The Gestapo Points to Guernica and Asks Picasso, “Did You Do This?;” Picasso Replies “No, You Did!”

History remembers Pablo Picasso first as an innovative painter, and second as an uninhibited personality. The latter especially generated many an anecdote in his long life, some surely apocryphal but most probably true. A short Guardian editorial on one of his most famous canvases begins with the story of when, “in occupied Paris, a Gestapo officer who had barged his way into Picasso’s apartment pointed at a photo of the mural, Guernica, asking: ‘Did you do that?’ ‘No,’ Picasso replied, ‘you did’, his wit fizzing with the anger that animates the piece” — a piece that took no small amount of boldness to paint in the first place.

Guernica, much more of a visceral experience than the average painting, resists straightforward description, but the article offers one: “In black and white, the piece has the urgency of a newspaper photo. Flailing bulls and horses show that the visceral horrors of war are not just an affront to human civilisation, but to life.”

Painted in June 1937 at Picasso’s home in Paris, in response to the bombing by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy of the Basque village from which the work would take its name, Guernica raised awareness of (as well as relief funds for) the Spanish Civil War when it debuted at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and subsequently toured the world itself.

Calling Picasso’s painting “probably the most successful artwork about war ever created,” Slate‘s Noah Charney cites playwright Bertolt Brecht’s use of Verfremdungseffekt, or the “alienation effect,” wherein “the idea was to no longer encourage the traditional, Aristotelian approach that the audience of a play (or viewer of an artwork) should engage with the artwork/performance with a ‘willing suspension of disbelief,’ voluntarily pretending that what is happening on stage is real. Instead, Brecht wanted to make it clear that the audience was looking at a work of art, an artificial performance that nevertheless touches on real human emotions and issues.” Both Brecht and Picasso used this technique to effect social change with their work.

Guernica also challenges its viewers in the best way, looking almost playful at first glance but almost immediately demanding that they confront the horror it actually contains. “A realistic image of the bombing of the town of Guernica, with corpses and screams in the night, would likely have felt melodramatic, saccharine, difficult to look at,” writes Charney. “It might have been Romanticized or it might have been so gritty that our reaction would be to shut down our ability to sympathize, as a defense mechanism. The figures are almost cartoonish, but then of course, when you look more closely, when you know the context, they are not. But the childlike abstraction pulls us in, whereas the same subject, handled as a photorealist blood-fest, would repel us.”

You can learn more about Guernica, the events that inspired it, and the artist that turned those events into one of the most enduring images from the twentieth century with the short BBC News clip above, and also this chapter in Khan Academy’s online art-history course, this video primer and 3D tour, and Alain Resnais and Robert Hessens’ 1950 short film, almost as haunting as the painting itself. After all that, the only step that remains is to go see it in person at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, where it has resided since 1992. And though Guernica may now be safe from prying Gestapo hands, the need for vigilance against the kinds of destructive ideology that fired Picasso up to paint it will never go away.

Related Content:

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A 3D Tour of Picasso’s Guernica

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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.

Watch Simon & Garfunkel Sing “The Sound of Silence” 45 Years After Its Release, and Just Get Hauntingly Better with Time

The legend of Simon & Garfunkel is bigger than either performer, though only one of them remained a major star after their breakup, while the other became… too often the butt of unkind jokes. At the pinnacle of their fame in 1970, Art Garfunkel, the tall angelic singer with the golden halo of curls, walked away from the duo as their relationship soured. Garfunkel moved to Connecticut and became a math teacher for a spell. “I would talk them through a math problem,” he remembered in 2015, “and ask if anyone had any questions and they would say: ‘What were the Beatles like?’”

Paul Simon, Garfunkel recalled of the acrimonious split, “was getting on my nerves. The jokes had run dry.” Perhaps it’s for the best they quit when they were ahead since their friendship never recovered. After their famous Central Park reunion concert in 1981, a planned tour fell apart when they stopped speaking to each other. At their 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the duo played three songs and reportedly left without a word exchanged between them. “Arthur and I agree about almost nothing,” Simon remarked. Their split has all the qualities of a terrible divorce.

