How J.R.R. Tolkien Influenced Classic Rock & Metal: A Video Introduction

The influence of J.R.R. Tolkien on metal is so wide and deep it has become almost cliché. There are countless Tolkien-themed songs, albums, band names, and an entire subgenre of Tolkien metal in which the fantasy master's work has become “the foundation,” as Loudwire writes, that such bands “have built their persona upon.” After all, “the doomy hellscape of Mordor is a setting that rivals hell itself, making it the perfect fodder for lyrical brutality.”

Of course, there’s more to the fascination than doomy hellscape. Mysticism, magic, and mythology; “themes of friendship, adventure, betrayal, greed, and mortality.” The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy fold literary richness and depth into a fully realized alternate reality full of swords and sorcery, goblins, orcs, and walking trees. What metalhead can resist? Even those who might want to have a hard time getting away from Tolkien.

He's in the source code of the genre, in its classic rock chromosomes. The most prominent precursor of Tolkien metal, Led Zeppelin, really loved Tolkien. As Robert Plant put it in a later interview, “when I read those books, they kind of dissolved into me.” In the short video above from Polyphonic, we get a survey of the number of Tolkien references not only in Zeppelin, but in Genesis, Rush, and other proto-metal prog-rock bands.

One key feature of Tolkien that makes his work such great material for epic songs is that the novels are already full of epic songs (and poems, in Elvish and other languages). “Music plays an integral role in the very founding of Middle Earth.” Tolkien references crop up in Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, and dozens of 70s progressive rock bands whose influence exceeds their fame.

One band the Polyphonic video doesn’t mention, The Beatles, aren’t often thought of as Tolkienesque, or as having much influence on heavy metal. But they were massive Tolkien fans and even approached the author in the 60s about making a Lord of the Rings film, with John as Gollum, Paul as Frodo, Ringo as Sam, and George as Gandalf. McCartney even approached Stanley Kubrick to direct.

Reportedly, when McCartney told Peter Jackson the story, the director replied, “It’s the songs I feel badly about. You guys could have banged out a few good tunes for this.” Tolkien himself didn’t think so and turned them down immediately. We don’t have any record of his thoughts on the 70s rock bands who enthusiastically adopted him, if he even knew of their existence. But we do know that he didn’t like The Beatles.

Does this mean he wouldn’t care for any of the classic rock and metal to whom he has inadvertently given so much? Probably. But one commenter in a discussion thread on this very question imagines another reaction Tolkien might have to hearing “Ramble On,” etc.: “I believe he raised a fist into the air and extended the index and little fingers in imitation of a horned creature, while vigorously, emphatically nodding his head back and forth, tossing his hair to and fro like a fishing boat caught in a raging storm.”

Related Content:

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The Origins of the Death Growl in Metal Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Strange History of Smooth Jazz: The Music We All Know and Love … to Hate

It’s the most unloved and derided of music genres, but the history of Smooth Jazz is not as bad as you might think. In another chapter of Vox’s excellent Earworm series (see Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here), Estelle Caswell explores the rise and fall of this modern day elevator music and asks if it’s worth reconsidering.

The undisputed star of smooth jazz has to be the “Songbird” himself, the frizzy-hair be-coifed Kenny G. (The only part of the video I took issue with is when one fan is quoted saying “he was the cool white boy.” Ma’am, all due respect, but Kenny G was never cool.) The man played alongside Clinton’s inauguration and once broke a world record by holding a note for 45 minutes. The smoothest of smooth jazz issued forth from his soprano sax and like it or not, his was a readily identifiable sound in a genre where nothing is supposed to stand out.

Earworm first traces the history of the form back to Grover Washington Jr., CTI Records, and other artists like Wes Montgomery. While Miles Davis was exploring difficult sonic textures, jazz headed into free improv territory, splitting from tonality in much the same split as befell classical music. What emerged was something closer to r’n’b and soul with improvised melodies over the top, or covers of popular pop hits from the ‘60s. This also could be seen as an evolution of jazz’s raiding of the Great American Songbook along with Broadway hits. If Coltrane could break “My Favorite Things” into cubism, surely there was a place for Wes Montgomery to riff over the groove of “Goin’ Out of My Head” by Little Anthony and the Imperials.

