When Christopher Hitchens Vigilantly Defended Salman Rushdie After the Fatwah: “It Was a Matter of Everything I Hated Versus Everything I Loved”

I have often been asked if Christo­pher defend­ed me because he was my close friend. The truth is that he became my close friend because he want­ed to defend me. –Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie remains in crit­i­cal con­di­tion after suf­fer­ing mul­ti­ple stab wounds while on stage in New York, a shock­ing occur­rence but not quite sur­pris­ing giv­en that the author has lived with a death sen­tence over his head since 1989. (You can read the his­to­ry of that con­tro­ver­sy here.) The nation of Iran has denied any respon­si­bil­i­ty for the attack on the author, but it’s prob­a­bly safe to assume that his 1988 nov­el The Satan­ic Vers­es has some­thing to do with it, over thir­ty years after the fact.

“Even before the fat­wa,” Steven Erlanger writes in The New York Times“the book was banned in a num­ber of coun­tries, includ­ing India, Bangladesh, Sudan and Sri Lan­ka.” Protests of the nov­el result­ed in sev­er­al deaths and attacks on book­sellers. Rushdie had not set out to enrage much of the Islam­ic world, but nei­ther had he any inter­est in appeas­ing its con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers. Always out­spo­ken, and a fero­cious crit­ic of British Empire as well as Islam­ic theoc­ra­cy, his career since the fat­wa has demon­strat­ed a com­mit­ment to free­ing the lit­er­ary arts from the dic­tates of church and state.

On the sub­ject of impe­ri­al­ism, Rushdie and the late Christo­pher Hitchens came to dis­agree after the U.S.‘s inva­sion of Iraq and Hitchens’ “U‑turn across the polit­i­cal high­way to join forces with the war-mak­ers of George W. Bush’s admin­is­tra­tion,” Rushdie writes in a Van­i­ty Fair appre­ci­a­tion for Hitchens’ after the lat­ter’s death. But his book God is Not Great “car­ried Hitch away from the Amer­i­can right and back toward his nat­ur­al, lib­er­al, ungod­ly con­stituen­cy”; a col­lec­tion of peo­ple who see the free expres­sion of ideas as a far prefer­able con­di­tion to the exis­tence of theo­crat­ic death squads.

Wher­ev­er he fell at any giv­en time on the polit­i­cal spec­trum, Hitchens nev­er gave up his defense of Rushdie, one in which, as he wrote in his mem­oir, Hitch-22, he was com­plete­ly com­mit­ted from the start:

It was, if I can phrase it like this, a mat­ter of every­thing I hat­ed ver­sus every­thing I loved. In the hate col­umn: dic­ta­tor­ship, reli­gion, stu­pid­i­ty, dem­a­gogy, cen­sor­ship, bul­ly­ing, and intim­i­da­tion. In the love col­umn: lit­er­a­ture, irony, humor, the indi­vid­ual, and the defense of free expres­sion. Plus, of course, friend­ship– 

Hitchens was grave­ly dis­ap­point­ed in lib­er­al writ­ers like Arthur Miller who refused to pub­licly sup­port Rushdie out of fear, as he says in the tele­vi­sion inter­view at the top of the post. The ambiva­lent response of many on the left struck him as gross polit­i­cal cow­ardice and hypocrisy. He went on the attack, argu­ing round­ly on pop­u­lar shows like Ques­tion Time (below, with his broth­er Peter, Baroness Williams, and recent­ly deposed prime min­is­ter Boris John­son).

Hitchens “saw that the attack on The Satan­ic Vers­es was not an iso­lat­ed occur­rence,” Rushdie writes, “that across the Mus­lim world, writ­ers and jour­nal­ists and artists were being accused of the same crimes — blas­phe­my, heresy, apos­ta­sy, and their mod­ern-day asso­ciates, ‘insult’ and ‘offense.’ ” Rushdie had meant no offense, he writes, “I had not cho­sen the bat­tle.” But it seems to have cho­sen him:

It was at least the right bat­tle, because in it every­thing that I loved and val­ued (lit­er­a­ture, free­dom, irrev­er­ence, free­dom, irre­li­gion, free­dom) was ranged against every­thing I detest­ed (fanati­cism, vio­lence, big­otry, humor­less­ness, philis­tin­ism, and the new offense cul­ture of the age). Then I read Christo­pher using exact­ly the same every­thing-he-loved-ver­sus-every­thing-he-hat­ed trope, and felt… under­stood.

