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It’s All Too Much: Navigating The Myriad of Musical, Cultural, Literary, and Other Assorted Time-Consuming Activities

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Some time ago I saw a reference to the lyrics from Oklahoma:

It’s where “the wind comes sweeping down the plain.”

Artist’s conception.

I can’t speak to the veracity of this. And despite never having seen the film, I’m well aware of the claim.

I’m culturally aware. I know a little about a lot, and there’s a little of that I know a lot about.

Artist’s conception.

Somehow, the lyrics of a film I’ve never seen have seeped into my brain by the unseen force of osmosis.

Pondering on this is the realisation that when it comes to pre-1970s musicals, I know all the names, I can tell you some of the songs and stars..

…but I haven’t seen a single one.

  • Carousel
  • Paint Your Wagon,
  • Guys And Dolls
  • West Side Story
  • Fiddler On The Roof
  • Singing In The Rain
  • Calamity Jane…
  • even The Wizard Of Oz.

You name it. I haven’t seen it.

I’ve just looked through Rotten Tomatoes 100 Best Musical Movies Of All Time. 41 were made prior to 1970 – I’ve seen three of them.

Two of those are A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Not traditional musicals. That just leaves Mary Poppins.

“Young Master JJ? Would you be so good as to help me prepare our dinner?”

Once we get into the 70s with Bugsy Malone, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the original Willy Wonka, my strike rates improves to 30 out of 59.

It’s not that I have a personal year zero that I won’t watch anything made before a certain date, either. Many have been TV perennials, especially over Christmas.

I’ll blame my parents.

Grant Wood’s conception.

In the days when they controlled the TV, they had no interest in classic musicals. So I never saw them and never caught up.

It’s a large element of popular culture that I’m drawing a blank on. There’s just too many musicals to watch.

And Then:

There’s TV series to binge on…

Albums to listen to…

Places to visit…

Books to read…

Restaurants to try…

And on it goes. Plus, they keep making more of everything. And thanks to the Internet, its easier than ever to be reminded that your life is incomplete without seeing, hearing, tasting, watching, etc, etc, etc…

When I was younger I was invested in seeking out critically acclaimed books, films, music.

With maturity is the realisation there isn’t enough time to fit it all in. And then children arrive. Of course there are lists telling you what to watch with them:

The intro to that Fatherly list ends with: ‘This list isn’t about making your kids happy. It’s about watching movies together that inspire something bigger.’

It’s all very well presenting the 100 best kids movies ever. But you try explaining to an under 10 why Studio Ghibli represents a timeless quality, whereas the John Cena vehicle Playing With Fire is just puerile fart jokes. And see how far you get. Children’s tastes are critic-proof.

If I were to invest time in watching all these classic films I’d be missing out on the 111 places that I shouldn’t miss in Leeds.

On a recent visit to a bookshop in Leeds City centre, they had a stand promoting that very book: 111 Places In Leeds That You Shouldn’t Miss.

I’ve lived here 26 years now. And at the risk of alienating fellow Leodensians, 111 is pushing it for one moderate sized city. It sucks you in though. I admit to a curiosity, wanting to see what these 111 places are.

Turns out they aren’t all in Leeds.

It gets worse as other Yorkshire cities; Bradford, Sheffield and York get their own books.

So that’s 444 places within cities in Yorkshire you shouldn’t miss. As well as the 111 places in Yorkshire. That’s a whole lot places to visit. And I haven’t even left my home county.

It’s gets really crazy with London. Obviously there’s 111 Places In London That You Shouldn’t Miss.

As well as:

  • 111 Literary Places – you might want to buy some more books to distract you from all this.
  • 111 Coffee Shops – you need all that caffeine to get through it.
  • 111 Gardens – you’ll need somewhere pleasant to stop for a rest.
  • 111 Churches – you might be asking God why you started on this crazy endeavour.
  • 111 Places In London’s East End – I’m guessing Jack The Ripper and 1960s gangsters The Kray Twins make up a not-so-wholesome chunk of them.
  • 111 Pubs and Bars – the pub crawl to end them all.

And:

33 Walks In London That You Shouldn’t Miss.

Something might have gone wrong with the branding. Come on, there’s definitely 111 walks you can do in London.

So that’s 810 things to do in London. All of them unmissable. Even if I live to 100 I’ll be missing most of them. Its OK, I’ve made my peace with it.

What’s next? Music.

