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3 Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and The Conversation: 1970s Cinema Mirrors the Ascendancy of America’s Conspiracy Obsession
Turner: Listen. I work for the CIA. I’m not a spy. I just read books. We read everything that’s published in the world and we– we feed the plots– dirty tricks, codes into a computer, and the computer…checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, new ideas. We read adventures and novels and…journals. I– I can– Who’d invent a job like that? I– Listen!- People are trying to kill me!
Turner: I don’t know, but there’s a reason…
—-Dialogue from 3 Days of the Condor between Turner (Robert Redford) rand Kathy (Faye Dunaway)
Several groundbreaking American political espionage films emerged in the post-Senator McCarthy Communist “witch hunt” era of the 1950s portraying complex Cold War spy dramas. Seven Days in May (1964) follows the story of a decorated, crowd-pleasing military general secretly planning a coup d’etat to replace who he believes to be a spineless, weak-willed American President. Two other disturbing films at the time centered on brainwashing techniques of agents and assassins, The Ipcress File (1965) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Stepping back to the genre’s origins, Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic genius as a filmmaker took off with his unique brand of suspenseful stories centered on the travails of a “wrong man (or woman)” mistakenly caught up in a web of nefarious intelligence operations. As early as the 1930s, Hitchcock presented movies such as the playfully tense The Lady Vanishes and the uniquely clever The 39 Steps. He would peak in this format in 1959 with Cary Grant’s portrayal of a suave, yet hapless advertising executive mistaken by enemies of America for a dangerously elusive spy in North by Northwest. Hitchcock was intensely interested in film as a study in the emotions of his endearing characters, with the central plotlines (dubbed by him as “The MacGuffin”) serving as backdrop for the maturation of his leading actors/actresses. In the 1960s, Hitchcock set films such as Torn Curtain and Topaz within a confining, humorless, danger-filled Cold War world, but neither effort came close to the high quality of his earlier work.
Several well-scripted films of the 1970s solidified this niche of intense focus on underhanded intelligence missions and programs, as accomplished directors presented ultra-serious stories abandoning traditional film fantasy for the civic-minded purpose of “educating” the audience in what they perceived as a new world order of political conspiracies. Moviegoers were served up suspenseful plot devices under the guise of tutorials about nation states that had evolved into pervasive ideological and economic protectorates eager to defend their fiefdoms at any cost. These campaigns fought out by political superpowers, as per the new wave of movies, were usually undertaken within the confines of a clandestine battleground and out of view of the general populace, whose role had receded to one of acceptable and necessary “collateral damage.” Although movies of this kind presented themselves as warnings of political and security agency overreach, the lesson taken home by audiences internationally helped create an underlying culture of paranoia and distrust of both business and government. The film industry discovered they could manipulate America’s surprisingly strong psychological need for baseless, unsound, unscientific explanation of reality using stories featuring maze-like alliances and betrayals unfolding within a place of graphic, choreographed violence.
Three movies in the 1970s are representative of the cool cinéma vérité, journalistic-like, exposé-stylized fictions depicting duplicitous schemes that ensnare Americans “in the know” as well as clueless bystanders, who stand in for the audience themselves. These dangers take many shapes and forms as they ruthlessly overpower and destroy all but the savviest individuals. American directors presented a world of hidden agendas, cloaked listening devices, and “Big Brother”-style around the clock video surveillance. The dire political yarn has dramatically shifted from Hitchcock’s heroic foibles of an everyman snared into unintended adventure, to films “exposing” the technical playbooks of governmental agencies supposedly held tightly under wraps and out of view of the sheep-like, docile public.
3 Days of the Condor (1975), The Parallax View (1974), and The Conversation (1974) put their characters in mortal danger, trapped by an ever-widening net of mistrust and double crossings. Alan J. Pakula directed Warren Beatty as a television journalist chasing down the truth of the killing of a presidential candidate in The Parallax View. Beatty desperately seeks to discover what is behind the politically motivated murder, and his reckless obsession culminates in the film’s horrific climax where his noble character is duped by an organized group of savvy villains, and he is caught with a rifle in his hands to be blamed for the assassination of another politician. Beatty, in that horrific moment of revelation to both audience and character, is left no opportunity to explain his side, as we watch in surprise his unjust murder. The bleak finale of Parallax serves as a knockout punch to a film already overloaded with angst. The brave reporter will be registered in the historical record of this fictional world as a crazed fanatic in the mold of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Francis Ford Coppola directed The Conversation and Sydney Pollack 3 Days of the Condor, both dramas aimed at giving their audiences a rare view from “the inside” of intelligence agencies and corporate surveillance services. Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul in The Conversation, a talented expert in the techniques of for-hire, surreptitious spying. Caul proudly figures out the near-impossible logistics of secretly taping a one-time conversation between a man and woman as they stroll around a park in San Francisco. Strategically placed microphones record each word as the couple glides in constant motion. Later in the movie, Caul becomes plagued by the unsettling intuition that he has been duped into acting as an accessory to a capital crime, and to his horror, discovers that the conversation was in fact a prelude to bloody murder. In the chilling closing sequence, Caul, the smartest man in the room in terms of hidden surveillance, is taunted by the sophisticated murderers that he himself will forever be under their watch, as we witness him tearing apart his living space down to the studs of the walls in a desperate attempt to locate the professionally concealed listening devices.
