Denmark’s Utopian Garden City Built Entirely in Circles: See Astounding Aerial Views of Brøndby Haveby

For decades, urban planners around the world have looked to the Danish capital of Copenhagen, with its low-rise high density and unparalleled culture of everyday cycling, as an example of how to design a city. But what of the Danish track record in designing suburbs? Recently, a photographer by the name of Henry Do brought the world’s attention to one such settlement, Brøndby Haveby or Garden City, with a series of aerial photographs posted to Instagram. “Unreal how my recent images from here went crazy viral,” Do writes in the caption of a follow-up drone video — “unreal” being just the word some have used to describe the place itself, composed as it is entirely out of circles.

Built in 1964 to the design of “genius landscape architect Erik Mygind,” Brøndby Haveby mimics “the traditional patterns of the 18th century Danish villages, where people would use the middle as a focal point for hanging out, mingle and social interchange between neighbors.”

This unusual form, more of which you can see in Do’s drone photos at Lonely Planet, suits the long-established Danish cabin culture, according to which every city-dwelling Dane with the means buys a smaller second home in the countryside as a retreat. (Though the houses in Brøndby Haveby are owned, the gardens are rented, and local zoning laws prevent anyone from occupying their properties for more than six months out of the year.)

Wherever it is, this cabin must be made hyggelige, an adjective often translated into English as “cozy” and that, in recent years, has become a byword for the love of small-scale contentment that sets Denmark apart. (Not everybody is sold on the concept: “With its relentless drive towards the middle ground and its dependence on keeping things light and breezy,” writes British Denmark expat Michael Booth, “hygge does get a bit boring sometimes.”) As Lenni Madsen, a Danish Quora user with a Brøndby Haveby house in the family, puts it, “Imagine your average small-time community, where everyone knows everyone else, you see each other across the hedge, perhaps sharing a beer or having coffee at each others’ houses.”

This seems a far cry from the alienation and depravity of the standard suburban cul-de-sac, at least as portrayed in American popular myth. And it isn’t hard to see the appeal for average urbanites, especially those looking to spend their generous vacation time in as different an environment as possible without having to go far. (Homeowners must already have a primary residence within 20 kilometers, which includes the city of Copenhagen.) The astonished reactions on social media would suggest that most of us have never seen a place like this before. But for the Danes, it’s just another chapter in their civilizational pursuit of all that is hyggelige.

via Messy Nessy

Related Content:

Frank Lloyd Wright Designs an Urban Utopia: See His Hand-Drawn Sketches of Broadacre City (1932)

The Medieval City Plan Generator: A Fun Way to Create Your Own Imaginary Medieval Cities

Japanese Designer Creates Incredibly Detailed & Realistic Maps of a City That Doesn’t Exist

IKEA Digitizes & Puts Online 70 Years of Its Catalogs: Explore the Designs of the Swedish Furniture Giant

In Search of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Secluded Hut in Norway: A Short Travel Film

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

“The Last of Us” Franchise: Can Video Games Be Cinema? A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast Discussion (#64)

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Brian Hirt, and Erica Spyres all played both The Last of Us, and more recently immersed themselves in the lengthier The Last of Us 2, which has been generating a lot of acclaim but also controversy. Actually, Erica just watches her husband Drew Jackson play these things, but he showed up to this discussion too. Yes, these creations of Neil Druckmann with the Naughty Dog team are groundbreaking, and riveting, but by design not necessarily “fun,” or thereby involving much “playing.”

The franchise is ostensibly about a zombie apocalypse and an immune girl that might be its cure, but it’s really a drawn-out drama about loss, family, and the cycle of revenge… You know, in between running around looking for scraps to craft weapon upgrades and skulking around driving shivs through the necks of numerous monsters and people.

We compare The Last of Us to other zombie media like Walking Dead, address the shifting points of view in the game (playable flashbacks!), representation, fan and critical reaction, the effectiveness of the game’s message, and more.

This conversation should work both for listeners who’ve actually played the games and those who are just curious about what the fuss is about. There are some plot spoilers about the end of the first game and events near the beginning of the second game necessary to discuss the narrative.

Listen to the official Last of Us podcast. For another player perspective, check out the Besties podcast.