A quick Google of what is essential to listen to brings forth these prominent lists;

  • 40 Essential Albums To Hear Before You Die
  • 52 Albums To Listen To Before You Die
  • 101 Albums To Hear Before You Die
  • 1001 Albums To Hear Before You Die

That’s just the tip of a very large mortality-bothering iceberg. 

Which leads into further niche / unnecessary corners, such as: The 100 Greatest Albums To Own On Vinyl.

Turns out they’re much the same names from the canon as any other greatest ever list. Just a slightly different way of packaging the same old same old.

A sign of how times have changed is that if I search for “greatest albums to own on CD,” there isn’t a single list. Don’t worry CD lovers: wait long enough and they’ll come back into fashion as a must have retro item.

Then: there’s Esquire’sThe 75 Albums Every Man Should Own.

Which is a concept so utterly depressing, it almost makes me ashamed to own any of them.

No surprises: it’s a list almost devoid of women but don’t worry they’re not totally bewildered by the feminine. It’s got Velvet Underground And Nico, Ike and Tina Turner and Liz Phair, for which the sum total of their write up is:

‘Liz Phair can make you feel ashamed to be a man. And to want to make it up to her.’

That comment and the whole concept of the list makes me feel ashamed to be a man.

Moving on:

You’ll be needing some sustenance while you’re listening to those 1,001 albums, visiting the 111+ places you must not miss, or watching all those films.

How about:

  • 12 Foods You Must Try Before You Die – #1 is Mom’s cooking. If you’ve got to adulthood without tasting your mom’s cooking it suggests you may be best off without it. And what about dad’s cooking? Doesn’t even get a look in. You should try my pineapple upside cake.
  • 25 Foods You Have To Eat Before You Die – #1 is a chocolate chip cookie from Levain Bakery, New York.
  • 50 Things To Eat In Europe Before You Die – #1 is Currywurst.
  • 50 International Foods To Try Before You Die – #1 is Apfelstrudel.
  • 60 Famous Foods To Try In Your Lifetime – #1 is Spanish Tapas.
  • 1001 Foods To Try Before You Die – A list for the real glutton. Or maybe not given the #1 is Elderberry Flower. The main use for which is in making drinks.

Which means it belongs here;

  • 100 Beverages To Try Before You Die – #1 is a Hot Toddy in Ireland
  • 100 Classic Cocktails To Try – ‘After Five’, a shooter cocktail composed of coffee liqueur, Irish cream liqueur, and Peppermint Schnapps
  • 25 Coffee Drinks To Try Before You Die – #1 is a proper cappuccino. #justiceformaxwellhouse
  • 10 Teas To Try Before You Die – #1 is Yerba Mate.

Assuming you’re in a fit state to leave the house after all that food and drink you’ll need some things to do. There’s even more bucket lists available than any of the others.

These are a random selection of the #1 picks from various things to do before you die lists;

Start a Hobby – thanks for narrowing that down, vagueness is not a virtue

Volunteer At An Elephant Rescue In Thailand – ok, maybe too specific

See the Northern Lights – that’s more like it, specific but achievable

Go On A Road Trip, preferably without being murdered – probably not necessary to append it with that preference. Maybe a bit offputting to anyone in need of convincing about this major life decision.

Filter Your Best Friends – Which is a polite way of saying get rid of all the negative ones. Sensible advice that will have a long lasting impact on your life, yet strangely joyless compared to the short sharp thrill of another #1 recommendation to abseil down a waterfall.

Forgive someone you need to forgive – it’s not all about you.

Go to space – Just because you wake up one day and decide you’ll retrain as a villainous billionaire, or an astronaut, doesn’t mean its gonna happen.

Visit the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas – Who says life goals can’t be pedestrian? Has anybody been? Presumably your life is now complete.

Quit your job and go travelling – depending on your financial circumstances the travelling may mean getting on a bus to visit the job centre.

Meow every time you receive an email at the office – now this is an achievable goal.

Why you’d want to achieve it is another matter. Apparently it’ll make work ‘a tiny bit more fun’. Rather than making work a tiny bit more fun I reckon it’ll mark you out as that weirdo who everybody avoids and you’ll soon be encouraged / forced to quit your job so you can go travelling.

While you’re doing all that travelling, you’ll have plenty of time to get through:

The 100 Books To Read Before You Die. Which according to Goodreads, the #1 is:

1984 by George Orwell. Not quite the escapist adventure you may be looking for.

And if you happen to pass a desert when you’re doing all that travelling you can fulfil the top choice from the more rarefied; 11 Things You Should Hear Before You Die. Which is the song of the dunes.

If you manage to complete all that watching, listening, eating, drinking, travelling;

Well done. I hope it was worth it.

