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Charlie Brown by Loud Crow

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The Charlie Brown Christmas app from Loud Crow is the best thing I’ve seen on the iPad in a while. It’s surprising, beautiful, and absolutely delightful for what it is. Along with Aweditorium, it’s one of the few apps that makes a tablet feel like a special device and not simply a repackaged version of the PC.

The lost interview

I went to the theater to see this lost interview with Steve Jobs from 1995 that was originally shot for Triumph of the Nerds and came away from it inspired. Because what other executive in Silicon Valley would ever cite Picasso and Thoreau? And that he did makes me believe that, perhaps, there’s a place in the Valley for someone like me.
EXCLUSIVE: Steve Jobs ‘The Lost Interview’ Teaser – YouTube

My favorite things of 2010


At the end of 2009 I put together a quick list of things I liked from the year. Earlier in December some friends asked if I would be making a similar list this year. And indeed, I have made one, and it is more ambitious than last year’s in its scope, volume, and design. Check it out here.

Inevitably, there are some things that I would like to mention that I liked during the year but, for one reason or another, didn’t quite make the list. Here are the honorable mentions:

Henri Cartier-Bresson at the MoMA — I’ve only gotten a quick preview of this show, but it’s very promising, and I can’t wait to take the time to really take it in. Without Bresson, the sort of photography I practice wouldn’t even be possible, so I’m looking forward to the chance to see so many of his prints in person.

Audrey Tautou — I love her acting, her films, her style, and the fact that she uses a Leica to photograph people she meets.

Difficulty — This one really should have been on the list, but I chose to write it into a couple other entries. I feel like we’ve become less and less patient when it comes to difficult things—people, art, technology, and work. But one of the things I learned in my life as a reader is that difficulty often conceals great value. And that’s something I remembered in 2010. Difficulty is something to engage with, not run away from, because the rewards for doing so can be so great. It’s closely related to insistent compassion and creating possibilities, which both made the list. You can find someone difficult to know and just throw your hands up and walk away or you can insistently try to know them because, perhaps, their worth will justify their difficulty. You can leave Gaddis and Proust and Foster Wallace and Pynchon on the shelf because their books are too long and confusing or you can take the time to read them and, perhaps, find yourself changed. And, ah ha, wouldn’t that be worth any level of difficulty?

Yanidel — The street photographer Yanick Delafoge calls himself Yanidel, and his post-processing techniques produce a look that it utterly unique and European and brilliant. I especially enjoy his photographs from Paris.

Cosi on rue de Seine in Paris — In April I returned here for the first time in nearly nine years. It still serves the best sandwiches in the world.

Ken Griffey, Jr. — He was the hottest minor league prospect in baseball at the time when I really became fanatical about the sport, and I followed his entire career until it ended this summer. His swing was beautiful, and he should go down as the greatest player of his generation. I got to see him play in the 2007 All-Star game when he started in the same outfield as Barry Bonds in San Francisco, something I’ll never forget.

Subjective Time — This is the simple but not often cited concept of how we experience time subjectively in relation to our age. It’s no secret that time seems to pass faster as we get older, but it’s not commonly known that this concept has been scientifically studied and verified. In fact, there’s even an equation that describes one’s perception of time based on her age. Given current average life expectancies in the Unites States, we feel like we’ve lived half of our lives before the age of 20. Twenty is the subjective halfway point of our lives. It’s no wonder that it seems like such a formative age!

Concord, Massachusetts — Walden Pond, Mount Misery, Sleepy Hollow, and ridiculously large servings of ice cream—and only a 30-minute drive from Cambridge!

Love and Its Opposite by Tracey Thorn — That no one else writes songs about the disappointments of middle age makes this a unique album. That Tracey Thorn does so with brilliance and nuance makes it spectacular.

Printing Photos — So much better than storing them in the “cloud.”

Generation Why? by Zadie Smith — This is one of the better things that has been written about online culture, i.e. what the Internet has done to our culture.

J.D. Salinger — Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Don’t forget to read the final list. Click on the images to reveal the descriptions. And click on the Away arrow to open the page for a random favorite.

