The Hobo Code: An Introduction to the Hieroglyphic Language of Early 1900s Train-Hoppers

Many of us now use the word hobo to refer to any home­less indi­vid­ual, but back in the Amer­i­ca of the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, to be a hobo meant some­thing more. It meant, specif­i­cal­ly, to count your­self as part of a robust cul­ture of itin­er­ant labor­ers who criss-crossed the coun­try by hitch­ing ille­gal rides on freight trains. Liv­ing such a lifestyle on the mar­gins of soci­ety demand­ed the mas­tery of cer­tain tech­niques as well as a body of secret knowl­edge, an aspect of the hey­day of hobodom sym­bol­ized in the “hobo code,” a spe­cial hiero­glyph­ic lan­guage explained in the Vox video above.

“Wan­der­ing from place to place and per­form­ing odd jobs in exchange for food and mon­ey, hobos were met with both open arms and firearms,” writes Antique Archae­ol­o­gy’s Sarah Buck­holtz. “From ille­gal­ly jump­ing trains to steal­ing scraps from a farm­ers mar­ket, the hobo com­mu­ni­ty need­ed to cre­ate a secret lan­guage to warn and wel­come fel­low hobos that were either new to town or just pass­ing through.”

The code, writ­ten on brick walls, bases of water tow­ers, or any oth­er sur­face that did­n’t move, “assigned cir­cles and arrows for gen­er­al direc­tions like, where to find a meal or the best place to camp. Hash­tags sig­naled dan­ger ahead, like bad water or an inhos­pitable town.”

Hash­tags sounds a bit Mil­len­ni­al for hobo cul­ture, but on some lev­el the term does make sense. Some of the abstract­ed sym­bols of the hobo code look a bit more like emo­ji: a loco­mo­tive mean­ing “good place to catch a train,” a build­ing with a barred door mean­ing “this is a well-guard­ed house,” a cat mean­ing “a kind lady lives here.” But how much use did the hobo code actu­al­ly see? “The prob­lem is, all this infor­ma­tion came from hobos, a group that took pride in their elu­sive­ness and embell­ished sto­ry­telling,” says the Vox video’s nar­ra­tor. “The truth is, there real­ly isn’t any evi­dence that these signs were as wide­ly used as the lit­er­a­ture sug­gests.”

“Hobos used their mythol­o­gy as a kind of cov­er,” says hobo his­to­ri­an Bill Daniel. “The tall tales, the draw­ings, even the books” — espe­cial­ly vol­umes penned by “A‑No.1,” the most famous hobo of them all — “were ways to project an image of them­selves that both blew them up, but also kept them hid­den.” Yet hobo ways, which encom­passed even an eth­i­cal code that we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, have their descen­dants. Take, for instance, the hobo prac­tice of writ­ing their nick­names, or “monikers,” on trains and else­where to show the world where they’d been and where they were head­ed. The line to mod­ern urban graf­fi­ti almost draws itself, espe­cial­ly in the prac­tice of sub­way-car “bomb­ing” in 1970s and 80s New York. The hobo has gone, but the char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly hardy hobo spir­it finds a way to live on.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Hobo Eth­i­cal Code of 1889: 15 Rules for Liv­ing a Self-Reliant, Hon­est & Com­pas­sion­ate Life

How to Write in Cuneiform, the Old­est Writ­ing Sys­tem in the World: A Short, Charm­ing Intro­duc­tion

You Could Soon Be Able to Text with 2,000 Ancient Egypt­ian Hiero­glyphs

Google Puts Online 10,000 Works of Street Art from Across the Globe

‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Hobo Blues’: Great Per­for­mances by John Lee Hook­er

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 Karlheinz Stockhausen Branded Car: A Playful Tribute to the Groundbreaking Electronic Composer

A Karl­heinz Stock­hausen Opel. That’s what Ken­neth Gold­smith (poet, crit­ic and found­ing edi­tor of UbuWeb) spot­ted in Tri­este, Italy sev­er­al days ago.

