A Brief History of Guitar Distortion: From Early Experiments to Happy Accidents to Classic Effects Pedals

The sound of rock and roll is the sound of a distorted guitar, but the history of that sound predates the genre by a few years. It started out with blues and Western swing guitarists, searching “for a dirtier sound,” writes Noisey in a brief history, “a sound that reflected the grittiness of their music.” That sound was pioneered by a guitarist named Junior Barnard, who played with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and designed his own humbucking pickups to produce a fatter, louder tone and push his small amp into overdrive. As the Polyphonic video above notes, Barnard was an aggressive player who needed aggressive tones, and so, as guitarists have always done, he invented the means himself.

Other forerunners achieved distorted tones by cranking early amps like the 18-watt Fender Super, first introduced in 1947, all the way up, until the vacuum tubes clipped the signal to keep from breaking. Goree Carter, sometimes credited with recording the first rock and roll song, “Rock A While,” pushed the overdriven sound in a heavier direction than Barnard, playing dirty Chuck Berry-like licks in 1949 before Chuck Berry's first hit. Distortion, a sound audio engineers struggled mightily to avoid in live sound and recording, gave blues-based guitarists exactly what they needed for the loud, lewd postwar sounds of rock.

The distorted tones of the 40s came from a deliberate desire for grit. Later, even dirtier, guitar tones were the result of happy accidents. Another contender for the first rock and roll recording—Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm’s 1951 “Rocket 88”—contains some very distorted rhythms from guitarist Willie Kizart, who, legend has it, dropped his tweed Fender amp before the session. Sam Phillips “leaned into” the sound, notes Polyphonic, immediately hearing its serendipitous potential.

Seven years later, the evil overdrive of Link Wray’s instrumental “Rumble"—so sinister it was once banned from radio—came from an intentional equipment failure. Wray repeatedly stabbed the speaker cone of his amp with a pencil.

Do-it-yourself distortion continued into the sixties. Following Wray’s lead, the Kinks’ Dave Davies slashed his amp’s speaker with a razor blade for the fuzzed-out attack of “You Really Got Me” in 1965. But a few years earlier, “fuzz” had already been codified in an effects pedal: Gibson’s 1962 Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone, partly inspired by another accident, a faulty mixing board connection that distorted Grady Martin’s bass solo in the Marty Robbins’ 1961 country tune “Don’t Worry” (below, at 1:25). The Fuzz-Tone most famously drove Keith Richards’ riff in “Satisfaction,” but it didn't sell well. Other, more popular fuzz boxes followed, like the Arbiter Fuzz Face, Jimi Hendrix’s choice for his distorted tones.

Hendrix brilliantly innovated new guitar effects, and the powerful Marshall amps he played through also drove the distorted sounds of Clapton, Townshend, Page, Blackmore, etc., who competed for grittier and heavier tones and in the process more or less invented metal guitar. In the seventies and eighties, distorted tones took on some standardized forms, thanks to transistors and classic effects pedals like the Ibanez Tube Screamer, ProCo Rat, and Boss DS-1. Distinctions between overdrive, distortion, and fuzz effects can get technical, but in the early days of rock and roll, distorted guitar tones came from whatever worked, and it’s that wild early sound of gear pushed to its limits and beyond that every modern distortion effect attempts to replicate.

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

A Book about Women in Philosophy by Women in Philosophy: Help Crowdfund It

This past summer, we highlighted the Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts by Women Philosophers, a resource that aims to introduce “women philosophers who mostly have been omitted from the philosophical canon despite their historical and philosophical influence.” Now, in a similar vein, comes a book being edited by Rebecca Buxton (Oxford) and Lisa Whiting (Durham). The Philosopher Queens is essentially "a book about women in philosophy by women in philosophy." On this crowdfunding page, Buxton and Whiting elaborate:

For all the young women and girls sitting in philosophy class wondering where the women are, this is the book for you. This collection of 21 chapters, each on a prominent woman in philosophy, looks at the impact that women have had on the field throughout history. From Hypatia to Angela Davis, The Philosopher Queens will be a guide to these badass women and how their amazing ideas have changed the world.

This book is written both for newcomers to philosophy, as well as all those professors who know that they could still learn a thing or two. This book is also for those many people who have told us that there are no great women philosophers. Please pledge, read this book and then feel free to get back to us.

