The Hieronymus Bosch Demon Bird Was Spotted Riding the New York City Subway the Other Day…

To me, the great promise of home­school­ing is that one day your child might, on their own ini­tia­tive, ride the New York City sub­ways dressed in a home­made, needle­felt­ed cos­tume mod­eled on the ice-skat­ing bird mes­sen­ger from Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Temp­ta­tion of St. Antho­ny.

Rae Stim­son, aka Rae Swon, a Brook­lyn-based artist who did just that a lit­tle over a week ago, describes her upbring­ing thus­ly:

Grow­ing up I was home schooled in the coun­try­side by my mom who is a sculp­tor and my dad who is an oil painter, car­pen­ter, and many oth­er things. Most of my days were spent draw­ing and observ­ing nature rather than doing nor­mal school work. Learn­ing tra­di­tion­al art tech­niques had always been very impor­tant to me so that I can play a role in keep­ing these beau­ti­ful meth­ods alive dur­ing this con­tem­po­rary trend of dig­i­tal, non­rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al, and con­cep­tu­al art. I make tra­di­tion­al art­work in a wide vari­ety of medi­ums, includ­ing wood­carv­ing, oil paint­ing, etch­ing, nee­dle felt­ing, and alter­na­tive process pho­tog­ra­phy.

Not every home­school­er, or, for that mat­ter, Wal­dorf stu­dent, is into nee­dle felt­ing. It only seems that way when you com­pare the num­bers to their coun­ter­parts in more tra­di­tion­al school set­tings…

Even the tini­est crea­ture pro­duced by this method is a labor inten­sive propo­si­tion, where­in loose woolen fibers are soaked, soaped, and jabbed with a nee­dle until they come togeth­er in a rough mat, suit­able for shap­ing into the whimsical—or demonic—figure of its creator’s choos­ing.

Stim­son matched her full-head bird mask to the one in the paint­ing by equip­ping it with gloves, a blan­ket cloak, long vel­vet ears, and a leaf­less twig emerg­ing from the spout of its hand-paint­ed fun­nel hat.

An accom­plished milliner, Stim­son was drawn to her subject’s unusu­al head­gear, telling HuffPo’s Priscil­la Frank how she wished she could ask Bosch about the var­i­ous ele­ments of his “beau­ti­ful demon-bird” and “what, if any, sym­bol­ic sig­nif­i­cance they hold.”

The answer lies in art his­to­ry writer Stan­ley Meisler’s Smith­son­ian mag­a­zine arti­cle, “The World of Bosch”:

…a mon­ster on ice skates approach­es three fiends who are hid­ing under a bridge across which pious men are help­ing an uncon­scious Saint Antho­ny. The mon­ster, wear­ing a badge that Bax says can be rec­og­nized as the emblem of a mes­sen­ger, bears a let­ter that is sup­pos­ed­ly a protest of Saint Antho­ny’s treat­ment. But the let­ter, accord­ing to (Bosch schol­ar and author Dirk) Bax, is in mir­ror writ­ing, a sure sign that the mon­ster and the fiends are mock­ing the saint. The mon­ster wears a fun­nel that sym­bol­izes intem­per­ance and waste­ful­ness, sports a dry twig and a ball that sig­ni­fy licen­tious mer­ry­mak­ing, and has lop­ping ears that show its fool­ish­ness. All this might have been obvi­ous to the artist’s con­tem­po­raries when the work was cre­at­ed, but the aver­age mod­ern view­er can only hope to under­stand the over­all intent of a Bosch paint­ing, while regard­ing the scores of bizarre mon­sters and demons as a kind of dark and cru­el com­ic relief.

A field guide to Bosch’s bizarre images in the same arti­cle gives view­ers leave to inter­pret any and all fun­nels in his work as a cod­ed ref­er­ence to deceit and intem­per­ance… per­haps at the hands of a false doc­tor or alchemist!

Not every sub­way rid­er caught the arty ref­er­ence. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, some even refused to acknowl­edge the strange being in their midst. Those folks must not share Stimson’s ded­i­ca­tion to exam­in­ing “that which is unfa­mil­iar, seek­ing out all that is yet unknown to you in both art and life.”

