How Jazz Helped Fuel the 1960s Civil Rights Movement

Oh, Lord, don’t let ‘em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ‘em stab us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ‘em tar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!

—Charles Mingus, “Fables of Faubus”

In 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus decided that integration—mandated three years earlier by Brown v. Board of Ed.—constituted such a state of emergency that he mobilized the National Guard to prevent nine black students from going to school. An outraged Charles Mingus responded with the lyrics to “Fables of Faubus,” a composition that first appeared on his celebrated Mingus Ah Um in 1959.

Those who know the album may be puzzled—there are no lyrics on that recording. Columbia Records, notes Michael Verity, found them “so incendiary that they refused to allow them to be recorded.” Mingus re-recorded the song the following year for Candid Records, “lyrics and all, on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus.” The irascible bassist and bandleader’s words “offer some of the most blatant and harshest critiques of Jim Crow attitudes in all of jazz activism.”

Mingus’ experience with Columbia shows the line most jazz artists had to walk in the early years of the Civil Rights movement. Several of Mingus’ elders, like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, refrained from making public statements about racial injustice, for which they were later harshly criticized.

But between Mingus’ two versions of “Fables of Faubus,” jazz radically broke with older traditions that catered to and depended on white audiences. “’If you don’t like it, don’t listen,’ was the attitude,” as Amiri Baraka wrote in 1962.

Musicians turned inward: they played for each other and for their communities, invented new languages to confound jazz appropriators and carry the music forward on its own terms. Candid Records owner Nat Hentoff, longtime Village Voice jazz critic and columnist, not only issued Mingus’ vocal Faubus protest, but also that same year Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, which featured a cover photo of a lunch counter protest and performances from his then-wife, singer and activist Abbey Lincoln.

Roach recorded two other albums with prominent Civil Rights themes, Speak Brother Speak in 1962 and Lift Every Voice and Sing in 1971. Jazz’s turn toward the movement was in full swing as the 60s dawned. “Nina Simone sang the incendiary ‘Mississippi Goddam,’” writes KCRW’s Tom Schnabel, “Coltrane performed a sad dirge, ‘Alabama’ to mourn the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing in 1963. Sonny Rollins recorded The Freedom Suite for Riverside Records as a declaration of musical and racial freedom.”

Every Civil Rights generation up to the present has had its songs of sorrow, anger, and celebration. Where gospel guided the early marchers, jazz musicians of the 1960s took it upon themselves to score the movement. Though he didn’t much like to talk about it in interviews, “Coltrane was deeply involved in the civil rights movement,” writes Blank on Blank, “and shared many of Malcolm X’s views on black consciousness and Pan-Africanism, which he incorporated into his music.”

Jazz clubs even became spaces for organizing:

In 1963, CORE—Congress of Racial Equality—organized two benefit shows at the Five Spot Café, [featuring] a host of prominent musicians and music journalists.

In the wake of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington and with the church bombing in Birmingham that killed 4 little girls only the month before, the benefit attracted a host of musicians like Ben Webster, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims in support of the organization, which, along with the NAACP and SNCC, was one of the leading civil rights groups at the time.

The new jazz, hot or cool, became more deeply expressive of musicians’ individual personalities, and thus of their whole political, social, and spiritual selves. This was no small thing; jazz may have been an American invention, but it was an international phenomenon. Artists in the 60s carried the struggle abroad with music and activism. After a wave of brutal bombings, murders, and beatings, “there were no more sidelines,” writes Ashawnta Jackson at JSTOR Daily. “Jazz musicians, like any other American, had the duty to speak to the world around them.” And the world listened.

The first Berlin Jazz Festival, held in 1964, was introduced with an address by Martin Luther King, Jr. (who did not attend in person). “Jazz is exported to the world,” King wrote, and “much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.” Music still plays the same role in today’s struggles. It’s a different sound now, but you’ll still hear Mingus’ verses in the streets, against more waves of hatred and brute force:

Boo! Nazi Fascist supremacists
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)

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

How David Chase Breathed Life into the The Sopranos

Warning: watching the above video essay with David Chase, Matthew Weiner, Terence Winter, and the other writers of The Sopranos (along with select longer-form videos below) may send you into a binge watch (or re-watch) of the HBO series. Just saying, because you might want to set aside some time.

It is hard to believe that the series premiere was over 20 years ago, since its insights into America, our love affair with violence, and the mob hasn’t changed. (I mean, look at the gangsters currently running the country).