If the fat­wa against Rushdie made him infa­mous, it did not make him uni­ver­sal­ly beloved, even among his fel­low writ­ers, but he always had a fierce ally in Hitchens. Let’s hope Rushdie can pick up the fight for free expres­sion once again when he recov­ers from this bru­tal stab­bing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Christo­pher Hitchens Dis­miss­es the Cult of Ayn Rand: There’s No “Need to Have Essays Advo­cat­ing Self­ish­ness Among Human Beings; It Requires No Rein­force­ment”

Hear Salman Rushdie Read Don­ald Barthelme’s “Con­cern­ing the Body­guard” 

Jeff Koons and Salman Rushdie Teach New Cours­es on Art, Cre­ativ­i­ty & Sto­ry­telling for Mas­ter­Class

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

What Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unusual Windows Tell Us About His Architectural Genius

There could be few more Amer­i­can styles of dwelling than the tract house, and few more Amer­i­can archi­tects than Frank Lloyd Wright. But Wright, of course, nev­er designed a tract house. Each of his dwellings, to say noth­ing of his pub­lic build­ings, was in every sense a one-off, not just in its lay­out and its details but in its rela­tion­ship to its con­text. Wright believed, as he declared in his book The Nat­ur­al House, that a build­ing should be “as dig­ni­fied as a tree in the midst of nature.” This he held true even for rel­a­tive­ly mod­est res­i­dences, as evi­denced by the series of “Uson­ian hous­es” he began in the late nine­teen-thir­ties.

The Vox video above fea­tures the “cypress-and-brick mas­ter­piece” that is Pope-Leighey House in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, which Wright com­plet­ed in 1941. “Bound­ed by the hum­ble bud­get of the Pope fam­i­ly” — Loren Pope, its head was work­ing as a news­pa­per copy edi­tor at the time — “this struc­ture nonethe­less exhibits the dis­tinct fea­tures char­ac­ter­is­tic of his for­mi­da­ble vision and style.”

So says the house­’s page at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foun­da­tion, which adds that “the archi­tec­tur­al ele­ment of com­pres­sion and release, the can­tilevered roofs, and the win­dows that open to the out­side cre­ate an imme­di­ate inter­ac­tion with the sur­round­ing land­scape.”

Video pro­duc­er Phil Edwards pays spe­cial atten­tion to those win­dows. He cites Wright’s con­vic­tion that “the best way to light a house is God’s way — the nat­ur­al way, as near­ly as pos­si­ble in the day­time and at night as near­ly like the day as may be, or bet­ter.” In the case of the Pope-Leighey house, achiev­ing this ide­al involved the use of not just near­ly floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows, but also cleresto­ry win­dows per­fo­rat­ed in a dis­tinc­tive geo­met­ric pat­tern and posi­tioned so as to cast “light hung like pic­tures on the wall.” The effect is so strong that the house­’s two relo­ca­tions appear not to have dimin­ished it — and so sin­gu­lar that, despite the enthu­si­asm of post-war tract-house devel­op­ers for Wright’s inno­va­tions in hous­ing, it nev­er did make it into Levit­town.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lost Japan­ese Mas­ter­piece, the Impe­r­i­al Hotel in Tokyo

Take a 360° Vir­tu­al Tour of Tal­iesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Per­son­al Home & Stu­dio

12 Famous Frank Lloyd Wright Hous­es Offer Vir­tu­al Tours: Hol­ly­hock House, Tal­iesin West, Falling­wa­ter & More

That Far Cor­ner: Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Ange­les – A Free Online Doc­u­men­tary

How Insu­lat­ed Glass Changed Archi­tec­ture: An Intro­duc­tion to the Tech­no­log­i­cal Break­through That Changed How We Live and How Our Build­ings Work

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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

The Oakland Public Library Puts Online a Collection of Items Forgotten in Library Books: Love Notes, Doodles & More

Librar­i­ans are cham­pi­ons of orga­ni­za­tion, and among its best prac­ti­tion­ers.

