The Annual NCAA Hoops Pick ‘Em Debacle

It’s that time of year again, folks, when I deploy the countless hours and gazillions of over-worked brain cells that I’ve invested in studying the minutia of NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball, and deftly create a bracket that will implode spectacularly in ways that will mathematically eliminate me by the first Friday of March Madness.

And you want to watch that unfold, don’t you?

I’ve set up my annual group on Yahoo this year, with the usual suspects who stomp me over and over again on the virtual parquet invited to do so again. I do have to apologize for using a site of Yahoo’s current macro idiocy for this highly important undertaking, and hope you don’t get a lot of “Face of Hillary Spotted on Mars” and “You Won’t Believe What This Housewife Does With Ping Pong Balls” types of adverts and posts on your way to the group log-in, but it’s possible, so be forewarned.

It’s a public group again, so if you join you can invite others if you want to as well, and if you didn’t get a direct invite but are reading this now, you can join us too. You just need a Yahoo ID to get started. Once you are logged into Yahoo Fantasy, you can create a name for your pick set at the main tourney site at this link. Then you should be able to add your pick set into our group at this other link.

If you would rather just search for us from the Yahoo Fantasy Pick ‘Em front page, the Group Name is ChicalbanyMoinesDC and the Group ID# is 84027

See you in the pool, returning miscreants and noobs alike. Note that we just do it for the brags, as usual, nothing expensive at play. Make sure you get your picks set before the first tip-off on Thursday. (You do not have to pick the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday). I’ll be selecting my usual mix of really over-analyzed Cinderella upsets who will start crashing and burning immediately, so the fun should start early, be there or be square.

And remember . . .

The “Favorite Band” Question (Revisited)

Eight some years ago, I wrote a blog post called “The ‘Favorite Band’ Question,” wherein I attempted to answer the query that, as a known hardcore music nerd, I am probably asked more often than any other, online and in the real world: “So, who’s your favorite band?”

I noted then, and I note now, that I listen to so much music, and I am so musically omnivorous, that it’s really hard for me to answer that question, simply because there are so many apples to oranges, or meatloaf to polonium, or bicycle to aardvark comparisons between the different types of things I spin. To wit: per my iTunes account, here are the past ten songs that have spun via the “random shuffle” setting on my collection as I’ve sat at my computer, getting ready to write this post:

  • “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” by The Specials (Caribbean funk/ska, 2019)
  • “Funky #7” by Hot Tuna (Power trio stoner rock, 1975)
  • “Whisper” by Schnell Fenster (Weird Australian pop, 1988)
  • “Dead Behind The Eyes” by Soulfly (Brazilian-flavored metal, 2018)
  • “Delius” by Kate Bush (Arty pop, 1980)
  • “Nothing Will Be The Same” by Renaldo and Michael Alan Alien (Experimental tape torture, 2012)
  • “The Wrong Thing” by Xiu Xiu (Tortured art rock, 2019)
  • “Mr. Wiggles” by Parliament (Aquatic funk, 1978)
  • “Gone, Gone, Gone” by Bad Company (Arena rock, 1979)
  • “The Creator Has A Master Plan” by Leon Thomas (Vocal jazz, 1969)

I loved everyone of those songs as they spun, and I love everyone of those artists. But can I rank or compare them in any meaningful fashion? No, not really. They’re just too different. So because I don’t do anything simply, when I first started thinking about this question back in 2011, I decided that I had to define what constituted a “favorite band” for a generic listener before I answered the big question myself. Here’s the list of criteria I developed:

  • The listener actively looks forward to listening to the favorite band’s music more than any other music, and does so weekly, if not daily;
  • The listener seeks to have a complete collection of the favorite band’s work, and is willing to spend a little bit more money than usual to acquire it, with special attention paid to albums or singles that less-enthusiastic fans might never find or hear;
  • The listener never grows tired of the favorite band and its works, and anytime they come on the stereo or radio, no matter what the song, it is greeted with volume raising and singing along;
  • The listener seeks to learn more about the favorite band, and will often buy books or magazines or watch television or internet shows related to its members and their music;
  • The listener makes an effort to see the favorite band in a live setting as often as practically possible.

