Hear 4+ Hours of Jazz Noir: A Soundtrack for Strolling Under Street Lights on Foggy Nights

Image from The Big Com­bo, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Nowa­days few crowds seem less like­ly to har­bor crim­i­nal intent than the ones gath­ered to lis­ten to jazz, but sev­en­ty, eighty years ago, Amer­i­can cul­ture cer­tain­ly did­n’t see it that way. Back then, jazz accom­pa­nied the life of urban out­siders: those who dab­bled in for­bid­den sub­stances and for­bid­den activ­i­ties, those influ­enced by the alien moral­i­ty of Europe or even far­ther-away lands, those belong­ing to feared and mis­treat­ed social groups. That image stuck as much or even more firm­ly to jazz musi­cians as it did to jazz lis­ten­ers, and when a new cin­e­mat­ic genre arose specif­i­cal­ly to tell sto­ries of urban out­siders — the lowlifes, the anti heroes, the femmes fatales — jazz pro­vid­ed the ide­al sound­track.

“Jazz dom­i­nates assump­tions about the music used in film noir,” write Andre Spicer and Helen Han­son in A Com­pan­ion to Film Noir, “and it is par­tic­u­lar­ly preva­lent in con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ences to and recre­ations of film noir.”

And “although the num­ber of films noir to employ jazz in their scores was rel­a­tive­ly small, it was still notable in terms of the over­all use of jazz in Hol­ly­wood films of the era — if jazz was an inte­gral part of a film’s score then those pro­duc­tions tend­ed to be films noir or social prob­lem films.” The music first crept in dieget­i­cal­ly, in the 1940s, by way of “club scenes, illic­it jazz ses­sions, or on record play­ers and juke­box­es,” and lat­er, in the 50s, con­tin­ued its “estab­lished asso­ci­a­tion of sex and vio­lence” even as chang­ing atti­tudes “con­tributed to jazz being more accept­able in Hol­ly­wood films.”

A few years ago we fea­tured clas­sic works of “crime jazz” by Miles Davis, Count Basie, Duke Elling­ton and oth­ers, all meant to set the scene for the law­less worlds of films and tele­vi­sion shows like Anato­my of a Mur­der, Ele­va­tor to the Gal­lows, Peter Gunn, and The M Squad. The two playlists we have for you today take a wider view, col­lect­ing more than four hours of “jazz noir” on Spo­ti­fy (if you don’t have Spo­ti­fy’s soft­ware, you can down­load it here). It fea­tures tracks by Miles Davis, Chet Bak­er, Ben­ny Gol­son, Tom Waits and more. While lis­ten­ing — maybe with the lights dimmed, maybe with your pre­ferred high­ball in hand — you might con­sid­er brows­ing the r/jazznoir, an entire sub­red­dit ded­i­cat­ed to this “mys­te­ri­ous, melan­choly and men­ac­ing music by swingin’ sax men and sul­try sirens for hard­boiled hep­cats and leg­gy look­ers,” this “late-night lis­ten­ing for luck­less losers, and the sound­track to strolls under street lights on fog­gy nights.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Crime Jazz: How Miles Davis, Count Basie & Duke Elling­ton Cre­at­ed Sound­tracks for Noir Films & TV

60 Free Film Noir Movies

The 5 Essen­tial Rules of Film Noir

Roger Ebert Lists the 10 Essen­tial Char­ac­ter­is­tics of Noir Films

The Essen­tial Ele­ments of Film Noir Explained in One Grand Info­graph­ic

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.

“A Brief History of Goths”: From the Goths, to Gothic Literature, to Goth Music

The his­to­ry of the word ‘Goth­ic,’” argues Dan Adams in the short, ani­mat­ed TED-Ed video above,” is embed­ded in thou­sands of years’ worth of coun­ter­cul­tur­al move­ments.” It’s a provoca­tive, if not entire­ly accu­rate, idea. We would hard­ly call an invad­ing army of Ger­man­ic tribes a “coun­ter­cul­ture.” In fact, when the Goths sacked Rome and deposed the West­ern Emper­or, they did, at first, retain the dom­i­nant cul­ture. But the Goth­ic has always referred to an oppo­si­tion­al force, a Dionysian coun­ter­weight to a ratio­nal, clas­si­cal order.