With­in 24 hours of its Met­ro­pol­i­tan Tran­sit Author­i­ty adven­ture, the one-of-a-kind demon-bird cos­tume was sold on Etsy.

(Holler if you wish Stim­son had kept it around long enough to take a spin on the ice at Rock­e­feller Cen­ter or Bryant Park, where the major­i­ty of patrons would no doubt be glid­ing around in igno­rance that, as per Meisler, Bosch equat­ed skates with fol­ly.)

See more of Rae Stimson’s nee­dle-felt­ed cre­ations, includ­ing a full-body alien robot cos­tume and a sculp­ture of author Joyce Car­ol Oates with her pet chick­en in her Etsy shop.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Fig­ures from Hierony­mus Bosch’s “The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights” Come to Life as Fine Art Piñatas

Hierony­mus Bosch Fig­urines: Col­lect Sur­re­al Char­ac­ters from Bosch’s Paint­ings & Put Them on Your Book­shelf

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Hierony­mus Bosch’s Bewil­der­ing Mas­ter­piece The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is a New York City-based home­school­er, author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her at The Tank NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 24 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

When Led Zeppelin Reunited and Crashed and Burned at Live Aid (1985)

I’ve tend­ed to avoid reunion shows from my favorite bands of old, and I’ve missed some great per­for­mances because of it, I’m told, and also a few clunk­ers and for­get­table nos­tal­gia trips. But some­times it real­ly doesn’t mat­ter how good or bad the band is ten or twen­ty years past their prime—or that one or more of their orig­i­nal mem­bers has left their mor­tal coil or shuf­fled off into retire­ment. It’s such a thrill for fans to see their heroes that they’ll over­look, or fail to notice, seri­ous onstage prob­lems.

The crowd of thou­sands at Philly’s JFK Sta­di­um explod­ed  after “Rock and Roll,” Led Zeppelin’s open­er to their 1985 Live Aid reunion gig (above), with Phil Collins and Chic’s Tony Thomp­son dou­bling on drum duties (because it takes two great drum­mers to equal one John Bon­ham, I guess). But accord­ing to the musi­cians them­selves, the show was an absolute fail—so much so that Collins near­ly walked off­stage in the mid­dle of the 20-minute set. “It was a dis­as­ter real­ly,” he said in a 2014 inter­view, “It wasn’t my fault it was crap.”

Collins expands on the prob­lems in his can­did auto­bi­og­ra­phy:

I know the wheels are falling off from ear­ly on in the set. I can’t hear Robert clear­ly from where I’m sat, but I can hear enough to know that he’s not on top of his game. Dit­to Jim­my. I don’t remem­ber play­ing ‘Rock and Roll,’ but obvi­ous­ly I did. But I do remem­ber an awful lot of time where I can hear what Robert decries as ‘knit­ting’: fan­cy drum­ming…. you can see me mim­ing, play­ing the air, get­ting out of the way lest there be a train wreck. If I’d known it was to be a two-drum­mer band, I would have removed myself from pro­ceed­ings long before I got any­where near Philadel­phia.

As for the Zep­pelin mem­bers prop­er, Plant and Page had no fond mem­o­ries of the gig. “It was hor­ren­dous,” said Plant in 1988. “Emo­tion­al­ly, I was eat­ing every word that I had uttered. And I was hoarse. I’d done three gigs on the trot before I got to Live Aid.” Page, writes Rolling Stone, “was hand­ed a gui­tar right before walk­ing onstage that was out of tune.” “My main mem­o­ries,” he lat­er recalled, “were of total pan­ic.” Appar­ent­ly, no one thought to ask John Paul Jones about the show.

Bare­ly rehearsed (Jones arrived “vir­tu­al­ly the same day as the show”) and with fail­ing mon­i­tors ensur­ing the band could hard­ly hear them­selves, they strug­gled through “Rock and Roll,” “Whole Lot­ta Love,” and “Stair­way to Heav­en.” The footage, which the band scrapped from the 2004 DVD release, doesn’t show them at their best, for sure, but it’s maybe not quite as bad as they remem­bered it either (see the full con­cert above).

In any case, Plant was so inspired that he tried to reunite the band, with Thomp­son back on drums, in secret rehearsals a few months lat­er. The attempt was “embar­rass­ing,” he’s since said. “We did about two days…. Jonesy played key­boards, I played bass. It sound­ed like David Byrne meets Hüsker Dü.” Now that is a reunion I’d pay good mon­ey to see.

