J.M. Coetzee on the Pleasures of Writing: Total Engagement, Hard Thought & Productiveness

Mar­tin Amis once crit­i­cized his fel­low nov­el­ist J.M. Coet­zee for writ­ing in a style “pred­i­cat­ed on trans­mit­ting absolute­ly no plea­sure.” This con­fused those of us read­ers who enjoy both men’s books, but then British tra­di­tion, of which Amis has been an inher­i­tor as well as a crit­ic, says that if some­one gets put on a pedestal, you must at least try to knock them down. The South African Coet­zee, win­ner of one Nobel Prize and two Book­ers, does­n’t exact­ly want for acclaim, but his stark prose and ascetic, ultra-seri­ous images hard­ly make him seem like an author drunk on his own lit­er­ary pow­er.

In a con­tro­ver­sial pro­file, Coet­zee’s coun­try­man Rian Malan wrote that “a col­league who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once.” We might expect the author of books like Wait­ing for the Bar­bar­iansDis­grace, and Eliz­a­beth Costel­lo to declare what he declares in the inter­view clip above: “Writ­ing, in itself, as an activ­i­ty, is nei­ther beau­ti­ful nor con­sol­ing. It’s indus­try.” Yet he does cred­it it with cer­tain plea­sures, “the plea­sures of total engage­ment, hard thought, ver­i­fi­able activ­i­ty, ver­i­fi­able results. Pro­duc­tive­ness.”

“Hav­ing writ­ten the book, being able to look back on hav­ing com­plet­ed the book, may or may not be con­sol­ing, but writ­ing a book is quite dif­fer­ent.” Work, asks the inter­view­er? “Yes. It’s good work.” And why do this work in the first place? Coet­zee would advise against the mis­sion of “trans­form­ing the world into the world as it should be. That would be too much of a task if one under­took it every time.” He finds “grasp­ing the world as it is, putting it with­in a cer­tain frame, tam­ing it to a cer­tain extent” — tam­ing “its wild­ness, its dis­or­der, its chaos” — “quite enough of an ambi­tion.”

These words come from an episode of the Dutch doc­u­men­tary series Of Beau­ty and Con­so­la­tion on Coet­zee which aired in 2000, after the pub­li­ca­tion of Boy­hood but before that of Youth and Sum­mer­time, the books of his tril­o­gy of par­tial­ly fic­tion­al­ized “autre­bi­og­ra­phy” in which he grasps frames, and tames the events of his own expe­ri­ence. “I haven’t for­got­ten the mis­eries of my child­hood,” he says, going on to insist that mis­ery has no beau­ty in itself. “I have plen­ty of hap­py moments in my child­hood, many of which are in the book. The rich­ness of those moments depends very heav­i­ly on their being embed­ded in a cer­tain life. A book is a way to bring that life to life,” in its plea­sures and sor­rows alike.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read and Hear Famous Writ­ers (and Arm­chair Sports­men) J.M. Coet­zee and Paul Auster’s Cor­re­spon­dence

Lists of the Best Sen­tences — Open­ing, Clos­ing, and Oth­er­wise — in Eng­lish-Lan­guage Nov­els

The Read­er: A Touch­ing South African TV Com­mer­cial Cel­e­brates Lit­er­a­cy and Scotch

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.

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” Played on Korean Instrument Dating Back to 6th Century

Gayageum play­er Luna Lee has been on a bit of a viral video roll recent­ly. First it was her cov­er of “Space Odd­i­ty” by David Bowie that earned her 110,000 plus views, and just two days ago we fea­tured her cov­ers of Pink Floyd’s “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall,” “Great Gig in the Sky,” and “Com­fort­ably Numb.” Back in her archives from a year ago, we’ve also found the above video of her cov­er of Leonard Cohen’s “Hal­lelu­jah.”

Although Lee’s rock cov­ers add bass and drums to keep the ener­gy up, this ver­sion just fea­tures three over­dubbed gayageums and a very sub­tle synth string line, leav­ing the bit­ter­sweet melody to come to the fore. No pyrotech­nics here.

The best known of Cohen’s songs and the most cov­ered, thanks most­ly to Jeff Buckley’s ver­sion, “Hal­lelu­jah” was not con­sid­ered a clas­sic orig­i­nal­ly. In this fine sto­ry of the song told by Mal­colm Glad­well on his Revi­sion­ist His­to­ry pod­cast (stream it below), it took 15 years for its genius to be unveiled, by which time it just seemed obvi­ous, like we had known it all along.

