Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

06 OCTOBER, 2011

Bob Dylan & Other Icons Resurrect the Unfinished Lost Songs of Hank Williams

By:

What Jack White has to do with dumpster-diving for music history.

Legendary singer-songwriter Hank Williams was only 29 when he died in the back of a car in 1953, yet in his short life he shaped the course of American music for decades to come. Some of the most celebrated rock’n’roll pioneers — including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins — got their start recording Williams songs. He has a posthumous special citation from the Pulitzer Prize, he’s been inducted into just about every American music hall of fame, and earlier this year he entered the loftiest of them all, the Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 2006, while handling a company dumpster, a janitor of Sony/ATV Music Publishing made a serendipitous discovery: In the dumpster were the unfinished lyrics found in Williams’s car the night he died. The lyrics eventually made their way to Bob Dylan in 2008, who set out to complete the songs for an affectionate album release celebrating Williams’s legacy. Three years in the making, the remarkable The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams is out this week and features a formidable roster of musicians performing Williams’s unfinished songs, including Jack White, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Alan Jackson, Sheryl Crow, and of course Dylan himself.

You can sample the goodness below and hear the entire Jack White track on Rolling Stone’s exclusive stream.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

06 OCTOBER, 2011

The Magic of Reality: Richard Dawkins Teaches Children to Fight Myth with Science

By:

What Scandinavian folklore has to do with DNA, or how to myth-bust creationism with the poetry of science.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins — who in 1976 famously coined the term “meme” in his seminal, must-read book The Selfish Gene — is nowadays best-known as the world’s most celebrated atheist. This week, Dawkins brings us his first sort-of-children’s book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True — a scientific primer for the world, its magic, and its origin, an antidote to the creationism mythology teaching young readers how to replace myth with science, and a fine addition to our favorite soft-of-children’s nonfiction.

With beautiful illustrations by graphic artist Dave McKean, Dawkins’ volume is as accessible as it is illuminating, covering a remarkable spectrum of subjects and natural phenomena — from who the very first person was to how earthquakes work to what dark matter is — in a way that infuses reality with the kind of fascination and whimsy we’re used to finding in myth and folklore. Each chapter begins with a famous myth from one of the world’s religions or folklore traditions, which Dawkins proceeds to myth-bust by examining the actual scientific processes and phenomena that these stories try to explain.

Here’s an introduction from Dawkins himself:

The Guardian’s Tim Radford sums it up nicely:

I cannot think of a better, or simpler, introduction to science as a good idea: simpler, because the starting point is the world’s palpable, experienced reality rather than say formal subjects such as genetics, wave mechanics or astrophysics; better, because it could hardly be more up-to-date.”

BBC has a great short segment, in which Dawkins explores the relationship between comfort and truth, and explains why evolution is the most magical, spellbinding story of all, more poetic than any fable or fairy tale:

When you think about it, here we are, we started off on this planet — this fragment of dust spinning around the sun — and in 4 billion years we gradually changed form bacteria into us. That is a spellbinding story.” ~ Richard Dawkins

The book comes with a companion immersive iPad app.

In an age when we’re still struggling to convince the powers that be of the value of public science and some public schools still perpetuate the mythology of creationism, Dawkins delivers a sober yet wildly absorbing and magical dose of reality in The Magic of Reality — one that brings to mind Jonah Lehrer’s reformulation of the famous Picasso quote: “Every child is a natural scientist. The problem is how to remain a scientist once we grow up.”

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

05 OCTOBER, 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Turns 50: Celebrating Audrey Hepburn

By:

One of Old Hollywood’s most charismatic personalities, captured through the affection lens of a dear friend.

Fifty years ago today, Breakfast at Tiffany’s made its debut. The iconic film, based on the Truman Capote novella of the same name, went on to become one of the most beloved romantic comdies of all time, and the Holly Golightly character remained the most memorable role of Edda van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, better-known as Audrey Hepburn. Throughout her long career, no one has managed to capture Hepburn’s character, charisma, and enigma with more visual eloquence than iconic photographer Bob Willoughby, who met a young Hepburn shortly after she arrived in Hollywood in 1953 and, mesmerized by her extraordinary persona, continued to shoot her for over a decade. Over the years, Willoughby became a trusted friend who helped frame Hepburn’s life and image, both personally and professionally.

From the fine folks at Taschen () comes a formidable volume not for the faint of heart (or wallet) — Bob Willoughby: Audrey Hepburn: Photographs 1953-1966 is a lavish collector’s edition of 1,000 hand-numbered copies that comes at a hefty 14 pounds and even heftier $750 price tag. Though long sold out, you can scour Amazon and Craigslist for some used copies — but don’t expect a bargain. Still, Willoughby’s work is so poetic and enchanted it’s hard to put a price on.

I really didn’t know what to make of Audrey when I first saw her. She certainly was not the typical image of a young starlet, for that was what I had been sent to photograph. I watched her across the room as she was being photographed by Ben Fraker, and she did have something… but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I was finally introduced to her.

Then that radiant smile hit me right between the eyes, warming me inside like a shot of whisky. That amazing instant contact she made, a remarkable gift that everyone who met her felt. She exuded some magic warmth that was hers alone.”

For a more affordable homage, there’s also the excellent Breakfast at Tiffany’s: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion — a first-of-its-kind exploration of what makes the iconic movie so enduring and why it still has the same seductive magic today. The only official release published in association with Paramount Pictures and the Audrey Hepburn estate, the volume is full of rare images, candid behind-the-scenes photos, full-color reproductions of poster art, copies of the original shooting script, and other ephemera to make a movie buff’s heart bustle with joy. A foreword by the great French aristocrat and fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who designed much of Hepburn’s wardrobe and famously had her as his muse, adds another layer of affection to what’s already a touching tribute.

Images via Taschen

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.