The mother and greatest of all paranoid spy movies of the 1970s is 3 Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford as a CIA wonk, Turner, targeted for elimination for reasons unknown to him.Turner’s job in intelligence is to read as broadly and voluminously as possible to intuit patterns indicative of activities that might threaten the interests of the United States. The film begins with a vague discussion between Turner and his superiors on whether or not his latest hypothesis has any “teeth” to it. Soon after, he leaves the office to buy morning snacks for his co-workers and returns to discover the bloody mess of death, which the audience has witnessed in his absence. A team of trained assassins gained entrance to the fronted CIA office space and, under the leadership of a cool-headed, patrician-aged killer with a foreign accent (portrayed with an odd elegance by the late Max von Sydow), shot the lot of them. This “man on the run” story entails dramatic twists and turns as Turner attempts to figure out who is behind the murders and why the perpetrators are still out to kill him. The interesting thing about Condor is the total lack of morality and decency within his own agency’s ranks and other players, outside of Turner’s and that of Kathy (Faye Dunaway), the woman enlisted at first against her will to help him. Towards the end of the film, Turner stands face to face in the night within the home of the agency’s higher-up, Atwood, who has been pulling the strings, having woken him up to confront him:
Turner: It was your network I turned up. Doing what? Doing what!!? What does operations care about a bunch of goddamn books? A book in Dutch! A book out of Venezuela!
Turner: Mystery stories in Arabic! What the hell is so important about [he stops dead still, then quietly notes] …Oil…fields. Oil. This whole damn thing was about oil…
Agency assassin von Sydow walks in at that very moment, but instead of shooting Turner as expected, eliminates the puppet master Atwood, since the coverup of the first round of elimination has gone recklessly too far. The danger exposed by the CIA analyst, Turner, in all its cloaked secrecy is not about nuclear codes or the plans for dangerous weapons, but the chase for what it is that makes governments behave like corporations, choosing to pull out all the stops if their consumer markets are threatened. Business is business in Condor, and heads receive bullets not from the gun of a crazed Oswald-type, but by expert “silencers” sanctioned by the CIA. This brand of storyline was unprecedented prior to the mid-1970s. As the movie draws to a close, Turner heads into the offices of The New York Times to expose the entire story. Though more hopeful than The Parallax View and The Conversation, it still leaves its audience with the message that this sort of intelligence agency behavior will continue to be carried out daily, ad infinitum into the foreseeable future. Whether or not Condor has presented an accurate depiction of CIA and other clandestine behavior is not considered as important to either the audience or the filmmaker. Ubiquitous conspiracies are now fed to the public on Facebook, Twitter, and various news outlets without the slightest attempt at fact-checking. A fatigued, battered public is far too often willing to believe anything it reads or hears, especially when presented in as few words or images as possible for the briefest of attention spans and displayed at the highest volume of feigned, overdramatic urgency. The tendency to believe a news bite false report in place of readily available facts and mundane truths is reminiscent of a sequence in the Marx Brothers movie comedy Duck Soup (1933). In an exchange between Chico Marx as Chicolini and Margaret Dumant as Mrs. Teasdale, Chicolini’s insistent that Teasdale is mistaken in what she absolutely knows as fact:
Teasdale: Your Excellency, I thought you left.
Chicolini: Oh no. I no leave.
Teasdale: But I saw you with my own eyes.
Chicolini: Well, who ya gonna believe me or your own eyes?
Duck Soup teaches a valuable lesson to those ignoring the truth in the face “alternative facts” and lies, and the barrage of misrepresentations is screamed at us with underhanded aplomb by a bevy of modern-day, humorless villains far less clever but no less dangerous than those presented in the cinematic fictions of Pakula, Coppola, and Pollack.
This summer, Bernie Langs of The Rockefeller University Development Office is celebrating the seventh anniversary of the release of his music video, “Everything is Broken,” directed by his daughter, Jordan Langs. The video features Bernie Langs’ performance of the 1989 Bob Dylan song by the same name and includes footage of the Meadowlands wreckage in New Jersey. Check out “Everything is Broken” on Langs’ YouTube page.
The Met Cloisters, an offshoot of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is located in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights. The museum boasts a first rate collection of European medieval art and architecture as well as outdoor garden spaces with fabulous views of the Hudson River and beyond. The Cloisters is rarely crowded and offers a place for meditative enjoyment of art in a quiet and engaging atmosphere.