Glad­well inter­views Alan Light, who wrote an entire book on the evo­lu­tion of the song, the com­po­si­tion of which “bedev­iled” Cohen the most, result­ing in 80 or so vers­es that Cohen wrote and reject­ed until he found the per­fect com­bo. The song took years to com­plete. (This seg­ment of the pod­cast starts at 18:54 in, but you should real­ly lis­ten to the whole thing as it also explores Cezan­ne’s art and Elvis Costello’s writ­ing meth­ods.) The sto­ry also involves Bob Dylan, a failed orig­i­nal record­ing described as “turgid”, and the end­less tin­ker­ing in Cohen’s live con­certs. The twists and turns that fol­low are both coin­ci­den­tal and trag­ic, and we will let you dis­cov­er all of them by lis­ten­ing to the pod­cast.

Alan Light also spoke to NPR about the song fol­low­ing Cohen’s death ear­li­er this month.

“Sep­tem­ber 11 comes,” he says, “and Jeff Buck­ley’s record­ing of “Hal­lelu­jah” real­ly became sort of an anthem in the after­math, emo­tion­al short­hand for melan­choly and for sad­ness.”

Sounds like that time of dark­ness has come around again, and we still have “Hal­lelu­jah,” need­ed more than ever.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A‑ha’s “Take On Me” Per­formed by North Kore­an Kids with Accor­dions

Pak­istani Musi­cians Play a Delight­ful Ver­sion of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Clas­sic, “Take Five”

With Medieval Instru­ments, Band Per­forms Clas­sic Songs by The Bea­t­les, Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Metal­li­ca & Deep Pur­ple

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based 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.

Alice’s Restaurant: An Illustrated Version of Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic

Alice’s Restau­rant. It’s now a Thanks­giv­ing clas­sic, and some­thing of a tra­di­tion around here. Record­ed in 1967, the 18+ minute coun­ter­cul­ture song recounts Arlo Guthrie’s real encounter with the law, start­ing on Thanks­giv­ing Day 1965. As the long song unfolds, we hear all about how a hip­pie-bat­ing police offi­cer, by the name of William “Obie” Oban­hein, arrest­ed Arlo for lit­ter­ing. (Cul­tur­al foot­note: Obie pre­vi­ous­ly posed for sev­er­al Nor­man Rock­well paint­ings, includ­ing the well-known paint­ing, “The Run­away,” that graced a 1958 cov­er of The Sat­ur­day Evening Post.) In fair­ly short order, Arlo pleads guilty to a mis­de­meanor charge, pays a $25 fine, and cleans up the thrash. But the sto­ry isn’t over. Not by a long shot. Lat­er, when Arlo (son of Woody Guthrie) gets called up for the draft, the pet­ty crime iron­i­cal­ly becomes a basis for dis­qual­i­fy­ing him from mil­i­tary ser­vice in the Viet­nam War. Guthrie recounts this with some bit­ter­ness as the song builds into a satir­i­cal protest against the war: “I’m sit­tin’ here on the Group W bench ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the Army, burn women, kids, hous­es and vil­lages after bein’ a lit­ter­bug.” And then we’re back to the cheery cho­rus again: “You can get any­thing you want, at Alice’s Restau­rant.”

We have fea­tured Guthrie’s clas­sic dur­ing past years. But, for this Thanks­giv­ing, we give you the illus­trat­ed ver­sion. Hap­py Thanks­giv­ing to every­one who plans to cel­e­brate the hol­i­day today.

Fol­low Open Cul­ture on Face­book and Twit­ter and share intel­li­gent media with your friends. Or bet­ter yet, sign up for our dai­ly email and get a dai­ly dose of Open Cul­ture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts def­i­nite­ly appear in your Face­book news­feed, just fol­low these sim­ple steps.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bed Peace Revis­its John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Famous Anti-Viet­nam War Protest

Willie Nel­son, Pete Seeger, and Arlo Guthrie at Occu­py Wall Street

The Alan Lomax Sound Archive Now Online: Fea­tures 17,000 Record­ings

Hear a 9‑Hour Tribute to John Peel: A Collection of His Best “Peel Sessions”

