Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s Three Rules for Living Well: A Short and Succinct Life Philosophy

Regular readers of Open Culture know us to gush over our favorite celebrity couples now and then: John and Yoko, Jean-Paul and Simone, Frida and Diego…. Not your usual tabloid fare, but the juicy details of these amorous partners’ lives also happen to intersect with some of our favorite art, music and literature. One cultural power couple we haven’t covered much, surprisingly, well deserves the “power” adjective: Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, two personalities whose influence on the art and music of the last several decades can hardly be overstated.

Has Reed’s reputation at times been inflated, and Anderson’s underplayed? Maybe. She doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the witty, profound, moving work she’s done, year after year (with one lengthy hiatus) since the 70s. Reed’s career since the 70s consisted of more misses than hits. But put them together (in 1992) and you get a harmonious meeting of Reed’s raw, gut-level assertions and Anderson’s curious, playful concepts.

Witness their personal strength together in the Charlie Rose excerpt at the top of the post. Reed, who was often a difficult interview subject, to put it mildly, and who gained a reputation as a brutally unpleasant, abusive rock and roll diva (immortalized lovingly in Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”), comes off in this sit-down with Anderson as almost warm and fuzzy. Did she make him want to be a better person? I don’t know. But Anderson’s short obituary after his 2013 death remembered Reed as a “prince and fighter,” her longer obit as a “generous” soul who enjoyed butterfly hunting, meditation, and kayaking. No reason he wasn’t all those things too.

When it came to music, Reed could pull his partner into the orbit of his sweet R&B songcraft, as in their duet of “Hang on to Your Emotions,” further up, and she could pull him out of it—like John Cale and Nico had done in the Velvet Underground—and into the avant-garde drone of her experimental scene (as above in the pair’s collaboration with composer and saxophonist John Zorn). Just this past Spring, in one of the most touching musical tributes I’ve ever seen, Anderson recreated Reed’s abrasive screw-you to his record label, Metal Machine Music, as a conceptual art piece called Drones, leaning several of his guitars against several fully-cranked vintage amps, letting the feedback ring out for five days straight.

None of us can be Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson; every couple is happy, or unhappy, in their own way. But what, in the grand tradition of mining celebrity couple’s lives for advice, can we learn from them? I guess the overall message—as Anderson herself suggested in her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech for Reed (above, in shaky audience video)—is this: keep it simple. Kansas State English Professor Philip Nel points out Anderson’s “wise… thoughtful” words on the subject of living well, delivered in her speech at the 8:55 mark:

I’m reminded also of the three rules we came up with, rules to live by. And I’m just going to tell you what they are because they come in really handy. Because things happen so fast, it’s always good to have a few, like, watchwords to fall back on.

And the first one is: One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.

Can you imagine Lou Reed as “really, really tender”? He certainly was in song, if not always in person. In any case, these three rules seem to me to encapsulate a personal philosophy built solidly on fearless integrity and compassion. Difficult to live by, but well worth the effort. And because I’m now feeling super warm and fuzzy about Lou and Laurie, I’ll leave you with the short WNYC interview clip below, in which she reveals her favorite Lou Reed song, which he happened to write about her.

via Nine Kinds of Pie

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

Betty Davis’ Legendary and Long-Lost Recording Sessions, Produced by Miles Davis, Finally Released (1968-1969)

Bringing her down-home North Carolina background to the world of funk, Betty Mabry spent a better part of the sixties trying to make it big in the music scene, while also modeling to pay the rent. She ran in the same crowds as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Hugh Masekela (who she dated), and she wrote her own songs, selling one to the Chambers Brothers, and then got a couple of singles on Capitol Records.

And then Miles Davis stepped in the picture. First as a whirlwind romance and marriage, then as a producer who was going to launch Betty Davis as the queen of funk (and refurbish his image in the process.) He had already dedicated two songs to her and put her on the cover of his 1968 album Filles de KilimanjaroAnd now he was set to produce her solo debut.

That album is finally being released. Betty Davis: The Columbia Years 1968-1969 drops tomorrowTo hear Light in the Attic’s video press release above breathlessly tell it, “music fans have long debated the truth about one legendary session recorded in 1969 at Columbia’s 52nd Street Studios.” Personally I don’t know what was actually debated, but yes, Betty Davis recorded tracks for a funk album using members of Jimi Hendrix’s Experience band (Mitch Mitchell, drums) and his Band of Gypsies (Billy Cox, bass), along with guitarist John McLaughlin, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, Harvey Brooks on bass, Wayne Shorter on sax, and Larry Young on organ. Teo Macero co-produced with Miles Davis.

