Best Albums of 2017 (Addendum): “In The Presence of Presents 2017” by Jed Davis

I usually do my annual “Best Albums of The Year” report in late November or early December, before the craziness of the year end, and because it usually takes me more than a month to decide that I want to include something on the list anyway. (Here’s the 2017 Best List, the 26th consecutive annual one I’ve published). The downside of this approach, of course, is that sometimes I miss some truly worthy late-in-the-year releases, and those don’t get captured on the report. That happened in the waning moments of 2017, so let me tell you about one more essential disc from the year that was . . .

Jed Davis, In the Presence of Presents 2017: If you search for Jed Davis on this blog, you get a lot of results, because I consider Jed to be one of the finest songwriters of the past quarter-century, and he’s a damned fine musician, artist, singer, and writer to boot. A real renaissance rocker. Jed actually did get a mention in the introduction of the 2017 Best Albums list, as I cited The Hanslick Rebellion (they are one of Jed’s bands) with Single of the Year for their zeitgeist-defining “Who’ll Apologize For This Disaster Of A Life?” But damned if Jed didn’t slip in a year-end album-length surprise with the third of his occasional In the Presence of Presents series (now issued in 2003, 2006, and 2017), and it’s a corker.

Here’s the concept: each edition of In the Presence of Presents includes one holiday themed original song, paired with nine non-holiday covers. Simple! But, of course, in such an endeavor, song selection, arrangements, and performances make all the difference, and Jed’s three-for-three again on those fronts this time around. To give you a sense of the breadth of the covers, he’s got songs by (among others) The Beach Boys, Juliana Hatfield, Jobriath, Judee Sill, Patrik Fitzgerald, Yaz, and Kendrick Lamar. (In the last two cases, actually, that’s only one song, and it’s a mashup made in heaven). And then there’s “Wonder Woman,” by Billy Joel’s so-awful-it’s-amazing early band Attila. It is a thing, for sure, and Jed and ace session drummer Joe Abba make it an even better thing, absolutely.

Abba appears on several tracks, as does indie-superstar guitarist Avi Buffalo, while The Hanslick Rebellion, Anton and Lewis Patzner (Judgment Day), and Maryanne Fennimore appear on a cut apiece. Jed provides his usual display of sure-fingered playing on organ, guitar, bass, piano, Rhodes Piano Bass, percussion and the dreaded Baldwin Fun Machine, which brings the perfect amount of period cheese to Beach Boys’ deep cut “Busy Doin’ Nothin'”. He’s also in fine voice throughout the proceedings here, with some excellent harmonic arrangement making things sweet when they need to be, often with a little dash of bitter for leavening. Mmm, that’s good.

Speaking of harmonies: this year’s original Jed Davis holiday song — “Peditum Quod Festum Nativitatis Delevit” — is performed in Latin with but eight voices, and its narrative revolves around one of the very few things that have amused human beings from all cultures since deepest antiquity, and will no doubt continue to amuse us until we’re eventually wiped from the face of the earth (hopefully not in 2018). You’ve gotta hear it to believe it, and I know you too will be amused when you do. Ho ho ho!!!

Oh! And did I mention the part about “presents?” Well, this is one to us from Jed: you can nab it all for free by clicking on the album cover below. (And then get the earlier installments by clicking on these links: 20062003). (And then explore the amazing collection of albums Jed has helmed over the years involving a truly unbelievable collection of musicians at The Congregation of Vapors).

 

#smhedia

My friend Kenny (who once made the observation “Centipedes are the spiders of the bathtub” in a perfectly contextual fashion) posed a question on Twitter this morning:

Is there a word for when something or someone stupid gets an outsized amount of news coverage and is getting spread way further than it should have? Could be used to describe Raw Water, Flat Earthers, James Damore, etc.

I pondered Kenny’s question for a while today. My answer? Yes, Kenny, there is such a word, and it is . . .

Let’s break it down . . .

The source of the “media” part of the portmanteau word should be obvious: them what propagate such idiocy widely, for fun and/or profit.

“SMH” is textspeak for “Shaking My Head,” and Urban Dictionary tells us it is “usually used when someone finds something so stupid, no words can do it justice.”

