I don’t mean to brag or nothin’, but when it comes to procrastinating, I’m something of an expert. If there had been a contest last year to determine the world’s best procrastinator, I wouldn’t have even filled out the entry form yet. But it looks like I’ve got fierce competition — on July 20, the UK’s Observer reported that wasting time isn’t simply a bad habit born of laziness and lack of discipline; more alarmingly, it’s “an affliction that ruins millions of lives and often requires therapy and other treatment for sufferers, psychologists have warned.” Do you know what this means? It means I’m off the hook for being lazy and lacking discipline! Now all I need to do is find a doctor who’ll write a note that I can give to Jeff Giles, my parents, my boss, and my long-suffering girlfriend, Aimiee, who thinks I’m too much of a coward to propose, when my real excuse is that I keep putting off the phone call to buy tickets for Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, where I plan to propose during the fake ceremony and provide everyone with some actual entertainment.
According to Michael Day’s article for the Observer, one out of every five people now procrastinates to the point that his or her career, health, and relationships suffer as a result. And what are the main culprits that are aiding and abetting people in their quest to eternally neglect their ever-growing to-do lists? Computers and cell phones, of course. I personally blame my iPod for the entire month of productivity I lost last fall after I bought a new one to replace the ancient 22-month-old iPod I’d previously owned. Curse you, thief of time and cruel manipulator of obsessive information organizers like myself! “The subject is seen as joke,” said Professor Joseph Ferrari of DePaul University in Chicago, who was apparently too distracted by the awesomeness of his last name to add an “a” before the last word in his statement. “But the social and economic implications are huge. These people need therapy. They need to change the way they act and think.” But according to the article, procrastination has a negative effect on health by encouraging procrastinators to put off visits to the doctor, and if I’m not going to bother finding out which physicians within a one-block radius of my couch are “in-network,” why would I waste time finding a therapist when I’m already busy wasting time on … you know … stuff.
Professor Ferrari has come up with a questionnaire to determine if you’re a chronic procrastinator, but Day doesn’t include a link to it in his article or feature it in a sidebar. Maybe he forgot to include it after he got distracted by an e-mail at work — an article in the New York Times on June 14 stated that “a typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times,” and Day adds in the Observer that “even the beeps notifying the arrival of email are said to be causing a 0.5 per cent drop in gross domestic product in the United States, costing the economy $70bn a year.” My favorite line in The Simpsons‘ May 18 season finale, a parody of All About Eve, came from Sideshow Mel, who told a fame-hungry Lisa Simpson that “applause is an addiction, like heroin or checking your e-mail.” It’s funny because it’s true. It’s also scary because it’s true.
Ferrari, however, isn’t one of the researchers who thinks technology is to blame for the rise in procrastination. “People have wasted time for centuries,” he says, which explains why lazy scientists still haven’t provided us with the ability to control men’s minds or women’s level of attraction. He notes that people fool themselves into thinking they work better under pressure when approaching a deadline and therefore put their work off until the last minute, selectively remembering the times when they succeeded in beating the deadline with excellent results, e.g. everything I’ve ever written for Popdose and posted at “11:59 PM” on Sunday night, and forgetting the times when the magic didn’t happen, the deadline came and went, and a combination of shame, disappointment, and bed-wetting sank in, e.g. last Sunday when I meant to write about procrastination but ended up procrastinating instead and … wait a second … I’m a genius for doing it that way! Wait till I tell Aimiee! She’ll have to change the locks back when she realizes she might one day be engaged to a genius.
Last Monday morning, after realizing I’d procrastinated too long on my procrastination post, I saw the cover of the new issue of Spin magazine, which, in the bottom left corner, features the headline “D’Angelo: What the Hell Happened?” I’d been wondering the same thing myself, but I was more curious about Maxwell, another neo-soul artist who came on the scene in the mid-’90s, put out a few albums, and then disappeared in the early part of this decade. David Peisner’s article, “Body & Soul,” spends a paragraph or two on the Brooklyn crooner, as well as Lauryn Hill, the former Fugee who blew everyone away in 1998 with her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but still hasn’t recorded a follow-up. Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, who helped produce D’Angelo’s second and still most recent album, 2000’s Voodoo, says, “You could go further and say the same for Dave Chappelle. A lot of factors have played into stalling the left-of-center black movement.” Could one of those factors be … chronic procrastination? Yes, it could, because I need something to work with here. And thanks to my own chronic procrastination, I can now use the hard work of Mr. Peisner to bolster my argument. Can you imagine if I’d actually met my deadline last week? Sometimes it pays to not respect yourself.
D’Angelo’s absence from music the past eight years doesn’t bother me much. I bought Voodoo in 2000 when it came out, based on rapturous reviews and my attempt to give neo-soul a fair shot even though Maxwell’s previous two albums, 1996’s Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite and 1998’s Embrya, had made me drowsy. But Voodoo is a sleep aid too, a mood album with one tempo that barely yields over the course of 79 minutes. It’s no wonder the Prince-like “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” was the hit single; it’s the only song on the album that breaks a sweat. In 2005, on Esquire‘s website, John Mayer pleaded for D’Angelo to return to the studio, and wrote a short appreciation of Voodoo in which he stated, “There’s nothing frivolous to get stuck in your head, so there’s nothing to want out.” But what if hardly anything went in there to begin with?
