The pleasure of being stuck on the Tarmac at O’Hare International is having the time to read some of my favorite mags (along with watching old Entourage episodes). As serendipity would have it, it was Burkhard Bilger’s profile — no, his portraiture — of Questlove, the ambitious bandleader and drummer for the Roots, in The New Yorker I most unexpectedly dug. A few weeks earlier my colleague, Stefn’i Bell, across the cubicle aisle said that she was going to “stop following Questlove on Twitter” because he’s so active on it. I hadn’t even heard his name before so I had no clue whom she was talking about, despite watching him on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon so many times.
After reading the piece, you can’t help but have a deep admiration for the musician and the man. Two days later? A video of Questlove in studio listening to and breaking down the original multitrack recordings of Marvin Gaye’s single “What’s Going On” is showing up in my Facebook feed.
Wow, this is groovy: Questlove breaking down the rhythm tracks of the original multitrack studio recordings of Marvin Gaye’s single “What’s Going On.”
“What’s so cool about it is that this is one of the most undefined drum songs of soul music. I don’t think of drums when I think of ‘What’s Going On.” I think of the conga, but I always felt like it was a ritual syncopated…
I always wondered though why didn’t they just bring the… like, it could’ve been a whole different song had the drums just been the force of it, but I guess that would’ve taken away from it.
And here Questlove discusses how he thinks of “What’s Going On” as a winter song and marvels at the perfection of its “crude harmonies”:
Then they break down how the single was recorded nine months prior to the release of the album, the piano being used as a percussion line, and the “infamous football players”:
(Big thanks to Mikel Ellcessor of WDET to turning me on to this.)
Oh my buttery goodness. This one’s for slathering on my morning toast and evening bread. Thanks to soulfliesfreelikeawillowtree for posting:
Chris Turner’s cover of “If You Want Me to Stay” <3 YES.
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Weights & Measures
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
Above is a 1920 obituary from The New York Times for Dr. Duncan MacDougall, who as you can see was best remembered by a particular experiment he did attempting to weigh the human soul. I heard his story on a recent episode of Radiolab, and it caught my attention because I had just read about another scientific study involving weight — an attempt to test how physical weight effects the way we think.
ScienceBlogs writer Ed Yong sums up the study, where volunteers hold either a heavy or a lighter clipboard while executing four different tasks. The last task was to weigh in on a controversial subway being built at the time:
In all cases, the volunteers agreed more with the strong arguments but especially so if they held the heavier clipboards. This group were also more confident in their opinions and were more likely to be clearly in favour of the subway or against it, rather than dawdling on the fence.
With similar results from the other two tasks, the conclusion is that holding the heavier clipboard caused individuals to “think of situations as more important and they invest more mental effort in dealing with abstract issues.”
Yong identifies a few similar studies that all seem to share the common attribute: they display what most would consider a purely metaphorical relationship (clean = moral, warm = sociable, etc.) as a psychological reality. If we accept these conclusions to be true, then it seems like a case of science catching up with the arts — the metaphors poets and other artists have been using for years suddenly seem a little more relevant, right?
Then again, this line of research could also go the way of Dr. MacDougall’s attempt to weigh the soul — as a clever, interesting, but ultimately unconvincing page in the book of scientific history. What do you think?
(image courtesy of The New York Times)
Spirit of Language
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
As we prepare to do a show on endangered languages, I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of language and spirituality. This came up recently with my three-year-old daughter, who has been asking about death since we buried her fish in our back yard. We were driving across town the other day and she said out of nowhere, “Daddy, when will be my last day?” Meaning, When will I die? After a moment of panic, I decided to talk to her about various views of death from different religious traditions. But I quickly realized that she has no knowledge of the words “spirit” or “soul,” and so it was impossible for her to even grasp that concept. In her mind, she is just a body, nothing more, nothing less. And yet, in due time, the English language will give her a concept of the soul, and with it a whole new conception of her self.
Just learning a language is, in part, acquiring a spiritual worldview. And that would explain why religion and language have so often been intertwined in the history of Western civilization. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450s, the first book he printed was the Bible. A generation later, Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation, and he also produced the first complete translation of the Bible from the original into a contemporary European vernacular. In 1533 Henry VIII broke with Rome and created the Church of England. The result was a whole new English liturgy, with phrases that have since lodged in most English-speaking brains: “Till death us do part,” “Man cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower,” “In the midst of life we are in death,” and “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
When I think of all the spiritual concepts bound up in my own language, it’s hard to believe that (according to organizations like The Living Tongues Institute) languages around the world are dying at a rate of about one every two weeks. What conceptions of humanity and our place in the world are being lost? I’d be interested to know if any of you have learned any rare languages, and if so what unique ways do those languages have of ordering the world with words?