No, it’s not an offi­cial mod­el. It’s just an Opel Karl lov­ing­ly re-brand­ed by its own­er, an homage to one of the ground­break­ing elec­tron­ic com­posers of the 20th cen­tu­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pio­neer­ing Elec­tron­ic Com­pos­er Karl­heinz Stock­hausen Presents “Four Cri­te­ria of Elec­tron­ic Music” & Oth­er Lec­tures in Eng­lish (1972)

Watch Karl­heinz Stockhausen’s Great Heli­copter String Quar­tet, Star­ring 4 Musi­cians, 4 Cam­eras & 4 Copters

The Fas­ci­nat­ing Sto­ry of How Delia Der­byshire Cre­at­ed the Orig­i­nal Doc­tor Who Theme

Hear Sev­en Hours of Women Mak­ing Elec­tron­ic Music (1938- 2014)


This Is Your Kids’ Brains on Internet Algorithms: A Chilling Case Study Shows What’s Wrong with the Internet Today

Mul­ti­me­dia artist and writer James Bri­dle has a new book out, and it’s terrifying—appropriately so, I would say—in its analy­sis of “the dan­gers of trust­ing com­put­ers to explain (and, increas­ing­ly, run) the world,” as Adi Robert­son writes at The Verge. Sum­ming up one of his argu­ments in his New Dark Age: Tech­nol­o­gy and the End of the Future, Bri­dle writes, “We know more and more about the world, while being less and less able to do any­thing about it.” As Bri­dle tells Robert­son in a short inter­view, he doesn’t see the prob­lems as irre­me­di­a­ble, pro­vid­ed we gain “some kind of agency with­in these sys­tems.” But he insists that we must face head-on cer­tain facts about our dystopi­an, sci-fi-like real­i­ty.

In the brief TED talk above, you can see Bri­dle do just that, begin­ning with an analy­sis of the mil­lions of pro­lif­er­at­ing videos for chil­dren, with bil­lions of views, on YouTube, a case study that quick­ly goes to some dis­turb­ing places. Videos show­ing a pair of hands unwrap­ping choco­late eggs to reveal a toy with­in “are like crack for lit­tle kids,” says Bri­dle, who watch them over and over. Auto­play fer­ries them on to weird­er and weird­er iter­a­tions, which even­tu­al­ly end up with danc­ing Hitlers and their favorite car­toon char­ac­ters per­form­ing lewd and vio­lent acts. Some of the videos seem to be made by pro­fes­sion­al ani­ma­tors and “whole­some kid’s enter­tain­ers,” some seem assem­bled by soft­ware, some by “peo­ple who clear­ly shouldn’t be around chil­dren at all.”

The algo­rithms that dri­ve the bizarre uni­verse of these videos are used to “hack the brains of very small chil­dren in return for adver­tis­ing rev­enue,” says Bri­dle. “At least that what I hope they’re doing it for.” Bri­dle soon bridges the machin­ery of kids’ YouTube with the adult ver­sion. “It’s impos­si­ble to know,” he says, who’s post­ing these mil­lions of videos, “or what their motives might be…. Real­ly it’s exact­ly the same mech­a­nism that’s hap­pen­ing across most of our dig­i­tal ser­vices, where it’s impos­si­ble to know where this infor­ma­tion is com­ing from.” The children’s videos are “basi­cal­ly fake news for kids. We’re train­ing them from birth to click on the very first link that comes along, regard­less of what the source is.”

High school and col­lege teach­ers already deal with the prob­lem of stu­dents who can­not judge good infor­ma­tion from bad—and who can­not real­ly be blamed for it, since mil­lions of adults seem unable to do so as well. In sur­vey­ing YouTube children’s videos, Bri­dle finds him­self ask­ing the same ques­tions that arise in response to so much online con­tent: “Is this a bot? Is this a per­son? Is this a troll? What does it mean that we can’t tell the dif­fer­ence between these things any­more?” The lan­guage of online con­tent is a hash of pop­u­lar tags meant to be read by machine algo­rithms, not humans. But real peo­ple per­form­ing in an “algo­rith­mi­cal­ly opti­mized sys­tem” seem forced to “act out these increas­ing­ly bizarre com­bi­na­tions of words.”

