Hear a Neuroscientist-Curated 712-Track Playlist of Music that Causes Frisson, or Musical Chills




Image by Wikimedia Commons

This Spotify playlist (play below) contains music by Prince and the Grateful Dead, Weezer and Billie Holliday, Kanye West and Johannes Brahms, Hans Zimmer and David Bowie, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Radiohead. Perhaps you’d expect such a range from a 712-track playlist that runs nearly 66 hours. Yet what you’ll hear if you listen to it isn’t just the collection of a modern-day “eclectic” music-lover, but a neuroscientist-curated arrangement of pieces that all cause us to experience the same sensation: frisson.

As usual, it takes a French word to evoke a condition or experience that other terms simply don’t encompass. Quoting one definition that calls frisson “a sudden feeling or sensation of excitement, emotion or thrill,” Big Think’s Sam Gilbert also cites a recent study suggesting that “one can experience frisson when staring at a brilliant sunset or a beautiful painting; when realizing a deep insight or truth; when reading a particularly resonant line of poetry; or when watching the climax of a film.”


Gilbert notes that frisson has also been described as a “piloerection” or “skin orgasm,” about which researchers have noted similar “biological and psychological components to sexual orgasm.” As for what triggers it, he points to an argument made by musicologist David Huron: “If we initially feel bad, and then we feel good, the good feeling tends to be stronger than if the good experience occurred without the preceding bad feeling.” When music induces two sufficiently different kinds of emotions, each is heightened by the contrast between them.

Contrast plays a part in artistic power across media: not just music but film, literature, drama, painting, and much else besides. But to achieve maximum effect, the artist must make use of it in a way that, as Gilbert finds argued in a Frontiers in Psychology article, causes “violated expectation.” A frisson-rich song primes us to expect one thing and then delivers another, ideally in a way that produces a strong emotional contrast. No matter your degree of musicophilia, some of the 712 tracks on this playlist will be new to you, allowing you to experience their version of this phenomenon for the first time. Others will be deeply familiar — yet somehow, after all these years or even decades of listening, still able to bring the frisson.

via Big Think

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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.

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George Harrison Breaks Down Abbey Road Track-By-Track on the Day of Its Release (September 26, 1969)




By the time the Beatles finished The White Album, it seemed they might not ever make another record together. “The group was disintegrating before my eyes,” recording engineer Geoff Emerick remembers. “It was ugly, like watching a divorce between four people. After a while, I had to get out.” Emerick left, but thankfully the band hung in a while longer and managed to patch things up in the studio to make their final record.

When they called Emerick to work on Abbey Road, they promised to get along for what would turn out to be their last album. (Emerick points out that on the cover they’re walking away from Abbey Road studios.) Not only did they manage to avoid personal conflict, but more importantly “the musical telepathy between them was mind-boggling.” As if to seal the moment of accord forever, they ended the album, and the Beatles, with a medley.


Abbey Road shows every member of the band rising to their full songwriting potential, especially George Harrison, who fully came into his own with “Something,” a song everyone knew would be “an instant classic.” Harrison became more confident and talkative in interviews, sitting down on the day of Abbey Road’s release with Australian music writer and John Lennon friend Ritchie York to offer his impressions of each track.

In the enhanced audio interview above, Harrison briefly comments, track-by-track, on what he thinks of each song and the album as a whole. What is perhaps most interesting, given Emerick’s comment about “musical telepathy,” is how the music seems to come from somewhere else, a kind of intuition or channeling that transcends the individual personalities of each Beatle.

Take Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden,” a song Harrison loves. “On the surface,” he says, “it’s just — it’s like a daft kids’ song. But the lyrics are great, really. For me, y’know, I find very deep meaning in the lyrics, which Ringo probably doesn’t see, but all the things like… ‘We’ll be warm beneath the storm.’… Which is really great, y’know, because it’s like this level is a storm, and it’s always — y’know, if you get sort of deep in your consciousness, it’s very peaceful. So Ringo’s writing his cosmic songs without noticing!”

