Why “The Girl from Ipanema”‘ Is a Richer & Weirder Song Than You Ever Realized

Say what you want about YouTube’s negative effects (endless soy faces, influencers, its devious and fascist-leaning algorithms) but it has offered to creators a space in which to indulge. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve been a fan of Adam Neely’s work. A jazz musician and a former student at both the Berklee College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, his YouTube channel is a must for those with an interest in the how and why of music theory. If not for Neely’s talent and YouTube’s platform we wouldn’t have the above: a 30 minute (!) exploration of the bossa nova standard, “The Girl from Ipanema.” And it is worth every single minute. (Even the composer Antonio Carlos Jobim himself could not have convinced traditional television execs to give him that long an indulgence.)

Seeings we haven’t featured Neely on Open Culture before, let this be a great introduction, because this is one of his better videos. (Being stuck inside with no jazz venues has given him more time to create content, no doubt). It also helps that the subject matter just happens to be one of the most covered standards in pop history.

Its legacy is one of lounge lizards and kitsch. Neely shows it being used as a punchline in The Blues Brothers and as mood music in V for Vendetta. I remember it being hummed by two pepperpots (Graham Chapman and John Cleese) in a Monty Python skit (about 3:20 in). And Neely gives us the “tl;dw” (“too long, didn’t watch”) summary up front: the song’s history concerns blues music, American cultural hegemony, and the influence of the Berklee College’s “The Real Book.” There’s also loads of music theory thrown in too, so it helps to know just a little going in.

Neely first peels back decades of elevator music covers to get to the birth of the song, and its multiple parents: the Afro-Brazilian music called Samba, the hip nightclubs of Rio de Janeiro during the 1950s, the hit film Black Orpheus which brought both samba and bossa nova (the “new wave”) to an international audience, Jobim and other musicians interest in American blues and jazz chords, and American interest from musicians like Stan Getz. All this is a back and forth circuit of influences that result in this song, which borrows its structure from Tin Pan Alley composers like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and inserts a sad, self-pitying B section after two A section lyrics about a young woman passing by on a beach (lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, who also wrote the screenplay to Black Orpheus).

The key in which you play the song also reveals the cultural divide. Play it in F and you are taking sides with the Americans; play it in Db and you are keeping it real, Brazilian style. Neely breaks apart the melody and the chord sequences, pointing out its repetition (which makes it so catchy) but also its ambiguity, which explains endless YouTube videos of musicians getting the chord sequence wrong. And, what exactly *is* the true chord sequence? And how is it a riff on, of all things, Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train”? Neely also shows the progression of various covers of the song, and what’s been added and what’s been deleted. Leaving things out, as he illustrates with a clip from Leonard Bernstein’s 1973 Harvard lectures, is what gives art its magic.

There’s so much more to this 30 minute clip, but you really should watch the whole thing (and then hit subscribe to his channel). This essay is exactly what YouTube does best, and Neely is the best of teachers, a smart, self-deprecating guy who mixes intellect with humor. Plus, you’ll be humming the song for the rest of the day, just a bit more aware of the reason behind the ear worm.

Related Content:

“The Girl from Ipanema” Turns 50; Hear Its Bossa Nova Sound Covered by Sinatra, Krall, Metheny & Others

David Sedaris Creates a List of His 10 Favorite Jazz Tracks: Stream Them Online

Remembering the “Father of Bossa Nova” João Gilberto (RIP) with Four Classic Live Performances: “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Corcovado” & More

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.

Take an 360° Interactive Tour Inside the Great Pyramid of Giza

You can’t take it with you if you’ve got nothing to take with you.

Once upon a time, the now-empty Great Pyramid of Giza was sumptuously appointed inside and out, to ensure that Pharaoh Khufu, or Cheops as he was known to the Ancient Greeks, would be well received in the afterlife.

Bling was a serious thing.

Thousand of years further on, cinematic portrayals have us convinced that tomb raiders were greedy 19th- and 20th-century curators, eagerly filling their vitrines with stolen artifacts.

There’s some truth to that, but modern Egyptologists are fairly convinced that Khufu’s pyramid was looted shortly after his reign, by opportunists looking to grab some goodies for their journey to the afterlife.

At any rate, it’s been picked clean.

Perhaps one day, we 21st-century citizens can opt in to a pyramid experience akin to Rome Reborn, a digital crutch for our feeble imagination to help us past the empty sarcophagus and bare walls that have defined the world’s oldest tourist attraction’s interiors for … well, not quite ever, but certainly for FlaubertMark Twain, and 12th-century scholar Abd al-Latif.

