Pete Gamlen
Pete Gamlen

A Stormy History of Weather Reporting

Pete Gamlen
Pete Gamlen

Over the years we’ve relied on talking sheep, girls in nighties, and glorified car salesmen to deliver us the weather. But behind the gimmicks, forecasters have always mattered. And today, we need them more than ever.

With a wide smile and an even wider tie, John Coleman was your consummate 1970s TV weatherman. Throughout the decade, he could be found cracking jokes and doing his signature little boogie in front of a hand-drawn weather map on WLS-TV in Chicago. His leisure suits, swooping side hair part, and booming voice made him a celebrity—first in the Midwest, and then, starting in 1975, as Good Morning America’s first weather forecaster. Coleman was a real-life Ron Burgundy in many ways, but he was no ditz. His best idea put him on track to become one of the most important weather journalists of all time.

Even while delivering two weather reports a day, Coleman wasn’t satisfied with weather’s place in the news. He didn’t think the short time devoted to weather on TV—typically 15 minutes a day—was enough. So, in his spare moments, he began hatching a plan: a national cable channel devoted to the weather 24 hours a day. It sounded like an impossible dream—or a ridiculous idea. But weather forecasters are used to the impossible. Every day, after all, we ask them to tell us the future. They sift through reams of data, applying the principles of physics, chemistry, and dynamics to predict the behavior of what is essentially layers of gas floating miles over our heads. Layers, mind you, steered by unstable jet streams that move 100 miles an hour or more.

While today’s weather reports are constantly improved by data culled from Doppler radar, precipitation-measuring satellites, and supercomputers crunching millions of weather observations worldwide, the atmosphere is ultimately chaotic and impossible to nail every time. We love to complain when the weather report gets it wrong, but we’d be lost without it. Coleman understood that better than anybody.

He also knew that, throughout the 300-year history of weather journalism, we’ve turned to weather reports for much more than data. We’ve always needed the human touch—trusted interpreters to explain the science, reassure us in the face of uncertainty, and entertain us along the way. Their story, which starts long before Coleman, is plenty entertaining itself.

The first weather report—some scholars consider it the first work of modern journalism—was issued by Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe. On November 24, 1703, Defoe was walking in his London neighborhood when he noticed a change in the air: “The Wind encreased, and with Squalls of Rain and terrible Gusts blew very furiously.” Tiles flew from the rooftops, tree limbs and entire trunks snapped, and chimneys toppled, one of which nearly crushed him.

For two more days, a 300-mile-wide storm—the largest and most destructive ever to hit the British Isles—swept from the southwest, violently flinging bricks and stones down the streets. When Defoe looked at his barometer on the 26th, the mercury was as low as he’d ever seen it. He assumed his kids had messed with the tube.

At the time, Defoe was a poet and pamphleteer. He was also fresh out of prison, convicted of satirizing religious intolerance. He had been fined, locked in an elevated public pillory—the old wooden chokey with holes for head and hands—and jailed for four months. Now bankrupt, he was desperate for paid work. On the morning of the 27th, when the worst of the storm had passed, Defoe looked over the destruction and saw salvation in a new genre.

While neighbors checked on friends and relatives, Defoe took notes, collected eyewitness accounts, and gathered grim facts. Hardly anyone had slept through the storm: “The Distraction and Fury of the Night was visible in the Faces of the People,” he wrote. He ventured to the Thames to witness the 700 or so ships that had been tossed in heaps. He estimated that the storm had drowned 8,000 people at sea, including a fifth of the Queen’s navy. It flattened 300,000 trees, destroyed thousands of homes and 400 windmills, and blew away countless church steeples, turrets, and lead roofs, including the one atop Westminster Abbey.

Of course, humans had been trying to divine the weather for thousands of years, and telling stories about it for even longer. The Babylonians could predict short-term weather by looking to the clouds. In Greece, skeptics rolled their eyes at the prevailing belief that rain was sent by Zeus and based their predictions on the four elements instead. Democritus was so good at predicting the weather he convinced people he could see into the future. Meanwhile, Theophrastus’s On Weather Signs gave us weather proverbs that persist to this day. (“When the sky has a reddish appearance before sunrise ... this usually indicates rain within three days, if not on that very day.”) They all understood that the more you know about the weather of the past, the better you can predict the weather of the future.

Until Defoe came along, most contemporary weather studies were just data from rain gauges, wind vanes, thermometers, and barometers. Few writers recounted action as it happened. Defoe did—and his timing could not have been better. Journalism was brand new. London’s Daily Courant had recently launched as the first English language daily newspaper.

With The Storm, Defoe combined his own eyewitness accounts with harrowing details mailed to him from sources all over England. He wasn’t just delivering facts. He was helping his readers understand the storm, how and why it happened, and what it meant for life itself—weaving atmospheric science with moral philosophy. “I cannot doubt but the Atheist’s hard’ned Soul Trembl’d a little as well as his House, and he felt some Nature asking him some little Questions,” he wrote. “Am I not mistaken? Certainly there is some such thing as a God—What can all this be? What is the Matter in the World?”

