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The real reason the BBC wanted to keep George Orwell off the radio
01.21.2015
07:27 am

Topics:
Amusing
Heroes
History
Media
Politics

Tags:
BBC
George Orwell

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When George Orwell died at the age of forty-six on January 21st 1950, he was considered by some of London’s fashionable literary critics as a marginal figure—“no good as a novelist”—who was best known for his essays rather than his fiction.

This quickly changed in the years after his death when his reputation and popularity as a writer grew exponentially. Over the past seven decades he has come to be considered one of the most influential English writers of the twentieth century.

This massive change in opinion was largely down to Orwell’s last two books Animal Farm first published in 1945, and Nineteen Eighty-Four published the year before he died. The importance of these two novels has enshrined Orwell’s surname, like Dickens, Kafka and more recently J. G. Ballard, into the English language as a descriptive term—“Orwellian”—for nightmarish political oppression, while many of his fictional ideas or terms contained within Nineteen Eighty-Four have become part of our everyday language—“Big Brother,” “Room 101,” “newspeak,” “doublethink,” “thoughtcrime” and so on.

Both of these books have become essential texts for radicals and conservatives in their individual campaigns against perceived invasive and totalitarian governments. After the Second World War Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four were considered damning critiques of Stalinist Russia, and their subject matter limned the growing paranoia between East and West during the Cold War. When Edward Snowden exposed the covert surveillance by US intelligence agencies on millions of Americans, copies of the book were sold by the thousands. Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s flexibility of interpretation has meant the book has been used to condemn almost everything from the rise of CCTV and wind farms, to the George W. Bush/Tony Blair war against “the axis of evil,” the rise of jihadist Islam, the spread of capitalist globalization, Vladimir Putin’s political “grand vision”, and (rather laughably) “Obamacare.” 

But it wasn’t the meaning of Orwell’s writing that caused the BBC to sniff condescendingly about their employee during the 1940s, rather it was his actual voice which was considered by Overseas Services Controller, JB Clark as “un-attractive” as this secret internal BBC memo reveals:

Controller (Overseas Services)      19th January, 1943

GEORGE ORWELL                                 STAFF PRIVATE

1. A.C. (OS) 2. E.S.D.

I listened rather carefully to one of George Orwell’s English talks in the Eastern Service on, I think, Saturday last. I found the talk itself interesting, and I am not critical of its content, but I was struck by the basic unsuitability of Orwell’s voice. I realise, of course, that his name is of some value in quite important Indian circles, but his voice struck me as both un-attractive and really unsuited to the microphone to such an extent that (a) it would not attract any listeners who were outside the circle of Orwell’s admirers as a writer and might even repel some of these, and (b) would make the talks themselves vulnerable at the hands of people who would have reason to see Orwell denied the microphone, or of those who felt critical of the B.B.C. for being so ignorant of the essential needs of the microphone and of the audience as to put on so wholly unsuitable a voice.

I am quite seriously worried about the situation and about the wisdom of our keeping Orwell personally on the air.

JBC/GMG (J.B. Clark)

The reason Old Etonian Orwell’s voice may not have sounded attractive was that he had been shot in the neck during the Spanish Civil War. However, Orwell got his own back on the BBC by naming Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s infamous torture room after “Room 101” in Broadcasting House, where he had to sit through long, tedious meetings about political vetting.
 
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The only known footage of George Orwell (or Eric Blair as he was then) can be seen in this clip of him playing the “Wall Game” with fellow pupils at Eton—he’s fourth on the left and in the clip between a very young Melanie Griffiths and Grace Kelly.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘A Few Tunes Between Homicides’: Never before released song by Lead Belly! Dangerous Minds exclusive
01.20.2015
06:12 am

Topics:
Crime
History
Music

Tags:
blues
Leadbelly
Lead Belly


 
That great American blues/folk artist Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter was born on January 20, 1888 (or 1889), making today the 127th (or 126th) anniversary of his birth. He’s known today for popularizing songs like “Goodnight Irene,” “Midnight Special,” and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” as American folk and, eventually, rock ‘n’ roll standards, but in his day, Lead Belly was widely renowned for having been in jail. A lot. Thrice, in fact—once on a weapons charge, once for killing a man, and a third time for trying to kill a man.