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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rollerboogie
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March 13, 2024 7:51 am

Wow, that was quite the tour de force on lists, JJ. I would feel very overwhelmed by this, except for the fact that many of these kinds of lists are highly subjective and should not be taken too seriously, which I believe was inherent in this exercise. Your droll responses to some of these suggestions brought multiple smiles to my face.

Some additional thoughts-
Your commentary on that line from the Fatherly “100 Kids Movies” article, ‘This list isn’t about making your kids happy. It’s about watching movies together that inspire something bigger.’, is spot on. It’s amazing that anyone that has actually watched movies with their kids would say something like this. It was rare that we have ever watched a movie my daughter didn’t choose or ask to see, and when we did, it usually didn’t take. When it comes to kids movies, yes, it’s about them, not us.

I’m pretty sure the office space in that cat picture was meant to look tiny so as to be functional for the cat, but it had the opposite effect on me, in that it made the cat look giant. As a cat owner, that was terrifying.

I’ve not seen the ball of twine in Cawker City, KS. I have seen Albert, the World’s Largest Bull in Audubon, Iowa and the World’s Largest Buffalo Monument in Jamestown, North Dakota.

Any “Before You Die” lists about music I take as helpful suggestions (except for that Esquire “Man” list; I found the very concept of that to be offensive, as you pointed out so well). It is always good to check out something I haven’t heard before or barely remember, but ultimately I’m going to like what I like. The longer I live, and the more time I hang out at the Gum comment section and here, I realize that absolutely no one is the gate keeper on musical taste.

Last edited 1 month ago by rollerboogie
rollerboogie
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March 13, 2024 7:56 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

Also, my daughter loved Playing With Fire and wanted to watch it multiple times. I was good with one time, but I have to say it wasn’t bad.

rollerboogie
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March 13, 2024 1:29 pm

My daughter wanted to watch the Goonies recently, since she had never seen it, but had heard a lot about it. She did not like it at all and walked away about a third of the way through and we shut it off. I have to admit that I myself was thinking, “man, this is actually pretty awful”, which I never concluded upon previous viewings. After that experience, I decided not to push for Princess Bride, as I’m thinking she won’t like that one either, and I don’t want to potentially sully the good feelings I have about it by watching it again and having it not hold up.

Last edited 1 month ago by rollerboogie
Virgindog
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March 13, 2024 9:35 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

The biggest ball of twine and the others are just the sort of nonsense I love but I just looked up Cawker City and Audubon and they’re not really close to anywhere I think I’d be going, so I’ll have to give them a miss. Jamestown is right on I-94, so that’s a possibility.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for seeing the world’s largest globe every time I go to Maine to visit my parents. You can see it from the highway if you know where to look.

rollerboogie
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March 13, 2024 10:20 am
Reply to  Virgindog

If you are on I-94 in North Dakota and you have not been to the Theordore Roosevelt National Park, I highly recommend it (not to add to the places to see before you die). Still one of my favorite placed we’ve visited.

Virgindog
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March 13, 2024 9:51 am

Great job, JJ. Your next step is to compile a list of “100 Lists Of 1000 Things To Do Before You Die To Do Before You Die.”

How many of the 111 places in Leeds you shouldn’t miss have you been to?

LinkCrawford
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March 13, 2024 1:09 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I was wondering the same…

Low4
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March 13, 2024 12:22 pm

Don’t know about everything else, but you really must see Singin’ in the Rain.

I thought I once saw the Northern Lights in Suffolk, so that one should be achievable.

Also, FWIW, I highly recommend you visit any meat and three in a town in the southern US and have a meal of fried chicken, fried okra, black-eyed peas, butter beans, and a biscuit, all washed down with sweet tea. (Excuse me, gotta go to lunch now.)

Pauly Steyreen
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March 13, 2024 2:30 pm
Reply to  Low4

Gotta throw some turnip greens or collard greens in there instead of one of the legumes, but yes I’m in!

Low4
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March 14, 2024 10:40 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Fair enough. I’m not personally a fan of greens, but I get it. If I had to choose, I’d keep the BEPs.

Pauly Steyreen
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March 14, 2024 10:50 am
Reply to  Low4

I got that Boom Boom Pow too!

LinkCrawford
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March 13, 2024 1:10 pm

These lists do have their uses, but the titles are so demanding that they make me want to take another drink of milk and say, “Oh, I think I’ll be just fine, thank you.”

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 13, 2024 2:57 pm

Very thoughtful piece, JJ.

