Hear a Six-Hour Mix Tape of Hunter S. Thompson’s Favorite Music & the Songs Name-Checked in His Gonzo Journalism

Of all the musical moments in Hunter S. Thompson's formidable corpus of "gonzo journalism," which one comes most readily to mind? I would elect the scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when Thompson's alter-ego Raoul Duke finds his attorney "Dr. Gonzo" in the bathtub, "submerged in green water — the oily product of some Japanese bath salts he'd picked up in the hotel gift shop, along with a new AM/FM radio plugged into the electric razor socket. Top volume. Some gibberish by a thing called 'Three Dog Night,' about a frog named Jeremiah who wanted 'Joy to the World.' First Lennon, now this, I thought. Next we'll have Glenn Campbell screaming 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?'"

But Dr. Gonzo, his state even more altered than usual, really wants to hear only one song: Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." He wants "a rising sound," and what's more, he demands that "when it comes to that fantastic note where the rabbit bites its own head off," Duke throw the radio in the tub with him.

Duke refuses, explaining that "it would blast you right through the wall — stone-dead in ten seconds." Yet Dr. Gonzo, who insists he just wants to get "higher," will have none of it, forcing Duke to engage in trickery that takes to a new depth the book's already-deep level of craziness. Such, at the time, was the power of not just drugs but of the even more mind-altering product known as music.

Nothing evokes a period of recent history more vividly than its songs, especially in the case of the 1960s and early 1970s that Thompson's prose captured with such improbable eloquence. Now, thanks to London's NTS Radio (they of the spiritual jazz and Haruki Murakami mixes), you can spend a good six hours in that Thompsonian period whenever you like by streaming their Hunter S. Thompson Day, consisting of two three-hour mixes composed by Edu Villarroel, creator of the Spotify playlist "Gonzo Tapes: Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!" Both that playlist and these mixes feature many of the 60s names you might expect: not just Jefferson Airplane but Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Cream, Captain Beefheart, and many more besides.

Those artists appear on one particularly important source for these mixes, Thompson's list of the ten best albums of the 60s. But Hunter S. Thompson Day also offers deeper cuts of Thompsoniana as well, including pieces of Terry Gilliam's 1998 film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as well as clips from other media in which the real Thompson appeared, in fully gonzo character as always. Villarroel describes these mixes as "best served with a couple tabs of sunshine acid, tall glass of Wild Turkey with ice and Mezcal on the side," but you may well derive a similar experience from listening while partaking of another powerful substance: Thompson's writing, still so often imitated without ever replicating its effect, which you can get started reading here on Open Culture.

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

18 Classic Myths Explained with Animation: Pandora’s Box, Sisyphus & More

Greek myths have an incredible shelf life.

We may not retain all the players’ names or the intricacies of the various plot lines, but the creative punishments the gods—Zeus, in particular—visited upon those who displeased them have provided modern mortals with an enduring shorthand for describing our own woes.

Tempted to sneak a peek inside a lover’s diary? Take a teeny swig from the liquor cabinet whilst housesitting? Go snooping in your teenager’s Internet history?


But if curiosity compels you to explore beyond the famous punchlines of mythology’s greatest hits, TED-Ed’s animated Myths from Around the World series is a recommended rummage.

Averaging around five minutes per tale, each episode is packed tight as a snake in a can of mixed nuts. Prepare to be surprised by some of the tidbits that come springing out.

Take Pandora’s box, above.

(Actually it was a jar, but why quibble?)

Not to unleash too many major spoilers, but how many of us remembered that the thing contained a bit of good along with all that evil?

Or that the vessel she wasn’t allowed to open was but one of many gifts the gods bestowed upon her at birth? In fact, Zeus gave her two presents, that pretty box, jar, whatever, and—wait for it—an irrepressibly inquisitive nature.

Or the close connection between Pandora and Prometheus? Zeus conceived of Pandora as a retribution for Prometheus stealing fire and returning it to earth.

Remember Prometheus?

No, not the guy who’s doomed to spend his life rolling a massive rock uphill, only to have it roll back down before he reaches the top. That’s Sisyphus, as in Sisyphean task, like laundry or cleaning the cat litter.

Prometheus is the Titan who winds up chained to a rock so Zeus can send a hungry vulture—some say eagle—to devour his liver once a day.

(Which kind of puts the cat litter in perspective.)