We know the var­i­ous ver­sions: the Ger­man­ic insti­ga­tors of the “Dark Ages,” ear­ly Chris­t­ian archi­tec­tur­al mar­vels, Roman­tic tales of ter­ror and the super­nat­ur­al, hor­ror films, and gloomy, black-clad post punks and their moody teenage fans. Aside from obvi­ous ref­er­ences like Bauhaus’ tongue-in-cheek ode, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the con­nec­tive tis­sue between all the uses of Goth­ic isn’t espe­cial­ly evi­dent. “What do fans of atmos­pher­ic post-punk music,” asks Adams, “have in com­mon with ancient bar­bar­ians?” The answer: not much. But the sto­ry that joins them involves some strange con­ver­gences, all of them hav­ing to do with the idea of “dark­ness.”

Two sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures in the evo­lu­tion of the Goth­ic as a con­scious­ly-defined aes­thet­ic were both art his­to­ri­ans. The first, Gior­gio Vasari—con­sid­ered the first art historian—wrote biogra­phies of great Renais­sance artists, and first used the term Goth­ic to refer to medieval cathe­drals, which he saw as bar­barous next to the neo­clas­si­cal revival of the 14th-16th cen­turies. (Vasari was also the first to use the term “Renais­sance” to describe his own peri­od.) Two hun­dred years after Vasari’s Lives, art his­to­ri­an, anti­quar­i­an, and Whig politi­cian Horace Wal­pole appro­pri­at­ed the term Goth­ic to describe The Cas­tle of Otran­to, his 1765 nov­el that start­ed a lit­er­ary trend.

Wal­pole also used the term to refer to art of the dis­tant past, par­tic­u­lar­ly the ruins of cas­tles and cathe­drals, with an eye toward the sup­pos­ed­ly exot­ic, men­ac­ing aspects (for Protes­tant Eng­lish read­ers at least) of the Catholic church and Con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean nobil­i­ty. But for him, the asso­ci­a­tions were pos­i­tive, and con­sti­tut­ed a kitschy escape from Enlight­en­ment ratio­nal­ism. We have Wal­pole to thank, in some sense, for ersatz cel­e­bra­tions like Renais­sance Fairs and Medieval Times restau­rants, and for lat­er Goth­ic nov­els like Bram Stoker’s Drac­u­la, Mary Shelley’s Franken­stein, and the weird tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

We can see that it’s a rather short leap from clas­sic hor­ror sto­ries and films to the dark make­up, teased hair, fog machines, and swirling atmos­pher­ics of The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux. In the his­to­ry of the Goth­ic, espe­cial­ly between Vasari and Wal­pole, the word moves from a term of abuse—describing art thought to be “crude and inferior”—to one that describes art forms con­sid­ered mys­te­ri­ous, and dark­ly Roman­tic. For anoth­er take on the sub­ject, see Pitch­fork’s  music-focused, ani­mat­ed, and  “sur­pris­ing­ly light-heart­ed” short, “A Brief His­to­ry of Goth,” above, a pre­sen­ta­tion on the sub­cul­ture’s rise, fall, and undead rise again.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Three-Hour Mix­tape Offers a Son­ic Intro­duc­tion to Under­ground Goth Music

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

Watch 50+ Doc­u­men­taries on Famous Archi­tects & Build­ings: Bauhaus, Le Cor­busier, Hadid & Many More

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

The Library of Congress Makes 25 Million Records From Its Catalog Free to Download

Image by Car­ol High­smith, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

A quick fyi: Accord­ing to For­tune, The Library of Con­gress announced that it “will make 25 mil­lion records from its cat­a­log avail­able for the pub­lic to down­load.” They add:

Pri­or to this, the records—which include books and seri­als, music and man­u­scripts, and maps and visu­al mate­ri­als span­ning from 1968 to 2014—have only been acces­si­ble through a paid sub­scrip­tion. These files will be avail­able for free down­load on [the Library of Con­gress site] and are also avail­able on data.gov.

