Harvard Students Perform Amazing Boomwhacker Covers of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,” Toto’s “Africa” & More

Shortly before he died, Queen’s frontman, Freddie Mercury, famously remarked, "Do whatever you want with my life and my music, just don't make it boring.”

Mission accomplished, thanks to the Harvard Undergraduate Drummers, more commonly known as THUD.

The ensemble, which rehearses weekly, is willing to consider anything with percussive potential—plastic cups, chalkboards, buckets—as an instrument, but is best known for its virtuoso boomwhacker performances.

boomwhacker, for the uninitiated, is a lightweight, hollow plastic tube, whose length determines its musical pitch. When smacked against hand or thigh, it produces a pleasingly resonant sound. Color-coding helps players keep track of which boomwhacker to reach for during a fast-paced, precisely orchestrated number.

In theory, boomwhackers are simple enough for a child to master, but THUD takes things to a loftier plateau with custom crafted sheet music systemized so that no one player gets stuck with an impossibly complex task.




“A lot of it really comes down to feel and muscle memory,” THUD’s assistant director Ben Palmer told The Irish Examiner. “After playing the song enough and internalising it, we have a sense of where our notes come in. Also, many times our parts will play off each other, so we give each other cues by looking at each other just before we play.”

(That Kermit the Frog-like voice chiming in on THUD’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" cover, which many viewers have mistaken for an obnoxious audience member getting a little too into the proceedings, is actually an ensemble member helping the others stay the course.

As serious as the group is about rehearsal and providing local school kids with free interactive music lessons, their live shows lean in to the silliness inherent in their chosen instrument.

This good humored self-awareness defuses the snarkier comments on their YouTube channel (“So this is why Harvard's tuition is so expensive…”)

Check out more THUD performances on the group’s YouTube channel, or help defray their operating costs with a pledge to their Patreon.

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The Health Benefits of Drumming: Less Stress, Lower Blood Pressure, Pain Relief, and Altered States of Consciousness

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Lemony Snicket Reveals His Edward Gorey Obsession in an Upcoming Animated Documentary

Had the gloom-haunted Edward Gorey found a way to have a love child with Dorothy Parker, their issue might well have been Lemony Snicket, the pseudonymous author of a multivolume family chronicle brought out under the genteel appellation A Series of Unfortunate Events

- Gregory Maguire, The New York Times

Author Daniel Handleraka Lemony Snicket—was but a child when he fortuitously stumbled onto the curious oeuvre of Edward Gorey.

The little books were illustrated, hand-lettered, and mysterious. They alluded to terrible things befalling innocents in a way that made young Handler laugh and want more, though he shied from making such a request of his parents, lest the books constitute pornography.

(His fear strikes this writer as wholly reasonable—my father kept a copy of The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Wearyaka Edward Gorey—stashed in the bathroom of my childhood home. Its perversions were many, though far from explicit and utterly befuddling to a third grade bookworm. The exceedingly economical text hinted at a multitude of unfamiliar taboos, and Gorey the illustrator understood the value of a well-placed ornamental urn.)




Interviewed above for Christopher Seufert’s upcoming feature-length Gorey documentary, Handler is effusive about the depth of this early influence:

The gothic setting. (Handler always fancied that an in-person meeting with Gorey would resemble the first 20 minutes of a Hammer horror movie.)

The dark, unwinking humor arising from a plot as grim as that of The Hapless Childor The Blue Aspicthe first title young Handler purchased with his own money.

An intentionally murky pseudonym geared to ignite all manner of wildly readerly speculation as to the author’s lifestyle and/or true identity. (Gorey attributed various of his works to Dogear Wryde, Ms. Regera Dowdy, Eduard Blutig, O. Müde and the aforementioned Ogdred Weary, among others.)

Even Lemony Snickett’s website carries a strong whiff of Gorey.

In acknowledgment of this debt, Handler sent copies of the first two Snickett books to the reclusive author, along with a fan letter that apologized for ripping him off. Gorey died in April 2000, a couple of weeks after the package was posted, leaving Handler doubtful that it was even opened.

Handler namechecks other artists who operate in Gorey’s thrall: filmmakers Tim Burton and Michel Gondry, musicians Amanda Palmer and Trent Reznor, and novelist Neil Gaiman.

Perhaps owing to the spectacular popularity of Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events, Gorey has lately become a bit more of an above-ground discovery for young readers. Scholastic has a free Edward Gorey lesson plan, geared to grades 6-12.