A vacation is almost a microcosm of this dilemma. You have a finite amount of time. Are you going to spend it by checking off must-do activities, simply savoring the moment, or some mix of both?

Most people don’t realize that the correct answer is always: sweet shops.

Speaking of lists, this one arguably belongs in the top 10 of my favorite:

lists
Phylum of Alexandria
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March 13, 2024 3:00 pm

Also, soundtrack for today’s post:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zc3idF_IZ0

Zeusaphone
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March 13, 2024 3:01 pm

I basically never watch films that aren’t musicals or music adjacent. The only TV I watch is ESPN. I did watch the Oscars with Mrs Zeusaphone and amazingly enough had seen two of the best picture nominees (Barbie and Maestro) and found both underwhelming.

mjevon6296
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March 13, 2024 3:53 pm

On the musicals, please do watch Singing in the Rain – it is one of the funnest movies and the dancing is mostly active and sublime. (Gene Kelley always throws in a couple of slow numbers in his musicals but you do not mind in this one.)

I will also encourage watching the original West Side Story if you like amazing, intense, expressive, almost ballet-like dancing. (Yes there is “dance fighting” that has been made fun of through the years, but it looks great as long as you do not expect a real depiction of street fightintg.) The original has some issues and is a little melodramatic for today’s audiences but still worth a watch. The new one is great too and actually looks more “late 1950’s authentic” based on the budget and vision Spielberg was bringing.

I had no history with dancing or musicals as a kid (except for watching The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins with my family as a kid), but I like them more and more as I get older.

Last edited 1 month ago by mjevon6296
Phylum of Alexandria
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March 13, 2024 5:18 pm
Reply to  mjevon6296

My musical recommendations (not limited by era) are:

Hedwig & the Angry Inch
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Grease
Jesus Christ Superstar
Sweeney Todd (the Burton film is a solid condensed version)
Les Miserables (I recommend the 10th anniversary concert over the film)
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
The Dark Side of the Rainbow/The Wizard of Floyd (so much better than the original, which I did admittedly love as a kid)

Aaron3000
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March 13, 2024 7:30 pm

As a hopeless completionist, this article hits me hard. I used to buy DVD box sets of TV series, but rarely got around to actually watching them… because I was busy reading my way through a series of paperback novels (which I never finished). Back when we had cable, I’d DVR old movies that aired on TCM. I did manage to watch some, but the majority were still unviewed when we cut the cord and had to return the box.

For New Years, I signed up for a free three- month trial of Spotify premium, thinking I could listen to all the must-hear albums that I’d never heard in their entirety. Started off with something simple ( the Cars’ debut LP), and of course I decided I needed to listen to their entire discography. Which wasn’t so bad (I made it through in one workday), but then I did the same for Stevie Wonder, and Elton John, which took about a week each, and realized the whole endeavor was futile, since I apparently can’t listen to just one album by any artist (I believe the scientific term is FOMO). And… while I was listening to all these albums, I was falling behind on my daily podcasts, which is a whole ‘nother obsession.

Anyway: My name is Aaron3000, and I have a problem.

Last edited 1 month ago by Aaron3000
cappiethedog
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March 13, 2024 8:19 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

I collected the web series The Handmaid’s Tale. I sold it. The show goes off the rails after they break away from the original source. And even the brilliant first season: It’s not really something I want to rewatch.

Comfort TV. That’s my aim.

I return to The Complete Taxi.

Gilmore Girls.

cappiethedog
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March 13, 2024 8:12 pm

I’m almost midway through the Modern Library 100 Best Novels. I started from the bottom, mainly to avoid Ulysses. But even Finnegan’s Wake was too much for me. I finished it. But I can’t remember what I read. (Jennifer Lopez in Enough mocks me.) I’m at #56, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. That was three years ago. I became obsessed with contemporary literary fiction. I ask myself pompous questions: Is this literature? Will this book be read fifty years from now? I read this book in one sitting: Could this double as YA fiction? While at the same time, my eyes glaze over when I read from the canon. I’m not in school anymore. I want to be entertained.

Favorite novels #100-#56: Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net and William Kennedy’s Ironweed. They were “fun” novels.

The Wizard of Oz as musical: It obviously is, but I was never conscious of it ’til now.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 14, 2024 11:23 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

I started from the bottom, mainly to avoid Ulysses. But even Finnegan’s Wake was too much for me. I finished it.

I read Ulysses, but couldn’t even get to Page 2 of Finnegan’s Wake. If you were able to finish that, reading Ulysses will be like watching Derry Girls by comparison.

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