How Nina Simone Became Hip Hop’s “Secret Weapon”: From Lauryn Hill to Jay Z and Kanye West

In 1996, the Fugees burst on the scene with “Ready or Not,” and most listeners were not ready: for the ominous, eclectic, Caribbean-inflected production, the smooth, sexy menace of Lauryn Hill’s hook (“you can’t hide / Gonna find you and take it slowly”), or the interplay of references in the breakout star’s rhymes. “Rap orgies with Porgy and Bess / Capture your bounty like Eliot Ness,” Hill raps, and then a few lines later, “So while you’re imitating Al Capone, I’ll be Nina Simone / And defecating on your microphone.”

The tongue-in-cheek line introduced a generation of fans to the iconic singer and virtuoso pianist, who could and did play everything from blues, jazz, soul, cabaret, classical, and Broadway tunes like those from the Gershwin classic (hear Simone’s “I Loves You Porgy,” here).




Hill has paid homage to Simone ever since. In 2015, she promoted the tribute album, Nina Revisted—the soundtrack to documentary What Happened to Nina Simone?—at the Apollo. Reporting on the event in The Verge, Kwame Opam likely spoke for thousands in admitting he’d “first heard Nina’s name in that classic line on ‘Ready or Not.’”

Last year saw the release of The Miseducation of Eunice Waymon, a title combining Hill’s acclaimed solo album with Simone’s birth name. The record, produced by Amerigo Gazaway, is a “mashup of songs by Fugees emcee and hip hop legend Lauryn Hill, and the jazz and soul icon Nina Simone." What might have come off like a marketing stunt trading on both names instead “elevates them to new heights,” writes Zack Gingrich-Gaylord at KMUW, “putting them in conversation with each other and making it sound like the collaboration was always meant to be.”

Maybe one reason these imaginary studio sessions work so well has to do not only with Hill’s veneration of Simone, and the harmonious meeting of their two voices and sensibilities, but also with Simone’s prominence in so much recent hip hop. Among the dozens of soul artists whose grooves have given loops and hooks to many a rap classic, she now holds a special place, as the Polyphonic video at the top shows in an exploration of four Simone songs that have left an indelible mark on hip hop’s current sound.

The first of those songs, “Feeling Good,” appears on both the Hill/Simone mashup album and in a powerful cover by Hill on Nina Revisited. Simone’s soaring version of the song—originally from the British musical The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd—“turned it into a musical standard” for the next several decades. In the 2000s, it popped up in tracks from Wax Tailor, Lil Wayne, and Jay Z and Kanye West, “two artists who have made careers out of sampling the high priestess” of soul and whose names come up frequently in this discussion.

The second song identified as one of “hip hop’s secret weapons,” Simone’s interpretation of the gospel “Sinnerman,” may be her “greatest accomplishment" and appears in tracks by Timbaland and Flying Lotus and in the Talib Kweli track “Get By,” produced by a young Kanye West.

Simone’s appeal to hip hop artists goes beyond her incredibly powerful voice and piano. She was a fierce civil rights activist who used her music as a form of protest. Her version of “Strange Fruit,” a song first turned into a civil rights anthem by Billie Holiday from a poem by Abel Meeropol, has inspired tracks by Cassidy, Common, and, most famously, West again on his 2013 “Blood on the Leaves.” West uses the song as a backdrop for a narrative of his personal problems and relationship woes, which doesn’t really honor its history, the Polyphonic argument in favor of his use notwithstanding.

That’s not the case with reimaginings of the last Simone song in this explainer, her original composition “Four Women,” which imagines four different women expressing the pain racism has caused them. In 2000, Talib Kweli and producer Hi-Tek came together as Reflection Eternal and recorded their own version, mentioning Simone’s Southern inspirations in the intro before telling contemporary tales of four women in New York. “More than just a sample,” the track “reinterprets the message” of “Four Women" and applies Simone’s 1966 insights to the present, something Jay Z also does on 2017’s “The Story of O.J.”