And from Montgomery we get to George Benson, silky smooth and undeniably funky. He even scat sang his solos at the same time as he played them on the guitar. His records went platinum which meant something in the days of rock’s ascendancy and jazz’s fall.

But as Earworm points out, Smooth Jazz only became a thing when marketing stepped in. As freeform stations were bought out by corporations, market research firms targeted audiences with focus groups. It was in one of those groups that a woman described the music like Benson and Bob James as “smooth jazz,” and the name stuck. 
It’s fitting that the west coast was the birthplace in 1987 of the first “smooth jazz” station, KTWV in Los Angeles, 94.7 THE WAVE, home of all sorts of laid-back grooves since the very beginning of jazz and pop. Other stations would soon follow suit, reaching a height of popularity in 1994, when Kenny G won Best Adult Contemporary Artist at the American Music Awards. It was “smooth sounds for a rough world,” as one adman called it, but what it really was comfort music for office drones.

Ironically, the forces that put smooth jazz at the top were responsible for its fall, as new technology to measure radio ratings found it couldn’t pick out the music from the background sounds. By 2008 and the financial implosion, smooth jazz radios stations were on the decline and the great recession killed it off.

It’s fitting because smooth jazz was the soundtrack to a dream of capitalism, all the rough edges burnished away, blinkered aspirations made into melody. But when the dream melted for everybody, smooth jazz evaporated. At least with soft rock you got songs and tales of heartache.

However, it would not surprise me to see Smooth Jazz make a nostalgic, ironic-but-not comeback. If Japan’s City Pop, which trades in similar smooth textures, can speak to the disaffected youth about a deep, affluent wish that never came true, Chuck Mangione can’t be too far behind. And it just feels. so. good.

P.S. If you have a hankerin' to hear some smoothness right now, Vox has a Spotify playlist for what ails you.

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Jazz Deconstructed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Groundbreaking and Radical?

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Movie Accent Expert Analyzes 31 Actors Playing Other Famous People: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy, Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan, and More

Well-known figures' voices are often as distinctive as their thousand-watt smiles and influential hairdos.

While there is some evidence as to the accents and idiosyncratic speech patterns of such historical heavy hitters as Thomas Edison, Florence Nightingale, and Harry Houdini, technological improvements have really upped the ante for those charged with impersonating real life people from the mid 20th-century onward.

Natalie Portman had to sustain her Jackie Kennedy impersonation for an entire feature-length biopic, a performance dialect coach Erik Singer gives high marks, above. Portman, he explains, has truly internalized Jackie’s idiolect, the individual quirks that add yet another layer to such signifiers as class and region.

As evidence, he submits a side-by-side comparison of the First Lady’s famous 1962 televised tour of the White House renovations she had spearheaded, and Portman’s recreation thereof.

Portman has done her homework with regard to breath pattern, pitch, and the refinement that strikes most 21st century ears as a bit stilted and strange. Most impressive to Singer is the way Portman transfers Kennedy’s oddly musical elongation of certain syllables to other words in the script. Tis no mere parrot job.

Jamie Foxx’s Oscar-winning turn as Ray Charles succeeds on copious research and his ability to inhabit Charles’ habitual smile. Obviously, the posture in which an individual holds their mouth has a lot to do with the sound of their voice, and Foxx was blessed with plenty of source material.

The 1982 epic Gandhi provided the versatile Ben Kingsley with the opportunity to showcase not one, but two, idiolects. The adult Gandhi underwent a dramatic and well documented evolution from the British accent he adopted as a young law student in London to a proudly Indian voice better suited to inspiring a nation to unify against its British colonizers.

