The challenge of our time

How to pay attention: it’s the challenge of our time–no pun intended. This smart chat between Sarah Einstein and Sven Birkerts evokes one of my favorite adages for writers: “don’t just do something. Sit there.”

Sven Birkerts, with writerly facial hair.


America’s Pied Piper for Classical Music (and Sgt. Pepper’s)

Just a brief note today, before I return to the work of my clients: Leonard Bernstein served our country well, bridging the chasm between Beethoven and The Beatles in a lifelong ecstasy dedicated to teaching and the performing arts. When his funeral procession made its way from Manhattan to Greenwood Cemetery,  construction workers doffed their hats and shouted out, “Goodbye, Lenny.”

Always dapper, always with a cigarette.

This new biography does a great service to history and Bernstein’s legacy, and this review is quite smart. It’s an interesting rhetorical move, though, to make the argument so early in an essay not to proceed to the next paragraph.


(Perhaps it was an editor’s decision. Ha!) There are, of course, many more things to say about Bernstein, whose work as a teacher reached millions of young Americans via the Young People’s Concerts, and included lessons about the virtues of The Kinks and The Beatles, too. I don’t have time to make the argument here, but I suggest that Bernstein played a fundamental role in the capacity of the American public to regard the *Sgt. Pepper’s* LP as a work of art.

Thanks for reading, and have a brilliant weekend!

Musical aside: Cecil Taylor’s departure

Hey there! Thanks for checking in. My blog typically focuses on writing and editing, but select events can preempt that focus. Plus, it’s still writing!

Jazz pianist and poet Cecil Taylor died yesterday. He turned 89 in March–a bonus year, perhaps, for one of the most fascinating and durable figures in jazz who came of age in the post-bop era, and treated the piano as if it were 88 tuned drums.

Just think: Taylor was born in 1929 (Queens, NY), only three years after John Coltrane’s birth, and Taylor outlived him by 40 years. I was fortunate to see Cecil Taylor with marimba, bass, and drums at Yoshi’s in Oakland around 1993, and that band was absolutely, brilliantly noisy. And swinging. The combo’s dynamics were so robust, I found the show most rewarding by listening (and watching) the virtuosi discretely, by framing my attention on Taylor first, and listening to the piano against and with the rest of the quartet, and then training my ears on the marimba, and repeating.

Perhaps his death will spur someone at A&M to make available *In Florescence* for digital purchase. It’s one of his non-canonical albums, but my absolute fave. In the meantime, here’s a video with that quartet sans bassist a couple years later.

I also dig this article by Ben Ratliff from 2012.

On a happier note, there’s a new documentary on fellow iconoclast and “general paragon of the fabulous life” Grace Jones. Yes! Here’s the trailer.


Good news / the matter of why and your mission

Hello, folks! I am delighted to report I’ve filed my taxes, and that I can return my full attention to my clients and their purposes. Such work led me to revisit Simon Sirek’s deservedly famous Ted Talk on starting with why.

(There are shorter versions out there, if you don’t have a spare 20 minutes today.)

It’s a good talk, and nearly 10 years old, so people have picked it apart a bit, which is what people do. There is, certainly, a key lesson given short shrift here (and is better articulated in his books): your organization’s mission needs to be client-centric. It needs to inspire your staff, yes, to work for more than a paycheck, but it also needs to inspire your clients to come aboard and stay aboard.

Speaking of clients: last week a client informed me that my work on a big grant application was instrumental in their securing a two-year grant worth $250K. That’s a whole lot of clams, and this organization will bake up those clams right, too, so I’m happy for both of us.

Happy spring!