A Sun Ra Christmas: Hear His 1976 Radio Broadcast of Poetry and Music

Every­body spreads hol­i­day cheer in their own way. On Christ­mas Day 1976, the eccen­tric jazz com­pos­er and band­leader did it by appear­ing on Blue Gen­e­sis, a show on the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­ni­a’s radio sta­tion WXPN, read­ing his poet­ry with music. “The choice of poems and their sequenc­ing offers what Sun Ra thought was most impor­tant in his writ­ing,” writes John Szwed in Space is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra. “Here are key words like ‘cos­mos,’ ‘truth,’ ‘bad,’ ‘myth,’ and ‘the impos­si­ble’; atten­tion to pho­net­ic equiv­a­lence; the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the music and its meta­phys­i­cal sta­tus; allu­sions to black fra­ter­nal orders and secret soci­eties; bib­li­cal pas­sages and their inter­pre­ta­tion; and even a few auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal glimpses.”

Part 1

Part 2

Though read on Christ­mas, these poems have no par­tic­u­lar reli­gious slant — noth­ing, that is, but Sun Ra’s usu­al mix­ture of the Kab­bal­ah, Rosi­cru­cian­ism, numerol­o­gy, Freema­son­ry, ancient Egypt­ian mys­ti­cism, Gnos­ti­cism, and black nation­al­ism.

Fans of Sun Ra would expect no less. But those more recent­ly acquaint­ed with the jazzman born Her­man Poole Blount may find this an unusu­al half-hour of lis­ten­ing, for the hol­i­days or oth­er­wise. “A pio­neer of ‘Afro­fu­tur­ism,’ Sun Ra emerged from a tra­di­tion­al swing scene in Alaba­ma, tour­ing the coun­try in his teens as a mem­ber of his high school biol­o­gy teacher’s big band,” wrote Open Cul­ture’s own Josh Jones ear­li­er this year. “While attend­ing Alaba­ma Agri­cul­tur­al and Mechan­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty, he had an out-of-body expe­ri­ence dur­ing which he was trans­port­ed into out­er space.”

In that post on Sun Ra’s 1971 UC Berke­ley Course “The Black Man in the Cos­mos,” you can learn more about the numer­ous non­stan­dard expe­ri­ences and philoso­phies that went into the pro­duc­tion of his words and his music, which con­verge in this spe­cial broad­cast you can hear at the top of the post or on Ubuweb. It’ll make you regret that Sun Ra and his free-jazz “Arkestra” nev­er pro­duced a full-length Christ­mas album — though maybe, on whichev­er dis­tant plan­et his immor­tal spir­it reached after the end of his Earth-life two decades ago, he’s record­ing it as we speak.

via Ubuweb

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sun Ra’s Full Lec­ture & Read­ing List From His 1971 UC Berke­ley Course, “The Black Man in the Cos­mos”

The Cry of Jazz: 1958’s High­ly Con­tro­ver­sial Film on Jazz & Race in Amer­i­ca (With Music by Sun Ra)

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

Bob Dylan Reads “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” On His Holiday Radio Show (2006)

Allow me to name just a few of the peo­ple I want to hear host­ing and curat­ing radio shows—former Sex Pis­tol’s singer John Lydon, for­mer Clash front­man Joe Strum­mer, for­mer Woody Guthrie imper­son­ator Bob Dylan.…

Luck­i­ly for me, this ain’t just fan­ta­sy base­ball; at var­i­ous times, and with vary­ing lev­els of com­mit­ment, each of these tastemak­ers has host­ed a pro­gram show­cas­ing their own favorite artists. In Dylan’s case, the com­mit­ment was pret­ty sub­stan­tial. His show, Theme Time Radio Hour, ran for almost three years—once a week from 2006 to 2009—on satel­lite radio.

Each episode cen­tered on a gen­er­al theme, hence the title, but the selec­tions were all over the place—more or less what you’d expect from Dylan: an eclec­tic col­lec­tion of folk, blues, gospel, soul, coun­try, mod­ern pop, and rock ‘n’ roll mixed with old­time radio jin­gles, nov­el­ties, and pro­mos, and the host’s odd­ball com­men­tary and hokey humor. Record­ed while Dylan was on the road, then edit­ed togeth­er with pho­ny “lis­ten­er calls” and emails, Theme Time Radio Hour aimed, Dylan said, “to expand the musi­cal taste” of his lis­ten­ers. That it did, even in its most tra­di­tion­al episode, name­ly the hol­i­day spe­cial on Christ­mas and New Year’s, or as Dylan calls it, “a Yule­tide extrav­a­gan­za.”

