Archive for Delight

Delights

If you have yet to read Ross Gay‘s The Book of Delights (2019), here is an invitation to pick it up. A collection of 102 brief essays he wrote over the course of a year, the book is about the possibility — the necessity — of attentiveness to joy in the world. We live in dark times, and the book does not ignore that. Gay’s sense of delight is capacious, including appreciating beauty, understanding fear, enjoying music, considering the insights gained from pain.

Let me give you an example — one I have shared with many friends, since first I read the book back in March.

The phrase “communities of sorrow” does not appear in Gay’s The Book of Delights.  But the idea does.  Gay writes:

     Among the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard anyone say came from my student Bethany, talking about her pedagogical aspirations or ethos, how she wanted to be as a teacher, and what she wanted her classrooms to be: “What if we joined our wildernesses together?” Sit with that for a minute. That the body, the life, might carry a wilderness, an unexplored territory, that yours and mine might somewhere, somehow, meet. Might, even, join.
     And what if the wilderness — perhaps the densest wild in there — thickets, bogs, swamps, uncrossable ravines and rivers (have I made the metaphor clear?) — is our sorrow? Or, to use [Zadie] Smith’s term, the “intolerable.” It astonishes me sometimes — no, often — how every person I get to know — everyone, regardless of everything, by which I mean everything — lives with some profound personal sorrow. Brother addicted. Mother murdered. Dad died in surgery. Rejected by their family. Cancer came back. Evicted. Fetus not okay. Everyone, regardless, always, of everything. Not to mention the existential sorrow we are all afflicted with, which is that we, and what we love, will soon be annihilated. Which sounds more dramatic than it might. Let me just say dead. In this, sorrow, of which our impending being no more might be the foundation, the great wilderness?
     Is sorrow the true wild?
     And if it is — and if we join them — your wild to mine — what’s that?
     For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation.
     What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.
     I’m saying: What if that is joy?

I find myself drawn to this because I’ve come to really appreciate sadness. Sadness connects us to others. As Gay suggests, it binds all of us humans together because we all carry within us sadness and pain. It is an affective opening-up, and in this sense sadness is the opposite of depression. When I mentioned this idea to my therapist, he said that there are many flavors of depression, and that I was describing anhedonic depression.  So, revise the previous sentence to say that anhedonic depression is an affective break with the world, an inability to feel.  But sadness offers — or, at least, can offer — a deeper connection to the world, and to our fellow humans.  On the Venn Diagram of emotions, sadness overlaps with love.

The previous paragraph is one of my delights. Since reading Gay’s book, I have been trying to be more attentive to delights. After mentioning this to Mark Newgarden in New York, in May, he asked was I writing these down? I was not. So, in June, I began keeping a kind of diary. I call it “Daily Delights,” even though I don’t write in it every day. Here are four more.


From 26 June, Manhattan, Kansas. Upon finishing my swim, I pulled myself out of the pool as another swimmer — who had just arrived — remarked to the swimmer in the adjacent lane that she knew she wouldn’t need to wait for a lane because I was predictable.  Smiling, I said, “What do you mean? I warmed up the lane for you.” After a brief, good-natured conversation, I wished her a good swim, said that I was glad to be so predictable, and began to amble off to the showers. Worried that she may have insulted me, she walked a few steps with me to explain herself. I assured her that I understood and that I was indeed predictable.

Our conversation prompted this reflection. “Predictable” is one of those few words that renders a negative judgment both as itself and as its negation. To say that a person is “unpredictable” conveys the notion that he/she is unreliable, potentially volatile, emotionally unstable, or even unhinged. Though it should be complimentary, “predictable” — when applied to a person — generally means “boring.” If we want to compliment someone’s predictability, we instead say that she/he is reliable. Or, if we want to praise unpredictability, we may call a person surprising or, perhaps, exciting. And, yet, of course, we are all of us a mixture of predictability and unpredictability. I may reliably swim for 40 minutes at the same time of the day or typically jog the same two routes. But I also embrace the unpredictability of travel, where my jogging route is not the only thing that changes. Life is a balance between the need for surety and enjoyment of change, the comfort of the expected and of finding joy in what we did not anticipate.


