Saturday, July 29, 2006


Hey again everyone. So I think nearly everyone who reads this knows that I am up in New York for a few days, so I will give the highlights thus far:

-Wednesday night met up with Teddy, Kyle, Ian, Danny, Stefan, and Erin for dinner and late night shenanigans. Actually, let's start earlier. Miri picked me up at the airport and dropped me off near where her class was, and I took the subway down to Ted's new place on Clinton Street. I forgot how much this place is home to me, and I started remembering again on the subway down. It's the most amazing thing; you can be gone forever and pick it back up like it was yesterday.

-Thursday I went running on the Williamsburg Bridge, which is literally right outside Teddy's door. The car exhaust is a little much, but it is inspiring to run across the river into another Borough on your morning run. I kinda wish it was the Manhattan Bridge, which has walkways on the outside of the bridge away from the car exhaust, but we don't choose these things, they choose us. And the Brooklyn Bridge is way too far down and just too much stupid personal history to fuck with right now.

-Later on Thursday I met up with Miri in midtown for lunch and then went up to the Bronx to the New York Botanical Gardens, where Chihuly has a bunch of installations. They were absolutely incredible, and I blew through three rolls of film shooting them. As soon as I get them developed I will utilize my parents' scanner that they don't know how to use to put some of them on here.

-Last night I had a very long dinner with my great friend Tara, followed by several drinks at a bar until 1:30 when we realized how late it was and decided to call it a night. We talked about everything under the sun, as we always do, and I came out of it feeling a lot better about life in general. Tara does that to you.

-Today I allowed myself to sleep a little bit late and then went and sampled the best bagels in the world at David's Bagels. I used to live around the corner from this place, and it is hands down the best place to get bagels in New York City. Which is saying something. I then wandered around to some old haunts of mind in the East Village and took the subway up to midtown and spent a few hours in the Museum of Modern Art. They had a Dada exhibit going on, which I have to say was a bit underwhelming. Dada was a wonderful philosophy but a lousy aesthetic construct. Any movement that has Max Ernst as a main contributor is in deep trouble. He is a fucking poseur. But the rest of the museum was fascinating. And Patty Griffin is a great companion for an art museum, for future reference. I am undergoing a renaissance of her music (mainly due to Rebecca) that is treating me very well so far.

-Then tonight I went to dinner at the always wonderful Max, my favorite Italian joint, with Kyle and Teddy and then met up with Erin and hopped bars for the rest of the night. I have to say that coming back to New York is like coming home. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I got back up here. And now that I remember all that this place is and how much my friends up here mean to me, I have a reason to slave away in grad school in Richmond for another year. And once May rolls around I will be (hopefully) up here once again. (But in the meantime I will most definitely be your drinking buddy Aimee, I swear!!)

Monday, July 17, 2006

So the final tally for the weekend was:

Cliff - 32 fish
Mom - 29 fish
Dad - 8 fish

So not a bad weekend, all things considered. And now back to RIC for the week.

-I have decided to try to run the 8K in the X-Country Festival in Maymont Park at the end of September. Wish me luck training!

-Saw A Scanner Darkly tonight. It was a really interesting movie that I think everyone should see. If you feel like it read the book first, because it is one of the most remarkable jobs I have ever seen of adapting a difficult book to the screen. Linklater managed to remain faithful to the book while still making a coherent film, something that I was not expecting him to pull off with such grace.

-I am going up to NYC from July 26th or so until July 31st or so. Consider yourself warned.

-This whole Israel thing is stressing me out because for the first time in a long time I find myself firmly on the side of Israel. Weird.

Anyway, it's late and I'm tired. More exciting posts to come, and no I haven't forgotten about Bonnaroo.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I'm not a terrorist but I am da bomb


Before today's fishing trip:
Cliff - 0 fish
Mom - 9 fish
Dad - 5 fish

After today's fishing trip:
Cliff - 18 fish
Mom - 12 fish
Dad - 6 fish

I can't believe how much I rule.

Friday, July 14, 2006


A brief word tonight in praise of parents.....

I am reaching that age now, the age when most people are beginning to realize the value of having a friendship with their parents. We begin life thinking that the world begins and ends with our parents. They do everything that matters in our worlds. Then we hit this point when suddenly we want to be as far away from them as humanly possible, and any effort they make to try to reach out and connect with us just makes it worse. So much worse.
Then, after college, there is a softening of tensions. You're able to sit down and have a beer with your parents. You're able to carry on civilized discussions, to a point. They become your parents again.
And then, if you're really lucky, they begin to help you. Parents have this innate ability that astounds me. They take the parts of you that you have forgotten over the years, the parts that get lost in the shuffle of friends, significant others, school, jobs, and everything else that happens to you in your life. They take those things and keep them in their hearts until you need them. And then your parents give them back to you, just the way you left them. And they demand nothing in return.
Parents have this ability to see us as we were in addition to as we are. They notice and remember the things that we forget about ourselves. Sometimes it makes you roll your eyes to hear your parents telling you what you are like or what you should be doing. But the next time your instinct is to roll your eyes, stop for a second and listen to what they are telling you. Chances are it will take your breath away.

