Noam Chomsky Almost Appeared on Saturday Night Live During the 90s


Image by jeanbaptisteparis

There are those guest hosts on Saturday Night Live who immediately become exemplary cast members they fit in so well. I’m thinking mostly of Alec Baldwin. Then there are those—certain pop stars and athletes—who are too awkward even to make for unintentional humor. Sometimes the show will choose a host for obvious cultural or political reasons, whether or not that person has any sense of humor whatsoever. Lorne Michaels even once considered asking notoriously stiff then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney to host in 2012, a prospect that excited no one except maybe Romney.

Given the show’s many questionable choices, it’s maybe not too surprising that it would consider asking an academic to host. Some extroverted public intellectuals, like Cornell West and Slavoj Zizeck, are natural entertainers. But that they would think of Noam Chomsky—known for his rumpled sweaters and incisive, unsparing geopolitical analysis, delivered in the driest monotone this side of Ben Stein’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off character—is, well, pretty odd.

It does make a little bit more sense considering that they only asked Professor Chomsky to play himself on the show, not deliver a monologue or do impersonations. According to his assistant Bev Stohl, the show called sometime in the late 90s and told her that the “writers had written a loose script for Noam. The only thing he needed to do was show up on the set and play it straight, answering the questions that were put to him. Sort of like, ‘I’m Noam Chomsky, and I play myself on TV.’” Mostly, writes Stohl on her blog, “I liked the idea of Noam appearing in mainstream media, something that was just beginning to happen in small ways in the 1990’s.”

And how did Chomsky himself feel about the request? It seems he was vaguely familiar with the show and open to the idea. His wife, on the other hand, was not. “After a brief exchange” with her, writes Critical Theory, “he informed Stohl that ‘Carol says no.’” We’ll never know if we were “robbed of either the greatest SNL skit ever” or spared “another terribly unfunny segment,” but the question of whether Chomsky can be funny is still an open one. Matthew Alford at The Guardian writes that during the Q&A after a lecture he attended, “Chomsky was successful not only at conveying his radical political message but also at raising belly laughs from the audience with dark-laced, insightful humour about his politics.” Alford says he measured “a laugh every couple of minutes—very high for a public intellectual but of course not close to the professional comic’s benchmark of one gag every 20 seconds.” He offers some typical Chomsky-an one-liners, such as:

“[The Bush administration’s] moral values are very explicit: shine the boots of the rich and powerful, kick everyone else in the face, and let your grandchildren pay for it.”

“If you’ve resisted the temptation to tell the teacher ‘you’re an asshole’ which maybe he or she is, and if you don’t say ‘that’s idiotic’ when you get a stupid assignment… you will end up at a good college and eventually with a good job.”

And “It’s to the point where Ronald Reagan could put on his cowboy boots and cowboy hat and declare a national emergency because the national security of the United States was in danger from the government of Nicaragua… whose troops were two days from Texas.”

Above, you can catch a glimpse of the lighter side of Chomsky.

via Critical Theory

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

Discover the Church of St. John Coltrane, Founded on the Divine Music of A Love Supreme

For some time now, people like poet Robert Graves and countercultural guru Timothy Leary have assumed that ancient religion and mysticism were the products of mind-altering drugs. But in the case of one modern religious experience—the inspiration behind John Coltrane’s holy four-part suite, A Love Supreme—it was the distinct absence of drugs that lit the flame. Like many recovering addicts, Coltrane found God in 1957, after having what he called in the album’s liner notes “a spiritual awakening.” Seven years later, he dedicated his masterpiece, “a humble, offering,” to the deity he credited with “a richer, fuller, more productive life.” No rote hymnal, chant, or psalter, A Love Supreme offers itself up to the listener as the product of intensely personal devotion. And like the ecstatic revelations of many a saint, Coltrane’s work has inspired its own devotional cult—The Church of St. Coltrane.