If you took a job as a radio DJ at the BBC pri­or to 1988, you had to labor under some­thing called “nee­dle time,” a law pro­mot­ed by the Musi­cians’ Union and Phono­graph­ic Per­for­mance Lim­it­ed (and ulti­mate­ly the major record labels) that put a cap on the amount of record­ed music trans­mis­si­ble over the air­waves. Before 1967, the BBC could legal­ly drop the nee­dles of their turnta­bles onto record albums for a mere five hours per day. This may sound pos­i­tive­ly dra­con­ian in our time when music flows freely from all direc­tions, but it did cre­ate jobs for in-house radio-sta­tion musi­cians who could cov­er the hits of the day — and, more impor­tant­ly, gave rise to DJ John Peel’s leg­endary Peel Ses­sions.

“A lot of the things that I lis­tened to and that had a big influ­ence on me I first heard on John Peel,” said artist and music pro­duc­er Bri­an Eno, who describes Peel’s first play­ing of a Vel­vet Under­ground record near­ly fifty years ago as “like a light­ning bolt for me.” In an inter­view we fea­tured a few years back, Eno named the “two things that real­ly make for good records: dead­lines and small bud­gets,” one of his many elo­quent state­ments on not just the impor­tance but the neces­si­ty of lim­i­ta­tions to art. The lim­i­ta­tion of nee­dle time made Peel get cre­ative as well, over­com­ing his inabil­i­ty to spin all the records he want­ed by invit­ing the musi­cians he’d dis­cov­ered into the radio sta­tion to lay down tracks right there in its stu­dios.

The fruits of these Peel Ses­sions often came out with an ener­gy alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent than that of the orig­i­nal album, and dur­ing Peel’s 37 years on BBC Radio 1, he over­saw the record­ing of over 4000 of them. They and oth­er efforts at the inno­v­a­tive edges of pop­u­lar music made Peel a cul­tur­al force, and indeed one of British music’s most influ­en­tial fig­ures, whose broad­casts gave thou­sands of lis­ten­ers their first taste of the likes of David Bowie, Joy Divi­sion, Bob Mar­ley, and Nir­vana. Peel died in 2004, but his lega­cy has lived on in sev­er­al forms, includ­ing the John Peel Cen­ter for Cre­ative Arts and the annu­al John Peel Lec­ture, deliv­ered last year by Eno him­self.

Lon­don-based online radio sta­tion NTS, in its own way very much a con­tin­u­a­tion of Peel’s project, has put togeth­er a trib­ute to Britain’s most astute DJ in the form of a nine-hour broad­cast of some of the best Peel Ses­sions. Bro­ken into four parts, it gath­ers per­for­mances cap­tured at the BBC from artists like Gang of Four, The Fall, My Bloody Valen­tine, The Pix­ies, Aphex Twin, Cabaret Voltaire, and many oth­ers. “Blimey, he was real­ly at the cen­ter of every­thing,” says Eno. “He was putting so many things togeth­er. He was the first per­son who real­ized pop music was seri­ous, and that it was a place peo­ple could real­ly meet and talk to each oth­er. It became the cen­ter of a con­ver­sa­tion.” A dozen years after Peel’s pass­ing, the con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues.

via Elec­tron­ic Beats

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stream 15 Hours of the John Peel Ses­sions: 255 Tracks by Syd Bar­rett, David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Ban­shees & Oth­er Artists

Revis­it the Radio Ses­sions and Record Col­lec­tion of Ground­break­ing BBC DJ John Peel

Bri­an Eno on Why Do We Make Art & What’s It Good For?: Down­load His 2015 John Peel Lec­ture

Prof. Iggy Pop Deliv­ers the BBC’s 2014 John Peel Lec­ture on “Free Music in a Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety”

The His­to­ry of Spir­i­tu­al Jazz: Hear a Tran­scen­dent 12-Hour Mix Fea­tur­ing John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Her­bie Han­cock & 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.

How Can You Tell a Good Drummer from a Bad Drummer?: Ringo Starr as Case Study

Yes­ter­day Josh Jones made the case for appre­ci­at­ing the sub­tle genius of Ringo Starr. And as if to sec­ond that, Dirk K. sent this video (above) our way.

Asked what sep­a­rate good drum­mers from bad, drum­mer Bran­don Khoo gives a short demon­stra­tion that puts Ringo’s tal­ents in the right light. It’s not about the flash, the shock-and-awe dis­play of tech­nique. It’s about his ability–as Dave Grohl echoes below–to “sit in the song” and “find the right feel,” true to the phi­los­o­phy that some­times less is more.