David Chase originally balked at the idea of a Godfather-type show after it was pitched to him, but the gangster idea stuck and mutated into an idea for a feature film about a mob boss seeking therapy. Across town in one of those Hollywood coincidences, Harold Ramis was having the same idea for a film called Analyze This.

Ramis’ film would be a perfectly fine comedy and Chase wound up taking his feature idea and turning it into a television series. It would go on to revolutionize television and change the gangster genre for good. For now here was a show about gangsters who were all very aware of the film and television history of the genre, and they acted according to the roles that they idolized from The Godfather and from Good Fellas. Yet, as Chase points out, the characters never really know how to feel about all this:

To me it wasn’t just the ending that was ambiguous. There was ambiguity going on all the time. And you know what that comes down to now that I think about it—the characters in the piece were ambiguous themselves. They didn’t know how they felt. When you write a scene sometimes you think, does this guy really believe what he’s saying? Does he really feel this? Or is this just a placeholder in his mind? ‘I’ll say this line just so I can eat my sandwich’…That’s why [the show] is so fun to write, because usually you are writing what people are thinking of feeling, but in The Sopranos you’re always writing what they’re *not* thinking or feeling.

These were brutish, dumb guys who believed they were the clever, funny guys they grew up watching, and you can extrapolate that to quite a lot of our history from the Cold War and beyond—electing people based on who we want them to be, or for the role they play, not for who they actually are. The end point of Tony Soprano’s therapy sessions is not that he was “cured,” but that he learned the language of therapy in order to justify his actions to himself. As Weiner says, Dr. Melfi’s realization was, “This was all a waste of time. He can’t be helped. I’ve just made him be a better criminal.” Once a sociopath, always a sociopath.

Chase also reveals how the show was structured for each of its seven, 13-episode seasons, with character arcs originally being plotted as separate stories. But inevitably in the writers’ room, the thematic connections between the stories would reveal themselves and the scripts would be tweaked accordingly. Conversations in the room would often be about everything *except* the story and the characters. In the end this was all material that would wind up in the show, the mulch that would create the garden.

This is a good time indeed for a rewatch. Not only did critics Matthew Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall drop the lovingly detailed The Soprano Sessions last year, but actors Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) and Steve Schirripa (Bobby Baccalieri) have a podcast where they are currently rewatching and commenting on the show, one episode at a time. You can find all their episodes so far on this youtube playlist. The show is also listed in our new collection, The 150 Best Podcasts to Enrich Your Mind.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

The History of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, “The Deadliest Epidemic of All Time”: Three Free Lectures from The Great Courses

In one cascade of events after another, people are finding out the normal they once knew doesn’t exist anymore. Instead it feels as if we’re living through several past crises at once, trying to cram as much historical knowledge as we can to make sense of the moment. 2020 especially feels like an echo of 1918-1919, when the “deadliest epidemic of all time,” as The Great Courses calls the “Spanish flu,” killed millions (then the U.S. devolved into a wave of racist violence.) By offering examples of both negative and positive responses, the history, sociology, and epidemiology of the 1918 flu can guide decision-making as we prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

The Great Courses started offering free resources on the coronavirus outbreak back in March, with a brief “What You Need to Know” explainer and a free lecture course on infectious diseases. After catching up on the history of epidemics, we’ll find ourselves naturally wondering why we learned little to nothing about the Spanish flu.

The three-part lecture series here, excerpted from the larger course Mysteries of the Microscopic World (available with a Free Trial to the Great Courses Plus), begins by boldly calling this historical lacuna “A Conspiracy of Silence.” Tulane professor Bruce E. Fleury quotes Alfred Crosby, who writes in America’s Forgotten Pandemic, “the important and almost incomprehensible fact about the Spanish influenza, is that it killed millions upon millions of people in a year or less… and yet, it has never inspired awe, not in 1918 and not since.”

Epidemic diseases that have had tremendous impact in the past have become the subject of literary epics. Few epidemics have accomplished mass death “through sheer brute force” like the 1918 flu. The numbers are truly staggering, in the tens to hundreds of millions worldwide, with U.S. deaths dwarfing the combined casualties of all the country's major wars. Yet there are only a few mentions of the flu in American literature from the time. Fleury mentions some reasons for the amnesia: WWI “took center stage,” survivors were too traumatized to want to remember. We may still wonder why we should look back over 100 years ago and learn about the past when current events are so all-consuming.