22 years lat­er, at Lon­don’s O2 Are­na, the band was con­fi­dent and total­ly on top of their game once again for the Ahmet Erte­gun Trib­ute Con­cert, with Jason Bon­ham behind the kit. Prob­a­bly their last per­for­mance ever, and it’s damned good. See “Black Dog” above and buy the full con­cert film here.

The clip below lets you see more than 90 min­utes of Led Zep­pelin reunion con­certs. Beyond their Live Aid show, it includes per­for­mances at Atlantic Records’ 4oth anniver­sary (1988) and at the Rock­’n Roll Hall of Fame (1995).

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Led Zeppelin’s First Record­ed Con­cert Ever (1968)

What Makes John Bon­ham Such a Good Drum­mer? A New Video Essay Breaks Down His Inim­itable Style

Led Zep­pelin Plays One of Its Ear­li­est Con­certs (Dan­ish TV, 1969)

Jim­my Page Describes the Cre­ation of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lot­ta Love”

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

William Shatner Is Releasing a Christmas Album with Iggy Pop & Henry Rollins : Get a First Listen to “Jingle Bells”

You know what they say: each year the Christ­mas sea­son seems to start a lit­tle ear­li­er. Here it’s not yet Octo­ber, and already we’re hear­ing “Jin­gle Bells” — but then, this ver­sion does­n’t sound quite like any we’ve heard before. The song comes as the open­ing num­ber on Shat­ner Claus: The Christ­mas Album, which promis­es exact­ly what it sounds like it does. Offi­cial­ly drop­ping on Octo­ber 26th, it will con­tain, accord­ing to Con­se­quence of Sound, William Shat­ner’s “unique take on 13 hol­i­day sta­ples,” and fea­ture guest con­trib­u­tors like Iggy Pop on “Silent Night,” ZZ Top’s Bil­ly Gib­bons on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer,” and for­mer Black Flag front­man and all-around provo­ca­teur Hen­ry Rollins on “Jin­gle Bells,” a col­lab­o­ra­tion you can stream just above.

You may not describe Shat­ner’s dis­tinc­tive half-singing-half-speak­ing style as pos­sessed of a great “range,” tech­ni­cal­ly speak­ing, but who can doubt the for­mi­da­ble cul­tur­al range of his musi­cal career? On his debut album The Trans­formed Man fifty years ago he cov­ered the Bea­t­les, ten years lat­er he took on “Rock­et Man,” and more recent­ly he appeared on Dr. Demen­to’s punk album singing The Cramps’ “Garbage Man” with Weird Al Yankovic.

Shat­ner Claus demon­strates that the for­mer Cap­tain Kirk’s inter­est in punk rock has­n’t dis­si­pat­ed, and the pair­ing of him and no less an icon of that genre makes a cer­tain kind of sense, see­ing as both of them have spent decades blur­ring the per­for­ma­tive line between singing and the spo­ken word, each in his own dis­tinc­tive way.

Per­haps it comes as no sur­prise, then, that Shat­ner and Rollins are friends, and have been since they first record­ed togeth­er on Shat­ner’s album Has Been in 2004. Rollins once described Shat­ner to rock site Blab­ber­mouth as “extra­or­di­nar­i­ly friend­ly, a very ener­gized guy” despite being three decades the  mid­dle-aged Rollins’ senior. “He impress­es me in that he’s a guy who’s real­ly fig­ured out what he likes,” espe­cial­ly foot­ball: “I’ve been to the Shat­ner house many times for din­ner, for Super Bowl Sun­day, for foot­ball games. I don’t watch foot­ball, but I like his friends. I’m a shy per­son. I don’t real­ly go out of my way to hang out but I like him and his wife… and I like all the food he lays out.” The vast game-day spreads at chez Shat­ner have also giv­en Rollins sto­ries to tell at his spo­ken-word shows, and lis­ten­ing to Shat­ner Claus, you have to won­der: what must they have for Christ­mas din­ner?

via Con­se­quence of Sound

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dr. Demento’s New Punk Album Fea­tures William Shat­ner Singing The Cramps, Weird Al Yankovic Singing The Ramones & Much More

