Jazz Icon Charles Mingus Wrote a Manual for Toilet Training Your Cat

iStock
iStock

Imagine it's the 1950s and you're in a basement jazz club in New York City. A haze of smoke lingers in a dusky room, glasses clink as waiters drop off martinis and Manhattans, and people bop their heads to the sounds of Charles Mingus, the hottest jazz bassist around. After the performance, Mingus pulls up to the bar and cradles a stiff drink. You approach him, but before you can say anything, the musician turns to you and asks an important question: Hey, man. Where does your cat poop?

This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Besides being one of the most revolutionary jazz artists of his day, Mingus was also a passionate advocate for teaching people how to toilet train their cats. So passionate, in fact, that he wrote instructions for a cat toilet training program (he called it the "CAT-alog"), which he routinely tried to sell at his gigs. He even placed print ads so that interested clients could buy his pamphlets via mail order.

The CAT-alog is a reflection of the man as a musician: blunt, concise, and demanding in its details. (You can read the instructions in their entirety here.) He swore by the program's effectiveness, claiming it took three or four weeks for his cat, Nightlife, to transition from the litter box to the porcelain throne.

Here's a breakdown of Mingus's process:

First, teach your cat to use a homemade cardboard litter box. ("Be sure to use torn up newspaper, not kitty litter. Stop using kitty litter. [When the time comes you cannot put sand in a toilet.]") Gradually, begin inching the box toward the bathroom. ("He has to learn how to follow it.") Once you've reached the bathroom, place the box on the toilet. ("Don't bug the cat now, don't rush him, because you might throw him off.") Then cut a small hole in the bottom of the cardboard ("Less than an apple—about the size of a plum."), and gradually cut down the sides of the box until it becomes a flat sheet. ("Put the flat cardboard, which is left, under the lid of the toilet seat, and pray.") Then, one day, remove the cardboard entirely.

Mingus insisted that, with patience, his methods would work. In fact, he advised: "Don't be surprised if you hear the toilet flush in the middle of the night. A cat can learn how to do it, spurred on by his instinct to cover up." In 2014, however, Studio 360 at WNYC put Mingus's instructions to the test … and failed.

Some cats, Mingus admits, just aren't "as smart as Nightlife was." But he'd likely agree that cats, like jazz musicians, really aren't the types to be bossed around.

For more, please listen to actor Reg E. Cathey read a silky smooth excerpt of Mingus's CAT-alog here. Trust us: You'll be glad you did.

The Phony Disease That Helped Researchers Identify Bach's (Purported) Body

Rischgitz/Getty Images
Rischgitz/Getty Images

Three days after Johann Sebastian Bach died from a stroke in July 1750, his body was laid in an oak coffin and hauled to a cemetery outside the city walls of Leipzig, Germany. Like many burials back then, no headstone was placed to mark Bach’s plot. Within years, the exact location of the composer’s grave had faded from memory.

Bach died a respected musician, but was by no means a superstar. That would change over the coming decades: An 1802 biography about his life—as well as a burgeoning interest in the musical works of the past—would launch him to the top of the newly formed classical music canon. Bach grew to become a source of national pride, and musical pilgrims worldwide were hungry to visit his grave to pay him homage. In 1894, a group set out to find where, exactly, he was buried.

Rumor suggested that Bach’s corpse lay six paces from the south door of St. John's Church, but nobody was certain. “The oral tradition apparently originated in 1894 from a 75-year-old man, who in turn was informed about the location 60 years earlier by a 90-year-old gardener employed at the graveyard,” write Richard H.C. Zegers and several other scholars in the Medical Journal of Australia [PDF]. That same year, Pastor F. G. Tranzschel, the vestry chairman at St. John’s, ordered an excavation based on that information.

Dr. Wilhelm His Sr., a Leipzig professor of anatomy, served as the dig’s leading egghead. As workers dug into the slop and mud of the church graveyard, His inspected the skeletons to see if the bones resembled those of a 65-year-old man. He described the scene as “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” (To say the least, this was not history’s most scientific excavation.)