Books are shelved accord­ing to the Dewey Dec­i­mal sys­tem.

Cat­e­gories are assigned using Library of Con­gress Rule Inter­pre­ta­tions, Library of Con­gress Sub­ject Head­ings, and Library of Con­gress Clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

And Sharon McKel­lar, the Teen Ser­vices Depart­ment Head at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library, col­lects ephemera she and oth­er staffers find in books returned to the OPL’s 18 loca­tions.

It’s an impulse many share. 

Even­tu­al­ly, she began scan­ning them to share on her employ­er’s web­site, inspired by Found Mag­a­zine, a crowd­sourced col­lec­tion of found let­ters, birth­day cards, kids’ home­work, to-do lists, hand­writ­ten poems, doo­dles, dirty pic­tures, etc.

As Found’s cre­ators, Davy Roth­bart and Jason Bit­ner, write on the magazine’s web­site:

We cer­tain­ly didn’t invent the idea of found stuff being cool. Every time we vis­it our friends in oth­er towns, someone’s always got some kind of unbe­liev­able dis­cov­ered note or pho­to on their fridge. We decid­ed to make a bunch of projects so that every­one can check out all the strange, hilar­i­ous and heart­break­ing things peo­ple have picked up and passed our way.

McKel­lar told NPR that her project “lets us be a lit­tle bit nosy. In a very anony­mous way, it’s like read­ing peo­ple’s secret diaries a lit­tle bit but with­out know­ing who they are.”

The finds, which she stores in a box under her desk pri­or to scan­ning and post­ing, are push­ing 600, with more arriv­ing all the time.

Search­able cat­e­gories include notes, cre­ative writ­ing, art, and pho­tos.

One arti­fact, the scat­o­log­i­cal one-of-a-kind zine Mr Men #48, excerpt­ed above, spans four cat­e­gories, includ­ing kids, a high­ly fer­tile source of both humor and heart­break.

There’s a dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent vibe to the items that chil­dren forge for them­selves or each oth­er, as opposed to work cre­at­ed for school, or as presents for the adults in their lives.

McKel­lar admits to hav­ing a sweet spot for their inad­ver­tent con­tri­bu­tions, which com­prise the bulk of the col­lec­tion.

She also cat­a­logues the throw­away fly­ers, tick­et stubs and lists that adult read­ers use to mark their place in a book, but when it comes to place­hold­ers with more obvi­ous poten­tial for sen­ti­men­tal val­ue, she finds her­self won­der­ing if a library patron has acci­den­tal­ly lost track of a pre­cious object:

Does the per­son miss that item? Do they regret hav­ing lost it or were they care­less with it because they actu­al­ly did­n’t share those deep and pro­found feel­ings with the per­son who wrote [it]?

Actu­al book­marks are not exempt…

Future plans include a pos­si­ble writ­ing con­test for short sto­ries inspired by items in the col­lec­tion.

Browse the Found in a Library Book col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Pub­lic Library Receipt Shows How Much Mon­ey You’ve Saved by Bor­row­ing Books, Instead of Buy­ing Them

Free Col­or­ing Books from World-Class Libraries & Muse­ums: Down­load & Col­or Hun­dreds of Free Images

The New York Pub­lic Library Cre­ates a List of 125 Books That They Love

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

How a Simple, Bauhaus-Designed Chair Ended Up Everywhere Over the Past 100 Years

If you don’t believe chairs can be art, you’ll have to take it up with the cura­tors, gal­lerists, col­lec­tors, archi­tects, and design­ers around the world who spend their lives obsess­ing over chair design. Every major muse­um has a fur­ni­ture col­lec­tion, and every col­lec­tion dis­play­ing fur­ni­ture gives spe­cial pride of place to the rad­i­cal inno­va­tions of mod­ernist chairs, from ear­ly arti­san cre­ations of the Bauhaus to mass-pro­duced mid-cen­tu­ry chairs of leg­end. Chairs are sta­tus sym­bols, art objects, and phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of leisure, pow­er, and repose.