Remarkably, Lead Belly literally sang his way out of prison! His second stint was cut short by a pardon issued after Lead Belly wrote a song honoring the then-Governor of Texas Pat Morris Neff, and he repeated the stunt during his third hitch, in Louisiana (though as he may have been eligible for a good-behavior release anyway, it’s disputed whether it was really the song that did the job). It was while he was serving that third sentence that Lead Belly was recorded in performance by the famous father-son team of folklorists John and Alan Lomax, which of course is how we know him today. From an essay by Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place, which will appear in the forthcoming 5-disc retrospective Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, and which we’ve edited for length:

Angola was one of the worst prisons in the South; it was probably as close to slavery as any person could come in 1930. Lead Belly became known around the prison for his singing and guitar playing. This was the situation when John Lomax wrote the prison warden L.A. Jones about visiting on behalf of the Library of Congress to record prison songs.

John Lomax and his young son Alan were traveling and recording African American folk songs in prisons in the South. They were hoping to find older African American vernacular music not “contaminated” by the popular blues and jazz of the present day, and they felt long-term prisoners who had been isolated from society might just be the answer. Fresh from recording some of Lead Belly’s fellow prisoners at Sugarland on July 5, 1933, they arrived at Angola on July 16. Lead Belly was suggested to them as a good singer to record, and they realized they had really made a “find.”

The Lomaxes made 12 recordings. Lead Belly saw an opportunity in this situation for himself and “wondered if a pardon song” might work again. Unlike Neff, Louisiana governor O.K. Allen did not tour prisons, so Lead Belly didn’t have access to him. When the Lomaxes returned the following July to record 15 more songs, he had a special one prepared, “Governor O.K. Allen.” He asked if John Lomax would deliver a recording of the song to Allen’s office. Lead Belly had previously written asking for a pardon as well. It is not known whether Allen listened to the song, but Lead Belly was officially granted a pardon on July 25, 1934. Again, the state maintained it was purely on the basis of “good time.”

Lead Belly’s meeting with the Lomaxes was re-enacted for a short newsreel film that, luckily, survives. Here it is, featuring Lead Belly and John Lomax woodenly playing themselves, with a darkened garage standing in for a prison yard. It’s kind of ridiculous, and to a viewer today it’s full of embarrassing values dissonance (loads of “yassuh” racism, unsurprisingly) but on the other hand, it’s motion footage of Lead Belly performing “Goodnight Irene!”
 

 
After his third release, in 1934, Lead Belly made a go of a singing career, abetted by the Lomaxes, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and tantalizingly lurid newspaper descriptions like “Murderous Minstrel,” “Virtuoso of Knife and Guitar,” “Two-Time Dixie Murderer Sings Way to Freedom,” and by far my favorite for its sheer over-the-top sensationalism, “Sweet Singer of the Swamplands Here to do a Few Tunes Between Homicides.” Lead Belly fell out with Lomax in 1935, but his career continued, and in 1948, he would make his final recordings. Again from Jeff Place:

During the 1940s, Lead Belly met two individuals who would become important to his final years of life, Frederic Ramsey Jr. (1915–95) and Charles Edward Smith (1904– 70). Both men were record collectors and jazz scholars and had recently jointly published a book, Jazzmen (1939). They were interested in researching early African American music from the South to search for the roots of jazz. Lead Belly’s repertoire was a perfect resource in this quest. Ramsey felt that Lead Belly’s repertoire had been under-recorded and wanted to get as much of it as he could on tape.

Ramsey got to know Lead Belly socially after the war. “Lead Belly used to come up and visit, and people would come and visit, and we would really throw parties, and you couldn’t stop that guy from performing. I mean, he did it, you could have paid him nothing, he’d come there and have a good time and he would play”. One night Huddie and Martha were invited to the Ramseys for dinner, and Ramsey showed Lead Belly the new machine. Ramsey had hung drapes in his apartment to simulate the sound dampening in a recording studio. Lead Belly wanted to try it out, although he had not brought his guitar, not planning on playing. Ramsey had only a cheap microphone. With Martha’s occasional help he recorded 34 songs that night. Better yet, the tape deck allowed the recording of the introductions and the stories behind the songs. There would be three evening sessions (with the guitar at the other two, along with much better RCA mics borrowed from Moe Asch), and more planned. Lead Belly left for a European tour before additional sessions could be arranged. “Anyway, I think we had maybe three or four gatherings, and I could be wrong about this, it certainly wasn’t all done in one evening, but he used to come and once he… he was a guy who got really comfortable, once he got started, he wouldn’t stop.”