“History compels us not to look away,” professor Fleury says, “lest we fail to learn the lessons paid for by our parents and our grandparents.” Faulkner, it seems, was right that the past is never past. But we need not respond in the same failed ways each time. The ability to study and learn from history gives us critical perspective in perilous, uncertain times.

Sign up here for a free trial to the Great Courses Plus.

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

An Introduction to the Sublime, Entrepreneurial Art of Christo & Jeanne-Claude (Courtesy of Alain de Botton’s School of Life)

Of all the work that made Christo and Jeanne-Claude the most famous installation artists of the past fifty years, none still exists. If you wanted to see the Reichstag wrapped in silver fabric, you'd have to have been in Berlin in the summer of 1995. If you wanted to see Central Park threaded with Shinto shrine-style gates, you'd have to have been in New York in the winter of 2005. If you wanted to see an enormous Mesopotamian mastaba made out of 7,506 oil barrels, you'd have to have been in London in the summer of 2018. Though often celebrated for its "ephemeral" nature, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's art necessitated a formidable amount of political, organizational, logistical, and manual work to pull it off — and in that contrast lies its sublimity.

"To operate realistically on a large scale, they needed to deploy many of the skills traditionally associated with business and which we think of as the domain of the entrepreneur," says the article on Christo and Jeanne-Claude at The Book of Life, a product of Alain de Botton's School of Life. The two "had to negotiate with city councils and governments; they had to draw up business plans, arrange large scale finance, employ the talents and time of hundreds even thousands of people, coordinate vast efforts and deal with millions of users or visitors. And all the while, they held on to the high ambitions associated with being an artist." What's more, since the couple never took grants or public money of any kind, they had to turn enough of a profit from each project to finance the next, even more majestic (and to some, foolhardy) one.

You can see more of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects, and footage of those projects under construction, in the School of Life video at the top of the post. It also shows Christo creating the preparatory materials that made their work possible, not only in that they presented the visions of the wrapped-up pieces of infrastructure or valleys full of umbrellas to come, but that the sale of the plans and drawings financed the process of making those visions real. All this in the service of what Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009, called "works of art of joy beauty," and through Christo departed the realm of existence himself last Sunday, the rest of us have another such work to look forward to: L'Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped. Based on an idea that came to Christo when he and Jeanne-Claude lived in Paris in the late 1950s and early 60s (and recently delayed one more year due to the coronavirus pandemic), it will provide more than reason enough to be in Paris in the fall of 2021.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch Martin Scorsese’s Brand New Short Film, Made Entirely in His Office Under Quarantine

Most who saw the last feature by Martin Scorsese, 2019's The Irishman, saw it at home. That had to do with the fact that the budget came from Netflix, which surely aimed to get its not inconsiderable money's worth by offering the film on its own streaming service as soon as possible. If The Irishman's financing and distribution was a sign of the times, Scorsese's new short is even more so: shot on a smartphone by the famed director himself, it recently premiered on Mary Beard's BBC special about "lockdown culture." Seeing as the coronavirus isn't known to spare famous auteurs — and indeed does seem disproportionately to harm individuals over age 70 — Scorsese has spent a great deal of time at home over the past few months. But like all true creators, he hasn't stopped doing what he does.

"Been quite a while, now, that I've been quarantined," says Scorsese, turning his camera away from a screening of Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man on his office wall. "We had been working so hard on so many different projects, and things were spinning and spinning and spinning, and suddenly there was a crash. And a stop." At first, "there was a day or so of a kind of relief. I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything. I mean, I had to do everything, but I didn't have to do it then." Then, "the anxiety set in." But as time passed, and as he truly felt that time passing, "a sense of relief settled in. And a real sense of freedom, because you can't do anything else. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be in this room. I don't know when we're going to be able to actually start production in this film."

By "this film" Scorsese means Killers of the Flower Moon, a $200 million true-crime Western set in 1920s Oklahoma that will bring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, the director's leading men of choice, together in a Scorsese feature for the first time. As a joint production between Apple and Paramount, notes the Observer's Brandon Katz, the picture "will receive all the necessary funding it needs while still receiving a worldwide theatrical rollout," but the question of when its shoot can start — and indeed, when moviegoers will return to theaters — remains open. "I do know that, given the grace of time and life, we will be in production somehow," says Scorsese in his lockdown short, after a few shots of the memorabilia on his shelves.