The genius of Lennon, says Harrison, comes through particularly in his timing, “but when you question him as to what it is, he doesn’t know. He just does it naturally.” As for the album as a whole, Harrison says, “it all gels, it fits together and that, but… it’s a bit like it’s somebody else, y’know?…. It doesn’t feel as though it’s us…. It’s more like just somebody else.”

Harrison doesn’t say much about the recording process, but he does talk about the songwriting and influences on the album. When he wrote “Something,” he says, he imagined “somebody like Ray Charles doing it.” He calls Paul’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which Lennon hated, an “instant sort of whistle-along tune” that people will either love or hate.

The conversation eventually moves to Harrison’s feelings about The White Album and other topics. Where he really opens up is near the end when the subject of India comes up. We see him walking away from Abbey Road on his own path. When York asks him about “the Indian scene,” Harrison replies, “I dunno, it’s like it’s karma, my karma…. I’m just pretending to be, y’know, a Beatle. Whereas there’s a greater job to be done.”

Hear the interview in full above and read a transcript here.

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

An Introduction to Stanislaw Lem, the Great Polish Sci-Fi Writer, by Jonathan Lethem




Who was Stanislaw Lem? The Polish science fiction writer, novelist, essayist, and polymath may best be known for his 1961 novel Solaris (adapted for the screen by Andrei Tarkosvky in 1972 and again by Steven Soderbergh in 2014). Lem’s science fiction appealed broadly outside of SF fandom, attracting the likes of John Updike, who called his stories “marvelous” and Lem a poet of “scientific terminology” for readers “whose hearts beat faster when the Scientific American arrives each month.”

Updike’s characterization is but one version of Lem. There are several more, writes Jonathan Lethem in an essay for the London Review of Books, penned for Lem’s 100th anniversary – at least five different Lems with five different literary personalities. Only the first is a “hard science fiction writer,” the genre originating not with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but “in H.G. Wells’ technological prognostications.”


Represented best in the pages of Astounding Stories and other sci-fi pulps, hard sci-fi “advertises consumer goods like personal robots and flying cars. It valorizes space travel that culminates in successful, if difficult, contact with the alien life assumed to be strewn throughout the galaxies.” The genre also became tied to “American exceptionalist ideology, technocratic triumphalism, manifest destiny” and “libertarian survivalist bullshit,” says Lethem.

Lem had no use for these attitudes. In his guise as a critic and reviewer he wrote, “the scientific ignorance of most American science-fiction writers was as inexplicable as the abominable literary quality of their output.” He admired the English H.G. Wells, comparing him to the inventor of chess, and American Philip K. Dick, whom he called a “visionary among charlatans.” But Lem hated most hard sci-fi, though he himself, says Lethem, was a hard sci-fi writer “with visionary gifts and inexhaustible diligence when it came to the task of extrapolation.”

Much of Lem’s work was of another kind, as Lethem explains in the short film above, a condensed version of his essay. The second Lem “wrote fairy tales and folk tales of the future.” The third, “wrote just two novels, yet he could easily be, on the right day, one’s favorite.” Lem number four “is the pure post-modernist, who unified his essayistic and fictional selves with a Borgesian or Nabokovian gesture.” This Lem, for example, wrote the very Borgesian A Perfect Vacuum: Perfect Reviews of Nonexistent Books.

Lem number five, says Lethem, is “another major figure,” this one a prolific literary essayist, critic, reviewer, and non-fiction writer whose breadth is staggering. Rather than confining him with the label “futurist,” Lethem calls him an “anythingist,” a point Lem proved with his 1964 Summa Technologiae, a “masterwork of non-fiction,” Simon Ings writes at New Scientist, with the ambition and scope of the 13th-century Aquinas work for which it’s named.

This fifth and final Lem “will be a fabulous shock to those who know only his science fiction,” writes Ings. Only translated into English in 2014, his Summa presages search engines, virtual reality, and technological singularity. It attempts an “all encompassing… discourse on evolution,” commented biophysicist Peter Butko, “not only… of science and technology… but also evolution of life, humanity, consciousness, culture, and civilization.”

