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As you've noticed, The Celestial Monochord is on a brief vacation. It will be back very soon, I promise! In the mean time, I'm upgrading my workstation so I don't have to upload from work, nor from my wife's computer. I also have two new kittens, and several other distractions ... including ...

I'm finally reading Robert Cantwell's first book, Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound. I haven't read it before because I'm not very interested in bluegrass and when I did read the first two chapters, I found them somewhat peculiar. Now that I'm a little further, I realize the error of my ways. It's great, a worthy predecessor to Cantwell's brilliant When We Were Good: The Folk Revival.

Bluegrass Breakdown will no doubt get a lot of airplay here in the future. For now, I'll briefly commment on the subtitle, "The Making of the Old Southern Sound."

Bluegrass is not an old music, not an ancient folk form. It did not exist before 1945 or 1946, when it was unleashed by Bill Monroe. It's the personal style of that one very original musician — but bluegrass was so widely, enthusiastically, and creatively imitated that it came to be seen as a genre unto itself. Monroe invented bluegrass at the same time others were inventing Rock & Roll.

Nor — in certain significant ways — is it particularly Southern. Monroe grew up on a Kentucky farm, but his family sent him north, in 1929 when he was 18 years old. It was during this long removal from the South, living among other exiles from Appalachia, working in a factory washing out barrels using gasoline, listening to Chicago radio stations, that Monroe began to dream of a contemporary sound that would thrive (or help him thrive) in the environment he occupied.

Bluegrass is nevertheless heard by its audiences as both old and Southern, so Cantwell's book traces "The Making of the Old Southern Sound" — that is, how and why this thoroughly modern music came to be "about" certain times and places from which it did not arise and which it had never actually occupied.

"A Talk on the World" by Clyde Lewis

In April 1967, Clyde Lewis delivered a 3-minute history of the world to a group of maybe one or two dozen spectators gathered in the parking lot of the Union Grove Fiddler's Convention at Union Grove, North Carolina. Mike Seeger was there with his Nagra portable tape recorder to capture the talk, which is now available on Close To Home, an invaluable selection of Seeger's field recordings.

The atmosphere of the parking lot is intense in the 38-year-old recording. Seeger writes that the Fiddler's Convention,

was getting huge and more than a little wild in the late 1960s. It was quite a scene. As I recall, Bessie Jones stayed in the car, probably a wise decision for an elderly Black woman ... People were playing fiddles, banjos, and guitars all over the place, some drinking, others undoubtedly taking other substances ... somebody came and got me, saying "There's somebody over here you need to hear."
Lewis' Talk on the World needs no commentary, but after several years of frequent listening, some exorcism would do me good. It's mesmerizing, in part because my father would have loved this recording more than any other I own. In the late sixties, he was delivering very similar speaches to Knights of Columbus audiences across Illinois.

Lewis begins (I should add that there are no typos in what follows):
My subject for this evening am entitled, "Whyfore, Wherefore, and How Come." But before I starts to commence to begin, there am some mighty important trifles that must be took into sideration before the main subject of the discourse am discoursed on this here elevated platform.
The character Lewis is playing stepped right out of a medicine show, like an overstuffed small-town mayor, a holiness preacher, a snake-oil salesman, or Shakespeare's Polonius. Lewis mainly lampoons the high-falutin' ways of the excessively educated and their obsession, especially at the time, with the idea of progress.

The main target for the Talk on the World is celestial navigation, long the branch of astronomy most useful to navies and corporations. Europe's global empires were built on it.
The world were always round like an apple. This epileptyc shape on account on of the axil what done perperates through the middle of the center in congestion with the latitude of the horizontal. Now then, when the solar plexus of the sun's violet rays congregate on the middle of the bisection, there am set in motion the magnetic conundrum ...
I can't help but be reminded that Lewis and his Appalachian audience — their world so deeply and brutally defined by the mining industry — know very well that the benefits of science and technology are not always evenly shared:
And in the year fourteen and ninety-two AD (AD, understand, mean After Dark), they discovered Columbus, Ohio. That's where the dark ages of history done stopped. Christmas [Columbus] done leave all his men in Ohio, he scoots back to the Queen of Spain, she done tapped him on the head with a sword and made him a knight. The men what stayed in Ohio got tapped on the head with swords and was made angels.
Lewis even reminds the attendees of this Fiddler's Convention of the dubious benefits of modern media technology:
And did you ever stop to think what a great invention the raido am to the chromonology and the welfare of the universe? Sure am a coppious invention. All you got to did am sit right at home and revolvitate the dials and the music am preambilated through the atmosphere and comes right down the chimbley onto your Aunt Emma.
It's clear from the editing of the piece that Seeger has more of Lewis and that day in Union Grove than he's provided on Close To Home, and I rack my brains trying to think of a way to get at those tapes.

