Noam Chomsky Went Gangnam Style … Ever So Briefly?

I'm usually pretty dialed into this stuff, but somehow this one slipped by me last fall. During the Gangnam Style craze, MIT shot a parody video where Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, made a cameo appearance. Maybe it slipped by me because the appearance is brief. About 5 seconds, starting at the 3:20 mark. We were on the ball enough, however, to spot another parody by Ai Weiwei and then we had Slavoj Žižek demystifying the whole Gangnam Style phenomenon, complete with wild hand gesticulations and frantic rubs of the nose. Anyway, one day this will make for some good archival footage -- public intellectual meets international pop culture craze -- so we're adding it to the trove.

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The Lost/Animated Interview with Fidel Castro: If the Revolution Fails, Cuba Will be “Hell Itself” (1959)

"If this Revolution falls, what we will have here in Cuba is a hell," Fidel Castro said in Havana in 1959. "Hell itself."

Castro was 32 when he made the proclamation during an interview recorded just weeks after the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista. The new Cuba was still taking shape after the revolution led by the 26th of July Movement. Castro spoke extensively about his vision for Cuba during a 35-minute interview with an American journalist that has never been heard publicly until now.

The interview was discovered a few years ago when Laura Galloway found a tape in her late grandfather's archives that simply said "Galloway/Castro." Clark Hewitt Galloway was the intra-American affairs editor for U.S. News and World Report. Galloway covered Latin and South America for the magazine after serving in the same region with the U.S. Army Intelligence corps during WWII. Blank on Blank's new episode for its PBS series animates the story behind the tape and a collection of outtakes from the interview. Castro talks about: why Che Guevara, Raul Castro and the 26th of July Movement were not Communist; and why Cuba had issues with the American presence in the Guantanamo Naval Base and, specifically, American sailors stirring up trouble while out on the town in Guantanamo.

Blank on Blank has also posted the entire 35-minute interview in Spanish with the English translation by Sebastian Betti. During the full interview, Castro goes into great detail about how the Cuban economy would be rebuilt and how the agrarian reform plan would be put into effect. He disputes whether American interests in Cuba would be nationalized. And he downplays the idea of being asked to be a presidential candidate.

The release of this unearthed interview comes as Castro's brother, Raul, just gave a lengthy speech about the demise of Cuban culture and conduct despite what the revolution has brought to the country.

This post was brought to you by David Gerlach, the founder of Blank on Blank.

Guitar Stories: Mark Knopfler on the Six Guitars That Shaped His Career

When Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler was a kid growing up in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, he dreamed about getting his own guitar. "I remember standing outside music stores with my nose pressed up against the glass, just staring at those electric guitars," he told People magazine in 1985. "I used to smell Fender catalogs, I wanted one so bad." Knopfler eventually talked his father into buying him a Höfner Super Solid V2 guitar for £50. The only problem was, it didn't come with an amplifier. "I didn't have the nerve to ask poor old dad for an amp," Knopfler says in the documentary above. "I blew up the family radio in fairly short order."

Knopfler tells the story of that first guitar and five others that shaped his career in this fascinating 45-minute documentary that aired in Britain last October on the Sky Arts television channel. Guitar Stories: Mark Knopfler is hosted by Knopfler's friend and co-founder of Dire Straits, bassist John Illsley. The film offers a number of insights into Knopfler's music and the key instruments that influenced his evolving style.

From the opening scenes at a music shop in Newcastle's Central Arcade, where the young Knopfler spent hours staring at guitars through windows, Illsley and Knopfler move on to the city of Leeds, where Knopfler once worked as a junior reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post. There they meet up with his longtime friend and mentor Steve Phillips, a member of Knopfler's post-Dire Straits band The Notting Hillbillies. An aficionado of the Delta Blues, Phillips introduced the young Knopfler to the distinctive sound of  "resonator" acoustic guitars.

Although it wasn't the first resonator guitar he ever owned, Knopfler chooses as his second key guitar a 1937 National Style "O" guitar he bought from Phillips in 1978. The distinctive nickel-plated brass guitar, with its palm tree etchings around the edges and on the back, was featured on the cover of Dire Straits' bestselling 1985 album Brothers in Armsand was used for some of the band's best songs. At one point in the film, Knopfler picks up the National and demonstrates how he hit on the famous arpeggio lines in "Romeo and Juliet," from the Making Movies album, while experimenting with an open G tuning.

From Leeds, Illsley and Knopfler travel to the location of the original Pathway Studios in London, where they recorded their 1978 debut album, Dire Straits. Knopfler picks up his third key guitar, a 1961 Fender Stratocaster, and plays a few notes from the band's breakthrough song, "Sultans of Swing." The Stratocaster was the guitar Knopfler had always wanted, but as his music progressed he sought to diversify his sound. Knopfler's fourth key guitar, which he played on Brothers in Arms, is a sunburst 1958 Gibson Les Paul. In one particularly interesting moment in the film, Knopfler explains how he came up with the distinctive guitar sound for the hit song "Money for Nothing" by playing the Les Paul through a static, partly depressed wah-wah pedal.

While touring with Dire Straits, Knopfler found it difficult to constantly change back and forth between guitars, so he decided to look for a single guitar that could produce a variety of sounds. To explain what happened next, Knopfler and Illsley travel to the SoHo neighborhood of New York, where they pay a visit to Rudy's Music on Broome Street and talk to the proprietor, Knopfler's longtime friend Rudy Pensa, who has built custom guitars since 1982. Knopfler and Pensa describe their collaboration on the design of Knopfler's fifth key guitar, the Pensa MK-1, which he played during his final years with Dire Straits.

