Asteroid Will Give Earth a Close Shave on February 15

Prep­pers, it’s almost the big day you’ve been wait­ing for — the apoc­a­lypse and armaged­don all rolled into one. Almost, but not quite. Accord­ing to NASA, “an aster­oid about half the size of a foot­ball field will fly past Earth only 17,200 miles above our plan­et’s sur­face.” “This [will be] a record-set­ting close approach,” says Don Yeo­mans of NASA’s Near Earth Object Pro­gram at The Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­to­ry. “Since reg­u­lar sky sur­veys began in the 1990s, we’ve nev­er seen an object this big get so close to Earth.” It’ll be a close call and that’s all. So, prep­pers, keep your com­pass­es, iodine pills and dehy­drat­ed lentils packed and ready for anoth­er day. You’ll get your chance.

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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Casting of The Godfather with Coppola, Pacino, De Niro & Caan

I once heard a radio broad­cast about a lady who watch­es The God­fa­ther every sin­gle day. Impres­sive as that may sound, it prob­a­bly does­n’t even count among the top hun­dred acts of cin­e­mat­ic faith per­formed in the name of Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la’s 1972 Mario Puzo adap­ta­tion, fea­tur­ing Mar­lon Bran­do. Though I myself more often go to the well of Apoc­a­lypse Now, Cop­po­la’s 1979 Viet­nam-themed Joseph Con­rad adap­ta­tion, fea­tur­ing Mar­lon Bran­do, I under­stand why God­fa­ther fans obsess. Roger Ebert, of course, under­stands even bet­ter. His “Great Movies” piece on the pic­ture describes it as “a bril­liant con­jur­ing act, invit­ing us to con­sid­er the Mafia entire­ly on its own terms,” with a “sub­tly con­struct­ed” script that “fol­lows no for­mu­las except for the clas­sic struc­ture in which pow­er pass­es between the gen­er­a­tions,” pop­u­lat­ed by “remark­able faces” and cap­tured with “rich, atmos­pher­ic, expres­sive” cin­e­matog­ra­phy (by Gor­don Willis), “cel­e­brat­ed for its dark­ness.” These qual­i­ties all do their part to make us hold up The God­fa­ther as a paragon of Amer­i­can cin­e­ma, but lovers of Amer­i­can cin­e­ma tend to val­ue one craft above all: act­ing. How, then, did Cop­po­la and his col­lab­o­ra­tors arrange for such unfor­get­table per­for­mances?

These clips about the cast­ing of The God­fa­ther shed light on the process. Many of us grew famil­iar with what Ebert calls Bran­do’s “just­ly famous and often imi­tat­ed” por­tray­al of Don Vito Cor­leone through cul­tur­al osmo­sis alone, before we’d ever seen the movie. At the top of the post, you can hear Cop­po­la and James Caan talk about what a hard time stu­dio exec­u­tives had accept­ing Bran­do in the first place. “Every time [Cop­po­la] men­tioned Bran­do’s name,” Caan remem­bers, “one of the exec­u­tives said, ‘If you men­tion his name again, you’re out!’ ” Cop­po­la quotes the pres­i­dent of Para­mount Pic­tures as sim­ply declar­ing that “Mar­lon Bran­do will nev­er appear in this motion pic­ture,” but when the film­mak­er pressed them, they offered a deal: “If he does a screen test and puts up a bond guar­an­tee­ing that none of his shenani­gans will cause a delay, you can con­sid­er him.” It was in this screen test that Bran­do came up with the icon­ic bull­dog-like look and man­ner of the all-pow­er­ful Sicil­ian pater­fa­mil­ias. But that alone did­n’t guar­an­tee the film’s ascent into great­ness; oth­er cast mem­bers, like Caan and Al Paci­no, also had to fall into place. Nei­ther were yet box office-friend­ly stars, nor was Robert de Niro, who also audi­tioned. In the end, it all came togeth­er. Rot­ten Toma­toes summed up the crit­i­cal con­sen­sus as fol­lows: “The God­fa­ther gets every­thing right.”

