David Bowie’s Lost Album Toy Will Get an Official Release: Hear the First Track “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving”

To the seri­ous Bowie fan, the unre­leased self-cov­ers album Toy is not a secret. This col­lec­tion of reworked pre-“Space Odd­i­ty” songs record­ed with his tour­ing band from his 2000 Glas­ton­bury appear­ance was boot­legged a year after it was shelved in 2001. And it has been re-pressed ille­gal­ly near­ly every year since, some­times as Toy and some­times as The Lost Album. Some of the four­teen cuts popped up as b‑sides over the years, but the whole album? Maybe, fans thought…one day.

Well, that one day is here, as the first sin­gle “You’ve Got a Habit of Leav­ing” dropped yes­ter­day along with an announce­ment for a larg­er 90’s‑encompassing box set release com­ing soon after.
Accord­ing to Chris O’Leary’s Push­ing Ahead of the Dame web­page—which you real­ly should book­mark if you haven’t yet—the orig­i­nal ver­sion of “You’ve Got a Habit of Leav­ing” was writ­ten when he was only 18, and earned him a rep­ri­mand from none oth­er than The Who’s Pete Town­shend. ”You’re try­ing to write like me!” said Pete.

You can total­ly hear the Who influ­ence in the cho­rus of the ver­sion released by Davy Jones and the Low­er Third, which apes the fuzz-gui­tar freak-outs from “My Gen­er­a­tion.”

Three and a half decades and mul­ti­ple Bowie-incar­na­tions lat­er, and the for­mer Davy Jones decid­ed to look back at those hun­gry ear­ly years and redo some of his songs.

The plan in 2000 was to gath­er his band and record an album old-school, live, in stu­dio, with all the ener­gy and some­times slop­pi­ness that used to hap­pen in the 1960s, when most bands got at most two days to record their first albums. The first Bea­t­les album was record­ed this way, and look where that got them.

But this also afford­ed Bowie a chance to fix the weak­ness­es of those orig­i­nal songs in struc­ture and arrange­ment. Says O’Leary: “The new ver­sion is longer, far more elab­o­rate­ly pro­duced, far more pro­fes­sion­al­ly played and it still sounds like a Who knock-off, only a knock-off of The Who ca. 1999. That said, Bowie sings it well and it does final­ly rock out at the end.”

Bowie’s plan was to quick­ly fin­ish Toy and drop it unan­nounced as a sur­prise to his fans. This is com­mon­place now—Beyonce and Radio­head have done sim­i­lar secret releases—but EMI freaked out, balked, and their reac­tion ulti­mate­ly led Bowie to leave the label.

Oth­er songs reimag­ined on Toy include “Liza Jane,” Bowie’s debut sin­gle from 1964; “Sil­ly Boy Blue” from his first self-titled 1967 LP; and “The Lon­don Boys” a 1966 B‑side. The album also includes songs that didn’t make it on the bootlegs: “Kar­ma Man,” the orig­i­nal of which turned up on Bowie at the Beeb from a 1968 ses­sion, and “Can’t Help Think­ing About Me,” orig­i­nal­ly released in 1966.

The release will be part of Bril­liant Adven­ture (1992–2001) an 11-CD or 18-LP box set that will focus on Bowie’s third decade. Toy will be released sep­a­rate­ly as a 3‑CD release called Toy:Box, con­tain­ing “alter­nate mix­es and out­takes.” Bet­ter save your pen­nies!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When David Bowie Launched His Own Inter­net Ser­vice Provider: The Rise and Fall of BowieNet (1998)

In 1999, David Bowie Pre­dicts the Good and Bad of the Inter­net: “We’re on the Cusp of Some­thing Exhil­a­rat­ing and Ter­ri­fy­ing”

How David Bowie Used William S. Bur­roughs’ Cut-Up Method to Write His Unfor­get­table Lyrics

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.

