This Is “The End”: A Video Exploration of The Doors’ Existential Epic

If you had broken up with your college boyfriend and he told you that he written an 11-minute song about you while on enough LSD to kill a horse, would you want to hear it? Or would you block his number on your phone?

Or maybe because said boyfriend is Jim Morrison and the band is the Doors and the song is “The End,” we’ll let it slide, because whether or not you think Jim’s lyrics are super deep or supercilious, the groove is undeniable, four small furry musicians gathered together in a studio and grooving on a raga, conjuring up Eastern mysticism with Western instruments.

In Polyphonic’s explainer video on “The End,” he pulls apart The Doors’ magnum opus, the closer to its 1967 debut album, analyzing the song in real time as it unspools. (There’s a few moments where Polyphonic and Morrison are vocalizing at the same time—we recommend turning on captions).

The girlfriend in question was Mary Werbelow, Morrison’s steady in the early ‘60s before he chose the path of putting his poetry to music. The Werbelow/Morrison couple had to die for the Doors to be born, in a sense, and Morrison started the lyrics as a goodbye song, a standard pop trope at the time. (There’s a very touching, rare interview with Werbelow here). But Morrison took it in another direction, we could say.

“The End” might be the first musical example of the Psychotronic Breakup genre. Defined by Noah Segan and Adam Egypt Mortimer when talking about film, the Psychotronic Breakup genre “uses dream imagery, paranormal ideas, or the horror genre to express the emotional drama of heartbreak.” Segan and Mortimer’s definition deals only with film, but Morrison does the same thing with song, a little over ten years before the films they discuss. “The End” is a breakup song that breaks down the psyche like LSD, sending the injured party back to basics, and into a universe of archetypes. Things are dying. Things are being reborn. There’s a blue bus which is calling us, and that is either a reference to the Solar Boat in Egyptian mythology or a reference to the Santa Monica bus system (according to one wag in the comments). Or hey, maybe it is both, because Morrison is tapping into something here, much like James Joyce created layers of myth within the quotidian. (Morrison achieves this by walking backwards into it, however.)

Polyphonic gets into the song’s Oedipal Cliff Notes section, describing how it all came fluming out of Morrison on stage, the band having dragged him to a gig at the Whiskey a Go-Go after he consumed “10,000 mikes” (i.e. 10,000 micrograms, about ten full doses) of LSD. A few days later the “kill your teachers, kill your parents” riff was committed to tape, this time also on LSD.

For all its pretense the song still works. And though Morrison never did reconcile with his girlfriend, the song did find its soul mate when Francis Ford Coppola used “The End” as the opening to Apocalypse Now, another work of art that drained the life force from its creator. There are no real cover versions of “The End,” and there are no films past Coppola’s that can use it without irony. It exists like a totem, to be found and puzzled over.

(But because this is late capitalism and everything is terrible, Polyphonic’s segue into a sponsor ad at 11:46 is something wondrous to behold in its perverse beauty. Be warned, my only friend.)

Related Content:

The Doors’ Ray Manzarek Walks You Through the Writing of the Band’s Iconic Song, “Riders on the Storm”

“The Lost Paris Tapes” Preserves Jim Morrison’s Final Poetry Recordings from 1971

A Young, Clean Cut Jim Morrison Appears in a 1962 Florida State University Promo Film

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.

The Long-Lost Pieces of Rembrandt’s Night Watch Get Reconstructed with Artificial Intelligence

Most of us know Rembrandt’s masterpiece by the name The Night Watch, but it has a longer original title: Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq. By the same token, the version of the painting we’ve all seen — whatever we happen to call it — is smaller than the one Rembrandt originally painted in 1642. “In 1715, the monumental canvas was cut down on all four sides to fit onto a wall between two doors in Amsterdam’s Town Hall,” writes The New York Times‘ Nina Siegal. “The snipped pieces were lost. Since the 19th century, the trimmed painting has been housed in the Rijksmuseum, where it is displayed as the museum’s centerpiece, at the focal point of its Gallery of Honor.”

