Wandering Early and Late

Here we go, again

No, that’s not me pictured at right, but it pretty much sums up my recent state of being.  A path beckoning. Family close at hand. The year withering.

I actually take great solace at this time of year. Despite the sinking temperatures and paucity of daylight, there’s something profound, almost reverent, about the world going to sleep for a while.

All of which is a diversion from the reality at hand, which is I remain in flux when it comes to finishing anything. I have been wildly distracted by the political circus, sacrificing not just the non-political word but also music. As a kid, the Watergate scandal seized my imagination. I never thought I’d get another bite at that apple.

So, while I try to get back on track, here are some of the longer things I’ve read online recently that caught my attention. They’re worth a look.

The Grateful Dead: A Guide to Their Essential Live Songs (Pitchfork.com)

Maybe starting with one of the most polarizing bands of all time is not the way to go. But I’ve been dipping in and out of the Dead‘s oeuvre lately and a list–any list–provides an opportunity to critique, consider and complain. If the band sickens you, stay away from this one, it won’t convince you at all. If you’ve had your own tie-dyed floppy dance encounter, well, dig in.

Truth is, there’s a lot about the whole Deadhead sub-culture that isn’t admirable, starting with its insularity. At their best–and I’d argue the best arrived sometime in 1969 and evaporated around the beginning of 1981–the Dead celebrated America in song. I love what I call the roots music records, live and studio,  from the early 1970s.

LIve, it was always hit or miss. Endless noodling, a complaint I’ve often heard, is often the mode of the day. But there are moments of melodic beauty and band interplay that make the time investment worthwhile. The band is an acquired taste, but this list isn’t a bad way to help you decide which plates on the smorgasbord to sample first.

Elite Colleges Reconsidered (Quilette)

The educational system–especially it’s highest strata– is a particular obsession of mine and Quillette offers an ongoing dissection of the sector’s foibles and peccadilloes.  The article above is the most recent in a string of hand-wringing/self-abnegating/ seemingly-confessional-though-actually-self-congratulatory pieces dwelling on the current ‘crisis,’ a moment best exemplified by the recent admission scandal.

This article is as good a place to start as any because it’s a veritable link farm, many of which bear reading in their own right. I don’t question the workload at the Ivies. What I question is the pretense behind it. These schools pretend they reward merit. In actual fact, they proffer a positional good and work very hard at what any brand manager would recognize as maintaining brand perception and mind share.  The best proof of that assertion lies in this article’s opening words, “Yale students, if they’re still anything like they were when I graduated…”

Even Artichokes Have Doubts (Yale Daily News)

Do I contradict myself? Yup, do it all the time. Despite my ongoing struggle with cognitive dissonance, I am as capable a generator of it as anyone else. Just because I’ve encountered far too many credential-flaunting phonies doesn’t mean every product of an elite educational institution is a three-dollar bill. Some of my closest friends have such backgrounds and would be the first to recognize that my state U friends cut the same mustard.

Which brings me to this old (2011) but still relevant exhibit. It’s well-established that the best ticket to Wall Street‘s lucre is an undergraduate degree from certain colleges. The bigger question is how do so many students, full of promise and who’ve worked hard at developing distinct interests and dreams,  fall into so narrow a range of careers? This essay–more a lament than an investigation–offers few answers, yet you can feel the inexorable tug-of-war between material and intellectual/artistic ambitions. A lot of pixels and air time have been devoted to how this boiling frog phenomenon happened. Maybe material comfort and retaining one’s social status mean more than we’d like to admit.

Trigger (Texas Monthly)

When the discussion turns to the greatest living (or recently departed) songwriters, the same names are bandied about: Dylan, Waits, Cohen. Typically, I respond with the man I deem the true triple-threat: Willie Nelson. Unlike the other three, the man can actually sing. The man can also play his ass off (compare the Nelson/Marsalis set with Clapton‘s embarrassing attempt, if you can find it). And, the man is a songwriter’s songwriter. So spare me the drivel about the others, okay Boomer?

This is another older (2012) piece that deserves a look now that Willie and Trigger have been an item for 50 years. It’s true, as the article says that most guitars don’t have names. B.B. King famously called whatever guitar he was playing Lucille. Clapton auctioned off Blackie. Neil Young‘s battered Les Paul is Old Black.  Beyond that, I’m clueless which, given my six-string obsessions, seems impossible.

I love the details in this piece. How Willie’s playing is always at the center and how the writer told a tale in which the instrument seems inseparable from the player. It’s a rainy Sunday morning here and Willie just came up in the rotation. I heartily recommend turning your favorite streaming service to a Willie channel, grabbing a cup of Joe and spending some quality time with the man and his “horse.”

Thanksgiving is Thursday, a great American holiday built on a powerful premise.I have a lot to be thankful for. I hope you do, too.




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