Etcetera #48: Mushrooms, Small Hours, Hoarding
Hello. We're dealing with the return of covid to our home for the first time since early 2020. Like that initial occasion, I've been largely unaffected—directly, at least. I get relatively little 'spare time' generally but in a plague household I have even less. I read and watched and listened to and played fewer things this week but somehow had more thoughts about them all. Here are the highlights.
See you next time.
Casey Lyons on the compostable mushroom suit that Perry was buried in upon his death in 2019. I didn't know anything about this; it's an interesting story about both the man and the... process?... not least because it didn't work.
To say that I am obsessed with the song 'Small Hours', from John Martyn's 1977 album One World, would be an understatement. It might be my favourite song ever. (From a rotating cast of a dozen or so.) That's definitely true at 3am, the time the song was recorded and the optimal occasion to listen. Here's Hope Silverman on what it means to her.
Christian Donlan reminisces about 'the beautiful purity' of the Game Boy. (If you like this, Dominik Diamond wrote something similar about the GBA.)
See also: this 1997 interview with Gunpei Yokoi, the designer of the Game Boy:
After we released the Game Boy, one of my staff came to me with a grim expression on his face: “there’s a new handheld on the market similar to ours…” The first thing I asked was: “is it a color screen, or monochrome?” He told me it was color, and I reassured him, “Then we’re fine.”
Yokoi was the chief creative force behind many of Nintendo’s iconic inventions like the Game Boy and the D-Pad. Yet despite a long list of accomplishments, spanning software, hardware and toys, Yokoi’s most enduring contribution may have been his product philosophy, hinted at in the quote above, often translated to the almost luddite-sounding ‘lateral thinking with withered technology.’
The genius behind this concept is that for product development, you’re better off picking inexpensive technologies (‘withered’) and using them in new ways (‘lateral’) rather than going for the predictable, cutting-edge next-step.
Examples include the monochrome LCD display of the Game Boy, as discussed in Donlan's piece above; the motion sensor of the Wii; many elements of the Switch's chipset. The point is that these technologies had all been superseded by that point: they were cheap, quick to produce, and benefitted from the advantages of economies of scale.
Jon Day on hoarding, something his father struggles with:
When I pointed out the piles of papers in bags and boxes that covered the surface of his desk, he said they were only temporary – he was just sorting through them (they’ve been there since I was a child). If you ask him why he keeps all this stuff his answers vary. He used to say it was for work. Before he retired he was a radio journalist: each pile of paper represented an idea for a programme. That doesn’t explain the toys and other ephemera, much of which he knew would never be useful, at least in any narrow definition of that term. He has never attempted to ride the unicycle, or to use the fold-up sledge. He has never watched any of the free DVDs (he doesn’t own a DVD player). He rarely listens to the cassette tapes. He doesn’t consult the thousands of business cards he has carefully organised into the folders that line the shelves of my old bedroom. But he says they have meaning, these objects. It’s not that he thinks they might be valuable, or even useful. He just likes having them around.
Rob Sheffield on Revolver, the deluxe version of which comes out next month:
It’s the one where the lads set out to remake themselves from scratch, trying psychedelia, chamber music, Indian raga, Memphis soul. As Giles Martin says, “Revolver is an album where you could listen to each song and go, ‘Oh, this is the direction they’re going to go in next.’ And be wrong every single time. The Beatles are all in the same zone, coming of age. But it’s four individual members, with four eclectic styles, all willing to surf the same wave. And that’s what this album’s about. It’s about that, ‘What have you got? How crazy is it? Well, I can out-crazy you.’”
In each of the past few years there has been a deluxe reissue of a Beatles album, and I always look forward to Sheffield's views on the demos, outtakes and alternate versions of songs that we think we know inside out:
Brace yourself: Everything we thought we knew about “Yellow Submarine” is wrong. The whole world agrees on the standard origin story—a Paul ditty whipped up fast as an Uncle Ringo kiddie chant, something John grimly tolerated. But don’t be shocked if you catch yourself shedding a tear hearing John sing it. The chorus was Paul, but the verses started out as John in his sad confessional mode, with folkie guitar picking. He sings, “In the place where I was born / No one cared, no one cared / And the name that I was born / No one cared, no one cared.” The demo, on his home tape recorder, is a heart-wrenching childhood memory ballad, halfway between “Julia” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
In Britain we are, or we at least cosplay to be, fiercely protective of our high streets and the amenities contained within. Very few things set the lunatics of the local Facebook groups off more than bank branch closures. This article is US focused, so isn't directly comparable to life in the UK, but it is a useful explainer about what exactly bank branches are for these days.
On the 150-year-old task of the Oxford English Dictionary to define every English word. The headline and intro naturally focus on recent coinages but the piece goes into the process of building a dictionary, which I found fascinating.
See also: "Most dictionaries focus on the most prominent or recent meaning of a word; this one aims to show every single way anyone ever used it, from the earliest Latin inscriptions in the sixth century B.C. to around A.D. 600. The dictionary’s founder, Eduard Wölfflin, who died in 1908, described entries in the T.L.L. not as definitions, but “biographies” of words." Biographies of words! Wonderful.
Something that brings together food, appropriation, invention, marketing, and that ketchup article I included last time: how tomato ketchup became Indian.
An interesting look at the composition of a specific photo to understand why it works.
The dreaded Tweets
Please go listen to my pal Max's new album.
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