Other resources:

Learn more at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Werner Herzog Lists All the Languages He Knows–and Why He Only Speaks French If (Literally) a Gun’s Pointed at His Head

If you’ve explored the filmography of Werner Herzog, you’ve heard him speak not just his signature Teutonically inflected English — often imitated in recent years, though never quite equaled — but German as well. What else does he speak? In the clip above, the Bavarian-born director of Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo responds thus to the question of exactly how many languages he has: “Not too many. I mean, Spanish, English, German… and then I spoke modern Greek better than English once. I made a film in modern Greek, but that’s because in school I learned Latin and ancient Greek.”

The list doesn’t end there. “I do speak some Italian. I do understand French, but I refuse to speak it. It’s the last thing I would ever do. You can only get some French out of me with a gun pointed at my head” — which is exactly what happened to him. “I was taken prisoner in Africa” by “drunk soldiers on a truck,” all of them “fifteen, sixteen years old, some of them eight, nine years old,” armed and taking dead aim at him. “That was very unpleasant,” not least due to the lead soldier’s insistence that “on nous parle français ici.” And so Herzog finally “had to say a few things in French. I regret it. I shouldn’t have done it.”

But speaking, in Herzog’s world, isn’t as important as reading. “I read in Spanish and I read in Latin and I read in ancient Greek and I read in, er, whatever,” he told the Guardian in a more recent interview. “But it doesn’t matter. It depends on the text. I mean, take, for instance, Hölderlin, the greatest of the German poets. You cannot touch him in translation. If you’re reading Hölderlin, you must learn German first.” This alongside an appreciation of “trash movies, trash TV. WrestleMania. The Kardashians. I’m fascinated by it. So I don’t say read Tolstoy and nothing else. Read everything. See everything. The poet must not avert his eyes.”

It you want to become like Werner Herzog — well, best of luck to you (though he has created a “rogue film school” and currently stars in a Masterclass). But if you want to follow his lead in this specifically linguistic respect, you can start from our collection of free online lessons in 48 languages. There you’ll find material to start on everything from Spanish to modern as well as ancient Greek. Also included is French, Herzog’s bête noire, as well as Latin, which in the Guardian interview he calls his third language. German, which also figures into our collection, turns out not to be Herzog’s native language: “My mother tongue is Bavarian. Which is not even German, it’s a dialect.” With his filmmaking activities curtailed by world events, perhaps he’d consider producing a series of lessons?

via Kottke

Related Content:

To Make Great Films, You Must Read, Read, Read and Write, Write, Write, Say Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog Offers 24 Pieces of Filmmaking and Life Advice

Werner Herzog Gets Shot During Interview, Doesn’t Miss a Beat

A Map Showing How Much Time It Takes to Learn Foreign Languages: From Easiest to Hardest

What Are the Most Effective Strategies for Learning a Foreign Language?: Six TED Talks Provide the Answers

Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Marionette Freddie Mercury Performs on the Streets of Madrid

When the pandemic ends and travel resumes, you’ll hopefully find puppeteers Diana Romero and Andrés Maturana entertaining folks, both young and old, on the streets of Madrid. Above, watch them entertain passersby with a marionette of Freddie Mercury singing the Queen classic, “I Want to Break Free.” Down below, you can see their marionette take on the Beatles.

Here’s some quick backstory on their work:

Periplo Puppets are Diana Romero and Andrés Maturana: designers and makers of puppets and stories. We began in 2003 with TitiriBeatles at the Ramblas of Barcelona and studying self-taught at Institut del Teatre Library. We traveled with our puppets through the streets of Europe and America gathering information and experience, until in 2009 we decided to live in Madrid and be a Theatre company. …We focus on audiovisual performance mixing video mapping, string puppets, and latex puppets to make shows that involve the audience.

via Laughing Squid

Related Content:

Make an Adorable Crocheted Freddie Mercury; Download a Free Crochet Pattern Online

Meet Freddie Mercury and His Faithful Feline Friends

Watch Behind-the-Scenes Footage From Freddie Mercury’s Final Video Performance

Freddie Mercury Reimagined as Comic Book Heroes

Explore the Roman Cookbook, De Re Coquinaria, the Oldest Known Cookbook in Existence

Western scholarship has had “a bias against studying sensual experience,” writes Reina Gattuso at Atlas Obscura, “the relic of an Enlightenment-era hierarchy that considered taste, touch, and flavor taboo topics for sober academic inquiry.” This does not mean, however, that cooking has been ignored by historians. Many a scholar has taken European cooking seriously, before recent food scholarship expanded the canon. For example, in a 1926 English translation of an ancient Roman cookbook, Joseph Dommers Vehling makes a strong case for the centrality of food scholarship.

