Watch 11-Year-Old Billy Preston Duet with Nat King Cole: A Star is Born (1957)

The Beatles aren’t the only fab talents causing a stir in the recently released Beatles documentary, Get Back.

As has been widely noted, soul singer Billy Preston lights up every scene he’s in.

One of the 60’s finest session keyboardists, Preston contributed to the Beatles‘ Let It Be and Abbey Road albums, and joined them for their famous final gig on the roof of Apple Records.

He also served as a leveling influence when tensions within the band frequently exploded into fits of temper.


“It’s interesting to see how nicely people behave when you bring a guest in,” George Harrison observed.

In addition to his successful solo career, with a number of funk and R&B hits, Preston gigged for a host of all time greats: Ray Charles, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones…the list goes on.

A childhood prodigy who never took a music lesson, by 10, he was backing gospel luminaries like Mahalia JacksonJames Cleveland, and Andraé Crouch.

A year later, he entered America’s living rooms, when he appeared on The Nat King Cole Show, above, to duet with TV’s first national Black variety show host on “Blueberry Hill,” a 40s tune Fats Domino had popularized earlier in the decade.

“You have a very excellent career ahead of you,” Cole predicts, following their performance.

Daughter Natalie Cole later enthused that the celebrated crooner “lets this kid have all the glory,” though the self-possessed pre-teen holds his own ably, alternating between organ and his own impressive pipes.

Within the year, Cole and Preston shared the big screen, and a memorable part, when they were cast as “The Father Of The Blues” W.C. Handy, as a child and adult, in the 1958 movie St Louis Blues.

As an adult, Preston’s star was tarnished by addiction, arrests and self-sabotaging behavior that his manager, Joyce Moore, and half-sister Lettie, said was most deeply rooted in his mother’s refusal to believe that he was being sexually abused by the pianist of a summer touring company, and later a local pastor.

It’s part of a lurid, longer tale, calling to mind other promising, oft-prodigious young talents who never managed to get out from under damage inflicted by adults when they were children.

He was 9.

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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.

Michelangelo’s David: The Fascinating Story Behind the Renaissance Marble Creation

Like many schoolchildren, and, for that matter, Goliath, the Biblical giant who was felled by a slingshot, I am a bit of a Philistine.

I admit that the first and, for a long time, primary thing that compelled me about Michelangelo’s David ( 1501-1504) was the frankness with which a certain part of his anatomy was displayed.

Mugs depicting him with a strategically placed fig leaf that dissolves in response to hot liquid, Dress Me Up David fridge magnets, and an endless parade of risqué merchandise suggest that historically, I am not alone.


Kudos to gallerist James Payne, creator and host of the video series Great Art Explained, for his nod to the rabble in opening the above episode not with a view of David’s handsome head or miraculously detailed hands, but rather that most famous of male members.

Having gotten it out of the way right at the top, Payne refrains from mentioning it for nearly 10 minutes, educating viewers instead on other aspects of the statue’s anatomy, including the sculptor’s unusual methods and the narrow, flawed, previously used block of marble from which this masterpiece emerged.

He also delves into the social context into which Michelangelo’s singular vision was delivered.

Florentines were proud of their highly cultured milieu, but were not nearly as comfortable with depictions of nudity as the ancient Greeks and Romans.

This explains the comparative smallness of David’s tackle box. Perhaps Goliath might have gotten away with a gargantuan penis, but David, who vanquished him using intelligence and willpower rather than brute strength, was assigned a size that would convey modesty, respectability, and self-control.

The Bible identifies David as an an Israelite, but Michelangelo decided that this particular Jew should remain uncircumcised, in keeping with Greco-Roman aesthetics. It was a look Christian Florence could get behind, though they also forged 28 copper leaves to conceal David’s controversial manhood.

(This theme returns throughout history — the 1860s saw him outfitted with a temporary fig leaf.)

One wonders how much smaller things would have appeared from the ground, were David installed atop the Duomo, as originally planned. Michelangelo designed his creation with this perspective in mind, deliberately equipping him with larger than usual hands and head.

