Sunday, May 29, 2005

More American Graffiti

From the archives (May 2001):

Greetings fellow travelers and members of the Tribe,

First of all, thanks for the fascinating insight into the origins of the Hippie movement. I always prefered the Yippies for their sense of surreal humor. Furthermore, I recall a drunken, bloated Kerouac in the late 60's denouncing the Hippies during an appearance on The Tonight Show not long before his premature death. The Hippies were honoring Jack and the Beats as spiritual godfathers while Jack went off on how he was a "good Catholic!" It was funny, sad, and pathetic--quite a contrast to some years earlier when on the same program (while hosted by the late, great Steve Allen) Jack read with Stevo providing surprisingly effective jazz on piano accompanied by a rather raw, primitive piece of black and white cinema verite. Very evocative.

Back in 1994 The Baffler (some malcontents at U of C) published a series of enlightening examinations of the commodification of youth culture and teen rebellion. You could trace it back to the pop phenemon that was Elvis in the 50's--unihibited, "black music", dark looks, vaguely suggesting a "dangerous unknown." Of course, both Colonel Parker (and the U.S. Army) commodified and "civilized" this wild-looking hound dog. Then there were the commodified, prefab, imitation Elvises (Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Rick Nelson, etc) which proliferated during the King's stint in the service. These boys were safe creations--hell, they make Fonzie look tough in comparison!

Two quick personal asides/cases in point. I knew that "new wave/punk" was DOA back in 1984 when I spotted a Sears ad co-opting the "new wave" look. In 1994 "grunge" was officially dead when PayLess Shoes began marketing their "grunge" style.

The commodification of nostalgia began in earnest in the early 70's when "American Graffiti" became an unexpected box office smash. As you should remember, this led to "Happy Days", "Laverne and Shirley", "Grease", and coincided with renewed interest in survivors of 50's rock and roll (Elvis had just came back, Ricky Nelson scored with "Garden Party", Chuck Berry returned to the charts with the novelty hit "My Ding-a-ling", Gene Vincent had been unearthed, Frankie Vallie was "Swearin' to God" along with telling us that "Grease" was the word, have ya heard?) This cultural legacy equals Lucas's "Star Wars" franchise and its role in creating the "blockbuster" mentality (which helped kill the 1970's independent film movement.)

We take this regurgitation cycle for granted today. The mass market fascination with the 1960's era during the 1980's was epitomized by the posthumous comeback of Jim Morrison and the Doors around 1980-81. There was that infamous cover of the Rolling Stone with a reprint of a young, virile Morrison (originally shot for Tiger Beat or Sixteen magazine) with the headline "He's hot, he's sexy, he's dead." Furthermore, we have been reliving the 70's in style/look, if not summary of spirit, throught out the last decade. It was inevitable, with Quentin Tarantino in the role of George Lucas this time around.

It is then no surprise that we are currently drowning in a wave of 70's/80's acts which have managed to reform/resurface--Psychedelic Furs, Duran Duran, Gary Numan, Tom Tom Club, Go-Gos, Bangles, Television, Wire, Echo and the Bunnymen, Soft Boys!, Cheap Trick, Bon Jovi, Berlin, Roxy Music, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Misfits.... Granted, some of these bands are strictly "oldies" acts, while others have had new material/albums and thus more vital/alive.

The fact is that advertisers have long figured out how to market to a given demographic group. It's not a complicated formula. One simply mines the pop charts of the era when the desired group came of age/turned 18/graduated from high school. This returns the target group to a "golden era."

If you want to "Ring My Bell" (Anita Ward, 1979) and sell it to me, play "Heart of Glass" (or anything off of "Parallel Lines", for that matter.)

You dig? But I digress,

***Be the first to respond/comment and receive a free mixtape informed by my recent field findings at Spruce Park.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Voices in my Head

In a category all his own, "hillbilly poet" Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass & Atom Ant) is dead...

Henry Corden, the second voice of Fred, is dead...
***Our Daily Dead gets it wrong when they refer to Corden as the voice of Barney. See the NYT obit included for the story of record.

Meanwhile, Cedric the Entertainer will be playing the original Flintstone, Ralph Kramden, in the upcoming big screen treatment of "The Honeymooners" (which reminds me of that novelty rap recording by Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo back in 1985.) Odd enough, but even stranger is discovering that the ADD-suffering John Zorn played sax licks for The Honeymooners Rap!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tracks, Trails, Tails, and Sails (Sales)

Following the high ground from Vincennes (Indiana) to the South Side...
(see the Slideshow for early images of Vincennes Ave.)

From imaginary soundtracks to album covers for imaginary bands...
(Maybe I'll find that lost Monk Parakeets' LP "Hide Park"?)

I've got a tiger by the tail and Tony the Tiger is dead...
(singing his signature song "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch)

And, from S.S. Minnow to slumlord...,1,7163850.story?coll=chi-news-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Riddle Me This...

Frank Gorshin is dead... (a new song for the re-united Bauhaus?)
(There were two men in a boat with three cigarettes but no matches. How did they manage to smoke?)

