musica requitur sequitur: songs that must be played in sequence

Pandora_logoSince my shoulder surgery 4 weeks ago, I've been spending a lot of time developing software and listening to Pandora. The pain meds (oxycodone & hydrocodone) put me in a bit of a brain fog, limiting the effective breadth and depth of my thinking (and doing), but a reasonably well-defined coding task seemed ideally suited to my power of concentration ... and I've always found listening to music while coding helps put & keep me in "the zone".

The Pandora fremium online music service has developed such an accurate model of my preferences over the past few weeks that I've upgraded to Pandora One. The annual subscription version of the service has eliminated commercials and increased the length of time I can listen per day, and eliminates the pause and prompt asking "Are you still listening?" if I don't interact regularly with the site.

The one annoyance that remains is that there are certain songs that I believe should never be played without also playing the song that immediately follows them on the original album / CD. This strikes me as the musical opposite of a non sequitur - examples of which are virally proliferating as we slog through the U.S. presidential election season - so I propose the following name for this phenomenon:

musica requitur sequitur

DarkSideOfTheMoonAmong the examples I've noted over the past week [update: now augmented with examples shared in comments]:

  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / With A Little Help From My Friends (Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967)
  • Falling In and Out of Love / Amie (Pure Prairie League, Bustin' Out, 1972)
  • On the Run / Breathe / Great Gig in the Sky (Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, 1973)
  • Any Colour You Like / Brain Damage / Eclipse (Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon)
  • Happiest Days of Our Lives / Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 (Pink Floyd, The Wall, 1979; contributed by Eric)

I'm probably dating myself with these examples, and by my uncertainty about whether contemporary bands are producing songs that are intended to flow so naturally from one to the other. Perhaps it was solely or primarily a trend of the late 60s and early 70s.

I'll update the list with additional examples as I encounter them, and would welcome any other examples anyone is inclined to share in the comments.

Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, Strength and Vulnerability

JoniMitchellWomanOfHeartMind I've always been impressed with the incredible range of Joni Mitchell's music - her voice, guitar virtuosity and the different genres she has explored - but after watching a documentary about her life and work, I have a whole new level of appreciation. In fact, I watched the video - Joni Mitchell, Woman of Heart and Mind: A Life Story - three times in two days ... and see many other parallels with another inspiring video I watched three times in two days: Brene Brown's TEDxHouston talk on wholeheartedness: connection through courage, vulnerability and authenticity.

I've been experiencing a long series of dark nights of the soul recently, and so am perhaps even more drawn toward - and inspired by - expressions of courage, vulnerability and authenticity than I might be under normal conditions ... whatever normal might be (or become) at this point. I don't seem to be able - or willing - to muster the gumption to delve very deeply into my own darkness at the moment, and so will continue hovering near that edge while sharing some notes on others who are more willing to reveal (and release) their shadows.

The documentary offers a rich blend of Joni Mitchell's music along with interviews with her and many of the people who know or knew her at various stages her career. After various contributors provide background information about her - she was born in Maidstone, Saskatchewan, had polio at age 9, wanted to be a painter, attended Alberta College of Art and began to sing in a coffee house in Calgary called the Depression - Joni shares one of many illuminating insights:

Although as a painter I had the need to innovate, as a musician it was just a hobby. I didn't think I had the gift to take it any further than that.

"Just a hobby" - wow!

She goes on to share her some details of her [initial] descent:

I lost my virginity and got pregnant, and entered onto the "bad girls" trail, which was a trail of shame and scandal, and I had to kinda hide myself away ... I was living a lie, and felt like I'd been betrayed ...It was very difficult for me, and so I began to write. I think I started writing just to develop my own private world, and also because I was disturbed ... I feel, every bit of trouble I went through, I'm grateful for ... Bad fortune changed the course of my destiny. I became a musician.

Her willingness to be courageous, vulnerable and authentic in her music - bringing all of who she is to her art - created the connection that so many people have felt. As novelist, journalist and singer Malka Marom puts it:

She sang it so real, so true, as if she was singing for me. She was my voice, you know? She was everybody's voice. She was like a universal voice. ... She lives with a great respect for this mystery, and with an openness, inviting this mystery. This is her great strength. Because I think it requires tremendous strength to really believe in something that you cannot put your finger on.

But this vulnerability comes at a cost, as Joni notes:

During the making of Blue, I was just so thin-skinned and delicate, that if anybody looked at me I'd burst into tears. I was so vulnerable and I felt so naked in my work.

My individual psychological descent coincided, ironically, with my ascent into the public eye. They were putting me on a pedestal and I was wobbling. So I took it upon myself, since I was a public voice, and was subject to this kind of weird worship, that they should know who they were worshiping.

I was demanding of myself a deeper and greater honesty. More and more revelation in my work, in order to give it back to the people, where it nourishes them and changes their direction, and makes light bulbs go off in their head, and makes them feel, and it isn't vague, it strikes against the very nerves of their life. In order to do that, you have to strike against the very nerves of your own.

After delving into the depths in music, she finds release in painting:

Any time I make a record, it's followed by a painting period. It's good crop rotation. I keep the creative juices going by switching from one to the other, so that when the music or the writing dries up, I paint. You rest the ear a while and you rest the inner mind, because poetry takes a lot of plumbing the depths. I mean, the way I write, anyway, it takes a lot of meditation. Without the painting to clear the head, I don't think I could do it.

And then after a painting period, she's ready to plumb the depths in and through music again:

The writing has been an exercise, trying to work my way towards clarity. Get out the pen, and face the beast yourself and what's bothering you and write. Well that's not exactly it. Well OK, let's go a little deeper. Well that's not exactly it. It's very hard, peeling the layers off your own onion. When you get to the truth, well do I want to say that in public?

So you're really doing a tightrope walk to keep your heart alive, to keep your art alive, to keep it vital and useful to others. This is now useful because we've hit upon a human truth.


It's been a very kind of subjective, I guess you'd say, journey. Subjective but, hopefully, universal. That was always my optimism - that if I described my own changes through whatever the decade was throwing at us, that there were others like me. And it turns out that there were.

... and still are.

