Category Archives: music

I Have Always Been an Acquirer

I have always been an acquirer.  An acquirer is a collector, without a plan.  It is only recently that I have begun to question the origin of this habit, and more importantly realize the exhaustive counter productive energy I have devoted to this activity.  A true collector, whether it is of Rembrandts or bottle caps has developed a “file philosophy”, a guide that helps them set limits and define what they value, making it easier to separate these items from the sea of pretenders.

I have never been able to resist people that seem to like me, literature on a cause that I should be more knowledgeable about, or 25-cent books on the discard shelves at the library that always I meant to read like, U. Thant, The Batter From Burma.  I never questioned the premise that if stuff is good, more stuff is better.

As a random chaotic thinker, I have always viewed the world as a rather length scavenger hunt, or an Indiana Jones movie.  A mysteriously produced gas receipt from a home I sold ten years ago may turn the tide of an IRS audit.  An airline ticket and luggage claim would prove to a Grand Jury that I could not possibly be behind the latest coup in Paraguay.  Scary as it seems, I actually think like this.  When in doubt save it, it may come in handy in establishing an alibi, although I have not done anything illegal or even interesting.  The problem is that if the situation ever arose it would be easier and considerably less painful to go to the gas chamber rather that dig through an attic and basement filled with old records that might exonerate me.

The serious reasons for becoming an acquirer are probably buried in self esteem issues (see SAND…HLP May, 1992), suffice it to say that having a lot of stuff on a low budget might have been a scrawny kid from Pennsauken’s way to fit in.  There have actually been times when having an extensive Frankie Valli album collection has been socially helpful, but in retrospect it may not have been that necessary.  I no longer feel the need to hade behind possessions.

The habit of picking up brochures, and getting on mailing lists has been a difficult one to break because the goal is moderation not abstinence.  Crime and pollution aside, there are other reasons to consider small town life.  Perhaps people in remote areas have a better perspective on the Arts.  The Amish for example wear only black but display a wonderful color sense in their quilts and other hand craft.  In Pine Scruff Falls, Minnesota (population 338) Maynard Ferguson plays at the consolidated regional high school every four years.  Everyone goes, next subject.

The fact that I am fifteen minutes from six galleries, twelve live theater spaces, and a coffeehouse run by Jungian biker still does not get me out of my comfortable chair on most nights.  My compromise is to keep believing that I would attend these happenings if I remain on the mailing list and have sufficient notice.  Part of me wants to believe that I really am a “player” in the culture scene.  Even if I do not plan to attend the John Greenleaf Whitter lecture series, JGW:  Was he Two Women?, perhaps I could at least pick up the information for a friend.  The result is that my life is continually cluttered with missed opportunities and good intentions.

I could not care less that the Jolly Martin Performance Company based in Wheaton, Illinois is doing a nine show run at the Homely Oak Theatre in Spring Lake Park of Guy De Maupassant’s The Necklace.  That it is in Finnish, with Burl Ives’ niece (fresh out of Hazelden) playing all of the female roles is not a lure.  Yet I accept the brochure and stack it up in my pile of things I feel guilty about not doing.  Granted the above example is less tempting than a host of other worthwhile projects that I have also not attended, but I feel a secret joy weeks later when I realize that because of my procrastination I have managed to miss all nine performances and that, alas it is now permissible to discard the handsome four color brochure.

Walking into a Realtor’s open house with friends out of idle curiosity, I have always been the one to take the literature even though the home is selling for twice the GNP of Micronesia.  Six months later I still have it, because I was intending to mail it to a friend because the roof line in the picture is similar to the renovation they have been doing to their home.  So I have found myself accumulating things that I now I will never use, but are also of dubious value to others.

My professional life is equally muddled.  I am constantly receiving notice of limited enrollment workshops that would help me crisis manage, teach me to both delegate and accept more responsibility, get me out of a dead end job, solve my current problems in halt of the time, acquaint me with the new technology, or ease me into a stress free retirement a lot sooner that my chosen path.  They hint strongly that my current level of expertise in probably the equivalent of a physician sing leeches, and that if I want to help my clients, the organization, and avoid getting sued, I better get to the Ramada Inn in Brooklyn Center next Thursday and bring $135.00.  How can I blithely throw these opportunities away?  Obviously I can not, so I save them, both at work and at home they stack up.  If I went to even a tiny fraction of the inservices offered I would be fired for dereliction of duty.