See Every Nuclear Explosion in History: 2153 Blasts from 1945–2015

There have been more than 2,000 nuclear explo­sions in all of his­to­ry — which, in the case of the tech­nol­o­gy required to det­o­nate a nuclear explo­sion, goes back only 76 years. It all began, accord­ing to the ani­mat­ed video above, on July 16, 1945, with the nuclear device code-named Trin­i­ty. The fruit of the labors of the Man­hat­tan Project, its explo­sion famous­ly brought to the mind of the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist Robert J. Oppen­hemier a pas­sage from the Bha­gavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, destroy­er of worlds.” But how­ev­er rev­e­la­to­ry a spec­ta­cle Trin­i­ty pro­vid­ed, it turned out mere­ly to be the over­ture of the nuclear age.

Cre­at­ed by Ehsan Rezaie of Orbital Mechan­ics, the video offers a sim­ple-look­ing but decep­tive­ly infor­ma­tion-rich pre­sen­ta­tion of every nuclear explo­sion that has so far occurred. It belongs to a per­haps unlike­ly but nev­er­the­less deci­sive­ly estab­lished genre, the ani­mat­ed nuclear-explo­sion time-lapse, of which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured exam­ples from Busi­ness Insid­er’s Alex Kuzoian and artist Isao Hasi­mo­to here on Open Cul­ture.

The size of each cir­cle that erupts on the world map indi­cates the rel­a­tive pow­er of the explo­sion in its loca­tion (all infor­ma­tion also pro­vid­ed in the scrolling text on the low­er left); those det­o­nat­ed under­ground appear in yel­low, those det­o­nat­ed under­wa­ter in blue, and those det­o­nat­ed in the atmos­phere in red.

Trin­i­ty cre­at­ed an atmos­pher­ic explo­sion above New Mex­i­co’s Jor­na­da del Muer­to desert. (Oth­er­wise Oppen­heimer would­n’t have been able to wit­ness it change the world.) So did Lit­tle Boy and Fat Man, the bombs dropped on Japan in World War II. Those remain the only det­o­na­tions of nuclear weapons in com­bat, and thus the nuclear explo­sions every­one knows, but they, too, rep­re­sent only the begin­ning. As the Cold War sets in, some­thing of a test­ing vol­ley emerges between the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union, cul­mi­nat­ing in the colos­sal red dot of 1961’s Tsar Bom­ba, still the most pow­er­ful nuclear weapon ever test­ed. With the USSR long gone today, the explo­sions have only slowed. But in recent years, as the data on which this video is based indi­cates, nuclear test­ing has turned into a one-play­er game — and that play­er is North Korea.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Nuclear Bomb Explo­sion in His­to­ry, Ani­mat­ed

53 Years of Nuclear Test­ing in 14 Min­utes: A Time Lapse Film by Japan­ese Artist Isao Hashimo­to

200 Haunt­ing Videos of U.S. Nuclear Tests Now Declas­si­fied and Put Online

Watch Chill­ing Footage of the Hiroshi­ma & Nagasa­ki Bomb­ings in Restored Col­or

U.S. Det­o­nates Nuclear Weapons in Space; Peo­ple Watch Spec­ta­cle Sip­ping Drinks on Rooftops (1962)

J. Robert Oppen­heimer Explains How He Recit­ed a Line from Bha­gavad Gita–“Now I Am Become Death, the Destroy­er of Worlds” — Upon Wit­ness­ing the First Nuclear Explo­sion

Haunt­ing Unedit­ed Footage of the Bomb­ing of Nagasa­ki (1945)

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.

Jim Henson’s Farewell: Revisit the “Nice, Friendly” Memorial Service at St. John the Divine (1990)

Please watch out for each oth­er and love and for­give every­body. It’s a good life, enjoy it. — Jim Hen­son

Born in Greenville, Mis­sis­sip­pi, Jim Hen­son spent his youth prac­tic­ing the tenets of Chris­t­ian Sci­ence, a faith he would offi­cial­ly renounce in 1975. But the pow­er of pos­i­tive think­ing his ear­ly reli­gion years instilled would per­sist, roman­ti­cized by his alter-ego, Ker­mit the Frog, and tem­pered by foils like the earthy, iras­ci­ble Ms. Pig­gy. For every foul-mouthed Oscar the Grouch, there was always a lov­able Big Bird, “Jim taught us many things: to save the plan­et, be kind to each oth­er, praise God, and be sil­ly,” said Mup­pet writer Jer­ry Juhl at Henson’s 1990 New York City memo­r­i­al ser­vice. “That’s how I’ll remem­ber him — as a man who was bal­anced effort­less­ly and grace­ful­ly between the sacred and the sil­ly.”

