Behold the Blistering Bass Solos of Cream Bassist and Singer, Jack Bruce (1943-2014)

I’ve written before that every band Eric Clapton’s been involved with could rightfully be called a supergroup. But for my money, there’s only one worthy of the name, and that’s Cream. Since forming a deep attachment to the psychedelic power trio from a young age, I’ve found it especially irksome to see them sometimes billed as “Eric Clapton and Cream.” Drummer Ginger Baker and bassist/singer Jack Bruce are at least as—if not more—talented and interesting as musicians. But though Baker has long been celebrated, though mostly from a safe distance, Bruce, in my opinion, is almost criminally underrated. That may change as tributes and reappraisals pour in after his passing of liver disease this past Saturday at age 71.

We’re likely to hear more Cream than usual, at least, which is never a bad thing. What you may not hear casually is Bruce’s playing in his later years. Like many rock stars of his era, including his Cream bandmates, he never really stopped. But unlike some musicians from the 60s, he only got better with age, adapting his jazz and blues chops to modern takes on the psych rock he helped invent. Not a flashy player, Bruce’s style is characterized by emotive power and a near perfect synthesis of the rhythmic and the melodic. Key to his style is the walking bassline like that on “White Room,” from Cream’s third record, 1968’s double album Wheels of Fire. He plays ‘em literally walking around, or rather strutting. In the video above, see Bruce pull out an amazing solo during a performance of “White Room” at an event called Hippie Fest in 2008.

The festival also featured legends Eric Burdon and the Animals and the Turtles but I can only imagine Bruce left the strongest impression on audience members who’d seen him in his prime and those who hadn’t. Watch him rip through another intense solo above in “Sunshine of Your Love,” followed by a blues number recorded earlier in the day at the same concert. Although most of Cream’s lyrics were written by poet and “unofficial fourth member” Pete Brown, the music was mostly Bruce. His range of influences was wide, and his willingness to follow them wherever they led, adventurous. David Fricke at Rolling Stone has a playlist of Bruce’s top ten “Deep Tracks,” including one from early 60s outfit The Graham Bond Organization—which also featured Ginger Baker and virtuoso jazz guitarist John McLaughlin—and several of Bruce’s solo tunes. “If you only know Cream,” writes Fricke in appreciation of Bruce’s versatility,” then stray far, every way you can—as he did.” It’s good advice.

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

David Bowie and Lou Reed Perform Live Together for the First and Last Time: 1972 and 1997

I discovered one of my favorite pieces of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia—a full page ad for the 1983 album from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust concert film—at a flea market. It’s a nice little piece of history, but a little bit misleading to consumers at the time, since it says, “featuring the single ‘White Light/White Heat.’” As everyone knows, “White Light/White Heat” is not a Bowie single, but a Lou Reed song, one of his many odes to heroin as lead singer of the Velvet Underground. But whatever the admen had in mind in promoting this track over Bowie’s many original hits, the star himself has never been shy about acknowledging his debts. When it comes to Ziggy, “the songwriter who most influenced” the glam rock alien is certainly Reed, as Bowie himself says in this 1977 interview.

Today, on the one-year anniversary of Reed’s death, we revisit their creative and personal relationship, a mutual admiration that spanned more than four decades. Not only did Bowie cover Reed’s songs and produce his 1972 solo album Transformer, but he wrote 1971’s “Queen Bitch” as a tribute to Reed and the Velvets. In 1997, Bowie and Reed took the stage together to perform the song. The occasion was Bowie’s 50th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, and the all-star lineup that night included Frank Black, Dave Grohl, Sonic Youth, Robert Smith, and Billy Corgan (see the full setlist here). But Reed’s appearance was the most exciting, and in hindsight, most poignant. At the top of the post, see the two old friends play “Queen Bitch,” just above, they do “White Light/White Heat,” and below, Reed’s classic “Waiting for the Man” (they also played Reed’s 1989 “Dirty Boulevard” together).

At the time, Bowie was at “somewhat of a low point” in his career, writes Rolling Stone, though poised for a comeback with the upcoming single (and Trent Reznor-starring video) “I’m Afraid of Americans,” which he played with Sonic Youth that night. But the first time he and Reed shared the stage, in 1972, Bowie was riding high in all his Ziggy Stardust glory and regularly covering Velvet Underground songs on tour. That year, he brought Reed on stage in London for his “very, very first appearance on any stage in England.” Hear them do “White Light/White Heat” in somewhat muffled live audio below. They also played “Waiting for the Man” and “Sweet Jane” together, which you can hear at the bottom of the post.

