Producer Tony Visconti Breaks Down the Making of David Bowie’s Classic “Heroes,” Track by Track

Those famil­iar with David Bowie lore may know one or two things about the record­ing of his sem­i­nal 1978 track “Heroes.” One is that the record­ing stu­dio did, in fact, look out over the Berlin Wall and the lovers that Bowie saw made it into the lyrics (“I can remem­ber stand­ing by the wall/And the guns shot above our heads/And we kissed as though noth­ing could fall”). The oth­er is the micro­phone set up in Hansa’s expan­sive record­ing stu­dio: one next to Bowie’s mouth, anoth­er 15 — 20 feet away, and anoth­er at the far end of the room to catch the reverb. (Hands up how many of us learned about that when Steve Albi­ni copied it for Nirvana’s “All Apolo­gies”? Any­body?) But as this video above with pro­duc­er Tony Vis­con­ti shows, that’s only a few of the mag­i­cal inven­tions and dar­ing deci­sions made for this record­ing. The ses­sion con­tains lessons for any young pro­duc­er end­less­ly fid­dling about with their Pro­Tools and the mil­lions of choic­es afford­ed by a $2.99 synth app for the iPad.

When Bowie added his vocals at the end of the record­ing ses­sion, there was only one track left on the tape, hav­ing filled up the 23 oth­er tracks with the band’s back­ing track, Eno’s synths, extra per­cus­sion, three (!) tracks of Robert Fripp com­mand­ing the gods through his gui­tar pick­up and feed­back, and more. If they didn’t like the take, they’d erase over it with the new one. Those were the ana­log days. But as Vis­con­ti says, that scary deci­sion elec­tri­fied Bowie. As an artist, every­thing was at stake. It’s like they knew they were mak­ing a song for the ages. Maybe it’s Visconti’s 20/20 hind­sight, but they were right.

This small seg­ment above is part of a longer three-hour tour through Visconti’s career, record­ed in 2011 for the Red Bull Acad­e­my lec­ture series. Vis­con­ti talks about work­ing with Marc Bolan, Mor­ris­sey, Paul McCart­ney and oth­ers, along with his thoughts on pro­duc­ing, and a great deal about Bowie’s “Berlin Tril­o­gy.” (The sec­ond half of the talk is here.)

But there’s so much more to be dis­cov­ered among those 24 audio tracks of “Heroes.” In this won­der­ful BBC doc­u­men­tary from 2012 (also see up top), Vis­con­ti sits down with the dig­i­tal­ly trans­ferred mas­ter tapes and takes us through the con­struc­tion of the song. Here we get to hear Robert Fripp’s raw gui­tar tracks which sound so incred­i­bly abra­sive it’s hard to believe they exist in the song; Visconti’s “cow­bell,” which is him hit­ting a pipe out­side in the yard; Eno’s synth in a brief­case, the EMS Synthi‑A; and numer­ous painter­ly daubs of audio that all make up the mix. And then there’s that vocal, which Vis­con­ti lets play with­out any of the music, a song for the his­to­ry books, a voice that couldn’t be con­strained to just one mic. The video unfor­tu­nate­ly could­n’t be embed­ded on our site, but it’s def­i­nite­ly worth your time.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie Per­forms a Live Acoustic Ver­sion of “Heroes,” with a Bot­tle Cap Strapped to His Shoe, Keep­ing the Beat

Hear Demo Record­ings of David Bowie’s “Zig­gy Star­dust,” “Space Odd­i­ty” & “Changes”

Dave: The Best Trib­ute to David Bowie That You’re Going to See

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

Jules Verne Accurately Predicts What the 20th Century Will Look Like in His Lost Novel, Paris in the Twentieth Century (1863)


Sci­ence fic­tion, they say, does­n’t real­ly deal with the future; it uses the set­ting of the future as a way to deal with the present. That would explain all the stan­dard pre­pos­ter­ous tropes you reg­u­lar­ly see in the gen­re’s less grace­ful­ly aging nov­els and films: jet­packs, fly­ing cars, holo-phones, that sort of thing. So when you look into sci-fi’s back pages and do come across the occa­sion­al accu­rate or even semi-accu­rate pre­dic­tion of the future — that is, an accu­rate pre­dic­tion of our present — it real­ly jumps out at you. Many such pre­dic­tions have jumped out at read­ers from the pages of Jules Verne’s lost sec­ond nov­el, Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry.

Orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten in 1863 but not pub­lished until found at the bot­tom of a vault in 1994, the book’s score­card of seem­ing­ly bang-on ele­ments of the then-future include the explo­sion of sub­ur­ban liv­ing and shop­ping and large-scale high­er edu­ca­tion; career women; syn­the­siz­er-dri­ven elec­tron­ic music and a record­ing indus­try to sell it; ever more advanced forms of ever crud­er enter­tain­ment; cities of ele­va­tor-equipped, auto­mat­i­cal­ly sur­veilled sky­scrap­ers elec­tri­cal­ly illu­mi­nat­ed all night long; gas-pow­ered cars, the roads they dri­ve on, and the sta­tions where they fill up; sub­ways, mag­net­i­cal­ly-pro­pelled trains, and oth­er forms of rapid tran­sit; fax machines as well as a very basic inter­net-like com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem; the elec­tric chair; and weapons of war too dan­ger­ous to use.

You may sense that the young Verne did not see the future, which takes its form in the nov­el of Paris in 1960, as a utopia. In fact, he went a lit­tle too far in using the set­ting and its sto­ry of an artis­tic soul adrift in a cul­tur­al­ly dead, progress-wor­ship­ing tech­noc­ra­cy to express his own anx­i­eties about the 19th cen­tu­ry and its rise of con­glom­er­a­tion, automa­tion, and mech­a­niza­tion — or so thought his pub­lish­er, who believed the book’s bleak pre­dic­tions, even if accu­rate, would fail to win over the com­mon read­er. “My dear Verne,” he wrote in his rejec­tion let­ter to the author, “even if you were a prophet, no one today would believe this prophe­cy… they sim­ply would not be inter­est­ed in it.”

But over 150 years lat­er, the pre­dic­tions of Paris in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry do inter­est us, or at least those of us who won­der whether we’ve hand­ed too much of our human­i­ty over to the realms of tech­nol­o­gy, finance, and enter­tain­ment. Even if Richard Bern­stein, review­ing the nov­el in The New York Times when it final­ly saw pub­li­ca­tion, found its satire “weak, inno­cent and ado­les­cent in light of what actu­al­ly hap­pened in the 20th cen­tu­ry,” it has giv­en us more than ever to talk about today. To get in on the con­ver­sa­tion, have a lis­ten to the episode of the Futil­i­ty Clos­et pod­cast on the book just above. Do you think Verne accu­rate­ly fore­saw our cur­rent con­di­tion — or does his dystopia still lie in wait?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How French Artists in 1899 Envi­sioned Life in the Year 2000: Draw­ing the Future

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today

In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Inter­net, 3D Print­ers and Trained Mon­key Ser­vants

Wal­ter Cronkite Imag­ines the Home of the 21st Cen­tu­ry … Back in 1967

The Inter­net Imag­ined in 1969

In 1900, Ladies’ Home Jour­nal Pub­lish­es 28 Pre­dic­tions for the Year 2000

Philip K. Dick Makes Off-the-Wall Pre­dic­tions for the Future: Mars Colonies, Alien Virus­es & More (1981)

Niko­la Tesla’s Pre­dic­tions for the 21st Cen­tu­ry: The Rise of Smart Phones & Wire­less, The Demise of Cof­fee, The Rule of Eugen­ics (1926/35)