“Anyone who would know something worth while about the private and public lives of the ancients,” writes Vehling, “should be well acquainted with their table.” Published as Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome (and available here at Project Gutenberg), it is, he says, the oldest known cookbook in existence.

The book, originally titled De Re Coquinaria, is attributed to Apicius and may date to the 1st century A.C.E., though the oldest surviving copy comes from the end of the Empire, sometime in the 5th century. As with most ancient texts, copied over centuries, redacted, amended, and edited, the original cookbook is shrouded in mystery.

The cookbook’s author, Apicius, could have been one of several “renowned gastronomers of old Rome” who bore the surname. But whichever “famous eater” was responsible, over 2000 years later the book has quite a lot to tell us about the Roman diet. (All of the illustrations here are by Vehling, who includes over two dozen examples of ancient practices and artifacts.)

Meat played an important role, and “cruel methods of slaughter were common.” But the kind of meat available seems to have changed during Apicius’s time:

With the increasing shortage of beef, with the increasing facilities for raising chicken and pork, a reversion to Apician methods of cookery and diet is not only probably but actually seems inevitable. The ancient bill of fare and the ancient methods of cookery were entirely guided by the supply of raw materials—precisely like ours. They had no great food stores nor very efficient marketing and transportation systems, food cold storage. They knew, however, to take care of what there was. They were good managers.

But vegetarians were also well-served. “Apicius certainly excels in the preparation of vegetable dishes (cf. his cabbage and asparagus) and in the utilization of parts of food materials that are today considered inferior.” This apparent need to use everything, and to sometimes heavily spice food to cover spoilage, may have led to an unusual Roman custom. As How Stuff Works puts it, “cooks then were revered if they could disguise a common food item so that diners had no idea what they were eating.”

As for the recipes themselves, well, any attempt to duplicate them will be at best a broad interpretation—a translation from ancient methods of cooking by smell, feel, and custom to the modern way of weights and measures. Consider the following recipe:




I foresee much frustrating trial and error (and many hopeful substitutions for things like lovage or rue or “satury”) for the cook who attempts this. Some foods that were plentifully available could cost hundreds now to prepare for a dinner party.


Vehling’s footnotes mostly deal with etymology and define unfamiliar terms (“laser root” is wild fennel), but they provide little practical insight for the cook. “Most of the Apician directions are vague, hastily jotted down, carelessly edited,” much of the terminology is obscure: “with the advent of the dark ages, it ceased to be a practical cookery book.” We learn, instead, about Roman ingredients and home economic practices, inseparable from Roman economics more generally, according to Vehling.

He makes a judgment of his own time even more relevant to ours: “Such atrocities as the willful destruction of huge quantities of food of every description on the one side and the starving multitudes on the other as seen today never occurred in antiquity.” Perhaps more current historians of antiquity would beg to differ, I wouldn’t know.

But if you’re just looking for a Roman recipe that you can make at home, might I suggest the Rose Wine?



You could probably go with red or white, though I’d hazard Apicius went with a fine vinum rubrum. This concoction, Vehling tells us in a helpful footnote, doubles as a laxative. Clever, those Romans. Read the full English translation of the ancient Roman cookbook here.

Related Content: 

Cook Real Recipes from Ancient Rome: Ostrich Ragoût, Roast Wild Boar, Nut Tarts & More

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dating Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

Watch a 4000-Year Old Babylonian Recipe for Stew, Found on a Cuneiform Tablet, Get Cooked by Researchers from Yale & Harvard

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

How to Win an Argument (at the U.S. Supreme Court, or Anywhere Else): A Primer by Litigator Neal Katyal

Do you like being right? Of course, everyone does. Are you successful at convincing others? That’s a tougher one. We may politely disagree, avoid, or scream bloody murder at each other, but whatever our conflict style, no one is born, and few are raised, knowing how to persuade.

Persuasion does not mean coercion, deceit, or manipulation, the tactics of con artists, underhanded salespersons, or stereotypically untrustworthy lawyers….

Persuasion is about shifting others’ point of view, respectfully and charitably, through the use of evidence and argument, ethical appeals, moving stories, and “faith in the power of your ideas,” as Neal Katyal explains in his TED presentation above, “How to Win an Argument (at the U.S. Supreme Court, or anywhere).”

