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

As a young guitar player, perhaps no one inspired me as much as Jimi Hendrix, though I never dreamed I’d attain even a fraction of his skill. But what attracted me to him was his near-total lack of formality—he didn’t read music, wasn’t trained in any classical sense, played an upside-down right-handed guitar as a lefty, and fully engaged his head and heart in every note, never pausing for an instant (so it seemed) to second-guess whether it was the right one. I knew his raw emotive playing was firmly rooted in the Delta blues, but it wasn’t until later in my musical journey that I discovered his return to more traditional form after he disbanded The Experience and formed Band of Gypsys with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. While most of the recordings he made with them didn’t see official release, they’ve appeared since his death in compilation after boxset after compilation, including one of the most beloved of Hendrix’s blues songs, “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

Originally titled “Get My Heart Back Together” when he played it at Woodstock in 1969, the song is pure roots, with lyrics that bespeak of both Hendrix’s loneliness and his playful dreams of greatness. (“I’m gonna buy this town / And put it all in my shoe.”) Several versions of the song float around on various posthumous releases—both live and as studio outtakes (including two different takes on the excellent 1994 Blues). But we have the rare treat, above, of seeing Hendrix play the song on a twelve-string acoustic guitar, Lead Belly’s instrument of choice. The footage comes from the 1973 documentary film Jimi Hendrix (which you can watch on Youtube for $1.99). Hendrix first plays the intro, seated alone in an all-white studio, playing folk-style with the fingers of his left hand. It is, of course, flawless, yet still he stops and asks the filmmakers for a redo. “I was scared to death,” he says, betraying the shyness and self-doubt that lurked beneath his mind-blowing ability and flamboyant persona. His playing is no less perfect when he picks up the tune again and plays it through.

Solo acoustic recordings of Hendrix—film and audio—are incredibly rare. In fact, the only other footage may be the short clip above of Hendrix at a party playing a partial blues rendition of “Hound Dog.” If like me you’re a fan of Hendrix, acoustic blues, or both, these videos will make you hunger for more Jimi unplugged. While Hendrix did more than anyone before him to turn guitar amps into instruments with his squalls of electric feedback and distorted wah-wah squeals, when you strip his playing down to basics, he’s still pretty much as good as it gets.

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


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H.G. Wells Interviews Joseph Stalin in 1934; Declares “I Am More to The Left Than You, Mr. Stalin”

wells and stalin

From the 20/20 point of view of the present, Joseph Stalin was one of the 20th century’s great monsters. He terrified the Soviet Union with campaign after campaign of political purges, he moved whole populations into Siberia and he arguably killed more people than Hitler. But it took decades for the scope of his crimes to get out, mostly because, unlike Hitler, Stalin stuck to killing his own people.

In early 1930s, however, Stalin was considered by many to be the leader of the future. That period was, of course, the nadir of the Great Depression. Capitalism seemed to be coming apart at the seams. The USSR promised a new society ruled not by the oligarchs of Wall Street but by the people – a society where everyone was equal.

H.G. Wells interviewed Stalin in Moscow in 1934 for the magazine The New Statesman. Wells was an avowed socialist and one of the left’s most influential authors. His first novel, The Time Machine, is essentially an allegory for class struggle after all. The interview between the two is fascinating.

Wells opens the piece by stating that he speaks for the common people. While that point is debatable — Stalin calls him out on that assertion – Wells does speak in a manner that is readily understandable. Stalin, in contrast, speaks in fluent Politburo. The blandness of his speech, choked with Communist boilerplate, seems designed to make the listener tune out. But then he drops little bon mots into his monologues that hint at the violence he has unleashed on his country. Take this line for instance:

Revolution, the substitution of one social system for another, has always been a struggle, a painful and a cruel struggle, a life-and-death struggle.

It’s a chilling line. Especially when you consider that at the time of this interview, Stalin was just starting to launch his first wave of political purges and he was plotting to assassinate his main political rival Sergei Kirov.