Luckily for their fans, the two have infrequently given their partnership another shot, staging tours in 1993 and 2004. And in 2009, Garfunkel showed up for three songs during a Simon concert at New York’s Beacon theater. This led to a tour of Asia and Australia and, as you can see up top, an appearance together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden, where they played one of their biggest hits—and arguably one of Simon’s greatest songs—“The Sound of Silence” (1964). If you didn’t already know that they can’t stand each other’s company, you’d hardly guess it from the video.

After Simon’s gently plucked guitar intro, they exchange brief but genuine smiles, then launch into harmony, their voices blending with all the haunting beauty of their heyday. In fact, it’s possible that—despite the bitterness and wear of several decades—they sound better than they ever did. Compare this performance to that below, a live Canadian TV appearance from 1966. (Simon earnestly, and ironically in hindsight, introduces the song as a comment on strained communication.) The early performance seems rushed and mannered compared to their impassioned reunion in 2009.

It’s a truly haunting experience fitting a truly haunting song, and made all the more poignant by the fact that they may never perform together again. In 2010, what is likely their last reunion ended when Garfunkel’s voice failed him. Diagnosed with a condition called “vocal paresis,” he’s spent the past few years regaining his singing abilities. But, while Simon has ruled out another reunion, Garfunkel, for all his rancor and regret, holds out hope. “When we get together,” he told The Telegraph in 2015, “it’s a delight to both of our ears. A little bubble comes over us and it seems effortless. We blend. So as far as this half is concerned, I would say, ‘Why not, while we’re still alive?’” They may have made a very unhappy couple, but the magic that brought them together clearly hasn’t suffered for it.

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

Stevie Ray Vaughan Plays the Acoustic Guitar in Rare Footage, Letting Us See His Guitar Virtuosity in Its Purest Form

Ask accomplished blues and southern rock guitarists who they listen to and you’ll hear a number of names come up: Duane Allman, Albert King, Buddy Guy… the list of guitarists’ guitarists could go on and on. One name you’ll hear from nearly everyone: Stevie Ray Vaughan, the king of Texas blues, before whom even the very best players stand in awe, a guitarist whose legend has only grown in stature since the music world lost him in a tragic, fatal helicopter crash in 1990.

The most iconic guitarists get associated with their instruments of choice, and Vaughan is no exception. The Flying V defines the look and sound of Albert King; the custom black Gibson 335 (“Lucille”) that of B.B. King. And when we think of Vaughan, we may immediately think of “Number One,” the beat up Fender Stratocaster he loved so much he called it the “first wife.” One of a number of Strats Vaughan played throughout his too-brief career, “Number One” has become “a centerpiece” at the Texas State History Museum, and for very good reason.

Almost no guitarist before or since has ripped such raw emotion and searing power from an instrument, with the exception perhaps of Vaughan’s hero, Jimi Hendrix. Like Hendrix, Vaughan is known entirely as an electric guitarist, his tone so legendary it has inspired a cult following all its own. But give SRV, as his fans call him, an acoustic guitar and you’ll see right away why the most the distinctive feature of that mythic tone is how sparkling clean it is.

Vaughan needed no effects to produce his massive sound, though he used a few on occasion (most notably a classic Vox wah pedal that once belonged to Jimi). The tone, as older guitarists will forever tell aspiring newbies, was in his fingers—in the dynamics of his picking, his bends and slides, his intimate, forceful engagement with the fretboard. In the rare acoustic sessions here, see just why Vaughan is so revered. Above watch him launch into a six-string 12-bar acoustic blues.