Megan E. Kelley
Natural Selections would like to honor and celebrate the 2021 graduating class from The Rockefeller University. On Thursday, June 10 at 2:30 p.m., Rockefeller will hold its second virtual convocation and confer doctorate degrees upon thirty-three graduate students. To the future doctors, congratulations! Your years of hard work and perseverance are an inspiration. We wish you all the best in the next phases of your careers and lives.
Rohiverth Guarecuco Jr.
Solomon N Levin
Tiên Minh Thủy Phan-Everson
Rohan R. Soman
Women have often been overlooked in the history of electronic music. Their mastery of new technology and alien sounds enabled them to innovate outside of traditional male-dominated structures, but even collaborations with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Karl Stockhausen, MGM Studios, and Coca-Cola failed to cement their pioneer status.
Sisters with Transistors, a documentary film directed by Lisa Rovner, presents a remedial history chronicling the defining female figures of electronic music. The eighty-four-minute film is divided into roughly ten sections of public-domain, concert, interview, and even experimental cinema footage documenting each composer. The archival collage, like the creative history it depicts, is initially disjunct but coheres later on; artist Laurie Anderson narrates but the musical soundtrack is the real throughline.
To create their new musical vocabulary, these composers used an array of existing technology and also developed their own. Clara Rockmore popularized the theremin (an electronic instrument controlled by hand movements in air rather than physical contact). Suzanne Ciani fell in love with Buchla modular synthesizers. Éliane Radigue used the ARP 2500 to create airplane-inspired soundscapes. Daphne Oram collected tape machines from World War II and basic lab equipment to establish first a BBC electronic music division and then her own studio. When available tools were insufficient, Wendy Carlos helped advance the Moog keyboard, Bebe Barron built her own circuitry, and Laurie Spiegel programmed compositional software for Macs.
Electronic music lends itself to interdisciplinary collaboration, and Maryanne Amacher reached beyond art and technology to integrate scientific research into her compositions. Conscious that the mammalian ear introduces distortions—phantom tones—which modify acoustic input, Amacher “established practical and conceptual groundwork that centered auditory processes in composition.” These women were doing the basic science of composing: there was no guaranteed profit or application from their efforts. In fact, electronic music was unpopular with both labor unions and the public alike. But the aesthetic influence of World Wars and space exploration eventually required new sounds. The MGM sci-fi Forbidden Planet (1956) featured Bebe Barron’s music as the first all-electronic film score; the film’s dying monster was the sound of a “dying” circuit. Seven years later, Delia Derbyshire—an Oxford mathematician turned composer—created the original Doctor Who theme song and shifted English public opinion on electronic music. Suzanne Ciani became the first woman to score a major Hollywood movie in 1981, and electronic music transitioned into public consciousness and pop music with the help of Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach album.
These composers went beyond tinkering with radios: their work made social demands. They challenged traditional structures and founded influential departments. Oliveros explicitly correlated her electronic music with societal responsibilities during the Vietnam and Cold War eras, and her theoretical writings are still instructive today. She insisted that deep listening is radical attentiveness that gathers meaning, interprets, and ultimately shapes culture by deciding on action. These composers did exactly that, changing our soundscapes and cultural practices; Sisters with Transistors turns up their sound.
Sisters with Transistors had its U.S. premiere through Metrograph online 23 April 2021 and at the time of writing was only available through 06 May 2021. https://sisterswithtransistors.com/
1 Hudspeth, A. ‘Integrating the active process of hair cells with cochlear function’, Nat Rev Neurosci, 15 [online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3786 (Accessed 02 May 2021)
2 Cimini, A. and Dietz, B. (eds.) (2020). Maryanne Amacher: Selected Writings and Interviews. Brooklyn, NY: Blank Forms Editions
A few weeks ago, a new resident moved into my apartment. We are already a full house: four humans, one cat, 500ish worms, and possibly some undetected mice or roaches residing in the walls. So, when a perky little axolotl dropped their bags in our doorway, I was a bit concerned with how they’d fit in. Luckily, I had nothing to be worried about. “Boba” is a delightful but unobtrusive housemate, and they even set their tank up right in front of the door to greet us all when we get home! This month, I finally made some time to get to know Boba better and also learned some things about axolotl biology. Boba’s answers were translated by César Vargas and Marley Kern.
Audrey Goldfarb: What does it mean to be “neotenic”?
Boba: I am a baby. Basically, I am forever a baby salamander, never a grown-up salamander. So, I’ll never go through metamorphosis like my frog and salamander cousins.
AG: What is the most juvenile thing about you?
B: My humans say I’m picky because I like my worms cut up into little pieces and they have to wash them for me. I spit my food out when I don’t want it.
AG: Conversely, are you especially mature in any way?
B: No…not really
AG: If you could, what would you want to be when you grow up?
B: Well, I don’t really grow up, I just get bigger! But when I’m big I wanna be a worm biologist so I can study worms and figure out which is the tastiest!
AG: What are your hobbies?
B: Going with the flow and hanging out in the floating garden in my tank.
AG: Do your humans give you treats?
B: Not yet, they said when I’m bigger they’ll let me try new foods.