While Bowie seems to have taken every opportunity to lavish praise on his idol, Reed was a bit more understated, though no less sincere, in his appreciation. In 2004, he told Rolling Stone, “We’re still friends after all these years. We go to the occasional art show and museum together, and I always like working with him […] I saw him play here in New York on his last tour, and it was one of the greatest rock shows I’ve ever seen. At least as far as white people go. Seriously.” Seriously, Lou Reed, you are sorely missed.

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

Edward Snowden Explains Why He Blew the Whistle on the NSA in Video Interview with Lawrence Lessig

Most likely everything you know about Edward Snowden’s unmasking of government surveillance programs has come through an indirect source — meaning, you haven’t had the chance to learn about Snowden’s motivations, thought processes, goals, etc. from Snowden himself. Here’s a chance to change that.

In the video interview recorded on October 20th at Harvard Law School, Lawrence Lessig spent an hour talking with Snowden on a Google Hangout. Lessig, a law professor with dual interests in keeping information open and limiting government corruption, was a natural choice to conduct the interview. However, I wouldn’t say that he gives Snowden a soft interview. He asks some good questions, which gives Snowden the chance to spell out his thinking — to explain the problem he observed while working in the NSA and how he went about addressing it.

One thing that comes across is that Snowden has thought things through. Snowden might not have the credentials of the Harvard Law students in the audience — he got a GED and took a few community college courses, after all — but you get the sense that he could teach a pretty good Introduction to American Government course, if not a thought-provoking seminar on constitutional law. Regardless of what position you take on Snowden, it’s worth watching this interview before you declare final judgement.

via BoingBoing

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On the Importance of the Creative Brief: Frank Gehry, Maira Kalman & Others Explain its Essential Role

Every project starts with a brief. 

From the layman’s perspective, the project above starts with a bit of self-mythologizing.

Bassett & Partners, the “award-winning, disruptive brand and design strategy firm” and maker of the video above, seems not to subscribe to TED-Ed’s practice of educating viewers from the get-go.

A couple of minutes in, I hit pause in order to do a little research on the word “brief.”

I’m familiar with male underpants (though technically those are plural, even if the garment is singular).

I have the average moviegoers handle on the meaning of legal briefs.

And now I know what the noted architects, illustrator, designer, and ad execs are talking about above! If only they’d referred to it as an elevator pitch, I’d have been on board from the start. Of course, why would they? Only those of us who want to sound all Hollywood call it that.

Whatever you call it, it’s a concise statement that gets right to the heart of what you—or your project—are about. No history. No campaign plans or citations. Just a whole lot of passion and truth tightly packed into a small vessel.

Architect David Rockwell defines a brief as a short-form communication tool from a client.

Art Director John Jay says its purpose is to inspire the creatives…

…without (as per ad exec John Boiler) dictating creative terms. Of all the interviewees, the trucker hatted Boiler exudes the schmooziest, most off-putting Hollywood vibe. I’d rather do lunch with Frank Gehry. Does this make me guilty of comparing apples to oranges, when director (and “disruptive brand and design” strategist) Tom Bassett leveled the playing field by giving them equal time?

Perhaps if Boiler had humbled himself by sharing an experience as heartbreaking as Gehry’s ill-fated Eisenhower Memorial. (Skip ahead to the 16:16 mark if you want to hear how outside opinion can pound context, research, poetry, and many months of thoughtful work to a heap of rubble.)

I love Maira Kalman, but remain unclear as to whether she’s fielding or submitting briefs. If the latter, how do those differ from book proposals?

What if the emotion, creativity, and enthusiastic research that went into Nike’s 1996 Olympics ads resulted in an equally fierce campaign to end hunger in a country with no Olympic teams?

What if the client’s problem was cancer? Could the brief demand a cure? That sounds simple.

Let us acknowledge that most grand scale visions require a fleet of underlings to come to fruition. I wonder what plumbers and electricians would make of seeing their contributions described in such poetic terms.  Never underestimate the power of a soundtrack.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday


Yoga in an X-Ray Machine

Courtesy of Hybrid Medical Animations comes a high-tech “visual study/exploration of the body in motion.” The goal of the animation was to create a realistic representation of x-rays, while also capturing the beauty of various yoga poses. Looks like they hit the mark on both accounts.

