Jimi Hendrix Plays the Delta Blues on a 12-String Acoustic Guitar in 1968, and Jams with His Blues Idols, Buddy Guy & B.B. King

“I started playing the guitar about 6 or 7, maybe 7 or 8 years ago. I was influenced by everything at the same time, that’s why I can’t get it together now.”

When you listen to Jimi Hendrix, one of the last things you’re ever likely to think is that he couldn’t “get it together” as a guitarist. Hendrix made the characteristically modest statement in 1968, in a free form discussion about his influences with Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner and Baron Wolfman. “I used to like Buddy Holly,” he said, “and Eddie Cochran and Muddy Waters and Elvin James… B.B. King and so forth.” But his great love was Albert King, who “plays completely and strictly in one way, just straight funk blues.”

Since Hendrix’s death and subsequent enshrinement in pop culture as the undisputed master of psychedelic rock guitar, a number of posthumous releases have performed a kind of revisionism that situates him not strictly in the context of the hippie scene but rather in the blues tradition he so admired and that, in a sense, he came of age within as a session and backing guitarist for dozens of blues and R&B artists in the early 60s.

In 1994 came the straightforwardly-titled compilation album Blues, which celebrated the fact that “more than a third of [Hendrix’s] recordings were blues-oriented,” writes Allmusic’s Richie Unterberger, whether originals like “Red House” and “Hear My Train a Comin’” or covers of his heroes Muddy Waters and Albert King. Martin Scorsese devoted a segment of his documentary series The Blues to Hendrix, and an ensuing 2003 album release featured even more Hendrix blues originals (with “pretty cool” liner notes about his blues record collecting habits). Prolific director Alex Gibney has a documentary forthcoming on Hendrix on the Blues.

It’s safe to say that Hendrix’s blues legacy is in safe hands, and it may be safe to say he would approve, or at least that he would have preferred to be linked to the blues, or classical music, than to what he called “freak-out psychedelic” music, as a Guardian review of Hendrix autobiography Starting at Zero quotes; “I don’t want anybody to stick a psychedelic label around my neck. Sooner Bach and Beethoven.” Or sooner, I’d imagine, blues legends like Albert King, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King, of whom Hendrix sat in awe. At the top of the post, you can see Hendrix flex his Delta blues muscles on a 12-string acoustic guitar. Then in the video below it from 1968, Hendrix gets the chance to jam with Buddy Guy, after watching Guy work his magic from the audience. (Hendrix joins Guy onstage to jam at 6:24.) The audio just above captures a jam session with B.B. King and Hendrix from the same year at New York’s Generation Club, and below, see Guy and King reminiscing a few years ago about those days of meeting and playing with Hendrix.

During their conversation, you’ll learn where Hendrix picked up one of his stage tricks, playing the guitar behind his head—and learn how little Guy knew about Hendrix the rock star, coming to know him instead as a great blues guitarist.

Related Content:

Jimi Hendrix Unplugged: Two Great Recordings of Hendrix Playing Acoustic Guitar

The Jimi Hendrix Experience Plays “Hey Joe” & “Wild Thing” on The Band’s Very First Tour: Paris, 1966

Jimi Hendrix’s Final Interview on September 11, 1970: Listen to the Complete Audio

B.B. King Changes Broken Guitar String Mid-Song at Farm Aid, 1985 and Doesn’t Miss a Beat

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

Free Speech Bites: Nigel Warburton, Host of Philosophy Bites, Creates a Spin Off Podcast Dedicated to Freedom of Expression

free speech bites

In ostensibly liberal democracies in the West, attitudes towards free speech vary widely given different historical contexts, and can shift dramatically over time. We’re living in the midst of a generational shift on the issue in the U.S.; a recent Pew survey found that 40 percent of millennials—18-34 year olds—favor government bans on offensive speech. The usual caveats apply when reading this data; New York magazine’s Science of Us blog breaks down the demographics and points out problems with definitions, particularly with that of the word “offensive.” They write, “plenty of folks freak out about anti-cop sentiments but are fine with racially loaded language—or insert your own examples.” As commentators note almost daily, various free speech advocates show all manner of partiality when it comes to whose speech they choose to defend and whose they, unwittingly perhaps, suppress.