40mm Leica Summicron-C: The best cheap Leica lens

Steve Huff recently posted his choice for the best budget Leica lens, the 35mm f/2.5 Summarit-M. It’s the second least expensive lens in Leica’s current lineup, and I agree that it’s the best bargain new M-mount lens you can get from Leica.[1. The company's least expensive new lens, the 50mm Summarit-M doesn't quite render as nicely as the 35mm version from this line. However, it's still a bargain, and you find find used copies of the 50mm Summarit for as low as $600 on eBay.] However, one of the great things about shooting Leica is that there’s a robust secondary market for lenses. And for the price of a new 35mm Summarit, you can purchase a faster f/2.0 used 35mm or 50mm Summicron. You can even get the pre-ASPH version of the 35mm lens that people refer to as the “Bokeh King.” In fact, there are several used Leica lenses you can purchase for the same cost of or less  than a brand new Summarit.

My favorite, and what I believe to be the best bargain lens for any camera system is the 40mm f/2.0 Leica Summicron-C. This lens was made for the Leica CL, and you can get used copies for $250-$400 depending on condition. (Note that the 40mm Minolta Rokkor-M is, essentially, the same lens with its own nickname, the “water lens.”) However, it will, contrary to what you might hear, work on any modern M-mount body. It renders very much like the 35mm Summicron but can be had for about 75% less. Put it on an M8, and it effectively becomes a 50mm lens with the 1.33x crop factor. The only problem is that most M bodies do not have 40mm framelines. However, it’s simple to modify the 40mm lens to bring up the 35mm framelines, which are more accurate and even precisely so on the original M8.

Moreover, the 40mm is probably the lightest, smallest lens Leica has made in the past 40 years. Mounted on a camera body, it makes for a very small, perfect package. The filter size is a little odd; a modern 39mm filter won’t screw all the way in, but it attaches well enough, and I’ve never had any problems with my filter coming loose or falling out. Finally, this lens works quite well as a portrait lens with the 2x crop factor of the Micro Four-Thirds system. If you’re looking to purchase a copy, check eBay and KEH. They both often have these lenses available, though you may pay a premium on KEH.

Here are some sample photos from the 40mm Summicron-C.

Rediscovering film with the Leica M7


Six years ago I gave up shooting film entirely and made my transition to digital photography complete. In the process, I moved from an SLR with nice lenses to a series of point-and-shoots whose convenience, I thought, compensated for their subpar image quality. Eventually, I gave those cameras up and moved on to more robust digital cameras…a couple of which have inspired me quite a bit. So last week when I had the chance to shoot a couple rolls of film with a Leica M7, I wasn’t expecting much, having not shot any film since 2004.

I took the camera to cocktail night at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, a fun event where admission gets you unlimited drinks and appetizers from some of the best bartenders and chefs in San Francisco. This is the organization that puts on the event, and I encourage everyone to attend, if they do another one.

Before I could go or shoot anything, I had to load up the film, which is quite easy. Some people complain about it being more difficult than it is in other cameras with a rear door that flips out. Perhaps, this matters for critical jobs where you need to reload film very, very quickly, but it didn’t bother me at all, nor did I find loading the film slow in any way. I’ll have a video of the process up later.

A few years ago in the New Yorker, Anthony Lane described the sound of a Leica shutter as a seductive kiss. I had never handled a film Leica M series camera before last week, and I have to say that Lane’s ostensibly cheesy observation is dead-on. After I loaded my first roll of Kodak Portra 400VC in the camera and advanced it a couple frames, I thought there was something wrong with the shutter. “Why isn’t it making more noise?” I asked myself. Seduction begins with a little mystery, I suppose.

Handling the camera was great, especially with one of Gordy’s wrist straps. It just feels absolutely right when you’re holding it. And I had mounted on it my favorite lens of all time, Leica’s 50mm f/2.0 Summicron. To test it out before going to the Ferry Building, I took it to Elite Sports soccer store on Haight, where Boone and I watched Spain defeat Germany in the World Cup.

One of the great things about the Leica M cameras is that you can shoot them at very low shutter speeds—even with the 50mm lens, I can reliably get shots as slow as 1/10 second. It’s like having a faster lens or better high ISO performance or just, generally, an extra stop! This comes in quite useful indoors where light is usually low. With the exception of the first shot below on the street, I don’t think any of these were taken at speeds above 1/50 of a second. Normally, on an SLR with a 50mm lens mounted, that would be the minimum shutter speed that someone could expect to use—here, it was my maximum shutter speed.