With­in this cul­ture, he says, “even if you’re human, you have to end up behav­ing like a machine just to sur­vive.” What makes the sce­nario even dark­er is that machines repli­cate the worst aspects of human behav­ior, not because they’re evil but because that’s what they’re taught to do. To think that tech­nol­o­gy is neu­tral is a dan­ger­ous­ly naïve view, Bri­dle argues. Humans encode their his­tor­i­cal bias­es into the data, then entrust to A.I. such crit­i­cal func­tions as not only children’s enter­tain­ment, but also pre­dic­tive polic­ing and rec­om­mend­ing crim­i­nal sen­tences. As Bri­dle notes in the short video above, A.I. inher­its the racism of its cre­ators, rather than act­ing as a “lev­el­ing force.”

As we’ve seen the CEOs of tech com­pa­nies tak­en to task for the use of their plat­forms for pro­pa­gan­da, dis­in­for­ma­tion, hate speech, and wild con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, we’ve also seen them respond to the prob­lem by promis­ing to solve it with more auto­mat­ed machine learn­ing algo­rithms. In oth­er words, to address the issues with the same tech­nol­o­gy that cre­at­ed them—technology that no one real­ly seems to under­stand. Let­ting “unac­count­able sys­tems” dri­ven almost sole­ly by ads con­trol glob­al net­works with ever-increas­ing influ­ence over world affairs seems wild­ly irre­spon­si­ble, and has already cre­at­ed a sit­u­a­tion, Bri­dle argues in his book, in which impe­ri­al­ism has “moved up to infra­struc­ture lev­el” and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries are the most “pow­er­ful nar­ra­tives of our time,” as he says below.

Bridle’s claims might them­selves sound like alarmist con­spir­a­cies if they weren’t so alarm­ing­ly obvi­ous to most any­one pay­ing atten­tion. In an essay on Medi­um he writes a much more in-depth analy­sis of YouTube kids’ con­tent, devel­op­ing one of the argu­ments in his book. Bri­dle is one of many writ­ers and researchers cov­er­ing this ter­rain. Some oth­er good pop­u­lar books on the sub­ject come from schol­ars and tech­nol­o­gists like Tim Wu and Jaron Lanier. They are well worth read­ing and pay­ing atten­tion to, even if we might dis­agree with some of their argu­ments and pre­scrip­tions.

As Bri­dle him­self argues in his inter­view at The Verge, the best approach to deal­ing with what seems like a night­mar­ish sit­u­a­tion is to devel­op a “sys­temic lit­er­a­cy,” learn­ing “to think clear­ly about sub­jects that seem dif­fi­cult and com­plex,” but which nonethe­less, as we can clear­ly see, have tremen­dous impact on our every­day lives and the soci­ety our kids will inher­it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Infor­ma­tion Over­load Robs Us of Our Cre­ativ­i­ty: What the Sci­en­tif­ic Research Shows

The Case for Delet­ing Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valu­able “Deep Work” Instead, Accord­ing to Prof. Cal New­port

The Diderot Effect: Enlight­en­ment Philoso­pher Denis Diderot Explains the Psy­chol­o­gy of Con­sumerism & Our Waste­ful Spend­ing

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

Tom Waits’ Many Appearances on David Letterman, From 1983 to 2015

From their begin­nings as Late Night on NBC in 1982, to their end as the Late Show in 2015, David Letterman’s net­work talk show years were reli­able guides for those who shared his dis­tinc­tive musi­cal tastes. His impec­ca­ble house band was leg­endary, and he devel­oped an abid­ing love for the Foo Fight­ers in lat­er years, who played him out on his last show over an emo­tion­al mon­tage.

Oth­er stand­out musi­cal guests tend­ed toward the more off-kil­ter. Frank Zap­pa and out­sider singer-song­writer War­ren Zevon were clear favorites, their wry humor rival­ing Letterman’s own. Zevon may not have sold out sta­di­ums but made a per­fect musi­cal foil for the host, even sit­ting in once for Paul Shaf­fer.

“When it comes to music,” said Let­ter­man, intro­duc­ing Zevon, “there’s just a hand­ful of folks that I real­ly love and adore.” Sec­ond only to Zevon was anoth­er song­writer with an even more vaude­vil­lian sen­si­bil­i­ty: Tom Waits, who made his debut on Late Night in 1983 and came back every few years until one of Letterman’s final shows on May 14, 2015.