I highly recommend watching the video, for both the additional commentary by illuminating luminaries who were involved personally and/or professionally with Joni - e.g., Graham Nash, David Crosby and James Taylor - and, of course, for the scenes of Joni performing her incomparable music (many of which can be found in the Video Library on her web site):

  • All I Want (Blue, 1971)
  • Urge for Going (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Little Green (Blue, 1971)
  • Both Sides Now (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Night in the City (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • I Had a King (Song to a Seagull, 1967)
  • Cactus Tree (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Circle Game (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Chelsea Morning (Clouds, 1969)
  • California (Blue, 1971)
  • Just Like Me (?, 1967)
  • Marcie (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Morning Morgantown (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Woodstock (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Our House (CSNY, Deja Vu, 1970)
  • Get Together (cover of Jesse Colin Young song, with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Big Sur Celebration, 1969)
  • Blue (Blue, 1971)
  • A Case of You (Blue, 1971)
  • River (Blue, 1971)
  • You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio) (For The Roses, 1972)
  • Raised on Robbery (Court and Spark, 1974)
  • Amelia (Hejira, 1976)
  • Wild Things Run Fast (Wild Things Run Fast, 1982)
  • Underneath the Streetlights (Wild Things Run Fast, 1982)
  • Come in from the Cold (Night Ride Home, 1991)
  • Dog Eat Dog (Dog Eat Dog, 1985)
  • Sex Kills (Turbulent Indigo, 1994)

Steve Miller Band at Chateau Ste. Michelle: a concert review

Steve Miller Band @ Chateau Ste. Michelle We saw Steve Miller Band in our first concert of the 2010 summer season at Chateau Ste. Michelle on Wednesday night. CSM summer concerts tend to include a preponderance of rock stars from the 60s and 70s, some of whom are looking, sounding and performing better than others, so many decades after their heydays. Steve Miller is definitely one of those who is still faring well after all these years. His voice, guitar playing and showmanship are still going strong, and he had a good band - and a number of special guest stars - to accompany him.

He played one long set, with one encore in which he responded to audience requests. Despite our efforts to get him to play Your Saving Grace, he responded to louder requests for Jungle Love (or, as at least one particularly loud requester was referring to it, "Chug-a-lug"). Surprisingly to me, throughout most of the concert, the keyboardist also provided the bass lines. The backup guitarist played bass guitar on a few songs, but it was mostly keyboards throughout (not that I would have noticed if I hadn't seen the players assembled on stage).

As is so often the case at these oldies but goodies (and not so goodies) concerts at CSM, I think SMB could have provided far more opportunities for audience sing-alongs. He did invite us all to sing the refrain during Space Cowboy, but I'm often surprised at how little beloved musicians are willing to engage their long-time fans in a more participatory experience ... especially fans like me who used to play his songs in an amateur rock band years ago. I'm sure the music quality is higher with the professionals performing, but I suspect the people known as the "audience" would welcome more opportunities to share more prominently in the music-making.

Steve Miller Band @ Chateau Ste. Michelle Among the highlights of the concert were

  • Gerald Johnson (bass), a former member of the Steve Miller Band, and Randy Hansen (guitar), a local Jimi Hendrix cover artist, joining the band for some cover songs by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Slim Harpo and Muddy Waters - shown in the image at the top.
  • Dillon Brown, a young (high-school age) guitarist from the Kids Rock Free program who joined the band for several numbers toward the end - shown in the image at the right.
Here's the set list, as best as I can read my scrawled notes from the concert:
  • Jetliner
  • Take the Money and Run
  • Mercury Blues
  • Hey Yeah
  • Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)
  • Further On Up the Road [Eric Clapton]
  • Ain't No Telling [Jimi Hendrix]
  • Got Love If You Want It [Slim Harpo]
  • I Can't Be Satisfied [Muddy Waters]
  • Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma
  • Seasons
  • Wild Mountain Money
  • Dance, Dance, Dance
  • Space Cowboy
  • Abracadabra
  • Ooh Poo Pah Do
  • Tramp
  • Don't Cha Know
  • Serenade
  • Living in the USA
  • Rock'n Me
  • Fly Like an Eagle
  • The Stake
  • Jungle Love

Update, 2010-07-27: Just read about ThingLink's photo tagging service; trying it out on a larger version of the first photo above. Mouse over / click on people in the image to see who's who.

Jackson Browne: a cool, crisp concert at the Chateau

Jackson Browne @ Chateau Ste. MichelleWe saw Jackson Browne in concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle last night. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and his fellow musicians gave a crisp, clean performance of many familiar songs on an unseasonably cool evening at the winery. Of all the concerts I've seen at the winery - nearly all of which are by musicians who first gained fame in the 60s and 70s - Jackson Browne, now 60, looked and sounded the strongest. The band played and sang well together, the sound was perfectly mixed (nothing was too loud or too soft), and - unlike the recent Dave Mason concert at CSM -  there was plenty of banter with the audience.

The aspect that most stood out for Amy and me - and other friends who were with us - was the outstanding vocals provided by Chavonne Morris and Alethea Mills. They were seated on stools in the background throughout most of the first set, mostly providing background vocals for the songs; at one point, Amy - always attuned to vocals and vocalists - turned to me and asked "when is he going to let them cut loose?" Well, we didn't have to wait long. In the second set, they were on their feet, and their solos during the third song, "About my imagination", really opened things up. Their solos in the next song, "Lives in the Balance", kept the momentum building throughout the set.

While the women, who joined the group fairly recently, were the standouts, the rest of the band, who have been playing with Browne since 1993 - Kevin McCormick (bass), Mark Goldenberg (guitars), Mauricio Lewak (drums) and Jeff Young (keyboards, backing vocals) - were all [also] outstanding. The bass player is also the producer, and I wondered how much his involvement on stage influenced the incredibly balanced sound mix we were treated to during the show. Another highlight was the guitarist's use of what my friend Bruce said was a 11-string fretless guitar that provided an eastern sound during "Lives in the Balance" (by the time the binoculars got back down to me, the song had ended).

Other highlights included the last song of the first set, a rocking rendition of the classic song, "Take it Easy", which [I didn't previously know] Jackson Browne co-wrote with Glenn Frey of the Eagles, the band that popularized the song, making it one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll (Browne's own performance of another song, Late for the Sky, is also on that list). And, of course, the most classic encore song of all time, Stay, was great to see live as the second and final encore.

First in line for Jackson Browne @ CSMWe are very fortunate to have good friends - Bruce, Jay and others (pictured on the right) - who were willing to go to the winery early and reserve a spot in line. I've been asked not to reveal how early they got there, but it was sufficiently early that we were the first in line - at the main gate - to vie for the lawn seats. Unfortunately, they opened up the south gate a minute or so before the main gate, and so we didn't get the front "row" on the lawn, but we were right in the center in the second and third rows, which gave us a fabulous vantage point from which to watch the concert.

I've always enjoyed Jackson Browne's music, but have never owned any of his albums, and so while I recognized most of his songs, I had to use my iPhone browser to look up the names of songs based on some of the key lyrics. I also used the iPhone Notes application to keep track of the songs, which worked better than the small pad and pen I used at the Dave Mason concert (where darkness and rain compromised the legibility of my notes). The following is, I believe, a fairly accurate representation of the set lists played at the concert:

First set:

  • I'm alive
  • Culver moon
  • I'll do anything
  • Fountain of sorrow
  • Time the conquerer
  • Off of wonderland
  • In the shape of a heart
  • Too many angels
  • The naked ride home
  • Take it easy

Second set:

  • Jamaica say you will
  • Doctor my eyes
  • About my imagination
  • Lives in the balance
  • Going down to Cuba
  • Just say yeah
  • The late show
  • For a dancer
  • Running on empty
  • The pretender


  • I am a patriot
  • Stay

Dave Mason concert @ Chateau Ste. Michelle

Dave Mason @ Chateau Ste. Michelle220px-Dave_Mason_4_-_1974 Dave Mason has lost some hair and gained some weight, but he still sounds strong after all these years. Chateau Ste. Michelle hosts a lot of concerts by older rockers, and some of them are aging better than others. I've been disappointed with a few of the concerts I've seen there over the years (e.g., James Taylor and Crosby, Stills & Nash), but the show by Dave Mason last night - a special Vintage Reserve Club Member Appreciation Concert (for people who are members of the CSM wine club) - was one of the best. Most of the songs he and his band played in the single set (plus one encore) were classics from the early 70s - for which he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, along with the other co-founders of the band, Traffic - but he included three songs from his relatively new album (26 Letters, 12 Notes) that were also quite good ... in fact, they were probably the best new songs from an old rocker I've heard at any concert at the winery.

