Discover Haruki Murakami’s Advertorial Short Stories: Rare Short-Short Fiction from the 1980s


No profile of Haruki Murakami, the most globally popular novelist alive, fails to refer to the high number of languages (as of this writing, the count has reached 50) in which his 14 Japanese-language novels have appeared in translation. But outside Japan, monoglot Murakamists (especially readers of only English) have a problem: they still can’t read a wealth of Murakami’s other, non-novelistic writing, including the full-length, two-volume version of Underground, his study of the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack; his Portrait in Jazz books on his favorite music; and most of his many essays and movie reviews.

Even some of Murakami’s fiction has remained more or less off-limits to global readers. I discovered this when I came across a collection of his I’d never even heard of while book-shopping in Seoul. Realizing that of course more Murakami material would find its way into Korean, a grammatically similar language to Japanese, than English, I set about checking every bookstore in the city I knew for other unknown volumes. One book of short stories, titled in Korean 밤의 원숭이 (Spider Monkey of the Night), particularly delighted me with its strange and extremely brief tales, each accompanied by charming illustrations.


But where did these stories, with their titles like “Hotel Lobby Oysters,” “Julio Iglesias,” and “Takayama Noriko and My Libido,” come from? They came, as Neojaponisme’s post on them explains, from the world of advertising, and specifically from a company called “Onward,” which marketed the American Ivy League fashion label J. Press in Japan:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Onward spent massive sums on advertising J. Press in the print media. The classic ad format, often seen on the back cover of lifestyle magazine Popeye, showed a Japanese or American man telling a colorful story about their favorite trad clothing item. In 1985, as Japanese pop culture went in more avant-garde directions, Onward came up with a new idea — asking up-and-coming novelist Murakami Haruki to write a very short story inside each month’s advertisement for magazines Popeye, Box, and Men’s Club.

“So once a month from April 1985 to February 1987, Murakami wrote a ‘short short’ (短い短編), which was set on its own page with an illustration by famed artist Anzai Mizumaru at the top and a small J. Press logo in the lower left corner.” During that time, out came Murakami’s hit novel Norwegian Wood, which rocketed him to a level of fame that effectively put him in exile from his homeland. But the advertorial short-short form still appealed to him, and in 1993 he got famous penmaker Parker to sponsor 24 new ones.

To give you a flavor of all this, below is one of the English-language translations floating around of “Hotel Lobby Oysters,” Murakami’s first J. Press story. (You can also read “Miss Noriko Takayama and My Libido,” another J. Press story here):

At the time I was sitting on the hotel lobby sofa and vaguely thinking about oysters. Not lemon soufflé, not pencil sharpeners – oysters. I don’t know why. I just suddenly realized that I was thinking about oysters.

The oysters I was thinking about on the hotel lobby sofa were different from oysters thought about anywhere else. They were shaped differently, they smelled differently, and their color was different, too. They weren’t oysters harvested in some cove. They were pure oysters harvested in a hotel lobby.

After thinking about oysters for a while, I went to the sink to wash my face, then retied my tie and returned to the sofa. When I got back, the oysters had already disappeared from inside my head. Again, I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I washed my faced or because I retied my tie. Or maybe the hotel oyster season is extremely short.

When the girl came 17 minutes after our appointed time, I told her about the hotel lobby oysters. The image was so distinct I felt like I had to tell someone about them.

“You want to eat oysters?” she asked.

“No, these oysters, they were purely oysters as a concept, unrelated to my appetite,” I explained. “The oysters came into being as the very essence of oys—“

“But you do want to eat some, right?” she said.

When she mentioned it and I settled down to think about it, I certainly had developed an incredible desire to eat oysters. We went to the hotel restaurant and ate 25 oysters while drinking wine. Sometimes I think my appetite originates from a really strange place.

And, for Parker, Murakami wrote, “Spider Monkey of the Night”:

I was sitting at my desk at 2:00 in the morning and writing. I pushed my window open and a spider monkey came in.

“Oh, hey, who are you?” I asked.

“Oh, hey, who are you,” the spider monkey said.

“Don’t copy me,” I said.

“Don’t copy me,” the monkey said.

Don’t copy me,” I copied him.