In 1968, Stan­ley Kubrick Makes Pre­dic­tions for 2001: Human­i­ty Will Con­quer Old Age, Watch 3D TV & Learn Ger­man in 20 Min­utes

In 1911, Thomas Edi­son Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like in 2011: Smart Phones, No Pover­ty, Libraries That Fit in One Book

Mark Twain Pre­dicts the Inter­net in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Sto­ry, “From The ‘Lon­don Times’ in 1904”

Future Shock: Orson Welles Nar­rates a 1972 Film About the Per­ils of Tech­no­log­i­cal Change

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Kate Bush’s First Ever Television Appearance, Performing “Kite” & “Wuthering Heights” on German TV (1978)

There are few things in life that I can enjoy uncritically—totally sur­ren­der to—and yet also appre­ci­ate as intel­lec­tu­al­ly com­plex, fine­ly-wrought works of art. The music of Kate Bush is one of those things. Her preter­nat­ur­al voice, sub­lime­ly ridicu­lous cos­tumes, dance, and ges­ture, and haunt­ing, lit­er­ary lyri­cism imme­di­ate­ly cap­ti­vate the ear and eye—and work their mag­ic on the mind not long after. It’s an unusual—I’d say extreme­ly rare—set of qual­i­ties that set her apart from every pop star in the era of her prime and in our own. At the risk of draw­ing a per­haps too-easy com­par­i­son, but I think an apt one: as a solo artist she rivals maybe only David Bowie in her abil­i­ty to own the spot­light and remain in total con­trol of her sound and image. (Both of them, in fact, trained with the same dance teacher, Lind­say Kemp.)

But while Bowie made it look easy, and found ways to stay near­ly-ever-present in every decade since the 70s, for Bush that con­trol was hard won, and meant with­drawals from the pub­lic, includ­ing a 12-year break that, writes The Guardian, remind­ed some of “the mytho­log­i­cal res­o­nance of Bob Dylan’s Base­ment Tapes hia­tus.” She has toured only twice: once at the very begin­ning of her career in 1979 and again, 35 years lat­er, in 2014. Crit­ics and die-hard fans have long spec­u­lat­ed about the rea­sons for Bush’s with­draw­al from per­for­mance and her gen­er­al pub­lic ret­i­cence, but state­ments from the artist her­self have made it clear that part of her strug­gle with star­dom had to do with feel­ing exploit­ed in the way so many women are by the music indus­try.

By the end of her lav­ish, 28-night 1979 extrav­a­gan­za, she recalled, “I felt a ter­rif­ic need to retreat as a per­son, because I felt that my sex­u­al­i­ty, which in a way I had­n’t real­ly had a chance to explore myself, was being giv­en to the world in a way which I found imper­son­al.” “Bush,” The Guardian writes, “did every­thing she could to pre­vent her­self being exposed in that way again.”

The move was both a loss and a gain for her fans. While her live shows might have become leg­endary in the way Bowie’s did over the years, her retreat into a pri­vate sphere all her own allowed her to con­tin­ue writ­ing and record­ing con­sis­tent­ly bril­liant, chal­leng­ing music that nev­er became com­pro­mised by indus­try hack­work, as she her­self nev­er became some­one else’s prod­uct.

Her abil­i­ty to assert her­self so ear­ly in her career is also a tes­ta­ment to her cre­ative con­fi­dence. Bush was only 19 years old when she released her first album, The Kick Inside, an age at which many emerg­ing pop stars allow them­selves to be com­man­deered by over­bear­ing man­age­ment. But she has remained rel­e­vant by remain­ing her—odd, enig­mat­ic, total­ly original—self. “Artists should­n’t be made famous,” she once remarked, “it is a forced impor­tance.”