Toward the end of this personal dispatch, Scorsese remembers his final conversation with the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. "We were at a dinner in Lyon a few years ago and he looked at me and said, 'Don't do anything you don't want to do.' He knew. He understood. One can't depend on time. One doesn't know. Ultimately that time has to be worth it, even if it's just existing. Even if it's just being alive, breathing — if you can, under these circumstances." But as we've all learned, circumstances can change, and suddenly; it falls to us only to make best use of the situation in which we find ourselves. To underscore that last truth, Scorsese characteristically cites a classic American movie. Though our lives may be restricted, as we see in Robert Siodmak's Hemingway adaptation The Killers, nothing's stopping us from keeping our eyes on the stars.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Spike Lee Debuts the Short Film “3 Brothers”: A Remake of Do the Right Thing for Our Dark Times

When beloved actor Bill Nunn died in September of 2016, two months before the election, his passing felt prophetic of more bad things to come. Best known as the boombox-toting, ultimate Public Enemy fan Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, Nunn’s character is murdered by a gang of cops, who put him in a chokehold and suffocate him. At the time, Raheem’s death was a fictional restatement of what had come before, as Lee explains above in the 30th anniversary commentary on the film.

“I’m renaming this ‘Anatomy of a Murder,’” he says, explaining how he based the scene of Raheem’s death on the 1983 killing of graffiti artist Michael Stewart, who was strangled by 11 NYC transit officers. “The things that are happening in this film,” he says, “are still relevant today.” Lee then references the death of Eric Garner, killed in exactly the same way as Raheem. Now we have seen the murder of George Floyd, asphyxiated with a knee to the neck. These on-camera killings are traumatic, but Lee has not shied away from the power of documentary images.

He reclaimed his place as a big-budget interpreter of American racism with BlackkKlansman, a fictionalized film that ends with extremely hard-to-watch (especially for those who were there) real footage of the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. Lee faced a good deal of criticism over the use of this video, but he has again taken real-life footage of racially-motivated killings, this time by the police, and cut them together with fiction, editing together the death of Raheem with the deaths of Garner and Floyd.

Calling the short “3 Brothers,” he opens with the question, “Will History Stop Repeating Itself?” Lee Debuted the film on the CNN special “I Can’t Breathe: Black Men Living & Dying in America.” The cumulative effects of history are critical to understanding the moment we are in, he says. The rage and protest on streets around the world are not a reaction to a single event—they are a confrontation with hundreds of years of violent control over black bodies, a state of affairs always including murder with impunity. “The attack on black bodies has been here from the get-go,” Lee says.

Lee’s short is hard to watch, and I don’t blame anyone who never wants to see this footage again (I don’t). The murders of individual, unarmed black men by groups of officers take on an eerie monotony in their sameness over time. “The killings caught on camera,” writes historian Robert Greene II, “offer a disturbing reminder of the numerous photographs of lynchings dispersed throughout the nation in the early twentieth century. Some were catalogued by the NAACP and displayed as examples of American brutality and barbarism. Others, however, were featured on postcards and sent to white Americans throughout the country, small trinkets of white terror.”

This chilling history gives rise to an understandable ambivalence about sharing videos of police killings. Are these evidence of barbarous injustice or racist snuff films running on an endless loop? As in the lynching photographs, it depends on the audience and the context in which the videos are shown. But when Spike Lee made Do the Right Thing—pre-Rodney King and cell phone cameras—hardly anyone outside of heavily policed black neighborhoods witnessed firsthand the kind of brutality that is now so depressingly familiar in our newsfeeds.

The death of Radio Raheem was shocking to audiences, as it was devastating to the characters and remains, for those who grew up with the film, a moving cinematic touchstone of the time. It is truly heartbreaking and enraging that such scenes have become common currency on social media, instead of historic examples of the brutality of the past—a story, as one person wrote of the 1968 police killing of poet Henry Dumas, of "generations of lost potential."

via Boing Boing

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

Why Should We Read Melville’s Moby-Dick? A TED-Ed Animation Makes the Case

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is a major 19th epic and a “Great American Novel” that routinely appears on best-of-all-time lists next to Homer and Dante. This grand literary judgment descends from early 20th century critics who rescued the novel from obscurity after decades of scorn and neglect. When the book first appeared in 1851, no one knew what to make of Melville’s cosmic whaling revenge tale. Reviews were highly mixed, sales dismal, the book flopped.

This Moby-Dick revival happened to coincide with a period of modernist experimentation with narrative structure in the work of writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Suddenly, Moby-Dick didn’t seem so strange anymore. More like a brilliant, proto-modernist tragedy. But if you expect straightforward seafaring adventure, as the animated TED-Ed lesson above by Sascha Morrell points out, it’s a hard slog. The exhaustive lessons on whales and whaling, chapter-length soliloquies, language so dense, colorful, and allusive.... Leonard Woolf became so frustrated in a 1929 review, he called the book's prose “the most execrable English."