Henson’s first memo­r­i­al, held at the cav­ernous Cathe­dral of St. John the Divine bore wit­ness to Juhl’s por­trait of the late, bril­liant creator’s lega­cy. In true Hen­son fash­ion, the pup­peteer direct­ed the event him­self from beyond the grave, a final light­heart­ed joke, as he had writ­ten in a let­ter to his fam­i­ly four years ear­li­er: “It feels strange writ­ing this while I am still alive, but it wouldn’t be easy after I go …. This all may seem sil­ly to you guys, but what the hell, I’m gone and who can argue with me?”

By “this all,” Hen­son meant a funer­al ser­vice in which guests were for­bid­den to wear black and asked to mourn and cel­e­brate to the tunes of a Dix­ieland brass band: “A nice, friend­ly lit­tle ser­vice,” he wrote in his instruc­tions, with a “rous­ing” sound­track.

To the sounds of jazz, his friends and fam­i­ly added — of course — the songs that defined Henson’s career, includ­ing “Sun­ny Day,” the Sesame Street theme song, Mup­pets anthem “The Rain­bow Con­nec­tion,” and — in a sec­ond memo­r­i­al ser­vice held two months lat­er at St. Paul’s in Lon­don — Ker­mit the Frog’s anthem, “It’s Not Easy Being Green” (above) sung by Big Bird and Oscar pup­peteer Car­oll Spin­ney. (Spin­ney passed away in 2019.) Both Hen­son memo­ri­als were solemn (unavoid­able giv­en the occa­sion and the venues) but also decid­ed­ly sil­ly, as sto­ry after sto­ry about the man poured forth from those who knew him best.

In the Defunct­land video at the top, you can see Henson’s friend and fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor Juhl take the pul­pit at St. John the Divine to tell his favorite Hen­son sto­ry of work­ing on their first show in 1955, Sam and Friends, a local Wash­ing­ton, D.C. live-action/pup­pet pro­gram that gave birth to Ker­mit. Doubt­ing the joke at the heart of a sketch, Juhl went to Hen­son with his mis­giv­ings; and Hen­son replied, “It’s a ter­ri­ble joke, but it’s wor­thy of us.” The laugh­ter that rum­bles through the crowd is char­ac­ter­is­tic of both funer­al ser­vices, which feel far more inti­mate than they are. Or as Hen­son’s son Bri­an says in his trib­ute, “Sor­ry Dad. Lit­tle ser­vice, big place.” See the full New York funer­al ser­vice for Hen­son just below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wit­ness the Birth of Ker­mit the Frog in Jim Henson’s Live TV Show, Sam and Friends (1955)

Jim Hen­son Cre­ates an Exper­i­men­tal Ani­ma­tion Explain­ing How We Get Ideas (1966)

The Cre­ative Life of Jim Hen­son Explored in a Six-Part Doc­u­men­tary Series

Watch Blondie’s Deb­bie Har­ry Per­form “Rain­bow Con­nec­tion” with Ker­mit the Frog on The Mup­pet Show (1981)

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

Nirvana Refuses to Mime Along to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Top of the Pops (1991)

This month marks the 30th anniver­sary of Nirvana’s Nev­er­mind, first released on Sep­tem­ber 24, 1991, “the day,” writes Michael Ted­der at Stere­ogum, “that col­lege radio-nur­tured types and arty hard rock offi­cial­ly became rebrand­ed as Alter­na­tive Rock, and, accord­ing to leg­end, every­thing changed for­ev­er.” You might believe that leg­end even if you remem­ber the real­i­ty. Yes, “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” was just as huge as every­body says — and, yes, you like­ly recall where you were when you first saw the video or heard the song explode with Pix­ies-inspired qui­et-loud feroc­i­ty from the radio. But the change was already on the way.