It is worth noting that all of the tracks the Polyphonic video mentions as examples of Simone’s influence on hip hop were released after Lauryn Hill and the Fugees brought Simone to the attention of young rappers, DJs, producers, and fans just coming of age in the mid-nineties. Since then, Simone’s music has since left its mark all over the genre, and it’s easy to see why so many would be drawn to her intense, authoritative musicianship and political urgency.

Simone may not have had the chance herself to enter into conversations with Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, Common, Kanye, or Jay Z, but through hip hop’s endlessly creative ability to make the musical heroes of its past live again in song, it is as if she is still speaking, singing, and playing to the current generation of black artists—and through them, to the future of hip hop.

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

Peanuts Rock: Watch the Peanuts Gang Play Classic Rock Songs by Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey & More

In a very crowded field, Garren Lazar's comical take on Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a stand-out.

Comical in the literal sense. Lazar, aka Super G, struck a rich vein when he thought to mash the Rolling Stones’ "Sympathy for the Devil" with footage culled from Charles Schulz’s animated Peanuts specials.

And over the last six years, he’s mined a lot of gold, using Final Cut Pro to pair familiar clips of a drumming Pigpen, Snoopy slapping a double bass, and the iconic “Linus And Lucy” scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas with rock and pop classics.

Schulz, an ardent music lover, frequently pictured his characters singing, dancing, and playing instruments, so Lazar, who has an uncanny knack for matching animated mouths to recorded lyrics, has plenty to choose from.

Charlie Brown’s anxieties fuel the introduction to a 15 minute remix of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s "Free Bird," until he gets hold of the Christmas special’s megaphone…

The megaphone serves Charlie equally well on "Stayin' Alive," the Bee Gees’ disco chart topper, though depending on your vintage, the vision of Snoopy in leg warmers and sweatband may come as a shock. Those clips come courtesy of It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown, Schulz’s 1984 goofy spin on FlashdanceFootlooseSaturday Night Fever and other dance-based pop cultural phenomenons of the era. Although that special—Schulz’s 27th—features a rotoscoped Snoopy busting moves originated by Flashdance’s stunt dancer Marine Jahan, that old holiday chestnut still manages to steal the show.

And whenever you need a lift, you can't do better than to spend a few minutes with Lazar’s heady reboot of Chicago’s quintessential 1970s single, "Saturday In the Park," wherein the normally reserved Schroeder reveals a more exuberant side.

Begin your explorations of Garren Lazar’s musical Peanuts remixes on his YouTube channel, warm in the knowledge that he entertains requests in the comments.

via Ultimate Classic Rock

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this March for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hunter Thompson Died 15 Years Ago: Hear Him Remembered by Tom Wolfe, Johnny Depp, Ralph Steadman, and Others

Hunter S. Thompson died on February 20, 2005, fifteen years ago, and ever since we've been wondering aloud what he would make of the state of the world today. Though events have all but cried out for another Thompson to savagely describe and even more savagely ridicule them, what other writer could live up to the formidable standard Thompson set with Hell’s Angels, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and his other harrowing gonzo-journalistic views of the American scene? These works, as the late Tom Wolfe puts it in the interview clip above, made Thompson "the great comic writer of the twentieth century."

Like anyone who knew the man, Wolfe had Hunter Thompson stories. The one he tells here takes place in Aspen, Colorado, years after Thompson ran for sheriff there and nearly won. As soon as Thompson and Wolfe were seated at a local restaurant, Thompson ordered four banana daiquiris and four banana splits.




After consuming all that, he called the waitress back: "Do it again." This may remind fans of a more gluttonous version of the scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo threateningly demand an entire pie at a diner. The real-life Thompson also had voracious appetites, not just for junk food and intoxicants but also for destruction, as evidenced by the story of propane-tank target practice Johnny Depp tells above.

