Tag Archives: memory

Where’s the rest of me?

What does it mean to use only 10 percent of our brains?“They say we only use 10 percent of our brains,” my barber said as he was pruning back two months worth of my hair.

I hear that statement periodically, but you don’t stop to think seriously about what it really means until someone is employing sharp instruments so close to your brain.

What would be the implications of using 100 percent of our brains, of being able to do everything we do now — only more of it?

If  we were using all our brains, could we remember everything — even where we dropped our keys?

Could we do two completely different things at the same time, say landscape painting while changing our engine oil?

Would we all be good at math?

Would we all be chess masters? Could we play polyrhythms? Order in French?

And would we be able to rent out space in our brains to others?

The idea that we only use a tenth of our brains seems to mean that we live falling short, that we die unfulfilled, guilty of some moral weakness — “He was such a promising boy, but he only used 10 percent of his brain, so what do you expect?” Such disappointment.

We can take some comfort in the fact that the 10 percent idea isn’t true. As early as 2004, Scientific American published a debunking article,   “Do we really use only 10 percent of our brains?” Perhaps the magazine forgot about it, because in 2008 it published another article, “Do People Only Use 10 Percent Of Their Brains?

The answer to both questions seems to be no. But I’m not sure I want to tell my barber that.



Filed under popular culture, psychology

Hey Keith, ‘Hey Joe’

As I was leafing through Keith Richards’ new autobiography, Life, before diving in, I found this offhand mention of how one of rock’s great guitarists got his hands on one of rock’s great guitar songs:

“And then, so [Richards’ ex-girlfriend] Linda [Keith] says, she also picked up a copy of a demo I had of Tim Rose singing a song called ‘Hey Joe.’ And took that round to Roberta Goldstein’s, where Jimi was, and played it to him. This is rock-and-roll history. So he got the song from me, apparently.”

Tim Rose?

While I had never gone searching for the origins of “Hey Joe,” I always  knew Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the first to record it. Once when the song was playing on the radio, my mom told me she had heard an earlier version of the song.  She couldn’t recall the singer, or when she heard it.  But I’ve always kept my ears open for that mysterious other version. Could Tim Rose, who I had never heard of, be the singer my mom meant?

So I began my online search. It turns out that both “Hey Joe” and Tim Rose have complicated stories.

“Hey Joe” rose from a tradition of folk songs in which an enraged man shoots his two-timing lover down. The creation of the song itself is disputed, although it was registered for copyright in the U.S. in 1962 by Billy Roberts, according to Wikipedia. A number of uptempo versions were recorded in 1965-’66, including one by the Byrds.

Rose’s version, by contrast, was slow and brooding.  Rose, who recorded “Hey Joe” in 1966, always maintained that “Hey Joe” was a traditional song that he had arranged. He died in 2002.

If you know Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” by heart, see how powerful Rose’s 12-string guitar version was, in this 1969 performance:

Here is an older Rose discussing and performing the song.  And an opportunity to put Rose and Hendrix side by side.

My mom died in 1986. She would have been 91 today.

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Believe in magic.

The Magician of Lublin, by Isaac Bashevis SingerThis article in Tablet about the reissue of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel The Magician of Lublin made me dip back into my memory to figure out whether I read the book or saw the movie first. It might have been the film first, with Alan Arkin playing the restless magician Yasha Mazur. Either way, the story had a profound effect on me, on how I view possibilities and limits in life, and the book remains one of my favorites.

If my history with The Magician of Lublin were a current question, I could enter a few keywords and perhaps draw from the cloud the dates I read the book and saw the movie.

Search is one of the greatest inventions of our time, a bit of magic compared to the alternative:  going through boxes from decades ago to see if I saved the ticket stub from the movie and, by chance, wrote the date on it.  Tedium.

Lacking facts, I’m free to remember the story of my discovery of Singer’s world of the damned and the doomed as I think it happened  or, failing that, as I wanted it to happen.

The reissue of the novel comes at the 50th anniversary of its original printing.  In his Tablet article, Adam Kirsch notes the plot of  The Magician of Lublin “is one that must have resonated personally for Singer, since it is substantially the same as those of Enemies: A Love Story and Shadows on the Hudson: A man suffers a spiritual crisis as he juggles love affairs with three different women.”

This is a much more insightful and certainly more subtle description of what I’ve always thought of the story: A depressed Jewish magician sleeps with three women at once and remains depressed.

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Filed under books, Judaism, print, reading

Cranberry sauce.

The Beatles -- Abbey RoadI’ve always prided myself as a person who doesn’t fall for hoaxes or give way to conspiracy theories. But a recent article made me realize that I indeed had once been sucked in by one of these far-fetched rumors. It happened in October 1969, around the time I turned 11.

Maybe I was home from school that afternoon, or maybe it was a Saturday, but I remember being home alone when I heard the announcement on my favorite radio station, WKNR-AM (Keener 13) in Detroit. I don’t know precisely what the announcement said, or how long it lasted, but it was enough to propel me downstairs from my bedroom to pull out the most recent Beatles albums we had. I spent a good while tracking down the clues the radio had said pointed to the conclusion that Paul McCartney was dead.