AG: Do your humans give you words of affirmation?
B: Mmmmhmmm! They tell me how cute and cool I am. I like it when they talk to me.
AG: What is an issue you’re passionate about?
B: Composting! It’s where the humans keep my worm dinners! They say it’s good for other stuff too, but I don’t know what else it would do.
AG: Do you have any hot takes?
B: I think fish are overrated, much better as snacks than pets. Also, I don’t get why there’s a big deal about my extinction, like I’m obviously alive, why do they say I’m going extinct?
AG: Would you consider donating your body to science?
B: Yup! I can grow my body parts back anyway, so I can donate an arm and a leg if science asks me!
AG: Do you get lonely?
B: Not too lonely, I’m watching the fluffy pet that runs around outside my tank.
AG: Your tank is in a perfect spot to see everyone coming and going throughout the day. Do you find human behavior entertaining?
B: Yeah! They look so funny on two legs, like, why do they do that? I like four legs much better. Sometimes their coming and going also interrupts my naps, but I know they are busy humans.
AG: Describe your perfect Saturday.
B: Take a walk around the tank, find a good spot to float, and nap the day away dreaming about worms.
AG: What is your favorite thing about your humans?
B: They take good care of me and give me yummy worms!
Duccio di Buoninsegna and His School, by James H. Stubblebine, is a two-volume set of books examining the fascinating period of early Italian Renaissance art from 1285 up to about 1330. The second volume features over 500 black and white photographs of the paintings discussed in volume one, including each of the surviving works of Duccio (b. c1255-60; d. 1319) and many of those by his assistants and fellow artists in Sienna.
Art experts and novices alike prepare their pilgrimages to museums, churches, galleries, and civic and cultural centers by studying ahead of time the artifacts they’ll encounter. Full color and black and white reproductions in books such as Stubblebine’s provide the essential tools for comprehending the history of an original piece, including the painter’s personal background, how his or her creations reflect the historical epoch in which they were constructed, where an individual painting fits into the overall oeuvre of the artist, and the circumstances under which the work of art was commissioned. When lacking detailed primary documentation, art historians painstakingly examine and opine about individual paintings, sculptures, etc., in the hope of identifying the artist who created it.
Reading Stubblebine’s detailed analysis of every known work by Duccio and his school, one senses that the study itself is in some cases as equally gratifying as viewing the actual work of art. The real thing is, of course, usually superlative to the printed duplicate, but that does not take away from the important role played by art historians who share their expertise, supplemented by photographic replicas, to train and prepare dedicated readers on what to look for in the presence of original art.
The Maestà is a masterpiece of early Italian Renaissance painting by Duccio and a perfect example of how reading about art assists in the enjoyment of the object. I have viewed reproductions of the central panel of The Maestà for decades, along with the sixty autograph or workshop-produced smaller works that complement it. Upon seeing it in person in Sienna, it became clear that no book, photo, or film could replicate the stunning beauty and overwhelming presence of the painting. The colors are muted yet unexpectedly bright at appropriate times, with the bold central figures of the Virgin and Child surrounded by a multitude of Saints presented in awe-inspiring symmetry. Duccio’s mystic expression is placed within the confines of idealized beauty that’s neither of heavenly eternity, nor set in a static “time and place.” Somehow the subject and painting are also outside the realm of our tangible world.
Stubblebine’s description of the painting in Duccio and His School and the Volume Two book plates are of service in explaining its meaning and where it lies in historical context within the progression of art history. The book’s analysis of the dozens of works created to accompany The Maestà is extraordinarily helpful, since when you are in the presence of such wonder, there’s no conceivable way to take it all in unless you have hours and hours to spend in that one single room, choosing to abandon the multitude of additional treasures that Sienna offers elsewhere. At home, reading in the evening by lamplight, one has the luxury of time and multiple sittings with the book for a careful study of the entire project.
Duccio’s The Rucellai Madonna (1286) has the honor of being one of the first masterworks on display when entering The Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It is situated close to similarly large wonders by Duccio’s brethren of the late 1200s and early 1300s, Cimabue and Giotto. Reproductions of The Rucellai Madonna are unable to capture its essence and power of presentation, but as with the sixty predella works of The Maestà, there are thirty small rondels surrounding the Virgin, Child, and angels, which most visitors to the museum give but a cursory glance. With an in-depth study such as Stubblebine’s book, the reader is treated to a Sherlock Holmes-like revelation and tale of how art historians identified as best they could who is represented in these small works and what meaning the figures may have held in Duccio’s time.
One of Kenneth Clark’s finest books is Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance (1966), a detailed study of how Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) in his prints and paintings was influenced by the Italian works of art he was most likely exposed to during his lifetime. A memorable sequence in the book is the enthusiastic description of varying states of Rembrandt’s print created in 1665, Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo). Clark undertakes an exacting discussion of the architecture of the scene and how Rembrandt developed and made radical changes on the etching’s plate as he worked out the ultimate expression of the scene, aided by what he learned from the Italian masters of the Renaissance. These pages about the prints are in many ways much more interesting than the actual images on paper themselves.