At the top, you can catch Waits’ debut appear­ance, pro­mot­ing Sword­fishtrom­bones and doing his very Bukows­ki-like spo­ken word bit “Frank’s Wild Years” and “On the Nick­el,” from a lit­tle-known 1980 skid-row themed film. In-between per­for­mances, Waits proves him­self an old hand at ban­ter, his sand­pa­per-on-asphalt voice mak­ing him sound twice as old as his ten­der 34 years at the time.

Waits returned for a sec­ond time in 1986. Fur­ther up, see his third appear­ance the fol­low­ing year, pro­mot­ing the Frank’s Wild Years, the album, a col­lec­tion of songs writ­ten by Waits, his wife Kath­leen Bren­nan, and bassist Greg Cohen for a play of the same name. (He was also com­ing off the pro­duc­tion of Iron­weed, in which he starred with Jack Nichol­son and Meryl Streep.) Just above, see Waits on the Late Show in 1999 per­form­ing “Choco­late Jesus,” a “song for those of you in the audi­ence,” he says, “who have trou­ble get­ting up on Sun­day morn­ings and going to church.”

Waits came back again in 2002 and 2004. In 2006, he released his mas­sive, three-disc Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bas­tards, which cov­ered all of the musi­cal ter­ri­to­ry he had explored over his long career, and then some. Just above, see him do “Lie to Me,” a clas­sic jazz-blues stom­per and high con­trast to his final appear­ance on Let­ter­man, below.

Waits released his last album, Bad as Me in 2011, and appeared on the show the next year. Though he’s been active since then, with act­ing roles and a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Kei­th Richards in 2013, he hasn’t released any new orig­i­nal music yet save a mov­ing new song, “One Last Look,” per­formed exclu­sive­ly on that 2015 appear­ance after his last inter­view with Let­ter­man (and an inter­lop­ing George Clooney).

Despite Letterman’s retire­ment announce­ment after the end of his Late Show run, we’ve seen him return to the small screen to do what he does best on his Net­flix show My Next Guest Needs No Intro­duc­tion. Let’s hope we haven’t also heard the last of Tom Waits. Maybe Let­ter­man will have him on again soon to pro­mote yet anoth­er bril­liant record of the music only Tom Waits can make.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stream All of Tom Waits’ Music in a 24 Hour Playlist: The Com­plete Discog­ra­phy

Tom Waits Sings and Tells Sto­ries in Tom Waits: A Day in Vien­na, a 1979 Aus­tri­an Film

Tom Waits and Kei­th Richards Sing Sea Song “Shenan­doah” for New Pirate-Themed CD: Lis­ten Online

Frank Zappa’s 1980s Appear­ances on The David Let­ter­man Show

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

Charles Bukowski Explains How to Beat Depression: Spend 3–4 Days in Bed and You’ll Get the Juices Flowing Again (NSFW)

Image by Graziano Ori­ga, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

I felt like sleep­ing for five years but they wouldn’t let me

—Charles Bukows­ki, Ham on Rye

I don’t know about you, but the grind gets me down. Day in, day out, the same rou­tine, nev­er a break but the odd vaca­tion. And you know what they say about vaca­tions; when you get back, you need anoth­er one. Used to be days were more reg­u­lar, in the hey­days of the unions. You put in your time and you get some back, enough at least for a good night’s sleep. No more. The machine nev­er sleeps, and nei­ther can we. If you have the good for­tune to live in the U.S., you and I can call our­selves blessed res­i­dents of the most over­worked nation in the world. Euro­peans may have it bet­ter, but maybe not by much.

Screw it, you want to say some­times. I just want to get some rest. We’re enti­tled to it. Accord­ing to that great folk the­o­rist of the grind, Charles Bukows­ki, three or four days in bed may be just the thing to get the juices flow­ing again when spir­its are low, and we don’t even have enough gas in the tank to revolt against a cul­ture that’s try­ing to work us all to death. At the dawn of the age of dereg­u­la­tion and sup­ply-side dom­i­nance, Bukows­ki saw the per­ils of mind-numb­ing, soul-killing, work, cas­ti­gat­ing the “9 to 5,” which is “nev­er 9 to 5,” in a bru­tal­ly hon­est let­ter to his pub­lish­er and bene­fac­tor, John Mar­tin.