This move helps free up the library’s dig­i­tal assets, allow­ing social sci­en­tists, data ana­lysts, devel­op­ers, sta­tis­ti­cians and every­one else to work with the data “to enhance learn­ing and the for­ma­tion of new knowl­edge.” The huge data sets will be avail­able here.

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!

via For­tune

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Huge Archive of Amer­i­can Films–From Casablan­ca to Gigli–Are Pro­tect­ed & Pre­served in a Nuclear Bunker

Library of Con­gress Releas­es Audio Archive of Inter­views with Rock ‘n’ Roll Icons

Library of Con­gress Launch­es New Online Poet­ry Archive, Fea­tur­ing 75 Years of Clas­sic Poet­ry Read­ings

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A Big List of Free Art Lessons on YouTube

It may seem like a dubi­ous hon­or to belong to a select group that includes some of my favorite cre­ative peo­ple: art school dropouts. But while a failed endeav­or can be painful, many a dropout learns that the expe­ri­ence is valu­able not only because fail­ures can fuel future suc­cess, but also because the skills, tech­niques, and ways of think­ing one picks up in the first, “boot camp,” year of art school are wide­ly applic­a­ble to every cre­ative endeav­or.

My favorite art school class was sim­ply called “Foun­da­tions.” As the name implies, it dealt exclu­sive­ly with basic mate­ri­als and techniques—for join­ing, paint­ing, sculpt­ing, build­ing, etc. One learns to think of large, com­pli­cat­ed, poten­tial­ly over­whelm­ing projects of as reducible in some sense to mate­ri­als and tech­niques. What am I work­ing with? What is the nature of this mate­r­i­al and what are the best ways to shape it? What does it want to become?

These are prac­ti­cal, fun­da­men­tal ques­tions artists ask them­selves, no mat­ter how big or high con­cept their ideas. These days, the mate­ri­als are like­ly to be more vir­tu­al than phys­i­cal, or some cre­ative mix­ture of the two. Still, sim­i­lar con­sid­er­a­tions apply, as well as the basic skills of using col­or, per­spec­tive, shad­ow, and line effec­tive­ly. In the free video tuto­ri­als here, you can learn many of those skills with­out attend­ing, or drop­ping out, of art school. They may not pro­vide a com­plete arts edu­ca­tion, but they offer high qual­i­ty lessons for artists need­ing to sup­ple­ment or refresh their skill sets.

At the top, Ahmed Aldoori explains the col­or wheel and col­or palettes in Pho­to­shop. In oth­er videos on his YouTube chan­nel, he gives tips on draw­ing hands (a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge for every artist), artist anato­my, dig­i­tal paint­ing, and more. Anoth­er chan­nel, Draw with Chris, offers free and pre­mi­um con­tent for both dig­i­tal and tra­di­tion­al artists, such as the long video on shad­ing tech­nique above. He also has a pop­u­lar two part series on life draw­ing (part 1part 2).

For artists and ani­ma­tors inter­est­ed in “semi real­is­tic, man­ga, and ani­me style char­ac­ters, envi­ron­ments, and con­cept art,” the Lapu­ka chan­nel fea­tures many free short videos on the basics, such as their short intro to “1,2, and 3 point per­spec­tive” above. Oth­er videos teach “Mul­ti­ply­ing and scal­ing in 1 point per­spec­tive,” “Cut­ting in 1 point per­spec­tive,” “Draw­ing with a mouse,” and ren­der­ing cer­tain pop­u­lar ani­me char­ac­ters.

All of these tuto­ri­als come from a list com­piled by Deviantart user DamaiMikaz, who has help­ful­ly divid­ed sev­er­al dozen YouTube instruc­tion­al series into cat­e­gories like “Art Fun­da­men­tals,” “Tuto­r­i­al & How to,” “Dig­i­tal art soft­ware,” “Tra­di­tion­al Art,” and oth­ers. Whether you’re an aspir­ing artist, dab­bling ama­teur, work­ing pro­fes­sion­al, or an art school dropout pick­ing the craft back up, you’ll find what you need here. Know of any oth­er free video resources not list­ed in this archive? Let us and our read­ers know in the com­ments and we’ll add the pri­mo picks to the list.

