The Band’s Classic Song, “The Weight,” Sung by Musicians Around the World: With Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr & Other Special Guests

Rob­bie Robertson’s “The Weight,” the Band’s most beloved song, has the qual­i­ty of Dylan’s impres­sion­is­tic nar­ra­tives. Ellip­ti­cal vignettes that seem to make very lit­tle sense at first lis­ten, with a cho­rus that cuts right to the heart of the human predica­ment. “Robert­son admits in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy,” notes Patrick Doyle at Rolling Stone, “that he strug­gled to artic­u­late to pro­duc­er John Simon what the song was even about.” An artist needn’t under­stand a cre­ation for it to res­onate with lis­ten­ers.

A read of the “The Weight”’s lyrics make its poignant themes evident—each stan­za intro­duces char­ac­ters who illus­trate some sor­row or small kind­ness. The cho­rus offers what so many peo­ple seem to crave these days: a promise of rest from cease­less toil, free­dom from con­stant trans­ac­tions, a com­mu­ni­ty that shoul­ders everyone’s bur­dens…. “It’s almost like it’s good med­i­cine,” Robert­son told Doyle, “and it’s so suit­able right now.” He refers specif­i­cal­ly to the song’s revival in a dom­i­nant musi­cal form of our iso­la­tion days—the online sing-along.

Though its lyrics aren’t near­ly as easy to remem­ber as, say, “Lean on Me,” Robertson’s clas­sic, espe­cial­ly the big har­monies of its cho­rus (which every­one knows by heart), is ide­al for big ensem­bles like the globe-span­ning col­lec­tion assem­bled by Play­ing for Change, “a group ded­i­cat­ed to ‘open­ing up how peo­ple see the world through the lens of music and art.” The group’s pro­duc­ers, Doyle writes, “recent­ly spent two years film­ing artists around the world, from Japan to Bahrain to Los Ange­les, per­form­ing the song,” with Ringo Starr on drums and Robert­son on rhythm gui­tar. They began on the 50th anniver­sary of the song’s release.

The per­for­mances they cap­tured are flaw­less, and mixed togeth­er seam­less­ly. If you want to know how this was achieved, watch the short behind the scenes video above with pro­duc­er Sebas­t­ian Robert­son, who hap­pens to be Rob­bie’s son. He starts by prais­ing the stel­lar con­tri­bu­tions of Larkin Poe, two sis­ters whose root­sy coun­try rock updates the All­man Broth­ers for the 21st cen­tu­ry. But there are no slouch­es in the bunch (don’t be inti­mat­ed out of your own group sing-alongs by the tal­ent on dis­play here). The song res­onates in a way that con­nects, as “The Weight”’s cho­rus con­nects its non-sequitur stan­zas, many dis­parate sto­ries and voic­es.

Robert­son was thrilled with the final prod­uct. “There’s a guy on a sitar!” he enthus­es. “There’s a guy play­ing an oud, one of my favorite instru­ments.” The song sug­gests there’s “some­thing spir­i­tu­al, mag­i­cal, unsus­pect­ing” that can come from times of dark­ness, and that we’d all feel a whole lot bet­ter if we learned to take care of each oth­er. The Play­ing for Change ver­sion “screams of uni­ty,” he says, “and I hope it spreads.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stream Marc Maron’s Excel­lent, Long Inter­view with The Band’s Rob­bie Robert­son

Watch The Band Play “The Weight,” “Up On Crip­ple Creek” and More in Rare 1970 Con­cert Footage

Ital­ians’ Night­ly Sin­ga­longs Prove That Music Soothes the Sav­age Beast of Coro­n­avirus Quar­an­tine & Self-Iso­la­tion

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

Explore the Entire World–from the Comfort of Quarantine–with 4K Walking Tours

Many of us right now are shel­ter­ing in place, or in quar­an­tine, dream­ing of that day when we can once again trav­el the world. And that day will come, friends, that day will come.

But until then, there are already sev­er­al YouTube chan­nels set up to pro­vide you with a chance to go on walk­ing tours around the world, with only the sounds of the envi­ron­ment in your head­phones.

I was alert­ed to this by good friend Phil Gyford, who found this via Sarah Pavis (via Fave­Jet), and pro­vid­ed sev­er­al links to this large selec­tion of vir­tu­al trav­el­er. Your mileage my vary, as they say, but here’s some trips I found par­tic­u­lar­ly relax­ing in these anx­ious times.

Above, I start­ed here with this walk through Pim­mit View Park in Falls Church, Vir­ginia. Despite an umbrel­la dip­ping into view, I found this a relax­ing walk­ing in the rain through a ver­dant won­der­land, with occa­sion­al paus­es to admire the flow­ing streams. Love­ly.