From 7 July, Berlin. I often say that time abroad affords me a much-needed mental-health holiday. Which it does. And lately I’ve taken to joking that I’m hiding from the U.S. — that’s why I’m traveling to so many places. I have to keep moving!

It would be more accurate to say that time abroad grants perspective. It gives me space. It provides a distance from which I can think. It allows me to reclaim my mental space more fully.

Donald Trump is a parasite who colonizes human consciousness. Placing an ocean between myself and the parasite diminishes its power. Temporarily.

It’s a bit like putting some distance between yourself and King Leck (in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling novels). In the case of Bitterblue and Katsa (though few others in the realm), the distance — and ultimately, the death of Leck — helps the fog lift and clarity return.


From 27 July, Vienna, after spending a long time staring at Johannes Vermeer’s The Art of Painting (c. 1666-1668) in the Kunst Historisches Museum: There should be a term for the experience of looking at realistic paintings after seeing a Vermeer. The (unfair) comparison makes everything else feel a bit flat. You feel that you could step into a Vermeer, as if what you have seen is not just canvas but window or portal. I spent more time looking at the Vermeer than I did any other piece of art in the museum. I had a similar experience with Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, on display at the Alte Pinakothek in München in the fall. The experience of looking at a Vermeer is almost hypnotic. And you need to be there, in the gallery, looking at it. No reproduction of Vermeer has quite the same effect.


From 7 August, Edinburgh. Days are so full of thoughts and impressions. Impossible to note even just the interesting ones and keep experiencing the day. I had that thought this evening, darting between and among the umbrella’d and the uncovered, as the rain fell, but more lightly than earlier in the afternoon/evening.

Or, more succinctly: It is impossible to both live life and chronicle it fully.


In conclusion, I’d say this: inasmuch as it is possible, do not let malevolent leaders, oppressive systems, collapsing climate, etc. rob of you your own capacity for joy. I realize this is hard — and harder for those who are the direct targets of the regime’s* cruelty. I am grateful for — and acknowledge my own privilege in having — business, family, and friends that enabled me to travel this summer. I should also add that there are also more troubling thoughts chronicled amidst my delights — omitted from this narrative, even though making sense of my tangled mind is in fact one of my delights. OK. That’s all. Find delight where you can. Take care of yourselves.


* I am thinking of Mad King Donald’s regime, but feel free to insert any of the many others we have to choose from: Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, and now — it seems — Boris Johnson…

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Peace Pieces

album covers: Harry Kalahiki's Mungo Plays Ukulele, Kronos Quartet's Pieces of Africa, Django Reinhardt's Monsieur Guitare: The Very Best of His Early Recordings 1934-1939, and Dmitri Alexeev's Chopin: The Complete Preludes.
Peace Pieces

In these unsettling times, I turn to music to help me calm down — especially at day’s end, when I need to sleep. While calming melodies might not grant complete tranquility, they do nudge me in that direction. Thinking that others might also appreciate some soothing sounds, here is a playlist — roughly two CDs of music, incidentally — that I’ve named “Peace Pieces” (after the Bill Evans tune). It’s a mix of classical, new age, and jazz.

Looking for other relaxing music? I very much enjoy the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Orphee (2016). The opening track is #22 in the above playlist.

And there’s Moby’s Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep. (2016), which is also available for free on his website. (Breaking news: while creating that link, I learned that last week Moby released Long Ambients 2 via Calm. Within a month of its Calm release, the new album will become available via Spotify and Apple Music.)

The classic ambient record — my Desert Island Discs ambient record — is Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978). It’s excellent for relaxing.

If (for variety’s sake) you’d like a slightly different version of Eno’s album, check out Bang on a Can’s 1998 recording. I’ve listened to Eno’s so often that I lately find myself gravitating just as often to the Bang on a Can record.