Depp, who played Thompson in Terry Gilliam's film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, also bonded with the writer in ways not involving eighty-foot fireballs. Both came from Kentucky, and both admired the writing of the 1930s satirist Nathanael West. The two would read West's work aloud to one another, and later Thompson's own. (We've previously featured Depp reading the "wave speech," Thompson's best-known passage, here on Open Culture.) "Hunter taught me how he wanted his work read," Depp remembers, "and if there's anything such as a blessing, that was it." The private Thompson may have loved American prose, but the public Thompson loved outrageous behavior. As John Cusack puts it in the clip above, "He was ready for a show that was beyond any sense of decency and went into some absurdist land that made your heads bend."

Few had as much exposure to Th0mpson's head-bending as Ralph Steadman, the artist whose illustrations made visible the Thompsonian "gonzo" sensibility. "Gonzo is a Portuguese word, and it means hinge," Steadman says in the news segment above. "I guess to be gonzo is to be hinged — or unhinged." The two first met at the 1970 Kentucky Derby, where they were meant to collaborate on a piece about the race. In the event, they did more drinking and rumor-spreading than reporting, and it all led to a moment of truth: "We looked in the mirror and there we saw the evil face: it was us, looking back at us." The final product, "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved," now looks like the birth of a form Thompson and Steadman created, perfected, and quite possibly destroyed.

In the Joe Rogan Experience clip above, journalist Matt Taibbi describes Thompson's writing thus: "He let it all hang out and just said whatever the hell he thought, and he let the chips fall where they may." Easy though that may sound, in his best work Thompson managed to employ "the same techniques that the great fiction writers use" to craft a "four-dimensional story, but at the same time it was also journalism." As the current occupant of Thompson's old political-reporter job at Rolling Stone, Taibbi knows better than anyone that "most people couldn't get away with that." It takes "a Mark Twain-level talent to do what he did, which is to mix the ambition of great fiction with journalism" — like most of Thompson's endeavors, "one of those don't-try-this-at-home things."

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How Hunter S. Thompson Gave Birth to Gonzo Journalism: Short Film Revisits Thompson’s Seminal 1970 Piece on the Kentucky Derby

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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.

How William S. Burroughs Influenced Rock and Roll, from the 1960s to Today

It can be difficult to know what to do sometimes with adding machine heir and Naked Lunch and Junky author William S. Burroughs. In the trickle-down academese of contemporary jargon, he is a “problematic” figure who doesn’t fit neatly inside anyone’s ideological comfort zone, what with his unrepentant heroin addiction, occult weirdness, conspiracy mongering, and extensive firsthand knowledge of criminal underworlds.

There was no one better qualified to midwife the counterculture.

NME’s Leonie Cooper calls Burroughs “a dour punk in a sharp suit,” and lists some of the highlights of his biography, including his famous accidental shooting of his wife and mother of his only child—an event that did nothing to diminish his love of guns. “He wrote bleakly comic tales which were subject to obscenity trials in the States thanks to their dwelling on sodomy and drugs but which later saw him elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters.”




The mainstreaming of Burroughs happened in part because of his appeal to musicians, from Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie to Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, Throbbing Gristle, and Ministry’s Al Jourgenson. “Musicians flocked to him in a quest for authenticity.” Although the deadpan Burroughs usually appeared “massively unimpressed” by their attentions, he was “happy to comply and associate himself with artists both up and coming and established.”

David Bowie went further than seeking a photo op or one-off collaboration, adopting Burroughs’ cut-up technique as his primary method for writing lyrics, a technique also put into practice at various times by The Beatles, Cobain, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. Other artists, like Steely Dan and The Soft Machine, took their names from Burroughs’ work but shared little of his nightmarish sci-fi-cult-noir sensibility.

Burroughs “preferred to associate himself with an edgier kind of performer,” collaborating with R.E.M., Waits, and Cobain and “hanging out at seminal rock club CBGBs” in the 70s and 80s. He became a friend and mentor to artists like Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and Thurston Moore. Although Iggy Pop is often referred to as the “godfather of punk,” that title might as well belong to William S. Burroughs.