I then take it one level deeper than that. Because it is often written “smh” in posts, my brain actually reads that as a pronounceable word when I see it onscreen — “s’meh” — which I perceive as shorthand for “it’s meh.” And quoting Urban Dictionary again, “meh” means “indifference; used when one simply does not care.”

So . . . we’ve got the media issuing stories so stupid that no words can do them justice, to which most people are indifferent, and simply do not care.

That’s smhedia. Or better yet, let’s hashtag it: #smhedia. Does that work? Can we make it propagate, tagging #smhedia to such things and then moving on quickly when confronted with such idiocy? It probably won’t change anything . . . but it will be fun.

Let’s do this!

(P.S. Note: I post this little piece here about #smhedia today because I coined another word long ago, and didn’t realize how widely it had propagated until it started showing up on albums and in interviews years later. The ground zero for that word was lost in the ancient archives of early ’90s CompuServe, so this time, I figure I’ll put this origin story here, now, and if someone turns it into some #smhedia-worthy profit-engine down the line, I’ll show up for my handout with a date-stamped copy of this blog post).

 

Key West to Chicago . . .

It was very warm and very nice in Key West while we were there.

It was neither in Chicago, nor is it since our return last night.

Oh well, that’s what vacation is for, I suppose.

Some snaps of the New Year’s festivities on Duval Street below. The crowds were dense and formidable, since it’s just a two-lane city street in front of the shoe drop, not a vast public square as in New York City. We came, we saw, we left as soon as it was done accordingly.

And then we returned to the frigid zone the next day. It’s not pleasant, but I will note that even when the weather is dire, I always find that Chicago is one of the prettiest cities on the planet when you’re making final approach in the evening, so rather than beefing about the cold, I celebrate returning home with those images in mind instead, and share them with you below.

Patience, Rigor and Care: The Challenges and Opportunities of Tree Research

Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of ARBORIST NEWS, a publication of International Society of Arboriculture. This content is reprinted with full permission of the publisher.

In our day-to-day professional lives or as decision-makers in green industry businesses, we have the opportunity to sell research-based, scientific knowledge to our customers and clients, separating ourselves as skilled and trained professionals from those who may take a more “I have a hunch” or “We’ve always done it that way” approach to tree care. Our counsel can result in better decision-making by customers and clients regarding their trees, and at a very pragmatic level, our knowledge can also make our businesses more profitable, our workers safer, and our services more marketable, now and in the future.

The macro returns on investment from scientific tree research are becoming ever clearer as our collective body of knowledge grows slowly over time in incremental steps. In recent years, cutting-edge research has demonstrated a host of benefits to be gleaned from a healthy urban canopy, some of the benefits perhaps intuitive, but some of them frankly sublime and surprising, e.g. increased birth weights, increased retail sales, accelerated patient healing, enhanced student learning, increased urban immigration (including skilled workers and new industries), decreased violent crime, decreased ultraviolet radiation exposure, and increased sense of common ownership for public spaces.

Because trees are long-lived organisms, today’s tree care decisions will shape their health and impacts for many generations. ~80% of the U.S. population now lives in developed areas and that number is expected to increase to ~90% by 2050, mirroring global trends in urbanization. Since thriving urban forests are proven to be highly beneficial to community health and prosperity, investments in scientific tree research have and will continue to directly drive positive changes in the aggregate health of cities and suburbs. Scientifically quantifying the benefits of trees to the economy and environment makes it easier for governments, businesses and private citizens to justify and project their return on tree care investment.

Tree Research and Education Endowment (TREE) Fund was founded in 1976 as the International Society of Arboriculture Research Trust. In 2002, the Trust and the National Arborists Foundation merged, reincorporating as TREE Fund. (Note: I have been President and CEO of TREE Fund since 2015). Governed by a national board of trustees, we now fund work globally from our office in Naperville, Illinois. TREE Fund has awarded ~$3.3 million in grants since 2002, of which ~90% have directly supported primary basic and applied research initiatives. These funds have been highly leveraged and multiplied as tree care, urban planning, landscape design, construction and civil engineering professionals implement our findings and educate their constituents on the ever-evolving state of tree science.

