Over at Do What Now, self-styled "retro
obsessed nerd" [And really, aren't we all?--Ed.] Jim Dunn
is (was? he seems to have stopped updating sometime in mid-2009, though
the site remains online) a devotee of the aesthetic, sharing his huge collection
of twentieth century magazine ads (to snark on), and decorating books rife
with mid-century modern design schemes (to drool over).
Above, one of his recent finds: Liz Taylor, sprawled over the couch arm, in
forever blowing bubbles
We're back...and have been meaning to feature some links about the new monograph Reasons to be Cheerful:The Life and Work of Barney Bubbles, by Paul Gorman. (Which we admit to not yet reading because at the time of this writing, it has been published only in England, though it is
available through Amazon.) The late Mr. Bubbles, real name Colin Fulcher, was the genius designer/art director responsible for some of the most arresting images in British rock culture, especially during the 70s and (gah) the 80s. He had an amazing respect for the visual literacy of his audiences--even though he was basically creating album covers and the accompanying visual collateral for rock acts. Bubbles ransacked the vocabulary of visual art and design as he drew on a whole series of styles and influences, from art nouveau and art deco/moderne during the late 60s and early 70s for acts like Hawkwind and assorted other hippies; to constructivism, abstract expressionism and the Blue Note aesthetic in his work for Stiff Records and its various offshoots. He also created striking original visuals for a range of other non-Stiff artists of the punk and post-punk eras as well as the design template for the British rock weekly NME.
Bubbles' work was completely distinctive and often very funny, but he let
it speak for itself. During his lifetime he avoided publicity
(he used various pseudonyms in addition to "Barney Bubbles," including his
tax i.d. number!) and was rarely photographed. We have long admired his work
and look forward to reading the book and learning much more about it, and
maybe a little about him.
Above, Barney Bubbles at work on a Psychedelic Furs album cover.
beyond: retro (gah, the 80s are retro)
do adjust your mind-set
Americans are always searching for the golden age in the past, which I believe never existed.
McGill history professor Gil Troy was talking about the past in a
political context, but he makes a great point. Our particular take on "retro" that goes Beyond the Roots of Lounge is in no way meant to glorify some amber fever dream of a "good old days." It is motivated by a desire to see, hear and feel aesthetically pleasing things--along that thin line between art and trash, the cultural products of the post-World War II era are endlessly fascinating to us. [Make the world safe from fascism, win valuable prizes.--Ed.]
If an unhealthy interest in mid-century social history--in our case, in the sounds, the styles and the train wrecks of the retro 50s, 60s and 70s--if this is supposed to be some kind of marker of social conservatism, let's agree to disagree. We enjoy mocking the past, but a lot about the old days just wasn't so great (even if it looked fantastic). It's just that, when it comes to popular culture, those who cannot remember the past aren't in on the joke the next time around.
Above, a message to the past with love from its friend, the future.
We enjoy this retro rubbish as much as the next played-out poseur
--but we dig modernity, too.
We all know a few of the more earnest types, they carry the whole vintage vibe a bit too far.
Few go as far as the ladies featured in Channel 4's recent
Warp Wives. When these gals wax nostalgic, they mean doing the floor,
on their hands and knees. Their obsession with re-creating the
foodways, clothing styles and social mores of the 30s, 40s and 50s (no matter how flawed), seems
particularly strange since the subjects are British and are, therefore,
expressing a sort of sick longing for those fun-filled days of the Great
Depression, World War II and post-war Europe--when so many people right in their own country were
first, broke; then, living in a war zone with real bombing and killing; and then, amid ruins,
endured post-war rationing of food, clothing and fuel. Good times!
Seriously, this way-beyond-camp escapism is the sort of thing best left to
the makers of fiction, so that we all can play spot-the-anachronism and
when the hour is up, get on with our modern lives. Even so, the clips available
online leave us psyched to see this thing; perhaps it will show up on BBC
America Reveals right along with the plastic surgery disasters and the
men who love inflatable dolls.
beyond: retro--way, way beyond
so you are were a star
Evidence to the contrary, it was actually quite difficult to get on network television in the 1970s — but if you had a certain kind of hit record at that time,
CBS might have given you a variety show.
Bubblegum hearthrobs The Hudson Brothers were actually stars of two 1974 CBS variety series--one in prime time for the parents and one on Saturday morning for the kids. The complete 16-episode run of The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show, their live-action Saturday morning kid-vid effort, is now available on DVD, and you can check out our review at blogcritics.org
With its breathtaking establishing shots of the classic Collins Avenue resorts in Miami Beach (correct us if we're wrong, but aren't they diving into the beachside pool at the Eden Roc?), this 1960s ad for long-defunct National Airlines doesn't skimp on the a-go-go--but this dub does skimp on the audio; the soundtrack is barely audible, so turn it up when you turn it on (via AdFreak):
you're right, frank
At the awesome video treasure trove Classic
Television Showbiz (which we love, periodically forget to check, and
have been meaning to feature here forever): a 1967
episode of The Hollywood Palacefeaturing
Sinatra opening acts Steve and Edie and comic Corbett Monica. (The Edie
from the late 60s is clearly some people's coiffure
idéal even today...)
