Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The NRR Project: Rosa Ponselle sings 'Casta Diva'


‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s ‘Norma’

Rosa Ponselle, soprano

Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra

Recorded Dec. 31, 1928 and Jan. 30, 1929


Rosa Ponselle was the first American-born, American-trained opera star. Born Posa Ponzillo in Connecticut in 1897, she began singing as a child to entertain silent-film moviegoers while the projectionist changed reels.

She became part of a double act with her older sister Carmela in 1915, working the vaudeville circuits. Meanwhile, she began formal voice training. Her teacher was so impressed that he convinced the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso to listen to her. He was astounded by Rosa’s voice, and soon brought her to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where she appeared as Leonora in Verdi’s La forza del destino on Nov. 15, 1918.

Her success was immediate and long-lasting. Her most iconic role was that of the title character in Bellini’s Norma, about a druidic priestess and her unfaithful Roman lover. The Met revived its production for her after 36 years of neglect for the now-ubiquitous mainstay of opera seasons. The vocal selection is the emblematic “Casta Diva” aria from that opera.

Her incredibly powerful voice is apparent from the recording. Best known for her work in the lower registers, here she moves from high note to high note with effortless ease, spinning out notes with remarkable consistency.

She essayed 22 roles in 19 seasons at the Met. Ponselle’s stellar career lasted until 1937. Her success meant that native-born American singers would begin to receive a chance on the great opera stages of the world.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: The Carter Family sings ‘Wildwood Flower’.



Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The NRR Project: Blind Willie McTell and 'Statesboro Blues'


"Statesboro Blues”

Written by Blind Willie McTell

Performed by Blind Willie McTell, vocals and guitar

Recorded Oct. 17, 1928


You have heard this song before, just not in its original version.

Anyone exposed to rock and roll will know the iconic 1971 performance of this song by the Allman Brothers on their first live album, raucous and slashing, full of bluesy guitar squeals and whines.

The Allman version, however, is based directed on a slide-inflected, upbeat version recorded by Taj Mahal in 1967. The Brothers heard this in concert and determined to cover it themselves.

Taj Mahal reached far back into the history of the blues to revive this song. Blind Willie McTell, the song’s creator and first performer, played it into the microphone in 1928.

Now, I could not do better than the comprehensive essay onthis song by Bruce Bader on the National Recording Registry website. It is beyond comprehensive. However, I can say that McTell (originally McTier, but people couldn’t understand his slurring) was a quiet genius, one whose musicianship is expressed modestly, and with understated wit.

McTell accompanies himself on the 12-string guitar, and unusual choice at the time. The com-plex rhythms that underlie his verses propel the song forward, gently. His chiming tenor floats over the arrangement, chanting out a series of vaguely related blues verses, a kind of portmanteau song.

 Wake up, mama, turn your lamp down low

Wake up, mama, turn your lamp down low

Have you got the nerve to drive Papa McTell from your door?


My mother died and left me reckless

My daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild

Mother died and left me reckless

Daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild

No, I'm not good lookin' but I'm some sweet woman's angel child


She's a mighty mean woman, do me this a-way

She's a mighty mean woman, do me this a-way

When I leave this town, pretty mama, I'm goin' away to stay


I once loved a woman, better than any I'd ever seen

I once loved a woman, better than any I'd ever seen

Treated me like I was a king and she was a doggone queen


Sister, tell your brother, brother tell your auntie

Now auntie, tell your uncle, uncle tell my cousin

Now cousin, tell my friend

Goin' up the country, mama, don't you want to go?

May take me a fair brown, may take one or two more

 McTell never had a recognizable hit during his lifetime – he died in 1959, nine years before Taj Mahal’s rediscovery and rebroadcast of this essential blues track.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Rosa Ponselle sings ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s ‘Norma.’


