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03 Feb 21:42

Finding the Light

by Wei Tchou

How studying the Enneagram can expand one’s empathy.

Sufi Enneagram.


Last month, right after the New Year, on a day I was feeling distracted and listless at work, my friend Ella mentioned a personality-typing system known as the Enneagram over G-chat. She described it as Myers-Briggs but better, and though I was skeptical, I clicked around the Internet until I discovered a test at the Enneagram Institute that would produce my “full personality profile.” It had been independently scientifically validated in El Paso, Texas.

I didn’t take the test because it costs twelve dollars and consists of 140 questions. (It felt too early in the year for impulsive wastefulness.) But I became absorbed in learning about this theory of self-discovery anyway. I read the website, then I borrowed a book from Ella, then I gave in and ordered The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types, via overnight mail. 

The Wisdom of the Enneagram vacillates between scientific analysis and spiritual fervor. It describes an origin story for the Enneagram that name-checks Sufism, Pythagoras, Plato, Taoism, the Kabbalah, and The Canterbury Tales, among other religious and philosophical texts. In an introductory passage, one of the authors describes the moment he began to believe in the path to self-actualization articulated by the Enneagram:

I saw clearly that everyone is made of light—that we are like forms of light—but that a crust has formed over it. The crust is black and rubbery like tar and has obscured the inner light that is everyone’s real, inner self.

It should have been easy enough to dismiss this as woo-woo mumbo jumbo, but I couldn’t stop reading.

The Enneagram’s theory of the human condition relies on a dualistic faith: that humans are essentially dissimilar from each other, but that their temperaments can be broadly categorized and thus provide unity among all people. (“The Enneagram can therefore be enormously valuable in today’s world to show white and black, male and female, Catholic and Protestant, Arab and Jew, straight and gay, rich and poor that if they search beneath the surface difference that separate them, they will find an entirely new level of common humanity.”) The word enneagram refers to a nine-sided geometric figure that charts the traits behind the personality typing system. Its shape, which resembles a pentagram, is numbered around its circumference from one to nine—like a clock with too little time. Each number signifies a different personality type, and each personality type is rooted in a different primal fear—or motivation, to think of it in another light. For example, type one—“The Reformer”—has a fear of corruption, therefore they are motivated by ideology and ethics. Type two—“The Helper”—fears being unwanted, which motivates them into affection and intimacy.

Each personality type comes with a road map for emotional development, with different “levels” representing psychological health. These are also numbered from one to nine, with level one representing the healthiest state of a type and level nine representing the least healthy. The least healthy state of a type three (“The Achiever”), is described as “Monomaniacal and Relentless”:

Unhealthy threes feel that there is nothing they can do to win the positive attention of the people whose approval they need, and may lose control of their repressed hostility and rage.

At average levels, threes can be “Self-Promoting and Grandiose” or “Success Oriented and Performing.” At their healthiest state (level one), threes are “Inner-Directed and Authentic”:

[Healthy] threes let go of the belief that their value is dependent on the positive regard of others, thus freeing them to discover their true identity and their own heart’s desire.

I pored over each variant, enthralled by the complexity and openness of each categorization. Most friends I’ve shared the website with have been able to identify their type quickly enough by scanning through the descriptions. And if not, there are pages devoted to disambiguation and helpful guides to the relational dynamics created within the combinations.

I should admit here that I might be more delighted than most when it comes to entertaining the absorbing and egocentric work of self-identification—I’m an Aquarius, an earth dragon, an ENTJ, a Shoshanna—but I’ve never found any practical application in these often entirely superstitious means of self-reflection. Unlike the zodiac, the sorting hat, or Jungian archetypes, the Enneagram’s philosophy is rooted in fluidity and growth. Even as the system categorizes a person by her essential qualities, it simultaneously urges her to challenge those traits by understanding the limitations of a fixed pattern. “It is meant to initiate a process of inquiry that can lead us to a more profound truth about ourselves and our place in the world,” the book says. “In short, knowing our type is not the final destination.” Wrangling our psychological impulses helps free our minds for the real work of self-discovery.

I identify as type six—“The Loyalist.” I have an inclination to draw out every worst-case scenario, distrust groupthink, and ice overly friendly strangers. But I’m also willing to take great risks on behalf of the people and ideas that I believe in. It does not hurt that Bruce Springsteen, a personal hero, also types as a six. Enneagram philosophy advises our people to push toward trusting others rather than remaining forever suspicious. (Sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road.)

And I’ve been surprised to find that even in the past month, it’s worked. I can’t have a conversation without part of my brain flipping through what I’ve memorized about types, and determining whether my ambitious colleague who is mouthing off on Twitter is a healthy three or an unhealthy one. I’ve found myself thinking about the fluidity not just of myself but of others around me, too. I am more curious about considering a person’s priorities as I interact with them, rather than dismissing them straight away, if, say, they’re visibly annoyed that I cancel a drinks date last-minute to have some alone time. Oh of course, I think to myself, classic two. Most often, we think of empathy in relation to pain—it’s the tricky work of attempting to understand another person’s experience by exploring why and how they were hurt. But lately, I’ve found it more rewarding to exercise my capacity for empathy in mundane interactions instead.

I called my mother for Chinese New Year last weekend—I’ve surmised that she’s type seven (“An Enthusiast”)—and sometimes I am hurt by her tendency to spend our time on the phone cataloguing every event she and my father have attended and every dish they have eaten since we last spoke. (Why isn’t she spending more of her time reinforcing our family unit? my six tendencies cry out). But even if she isn’t a seven, even if the Enneagram is bogus, even if I have been coaxed into a cult, completely brainwashed, now I’ll stay on the line and feel some joy in listening to her, in the understanding that perhaps she is telling me because it gives her pleasure to do so.


Wei Tchou is a member of The New Yorker’s editorial staff and is one of the Daily’s correspondents.

03 Feb 17:57

kindness COULD save them after all

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February 3rd, 2017: Next week I will be in the UNITED STATES as part of a book tour! It's for Squirrel Girl but I'll also be happy to talk/sign anything else, INCLUDING Dinosaur Comics stuff! Wednesday Thursday and Friday in San Diego, Portland, and Seattle: the details are RIGHT HERE.

– Ryan

01 Feb 20:33

Coming Distractions: David Byrne and twirling flags are together at last in the Contemporary Color trailer

by Erik Adams

As a musician, visual artist, filmmaker, and author, David Byrne has sung about buildings, made buildings sing, and given beauty and meaning to the average American shopping mall. In 2015, this fixation with overlooked or undervalued cultural fixtures led to Contemporary Color, a multi-venue performance celebrating color guard, the flag-twirling, rifle-tossing, saber-thrusting accompaniment to countless halftime shows and marching bands across the United States. At the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, 10 color guards collaborated with a roster of musical artists including St. Vincent, Ad-Rock, Blood Orange’s Devonté Hynes, and Byrne himself. The performances and preparations were documented by directors Bill Ross and Ross, for a film that premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and begins a theatrical run on March 3. Watch the official trailer for its bright pops of color, acrobatic derring do, and footage of Byrne’s amusingly ...

31 Dec 08:05

Zadie Smith: dance lessons for writers

The connection between writing and dancing has been much on my mind recently: it’s a channel I want to keep open. It feels a little neglected – compared to, say, the relationship between music and prose – maybe because there is something counter-intuitive about it. But for me the two forms are close to each other: I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do.

One of the most solid pieces of writing advice I know is in fact intended for dancers – you can find it in the choreographer Martha Graham’s biography. But it relaxes me in front of my laptop the same way I imagine it might induce a young dancer to breathe deeply and wiggle their fingers and toes. Graham writes: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

Fred Astaire represents the aristocracy when he dances,” claimed Gene Kelly, “and I represent the proletariat

What can an art of words take from the art that needs none? Yet I often think I’ve learned as much from watching dancers as I have from reading. Dance lessons for writers: lessons of position, attitude, rhythm and style, some of them obvious, some indirect. What follows are a few notes towards that idea.

Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire
Alamy; The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images. Top: Getty Images

Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly

Fred Astaire represents the aristocracy when he dances,” claimed Gene Kelly, in old age, “and I represent the proletariat.” The distinction is immediately satisfying, though it’s a little harder to say why. Tall, thin and elegant, versus muscular and athletic – is that it? There’s the obvious matter of top hat and tails versus T-shirt and slacks. But Fred sometimes wore T-shirts and slacks, and was not actually that tall, he only stood as if he were, and when moving always appeared elevated, to be skimming across whichever surface: the floor, the ceiling, an ice rink, a bandstand. Gene’s centre of gravity was far lower: he bends his knees, he hunkers down. Kelly is grounded, firmly planted, where Astaire is untethered, free-floating.

Likewise, the aristocrat and the proletariat have different relations to the ground beneath their feet, the first moving fluidly across the surface of the world, the second specifically tethered to a certain spot: a city block, a village, a factory, a stretch of fields. Cyd Charisse claimed her husband always knew which of these dancers she’d been working with by looking at her body at the end of the day: bruised everywhere if it was Kelly, not a blemish if it was Astaire. Not only aloof when it came to the ground, Astaire was aloof around other people’s bodies. Through 15 years and 10 movies, it’s hard to detect one moment of real sexual tension between Fred and his Ginger. They have great harmony but little heat. Now think of Kelly with Cyd Charisse in the fantasy sequence of Singin’ in the Rain! And maybe this is one of the advantages of earthiness: sex.

When I write I feel there’s usually a choice to be made between the grounded and the floating. The ground I am thinking of in this case is language as we meet it in its “commonsense” mode. The language of the television, of the supermarket, of the advert, the newspaper, the government, the daily “public” conversation. Some writers like to walk this ground, recreate it, break bits of it off and use it to their advantage, where others barely recognise its existence. Nabokov – a literal aristocrat as well as an aesthetic one – barely ever put a toe upon it. His language is “literary”, far from what we think of as our shared linguistic home.

One argument in defence of such literary language might be the way it admits its own artificiality. Commonsense language meanwhile claims to be plain and natural, “conversational”, but is often as constructed as asphalt, dreamed up in ad agencies or in the heart of government – sometimes both at the same time. Simultaneously sentimental and coercive. (The People’s Princess. The Big Society. Make America Great Again.) Commonsense language claims to take its lead from the way people naturally speak, but any writer who truly attends to the way people speak will soon find himself categorised as a distinctive stylist or satirist or experimentalist. Beckett was like this, and the American writer George Saunders is a good contemporary example. (In dance, the example that comes to my mind is Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, whose thing was tapping up and down the stairs. What could be more normal, more folksy, more grounded and everyday than tapping up and down some stairs? But his signature stage routine involved a staircase pressed right up against another staircase – a stairway to itself – and so up and down he would tap, up and down, down and up, entirely surreal, like an Escher print come to life.)

Astaire is clearly not an experimental dancer like Twyla Tharp or Pina Bausch, but he is surreal in the sense of surpassing the real. He is transcendent. When he dances a question proposes itself: what if a body moved like this through the world? But it is only a rhetorical, fantastical question, for no bodies move like Astaire, no, we only move like him in our dreams.

By contrast, I have seen French boys run up the steps of the High Line in New York to take a photo of the view, their backsides working just like Gene Kelly’s in On The Town, and I have seen black kids on the A train swing round the pole on their way out of the sliding doors – Kelly again, hanging from that eternal lamppost. Kelly quoted the commonplace when he danced, and he reminds us in turn of the grace we do sometimes possess ourselves. He is the incarnation of our bodies in their youth, at their most fluid and powerful, or whenever our natural talents combine ideally with our hard-earned skills. He is a demonstration of how the prosaic can turn poetic, if we work hard enough. But Astaire, when he dances, has nothing to do with hard work (although we know, from biographies, that he worked very hard, behind the scenes). He is “poetry in motion”. His movements are so removed from ours that he sets a limit on our own ambitions. Nobody hopes or expects to dance like Astaire, just as nobody really expects to write like Nabokov.

Harold and Fayard Nichols

Harold and Fayard Nicholas

Writing, like dancing, is one of the arts available to people who have nothing. “For 10 and sixpence,” advises Virginia Woolf, “one can buy paper enough to write all the plays of Shakespeare.” The only absolutely necessary equipment in dance is your own body. Some of the greatest dancers have come from the lowliest backgrounds. With many black dancers this has come with the complication of “representing your race”. You are on a stage, in front of your people and other people. What face will you show them? Will you be your self? Your “best self”? A representation? A symbol?

The Nicholas brothers were not street kids – they were the children of college-educated musicians – but they were never formally trained in dance. They learned watching their parents and their parents’ colleagues performing on the “chitlin” circuit, as black vaudeville was then called. Later, when they entered the movies, their performances were usually filmed in such a way as to be non-essential to the story, so that when these films played in the south their spectacular sequences could be snipped out without doing any harm to the integrity of the plot. Genius contained, genius ring-fenced. But also genius undeniable.

“My talent was the weapon,” argued Sammy Davis Jr, “the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man’s thinking.” Davis was another chitlin hoofer, originally, and from straitened circumstances. His logic here is very familiar: it is something of an article of faith within the kinds of families who have few other assets. A mother tells her children to be “twice as good”, she tells them to be “undeniable”. My mother used to say something like it to me. And when I watch the Nicholas brothers I think of that stressful instruction: be twice as good.

The Nicholas brothers were many, many magnitudes better than anybody else. They were better than anyone has a right or need to be. Fred Astaire called their routine in Stormy Weather the greatest example of cinematic dance he ever saw. They are progressing down a giant staircase doing the splits as if the splits is the commonsense way to get somewhere. They are impeccably dressed. They are more than representing – they are excelling.

But I always think I spot a little difference between Harold and Fayard, and it interests me; I take it as a kind of lesson. Fayard seems to me more concerned with this responsibility of representation when he dances: he looks the part, he is the part, his propriety unassailable. He is formal, contained, technically undeniable: a credit to the race. But Harold gives himself over to joy. His hair is his tell: as he dances it loosens itself from the slather of Brylcreem he always put on it, the irrepressible afro curl springs out, he doesn’t even try to brush it back. Between propriety and joy, choose joy.

Prince & Micheal Jackson
Redferns; Sygma via Getty Images

Michael Jackson and Prince

On YouTube you will find them, locked in many dance-offs, and so you are presented with a stark choice. But it’s not a question of degrees of ability, of who was the greater dancer. The choice is between two completely opposite values: legibility on the one hand, temporality on the other. Between a monument (Jackson) and a kind of mirage (Prince).

But both men were excellent dancers. Putting aside the difference in height, physically they had many similarities. Terribly slight, long necked, thin-legged, powered from the torso rather than the backside, which in both cases was improbably small. And in terms of influence they were of course equally indebted to James Brown. The splits, the rise from the splits, the spin, the glide, the knee bend, the jerk of the head – all stolen from the same source.

Yet Prince and Jackson are nothing alike when they dance, and it’s very hard to bring to mind Prince dancing, whereas it is practically impossible to forget Jackson. It sounds irrational, but try it for yourself. Prince’s moves, no matter how many times you may have observed them, have no firm inscription in memory; they never seem quite fixed or preserved. If someone asks you to dance like Prince, what will you do? Spin, possibly, and do the splits, if you’re able. But there won’t appear to be anything especially Prince-like about that. It’s mysterious. How can you dance and dance, in front of millions of people, for years, and still seem like a secret only I know? (And isn’t it the case that to be a Prince fan is to feel that Prince was your secret alone?)

Prince's shows were illegible, private, like the performance of a man in the middle of a room at a house party

I never went to see Michael Jackson, but I saw Prince half a dozen times. I saw him in stadiums with thousands of people, so have a rational understanding that he was in no sense my secret, that he was in fact a superstar. But I still say his shows were illegible, private, like the performance of a man in the middle of a room at a house party. It was the greatest thing you ever saw and yet its greatness was confined to the moment in which it was happening.