Mason was joined on stage by bassist Gerald Johnson, guitarist Johnne Sambataro, drummer Alvino Bennett and keyboardist Tony Patler. The group had lots of energy, great rhythm and good harmony. We were in front of the stage for much of the show, right in front of the speakers, so the solid beat laid down by the bassist and drummer gave us some good vibes. Shortly after the show began, it started raining, and about half way through it started raining pretty hard. Fortunately, the performers were shielded from the precipitation - as were those of us who had moved up early to enjoy the show directly in front of the stage - and they kept right on playing. In fact, I don't even remember them saying anything about the weather.

Come to think of it, I don't recall them saying much about anything (including the songs they were playing). I suppose that may reflect the one criticism I have of the show. As with the Chicago concert we saw at CSM two years ago, I noticed that lots of people (including me) were singing along to nearly all the songs, and yet unlike that concert, the band never stopped singing to invite the audience to participate more fully in a sing-along. Feelin' Alright, in particular, represented a big missed opportunity for letting us bellow out a well-loved chorus ... all the more ironic given that Dave Mason was the one who wrote the lyrics for the Traffic song, You Can Join In.

As usual, I was taking notes of the songs during the show, but unfortunately, despite staying mostly dry, the ink on my page of notes ran, so this list does not represent a complete set. Also, I didn't recognize any of the three new songs he played, as it was the first time I've heard them, so they are not listed here.

  • World in Changes
  • Let It Go, Let It Flow
  • Forty Thousand Headmen
  • Look at You, Look at Me
  • We Just Disagree
  • Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave
  • Only You Know and I Know
  • Feelin' Alright
  • Dear Mr. Fantasy (encore)
  • All Along the Watchtower (encore)

The Past, Present and Future of Green

My wife and I attended the Seattle Green Festival last weekend. Amy spent most of her time in the exhibit area while I spent most of my time in presentation sessions, seeking and finding inspiration from Amy Goodman, Lawrence Lessig, Brett Horvath and Gabriel Scheer.

ASacredMoment Amy (my wife) spent part of her time helping out at the booth for A Sacred Moment, a local company founded by Char Bennett that provides home funeral vigils, green burials and life celebration services. Amy first read about A Sacred Moment in a Wall Street Journal Magazine article (Death Becomes Her). As a cancer survivor, she has given considerably more thought to death - and burial - than I have, and the sustainable, sensitive and sensible approach that Char offers through her services resonates on many levels with her ... and, judging from the number of visitors to the booth, many others as well.

I also spent some time milling around the exhibit area, and I have to admit I was feeling increasingly self-conscious, wondering what other people might be thinking about me, wandering around in my Weatherproof jacket, "Life is Good" (tm) t-shirt, Lee jeans and Merrell hiking shoes (not to mention the MacBook Pro in my backpack and the iPhone in my pocket). Were the things I was wearing / carrying "green" [enough]? (Maybe the t-shirt.) I was reminded of my days at Accenture, where my lack of style-consciousness in a different value system sometimes incurred negative judgments (I remember someone once referring to my "Mickey Mouse" watch, a Timex timepiece which I'd thought of as rather practical). As someone who thinks green but doesn't often act green, I was concerned that perhaps my true colors were showing.

GFTV_09_160x160 Fortunately, the person who introduced the person who introduced Amy Goodman's talk - whose name I did not catch - was very welcoming and inviting, assuring us that all people were welcome at the Green Festival, whatever stage of sustainability we may find themselves. She then introduced Kevin Danaher, who described the Green Festival as a "party with a purpose", encouraged us to reach beyond the festival with positive messages (noting "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar"), let us know that many of the presentations at this and other Green Festivals can be viewed at Green Festival TV (leading me to wonder whether the green[er] action would have been to watch Green Festival remotely), and introduced Amy Goodman.

Dn_logo StandingUpToTheMadness Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, took the stage to a standing ovation, and told us some stories about Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times. She started off asserting that a healthy population is a national security issue (not just a health or fairness issue), decrying that health care is not a right in the most powerful country on earth (setting us apart from nearly every other industrialized nation), and reporting on an article "Are the Rich Making Us Sick" written by Stephen Bezruchka (back in 2000 (!)), which shows that inequality leads to poor health (the U.S. is among the world leaders in both dimensions).

Asking "Can President Obama redeeem the White House?", Goodman noted that it's not up to him, it's up to all of us (or, perhaps, all of us's). As she put it, "The door is open a crack - will it be kicked shut, or will it be kicked wide open?" She noted that this month marks the passing of some significant anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill (March 24, 1989), and the 30th anniversary of the Three Mile Island meltdown (March 28, 1979), "accidents" whose fallouts are still very much with us today.

NotOneDrop Emphasizing the need to break the sound barrier, listening not to the pundits, but to people on the ground in the local communities who are affected by corporate and governmental actions (and inactions), Goodman argued that we can't subsist on sound bites, that we have to allocate time for people to explain alternate points of view if we don't want to be simply and mindlessly repeating what others are saying (i.e., being ditto heads). One of her recent interviews with a person on the ground - and/or in the water - was with Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Spill, who said that the "accident" was not just a pollution issue, but represents a fundamental threat to democracy. The success of the Exxon-Mobil Corporation - one legal person - in its legal battle against tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who are seeking redress, amends and compensation from the action of this powerful "person", is leading some to propose that we reconsider and revise or revoke the legal status of corporations (some going so far as to call for a 28th Amendment).

Goodman shared stories about heroes such as Peter Chase, a librarian who fought against the FBI's demand for library records, and James Hansen, a NASA scientist who went public with the Bush Administration's efforts to influence or edit his statements so as to make global warming seem less threatening. Toward the end of her talk - for which she received a standing ovation - she summed up her critique of mainstream media with a pair of pithy soundbites:

We need a media that covers power, not covers for power;
a media that is a fourth estate, not for the state.

RemixLessig The next presentation I went to was by Lawrence Lessig, on "Green Culture". The presentation seemed to be a remix of his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, applied to the green movement. But as he demonstrated in his talk, a good remix can be just as engaging and enlightening as the original(s) from which it is created, and I was just as impressed with the content and format of his talk as I was at his closing keynote at CSCW 2004. He started out with a Wikipedia definition of externality: "an impact [positive or negative] on a party that is not directly involved in the transaction". I'll include the entire first paragraph from the Wikipedia entry below:

In economics, an externality or spillover of an economic transaction is an impact on a party that is not directly involved in the transaction. In such a case, prices do not reflect the full costs or benefits in production or consumption of a product or service. A positive impact is called an external benefit, while a negative impact is called an external cost. Producers and consumers in a market may either not bear all of the costs or not reap all of the benefits of the economic activity. For example, manufacturing that causes air pollution imposes costs on the whole society, while fire-proofing a home improves the fire safety of neighbors.