The two of us are young women who have studied and loved philosophy for many years. This book is borne out of frustration with the total lack of recognition for women in philosophy, not only its history but its current teaching.

Each chapter is written by a woman working in philosophy today. Our chapters and contributing authors include:

Hypatia by Lisa Whiting
Lalleshwari by Shalini Sinha
Anne Conway by Julia Bocherding
Mary Astell by Simone Webb
Mary Wollstonecraft by Sandrine Bergès
Harriet Taylor Mill by Helen McCabe
Christine Ladd-Franklin by Sara Uckelman
Mary Anne Evans by Clare Carlisle
Edith Stein by Jae Hetterley
Hannah Arendt by Rebecca Buxton
Simone de Beauvoir by Kate Kirkpatrick
Iris Murdoch by Fay Niker
Elizabeth Anscombe by Hannah Carnegy-Arbuthnott
Mary Warnock by Gulzaar Barn
Iris Marion Young by Desiree Lim
Anita L Allen by Ilhan Dahir
Azizah Y. al-Hibri by Nima Dahir
... and more exciting chapters yet to be announced.

You can learn more about the project and give it some financial support here. The project so far has 184 backers and has received 27% of its desired funding.

via Daily Nous

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Long-Lost Letter Shows How Galileo Tried to Fool the Inquisition & Escape Censure for Putting Scientific Truth Ahead of Church Dogma (1613)

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “Success in Circuit lies.” No doubt she had more literary, or metaphysical, matters in mind than scientific. But for scientists working in times hostile to change, telling the truth, as they know it, can be dangerous. This applies to EPA scientists working today as it did 400 years ago to European astronomers, who faced censure—with possibly fatal consequences—for contradicting the official version of reality dictated by the Catholic Church and enforced by the Inquisition.

The story of Galileo Galilei’s infamous confrontation with what the Rice University Galileo Project calls that “permanent institution” of the Church, “charged with the eradication of heresies,” has swelled into legend, with the astronomer playing the part of a martyr for reason and evidence. Other versions, like Bertolt Brecht’s play Galileoportray him, writes The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, not as “a martyr-hero but a turncoat, albeit one of genius.” Rather than standing on principle, he hedged and compromised.

A “newer (and, unsurprisingly, Church-endorsed) view,” writes Gopnik, “is that Galileo made needless trouble for himself by being impolitic," and that all the poor Church wanted, “as today’s intelligent designers now say,” was to “’teach the controversy’” between Copernican and Aristotelian theories. Whatever their interpretation, historians of the events leading up to Galileo’s conviction for heresy after the publication of his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems now have a new piece of evidence to add to their assessment.

A letter, “long thought lost,” Nature reports, has reappeared, providing “the strongest evidence yet that, at the start of his battle with the religious authorities, Galileo actively engaged in damage control and tried to spread a toned-down version of his claims.” In the seven-page document, written to his friend Benedetto Castelli in 1613, Galileo “set out for the first time his arguments that scientific research should be free from theological doctrine.” Furthermore, and most damningly for him:

He argued that the scant references in the Bible to astronomical events should not be taken literally, because scribes had simplified these descriptions so that they could be understood by common people. Religious authorities who argued otherwise, he wrote, didn’t have the competence to judge. Most crucially, he reasoned that the heliocentric model of Earth orbiting the Sun, proposed by Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus 70 years earlier, is not actually incompatible with the Bible.

Copies of the controversial letter circulated, and inevitably made their way into the hands of Inquisition authorities in 1615, forwarded by a Dominican friar named Niccolò Lorini. Alarmed, Galileo “wrote to his friend Piero Dini, a cleric in Rome, suggesting that the letter Lorini had sent to the Inquisition might have been doctored.” He enclosed another, less inflammatory, version, which he claimed was the original. He wrote of the “wickedness and ignorance” of those he claimed had tried to frame him. The Inquisitors, he wrote “may be in part deceived by this fraud which is going around under the cloak of zeal and charity.”

Historians have long known of the two letters, but were uncertain as to whose version of events to believe. The original of the Lorini copy was thought to have been lost, until its recent discovery by postdoctoral science historian Salvatore Ricciardo, who found it, of all places, in the Royal Society library, where it had sat unnoticed for 250 years. The original letter, which Castelli had returned to Galileo, shows edits in his own hand. “Beneath its scratchings-out and amendments, the signed copy discovered by Ricciardo shows Galileo’s original wording—and it is the same as in the Lorini copy” that landed him in trouble.

