Bob Moog Demonstrates His Revolutionary Moog Model D Synthesizer

There are far better players of Bob Moog’s wonderous analog synthesizers than Bob Moog himself--from Wendy Carlos, who reinterpreted Bach for the newfangled instrument in the 60s to Rick Wakeman and Richard Wright to Giorgio Moroder to Gary Numan, to virtually anyone who has ever recorded music with a Moog. Bob Moog was not a musician, he was an engineer who took piano lessons before earning his B.A. in physics, M.A. in electrical engineering, and Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell.

Academic credentials have no bearing on what moves us musically, but it’s always worth noting that the Moog synthesizers—which did more to change the sound of modern music than perhaps any instrument since the electric guitar—came out of decades of dogged scientific research, beginning when Moog was only 14 years old and built a homemade Theremin from plans he found printed in the magazine Electronics World. That was 1949. Almost thirty years later, the Minimoog Model D appeared, the revolutionary portable version of studio-sized machine Carlos used to reimagine classical music in the late 60s.

“It’s an analogue monophonic synthesizer,” says Moog in the video above. “That means it makes the waveforms by electronic means and it plays one note at a time.” Sounds rather primitive by our standards, but watch the demonstration below by Marc Doty, who walks us through the sweeping range of functions in the compact machine, made between 1970 and 1981 (and reissued for a limited run in 2016). Its banks of waveform selectors, oscillators, filters, and envelopes produce “something sweeter,” says Doty, than your average synthetic sounds, though he can’t quite put his finger on what it is.

We’ve all heard the difference, whether we know it or not, and discriminating ears can pick a Minimoog out of any lineup of analogue synths. It is, Doty declares in the description for his video, “perhaps the most beautiful, beautiful sounding, and functional synthesizer ever produced.” Called the Model D because it was the fourth iteration of previous versions made in-house between 1969-70, it was truly, says author and composer Albert Glinsky, “the first portable synthesizer where everything is contained in one unit. It really is the prototype, the ancestor, of every portable keyboard in every music shop today.”

One of its innovations, the pitch wheel, now standard issue on almost all of those mass-produced successors of the Minimoog, was the first of its kind. If Moog “had patented [the pitch wheel],” says David Borden, one of the first musicians to play the Minimoog live, “he would have been an extremely wealthy man.” Others have made similar observations about Moog’s pioneering sound-shaping technologies, but as Richard Leon points out at Sound on Sound, it’s a good thing for us all that the inventor wasn’t motivated by profit.

Competition nearly buried the company Moog sold in the mid-70s (only reacquiring rights to his own name in 2002), but had Moog “tried to create a monopoly on these fundamentals,” Leon writes, “it’s likely the synth industry as we know it today would never have happened.”

Related Content:

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

Watch Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Taking Batting Practice in Strikingly Restored Footage (1931)

How would Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and other famous ballplayers of bygone eras fare if put on the diamond today? Variations on that question tend to come up in conversation among enthusiasts of baseball and its history, and different people bring different kinds of evidence to bear in search of an answer: statistics, eyewitness accounts, analogies between particular historical players and current ones. But the fact remains that none of us have ever actually seen the likes of Ruth, who played his last professional game in 1935, and Gehrig, who did so in 1939, in their prime. But now we can at least get a little closer by watching the film clip above, which shows both of the titanic Yankees at batting practice on April 11, 1931.

What's more, it shows them moving at real-life speed. "Fox Movietone sound cameras made slow-motion captures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at batting practice during an exhibition practice in Brooklyn, New York," writes uploader Guy Jones (whose other baseball videos include Ruth hitting a home run on opening day the same year and Ruth's last appearance at bat a decade later). "With modern technology, we can witness this footage adjusted to a normal speed which results in a very high framerate."

In other words, the film shows Ruth and Gehrig not just moving in the very same way they did in real life, but captured with a smoothness uncommon in newsreel footage from the 1930s. For comparison, Jones includes at the end of the video "more footage of the practice (shot at typical fps) and the original un-edited slow-mo captures."

