"He wanted people to read novels as carefully, as ardently and as sleeplessly as they would read dirty letters sent from abroad. It was one of modernism’s great insights. James Joyce treated readers as if they were lovers."

— From Kevin Birmingham’s new historical account of the publication of Ulysses, The Most Dangerous Book, which was reviewed very favorably in today’s NY Times.

In 1983, immediately after screening his new film Out of the Blue at Rice University, Dennis Hopper invited the attendees out to a racetrack outside city limits by way of school bus where they could watch the actor sit in a chair ringed by dynamite and witness him explode — or hopefully not, if the trick he called the “Russian Dynamite Death Chair Act” is pulled off successfully…

In attendance for the explosive, not-entirely-sober stunt: Wim Wenders (presumably in the vicinity while filming Paris, Texas?), Terry Southern (screenwriter: Dr. Strangelove, Casino Royale, Easy Rider), and a 22-year-old Sam Houston State student named Richard Linklater (!).

Dangerous Minds has the full story.

(hat tip to Caitlin Moore and John-Mike who heard the episode firsthand from Mr. Linklater at a recent Austin Film Society event)

"The only unit of time that matters is heartbeats."

— Paul Ford, in an excellent keynote speech given to the graduating MFA students at the School for the Visual Arts, on our slippery understanding of time and how we make use of the seasons (days, hours, heartbeats, nanoseconds) allotted to us and the users of our work as designers.

On the Clash, Winchell’s Donuts, and 1980s Austin

My mind was somewhat blown when I discovered that the Clash filmed the video for Rock the Casbah here in Austin, TX back in 1981 (go watch it, it’s on YouTube). It became a trivia game amongst my office of long-time Austinites to try to identify all of the various shots in the video, most of which are at businesses and hangouts long gone (you’ll see the original Posse at 24th & Guadalupe, the Alamo Hotel, the Burger King on the Drag, the gas station across from Oat Willie’s on 29th, the old City Coliseum music venue, etc.).

Before I go into the long Austin-nerd story below, I learned a couple of other amazing things about this video via this great read:

  • The director of photography was Barry Sonnenfeld, who would later go on to film Raising Arizona, When Harry Met Sally, and direct the Men in Black trilogy and The Addams Family.
  • The “Sheik” and the “Orthodox Jew” characters were played by amateur actors. The two of them hung out with Barry Sonnenfeld that night at the Liberty Lunch, and met a couple of young dudes in town scouting for a location for their first feature film: Ethan and Joel Coen!

Now onto the deeper trivia investigation…

One long-standing mystery was the quick shot of the armadillo traipsing in front of a Winchell’s Donuts (a chain that hasn’t been seen here in decades). I came back to this recently and asked for help from Twitter and Facebook friends, and the best clue came from this excellent post from Troy Dillinger about the early days of MTV-era punk rock, Joe Ely, and the Clash. That post cites the location as S. Congress & Oltorf, so I jumped over to Google Street View to confirm, and lo and behold I think I’ve found the shot, documented with the photo below.

But then controversy: multiple people wrote to me to say “no no, it was South Lamar and Barton Skyway!” or “I remember going to that place, it was on Duval near UT, close to the Posse East”. This kind of gnawing uncertainty has a way of festering in my trivia-addled mind, so I needed to confirm for sure. Also, my officemates were now even more perplexed.

I work across the street from the Briscoe Center for American History, which conveniently has phone books for many Texas cities dating back to the early 1900s. Disguised as a researcher, I had them pull the Austin phone books for 1979–1983, and I looked up Winchell’s Donuts. Only three locations were listed, none on South Congress or Lamar or even the implausible Duval. What the heck, yo.

Thankfully, my boss earlier pointed out the red DRUGS sign on the building in the background (early subliminal messaging in a music video?? ;). We couldn’t read the blurry hexagonal sign just behind the Winchell’s, but this drugstore sign was a great clue. The 1980s phone books listed a Revco Drugs at 2301 S. Congress, exactly the address where I took this Street View shot. The logo looks right, if you can imagine what the 1980s stylized version would be, with the outsized script R. Also, Revco was purchased in the late 1990s by CVS, which exists at that location today, and to my eyes it looks like they just swapped logos on the hexagonal sign.

Further evidence: another shot in the Clash video was filmed outside a Victorian-style house, which is now a Wells Fargo bank right across the street from this Congress & Oltorf location.

QED.

Hat tip to one Daniel Lugo for pointing out the identical 3 poles and fire hydrant, and to everyone else who wrote to share links or other anecdotes about 1980s Austin!

"Today, I walked around near the Alamo, where on March 6, 1836, Santa Anna’s soldiers, who greatly outnumbered the Texans behind the compound’s walls, killed or captured all those inside. Several days later, in April, the Battle of San Jacinto would swing the pendulum the other way: The Mexican army would be smashed, General Santa Anna would be captured and Texas would be born. Approximately 151 years later, The Butthole Surfers would release their Locust Abortion Technician album, giving people all over the world another reason to like Texas."

