Listen to the Long-Lost Freddie Mercury & Michael Jackson Duet

Some 33 years ago, Queen started work on a track called “There Must Be More to Life Than This,” which featured vocals by Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson. Written during the Hot Space sessions (circa 1981), the song was eventually abandoned and put on a shelf until Freddie Mercury released his own version on a 1985 solo album. Now, with the upcoming release of a Queen compilation called Queen Forever, you can hear the original. No longer do you have to wonder what a Mercury-Jackson duet might sound like. In fact, you only have to click play above and the suspense will be over.

I should note that the Hot Space sessions also produced perhaps our favorite rock duet ever — Freddie Mercury and David Bowie singing “Under Pressure.” Don’t miss hearing their vocals on this amazing isolated track.

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via Rolling Stone

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The Guggenheim Puts 109 Free Modern Art Books Online


Back in January, 2012, we mentioned that the Guggenheim (the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed modern art museum in NYC) had put 65 art catalogues on the web, all free of charge.

We’re happy to report that, between then and now, the number of free texts has grown to 109. Published between 1937 and 1999, the art books/catalogues offer an intellectual and visual introduction to the work of Alexander Calder, Edvard Munch, Francis BaconGustav Klimt & Egon Schiele, Fernand Léger, and Kandinsky. Plus there are other texts (e.g., Masterpieces of Modern Art and Abstract Expressionists Imagists) that tackle meta movements and themes.

Anyone interested in the history of the Guggenheim will want to spend time with a collection called “The Syllabus.” It contains five books by Hilla Rebay, the museum’s first director and curator. Together, they let you take a close look at the art originally housed in the Guggenheim when the museum first opened its doors in 1939.

To read any of these 109 free art books, you will just need to follow these simple instructions. 1.) Select a text from the collection. 2.) Click the “Read Catalogue Online” button. 3.) Start reading the book in the pop-up browser, and use the controls at the very bottom of the pop-up browser to move through the book. 4.) If you have any problems accessing these texts, you can find alternate versions on

You can find many more free art books from the Getty and the Met below.

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Pakistani Orchestra Plays Enchanting Rendition of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”

Last year, we brought you an incredible cover of Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five” performed by the Pakistan-based group, the Sachal Studios Orchestra (also known as the Sachal Jazz Ensemble). You can find that song, along with two takes on “The Girl From Ipanema,” on their 2011 album Sachal Jazz. You won’t find the Sachal Orchestra’s version of “Eleanor Rigby” (above) on that album. This comes to us from Sachal’s 2013 Jazz and All That, a record Guardian critic John Fordham calls “smooth-jazzier” than its predecessor and “more improvisationally inhibited.” I must say, if that’s the case, I’ll take my jazz smooth just this once.

“Eleanor Rigby,” of course, has always been played by an orchestra, and its mixture of modes makes it a particularly good choice for the sitar soloist, who could have sat in comfortably in studio sessions for nearly every song on the Eastern-inflected Revolver. He shares the spotlight with a dynamite tablas player (watch for his solo at 1:27). It’s no wonder the Sachal players have made such an impression with their unique interpretations of standards and classics. Drawn from “virtuosos who cut their teeth in Pakistan’s once-flourishing Lollywood film industry,” their website informs us, “the Sachal Jazz Ensemble brings together some of the most accomplished classical musicians of the subcontinent.” Lollywood, Lahore’s once-thriving film industry, has still barely recovered from the repressive regime of General Zia-ul-Haq.

The musicians of Sachal are refugees of a sort; rescued from poverty, these “veteran session players [had been] retired since the 1980s due to various anti-music zealotries.” During those times, writes Yaqoob Khan Bangash, television drama provided “great succor to a fatigued and demoralized society.” Musicals, however, were very much frowned on by the regime, which banned most Western-influenced productions and shuttered most of the Lahore studios. We should be glad the Sachal Studios Orchestra can now perform and tour. They recently appeared with Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center in an event, Fordham writes, suggesting that “the most creative phase of Sachal Studios’ heartening story of renewal might just be beginning.”

For more on Sachal Studios, watch the introductory video, “Who We Are…,” above—shot at, where else, the studios at Abbey Road.