While watching the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, I noticed that director Mel Gibson’s set depicting ancient Jerusalem for the Ecce Homo scene of the Christ story owed a great deal to Rembrandt’s print. The movie, dubbed by one film critic as “the most violent film ever made,” displays Ecce Homo as a revelation guided by the director’s use of the setting in which the action unfolds, thereby giving the moment a power unequaled in other films centering on the New Testament. The sequence in The Passion when Pontius Pilate shouts out to the angry mob below him in the ancient square his infamous declaration Ecce Homo! (Behold the Man), enhances the understanding of Rembrandt’s prints as a study in the delicate balance of place and people in art, with classic architecture manipulated in service of religious expression and emotion.
Standing in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico’s Sala dei Nove to view the fresco series painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338 and May 1339) is one of life’s great pleasures. I’ve seen countless photos and posters of the walls, which display in a complicated allegory warning to the politicians of late medieval Siena that corruption, dishonesty, and ignoring the will of the people is but a path leading to inevitable disaster. When I walked into the chamber, all of my past “training” seemed to dissipate, and the many chapters I’d read about the cycle’s meaning and history refused to be called forth to consciousness. In addition, I was literally shocked by how many large sections of the frescos had disappeared forever due to the merciless, ravaging Hand of Time, leaving sections of exposed plaster here and there. As I finally began to get my bearings, the wonder of the art overwhelmed me and the sumptuous details of Lorenzetti’s masterpiece spoke of varying joys, pains, dances, and deaths, a wonder of experience.
Father’s Day this year is June 20. Founded by a woman who was raised by her widowed father, it has been celebrated in this country on the third Sunday in June for almost a hundred years. Despite its popularity, it took more than sixty years to be recognized as a federal holiday in the United States.
Sonora Smart Dodd is the person credited with starting the Father’s Day tradition we now practice in the United States. She was born in 1882 in Arkansas to Civil War veteran William Smart and his wife Ellen. The family moved to a farm outside of Spokane, Washington in 1889. In 1898 Sonora’s mother died giving birth to her sixth child. William raised all six children with the help of his only daughter. Sonora later married John Dodd. In 1909 she heard a church sermon about the newly established holiday, Mother’s Day. She felt strongly that men like her father should be honored, too. She approached church ministers about having such a day on June 5, her father’s birthday. The ministers felt they didn’t have enough time by that day, so they held it on June 19, 1910, the third Sunday of that June. Dodd also appealed to shopkeepers, the YMCA, and politicians. During the 1920s Dodd attended the Art Institute of Chicago, but after graduation she returned to Spokane and again worked to get support for and promote her idea.
In 1913 a bill declaring Father’s Day was introduced in Congress but did not pass due to fears that it was just a commercial holiday. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson celebrated by sending a telegraph to Spokane to raise some flags. He also supported making Father’s Day a holiday but couldn’t get it passed. President Calvin Coolidge recommended making it a holiday in 1924, but never issued a proclamation. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued a presidential proclamation honoring fathers on the third Sunday in June. Finally in 1972, sixty-three years after Dodd first started petitioning, President Richard Nixon made Father’s Day an official federal holiday.
There was evidence for the politicians’ fear of commercialization of the holiday. Even when Dodd first started promoting the holiday, she had the help of several trade associations, who realized that they could benefit from a new holiday, particularly manufacturers of menswear and tobacco. The Great Depression spurred retailers to further promote men’s gifts for that day. By the 1980s the Father’s Day Council noted that it was a “second Christmas for the men’s gift-oriented industries.”
Some sources claim that the tradition of Father’s Day was started in West Virginia, but this is not the case. In December of 1907, a coal mine exploded in Monongah, West Virginia. Over three hundred men were killed. The following spring, Grace Golden Clayton proposed a service in her church to honor all the fathers among the victims. It was only meant to be a one-time event, held on July 5, 1908. The sermon was never published, the event was never promoted beyond that specific date and town. It wasn’t celebrated again until many years later when Father’s Day had become popular.
Many European countries celebrate fatherhood on March 19, also known as Saint Joseph’s Day. The Catholic Church promoted this custom as far back as 1508. Early Spanish and Portuguese immigrants continued this tradition here. Many other countries around the world have taken up the American-style celebration of Father’s Day in June. Germany has had a unique practice since the 1700s. They celebrate a men’s day or gentleman’s day on Ascension Thursday, which is forty days after Easter. Groups of men will walk to some destination pulling a wagon full of wine and beer bottles and some provincial food, usually including ham. This goes back to an old farming tradition where a town would recognize the man with the most children with a prize. During the twentieth century, the tradition had become an excuse to drink heavily. Germany’s Federal Statistical Office reports that traffic accidents increase by threefold that day.