Bukowski’s pre­scrip­tion for the depres­sion engen­dered by mod­ern life (aside from black­out drink­ing, that is): Sleep, a need as phys­i­cal­ly urgent as food or water. It wards off mor­bid rumi­na­tion: “sleep­ing in the rain,” he wrote, “helps me for­get things like I am going to die and you are going to die and the cats are going to die.” And when “the Wheaties aren’t going down right,” he says in the spo­ken word piece above, “when I feel a lit­tle weak or depressed,” it’s sleep he rec­om­mends.

I just go to bed for three days and four nights, pull down all the shades and just go to bed. Get up. Shit. Piss. Drink a beer now and then and go back to bed. I come out of that com­plete­ly re-enlight­ened for 2 or 3 months. I get pow­er from that.

I think someday…they’ll say this psy­chot­ic guy knew some­thing that…you know in days ahead and med­i­cine, and how they fig­ure these things out. Every­body should go to bed now and then, when they’re down low and give it up for three or four days. Then they’ll come back good for a while. But we’re so obsessed with, we have to get up and do it and go back to sleep.

Can you get time off for three or four days in bed? Prob­a­bly not. But hey, maybe there are more humane days ahead, as Bukows­ki fore­casts in a rare moment of opti­mism, when jobs won’t lit­er­al­ly kill us, when med­ical sci­ence will give us license to take “sleep leave.”

Peo­ple are nailed to the process­es. Up. Down. Do some­thing. Get up, do some­thing, go to sleep. Get up. They can’t get out of that cir­cle. You’ll see, some­day they’ll say: “Bukows­ki knew.” Lay down for 3 or 4 days till you get your juices back, then get up, look around and do it. But who the hell can do it cause you need a dol­lar. That’s all. That’s a long speech, isn’t it?”

It’s not a long speech at all, but it’s a damned good one.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Charles Bukows­ki Rails Against 9‑to‑5 Jobs in a Bru­tal­ly Hon­est Let­ter (1986)

“Don’t Try”: Charles Bukowski’s Con­cise Phi­los­o­phy of Art and Life

The Last (Faxed) Poem of Charles Bukows­ki

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

Free: Download 70,000+ High-Resolution Images of Chinese Art from Taipei’s National Palace Museum

Dur­ing Chi­na’s Ming and Qing dynas­ties, which togeth­er spanned the years 1386 to 1912, few in the Mid­dle King­dom, let alone else­where, could hope for even a glimpse of the finest Chi­nese art­works of their time. But recent­ly one muse­um has made a trove of art and arti­facts from those dynas­ties and oth­ers dig­i­tal­ly acces­si­ble to the world, and a muse­um out­side main­land Chi­na at that. “Accord­ing to pop­u­lar news web­site The Paper,” writes the BBC’s Ker­ry Allen, “Taipei’s Nation­al Palace Muse­um has placed 70,000 high-qual­i­ty elec­tron­ic images in a free-to-down­load archive so that online users can enjoy its exhi­bi­tions” — and with­out the has­sles of “glass bar­ri­er and light­ing restric­tions.”

First estab­lished as the Palace Muse­um in 1925, after the expul­sion of Chi­na’s last emper­or Puyi, the Nation­al Palace Muse­um began its col­lec­tion with valu­ables belong­ing to the for­mer Impe­r­i­al fam­i­ly. Now, writes Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Claire Voon, it boasts “one of the largest troves of ancient Chi­nese impe­r­i­al arti­facts, from paint­ings to rare books to all sorts of objects made of jade, bronze, ceram­ic, and more.”

The dig­i­ti­za­tion and upload­ing project, called Nation­al Palace Muse­um Open Data, offers an Eng­lish ver­sion site, “although that is cur­rent­ly a rather lim­it­ed and incom­plete resource. The Chi­nese ver­sion fea­tures two por­tals to more effi­cient­ly comb through the museum’s relics. One is specif­i­cal­ly for paint­ing and cal­lig­ra­phy works; the oth­er, for every­thing else.”

