Ernest Hemingway Creates a Reading List for a Young Writer (1934)

In the spring of 1934, a young man who want­ed to be a writer hitch­hiked to Flori­da to meet his idol, Ernest Hem­ing­way.

Arnold Samuel­son was an adven­tur­ous 22-year-old. He had been born in a sod house in North Dako­ta to Nor­we­gian immi­grant par­ents. He com­plet­ed his course­work in jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, but refused to pay the $5 fee for a diplo­ma. After col­lege he want­ed to see the coun­try, so he packed his vio­lin in a knap­sack and thumbed rides out to Cal­i­for­nia. He sold a few sto­ries about his trav­els to the Sun­day Min­neapo­lis Tri­bune.

In April of ’34 Samuel­son was back in Min­neso­ta when he read a sto­ry by Hem­ing­way in Cos­mopoli­tan, called “One Trip Across.” The short sto­ry would lat­er become part of Hem­ing­way’s fourth nov­el, To Have and Have Not. Samuel­son was so impressed with the sto­ry that he decid­ed to trav­el 2,000 miles to meet Hem­ing­way and ask him for advice. “It seemed a damn fool thing to do,” Samuel­son would lat­er write, “but a twen­ty-two-year-old tramp dur­ing the Great Depres­sion did­n’t have to have much rea­son for what he did.”

And so, at the time of year when most hobos were trav­el­ing north, Samuel­son head­ed south. He hitched his way to Flori­da and then hopped a freight train from the main­land to Key West. Rid­ing on top of a box­car, Samuel­son could not see the rail­road tracks under­neath him–only miles and miles of water as the train left the main­land. “It was head­ed south over the long bridges between the keys and final­ly right out over the ocean,” writes Samuel­son. “It could­n’t hap­pen now–the tracks have been torn out–but it hap­pened then, almost as in a dream.”

When Samuel­son arrived in Key West he dis­cov­ered that times were espe­cial­ly hard there. Most of the cig­ar fac­to­ries had shut down and the fish­ing was poor. That night he went to sleep on the turtling dock, using his knap­sack as a pil­low. The ocean breeze kept the mos­qui­tos away. A few hours lat­er a cop woke him up and invit­ed him to sleep in the bull pen of the city jail. “I was under arrest every night and released every morn­ing to see if I could find my way out of town,” writes Samuel­son. After his first night in the mos­qui­to-infest­ed jail, he went look­ing for the town’s most famous res­i­dent.

When I knocked on the front door of Ernest Hem­ing­way’s house in Key West, he came out and stood square­ly in front of me, squin­ty with annoy­ance, wait­ing for me to speak. I had noth­ing to say. I could­n’t recall a word of my pre­pared speech. He was a big man, tall, nar­row-hipped, wide-shoul­dered, and he stood with his feet spread apart, his arms hang­ing at his sides. He was crouched for­ward slight­ly with his weight on his toes, in the instinc­tive poise of a fight­er ready to hit.

“What do you want?” said Hem­ing­way. After an awk­ward moment, Samuel­son explained that he had bummed his way from Min­neapo­lis just to see him. “I read your sto­ry ‘One Trip Across’ in Cos­mopoli­tan. I liked it so much I came down to have a talk with you.” Hem­ing­way seemed to relax. “Why the hell did­n’t you say you just want­ed to chew the fat? I thought you want­ed to vis­it.” Hem­ing­way told Samuel­son he was busy, but invit­ed him to come back at one-thir­ty the next after­noon.

After anoth­er night in jail, Samuel­son returned to the house and found Hem­ing­way sit­ting in the shade on the north porch, wear­ing kha­ki pants and bed­room slip­pers. He had a glass of whiskey and a copy of the New York Times. The two men began talk­ing. Sit­ting there on the porch, Samuel­son could sense that Hem­ing­way was keep­ing him at a safe dis­tance: “You were at his home but not in it. Almost like talk­ing to a man out on a street.” They began by talk­ing about the Cos­mopoli­tan sto­ry, and Samuel­son men­tioned his failed attempts at writ­ing fic­tion. Hem­ing­way offered some advice.

“The most impor­tant thing I’ve learned about writ­ing is nev­er write too much at a time,” Hem­ing­way said, tap­ping my arm with his fin­ger. “Nev­er pump your­self dry. Leave a lit­tle for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve writ­ten your­self out. When you’re still going good and you come to an inter­est­ing place and you know what’s going to hap­pen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your sub­con­scious mind do the work. The next morn­ing, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feel­ing fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the inter­est­ing place and you know what is going to hap­pen next, go on from there and stop at anoth­er high point of inter­est. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of inter­est­ing places and when you write a nov­el you nev­er get stuck and you make it inter­est­ing as you go along.”