One of Payne’s viewers points out that David’s face, which conveys both resolve and fear as he considers his upcoming confrontation with Goliath, seems utterly confident when viewed from below.

Given that David is 17’ tall, that’s the vantage point from which most of his in-person admirers experience him. 16th-century Civic leaders, captivated by David’s perfection, placed him not atop the Florentine Cathedral, but rather in Piazza della Signoria, the political heart of Florence, where a replica still faces south toward Rome. (The original was relocated to the Galleria dell’Accademia in 1873, to protect it from the elements.)

Payne points out that David has survived many societal shifts throughout his 600+ years of existence. Fig-leafed or not, he is a perpetual emblem of the underdog, the determined guy armed with only a slingshot, and is thus unlikely to be toppled by history or human passions.

Watch more episodes of James Payne’s Great Art Explained on his YouTube channel. As a bonus below, we’ve included another informatiive video from Smarthistory featuring the always illuminating Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris.

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

The Story Behind the Iconic Photograph of 11 Construction Workers Lunching 840 Feet Above New York City (1932)

Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother“…

Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Terror of War“…

Richard Drew’s “The Falling Man“…

Throughout the years, a number of iconic photographs have tapped into the collective unconscious, shaping our view of historic events, sometimes to a degree that leads to social change.

These images are not dependent on knowing the subjects’ identities, though it’s always interesting when more context leaks out, often as the result of some serious sleuthing by reporters, archivists, or other interested parties.


1932’s “Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam)” is one of the lighter-hearted photos to create such a lasting public impression.

Eleven workers are depicted enjoying their break, relaxing on a girder a dizzying 840-feet above New York City, unburdened by safety harnesses or other protective gear.

In the words of Rockefeller Center archivist Christina Roussel, who narrates the TIME Magazine 100 Photos episode above, they are the “unsung heroes of construction.”

The unusual designation may lead you to rack your brains for a sung hero of construction.

Grandpa’s cog-in-the-wheel contribution to the erection of an iconic landmark can be a source of anecdotal pride for families, but it rarely leads to greater renown.

Looming over this image is John D. Rockefeller, Jr, who masterminded a 22 acre complex of 14 commercial buildings in the Art Deco style. The project was a boost to the economy during the Great Depression, employing over 250,000 people—from truckers and quarrymen to glaziers and steelworkers and hundreds of other jobs in between. It created an enormous amount of goodwill and patriotic pride.

The Rockefeller organization capitalized on this positive reception, with a steady stream of staged publicity photos, including the daring eleven sharing a nosebleed seat on what was to become the 69th floor of the RCA Building (now known as 30 Rock.)

As film critic John Anderson, reviewing the documentary Men at Lunch in The New York Times, wrote:

The popularity of the picture, which has been colorized, satirized, burlesqued with the Muppets and turned into a life-size sculpture by Sergio Furnari, is partly about the casual recklessness of its subjects: The beam on which they sit seems suspended over an urban abyss, with the vastness of Central Park spread out behind them and nothing, seemingly below. But in fact a finished floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza was probably just a few feet away.

The documentary helped confirm the identities of several of the men.

Irish immigrants Maddy O’Shaughnessy and Sonny Glynn hold down either end, as verified by their sons.

William Eckner, third from left, and Joe Curtis, third from right, were named in a similarly spirited annotated photo taken around the same time.

The man seated to Curtis’ right may or may not be John Charles Cook of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

The photographer’s identity is also debatable. It’s most often credited to Charles C. Ebbets but Tom Kelley and William Leftwich were also on hand that day, leather satchels of glass plates slung across their backs, as they, too, defied gravity, documenting the completion of architect Raymond Hood’s master plan.

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

The Internet Archive Hosts 20,000 VHS Recordings of Pop Culture from the 1980s & 1990s: Enter the VHS Vault

Image by Evan-Amos, via Wikimedia Commons

My neighborhood thrift store has a very large VHS wall, filled with Hollywood movies, endless children’s videos, instructional tapes, and best of all a box of unknown vids. Maybe they’re blank. Maybe they contain 6 episodes of Matlock. And maybe, just maybe, they have something completely nuts.