Thanks Dirk for send­ing this our way. And thanks Ringo for putting on a great show in Marin on Sat­ur­day night.

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:

John Cleese, Ringo Starr and Peter Sell­ers Trash Price­less Art (1969)

Watch the Evo­lu­tion of Ringo Starr, Dave Grohl, Tré Cool & 19 Oth­er Drum­mers in Short 5‑Minute Videos

Hear the Bea­t­les Play Their Final Con­cert (August 29, 1966)

The Neu­ro­science of Drum­ming: Researchers Dis­cov­er the Secrets of Drum­ming & The Human Brain

Iso­lat­ed Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Great­est: Bon­ham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

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How to Know if Your Country Is Heading Toward Despotism: An Educational Film from 1946

Nobody likes a despot — even despots know it. But actu­al­ly iden­ti­fy­ing despo­tism can pose a cer­tain dif­fi­cul­ty — which despots also know, and they’d sure­ly like to keep it that way. Hence Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca’s Despo­tism, a ten-minute Erpi Class­room Film on how a coun­try slides into that epony­mous state. It uses the exam­ple of Nazi Ger­many (which might strike us today as the most obvi­ous one but back in 1946 must have felt almost too fresh), but gen­er­al­izes the con­cept by look­ing back into more dis­tant his­to­ry, as far as Louis XIV’s immor­tal remark, “L’é­tat, c’est moi.”

“You can rough­ly locate any com­mu­ni­ty in the world some­where along a scale run­ning all the way from democ­ra­cy to despo­tism,” says Despo­tism’s stan­dard-issue man­nered nar­ra­tor before turn­ing it over to a stan­dard-issue sack-suit­ed and Bryl­creemed expert. And how can we know where our own soci­ety places on that scale? “Well, for one,” says the expert, “avoid the com­fort­able idea that the mere form of gov­ern­ment can of itself safe­guard a nation against despo­tism.” The film intro­duces a series of sub-scales usable to gauge a com­mu­ni­ty’s despot­ic poten­tial: the respect scale, the pow­er scale, the eco­nom­ic dis­tri­b­u­tion scale, and the infor­ma­tion scale.

The respect scale mea­sures “how many cit­i­zens get an even break,” and on the despot­ic end, “com­mon cour­tesy is with­held from large groups of peo­ple on account of their polit­i­cal atti­tudes; if peo­ple are rude to oth­ers because they think their wealth and posi­tion gives them that right, or because they don’t like a man’s race or his reli­gion.” The pow­er scale  “gauges the cit­i­zen’s share in mak­ing the com­mu­ni­ty’s deci­sions. Com­mu­ni­ties which con­cen­trate deci­sion mak­ing in a few hands rate low on a pow­er scale and are mov­ing towards despo­tism,” and even “today democ­ra­cy can ebb away in com­mu­ni­ties whose cit­i­zens allow pow­er to become con­cen­trat­ed in the hands of boss­es.”

The eco­nom­ic dis­tri­b­u­tion scale turns into a warn­ing sign when a soci­ety’s “eco­nom­ic dis­tri­b­u­tion becomes slant­ed, its mid­dle income groups grow small­er and despo­tism stands a bet­ter chance to gain a foothold.” If “the con­cen­tra­tion of land own­er­ship in the hands of a very small num­ber of peo­ple” and “con­trol of jobs and busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties is in a few hands, despo­tism stands a good chance.” So it also does in a soci­ety which rates low on the infor­ma­tion scale, where “the press, radio, and oth­er chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion are con­trolled by only a few peo­ple and when cit­i­zens have to accept what they are told,” a process that ren­ders its cit­i­zens ulti­mate­ly unable to eval­u­ate claims and ideas for them­selves.