Hem­ing­way advised Samuel­son to avoid con­tem­po­rary writ­ers and com­pete only with the dead ones whose works have stood the test of time. “When you pass them up you know you’re going good.” He asked Samuel­son what writ­ers he liked. Samuel­son said he enjoyed Robert Louis Steven­son’s Kid­napped and Hen­ry David Thore­au’s Walden. “Ever read War and Peace?” Hem­ing­way asked. Samuel­son said he had not. “That’s a damned good book. You ought to read it. We’ll go up to my work­shop and I’ll make out a list you ought to read.”

His work­shop was over the garage in back of the house. I fol­lowed him up an out­side stair­way into his work­shop, a square room with a tile floor and shut­tered win­dows on three sides and long shelves of books below the win­dows to the floor. In one cor­ner was a big antique flat-topped desk and an antique chair with a high back. E.H. took the chair in the cor­ner and we sat fac­ing each oth­er across the desk. He found a pen and began writ­ing on a piece of paper and dur­ing the silence I was very ill at ease. I real­ized I was tak­ing up his time, and I wished I could enter­tain him with my hobo expe­ri­ences but thought they would be too dull and kept my mouth shut. I was there to take every­thing he would give and had noth­ing to return.

Hem­ing­way wrote down a list of two short sto­ries and 14 books and hand­ed it to Samuel­son. Most of the texts you can find in our col­lec­tion, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices. If the texts don’t appear in our eBook col­lec­tion itself, you’ll find a link to the text direct­ly below.

  • The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
  • The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
  • Madame Bovary by Gus­tave Flaubert
  • Dublin­ers by James Joyce
  • The Red and the Black by Stend­hal
  • Of Human Bondage by Som­er­set Maugh­am
  • Anna Karen­i­na by Leo Tol­stoy
  • War and Peace by Leo Tol­stoy
  • Bud­den­brooks by Thomas Mann
  • Hail and Farewell by George Moore
  • The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov by Fyo­dor Dos­toyevsky
  • The Oxford Book of Eng­lish Verse
  • The Enor­mous Room by E.E. Cum­mings
  • Wuther­ing Heights by Emi­ly Bronte
  • Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hud­son
  • The Amer­i­can by Hen­ry James

Hem­ing­way reached over to his shelf and picked up a col­lec­tion of sto­ries by Stephen Crane and gave it to Samuel­son. He also hand­ed him a copy of his own nov­el,  A Farewell to Arms. “I wish you’d send it back when you get through with it,” Hem­ing­way said of his own book. “It’s the only one I have of that edi­tion.” Samuel­son grate­ful­ly accept­ed the books and took them back to the jail that evening to read. “I did not feel like stay­ing there anoth­er night,” he writes, “and the next after­noon I fin­ished read­ing A Farewell to Arms, intend­ing to catch the first freight out to Mia­mi. At one o’clock, I brought the books back to Hem­ing­way’s house.” When he got there he was aston­ished by what Hem­ing­way said.

“There is some­thing I want to talk to you about. Let’s sit down,” he said thought­ful­ly. “After you left yes­ter­day, I was think­ing I’ll need some­body to sleep on board my boat. What are you plan­ning on now?”

“I haven’t any plans.”

“I’ve got a boat being shipped from New York. I’ll have to go up to Mia­mi Tues­day and run her down and then I’ll have to have some­one on board. There would­n’t be much work. If you want the job, you could keep her cleaned up in the morn­ings and still have time for your writ­ing.”

“That would be swell,” replied Samuel­son. And so began a year-long adven­ture as Hem­ing­way’s assis­tant. For a dol­lar a day, Samuel­son slept aboard the 38-foot cab­in cruis­er Pilar and kept it in good con­di­tion. When­ev­er Hem­ing­way went fish­ing or took the boat to Cuba, Samuel­son went along. He wrote about his experiences–including those quot­ed and para­phrased here–in a remark­able mem­oir, With Hem­ing­way: A Year in Key West and Cuba. Dur­ing the course of that year, Samuel­son and Hem­ing­way talked at length about writ­ing. Hem­ing­way pub­lished an account of their dis­cus­sions in a 1934 Esquire arti­cle called “Mono­logue to the Mae­stro: A High Seas Let­ter.” (Click here to open it as a PDF.) Hem­ing­way’s arti­cle with his advice to Samuel­son was one source for our Feb­ru­ary 19 post, “Sev­en Tips From Ernest Hem­ing­way on How to Write Fic­tion.”