And just above, see Vaughan tear it up on a 12-string acoustic guitar in his MTV Unplugged appearance in 1990, the year of his death. Guitarists and serious fans of the blues and country guitar will often namecheck Danny Gatton—the Washington, DC wunderkind so incredibly talented that he earned the nickname “The Humbler”—as the greatest guitarist they’ve ever seen. It’s hard to argue with that assessment. But Vaughan wasn’t just an amazing player, he was also a beautifully understated performer. Here we have the unique opportunity to see his showmanship and skill stripped to their essence.

via Society of Rock

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Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Version of “Little Wing” Played on Traditional Korean Instrument, the Gayageum

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

LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman Creates a New Podcast Offering Wisdom on Nurturing & Scaling New Businesses

How do you create and eventually scale a successful business? It’s a complicated question. And you can do worse than get answers from Reid Hoffman. He’s currently a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners. But you probably know him best as the co-founder of LinkedIn, the professional social network site recently acquired by Microsoft for $26 billion dollars. In his new podcast, Masters of Scale, Hoffman looks at how companies grow from zero users to a gazillion by interviewing fellow Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have crossed that bridge. Guests include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, and Google’s Eric Schmidt, among others.

Even if you work in a business with more modest aspirations, there’s some wisdom you can take away from these wide-ranging conversations. Hoffman’s conversation with Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky (above) about hand-crafting customer experiences would help you run almost any business. You can find the Masters of Scale podcast on iTunes,, Spotify, and Google Play. Also find courses from other seasoned entrepreneurs right below.

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When Bowie & Jagger’s “Dancing in the Street” Music Video Becomes a Silent Film

You might remember it. Back in 1985, Mick Jagger and David Bowie recorded “Dancing in the Street” to raise money for Live Aid, the famine relief mega-concerts organized by Bob Geldof. Originally written by Marvin Gaye, and first made famous by Martha and the Vandellas in 1964, “Dancing in the Street” topped the British charts when Bowie and Jagger recorded their version in 13 short hours. The collaboration also yielded what’s possibly the worst music video ever made. Or so this survey by The Guardian would conclude. NME ranks it as the 11th worst of all-time.

Shot by David Mallet at the London Docklands, the original video (see below) features “Bowie in an oversized yellow raincoat and leopardish jumpsuit and Jagger in yellow sneakers and a flouncy electric-green blouse,” writes Mark Kurlansky in his book, Ready For a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem.

He adds, “It is hard to understand what is going on in this video of two men dancing and hopping around each other.” And if you turn the sound off, it only gets worse … if that’s possible.

Above, see what happened when writer & director Strack Azar created a “silent” version of the Jagger/Bowie video last year. It’s laugh-out-loud funny at times. It’s also a good reminder that when you watch something visual, you can’t discount the impact that the soundtrack makes on the total experience.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

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:

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Relax with 8 Hours of Classical Space Music: From Richard Strauss & Haydn, to Brian Eno, Philip Glass & Beyond

If I had one piece of advice to pass on to a younger generation it would be this: listen to more space rock. The 60s/70s subgenre of progressive/psychedelic rock gets its name as much from its subject matter as from its loose, hypnotic, futuristic sonic character—“Third Stone from the Sun,” “Space Oddity,” “Interstellar Overdrive,” “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Silver Machine”… you know…. It mellows you out, man, something everyone could use right now, and inspires visions of a groovier future, though not without the occasional dystopic edge.

Alternately, I would recommend that everyone acquire a collection of cosmic jazz, the Afrofuturist genre pioneered by Sun Ra and John and Alice Coltrane. But maybe you don’t like space rock or free jazz, yet you still dream about space? Maybe you prefer more classical, minimalist, or ambient fare? Never fear, we’ve got a soundtrack for you—one sure to mellow you out and inspire you, whoever you are.

Created to celebrate Stephen Hawking’s 75th birthday this past January, the “Space-Themed Classical Music” Playlist below draws together pieces you’ll recognize from classic sci-fi films, like Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra; pieces written especially for such films—such as John Williams’ E.T. score and Jerry Goldsmith’s main title for Alien; and music inspired by space themes, such as Brian Eno’s “Under Stars” and Judith Lang Zaimont’s Jupiter’s Moons. The Spotify playlist contains a total of 75 tracks of space-themed or inspired classical works. (If you need Spotify’s free software download it here.) The YouTube version at the top only has 62 of those tracks.

