Marketing killed the telephone. Is it killing email?

I still have a landline telephone, albeit reluctantly. While it’s theoretically useful to have a phone number where we can be contacted at home, the theoretical usefulness of this concept is destroyed by the mounting avalanche of calls that promise to lower our credit card bills or switch us to a different electrical provider, to say nothing of the hangups, the “hello? are you there?” calls, and the well meaning seekers of local office. Of course all of the above come from our area code and exchange, meaning that it’s impossible for us in a thirty day period to tell whether the call coming through is from our child’s school or from a telemarketer using neighbor spoofing to look like they’re calling about something of local interest.

This is old news. I would guess that if you’re under 50, the only reason you have a landline is that it came as a bundle with your internet and TV service. (That may be the only reason you have old-fashioned TV as well.)

But what I’ve watched with dismay over the last few years is the mounting marketing avalanche that seems determined to kill my email inbox, just like it did my landline.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about enlargement spam, or any of the other overt pests that used to fill our mailboxes. By and large, modern mail services and mail clients take care of that.

I’m talking about aggressive email marketing campaigns from companies that I actually do business with.

I have no idea why I receive three copies of newsletters from that bow-tie company in Vermont (though I suspect having filled in a different forwarding address somewhere along the way has something to do with it) or four copies of every email from Organizing for America. At least the latter is entertaining, since you can sometimes watch them test different optimizations for the subject line. But five or more emails a week from the kitchen store or the online music store, none of which reflect my interests or purchase history, seems to me like a bridge too far. 

That’s even before you count all the emails going to stupid people who think that my Gmail address is theirs. I’m looking at you, Teresa Jarrett and Taijah Jarrett and Ted Jarrett and all the other people who just can’t remember that they don’t have their first initial plus their last name at gmail dot com.

It adds up. I’m regularly deleting more than 50 emails a day unread. It’s worse sometimes when Teresa or Taijah or Ted sign up for a site that does its own marketing emails.

What kills me about this is that the failure of this communication channel that’s been a locus of my personal and professional interest my entire adult life is caused by the same thing that killed my landline. It’s marketing gone amok.

I have done marketing (of a kind) for a living, and I know the pressure of building the “top of the funnel.” The problem is that you can touch a heck of a lot of people at the top of the funnel and make your marketing numbers look great, only to have none of those people convert into business because they weren’t ever really interested in your product to begin with. But the challenge is that if you go the opposite route and try to target too precisely, then you’re dealing with the kind of surveillance technology that gives Internet marketing a bad name.

So what are you going to do? Well, it turns out there are a few sites that I regularly get email from where I actually read the emails. Religiously. Even though they update a couple times a week. Discogs is one, because it emails me about things that are relevant to my vinyl collection and my extended interests. But that’s information I gave them, not that they observed by watching over my shoulder. I think that’s the key — the information sharing has to be consensual and I have to get some genuine value from giving away my data. 

Cocktail Weekend: the Deadly Sin

Another long delayed cocktail post, this one about a creation I’ve been enjoying for years and haven’t shared yet.

The Deadly Sin is a cocktail I first came across in a now-defunct iOS cocktail app, Cocktails+. The principle is simple: take the Manhattan formula (two parts bourbon or rye to one part vermouth, add bitters and stir), and play with the vermouth portion by replacing a portion with a fruit based liqueur. In this recipe the addition is Maraschino liqueur, that delightful cherry based elixir from northern Italy—or Croatia.

Girolamo Luxardo S.p.A. is the best known producer of Maraschino that’s available in the States. The firm apparently started on the Dalmatian coast in a town now known as Zadar before moving to Torreglia after World War II. So the history of the distillery has war, exile, and murder behind it—appropriate for this drink.

So why Maraschino in this cocktail? Maraschino (along with dry Curaçao) were among a very few liqueurs available to Gilded Age bartenders like Jerry Thomas, who famously defined “fancy” cocktails to contain a splash of Curaçao and “improved” cocktails to contain both Maraschino and absinthe. (The imported liqueurs were thought to display the higher class of the drinker.) In this spirit, the Deadly Sin may benefit from a substitution of Curaçao for Maraschino.

Despite the classic flavor of this cocktail, the Deadly Sin is a relatively recent recipe credited to Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology in my defunct app, though there is also a claim to the recipe by Rafael Ballestros. Enjoy!