In my first stab at this article, I went back through the ages of my life and listed the bands that I am pretty certain met all of those criteria more than any others in different years. That list looked like this:

  • Simon and Garfunkel (Initial musical sentience-1971)
  • Steppenwolf (1971-1973)
  • Wings (1973-1976)
  • Steely Dan (1976-1978)
  • Jethro Tull (1978-1982)
  • XTC (1982-1984)
  • Butthole Surfers (1984-1994)
  • Hawkwind (1994-1998)
  • The Residents (1998-2003)
  • The Fall (2003-2008)
  • Napalm Death (2008-present)

I note that those years in no way limit the time spans in which I actually listened to all of those groups. Take The Fall, for instance: I started playing them in 1983 or so, and I was gutted when their leader, Mark E. Smith, passed away last year. I still listen to them regularly, and I cited some albums from outside the 2003-2008 time span as all-time favorites in various lists like this one or this one. But for a variety of reasons, internal and external, I was really, really, really into The Fall in that six year span in the early Naughts, and they really spent an extravagant percentage of time on my stereo, and on my mind. I didn’t like them any less come 2009, but I did find myself spending a lot more mental time, energy, and effort listening to and seeing Napalm Death.

And I continued to do so for many years, although the reason that I revisit this old post today is because I realized recently that a couple of years ago, Napalm were supplanted atop the current pile by another group: King Crimson. (Favorite bands are like economic recessions, apparently; you can’t really decide that they’ve started until you’re well into them). I have been listening to, and loving, the Crim since the ’70s, but they sort of moved onto a different plane for me around 2014, when the “Seven-Headed Beast” incarnation of the band (now with eight heads) hit the road with a show that for the first time in their complicated history featured music from 1969’s debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King, along with cuts from every band era since, and a healthy slab of new tunes.

Marcia and I have seen King Crimson twice in recent years, and we have tickets to see them again in September. I check their website on a near daily basis for news, downloads, archived articles, or whatever else they feel like sharing with me and their other fans. We play their music pretty constantly around the house, and I’ve always got some of their cuts on my commuting and travel iPods. I still spin Napalm Death on a regular basis (though Marcia is not particularly fond of them, even though she was a sport and went to see them live with me once), but somehow it feels like they really hit a peak or a pinnacle of sorts with their 2015 album Apex Predator – Easy Meat, after which long-time guitarist-vocalist Mitch Harris went on sabbatical to deal with family matters. I’ve seen them twice since then with replacement live guitarists, and the shows were fantastic, but I don’t find myself obsessing about them quite as much as once did, with Crimbo oozing into the spaces in my frontal loaf that they used to fill.

One thing hasn’t changed since I tackled this question in 2011: I’d cite King Crimson as my favorite band right now, but if I had to name one all-time favorite, above and beyond all others, for an entire lifetime of listening, I’d still pick Jethro Tull, who have consistently filled my playlists and brightened my heart since 1975 or so, never, ever leaving the current listening pile, never, ever making me say “Ennnnhhhhh . . . not in the mood for this today (or this week, or this year).” Looking at my most played songs playlist of 2019, there are three Tull cuts on the list, and that’s the case most years since I started keep track of such things. Ian Anderson and his colleagues moved me way back when, and he and the music they made move me now, and I expect he’ll continue to move me as long as he’s still alive and kicking, and probably beyond that, unless he unexpectedly outlives me.

So, to summarize: you ask “What’s Your Favorite Band” and I answer “Right now, King Crimson. All-time, Jethro Tull.” Easy peasy. But subject to change. Watch this space.

The Mighty Crim (Eight-Headed Beast Incarnation)

Credidero #2: Curiosity

The late, great Douglas Adams doesn’t get the same level of credit that some other science fiction writers receive for describing future technologies that actually come to pass (probably because he was too funny to be taken seriously), but there’s no question that his fictional depiction of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is now every bit as a real and transformative as, say, Arthur C. Clarke’s prescient descriptions of communications satellites, or Jules Verne’s submarines, or H.G. Wells’ “land ironclads” (tanks) or John Brunner’s on-demand satellite TV, or Martin Caidin’s cybernetic prostheses, or countless other hard sci-fi speculative predictions.

First revealed to the world via a radio play in 1978, the fictional Hitchhiker’s Guide was described as “the standard repository for all knowledge and wisdom,” filled with crowd-sourced content because “most of the actual work got done by any passing stranger who happened to wander into the empty offices of an afternoon and saw something worth doing.” The Guide could be updated in real time via the Sub-Etha, an “interstellar faster-than-light telecommunications network” that was used for any type of data transmission across the galaxy. Physically, the Guide was described as “a small, thin, flexible lap computer” encased in a “sturdy plastic cover,” with the words “Don’t Panic” inscribed on it “in large, friendly letters”. (All quotes from Adams’ books, via Wikipedia).