Jackson was exactly the opposite. Every move he made was absolutely legible, public, endlessly copied and copyable, like a meme before the word existed. He thought in images, and across time. He deliberately outlined and then marked once more the edges around each move, like a cop drawing a chalk line round a body. Stuck his neck forward if he was moving backwards. Cut his trousers short so you could read his ankles. Grabbed his groin so you could better understand its gyrations. Gloved one hand so you might attend to its rhythmic genius, the way it punctuated everything, like an exclamation mark.

Towards the end, his curious stagewear became increasingly tasked with this job of outline and distinction. It looked like a form of armour, the purpose of which was to define each element of his body so no movement of it would pass unnoted. His arms and legs multiply strapped – a literal visualisation of his flexible joints – and a metallic sash running left to right across his breastplate, accentuating the shift of his shoulders along this diagonal. A heavyweight’s belt accentuated slender hips and divided the torso from the legs, so you noticed when the top and bottom half of the body pulled in opposite directions. Finally a silver thong, rendering his eloquent groin as clear as if it were in ALL CAPS. It wasn’t subtle, there was no subtext, but it was clearly legible. People will be dancing like Michael Jackson until the end of time.

But Prince, precious, elusive Prince, well, there lays one whose name was writ in water. And from Prince a writer might take the lesson that elusiveness can possess a deeper beauty than the legible. In the world of words, we have Keats to remind us of this, and to demonstrate what a long afterlife an elusive artist can have, even when placed beside as clearly drawn a figure as Lord Byron. Prince represents the inspiration of the moment, like an ode composed to capture a passing sensation. And when the mood changes, he changes with it: another good lesson.

There’s no freedom in being a monument. Better to be the guy still jamming in the wee hours of the house party, and though everybody films it on their phones no one proves quite able to capture the essence of it. And now he’s gone, having escaped us one more time. I don’t claim Prince’s image won’t last as long as Jackson’s. I only say that in our minds it will never be as distinct.

Janet Jackson Madonna Beyonce
Michel Linssen/Redferns/Getty; Dave Hogan/Getty; Matt Slocum/AP

Janet Jackson / Madonna / Beyoncé

These three don’t just invite copies – they demand them. They go further than legibility into proscription. They lead armies, and we join them. We are like those uniformed dancers moving in military formation behind them, an anonymous corps whose job it is to copy precisely the gestures of their general.

This was made literal on Beyoncé’s Formation tour recently, when the general raised her right arm like a shotgun, pulled the trigger with her left and the sound of gunshot rang out. There is nothing intimate about this kind of dancing: like the military, it operates as a form of franchise, whereby a ruling idea – “America”, “Beyoncé” – presides over many cells that span the world. Maybe it is for this reason that much of the crowd I saw at Wembley could be found, for long periods, not facing in the direction of the stage at all, instead turning to their friends and partners. They didn’t need to watch Beyoncé any more than soldiers need to look fixedly at the flag to perform their duties. Our queen was up there somewhere dancing – but the idea of her had already been internalised. Friends from the gym stood in circles and pumped their fists, girlfriends from hen nights turned inwards and did “Beyoncé” to each other, and boys from the Beyhive screamed every word into each other’s faces. They could have done the same at home, but this was a public display of allegiance.

Beyoncé's lesson is quite clear. My body obeys me. My dancers obey me. Now you will obey me.

Janet Jackson kicked off this curious phenomenon, Madonna continued it, Beyoncé is its apex. Here dancing is intended as a demonstration of the female will, a concrete articulation of its reach and possibilities. The lesson is quite clear. My body obeys me. My dancers obey me. Now you will obey me. And then everybody in the crowd imagines being obeyed like Bey – a delightful imagining.

Lady writers who inspire similar devotion (in far smaller audiences): Muriel Spark, Joan Didion, Jane Austen. Such writers offer the same essential qualities (or illusions): total control (over their form) and no freedom (for the reader). Compare and contrast, say, Jean Rhys or Octavia Butler, lady writers much loved but rarely copied. There’s too much freedom in them. Meanwhile every sentence of Didion’s says: obey me! Who runs the world? Girls!

David Byrne

David Byrne and David Bowie

The art of not dancing – a vital lesson. Sometimes it is very important to be awkward, inelegant, jerking, to be neither poetic nor prosaic, to be positively bad. To express other possibilities for bodies, alternative values, to stop making sense. It’s interesting to me that both these artists did their “worst” dancing to their blackest cuts. “Take me to the river,” sings Byrne, in square trousers 20 times too large, looking down at his jerking hips as if they belong to someone else. This music is not mine, his trousers say, and his movements go further: maybe this body isn’t mine, either. At the end of this seam of logic lies a liberating thought: maybe nobody truly owns anything.

People can be too precious about their “heritage”, about their “tradition” – writers especially. Preservation and protection have their place but they shouldn’t block either freedom or theft. All possible aesthetic expressions are available to all peoples – under the sign of love. Bowie and Byrne’s evident love for what was “not theirs” brings out new angles in familiar sounds. It hadn’t occurred to me before seeing these men dance that a person might choose, for example, to meet the curve of a drum beat with anything but the matching curving movement of their body, that is, with harmony and heat. But it turns out you can also resist: throw up a curious angle and suddenly spasm, like Bowie, or wonder if that’s truly your own arm, like Byrne.

I think of young Luther Vandross, singing backup a few feet behind Bowie, during Young Americans, watching Bowie flail and thrash. I wonder what his take on all that was. Did he ever think: “Now, what in the world is he doing?” But a few performances in, it was clear to everybody. Here was something different. Something old, and yet new.

Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov
Sipa Press/Rex/Shutterstock; Getty Images

Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov

When you face an audience, which way will you turn? Inwards or outwards? Or some combination of the two? Nureyev, so fierce and neurotic, so vulnerable, so beautiful – like a deer suddenly caught in our headlamps – is faced resolutely inwards. You “can’t take your eyes off him”, as people like to say, but at the same time he is almost excruciating to watch. We feel we might break him, that he might crumble – or explode. He never does, but still, whenever he leaps you sense the possibility of total disaster, as you do with certain high-strung athletes no matter how many times they run or jump or dive. With Nureyev you are an onlooker, you are a person who has been granted the great honour of being present while Nureyev dances. I don’t mean this sarcastically: it is an honour to watch Nureyev, even in these grainy old videos on YouTube. He’s a kind of miracle, and is fully cognisant of this when he dances, and what did you do today to warrant an audience with a miracle? (See also: Dostoevsky.)

Baryshnikov's face dances as much as his arms and legs. He is whatever you need him to be

With Baryshnikov, I have no fears of disaster. He is an outward-facing artist, he is trying to please me and he succeeds completely. His face dances as much as his arms and legs. (Nureyev’s face, meanwhile, is permanently lost in transcendent feeling.) Sometimes Baryshnikov wants to please me so much he’ll even try tap dancing with Liza Minnelli, risking the scorn of the purists. (I am not a purist. I am delighted!) He is a charmer, an entertainer, he is comic, dramatic, cerebral, a clown – whatever you need him to be. Baryshnikov is both loving and loved. He has high and low modes, tough and soft poses, but he’s always facing outwards, to us, his audience. (See also: Tolstoy.)

Once I met Baryshnikov over a New York dinner table: I was so star-struck I could hardly speak. Finally I asked him: “Did you ever meet Fred Astaire?” He smiled. He said: “Yes, once, at a dinner. I was very star-struck, I hardly spoke. But I watched his hands all the time, they were like a lesson in themselves – so elegant!”

• Swing Time by Zadie Smith is published on 15 November (Hamish Hamilton, £18.99). To order a copy for £15.57, go to or call 0330 333 6846.