Presided over by Bishop Franzo King and his wife Reverend Mother Marina King, the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco reminds people, says Bishop King in the short documentary at the top of the post, “that God is never without a witness. St. John Coltrane is that witness for this time and this age.” Dig. The vibe of the Coltrane congregation is “a rapturous out-of-your-head-ness” writes Aeon magazine in their introduction to another short film about the church. And just above, you can meet more of the worshippers—of the music, its creator, and his god—in “The Saxophone Saint,” yet another profile of St. Coltrane’s prodigious religious influence. The congregation, NPR tells us, “mixes African Orthodox liturgy with Coltrane’s quotes” and of course music, and A Love Supreme is “the cornerstone of the [Bishop King’s] 200-member church.”

King cites the titles of the suite’s four movements—“Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm”—as the basis for his form of worship: “It’s like saying, ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ It’s like saying Melody, harmony and rhythm.’ In other words, you have to acknowledge and then you resolve and then you pursue, and the manifestation of it is a love supreme.” The Kings founded the church in 1969, but their introduction to the power of Coltrane came four years earlier when they saw him perform at the San Francisco Jazz Workshop, an experience they describe on their website as a “sound baptism.” Since its inception, they tell us, the church “has grown beyond the confines of San Francisco to include the whole globe. Every Sunday, the congregation includes members and visitors from throughout the world.”

That diverse assembly recently filled the sanctuary of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral for a service in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme on Monday, December 8th. Just above you can see Bishop King open the service. His inspired delivery should convince you, as it did New York Times reporter Samuel Freedman, that “the Coltrane church is not a gimmick or a forced alloy of nightclub music and ethereal faith. Its message of deliverance through divine sound is actually quite consistent with Coltrane’s own experience and message.” Hear for yourself in the film below of Coltrane playing A Love Supreme live in Antibes, France, the only live performance of the piece he ever gave.

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

John Cage Performs Water Walk on US Game Show I’ve Got a Secret (1960)

Back in 2011, we featured John Cage’s 1960 television performance of his piece Water WalkIts video quality may have left something to be desired, but now, thanks to the YouTube channel of Bard College’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, you can watch the entire ten-minute segment in much crisper quality than most surviving programs from that era. This unlikely happening occurred on I’ve Got a Secret, the long-running occupation-guessing game show whose guest roster also included chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, “fifth Beatle” Pete Best, and fried-chicken icon Colonel Harland Sanders. For this particular episode, wrote Dan Colman in our earlier post, “the TV show offered Cage something of a teachable moment, a chance to introduce the broader public to his brand of avant-garde music.”

For Water Walk, Cage rounded up a variety of “instruments” all to do with that liquid — a bathtub, a pitcher, ice cubes in a mixer — and the unconventional symphony they produce culminates in the Rube Goldbergian mixing of a drink, the sipping of which the composition dictates about two and a half minutes in. Naturally, Cage being Cage, the piece incorporates audience reaction noises; when host Gary Moore warns him that certain members of the studio audience will laugh, Cage responds, “I consider laughter better than tears.”

You can learn more about this intersection of far forward-thinking artistry and the midcentury televisual mainstream in Laura Paolini’s piece “John Cage’s Secret,” available at “At that moment in 1960, a rupture was being deepened,” Paolini writes. “High art and low were becoming more and more comfortable with one another over the airwaves. At this moment, as the screens glow their blue auras into the homes of North America, everyone sees something they haven’t seen before. And everyone has an opinion about it.” And those opinions, I like to think Cage would have said, only extend the art further.

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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.