The evidence proves that Galileo strongly advocated for the Copernican system, and against Church interference in free inquiry, in 1613. In one passage of the letter, originally describing the Bible as “false if one goes by the literal meaning of the words,” Galileo crosses out “false” and inserts “look different from the truth.” In another reference to scripture as “concealing” the truth, he opts for the more theological-sounding “veiling.” The letter shows Galileo softening his views to escape condemnation, but it does not show him recanting in any way.

In 1616, the year after the Church received a copy of the first letter from Lorini and Galileo’s doctored version, he was warned to stop arguing for the Copernican model, though he later received assurances from Pope Urban VIII that he could continue to write about heliocentrism if he presented the idea as a mathematical proposition rather than a statement of fact. Of course, as we know, his continued support for the science earned him permanent house arrest in 1633, and centuries of enduring admiration from the opponents of dogmatic suppression of scientific knowledge.

via Nature

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

In 1900, a Photographer Had to Create an Enormous 1,400-Pound Camera to Take a Picture of an Entire Train

Cameras are small, and getting smaller all the time. This development has helped us all document our lives, sharing the sights we see with an ease difficult to imagine even twenty years ago. 120 years ago, photography faced an entirely different set of challenges, but then as now, much of the motivation to meet them came from commercial interests. Take the case of Chicago photographer George R. Lawrence and his client the Chicago & Alton Railway, who wanted to promote their brand-new Chicago-to-St. Louis express service, the Alton Limited. This product of the golden age of American train travel demanded some respectable photography, a technology then still in its thrilling, possibility-filled emergence.

A truly elegant piece of work, the Alton Limited would, during its 72-year lifespan, boast such features as a post office, a library, a Japanese tea-room, and a striking maroon-and-gold color scheme that earned it the nickname "the Red Train."

Even from a distance, the Alton Limited looked upon its introduction in 1899 like nothing else on the railroads, with its six identical Pullman cars all designed in perfect symmetry — the very aspect that so challenged Lawrence to capture it in a photograph. Simply put, the whole train wouldn't fit in one picture. While he could have shot each car separately and then stitched them together into one big print, he rejected that technique for its inability to "preserve the absolute truthfulness of perspective."

Only a much bigger camera, Lawrence knew, could capture the whole train. And so, in the words of Atlas Obscura's Anika Burgess, he "quickly went to work designing a camera that could hold a glass plate measuring 8 feet by 4 1/2 feet. It was constructed by the camera manufacturer J.A. Anderson from natural cherry wood, with bespoke Carl Zeiss lenses (also the largest ever made). The camera alone weighed 900 pounds. With the plate holder, it reached 1,400 pounds. According to an August 1901 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the bellows was big enough to hold six men, and the whole camera took a total of 15 workers to operate." Transporting the camera to Brighton Park, "an ideal vantage point from which to shoot the waiting train," required another team of men, and developing the eight-foot long photo took ten gallons of chemicals.

The advertisements in which Lawrence's photograph appeared practically glowed with pride in the Alton Limited, billing it as "a train for two cities," as "the only way between Chicago and St. Louis," as "the handsomest train in the world." The whole-train picture beggared belief: though it went on to win Lawrence the Grand Prize for World Photographic Excellence at the 1900 Paris Exposition, Burgess notes, it looked so impossible that both the photographer and Chicago & Alton "had to submit affidavits to verify that the photograph had been made on one plate." We in the 21st century, of course, have no reason to doubt its authenticity, or even to marvel at its ingenuity until we know the story of the immense custom camera with which Lawrence shot it. Today, what awes us are all those smaller shots of the Alton Limited's interior, exuding a luxuriousness that has long vanished from America's railroads. If we were to find ourselves on such a train today, we'd surely start Instagramming it right away.

via Atlas Obscura

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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 or on Facebook.

Watch Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests of Three Female Muses: Nico, Edie Sedgwick & Mary Woronov

Artist Andy Warhol shot over 500 silent, black-and-white screen-tests in his famous Factory between 1964 and 1966, documenting the beautiful youth who were drawn to the scene. Sometimes he would chat with the subject beforehand, offering suggestions to help them achieve the type of performance he was looking for. More frequently he took a passive role, to the point of leaving the room during the filming.