Paul was said to have died two years before and the Beatles were using a McCartney double to hide the tragedy. Despite the cover up,  the Beatles had laced their recent work with clues that revealed the truth about Paul:  There on the back cover of Sgt. Pepper was Paul, his back turned to the viewer, separated from his front-facing, living bandmates. There he was on Abbey Road, crossing the street barefoot, past a Volkswagen whose license plate read “28IF” — Paul would have been 28 years old if he had lived. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John Lennon seems to be saying, “I bury Paul.”

The house felt creepy, as if I had just woken from a bad dream.

Over time the Paul is Dead phenomenon faded, then ceased to be relevant. Along the way, John explained that he was saying “cranberry sauce” on the record, not “I bury Paul.” And a few years back I learned that Keener 13 (which in the early ’70s I abandoned for FM radio) was instrumental in spreading the rumor nationally.

In October, an article appeared in Michigan Today that detailed the role a mischievous University of Michigan student named Fred LaBour played in energizing the Paul is Dead rumor. LaBour wrote a full-page story in the student-run Michigan Daily, offering details of McCartney’s death in a car accident. He repeated the clues then circulating and offered more of them, saying the Beatle’s death was fact, not rumor. Many of the clues LaBour made up.

Today the whole thing seems like a quaint heirloom from the increasingly distant 1960s, nothing more than a feverish alternate reality no longer populated by truth seekers. The truth is pretty obvious now.

But I still don’t think John was saying “cranberry sauce.”


Filed under music, popular culture

How much for that memory?



That’s how much a memory costs at Liberty High School, outside Dallas. Well, a package of memories. Pictures and words on paper and bound between two hard covers.

A yearbook. And last week, an article by Jessica Meyers in the Dallas Morning News pointed to the yearbook as another victim of the decline of print.  It hadn’t occurred to me that the yearbook has many of the same weaknesses as the newspaper — and some the newspaper doesn’t have — before my friend Sarah pointed out this article. But it makes perfect sense.

Add to the $60 price tag the fact that moments can now be captured and stored with such ease at such little cost — and multiply that by the fact that, unlike older Americans, high school students have no loyalty to print and, well, you do the math; it was never my specialty. Half of Liberty High’s students bought yearbooks this year, but according to the article, that’s way above average.

My favorite quote from the story, included to illustrate the mindset of today’s iPod-packin’ teens, is surreal:

“I don’t think memories should cost anything,” said Liberty senior Paul Tee.

(We know that memories don’t really cost anything. On the other hand, listen to Sinatra sing “One For My Baby.”)

My high school memories go back to the mid-’70s. I don’t remember how much our yearbooks cost, but recently they got a second life. In January, two schoolmates set up an alumni site on Ning. One of the first things my friend Giselle (we go back to 5th grade) did, was reach for the yearbooks. Then she scanned a mess of pictures and posted them on line.

If even we print-bound boomers are launching our school pictures into the cloud, how much more so those high schoolers who think in digital terms anyway.

[EDIT: I wondered what would happen if scanners disappeared. I checked with my friend Lori, a designer at a big Philadelphia newspaper. She believes that “any designer worth her salt needs to have a scanner for archival photos and certain other things. I don’t think we’ll see their complete extinction any time very soon.”]

So what it comes down to is the medium. Maybe it won’t always be a book. Schools are starting to  put yearbook content on DVDs. I read someplace that a DVD yearbook costs $10. Not sure how people would sign your yearbook, but there’s probably some ways to to that, too.

While I was surprised to learn that yearbooks are in decline, I’m not going into mourning for them.  Nor am I moved by the correlation between yearbook demand and the odd, virus-like thing called school spirit.

On that score, the article quotes Linda Drake, the Journalism Education Association’s yearbook adviser of the year who is also on the National Scholastic Press Association’s board of directors. “But I have issues with kids saying they can’t afford [a yearbook] and then buying a pair of $100 jeans. I don’t see the school spirit. I don’t see the school camaraderie. ” she said.

Linda may not see it because the kids have a choice. Tarleton State College in Stephensville, Texas, isn’t making that mistake. To raise camaraderie, school spirit and yearbook sales,  it “imposed a mandatory $25 fee to all undergraduate students,” the article said.

Maybe it was because I went to a Quaker school that we weren’t harangued about school spirit. The Quaker way is to wait until the spirit moves you and, until then, please keep quiet. Besides, it was the ’70s and there were other things on our minds.

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When video was young.

From “Moments Not to Remember,” by David Owen

“The popularity of video cameras arises from a simple but potent misunderstanding. Somehow people have gotten the idea that they won’t mind being old so much if they can turn on the TV and see what they were like when they were young. This is not true.

“The best memories — the ones that actually do comfort people in their later years — are ones that have been allowed to evolve unhindered by documentary proof.

“Memory is better than a video camera, because, in addition to being free, it doesn’t work very well.”

Atlantic Monthly, June 1995


Friends School in Detroit, 1974

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