In recent years, the Rijksmuseum has honored The Night Watch further with a thoroughgoing restoration called Operation Night Watch. This ambitious undertaking has so far produced attractions like the largest and most detailed photograph of the painting ever taken, zoom-in-able to the individual brushstroke.

That phase required high imaging technology, to be sure, but it may appear downright conventional compared to the just-unveiled recreation of the work’s three-centuries-missing pieces, which will hang on all four sides of the original at the Rijksmuseum for the next three months. This making-whole wouldn’t have been possible without a small copy made in the 17th century — or the latest artificial-intelligence technology of the 21st.

Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum

“Rather than hiring a painter to reconstruct the missing pieces, the museum’s senior scientist, Robert Erdmann, trained a computer to recreate them pixel by pixel in Rembrandt’s style,” writes Siegal. Erdmann used “a relatively new technology known as convolutional neural networks, a class of artificial-intelligence algorithms designed to help computers make sense of images.” The process, explained in more detail by Shanti Escalante-De Mattei at ARTNews, involved digitally “splitting up the painting into thousands of tiles and placing matching tiles from both the original and the copy side-by-side,” training multiple neural networks to complete the painting in a style as close as possible to Rembrandt’s rather than the copyist’s. The result, with a few new faces as well as a startlingly different compositional feel than the Night Watch we’ve all seen, would no doubt please Captain Banninck Cocq and his militiamen: this, after all, is the portrait they paid for.

You can watch videos on this Rijksmuseum page showing how the classic painting was restored.

Related Content:

What Makes The Night Watch Rembrandt’s Masterpiece

The Restoration of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch Begins: Watch the Painstaking Process On-Site and Online

The Largest & Most Detailed Photograph of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch Is Now Online: Zoom In & See Every Brush Stroke

All the Rembrandts: The Rijksmuseum Puts All 400 Rembrandts It Owns on Display for the First Time

Watch an Art Conservator Bring Classic Paintings Back to Life in Intriguingly Narrated Videos

AI & X-Rays Recover Lost Artworks Underneath Paintings by Picasso & Modigliani

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Radical Gardeners Took Back New York City

New Yorkers’ relationship to New York City community gardens is largely informed by how long we’ve lived here.

Do you remember the 60s, when a fiscal crisis and white flight resulted in thousands of vacant lots and abandoned buildings in low income neighborhoods?

Activists like Hattie Carthan and Liz Christy sprung from such soil, creating youth programs, hauling away debris, and putting constant pressure on elected officials to transform those urban wastelands into green oases.

Verdant sites like the Bowery Houston Community Farm and Garden (now known as the Liz Christy Garden) improved air quality, lowered temperatures, and offered a pleasant gathering place for neighbors of all ages.

In the ‘80s, the city boasted 1000 community gardens, mostly in neighborhoods considered blighted. School aged children learned how to plant, tend, and harvest vegetables. Immigrant members introduced seeds new to American-born gardeners, to help combat both homesickness and food insecurity. On site arts programs flourished. There were al fresco birthday parties, concerts, movie screenings, holiday celebrations, permaculture classes, community meetings…. Gardens became focal points for community engagement. Participants were understandably proud, and invested in what they’d built.

As Yonnette Fleming, founder of the community-led market at the Hattie Carthan Community Garden and Farmer’s Market, says in the above episode of Vox’s Missing Chapter: “Community gardens grow communities, for the people, to be run by the people, for the benefit of the people.”

In the mid-90s, newly elected Mayor Rudy Giuliani sided with developers over citizens. More than half of the city’s gardens were bulldozed to make way for luxury residences.

