Lists: Umberto Eco, Johnny Cash & Me

[avatar user=”jporter” size=”medium” align=”left”]J.S. Porter, Writer/Contributor[/avatar]

So…you’re a celebrity. What do you want in your dressing room?

Britney Spears wants Herve Leger dresses, snickers bars, Diet Coke, magnolia blossoms, chicken, and potato salad. She also wants a manicurist, a facialist and a massage therapist.

That’s a list. The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature.” So says Umberto Eco, that contemporary Renaissance man from Rome.

Why do we make lists? “To make infinity comprehensible… to create order,” Eco posits.

There are many kinds of lists, including practical ones – shopping lists, employment lists, to-do lists, wills, menus. Spouses especially like to-do lists. “We like lists,” Eco says, “because we don’t want to die.”

We also want to pass something on to a loved one.

The day Rosanne Cash graduated from high school in Ventura, California, she went on a road trip with her dad. They rode together on a tour bus in the summer of 1973, and started to talk about songs.  “My dad mentioned a song, and I said, ‘I don’t know that one’. He mentioned another and then another. I didn’t know any of them. He became alarmed that I was so steeped in the rock and pop music of my time that I did not understand the vital importance of the songs that were my musical genealogy, the songs that had informed him, and would eventually inform me.”

Rosanne recalls her dad making a list of songs for her. “I can still see him, pensive, with his pencil raised above his legal pad, considering which songs would make the List. It was a list to educate me, to tell me about my Southern roots and my American history, about my legacy. He called the List ‘100 Essential Country Songs’ but he could have called it ‘100 Essential American Songs,’ because he included history songs, protest songs, early folk songs, Delta Blues, gospel, Texas swing, and standards that simply defy  genre.”  She says that she has held onto the list for 35 years. The list includes the familiar “Sea of Heartbreak,” “I’m Movin’ On,”  “500 Miles,” and “Long Black Veil.”

I find myself making lists to keep record of what I’ve seen and heard. I need to reassure myself that I really did see –

The last concert of the Penguin Café Orchestra at Harbourfront in Toronto 

Van Morrison and Bob Dylan in the Botanic Gardens in Belfast after the Good Friday Agreement

Joan Baez at hillside in Lewiston, New York

Leonard Cohen twice at the Sony Centre in Toronto

Bruce Springsteen at the Roger’s Centre in Toronto

Dave Panting in St. John’s at The Ship performing a medley of Irish and Newfoundland songs and instrumental pieces

And, my favourite, Jane Siberry at the Staircase Café Theatre on Dundurn in Hamilton, an audience of about a hundred, Jane singing personally it seemed to each of us.

If I didn’t make lists, how would I remember anything?

J.S. Porter