The oppo­site of despo­tism, so Despo­tism pro­pos­es, is democ­ra­cy, a type of gov­ern­ment explained in the pre­vi­ous year’s Erpi Class­room Film of that name. Ger­many, a repub­lic where once “an aggres­sive despo­tism took root and flour­ished under Adolf Hitler,” now per­forms admirably on the respect, pow­er, eco­nom­ic dis­tri­b­u­tion, and infor­ma­tion scales — not per­fect­ly, of course, but no coun­try can ever com­plete­ly escape the threat of despo­tism. Much about the econ­o­my and the nature of infor­ma­tion may have changed over the past 70 years, but noth­ing about respect and pow­er have. Whichev­er soci­ety we live in, and wher­ev­er on the spec­trum between democ­ra­cy and despo­tism it now stands, we’ll do well to keep an eye on the scales. Both films were made by Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca, in con­junc­tion with Yale Uni­ver­si­ty’s then promi­nent polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Harold Lass­well.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary

Rare 1940 Audio: Thomas Mann Explains the Nazis’ Ulte­ri­or Motive for Spread­ing Anti-Semi­tism

Don­ald Duck’s Bad Nazi Dream and Four Oth­er Dis­ney Pro­pa­gan­da Car­toons from World War II

George Orwell’s Final Warn­ing: Don’t Let This Night­mare Sit­u­a­tion Hap­pen. It Depends on You!

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Slavoj Žižek Calls Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness a Form of “Mod­ern Total­i­tar­i­an­ism”

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.

Browse & Download 1,198 Free High Resolution Maps of U.S. National Parks


I can­not, and do not wish to, imag­ine the U.S. with­out its Nation­al Park sys­tem. The sale and/or despo­li­a­tion of this more than 80 mil­lion acres of moun­tain, for­est, stream, ocean, geyser, cav­ern, canyon, and every oth­er nat­ur­al for­ma­tion North Amer­i­ca con­tains would dimin­ish the coun­try immea­sur­ably. “Nation­al parks,” wrote nov­el­ist Wal­lace Steg­n­er, “are the best idea we ever had. Absolute­ly Amer­i­can, absolute­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”


Stegner’s quote—which gave Ken Burns’ Nation­al Parks doc­u­men­tary its subtitle–can sound overop­ti­mistic when we study the parks’ his­to­ry. Though not offi­cial­ly des­ig­nat­ed until the 20th cen­tu­ry, the idea stretch­es back to 1851, when a bat­tal­ion, intent on find­ing and destroy­ing an Indi­an vil­lage, also found Yosemite. Named for what the sol­diers thought was the tribe they killed and burned, the word actu­al­ly trans­lates as “they are killers.”

West­ward expan­sion and the annex­a­tion of Hawaii have left us many sober­ing sto­ries like that of Yosemite’s “dis­cov­ery.” And dur­ing their devel­op­ment in the ear­ly- to mid-20th cen­tu­ry, the parks often required the mass dis­place­ment of peo­ple, many of whom had lived on the land for decades—or cen­turies. But despite the bloody his­to­ry, the cre­ation of these sanc­tu­ar­ies has pre­served much of the country’s embar­rass­ment of nat­ur­al beau­ty and irre­place­able bio­di­ver­si­ty for a cen­tu­ry now. (The Nation­al Park Ser­vice cel­e­brat­ed its 100th anniver­sary just this past August.)


The Nation­al Park Ser­vice and its allies have act­ed as bul­warks against pri­va­teers who would turn places like Yosemite into pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive resorts, and per­haps fell the ancient Red­wood Nation­al forests or blast away the Smokey Moun­tains. Instead, the parks remain “absolute­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic,” open to all Amer­i­cans and inter­na­tion­al vis­i­tors, the pride of con­ser­va­tion­ists, sci­en­tists, hik­ers, bird watch­ers, and nature-lovers of all kinds. Giv­en the sprawl­ing, ide­al­is­tic, and vio­lent his­to­ry of the Nation­al Parks, it may be fair to say that these nat­ur­al pre­serves reflect the coun­try at both its worst and its best. And in that sense, they are indeed “absolute­ly Amer­i­can.”


There are many ways to expe­ri­ence the Nation­al Parks with­out long car rides or flights across the coun­try or the world, though none of them can match the awe and grandeur of the real thing. Ansel Adams pho­tographed the parks reli­gious­ly, and in 1941 received a com­mis­sion from the Nation­al Parks Ser­vice (NPS) to cre­ate a pho­to mur­al. World War II scrapped the project, but the 200 plus pho­tos he took are all freely avail­able online. The NPS has also made avail­able 100,000 pho­tographs, blue­prints, and draw­ings of the Nation­al Parks through­out their his­to­ry with its Open Parks Net­work.