The opposite of a people person, he preferred to engage with his subjects by scrutinizing the finished screen tests, projecting them in slow motion to imbue them with an added element of glamour and amplify every nuance of expression. As Warhol wrote in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:

That screen magnetism is something secret. If you could figure out what it is and how you make it, you'd have a really good product to sell. But you can't even tell if someone has it until you actually see them up there on the screen. You have to give screen tests to find out.

The screen tests are less auditions for roles in Warhol films than pieces of an ongoing project. Warhol played with them, assembling and reassembling them into collections which he screened under such fluid titles as 13 Most Beautiful Women and 13 Most Wanted Men. Some of his test subjects went on to achieve real stardomLou Reed, Dennis Hopper, and Bob Dylan

Others’ fame is forever tied to the Factory.

Edie Sedgwick, above, one of his best known muses, was a troubled girl from a wealthy family. Unlike some of the moodier screen tests, Sedgwick’s is fully lit. She displays a genuine movie star’s poise, barely moving as the camera drinks her in. Her beauty appears untouched by the addictions and eating disorders that were already a driving force in her life.

Actress and painter Mary Woronov emerged unscathed from her time at the Factory. Like Sedgwick, she seemed comfortable with the idea of being observed doing nothing for an extended period. Recalling her screen test experience in an interview with Bizarre, she made it clear that the subjects were far from the center of attention:

Andy put you on a stool, then puts the camera in front of you. There are lots of people around usually. And then he turns the camera on, and he walks away, and all the people walk away too, but you're standing there in front of this camera.

I saw Salvador Dali do one, it was really funny. It's a very interesting film, because it's a way of cracking open your personality and showing what's underneath—only in a visual way, because there's no talking, nothing. You just look at the camera. Salvador made this gigantic pose with his moustache blaring and everything, and he couldn't hold the pose. Not for five minutes. And so at about minute four, he suddenly started looking very, very real.

The camera loves stillness, something model and singer Nico was unable to deliver in her screen test. Perhaps not such a problem when the director has plans to project in slow motion.

As he stated in POPism: The Warhol '60s:

What I liked was chunks of time all together, every real moment… I only wanted to find great people and let them be themselves… and I'd film them for a certain length of time and that would be the movie.

Factory regular/interior decorator/photographer Billy Name told punk historian Legs McNeil in an interview that the screen tests served another purposeto identify the fellow travelers from among the poor fits:

… it's always cool to meet other artists, you know, to see if it's somebody who's going to be a peer or a compatriot, who you can play with and hang around with or not. Andy was doing a series of screen tests for his films, and we wanted everybody to do one: Dylan, Nico, Dennis Hopper, Susan Sontag, Donovan—everyone famous that came up to the Factory. We'd just film 16mm black-and-white portraits of the person sitting there for a few minutes. So our purpose was to have Dylan come up and do a screen test, so he could be part of the series. That was enough for us. But Dylan didn't talk at all when we filmed him. I don't think he liked us, ha, ha, ha!

Revolver Gallery, devoted exclusively to Warhol, has a gallery of screen-tests on their YouTube channel.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Hieronymus Bosch Demon Bird Was Spotted Riding the New York City Subway the Other Day…

To me, the great promise of homeschooling is that one day your child might, on their own initiative, ride the New York City subways dressed in a homemade, needlefelted costume modeled on the ice-skating bird messenger from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Temptation of St. Anthony.

Rae Stimson, aka Rae Swon, a Brooklyn-based artist who did just that a little over a week ago, describes her upbringing thusly:

Growing up I was home schooled in the countryside by my mom who is a sculptor and my dad who is an oil painter, carpenter, and many other things. Most of my days were spent drawing and observing nature rather than doing normal school work. Learning traditional art techniques had always been very important to me so that I can play a role in keeping these beautiful methods alive during this contemporary trend of digital, nonrepresentational, and conceptual art. I make traditional artwork in a wide variety of mediums, including woodcarving, oil painting, etching, needle felting, and alternative process photography.

Not every homeschooler, or, for that matter, Waldorf student, is into needle felting. It only seems that way when you compare the numbers to their counterparts in more traditional school settings…

Even the tiniest creature produced by this method is a labor intensive proposition, wherein loose woolen fibers are soaked, soaped, and jabbed with a needle until they come together in a rough mat, suitable for shaping into the whimsical—or demonic—figure of its creator’s choosing.

Stimson matched her full-head bird mask to the one in the painting by equipping it with gloves, a blanket cloak, long velvet ears, and a leafless twig emerging from the spout of its hand-painted funnel hat.