Friday, September 29, 2023

The NRR Project: the Standing Rock Reservation Recordings


Standing Rock Reservation Recordings

Members of the Yanktoni Tribe

Recorded by: George Herzog

Recorded 1928

205 Yanktoni songs

First of all, I could not do better than the explanatoryessay by Daniel B. Reed, as published on the National Recording Registry website. It is concise yet comprehensive, full of all the information you might like to know on the subject.

That being said, it behooves me to take a crack at of at least summarizing this entry’s contents. It consists of 205 songs of the Yanktoni tribe of the Sioux nation, sung by seven members of the tribe, recorded in 1928 by budding (and pioneering) ethnomusicologist George Herzog. The songs range from sacred and ceremonial songs to secular pieces, made contemporaneously with the time of performance.

It seems distinctly ironic to me that the powers that be in the white man’s world first marked native Americans for destruction, subjugated them, and then meticulously preserved and studied the remnants of their culture. This schizophrenic pattern concerning indigenous and minority peoples is a familiar one. Nonetheless, with or without apologies here is a collection of vital memories that otherwise would have been lost forever.

Recorded on wax cylinders, the collection is still in the process of being digitized. Beyond the documentation of a collapsed culture, the material offers insights to scholarly researchers. Above all, it provides a link to the past for the surviving descendant’s of the songs’ singers.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Blind Willie McTell and ‘Statesboro Blues.’



Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The NRR Project: 'Smyrneikos Balos'

Smyrneikos Balos


Performed by Marika Papagika; accompanists unknown

Recorded 1928


It took a while for ethnic music to be represented on American recordings. Frankly, at the beginning record companies wanted popular hits; for a few decades they maximized mainstream music production, putting out whatever they thought would catch the fancy of the widest possible audience.

But gradually it came to be realized that there were smaller but markedly more enthusiastic groups of folks that would buy ethnic music, specifically music from their homeland. The pangs of assimilating into American culture were tempered by an adherence to and affection for old, traditional cultural creations, helping to maintain the identity of the immigrants.

Marika Papagika was among the earliest Greek-American artists to be recorded. She was born on the island of Kos in 1890; she began her recording career in Alexandria, Egypt in 1913-14. Soon after that, she and her husband Kostas (Gus) immigrated to America. Over the course of 1918-19, she began to record for both Victor and Columbia. The subset of ethnic music fans snapped up her recordings, making her famous in the context of the Greek-American community.

In 1925, she and her husband opened a nightclub (and speakeasy), Marika’s, at 34th and 8th in Manhattan. There, the Greek-American, and migrants from other regions near the old country, settled in for food, conversation, and entertainment. \

It is estimated that she recorded at least 232 sides during her American recording career, 1918-1929. All were songs from the old country. She was accompanied by her husband on the cymbalom, and by others at various times on violin, cello, and clarinet.

Her soprano voice is clear and vibrant, keening at one moment and slurring into a note-quaver the next. Smyrneikos Balos is a dance tune, but it is also a lover’s lament, and even those of us with no Greek can catch the energy of longing she puts into the song.

Marika’s closed in 1930, and Marika more or less retired. Still, her 78 r.p.m. slices of sounds from home comforted its listeners.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: the Standing Rock Preservation Recordings.



Thursday, September 14, 2023

The NRR Project: 'Allons a Lafayette'


Allons a Lafayette


Performed by Joseph Falcon and Cleva Breaux; vocals, Leon Meche

Recorded April 27, 1928


It’s the first commercial recording of Cajun music. Now, let’s figure out – what is Cajun music? Who are Cajuns?

It starts back during the time of the French and Indian War. The British wrested Canada from the French, and dealt the French-speaking population of the colony of Acadia a bitter blow – they forcibly exiled thousands of them to Louisiana, between the years of 1755 and 1764. Why Louisiana? For the simple fact that France still controlled it.