From here I was feel­ing a bit peck­ish, so I bopped over to the Pha­tra Mar­ket in Bangkok to have a look at the var­i­ous foods on offer. Lazy­Tourist, the per­son who filmed this, nev­er strays too long at any stall, but knows enough to linger.

A YouTu­ber called 4K Urban Life pro­duces the occa­sion­al walk­ing tour of Euro­pean cities, and here they show us Tus­cany, start­ing in a very non-descript side­street until ven­tur­ing out into the heart of old Italy. This one is near­ly four hours long, so bring a bot­tle of wine but skip the sun­screen. Enjoy the lack of social dis­tanc­ing, and pray for Italy.

Night has fall­en and it’s time to ven­ture out into the West End of Lon­don in this evoca­tive video from Watched Walk­er. It’s rainy and wet, but no mat­ter, the streets of Lon­don look love­ly and this hour-plus takes us through “Covent Gar­den, Leices­ter Square, Pic­cadil­ly Cir­cus, Oxford Cir­cus, Oxford Street, Carn­a­by Street and Soho.”

Now let’s drop in on one of New York City’s most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions, Times Square. Wind Walk Trav­el Videos has a lot of these short (30 mins or less) vis­its to Amer­i­can loca­tions, and this is one of their most pop­u­lar. Try not to think about how emp­ty these spaces are now, and enjoy the ambi­ence, sketchy Elmo and all.

Here’s Ram­bal­ac walk­ing Shin­juku at night, check­ing out the side streets and test­ing out his bin­au­r­al mic. This is a treat with head­phones on, so make this full screen and order in some ramen.

A final thought: recent­ly I’ve been focus­ing on 4K “remas­ter­ing” (by way of AI) of turn of the (20th) cen­tu­ry films, a look back to a dif­fer­ent age. In these above videos, we can see the tra­di­tion con­tin­ues, a fas­ci­na­tion in watch­ing life go on as we sit and look into our devices. Think on both those long since deceased folk in the 1900s and a record of our once-nor­mal lives (only a month ago, as of this writ­ing), and keep them both in your hearts.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Walk­ing Fos­ters Cre­ativ­i­ty: Stan­ford Researchers Con­firm What Philoso­phers and Writ­ers Have Always Known

A 5‑Hour, One-Take Cin­e­mat­ic Tour of Russia’s Her­mitage Muse­um, Shot Entire­ly on an iPhone

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Brazil’s Nation­al Muse­um & Its Arti­facts: Google Dig­i­tized the Museum’s Col­lec­tion Before the Fate­ful Fire

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Download Classic Works of Plague Fiction: From Daniel Defoe & Mary Shelley, to Edgar Allan Poe

The apoth­e­o­sis of pres­tige real­ist plague film, Steven Soderburgh’s 2011 Con­ta­gion, has become one of the most pop­u­lar fea­tures on major stream­ing plat­forms, at a time when peo­ple have also turned increas­ing­ly to books of all kinds about plagues, from fan­ta­sy, hor­ror, and sci­ence fic­tion to accounts that show the expe­ri­ence as it was in all its ugliness—or at least as those who expe­ri­enced it remem­bered the events. Such a work is Daniel Defoe’s semi-fic­tion­al his­to­ry “A Jour­nal of the Plague Year,” a book he wrote “in tan­dem with an advice man­u­al called ‘Due Prepa­ra­tions for the Plague,’ in 1722,” notes Jill Lep­ore at The New York­er.

In 1722, Defoe had rea­son to believe the plague might come back to Lon­don, and wreak the dev­as­ta­tion it caused in 1665, the “plague year” he detailed, when one in every five Lon­don­ers died. This was not a sto­ry of heroes mak­ing sac­ri­fices to save the city. “Every­one behaved bad­ly, though the rich behaved the worst,” Lep­ore writes. “Hav­ing failed to heed warn­ings to pro­vi­sion, they sent their poor ser­vants out for sup­plies,” spread­ing the infec­tion through­out the city. Defoe earnest­ly hoped to head off such cat­a­stro­phe. He wrote to issue an admo­ni­tion, as he put it, “both to us and to pos­ter­i­ty, though we should be spared from that por­tion of this bit­ter cup.”