I find Max Richter’s 8.5-hour Sleep (2015) to be a bit uneven. I like some pieces, but others are, frankly, less conducive to sleep. However, From Sleep (a 1-hour version of Sleep) is more likely to invite slumber. Indeed, two tracks included in From Sleep appear in my “Peace Pieces” playlist.

One more (added on Sunday, after this post went live): Winged Victory for the Sullen. Don’t let the name throw you off. The music is very grounding and not depressing — or, at least, I don’t find it to be. “A Symphony Pathetique” (from their self-titled debut) appears on my “Peace Pieces” playlist. Below are two albums and a couple of singles.

And with those bonus playlists (well, bonus albums, really), I’m concluding my week of posting a playlist each day. Miss any of the week’s musical delights? Links to the rest are below. And you can find others via my Spotify account.


The full list of the week’s mixes/playlists


Final thought. When I began this blog back in 2010, I imagined that one of its primary functions would be sharing mixes. Back then, that proved far too labor-intensive. Indeed, I have since had to take down mp3s that I posted. The Yahoo interface through which they were playable (but not downloadable) has long since been abandoned, leaving the files vulnerable to theft. So, I swiftly complied with copyright holders’ requests by taking down not only the files I was asked to remove, but all of them. (I have begun reconstructing those mixes via Spotify: The “meta” mix is now available again. Others will become available when I find time…)

Now, perhaps, the blog is finally realizing its initial mix-sharing aspiration — though, yes, you do need to be on Spotify in order to listen. (Using Spotify is free, but using it without ads requires a subscription.) I hope these mixes have been enjoyable for you!

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12″ Mixes from the 1980s & 1990s

Soft Cell: “Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go” (1981)

From the late 1970s into the 1990s, producers issued extended mixes — accompanied by instrumental versions, remixes, bonus tracks (songs cut from the record, live versions) — on 12″ records. The same size as a regular LP, each 12″ record had but a few songs on it. It might play at 45 rpm (like a single) or at 33 1/3 rpm (like an LP). By the mid-1980s, 12″ records were everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Spotify doesn’t have it, but Google Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark (Blaster Mix)” (1984). It’s his famous hit song but with more drums, and placed more prominently in the mix. Also: more glockenspiel. And just… longer.

The Cure: “Boys Don’t Cry (New Vocal Mix)” (1986)

The production on that Springsteen track — and on many of these — can be excessive to the point of parody. But not always. Though they’re not available digitally, Peter Gabriel’s 12″ singles for his So album (1986) included some beautiful, different arrangements of those songs. (You can find the 12″ arrangement of “In Your Eyes” on his live albums.) Turning to songs included here, the “Mendelsohn Extended Mix” of INXS’s “Need You Tonight” (1987) begins by dropping out the drumbeat and a guitar part while placing the synthesizer further up in the mix. When the drums arrive later, and the omitted guitar later still, the song already has already established a slightly dreamier feel. It’s familiar, but different.

Some of these also will not feel like “new” renditions of familiar tunes. The 12″ of Soft Cell’s cover of “Tainted Love” (1981) has become the definitive version of that song. Likewise, the 12″ versions of New Order’s “Blue Monday” (1983) and “Bizarre Love Triangle” (1986) are likely the recordings of those tunes that you know best. And some of these exist only in their 12″ versions — Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” (1980), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” (1982), Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” (1988).

Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock: “It Takes Two” (1988)

Likely because I was a teenager when most of these songs were released, I’m fond of these 12″ singles, however bombastic or excessive they may be. I like the massive chorus that opens Depeche Mode’s 9-and-a-half-minute mix of “Never Let Me Down Again” (1987). And as far as I’m concerned, Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin can sing “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” (1985) for as long as they like. So, then, here are 74 extended mixes — running a total of eight hours — mostly from the 1980s. (There are also some tracks from the 1990s, and two from the 1970s.) Enjoy!