Pop, Skip, Hiss and Forget the Lyrics

I've been wondering (here and there) why the records of the 1920's have been returned to generation after generation, seeming to never quit revolutionizing the way their listeners see (and hear) the world. I may never fully figure it out, but a few of the reasons are surprisingly simple.

My favorite of the old recordings might still be Charlie Poole's "White House Blues." Its effect on me is always overwhelming, but uncanny, mysterious. Let's just say it's a stunning record.

More strange still is that Charlie Poole screws up the lyrics on a dozen occasions in the short span of the record's 3 minutes. I'm even not sure what a lot of the lyrics are, they're such a mess. But this is the cut that I'd pick as The Best Song Ever.

There's a live recording of the New Lost City Ramblers from 1978, I guess, where Tracy Schwarz introduces the next song saying,

Here's a song that Henry Whitter and G. B. Grayson gave to the world, like delivering a million, million, million dollars worth of GOLD all on one side of a 78 rpm record. "I've Always Been a Rambler." As far as I'm concerned, that's about the best song they ever put out. When I first heard that, I think I'd of DIED if I couldn't have gotten at it. And here it is, "I've Always Been a Rambler."

And with that, they strike up their obsessively precise imitation of the cut on the 78. What's most surprising is that Schwarz intentionally slurs the lyrics, making them hard to understand — sometimes I wonder if even he knows what the lyrics are supposed to be. Mind you, this is the song Schwarz feels is the greatest artifact in the history of mankind.

It's clear to me that those gaps are a big part of why Schwarz and I listen to these old scratched records, which were almost always cut in one single take and then released "warts and all." Maybelle Carter used to insist on doing multiple takes until she got it perfect, and then was usually frustrated to find that record executive Ralph Peer had chosen one of the takes with a mistake on it. Peer felt that mistakes caused the listeners to lean in closer and concentrate on the record. He was right.

The effort invested by the listener counts for something toward the listener's enjoyment, and the "gaps" in the records are spaces through which the listener's imagination can insinuate itself into the aesthetic experience. In this sense, the old records act the way modern poetry, painting, dance, and other arts do — they seek to force collaboration between artist and audience by leaving open evocative gaps in their meaning. A lot of people these days think that Bob Dylan figured out a way to turn pop music into modern art after spending years straining to understand the old 78 rpm records from the 1920's.

Terri Schiavo and Science in the News

Robert Fludd

At some point during the Terri Schiavo fiasco, I saw a right-wing spokesmodel on CNN say something like, "I was in a coma once and I'm sure glad they didn't kill ME!" So, the neurologist she was debating pointed out that she didn't have the same condition that Schiavo had. CNN's host didn't bother to get this little confusion sorted out during the segment — not even close. But the science did matter, desparately.

Although the science of neurology was the core of the case, all the thousands of hours of coverage did not add up to America's education about the brain. That was a lost opportunity. A great thumbnail discussion of the science behind the Schiavo case was on NPR's Talk of the Nation's Science Friday, but I'm not sure Americans listen to NPR a heck of a lot ...

To my ears, the great unspoken core of the story was the anxiety most people seem to feel around the idea of the brain as the organ of awareness. I find most people dislike the idea that your awareness, wakefulness, personality, emotions, identity, spirituality, consciousness, and soul are all artifacts generated by the meat inside your skull. When the meat goes bad, there's no more "you." As neurology advances, I bet we're going to face increasingly counter-intuitive brain conditions and even more vexing medical and moral decisions. We better get ready, in part by facing the facts.

None of this is to say that the main conflict was between science and religion — after all, Americans of faith were mostly on science's side on this one. As I watched Shiavo's parents fight to keep Terry hanging around, I kept hearing the Carter Family sing "Don't you want to go to heaven? Don't you want God's bosom to be your pillow when the world's on fire?" Perhaps Pete Seeger's re-writing of a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes might have been more persuasive, but I didn't think of it until recently.

