Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sister Rosetta Tharpe & Other American Blues Legends Perform in the UK (1963-66)

What is American music? Like most things it depends on who you ask. Whoever it is, you’re bound at least to hear jazz… or country, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. You might even get those last three all at once. There was a brief time in the sixties when we did, with the resurgence of the country blues, or folk blues, as it was called for the American Folk-Blues festival, a long-running European tour of the Delta’s most revered names: Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Turner, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. And that’s only to name a very few. Just to get your feet wet, see all those names above perform, in order. The footage was filmed for broadcast on British TV between 1963 and 1966. Sonny Boy Williams opens, striding onstage in a dapper suit, umbrella, bowler hat, and leather case. He takes his time arriving, and in the pause between his announcement of “Keep It to Yourself” and the first note, he has completely mesmerized the audience. Next Muddy Waters, with his easy charisma (at 5:10), delivers “Got My Mojo Working” like a rock ‘n’ roll hypnotist, and leaves the crowd dazed.

The mojo works. Whether traditional acoustic or electrified hybrid blues, you will get chills at least once during each song. That is, if you like American music. The British kids in the audience sure did. At the tour’s first British stop, Manchester in 1962, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, and Jimmy Page were in the crowd. It’s said that in London, Erics Burdon and Clapton watched the show. But while those young dudes invaded the States, the Folk Blues Tour kept rolling through Germany, France, the UK and points East, every year until 1972, then again from 1980 to 1985. A staggering number of those performances were recorded and released on LP and CD. Scroll through this discography to get a sense of the embarrassing wealth of blues the entire collection represents. As a bonus for collectors, the albums boast some of the coolest covers to ever grace a live compilation. If these albums sound anything like the film compilation above, then they’ve captured these musicians at their best—if also at times their least edgy and most composed. But it’s no wonder. For a great many of the blues artists represented, Allmusic critic Bruce Elder notes, “these were the largest audiences they’d ever played to, and the first (and often only) decent money they ever made.”

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Django Reinhardt Demonstrates His Guitar Genius in Rare Footage From the 1930s, 40s & 50s

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

Django Reinhardt Demonstrates His Guitar Genius in Rare Footage From the 1930s, 40s & 50s

In one of my favorite Woody Allen films, Sweet and Lowdown, Sean Penn plays Emmett Ray, a fictional jazz guitarist who embodies the titular qualities in equally great measure. “Already considered peerless among American jazz guitarists,” Ray admits of only one rival—Parisian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, whom Emmett worships, obviously patterns himself after, and can’t stand to see in person without fainting dead away. Where Ray is a tremendously convincing creation of Allen and Penn, Reinhardt was very much a real musician, and was indeed the reigning king of jazz guitar from the 1930s to the 50s. Reinhardt’s incredible skill is all the more impressive considering he only had use of three fingers on his left hand due to injuries sustained in a caravan fire in 1928.

Reinhardt and jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934, and in the forties, Reinhardt began composing, and toured England, Switzerland, and the U.S. as a soloist with Duke Ellington’s band. He recorded his final album, Djangology in 1949, retired in 51, and died in 53, already a legend, “one of the few European musicians to exert a serious influence on the American art form of jazz,” writes an NPR “Weekend Edition” profile. Django’s playing, “at times joyous, fierce and lyrical,” draws heavily on his Roma roots while mastering the vocabulary of swing—a language, it seems, still new to many audiences in 1938, when the film at the top of the post, Jazz “Hot,” was made.

In a previous post, Mike Springer points out the “didactic tone” of the first couple minutes of the documentary, created by Reinhardt’s manager Lew Grade in order to familiarize the British public with jazz in advance of the quintet’s first UK tour. The film “really comes alive when Django arrives on the screen,” playing an arrangement of the popular French song “J’attendrai.” Prior to the UK tour, the Quintet du Hot Club traveled to the Netherlands and played The Hague. See them in the Dutch film clip above, beginning at 0:34. Grappelli solos while Django holds down the rhythm.