If this sounds like most of the band that went on to make Miles’ Bitches Brew (a record title suggested by Betty), then you’re right. It could be seen as a session that got the wheels spinning in Miles’ mind about a new direction to take his own work. And it’s that moment that so fascinates music fans.

Columbia passed on the Betty Davis album and buried it in its vaults. It would take four years until Betty Davis was able to get a solo album out on her own terms. That eponymous 1973 album and the two that followed were poor sellers, but earned cult status due to Betty Davis’ unabashed and unapologetic sexuality, feminism, and ferocity on stage—the same factors that scared radio operators and concert venues.

“She was the first Madonna, but Madonna was like Donny Osmond by comparison,” Carlos Santana once quipped about her.

The Light in the Attic site has very brief clips from the songs on the new release, but since they are all from the openings of the tracks, they give little indication of the funky stew to follow, from the Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival covers (“Politician Man,” “Born on the Bayou”) to her own songs. The CD and LP package looks gorgeous of course, with liner notes and photos.

Davis retired from music after her fourth album went nowhere but she is still around, and, according to the Light in the Attic website, a documentary is in the works on this influential funky icon who needs rediscovering.

via Boing Boing

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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 tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Physics & Caffeine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Coffee to Explain Key Concepts in Physics

Want to teach me physics? Make it interesting. Better yet, use a cup of coffee as a prop. Now you’ve got my attention.

Created by Charlotte Arene while interning at the University of Paris-Sud’s Laboratory of Solid State PhysicsPhysics & Caffeine uses a shot of espresso to explain key concepts in physics. Why does coffee cool off so quickly when you blow on it? It comes down to understanding heat and thermodynamics. Why does coffee stay in a cup at all? That seemingly simple question is explained by quantum mechanics and even Newtonian physics and special relativity. You might want to watch that section twice.

Shot image by image, this stop motion film took three long months to create. Pretty impressive when you consider that 5,000 images went into making the film.

Get more information on the film, and even download it, from this page. And find more physics primers below.

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via Aeon

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The Philosophy of Bill Murray: The Intellectual Foundations of His Comedic Persona

“Bill Murray is a national, no, an international, no an intergalactic treasure,” said Jim Jarmusch, who directed him in Coffee and Cigarettes and Broken Flowers, when the actor won this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. But what, exactly, do we find so compelling about the guy? I launched into my own quest to find out after seeing his performance in Rushmore (regarded by most Murray scholars as a revelation of depth at which he’d only hinted between wisecracks before), watching every movie he ever appeared in. Similarly rigorous research must have gone into this new video on the philosophy of Bill Murray.

“Since replacing Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live in 1977,” says narrator Jared Bauer, “Bill Murray has embodied a very particular type of comedy that can best be described as ‘ironic and cooly distant.'” Bauer references a New York Times article on Murray’s ascendance to “secular sainthood” which describes him as having had “such a long film career that, in the public mind, there are multiple Bill Murrays. The Bill Murray of Stripes and Ghostbusters is an anti-authoritarian goofball: the kind of smart-aleck who leads a company of soldiers in a coordinated dance routine before a visiting general, or responds to the possible destruction of New York City by saying, ‘Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!'”

That memorable line makes it into “The Philosophy of Bill Murray,” as do many others, all of which spring from the actor’s signature persona, which “stands slightly at a distance from everything, enabling him to maintain a dryly humorous commentary about what’s going on around him.” Bauer places this in a tradition of American comedy “dating back at least to the vaudeville days” and continuing through to Groucho Marx’s habitual breakage of the fourth wall. He even connects it to 15th-century Japanese playwright-philosopher Zeami Motokiyo and, in some sense his 20th-century continuation, Bertolt Brecht.

But what influence best explains Murray’s distinctive onscreen and increasingly performance art-like offscreen behavior today? Maybe that of his onetime teacher, the Greco-Armenian Sufi mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, who, as Murray’s Ghostbusters co-star Harold Ramis put it, “used to act really irrationally to his students, almost as if trying to teach them object lessons.” He taught what he called “the fourth way of enlightenment,” or — more fittingly in Murray’s case — “the way of the sly man,” who can “find the truth in everyday life” by remaining simultaneously aware of both the outside world and his inner one while not getting caught up in either. The sly man thus exists between, and uses, “the world, the self, and the self that is observing everything.”