Katyal’s job as a Supreme Court litigator makes him an authority on this subject. It may also distract you with thoughts about the current Court power struggle. Try to put those thoughts aside. In places where reason, evidence, and ethics have purchase, Katyal’s advice can pay dividends in your quest to win others over.

In his first case before the Court a “handful of years” after the 9/11 attacks, he represented Osama bin Laden’s driver in a suit pressing to recognize Geneva Convention rules in the war on terror and to rule Guantanamo unconstitutional. His opponent, the Solicitor General of the U.S., had argued 35 cases before the court; “I wasn’t even 35 years old,” Katyal says. He won the case, and he’ll tell you how.

His most important lesson? Winning arguments isn’t about being right. It isn’t about believing really, really hard that you’re right. Persuasion is not about confidence, Katyal insists. It’s about empathy. Oral arguments in the courtroom (which judges could just as well read in transcript form) show us as much, he says.

When his legal expertise was not helping in preparation for the big trial, Katyal felt desperate and hired an acting coach, who trained him in such techniques as holding hands while making his arguments. What? Yes, that’s exactly what Katyal said. But he did it, and it worked.

Holding hands with the Justices isn’t an option in court, but Katyal found other ways to remind himself to stay close to what mattered, wearing accessories his parents had given him, for example, and writing his children’s names on a legal pad: “That’s why I’m doing this, for them. To leave the country better than I found it.”

Once he had established his private reasons for caring, he was ready to present his public reasons. As the old saying goes, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” The facts absolutely matter, yet the burden of showing how and why facts matter falls to the persuader, whose own passion, integrity, commitment, etc. will go a long way toward making an audience receptive.

This advice applies in any situation, but if you’re wondering how to move Katyal’s advice online…. well, maybe the ultimate lesson here is that we’re at our most persuasive when we’re close enough—physically or virtually—to take somebody’s hand….

Related Content:

Read An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: A Fun Primer on How to Strengthen, Not Weaken, Your Arguments

Literary Theorist Stanley Fish Offers a Free Course on Rhetoric, or the Power of Arguments

How to Argue With Kindness and Care: 4 Rules from Philosopher Daniel Dennett

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

10,000 Vintage Recipe Books Are Now Digitized in The Internet Archive’s Cookbook & Home Economics Collection

“Early cookbooks were fit for kings,” writes Henry Notaker at The Atlantic. “The oldest published recipe collections” in the 15th and 16th centuries in Western Europe “emanated from the palaces of monarchs, princes, and grand señores.” Cookbooks were more than recipe collections—they were guides to court etiquette and sumptuous records of luxurious living. In ancient Rome, cookbooks functioned similarly, as the extravagant fourth century Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome demonstrates.

Written by Apicius, “Europe’s oldest [cookbook] and Rome’s only one in existence today”—as its first English translator described it—offers “a better way of knowing old Rome and antique private life.” It also offers keen insight into the development of heavily flavored dishes before the age of refrigeration. Apicus recommends that “cooks who needed to prepare birds with a ‘goatish smell’ should bathe them in a mixture of pepper, lovage, thyme, dry mint, sage, dates, honey, vinegar, broth, oil and mustard,” Melanie Radzicki McManus notes at How Stuff Works.

Early cookbooks communicated in “a folksy, imprecise manner until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s,” when standard (or metric) measurement became de rigueur. The first cookbook by an American, Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery, placed British fine dining and lavish “Queen’s Cake” next to “johnny cake, federal pan cake, buckwheat cake, and Indian slapjack,” Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald write at Smithsonian, all recipes symbolizing “the plain, but well-run and bountiful American home.” With this book, “a dialogue on how to balance the sumptuous with the simple in American life had begun.”

Cookbooks are windows into history—markers of class and caste, documents of daily life, and snapshots of regional and cultural identity at particular moments in time. In 1950, the first cookbook written by a fictional lifestyle celebrity, Betty Crocker, debuted. It became “a national best-seller,” McManus writes. “It even sold more copies that year than the Bible.” The image of the perfect Stepford housewife may have been bigger than Jesus in the 50s, but Crocker’s career was decades in the making. She debuted in 1921, the year of publication for another, more humble recipe book: the Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church Ladies’ Aid Society of Chicago’s Pilgrim Cook Book.