Lessig went on to claim that the market tends to produce too many negative externalities and too few positive externalities, and argued that we need interventions to force producers of negative externalities to internalize the costs and to allow producers of positive externalities to internalize the benefits.

One of my favorite quotes from Lessig's talk was a quote he shared by one of my heroes, Aldous Huxley, who in 1927 wrote about an atmosphere of passivity:

In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were compelled, in their humble way, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to entertain them by the aid of machinery. It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can flourish in this atmosphere of passivity.

This reminded me of the parable of three storytelling societies - the Reds, the Blues and the Greens - that I shared in an earlier post about mutual inspiration, which was inspired by Yochai Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks (briefly: Red storytellers are hereditarily determined, Blue storytellers are democratically determined, but everyone is a storyteller among the Greens). I suppose this passivity and delegation (or relegation) is one of the natural consequences of the specialization of labor that was accelerated in the industrial revolution. Lessig suggested that we're seeing a concentration or professionalization not just of labor but of culture itself.

Lessig defined two types of culture: read-write culture, in which people participate in the creation and recreation of their culture, and read-only culture, where creativity is consumed (e.g., in an atmosphere of passivity). Changing technologies often change ecologies, as well as changing what makes sense to regulate. For example, the carbon emissions produced by coal-fired power plants are, essentially, free, and yet media produced by the entertainment industry is heavily regulated. There have been zero U.S. laws regulating carbon emissions passed in the last 20 years, and yet there have been 22 laws regulating the use of copyrighted media. Lessig argued that our culture (and, I would argue, our global civilization) would be better served if those trends were reversed.

He shared a number of examples of fabulously entertaining media that were produced by remixing prior media that was protected by copyright (making all the examples, technically, illegal):

As these examples demonstrate, Web 2.0 offers a platform on which others are inspired to create, and share their creations, in a participatory "call and response" or conversational culture. However, the powers that be are colluding with Congress to stifle this read-write culture, declaring war on copyright infringement and using the rhetoric of war (e.g., weapons to kill piracy). Lessig argued that we need to give up on the obsession with "copy" and make meaningful distinctions between copy and remix, as well as professional and amateur uses:


Professional copies of creative works ought to be protected by copyright, amateur remixes ought not be regulated, and professional remixes or amateur copies are greyer areas.

Noting that there have been 22 laws governing copyright in the past 20 years, but zero laws governing carbon emissions, Lessig proposed a new angle on the Green Revolution: eradicating the corruption of money (greenbacks) in U.S. politics, which has led government to do nothing on the most important policy issue facing us and to do the wrong things on a less important issue.

Lessig invoked his hero (and one of my heroes), Al Gore, and showed Gore's presentation on averting a climate crisis at TED [aside: having recently watched the disturbing PBS Nova episode on Extreme Ice, documenting the imminent meltdown of glaciers across the world, I like the language shift from "climate change", which seems so benign, to "climate crisis"].

Lessig highlighted the segments where Gore is emphasizing the importance of - and interactions among - optimism, belief and behavior: "We have to become incredibly active citizens ... In order to solve the climate crisis, we have to solve the democracy crisis". He went on to say that the democracy crisis is that we don't see democracy as a tool to solve problems (another dimension of the "atmosphere of passsivity that Huxley wrote about). We have to act green - be environmentally conscious in our behavior - and also act against green[backs] - fight against corruption, and the addiction to / dependency on money.

Lessig differentiated between evil soul corruption (e.g., former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich) and good soul corruption (living inside a system that is corrupt and not changing it), and noted that most members of Congress exemplify good soul corruption. Comparing political corruption to alcoholism, he said we have to solve the addiction (to greenbacks) problem before we can solve the other problems, and invited those who are interested to learn about - and do - more at One near-term action he invited us to take was to actively support the Fair Elections Now Act that was introduced this past week by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC). If anyone reading this is inclined to take such action, here are some links on how to contact your U.S. Representative and how to contact your U.S. Senator.

Rvl The final presentation at the Green Festival I saw was - fittingly enough - entitled "What's After Green?", by Gabriel Scheer and Brett Horvath, co-founders of Re-Vision Labs. Motivating their talk, the presenters articulated two fundamental problems with the green movement:

  • Green has lost its focus (environment, energy, social justice, food?) How do outsiders know what to make of us? At this transformational moment, it's critical that we define ourselves and communicate our values.
  • The Green movement is unsustainable (fueled by a real crisis and a fake economy). Green Industry piggy-backed on the housing bubble. How many green businesses can survive the economic downturn?

Green consumerism means that our only - or at least our main - weapon has been our wallet. There are only so many donors, customers, foundations, investors, volunteers. The growth of the green movement is not sufficient to keep pace with the growth of the crises we hope to solve, and so we most grow and adapt.

Steering us toward "collaboration, not congregation", the presenters suggested that the goal of the Green Festival next year should not be so [solely] an increase in attendance but an increase in impact in governments and other organizations. For example, they noted that no faith-based groups were represented at this year's festival.

Green_collar_economy_cover In order to grow and adapt the movement, we need to build more bridges and become more [obviously] relevant to more groups, as is exemplified by the Blue-Green Alliance between labor and environmentalists, whose goal is to create "good jobs, clean environment, green economy", and Van Jones campaign Green for All (and its companion book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems) [aside: Jones' recent nomination as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) seems to opens the "door" that Amy Goodman referenced a little wider.]

Another example is the T. Boone Pickens Energy Plan, which redefined the energy crisis by reframing it from an environmental issue to an economic and national security issue, and signed up 1 million people in its first 7 months (and is now at 4.5 million), representing the potential for what they called a trans-ideological movement: "enviro-enthusiast meets NASCAR fan". One of the presenters, Brett Horvath, who is Director of Social Media for the PickensPlan, claimed they achieved a faster pace of growth than Al Gore's Repower America organization. This may be true, but I was glad to see that Repower America, which I believe was formed about 4 or 5 months ago, has 2 million members ... and I wonder how many people are members of both organizations.

While I'm in favor of seeking trans-ideological solutions, I'm not sure I can support an ideologue like T. Boone Pickens. I find it ironic that the man who is now championing energy independence helped fund the deceptively named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which torpedoed John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, and helped keep George W. Bush in The White House, where he was able to continue colluding with his anti-environmental advisors, increase his dirty legacy and thwart many of the efforts of the green movement, ultimately leaving us more energy dependent than ever before. I wonder how much more progress the green movement (however it is defined) would have made, and how much more energy independent we would be, if John Kerry (or Al Gore) had been in the White House instead of Bush. President Obama, ever the community organizer and unifier, whose speech on trans-racialism was so inspiring, is willing to seek common ground with Pickens and his plan (and its supporters), and while I continue to distrust Pickens, I'm willing to withhold [further] fire in an effort to form a more perfect union ... and a broader, more inclusive community in the green movement.