Unfortunately, what this film reveals doesn't impress observers of modern baseball. "Ruth and Gehrig in no way look like a modern ballplayer," writes The Big Lead's Kyle Koster. "Ruth is off-balance, falling into his swing. Gehrig routinely lifts his back foot off the ground. Again, it’s batting practice so the competitive juices weren’t flowing. But even by that standard, the whole exercise looks sloppy and inefficient." Cut4's Jake Mintz gets harsher, as well as more technical: "Tell me Ruth's cockamamie swing mechanics would enable him to hit a 98-mph heater." As for the Iron Horse, his "hack is a little better," but still "absurdly low" by today's standards. It goes to show, Mintz writes, that "these two legends, while undeniably transcendent in their time, would be good Double-A hitters at best if they played today." We evolve, our technologies evolve, and so, it seems, do the games we play.

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Immaculately Restored Film Lets You Revisit Life in New York City in 1911

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.

Discover the Jacobean Traveling Library: The 17th Century Precursor to the Kindle

Image courtesy of the University at Leeds

In the striking image above, you can see an early experiment in making books portable--a 17th century precursor, if you will, to the modern day Kindle.

According to the library at the University of Leeds, this "Jacobean Travelling Library" dates back to 1617. That's when William Hakewill, an English lawyer and MP, commissioned the miniature library--a big book, which itself holds 50 smaller books, all "bound in limp vellum covers with coloured fabric ties." What books were in this portable library, meant to accompany noblemen on their journeys? Naturally the classics. Theology, philosophy, classical history, classical poetry. The works of Ovid, Seneca, Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus, and Saint Augustine. Many of the same texts that showed up in The Harvard Classics (now available online) three centuries later, and now our collection of Free eBooks.

Apparently three other Jacobean Travelling Libraries were made. They now reside at the British Library, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in October, 2017.

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How Eric Clapton Created the Classic Song “Layla”

The story of Eric Clapton and “Layla” has always bothered me because to understand it is to understand how fallible and crazed any of us can be when it comes to love. We understand that our rock gods are human, but there’s something about Clapton falling in love with the wife (Pattie Boyd) of one of his best mates (George Harrison, a freakin’ Beatle, man!) and then writing a whole album about it, that is just unsettling. Is this something tawdry writ epic? Or is this something epic that has the wafting aroma of tawdriness?

Polyphonic takes on the behind the scenes story of this rock masterpiece and rewinds several centuries to the source of Layla’s name: “Layla and Majnun,” a romantic poem from 12th century Persian poet Niẓāmi Ganjavi based on an actual woman from the 6th Century who drove her poet paramour mad. Lord Byron called the tragic poem “The Romeo and Juliet of the East,” as unrequited love leaves both Majnun and Layla dead after the latter’s father forbids her to be with the poet.

Eric Clapton heard of the poem from his Sufi friend Abdalqadir as-Sufi (formerly Ian Dallas), and so when he wrote a slow ballad about his unrequited love for Patti, “Layla” made perfect sense as a name.

The song might have stayed a ballad--think of Clapton’s slowed down version from his MTV “Unplugged” special--if it wasn’t for Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers. The two had yet to meet, but were aware of each other. Allman had grabbed Clapton’s attention with his fiery solo work at the end of Wilson Pickett’s cover of “Hey Jude”:

When Clapton and Allman did meet, the two set to jamming and Allman made the history-changing decision to speed up Clapton’s ballad and use a riff taken from Albert King. “Layla” was born. Allman’s bottleneck slide style met Clapton’s string bending, and the track is a conversation between the two, where no words are needed.

“It’s in the tip of their fingers,” says engineer Tom Dowd, listening to the isolated tracks in the video below. “It’s not in a knob, it’s not in how loud they play, it’s touch.”

Over this, Clapton delivers his desperate lyrics, sung by a man at his wits end, much like Majnun of the poem.

And then, that coda, which takes up half the song. Drummer Jim Gordon was working on the piano piece for a solo album in secret. When Clapton discovered Gordon was recording on the sly, he wasn’t angry. Instead he insisted it be added to the end of the rocking first half. The song is a perfect balance between frantic rock and romantic ballad.