By 1944, Reinhardt was well known to jazz lovers and musicians alike, appearing at the upscale Paris cabaret Bal Tabarin in the footage above at 2:54, following a clip of Marlene Dietrich looking on from the audience.

In 1952, the year before his death, Reinhardt was famous enough to be cast alongside Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet in the French-Italian film La Route de Bonheur (titled Saluti e baci in Italy). In this clip, Reinhardt entertains a packed train car. The song dubbed over the footage is Nuits de St. Germain des Pres.

See much more film and photography of Django Reinhardt and his famous quintet in this biographical documentary, The Genius of Django Reinhardt. Described as an unstable and childlike man capable of the most unusual whims, the portrait of Reinhardt, practically the inventor of jazz guitar, traces his life from birth in a Roma encampment in Belgium to his final years in semi-retirement. And for even more Django, don’t miss this French documentary film, Trois doigts de genie.

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

Swedish Scientists Sneak Bob Dylan Lyrics Into Their Academic Publications For Last 17 Years

Scientists who study and write about intestinal gases—just like the rest of us, I guess—find it hard to resist the occasional fart joke. And when they’re John Jundberg and Eddie Weitzberg, two professors at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, they can’t resist couching their occasional fart joke in a Bob Dylan lyric, part of a now seventeen-year tradition among five Swedish scientists who’ve been slipping Dylan lyrics into their publications, wagering on who can fit the most in before retirement.

It all began with Jundberg and Weitzberg’s “Nitric oxide and inflammation: the answer is blowing in the wind,” published in the journal Nature Medicine in 1997. (See Dylan play the paper’s inspiration above in 1963.) Next came articles like “Blood on the tracks: a simple twist of fate” by Konstantinos Meletis and Jonas Frisen and “Tangled up in blue: Molecular cardiology in the postmolecular era” by Kenneth Chien.

The five aren’t the only scientists who try to spice up dry research publications with wordplay. “If you read other scientific articles,” ways Weitzberg, “you’ll find people trying to be clever in different ways.” But they don’t do so at the expense of the science, or their careers: “We’re not talking about scientific papers—we could have got in trouble for that-but rather articles we have written about research by others, book introductions, editorials and things like that.”

The writer with the most Dylan references gets lunch in a restaurant in Solna, a town north of Stockholm. But thanks to interest from outlets like the Washington Post, he may also get a few extra minutes of fame. Weitzberg’s response? “I would much rather become famous for my scientific work than for my Bob Dylan quotes, but yes, I am enjoying this!”

via The Local

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

A Secret Bookstore in a New York City Apartment: The Last of a Dying Breed

Even in our era of digital media — and even as a creator of digital media myself — I can’t help but evaluate each new city I visit, or the state of each old city I visit, in part by the quality and quantity of its bookstores. Toronto, where I’ve spent the past week or so, does surprisingly well on this count, though I hear from longtime locals that recent circumstances have forced a few beloved spots to shut down, relocate or downsize. A similar fate may loom over New York City’s Brazenhead Books, the by-appointment-only underground Upper East Side bookstore we featured back in 2011. New York still does pretty well in terms of bookstores, of course, but here we have a rare specimen in any city: a bookstore run almost in secret, a place where, according to Fodor’s, you’ll find three rooms of an apartment “crammed floor to ceiling with books, both new and used, including some rare titles,” where, “on Saturday nights, the city’s intellectuals can be found sipping whiskey and discussing classic and contemporary literature.”

If that sounds like an evening to you, you might want to pay a visit sooner than later. According to the website DNAInfo, Brazenhead’s owner, Michael Seidenberg, wrote on his Facebook page this summer,  “Brazenhead Books turns its last page on October 31st.” “Lost our lease…lots of things must go.” If you can’t make it to New York before then, at least have a look at the video tour of Brazenhead at the top of the post.