This “Great Expulsion” meant that a whole set of language, custom, and culture was transported south and intermingled with the predominant Creole (mixed-race) heritage of the region. They wound up creating a unique and vibrant mini-culture, grounded in spicy and delicious food, dance, and music.

 Cajun tunes come primarily in two forms – the first, a hopping-fast two-step full of juicy chords emanating from the accordion, guitar, fiddle, and percussion quartet that forms the typical Cajun music ensemble; the second consists of dreamy waltzes. This is perfect music for a party, infectious and good-tempered.

Using only an accordion and guitar, Falcon and Breaux create a sonic storm, an onslaught of notes topped by the keening vocals of Meche in Cajun French, itself a unique concoction of colloquial language.

The song is derived from a traditional tune, “Jeune Gens Campagnard,” but it’s sped up and given new lyrics. In “Allons,” the singer is cajoling his beloved, asking her to change her name and get out of town with him, presumably to engage in some hanky-panky. The jolly, light-hearted tune became a hit, guaranteeing that more of this unique music would be recorded, preserved, and celebrated.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Smyrneikos Balos.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The NRR Project: The Victor Bristol sessions

The Carter family.

Victor Talking Machine recording sessions

Bristol, Tennessee

July 25 – Aug. 5, 1927

Wonder of wonders! There is a legendary story about a music producer swinging into a sleepy Appalachian town for a couple of weeks in the hot summer of 1927 and discovering the first greats of American country music. Fortunately, that story is true.

Country music had not really been recorded or heard popularly until 1922 in New York City, and even then was referred to as “hillbilly music.” It proved to be quite popular, spurring a search for more of the same. Also helpfully, the transition from acoustic to electric recordings in 1925 meant that microphones were more sensitive and could pick up softer instruments such as the guitar. By the late ‘20s, the leading record manufacturers were sending recording teams out into the country to find and develop new talent.

Ralph Peer was an A & R (“Artists and repertoire”) producer for Victor, one who sought out and signed artists. He took only $1 a year in salary, but he retained all the publishing rights to everything he recorded, paying the recording artists royalties based on sales – a business practice still in effect today. Peer asked one of his early hitmakers Ernest Stoneman where he could find more hillbilly musicians. Stoneman directed him towards the heart of Appalachia: Bristol, which straddled the line between Tennessee and Virginia.

There he and his engineers set up an impromptu recording studio, on the third floor of the Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Company. Advertisements in the local newspaper solicited performers. Eventually, Peer would capture 76 performances by 19 different groups and individuals, some of which were contracted to produce more work.

Most prominent among these performers, which included such acts as Ernest Phipps and his Holiness Quartet, the Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers, and the West Virginia Coon Hunters, were the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and her sister-in-law Maybelle formed a trio that would wind up recording many of the foundational country songs – “Wabash Cannonball,” “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes,” and many more. (Their best-known cut from Bristol was probably “Single Girl, Married Girl.") Their prominence in the genre was undisputed, and they rapidly rose to fame.

Similarly, Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, was massively influential. Known as “the Father of Country Music,” his sessions in Bristol were solos, as he had broken up with his band shortly before recording time. While he only cut two sides that day, the singer and songwriter made an impression that led to many hit recordings before his untimely death six years later.

It wasn’t until 2011 that a multi-CD set of all the Bristol recordings was curated an pressed, but now we can hear all of the sessions (Peer found that gospel music was a big seller, too) aand think about the amazing intersection of talent and technology that produced this music.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Marika Papagika and ‘Smyrneikos Balos.’


Thursday, July 20, 2023

The NRR Project: First transatlantic telephone conversation


First official transatlantic telephone conversation

January 7, 1927

The idea that one can speak to anyone, anywhere in the world, instantly, is a new one. International calls that used to be held over cumbersome land lines were difficult and expensive. However, even that level of communication was not conceived of until AT&T created a viable mode of transmission from one continent to another.