Over the next century, new technologies would make the weather report a part of our daily lives. By the mid-1800s, thanks to the telegraph, the first government meteorology chiefs could share weather information at lightning speed, helping citizens and ship captains prepare for disasters. In Victorian England, the idea of “forecasting” was controversial. Some considered it akin to voodoo. But Americans had no such qualms: By 1860, 500 weather stations were telegraphing weather reports to Washington.

When that network crumbled during the Civil War, a frustrated astronomer named Cleveland Abbe established a private system of daily weather bulletins. Culling reports from volunteers across the country, Abbe and a team of telegraph clerks transferred the data onto maps. They added special symbols, showing wind direction, areas of high and low pressure, and marking “R” for rain. With the publication of their first bulletin on September 1, 1869, the daily weather report was born.

Newspapers—like Niles’ Weekly Register, the most popular publication in the nation before The New York Times debuted in 1851—had already been devoting ink to the weather. But Abbe’s weathercast made it a must-read: For the first time, Americans had access to statistics on the days to come. The public saw that predictions could save crops, ships, and lives. Abbe, just 30 at the time, became known as “Old Probabilities” or “Old Prob,” and his work rippled out. Before long, a petition from the Great Lakes region—which suffered 1,914 shipwrecks in 1869 alone—urged Congress to establish a national weather service. Congress approved.

Americans couldn’t get enough of the predictions—or the infographics that came with them. The New York Times began running a weather map in 1934, and the next year, the Associated Press started to transmit a national map to member papers. Early maps were more complex than today’s, showing isotherms and areas of high and low pressure. Over the course of the next century, the maps were dumbed down to carry little besides temperature—and, of course, rain. Americans still loved their weather data, but something was shifting in the air. The daily forecast was about to become a source of not just information but entertainment too.

The same year the Times launched its weather map, Jim Fidler, a student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, took to the air as “radio’s original weatherman.” He wasn’t the first person to read the weather. In 1900, the U.S. Weather Bureau set up the first radio weather broadcasts at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. But Fidler was different. He was a personality.

When a handful of experimental television stations began broadcasting in the early 1940s, radio forecasters like Fidler were quick to the screen. From the start, it was an oddball enterprise, writes weather journalist and his- torian Robert Henson. A New York City weathercast that debuted in 1941 and lasted seven years starred an animated sheep named Wooly Lamb, who introduced each segment with a song. Sonny Eliot in Detroit turned the weather into a variety show, making forecasts like “The storm is as suspicious as a dermatologist with acne.”

In 1952, the FCC inadvertently encouraged even more cheeseball TV when it opened up competition for local licenses. Most major cities expanded from one station to two or three. Now, vying for audiences, news managers found the weather report was the easiest to liven up. No gimmick was too outlandish. Nashville poet-forecaster Bill Williams read the weather in verse. In New York, a puppet “weather lion” gave one nightly forecast; a sleepy bombshell in a nightie gave a midnight forecast as she tucked herself into bed.

So began the love-hate relationship between real meteorologists and weather forecasters with little science background. The American Meteorological Society tried to rein in the antics. “Many TV ‘weathermen’ make a caricature of what is essentially a serious and scientific occupation,” complained Francis Davis, a physics professor and Philadelphia weathercaster, in a 1955 TV Guide piece titled “Weather Is No Laughing Matter.” The Society wanted everyone to have scientific credentials. A young forecaster named David Letterman never got the memo. Delivering the weather in Indianapolis, Letterman joked about “hailstones the size of canned hams” and, Henson writes, cited statistics for made-up cities.

Beauty also trumped know-how. Raquel Welch got her start doing morning weather in San Diego as a “Sun-Up Weather Girl.” Diane Sawyer landed her first job out of Wellesley in 1967 as “weathergirl” for her hometown TV station in Louisville. Sawyer wasn’t allowed to wear glasses on camera and couldn’t tell whether she was pointing to the West or East Coast on the map.

The profession wasn’t so much a platform for experts as a stepping stone for TV-stardom hopefuls. Wheel of Fortune emcee Pat Sajak, Marg Helgenberger (of CSI fame), and comedian Gilda Radner all got their starts reading the weather. None were degreed meteorologists—nor was the Chicago weatherman John Coleman. But that wasn’t going to stop him from upending the weather report once again.

Though he lacked scientific training, Coleman knew that scientific cred would be as essential as verve. Setting out to build a brand-new weather genre, he wanted only trained meteorologists beamed into American living rooms. He also worked feverishly to develop new technologies to fit local forecasts and weather alerts into national programming. But first he had to find a deep-pocketed partner to bankroll his idea.