Fast forwarding to 2017, the BBC’s Rajan Datar hosted “Secrets of the Great Pyramid,” a podcast episode featuring Egyptologist Salima Ikram, space archaeologist Dr Sarah Parcak, and archaeologist, Dr Joyce Tyldesley.

The experts were keen to clear up a major misconception that the 4600-year-old pyramid was built by aliens or enslaved laborers, rather than a permanent staff of architects and engineers, aided by Egyptian civilians eager to barter their labor for meat, fish, beer, and tax abatement.

Datar’s question about a scanning project that would bring further insight into the Pyramid of Giza’s construction and layout was met with excitement.

This attraction, old as it is, has plenty of new secrets to be discovered.

We’re happy to share with you, readers, that 3 years after that episode was taped, the future is here.

The scanning is complete.

Witness the BBC’s 360° tour inside the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Use your mouse to crane your neck, if you like.

As of this writing, you could tour the pyramid in person, should you wish—the usual touristic hoards are definitely dialed down.

But, given the contagion, perhaps better to tour the King’s Chamber, the Queen’s Chamber, and the Grand Gallery virtually, above.

(An interesting tidbit: the pyramid was more distant to the ancient Romans than the Colosseum is to us.)

Listen to the BBC’s “Secrets of the Great Pyramid” episode here.

Tour the Great Pyramid of Giza here.

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

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

Watch Metropolis’ Cinematically Innovative Dance Scene, Restored as Fritz Lang Intended It to Be Seen (1927)

When it came out in 1927, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis showed audiences the kind of wholly invented reality, hitherto beyond imagination, that could be realized in motion pictures. Its vision of a society bisected into colossal skyscrapers and underground warrens, an industrial Art Deco dystopia, continues to influence filmmakers today. This despite — or perhaps because of — the simple story it tells, in which Freder, the scion of the city of Metropolis, rebels against his father after following Maria, a good-hearted maiden from the underclass, into the infernal lower depths.

In the role of Maria was a then-unknown 18-year-old actress named Brigitte Helm. “For all the steam and special effects,” writes Robert McG. Thomas Jr. in Helm’s New York Times obituary, “for many who have seen the movie in its various incarnations, including a tinted version and one accompanied by music, the most compelling lingering image is neither the towers above nor the hellish factories below. It is the startling transformation of Ms. Helm from an idealistic young woman into a barely clad creature performing a lascivious dance in a brothel.”

Halfway through the film, Maria gets kidnapped by the villainous inventor Rotwang and cloned as a robot. It is this robot, not the real Maria, who takes the stage in the scene in question, practically nude by the standards of silent-era cinema. Lang used the sequence to push not just the bounds of propriety, but the aesthetic capabilities of his art form: viewers would never have seen anything like the frame-filling field of eyeballs into which the slavering crowd of tuxedoed men dissolve. Here we have a medium demonstrating decisively and powerfully what sets it apart from all others, in just one of the scenes restored only recently to its original form.

When Thomas alluded to the many extant cuts of Metropolis in his 1996 obituary for Helm, the now-definitive version of the picture that made her a star still lay in the future. 2010’s The Complete Metropolis includes material rediscovered just two years before, on a 16-millimeter reduction negative stored at Buenos Aires’ Museo del Cine and long forgotten thereafter. Now, just as Lang intended us to, we can behold his cinematic vision of rulers employing the highest technology to keep even the elite mesmerized by titillating spectacles — a fantastical scenario that has nothing at all to do, of course, with the future as it actually turned out.

Related Content:

Metropolis: Watch a Restored Version of Fritz Lang’s Masterpiece (1927)

Read the Original 32-Page Program for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang Invents the Video Phone in Metropolis (1927)

H.G. Wells Pans Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in a 1927 Movie Review: It’s “the Silliest Film”

10 Great German Expressionist Films: From Nosferatu to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Watch After the Ball, the 1897 “Adult” Film by Pioneering Director Georges Méliès (Almost NSFW)

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 Story Behind the Iconic Black Power Salute Photo at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City

You may know his name, and you definitely know the iconic photo of him standing next to Tommie Smith and Peter Norman on the medals podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, his black-gloved fist raised next to Smith’s in defiance of racial injustice. But you may know little more about John Carlos. Many of us learned about him the same way students at a Southern California high school, where he worked as a counselor after retiring from running, did: “Man, we see this picture in the history book and they don’t have any story about it,” he remembers some kids telling him. “It’s just a two-liner with the people’s names.”

