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 and see what they mean. 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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Hear Bob Dylan’s Unedited & Bewildering Interview With Nat Hentoff for Playboy Magazine (1965)

In the fall of 1965, six months after Bob Dylan freaked out the folkies at Newport, he sat down with Village Voice music critic and columnist Nat Hentoff for an interview for Playboy. Like Dylan himself, the resulting conversation, as published in February, 1966, is by turns illuminating and completely confounding. Topics shift abruptly, words take on unfamiliar meanings, and for all of the many strong opinions Dylan seems to express, it’s remarkable how little he actually seems to say, since he takes back almost everything as soon as he says it.

The verbal tangles of his answers take many philosophical turns. Dylan defines the contemporary art scene, saying “Art, if there is such a thing, is in the bathrooms; everybody knows that. […] I spend a lot of time in the bathroom. I think museums are vulgar. They’re all against sex.” Asked “why rock ‘n’ roll has become such an international phenomenon,” Dylan waxes ontological: “I can’t really think that there is any rock ‘n’ roll. Actually, when you think about it, anything that has no real existence is bound to become an international phenomenon.”

The bizarre nature of the published exchange is classic, comically aloof, mid-sixties Dylan—so much in character we can imagine Cate Blanchett’s serpentine Dylan in I’m Not There saying the lines. But the print version of the conversation is streamlined and lucid compared to the unedited, taped conversation Dylan and Hentoff had the year prior before an editor pared it down. As music site All Dylan has it, “to call them versions ignores the fact that they are totally different interviews.”

The original take, which you can hear above in two parts, was much messier, and stranger.  Dylan often sounds like he’s not answering questions so much as putting words together in sentence-like forms. His speech takes on the qualities of abstract expressionism—recursive, and pointedly vague. We might assume he’s really stoned, except for a long-winded speech about how passé it is to smoke pot.

Well, I never felt as if there’s an answer through pot. I don’t want to make this, kind of, a drug interview or anything, like. LSD like… once you take LSD a few times… I mean, LSD is a medicine. You know, you take it and you know… you don’t really have to keep taking it all the time. It’s nothing like that. It’s not that kind of thing, you know, whereas pot, you know, nobody’s got any answers through pot. Pot’s, you know, not that kind of thing. I’m sure that the people that say that the people who figure they got their answers through pot, first of all, those people who say that, they’re just inventing something. And the people that really actually think that they got their answers through pot, probably never even smoked pot, you know. I mean, it’s like… pot is, you know…who smokes pot any more, you know, anyway? 

Ever noncommittal, Dylan deflects a question about his relationship with Johnny Cash, saying “I can’t really talk about it too much,” but assuring Hentoff that he likes Cash “a lot. I like everything he does really.” If Dylan gives as much as he takes away in the published interview, he does so doubly in this unedited version, and it’s oddly fascinating, even—and especially—when he decides to stop making words make sense. The taped interview was, in fact, the second interview Hentoff conducted with Dylan. After seeing an edited transcript of the first attempt, Dylan insisted that Hentoff interview him again over the phone. Hentoff turned on his tape recorder and immediately “realized I was going to be the straight guy,” he tells John Whitehead, “Dylan was improvising surrealistically and very funny.”

Vulture ranks the Playboy interview at number one in their list of “The 10 Most Incomprehensible Bob Dylan Interviews of All Time.” It must have been a tough call. At number 10, they have the Time magazine interview from that same year, which you can see in the clip above from 1967′s Don’t Look Back. Dylan is confrontational, almost theatrically angry, but he is mostly clear on the details. He ends the interview with a cryptic joke, comparing himself to opera singer Enrico Caruso: “I happen to be just as good as him—a good singer. You have to listen closely, but I hit all those notes.”

via All Dylan

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

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Drunk Shakespeare: The Trendy Way to Stage the Bard’s Plays in the US & the UK

You might be familiar with Drunk History, the web series turned Comedy Central show that reenacts the ramblings of inebriated hipsters trying to recount events like the Watergate scandal or the Burr-Hamilton duel. Well, apparently, a growing number of theater troupes have decided that the best way to stage Shakespeare in this age of social media and shortening attention spans is to get everyone involved drunk. The audience and the actors. One such group is called, aptly, Drunk Shakespeare, which describes itself as “a company of professional drinkers with a serious Shakespeare problem.” Each audience member is given a shot of whiskey at the beginning of each performance. The actors reportedly drink much more and actually have to get breathalyzed before the show. You wouldn’t want Henry V to pass out before the Battle of Agincourt, would you? The Wall Street Journal did a short video piece about the group. You can watch it above.

