The History of Rock Musically Told in 100 Guitar Riffs and 100 Bass Riffs

Rare exceptions may only underline the rule: a good rock riff should be simple, primal—two, three, maybe four notes. What makes a riff so distinctive you can’t stop humming it in the shower? Personality. Bends, slides, double-stops, etc, put in exactly the right places. How do you write such a riff? Given how most famous guitar players talk about it: entirely by accident, a frustrating answer for would-be hitmakers, though it shouldn’t stop anyone from trying. The best riff-writers wrote hundreds of riffs before they stumbled upon that just-right collection of notes. Or they just ripped off a lesser-known riff and made it their own. All’s fair in love and riffs.

Articulating what we already intuitively know, Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot writes at, “a riff, when done right, can shape a song and often rule it. It’s a brief statement—sometimes only a handful of notes or chords—that recurs throughout the arrangement and can become the song’s central hook. Many of the greatest songs of the rock era begin with a riff—the Rolling Stones ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,’ Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water,’ Aerosmith’s ‘Walk this Way,’ The Smith’s ‘How Soon is Now,’ Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ The Isley Brother’s ‘Who’s that Lady?’ And when done that spectacularly, the riff becomes the core of the tune, its most memorable feature when listeners play it back in their head.”

Indeed, so central is the riff to the catchiness of a song that one could write an entire history of rock ‘n’ roll in riffs, which is exactly what Alex Chadwick has done in the video above, opening with the groovy jazz lick of 1953’s “Mr. Sandman” and wrapping up with St. Vincent’s “Cruel.” Though the more recent riffs might elude many people—having not yet become classic rock hits played at hockey games—nearly all of these 100 riffs from 100 rock ‘n’ roll songs will be instantly familiar. The video comes from music store Chicago Music Exchange, where employees likely hear many of these tunes played all day long, but never in chronological succession with such perfect intonation.

And lest we think guitarists deserve all the riffage glory, the folks at Chicago Music Exchange put together a follow-up video of 100 bass (and drum) riffs, “A Brief History of Groove.” Here, bassist Marc Najjar and drummer Nate Bauman cover 60 years of music history in under 20 minutes. As noted a few years back, these impressive medleys were performed “in one continuous take.” See the full guitar riff tracklist here and bass riff tracklist here.

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

Behold an Incredibly Detailed, Handmade Map Of Medieval Trade Routes

Sometimes I wonder if there are any true Renaissance folks left, people who have a passion for knowledge and don’t let the experts get in the way. But then along comes Martin Jan Månsson, a graduate student in Spatial Planning at the Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden. Neither a cartographer nor a historian, Månsson has lovingly produced this very detailed map of trading routes during the Middle Ages. (You can download the map in high resolution here.)

(I assume he should have been working on his dissertation instead, but this is much more fascinating.)

“I think trade routes and topography explains world history in the most concise way,” Månsson explains in the very small print at the map’s lower right corner. “By simply studying the map, one can understand why some areas were especially important–and remained successful even up to modern times.”

The map covers 200 years, spanning both the 11th and 12th centuries, and “depicts the main trading arteries of the high Middle Ages, just after the decline of the Vikings and before the rise of the Mongols, the Hansa and well before the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope.”

It also shows the complex routes already available to Africa and Asia, and the areas where Muslim and Christian traders would meet. The open-to-trade Song Dynasty ruled China, and the competitive kingdoms in the Indonesia region provided both Muslims and Europeans with spice.

Looking like a railway map, Månsson’s work shows how interconnected we really were back in the Middle Ages, from Greenland in the west to Kikai and Kagoshima in the East, from Arkhangelsk in the frozen north to Sofala in modern-day Mozambique.

Månsson credits Wikipedia for a majority of the basic work, but also lists 20 other sources for this detailed work, including The Silk Road by Valerie Hanson, Across Africa and Arabia by Irene M. Franck and David M. Brownstone.

There’s much to take away from the map–a printable version would be great–but one thing that stands out to me is how many once-important trade cities have faded from memory, or importance, or just lost to time, plunder, and change. In another 1,000 what cities of our own will have come and gone?

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Do Our Dreams Predict the Future? Vladimir Nabokov Spent Three Months Testing That Theory in 1964

Photo by NC Mallory via Flickr Commons 

Why keep a dream journal? There’s probably amusing befuddlement and even a kind of roundabout enlightenment to be had in looking back over one’s subconscious visions, so vivid during the night, that vanish so soon after waking. But now we have another, more compelling reason to write down our dreams: Vladimir Nabokov did it. This we know from the recently published Insomniac Dreams, a collection of the entries from the Lolita and Pale Fire author’s dream journal — written, true to his compositional method, on index cards— edited and contextualized by Nabokov scholar Gennady Barabtarlo.