When the work arrange­ment had been set­tled, Hem­ing­way drove the young man back to the jail to pick up his knap­sack and vio­lin. Samuel­son remem­bered his feel­ing of tri­umph at return­ing with the famous author to get his things. “The cops at the jail seemed to think noth­ing of it that I should move from their mos­qui­to cham­ber to the home of Ernest Hem­ing­way. They saw his Mod­el A road­ster out­side wait­ing for me. They saw me come out of it. They saw Ernest at the wheel wait­ing and they nev­er said a word.”

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in May, 2013.

Relat­ed Con­tent

18 (Free) Books Ernest Hem­ing­way Wished He Could Read Again for the First Time

Sev­en Tips From Ernest Hem­ing­way on How to Write Fic­tion

Christo­pher Hitchens Cre­ates a Read­ing List for Eight-Year-Old Girl

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intel­li­gent Per­son Should Read

Ernest Hemingway’s Favorite Ham­burg­er Recipe

See The Iliad Performed as a One-Woman Show in a Montreal Bar by McGill University Classics Professor Lynn Kozak

Homer’s Ili­ad staged as a one-woman show? IN A BAR! It’s an out­rage. A des­e­cra­tion of a found­ing work of West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion™. A sure sign of cul­tur­al decline.

But wait…. What if McGill Uni­ver­si­ty clas­sics pro­fes­sor Lynn Kozak’s per­for­mance returns the epic Greek poem to its ori­gins, as a dra­mat­ic oral pre­sen­ta­tion for small audi­ences who were, quite pos­si­bly, ine­bri­at­ed, or at least a lit­tle tip­sy? Kozak’s Pre­vi­ous­ly on… The Ili­ad, described as “Hap­py Hour Homer,” presents its inti­mate audi­ence with “a new, par­tial­ly impro­vised Eng­lish trans­la­tion of a bit of The Ili­ad, all the way through the epic.”

The per­for­mances take place every Mon­day at 6 at Montreal’s Bar des Pins. Like the sto­ry itself, Kozak begins in medias res—in the mid­dle, that is, of a chat­ter­ing crowd of stu­dents, who qui­et down right away and give the sto­ry their full atten­tion.

Ancient Greek poet­ry was per­formed, not stud­ied in schol­ar­ly edi­tions in aca­d­e­m­ic depart­ments. It was sung, with musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment, and prob­a­bly adapt­ed, impro­vised, and embell­ished by ancient bards to suit their audi­ences. Grant­ed, Kozak doesn’t sing (though some per­for­mances involve music); she recites in a man­ner both casu­al and dra­mat­i­cal­ly grip­ping. She reminds us that the sto­ries we find in the text are dis­tant kin to the bloody seri­al­ized TV soap operas that occu­py so much of our day-to-day con­ver­sa­tion, at home, on social media, and at hap­py hour.

The lib­er­ties Kozak takes recre­ate the poem in the present as a liv­ing work. This is clas­sics edu­ca­tion at its most engag­ing and acces­si­ble. Like any poet­ic per­former, Kozak knows her audi­ence. The Ili­ad  is a lot like Game of Thrones, “because of the num­ber of char­ac­ters that you have to keep up with,” Kozak tells the CBC’s As It Hap­pens, “and also because of the fact that there’s not always clean-cut kind of vil­lains or who you’re sup­posed to be root­ing for in any major scene—especially in bat­tle scenes.”

The per­for­mance of the “anger of Achilles” (top, with beer pong) con­veys the moral com­plex­i­ty of the Greek hero. “He must be bru­tal and ready to risk bru­tal­i­ty,” as UNC pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy CDC Reeve writes. “At the same time, he must be gen­tle to his friends and allies, and able to join with them in group activ­i­ties both mil­i­tary and peace­ful.” Is Achilles a tool of the gods or a man dri­ven to extremes by rage? Homer sug­gests both, but the action is set in motion by divine agency. “Apol­lo was pissed at King Agamem­non,” Kozak para­phras­es, then sum­ma­rizes the nature of the insult and checks in with the young lis­ten­ers: “every­one still with me?”