I’m certainly not the first person to note that a modern human carrying a smart phone with real-time access to Wikipedia is essentially toting The Hitchhiker’s Guide around, whether it has large friendly letters printed on its case or not. And if that’s not enough to mark Adams as a singular visionary, note that he actually started a web-based, crowd-sourced, real-world version of the Guide called h2g2 in 1999, two years before Wikipedia was launched, in the same year when Adams himself passed away at the terribly young age of 49. Had he not shuffled off this mortal coil in such an untimely and unexpected fashion, we might today all be using Adams’ h2g2 for all of our search needs, instead of Jimmy Wales’ titanic digital encyclopedia. That said, you can still access (and contribute to) h2g2 if you’re so inclined, and it does provide a healthily irreverent counterpart to Wikipedia’s sometime stuffy and over-curated content at this point.

It’s worth noting (to me anyway) that we are fast approaching another interesting singularity point between the fictional guide and its primary real-world analog. In So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, the fourth book in the trilogy (yeah), the Guide‘s tally of pages is cited as 5,973,509. As I type this article, the real number of pages on the English version of Wikipedia is posted as 5,817,575. I certainly hope that someone at the Wikimedia Foundation is monitoring this number, and properly celebrates Adams’ estimation of the number of pages that it takes to describe the galaxy and all of the things in it when somebody creates page number 5,973,509. I’m guessing that will happen in 2019. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

For all of Adams prescience, I think there’s one way in which he missed the mark on the ways that sentient beings might deploy the Hitchhiker’s Guide. The book’s protagonists routinely use the Guide to acquire necessary, (mostly) useful information to get them out of, or into, various scrapes and predicaments, but it’s generally consulted in response to such external stimuli, rather than being consulted just for the sake of being consulted. Had Adams written the books today, now knowing what we know about how we know what we know, I suspect there would be lots of scenes where people (human and otherwise) just loll about in their various spacecraft and on their various planets, pointing and asking and clicking and reading and browsing for no other reason than because they can, and because they are innately, inherently, and often flat our insanely curious about all of the things in the universe, all of them.

That’s certainly how I interact with the world of information when I’m sitting at my static desk-top, clicking and clattering away. I can read something, or think of something, and not know some arcane piece of information about said something, and then suddenly find myself in an hours-long slide into data gathering and information processing that typically ends up far from where it began, leaving my head filled with a bunch of new noise, much of which will be forgotten hours after I first apprehend it. And then I’ll do it all again. And again. And again. And I will be happy all the while, even if I’ve not achieved anything meaningful in the process.

The mobility of my information gathering devices means that I do this in the “real world” too, as I encounter non-electronic stimulus: What’s that bird? How tall is that building? Where does this road go?  Who is that park named for? What kind of plane was that? Who wrote that song? What was its lyric again? Who played bass on it? What else did he or she do? Another bird? What was it? We live in a truly glorious age when it comes to assuaging our curiosity in this fashion, as the ability to itch the scratch or scratch the itch of not knowing things is effortless and immediate and (mostly) satisfying, even if much of the information that we pack into our noggins is the intellectual equivalent of a big bag of Cheetos: filling, colorful, possibly addictive, and of no practical, nutritional good whatsoever.

Which begs the question as to whether an active sense of curiosity (much less an over-active one) and the time spent assuaging it, is a good thing or a bad thing. Because sometimes we’re curious about things that we really should not be. You know that after the fictional Hitchhiker’s Guide waxed so profoundly about (say) the perils of Vogon poetry, that some sizable number of readers would have immediately sought out some of those noxious texts out to read them, and suffer in the process, just as people visit various pages of horrors on the real-world internet, all the time. I’ve never heard of anybody really having a seizure from a website promising to deliver one, but I know that they exist, and I know that people look at them, just because they can. (Please don’t go find one now). (And do not think about elephants). (Are you thinking about elephants?) (You are, aren’t you). (That’s better than thinking about seizure robots, anyway).

I suspect that many damaging online pornography addictions are fueled by unhealthy curiosities: if a human body can do this, and I can find it online and look at it, then I wonder if a human body can do that, and if so, where can I see it?  The market for Faces of Death-type collections of carnage imagery predates the internet, but once upon a time they were hard to find, whereas now: search, click, look, regret. When people watch cell phone videos of people being gunned down in their cars, or on the streets, or in their homes, or of bombs being detonated in public spaces, or of the beheading or hanging of political captives, they may say they’re doing it as part of some refined sense of social justice, wanting to share and experience such pain with its victims in more meaningful ways, but I can’t help but think that morbid curiosity of that nature is just a digital form of rubber-necking at an auto accident, ultimately nothing more than the insatiable curiosity to see what something terrible looks like, coupled with an inability to resist it. And I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing.