But who has time or the old technology for that, especially when the Internet Archive has recently expanded its VHS Vault section to 20,000 digitized tapes under the (non) curation of archivist Jason Scott. We make no claims for the quality of the videos contained therein, because that’s really up to you. A cursory glance shows episodes of Blues Clues next to Traci Lords’ workout tape next to Mystery Science Theater alongside Gerry Anderson’s Lavender Castle, a mix of claymation, puppetry, and rudimentary CGI.


So look: you have to go digging. There’s gems among the junk. There’s That’s My Bush! the ill-conceived and ill-fated sitcom from South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone that disappeared down the memory hole after 9-11.

Or check out this Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults, 75 minutes of paranoid lunacy with a halfway decent ambient soundtrack and some groovy visuals. Once you hear “abnormal sexology” you’ll be hooked!

This 1994 footage/interviews from the playa at Burning Man is a fascinating time capsule. “We have enough guns out here to start World War III,” one man says. Yep, it was certainly a different time.

You’ll also find plenty of just straight-up “no idea what’s on this, just hit play and record” VHS tapes, like this 4 hour block of MTV from 1995.

The Archive also serves another purpose: right now it acts as a kind of “safe space” from the increasingly unforgiving algorithms of YouTube, designed to take down anything its AI hears as unlicensed footage or music. It’s one reason for the amount of Mystery Science Theater episodes up here, as some can no longer be shown due to expired film rights.

And unlike YouTube, all the videos are available for you to download, keep, remix, edit, and/or purge. You won’t have to wash your hands like after a trip to the thrift store, but your soul will feel equally gross. Enjoy! Enter the archive here.

via BoingBoing

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’: The Story Behind Nancy Sinatra’s Enduring #1 Hit (1966)

You put on your boots
And I’ll put on mine
And we’ll sell a million records
Any old time
– Lee Hazlewood

Musicians!

Looking to increase your chances of a hit song, one that will worm its way into the public’s hearts and ears, earning fat royalty checks for half a century or more?

Try starting with a killer bass line.

According to singer Nancy Sinatra, songwriter Lee Hazlewood and arranger Billy Strange swung by her parents’ living room to preview a selection of tunes they thought she might want to record.

The moment she heard “These Boots Are Made For Walkin‘”s memorable lick, she knew it was a winner.

(As did her famous father, who looked up from his newspaper after Hazlewood and Strange departed, to remark, “The song about the boots is best.”)


Originally conceived of as a song from the male POV, the 25-year-old, just-divorced Sinatra felt its message would be less “harsh and abusive” delivered by a “little girl.”

Hazlewood agreed, but hedged his bets by directing engineer Eddie Brackett to beef up Sinatra’s vocals with some light reverb.

As biographer James Kaplan describes in Sinatra: The ChairmanHazlewood also offered some discreet direction, insinuating that the vibe to strive for was that of “a 14-year-old girl in love with a 40-year-old man.”

When Sinatra failed to receive his meaning, he shucked all pretense of delicacy. Nancy shared his marching orders in her 1985 biography Frank Sinatra, My Father:

…I was still singing like Nancy NiceLady. Lee hit the talk-back switch in the booth and his deep voice blew my ears off. ‘For chrissake, you were a married woman, Nasty, you’re not a virgin anymore. Let’s do one for the truck drivers. Say something tough at the end of this one… Bite the words.’

Or something to that effect…

Kaplan includes how several sources claim that Hazlewood’s actual instruction was to sing it like “a sixteen-year-old girl who f**ks truck drivers.”

(Editor’s note: instructing a young woman to do that in 2020 is far likelier to result in a law suit than a hit record.… and given that most of the sources who abide by this version of Boots’ creation myth preface their statements with the word “apparently,” it may not have flown in 1966 either.)