As the interview unfolds, you can imagine Wells growing increasingly frustrated by Stalin’s narrow, dogmatic view of the world. The Soviet leader, as Wells later wrote in his autobiography, “has little of the quick uptake of President Roosevelt and none of the subtlety and tenacity of Lenin. … His was not a free impulsive brain nor a scientifically organized brain; it was a trained Leninist-Marxist brain.”

At several points in the interview Wells challenges Stalin: “I object to this simplified classification of mankind into poor and rich,” the author fumes.

And when Stalin doesn’t agree with Wells that the Capitalist system was on its last legs, the author actually chides him for not being revolutionary enough. “It seems to me that I am more to the Left than you, Mr. Stalin; I think the old system is nearer to its end than you think.” Now that’s chutzpah.

In the end, the interview presents a dueling version of the future of the left. Wells believed, in essence, that the Capitalist world only needed to be reformed, albeit drastically, to achieve economic justice. And Stalin argued that Capitalism had to be torn down completely before any other reform could take place.

In spite of their differences, Wells left the interview with a positive impression of the Soviet leader. “I have never met a man more fair, candid, and honest,” he wrote.

Wells died in 1946 before the worst of Stalin’s crimes became known to the outside world. Stalin died in 1953.  Following a stroke, his body remained on the floor in a pool of urine for hours before a doctor was called. His minions were terrified that he might wake up and order their execution.

You can read the entire interview between H.G. Wells and Stalin on The New Statesmen‘s website here.

via Kottke

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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.


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The Getty Adds Another 77,000 Images to its Open Content Archive

getty_church2

Last summer we told you that the J. Paul Getty Museum launched its Open Content Program by taking 4600 high-resolution images from the Getty collections, putting them into the public domain, and making them freely available in digital format. We also made it clear — there would be more to come.

Yesterday, the Getty made good on that promise, adding another 77,000 images to the Open Content archive. Of those images, 72,000 come from the Foto Arte Minore collection, a rich gallery of photographs of Italian art and architecture, taken by the photographer and scholar Max Hutzel (1911-1988).

getty tapestryThe Getty also dropped into the archive another 4,930 images of European and American tapestries dating from the late 15th through the late 18th centuries.

All images in the Getty Open Content program — now 87,000 in total — can be downloaded and used without charge or permission, regardless of whether you’re a scholar, artist, art lover or entrepreneur. The Getty only asks that you give them attribution.

You can start exploring the complete collection by visiting the Getty Search Gateway. Images can also be accessed via the Museum’s Collection webpages. Be sure to look for the “download” link near the images.

For more information on the Open Content program, please visit this page. For more open content from museums, see the links below.

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Sylvia Plath Annotates Her Copy of The Great Gatsby

gatsbyedited

The true fan of a writer desires not just that writer’s complete works, even if they all come signed and in first editions. No — the enthusiast most dedicated to their literary luminary of choice must have, in addition, the books written by that author, those owned by that author, preferably anointed with liberal quantities of revealing marginalia. In the case of such relatively recently deceased writers as David Markson, the whole of whose well-annotated personal library got donated to The Strand shortly after his passing, you can sometimes actually come to possess such treasures. In the case of poet Sylvia Plath, part of a page of whose copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby you see above, you might have a trickier time getting your hands on them. Justin Ray’s post at Complex, which quotes Plath as calling Fitzgerald “a word painter with a vivid palette” who chooses words with “jewel-cut precision,” has more on the book and its markings.

“Plath studied a crap-ton of literature in school,” Ray writes. “It isn’t immediately clear whether she was in high school or college when she annotated Gatsby,” but whenever she did it, she underlined “Daisy’s prediction of what her daughter will be like” with the word “L’Ennui,” a word she would use to name an early poem that reflects “a post romanticism and the death of idealism, two ideas also in Gatsby, according to an essay by Anna Journey.” Elsewhere, you can also read “Princess Daisy,” Park Bucker’s piece on Plath’s annotated Gatsby. “The volume represents a fascinating piece of evidence of Fitzgerald’s rising reputation and influence in the early 1950s, as well as the academic background and tastes of a major American poet,” writes Bucker. “Although Sylvia Plath and F. Scott Fitzgerald rarely inhabit the same sentence, their association should not appear strained. A young, intense poet would naturally be drawn to the lyric quality of Fitzgerald’s prose.” And just imagine its value to die-hard fans of both of those tragic pillars of American letters — a group in which, if you’ve read this post and everything to which it links, you should perhaps consider counting yourself.