Scheer and Horvath invited us to view - and focus - the green movement through the lens of community, noting that what brings us together is the desire to create healthy and powerful communities. Despite their earlier critique of a lack of focus in the current green movement, they proposed a rather broad agenda of 8 core components to growing and expanding the movement in the future: economy, ecology, governance, story, design, networks, commons and food. I found myself wondering whether, given the shifting priorities brought about by the current economic recession, the utilization of Maslow's hierarchy of needs might help add more structure to what might otherwise be a linear list of issues.

Invoking images of the front porch, the water cooler, and the campfire as prototypical examples of community spaces, they defined three dimensions to modern healthy communities: built space, spontaneous physical interactions and online networks (interestingly related to the themes that motivated our design of the Community Collage place-based social networking system). Reframing the Internet as a network of people (vs. a network of computers), they argued that a healthy network builds community, and that even "ungreenies" (online and offline) understand the power and necessity of healthy communities.

Scheer and Horvath made a compelling case that the current power of our movement is no match for the gravity of the crisis, and helped me think - and hopefully act - more broadly. Perhaps next year's Green Festival should be renamed "The Community Festival".

Hope and Dreams trump Fears and Smears

The speeches of the two U.S. presidential candidates Tuesday night were hopeful and inspiring, a welcome change from the fears and smears that dominated much of the campaign ... or, at least, one side of the campaign. John McCain delivered the most gracious concession speech I have ever seen, and Barack Obama delivered yet another inspiring - and gracious - victory speech shortly thereafter.

I had planned to post a blog entry summarizing some of the fears and smears promulgated by McCain, his running mate Sarah Palin, Fox News and other conservative voices - instances I'd been tracking via Twitter - after the election, but the combined positive boost of these two speeches leads me to let these go, and focus instead on hope and dreams. 

And, in letting go of fears and embracing hope and dreams, I'm reminded of a classic book by Gerald Jampolsky, Love is Letting Go of Fear, which I first read many years ago.

The Course [in Miracles] states there are only two emotions, love and fear. The first is our natural inheritance, the other our mind manufactures. The Course suggests that we can learn to let go of fear by practicing forgiveness and seeing everyone, including ourselves, as blameless and guiltless.
As each of us moves towards the single goal of achieving peace of mind for ourselves, we can also experience the joining of our minds that results from the removal of the blocks to our awareness of Love's presence.

John McCain's concession speech exemplified some of these ideals. I don't know whether McCain ever truly believed the fears that he and his cohorts were trying so hard to instill in the minds and hearts of the American people, but he certainly did his best to let these go - and urge his supporters to do so - during his speech.

Here are a few of the passages that I found particularly inspiring:

In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, [Obama's] success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.


These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.


Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

It is natural. It's natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again.


I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.

Barack Obama's victory speech also emphasized love - through the of language of hopes, dreams and unity - over fear, despair and divisiveness.

Here are a few of the excerpts from his speech that I find most inspiring:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.


It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.


There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.


What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.


This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Ever since that speech, I find that two songs keep swimming through my head. One is Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), by George Harrison:

Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,
heart and soul

The other song was triggered by a line in Obama's speech: "It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America."

The music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young inspires me more than the music of any other band. As I noted in my review of a CSNY concert in 2006, their song, Long Time Gone, is a "goosebump" song, and one of my favorite songs of all time.

It's been a long time comin'
It's goin' to be a long time gone.
And it appears to be a long
Appears to be a long
Appears to be a long,
Yes, a long, long, log time
Before the dawn.

Turn, turn any corner.
Hear, you must hear what the people say,
You know there's something that's goin' on around here,
That surely, surely, surely won't stand the light of day.

I've written about another verse, "But you know, the darkest hour, Is always just before the dawn", in another post (The Darkest Hour) in another, far less celebratory context, in which the song offered an unexpected catharsis.

Although I invoke it again here, in a truly celebratory context, I will also note that the song was written in response to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, an event which many, including myself, see as the end of an earlier era of extraordinary hope. Listening to NPR this morning, a commentartor noted that Obama's promise that "we as a people will get there" invokes the spirit - and hopes and dreams - of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from King's inspiring "I've been to the mountaintop" speech  ... the one he gave on the eve of his assassination.

[Update: I found videos of this speech - in two parts - on YouTube; including them below.]

The speech ends off with this inspiring and prophetic passage:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! [emphasis added]

As I noted in an earlier post, on ignorance, indenciaries, ironies and inspiration:

The increasingly incendiary invective incited by the McCain / Palin campaign instill me with fear that Obama may meet a fate similar to other inspiring political figures from our naton's past. On this week's pledge week installment of This American Life, host Ira Glass played a segment from a Fresh Air earlier this year on Pete Hamill Remembers Robert Kennedy. I was deeply moved by Robert F. Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, in which he raised the questions of "what kind of nation we are, and what kind of direction we want to move in". Many of those hearing the speech at the time were also moved: although there were riots in 180 American cities that night, there was relative quiet in Indianapolis.

I sincererly hope that the combination of speeches from McCain and Obama will put an end to the fears and smears represented by the ridiculous "Who is Barack Obama?" rhetoric, and help us focus instead on the questions RFK raised:

What kind of nation are we, and what kind of direction do we want to move in?

I believe the election of Barack Obama on Tuesday represents the beginning - or perhaps the continuation - of a hopeful answer to these vitally important questions, and I hope that we, the people, can collectively let go of our fears, and our politics of divisiveness, and embrace the love and courage that will be required for us to climb the mountain toward a more perfect union.

James Taylor and Other People's Music: A Concert Review

James Taylor concert @ Chateau Ste. Michelle

James Taylor and his Band of Legends gave a great performance at Chateau Ste. Michelle Monday night. I was particularly impressed with the harmonies provided by his backup vocalists and the rhythm laid down by his bassist, drummer and percussionist, but the entire band was strong ... one might even say "legendary". The legendary JT himself still has plenty of energy and a full vocal range (unlike some other aging performers we've seen in concerts at CSM). And as with other CSM concerts we've attended, the weather was perfect, the setting was beautiful, the food and wine was very good - I enjoyed a tomato basil sausage from The Frankfurter (Amy thought the skin on her Southwestern sausage was a little tough), and we particularly liked the 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cinsault - and the music was enjoyable. However, as with most of the concerts we see there, the music was not quite as good as I'd hoped.

The music was very good - Amy thought it was great - it just didn't move me the way I'd anticipated ("something in the way she moves..."). Many of James Taylor's early songs rate high on my "goose bump" scale, and he did play a few of these songs (Country Road, Mexico, Shower the People, Carolina on my Mind, Your Smiling Face), but most of the songs he played (13 of 25, by my count) - were other people's music. Now, some of these cover songs are also among my favorite JT hits - e.g., You've Got a Friend (written by Carole King, who made a surprise appearance at his July 4 concert and 60th birthday celebration at Tanglewood, where we'd seen him play around the time of his 40th birthday) and Everyday (by Buddy Holly). And, of course, "covering"often works both ways: Steamroller Blues, a JT song, was also recorded by Elvis Presley ... who did not make a surprise appearance on this tour (as far as I know). In any case, the performances on all the songs - originals and covers - were great, it's just that I generally connect more deeply on an emotional level with the JT originals.