— Henry Rollins, in the LA Weekly musing on Texas history and our state’s sometimes perplexing place within American culture during a stay in San Antonio.

joshreads:

There are many joys to this oral history of MST3K in Wired, and one of them is that Joel and the bots were photographed by Platon, who also did this amazing slideshow of world leaders for the New Yorker in 2009.

joshreads:

There are many joys to this oral history of MST3K in Wired, and one of them is that Joel and the bots were photographed by Platon, who also did this amazing slideshow of world leaders for the New Yorker in 2009.

elcomfortador:

A Donald Duck-licensed board game from Nintendo’s pre-video game years. Via Before Mario.

elcomfortador:

A Donald Duck-licensed board game from Nintendo’s pre-video game years. Via Before Mario.

Maria Popova posts a wonderful selection of cartoons from Charles Addam’s lesser-known book of Mother Goose rhymes from 1967. Such good stuff, and fun to imagine the crossovers between the classic grim nursery rhymes and his own macabre sense of humor, juxtaposed with his mid-century New York City skylines and deadpan-faced characters.

Maria Popova posts a wonderful selection of cartoons from Charles Addam’s lesser-known book of Mother Goose rhymes from 1967. Such good stuff, and fun to imagine the crossovers between the classic grim nursery rhymes and his own macabre sense of humor, juxtaposed with his mid-century New York City skylines and deadpan-faced characters.

“In A Descriptive Handbook of Modern Water Colours, by J. Scott Taylor…. London: Winsor and Newton, 1887, neutral tint is described as ‘A compound shadow colour of a cool neutral character. It is not very permanent, as the gray is apt to become grey by exposure’. Has anyone besides this author ever made a distinction of meaning between gray and grey? I do not know how the distinction is to be converted in speaking unless the words are differently pronounced” (1897).

Glad to know that the gray / grey split in English has been confusing people for well over 115 years. What’s going on in pigment company Winsor & Newton’s world where gray turns into grey eventually? An interesting read about the etymology of the mysterious color and it’s uncertain linguistic origins.

VHS tape rewinder

citationneeded:

Simlarly, LaserDiscs cannot be “rewound” either since they are shaped similar to DVD but are bulkier and an older technology, but no LaserDisc rewinder parody item was never released since laserdiscs were never popular enough to warrant such a parody.

Link

elcomfortador:

Every world in Super Mario Bros. 2 has three levels, save for the last, which only has two. I’d always wondered why this is and kind of suspected that the developers simply decided “Eh, that’s enough.” But there may be an actual, storyline-based reason for the “missing” level, and the interstitial graphic you see here is actually a hint.

Nothing like learning something new about a game that you’ve been playing for 25+ years!

elcomfortador:

Every world in Super Mario Bros. 2 has three levels, save for the last, which only has two. I’d always wondered why this is and kind of suspected that the developers simply decided “Eh, that’s enough.” But there may be an actual, storyline-based reason for the “missing” level, and the interstitial graphic you see here is actually a hint.

Nothing like learning something new about a game that you’ve been playing for 25+ years!

"When you are outraged by somebody’s impudence, ask yourself at once, ‘Can the world exist without impudent people?’ It cannot; so do not ask for impossibilities. That man is simply one of the impudent whose existence is necessary to the world."

From Marcus Aurelius’ always timely Meditations.

I choose to modernize that sentiment by swapping out ‘impudent people’ with ‘assholes’ and it seems to work pretty well…

"I kept creating them, hoping I’d hit pay dirt. But I never showed them to anybody, so it was an exercise in stupidity. At least they’ll look good at Columbia."

— From a New York Times article on cartoonist Al Jaffee (of Mad Magazine fame, where among other things he continues to paint the back-cover Fold-In, a feature he’s been creating since 1964!). At age 92, he’s giving his archive of work to Columbia University’s rare book and manuscript library, including boxes of comic strips that he was tinkering with in the 1950s and 1960, unseen by the rest of the world.

"Box office success is wonderful, and that’s what everyone wants,” says Landis. “But as we all know, lots of shitty movies are huge hits, and lots of great movies fail. You know, Peter Bogdanovich famously said, ‘The only true test of a movie is time.’ That’s the best thing about movies — they still exist."

If you’re a fan of the movie Clue, go read this piece immediately: "Something Terrible Has Happened Here": The Crazy Story Of How "Clue" Went From Forgotten Flop To Cult Triumph

One of my favorite comedies. So many great back stories and insights on how different it could have been (originally to be written by Tom Stoppard! with John Landis directing! and Carrie Fisher and Rowan Atkinson starring!).

(Hat tip to @jondavidguerra​)

tmbgareok:

Early demo: Weep Day!

Possibly one of my favorite songs of all time! As far as I know this never made it past the demo stage, and that’s a-ok. Not sure that I’d want to hear a more polished version.