We can add to these already incred­i­ble free resources the online project Nation­al Parks Maps. Begun in 2013 by Col­orado park ranger Matt Hol­ly, the site cur­rent­ly hosts “1,198 free high-res­o­lu­tion nation­al park maps to view, save, and down­load.” Hol­ly cre­at­ed the site for pure­ly prac­ti­cal rea­sons. “I’ve always found it time-con­sum­ing to vis­it each park’s web page and use an embed­ded map view­er or mud­dle through the web­site to find a nice print­able map,” he writes. “So I’ve done the dirty work for you.”


That said, we find this col­lec­tion is filled with aes­thet­ic plea­sures, and no small num­ber of geo­graph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal curiosi­ties. At the top see a 3D map of Hawaii’s Haleakala Nation­al Park, with a “stun­ning overview of Maui.” Below it, see a map of “the range of the Coast Red­wood, stretch­ing from south­ern Ore­gon to south of Big Sur.” (Red­wood Nation­al and State Parks appear as a tiny area on the left, just below the Ore­gon state bor­der.) Fur­ther down is a bright blue aer­i­al map of Florida’s Dry Tor­tu­gas Nation­al Park, and below it, a map of the his­tor­i­cal Wilder­ness Road through the Cum­ber­land Gap, the “path of the famous road used by set­tlers to reach Ken­tucky.” Plus, then the South­ern Rim of the Grand Canyon.


Fur­ther up, see a map of Death Val­ley, and just above, a floor plan of the U.S. Pen­i­ten­tiary on Alca­traz Island. This tiny sam­pling of the more than one-thou­sand maps at Holly’s Nation­al Parks Maps site shows just some of the nat­ur­al (and man-made) won­ders the Nation­al Parks Ser­vice stew­ards. For more, vis­it the site, where you can browse by state or alpha­bet­i­cal­ly by park. Hol­ly has also uploaded brochures and trail and lodg­ing maps, and includ­ed links to oth­er resources as well as gifts and prints. The site more than accom­plish­es its prac­ti­cal pur­pose of cen­tral­iz­ing all the car­to­graph­ic info trav­el­ers might need. But it also makes an implic­it case for the Nation­al Parks by show­ing us how well they have kept intact the country’s defin­ing fea­tures, which will, one hopes, still be here long after we are gone.

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Yosemite Nation­al Park in All of Its Time-Lapse Splen­dor

226 Ansel Adams Pho­tographs of Great Amer­i­can Nation­al Parks Are Now Online

Down­load 100,000 Pho­tos of 20 Great U.S. Nation­al Parks, Cour­tesy of the U.S. Nation­al Park Ser­vice

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

Hear the Brilliant Guitar Work of Charlie Christian, Inventor of the Electric Guitar Solo (1939)

On a recent vis­it to Seattle’s Muse­um of Pop­u­lar Cul­ture (for­mer­ly EMP), I found myself trans­fixed for well over an hour by the Gui­tar Gallery, a ver­i­ta­ble shrine for gui­tar play­ers, with “55 vin­tage, world chang­ing gui­tars from the 1770s to the present.” In addi­tion to illus­trat­ing a few hun­dred years of music his­to­ry, the exhib­it rep­re­sents the slow devel­op­ment of the elec­tric gui­tar, and the many ungain­ly stages in-between. What we learn in study­ing the his­to­ry is that gui­tar inno­va­tions have always been play­er-dri­ven.

Gui­tarists have mod­i­fied and built their own gui­tars, and many have tak­en mod­els and adapt­ed them so ful­ly to their style that they become icon­ic main­stays as oth­er mod­els drop away. Such is the case with the ES-150, Gibson’s first “Elec­tric Span­ish” arch­top gui­tar, and its most famous play­er, Char­lie Chris­t­ian, who has inspired some of the best-known gui­tarists in jazz, like Bar­ney Kessel and Wes Mont­gomery, and who also may have invent­ed the elec­tric gui­tar solo. Gib­son goes so far as to bestow on Chris­t­ian the hon­orif­ic of “the first gui­tar hero.”

Before Chris­t­ian, gui­tar soloists in jazz ensem­bles and orches­tras were rare, since the acoustic instru­ment couldn’t be heard loud­ly enough over horns, wood­winds, dou­ble bass, and drums. The first elec­tric gui­tar, the “Fry­ing Pan,” arrived in 1931, built for Hawai­ian jazz lap steel play­ers. Rapid devel­op­ment of the elec­tric pick­up pro­ceed­ed through­out the decade, and Chris­t­ian bought his ES-150 the year after it went into pro­duc­tion in 1936.