As Taylor noted in his introduction to You've Got a Friend, he started performing the song while he and Carole King were both starting out sharing a stage - and a backup band - at the legendary Troubador club in Los Angeles, after he figured it out on guitar (she performs it on piano), but "little did I know that I'd be singing it every night for the next 40 years". He noted that there are far worse "prison sentences" ... but his comment did help provide some context for why he may be performing more of other people's music as time goes by. Meanwhile, I still have my old JT CDs - and I suppose I can get a copy of One Man Band, his new CD of his old music (performed live) - if / when I want to walk on down a country road memory lane.

A number of people came away from the concert with more concrete memories. During the first set, JT autographed someone's guitar between songs, and during the intermission, it looked like he was signing album covers, CD jackets, T-shirts, at least one other guitar, and other assorted writing surfaces. The second set had a larger proportion of JT originals, so I was warming up as the outside temperature cooled down (though it was not nearly as cold as the people who attended his second show at CSM last night). However, unlike the recent Indigo Girls concert we attended at Woodland Park Zoo, where they invited the audience to sing along - on the third verses (!) - of several of their songs, JT missed many opportunities to engage the audience in a sing along ... though many of us in the audience were singing along loud and clear on his classics anyway. He finally invited us to sing along at the end of the encore set, on How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).

All in all, it was a nice evening. We bought reserved seats rather than lawn seats, in large part due to the fact that we got the last two tickets left for either show 45 minutes after they went on sale (and there were no general admission tickets). But we were already considering the reserved seats due to a bad experience on the lawn at Tanglewood the last time we saw him, about 20 years ago, where we were seated next to a bunch of people who seemed more interested in conversation than music appreciation. This time, we got to appreciate the music more directly ... I just wish there'd been more of his music to appreciate.

First set:

  • It's Growing (The Temptations)
  • Get a Job (Silhouettes)
  • Country Road (JT)
  • (I've Got to) Stop Thinkin' 'bout That (JT)
  • Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb, popularized by Glen Campbell)
  • Why Baby Why (George Jones)
  • Oh What a Beautiful Morning (Rodgers & Hammerstein, from Oklahoma!)
  • Every Day (Buddy Holly)
  • You've Got a Friend (Carole King)
  • Mexico (JT)
  • Shed a Little Light (JT)

Second set:

  • Hound Dog (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, originally recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, popularized by Elvis Presley)
  • Only One (JT)
  • Walking Man (JT)
  • Roadrunner (Junior Walker)
  • Sweet Baby James (JT)
  • The Long Way Around (Dixie Chicks)
  • Up on the Roof (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  • Steamroller Blues (JT)
  • Carolina In My Mind (JT)
  • Shower the People (JT)
  • Your Smiling Face (JT)


  • Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett)
  • Knock on Wood (Eddie Floyd, popularized by Amii Stewart)
  • How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) (JT)

The Indigo Girls' Zoo Tunes Concert

IMG_0862 The Indigo Girls gave a concert Sunday night at Woodland Park Zoo's Zoo Tunes 2008 Concert Series that was, note for note, the finest music I've ever seen and heard live. I've attended - and reviewed - a fair number of other great concerts, but all of them have had at least one relative "low spot": one or more songs that just don't inspire or otherwise positively affect me (such low spots, of course, open up opportunities for bio breaks, of course). Last night's concert was just one, long, uplifting set, with no dips whatsoever ... which was fortunate, as I'd heard that lines for the honey buckets can get long at the Zoo Tunes concerts.

The concert was held on the closing day of Seattle PrideFest, and while it was not an official part of that event, it was clear that a large proportion of the audience was made up of gay and lesbian fans. I have a vague recollection of hearing / reading something about Amy Ray and/or Emily Saliers being lesbians, but I guess that sort of thing just doesn't matter to me - connection and alignment with spiritual and/or political views matters far more than sexual preferences, and I was reminded throughout the concert just how strong of an alignment I feel toward the music of the Indigo Girls.

I'm embarrassed to admit that while I've long been a fan of the Indigo Girls, and I recognized most of the songs they played, I didn't know the names of many of their songs (I scratched a few notes on what sounded like key lyrics in each song, and was able to search out the titles in composing the set list below). The rest of the audience, though, clearly knew the lyrics to many of these songs. I was initially surprised at the audacity of inviting the audience to sing along on the third verses (vs. choruses) of at least three songs - how many people know the third verse to, say, America the Beautiful - but the Indigo Girls clearly know their audience, and their audience knows them, as people were singing along loud and strong.

I'm also embarrassed to admit that I hadn't listened closely to many of their songs, but given the opportunity of a warm summer evening to relax and listen attentively, the "goose bumps" were flowing with every song (most significantly during "Galileo" and "Closer to Fine"). I have always enjoyed their music, but in the setting of the concert, I found deep, emotional resonance with nearly all of their lyrics. It dawned on me that by the time the band was producing commercial albums (1988), I had become more immersed in my "professional" vocation - I was a professor of computer science while in grad school to get my Ph.D. in the field - and less attentive to the domain of my early vocation - leader, lead guitarist and songwriter in a band I formed while in high school (two of whose five members are no longer alive). Thus my "use" of music had largely shifted from being a primary focus of attention to a background accompaniment as I read, thought about, taught about, and wrote code for and papers on technology projects. I don't foresee a big shift [back] in the near future, but I have been feeling a growing reconnection with my musical roots over the past several months, since joining Strands.

IMG_0856 Getting back to the concert, Coyote Grace opened for the Indigo Girls, playing a great folksy bluegrass set to warm things up. Unfortunately, Amy (my wife) and I were in the beer garden for most of their 45-minute set, and with a cup of beer in my hand, I did not take any notes on their songs. However, when we got back to our blanket, just before they finished, I was surprised to hear one of the main duo, Joe Stevens, say something about "when I was a young girl" during an introduction to a song. Fortunately, I had my iPhone with me, so I opened up my Safari browser, googled "coyote grace" and read about their tag line - "Girl meets Girl. Girl becomes Boy. Girl and Boy become a band." - and further on, about how Joe is a "transman" (a term I hadn't read or heard before, but could instantly understand given the context).

Brandi Carlile, who has been touring with the Indigo Girls, made several appearances throughout the show, and her entire band, along with Coyote Grace, came out to join the Indigo Girls for their final few songs. Amy and I'd seen her play at Chateau Ste. Michelle a year or two ago, and enjoy her music (though not as much a the Indigo Girls ... and, to be honest, not as much as we enjoyed Coyote Grace, either). I'm not sure why Coyote Grace was the opening act for this particular show - perhaps something about it being PrideFest? - but we were glad to have the opportunity to enjoy some exposure to some great new music.

