Electric guitarist Charlie Christian was born 100 years ago, on July 29, 1916, in Bonham, Texas, though he grew up in Oklahoma City. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Christian was one of the most influential musicians of the last century. He has an appreciation.
“Charlie Christian’s timing was impeccable. His heavy front-loaded attack underlined his aggressive beat, and inspired untold jazz, blues and rock guitar players. Benny Goodman loved him but begged him to turn his amplifier down. Christian once explained, “I like to hear myself.” Like other great lead players, he was an adept rhythm guitarist, strumming like mad, riffing with precision, or cutting against the grain.”
In 1800, the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt set out for an Amazonian lake to collect electric eels for his experiments, aided by a team of horses. As the animals entered the lake, the eels leapt up the legs of the horses to deliver quite a jolt. Video producer Emily Driscoll visited the lab of present-day neurobiologist Ken Catania to see how eels perform this shocking behavior.
With electricity ceasing to be a novelty and becoming a necessity of everyday life in the later half of the 20th century, it required particular attention by popular culture only when it stops flowing, an event that usually signals disaster. The people who keep it flowing, such as the nameless hero of Jimmy Webb’s song “Wichita Lineman” (1968), are still often cast as heroic, wizard-like figures.