But in the real world, “Layla” didn’t do the job. Clapton played the album for Pattie Boyd three weeks later, and though she understood its beauty, Boyd was embarrassed by its message.

“I couldn’t believe I was the inspiration for putting this together,” she said in an interview. “I didn’t want this to happen.” She was also mortified thinking that everybody would know exactly who “Layla” was about.

“It didn’t work,” Clapton recalled. “It was all for nothing.”

The song was a flop in the charts, especially as it was cut in half for the single. It would find its audience three years later when the full version appeared on both a Clapton anthology and a best of collection of Duane Allman’s work. Finally it rocketed up the charts, and it’s kind of stayed in classic rock playlists ever since.

And as for Boyd, she actually did leave George Harrison in 1974 to marry Clapton in 1979, a marriage that lasted 10 years. Not all marriages last. The original flame dies out. It's just that, in "Layla"'s case, the flame is there every time the needle drops into the groove.

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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.

How E.E. Cummings Writes a Poem

Most of us encounter E.E. Cummings at an early age; his poems for adults regularly appear in poetry anthologies for children. We derive great pleasure from his brazen misspellings, portmanteaus, neologisms, and “typographical high jinks,” as Paul Muldoon writes at The New Yorker. Look at this famous writer breaking all the rules, and thereby giving us occasion to talk about the rules, about how poetry is different, about how, among poets, E.E. Cummings stands alone.

Only someone with a keen facility for language can bend it to their individual will, something we may recognize when reading Cummings in high school, when we also recognize the irony and grim satire in his poems. The inventive whimsy had veiled something darker. In 1960, then-high-school student Peter Carlton got the chance to interview Cummings about his poem “Humanity, I love you,” then posted the exchange online 37 years later. “I, for one, do not love humanity,” the poet told him, “I feel that humanity itself is cruel and unjust.”

A common sentiment among modernists, especially those, like Cummings, who had served in World War I. But few of his contemporaries, who included James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, had his ability to speak to so many different audiences. It’s almost shocking to see the shift in voice between Cummings’ interview with young Carlton and a letter he wrote to Pound 20 years earlier, full of the usual Cummings coinages (“innulluxuls”) and vicious literary barbs (Archibald MacLeish becomes “the macarchibald maclapdog macleash”).

Was Cummings a radical? A romantic? A literary naïf? An outsider? A savvy, cynical player of the game? He contained multitudes. From Eliot he “learned to distrust the hierarchical in every aspect of life,” writes Muldoon, “beginning with his own being. In his poetry, ‘I’ becomes ‘i.’” Whatever attitudes he expresses, Cummings always forces us to wrestle with language—its durability and malleability, its familiar strangenesses—first.

In his most accessible poem, “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in," Cummings draws our attention to the simplicity of his archetypal images, as if to smirkingly announce, “this is a universal love poem.” Standard fare. But such obvious mirroring of form and content does not diminish the poem's accomplishment, argues Evan Puschak, the Nerdwriter, in the video above. On the contrary, simple repetitions lead us into far more complicated recursions inside the poem.

Puschak quotes lines from Yeats to illustrate the deftness of Cummings' deceptive simplicity: “A line will take us hours maybe; / yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.” While many a poet has made the art seem easy, few have made it seem so playful or irreverent as Cummings, or have delighted so many people of so many ages and walks of life—so few of whom may suspect the conceptual heft and rigor that went into his work.

To read Cummings' poetry yourself, pick up a copy of his complete poems.

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

Charles Bukowski Explains What Good Writing and the Good Life Have in Common

I have no politics, I observe. I have no sides except the side of the human spirit, which after all does sound rather shallow, like a pitchman, but which means mostly my spirit, which means yours too, for if I am not truly alive, how can I see you?

—Charles Bukowski, Notes of. Dirty Old Man

In Notes of a Dirty Old Man, his weekly column for the underground L.A. newspaper Open City, Charles Bukowski became the common man’s philosopher, issuing profundities amidst wild vulgarities and proving that he did, in fact, have a politics, as much as he had theories and contrarian half-thoughts and opinions aplenty. He took sides when it came to literature, at least—the side of Celine, Dostoevsky, and Camus, for example, against Faulkner, Shakespeare, and George Bernard Shaw (“the most overblown fantasy of the Ages”).

