Each of us now commands more technological power than did any human being alive in previous eras. Or rather, we potentially command it: what we can do with the technology at our fingertips — and how much money we can make with it — depends on how well we understand it. Luckily, the development of learning methods has more or less kept pace with the development of everything else we now do with computers. Take the online-education platform Udacity, which offers “nanodegree” programs in areas like programming, data science, and cybersecurity. While the nanodegrees themselves come with fees, Udacity doesn’t charge for the constituent courses: in other words, you can earn what you need to know for free.
Above you’ll find the introduction to Udacity’s Product Design course by Google (also creator of the Coursera professional-certificate programs previously featured here on Open Culture). “Designed to help you materialize your game-changing idea and transform it into a product that you can build a business around,” the course “blends theory and practice to teach you product validation, UI/UX practices, Google’s Design Sprint and the process for setting and tracking actionable metrics.”
This is a highly practical learning experience at the intersection of technology and business, as are many other of Udacity’s 193 free courses, like App Marketing, App Monetization, How to Build a Startup, and Get Your Startup Started.
If you have no particular interest in founding and running the next Google, Udacity also hosts plenty of courses that focus entirely on the workings of different branches of technology, from programming and artificial intelligence to 2D game development and 3D graphics. (In addition to the broad introductions, there are also relatively advanced courses of a much more specific focus: Developing Android Apps with Kotlin, say, or Deploying a Hadoop Cluster.) And if you’d simply like to get your foot in the door with a job in tech, consider such offerings as Refresh Your Résumé, Strengthen Your LinkedIn Network & Brand, and a variety of interview-preparation courses for jobs in data science, machine learning, product management, virtual-reality development, and other subfields. And however cutting-edge their work, who couldn’t another spin through good old Intro to Psychology?
Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Udacity. If readers enroll in certain Udacity courses and programs that charge a fee, it helps support Open Culture.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.Read More...
Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy, a neuropsychologist at the University of Copenhagen, presents An Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing, a course that explores the following set of questions:
How do we make decisions as consumers? What do we pay attention to, and how do our initial responses predict our final choices? To what extent are these processes unconscious and cannot be reflected in overt reports? This course will provide you with an introduction to some of the most basic methods in the emerging fields of consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing. You will learn about the methods employed and what they mean. You will learn about the basic brain mechanisms in consumer choice, and how to stay updated on these topics. The course will give an overview of the current and future uses of neuroscience in business.
You can take Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.
Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing will be added to our list of Free Business Courses, a subset of our collection: 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.
For a complete list of online courses, please visit our complete collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.
For a list of online certificate programs, visit 200 Online Certificate & Microcredential Programs from Leading Universities & Companies, which features programs from our partners Coursera, Udacity, FutureLearn and edX.
And if you’re interested in Online Mini-Masters and Master’s Degrees programs from universities, see our collection: Online Degrees & Mini Degrees: Explore Masters, Mini Masters, Bachelors & Mini Bachelors from Top Universities.Read More...
When Keith Richards felt he’d gone as far as he could go with the six-string guitar, he took one string off and played five, a trick he learned from Ry Cooder. These days, the trend is to go in the opposite direction, up to seven or eight strings for highly technical progressive metal compositions and downtuned “djent.” Traditionalists may balk at this. A five-string, after all, is a modification easily accomplished with a pair of wire-cutters. But oddly shaped eight-string guitars seem like weirdly rococo extravagances next to your average Stratocaster, Tele, or Les Paul.
Ideas we have about what a guitar should be, however, come mostly from the marketing and public relations machinery around big brand guitars and big name guitarists. The truth is, there is no Platonic ideal of the guitar, since no one is quite sure where the guitar came from.
It’s most easily recognized ancestors are the oud and the lute, which themselves have ancient heritages that stretch into prehistory. The six-string arrived rather late on the scene. In the renaissance, guitars had eight strings, tuned in four “courses,” or pairs, like the modern 12-string, and baroque guitars had 10 strings in five courses.
Closer in time to us, “the jazz guitarist George Van Eps had a seven-string guitar built for him by Epiphone Guitars in the late 1930s,” notes one brief history, “and a signature Gretsch seven-string in the late 60s and early 70s…. Several others began using seven-string guitars after Van Eps.” Russian folk guitars had seven strings before the arrival of six-string Spanish classical instruments (two hundred years before the arrival of Korn).
