilege to be in his close-looking company. 📚
[em]Family selfie in Forest Park’s new Anne O’C. Albrecht Nature Playscape. Grateful to all those who made pandemic year two more livable, from caretakers of outdoor spaces like this one to the healthcare workers, educational staff, and local librarians we so depended on. [/em]
Since 2000, I’ve had a year-end tradition of sharing my cultural highlights of the past 12 months. For this year’s post, I’ll first note the major life change I had in 2021.
After eight years leading comms and marketing for the nonprofit conservancy Forest Park Forever, I re-entered the agency world this summer by joining The Stoke Group, a fully distributed digital marketing and content studio that focuses on the B2B tech sector.
As the Senior Director of Editorial Content, I spend most of my time on editorial projects for Adobe (a key client, and one that values great writing and design), as well as helping produce the video podcast Real Creative Leadership with its host, Adam Morgan. While I miss the connection to my St. Louis community, I’m enjoying working with strategists, writers, and designers on content work for large global clients. I hadn’t worked with clients at this scale or in this specific sector, so it’s been broadening in the way I hoped. The team’s packed with interesting, talented, upbeat people.
With that 2021 milestone covered, here’s a look at some cultural-intake highlights from the year:
1. Lanny, Max Porter
2. Second Place, Rachel Cusk
3. Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam
4. The Copenhagen Trilogy, Tove Ditlevsen
5. Whereabouts, Jhumpa Lahiri
6. The Morning Star, Karl Ove Knausgaard
7. Beautiful World, Where Are You, Sally Rooney
8. The Sellout, Paul Beatty
9. Tenth of December, George Saunders
10. My Heart, Semezdin Mehmedinović
11. Fox 8, George Saunders
12. The Carrying: Poems, Ada Limon
13. New Teeth, Simon Rich
1. Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning, Philip Kennicott
2. The Most Fun Thing: Dispatches from a Skateboard Life, Kyle Beachy
3. Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design, Michael Bierut
4. Suppose a Sentence: Brian Dillon
5. Hannah Wilke: Art for Life’s Sake (Eds., Tamara Schenkenberg and Donna Wingate)
6. Three Women, Lisa Taddeo
7. They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib
8. The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, Louis Menand
9. Of Human Kindness: What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Empathy, Paula Marantz Cohen
10. Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, Kelefa Sanneh
11. The Monocle Book of Homes (Monocle)
12. The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time, Jim McKelvey
13. Studio Culture Now (Ed. Mark Sinclair)
14. The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel, Kati Marton
15. Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, Adam Nayman
16. This Isn’t Happening: Radiohead’s “Kid A” and the Beginning of the 21st Century, Steven Hyden
17. After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made, Ben Rhodes
18. Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald
19. An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination, Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang
20. The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer, Christopher Clarey
21. Proustian Uncertainties, Saul Friedländer
22. Seeing Serena, Gerald Marzorati
23. Graphic Life, Michael Gericke
24. How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims
25. Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson, paired with Twelve New Essays by Jessica Helfand
26. Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century, Tim Higgins
27. The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, Jonathan Alter
28. No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer
29. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, Adam Grant
30. Sorry Spock, Emotions Drive Business, Adam W. Morgan
1. The French Dispatch
2. Cold War
3. Certain Women
4. Meek’s Cutoff
5. The Power of the Dog
6. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
7. Let Them All Talk
8. The Farewell
9. To the Wonder
11. In One Breath: Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark
12. Biggie: I Got A Story to Tell
14. Untold: Breaking Point
15. WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn
1. Succession, Season 3
2. The Bureau, Season 1
3. Ted Lasso, Season 2
4. Great British Baking Show, Season 12
5. The Chair 6. Only Murders in the Building
7. The Other Two, Seasons 1 and 2
8. This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist
Visual Art This was the second year in a row with little travel (which often prompts new art-viewing) and sadly little museum-going here at home (that’s on me). That said, and acknowledging my bias, the exhibition Hannah Wilke: Art for Life's Sake — curated by my wife, Tamara H. Schenkenberg, at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation — gained in richness and meaning every time I saw it. If you’re here in St. Louis, I highly encourage a visit before its January 16 close.
Music A million years ago, my year-end lists included dozens of individual albums and concerts. While music’s a daily essential for me, I see almost nothing live and dip in and out of all kinds of new things I learn about, often without good record-keeping.
I usually work listening to classical, then jazz is on in the evening. The only specific new recordings I’d surface this year are the terrific records from Tyler, the Creator, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker. Phoebe Bridgers didn’t have a new album, but I loved her live Pitchfork Festival set that I happened to catch the evening it streamed.
In terms of new discoveries, there was one artist — and one song — that I’ll long connect with 2021: “A Lot’s Gonna Change” by Weyes Blood (Natalie Laura Mering). I was introduced to this singer/songwriter through a Spotify station as I drove on an errand of some kind. I was transfixed.
At about 1:20, Mering sings the title phrase — “A lot’s gonna change / in your …. life / … time.” — and it swallowed me up in the way great song moments do. Likely because my wife and I spend so much of our non-working time focused on raising our young kids and thinking about what their future lives will be like, the line took on all kinds poignancy and significance in the seconds I heard it.
Later on, the second time that part of the song comes around (2:55 in the video above), Mering sings, “‘Cause you’ve got what it takes / in your … life / … time.”
Here’s to the time we’ve got ahead of us in 2022.
Enjoyable read — indie design studio heads talking shop in “Studio Culture Now”. A few common themes: There’s freedom in staying small; having a nice workspace is a plus, but too much overhead’s a crusher; your design output matters, but so do process, leadership & owning your POV; social posts and basic PDFs can aid biz development more than a high-maintenance, glacially updated website; you can find success based anywhere, but be engaged w/ the field and your community. 📚
From my Christmas wish list to under the tree: Self-Reliance. That “I” is just perfection. Designed by Jessica Helfand and Jarrett Fuller. 📚