It was quite something, the proceedings did not disappoint, here is the YouTube:
I can’t fully access video from this airport location, but I believe the actual debate starts at around 1:06. After the debate proper, a particular highlight is the four video questions that were taped and sent in from humanities academics.
The Holberg people put on a great event.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
Focus on whether the merchandise contributes to further understanding, one way or another, rather than whether it might embody evil.
This principle runs counter to how the world of social media works, I realize. “Cancel culture” tends to issue decisions based on the worst aspects of a product, writer or public figure, because that is what is endlessly circulated and condemned. But there is another way of thinking about the problem — namely, by focusing on the positive.
It is still possible, for example, to buy Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” on Amazon, either through third-party merchants or Amazon itself. That book is more offensive than an Auschwitz bottle opener, as it directly calls for the extermination of the Jews and the conquest of Europe, and it probably still inspires neo-Nazis today. Nonetheless, I hope “Mein Kampf” continues to be for sale.
For all of its evil, “Mein Kampf” is an essential document for understanding the rise of Nazism and Hitler. As such, it should be allowed in spite of its potential downside. There is both intrinsic and utilitarian value in maximizing public access to as much knowledge as possible.
In contrast, it is hard to argue that an Auschwitz-themed mouse pad has anything positive to offer, whether to our historical knowledge or otherwise. At best, it is an act of obnoxious trolling and thus it was appropriate for Amazon to take it down.
It is fine to watch Leni Riefenstahl and listen to Richard Strauss, for instance. But most private platforms — if they can — should ban sheer trolls.
I was 11 years old when I asked my mum for piano lessons, in 2010. We were in the fallout of the recession and she’d recently been made redundant. She said a polite “no”.
That didn’t deter me. I Googled the dimensions of a keyboard, drew the keys on to a piece of paper and stuck it on my desk. I would click notes on an online keyboard and “play” them back on my paper one – keeping the sound they made on the computer in my head. After a while I could hear the notes in my head while pressing the keys on the paper. I spent six months playing scales and chord sequences without touching a real piano. Once my mum saw it wasn’t a fad, she borrowed some money from family and friends, and bought me 10 lessons.
I still remember the first one. I was struck by how organic the sound of the piano was, as I had become familiar with the artificial electronic sound. The teacher tried to explain where middle C was but I could already play all the major and minor scales, as well as tonic and dominant functions, and the circle of fifths.
Here is the full story by Andrew Garrido. Via Ian Leslie.
There have been two clear favorites:
Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, with “You should see me in a crown” as the favorite song.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer. At first I thought this was a good pop album, but it kept getting better and better.
My favorite rap album this year was Tyler the Creator, IGOR.
I see the last few years of popular music as supporting my basic take that there are more good songs in a year than ever before, but fewer breakthrough new concept albums or musical styles than in say 1963-1992 or so.
What do you all recommend?
This year I also enjoyed:
Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret, The Other Side of Air.
Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings.
Two out of three picks being women is unusual for jazz, but for the better. I will note that I do not select on the basis of “quotas,” so what I list is truly what I am recommending.
I’ll also stick by my view that current times are the very best for jazz, ever, even though jazz is no longer culturally central and Miles Davis is dead. Your ability to see an amazing jazz concert for less than $50 — often much less — and from top-quality seats has never been greater. Jazz music represents an amazing arbitrage opportunity (unlike paying through the nose to see either Taylor Swift or Boomer classic rock groups), at least if you know what you are doing and you have access to the proper cities, most of all NYC but by no means only.
Here is the audio and transcript, this was one of the “most different” Conversations with Tyler and also one of the most interesting. Here is part of the summary introduction:
Shaka joined Tyler to discuss his book Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison, what it was like to return to society not knowing the difference between the internet and a Word document, entrepreneurialism and humor in prison, the unexpected challenges formerly incarcerated people face upon release, his ideas for helping Detroit, what he connects with in Eastern philosophy, how he’s celebrating the upcoming anniversary of his tenth year of freedom, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
SENGHOR: Early, when I first went to prison, you can get all types of books. As I got deeper into my prison sentence, they started banning a lot of those books. Malcolm’s book is probably one of the most popular books in prison because it’s, to me, the one book about personal transformation that just permeates that environment. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, Native American, whatever. It’s something about his redemptive story that just resonates with people who are incarcerated.