Melville wrote bad sentences, Woolf pronounced. “His second greatest vice is rant or rhetoric…. I cannot see the slightest point in this kind of bombast, and, when it raves on for page after page, I almost pitch the book into the waste-paper basket and swear that I will not read another line, however many people vouch for the author’s genius.” This contrarianism sounds an awful like Virginia Woolf’s take on Joyce’s Ulysses. Like that book, Moby-Dick inspires widespread guilt among those who have been told they should read it, but who can’t bring themselves to finish or even begin.

Who was right: Melville’s early critics and readers (and Leonard Woolf)? Or the millions who have since seen in the novel something profound and prophetic, though no one can say exactly what that is? Why should we read Moby-Dick? For many, many reasons, but most of all the language. The word “rich” doesn’t begin to describe the layering of images: “A mountain separating two lakes,” Morrell says in a striking example, “a room papered floor to ceiling with bridal satins, the lid of an immense snuff box. These seemingly unrelated images take us on a tour of a sperm whale’s head.”

The symbols themselves invite us into other cryptic allegories. Chapter 99, “The Doubloon,” competes with Achilles' shield in The Iliad for metaphoric density, yet like a modernist novel, it fragments into multiple perspectives, each one examining ideas of currency, conquest, myth, ritual, etc., as Ahab bullies and provokes the crew into interpreting a coin nailed to the Pequod’s mast.

If the White Whale be raised, it must be in a month and a day, when the sun stands in some one of these signs. I’ve studied signs, and know their marks; they were taught me two score years ago, by the old witch in Copenhagen. Now, in what sign will the sun then be? The horse-shoe sign; for there it is, right opposite the gold. And what’s the horse-shoe sign? The lion is the horse-shoe sign- the roaring and devouring lion. Ship, old ship! my old head shakes to think of thee.

What Woolf saw as excessive bombast seems to me more like form mirroring function. Melville writes sentences that must echo over the squalls and talk through maddening lulls that bring on strange hallucinations. Like Joyce’s, his language mirrors the discursive tics of Ahab and Ishmael's modes of thought—nautical, theological, political, sociological, mythic, historic, naturalist, symbolist: explorations into a bloody, cruel, ecologically devastating enterprise that drives its demented captain—violently obsessed with a great white beast that has crippled and enraged him—to wreck the ship and kill everyone aboard except our narrator.

Learn about Melville and Moby-Dick in the additional resources at the TED-Ed lesson page.

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

What Is a “Casual Game?” Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #46 Talks to Nick Fortugno, Creator of “Diner Dash”

Famed game designer Nick joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to consider fundamental questions about the activity of gaming (Nick calls games "arbitrary limits on meaningless goals") and what constitutes a casual game: Is it one that's easy (maybe not easy to win, but at least you don't die), one meant to be played in short bursts, or maybe one with a certain kind of art style, or just about any game that runs on a phone? Nick's most famous creation is the casual Diner Dash, which can be very stressful. Vastly different games from very hard but very short action games and very involved but soothing strategy games get lumped under this one label.

Our conversation touches on everything from crosswords to Super Meat Boy, plus the relation between psychology and game design, whether casual games really play less than hardcore gamers, the stigma of an activity that was for marketing reasons at one point branded as being just for adolescent boys, and even heuristics for beating slot machines.

Some sources we looked at include:

Just so you don't have to write them down, our recommendations at the end were:

You can follow Nick @nickfortugno.

Learn more at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

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

When Al Capone Opened a Soup Kitchen During the Great Depression: Another Side of the Legendary Mobster’s Operation

In response to the words "American gangster," one name comes to mind before all others: Al Capone. (Apologies to Ridley Scott.) Though few Americans could now describe the full scope of his empire's criminal activities, many know that he grew that empire bootlegging during Prohibition and that he was eventually brought down on the relatively mild charge of tax evasion. A media spectacle by the standards of the day, the trial that convicted Capone in 1931 was in some sense the natural last act of his publicity-commanding career. Most Caponeologists place the beginning of the mob boss' fall at the 1929 "Saint Valentine's Day Massacre" of seven of Capone's rivals. Later that year came the stock market crash that set off the Great Depression, which offered Chicago's "Public Enemy No. 1" one last chance to win back that public's favor.