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

Watch Patti Smith Read from Virginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Surviving Recording of Woolf’s Voice

In the video above, poet, artist, Nation­al Book Award win­ner, and “god­moth­er of punk” Pat­ti Smith reads a selec­tion from Vir­ginia Woolf’s 1931 exper­i­men­tal nov­el The Waves, accom­pa­nied on piano and gui­tar by her daugh­ter Jesse and son Jack­son. The “read­ing” marked the open­ing of “Land 250,” a 2008 exhi­bi­tion of Smith’s pho­tog­ra­phy and art­work from 1965 to 2007, at the Fon­da­tion Carti­er pour l’art con­tem­po­rain in Paris.

I put the word “read­ing” in quotes above because Smith only reads a very short pas­sage from Woolf’s nov­el. The rest of the dra­mat­ic per­for­mance is Smith in her own voice, pos­si­bly impro­vis­ing, pos­si­bly recit­ing her homage to Woolf—occasioned by the fact that the start of the exhi­bi­tion fell on the 67th anniver­sary of Woolf’s death by sui­cide. Of Woolf’s death, Smith says, “I do not think of this as sad. I just think that it’s the day that Vir­ginia Woolf decid­ed to say good­bye. So we are not cel­e­brat­ing the day, we are sim­ply acknowl­edg­ing that this is the day. If I had a title to call tonight, I would call it ‘Wave.’ We are wav­ing to Vir­ginia.”

Smith’s choice of a title for the evening is sig­nif­i­cant. She titled her 1979 album Wave, her last record before she went into semi-retire­ment in the 80s. And her exhi­bi­tion includes a set of beau­ti­ful pho­tographs tak­en at Woolf’s Sus­sex retreat, Monk’s House. Her per­for­mance seems like an unusu­al con­flu­ence of voic­es, but Woolf might have enjoyed it, since so much of her work explored the unit­ing of sep­a­rate minds, over the bar­ri­ers of space and time. While Smith express­es her indebt­ed­ness to Woolf, one won­ders what the upper-class Blooms­bury daugh­ter of a well-con­nect­ed and artis­tic fam­i­ly would have thought of the work­ing-class punk-poet from the Low­er East Side by way of Chica­go? It’s impos­si­ble to say, of course, but some­how it’s fit­ting that they meet through Woolf’s The Waves.

Woolf’s nov­el (she called it a “play­po­em”) blends the voic­es of six char­ac­ters, but Woolf didn’t think of them as char­ac­ters at all, but as aspects of a greater, ever-shift­ing whole. As she once wrote in a let­ter:

The six char­ac­ters were sup­posed to be one. I’m get­ting old myself now—I shall be fifty next year; and I come to feel more and more how dif­fi­cult it is to col­lect one­self into one Vir­ginia; even though the spe­cial Vir­ginia in whose body I live for the moment is vio­lent­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to all sorts of sep­a­rate feel­ings. There­fore I want­ed to give the sense of con­ti­nu­ity.

Spec­u­la­tion over Woolf’s men­tal health aside, her ref­er­ences to voic­es in her let­ters, diaries, and in her elo­quent let­ter to Leonard Woolf before she died, were also state­ments of her craft—which embraced the inner voic­es of oth­ers, not let­ting any one voice be dom­i­nant. I like to think Woolf would have been delight­ed with the fierce­ness of Smith—in some ways, Vir­ginia Woolf antic­i­pat­ed punk, and Pat­ti Smith. In her own voice below, you can hear her describe the words of the Eng­lish lan­guage as “irreclaimable vagabonds,” who “if you start a Soci­ety for Pure Eng­lish, they will show their resent­ment by start­ing anoth­er for impure Eng­lish…. They are high­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic.”

The record­ing below comes from an essay pub­lished in a col­lec­tion—The Death of the Moth and Oth­er Essays—the year after Woolf’s death. The talk was called “Crafts­man­ship,” part of a BBC radio broad­cast from 1937, and it is the only sur­viv­ing record­ing of Woolf’s voice.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es

Pat­ti Smith’s List of Favorite Books: From Rim­baud to Susan Son­tag

Pat­ti Smith Reviews Haru­ki Murakami’s New Nov­el, Col­or­less Tsuku­ru Taza­ki and His Years of Pil­grim­age

 Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

James Taylor Performs Live in 1970, Thanks to a Little Help from His Friends, The Beatles

