Two years ago, I wrote a feature for TLS about Emily McDowell’s straightforward and often humorous line of empathy cards borne out of her own battle at age 24 with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
This small, personal project has evolved into a larger, collaborative book, There is No Good Card for This (the title, inspired by the name of one of Emily’s cards) with Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D. to help individuals chart a meaningful course of action “when life is scary, awful, and unfair to people you love”.
Divided into three parts, the book’s practical, conversational prose perfectly mirrors Emily’s spare and insightful illustration style—she is masterful at distilling complex subjects and concepts into warm and meaningful forms.
Congratulations Emily and Kelsey on the new book. And thank you for transforming illness, struggle, and pain into meaning, purpose, and beauty that benefits us all.
Gifted with the benefit of hindsight, we are aware of Bowie’s terminal illness during the conceptualization and execution of his final album Blackstarwith the Donny McCaslin Quartet so it is surprising that hours before what would have been David Bowie’s 70th birthday (and several days before the anniversary of his passing) a Tom Hingston-directed video for the ironically titled “No Plan” has been released online.
Even from beyond, Bowie remains a beautifully enigmatic and otherworldly creative presence with the ability the stimulate our intellect and touch our hearts.
We are all the richer for his efforts: Peace, Blessings, and Godspeed David.
CODA: Explore the world of the album’s title track:
During a summer playdate with my best friend and our kids, he exposed me to Google Cardboard via a player received in the post from the New York Times VR (a recently launched content provider for Cardboard). After slipping on a pair of headphones and staring deeply into headpiece (which conspicuously resembles the old, static View Master), I was blown away by the seemingly effortless experience of swimming underwater with dolphins, climbing the spire of the new World Trade Center, and exploring the history of Cuban Dance.
Despite the fact that Cardboard is 360-degree video and isn’t true virtual realityit is an astounding, immersive experience for only $15 and the content being created for the player (many of them free) is equally impressive!
But, don’t take my word for it, explore it yourself:
16 years ago, a group of Australian proto-punk, alternative artists turned deejays unleashed Since I Left You : a sprawling, sumptuous fin de siecle album upon an unsuspecting world.
As the 90’s drew to a close, we were witnessing the swift transformation of the music industry from guitars to turntables, record stores to Napster, analog recording to digital assembly; and the Avalanches threw themselves headlong into this brave new postmodern world inhabited by likes of Massive Attack, Portishead, Moby, Air, Thievery Corporation, and DJ Shadow.
Like DJ Shadow’s 1997 magnum opus Endtroducing, the album Since I Left You painstakingly constructed a digital valentine to the quickly vanishing analog era. A lot has happened in since the early aughts and Wildflower quickly picks up and expands upon where the previous album left off. Assisted by a stellar roster of cameos, Wildflower is a collision of hard, urban beats and soft, psychedelic melodies expertly sequenced as only a collective of seasoned DJs can.
This was my album of the summer, but may be one of the most pleasurable listens of the year.
Austin Kleon’s brilliant book “Steal Like an Artist” has a companion journal with invaluable exercises to get one’s creative juices flowing with a bias towards action.
As a music aficionado, I was immediately interested in the exercise: “Make a Mixtape (For Someone Who Doesn’t Know You)”. I wrote down my list and created two playlists (“Make a Mixtape Vols. 1 and 2”) in my iTunes to listen to while I work throughout the day. Hopefully you will create a mixtape of your own and share it with a friend.
Enough writing, here’s the list:
Charles Brown—Black Night
Nina Simone—Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
Jimi Hendrix—1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
Sun Ra—Calling Planet Earth
Madvillian—Shadows of Tomorrow
A Tribe Called Quest—Excursions
Wes Montgomery (with the Wynton Kelly Trio)—Impressions
Bad Brains—Sailin’ On
Alton Ellis—Reason in the Sky
King Sunny Adé—Sunny Ti De Ariya
Rhythm and Sound Featuring Cornell Campbell—King of My Empire
Hiatus Kiayote—Breathing Underwater
Los Destellos—Onsta La Yerbita
The Black Keys—Weight of Love
Gary Clark Jr.—When My Train Pulls In
Paul Weller—Whirlpool’s End
Three Dog Night—Easy to Be Hard
Terry Callier—Love Theme from Spartucus (4 Hero No Skins Mix)
Nostalgia 77—Quiet Dawn (Examples of Twelve Remix)
Ever since music avatar and popular culture icon Prince Rogers Nelson died on April 21, 2016 there have been many tributes and testaments to his staggering talent but I think his most lasting legacy may be his comfort with non-conformity.
Prince KNEW he was different and that was his strength. He didn’t look, sing, play, or write like anyone else. Make no mistake, he had internalized the personas of Little Richard, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone but through the prism of his own contradictory and ambiguous worldview.
Blurring the likes between black and white, straight and gay, sinner or saint, rock and R&B, was an anathema to the culturally rigid society of the 80’s. A world of cold-war paranoia, apartheid, and homophobia. Through his music and performances, he pushed the boundaries of what was considered to be socially acceptable.
As a Generation X black kid growing up in Milwaukee I knew my experience wasn’t much different from Prince’s Minneapolis and I saw him as a hero. Championing the underground and the counterculture and not allowing himself to be defined by his environment. The rebel, the hippie, the punk, the freak, and the queer were all equally attracted to his persona.
I never imagined that his vision would become the mainstream and that he would be embraced as an elder statesman by the cultural elite.
But, then again I never saw him dying at middle age either. Rest in peace, Prince there will never be another one like you.
Coda: 5 of Todd’s Favorite Prince Songs (in no particular order)
“Dirty Mind”—Beautifully stark in its new-wave minimalism and some of Prince’s finest drum and synth programming.
“I Wanna Be Your Lover”(Album Version)—At first blush this 1979 single sounds very much like post-disco Sylvester, but at 2:28 mark the track transforms into a hypnotic, proto-house electrojam.
“Controversy”—This is Prince’s Declaration of Independence as he fully embraces his bad boy persona and his mastery of the recording studio.
“Lady Cab Driver”—A magnum opus in storytelling and cinematic in production, Prince seamlessly merges his funk, rock, and pop influences into ONE song.
“She Always in My Hair”—The greatest of his impressive body of B-Sides, Prince lays down one of his most infectious guitar riffs to great effect.
A cultural institution and champion of independent music has closed. For 20 years, New York City’s Other Music has served as an invaluable resource for obscure, alternative, and forgotten music.
As a music collector, DJ, and former indie record store manager, I remember when every major city had an Other Music—small, indie stores that doubled as communal spaces serving poseurs, affectionados, students, and fanatics alike. Nowadays, places like Other Music are a rare exception—a reminder of an era long past and another lost opportunity for us as human beings to connect on an interpersonal level.
I still remember ordering by mail or friends making trips to New York to secure the latest electronic and club music imports from Other Music. These strange and obscure pieces opened our minds, formed the foundation of our DJ sets, and helped us spread the electronic gospel to the uninitiated and unconverted.
The New York Times’ Manjula Varghese’s touching video tribute to Other Music reminds us that places for self expression and artistic pursuit still matter.
Other Music is dead, long live Other Music.
Coda: Check out Other Music’s Top 10 Spins Video:
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