Bauer sums up Murray’s uniqueness thus: “He turns the usual style of American comedic irony against itself, or against himself,” leading us to “identify not with Bill Murray’s character, but with Bill Murray, who distances himself from the stakes of the narrative.” But whether playing a character, playing himself, or something between the two, Murray seems as if he knows something we don’t about the stakes of life itself. “I’d like to be more consistently here,” he once said to Charlie Rose, who’d asked what he wants that he doesn’t already have. “Really in it, really alive. I’d like to just be more here all the time, and I’d like to see what I could get done, what I could do, if I was able to not get distracted, to not change channels in my mind and body.” A universal human longing, perhaps, but one Murray, the ultimate sly man, has come to tap more deeply into than any performer around.

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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.

23 Hours of H.P. Lovecraft Stories: Hear Readings & Dramatizations of “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” & Other Weird Tales


Image by Lucius B. Truesdell, via Wikimedia Commons

H.P. Lovecraft has somewhat fallen out of favor in many circles of horror and fantasy writing. Just this past year, after much debate, the World Fantasy Awards decided to remove his likeness from their statuette. Because, quite frankly, Lovecraft was not only a bigot but a committed anti-Semite and white supremacist who loathed virtually everyone who wasn’t, as he put it, “Nordic-American.” This included African-Americans and “stunted bracycephalic South-Italians & rat-faced half-Mongoloid Russian & Polish Jews, & all that cursed scum,” as he wrote in a letter to fellow writer August Derleth. The statement is representative of many, many more on the subject.

Were these simply private political opinions and nothing more, there might not be sufficient reason to read them into his work, but as several people have argued convincingly, Lovecraft’s opinions form the basis of so much of his work. China Miéville, for example, writes “I follow [French novelist Michel Houellebecq—hardly known for any kind of political correctness] in thinking that Lovecraft’s oeuvre, his work itself, is inspired by and deeply structured with race hatred. As Houellebecq said, it is racism itself that raises in Lovecraft a ‘poetic trance.’”

Lovecraft’s xenophobic loathing begins to seem like an almost pathological hatred and fear of anyone different, and of any kind of change in the nation’s makeup. It goes far beyond casual “man of his time” attitudes (and increasingly, of our time). F. Scott Fitzgerald lived during Lovecraft’s time. And Fitzgerald had the critical distance to satirize fanatical bigotry like Lovecraft’s in The Great Gatsby‘s Tom Buchanan. All of that said, however, it’s impossible to deny Lovecraft’s influence on horror and fantasy, and almost no one has done so, even among those writers who most vehemently lobbied to retire his image or who found his presence deeply troubling.

World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor writes about contemporary authors having to wrestle with the fact “that many of The Elders we honor and need to learn from hate or hated us.” Winner Sofia Samatar, who wanted the statuette changed, exclaimed, “I am not telling anybody not to read Lovecraft. I teach Lovecraft! I actually insist that people read him and write about him!” In a short essay at Tor, sci-fi and fantasy writer Elizabeth Bear expressed many of the same ambivalent feelings about her “complicated relationship with Lovecraft.” While finding his “bigotry of just about any stripe you like… revolting,” his work has nonetheless provided “a powerful source of inspiration, the foundations of it like Hadrian’s Wall; full of material for mining and repurposing.”

It’s not particularly unusual to find such ambivalent attitudes expressed toward literary ancestors. All artists—all people—have their character flaws, and to expect every writer we like to share our values seems naive, narrow, and superficial. But Lovecraft presents an extreme example, and also one whose prose is often pretty terrible: overstuffed, overwrought, pretentious, and archaic. But it’s that pulpy style that makes Lovecraft, Lovecraft—that contributes to the feverish atmosphere of paranoia and alienation in his stories. “He’s a master of mood,” Bear avows, “of sweeping blasted vistas of despair and the bone-soaking cold of space.”

That much of his despair and horror emanated from a place inside him that feared the “gestures & jabbering” of other humans does not make it any less effectively creepy or hypnotic. It just makes it that much harder to love Lovecraft the author, no matter how much we might admire his work. But perhaps Lovecraft was such an effective horror writer precisely because he was so terribly afraid of change and difference. As he himself wrote of his particular brand of supernatural horror, or “weird fiction,” as he called it: “horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected… because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion.” One needn’t be a phobic racist to write good horror fiction, but in Lovecraft’s case, I guess, it seems to have helped.