In his 2006 Christ­mas broad­cast, above, Dylan bounces from Bob Seger to the Sta­ples Singers to Lord Nel­son, “uncrowned king of Soca,” and Mabel Mafuya, who plays “a Mora­bi style, sort of like South African rag­time.” The wide vari­ety of well- and less­er-known artists—all play­ing Christ­mas music—combined with Dylan’s wry inter­jec­tions, makes for delight­ful­ly weird lis­ten­ing. But when it comes time for his own con­tri­bu­tion, he goes for the obvi­ous and recites Clement Clarke Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christ­mas.” You may not have thought much of this the first time you heard it, much less the mil­lionth. But in Dylan’s read­ing, the stock­ings sound like they were hung with care in some dim, smoky beat­nik cof­fee­house and the sug­ar plums dance to the fin­ger-snap­ping bop rhythms of jazz poet­ry while a harp­si­chord plays “O Tan­nen­baum” in the back­ground.

It’s a very cool ren­di­tion, in oth­er words, of a very corny piece of writ­ing. Through­out the spe­cial, Dylan dis­plays a real knack for suss­ing new sounds and angles from old, tired hol­i­day clich­es. His exten­sive knowl­edge of hol­i­day tunes may place him in the com­pa­ny of John Waters and the many oth­er “men who love Christ­mas music” pro­filed in the new doc­u­men­tary Jin­gle Bell Rocks! Whether he is a col­lec­tor or just an avid lis­ten­er, I do not know, but by the time you’ve fin­ished lis­ten­ing to his 2006 Theme Time Radio Hour Christ­mas spe­cial, you will find your appre­ci­a­tion for the hol­i­day genre thor­ough­ly expand­ed. See the full playlist here, with occa­sion­al anno­ta­tion from Dylan’s com­men­tary.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bob Dylan’s Thanks­giv­ing Radio Show: A Playlist of 18 Delec­table Songs

The Top 10 New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions Read by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Reads From T.S. Eliot’s Great Mod­ernist Poem The Waste Land

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

The Making of the Famous Jive Talk Scenes from Airplane!

Like films by the Marx broth­ers, Air­plane! cre­ates a feel­ing of gid­dy, exu­ber­ant anar­chy by hurl­ing a non-stop bar­rage of jokes at you. It is the sort of movie that view­ers risk hyper­ven­ti­lat­ing from laugh­ing so much. Yet among the all gags and one-lin­ers — “I picked the wrong week to stop sniff­ing glue.”– pos­si­bly the most mem­o­rable is the famous jive talk­ing bit. You can watch it above.

The gag fea­tures two African Amer­i­can guys speak­ing with each oth­er in an impen­e­tra­ble patois of jive. Lat­er, one of the guys — the char­ac­ters are sim­ply cred­it­ed as First Jive Dude and Sec­ond Jive Dude — is suf­fer­ing from a stom­ach ail­ment. When the stew­ardess can’t under­stand what they are say­ing, Bar­bara Billings­ley – A.K.A. June Clever, A.K.A the whitest lady on the plan­et – stands up and starts to talk to the guys in flu­ent jive. It’s a jar­ring and hilar­i­ous moment. Jim Abra­hams and David and Jer­ry Zuck­er, the writ­ers and direc­tors of the movie talk, about that scene below.

“The whole notion for jive dia­logue orig­i­nat­ed from when we saw Shaft,” said Abra­ham. “We went and saw it and didn’t under­stand what they were say­ing. So we did our best as three nice Jew­ish boys from Mil­wau­kee to write jive talk for the script.”

Dur­ing the audi­tion, Nor­man Alexan­der Gibbs and Al White, old high school friends, deliv­ered a spot on exchange in jive. They were imme­di­ate­ly cast as First Jive Dude and Sec­ond Jive Dude respec­tive­ly. “We had to apol­o­gize for what we had writ­ten,” said David Zuck­er.

“We came up with the indi­vid­ual dia­logue in the movie,” said White. “They want­ed jive as a lan­guage, which it is not. Jive is only a word here or a phrase there.”

“We actu­al­ly cre­at­ed a lan­guage,” said Gibbs.

