Hear Nico’s Pre-Velvets Recording, “I’m Not Sayin,” Backed by the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones & Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (1965)

For most of us, the Teutonic singer Nico has always been associated with the first Velvet Underground album and then a series of fascinating solo albums (often with Velvets connections) released during the ‘70s and ‘80s before her untimely death in 1988. The voice and the look are unmistakable, that far away stare, that detached, brooding and flat tone. It might also feel like she magically appeared from a cloud of smoke in 1967 New York City.

But before she met Andy Warhol, the former teen model had crossed paths with a who’s who of ’50 and ‘60s cool: Coco Chanel, Mario Lanza, Federico Fellini (who cast her in a bit part in La Dolce Vita), Lee Strasberg, Jean Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon (who allegedly fathered her first child).

In 1965 Nico met and began dating Rolling Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones, and that’s how we get to the video above. Already having sung in nightclubs in New York, her smoky voice was established, but Jones convinced the Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham to sign her to his boutique label Immediate, which had just started.

Oldham brought in his reliable studio musician and A&R man, a young guitarist called Jimmy Page, to produce and play guitar (along with Jones) on both sides of Nico’s first single, the A-side “I’m Not Saying” (a Gordon Lightfoot cover) and the B-Side “The Last Mile” (written by Page and Oldham). As a session musician, Page is on a *lot* of British hit singles, including Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” Them’s “Here Comes the Night,” Marianne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By,” and a surprising amount more.

The resulting pleasant-enough single didn’t exactly rock the charts, but it was a first foot in the door. Jones would introduce Nico to Andy Warhol soon after that and she began to appear in some of his films like Chelsea Girls. Destiny was right around the corner.

For a singer so tied to the Velvets, it’s worth remembering she was only on three songs on the 11 song debut album and then left. But her place in rock history was assured, even though it was the oddest of team-ups at the time.

On a side note, the video for “I’m Not Saying” was shot at Canary Wharf on the Thames, long before it was turned into shiny towers for the rich. It’s a window back into a very different time.

via Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

The Crazy, Iconic Life of Nico; Andy Warhol Muse, Velvet Underground Vocalist, Enigma in Amber

Nico Sings “Chelsea Girls” in the Famous Chelsea Hotel

Patti Smith’s New Haunting Tribute to Nico: Hear Three Tracks

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

How Meditation Can Change Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Buddhist Practice

Nirvana is a place on earth. Popularly thought of a Buddhist “heaven,” religious scholars discuss the concept not as an arrival at someplace other than the physical place we are, but as the extinction of suffering in the mind, achieved in large part through intensive meditation. If this state of enlightenment exists in the here and now—the scientific inquirer is justified in asking—shouldn’t it be something we can measure?

Maybe it is. Psychologist Daniel Goleman and neuroscientist Richard Davidson set out to do just that when they flew several “Olympic level meditators” from Nepal, India, and France to Davidson’s lab at the University of Wisconsin. Once they put the meditators under Davidson's scanners, researchers found that “their brain waves are really different,” as Goleman says in the Big Think video above.

Perhaps the most remarkable findings in the Olympic level meditators has to do with what’s called a gamma wave. All of us get gamma for a very short period when we solve a problem we’ve been grappling with, even if it’s something that’s vexed us for months. We get about half second of gamma; it’s the strongest wave in the EEG spectrum….

What was stunning was that the Olympic level meditators, these are people who have done up to 62,000 lifetime hours of meditation, their brainwave shows gamma very strong all the time as a lasting trait just no matter what they’re doing. It’s not a state effect, it’s not during their meditation alone, but it’s just their every day state of mind. We actually have no idea what that means experientially. Science has never seen it before.

The meditators themselves describe the state of mind in terms consistent with thousands of years of literature on the subject; “it’s very spacious and you’re wide open, you’re prepared for whatever may come.” Goleman and Davidson have elaborated their findings for the public in the book Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. For more on Davidson’s work on the subject, see his talk at Google, “Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain.”

The bar to enlightenment seems high. Goleman and Davidson’s “Olympic level” test subjects spent a minimum of 62,000 hours in meditation, which amounts to something like 20 years of eight-hour days, seven days a week (and maybe explains why the path to enlightenment is often spread out over several lifetimes in the tradition). But that doesn’t mean meditation in lesser doses does not have significant effects on the brain as well.

As Goleman explains in the video above, meditation induces a state of hyper-focus, or “flow,” that acts as a gym for your brain: lowering stress, raising the level of resilience under stress, and increasing focus “in the midst of distractions.” As some point, he says, these temporary “altered states” become permanent “altered traits." Along the way, as with any consistent, long-term workout program, meditators develop strength, stamina, and flexibility the longer they stick with the practice. Find resources to get you started in the Relateds below.