Having long traded on a Robin Hood-esque image, Capone opened a soup kitchen in his home base of Chicago to serve the unfortunates suddenly dispossessed by the devastated American economy. "Capone’s soup kitchen served breakfast, lunch and dinner to an average of 2,200 Chicagoans every day," writes's Christopher Klein. "Inside the soup kitchen, smiling women in white aprons served up coffee and sweet rolls for breakfast, soup and bread for lunch and soup, coffee and bread for dinner. No second helpings were denied. No questions were asked, and no one was asked to prove their need."

Capone's willingness to satisfy human needs and desires outside the law kept him rich, and thus more than able to run such an operation, even as the Depression set in; still, he "may not have paid a dime for the soup kitchen, relying instead on his criminal tendencies to stockpile his charitable endeavor by extorting and bribing businesses to donate goods."

Capone's soup kitchen may have helped keep Chicago fed, but it could only do so much to clean up his deteriorating public image, associated as it had become with smuggling, extortion, and violence. "Capone’s soup kitchen closed abruptly in April 1932," writes Mental Floss' Shoshi Parks. "The proprietors claimed that the kitchen was no longer needed because the economy was picking up, even though the number of unemployed across the country had increased by 4 million between 1931 and 1932." Two months later, "Capone was indicted on 22 counts of income tax evasion; the charges that eventually landed him in San Francisco’s Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Though Capone vowed to reopen his soup kitchen during his trial, its doors stayed shut." You can learn more about Capone's soup kitchen at My Al Capone Museum and The Vintage News, and even visit its location at 935 South State Street today — though you won't find any operation more ambitious than a parking lot.

via Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Gil Scott-Heron Spells Out Why “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Consider the influence of television, even in the digital age. Consider the power that networks like Fox and CNN continue to wield over that nebulous thing called public opinion; the continued dominance of NBC and CBS. These giants don’t really inform so much as sell packaged ideological content paid for and approved by corporate sponsors. There's really no need to update poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron’s radical, 1971 classic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” unless we wanted to change the names. His voice still speaks directly to the moment we live in.

We exist on a continuum of conditions that have worsened since the late 1960s—despite promises and appearances to the contrary—until they have become intolerable. Scott-Heron wrote and sang about those conditions since his fiery 1970 debut. “Dubbed the ‘Godfather of Rap,’” notes Brooklyn Rail in a 2007 interview, “Scott-Heron has become a ubiquitous and practically de rigueur influence for everyone from hip hoppers and indie rockers to aging literati and dyed-in-the-wool academics.”

One might think Scott-Heron’s classic spoken-word testament "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" speaks for itself by now, but it still creates confusion in part because people still misconstrue the nature of the medium. Why can’t you sit at home and watch journalists cover protests and revolts on TV? If you think you’re seeing “the Revolution” instead of curated, maybe spurious, content designed to tell a story and gin up views, you’re fooling yourself.

But Scott-Heron also had something else in mind—you can’t see the revolution on TV because you can’t see it at all. As he says above in a 1990s interview:

The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. The thing that’s going to change people is something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film. It’s just something that you see and you’ll think, "Oh I’m on the wrong page," or “I’m on I’m on the right page but the wrong note. And I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to find out what’s happening in this country."

If we realize we're out of sync with what's really happening, we cannot find out more on television. The information is where the battles are being fought, at street level, and in the mechanisms of the legal process. “I think that the Black Americans are the only real die-hard Americans here,” Scott-Heron goes on, “because we’re the only ones who’ve carried the process through the process…. We’re the ones who marched… we’re the ones who tried to go through the courts. Being born American didn’t seem to matter.” It still doesn’t, as we see in the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many before them, and in the grievous injuries and deaths from unconstitutional, military-grade police escalations nationwide since.

Scott-Heron asked us to question the narratives. "How do they know?” he sang in “There’s a War Going On” at Woodstock 94, above. How do the self-appointed guardians of information know what’s really going on? Television spreads ignorance and misinformation, as does radio and, of course, social media. This much we should know. But we’ve misinterpreted “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” if we think it’s really about mass media, Scott-Heron always maintained. Before we can engage meaningfully with current events, a revolutionary change must happen from the inside out. No one's broadcasting the truths we first, most need to hear.

via BoingBoing

Related Content:

Gil Scott-Heron, Godfather of Rap, Rest in Peace

Nina Simone’s Live Performances of Her Poignant Civil Rights Protest Songs

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

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

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