It’s likely that many of us have never considered the speech-related building blocks Singer scrutinizes while analyzing 29 other performances for the WIRED video, above—epenthesis, tongue positions, relative degrees of emphatic muscularity, and retroflex consonants—but it’s easy to see how they play a part.

Singer invites you to expand his research and teaching library by recording yourself speaking extemporaneously and reading from two sample texts here. Pray that whoever plays you in the biopic gets it right.

Related Content:

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Watch Meryl Streep Have Fun with Accents: Bronx, Polish, Irish, Australian, Yiddish & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City through December 20th in the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

2,000 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) Getting Started in December: Enroll Today

FYI. 2,000 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are getting underway this month, giving you the chance to take free courses from top flight universities. With the help of Class Central, we've pulled together a complete list of December MOOCS. And below we've highlighted several courses that caught our eye. The trailer above comes from The History of Rock: Part 1, offered by the University of Rochester.

Here's one tip to keep in mind: If you want to take a course for free, select the "Full Course, No Certificate" or "Audit" option when you enroll. If you would like an official certificate documenting that you have successfully completed the course, you will need to pay a fee.

You can browse through the complete list of December MOOCs here.

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In 1964, Isaac Asimov Predicts What the World Will Look Like Today: Self-Driving Cars, Video Calls, Fake Meats & More

Painting of Asimov on his throne by Rowena Morill, via Wikimedia Commons

Isaac Asimov's readers have long found something prophetic in his work, but where did Asimov himself look when he wanted to catch a glimpse of the future? In 1964 he found one at the New York World's Fair, the vast exhibition dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe" that history now remembers as the most elaborate expression of the industrial and technological optimism of Space Age America. Despite the fanciful nature of some of the products on display, visitors first saw things there — computers, for instance — that would become essential in a matter of decades.

"What is to come, through the fair's eyes at least, is wonderful," Asimov writes in a piece on his experience at the fair for the New York TimesBut it all makes him wonder: "What will life be like, say, in 2014 A.D., 50 years from now? What will the World's Fair of 2014 be like?" His speculations begin with the notion that "men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better," which they certainly have, though not so much through the use of "electroluminescent panels" that will make "ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button." Still, all the other screens near-constantly in use seem to provide all the glow we need for the moment.

"Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs," Asimov predicts, and so it has, though our kitchens have yet to evolve to the point of preparing "'automeals,' heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on." He hits closer to the mark when declaring that "robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence." He notes that IBM's exhibit at the World's Fair had nothing about robots to show, but plenty about computers, "which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the 'brains' of robots."

"The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords," Asimov writes, and in the case of our all-important mobile phones, that has turned out to be at least half-true. But we still lack the "long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes" produced by "fission-power plants which, by 2014, will be supplying well over half the power needs of humanity." The real decade of the 2010s turned out to be more attached to the old ways, not least by cords and cables, than Asimov imagined. Even the United States of America hasn't quite mastered the art of designing highways so that "long buses move on special central lanes" along them, let alone forms of ground travel that "take to the air a foot or two off the ground."

But one advance in transportation Asimov describes will sound familiar to those of us living in the 2010s: "Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with 'Robot-brains,' vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver." Indeed, we hear about few reportedly imminent technologies these days as much as we hear about self-driving cars and their potential to get us where we're going while we do other things, such as engage in communications that "will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone," on a screen used "not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books."

Conversations with the moon colonies, Asimov needlessly warns us, "will be a trifle uncomfortable" because of the 2.5-second delay. But immediately thereafter comes the much more realistic prediction that "as for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set." Still, "all is not rosy" in the world of 2014, whose population will have swelled to 6,500,000,000 — or 7,298,453,033, as it happened. This has many implications for development, housing, and even agriculture, though the "mock-turkey" and "pseudosteak" eaten today has more to do with lifestyle than necessity. ("It won't be bad at all," Asimov adds, "if you can dig up those premium prices.")