Related Content:

How Buddhism & Neuroscience Can Help You Change How Your Mind Works: A New Course by Bestselling Author Robert Wright

Free Guided Meditations From UCLA: Boost Your Awareness & Ease Your Stress

Meditation 101: A Short, Animated Beginner’s Guide

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

Hear Dylan Thomas Recite His Classic Poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

When Dylan Thomas was a little boy his father would read Shakespeare to him at bedtime. The boy loved the sound of the words, even if he was too young to understand the meaning. His father, David John Thomas, taught English at a grammar school in southern Wales but wanted to be a poet. He was bitterly disappointed with his station in life.

Many years later when the father lay on his deathbed, Dylan Thomas wrote a poem that captures the profound sense of empathy he felt for the dying old man. The poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night," was written in 1951, only two years before the poet's own untimely death at the age of 39. Despite the impossibility of escaping death, the anguished son implores his father to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

The poem is a beautiful example of the villanelle form, which features two rhymes and two alternating refrains in verse arranged into five tercets, or three-lined stanzas, and a concluding quatrain in which the two refrains are brought together as a couplet at the very end. You can hear Thomas's famous 1952 recital of the poem above. To see the poem's structure and read along as you listen, click here to open the text in a new window.

And to hear more of Thomas reciting his own works (and more), please visit our prior post 8 Glorious Hours of Dylan Thomas Reading Poetry–His Own & Others’.

All poems have been added to our collection of Free Audio Books.

Note: an earlier version of this post originally appeared on our site in August 2012.

Related content:

Anthony Hopkins Reads 'Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night'

Hear Dylan Thomas Read Three Poems by W.H. Auden, Including “September 1, 1939”

The History of the Guitar & Guitar Legends: From 1929 to 1979

In the age of the Classical Education, students pored over and memorized the works of “authorities,” exemplars of grammar, rhetoric, logic, etc. Constellations in the night sky of ignorance, so to speak, these writers and thinkers showed the way to knowledge through their excellence. The method may have fallen out of favor in modern pedagogy, but it survives in popular culture, and in the videos here, producer and musician Rick Beato employs it as a way of teaching the history of guitar.

In the episode above, he names guitar players from 1929-1969 that “every serious guitarist should know.” Below, he does the same for the decade of the seventies. These guitarists exemplify Classical, Blues, Jazz, Country and Rock & Roll guitar, according to Beato, and yes, he knows he probably left off your favorite players, so go ahead and mention them in the comments.

Beato includes a brief film or audio clip of each player, with the unspoken assumption that serious students will seek out more of their recorded music and become more familiar with what made them unique. In the list below, you can see the 48 names he lists in his first video.

1. Andres Segovia
2. Julian Bream
3. Charley Patton
4. Robert Johnson
5. Lightnin Hopkins
6. Blind Lemon Jefferson
7. Leadbelly 8. Elmore James
9. Muddy Waters
10. Freddie King
11. Albert King
12. B.B. King
13. Buddy Guy
14. Otis Rush
15. Django Reinhardt
16. Charlie Christian
17. Wes Montgomery
18. Joe Pass
19. George Benson
20. Barney Kessel
21. Herb Ellis
22. George Van Eps
23. Kenny Burrell
24. Jim Hall
25. Grant Green
26. Tal Farlow
27. Antonio Carlos Jobim
28. Les Paul and Mary Ford
29. Chuck Berry
30. Hank Marvin
31. Dick Dale
32. George Harrison
33. Keith Richards
34. Steve Cropper
35. Chet Atkins
36. Jerry Reed
37. Glen Campbell
38. Jimi Hendrix
39. Eric Clapton
40. Jimmy Page
41. Jeff Beck
42. Peter Green
43. Mike Bloomfield
44. Johnny Winter
45. Carlos Santana
46. Jerry Garcia
47. Ritchie Blackmore
48. Frank Zappa

The period of 1970-1979 saw “some of the most significant developments for the role of the guitar,” brought about by the British Invasion, the influence of the blues, and the “sonic and technological advances of the guitar.” The period began with two great losses in the guitar world: jazz great Wes Montgomery in 1968 and Jimi Hendrix in 1970. But many more greats soon came to prominence, such as classical guitarists Christopher Parkening and John Williams and jazz adventurers Pat Metheny and Joe Pass.