New Order: “Blue Monday” (1983)

Coming tomorrow… the final playlist in this week-long experiment in musical delights!


The mixes/playlists thus far

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Go! (a travel playlist)

Nearly 30 years ago, when my nephew Graeme was born, I sought music to give him. But most of what I found in record stores proved unsatisfying. (Why listen to kid-i-fied cover of a great song when you could listen to the original?) So, I started making mix tapes for kids — which later became mix CDs. Now that we have arrived in the era of the playlist, here’s a playlist (mixlist?) of songs about travel, all derived from those earlier mixes. Needless to say, all are suitable for children and their adults — though most were not written expressly for children.

walk / don’t-walk signal in Maastricht, 2013.

Continuing this week’s theme of musical delights, tomorrow (Friday) we will party like it’s 1989. Or even 1979. Bring your dancing shoes!


The mixes/playlists thus far

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Mah Nà Mah Nà: Italian Cinema, 1965-1976

Album covers for Fumo di Londra, Svezia Inferno e Paradiso, Ad Ogni Costo, & I Giovani Tigri.

Need a pick-me-up in the middle of the week? Whether you’re listening on Wednesday (the day I’m posting this) or not, welcome to this collection of sonic uplift! I’ve named it after the song you almost certainly know: Piero Umiliani’s “Mah Nà Mah Nà,” made famous in various versions performed by Jim Henson’s Muppets. On this playlist, however, you’ll hear the original, from the soundtrack of Svezia, inferno e paradiso (1968). You’ll also hear 49 other songs, composed by Umiliani, Ennio Morricone, Armando Trovaioli, Piero Piccioni, and others.

To give credit where due, this selection of film music by Italian composers, all recorded between 1965 and about 1976, draws inspiration (and a good portion of its playlist) from a 90-minute mix created by Bill DeMain over 20 years ago. He gave it to me on a cassette, but without song titles.

The original "Italian Cinema" mix tape compiled by Bill DeMain
The “caffeinated” side of Bill’s original mix.

Maybe 5 or so years ago, assisted by the Shazam app, I managed to reconstruct much of it digitally. (It has long been a favorite mix of mine!) When I couldn’t find a particular track, I added something in a similar vein. I had such fun making it that I made a sequel. This playlist includes tracks from both — the attempted recreation of Bill’s original and my “Part II.” Though not everything is available on Spotify, a surprising amount is.

Tomorrow, this week-long experiment in musical delights continues with… a travel-themed playlist for children and their adults. See you then!


The mixes/playlists thus far

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You Can’t Do That: Over 100 Beatles Covers

Welcome to… over 100 cover versions of songs by the Beatles! 120 covers, to be precise. My favorites — not that you asked — are the truly transformative ones, such as Nina Simone’s “Revolution” (11th track on this playlist) and Harry Nilsson’s “You Can’t Do That” (57th track, which is also a mash-up). Though I really like versions that compel you to listen anew to a song you thought you knew, attempts at fidelity have their own appeal — especially when the song covered is the Beatles’ venture into concrete music, “Revolution No. 9.” (Scroll down to track #115 and listen to the version by Alarm Will Sound.)

Designed by Ivor Arbiter. First appeared on Ringo’s drum kit in May 1963.

Yes, technically, two of these are not covers. Lennon and McCartney pitched “I Wanna Be Your Man” to the Rolling Stones, who recorded it first. The Stones’ version, released 1 Nov. 1963, reached #12 in the UK. The Beatles’ recording appears on With the Beatles (released 22 Nov. 1963 in the UK). Similarly, Aretha Franklin’s “Let Be” was issued before the Beatles’ release of the original song. Franklin’s album This Girl’s in Love with You (which included both this and “Eleanor Rigby”) was released in January 1970, and the Beatles’ single (from the band’s final — and then still forthcoming — album) was released in March 1970. Franklin based her version on a Beatles demo.