More information about Christopher Seufert’s Gorey documentary, with animations by Ben Wickey and the active participation of its subject during his final four years of life, can be found here.

Related Content:

Edward Gorey Talks About His Love Cats & More in the Animated Series, “Goreytelling”

Edward Gorey Illustrates H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in His Inimitable Gothic Style (1960)

The First American Picture Book, Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats (1928)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Mister Rogers Demonstrates How to Cut a Record

When I was a little boy, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to be able to make records. — Fred Rogers

By 1972, when the above episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood aired, host Fred Rogers had already cut four records, including the hit-filled A Place of Our Own.

But a childlike curiosity compelled him to explore on camera how a virgin disc could become that most wondrous thing—a record.

So he borrowed a “special machine”—a Rek-O-Kut M12S overhead with an Audax mono head, for those keeping score at home—so he could show his friends, on camera, “how one makes records.”

This technology was already in decline, ousted by the vastly more portable home cassette recorder, but the record cutter held far more visual interest, yielding hair-like remnants that also became objects of fascination to Mister Rogers.




What we wouldn’t give to stumble across one of those machines and a stash of blank discs in a thrift store...

Wait, scratch that, imagine running across the actual platter Rogers cut that day!

Though we’d be remiss if we failed to mention that a member of The Secret Society of Lathe Trolls, a forum devoted to “record-cutting deviants, renegades, professionals & experimenters,” claims to have had an aunt who worked on the show, and according to her, the "reproduction" was faked in post.

(“It sounded like they recorded the repro on like an old Stenorette rim drive reel to reel or something and then piped that back in,” another commenter promptly responds.)

The Trolls’ episode discussion offers a lot of vintage audio nerd nitty gritty, as well as an interesting history of the one-off self-recoded disc craze.

The mid-century general public could go to a coin-operated portable sound booth to record a track or two. Spoken word messages were popular, though singers and bands also took the opportunity to lay down some grooves.

Radio stations and recording studios also kept machines similar to the one Rogers is seen using. Sun Records’ secretary, Marion Keisker, operated the cutting lathe the day an unknown named Elvis Presley showed up to cut a lacquered disc for a fee of $3.25.

The rest is history.

More recently, The ShinsThe Kills, and Seasick Steve, below, recorded live direct-to-acetate records on a modified 1953 Scully Lathe at Nashville's Third Man Records.

(Legend has it that James Brown's "It's A Man's World" was cut on that same lathe… Cut a hit of your own during a tour of Third Man's direct-to-acetate recording facilities.)

via @wfmu

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An Interactive Map of Every Record Shop in the World

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine, current issue the just-released #60.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch an Animated Documentary About the Pioneering Journalist & Feminist Icon Nellie Bly

While no longer a household name, the trailblazing journalist Nellie Bly (1864-1922) is definitely an enduring American icon.

Her likeness has graced a postage stamp and a finger puppet.

Her life has been the subject of numerous books and a made-for-TV movie.

Some hundred years after its completion, her record-breaking, 72-day round-the-world trip inspired an episode of The American Experience, a puzzle-cum-boardgame, and a rollicking song by history fans the Deedle Deedle Dees.




And now? Meet Nellie Bly, cartoon action hero. (Heroine? Hard to say which honorific the opinionated and forward-thinking Bly, born in 1864, would prefer...)

Filmmaker Penny Lane's "Nellie Bly Makes the News," above, is not the first to recognize this sort of potential in the pioneering journalist, whose 151st birthday was celebrated with an animated Google Doodle and accompanying song by Karen O, but Lane (no relation to Lois, the fictional reporter modeled on you-know-who) wisely lets Bly speak for herself.

Not only that, she brings her into the studio for a 21st-century interview, in which an eye-rolling Bly describes the resistance she encountered from the male elite, who felt it was not just unseemly but impossible that a young woman should pursue the sort of journalistic career she envisioned for herself.

She also touches on some of her most famous journalistic stunts, such as the undercover stints in a New York City “insane asylum”and box-making factory that led to exposés and eventually, social reform.

Biographer Brooke Kroeger and brief glimpses of archival materials touch on some of the other highlights in Bly’s audacious, self-directed career.

The cartoon Bly’s hairdo and attire are period appropriate, but her vocal inflections, courtesy of broadcast reporter and voiceover artist Sammi Jo Francis, are closer in spirit to that of Broad City’s Ilana Glazer.