Below find the list cre­at­ed by DamaiMikaz:

Art fundamentals

Peo­ple that teach you the fun­da­men­tals of art. Anato­my, col­or, per­spec­tive, etc
Ahmed Aldoori
CG Cook­ie Con­cept

Tutorial & How to

How to’s and tuto­ri­als on var­i­ous sub­jects
Ahmed Aldoori
Art of Wei
Art Prof

CG Cook­ie Con­cept
DRAW with Chris
Draw with Jaz­za
Draw­ing Tuto­ri­als Online
Hap­py D. Artist
Imag­ine FX
Javi can draw!
Jesus Conde
Kien­an Laf­fer­ty
My Draw­ing Tuto­ri­als
Sinix Design
The Art of Aaron Blaise
The Drawfee Chan­nel
Tyler Edlin
Will Ter­rell
Xia Tap­tara

Digital art software

Chan­nels geared towards cre­at­ing effects in dig­i­tal art soft­ware
Pho­to­shop Train­ing Chan­nel

Traditional art

Chan­nels doing tra­di­tion­al art
Baylee Jae
Hap­py D. Artist
James Gur­ney
Lachri Fine Art
Michael James Smith
Robin Clonts
Sara Tepes
Stan­ley Art­germ Lau
Super Ani
Zimou Tan

Manga / Anime

Chan­nels geared towards draw­ing manga/anime style 
Nuei Neko
Whyt Man­ga

Timelapse paintings

Just stare in awe
Alice X. Zhang
Apterus Graph­ics
Asuka111 Art
Atey Ghailan
axel tor­ve­nius
Chris Cold
Con­cept Art Ses­sions
Daniel Wachter
Draw With Rydi
Ilya Kuvshi­nov
Ilya Tyl­jakov
James Gur­ney
Jesus Conde
Jor­dan Grim­mer
Kien­an Laf­fer­ty
Kim-Seang Hong
Lina Sidoro­va
Nuei Neko
Sara Tepes
Scott Robert­son
Stan­ley Art­germ Lau
Super Ani
Xia Tap­tara
Zimou Tan

Critique’s & Overpaints

Peo­ple paint­ing over oth­er peo­ple’s paint­ing. Great to get insight
Ahmed Aldoori
Art Prof
CG Cook­ie Con­cept

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The MoMA Teach­es You How to Paint Like Pol­lock, Rothko, de Koon­ing & Oth­er Abstract Painters: Free Course Begins on May 22

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

Free Course: An Intro­duc­tion to the Art of the Ital­ian Renais­sance

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

Visit a New Digital Archive of 2.2 Million Images from the First Hundred Years of Photography

Loya: Val­ley of the Yosemite (The Sen­tinel), c. 1867 – c. 1872. Ead­weard Muy­bridge. Rijksmu­se­um. Pub­lic Domain.

Inter­est­ed in pho­tog­ra­phy? You’re in the right place. Over the years, we’ve com­piled free class­es on dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy, hun­dreds of pho­tog­ra­phy lec­tures, cours­es on pho­tog­ra­phy appre­ci­a­tion, and doc­u­men­taries on famous greats like Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus, Edward West­on, and Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son. You can learn the his­to­ry of pho­tog­ra­phy in “five ani­mat­ed min­utes,” see the ven­er­a­ble art of tin­type recre­at­ed, and vis­it archives from the Sovi­et Union, the col­lec­tion of George East­man, and the work of pio­neer­ing motion pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ead­weard Muy­bridge (ani­mat­ed in 93 GIFs).

Still not enough? How about a dig­i­tal library of 2.2 mil­lion images from the his­to­ry of pho­tog­ra­phy? Euro­peana Col­lec­tions just launched its “lat­est the­mat­ic col­lec­tion,” Euro­peana Pho­tog­ra­phy, which, notes Dou­glas McCarthy at the site’s blog, “includes images and doc­u­ments from 50 Euro­pean insti­tu­tions in 34 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.”

Stun­ning land­scapes like that of Muybridge’s Loya: Val­ley of the Yosemite, above, and work from oth­er inno­va­tors like Julia Mar­garet Cameron, below, rep­re­sent high­lights of the archive’s dig­i­tal scans from the first 100 years of pho­tog­ra­phy.