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


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Stream Indie Cindy, the Pixies’ First Album in 23 Years

A quick fyi: Indie Cindy, the Pixies’ first album since 1991, will be released on April 29th. But thanks to NPR’s First Listen site, you can stream the entire LP online for free, for a limited time. Though the band might not sound the same without Kim Deal, Pixies fans will instantly recognize the “disarming beauty nestled against dissonant snarls.” Above, you can listen to the album’s title track. Here you can stream the entire album or the individual tracks – or pre-order it on iTunes or over at Amazon.

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Slavoj Žižek: What Fullfils You Creatively Isn’t What Makes You Happy

While theorist and provocateur Slavoj Žižek tends to get characterized—especially in a recent, testy exchange with Noam Chomsky—as obscurantist and muddle-headed, I’ve always found him quite readable, especially when compared to his mentor, psychoanalytic philosopher Jacques Lacan. As an interpreter of Lacan’s theories, Žižek always does his reader the courtesy of providing specific, concrete examples to anchor the theoretical jargon (where Lacan gives us pseudo-mathematical symbols). In the short Big Think clip above, Žižek’s examples range from the history of physics to the Declaration of Independence to the familiar “male chauvinist” scenario of a man, his wife, and his mistress. Žižek’s point, the point of psychoanalysis, he alleges, is that “people do not really want or desire happiness.”

This seems counterintuitive. Happiness—our own and others—is after all the goal of our loftiest endeavors, no? This seems to be the pop-psych rendition of, say, Maslow’s theory of self-actualization. But no, says Zizek, happiness is an integral part of fantasy. Like the philanderer’s mistress, the object of desire must be kept at a distance, he says. Once it is achieved, we no longer want it: “We don’t really want what we think we desire.” And in keeping with Žižek’s example of infidelity—which may or may not involve the chauvinist killing his wife—he tells us that for him, “happiness is an unethical category.” I find this statement intriguing, and persuasive, though Žižek doesn’t elaborate on it above.

He does in much of his writing however—explaining in Lacanian terms in his essay collection Interrogating the Real that our desire for something we think will bring us happiness can be construed as a kind of envy: “I desire an object only insofar as it is desired by the Other.” Furthermore, he writes, “what I desire is determined by the symbolic network within which I articulate my subjective position.” In other words, what we think we want is determined by ideology—by the cultural products we consume, the soup of mass media and advertising in which we are permanently immersed, and the political ideals we are taught to revere. What does authentic “self-actualization” look like for Slavoj Žižek? He tells us above—it means being “ready to suffer” for the creative realization of a goal: “Happiness doesn’t enter into it.”

Žižek cites the example of nuclear scientists who willingly exposed themselves to radiation poisoning in pursuit of discovery, but he could just as well have pointed to artists and writers who sacrifice comfort and pleasure for lives of profound uncertainty, religious figures who practice all kinds of austerities, or athletes who push their bodies past all ordinary limits. While there are several degrees of pleasure involved in these endeavors, it seems shallow at best to describe the goals of such people as happiness. It seems that many, if not most, of the people we admire and strive to emulate lead lives characterized by great risk—by the willingness to suffer; lives often containing little in the way of actual happiness.

Whatever stock one puts in psychoanalytic theory, it seems to me that Žižek raises some vital questions: Do we really want what we think we want, or is the “pursuit of happiness” an unethical ideological fantasy? What do you think, readers?

