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Favorites, Now and Always

Dan Blaufuss | September 2018

    Watching Family Feud is always entertaining; it’s fun trying to predict those last answers that neither side is able to guess. It is likewise a great thought exercise to deal such questions as what three things would someone want to have if stranded on a deserted island or what one would if they one a nine-figure lottery jackpot.  I also make lists frequently; I have to-do lists at both home and the office, and sometimes I even manage to accomplish the things on them.
    I think it gets more difficult when trying to come up with a superlative list. Around the turn of the century, there were numerous “Most Influential People of the last 1,000 Years” articles (usually Johannes Gutenberg or Isaac Newton tops the list), and various publications occasionally do something similar for sports teams, books, movies, songs, or music albums. I always enjoy reading these, and you can find one in our pages this month – a list of 100 suggested rock songs for a rock history class is in Patricia Cornett’s wonderful article, which starts on page 10. One of the songs on her list is Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit from the album Nevermind.
    I was in high school when Nirvana’s Nevermind was released, and I still remember the album’s influence, from everyone in my school suddenly wearing mostly flannel shirts and torn jeans to the revitalization of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s career. (Interestingly, Kurt Cobain once said Yankovic’s request for permission to parody Smells Like Teen Spirit was the moment he realized Nirvana had finally made it in the music industry.) Nirvana’s legacy endures, while many other musical acts are forgotten.
    The same holds true for books, movies, and – in the digital age – everything else. Sometimes a photo or video goes viral, and the people behind it are able to make a career out of it; Grumpy Cat comes to mind. Other times, today’s viral phenomenon is quickly forgotten. In the United Kingdom, at the end of each calendar year, comedian Jimmy Carr hosts a special called The Big Fat Quiz of the Year. In the 2015 version, the show’s mystery guest was Cecilia Bleasdale, who took the photo of the black-and-blue/white-and-gold dress. The photo went viral in February, and by December, the show’s contestants struggled to remember until the clues became obvious. (For the record, the dress is really black and blue, but I never could see it as anything but white and gold in the photo.)
    I think what some people enjoy about lists and rankings is arguing about what belongs and what doesn’t, but I prefer to use them as an opportunity to learn. Another song on Cornett’s list is Ray Charles’s That’s Enough, which I cannot remember ever hearing before this year.
    Cartoonist Randall Munroe, who draws the webcomic xkcd, once concluded mathematically that for every thing that exists, there are roughly 10,000 people each day who hear about it for the first time. That’s Enough might be an old friend to some readers, but my turn to discover it didn’t come until August of this year.
    These new discoveries are the memories that stay with people and shape who they are. Two band pieces that shaped me as a musician were Alfred Reed’s The Hounds of Spring and Derek Bourgeois’s Serenade, both of which taught me that counting something other than straight quarter notes in 44 time wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was at the time, and both of which I still hum on occasion. Regardless of what other best-of lists these two pieces might be on, they are on mine. Best of luck introducing your students to what will hopefully become new favorites this year.