Watch Paul McCartney Compose The Beatles Classic “Get Back” Out of Thin Air (1969)

In its nearly eight-hour runtime Peter Jackson’s new documentary series The Beatles: Get Back offers numerous minor revelations about the world’s favorite band. Among the filmmaker’s avowed aims was to show that, even on the verge of acrimonious dissolution, John, Paul, George, and Ringo enjoyed stretches of productiveness and conviviality. Much else comes out besides, including that the catering at Apple Corps headquarters was miserable (amounting most days to toast and digestive biscuits) and that, even amid the excesses of the late 1960s, the Beatles dressed more or less respectably (apart, that is, from George’s occasionally outlandish choices of outer- and footwear). But it also lays bare exactly how they created a song.

The Beatles went into these sessions with little material prepared. All they knew for sure was that they had to come up with a set of songs to be recorded live, without overdubs, in order to “get back” to the simplicity that had characterized their process before such aesthetically and technically convoluted albums as Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. These they would then perform in a concert film. The whole project was undertaken with what Rolling Stone‘s Rob Sheffield calls a “magnificent arrogance. In a way, that’s what helped keep them together, through all their ups and downs. Without that level of arrogance, there’s no way an adventure as admirably daft as Get Back could happen in the first place.”

Somehow, to the very end, that arrogance always proved justified. For much of Jackson’s Get Back, the Beatles appear to be just screwing around, cracking jokes, drinking tea and beer, and launching into abortive performances in cartoon voices. And that’s when everyone shows up. “Lennon’s late again,” says Paul in the clip above. “I’m thinking of getting rid of him.” But instead of nursing resentment for his unpredictable musical partner, he sits down and starts playing. His first chords will sound familiar to any Beatles fan, though they belong to a song that doesn’t yet exist. Paul then adds to his strumming a bit of mostly non-verbal vocalization, which soon coheres into a melodic line: we (and a yawning George) are witness to the birth of “Get Back.”

During the lifetime of the Beatles, Paul seems to have been the most productive member. Even since the band’s end half a century ago, music has continued to flow unimpeded from his mind, shaped as if by pure instinct. In that time it has become ever more well-documented that he motivated the group to work, especially after the death of their manager Brian Epstein in 1967. While Get Back attests to a certain overbearing quality in his attitude toward the other Beatles, it also shows how McCartney’s hardworking-yet-freewheeling example encouraged each of them to express his own particular genius. When George gets stuck on the end of a lyric, for example, he, too, simply sings whatever comes to mind. Hence the temporary line “Something in the way she moves / Attracts me like a pomegranate” — and we all know how that tune eventually turned out.

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Chaos & Creation at Abbey Road: Paul McCartney Revisits The Beatles’ Fabled Recording Studio

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The Beatles’ 8 Pioneering Innovations: A Video Essay Exploring How the Fab Four Changed Pop Music

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

How a Mosaic from Caligula’s Party Boat Became a Coffee Table in a New York City Apartment 50 Years Ago

Imagine owning Caligula’s coffee table — or, better yet, a coffee table made from the mosaic flooring that once covered the infamously cruel Roman Emperor’s party boats. Art dealer and Manhattanite Helen Fioratti owned such a table for 45 years, but she had no idea what it was until she happened to go to a 2013 book signing by author and Italian stone expert Dario Del Bufalo. There, a friend noticed her table in Del Bufalo’s coffee table book, Porphyry, “about the reddish-purple rock much used by Roman emperors,” notes Gloria Oladipo at The Guardian. Fioratti’s husband bought the piece from an aristocratic Italian family in the 1960s, then affixed it to a base and made into a table. “It was an innocent purchase,” Fioretti told The New York Times in 2017 after Italy’s Nemi museum seized the artifact and returned it to its home country. Del Bufalo agreed, and it pained him to have to take it, but the artifact, he says in an interview above with Anderson Cooper, is priceless.