Oftentimes, we exchanged books with each other, and we would buy books. I would order books from different outlets that sold books to men and women in prison. The prison library — it varies from prison to prison. Some are better than others.
Back in the day, you used to get books donated by people. They will have estates, and they would just say, “Hey, let’s donate these to the local prison.” But now it’s becoming more and more restrictive in terms of what you can read, specifically around books that reflect black culture, which was really something that was shocking to me.
A lot of those books I read in the early stages of my incarceration are now banned. You can’t get Donald Goines books the way that you used to. Their excuse is that it talks about crime and things like that. But I’m like, “You can’t get that, but you can get Stephen King, which is murder and mayhem.”
COWEN: Can you get Shakespeare? That’s also murder and mayhem.
SENGHOR: Yeah, murder and mayhem. Yeah, you can definitely get all the Shakespearean classics and things like that. This just reflects the contradictions in larger society.
COWEN: I think you were seven years total in solitary, in one period of four years running. Toward the end of that four-year period, did you feel like you were going crazy? Or did you have some greater, stoic sense of calm?
COWEN: The individuals who are incarcerated — what are their senses of humor like? Is it different on the inside or just the same? Are they funnier?
SENGHOR: It is probably one of the most fascinating, quick-witted spaces you can imagine. I did an interview some years back with Trevor Noah, and I remember telling him like, “Prison is hilarious.” And he was like, “No, no, no. That doesn’t seem like quite a good narrative.” [laughs] But what I would always explain to people is that you can’t survive that environment without the ability to laugh at the absurdity of it, the ability to laugh at the craziness of it, the creativity of it.
And you have some brilliant, brilliant comedians in that environment. There’s actually a comedian who’s free now, Ali Siddiq, who’s just an incredible storyteller, and he’s a great comedian. And that talent is abundant in that environment. Guys crack jokes all the time. The officers crack jokes. It’s one of the things that is universal — laughter — and you need that in order to survive hardship.
My favorite part of the dialogue starts with this:
COWEN: It seems to me, from my great distance, that a lot of men in prison have women on the outside who are very strongly attracted to them. How do you think about that? Why do you think there’s a special attraction to men in prison?
His answer was excellent, but too long to reproduce here.
We are approaching the year-end “best of” lists, so why not start with the one you care about least? I had a very good year for classical music listening, with the following as new discoveries:
John Cage, Two2, by Mark Knoop and Philip Thomas, now perhaps my favorite Cage work?
Alvin Curran, Endangered Species, two CDs of jazz and popular song classics but done with piano distortion, plenty of spills and turns, a genuinely successful hybrid product.
James Tenney, Changes: 64 Studies for Two Harps, more listenable than you might think.
As for old classics, the Marek Janowski recording of Bruckner’s 4th is my favorite in a crowded (and impressive) field, recommended as a Bruckner introduction too.
This year I also started to enjoy Szymanowski for the first time, though that remains a work in progress.
I usually do a Fanfare meta-list, namely the recordings recommended the most by the critics of this outlet for classical music reviews. This year there were three clear winners represented on the lists of multiple reviewers:
Poul Ruders, The Thirteenth Child (Danish opera, sung in English).
Feodor Chaliapin, The Complete Recordings, 13 CDs (not my thing).
Wilhelm Furtwängler, The Radio Recordings, 1939-1945 [sic]. James Altena writes: “…layers of aural varnish have been stripped away to uncover the true glories of one incandescent performance after another, from the conductor’s most inspired period of music-making during the horrors of the Nazi regime and World War II.” Other critics concur, so political correctness has not yet come to classical music reviewing. If you are reluctant to spend so much money, you can always try the Furtwängler 1942 “Hitler’s birthday” recording of Beethoven’s 9th and see how offended you feel. So far I can’t bring myself to buy this one. (By the way, even the Nazis still played Fritz Kreisler’s cadenza to the Beethoven violin concerto…Kreisler was Jewish).
I’ll turn to other musical genres soon.
Here is the audio and transcript, the chat centered around music, including Ted’s new and fascinating book Music: A Subversive History. We talk about music and tech, the Beatles, which songs and performers we are embarrassed to like, whether jazz still can be cool, Ted’s family background, why restaurants are noisier, why the blues are disappearing, Elton John, which countries are underrated for their musics, whether anyone loves the opera, whether musical innovation is still possible, and much much more. Here are some excerpts:
GIOIA: …Spotify still isn’t profitable. I believe Spotify will become profitable, but they’re going to do it by putting the squeeze on people. Musicians will suffer even more, probably, in the future than they have in the past. What’s good for Spotify is not good for the whole music ecosystem.