Before launch­ing that first tour, and decid­ing it was­n’t for her, Bush made her first tele­vi­sion appear­ance on a Ger­man pro­gram in 1978—see it at the top of the post. Rather than open­ing with “Wuther­ing Heights,” the song that did make her famous, she instead starts with the B‑side, “Kite.” But then we hear that famil­iar, tin­kling piano intro, and she deliv­ers the big sin­gle, wear­ing the flow­ing red gown she donned in the oft-par­o­died Amer­i­can video for the song (above). The weird and won­der­ful dance moves are a lit­tle sub­dued, but like all of her performances—in very rare stage appear­ances, numer­ous videos, and ten amaz­ing albums—it’s glo­ri­ous.

In her first Amer­i­can TV appear­ance, on Sat­ur­day Night Live lat­er that same year, Bush sang “The Man With the Child in His Eyes” in the gold lamé body­suit she wore in the song’s offi­cial video (above). Just one of the many fash­ion choic­es that, along with those unin­hib­it­ed dance moves—“those weird, spas­tic, fan­tas­tic inter­pre­tive dance moves,” writes Matthew Zuras in an appreciation—later gave us unfor­get­table clas­sics like the “Baboosh­ka” video (below). We have this unique, uncom­pro­mis­ing body of work both because a more adven­tur­ous music indus­try decid­ed to invest in devel­op­ing Bush’s tal­ent in the ear­ly 70s, and because she refused, after all, to accede to that indus­try’s usu­al demands.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

300 Kate Bush Imper­son­ators Pay Trib­ute to Kate Bush’s Icon­ic “Wuther­ing Heights” Video

2009 Kate Bush Doc­u­men­tary Dubs Her “Queen of British Pop”

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

Professional Pickpocket Apollo Robbins Explains the Art of Misdirection

You’ve got to pick-a-pock­et or two, boys 

You’ve got to pick-a-pock­et or two. 

Unlike the Art­ful Dodger and oth­er light-fin­gered urchins brought to life by Charles Dick­ens and, more recent­ly, com­pos­er Lionel Bartpro­fes­sion­al pick­pock­et Apol­lo Rob­bins con­fines his prac­tice to the stage.

Past exploits include reliev­ing actress Jen­nifer Gar­ner of her engage­ment ring and bas­ket­ball Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley of a thick bankroll. In 2001, he vir­tu­al­ly picked for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Jim­my Carter’s Secret Ser­vice detail clean, net­ting badges, a watch, Carter’s itin­er­ary, and the keys to his motor­cade. (Rob­bins wise­ly steered clear of their guns.)

How does he does he do it? Prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice… and remain­ing hyper vig­i­lant as to the things com­mand­ing each indi­vid­ual vic­tim­s’s atten­tion, in order to momen­tar­i­ly redi­rect it at the most con­ve­nient moment.

Clear­ly, he’s a put lot of thought into the emo­tion­al and cog­ni­tive com­po­nents. In a TED talk on the art of mis­di­rec­tion, above, he cites psy­chol­o­gist Michael Posner’s “Trin­i­ty Mod­el” of atten­tion­al net­works. He has deep­ened his under­stand­ing through the study of aiki­do, crim­i­nal his­to­ry, and the psy­chol­o­gy of per­sua­sion. He under­stands that get­ting his vic­tims to tap into their mem­o­ries is the best way to tem­porar­i­ly dis­arm their exter­nal alarm bells. His easy­go­ing, seem­ing­ly spon­ta­neous ban­ter is but one of the ways he gains marks’ trust, even as he pen­e­trates their spheres with a preda­to­ry grace.

Watch his hands, and you won’t see much, even after he explains sev­er­al tricks of his trade, such as secur­ing an already depock­et­ed wal­let with his index fin­ger to reas­sure a jack­et-pat­ting vic­tim that it’s right where it belongs. (Half a sec­ond lat­er, it’s drop­ping below the hem of that jack­et into Rob­bins’ wait­ing hand.) Those paws are fast!