Why the 1920's?

Wreck of the Old 97
from "Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol," UNC-Chapel Hill

I'm always writing here about records from the 1920's — so much so, that it might sound like I have "a thing" for them, that I'm just obsessed with that decade for peculiar personal reasons. Maybe. But the main reason the 1920's records keep appearing at The Celestial Monochord is that they are really and objectively special. Something happened in the 1920's that had never happened before, can never happen again, and changed forever a lot more than just music in America.

— — —

The commercial record business started just before 1890 with wax cylinders, and evolved from there. The customers were well-off white city folk — the sort of people who could afford the high-tech gizmo that sound recording was then. For the next 30+ years, this audience bought (and was sold) the sort of music it liked — opera singers, European classical, military bands, Tin Pan Alley pop tunes, etc. Mostly, the recordings only supplemented sheet music, which had long been the primary way people bought music for the home.

Then came the 1920's. Better recording and player technology had been developed and was now inexpensive, making records appealing to a wider audience. Perhaps more important, the record companies were nervous about radio. They imagined their traditional white, well-off customers investing in this new-fangled technology, and then just enjoying its limitless, streaming, high-fidelity music — for free. Why ever buy another record? (Record companies are fretting over the same question today.)

The record industry realized that a vast market was untapped — new immigrants, poor urban and rural whites, and urban and rural blacks. Essentially, anyone who couldn't yet affort a radio.

So, early in the decade, the industry started seeking out musicians who could play what these audiences liked. Such musicians had never been recorded before in human history and their music had been badly under-represented in sheet music. Companies like Vocalion, Paramount, Okeh, and Columbia took mobile recording units into cities throughout the South, or brought the musicians to New York and Chicago.

Today, what we think of today as the earliest days of jazz, the blues, country, folk, bluegrass, and gospel can be vividly heard in the recordings of the 1920's: Dixieland, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Charlie Patton, the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Uncle Dave Macon, Mississippi John Hurt, Clarence Ashley, the Skillet Lickers, Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. J. M. Gates, the Sacred Harp. What came before is generally known only in the most shadowy terms.

The economic bubble of the 1920's burst dramatically with the onset of the Depression. Many record companies went out of business, and the rest slashed their recording schedules. The next time the record business picked up, the U.S. had experienced not only the vastly disruptive Great Depression but the even more vastly disruptive Second World War as well. By then, everything had changed.

In decade after decade since the 1920's, virtually everyone who has mattered to most American music listeners has made these recordings the cornerstone of their work — from Aaron Copeland and George Gershwin to Elvis Presely, from Earl Scruggs to Jimi Hendrix, from Miles Davis and Charlie Parker to Johnny Cash and Gillian Welch ... Perhaps mysteriously, these records have remained an inexhaustibly generous wellspring of inspiration.

Perhaps mysteriously. For me, trying to explain just why this is true — why these records are inexhaustible wellsprings of inspiration — has seemed like the intellectual and spiritual adventure of a lifetime. Why the 1920's? At least a few answers are already clear and are surprisingly concrete. I'll try to mention some in the coming days.

Orphan Songs, Part 8:
Motherless Children Have a Hard Time


Much as in yesterday's story of misheard lyrics, Columbia recording engineers misunderstood the title of Blind Willie Johnson's 1927 recording "Motherless Children Have a Hard Time" to be, instead, "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time," which is how it appeared in their notes and on the label of the publicly-released record.

The background to this story is perhaps less amusing than yesterday's. Willie Johnson's mother died when he was only a baby, probably just before 1905. His father's second marriage didn't go well — to punish Willie's father, his stepmother dashed a pan of lye into 7-year-old Willie's face, blinding him permanently. Willie soon dedicated his life to singing spirituals, and is today often considered one of the best ever recorded.