All the salient facts regarding the first official transatlantic telephone conversation can be found in Cary O’Dell and SheldonHochheiser’s excellent essay at the National Recording Registry web site. The advance meant that transcontinental conversations, business matters, and new reports could be transmitted instantly. The limitations of time and space were shrinking.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: the Victor Talking Machine Company session in Bristol, Tennessee.




Sunday, May 21, 2023

CU in outer space: Missions, experiments aim at deep-space exploration

From Boulder Magazine! Photo by Bonnie Chaim.

 A half a century after the last human visitor stepped on the moon, mankind is looking to the stars again – and the University of Colorado at Boulder is leading the way.

Boulder’s hometown university is a key player in space science and exploration, and has been since 1948, when CU scientists participated in the launches of captured German V-2 rockets on suborbital missions at a missile range at White Sands, New Mexico. Since then, CU has worked with NASA (founded in 1958) and other space agencies to provide expertise, research, and personnel for expeditions beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

CU-Boulder receives $120 million in aerospace-related research yearly, and the university boasts of more than 20 aerospace-related academic departments, centers, and institutes. To date, 20 CU-Boulder scientists, faculty, and alumni have gone into space, on 52 missions. Hundreds of CU-Boulder-built scientific instruments have flown into the outer reaches as well.

One of the most significant upcoming journeys to feature CU involvement will be this spring’s Polaris Dawn launch. This commercial flight will spend up to five days in orbit and will feature the first-ever all-civilian spacewalk, laser-based communications testing, and much scientific research.

One member of the four-person crew, Mission Specialist, Sarah Gillis, 29, is an almost-Boulder native (she got here at three months of age), and a graduate of CU-Boulder. If the launch goes as scheduled, she will be the youngest American ever to orbit the Earth.

Her primary focus will be to conduct many of the 38 scheduled science and research experiments during the mission. Many are focused on human health, both on Earth and on long-duration space flights. One of her collaborators on the ground is CU Assistant Professor Torin Clark, assistant professor in BioServe Space Technologies, who with fellow CU-Boulder aerospace engineer Allie Anderson will lead five experiments that study how astronauts experience motion sickness, disorientation, and similar issues during space flight and upon their return to Earth.

“We’re studying how the astronauts’ brains are affected by the environment,” Clark says. One experiment involves inducing motion sickness. “That’s not one we’re looking forward to,” he quips.

One long-term goal of the mission? To prepare humans to return to the Moon, and to reach for a landing on Mars, by the end of this decade.

“I was in high school when Apollo 11 landed,” says Dr. Jack Burns, CU professor and head of the Network for Exploration and Space Science, a collaboration among several universities, NASA, and significant regional commercial entities such as Ball Aerospace and Lockheed Martin. “If you would have told me then that it would have been more than 50 years before returning, I would have said you’re crazy.”

Burns is an articulate exponent of space science and exploration, over a 50-year career that includes 21 years at CU. He posits the creation of what he terms a sustainable space program.

“When you look at the history of American space missions, Apollo was not sustained once the political goals were finished. Now we are concerned not with a one-and-done, ‘flags and footsteps’ approach, but a public and private infrastructure for space exploration, something that would grow and develop over time, including what NASA calls an Artemis base camp on the Moon by the end of the decade,” he says.

“We look to set up a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon,” Burns continues. “We will be learning to live of what the Moon provides, doing things like getting water from the ice at the poles. All this with an eye to look forward, to going to Mars.”

Of CU’s dominant affiliation with space studies, Burns says, “It just all came together. As a strong and well-known research university, it just continued to build over time. Of course,” he adds, “Boulder’s a wonderful place to live as well.”

Friday, March 24, 2023

The NRR Project: 'El Manisero' ('The Peanut Vendor')


El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor)

Words and music by Moises SimonRodriguez

a.      Rita Montaner, vocal

Recorded November, 1927


b.      Don Azpiazu and his Havana Casino Orchestra

Recorded May, 1930


This double entry marks both the origin and the popular success of this tune, the first Latin dance music to sell more than a million copies. In fact, this number has been recorded close to 200 times over its lifespan.

