NPR Staff

The much-hyped consumer virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, is finally hitting the market. The reviews have been mixed. As The Wall Street Journal put it, "the first totally immersive home virtual reality rig is a pricey, awkward, isolating—and occasionally brilliant—glimpse of the future of computing."

In our jobs, when we're told to redo something, it usually means we've made a mistake. That's not the case for Javier Camarena. Earlier this month at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the tenor had the chance to retake an aria during a performance of Donizetti's Don Pasquale because the audience went bonkers after the first time he sang it.

In 1970, a teenager found a handmade album in a pile of trash in Springfield, Mo. Inside, there were 283 drawings of trains, cars, animals and portraits of people with haunting, circular eyes that stared dead ahead. The album had no name or signature. The only clue to the artist's identity was the stationery on which each picture was drawn — stationery that belonged to State Hospital No. 3 in Nevada, Mo.

Margo Price knows hard times; her music practically aches with them. In the first song on her new album, she yearns to "turn back the cruel hands of time."

Over the past few years, pop songs have come to play so consistently in advertising that there are smartphone apps designed to listen and help you name that tune, and the word "sellout" has lost a lot of its bite.

Journalist Anne Garrels was covering Russia years ago for NPR and she wanted to understand what was happening beyond the swiftly changing capital city of Moscow.

So she took out a map, and chose a city at random.

"It could be anywhere and I basically just threw a pencil at the map and it hit Chelyabinsk and I've been going there ever since," she tells NPR's Morning Edition.

Later this month, British newspaper the Independent will stop printing physical copies — it's going online-only. You might not be familiar with the Independent, but if it weren't for the paper, the world might never have gotten to meet Bridget Jones.

That character, immortalized on film by Renee Zellweger, was born out of a series of columns that author Helen Fielding wrote in the Independent in the 1990s. Fielding tells NPR's David Greene that when she started there, the newspaper was "the cool place to work."

As President Obama touched down in Cuba over the weekend, Cuban artists were making waves at the SXSW music festival in Austin.

Consider something we use every day but don't think about unless, of course, we lose them: keys. They lock doors, turn on cars, keep valuables safe. More poetically, they can open minds and hearts.

Writer Helen Oyeyemi has been thinking a lot about keys. In fact, she's written an entire book about them, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours — nine short stories (she says she could have written 900) about the power of keys.

If you'd like to major in jazz — or classical music, or voice performance — you have plenty of options. Music programs at schools from the Berklee College of Music in Boston to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, to the Julliard School in New York, all offer bachelor's degrees in these styles.

But if you want a degree in gospel music, well, your choices have been far more limited. You could study gospel music history, or you could get a classical voice performance degree — but nothing quite like what you'd be looking for.

On this Palm Sunday, Fox will air a show called The Passion. It's the latest in a string of live musical TV events, and this time network executives are taking a chance on the Bible.

The Passion is the story of the last hours of Jesus Christ, and Sunday's production will take place on location in New Orleans. Some of the scenes were taped in advance, but others will be live, including a procession of 1,000 people carrying a cross through the streets.

Albert Woodfox has spent more time in solitary confinement than any man alive in the U.S. today — 43 years. He and Robert King are the surviving members of a group known as the "Angola Three."

Together with the late Herman Wallace, they spent more than 100 years in solitary confinement for the 1972 death of a prison guard, Brent Miller, at the maximum security Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola. No forensic evidence tied the Angola Three to Miller's killing, and they always maintained their innocence.

Katie Roiphe's preoccupation with death goes back to her childhood, when she contracted virulent pneumonia at the age of 12. She was sick for a year and thought she was going to die.

Her terror of death was reignited many years later when her father died. It was then that Riophe found herself turning to great minds to see how they confronted mortality.

In 1973, when journalist David Kushner was 4 years old, his brother Jon left for a short bike ride through the woods. He was going to buy some candy at a convenience store — but Jon never came home. A week after he disappeared, his body was found buried in a shallow grave. He was 11 years old.