Unfortunately, it often seems that the bad outcomes of curiosity anchor a lot of the ways in which we educate and raise our young in modern western cultures. “Curiosity killed the cat” is an adage we learn fairly early on. Later, we might encounter books or television shows about Curious George, a charming simian simpleton whose insatiable curiosity gets him into all sorts of trouble, requiring the Man in the Yellow Hat or other sensible adults to bail him out, so he can curiously investigate the next shiny thing that catches his eye. The classics take similar stances: Pandora’s curiosity about her now-eponymous box unleashed sin, disease and death upon the world, and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden used Eve’s curiosity against her to bring on the Fall of Man.

The Bible even explicitly exhorts us to mind our own business and not ask big questions: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). That feels like the ultimate “because I said so” answer to every “why?” question that every child puts forth, communicating that some things are just not knowable, no matter how much we want to know them. And maybe that quiets a child, or the childish being cooped up within an adult, for some period of time, but it doesn’t assuage the desire for knowledge, it just makes it feel wrong. Which, in turn, itself seems wrong, since curiosity is by all objective measures a key component in the process of learning, and the acquisition of knowledge, if not wisdom.

Education is a key component of cultural inculcation, and it seems that it would be a whole lot easier to harness the innate curiosity of youth rather than censuring it. Perhaps this pervasive conundrum hinges on adults wanting children to learn certain things, in certain times, in certain ways, rather than openly figuring the world out as it presents itself to them, naturally. Education as a form of control, as it were. And if your curiosity persists in carrying you in directions other than those in which we wish to point you, we now have medications to take the edge of that itch, so that you can concentrate on this here algebraic formula, and not that there way cool bug crawling up the wall in the back of the classroom. You won’t be able to balance a checkbook by knowing its name, now will you? And it might sting you, anyway. Pay attention.

Our pets might actually have it better than our children on this front, since we’re generally content to let them sniff and snuff at whatever captures their fancies, so long as they don’t do it on the furniture, or strain too hard against the leash. While I find the entitled over-pampering of American pets to be mostly absurd, I do think that it’s a good thing that we’ve generally come to understand and accept that our non-human companions, and loads of non-domesticated non-human animals, can be just as curious as we are about the worlds in which they find themselves, investigating their surroundings with agency, and individuality, and intellect, and not just as mindless automatons driven by species-encoded patterns and instincts. The searches for food and water and mates and shelter are certainly compelling, but they’re not the end-all and be-all of animal experience, and it’s a joy to watch any being, of any species, happily exploring its world, and eagerly investigating stimuli beyond its normal experience.

It has taken billions and billions of years for hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen to organize themselves in such a way that our species can actively, consciously think about that organization, and how it happened, and what it means, and how it fits in within everything else in the visible and invisible cosmos. Give them another billion years or so, and some of our cetacean, simian, corvid, canine, porcine and feline friends might join us in this pursuit; we’re not likely special in this regard, other than being first to cross the bar of conscious, tool-based scientific inquiry. (On our planet, anyway). Viewed this way, it seems that our innate desire to want to know all the answers, to all the things, might be something of a birthright for our species, and that squandering our little moment in the sun — brief as it’s been in celestial terms, and fleeting as it might be in a solar system filled with planet-killing objects and opportunities — would be a refutation of eons and eons of evolutionary progress, not necessarily with us an end point, but perhaps with us as a conduit to something unknown, but not unknowable.

So I might not be touching the divine when, on a whim, I get online to remind myself who played guitar on the second Toe Fat album from 1971 (Alan Kendall, for the record), but I am actively engaging the part of my brain that’s evolved to crave information and stimulus that has no bearing on my ability to breathe, or sleep, or breed, or eat. Knowing that scrap of information doesn’t make me a better human being by any meaningful measure, but finding it does give me a fleeting chemical pleasure, and that little “ah ha” may trigger other chemical cascades that do make me just a bit sharper than I might have been otherwise, or maybe it will serve as a conversation point years hence that might make other chemicals flow in ways that turn an acquaintance into a friend, or a friend into a follower, or a follower into an explorer. That seems positive, in a little way, and lots of little ways pointed in the same direction can become a big way, to something, again unknown, but knowable.