An accomplished milliner, Stimson was drawn to her subject’s unusual headgear, telling HuffPo’s Priscilla Frank how she wished she could ask Bosch about the various elements of his “beautiful demon-bird” and “what, if any, symbolic significance they hold.”

The answer lies in art history writer Stanley Meisler’s Smithsonian magazine article, "The World of Bosch":

…a monster on ice skates approaches three fiends who are hiding under a bridge across which pious men are helping an unconscious Saint Anthony. The monster, wearing a badge that Bax says can be recognized as the emblem of a messenger, bears a letter that is supposedly a protest of Saint Anthony's treatment. But the letter, according to (Bosch scholar and author Dirk) Bax, is in mirror writing, a sure sign that the monster and the fiends are mocking the saint. The monster wears a funnel that symbolizes intemperance and wastefulness, sports a dry twig and a ball that signify licentious merrymaking, and has lopping ears that show its foolishness. All this might have been obvious to the artist's contemporaries when the work was created, but the average modern viewer can only hope to understand the overall intent of a Bosch painting, while regarding the scores of bizarre monsters and demons as a kind of dark and cruel comic relief.

A field guide to Bosch’s bizarre images in the same article gives viewers leave to interpret any and all funnels in his work as a coded reference to deceit and intemperance... perhaps at the hands of a false doctor or alchemist!

Not every subway rider caught the arty reference. Unsurprisingly, some even refused to acknowledge the strange being in their midst. Those folks must not share Stimson’s dedication to examining “that which is unfamiliar, seeking out all that is yet unknown to you in both art and life.”

Within 24 hours of its Metropolitan Transit Authority adventure, the one-of-a-kind demon-bird costume was sold on Etsy.

(Holler if you wish Stimson had kept it around long enough to take a spin on the ice at Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park, where the majority of patrons would no doubt be gliding around in ignorance that, as per Meisler, Bosch equated skates with folly.)

See more of Rae Stimson’s needle-felted creations, including a full-body alien robot costume and a sculpture of author Joyce Carol Oates with her pet chicken in her Etsy shop.

via Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is a New York City-based homeschooler, author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her at The Tank NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When Led Zeppelin Reunited and Crashed and Burned at Live Aid (1985)

I’ve tended to avoid reunion shows from my favorite bands of old, and I’ve missed some great performances because of it, I’m told, and also a few clunkers and forgettable nostalgia trips. But sometimes it really doesn’t matter how good or bad the band is ten or twenty years past their prime—or that one or more of their original members has left their mortal coil or shuffled off into retirement. It’s such a thrill for fans to see their heroes that they’ll overlook, or fail to notice, serious onstage problems.

The crowd of thousands at Philly’s JFK Stadium exploded  after “Rock and Roll,” Led Zeppelin’s opener to their 1985 Live Aid reunion gig (above), with Phil Collins and Chic’s Tony Thompson doubling on drum duties (because it takes two great drummers to equal one John Bonham, I guess). But according to the musicians themselves, the show was an absolute fail—so much so that Collins nearly walked offstage in the middle of the 20-minute set. “It was a disaster really,” he said in a 2014 interview, “It wasn’t my fault it was crap.”

Collins expands on the problems in his candid autobiography:

I know the wheels are falling off from early on in the set. I can’t hear Robert clearly from where I’m sat, but I can hear enough to know that he’s not on top of his game. Ditto Jimmy. I don’t remember playing 'Rock and Roll,' but obviously I did. But I do remember an awful lot of time where I can hear what Robert decries as ‘knitting’: fancy drumming…. you can see me miming, playing the air, getting out of the way lest there be a train wreck. If I’d known it was to be a two-drummer band, I would have removed myself from proceedings long before I got anywhere near Philadelphia.

As for the Zeppelin members proper, Plant and Page had no fond memories of the gig. “It was horrendous,” said Plant in 1988. “Emotionally, I was eating every word that I had uttered. And I was hoarse. I’d done three gigs on the trot before I got to Live Aid.” Page, writes Rolling Stone, “was handed a guitar right before walking onstage that was out of tune.” “My main memories,” he later recalled, “were of total panic.” Apparently, no one thought to ask John Paul Jones about the show.