In creating this 3D animation, no x-rays were actually used. No one was exposed to radiation in any way, shape or form. It’s all just animation — sophisticated animation that somehow manages to show “proper bone densities and represent actual bone marrow inside each individual bone.” If you practice yoga, you’ll certainly recognize some of the poses in the clip.

via Twisted Sifter

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Stephen Colbert Reads Ray Bradbury Classic Sci-Fi Story “The Veldt”

I rarely think back to memories from that busywork-intensive containment unit known as American elementary school, but when I do, I usually arrive at listening to a Ray Bradbury story — something about a faraway planet, something about monsoons, I can never remember which one — during read-aloud time. Even then, on some level, I understood that the author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles (not that I yet had any idea at the time about books like Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles) wrote with the human voice in mind. Not necessarily the momentarily defamiliarized voice of a teacher reading to a post-lunch classroom of ten-year-olds, and not necessarily the flawlessly pronouncing and pausing, many-takes-recorded-per-sentence voice of the professional audiobook narrator (though Bradbury’s work did provide material for a few proto-audiobooks), but, perhaps, the voice of the mind. Of all Bradbury’s tales we love to read aloud, few seem quite so effective in this way as “The Veldt.

The story first appeared, according to the web site of public radio station WNYC, in a 1950 Saturday Evening Post “with the title ‘The World the Children Made,’ which is a good description of what goes on in this eerie tale.  It imagines the ‘model home’ of the future, including a programmable nursery that becomes the site of a power struggle. [Fellow speculative writer Neil] Gaiman says that Bradbury’s tale raises complex questions: ‘Are our children our own?,’ and ‘What does technology do to them?'” Public Radio International commissioned no less a speaker than Colbert Report and future Late Show host Stephen Colbert — a satirist highly attuned to the ironies inherent in mankind’s visions of its own future — to read it for their “Selected Shorts” series, and you can hear the whole thing on the Youtube playlist at the top of the post. Given how much progress our pursuit of total automation and virtual stimulation (and our parallel desire to escape those conditions) has made in the past 64 years, “The Veldt” has grown only more relevant. Pair it with “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Bradbury’s other famously read-aloudable story of the home of the 1950 future, for a richly funny and troubling double-feature of the mind.

For another sonic angle on the material, see also our previously-featured radio adaptations of “There Will Come Soft Rains” on Dimenson X and “The Veldt” on X Minus One — or you can hear Leonard Nimoy read both of them in the 1970s.)

And, finally, we observed that Tim Robbins has narrated a new audio version of Fahrenheit 451. It’s available on Here’s how you can get it for free with Audible’s 30-day free trial. Get more details on that here.

Some of the readings listed above appear in our collection, 550 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Stephen Hawking Starts Posting on Facebook: Join His Quest to Explain What Makes the Universe Exist

hawking on fb

I have no idea whether there’s intelligent life out there in the universe. But we can at least confirm that there’s a little intelligent life on Facebook, seeing that Stephen Hawking, the world’s best known theoretical physicist, began posting there yesterday. His first status update reads:

I have always wondered what makes the universe exist. Time and space may forever be a mystery, but that has not stopped my pursuit. Our connections to one another have grown infinitely and now that I have the chance, I’m eager to share this journey with you. Be curious, I know I will forever be.

Welcome, and thank you for visiting my Facebook Page. -SH

Join his official Facebook page here. And find/like the official Open Culture page here, where we make it easy to share our daily cultural posts with your family and friends.

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Get the New 7-Minute Workout on Your Mobile Device: A Free App from The New York Times


The New York Times writes: “Ever since [we] published the Scientific 7-Minute Workout in May last year, readers have been writing and tweeting their requests for an updated, more advanced version. For them, the workout became too easy or humdrum, as tends to happen when exercises are repeated without variation. So here it is: a new, more technically demanding regimen, one that requires a couple of dumbbells but still takes only seven minutes.”

According to the Times, these short, intense, efficient workouts strengthen muscle groups throughout the upper body, lower body and torso. And they may well “produce greater gains than an hour or more of gentler exercise.” So if you don’t have a lot of free time….

The Times has notably made the workout available as a free web app that you can access on your phone, tablet or other mobile devices. The app “offers a step-by-step guide to both 7-minute workouts [the old and new ones], offering animated illustrations of the exercises, as well as a timer and audio cues to help you get the most out of your seven minutes.” Click here to access it.