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

 


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Close Personal Friend: Watch a 1996 Portrait of Gen-X Definer Douglas Coupland

Whether we lived through them as kids or as grown-ups, few of us feel sure about whether we miss the 1990s. No generation did more to define the decade before last, at least in the West, than the unmoored, irony-loving, at once deeply cynical and deeply earnest “Generation X” that succeeded the wealthier, more influential Baby Boomers. No writer did more to define that generation than Douglas Coupland, the Canadian novelist, visual artist, and seer of the immediate future whose 1991 literary debut Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture gave the cohort its name. There he wrote of the twentysomethings who lived through the 1990s definitely not as kids, yet, frustratingly, not quite as grown-ups, coming haplessly to grips in the margins of a human experience that an advanced civilization had already begun detaching from supposed expectations — jobs, houses, stability, tight connection between mind and body, unquestionably “real” lived experience — of generations before.

Coupland, also a prolific sculptor (next time you get to his hometown of Vancouver, do visit the somehow always striking Digital Orca), writer of the film Everything’s Gone Green, star of the documentary Souvenir of Canada, and now the developer of a snoring-assistance smartphone app, knows a thing or two about switching media. Five years after breaking out with Generation X, he also made Close Personal Friend, the not-quite-categorizable short about technology, memory, and identity at the top of the post. In what plays as a cross between a Chris Marker-style essay film and a middle-period MTV music video, Coupland continues his career-long rumination about our “accelerated culture” and the fascinatingly empowered yet compromised human beings to which it gives rise. What does it mean in this modern, hypermediated context, he wonders, that we now wonder whether we actually have lives? “Not having a life is so common,” he says. “It’s almost become the norm. [...] People just aren’t getting their year’s worth of year anymore.”

Given our culture’s further acceleration since he spoke those words in 1996 — the world wide web as we know it having got its start just three years before — Coupland’s thoughts on the subject, whether expressed in fiction, through sculpture, or onscreen, still sound plenty relevant. Close Personal Friend, with its voidlike backdrops, video-blender editing, and scattered clips of wholesome midcentury Americana, bears the aesthetic mark of its era. Coupland’s faintly ominous talk of “FedEx, Prozac, microwave ovens, and fax machines” also time-stamps it technologically and culturally. But the observations have carried through, only growing sharper, to his latest work. Asked to imagine the “two dominant activities” of life twenty years hence, the Coupland of 1996 names “going shopping and going to jail,” pursuits he sees as now merged in his essay collection published last year, Shopping in Jail. Just above, we have a half-hour conversation between Coupland and host Jian Ghomeshi about his even newer book, a study of misanthropy in novel form called Worst. Person. Ever. In the talk, he cites “I miss my pre-internet brain,” a slogan he made up that has gained much traction in recent years. But does he really? “No,” he admits. “It was boring back then!” Close Personal Friend will be added to our collection of 675 Free Movies Online.

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


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The Lonely Photo of Michel Foucault with a Full Head of Hair

Foucault with Hair

When you think of Michel Foucault, it’s hard not to think of the bald head that’s so part of his persona. Do a Google image search for Foucault, and you’ll find a “profusion of pictures of Foucault’s gleaming bald head” (as Jeffrey Weinstock calls it in an article entitled “This is Not Foucault’s Head”). But, among those many images, you will find one lonely photo of Foucault with a full(ish) head of hair. It’s hard to put a date on the picture. Very likely, it was taken during the mid 1950s, right around when Foucault was 30 years old. The look he’s sporting there is very different than what we see in 1965, when he sits down to talk with Alain Badiou. Or 1971, when he debates Noam Chomsky on Dutch TV. By those later dates, Foucault had the look that became so enduring.

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Soviet Animations of Ray Bradbury Stories: ‘Here There Be Tygers’ & ‘There Will Comes Soft Rain’

Sergei Bondarchuk directed an 8-hour film adaptation of War and Peace (1966-67), which ended up winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Picture. When he was in Los Angeles as a guest of honor at a party, Hollywood royalty like John Wayne, John Ford, Billy Wilder lined up to meet the Russian filmmaker. But the only person that Bondarchuk was truly excited to meet was Ray Bradbury. Bondarchuk introduced the author to the crowd of bemused A-listers as “your greatest genius, your greatest writer!”