Nir­vana emerged in a pop music land­scape slow­ly becom­ing sat­u­rat­ed with alter­na­tive music. You might also remem­ber where you were the first time you saw the video for Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” for exam­ple, or R.E.M.’s “Los­ing My Reli­gion,” or Sinéad O’Connor’s “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U” — or when you first expe­ri­enced the dynamic/melodic assault of the afore­men­tioned Pix­ies, vir­tu­al alt-rock elders by the time they released Trompe Le Monde, their fourth stu­dio album, in the same Sep­tem­ber week that Nev­er­mind appeared. (You may remem­ber where you were the first time you heard the word “Lol­la­palooza,” first orga­nized in 1991.)

The fate­ful week in Sep­tem­ber also saw the release of 90s-defin­ing albums like Pri­mal Scream’s Screa­madel­i­ca, Red Hot Chili Pep­pers’ Blood Sug­ar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End The­o­ry. In the year that Nev­er­mind sup­pos­ed­ly sin­gle-hand­ed­ly invent­ed “grunge,” Soundgar­den released Bad­mo­torfin­ger and Pearl Jam released Ten. It’s fair to say Nir­vana were one of just many bands rein­vent­ing them­selves and the cul­ture. Even the hair met­al bands and teen pop idols Nir­vana put out of busi­ness were already try­ing to make more seri­ous, “authen­tic” music before Nev­er­mind turned every executive’s head.

Kurt Cobain was already well aware — and wary — of the dan­gers of hero wor­ship and blind alle­giance to style over sub­stance. It was an atti­tude he came by nat­u­ral­ly giv­en that, in 1991, his friends in Olympia, Wash­ing­ton found­ed an indie record label called Kill Rock Stars. He’d writ­ten an anthem, “In Bloom,” about it before any­one heard the open­ing pow­er chords of “Smells Like Teen Spir­it.” As he pur­sued, with rig­or­ous ambi­tion, the pow­er of rock star­dom, he reject­ed its trap­pings and pre­ten­sions, as when the band appeared on Top of the Pops and took the piss out of the show, rather than mime along duti­ful­ly, as Mark Beau­mont writes at NME:

Pre­tend­ing to strum his gui­tar like a robot and mak­ing no attempt to go any­where near an actu­al chord – pre­sum­ably a state­ment about being asked to per­form like a mechan­i­cal pup­pet – Kurt launch­es into his vocal in deep, the­atri­cal bari­tone, an homage to Mor­ris­sey that comes across more like Jim Mor­ri­son on mogadon. Mean­while Krist Novosel­ic flails his bass around his head like he’s wrestling a live wolf and Dave Grohl’s ‘drum­ming’ is more like an inter­pre­tive dance to rep­re­sent ‘goofy imp’. Oh, and heav­en knows what the TOTP cen­sors thought of Kurt chang­ing the open­ing lyrics to “load up on drugs, kill your friends” before try­ing to eat the micro­phone. 

In light of the groundswell of alter­na­tive bands emerg­ing — or still plug­ging away — at the time of Nev­er­mind’s release, the myth of Nir­vana as the sin­gle-hand­ed inven­tors of 90s alt-rock is more than a lit­tle overblown. This is espe­cial­ly so in a decade that saw elec­tron­ic dance music and hip hop cross over into rock and vice-ver­sa, a trend Nir­vana had noth­ing to do with. They were a thun­der­ing­ly great band, and Kurt Cobain was a rare and gift­ed song­writer, but the heart of Nirvana’s pop­u­lar appeal was extra-musi­cal. The band — mean­ing, prin­ci­pal­ly, Cobain — most hon­est­ly embod­ied the spir­it of the time: painful­ly ambiva­lent and at war with its aspi­ra­tions. “Kurt — I would call him a wind­mill,” says bassist Krist Novosel­ic. “He want­ed to be a rock star — and he hat­ed it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Record­ing Secrets of Nirvana’s Nev­er­mind Revealed by Pro­duc­er Butch Vig

How Nirvana’s Icon­ic “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” Came to Be: An Ani­mat­ed Video Nar­rat­ed by T‑Bone Bur­nett Tells the True Sto­ry

The Ukulele Orches­tra of Great Britain’s Head­bang­ing Cov­er of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it”