European countries, of course, already have all sorts of laws that curb offensive speech and impose harsh penalties, from large fines to jail time. Those laws are extending to the internet as well, a speech domain long censored by Chinese authorities. Whether European measures against racist and xenophobic speech actually lessen racism and xenophobia is an open question, as is the problem of exceptions to the laws that seem to allow certain kinds of prejudices as they strongly censor others. Much more extreme examples of the suppression of free speech have recently come to light under autocratic regimes in the Middle East. In Syria, software developer and free speech advocate Bassel Khartabil has been held in prison since 2012 for his activism. In Saudi Arabia, artist, poet, and Palestinian refugee Ashraf Fayadh has been sentenced to death for “renouncing Islam.”

We could add to all of these examples hundreds of others, from all over the world, but in addition to the statistics and the disturbing individual cases, it is worth asking broader, more philosophical questions about free speech as we draw our own conclusions about the issues. What exactly do we mean by “free speech”? Should all speech be protected, even that meant to libel individuals or whole groups or to deliberately incite violence? Should we tolerate a public discourse made up of lies, misinformation, prejudicial invective, and personal attacks? Should citizens and the press have the right to question official government narratives and to demand transparency?

To help us think through these politically and emotionally fraught discussions, we could listen to Free Speech Bites, a podcast sponsored by the Index on Censorship and hosted by freelance philosopher Nigel Warburton, who also hosts the popular podcast Philosophy Bites. The format is identical to that long-standing show, but instead of short conversations with philosophers, Warburton has brief, lively discussions with free speech advocates, including authors, artists, politicians, journalists, comedians, cartoonists, and academics. In the episode above, Warburton talks with DJ Taylor, biographer of the man considered almost a saint of free speech, George Orwell.

Of his subject, Taylor remarks, “I think it’s true to say that most of Orwell’s professional life, large amounts of the things that he wrote, are to do with the suppression of the individual voice.” At the same time, he points out that Orwell’s “view of free speech is by no means clear cut.” The “whole free speech issue became much more delicately shaded than it would otherwise have been” during the extraordinary times of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Taylor refers to the “classic liberal dilemma: how far do we tolerate something that, if tolerated, will cease to tolerate us…. If you are living in a democracy and somebody’s putting out fascist pamphlets encouraging the end of that democracy, how much rope do you give them?”

In another episode, Irshad Manji—feminist, self-described “Muslim refusenik,” and author of The Trouble with Islam Today—talks free speech and religion, and offers a very different perspective than what we’re used to hearing reported from Islamic thinkers. When Warburton says that Islam and free expression sound “like two incompatible things,” Manji counters that as a “person of faith” she believes “free expression is as much a religious obligation as it is a human right.” In her estimation, “no human being can legitimately behave as if he or she owns a monopoly on truth.” Anything less than a society that tolerates civil disagreement, she says, means that “we’re playing God with one another.” In her religious perspective, “devoting yourself to one god means that you must defend human liberty.” Manji sounds much more like Enlightenment Christian reformers like John Locke than she does many interpreters of Islam, and she is well aware of the unpopularity of her point of view in much of the Islamic world.