Meanwhile, in the hills, hollars, and deltas of the U.S. south, folk and blues musicians built guitars out of whatever was at hand, and fit as many, or as few, strings as needed. From these instruments came the powerfully simple, timeless licks Keef spent his career emulating. Guitarist Justin Johnson has cultivated an online presence not only with his slick electric slide playing, but also with his tributes to odd, old-time, homemade guitars. At the top, he plays a three-string shovel guitar, doing Keith two better.
Further up, some “Porch Swing Slidin’” with a six-string cigar box-style guitar engraved with a portrait of Robert Johnson. Above, hear a stirring rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on an oil can and a slide solo on a whiskey barrel guitar. Finally, Johnson rocks out Ray Charles on a three string cigar box guitar, made mostly out of ordinary items you might find around the shed.
You might not be able to pluck out Renaissance airs or complicated, sweep-picked arpeggios on some of these instruments, but where would even the most complex progressive rock and metal be without the raw power of the blues driving the evolution of the guitar? Finally, below, see Johnson play a handmade one-string Diddley Bow (and see the making of the instrument as well). Originally a West African instrument, it may have been the very first guitar.
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This week’s Nakedly Examined Music podcast features a discussion of songwriting and social protest with Jerry Casale, the co-frontman of Devo since its formation in 1973.
Jerry developed the idea of “devolution” with his friend Bob Lewis in the late ’60s when attending Kent State University, and by his own account was radicalized to political action by the Kent State shootings in 1970. This took the form of what was originally a partnership with Mark Mothersbaugh to create visual art, but this quickly became a musical partnership as well. Mark had used his synthesizer skills to ape British progressive rock, while Jerry was more influenced by blues, having played bass in The Numbers Band and other outfits. The two started recording independently, bringing in Mark’s brother Bob (“Bob 1”) to play lead guitar and later adding Jerry’s brother Bob (“Bob 2”) to play rhythm guitar and more keyboards as well as drummer Alan Myers. Buoyed by heralded live shows in Ohio that included a particularly idiosyncratic and catchy take on The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” Devo was signed to a major label and released seven albums before coming to a gradual stop in after their album sales declined in the late ’80s given that Mark was doing more and more music for TV and film.
This created a dilemma for Jerry, who has regarded Devo as his life’s work and also regarded it as essentially a partnership with Mark. There have been many Devo live reunions (including one happening now), and there was a full new Devo album in 2010, but that leaves a lot of time to merely collect residuals from “Whip It” and run a winery in Napa.
In reaction to the falsehoods that launched the 2003 Iraq War, Jerry recorded a limited-release solo album under the name “Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers.” This work has now been repackaged to accompany the release of a brand new single (attributed to “DEVO’s Gerald V. Casale”) called “I’m Gonna Pay U Back,” written with current Devo drummer Josh Freese and featuring guitars by Oingo Boingo’s Steve Bartek. As Jerry has always thought of his videos as integral to his musical output, this new song features an elaborately storyboarded and textured video co-directed with Davy Force of Force! Extreme Ani-Mation.
This revival of the Jihad Jerry character created to criticize America’s paranoid post-9/11 mindset allowed Jerry to visualize a conflict between Jihad Jerry and DEVO Jerry, in the Nakedly Examined Music interview, host Mark Linsenmayer engages Jerry about what these characters amount to and how exactly irony does (or does not) play into them. It was both a blessing and a curse for Devo that their various militaristic and/or robotic personas were so funny. The humor (and fun danceability) involved in songs like “Whip It,” “Mongoloid,” and “Freedom of Choice” meant they could gain an enduring foothold in popular culture, but on the other hand, they’ve been dismissed as merely jokes. Including themselves in the critique, acknowledging themselves as subject to the same human foibles, allowed them to create minimalist, anthemic songs that had a self-conscious stupidity and lampooned the pretensions of art rock. There was a clear connection between the musical styles that Devo sported and the message of this critique: They could all chant in unison that we are all degenerate conformists and use synthesizers and jerky rhythms to act out our dehumanization.