My vow is to collect only what I am able to use, and cease to be indiscriminate acquirer of well intended things that do not fit my needs.  I am still a sentimentalist, but I feel less inclined to clutter my life with playbills and scorecards of past events that I have attended.  I have been guilty of mistaking form for substance and grasping at tangibles to validate my experience.  I have been reluctant to exclude opinions, fearing that I would narrow myself, forgetting that sometimes we are better defined by what we are not.  The adage, “if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there,” contains well worn truth.  My goal is to return from a relevant “night on the town” with a full heart and an empty hand.

Tom H. Cook is a local mystic.  He is continually amazed by how little of the Sunday Tribune is actually necessary. 



Mr. Minnick

Angles equal to the same angle are equal.               —Robert Minnick

If Mr. Minnick had been a dog, he would have been a basset hound.  He was a forlorn man who, while not short and squat like a basset, possessed a basset’s appearance of profound sadness and resignation to life.  It was the 1960s, of which too much has been written already, and he was clearly too muddled in life to hop in a psychedelic van and head to California.  He seemed to spend most of our geometry classes wondering what door he stumbled through that landed him a $4-thou a year teaching gig in Pennsauken, New Jersey.

Mr. Minnick had some memorable traits.  He wore a tie and jacket, as required, but with a white short sleeved shirt so that he could play with the golf ball-sized growth under his left elbow.  While we worked on our assignment he would bend his elbow to compress the lump and then straighten his arm to jiggle the fleshy protrusion.  Perhaps he was pondering the paucity of his school district healthcare coverage as he pawed the tumor.  It seemed to be his only friend.  One could only speculate on how they amused themselves in the privacy of his one bedroom apartment in east Pennsauken.

A hairy, stocky, somber man, Minnick spent much of the class period lecturing (he was a pretty good teacher) and searching for an uneven surface to stand against and rub his probably very hairy back.  Leaning against a chalk board brought him little relief, although he never stopped trying.  Classmate Linda Browning was very pretty but Minnick’s interests were more primal.  With Linda solving problems at the board, he could retreat to his favorite spot near the back of the room where the spackling was uneven and he could scratch and instruct simultaneously.

I remember his stating the Transitive Property of Equality as proof of a formula.  “If A=B and B=C, then A=C.”  Minnick, the chalk-stained wretch, had established one of the founding logic principles on which Amazon, Netflix, and Pandora built empires.  If you liked this book, movie, song, you will quite likely enjoy the works of this unknown artist.  Ordinarily, these programs seem to say, this artist would unhinge your precariously balanced paradigm and terrify you because you are old and set in your ways.  But 41,000 people whose taste agrees with yours 82% of the time really liked it, and you need not be afraid. Thus we can move with reassurance from the known to the unknown.  

You will notice I slipped Pandora in as if I were a long time user of the free music service rather than just hearing about it a week ago from my son Ben.  If you are as unhip as I am, Pandora is the result of the Music Genome Project founded by Tim Westergren in January 2000.  The goal of the hundreds of artists, musicians, and computer savvy music lovers affiliated with it is to tease out and identify the essence of a song at its most fundamental level.  The team has listened to tens of thousands of artists and analyzed the musical qualities of each song.  They have assembled hundreds of attributes or “genes.”  Their work has produced a comprehensive analysis of music.  What a person likes may be personal, but it is also fairly quantifiable.

Pandora Internet Radio continues to stream full songs to which you can vote thumbs up or down.  The up signal emboldens Pandora to find you similar songs or musicians you might like; a couple thumbs down sends the artist to music Gitmo.  You can swap your play list with others.  I found out I am not the only James Talley fan out there.  I have enjoyed assembling my personal music stations, which are commercial-free if you are able to ignore the pop up (but silent) ads and suggestions to buy the music on CD on Amazon.

Simply begin with a song or an artist.  Norah Jones took me to Cleo Laine, Linda Ronstadt, and Sarah McLachlan, all of whom I knew.  Pandora also suggested I would enjoy John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz. Why? Because I enjoy “contrapuntal melodic presentation, acoustic sonority, mild rhythmic syncopations, meandering melodic phrasing, and major key tonality.”  I have no idea what any of that means, but Pandora and Mr. Minnick are right.


Tom H. Cook is a Johnny Hartman and Little Jimmy Scott fan and was delighted to discover another jazz balladeer, Arthur Prysock by going to









Musical Greatest Hits

I have an overly complex relationship with music.  I cannot produce, accompany, dance, or even successfully hum along to it.  I will go extended periods without listening to it just to keep from spoiling it.  All because music, once my crutch, still helps to define me.  In the late 1960s I seriously pondered whether I could have a friendship/working relationship with someone who had never heard of Neil Young.

