Get a First Listen to David Lynch & Angelo Badalamenti’s Long-Lost Album, Thought Gang

All of David Lynch's movies, television shows, music videos, and commercials — and also his paintings, photographs, and comic strips — express a consistent, and consistently Lynchian, vision. But that vision depends on more than just the visual: the sonic has also played a vital part in its development at least since the nightmarishly intricate sound design of Lynch's 1977 debut feature Eraserhead. And just imagine how much impact later Lynch projects like Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, The Straight Story, and Mulholland Drive would have lost without the rich and often haunting scores of Angelo Badalamenti, a composer with whom Lynch has worked at seemingly every opportunity.

Lynch made his own official debut as a recording artist seven years ago with Crazy Clown Time, and this November he and Badalamenti will release their first collaborative album Thought Gang. According to its Bandcamp page, this "esoteric jazz side­ project of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti evolved from the seeds of Twin Peaks’ trademark slow cool jazz and blossomed into more experimental pastures: horizonless vistas of acid­-soaked free­jazz, laced with spoken word narratives and sprawling noisescapes." If that sounds good to you, you can get a first taste of the album from the track "Woodcutters From Fiery Ships" above.

The Thought Gang sessions happened 25 years ago, between the end of Twin Peaks' second season and the production of the Twin Peaks movie Fire Walk with Me. Out of those sessions came a quantity of music that Lynch describes as "sort of like jet-­fueled jazz in a weird way... but it’s all based on stories.” Two of those tracks, “A Real Indication” and “The Black Dog Runs at Night,” appeared on the soundtrack of the movie, and two others, "Frank 2000" and "Summer Night Noise," (as well as the instrumental mix of another, “Logic and Common Sense”) feature in Twin Peaks: The Return, which aired on Showtime last year. More connections to Lynch's other work surface in "Woodcutters From Fiery Ships," beginning with its title, which adorned a Lynch-themed, seemingly never-developed CD-ROM game twenty years ago.

Much of the Lynchian imagery that fills the song — talk-sung by Badalamenti himself, who, says the Bandcamp page, summoned "such a violent laughter­-fueled excitement from Lynch that he literally induced a hernia" — may also sound familiar. A character called Pete "saw the girl next door take off her clothes last night and walk through her house nude." At a diner, "he heard a man say that the doctors had cut him down his neck and into his chest." A "grey man with big ears lit a big cigar" and "smoke drifted over Pete's apple pie." Badalamenti at one point declares that "things aren't making sense. For instance, why is that boy bleeding from the mouth?" True fans will recognize that line as the title of one of Lynch's paintings. And so the grand Lynchian project continues, somehow getting both weirder and more coherent all the time.

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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.

One Second from Each Episode of Twin Peaks: Experience David Lynch’s Groundbreaking TV Drama in Less than a Minute

Even if you watched Twin Peaks during its original broadcast on ABC in 1990 and 1991 and have never revisited the show since, you'll vividly remember a great many moments from it: some because of their emotional impact, some because of their aesthetic impact, and some because you had no idea what to make of them. But despite the incomprehension it famously caused its viewers, Twin Peaks nevertheless slowly and inexorably drew them into its reality: the reality of the eponymous small Washington logging town whose homecoming queen has been murdered and in which FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper has arrived to investigate.

David Lynch and Mark Frost planned it that way: people who tuned in week after week to find out who killed Laura Palmer would, in theory, keep watching even after that unsolved part of the story had long since faded into the background. But pressure from ABC eventually forced the creators to resolve that mystery, at which point even many die-hard Peaks-heads wondered whether the show had lost its way.

You'll see that period, as well as every every other, represented in the video above, which compresses the entire run of Twin Peaks — the thirty episodes of the original two seasons plus the eighteen episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return, which aired last year on Showtime — into less than a minute, drawing one second from each episode.

Other respected television shows, like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, have undergone this treatment before. But to watch Lynch and Frost's groundbreaking drama as an assembly of particularly powerful individual seconds provides an entirely different kind of experience, one that may well bring back memories of surprise, confusion, hilarity, and even a kind of awe. Perhaps it doesn't allow you to inhabit the distinctive long-form Lynchian (and Frostian) vision in the way that the series itself does, but this condensed, single-shot version may well get you wanting to visit Twin Peaks again, whether you last visited 27 years ago or just yesterday.

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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.