During the birth of rock and roll in the 50s, Burroughs was a mostly unknown fringe figure. By the late sixties, his influence became central to popular music thanks to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones. But he would not be tamed or sanitized. An early gay hero who sided with outsiders and underdogs against corporate machines, he was defiant to the end, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire anti-establishment artists, even if they're unaware of their debt to him.

In the new book William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n’ Roll, by Casey Rae, you can learn much more about Burroughs’ major influence on rock and roll in the 60s, 70s, 80s, “when it became a rite of passage to hang out with the author or to experiment with his cut-up techniques,” as the book description notes. His direct influence continued into the punk revival of the grunge era and has become “more subliminal” since his death in 1997, as Rae tells Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot in the Sound Opinions interview above. (Scroll to the 14:50 minute mark.)

It’s hard to find contemporary artists who aren’t influenced by the artists Burroughs influenced, and who—wittingly or not—haven’t inherited some of the Burroughsisms that are everywhere in the past fifty-plus years of rock and roll history. Hear a playlist of Burroughs-adjacent songs referenced in Rae’s book at the top of the post (opening with Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle Oo," later covered by Steely Dan), and learn more about Burroughs’ musical adventures at the links below.

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

Electronic Musician Shows How He Uses His Prosthetic Arm to Control a Music Synthesizer with His Thoughts

The techno-futurist prophets of the late 20th century, from J.G. Ballard to William Gibson to Donna Haraway, were right, it turns out, about the intimate physical unions we would form with our machines. Haraway, professor emeritus of the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, proclaimed herself a cyborg back in 1985. Whether readers took her ideas as metaphor or proleptic social and scientific fact hardly matters in hindsight. Her voice was predictive of the everyday biometrics and mechanics that lay just around the bend.

It can seem we are a long way, culturally, from the decade when Haraway’s work became required reading in “undergraduate curriculum at countless universities." But as Hari Kunzru wrote in 1997, “in terms of the general shift from thinking of individuals as isolated from the ‘world’ to thinking of them as nodes on networks, the 1990s may well be remembered as the beginning of the cyborg era.” Three decades later, networked implants that automate medical data tracking and analysis and regulate dosages have become big business, and millions feed their vitals daily into fitness trackers and mobile devices and upload them to servers worldwide.




So, fine, we are all cyborgs now, but the usual use of that word tends to put us in mind of a more dramatic melding of human and machine. Here too, we find the cyborg has arrived, in the form of prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by the brain. Psychologist, DJ, and electronic musician Bertolt Meyer has such a prosthesis, as he demonstrates in the video above. Born without a lower left arm, he received a robotic replacement that he can move by sending signals to the muscles that would control a natural limb. He can rotate his hand 360 degrees and use it for all sorts of tasks.

Problem is, the technology has not quite caught up with Meyer’s need for speed and precision in manipulating the tiny controls of his modular synthesizers. So Meyer, his artist husband Daniel, and synth builder Chrisi of KOMA Elektronik set to work on bypassing manual control altogether, with a prosthetic device that attaches to Meyer’s arm where the hand would be, and works as a controller for his synthesizer. He can change parameters using “the signals from my body that normally control the hand,” he writes on his YouTube page. “For me, this feels like controlling the synth with my thoughts.”

Meyer walks us through the process of building his first prototypes in an Inspector Gadget-meets-Kraftwerk display of analogue ingenuity. We might find ourselves wondering: if a handful of musicians, artists, and audio engineers can turn a prosthetic robotic arm into a modular synth controller that transmits brainwaves, what kind of cybernetic enhancements—musical and otherwise—might be coming soon from major research laboratories?

Whatever the state of cyborg technology outside Meyer’s garage, his brilliant invention shows us one thing: the human organism can adapt to being plugged into the unlikeliest of machines. Showing us how he uses the SynLimb to control a filter in one of his synthesizer banks, Meyer says, “I don’t even have to think about it. I just do it. It’s zero effort because I’m so used to producing this muscle signal.”

