People who hijack the occasion of another person’s death to offer up long-winded tributes – to themselves:
“My fondest memory of the deceased is the time many years ago when he fixed me with his penetrating gaze and, in that intense manner of speaking he had that brooked no dissension, he told me how great I am. What an inspiring moment! Blah blah blah . . . me me me . . .”
As a kid, one of my hobbies was card tricks. When I started learning card tricks, I had the misconception that the quality of a trick was proportional to how difficult it was to perform. Hard tricks = good, easy tricks = lame.
Today I can perform exactly zero card tricks. I don’t remember even one. What I do remember though is the general principle that the quality of a trick depends on the effect – what the audience sees – and not at all on how the trick is done. An audience doesn’t know or care if you’ve practiced a trick for years or if you just learned it five minutes ago.
The principle applies to things other than card tricks. You can read on IMDb and elsewhere about the technological challenges that had to be overcome in making Gravity. The state-of-the-art cinematography and visual effects would not have been possible even a few short years ago.
Again, I don’t care how the trick is done. I just care about what’s on the screen, not how easy or hard it was to get it there.
If you don’t know me and I don’t know you, don’t call me up and shout, “Hey Paul! It’s Zach Flack with Equity Staffing!” as though I might have been sitting by the phone thinking “Wouldn’t it be a little slice of heaven if I got a call from Zach Flack over at Equity Staffing?”
If I don’t know you, but I might recognize your name, then possibly some heightened level of emotion is warranted, e.g., “Hey Paul! It’s Bill Gates with Microsoft!” or “Hey Paul! It’s Pope Francis at the Vatican!”
At my piano lesson tonight, I noticed what looked like a streak of blood on one of the keys. The next thing I noticed was that the tip of my right index finger was bleeding — apparently a paper cut from a sheet of music, although I didn’t feel anything at the time.
I didn’t want to ruin the piano so I stopped playing and tried to get everything cleaned up.
I asked my teacher, “If you’re playing a concert and you start bleeding, what should you do? Just keep going?”
“What if in addition to being a pianist, you’re also a hemophiliac and you might die? Would that alter your advice?”
Here’s the set list, to the best of my recollection. I may have some of the harmonica instrumentation wrong. He had the harmonica rack on for the whole show; some songs he played it and some he didn’t.
From Hank to Hendrix – guitar, harmonica. A good opener for this kind of a show: From Hank to Hendrix / I walked these streets with you / Here I am with this old guitar / Doin’ what I do. / I always expected / That you should see me through / I never believed in much / But I believed in you.
On the Way Home – guitar, harmonica
Only Love Can Break Your Heart – guitar, harmonica
Love in Mind – piano
Philadelphia – piano
Mellow My Mind – guitar (banjo?), harmonica. He played the Gibson Mastertone you can see in the right foreground of the photo. He said it’s a guitar, not a banjo. It sure looks and sounds like a banjo though.
A Man Needs a Maid – synthesizer, piano, harmonica
Ohio – guitar. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? This hasn’t lost any punch over the last 40 years.
Southern Man – guitar
If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot) – guitar. A better interpretation than the original, which I’ve never really liked very much.
Harvest Moon – guitar, harmonica
Mr. Soul – pipe organ, harmonica. I’ve heard a lot of people play guitar and harmonica together. I may have even heard someone play piano and harmonica together. But I’ve never (until now) heard anyone play harmonica riffs while performing on a pipe organ.
Flying on the Ground Is Wrong – piano. Interesting story about this song: when he wrote it, he was living in L.A. at the Commodore Gardens on Orchid Ave. The Commodore Gardens is gone now. It went away when Orchid Ave. was shortened to make room for . . . the Dolby Theatre! (see map)
After the Gold Rush – piano. With a line change: We’ve got Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century.
Heart of Gold – guitar, harmonica.
Thrasher – guitar, harmonica.
He had seven or eight guitars available, several harmonicas, a grand piano, an upright piano, a synthesizer and a pipe organ.
He has an incredible repertoire of songs to choose from, his voice for some reason sounds better than ever, and he’s a fantastic musician, which you have to be for a solo acoustic performance. If you really can’t play or sing, there’s no place to hide.