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Young Stanley Kubrick’s Noirish Pictures of Chicago, 1949

Men, probably commuters, walking along a platform next to a train

When Stanley Kubrick was a mere high school student in April 1945, just after FDR died, he snapped a picture of a news vendor framed on either side by posters announcing the president’s death. He was so excited by the picture that he skipped school to develop it and then marched right into the office of Look magazine. Photo editor Helen O’Brian offered to buy the photo for $25. Displaying his trademark cockiness, Kubrick told her that he wanted to see what price he could get from The New York Daily News. They only offered $10, so Kubrick went with Look. Within a few months, at the age of 17, Kubrick became a staff photographer for the publication.

Below you can see some photographs that Kubrick took in 1949 while on assignment in Chicago. Using the same noirish high-contrast, low-light look that marked his first three movies, he documented all different strata of society from floor traders, to lingerie models, to meat packers to impoverished African-American families. Click  on the images to view them in a larger format. Find a more extensive gallery of images here.

Men working the floor at the Chicago Board of Trade

Men working the floor at the Chicago Board of Trade

Lingerie model, wearing a girdle and strapless bra, smoking in an office; in the background a woman sits at a desk

Lingerie model, wearing a girdle and strapless bra, smoking in an office; in the background a woman sits at a desk

Butcher holding slab of beef in a meat locker

Butcher holding slab of beef in a meat locker

African American mother and her four children in their tenement apartment

African American mother and her four children in their tenement apartment

Overhead view of the “L” elevated railway

Overhead view of the "L" elevated railway in Chicago, Illinois

via Mashable

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Hear Beowulf Read In the Original Old English: How Many Words Do You Recognize?

beowulf original
I was as surprised as most people are when I first heard the ancient language known as Old English. It’s nothing like Shakespeare, nor even Chaucer, who wrote in a late Middle English that sounds strange enough to modern ears. Old English, the English of Beowulf, is almost a foreign tongue; close kin to German, with Latin, Norse, and Celtic influence.

As you can hear in the Beowulf reading above from The Telegraph, it’s a thick, consonant-rich language that may put you in mind of J.R.R. Tolkien’s elvish. The language arrived in Briton—previously inhabited by Celtic speakers—sometime in the fifth century, though whether the Anglo-Saxon invasion was a hostile takeover by Germanic mercenaries or a slow population drift that introduced a new ethnicity is a matter of some dispute. Nevertheless it’s obvious from the reading above—and from texts in the language like this online edition of Beowulf in its original tongue—that we would no more be able to speak to the Anglo-Saxons than we would to the Picts and Scots they conquered.

So how is it that both the language we speak and its distant ancestor can both be called “English”? Well, that is what its speakers called it. As the author of this excellent Old English introductory textbook writes, speakers of “Old English,” “Middle English,” and “Modern English” are “themselves modern”; They “would have said, if asked, that the language they spoke was English.” The changes in the language “took place gradually, over the centuries, and there never was a time when people perceived their language as having broken radically with the language spoken a generation before.” And while “relatively few Modern English words come from Old English […] the words that do survive are some of the most common in the language, including almost all the ‘grammar words’ (articles, pronouns, prepositions) and a great many words for everyday concepts.” You may notice a few of those distant linguistic ancestors in the Beowulf passage accompanying the reading above.

Beowulf is, of course, the oldest epic poem in English, written sometime between the 8th and early 11th century. It draws, however, not from British sources but from Danish myth, and is in fact set in Scandinavia. The title character, a hero of the Geats—or ancient Swedes—travels to Denmark to offer his services to the king and defeat the monster Grendel (and his mother). The product of a warrior culture, the poem shares much in common with the epics of Homer with its code of honor and praise of fighting prowess. Just above, see vocalist, harpist, and medieval scholar Benjamin Bagby perform the opening lines of the poem as its contemporary audience would have experienced it—intoned by a bard with an Anglo-Saxon harp. The modern English subtitles are a boon, but close your eyes for a moment and just listen to the speech—see if you can pick out any words you recognize. Then, perhaps, you may wish to turn to Fordham University’s online translation and find out what all that big talk in the prologue is about.

And for a very short course on the history of English, see this concise page and this ten-minute animated video from Open University.

The image above comes from the sole surviving medieval manuscript of Beowulf, which now resides at the British Library.

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