The sto­ry of The Ili­ad, many schol­ars believe, exist­ed as an oral per­for­mance for per­haps 1,000 years before it was com­mit­ted to writ­ing by the scribe or scribes iden­ti­fied as Homer. But the poem “isn’t real­ly a the­atre piece,” says Kozak, despite its musi­cal nature. “It’s real­ly a sto­ry. It’s real­ly a one-per­son show. And for me it’s just impor­tant to be in a place that’s casu­al and where I’m with the audi­ence.” It’s doubt­ful that the poem was per­formed in its entire­ly in one sit­ting, though the notion of “seri­al­iza­tion” as we know it from 19th cen­tu­ry nov­els and mod­ern-day tele­vi­sion shows was not part of the cul­ture of antiq­ui­ty.

“We’re not real­ly sure how The Ili­ad was bro­ken up orig­i­nal­ly,” Kozak admits. Adapt­ing the poem to con­tem­po­rary audi­ence sen­si­bil­i­ties has meant “think­ing about where or if episodes exist in the epic,” in the way of Game of Thrones. Each per­for­mance is styled dif­fer­ent­ly, with Kozak hold­ing court as var­i­ous char­ac­ters. “Some­times there are cliffhang­ers. Some­times they have res­o­lu­tions. It’s been an inter­est­ing mix so far.” That “so far” extends on YouTube from Week 1 (Book 1, lines 1–487) to Week 14 (Book 11, line 461 to Book 12, line 205). Check back each week for new “episodes” to come online, and watch Weeks One through Four above and the oth­er ten at the Pre­vi­ous­ly on… The Ili­ad YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear What Homer’s Odyssey Sound­ed Like When Sung in the Orig­i­nal Ancient Greek

Hear Homer’s Ili­ad Read in the Orig­i­nal Ancient Greek

One of the Best Pre­served Ancient Man­u­scripts of The Ili­ad Is Now Dig­i­tized: See the “Bankes Homer” Man­u­script in High Res­o­lu­tion (Cir­ca 150 C.E.)

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

Discover the Retirement Home for Elderly Musicians Created by Giuseppe Verdi: Created in 1899, It Still Lives On Today

Among my works, the one I like best is the Home that I have had built in Milan for accom­mo­dat­ing old singers not favored by for­tune, or who, when they were young did not pos­sess the virtue of sav­ing. Poor and dear com­pan­ions of my life! 

Giuseppe Ver­di

Is there a rem­e­dy for the iso­la­tion of old age?

What about the jol­ly fra­ter­ni­ty and com­pet­i­tive­ness of an art col­lege dorm, as envi­sioned by opera com­pos­er Giuseppe Ver­di?

Short­ly before his death, the com­pos­er donat­ed all roy­al­ties from his operas to the con­struc­tion and admin­is­tra­tion of a lux­u­ri­ous retreat for retired musi­cians, designed by his librettist’s broth­er, archi­tect Camil­lo Boito.

Com­plet­ed in 1899, Casa Ver­di still serves elder­ly musi­cians today–up to 60 at a time. Res­i­dents of Casa Ver­di include alum­nae of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera and the Roy­al Opera House. Guests have worked along­side such nota­bles as Chet Bak­er and Maria Callas.

Com­pe­ti­tion for res­i­den­tial slots is stiff. To qual­i­fy, one must have been a pro­fes­sion­al musi­cian or music teacher. Those select­ed enjoy room, board, and med­ical treat­ment in addi­tion to, writes The New York Times, “access to con­certs, music rooms, 15 pianos, a large organ, harps, drum sets and the com­pa­ny of their peers.” Musi­cal pro­gram­ming is as con­stant as the fine view of Verdi’s grave.

Din­ing tables are named in hon­or of Verdi’s works. Those inclined to wor­ship do so in a chapel named for San­ta Cecil­ia, the patron saint of musi­cians.

Prac­tice rooms are alive with the sound of music and crit­i­cism. As Casa Verdi’s music ther­a­pist told the Finan­cial Times, “They are very com­pet­i­tive: they are all pri­ma don­nas.”