“I was sent the script and I thought it was the cra­zi­est script I’ve ever read,” recalled Billings­ley in an inter­view you can see below. “My part wasn’t writ­ten. It just said I talked jive. I met the pro­duc­er and I said I would do it. I met the two black fel­lows that taught me jive. … It wasn’t hard for me to learn.”

Thanks to Erik R. for send­ing this our way.

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

The Interview Now Available on Google Play, YouTube Movies, the Xbox & the Web

It looks like Amer­i­ca will get to see The Inter­view on Christ­mas Day after all — heck, even before. After Sony announced yes­ter­day that the Seth Rogen-James Fran­co film will be shown in select US cin­e­mas on Christ­mas, the announce­ment came this morn­ing that Amer­i­cans can exer­cise their free­dom and watch the film online too — right now.

Accord­ing to an announce­ment on the offi­cial Google blog, “start­ing at 10 a.m. PST in the U.S., you can rent or buy The Inter­view on Google Play and YouTube Movies. It will also be avail­able to Xbox Video cus­tomers and via www.seetheinterview.com.”  The film can be rent­ed in HD for $5.99, or bought in HD for $14.99.

It’s a lit­tle vic­to­ry for the arts and Hol­ly­wood. Now let’s hope the film deliv­ers the laughs.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

The Five Best North Kore­an Movies: Watch Them Free Online

James Fran­co Reads Short Sto­ry in Bed for The Paris Review

James Fran­co Reads a Dream­i­ly Ani­mat­ed Ver­sion of Allen Ginsberg’s Epic Poem ‘Howl’

How to Defeat the US with Math: An Ani­mat­ed North Kore­an Pro­pa­gan­da Film for Kids

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Watch Art on Ancient Greek Vases Come to Life with 21st Century Animation

Every stu­dent of his­to­ry sure­ly feels impressed by one achieve­ment or anoth­er of the ancient Greeks, whether in the field of engi­neer­ing, art, or the con­ver­gence of the two. Even a bored col­lege under­grad in a thou­sand-seat lec­ture hall has to admire ancient Greek vas­es when they pop up in the lec­tur­er’s Pow­er­point slides. That much-stud­ied cul­ture’s pen­chant for styl­iz­ing images of their soci­ety on their pot­tery has allowed us to see their world as, in some sense, a liv­ing, breath­ing one — or to see it through the eyes of the arti­sans who lived to see it them­selves. But for all their mas­tery of the art of the vase, they nev­er actu­al­ly got their images to live nor breathe. For that, we must turn to 21st-cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy, specif­i­cal­ly as applied by Panoply, a project ani­ma­tor of Steve K. Simons and ancient Greece schol­ar Sonya Nevin, which was designed to bring these vas­es to life.

“Panoply cov­ers a lot of aspects of cul­ture as method tying the arti­facts to infor­ma­tion about Greek life,” writes io9’s Katharine Tren­da­cos­ta. “There are ones on myths, sport, and war­fare,” the last of which, “Hoplites!,” you can watch at the top of the post. Simons and Nevin made this sev­en-minute bat­tle scene out of the foot sol­diers actu­al­ly depict­ed on a vase dat­ing to about 550 BCE cur­rent­ly held by the Ure Muse­um of Greek Archae­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Read­ing.

Just above, we have “The Cheat,” a short and humor­ous scene from the ancient Olympics that plays out on the sur­face of a shard. The ani­ma­tion below fea­tures a fig­ure of Greek myth that even the most inat­ten­tive stu­dent will know: a cer­tain Pan­do­ra, and far be it from her to resist the temp­ta­tion to open a cer­tain box. (Actu­al­ly it was a vase/pithos.) You can watch more on Panoply’s Youtube chan­nel. As uncon­ven­tion­al means of visu­al­iz­ing ancient Greece go, it’s got to beat 300 for accu­ra­cy.

via io9

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mod­ern Artists Show How the Ancient Greeks & Romans Made Coins, Vas­es & Arti­sanal Glass

What Ancient Greek Music Sound­ed Like: Hear a Recon­struc­tion That is ‘100% Accu­rate’

Dis­cov­er the “Brazen Bull,” the Ancient Greek Tor­ture Machine That Dou­bled as a Musi­cal Instru­ment

How the Ancient Greeks Shaped Mod­ern Math­e­mat­ics: A Short, Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

Hear Homer’s Ili­ad Read in the Orig­i­nal Ancient Greek

Down­load 78 Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es: From Ancient Greece to The Mod­ern World

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

David Bowie & Bing Crosby Sing “The Little Drummer Boy” (1977)

We like to bring this chest­nut back from time to time. Watch it, and you’ll know why.