Who could for­get Charles and Ray Eames’ icon­ic lounge chair, Arne Jacob­sen’s “Egg,” the ele­gant­ly sim­ple side chairs of Eero Saari­nen and Charles Eames, or even the more recent cor­ner office sta­ple, the Aeron Chair — the Her­man Miller orig­i­nal that has been part of the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion since 1992? “In chairs more than in any oth­er object, human beings are the unit of mea­sure,” says Muse­um of Mod­ern Art cura­tor Pao­la Antonel­li, “and design­ers are forced to walk a line between stan­dard­iza­tion and per­son­al­iza­tion.”

Artist Mar­cel Breuer, a Bauhaus design­er, archi­tect, and instruc­tor, applied more than his share of inno­v­a­tive ideas to a series of chairs and tables designed and built in the 1920s and 30s. The most icon­ic of these, from a design per­spec­tive, may be the “Wass­i­ly,” a club chair-shaped con­trap­tion made of steel tub­ing and can­vas straps. (The chair acquired the name because Breuer’s Bauhaus col­league Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky so admired it.) One rarely encoun­ters this chair out­side the envi­rons of upscale fur­ni­ture gal­leries and the fin­er homes and wait­ing rooms.

Breuer’s Cesca, how­ev­er, the Wass­i­ly’s small­er, more util­i­tar­i­an cousin from 1928, seems to show up all over the place. Also called the B32 (with an arm­chair ver­sion called the B64), the Cesca’s one-piece, steel tube design was, like Breuer’s full line of Bauhaus fur­ni­ture, inspired by his exper­i­ments in bike-build­ing and inter­est in “mass pro­duc­tion and stan­dard­iza­tion,” he said. Unlike the Wass­i­ly, which might set you back around $3,300 for a qual­i­ty repro­duc­tion, a Cesca comes in at around 1/10th the price, and seems ubiq­ui­tous, the Vox video above points out.

No, it’s still not cheap, but Breuer’s rat­tan chair design is wide­ly beloved and copied. “The can­tilevered cane-and-chrome chair is all over the place,” Vox writes, “in trendy homes, in movies and on TV shows, even tat­tooed on peo­ple’s bod­ies.… [This] some­what unas­sum­ing two-legged chair is the real­iza­tion of a man­i­festo’s worth of utopi­an ideals about design and func­tion­al­i­ty.” It sat­is­fies the school’s brief, that is to say, for the util­i­tar­i­an as utopi­an, as Breuer him­self lat­er com­ment­ed on his design:

I already had the con­cept of span­ning the seat with fab­ric in ten­sion as a sub­sti­tute for thick uphol­stery. I also want­ed a frame that would be resilient and elas­tic [as well as] achieve trans­paren­cy of forms to attain both visu­al and phys­i­cal light­ness.… I con­sid­ered such pol­ished and curved lines not only sym­bol­ic of our mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy, but actu­al­ly tech­nol­o­gy itself.

Learn more about the prac­ti­cal, com­fort­able, beau­ty of the Cesca — and the ideals of the Bauhaus — in the video at the top. Learn more about the chair’s design­er, Mar­cel Breuer, in this online MoMA mono­graph by Christo­pher Wilk.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How the Icon­ic Eames Lounge Chair Is Made, From Start to Fin­ish

Down­load Orig­i­nal Bauhaus Books & Jour­nals for Free: A Dig­i­tal Cel­e­bra­tion of the Found­ing of the Bauhaus School 100 Years Ago

The Women of the Bauhaus: See Hip, Avant-Garde Pho­tographs of Female Stu­dents & Instruc­tors at the Famous Art School

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

What Does a $275,000 Classical Guitar Sound Like?