“On October 14, 1964, in a grand Swiss hotel in Montreux where he had been living for three years, Vladimir Nabokov started a private experiment that lasted till January 3 of the following year, just before his wife’s birthday (he had engaged her to join him in the experiment and they compared notes),” writes Barabtarlo in the book’s first chapter, which you can read online. “Every morning, immediately upon awakening, he would write down what he could rescue of his dreams. During the following day or two he was on the lookout for anything that seemed to do with the recorded dream.”

He wanted to “test a theory according to which dreams can be precognitive as well as related to the past. That theory is based on the premise that images and situations in our dreams are not merely kaleidoscoping shards, jumbled, and mislabeled fragments of past impressions, but may also be a proleptic view of an event to come.”  That notion, writes Dan Piepenbring at the New Yorker, “came from J. W. Dunne, a British engineer and armchair philosopher who, in 1927, published An Experiment with Time, arguing, in part, that our dreams afforded us rare access to a higher order of time.” The book’s fan base included such other literary notables as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.

Nabokov had his own take on Dunne’s theory: “The waking event resembling or coinciding with the dream event does so not because the latter is a prophecy,” he writes on the first notecard in the stack produced by his own three-month experiment with time, “but because this would be the kind of dream that one might expect to have after the event.” But Nabokov’s dream data seem to have provided little in the way in absolute proof of what he called “reverse memory.” In the strongest example, a dream about eating soil samples at a museum precedes his real-life viewing of a television documentary about the soil of Senegal. And as Barabtarlo points out, the dream “distinctly and closely followed two scenes” of a short story Nabokov had written 25 years before.

And so we come to the real appeal of Insomniac Dreams: Nabokov’s skill at rendering evocative and memorable images in language — or rather, in his polyglot case, languages – as well as dealing with themes of time and memory. You can read a few samples at Lithub involving not just soil but sexual jealousy, a lecture hastily scrawled minutes before class time, the Red Army, and “a death-sign consisting of two roundish golden-yellow blobs with blurred edges.” They may bring to mind the words of the narrator of Ada, the novel Nabokov published the following year, who in his own consideration of Dunne guesses that in dreams, “some law of logic should fix the number of coincidences, in a given domain, after which they cease to be coincidences, and form, instead, the living organism of a new truth.”

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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.

The Famous Break Up of Sigmund Freud & Carl Jung Explained in a New Animated Video

Making friends with similar interests can be a challenge for anyone. But imagine you are the founder of an entirely new discipline, with its own peculiar jargon, set of practices, and conceptual categories. Imagine, for example, that you are Sigmund Freud, who in 1896 made his break with medicine to pursue the work of psychoanalysis. Drawing on clinical experience with patients, his own self-analysis, cocaine-induced reveries, and an idiosyncratic reading of Greek mythology, Freud invented his strange psychosexual theories within the confidence of a very small circle of acquaintances and admirers.

One of his close relationships during those productive and turbulent years, with eccentric ear, nose, and throat doctor Wilhelm Fliess—a collaborator, influence, “confessor and moral supporter”—ended badly in 1906. It was in that same year that Freud met the much-younger Carl Jung. At their first meeting, the two “talked nonstop for 13 hours,” the Aeon video above, animated by Andrew Khosravani, tells us. Thus began the intense and now-legendary six-year friendship between the psychiatrists, a “passionate and surpassingly weird relationship, which, given the people involved, perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise.” Freud settled upon Jung as his protege and successor, the “Joshua to my Moses,” overjoyed to have found a friend who seemed to understand his ideas intimately.

They traveled to the US to give joint lectures and analyzed each other’s dreams. Freud wrote to propose that Jung should think of their relationship as between “father and son,” an odd proposal in any friendship, but especially when the “father” invented the Oedipal complex; “this did not go unnoticed by Freud, and he freaked out a little.” The unsettling dynamic already presented a shaky basis for a long term bond, but it was their wildly divergent ideas that ultimately drove them apart. Jung took issue with Freud’s obsession with libido as the primary driver of human behavior. Freud cast a withering eye on Jung’s keen interest in religion, mysticism, and the paranormal as expressions of a collective unconscious.

As he had divorced himself from Wilhelm Fleiss in 1906, Freud similarly, abruptly, broke off his friendship with Jung in 1913, sending a rather nasty break-up letter to sever their “emotional tie.” Jung, he wrote, “while behaving abnormally keeps shouting that he is normal,” giving rise to “the suspicion that he lacks insight into his illness. Accordingly, I propose that we abandon our personal relations entirely.” The video ends by declaring Freud the winner of this “feud,” such as it was, though the personal conflict seems rather one-sided. As Jung would later relate, he “soon discovered that when [Freud] had thought something, then it was settled.” After Freud broke it off, Jung wrote in his diary, “the rest is silence.”

