Since its launch in 2015, Masterclass has not only expanded the variety of its online course offerings but sought out ever-bigger names for its teachers. Names don’t come much bigger than Metallica in the world of heavy metal, and indeed in the world of rock music in general. Hence the broad title of the new Masterclass “Metallica Teaches Being a Band.” Having been a band for 40 years now, they presumably know more than a little about everything involved in that enterprise: not just recording hit albums like Master of Puppets and songs like “Enter Sandman,” but also weathering dramatic changes in both the music business and popular culture while cooperating for the good of the group.
Not that, to the men of Metallica, such cooperation has always come naturally. “There’ve been times when it’s been fractured and it looks like we were on the verge of breaking up,” says guitarist Kirk Hammett in the trailer for their Masterclass above.
He joined the band in 1983, which means he has very nearly as long a standing in the band as its founders, lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich. All of them, along with bassist Robert Trujillo, appear here as teachers to share their accumulated wisdom, have to do as it may with songwriting, performance, interpersonal communication, or the management of time and anger.
Like all Masterclasses, Metallica’s course is divided into many easily watchable video lessons, most with a practical slant. Musically inclined viewers, even those with no interest in becoming heavy-metal icons, will benefit from learning to work “From Riff to Song,” the principles of “Putting Together an Album,” and the art of “Navigating Egos.” But for Metallica fans in particular — whom, collectively, the band consider their fifth member — few lessons in any Masterclass could be as gripping as the deconstructions of “Enter Sandman,” “Master of Puppets,” and “One.” They do all this in a calmer, more reflective psychological place than the bitter, near-dysfunctional one in which the 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster found them — but not so calm and reflective that they can’t finish the course off with, as Hammett puts it, “a bad-ass performance.”
When you sign up to become a Masterclass member ($180 per year), you will have access to Metallica’s course plus 100 others.
Note: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.
When Kurt Vonnegut first arrived in Dresden, a city as yet untouched by war, crammed into a boxcar with dozens of other POWs, the city looked to him like “Oz,” he wrote in his semi-autobiographical sixth novel Slaughterhouse-Five. After all, he says, “The only other city I’d ever seen was Indianapolis, Indiana.” When Vonnegut and his fellow GIs emerged from the bowels of the pork plant in which they’d waited out the Allied bombing of the city, they witnessed the aftermath of Dresden’s destruction. The city formerly known as “the Florence of the Elbe” was “like the moon,” as Vonnegut’s “unstuck” protagonist Billy Pilgrim says in the novel: cratered, pitted, leveled…. But the smoking ruins were the least of it.
Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners spent the next few days removing and incinerating thousands of bodies, an experience that would forever shape the writer and his stories. Whether mentioned explicitly or not, Dresden became a “death card,” writes Philip Beidler, that Vonnegut planted throughout his work. Death recurs with banal regularity, the phrase “So it goes,” peppered (106 times) throughout Slaughterhouse-Five, which Vonnegut credited to the French novelist Celine, whose cynicism tipped over into hatred. Vonnegut may have gone as far as generalized misanthropy, but his dry, wisecracking humor and his humanism stayed intact, even if it had picked up a passenger: the horror of mass death that haunted his imagination.
Vonnegut, like Billy Pilgrim, became “unstuck in time,” a condition we might see now as analogous to PTSD, his daughter Nanette says. “He was writing to save his own life,” as news from Vietnam came in and Vonnegut, a pacifist, found himself “losing his temper” at the television. “He saw the numbers, how many dead,” she adds, “that these kids were being conned, and sent to their deaths. And I think it probably set a fire under him to have his say.” A new documentary on the writer titled Unstuck in Time shows how much impact his “say” had on the country’s readers. Vonnegut wrote unbridled satire, science fiction, and social commentary, in thin books with irreverent doodles in the margins. As director Robert Weide says in the trailer above, holding a copy of Breakfast of Champions, “what high school kid isn’t gonna gobble this up?”
Weide, like most lovers of Vonnegut, discovered him as a teenager. At 23, the budding filmmaker contacted his literary hero about making a documentary. Over the course of the next twenty-five years, Weide– best known for his work with Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm (and as a meme) — filmed and taped conversations with Vonnegut until the author’s death in 2007. The resulting documentary promises a comprehensive portrait of the writer’s life, LitHub writes, from his “childhood in Indianapolis to his experience as a prisoner of war to his rise to literary stardom to the fans left in the wake of his death, all through the lens of Vonnegut and Weide’s close friendship.”