The Vox Darkroom video above packs more than a caption version of his history in just under 10 minutes. The silent protest, we learn, followed a threatened boycott from the athletes earlier in the year, supported by Martin Luther King, Jr., who appears in a clip. Instead, they went on to win medal after medal. We also learn much more about how all three runners on the podium, including Silver-winning Aussie Peter Norman, participated by wearing buttons supporting the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Founded by former athlete and activist Harry Edwards, the organization aimed to strategically disrupt U.S. Olympic success by “opting out of the games,” refusing to give Black athletes’ labor to sports that refused to combat racism.

Twenty years before these actions, Black athletes became potent symbols of the bootstrapping American success story for the media, long before the end of legal segregation. As history professor Dexter Blackman says in the video, the message became, “if Jackie Robinson can make it, then why can’t other Blacks make it?” This “myth of racial progress” could not survive the 1960s. By the time of Smith and Carlos’ arrival in Mexico City in October of 1968, Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Cities around the country were erupting as frustration over failed Civil Rights efforts boiled over. Neither Carlos nor Smith wear shoes in their podium photo, in protest of the poverty that persisted in Black communities.

The three paid a price for their statement. The protest was called “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit” by the IOC president, who had not objected to Nazi salutes when he had been an Olympic official in 1936. Norman, who seems completely oblivious at first glance in the photograph, “returned home to Australia a pariah,” CNN writes, “suffering unofficial sanction and ridicule as the Black Power salute’s forgotten man. He never ran in the Olympics again.” Smith fared better, though he was suspended with Carlos from the Olympic team. He left running, played NFL football, won several awards and commendations, and became a track coach and sociology professor at Oberlin.

In an essay at Vox, Carlos describes how “the mood in the stadium went straight to venom” after the two raised their fists. “The first 10 years after those Olympics were hell for me. A lot of people walked away from me…. they were afraid. What they saw happening to me, they didn’t want it to happen to them and theirs.” His kids, he said “were tormented,” his marriage “crumbled.” Still, he would do it again. Carlos embodies the same uncompromising attitude, one that refuses to silently accept racism, even while standing (or kneeling) in silence. “If you’re famous and you’re black,” he writes, “you have to be an activist. That’s what I’ve tried to do my whole life.”

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

Historic Mexican Recipes Are Now Available as Free Digital Cookbooks: Get Started With Dessert

There are too many competing stories to tell about the pandemic for any one to take the spotlight for long, which makes coming to terms with the moment especially challenging. Everything seems in upheaval—especially in parts of the world where rampant corruption, ineptitude, and authoritarian abuse have worsened and prolonged an already bad situation. But if there’s a lens that might be wide enough to take it all in, I’d wager it’s the story of food, from manufacture, to supply chains, to the table.

The ability to dine out serves as a barometer of social health. Restaurants are essential to normalcy and neighborhood coherence, as well as hubs of local commerce. They now struggle to adapt or close their doors. Food service staff represent some of the most precarious of workers. Meanwhile, everyone has to eat. “Some of the world’s best restaurants have gone from fine dining to curbside pickups,” writes Rico Torres, Chef and Co-owner of Mixtli. “At home, a renewed sense of self-reliance has led to a resurgence of the home cook.”

Some, amateurs and professionals both, have returned their skills to the community, cooking for protestors on the streets, for example. Others have turned a newfound passion for cooking on their families. Whatever the case, they are all doing important work, not only by feeding hungry bellies but by engaging with and transforming culinary traditions. Despite its essential ephemerality, food preserves memory, through the most memory-intensive of our senses, and through recipes passed down for generations.

Recipe collections are also sites of cultural exchange and conflict. Such has been the case in the long struggle to define the essence of authentic Mexican food. You can learn more about that argument in our previous post on a collection of traditional (and some not-so-traditional) Mexican cookbooks which are being digitized and put online by researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA). Their collection of over 2,000 titles dates from 1789 to the present and represents a vast repository of knowledge for scholars of Mexican cuisine.

But let’s be honest, what most of us want, and need, is a good meal. It just so happens, as chefs now serving curbside will tell you, that the best cooking (and baking) learns from the cooking of the past. In observance of the times we live in, the UTSA Libraries Special Collections has curated many of the historic Mexican recipes in their collection as what they call “a series of mini-cookbooks” titled “Recetas: Cocindando en los Tiempos del Coronavirus.”