Jihad Jerry, i.e. Jerry wearing a theatrical turban and sunglasses, was given a specific backstory involving escaping Iranian theocracy, determined to use music as a weapon to fight prejudice and ignorance everywhere. Whatever the virtues of this character as a narrative device, it was a marketing disaster, raising ire both with American conservatives and with Muslims who felt they were being mocked, and so the character was retired in 2007. Jerry’s Nakedly Examined Music interview discusses “The Owl,” a track written during Jihad Jerry’s initial run, which confusingly has Jihad Jerry (a character) speaking narratively through the voice of a superhero character “The Owl,” who threatens physical violence on all boorish, selfish American evildoers. Now, given that there’s a character named Nite Owl in Alan Moore’s comic Watchmen, which is explicitly about the mental instability of those who appoint themselves the moral and physical guardians of society, it would be natural to think that irony is playing ask thickly in this new portrayal as it was for the Devo “smart patrol” characters, but in this interview, Jerry urges us to take the critique at face value, as a straightforward condemnation of American arrogance. Does the critique land better without the explicit self-incrimination? Or is the fact that Jihad Jerry is obviously a joke, the Owl as a superhero is obviously a joke, and the fact that we’re talking about characters talking through characters give Jerry Casale enough of a framework to be able to launch very direct attacks without being dismissed as shrill or condescending?
The latter portion of the interview turns to a lesser known Devo track “Fountain of Filth,” which Jerry says he wrote with his brother Bob Casale (who passed away in early 2014) during the recording sessions for Devo’s most famous album, 1980s Freedom of Choice. The song (in the form presented in the podcast) was included in the Hardcore Devo: Volume Two CD in 1991, and was performed live for the first time as part of the 2014 Hardcore Devo Live! tour. In Jerry’s introduction to the song in that concert and in this interview, he describes the “fountain” as all the misinformation and other commercial garbage that makes up much of American media. However, the lyrics of the song are ambiguous: “I’ve got a hunger that makes me want things… Nowhere are we safe… from the appeal of the eternal fountain of filth.” Like one of Devo’s well-known songs “Uncontrollable Urge” (written by Mark without Jerry), this could be a song not actually condemning the temptations, but laughing at prurient hysteria about temptation, i.e. a firmly ironic missive. The technique here is most likely irony that cuts in all directions: One can condemn the overreaction while still condemning the thing it was a reaction to, and a prudish fear of sexuality and full immersion in it are two sides of the same degenerate (i.e. “de-evolved”) coin.
The interview concludes with a 2016 single attributed to Jerry Casale with Italy’s Phunk Investigation that explicitly states this totalizing condemnation/celebration: “It’s All Devo.” Again, the song was released with an elaborate, evocative video, in this case using the art of Max Papeschi and direction by Maurizio Temporin.
Get more links related to this episodes on the Nakedly Examined Music website. Nakedly Examined Music is a podcast hosted by Mark Linsenmayer, who also hosts The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast, Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast, and Philosophy vs. Improv. He releases music under the name Mark Lint.Read More...
The Fat Acceptance movement may seem like a 21st century phenomenon, rising to public consciousness with the success of high-profile writers, actors, filmmakers, and activists in recent years. But the movement can date its origins to 1967, when WBAI radio personality Steve Post held a “fat-in” in Central Park, bringing 500 people together to protest, celebrate, and burn diet books and photos of Twiggy. “That same year,” notes the Center for Discovery, “a man named Llewelyn ‘Lew’ Louderback wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post titled, ‘More People Should be FAT.’” These early sallies led to the founding of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) two years later and more radical groups in the 70s like the Fat Underground.
There would be no need for fat activism, of course, if there were no biases against fat people. This raises the question: where did those biases come from? They are not innate, says Harvard University evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman in the Slate video above, but are a product of a history that tracks, coincidentally, with the rise of mass marketing and mass consumerism. We have been sold the idea that thin bodies are better, healthier, more attractive, and more desirable, and that fat is something to be warred against. “However, as an evolutionary biologist, “says Lieberman, I’ve come to appreciate that without fat, we’d be dead. Humans wouldn’t really be the way we are. Fat is really life.”
A quick perusal of art history shows us that larger bodies have been valued around the world in much of human history. We now associate fat with poor health, but it has also signaled the opposite — a storehouse of caloric wealth and healthy fertility. “Our bodies have all sorts of tricks to make sure we never run out of energy,” says Lieberman, “and the main way that we store energy is fat.” Leiberman and other biologists in the video survey the role of fat in human survival and thriving. “Fat is an organ,” and scientists are learning how it communicates with other systems in the body to regulate energy consumption and feed our comparatively enormous brains.