(Interesting to note, given Bly’s complaints about how prominently the one dress she took on her round the world trip featured in outside stories about that adventure, that dress is a preoccupation of The Appreciation of Booted Newswomen blog. Respectful as that site is, the focus there is definitely not on journalistic achievement.)

via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Battered & Bruised Vintage Toys Get Mesmerizingly Restored to Near Mint Condition

They say that toys were once built to last. But though metal and wood didn't break quite so easily in the hands of children in the early 20th century as plastic does in the hands of their great- or great-great-grandchildren today, time still hasn't been especially kind to the playthings of yesteryear. Enter the toy restorer, who can return even the most faded, rusted, beaten-up specimens to a burnished, gleaming condition that would turn the head of even the most smartphone-addled youngster. At least the toy restorer behind the Youtube channel Rescue & Restore seems to possess skills of this kind, and in its channel's videos you can see them put to use.

Over the past two months, Rescue & Restore has taken on such projects as a 1960s Tonka Jeep, a 1930s Wyandotte airplane, a 1920s Dayton train, and other such miniatures as a piano, a cash register, and even a functional oven. Most of them start out looking like lost causes, and some barely resemble toys at all.




Fortunately, Rescue & Restore possesses all the specialized tools needed to not just disassemble and (to the amazement of many a commenter) reassemble everything, but to clean, resurface, and repaint each and every part, and in some cases fabricate new ones from scratch. Apart from the occasional explanatory subtitle, the "host" does all this work without a word.

Despite their simplicity, the videos of Rescue & Restore have drawn millions upon millions of views in a relatively short time. This suggests that the number of people dreaming of a better future for their closets full of long-disused toys might be large indeed, though we should never underestimate the appeal of seeing the old made new again — an experience whose audiovisual satisfaction seems to be heightened by high-resolution shots and clearly captured sounds of all the dremeling, sandblasting, and buffing involved.

Toys originally opened sixty, seventy, eighty Christmases ago have gone through a lot in their long lives, but after Rescue & Restore gets done with them, they could well find their way under the tree again this year.

Related Content:

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The Art of Restoring a 400-Year-Old Painting: A Five-Minute Primer

Watch a Japanese Craftsman Lovingly Bring a Tattered Old Book Back to Near Mint Condition

The Art of Restoring Classic Films: Criterion Shows You How It Refreshed Two Hitchcock Movies

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Mr. Rogers’ Nine Rules for Speaking to Children (1977)

The maxim “children need rules” does not necessarily describe either a right-wing position or a leftist one; either a political or a religious idea. Ideally, it points to observable facts about the biology of developing brains and psychology of developing personalities. It means creating structures that respect kids’ intellectual capacities and support their physical and emotional growth. Substituting "structure" for rules suggests even more strongly that the “rules” are mainly requirements for adults, those who build and maintain the world in which kids live.

Grown-ups must, to the best of their abilities, try and understand what children need at their stage of development, and try to meet those needs. When Susan Sontag’s son David was 7 years old, for example, the writer and filmmaker made a list of ten rules for herself to follow, touching on concerns about his self-concept, relationship with his father, individual preferences, and need for routine. Her first rule serves as a general heading for the prescriptions in the other nine: “Be consistent.”




Sontag’s rules only emerged from her journals after her death. She did not turn them into public parenting tips. But nearly ten years after she wrote them, a man appeared on television who seemed to embody their exactitude and simplicity. From the very beginning in 1968, Fred Rogers insisted that his show be built on strict rules. “There were no accidents on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” says former producer Arthur Greenwald. Or as Maxwell King, author of a recent biography on Rogers, writes at The Atlantic:

He insisted that every word, whether spoken by a person or a puppet, be scrutinized closely, because he knew that children—the preschool-age boys and girls who made up the core of his audience—tend to hear things literally…. He took great pains not to mislead or confuse children, and his team of writers joked that his on-air manner of speaking amounted to a distinct language they called “Freddish.”

In addition to his consistency, almost to the point of self-parody, Rogers made sure to always be absolutely crystal clear in his speech. He understood that young kids do not understand metaphors, mostly because they haven’t learned the commonly agreed-upon meanings. Preschool-age children also have trouble understanding the same uses of words in different contexts. In one segment on the show, for example, a nurse says to a child wearing a blood-pressure cuff, “I’m going to blow this up.”

Rogers had the crew redub the line with “’I’m going to puff this up with some air.’ ’Blow up’ might sound like there’s an explosion,” Greenwald remembers, “and he didn’t want kids to cover their ears and miss what would happen next.” In another example, Rogers wrote a song called “You Can Never Go Down the Drain,” to assuage a common fear that very young children have. There is a certain logic to the thinking. Drains take things away, why not them?