Traditionally low-rise neighborhoods like the East Village and Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuyvesant would become increasingly fashionable during the early days of the new millennium. New arrivals with little interest in neighborhood history might assume that the sidewalks had always been lined with cute cafes and hipster bars, not to mention trees. (In reality, Carthan was 64 when she began her successful campaign to line Bed-Stuy with trees, and landmark a venerable Magnolia that was at risk of being torn down.)

Perhaps hoping to command younger viewers’ attention, Vox’s Missing Chapter opens not with the rich history of New York City’s community gardens, but rather the many recipes for seed bombs on TikTok. The glass half full perspective on our 500-strong surviving gardens can ring a bit empty to those who lost the fight to preserve a number of East Harlem gardens just a few short years ago.

Don’t forget your roots! Christy’s typewritten, hand illustrated Green Guerillas recipe for seed bombs is below. (If you want to try it at home, please use seeds native to your area.)

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New York City: A Social History (A Free Online Course from N.Y.U.) 

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

Tom Jones Covers Talking Heads “Burning Down the House”–and Burns Down the House (1999)

It was supposedly “the album that finally obliterates the thin line separating arty white pop music and deep black funk,” as David Fricke wrote on the release of Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues. The praise maybe oversells music that is more arty white pop than “deep black funk.” But there’s never been any denying the funkiness of Talking Heads, either, just as there’s never been any denying the soulfulness of Tom Jones. Not that they’re musically comparable artists, but both have incorporated Black musical styles into their own idioms, winning respect on either side of the industry’s segregated line for self-aware re-interpretations of the blues, funk, soul, and R&B, as well as Ghanian high life and Nigerian Afrobeat.

Jones’ late-career reinvention involved showing up on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, covering Prince, working with Wyclef Jean, and making music one might characterize as generally good-humored pop that showcased his still-got-it vocal abilities. In 1999, he took on Speaking in Tongues’ P-Funk-inspired single “Burning Down the House” in a cover that can be called a slick dance-pop interpretation of an art-rock re-interpretation of funk music.

Joined by the Cardigans, Jones belts it out with his typical swagger, while Cardigans’ singer Nina Persson acts as the “foil” writes Patrick Garvin at Pop Culture Experiment in a roundup of the song’s many covers: “She sounded as monotone as he sounded maniacal. And he sounded pretty damn maniacal.”

But Jones doesn’t sound maniacal like David Byrne sounds maniacal. The original track came together from a jam session, with lyrics improvised by Byrne, who shouted random phrases until he found those that best fit the song, changing the Parliament-Funkadelic audience chant “burn down the house!” into “burning down the house,” a line which could mean anything at all. (At one point, he tells NPR, it changed to “Foam Rubber, U.S.A.”) Is it a threat? A panicked outcry? A celebration? A manic lamentation? In Byrne’s anguished yelps one can never tell.

Jones makes “burning down the house” sound like a come-on, set against the iciest of tightly syncopated arrangements, in the most 90s of music videos ever. (Contrast it with the live version above, with P-Funk’s own Bernie Worrell on keyboards, from Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense.) Every cover of the song, and there are many, does its own thing. “The one consistent aspect,” Garvin writes, “is Byrne’s weird lyrics… because they don’t tell a story in a linear sense, they can take on any variety of meanings.”

According to Byrne himself, the song did take on added resonance for him, perfectly in keeping with the 90s rebirth of Tom Jones. “I didn’t really know at the time,” he said in 1984, “but to me… it implies ecstatic rebirth or transcending one’s own self…. In classic psychology, the house is the self. And burning it down is destroying yourself… And the assumption is you get reborn, like a Phoenix from the ashes. See? It’s all there.” Indeed.