Addressing the question of why free speech matters, broadcaster and writer Jonathan Dimbleby—former chair of the Index on Censorship—inaugurated the podcast in 2012 with a more classically philosophical discussion of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and the liberal argument against censorship Mill and others articulated. For Dimbleby, “freedom of expression [is] not only a right but a defining characteristic of what it means to be a civilized individual.” It’s a view he holds “very strongly,” but he admits that the valid exceptions to the rule are “where the difficult territory starts.” Dimbleby points to “very obvious circumstances when you don’t have freedom of expression and should not have freedom of expression.” One of the exceptions involves “laws that say that if you express yourself freely, you are directly putting someone else’s life at risk.” This is not as clear-cut as it seems. The “dangerous territory,” he argues, begins with circumscribing language that incites anger or offense in others. We are back to the question of offense, and it is not a uncomplicated one. Although activists very often need to be uncivil to be heard at all, there’s also a necessary place for public discussions that are as thoughtful and careful as we can manage. And for that reason, I’m grateful for the intervention of Free Speech Bites and the international variety of views it represents.

For more of those views, see the Index on Censorship’s website to stream or download seven more Free Speech Bites podcasts.

Related Content:

What “Orwellian” Really Means: An Animated Lesson About the Use & Abuse of the Term

George Orwell’s Final Warning: Don’t Let This Nightmare Situation Happen. It Depends on You!

Introduction to Political Philosophy: A Free Yale Course

Great Writers on Free Speech and the Environment

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


William S. Burroughs Reads His Sarcastic “Thanksgiving Prayer” in a 1988 Film By Gus Van Sant

Having moved to Korea a couple weeks ago, I won’t have the chance to partake this year in the beloved institution of American culture known as Thanksgiving. (Korea has its own Thanksgiving, but it happened two months ago.) Maybe you live in the United States and thus almost certainly have a Thanksgiving dinner of some kind, big or small, coming soon. Or maybe you, like me, live elsewhere in the world, and thus in a place without the same tradition. Either way, you can surely partake this Thanksgiving in the beloved institution of American culture known as the work of William S. Burroughs.

Here we have a short film of Burroughs, best known as the author of a body of controversial and experimental literature, including books like Junky and Naked Lunch, shot by Gus Van Sant, best known as the director of films like Good Will HuntingMy Own Private Idaho, and Drugstore Cowboy, the last of which includes a memorable appearance by Burroughs himself. It captures Burroughs reading his poem “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986,” also known as his “Thanksgiving Prayer.” Van Sant shot it two Thanksgivings after that one, in 1988, the year before Drugstore Cowboy (and six years after adapting Burrough’s story “The Discipline of D.E.” into an early short film).

Burroughs, a lifelong critic of America, fills his prayer with bitterly sarcastic “thanks” for things like “a continent to despoil and poison,” “Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger,” “the KKK,” and “Prohibition and the war against drugs” (about which his character in Drugstore Cowboy had some particularly choice words). He ends by expressing ironic, Great Gatsby-quoting gratitude for “the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.”

Like him — like most everybody — I have my own, if less deep-seated, frustrations with our homeland, and perhaps in leaving I subconsciously emulated his stretches of expatriatism in Mexico, England, France, and Morocco. But I sincerely doubt that I’ve had my last Thanksgiving on U.S. soil; for all its failings, America remains too interesting to stay away from entirely. After all, what other country could possibly produce a writer, a personality, or a critic like William S. Burroughs?

Related Content:

The Making of Drugstore Cowboy, Gus Van Sant’s First Major Film (1989)

William S. Burroughs Teaches a Free Course on Creative Reading and Writing (1979)

The Discipline of D.E.: Gus Van Sant Adapts a Story by William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs Reads His First Novel, Junky

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Buster Keaton: The Wonderful Gags of the Founding Father of Visual Comedy

Tony Zhou’s video essay series, Every Frame a Painting, returns with “Buster Keaton: The Art of the Gag.” Although his series never disappoints, this particular installment may be one of Tony’s best, taking you inside the comedic gags of Buster Keaton, a founding father of visual comedy. If you’ve ever found it hard to appreciate the artistry of filmmakers from the silent era, then you will definitely want to give this a watch. And once you’ve taken it all in, you’ll likely want to spend time with our previous post: The General, “Perhaps the Greatest Film Ever Made,” and 20 Other Buster Keaton Classics Free Online. Also don’t miss this collection featuring another founding father of visual comedy: 65 Free Charlie Chaplin Films.