Beato namechecks several guitarists well-known to most of the listening public and many more you may never have heard before. His rapid introduction will likely inspire guitarists to learn what they can from these authorities of the instrument, broadening both their historical knowledge and their technique. He promises more videos like this in the future, each covering a new decade. Who will Beato choose as most influential players of the eighties, nineties, and oughties? Subscribe to his channel to find out.

Related Content:

The History of Rock Musically Told in 100 Guitar Riffs and 100 Bass Riffs

Learn to Play Guitar for Free: Intro Courses Take You From The Very Basics to Playing Songs In No Time

How to Build a Custom Handcrafted Acoustic Guitar from Start to Finish: The Process Revealed in a Fascinating Documentary

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

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.

Related Content:

Angelo Badalamenti Reveals How He and David Lynch Composed the Twin Peaks‘ “Love Theme”

Hear the Music of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Played by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Hear the Music of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Played by the Experimental Band, Xiu Xiu: A Free Stream of Their New Album

David Lynch’s Music Videos: Nine Inch Nails, Moby, Chris Isaak & More

David Lynch’s New ‘Crazy Clown Time’ Video: Intense Psychotic Backyard Craziness (NSFW)

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.

Download Classic Japanese Wave and Ripple Designs: A Go-to Guide for Japanese Artists from 1903

Traditional Japanese art may please so many of us, even those of us with little interest in Japan itself, because of the way it inhabits the realm between representation and abstraction. But then, it doesn't just inhabit that realm: it has settled those borderlands, made them its own, for much longer than most cultures have been doing anything at all. The space between art, strictly defined, and what we now call design has also seen few achievements quite so impressive as those made in Japan, going all the way back to the rope markings on the clay vessels used by the islands' Jōmon people in the 11th century BC.

Those ancient rope-on-clay markings can easily look like predecessors of the "wave patterns" still seen in Japanese art and design today. Since time almost immemorial they have appeared on "swords (both blades and handles) and associated paraphernalia (known as 'sword furniture'), as well as lacquerware, Netsuke, religious objects, and a host of other items."

So says the Public Domain Review, which has featured a series of three books full of elegant wave and ripple designs originally published in 1903 and now available to download free at the Internet Archive (volume onevolume twovolume three).

Called Hamonshū, the books were produced by the artist Mori Yuzan, "about whom not a lot is known," adds the Public Domain review, "apart from that he hailed from Kyoto, worked in the Nihonga style" — or the "Japanese painting" style of Japanese painting, which emerged during the Meiji period, a time of rapid Westernization in Japan.

He "died in 1917. The works would have acted as a kind of go-to guide for Japanese craftsmen looking to adorn their wares with wave and ripple patterns." Though they do contain text, they require no knowledge of the Japanese language to appreciate the many illustrations they present.

Taken together, Mori's books offer a complete spectrum from traditional Japanese-style representation — especially of land, water, mountains, sky, and other natural elements — to a taste of the infinite variety of abstract patterns that result. Such imagery remains prevalent in Japan more than a century after the publication of Hamonshū, as any visitor to Japan today will see.

But now that the Internet Archive has made the books freely available online (volume onevolume twovolume three), they'll surely inspire work not just between representation and abstraction as well as between art and design, but between Japanese aesthetics and those of every other culture in the world as well.

via Public Domain Review

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Watch Japanese Woodworking Masters Create Elegant & Elaborate Geometric Patterns with Wood

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1,000+ Historic Japanese Illustrated Books Digitized & Put Online by the Smithsonian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600-1912)

The Art of Collotype: See a Near Extinct Printing Technique, as Lovingly Practiced by a Japanese Master Craftsman

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.

R. Crumb Illustrates Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea: Existentialism Meets Underground Comics

Sartre’s novel Nausea introduced his philosophical view as a form of illness to a WWII readership. “Nausea is existence revealing itself—and experience is not pleasant to see,” he wrote in his own summary of his first book, published in 1938. The novel’s dramatization of Historian Roquentin' s crisis presents a case of existential sickness as mostly involuntary.

Though published before his many Marxist books and essays, Nausea connects the malaise to a certain class experience. “I have no troubles,” thinks Roquentin in Robert Crumb’s short adaptation of the book above, “I have money like a capitalist, no boss, no wife, no children; I exist, that’s all…. And that trouble is so vague, so metaphysical that I am ashamed of it.” Nausea, in one sense, is bourgeoise alienation, while Roquentin’s conversation partner, the Self-Taught Man, confesses a naïve humanist idealism.