The last Lem makes for heady reading, but he imbues this work with the same wit and wickedly satirical voice we find in the first four. He operated, after all, as Lethem writes in his essay celebrating the Polish author at 100, “in the spirit of other Iron Curtain figures who slipped below the censor’s radar by using forms regarded as unserious.” Yet few have taken the form of science fiction more seriously.

via Aeon

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

The Revolutionary Paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Video Essay

“The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garret is a deliciously foolish one,” says artist and critic Rene Ricard, as portrayed by Michael Wincott, in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat. “We must credit the life of Vincent Van Gogh for really sending this myth into orbit.” And “no one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another Van Gogh. In this town, one is at the mercy of the recognition factor.” The town to which he refers is, of course, New York, in which the titular Jean-Michel Basquiat lived the entirety of his short life — and created the body of work that has continued not just to appreciate enormously in value, but to command the attention of all who so much as glimpse it.

As a film Basquiat has much to recommend it, not least David Bowie’s appearance as Andy Warhol. But as one would expect from a biopic about an artist directed by one of his contemporaries, it takes a subjective view of Basquiat’s life and career. “The Revolutionary Paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” the video essay by Youtube Blind Dweller above, adheres more closely to the historical record, telling the story of how his wild imagination spurred him on to become the hottest phenomenon on the New York art scene of the nineteen-eighties. By the middle of that decade, the young Brooklynite who’d once lived on the street after dropping out of school found himself making over a million dollars per year with his art.


At that time Basquiat “had collectors knocking on his door nearly every day demanding art from him, yet simultaneously asking for specific colors or imagery to match their furniture,” which resulted in “him slamming the door in a lot of collectors’ faces.” He refused to produce art to order, consumed as he was with his own interests — the law, sainthood, African culture, black American history, the built environment of New York City — and their incorporation into his work. He also possessed a keen sense of how to maintain a tantalizing distance between himself and his public, for instance by deliberately crossing out text in his paintings on the theory that “when a word is more obscured, the more likely an observer will be drawn to it.”

This would have been evident to Warhol, himself no incompetent when it came to audience management. His association with Basquiat secured both of their places in the zeitgeist of eighties America, but his death in 1987 marked, for his young protégé, the beginning of the end. “He began dissociating himself from his downtown past, attending more parties reserved for the super-rich, and becoming increasingly obsessed with the idea of being accepted by certain crowds,” says Blind Dweller, and his final heroin overdose occurred the very next year. Basquiat is remembered as both beneficiary and victim of the phenomenon to which we refer (now almost always positively) as hype — countless cycles of which have since done nothing to diminish the vitality exuded by his most striking paintings.

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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 DALL-E, the Artificial Intelligence Artist That Lets You Create Surreal Artwork

DALL-E, an artificial intelligence system that generates viable-looking art in a variety of styles in response to user supplied text prompts, has been garnering a lot of interest since it debuted this spring.

It has yet to be released to the general public, but while we’re waiting, you could have a go at DALL-E Mini, an open source AI model that generates a grid of images inspired by any phrase you care to type into its search box.

Co-creator Boris Dayma explains how DALL-E Mini learns by viewing millions of captioned online images:

Some of the concepts are learnt (sic) from memory as it may have seen similar images. However, it can also learn how to create unique images that don’t exist such as “the Eiffel tower is landing on the moon” by combining multiple concepts together.

Several models are combined together to achieve these results:

• an image encoder that turns raw images into a sequence of numbers with its associated decoder

• a model that turns a text prompt into an encoded image

• a model that judges the quality of the images generated for better filtering 

My first attempt to generate some art using DALL-E mini failed to yield the hoped for weirdness.  I blame the blandness of my search term – “tomato soup.”

Perhaps I’d have better luck “Andy Warhol eating a bowl of tomato soup as a child in Pittsburgh.”

Ah, there we go!

I was curious to know how DALL-E Mini would riff on its namesake artist’s handle (an honor Dali shares with the titular AI hero of Pixar’s 2018 animated feature, WALL-E.)

Hmm… seems like we’re backsliding a bit.