Because many in our communities have found themselves in the kitchen during the COVID-19 pandemic during stay-at-home orders, we hope to share the collection and make it even more accessible to those looking to explore Mexican cuisine.

These recipes, now being made available as e-cookbooks, have been transcribed and translated from handwritten manuscripts by archivists who are passionate about this food. Perhaps in honor of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate—whose novel “paints a narrative of family and tradition using Mexico’s deep connection to cuisine”—the collection has “saved the best for first” and begun with the dessert cookbook. They’ll continue the reverse order with Volume 2, main courses, and Volume 3, appetizers & drinks.

Endorsed by Chef Torres, the first mini-cookbook modernizes and translates the original Spanish into English, and is available in pdf or epub. It does not modernize more traditional ways of cooking. As the Preface points out, “many of the manuscript cookbooks of the early 19th century assume readers to be experienced cooks.” (It was not an occupation undertaken lightly.) As such, the recipes are “often light on details” like ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions. As Atlas Obscura notes, the recipe above for “‘Petra’s cookies’ calls for “’one cup not quite full of milk.'”

“We encourage you to view these instructions as opportunities to acquire an intuitive feel for your food,” the archive writes. It’s good to learn new habits. Whatever else it is now—community service, chore, an exercise in self-reliance, self-improvement, or stress relief—cooking is also creating new ways of remembering and connecting across new distances of time and space, working with the raw materials we have at hand. Download the first Volume of the UTSA cookbook series, Postres: Guardando Lo Mejor Para el Principio, here and look for more “Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus” recipes coming soon.

via Atlas Obscura

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

Rick and Morty as Absurdist Humor, Yet Legitimate Sci-Fi with Family Drama (Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #54)

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt address the 4-season 2013 Adult Swim show, which currently has a 94% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What kind of humor is it, and how are we supposed to take its sci-fi and family drama elements? While its concepts start as parody, with an anything-goes style of animation, they’re creative and grounded enough to actually contribute to multiple genres. How smart is the show, exactly? And its fans? Is Rick a super hero, or maybe essentially Dr. Who? What might this very serialized sit-com look like in longevity?

We also touch on other adult cartoons like South Park, Solar Opposites, The Simpsons, Family Guy, plus Community, Scrubs, and more.

Hear the interview we refer to with the show’s creators. Watch the video we mention about its directors. Visit the Rick and Morty wiki for episode descriptions and other things.

Some articles that we bring up or otherwise fueled our discussion include:

Also, do you want a Plumbus?

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

The Rise & Fall of Silver Apples: The 1960s Electronic Band That Built Their Own Synthesizer, Produced Two Pioneering Albums, and Then Faded into Obscurity

In the late 70s and early 80s, a handful of musical duos emerged who would have tremendous impact on post-punk, alternative, new wave, and experimental electronic music. Bands like Suicide, NEU!, and the Pet Shop Boys made far bigger sounds than their size would suggest. Before them all came Silver Apples, a duo who should rightly get credit as pioneers of electronic experimentation in pop song form. Like many a pioneer, Silver Apples had no idea what they were doing. They also suffered from a string of some of the worst luck a band could have, disappearing after their second album in 1969 until a mid-90s rediscovery and brief return.

Bandmembers Simeon Coxe and Danny Taylor formed the band in 1967 from the ruins of a rock group called The Overland Stage Electric Band, which fell apart when Coxe began experimenting with old oscillators onstage. All of the members quit except Taylor, and Coxe set about building his own synthesizer, “a machine nicknamed ‘the Simeon,’” Daniel Dylan Wray writes at The Guardian, “which grew to consist of nine audio oscillators with 86 manual controls—including telegraph keys—to control lead, rhythm and bass pulses with the user’s hands, feet and elbows.”

Coxe was the only person who could play the Simeon, and he sang as he did so, his weird, warbly voice complementing his machine, as Taylor played proto-Krautrock beats behind him. “I had heard the word synthesizer,” he says, “but I had no idea what it was. We were dirt poor and used what we had, which was often discarded world war two gear.” They were essentially making up electronic pop music as they went along, isolated from parallel developments happening at the same time. They named the project after a line by William Butler Yeats (many of their lyrics were written by poet Stanley Warren). Around the same time, composer Morton Subotnick released his groundbreaking all-electronic album, titled—after Yeats—Silver Apples of the Moon.