Music roundup

There are a bunch of recordings and bootlegs that I’ve been trying to check out over the summer. Here’s the list, off my browser tabs and onto the blog:

Yo La Tengo: Two live radio sessions from 1997, circa I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One. Little capsules of perfection.

Herbie Hancock: 1972-03-25, De Doelen, Rotterdam, Netherlands. A surprisingly acoustic session from the Mwandishi period.

Prince and the Revolution: Dream Factory, via the Albums That Never Were blog. A reconstruction of the album that would have been Prince’s last with the Revolution and which eventually morphed into Sign ‘O’ The Times.

Musicophilia blog: The home of the 1981 post-punk magnum opus mixtape has no fewer than three big sets I’m looking forward to digging into: The Sensory Replication Series, which explores mixing ambient and atmospheric tracks with music of all other kinds and genres; Post-Punk 1968-1977, which locates the roots of the “post-punk” era in much earlier music; and Afrominimalism 1966-1978, exploring non-Western versions of minimalist composition.

Last, not a bootleg but something I’m really excited about, a lost Thelonious Monk session from Copenhagen, with Charlie Rouse on sax, cunningly titled Mønk. I’ve pre-ordered the 180g vinyl and I’m really looking forward to hearing the set.

 

September, I remember

It’s been a pretty whirlwind summer, jumping from England into Tanglewood to the normal August madness that is the Black Hat concert, to a week with my parents. And now school has started once again. It’s enough to make one really feel the passing of time.

The Boy has found his way a little into Harry Potter, speaking of the passing of time, and we’ve watched up through The Prisoner of Azkaban, which remains my favorite of the movies, some fourteen years after I first wrote about it. The timing of the arrival of a new wave of HP Lego is welcome; he got the Whomping Willow for his birthday and was eager to build Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia and the Willow. The bricks for the set’s section of Hogwarts have stayed in their box.

But the biggest way the passing of time made itself known was my visit to my Grandmother’s house. “Mama Linda,” as my uncle Forrest has always called her and which makes it easy for us to tell the kids which “grandma” we’re talking about, made her home with Papa Olin in a small house that my great-grandfather Zeb Jarrett built, and my grandfather added onto. Up until my grandmother’s death while I was in grad school, we still felt her animating presence throughout the house. Now, it seems more like a museum. Rearranged by my aunt, who modernized it a little, removing most of a wall between the kitchen and the tiny dining room and made it into something that could be rented, it sat empty until my aunt’s death. Now my cousins have redecorated it a bit, taking down some of my aunt’s generic mountain pictures and cleaning it with my sister’s considerable help. But it still sits empty and waiting.

Battery Park Book Exchange

Lisa and I got a rare night without the kids last night. We made the most of it, with dinner at Cúrate, but not before stopping into the Battery Park Book Exchange for a “best of both worlds” visit: Lisa got a glass of champagne and a board with cheese and bread, and I got to explore and find books.

My finds: Everyone but Thee and Me, an Ogden Nash collection still in its original jacket (albeit in third printing); Walter M. Merrill’s biography of William Lloyd Garrison, Against Wind and Tide; and Tidewater Tales, which I had passed up before and am still a little hesitant about. I’ll guess that ultimately the stories about original Virginia family settlements will outnumber the ones that are irrevocably tainted with the original sin of race and slavery, but I will probably be wrong.

In the garden



We’re visiting my parents in the hills outside Asheville, North Carolina this week. The hardest challenge is using the days before they fly by.

We lucked out on Sunday, though. We were on the road early enough to get to my parents’ before dinner, and ended up having spectacular Mexican food and coming back home in time to catch my aunt and uncle on their porch—and see a deer in their backyard. Yesterday was just running menial errands during the day, but an Asheville Tourists game at night (a 2-1 loss, but at least it didn’t rain on us! And there was ballpark food!). And today we get to have date night in Asheville and the kids get to have a sleepover with their aunt, who will by morning be their long-suffering aunt.

But it’s also just silly things, like the fact that my dad (also probably long-suffering) says “thank you” when I drop another pile of jazz CDs on him. Or that my North Carolina family will eat grits with me (I’m a solo grits eater in Massachusetts). Or that we’re all having fun with each other.

Like the car ride home last night from the ballgame, in which my sister called to say that our cousin was going to bring home some (inaudible) to us. I hung up, turned to Lisa and said, “Did she say he was bringing mackerel?” “Yes.” “No, record albums.” “No, macarons.” “No, white lightning.” (It was macarons, and they were delicious.)