Today the practice in the United States is to give one’s father conventionally gender-oriented gifts such as ties, tools, or sports gear. Some families may get together for a Father’s Day brunch or cook-out. And there are many greeting cards sent each year. It will be interesting to see how the holiday evolves in the future.
Several recent, widely publicized attacks on the Asian American community have spotlighted the rise in anti-Asian sentiment and racism in America. This is not a sudden or new development, but the result of years of pernicious racism. We wish to express, in no uncertain terms, our support for and solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Racism will not be tolerated. Discrimination will not be tolerated. We stand together with #AAPI.
We invite you to use Natural Selections as a platform to share your thoughts and experiences regarding these issues. If you wish to submit a piece, we encourage you to contact our editorial staff. Now is the time to use our voices to lift up the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Science Saturday, Rockefeller’s annual campus-wide festival of science education and exploration, is a gem of RockEDU’s community outreach. Last year, as COVID cases began to spike in New York City, RockEDU was forced to pull the plug on Science Saturday after months of hard work, meticulous planning, and anticipation.
School closures and remote learning have increased the demand for online learning tools across the globe. Considering the major role of COVID researchers and policy makers in mitigating the pandemic, widespread science education and communication between experts and non-experts is particularly critical.
Jeanne Garbarino, director of RockEDU science outreach, took on the challenge of designing a virtual Summer Science Research Program (SSRP). With years of experience doing outreach,expertise in designing and conducting experiments, and support from a team of scientists, Garbarino was prepared to develop and execute virtual “lab” experiences. Still, the year was a learning experience for her, too. “I don’t think I’ve learned more in twenty years of engagement than I have in this one year of doing engagement,” Garbarino said.
Without a physical lab space to work with, Garbarino used common household items to design experiments. Fortunately, this was familiar territory. She’s notorious in her household for cultivating creatures in expired food, including a fungus-inhabited bottle of maple syrup. With Garbarino’s guidance, students grew their own wild yeast and bacteria strains at home and precipitated DNA with isopropanol.
Making do without expensive equipment and reagents, Garbarino soon realized, had a silver lining. “I’m not letting my context confine what I can do,” she said. “That is the thing that made us connect with kids.”
Decentralizing the process of experimentation made science more accessible. “After participating in the SSRP Program, I am deeply aware of the fact that science is not a field only some have access to, but rather it is an endeavor that anyone can contribute to anywhere (even in their own homes!),” one student said.
Using a virtual platform, Jeanne and her team were less limited by material resources and space than they were previously. This allowed them to expand their cohort by 58%, accepting sixty-three students for 2020.
Bringing science into the home encouraged family members to engage as well. One student mentioned that her five-year-old sister began pipetting with a bulb syringe after observing her older sibling perform experiments.
The RockEDU team is also striving to incorporate new teaching philosophy into their programs. Garbarino challenges traditional research dogma by expanding her students’ understanding of scientific reasoning. Strictly hypothesis driven research is not the be-all and end-all. For example, Garbarino said, classification and categorization are imperative and undervalued approaches to discovery. “The way that students are being taught the scientific method in schools is very linear and does not account for messiness or experimentation,” she said. “RockEDU is working to give students options in terms of ways of knowing.”
Further, the team is working to integrate wonder into teaching and discovery. “We’ve been going deep into social science literature around the concept of wonder for a mechanism of building competence in STEM,” Garbarino said. “The utility of science has overshadowed the wonder of science.”
This summer, RockEDU’s SSRP is going international. By teaching virtually, the team will be able to accommodate seventy students. They received over 800 applications from seven time zones, including applicants from Mexico, Korea, China, Turkey, and a dozen states in the U.S.
Reflecting on the year, Garbarino has no regrets. There was no handbook on doing outreach during a pandemic, but she leveraged her expertise and passion to achieve the best possible outcome. “I did not drop the ball and I’m proud of that.”
Science Saturday this year will be held virtually on May 8. Registration is required to participate.
I came to musical awareness at age five in the early 1960s when my parents played records on our home “hi-fi” system featuring the mellow folk songs of The Kingston Trio and The Tarriers, as well as soundtracks of their favorite Broadway musicals. Like many children and young people at the time, my interests in popular music shifted direction forever when the 1964 British Invasion led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones took America by storm. In three short years, the music would exponentially grow increasingly complex and innovative and by decade’s end, the power of recorded music seemed to have infinite possibilities.
Jimi Hendrix is rightly considered a musical genius who expanded the possibilities of what the electric guitar could deliver in the dexterous hands of a Stratocaster-wielding, guitar-burning, psychedelic sage. His 1969 unaccompanied rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Woodstock Festival is worthy of an essay of its own as an awe-inspiring performance of America’s national anthem, punctuated by the violent wails and mayhem of Hendrix’s guitar recreation of “the bombs bursting in midair.” That moment in music history might also be considered an emphatic, full stop end to that infamous decade of political, cultural, and social upheaval.