This week-long experiment in musical delight (which I’ve hashtagged as #MusicDelights on Twitter) continues tomorrow with an energetic compilation of Italian film music from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. As I say in tomorrow’s post, a hearty thanks to Bill DeMain for introducing me to many of these!


The mixes/playlists thus far

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Coffee Break!

From songs directly about coffee to others with a coffee motif, this mix is for fans of coffee and music. To give credit where it’s due, some of these selections come from Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour program on coffee. The songs range from Emmylou Harris to Prince, Bob Marley to the Boswell Sisters, Lightnin’ Hopkins to Squeeze, Tom Waits to Sylvan Esso. I created the first iteration of this mix five years ago, and have made several versions of it since then. The result, for you, is a 35-song playlist devoted to coffee! So, brew yourself a cup… and have a listen!

“Let’s have another cup of coffee. Let’s have another piece of pie.”
[image from Wikipedia’s “Coffee” entry]

Oh! And one more thing. This broad range of songs about coffee includes some that date back to at least the 1920s — “A Proper Cup of Coffee” is a British music-hall song from that period (though Ana Gasteyer’s recording is from 2014). As a result, you may occasionally encounter a problematic lyric, musical phrase, or vocal delivery. The one that stands out — indeed, the one that prompts this note — is Sinatra’s bizarre “Mexican” accent at the very end of his song about… Brazil. (I included it because it’s a classic coffee song, but jeez, Frank, WTF?) At any rate, of course, do feel free to skip that one — or any other that’s not to your taste.

A few notes on the songs (preceded by the songwriter, in parentheses).

1 (Suzanne Vega). From Solitude Standing (1987). The “actor who had died while he was drinking” is William Holden (1918-1981).

2 (Jim Infantino). From WERS: Live from Emerson College (2000), also appears on noplace like Nowhere (2000).

3 (Frank Loesser). From the 2011 Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961).

4 (Peter Dixon). From Schizophonic! (1996), the band’s second album — or third, if we include the soundtrack to Four Rooms (1995). Combustible Edison would release one more album before breaking up in 1999.

5 (Irving Berlin). Introduced in the Broadway musical Face the Music (1932). This recording — featuring vocals by Marion Hutton, Ernie Caceres and the Modernaires — is from 1942.

6 (Bob Hilliard & Dick Miles). A #6 pop hit in the U.S., in 1946.

7 (Ben Oakland & Milton Drake). A #15 pop hit in the U.S., in 1940.

8 (Patty Larkin). From Step Into the Light (1985), Larkin’s debut.

9 (Hank DeVito & Donivan Cowart). From Old Yellow Moon (2013).

10 (R.P. Weston & Bert Lee). This is an English music-hall song from the 1920s, originally popularized by Ernie Mayne. On Gasteyer’s I’m Hip (2014).

11 (Craig Ventresco). From the Ghost World soundtrack (2005).

12 (Adams & Corelli). Released as the b-side to Scatman Crothers’ “Dearest One” (1955).

13 (John Stiles, J. C. Hill). Released as a single in 1969, and collected on What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves, 1967-1977. (If you’re paying close attention, you’ll note that this was also on yesterday’s funk playlist — an inadvertent repeat on my part, but just as enjoyable in this context, I think!)

14 (Prince & Susannah Melvoin). From Prince’s Sign o’ the Times (1987).

15 (Billy Rose, Al Dubin, Joseph Meyer). Carl Stalling (1891-1972), arranger and composer (1936-1958) for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, often used this tune in scenes featuring cooking, eating, or hunger. The song dates to 1925 (sadly, Spotify lacks Nick Lucas’ 1926 recording), and the Buffalo Bills rendition is on the group’s 1959 album, The Buffalo Bills with Banjo.

16 (Al Dubin & Harry Warren). When asked to name the singer who most influenced her, Ella Fitzgerald always cited Connie Boswell, the sole Boswell sister to have a singing career after the group disbanded in 1936. (This song is from 1933.)