Don’t copy me,” he copied me in italics.

Man, this is really annoying, I thought. If I get caught up with this copycat-crazed night monkey, who knows when this will end. I’ll just have to trip him up somewhere. I had a job that I had to finish by morning, and I couldn’t very well keep doing this all night.

“Heppoku rakurashi manga totemuya, kurini kamasu tokimi wakoru, pacopaco,” I said quickly.

“Heppoku rakurashi manga totemuya, kurini kamasu tokimi wakoru, pacopaco,” the spider monkey said.

Since I had said something completely random, I couldn’t actually tell if the monkey had copied me correctly or not. Well, that was pointless.

“Leave me alone,” I said.

Leave me alone,” the monkey said.

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in italics that time.”

“You got it wrong, I didn’t say it in ītalics that time.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the i.”

“I didn’t put a macron over the eye.”

I sighed. No matter what I said, the spider monkey wouldn’t understand. I decided to not say anything and just keep doing my work. Still, when I pressed a key on my word processor, the monkey silently pressed the copy key. Click. Still, when I pressed a key on my word processor, the monkey silently pressed the copy key. Click. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.

via Neojaponisme

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Read 3 Stories from Haruki Murakami’s Short Story Collection Published in Japan Last Year

Read 6 Stories By Haruki Murakami Free Online

Haruki Murakami Reads in English from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in a Rare Public Reading (1998)

Haruki Murakami Lists the Three Essential Qualities For All Serious Novelists (And Runners)

In Search of Haruki Murakami: A Documentary Introduction to Japan’s Great Postmodernist Novelist

Haruki Murakami’s Passion for Jazz: Discover the Novelist’s Jazz Playlist, Jazz Essay & Jazz Bar

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Henry Miller Makes a List of “The 100 Books That Influenced Me Most”


Image licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Take a survey of a hundred writers from the mid- to late-twentieth century about the books that influenced them most and you’re bound to find plenty of Henry Miller tucked in with the Victorians, the Russians, and the Beats. The Brooklyn-raised author of such notoriously banned novels as Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer has long appealed to contemporary writers not only because of his frank explorations of sexuality and other taboo subjects but also because—like so many avant-garde and not so avant-garde writers after him—he had the audacity to present his own life and loves as literary material. Long before the memoir became the dominant force in American letters, with all of the attendant controversies about truth-telling in the form, Miller blended fact and fiction in ways that made it hard to tell where one ended and the other began.

Miller’s reputation for living his fiction—or fictionalizing his life—may have led many readers with only a passing familiarity with his books to regard him as a kind of shameless self-mythologizer. The characterization isn’t necessarily wrong, but it only captures part of the story. Like every serious writer, Miller was also a serious reader, and his work is as much informed by the books he loved as by the women he loved. Miller freely acknowledged the literary relationships in his life, the authors who exerted influence on his work and whose styles and ideas he borrowed and made his own. He wrote an entire book on the subject, The Books in My Life, which Maria Popova at Brain Pickings describes as “a singular lens on his approach to reading.” In the book, Miller’s “central concern is a kind of anatomy of influence,” Popova writes, taking a phrase from literary critic Harold Bloom.

In his meditation on “his sources of creative spark,” Miller discusses at length his ideas about education, and its many failings. And in the book’s appendix—as if anticipating our current mania for lists—he makes a comprehensive record of “The 100 Books that Influenced Me Most.” See Miller’s complete list below, and read The Books in My Life free at the Open Library. A fair number of the books on Miller’s list can be found in our collection, 700 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