Let me try “Andy Warhol eating a bowl of tomato soup as a child in Pittsburgh with Salvador Dali.”

Ye gods! That’s the stuff of nightmares, but it also strikes me as pretty legit modern art. Love the sparing use of red. Well done, DALL-E mini.

At this point, vanity got the better of me and I did the AI art-generating equivalent of googling my own name, adding “in a tutu” because who among us hasn’t dreamed of being a ballerina at some point?

Let that be a lesson to you, Pandora…

Hopefully we’re all planning to use this playful open AI tool for good, not evil.

Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp raised some valid concerns in relation to the original, more sophisticated DALL-E:

It’s all fun and games when you’re generating “robot playing chess” in the style of Matisse, but dropping machine-generated imagery on a public that seems less capable than ever of distinguishing fact from fiction feels like a dangerous trend.

Additionally, DALL-E’s neural network can yield sexist and racist images, a recurring issue with AI technology. For instance, a reporter at Vice found that prompts including search terms like “CEO” exclusively generated images of White men in business attire. The company acknowledges that DALL-E “inherits various biases from its training data, and its outputs sometimes reinforce societal stereotypes.”

Co-creator Dayma does not duck the troubling implications and biases his baby could unleash:

While the capabilities of image generation models are impressive, they may also reinforce or exacerbate societal biases. While the extent and nature of the biases of the DALL·E mini model have yet to be fully documented, given the fact that the model was trained on unfiltered data from the Internet, it may generate images that contain stereotypes against minority groups. Work to analyze the nature and extent of these limitations is ongoing, and will be documented in more detail in the DALL·E mini model card.

The New Yorker cartoonists Ellis Rosen and Jason Adam Katzenstein conjure another way in which DALL-E mini could break with the social contract:

And a Twitter user who goes by St. Rev. Dr. Rev blows minds and opens multiple cans of worms, using panels from cartoonist Joshua Barkman’s beloved webcomic, False Knees:

Proceed with caution, and play around with DALL-E mini here.

Get on the waitlist for original flavor DALL-E access here.

 

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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.

Ziggy Stardust Turns 50: Celebrate David Bowie’s Signature Character with a Newly Released Version of “Starman”

David Bowie’s fans have now been enjoying the character of Ziggy Stardust for a full five decades. That’s hardly a bad run, given that the opening track of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars announces that the end of the world will come in just five years. Released on June 16th, 1972, that album gave the public its introduction to the title character, an androgynous rock star from a distant star who one day arrives, messiah-like, on the dying Earth. But as the musical story goes, the resulting fame proves too much for him: the hapless Ziggy ends up in shambles, victimized by Earthly desires in all their manifestations.

One could read into all this certain aspirations and fears on the part of Ziggy Stardust’s creator-performer, the young David Bowie. Broad critical consensus holds that it was on the previous year’s Hunky Dory that Bowie first showed his true artistic potential.


Though that album, his fourth, boasted signature-songs-to-be like “Changes” and “Life on Mars?”, Bowie declared (no doubt to the label’s frustration) that he wouldn’t bother promoting it, since he was just about to change his image. This turned out to be a shrewd move, since his subsequent transformation into Ziggy Stardust launched him out of the realm of the respected niche singer-songwriter and into the stratosphere of the bona fide rock star.

Why did Ziggy Stardust drive so many listeners to near-maniac appreciation half a century ago? In Bowie’s native England, many cite his July 1972 performance of “Starman” the BBC’s Top of the Pops as the turning point. Though only mildly psychedelic, the segment celebrated the colorfully askew glamour of Bowie-as-Ziggy and his band the Spiders from Mars just when it was desperately needed. As music critic Simon Reynolds writes, “It is hard to reconstruct the drabness, the visual depletion of Britain in 1972, which filtered into the music papers to form the grey and grubby backdrop to Bowie’s physical and sartorial splendor.” Today you can hear a newly released 2022 mix of “Starman” constructed from the tracks recorded for Top of the Pops those 50 years ago.