Thankfully, there was one telltale sign to look for: Most of the coffins in the cemetery were pine, but Bach’s bones were supposedly entombed in a casket of pricey oak. The crew found at least three such coffins. One contained a young woman (definitely not Bach), a second contained remains that had been smashed to splinters (hopefully not Bach), and a third contained a beautifully preserved skull (Hallelujah?). In the words of musicologist and Bach expert David Yearsley at Counterpunch, Wilhelm His believed this skeleton “belonged to a man of distinction.” He studied the cranial cavity and even attempted to reconstruct the skull's face, later claiming in a book that this "strange skull of very distinct and by no means ordinary forms" belonged to J.S. Bach. Shortly after, the skeleton was laid in a crypt below the altar of St. John's Church.

But there was always a lingering doubt that His got it wrong. In 1949, Bach’s purported skeleton was exhumed and later reburied in St. Thomas Church in downtown Leipzig (where the composer once worked as Kapellmeister, or music director). Before this celebrated second burial, researchers decided to give the bones a second look. The skeleton was re-examined by the oral surgeon Wolfgang Rosenthal, who claimed to see proof of Bach’s identity not in the skull—but in a region, well, slightly south.

Rosenthal was intrigued by abnormal bony growths, called exostoses, around the skeleton’s pelvic ring, as well as growths at sites of muscle and ligament attachment, called enthesophytes, near the arms. Both are signs of occupational stress, common in physically active people who make repetitive motions day-in and day-out.

Rosenthal wondered: Could a lifetime of organ-playing cause somebody to develop these bony growths? After all, an organist must regularly make awkward, repetitive foot and arm movements—especially if he or she practices a lot. To test his hypothesis, Rosenthal x-rayed the hips of 11 professional organists organists who, like Bach, had been playing since childhood. In a paper published more than a decade later, he claimed that all of them showed signs of the same bony growths as Bach's purported bones. Rosenthal came away convinced that not only had he re-confirmed the identity of the skeleton, he had discovered a new medical ailment: Organistenkrankheit, or organist’s disease.

Unfortunately for Rosenthal and fans of weird diseases with fun German names, the surgeon may have been mistaken. In 2007, researchers at the Academic Medical Center of Amsterdam tried to replicate Rosenthal's experiment, this time adding a control group of non-musicians. According to their report in the Medical Journal of Australia, of the 12 church organists x-rayed, only 33 percent had growths near the pelvis. Damningly, 75 percent of the non-organ-playing control group also showed an incidence of bony hip growths.

While the researchers admitted that their sample size was small, their work does appear to throw a wrench in Rosenthal's hypothesis. “Our findings do not support the existence of Orgnistenkrankheit as a condition among organists,” the research team wrote. Furthermore, they concluded that "given the uncertainties about the burial site, His's controversial facial reconstruction, and Rosenthal's irreproducible Organistenkrankheit, it is unlikely that the remains are those of Bach." Evidence, it seems, that hips really can lie.

21 Far Out Facts About Dazed and Confused

Criterion Collection
Criterion Collection

Since its 1993 release, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused has gone on to become a cultural landmark. On the 25th anniversary of the film's release, we encourage you to find the nearest paddle, toss on some Foghat, and enjoy these 21 Dazed and Confused facts you might not have known.

1. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE FLOP.

It might be hard to believe now, but Dazed and Confused was a turkey at the box office, making just short of $8 million (on a $6.9 million budget). Of course, the film has gone on to have lasting financial legs, selling big on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. The soundtrack also eventually went double platinum (back when soundtracks did that kind of thing).

2. A HUGE CHUNK OF THE BUDGET WENT TOWARD SECURING RIGHTS TO TUNES.

Speaking of the film's soundtrack: What would Dazed and Confused be without timeless classic rock tunes like Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”? Knowing that music was absolutely vital to the film, Richard Linklater spent a whopping one-sixth of the film’s budget on securing the necessary music rights.

3. THE TITLE IS A REFERENCE TO THE LED ZEPPELIN SONG, BUT IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT BOOZE AND DRUGS.

According to Linklater via an interview with Dazed Magazine (no relation), while the title is lifted from the Led Zeppelin song of the same name, it’s actually meant to accompany the idea that “it takes a full decade to process your teenage years.” Unfortunately, Linklater wasn’t able to secure rights to any of Zeppelin’s music for the film, as the band wasn’t interested in licensing their music for movies at the time.