1 Ancient Greek Dramatists
2 Arabian Nights (for children)
3 Elizabethan Playwrights (excepting Shakespeare)
4 European Playwrights of 19th Century
5 Greek Myths and Legends
6 Knights of King Arthur’s Court
7 Abèlard, Pierre, The Story of My Misfortunes
8 Alain-Fournier, The Wanderer
9 Andersen, Hans Christian, Fairy Tales
10 Anonymous, Diary of a Lost One
11 Balzac, Honoré de, Seraphita
12 Balzac, Honoré de, Louis Lambert
13 Bellamy, Edward, Looking Backward
14 Belloc, Hilaire, The Path to Rome
15 Blavatsky, Mme. H. P., The Secret Doctrine
16 Boccaccio, Giovanni, The Decameron
17 Breton, André, Nadja
18 Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights
19 Bulwyer-Lytton, Edward, Last Days of Pompeii
20 Carroll, Lewis, Alice in Wonderland
21 Céline, Louis-Ferdinand, Journey to the End of the Night
22 Cellini, Benvenuto, Autobiography
23 Cendrars, Blaise, Virtually the complete works
24 Chesterton, G.K., Saint Francis of Assisi
25 Conrad, Joseph, His works in general
26 Cooper James Fenimore, Leatherstocking Tales
27 Defoe, Daniel, Robinson Crusoe
28 De Nerval, Gérard, His works in general
29 Dostoievsky, Feodor, His works in general
30 Dreiser, Theodore, His works in general
31 Duhamel, Geoges, Salavin Series
32 Du Maurier, George, Trilby
33 Dumas, Alexander, The Three Musketeers
34 Eckermann, Johann, Conversations with Goethe
35 Eltzbacher, Paul, Anarchism
36 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Representative Men
37 Fabre, Henri, His works in general
38 Faure, Elie, The History of Art
39 Fenollosa, Ernest, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry
40 Gide, André, Dostoievski
41 Giono, Jean, Refus d’Obéissance
42 Giono, Jean, Que ma joie domeure
43 Giono, Jean, Jean le Bleu
44 Grimm Brothers, Fairy Tales
45 Gutkind, Erich, The Absolute Collective
46 Haggard, Rider, She
47 Hamsun, Knut, His works in general
48 Henty, G. A., His works in general
49 Hesse, Hermann, Siddhartha
50 Hudson, W. H., His works in general
51 Hugo, Victor, Les Misérables
52 Huysmans, Joris Karl, Against the Grain
53 Joyce, James, Ulysses
54 Keyserling, Hermann, South American Meditations
55 Kropotkin, Peter, Mutual Aid
56 Lao-tse, Tao Teh Ch’ing
57 Latzko, Andreas, Men in War
58 Long, Haniel, Interlinear to Cabeza de Vaca
59 M, Gospel of Ramakrishna
60 Machen, Arthur, The Hill of Dreams
61 Maeterlinck, Maurice, His works in general
62 Mann, Thomas, The Magic Mountain
63 Mencken, H. L., Prejudices
64 Nietzsche, His works in general
65 Nijinsky, Diary
66 Nordhoff & Hall, Pitcairn Island
67 Nostradamus, The Centuries
68 Peck, George Wilbur, Peck’s Bad Boy
69 Percival, W. O., William Blake’s Circle of Destiny
70 Petronius, The Satyricon
71 Plutarch, Lives
72 Powys, John Cowper, Visions and Revisions
73 Prescott, William H., Conquest of Mexico
74 Prescott, William H., Conquest of Peru
75 Proust, Marcel, Remembrance of Things Past
76 Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
77 Rimbaud, Jean-Arthur, His works in general
78 Rolland, Romain, Jean-Christophe
79 Rolland, Romain, Prophets of the New India
80 Rudhyar, Dane, Astrology of Personality
81 Saltus, Edgar, The Imperial Purple
82 Scott, Sir Walter, Ivanhoe
83 Sienkiewicz, Henry, Quo Vadis
84 Sikelianos, Anghelos, Proanakrousma
85 Sinnett, A. P., Esoteric Buddhism
86 Spencer, Herbert, Autobiography
87 Spengler, Oswald, The Decline of the West
88 Strindberg, August, The Inferno
89 Suarès, Carlo, Krishnamurti
90 Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, Zen Buddhism
91 Swift, Jonathan, Guilliver’s Travels
92 Tennyson, Alfred, Idylls of the King
93 Thoreau, Henry David, Civil Disobedience & Other Essays
94 Twain, Mark, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
95 Van Gogh, Vincent, Letters to Theo
96 Wassermann, Jacob, The Maurizius Case (Trilogy)
97 Weigall, Arthur, Akhnaton
98 Welch, Galbraith, The Unveiling of Timbuctoo
99 Werfel, Franz, Star of the Unborn
100 Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass

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

Yoda’s Long Lost Twin Found in a 14th Century Illuminated Manuscript

medieval yoda

In a new picture book called Medieval Monsterspublished by the British Library, historian Damien Kempf and art historian Maria L. Gilbert have gathered together illustrations that highlight the great monsters of the medieval world. Monsters were everywhere, including “on the edges of manuscript pages” and on “the fringes of maps.” The successor to Medieval Cats and Medieval DogsMedieval Monsters contains no shortage of fascinating illustrations, including the one above. It looks remarkably like Yoda, doesn’t it?