The cup, Lep­ore writes, “has come out of its cup­board.” But so too has the resilience found in Albert Camus’ 1946 nov­el Le Peste (The Plague), based on a real cholera out­break in Alge­ria in 1849. Though fic­tion­al, it draws on Camus’ study of his­tor­i­cal plagues and his expe­ri­ence as a mem­ber of the French Resis­tance. Camus seems to have found the plague as metaphor par­tic­u­lar­ly uplift­ing, nick­nam­ing his twins Cather­ine and Jean, “Plague” and “Cholera,” respec­tive­ly.

Whether we see it as a sto­ry of a siege brought on by sick­ness, or an alle­go­ry of an occu­pa­tion, Camus wrote of the nov­el that “the inhab­i­tants, final­ly freed, would nev­er for­get the dif­fi­cult peri­od that made them face the absurd­ness of their exis­tence and the pre­car­i­ous­ness of the human con­di­tion. What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plagues as well. It helps men to rise above them­selves.” Defoe might dis­agree, but plagues in his time were not also accom­pa­nied by wide­spread Nazism, a dou­ble cri­sis that might dou­bly force us to “reflect on what is real, what is impor­tant, and become more human,” says Cather­ine Camus of the soar­ing new pop­u­lar­i­ty of her father’s nov­el.

We can do this through read­ing in our real-life quar­an­tine. “Read­ing is an infec­tion,” Lep­ore writes, “a bur­row­ing into the brain: books con­t­a­m­i­nate, metaphor­i­cal­ly, and even micro­bi­o­log­i­cal­ly” as phys­i­cal objects capa­ble of fer­ry­ing germs. Plagues are mass-exis­ten­tial crises on the lev­el of WWII or the Lis­bon earth­quake that shook the faith of Europe’s intel­lec­tu­als. They are also set­tings for love and ter­ror, from Boc­cac­cio and Gabriel Gar­cia Mar­quez to Edgar Allan Poe and Mar­garet Atwood.

Vul­ture has pub­lished an “essen­tial list” of 20 plague books to read, includ­ing many of the clas­sics men­tioned above, and a book that is hard­ly remem­bered but might be thought of as an ances­tor to Atwood’s plague-rid­den futures: Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, pub­lished in 1826 dur­ing the sec­ond of two vir­u­lent cholera pan­demics. In the nov­el, Shel­ley claims to have dis­cov­ered the sto­ry in prophet­ic writ­ing about the end of the 21st cen­tu­ry, telling of a dis­ease that wipes out the human race. If you’d rather not indulge that kind of fan­ta­sy just yet, you’ll find vary­ing degrees of imag­i­na­tive and sober­ly real­ist fic­tion and his­to­ry in the list of plague clas­sics below, all freely avail­able at Project Guten­berg.

A Jour­nal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

His­to­ry of the Plague in Lon­don by Daniel Defoe

Loimolo­gia: or, an His­tor­i­cal Account of the Plague in Lon­don in 1665 by Hodges et al.

The Last Man by Mary Woll­stonecraft Shel­ley

Plague Ship by Andre Nor­ton

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

The Plague by Ted­dy Keller

The Decameron of Gio­van­ni Boc­cac­cio

A His­to­ry of Epi­demics in Britain by Charles Creighton

A His­to­ry of Epi­demics in Britain, Vol­ume II 

An account of the plague which raged at Moscow, in 1771 by Charles de Mertens

A brief Jour­nal of what passed in the City of Mar­seilles, while is was afflict­ed with the Plague, in the Year 1720 by Pichat­ty de Crois­lainte

Cher­ry & Vio­let: A Tale of the Great Plague by Anne Man­ning

Libraries may have shut their pos­si­bly con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed books behind closed doors, book­stores may be deemed nonessen­tial, but reading—and writing—about plague years feels like a nec­es­sary cul­tur­al activ­i­ty to help us under­stand who we are apt to become in such times.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

Why You Should Read The Plague, the Albert Camus Nov­el the Coro­n­avirus Has Made a Best­seller Again

The His­to­ry of the Plague: Every Major Epi­dem­ic in an Ani­mat­ed Map

Isaac New­ton Con­ceived of His Most Ground­break­ing Ideas Dur­ing the Great Plague of 1665

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


Take a 3D Tour Through Ancient Giza, Including the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx & More

Imag­ine the pyra­mids of ancient Egypt, and a vivid image comes right to mind. But unless you hap­pen to be an Egyp­tol­o­gist, that image may pos­sess a great deal more vivid­ness than it does detail. We all have a rough sense of the pyra­mids’ size (impres­sive­ly large), shape (pyra­midi­cal), tex­ture (crumbly), and set­ting (sand), almost whol­ly derived from images cap­tured over the past cen­tu­ry. But what about the pyra­mids in their hey­day, more than 4,500 years ago? Do we know enough even to begin imag­in­ing how they looked, let alone how peo­ple made use of them? Har­vard Egyp­tol­o­gist Peter Der Manuelian does, and in the video above he gives us a tour through 3D mod­els that recon­struct the Giza pyra­mid com­plex (also known as the Giza necrop­o­lis) using both the best tech­nol­o­gy and the fullest knowl­edge avail­able today.