Just as much as the work of Isaac Asimov, or Robert Heinlein, or Gene Roddenberry resides in the DNA of science fiction, so too does Lovecraft inhabit the organic building blocks of horror writing. Horror and fantasy writers who somehow avoid reading Lovecraft may end up absorbing his influence anyway; readers who avoid him will end up reading some version of “Lovecraft pastiche,” as Bear puts it. So it behooves us to go to the source, find out what Lovecraft himself wrote, take the good over the bad, even “pick a fight with him,” writes Bear, “because of what he does right, that makes his stories too compelling to just walk away from, and because of what he does wrong… for example, the way he treats people as things.”

We’ve previously brought to your attention several online Lovecraft archives, such as this compilation of Lovecraft eBooks and audiobooks, and these many fine dramatizations of Lovecraft’s stories. Additionally, you can download many of Lovecraft’s stories and letters published in the seminal horror and fantasy magazine Weird Tales. And in the Spotify playlist above (download Spotify here if you need it), you can hear The H.P. Lovecraft Compendium, 23 hours of readings and dramatizations of Lovecraft’s creepy short stories and novellas, including The Shadow Over Innsmouth, “The Dunwich Horror,” The Whisperer in Darkness, “The Call of Cthulhu,” and many, many more. However repugnant many of Lovecraft’s attitudes, there’s no denying the power of his “weird fiction.” As the playlist advises, “you might want to leave a light on when listening to these chilling performances….”

This playlist will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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

Laurie Anderson’s Top 10 Books to Take to a Desert Island

Her avant-garde performance art endeared her to the New York art world long before she dated, then married, one of the most influential men in rock and roll. Her work has at times been overshadowed by her more conventionally famous partner and collaborator, but after his death, she continues to make challenging, far ahead-of-its-time work and redefine herself as a creative force.

No, I don’t mean Yoko Ono, but the formidable Laurie Anderson. In addition to her experimental art, Anderson is a filmmaker, sculptor, photographer, writer, composer, and musician. Her surprise electronic hit “O Superman” (above) from her debut 1982 album Big Science, “warns of ever-present death from the air in an era of jingoism,” writes David Graham at The Atlantic.

Anderson herself explains the song as based on a “beautiful 19th-century aria by Massenet… a prayer to authority. The lyrics are a one-sided conversation, like a prayer to God. It sounds sinister—but it is sinister when you start talking to power.”

“O Superman” speaks, mockingly, to American military hegemony and to a particular historical event, the Iran hostage crisis. As such, it is representative of much of her work, melding classical instincts and musicianship with electronic experimentation and a darkly comic sensibility that she often wields like a critical scalpel on U.S. political attitudes—from her huge, five-record 1984 live album United States (with songs like “Yankee See” and “Democratic Way”) to her 2010 project Homeland.

One of Anderson’s most recent pieces, Dirtday, “responds,” she says above, to “a very tragic situation… a decade after 9/11… so much fear. Dirtday was really inspired by trying to look at that fear… almost from a point of view of ‘what is it when a whole nation gets hypnotized?’” Her art may be politically oppositional, but she also admits, that “as a storyteller, I find my ‘colleagues’ in politics, you know, a little bit closer than I thought.” The admission belies Anderson’s ability to incorporate multiple perspectives into her complex narratives, as all great writers do. And great writers begin as readers, their work in dialogue with the books that move and shape them.

So what does Laurie Anderson read? Below, you’ll find a list of her top ten books, curated by One Grand, a “bookstore in which celebrated thinkers, writers, artists, and other creative minds share the ten books they would take to their metaphorical desert island.” Her choices include great comic storytellers, like Laurence Sterne, and chroniclers of the lumbering beast that is the U.S., like Herman Melville. Other well-known novelists, like Nabokov and Annie Dillard, sit next to Buddhist texts and creative nonfiction. It’s a fascinating list, and if you’re as intrigued and inspired by Anderson’s work as I am, you’ll want to read, or re-read, everything on it.

Skip on over to One Grand to read Anderson’s complete, witty commentaries on each of her choices.