How Breaking Bad Crafted the Perfect TV Pilot: A Video Essay

"A high school teacher finds out that he has terminal cancer and decides to cook meth in order to make money for his family." Twenty years ago that would have sounded like an insane premise for a television show. Ten years ago that show actually premiered. Almost five years ago it ended its both widely watched and critically acclaimed five-season run. Breaking Bad could only have emerged at a certain point in television history, when the high-quality, cinematic drama became a viable prospect even for a basic-cable network like AMC. But it never would have got anywhere without an impressive pilot, the first episode of a series that provides a sense of what the whole thing will be like.

A pilot, for its part, can never get anywhere without an impressive screenplay. Here, YouTube video essay channel Lessons from the Screenplay breaks down the reasons the screenplay for Breaking Bad's pilot works so well, not least because it perfectly executes the conventions of the form. First, it grabs the viewer's attention with the image of a man barreling through the desert in a Winnebago, wearing only a underpants and a gas mask. This opening sequence, the "teaser," quickly intensifies and ends with a feeling of life-and-death stakes. Then, when the episode properly begins, it introduces the man in the Winnebago, a chemistry teacher named Walt, by taking us through an earlier day in his highly unsatisfactory life: disrespectful students, financial woes, a passionless marriage.

Soon the screenplay addresses the implicit question, "What is missing in Walt's life?"  The scenes the pilot shows us illustrate that "he is someone who longs for control and purpose, but lacks both." Then it delivers the "inciting incident for the show": his collapse on the job and subsequent cancer diagnosis. Such an incident conventionally turns the protagonist's life upside down, as this one turns Walt's life upside down, and motivate that protagonist to take some kind of action, as it motivates Walt to team up with a former student to start a meth-cooking operation. Shortly after that, the now fearless Walt gets his first taste of power in a fight at a clothing store, beginning his transformation from the meek, put-upon Walt into the steely drug kingpin Walter White — a transformation that transfixed Breaking Bad's audience.

"Television is historically good at keeping its characters in a self-imposed stasis so that shows go on for years or even decades," says creator Vince Gilligan. "When I realized this, the logical next step was to think, how can I do a show in which the fundamental drive is toward change?" In this way, Breaking Bad furthered the revolution in cinematic television not just with its look and feel or even its content, but with its commitment to the idea that a character must come out of the story as a different person than he was when he entered it. The pilot manages to do in its own self-contained story while also establishing expectations for the rest of the series. Breaking Bad, most critics will agree, met those expectations and then some, but without a pilot as well-written as this, it almost certainly wouldn't have had the chance to try.

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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.

Nirvana Refuses to Fake It on Top of the Pops, Gives a Big “Middle Finger” to the Tradition of Bands Miming on TV (1991)

The better-safe-than-sorry approach to musicians pretending to play on TV while viewers hear a pre-recorded track seems like the antithesis of rock and roll. Yet since the earliest days of The Ed Sullivan Show, audiences have accepted the convention without complaint. When the fakery unintentionally fails, reactions tend toward mockery, not outrage. Critics rail, the UK’s Musician’s Union has often balked, but bands and fans play along, everyone operating under the presumption that the banal charade is harmless.

Leave it to those spoilsports Nirvana to refuse this pleasant fiction on their Top of the Pops appearance in 1991.

Like American counterparts from American Bandstand to Soul Train, Britain’s Top of the Pops had a long tradition: “For over 40 years,” writes Rolling Stone, “everyone from the Rolling Stones to Madonna to Beyoncé stopped by… to perform their latest single as either a lip-sync or sing along with a prerecorded backing track.” All musicians were expected to mime playing their instruments, a comical sight, for instance, in appearances by The Smiths, in which viewers hear Johnny Marr’s multiple overdubbed guitars but see him playing unaccompanied.

The Smiths approached their Top of the Pops appearances with tongue-in-cheek irreverence. At their 1983 debut performance, Morrissey mimed “This Charming Man” using a fern as a microphone. Still, the band gamely pretended to play, like everyone else did. But when Nirvana hit the TOTP stage, with Cobain singing to a backing track of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," they wouldn’t observe any of the niceties. YouTube channel That Time Punk Rocked writes:

Cobain opts for slow, exaggerated strums during the few times he touches his guitar, sings an octave lower (he later confirmed he was imitating Morrisey from The Smiths), and attempts to eat his microphone at one point. He also changes some of the lyrics, exchanging the opening line "load up on guns, bring your friends," for "load up on drugs, kill your friends." Dave Grohl hits cymbals and skins at random, doing more dancing than drumming. Krist Novoselic even swings his bass above his head. And despite these ridiculous antics, the crowd goes absolutely insane.