A Cult Clas­sic: William Shat­ner Sings Elton John’s “Rock­et Man” at 1978 Sci­Fi Awards Show

William Shat­ner Sings Near­ly Blas­phe­mous Ver­sion of “Lucy in the Sky with Dia­monds” (1968)

Stream a Playlist of 68 Punk Rock Christ­mas Songs: The Ramones, The Damned, Bad Reli­gion & More

Hear the 20 Favorite Punk Albums of Black Flag Front­man Hen­ry Rollins

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 Rare 1980s CDs by Lou Reed, Devo & Talking Heads That Combined Music with Computer Graphics

When it first hit the mar­ket in 1982, the com­pact disc famous­ly promised “per­fect sound that lasts for­ev­er.” But inno­va­tion has a way of march­ing con­tin­u­al­ly on, and nat­u­ral­ly the inno­va­tors soon start­ed won­der­ing: what if per­fect sound isn’t enough? What if con­sumers want some­thing to go with it, some­thing to look at? And so, when com­pact disc co-devel­op­ers Sony and Philips updat­ed its stan­dards, they includ­ed doc­u­men­ta­tion on the use of the for­mat’s chan­nels not occu­pied by audio data. So was born the CD+G, which boast­ed “not only the CD’s full, dig­i­tal sound, but also video infor­ma­tion — graph­ics — view­able on any tele­vi­sion set or video mon­i­tor.”

That text comes from a pack­age scan post­ed by the online CD+G Muse­um, whose Youtube chan­nel fea­tures rips of near­ly every record released on the for­mat, begin­ning with the first, the Fire­sign The­atre’s Eat or Be Eat­en.

When it came out, lis­ten­ers who hap­pened to own a CD+G‑compatible play­er (or a CD+G‑compatible video game con­sole, my own choice at the time hav­ing been the Tur­bo­grafx-16) could see that beloved “head com­e­dy” troupe’s dense­ly lay­ered stu­dio pro­duc­tion and even more dense­ly lay­ered humor accom­pa­nied by images ren­dered in psy­che­del­ic col­or — or as psy­che­del­ic as images can get with only six­teen col­ors avail­able on the palette, not to men­tion a res­o­lu­tion of 288 pix­els by 192 pix­els, not much larg­er than a icon on the home screen of a mod­ern smart­phone. Those lim­i­ta­tions may make CD+G graph­ics look unim­pres­sive today, but just imag­ine what a cut­ting-edge nov­el­ty they must have seemed in the late 1980s when they first appeared.

Dis­play­ing lyrics for karaoke singers was the most obvi­ous use of CD+G tech­nol­o­gy, but its short lifes­pan also saw a fair few exper­i­ments on such oth­er major-label releas­es, all view­able at the CD+G Muse­um, as Lou Reed’s New York, which com­bines lyrics with dig­i­tized pho­tog­ra­phy of the epony­mous city; Talk­ing Heads’ Naked, which pro­vides musi­cal infor­ma­tion such as the chord changes and instru­ments play­ing on each phrase; Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach’s St. Matthew Pas­sion, which trans­lates the libret­to along­side works of art; and Devo’s sin­gle “Dis­co Dancer,” which tells the ori­gin sto­ry of those “five Spud­boys from Ohio.” With these and almost every oth­er CD+G release avail­able at the CD+G muse­um, you’ll have no short­age of not just back­ground music but back­ground visu­als for your next late-80s-ear­ly-90s-themed par­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 1970s Ani­ma­tions of Songs by Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce & The Kinks, Aired on The Son­ny & Cher Show

The Sto­ry of How Beethoven Helped Make It So That CDs Could Play 74 Min­utes of Music

Dis­cov­er the Lost Ear­ly Com­put­er Art of Telidon, Canada’s TV Pro­to-Inter­net from the 1970s

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.

Why Should You Read Edgar Allan Poe? An Animated Video Explains

His gloomy, haunt­ed vis­age adorns the cov­ers of col­lect­ed works, pub­li­ca­tions of whose like he would nev­er see in his life­time. Edgar Allan Poe died in penury and near-obscu­ri­ty, and might have been for­got­ten had his work not been turned into sen­sa­tion­al­ized, abridged, adap­ta­tions posthu­mous­ly, a fate he might not have wished on his most hat­ed lit­er­ary rival.