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, "the world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders." Asimov foresees the need for a change in education to accommodate that, one hinted at even in General Electric's exhibit in 1964, which "consists of a school of the future in which such present realities as closed-circuit TV and programmed tapes aid the teaching process." His envisioned high-school curriculum would have students master "the fundamentals of computer technology" and get them "trained to perfection in the use of the computer language."

But even with all these developments, "mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity." The "serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences" of that will make psychiatry an important medical specialty, and "the lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine." Though Asimov may have been surprised by what we've come up with in the quarter-century since his death, as well as what we haven't come up with, he would surely have understood the sorts of anxieties that now beset us in the future-turned-present in which we live. But even given all the ways in which his predictions in 1964 have proven more or less correct, he did miss one big thing: there was no World's Fair in 2014.

Related Content:

Isaac Asimov Laments the “Cult of Ignorance” in the United States: A Short, Scathing Essay from 1980

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Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Future in 1964 … And Kind of Nails It

Walter Cronkite Imagines the Home of the 21st Century … Back in 1967

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Stream 48 Classic & Contemporary German Films Free Online: From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the German Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. As soon as Robert Weine’s 1920 film came out, it was described as essential. Or as one reviewer wrote, “so-called cultured people who fail to see it are neglecting their education.” There are dozens more German films to which that sentence might apply. Films from the country’s explosive Weimar moment—which also produced Metropolis, Nosferatu, M, Faust, etc.—to those of the New German Cinema movement of the 1960s and 70s, which gave the world such enfants terribles as Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta, Werner Herzog, and Rainer Maria Fassbinder. The furiously prolific Fassbinder died in 1982 at 37, but the former three directors have continued to make internationally-known films into the 21st century.

You may have seen Von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt (trailer above), which won multiple awards in 2012. Or perhaps you caught Caroline Link’s WWII-themed Nowhere in Africa, which won an Oscar that same year. The Nazi era may have laid waste to the German film industry—whose biggest talents ended up exiled in Hollywood—and the postwar years are often thought of as a “lost decade” (wrongly, it seems). But on the whole, German filmmakers have produced some of the most visually distinctive, narratively thrilling, and emotionally raw films in world cinema since its beginnings.


Germany’s cultural institute, the Goethe Institut, is honoring the legacy of German film, from its classic to its contemporary periods, with 48 films free to stream on Kanopy. (The films include subtitles in English.) The initiative is just one part of Wunderbar, a celebration that includes “Goethe Pop Ups in the US,” with film screenings, festivals, appearances by German filmmakers, and an online series of critical articles by German and American experts.

If you haven’t seen Dr. Caligari, NosferatuMetropolis, or Faust, you can stream them now at the Goethe Institut’s Kanopy. You can also see Hannah Arendt, Nowhere in Africa, and other acclaimed contemporary films. Herzog’s 1971 Aguirre, the Wrath of God is in the collection, as is Frank Beyer’s far more obscure Trace of Stones from 1966, a film banned for 25 years by East German officials after its release.

There are documentaries on artists like Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter, on Marlene Dietrich and, naturally, German beer. Films by directors Anne Birkenstock, Christian Petzold, and Tom Tykwer. Berlin International Film Festival nominee Beloved Sisters appears. There are films that “so-called cultured people” are expected to have seen, and many more unlikely to show up on the syllabus of a survey course.

Perhaps only one of these movies has been specifically credited with grimly predicting the future—as Siegfried Kracauer alleged in his book Caligari to Hitler. But all of these are films that deserve a wide audience outside their national borders. To view the Goethe Institut’s selection of 48 films, you’ll need to sign up for a free Kanopy account, which you can do with your Google or Facebook logins or with an email address. Then simply set your home library as “Goethe-Institut” and you can stream any or all of the films in the collection, from 1920’s Caligari to 2017’s Axolotl Overkill, on IOS and Android devices, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, or your computer.