Barely rehearsed (Jones arrived “virtually the same day as the show”) and with failing monitors ensuring the band could hardly hear themselves, they struggled through “Rock and Roll,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Stairway to Heaven.” The footage, which the band scrapped from the 2004 DVD release, doesn’t show them at their best, for sure, but it’s maybe not quite as bad as they remembered it either (see the full concert above).

In any case, Plant was so inspired that he tried to reunite the band, with Thompson back on drums, in secret rehearsals a few months later. The attempt was “embarrassing,” he’s since said. “We did about two days…. Jonesy played keyboards, I played bass. It sounded like David Byrne meets Hüsker Dü.” Now that is a reunion I’d pay good money to see.

22 years later, at London's O2 Arena, the band was confident and totally on top of their game once again for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert, with Jason Bonham behind the kit. Probably their last performance ever, and it's damned good. See "Black Dog" above and buy the full concert film here.

The clip below lets you see more than 90 minutes of Led Zeppelin reunion concerts. Beyond their Live Aid show, it includes performances at Atlantic Records' 4oth anniversary (1988) and at the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame (1995).

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

William Shatner Is Releasing a Christmas Album with Iggy Pop & Henry Rollins : Get a First Listen to “Jingle Bells”

You know what they say: each year the Christmas season seems to start a little earlier. Here it's not yet October, and already we're hearing "Jingle Bells" — but then, this version doesn't sound quite like any we've heard before. The song comes as the opening number on Shatner Claus: The Christmas Album, which promises exactly what it sounds like it does. Officially dropping on October 26th, it will contain, according to Consequence of Sound, William Shatner's "unique take on 13 holiday staples," and feature guest contributors like Iggy Pop on "Silent Night," ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and former Black Flag frontman and all-around provocateur Henry Rollins on "Jingle Bells," a collaboration you can stream just above.

You may not describe Shatner's distinctive half-singing-half-speaking style as possessed of a great "range," technically speaking, but who can doubt the formidable cultural range of his musical career? On his debut album The Transformed Man fifty years ago he covered the Beatles, ten years later he took on "Rocket Man," and more recently he appeared on Dr. Demento's punk album singing The Cramps' "Garbage Man" with Weird Al Yankovic.

Shatner Claus demonstrates that the former Captain Kirk's interest in punk rock hasn't dissipated, and the pairing of him and no less an icon of that genre makes a certain kind of sense, seeing as both of them have spent decades blurring the performative line between singing and the spoken word, each in his own distinctive way.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that Shatner and Rollins are friends, and have been since they first recorded together on Shatner's album Has Been in 2004. Rollins once described Shatner to rock site Blabbermouth as "extraordinarily friendly, a very energized guy" despite being three decades the  middle-aged Rollins' senior. "He impresses me in that he's a guy who's really figured out what he likes," especially football: "I've been to the Shatner house many times for dinner, for Super Bowl Sunday, for football games. I don't watch football, but I like his friends. I'm a shy person. I don't really go out of my way to hang out but I like him and his wife... and I like all the food he lays out." The vast game-day spreads at chez Shatner have also given Rollins stories to tell at his spoken-word shows, and listening to Shatner Claus, you have to wonder: what must they have for Christmas dinner?

via Consequence of Sound

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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 or on Facebook.

Discover Rare 1980s CDs by Lou Reed, Devo & Talking Heads That Combined Music with Computer Graphics

When it first hit the market in 1982, the compact disc famously promised "perfect sound that lasts forever." But innovation has a way of marching continually on, and naturally the innovators soon started wondering: what if perfect sound isn't enough? What if consumers want something to go with it, something to look at? And so, when compact disc co-developers Sony and Philips updated its standards, they included documentation on the use of the format's channels not occupied by audio data. So was born the CD+G, which boasted "not only the CD's full, digital sound, but also video information — graphics — viewable on any television set or video monitor."

That text comes from a package scan posted by the online CD+G Museum, whose Youtube channel features rips of nearly every record released on the format, beginning with the first, the Firesign Theatre's Eat or Be Eaten.

When it came out, listeners who happened to own a CD+G-compatible player (or a CD+G-compatible video game console, my own choice at the time having been the Turbografx-16) could see that beloved "head comedy" troupe's densely layered studio production and even more densely layered humor accompanied by images rendered in psychedelic color — or as psychedelic as images can get with only sixteen colors available on the palette, not to mention a resolution of 288 pixels by 192 pixels, not much larger than a icon on the home screen of a modern smartphone. Those limitations may make CD+G graphics look unimpressive today, but just imagine what a cutting-edge novelty they must have seemed in the late 1980s when they first appeared.