How to Defeat the US with Math: An Animated North Korean Propaganda Film for Kids

Yes, North Korea won yesterday. Threatening 9/11-like violence, the DPRK scared Sony and America’s four largest theater chains into pulling the plug on the release of The Interview. And, just like that, Americans lost their right to watch their own propaganda films — even dumb funny ones — in their own theaters. But, don’t despair, we can still watch propaganda films from North Korea on YouTube — like the vintage animation for children above. You don’t need to understand what’s being said to get the gist. Take your schoolwork seriously, bone up on your geometry, and you can launch enough missiles to force America into submission. True, geometry doesn’t put you in a good position to hack corporate computers. But seemingly you can get that help from China.

via The Week

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Watch Adam Savage Build Barbarella’s Space Rifle in One Day

In a new video by Tested, Adam Savage (model maker, industrial designer and television personality) shows you how to build a replica of the space rifle from the 1968 sci-fi film Barbarella. To design the replica, Savage had only one document to work with — a photograph showing Jane Fonda holding the gun, which originally appeared on the cover of a 1968 issue of LIFE Magazine. The 77-minute video above takes you inside Savage’s build process, moving from start to finish. If DIY is your thing, you won’t want to miss it.

via Digg

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Lennon or McCartney? 550 Artists Answer the Essential, Timeless Question

Lennon & McCartney — the two musicians came together and composed the most important songbook of the last 50 years. Early on, John and Paul wrote many of their songs together — songs like “She Loves You” and “Eight Days a Week.” Later, as they describe it here, the dynamic changed: one would write the bulk of a song; the other would give it a listen and work out the kinks, adding the right melody, or removing a particularly corny verse. Although the two shared writing credits for all Beatles songs, Lennon principally wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” and “Come Together.” McCartney gave us “Eleanor Rigby,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” and “Penny Lane.” Depending on which you like, you might put yourself in the Lennon or the McCartney camp.

Along the way, we’ve all been asked to take a side, and that applies to musicians too. Above, you can find a 34 minute compilation where musicians and artists — from Lady GaGa to David Byrne — make their pick. And below, in the comments, you’re invited to tell us where you fall — with John or Paul, and why?

Or who is going to offer up George, who, for my money, released the best of the Beatles’ solo albums?

via Metafilter

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Patti Smith’s Musical Tributes to the Russian Greats: Tarkovsky, Gogol & Bulgakov

In 2010, Patti Smith won a National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids, making her, by my count, the only Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member to land that prize. Of course, she’s also the only person I can think of who has appeared in both a movie by Jean-Luc Godard (Film Socialisme) and an episode of Law and Order. And she’s definitely the only rocker out there who has a personal invite from the Pope to play at the Vatican.

Back in the mid-‘70s, Smith fused the noise and urgency of punk rock with spoken word poetry and created something unlike anything before or since. She performed with such intensity on stage that she looked like a modern day shaman in the midst of an ecstatic revelry. Yet she had a literary sensibility that made her stand apart from most of her fellow proto-punks at CBGBs. (The Ramones are awesome but no one is going to parse the lyrics of “Beat on the Brat with a Baseball Bat.”) The B-side track of Smith’s first single, “Piss Factory,” describes the unrelenting tedium she experienced working at a factory before she swiped a copy of Illuminations by French poet Arthur Rimbaud.

While making Film Socialisme with Godard, she conceived of her latest album, Banga, released in 2012. When she started writing songs, she was, as she said in an interview, very interested in Russian culture.

I like my travels to be akin with my studies, and so when I started being smitten with Bulgakov and started reading a lot of Russian literature and then watching a lot of Tarkovsky, being very immersed in Russian culture, I got some jobs in Russia. … But I’ve always done that. We have very idiosyncratic tours – I always make sure that the band does well financially, but a lot of our tours are based on things that I’m studying, and I’ll make choices as to where we go so that I can see something special.

The title track of the work, Banga, is taken from a minor character in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita – Pontus Pilate’s extremely loyal dog who waited centuries for his master to come to heaven. Fun fact: Johnny Depp played drums on this track.

According to the liner notes, the album’s first single, “April Fool” was inspired by novelist Nikolai Gogol. As John Freeman notes in the Moscow Times, a number of lines from the song evoke the writer.