Bukowski had no room for cool appreciation or mild preference. With him, as with Catullus, life was love and hate. Get him talking on any subject and those loves and hates would emerge, as would his ideas about matters of most consequence: life, death, drinking, sex, and, of course, writing. In the interview clip above, for example, Bukowski is asked if he fears death. He answers, “No, in fact, I almost feel good at the approach of death.” This becomes a meditation on repetition and dullness, and on the “juice” that a good life—and good writing—requires.

…. You see, as you live many years, things take on a repeat…. You understand? You keep seeing the same thing over and over again… so you get a little bit tired of life. So as death comes, you almost say, okay, baby, it’s time, it’s good.

The answer puts the interviewer in mind of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, which sends Bukowski on one of his signature cranky critiques, also an introduction to his theory of prose, which can be summed up in just three syllables, “BIM BIM BIM!”—the sound he makes to show the “quickness” of a well-written line. Good writing needs “pace,” “life,” and “sunlight.” “Each line,” he says, “must be full of a delicious little juice, they must be full of power, they must make you like to turn a page, bim bim bim!” Writing like Lowry’s, he says, is “too leisurely.” There’s too much setup, too little payoff.

He may seem unfair to Lowry, but most writers bore Bukowski. After pages of tedious buildup, “when they get to the grand emotion, there isn’t any,” he says. Bukowski has never been one for subtlety, but no one can say his writing lacks  “juice” or grand emotion. On the contrary, he endears himself to so many aspiring writers (or aspiring male writers, in any case) because his poetry and prose are so electrifyingly alive. He had a limited range of subjects, mostly confined to his own thoughts, feelings, and drunken misadventures. Yet the voice that carries us through his violently funny tales and reveries, wicked and maudlin and tender by turns, seems capable of limitless invention.

“Writing must never be boring,” says Bukowski. He set a high bar, and he met it. As writers, we need not live his life to do the same. But we must each be “truly alive" in our own way to make our lines go bim bim bim. "Each line," he says, "must be an entity unto itself."

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

Expressionist Dance Costumes from the 1920s, and the Tragic Story of Lavinia Schulz & Walter Holdt

The most fruitful creative partnerships, long or short, have often been tempestuous. On the shorter side, and among the stormiest, we have a husband-and-wife team who realized visions hitherto unseen onstage, and who very nearly fell into total obscurity after a murder-suicide brought their partnership to an end. But in the Hamburg of the late 1910s and early 1920s, writes Hyperallergic's Allison Meier, Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt "created wild, Expressionist costumes that looked like retro robots and Bauhaus knights," twenty of them, for performances accompanied by avant-garde music. After their death in 1924, Schulz and Holdt's work went into storage, never to be found again until the late 1980s.

The costumes had been gifted to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, which in 1925 "staged an evening in memory of Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt," writes blogger Jan Reetze.

"After this, the masks, photos and drawings" — including dances diagrammed in a system of Schulz's own invention — "went into a couple of 'acrobat's baggage' boxes and fell into oblivion on the museum's attic. They were not even inventoried. Which turned out to be a stroke of luck because this way the objects didn't fall into the hands of the Nazis, who, without any doubt, would have seen these works as 'degenerate art' and in all probability would have destroyed them."

You can see the costumes in action in the video at the top of the post, and more of the photos taken by Minya Diez-Dührkoop in the last year of Schulz and Holdt's lives at Hyperallergic. Their performances began in the expressionism with which the Berlin-educated Schultz had been associated and moved toward "the supposed purity of pre-Judeo-Christian, Aryan-Nordic culture," as Dangerous Minds' Paul Gallagher writes.

"Between 1920-24, the couple performed their dance routines to the bewildered and often antagonistic audiences of Hamburg. Though some critics appreciated the pair’s talent and startling originality, this praise was never enough to pay the rent."

"According to contemporary critics, Lavinia seemed to be the more creative one," writes Reetze. "Walter, on the other hand, was the better and more disciplined dancer, he exactly knew his formal means and how to use them." The counterpart to Holdt's rigor was Schulz's more primal genius, a sensibility that manifested aesthetically — seen in her highly unconventional use of everyday materials like "wire, gypsum, papier mâché and industrial garbage" — and emotionally.