The high­est qual­i­ty clas­si­cal gui­tars hand­made in the 21st cen­tu­ry can run into the tens of thou­sands of dol­lars. This is no friv­o­lous expense for a pro­fes­sion­al play­er. Put such an instru­ment in the hands of an ama­teur and you may not hear much dif­fer­ence between it and a $150 fac­to­ry-made bud­get mod­el. In the hands of a sea­soned play­er, a high-end gui­tar tru­ly sings. Tone resides in the fin­gers — or 90% of it any­way — but a skilled gui­tarist knows how to dis­cov­er and make use of all an instru­men­t’s best qual­i­ties. For a musi­cian who makes a liv­ing doing so, spend­ing the cost of a car on a gui­tar makes eco­nom­ic sense (as does a good insur­ance pol­i­cy).

The tonal qual­i­ties of the instru­ment below, a hand­made clas­si­cal gui­tar from 1888, are clear­ly abun­dant; it’s also clear that gui­tarist Bran­don Ack­er — who has appeared in many of our pre­vi­ous posts on the gui­tar — knows how to exploit them. At times, he brings out such rich res­o­nance, the instru­ment sounds like a piano; at oth­ers, it is almost harp-like. We have a con­flu­ence of rar­i­ty: a high­ly skilled play­er with deep knowl­edge of clas­si­cal stringed instru­ments, and an instru­ment like no oth­er — so rare, in fact, that it’s val­ued at over a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars, rough­ly the aver­age cost of a mod­er­ate­ly-priced house in the U.S., the largest invest­ment most peo­ple make in their life­time.

To under­stand why the instru­ment car­ries such a high price tag, see Ack­er and YouTu­ber and gui­tarist Rob Scal­lon vis­it with father-and-son luthi­er team R.E. and M.E. Bruné at their shops in Illi­nois in the video at the top. The Brunés are spe­cial­ists in clas­si­cal and fla­men­co gui­tars. (The elder Bruné tells a charm­ing sto­ry of mak­ing his first fla­men­co gui­tar for him­self from his par­ents’ first din­ing room table.) In their shop’s stor­age area, they have ready access to some of the rarest gui­tars in the world, and they give us a live­ly tour — start­ing with a “bit of a let­down,” the “low-end,” 1967 Daniel Friederich con­cert mod­el val­ued at $50,000.

In Ack­er’s hands, each gui­tar deliv­ers the full poten­tial of its sus­tain and res­o­nance. Final­ly, at 16:00, we come to the 1888 Anto­nio de Tor­res gui­tar val­ued at $275,000. There are many old­er gui­tars in exis­tence, even gui­tars made by Anto­nio Stradi­vari and his heirs. But it was this gui­tar, or one of the few oth­ers made by the leg­endary Tor­res around the same time, that rev­o­lu­tion­ized what a gui­tar looked and sound­ed like. When Andrés Segovia arrived on stages play­ing his Tor­res, the Brunés tell us, gui­tarists around the world decid­ed that the old style, small-bod­ied gui­tars in use for cen­turies were obso­lete.

There are per­haps 90 to 100 of the Tor­res clas­si­cal gui­tars in exis­tence, and this extrav­a­gant­ly-priced num­ber 124 is “as close as you’re going to get to orig­i­nal,” says the elder Bruné, while his son makes the fas­ci­nat­ing obser­va­tion, “old­er instru­ments that have been played a lot, espe­cial­ly by great play­ers… learn the music.” Ack­er express­es his sur­prise at the “sweet­ness” of the very touch of the gui­tar.

If you had attend­ed the 2016 Gui­tar Foun­da­tion of Amer­i­ca con­fer­ence in Den­ver, where M.E. Bruné exhib­it­ed sev­er­al of his shop’s rare gui­tars, you would have been able to play the Tor­res your­self — or even pur­chase it for the less­er price of $235,000.