Seriously, the Joke is Dead...

Happy trails to you...

A: They threw one cigarette over and made the boat a cigarette lighter!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

"The Nat King Cole Song Book" by Sammy Davis vs. "Bring It On Home (and other great Sam Cooke hits)" by Lou Rawls

Yesterday, while scouting for empty dime bags in Spruce Park, I found the motherlode. Dumped there in the new trashcan next to the playground equipment was a thick stack of vinyl -- some 70+ long plays, some still sealed in shrink-wrap. Lacking my little red Radio Flyer, I promptly shlepped this cornucopia of recordings home to begin digesting.

An incomplete listing of titles recovered:
Roy Milton & his Solid Senders
Chick Webb at his Rare of All Rarest Performances (Vol.1)
Earl "Fatha" Hines/ The Grand Terrace Band
Lloyd Price/ His Big Hits
Lloyd Price/ The ABC Collection
Hank Williams Jr./ Family Tradition
Marty Robbins/ Devil Woman
Andre Previn Plays
Perry Como/ It's Impossible
Pete Fountain's New Orleans
Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra featuring Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra/ All the Way
Johnny Mathis/ Romantically
Bobby Womack/ Greatest Hits
Nancy Wilson/ Goin' Out of My Head
Ester Phillips
Ester Phillips Sings
Lou Rawls/ Feelin' Good
Lou Rawls/ Natural Man
Lou Rawls/ Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You
Lou Rawls/ Bring it on Home
Bill Withers/ Menagerie
Gloria Lynne
Gloria Lynne/ Calendar
The Banks Brothers
Willie Bans and the Messengers/ Mother Why?
Jimmy Witherspoon & Gerry Mulligan
Dionne Warwick's Greatest Motion Picture Hits
Dionne Warwick/ The Windows of the World
Flip Wilson/ Funny and Live at the Village Gate
Basie/Eckstine Incorporated
Bobby "Blue" Bland & Johnny "Guitar" Watson/ 2 in Blues
Arthur Prysock Does It Again!
Supersax Plays Bird
Eddie Rabbit/ Rocky Mountain Music
Joe Simon/ Simon Country
Moms Mabley at the UN
Rev. Martin Luther King/ The Great March to Freedom (Detroit -- June 23, 1963)
Ray Charles/ True to Life
Billie Holiday/ Lady Day Blues
The Incomparable Helen Humes
Bill Henderson Live at the Times
Carmen McRae Alive!
Slappy White/ Just for Laughs
The Sunrising Kings/ Ring Out the Name of Jesus
Brooke Benton/ There Goes That Song Again
Dinah Washington (on Emus Records)
Dinah Washington/ Back to the Blues
Dinah Washington/ I Don't Hurt Anymore
Dinah Washington/ The Finer Dinah
***There's a short story in this pile waiting to be written...

Surfing yesterday (and by way of Gapers Block) I discovered the following essay on the vanishing West Side...

Riffing on Rawls and roads (Tobacco and Wentworth), check this out, y'all...
"Frank Sinatra, who once said Rawls had "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game," also said he and Rawls both were saloon singers."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More Songs About Buildings and Food

Today I found myself deep in the midst of the Clybourn Corridor, hunting and gathering at Trader Joe's. While Sal and the boys stocked the pantry, I went on safari, looking for the young, the affluent, and the arrogant of Lincoln Park.
(a "store of stories" and loud Hawaiian shirts)

Although I was disappointed in not finding more boorish behavior on display, I did manage to capture some fleeting vintage remnants of this transformed cityscape. Anyone who remembers the Clybourn strip back in the mid 80's knows that distinct sense of disorientation that occurs when cruising it now.

And speaking of smashing sacred temples, the Mies Van Der Rohe masterbox, IIT's Crown Hall, was roughed up today by the architect who is in charge of renovations and Mies' grandson.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Don't Box Me In

Hard to believe, but in my rounds today I found a Christmas tree (!) still surprisingly green lying in the alley behind 1217 E. 50th in Kenwood. Evergreen, indeed.

Speaking of green, I later encountered the legendary and beloved monk parakeets of Hyde Park grazing on dandelion heads over in Burnham Park. When I form that surf/lounge/new wave band that I've always dreamed about, I'll call them The Monk Parakeets (or perhaps the Zebra Mussels?)

I have yet to see the documentary, but I first became aware of Mark Bittner sometime last year as I searched the internet for info on feral parrots. The film "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" has been well regarded by reviewers. Check it out.

Finally, last night I viewed "Rumblefish" (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983) for the first time since college in the mid-80's. The soundtrack, by Stewart Copeland of The Police, has always been on my short list. Watching it again reminded me of the influence it has had on my own visual sensibility.