Related Content:

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The Top 100 Foreign-Language Films of All-Time, According to 209 Critics from 43 Countries

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Andy Kaufman Reads Earnestly from The Great Gatsby and Enrages His Audience

In a 1980 appearance on David Letterman, a deadpan Andy Kaufman tells a sob story about his nonexistent family leaving him. He then “admonishes the audience for laughing,” writes William Hughes at the AV Club, and panhandles for their spare change. “The genius of the bit, as always, is that Kaufman never blinks. Even as he’s led away by the show’s staff, there’s nothing about his unemotional entreaties that suggests that what he’s doing isn’t anything but the sober-cold truth.”

He pulled a similar stunt the following year, in a guest appearance on a short-lived SNL knockoff called Fridays. After belligerently breaking character during a sketch, he appeared the following week to deliver an apology, which became a bitter, sad sack appeal for sympathy, while he stared blankly at the camera in what his writing partner Bob Zmuda called his “glazed-over hostage look.” Kaufman was “more of an antagonist of his audience than an ally,” Jake Rossen comments at Mental Floss.

Rather than punching up or down, he punched out, openly exploiting our trust and abusing our patience. Kaufman invited us to mock him, only to reroute our responses into empathy, anger, confusion, or boredom. “Many crowds had streamed into comedy clubs only to endure Kaufman napping in a sleeping bag,” writes Rossen, “or reading earnestly from The Great Gatsby, threatening to start all over again if they interrupted.” Once given a choice between him reading or playing a record, a nightclub chose the record. “It was the sound of Kaufman reading.”

Just what is the proper response to this? The emotional misdirection works so well because we know we should react a certain way, for example, to a broken man in great distress—whether he’s asking for spare change or looking for all the world like a kidnap victim. In his Gatsby reading, Kaufman pulls a different lever—drawing on our innate sense of decorum during a literary event, one conducted by a vaguely European-sounding man in a tuxedo, no less. He incites his audience by making them laugh at a situation they would, in its proper context, try to take seriously.

In the clip of Kaufman reading Gatsby at the top, he begins with a couple ruses and feints: playing a snippet of a record that makes us think we might be in for a Mighty Mouse-like routine, introducing himself as an actor who plays a screwball American comic named Andy Kaufman. Once he launches into Gatsby, however, and it becomes clear he isn’t going to stop, that the reading is the act, the audience becomes incensed, expressing a palpable sense of betrayal.

You came for comedy, he tells them in his Letterman and Fridays bits; I’m going to give you humanity. You came for comedy, he announces in the Gatsby reading; I’m going to give you culture, whether you want it or not. But it's not me who's misbehaving, he says (in diabolical versions of "stop hitting yourself"), it's you. In the clip above from Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey draws out the passive aggressive impulses inherent in these maneuvers, showing Andy breaking out Gatsby as an act of retaliation against a crowd who demands that he entertain them on their terms.

Related Content:

Andy Kaufman Creates Mayhem on Late Night TV: When Comedy Becomes Performance Art (1981)

The Improbable Time When Orson Welles Interviewed Andy Kaufman (1982)

A Look Back at Andy Kaufman: Absurd Comic Performance Artist and Endearing Weirdo

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hunter S. Thompson, Existentialist Life Coach, Presents Tips for Finding Meaning in Life


Image by Steve Anderson, via Wikimedia Commons

At first blush, Hunter S. Thompson might be the last person you would want to ask for advice. After all, his daily routine involved copious amounts of cocaine, LSD and Chivas Regal. He once raked a neighbor’s house with gunfire. And he once almost accidentally blew up Johnny Depp. Yet beneath his gonzo persona lay a man who thought deeply and often about the meaning of it all. He was someone who spent a lifetime staring into the abyss.

So in 1958, before he became a counter-culture icon, before he even started writing professionally, Thompson wrote a long letter about some of the big questions in life to his friend, Hume Logan, who was in the throes of an existential crisis.