Related Content:

The Art of Making Intelligent Comedy Movies: 8 Take-Aways from the Films of Edgar Wright

The Geometric Beauty of Akira Kurosawa and Wes Anderson’s Films

The Filmmaking Craft of David Fincher Demystified in Two Video Essays

The Power of Silent Movies, with The ArtistDirector Michel Hazanavicius

Mark Twain’s Patented Inventions for Bra Straps and Other Everyday Items

Twain Brastrap

Much has been made of Mark Twain’s financial problems—the imprudent investments and poor management skills that forced him to shutter his large Hartford estate and move his family to Europe in 1891. An early adopter of the typewriter and long an enthusiast of new science and technology, Twain lost the bulk of his fortune by investing huge sums—roughly eight million dollars total in today’s money—on a typesetting machine, buying the rights to the apparatus outright in 1889. The venture bankrupted him. The machine was overcomplicated and frequently broke down, and “before it could be made to work consistently,” writes the University of Virginia’s Mark Twain library, “the Linotype machine swept the market [Twain] had hoped to corner.”

Twain’s seemingly blind enthusiasm for the ill-fated machine makes him seem like a bungler in practical matters. But that impression should be tempered by the acknowledgement that Twain was not only an enthusiast of technology, but also a canny inventor who patented a few technologies, one of which is still highly in use today and, indeed, shows no signs of going anywhere. I refer to the ubiquitous elastic hook clasp at the back of nearly every bra, an invention Twain patented in 1871 under his given name Samuel L. Clemens. (View the original patent here.) You can see the diagram for his invention above. Calling it an “Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments,” Twain made no mention of ladies’ undergarments in his patent application, referring instead to “the vest, pantaloons, or other garment upon which my strap is to be used.”

Twain Scrapbook

The device, writes the US Patent and Trademark Office, “was not only used for shirts, but underpants and women’s corsets as well. His purpose was to do away with suspenders, which he considered uncomfortable.” (At the time, belts served a mostly decorative function.) Twain’s inventions tended to solve problems he encountered in his daily life, and his next patent was for a hobbyist set of which he himself was a member. After the soon-to-be bra strap, Twain devised a method of improvement in scrapbooking, an avid pursuit of his, in 1873.

Previously, scrapbooks were assembled by hand-gluing each item, which Twain seemed to consider an overly laborious and messy process. His invention—writes The Atlantic in part of a series they call “Patents of the Rich and Famous”—involved “two possible self-adhesive systems,” similar to self-sealing envelopes, in which, as his patent states, “the surfaces of the leaves whereof are coated with a suitable adhesive substance covering the whole or parts of the entire surface.” (See the less-than-clear diagram for the invention above.) The scrapbooking device proved “very popular,” writes the US Patent Office, “and sold over 25,000 copies.”


Twain obtained his final patent in 1885 for a “Game Apparatus” that he called the “Memory-Builder” (see it above). The object of the game was primarily educational, helping, as he wrote, to “fill the children’s heads with dates without study.” As we reported in a previous post, “Twain worked out a way to play it on a cribbage board converted into a historical timeline.” Unlike his first two inventions, the game met with no commercial success. “Twain sent a few prototypes to toy stores in 1891,” writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, “but there wasn’t very much interest, so the game never went into production.” Nonetheless, we still have Twain to thank, or to damn, for the bra strap, an invention of no small importance.

Twain himself seems to have had some contradictory attitudes about his role as an inventor, and of the singular recognition granted to individuals through patent law. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the US Patent Office claims that Twain “believed strongly in the value of the patent system” and cites a passage from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in support. But in a letter Twain wrote to Helen Keller in 1903, he expressed a very different view. “It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing,” Twain wrote, “and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple.”