Lilie, 1898–1903. Wil­helm Weimar. Muse­um für Kun­st und Gewerbe Ham­burg, CC0

The col­lec­tion promis­es, “future exhi­bi­tions on spe­cif­ic themes… telling com­pelling sto­ries with stun­ning images.” Cur­rent­ly, you’ll find there themed “expo­si­tions” like “Indus­tri­al Pho­tog­ra­phy in the Machine Age” and “Vin­tage Post­cards of South­east­ern Europe,” among oth­ers. A gallery on “The Mag­ic Lantern” offers a tour of a pre-cin­e­ma enter­tain­ment tech­nol­o­gy. One on pho­tog­ra­ph­er Johan Wil­helm Weimar intro­duces view­ers to incred­i­bly strik­ing work from his 1901 Herbar­i­um.

The col­lec­tion is search­able, down­load­able, share­able, and you can choose from 23 dif­fer­ent lan­guages, includ­ing Eng­lish. Its mis­sion is inter­na­tion­al, but also very much built on the idea—some might say polit­i­cal fiction—of a cul­tur­al­ly uni­fied Europe, allow­ing peo­ple to “con­nect with their past, with fel­low Euro­pean cit­i­zens, explore remote eras and loca­tions, and bet­ter appre­ci­ate the val­ue of their con­ti­nen­tal, nation­al and local cul­tur­al her­itage.”

Grand Canal, Venice, 1929. Nico­la Per­scheid. Muse­um für Kun­st und Gewerbe Ham­burg, CC0

Lofty goals, but one need no such larg­er pur­pose to sim­ply enjoy casu­al­ly brows­ing, and mak­ing the kind of odd dis­cov­er­ies one might on a con­ti­nen­tal walk­ing tour, with no par­tic­u­lar des­ti­na­tion in mind.

Vis­it the Euro­peana Pho­tog­ra­phy archive here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Thou­sands of Pho­tos from the George East­man Muse­um, the World’s Old­est Pho­tog­ra­phy Col­lec­tion, Now Avail­able Online

Down­load 437 Issues of Sovi­et Pho­to Mag­a­zine, the Sovi­et Union’s His­toric Pho­tog­ra­phy Jour­nal (1926–1991)

School of Visu­al Arts Presents 99 Hours of Free Pho­tog­ra­phy Lec­tures

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

How Famous Paintings Inspired Cinematic Shots in the Films of Tarantino, Gilliam, Hitchcock & More: A Big Supercut

It’s no acci­dent that one of the best-known series of cin­e­ma-ana­lyz­ing video essays bears the title Every Frame a Paint­ing. When describ­ing the height of film’s visu­al poten­tial, we often draw metaphors from art his­to­ry, but the rela­tion­ship also goes in anoth­er direc­tion: more often than we might think, the film­mak­ers and their col­lab­o­ra­tors looked to the can­vas­es of the mas­ters for inspi­ra­tion in the first place. In this tril­o­gy of short video essays, “Film Meets Art,” “Film Meets Art II,” and “Film Meets Art III,” Vugar Efen­di high­lights some of the most strik­ing paint­ings-turned-shots in the work of, among oth­er auteurs, Alfred Hitch­cock, Ter­ry Gilliam, Quentin Taran­ti­no, and Paul Thomas Ander­son.

Efen­di, writes Slate’s Made­line Raynor in a post on the sec­ond install­ment, “places shots from films side by side with the paint­ings that inspired them. And once you see the pair­ings, you won’t be able to unsee them. Some of these are unmis­tak­able ref­er­ences — like Jean-Luc Godard­’s ode to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres — while oth­ers are more sub­tle.

Film­mak­ers have been recre­at­ing paint­ings since the days of silent film: the video’s ear­li­est exam­ple is 1927’s Metrop­o­lis.” More recent instances include Alex Colville’s To Prince Edward Island in Wes Ander­son­’s Moon­rise King­dom, and Thomas Gains­bor­ough’s The Blue Boy in Quentin Taran­ti­no’s Djan­go Unchained. While per­haps too obvi­ous for inclu­sion into these essays, Wim Wen­ders once sat­i­rized this process with a movie-with­in-a-movie recre­ation of Edward Hop­per’s Nighthawks in The End of Vio­lence.