But Poe sur­vived car­i­ca­ture to become known as one of the great­est of Amer­i­can writ­ers in any genre. A pio­neer of psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror and sci­ence fic­tion, founder of the detec­tive sto­ry, poet of loss and mourn­ing, and inci­sive lit­er­ary crit­ic whose prin­ci­ples informed his own work so close­ly that we can use essays like his 1846 “The Phi­los­o­phy of Com­po­si­tion” as keys to unlock the for­mal prop­er­ties of his sto­ries and nar­ra­tive poems.

In the short TED-Ed video above, script­ed by Poe schol­ar Scott Peeples of the Col­lege of Charleston, we are intro­duced to many of the qual­i­ties of form and style that make Poe dis­tinc­tive, and that made him stand out among a crowd of pop­u­lar hor­ror writ­ers of the time. There are his prin­ci­ples, elab­o­rat­ed in his essay, which state that one should be able to read a sto­ry in one sit­ting, and that every word in the sto­ry must count.

These rules pro­duced what Poe called the “Uni­ty of Effect,” which “goes far beyond fear. Poe’s sto­ries use vio­lence and hor­ror to explore the para­dox­es and mys­ter­ies of love, grief, and guilt, while resist­ing sim­ple inter­pre­ta­tions or clear moral mes­sages. And while they often hint at super­nat­ur­al ele­ments, the true dark­ness they explore is the human mind.”

This obser­va­tion leads to an analy­sis of Poe’s unre­li­able nar­ra­tors, par­tic­u­lar­ly in sto­ries like The Tell-Tale Heart. But there is anoth­er aspect to Poe—one which makes his unre­li­able voic­es so com­pelling. Even when the sto­ries seem incred­i­ble, the events bizarre, the nar­ra­tors mani­a­cal, we believe them whole­heart­ed­ly. And this has much to do with the fram­ing con­ven­tions Poe uses to draw read­ers in and impli­cate them, forc­ing them to iden­ti­fy with the sto­ries’ tellers.

For exam­ple, “Ms. Found in a Bot­tle,” the very first sto­ry in Poe’s posthu­mous col­lec­tion, Tales of Mys­tery and Imag­i­na­tion, opens with an epi­graph from French libret­tist Quinault’s opera Atys, an adap­tion of one of Ovid’s sto­ries. The lines trans­late to “He who has but a moment to live has no longer any­thing to dis­sem­ble.”

We are invit­ed into a con­fi­dence through the door­way of this device—a clas­si­cal, and neo­clas­si­cal, ref­er­ence to truth-telling, a sober, learned lit­er­ary stamp of author­i­ty. As the name­less nar­ra­tor intro­duces him­self, he makes sure to place him­self in anoth­er ancient tra­di­tion, Pyrrhon­ism, a skep­ti­cal phi­los­o­phy con­cerned with epis­te­mol­o­gy, or how it is we can know what we know.

The nar­ra­tor assures us that “no per­son could be less liable than myself to be led away from the severe precincts of truth by the ignes fatui of super­sti­tion.” Though we may doubt this bold asser­tion, and the per­son mak­ing it, we might also be con­vinced of our own unshake­able ratio­nal­i­ty and skep­ti­cism. These are the moves, to put it plain­ly, of stage magi­cians, moun­te­banks, and con­fi­dence men, and Poe was one of the great­est of them all.

He flat­ters his read­ers’ intel­li­gence, draws them close enough to see his hands mov­ing, then picks their com­fort­able assump­tions from their pock­ets. Poe under­stood what many of his peers did not: read­ers love to be conned by a juicy yarn, but it must be real­ly good—it must show us some­thing we did not see before, and that we could, per­haps, only look at it indi­rect­ly, through a pleas­ing act of aes­thet­ic (self) decep­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load The Com­plete Works of Edgar Allan Poe on His Birth­day

7 Tips from Edgar Allan Poe on How to Write Vivid Sto­ries and Poems

Edgar Allan Poe’s the Raven: Watch an Award-Win­ning Short Film That Mod­ern­izes Poe’s Clas­sic Tale

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

Hear Nico’s Pre-Velvets Recording, “I’m Not Sayin,” Backed by the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones & Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (1965)

For most of us, the Teu­ton­ic singer Nico has always been asso­ci­at­ed with the first Vel­vet Under­ground album and then a series of fas­ci­nat­ing solo albums (often with Vel­vets con­nec­tions) released dur­ing the ‘70s and ‘80s before her untime­ly death in 1988. The voice and the look are unmis­tak­able, that far away stare, that detached, brood­ing and flat tone. It might also feel like she mag­i­cal­ly appeared from a cloud of smoke in 1967 New York City.