In the video inter­view above from the GFA con­fer­ence, M.E. Bruné describes the year plus-long restora­tion process on the gui­tar, one that involved some dis­as­sem­bly, extra brac­ing, and a replace­ment fin­ger­board, but pre­served the beau­ti­ful spruce and bird­s­eye maple of the gui­tar, wood that “does­n’t grow on trees like this any­where” these days, says Bruné. It is, he says, “the best-sound­ing Tor­res” he’s ever heard. Com­ing from some­one who has heard, and restored, the sweet­est-sound­ing gui­tars in exis­tence, that’s say­ing a lot. $275,000 worth? Maybe. Or maybe it’s impos­si­bly arbi­trary to put any price on such an arti­fact.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Hear Musi­cians Play the Only Playable Stradi­var­ius Gui­tar in the World: The “Sabionari”

The His­to­ry of the Gui­tar: See the Evo­lu­tion of the Gui­tar in 7 Instru­ments

The Art of Mak­ing a Fla­men­co Gui­tar: 299 Hours of Blood, Sweat & Tears Expe­ri­enced in 3 Min­utes

Encore! Encore! An Hour of the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Clas­si­cal Gui­tar

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

Olivia Newton-John (RIP) Reunites with Grease Co-Star John Travolta to Sing “You’re The One That I Want” (2002)

Amer­i­can nos­tal­gia as we know it was invent­ed in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties. Con­sid­er that decade’s pre­pon­der­ance of back­ward-look­ing pop-cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na: Sha Na Na; Hap­py Days; “Yes­ter­day Once More”; Amer­i­can Graf­fi­ti, whose tagline asked “Where were you in ’62?”, a time just eleven years before the release of the pic­ture itself. But no piece of work stands more icon­i­cal­ly for the sev­en­ties revival of the late fifties and ear­ly six­ties than Grease. First pro­duced as a stage musi­cal in Chica­go in 1971, it grad­u­at­ed to Broad­way the next year. But Grease would­n’t take its most endur­ing form until 1978, the year that brought Ran­dal Kleis­er’s film adap­ta­tion star­ring John Tra­vol­ta and the late Olivia New­ton-John.

A 28-year-old Aus­tralian might have seemed an uncon­ven­tion­al choice for the part of Sandy Dom­brows­ki, the new girl at mid­west­ern Rydell High School. But after the alter­ation of a few details in the char­ac­ter and sto­ry, she made the role entire­ly her own. “It was Newton-John’s dul­cet inti­ma­cy as a singer that set her up per­fect­ly to play the naïve Sandy onscreen,” writes the New York­er’s Rachel Syme.

Her “squeaky prud­ish­ness and moony inno­cence as she wails ‘Hope­less­ly Devot­ed to You’ stands in such sharp, sil­ly con­trast to her vampy fall­en-woman per­sona at the end of the film that the whole thing feels like a camp com­men­tary on the pow­er of cos­tum­ing and col­lec­tive fan­ta­sy (not to men­tion a good perm).”

It did­n’t hurt that New­ton-John was already estab­lished as a singer: she’d rep­re­sent­ed the Unit­ed King­dom in 1974’s Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test (los­ing, ulti­mate­ly, to ABBA), and that very same year scored coun­try hits in the Unit­ed States. Her skills did much not just to make the Grease sound­track Amer­i­ca’s sec­ond-best-sell­ing album of 1978 (sec­ond to the sound­track of Tra­volta’s own vehi­cle Sat­ur­day Night Fever), but to keep it endur­ing­ly pop­u­lar through­out the decades since. At Grease’s 2002 DVD release par­ty, New­ton-John and Tra­vol­ta reunit­ed onstage to sing “You’re the One That I Want,” much to the delight of the audi­ence — all of whom must still remem­ber where they were in ’02, at least for those three min­utes.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Pow­er of Pulp Fic­tion’s Dance Scene, Explained by Chore­o­g­ra­phers and Even John Tra­vol­ta Him­self

Watch Simon & Gar­funkel Sing “The Sound of Silence” 45 Years After Its Release, and Just Get Haunt­ing­ly Bet­ter with Time

Jim­my Page and Robert Plant Reunite in Exot­ic Mar­rakesh, 1994

In Touch­ing Video, Artist Mari­na Abramović & For­mer Lover Ulay Reunite After 22 Years Apart

The “West Side Sto­ry” Sto­ry — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #114