Advancements in biomechanical technology have given disabled individuals a significant amount of restored function. And as generally happens with major upgrades to accessibility devices, they also show us how we might all become even more closely integrated with machines in the near future.

via Boing Boing

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

Salvador Dalí Strolls onto The Dick Cavett Show with an Anteater, Then Talks About Dreams & Surrealism, the Golden Ratio & More (1970)

There was a time when you could flip on the TV in the evening, tune in to a major network's late-night talk show, and see Salvador Dalí walking an anteater. That time was the early 1970s, the network was ABC, and the talk show's host was Dick Cavett, who dared to converse on camera, and at length, with everyone from Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen to Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal to David Bowie and Janis Joplin, and John Lennon with Yoko Ono. Whether they went smoothly or bumpily, Cavett's conversations played out like no others on television, then or now. Dalí's March 1970 appearance above makes for a case in point: not only does he come on with his anteater, he wastes little time tossing it into the lap of another of the evening's guests, silent-film star Lillian Gish.

Dalí praises anteaters to Cavett as the sole "angelic" animal, a quality that has something to go with their tongues. He goes on to explain his admiration for the mathematical properties of rhinoceroses, whose proportions agree with the "golden ratio" he tended to incorporate into his art.




Other subjects to arise during Dalí's twenty minutes on set include the razor blade and the eyeball in Un Chien Andalou; the vivid, irrational, and "liliputitian" images that come to life in the mind "ten minutes or fifteen minutes before you fall [asleep]"; and the artist's maintenance of his famous mustache (which he'd previously discussed, sixteen years before, on The Name's the Same). At one point Gish asks Dalí if his work has "a message to give to the people that we, perhaps, don't understand." His unhesitating reply: "No message." Cavett, of course, has a smooth follow-up: "Could you invent one?"

In his show's 1970s prime, Cavett demonstrated an unmatched ability to make entertainment out of difficult guests — not by making fun of them, exactly, but by cracking jokes that revealed a certain self-awareness about the form of the talk show itself. "Am I alone in finding you somewhat to difficult to follow in terms of what your theories are?" he asks Dalí amid all the talk of anteaters and eyeballs, dreams and mathematics. And the difficulty wasn't just conceptual: "Is it my imagination," Cavett asks later on, "or are you speaking a mixture of languages?" But Dalí's deliberately idiosyncratic English, ideas, and personality all came of a piece, and at the end of the night Cavett admits his own admiration for the artist's work, even going so far as to request an autograph on air. The viewers of America must have come away from Dalí's TV appearances with more questions than answers. But for us watching today, one is particularly salient: what on Earth must Satchel Paige have thought of all this?

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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.

Moral Philosophy on TV? Pretty Much Pop #32 Judges The Good Place

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt discuss Michael Schur's NBC TV show. Is it good? (Yes, or we wouldn't be covering it?) Is it actually a sit-com? Does it effectively teach philosophy? What did having actual philosophers on the staff (after season one) contribute, and was that enough? We talk TV finales, the dramatic impact of the show's convoluted structure, the puzzle of heaven being death, and more.

Here are a few articles to get you warmed up:

If you like the show, you should also check out The Official Good Place Podcast, especially the interviews with Schur himself. There are also supplementary educational videos with professor Todd May like this one on existentialism.

A few clips: What's the deal with the "Jeremy Bearimy" time measurement? The Trolley Problem, meeting Hypatia, finale clip with Arvo Part's "Spiegel Im Spiegel."

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

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

Use the “Eisenhower Matrix” to Manage Your Time & Increase Your Productivity: The System Designed by the 34th President of the United States

"What is important is seldom urgent," said Dwight D. Eisenhower, "and what is urgent is seldom important." Or at least many believe Eisenhower said that, even if he might have been quoting someone else. Whether or not the 34th President of the United States of America ever spoke those exact words, he must have had a highly effective method of dealing with life's tasks. During Eisenhower's two terms in office, writes Atomic Habits author James Clear, "he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act)."

