Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Quote of the Day (Herbert Simon, on the Inverse Relationship Between Information and Attention)

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”— Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon (1916–2001), “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World" in Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest, edited by Martin Greenberger (1971)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Quote of the Day (David Sedaris, on Waiting to See Santa at the Mall)

“Standing in a two-hour line makes people worry that they're not living in a democratic nation. People stand in line for two hours and they go over the edge.” — Comic essayist David Sedaris, “SantaLand Diaries (1999)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Concert Review: ‘David Crosby and Friends,’ BergenPAC, Englewood NJ

Even at 77 years old, David Crosby hasn’t given up defying convention. In the Sixties and Seventies, at the height of his commercial popularity, that involved challenging political and sexual attitudes. These days—certainly, when I saw him a few days ago at the Bergen Performing Arts Center (BergenPAC) in my hometown of Englewood, NJ—he was about overturning audience expectations for an oldies set.

As he worked through a first half containing material released only in the last few years, Crosby noted that this was not something that artists with his career of hits was supposed to do. “But I have a habit of doing things you’re not supposed to do,” he added with a chuckle.

The audience chuckled at this wink at the problems with substance abuse and the law that blighted his career in the Eighties. Under the circumstances, it was miraculous that the veteran rock ‘n’ roller was even alive, let alone ambulatory.

But, as this last week of his fall tour revealed, the singer-songwriter remains not just uncompromising but also creative. Since 2014, he has released four solo CDs of surprising depth and variety, and the resonant voice that contributed so much to The Byrds and the multipart harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young has lost little to age. 

Rather than squawking for old hits, the BergenPAC audience—slanted heavily toward the Baby Boom generation—rewarded him with a respectful hearing for his newer efforts and appreciation for his continuing activism (“Thanks for speaking out!” one female fan near me yelled).

Oh, that “and friends” part of the billing? It was never in the cards that this would include Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. The fallout these last few years has been considerable, from Crosby’s blunt comments about actress Daryl Hannah, the woman Young dumped for his wife of nearly 40 years (a “purely poisonous predator”) to Nash’s depiction in his memoir a few years ago of Crosby’s randy younger days. 

That’s the bad news. The good news is that, with expectations tamped down for all-too-familiar songs from a half-century ago, Crosby has been able to experiment with “friends” Michael League (of Snarky Puppy), Becca Stevens, and Michelle Willis—musicians nearly four decades Crosby’s junior who collaborated with him on his two most recent releases, last year’s Lighthouse and this fall’s Here If You Listen

The results are both wonderfully old and new: the multi-instrumental League provides the kind of versatility that Stills displayed with CSNY; the four singers do a nice job of approximating the intricate vocal web of CSNY; Stevens and Willis represent female perspectives that CSNY did not have; and one can hear jazz textures in the vocals that have increasingly interested Crosby. 

What was additionally surprising was Crosby’s willingness not merely to collaborate with his younger colleagues, but even cede the stage to them. He not only made sure to credit them with fleshing out ideas lying undeveloped for years in his vast tape archive, but even allowed them to spotlight their own contributions, such as Willis’ “Janet,” about the uselessness of jealousy, and Stevens’ “Regina.”

I do wish that Crosby had juxtaposed his newer songs with his older ones on the same subject. For instance, he noted that his recent warning of climate-induced aqua apocalypse, Vagrants of Venice,” is science-fiction, just like “Wooden Ships.” But having whetted the audience’s interest, he never got around to playing the latter haunting song he wrote in his CSNY heyday with the late Paul Kantner.

But there is also a warmth and tenderness in this version of “Croz” that was largely missing from his younger, edgier self. Sixties Crosby’s “Triad,” about the advantages of a menage a trois, led to a quarrel that contributed in no small part to his expulsion from The Byrds. These days, though, he sings unabashedly of his love for his wife of more than three decades, Jan, in “The Things We Do for Love”: “At first it’s just fun / but love is long / a little each day / you build it that way.”

Crosby and his three accomplished younger “friends” finished their regular set with longtime favorites “Guinevere,” “Carry Me,” and “Déjà Vu” (the closing number for the second set), before concluding with two rapturously received encores, “Woodstock” and “Ohio” (his favorite CSNY tune).

Much has changed since the only other time I saw Crosby live, in Central Park with Graham Nash in the mid-Seventies. Much has changed since then, and not only because the former hippie can no longer sing “Almost Cut My Hair” without irony.

Ironically, Crosby has been producing the best work of his non-CSNY career at a time when not only musical tastes have shifted, but the distribution of songs makes it harder for the average fan to find his work. If he can maintain what remains of his health (these days, diabetes has become a concern), you will not be seeing a tired retread but an artist who refuses to go gentle into that good night.

Quote of the Day (George Whitefield, on Jesus as ‘God and Man in One Person’)

“He was God and man in one person, that God and man might be happy together again.”—English revivalist George Whitefield (1714-1770), May 21, 1740 letter to the Allegany Indians, in The Works of the Rev. George Whitefield, M.A. (1771)

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Photo of the Day: Evening at Tiffany’s, Christmastime, NYC

Usually after work, I am intent on going straight home. But about a week ago, I decided to walk around Fifth Avenue, a few blocks from where I work in midtown Manhattan, to see the window displays. 

Even before I got to that point, though, I was impressed by how the stores appeared all lit up at night, as you can see here in this shot of Tiffany’s