A Flying Car Took to the Skies in Back 1949: See the Taylor Aerocar in Action

“A secret question hovers over us, a sense of disappointment, a broken promise we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like,” the late anthropologist David Graeber once wrote in the Baffler. This refers to “a particular generational promise — given to those who were children in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or eighties — one that was never quite articulated as a promise but rather as a set of assumptions about what our adult world would be like.” In the confusingly disappointing future we now inhabit, one question hovers above them all: “Where, in short, are the flying cars?”

Even those of us not yet born in the mid-20th century can sense the cultural import of the flying car to that era, and not just from its science fiction. Chuck Berry was singing about flying cars back in 1956: His song “You Can’t Catch Me” tells of racing down the New Jersey Turnpike in a custom-made “airmobile,” a “Flight DeVille with a powerful motor and some hideaway wings.”

This wasn’t wholly fantastical, given that an actual flying car had been built seven years earlier. Demonstrated in the newsreel from that year at the top of  the post, the Aerocar came designed and built by a solo inventor, former World War II pilot Moulton Taylor of Longview, Washington, who in 1959 would appear on the popular game show I’ve Got a Secret.

The program’s panelists attempt to guess the nature of Taylor’s invention as he puts it together onstage, for the Aerocar required some assembly. Though considerably more complicated than the push-button mechanism imagined by Berry, the process took only five minutes to convert from automobile to airplane, or so the inventor promised. Despite securing the Civil Aviation Authority’s approval for mass production, Taylor couldn’t find a sufficient number of buyers, and in the end only built six Aerocars. But one of them still flies, as seen on the first episode of the 2008 series James May‘s Big Ideas. “I wouldn’t have flown it if I’d seen the wings were attached with elaborate paperclips,” writes the former Top Gear co-host, “but by the time I realized this, we were already at 2,000 feet.”

“As an airplane, it was actually pretty good,” May admits, “but then, it would be, because an airplane is what it was.” As a car, “it was diabolical. Worse than the Beetle, to be honest, and not helped by the requirement to drag all the unwanted airplaney bits behind you on a trailer.” Still, the experience of flying in the Aerocar clearly thrilled him, as it would any car or plane enthusiast. Even in a non-airworthy state the Aerocar certainly thrills Matthew Burchette, curator at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. In the video above he introduces the museum’s Aerocar III, the last one Taylor built. “If you’re about my age, you really wanted your jetpack,” says the gray-haired Burchette, though a flying car would also have done the trick. Alas, more than half a century after Taylor’s ambitious project, humanity seems to have made no apparent progress in that department; jetpacks, however, seem to be coming along nicely.

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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 Beatles Create an Abstract Collaborative Painting, Images of a Woman, During Three Days of Lockdown in Japan (1966)

One of the earliest known non-human visual artists, Congo the chimpanzee, learned to draw in 1956 at the age of two. Moody, fiercely protective of his work, and particular about his process, he made around 400 drawings and paintings in a style described as “lyrical abstract impressionism.” He appeared several times on British television before his death in 1964. He counted Picasso among his fans and, in a 2005 auction, outsold Warhol and Renoir.

One wonders if whoever gave the four-headed beast known as the Beatles canvas and paint (“possibly Brian Epstein or their Japanese promoter, Tats Nagashima”) remembered Congo as the fab four bounced off the walls in their hotel rooms in Tokyo during their last, 1966 tour, when extra security forced them to stay inside for three full days. Or perhaps their keepers were inspired by the humane practice of art therapy, coming into its own at the same time in mental health circles with the founding of the British Association of Art Therapists in 1964.

“According to photographer Robert Whitaker,” David Wolman writes at The Atlantic, the Beatles’ manager “brought the guys a bunch of art supplies to help pass the time. Then Epstein set a large canvas on a table and placed a lamp in the middle. Each member of the group set to work painting a corner—comic strippy for Ringo, psychedelic for John.” Paul’s corner resembles an oddly erotic sea creature, George’s the spiritual abstractions of Kandinsky. According to the Beatles Bible, it was Nagashima “who suggested that the completed painting be auctioned for charity.”

Whitaker documented the experiment and later pronounced it an immediate success: “I never saw them calmer, more contented than at this time… They’d stop, go and do a concert, and then it was ‘Let’s go back to the picture!’” Once finished, the lamp was lifted, all four signed their names in the center, and the painting was titled Images of A Woman, which may be no indication of the artists’ intentions. But who knows what bawdy scouser humor passed between them as they worked.

The painting then passed to cinema executive Tetsusaburo Shimoyama, whose widow auctioned it in 1989 to wealthy record store owner Takao Nishino, who had seen them at Budokan in 1966 during the same historic tour that produced the painting. Then it ended up under a bed for twenty years before being auctioned again in 2012. It’s certainly true the band, most especially Paul and John, had always taken to visual art, as artists themselves or as collectors and appreciators. But this is something special. It represents their only collaborative artwork, aside from some doodles on a card sent to the Monterrey organizers.