29 Dec 18:49

The characters of Westworld beautifully reimagined as horses

by Matthew Inman
22 Dec 19:00

snarksandkisses: prince-gengar: fuks: i love this  this is...




i love this 

this is the purest thing I’ve ever seen

oh my god

02 Nov 16:46

Autumn Hours, Part 7

by Vanessa Davis


Catch up with Vanessa Davis’s column here.


Vanessa Davis is the author of the collections Spaniel Rage and Make Me a Woman. She is one of the Daily’s correspondents.

The post Autumn Hours, Part 7 appeared first on The Paris Review.

24 Oct 17:38

instant-oatmeal: isitcoldenoughforpants: moonblossom: amandaex...





Donna for the new BBC Sherlock.

I would watch the hell out of that. Make it happen please.

Only if Tom is Watson

yes please

30 Sep 16:35

A Swedish Girls’ Team at the 2016 Rope Skipping World...

A Swedish Girls’ Team at the 2016 Rope Skipping World Tournament (video here)

(I’d never seen competitive jump rope, and it kind of blew my mind, so thought I’d share. have a good friday, tumblr.)

20 Sep 17:59

Newswire: Michel Gondry surprises his pals The White Stripes with a new music video

by Katie Rife

Watch both videos.

Getting a surprise from a friend is always nice, but it’s probably especially delightful when your friend is famously quirky French film director Michel Gondry. Gondry—whose most recent film, Microbe & Gasoline, debuted back in July—apparently was feeling especially whimsical in the shower the other day, and so he set up his camera and decided to make a music video for the recently unearthed White Stripes song “City Lights”:

According to a press release from White Stripes frontman Jack White, the video was made completely independently by Gondry without asking permission from the band first. They clearly weren’t mad about it, though—who would be?—and they’re now sharing this cute gesture of friendship and fandom with the public. Gondry, of course, has worked with The White Stripes before, most notably directing their famous Lego-based video for “Fell In Love With A Girl.”

As for ...

19 Sep 21:53

Police Are Training Eagles To Snatch Drones From The Sky 

by Kate Ryan

Image via YouTube

Just when you think technology has taken over irrevocably, nature has a way of striking back and asserting her dominance. Such is the case with Guard From Above, a raptor-training program currently operating out of the Netherlands. The Netherlands’ national police have teamed up with the program to snatch unauthorized drones out of the sky with the expert precision of bald eagles, Design Boom reports.

As drones increase in popularity, managing them will pose a major headache for several organizations including air traffic control agencies, firefighters, and local police. Using birds of prey to keep rogue drones in check isn’t as wild of an idea as you might think, says chief operating officer and co-founder Ben de Keijzer, who has more than 25 years of experience training birds. According to Guard From Above’s website, it’s a “low-tech solution for a high-tech problem.”

The National Audubon Society’s Geoff LeBaron says that tension between drones and birds of prey already exists thanks to the invasive, aggressive nature of the unmanned aircrafts. LeBaron, who also runs the organization’s Christmas Bird Count which tracks U.S. bird populations, said in an interview with The Guardian,

“The drones are pretty much the size of a bird of prey, so smaller birds on the ground aren’t likely to mob a bird of prey when it’s flying—but larger birds are, especially when it’s around their nests. The birds of prey are having an aggressive interaction to defend their territory from another bird of prey.”

LeBaron also commented on the expert precision of these large birds, explaining that the “birds can hit the drone in such a way that they don’t get injured by the rotors.” He adds, “They seem to be whacking the drone right in the center so they don’t get hit; they have incredible visual acuity and they can probably actually see the rotors.”

Watch the video above to see the birds in action, and think twice next time you decide to fly your drone into unchartered territory. 

14 Sep 18:43

sandandglass: The Daily Show, September 6, 2016


The Daily Show, September 6, 2016

18 Jul 17:16

knightoftaurus: aviculor: dendritic-trees: [A large and...




[A large and fluffy dog is sleeping on a porch. A tiny grey bird is bouncing around on the dog, stealing its fur.  Its tiny beak is full of dog floof.  The dog is totally still and does not appear to have noticed the thief.]

a burglar

a birbler

28 Jun 15:34

Great Job, Internet!: Disney princesses reimagined as cats reimagined as sharks that are not Disney princesses

by Dennis DiClaudio

If there’s one thing that the internet loves more than Disney princesses, it’s cats! And if there’s one thing that the internet loves more than cats, it’s sharks! Particularly sharks that don’t have anything to do with Disney princesses. That’s why the internet’s gonna go on a feeding frenzy for this series of illustrations.

Image: Brynn Metheney

Ariel should be trying to get her voice back, but at the moment she’s kind of preoccupied with this ball of yarn, not to mention the many sea mammals, like seals and small whales, that she feeds on almost exclusively.

Image: Brynn Metheney

For Jasmine, this beam of sunlight on the living room couch is like “a whole new world,” and, by the way, her jaw is on a hinge allowing her to open it extra wide when feeding on deep-water fish and crustaceans.

Image ...
16 Jun 20:08


15 Jun 18:15

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08 Jun 17:06

TV Club: ESPN’s five-part O.J. Simpson documentary is a masterful portrait of a crime and its context

by Noel Murray


Thanks to one of those odd periodic showbiz confluences—the kind that gives us two killer earthquake movies in the same year or two animated films about talking ants or two Truman Capote biopics—the 30 For 30 docuseries O.J: Made In America is hitting TV screens just two months after FX had one of its biggest hits with The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The FX series was so excellent and revelatory that the millions who watched it might feel like they don’t need the ESPN version. But that’d be a mistake. This 30 For 30 is its own animal: a five-part, eight-hour stunner, of which less than half is about the Hall Of Fame running back’s murder trial. The rest is spent on who O.J. Simpson really is.

Better points of comparison for Made In America might be The Jinx ...

27 May 16:33

Raccoon Trouble

by Reza


24 May 21:25

Dr. Despair

by Reza


12 May 16:03

My Father, Woody Allen, and the Danger of Questions Unasked (Guest Column)

"They're accusations. They're not in the headlines. There's no obligation to mention them." These were the objections from a producer at my network. It was September 2014 and I was preparing to interview a respected journalist about his new biography of Bill Cosby. The book omitted allegations of rape and sexual abuse against the entertainer, and I intended to focus on that omission. That producer was one of several industry veterans to warn me against it. At the time, there was little more than a stalled lawsuit and several women with stories, all publicly discredited by Cosby's PR team. There was no criminal conviction. It was old news. It wasn't news.

So we compromised: I would raise the allegations, but only in a single question late in the interview. And I called the author, reporter to reporter, to let him know what was coming. He seemed startled when I brought it up. I was the first to ask about it, he said. He paused for a long time, then asked if it was really necessary. On air, he said he'd looked into the allegations and they didn't check out.

Today, the number of accusers has risen to 60. The author has apologized. And reporters covering Cosby have been forced to examine decades of omissions, of questions unasked, stories untold. I am one of those reporters — I'm ashamed of that interview.

Some reporters have drawn connections between the press' grudging evolution on Cosby and a painful chapter in my own family's history. It was shortly before the Cosby story exploded anew that my sister Dylan Farrow wrote about her own experiences — alleging that our father, Woody Allen, had "groomed" her with inappropriate touching as a young girl and sexually assaulted her when she was 7 years old.

Being in the media as my sister's story made headlines, and Woody Allen's PR engine revved into action, gave me a window into just how potent the pressure can be to take the easy way out. Every day, colleagues at news organizations forwarded me the emails blasted out by Allen's powerful publicist, who had years earlier orchestrated a robust publicity campaign to validate my father's sexual relationship with another one of my siblings. Those emails featured talking points ready-made to be converted into stories, complete with validators on offer — therapists, lawyers, friends, anyone willing to label a young woman confronting a powerful man as crazy, coached, vindictive. At first, they linked to blogs, then to high-profile outlets repeating the talking points — a self-perpetuating spin machine.

Mia and Allen with Ronan (left) and daughter Dylan in 1988.