Maybe the crowd went wild because of those ridiculous antics, or maybe no one even noticed, as when a crowd of thousands in Argentina hardly seemed to notice when Nirvana openly mocked them after the audience abused their opening act. This may be one burden of stardom Cobain came to know too well—protests register as performance and sticking it the man onstage just makes the man more money. But the video remains “one of the greatest middle fingers” to musical miming captured on camera—recommended viewing for every salty young band preparing for their first TV gig.

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

Watch 13 Comedians Take “The Bob Ross Challenge” & Help Raise Money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The late Bob Ross, the almost laughably calm host of PBS’ popular how-to series, the Joy of Painting, was a boss of many things—business, branding, the 16th-century wet-on-wet ”Alla Prima” technique...

Also speed, as thirteen New York City comedians recently discovered firsthand.

Invited to participate in The Bob Ross Challenge, a web series-cum-fundraiser hatched by comedians Micah Sherman and Mark Stetson, they gamely plunged ahead, regardless of artistic talent or familiarity with the master.

Some like, Julia Duffy, are simply too young to have encountered Ross in his public television heyday.

(For the record, all 403 episodes of Ross' painting show are now viewable online for free.)

Others, like Aparna Nancherla, above, chanced upon reruns screened for ironic effect in dive bars...

Or, like Keisha Zollar, they’re in a romantic relationship with someone who uses The Joy of Painting to combat insomnia.

The majority seem to share a latch key kid’s fondness for the gentle Ross, whose show proved a chill pairing with afterschool snacks.

“We spent about $1000 on official Bob Ross supplies,” Sheman reports. From easel to the fan brush, everything was set up for the participating comedians’ success. Like Ross, who typically shot a season's worth of episodes over a single weekend, the first season's shoot transpired over a few days.

The ground rules were simple. Armed with an arsenal of officially sanctioned supplies, each comedian entered a studio where a Joy of Painting episode was screening, charged with recreating that canvas in real time. At the end of the episode, it was “brushes down” whether or not the canvas bore passing resemblance to Bob’s.

“Our original title was Bob Ross Fails, but people were actually succeeding,” Sherman confesses.

That said, there’s a definite edge. The participants may be trained in improv, but as performers, there's an imperative to get over, and, as stated, Ross moves fast. In the time it takes an average mortal to apply a sky wash, he’s likely fan brushed in a couple of happy little trees.

Tough nuts.

The rules of the game decree that the stopwatch abides.

As Ralf Jean-Pierre observes, it’s a race against time.

Though not everyone plays by the rules…

David Carl, above, creator of Trump Lear, declares (in character) that he not only defeated Bob Ross, but that “no one’s ever had a better tree than that” and that his clouds are “beautifully tremendous.”

Sherman and his co-creator Mark Stetson have conceived of The Bob Ross Challenge as a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Like Ross, Stetson’s father was prematurely claimed by lymphoma. Make a donation in their honor here.

Watch the first season of The Bob Ross Challenge here.


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her recent trip to Mexico City is the inspiration for her latest short play at The Tank in New York City on August 23, Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Frank Zappa’s 1980s Appearances on The David Letterman Show

I’ve never been a huge fan of Frank Zappa’s music and gravitated more toward the bizarre yet bluesy sonic world of his sometime collaborator and lifelong frenemy Captain Beefheart. But I get the appeal of Zappa’s wildly virtuoso catalog and his sardonic, even caustic, personality. The phrase may have devolved into cliché, but it’s still worth saying of Zappa: he was a real original, a truly independent musician who insisted on doing things his way. Most admirably, he had the talent, vision, and strength of will to do so for decades in a business that legendarily chews up and spits out artists with even the toughest of constitutions.

Zappa, notes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its profile, “was rock and roll’s sharpest musical mind and most astute social critic… the most prolific composer of his age,” who “bridged genres—rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde and even novelty music—with masterful ease.” Recording “over sixty albums’ worth of material in his fifty-two years,” he famously discovered, nurtured, and collaborated with some of the most technically proficient and accomplished of players. He was indie before indie, and “confronted the corrupt politics of the ruling class” with ferocious wit and unsparing satire, holding “the banal and decadent lifestyles of his countrymen to unforgiving scrutiny.”