Related Content: 

Tom Jones Performs “Long Time Gone” with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young–and Blows the Band & Audience Away (1969)

Janis Joplin & Tom Jones Bring the House Down in an Unlikely Duet of “Raise Your Hand” (1969)

Talking Heads Live in Rome, 1980: The Concert Film You Haven’t Seen

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

The Artistic & Mystical World of Tarot: See Decks by Salvador Dalí, Aleister Crowley, H.R. Giger & More

The tarot goes back to Italy of the late Middle Ages. Every day here in the 21st century, I see undeniable signs of its cultural and temporal transcendence: specifically, the tarot shops doing business here and there along the streets of Seoul, where I live. The tarot began as a deck for play, but these aren’t dealers in card-gaming supplies; rather, their proprietors use tarot decks to provide customers suggestions about their destiny and advice on what to do in the future. Over the past five or six centuries, the purpose of the tarot many have changed, but its original artistic sensibility — dramatic, symbol-laden, and highly subject to counterintuitive interpretation — has remained intact.

You can get an idea of that original artistic sensibility by taking a look at the the Sola-Busca, the oldest known complete deck of tarot cards. Dating from the 1490s, it holds obvious historical interest, but it’s hardly the only tarot deck we’ve featured here on Open Culture.

Artists of subsequent eras, up to and including our own, have created special decks in accordance with their distinctive visions. The unstoppable surrealist Salvador Dalí designed his own, a project embarked upon at the behest of James Bond film producer Albert Broccoli. Later, the master of biomechanism H.R. Giger received a tarot commission as well; though his deck uses previously unpublished rather than custom-made art, it all looks surprisingly, sometimes chillingly fitting.

The world’s most popular tarot deck was designed not by a famous artist, but by an illustrator named Pamela Coleman-Smith. Many more have used and appreciated her work than even, say, the Thoth deck, designed by no less renowned an occultist than Aleister Crowley, “the wickedest man in the world.” If you won’t take his word for it, perhaps the founder of analytical psychology can sell you on the merits of tarot: for Carl Jung, the deck held out the possibility of the “intuitive method” he sought for “understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment.” (See his deck here.) Even if you’re not in search of such a method, few other artifacts weave together so many threads of art, philosophy, history, and symbolism. Of course, no few modern enthusiasts find in it the same appeal as did those early tarot players of the 15th century: it’s fun.

Related Content:

Meet the Forgotten Female Artist Behind the World’s Most Popular Tarot Deck (1909)

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The Thoth Tarot Deck Designed by Famed Occultist Aleister Crowley

H.R. Giger’s Tarot Cards: The Swiss Artist, Famous for His Design Work on Alien, Takes a Journey into the Occult

Behold the Sola-Busca Tarot Deck, the Earliest Complete Set of Tarot Cards (1490)

Divine Decks: A Visual History of Tarot: The First Comprehensive Survey of Tarot Gets Published by Taschen

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

1540 Monet Paintings in a Two Hour Video

I am distressed, almost discouraged, and fatigued to the point of feeling slightly ill. What I am doing is no good, and in spite of your confidence I am very much afraid that my efforts will all lead to nothing. 

To know anything about the school of painting called Impressionism, one must know Claude Monet, who gave the movement its name with his painting Impression, Sunrise and provided its method — an almost confrontational relationship with landscape in plein-air. “I have gone back to some things that can’t possibly be done: water, with weeds waving at the bottom,” Monet wrote in a letter to his friend Gustave Geffroy in 1890. “It is a wonderful sight, but it drives one crazy trying to paint it. But that is the kind of thing I am always tackling.”

That “kind of thing,” the compulsion to paint nature in motion, required working quickly, repeating the same experiments over and over, despairing of getting it right, producing in the attempt his glorious series of haystacks and water lilies. Monet began painting landscapes upon meeting artist Eugene Boudin, who taught him to paint in open air, and he never stopped, refining his brushstroke for almost seventy years: from his first canvas, 1858’s View from the banks of the Lezade, to his last, The Rose Bush, finished in 1926, the final year of his life.