4. IT'S ONE OF QUENTIN TARANTINO'S ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES.

In surveys conducted by Sight & Sound magazine in 2002 and 2012, Tarantino included Dazed and Confused alongside classics like Taxi Driver; The Great Escape; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; and Carrie as one of his 12 all-time favorite movies. Tarantino also spoke about the film when it was honored at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards in 2013, calling it “maybe the only movie that three different generations of college students have seen multiple times.”

5. LOTS OF FUTURE STARS WERE TURNED DOWN FOR ROLES.

According to casting director Don Phillips, “every actor in [Los Angeles] wanted to be in it.” Claire Danes, Elizabeth Berkley, Ashley Judd, Brendan Fraser, Jon Favreau, and Vince Vaughn were all considered for roles, but didn’t make the cut. (Vaughn was in the running for the role of Fred O'Bannion, who was ultimately played by Ben Affleck.)

6. A CHANCE MEETING LED TO MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY GETTING CAST.

Before he was an Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey was just another University of Texas graduate with a film degree aspiring to be a director, with small roles in a beer commercial and a music video on his acting resume. He landed the role of David Wooderson after a drunken chance meeting with casting director Don Phillips, which ended with the two getting kicked out of an Austin bar. He then nabbed the role following a now-infamous audition.

7. TO HELP GET HIS ACTORS INTO CHARACTER, LINKLATER GAVE EACH ONE OF THEM HIS OR HER OWN MIXTAPE.

In Maxim's 2013 oral history of the film, actor Jason London (Randall "Pink" Floyd) recalled that, “'[Linklater] said, ‘Don’t listen to anything but this music.’ We had to morph into living as if we were in ’76.”

8. THE CASTING DIRECTOR WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER TEENAGE CLASSIC.

Dazed and Confused wasn’t the first time Phillips had been charged with discovering an ensemble of future stars. He was also the casting director for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which featured early-career appearances by Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, and Nicolas Cage, among others.

9. THE CAST INCLUDED ONE FUTURE STAR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED.

One of the reasons why Dazed and Confused has become near-mythic is in the amount of future Generation X acting successes it caught in its crosshairs. The massive cast includes pre-fame turns from Milla Jovovich, Anthony Rapp, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, and Parker Posey, alongside many more faces that are highly recognizable in 2018. One future Oscar-winner you might have missed, however, is Renée Zellweger, who pops up as an uncredited extra. (That's her in the blue and red striped tank top in the clip above; she walks by at the :45 mark.)

10. WOODERSON WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A MUCH SMALLER PART.

McConaughey's now-signature character was originally only supposed to have a few lines, but Wooderson got more screen time when one of the hired actors had some trouble fitting in with the rest of the cast. This resulted in Wooderson getting written into the scene on the football field, which is where he gave his “Just keep livin’” speech. The lines were inspired by a conversation between McConaughey and Linklater about the passing of McConaughey’s father during the first few days of filming.

11. UNBEKNOWNST TO RICHARD LINKLATER AND MCCONAUGHEY, THE TWO SHARED A SURPRISING BOND.

In a 2015 interview on WTF with Marc Maron, Linklater revealed that his dad and McConaughey's father played football together at the University of Houston, both competing at the defensive end position in the early 1950s. McConaughey's dad, Jim, would go on to be drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 27th round of the 1953 NFL draft (they were a bit longer back then), but never played in the league.

12. MCCONAUGHEY REPRISED THE ROLE OF WOODERSON FOR A 2012 MUSIC VIDEO.

The music video for Butch Walker and the Black Widows’s song “Synthesizers” features McConaughey lip-synching, air-trumpeting, slow-motion walking, drinking, and womanizing as his career-making character. For more proof that McConaughey hasn’t forgotten his first major role, look no further than his 2014 Oscar speech, where he dropped two of Wooderson’s best and most timeless lines: “Just keep livin’” and “alright, alright, alright.”

13. ONE OF THE YOUNG ACTORS BECAME SUCCESSFUL IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FIELD.

While many of the movie's cast members became recognizable Hollywood actors, Wiley Wiggins—who played Mitch Kramer—had a very quiet acting career after the film. It’s not because Wiggins couldn’t cut it as an actor, he just shifted his focus to designing and developing video games and running an independent gaming festival called Fantastic Arcade. He has popped up in a few more films, including Linklater’s trippy philosophical piece Waking Life in 2001 and in the Sundance Film Festival favorite Computer Chess in 2013.