The song’s immense popularity was given an assist by the 1966 Color-Sonics film, above, shot in 16mm for the public’s enjoyment on 26-inch Scopitone jukebox screens.

It also put a match to the American tinder where go-go boots were concerned. Young women in Britain had already adopted them as the perfect footwear to accompany Youthquake designer Mary Quant’s miniskirts and hot pants. Sinatra and her maxi sweater-wearing back up dancers get the bulk of the credit on this side of the pond.

While “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” has been covered by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington to Billy Ray Cyrus and Megadeth, the sweetest cover remains songwriter Hazlewood’s, below, in which he namechecks the collaborators of his most famous hit with nary a mention of truckers or teenaged girls.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC TONIGHT, Monday, February 3, as her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Traditional Inuit Thoat Singing and the Modern World Collide in This Astonishing Video

Let’s just get this out of the way…

Musically speaking, Inuit throat singing—or katajjaqis not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

For all those who find this traditional form mesmerizing, there are others who get antsy with no lyrics or easily discernible melody on which to hang their hat, or who experience the bleak sound of the Arctic wind coupled with the singers’ preliminary breathing as a horror movie soundtrack.

If, as a member of one of the latter camps, you feel inclined to bail after a minute or so of Wapikoni Mobile’s Sundance-endorsed video above—you get it, it’s something akin to Mongolian or Tuvan throat-singing, it’s circular breathing, there’s a lot of picturesque snow up therewe beg you to reconsider, on two counts.


1) In an era of autotuned “everyone’s-a-star” perfection, Katajjaq is a hearty hold-out, a community-spirited singing game whose competitors seek neither stardom nor riches, but rather, to challenge themselves and amuse each other without screens throughout the long winter nights.

Practitioner Evie Mark breaks it down thusly:

One very typical example is when the husbands would go on hunting trips.  The women would gather together when they have nothing to do, no more sewing to do, no more cleaning to do, they would just have fun, and one of the ways of entertaining themselves is throat-singing.

It goes like this. Two women face each other very closely, and they would throat sing like this:

If I would be with my partner right now, I would say A, she would say A, I would say A, she would say A, I say C, she says C.  So she repeats after me.  It would be a sort of rolling of sounds.  And, once that happens, you create a rhythm.  And the only way the rhythm would be broken is when one of the two women starts laughing or if one of them stops because she is tired.  It’s a kind of game.  We always say the first person to laugh or the first person to stop is the one to lose.  It’s nothing serious.  Throat singing is way of having fun.  That’s the general idea, it’s to have fun during gatherings.  It is also a way to prove to your friends around you or your family that if you are a good throat-singer, you’re gonna win the game.

Throat-singing is a very accurate technique in a sense that when you are singing fast, the person who is following the leader has to go in every little gap the leader leaves for her to fill in.  For instance, if I was to say 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, the ones being what I sing and the pluses the gaps, she would go in-between the ones, singing on the pluses.  Then, if I change my rhythm, this woman has to follow that change of rhythm and fill in the gaps of that new rhythm.  She has to be very accurate.  She has to have a very good ear and she has to follow visually what I am doing.

Throat singing is not exactly easy on your diaphragm.  You are using a lot of your muscles in your diaphragm for breathing in and breathing out.  I have to find a space between sounds to breath in in order for me to throat-sing for 20 minutes or more.  20 minutes has been my maximum length of time to throat-sing.  You have to focus on your lungs or your diaphragm.  If you throat-sing using mainly breathing, you are gonna hyperventilate, you’re gonna get dizzy and damage your throat.

2) The video, starring Eva Kaukai and Manon Chamberland from Kangirsuk in northern Québec (population: 394), deflates conventional notions of traditional practices as the provenance of somewhere quaint, exotic, taxidermied…

Beginning around the 90-second mark, the singers are joined by a drone that surveys the surrounding area. Viewers get a glimpse of what their Arctic homeland looks like in the warm season, as well as some hunters flaying their kill prior to loading it into a late model pick up, presumably bound for a building in a wholly suburban seeming neighborhood, complete with telephone poles, satellite dishes, andgaspelectric light.