"Motherless Children Have a Hard Time" is arguably his most widely-known recording. Just on the face of it, the performance is great — its vocals are intense, and its slide "blues" guitar is dazzling. But in light of Johnson's biography, it's one of the most amazing 3 minutes in all of audio recording history. I actually find it a little shocking, as if it's perhaps too intimate a glimpse into Johnson's life. Here are the lyrics, as best as I can tell:

Well, well, well ...
Motherless children have a hard time
Motherless children have a hard time,
When Mother's dead
They'll not have anywhere to go,
Wanderin' around from door to door
Have a hard time

Nobody on earth can take your mother's place
When Mother is dead, Lord
Nobody on earth takes Mother's place
When Mother's dead
Nobody on earth takes Mother's place,
When you were starting, she paved the way
Nobody treats you like Mother will

Your wife, your husband may be good to you
When Mother is dead, Lord
Be good to you, when Mother's dead
Your wife, your husband may be good to you,
But they'll find another and prove untrue
Nobody treats you like Mother will when,
When Mother is dead, Lord

Well some people say that sister will do
When Mother is dead, Lord
Sister will do when Mother's dead
Some people say that sister will do,
Soon as she's married, she'll turn her back on you
Nobody treats you like Mother will

Father will do the best he can
When Mother is dead, Lord
Well, the best he can, when Mother's dead
Father will do the best he can,
But so many things a father can't understand
Nobody treats you like Mother will

Motherless children have a hard time
When Mother is dead, Lord
Motherless children have a hard time, Mother's dead
They'll not have anywhere to go,
Wanderin' around from door to door
Have a hard time

The misreading of "motherless children" as "mother's children" is no great sin. Johnson is admittedly hard to understand — I challenge you to confirm my transcription of the lyrics. It ain't easy.

But the well-heeled, white male recordists from up North apparently heard the song as mourning the fact that children have a hard time because they are "Mother's." Their misunderstanding, however unintentional, was neither random nor neutral. It replaced the story that already existed in the song with one that already existed elsewhere — in the ideas of race and gender that they took with them into the recording session. In doing so, they took the high regard for motherhood actually expressed in the song and turned it almost exactly up-side down.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6   Part 7   Part 8

Misheard Lyrics:
Cave Love Has Gained the Day

Kelly Harrell
Kelly Harrell

Many massive volumes could be written about the musician-recordist relationship, but my favorite stories about these worlds colliding in the 1920's are about the engineers misunderstanding the song titles.

In the 1920's, record companies took a keen interest in southern "folk" musicians — by that, I mean generally amateur musicians who couldn't read music and who learned mostly traditional songs from family members or neighbors. These musicians were typically poor, rural people.

Now, the guys who showed up to record them came from a very different set of worlds — urban, middle- or upper-class, well-educated, and often with rather high-brow musical tastes. Legend has it that they were sometimes appalled at the music they were recording, and mystified that these records often sold extremely well.

At a February 1929 recording session for Victor records, Kelly Harrell sang a song entitled 'Cuz Love Has Gained the Day, but his pronunciation sounds more like 'Caze Love Has Gained the Day.

The engineers recording him that day apparently misunderstood and rather underestimated Harrell, possibly reflecting their attitude toward this Virginia textile factory worker. Their paper work (as well as the label of the record that was actually released to the public) identifies the song as "Cave Love Has Gained the Day." Despite what Harrell actually sang, here are the lyrics that the Victor representatives thought they heard:

Go find your lover like I did
Go find your lover like I did
Go find your lover like I did
Cave love has gained the day

I'd give ten cents to kiss her
I'd give ten cents to kiss her
I'd give ten cents to kiss her
Cave love has gained the day

I'd walk fifty miles to see her (3x)
Cave love has gained the day

I've got some candy to give her (3x)
Cave love has gained the day

I'll try to take it over Saturday (3x)
Cave love has gained the day

I got her a whole dime's worth (3x)
Cave love has gained the day

That's the way I beat the other fellow (3x)
Cave love has gained the day

We'll fly to get married at Christmas (3x)
Cave love has gained the day


The Train to Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium
Photo from Carl Zeiss AG Germany

Beginning when I was about 10 years old, I suppose, I would occasionally take the train to Chicago to see the Adler Planetarium.

I grew up in Palatine, one of dozens of small towns that grew up into suburbs along the railroad tracks running northwest from Chicago out to McHenry and Johnsburg and Harvard, Illinois. I used to lie in bed late at night in the summertime and listen to the train whistle blow in the distance, never imagining it might be a very tired old cliche. Ah, such innocent times ...