1. Don't Box Me In (with Stan Ridgway) 2. Tulsa Tango 3. Our Mother Is Alive 4. Party At Someone Else's Place 5. Biff Gets Stomped By Rusty James 6. Brothers On Wheels 7. West Tulsa Story 8. Tulsa Rags 9. Father On The Stairs 10. Hostile Bridge To Benny's 11. Your Mother Is Not Crazy 12. Personal Midget / Cain's Ballroom 13. Motorboy's Fate

Sunday, May 15, 2005

(Nothing But) Flowers

Returning my empty booze bottles for recycling at the Co-Op in the Hyde Park Shopping Center, I was struck by the muzaked strains of a familiar song. In the past I have been stopped in my tracks as I recognized an Elvis Costello song given the dental treatment or "Temporary Beauty" (by Graham Parker) given death by Muzak. Today it was "(Nothing But) Flowers" by Talking Heads.
"There was a shopping mall, now it's all covered with flowers..."

This caused me to recall shopping at Whole Foods some years ago and hearing the Clash question "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" (At least it wasn't muzaked! Although I remember that Devo had massaged some of their songs into an E-Z Listening Disc some 20 years ago...) Of course, I thought that "Lost in the Supermarket" would have been more appropo.

"This was a discount store, now it's turned into a cornfield..."

Well, I must have appeared to have been lost/confused/or stressed as I contemplated alone in the courtyard of the shopping center because a young street evangelist/messenger of peace promptly handed me a pamphlet promoting a Quan Yin Meditation seminar at the International House in the Map Room.

"Once there were parking lots, now it's a peaceful oasis..."

Walking in the parking lot, I realized that I had a theme as I read the LED screen on the shopping center's front sign, and it asked, "Are you going the wrong way??" "Don't ask me for directions." "I'm lost myself!"

"I'd pretend that I was a billboard, standing tall by the side of the road..."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Indian smiles

"The Indian smiles, he thinks the cowboy is his friend. The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled. Now he can exploit him." Rhino Records will be reissuing the Gang of Four's "Entertainment" (1979) on May 17th.

"‘Natural’s Not In It,’ which addresses this whole notion that when I go through my day I have no control over it, like it’s a natural thing. What people don’t realise is that they’re being stifled by media and government mandates. They forget that they actually have control over their own lives, and it’s apparent in America more so than anywhere else. Just look at the landscape of the shopping malls: everything’s just so uniform, it’s almost as if it ought to be that way, as if that’s the natural thing.” -- Dave Allen, on bass with The Gang of Four

To Hell with Poverty (and "zealots.") Ahhh, for the days of Mao swimming the Yangzi...

And, finally, recalling the American/Pima Indian war "hero" who was immortalized in photograph, bronze, and song (by the Man in Black, Johnny Cash)...

Friday, May 13, 2005

Natural's not in IT

Is it just me or have you too been finding allusions to fingertips in your bowl of chili everywhere lately?? Which reminds me, Steveland Morris, better known as Stevie Wonder, was born on this date in 1950. At the tender age of 12, Little Stevie Wonder scored a number one hit with "Fingertips (Pt 2.)"

"... that everyday life - wage labor, official propaganda, the commodity system, but also the way you bought a shirt, how you made love, the feeling you had as you watched the nightly news or turned away from it - was not "natural", but the product of an invisible hand." -- Greil Marcus

Find the "natural" on the menu board...
Exactly what's in the "beanie weinie"?

And, finally, the jig is up...

The Original gang-related Quartet

The Gang of Four's shockingly convincing performance last night at the Metro quickly proved that these 49 year-old codgers could still bring it on. Word to Interpol -- don't let these old men open or they'll kick your stiff asses off the stage and school ya.

And speaking of that old gang of mine...

Thursday, May 12, 2005

sir mix-a-tape

Mixed last week expressly for Sticky Lefauve:
side A
We've Heard it All Before - 10cc
I Don't Know - The Undertones
Everything's Ruined - Fountains of Wayne
Everything's Fucked - The Dirty Three
The Perfect Kiss - New Order
Love Hates - Marianne Faithful
Lipstick - Suzi Quatro
I Wanted to be Alone - Sam Phillips
Nice Bike - Ry Cooder
Goodbye San Francisco/Hello Amsterdam - Doug Sahm
Oh Lonesome Me - Nancey Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood
A Shot in the Dark - Antietam
Shoot Out the Lights - X (written by richard thompson)

side B
Fascination - Undertones
Good Morning Judge - 10cc
Good Morning Judge - Buster Poindexter
Cleveland Confidential (Real World) - Pagans
Daytripper - Shockabilly (Beatles)
Stumblin' In - Suzi Quatro/Chris Norman (reached #5 on the US charts in 1979)
Get While the Gettin's Good - Nancy Sinatra
A Face in the Crowd - Kathleen Edwards (Tom Petty)
Highway 23 - Ry Cooder
On Interstate 15 - Wall of Voodoo
Hostile Bridge to Benny's - Stewart Copeland (from Rumblefish soundtrack)
Sound in 70 Cities - Simple Minds
Speed of Life - Bowie
Metal on Metal - Kraftwerk
Goodbye Stranger - Supertramp

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Malls are culture too!

"Next on the WB" -- there's your authentic American existence. It's a travesty that the suburban American Dream hasn't been more thoroughly represented/ mythologized via the vast wasteland. Malls are culture too!