It also occurred to me recently that I never posted about Bonnaroo. So in the next day or so I will give you a full account (as well as I can remember it) of my adventures in Tennessee. Until then, read lots and love each other.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How do you believe in a mystery?

"Here's a question: How do you believe in a mystery, in something you don't understand and can't prove? When we're children we're encouraged to believe in some mysterious things that turn out to not necessarily be true at all - things like the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or the flag. Naturally, we're disappointed after our illusions have been shattered, but usually we get over it. Some of us, however, become skeptical, even cynical, after that.

I've been asked on many occasions how I write my songs. Often I'll glibly reply, "I sure don't wake up in the morning and sharpen pencils." Then I'll admit how lazy and lucky I am, and how successful and downright great some of the more notorious pencil sharpeners have been -- two of my heroes, Frank Loesser and Irving Berlin, being among them.

If I'm feeling expansive I'll bring up the mysterious aspect, the mere five to 10 percent that matters the most -- what's commonly called "the inspiration." That's the thing beyond the technique and the discipline, when the sharpening and the gnawing stop, and something, as they say, "comes to you." It's a bit like fishing, really. There's certainly luck involved, but maybe what you took for laziness was (and I'm going out on a limb here) a sort of divine relaxation.

When I write what I consider to be a good song, when I realize it's going to hang together, when I somehow manage to get it into the boat, so to speak, I invariably find myself looking upwards and thanking something or even, dare I say it, Someone. If I'm alone, my heartfelt thank you is often an audible one. Oh, yes, I've been known to mutter a few words at the head of the table at Thanksgiving dinner, or hoarsely whisper an "amen" at a wedding, funeral or Christmas pageant, but usually it is just embarrassed lip service. As a rule I don't give thanks at a dinner table or in a church pew. For me, it happens when I've been hunched over a guitar for a few hours.

I believe in the power of inspiration, in the mysterious gift of creation -- creation with a small "c," that is -- creation as in one's work, hauling in the day's catch. When I write a song, I'm happy for a few days and it's not just because I've been reassured that I still have a job, though that's certainly part of it. Mostly I'm happy, I think, because I've experienced a real mystery. I haven't the slightest idea how it happened or where or from whom or what it came. I'd prefer not to know. In fact, I'd prefer not to talk about it anymore. It might scare the fish away."

This is a wonderful essay that Loudon Wainwright III did a few weeks ago for This I Believe on NPR. For those not familiar with it, start listening to it, it's a wonderful way to get a glimpse into what inspires other people.

Several things really struck me about this piece. First of all, the idea of laziness as divine relaxation. Now certainly all laziness should not be interpreted, justified, or excused in this way. But I do believe that there is a real truth to this idea. In my curriculum at the Adcenter there is a class called Creative Thinking. Each week our professor would assign us some task to do, such as "Seduce someone in the class" or "Write a magazine article about yourself in the year 2025." Things that were simple but required a lot of thought and effort if you wanted your work to be interesting and/or useful.

Whenever I felt stuck on one of these assignments, coming up with nothing but trite ideas and drivel, I would force myself to relax and put it out of my head. Do something else. Or do nothing else. Usually I would perform little exercises like asking myself, "If I were snow I would ...." or starting with some object and working backwards, going bigger and bigger, to see if I could connect it to God. Just things that get the brain working in different ways.

I particularly like the way Wainwright puts it. Divine relaxation. Faced with a big task, with the biggest of tasks, creation, how do you take a first step that you can reasonably trust? The act of creation is like having to learn to trust yourself and your instincts over and over again. And each time I have trouble with it, I have this moment of panic when I think, "Well, that's it, I can't do this any more. It's gone." Overcoming that and getting the buzz back again is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have. No matter how much it takes out of us, it gives us back even more.

I also love the idea of creation as experiencing a mystery, of taking part in something that doesn't have or need an explanation. So much of what I do as a student of strategic planning is about explaining things. My new friend Rebecca asked me the other day what exactly strategic planning is. I gave her some long answer about how we are the middlemen that govern the relationships among agencies, clients, creatives, and consumers. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. A much better explanation would have been that our job is to explain things to people.

"Well sure, Cliff, but you could say that about lots of jobs. Bank tellers. Financial advisors. The Pope." Okay. You got me there. But what is a little different about planners (though certainly not unique) is that we have to explain things to people about their own businesses. We have to say, "Okay Mr. Sneaker maker, I know that you've been making sneakers your whole life, but I've been looking at your business for a few months now, and I know what you need to do." It's pretty ludicrous when you think about it.