The film ends with a visit to the Long Island workshop of master luthier John Monteleone. In 2008 Monteleone built the sixth key guitar in Knopfler's life, the acoustic "Isabella" archtop, named after Knopfler's eldest daughter. Knopfler was so inspired by Monteleone's craftsmanship that he wrote a song called "Monteleone" for his 2009 solo album, Get Lucky. The song speaks eloquently of Knopfler's admiration of Monteleone and, between the lines perhaps, of his lifelong love affair with guitars:

via MetaFilter

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J.R.R. Tolkien Reads From The Two Towers, the Second Book of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Tolkien fans, tell me: were you disappointed with the first installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit film trilogy? Did you find it as lumbering and clumsy as a trio of cockney trolls, or as ugly as a bug-eyed and be-wattled goblin king? Pining away for the days when The Lord of the Rings films were the go-to pop-culture fantasy references—before, say, Twilight harshed that buzz? Well, I could recommend to you some of the fan-made films that stepped in to fill the LOTR void in recent years. There’s the not-very-good Born of Hope and the very much better The Hunt for Gollum. I’ve seen them both because, well…. I just needed to is all.

But there is another way. I know it’s perverse, possibly subversive, and maybe, just maybe, even dangerous. Turn off the computer and open the books up again—your yellowed, crumbly paperbacks, your Barnes & Noble economy re-issue editions (I won’t judge), hell, turn on the Kindle. Savor the languages Tolkien invented and the English that he re-invented, immerse yourself in a literary world at once utterly fantastic and perfectly morally serious. Do that, and your craving for spectacle may vanish, maybe replaced by a craving for more Tolkien—like his retelling of events in the Norse Edda saga in his Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.

And while you’re reading up on that one, listen to the audio above of Tolkien himself reading from Chapter IV of The Two Towers. The richness of his English voice makes me wish we had recordings of him reading all three novels, but we must work with what we’ve got, and it is good. Enjoy.

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


Beethoven’s Ode to Joy Played With 167 Theremins Placed Inside Matryoshka Dolls in Japan

Props go to Mental Floss for coming up with this unexpected find. Back in 2011, in Tokyo, 167 musicians performed some classic Beethoven with the "Matryomin," a new-fangled instrument that lodges a theremin inside a matryoshka. A matryoshka, of course, is one of those Russian nested dolls where you find wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. As for the theremin, it's a century-old electronic musical instrument that requires no physical contact from the player. You can watch its inventor, Leon Theremin, give it a demo in the vintage video below. And via these links you can see the Matryomin Ensemble performing versions of Amazing Grace and Memory of Russia.

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See What Happens When You Run Finnegans Wake Through a Spell Checker

Spell Check

Reading James Joyce's Ulysses is no walk in the park. Why else would so many people falsely claim to have read it. (See our post from last week, 20 Books People Pretend to Read.) But Finnegans Wake is a whole 'nother deal. Joyce's final work is considered one of the most difficult works of fiction ever written, and contrary to Ulysses, the novel "has some claim to be the least read major work of Western literature," according to Joyce scholar Lee Spink. Put simply, people don't even bother reading ... or pretending to read ... Finnegans Wake (unless, of course, they live in China, where the novel reached the #2 position on a Shanghai bestseller list earlier this year.)

But I digress: why don't readers even give Finnegans Wake a shot? The illustration above perhaps says it all. The web site has created a visual showing what happens when you run a page of the novel through a spell checker. It yields a lot of red, and then some more red. A framable print of this visual can be purchased at stammpunct for $35.

Copies of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake can be downloaded from our collection of Free eBooks. And you can hear James Joyce reading ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ from Finnegans Wake here. It was recorded in 1929.

via The Paris Review

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Spike Lee Shares His NYU Teaching List of 87 Essential Films Every Aspiring Director Should See

I’m sure you’ve heard by now: wealthy, successful film director Spike Lee hopes to fund his next film via a Kickstarter campaign. Yes, that’s right, he wants you to pay for his art. His campaign, perhaps needless to say, is hardly popular with the average film fan, many of whom find it hard enough to scrounge up the skyrocketing prices of tickets these days. Lee has responded to his critics, but somehow I doubt his reasoning will go over well.

But we’re not here to talk about alleged crowdfunding abuses (have at it in the comments if you must). Instead, today we have for you—in the tradition of our many posts on famous teachers’ syllabi—one of Lee’s teaching tools in his role as an NYU professor. Where all of our previous posts have featured reading lists, Lee's is a list of films, which he hands out to all of the students who take his graduate class--not required viewing, but recommended as "essential" for every aspiring director.

lee essential.jpg.CROP.article568-large

In the video at the top of the post, see Lee introduce the list of what he considers, “the greatest films ever made." "If you want to be a filmmaker," he says, "you should see these films." The list, above and continued below, includes some of the usual critical favorites—Rashomon, Vertigo, On the Waterfront—and some pretty left field choices, like Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.

Slate, which first published the list, notes the omission of usually revered directors like Howard Hawks, John Ford, Fritz Lang, and Yasujirō Ozu as well as the paucity—or near non-existence—of female directors (only one makes the list, the co-director of City of God). In addition to possibly ranting about, or defending, Lee’s use of Kickstarter, many of you may find yourselves quibbling over, or defending, his definition of “essential." And so, I say again, have at it, readers!

Note: When Spike originally released this list, many noted the lack of female filmmakers. Lee accepted that critique and released an updated list. Find it here.

lee essential 2.jpg.CROP.article568-large

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

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