The words and music were set down in 1922 in Cuba, issuing from the pen of composer Moises Simon. “The Peanut Vendor”’s words were based on those of actual street vendors, the kind of song called a pregon. The underlying rhythm is that of the son, so the technical name for the song type is son-pregon.

In America it was classified as a “rhumba” (the English spelling of the more correct rumba), and it set off a craze for Latin-American music. This was an entry point for Latin-American culture – a narrow one indeed, with many Latin-Americans of the day facing prejudice and lack of opportunity. For the general public, the lands south of the border were exotic locales filled with smiling, happy musicians making merry.

The tempo of the original 1927 recording is stately; in the 1930 version the pace picks up, and the rhythm is more driven, in fact absolutely compulsive. It makes you want to move. Julio Cueva’s punchy, muted trumpeter propels and ornaments the piece. And, underneath it all, are the complex polyrhythms typical of the genre. (My favorite version? Anita O’Day’s.)

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: the first transatlantic telephone conversation.



Friday, February 24, 2023

The NRR Project: Hoagy Carmichael and 'Stardust'


Stardust (originally Star Dust)

Hoagy Carmichael and His Pals

Music: Hoagy Carmichael

Lyrics: Mitchell Parish (lyrics added 1929)

Recorded Oct. 31, 1927


It’s the perfect song.

This extraordinary composition sprang from the mind of pianist and composer Hoagy Carmichael, an Indiana boy who became a national figure in songwriting, recording, and film. The lanky, drawling Hoosier was a prolific creator, and he crafted many jazz standards, including such tunes as “Georgia on My Mind,” “Skylark,” “Rockin’ Chair,” “The Nearness of You,” “Two Sleepy People,” and “Heart and Soul.”

He learned the piano at a young age from his mother, and from that point on was largely self-taught. He played intensively at college, where he met and befriended the great cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. His first recorded song, “Riverboat Shuffle,” was written with Beiderbecke in mind, in 1924.

Carmichael owes a huge debt to Black culture. His early music is redolent of the showboat and the minstrel show, a habit of the mainstream culture at the time. Yes, there are “Negro dialect” songs in his catalog. It reads as racist and condescending today, but was not considered as such then. In fact, Hoagy and few other white performers such as Bing Crosby were considered hip to this otherwise disparaged way of processing reality.

In 1927, he was inspired to write “Stardust,” his first really mature work, whistling the opening passage and then working steadily to augment and complete it. The result is a melody whimsical and dreamy, instantly memorable. Interestingly, this first recorded version moves at a relatively fast tempo, and exists purely as an instrumental.

The story of how this tune became a song is more involved. Mills Music published the song, and an arranger at the company suggested that the song be played at a slower tempo, with sentimental feeling. Mills agreed, and assigned Mitchell Parish to write lyrics for it. They are beautiful, and well worth citing. In them, Parish has captured in words the yearning and regret imbedded in the music.

 “And now the purple dusk of twilight time

Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart

You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by

Sometimes I wonder how I spend
The lonely night
Dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you

When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
And now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song

Besides the garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairytale
A paradise where roses grew

Though I dream in vain
In my heart, it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love's refrain”

The slower tempo and the addition of lyrics turns this into a song about song, about its comforting properties in the face of heartbreak. It’s like a lyrical version of a blues song – it mourns, but it affirms at the same time.

The best version is one Hoagy himself later did, a simple presentation with piano and a little quiet percussion and his idiosyncratic voice, playing freely with the harmonies and bumping the song along with lazy facility, breaking off for a lovely whistled passage that expresses its creator’s insouciance.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: ‘El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor).’