The compilation does give a little nod to space rock with the inclusion, at the very end, of Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking” from The Division Bell. And the penultimate track nods to the very space-inspired genre of trip-hop, with John D. Boswell’s Carl Sagan- and Stephen Hawking-sampling “A Glorious Dawn.” I don’t know about you, but Sagan’s mellifluous voice—autotuned or no—never fails to brighten my mood and make me more curious about what’s out there.

Of course, apart from sci-fi soundtracks, there is a long tradition of composers writing space-inspired music, stretching back before scientists like Sagan and his Russian counterparts helped send astronauts and satellites into orbit. Classical station WQXR has put together a list of 11 such composers: from the 18th century Franz Joseph Haydn to the 20th century Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Then there’s Gustav Holst, who wrote a suite about all 8 planets between 1914 and 1916—before Pluto’s discovery (and later disqualification). I’ve always been partial to the bombastic “Jupiter,” above. Even if you haven’t heard it, Holst’s suite will sound very familiar, having inspired everything from video game music, to the Rugby World Cup theme, to the score for Braveheart. It has also—showing that classical space music is a bona fide subgenre in conversation with itself—directly influenced John Williams’ Star Wars music and the main theme of Battlestar Galactica. In whatever form it takes, I think we could all do with a lot more space music in our lives. Listen, for example, to the excerpt from Alan Silvestri’s score for the 2014 Cosmos reboot, below, and tell me otherwise. For another flavor of a spaceman’s soundtrack, check out’s “Astronaut’s Playlist” here.

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

Why Catchy Songs Get Stuck in Our Brains: New Study Explains the Science of Earworms

What’s your current earworm?

For obvious yet sad reasons, “Raspberry Beret” and “Ashes to Ashes” have tunneled into my brain in the past year. Can’t seem to shake ‘em loose, though it certainly could be worse. Wander through a shopping mall (while they still exist), go to a chain restaurant or grocery store. You may pick up an unwanted passenger—the tune of a song you loathe, yet cannot for the life of you forget.

But can the Prince/Bowie soundtrack in my mind properly be called an “earworm”? According to researchers at Durham University, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the University of Tubingen, this is a scientific question. Music psychologist Kelly Jakubowski of Durham University and her colleagues published a study last year titled “Dissecting an Earworm: Melodic Features of Song Popularity Predict Involuntary Musical Imagery.” In it, they define the properties of songs that produce “involuntary” recall.

You can read the study yourself here. It begins with a summary of the previous research on “the concepts of musical ‘catchiness’ and song ‘hooks,’” as well as the advice successful musicians often give for writing “hooks” that will stick with listeners for life. It’s not as easy as it looks, though one of the hallmarks of a successful earworm is simplicity. As Joanna Klein writes at the New York Times, Jakubowski and her colleagues “found that earworm songs tended to be fast, with a common, simple melodic structure that generally went up and down and repeated, like ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’”

However, earworms also unsettle our expectations of simple melodies, with “surprising, unusual intervals,” as in the chorus of Lady Gaga’s insidious “Bad Romance” or, bane of every guitar store employee, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Research on earworms began, notes Klein, in 2001, “when James Kellaris, a marketing researcher and composer at the University of Cincinnati translated the German word for earwig, Ohrwürmer, into that ‘cognitive itch’ he called an ‘earworm.’”

Kellaris estimated that around “98 percent of people experience this phenomenon at some point in time.” In order to analyze the earworm, Jakubowski and her team collected lists of songs from 3,000 study participants. They attempted to isolate variables such as “popularity and recency” that “could affect the likelihood of the song becoming stuck in the mind.” Before controlling for these factors, “Bad Romance” appeared at the top of a list of “Songs Most Frequently Named as Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI).”

It’s a tune that might—under certain circumstances, be used as a weapon—along with two other Gaga songs at numbers 8 and 9. See the full list below:

1. “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga
2. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Kylie Minogue
3. “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey
4. “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye
5. “Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon 5
6. “California Gurls,” Katy Perry
7. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen
8. “Alejandro,” Lady Gaga
9. “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga

The study goes on, in some technical detail, to account for chart position, length of time on the charts, etc. Unless you’re familiar with the methods and jargon of this particular kind of psychological research, it’s a bit difficult to follow. But Klein summarizes some of the upshot: “While it may feel like earworms exist only to annoy you, researchers say they may actually serve a purpose…. earworms could be remnants of how we learned before written language, when information was more often passed through song.”