Still, the Nation­al Palace Muse­um has been improv­ing its Eng­lish por­tal, which allows search­es not just by cat­e­go­ry of object but by dynasty, a list that now reach­es far beyond the Ming and Qing, all the way back to the Shang Dynasty of 1600 BC to 1046 BC. But even as the Eng­lish ver­sion catch­es up to the Chi­nese one — as of this writ­ing, it con­tains more than 4700 items — it will sure­ly take some time before Nation­al Palace Muse­um Open Data catch­es up with the com­plete hold­ings of the Nation­al Palace Muse­um, with its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of about 700,000 Chi­nese impe­r­i­al arti­facts and art­works span­ning eight mil­len­nia. As with Chi­nese his­to­ry itself, a for­mi­da­ble sub­ject of study if ever there was one, it has to be tak­en one piece at a time.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1.8 Mil­lion Free Works of Art from World-Class Muse­ums: A Meta List of Great Art Avail­able Online

The World’s Old­est Mul­ti­col­or Book, a 1633 Chi­nese Cal­lig­ra­phy & Paint­ing Man­u­al, Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online

Pre-Flight Safe­ty Demon­stra­tion Gets Per­formed as a Mod­ern Dance: A Cre­ative Video from a Tai­wanese Air­line

China’s New Lumi­nous White Library: A Strik­ing Visu­al Intro­duc­tion

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.

French Illustrator Revives the Byzantine Empire with Magnificently Detailed Drawings of Its Monuments & Buildings: Hagia Sophia, Great Palace & More

The Byzan­tine Empire fell in the mid-15th cen­tu­ry, but some­thing of its spir­it still lives on. A great deal of it lives on in the work of the French illus­tra­tor Antoine Hel­bert. “This pas­sion was kin­dled by a birth­day gift from his moth­er,” writes a blog­ger named Herve Ris­son in a post about it. “This gift was a book about Byzan­tium. Hel­bert was 7 years old.” Like many an inter­est instilled ear­ly and deeply enough in child­hood, Hel­bert’s fas­ci­na­tion turned into an obses­sion — or any­way, what looks like it must be an obses­sion, since it has moti­vat­ed him to cre­ate such mag­nif­i­cent­ly detailed recre­ations of Byzan­tium in its hey­day.

“Attract­ed by the archi­tec­ture,” Ris­son writes of Hel­bert, “he has also a strong pas­sion for the his­to­ry of the Byzan­tine Empire, much maligned and despised, in com­par­i­son with the his­to­ry of the ‘real’ Roman Empire.”

That’s not to say that the Byzan­tine Empire, also known as the East­ern Roman Empire, has received no atten­tion, but undoubt­ed­ly it has received less than the West­ern Roman Empire it sur­vived in the fifth cen­tu­ry. Still, few his­tor­i­cal empires of any kind receive such an exquis­ite degree of atten­tion from any sin­gle liv­ing artist.

You can see some of Hel­bert’s work on his site, which is divid­ed into two sec­tions: one for scenes of Byzan­tium, and one for the archi­tec­ture of Byzan­tium. The lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, images from which you see here, includes such world-famous land­marks as Hagia Sophia, Boukoleon Palace, and the Great Palace of Con­stan­tino­ple — the city now known as Istan­bul, Turkey. The intact Hagia Sophia con­tin­ues to attract tourists in huge num­bers, but those who vis­it the Great Palace, or what remains of it, have to use their imag­i­na­tion to get a sense of what it must have looked like in the Byzan­tine Empire’s hey­day.

Hel­bert, who only made his first vis­it to Istan­bul at the age of 35, has put in that amount of imag­i­na­tive work and much more besides. “Since then,” writes Ris­son, Hel­bert “has tak­en great care to res­ur­rect the city of the emper­ors, with great atten­tion to details and to the sources avail­able. What he can’t find, he invents, but always with a great care for the his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy.” Indeed, many of Hel­bert’s illus­tra­tions don’t, at first glance, look like illus­tra­tions at all, but more like what you’d come up with if you trav­eled back to the Con­stan­tino­ple of fif­teen or so cen­turies ago with a cam­era. “The project has no lucra­tive goal,” Ris­son notes. “It’s a pas­sion. A byzan­tine pas­sion!”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Map­ping the Sounds of Greek Byzan­tine Church­es: How Researchers Are Cre­at­ing “Muse­ums of Lost Sound”