When I ponder what a personal end of days might look like, I tend to think that losing the desire for these types of inquisitions will be among the key dominoes falling in an ultimately failing physical system, and I’m going to rage, rage against the dying of that light, for as long as I can. For all of the emotional negatively that morbid curiosity might theoretically inflict upon me, were I more prone to explore it, I can’t help but think that the emotional positivity of eager, open, innocent investigation of the world around me will always return a net positive position for the time and energy spent in its pursuit. If I am the sum total of my experiences, then my curiosity, more than anything else, is what makes me me. And your curiosity, more than anything else, is what makes you you. And the glorious variety possible through endless permutations of those equations is what makes so much of life so very enjoyable, in ways that I hope to remain always curious about, until I disperse the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen that composes me, so that other curious entities might form from it.

Curiosity may indeed kill a cat, every now and again, but for each one that goes to the great litter box in the sky as a result of its investigations, thousands of others end up with the ball of yarn, or the catnip mousie, or the comfy, comfy comforter, or the warm pile of laundry, or the tasty gazelle, possibly with a friend who might be another cat, or a duck, or a dog, or a human child, bursting with enthusiasm to know what that cat feels like, and why it’s tail curls that way, and how come it makes biscuits with its paws, and where its kittens came from.

I’m with those cats, when all’s said and done. Let’s chase this string and see where it leads us . . .

Which state quarters are you missing?? I have to know!!!

Note: This is part one of a planned twelve-part writing project. I’m using a random dice roller to select a monthly topic from a series of twelve pre-selected themes. With this second article complete, I roll the dice again . . .

. . . and next month I will consider Topic Number Ten: “Security.”

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Click any image to see it in full size.

I think this is probably a nice ending for this series, as I head into my final month as a Chicago resident. Ten posts, ten pics each, hopefully worth 100,000 words of stories. A nice visual archive of my time here, focused on the city itself, not on Marcia and I as protagonists within it. Such a beautiful, inspirational place. I will miss snapping it as often as I have over the past four years! Here are the earlier installments of this series:

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

The Albums Of Our Lives

I was reminded recently of an old interview with (great) writer Chuck Klosterman where he deflected a “best album ever” type question by citing a list of his favorite albums from each year of his life. Probably no surprise to those who are regular readers here, but that made me say “Ooooo! I need to do that too!!”

So I did. And it was an interesting process to develop the list. Some thoughts and observations:

  • The key word is “favorite:” I didn’t try to pick “best,” but rather the things that I enjoy the most, right here, right now, really hewing to the true definition of “favorite” in all of its subjective glory. The difference between “favorite” and “best” is significant, since I know that I love some bad things, and I also know that I hate some good things. Such is the essence of taste.
  • I used my Top 200 Albums Ever list as a starting point, but that quickly stopped being useful, primarily because there are some years where literally dozens of my favorite albums were released (e.g. 1977, with David Bowie’s Low and “Heroes,” Eno’s Before And After Science, Wire’s Pink Flag, Pink Floyd’s Animals, Steely Dan’s Aja, the Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, just to cite the top of the pile), and other years when I had to deep dive into my collection to find a single album that I considered worthy of being on this list. As much as I always espouse my non-nostalgic “the best music ever made is the music being made right now” rubric, in truth, objective music quality and import over time is a lumpy graph, and that really shows up in a project like this.
  • I had what would seem to be another quality resource available to me in developing this list, with my own “Best Album” reports from print or digital outlets going all the way back to 1992. But interestingly enough, I did not receive much utility from that list either, as there were loads of years where my identified “Best Album” entries from those long gone years either didn’t have long-term legs and do not please me as much now as they did then, or where I still like those old records well enough, but saw them supplanted by things I only heard some year or years after their original releases. Perspective changes over time, for sure.
  • The final list I developed here is a little bit more of a Caucasian Sausage Party than I probably would have preferred. That said, I am glad to see that the trend lines for diversity generally move in the right directions as we careen into 2019.
  • Chuck Klosterman is younger than me, but we do have two albums in two years where we overlap in our lists. See 1990 and 1993. I’m highly skeptical of any self-proclaimed music critic/nerd if he, she (or you) does not agree with me and Chuck on these two. 1990 and 1993 are years where there’s not a lot of room for negotiation. Seriously.
  • If the first year presented in this list seems incongruous to you in terms of what you think you might know about my life’s timeline, let’s just say that I come from a grand old South Carolina family where such piddling insignificances as “When was I born?” or “When was I married?” or “What year is it, really, and how much does it matter, darling?” are highly negotiable in one’s personal narrative. Suffice to say I’m old enough that it’s rude to ask for clarification on such matters, so don’t.