The survival of this mechanism can be used for good or ill—as was so humorously illustrated in my favorite scene from Pixar’s psycho-dramedy for kids, Inside Out. Advertising jingles, annoying pop songs that we mindlessly buy and stream because we can’t stop singing them, and—not least—perhaps the most effective earworms of all time, TV sitcom theme songs.

The heyday of unforgettable theme songs, the 80s, left us with some real gems: Klein names Growing Pains (“show me that smile again!”). But I’m guessing we could get together in the thousands for an impromptu chorus of Cheers, Charles in Charge, Family Ties, Family Matters, Step by Step, or my new earworm Silver Spoons (thanks YouTube). As these examples—and so many hundreds more—prove, musical earworms have been used by clever hacks to hack into our brains for quite some time now. When songwriters we like do it, we can at least enjoy the involuntary intrusions.

Feel free to share your own unshakeable earworms in the comments section below.

via The New York Times

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

Watch Matthew McConaughey’s Audition Tape for Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, the Indie Comedy That Made Him a Star

In 1992, Richard Linklater faced one of the most formidable challenges in the life of any successful filmmaker: following up on his breakthrough. The previous year he’d become an art-house star with Slacker, an examination of the various lives aimlessly but amusingly lived at the Generation-X periphery of Austin, Texas, a film whose deliberately wandering form perfectly matched its substance. That got him enough of a profile to command the relatively huge budget of $8 million (versus Slacker‘s $23,000) to make Dazed and Confused, the story of a bunch of Austin teenagers on the last day of high school in 1976. While the movie hardly turned blockbuster, it did help solidify Linklater’s place among the American auteurs — and almost accidentally launched the career of one of today’s biggest movie stars.

Matthew McConaughey stole Dazed and Confuseds show, as many critics and fans saw it, as David Wooderson, an early-twentysomething who still prefers the company of high-schoolers. You can watch a piece of his original audition tape, made available by the Criterion Collection, at the top of the post. “He is a character we’re all too familiar with in the movies,” wrote the Austin Chronicle‘s Marjorie Baumgarten, “but McConaughey nails this guy without a hint of condescension or whimsy, claiming this character for all time as his own.”

Some of the most memorable moments of his performance, which you can see in its final form in the clips just above and below, owe to its improvisatory nature: originally a small part with just a couple of lines, the character of Wooderson grew with every resonant on-set invention.

“Of the many great people I met in the process of casting this movie, you were selected because I had a gut impulse about you,” wrote Linklater in the letter that accompanied the 1970s mixtape he sent out to inspire Dazed and Confused‘s cast. “Know your character so we can forget about it and build something new, something special, in its likeness. As I’ve said before, if the final movie is 100% word-for-word what’s in the script, it will be a massive underachievement.” And in a sense, McConaughey’s casting itself, as he and casting director Don Phillips told it in a Texas Monthly oral history of the movie, happened improvisationally as well. It came as the result of a chance encounter at an Austin hotel, where Phillips spotted “this really good-looking girl at the end of the bar with this pretty cool-looking guy.”

That cool-looking guy was, of course, McConaughey, who’d turned up for the drink discount from the bartender, his film-school buddy. “Hey, man, the guy down at the end of the bar is in town producing a film,” said the bartender to the aspiring actor by way of a tip, and before they know it, in McConaughey’s words, “We’re talking about life and women and some great golf hole he’s played.” By the time of their ejection from the bar, they’d developed enough instant camaraderie for Phillips to offer McConaughey an audition: “Maybe we’ll put you on tape to see what you look like.” Though Linklater at first balked at his fellow Texan’s excessive handsomeness, he eventually came to realize his suitability for the part, and the rest — up to and including McConaughey’s reprisal as a fortysomething but otherwise unchanged Wooderson in the music video for The Black Widows’ “Synthesizers” — is cinema history.

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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.

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