Before closing with the set list, I wanted to share a few tips for anyone considering attending a concert at Woodland Park Zoo. We parked in the south lot (off NE 50th Street, just west of Stone Way). Parking was easy - in and out - but it was a long walk to the concert grounds, which is at the north end of the zoo grounds. We lined up at 4:00 at the south gate, and were probably among the first 20 people in line. However we did not get very close to the stage, so next time, we'll try parking - and lining up - near the north gate or west gate. We set up near some shade near the back, but the shade shifted ... and we were sitting near a number of people who seemed more interested in talking with each other rather than enjoying the music (as a primary focus of attention). Next time we'll try getting close to the stage and forego the prospect of shade ... and I'm really glad that we have premium seats for the upcoming James Taylor show (one of our worst concert experiences was trying to listen to James Taylor at Tanglewood in the early 80s amid all the gabbing people who paid general admission for a nice summer evening picnic that just happened to have a live performance nearby).

Speaking of James Taylor - who we'll be seeing at Chateau Ste. Michelle in a few weeks - reminds me of one more thing I wanted to mention: rock stars, and how well they "age". We've seen James Taylor three times over the past 25 years, and he has put on fabulous concerts every time. In contrast, we were rather disappointed in the Crosby, Stills and Nash (CSN) concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2004: the vocal range of all three had diminished considerably over time - especially Stephen Stills, still one of my guitar heroes - as had their energy ... and ability to energize me. Fortunately, though, when we saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) at White River Amphitheatre last year, the addition of Neil Young was a tremendous energy boost, and that concert was great.

There was no visible or audible signs of "wear" in the Indigo Girls - they still have full vocal range and lots of energy ... although they have only been performing (in the large) for half as long as either Taylor or CSN[Y]. One thing I was rather surprised at, though, was the relative absence of politics throughout the concert. The CSNY concert last year was very political - almost uncomfortably so (but I think that was their goal) - and I would have thought the Indigo Girls might also use their podium to promote political causes. They did promote a couple of "get out the vote" organizations, but other than that, they just played their music. We did see a cardboard life-size figure of Barack Obama being carried into the concert, but there were no endorsements of candidates - or causes - during the concert. I suspect that there were few registered Republicans at the concert, and given that the Democratic Party primary is over, perhaps they figured there's no sense preaching to the choir. I do have the audacity to hope, though, that this rather apolitical appearance does not reflect apathy among these voters.

Anyhow, here is the set list, as far as I can make it out:

Snoop: An Investigation into Possessions, Perceptions, Projections and Personalities

SnoopCover Sam Gosling's new book - Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You - blends an engaging and accessible overview of some of the key concepts and research findings in personality psychology and environmental psychology with what amounts to a collection of short detective stories. Snoopology, the art and science of determining "which of your tastes and habits provide particular portals into your personality", attempts to differentiate what our stuff really says about us from what most people might think our stuff says about us.

A snoopologist looks for three basic types of clues to personality - one's "unique pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving that is consistent over time" - in the personal spaces (e.g., bedrooms and bathrooms in the home, and offices or cubicles at work) that we inhabit:

  • identity claims: posters, awards, photos, trinkets and other mementos that make deliberate symbolic statements about how we see ourselves that can be for our benefit (self-directed identity claims) or intended for others (other-directed identity claims)
  • feeling regulators: family photos, keepsakes, music, books and videos that help us manage our emotions and thoughts
  • behavior residue: the physical traces left in the environment by our everyday actions (e.g., objects on our desks, on our floors or in our garbage)

The "big five" personality traits, which I first encountered (and wrote about) in the context of YouJustGetMe, a web site for guessing these traits (and an associated ICWSM 2008 paper on which Sam was co-author), are here enumerated along with well-known icons who exemplify these traits:

  • Openness: Leonardo da Vinci; creative, imaginative, abstract, curious, deep thinkers, inventive and value arts and aesthetic experiences.
  • Conscientiousness: RoboCop; thorough, dependable, reliable, hard-working, task-focused, efficient, good planners.
  • Extraversion: Axel Foley (Beverly Hills Cop); talkative, energetic, enthusiastic, assertive, outgoing, sociable.
  • Agreeableness: Fred Rogers; helpful, selfless, sympathetic, kind, forgiving, trusting, considerate, cooperative.
  • Neuroticism: Woody Allen; anxious, easily ruffled or upset, worried, moody.

In exploring what it really means to know someone, Sam reviews some of the work by Dan McAdams, including McAdams' book, The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self, which describes three levels of intimacy:

  • traits: the "big five" dimensions of personality listed above
  • personal concerns: roles, goals, skills and values
  • identity: the thread that ties the experiences of our past, present and future into one narrative

In discussing these levels of intimacy, Sam notes that Arthur Aron has developed a two-person "sharing game" consisting of a sequence of 36 questions that slowly escalate the level of disclosure between two people, enabling them to progress from the first to the second level of intimacy. Unfortunately, the sharing game does not appear to be available online (though a journal paper describing the system is available for a fee),

The "sharing game" reminds me of OneKeyAway, a dating service that adds some new twists to "lock-and-key" parties, in which women are given locks and men are given keys - both worn on lanyards around their necks - and prizes are awarded to couples who find matching locks and keys, offering incentives to both easily engage and disengage throughout the course of a party. I've written an entire blog post about lock-and-key parties and OneKeyAway; here I'll simply note a few relevant items. OneKeyAway introduces two interesting dimensions: a 64-question online questionnaire, which covers topics such as relationship expectations, emotional responsiveness, personal behaviors and habits, hobbies, sexual orientation and preferences, religion and substance; and a MatchLinC keyfob-like device that encodes those responses and is handed out at an event. Participants can "zap" each other - point their MatchLinCs at each other and press a button (vs. inserting a key in a lock), and a red, amber or green light on the device signals their relative compatibility. Couples can, of course, strike up a conversation whether the devices say they are compatible or incompatible (both of which are potentially interesting conversation topics if they find each other attractive). The real power is in the questionnaire, which primes the participants to delve into topic areas that are more likely to lead to progressive disclosure and increasing levels of intimacy.

I don't know whether music is one of the topics in the OneKeyAway questionnaire, but it does frequently rank among the topics that appears to be most conducive to enabling people to connect with and relate to each other. Summarizing a number of related psychological experiments, Sam observes that

music consistently trumps books, clothing, food, memories and television shows in helping people get to know each other.

Elsewhere in the book, he notes that

Web sites are extraordinarily good places to learn about people - perhaps the best of all places.

BlobAnalysis The book includes a handy table (shown right) to indicate just how well we can really learn about people's personality traits through different channels.

These, in turn, reminded me of some earlier ruminations about music and personality, that were inspired by earlier encounters with the work of Sam and his colleagues, and gives me renewed hope that we'll be able to effectively transmute Strands' early core competencies in music recommendation into broader and deeper recommendations that help people discover and enjoy other people, places and things around them (an explicit part of our mini-manifesto for Strands Labs, Seattle).