Eisenhower accomplished all that after "planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany" as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II" (and while being the most avid golfer ever to reside in the White House).




Though we may never boast such a range of accomplishments ourselves, we can still inject a shot of Eisenhowerian productivity into our lives with the "Eisenhower Matrix" — or, in the plainer phrasing "Ike" might have preferred, the "Eisenhower Box."

Its vertical axis of importance and horizontal axis of urgency create four boxes for categorizing tasks. Clear explains these categories as follows:

  • Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately)
  • Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
  • Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
  • Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate)

Important tasks, writes Lifehacker's Thorin Klosowski, "are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals," pursuits that put us into a "responsive mode, which helps us remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities." At Business Insider, Drake Baer provides examples of all four categories of tasks. The urgent and important include "attending to a crying baby, tackling a crisis at work, and mailing your rent check." The important but not urgent include "saving for the future, getting enough exercise, sleeping your seven to nine hours a night." The urgent but not important include "booking a flight, sharing an article, answering a phone call." The neither urgent nor important include "watching Game of Thrones, checking your Facebook, eating cookies."

Eisenhower had it easy, you may say: he lived before binge-watching, before social media, and before cookies were quite so addictive. Hence the greater importance today of a time-management system with the stark clarity of the Eisenhower Matrix, and not just for presidents. (Barack Obama, Baer points out, made time for dinner with the family when he was in the White House as well as an hour's workout every evening, both important but not urgent tasks.) So as not to lose sight of what's important, Clear recommends keeping in mind two questions: "What am I working toward?" and "What are the core values that drive my life?" And though Eisenhower didn't have to deal with nuisances like app notifications, he also didn't get to see the day when a productivity app (whose explanation of the Eisenhower Matrix appears at the top of the post) has his name on it.

via James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

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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.

The City of Nashville Built a Full-Scale Replica of the Parthenon in 1897, and It’s Still Standing Today

Photo by Mayur Phadtare, via Wikimedia Commons

A recent executive order stating that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for federal buildings in the U.S. has reminded some of other executives who enforced neoclassicicism as the state’s official aesthetic dogma. In the case of the U.S., however, neoclassical building does not draw from ancient sources, but from “a 19th century interpretation of what people were doing in Rome and Athens millennia ago,” as Steve Rose writes at The Guardian.

In other words, contemporary “classical architectural style” in the U.S. is a copy of a copy. Kitsch. But maybe the creation of simulations is what America does best, though not typically under threat of government sanction should one do otherwise. “Living in the relatively youthful country that’s a mere 241 years old,” Isaac Kaplan wrote at Artsy in 2017, “it’s understandable that some Americans might decide to import a little extra history from abroad,” by making versions of ancient monuments in their backyard.




Such buildings span the country, from offbeat roadside attractions to the most expensive and elaborate recreations. “There is a faux-Venice in Las Vegas, and a Stonehenge II in Texas.” And in Nashville, Tennessee: a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, built in 1897 for the Centennial Exposition celebrating the state’s 100th anniversary. The detailed re-creation went further than imitating a ruin. It “restored the aspects of the original Parthenon that were lost or damaged” in an interpretive re-creation of what it might have looked like.

The building held the Exposition’s art gallery and “spoke to the city’s self-declared reputation as the ‘Athens of the South.’” (Memphis countered the grand architectural gesture by building a pyramid; Athens, Georgia, however, did not respond in kind.) Constructed out of concrete, and not built to outlast the celebrations, the replica began to fall apart soon afterwards, prompting a restoration effort in 1920 aimed at making the Nashville Parthenon as “enduring and as historically true to the original Parthenon as possible.”