When looking at Whitaker’s photographs of the band at work (see video montage above), one doesn’t, of course, think of Congo the chimp or the patients of a psychiatric hospital. Instead, they look like students in a ‘60s alternative school, set loose to create without interruption (but for the occasional mega-concert) to their hearts’ content. Maybe Epstein or Nagashima had just seen the 1966 National Film Board of Canada documentary Summerhill, about just such a school in England? Whatever inspired the zeitgeist-y moment, we can see why it never came again. That year, they played their final concert and retired to the studio, where they could lock themselves away with their preferred means of creative distraction.

Related Content:

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Audio: The Beatles Play Their Final Concert at Candlestick Park, 1966

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

Nikon Offers Free Online Photography Courses During the Holidays

A quick heads up. From November 23rd through December 31st, you can stream for free all classes offered by Nikon School Online. Normally priced at $15-$50 per course, this 10-course offering covers Fundamentals of Photography, Dynamic Landscape Photography, Macro Photography, Photographing Children and Pets, and more.

Finding the courses on the Nikon site is not very intuitive. To access the courses, click here and then scroll down the page until you see a yellow button that says “Watch Full Version.” From there you will get a prompt that allows you to sign up for the courses…

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via PetaPixel

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Stevie Ray Vaughan Gives a Blistering Demonstration of His Guitar Technique

What made Stevie Ray Vaughan such a great guitarist? If you ask Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, a devoted student of the blues, it’s “his timing, his tone, his feel, his vibrato, his phrasing–everything. Some people are just born to play guitar, and Stevie was definitely one of them.” This may come as disappointing news to guitar players who want to sound like SRV but weren’t born with his genes. Hammett assures them it’s possible to approximate his style, to some degree, with the right gear and mastery of his signature techniques. Hammett lays out the SRV repertoire thoroughly, but there is no substitute for the source.

SRV’s dual education in both the British blues and the American blues of his heroes gave him “less reservations and less reasons to be so-called a ‘purist,’” he says in the video above. He then proceeds to blow us away with imitations of the greats and his own particular spin on their techniques.

You could call it a guitar lesson, but as his student, you had better have advanced blues chops and a very good ear. As he runs through the styles of his idols, Vaughan doesn’t slow down or pause to explain what he’s doing. If you can keep up, you probably don’t need the lessons after all.

Although compared, favorably or otherwise, to his idol Jimi Hendrix during his life and after his tragic death at 35, Vaughan also “incorporated the jazz stylings of Django Reinhardt, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery,” Guitar magazine notes, and was “a keen student of Muddy Waters, Albert King, Freddie King, Chuck Berry, Lonnie Mack and Otis Rush.” Muddy Waters, in turn, was a great admirer of Vaughan. “Stevie could perhaps be the greatest guitar player that ever lived,” the blues legend remarked in 1979. But like his hero Hendrix, Vaughan’s talent could be overshadowed by his addictions. “He won’t live to get 40 years old if he doesn’t leave that white powder alone,” Waters went on.

The drugs and alcohol nearly killed him, but they didn’t seem to cramp his playing. The video above comes from a January 1986 soundcheck, the same year Vaughan’s substance abuse hit its peak and he entered rehab after nearly dying of dehydration in Germany. He would get sober and survive, only to die in a helicopter crash four years later. While his early death may have something to do with the way he has been deified, what comes through in his albums and performances thirty years after he left us is the brute fact of his originality as a blues player.

Perhaps the the most concise statement of this comes from John Mayer’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech:

There is an intensity about Stevie’s guitar playing that only he could achieve, still to this day. It’s a rage without anger, it’s devotional, it’s religious. He seamlessly melded the supernatural vibe of Jimi Hendrix, the intensity of Albert King, the best of British, Texas and Chicago Blues and the class and sharp shooter precision of his older brother Jimmie. Stevie is the ultimate guitar hero.

If you’ve ever had reason to doubt, see it for yourself above.

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

A Mysterious Monolith Appears in the Utah Desert, Channeling Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

People do weird things in the desert. A spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources acknowledges that widely understood truth in a recent New York Times article about a mysterious monolith discovered in Red Rock Country. “A team that was counting bighorn sheep by helicopter spotted something odd and landed to take a closer look,” writes Alan Yuhas. “It was a three-sided metal monolith, about 10 to 12 feet tall, planted firmly in the ground with no clear sign of where it came from or why it was there.” Whatever the differences in size, shape, and color, this still-unexplained object brings to mind nothing so much as 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its most famous monolith of all.

Though Stanley Kubrick shot that particular scene in London’s Shepperton Studios, plenty of other productions have made use of the Utah Desert, including installments of the spectacle-driven Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible series. But as far as anyone knows, the monolith isn’t a piece of set dressing.

Crowdsourcing guesses on social media, the Utah Highway Patrol received such responses as “a ‘resonance deflector,’ ‘an eyesore,’ ‘some good metal.’ Some theorized, vaguely, that it was a satellite beacon. Others joked that it was a Wi-Fi router.” Whoever assembled and installed it, they did so with “human-made rivets” and a skilled enough hand to cut a perfectly shaped hole into the rock — the kind of combination of apparent skill and inexplicability that once stirred up so much fascination over crop circles.