Ray Bradbury spent a lifetime crafting stories about robots, Martians, space travel and nuclear doom and, in the process, turned the formerly disreputable genre of Sci-Fi/Fantasy into something respectable. He influenced legions of writers and filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman to Francois Truffaut, who adapted his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, into a movie.

That film wasn’t the only adaptation of Bradbury’s work, of course. His writings have been turned into feature films, TV movies, radio shows and even a video game for the Commodore 64. During the waning days of the Cold War, a handful of Soviet animators demonstrated their esteem for the author by adapting his short stories.

Vladimir Samsonov directed Bradbury’s Here There Be Tygers, which you can see above. A spaceship lands on an Eden-like planet. The humans inside are on a mission to extract all the natural resources possible from the planet, but they quickly realize that this isn’t your ordinary rock. “This planet is alive,” declares one of the characters. Indeed, not only is it alive but it also has the ability to grant wishes. Want to fly? Fine. Want to make streams flow with wine? Sure. Want to summon a nubile maiden from the earth? No problem. Everyone seems enchanted by the planet except one dark-hearted jerk who seems hell-bent on completing the mission.

Samsonov’s movie is stylized, spooky and rather beautiful – a bit like as if Andrei Tarkovsky had directed Avatar.

Another one of Bradbury’s shorts, There Will Comes Soft Rain, has been adapted by Uzbek director Nazim Tyuhladziev (also spelled Nozim To’laho’jayev). The story is about an automated house that continues to cook and clean for a family of four unaware that they all perished in a nuclear explosion. While Bradbury’s version works as a comment on both American consumerism and general Cold War dread, Tyuhladziev’s version goes for a more religious tact. The robot that runs the house looks like a mechanical snake (Garden of Eden, anyone?). The robot and the house become undone by an errant white dove. The animation might not have the polish of a Disney movie, but it is surprisingly creepy and poignant.

And if you want to see more Russian animation, click here.

Both films mentioned above will be added to the Animation section of our collection of 675 Free Movies Online.

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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.


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Watch 1955 Footage of a Scientist Interviewing a Painter on LSD

A few months ago, we featured the increasingly abstract portraits drawn by an artist after periodic doses of LSD. It happened in the late 1950s, a time when you might well imagine such an activity going down in, say, a bohemian quarter of New York, but also a time when hallucinogenic drugs rode a wave of popularity among legitimate scientists. Those ostensibly straight-laced researchers (sometimes funded by CIA money) had a fascination not with the taking of hallucinogenic drugs — not necessarily, anyway — but with what, exactly, these hallucinogenic drugs did to those who do take them. Particularly artists drawing portraits. Those portraits drawn on LSD came out under the close watch of University of California, Irvine psychiatrist Oscar Janiger. Above, you can watch the fruit of another, much more verbal 1950s experiment conducted just down the coast by the University of Southern California’s Nicholas A. Bercel, M.D.: “Schizophrenic Model Psychosis Induced by LSD 25.”

Here we also have an artist examined: this time, a Los Angeles painter named Bill. As Bill floats through his altered state, Bercel asks him to describe, in as rigorous detail as possible, his perceptions of objects in the room, of items of food and drink brought in, and of their interactions themselves. This 24-minute film of the four-hour process, punctuated by electroencephalographic scans, comes as a production of Sandoz, the Swiss pharmaceutical company who originally isolated LSD and who apparently had an interest in bringing a form of it to market. (One proposed pharmacological designation: “Phantastium.”) Though that didn’t happen, the Hungarian-born Bercel went on throughout his long career to conduct more research of the kind that ultimately earned him a legacy as a pioneer in neurophysiology. He also, when not in the lab, wrote over a dozen novels and film treatments. Clearly he had an impressive creative streak, whether or not he ever personally had his doors of perception opened by the substances his subjects like Bill so enjoyed.

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


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