I do won­der how he would fare on the street. His act depends on a fair amount of chum­my touch­ing, a phys­i­cal inti­ma­cy that could quick­ly cause your aver­age straphang­er to cry foul. I guess in such an instance, he’d lim­it the take to one pre­cious item, a cell phone, say, and leave the wal­let and watch to a non-the­o­ret­i­cal “whiz mob” or street pick­pock­et team.

Though he him­self has always been scrupu­lous about return­ing the items he lib­er­ates, Rob­bins does not with­hold pro­fes­sion­al respect for his crim­i­nal broth­ers’ moves. One real-life whiz mob­ber so impressed him dur­ing a tele­vi­sion inter­view that he drove over four hours to pick the perp’s brains in a min­i­mum secu­ri­ty prison, a con­fab New York­er reporter Adam Green described in col­or­ful detail as part of a lengthy pro­file on Rob­bins and his craft.

One small detail does seem to have escaped Rob­bins’ atten­tion in the sec­ond demon­stra­tion video below, in which reporter Green will­ing­ly steps into the role of vic’. Per­haps Rob­bins doesn’t care, though his mark cer­tain­ly should. The sit­u­a­tion is less QED than XYZPDQ.

While you’re tak­ing notice, don’t for­get to remain alert to what a poten­tial pick­pock­et is wear­ing. Such atten­tion to detail may serve you down at the sta­tion, if not onstage.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Sci­ence of Willpow­er: 15 Tips for Mak­ing Your New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions Last from Dr. Kel­ly McGo­ni­gal

The Kit­ty Gen­ovese Myth and the Pop­u­lar Imag­i­na­tion

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. The sleep­ing bag-like insu­lat­ing prop­er­ties of her ankle-length faux leop­ard coat make her very pop­u­lar with the pick­pock­ets of New York. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

The Original Stuffed Animals That Inspired Winnie the Pooh

winnie stuffies

In 1921, Christo­pher Robin Milne received a stuffed bear for his first birth­day. But it wasn’t any old stuffed bear. Bought at Har­rods in Lon­don, this bear (named “Win­nie” after a black bear that resided at the Lon­don Zoowould inspire his father, A.A. Milne, to write the Win­nie the Pooh sto­ries in 1926–stories that have cap­tured chil­dren’s imag­i­na­tions ever since.

In the pic­ture above, you can see the orig­i­nal Win­nie the Pooh bear, joined by his friends Tig­ger, Kan­ga, Eey­ore, and Piglet. They all now live at The New York Pub­lic Library, where kids and adults can see them on dis­play. It should be not­ed that Roo isn’t in the pic­ture because he was lost a long time ago. Mean­while you won’t find Owl or Rab­bit, because they weren’t orig­i­nal­ly based on stuffed ani­mals.

You can find more pho­tos of the stuffed ani­mals over at the NYPL web­site, and, if you vis­it this post in our archive, you’ll hear A.A. Milne read­ing from Win­nie the Pooh in a 1929 record­ing. Enjoy.

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!

Note: Do you want to down­load Win­nie the Pooh as a free audio book? If you start a 30 day free tri­al with, you can down­load two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 10 ) |

The Open Syllabus Project Gathers 1,000,000 Syllabi from Universities & Reveals the 100 Most Frequently-Taught Books

syllabus explorer

Ear­li­er this week, we high­light­ed The 20 Most Influ­en­tial Aca­d­e­m­ic Books of All Time, accord­ing to a recent poll con­duct­ed in Britain.

Now comes the Syl­labus Explor­er, a new web­site cre­at­ed by the Open Syl­labus Project at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. Impres­sive­ly, the Syl­labus Explor­er has gath­ered 1,ooo,ooo+ syl­labi pub­lished on uni­ver­si­ty web­sites, then extract­ed and aggre­gat­ed the data found in those doc­u­ments, all for one rea­son: to deter­mine the most­ly fre­quent­ly-taught books in uni­ver­si­ty class­rooms.