The characters alone, some critics suggest, imbue the book with a subtle parody. As he listens to the Self-Taught Man’s troubles and ruminates on his own, Crumb’s Roquentin grows more Sartre-like. Significantly, the Self-Taught Man takes on a Crumb-like demeanor and aspect. Their dialogue moves briskly, the scene resembling My Dinner with Andre with less banter and more neurosis. Sartre’s tone lends itself well to Crumb’s obsessive, tightly-composed panels.

Crumb’s literary interpretations have gravitated toward other anxious writers like Charles Bukowski and Franz Kafka, as well as the murder and incest of the book of Genesis. The underground comics legend is right at home with Sartrean dread and despair. Crumb became famous for Fritz the Cat, an animated film version of his raunchy hipster, what many called his grossly sexist and racist sex fantasies, and the drawing and slogan “Keep on Truckin’.” He was a figure of 60s and 70s counterculture, but that’s never where he belonged.

Crumb was a Sartrean protagonist , even when he “often portrayed himself in his work as naked... and priapic.” In an an interview with Crumb The Guardian describes him:

his words are depressive and lugubrious, and yet he appears mellow, laughing easily through his existential nausea. The most terrible stories amuse him as much as they pain him. He tells me how a best friend killed himself by swallowing four bottles of paper correction fluid, and he chortles. He talks of his own despair, and giggles. He admits that he could never have imagined a life quite so fulfilled—with Aline, and his beloved daughter Sophie, also a cartoonist, and success and money—and says he's still miserable as hell, and laughs.

He is a little Roquentin, a little bit Sartre, a little bit Self-Taught man, applying to his reading of literature and philosophy an LSD-assisted, sex-positive, and unavoidably controversial and depressive sensibility. See the full Crumb-illustrated Nausea here.

Related Content:

R. Crumb Describes How He Dropped LSD in the 60s & Instantly Discovered His Artistic Style

R. Crumb Shows Us How He Illustrated Genesis: A Faithful, Idiosyncratic Illustration of All 50 Chapters

Three Charles Bukowski Books Illustrated by Robert Crumb: Underground Comic Art Meets Outsider Literature

Underground Cartoonist Robert Crumb Creates an Illustrated Introduction to Franz Kafka’s Life and Work

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

Paul McCartney Breaks Down His Most Famous Songs and Answers Most-Asked Fan Questions in Two New Videos

Paul McCartney has played it safe for decades, relying on the brilliance of his songwriting and musicianship, which no one ever doubts and so he never has to prove. His songs usually fall into a formula familiar from Beatles’ days: “silly love songs,” writes Stephen Earlewine at Pitchfork, “mini-suites… polite political protests, and old-fashioned rockers.” But while the Beatles had each other, the experiments of George Martin, LSD, transcendental meditation, and a moment of perfect cultural kismet to twist and warp their music into all sorts of weird shapes, McCartney’s solo releases tend to stick to his established strengths, sometimes to the detriment of what can happen when he moves out of his comfort zone to get deeper and more vulnerable.

Yet as nearly every critic has so far noted of his newest album, Egypt Station—which he heavily promoted, for example, with an appearance on Carpool Karaoke and a “secret” show at Grand Central Station—McCartney lets listeners in on some surprising confessional darkness. The Nick Drake-like lyrics of opener “I Don’t Know” show him earnestly confronting aging, mortality, and depression, without any of the usual sunniness or comedic turns of phrase: “I got crows at my window/Dogs at my door/I don’t think I can take anymore.” The candid admission, Erlewine writes, “would be startling in any context, but what stings most is the tacit acknowledgment that 76-year-old McCartney realizes he’s nearing the end of his long, winding road.”

In interviews, like his latest with Rolling Stone, however, McCartney sounds as upbeat as ever. He describes sitting in Apple meetings after the breakup of the Beatles as “like seeing the death of your favorite pet,” but he also enthuses about his patched-up relationship with Yoko (“Now it’s like we’re mates”), love for his band—who have now been playing together longer than both the Beatles and Wings—and his pride in his musical legacy (“It’s a damn good job I did”). He sounds just as pleased to be onstage in his mid-70s as he was in his 20s—the genuine love of performing and engaging with fans hasn’t dulled one bit with age, just as his ability to write and sell hit records remains solid.