A British Library curator told NPR, “The Yoda image comes from a 14th-century manuscript known as the Smithfield Decretals.”  “I’d love to say that it really was Yoda, or was drawn by a medieval time traveler.” But “it’s actually an illustration to the biblical story of Samson — the artist clearly had a vivid imagination!”

See more monsters at the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts blog.

via NPR

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

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The Making of Star Wars As Told by C-3PO & R2-D2: The First-Ever Documentary on the Film (1977)

The Earth, it seems, has only one truly unlimited resource: enthusiasm for Star Wars. Not even The Phantom Menace, the derision magnet that opened the film series’ newer trilogy, made a serious dent in our reserves. But did everyone who got together in the 1970s to make the very first Star Wars movie, from George Lucas on down the chain of command, understand how deep a vein of fandom they had drilled into? The Making of Star Wars, a 1977 documentary on that beloved space opera-turned-cultural phenomenon, will give you some idea.

Now that Star Wars has generated such a universe, if you like, of supplementary content, one more 50-minute behind-the-scenes special might strike you as no great shakes. But when The Making of Star Wars appeared in ’77, it appeared as the first documentary about Star Wars ever. And it has much higher ambitions than the average promotional short of the day, featuring not only cast and crew interviews but segments on the (decidedly pre-CGI) effects technology employed in the production.

Even the most dedicated Star Wars buffs will still find material of interest here, including footage that never made it into the picture’s theatrical cut, and footage reintroduced into 1997’s revamped “Special Edition” of the original trilogy but altered with CGI (another drain on several generation’s Star Wars love). But many of us will watch The Making of Star Wars on one of its strengths alone: C-3PO and R2-D2 host the whole thing. Could even those precision-engineered droids have foreseen the thunderous reception that has met this year’s brand new teasers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

The Making of Star Wars is a candidate for our list of Free Online Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 200 Free Documentaries Online.

via Mental Floss

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Martin Scorsese Makes a List of 85 Films Every Aspiring Filmmaker Needs to See


Before the rise of institutional film schools—ensconced in university walls with all the formality that entails—those seeking to learn the craft did so by apprenticing themselves to studios and master directors, and by watching lots and lots of movies. If we take the example of some of the most interesting filmmakers working today, this still may be the best way to become a filmmaker. Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School, for example, forgoes the trappings of classrooms for a much more rough-and-tumble approach—and a direct confrontation with the medium. Kevin Smith dropped out of film school, as did Paul Thomas Anderson, spurred on partly by a love of Terminator 2. “My filmmaking education,” revealed Anderson, “consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films.” It’s more or less how Quentin Tarantino learned to make movies too.

You could hardly do better—if you’ve decided to take this independent route toward a cinematic education—than apprentice yourself under Martin Scorsese. Or at least find out what films he loves, and watch them all yourself. Last year, we featured a list of 39 foreign films the estimable director of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Hugo, Goodfellas (etc., etc., etc.) recommended to a young filmmaker. Today, we bring you a list of 85 films Scorsese referenced in the course of a four-hour interview he gave to Fast Company. “Some of the movies he discussed,” writes FastCo, “Others he just mentioned. But the cumulative total reflects a life lived entirely within the confines of movie making.” Shoot on over to Fast Company to read Scorsese’s commentary on each of the films below, and see an aesthetically pleasing version of his list over at MUBI as well.

Like I said, you could hardly do better.