It was Silver Apples’ fate to be overshadowed by other releases that came out immediately after their 1968 self-titled debut, such as Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach and Gershon Kingsley’s hit “Popcorn,” both of which popularized Robert Moog’s modular synthesizers. Moog himself became so fascinated with Coxe’s singular creation that he visited the Silver Apples studio to see it for himself. The band’s manager scored them their very first gig playing for 30,000 people in Central Park, “providing a live soundtrack to the Apollo moon landing—broadcast on enormous screens beside them,” writes Cian Traynor at Huck magazine, “as people took their clothes off in the rain.”

This magical experience—and other brushes with fame, such as a one-off recording session with Jimi Hendrix—was no indication of a bright future for the band. For their second album, they were allowed to photograph themselves inside the cockpit of a Pan Am jet. The inclusion of drug paraphernalia in the photo, and of a crashed airplane on the back, prompted a lawsuit from the airline. The album was pulled from the shelves, the band shut out of the industry, and a third album, The Garden, remained unreleased until 1998.

For a look at how musically forward-thinking Silver Apples were, see the short documentary about their rise and fall above. They ended up influencing neo-psychedelic electronic bands like Stereolab and 90s duo Portishead, whose Geoff Barrow says, “for people like us, they are the perfect band…. They should definitely be up there with the pioneers of electronic music.” Taylor sadly died in 2005, just after Coxe had partially recovered from a broken neck suffered the year of their 90s resurgence. But Silver Apples music is immortal, and immortally otherworldly and strange, even if its creators never quite understood why. “To me and Danny,” says Coxe, “it sounded perfectly normal and was a normal progression into the areas we were trying to go.”

As so much experimental electronic pop music that emerged around the same time proves, Coxe was more right than he knew. What Silver Apples did turned out to be a “normal” musical development, though they had no idea that it was happening when they made their astonishingly groovy, spaced-out records.

Related Content:

Daphne Oram Created the BBC’s First-Ever Piece of Electronic Music (1957)

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

Tony Hawk & Architectural Historian Iain Borden Tell the Story of How Skateboarding Found a New Use for Cities & Architecture

Wouldn’t we enjoy seeing our cities like an architectural historian, in command of deep knowledge about the technology, ideology, and aesthetics of the buildings we pass by every day? For most of us, this would hugely enrich our experience of the urban environment. But then so, less obviously, would seeing our cities like a skateboarder, in command of deep knowledge about how to glide, jump, and bounce along the streets, the buildings, and all the myriad pieces of infrastructure as a surfer rides the waves. The architectural historian learns the city with his mind; the skater learns the city, no less painstakingly, with his body.

The Vox video above brings mind and body come together in the persons of Iain Borden, author of Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History, and Tony Hawk, to whom even those wholly ignorant of skateboarding need no introduction. Their complementary interviews reveal the history of modern skateboarding through the sport’s “legendary spots”: public-school campuses, abandoned swimming pools, dry drainage ditches, forgotten sections of concrete pipe. In the main this selection reflects the highly suburbanized 1970s in which skateboards first came to popularity in the United States. But at its outer limits, such as the Mt. Baldy pipeline in northern California, it also shows how far skaters will go in search of the ideal place to ride.

Though purpose-build skate parks do exist (their numbers kept low by formidable insurance challenges), serious skaters prefer spaces not expressly designed for skating. This is thanks in large part to the innovations of a skater with less wider-world name recognition than Hawk, but no less influence within the sport: Natas Kaupas. Hawk remembers the thoughts triggered by footage of the young Kaupas skating masterfully through his neighborhood in the 1987 film Wheels of Fire: “Wow, you can skate curbs like that? You can skate benches? You can skate fire hydrants? The whole world is a skate park now.” Suddenly, Borden adds, “you didn’t need to be in California, or in the Arizona desert, or in Florida anymore. You could be anywhere.”

Reviewing Borden’s Skateboarding and the City, Jack Layton in Urban Studies highlights its history of “how the assemblage of materials that makes up cities has been – in countless ways – re-imagined by the skateboarder to create acceleration, rotation, friction and flow.” It’s easy to forget, Layton writes, that “along with facilitating commerce, transport and habitation, cities can be spaces that facilitate play, exhilaration and pleasure.” Despite often having been regarded as public nuisances, skateboarders are “a constant reminder that our cities are creative and rich places,” says Borden. With the exception of the skate parks secretly constructed in hidden urban spaces across the world, skaters, of course, don’t build the city — but they do show us some of its untapped potential.

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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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