In 1977, just a short month before Bing Cros­by died of a heart attack, the 40s croon­er host­ed David Bowie, the glam rock­er, on his Christ­mas show. The awk­ward­ness of the meet­ing is pal­pa­ble. An old­er, crusty Cros­by had no real famil­iar­i­ty with the younger, androg­y­nous Bowie, and Bowie was­n’t crazy about singing The Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy.

So, short­ly before the show’s tap­ing, a team of writ­ers had to fran­ti­cal­ly retool the song, blend­ing the tra­di­tion­al Christ­mas song with a new­ly-writ­ten tune called Peace on Earth. (You can watch the writ­ers tell the sto­ry, years lat­er, below.) After one hour of rehearsal, the two singers record­ed The Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy/Peace on Earth and made a lit­tle clas­sic. The Wash­ing­ton Post has the back­sto­ry on the strange Bing-Bowie meet­ing. Also find a Will Fer­rell par­o­dy of the meet­ing here. We hope you enjoy revis­it­ing this clip with us. Hap­py hol­i­days to you all.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

David Bowie’s Fash­ion­able Mug Shot From His 1976 Mar­i­jua­na Bust

The Sto­ry of Zig­gy Star­dust: How David Bowie Cre­at­ed the Char­ac­ter that Made Him Famous

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A Fun Parody of Downton Abbey Features George Clooney & the Cast of the Show

Sea­son 5 of Down­ton Abbey will begin (in the US) on Jan­u­ary 4th. But before the main course, we get a lit­tle appe­tiz­er, which comes in the form of a nine-minute par­o­dy star­ring George Clooney, Jere­my Piv­en and the cast of Down­ton Abbey. Bor­row­ing from It’s a Won­der­ful Life, the fun film asks us to imag­ine dai­ly life at the Abbey with­out Lord Grantham in the pic­ture. That’s when we get to see Lady Grantham cavort­ing with George Clooney, the Mar­quis of Hol­ly­wood (who kind of resem­bles Gomez from the Addams Fam­i­ly). And then the rest of the fam­i­ly and staff let­ting their hair loose.

The par­o­dy was made for Text San­ta, an ini­tia­tive that sup­ports UK char­i­ties dur­ing the Christ­mas peri­od. You can learn how to donate here.

Thanks Kim L. for the tip!

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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A Computer Gets Delivered in 1957: Great Moments in Schlepping History


Pho­to­graph via Nor­folk Record Office

Once upon a time, com­put­ers with less horse­pow­er than your mobile phone, were big. Real big. How big? This big.

From the Nor­folk Record Office comes a descrip­tion of the pho­to you see above:

Nor­wich City Council’s first com­put­er, being deliv­ered to the City Treasurer’s Depart­ment in Bethel Street, Nor­wich in 1957. The City of Nor­wich, and its for­ward-think­ing Trea­sur­er, Mr A.J. Barnard, were pio­neers in the appli­ca­tion of com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy to the work of UK local author­i­ties and busi­ness­es. In 1953–4, Mr Barnard and his team began look­ing for an elec­tron­ic sys­tem to han­dle its rates and pay­roll. They began dis­cus­sions with Elliott Broth­ers of Lon­don in 1955, and the City Coun­cil ordered the first Elliott 405 com­put­er from them in Jan­u­ary 1956. It was deliv­ered to City Hall in Feb­ru­ary 1957 and became oper­a­tional in April 1957. The event was cel­e­brat­ed by a demon­stra­tion of the machine in front of the Lord May­or of Nor­wich and the press on 3 April 1957.

For more vin­tage moments in com­put­ing, please enjoy some of the “relat­eds” below.

via Twist­ed Sifter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the World’s Old­est Work­ing Dig­i­tal Com­put­er — the 1951 Har­well Deka­tron — Get Fired Up Again

A Short His­to­ry of Roman­ian Com­put­ing: From 1961 to 1989

“They Were There” — Errol Mor­ris Final­ly Directs a Film for IBM

The Inter­net Arcade Lets You Play 900 Vin­tage Video Games in Your Web Brows­er (Free)

Free Online Com­put­er Sci­ence Cours­es

Harvard’s Free Com­put­er Sci­ence Course Teach­es You to Code in 12 Weeks

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.