The Great Depression halted plans for an enormous statue of Athena, meant to recreate one that once stood inside the original Parthenon, but after decades of donations it was finally unveiled in 1990. Standing 42 feet high, the massive figure holds a 6-foot-4-inch statue of the goddess Nike in her hand. Unlike 19th century neoclassical recreations, Athena “boasts a major historical detail: polychromy,” painted in bright greens, reds, and blues, righting “the long-held and historically incorrect view of the ancient past as one dominated by whiteness.”

Image by Dean Dixon, via Wikimedia Commons

See more photographs from 1909 at the Library of Congress digital collections, of the replica of a temple originally dedicated to honoring the female personification of wisdom. And at the top, see a much more recent photo of the restored building. The Nashville Parthenon is still in business, charging reasonable admission for a view tourists could never get in Athens, as well as a permanent collection of 63 paintings by American artists and galleries housing temporary shows and exhibits.

via @DaveEverts

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

New Digital Archive Will Bring Medieval Chants Back to Life: Project Amra Will Feature 300 Digitized Manuscripts and Many Audio Recordings

Among historians of European Christianity, it long seemed a settled question that Irish Catholicism, the so-called “Celtic Rite,” differed significantly in the middle ages from its Roman counterpart. This despite the fact that the phrase Celtic Rite “must not be taken to imply any necessary homogeneity,” notes the Catholic Encyclopedia, “for the evidence such as it is, is in favour of considerable diversity.” Far from an insular religion, Irish Catholicism spread to France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Northern Spain through the missions of St. Columbanus and others, and both influenced and absorbed the Continent’s practices throughout the medieval period.

Historians have recently set out to “restore [the Irish Church] to its rightful place on the European historical map,” writes Trinity College Dublin’s Ann Buckley in her introduction to a book of scholarly essays called Music, Liturgy, and the Veneration of Saints of the Medieval Irish Church in a European Context.




To varying degrees, all of the scholars represented in this collection write to counter the essentializing “quest for what might be unique or ‘other’ about Ireland and Irish culture” among all other European national and religious histories.

Buckley’s writing on the veneration of Irish saints has made a significant contribution to this effort, and her decade and a half of archival work has helped create the Amra project, which aims “to digitize and make freely available online over 300 manuscripts containing liturgical material associated with some 40 Irish saints which are located in research libraries across Europe.” So write Medievalists.net, who also point out some of the most exciting aspects of this accessible resource:

The digital archive, when completed, will also incorporate recordings and performing editions of all the chants and prayers from the original manuscripts, as well as translations of the Latin texts into a number of European languages. In this way, contemporary audiences can enjoy first-hand the devotional songs associated with Irish saints, bringing them out of their slumber after more than half a millennium.

You can hear one antiphonal chant, “Magni patris/Mente mundi,” from the Office St. Patrick, just above. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “no other Irish saint is represented so extensively or with such variety in medieval liturgical sources,” writes Buckley. Manuscript hymns, prayers, and offices for Patrick have been found in Dublin, Oxford, Cambridge, the British Library, and “in the Vienna Schottenkloster dating from the time of its foundation by Irish Benedictine monks in the twelfth century.” (See the opening of the Office of St. Patrick, “Venerenda imminentis,” from a late-15th century manuscript, at the top.)

Other saints represented in the archival material include Brigit, Colmcille, Columbanus, Canice, Declan, Ciaran, Finian, and Laurence O’Toole. The missionary monks all received their own “offices,” liturgical ceremonies performed on their feast days. Many of the manuscripts, such as the opening of the Office of St. Brigit, above, contain musical notation, allowing musicologists like Buckley to recreate the sound of Irish Catholicism as it existed in Ireland, Britain, and Continental Europe several hundred years ago.

The project is developing a digital archive of such recordings, as well as “a fully searchable database,” Medievalists.net notes, with “interactive maps showing the geographical distribution of the cults of Irish saints across Europe, and of the libraries where the manuscripts are now housed. A series of documentary films is also envisaged.” You don’t have to be a specialist in the history of the Irish Church, or an Irish Catholic, for that matter, to get excited about the many ways such a rich resource will bring this medieval history to new life.

via Medievalists.net

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





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