James Tay­lor Sings James Tay­lor, a BBC broad­cast from Novem­ber 1970, appears above. Though the near­ly 40-minute solo per­for­mance show­cas­es a play­er who has devel­oped and mas­tered his dis­tinc­tive musi­cal per­sona, it also show­cas­es one who has only reached a mere 22 years of age. But don’t let his aw-shucks youth­ful­ness fool you; by this point, Tay­lor had already endured a life­time’s worth of for­ma­tive trou­bles. He’d fall­en into deep depres­sion while still in high school, spent nine months in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal, tak­en up and quit hero­in, bot­tomed out and spent six months in recov­ery, under­went vocal cord surgery, tak­en up methedrine, gone into methadone treat­ment, had an album flop, and bro­ken his hands and feet in a motor­cy­cle wreck. Fire and rain indeed. But he’d also found favor with the Bea­t­les, becom­ing the first Amer­i­can signed on their Apple label and recruit­ing Paul McCart­ney and George Har­ri­son to play on his “Car­oli­na in My Mind.” At the end of the six­ties, the world at large did­n’t know the name James Tay­lor, but his fel­low musi­cians knew it soon would.

“I just heard his voice and his gui­tar,” said McCart­ney, “and I thought he was great.” Ear­li­er in 1970, many lis­ten­ers sure­ly felt the same thing after drop­ping the nee­dle onto Tay­lor’s break­through sec­ond album Sweet Baby James. By the time James Tay­lor Sings James Tay­lor went to air, he’d accrued enough of an inter­na­tion­al rep­u­ta­tion to guar­an­tee appre­ci­a­tion from even non-Bea­t­les on the oth­er side of the pond. Know­ing his audi­ence, Tay­lor opens with a ren­di­tion of Lennon and McCart­ney’s “With a Lit­tle Help from My Friends.” The Bea­t­les con­nec­tions don’t stop there: Song­facts reports that Tay­lor’s “Some­thing in the Way She Moves,” the first sin­gle from his pre-Sweet Baby James Apple debut, may have inspired George Har­ri­son to write “Some­thing.” What’s more, Tay­lor had orig­i­nal­ly titled his song “I Feel Fine,” before real­iz­ing that the Bea­t­les had record­ed a song by that name. Though more trou­bled times lay ahead for the hum­ble (if already well on his way to wealth and fame) young singer-song­writer, this pro­duc­tion cap­tures Tay­lor just before super­star­dom kicked in.

Relat­ed con­tent

James Tay­lor Gives Free Acoustic Gui­tar Lessons Online

‘The Nee­dle and the Dam­age Done’: Neil Young Plays Two Songs on The John­ny Cash Show, 1971

Joni Mitchell: Singer, Song­writer, Artist, Smok­ing Grand­ma

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

A Look Back at Andy Kaufman: Absurd Comic Performance Artist and Endearing Weirdo

Andy Kauf­man had too much per­son­al­i­ty for one per­son, so he split him­self into sev­er­al, and nobody seemed to know which one of them was Andy Kauf­man. Andy Kauf­man prob­a­bly could have faked his death, then returned for the big ta-da twen­ty years lat­er, but he didn’t (prob­a­bly). Andy Kauf­man, ladies and gen­tle­men, was a genius. I don’t mean that in the idiomat­ic sense of “he was real­ly great,” no. I mean that he had a com­ic IQ of sev­er­al hun­dred points. Which is why so many of his bits are so baf­fling and rib-crack­ing­ly fun­ny at once: he played dolts, sim­ple­tons, and drool­ing, almost cata­ton­ic idiots so per­fect­ly that you might swear that there was real­ly some­thing wrong with him. Except that dur­ing a per­for­mance, you might also swear you’d caught a wicked glint in his eye—for frac­tion of a second—as if you’d almost, maybe, but not quite seen a sub­lim­i­nal ad flash over the screen dur­ing a movie.