Sunday, February 19, 2023

The NRR Project: Bix Beiderbecke and 'Singin' the Blues'


Singin’ the Blues

Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra with Bix Beiderbecke

Music: Con Conrad, J. Russell Robinson

Lyrics: Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young

Recorded Feb. 4, 1927


Everybody knows about Louis Armstrong. Few, however, are familiar with the other great jazz horn genius of the day, Bix Beiderbecke.

Part of this has to do with Beiderbecke’s short life, and resulting skimpy body of work. What is there is impressively powerful. Whereas Armstrong lived on to be an elder statesman of the music, Beiderbecke was dead by the age of 28, in 1931. But he also produced a different sound from Armstrong – subdued, pure-toned, introspective. It was a sound decades ahead of its time.

Bix was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1903. He was an indifferent student, an enthusiastic and self-taught musician, and a dedicated drinker. The last quality would doom him to an early death. He worked his way up from local band to regional touring group to the big time with popular jazz impresario Paul Whiteman. This mainstream work didn’t take advantage of his unique artistry, and he rarely got to show what he could do.

Beiderbecke was a fan of “hot jazz,” the livelier and more adventurous alternative to the staid, unchallenging “sweet jazz” of the day, the kind Whiteman was the epitome of. “Singin’ the Blues” is a prime example of what kind of music he could make if he was allowed.

The swingy, jaunty proceedings are launched by Trumbauer on sax, then passed over to Bix, bounce to the ensemble, jump to Jimmy Dorsey on the clarinet, get a lick from Bix again, then all finish together. The cornetist exuberantly swings around the edges of tune’s harmonics, not riding the melody like Armstrong did. He plays with rhythm and time in a restrained, precise manner. This approach is seen as a precursor to the jazz ballad style, in which no lyrics are referenced and the tune is interrogated thoroughly. It has even been cited as a primitive ancestor of the cool jazz movement of the post-WWII years.

On cuts like this, and “I’m Coming, Virginia” and “Clarinet Marmalade” and “In a Mist,” Beiderbecke stretched the boundaries of what jazz could be deemed to do.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Hoagy Carmichael and Stardust.’

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

New book, 'Horror Unmasked,' comes out in September!


Howdy! I just wanted to let you know that my new book, Horror Unmasked: A History of Terror from ‘Nosferatu’ to ‘Nope’, will be published on Sept. 5.You can pre-order it here. It’s derived from my earlier Lost in the Dark: A World History of Horror Film, but it is revised, expanded, and richly illustrated. It was a treat to get to update the text and make it current for a new set of readers.

First, I had the great pleasure of publishing Lost in the Dark through the University of Mississippi Press. In matters of getting published, I can only state that persistence is everything. It took 100 queries on my part, 100 individual and detailed pitches, before I succeeded. Since then, it’s been markedly easier.

The nice folks at Quarto Group read my book, and proposed a revision/expansion, and the addition of dozens of photographs and illustrations. Sold! I got to work on it right away, and the the result you see here. My thanks to the editors and proofreaders – they caught a number of tiny details, imperfections that our now expunged and will provide as definitive a text as is possible.

Here’s their very excellent summation of the work: “From the silent-film era to the blockbusters of today, Horror Unmasked is a fun-filled, highly illustrated dive into the past influences and present popularity of the horror film genre.

“The horror film’s pop-culture importance is undeniable, from its early influences to today’s most significant and exciting developments in the genre. Since 1990, the production of horror films has risen exponentially worldwide, and in 2021, horror films earned an estimated $580 million in ticket sales, not to mention how the genre has expanded into books, fashion, music, and other media throughout the world.

“Horror has long been the most popular film genre, and more horror movies have been made than any other kind. We need them. We need to be scared, to test ourselves, laugh inappropriately, scream, and flinch. We need to get through them and come out, blinking, still in one piece.