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


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Optical Poems by Oskar Fischinger, the Avant-Garde Animator Hated by Hitler, Dissed by Disney

At a time when much of animation was consumed with little anthropomorphized animals sporting white gloves, Oskar Fischinger went in a completely different direction. His work is all about dancing geometric shapes and abstract forms spinning around a flat featureless background. Think of a Mondrian or Malevich painting that moves, often in time to the music. Fischinger’s movies have a mesmerizing elegance to them. Check out his 1938 short An Optical Poem above. Circles pop, sway and dart across the screen, all in time to Franz Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody. This is, of course, well before the days of digital. While it might be relatively simple to manipulate a shape in a computer, Fischinger’s technique was decidedly more low tech. Using bits of paper and fishing line, he individually photographed each frame, somehow doing it all in sync with Liszt’s composition. Think of the hours of mind-numbing work that must have entailed.

Born in 1900 near Frankfurt, Fischinger trained as a musician and an architect before discovering film. In the 1930s, he moved to Berlin and started producing more and more abstract animations that ran before feature films. They proved to be popular too, at least until the National Socialists came to power. The Nazis were some of the most fanatical art critics of the 20th Century, and they hated anything non representational. The likes of Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka and Wassily Kandinsky among others were written off as “degenerate.” (By stark contrast, the CIA reportedly loved Abstract Expressionism, but that’s a different story.) Fischinger fled Germany in 1936 for the sun and glamour of Hollywood.

The problem was that Hollywood was really not ready for Fischinger. Producers saw the obvious talent in his work, and they feared that it was too ahead of its time for broad audiences. “[Fischinger] was going in a completely different direction than any other animator at the time,” said famed graphic designer Chip Kidd in an interview with NPR. “He was really exploring abstract patterns, but with a purpose to them — pioneering what technically is the music video.”

Fischinger’s most widely seen American work was the section in Walt Disney’s Fantasia set to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Disney turned his geometric forms into mountain peaks and violin bows. Fischinger was apoplectic. “The film is not really my work,” Fischinger later reflected. “Rather, it is the most inartistic product of a factory. …One thing I definitely found out: that no true work of art can be made with that procedure used in the Disney studio.” Fischinger didn’t work with Disney again and instead retreated into the art world.

There he found admirers who were receptive to his vision. John Cage, for one, considers the German animator’s experiments to be a major influence on his own work. Cage recalls his first meeting with Fischinger in an interview with Daniel Charles in 1968.

One day I was introduced to Oscar Fischinger who made abstract films quite precisely articulated on pieces of traditional music. When I was introduced to him, he began to talk with me about the spirit, which is inside each of the objects of this world. So, he told me, all we need to do to liberate that spirit is to brush past the object, and to draw forth its sound. That’s the idea which led me to percussion.

You can find excerpts of other Fischinger films over at Vimeo.

Optical Poems will be added to our list of Animations, part of our collection: 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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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 @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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Leonard Cohen’s New Album, Popular Problems, Is Now Streaming Free for a Limited Time

popular problems

Just thought you’d like to know: NPR’s First Listen site is now streaming Leonard Cohen’s new album Popular Problems. But it will only be available for a limited time. So don’t waste time getting your listening party started.

In its review of the album, The Guardian notes that “financial worries may be driving his comeback, but Leonard Cohen’s songs of despair have never sounded so full of life.” Listen to the free stream at NPR and see what they mean. (Also find a free stream at The Guardian.) Or pre-order your own copy on Amazon or iTunes.

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Photos of Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir Hanging with Che Guevara in Cuba (1960)

sartre che smoke

In 1960, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir ventured to Cuba during, as he wrote, the “honeymoon of the revolution.” Military strongman Fulgencio Batista’s regime had fallen to Fidel Castro’s guerilla army and the whole country was alight with revolutionary zeal. As Beauvoir wrote, “after Paris, the gaiety of the place exploded like a miracle under the blue sky.”

At the time, Sartre and de Beauvoir were internationally renown, the intellectual power couple of the 20th century. Beauvoir’s book, The Second Sex (1949), laid the groundwork for the feminism movement, and her book The Mandarins won France’s highest literary award in 1954. Sartre’s name had become a household word. The philosophy he championed – Existentialism – was being read and debated around the world. And his political activism — loudly condemning France’s war in Algeria, for instance — had given him real moral authority. When Sartre was arrested in 1968 for civil disobedience, Charles de Gaulle pardoned him, noting, “You don’t arrest Voltaire.” As Deirdre Bair notes in her biography of Beauvoir, “Sartre became the one intellectual whose presence and commentary emerging governments clamored for, as if he alone could validate their revolutions.” So it’s not terribly surprising that Fidel Castro wined and dined the two during their month in Cuba.