Which painters do film­mak­ers most often turn to for mate­r­i­al? Efendi’s visu­al essays show us a fair few mem­o­rable and var­ied uses of Hop­per, whose paint­ings pos­sess a cin­e­mat­ic atmos­phere of their own, and also Magritte, pos­si­bly because his dream­like sen­si­bil­i­ty aligns well with that of cin­e­ma itself: L’empire des lumières in William Fried­kin’s The Exor­cistLa Robe du soir in Bar­ry Jenk­ins’ Moon­light (win­ner of last year’s Best Pic­ture Oscar), and Archi­tec­ture au clair de Lune in Peter Weir’s The Tru­man Show. Weir’s work makes anoth­er appear­ance in the essays in the form of Pic­nic at Hang­ing Rock, a haunt­ing film based on a haunt­ing nov­el writ­ten in part out of fas­ci­na­tion with a haunt­ing paint­ing, William Ford’s At the Hang­ing Rock — whose imagery then made it back into the screen adap­ta­tion. It seems that art, be it on can­vas, film, or some medi­um yet unimag­ined, tells the sto­ry of civ­i­liza­tion in more ways than one.

via Slate and h/t Natal­ie

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Film­mak­ers Tell Their Sto­ries: Three Insight­ful Video Essays Demys­ti­fy the Craft of Edit­ing, Com­po­si­tion & Col­or

Watch the Trail­er for a “Ful­ly Paint­ed” Van Gogh Film: Fea­tures 12 Oil Paint­ings Per Sec­ond by 100+ Painters

Guer­ni­ca: Alain Resnais’ Haunt­ing Film on Picasso’s Paint­ing & the Crimes of the Span­ish Civ­il War

Watch Icon­ic Artists at Work: Rare Videos of Picas­so, Matisse, Kandin­sky, Renoir, Mon­et, Pol­lock & More

Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Film­mak­ing Tech­niques of Mar­tin Scors­ese, Jack­ie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

100,000 Free Art His­to­ry Texts Now Avail­able Online Thanks to the Get­ty Research Por­tal

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.

Lou Reed Creates a List of the 10 Best Records of All Time

If you want to write, most every writer will tell you, you’ve got to read, read, read, and read. “Read more than you write,” advis­es Teju Cole. Even great film­mak­ers like Wern­er Her­zog and Aki­ra Kura­sawa cite copi­ous read­ing as a pre­req­ui­site for their pri­mar­i­ly visu­al medi­um. But what about music? What advice might we hope to receive about the art of writ­ing mem­o­rable, cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant songs? Lis­ten, lis­ten, lis­ten, and lis­ten, per­haps.

One of the great­est of rock and roll greats, Lou Reed, had overt lit­er­ary ambi­tions, formed dur­ing his years as an Eng­lish major at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty, where he stud­ied under poet Del­more Schwartz. “Hubert Sel­by, William Bur­roughs, Allen Gins­berg and Del­more Schwartz,” he once told Spin, “To be able to achieve what they did, in such lit­tle space, using such sim­ple words. I thought if you could do what those writ­ers did and put it to drums and gui­tar, you’d have the great­est thing on earth.”

The­mat­i­cal­ly, Reed accom­plished this, bring­ing the same vio­lence, ten­der­ness, and street­wise deca­dence to his work as his lit­er­ary heroes did to theirs. But for­mal­ly, he drew on anoth­er bat­tery of influ­ences: clas­sic soul, doo wop, rhythm and blues, folk, jazz, and ear­ly rock and roll. Crib­bing from all these gen­res dur­ing his long career, Reed dis­played a seem­ing­ly effort­less mas­tery of arche­typ­al Amer­i­can pop music.

Unlike Leonard Cohen—another lit­er­ary song­writer drawn to life’s dark­er themes—Reed did not leave col­lege and start pub­lish­ing poet­ry. In 1964, he moved to New York to begin work as an in-house song­writer for Pick­wick Records, soak­ing up the music around him through his pores, trans­mut­ing it into his own warped take on ear­ly hits like his dance craze, “The Ostrich,” which includ­ed the line “put your head on the floor and have some­body step on it.”