“You’ll see we’ve had to remove mod­ern struc­tures and exca­va­tors, debris dumps,” says Der Manuelian as the cam­era flies, drone­like, in the direc­tion of the Great Sphinx. “We stud­ied the Nile, and we had to move it much clos­er to the Giza pyra­mids, because in antiq­ui­ty, the Nile did flow clos­er. And we’ve tried to rebuild each and every struc­ture.”

Of the Sphinx, this mod­el boasts “the most accu­rate recon­struc­tion that has ever been attempt­ed so far,” and Der Manuelian shows it in two pos­si­ble col­ors schemes, one with only the head paint­ed, one with the entire body paint­ed in “the red­dish brown reserved for male fig­ures.” He also shows the pyra­mid tem­ple of Khafre, both in the near-com­plete­ly ruined state in which it exists today, and in full dig­i­tal recon­struc­tion, com­plete with seat­ed stat­ues the Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh Khafre him­self.

The mod­el accom­mo­dates more than just the built envi­ron­ment. Der Manuelian shows a mod­el bark with anoth­er stat­ue being car­ried into one of the cham­bers, explain­ing that it allows researchers to deter­mine “whether or not it’s big enough or small enough to actu­al­ly fit between the doors of the tem­ple.” Else­where in the mod­el we see a re-enact­ment of the “Open­ing of the Mouth cer­e­mo­ny,” the “rean­i­ma­tion cer­e­mo­ny for the deceased king, meant to mag­i­cal­ly and rit­u­al­ly bring him back to life for the nether­world.” The ren­der­ing takes place inside the tem­ple of the Pyra­mid of Khu­fu, peo­pled with human char­ac­ters. But “how many should there be? What should they be wear­ing? Where are the reg­u­lar Egyp­tians? Are they allowed any­where near this cer­e­mo­ny, or indeed are they allowed any­where near Giza at all?” The greater the detail in which researchers recon­struct the ancient world, the more such ques­tions come to the sur­face.

In the video just above, Der Manuelian explains more about the impor­tance of 3D mod­el­ing to Egyp­tol­ogy: how it uses the exist­ing research, what it has helped mod­ern researchers under­stand, and the promise it holds for the future. The lat­ter includes much of inter­est even to non-Egyp­tol­o­gists, such as tourists who might like to famil­iar­ize them­selves with Giza necrop­o­lis in the days when the Open­ing of the Mouth cer­e­monies still took place — or any era of their choice — before set­ting foot there them­selves. These videos come from “Pyra­mids of Giza: Ancient Egypt­ian Art and Archae­ol­o­gy,” Der Manuelian’s online course at edX, a worth­while learn­ing expe­ri­ence if you’ve got your own such trip planned — or just the kind of fas­ci­na­tion that has gripped peo­ple around the world since the Egyp­to­ma­nia of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. The tech­nol­o­gy with which we study Egypt has advanced great­ly since then, but for many, the mys­ter­ies of ancient Egypt itself have only become more com­pelling.

via The Kid Should See This

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids Were Built: A New The­o­ry in 3D Ani­ma­tion

What the Great Pyra­mid of Giza Would’ve Looked Like When First Built: It Was Gleam­ing, Reflec­tive White

The Met Dig­i­tal­ly Restores the Col­ors of an Ancient Egypt­ian Tem­ple, Using Pro­jec­tion Map­ping Tech­nol­o­gy

Human All Too Human: A Roman Woman Vis­its the Great Pyra­mid in 120 AD, and Carves a Poem in Mem­o­ry of Her Deceased Broth­er

The Grate­ful Dead Play at the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids, in the Shad­ow of the Sphinx (1978)

A Drone’s Eye View of the Ancient Pyra­mids of Egypt, Sudan & Mex­i­co

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

The Foot-Licking Demons & Other Strange Things in a 1921 Illustrated Manuscript from Iran

Few mod­ern writ­ers so remind me of the famous Vir­ginia Woolf quote about fic­tion as a “spi­der’s web” more than Argen­tin­ian fab­u­list Jorge Luis Borges. But the life to which Borges attach­es his labyrinths is a librar­i­an’s life; the strands that anchor his fic­tions are the obscure schol­ar­ly ref­er­ences he weaves through­out his text. Borges brings this ten­den­cy to whim­si­cal employ in his non­fic­tion Book of Imag­i­nary Beings, a het­eroge­nous com­pendi­um of crea­tures from ancient folk tale, myth, and demonolo­gy around the world.