Another thing I like about the M7 is the viewfinder. It’s bright and the focusing patch is fairly easy to align in most conditions. The camera I was using had a viewfinder with 0.72x magnification. As I don’t find much use for wide angle lenses, I think a 0.85x viewfinder would suit me even better.[1. I tried out someone's M3 last weekend. It has a 0.92x viewfinder, which means that things appear nearly life-sized when you look through it. That would be perfect for shooting 50mm lenses.]

Looking through the viewfinder, I was able to wait until I saw something I wanted to photograph, whether it was someone walking through the frame or an already framed subject looking towards the camera or smiling. The viewfinder is easily the brightest on any camera I’ve ever used, so I feel like my perspective on a given scene is not particularly compromised even though I’m looking through it. Conversely, when I’m looking through an SLR’s viewfinder, I feel less a part of my surroundings. When I’m looking at a liveview LCD viewfinder on the back of a digital camera, I feel like I’m somehow watching a cropped, delayed, and pixelated version of what’s really happening in front of me. Not so with the M7.

Because I was shooting film—expensive film that would need to be developed at additional cost—I was patient waiting for shots I was anticipating. I tried to avoid wasting a single frame, although I inevitably did because of user error, though not user intent. I spent more time thinking about what I was doing rather than blindly snapping away.[2. Okay, I admit I took one shot from the hip. It didn't work out so well, and knowing the odds that that would be the case, I regretted it almost immediately.]

The big advantage of the M7 over other M series cameras is that it has an aperture priority mode. I found this quite useful, as I could focus my concentration on controlling the depth of field and framing of my shots. Some Leica purists eschew the aperture priority mode, but I think it’s a nice convenience. Not using it or overriding it is easy on the M7, which has Leica’s traditional shutter speed dial.

Shooting, with a Leica, as many others have noted, makes you slow down. It makes you more careful about composition and exposure. And shooting with film compounds those effects. In general, I’ve spent the past few months trying to regain two abilities I feel I’ve lost in the Internet age—that to be patient—to delay gratification—and that to concentrate on something for an extended period of time.

Digital photography conditions us to expect instant gratification, providing us with instant previews of our images. In some cases, this is useful and helps us get the shot we wanted. However, more often it’s simply a distraction from doing the thing we should be focused on—taking photographs. Is there any other activity in which people so immediately evaluate their performance with such scrutiny as photographers checking the LCD image previews on their cameras? It’s like watching an instant replay of yourself walking down the street. Perhaps, it’s useful if you’re, say, recovering from an injury, but, probably, it will just make you miss the door that’s about to open right in your face.

When I had the M7, all I was thinking about was taking pictures. I was fully engaged with the process because it’s all the M7 could do. I couldn’t change the ISO or the saturation or the scene mode, and I definitely couldn’t review my images. How difficult it has become to engage so fully with an activity, to limit yourself thus! And yet, who would disagree that doing so is more valuable and memorable than not?

Moreover, the M7 makes this process entirely pleasurable. It’s small enough to take anywhere, and, combined with one of Gordy’s wrist straps, can stay in your hand for hours at a time, unlike an SLR. It feels like a well-made object because it is one. Everything from focusing the lens to advancing the film and releasing the shutter feels completely, wonderfully satisfying in a way that no other camera I’ve used before does. The shutter is the quietest I’ve heard. Approach a scene, lift the camera to your eye, focus, frame, kiss.

It isn’t just the process that blew me away; the results were awesome. I waited with anticipation for the local lab to develop and print my film. What would it look like? What surprises lay in store? I can say that I felt my patience was rewarded. Even though their content is boring, the prints I got back from the lab had a contrast and vividness that makes them look not only unlike digital images, but cinematic in a way that I absolutely love—rich, textured, almost tactile. Unfortunately, getting to that result means paying a lab for developing and printing, which is why I don’t think I can shoot exclusively on film. My digital color management and workflow isn’t quite yet at the point where I can use film scans to produce prints that are as good as those I received from the lab.

Despite the costs, the joy I had shooting with the M7 and the cinematic quality of the prints I got from the roll of Portra have convinced me that film still has a place in my photography. Now to find a suitable M-mount body for myself—[3. The Zeiss Ikon and the Leica M6 both seem like viable options.]


Here are some images I scanned with my Nikon CoolScan. Unfortunately, this line of film scanners from Nikon is no longer available, and prices on the secondary market are high. My friend CK over at 39 East Photography uses the Epson V700, which he highly recommends and which can can larger batches of negative strips than the Nikon, saving you time. And we all know that time is money.

Next time I’ll share my thoughts on the Leica S2, which I was able to borrow from Leica for a weekend when I was in France earlier this year.

