Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blue Canary in the Outlet by the Lightswitch.

I don't care how old and embittered I get, I don't care how dated the production sounds, I don't care if it proves I was a really big dork in high school: LET IT BE KNOWN HERE AND NOW AND FOREVER MORE! "Birdhouse in Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants continues to be one of the best pop songs ever written. I will cut anyone who wishes to disagree. Ok, not cut. But soundly disagree with them.

There is great therapeutic qualities to listening to your favorite songs and albums from a decade or more ago. One will learn two things: 1) How much he/she has grown. 2) How the greatness of a specific song can outstand aging or even TIME itself. Seriously. Trust me.

Also, Frank Black's "Teenager of the Year" album will still carry water, no matter how many years have passed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Lean-Seeming Hunger Easily Mistaken for Ambition.

I have taken, of late, to walk home from work. I work in Union Square and live in Hell's Kitchen, so it makes for a pretty good walk. 40 minutes to an hour, depending on whether or not I stop in one of the funky little grocers on 9th Avenue in the 30s and 40s. It has become, possibly, the best part of my day each day. It's easy to forget or miss large chunks of this city by taking the subway. At least in Chicago I could look out the window as the trains were above ground 90% of the time and some neighborhood could pique my interest as I passed. Underground, New York looks all the same.

I get home feeling really invigorated for about fifteen minutes. I feel ambitious. Ready to accomplish things around my apartment. Alas, this wears off and I take a nap. Still. I save $2 in subway fare, so I suppose it's been valuable. And I've seen people argue on the sidewalks in too many languages to count. Thus, my advice: go for a nice long walk. Even if you don't live in New York. Hooray for walks!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Statistic of the Day: A Horrifying Look into the Numbers That Shape My Life

Absolutely TRUE statistic about my day today:

Today I consumed 88 ounces of black coffee and I listened to over 8 hours of public radio. Terrifying reality: this is true MOST days.

My previous favorite personal statistic was a trip to the grocery store in which my old roommate and I purchased:

72 Cans of Beer
30 Rolls of Toilet Paper
4lbs. of unshelled peanuts.

When you add up the numbers, it's amazing I'm still alive.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

On Oliver Sacks, Music, the Brain et al.

So on a hot tip from an old friend, I took the trek up to Columbia University to see Oliver Sacks speak on his new book about music and neurobiology. I cannot help but find Sacks uniquely palatable as scientists go, in that he treads that middle-brow road like Malcolm Gladwell is to sociology and social psychology. I can handle the heavy-duty sociology, having something of a background in it, but I don't know much about the brain so, Sacks' populist approach to it (complete with layman language and witty asides).

He was introduced by a seemingly affable doofus named Eric Kandel. I ran into both in the men's room prior, I knew it was Sacks, but had no idea who the doofus with bow tie was as he genuflected toward Sacks about what an honor it was to introduce him. I later learned he's a Nobel Laureate. You think with the prize money and recognition Kandel would learn to wear at least a less audacious bow tie, but if you're a Nobel Laureate, I suppose you are entitled to where what you damn well please. Gabriel Garcia Marquez could speak to me while wearing thong panties and an orange cardigan and I'd still listen with rapt attention. Praise wins you credibility amongst the unwashed masses which, in turn, affords you just about any level of contrived idiosyncrasy you wish. To Kandel's credit, after a few minutes of praising the institution that pays his bills, he had a few subtly cutting barbs at the expense of now deposed Harvard president Lawrence Sommers, and I always appreciate those, as he is a sexist, classist dick.

Anyway, the gist of Sacks' talk was on music and the brain. I am interested in both, so it was captivating to say the least. Additionally, it was nice to go out to a lecture again after lo these many years of my not being able to attend such things due to work schedule, laziness, lack of accessibility, poverty, et al. The questions that arose in my mind, however, were of a critical nature. Partially, I think, due to my general belief that it is important, even as an unwashed pleb, to question the methods and results of the intelligensia, and partially due to my general tendency toward rancor these few days. Firstly, the focus seemed to be on classical music. All of Sacks' case studies were specifically motivated toward patients' reactions to or passions for classical music given any number of neurological anomalies. Fine, all well and good, but what about jazz, if nothing else? Jazz is a cognitively complex style of music too, damnit! Then again I give Sacks some slack as he is in his 70s and has been entrenched in the academy for a long time. Those snooty types rarely cut loose.

Additionally, there was a surprising level of tension between Kandel and Sacks on stage. It was subtle, but Kandel referred to Sacks as a "public intellectual," which is a sneering barb often directed at folks like Howard Zinn. What it means is, "I resent you because you sell books and cater toward a more populist audience as opposed to writing the sort of highly specific gibberish that only I and those of my elite club of neuroscientists/physicists/historians/whatever can understand." My stance is both roles are important and given that it was an event for Mr. Sacks, Mr. Kandel would have done well to keep mum during the question and answer session as opposed to interjecting with his highly specified critiques to all of Sacks' answers to, what were quite frankly rather insipid, questions from the peanut gallery.

On the other hand, what maybe fascinated me the most about Sacks' lecture was his discussion of "amusia," which is a condition in which an individual is incapable of deriving pleasure or understanding or even any comprehension with regards to music. One of the case-studies Sacks told of said that listening to, say, Bach was tantamount to listening to one "bang the pots and pans in [her] kitchen around." I can only imagine how awful and alienating a disorder this can be. It strikes me as worse than being blind or deaf or any specific sensory disorder because physically all the capacities are there, it's the understanding and comprehension that lacks. Additionally, were I to suffer from amusia, I would--I'm sure--be exhausted by everyone telling me about that on which I was missing out. For all music to be noise is like having all flavors bitter or all colors drab or I dunno...being able to orgasm, but sensing it with the same lack of feeling that one might generally associate with a handshake. I thank the lord that I can be passionate about music, even if I don't understand the musical theory behind a given piece nor why my brain receives and interprets it the way it does. Some joys are fine just as simple, beautiful mysteries. Legitimate aesthetic response is simple, beautiful mystery and the world and any individual in it needs as many simple, beautiful mysteries as possible. There are far too few in the human experience; I'd rather not lose any.