I have very few first-hand recollections that tie a particular song to youthful romance, fast cars, or Woodstock era fun. I do remember being on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City on a summer evening in 1964 when “The Loco-Motion” by Little Eva was blaring and hundreds of kids were dancing.  Too timid to join them, Roger, Stanley, Phil, and I stood at the edge of the crowd pointing out the prettiest girls and the biggest doofuses, and wittily dissecting the entire scene.  We dared each other to pick a partner.  We offered each other large enticements and then we heaped scorn and ridicule upon any of us who made even a tentative attempt to leave the nest.  The dancers on that balmy summer evening at the Jersey shore probably do not even know that Little Eva was a babysitter employed by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and that it may have been King herself singing the back-up “Come on baby”.

Cast as an archivist, I am content to collect and categorize the musical memories of someone else’s life.  Moving to compact disc from my cumbersome and voluminous album collection was a gradual and somewhat painful transition, but when the talk shifted to MP3 I was reluctant to leave my rut/groove (pun intended).  Over the Holidays I somehow acquired an iPod.  With the zeal of a convert I have adopted the format by which 21st Century technology delivers the sounds of the 1960s.  There is even an I-tunes site where celebrities (everyone from Michael Moore to Snoop Dog) list the songs they carry on their personal playlist

As I write this, I have downloaded 2,500 songs from my CD collection, and I still have 30 Gigabytes left of the 40 Gig capacity.  (I cannot believe I wrote and partially understand that last sentence.) Going through all of my music has me thinking which songs would go on my favorites/greatest hits list.

One quick ground rule:  I will resist mightily the temptation to include obscure bluesmen like Mance Lipscomb, Big Band leader Bix Biederbecke, or torch singers like Anita O’Day.  That would be me clumsily attempting to impress, and would not accurately reflect what I really listen to.

The songs are in no particular order, identifying them has been hard enough.  Many Beatles and early Dylan songs are so classic I rarely play them. Here is what will be on my personal iPod playlist when I figure out how to work that feature.  It is an eclectic but  decidedly middlebrow mix.

So what songs would you pick?  

You Are Too Beautiful   Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane do a masterful job with this sweet and timeless ballad–dare I say, even better than Sinatra.

Benny and the Jets   Elton John has grown on me.  I also like Philadelphia Freedom, and Tiny Dancer.

Crying and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry –Hank Williams does both of these with such raw emotion.  Throw in When A Man Loves A Woman by Percy Sledge and Whiter Shade of Pale performed by Procol Harum and all the Prozac in the house won’t save you.

At Last is a classic song with two great renditions.  One is a duet by Lou Rawls and Dianna Reeves and the other by a favorite of mine, Little Jimmy Scott.

Layla and Tears In Heaven are two of Eric Clapton’s finest.

Georgia On My Mind Ray Charlessong fits well with Rainy Night In Georgia by Brook Benton.

Running On Empty Great Jackson Browne song

Staying Alive Bee Gees’ hit, with or without Travolta, still charms me.

It’s Only Rock and Roll   Still my favorite Stones song.

Dancing In the Dark   Put this with Born In The USA and Springsteen can run without Kerry next time.

Long Ago and Far Away   Charlie Watts the Rolling Stones drummer was into American standards before Rod Stewart and he gives this song a classy feel.

Take Me Home   This haunting Phil Collins’ song seems to go on forever as both critics and fans agree.

La La Means I Love You   Poignant and gut-wrenching, this Delfonics lament stays with me although I have not been on a date since Nixon’s first term.

No Woman No Cry   If I could dance it would be to Bob Marley.

Come Go With Me   Great do wop.  The Del-Vikings original is far superior to the Beach Boys.

Desperado   Elaine Bennis would not choose this one, but the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt both do wonderful versions.

River   By Bill Stains the New England folkie who frequently appears in the Twin Cities is one I sing along to when I am alone.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps   From the Beatles white album. McCartney’s Jet, Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and Lennon’s Imagine are individual bests in my book.

Blood On The Tracks   A cop out.  While Idiot Wind is a favorite, I have to take the whole Dylan album.  Nothing he has done before or since compares.

The Thrill Is Gone   B.B. is the King of the Blues even if he lives in Vegas in a mansion with a guitar shaped pool, he has paid his dues.

Graceland and America’s Tune are my favorite Paul Simon works.

Wooden Ships  CSNY.  Neil Young’s Cowgirl In The Sand is classic.

More Than A Feeling   A guilty pleasure, this Boston song fell from 38 to 500 in the Rolling Stone greatest song survey.  I am a sucker for falsetto and with more space would list Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.


Tom H. Cook is open to spirited debate.  His wife wants to know how he could have left out Frankie Lyman singing  “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”.