Writ­ing in The New York Times, Joe Kara­ga­n­is and David McClure, two direc­tors at the Open Syl­labus Project, explained that the Syl­labus Explor­er “is most­ly a tool for count­ing how often texts [have been] assigned over the past decade.” Using fre­quen­cy as a proxy for influ­ence, the Project assigns an over­all ‘Teach­ing Score’ to each text, pro­vid­ing anoth­er met­ric for gaug­ing the impact of cer­tain books.

Accord­ing to Kara­ga­n­is and McClure, the “tra­di­tion­al West­ern canon dom­i­nates the top 100, with Plato’s Repub­lic at No. 2, The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo at No. 3, and Franken­stein at No. 5, fol­lowed by Aristotle’s Ethics, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Oedi­pus and Ham­let.” What’s No. 1? The Ele­ments of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. (Find them all in our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks.)

As for the most fre­quent­ly-taught nov­els writ­ten dur­ing the past 50 years, they add:

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” ranks first, at No. 43, fol­lowed by William Gibson’s “Neu­ro­mancer,” Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” Ms. Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” San­dra Cisneros’s “The House on Man­go Street,” Anne Moody’s “Com­ing of Age in Mis­sis­sip­pi,” Leslie Mar­mon Silko’s “Cer­e­mo­ny” and Alice Walker’s “The Col­or Pur­ple.”

It’s worth not­ing that, despite its name, the Syl­labi Explor­er does­n’t cur­rent­ly give you access to actu­al syl­labi for rea­sons hav­ing to do with pri­va­cy and copy­right. You only get access to the sta­tis­ti­cal aggre­ga­tion of data extract­ed from the syl­labi. That’s where things stand right now.

When you vis­it The Syl­labi Explor­er, check out this visu­al graph and be sure to zoom into the visu­als.

If you’re a teacher, you can share your syl­labi here. If you have mon­ey to spare, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to this valu­able open source resource.

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:

800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices

The His­to­ry of the World in 46 Lec­tures From Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 12 ) |

Tiny Tim Performs a Bizarre Cover of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” on The Tonight Show (1979)

In 1979, cult musi­cian Tiny Tim ditched his ukulele and tip­toed out of the tulips to cov­er Rod Stew­art’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” on The Tonight Show, above.

The Gong Show-wor­thy per­for­mance left host John­ny Car­son—and pre­sum­ably the major­i­ty of home viewers—speechless.

Was it com­e­dy or a fad­ing, men­tal­ly unbal­anced nov­el­ty act’s attempt to rekin­dle the pas­sion of a fick­le spot­light?

Maybe just a par­tic­u­lar­ly unbri­dled for­ay into new artis­tic ter­ri­to­ry… Like his elab­o­rate­ly for­mal man­ners, Tiny Tim’s usu­al reper­toire harkened to an ear­li­er peri­od. (“No one knew more about old music than Tiny Tim,” Bob Dylan once remarked.)

His odd­ly demure com­port­ment is in short sup­ply here as he veers from his cus­tom­ary falset­to to a more man­ly low­er reg­is­ter, strip­ping off jack­et and braces to show­case a port­ly, mid­dle aged mid-sec­tion. Musi­cian­ship also seems a bit want­i­ng, though to be fair, that’s rarely the cri­te­ria by which we mea­sure the suc­cess of an act that ends with writhing on the floor.

What­ev­er his inten­tions, Tiny Tim’s place in the annals of WTF per­for­mance his­to­ry would be secured on this turn alone.