Cuban photographer Alberto Korda captured the couple as they met with Castro, Che Guevara and other leaders of the revolution. One picture (above) is of Guevara in his combat boots and trademark beret, lighting a cigar for the French philosopher. Sartre looks small and unhealthy compared to the strapping, magnetic revolutionary. Sartre was apparently impressed by the time he spent with the guerilla leader. When Che died in Bolivia seven years later, Sartre famously wrote that Guevara was “not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age.”

Later, Korda caught them as they were guided through the streets of Havana. And as you can see (below), that iconic image of Guevara, later plastered on T-shirts and Rage Against the Machine album covers, is on that same role of film.

When the couple returned to Paris, Sartre wrote article after article extolling the revolution. Beauvoir, who was equally impressed, wrote, “For the first time in our lives, we were witnessing happiness that had been attained by violence.”


Yet their enthusiasm for the regime cooled when they returned to Cuba a year later. The streets of Havana had little of the joy as the previous year. When they talked to factory workers, they heard little but parroting of the official party line. Beauvoir and Sartre ultimately denounced Castro (along with a bunch of other intellectual luminaries like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz) in an open letter that criticized him for the arrest of Cuban poet Herberto Padillo.

You can read more about the life and photography of Alberto Korda in the 2006 book, Cuba: by Korda.

Photos above by Alberto Korda.

via Critical Theory

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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 @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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Watch Frank Zappa Play Michael Nesmith on The Monkees (1967)

In December 1967, The Monkees blew their audience’s minds by hosting Frank Zappa, “participant in and perhaps even leader of” the Mothers Of Invention.

Or did they?

The tidal wave of affection that comprises twenty-first century Monkees mania makes us forget that children were the primary audience for The Monkees’ titular sitcom. (One might also say that The Monkees were the sitcom’s titular band.)

But even if the kids at home weren’t sufficiently conversant in the musical underground to identify the special guest star of the episode, “The Monkees Blow Their Minds,” we are.

It’s a joy to see Zappa and The Monkees’ supremely laid back Michael Nesmith (he auditioned for the show with his laundry bag in tow) impersonating each other.

Zappa’s idea, apparently. He’s in complete control of the gimmick from the get go, whereas Nesmith struggles to keep their names straight and his prosthetic nose in place before getting up to speed.

It’s important to remember that it’s not Frank, but Nesmith playing Frank who accuses The Monkees’ music of being banal and insipid.

Zappa himself was a great supporter of The Monkees. “When people hated us more than anything, he said kind things about us,” Nesmith recalled in Barry Miles’ Zappa biography. Zappa attempted to teach Nesmith how to play lead guitar, and offered drummer Micky Dolenz a post-Monkees gig with The Mothers of Invention.

Their mutual warmth makes lines like “You’re the popular musician! I’m dirty gross and ugly” palatable. It put me in mind of comedian Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns, and countless other loosely rehearsed web series.

After a couple of minutes, Nesmith gets his hat back to conduct as Zappa smashes up a car to the tune of the Mother’s Of Invention’s “Mother People.”

Watch the full episode here, or if pressed for time, perhaps just Zappa’s cameo in the Monkees’ movie Head, as a studio lot bull wrangler who counsels lead singer Davy Jones on his career.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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Allen Ginsberg Talks About Coming Out to His Family & Fellow Poets on 1978 Radio Show (NSFW)


Recent MacArthur Fellow and poet Terrence Hayes appeared on NPR yesterday to read and discuss his work; he was asked if he found “being defined as an African-American poet” to be limiting in some way. Hayes replied,

I think it’s a bonus. It’s a thing that makes me additionally interesting, is what I would say. So, black poet, Southern poet, male poet — many of those identities I try to fold into the poems and hope that they enrich them.

It seemed to me an odd question to ask a MacArthur-winning American poet. Issues of both personal and national identity have been central to American poetry at least since Walt Whitman or Langston Hughes, but especially since the 1950s with the emergence of confessional and beat poets like Allen Ginsberg. Without the celebration of personal identity, one might say that it’s hard to imagine American poetry.

