A Song for Sunday with Ron Sexsmith

After trawling the internet for new music over the last few days, and coming up empty handed, I went into the musical vaults and pulled this song from 2002.

It’s by the Canadian Ron Sexsmith, surely one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation. Sexsmith has been writing sophisticated, well-crafted songs for 30 years now but the guy never quite delivered that hit that might have brought him into the mainstream.

This track, ‘These Days’ kicked off ‘Cobblestone Runway’ back in ’02. Great tune with a cool video.


Nick Cave and the Saga of the Fazioli Piano

Fans of Nick Cave’s ‘The Red Hand Files’ will no doubt be enjoying the fiasco surrounding Nick’s experience with Fazioli, the famous piano company. It all started innocently enough, with Nick reporting on a comical attempt his manager made to blag a piano for free:

The events were all described in issue #107 —but little did he know that his loyal tribe would then set about harrassing Fazioli and insisting they give Nick one of their $250,000 pianos. Nick has tried to calm the mob, writing an update to #107 to highlight that the piece he wrote was light-hearted in nature and that he didn’t really expect a piano. It seems the message didn’t get through for yesterday he tried again (#107 part 3) to put a stop to a growing ‘Fazioli’ crowdfunding campaign — even going so far as including this note from a ‘fan’:

As Mike from Birmingham says, “Why don’t you just buy your own fucking piano, you cheap c**t.” Mike is right, God bless him, I really should just buy my own piano.

Love, Nick

Red hand Files #107

Well said Mike from Birmingham!

So why all the fuss over a piano? Well, for the simple reason that these Fazioli’s are reputed to be some of the most magnificent, awe-inspiring instruments ever created. Nick played one on the Idiot Prayer concert and fell in love.

Here’s a track from the concert that started it all. Try this with decent headphones to appreciate the sounds that these pianos can deliver:

Principles: Episode One – The Call to Adventure

In all honesty, the animated series that Ray Dalio put together to supplement his ‘Principles’ may suit many people better than his book. Considerable time, attention and effort has gone into making these videos as clear and actionable as possible — they really are quite an achievement.

Much like Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’, Episode One is the all important ‘Call to Adventure’.

In this first episode, Dalio introduces himself and speaks of his early recognition of the need for principles, which he describes as ‘smart ways for handling things that happen over and over again in similar situations’. These principles, he says, were developed over a life time of ‘making mistakes and reflecting on them’.

He makes it clear that each person must independently decide what is ‘true’ before determining the principles that will set us on the right course. Having clear principles that align with our individual values increases our chances of making the type of decisions that create a successful life.

William Irving (in ‘A Guide to the Good Life’) believes that people need a personal philosophy of life to insure that they don’t ‘mislive’ and these principles could be seen in a similar way. In these times of digital noise and complication— positive, over-arching life principles really can make a difference.

Everyone will (and should) have a different set of life principles and these videos set that process in motion. So without further ado, here’s episode one:

The Story of Peter Frampton’s ‘54 Les Paul Deluxe

Who doesn’t love a good lost and found story!

Here’s one that follows the changing fortunes of Frampton’s legendary 1954 Les Paul Deluxe.

Frampton switched between a few guitars early on in his career but ended up with a particularly feedback-prone Gibson 335. After a Humble Pie gig in 1970 a guy in the audience called Mark Mariana lent him a Les Paul, and eventually gave it to him. The guitar was played on the hugely successful ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ tour and record, and it became central to Frampton’s sound through the 70s.

But while on tour in South America in 1980 the band’s cargo plane crashed and the guitar was assumed to be lost forever.

Miraculously though, the guitar had survived…

Someone had managed to pull it from the wreckage. A guitar tech in Venezuela identified it during a routine set-up nearly 30 years later. After a few years of negotiation (the guy who had the guitar didn’t want to sell) the guitar was finally returned to Frampton in 2011. After a few repairs in the Gibson custom shop the ‘54 Les Paul is back to its best, to the obvious delight of Frampton:

“I am still in a state of shock, first off, that the guitar even exists, let alone that it has been returned to me. I know I have my guitar back, but I will never forget the lives that were lost in this crash. I am so thankful for the efforts of those who made this possible … and, now that it is back I am going insure it for 2 million dollars and it’s never going out of my sight again! It was always my No. 1 guitar and it will be reinstated there as soon as possible. Some minor repairs are needed. And, I just can’t wait to get Mark Mariana on the phone.”

Peter Frampton on NPR

Frampton tells us the story of the guitar below:

‘Car Crash’ Interview Sets up Presidential Debates

In interview Joe Biden, comes across as frail, distracted, forgetful, confused and generally unfit to participate in a genuine discussion. How he got the nomination is anyone’s guess. With the three election debates looming, it seems hard to imagine that Trump won’t come off looking the much stronger candidate — catastrophic news for coming election.

However yesterday, a glimmer of hope. Beyond the bluster and manipulative soundbites, Trump is nearly as incompetent in interview as Biden. Johnathan Swan of Axios exposed Trump as unprepared to respond to the softest push back. He flapped about with papers, gave baffling, circular answers and declared that in numerous categories domestic covid-19 cases were “lower than the world”. The resulting facial expressions of Swan were priceless:

Jonathan Swan's Face Is the 2020 Meme We Needed ...