The His­to­ry of Byzan­tium Pod­cast Picks Up Where The His­to­ry of Rome Left Off

How Ara­bic Trans­la­tors Helped Pre­serve Greek Phi­los­o­phy … and the Clas­si­cal Tra­di­tion

Hear the Hagia Sophia’s Awe-Inspir­ing Acoustics Get Recre­at­ed with Com­put­er Sim­u­la­tions, and Let Your­self Get Trans­port­ed Back to the Mid­dle Ages

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 Aretha Franklin Turned Otis Redding’s “Respect” Into a Civil Rights and Feminist Anthem

“R‑E-S-P-E-C‑T…” You know the rest.

When R&B leg­end Otis Red­ding, who wrote and first record­ed “Respect,” heard Aretha Franklin’s ver­sion of the song, he report­ed­ly said, “well, I guess it’s that girl’s song now.”

Aretha didn’t just cov­er Redding’s song, she “flipped the script,” notes The Wash­ing­ton Post video above, turn­ing his call for enti­tle­ment into a demand for empow­er­ment and cre­at­ing a fem­i­nist and civ­il rights anthem. She changed the lyrics to suit her, spelled it out in the cho­rus, and added the “sock it to me” refrain with her sis­ters Car­olyn and Erma—both suc­cess­ful soul singers in their own right—backing her up.

Franklin’s 1967 record­ing was “a dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence that was unapolo­getic, uncom­pro­mis­ing and unflinch­ing… a demand for some­thing that could no longer be denied…. The coun­try had nev­er heard any­thing like it.”

After Aretha reshaped it, the song “took on a uni­ver­sal­i­ty the orig­i­nal nev­er had,” says Franklin’s biog­ra­ph­er David Ritz. “It is a cred­it to her genius she was able to do so much with it. She should have been list­ed as a co-pro­duc­er of the song.”

Indeed, she might have been cred­it­ed as a co-writer of her ver­sion, but in a trag­ic irony, her biggest hit, in which she pro­claimed finan­cial inde­pen­dence and per­son­al pow­er, net­ted her exact­ly zero in roy­al­ties.

“For the rough­ly sev­en mil­lion times the song has been played on Amer­i­can radio sta­tions,” notes Ben Sis­ario at The New York Times, “she was paid noth­ing” due to “an aspect of copy­right law that has long irked the record busi­ness,” in which radio sta­tions pay the writ­ers and pub­lish­ers of songs and not the per­form­ers. This inequity has made Aretha’s “Respect” an anthem for musi­cians fight­ing for their rights as well.

But first and fore­most, Franklin’s “’Respect’… caught on with the black pow­er move­ment and fem­i­nists and human rights activists across the world,” notes the Post’s DeNeen Brown. “The coun­try was a tin­der box, as peo­ple of col­or demand­ed equal­i­ty and jus­tice that had been too long in com­ing.” Despite land­mark civ­il rights cas­es in the Supreme Court and pas­sage of the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act, resis­tance to change in both the North and South was sus­tained and often bru­tal­ly vio­lent.

For all its deep res­o­nance in the black com­mu­ni­ty, “Respect” spoke to every­one, char­ac­ter­iz­ing defi­ance to a social order that seemed intent on pre­serv­ing oppres­sive hier­ar­chies and his­toric injus­tices; “the song imme­di­ate­ly crossed over, oblit­er­at­ing col­or lines.” Released in April of 1967, it hit Num­ber One on the charts and “stayed there for at least 12 weeks.” It may not have made Franklin the mon­ey she deserved—though it made a mint for Otis Redding—but her record­ing pro­pelled her from star­dom to inter­na­tion­al super­star­dom. Hear her ver­sion fur­ther up and Redding’s orig­i­nal record­ing just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Aretha Franklin’s Pitch-Per­fect Per­for­mance in The Blues Broth­ers, the Film That Rein­vig­o­rat­ed Her Career (1980)

Aretha Franklin’s Most Pow­er­ful Ear­ly Per­for­mances: “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “Say a Lit­tle Prayer” & More

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

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.