As the relationship between filmmaker and subject became part of the film itself, co-director Don Argott joined the project “to document the meta element of this story,” says Weide, “as I continued to focus on Vonnegut’s biography.” Forty years in the making, Unstuck in Time, evolved from a “fairly conventional author documentary” to what may stand as the most intimate portrait of the author put on film.Perhaps someday we’ll also see the publication of an 84-page scrapbook recently sold at auction, a collection of Vonnegut’s wartime letters, news clippings, and photographs of the ruined German city that he never fully left behind.
A little more than a month after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, with the nation and world still reeling from that day, Madison Square Garden hosted The Concert for New York City. A benefit concert of the first order, it was also a thank you to the sacrifice of NYC’s fire and police departments, which had lost many members during that day. (The former had lost 343 firefighters.) But like a lot of things about that day twenty years later, it has sort of vanished down the cultural memory hole.
However, if you need reminding, the Who came out of retirement and delivered what some considered the set of the night. Tom Watson, writing in Forbes magazine, called it “The Night The Who Saved New York.”
The concert was free to any firefighter or policeman who came in uniform. Watson describes the vibe thus:
“To say that occupancy laws were stretched that night is to undersell the size of the place. Picture a Knicks game, then double the crowd. From the start, the building ran on a river of emotion and beer, which, if you wore a uniform – or your late loved one’s cap – was free. The thousands of cops in attendance studiously ignored thousands of other cops and firefighters lighting up a little reefer. Large bottles of high proof spirits were produced. The Garden was the biggest Irish wake in history.”
In a moment like this, a lot of the artists headed towards jingoism. It was understandable. Songs about America (David Bowie), songs about New York City (Billy Joel), songs about freedom (Paul McCartney), songs about heroes (also Bowie). But, what the crowd wanted that night was catharsis, and that’s what the Who brought.
The set is the Who at their most anthemic, but also the most representative of the classic rock radio these uniformed men and women and their families grew up with: “Who Are You,” “Baba O’Reilly,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and ending with “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” However the line “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” is quietly deleted. Not this time, cynicism.
The concert was exactly what was needed for the grief of the community. And death hangs over the whole event, as camera cut to family members holding up photos of lost loved ones, while the World Trade Center rubble still smoldered.
And then there’s what nobody knew at the time: this would be bassist John Entwistle’s last gig before his fatal heart attack eight months later. So many of the remaining first responders would die from the toxic chemicals breathed in on 9/11, and still they fight for some recompense from the government that honored them at first. Mayor Giuliani…well, we know what happened to him. And that ass whoopin’ we promised the Middle East wound up kicking America’s economy in the butt instead.
Twenty years later the performance still holds up, a moment in time just before we all got fooled again.
From MIT comes The Human Brain, a series of 18 lectures presented by Professor Nancy Kanwisher. They’re from a course that “surveys the core perceptual and cognitive abilities of the human mind and asks how they are implemented in the brain. Key themes include the representations, development, and degree of functional specificity of these components of mind and brain. The course will take students straight to the cutting edge of the field, empowering them to understand and critically evaluate empirical articles in the current literature.”
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Wassily Kandinsky could hear colors. Maybe you can too, but since studies so far have suggested that the underlying condition exists in less than five percent of the population, the odds are against it. Known as synesthesia, it involves one kind of sense perception being tied up with another: letters and numbers come with colors, sequences take on three-dimensional forms, sounds have tactile feelings. These unusual sensory connections can presumably encourage unusual kinds of thinking; perhaps unsurprisingly, synesthetic experiences have been reported by a variety of creators, from Billy Joel and David Hockney to Vladimir Nabokov and Nikola Tesla.
Few, however, have described synesthesia as eloquently as Kandinsky did. “Color is the keyboard,” he once said. “The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings. The artist is the hand that purposely sets the soul vibrating by means of this or that key.”