While the first couple of paragraphs warns against the dangers of seeking advice, Hunter then expounds at length on some deep, and surprisingly level-headed truths. Below are a few pearls of wisdom:

  • Whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this!
  • You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.)
  • To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. We do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
  • Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
  • Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

The letter was published in the 2013 book, Letters of Note. You can read it in its entirety below.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal— to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect— between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer— and, in a sense, the tragedy of life— is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo— this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that— no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your friend,

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in February 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The Full Rotation of the Moon: A Beautiful, High Resolution Time Lapse Film

This is a sight to behold. Above, the moon spins in full rotation, all in high-resolution footage taken by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Here's how NASA explains what you're seeing:

No one, presently, sees the Moon rotate like this. That's because the Earth's moon is tidally locked to the Earth, showing us only one side. Given modern digital technology, however, combined with many detailed images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a high resolution virtual Moon rotation movie has now been composed. The above time-lapse video starts with the standard Earth view of the Moon. Quickly, though, Mare Orientale, a large crater with a dark center that is difficult to see from the Earth, rotates into view just below the equator. From an entire lunar month condensed into 24 seconds, the video clearly shows that the Earth side of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar maria, while the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar highlands.

You can find many more Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter videos on this page, and download your own copy of the Moon Rotation Movie right here.

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via @ZonePhysics

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Introducing the Mellotron: A Groovy 1965 Demonstration of the “Musical Computer” Used by The Beatles, Moody Blues & Other Psychedelic Pop Artists

With a name like a laid back 60s robot, the Mellotron has been most closely associated with psychedelic pop like The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin,” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” But the early sampling keyboard, an electro-acoustic device that used pre-recorded tape strips mounted inside an organ-like keyboard, was first marketed, Gordon Reid writes at Sound on Sound, to “old-time/modern/Latin dance audiences.” It was supposed to convincingly replicate an orchestra.

The Mellotron, built and sold by Mellotronics, Ltd., was based on an earlier instrument, the Chamberlin MusicMaster, which used recorded notes from members of Lawrence Welk’s band—hardly the hippest sounds on the scene when the Mellotron MK1 debuted in 1963. By the time of the MK2, however, the device developed into a powerful multitimbral machine, with a dual keyboard, “containing more than 70 3/8-inch tape players, a reverb unit, amplifiers and speakers.”

The rock world “took the Mellotron to its heart,” Reid comments, “and it was this that ensured its success.” It could simulate other instruments, but it did so with its own distinctive flavor (providing not only the flute intro to “Strawberry Fields” but the Spanish guitar at the beginning of The White Album’s “The Continuing Story of Buffalo Bill”). Brad Allen Williams sums up the slightly more portable Mellotron M400’s limited operations succinctly at Flypaper:

Due to the rather primitive tape mechanism (and the inherent challenges of keeping 35 playback heads and pinch rollers in good condition), Mellotrons are a little unpredictable and can be quite characterful. The action of the keyboard is stiff and unusual-feeling, so virtuosic playing is not usually in the cards. All of these “bugs” somehow become “features,” however — the quirks add up to a sonic character that’s iconic and instantly recognizable!

Like so many distinctive analog instruments from pop music’s past, the Mellotron has returned in Nord’s updated Mellotron MK VI, which “uses new mechanics and state of the art technology, but original unused stock tape heads.” That’s groovy news for musicians who dig the Mellotron’s dated idiosyncrasies. In the short film above, however, from 1965, British TV personalities Eric Robinson and David Nixon introduce the instrument to viewers as a first-rate new “musical computer.”

With built in rhythms and a wide selection of sounds—including trombone and French accordion—the Mellotron was on the cutting edge of its day. Robinson and Nixon put the device through its paces, show its internal operations, and generally show off what essentially looked like a novelty organ built for living rooms and cabarets before Lennon/McCartney & Co. got their hands on it in 1967. Just above, see McCartney give a modern audience a different sort of demonstration.

Related Content:

Rick Wakeman Tells the Story of the Mellotron, the Oddball Proto-Synthesizer Pioneered by the Beatles

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Visit an Online Collection of 61,761 Musical Instruments from Across the World

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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