In addition to ancient Greek crowd pleasers, the 18-episode Myths from Around the World playlist delves into the familiar stuff of Norse, Chinese, and ancient Egyptian legends, as well as less widely known Cambodian and Irish tales.

Each video’s description has a link to a full Ted-Ed lesson, with the usual complement of quizzes, resources and opportunities for teacher customization.

Watch the full playlist here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this March. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Last Time Peter Tork (RIP) & The Monkees Played Together During Their 1960s Heyday: It’s a Psychedelic Freakout

Peter Tork died yesterday at age 77. You might not have heard the news over the deafening alarms in your social media feeds lately. But a muted response is also noteworthy because of the way Tork’s fame imploded at the end of the sixties, at a time when he might have become the kind of rock star he and his fellow Monkees had proved they could become, all on their own, without the help of any studio trickery, thanks very much. The irony of making this bold statement with a feature film was not lost on the band at all.

The film was Head, co-written and co-produced by Jack Nicholson, who appears alongside the Monkees, Teri Garr, Annette Funicello, Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard, among many other famous guest stars and musicians. Dennis Hopper and Toni Basil pop up, and the soundtrack, largely written and played by the band, is a truly groovy psych rock masterpiece and their last album to feature Tork until a reunion in the mid-80s.

Head was a weird, cynical, embittered, yet brilliant, attempt to torpedo everything the Monkees had been to their fans—teen pop idols and goofy Beatles rip-offs at a time when The Beatles had maybe gotten too edgy for some folks. And while it may have taken too much of a toll on the band, especially Tork, for them to recover, it's clear that they had an absolute blast making both the movie and the record, even as their professional relationships collapsed.

Tork’s best songwriting contribution to Head, and maybe to the Monkees catalog on the whole, is “Can You Dig It,” a meditation on “it” that takes what might have been cheap hipster appropriation in a funky, pseudo-deep, vaguely Eastern direction free of guile—it’s light and breezy, like the Monkees, but also sinister and slinky, like Donovan or the folk rock of Brian Jones, and also spidery and jangly like Roger McGuinn. In the estimation of many a psychedelic rock fan, this is music that deserves a place beside its obvious influences. That Monkees fans could not dig it at the time only reflects poorly on them, but since some of them were fans of what they thought was a slapstick comedy troupe or a backup act for dreamy Davy Jones, they can hardly be blamed.

Cast as the Ringo of the gang (The Monkees and Head director Bob Rafelson compared him to Harpo Marx), Tork brought to it a similarly serious whimsy, and when he was finally allowed to show what he could do—both as a musician and a songwriter—he more than acquitted himself. Where Ringo mastered idiot savant one-liners, Tork excelled in the kind of oblique riffs that characterized his playing—he was the least talented vocalist in the band, but the most talented musician and the only one allowed to play on the band’s first two records. Tork played bass, guitar, keyboards, banjo, harpsichord, and other instruments fluently. He honed his craft, and his “lovable dummy” persona on Greenwich Village coffeehouse stages.

It’s not hard to argue that the Monkees rose above their TV origins to become bona fide pop stars with the songwriting and promotional instincts to match, but Head, both film and album, make them a band worth revisiting for all sorts of other reasons. Now a widely-admired cult classic, in 1968, the movie “surfaced briefly and then sank like a costumed dummy falling into a California canal,” writes Petra Mayer at NPR, in reference to Head’s first scene, in which Micky Dolenz appears to commit suicide. If the Monkees had been trying in earnest to do the same to their careers, they couldn’t have had more success. Head cost $750,000 and made back $16,000. “It was clear they were in free fall,” Andy Greene writes at Rolling Stone.

“After that debacle,” writes Greene, they could have tried a return to the original formula to recoup their losses, but instead “they decided to double down on psychedelic insanity” in an NBC television special, 33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee, greenlighted that year after the huge chart success of “Daydream Believer.” Tork had already announced that he was leaving the band as the cameras rolled on the very loosely plotted variety show. He stuck around till the end of filming, however, and played the last live performance with The Monkees for almost 20 years in the bang-up finale of “Listen to the Band” (top) which “quickly devolves into a wild psychedelic freakout crammed with guest stars.” Tork, behind the keys, first turns the downbeat Neil Young-like, Nesmith-penned tune into the rave-up it becomes. It’s a glorious send-off for a version of the Monkees people weren’t ready to hear in '68.

via Rolling Stone

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

Has the Voynich Manuscript Finally Been Decoded?: Researchers Claim That the Mysterious Text Was Written in Phonetic Old Turkish

There are still several ancient languages modern scholars cannot decipher, like Minoan hieroglyphics (called Linear A) or Khipu, the intricate Incan system of writing in knots. These symbols contain within them the wisdom of civilizations, and there’s no telling what might be revealed should we learn to translate them. Maybe scholars will only find accounting logs and inventories, or maybe entirely new ways of perceiving reality. When it comes, however, to a singularly indecipherable text, the Voynich Manuscript, the language it contains encodes the wisdom of a solitary intelligence, or an obscure, hermitic community that seems to have left no other trace behind.