Borges him­self some­times remarks on how these ancient sto­ries can float too far away from rati­o­ci­na­tion. The “absurd hypothe­ses” regard­ing the myth­i­cal Greek Chimera, for exam­ple, “are proof” that the ridicu­lous beast “was begin­ning to bore peo­ple…. A vain or fool­ish fan­cy is the def­i­n­i­tion of Chimera that we now find in dic­tio­nar­ies.” Of  what he calls “Jew­ish Demons,” a cat­e­go­ry too numer­ous to parse, he writes, “a cen­sus of its pop­u­la­tion left the bounds of arith­metic far behind. Through­out the cen­turies, Egypt, Baby­lo­nia, and Per­sia all enriched this teem­ing mid­dle world.” Although a less­er field than angelol­o­gy, the influ­ence of this fas­ci­nat­ing­ly diverse canon only broad­ened over time.

“The natives record­ed in the Tal­mud” soon became “thor­ough­ly inte­grat­ed” with the many demons of Chris­t­ian Europe and the Islam­ic world, form­ing a sprawl­ing hell whose denizens hail from at least three con­ti­nents, and who have mixed freely in alchem­i­cal, astro­log­i­cal, and oth­er occult works since at least the 13th cen­tu­ry and into the present. One exam­ple from the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, a 1902 trea­tise on div­ina­tion from Isfa­han, a city in cen­tral Iran, draws on this ancient thread with a series of water­col­ors added in 1921 that could eas­i­ly be mis­tak­en for illus­tra­tions from the ear­ly Mid­dle Ages.

As the Pub­lic Domain Review notes:

The won­der­ful images draw on Near East­ern demono­log­i­cal tra­di­tions that stretch back mil­len­nia — to the days when the rab­bis of the Baby­lon­ian Tal­mud assert­ed it was a bless­ing demons were invis­i­ble, since, “if the eye would be grant­ed per­mis­sion to see, no crea­ture would be able to stand in the face of the demons that sur­round it.”

The author of the trea­tise, a ram­mal, or sooth­say­er, him­self “attrib­ut­es his knowl­edge to the Bib­li­cal Solomon, who was known for his pow­er over demons and spir­its,” writes Ali Kar­joo-Ravary, a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Reli­gious Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. Pre­dat­ing Islam, “the depic­tion of demons in the Near East… was fre­quent­ly used for mag­i­cal and tal­is­man­ic pur­pos­es,” just as it was by occultists like Aleis­ter Crow­ley at the time these illus­tra­tions were made.

“Not all of the 56 paint­ed illus­tra­tions in the man­u­script depict demon­ic beings,” the Pub­lic Domain Review points out. “Amongst the horned and fork-tongued we also find the archangels Jibrāʾīl (Gabriel) and Mikāʾīl (Michael), as well as the ani­mals — lion, lamb, crab, fish, scor­pi­on — asso­ci­at­ed with the zodi­ac.” But in the main, it’s demon city. What would Borges have made of these fan­tas­tic images? No doubt, had he seen them, and he had seen plen­ty of their like before he lost his sight, he would have been delight­ed.

A blue man with claws, four horns, and a pro­ject­ing red tongue is no less fright­en­ing for the fact that he’s wear­ing a can­dy-striped loin­cloth. In anoth­er image we see a mous­ta­chioed goat man with tuber-nose and pol­ka dot skin mani­a­cal­ly con­coct­ing a less-than-appetis­ing dish. One recur­ring (and wor­ry­ing) theme is demons vis­it­ing sleep­ers in their beds, scenes involv­ing such pleas­ant activ­i­ties as tooth-pulling, eye-goug­ing, and — in one of the most engross­ing illus­tra­tions — a bout of foot-lick­ing (per­formed by a rep­til­ian feline with a shark-toothed tail).

There’s a play­ful Bosch-ian qual­i­ty to all of this, but while we tend to see Bosch’s work from our per­spec­tive as absurd, he appar­ent­ly took his bizarre inven­tions absolute­ly seri­ous­ly. So too, we might assume, did the illus­tra­tor here. We might won­der, as Woolf did, about this work as the prod­uct of “suf­fer­ing human beings… attached to gross­ly mate­r­i­al things, like health and mon­ey and the hous­es we live in.” What kinds of ordi­nary, mate­r­i­al con­cerns might have afflict­ed this artist, as he (we pre­sume) imag­ined demons goug­ing the eyes and lick­ing the feet of peo­ple tucked safe­ly in their beds?