That quote must have shaped the mission of Play a Kandinsky, a collaboration between Google Arts and Culture and the Centre Pompidou. Enlisting the compositional services of experimental musicians Antoine Bertin and NSDOS, it gives even us non-synesthetes a chance to experience the intersection of sound and not just color but shape as well, in something of the same manner as the pioneering abstract painter must have.
As explained in the Listening In video above, Kandinsky heard yellow as a trumpet, red as a violin, and blue as an organ. An image of sufficient chromatic and formal variety must have set off a symphony in his head, much like the one Play a Kandinsky gives us a chance to conduct. As an interface it uses his 1925 painting Yellow-Red-Blue, each element of which, when clicked, adds another synesthetic layer of sound to the mix. These visual-sonic correspondences are based on Kandinsky’s own color theories as well as the music he would have heard, all processed with the formidable machine-learning resources at Google’s command. “What was he trying to make us feel with this painting?” Play a Kandinsky asks. But of course he didn’t have just one set of emotions in mind for his viewers, and making that possible was perhaps the most enduring achievement of his journey into abstraction.
Unlike Open Culture favorite NASS’s five minute sample of Lost Landscapes of New York, above, which adds color and ambient audio to the unvarnished found footage, Prelinger — described by the New York Times’Manohla Dargis as a “collector extraordinaire…one of the great, undersung historians of 20th century cinema” — relishes such mouthiness from the audience. His black and white compilations are mostly silent.
If you are a New Yorker, view that as an invitation here.
For everyone else, on behalf of New Yorkers everywhere, we concede that our confident utterances may indeed drive you out of your gourd…
Tourists with just one visit to their name can be forgiven for flaunting their personal brushes with such hall of famers as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Square Arch, but there’s no competing with long time residents’ intimate knowledge of the city’s geography.
It’s snobbery of a type, but have pity on us long time residents, who know we will be viewed as subordinates by those who were born within the five Boroughs.
(We submit that there are layers to this…a native of, say, the Hoosier State, who can remember the original Penn Station should be considered to have at least as much street cred as a millennial whose birth in Brooklyn, Harlem or the West Village confers native New Yorker status.)
However you slice it, consider this fair warning that some of us, viewing Lost Landscapes of New York in your company, will not be able to stop ourselves from triumphantly crowing, “That’s 8th between 43rd and 44th!”
Again, it’s something Prelinger courts in local live screenings of his Lost Landscapes series.
I’ve discovered that home movies become something else when blown up to theater-screen size. The change of scale provokes a role change in the audience, who without necessarily expecting it become more than simple commentators. They turn into ethnographers, noticing and often remarking on every visible detail of kinship, word and gesture and every interpersonal exchange. They also respond as cultural geographers, calling out streets and neighborhoods and buildings, reading signs aloud, repeating tradenames and brands and marking extinct details in the cityscape. If I could capture them (and I generally cannot, because it is hard to intelligibly record the voices of hundreds of people in one room), it would play back like an urban research project distributed through a crowd of investigators. Each successful identification, each naming achieved, is an endorphin trigger.
Prelinger is happy to play fast and loose with chronological order, scrambling period fashions, and color and black-and-white stock. This crazy quilt approach is in step with his resistance to constructing narratives (“the curse of contemporary documentary”) and admiration for the way enthusiastic amateurs’ footage renders “caste distinctions between animals and humans, between places and their inhabitants” moot:
I am much less interested in the minutiae of local history than I am in the process of daylighting it, in the relationship of history and contemporary life.
Like the anonymous tide of humanity bustling along our sidewalks (and darting into traffic, mid-block), the marquees, restaurant names and words on the delivery trucks aren’t fixed. We claim to hate it, but philosophers might suggest it’s what keeps us engaged.
You won’t find many street vendors hawking frumpy cotton undies these days, but there are plenty of corners where you can buy fruit and veg… and iPhone cases, earbuds, and COVID-19 era face masks.
As exciting as it is to successfully peg the quintessentially New York things that remain, there’s an equal thrill to recognizing and shouting out the things that don’t, especially if there’s a significant personal connection.
It makes us feel like we’re notable, contributing in some way.
You contribute, too, by watching Lost Landscapes of New York (2017)here, while simultanously keeping your eyes peeled for gratifyingly well attended, highly participated live screenings.