We’ll race through alleyways in tattered coats” is a fairly clear reference to Gogol’s short story “The Overcoat,” while “we’ll burn all of our poems” begs to be considered a nod to the fact that Gogol famously burned the second volume of his great novel “Dead Souls.” That work, one of Russia’s funniest and darkest, is conjured in the lines, “We’ll tramp through the mire when our souls feel dead. With laughter we’ll inspire them back to life again.

And the track “Tarkovsky (The Second Stop Is Jupiter)”, not surprisingly, evokes images from the films of cinematic auteur Andrei Tarkovsky – specifically, his metaphysical sci-fi epic Solaris along with Ivan’s Childhood. Hear the track at the top of this post, and watch Tarkovsky’s films online here.

In case you thought that the album was just about Russians, her song “This is the Girl” is about the life and death of Amy Winehouse, “Fuji-San” is a tribute to the massive 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and “Nine” is a birthday present to Johnny Depp.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Johnny Cash’s Christmas Specials, Featuring June Carter, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman & More (1976-79)

Johnny Cash, outlaw country singer and defiant man in black, comes carefully packaged for many people through the merchandising of his life and image. From t-shirts to posters, documentaries to award-winning biopics, we know about his ornery prison concerts, drug use and arrests, noble championing of the disenfranchised, and dramatic story of pain and redemption. We marveled at the mystique around the aged Cash in his late-life revival. But many of us know little about another side of the man—Johnny Cash, genial TV personality.

If you happened to have been glued to the tube during the seventies and eighties, however, you would know this Johnny Cash well from his cameo appearances on Columbo and Little House on the Prairie. You’d have seen him shilling for Amoco during the gas crisis of the early 70s—a gig he took on during a serious career slump. You’d have maybe caught his recurring role on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, his turn on 1985 mini-series North and South (as John Brown, naturally), as well as a number of film appearances. And that’s not to mention Cash’s own, short-lived variety show, which ran from 1969-71.

If this rather commercial, mainstream Cash seems at odds with the legend, wait till you see The Johnny Cash & Family Christmas Show, which ran each year from 1976-79. Here, writes Dangerous Minds, “Cash gamely refashioned himself as a family-friendly country music TV host” in the vein of Porter Wagoner. It is decidedly “far from the middle-finger Johnny Cash or Folsom Prison Blues”—closer instead to Hee Haw’s Buck Owens and Roy Clark (who appears in the first special at the top). After his marriage to June Carter in 1968, many of his ventures featured the two as a singing duo. Here, they aren’t just man and wife, but “family,” meaning “many of June and Johnny’s wide-ranging clan of relatives are featured.

We’re also treated to appearances from Tony Orlando and Cash’s spiritual mentor Billy Graham (’76), Jerry Lee Lewis (’77), Kris Kristoferson and Steve Martin (’78), and even Andy Kaufman, in character as Taxi’s Latka Gravas (’79). Yes, these may be country corny as all get-out, but they’re also really fun. We get charming, informal goof-offs with June and Johnny, lots of Vegas style comedy bits and lounge routines, and, of course, some stellar musical performances. After his dramatic late-sixties conversion, Cash remained staunchly evangelical to the end of his days. (Hear him read The New Testament here.) But rather than rail at secularists in his Christmas specials, he treats the holiday as a laid-back occasion for food (“snake ‘n’ potatoes”), laughs, friends and family, and all-star sing alongs by the fire. Hop on over to Dangerous Minds to see all four specials.

via Dangerous Minds

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

Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christmas Carol Just as Dickens Read It

gaiman dickens

Image by New York Public Library

Last Christmas, we featured Charles Dickens’ hand-edited copy of his beloved 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. He did that hand editing for the purposes of giving public readings, a practice that, in his time, “was considered a desecration of one’s art and a lowering of one’s dignity.” That time, however, has gone, and many of the most prestigious writers alive today take the reading aloud of their own work to the level of art, or at least high entertainment, that Dickens must have suspected one could. Some writers even do a bang-up job of reading other writers’ work: modern master storyteller Neil Gaiman gave us a dose of that on Monday when we featured his recitation of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” from memory. Today, however, comes the full meal: Gaiman’s telling of A Christmas Carol straight from that very Dickens-edited reading copy.