Composed around the year 1420, the 240-page manuscript appears to be in dialogue with medieval medical and alchemical texts of the time, with its zodiacs and illustrations botanical, pharmaceutical, and anatomical. But its script only vaguely resembles known European languages.

So it has seemed for the 300 years during which scholars have tried to solve its riddles, assuming it to be the work of mystics, magicians, witches, or hoaxers. Its language has been variously said to come from Latin, Sino-Tibetan, Arabic, and ancient Hebrew, or to have been invented out of whole cloth. None of these theories (the Hebrew one proposed by Artificial Intelligence) has proven conclusive.

Maybe that’s because everyone’s got the basic approach all wrong, seeing the Voynich’s script as a written language rather than a phonetic transliteration of speech. So says the Ardiç family, a father and sons team of Turkish researchers who call themselves Ata Team Alberta (ATA) and claim in the video above to have “deciphered and translated over 30% of the manuscript.” Father Ahmet Ardiç, an electrical engineer by trade and scholar of Turkish language by passionate calling, claims the Voynich script is a kind of Old Turkic, “written in a ‘poetic’ style,” notes Nick Pelling at the site Cipher Mysteries, “that often displays ‘phonemic orthography,’” meaning the author spelled out words the way he, or she, heard them.

Ahmet noticed that the words often began with the same characters, then had different endings, a pattern that corresponds with the linguistic structure of Turkish. Furthermore, Ozan Ardiç informs us, the language of the Voynich has a “rhythmic structure,” a formal, poetic regularity. As for why scholars, and computers, have seen so many other ancient languages in the Voynich, Ahmet explains, “some of the Voynich characters are also used in several proto-European and early Semitic languages.” The Ardiç family will have their research vetted by professionals. They’ve submitted a formal paper to an academic journal at Johns Hopkins University.

Their theory, as Pelling puts it, may be one more “to throw onto the (already blazing) hearth” of Voynich speculation. Or it may turn out to be the final word on the translation. Prominent Medieval scholar Lisa Fagin Davis, head of the Medieval Academy of America—who has herself cast doubt on another recent translation attempt—calls the Ardiçs’ work “one of the few solutions I’ve seen that is consistent, is repeatable, and results in sensical text.”

We don’t learn many specifics of that text in the video above, but if this effort succeeds, and it seems promising, we could see an authoritative translation of the Voynich, though there will still remain many unanswered questions, such as who wrote this strange, sometimes fantastical manuscript, and to what end?

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

Hear the First Musical Composition Created by a Computer: The Illiac Suite (1956)

Think “Generative Music” and what may come to mind is Brian Eno, pushing a button and letting music flow from his studio computer. But the idea is much older than that.

The “Illiac Suite” from 1952 is named after the cash-register-looking ILLIAC computer on which it was composed, and is one of the first examples of bringing computer programming into the task of creating music within some well defined parameters. The resulting score was then played by humans. You can hear the first experiment above.

The programmers were Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson, who met at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, where the ILLIAC computer was built. Interestingly, Hiller considered himself a chemist first, a composer second. He had studied classical composition under Milton Babbitt and, even while working at DuPont labs in Virginia, was composing string quartets and vocal works. Babbitt and other teachers had encouraged him to keep composing even while he turned to chemistry. Perhaps they knew that the art and the science would dovetail?

Because indeed they did. While working on the ILLIAC, Hiller realized that the methodology he was using in chemistry problems were the same as those used by composers, and decided to experiment. Isaacson would help program the new computer.

The first experiment sounds the most traditional, the most like Bach. The two created simple rules: a melody that only used notes within an octave, harmonies that tended towards the major and the minor with no dissonance, and a few other parameters.

