Drawn and recorded: Blind Willie in space

3 minutes

Walter Lippmann, public opinion and propaganda

18 minutes

Eli

4 minutes

I came from the unknown to sing

11 minutes

Do you think science…

6 minutes

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Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, and brilliant is that song drifting through space

‘Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.’
Carl Sagan, on including Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927) on the Voyager Golden Records

The US gospel blues musician and evangelist ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson was born to a sharecropping family in the small town of Pendleton, Texas in 1897. After learning to play a cigar-box guitar, he performed as a popular street musician throughout Texas, eventually recording 30 songs for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930. Little notice was taken of his death in 1945, and much of his biography remains a mystery. What is certain, however, is that today his legendary low-register howl and slide guitar persists, both on our planet and in interstellar space. Here on Earth, his music influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Howlin’ Wolf. And just beyond the reaches of our solar system, his recording of his song Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927) is one of 27 pieces of music selected for the Voyager spacecraft’s famed ‘Golden Records’, intended to capture the range of musical expression. This instalment from the US animator Drew Christie’s series Drawn & Recorded combines biography and mythology to recount how Johnson’s music made the unlikely journey from the streets of rural Texas to the stars.

Director: Drew Christie

Writers: Drew Christie, Bill Flanagan

Narrator: T Bone Burnett

Producers: T Bone Burnett, Bill Flanagan, Van Toffler

Website: Gunpowder & Sky

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Before Chomsky, there was Lippmann: the First World War and ‘manufactured consent’

While the ‘manufacture of consent’ is an idea now mostly associated with Noam Chomsky, the phrase was actually coined by the US journalist and writer Walter Lippman in his influential book Public Opinion (1922) – a fact that Chomsky and Edward S Herman, his co-author of Manufacturing Consent (1988), readily acknowledge. Lippman contended that, because the world is too complex for any individual to comprehend, a strong society needs people and institutions specialised in collecting data and creating the most accurate interpretations of reality possible. When used properly, this information should allow decisionmakers to ‘manufacture consent’ in the public interest. However, in one of the most damning critiques of democracy, Lippman identifies how public opinion is instead largely forged by political elites with self-serving interests – powerful people manipulating narratives to their own ends. This video essay from the YouTube channel Then & Now dives into Lippman’s legacy, starting with his study of the rise of the importance of public opinion during the First World War, and extending through an examination of why, a century after Public Opinion, democracy still has a major mass-media problem.

Director: Lewis Waller

Video by Then & Now

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How the devotion of a canine companion enhanced the life of a disability advocate

Lorna Marsh, a UK dance instructor and disability rights advocate, uses a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy quadriplegia, which also limits the use of her arms. When the charity Canine Partners for Independence offered her an assistance dog, Marsh was initially reluctant to accept, worried that a working dog might not enjoy a fulfilling life. But she soon found that beyond helping her live with more freedom, her new dog Eli was a true companion, their relationship brimming with affection, mutual enjoyment and a bit of mischief. The UK filmmaker and casting director Leanne Flinn’s film Eli (2010) is a day in the life of Marsh and her canine partner, featuring many of the roughly 300 commands Eli has been trained to perform, as well as a hefty dose of play. The heartwarming short was created as part of the straight 8 project, which challenges filmmakers to craft shorts using only a single cartridge of Super 8 film with no additional post-production editing.

Director: Leanne Flinn

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‘My cell is smaller than my size’ – how writing poetry saved a political prisoner

The poet Ghazi Hussein was born to a Palestinian family exiled in Syria. Starting at age 14, he was subjected to 20 years, on and off, of imprisonment and torture, and deemed ‘guilty of carrying thoughts’ though never formally charged. In prison, Hussein often felt hopeless and wished for death but, through his poetry, he was able to build a mental sanctuary that saved his life. In 2000, he arrived in the UK, where, after a three-year legal struggle, he and his family gained political asylum, settling in Edinburgh. Now a BAFTA award-winning playwright and acclaimed poet, Hussein continues to draw on his experience of oppression, using his writing to explore and confront the racism he encounters in Scotland. Despite this, he still considers Edinburgh his first and only home, a place where he has a voice. In this short film by the UK-Iranian artist Roxana Vilk, Hussein reflects on the pain and perseverance that has defined his life, performing poems from his book Taking it Like a Man: Torture and Survival, a Journey in Poetry (2006).

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Can science understand everything? NASA scientists attempt to answer the question

‘Please define everything…’

This short documentary is built around a single question posed in 2005-6 to scientists working at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley: ‘Do you think science can understand everything?’ Most of them pause or take a deep breath before venturing out on such thin ice. From seeking clarity on the meaning of the question, to weighing careful, nuanced answers, to relative certainty one way or the other, their perspectives provide a fascinating window on to the varying motivations and world views of scientists working at the frontiers of human knowledge.

Directors: Ruth Jarman, Joe Gerhardt

Website: Semiconductor Films

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, and brilliant is that song drifting through space

‘Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.’
Carl Sagan, on including Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927) on the Voyager Golden Records

The US gospel blues musician and evangelist ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson was born to a sharecropping family in the small town of Pendleton, Texas in 1897. After learning to play a cigar-box guitar, he performed as a popular street musician throughout Texas, eventually recording 30 songs for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930. Little notice was taken of his death in 1945, and much of his biography remains a mystery. What is certain, however, is that today his legendary low-register howl and slide guitar persists, both on our planet and in interstellar space. Here on Earth, his music influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Howlin’ Wolf. And just beyond the reaches of our solar system, his recording of his song Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927) is one of 27 pieces of music selected for the Voyager spacecraft’s famed ‘Golden Records’, intended to capture the range of musical expression. This instalment from the US animator Drew Christie’s series Drawn & Recorded combines biography and mythology to recount how Johnson’s music made the unlikely journey from the streets of rural Texas to the stars.

Director: Drew Christie

Writers: Drew Christie, Bill Flanagan

Narrator: T Bone Burnett

Producers: T Bone Burnett, Bill Flanagan, Van Toffler

Website: Gunpowder & Sky

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