Another group, the New York Shakespeare Exchange, dispenses with the stage altogether. Instead, they host a regular pub crawl/ theatrical performance called ShakesBEER. In one of the many drinking establishments in New York, actors in contemporary dress do scenes from Hamlet and Othello amid patrons clutching pints of lager. You can watch some of their shows above.

Another example is The Inis Nua Company, which took the basic idea of Drunk History and swapped out the history with Romeo and Juliet. Check out below. Or, maybe if you’re across the pond, you will want to check out Sh*t- Faced Shakespeare at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It features “An entirely serious Shakespeare play… with an entirely shit-faced actor.”

But the real question is where will all this crazed mixing of high culture and mind altering substances end? Will someone do Inebriated Ibsen? Stoned Chekhov? Moliere on Molly? Tripping balls Beckett? It’s a slippery slope.

via The Wall Street Journal

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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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The Avant-Garde Project: An Archive of Music by 200 Cutting-Edge Composers, Including Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage & More

avant gardeEvery sphere of recorded music, from late-1960s folk to Philadelphia hip-hop to Japanese jazz (a personal pursuit of mine), has its crate-diggers, those happy to flip through hundreds — nay, hundreds of thousands — of obscure, forgotten vinyl albums in search of their subgenre’s even obscurer, more forgotten gems. This holds especially true, if not in number than in avidity, for enthusiasts of the 20th-century classical-experimental-electroacoustic tradition that The Avant-Garde Project takes as its preservation mandate. The site offers material “digitized from LPs whose music has in most cases never been released on CD, and so is effectively inaccessible to the vast majority of music listeners today.” To the best of the Archive’s knowledge, the LPs are all currently out of print, and all the music is extracted with an analog rig that ranks as “near state-of-the-art, producing almost none of the tracking distortion or surface noise normally associated with LPs.”

The Avant-Garde Project’s efforts, the archive of which you can browse here (or alphabetically by composer, or through choice samplers, or through the “AGP top twenty,” or through the founder’s personal favorites), has borne a great deal of fruit so far, especially from such music-history class favorites as Arnold Schoenberg, whose String Trio performed by the Los Angeles String Trio you can hear above, and Igor Stravinsky, whose Symphony of Psalms you’ll find below. Everything in the Avant-Garde Project’s archive comes downloadable as torrents of Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) files. This audiophile’s compression format of choice requires a bit of special but easily obtained software to play or burn to CDs, all of which you can get explained here (with even more information here). Those who’d like to keep it simple (if not quite as aurally pristine) can listen through a smaller version of the archive at Ubuweb. Either way, you’ll enjoy all the artistic richness of rare 20th-century classical-experimental-electroacoustic music with none of the digging.

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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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Literary Critic Northrop Frye Teaches “The Bible and English Literature”: All 25 Lectures Free Online

One reason I’m glad for having had a childhood religious education: it has made me conversant in even some of the most obscure stories and ideas in the Christian Bible, which is everywhere in English literature. Not only was the King James translation formative for early modern English, but stories like that of King David and his son Absalom have furnished material for great works from John Dryden’s dense political allegory “Absalom and Achitophel” to William Faulkner’s dense modernist fable Absalom, Absalom!  Then, of course, there’s so much of the work of Blake, Shakespeare, and Milton to account for. Without a fairly solid grounding in Biblical literature, it can be doubly difficult to make headway in a study of the secular variety.

The students of highly regarded Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye found this to be true. As a junior instructor, Frye had difficulty getting his class to understand what was going on in John Milton’s Paradise Lost because so many of the Biblical allusions were lost on them. (It’s a hard enough poem to grasp when you get the references.) “How do you expect to teach Paradise Lost,” said the chair of Frye’s department, “to people who don’t know the difference between a Philistine and a Pharisee?” Responding to this gap in cultural literacy, Frye designed and taught “The Bible and English Literature.” The entire, videotaped course from a 1981 session at the University of Toronto is available online in 25 lectures.

It’s very much a treat to sit in on these lectures. Frye’s work on myth and folktale in English literature is still nearly definitive; his 1957 Anatomy of Criticism, though picked apart many times over through the decades, retains an authoritative place in studies of literary archetypes and rhetoric. Frye’s lectures on the Bible focus on what he sees as its “narrative unity,” due in part to “a number of recurring images: mountain, sheep, river, hill, pasture, bride, bread, wine and so on.” He also spends a good deal of time, at least in his first lecture above, discussing church history, theological and critical conflicts, and the history of various translations. The UToronto site includes full transcripts of each lecture, and the entire course promises to be enlightening for students of literature, of the Bible and church history, or both.

The Bible and English Literature will be added to our list of Free Online Literature Courses and Free Online Religion Courses, part of our larger collection, 1000 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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

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