  • Ace in the Hole
  • All that Heaven Allows
  • America, America
  • An American in Paris
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
  • The Bad and the Beautiful
  • The Band Wagon
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Cape Fear
  • Cat People
  • Caught
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Conversation
  • Dial M for Murder
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Duel in the Sun
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  • Europa ’51
  • Faces
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire
  • The Flowers of St. Francis
  • Force of Evil
  • Forty Guns
  • Germany Year Zero
  • Gilda
  • The Godfather
  • Gun Crazy
  • Health
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • House of Wax
  • How Green Was My Valley
  • The Hustler
  • I Walk Alone
  • The Infernal Cakewalk
  • It Happened One Nght
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Journey to Italy
  • Julius Caesar
  • Kansas City
  • Kiss Me Deadly
  • Klute
  • La Terra Trema
  • The Lady From Shanghai
  • The Leopard
  • Macbeth
  • The Magic Box
  • M*A*S*H
  • A Matter of Life and Death
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller
  • The Messiah
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Mishima
  • Deeds Goes to Town
  • Smith Goes to Washington
  • Nashville
  • Night and the City
  • One, Two, Three
  • Othello
  • Paisa
  • Peeping Tom
  • Pickup on South Street
  • The Player
  • The Power and the Glory
  • Stagecoach
  • Raw Deal
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Rise of Louis XIV
  • The Roaring Twenties
  • Rocco and his Brothers
  • Rome, Open City
  • Secrets of the Soul
  • Senso
  • Shadows
  • Shock Corridor
  • Some Came Running
  • Stromboli
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • Sweet Smell of Success
  • Tales of Hoffman
  • The Third Man
  • T-Men
  • Touch of Evil
  • The Trial
  • Two Weeks in Another Town

via FastCoCreate

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

Interactive Music Video Lets You Explore the Apartments on the Cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti

Dig that heavy metal / Underneath your hood / Baby I can work all night / Believe I got the perfect tools / Talkin’ bout love

Last February, Led Zeppelin released a deluxe, re-mastered version of their sprawling 1975 double album Physical Graffiti, a record perhaps best known for the epic, orchestral grandeur of the 8 1/2 minute “Kashmir” (not to be outdone by the 11-minute “In My Time of Dying”). In an album full of stylistic departures and solid returns to form, one track, “Trampled Under Foot,” manages to be both, driven by down-and-dirty blues and uptown 70s funk, courtesy of John Paul Jones’ Stevie Wonder-inspired organ groove. With lyrics Robert Plant himself described as “raunchy,” the song—one of Plant’s favorites—may be the band’s most 70s-sounding. That’s not to say it’s dated, only that it most perfectly captures the sound of the American street represented on the album cover, a shot of two adjacent tenements on New York City’s St. Mark’s Place.


Now, listeners can enter those buildings and tool around the apartments, courtesy of the interactive video at the top of the post (view it in a larger format here), which features a previously unreleased rough mix of the track called “Brandy & Coke.” Conceived and directed by Hal Kirkland, the video pulls together some of my favorite things—the period design and styling of That ‘70s Show, the most inventive tricks of the music video age, a la Tom Petty or Peter Gabriel, and of course, Zep—with the added 21st century technology of online interactivity. Click the arrow keys while the video plays and you’re transported from one vivid tableaux to another, some representing funky apartment scenes, others something else entirely. The video also integrates footage from Zeppelin’s performance of the song at Earl’s Court in ’75.


Clever references abound, like the nod to godfather of fantasy cinema Georges Méliès (above) and an allusion to the classic MTV moon landing intro (below). Overall, it’s an astonishing visual feast that hearkens back to the very best in music video technology, a seemingly lost art that Kirkland and company may singlehandedly resurrect. See Kirkland’s site for more of his internet age music video creations, including “Sour—Hibi No Neiro,” shot entirely on webcams.


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

Watch Björk’s 6 Favorite TED Talks, From the Mushroom Death Suit to the Virtual Choir


Image by Zach Klein

Singer-songwriter Björk, currently enjoying a career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, celebrated TED’s billionth video view with a playlist of six treasured TED Talks. What do her choices say about her?

In this talk, artist Jae Rhim Lee models her Mushroom Death Suit, a kicky little snuggy designed to decompose and remediate toxins from corpses before they leech back into the soil or sky. Despite Björk’s fondness for outré fashion, I’m pretty sure this choice goes beyond the merely sartorial.