Needless to say, Zappa himself was not prone to banality or decadence. He stood apart from his contemporaries with both his utter hatred of trends and his commitment to sobriety, which meant that he was never less than totally lucid, if never totally clear, in interviews and TV appearances. Unsurprisingly, David Letterman, champion of other fiercely talented musical oddballs like Warren Zevon, was a Zappa fan. Between 1982 and 83, Zappa came on Letterman three times, the first, in August of 82, with his daughter Moon (or “Moon Unit," who almost ended up with the name “Motorhead,” he says).

The younger Zappa inherited her father’s deadpan. “When I was little,” she says, “I wanted to change my name to Beauty Heart. Or Mary." But Zappa, the “musical and a sociological phenomenon,” as Letterman calls him, gets to talk about more than his kids’ weird names. In his June, 83 appearance, further up, he promotes his London Symphony Orchestra album. As he explains, the experience of working with cranky classical musicians on a very tight schedule tested his perfectionistic (some might say controlling) temperament. The album gave rise, writes Eduardo Rivadavia at Allmusic, “to his well-documented love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with symphony orchestras thereafter.”

But no matter how well or badly a project went, Zappa always moved right along to the next thing. He was never without an ambitious new album to promote. (In his final Letterman appearance, on Halloween, above, he had a musical, which turned into album, the triple-LP Thing-Fish.) Since he never stopped working for a moment, one set of ideas generating the next—he told Rolling Stone in answer to a question about how he looked back on his many records—“It’s all one album.” See a supercut below of all of Zappa’s 80s visits to the Letterman set, with slightly better video quality than the individual clips above.

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

Watch the First “Interactive” TV Show: Winky Dink and You Encouraged Kids to Draw on the Screen (1953)

Nearly everyone born within the past fifteen years naturally thinks of screens as both touchable and responsive to touch. But smartphones, tablets, and the other devices those kids have never known a world without will always look like technological marvels to their grandparents' generation. Growing up in the 1950s as part of one of television's most enthusiastic viewerships, they experienced the rise of that then-marvelous medium and the various concepts it tried out before settling into convention. Some may even remember happy Saturday mornings with CBS' Winky Dink and You, the show that they didn't just watch but actually "interacted" with by breaking out their crayons and drawing on the screen.

First aired in 1953, Winky Dink and You came hosted by Jack Barry, a famous television personality since the beginning of television broadcasting. (He would remain so until his death in the mid-1980s, having bounced back from the quiz show scandals of the later 1950s.) His animated sidekick, the titular Winky Dink, was voiced by Mae Questel, best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. "Winky Dink said he wanted the children to mail away for a 'Magic Window,' which was actually a cheaply produced, thin sheet of plastic that adhered to the TV screen by static electricity," writes Winky Dink-generation columnist Bob Greene. "Along with the plastic sheet that arrived in the mail were 'magic crayons.' Children were encouraged to place the sheet on their TV screen and watch the show each Saturday, so that Winky Dink could tell them what to do."

Winky Dink, and Barry, often told them to draw in the missing parts of a picture, or to connect dots that would reveal a coded message. In the episode above, writes Paleofuture's Matt Novak, Barry invites kids to "draw things on Winky Dink’s family members, like flowers on the button hole of Uncle Slim’s jacket, or an entirely new nose on the old guy. Uncle Slim sneezes in reaction to getting a nose drawn on his face, as you might expect" — by the standards of 1950s children's programming, "comedy gold." Dull though it may sound today, Winky Dink and You dates from an era when television "was still seen as an education force for good," when "Americans weren’t quite jaded enough to believe TV was a passive technology that didn’t actually stimulate the mind."

And though the show managed to move two million magic screens, concerns about X-rays emanating from picture tubes (as well as the likelihood of impatient kids drawing right on the glass) ended its run in 1957. But in a sense, its legacy lives on: a much-circulated quote attributed to Bill Gates describes Winky Dink and You "the first interactive TV show," and it does indeed seem to have pioneered a kind of content that has only in recent years reached full technological possibility. Anyone who has watched young children of the 21st century play on smartphones and tablets will notice a striking resemblance to the activities led by Winky Dink and Barry. Different reboots have been attempted in different eras, but has the time come for a Winky Dink and You app?

(via Paleofuture)

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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.

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