Displaying lyrics for karaoke singers was the most obvious use of CD+G technology, but its short lifespan also saw a fair few experiments on such other major-label releases, all viewable at the CD+G Museum, as Lou Reed's New York, which combines lyrics with digitized photography of the eponymous city; Talking Heads' Naked, which provides musical information such as the chord changes and instruments playing on each phrase; Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion, which translates the libretto alongside works of art; and Devo's single "Disco Dancer," which tells the origin story of those "five Spudboys from Ohio." With these and almost every other CD+G release available at the CD+G museum, you'll have no shortage of not just background music but background visuals for your next late-80s-early-90s-themed party.

Related Content:

Watch 1970s Animations of Songs by Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce & The Kinks, Aired on The Sonny & Cher Show

The Story of How Beethoven Helped Make It So That CDs Could Play 74 Minutes of Music

Discover the Lost Early Computer Art of Telidon, Canada’s TV Proto-Internet from the 1970s

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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 or on Facebook.

What Makes Edgar Allan Poe So Great? An Animated Video Explains

His gloomy, haunted visage adorns the covers of collected works, publications of whose like he would never see in his lifetime. Edgar Allan Poe died in penury and near-obscurity, and might have been forgotten had his work not been turned into sensationalized, abridged, adaptations posthumously, a fate he might not have wished on his most hated literary rival.

But Poe survived caricature to become known as one of the greatest of American writers in any genre. A pioneer of psychological horror and science fiction, founder of the detective story, poet of loss and mourning, and incisive literary critic whose principles informed his own work so closely that we can use essays like his 1846 “The Philosophy of Composition” as keys to unlock the formal properties of his stories and narrative poems.

In the short TED-Ed video above, scripted by Poe scholar Scott Peeples of the College of Charleston, we are introduced to many of the qualities of form and style that make Poe distinctive, and that made him stand out among a crowd of popular horror writers of the time. There are his principles, elaborated in his essay, which state that one should be able to read a story in one sitting, and that every word in the story must count.

These rules produced what Poe called the “Unity of Effect,” which “goes far beyond fear. Poe’s stories use violence and horror to explore the paradoxes and mysteries of love, grief, and guilt, while resisting simple interpretations or clear moral messages. And while they often hint at supernatural elements, the true darkness they explore is the human mind.”

This observation leads to an analysis of Poe’s unreliable narrators, particularly in stories like The Tell-Tale Heart. But there is another aspect to Poe—one which makes his unreliable voices so compelling. Even when the stories seem incredible, the events bizarre, the narrators maniacal, we believe them wholeheartedly. And this has much to do with the framing conventions Poe uses to draw readers in and implicate them, forcing them to identify with the stories’ tellers.

For example, “Ms. Found in a Bottle,” the very first story in Poe’s posthumous collection, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, opens with an epigraph from French librettist Quinault’s opera Atys, an adaption of one of Ovid's stories. The lines translate to “He who has but a moment to live has no longer anything to dissemble.”

We are invited into a confidence through the doorway of this device—a classical, and neoclassical, reference to truth-telling, a sober, learned literary stamp of authority. As the nameless narrator introduces himself, he makes sure to place himself in another ancient tradition, Pyrrhonism, a skeptical philosophy concerned with epistemology, or how it is we can know what we know.

The narrator assures us that “no person could be less liable than myself to be led away from the severe precincts of truth by the ignes fatui of superstition.” Though we may doubt this bold assertion, and the person making it, we might also be convinced of our own unshakeable rationality and skepticism. These are the moves, to put it plainly, of stage magicians, mountebanks, and confidence men, and Poe was one of the greatest of them all.

He flatters his readers’ intelligence, draws them close enough to see his hands moving, then picks their comfortable assumptions from their pockets. Poe understood what many of his peers did not: readers love to be conned by a juicy yarn, but it must be really good—it must show us something we did not see before, and that we could, perhaps, only look at it indirectly, through a pleasing act of aesthetic (self) deception.

Related Content:

Download The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe on His Birthday

7 Tips from Edgar Allan Poe on How to Write Vivid Stories and Poems

Edgar Allan Poe’s the Raven: Watch an Award-Winning Short Film That Modernizes Poe’s Classic Tale

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





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