Related Content:

Mark Twain Wrote the First Book Ever Written With a Typewriter

Play Mark Twain’s “Memory-Builder,” His Game for Remembering Historical Facts & Dates

Mark Twain & Helen Keller’s Special Friendship: He Treated Me Not as a Freak, But as a Person Dealing with Great Difficulties

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

New Wave Music–DEVO, Talking Heads, Blondie, Elvis Costello–Gets Introduced to America by ABC’s TV Show, 20/20 (1979)

Given the efforts of people like Malcolm McLaren to turn punk rock into a viable commercial product—or at least a quick cash grab—it’s a little surprising it took as long as it did for “pop punk” to find its profitable 90s/oughties teenage niche. Always a catch-all term for an eclectic variety of styles, punk instead further diversified in the eighties into various kinds of post-punk, hardcore, and new wave. The latter development, however, quickly found a commercial audience, with its successful fusion of 70s pop, reggae, and disco elements with punk’s wry, arty-outsider sensibility. Artists like Gary Numan, Blondie, DEVO, Talking Heads, and even The Clash emerged from the 70s with highly danceable hits that set the tone for the sound of the next decade.

But first the public had to learn what new wave was, and many of them did in a surprisingly mainstream way, in the 1979 special produced by ABC’s 20/20 in two parts here. By comparison with the number of awkwardly clueless or blatantly sensationalistic news reports on emerging youth cultures over the decades, the show is “impressively astute,” writes Dangerous Minds, “for a news segment on new music from one of the major TV networks.” It features a number of the above-named artists—DEVO, Blondie, Talking Heads—and makes an interesting attempt to situate the music on a continuum with Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and the Rolling Stones.

The segment claims that new wave both satirized and updated rock and pop—with DEVO’s cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as Exhibit A. And while new wave would eventually glam it up with the best of the 70s disco acts—think Duran Duran or the bubblegum pop of Flock of Seagulls or Kajagoogoo—in its first, post-punk phase, the music stripped things down to 50s simplicity. Elvis Costello gets called in to represent the revivalism inherent in the nascent form, heralding a “rediscovery of the rock and roll audience.”

There are problems with the history: punk gets labeled “an extreme element of new wave” and “a British phenomenon,” where it makes more sense to call it a precursor with roots in Detroit and New York. It’s a nitpicky point, and one shouldn’t expect too much accuracy in a top-down network news report. The real treat here is the performance clips and rare interviews. Even with the poor video quality, they’re all well worth watching, especially the extended focus on the Talking Heads in the second part above. As Dangerous Minds writes, “it takes an effort of will to remember how weird David Byrne… must have seemed to a mainstream audience in 1979.” Or not. He still comes off as pretty odd to me, and the music still fresh and inventive.

Note: Elvis Costello has just published a new autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. And he narrates the audiobook version, which you can download for free (along with another audiobook) if you join Audible.com’s 30-day Free Trial program. Get details on the 30-day trial here. And get Elvis Costello’s audiobook, by clicking here and then clicking the “Try Audible Free” button in the upper right.

via Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

Take a Virtual Tour of CBGB, the Early Home of Punk and New Wave

See Very Early Concert Footage of the B-52s, When New Wave Music Was Actually New (1978)

The Talking Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)

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

Travel Back in Time and See Picasso Make Abstract Art

Pablo Picasso, as you may know, produced a fair few memorable works in his long lifetime. He also came up with a number of quotable quotes. “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction” has particularly stuck with me, but one does wonder what an artist who thinks this way actually does when he creates — or, rather, when he first destroys, then creates. Luckily for us, we can watch Picasso in action, in vintage footage from several different films–first, at the top of the post, in a clip from 1950’s Visite à Picasso by Belgian artist and filmmaker Paul Haesaerts (which you can watch online: part onepart two).