Hollywood Palace was a variety show that aired Saturday nights on ABC from
1964 to 1970--a nice West Coast counterpoint to The Ed Sullivan
Show, which was broadcast on Sunday evenings from New York.
If you love classic showbiz or classic television, you should visit Classic Television Showbiz, subscribe to its feed, and spend the next several weeks lost in its archive.
beyond: lounge and retro, a double A-side
here comes del sol
The late Alexander
Girard (he of Braniff,
Restaurant Associates, and Herman
Miller) and his folk art motifs were part of the design zeitgeist
of the 50s and 60s. (That 1960 Max Factor ad fragment on
the right could have been inspired by him.)
From 1977, it's The Dean
Martin Celebrity Roast of Frank Sinatra. Taped in the Zeigfield Room
at the MGM Grand Las Vegas (with some nice vintage establishing b-roll of
gamblers and showgirls that was clearly shot there). Those on the dais include
Ronald Reagan, Gene Kelly, Don Rickles (of course), George Burns, Dom DeLuise,
Redd Foxx, Jimmy Stewart, Flip Wilson, Telly Savalas, Jonathan
Winters, Jack Klugman, LaWanda Page, Red Buttons,
Milton Berle, Ernest Borgnine, Orson Welles, Rich Little--and the Man of the
Hour, Ol' Blue Eyes himself. In other words, people under contact to NBC,
the MGM Grand and/or appearing on The Tonight Show that
week. Thoughtfully provided by some anonymous poster in its entirety, so
pour yourself a nice glass of something and enjoy all or part of this charming
pop culture relic.
it was 50 years ago today
Or 70, or 100. Annotated excerpts from the Los Angeles Times through
the 20th century--articles, ads, photos, long-forgotten features at The Daily Mirror blog are on our must-read-without-fail RSS list.
Yes, because in our considered opinion, a blog featuring material drawn almost exclusively from the morgue of the LA Times (Mirror, etc.) is the best section on the entire LA Times website. After all, isn't the LA Times really the Chicago Tribune, with a side order of Daily Variety and a soupçon of Sunset Magazine?
Apparently the original brief was a blog about vintage crime stories, but
Black Dahlia enthusiast and LAT copy editor Larry Harnisch decided at some point that the stuff originally published near (or stored in the same file cabinet as) the crime stories was just as interesting. It's a time machine: it's 1908 and somebody is being lynched; a really posh hat is marked down to $3.95 or over 80 of today's dollars. It's 1938, dateline Berlin; great local history feature called "Nuestro Pueblo" and Harnish Googles the present-day view for us. It's 1958: Dodgers baseball, Lana Turner, ads like the one above.
Wow...Carmen Dragon, father of Daryl--of The
Captain and Tennille--Dick Clark and...Rod McKuen? A Lounge trifecta.
Image respectfully borrowed from The
Daily Mirror, and long may we gaze upon our past in its reflection.
fluent in the language of music
Coinciding eerily with the recent passings of Isaac Hayes and
Wexler, the excellent 2003 documentary
Tom Dowd and the Language of Music is
now playing on IFC.
Dowd recorded and produced most of Atlantic Records' huge stable
of iconic jazz, r&b, soul and rock acts during a career in music that started
in the late 1940s and continued right up until his death in 2002. A preview:
birds of no feather
One is a Stuben crystal owl from the early 70s, as pictured in The Complete New Yorker; the other is the classic duck decoy that fun-loving preppie book dealer Bunny Tomerlin uses in her link to this site. [No chartreuse needlepoint belt with little pink cocktail glasses?--Ed.]
It's the ad content and the products as seen in The Complete New Yorker that make it such a compelling time capsule of retro social history, East Coast WASP division--the
Mad Menmilieu minus the plot and character development.
We can hardly make it through a J.D. Salinger short story or an epic 40,000
word article on the history of grain in TCNY without becoming
hopelessly sidetracked in a fruitless online search for some long-discontinued
product (hell, product category) or an extinct manufacturer of swanky,
cool or high-end goods (or any U.S. textile mill)--because whatever "they" are,
you name it, they ain't makin' 'em like that anymore. We discovered Bunny,
connoisseur of prep, via Brandland USA, a site devoted to the forgotten goods, failed products and
that frequently render that great American pastime that you may
know as "shopping" such a frustrating exercise in futility for some of us.