Let me make one more point here. I think it’s very important. If you go back a few years ago, there was a value chain in music — started with the musician, worked for the record label. The records went to the record distributor. They went to the retailer, who sold the record to the consumer. At that point, everybody in that chain had a vested interest in a healthy music ecosystem in which people enjoyed songs. The more people enjoyed songs, the better business was for everybody.
That chain has been broken now. Apple would give away songs for free to sell devices. They don’t care about the viability of the music subeconomy. For them, it could be a loss leader. Google doesn’t care about music. They would give music away for free to sell ads. In fact, they do that on YouTube.
The fundamental change here is, you now have a distribution system for music in which some of the players do not have a vested interest in the broader musical experience and ecosystem. This is tremendously dangerous, and that’s the real reason why I fear the growth of streaming, is because the people involved in streaming don’t like music.
COWEN: Do you think music today is helping the sexual revolution or hurting it? Speaking of Prince…
GIOIA: It’s very interesting. There’s market research and focus groups about how people use music in their day-to-day life. Take, for example, this: you’re going to bring a date back to your apartment for a romantic dinner. So what do you worry about?
Well, the first thing I have to worry about is, my place is a mess. I’ve got to clean it up. That’s number one. The second thing you worry about is, what food am I going to fix? But number three on people’s list — when you interview them — is the music because they understand the music is going to seal the deal. If there’s going to be something really romantic, that music is essential.
People will agonize for hours over which music to play. I think that we miss this. People view music as distance from people’s everyday life. But in fact, people put music to work every day, and one of the premier ways they do it is in romance.
COWEN: Let’s say you were not married, and you’re 27 years old, and you’re having a date over. What music do you put on in 2019 under those conditions?
GIOIA: It’s got to always be Sinatra.
COWEN: Because that is sexier? It’s generally appealing? It’s not going to offend anyone? Why?
GIOIA: I must say up front, I am no expert on seduction, so you’re now getting me out of my main level of expertise. But I would think that if you were a seducer, you would want something that was romantic on the surface but very sexualized right below that, and no one was better at these multilayered interpretations of lyrics than Frank Sinatra.
I always call them the Derrida of pop singing because there was always the surface level and various levels that you could deconstruct. And if you are planning for that romantic date, hey, go for Frank.
There is much more at the link, interesting throughout, and again here is Ted’s new book.
From Alex X.:
With the decade coming to a close, I would be curious on everyone’s favorite of the decade [gives list of categories]:
Without too much pondering, here is what comes to mind right away:
Film: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, or A Touch of Sin. Might Winter Sleep by next? It was probably the best decade ever for foreign movies, the worst decade ever for Hollywood movies (NYT).
Blockbuster/action film: Transformers 4? Big screen only, live or die by CGI!
Album: Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Single: I don’t see an obvious, non-derivative pick here that really stands out. Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” probably is the mainstream choice, but do I ever go over to the stereo to put it on? Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel” is another option, but is it such a big step beyond Prince? Lorde or Beyonce? LCD Soundsystem seems more about the entire album, same for Frank Ocean. Something from Kanye’s Yeezus? To pull a dark horse option out of the hat, how about Gillian Welch, “The Way It Goes“? Or Death Grips “Giving Bad People Good Ideas“? I’ve spent enough time on Twitter that I have to opt for that one.
TV Show: Srugim, Borgen, The Americans.
Single Season: Selections from same, you know which seasons.
Book Fiction: The Ferrante quadrology and Houllebecq’s Submission.
Book Non Fiction: Knausgaard, volumes I and II.
Athlete of the Decade: Stephen Curry or Lebron James.
What are your picks?
An excellent episode, here is the audio and transcript. We ranged far and wide, starting with Huawei and weaponized interdependence, moving later to the Facebook supreme court, Karl Polanyi, Ireland, and Gene Wolfe and Philip K. Dick. Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Arguably, dominant firms are easier to regulate. And since you seem to favor some kinds of additional regulation on the major tech companies, does this mean we’re too worried about monopoly, that we actually want to keep around a few dominant firms, and that if we split them up into many small parts, there would be more chaos or more fake news or more privacy violations?