Whatever else Impressionism might mean, when it comes to Monet, it entails a prodigious amount of drawing, sketching, and painting. Over 2,500 such works have been attributed to him. That number is probably much higher “as it is known that Monet destroyed a number of his own works and others have surely been lost over time,” notes the Monet Gallery. Around 2,000 of those works are paintings, now spread around the world, with the largest collection located at the Marmottan Monet Museum in Paris, where Impression, Sunrise (above) is held.

While it may be nearly impossible to see all of Monet’s known works in one lifetime (just as it seems impossible that he could have made so many masterpieces in one life), you can see 1540 of them in the video at the top — in a presentation that may or may not suit your art viewing sensibilities. If zooming slowly into hundreds of Monet paintings for a few seconds leaves you feeling a little overwhelmed, you can also head to the Monet Gallery online to see over 1900 of the artist’s attempts at “following Nature,” as he put it, “without being able to grasp her.”

Related Content:

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Claude Monet at Work in His Famous Garden at Giverny: Rare Film from 1915

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

Every Roman Emperor: A Video Timeline Moving from Augustus to the Byzantine Empire’s Last Ruler, Constantine XI

Famed Roman orator and consul Cicero is celebrated as a staunch defender of the Republic, and of traditional Roman morality and civic virtues. He was also a shrewd opportunist who survived the Republic’s demise and lived to tell about it, although he supported Julius Caesar’s rival Pompey in the contest for control of Rome. When Caesar became a dictator, he forgave Cicero. And when Caesar was murdered, Cicero applauded:

Our tyrant deserved his death for having made an exception of the one thing that was the blackest crime of all… here you have a man who was ambitious to be king of the Roman People and master of the whole world; and he achieved it! The man who maintains that such an ambition is morally right is a madman, for he justifies the destruction of law and liberty and thinks their hideous and detestable suppression glorious…. All honest men killed Caesar… some lacked design, some courage, some opportunity: none lacked the will. 

Cicero then attached himself to Caesar’s great-nephew and named successor, Octavian, the future Augustus, Rome’s first emperor. “The elder statesman was extremely flattered to have Octavian ‘totally devoted to me,’” José Miguel Baños writes at National Geographic. “He became convinced that an alliance with Octavian might help to destroy [Mark] Antony’s political aspirations.” This time, Cicero backed the right dictator. Nonetheless, before committing suicide with his lover Cleopatra, Antony had the great orator beheaded. It was “the moment,” writes Baños, “the Roman Republic truly died.”

Cicero’s death, and Augustus’ ascension, marked the birth of the Roman Empire, ruled by a succession of emperors — or sometimes two, three, or even six or seven emperors. Many of these are renowned, rightly or wrongly, for their decadence and hedonism. Caligula, Nero, Commodus have all become villains in feature films. Some were philosophers, like Marcus Aurelius; some were teenagers, like Heliogabalus, who reigned from age 14 to age 18, when he was murdered by his own Praetorian guard, and Romulus Augustulus, the last of the Western emperors, who ascended at age 12, a proxy for his father, and was deposed by German general Odoacer in 476 AD.

The Empire continued for another 1000 years of Christian rule in the East, first under Constantine, in Constantinople (now Istanbul), which had been named Byzantium; hence Rome became the Byzantine Empire. The video above shows a timeline of every Roman emperor from Augustus to the very last ruler of the Eastern Empire, Constantine XI Palaiologos, who surrendered Constantinople in 1453 to Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II.

The Empire had finally fallen, 1500 years after Cicero warned of the Republic’s demise. Before his army’s defeat, the last Byzantine Emperor gave a speech to “the descendants of the Greeks and Romans.”

I can tell you that this city mastered the entire universe; She placed beneath her feet Pontus, Armenia, Paphlagonia, The Amazonian lands, Cappadocia, Galatia, Media, Georgian Colchis, Bosphoros, Albania, Syria, Cilicia, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Palestine, Arabia, Judea, Bactria, Scythia, Macedonia, Thessaly, Boeotia, Locris, Aetolia, Arcarnania, Achaea, the Peloponnese, Epirus, Illyria, Lykhnites, the Adriatic, Italy, Tuscany, the Celts, and Galatian Celts, Spain up to Cadiz, Libya, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Beledes, Scude, Numidia, Africa and Egypt.