Gaiman read to a full house at the New York Public Library, an institution known for its stimulating events, holiday-themed or otherwise. But he didn’t have to hold up the afternoon himself; taking the stage before him, BBC researcher and The Secret Museum author Molly Oldfield talked about her two years spent seeking out fascinating cultural artifacts the world over, including but not limited to the NYPL’s own collection of things Dickensian. You can hear both Oldfield and Gaiman in the recording above. But perhaps the greatest gift of all came in the form of the latter’s attire for his reading: not only did he go fully Victorian, he even went to the length of replicating the 19th-century literary superstar’s own severe hair part and long goatee. And School Library Journal has pictures.

The story really gets started around the 11:25 mark. Gaiman’s reading will be added to our list of Free Audio Books. You can find the text of Dickens’ classic in our collection, 700 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

via Den of Geek/BrainPickings

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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.

David Lynch’s Music Videos: Nine Inch Nails, Moby, Chris Isaak & More

David Lynch gets sound like few other directors. There’s an unforgettable scene in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me where Laura Palmer leads her best friend Donna Hayward into what looks like a den of iniquity for lumberjacks. It’s filled with burly men and cheap women grinding to music blaring from the speakers. Lynch lets the music roll right over top the dialogue. It was a shocking choice back in 1992 but it was the right one. The banter was intentionally banal and obscure. The grotesque faces, the ominous crimson lighting and, most of all, that utterly hypnotic music are all you need to tell the story, creating a mood of dread and decadence. The scene is a stunning fusion of image, sound and editing in an otherwise flawed work.

Since that movie, Lynch became more and more interested in the possibilities of sound design. He eventually ditched film altogether for a career in music. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, along with creating at least three cinematic masterpieces, one of the most influential TV series ever made, and a string of television commercials, Lynch has also made a handful of music videos. You can watch them above and below.

Lynch’s first music video was for “I Predict” by the band The Sparks. It was made back in 1982 when MTV was still in its infancy and Lynch’s career was just taking off. Perhaps for that reason, the video has little of the stylistic obsessions that mark his later work. No weird flashing lights. No smoke or fire. No hollow-eyed models. Instead Lynch goes for a more direct, if silly, form of surrealism – a guy (band member Ron Mael) with a Hitler mustache in drag doing a striptease. Does it feel Lynchian? No, not really. But it’s still kind of distressing.

There are two videos for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games.” One, which was on heavy rotation on MTV, was shot by Herb Ritts and featured Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen rolling around half-naked in the Hawaiian surf. And then there is Lynch’s video made as a tie-in to his strange, Wizard of Oz obsessed noir Wild at Heart, which has much less nudity – which is odd considering the movie is pretty much non-stop boinking. Instead, the video is pretty straightforward – just Isaaks and the band playing the tune intercut with shots from the flick.

After Mulholland Drive, Lynch turned his back on celluloid film, preferring the endless possibilities of digital. His enthusiasm for this new technology resulted in a flurry of projects including Dumbland, a crudely animated series presented in stark black and white. The video of Moby’s “Shot in the Back of the Head” is a moodier animated work but it is definitely in the same vein. Check it out above.

Lynch’s video for Nine Inch Nail’s “Came Back Haunted” can quite literally mess with your head. The piece is packed with flashing red and white lights and as a result comes with the following warning: “This video has been identified by Epilepsy Action to potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Viewer discretion is advised.” You have been warned.

And finally here’s a music video for Lynch’s own song called appropriately “Crazy Clown Time.” Not only is the video a catalogue Lynch’s obsessions – Americana, naked women, fire – but it also features Lynch singing, who, after a bunch of effects, sounds like a castrated Keebler Elf.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.