My favorite solo on an album by Hendrix appears on the double LP, Electric Ladyland released in 1968. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is performed by his power trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and is the last track on the last studio album recorded by the group. Hendrix died of a heroin overdose eleven months after Electric Ladyland’s release. Several famous musicians and vocalists died young in the late 1960s and early 1970s soon after releasing an album. Such collections are often scrutinized as the artist’s “final statement.” Jim Morrison’s final track with his band, The Doors, on LA Woman, “Riders on the Storm,” is a chilling tale akin to a short story written by a Los Angeles-based mystery writer. With “Riders,” the listener is not quite sure if murder is imminent and all of Morrison’s details and observations are chilling. Morrison, the so-called “Lizard King,” sings melodically in a voice doubled on the recording by a quiet, eerie, rasping whisper:
Girl, ya gotta love your man
Take him by the hand
Make him understand
The world on you depends
Our life will never end
Gotta love your man, yeah…
Morrison quit The Doors after recording LA Woman and it sounds as if he is bidding us adieu on “Riders” with his trademark emotionally detached intonations and poetry. He’d be dead in a bathtub in Paris within three months of the LP’s release.
Hendrix masterfully produced Electric Ladyland, and to realize the sheer sonic power and experience the full force of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” it is advantageous to listen with headphones either relaxed with eyes shut or in repose in the dark. Guitars swirl magically around the inner recesses of the mind as Hendrix solos, abbreviated chords and notes bouncing ear to ear, and somehow up and down, north to south, heaven to Earth. Hendrix’s guitar boasts perfected distortion and he whammy-bars his guitar at times as if entering a realm far beyond the daily pale.
One might speculate that Hendrix is prophesizing his approaching demise and worldly departure, yet the song is in no manner equivalent to, say, the pained vocal expression of imminent suicide by Kurt Cobain on Nirvana’s final track, “No Apologies.” Hendrix sounds like the liberated soul he’d always been as a musician and is now taking it one step further towards the beyond. It’s as if he’s declaring potential freedom from the body with exuberance, and with a chuckle to boot (observe his slightly self-amused delivery of the utterance, “uh”):
If I don’t meet you no more in this world then, uh—
I’ll meet ya on the next one
And don’t be late!
Don’t be late!
In nearly all interviews with Hendrix filmed in the 1960s, he sounds positive, optimistic, energetic, and impassioned about life and music. To lose him to heroin is a crime and a shame. I wouldn’t define his death by overdose as a plea for help or an expression of life’s futility, akin to the depressive circumstances surrounding the death of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones in 1969, who drowned while “inebriated” in his swimming pool. I would never condone the motto “live fast, die young.” I see Jimi Hendrix as a loving individual whose drug use ended up robbing his listeners, family, and friends of his presence and art. Listening to the lightning fast, electric runs on “Voodoo Child,” the fiery notes akin to brilliant white-hot sparks of ideas, one mourns what might have been had he not left us so tragically soon.
Speaking of power rock trios and speed of light guitar licks, the solo by Eric Clapton on “I’m So Glad” appearing on 1969’s Goodbye Cream, is my absolute favorite rock solo. Goodbye was the band’s fourth and final album and the first three tracks on it are live recordings from appearances by the group in 1968. In filmed interviews for the 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker, director Ray Bulger’s first questions to the intense virtuoso drummer of Cream, Ginger Baker (d. 2019) is along the lines of “What did you, Jack Bruce [bassist; d. 2014] and Eric Clapton have in common that made Cream so unique?” After ridiculing the stupidity of the question, Baker, who lived his life in a state of constant furious and bitter anger, shouts out, “Time!” and expounds on how each was blessed with an internal “gift of time.”
“I’m so Glad,” the nine minute-plus first track on Goodbye, has from my first listen as a twelve-year-old seemed impossibly conceived, since the manically paced guitar solo by Clapton, with his improvised diversions, long, short, soft, or loud, are met instantaneously by mirrored extrapolations on his themes by both Baker and Bruce. Cream metamorphosizes as the song progresses into a three-headed, blindfolded monster sharing one brain as they wildly engineer a locomotive traveling at rocket speed. Bands such as The Grateful Dead, who also played “telepathically,” would nod and smile at each other as they engaged in their musical universe of magic. When viewing the films of Cream, this trio of British chaps rarely glance at each other (with the exception of the 2005 reunion concert filmed in London where there are many lovely moments of endearing nods and smiles) and Bruce often plays with his eyes closed. Cream had the unity and mindset of the best of live jazz improvisation, and it is no wonder that Baker always referred to the group as a jazz band expressing the blues rather than a rock band of any kind.
There are so many fabulous solos in rock music history, including Jimmy Page’s brilliant work on “Stairway to Heaven” (1971), Pete Townsend’s powerhouse performance of “Young Man Blues” on The Who’s Live at Leeds album (1970), and Alvin Lee with the band 10 Years After performing “I’m Going Home” at Woodstock. When the era of rock and roll guitar “gunslinger” soloing peaks in the 1970s, the technical speed of, for example, the finale of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” (1973), feels as if the manic virtuosity is for the sake of itself with no meaning except to dance about madly at a concert or listen to while downing multiple brews at a bar. These purposeless solos epitomize the downright ignorant slogan, “Sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Party on, Wayne!