The open CC list on those emails revealed reporters at every major outlet with whom that publicist shared relationships — and mutual benefit, given her firm's starry client list, from Will Smith to Meryl Streep. Reporters on the receiving end of this kind of PR blitz have to wonder if deviating from the talking points might jeopardize their access to all the other A-list clients.

In fact, when my sister first decided to speak out, she had gone to multiple newspapers — most wouldn't touch her story. An editor at the Los Angeles Times sought to publish her letter with an accompanying, deeply fact-checked timeline of events, but his bosses killed it before it ran. The editor called me, distraught, since I'd written for them in the past. There were too many relationships at stake. It was too hot for them. He fought hard for it. (Reached by The Hollywood Reporter, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Times said the decision not to publish was made by the Opinion editors.)

When The New York Times ultimately ran my sister's story in 2014, it gave her 936 words online, embedded in an article with careful caveats. Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and advocate for victims of sexual abuse, put it on his blog.

Soon afterward, the Times gave her alleged attacker twice the space — and prime position in the print edition, with no caveats or surrounding context. It was a stark reminder of how differently our press treats vulnerable accusers and powerful men who stand accused.

Perhaps I succumbed to that pressure myself. I had worked hard to distance myself from my painfully public family history and wanted my work to stand on its own. So I had avoided commenting on my sister's allegations for years and, when cornered, cultivated distance, limiting my response to the occasional line on Twitter. My sister's decision to step forward came shortly after I began work on a book and a television series. It was the last association I wanted. Initially, I begged my sister not to go public again and to avoid speaking to reporters about it. I'm ashamed of that, too. With sexual assault, anything's easier than facing it in full, saying all of it, facing all of the consequences. Even now, I hesitated before agreeing to The Hollywood Reporter's invitation to write this piece, knowing it could trigger another round of character assassination against my sister, my mother or me.

But when Dylan explained her agony in the wake of powerful voices sweeping aside her allegations, the press often willing to be taken along for the ride, and the fears she held for young girls potentially being exposed to a predator — I ultimately knew she was right. I began to speak about her more openly, particularly on social media. And I began to look carefully at my own decisions in covering sexual assault stories.

I believe my sister. This was always true as a brother who trusted her, and, even at 5 years old, was troubled by our father's strange behavior around her: climbing into her bed in the middle of the night, forcing her to suck his thumb — behavior that had prompted him to enter into therapy focused on his inappropriate conduct with children prior to the allegations.

Allen with Farrow (then known as Satchel) in 1994, after the director lost his custody battle with ex-girlfriend Mia Farrow.

But more importantly, I've approached the case as an attorney and a reporter, and found her allegations to be credible. The facts are persuasive and well documented. I won't list them again here, but most have been meticulously reported by journalist Maureen Orth in Vanity Fair. The only final legal disposition is a custody ruling that found Woody Allen's behavior "grossly inappropriate" and stressed that "measures must be taken to protect [Dylan]."

On May 4, The Hollywood Reporter published a cover interview with Woody Allen, quirky auteur. To me it is a sterling example of how not to talk about sexual assault. Dylan's allegations are never raised in the interview and receive only a parenthetical mention — an inaccurate reference to charges being "dropped." THR later issued a correction: "not pursued."

The correction points to what makes Allen, Cosby and other powerful men so difficult to cover. The allegations were never backed by a criminal conviction. This is important. It should always be noted. But it is not an excuse for the press to silence victims, to never interrogate allegations. Indeed, it makes our role more important when the legal system so often fails the vulnerable as they face off against the powerful.

Here is exactly what charges not being pursued looked like in my sister's case in 1993: The prosecutor met with my mother and sister. Dylan already was deeply traumatized — by the assault and the subsequent legal battle that forced her to repeat the story over and over again. (And she did tell her story repeatedly, without inconsistency, despite the emotional toll it took on her.) The longer that battle, the more grotesque the media circus surrounding my family grew. My mother and the prosecutor decided not to subject my sister to more years of mayhem. In a rare step, the prosecutor announced publicly that he had "probable cause" to prosecute Allen, and attributed the decision not to do so to "the fragility of the child victim."

My mother still feels it was the only choice she could make to protect her daughter. But it is ironic: My mother's decision to place Dylan's well-being above all else became a means for Woody Allen to smear them both.

Farrow with his mother, Mia Farrow, at the Time 100 Gala in April 2015.

Very often, women with allegations do not or cannot bring charges. Very often, those who do come forward pay dearly, facing off against a justice system and a culture designed to take them to pieces. A reporter's role isn't to carry water for those women. But it is our obligation to include the facts, and to take them seriously. Sometimes, we're the only ones who can play that role.

Confronting a subject with allegations from women or children, not backed by a simple, dispositive legal ruling is hard. It means having those tough newsroom conversations, making the case for burning bridges with powerful public figures. It means going up against angry fans and angry publicists.

There are more reporters than ever showing that courage, and more outlets supporting them. Many are of a new generation, freed from the years of access journalism that can accrete around older publications. BuzzFeed has done pioneering reporting on recent Hollywood sexual assault stories. It was Gawker that asked why allegations against Bill Cosby weren't taken more seriously. And it is heartening that The Hollywood Reporter asked me to write this response. Things are changing.

But the old-school media's slow evolution has helped to create a culture of impunity and silence. Amazon paid millions to work with Woody Allen, bankrolling a new series and film. Actors, including some I admire greatly, continue to line up to star in his movies. "It's not personal," one once told me. But it hurts my sister every time one of her heroes like Louis C.K., or a star her age, like Miley Cyrus, works with Woody Allen. Personal is exactly what it is — for my sister, and for women everywhere with allegations of sexual assault that have never been vindicated by a conviction.

Tonight, the Cannes Film Festival kicks off with a new Woody Allen film. There will be press conferences and a red-carpet walk by my father and his wife (my sister). He'll have his stars at his side — Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg. They can trust that the press won't ask them the tough questions. It's not the time, it's not the place, it's just not done.

That kind of silence isn't just wrong. It's dangerous. It sends a message to victims that it's not worth the anguish of coming forward. It sends a message about who we are as a society, what we'll overlook, who we'll ignore, who matters and who doesn't.

We are witnessing a sea change in how we talk about sexual assault and abuse. But there is more work to do to build a culture where women like my sister are no longer treated as if they are invisible. It's time to ask some hard questions.

Farrow's investigative reporting series, "Undercovered With Ronan Farrow," airs on NBC's 'Today.'

A version of this story first appeared in the May 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

04 May 23:45

The Purse That Blinds Paparazzi And 4 Other Things You'll Be Wearing In The Future

by Tasbeeh Herwees and Jordan Crucchiola

If the future looks anything like the Met Gala red carpet looked last night, it’s going to be boring, and rest too heavily on conventional tastes. The theme, Manus X Machina, should have inspired more outlandish and innovative designs, but celebrities and designers alike were inhibited by a deference to traditional beauty and a lack of imagination. Even Lady Gaga looked comparatively normal in a bedazzled body suit and jacket. The truth is, “the intersection of art and technology” is a bit of cliche in the creative industry. Too often, it serves as a placeholder for “the future”. But that interpretation ignores the realities we’re living in now, a present in which unmanned planes trawl the skies and surveillance technology is helping corporations and governments build robust databases of our facial maps. What does fashion look like when it takes into account our high-surveilled environments, or the facts of climate change? Here are some suggestions for our tech-challenged celeb colleagues:

Stealth Wear “Anti-Drone” Burqa by Undisclosed LLC

This metal-plated garment shield against thermal surveillance used by military drones. The interior is lined with black silk and it comes with a thermally reflective visor while the silver-plated exterior is hand oxidized with a brush stroke camouflage pattern. The item will set you back $2,500, but this is drone protection we’re talking about. No amount of “fiber optic woven organza” in a Zac Posen gown (that would likely cost more than double) is going to protect you from that.

Screenshot from BBC video.

Camoflash, An Anti-Paparazzi Handbag by Adam Harvey

This project is the creation of Berlin artist and researcher Adam Harvey, who wanted to create a functional handbag that would also protect celebrities from the prying lenses of paparazzi cameras. This accessory—currently just a prototype—flashes a 12,000 lumen LED pulse when activated, effectively overexposing the camera’s sensor. Camera-shy celebs like Sia might find this high-tech clutch useful.

Photo by Mike Nicolaassen. Image via Wearable Solar

Wearable Solar by Pauline Van Dongen

Here’s fashion for a progressively warmer planet: Van Dongen’s beautiful wool and leather designs implement the use of solar cells, which, when exposed to the sun, produce enough electricity to charge your smartphone battery to 50 percent. There’s already a coat, dress and shirt in the collection (all prototypes), so pretty soon your entire wardrobe will be capable of generating sustainable energy.

Anti-Surveillance Makeup by Jillian Mayer

Mayer, who is an artist and filmmaker, diverges from the typical smokey eyes and winged eyeliners typically demonstrated on YouTube makeup tutorials and instead shows viewers how to make up their facse to evade cameras and facial recognition technology. Nothing about this is conventionally beautiful—and some Hollywood makeup artists might even be repulsed by it—but it will allow you to navigate the world undetected by computers, machines, robots and other facial recognition devices. And all you need is white eyeshadow, black lipstick, and a few other implements.

Otaared: A wearable, antler-like headgear that acts as a protective exoskeleton, inspired by Mercury’s erratic and volatile behavior.

Biomimetic 3D Printed Fashion by Neri Oxman

Neri Oxman’s biomimetic wearables would turn heads in any room. These flamboyant pieces are not only inspired by nature but actually mimic its functions. The capillaries that compose Al-Qamar, store and generate oxygen, with pockets for “algae-based purification” and “biofuel collection”. Lady Gaga could have really pulled off Otaared, a piece of protective headgear that is designed to contain calcifying bacteria, which, over time, would grow bone structures.

03 May 18:10

Our Future In Space

by Reza


02 May 16:37

Longform: Blood and Echoes: The Story of Come Out, Steve Reich’s Civil Rights Era Masterpiece

by Andy Beta
30 Apr 16:25

They love him

by Mark Liberman


Annotated lyrics here; more on the Black Trump site.

Instances of the word love in the 12 Republican and 9 Democratic debates:

CRUZ      1
TRUMP    39
30 Apr 16:20

Ed Balls

by britneysummitgil at Cyborgology


While those of us in the states were mired in election drama, across the Atlantic Brits came together to celebrate a sacred and time-honored holiday: #EdBallsDay.


On April 28th, 2011, British Member of Parliament Edward Balls mistook the field for writing tweets for the search bar. Instead of searching for his name, he tweeted his name. And, because his name is Ed Balls, people lost their damn minds. At the time of this writing, the original tweet has over 70k retweets and 40k likes.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.38.57 PM

It is entirely unremarkable that a British MP whose last name is Balls got so much attention for tweeting his own name. What is remarkable is that people still remember every year. Many a think piece has been written on the ways the internet is destroying our brains, specifically our memories. Plato, the original think piece writer, recounted a story about some king who I can’t remember to make the point that writing would induce forgetfulness in those who learned it. Thousands of years later, people are still buttering their bread on the same idea. The internet ruins our memory. But what about the internet’s memory?


Ed Balls even made a cake to celebrate. 

For Marshal McLuhan, what is “new” about a new medium is its capacity to extend the human sensorium to new scales. Speech allows us to transfer thought from our brains to the air and to other brains. Writing transfers these thoughts to a durable surface. Television broadcasts material sensations across the world. And with the internet, it often seems like everything is happening everywhere all of the time. This new scale requires new modes of cognition, such as Katherine Hayles’ “hyper attention” in which we pull information from multiple sources in quick succession, scan documents for key words, and frequently switch between tasks.

One of the results of this new scale of human cognition is the role of networked information technology in determining what we remember and how we remember it. The internet allows us to extend our memory outside of our individual minds, with important consequences for what gets remembered and how we are reminded of things. Something that has struck me throughout this election season is the work that Bernie Sanders supporters have done digging up old video clips and transcripts to write narratives that are lacking in major news outlets. The fact that no millennial remembers a speech Sanders made before the Senate in 1992 does not preclude their ability to find it, watch it, and use it to make a political argument. This becomes all the more important when these narratives are lacking from other vehicles of mediated memory. In other words, if mainstream news sources are failing to remember important historical moments and contexts, the affordances of digital media offer an alternative.

If every single individual who was party to Ed Balls’ tweet had to remember to celebrate April 28th each year, it’s unlikely that this fabulous holiday would have survived. But it only takes a few individuals, or perhaps one individual with a large enough audience, to remember given the affordances of Twitter. Over time, the effect snow balls—more and more people remember each year, and as #EdBallsDay gains greater traction it enters the consciousness of more people. Who knows; by April 28th 2021 it might be a national holiday.

So to my British friends, a happy belated Ed Balls Day. I’m sorry I didn’t send a card. I’m sure I’ll remember to next year though. Or, more likely, the internet will remember for me.

Britney is on Twitter.

22 Apr 16:45

9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher

1. Be prepared to be confused with the other black birder. Yes, there are only two of you at the bird festival. Yes, you’re wearing a name tag and are six inches taller than he is. Yes, you will be called by his name at least half a dozen times by supposedly observant people who can distinguish gull molts in a blizzard.

2. Carry your binoculars — and three forms of identification — at all times. You’ll need the binoculars to pick that tufted duck out of the flock of scaup and ring-necks. You’ll need the photo ID to convince the cops, FBI, Homeland Security, and the flashlight-toting security guard that you’re not a terrorist or escaped convict.

3. Don’t bird in a hoodie. Ever.

4. Nocturnal birding is a no-no. Yeah, so you’re chasing that once-in-a-lifetime rare owl from Outer Mongolia that’s blowing up your twitter alert. You’re a black man sneaking around in the nether regions of a suburban park — at dusk, with a spotting scope. Guess what? You’re going to have some prolonged conversations with the authorities. Even if you look like Forest Whitaker — especially if you look like Forest Whitaker.

5. Black birds — any black birds — are your birds. The often-overlooked blackbirds, family Icteridae, are declining across the board. Then there are the other birds that just happen to be black — crows and their kin are among the smartest things with feathers and wings. They’re largely ignored because of their ubiquity and often persecuted because of stereotype and misunderstanding. Sounds like profiling to me.

6. The official word for an African American in cryptic clothing — camo or otherwise — is incognegro. You are a rare bird, easy to see but invisible just the same. Until you snap off the identification of some confusing fall warbler by chip note as it flies overhead at midnight, or a juvie molting shorebird in heavy fog, you will just be a token.

7. Want to see the jaws of blue-blooded birders drop faster than a northern gannet into a shoal of shad? Tell them John James Audubon, the patron saint of American ornithology, had some black blood coursing through his veins. Old JJ’s mom was likely part Haitian. Hey, if we can claim Tiger Woods . . .

8. Use what’s left of your black-president momentum on the largely liberal birder crowd to step to the front of the spotting-scope line to view that wayward smew that wandered into U.S. waters from Eurasia. Tell them you’re down with Barack, and they’ll move even more to the left to let you look at the doomed duck. After all, you stand about as much of a chance of seeing a smew again as you do of seeing another black president.

9. You’re an endangered species — extinction looms. You know all the black birders like siblings and can count them on two hands. You’re afraid to have lunch with them all because a single catastrophe could wipe the species from the face of the earth. There’s talk and posturing about diversifying the hobby, but the money is not where the mouths are. People buy binoculars that would fund the economy of a small Caribbean island — where, coincidentally, lots of neotropical migratory birds winter, and where local people of color might contribute to their conservation if more birders cared about more than counting birds.

20 Apr 18:17

CMD Exclusive: Why I Chose to Get Arrested in Defense of Our Democracy

by Arn Pearson
20 Apr 17:32

From the Pitchfork Review: So Plain Only the Deaf Can Hear

by Carvell Wallace

From the Pitchfork Review: So Plain Only the Deaf Can Hear

From the Pitchfork Review: So Plain Only the Deaf Can Hear

by Carvell Wallace
April 24, 2016 Photo by: Illustrations by Brandon Celi

The following story is featured in the latest issue of our print quarterly, The Pitchfork Review. Subscribe to the magazine here.

In 1964, Thelonious Sphere Monk appeared on the cover of Time magazine. It was a remarkable achievement for a middle-aged black man who had been broke just a decade before. Despite the fact that the virtuosic pianist and bebop originator’s compositions were beginning to be studied by jazz and classical musicians alike, most of his nearly 15-year career had been spent in relative obscurity. The Time cover seemed to mark the end of all that. Churchill had been on the cover of Time. FDR. Clark Gable. This was for-real business. And they didn’t just take a photo. They had a portrait painted: Monk’s profile in a feathered chapeau, his stately gaze off to the distance as though he were surveying the kingdom he ruled. A black man who sometimes played piano with his forearms in portrait on the cover of one of the most serious magazines in the country. In 1964. What the hell. 

Consider that Monk was a largely self-taught pianist from a section of New York City that doesn’t even exist anymore. San Juan Hill—reportedly named in honor of its population of former Buffalo Soldiers whose bravery won one of the most decisive battles of the Spanish American War—stood hemmed in by Amsterdam and West End Avenues, 59th and 64th Streets. The blackest section in Manhattan at the time, it was predictably marked for wholesale demolition to make way for Lincoln Center and its subsequent streams of tuxedoed season subscribers. But in its day, it stood as a wry and tough neighborhood of fighters and families, hustlers and musicians, so quintessentially New York that West Side Story was filmed on its streets. This was the soil from which Monk sprang. His family moved there from North Carolina when he was just 4, sealing his fate as a New Yorker. 

A quiet but confident child, he fell immediately in love with the piano after taking 15-cent lessons at the community center, and hustled his way into jamming with every local musician he could. He won Amateur Night at the Apollo so many times he was banned by the time he was 13. He attended the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, but dropped out to tour the South as an accompanist for a traveling preacher. Unlike the jazzman who travels north with an instrument case and a dream, Monk was, almost by birth, an apartment dweller, a man utterly at home in the dense and sardonic temperament of Manhattan. 

He was already experimenting with his brand of off-kilter boogie woogie by the time he reached his late teens. A master of stride piano, he forged his sound from pieces left by the jaunty traditions of Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson, self-accompanying pianists who insisted you dance rather than listen. But Monk approached this style with a vicious sarcasm that was at once beautiful and contentious. Behold his sharp re-working of the 1925 Vaudeville tune “Dinah,” a piece previously treated as a blithe soundtrack to early Max Fleischer cartoons and made famous by novelty quartet the Mills Brothers. Monk’s take appears on the 1964 masterpiece Solo Monk, released on Columbia Records. He flashes his stride chops to glittering and playful effect, entertaining with the cunning of his right hand, while the left dexterously covers vast stretches of the keyboard. The upshot is a savvy rendering of a goofy love song. A day at the amusement park. A shared sundae and a dollop of whipped cream on the nose. It’s the audio version of those old-timey pictures of lovers posing on a paper moon. But Monk’s tendency to occasionally drop a wrong note—to pound out a dissonant thud in the bass run—lends a comedic, if satirical, edge. The tune, by Harry Akst, written for the vaudeville show “The New Plantation,” has been recorded by Chet Baker, Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, and many more. But only Monk’s version unpacks the song’s fluffy innocence to reveal something wry underneath. 

Photo by Herb Snitzer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

For better or worse, Monk’s public persona was one of extreme, almost mystical inscrutability. He was wildly introspective and capable of extreme focus, often to the exclusion of social niceties like greetings and small talk. He mumbled while he played and sometimes became overwhelmed with a desire to write, reportedly staying up pacing and working literally for days at a time. But sometimes, it was impossible for him to get out of bed. He could be notoriously taciturn, and when he did deign to talk to reporters he frequently parried obvious questions with philosophical games of “Who’s on First?” Frank London Brown learned this when he profiled Monk in 1958 for Downbeat magazine. Brown asked Monk where he thought modern jazz was going. “You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens,” replied Monk. His stalwart wife, Nellie, and his precocious adolescent niece both tried to help Brown out by rephrasing the question, but Monk would not be moved. “I don’t know where it’s going. Where is it going?...I don’t know how people are listening”—a wildly paradoxical response from a man whose work defined modern music for generations. 

Everything about Monk’s life and work suggests a person unconditionally committed to the world in his head. Even in his poorest days, he never left the house unless cleanly appointed in a pressed suit and tie accessorized with an array of ascots, wild glasses, and funny hats. But while magazines and movies ran with this cartoon version of the scatting hep cat, Monk’s visage was authentically acquired, a product of his unceasing creativity. This desire, indeed, was what drove his offbeat and mesmerizing compositions. Early pieces like “Well You Needn’t,” with its spastic call and response, was laid out on a bed of chromatically rising and falling tones; “In Walked Bud,” a raucous tribute to best friend and mentor Bud Powell; and the Monk standard “Round Midnight,” which managed to fashion purposeful dissonance into a kind of slowly rollicking ethereal bliss, all stood out as pieces well ahead of their time. Not only musically, but in shape and meaning. In vibe. A vast cosmic wink permeated all of Thelonious Monk’s work. You never knew if he was crazy, or if he was just trolling you. 

If you want to understand Monk trolling, you have to understand bebop trolling. Prior to the form’s inception, the once fiery swing genre had cooled to a series of bland big bands in dance clubs. The music had become simple, easy to comprehend. One and a two and a three and a four. Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey had taken over, and it was for white people again. Even Duke Ellington and Count Basie, as beautiful as their compositions were, enjoyed what fame they did outside of black communities precisely because they received benediction from the likes of Aaron Copeland, George Gershwin, and others; they had to prove they could speak the language of white music in order to be taken seriously. The framers of bebop—Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Milt Hinton, and Kenny Clarke—began to rebel against this idea of “friendliness” in music, perhaps subconsciously at first, but then with greater purpose. They wanted to play music that expressed how life actually felt. Angry, complex. Tragicomic. Emotionally full. They began to experiment with more densely layered chords, stacked high like the levels of a skyscraper: 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, 15ths. Dissonance buried like gems within pockets of harmony. A smaller band with bigger freedom. A feeling that things were slightly off. Asymmetrical melodies that started off one way but didn’t resolve themselves. Didn’t assure the listener that everything was all right. Because everything wasn’t all right. Blacks were routinely beaten for being on the wrong side of town. New York City police forced every jazz musician to carry an identification card without which they were barred from playing. (Monk, by all accounts a generally sober fellow, nonetheless lost his when a car he was in with Bud Powell was pulled and a bag of heroin was found in the glove compartment.) The most gifted musicians in town often died broke and penniless, overdosing while country clubs played handsome fees to white men to perform their compositions. Bebop had chord progressions that took you for dangerous rides without exactly telling where you might be going. Musical cycles that tumbled you up one hill and down another side, landing you in an entirely different place than you began. And it was played fast. So fast, in fact, that musicians that didn’t know what was up couldn’t participate. They would be lost. And that was the point. If you didn’t understand it, then you couldn’t steal it. It wasn’t for you.

This insistence on leaving the less-learned behind was at the core of Monk’s singular and captivating peculiarity. Think of the piano intro to the iconic “Straight No Chaser.” Monk lays out a relatively straightforward melody but continues to plant dissonance bombs at the bottom of each figure. He then leverages the churning characteristics of bebop to return you to this same discomfort again and again at different points in the measure. It’s almost as if he’s testing you, teasing you like an older sibling, training you to hear it again and again until you understand the impartial beauty of its disfigurement, until you finally recognize the delicacy and grace of the perfectly placed wrong note. How spiritually necessary and personally honest it is to do things as they’re not supposed to be done.