I remember my anxiety about asking the train station clerk for the ticket, even though going downtown to the end of the line was the easiest ticket to explain. My mother must've given me the cash for the trip. (Someday, I will write at great length about the countless ways she encouraged my interest in astronomy.)

My eyes never stopped studying the view from the train, which passed through the oldest parts of every town along its route, because, as I say, the towns were born along the tracks. We stopped at their turn-of-the-century depots, which apparently never got around to becoming obsolete. As a result, the picture in my mind's eye of Mount Prospect, Des Plaines, and Park Ridge is rather more charming than those towns probably are. I still don't know for sure to this day.

The end of the line was the Union Station, which was one of the old vaulted, vaunted cathedrals built when trains were the fastest, proudest vehicles on Earth. I remember walking through the station with my face turned upward, staggering slowly across the marble floor, no doubt obstructing business people late for work.

The Adler Planetarium was truly hallowed ground to me then. Its exhibits stayed pretty much the same throughout my entire childhood, so visiting them was more ritual than education for me. That's what I was looking for anyway, a place that understood and affirmed my view of the world, one that only Adler and I could see. There was no secret to it — it was simply ignored by most people. It seemed they had some sort of defect that left them blinded to it.

I was the youngest of seven children, growing up in a crowded house in a claustophobic suburb. The train to the Adler made me feel adult and free, like I owned my whole self, not just the inside of my head. I don't think I felt much like that again until I left home for Tucson, to study astronomy.


Star Pix Wow Space Fans

Hubble Deep Field

The Hubble Deep Field project uses the Hubble Space Telescope to take a kind of "core sample" of the Universe's development. It always comes to mind when I think of the tempestuous relations between science and journalism.

The project requires the Space Telescope to stare into a tiny part of the sky, chosen for its lack of foreground stars, for something like 10 days and nights — that is, it takes a million-second exposure. The result is a photo that looks, at first glance, like an ordinary field of faint stars, but when you lean in to look at the details, you realize the "stars" are all galaxies.

The Hubble Deep Field images provide random samplings of galaxies as they appeared in successively younger eras of the Universe, stretching back to when it was only about 6% of its current age. There are hundreds of ways to tease information out of such photos, and they've been a gold mine for astronomers interested in the evolution of galaxy structure and distribution, dark matter, the big bang, etc., etc., etc.

When the first such image was revealed to reporters in 1996, typical headlines were "NASA Discovers Thousands of Galaxies" or "New Galaxies Discovered, Wowing Astronomers." It's true that most of the galaxies in the images had not been seen before, but what happened was no more the discovery of new galaxies than the discovery of new pebbles would be when geologists take a core sample of interesting geological strata. Astronomy is not about increasing the count of known galaxies, but rather, understanding how the Universe works and evolved, so at least some journalists completely missed the most rudimentary facts of the story.

When you read a newspaper article about something you really understand well, it can make you very suspicious of the article next to it, about which you know almost nothing. On the other hand, I understood what had actually happened — what the news stories should have said — because some journalists actually did get it right. You just had to know where to find them.

Blind Willie Johnson: Revival

Blind Willie Johnson
The first musician of the 1920's I ever took an interest in was Blind Willie Johnson, and my interest grew directly from my interest in astronomy.

When I had just turned 16, PBS first aired Carl Sagan's Cosmos TV series. Music was central to the show's mission, so I bought its soundtrack album and listened to it constantly. It included an excerpt of Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (On Which Our Lord Was Laid)." Sagan had earlier edited an LP that was bolted to the side of NASA's Voyager spacecraft. The LP was a kind of timecapsule, designed to introduce the species that built the spacecraft to any civilization that might find it millions of years from now. It was Earth's greatest hits, and it included the full version of Johnson's "Dark Was the Night."

When I went off to college, I visited the University music library and listened to The Complete Blind Willie Johnson closely and repeatedly, and I was very moved by it. Johnson's voice was shreaded and harsh, sort of like Tom Waits or Louis Armstrong, but was capable of a huge range of tone and emotion. His guitar-playing — typically slide guitar — was extraordinarily expressive and could act as a rhythm section at the same time it played melody.