See many more of these strange paint­ings at the Pub­lic Domain Review.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

700 Years of Per­sian Man­u­scripts Now Dig­i­tized and Avail­able Online

1,600 Occult Books Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online, Thanks to the Rit­man Library and Da Vin­ci Code Author Dan Brown

160,000 Pages of Glo­ri­ous Medieval Man­u­scripts Dig­i­tized: Vis­it the Bib­lio­the­ca Philadel­phien­sis

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

Bob Dylan Releases a Cryptic 17-Minute Song about the JFK Assassination: Hear a “Murder Most Foul”

Like an Old Tes­ta­ment prophet with smart­phone, Bob Dylan has appeared the midst of cat­a­stro­phe to drop a new pre­vi­ous­ly unre­leased track, “Mur­der Most Foul,” on Twit­ter. Osten­si­bly a 17-minute song about JFK’s assas­si­na­tion, it’s “the first evi­dence of orig­i­nal song­writ­ing that we’ve had in eight years from one of the most orig­i­nal song­writ­ers of our era,” writes Kevin Dettmar, Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Pomona Col­lege, for The New York­er.

The move seems like a weird one—“’weird’ with its full Shake­speare­an force, as in the ‘weird sis­ters’ of ‘Mac­beth.’” Its title, how­ev­er, comes from Ham­let. Uttered by the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the phrase shows us the mur­dered king pro­nounc­ing judg­ment on his own death. It is also the title of the third Miss Marple film, released in the U.S. in 1964, the same year (to the month) that the War­ren com­mis­sion sub­mit­ted its report to Lyn­don John­son.

Is Dylan pulling us into what may be the most bot­tom­less of mod­ern con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, with a Shake­speare­an allu­sion sug­gest­ing we might hear the song as ema­nat­ing from Kennedy him­self? He’s more than aware of what he’s doing with the many spe­cif­ic ref­er­ences to the mur­der, draw­ing out the most com­mit­ted of con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists in YouTube com­ments. As Andy Greene writes at Rolling Stone, “Mur­der Most Foul” is:

Packed with ref­er­ences only JFK buffs will like­ly rec­og­nize, like the ‘triple under­pass’ near Dealey Plaza, the removal of his brain dur­ing the autop­sy, and the ‘three bums comin’ all dressed in rags’ cap­tured on the Zaprud­er film that con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists have been obsess­ing over for decades. Clear­ly, Dylan has spent a lot of time read­ing books and watch­ing doc­u­men­taries about this.

There is so much more besides. Dylan weaves dense­ly allu­sive texts, just as anoth­er poet to whom he bears some com­par­i­son, John Mil­ton, whose work has been back­ground for Dylan’s song­writ­ing for decades, includ­ing a sly allu­sion to Par­adise Lost in 1965’s “Des­o­la­tion Row,” anoth­er prophet­ic work that stretch­es over the ten-minute mark (and ends with pas­sen­gers on the Titan­ic shout­ing “Which side are you on?”)

In 2006, Dylan opened an episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour broad­cast with lines from the first book of Par­adise Lost: describ­ing Satan “hurled head­long flam­ing from the ethe­re­al sky.” Dylan has long been obsessed with the Dev­il, as lit­er­ary schol­ar Aidan Day argues in a com­par­i­son of Dylan and Mil­ton. Like­wise, he is obsessed with apoc­a­lyp­tic falls from grace. Songs abound with images of the pow­er­ful brought low, the low­ly brought low­er, and the whole world sink­ing like an ocean lin­er. He returned to the theme in 2012’s “The Tem­pest,” a 14-minute epic about the Titan­ic.

Why JFK, and why now? As he vague­ly notes, the song was “record­ed a while back.” Dettmar esti­mates some­time in the last decade. Does it live up to Dylan’s ear­li­er epics? Hear it above and judge for your­self. (And see many of its lyri­cal ref­er­ences at its Genius page.) Dettmar calls its first half “dog­ger­el” and the open­ing lines do sound like a fifth-grade his­to­ry pre­sen­ta­tion: “’Twas a dark day in Dal­las, Novem­ber, ‘63/The day that would live on in infamy.”

Is this cliché or a satire of cliché? (Dylan was fond of “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christ­mas.”) Things soon take a dark­er turn, with lines full of Mil­ton­ian por­tent: assas­si­na­tion becomes regi­cide: The day they blew out the brains of the king/Thousands were watch­ing, no one saw a thing.