Reetze quotes from the autobiography of composer Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, who briefly lived with the couple: "Deprivation, hunger, coldness, nordic landscape with storm, ice, and catastrophes: That was her world, and she had found herself in it with Holdt."

Schulz and Holdt also refused to be paid for their performances. "You cannot sell spiritual ideas for money," Schulz wrote. "Spirit and money are two antagonistic poles, and if you sell spiritual ideas for money, you sold the spirit to the money and lost the spirit." Eventually their poverty — as well as the unusually volatile nature of their relationship, said to spark physical marital spats on stage — reached a breaking point. "Both were in their 20s, and had earned little money from their artistic work," writes Meier. "In financial ruin, on June 18, 1924, Schulz shot Holdt, and then turned the gun on herself." But against all odds, their still-startling creativity — the kind that can, perhaps, emerge only from the opposition of two incompatible forces — lives on.

via Dangerous Mind

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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.

American Cities Then & Now: See How New York, Los Angeles & Detroit Look Today, Compared to the 1930s and 1940s

Palimpsest has become clichéd as a descriptor of cities, but only due to its truth. Repeatedly erasing and rewriting parts of cities over years, decades, and centuries has left us with built environments that reflect every period of urban history at once. Or at least in an ideal world they do: we've all felt the dullness of new cities built whole, or of old cities that have barely changed in living memory, dullness that underscores the value of places in which a variety of forms, styles, and eras all coexist. Take New York, which even in the 1930s presented the genteelly historical alongside the thoroughly modern. The New Yorker video above places driving footage from that era alongside the same places — the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Harlem, the West Side Highway— shot in 2017, highlighting what has changed, and even more so what hasn't.

Los Angeles has undergone a more dramatic transformation, as Kevin McAlester's side-by-side video of Bunker Hill in the 1940s and 2016 reveals. "An area of roughly five square blocks in downtown Los Angeles," says The New Yorker, Bunker Hill was from 1959 "the subject of a massive urban-renewal project, in which 'improvement' was generally defined by the people who stood to profit from it, as well as their backers at City Hall, at the expense of anyone standing in their way."

The 53-year process turned a neighborhood of "some of the city’s most elegant mansions and hotels," later subdivided and "populated by a mix of pensioners, immigrants, workers, and people looking to get lost," into an attempted acropolis of works by architectural superstars, including Frank Gehry's Disney Concert Hall, recent Pritzker-winner Arata Isozaki's Museum of Contemporary Art, and John Portman's (movie-beloved) Bonaventure Hotel.

Above the classic American buildings of Detroit stands another of Portman's signature glass-and-steel cylinders: the Renaissance Center, commissioned in the 1970s by Henry Ford II as the centerpiece of the city's hoped-for revival. Three decades earlier, says The New Yorker, "Detroit was the fourth-largest city in America, drawing in workers with opportunities for stable employment on the assembly lines at the Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler plants." But soon "factories closed, and jobs vanished from the city that had been the center of the industry." The Motor City's downward slide continued until its 2013 bankruptcy, but some auto manufacturing remains, as shown in this split-screen video of Detroit over the past century alongside Detroit in 2018. It even includes footage of the QLine, the streetcar that opened in the previous year amid the latest wave of interest in restoring Detroit to its former glory. As in any city, the most solid future for Detroit must be built, in part, with the materials of its past.

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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.

Animated Series Drawn & Recorded Tells “Untold Stories” from Music History: Nirvana, Leonard Cohen, Blind Willie Johnson & More

Who hasn’t tasted the pleasures, guilty or otherwise, of VH1’s Behind the Music? The long-running show, a juicy mix of tabloid gossip, documentary insight, and unabashed nostalgia, debuted in 1997, a totally different media age. Its original viewers were the first generation to use email, shop online, or download (usually pirated) music. People were willing to sit through episodes of an hour or more, without a pause button, whether they liked the music or not. (Some of the best shows profile the most ridiculous one-hit wonders).