Caligula had two luxurious wooden ships with elaborate tile floors built to float on Lake Nemi, just a few miles outside of Rome. “Stretching 230 feet and 240 feet long and mostly flat,” Brit McCandless Farmer writes for Sixty Minutes, it was said they were once “topped with silk sails and featured orchards, vineyards, and even bathrooms with running water.” They even boasted lead pipes “inscribed Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Caligula’s official name, according to a 1906 issue of Scientific American.” He was “once the most powerful man in the world,” says Anderson Cooper above, but Caligula became renowned for his brutality, self-indulgence, and possible insanity. The third Roman emperor was assassinated four years into his reign by a conspiracy of Praetorians and senators. So hated was he at the time that Romans attempted to “chisel him out of history.” The sinking of his party boats was one of many acts of vandalism committed against his wasteful, violent legacy.

Interest in the pleasure ships was only piqued again when divers found the wreckage in 1895. “The deck must have ben a marvelous sight to behold,” wrote Italian archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani in 1898; “it goes beyond the power of imagination for its strength and elegance.” Lanciani described in detail “the pavement trodden by imperial feet, made of disks of porphyry and serpentine… framed in segments and lines of enamel, white and gold, white and red, or white, red, and green.” But it would be another few decades before the ships, submerged for almost 2,000 years, would see dry land again when Benito Mussolini, who was obsessed with Caligula, ordered Lake Nemi partially drained in the 30s and the boats resurrected and housed in a nearby museum built for that purpose. Then, in 1944, retreating Nazis allegedly set fire to the museum, after using it as a bomb shelter, destroying Caligula’s pleasure cruisers. No one knows how Fioretti’s mosaic made it out of Italy during this time.

It seems that the Emperor’s star has been on the rise once more the past few years, since the discovery of the mosaic and of Caligula’s imperial pleasure garden, Horti Lamiani, “the Mar-a-Lago of its day,” Franz Lidz writes at The New York Times. Unearthed in an excavation between 2006 and 2015, the now-subterranean ruins found beneath a “condemned 19th century apartment complex, yielded gems, coins, ceramics, jewelry, pottery, cameo glass, a theater mask, seeds of plants such as citron, apricot and acacia that had been imported from Asia, and bones of peacocks, deer, lions, bears, and ostriches.” The ruins opened to tourists this past spring. As for Mrs. Fioratti, “I felt very sorry for her,” said Del Bufalo, “but I couldn’t do anything different, knowing that my museum in Nemi is missing the best part.” He hopes to make a replica to return to her Park Avenue living room for beverage service. “I think my soul would feel a little better,” he says.

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

Hear Haruki Murakami Play Beatles Covers on His Radio Show, Murakami Radio

Now ramping up to a wide release is a film that will draw in no few fans of Haruki Murakami around the world: Drive My Car, adapted by filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi from Murakami’s short story of the same name. That name itself comes, of course, from the Beatles song, their knockout opener to Rubber Soul. It wasn’t the first time Murakami had borrowed a title from the Fab Four. The novel that made him a household name, in his homeland of Japan and subsequently the rest of the world, was called Norwegian Wood.

The Beatles’ albums have also provided him with inspiration, as evidenced by his story “With the Beatles,” published in translation last year by The New Yorker. It takes place in 1965, when the Beatles had become hugely popular in not just the West but Japan as well. “Turn on the radio and chances were you’d hear one of their songs,” says the narrator. “I liked their songs myself and knew all their hits,” but “truth be told, I was never a fervent Beatles fan. I never actively sought out their songs. For me, it was passive listening, pop music flowing out of the tiny speakers of my Panasonic transistor radio.” Despite being a high-school, then college student in the 1960s, “I didn’t buy a single Beatles record. I was much more into jazz and classical music.”

This story is fictional; its narrator is not its author. Yet Murakami, who happened to come of age in the same era, made similar remarks about his experience with the Beatles a couple of years ago. His originally one-off session as a disc jockey on Tokyo FM has become a more or less full-fledged show, Murakami Radio. Each of its broadcasts he dedicates to a different musical theme, and it was thus only a matter of time before he got around to the Beatles.

Despite his early indifference, as Murakami explains between songs, he later, in his thirties, came to sense the genius of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, during a stay in Greece with their self-titled 1968 “White Album” on tape in his Walkman — which, despite lacking its title song, inspired him to start writing Norwegian Wood. Apart from that memory, the late-period Beatles figure only secondarily into Murakami’s “Beatles Night.” He focuses instead on their early, pre-Rubber Soul work, or rather, on a variety of lesser-known covers thereof.

