Brain Pickings

Remembering Louis Armstrong: Satchmo, the Documentary

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Celebrating the life, wizardry and legacy of one of the greatest musicians that ever lived.

Dipper. Satchmo. Pops. The great Louis Armstrong, with his creative cornet and trumpet mastery, his distinctively gravelly voice and his remarkable stage charisma, not only revolutionized the American public’s relationship with jazz, but was also one of the first African-American entertainers equally revered by black and white audiences in a severely racially divided country. He codified the art of jazz improvisation and shaped the course of musical creativity for generations to come, his influence permeating a multitude of genres, eras, styles and subcultures.

To commemorate his legacy, we’re revisiting Satchmo — the terrific 2000 documentary on Armstrong’s life and legacy. Titled after the icon’s nickname, short for Satchelmouth, the film is available on DVD and, with questionable legality, in eight parts on YouTube, gathered here for your convenience — enjoy.

Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.” ~ Louis Armstrong

For more on the man and the icon, Terry Teachout’s Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong is everything one could hope for and then some.

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Spomenik: Eerie Retrofuturistic Monuments of the Eastern Bloc

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The ghosts of communism, or what alien architecture has to do with societal memory and Serbia’s mountains.

Having grown up in the former Eastern Bloc, I vividly remember the bizarre and beautiful monuments commissioned by the communist leaders of the 1960s and 70s, which remained as retrofuturistic remnants after the fall of communism, like the undying ghosts of an era most sought to forget but would always remember. These are the subject of Spomenik — a peculiar book by contemporary Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers, who took a laborious trek across former Yugoslavia and The Balkans to photograph the strikingly beautiful yet odd structures tucked away in the region’s mountains. The results are haunting and eerily powerful, evoking a felt sense of a fold in the space-time fabric of sociopolitical reality.

Kempenaers did not set out as a documentary photographer, but first and foremost as an artist seeking to create a new image. An image so powerful that it engulfs the viewer. He allows the viewer to enjoy the melancholy beauty of the Spomeniks, but in so doing, forces us to take a position on a social issue.” ~ Willem Jan Neutelings

Podgaric

Kruševo

Kozara

Petrova Gora

Kosmaj

Kadinjaca

Niš

Tjentište

Korenica

Jasenovac

Ilirska Bistrica

Tjentište

What’s most fascinating about the structures in Spomenik is that, up until the 1980s, they attracted millions of visitors, yet today they stand unknown by the younger generations and neglected by the older, their symbolism a fading flashbulb memory in the collective mind of their host cultures.

via MetaFilter | Images via Crack Two

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The Lost Thing: A Whimsical Story about Belonging by Shaun Tan

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What a bizarre, fantastical creature can teach us about human nature and social concerns.

Last year, I raved about The Lost Thing, a lovely cross-platform gem by acclaimed Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan. (Who recently gave an interview only in drawings.) The film incarnation of the project won the 2011 Academy Award for best animated short film and the book, though classified as children’s literature, is an ageless treat of whimsy and quirk, telling the humorous story of boy who finds a bizarre creature at the beach and sets out to discover where it came from and who owns it, but is met with indifference by everyone he encounters. Magnificently illustrated and vibrantly poetic, the story is really about the search for belonging, a fine addition to these must-read children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups.

What started out as an amusing nonsensical story soon developed into a fable about all sorts of social concerns, with a rather ambiguous ending. I became quite interested in the idea of a creature or person who really did not come from anywhere, or have an existing relationship to anything, and was ‘just plain lost’. I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a character that would represent how I might personally respond to this, so the unnamed narrator is essentially me.” ~ Shaun Tan

The film itself is an absolute treat, its sound effects alone a work of art:

In addition to the book, The Lost Thing is available on DVD and iTunes, narrated by none other than the brilliant Tim Minchin.

For a megadose of Tan’s genius, it doesn’t get better than Lost and Found — an anthology of three of his most beloved children’s stories: The Red Tree, The Lost Thing and The Rabbits.

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