Among animals, “humans are especially adapted to be fat.” Even the thinnest among us are corpulent compared to most primates. Still, the average human did not have any opportunity to become obese until relatively recent historical developments — in the grand evolutionary scheme of things — like agriculture, heavy industry, and the science to preserve and store food. When Europeans discovered sugar, then mass produced it on plantations and exported it around the world, sugar consumption magnified exponentially. The average American now eats 100 pounds of sugar per year. The average hunter-gatherer might have struggled the eat “a pound or two a year” from natural sources.
The over-abundance of calories has led to a type-II diabetes epidemic worldwide that is closely related to sugar consumption. It isn’t necessarily related to having a larger body, although fat deposits in the heart and elsewhere can worsen insulin resistance (and heart disease); the problem is almost certainly linked to excess sugar, the constant availability of high-calorie foods, and low incentives to exercise. Our hunger for sweets and love of comfort are not character flaws, however. They are evolutionary drives that allow us to acquire and conserve energy, operating in a food economy that often punishes us for those very drives. Dieting not only doesn’t work, as neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt explains in her TED Talk above, but it often backfires, making us even hungrier because our brains perceive us as deprived.
As scientists like Lieberman gain a better understanding of the role of fat in human biology, those in the medical community are realizing that doctors and nurses are hardly free from the societal biases against fat. Studies show those biases can translate to poorer medical care and bad advice about dieting, a vicious cycle in which health conditions unrelated to weight go untreated, and are then blamed on weight. Evolutionary biology explains the role of fat in human development, and human history explains its increase, but the question of where the hatred of fat comes from is a trickier one for these scientists to answer. They barely mention the role of advertising and entertainment.
In 1979, activists in the “Fat Liberation Manifesto” identified the problem as fat people’s “mistreatment by commercial and sexist interests” that have “exploited our bodies as objects of ridicule, thereby creating an immensely profitable market selling the false promise of avoidance of, or relief from, that ridicule.” Despite decades of resistance, the diet industry thrives. A Google search of the phrase “body fat” yields page upon page of unscientific advice about ideal body fat percentages, as though reminding the majority of Americans (7 in 10 are classified as overweight or obese) that they should feel there’s something wrong with them.
Blame, shame, and ridicule won’t solve medical problems, say the biologists in the video above, and it certainly doesn’t help people lose weight, if that’s what they need to do. If we better understood the role of fat in keeping us healthy, happy, and alive, maybe we could overcome our hatred of it and accept others, and ourselves, in whatever bodies we’re in.
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With the release of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark, Erica Spyres and Brian Hirt explore the larger “Conjuring universe” that started with the critically acclaimed 2013 James Wan film depicting the fictionalized supernatural investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). Largely using the plot-generating device of the couple’s storehouse of haunted objects, this series has extended into eight films to date with more planned.
Are these films actually scary? Insofar as these demons and ghosts do frighten us, can we (emotionally) buy into the power of Catholic symbols to keep them at bay? Is it OK to valorize these real-life people who were very likely hucksters?
Is grouping these films together merely a marketing gimmick, or is there real narrative justification for the continuity? Even without a common filmmaker, stars, or plot through-line, there is some value in a brand or franchise, just so you know more or less what you’re getting, but does that actually hold in this case, or have Warren-free stinkers like The Nun (2018) and The Curse of La Llorona (2019) already failed to meet the franchise’s standards?
Some of the articles we reflected on for this episode included:
This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.
Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.Read More...
Anti-Chinese racism runs deep in American culture and law, beginning in the 19th century as competition intensified in California gold and land rushes. Chinese immigrants were pushed into teeming cities, then denigrated for surviving in overcrowded slums. To get a sense of the scope of the prejudice, we need only consider the 1882 law known as the Chinese Exclusion Act — the only legislation passed to explicitly restrict immigration by one ethnic or national group. The law actually goes back to 1875, when the Page Act banned Chinese women from immigrating. It was only repealed in 1943.
Although routinely evaded, the severe restrictions and outright bans on Chinese immigration under the Exclusion Act drove and were driven by racist ideas still visible today in tropes of dangerous, exoticized “dragon ladies” or sexually submissive concubines: roles given in early Hollywood films to the first Chinese-American movie star, Anna May Wong, who, after 1909 — despite being the most recognizable Chinese-American in the world — had to carry identification at all times to prove her legal status.