Today: downtown Asheville so the Boy can spend his birthday money at the general store, and lunch of some kind. Then a rainy afternoon (UVAopoly, anyone?) and on to dinner. And then who knows?

Wireless

I love my Bluetooth headset—a Bowers and Wilkins P5, comfortable over the ears and great sound without “noise canceling” trickery—but I sure wish I’d remember to charge it before climbing into an airplane.

Fortunately JetBlue has under the seat power. So I’m sitting at 38,000 feet, about ninety minutes to Las Vegas, listening to Delvon Lamarr and Daniel Bachman and wondering, why can’t I sleep after getting up at 3:30 this morning for a 6am flight? And answering, probably the two cups of coffee I’ve had before and after boarding.

Flights are productive for me. Not work necessarily; this flight is loaded with staff from every security company in the Boston area, so it’s not the time I want to work on a roadmap deck. But it’s a great time to write. Another eight pages competed before my brain switched off. JetBlue is also winning at inflight Wi-Fi today. All sorts of wireless in this future world of ours. Except, of course, the USB cable running from headphones to the power brick that’s plugged in under my left knee.

Friday random 5, swimming in soup edition

It’s a muggy muggy day in the Boston suburbs. Let’s stay cool with some Random 5!

  1. Oingo Boingo, “Nothing Bad Ever Happens” (Skeletons in the Closet – The Best of Oingo Boingo)
  2. Zola Jesus, “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake” (Conatus)
  3. Chamber Domaine, “Requiem für Eine Polka, for Piano and 13 Instruments” (Henryk Górecki) (Górecki: Life Journey)
  4. Katie Hanley & Godspell Ensemble, “By My Side” (Godspell – 40th Anniversary Celebration)
  5. Go-Gos, “Lust to Love” (Beauty and the Beat)

Morning listening: Daniel Bachman, “New Moon”

Aquarium Drunkard: Daniel Bachman, The Morning Star. I’ve been listening to a fair amount of “American primitive” guitar work recently—mostly guitarists who follow in the steps of John Fahey, but also the psychedelic work of Steve Gunn and, especially, the rural energy of Daniel Bachman. I’m pretty excited to get Bachman’s latest release, The Morning Star. There’s a good combination of hypnotic guitar-work and hypnotic drone in the excerpt posted here and on Bachman’s Bandcamp page. Now the only decision is, digital download only or digital + vinyl?

Bonus, via Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: a twenty-minute live Bachman set from Philadelphia last January.

Revisiting the 2016 election, precinct by precinct

New York Times: An Extremely Detailed Map of the 2016 election. What’s fascinating to me is how transitional some of the maps are—and how well they map to urban/rural, high income/low income, and white/black lines. My old neighborhood growing up went for Hillary at about a 60%-33% margin, less than neighboring streets that are (or were 20 years ago) home to lower income housing, but much more than some of the other areas of our suburbs.

My current house is in the middle of a big blue bubble, of course.

A Pizzetti Prelude

Tanglewood Festival Chorus at Seiji Ozawa Hall, James Burton conducting, July 20, 2018. Photo courtesy Jon Saxton

I’m still a little weak-legged this morning after last night’s TFC performance. It’s not common for me to feel so completely drained, but our Prelude concert last night, with works by Pizzetti, Palestrina, Rossini, Lotti, and Verdi, took everything I had.

I was unfamiliar with Ildebrando Pizzetti and his works before this concert. From my exposure to him through his Requiem, he embraced older sacred music traditions, filtering them through twentieth century ideas of tone and form. The Requiem has echoes, consciously or un-, of earlier Renaissance works, including what I still insist is a nod to Tallis in the setting of “Jerusalem” in the first movement.

Our director, James Burton, pulled those connections to the fore by programming the Requiem alongside works by Palestrina (“Sicut Cervus”) and Lotti (the “Crucifixus a 8”). But Pizzetti owed a debt to his immediate forebears, too, with the operatic sensibilities of Rossini and Verdi both present in his writing. From those artistic forebears we added the Rossini “O salutaris hostia” and Verdi’s great “Pater Noster.”