Imagine the impact on a young English pop-music fan in 1972 who happened to be watching on color (or rather, colour) television, itself introduced only a few years earlier. Though Bowie may have chosen just the right historical moment to debut the first of his musical personae, he didn’t create Ziggy Stardust ex nihilo. Elements of the character have clear precedents earlier in Bowie’s career, not least in the promotional film for 1968’s “Space Oddity,” the 2001-inspired single that first associated him with the realms beyond our planet. But Ziggy was Bowie’s first genuine alter ego, a character perfectly suited to the era of “glam rock” who could conveniently be retired when that era passed. Glam rock may be long gone, but Ziggy Stardust still looks and sounds as if he’d only just landed on Earth.

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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.

How Wealthy Women (Like the Mona Lisa) Got Dressed in Renaissance Florence

“The inhabitants of fifteenth-century Florence included Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelico, Verrocchio, Botticelli, Leonardo, and Michelangelo,” writes essayist and venture capitalist Paul Graham. “There are roughly a thousand times as many people alive in the U.S. right now as lived in Florence during the fifteenth century. A thousand Leonardos and a thousand Michelangelos walk among us.” But “to make Leonardo you need more than his innate ability. You also need Florence in 1450”: its community of artists, and indeed everyone of all classes who constituted its uncommonly fruitful society.

Florence’s cultural flourishing lasted into the sixteenth century. Above, you can see a morning in the life of one Florentine of the 1500s recreated in a video by Crow’s Eye Productions. Previously featured here on Open Culture for their re-creations of the dressing processes of the fourteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, they show us this time how a woman would put herself together — or by the help, be put together — in turn-of-the-sixteenth-century Florence, which, “like many other Italian regions, had developed its own distinctive fashion style.” The camurra gown, the separate golden sleeves, the informal guarnello over-gown: all evoke this particular time and place.

As each garment and accessory is applied to the model, she may begin to look oddly familiar. “In 1503, a silk merchant from Florence, Francesco del Giocondo, commissioned a portrait of his young wife to adorn a wall in their new home, and perhaps to celebrate the safe arrival of their third child,” the video’s narrator tells us. “The artist commissioned was Leonardo da Vinci.” His portrait of Madonna Giacondo is “an intimate portrayal of a young married woman,” expensively but modestly dressed, wearing a smile “that seems intended for Francesco’s eyes only.” Yet until Leonardo’s death, the picture never left his own possession — perhaps because he sensed it had a destiny much greater than the wall of the del Giocondos’ bedchamber.

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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.

A Special New, Two-Volume Collection of Philip K. Dick Stories Comes Illustrated by 24 Different Artists

Philip K. Dick’s multiple worlds have appeared in increasingly better editions since the author passed away in 1982. In the 21st century, respectable hardbacks and quality paper have fully replaced yellowed, pulpy pages. Maybe no edition yet is more attractive than the Folio Society of London’s two-volume hardback set of Dick’s selected short stories, illustrated by 24 different artists and including tales that have survived film adaptations, for better and worse, like “Paycheck,” “The Minority Report,” and “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” The books will set you back $125, but that’s a small sum compared to the price of an earlier, four-volume Complete Short Stories, published in a limited edition of 750, day-glo, hand-numbered copies. These sold out in less than 48 hours and now go for $2,500 in rare online sales.

In death Dick has achieved what he sought in his writing life: success as literary author. He thought he would eventually publish his realist fiction to earn the reputation, vowing in 1960 that he would “take twenty to thirty years to succeed as a literary writer.” Instead, he’s famous for great fiction that just happens to use the idiom of sci-fi to ask, as he wrote in an undelivered 1978 speech: “What is reality?” and “What constitutes an authentic human being?”


We tend to associate these existential, pre-post-modernist questions with novels and novellas from the 60s and 70s that communicate Dick’s paranoid worldview — works nominated for a Nebula Award, for example, like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the source for the best of the film adaptations, Blade Runner.