You can hear eight of those numbers in the Youtube video above, including Little Richard’s interpretation of “I Saw Her Standing There”; “All My Lovin'” as performed by Chet Atkins and Suzy Bogguss; and even “Tu Perds ton Temps,” English pop star Petula Clark‘s French-language version of “Please Please Me.” If you listen to the actual broadcast on Japanese video-streaming site Niconico, you’ll also hear such additional Beatles covers as “Do You Want to Know a Secret” by Motown singer Mary Wells and “She Loves You” by Rita Lee of Brazilian rock titans Os Mutantes. Obviously, the appeal of the Beatles transcends cultural boundaries, as does that of the extensively translated Murakami. What explains it? Perhaps, in both cases, that they created their own genres — or rather, their own wondrous realities.

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

The 17th Century Japanese Samurai Who Sailed to Europe, Met the Pope & Became a Roman Citizen

Image via Wikimedia Commons

We learn about intrepid Europeans who sought, and sometimes even found, trade and missionary routes to China and Japan during the centuries of exploration and empire. Rarely, if ever, do we hear about visitors from the East to the West, especially those as well-traveled as 17th-century samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga. Sent on a mission to Europe and America by his feudal lord, Date Masumune, Hasekura “set off on a quest to earn riches and spiritual guidance,” Andrew Milne writes at All that’s Interesting. “He circumnavigated the globe, became part of the first Japanese group in Cuba, met the Pope, helped begin a branch of Japanese settlers in Spain (still thriving today), and even became a Roman citizen.”

Hasekura was a battle-tested samurai who had acted on the daimyo‘s behalf on many occasions. His mission to the West, however, was first and foremost a chance to redeem his honor and save his life. In 1612, Hasekura’s father was made to commit seppuku after an indictment for corruption. Stripped of lands and title, Hasekura could only avoid the same fate by going West, and so he did, just a few years before the period of sakoku, or national isolation, began in Japan. Traveling with Spanish missionary Luis Sotelo, Hasekura embarked from the small Japanese port of Tsukinoura in 1613 and first reached Cape Mendocino in California, then part of New Spain.

“Seven years before the Mayflower headed to the New World,” Marcel Theroux writes at The Guardian, Hasekura “crossed the Pacific, traveled overland through Mexico, then sailed all the way to Europe. He was accompanied by about 20 fellow countrymen — in all likelihood, the first Japanese to cross The Atlantic.” They set sail on a Japanese-built galleon — called Date Maru, then later San Juan Bautista by the Spanish. “The expedition spent seven years traveling one-third of the globe,” notes PBS in a description of  “A Samurai in the Vatican,” an episode of Secrets of the Dead.

Sotelo and Hasekura made formal requests for more missionaries in Japan, delivering letters from from Hasekura’s lord, the daimyo of Sendai, to the King of Spain and Pope Paul V. But the samurai’s most pressing purpose was the establishment of trade links between Japan, New Spain (Mexico), and Europe. In his 1982 novel, The Samurai, Shusaku Endo dramatized the exchange the Spanish missionaries made for such introductions, having a priest say: “In order to spread God’s teaching in Japan… there is only one possible method. We must cajole them into it. Espana must offer to share its profits from trade on the Pacific with the Japanese in return for sweeping proselytizing privileges. The Japanese will sacrifice anything else for the sake of profits.” This was not to be, of course.

The Spanish gambled on trade opening up Japan for the kind of missionary colonization they had achieved elsewhere, using Hasekura’s mission as a proxy. Hasekura gambled on a Christian mission to save his life. Though his own accounts are lost, it seems he came to genuinely embrace the faith, becoming a confirmed Catholic under the name Philip Francis Faxecura. During his mission, however, the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, banned Christianity in Japan on penalty of death, in advance of the expulsion of the Spanish and Portuguese by his grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu, in 1623. What became of the explorer samurai when he returned to Japan in 1620 is unknown, but his decedents were executed for practicing his newfound faith. He would be the last visitor to the West from Japan until the Tokugawa Shogunate sent the so-called “First Japanese Embassy to Europe” in 1862, over 200 years later.