If you put all those works together, you have about an hour of a cappella music by Italian composers in Latin and Italian. To intensify the drama, James interleaved the other works between movements of the Pizzetti—the final order was:

  • Requiem aeternam (Pizzetti)
  • Sicut cervus
  • Dies irae (Pizzetti)
  • O salutaris hostia
  • Crucifixus a 8
  • Sanctus
  • Agnus dei
  • Pater noster
  • Libera me

We transitioned between movements attaca (without a break), and performed without a piano, taking the pitch from James and his tuning fork. And I think it was some combination of these things—the intense drama of the music, the quick transitions without a break, the unrelenting mental focus—that left me literally shaky. That or hypoxia. There are some seriously long lines in all the works.

But I have a new composer on my list of “must listens” now, and a new appreciation for others that I’ve sung for years. It was a great night.

Here’s a taste of the Pizzetti, from our Thursday rehearsals, that gives you a hint of the remarkable G Major beauty that raises its head above the clouds.

Transcribing Julian Bond

Julian Bond on the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in 1968, courtesy AP

UVA Today: You can help put Julian Bond’s papers in an online archive. UVA, in this case meaning the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies, the Small Special Collections Library, the Center for Digital Editing, the Scholars’ Lab, and Virginia Humanities, are sponsoring a two-day event to harness volunteer efforts to transcribe Civil Rights icon and former UVA professor Julian Bond’s papers. (I’ve written a little before about the lessons I learned from Mr. Bond.)

If I lived near Charlottesville, I would attend the event in a heartbeat. But given that the event is happening almost a year to the day after the re-emergence of Nazis in America, and several days after the planned anniversary rally in Washington, DC, I hope that the organizers are taking steps to prevent interference with the process.

Quiet time

The blog is quiet this week thanks to another Tanglewood outing, my second and last for the summer. This week I’m here exercising my straight tone, singing with Herbert Blomstedt on the Haydn Missa in angustiis (aka “Lord Nelson Mass”) and singing a chorus-only Prelude program featuring the Pizzetti Requiem and a set of related Italian choral music.

My colleague Jeff has written about the Pizzetti, so I’ll just add that Pizzetti’s allusions in the piece are maddening. So far I’ve found the connection to Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah in Pizzetti’s setting of the word “Jerusalem” (first movement), and I’ll post others as I find them.

Tanglewood – Chichester, Barber

The first Tanglewood Festival Chorus residency of the season is concluded and it was bittersweet. I got to watch my colleagues perform an astonishing La bohème on Saturday, took in the final rehearsals of the newly formed Boston Symphony Children’s Chorus (though wasn’t able to see their concert), and performed Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” for the first time with the BSO (and about the fifth time in my life).

All of which was a pretty good warmup to the highlight of the weekend, the memorial concert for John Oliver. There were about 175 choristers from all eras of John’s tenure on stage in Ozawa Hall. We performed a set of songs by Samuel Barber, of which I had only performed “Heaven-Haven” (some twenty-eight years previously, with Mike Butterman and the Virginia Glee Club); was familiar with (but had never sung) “Sure on This Shining Night,” and had never heard (“The Coolin” and “To Be Sung on the Water”). The chorus came together in passionate song remarkably quickly, considering how long it had been since some of the members had sung with the TFC (thirty years or more in some cases).

And I was by turns amused and deeply moved by the remembrances by TFC members Brian Robinson and, especially, Paula Folkman. And doubly so by the brief remembrance held earlier in the day at John’s tree (not the one above; I’ll get a picture next week) where Mark Rulison and a crowd of alumni, friends, and family gathered to remember John.

Rebuilding

Twelve years ago, on one of my first trips to Tanglewood, I discovered the hedge maze that abutted the Lawn next to our usual practice spot, the Chamber Music Hall. Cloaked by twelve foot hedges, the center held a fountain overflowing with flowers. Beyond lay a memorial bench commemorating the donation of the Tanglewood property by the Tappan family. The bench was evocatively ruined. It still had a commanding presence but the cracks that ran through it seemingly threatened to send part of it toppling to the ground. Behind: a fifteen foot hedge. Beyond: the road, then the world.

This year we arrived at CMH to see a temporary fence and a blue sky gap in the hedge. The fence surrounded a batch of new hedges barely eighteen inches tall. Beyond: the bench, rebuilt. Without the overgrowth of hedge, the now-reknitted bench, still awaiting the reapplication of its bronze dedication letters, curved like a oyster, inviting and naked. The dark tangled beauty I remembered from twelve years ago was gone, but another beauty now sits revealed, waiting for its letters.