Via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC for the new season of her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday

 

What It Would Look Like If Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino & Other Directors Filmed Cooking Videos

I usually chafe when director Wes Anderson is labelled “twee,” but as an enthusiastic, sticky-fingered gobbler of bark and ash encrusted campfire s’mores, I did enjoy a rather rowdy laugh at his expense while watching the above video.

Each entry in filmmaker David Ma’s #FoodFilms series starts with a hypothesis that pairs a simple, familiar dish with a director whose visual style is well established.

What if Wes Anderson made S’mores? 

Ma’s early marination in the realms of food styling and advertising is a recipe for success here.


Anderson’s beloved God shot has become a staple of online cooking videos, but Ma’s attention to subtler details would pass muster with a Cordon Bleu chef.

The formally engraved card! The ribbon motif! The costumes!

The look is more Grand Budapest Hotel than the camp-themed Moonrise Kingdom, but no matter. That more obvious pairing started tasting a tad over-chewed around the time of the Moonrise Kingdom-inspired wedding photo shoot.

Ma’s homage to Quentin Tarantino is a butch and bloody take on spaghetti and meatballs.

To paraphrase Jean-Luc Godard, “It’s not blood. It’s red sauce.

The soundtrack suggests that Ma’s ear is just as keen as his eye.

45 seconds in, there’s a Part 2, as an extra treat for QT fans.

Big budget action king Michael Bay and a Gravity-centric Alfonso Cuarón round out #FoodFilms’ four-course tasting menu.

However satisfied viewers may feel with these hijinks, their appetite for the project is far from satiated. Sequel requests are piling up:

What if Kubrick made Toast?

What if Tim Burton made a grilled cheese sandwich?

What if Woody Allen made pizza?

What if Steven Spielberg made cupcakes?

What if Kurosawa made scrambled eggs?

What if Guy Ritchie did a Full English Fry-Up?

Gives me a hankering to see what Sofia Coppola would do with my grandmother’s favorite layered Jell-o salad.

While we’re waiting for Ma to serve up his next dish we can tide ourselves over with some of his other highly stylized recipe videos, like the Incredible Hulk’s Smashed Potatoes.

Readers, what director-dish pairing would you order up? Let us know in the comments.

via W Magazine

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

An Artist with Synesthesia Turns Jazz & Rock Classics Into Colorful Abstract Paintings

For those in the arts, few moments are more blissful than those spent “in the zone,” those times when the words or images or notes flow unimpeded, the artist functioning as more conduit than creator.

Viewed in this light, artist Melissa McCracken’s chromesthesia—or sound-to-color synesthesia—is a gift. Since birth, this rare neurological phenomenon has caused her to see colors while listening to music, an experience she likens to visualizing one’s memories.


Trained as a psychologist, she has made a name for herself as an abstract painter by transferring her colorful neurological associations onto canvas.

John Lennon’s “Julia” yields an impasto flame across a pale green field.

The bold daffodil and phlox hues of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” could have sprung from Monet’s garden at Giverny.

McCracken told Broadly that chromesthetes’ color associations vary from individual to individual, though her own experience of a particular song only wavers when she is focusing on a particular element, such as a bass line she’s never paid attention to before.

While her portfolio suggests a woman of catholic musical tastes, colorwise, she does tend to favor certain genres and instruments:

Expressive music such as funk is a lot more colorful, with all the different instruments, melodies, and rhythms creating a highly saturated effect. Guitars are generally golden and angled, and piano is more marbled and jerky because of the chords. I rarely paint acoustic music because it’s often just one person playing guitar and singing, and I never paint country songs because they’re boring muted browns.

Her favorite kind of music, jazz, almost always presents itself to her in shades of gold and blue, leading one to wonder if perhaps the Utah Jazz’s uniform redesign has a synesthetic element.

Certainly, there are a large number of musicians—including Duke Ellington, Kanye West, and Billy Joel—for whom color and music are inextricably linked.

View Melissa McCracken’s portfolio here.

via Broadly

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

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