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The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie

Sullivan searches for the real story behind two phantom voices that recorded songs for Paramount in the early 1930s:

No grave site, no photograph. Forget that — no anecdotes. This is what set Geeshie and Elvie apart even from the rest of an innermost group of phantom geniuses of the ’20s and ’30s. Their myth was they didn’t have anything you could so much as hang a myth on. The objects themselves — the fewer than 10 surviving copies, total, of their three known Paramount releases, a handful of heavy, black, scratch-riven shellac platters, all in private hands — these were the whole of the file on Geeshie and Elvie, and even these had come within a second thought of vanishing, within, say, a woman’s decision in cleaning her parents’ attic to go against some idle advice that she throw out a box of old records and instead to find out what the junk shop gives. When she decides otherwise, when the shop isn’t on the way home, there goes the music, there go the souls, ash flakes up the flue, to flutter about with the Edison cylinder of Buddy Bolden’s band and the phonautograph of Lincoln’s voice.

PUBLISHED: April 12, 2014
LENGTH: 55 minutes (13953 words)

Examining the Religious, Economic, Architectural, and Cultural Facets of Gentrification: A Reading List

This week's picks from Emily includes stories from Christena Cleveland, Gothamist, The New York Times, and New Geography.
PUBLISHED: March 30, 2014

A Fight Is Brewing

They’re identical twins, both world-renowned beer makers, and they hate each other:

The Danish press has caught the conflict’s biblical whiff, casting Mikkel and Jeppe as sworn enemies. Thomas Schon, Mikkeller’s first employee, told me that the twins suffer from a pronounced personality clash: “It was a big relief for Mikkel when Jeppe moved to Brooklyn. It was like the Danish beer scene wasn’t big enough for the two of them.” Mikkeller’s operations manager, Jacob Gram Alsing, said that the subject of Jeppe “is very sensitive for Mikkel to talk about.” Mikkel himself put it this way: “You know Oasis? The Gallagher brothers? They were one of the most successful bands in the world, but those guys had problems with each other.” With twins, he said, “it’s a matter of seeing yourself in another person, and sometimes seeing something you don’t like.”

PUBLISHED: March 26, 2014
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4681 words)

What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden

Did Pakistan know that Osama bin Laden was hiding inside the country? Carlotta Gall, who's been reporting for the Times from Afghanistan and Pakistan, investigates:

Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention.

PUBLISHED: March 22, 2014
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5090 words)

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our favorite stories this week, featuring the New York Times Magazine, New Yorker, Tin House, The Awl and The Walrus.
PUBLISHED: March 14, 2014

Gold in the Mud

The Twisted Saga of Jailhouse Boxer James Scott's Battle for Redemption:

Prison inmate No. 57735, accused of murder and serving a 30-40 year stretch inside Rahway State Prison for armed robbery, introduced himself in a letter to reporter Beth Schenerman at The New York Times on Dec. 17, 1978, writing, in a rare moment of understatement, "This is a unique story." After returning to prison three years earlier, the former professional boxer had long since been recognized as one of the most feared and dangerous of the 1,150 inmates then living behind the walls of New Jersey's most notorious maximum-security prison, a place journalist Ralph Wiley described "as if the world had dropped the sum of its sores into one of New Jersey's gritty smokestacks, then chose not to watch as the results of the experiment filtered down into place."

PUBLISHED: March 12, 2014
LENGTH: 37 minutes (9381 words)

The Story of the Kitty Genovese Story

Nicholas Lemann looks at the implications of the media’s coverage of the Kitty Genovese story:

An excellent example is the murder of Kitty Genovese, a twenty-eight-year-old bar manager, by Winston Moseley, a twenty-nine-year-old computer punch-card operator, just after three in the morning on Friday, March 13, 1964, in Kew Gardens, Queens. The fact that this crime, one of six hundred and thirty-six murders in New York City that year, became an American obsession—condemned by mayors and Presidents, puzzled over by academics and theologians, studied in freshman psychology courses, re-created in dozens of research experiments, even used four decades later to justify the Iraq war—can be attributed to the influence of one man, A. M. Rosenthal, of the New York Times.

PUBLISHED: March 10, 2014
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3347 words)

All Aboard: Four Stories About Trains

This week's reading list by Emily includes stories from The New York TImes, n+1, and Der Spiegel.
PUBLISHED: March 9, 2014

Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney

Ron Suskind explores how his autistic son Owen found a voice through the lessons and sidekicks in Disney films. The story is an excerpt from the journalist’s new book, Life, Animated:

Owen’s chosen affinity clearly opened a window to myth, fable and legend that Disney lifted and retooled, just as the Grimm Brothers did, from a vast repository of folklore. Countless cultures have told versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” which dates back 2,000 years to the Latin “Cupid and Psyche” and certainly beyond that. These are stories human beings have always told themselves to make their way in the world.

But what draws kids like Owen to these movies is something even more elemental. Walt Disney told his early animators that the characters and the scenes should be so vivid and clear that they could be understood with the sound turned off. Inadvertently, this creates a dream portal for those who struggle with auditory processing, especially, in recent decades, when the films can be rewound and replayed many times.
PUBLISHED: March 9, 2014
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9118 words)