In it, Picasso paints on glass in front of the camera, thus enabling us to see the painter at work from, in some sense, the painting’s perspective. Just above, you can watch another, similarly filmed clip from Visite à Picasso. Both of them show how Picasso could, without much in the way of apparent advance planning or thought, simply begin creating art, literally at a stroke — on which would follow another stroke, and another, and another. “Action is the foundational key to all success,” he once said, words even more widely applicable than the observation about creation as destruction, and here we can see his actions becoming art before our eyes.

It also happens in the clip above, though this time captured from a more standard over-the-shoulder perspective. “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” Picasso also said, and one senses something of that ablutionary ritual (and not just because of how little clothing the man has chosen to wear) in the footage below, wherein he lays down lines on a canvas the size of an entire wall. It comes from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1956 documentary The Mystery of Picasso, which offers a wealth of close looks at Picasso’s process.

You can watch the film online here, or see a few Picasso paintings come together in time-lapse in the trailer above. “The paintings created by Picasso in this film cannot be seen anywhere else,” the crawl at the end of the trailer informs us. “They were destroyed upon completion of the film.” So it seems that at least some acts of creation, for Picasso himself, not only began with an act of destruction, but ended with one too.

Related Content:

Vintage Footage of Picasso and Jackson Pollock Painting … Through Glass

Iconic Artists at Work: Watch Rare Videos of Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Renoir, Monet and More

Guernica: Alain Resnais’ Haunting Film on Picasso’s Painting & the Crimes of the Spanish Civil War

The Postcards That Picasso Illustrated and Sent to Jean Cocteau, Apollinaire & Gertrude Stein

Behold Pablo Picasso’s Illustrations of Balzac’s Short Story “The Hidden Masterpiece” (1931)

Pablo Picasso’s Tender Illustrations For Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (1934)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

One Man-Band Plays Amazing Covers, Note-for-Note, of Yes, CSNY, Zeppelin & More

I’ve had the opportunity to meet many incredible musicians in person, and I’ve always enjoyed watching them do something better than I ever could, whether it’s wailing away on the drums, guitar, keyboards, bass… whatever the instrument, it’s great fun to see a master in action. And I’ve met a few multitalented individuals who could do a little, or a lot, of everything. But I’ve never met anyone as talented as Jim, the musician in these videos, who goes by the name of Friday Night Lullaby, and who recreates nearly every note and nuance in classic rock songs from Yes, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, the Who, CSNY, and more.

His one-man-band motto is “we are one person,” and you can see why. With the benefit of recording technology, he can turn himself into an orchestra. At the top of the post, see a teaser video in which Jim gives us snippets of the 60 songs he’s remade. And above, see his version of Yes’s “Roundabout.”

Now you can argue that no matter how good he is, he could never reproduce the musical personalities of, say, Steve Howe or Jon Anderson, and that’s fair enough, but beside the point, really. The guy is good beyond belief, and I’m certainly in awe watching these videos of him at work in his home studio, playing all 43 tracks of “Roundabout.” Or, if Yes isn’t your bag, let him wow you below with the vocal harmonies in CSNY’s “Carry On.”

Still not impressed? Check his version of Stairway to Heaven here, or alternatively A-Ha’s “Take On Me,” below. It’s a departure from the classic rock material he’s clearly more comfortable with, and he handles it with the same deftness and skill, including that mid-song high note, showing off some pretty keen video editing skills to boot. For even more mind blowing covers, check out the Friday Night Lullaby Youtube channel.

via Laughing Squid

Related Content:

Fourteen-Year-Old Girl’s Blistering Heavy Metal Performance of Vivaldi

Dutchman Masters the Art of Singing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” Backwards

The 15 Worst Covers of Beatles Songs: William Shatner, Bill Cosby, Tiny Tim, Sean Connery & Your Excellent Picks

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

John Cleese Touts the Value of Philosophy in 22 Public Service Announcements for the American Philosophical Association

cleese philosophy psa

Creative Commons image by Paul Boxley

John Cleese, you say, a spokesman for the American Philosophical Association? Why would such a serious organization, whose stated mission is to foster the “broader presence of philosophy in public life,” choose a British comedian famous for such characters as the overbearing Basil Fawlty and ridiculous Minister of Silly Walks as one of their public faces?