When mem­o­ry fails, res­i­dents can tune in to such doc­u­men­taries as actor Dustin Hoff­man’s Tosca’s Kiss, below

Get a peek inside Verdi’s retire­ment home for artists, com­pli­ments of Urban Sketch­ers here.

via The New York Times

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meet Nadia Boulanger, “The Most Influ­en­tial Teacher Since Socrates,” Who Men­tored Philip Glass, Leonard Bern­stein, Aaron Cop­land, Quin­cy Jones & Oth­er Leg­ends

New Web Site, “The Opera Plat­form,” Lets You Watch La Travi­a­ta and Oth­er First-Class Operas Free Online

Hear the High­est Note Sung in the 137-Year His­to­ry of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Hear the Famously Controversial Concert Where Leonard Bernstein Introduces Glenn Gould & His Idiosyncratic Performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto (1962)

Some­thing high­ly unusu­al hap­pened dur­ing the New York Phil­har­mon­ic’s con­cert of April 6, 1962. After the inter­mis­sion, just before start­ing the sec­ond half with the First Piano Con­cer­to of Johannes Brahms fea­tur­ing Glenn Gould, con­duc­tor Leonard Bern­stein stepped onto the podi­um and said a few words to pre­pare the audi­ence for what would come next:

You are about to hear a rather, shall we say, unortho­dox per­for­mance of the Brahms D Minor Con­cer­to, a per­for­mance dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent from any I’ve ever heard, or even dreamt of for that mat­ter, in its remark­ably broad tem­pi and its fre­quent depar­tures from Brahms’ dynam­ic indi­ca­tions. I can­not say I am in total agree­ment with Mr. Gould’s con­cep­tion and this rais­es the inter­est­ing ques­tion: “What am I doing con­duct­ing it?” I’m con­duct­ing it because Mr. Gould is so valid and seri­ous an artist that I must take seri­ous­ly any­thing he con­ceives in good faith and his con­cep­tion is inter­est­ing enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.

You can hear Bern­stein’s remarks in full in the con­cert record­ing just above. “Why do I not make a minor scan­dal,” he asks rhetor­i­cal­ly, “get a sub­sti­tute soloist, or let an assis­tant con­duct?” Because he was “glad to have the chance for a new look at this much-played work,” because “there are moments in Mr. Gould’s per­for­mance that emerge with aston­ish­ing fresh­ness and con­vic­tion,” and because “we can all learn some­thing from this extra­or­di­nary artist, who is a think­ing per­former.”

Just as Bern­stein did­n’t agree with the famous­ly (and some­times infa­mous­ly) indi­vid­u­al­is­tic Gould’s much-slowed-down inter­pre­ta­tion of Brahms (though the decades of Brahms schol­ar­ship since have giv­en it more sup­port), many crit­ics did­n’t agree with Bern­stein’s deci­sion to intro­duce it that way. “I think that even though the con­duc­tor made this big dis­claimer, he should not be allowed to wig­gle off the hook that easy,” wrote the New York Times’ Harold C. Schon­berg, who approved of nei­ther the pre­sen­ta­tive choic­es of the con­duc­tor nor the artis­tic choic­es of the pianist. “I mean, who engaged the Gould boy in the first place? Who is the musi­cal direc­tor? Some­body has to be respon­si­ble.”

“At the time I felt that say­ing some­thing like this before a per­for­mance was not the right thing to do,” says famed con­duc­tor Sei­ji Oza­wa in Absolute­ly on Music, his book of con­ver­sa­tions with nov­el­ist Haru­ki Muraka­mi. He hap­pened to be there at Carnegie Hall on April 6, 1962, in his capac­i­ty as Bern­stein’s assis­tant con­duc­tor: “When Lenny said in his speech that he could have let an assis­tant con­duct it — that’s me!” Lis­ten­ing to the record­ing again, Oza­wa describes Gould (who would retire from live per­for­mance two years there­after) as hav­ing “an absolute­ly sol­id grasp of the flow of the music,” and adds that “Lenny’s got it absolute­ly right, too. He’s putting his heart and soul into it.” Oza­wa still dis­ap­proves of Bern­stein’s intro­duc­to­ry remarks, but acknowl­edges the spe­cial qual­i­ty of the man who intro­duced him to Amer­i­ca: “From Lenny, peo­ple were will­ing to accept it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonard Bernstein’s Mas­ter­ful Lec­tures on Music (11+ Hours of Video Record­ed at Har­vard in 1973)

Leonard Bernstein’s First “Young People’s Con­cert” at Carnegie Hall Asks, “What Does Music Mean?”