Allu­sions tum­ble out, line after line. Once Dylan gets to Wolf­man Jack, verse two begins, and “some­thing amaz­ing hap­pens,” writes Dettmar. “We’re pre­sent­ed with anoth­er ver­sion of the Great Amer­i­can Songbook.”—JFK’s death now pre­lude for all the cul­tur­al shifts to come. “Wolf­man, oh Wolf­man, oh Wolf­man, howl/Rub-a-dub-dub, it’s a mur­der most foul.” NPR’s Bob Boilen and Ann Pow­ers have com­piled a playlist of the dozens of songs ref­er­enced in the sec­ond half of “Mur­der Most Foul,” a com­pi­la­tion of the music Dylan admires most.

What is he up to in this track? Is “Mur­der Most Foul” a sum­ma­tion of Dylan’s career? Dyla­nol­o­gists will be puz­zling it out for years. But the last line of his Twit­ter announce­ment sure sounds like a cryp­tic farewell wrapped in a warn­ing: “Stay safe,” Dylan writes, “stay obser­vant, and may God be with you.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Mas­sive 55-Hour Chrono­log­i­cal Playlist of Bob Dylan Songs: Stream 763 Tracks

Hear Bob Dylan’s New­ly-Released Nobel Lec­ture: A Med­i­ta­tion on Music, Lit­er­a­ture & Lyrics

Bob Dylan’s Thanks­giv­ing Radio Show: A Playlist of 18 Delec­table Songs

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

What the Iconic Painting, “The Two Fridas,” Actually Tells Us About Frida Kahlo

I nev­er paint­ed dreams. I paint­ed my own real­i­ty. —Fri­da Kahlo

You may be for­giv­en for assum­ing you already know every­thing there is to know about Fri­da Kahlo.

The sub­ject of a high pro­file bio-pic, a bilin­gual opera, and numer­ous books for chil­dren and adults, her image is near­ly as ubiq­ui­tous as Mar­i­lyn Monroe’s, though Fri­da exer­cised a great deal of con­trol over hers by paint­ing dozens of unsmil­ing self-por­traits in which her unplucked uni­brow and her tra­di­tion­al Tehua­na garb fea­ture promi­nent­ly.

(Whether she would appre­ci­ate hav­ing her image splashed across show­er cur­tainslight switch cov­ersyoga mats, and t‑shirts is anoth­er mat­ter, and one even a force as for­mi­da­ble as she would be hard pressed to con­trol from beyond the grave. Her imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able coun­te­nance pow­ers every sou­venir stall in Mex­i­co City’s Coyoacán neigh­bor­hood, where Casa Azul, the home in which she both was born and died, attracts some 25,000 vis­i­tors month­ly.)

A recent episode of PBS’ dig­i­tal series The Art Assign­ment, above, exam­ines the dual­i­ty at Frida’s core by using her dou­ble self-por­trait, The Two Fridas (Las Dos Fridas), as a jump­ing off place.

Kahlo her­self explained that the tra­di­tion­al­ly dressed fig­ure on the right is the one her just-divorced ex-hus­band, mural­ist Diego Rivera had loved, while the unloved one on the left fails to keep the unteth­ered vein unit­ing them from soil­ing her Vic­to­ri­an wed­ding gown. (The vein, orig­i­nates on the right, ris­ing from a small child­hood por­trait of Rivera, that was among Kahlo’s per­son­al effects when she died.)

It’s an expres­sion of lone­li­ness and yet, the twin-like fig­ures are depict­ed ten­der­ly clasp­ing each other’s hands:

Bereft but com­fort­ed

Frac­tured but intact

Lone­ly but not iso­lat­ed

Bro­ken but beau­ti­ful

Humil­i­at­ed but proud

Kahlo’s bound­aries, it sug­gests, are high­ly per­me­able, in life, as in art, draw­ing from such influ­ences as Bronzi­no, El Gre­co, Modigliani, Sur­re­al­ism, and Catholic iconog­ra­phy in both Euro­pean reli­gious paint­ing and Mex­i­can folk art.