Dick first won fame in 1963 when he was given the Hugo Award for The Man in the High Castle, a book that exceeds the boundaries of genre to become, unmistakably, a PKD original. His earlier stories, on the other hand, written throughout the 1950s when the author was in his twenties, tend to follow the conventions of the hard sci-fi of the time, with the same themes of space travel, robotics, and other futuristic technology that predominate in Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Superficially, there might seem little to distinguish Dick’s early stories from other writing of the time published in pulps like Science Fiction Quarterly, Galaxy Science Fictionand IF

But the early stories show the unmistakable touch of the later novelist. There are the flashes of humor, absurdity, deep insight into the human psyche, and the warmth and empathy Dick’s narrative voice never lost even in his most bizarre fugues. In his first published story, “Roog,” sold in 1951, Dick imagines a dog who believes the garbage men come to steal the family’s food, leaving only the empty metal storage can behind. “Certainly, I decided,” he writes, “that dog sees the world quite differently than I do, or any humans. And then I began to think, maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world, a world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans.”

It’s a short leap from these thoughts to the idea that there might be no singular reality at all to fight over. Back then, he says, “I had no idea that such fundamental issues could be pursued in the science fiction field. I began to pursue them unconsciously.” His unconscious led him, in 1954’s “Adjustment Team” — the source of a less-than-great film — to imagine another dog, one who talks and interferes in human affairs (a detail omitted, thankfully, from The Adjustment Bureau). Dick’s early stories often featured comical animals — such as the Okja-like Martian pig in “Beyond Likes the Wub,” a highly-intelligent creature capable of telepathy and deep feeling. While he would turn his attention from animals and aliens to androids, alternate realities, and altered states of consciousness, Dick always had the ability to turn the genre of science fiction into a literary tool for the most daring of philosophical investigations.

Learn more about the two-volume Folio Society Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick here.

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

Danny Boyle’s New Sex Pistols Series Tells the Story of Punk Rock in the UK

“I am creating a revolution here! I don’t want musicians, I want saboteurs, I want assassins, I want shock troops!” — Malcolm McLaren in FX’s Pistol

“People are trying to make it out as a bit of a joke, but it’s not a joke. It’s not political anarchy either; it’s musical anarchy, which is a different thing.” — John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), Interview with Mary Harron, 1976

“What do you think of Steve [Jones]?” says Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) to his partner Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley) before telling her his plans to manage the future Sex Pistols in Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s FX mini-series Pistol. “Very damaged,” says Westwood, “but that’s quite good.” This sits well with budding impresario McLaren, who sees then-lead singer Jones as exactly the bomb he needs to throw at the establishment. “He’s got nothing else to live for,” says McLaren coldly.

The kids in the UK punk scene McLaren and Westwood stage-managed may have been outcasts, but many also came from staid suburban backgrounds, as did many of the punks in the downtown New York scene. When McLaren calls Jones (Toby Wallace) “the real deal,” he means the angry, drunken teenage face of a working class with little left to lose. Boyle’s series sets Jones up as representative of what made British punk so angry and “edgy” (to use one of Jones’ favorite words). The very first scene recreates his famous theft of David Bowie’s instruments to start the band. Genius stealing from genius.


Jones not only steals famous musicians’ gear, but he joyrides in stolen cars, and tries to steal leather pants from SEX, McLaren and Westwood’s S&M-themed boutique. There, future Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler) works the counter, and threatens to beat him with a cricket bat. The focus on Jones almost exclusively in the first episode suggests that he is the singular “Pistol” of the title.

Other characters show up eventually — frontman Johnny Rotten (Anson Boon) makes his appearance in the second episode (or “Track”) to bump Jones from vocals to guitar. The penultimate episode is titled “Nancy and Sid” in homage to Alex Cox’s cult biopic Sid and Nancy. But in the beginning, when the band was called “The Swankers,” it was all Steve Jones’ show, Boyle’s series suggests, from procuring the gear, to writing the first songs, to landing McLaren as manager.