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

America’s First Banned Book: Discover the 1637 Book That Mocked the Puritans

In the con­test for the title of the most Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal fig­ure of them all, Thomas Mor­ton’s name can’t be left out. Busi­nesslike, liti­gious, giv­en to rhap­sodies over nature, and not resis­tant to turn­ing celebri­ty, he was also — in a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly Amer­i­can man­ner — born else­where. Back in Devon, Eng­land, he’d made his name as a lawyer, rep­re­sent­ing mem­bers of the low­er class in court, but in 1622 he was hired by investor Sir Fer­di­nan­do Gorges on a trip to han­dle his affairs in the North Amer­i­can colonies. This was just two years after the found­ing of Ply­mouth Colony, whose suc­cess had inspired many an Eng­lish busi­ness­man to con­tem­plate get­ting in on the New World action him­self. In 1624, Gorges sent Mor­ton across the Atlantic again, this time with every­thing need­ed to found a colony of his own.

Mor­ton was not a Puri­tan, nor was he “on board with the strict, insu­lar, and pious soci­ety they had hoped to build for them­selves,” as Atlas Obscu­ra’s Matthew Taub puts it. Though his own colony of Mer­ry­mount became Ply­mouth’s rival in the fur trade, for the Puri­tans “the prob­lem wasn’t only that Mor­ton was tak­ing goods and com­merce away from Ply­mouth, but that he was giv­ing that busi­ness to the Native Amer­i­cans, includ­ing trad­ing guns to the Algo­nquins. With Plymouth’s monop­oly dis­solved and its per­ceived ene­mies armed, Mor­ton had per­haps done more than any­one else to under­mine the Puri­tan project in Mass­a­chu­setts.” And that was before Mor­ton erect­ed Mer­ry­moun­t’s 80-foot, antler-topped may­pole, around which he invit­ed res­i­dents to “drink, dance, and frol­ic.”

Obvi­ous­ly, Mor­ton’s reign as a “lord of mis­rule” (as Plymouth’s gov­er­nor William Brad­ford deemed him) could not be borne for long. “Dur­ing the 1628 fes­tiv­i­ties, a Puri­tan mili­tia led by Myles Stan­dish invad­ed Mer­ry­mount and chopped down the may­pole,” writes Taub, not­ing that the inci­dent inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1832 short sto­ry “The May-Pole of Mer­ry Mount.” Mor­ton also turned out to be an able chron­i­cler of the peri­od him­self, at least after the sub­se­quent tribu­la­tions that saw him sen­tenced to death by star­va­tion, helped to sur­vive by the Native Amer­i­can tribes with whom he had main­tained good rela­tions, safe­ly returned to Eng­land, and frus­trat­ed in his attempts to return to the colonies. Around 1630, he did what any true Amer­i­can, offi­cial or aspir­ing, would do: put togeth­er a law­suit.

Mor­ton demand­ed, writes World His­to­ry Ency­clo­pe­di­a’s Joshua Mark, “that the gov­ern­ment of the Mass­a­chu­setts Bay Colony demon­strate by what author­i­ty they exer­cised their pow­er,” argu­ing for the revo­ca­tion of its char­ter “because the Puri­tans of Mass­a­chu­setts Bay Colony had not only mis­rep­re­sent­ed them­selves in obtain­ing the char­ter but had no right to col­o­nize the region in the first place as it was legal­ly in Gorges’ patent.” As the long (and in any case futile) legal pro­ceed­ings dragged on, Mor­ton got the idea of turn­ing his exten­sive briefs for the tri­al into “a three-vol­ume work of his­to­ry, nat­ur­al his­to­ry, satire, and poet­ry” called New Eng­lish Canaan, a Bib­li­cal allu­sion under­scor­ing Mor­ton’s crit­i­cal view of the Puri­tans as “abus­ing the natives and the land for prof­it and then jus­ti­fy­ing their actions in the name of their god and the scrip­tures.”