That many of these last recordings were recorded unaccompanied was sadly prophetic. Lead Belly would soon be exhibiting the symptoms of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which robbed him of his ability to play before took his life near the end of 1949.
 

 
The aforementioned Folkways set, Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, is the most comprehensive career-spanning retrospective of his work yet, and is scheduled for release on February 24th, 2015. Packaged in a 140 page 12x12” book, it features over 100 songs on five discs, 16 of which have never been released. One of those unreleased songs comes from that guitar-less session at Frederic Ramsey’s apartment. It’s called “Everytime I Go Out,” an original composition that doesn’t appear to have ever been recorded in any other form. We at Dangerous Minds are thrilled to be able to debut it for you today.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
The only film footage of blues/folk legend Leadbelly
Kurt Cobain and Mark Lanegan’s short-lived Leadbelly tribute band
The amazing old Paramount Records ads that inspired R. Crumb

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Republicans block historical marker of Ku Klux Klan massacre
01.19.2015
01:04 pm

Topics:
History
Race

Tags:
Nazis
KKK
Greensboro Massacre


 
On November 3, 1979, members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party shot and killed five protesters at a “Death to the Klan March” in Greensboro, North Carolina. Of the protestors killed, four were members of the Communist Workers’ Party (the organization responsible for the march), and one was a supporter. Despite clear video evidence and many witnesses, both of the two criminal trials resulted in acquittals by all-white juries. Six years later, a civil suit accusing police of collaboration with the Klan resulted in a $350,000 judgment against the city and both hate groups, but to this day only one plaintiff (the widow of a doctor who ran a clinic for low-income children) has received her payment.

Despite none of this being in dispute, the Greensboro Massacre, one of the darker moments in American history, is currently the subject of a partisan friction. Recently, the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee voted to erect a commemorative marker reading, “The Greensboro Massacre—Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party members, on Nov. 3 1979, shot and killed five Communist Workers’ Party members one-tenth mile north,” but the project remains in deadlock over objections from City Council members. The marker’s major suporters on the council are two black Democrats, and a few members remain ambivalent. Those most ardently opposed? You guessed it—two white dudes from that Grand Old Party!

The idea that this is some kind of conflict is both frustrating and predictable, but in lieu of a diatribe, here’s actual footage of the Greensboro Massacre. It’s violent, but not gory; the ugliest thing about seeing it is knowledge of the future, where justice is evaded and history is whitewashed.
 

 
Thank you Eric M. Fink

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Photos of California high school life, 1969
01.16.2015
10:46 am

Topics:
Fashion
History

Tags:
high school


 
No, these aren’t photos from last year’s Coachella festival—which is beginning to look more and more like Spring Break for dumb and pretty trust fund kids, but I digress… They were taken at various high schools around Southern California in 1969 by LIFE photographer Arthur Schatz.

I wonder if H&M took any style inspiration from these photos for their new “H&M Loves Coachella” line? Aside from the plastic surgery, not much has changed…


 

 

 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Scenes from a West Virginia county fair, 1938
01.06.2015
01:17 pm

Topics:
History

Tags:
West Virginia
fairs


 
In 1938, LIFE magazine sent famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt to a county fair in West Virginia where he captured some wonderfully evocative images. You can practically smell the funnel cakes, kettle corn and hot dogs.

As LIFE wrote back in 1938:

But their major preoccupation was bodies—human bodies, animal bodies, bodies that looked half-human, half-animal. The “girlie” shows, which were hot and smutty, drew smaller audiences than the freaks from crowds made up of farmers, breeders and hillbillies. Only a few city people were present, although some urban sophisticates have discovered the county fair and are beginning to make America’s great harvest-time diversion a city-folk fad.

