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One Thing - Essay from Newsletter 81

What’s next


It’s just yesterday and Jackson Browne’s “Stay” is playing on the radio.


It’s my senior year of high school coming up on forty-five years ago.

Hold on a second. Here’s the part where David Lindley urges in his falsetto:

“Oh won’t you stay, just a little bit longer.

Please, please, please, say you will.”

Hit stations just played “Stay” but the cool stations played the five minute “The Load Out” first which runs right into “Stay” on the “Running on Empty” album.

It’s a story that starts before the crowd shows up when “the seats are all empty” and the roadies take the stage.

I love that part of a performance.

In college I loved being part of the tech crew for theater shows geling and hanging lights.

There’s the moment the announcement comes over that they’re about to open the house and we retreat backstage.

Midway through it sounds like the band is going to break into “Stay” but they don’t - there’s more story to tell.

The story ends with us going home from the show and waking up in our beds while the band is on the way “to appear a thousand miles from here.”

“Chicago or Detroit I don’t know.”

Just One Thing

There are things I wish I could do better.

I wish I could sing.

I wish I could play an instrument.

I wish I could draw.

Then again, as several friends reminded me in a different context, once we’ve taken care of what we need to take care of, the way we show what’s important to us is the way we spend our time.

There’s a podcast I’ve been listening to from the BBC called “Just One Thing.” Each episode host Michael Mosley gives us just one thing we can do to improve our physical or mental health.

One week it was go for a walk first thing in the morning. Another week it was do pushups and squats every day. There was the challenge to stand on one leg for thirty seconds with your eyes closed - then the other. I skipped the cold showers one.

I also skipped the “sing loudly” challenge.

I used to sing loudly and I can often get close but not close enough to the key I should be singing in.

Sometimes when it’s just me in the car I’ll sing along - but only if I’m sure that no one can hear me.

I can say honestly, that yes, I do feel better after singing. But no one feels better after hearing me sing.


I was just thinking that I need to listen to music more while I’m at home. I used to.

I listen to way too many podcasts and not enough music.

My musical taste seems trapped by what I listened to decades ago. I need to broaden by listening to the music that’s coming out now as well as much of what I missed along the way.

Jazz. I really want to listen to more Jazz. I can’t really call up a friend excitedly and say, “hey, have you listened to this” about a Miles or Bill Evans track from fifty years ago.

Anyway - a few months back I started listening to those two artists and seeing where the “if you like this you may like that” would take me. A Monk and Brubeck later and I’m starting to get it.

I decided to do this simple thing to improve my life - not in a big way - in a small way. Surprisingly, it has improved my life in a big way. It’s like a first trip to a country I’ve never visited before.

Playing music

Growing up, the kids in my family had to take piano lessons. I wasn’t very good.

We spent a year in England and I played tympani in the school orchestra and continued to do so when I returned to Oberlin. I wasn’t very good.

If you think I can’t find the right key when I sing, you should listen to me search for the beat when I’m playing percussion.

But there is something wonderful about contributing to the work of an ensemble whether it be acting or on the crew of a play, writing some part of an app, or playing in a band.

I backed into playing my favorite instrument - the slide advance keyboard.

I used to do the opening evening keynote in a traveling tech conference called Cocoa Conf.

They were a lot of fun and I learned so much in the years I participated.

Most tech conferences are in a location once a year and everyone travels in to participate.

Cocoa Conf was a regional conference where many of the attendees were somewhat local and there were both local and traveling speakers.

The conference would wrap up and the crowd would go home and wake up in their beds and the speakers would see each other again in a month or so a thousand miles away.

Joining the Band

Anyway, I would do the opening keynote.

And then James Dempsey would follow with a Breakpoint Jam. It was a live performance of his comedy songs about Mac and iOS development.

Speakers and attendees who could play an instrument would contact him to participate. James would send out the chords to his songs so they could practice. The musicians would meet up to rehearse during a free moment and then they would perform after the keynote.

James songs are accompanied by images that punctuate, illustrate, and play off of the comedy of the lyrics. The slides must be revealed at precisely the right moment for the jokes to land so James prepares sheets with the lyrics and marks that indicate where the next slide should appear.

Since I was coming off stage when James and the band were coming on, he asked me to stay and run the slides.

My instrument in the performance was my Mac and James’ Keynote deck. My role: slide advance keyboard.

I was thrilled.

When you first play with the live band you are designated a “Conditional Breakpoint.” At some point you become an actual breakpoint.

I remember that day with pride. That’s the day I joined the band.

The Big Show

I enjoyed being part of the show and I definitely had the best seat in the house.

One of the interesting things about the Breakpoint Jams is you never know who is going to be there to play with James and what instruments they will bring. Each show was different.

Once a year James Dempsey and The Breakpoints performed a live show near Apple’s Developer conference WWDC.

All of the musicians who live in the Bay area were able to show up and many developers are in town for the conference and so they’re able to play as well.

Even though there’s nothing for me to learn or practice, I would show up for the rehearsal and sound check and watch the musicians wander in and practice. There would often be a new musician joining.

In later years there was a string section and a horn section and multiple backup vocalists.

Once the show began it was clear that most of the audience knew the songs as well as the band. They quickly embraced the new pieces but they knew that the last song would be James’ first hit, “The Liki Song”.

“The Liki Song” was a song on memory management that had been updated as the techniques and languages had changed. It has a sing-along chorus and the stage would fill with all of the musicians who had played on any of the songs throughout the evening.

It was a crowd favorite and always ended the concert.

Until it didn’t.

One more thing

James had a new song.

It would be an encore piece for after “The Liki Song” and it would play off of Steve Jobs’ famous line from conferences past, “One more thing.”

It began with a melancholy remembrance of Steve.

Just James on stage accompanied by Jonathan Penn on guitar.

And then one by one, the musicians would return to the stage and the song would build reminding us that we each always have one more thing we can contribute and that we’re surrounded by other people rowing in the same direction.

Last week I mentioned that it was the tenth anniversary of Steve’s death.

James released a version of the song that blew me away. It hit the music store after I had pressed “send” on last week’s newsletter. I downloaded and played it - it’s incredible.

James had sent a click track to over thirty musicians and asked us (yes - there’s even slide-advance keyboard on the song. yes - I realize how silly that is) to play and upload our recordings. Then a producer mixed the tracks into a song that I’ve been listening to on repeat for a week.

Check out the liner notes, lyrics, and musicians for One more thing.

Tap on the image to get the song from the iTunes store.

“Look to the future, you’ll still find So many great things happening So many dreams left to take wing”

It’s a wonderful repeatable exercise.

One thing.

Then another thing.

Just one at time. No rush. No requirements.

Ask yourself, “At this moment, what’s my next ‘one more thing’?”

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 81. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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