Parker Millsap has a voice that grabs you and doesn't let go. The musician is just 23, from a small town in Oklahoma — but the songs on his newest album, The Very Last Day, draw on older influences, including Greek mythology, vintage blues and his own Pentecostal upbringing.

Millsap spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about learning how to sing without being self-conscious, as well as channeling a childhood fear of the biblical rapture into his work. Hear the radio version at the audio link and read an edited version of their conversation below.

Now in its 30th year, Austin, Texas' South By Southwest music festival has grown from a sparsely attended local showcase to an internationally known juggernaut. These days, more than 2,000 acts — not to mention many thousand more fans — travel from around the world to convert Austin into one clamorous five-day concert experience.

For three generations, Tanya James' family has worked the coal mines of West Virginia. James is no different. She began working in the mines in 1979, when only about 1 in 100 coal miners were women — and she didn't begin under the happiest of circumstances.

Her father died when she was 17, leaving her mother to take care of the family. Out of necessity, Tanya's mother took a mining class, and Tanya would go down with her every day — so the instructor invited Tanya to join the class.

Six months later, Tanya was working in the mines as well.

Kanan Makiya is still best known for a book he originally published under a pseudonym back in 1989. The Republic Of Fear catalogued the atrocities committed in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Makiya later acknowledged authorship and became an advocate for the dictator's ouster.

Now, he's written a new book — a novel — published in both Arabic and English, and set in Iraq right after the U.S. invasion. It follows a Shiite militiaman from the day the dictator fell to the day he was hanged.

The new movie Krisha is a family drama about addiction and chaos. In it, a recovering addict named Krisha comes home for Thanksgiving after being away from her family for years.

If the family in the film seems tighter than most acting ensembles, it's because they have history: The director and writer, Trey Edward Shults, cast his aunt as the main character, his mother as the family matriarch and himself in the role of Krisha's estranged son.

The poet John Berryman once wrote, "My mother told me as a boy (repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored means you have no inner resources.' I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored."

We've all been there: bored in class, bored at work, bored in stand still traffic. But why do we find boredom so unbearable? And, if we hate boredom so much, why do we still take boring jobs? This week on Hidden Brain, we try to answer these questions and more – hopefully, without boring you.

Bored at Work

Music Moment: Thao Nguyen

Mar 13, 2016

Thao Nguyen's fifth and latest album A Man Alive is a departure from the usual for her band Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.

The singer usually draws inspiration for her songs from social causes, like mass incarceration and women's rights. But this time, Nguyen reaches into her own past to create a deeply personal musical exploration of her relationship with her father.

"He left when I was maybe 11 or 12, my parents split up," Nguyen says. "And so he kinda just floated away but you never knew when he would come back and you never knew when he would just leave."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The two members of Birds of Chicago, Allison Russell and JT Nero, used to cross paths on the road when on tour with their own bands. They joined up musically and then — as these things happen — they became a couple. Their latest album, out now, is called Real Midnight.

Writer Tracy Chevalier spins fiction from history. Her best-selling novel Girl with a Pearl Earring was set in the 17th-century studio of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer; 2010's Remarkable Creatures focused on 19th-century English fossil hunters; and 2005's The Lady and the Unicorn told the stories of medieval tapestry weavers. Now, Chevalier's latest book looks at a pioneer family trying to scrape out a life in the swamps of Ohio.

We here at The Salt like to bring you serious journalistic tails from the world of food. But hey, we like to unleash our silly side, too — and like the rest of the world, we've got a soft spot for man's (and woman's) best friend.

So of course, we're howling with delight at the latest food images charming the Internet: Meme-meister Karen Zack's clever Twitter photos highlighting the eerie resemblance between mutts and meals. In some cases, it takes dogged determination to separate the canines from the cuisine.

Helen Mirren says she hopes her new film "doesn't cause any divorces." That's because Eye in the Sky raises some very tricky moral questions. Mirren plays a U.K.-based colonel overseeing a secret drone operation in Kenya. Her mission is to capture a terrorist target, but when it becomes clear the target is assembling a suicide vest for an imminent attack, the question becomes whether to capture or kill.

Pages