Take a gander at what the city-folk were a gawkin’ at back in the day…
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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The CIA plays ‘Wooly Willy’ with Hitler, 1944
01.05.2015
07:13 am

Topics:
History

Tags:
Adolf Hitler
CIA

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In 1944 the proto-spooks at US Intelligence Services became concerned that Adolf Hitler might abscond from Nazi Germany and escape the consequences of his evil actions as his armed forces began to lose the war. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the wartime forerunner of the CIA—decided it would be prudent to circulate portraits of the Nazi leader in various possible disguises to ensure his capture should ever he attempt to flee.

To this end, the OSS hired a New York make-up artist named Eddie Senz to envision just how Hitler might hide his identity with the use of glasses, beard, full mustache or even going bald and clean-shaven. Senz’s portraits were only ever seen by Allied Commanders and were not made available to the public until German magazine Der Spiegel published them in the 1990s.

Remind you of anything?
 
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Via Rare Historical Photos.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The Streets of New York: Vintage photos of the Big Apple 1940s to 1970s
12.30.2014
08:35 am

Topics:
History

Tags:
New York City
photography

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Theater marquees, 1944.
 
When we think of a city we tend to think of it from its representation in films and TV—unless of course we’ve been there. Paris is the Eiffel Tower. London is Big Ben. Russia and it’s the onion domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral or the red brick spires of the Kremlin. Rome the Colosseum. Los Angeles—Hollywood Blvd., freeways and Rodeo Drive. New York, well it’s Times Squares, the tenements and neon lit restaurants and of its bars as seen from countless detective shows and gritty urban movies. These beautiful color photos of the New York from the forties to the seventies are like backdrops to those feature films, or even better images that capture pages from a Kerouac novel that inspire dreams:

What’s Times Square doing there anyway? Might as well enjoy it. — Greatest city the world has ever seen. — Have they got a Times Square on Mars? What would the Blob do on Times Square? Or St. Francis?

 
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Giant advert for Jane Russell in Howard Hughes’s production of ‘Underwater’.
 
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Broadway 1955.
 
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The RKO Palace and a Planter’s Peanuts advert 7th and Broadway.
 
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Street scene outside McGinnis restaurant, Tango Palace and Cobbs, 1962.
 
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Broadway looking north from 50th, 1962.
 
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Camel advert near Times Square, 1962.
 
More vintage shots of NYC, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Leonard Nimoy Wants You To Live Long And Prosper: The ‘Y2K Family Survival Guide,’ 1999
12.30.2014
06:56 am

Topics:
History
Hysteria

Tags:
Leonard Nimoy
Y2K

The Y2K Family Survival Guide
 
On New Year’s Eve, 1999, the world was preparing for the worst. The Y2K problem had just about everyone on the edge of their seats—will there be power outages? Will water stop flowing from our taps?? Will planes fall from the sky?!? Will nuclear power plants malfunction and kill us all?!?! Will I have to poop outside? ‘Cause I ain’t poopin’ outside.

No one knew what was going to happen.

To address (or simply cash-in on) the concerns, a number of books and videos were issued on the subject, including the Y2K Family Survival Guide VHS, which was hosted by Leonard Nimoy (he also wrote the introduction for the book version). Here’s how the video was pitched:

The Y2K Family Survival Guide video is specifically designed to help you get ready for the local, national and international effects that may significantly impact the lives of your family, your community and your nation. All essentials are covered in this video, from how the Y2K dilemma began to what may happen after December 31, 1999, to what the average person can do now to survive short inconveniences or a long catastrophe.

The first half of the video features interviews with a variety of “experts,” from dudes that ran Y2K websites to the U.S. Y2K czar (yes, there actually was such a government position). Nimoy is shown telling us all the terrible things that might—or might not—happen, while images of fast-moving dark clouds and an assortment of dated graphics appear behind him.
 
Leonard Nimoy
 
The second half is dominated by a man by the name of Ted Wright, who explains all we’ll need to do to prepare for Y2K, including how we’ll use toilets without access to running water (I’m listening!). Wright has some good tips (and hey, we all should be somewhat prepared to go temporarily off the grid), but ends up coming off like a bit of a kook (he thinks the worst-case scenario will definitely happen). Naturally, he has his own guides to sell.
 