The second experiment featured four-voice polyphony with slightly more complex rules. The third experiment is where it gets interesting, and starts to sound very “modern,” very Penderecki. Here Hiller and Isaacson tried to introduce rhythm and dynamics, although admittedly they had to shape a lot of the decisions outside the program and introduce some corrective algorithms.

The fourth and final experiment was to then replace the “musical” rules of the first three with rules from non-musical disciplines, and to show that a score could be created from pretty much anything. Hiller and Isaacson used Markov Chains to compose the final more repetitive and pulsing piece. (Markov Chains are beyond the scope of this article, but we encounter them when Google ranks search results or when our iPhones predict what we are going to type next.)

The first three scores were then performed by members of the University’s student orchestra in August of 1956 while the fourth was being completed. The finished works caught the interest of Vladimir Ussachevsky, who would set up the influential Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City and begin releasing his own compositions the following year.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

23 Million Patrons of California’s Public Libraries Can Now Read The New York Times for Free Online

More and more, you can get access to valuable electronic resources through your friendly local library. In the past, we've mentioned how anyone with a New York Public Library card can get free access to thousands of ebooks, more than 30,000 movies (including many classics from the Criterion Collection), and even suits and briefcases for job interviews.

Many public libraries also now give patrons access to Kanopy, the provider of high-quality documentaries, indie and classic films. Take for example this collection of classic and contemporary German films.

Now consider this: The New York Times announced this week that nearly 1,200 public libraries across California will offer their 23 million patrons free access to the New York Times online. They write:

California’s 23 million library card holders in the state may access NYTimes.com by visiting nytimes.com/register on a library computer, or on their own device while connected to the library’s Wi-Fi. Library card holders can access nytimes.com from anywhere through their library’s website.” Residents without a library card may visit their local branch to apply for one. The program will also include monthly events at select library branches.

For more information, visit this page. And if you know of other great deals offered by public libraries, please mention them in the comments section below.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via David Beard

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The History of Ancient Greece in 18 Minutes: A Brisk Primer Narrated by Brian Cox

Ancient Greece never existed. Before you click away, fearing a truly brazen attempt at historical revisionism, let's put that statement in context. Ancient Greece "was no state with an established border or capital, but rather a multitude of distinct and completely independent cities." So says the video above, "Ancient Greece in 18 Minutes," which makes historical corrections — and often humorous ones — to that and a variety of other common misperceptions about perhaps the main civilizations to give rise to Western culture as we know it.

"We might think we already know everything about Ancient Greece," says the video's narrator, actor Brian Cox. "The Parthenon, the 300 Spartans, and blind Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are familiar to all, yet there were far more than 300 Spartans, the Parthenon was actually built as a kind of central bank, and no such unified state as ancient Greece, with Athens as its capital, ever existed."

Some of our unwarranted intellectual confidence about Ancient Greece surely comes from the movies that draw on its history and its stories, such as the comic-book Battle of Thermopylae dramatization 300 or, a couple years earlier, Troy, which delivered Homer's Iliad in true Hollywood fashion — with Cox himself as Agamemnon, commander of the united Greek forces in the Trojan War.

That nine-year long siege, of course, figures into "Ancient Greece in 18 Minutes" as one of its most important episodes. The other chapters cover the Creto-Mycenaean era that preceded Ancient Greece, the barbarian attacks that plunged the region into a 400-year dark age, the Archaic Period that saw the beginning of Greece's far-flung agriculture-driven colonization, the rise of the famous Athens and Sparta, the Graeco-Persian Wars (as seen, in a sense, in 300), the Golden Age of Athens (the age of the construction of the Parthenon, without which "the Greek classics wouldn't have existed at all: no sculpture, drama, philosophy"), the Peloponnesian War, and the time of Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great died young in 323 BC, and Ancient Greece as we conceive of it today is thought not to have survived him. But in another sense, it not only survived but thrived: the Romans conquered Greece in 146 BC, but "Greek culture was victorious even here: spread by the Romans, it finally conquered the world. Romans began to read The Iliad and Odyssey in Greek, followed by the Greek New Testament." (You can find out much more about the Romans in the same creators' video "Ancient Rome in 20 Minutes.") When in 330 the Roman emperor Constantine built his new capital on the site of the Greek colony of Byzantium, he started the Byzantine Empire, "which extended the life of Greek culture another thousand years." This left a formidable cultural legacy of its own — including, as this Russian-made video makes a special point of telling us, "the weird Russian alphabet."

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

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