As the bookselling industry has shifted over the past few decades, those omnipresent, large, orderly, utilitarian chain spaces meant for customers in search of a specific title — remember those? — have given way to smaller, more idiosyncratic bookstores, each of which provides a different set of textual and social experiences. Far at the latter end of the spectrum, we have Brazenhead, a one-man center of literary culture that you’ve got to know about just to enter. Hopefully it will survive, in some form, beyond October. But no matter what, the short video just above reminds us that what holds true about your favorite bookstore — whichever bookstore you call your favorite — holds especially for this one: you won’t find another place like it.

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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.

The Eyes of Hitchcock: A Mesmerizing Video Essay on the Expressive Power of Eyes in Hitchcock’s Films

Kogonada has made a career of producing elegantly conceived video essays that dissect the stylistic eccentricities of cinema’s greatest formalists. In one video, he neatly illustrated Wes Anderson’s love of symmetrical compositions. In another, he observed how frequently Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, a director with more stylistic quirks than just about anyone else, populated his movies with shots of corridors and doorways. And, in perhaps his best, Kogonada shows just how often Stanley Kubrick relies on one-point perspective. Kogonada’s latest video, called The Eyes of Hitchcock, explores how the director used facial expressions to convey suspense and fear. You can watch it above.

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” This is a guy who directed the greatest slasher scene in movie history – the shower scene in Psycho — but famously never showed Norman Bates’s knife actually stabbing his victim, Marion Crane. The horror of the scene was conveyed through actress Janet Leigh’s shocked expression. Though directors have always understood the power of the face, Hitchcock consistently used facial expressions to carry a movie’s suspense. A person’s face relates primal emotions much more efficiently than shots just of knives, guns or explosions. (Michael Bay, take note.)

For this video, Kogonada strings together expressions from Hitchcock’s vast oeuvre, from Jimmy Stewart’s wild-eyed baby blues waking up from a nightmare in Vertigo, to Ingrid Bergman’s tearful, anxious look in Notorious, to Norman Bates’s bat shit crazy death stare in Psycho. Hitch tended to frame these moments in extreme close up with the eyes right in the middle of the frame. Kogonada rolls back and forth on a couple frames of these moments, giving the video an otherworldly shimmer, timed perfectly with the music. It’s completely mesmerizing.

If you have a hankering to watch complete movies by the master, check out Open Culture’s list of 23 Hitchcock Films. You can watch them right now, online, for free.

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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 @jonccrow. And 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.

Do Communists Have Better Sex?: A Documentary on the NSFW Ideological Question

If I had to point one visible difference between American cities and Toronto, where I’ve stayed this past week, I’d point out the flyers posted around advertising a “Communism Discussion Group.” Maybe this has to do with Canada’s wider openness to the political spectrum; maybe, if you look at things another way, it has to with Canada’s deeper slant to the left. But here, much more so than in most of the United States, I could imagine people openly discussing the question of whether maybe — just maybe — humanity had it any better under communism. Sure, nobody on the “wrong” side of the Iron Curtain could have enjoyed the food lines, the crumbling housing, or the sheer boredom. But this hourlong documentary has a specific yet enormously relevant and often overlooked sub-question in this line of inquiry to ask: Do Communists Have Better Sex? Or: did East Germans have better sex than West Germans? The divided country offered something close to a controlled experiment for anyone looking to study the effects of communism versus those of capitalism, and here we see the sexual side of that dynamic explored through expert interviews, contemporary newsreels and educational films, and even animation.