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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

All the Music Played on MTV’s 120 Minutes: A 2,500-Video Youtube Playlist

The mid-nine­teen-nineties was not a time with­out irony. You may recall that, back then, “alter­na­tive” rock had not only gone main­stream, but, in cer­tain regions, had even become the most pop­u­lar genre of music on the radio. That was cer­tain­ly true in the Seat­tle area, where I grew up. And if you want­ed to start a rock band there, as writer Adam Cadre remem­bers, you knew what steps you had to take: “get a record deal, make a video, get it on 120 Min­utes, have it become a Buzz Clip, won­der why mas­sive suc­cess does­n’t ease the aching void inside.”

If you got into bands like 10,000 Mani­acs, Smash­ing Pump­kins, R.E.M., The Replace­ments, the Pix­ies, the Off­spring, or Son­ic Youth in the mid-nineties (to say noth­ing of a cer­tain trio called Nir­vana), chances are — sta­tis­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, at least — that you first saw them on 120 Min­utes.

At the peak of its pop­u­lar­i­ty on MTV, the show defined the alter­na­tive-rock zeit­geist, intro­duc­ing new bands as well as bring­ing new waves of lis­ten­ers to exist­ing ones. Though most strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the nineties, it pre­miered in 1986, host­ed by three of the first MTV VJs, J. J. Jack­son, Martha Quinn, and Alan Hunter. 36 years lat­er, you can relive the entire­ty of 120 Min­utes’ sev­en­teen-year run (with a brief revival in the twen­ty-tens) on Youtube.

A user named Chris Reynolds has cre­at­ed a playlist that appears to con­tain every song ever aired on 120 Min­utes. (Those have been doc­u­ment­ed by The 120 Min­utes Archive, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.) Among the playlist’s more than 2,500 videos are songs — Vio­lent Femmes’ “Kiss Off,” The Psy­che­del­ic Furs’ “Love My Way,” Pearl Jam’s “Alive,” Fish­bone’s “Every­day Sun­shine,” R.E.M.‘s “Stand” — that will take you back to the pop-cul­tur­al eras 120 Min­utes spanned. But there are even more — Man­u­fac­ture’s “As the End Draws Near,” Lloyd Cole and the Com­mo­tions’ “Jen­nifer She Said,” Hel­met’s “Mil­que­toast,” Cause and Effec­t’s “You Think You Know Her” — that you may well have missed, even if you rocked your way through the eight­ies and nineties.

via Brook­lyn Veg­an

Relat­ed con­tent:

The 120 Min­utes Archive Com­piles Clips & Playlists from 956 Episodes of MTV’s Alter­na­tive Music Show (1986–2013)

Watch the First Two Hours of MTV’s Inau­gur­al Broad­cast (August 1, 1981)

Watch Nir­vana Go Through Rehearsals for Their Famous MTV Unplugged Ses­sions: “Pol­ly,” “The Man Who Sold the World” & More (1993)

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

William S. Bur­roughs — Alter­na­tive Rock Star — Sings with Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, REM & More

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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Discover The Key of Hell, an Illustrated 18th-Century Guide to Black Magic (1775)

Accord­ing to the Book of Rev­e­la­tion, the return­ing Christ arrives sur­round­ed by sev­en can­dle­sticks. In its author’s prophet­ic dream, “his head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire.” From his mouth issues “a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” It’s a star­tling image, cre­at­ed for sym­bol­ic pur­pos­es. With­out a key to what those sym­bols mean, the text remains obscure. It is, after all, a vision giv­en to a mys­tic her­mit exiled on an island.

Many a Rev­e­la­tion-inspired mag­i­cal gri­moire from suc­ceed­ing cen­turies also remains near­ly incom­pre­hen­si­ble to non-adepts. Such is the case with the “strange 18th-cen­tu­ry man­u­script called Clavis Infer­ni (key of hell),” as Ben­jamin Breen writes at Slate. “Filled with invo­ca­tions, cryp­tic sig­ils, and paint­ings of super­nat­ur­al beings” — such as the illus­tra­tion from Rev­e­la­tion above — “the book defies inter­pre­ta­tion — as it was meant to do.” Also, like Rev­e­la­tion, the tex­t’s author­ship is mys­te­ri­ous, and yet sig­nif­i­cant to our under­stand­ing of its intent.