This is what happens when Trump doesn’t get prepped on questions first and an interviewer can push back just a little.

By any objective measure these coming debates will be ridiculous debacles with two of the least impressive politicians in the history of the world going head to head. Just how bad will these debates be? Let’s set expectations low, get the popcorn ready and prepare for some high entertainment!

Here’s yesterday interview in full, the comical charts come out at 13:20:

Book 31: Principles – Ray Dalio

Over 40 years, Ray Dalio grew the investment firm Bridgewater Associates from a one-man operation out of a modest two-bedroom house to being one of the most successful companies in America (currently managing $138 billion USD in assets). ‘Principles’ is Dalio’s philosophy of life and work. He shares here the essence of his accumulated knowledge and in the introduction he explains why:

I’m passing along these principles because I am now at a stage in my life in which I want to help others be successful rather than to be more successful myself. Because these principles have helped me and others so much, I want to share them with you.

Ray Dalio, Principles P.ix

Going in, I was unsure how much value I would get out of the book. I have zero interest in the world of investing and global finance, but based on some positive reviews I expected some of the principles to be broadly transferable. As it turns out, I found this book to be quite extraordinary.

‘Principles’ is divided into three parts, roughly of equal length: a memoir, life principles and work principles. As we move through the sections Dalio’s principles are introduced, developed, reintroduced, extended until a comprehensive world view emerges. ‘Radical transparency’ and ‘the idea meritocracy’ lie at the heart of these principles but guiding them is a strong systems approach built on incremental improvement.

This is a book to revisit and reflect on. Granted the ‘work principles’ section is heavily focused on the workplace and may not interest every reader but even there I found value in his thinking. In any case this is an important, potentially life-changing book and as such I’m going to use this blog to understand it better. Dalio created a series of 8 short animations that summarise the essential elements of the book and I’m to share each of them in the coming days.

For now let me just say that ‘Principles’ is a monumental achievement and highly recommended.

The Story of Leon Fleisher

Leon Fleisher was an American pianist who rose to early fame in the ’50s. He was described as the ‘pianistic find of the century’ and looked to have a bright future ahead. However disaster stuck in the mid ’60s when the fingers of Fleisher’s right hand seized up in a condition that became known as focal dystonia. Fleisher fell into a deep, suicidal depression but recovered with the discovery of a concert repertoire for the left hand, which included compositions by Ravel and Prokofiev. He began to play again and also started parallel careers in conducting and music education. Through this time Fleisher sought every available treatment but none proved effective.

Finally, in the early 90s with an experimental combination of rolfing (deep tissue massage) and botox injections, Fleisher’s right hand was restored. His album ‘Two Hands’ (where I first heard his playing) was released in 2004 to widespread critical acclaim.

Leon Fleisher - Leon Fleisher: Two Hands - Amazon.com Music

He choose Bach’s understated ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ as the first piece on the album:

For me Fleiser’s triumph over adversity always added poignancy to this record. Just imagine the countless times he must have rehearsed these performances in his head, to then, some 30 years later, be given to opportunity to play them. His heart and soul is in this music.

In this short interview with PBS news hour, Fleisher discusses his career and the experiences that restored him:

Leon Fleisher died yesterday in Baltimore, aged 92 years old.

A Song for Sunday with Other Lives

More new music for you, this time from American indie band ‘Other Lives’.

This track, ‘The Sound of Violence’ is curiously low-fi and somehow sophisticated at the same time. The vocal, pitched somewhere between Nick Cave and Alex Turner (Artic Monkeys), sits front and centre and carries the songs but other touches add the interest —there’s strings throughout that sound like a 50s soundtrack, and a little rhythmic stutter in the chorus (a single bar of 3/8 into 6/8) that make the track just that little bit different.

All in all, a lush, brooding track.

Have a listen and see what you think:

Steve Jobs

Shortly after posting last week on closed-mindedness, I remembered this video of Steve Jobs.

Jobs was a man of rare gifts, and in this short clip he responds to sharp criticism with humility, curiosity and respect. Responding in this way, without becoming defensive and evasive, is a difficult task for the best of us. One of the signs of closed-mindedness is the inability to hold two conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time, but just watch how Jobs handles his response here —thoroughly impressive:

Is there Life on Mars…

Back in ’71, David Bowie asked the question….

Now, 49 years later, NASA are finally following up.

Yes, yesterday they successfully launched their most ambitious mission to Mars yet — a 2.4 billion dollar enterprise with the specific goal of answering the question of whether life exists on Mars

Remember that 3.5 billion years ago Mars was covered in water. The Mars rover ‘Curiosity’ confirmed the possibility of life and now the super high-tech ‘Perseverance’ rover to is barreling through space to answer the question.

Here’s an overview of NASA’s newest rover:

Following on from successful Mars’ missions from the UAE and China this is the third mission to Mars in a matter of weeks, (after 7 in the previous 13 years) this video explains why:

Onward to Mars!