By 1938, when he had found steady work at a club in Bis­mar­ck, North Dako­ta, “a local music store dis­played the Gib­son ES-150 with a sign read­ing ‘As fea­tured by Char­lie Chris­t­ian.’” By this point, writes Riff Inter­ac­tive, Chris­t­ian was “a region­al hero.”

In 1939, Chris­t­ian joined the Ben­ny Good­man orches­tra, but the sto­ry of his audi­tion tells us as much about the elec­tric guitar’s impor­tance as it does about Christian’s play­ing. It seems that “Good­man was ini­tial­ly unim­pressed” by Christian’s strum­ming of an “unam­pli­fied rhythm gui­tar behind ‘Tea for Two.’” (hear him play the song, elec­tri­fied, below.) But when jazz impre­sario John Ham­mond snuck him and his elec­tric gui­tar onstage with Goodman’s Quin­tet lat­er at the Vic­tor Hugo Restau­rant, “Chris­t­ian matched Good­man riff for riff and impro­vised over 20 cho­rus­es. He was hired on the spot.” He could play some of Djan­go Rein­hardt’s most dif­fi­cult songs note-for-note, and “many of the fig­ures he worked into his solos evolved lat­er into Ben­ny Good­man tunes.”

“Some argue he wasn’t the first” elec­tric soloist, writes the site Jus­tice through Music, but “he made the elec­tric gui­tar lead solo ‘pop­u­lar,’ and in essence ‘invent­ed’ it,” lead­ing the way for “Eric Clap­ton, Jim­my Page, Bud­dy Guy, Eddie Van Halen and all the great gui­tar shred­ders.” Jazz crit­ic Kevin White­head agrees, telling Ter­ry Gross that Chris­t­ian “was the sin­gle great­est influ­ence on the sig­na­ture 20th cen­tu­ry instru­ment, the elec­tric gui­tar, even though he died at age 25 and did all his record­ing in under two years.”

Begin­ning in his home­town of Okla­homa City as a ukulele play­er, Chris­t­ian picked up many of his “sling­shot rhythms” on the gui­tar from sax­o­phon­ist Lester Young (hear him play with Young just above). “Ampli­fied slide gui­tarists in white west­ern swing bands showed Chris­t­ian how elec­tric gui­tar could project,” White­head notes. “He wasn’t the first elec­tric pick­er who played on the frets. He dug Chica­go pio­neer George Barnes. But Chris­t­ian had the most impos­ing sound.”

We have a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­pling of the impos­ing sound of Chris­t­ian and his ES-150 in the record­ings here. At the top of the post, hear him live with Good­man (who intro­duces him as “our new dis­cov­ery, Charles Chris­t­ian”) in 1939, play­ing “Fly­ing Home.” Fur­ther down lis­ten to “Rose Room” with Goodman’s Sex­tet, with whom he made most of his records, White­head tells us, “compet[ing] for space with oth­er good soloists.” Fur­ther down, hear Chris­t­ian play “Stompin’ at the Savoy” live at Minton’s in 1941 and “Tea for Two” with Jer­ry Jerome in 1939.

Fur­ther up, in “Solo Flight” with Goodman’s orches­tra, Chris­t­ian demon­strates his “impec­ca­ble” tim­ing and “heavy, front-loaded attack” in a two-and-a-half-minute show­case. Christian’s phe­nom­e­nal play­ing “inspired untold jazz, blues, and rock-gui­tar play­ers.” In some of his last record­ings, before his death from tuber­cu­lo­sis in 1942, he “laid the ground­work for the new music that Chris­t­ian start­ed call­ing bebop.” Hear him reshape the sound of jazz with Dizzy Gille­spie, Thelo­nious Monk, Don Byas, and Ken­ny Clarke above in “Groovin’ High.” “You can hear a lot of guitar’s future com­ing” in these record­ings, White­head argues, “Chuck Berry includ­ed.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Behold the First Elec­tric Gui­tar: The 1931 “Fry­ing Pan”

Jazz ‘Hot’: The Rare 1938 Short Film With Jazz Leg­end Djan­go Rein­hardt

The Sto­ry of the Gui­tar: The Com­plete Three-Part Doc­u­men­tary

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

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