A few years lat­er, he record­ed a 20s-tinged “Do Ya Think I”m Sexy” with Gary Lawrence & His Siz­zling Syn­co­pa­tors, released inside a greet­ing card as a 6” flexi disc. The video,  below, hon­ors his vin­tage sen­si­bil­i­ties while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly scream­ing 1982.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 15 Worst Cov­ers of Bea­t­les Songs: William Shat­ner, Bill Cos­by, Tiny Tim, Sean Con­nery & Your Excel­lent Picks

George Har­ri­son Explains Why Every­one Should Play the Ukulele, With Words and Music

Hear the Experimental Piano Jazz Album by Comedian H. Jon Benjamin — Who Can’t Play Piano

I won­der: do the fan bases of mod­ern com­e­dy and mod­ern jazz over­lap at all? At first, it’s hard to imag­ine two artis­tic worlds far­ther apart, with the come­di­ans seem­ing like unse­ri­ous goof­balls who con­sid­er noth­ing sacred and the jazz play­ers seem­ing like seri­ous artists who regard their musi­cal tra­di­tion as sacred indeed. But look clos­er and the dif­fer­ence does­n’t seem as stark as all that: com­e­dy and jazz, both per­for­ma­tive pur­suits, demand from those who want to suc­ceed in them an almost obses­sive com­mit­ment to improv­ing their craft. And the best prac­ti­tion­ers of both, despite acknowl­edg­ing the impor­tance of learn­ing and build­ing upon the work of their antecedents, have to know when to break from tra­di­tion and exper­i­ment.

So per­haps H. Jon Ben­jam­in’s new album Well, I Should Have, which brings com­e­dy and jazz togeth­er but not in the way any of us would have expect­ed, comes as some­thing of an inevitabil­i­ty. Ben­jamin, a come­di­an best known for doing voic­es on such ani­mat­ed shows as ArcherBob’s Burg­ersDr. Katz: Pro­fes­sion­al Ther­a­pist and Home Movies, has put out not a record of sketch­es or stand-up mate­r­i­al, but of actu­al jazz music, with him sit­ting at the piano. The comedic ele­ment? The album has a sub­ti­tle: … Learned to Play the Piano.

“I don’t play piano at all,” Ben­jamin dead­pans in the trail­er for Well, I Should Have… at the top of the post. “And I’m not a huge fan of jazz. I nev­er was. And that’s why I thought it would be fun­ny to make a jazz album.” To com­pen­sate for his total lack of skill or expe­ri­ence at his instru­ment, Ben­jamin brought three gen­uine jazz pro­fes­sion­als into the stu­dio to fill out the quar­tet: Scott Kre­itzer on sax­o­phone, David Finck on bass, and Jonathan Peretz on drums, all of whom do their best to build legit­i­mate com­po­si­tions around Ben­jam­in’s near-ran­dom pok­ing and slap­ping of the ivories. Here we see — or rather hear — revealed some­thing else in com­mon between come­di­ans and jazz musi­cians: both need to impro­vise.

In the end, you could lis­ten to this as either a con­cep­tu­al com­e­dy album, a con­cep­tu­al jazz album, or both. You can hear selec­tions from it (though, giv­en the videos’ geo-restric­tion, that depends on which coun­try you’re in) in the playlist just above. For most of us, show­ing up to a record­ing ses­sion com­plete­ly igno­rant of the instru­ment we have to play con­sti­tutes the stuff of night­mares, but Ben­jamin uses it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to play a role he calls “Jazz Dare­dev­il.” Does this count as real com­e­dy? It cer­tain­ly gets me laugh­ing. I’ll leave the oth­er obvi­ous ques­tion to the seri­ous jazz afi­ciona­dos, who seem to enjoy only one thing almost as much as lis­ten­ing to jazz: argu­ing over what counts as jazz. If Ben­jamin has a par­tic­u­lar joke to make with all this, it may be on them.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

This is Your Brain on Jazz Impro­vi­sa­tion: The Neu­ro­science of Cre­ativ­i­ty

Philoso­pher Jacques Der­ri­da Inter­views Jazz Leg­end Ornette Cole­man: Talk Impro­vi­sa­tion, Lan­guage & Racism (1997)

10 Great Per­for­mances From 10 Leg­endary Jazz Artists: Djan­go, Miles, Monk, Coltrane & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.