The sharing game, OneKeyAway and talking about music preferences can help people move from traits to personal concerns, but to really enable people to know each other at the deeper level of identity, McAdams says we have to set the stage for the telling of a story ... their story: "an inner story of the self that integrates the reconstructed past, perceived present and anticipated future to provide a life with unity, purpose and meaning". This dimension reminds me of my experience in The Mankind Project, where we regularly seek to differentiate data, judgments, feelings and wants. One of the tools we use to do this is careful use of language, or as we like to put it, clear, direct, concise and truthful (CDCT) communication. We often preface our remarks with "the story I make up about X" to help us remember that the judgments we have about people - others and ourselves - typically take the form of narratives we construct based on relatively sparse data, filled in with a multitude of judgments, in our relentless effort to make sense of the world. We also emphasize the use of "I" statements - which is consistent with the findings of James Pennebaker reported in the book that a person's use of first-person pronouns is correlated with honesty (and, interestingly, complex thinking).

Rorschachinkblot Philippehalsmanjumpbook Returning to the topic of making sense of people, Gosling reports that the famous Rorschach ink-blot test, in which people describe what they see in ink-blot patterns, is actually not very helpful in assessing personality. A more helpful test is the Picture Story Exercise (PSE) - or Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) - in which people make up a spontaneous story about a random series of pictures, revealing repressed aspects of their personality, especially their motivations and needs for achievement, affiliation and power. Personality seepage can also be effectively captured and analyzed through body movements such as jumping, walking and dancing. Wryly noting that "we sometimes say more with our hips than with our lips", Sam reports on a study by Karl Grammer, at the Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology, in which analysis of videotapes and interviews conducted in nightclubs showed that the tightness of a woman's clothing, the amount of skin it reveals, and the "explosiveness" of her movement on the dance floor are all correlated to estrogen levels (indicating fertility, and thus, attractiveness, evolutionarily speaking).

Of course, physiological components of attractiveness are often combined with - or covered up or compensated by - other, more deceptive, dimensions of the outer layers of appearance and behavior we project. This reminds me of some of Judith Donath's insights into the application of signaling theory to social networks, in which she distinguishes among the relative costs and benefits of handicap signals, index signals and conventional signals, and explores how fashion is largely a manifestation of the latter, relatively inexpensive, type of signal.

Fortunately, however, for those of us who are concerned or obsessed with authenticity, Sam claims that our behavioral residue is difficult to consciously manipulate, and underneath whatever appearances we may try to cultivate, our real personalities persistently try to express themselves. This is corroborated by experimental results from Self-Verification Theory, which suggests that people want to be seen as they really are (or at least as they see themselves), even if that means that "negative" aspects of their personalities are seen.

One of the more controversial chapters in the book addresses the issue of stereotypes. Given that we can only perceive narrow aspects of others' personalities, we naturally tend to fill in the gaps of the stories we make up about them with information based on our perceptions others who we judge similar, based on gender, race, or where they live (e.g., with respect to red states and blue states). Unfortunately, for those of politically correct persuasion, many of these stereotypes do have at least a kernel of truth. For example, women tend to score higher in the Big Five trait of neuroticism than men, i.e., they tend to be more anxious, less even-tempered, less laid-back, more emotional and more easily stressed tan men, and it turns out that, generally speaking, conservatives are "neurologically more resistant to change" and liberals are more extroverted.

MusicStereotypes And music stereotypes turn out to be very helpful in forming correct impressions of people, although not all music genres are created equal, with respect to the personality traits their fans inadvertently reveal. For example, affinity for Contemporary Religious music turns out to be much more revealing about personality, values and alcohol and drug use than a love of Soul music or, more surprisingly to me, Rap.

Another dimension that reveals aspects of our personalities is hoarding. Sam notes that we have "an ingrained instinct to collect stuff" (which may be why Amy Jo Kim includes "collections" as one of the five key elements of what makes online games - and online social networking - so addictive). He shares a definition of hoarding as "the repetitive collection of excessive quantities of poorly usable items of little or no value with failure to discard those items over time". With the caveat that "little or no value" is a rather subjective label, I must admit that I tend to hoard books, academic papers and wines. This, in turn, leads to a discussion of what our workspaces say about us ... but I'm going to hold off saying more about that (for now) ... I've been composing this blog in bits and pieces for over a month now, and I want to wrap it up (and if anyone has actually read this far, you may be thinking the same thing). [In fact, given the change in default formatting that TypePad has instituted in the interim, this blog post didn't even get assigned a usable URL, so I've had to repost it :-(]

However, before closing, I will note that in the "What Counts?" column of the May 2008 issue of Conscious Choice, a few interesting statistics - from a TreeHugger article on "Spring Cleaning: '101 Reasons to Get Rid Of It'" - are listed:

  • 1.4 Million: Americans who suffer from hoarding or clutter.
  • 80: Percentage of things Americans own that they never use.

Unfortunately, it's not clear what proportion of the 1.4 million sufferers are the actual hoarders and how many are family, friends and/or coworkers of the hoarders ... for example, I think my wife suffers much more from my hoarding than I do.

Just to come [nearly] full circle again, the issue starts out with a letter from the editor entitled Fire and Rain, that talks about the way that music influences us,

I can’t help but pay special attention to the songs that randomly pop into my head. ... Music has the magical ability to transport and transform us in ways that impress me on a daily basis.

I've just finished - and plan to write another long blog post about - another fabulous book: This is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel Levitin ... in which he talks about how and why some music gets stuck in our heads ... and a variety other aspects of our obsession with music ... and which offers an interesting complement to some of the insights that Sam shares in his book.

Returning to Sam's book, one issue that came up repeatedly (for me) throughout the book was the difference between what our words and actions really say about us, and how others generally interpret what our words and actions say about us. Sam notes a number of scientific experiments that have shown that we often make mistaken assumptions about people. But if most people make the same inferences - however mistaken - about others, won't this have an effect on their interactions with them ... and eventually, on their personalities? As Sam notes in the book:

Attractive people may be treated differently in social interaction, a phenomena that actually leads to differences in how they behave and how they seem themselves.

Theodor Adorno noted a similar phenomena in his 1951 book, Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life (which I read about in a recent Wall Street Journal book review, Capitalism and its Malcontent):

The sound of any woman's voice on the telephone tells us whether the speaker is attractive. It reflects back as self-confidence, natural ease and self-attention all the admiring and desirous glances she has ever received.

So if others' assumptions about us affects their behavior toward us, and their behavior affects our behavior, and our behavior over time affects our personalities, won't others' assumptions - however erroneous - affect our personalities? Do we tend to become more of the people others' see us as? I'm reminded of the lyrics from a Lyle Lovett song: "If I were the man that you wanted, I would not be the man that I am" ... but I digress...

I don't mean to say that personality and social psychology does not yield many interesting interesting insights - indeed, Sam's book is one of the most interesting books I've ever read - I just wonder how much impact these insights will have on society. How much does what our behavior really mean matter, in comparison to how others interpret our behavior (and its residue)? Should we be doing more scientific experiments or conducting more polls? Would we rather be right or happy (or popular)?

Of course, if snoopology catches on, perhaps more of us can be right, happy and popular - about and with each other.