As Ayun Halliday noted in an earlier post, this charming collection features recipes for “Blitz Torte, Cough Syrup, and Sauerkraut Candy,” and it’s only one of thousands of such examples at the Internet Archive’s Cookbook and Home Economics Collection, drawn from digitized special collections at UCLA, Berkeley, and the Prelinger Library. When we last checked in, the collection featured 3,000 cookbooks. It has grown since 2016 to a library of 10,600 vintage examples of homespun Americana, fine dining, and mass marketing.

Laugh at gag-inducing recipes of old; cringe at the pious advice given to women ostensibly anxious to please their husbands; and marvel at how various international and regional cuisines have been represented to unsuspecting American home cooks. (It’s hard to say whether the cover or the contents of a Chinese Cook Book in Plain English from 1917 seem more offensive.) Cookbooks of recipes from the American South are popular, as are covers featuring stereotypical “mammy” characters. A more respectful international example, 1952’s Luchow’s German Cookbook gives us “the story and the favorite dishes of America’s most famous German restaurant.”

There are guides to mushrooms and “commoner fungi, with special emphasis on the edible varieties”; collections of “things mother used to make” and, most practically, a cookbook for leftovers. And there is every other sort of cookbook and home ec. manual you could imagine. The archive is stuffed with helpful hints, rare ingredients, unexpected regional cookeries, and millions of minute details about the habits of these books’ first hungry readers.

Related Content:

The New York Times Makes 17,000 Tasty Recipes Available Online: Japanese, Italian, Thai & Much More

Archive of Handwritten Recipes (1600 – 1960) Will Teach You How to Stew a Calf’s Head and More

A Database of 5,000 Historical Cookbooks–Covering 1,000 Years of Food History–Is Now Online

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

A Creepy 19th Century Re-Creation of the Famous Ancient Roman Statue, Laocoön and His Sons

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. We’ve all heard that proverb, but few of us could name its source: the Trojan priest Laocoön, a historical character in the Aeneid. “Do not trust the Horse, Trojans,” Virgil has him say. “Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts.” He was right to do so, as we all know, though his death came not at the hands of the Greek army let into Troy by the soldiers hidden inside the Horse, but those of the gods. As Virgil has it, an enraged Laocoön threw a spear at the Horse when his compatriots disregarded words of caution, and in response the goddess Minerva sent forth a couple of sea serpents to do him in.

The Aeneid, of course, offers only one account of Laocoön’s fate. Sophocles, for instance, had him spared and only his sons killed, and his ostensible crime — being a priest yet marrying — had nothing to do with the Trojan Horse. But whatever drew the serpents Laocoön’s way, the moment they set upon him and his sons was immortalized by Rhodian sculptors Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus in Laocoön and His Sons, among the most famous ancient sculptures in existence since its excavation in 1506. (The sculpture was originally created somewhere between 200 BC and 70 AD.) Various tributes have been paid to it over the centuries, most notably by an Austrian anatomist named Josef Hyrtl, whose built his highly Halloween-suitable recreation out of skeletons — both human and snake.

“According to Christopher Polt, an assistant professor in the classical studies department at Boston College who tweeted a side-by-side comparison of the two versions, Hyrtl created his take on the sculpture at the University of Vienna around 1850,” writes Hyperallergic’s Valentina Di Liscia. In response, a historian named Gregory Stringer tweeted that Hyrtl must have been able to intuit the “proper pose” of Laocoön’s right arm, since in the mid-19th century the sculpture’s original arm was still missing, yet to be rediscovered and reattached, and since 1510 had been replaced in copies with an incorrectly outstretched substitute. Laocoön and His Sons now resides at the Vatican (learn more about it in the Smarthistory video below), but Hyrtl’s skeletal Laocoön and His Sons was destroyed in the 1945 Allied bombing of Vienna.

In 2018, a similar project was attempted again for an exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The new all-skeleton version of Laocoön and His Sons was created, as the Houston Press‘ Jef Rouner reports, by taxidermist Lawyer Douglas, taxidermy collector Tyler Zottarelle, and artist Joshua Hammond. “It looks a lot like interpretative dance,” Rouner quotes Douglas as saying of Hyrtl’s work. “It’s a beautiful piece, but I was concerned it wasn’t able to capture the original struggle of animal versus human.” Though Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus’ original is known as a “prototypical icon of human agony,” it turns out that “getting perpetually grinning skulls to seem in agony is harder than you might think.” But if any time of the year is right for grinning skulls to express the human experience, surely this is it.

via Hyperallergic

Related Content:

Free Art & Art History Courses

19th-Century Skeleton Alarm Clock Reminded People Daily of the Shortness of Life: An Introduction to the Memento Mori

How Ancient Greek Statues Really Looked: Research Reveals Their Bold, Bright Colors and Patterns

An Artist Crochets a Life-Size, Anatomically-Correct Skeleton, Complete with Organs

Celebrate The Day of the Dead with The Classic Skeleton Art of José Guadalupe Posada

3D Scans of 7,500 Famous Sculptures, Statues & Artworks: Download & 3D Print Rodin’s Thinker, Michelangelo’s David & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

The Incredible Six-Octave Vocal Range of Opera-Singing Punk Diva Nina Hagen

If you’re a reader of this site, it’s likely you known the name Klaus Nomi, the diminutive German singer who stunned New Wave audiences in New York with his angelic soprano voice and opera covers. If you know of Nomi, you likely know of Nina Hagen, who started releasing records in her native East Germany in the late 70s, mixing opera with punk, funk, and reggae and covering classics from Tina Turner to The Tubes “White Punks on Dope.” She became a major star, but her name does not come up often these days. She is long overdue for a revival.

Like Nomi, Hagen was a master of fright make-up and exaggerated, Expressionist faces. She did not, however, have an alien alter-ego or collection of spacesuits. What she had was a wholly original style all her own, full of eccentric vocalizations critic Robert Christgau compared to The Exorcist’s Linda Blair.

Her stage shows were what Hagen herself described as “indescribable.” She applied her “umpteen-octave range,” as Christgau wrote, without restraint to every imaginable kind of material, from cabaret to Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.”

Impossible to classify, Hagen was beloved by the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Slits. Less than a decade after her 1978 debut with the Nina Hagen Band, she appeared in Tokyo with the Japanese Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert broadcast to 15 countries, performing the songs of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. (See her that same year, 1985, sing from Carmen in Copenhagen, Denmark, just above.) She converted to Christianity later in life, frequently sings gospel tunes, and released an album called Personal Jesus in 2010 featuring a cover of the iconic Depeche Mode song.

Hagen emerged in 1978 alongside a number of theatrical female singers with preternaturally unsettling voices, debuting at the same time as Siouxsie Sioux, Kate Bush, and Diamanda Galas (who has received her own comparisons to Linda Blair). But her own journey was particularly unusual. “Listening to Hagen chat matter-of-factly about her life,” wrote The Irish Times in a review, “Madonna seems like Doris Day in comparison, while your pretender Lady Gaga is, in Hagen’s own words, ‘a pop prostitute who has more to do with bikini advertising.’”

Put more in more positive terms, the singer honed her theatrical “quick-change” persona through a “barrage of influences,” the New York Times noted. Critics were divided over her eclecticism. Rolling Stone called her 1982 solo, English-language debut the “most unlistenable” album ever made, an unfairly harsh assessment that didn’t stop her from experimenting with even more dissonant, disorienting sounds.

As Hagen herself tells her story:

I grew up in East Berlin, in a family of artists. I heard opera all day long. From the time I was 9 years old I was imitating the singers; later I studied opera. But we also got Western television and radio, from the Americans in West Berlin. When I was 11 years old, I turned into a hippie and gave flowers to policemen. And when I was 21 and left Berlin for London, I became a punk.

She became a punk diva, that is. Hagen’s vocal range—which you can hear demonstrated in the thorough video analysis above—over her band’s prog-like jams (as in “Naturträne), conjured up both angels and demons. She evokes dread with guttural growls and wide-eyed stares, she can look “childlike, sweet or terrifying,” or all three at once, and she never lacks the essential quality an opera singer needs to make it in rock and roll: a sense of humor.

Related Content:

Klaus Nomi Performs with Kraftwerk on German Television (1982)

Watch Klaus Nomi Debut His New Wave Vaudeville Show: The Birth of the Opera-Singing Space Alien (1978)

33 Songs That Document the History of Feminist Punk (1975-2015): A Playlist Curated by Pitchfork

How to Listen to Music: A Free Course from Yale University

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

How Science Fiction Formed Jimi Hendrix

“Through the entirety of his short life Jimi Hendrix was an avid fan of science fiction. As a young child Hendrix and his brother Leon would escape their troubled upbringing by dreaming up stories of far-off planets and flying saucers.” So begins the Polyphonic video above, an exploration of how sci-fi informed the apocalyptic images and spaced-out sounds in Hendrix’s songs. His love of science fiction “only intensified as an adult,” especially when Hendrix moved in with Chas Chandler, who would become his manager and producer, and who owned a large collection of sci-fi novels.