For more information, or to get in line for a mushroom suit of your own, see the Infinity Burial Project.

Continuing with the mushroom / fashion theme, Björk next turns to designer Suzanne Lee, who demonstrates how she grows sustainable textiles from kombucha mushrooms. The resulting material may variously resemble paper or flexible vegetable leather. It is extremely receptive to natural dyes, but not water repellent, so bring a non-kombucha-based change of clothes in case you get caught in the rain.

For more information on Lee’s homegrown, super green fabric, visit BioCouture.

Björk’s clearly got a soft spot for things that grow: mushrooms, mushroom-based fabric, and now…building materials? Professor of Experimental Architecture Rachel Armstrong’s plan for self-regenerating buildings involves protocols, or “little fatty bags” that behave like living things despite an absence of DNA. I’m still not sure how it works, but as long as the little fatty bags are not added to my own ever-growing edifice, I’m down.

For more information on what Dr. Armstrong refers to as bottom up construction (including a scheme to keep Venice from sinking) see Black Sky Thinking.

Björk’s next choice takes a turn for the serious… with games. Game Designer Brenda Romero began exploring the heavy duty emotional possibilities of the medium when her 9-year-old daughter returned from school with a less than nuanced understanding of the Middle Passage. The success of that experiment inspired her to create games that spur players to engage on a deeper level with thorny historical subjects. (The Trail of Tears required 50,000 individual reddish-brown pieces).

Learn more about Romero’s analog games at The Mechanic is the Message.

Remember those 50,000 individual pieces? As photographer Aaron Huey documented life on Pine Ridge Reservation, he was humbled by hearing himself referred to as “wasichu,” a Lakota word that can be translated as “non-Indian.” Huey decided not to shy away from its more pointed translation: “the one who takes the best meat for himself.” His TED Talk is an impassioned history lesson that begins in 1824 with the creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ends in an activist challenge.

Proof that Björk is not entirely about the quirk.

See Huey’s photos from the National Geographic cover story, “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.”

Björk opts to close things on a musical note with excerpts from composer Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque” and “Sleep” performed by a crowdsourced virtual choir. Its members—they swell to 1999 for “Sleep”—record their parts alone at home, then upload them to be mixed into something sonically and spiritually greater than the sum of its parts.

Listen to “Sleep” in its entirety here.

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

David Chase Reveals the Philosophical Meaning of The Soprano’s Final Scene

Eight years after it aired, the final scene of the final episode of The Sopranos still has people guessing: What happened when the screen suddenly went black? Did Tony Soprano get whacked? Or did he live to see another quasi-ordinary day? Could he really die as Journey sings, “Don’t Stop Believing?”

In a new interview appearing on The Directors Guild of America web site, David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, revisits the making of the final scene. Chase doesn’t directly answer the questions about Tony’s fate. But he does give us some insight into the deeper philosophical questions raised in the scene (watch it above) and how much they’re bound up in the lyrics of Journey’s soundtrack. There’s some deeper meaning in the small town girl and the city boy taking “the midnight train goin’ anywhere”:

I love the timing of the lyric when Carmela enters: ‘Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ Then it talks about Tony: ‘Just a city boy,’ and we had to dim down the music so you didn’t hear the line, ‘born and raised in South Detroit.’ The music cuts out a little bit there, and they’re speaking over it. ‘He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ And that to me was [everything]. I felt that those two characters had taken the midnight train a long time ago. That is their life. It means that these people are looking for something inevitable. Something they couldn’t find. I mean, they didn’t become missionaries in Africa or go to college together or do anything like that. They took the midnight train going anywhere. And the midnight train, you know, is the dark train.

And there’s meaning packed in the idea of “Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard.”

Cutting to Meadow parking was my way of building up the tension and building up the suspense, but more than that I wanted to demonstrate the lyrics of the song, which is streetlights, people walking up and down the boulevard, because that’s what the song is saying. ‘Strangers waiting.’ I wanted you to remember that is out there. That there are streetlights and people out there and strangers moving up and down. It’s the stream of life, but not only that, it’s the stream of life at night. There’s that picture called History Is Made at Night [from 1937]. I love that title. And that kind of echoes in my head all the time.