As for the legacies of both men, these seem settled as well. They both had significant influence on writers and artists of all kinds, on literary theorists, new age mystics, and philosophers. But Jung is hardly taken seriously in the mainstream of psychiatry, and Freud’s ideas have largely been abandoned, save for one: as millions who still reveal themselves weekly on therapists’ couches can attest, the talking cure of psychoanalysis is alive and well.

via Aeon

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

Glenn Gould Plays Bach on His U.S. TV Debut … After Leonard Bernstein Explains What Makes His Playing So Great (1960)

Why, 35 years after his death, do so many music lovers still respect Glenn Gould above all other pianists? One might assume that, since he played the work of such well-known composers as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and Brahms, he would have acceptable substitutes among the most highly skilled pianists of each successive generation. But none have ever taken Gould’s place, and quite possibly none ever will. His distinctiveness owes both to sheer aptitude, and to something else besides: Leonard Bernstein attempts an explanation of that something in the clip above, from the CBS Ford Presents broadcast of January 31, 1960.

“Gould and Bach have become a kind of legendary combination, in spite of Gould’s extreme youth and Bach’s extreme age,” says Bernstein just before a 28-year-old Gould makes his American television debut playing Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor. He goes on to explain the special challenge of playing Bach, who “belonged to a time when composers weren’t being very generous with information about how to play their notes.”

Simply playing the notes on the page would result in an “unutterably dull” performance, but “to what extent can the pianist supply dynamic variety?” Gould imbued the pieces he played with variety, dynamic and otherwise, all of it reflecting his own “judgments, instincts, and highly individual personality.”

In the years after this broadcast (which you can see in full here), Gould’s personality would grow even more highly individual. Just two years later, Gould and the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto came preceded by Bernstein’s infamous disclaimer: he found himself not in “total agreement” Gould’s performance, one “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.” Two years after that, Gould would retire from live performance entirely, keeping a safe distance from his audience in the studio instead. We now remember him as the first classical pianist to truly inhabit the age of recording and broadcasting; did that habitation begin, in some sense, in the television studio with Bernstein?

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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.

How to Make the Oldest Recipe in the World: A Recipe for Nettle Pudding Dating Back 6,000 BC

Attention culinary historians, survivalists, wildcrafters, and gonzo eaters!

Nettle pudding, Britain’s—and quite possibly the world’s—oldest recipe, looks like a good bet in the event of a zombie invasion, or some other catastrophe.

The ingredients—sorrel, watercress, dandelions, nettles—are the sort of thing you can find in a ditch or public park.

If you’re worried about pulling an Into the Wild, book a prophylactic tour with naturalist Wildman Steve Brill.

Should barley flour prove in short supply, don’t worry about it! Grind some acorns, like that kid in My Side of the Mountain. 

You think early man sweated substitutions?

No way! Improvisation was the name of the game.

Rigid adherence to published ingredients will have no place in the zombie invasion! As Cardiff Metropolitan University’s home economist Dr. Ruth Fairchild told The Daily Mail:

You have to think how much more is wasted now than then.

Food waste today is huge. A third of the food in our fridges is thrown away every week without being eaten.

But they wouldn’t have wasted anything, even hooves would have been used for something.

They had to eat what was grown within a few miles, because it would have taken so long to collect everything, and even collecting water would have been a bit of a trial.

Yet today, so many people don’t want to cook because they think of it as a chore.

Stop thinking of nettle pudding as a chore! Start practicing for the zombie invasion with Antiquity Now’s step-by-step recipe and let us know how it tastes.

NETTLE PUDDING (an 8000 year old recipe!)


1 bunch of sorrel

1 bunch of watercress

1 bunch of dandelion leaves

2 bunches of young nettle leaves

Some chives

1 cup of barley flour

1 teaspoon of salt



Chop the herbs finely and mix in the barley flour and salt.

Add enough water to bind it together and place in the center of a linen or muslin cloth.

Tie the cloth securely and add to a pot of simmering venison or wild boar (a pork joint will do just as well). Make sure the string is long enough to pull the pudding from the pot.

Cook the pudding until the meat is done (at least two hours).

Leave the pudding to cool slightly, remove the muslin, then cut the pudding into thick slices with a knife.

Serve the pudding with chunks of barley bread.

(Be mindful that fire may attract zombies. Keep a shovel beside you at all times. Good luck!)

You can read more about the discovery of Nettle Pudding at the BBC and The Telegraph.

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

Joseph Heller’s Handwritten Outline for Catch-22, One of the Great Novels of the 20th Century

We remember Catch-22, more than half a century after its publication, as a rollicking satire of American military culture in wartime. But those of us who return to Joseph Heller’s debut novel, a cult favorite turned bestseller turned pillar of the modern canon, find a much more complex piece of work. Heller began writing the manuscript in 1953, while still employed as a copywriter at a small advertising agency. The project grew in ambition over the next eight years he spent working on it, eventually in collaboration with editor Robert Gottlieb and its other advocates at Simon & Schuster, the publisher that had bought it.