Behind the Music is still on, and you can stream old episodes all day long, pausing every few minutes to check email or social media, stream another video, or download an album in seconds. But with so many distractions, it’s easy to lose the thread of Huey Lewis and the News’ rise to stardom or the thrilling life and times of Ice-T. We need stories like these, but we may need them in a smaller, more self-contained form.

Enter Drawn & Recorded: Modern Myths of Music, an online series that delivers the frisson of Behind the Music in a fraction of the time, with the added bonus of whimsical, high-quality animation and narration by T. Bone Burnett. Now in its fourth season, the award-winning series, directed and hand-drawn by animator Drew Christie for studio Gunpowder & Sky, brings us anecdotes “sometimes hilarious, occasionally tragic, always compelling,” writes Animation Magazine.

Those stories include “Leonard Cohen’s escape from Cuban authorities after being detained under suspicion of espionage” (see the trailer here) and the origins of Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (above), a story we covered in a previous post. Drawn & Recorded has differentiated itself from the aforementioned pop music documentary show not only in its length and aesthetic sensibilities but also in its willingness to venture deeper into music history.

The episode below, for example, features tragic bluesman Blind Willie Johnson, who made modern history when his music traveled into outer space on the Voyager Golden Record. Given their lengths of under five minutes, each Drawn & Recorded must prune its story carefully—there’s no room for meandering or gratuitous repetition. Each of the vignettes promises an “untold story” from music history, and while that may not always be the case, they are each well-told and surprising and often as strange as Christie’s animations and Burnett’s haunted, raspy baritone suggest.

In the episode below, country legend Jimmie Rogers, whose influence “would range from Hank Williams to Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan,” arrived in Kenya a decade after his death, by way of British missionaries toting a phonograph. The native people became fascinated with the sound of Rogers’ music. They pronounced his name “Chemirocha,” a word that came to mean “anything new and different.” This became a song called “Chemirocha,” about a half-man/half-antelope god.

It’s a fascinatingly odd little tale about cross-cultural contact, one that has little to do with the biography of Jimmie Rogers, and hence might never make it into your standard-issue documentary. But Drawn & Recorded is something else—a handmade artifact that streams digitally, telling stories about musicians famous, infamous, and rarely remembered. Other episodes feature a canny mix of the contemporary, classic, and golden age, including Grimes, David Bowie, the Beatles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, MF Doom, and more. Find them, notes Animation Magazine, “on the Network, available on DirecTV, DirecTV Now and AT&T U-verse” or find scattered episodes on Vimeo.

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

Pretty Much Pop #10 Examines Margaret Atwood’s Nightmare Vision: The Handmaid’s Tale

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt take on both Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel plus the Bruce Miller/Hulu TV series through season 3. There’s also a graphic novel and the 1990 film.

We get into what’s needed to move a novel to the screen like that: The character can’t just remain passive as in the novel in order to keep us suffering with her past the first season as storytelling beyond the book begins. We talk about Atwood’s funny neologisms (like “prayvaganza”) that didn’t make it into the show.

How does race play into the story, and how should it? Is the story primarily a political statement or a self-contained work of art? Given the bleakness of the situation depicted, can there be comic relief? How can we have a nominally funny podcast about this work?

Some of the articles we drew on or bring up include:

Plus Erica brings up this video of Bill Moyers interviewing Atwood about religion. We also touch on Shindler’s List, Jean-Paul Sartre’s NauseaDavid Brin dissing Star Wars as anti-democratic storytelling, and the many conservative dismissals of the show as hysterical propaganda.

Buy the bookthe graphic novel, or its new sequel The Testaments.

You may be interested in these related Partially Examined Life episodes (Mark's long-running philosophy podcast): #181 on Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil, #139 on bell hooks  and her historical account of conditions for black women not terribly dissimilar to the ones described by Atwood, #90 interviewing David Brin about the connections between speculative fiction, philosophy, and political speech. PEL has also recorded several episodes on Sartreand Mark ran a supporter-only  session that you could listen to on Nausea in particular. Also check out Brian’s Contellary Tales podcast #2 talking about another breeding-related sci-fi story by Octavia Butler.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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