And if you want to practice sounding like a “real New Yorker,” head back up to the top of the page, skip to the end, and inform everyone within earshot that that building is the old James A. Farley Post Office at 32nd and 8th:
For 60 years now, the name Edsel has been synonymous with failure. In a way, this vindicates the position of Henry Ford II, who opposed labeling a brand of cars with the name of his father Edsel Ford. The son of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, Edsel Ford died young in 1943, and thus didn’t live to see “E Day,” the rollout of his namesake line of automobiles. It happened on September 4, 1957, the culmination of two years of research and development on what was for most of that time called the “E car,” the letter having been chosen to indicate the project’s experimental nature. Alas, all seven of Edsel’s first models struck the American public as too conventional to stand out — and at the same time, too odd to buy.
You can hear the story of Edsel in the two videos above, one from transportation enthusiast Ruairidh MacVeigh and another from Regular Car Reviews. Both offer explanations of how the brand’s cars were conceived, and what went wrong enough in their execution to make them a laughing stock still today. No Edsel postmortem can fail to consider the name itself, a choice made in desperation after the rejection of more than 6,000 other possibilities presented by the advertising firm of Foote, Cone & Belding.
Another factor cited as a cause of Edsel’s disappointing sales is its cars’ signature vertical grille, derided early on for its shape resembling a horse collar — among other, less mentionable things. Such aesthetic missteps may not have sunk the brand on their own, but they certainly didn’t counteract the effects of other, more mundane conditions. These included persistent assembly-line problems (without a dedicated factory, Edsels tended occasionally to come out with parts improperly installed or absent) and a 1957 economic recession that made upper-middle-tier automobiles of this kind unappealing to the American driver. Even the top-rated CBS television special The Edsel Show — despite its performances from the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and Louis Armstrong — drummed up little public enthusiasm.
Edsel lasted only from 1958 to 1960, in which time Ford manufactured 118,287 of its cars in total. Six decades after the mark’s retirement, fewer than 10,000 Edsel cars survive — most of them as sought-after collector’s items. For Edsels now have their appreciators, as evidenced by the video above from professional mid-century Americana enthusiast Charles Phoenix, who marvels over every feature of a 1958 Citation, Edsel’s top-of-the-line model, from its Teletouch push-button gear selector to its customizable speed-warning indicator. (Seatbelts came standard, despite being optional extras on other cars of the day.) Current Edsel owners also include lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, who showed off her mint 1958 Roundup in a recent video with Jay Leno — though she seems rather prouder of also owning Edsel Ford’s house.
Few jazz guitarists today could claim to be entirely free of the influence of Django Reinhardt. This despite the fact that he lost the use of two fingers — which ultimately encouraged him to develop a distinctive playing style — and that he died 68 years ago. The unfortunate abbreviation of Reinhardt’s life means that he never built a substantial body of solo work, though he did play on many recorded dates that include performances alongside Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. It also means that he left even less in the way of footage, though we do get a crisp and illuminating view of him and his guitar in the 1938 documentary short “Jazz ‘Hot,'” previously featured here on Open Culture.
“Jazz ‘Hot'” also features violin-playing from Stéphane Grappelli, who founded the group Quintette du Hot Club de France with Reinhardt in 1934. As they deepened their knowledge of jazz, the two influenced each other so thoroughly as to develop their own style of music.
Grappelli lived long enough to play with the likes of Jean-Luc Ponty, Paul Simon, Yo Yo Ma, and even Pink Floyd. Still, more than a few jazz fans would surely claim that none of his professional collaborators was more important to his musical formation than Reinhardt. Now you can see them playing together in color, and fairly realistic color at that, in the clip at the top of the post.
The original black-and-white footage (which appears just above) was colorized with DeOldify, a deep learning-based application developed to restore photographs and motion pictures from bygone times. Perhaps you’ve seen the previous DeOldify colorization projects we’ve featured here, which run the gamut from musical numbers in Stormy Weather and Hellzapoppin’ to scenes of 1920s Berlin and even an 1896 snowball fight in Lyon. Granted access to a time machine, more than a few jazz-lovers would no doubt choose to go back to the Paris of the 1930s to see the Quintette du Hot Club de France in action. Technology has yet to make that a viable proposition, but it’s given us a next-best-thing that no appreciator of jazz guitar — or jazz violin — could fail to enjoy.
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