Most of the guitars came with stories, related in a laconic, deadpan style. One used to belong to Hank Williams. “I got it from a guy in Nashville. Thanks to you, and people like you, I was a rich hippie. And I was able to buy the guitar.”
Two were given to him by Steve Stills. One — the one he’s playing in the photo — used to belong to a folk singer who was performing in Denver when a gunshot blasted a large hole in the front of the instrument. “That was long before weed was legalized. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. But no one singing folk songs in Denver has been shot since it was legalized.”
Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.
The people on the short side of the subprime mortgage market had gambled with the odds in their favor. The people on the other side — the entire financial system, essentially — had gambled with the odds against them. Up to this point, the story of the big short could not be simpler. What’s strange and complicated about it, however, is that pretty much all the important people on both sides of the gamble left the table rich. . . . The CEOs of every major Wall Street firm were also on the wrong end of the gamble. All of them, without exception, either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich, too.
What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions — if they can get rich making dumb decisions?
I’m picking up a prescription for Lightning at the vet . . . the new girl, Lauren, is at the desk.
“It’s a little different this time,” Lauren says. “We didn’t have the Prednisone 5mg, so we’re giving you Prednisone 10mg, and instead of giving him half a tablet, you’ll give him a quarter of a tablet. I already cut them.”
“That’s good. Lightning doesn’t like it when they’re not cut on the lines.”
She’s not getting the joke but that’s okay. I’ll help her out by taking it completely into the realm of the absurd.
“He feels like it doesn’t show attention to detail,” I say.
“I’ll make a note of that for next time.”
“Yes, you should do that. Go ahead and write it on his chart.”
Pet owners — I know this from spending a lot of time at dog parks — are likely to attribute all sorts of human thoughts and emotions to their animals, so I guess if you work in a veterinary clinic, you can’t assume that customers are joking just because what they’re saying is totally irrational . . .
Richard Yates poses the question of how much reality people can stand, and the answer he comes up with is “not very much.” Alternatives to facing reality head-on are explored in Revolutionary Road: avoidance, denial, alcoholism, insanity and death.
“You want to play house you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, you got to have a job you don’t like. Great. This is the way ninety-eight-point-nine per cent of the people work things out, so believe me buddy you’ve got nothing to apologize for. Anybody comes along and says ‘Whaddya do it for?’ you can be pretty sure he’s on a four-hour pass from the State funny-farm; all agreed.”
And all because, in a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear — until he was saying “I love you” and she was saying “Really, I mean it; you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”
People’s inability to absorb large, unfiltered doses of reality probably explains why New Yorker fiction editor Roger Angell wrote to Yates’s agent in 1981, “It seems clearer and clearer that his kind of fiction is not what we’re looking for. I wonder if it wouldn’t save a lot of time and disappointment in the end if you and he could come to the same conclusion.”
And why at the time of his death in 1992, all of Yates’ books were out of print.
A woman is telling me about her two sons . . . they’ve grown up to be fine young men, she says. It’s disappointing, of course, that neither of them managed to finish high school but it was really unavoidable because the older boy was much smarter than his peers and so he was always bored and academically unengaged and finally dropped out completely, and the younger boy just imitated whatever the older boy did.
I’ve heard this type of woulda-coulda-shoulda before and I have to admit I’ve never been totally receptive to it: this happened . . . then that happened . . . the kid did such-and-such . . .
It sounds very passive. Parents aren’t supposed to be passive observers. There are intervention points every day. If things aren’t going in the right direction, you do something to take them in a different direction.
Look in any classroom in America . . . you’ll see kids with a range of abilities. Are you telling me that all of the smartest kids are destined to fail because they’re smart? That because they’re smart, they have no option but to get bored and check out and fail?
Lots of smart kids do very well in school . . . they get good grades and test scores and they go to good colleges. What is the difference between those kids and the kids who get bored and check out and fail?
Everyone can shut up about “let’s get more women into leadership positions.” Because they don’t want leadership positions. Or they’d get them. Obviously. Women want to have time for their kids. And leaders – especially top-down leaders – dedicate their lives to their work. There won’t be female leadership and male leadership. There will be people who lead at home and people who lead at work. People will take ownership of outcomes for the areas of life they care most about.