Like Hayes, Ginsberg enfolded his various identities—Jew, Buddhist, gay man—into his poetry in enriching ways. Thirty-six years ago, he gave a radio interview to “Stonewall Nation,” one of a handful of specifically gay radio programs broadcast in 1970s Western New York. In an occasionally NSFW conversation, he discussed the experience of coming out to his fellow Beats and to his family.

At the top of the post, Ginsberg talks about being closeted and having a crush on Jack Kerouac, who was “very tolerant, friendly,” after Ginsberg confessed it. Above he tells a funny story about coming out to his father, then reads a moving untitled poem about his father’s eventual acceptance after their mutual “timidity and fear.” In the segment below, he recalls how the rest of his family, particularly his brother, reacted.

The interview moves to broader topics. Ginsberg discusses his views on desire and compassion, defining the latter as “benevolent and indifferent attentiveness,” rather than “heart-love.” Buddhism pervades Ginsberg’s conversation as does a roguish vaudevillian sensibility mixed with sober reflection. He opens with a long, boozy sing-along whose first four lines concisely sum up core Buddhist doctrines; he ends with a funny, bawdy song that then becomes a dark exploration of homophobic and misogynistic violence.

Ginsberg and host also discuss the Briggs Initiative (above) a piece of legislation that would have been an effective purge in the California school system of gay teachers, their supporters, even those who might “take a neutral attitude which could be interpreted as approval.” This would preclude even the teaching of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (or one particular section of it), which, Ginsberg says, “would make the teacher liable for encouraging homosexual activity.” The amendment—one that, apparently, former governor Ronald Reagan strongly opposed—failed to pass. These days such proposals target Ginsberg’s poetry as well, and we still have conversations about the value of things like “benevolent and indifferent attentiveness” in the classroom, or whether poets should feel limited by being who they are.

In the photo above, taken by Herbert Rusche in 1978, you can see Ginsberg (left) with his long-time partner, the poet Peter Orlovsky (right).

via PennSound

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

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A Crash Course on Psychology: A 30-Part Video Series from Hank Green

Novelist, educator, and vlogger John Green has drawn a lot of press lately, including but not limited to New Yorker profile by Margaret Talbot, in the wake of the film version of his popular young-adult novel The Fault in Our Stars. But we here at Open Culture can say we featured him before that magazine of cultural record did: in 2012 we posted his Crash Course in World History, and last October, his Crash Course on Literature. If you keep up with this site, you probably know Green less as a coming-of-age-tragedy-writing “teen whisperer” (in the words of the New Yorker) than as the mile-a-minute, constantly wisecracking, but nevertheless wholesome teacher you never had. You may not know that he has an equally educational brother named Hank, who first came to internet prominence in a back-and-forth video series of John’s devising called Vlogbrothers, which Talbot describes as “less a conversation than an extended form of parallel play.”

Now you can find Hank, possessed of a similarly fast and funny delivery style, prepared to inform you on a whole range of other subjects, teaching crash courses just like John does. At the top of the post, we have his 30-part Crash Course in Psychology, in which he covers everything about the study of the human mind from sensation and perception to the theory of the homunculus to remembering and forgetting to language to depression. (You can watch the series from start to finish above.) Psychology has long ranked among the most popular undergraduate majors in American universities, and given humanity’s ever-increasing curiosity (and gradually accumulating knowledge) about the workings of its brains, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But those of us who felt compelled to pick a more “practical” course of study back in college, can now turn to Hank Green, who offers us a surprisingly thorough psychological grounding with only about five hours of “lecturing” — much less than the major would have taken us, and with many more corny jokes. Perhaps the course will help you understand why we laugh at them anyway.

via Devour

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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The Last Saturday: A New Graphic Novel by Chris Ware Now Being Serialized at The Guardian (Free)

ware graphic novelThought you might like a heads up that The Guardian has started publishing on its web site The Last Saturday, “a brand new graphic novella by the award-winning cartoonist Chris Ware, tracing the lives of six individuals from Sandy Port, Michigan.” It will be published in weekly episodes, with a new installment appearing on this page every Saturday.  The innovative comic book artist, known for his graphic novels Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth and Building Stories, will be getting some good support from the , which should make it quite the visual experience.

via Kottke

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