As TREE Fund celebrates its 15th anniversary this year as an independent charitable trust, we find it valuable to pause and reflect for a moment on why our work matters — and why the demand for our grant-making programs continues to grow apace. To anchor such a reflection, it is crucial to actively think about what we mean when we discuss and market “research,” especially in an era when global communication networks make it effortless for individuals to access nearly infinite amounts of information of varying or unknown degrees of accuracy and currency.

At bottom line, TREE Fund approaches and values “research” as a set of investigative tools and protocols used to unearth and interpret new facts, revise accepted wisdom in the light of such new facts, and develop practical methods for implementing new or revised understandings in our areas of professional endeavor. Research tools and protocols must be anchored in intellectual and procedural rigor, a willingness to fairly consider alternative explanations for observations, an ability to compile and analyze data using generally accepted statistical and scientific methods, a willingness and ability to replicate findings, and the production of public reports that can be independently affirmed, cited and implemented by subject experts in the field of study, and trained professionals in applied settings.

There’s a whole lot more there, obviously, than the “Wikipedia says” or “a colleague told me that” or “I’ve got a secret method for” or “my gut instincts are” approaches that lay people and professionals alike often cite as “research.” And because of that, these tools and protocols cost a whole lot more — in dollars, time, training, and a host of other scarce resources — than casual, unscientific approaches to answering questions and responding to observations.  This, then, raises a related set of questions based on the returns on investment accrued from committing such scarce resources: how much should I myself, my business, my municipality, my school, and a host of other stakeholders invest in research, and what do we all get out of it at the end of the day?

While the slow growth and long lives of trees makes research and dissemination in our field quite time-consuming, often obscuring short-term return from research investments, we know that TREE Fund and related efforts over the years have directly contributed to:

  • Defining strategies for enhancing tree disease suppression and insect resistance;
  • Developing production, planting, fertilizing and soil amendment strategies to enhance tree growth and long-term survival;
  • Developing more environmentally-sensitive methods of plant management;
  • Producing genetically superior trees that can withstand the stress of urban environments;
  • Improving the quality of nursery grown trees and overall tree survival;
  • Combating diseases and pests without increasing pesticide use through the evolution of integrated pest management programs; and
  • Enhancing public and workforce safety through greater knowledge of why and how trees fail.

In an effort to further quantify the full reach of our work, TREE Fund recently awarded a grant to Drs. Andrew Koeser (University of Florida Gulf Coast’s Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology) and Richard Hauer (University of Wisconsin Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources) to evaluate the outcomes, outputs, and impacts of 15 years’ worth of primary basic and applied tree research. The results of this study should be available in early 2019. We also are undertaking an initiative in 2018 to create a more readily searchable, indexed database of research to be freely available on our website (treefund.org), to facilitate access to findings as they come through the academic publication cycle. Finally, we intend to conduct a new research needs evaluation in 2019 to ensure our grant lines are evolving with community needs.

We remain grateful to the faculty members, consultants, field researchers and students who have undertaken the often grueling work associated with tree research over the past 15 years, and for the supporters who have empowered their efforts.  Their work has made, and continues to make, a difference directly to all of us over time — even if our long-lived research subjects require us to watch them patiently and carefully with sharp eyes and careful measurements to ascertain steady, incremental advancement and improvement.

Notes: You may support our work by contributing to endowment or operating funds at the TREE Fund website, here. Thanks to Ward Peterson for his invaluable assistance with this article. Photos taken by J. Eric Smith at Urban Forest Nursery, Mt. Vernon, Washington

2017: Year In Review

We are closing in on the shortest day of the year, and that always puts me in a reflective mood, so how’s about a trawl through 2017 to summarize the year that was, for those interested in such matters. (And if that doesn’t include any of you, well, then at least I’ve given myself a nice summary for future reference. Excelsior!)

ON THE WEB:

I posted 35 thingies (some fiendish) on the blog this year. The number actually surprised me; I would have guessed less. Last year I posted 27 times, though I was working on the short story project, so at least I was producing more long-form stuff than I did this year. In 2015, I posted 77 times. I guess either this blog’s swirling along a slow spiral to oblivion (like most blogs), or this is just the new normal. We’ll see what 2018 brings us. The ten most read new posts here in 2017 were:

The ten old posts that got the most traffic in 2017 were as follows. It’s always fascinating to me which of the 1,000-ish posts that I keep on the blog interest people (or search engines, anyway) the most all these years on . . .