I read then, in college, that Willie Johnson was blind because his stepmother (his mother had died when he was very young) blinded him with a pan of lye. She did it to punish Willie's father for having beaten her, which he did after finding her in bed with another man. Like many blind black men then, Willie learned to play guitar on streetcorners to sustain himself. His father had always wanted his son to be a preacher, and Willie played religious songs exclusively. He was not a bluesman, but a gospel guitarist and singer — indeed, he's often thought of as the greatest ever recorded. Probably his best-known song is "Motherless Children Have a Hard Time."

For reasons I don't understand, this was the last collection of 78's I would hear for another 12 years. When I finally started buying such CD's in early 1996, The Complete Blind Willie Johnson was the first one I got.

The liner notes to that collection are written by the well-known jazz and blues historian Samuel Charters, who had owned a copy of "Dark Was the Night" as a teenager in the late 1940's. They are a riveting read:

For anyone who has grown up after the '60s, already knowing about singers like Blind Willie Johnson and Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt ... Memphis Minnie, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, there's no way to understand what so much of the American musical heritage meant to us when it was almost completely a mystery. The few records we knew about, the handful of names that we knew, were like a faint, distant light through a mist, and we had no idea what the light meant.

In 1953, Charters set off for Texas to try and find out about Blind Willie Johnson (this was very early in the history of such expeditions). When he finally found Johnson's home, Charters was informed that he had died only a few years before. Charters writes, "If I had known the way to the run-down house in Beaumont when I first heard Dark Was the Night, I could have asked him to play it for me."

I usually think of Willie Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt at the same time, precisely because their biographies are so profoundly different from one another — especially the end of their biographies. For Johnson, there was no Folk Revival. Its absence in Willie's life vividly shows us what the Folk Revival really accomplished when it rediscovered 1920's musicians like Dock Boggs and John Hurt. Willie Johnson's widow Angeline describes the death of her husband in Beaumont, TX so soon before the young Samuel Charters knocked on her door, looking for his hero:

He died from pneumonia ... We burnt out there in the north end, 1440 Forrest, and when we burnt out we didn't know many people, and so I just, you know, drug him back in there and we laid on them wet bed clothes with a lot of newspaper. It didn't bother me, but it bothered him. See, he'd turn over and I'd just lay up on the paper, and I thought if you put a lot of paper on, you know, it would keep us from getting sick. We didn't get wet, but just the dampness, you know and then he's singing and his veins open and everything, and it just made him sick. [The hospital] wouldn't accept him. He'd have been living today if they'd accepted him. 'Cause he's blind. Blind folks has a hard time.

See also:
Dock Boggs: Revival
Mississippi John Hurt: Revival

Dark Was The Night: Sleep

For about 10 years, I've wanted to write — or at least read — a good nonfiction book about Night. According to a review in the New Yorker (which seems to take all my best ideas), it looks like I've got my chance — "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past" by A. Roger Ekirch has just been published by Norton.

As I've written before, for most of human history, Night was dark. On a moonless night, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face or where your feet were stepping. In the largest capital cities in the world, the buildings around you appeared as little more than sillouettes against the stars of the Milky Way. (That is, Night in the past is something you need to research if you want to undestand it.) If and when I read Ekirch's book, I'll tell you more, but the New Yorker focuses on Ekirch's discussion of the "first and second sleeps," mentioned by writers from Plutarch and Virgil all the way through John Locke.

Through artificial lighting, we've expanded Day to encroach on Night as far as we possibly can. When we finally turn off the light and go to sleep, we insist on sleeping continuously right through to the alarm.

But people — or at the very least, Western Europeans of a certain class — used to find themselves quite in the dark as soon as the sun went down. Any light had to come from an open flame of some sort. So they would go to bed, enjoying several hours of good, deep, REM sleep and then they'd wake up around midnight or so. This was the first sleep. After one to several hours, they'd experience the second sleep, which would take them to the rooster's crow. Between the first and second sleeps, they'd get up and do chores, or talk, study, pray, reflect, or, one supposes, have sex.

The National Institute of Mental Health recently did a study in which it deprived subjects of artificial lighting for up to 14 hours for several weeks at a time. They found the subjects naturally gravitated toward a first and second sleep. The period between possessed "an endocrinology all its own," with elevated levels of prolactin, best known for stimulating lactation in nursing mothers. The period between sleeps was peaceful, restful, and reflective — and the first sleep's dreams still lingered at the edges of consciousness.

Ekirch writes, "By turning night into day, modern technology has helped to obstruct our oldest path to the human psyche."