14. LINKLATER WAS SUED BY SOME OF HIS REAL-LIFE CLASSMATES.

Linklater wasn’t especially creative when it came to making up character names with which to populate the fictional Lee High School. In fact, at least three of the characters' last names—Wooderson, Floyd, and Slater—were lifted directly from Linklater's own Huntsville High School, which became the basis of a defamation lawsuit for the real-life trio in 2004. According to the real Wooderson, Floyd, and Slater, the movie resulted in an onslaught of, well, mostly kids wanting to party with them all the time. The case was eventually tossed.

15. ORIGINALLY, LINKLATER IMAGINED IT AS A BEING A STRANGER, MUCH MORE EXPERIMENTAL MOVIE.

 Richard Linklater attends the Headline Gala Screening & International Premiere of 'Last Flag Flying' during the 61st BFI London Film Festival on October 8, 2017
Vittorio Zunino Celotto, Vittorio/Getty Images for BFI

According to Linklater, the plan for the movie was always to examine a single day in the life of a group of high schoolers in the '70s, but his original idea was a movie about “four guys in a Le Mans, listening to an eight-track tape of ZZ Top’s 'Fandango!'”

16. LINKLATER TRIED TO KEEP THE ATMOSPHERE PROFESSIONAL ... BUT OCCASIONALLY FAILED.

Linklater claims to have enforced a professional atmosphere on the set that included no drugs or alcohol, saying “People are surprised how militant I am about that kind of work ethic. I set a tone.” Although, by Linklater’s own admission, while the on-set marijuana wasn’t real, “the cast does admit to being stoned in several scenes, particularly at the very end."

17. THE FILM FEATURES A FREQUENT LINKLATER TROPE YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED.

One scene features Slater (Rory Cochrane) smoking a cigarette and hammering away at a 1972 Bally "Fireball" pinball machine. Linklater’s films Waking Life, Before Sunrise, and his little-seen 1988 debut It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books all feature scenes that include characters playing pinball.

18. SLATER'S LINE ABOUT GEORGE WASHINGTON GROWING WEED IS (KIND OF) TRUE.

Milla Jovovich, Shawn Andrews, Jason London, and Rory Cochrane in 'Dazed and Confused' (1993)
Criterion Collection

Slater, the pottiest of Lee High School's potheads, had some memorable theories about the goings-on at Mount Vernon, claiming “George toked weed, are you kiddin' me, man? He grew fields of that stuff, man.” While Washington did indeed grow hemp at Mount Vernon (fun fact: the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper), significantly less evidence exists to claim he ever grew or smoked a psychoactive strain of cannabis.

19. IT MADE ITS AT-HOME DEBUT ON A LONG-FORGOTTEN MEDIUM.

Dazed and Confused was released on September 24, 1993 and hit home video in March of 1994. But anyone up on their huge-discs-that-are-soon-to-be-defunct technologies could have grabbed it on LaserDisc two months earlier, which seems oddly appropriate for a movie that’s all about nostalgia. The movie became a formally-sanctioned cult classic in 2006, when it received a Criterion Collection DVD release. (It's also available on Blu-ray via Criterion.)

20. LINKLATER AND UNIVERSAL PICTURES WERE CONSTANTLY AT ODDS OVER THE MOVIE.

At first, Universal wanted the movie to be rated PG-13, with the belief that it would lead to better box office results, to which Linklater responded, “we have 78 'f***s' in the script, pot smoking all the way through, and teenagers drinking and driving." Later, the studio complained that Linklater hadn’t used the movie’s R-rating to its fullest extent, lamenting the film’s lack of nudity.

21. LINKLATER SAW IT AS AN "INVERSE" OF JOHN HUGHES'S TEEN MOVIES.

Unlike John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, which culminated in important kisses and life-changing revelations, Linklater designed Dazed and Confused to feel more true to the mild drama of real life, saying “I don’t remember teenage [years] being that dramatic. I remember just trying to go with the flow, socialize, fit in, and be cool. The stakes were really low. To get Aerosmith tickets or not? That’s a big thing.”

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