Adam Gopnik Recommends...

“What do I always turn to for inspiration or energy when I am downcast or in need of invigoration? Classy and sapient answers crowd the brain: I reread the dinner scenes in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson (true, I do). I turn again to The Thurber Carnival (true, too). Or I look at a picture book, bought in Paris, of Manet’s watercolors, and am reminded of how truth to touch and tone is all the truth an artist needs—be true to those small things, and you will be true to your time. All...true. But honesty outraces classiness, in these quarters at least, and so the simple truth must out. When I am down or out or in need of inspiration, I listen to The Rolling Stones of the early 1970s play a live version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” If you examine that sentence you will see that it is particular: a live version it must be, since the original recording of this incomparably exciting and jagged-edge song is underpowered, while the countless versions that the Stones have recorded since, though they have their excitements, can’t compare to the version that they played live when, as Stones fans know, the incomparable lead guitarist Mick Taylor was, briefly, there to keep the rest of the band in order, playing straight and serious. (He even, if you dig deep, plays siren solos on one version of the song.) I put it on, I am revivified, I write again. No, I still don’t know who Jack is, or why he jumps. I know only that he does, and makes others, including my muse, jump with him.”
—Adam Gopnik, author of At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York (Knopf, 2017)