Then there were the Kauf­man char­ac­ters so unlike­able, so ruth­less­ly obnox­ious and dan­ger­ous­ly unhinged, you’d swear that there was some­thing wrong with him, again. And maybe there was, but I’m con­vinced he was in full con­trol of it. In the clip above, from The David Let­ter­man Show in 1980, Kauf­man sends Let­ter­man into a fit of stam­mer­ing “uh, oh… ums” and the audi­ence into fits of laugh­ter by look­ing like he’s just stum­bled in from a psych ward and isn’t sure exact­ly where he is or why. When he final­ly opens his mouth to speak, at near­ly two min­utes into the inter­view, he seems lost, dazed, almost child­like. Which every­one thinks is hilar­i­ous, because, well, it’s Andy Kauf­man. It must be per­for­mance art, right? No mat­ter which Andy Kauf­man appeared before an audi­ence, they always had the sense there was anoth­er one, or sev­er­al, under­neath, whether they knew his act or not. But you could nev­er know if you’d hit bedrock. Joaquin Phoenix—whose attempts to stunt the pub­lic a few years ago most­ly pro­voked befud­dle­ment and pity—never came close to this lev­el of weird. If Char­lie Sheen had been hoax­ing, instead of just los­ing his mind… maybe.

One might say Andy Kauf­man invent­ed trolling, the art of ril­ing peo­ple up by imper­son­at­ing idiots, cra­zies, and abra­sive jerks. And he got away with it for one sim­ple rea­son; he was authentic—all of his char­ac­ters had some kind of endear­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, even at their most deranged. This was cer­tain­ly the case with the TV char­ac­ter that made him famous, Taxi’s Lat­ka, an immi­grant dri­ver of inde­ter­mi­nate ori­gin, whose naïve demeanor and unin­tel­li­gi­ble lan­guage nev­er smacked of mere, broad par­o­dy of “the for­eign­er,” although in any­one else’s hands, that would have hap­pened. But Kauf­man brought to the char­ac­ter a sub­tle­ty that made Lat­ka an instant indi­vid­ual. Watch the scene below, for exam­ple, in which Kauf­man, as Lat­ka, trans­forms into a swing­ing Play­boy mag­a­zine afi­ciona­do, then back to Lat­ka, all in under two min­utes of Char­lie Chap­lin-wor­thy phys­i­cal com­e­dy.

Lat­ka grew out of an ear­li­er per­sona of Kaufman’s who claimed to be from a fic­tion­al island in the Caspi­an Sea called “Caspi­ar.” This character’s ner­vous inep­ti­tude was charm­ing enough, but the pay­off, as you’ll see below, was when Kauf­man broke out of char­ac­ter into his swag­ger­ing Elvis imper­son­ation. It’s said that the real Elvis loved it, and it’s the bit that inspired the immor­tal lines in R.E.M.’s Kauf­man trib­ute song, “Man on the Moon”: “Andy are you goof­ing on Elvis (hey baby) / Are you hav­ing fun?” Below, see Kaufman’s trans­for­ma­tion into Elvis from an appear­ance on The Tonight Show with John­ny Car­son in 1977. Tell me if you think he’s enjoy­ing him­self.

The dark­er side of Andy Kauf­man comes out in such abu­sive char­ac­ters as vit­ri­olic lounge singer, Tony Clifton, some­times played by Kaufman’s friend and part­ner, Bob Zmu­da (watch Kauf­man and Zmu­da togeth­er on a kids show called Bananaz in 1979). Tony Clifton became Kauf­man’s evil alter-ego, an ali­bi for his more destruc­tive urges, and a char­ac­ter that out­lived him, res­ur­rect­ed after his death by Zmu­da, and lat­er by come­di­an Ben Isaac. Below, see Kaufman’s first per­for­mance as Clifton in 1977.

Clifton, and Kauf­man, got mean­er and weird­er over the years (or so it seemed). Any­one who’s seen Milos Forman’s biopic Man on the Moon is famil­iar with Kaufman’s obses­sive prank­ing of pro­fes­sion­al wrestling: his feud with wrestler Jer­ry Lawler (who was in on the joke), his relent­less taunt­ing of the South­ern Lawler and the most­ly South­ern audi­ence as red­necks and rubes, and his turns in the ring with female wrestlers. This part of his career is tru­ly bizarre, though sure­ly no less a con­trolled demo­li­tion than any­thing he’d done before. And the weird­er Kauf­man got, the more he seemed to con­firm some­thing many peo­ple had always sus­pect­ed. What­ev­er the stunt, the char­ac­ter, or impres­sion, the joke was on every­one, and nobody knew what was hap­pen­ing but Andy. In 1989, five years after Kaufman’s death from can­cer, his girl­friend Lynne Mar­gulies and friend Joe Orr fin­ished a doc­u­men­tary about his adven­tures in pro­fes­sion­al wrestling called I’m from Hol­ly­wood, after one of his sneer­ing, faux-elit­ist insults of Lawler. It’s the last piece of Kaufman’s lega­cy, and it’s avail­able in sev­er­al parts on YouTube. Watch and try to imag­ine, if you can, what the wrestling fans ring­side made of Andy Kauf­man.