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

Watch John Cage’s 4’33” Played by Musicians Around the World

Make sure to watch the video above with the sound on. In it musicians from around the world all play a well-known composition: 4′33″ by John Cage. “I spent weeks asking strangers on the internet to send me their radically different interpretations, and boy did they deliver,” writes the video’s creator Sam Vladimirsky. “My inbox filled with adaptations by an Austrian death metal band, a marimba player, a bunny rabbit, the Museum of Musical Instruments in Phoenix, a middle school music teacher, a version played on Guitar Hero and over Zoom.” Though originally composed for piano, 4’33” is easily transposed to all these instruments and others, calling as it does for their players to do the very same thing: nothing.

“Inspired by Zen Buddhism, the Dada movement and Cage’s strong distaste for the ubiquitous muzak of the time,” says Aeon, “its score instructs performers not to play their instruments for the piece’s four-minute, thirty-three-second duration.” The result is not silence but “the unique ambient soundscape of the environment in which it’s performed, reflecting Cage’s belief that music is ever-present.”

Here the submitted performances take place in such environments as a classroom, a bedroom, a courtyard, a driveway, a bus, and a subway station. Vladimirsky pairs the videos, allowing us to enjoy not just parallel viewing experiences but a layered listening experience of these ambient soundscapes.

“Stuck inside,” writes Vladimirsky, “professional musicians, dedicated amateurs, awkward teens and college students found 4’33” to be the music of our moment.” If the Rolling Stones could play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in lockdown, each from his separate home, then who’s to say this isn’t the next logical step? Each performance of 4’33” reflects not just its immediate setting but its cultural period: compare the clip just above, in which Cage himself plays it in Harvard Square in 1973. Most of us haven’t seen the inside of a concert hall in quite some time, let alone heard the ambient sounds produced within it in the absence of proper music. But each of us can, at least, perform 4’33” for ourselves whenever and wherever we like — one way of doing it being simply to play the video at the top of the post with the sound off.

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

Watch Hilarious Spoofs of Classic Film Genres: Film Noir, Spaghetti Westerns, Scandinavian Crime Dramas, Time Travel Films & More

Comedian Alasdair Beckett-King has a keen ear for entertainment tropes and subscribes to the belief that “putting too much effort into things makes them funnier.”

The result is a series of one-minute videos in which he spoofs the conventions of a particular genre or long running series, with perfect visuals, meta dialogue, and faithfully rendered performance styles.

Beckett-King put his London Film School training to use with this project during lockdown, spending “absolutely ages putting together something very tiny.”

Witness his take on every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generationin which the captain of the ship, a Patrick Stewart doppelgänger and “vegetarian space socialist who is always right” negotiates with a “representative of a kind of iffy alien race not necessarily based on a specific human ethnicity.” As Beckett-King told Eric Johnson, host of Follow Friday podcast:

That one was very, very hard work because I had to do a CGI bald cap for myself because I have long, long flowing hair. I had to try and do an impression of Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise… it’s not that good. There’s so much work that went into it.

Before I posted it, I was convinced I’d wasted my time. Then luckily it did quite well and people really liked it. People kept saying, “When are you doing Captain Picard again?” I’m like, “I’m not! because it took ages to do the bald head, and you’ve seen it now.” I think what’s nice about it though, is you get to try something, commit to it and then see if it’s funny afterwards. It’s quite like doing live standup.

(Beckett-King’s partner Rachel Anne Smith gets credits for the non-CGI costumes.)

Some other favorites:

Every Single Scandinavian Crime Drama: The killer could be anyone in Helgasund. That’s over seven people.

Every Single Spooky Podcast: The frozen soil was littered with what appeared to be discarded Casper mattresses and Bombas socks.

Every Single Spaghetti Western: Yeah, well your lips don’t synch…

Every Haunted House Movie: It’s the perfect place for me to quit drinking, finish my novel, and really come to terms with that deer we hit on the way over.

Every Episode of Popular Time Travel Show: Help us, Doctor. The intransigent Implacablons are poised to destroy us.

How Every Film Noir Ends: Talk your way out of a snub nosed pistol held at waist height.

Should you find yourself at loose ends, waiting for the next Beckett-King “every single…” episode to drop, try  biding your time with his Art House Movie Spoilers and North East of England spin on Jaws.