But not when you bring in the element of mystery and inspiration. The ability to convey that mystery, to convey some element of the unexplainable, to really inspire people to follow you into a big risk, that is what we really get paid for. Figuring out my own instincts about those mysteries is what I'm really learning how to do as a planner.

Oh yeah, and writing briefs. We do that too.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Itemizing songwriting

So Paste magazine has taken it upon themselves to compile a list of the 100 greatest living songwriters. And I am even going to save you a click by posting the entire list here!!

100. T Bone Burnett
99. Andre Benjamin & Antwan Patton (Outkast)
98. Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo)
97. Josh Ritter
96. Jimmy Cliff
95. Patti Smith
94. Sam Phillips
93. Joseph Arthur
92. Alejandro Escovedo
91. Drive By Truckers (Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Jason Isbell)
90. Nick Cave
89. Victoria Williams
88. Parliament (George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell)
87. Lyle Lovett
86. Sam Beam (Iron & Wine)
85. David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones)
84. John Linnel & John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants)
83. Fleetwood Mac (Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie)
82. John Darnielle (Mountain Goats)
81. Wayne Coyne & Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips)
80. Pink Floyd (Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright, Nick Mason)
79. Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, Silver Jews)
78. Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices)
77. Bruce Cockburn
76. Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Palace Music, etc.)
75. Ron Sexsmith
74. Linford Detweiler & Karin Bergquist (Over the Rhine)
73. Julie Miller
72. Michael Jackson
71. Vic Chesnutt
70. Alex Chilton (Big Star, The Box Tops)
69. Merle Haggard
68. Allen Tousaint
67. Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes)
66. Charles Thompson (aka Frank Black, Black Francis) (Pixies)
65. Bill Mallonee (Vigilantes of Love)
64. Andy Partridge (XTC, Dukes of Stratosphear)
63. Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention)
62. Sting (The Police)
61. John Hiatt
60. Jimmy Webb
59. Jack White (White Stripes, Raconteurs)
58. Sly Stone (Sly & the Family Stone)
57. Morrissey (The Smiths)
56. James Brown
55. Dolly Parton
54. Aimee Mann
53. James Taylor
52. Paul Westerberg (The Replacements)
51. Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham
50. Public Enemy (Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, et al)
49. Cat Stevens
48. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
47. Sufjan Stevens
46. David Byrne (Talking Heads)
45. Jackson Browne
44. Al Green
43. Ryan Adams (Whiskeytown)
42. Loretta Lynn
41. Ray Davies (The Kinks)
40. Burt Bacharach & Hal David
39. Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham)
38. Kris Kristofferson
37. Smokey Robinson
36. Beck Hansen
35. Steve Earle
34. John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
33. Pete Townshend (The Who)
32. Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
31. Carole King
30. John Prine
29. Tom Petty
28. Robbie Robertson (The Band)
27. Radiohead (Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway)
26. R.E.M. (Peter Buck, Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe)
25. Chuck Berry
24. Jeff Tweedy (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Golden Smog, Loose Fur, etc.)
23. Elton John & Bernie Taupin
22. Lucinda Williams
21. Lou Reed (Velvet Underground)
20. Van Morrison
19. Patty Griffin
18. U2 (Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton)
17. Holland-Dozier-Holland
16. David Bowie
15. Willie Nelson
14. Stevie Wonder
13. Paul Simon
12. Mick Jagger & Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)
11. Randy Newman
10. Prince
9. Joni Mitchell
8. Elvis Costello
7. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
6. Leonard Cohen
5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
4. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
3. Bruce Springsteen
2. Neil Young (Buffalo Sprinfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
1. Bob Dylan

So now let the slugging it out begin! I've already got a few problems, but let's start with the good things. The list recognizes a lot of really talented songwriters who don't normally get recognized, most notably Drive By Truckers, Vic Chesnutt, and Alejandro Escovedo. I would probably put Bruce above Neil Young, but that's just me. As much as I love Tom Waits, I might slip him down a couple of notches. And I would certainly not have Leonard Cohen that high, nor would I have Patty Griffin that high (even though I do love her as well). And Nick Cave only at 90? Lyle Lovett only at 87? Elton flippin' John only at 23?? WTF?? And Jack White can eat my ass with his 59, he shouldn't even be on there. I could write songs with two chords. AND WHAT ABOUT THE CURE??? RUFUS WAINWRIGHT????? MARK KNOPFLER????????
I could go on. At the end of the day, though, any list is going to be flawed and will reflect the personal preferences of the folks who compiled it. Just take a look at Rolling Stone's top 500 albums of all time if you want proof of that. Some of their choices are downright travesties.

Anyway, on a personal note I am now back from the beach. We took a trip down this weekend to celebrate one of my oldest and dearest friends Kyle and his impending move up to NYC. He will have much fun and kiss many ladies. Those of you who know him, wish him well.