Lin­da Can­toni at Hot off the Press writes that “the first two books of New Eng­lish Canaan are most­ly non-con­tro­ver­sial, con­tain­ing Morton’s obser­va­tions on the native Amer­i­cans, whom he respect­ed great­ly, and on the rich nat­ur­al resources in New Eng­land. It was in the third book that Mor­ton rolled up his sleeves and got down to his real pur­pose of skew­er­ing the New Eng­land Puri­tans, who, he said, ‘make a great shewe of Reli­gion, but no human­i­ty.’ ” As a result, writes Men­tal Floss’ Jake Rossen, “his book was per­ceived as an all-out attack on Puri­tan moral­i­ty, and they didn’t take kind­ly to it. So they banned it,” mak­ing New Eng­lish Canaan what Christie’s called “Amer­i­ca’s first banned book” when they auc­tioned a copy off for $60,000. But you can read it for free at Project Guten­berg, bear­ing in mind the most Amer­i­can les­son of all from the life of Thomas Mor­ton: when all else fails, pub­lish a tell-all mem­oir.

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The British Library Dig­i­tizes Its Col­lec­tion of Obscene Books (1658–1940)

It’s Banned Books Week: Lis­ten to Allen Gins­berg Read His Famous­ly Banned Poem, “Howl,” in San Fran­cis­co, 1956

When L. Frank Baum’s Wiz­ard of Oz Series Was Banned for “Depict­ing Women in Strong Lead­er­ship Roles” (1928)

Read 14 Great Banned & Cen­sored Nov­els Free Online: For Banned Books Week 2014

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Let­ter to the High School That Burned Slaugh­ter­house-Five

When Christ­mas Was Legal­ly Banned for 22 Years by the Puri­tans in Colo­nial Mass­a­chu­setts

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.

Why Scientists Can’t Recreate the Sound of Stradivarius Violins: The Mystery of Their Inimitable Sound

In his influ­en­tial 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechan­i­cal Repro­duc­tion,” crit­ic Wal­ter Ben­jamin used the word “aura” to describe an artwork’s “pres­ence in time and space” — an expla­na­tion of the thrill, or chill, we get from stand­ing before a Jack­son Pol­lock, say, or a Michelan­ge­lo, rather than a pho­to­graph of the same. Writ­ing in the age of radio, pho­tog­ra­phy, and news­pa­pers, Ben­jamin believed that aura could not be trans­mit­ted or copied: “Even the most per­fect repro­duc­tion of a work of art is lack­ing in one ele­ment” — that rare thing that makes art worth pre­serv­ing and repro­duc­ing in the first place.

Let’s grant, for the sake of argu­ment, that musi­cal instru­ments have aura — that the very sounds they make are its man­i­fes­ta­tion, and that, no mat­ter how sophis­ti­cat­ed our tech­nol­o­gy, we may nev­er repro­duce those sounds per­fect­ly. As Hank Green explains in the SciShow video above: “For cen­turies, musi­cians, instru­ment mak­ers, engi­neers, and sci­en­tists have been try­ing to under­stand and repro­duce the ‘Stradi­var­ius’ sound. They’ve inves­ti­gat­ed every­thing from the mate­ri­als their mak­er used to how he craft­ed the vio­lins. But the mys­tique is still there.” Can sci­ence solve the mys­tery?

At heart, the ques­tion seems to be whether the aur­al qual­i­ties of a Stradi­vari instru­ment can be plucked from their time and place of ori­gin and made fun­gi­ble, so to speak, across the cen­turies. Anto­nio Stradi­vari (his name is often Latinized to “Stradi­var­ius”) began mak­ing vio­lins in the 1600s and con­tin­ued, with his sons Francesco and Omobono, until his death in 1737, pro­duc­ing around 1000 instru­ments, most of which were vio­lins. About 650 of those instru­ments sur­vive today, and approx­i­mate­ly 500 of those are vio­lins, rang­ing in val­ue from tens of mil­lions to price­less.

Green sur­veys the tech­niques, mate­ri­als, physics, and chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of Stradi­vari vio­lins “to under­stand why Stradi­var­ius vio­lins have been so hard to recre­ate.” Their sound has been described as “sil­very,” says Green, a word that sounds pret­ty but has lit­tle tech­ni­cal mean­ing. Rather than rely on adjec­tives, researchers from diverse fields have tried to work from the objects them­selves — ana­lyz­ing and attempt­ing to recre­ate the vio­lins’ shape, con­struc­tion, mate­ri­als, etc. They’ve learned that time and place mat­ter more than they sup­posed.