Consider, said the last emperor, “my brothers and comrades in arms, how the commemoration of our death, our memory, fame and freedom can be rendered eternal.”

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

Hear Demos & Outtakes of Joni Mitchell’s Blue on the 50th Anniversary of the Classic Album

When Joni Mitchell released Blue in 1971, she revealed herself to the world as a poet with a hard-boiled interior life. The album, writes Rolling Stone, challenged the image many had of her as an innocent flower child. “The West Coast feminine ideal” was a role “Mitchell hadn’t asked for and did not want.” Of her writing of the album, she said in a 2013 interview, “They better find out who they’re worshipping. Let’s see if they can take it. Let’s get real.”

Get real she did, shocking the men around her, some of whom she’d written about candidly, including Graham Nash, Leonard Cohen, and James Taylor, who played on several tracks. She wrote about the heartbreak of leaving her daughter and rewrote the breakup song as a confessional on “River.” The album’s cultural impact, 50 years after its release, has much to do with Mitchell as a lone female protagonist in a male-dominated industry. “Along with its romantic melancholy,” Rolling Stone writes, “Blue was the sound of a woman availing herself of the romantic and sexual freedom that was, until then, an exclusively male province in rock.”

We listen to Blue now and hear the voices of later generations of singer-songwriters, from Tracy Chapman and Tori Amos to Phoebe Bridgers, who seized their own power. By the time of Blue’s release, Mitchell had become a powerful voice of her generation, penning “Woodstock” just the year before. “Blue is Mitchell’s first song cycle whereby all the songs interrelate in their themes of loss and transformation,” writes Classic Album Sundays. “The album reflects the disillusionment and disenchantment felt by a generation during the closing of The Sixties.”

“It’s a description of the times,” Mitchell attests. “There were so many sinking but I had to keep thinking I could make it through the waves. You watched that high of the hippie thing descend into drug depression. Right after Woodstock, then we went through a decade of basic apathy where my generation sucked it’s thumb and then just decided to be greedy and pornographic.”

As if capturing the feelings of her own personal losses and those of millions of others weren’t enough, Mitchell’s songwriting and musicianship on the album are consistently astonishing, each word married to a suspended note, an unexpected chord voicing, a pregnant breath. “My words and music are locked together,” she says. She proved on Blue that she was a talent to be reckoned with and never underestimated. On the 50th anniversary of Blue’s release, Mitchell is releasing a five song EP, Blue 50 (Demos & Outtakes), which you can hear above (see tracklist below).

  1. A Case Of You (Demo) 0:00:00
  2. California (Demo) 0:04:00
  3. Hunter (Outtake) 0:07:30
  4. River (Outtake with French Horns) 0:10:25
  5. Urge For Going (Outtake with Strings) 0:14:27

It’s a document of a different album, one that might have included “Hunter” — a country-like strummer  — and might have had french horns on “River,” perhaps the album’s best-known song and one of the most beloved Christmas songs of the past 50 years. Look for the next release celebrating a half-century of Blue on October 29th. Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971) “will explore the period leading up to Blue,” notes her official YouTube, “through nearly six hours of unreleased home, studio, and live recordings.” Or, you could just listen to Blue over and over. It seems to reveal something different every time.

Related Content: 

How Joni Mitchell’s Song of Heartbreak, “River,” Became a Christmas Classic

How Joni Mitchell Wrote “Woodstock,” the Song that Defined the Legendary Music Festival, Even Though She Wasn’t There (1969)

Watch Joni Mitchell Sing an Immaculate Version of Her Song “Coyote,” with Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn & Gordon Lightfoot (1975)

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

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