But before she met Andy Warhol, the for­mer teen mod­el had crossed paths with a who’s who of ’50 and ‘60s cool: Coco Chanel, Mario Lan­za, Fed­eri­co Felli­ni (who cast her in a bit part in La Dolce Vita), Lee Stras­berg, Jean Paul Bel­mon­do, Alain Delon (who alleged­ly fathered her first child).

In 1965 Nico met and began dat­ing Rolling Stones’ gui­tarist Bri­an Jones, and that’s how we get to the video above. Already hav­ing sung in night­clubs in New York, her smoky voice was estab­lished, but Jones con­vinced the Stones’ man­ag­er Andrew Loog Old­ham to sign her to his bou­tique label Imme­di­ate, which had just start­ed.

Old­ham brought in his reli­able stu­dio musi­cian and A&R man, a young gui­tarist called Jim­my Page, to pro­duce and play gui­tar (along with Jones) on both sides of Nico’s first sin­gle, the A‑side “I’m Not Say­ing” (a Gor­don Light­foot cov­er) and the B‑Side “The Last Mile” (writ­ten by Page and Old­ham). As a ses­sion musi­cian, Page is on a *lot* of British hit sin­gles, includ­ing Petu­la Clark’s “Down­town,” Them’s “Here Comes the Night,” Mar­i­anne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By,” and a sur­pris­ing amount more.

The result­ing pleas­ant-enough sin­gle didn’t exact­ly rock the charts, but it was a first foot in the door. Jones would intro­duce Nico to Andy Warhol soon after that and she began to appear in some of his films like Chelsea Girls. Des­tiny was right around the cor­ner.

For a singer so tied to the Vel­vets, it’s worth remem­ber­ing she was only on three songs on the 11 song debut album and then left. But her place in rock his­to­ry was assured, even though it was the odd­est of team-ups at the time.

On a side note, the video for “I’m Not Say­ing” was shot at Canary Wharf on the Thames, long before it was turned into shiny tow­ers for the rich. It’s a win­dow back into a very dif­fer­ent time.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Crazy, Icon­ic Life of Nico; Andy Warhol Muse, Vel­vet Under­ground Vocal­ist, Enig­ma in Amber

Nico Sings “Chelsea Girls” in the Famous Chelsea Hotel

Pat­ti Smith’s New Haunt­ing Trib­ute to Nico: Hear Three Tracks

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.

How Meditation Can Change Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Buddhist Practice

Nir­vana is a place on earth. Pop­u­lar­ly thought of a Bud­dhist “heav­en,” reli­gious schol­ars dis­cuss the con­cept not as an arrival at some­place oth­er than the phys­i­cal place we are, but as the extinc­tion of suf­fer­ing in the mind, achieved in large part through inten­sive med­i­ta­tion. If this state of enlight­en­ment exists in the here and now—the sci­en­tif­ic inquir­er is jus­ti­fied in asking—shouldn’t it be some­thing we can mea­sure?

Maybe it is. Psy­chol­o­gist Daniel Gole­man and neu­ro­sci­en­tist Richard David­son set out to do just that when they flew sev­er­al “Olympic lev­el med­i­ta­tors” from Nepal, India, and France to Davidson’s lab at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin.

Once they put the med­i­ta­tors under David­son’s scan­ners, researchers found that “their brain waves are real­ly dif­fer­ent,” as Gole­man says in the Big Think video above.

Per­haps the most remark­able find­ings in the Olympic lev­el med­i­ta­tors has to do with what’s called a gam­ma wave. All of us get gam­ma for a very short peri­od when we solve a prob­lem we’ve been grap­pling with, even if it’s some­thing that’s vexed us for months. We get about half sec­ond of gam­ma; it’s the strongest wave in the EEG spec­trum….

