Aug 10, 2009

Follow the crumbs

I'm reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, the latest in a string of non-fiction books that started...well, I'm not sure when.

As a musician (and a former radio announcer with a jazz show) I'd always disdained talk radio. I figured that on the radio, anything but music was a waste of time. But having XM and hearing that Bob Edwards was coming on, having been unceremoniously dismissed from NPR, I thought I'd give
XMPR a try. Might have been day two or three of listening when I caught him interviewing Malcolm Gladwell on his new book, Blink. Something clicked in my brain and it was like a reset button back to 1966, before I discovered drugs and alcohol. I drove straight to the nearest Barnes and Noble and bought the book, and one thing led to another.

Which is a way of saying the breadcrumbs seemed to appear before me. My curiosity led me down the oddest paths. Book after book, website after website, unable to stop but not wanting to...and yet wondering just why I felt compelled to pursue ideas with, as Frank Zappa might have termed it, No Commercial Potential. At least for me, a 50-something bookkeeper struggling to stay alive in a crashing economy. I mean, so what if I think Gladwell has some Neat Ideas. Does anyone really care?

And then this week I had an insight. Imagine that, insight. I guess there are still a few brain cells left that didn't succumb to the onslaught of days gone by. And the insight was this, with thanks to Chris Anderson and his wonderful book - that I do what I do because it's who I am. Whether it has a tremendous practical application or none whatsoever is simply irrelevant.

The pages of The Long Tail are helping me see that the digital age brings us to a point where we can be creators, and not just consumers. In my "day job" I may push a broom, or move billions of dollars around the world, or something in between...doesn't matter. If my passion is butterscotch, or hopscotch, or just plain hops...then that is what matters for me, and not the answer to the classic "And what do you do?"

So now I'm following the breadcrumbs without peering backwards and wondering what the heck I think I'm doing. Posts about some great books and web pages and the ideas therein will be forthcoming from time to time...comments, corrections, and suggestions welcome.


  1. I, for one, am mystified as to the workings of blogs and make no pretense of expertise. In my imagination I figure that one stumbles across a blog by way of a key-word search. From that point, assuming that the blogger captures the new reader, recurring content is the meat that holds.

    If I am correct in my assumptions, leading off with opinions on Malcolm Gladwell would not seem to differentiate one from any of thousands of others.

    On the other hand, what about a strategy of including Dr. Gladwell AND another figure? Here I suggest S. J. Perelman, a deceased writer of minor note, but with a small-but-dedicated following yet among the living. The beauty of the famous and less-famous together is that the new blog would then select for a highly specialized and earnest portfolio of readers who happen to be searching for a rarefied combination that only a few worthy seekers would find of interest.

    Admittedly, the selection criterion here would weed out the great majority of lesser beings thinking they’d like to eavesdrop on chitchat about a current author. But who needs them? When I ordered the Blink book from my library the librarian enthused about the book and volunteered that Gladwell was such a good writer. This from a woman with a bumper sticker on her car that says “I Hate Men – And I Vote”.

    Although I did not ask, my bet is that her familiarity with S. J. Perelman is limited. While including a wide spectrum of readers might seem desirable to you, I think life’s too short to engage with those having “I Hate Men” bumper stickers.

    As it happens, I recently patronized the estate sale of Draper Hill, formerly an editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News. Among the thousands of books in his accumulation was an S. J. Perelman book called “The Last Laugh”, this being a collection of his final contributions to The New Yorker magazine. I picked it up for a buck and have been reading through it.

    I discovered there that striving for fame can also consist of being tied, however remotely, to the rich and famous. As an example, I direct the readers to the sketch in “The Last Laugh” entitled “Under the Shrinking Royalty”. On the penultimate page is found the sentence, “A wealthy Grosse Pointe sportsman, angling there, accidentally hooked into a barrel of cement and was in danger of being pulled overboard.” While much of the context here is lost in quoting a mere fragment, attention is drawn to the mention of Grosse Pointe, a semi-affluent suburb of Detroit. Since Dr. Perelman personally knew such luminaries as Dashiel Hammett and the Marx Brothers, anyone having a connection to Grosse Pointe, however slight, will experience a slight raising of neck hairs and tingling in the vomeronasal organ upon seeing the location specifically mentioned by such a luminary. This connection to celebrity is absent for those who live in, say, Delray Beach, Florida, which, as far as is known, was never mentioned by S. J. Perelman in any of his vast writings. Thump. No frisson for residents of Delray Beach.

    Now we’re getting somewhere. Anyone searching for Gladwell AND Dashiel Hammett will connect up with this blog. Similarly, Gladwell AND the Marx Brothers. Or the Marx Brothers and Grosse Pointe. You get the picture.

    Before I sign off, permit me to mention S. S. Van Dine (sometimes spelled Van Dyne) to snag a few more potential search results. It always pays to drop a name here and there. Jackie O. told me that once while we were lunching with Ari on his yacht before they were married.

    Best regards,


  2. Theodore, you dog, a refreshing blend of erudition and whimsy couched in eminently readable prose. As usual.

    Theodore is better known to me as Dave for reasons too abstruse to detail here. Suffice to say he is often my reality check, applying his highly developed sense of scientific skepticism to those of my lyrical outbursts verging on hyperbole. As the cow said to the dialectitian, in udder woids, Dave is the one I can rely on to say, "Show me the data."

    Unlike his proper-noun-studded post, this egregious effluvium of wordplay likely yields little engine fodder. But one never knows, does one.