This weekend I'd like to take a moment to give thanks for a few small things. Perhaps it isn't great masterpieces and monumental wonders that make the world spin, but weird surprises, stupid jokes, and little touches that make you smile for a second.
1. Count Basie's orchestra playing an instrumental version of "Makin' Whoopee" on the Sinatra at the Sands album.
Thank gods [sic], I've found it on the youtubes. This is one of my all-time favorite recordings of anything ever. The swing is so deep as to basically re-invent the Western eighth note. Can you hear how far the band lingers behind the beat, and yet stays together? And enhancing the poignancy, you can hear the crowd talking, the clinking of glasses; they're not really paying attention. Sinatra has just left the stage to take a break; the audience is taking a break too. And yet the band pours everything into this tune. My high school jazz band director hipped us to this recording and said he'd never tired of listening to it. Neither have I.
2. Wikipedia pages about 13th-century mystics.
Check out what Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 - c. 1327) said about preaching and how much it resonates with contemporary mystically-influenced thought about music-making: "When I preach, I usually speak of detachment and say that a man should be empty of self and all things..." Evidently this guy emphasized the presence of God in the individual soul. He was also succeeded by "more circumspect disciples," and after his excommunication scholars continued to circulate his texts under the guise of appended pseudonyms.
I love this kind of stuff. On a related, wiki-clicking note, anyone know how many "antipopes" there were between 200 and 1500? More than you'd expect. The concept of an "antipope" offers a blessedly whimsical challenge to my 21st-century understanding of the world. (That we should actually need a wiki for such an idea!)
3. The "Tiny Dancer" scene from Almost Famous.
I mean, come on. This movie came out in 2000; was it a last gasp for '90s idealism? It's such a warm film, with such a refreshing lack of self-awareness. You've got to build up some serious goodwill in your audience to get away with a scene like the "Tiny Dancer" singalong. What movie lately has even tried something like this?
4. This guy:
Jose Mujica, the president of Uruguay, lives on a run-down farm with a three-legged dog, drives an old Volkswagen Beetle, and gives 90% of his salary to charity. He was recently dubbed by international media as the "world's poorest president," but he disagrees with this characterization:
"Poor people are those who always want more and more, those who never have enough of anything. Those are the poor, because they are in a never-ending cycle and won't ever have enough time in their lives. I choose this austere lifestyle. I choose to not have too many belongings so I have time to live how I want to live."
I was immediately taken with this person and his example; most people seem to respond to him with immediate skepticism. The BBC radio story closed with the interviewer saying, with thinly veiled condescension, "at least he's interesting." I have no idea if he's a good president; I wouldn't claim to understand the first thing about Uruguayan politics. But considering for a moment the incredible spending that goes into American presidential elections, and considering the bizarre--nearly surrealistic--progression in our country from Thanksgiving to "Black Friday," I find this gentleman a wonderful corrective.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts