Brain Pickings

Bohemian Rhapsody 5 Ways

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What The Muppets have to do with hearing disabilities, self-cloning and TED.

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” from Queen’s 1975 album A Night at the Opera, is one of the most iconic songs in modern music history. And like any creative icon, it has been the subject of countless covers, remixes, parodies, mashups and homages. Today, we look at five of our favorites.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY IN SIGN LANGUAGE

Could this be a new form of syneshtesia? ASL interpreter Sam Farley rocks out to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in his car and we don’t care that his handless wheel is a road safety hazard — we’re just grateful his sister secretly captured him on film from the driver’s seat, because he’s that hat-tip-worthy.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY ON FOUR VIOLINS

Joe Edmonds arranges and performs the classic on four violins, all written out by hand without any sheet music. Pure joy. He’s also kindly made the track available as a free download.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY ON SLIDE WHISTLES

He’s kooky. And he’s wonderful. Watch LA-based artist Joe Penna, better-known as Mystery Guitar Man, perform the classic on slide whistles. Don’t miss the excellent making-of.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY BY THE MUPPETS

A huge cast of the Muppets takes on Freddie & co, and it might just be the best “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover in history — and they’ve even got a Webby win to show for it. From the ingeniously modified lyrics to the priceless a-cappella, it’s equal parts hilarious and brilliant. Lo and behold, the track is even available as a fully legitimate download, proof that the Sesame Street empire can merchandise anything. (But we love them anyway.)

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY ON A UKULELE

We loved it when we saw it live, and we love it still — Jake Shimabukuro’s phenomenal, virtuoso performance of the Queen classic on a tiny Hawaiian ukulele at TED 2010 is a heart-stopper.

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Thomas Edison and the Invention of the Movies

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Today marks the 164th birthday of Thomas Edison — inventor, businessman, scientist and idea maverick of gargantuan historical proportions. We may know him from science class as the man who invented the light bulb, but his contribution to creative culture and the moving image was his true passion and, many would argue, his greatest legacy. He invented the phonograph and developed the first motion picture camera. Geroges Méliès may have been the first cinemagician, but Edison was the man who made film both a mass communication medium and a creative craft, framing many of the conventions of modern cinema.

Edison – The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918) is an ambitious collaboration between Kino Video and MoMA, celebrating Edison’s legacy and the birth of cinema with 140 of the first moving pictures ever seen. The four-disc treasure chest features not merely the masterfully restored films, but also over two hours of insightful interviews with scholars, museum archivists and cultural critics.

Edison’s films include such rare gems as boxing women…

…boxing cats (presaging the kind of cat-related interwebz entertainment by over a century)…


…and the only known footage of Mark Twain.

From the fascinating technology that fueled Edison’s films to the sociology and cultural anthropology of the era’s stereotypes depicted in the films, Edison – The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918) is a priceless slice of creative and cultural history.

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Douglas Coupland on Marshall McLuhan’s Prophecy

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We love iconic futurist and media theorist Marshall McLuhan, most famous for popularizing “the medium is the message.” Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!, the newish McLuhan almost-biography by prolific Canadian novelist and design writer Douglas Coupland (of Generation X fame), reveals McLuhan’s genius with unprecedented intimacy and, in the process, engages one of today’s most heated intellectual discussions: How are new media changing the way we think? Half a century before Facebook, Twitter and “information overload,” McLuhan presages the end of print culture and the rise of “electronic inter-dependence” with uncanny accuracy, outlining not only the technological developments of this revolution but the complex shifts in social cognition that it begets.

More than anything, it paints McLuhan as a masterful dot-connector and voracious cross-disciplinary thinker, a curious octopus if you will — the kind of intellectual disposition at the root of our own mission.

One must remember that Marshall arrived at these conclusions not by hanging around, say, NASA or I.B.M., but rather by studying arcane 16th-century Reformation pamphleteers, the writings of James Joyce, and Renaissance perspective drawings. He was a master of pattern recognition, the man who bangs a drum so large that it’s only beaten once every hundred years.” ~ Douglas Coupland

The Medium is The Message

Illustration by Abbott Miller

More than an engrossing read, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! is an absolute cultural necessity that not only frames the legacy of modern media but projects, with astounding prophetic accuracy, its sociocultural and technological future.

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