Wong was born in Los Angeles, a city that — like every other major metropolis — became home to its own Chinatown, and a famous one at that. But the most famous of the segregated urban areas originated in San Francisco, after the 1906 earthquake that nearly leveled the city and “came on the heels of decades of violence and racist laws targeting Chinese communities in the US,” notes Vox. “The earthquake devastated Chinatown. But in the destruction, San Francisco’s Chinese businessmen had an idea for a fresh start” that would define the look of Chinatowns worldwide.
The new Chinatown was more than a new start; it was survival. As often happens after disasters, proposals for relocating the unpopular immigrant neighborhood appeared “before the dust had settled and smoke cleared,” notes 99 Percent Invisible. “The city’s mayor commissioned architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham to draw up plans aligned with the City Beautiful movement.” Feeling they had to cater to white American stereotypes to gain acceptance, Chinese-American business leaders “hired architect T. Paterson Ross and engineer A.W. Burgren to rebuild—even though neither man had been to China.”
The architects “relied on centuries-old images, primarily of religious vernacular, to develop the look of the new Chinatown,” and the result was to create a genuine tourist attraction — an “iconic look,” the Vox Missing Chapter video explains, that bears little resemblance to actual Chinese cities. The Chinese immigrant community in San Francisco “kept their culture alive by inventing a new one,” a deliberate co-optation of Orientalist stereotypes for a city, its merchants decided, that would be built of “veritable fairy palaces.”
The New Chinatown was “not quite Chinese, not quite American”; safe for middle-class tourism and consumption and safer for Chinese businesses to flourish. The model spread rapidly. Now, in whatever major city we might might visit — outside of China, that is — the Chinatown we encounter is both a unique cultural hybrid and a marketing triumph that offered a measure of protection to beleaguered Chinese immigrant communities around the world.
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FYI: Until May 23, you can have 30-day free access to a Udacity Nanodegree program and start learning for free. Popular Udacity Nanodegree subjects include: Intro to Programming, Become a Product Manager, Become a Data Scientist, Digital Marketing, and Become a Data Analyst. But there are many more subjects to choose from.
The deal is open to residents of the United States and most other countries around the globe, with the exception of India, Brazil, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Residents of those countries can get 60% off the entire Udacity site through May 31 by using the SCHOOLOFCYBER60 code at checkout.
Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Udacity. If readers enroll in certain Udacity courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.
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“Before playing guitar for Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley,” John Kruth writes at the Observer, “Gary Lucas worked as a copywriter for CBS/Epic Records,” where he fell in love with a punk band called the Clash, just signed to the label in 1977. “They weren’t easy to work with,” he remembered. “Like Frank Zappa, they spoke about politics, government and corporate interference with radio. They were, as I said, when I came up with the slogan to promote the album: ‘The only group that matters.’”
The slogan stuck and has become something more than marketing hype. Of the slew of British punk bands who made their way to the US in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the Clash had more impact than most others in some unexpected ways. Their classic double album London Calling made Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (the only 90s rap-rock band that matters) take notice and change direction. “It was music I could relate to lyrically,” he says, “much more than the dungeons-and-dragons type lyrics of my metal forebears.”
Moreover, godfathers of political rap Public Enemy found their catalyst in the Clash, and went on to create a raucous, militant sound that was the punk equivalent in hip hop, full of snarling guitars, strident declarations and sirens. The song that most had an impact on PE founder and chief lyricist Chuck D came from the band’s even more sprawling triple album Sandinista!. When Chuck heard “The Magnificent Seven,” the Clash’s attempt to incorporate Grandmaster Flash and the Sugar Hill Gang — six months before Blondie released “Rapture” — “that’s when I started to pay attention,” he says.
“Magnificent Seven” came out of the band’s increasing musical adventurousness in the recording of 1980’s Sandinista!, in which they soaked up influences from every place they toured. “When we visited places,” Mick Jones remembered, “we were affected by that… And for me, New York City was really happening at that moment.” Jones took to carrying a boom box around blasting the latest hip hop. “Joe looked at the graffiti artists,” he says, “and I was taking in things like breakdancing and rap.” The band, bassist Paul Simenon recalls, was “open for information” when they met “people like Futura and Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow.”