Image by Utah Department of Public Safety

The Art Newspaper‘s Gabriella Angeleti describes the monolith as “resembling the freestanding plank sculptures of the late Minimalist artist John McCracken.” Though McCracken never officially made an installation in the Utah desert, he did spend the last years of his life not far away (at least by the standards of the southwestern United States) in northern New Mexico, and anyone familiar with his work will sense a certain affinity with it in this newly discovered object. “While this is not a work by the late American artist John McCracken,” says a spokesman for the gallery that represents him, “we suspect it is a work by a fellow artist paying homage.” Whether or not the monolith has an intended message, the reactions now going viral around the world already have many of us wondering how far we’ve really evolved past the apes.

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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 Uncanny Children’s Book Illustrations of Sigmund’s Freud’s Niece, Tom Seidmann-Freud

In 1919, Sigmund Freud published “The ‘Uncanny,’” his rare attempt as a psychoanalyst “to investigate the subject of aesthetics.” The essay arrived in the midst of a modernist revolution Freud himself unwittingly inspired in the work of Surrealists like Salvador Dali, Andre Breton, and many others. He also had an influence on another artist of the period: his niece Martha-Gertrud Freud, who started going by the name “Tom” after the age of 15, and who became known as children’s book author and illustrator Tom Seidmann-Freud after she married Jakob Seidmann and the two established their own publishing house in 1921.

Seidmann-Freud’s work cannot help but remind students of her uncle’s work of the unheimlich—that which is both frightening and familiar at once. Uncanniness is a feeling of traumatic dislocation: something is where it does not belong and yet it seems to have always been there. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Seidmann-Freud’s named their publishing company Peregrin, which comes from “the Latin, Peregrinos,” notes an exhibition catalogue, “meaning ‘foreigner,’ or ‘from abroad’—a title used during the Roman Empire to identify individuals who were not Roman citizens.”

Uncanny dislocation was a theme explored by many an artist—many of them Jewish—who would later be labeled “decadent” by the Nazis and killed or forced into exile. Seidmann-Freud herself had migrated often in her young life, from Vienna to London, where she studied art, then to Munich to finish her studies, and finally to Berlin with her husband. She became familiar with the Jewish philosopher and mystic Gershom Scholem, who interested her in illustrating a Hebrew alphabet book. The project fell through, but she continued to write and publish her own children’s books in Hebrew.

In Berlin, the couple established themselves in the Charlottenburg neighborhood, the center of the Hebrew publishing industry. Seidmann-Freud’s books were part of a larger effort to establish a specifically Jewish modernism. Tom “was a typical example of the busy dawn of the 1920s,” Christine Brinck writes at Der Tagesspiegel. Scholem called the chain-smoking artist an “authentic Bohèmienne” and an “illustrator… bordering on genius.” Her work shows evidence of a “close familiarity with the world of dreams and the subconscious,” writes Hadar Ben-Yehuda, and a fascination with the fear and wonder of childhood.

In her 1923 The Fish’s Journey, Seidmann-Freud draws on a personal trauma, “the first real tragedy to have struck her young life when her beloved brother Theodor died by drowning.” Other works illustrate texts—chosen by Jakob and the couple’s business partner, poet Hayim Nahman Bialik—by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, “with drawings adapted to the landscapes of a Mediterranean community,” “a Jewish, socialist notion… added to the texts,” “and the difference between boys and girls made indecipherable,” the Seidmann-Freud exhibition catalogue points out.

These books were part of a larger mission to “introduce Hebrew-speaking children to world literature, as part of establishing a modern Hebrew society in Palestine.” Tragically, the publishing venture failed, and Jakob hung himself, the event that precipitated Tom’s own tragic end, as Ben-Yehuda tells it:

The delicate, sensitive illustrator never recovered from her husband’s death. She fell into depression and stopped eating. She was hospitalized, but no one from her family and friends, not even her uncle Sigmund Freud who came to visit and to care for her was able to lift her spirits. After a few months, she died of anorexia at the age of thirty-eight.

Seidmann-Freud passed away in 1930, “the same year that the liberal democracy in Germany, the Weimar Republic, started it frenzied downward descent,” a biography written by her family points out. Her work was burned by the Nazis, but copies of her books survived in the hands of the couple’s only daughter, Angela, who changed her name to Aviva and “emigrated to Israel just before the outbreak of World War II.”

The “whimsically apocalyptic” illustrations in books like Buch Der Hasengeschichten, or The Book of Rabbit Stories from 1924, may seem more ominous in hindsight. But we can also say that Tom, like her uncle and like so many contemporary avant-garde artists, drew from a general sense of uncanniness that permeated the 1920s and often seemed to anticipate more full-blown horror. See more Seidmann-Freud illustrations at 50 Watts, the Freud Museum London, KulturPort, and at her family-maintained site, where you can also purchase prints of her many weird and wonderful scenes.

via 50 Watts

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

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