Talents such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, George Harrison, Peter Townsend, Buddy Guy, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Jorma Kaukonen, and Jeff Beck (who remains defiantly in a league of his own to this day) speak to their audience by communicating through their guitar phrases a vital expression of an inner state conceived and channeled through uniquely beautiful music. These artists and many others brought rock and pop music into the realm of joyful experience and created a newly found category within the arts, discovering a space where complex ideas and emotions find an overwhelming mode of powerful expression.
This month I was lucky enough to meet Punxsutawney “Punx” Pill, a pill bug who currently resides with Camila Villasante, a Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. student, and Denis Torre, a Ph.D. student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Per CDC guidelines, Punx preferred to perform the interview over Zoom. Although he is over 60 in pill years, the vaccine has not yet been approved for crustaceans. Punx’s reputation as a cute but astute pill preceded him, so I was a bit nervous going into the interview, but Punx’s keen demeanor immediately put me at ease.
Audrey Goldfarb: It’s an honor to finally meet you, somewhat in person! To start off, could you tell me the meaning behind your name?
Punx: On February 2, I was going for my usual morning walk. I started under my little rock, then came into the sunlight. Suddenly I saw my shadow! It scared me so much that I almost rolled into a ball. My humans, Camila and Denis, saw this, and named me Punxsutawney Pill Bug, “Punx” for short. Sorry everybody for the six more weeks of winter…
AG: Wow, I’m glad Camila and Denis saw you before they stepped on you! How long had you known them before you introduced yourself?
P: I’m a shy little bug, honestly. I really wanted to befriend Camila and Denis but was nervous they’d be scared of me. So, for a few months I crawled around the walls of their apartment to test the waters until they decided to adopt me!
AG: Well, clearly you had nothing to worry about. But I heard you underwent a move a couple months ago, one of life’s most stressful events. How was that?
P: Whew. I don’t have many belongings, being a pill bug, so thankfully the move itself wasn’t so bad. But the change of scenery was big. Denis had just made a terrarium full of goodies and tasty treats from Central Park (soil, decaying leaves, moss…great stuff). Moving from the barren apartment walls to a toasty greenhouse was actually great—and did wonders for my pores. I made fast friends with the two worms in my terrarium (courtesy of Irene Duba, Ph.D. fellow at Rockefeller).
AG: You look like you’re in great shape. What’s your secret?
P: Aw shucks, Audrey, thanks for asking! I’ve been doing a lot of virtual pill-ates recently because I’m working on my pill-bod for pond season this summer.
AG: Nice, I love the pond too! Maybe I’ll see you there sometime. Speaking of getting out and about this summer, do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
P: As a pill bug, there is nothing I love more than curling up into a little ball. So, while it may seem like I’m an extrovert talking to you Audrey, I am definitely an introvert!
AG: I would have never guessed! What do you hope to check off your bucket list in 2021?
P: I want to go on a pill-grimage to Pill-adelphia this summer. All my friends will be there.
AG: Do you find the term “roly poly” offensive?
P: Frankly, the term alarms me a little bit. But at least it’s not “cheesy bugs” or “monkey peas” like they say in England.
AG: Noted. Switching the subject, do you have a traditional owner-pet relationship with Camila and Denis, or do you consider yourself independent?
P: My humans check on me from time-to-time, like last week when they found a centipede in my terrarium and vanquished it for me (So scary! So many legs!), but otherwise I’m a pretty independent pill.
AG: You certainly seem like you’ve got it all together! What are you planning to do with your stimulus check?
P: As an Upper East Side pill bug, I really want to get myself a pill-oton bike. I need to get a special bike with seven sets of pedals for all my legs, though—so it’ll cost me a small fortune!
AG: Are you single?
P: My humans keep asking me when I’m going to have grand-pills for them! But I’m just waiting for the right pill-partner to crawl by.
AG: I’m sure the ideal partner is out there for you, pill bug or otherwise. In the meantime, how do you unwind at the end of a long day?
P: By cracking open a nice, cold Pill-sner.
Poetry: Dr. Konstantina Theofanopoulou (instagram: @newyork_rhymes)One line art: Mikaella Theofanopoulou (instagram: @m_theta _art)
Sofia Axelrod of the Young Laboratory at The Rockefeller University would like to announce the release of her recently authored book, How Babies Sleep—The Gentle, Science-Based Method to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. Axelrod combined her experience as a parent with her research in the Young Laboratory as a neuroscientist to develop a method rooted in science for sleep training babies. Following its initial release in the United States last August, How Babies Sleep has been released in many countries around the world, including Italy last month, with more to follow in the coming years. How Babies Sleep is available for purchase online in paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats.
Email Megan E. Kelley at email@example.com to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events. Digital and online events/releases are welcome!