Ted Wright
 
As we know now, nothing major occurred when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000. Thankfully, the Y2K Family Survival Guide remains as a reminder of the hysteria. We Americans are especially prone to panic over the possibility of catastrophic events, so perhaps Mr. Nimoy’s video can serve as a tool for us. Maybe we won’t get so riled up the next time a potential disaster looms in the distance…Wait, we’ll have to go through this all over again in 2038?!?
 
How to Live Without Electricity
 
So, how much did you want for that chemical toilet?
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
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Liquid Crack: ‘It Works Every Time!’
12.23.2014
09:38 am

Topics:
History
Pop Culture

Tags:
beer
Billy Dee Williams
Colt 45


 
In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, black entertainers made considerable sums of money selling ghetto wine and malt liquor to their less fortunate brothers and sisters. “Liquid crack” was dirt cheap and fortified with alcohol and shitloads of sugar to get you higher faster. As Billy Dee Williams said in his TV pitch for Colt 45, “It works every time.”

40-ounce warriors were macho, sexy and hip…at least that’s what the commercials wanted the black community to think. The reality was much more grim. Malt liquors like Schlitz, Colt 45, Olde English 800, St. Ides, King Cobra and bum wines like Thunderbird and Wild Irish Rose were responsible for an increase in alcoholism, violence and crime in black neighborhoods. High alcohol content and the cost of a bottle being under two bucks was a deadly combination. Add to that the veneer of coolness that Kool and the Gang, Fred Williamson, Biggie Smalls and Snoop Dogg brought to the mix and you got a problem that went viral. 

Nowadays, low-rent white hipsters drink the poisonous piss in order to give them some kind of street cred while hip-hop artists have moved on to Cristal and Dom. But the high-end shit hasn’t trickled down to Skid Row yet.

While the product sold was crap for sure, the ads themselves are fascinating time capsules, some sending signals that are incredibly politically incorrect: making light of drunk driving, intimating that women will give it up after a few drinks, and using racial stereotypes that border on Stepin Fetchit caricature. And Blacks weren’t the only ones denigrated—check out the East Indian guy in the “Gunga Din” Colt 45 commercial below.

There’s also an interesting clip of Johnny Cannon wielding a Colt 45 pistol and a can of Colt 45 beer. A wise combination, don’t you think? Johnny’s expression of disgust as he guzzles the malt liquor is priceless.

Then I ask a question you brother
What the fuck is you drinkin’
He don’t know but it flow
Out the bottle in a cup
He call it gettin’ fucked up
Like we ain’t fucked up already
See the man they call Crazy Eddie
Liquor man with the bottle in his hand
He give the liquor man ten to begin
Wit’ no change and he run
To get his brains rearranged
Serve it to the home they’re able
To do without a table
Beside what’s inside ain’t on the label
They drink it thinkin’ it’s good
But they don’t sell the shit in the white neighborhood

—Public Enemy, “1 Million Bottlebags”

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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Charlie Chaplin: Color photographs on set as the Little Tramp, 1917-18
12.18.2014
07:55 am

Topics:
History
Movies

Tags:
Charlie Chaplin

01cccolor.jpg
 
Charlie Chaplin made his first appearance as the “Little Tramp” one hundred years ago when he co-starred with Mabel Normand in the short Mack Sennett silent film Mabel’s Strange Predicament. But as it turned out the public’s first sight of Chaplin’s comic creation was in his second outing Kid Auto Races at Venice, which was made after Mabel’s Strange Predicament but released two days before it. Chaplin later explained how the Tramp came about—he had been asked by Sennett to put on some “funny make-up” for his appearance in Mabel’s Strange Predicament:

I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression.

My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul—a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won’t let him.

These Autochrome color portraits of Chaplin as the Tramp were taken by photographer Charles C. Zoller (1854 – 1934) between takes on the set of one of Chaplin’s films circa 1917-18.
 
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Chaplin out of character.
 
Via Shooting Film.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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