If some parts of what they do are bad, and you get more competition in the bad, don’t we just want to put in GDPR barriers to entry, not quite public utilities, but keep them big and fat and happy and somewhat not so dynamic, yes or no?
FARRELL: It depends on what you value.
COWEN: But what you value.
FARRELL: Yeah. Let me put the tradeoff to you this way. If you value security, if the highlight is on security, then the answer is, you probably want to keep big companies around because you’re going to want to impose broad standards. You’re going to want to create collective security goods, and the only actors that can really do that in a substantial way are big businesses of one sort or another.
If, alternatively, you value things like privacy and other kinds of rights, then you probably want to move towards an equilibrium in which there are far, far fewer big firms. So that’s where I see the fight being played out. I see the fight being played out between people who value security and people who value privacy. I think they point in somewhat different directions.
COWEN: And where are you on that spectrum?
FARRELL: Well, it depends on the time of the day, and I find myself —
COWEN: It is 2:22 p.m.
FARRELL: Well, I guess the question for me is — and again, this is a wide open question because we simply don’t have enough good empirical research — but what is the relationship and the broader ecology between companies like 8chan and companies like Facebook? I suspect that companies like 8chan will be far, far less successful if there weren’t much bigger platforms like Facebook that they could effectively grow upon.
So here are the arguments, something as follows. If you think about 8chan, and if you think about 4chan before it, they were basically meme factories. They were basically these places where these bored individuals hung out. You also created these memes in a kind of process of frenzied Darwinian evolution, where you desperately want to make sure that whatever you had said was on the front page because otherwise it would disappear forever. So you’ve got this survival-of-the-fittest thing, where incredibly valuable or incredibly effective memes go out and begin to populate the entire space.
But you need two things for that to work. First of all, you need a process of generation, and secondly, you need some kind of process of dissemination. You need other platforms which have far greater reach, which can then allow for these memes to propagate through the atmosphere.
I suspect that if we were in a world in which everything was at the scale of 8chan, rather than having a mixture of companies at the scale of 8chan and companies at the scale of Facebook, that the likelihood of this stuff spreading and becoming epidemic across the entire community of internet users would be far, far less. Obviously, we would have other problems then. But I think that the problems that we would face would be a very, very different set of problems from the problems that we face in the current environment.
FARRELL: Yes. [Gene] Wolfe misleads us systematically, and clearly Severian is not a reliable narrator, but then neither is Proust’s narrator either. I think that if you really want to understand where Wolfe comes from, it really is Proust. His writing style is Proustian. His concern with time, with how it is that time works, is quintessentially Proustian.
And you don’t look to Wolfe any more than you look to other science fiction for characterization. I don’t think that’s the particular strength. What you do look for is a kind of a sense of the world. And in Wolfe, in particular, he provides this real understanding of how it is that the workings of society, and interestingly, conservative understanding of the workings of society.
I think of him almost as being Proust in reverse. Proust is describing a world in which the modern world is overtaking aristocracy. And that clearly is one of the great problems of Proust, what is happening on the social level. You have all of these aristocratic understandings: the Merovingian, all of these histories, all of these castles, all of this wonderful art, and they are being replaced by the modern world with its telephones, with its electric lighting, and so on.
And how do you think about this? How would you try to preserve what was happening in the past? What Wolfe does, which I think is an extraordinarily interesting thing, which would be impossible for anybody who is not a science fiction writer, is to take that and to reverse this and to imagine a world in which modernity has disappeared.
Truly an excellent episode, Ben is an author and journalist. Here is the audio and transcript, covering most of all the opioid epidemic and rap music, but not only.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: But if so much fentanyl comes from China, and you can just send it through the mail, why doesn’t it spread automatically wherever it’s going to go? Is it some kind of recommender network? It wouldn’t seem that it’s a supply constraint. It’s more like someone told you about a restaurant they ate at last night.
WESTHOFF: It’s because the Mexican cartels are still really strongly in the trade. Even though it’s all made in China, much of it is trafficked through the cartels, who buy the precursors, the fentanyl ingredients, from China, make it the rest of the way. Then they send it through the border into the US.
You can get fentanyl in the mail from China, and many people do. It comes right to your door through the US Postal Service. But it takes a certain level of sophistication with the drug dealers to pull that off.
COWEN: It’s such a big life decision, and it’s shaped by this very small cost of getting a package from New Hampshire to Florida. What should we infer about human nature as a result of that? What’s your model of the human beings doing this stuff if those geographic differences really make the difference for whether or not you do this and destroy your life?
