In The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot explores the “melancholy grandeur” of Weyes Blood, my favorite new find of last year.
In The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot explores the “melancholy grandeur” of Weyes Blood, my favorite new find of last year.
A 1975 entry from Anne Truitt’s “Daybook: The Journal of an Artist”:
For years and years I was baffled by Cézanne’s work. I grasped his principles and pored over the way he constructed his paintings and thought and thought about what he must have experienced to be able to put color down so that it expressed formal values in accord with his vision. But nothing did any good. I remained baffled. The paintings would swim into focus and then out before I could catch them whole. Until one afternoon at Long Lake in Michigan when, walking with Sam toddling along beside me In his little red-and-white seersucker shorts and red T-shirt, I glanced off to my right and saw a Cézanne—exactly as he would have painted it—in a curve of woods.
Ezra Klein talks with George Saunders: Saunders just nails the sudden inner-life, world-expanding improvements that reading good fiction can provide.
What a match: Remnick on Dylan.
So sad to learn that Mimi Parker has died. I’ve spent 1,000+ hours over two decades gratefully listening to Low and Parker’s exquisite, ethereal voice. Here’s “The Plan,” from the masterpiece “The Curtain Hits the Cast”:
Memorable paragraph from Glenn Adamson’s “Fewer, Better Things: The Hidden Wisdom of Objects”:
Interestingly, young people do seem to realize that they are missing out on something. My brother’s family lives in Munich, but last summer they came to see me in New York. During their visit, I noticed that my fifteen-year-old niece, Sophia, had set up a framed photograph of her cat Pepper next to her improvised bed in the living room. She had brought it with her all the way from Germany. I was surprised and asked her why she had bothered. Didn’t she have pictures of the cat on her phone? She replied in a way that was as perceptive as it was tongue-twisting. “Yes, but I want a picture of Pepper. And the point of the phone is not to show a picture of Pepper, while the point of the picture of Pepper is to be a picture of Pepper."
For the generation that has listened to music only in earbuds, intimacy is the new punk rock.
Bono, speaking generally but also of Billie Eilish specifically, in an engaging NYT Magazine interview.
While there may be a scenario where this approach isn’t ideal, I appreciated these quotes (respectively) from Highdive’s co-founders and co-chief creative officers Chad Brodie and Mark Gross, published in the current CommArts:
[Chief marketing officers] like to work with us because we’re very keen on removing the ‘ta-da’ movement. Traditionally, an agency would get briefed, go away for a while and come back with one shiny campaign. That’s not our style at all. We like to bring our clients in early and often. We leverage their expertise, they’re brand experts who live and breathe the brand 24/7. We aren’t going to pretend like we understand their brand better than they do. We keep them in the process every step of the way.
When clients come in for a creative presentation, we’ll have the entire strategy laid out on the wall. It’s very much a work session, and that leads into the work.
I’m just catching up with Björk’s podcast, Sonic Symobolism. One album per episode. Unsurprisngly, it’s excellent. On a few walks today I listened to a deep dive into the lush and intimate “Vespertine”, which she made after acquiring her first personal laptop. Loved this part:
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.
This passage from a NYT article about LinkedIn and oversharing reads like it could have come from a novel:
“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.''
“Directed by James Burrows: Five Decades of Stories from the Legendary Director of Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Will & Grace, and More” — Really enjoyed James Burrows’s memoir slash advice book on comedic storytelling. So much to learn from the crackling, short-sentence dialogue sprinkled throughout. 📚
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.
A bravura passage of science history from Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”:
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.
A Beethoven mic drop, as chronicled in Stuart Isacoff’s new book, “Musical Revolutions”:
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.
There’s such a world in this poem: “An Ordinary Morning”, by Joy Harjo.
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.