The wood of a Stradi­vari vio­lin “real­ly is dif­fer­ent,” Green says, “but because Stradi­vari nev­er wrote down his process, researchers can’t quite tell why.” That wood itself grew in a process over which Stradi­vari had no con­trol. The alpine spruce he used came from trees har­vest­ed “at the edge of Europe’s Lit­tle Ice Age, a 70-year peri­od of unsea­son­ably cold weath­er … that slowed tree growth and made for even more con­sis­tent wood.” We begin to see the dif­fi­cul­ties. One researcher, Joseph Nagy­vary, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of bio­chem­istry at Texas A&M Uni­ver­si­ty, recent­ly made anoth­er dis­cov­ery. As Texas A&M Today notes:

[Stradi­vari and fel­low mak­er Guarneri] soaked their instru­ments in chem­i­cals such as borax and brine to pro­tect them from a worm infes­ta­tion that was sweep­ing through Italy in the 1700s. By pure acci­dent the chem­i­cals used to pro­tect the wood had the unin­tend­ed result of pro­duc­ing the unique sounds that have been almost impos­si­ble to dupli­cate in the past 400 years.

Per­haps we can­not dupli­cate the sound because none of us is Anto­nio Stradi­vari, work­ing with his sons in the ear­ly 18th cen­tu­ry in Cre­mona, Italy, build­ing vio­lins with a unique crop of alpine spruce while fight­ing unsea­son­ably cold weath­er and worms.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

What Makes the Stradi­var­ius Spe­cial? It Was Designed to Sound Like a Female Sopra­no Voice, With Notes Sound­ing Like Vow­els, Says Researcher

Watch Price­less 17-Cen­tu­ry Stradi­var­ius and Amati Vio­lins Get Tak­en for a Test Dri­ve by Pro­fes­sion­al Vio­lin­ists

Why Stradi­var­ius Vio­lins Are Worth Mil­lions

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

Stand-Up Comedy in the Internet Age — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #106


Your host Mark Lin­sen­may­er dis­cuss­es how Inter­net cul­ture has changed stand-up with three come­di­ans: past Pret­ty Much Pop guests Rod­ney Ram­sey (who co-owns the Unknown Com­e­dy Club) and Daniel Lobell (host of Mod­ern Day Philoso­phers and author of the Fair Enough com­ic), plus Dena Jack­son (also a speak­er on yoga and mind­ful­ness and host of The Ego Pod­cast).

How does the exis­tence of YouTube, social media, and vir­tu­al spaces changed the way come­di­ans con­struct a set, relate to their fans, and make a liv­ing? We talk about sto­ry-telling vs. one-lin­ers, rep­ping your home­town, com­e­dy cliques, sur­viv­ing neg­a­tiv­i­ty, and more.

Some arti­cles that go into these issues fur­ther include:

Fol­low @TheUnknownVenue, @Denatalks, and @DanielLobell.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion you can access by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choos­ing a paid sub­scrip­tion through Apple Pod­casts. 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.

How New Yorkers Dodged Pre-Prohibition Drinking Laws by Inventing the World’s Worst Sandwich

Three men feast on free lunch in a draw­ing by Charles Dana Gib­son

In one of my favorite episodes of The Simp­sons, beer-swill­ing Homer falls in love with a sand­wich. He spends his days nib­bling away at the “sick­en­ing, fes­ter­ing remains of a 10-foot hoagie,” Nathan Rabin writes, “long after decen­cy, self-respect, and sur­vival would all seem to dic­tate throw­ing it out.” The sand­wich may be yet anoth­er instance of the show pulling some obscure detail from Amer­i­can his­to­ry for com­ic effect — or maybe writer David M. Stern read Eugene O’Neill’s The Ice­man Cometh, in which the play­wright describes “an old des­ic­cat­ed ruin of dust-laden bread and mum­mi­fied ham or cheese.”