You know who we are: we eschew all bed sheets with a "hand" like jersey, flannel
or "sateen," so when you see us in the linens department of Bed,
Bath and Beyond, our fists clenched and pointed to the heavens,
no Chinese or Indian textiles manufacturer is safe from the sound of
our wrath. "Percale!" is our cry. "Per-CALE!!!"
ETA: Bunny, we hardly knew ye. Bunny Tomerlin abandoned her site
not long after our original post in late 2008, we hope for no other reason
than that she was bored with it all. Brandland USA is still going strong.
he's a soul, man
(Hey, a guy who worked with Trey Parker for many years knew a thing or two
about bad taste.) As we mentioned previously, Isaac
Hayes (1942-2008) was the winner of the 1972 Oscar for Best Original Song--and
the first African-American to win an Academy Award in any category other than
acting. Tom O'Neil of the LA Times has the story of
how "Shaft" prevailed that year over works by the likes of
Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini and newcomer Marvin Hamlisch.
It's pretty clear these days that any idiot can write a song [Raises
because now any idiot can also share their work with us (or have it "shared"),
resulting in a massive surplus of musical product and a pronounced paying-customer
deficit. The whole enterprise has been spoiled, literally, for choice.
So congratulations to the genius at the NYT who made killing the mystery--in
this case, of songwriting--the avowed purpose of an arts column. (An arts column
that resides, for perhaps a business-related reason, in the opinion section.)
Songwriting, yes: there's a curtain that needs pulling back, a public service
right up there with a behind-the-scenes series covering meetings of the Times editorial
Like most "writing," the solo songwriting process is a big head trip, and it should stay that way; what happens when the antenna is up isn't all that interesting per se unless it happens to be unfolding in the head above your shoulders. Besides which, words and music are just the raw material. It's what arrangers do with, or to, a tune after it escapes the originating head that makes the magic happen, down by the corner of the ridiculous and the sublime where the sign has been modified to read "stop snitching!"
Above, two giants of the ridiculous/sublime paradigm, both perfectly capable
of arranging their own work: self-proclaimed "greatest
songwriter" of the 80s and major-sevenths fan Paddy McAloon duets with
Jimmy Webb (on Webb's "Highwayman"). The writer of many of the most glorious
(and a few of the most gloriously cringeworthy) works in the 60s pop canon,
Webb has already lifted the hood on his approach in
his own book (hey, he wasn't a millionaire at 21 by accident), and we probably
won't be seeing the reclusive McAloon revealing his "process" in the Times anytime
soon--because a guy who can croon
"hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque" with conviction clearly knows how to keep
the lid on as tight as it should be.
when you turn on the car
In 1961 when you turn on the car, does the radio come on? Can we find that out?
From the NY Times Magazine, a
of tightly wound Executive Producer Matthew Weiner, the hand that rocks the
Xerox 914 on Mad Men. He cares, deeply, about whether or not it's the right period typewriter
(car, book, hair color, line of dialogue), even though that's not all the series is really about.
Along with behind-the-scenes details about the guy who obsesses about the details, the piece also includes the perspectives of some of the real ad geniuses who created memorable campaigns of the 60s and 70s, after they parted the
WASP curtain so
strikingly depicted on the Peabody Award-winning period drama.
Follow all the latest Mad Men gossip from two obsessed sisters
Basket of Kisses. (Above, from an ad for Ford,
The New Yorker,
issue dated Feb. 3, 1962.)
condemned to repeat them
Those who remember the 70s, and viewers of the CBS drama Swingtown,
in which the Pete Campbell generation of Mad Men and their Obama-cohort
kids confront the in-your-face sexual mores of the decade. But is it a Swingtown and
a miss? [Imagine
if impressionable Peggy had moved herself to Chicago's North Shore and settled
down there with some nice guy circa 1962...and 14 years later, she finds herself
right across the street from another Joan.--Ed.]
What's not to like? Well, unlike Mad Men, which usually busts out one emotionally telling licensed pop song to play out each episode's end credits (ala The Sopranos), Swingtown's overbearing soundtrack is literally stuffed with so many period tunes (and period-ish, Fleetwood Mac, we're looking at you) that some bulk licensing deal is no doubt in play.
Despite the much-hyped soundtrack involvement of the much-hyped Liz Phair, we heard one non-licensed cue in the entire pilot. Perhaps they blew the whole music budget on episode one, so that Phair and her crack team of actual composers will make their presence heard in however many future episodes are allowed to air before the series is unceremoniously pulled due to ratings that sink lower (and faster) than the proverbial pearl in Prell.
Above, for your viewing..."pleasure," this New Yorker ad from 1973 with enough appropriately hideous "text" (look! it's a Dutch college professor in the world's ugliest tux!) and creepy subtext (and what's he doing with that little Italian girl?) to kill a summer session of AP U.S. History.