17 (Ray Henderson, Buddy G. DeSylva, Lew Brown). Written in 1928, and recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946, a year of many hits for the group — “The Frim Fram Sauce,” “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” “(I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons.” (This was not among those hits.)

18 (Danny Overbea). The final hit (#26, 1953) for Ella Mae Morse, a White singer who had hits on both the pop and R&B charts in the 1940s. She’s also one of many who was singing rock-n-roll before rock-n-roll (see also Big Joe Turner, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Helen Humes, Wynonie Harris,…).

19 (Glenn Troutman). Don’t let the songwriter’s name fool you: Glen Glenn is the stage name for Glenn Troutman. He recorded this song in 1958.

20 (Lightnin’ Hopkins). First released on Hopkins’ Walkin’ This Road by Myself (1961).

21 (Mississippi John Hurt). Recorded in 1963, this song inspired the band name the Lovin’ Spoonful.

22 (Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook). With backing vocals from Elvis Costello and Paul Young, this was a minor hit from Sweets from a Stranger (1981), also included on Singles — 45’s and Under (1982).

23 (Amelia Meath, Nick Sanborn, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich). Sylvan Esso’s 2014 song incorporates Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky” near the end (hence the Barry & Greenwich credit).

24 (Adam Schlesinger & Chris Collingwood). From Welcome Interstate Managers (2003), a great pop record best known for the hit “Stacy’s Mom.”

25 (Tom T. Hall). The b-side to Dave Dudley’s “What We’re Fighting For,” a #4 hit on the country charts in 1965.

26 (Tom Waits). From Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner (1975)

27 (Jerry Butler, Eddie Thomas, Jay Walker). From Otis Redding’s The Soul Album (1966).

28 (Shorty Long & Susan Heather). Single from 1956. Note: I don’t think this is the same Shorty Long known for “Function at the Junction.”

29 (Maurice Sigler, Al Goodhart, Al Hoffman). Recorded in 1935.

30 (Robert Marley). Yes, Robert Marley is Bob Marley. He recorded this song in 1962.

31 (Bob Dylan). From Masked and Anonymous: Music from the Motion Picture (2003).

32 (Marty Robbins). A #13 country hit for Frizzell in 1958.

33 (Steve Nelson & Jack Rollins). Single from 1951.

34 (Ron Sexsmith). From Sexsmith & Kerr’s Destination Unknown (2005).

35 (Sonny Burke, Paul Francis Webster). A #13 pop hit for Sarah Vaughan in 1949.


As noted yesterday, I am posting mixes/playlists each day of this week. Return tomorrow for over 100 covers of Beatles songs!

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Overpowered by Funk: (Mostly) Instrumental Grooves, 1967-1975

This is the first in a series of posts intended to elicit delight — specifically, musical delight. What occasions it? 1. There needs to be more joy in the world. 2. Inspired by Ross Gay’s Book of Delights (2019), I am trying to locate delight in the everyday. Music is one of my delights. 3. I have started recreating (as best I can) my iTunes playlists on Spotify.

covers for albums by the Meters, James Brown, and some funk compilations

Created a little over a year ago for a friend who requested a mix of instrumental funk, this playlist ought to lift your spirits. Though I have named it for the 1982 Clash song, the tracks here all date to funk’s first wave — or, at least, what I think of as its first wave. Part of the fun in responding to this request was that it required a bit of research on my part. (I’m interested in all kinds of music, but know funk far less well than other genres.) So,… if you think of any (mostly) wordless early funk instrumentals that should be added here, let me know! Note: the songs have to be on Spotify. (Alas, a few of my original choices were not on Spotify.) Enjoy!

ALSO: for the next week, I will be posting one mix each day, purely for the enjoyment of anyone who would like to listen. Tune in again tomorrow for a new playlist!

What is tomorrow’s theme? Well, since it will be Monday, I thought coffee would be apt. Thus, it will be 35 songs about coffee!

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