As weird as Reed was even then, he wrote immense­ly catchy tunes and even­tu­al­ly inspired sev­er­al thou­sand punk, post-punk, alter­na­tive, and indie song­writ­ers with the nov­el idea that one could make dan­ger­ous, shock­ing music with sim­ple, catchy—even bubblegum—melodies. Per­haps no one had as great an effect on post-60s rock, but Reed’s own influ­ences drew solid­ly from the fifties and before, as par­tial­ly evi­denced in his own hand, in a scrawled list of “best albums of all time,” which he sub­mit­ted for a 1999 mag­a­zine inter­view.

1. Change of the Cen­tu­ry—Ornette Cole­man
2. Tilt—Scott Walk­er / Belle—Al Green / Any­thing by Jim­my Scott
3. Blood on the Tracks—Bob Dylan
4. Lit­tle Richard’s Spe­cial­ty Series
5. Hank Williams’ Sin­gles
6. Har­ry Smith Anthol­o­gy
7. Does Your House Have Lions—Roland Kirk
8. “Stay with Me Baby”—Lor­raine Elli­son
9. “Moth­er”—John Lennon
10.“Oh Super­man”—Lau­rie Ander­son & Unit­ed States

The list, tran­scribed above, includes the three-vol­ume Spe­cial­ty Ses­sions at num­ber 4, a com­pre­hen­sive omnibus of Lit­tle Richard hits. Below it is Hank Williams’ 3‑disc sin­gles col­lec­tion, and fur­ther down, at twice the size, Har­ry Smith’s enor­mous Anthol­o­gy of Amer­i­can Folk Music. By far, the bulk of Reed’s sug­ges­tions saw release before he ever put pen to paper and came up with “The Ostrich.” We’re just peek­ing into the six­ties with Ornette Cole­mans’ Change of the Cen­tu­ry, at num­ber one.

But you’ll also note that, tied at num­ber two with Al Green’s Belle and “Any­thing by Jim­my Scott” (mak­ing his list of ten come out to 13), we have Scott Walker’s bizarre, exper­i­men­tal 1995 mas­ter­piece Tilt (hear “Farmer in the City” fur­ther up), a return from obliv­ion for the reclu­sive six­ties croon­er and an album, writes All­mu­sic, “on a plateau some­where between Nico’s Mar­ble Index and Lou Reed’s Met­al Machine Music.” Ever mod­est (he once claimed, “my bull­shit is worth more than oth­er people’s dia­monds”), Reed was acute­ly aware of his own piv­otal place in 20th cen­tu­ry music, though he does refrain from list­ing one of his own records. He ends instead with the puls­ing, trance-like sin­gle “Oh Super­man,” by his roman­tic and musi­cal part­ner, Lau­rie Ander­son.

Who knows how seri­ous­ly Reed took this assign­ment, giv­en how much he could be “cir­cum­spect about the mate­ri­als and meth­ods of his art” in his often con­fronta­tion­al pub­lic state­ments. That same year, VH1 polled sev­er­al jour­nal­ists and “esteemed musi­cians,” writes the music chan­nel, on their choice of the 100 great­est songs of rock and roll. “Nat­u­ral­ly we approached Reed, who sent his choic­es back via fax. In true icon­o­clast form, instead of list­ing out his 100 favorite songs, he picked just eight.” Only two of the artists from his top ten appear here: Lor­raine Elli­son and Al Green. See his hand-writ­ten bal­lot above, and the eight songs list­ed below.

1. “Stay With Me” by Lor­raine Elli­son
2.“Out­cast” by Eddie and Ernie
3. “Lovin’ You Too Long” by Otis Red­ding
4. “Riv­er Deep Moun­tain High” by Ike & Tina Turn­er
5. + 6. “Geor­gia Boy” and “Belle” by Al Green
7. “That’s Alright Mama” by Elvis Pres­ley
8. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” by Ann Pee­bles

via @LouReed

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Ornette Cole­man Col­lab­o­rate with Lou Reed, Which Lou Called “One of My Great­est Moments”

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

Lou Reed Reads Del­more Schwartz’s Famous Sto­ry “In Dreams Begin Respon­si­bil­i­ties”