Here’s Lori waiting for the bus to go downtown.

Boone and Eric at cocktail night. The print of this image had a very cinematic feel to it, which I liked.

Boone at home.

I even liked the images that showed more of the film grain.

This bruschetta was very good.

Some of the drinks contained odd ingredients, such as sausage, beef stock, mango, and sandwiches!

This man sat next to me to watch the Spain vs. Germany game at the soccer store on Haight.

This boy watches his team get dismissed from the World Cup moments after his mom had purchased a Germany soccer jersey for him.

I even shot a roll of Kodak Tri-X, and made this print in the darkroom. Unfortunately, I was too lazy to do the work necessary to make a more contrasty print.

One final image of the M7.

How to show invisible files in Mac OS X

If you ever need to view invisible files in the Finder, open the Terminal application, type the following, and hit enter. If you want to hide invisible files again, repeat the process and change YES to NO.

defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles YES

 

Barriers to entry and start-ups

I’ve sat through more start-up pitches than I would like to admit over the past two years, and there’s one question that invariably comes up during every one: “What are the barriers to entry?” In other words, What will prevent someone else from doing exactly what you’re doing? It sounds great, right? Like, barriers to entry should be a good thing that every business should strive for. The problem is that the entire concept is premised on businesses operating in a monopoly environment. What people are really asking is, “Will you have a monopoly over your market?” And we all know monopolies are bad, right?

Look at industries with high barriers to entry and compare their stocks with those of other industries. You’ll find that those industries with high barriers to entry—automobiles, airlines, pharmaceuticals—have consistently underperformed the American stock market as a whole in recent times. Compare these industries with Internet businesses, which have fairly low barriers to entry. Could it be because the absence of barriers to entry drives competition, which drives innovation, which drives growth, which drives—well, you get the idea.

If you’re evaluating a business with high barriers to entry, you can almost assume that it’s doing to be slow, boring, and not particularly innovative. Fortunately, what many venture capitalists mean when they ask about barriers to entry is, “Do you have a patent?”

Let’s take Apple and the iPhone as an example here. The iPhone has been successful because Apple did something better than anyone else. They weren’t the first to make a smartphone or to make a phone with downloadable apps or email or maps. They just did it better. That Apple holds patents for things like multi-touch doesn’t mean that HTC and other companies can’t make smart/app phones. It doesn’t mean that they can’t design a new category of personal communication device that’s even more compelling and desirable to consumers than the iPhone. In fact, it suggests the very opposite—that to compete with the iPhone, you’ll need to make something better. This is not a barrier to entry, it’s an invitation to innovate.

Why the iPad buzz doesn’t matter

A lot of people are saying a lot of things about the iPad. It’s revolutionary! It’s too compromised to be useful! It lacks important features like a phone, multitasking, camera, Flash support, etc. What’s certain to me is that the reactions—pro and con—are pretty much meaningless right now. I was trying to think last night about previous Apple product launches and how I felt about them. As I recall, there have been two Apple products in the past ten years that, when introduced, immediately prompted me to say, I want that! One was the Titanium PowerBook in at MacWorld in 2001 and the other was the iPod with video in 2005. Both products were updates to existing product lines. In the case of the PowerBook, it added a design unlike any other that I had seen before. In the case of the iPod, I thought that video would be a great feature that was worth waiting for. (Everyone knew it was coming once Apple had introduced the iPod Photo.) But here’s the thing, I’ve ended up not using the video feature at all during the past four years, really. I watched one movie on a plane once, and that was it. It wasn’t until I got an iPod Touch with a larger screen and better battery life that I really bothered to use an iPod to watch video.

The greater point here is that no one disputes that the iPod and iPhone were both game-changers—products that people now love and that redefined Apple as a company and a brand. I can safely say that when they launched, I didn’t want either one. I didn’t have anywhere close to enough of my music in MP3 format to make the iPod useful, and it was expensive too! The iPhone was even more expensive when it launched, and I remember thinking that there was no way I would get one because it would never handle email as well as my BlackBerry did. Of course, I did eventually get one, and it still doesn’t handle email as well as my five-year-old BlackBerry. But I don’t care because it does so many other things that I value. I can read the newspaper—several newspapers—in formats that are actually useable! I can listen to Internet radio. I can listen to live baseball games. I can listen to NPR on demand. I can browse the web. I can read stories from the web that I started reading on my laptop. In short, I can do a lot of things that I either didn’t know I wanted to do or whose value wasn’t properly contextualized for me until I actually had and lived with the device for a while.