 “This comprehensive guide features:

·         A thorough discussion on monster movies and B-movies (The ThingIt Came from Outer SpaceThe Blob)

·         The destruction of the American censorship system (Blood FeastThe Night of the Living DeadThe Texas Chain Saw Massacre)

·         International horror, zombies, horror comedies, and horror in the new millennium (MatangoSuspiriaGhostbusters)

·         A dissection of the critical reception of modern horror (Neon DemonPan’s LabyrinthFunny Games)

·         Stunning movie posters and film stills, plus fan-made tributes to some of the most lauded horror franchises in the world (Aliens; The Evil DeadThe Hills Have EyesScream)

“A perfect reference and informational book for horror fans and those interested in its cultural influence worldwide, Horror Unmasked provides a general introduction to the genre, serves as a guidebook to its film highlights, and celebrates its practitioners, trends, and stories.”


Monday, January 16, 2023

The NRR Project: 'Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground'


“Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”

Blind Willie Johnson

Recorded Dec. 3, 1927


This music sits at the intersection of blues and gospel, and underlines the impulses lying behind both. With wordless vocals, the singer-songwriter lays open his yearning soul to the powers that be, imploring them for relief. It’s a suffering transformed through the power of music to redemption.

Blinded at the age of seven, Willie Johnson (1897-1945) made his living as a street-corner entertainer and itinerant preacher. His music, 30 sides of which he recorded in all, between 1927 and 1930, leaned heavily into religious songs and themes. He crafted many classic iterations of gospel songs such as “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed,” “If I Had My Way,” and “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.” 

These “holy blues” tunes he treated with a growl of a baritone voice, and a choogling slide guitar that was played with a knife instead of a bottleneck. His playing is nimble, plaintive, and articulate. On “Dark is the Night,” he spins a slow, meditative rhythm that is hypnotic. His vocals soar and swoop above the strumming.

Johnson’s work became known again through the efforts of Reverend Gary Davis in the 1960s, eventually finding his musical selections covered by all kinds of artists. 

The song originated in a 17th-century hymn, “Gethsemane,” which portrayed Christ’s agonies the night before he was crucified. By omitting the lyrics, he turns the melody into an expression of pure, universal feeling.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The NRR Project: Live coverage of Lindbergh's visit to Washington


Charles A. Lindbergh arrival and reception in Washington D.C.

NBC radio broadcast

June 11, 1927

It was a triumph of the imagination. That’s the only way to explain the world’s reaction to Charles Lindbergh’s successful solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Such raucous celebrations and wild hero-worship had not been seen before and would not be matched later, even by the reception for the returning Apollo astronauts. Everyone loved Lucky Lindy.

He was not the first to cross the Atlantic in a plane; two men had accomplished that feat eight years earlier. But he was the first to do so as an embodiment of the American hero – young, solo, cocky, with a head for gadgets. He was a typical fresh-faced America boy, no cynical professional but an idealist with a dream, and the means and will to make it happen. He was the new continent go-get-‘em spirit personified.

Lindbergh in his monoplane The Spirit of St. Louis took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island on May 20, 1927. He landed at Le Bourget Field outside of Paris 33 hours and 30 minutes later. An excited crowd of 150,000 was present to greet him. Unwieldy crowds flocked to see him in Belgium and Britain. Finally, he sailed back with his plane to Washington, D.C.

There thousands more watched him proceed in a parade from the Navy Yard to the Washington Monument, where President Coolidge made a speech and presented Lindbergh with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

NBC turned the event into one the entire country could witness. The radio network set up microphones at three stages along the route, and excited reporters, chaired by veteran broadcaster Graham McNamee, covered the progress live.

The primary importance of this entry is not in its content, which was not recorded, but in its use of technology. Never before had there been nationwide, real-time coverage of a historical event (manufactured an event as it was). Radio was nimble; it could provide reports from anywhere. It would soon become a dominant medium.

NRR Project: “Light’s Golden Jubilee Celebration”

  “Light’s Golden Jubilee Celebration” NBC Radio Oct. 21, 1929 In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in Menlo Pa...