The Clash didn’t only take from hip hop, but they tried to give back as well. Their 1981 run at “an aging Times Square Disco,” Jeff Chang writes, proved to be a major opportunity for graffiti artists like Futura, who painted a huge banner that was unfurled onstage every night and got to deliver his own rap while the band backed him. When the Clash announced an additional 11 shows after the NYPD limited capacity, they showed what Chang calls a “naive act of solidarity,” booking Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five as an opening act. White American punks sneered at the group; the Clash “responded by excoriating their own fans in interviews, and future Bronx-bred openers, The Treacherous Three and ESG, received marginally better treatment.”
Even more exciting was the fact that the B-side to “The Magnificent Seven,” a dub remix called “The Magnificent Dance,” had made it to New York hip hop radio and made the band unlikely stars among black American listeners. “The Clash were ecstatic to tune into WBLS and find that the DJs were not only playing ‘The Magnificent Dance’ up to five times a day, but also doing their own remixes of it,” writes Marcus Gray, “dubbing on samples from the soundtrack of Dirty Harry.” While the track, with its loping bass line played by Ian Drury and the Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy, primed dance floors for the success of the following year’s funk/disco “Rock the Casbah,” it was the lyrics that most grabbed listeners like Morello and Chuck D.
“They talked about important subjects,” says Chuck, “so therefore journalists printed what they said…. We took that from the Clash, because we were very similar in that regard. Public Enemy just did it 10 years later.” It may have taken that long for the barriers between punk and hip hop fans to come down, but to the extent that they did, it was in large part thanks to the musical adventurousness of the Clash and the early icons and fans who saw their revolutionary potential.
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Whatever marketing materials may claim, the Rolling Stones did not just happen upon Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge on Chicago’s South Side (before it closed, reopened in Hyde Park, then closed again for good) on a night when Muddy Waters happened to be there in 1981. And they did not spontaneously get invited to jam, as it seems, when they “climbed over tables” to get onstage with their hero and blues legends Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.
A chance meeting, of course, would have been magical, but the truth is the event was probably “planned and coordinated,” writes W. Scott Poole at Popmatters. These were the biggest names in the blues and rock and roll, after all. “Why,” before the Stones and their entourage arrive, “is there an empty table on the night Muddy Waters came back to Southside?”
And why did the Rolling Stones’ manager claim he “approached the Checkerboard higher-ups a week in advance,” Ted Scheinman writes at Slant, “proposing a surprise concert and proffering $500 as proof-of earnest”?
Was it a cynical ploy to re-establish the band’s blues cred during what would turn out to be the largest grossing tour of the year — one featuring what Jagger called “enormous images of a guitar, a car and a record — an Americana idea.” In some sense, Muddy Waters was also an “Americana idea,” but how could he be otherwise to the Stones, given that they’d grown up listening to him from across the Atlantic, associating him with experiences they had never known firsthand?
And so what if the historic meeting at the Checkerboard Lounge was stage-managed behind the scenes? That’s what managers do — they arrange things behind the scenes and let performers create the illusion of spontaneity, as though they hadn’t spent an entire tour, or decades of tours, making the same songs seem fresh on any given night. When it comes to the blues, playing the same songs over again is a key part of the game, seeing how much attitude and style one can wring out of a few chords, doggedly persistent themes of sex, love, death, betrayal, and maybe a bottleneck slide.
It’s a lesson the Stones learned well, and their adoration and respect for Muddy Waters is nothing less than genuine, even if it took some backstage negotiation to bring them together this one and only time. Muddy is spectacular. “Even as one of the aging elder statesmen of the Chicago blues in 1981,” writes Poole, “he exudes an aura of sex and power, showing off every attribute that so inspired Mick and Keith and that became an ineffable part of their own music and their persona.”
Meanwhile, the absolutely boyish glee on the faces of Jagger, Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Stones’ pianist Ian Stewart as they perform onstage with an artist who had given them so much more than just their name speaks for itself. The concert video and live album “began appearing as bootleg and unofficial releases almost immediately,” Allmusic notes, “from LP and CD to VHS and DVD.” Here, you can see them jam out three songs from the night: “Baby Please Don’t Go” (on which Waters brings Jagger onstage at 5:30 for an extended version and Keith joins at 6:50), “Mannish Boy,” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
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