Also check out, UBUweb, which has a nice collection of Laurie Anderson’s early video work.

via The New York Times Magazine

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

Hear 230 Episodes of Escape: Classic Radio Dramas of Stories by Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells & More (1947-1954)

“Worried about the price of butter and eggs? Fed up with the housing shortage? Want to get away from it all? CBS offers you Escape!” These words open October 1st, 1947’s broadcast adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game,” Richard Connell’s safari culture-satirizing short thriller about a New York big-game hunter en route to Rio who falls off his yacht, swims to shore, and soon finds himself evading an eccentric Cossack aristocrat who hunts human beings for sport on his own private island. Not exactly the sort of material that takes all one’s cares away, but Escape, it seems, had its own definition of escapism.

Originally airing on CBS radio between 1947 and 1954 — time that, without a regular sponsor, it spent in eighteen different time slots — the program’s 230 episodes took material from all over the literary landscape: Ray Bradbury’s “Mars Is Heaven,” Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds,” H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” (among several other of his tales), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost Special,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” You can listen to almost all its broadcasts, which mix then-new writers in with the established or already canonized ones, at the Internet Archive. (Stream all the episodes right above or find them here.“Escape brings together everything that was good about old-time radio drama rolled into one,” say the notes there, calling each episode “a micro drama carefully planned to capture the listener’s attention for thirty minutes.”

“Many of the stories were later reused by more high profile shows such as Suspense, but on the whole the Escape versions were of equal quality and sometimes more dramatically focused and atmospheric. When Radio Life wrote ‘These stories all possess many times the reality that most radio writing conveys,’ it hit the nail on the head.” At the time, the show’s creators must have constantly worried that all their sponsorship troubles and time-slot changes would keep the show from lasting, but even listeners now, more than sixty years after the Golden Age of radio and with our own concerns about egg prices and housing shortages, can find in it a quality of escapism still unmatched by most popular culture.

Find other vintage radio dramas in our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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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.

President Warren G. Harding’s Steamy Love Letters

If you know something about American history, you know that Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) will never appear on Mount Rushmore. He died during his unpopular first term in office, tarnished by the Teapot Dome scandal and revelations of an extramarital affair. Harding once apparently said, “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” And historians tend to agree. Consistently polls ranking the performance of American presidents put him at the bottom of the list.

History might, however, look more kindly upon Harding’s love letters, the byproduct of his womanizing ways. Before taking office, Harding fathered a love child with Nan Britton, a woman 31 years his junior. He also carried on a 15-year affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, a friend’s wife, to whom he started writing letters in 1910. And what letters they were. Here’s one from January 28, 1912:

I love your poise

Of perfect thighs

When they hold me

in paradise. . .

I love the rose

Your garden grows

Love seashell pink

That over it glows

I love to suck

Your breath away

I love to cling —

There long to stay. . .

I love you garb’d

But naked more

Love your beauty

To thus adore. . .

I love you when

You open eyes

And mouth and arms

And cradling thighs. . .

If I had you today, I’d kiss and

fondle you into my arms and

hold you there until you said,

‘Warren, oh, Warren,’ in a

benediction of blissful joy. . . . I

rather like that encore

discovered in Montreal.

Did you?

And another from September 15, 1913, which John Oliver playfully mocks above:

Honestly, I hurt with the insatiate longing, until I feel that there will never be any relief untilI take a long, deep, wild draught on your lips and then bury my face on your pillowing breasts. Oh, Carrie! I want the solace you only can give. It is awful to hunger so and be so wholly denied. . . . Wouldn’t you like to hear me ask if we only dared and answer, “We dare,” while souls rejoicing sang the sweetest of choruses in the music room? Wouldn’t you like to get sopping wet out on Superior — not the lake — for the joy of fevered fondling and melting kisses? Wouldn’t you like to make the suspected occupant of the next room jealous of the joys he could not know, as we did in morning communion at Richmond?

Oh, Carrie mine! You can see I have yielded and written myself into wild desire. I could beg. And Jerry came and will not go, says he loves you, that you are the only, only love worthwhile in all this world, and I must tell you so and a score or more of other fond things he suggests, but I spare you. You must not be annoyed. He is so utterly devoted that he only exists to give you all. I fear you would find a fierce enthusiast today.

Originally unearthed by historian Francis Russell in 1964, the letters were donated to the Library of Congress, where they remained under seal until 2014. You can find scans of the original Warren G. Harding-Carrie Fulton Phillips Correspondence on the LOC website. (The LOC also produced an informative video on the exchange.) Read transcriptions of the best letters at The New York Times.

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