When Catch-22 finally went into print, one of those advocates, an advertising manager named Nina Bourne, launched an aggressive one-woman campaign to get copies into the hands of all the influential readers of the day. “You are mistaken in calling it a novel,” replied Evelyn Waugh. “It is a collection of sketches — often repetitious — totally without structure.” But the book’s apparently free-form narrative, full of and often turning on puns and seemingly far-fetched associations, had actually come as the product of a deceptive compositional rigor. As one piece of evidence we have Heller’s handwritten outline above. (You can also find a more easily legible version here.)

The outline’s grid presents the events of the story in chronological order, as the novel itself certainly doesn’t. The rows of its vertical axis run from early 1944 at the top to December 1944 at the bottom, and the columns of its horizontal axis lists the book’s major characters. They include the protagonist John Yossarian, Air Force bombardier; the “poor and rustic” Orr; Colonel Cathcart, a “Harvard graduate with a cigarette holder,” and Major Major, who “looks like Henry Fonda.” Within this matrix Heller kept track of what should happen to which characters when, at the time of which events of the real war.

The descriptions of events sketched on the outline range from the broadly comic (“Chaplain spies Yossarian naked in a tree and thinks it is a mystical vision”) to the cynical (“Milo justifies bombing the squadron in terms of free enterprise and the large profit he has made”) to the straightforwardly brutal (“Snowden is shot through the middle and dies”). Their placement together in the same neutral space reflects the single quality that, perhaps more than any other, brought upon the novel such a wide range of reactions and earned it a lasting place in not just American literature but American culture. Look at all the aspects of war straight on, it reminds us still today, and the total picture — bloody and senseless for the individual participant, though not without its minor triumphs and laughs — looks something like absurdist art.

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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.

Discover an Archive of Taped New York City-Area Punk & Indie Concerts from the 80s and 90s: The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Replacements & Many More

“For decades now,” John Coulthart writes at Dangerous Minds, “Hoboken has been on an implacable course of gentrification… to the point that scruffy and legendary music venues can’t hack it there anymore.” One could replace “Hoboken” with the name of virtually any US city that once hosted a seminal live venue. You live long enough, you see the world completely change, and all the punk and indie clubs shut down or moved to Brooklyn. The 21st century has given us cities few indie artists or their fans can afford, even as it also gives us high-speed internet, huge servers, cheap web hosting, and hard drives that can hold terabytes of digital music.

But at least the club shows of the past can live on in incredibly awesome archives like The McKenzie Tapes, “a collection of live audio recordings from some of the New York City-area’s most prominent music venues of the 1980s and 1990s.”

Recorded by David McKenzie, a former employee of legendary Hoboken venue Maxwell’s and consummate concert-goer, the taped gigs come from such venues as The Ritz, Tramps, Irving Plaza, The Roxy, the Cat Club, Bowery Ballroom, CBGB’s, the Knitting Factory, and, of course, Maxwell’s.

Too many legendary bands to list in full show up here: some major highlights include The Replacements at the Ritz in 1986, right after the release of Tim. (See them at the top in a soundcheck at Maxwell’s that same year); the Pixies at Maxwell’s in 1988, playing songs from their just-released watershed Surfer Rosa; Sonic Youth on back-to-back nights at CBGB’s in 88, playing Daydream Nation the month before recording the album. Hüsker Dü, Wire, John Spencer Blues Explosion, The Fall, The Feelies, Afghan Whigs, Mudhoney, Violent Femmes, Mojo Nixon—the shows are a who’s who of punk and indie from the last two decades of the century, with appearances from 70s legends like Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine.

Sprinkled throughout are surprises like a 1989 performance from Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Arkestra at Maxwell’s and gigs by blues stalwarts T Model Ford and R.L. Burnside, as well as the occasional outlier show abroad. The project is the work of Jersey City record collector, archivist, event producer, and podcaster Tom Gallo, friend of David McKenzie, and he has done an excellent job of preserving not only the music from McKenzie’s tapes, but images of the tapes themselves—with hand-written band names and song titles and black-and-white Xeroxed covers—as well as Village Voice listings of the gigs and occasional ticket stubs, setlists, and live photos.

Don’t expect much in the way of sound quality—that’s part of the charm of a taped show. These are raw documents of the cassette age, a time come and gone, never to come again. We might not mourn its passing, but something—a spirit of experimental, noisy, tuneful, angry, raucous, lo-fi, analog indie fun—seems to have disappeared along with it. All of these digitized tapes are downloadable. Put ’em on your phone and relive the glory days, or discover these treasures from the recent past for the first time at The McKenzie Tapes here.

via Dangerous Minds

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

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