What was stun­ning was that the Olympic lev­el med­i­ta­tors, these are peo­ple who have done up to 62,000 life­time hours of med­i­ta­tion, their brain­wave shows gam­ma very strong all the time as a last­ing trait just no mat­ter what they’re doing. It’s not a state effect, it’s not dur­ing their med­i­ta­tion alone, but it’s just their every day state of mind. We actu­al­ly have no idea what that means expe­ri­en­tial­ly. Sci­ence has nev­er seen it before.

The med­i­ta­tors them­selves describe the state of mind in terms con­sis­tent with thou­sands of years of lit­er­a­ture on the sub­ject; “it’s very spa­cious and you’re wide open, you’re pre­pared for what­ev­er may come.” Gole­man and David­son have elab­o­rat­ed their find­ings for the pub­lic in the book Altered Traits: Sci­ence Reveals How Med­i­ta­tion Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. For more on Davidson’s work on the sub­ject, see his talk at Google, “Trans­form Your Mind, Change Your Brain.”

The bar to enlight­en­ment seems high. Gole­man and Davidson’s “Olympic lev­el” test sub­jects spent a min­i­mum of 62,000 hours in med­i­ta­tion, which amounts to some­thing like 20 years of eight-hour days, sev­en days a week (and maybe explains why the path to enlight­en­ment is often spread out over sev­er­al life­times in the tra­di­tion). But that doesn’t mean med­i­ta­tion in less­er dos­es does not have sig­nif­i­cant effects on the brain as well.

As Gole­man explains in the video above, med­i­ta­tion induces a state of hyper-focus, or “flow,” that acts as a gym for your brain: low­er­ing stress, rais­ing the lev­el of resilience under stress, and increas­ing focus “in the midst of dis­trac­tions.” At some point, he says, these tem­po­rary “altered states” become per­ma­nent “altered traits.” Along the way, as with any con­sis­tent, long-term work­out pro­gram, med­i­ta­tors devel­op strength, sta­mi­na, and flex­i­bil­i­ty the longer they stick with the prac­tice. Find resources to get you start­ed in the Relat­eds below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Bud­dhism & Neu­ro­science Can Help You Change How Your Mind Works: A New Course by Best­selling Author Robert Wright

Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions From UCLA: Boost Your Aware­ness & Ease Your Stress

Med­i­ta­tion 101: A Short, Ani­mat­ed Beginner’s Guide

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

Hear Dylan Thomas Recite His Classic Poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

When Dylan Thomas was a lit­tle boy his father would read Shake­speare to him at bed­time. The boy loved the sound of the words, even if he was too young to under­stand the mean­ing. His father, David John Thomas, taught Eng­lish at a gram­mar school in south­ern Wales but want­ed to be a poet. He was bit­ter­ly dis­ap­point­ed with his sta­tion in life.

Many years lat­er when the father lay on his deathbed, Dylan Thomas wrote a poem that cap­tures the pro­found sense of empa­thy he felt for the dying old man. The poem, “Do not go gen­tle into that good night,” was writ­ten in 1951, only two years before the poet­’s own untime­ly death at the age of 39. Despite the impos­si­bil­i­ty of escap­ing death, the anguished son implores his father to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The poem is a beau­ti­ful exam­ple of the vil­lanelle form, which fea­tures two rhymes and two alter­nat­ing refrains in verse arranged into five ter­cets, or three-lined stan­zas, and a con­clud­ing qua­train in which the two refrains are brought togeth­er as a cou­plet at the very end. You can hear Thomas’s famous 1952 recital of the poem above. To see the poem’s struc­ture and read along as you lis­ten, click here to open the text in a new win­dow.

And to hear more of Thomas recit­ing his own works (and more), please vis­it our pri­or post 8 Glo­ri­ous Hours of Dylan Thomas Read­ing Poetry–His Own & Oth­ers’.

All poems have been added to our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books.

Note: an ear­li­er ver­sion of this post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in August 2012.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Antho­ny Hop­kins Reads ‘Do Not Go Gen­tle into That Good Night’

Hear Dylan Thomas Read Three Poems by W.H. Auden, Includ­ing “Sep­tem­ber 1, 1939”

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.