Spheres Dance to the Music of Bach, Per­formed by Glenn Gould: An Ani­ma­tion from 1969

Watch a 27-Year-Old Glenn Gould Play Bach & Put His Musi­cal Genius on Dis­play (1959)

Watch Leonard Bern­stein Con­duct the Vien­na Phil­har­mon­ic Using Only His Eye­brows

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Hear the Very First Pieces of Ambient Music, Erik Satie’s Furniture Music (Circa 1917)

Who invent­ed ambi­ent music? Many fans of the genre might say Bri­an Eno, though Bri­an Eno him­self makes no such claim. Still, the records he labeled with the word “ambi­ent” in the 1970s and 80s did much to pop­u­lar­ize not just the term, but a cer­tain con­cep­tion of the form itself. “For me, the cen­tral idea was about music as a place you go to,” he said in an inter­view about his recent ambi­ent album Reflec­tion. “Not a nar­ra­tive, not a sequence that has some sort of tele­o­log­i­cal direc­tion to it — verse, cho­rus, this, that, and the oth­er. It’s real­ly based on abstract expres­sion­ism: Instead of the pic­ture being a struc­tured per­spec­tive, where your eye is expect­ed to go in cer­tain direc­tions, it’s a field, and you wan­der son­i­cal­ly over the field.”

Did the 19th and ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry French com­pos­er Erik Satie have the same idea? The Guardian’s Nick Shave calls Satie (whom you’ll at the very least know for Gymnopédie No.1) “the mav­er­ick who invent­ed ‘fur­ni­ture music,’ sounds that were designed to be heard but not lis­tened to.”

F.D. Leone of Musi­ca Kalei­dosko­pea describes Satie’s musique d’ameublement as “music which had no set form and sec­tions could be re-arranged as a per­former or con­duc­tor wished, much like fur­ni­ture in a room, and to act as part of the ambiance or fur­nish­ings.” And Satie start­ed on it in back in 1917, com­pos­ing for the deliv­ery sys­tem of not records, and cer­tain­ly not (as Eno has used in recent years) gen­er­a­tive smart­phone apps, but live per­for­mance.

Though Satie would con­tin­ue writ­ing fur­ni­ture music until just a cou­ple of years before his death in 1925, much of it was nev­er per­formed dur­ing his life­time. Its revival came a few decades lat­er, thanks to the arrival into the music world of a young com­pos­er intent on tak­ing his art to places it had sel­dom gone before: John Cage. “He’s indis­pens­able,” Cage once said of the still oft-derid­ed Satie. Shave also describes Eno’s 1978 album Ambi­ent 1: Music for Air­ports a direct answer to Satie’s call for “music that would be a part of the sur­round­ing nois­es.” You can hear all of Satie’s fur­ni­ture music (selec­tions of which appear embed­ded here) per­formed by the Ars Nova Ensem­ble at Ubuweb. “It seems to have swollen to accom­mo­date some quite unex­pect­ed bed­fel­lows,” Eno has writ­ten of the genre of ambi­ent music today. But would would Satie hear it all as just an expan­sion of fur­ni­ture music?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the 1917 Bal­let “Parade”: Cre­at­ed by Erik Satie, Pablo Picas­so & Jean Cocteau, It Pro­voked a Riot and Inspired the Word “Sur­re­al­ism”

The Vel­vet Underground’s John Cale Plays Erik Satie’s Vex­a­tions on I’ve Got a Secret (1963)

Moby Lets You Down­load 4 Hours of Ambi­ent Music to Help You Sleep, Med­i­tate, Do Yoga & Not Pan­ic

Music That Helps You Sleep: Min­i­mal­ist Com­pos­er Max Richter, Pop Phe­nom Ed Sheer­an & Your Favorites

The “True” Sto­ry Of How Bri­an Eno Invent­ed Ambi­ent Music

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Big Choir Sings Patti Smith’s “Because the Night”

Five years ago, Choir!Choir!Choir!, a large ama­teur choir from Toron­to, got a rare chance to per­form with Pat­ti Smith, join­ing her onstage to sing her 1978 hit “Because the Night.” Still inspired by that expe­ri­ence, the group recent­ly revis­it­ed the song dur­ing one of their week­ly ses­sions. “The feel­ing in the room was elec­tric, every­one was lean­ing in hard, and the end result is so pow­er­ful,” Choir!Choir!Choir! writes on their YouTube chan­nel. You can watch the end result above.

In case you missed it, you can also watch them per­form David Bowie’s “Heroes” with the great David Byrne. See the first item in the Relat­eds below.

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.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch David Byrne Lead a Mas­sive Choir in Singing David Bowie’s “Heroes”

Hear a Com­plete Chrono­log­i­cal Discog­ra­phy of Pat­ti Smith’s Fierce­ly Poet­ic Rock and Roll: 13 Hours and 142 Tracks

Watch Pat­ti Smith Read from Vir­ginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Sur­viv­ing Record­ing of Woolf’s Voice

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Tsarist Russia Comes to Life in Vivid Color Photographs Taken Circa 1905–1915

His­to­ry escapes us. Events that changed the world for­ev­er, or should have, slide out of col­lec­tive mem­o­ry. If we’re point­ing fin­gers, we might point at edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems that fail to edu­cate, or at huge his­tor­i­cal blind spots in mass media. Maybe anoth­er rea­son the recent past fades like old pho­tographs may have to do with old pho­tographs.