WESTHOFF: Well, everything is local, right? Not just politics. You’re influenced by the people around you and the relative costs. In St. Louis, it’s so incredibly cheap, like $5 to get some heroin, some fentanyl. I don’t know how it works in, say, New Hampshire, but I know in places like West Virginia, it’s still a primarily pill market. People don’t use powdered heroin, for example. For whatever reason, they prefer Oxycontin. So that has affected the market, too.
COWEN: Did New Zealand do the right thing, legalizing so many synthetic drugs in 2013?
WESTHOFF: I absolutely think they did. It was an unprecedented thing. Now drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, all the drugs you’ve heard of, are internationally banned. But what New Zealand did was it legalized these forms of synthetic marijuana. So synthetic marijuana has a really bad reputation. It goes by names like K2 and Spice, and it’s big in homeless populations. It’s causing huge problems in places like DC.
But if you make synthetic marijuana right, as this character in my book named Matt Bowden was doing in New Zealand, you can actually make it so it’s less toxic, so it’s somewhat safe. That’s what he did. They legalized these safer forms of it, and the overdose rate plummeted. Very shortly thereafter, however, they banned them again, and now deaths from synthetic marijuana in New Zealand have gone way up.
COWEN: And what about Portugal and Slovenia — their experiments in decriminalization? How have those gone?
WESTHOFF: By all accounts, they’ve been massive successes. Portugal had this huge problem with heroin, talking like one out of every 100 members of the population was touched by it, or something like that. And now those rates have gone way down.
In Slovenia, they have no fentanyl problem. They barely have an opioid problem. Their rates of AIDS and other diseases passed through needles have gone way down.
And on rap music:
COWEN: This question is maybe a little difficult to explain, but wherein lies the musical talent of hip-hop? If we look at Mozart, there’s melody, there’s harmony. If you listen to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, it’s something very specifically rhythmic, and the textures, and the organization of the blocks of sound. The poetry aside, what is it musically that accounts for the talent in rap music?
WESTHOFF: First of all, riding a beat, rapping, if you will, is extremely hard, and anyone who’s ever tried to do it will tell you. You have to have the right cadence. You have to have the right breath control, and it’s a talent. There’s also — this might sound trivial, but picking the right music to rap over.
So hip-hop, of course, is a genre that’s made up of other genres. In the beginning, it was disco records that people used. And then jazz, and then on and on. Rock records have been rapped over, even. But what song are you going to pick to use? And if someone has a good ear for a sound that goes with their style, that’s something you can’t teach.
And yes on overrated vs. underrated, you get Taylor Swift, Clint Eastwood, and Seinfeld, among others. I highly recommend all of Ben’s books, but most of all his latest one Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic.
I will be doing a Conversation with Ted, no associated public event. He is a musician and most of all a music historian, above all for jazz and blues, with numerous excellent books on those topics.
Gioia was raised in a Sicilian-Mexican household in Hawthorne, California, a working class neighborhood in the South-Central area of Los Angeles. Gioia was valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar at Hawthorne High School, and attended Stanford University. There he received a degree in English (graduating with honors and distinction), served as editor of Stanford’s literary magazine, Sequoia, and wrote regularly for the Stanford Daily. He was a member of Stanford’s College Bowl team, which was featured on television, and defeated Yale in the national finals. Gioia also worked extensively as a jazz pianist during this period, and designed and taught a class on jazz at Stanford while still an undergraduate.
After graduation, Gioia received a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University, where he graduated with first class honors. He then received an MBA from Stanford University.
Gioia has enjoyed successes in the worlds of music, writing and business. In the business world, Gioia has consulted to Fortune 500
companies while working for McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group. He helped Sola International complete an LBO and IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in the 1990s. He has undertaken business projects in 25 countries on five continents, and has managed large businesses (up to $200 million in revenues). While working amidst the venture capital community on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, Gioia stood out from the crowd as the “guy with the piano in his office.”
His knowledge of varied musical genres is virtually without parallel. So what should I ask Ted?
2. Qawwali performers: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Sabri Brothers, and try this French collection of Qawwali music.
3. Author/novel: Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. I am not sure why this book isn’t better known. It is better than even the average of the better half of the Booker Prize winners. Why doesn’t he write more?