And with all of that as preamble, here’s the list I’ve developed of my favorite albums, right now, from each year of my life:

1965: John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

1966: Simon and Garfunkel, The Sounds of Silence

1967: Yusef Lateef, The Complete Yusef Lateef

1968: Bonzo Dog Band, The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse

1969: King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King

1970: Grateful Dead, American Beauty

1971: Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Tarkus

1972: Jethro Tull, Thick As A Brick

1973: Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

1974: Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

1975: Wings, Venus and Mars

1976: Steely Dan, The Royal Scam

1977: Steely Dan, Aja

1978: Jethro Tull, Heavy Horses

1979: David Bowie, Lodger

1980: Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel (III)

1981: Kraftwerk, Computer World

1982: XTC, English Settlement

1983: Swans, Filth

1984: Christian Death, Catastrophe Ballet

1985: Kate Bush, Hounds of Love

1986: R.E.M., Life’s Rich Pageant

1987: Butthole Surfers, Locust Abortion Technician

1988: Butthole Surfers, Hairway to Steven

1989: Einstürzende Neubauten, Haus der Lüge

1990: Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet

1991: Public Enemy, Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black

1992: Television Personalities, Closer To God

1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese

1995: The Bogmen, Life Begins at 40 Million

1996: Sepultura, Roots

1997: Katell Keineg, Jet

1998: Clutch, Elephant Riders

1999: Coil, Musick To Play in the Dark, Vol. 1

2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya

2001: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Original Cast Recording)

2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone

2003: Ween, Quebec

2004: Xiu Xiu, Fabulous Muscles

2005: Coil, The Ape of Naples

2006: Kamikaze Hearts, Oneida Road

2007: Dälek, Abandoned Language

2008: The Fall, Imperial Wax Solvent

2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic

2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics

2011: Death Grips, Exmilitary

2012: Napalm Death, Utilitarian

2013: David Bowie, The Next Day

2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold

2015: Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat

2016: David Bowie, Blackstar

2017: The Fall, New Facts Emerge

2018: First Aid Kit, Ruins

1965 was a very good year to be born, hypothetically and musically speaking . . .

The Trees That Move Us

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the February 2019 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here.

Last summer, I wrote a Leading Thoughts column on “trees as inspiration,” sharing my affection for a wonderful work-in-progress book about ginkgos by Jimmy Shen, a professional botanic photographer based in east China. Last month, my column focused on another book, The Overstory by Richard Powers, a powerful novel about the ways that trees can shape our lives, from birth to death, and maybe beyond.

I received more feedback on those two columns than I did from any of the others I’ve written here, I think because those of us who count ourselves as “tree people” generally don’t leave our interest in trees at our work sites but are also awed and moved by them in our personal lives as well. We look for and admire great trees in the cities, fields and forests where we work, live and travel, and then we also seek out opportunities to celebrate trees in books, art, music, and in all of the other myriad of creative arts.

On one of our recent snow days, I bundled up and walked over to the Art Institute of Chicago – my favorite place in my favorite city, hands down – and wandered around the various galleries there as I often do. In the 19th Century European Art collection, I saw a wonderful painting that I’d not noticed before by Albert Bierstadt, depicting a glorious stand of birches around a rocky waterfall, and I shared a photo of it in on the TREE Fund Twitter feed.

And then I decided to have a full tree day at the museum, walking through every gallery, seeking out great trees in the collection. It was a wonderful way to re-experience galleries that I’ve seen more times than I can count, looking through a different lens at paintings, decorative arts, sculptures, and more. I found abstract trees, photographic trees, and impressionist trees. I was awed by the ways that artists were inspired by trees over centuries and around the world. I shared my findings on social media, and they were widely liked, commented on, and retweeted.

A couple of weeks later, I was home again and the song “The Trees” by the BritPop band Pulp came up on my stereo. Once again, thinking about trees, I decided to have a tree music day, going through the 14,000+ songs that I have on my computer, looking for great ones about trees, woods, forests, and more. I posted my 25 favorite tree songs on my personal website and once again got loads of comments, feedback, and response from others about their favorite tree songs. People just love tree art, in all of its forms.

I recommend you have your own museum tree day, or make a tree song playlist, or look at some other creative idiom through tree lenses. It’s truly rewarding to actively consider how the trees we care for professionally enhance our lives beyond their scientific and landscape value.

The Albert Bierstadt painting that inspired my Tree Day at the Art Institute.