As for the new thing learned, this writer was unaware that when Kahlo mar­ried Riveraher elder by 22 yearsin a 1929 civ­il cer­e­mo­ny, she did so in skirt and blouse bor­rowed from her indige­nous maid… a fact which speaks to the end of her pop­u­lar­i­ty in cer­tain quar­ters.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A Brief Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life and Work of Fri­da Kahlo

Dis­cov­er Fri­da Kahlo’s Wild­ly-Illus­trat­ed Diary: It Chron­i­cled the Last 10 Years of Her Life, and Then Got Locked Away for Decades

Vis­it the Largest Col­lec­tion of Fri­da Kahlo’s Work Ever Assem­bled: 800 Arti­facts from 33 Muse­ums, All Free Online

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

The Cork-Lined Bedroom & Writing Room of Marcel Proust, the Original Master of Social Distancing

Many of us now find our­selves stuck at home, doing our part to put a stop to the glob­al coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. Some of us are tak­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to write the ambi­tious works of lit­er­a­ture we’ve long intend­ed to. Such an effort of cre­ativ­i­ty in con­fine­ment has no more suit­able prece­dent than the life of Mar­cel Proust, who wrote much of his sev­en-vol­ume mas­ter­piece In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps per­du) in bed. The Paris Review’s Sadie Stein quotes Proust’s biog­ra­ph­er Diana Fuss describ­ing him as hav­ing writ­ten “from a semi-recum­bent posi­tion, sus­pend­ed mid­way between the realms of sleep­ing and wak­ing using his knees as a desk.”

He did it in a bed­room lined with cork, an addi­tion meant, Stein writes, “not just to sound­proof but to pre­vent pollen and dust from aggra­vat­ing Proust’s aller­gies and asth­ma.” Though the Span­ish flu did make its way into France dur­ing Proust’s last years, the writer had been wor­ried about his own frail health since his first asth­ma attack at the age of nine.

He got the idea of lin­ing his bed­room with cork from his friend Anna de Noailles, “a princess and socialite, a patron of the arts and a nov­el­ist in her own right,” who also hap­pened to be “plagued with debil­i­tat­ing fears and neu­roses.” You can vis­it faith­ful recon­struc­tions of both of their bed­rooms at Paris Musée Car­navalet, an essen­tial stop on any Proust pil­grim­age. So is the Hôtel Ritz Paris, which main­tains a “Mar­cel Proust suite.”

William Fried­kin — yes, that William Fried­kin — stayed in the Mar­cel Proust suite, “for­mer­ly a pri­vate din­ing room on the hotel’s sec­ond floor, where Proust often host­ed small din­ner par­ties,” on the Proust pil­grim­age he recalls in The New York Times. “I was told by the hotel man­ag­er that the room was reserved for Proust to enter­tain when­ev­er he could ven­ture out from his cork-lined bed­room at 102 Boule­vard Hauss­mann.” No doubt Proust “absorbed inspi­ra­tion from con­ver­sa­tions here, ones that made their way into his writ­ing.” In the last three years of his life, the writ­ing almost entire­ly dis­placed the con­ver­sa­tion: Proust spent almost all his time in his cork-lined bed­room, sleep­ing by day and putting every­thing he had into his work at night. A con­tem­po­rary pho­to­graph of Proust’s cork-lined bed­room appears at the top of the post, as recent­ly includ­ed in a tweet by writer Ted Gioia call­ing Proust the “mas­ter of social dis­tanc­ing.”

Just above, you can watch a talk on the writer’s room and hyper­sen­si­tiv­i­ties (of both the aes­thet­ic and phys­i­cal vari­eties) that put him into it by Proust schol­ar William C. Carter, author of Mar­cel Proust: A Life and Proust in Love. What might Proust’s father, the epi­demi­ol­o­gist Adrien Proust, have thought about a new epi­dem­ic mak­ing the peo­ple of the 21st cen­tu­ry look to his son?  Even if we don’t take him as a mod­el for writ­ing life, this is nev­er­the­less an appro­pri­ate moment to read his work (now avail­able free online at the Inter­net Archive’s Nation­al Emer­gency Library). “What Proust inspires in us is to see and to appre­ci­ate every seem­ing­ly insignif­i­cant place or object or per­son in our lives,” writes Fried­kin, “to real­ize that life itself is a gift and all the peo­ple we’ve come to know have qual­i­ties worth con­sid­er­ing and cel­e­brat­ing — in time.”

via Ted Gioia

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past on the Cen­ten­ni­al of Swann’s Way

An Intro­duc­tion to the Lit­er­ary Phi­los­o­phy of Mar­cel Proust, Pre­sent­ed in a Mon­ty Python-Style Ani­ma­tion

When James Joyce & Mar­cel Proust Met in 1922, and Total­ly Bored Each Oth­er

16-Year-Old Mar­cel Proust Tells His Grand­fa­ther About His Mis­guid­ed Adven­tures at the Local Broth­el

The First Known Footage of Mar­cel Proust Dis­cov­ered: Watch It Online

The Nation­al Emer­gency Library Makes 1.5 Mil­lion Books Free to Read Right Now

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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