Why release a biographical series on the Sex Pistols in 2022? The story has been told, in interviews, memoirs, and films, by the band, their entourage, hangers-on, and fans, and their manager, stylists, roadies, journalists, and photographers. It has been told so many times, so many ways, it makes the multiple perspectives of Kurosawa’s Rashomon seem easy to reconcile. (See comparisons between Boyle’s show and other documents above.) What could one more telling, streaming on a network once owned by Rupert Murdoch and now owned by the Disney Corporation, add to the living memory of 1970’s British Punk™?

We can hear some answers from series co-creator Boyle in the interview clip just above with the BBC. He describes what the band meant to him when he was a university student reading the news of the underground London in NME. “It’s only when you create true chaos,” he says, “that something new can emerge.” Does Pistol bring something new? The series is entertaining, recreating events familiar to us from any of the multiple histories of the Sex Pistols and doing so in a streamlined, hardly chaotic, narrative style.

Keeping the focus squarely on the handsome, charismatic Jones in the first episode (and to a lesser extent dapper original bassist Glen Matlock and boyish drummer Paul Cook) softens the band’s usual portrait. Maybe they seem more palatable at first to the very establishment McLaren tried to detonate in his revolution. But as Lydon, who happily took over as their spokesman, told Mary Harron in a 1976 interview, the idea that the Sex Pistols should be thought of as “socially significant” never appealed to him. “We want to be AMATEURS,” he sneered.

They wrote scathing nihilist protest songs like “EMI” and “God Save the Queen” (which they played on the Thames on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, above). But the Pistols were not actually anti-corporate anarchists. They were antisocial shock-rock theater. It is bewildering, nonetheless — because of the weight of their influence on politically-charged punk rock — to see them turned into fictionalized heroes in corporate media. And it is jarring to hear Lydon praise Trump, Nigel Farage, and the far right, without a trace of irony, as the real inheritors of punk. Never one to withhold an opinion, he’s made his views on the show clear (below): “It’s dead against everything we stood for.”

Ironically, Matlock, who is credited with writing ten of the twelve tracks on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, once said exactly the same thing about Johnny Rotten. So, what did the Sex Pistols stand for? Pissing people off, becoming absolutely hated, and getting rich? Only the last part of McLaren’s plot failed when he lost control of his monster. For all his revolutionary fervor, even McLaren was initially shocked (then delighted, then horrified and disgusted) by the band’s bad manners. Maybe writer and underground punk cartoonist John Holmstrom said it best: “It’s unbelievable that a rock group that played no more than one hundred live performances… and existed for only twenty-seven months, could become as internationally disliked as the Sex Pistols.” It’s even more unbelievable that they’ve become so internationally beloved.

Related Content:

The Sex Pistols Make a Scandalous Appearance on the Bill Grundy Show & Introduce Punk Rock to the Startled Masses (1976)

The Sex Pistols Riotous 1978 Tour Through the U.S. South: Watch/Hear Concerts in Dallas, Memphis, Tulsa & More

Watch the Sex Pistols’ Very Last Concert (San Francisco, 1978)

The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious Sings Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”: Is Nothing Sacred?

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

Ambient Kyoto: Brian Eno Stages His First Large-Scale Exhibition in Japan

If you live in Kyoto or are traveling to Japan in the next two months or, who knows, maybe you have a whole lotta miles saved up on your credit card, Brian Eno has a career-spanning exhibition going on at the former welfare centre of the Kyoto Chuo Shinkin Bank.

The above live stream recording features a selection of previously released ambient work, along with a panel of Japanese “Eno Experts” chatting about the musician/producer/artist/thinker. They play selections on vinyl, show clips from rare Eno documentaries, even manage to dig up a LaserDisc of Thursday Afternoon and a CD-Rom of Head Candy.


Ambient Kyoto is Eno’s first large-scale exhibition in Japan, and features the installations “77 Million Paintings,” “The Ship,” his constantly shifting “Light Boxes,” a stream of “The Lighthouse,” Eno’s SONOS channel of his unreleased archive, and a new work called “Face to Face,” which the exhibition site describes thus:

This work began with a small group of photographs of the faces of 21 real people, each in a single still image. Using special software, the image slowly changes pixel by pixel from one real face to another. This creates a long chain of “new humans” between the real faces of each and every one, such as those who didn’t actually exist, intermediate humans, and more than 36,000 new faces, 30 per second. can do.