I gave up on Facebook years ago, but I remain active on Twitter. I have learned after a very long time online that accepting or seeking connections just for the sake of doing so is a tool for madness, so I generally ascribe to Dunbar’s Number and try to keep my follows and followers around the 150 level. I am a little high on both fronts right now, so there might be some purging to be done by year’s end. On a political front (while I try not to write about that much here), Tiny Blue Isle is my go-to aggregator for Chicago-oriented progressive stuff. Bonus points for them using my poem as inspiration for their handle. I should also note that a photograph I took during the Chicago Marathon went wildly viral, for all of the wrong/right reasons (depending on whose views you take).

Where I used to regularly read one or more newspapers each morning to get my day started, my train commuting routine now involves three websites, which are almost always refreshed on a daily basis, and which fill the time in a very satisfying fashion as I rumble down the rails from Chicago to Naperville. In the order that I read them each day:

  • The Fall Online Forum: I’ve been a reader here for about 15 years, and an active poster for over a decade. You don’t have to be a fan of legendary English band The Fall to have fun in this forum: it’s high volume, with threads on pretty much everything under the sun, and some things from elsewhere, if you’re willing and able to trawl around a bit. It’s an old school message board, so there’s a nice nostalgia factor in play there, too. (Edit: Literally days after I posted this, the hosting site unilaterally updated the FOF, so now it looks like a typical modern web forum. Phooey!) Recommended, if you need a place to romp and stomp and waste time on the man’s dime. Smart people, passionate and knowledgeable about all sorts of arcana and oddities, and a great place (for me) to get an outside-the-US perspective on what the hell’s going on in the world these days. Plus the time difference between the UK and Chicago means that in the early morning here, I’ve got hours of new posts there to peruse.
  • Thoughts On The Dead: My favorite purveyor of semi-fictionality (have you heard of the concept?) has produced two novels’ worth of utterly stupendous world-building in his ongoing Little Aleppo Chronicles, along with a surrealistic treasure trove of character-based stories, timely satire, and the best writing about everybody’s favorite semi-defunct choogly band to be found in this universe and time stream. And if you nab the time sheath, you might find that it’s the best such writing in any universe or time stream. Try not to commit any felonies if you do that, though, please and thanks. Oh, and Thoughts On The Dead is being considered for an Oscar this year too! Be sure to check out his Christmas List if you visit, and do the right thing, namsain? You don’t want Donate Button to come looking for you.
  • Electoral-Vote Dot Com: I’ve been depending upon (and writing about) this website for my election season news aggregation since 2004, long before some of their more-highly-visible imitators started pilfering their data-driven approach. Normally, after the final counts were tallied in late 2016/early 2017, they would have shut down for a couple of years — but things this year are just so freakin’ weird that they’ve decided to keep rolling with the daily posts, for which I am thankful. There’s lots of political news aggregators out there on the web, and I consider these guys to be the pinnacle of the form. Good data, good sources, no bullshit, solid interpretation. Highly recommended.

TRAVEL

Marcia and I began the year in Reykjavik, watching the citizens of Iceland lose their collective minds in an orgy of fireworks and bonfires. We are going to end 2017 in Key West, with Katelin in tow this time. We were there for New Year’s Eve 2009/2010 as well, and it was a hoot. Here’s hoping that the city is well recovered from its hurricane damage, and that we have a nice warm night for the drag queen drop to marshall us into 2018.

I had tried to travel less for work this year, but it didn’t really quite work out that way, as my annual travel map (including planned holiday travel) indicates:

There were loads of adventures and lots of good work done over the the course of the year, but the particular highlights (beyond Iceland) of 2017 travel included: a family trip to the Netherlands and Belgium (where Katelin got to meet her spirit animal); getting to experience the solar eclipse in the mountains of North Carolina with the extended Smith-Duft families (minus Katelin, alas); a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where I go to see (ZOMFG) The Mothership; and riding the Tour des Trees in and around my old stomping grounds of Washington, DC and Annapolis, where I got to dedicate a Liberty Tree on the grounds of the State Capitol.