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

Watch a New Music Video Shot Entirely Within an MRI Machine

It’s not as poignant as The Love Com­pe­ti­tion, a short film that used an MRI machine to visu­al­ize the human brain in love. Nor is it quite as tan­ta­liz­ing as anoth­er clip doc­u­ment­ing brain activ­i­ty when peo­ple expe­ri­ence the highs of sex­u­al inter­course and divine rev­e­la­tion. We’ll give you that. But, per­haps you’ll find it fas­ci­nat­ing to watch British singer Sivu per­form his song “Bet­ter Than He” through the prism of mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing. Or, if you’ve ever spent time enveloped in an MRI machine, you’ll say the oper­a­tive word is “anx­i­ety-pro­duc­ing.” If the reports are true, Sivu spent three hours record­ing the three-minute song. Just imag­ine the amount of Ati­van and com­mit­ment that got him through…

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Learn to Build iPhone & iPad Apps with Stanford’s Free Course, Coding Together

Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 1.01.26 PMJust a quick fyi. In the past week, Stan­ford has launched the lat­est ver­sion of Cod­ing Togeth­er, the pop­u­lar course that teach­es Stan­ford stu­dents — and now stu­dents world­wide — how to build apps for the iPhone and iPad. Taught by Paul Hegar­ty, the lat­est ver­sion of the free course focus­es on how to build apps in iOS 6, and the lec­tures will be grad­u­al­ly rolled onto iTunes from Jan­u­ary 22 through March 28. Find the first lec­tures here.

This course, along with oth­er top-flight cod­ing cours­es, appears in the Com­put­er Sci­ence sec­tion of our big col­lec­tion of 650 Free Online Cours­es, where you’ll also find cours­es on Phi­los­o­phy, His­to­ry, Physics and oth­er top­ics.

Look­ing for tuto­ri­als on build­ing apps in Android? Find them here.

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John Coltrane’s Naval Reserve Enlistment Mugshot (1945)


Do you ever have déjà vu? Last week we post­ed Jack Ker­ouac’s U.S. Naval Reserve enlist­ment mugshot from 1943 and the response was enthu­si­as­tic. Many of you were fas­ci­nat­ed to see the great Beat writer at such a ten­der age and in such an atyp­i­cal, unlib­er­at­ed con­text. Today we offer an eeri­ly sim­i­lar pho­to of anoth­er free­wheel­ing icon of 20th cen­tu­ry art: John Coltrane, when he was 18 years old.

Coltrane entered the Navy on the same day the Unit­ed States dropped the atom­ic bomb on Hiroshi­ma (August 6, 1945) and was assigned reserve sta­tus, as were many African-Amer­i­cans at that time. Accord­ing to Lewis Porter in John Coltrane: His Life and Music, only lim­it­ed num­bers of black men served as sea­man after 1942. Pri­or to that, they were only allowed to work as kitchen help. The Navy was seg­re­gat­ed, and Coltrane was sent to boot camp at the black sec­tion of Samp­son Naval Train­ing Cen­ter in upstate New York. By the time he fin­ished train­ing, World War II was over.

In late Novem­ber of 1945, after a tran­si­tion­al month at Camp Shoe­mak­er near San Fran­cis­co, sea­man sec­ond class Coltrane was assigned to active duty in Hawaii. Sta­tioned on the island of Oahu, Coltrane played clar­inet and alto sax­o­phone in a black Navy band called the Melody Mas­ters. He made his first record­ings with some of the musi­cians from the band in the sum­mer of 1946. But all the while Coltrane was serv­ing, the Navy was in the process of down­siz­ing. With the war over, bands were no longer need­ed to boost morale. So on August 11, 1946–just over a year after his enlistment–Coltrane was dis­charged from the Navy and sent home.

Relat­ed con­tent:

John Coltrane and His Great Quin­tet Play ‘My Favorite Things’

John Coltrane Plays Only Live Per­for­mance of A Love Supreme

John Coltrane: Three Great Euro­pean Per­for­mances, 1969, 1961 and 1965

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