O’Neill’s sand­wich is so his­tor­i­cal, it has a name, the Raines Sand­wich, named after New York State Sen­a­tor John Raines, the author of an 1896 law that raised the cost of liquor licens­es sub­stan­tial­ly, upped the drink­ing age from six­teen to eigh­teen, and banned alco­holic bev­er­ages on Sun­days except in large hotels and lodg­ing hous­es which served a com­pli­men­ta­ry meal with their drinks. The law tar­get­ed work­ing peo­ple and their one day of respite, and it hit bar own­ers hard. “After all,” writes the Irish Exam­in­er, “labour­ers most­ly worked six days a week, with Sun­day their only full day for drink­ing, and Sun­day was the most prof­itable day for saloons.”

The com­pli­men­ta­ry-meal-with-drinks man­date, as it were, was designed so that wealthy patrons at lux­u­ry hotels could drink on Sun­days, but low-rent saloon own­ers seized on the loop­hole, trans­form­ing dive bars into room­ing hous­es overnight with table­cloths and “alleged bed­rooms” made from attics and base­ments. “It was then that the loos­est pos­si­ble def­i­n­i­tion of a ‘sub­stan­tial meal’ became the Raines Sand­wich.” The sand­wich might be made of any­thing, even a brick between two slices of bread; it was rarely eat­en. Some­times, it would be served to a guest with their beer or whiskey, then whisked away and giv­en to some­one else. A sin­gle Raines Sand­wich might last the day, or even the whole week.

Some estab­lish­ments tried to get away with serv­ing crack­ers and moldy cheese alone (stal­wart New York Irish pub McSor­ley’s gave away crack­ers, cheese, and onions — a dish for which they now charge). But the courts required a sand­wich, at the very least to be served, and the city enforced the law with right­eous vig­or — thanks in large part to a young Theodore Roo­sevelt. As Dar­rell Hart­man writes at Atlas Obscu­ra, New York Repub­li­cans in Albany “spoke for a con­stituen­cy large­ly com­prised of rur­al small-town church­go­ers” wor­ried about urban vice. But Raines had a city ally in Roo­sevelt, then a “37-year-old fire­brand… push­ing a law-and-order agen­da as pres­i­dent of the city’s new­ly orga­nized police com­mis­sion.”

Roo­sevelt can­vassed the Low­er East Side with patrol­man Frank Rathge­ber, send­ing him into saloons in plain clothes to inves­ti­gate. “Rathge­ber said he saw many sand­wich­es but only one bed,” writes author Richard Zacks in Island of Vice. The sand­wich­es were moldy, and were tak­en away uneat­en. “He nev­er was asked to buy a sec­ond sand­wich” with sub­se­quent drinks, “or even to eat the first one.” Despite the reform crack­downs, the shady busi­ness of the Raines Sand­wich let saloon own­ers skirt the law until it was repealed, final­ly, in 1924. As Hart­man notes, behind the pur­port­ed good inten­tions of the Tem­per­ance move­ment lay a deter­mined cul­ture war:

Those in favor of the Sun­day ban, gen­er­al­ly mid­dle-class and Protes­tant, saw it as a cor­ner­stone of social improve­ment. For those against, includ­ing the city’s tide of Ger­man and Irish immi­grants, it was an act of repression—an espe­cial­ly spite­ful one because it lim­it­ed how the aver­age labor­er could enjoy him­self on his one day off. The Sun­day ban was not pop­u­lar, to say the least, among the city’s Jews, who’d already observed their Sab­bath the day before.

The Raines Law was as much about enforc­ing reli­gious obser­vance and cul­tur­al con­for­mi­ty on immi­grants as it was an attempt to com­bat crime, pover­ty, and vio­lence in the city. Those whose beliefs did not pre­vent them from enjoy­ing them­selves on Sun­day saw no rea­son to take the law any more seri­ous­ly than they would a rot­ting week-old sand­wich or a brick between two slices of moldy bread.

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Explore Thou­sands of Free Vin­tage Cock­tail Recipes Online (1705–1951)

The First Known Pho­to­graph of Peo­ple Shar­ing a Beer (1843)

The Sci­ence of Beer: A New Free Online Course Promis­es to Enhance Your Appre­ci­a­tion of the Time­less Bev­er­age

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

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