Yes, you say, that’s all very nice, but what’s on sale at the gift shop? Here you won’t be disappointed. There’s vinyl and CD albums, an exhibit catalog, t-shirts, tote bags, and boxes of Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies. And only in Japan can you get this: a box of Japanese sweets designed to look like one of his light installations.

The exhibit is affordable (around $20) and you can stay as long as you like. Eno continues to fascinate and make art in spaces where he’s often the first to start exploring—-certainly in terms of ambient and generative art he has been a pioneer. In an interview near the end of the eight-hour live stream he describes his career:

“I just don’t see anybody else doing [these installations]. And I know it’s powerful. So I think wow, I’ve got this all to myself. So instead of shooting arrows at somebody else’s target, which I’ve never been very good at, I make my own target around wherever my arrow’s happened to have landed.”

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Related Content:

Listen to “Brian Eno Day,” a 12-Hour Radio Show Spent With Eno & His Music (Recorded in 1988)

Brian Eno’s Advice for Those Who Want to Do Their Best Creative Work: Don’t Get a Job

Brian Eno Lists the Benefits of Singing: A Long Life, Increased Intelligence, and a Sound Civilization

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.

Revisit Vintage Issues of Astounding Stories, the 1930s Magazine that Gave Rise to Science Fiction as We Know It

Having been putting out issues for 92 years now, Analog Science Fiction and Fact stands as the longest continuously published magazine of its genre. It also lays claim to having developed or at least popularized that genre in the form we know it today. When it originally launched in December of 1929, it did so under the much more whiz-bang title of Astounding Stories of Super-Science. But only three years later, after a change of ownership and the installation as editor of F. Orlin Tremaine, did the magazine begin publishing work by writers remembered today as the defining minds of science fiction.

Under Tremaine’s editorship, Astounding Stories pulled itself above its pulp-fiction origins with stories like Jack Williamson’s “Legion of Space” and John W. Campbell’s “Twilight.” The latter inspired the striking illustration above by artist Elliott Dold. “Dold’s work was deeply influenced by Art Deco, which lends its geometric forms to the city of machines in ‘Twilight,'” writes the New York Times‘ Alec Nevala-Lee, which “inaugurated the modern era of science fiction.”


In the case of a golden-age science-fiction magazine like Astounding Stories, Nevala-Lee argues“its most immediate impact came through its illustrations,” which “may turn out to be the genre’s most lasting contribution to our collective vision of the future.”

None of the imagery printed inside Astounding Stories was as striking as its covers, full-color productions on which “artists could let their imaginations run wild.” Sometimes they adhered closely to the visual descriptions in a story’s text — perhaps too closely, in the case the June 1936’s issue with H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time” — and sometimes they departed from and even competed with the magazine’s actual content. But after Campbell took over as editor in 1937, that content became even stronger: featured writers included Robert Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, and Isaac Asimov.

Now, here in the once science-fictional-sounding twenty-first century, you can not only behold the covers but read the pages of hundreds of issues of Astounding Stories from the thirties, forties, and fifties online. The earliest volumes are available to download at the University of Pennsylvania’s web site, by way of Project Gutenberg, and there are even more of them free to read at the Internet Archive. Though it may not always have faithfully reflected the material within, Astounding Stories‘ cover imagery did represent the publication as a whole. It could be thought-provoking and haunting, but it also delivered no small amount of cheap thrills — and the golden age of science fiction still shows us how thin a line really separates the two.

Related content:

Enter a Huge Archive of Amazing Stories, the World’s First Science Fiction Magazine, Launched in 1926

Free: 355 Issues of Galaxy, the Groundbreaking 1950s Science Fiction Magazine

Download Issues of Weird Tales (1923-1954): The Pioneering Pulp Horror Magazine Features Original Stories by Lovecraft, Bradbury & Many More

Enter the Pulp Magazine Archive, Featuring Over 11,000 Digitized Issues of Classic Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Detective Fiction

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

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.


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