Esquire‘s not going to pay me to get on my knees and beg for Maxwell to return to the studio, though I will get on my knees for other things if the price is right. (I come from a long line of bootblacks. And low self-esteem.) But somebody needs to motivate the man to finish his next album, because his last one, 2001’s Now, was his best yet, and I was excited to see how he’d top it, or at least build on the foundation he’d established his third time out. Now isn’t radically different from Urban Hang Suite or Embrya, but for the first time it felt like Maxwell had loosened up, acknowledging the lustful side of his “sensitive loverman” persona with songs like “Temporary Nite,” one of the album’s highlights. “I been misbehavin’ / I been thinkin’ nasty thoughts about you,” he sings, adding “Sorry, baby,” though he sounds like he’s apologizing just to see if the object of his affection will confess that her mind is just as dirty. “Temporary Nite” is punctuated by short blasts of electric guitar, which give the song some added spark; it’s great to hear Maxwell giving his fans something they can dance to for a change.
One of my problems with neo-soul in the late ’90s and early aughts was that, in its attempts to forge something new out of what came before, its practitioners often sucked all the energy and joy out of the source material. Who said soul music had to be so damn serious? The artists on Motown, Stax, and Philadelphia International didn’t mind getting mellow in the ’60s and ’70s or delivering a message, but they also wanted you to dance. Neo-soul artists seemed to forget that last part, which is partly why “Temporary Nite” and Now‘s closing track, the slick but funky “Now/At the Party,” grabbed me in 2001 and haven’t let go seven years later. “NoOne” and “Get to Know Ya” pick up the pace as well, holding your attention and preventing you from nodding off during the more predictable neo-soul moments, like “Symptom Unknown.” But Now even improves on Maxwell’s “quiet storm” track record: “Lifetime” has a sensual after-hours groove, and “For Lovers Only” adds a banjo to the mix, evoking images of late-afternoon autumn light with its delicate approach.
Maxwell fills out Now with a cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” and “W/As My Girl,” a reworking of “As My Girl,” which w/as on the soundtrack to the 1999 film The Best Man. He was a little low on new material when he recorded Now, but did he really need the last seven years to come up with 10 to 12 new songs? Back in early 2004 I read that he was almost ready to release his fourth album, Black Summers’ Night, which was reported to be the first in a trilogy of new albums. But as of now, there’s still no follow-up to Now, even though Maxwell’s MySpace page says Black Summers’ Night will be released this year, with part two coming out next year and part three hitting stores in 2010. However, his website, which directs visitors to the MySpace page, lists 2007 as the target release date for part one, with “08” and “09” designated for the sequels. If part one doesn’t show up in the next five months, expect the MySpace numbers to be updated to “09,” “10,” and “11,” or maybe they’ll morph into “joke’s,” “on,” and “you” instead.
In David Peisner’s Spin article, D’Angelo’s former manager, Kedar Massenburg, says that neo-soul artists like D’Angelo, Maxwell, Hill, and Erykah Badu, who released the follow-up to her 2000 album Mama’s Gun earlier this year, end up paralyzing themselves creatively by constantly trying to innovate their sound as well as the sound of contemporary R&B. I wouldn’t say Now was a huge step forward for Maxwell, but that’s one of the best things about it — he sounds relaxed but confident in the music he’s making. Embrya was pretty much the definition of the “difficult second album,” with minimal, repetitive lyrics and song titles like “Everwanting: To Want You to Want,” “Submerge: Til We Become the Sun,” and “Gravity: Pushing to Pull,” which hint at the ham-fisted self-seriousness on display. Maxwell sounded like he was having fun on Now, but the promised trilogy of Black Summers’ Night makes me worry that one album will contain only midtempo love songs, one will contain only uptempo dance-floor fillers, and one will contain the “deep” yet ultimately shallow gobbledygook about water that was spread throughout Embyra. The long wait for part one would seem to indicate that Maxwell wants to finish all three albums before his listeners hear any of it, but for all I know he may only have a total of four songs in the can so far.
Maxwell recorded Urban Hang Suite in 1994, but Columbia kept it on the shelf for two years before releasing it to platinum sales and critical acclaim. Maybe the four-years-and-counting delay of Black Summers’ Night‘s first chapter is Maxwell’s revenge on his corporate handlers for keeping the tiger in its cage too long all those years ago. But, as scientist Alan Sanfey of Arizona University told the Observer, the brain is divided into two parts: one controls “deliberate responses,” like putting off a long term paper for another week, and the other controls “automatic responses,” like fleeing saber-toothed tigers, which demanded more immediate attention than term papers in the days of yore (e.g. the mid-’90s). In order to get Maxwell to finish Black Summers’ Night before the aughts are over, perhaps Columbia should place a hungry, loosely tethered tiger in the studio with its neo-soul star. I’m so eager to hear his next album that I’d rent the tiger myself, but first I have to call about those tickets to Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. But before I do that I’d better check my e-mail. I’d hate to miss an important message from Apple about their newest line of iPods. My 2007 model should start malfunctioning any day now.