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

Meet Yasuke, Japan’s First Black Samurai Warrior

“His name was Yasuke. His height was 6 shaku 2 sun” — rough­ly six feet, two inch­es — “he was black, and his skin was like char­coal.” Those words come from the 16th-cen­tu­ry samu­rai Mat­su­daira Ieta­da, and they describe one of his col­leagues. Though we don’t know much detail about his life itself, we do know that there once lived a black samu­rai called Yasuke, a ver­sion of the name he had in Africa, prob­a­bly the then Por­tuguese Mozam­bique. Brought to Japan in 1579 by an Ital­ian Jesuit named Alessan­dro Valig­nano on a mis­sion-inspec­tion tour, Yasuke’s appear­ance in the cap­i­tal drew so much atten­tion that thrilled onlook­ers clam­bered over one anoth­er to get so much as a glimpse at this strange vis­i­tor with his unfath­omable stature and skin tone.

“His celebri­ty sta­tus soon piqued the curios­i­ty of Oda Nobuna­ga, a medieval Japan­ese war­lord who was striv­ing to uni­fy Japan and bring peace to a coun­try racked by civ­il war,” writes Ozy’s Leslie Nguyen-Okwu. “Nobuna­ga praised Yasuke’s strength and stature, describ­ing ‘his might as that of 10 men,’ and brought him on as his feu­dal body­guard.”

As many for­eign­ers in Japan still dis­cov­er today, the for­eign­er’s out­sider sta­tus there also has its ben­e­fits: “Nobuna­ga grew fond of Yasuke and treat­ed him like fam­i­ly as he earned his worth on the bat­tle­field and on patrol at Azuchi Cas­tle. In less than a year, Yasuke went from being a low­ly page to join­ing the upper ech­e­lons of Japan’s war­rior class, the samu­rai. Before long, Yasuke was speak­ing Japan­ese flu­ent­ly and rid­ing along­side Nobuna­ga in bat­tle.”

The leg­end of Yasuke ends soon after, in 1582, with Nobuna­ga’s fall at the hands of one of his own gen­er­als. That result­ed in the first and only black samu­rai’s exile, prob­a­bly to a Jesuit mis­sion in Kyoto, but Yasuke has lived on in the imag­i­na­tions of the last few gen­er­a­tions of Japan­ese read­ers, all of whom grew up with the award-win­ning chil­dren’s book Kuro-suke (kuro mean­ing “black” in Japan­ese) by Kurusu Yoshio. This illus­trat­ed ver­sion of Yasuke’s life sto­ry, though told with humor, ends, accord­ing to a site about the book, on a bit­ter­sweet note: the defeat­ed “Nobuna­ga kills him­self, and Kuro-suke is saved and sent to Nam­ban tem­ple. When he sleeps that night, he dreams of his par­ents in Africa. Kuro-suke cries silent­ly.”

What the sto­ry of Yasuke lacks in thor­ough his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion (though you can see a fair few pieces briefly cit­ed on the site of this doc­u­men­tary project) it more than makes up in fas­ci­na­tion, and some­how Hol­ly­wood, near­ly fif­teen years after Tom Cruise’s high-pro­file turn as a white samu­rai, has only just awok­en to its poten­tial. In March,  Hol­ly­wood Reporter announced that the film stu­dio Lion­s­gate “has tapped High­lander cre­ator Gre­go­ry Widen to script Black Samu­rai,” a “peri­od action dra­ma” based on the Yasuke leg­end. Widen’s con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence in the out­sider-with-sword genre makes him an under­stand­able choice, but one has to won­der — should­n’t Quentin Taran­ti­no’s phone be ring­ing off the hook right about now?

via Ozy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Female Samu­rai War­riors Immor­tal­ized in 19th Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Pho­tos

Hand-Col­ored 1860s Pho­tographs Reveal the Last Days of Samu­rai Japan

Leg­endary Japan­ese Author Yukio Mishi­ma Mus­es About the Samu­rai Code (Which Inspired His Hap­less 1970 Coup Attempt)

A Hyp­not­ic Look at How Japan­ese Samu­rai Swords Are Made

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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