5 min read

What I'm thinking when I should just be listening to the music

Reflections on a mediocre rock & roll show
What I'm thinking when I should just be listening to the music
Routine Chaos, Basquiat

A quick programming note: I’ve got something more significant in the works and was hoping to send it out today…but it needs a little more TLC, so a bit more of a mishmash today.

I went to see Wilco last night in all their sad dad glory. Because it was neither the best nor worst show I’ve ever seen, it gave me some time to reflect on creative achievement, because even when you see an uninspiring show by a band that has been in the game for 30 years you’re still seeing profoundly accomplished artists at their craft. Here’s what I was thinking:

  • For most people, you can predict pretty well that your obituary will largely focus on your most basic biographical history and your descendants. While it might mention your profession or your employer, none of the work will survive beyond you. Most of what you’ll do with your life will be ephemeral. That’s probably a feature, not a bug.
  • For a small number of people, they can predict pretty well how their obituary will open because at some point they did something sufficiently incredible that it has to be mentioned. You win a Nobel Prize, and that’s probably going in paragraph one.
  • For a small number of that small number, the incredible thing they did happened in the first half of their life.

I am fascinated by that last group. First of all, because they may or may not realize that they’ve done the thing. In the case where an award is given, that probably clears it up…but not necessarily. The Wilco case, I think, is instructive here. Wilco made the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, in my opinion one of the ten greatest albums of all time. When Wilco’s lead singer, Jeff Tweedy, passes away, the obituary is going to dedicate at least an entire paragraph to that album. People will listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for decades after Wilco ceases to be. It is a crowning achievement; but I’m not sure it was evident at the time that it was the pinnacle of Wilco’s career.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wikipedia
Impeccable cover art too. Source

But even so - even if you can recognize that you have reached your professional or creative pinnacle early in your life, where do you go from there? There are so many non-depressing options:

  • Feel the burden lift and experience the freedom to do whatever else you want to do. I would argue this is the Lin-Manuel Miranda, post-Hamilton route.
  • Choose to just not give a damn about external perception of you & your work and keep at it. This is post-Kid A Radiohead.
  • Fade into oblivion. Sadly (for us) this is post-Speakerboxx/The Love Below Outkast.
  • Go after the game beyond the game. This is post-Watch The Throne Jay-Z.
  • Become a global humanitarian, a la post-Joshua Tree Bono.
  • Lean into your own mythos and let your legend become bigger than your work, like post-Purple Rain Prince.

This is a thing that most of us will never actually need to consider, but I do think it’s provocative to consider how we’d approach our lives if we believed that we no longer had anything left to prove.

Speaking of…

Magnus Carlsen is definitely one of those people. I am definitely a sucker for videos where people operating at an elite level demonstrate just how far beyond your imagination their skills are. Would that I could one day be as good at anything as Magnus is at chess…

One of my pet interests is the design & planning of the built environment, especially when it comes to housing & public transit. I’m dropping a few things that have caught my eye lately, but honestly, quick takes don’t even begin to do this topic justice…so, maybe we try a little experiment? If you’re interested in discussing this topic more, let’s see if we can’t pull together some sort of small group, time limited discussion forum (I’m thinking maybe we do a Discord that shuts down after 30 days?). Hit reply on this email, and just type “I’m curious.” If we get even 5 or 6 people, I’ll put something together.

Onto the links…

  • I thought about this video a lot while I was cycling home from dinner at a friend’s house in a Dutch suburb. Historically, the idea of the suburbs has made me shudder, but suburbs + density - car traffic = actually pretty pleasant.

  • 3 in depth articles on novel ways of financing housing.

  • In some ways the articles below are the same article, but the ways that they’re different leave me with a very different taste in my mouth. Migration is a complicated issue…

    • It’s hard not to look at digital nomads as a flavor of globalized gentrification…on the one hand, they are infusing cash into the local economy. On the other hand, if it becomes unaffordable for local people to stay, then it’s hard to see it as a rising tide that lifts all boats.

    • How different is it if the migration is domestic migration within a country? The effects might be similar, but this at least feels like a more familiar phenomenon…though maybe kind of in reverse. We’re accustomed to the idea that people migrate to opportunity. This is more of opportunity migrating. I might be wrong about this, but I find I can more easily believe that this is a form of stimulating growth and spreading the wealth within a country. Once again, though, I wish we could all see housing as a fundamental human right.

  • The intersection of housing & education - the tough road for home-based childcare businesses may be getting easier?