The documentary proposes that, for all its deficiencies, the German Democratic Republic actually put forth a remarkably progressive set of policies related to such things as birth control, divorce, abortion, and sex education — a precedent to which some non-communist countries still haven’t caught up. However forward-thinking you might find all this, it did have trouble meshing with other communist policies: the state’s rule of only issuing housing to families, for instance, meant that women would get pregnant by about age twenty in any case. We must admit that, ultimately, citizens of the showcase East Germany had a better time of it than did the citizens of Soviet Socialist Republics farther east. And if the Ossies had a better Cold War between the sheets than did the Wessies, well, maybe they just did it to escape their country’s pervasive atmosphere of “unerotic dreariness.” Still, one likes to believe in the possibility of a better world. Back in Los Angeles, I recently attended Competing Utopias, a show of East German household artifacts at Richard Neutra’s idealistic VDL House — now I just wonder what must have gone on in the bedrooms.

You can find Do Communists Have Better Sex? (2006), shot by André Meier, in our collection of 200+ Free Documentaries Online.

via Network Awesome

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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.

1797 Temperance Thermometer Measures the Moral & Physical Impact of Your Drinking Habits


Question for the drinkers out there:

Does strong beer taken in moderate quantities at mealtimes make you cheerful?

Yeah, me too!

That gives us a temperature of 10 according to 18th-century physician John Coakley Lettsom’s “moral and physical thermometer,” one of his Hints Designed to Promote Beneficence, Temperance, and Medical Science (1797).

It’s nothing to be ashamed of—anything above zero constitutes a passing score. The founder of the Medical Society of London, Lettsom was a proponent of true temperance, not total abstinence. According to his rubric, a “small beer” has all the virtues of milk and water.

Dip below a zero, though, and you’re in for a bumpy night.

Punch is apparently the gateway to such demon influences as flip, shrub, whiskey and rum. Gosh. You may as well just skip the punch and go straight for the hard stuff, if, as in Lettsom’s view, they all end in the same vices and diseases.

Puking and Tremors of the Hands in the Morning?

Yes, on occasion.

Peevishness, Idleness, and Obscenity?

Yep, that too.

Murder, Madness, and Death?

Mercifully, no. At least not yet.

While not entirely free of stigma, alcoholism is now something many view through the lens of AA, a problem best remedied through a system of personal accountability shored up by a network of nonjudgmental, sympathetic support.

Back in Lettsom’s day, when an alcoholic hit rock bottom, it was assumed he or she would stay there, a task made easier when the wages of this particular sin included the poor house, a one way ticket to the Botany Bay penal colony, and the gallows.

Such looming consequences are easily laughed off when you’ve had a snoot, which may be why Lettsom also published the illustrated version of his thermometer below. A picture is worth a thousand words, particularly when depicting the pre-Dickensian misery that awaits the drunkard and his family.

Termometro morall

via Rebecca Onion and Slate

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

Hear the Album Björk Recorded as an 11-Year-Old: Features Cover Art Provided By Her Mom (1977)

bjork 11

Iceland’s biggest export, aside from volcanic ash, is that pixyish pop singer, Björk. Or at least that’s how it seems in the American popular imagination. Björk’s first three of albums were pretty much required listening in certain circles during the ‘90s.  Since then, her stature in the indie world has only grown.

Yet before she had a run of beautiful and strange masterpieces; before she was systematically tortured in front of the camera by Lars Von Trier in Dancer in the Dark; and before she was singing about birthdays with her breakout band The Sugarcubes, Björk cut her very first album. It was 1977, and Björk was only eleven.

Björk, whose name rhymes with “work” not “pork,” landed the record deal after a tape of her singing Tina Charles’ 1976 disco hit “I Love to Love” played on Iceland’s one and only radio station. The album, called simply Björk, was something of a family affair. While Björk sang and played the flute, her stepfather Sævar Árnason played guitar while her mom, Hildur Hauksdóttir, designed the album cover. (See above.) Overall, the record sounds exactly like what you might expect an Icelandic album from the ‘70s sung by a tweenaged chanteuse might sound like – part Abba, part King Crimson and part early Miley Cyrus. Björk does pretty groovy covers of The Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” (top) and Syreeta Wright’s “Your Kiss is Sweet (middle),” both sung in Icelandic. There’s also an equally groovy psychedelic instrumental track dedicated to painter Jóhannes Kjarval, (below) whose work is on Icelandic currency. Björk reportedly went platinum in Iceland. You can listen to more tracks from that album on WFMU.

via WFMU

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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 @jonccrow. And 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.