Rogers “was extraordinarily good at imagining where children’s minds might go,” writes King, explaining to them, for example, that an ophthalmologist could not look into his mind and see his thoughts. His care with language so amused and awed the show’s creative team that in 1977, Greenwald and writer Barry Head created an illustrated satirical manual called “Let’s Talk About Freddish.” Anyone who’s seen the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? knows Rogers could take a good-natured joke at his expense, likely including the imaginative reconstruction of his methods below.

  1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street.
  2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
  3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, “Ask your parents where it is safe to play.”
  4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
  5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
  6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
  7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
  8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
  9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

His crew respected him so much that even their parodies serve as slightly exaggerated tributes to his concerns. Rogers adapted his philosophical guidelines from the top psychologists and child-development experts of the time. The 9 Rules (or maybe 9 Stages) of “Freddish” above, as imagined by Greenwald and Head, reflect their work. Maybe implied in the joke is that his meticulous procedure, considering the possible effects of every word, would be impossible to emulate outside of his scripted encounters with children, prepped for by hours of conversation with child-development specialist Margaret McFarland.

Such is the kind of experience parents, teachers, and other caretakers never have. But Rogers understood and acknowledged the unique power and privilege of his role, more so than most every other children’s TV programmer. He made sure to get it right, as best he could, each time, not only so that kids could better take in the information, but so the grown-ups in their lives could make themselves better understood. Rogers wanted us to know, says Greenwald, "that the inner life of children was deadly serious to them," and thus deserving of care and recognition.

via Mental Floss

Related Content:

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When Fred Rogers and Francois Clemmons Broke Down Race Barriers on a Historic Episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1969)

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

Classic Children’s Books Now Digitized and Put Online: Revisit Vintage Works from the 19th & 20th Centuries

Children’s books are big business. And the market has never been more competitive. Bestselling, character-driven series spawn their own TV shows. Candy-colored readers feature kids’ favorite comic and cartoon characters. But kids’ books can also be fine art—a venue for well-written, finely-illustrated literature. And they are a serious subject of scholarship, offering insights into the histories of book publishing, education, and the social roles children were taught to play throughout modern history.

Digital archives of children’s books now make these histories widely accessible and preserve some of the finest examples of illustrated children’s literature. The Library of Congress’ new digital collection, for example, includes the 1887 Complete Collection of Pictures & Songs, illustrated by English artist Randolph Caldecott, who would lend his name fifty years later to the medal distinguishing the highest quality American picture books.

The LoC’s collection of 67 digitized kids’ books from the 19th and 20th centuries includes biographies, nonfiction, quaint nursery rhymes, the Gustave Doré-illustrated edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, and a number of other titles sure to charm grown-ups, if not, perhaps, many of today’s young readers.

But who knows, King Winter—an 1859 tale in verse of a proto-Santa Claus figure, in a book partially shaped like the outline of the title character’s head—might still captivate. As might many other titles of note.

A sly collection of stories from 1903 called The Book of the Cat, with “facsimiles of drawings in colour by Elisabeth F. Bonsall”; a book of “Four & twenty marvellous tales” called The Wonder Clock, written and illustrated by Howard Pyle in 1888; and Edith Francis Foster’s 1902 Jimmy Crow about a boy named Jack and his boy-sized crow Jimmy (who could deliver messages to other young fancy lads).

An 1896 book called Gobolinks introduces a popular inkblot game of the same name that predates Hermann Rorschach’s tests by a couple decades. Other highlights include “examples of the work of American illustrators such as W.W. Denslow, Peter Newell… Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway,” writes the Library on its blog. The digitized collection debuted to mark the 100th anniversary of Children’s Book Week, celebrated during the last week of April in all 50 states in the U.S.

“It is remarkable,” says Lee Ann Potter, director of the LoC’s Learning and Innovation Office, “that when the first Children’s Book Week was celebrated, all of the books in the online collection… already existed.” Now they exist online, not only because of the technology to scan, upload, and share them, but “because careful stewards insured that these books have survived.”

Digital versions of today’s kids books could mean that there is no need to carefully preserve paper copies for posterity. But we can be grateful that archivists and librarians of the past saw fit to do so for this fascinating collection of children’s literature. The theme of this year’s Children’s Book WeekRead Now, Read Forever—“looks to the past, present, and most important, the future of children’s books.” Enter the Library of Congress digital collection of children’s books from over a century ago (and see the other sizable online archives at the links below) to visit their past, and imagine how vastly different their future might be.

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

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