The present leaps out at us from our ubiq­ui­tous screens in vivid, high-res­o­lu­tion col­or. We are riv­et­ed to the spec­ta­cles of the moment. Per­haps if we could see his­to­ry in color—or at least the small but sig­nif­i­cant sliv­er of it that has been photographed—we might have some­what bet­ter his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ries. It’s only spec­u­la­tion, who knows? But look­ing at the images here makes me think so.

Although we can date col­or pho­tog­ra­phy back as ear­ly as 1861, when physi­cist James Clerk Maxwell made an exper­i­men­tal print with col­or fil­ters, the process didn’t real­ly come into its own until the turn of the cen­tu­ry. (It wouldn’t be until much lat­er in the 20th cen­tu­ry that mass-pro­duc­ing col­or pho­tographs became fea­si­ble.) One ear­ly mas­ter of the art, Russ­ian chemist and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, used Maxwell’s fil­ter process and oth­er meth­ods to cre­ate the images you see here, dat­ing from between 1905 and 1915.

You can see hun­dreds more such images—over 2000, in fact—at the Library of Con­gress’ col­lec­tion, dig­i­tal­ly recre­at­ed from col­or glass neg­a­tives for your brows­ing and down­load­ing plea­sure or his­tor­i­cal research. “I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a pho­to­graph from the past and felt its sub­jects come alive so vivid­ly,” writes Messy Nessy, “as if they’ve almost blinked at me, as if it were just yes­ter­day.”

Clear­ly the cloth­ing, archi­tec­ture, and oth­er mark­ers of the past give away the age of these pic­tures, as does their fad­ed qual­i­ty. But imag­ine this lat­ter evi­dence of time passed as an Instra­gram fil­ter and you might feel like you could have been there, on the farms, church­es, water­ways, gar­dens, forests, city streets, and draw­ing rooms of Impe­r­i­al Rus­sia dur­ing the doomed last years of the Romanovs.

Sev­er­al hun­dred of the pho­tos in the archive aren’t in col­or. Prokudin-Gorskii, notes the LoC, “under­took most of his ambi­tious col­or doc­u­men­tary project from 1909 to 1915.” Even while trav­el­ing around pho­tograph­ing the coun­try­side, he made just as many mono­chrome images. Because of our cul­tur­al con­di­tion­ing and the way we see the world now we are bound to inter­pret black-and-white and sepia-toned prints as more dis­tant and estranged.

Prokudin-Gorskii took his most famous pho­to, a col­or image of Leo Tol­stoy which we’ve fea­tured here before, in 1908. It grant­ed him an audi­ence with the Tsar, who after­ward gave him “a spe­cial­ly equipped rail­road-car dark­room,” Messy Nessy notes, and “two per­mits that grant­ed him access to restrict­ed areas.” After the Rev­o­lu­tion, he fled to Paris, where he died in 1944, just one month after the city’s lib­er­a­tion.

His sur­viv­ing pho­tos, plates, and neg­a­tives had been stored in the base­ment of his Parisian apart­ment build­ing until a Library of Con­gress researcher found and pur­chased them in 1948. His work in col­or, a nov­el­ty at the time, now strikes us in its ordi­nar­i­ness; an aid “for any­one who has ever found it dif­fi­cult to con­nect with his­tor­i­cal pho­tographs.” Still, we might won­der, “what will they think of our pho­tographs in a hun­dred years time?”

I sus­pect a hun­dred years from now, or maybe even 20 or 30, peo­ple will mar­vel at our quaint, prim­i­tive two-dimen­sion­al vision, while strolling around in vir­tu­al 3D recre­ations, maybe chat­ting casu­al­ly with holo­graph­ic, AI-endowed his­tor­i­cal peo­ple. Maybe that tech­nol­o­gy will make it hard­er for the future to for­get us, or maybe it will make it eas­i­er to mis­re­mem­ber.