They chose him, I imagine, because in his various roles—as a onetime prep school teacher and student of law at Cambridge, as a comedy writer and Monty Python star, and as a post-Python comedian, author, public speaker, and visiting professor at Cornell—Cleese has done more than his part to spread philosophy in public life. Monty Python, you’ll remember, aired a number of absurd philosophy sketches, notable for being as smart as they are funny.

Cleese has presented his personal philosophy of creativity at the World Creativity Forum; he’s explained a common cognitive bias to which media personalities and politicians seem particularly susceptible; and he had his own podcast in which, among other things, he explained (wink) how the human brain works.

Given these credentials, and his ability to apply his intelligence, wit, and comic timing to subjects not often seen as particularly exciting by the general public, Cleese seems like the perfect person for the job, even if he isn’t an American philosopher. The APA, founded in 1900, has recently hosted conferences on religious tolerance and “Cultivating Citizenship.” In 2000, as part of its centennial celebration, the organization had Cleese record 22 very short “Public Service Announcements” to introduce novices to the important work of philosophy. These range from the very general “What Philosophers Do” at the top of the post to the influence of philosophy on social and political reformers like Martin Luther King, Jr., Jane Addams, and Simone de Beauvoir (above), showing philosophy’s “bearing on the real world.”

In this PSA, Cleese makes the controversial claim that “the 21st century may belong far more to philosophy than to psychology or even traditional religion.” “What a strange thought,” he goes on, then explains that philosophy “works against confusion”—certainly a hallmark of our age. There’s not much here to argue with—Cleese isn’t formulating a position, but giving his listeners provocative little nuts to crack on their own, should they find his PSAs intriguing enough to draw them into further study. They might as well begin where most of us do, with Socrates, whom Cleese introduces below.

Hear the rest of Cleese’s philosophy PSAs at the American Philosophical Association’s website, or click here to download a zipped file containing all of these audio clips. And should you wish to dig deeper, you’ll find an abundance of resources in our archives, which includes big lists of Free Online Philosophy Courses and Free Philosophy eBooks.

Related Content:

Monty Python’s Best Philosophy Sketches

John Cleese Explains the Brain — and the Pleasures of DirecTV

Learn The History of Philosophy in 197 Podcasts (With More to Come)

Download 100 Free Philosophy Courses and Start Living the Examined Life

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

Artist Turns a Crop Field Into a Van Gogh Painting, Seen Only From Airplanes

Formally Trained as an avant-garde, abstract expressionist painter, Stan Herd went on to become something a little different — an earthworks artist who takes fields where crops are grown and turns them into sprawling canvases on which he makes art of his own. It has been said about him: “Herd is an unusual artist. His medium is the earth itself; his palette consists of soil, wheat, sunflowers, and corn; his brush is a tractor; and his images can be seen only from an airplane.”

van gogh painting in a field

Image by The Minneapolis Institute of Art

Many of his early creations can be revisited in his 1994 book Crop Art and Other Earthworks. To see his latest work, just click play on the video above. Commissioned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, this earthwork features a rendering of an “Olive Tree” painting that Van Gogh completed as part of a larger series of Olive Tree paintings created while living in an asylum in Saint-Rémy in 1889.


Mr. Herd started work on the project last spring, planting different crops in a field owned by Thomson Reuters. By fall, passengers flying into Minneapolis could catch a view of Herd’s Van Gogh–like the one you see above.

via This is Colossal

Related Content:

Van Gogh’s 1888 Painting, “The Night Cafe,” Animated with Oculus Virtual Reality Software

The Unexpected Math Behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Download 35,000 Works of Art from the National Gallery, Including Masterpieces by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rembrandt & More