I’m not saying that the iPad will succeed, but I am suggesting that the factors by which people are predicting its success or failure are, more than likely, incorrect because they are captive to our previous experiences. Who knows that developers will come up with for the device? Who knows what features a second or third generation update might add? Who even knows what it’s like to live with an iPad in your bag or on your desk for even a week? If anyone can take a product for which I feel I had no need and make it desirable, it’s Steve Jobs and Apple. As usual, I’ll be rooting for them. More

How to recover erased .RW2 and other RAW files from SDHC cards

I recently lost all my GF1 photos from my SDHC card. After shooting about 70 photos, I put the card in a USB reader and it appeared to be empty on my computer. There are several free programs that will recover JPEG images from cameras’ memory cards, but recover RAW files—especially those from non-Canon/Nikon cameras—can be a little more difficult. Fortunately, there’s a free, open source program, PhotoRec, that will recover your deleted image files. You should note that once your files have been deleted, you should not continue to shoot any photos with the card in your camera. Any additional photos may overwrite the deleted photos that you want to recover.

Joseph Arthur at Rickshaw Stop or the GF1 and concert photography

I took my GF1 to a show by Joseph Arthur earlier this week, and although the noise at 1600 ISO is considerably higher than that of any dSLR, it held up reasonably well. I also tested out Panasonic’s EVF live viewfinder for the first time. Unfortunately, it is small, low resolution, and not particularly good. However, it was better than having the huge LCD on the back of my camera lit up in a dark venue. Click to enlarge the images below.

My favorite things of 2009

Here’s a list of things from 2009 that I particularly liked. The list has no order to it. And so:

Leica M9 — A full-frame camera that not only is not an intimidating SLR but also comes from the greatest line of cameras—the Leica M series—but is also a gorgeous rangefinder, but also gives you access to the best glass in the world. In short, it’s my dream camera—the one that leaves me short of breath and utterly destroys my syntax when I attempt to write about it.

New York Yankees — There’s something about this team that I really liked more than any Yankee team since the 2001 group that lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks. Teixera, Sabathia, Damon, Matsui, Melky, Burnett, a beautiful new stadium, and the Core Four! What fun they made October and November.

Albert Stash — A laptop bag with a handle that you can actually use to carry it for long periods of time—score!

A Gate at the Stairs — Lorrie Moore’s first novel in I don’t know how long is ambitious and acutely observed and flawed and wonderful. It made me relive, for the first time in years, one of the most intensely felt periods of my life. It reminded me what it felt like then. Can I ask any more of a novel, of a work of art?

Changing My Mind — Many of the essays in this collection by Zadie Smith have appeared in the New York Review, the Guardian, and the New Yorker, but reading them in sequence gives you a greater appreciation for the intellect and wit behind them. Smith’s new essay on David Foster Wallace alone is worth the price of admission.

Too Big to Fail — Andrew Ross Sorkin set out to write a book structured like the film Crash and as thrilling as the business classic Barbarians at the Gate. I haven’t seen Crash, but his book is every bit as thrilling as Barbarians and full of choice quotes and anecdotes from the people at the top of the financial world.

Hiroshi Sugimoto at Gagosian Gallery — I walked across town in nine inches of snow to see this show. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Sag Harbor — Colson Whitehead’s latest novel should be read on summer evenings on Long Island. Funny and nostalgic with language that is full of vitality and of the 1980s, its effect on me was similar to that of Lorrie Moore’s book, but the world it gave me access to was entirely imaginary—Whitehead’s not mine—and altogether enjoyable. Dag!

Lamy Noto — Okay, so this pen really came out in 2008, but I didn’t see it anywhere in the U.S. until the summer of 2009. A well-designed Lamy for $10? Yes, please.

Dehumanized — Mark Slouka’s essay in the September issue of Harper’s was, perhaps, the most refreshing thing I read all year—someone standing up, for all the right reasons, to the wrongheaded bias toward math and science (and away from the humanities) that has come to pervade everyplace from the university to the corporation to the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Ellipse — Imogen Heap’s first album in four years is awesome and her live show is even more awesome. The leadoff track on Ellipse, “First Train Home,” was my favorite song of the year, and I challenge you to not like it.

iPhone 3GS — I’m still using the original 2g version of the iPhone, but this year’s update brings more storage, video capability, and faster speeds. It’s great to have a product that delivers both Apple’s design sense and a large library of applications. (The Macs I’ve used for the past 15 years have always delivered the former but never the latter.) Listening to baseball games wherever I am? Check. NPR shows on demand? Check. The New York Times in a format that’s easier to browse than NYTimes.com? Double check. Now, if only it was available on a network other than AT&T.