Sometimes it seems the entirety of black American music is about this: trying to carve out a space unspoiled by the overbearing whiteness of being. Slave songs were coded messages about escape and freedom. Blues was filled with complex and culturally specific imagery. Jazz expressed an attempt to deconstruct and complicate American band music in a way that captured the violent and frenetic pace of life in northern cities. R&B beat with hidden messages about revolutions and uprising in the ’60s. Then funk generated intergalactic imagery and a colorful form of mystical Egypto-alien visuals to create a world of inaccessible and separatist blackness. 

In the early ’80s, hip-hop began as a tenement cultural collage, sly, transmutable, and infinitely self-referential. Run-D.M.C. took the disco goofiness of the Sugarhill Gang and planted it on cinder blocks in burned-out lots. N.W.A. took the Saturday morning b-boy cartoonism of Run-D.M.C. and infused it with the clear-eyed nihilism of the post-crack era. Biggie and Puff took the hole-in-the-shoes hoodism of N.W.A. and let the shit be platinum clean, razor sharp, and fabulous as fuck. Timbaland and Pharrell took Puffy’s gold-plated pinky rings off and let it be nerd-core. Kanye decided you could be therapeutically self-reflective while dropping televangelist-level braggadocio. And then Drake just started bodying people as an unapologetically suburban singing nigga. These contradictions weren’t just to be weird. They were meant to leave your ass behind. If you didn’t understand how these things worked together, then it was not for you. Every moment of this progression consists of a black artist making something that challenges the norm and tries to give life to the specificity of their experience. Every moment imbues the maker with the power that comes when you create music that is direct, epic, and (most importantly) impossible to understand for people that don’t live it. Doing things wrong is often how black people create their own freedom. 

But the wizardry of Monk, who is comfortably situated in this 400-year tradition, is that he was as much a brilliant musical technician as he was a brilliant troll. He possessed indelible speed on the keyboard, as demonstrated by his vivid runs, tossed on to the ends of tunes as if to say, Yeah, I can do that shit, too. And his two-handed stride work, most evident on jumpy solo sessions like “North of Sunset” and even midtempo gems like “I’m Confessin,’” distinguished him from contemporaries who favored an aloof comping approach to their solo work—playing chords fully on the left hand. But the most lavish demonstrations of Monk’s aptitude come with his compositions. Probably none more so than his breakthrough album, 1957’s Brilliant Corners.

The title track is legendary, in that it almost caused a fist fight in the studio. Producer Orrin Keepnews had to stitch the final product together from 25 different takes. At one point during the recording, bassist Oscar Pettiford was just pretending to play, miming while the tape was running. He would never speak to Monk again after it was over. They worked on the song for five long, smoke-filled, tense, and probably stinky hours, and still couldn’t nail it. Monk brought it on himself. He was trolling the universe with this hilariously complicated hook, one that makes no sense whatsoever, except for the fact that it’s perfect. Last year, I tried to teach myself to hum it, and it took over three weeks of continuous listening just to get close. And yet what makes this track so good isn’t the technical proficiency it requires. It’s just what the melody means. Climbing and falling, unfolding over itself like a telescopic barroom fractal. And then the whole thing starts double timing. The song has two tempos, a loping 92 bpm passage that feels like stumbling home contentedly drunk—and then suddenly you’re tossed you into a breathless 108 that leaves you panting and looking over your shoulder. The composition knows exactly how much of each speed you can take, and every transition offers well-earned relief. It’s high-intensity interval training for your ears. Monk’s playing on the hook manages to simultaneously lead the procession and trail behind it like a child dropping magnolia petals in a glorious small-town parade. 

Photo by Echoes/Redferns

The Time magazine cover story, of course, did not go as Monk might have hoped. The writer, Barry Farrell, treated him as a zoo-ish curiosity, devoting over 5,000 words to describing his idiosyncrasies while only managing to include two or three direct quotes from his subject. Farrell does talk, however about the jazzman’s tendency for what he called “the put on,” which he defines as “a mildly cruel art invented by hipsters as a means of toying with squares.” Having missed the irony altogether, the writer barrels on with his portraiture of Monk as a mumbling, shuffling, sweating savant, rather than one of the most complex composers of the 20th century, and concludes by describing a sleeping Monk in an “Oriental” hat with cabbage on his lapel while his wife prepares ice cream for him. For Monk, who had spent a lifetime fucking with people in as many ways as he could think of—benignly, angrily, feigning ignorance, feigning interest, and most frequently just by subverting expectations—there’s a cruel yet entirely predictable irony to the fact that the most important piece written about him up until that point was written by someone completely unequipped to understand him. Barry Farrell did not grow up in a community of black warriors from a segregated military unit. He did not travel from church revival to small town to make money to help his mother. He did not teach himself to both play and subvert classical piano as a child. He did not have to, as a grown man, ask NYPD for a permission slip to make his art. He did not have to watch the best and most genius men of his generation kill themselves because they did not want American racism to do it first. But what the 28-year-old Farrell did have was a pen and a national magazine cover on which to explain his understanding of this man almost two decades his senior.

The Time magazine cover story, of course, did not go as Monk might have hoped. The writer, Barry Farrell, treated him as a zoo-ish curiosity, devoting over 5,000 words to describing his idiosyncrasies while only managing to include two or three direct quotes from his subject. Farrell does talk, however about the jazzman’s tendency for what he called “the put on,” which he defines as “a mildly cruel art invented by hipsters as a means of toying with squares.” Having missed the irony altogether, the writer barrels on with his portraiture of Monk as a mumbling, shuffling, sweating savant, rather than one of the most complex composers of the 20th century, and concludes by describing a sleeping Monk in an “Oriental” hat with cabbage on his lapel while his wife prepares ice cream for him. For Monk, who had spent a lifetime fucking with people in as many ways as he could think of—benignly, angrily, feigning ignorance, feigning interest, and most frequently just by subverting expectations—there’s a cruel yet entirely predictable irony to the fact that the most important piece written about him up until that point was written by someone completely unequipped to understand him. Barry Farrell did not grow up in a community of black warriors from a segregated military unit. He did not travel from church revival to small town to make money to help his mother. He did not teach himself to both play and subvert classical piano as a child. He did not have to, as a grown man, ask NYPD for a permission slip to make his art. He did not have to watch the best and most genius men of his generation kill themselves because they did not want American racism to do it first. But what the 28-year-old Farrell did have was a pen and a national magazine cover on which to explain his understanding of this man almost two decades his senior.

But to many of us who live lives of broken chords and impossible dissonance that nonetheless create wild and beautiful music, Monk’s message was as straightforward as the black keys on a piano. In the 1958 Downbeat profile, Frank London Brown reported that Monk’s wife Nellie once chided him for his opacity in the public eye. Monk, as usual, saw it differently. “I talk so plain,” he said, “that a deaf and dumb man can hear me.”

17 Apr 21:42

St. Vincent makes the Rolling Stones funky with her cover of “Emotional Rescue”

What could possibly be better than the four-on-the-floor grooves of the disco-era Rolling Stones? How about Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, covering that group’s 1980 song “Emotional Rescue?” Well, slip on your platform shoes and set up a line of coke in a dank club bathroom, because thanks to the producers of the upcoming romantic comedy A Bigger Splash—starring Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes—we have the all the proof we need.

Produced by Kendrick Lamar collaborators Sounwave and Terrace Martin, Clark’s take on the popular Stones single is very much in line with the guitarist/singer’s general sonic aesthetic, best exemplified on her latest self-titled record. It also seems to draw a lot of influence from the sort of jazz-funk fusion made most popular by Prince in the ’80s. But don’t just take our word for it, listen to it for yourself below:

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01 Apr 19:30


by Reza