But if you’re looking for the philosophical essence of the scene, then look no further than the mantra, “Don’t stop believin.'” That’s what it’s all about:

I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure. But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.

Read Chase’s complete account of the famous final scene here.

Thanks to Ted Mills for flagging this. Follow him at @TedMills.

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Enter the Church of the SubGenius, the Parody Religion Backed by R. Crumb, David Byrne & Other Alt-Icons

You may not know much about the Church of the SubGenius, but you’ve definitely seen its prophet. The intensively groomed, Ward Cleaveresque J. R. “Bob” Dobbs (below) began as a humble piece of 1950s clip art and went on to become “a way of life to millions… yet half of them don’t even know it.” Or so claims the sweeping, absurdity-laced, sonically (and perhaps intellectually) twisted narration of Arise! The SubGenius, an “instructional barrage video” put out by the Church in 1992 as the most potent distillation of its religion-satirizing sensibility.


The obsession with worldwide conspiracies, the importance granted to voracious consumption and “remixing” of pop culture (visible everywhere in Arise!), the hardline opposition to work, the all-important and never-defined quality of “Slack,” the askew eschatology: how much of the Church of the Subgenius’ doctrine has remained mere parody religion, and how much, since its founding in the late 1970s, have its “followers”—a group that includes such alt-icons as David Byrne, Robert Crumb, and Mark Mothersbaugh—come to consider as good as the real thing?

But whatever legitimacy this surprisingly long-running postmodern joke has attained, we can also view it, like all religions, as a cultural movement. This approach raises its own questions: how, exactly, did Dobbs’ pipe-clenching, fatherly yet sinister visage become one of the most recognizable subcultural emblems of the 1980s and 1990s? You may never learn the answer, just as you may never get a handle on the entirety of the Church’s ever more labyrinthine and aggressively preposterous mythology, but you’ll certainly find it all strangely compelling in the attempt.

And even if Arise! The SubGenius doesn’t recruit you into the Church of the SubGenius’ ranks, you’ve got to respect what they’ve predicted: not the end of the world, as much as they talk about it, but our currently thriving 21st-century culture of media appropriation, recontextualization, and absurdification. If ever there were a religion for the Youtube era, here it is. And if you find nothing novel in its characteristic ambivalence about what counts as serious and what doesn’t, maybe the Church of the SubGenius’ teachings have penetrated even deeper into the zeitgeist than all those “Bob” stickers made us suspect.

via Network Awesome

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema 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.

Hear Ursula K. Le Guin’s Pioneering Sci-Fi Novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, as a BBC Radio Play

Whether they consider it one of her most or least important works, fans of science-fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin usually have a great deal to say about her best-known novel, 1969’s The Left Hand of Darkness. But it doesn’t matter to me whether a book has won a Hugo or a Nebula — and The Left Hand of Darkness has won both — or how many readers — and The Left Hand of Darkness has many — have slapped on it the label of “masterpiece.” No, I only get intrigued by descriptions like the one Wikipedia puts in its opening paragraph on the novel, which calls it “the most famous examination of sexless androgyny in science fiction.”

Among its many other fascinating qualities, The Left Hand of Darkness takes place on an alien world with no fixed sexes, performing a narrative “thought experiment” about what kind of society you might get when, depending on the circumstances, anyone might reproduce with anyone else. This unusual concept has drawn the attention of not only generations of readers but several different adaptors, most recently the BBC. They’ve always done a redoubtable job converting imaginative literature into radio drama — take their recent version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or their classic one of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, considered by many fans better than the book. Now they’ve set their sights on Le Guin’s award-winner.

The first episode of the BBC’s Left Hand of Darkness has already aired, and you can hear it free online for about a month at the show’s site. (It runs almost an hour.) Episode two is now online here. You can get a taste of the production from the promotional video at the top of the post; the one just above gives a scrap of insight as to how Le Guin came to envision the novel’s world. Personally, I need no further incentive to tune in than that the series features Toby Jones, whose presence (usually in film) reliably indicates a just-askew-enough cultural experience. And if you still feel wary about engaging with any kind of science fiction, know that even Harold Bloom really, really liked the book.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.