As for his time-tested formula, Erlewine comments, it only “makes the moments where Paul attempts something slightly new seem all the more apparent.” One new thing he’s gamely tried in recent years is making online videos for fans. A few years back, he dropped a few lessons showing how to play the bass and guitar parts on “Ever Present Past” from 2007’s Memory Almost Full. This year, McCartney’s fan service includes the two videos here. First at the top, he spends almost a half an hour discussing the best-known songs in his 60-year-career for GQ: “I Lost My Little Girl,” “Yesterday,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “And I Love Her,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “A Day in the Life,” “Hey Jude,” “Helter Skelter,” “Blackbird,” “Let It Be,” “Hi Hi Hi,” “Here Today,” “Jet,” and Egypt Station’s “I Don’t Know.”

Above, McCartney accept’s Wired’s “autocomplete challenge,” answering the internet’s most searched questions about himself, such as “Why is Paul McCartney’s nickname ‘Macca’?” and “Why did Paul McCartney write ‘Let it Be’?” (Answers: “Cause I’m from Liverpool, and they abbreviate everything in Liverpool” and he was “a bit stressed out”—and a little high—and his mother came to him in a dream with the advice: “just let it be.”) Is there always more learn about Paul McCartney? Yes, apparently there is. But even when he repeats himself, he’s still great fun to watch.

Related Content:

Chaos & Creation at Abbey Road: Paul McCartney Revisits The Beatles’ Fabled Recording Studio

The Genius of Paul McCartney’s Bass Playing in 7 Isolated Tracks

Paul McCartney Offers a Short Tutorial on How to Play the Bass Guitar

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

This Man Flew to Japan to Sing ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” in a Big Cold River

Austin Weber traveled to Kyoto and sang ABBA's "Mamma Mia" in a big cold river. What made the resulting video so strangely compelling? Maybe, as one YouTube commenter noted, it's that the "video has about 100 pixels but every one is used to their full potential." Or maybe, as another YouTuber said, "it’s the synthy ABBA, the goofy zooms and editing, or the bittersweet premise combined with the song." Or maybe it's that the video simply "brings us back to the mid 2000's," when our YouTube culture all got started. It's hard to know. But maybe we shouldn't overthink it and just enjoy.

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Umberto Eco Explains Why We Make Lists

Creative Commons image by Rob Bogaerts, via the National Archives in Holland

We hate lists, which have told us what to do since at least the days Leonardo da Vinci, and which now, as "listicles," constitute one of the lowest strata of internet content. But we also love lists: a great many of us click on those listicles, after all, and one might argue that the list, as a form, represents the beginning of written texts. "The list is the origin of culture," said Umberto Eco in a 2009 Der Spiegel interview about the exhibition on the history of the list he curated at the Louvre. "It's part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order  — not always, but often."

How, as mere human beings, do we impose order when we gaze up into infinity, down into the abyss — pick your metaphor of the sublimely, incomprehensibly vast? We do it, Eco thought, "through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries." The breadth as well as depth of the knowledge he accumulated throughout his 84 years — which itself could seem sublimely and incomprehensibly vast, as anyone who has read one of his list-filled novels knows — placed him well to explain the origins, functions, and importance of the list. In the Spiegel interview he names Don Giovanni's 2,063 lovers, the contents of Leopold Bloom's drawers, and the many ships and generals specified in the Iliad as just a few of the classic lists and enumerations of Western culture.

Eco's research into and/or obsession with lists produced not just the exhibition at the Louvre but also a book, The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay. Did it also lead him to any other answers about why, whether in the Middle Ages with its "very clear image of the universe," the Renaissance and Baroque eras with their "worldview based on astronomy," the "postmodern age" in which we live today, or any other time, "the list has prevailed over and over again?" Ultimately, we make lists whenever we experience a "deficiency of language," such as when lovers describe one another ("Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone") or when we remember the "very discouraging, humiliating limit" of death. Making lists of things that seem infinite is "a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die."

Having died in 2016 himself, Eco left behind an immense personal library (his walkthrough of which we've previously featured here on Open Culture). "It might actually be 50,000 books," he said to the Spiegel interviewer, but he refused to put them on a list and find out for sure: "When my secretary wanted to catalogue them, I asked her not to. My interests change constantly, and so does my library." If he were to try to list his interests, he would have had to keep scrapping the list and drawing up a new one; more than providing abundant material for his writing, this constant and lifelong circulation of fascinations (he mentioned first loving Chopin at 16, and again in his seventies) confirmed his engagement with the infinite world around him: "If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you're an idiot."

Related Content:

Umberto Eco Explains the Poetic Power of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts

Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism

Watch Umberto Eco Walk Through His Immense Private Library: It Goes On, and On, and On!

Umberto Eco Dies at 84; Leaves Behind Advice to Aspiring Writers

Leonardo Da Vinci’s To Do List (Circa 1490)

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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