Sylvia Plath Reads Her Poetry: 23 Poems from the Last 6 Years of Her Life

In March of last year, Toronto collector Greg Gatenby auctioned off “some 1,700 LPs, 45s, and 10-inch discs”-worth of recorded literary history, containing readings by such canonical figures as “Auden and Atwood, Camus and Capote, Eliot, Faulkner, Kipling, Shaw and Yeats,” and the recordings featured here from Sylvia Plath. Gatenby’s entire collection went on sale for a buy-it-now price of $85,000 (I assume it’s sold by now), and while we might have preferred that he donated these artifacts to libraries, there may have been no need. Most of them are already, or we hope soon will be, digitized and free online. Sylvia Plath reading her poetry (now out of print) was originally released on vinyl and cassette in 1977 by prolific spoken word record label Caedmon, but of course the readings they document all took place over fifteen years earlier, some at least as early as 1959, the year before the publication of her first book, The Colossus and Other Poems.

Many of the poems here appeared in The Colossus, the only collection of poems Plath published in her lifetime. Some, like “November Graveyard”—first published in Mademoiselle in 1958—were collected late, in the Ted Hughes-edited Collected Poems in 1981, and the rest appeared in Ariel and other posthumous collections. Oddly, the title poem of her first book doesn’t appear, nor will you hear any of the poems that made Plath an infamous literary figure: no “Ariel,” no “Daddy,” no “Lady Lazarus,” though you can hear her read those poems elsewhere. Many of these poems are more lush, less visceral and personal, though no less rich with arresting and sometimes disturbing imagery. Several of these readings took place in February 1959 at Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room. The album’s official description tells us these are “selections from the last 6 years of her life,” and also include “readings for the BBC before she wrote her controversial novel, The Bell Jar.”

Before Caedmon collected these lesser-known poems recorded readings of “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” had already been released on the compilation record The Poet Speaks in 1965. Listening to Plath read these poems may prompt you to pull out your own editions to read them for yourself, whether again or for the first time. To see a full listing of the poems Plath reads above, scroll to the bottom of this bibliography page on

Find more great poetry readings in our audio collection — 550 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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

Christopher Walken Reads Where The Wild Things Are

Perhaps you saw Spike Jonze and Dave Egger’s twee, sunlit, achingly earnest adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic Where the Wild Things Are. Perhaps you found it irresistibly charming. Perhaps, however, you missed the sharp edges of Sendak’s lean adventure, its undercurrent of feral violence, its flirtations with matricide and cannibalism. Well who better to convey such frightening undertones than master of casual menace Christopher Walken? Just above, hear him read Wild Things like you’ve never heard it before. Walken’s interpolated commentary on the illustrations draws our attention to a few features we probably missed in our several hundred readings of the book, such as the possible suicide of Max’s teddy bear and a potential swarm of giant insects in his transformed bedroom. After you hear Walken’s take, Max’s harmless suppertime daydream might give you nightmares.

Walken has long enjoyed entertaining the kiddies with his creepy interpretations of children’s stories. Just above see him read the Three Little Pigs in 1993 on the British comedy series Saturday Zoo. Once again, he adds his own explanatory comments. He’s a little more Billy Crystal than Captain Koons this time, and if his delivery doesn’t make you LOL, his day-glo sweater and wicker throne won’t fail to. Host Jonathan Ross liked the reading so much he invited Walken to read again in 2009 on his BBC show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. This one’s for the older kids—a deadpan rendition of Lada Gaga’s “Poker Face,” below. Can’t get enough of Walken’s readings? Don’t miss Kevin Pollack’s spot-on parody of the actor Mickey Rourke once called a “strange being from another place.”

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