Enter the Library of Con­gress Prokudin-Gorskii archive here.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Behold the Very First Col­or Pho­to­graph (1861): Tak­en by Scot­tish Physi­cist (and Poet!) James Clerk Maxwell

Venice in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images 125 Years Ago: The Rial­to Bridge, St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, Doge’s Palace & More

The First Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

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

100 Years of Drag Queen Fashion in 4 Minutes: An Aesthetic Journey Moving from the 1920s Through Today

Drag super­star RuPaul’s Drag Race pro­gram can be cred­it­ed with bring­ing his sub­cul­ture to a much wider audi­ence.

For ten sea­sons, view­ers out­side the major met­ro­pol­i­tan areas and select hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions where drag has flour­ished have tuned in to root for their favorite com­peti­tors.

As a result, main­stream Amer­i­ca has devel­oped a much more nuanced appre­ci­a­tion for the labor and artistry behind suc­cess­ful drag per­for­mance and per­son­ae.

Van­i­ty Fair’s “100 Years of Drag Queen Fash­ion,” above, is not so much an evo­lu­tion­ary his­to­ry of the form as a salute to some of its pio­neers, prac­ti­tion­ers, and patron saints.

Each decade opens with a Drag Race alum fac­ing the make­up mir­ror in a rel­a­tive­ly naked state.  Shangela Laquifa Wadley, Raja, and Detox all appear sans fard. Kim Chi’s heav­i­ly made up eyes are eye­lash-free.

The 70’s spin on the late, great Divine is more rem­i­nis­cent of cis-gen­der dis­co queen Don­na Sum­mer than the out­ra­geous plus-sized muse direc­tor John Waters referred to as “the most beau­ti­ful woman in the world, almost.”

As por­trayed in the video below, there’s a strong echo of 1930’s Pan­sy Per­former Jean Malin in RuPaul’s glam­orous pre­sen­ta­tion.

In real­i­ty, the resem­blance is not quite so strong. Although Malin got dolled up in Mae West drag in 1933’s Ari­zona to Broad­way, above, left to his own devices his stage pres­ence was that of an open­ly effem­i­nate gay man, or “pan­sy.” As Pro­fes­sor George Chauncey, direc­tor of Colum­bia University’s Research Ini­tia­tive on the Glob­al His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ties observes in his book, Gay New York:

 His very pres­ence on the club floor elicit­ed the cat­calls of many men in the club, but he respond­ed to their abuse by rip­ping them to shreds with the drag queen’s best weapon: his wit. ‘He had a lisp, and an atti­tude, but he also had a sharp tongue,’ accord­ing to one colum­nist. ‘The wise cracks and inquiries of the men who hoot­ed at his act found ready answer.’ And if hos­tile spec­ta­tors tried to use brute force to take him on after he had defeat­ed them with his wit, he was pre­pared to hum­ble them on those terms as well. ‘He was a huge youth,’ one paper report­ed, ‘weigh­ing 200, and a six foot­er. Not a few pro­fes­sion­al pugilists sighed because Jean seemed to pre­fer din­ner rings to box­ing rings.’ Although Mal­in’s act remained tame enough to safe­guard its wide appeal, it nonethe­less embod­ied the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship between pan­sies and ‘nor­mal’ men. His behav­ior was con­sis­tent with their demean­ing stereo­type of how a pan­sy should behave, but he demand­ed their respect; he fas­ci­nat­ed and enter­tained them, but he also threat­ened and infu­ri­at­ed them.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Oth­er leg­endary fig­ures hon­ored by Van­i­ty Fair include Fran­cis Renault (1893–1955), Lav­ern Cum­mings (1925–1991), and Dan­ny LaRue (1927–2009).

Also some gen­der bend­ing lad by the name David Bowie, though if Van­i­ty Fair’s skin­ny Divine caus­es a slight sense of unease, the hideous vinyl rain­coat sport­ed by its snarling, whip-wield­ing Bowie fac­sim­i­le may send fans scut­tling for torch­es and pitch­forks.

As to the future, Joan Jet­son col­lars and pink wed­ding cake wigs appear to be part of drag’s fash­ion fore­cast.

Cis-male skele­tal struc­tures may not always lend them­selves to peri­od-appro­pri­ate female sil­hou­ettes, but the tow­er­ing heels on dis­play are faith­ful to the art of the drag queen, above all else.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art (MoMA) Presents a Free Online Class on Fash­ion: Enroll in Fash­ion as Design Today

Google Cre­ates a Dig­i­tal Archive of World Fash­ion: Fea­tures 30,000 Images, Cov­er­ing 3,000 Years of Fash­ion His­to­ry

Dif­fer­ent From the Oth­ers (1919): The First Gay Rights Movie Ever … Lat­er Destroyed by the Nazis

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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