The Key of Hell is attrib­uted to a Cypri­anus, a name that “prob­a­bly refers to St. Cypri­an of Anti­och (d. 304 CE),” Breen writes in a post at Atlas Obscu­ra, “a very com­mon apoc­ryphal attri­bu­tion for medieval mag­i­cal texts, since Cypri­an was reput­ed to have been a pow­er­ful magi­cian and demon-sum­mon­er before con­vert­ing to Chris­tian­i­ty.” The use of pseu­doepig­ra­phy — an author assum­ing the name of a long-dead fig­ure — was com­mon prac­tice through­out the his­to­ry of both the­o­log­i­cal and alchem­i­cal writ­ing. Rather than an attempt at decep­tion, it could sig­nal the con­tin­u­a­tion of a tra­di­tion of occult knowl­edge.

The title page of the Key of Hell “seems to date it to 1717,” writes Breen, but a Sothe­by’s cat­a­logue entry claims, “the script seems to be of the late 18th cen­tu­ry” and dates it to 1775. At the Well­come Library — who host the text online in its entire­ty — we find this “Har­ry Pot­ter-esque” ori­gin sto­ry:

Also known as the Black Book, [the Key of Hell] is the text­book of the Black School at Wit­ten­berg, the book from which a witch or sor­cer­er gets his spells. The Black School at Wit­ten­berg was pur­port­ed­ly a place in Ger­many where one went to learn the black arts.

Writ­ten in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and “the Mag­i­cal Alpha­bet devised by occultist Cor­nelius Agrip­pa in his Third Book of Occult Phi­los­o­phy from 1510,” notes Flash­bak, the man­u­script is “filled with invo­ca­tions to spir­its and demons — includ­ing a Hebrew invo­ca­tion for sum­mon­ing God.” (It also includes help­ful instruc­tions for ban­ish­ing sum­moned spir­its.) The man­u­scrip­t’s full Latin title — Clavis Infer­ni sive mag­ic alba et nigra appro­ba­ta Meta­trona — trans­lates to “The Key of Hell with white and black mag­ic approved by Meta­tron,” an archangel in the Tal­mu­dic and Kab­bal­ist tra­di­tions. The use of this name sug­gests the spells with­in come from a high­er author­i­ty.

Breen, how­ev­er, found some unusu­al com­men­tary on the book’s pos­si­ble author, includ­ing the idea in Den­mark that Cypri­anus was “a fel­low Dane so evil dur­ing his life­time that when he died the dev­il threw him out of Hell,” writes pro­fes­sor of Nor­we­gian lit­er­a­ture Kath­leen Stokker. Cypri­anus was so enraged by this treat­ment that “he ded­i­cat­ed him­self to writ­ing the nine Books of Black Arts that under­lie all sub­se­quent Scan­di­na­vian black books.” Anoth­er apoc­ryphal sto­ry iden­ti­fies Cypri­anus as a “rav­ish­ing­ly beau­ti­ful” Mex­i­can nun from 1351 (?!) who met a “gory” end.

Who­ev­er wrote the Key of Hell, and for what­ev­er rea­son, they left behind a fas­ci­nat­ing book of sor­cery full of curi­ous illus­tra­tions and a cryp­tic cos­mol­o­gy. See Breen’s attempts to deci­pher some of its key sym­bols here and make your own with the full text at the Well­come Library.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Exquis­ite Water­col­ors of Demons, Mag­ic & Signs: Behold the Com­pendi­um Of Demonolo­gy and Mag­ic from 1775

1,600 Occult Books Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online, Thanks to the Rit­man Library and Da Vin­ci Code Author Dan Brown

A Big Archive of Occult Record­ings: His­toric Audio Lets You Hear Trances, Para­nor­mal Music, Glos­so­lalia & Oth­er Strange Sounds (1905–2007)

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

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