The books Hendrix read at the time provided him with the material he needed for a psychedelic revolution. He turned the “purplish haze” in Philip Jose Farmer’s Night of Light into “Purple Haze.” The song’s lyrics reference the disorienting state of mind characters in Farmer’s story experience from cosmic radiation, while they also allude, of course, to other kinds of altered states. Hendrix didn’t just weave sci-fi themes and references into his songs. He and Chandler composed space-rock epics that expanded the possibilities of the electric guitar and the recording studio.

Third Stone from the Sun” is written “from the perspective of an alien scout who is observing Earth from afar.” Though he deflects with humor and innuendo, the alien character in the song expresses complete disgust with humanity: “Your people I do not understand / So to you I shall put an end.” In “Up from the Skies,” Hendrix sings from “the perspective of one who lived on Earth long ago, and is dismayed at the state of the planet when he comes back to visit.” Calling the Earth a “people farm,” he says to the planet as a whole, “I heard some of you got your families / Living in cages.”

The video links Hendrix’s use of science fiction as social commentary to some of the best-known writers of the genre, including Aldous Huxley, Isaac Asimov, Stanislaw Lem, and Ursula K. LeGuin. These are worthy comparisons, to be sure, but there is another tradition in which to situate him, one that had been at work in popular music since Sun Ra first stepped onstage and claimed to be from outer space. Hendrix’s responses to the “apocalyptic” images of the Vietnam War and the mass protest, civil unrest, and racial strife in the U.S. draws on an Afrofuturist lexicon as much as from predominately white sci-fi.

Coined in 1995 by critic Mark Dery in conversation with science fiction giant Samuel R. Delany, critic Greg Tate, and Professor Tricia Rose, the term “Afrofuturism” describes a hybrid sci-fi aesthetic that ties together past, present, and future Black experiences. “From Sun-Ra to Janelle Monáe, the appropriation of other-worldly and alien iconography establishes Afro-futurists as outsiders,” writes Mawena Yehouessi. Afrofuturism is the creative expression of double consciousness: C. Brandon Ogbunu traces the genre back to W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1920 short story “The Comet” and argues that the ability of Black artists to view the culture as both insiders and outsiders can “help us to consider universes of better alternatives.”

Hendrix’s narrators describe apocalyptic visions, but they do so from the point-of-view of other, better worlds, or better times, or, in “A Merman I Should Turn to Be”—perhaps one of Hendrix’s most trenchant critiques—an undersea refuge.

Well it’s too bad that our friends, can’t be with us today
Well it’s too bad
‘The machine, that we built,
Would never save us’, that’s what they say
(That’s why they ain’t coming with us today)
And they also said it’s impossible for a man to live and breathe under
Water, forever,
Was their main complaint
And they also threw this in my face, they said:
Anyway, you know good and well it would be beyond the will of God,
And the grace of the King (grace of the King)
(Yeah, yeah)

The perspective seems to anticipate the pessimistic, post-apocalyptic visions of Octavia Butler. It’s a view Afrofuturist theorist Kodwo Eshun links to the experiences of people of the African diaspora generally, who “live the estrangement that science-fiction writers envision. Black experience and science fiction are one and the same.” Afrofuturism has “always looked forward,” Taylor Crumpton writes at Clever, providing a “blueprint for cultural growth.” In Hendrix’s songs, we feel the urgent tension between a world on fire and a desire to escape, resolving, Polyphonic concludes, with “hope in a new way of living.”

Related Content:

Watch Rare Footage of Jimi Hendrix Performing “Voodoo Child” in Maui, Plus a Trailer for a New Documentary on Jimi Hendrix’s Legendary Maui Performances (1970)

Behold Moebius’ Many Psychedelic Illustrations of Jimi Hendrix

Watch a 5-Part Animated Primer on Afrofuturism, the Black Sci-Fi Phenomenon Inspired by Sun Ra

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

  • Great Lectures



    Get the best cultural and educational resources on the web curated for you in a daily email. We never spam. Unsubscribe at any time.


  • About Us

    Open Culture scours the web for the best educational media. We find the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & educational videos you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.

    Advertise With Us

  • Archives

  • Quantcast