4. Dish: Haleem: “Haleem is made of wheat, barley, meat (usually minced beef or mutton (goat meat or Lamb and mutton) or chicken), lentils and spices, sometimes rice is also used. This dish is slow cooked for seven to eight hours, which results in a paste-like consistency, blending the flavors of spices, meat, barley and wheat.”
6. Economic reformer: Manmohan Singh.
7. Economist: Atif Mian, born in Nigeria to a Pakistani family.
8. Textiles: Wedding carpets from Sindh?
I don’t follow cricket, sorry!
Samantha Power has a new and excellent book out, The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, which I very much enjoyed. And so a Conversation with Tyler was in order, here is the audio and transcript, here is one bit:
COWEN: For a final closing segment, I just have some super simple questions about foreign policy again. Over the course of the last summer, Iran apparently seized two British tankers. There’ve been other incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in some way connected with Iran. From a game-theoretic point of view, why would they do this? Why does this make sense?
POWER: Well, the one thing that they would know that would give them some point of leverage is the extreme war fatigue within the United States, and really within the Western world. So, by upping the stakes, arguably — I mean, who knows why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing?
But by upping the stakes, they arguably could be sending a signal like, “You want to get in this game? It’s not as if we’re an island and you can just break the deal, penalize us gratuitously, penalize the people who are still trying to maintain the terms of the deal, and that there won’t be collateral consequences outside the nuclear space.”
Because the nuclear consequences, as they begin to enrich and violate the terms of the deal — having legitimately argued that we had violated the terms of the deal — the effects of those are not day-to-day effects in the news world. It’s a bit abstract for the public and even for policymakers. It’s an incremental abrogation.
But acts like this show that they have leverage, that they are active militarily in parts of the world where we have a vested interest in maintaining freedom of navigation. So I think they’re showing that they can hit in domains outside the nuclear domain. I think that is probably what they’re doing.
Here is another segment:
COWEN: In which ways do you feel your thought is in some manner still Irish in orientation in a way that would distinguish you from, say, American-born individuals?
POWER: It’s hard to know because I can’t run the counterfactual, so I don’t know what’s just because my mother is a physician and very empathetic toward her patients, and do I learn from that? Or am I moved by having come from a small country, at that time a poor country, that was sending —
COWEN: With a history of oppression, right?
POWER: With a history of oppression, with a history of the dignity of its people being trampled. Is that why I care so much about individual dignity? Again, I can’t run the history a different way.
COWEN: Very simple — are baseball games too long? Why not make it 7 innings?
POWER: Why not make it 12?
COWEN: It’s boring, right?
POWER: For you and, as it turns out, for others.
COWEN: For me. So many games are over 3 hours. Shouldn’t the game be 2 hours, 17 minutes?
We also cover her first impressions of America, being a wartime correspondent, China and Iraq, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, van Morrison vs. Bob Dylan, robot empires vs. robot umpires, her favorite novel, how personal one should get in a memoir and why, and German defense spending, among other topics.
No, I don’t mean Proust, Cervantes, or the Bible. I mean Dave Marsh’s The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.
To be sure, it is not the greatest book qua book, or even in the top tier (though it is very good and Marsh is very smart and knowledgeable).
It is possible it has become the greatest book of all time because of YouTube. Scroll through the pithy, one-page or sometimes even one-paragraph reviews of the various songs, and play them on YouTube while you are reading.
I had not known of Marvin Gaye’s “One More Heartache,” or Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” Nor had I known the live version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from 1966 (though is it really “Slurred and obtuse as Little Richard reading Ezra Pound”?). I heard again many favorites as well.
Let’s be honest, amusia aside, do not humans love music more than books? By no means does everyone read, but virtually everyone listens to music, and with some degree of passion. It therefore follows that “book + music” is better than book, right? Whatever virtues the book may have are still contained in “book + music,” or more generally “book + YouTube.”
Have we now entered an age where all or most of the very best books are part of “books + YouTube”?
Of course I’m not trying to sell you on music or for that matter on Dave Marsh. What about reading Abraham Pais, Niels Bohr’s Times: In Physics, Philosophy, and Polity, accompanied by these videos? Might the possibility of YouTube combination make that the 37th best book of all time, displacing Braudel or Flaubert?
Should not at least 2/3 of your reading be books accompanied by YouTube? And if not, why not?
Inquiring minds wish to know. Perhaps there is a book accompanied by YouTube that gives the answer?
Is a quality book better or worse if there is no useful way to combine it with YouTube?