Buy a Coffee for Alasdair Beckett-King here.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Blade Runner and Alien TV Shows Confirmed by Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott is 83, and good on him for not slowing down. The Last Duel came and went, but it actually existed and was an original idea, based on a true historical event, and with a script from Nicole Holofcener, and featured a re-teaming up of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. And as of this writing, House of Gucci is set to open and give us some salacious scandal and murder among the hoity and toit, just in time for Oscar season. He’s even recently dropped some hot takes against the superhero movie factory of Hollywood. So Scott’s doing well. Then why does this latest announcement feel so underwhelming?

According to a BBC interview on Monday, Scott is also developing a 10-episode limited series based on Blade Runner *and* a limited series based on Alien, this time set on earth.

It’s not totally clear how much Scott is actively involved.

“We [have already] written the pilot for ‘Blade Runner’ and the bible,” he says, referring to the master plan of the 10 episodes. “So, we’re already presenting ‘Blade Runner’ as a TV show, the first 10 hours.” But who his co-creators are, we don’t know right now. And there are similar questions in the upcoming Alien series, which has been rumored since 2020. Noah Hawley, who turned the Coen Bros. Fargo into something like a jazz riff on the Coen’s films spread across several decades, is set to be the showrunner.

The Blade Runner announcement has sent the pop media press into a tizzy, trying to guess where and when the new series will be set. After all, the 1982 film was set in a bleak, dystopian 2019, and the Denis Villeneuve sequel was set in a bleak, dystopian 2049. And it was only because of this announcement that I even knew of the Adult Swim animated series, Blade Runner: Black Lotus, which is set in a bleak, dystopian 2032. Times have changed, but the Los Angeles of the future sure hasn’t. So when will it take place? Who knows?

Look, the two new series might be good, they might be meh, but Scott’s sudden prominence at the end of 2021 feels like an encapsulation of media’s divergent paths. On one hand you have his two films, both original content, one that might have a second life on streaming on and another that feels like it will have some buzz and lead people back to the cinema. Either way, they tell stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. On the other hand you have the continual franchise-ment of culture, revisiting and rehashing two excellent films from the early ‘80s that exist perfectly well as standalone stories. Do we really need more stories about the xenomorph? Do we need more stories about a very damp Los Angeles and its replicants? Is culture at a standstill? Are we doomed to recycle everything from the 1980s onward?

However, if anybody should be making money off of Ridley Scott’s legacy it’s Scott himself. Leave your thoughts in the comments below, while I put on this Vangelis soundtrack.

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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 Drugs Used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans

Many of us living in the parts of the world where marijuana has recently been legalized may regard ourselves as partaking of a highly modern pleasure. And given the ever-increasing sophistication of the growing and processing techniques that underlie what has become a formidable cannabis industry, perhaps, on some level, we are. But as intellectually avid enthusiasts of psychoactive substances won’t hesitate to tell you, their use stretches farther back in time than history itself. “For as long as there has been civilization, there have been mind-altering drugs,” writes Science‘s Andrew Lawler. But was anyone using them in the predecessors to western civilization as we know it today?

For quite some time, scholars believed that unlike, say, Mesoamerica or north Africa, “the ancient Near East had seemed curiously drug-free.” But now, “new techniques for analyzing residues in excavated jars and identifying tiny amounts of plant material suggest that ancient Near Easterners indulged in a range of psychoactive substances.”

The latest evidence suggests that, already three millennia ago, “drugs like cannabis had arrived in Mesopotamia, while people from Turkey to Egypt experimented with local substances such as blue water lily.” That these habits seem to have continued in ancient Greece and Rome is suggested by archaeological evidence summarized in the video above.

In 2019, archaeologists unearthed a few precious artifacts from a fourth-century Scythian burial mound near Stavropol in Russia. There were “golden armbands, golden cups, a heavy gold ring, and the greatest treasure of all, two spectacular golden vessels,” says narrator Garrett Ryan, who earned a PhD in Greek and Roman History from the University of Michigan. The interiors of those last “were coated with a sticky black residue,” confirmed in the lab to be opium with traces of marijuana. “The Scythians, in other words, got high” — as did “their Greek and Roman neighbors.” Ryan, author of Naked Statues, Fat Gladiators, and War Elephants: Frequently Asked Questions about the Ancient Greeks and Romans, goes on to make intriguing connections between scattered but relevant pieces of archaeological and textual evidence. We know that some of our civilizational forebears got high; how many, and how high, are questions for future scholastic inquiry.

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

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