Leaving a nicer legacy in Annapolis than I did 30+ years ago. (Me in yellow NAVY cap).

RECORDINGS:

I already published my Best Albums of 2017 (26 years and counting!) and my Most Played Songs of 2017 reports, so probably don’t need to say much more on that front.

FILMS:

We have two good movie theaters within easy walking distance of our apartment, not to mention Amazon Prime and Netflix, so we watched a lot of movies this year. At the time of this writing, here are my Top Ten Films of the Year . . . though I note that I have some Oscar Bait movies to see between now and early January, so this list could change a little bit before the dust settles on the year.

  • Get Out
  • Trainspotting 2
  • mother!
  • The Big Sick
  • A Ghost Story
  • Dunkirk
  • The Disaster Artist
  • The Florida Project
  • Lady Bird
  • The Darkest Hour

Special mention to two epic television experiences that held us bound in front of the screen this year: Amir Bar-Lev’s outstanding Grateful Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip, and David Lynch/Mark Frost’s thrilling and maddening Twin Peaks: The Return. I’m not sure which story was weirder . . .

BOOKS:

Years ago, I summarized my  general book reading habits thusly: 10% Fiction, 40% Natural Science and History, 40% Music Biography, and 10% Tales of Human Suffering. Nothing too far afield in the mix of this year’s Top Ten Books, even if the percentages change, so I remain adamantly predictable in my tastes. (Note that a few of these books came out toward the end of 2016, but I didn’t read them until this year, so I’m recognizing them now):

  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
  • Borne (and The Strange Bird) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
  • Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Erstwhile by Brian Catling
  • The Show That Never Ends: The Rise And Fall of Prog Rock by David Weigel
  • The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (December 2016)
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (December 2016)
  • The Gradual by Christopher Priest (December 2016)

I should note that this list is based on traditional print media output, but if we expand the definition of “book” to include serialized fiction online, then we must also add A Book With No Title by Thoughts On The Dead (see above) to the list.

PERFORMANCES:

We also went to a ton of live performances this year, in a variety of genres and idioms. Rather than break them up into different bits, I list my 15 favorites below, chronologically:

  • Too Hot to Handel, Auditorium Theater, January 15
  • Carmen, Lyric Opera, March 3
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Oriental Theater, March 11
  • Adrian Belew Power Trio, Old Town School, April 1
  • Destiny of Desire, Goodman Theater, April 8
  • Jean-Michel Jarre, Auditorium Theater, May 22
  • U2 and The Lumineers, Soldier Field, June 4
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Auditorium Theater, June 16
  • Paradise Blue, TimeLine Theater, July 15
  • Wire and Noveller, Metro, September 16
  • Rigoletto, Lyric Opera, October 14
  • Giselle, Joffrey Ballet/Auditorium Theater, October 29
  • Pere Ubu and Minibeast, Beat Kitchen, November 18
  • King Crimson, Riverside Theater (Milwaukee), November 26
  • In The Next Room, TimeLine Theater/Stage 773, December 9

ART:

As with so many other things, we’re blessed with a plethora of riches right here in our neighborhood: The Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center are both within 10 minute walks of our apartment, so I visit each of them every few weeks, just because they’re my fave indoor places to go, solo or with friends. Here are the ten art happenings in Chicago that most moved me in 2017 (in no particular order), and those two venues feature most heavily, just because I’ve seen everything they offered in both permanent and temporary exhibitions over the past twelve months.

  • Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsia! Soviet Art Put To The Test, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Along The Lines: Selected Drawings by Saul Steinberg, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chicago Cultural Center
  • Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Ben Shahn: If Not Now, When? Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership
  • Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Scroll, American Writer’s Museum
  • Eugene Eda’s Doors for Malcolm X College, Chicago Cultural Center
  • India Modern: The Painting of M.F. Husain, Art Institute of Chicago

And . . . I guess that’s it! Unless something moves me profoundly to write here in the next couple of weeks, it’ll probably be 2018 when I next check in at the blog. ‘ta ’til then from all of us in The Adventure Family . . .