Most venture capitalists were skeptical; even those who loved weather reports figured 24 hours’ worth was too big a risk. Finally Coleman found his patron in Frank Batten, a Norfolk, Virginia–based mogul who had made a fortune turning Landmark Communications (primarily a newspaper company) into one of the nation’s largest media conglomerates. Batten had a personal attraction to the subject matter: He’d been gobsmacked by weather since age 6, when he and his uncle rode out a ferocious storm, the Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane of 1933, in the family’s oceanfront cottage on Virginia Beach.

Batten and Landmark invested $32 million, and the Weather Channel launched on May 2, 1982. It was a rocky start. Early technology garbled local forecasts. Critics dismissed the channel as a joke. Newsweek called it a “24-hour-a-day exercise in meteorological overkill.” In its first six months, viewership was too low to qualify for Nielsen ratings. In its first year, the channel lost $10 million. While Coleman was a brilliant weatherman, Batten felt he was a poor CEO; a bid to oust him escalated into an epic legal battle. By 1983, the board and Batten were ready to shut the project down. Coleman eventually settled with the company, handing over his 75,000 shares of stock. The Weather Channel was insolvent at the time, so Coleman, for all his efforts, walked away empty-handed.

Even though Americans didn’t sit around watching the channel—not yet—they liked having it around, and cable operators knew it. Ultimately, the operators saved the channel by agreeing to subscriber fees. Starting in 1984, the fees coincided with the huge growth in cable TV through the mid-1990s. The channel also started selling spectacularly goofy infomercials: a “Heat Wave Alert” for Gatorade, a “Cold Wave Alert” for Quaker Oats, and “Weather and Your Health”—sponsored with no apparent irony by the fake-bacon condiment Bac-Os.

Still, viewers weren’t yet won over. Coleman was gone, but his policies lived on. He had banned live broadcasts from the field because the technology was poor and expensive, so forecasters had to stay inside. The lack of pizzazz became obvious only in hindsight. As video equipment became better and cheaper, the channel’s meteorologists began flipping the formula: They got out into the rain, while viewers stayed dry in their living rooms. The role reversal proved incredibly appealing. Reporting from the field was a “sea change in our understanding of the emotional connection” people have with weather, said then-president and CEO Deborah Wilson.

In 1992, reporting on Hurricane Andrew from his Baton Rouge hotel room with rain gushing in, meteorologist Jim Cantore, who’d spent six years stuck behind a desk, expressed a love for storm drama that infected viewers. “It was awe- some, the wind and the rain,” he remembers.

Viewers were hooked—the Weather Channel streamed into the homes of 50 million Americans during Andrew. Soon viewership swelled to 96 million. By 2008, when the channel was acquired by NBC, it was a $3.5 billion powerhouse built on the same premise Daniel Defoe had discovered 300 years before: The most riveting weather reports come from people who venture outside to see and feel the conditions in real time.

In its March from Defoe’s ruminations to telegraphs to TV to smart phones, today’s weather report has grown not only more convenient but more accurate. Thanks to cutting-edge forecasting models, our four-day rain outook is as precise as the one-day forecast was 30 years ago. Satellites and supercomputers have sharpened predictions for tropical storms; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration nailed Hurricane Sandy’s southern New Jersey landfall five days out.

Lately, digital giants like Verizon have tried to push out the human forecasters at the Weather Channel, arguing that apps make them irrelevant. Just the opposite is true: Massive amounts of digital data make human interpretation more crucial than ever before. We see it in our compulsion to talk about the weather in the spaces between other conversations—often with strangers. We see it in our need for the science to tell us more. We want the forecast to tell us which coat to wear, but also to explain by the hour how the weather will act tomorrow, and what this brutal winter says about next year— and the next 50 years.

Climate change is not only the weather story of our time, but the story of our time. Just as the great storm of 1703 swept in at the dawn of newspapers, so anthropogenic climate change and its impacts are coming into focus during another profound shift, from print and TV to ubiquitous screens. While some of the weathermen of yesterday—Coleman among them—are outspoken climate-change deniers, professional meteorologists generally agree with the scientific consensus that Earth’s warming is unequivocal—and unnatural. “It is clear from extensive scientific evidence,” say the men and women of the American Meteorological Society, “that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half-century is human-induced.”

Today’s revolutionary weather reporters are those who see it as their role to educate audiences on weather and climate science. These include Columbia, South Carolina, WLTX chief meteorologist Jim Gandy, who airs a segment called “Climate Matters,” and Mashable’s Andrew Freedman, who explains major weather stories in the context of the changing climate. This new generation of reporters can explain the science and, equally important, our shared role in the future well-being of the planet.

The history of weather reporting is at turns funny and fraudulent. But underlying the talking sheep and girls in nighties, our need to understand has always been serious. We’ll continue to rely on interpreters like Defoe and Abbe to document the storms and to help us see our place in the larger swirl of the atmosphere. They ask us to consider—and discuss—the same questions Defoe asked more than three centuries ago: “What can all this be? What is the Matter in the World?”

Adapted from Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. Copyright © 2015 by Cynthia Barnett. Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. For a complete source list, see Rain’s Notes section. To purchase, click here.

10 Facts About Aspirin

Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.


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