Panasonic GF-1 — It’s no M9, but it’s sort of a poor man’s, i.e. my, rangefinder. When paired with Panasonic’s 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, it’s the closest thing to a great compact camera that I’ve ever used. See sample photos from others here.

Unibody MacBook Pros — These things look solid!

Range — Was this San Francisco restaurant new in 2009? I don’t know, but it’s good.

The President — Our country got a new one in January, and it was a glorious moment. The man can play basketball and speak and write in complete sentences, and he seems to have a genuine intellect and conscience and sense of ambivalence.

San Francisco Panorama — A very well-done one-time newspaper for a city that has no good regular publication.

Economic Recovery — The Dow and I are both lower than we once were, but we’re certainly better off than we were a year ago.

Cape Cod — I had never been before this year and now I hope that there won’t be a year when I don’t go there.

Empire State of Mind — Maybe this isn’t a new anthem for New York but Jay-Z’s new single is certainly fun. Sinatra needs a break now and then, anyway.

Some things that I haven’t yet gotten around to that came out this year but that I think I might like when I do: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Wild Things by Dave Eggers and Where the Wild Things Are by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson’s film adaptation of the Fantastic Mr. Fox.

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The most popular independent bookstores in America (on Twitter)

NFI Research has compiled a list of the independent bookstores with the most Twitter followers. Powell’s of Portland comes in first, by far, with 9,880 followers as of October 13, 2009. New York stores dominate the list, and only one Bay Area store, Booksmith, even makes an appearance on it. This is a sharp reversal of the state of things earlier this decade when notable stores, such as Coliseum and Gotham, were closing in New York, while Cody’s and Book Passage were expanding in San Francisco. A revival of indie bookstores has taken place in New York over the past couple years with successful openings of Idlewild, Greenlight, and Word, among others.

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Listen to Bon Iver at the New Yorker Festival, or how bad is the iPhone’s microphone?


I saw Sasha Frere-Jones interview Justin Vernon of Bon Iver as part of the New Yorker Festival last night. After the interview, Vernon played a brief solo set of the following songs. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my MiniDisc recorder with me, and I have yet to acquire a Tascam DR-1. So, I recorded the set with my iPhone, which sounds just about as awful as you would expect. Listen via the player below or download his set here. I’m not sure I got the title of the second song correct, and I couldn’t fine the lyrics online anywhere.

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  1. Hazelton
  2. Miss You Can’t (Real title? YouTube)
  3. Flume
  4. Hayward

I have to admit that I wasn’t as taken by Bon Iver’s album as most people I know were. However, I’ll certainly give it another chance after hearing him live. What I found fascinating was how Vernon talked about moving back to Wisconsin and doesn’t really have any interest in living anywhere else. Even after making several declarations of allegiance to the place that I’m from, I’ve left it three times this decade. And even though I intended to return each time, I still always left hoping that I would come back and never leave again. Vernon’s comments about place aren’t anything new, but given my personal history and my recent reading of Wendell Berry’s essay “A Native Hill,” hearing someone consciously commit himself to the place where he’s from, even as his work is expanding the possibility to be elsewhere, was valuable. Berry returned to Kentucky after studying at Stanford and moving to Manhattan, and he writes about his home, “Before, it had been mine by coincidence or accident; now it was mine by choice.”

It’s often bothered me than I don’t know many people who lived away from their hometowns after college and then returned to them. And I think Berry and Vernon are getting at something that I haven’t heard much among the young professional set—the value in having your geography be a set place that you serve rather than a place that simply serves your ambition. For Vernon, returning home to write the Bon Iver record For Emma, Forever Ago made geography almost invisible; place became a given, not a distraction. The artistic freedom that allowed Vernon to write a record unlike any other could only come from geographic restriction. And you can really only limit yourself to a place and know you’re not leaving if you love it, if you commit to and are responsible for it. Back to Berry: “…I never doubted that the world was more important to me than [New York]; and the world would always be most fully and clearly present to me in the place I was fated by birth to know better than any other.”

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