Hello, birdie

A photo I snapped of my friend Brooke a few years ago in Vienna. A bird happened to swoop into the frame at the last moment, just as I was pressing the shutter release– a complete accident.


Incidentally, the ferris wheel poking into the picture in the background is the very same ferris wheel used in the filming of The Third Man, where Orson Welles delivers his famous ‘cuckoo clock’ line:


Pat Boone and the Disappearing Hitchhiker

booneReader JS agitates for a Pat Boone post and thereby provides a nice blog entry on the subject himself:

Why don’t you or Krafty do a music blog on Pat Boone, the loathsome twit from the 1950s who is still around? He was sort of the Great White Hope of Pap (as distinguished from Pop or Rap) Music in the 1950s, turning out castrated, salt free versions of Little Richard hits like Long Tall Sally that were deemed safe for consumption by Nice White Kids. He popularized the Legend of the Disappearing Hitchhiker. He claimed to have been tooling down Pacific Coast Highway in his Rolls Royce (he maintained that he was immune from criticism for owing such an automobile because he was only God’s steward, with real ownership of the limo resting with Jesus) when he stopped for an ethereal young hitchhiker. As they sped down the coast road, the Hitchhiker spoke out passionately against premarital sex, and articlulated his hope that all of Pat’s fans would return to God’s flock, his eyes burning like coals, etc. When he fell silent, Pat turned to the Hitchhiker to express his solidarity only to discover that he had disappeared into thin air!

I should add that JS was a teenager in the 50s, so he experienced the Boone phenomenon as a horrified first-hand witness, whereas for people my age, Boone is more of a kitschy relic. I do legitimately enjoy his In A Metal Mood: No More Mister Nice Guy album, where he does schmaltzy big-band covers of heavy metal songs. Check out, for example, his charming rendition of G’n’R’s ‘Paradise City’.

Politically incorrect design lectures

One thing I miss living in Prague is the design lectures I used to go to routinely in San Francisco. Two highlights:

1. Victor Moscoso


Moscoso was one of the main designers behind the Haight Ashbury psychedelic poster movement. He designed classic hippie-era band posters like this one:


He also revealed himself to be the designer of the Herbie Hancock Headhunters cover, which was a surprise to me, as this was one of my favorite album cover designs in college:


I saw him lecture to a packed auditorium in 2006. He is a fascinating lecturer, and also a pleasingly unrepentant, unreconstructed hippie. At one point, during his lecture he got sidetracked and went on a pro-legalization-of-marijuana tangent, which led to this spectacular exchange:

Moscoso: [ending with a rhetorical flourish] “I mean, when has marijuana ever really been shown to cause anybody harm?”

Audience: furious applause, cheering

Moscoso: [apparently emboldened by applause] “And LSD… when has LSD ever hurt someone?”

Audience: uncomfortable shifting in seats; nervous, scattered applause

I’d never before seen an audience exhibit a collective sense of being complicit in something uncomfortable and frankly hadn’t known it was possible.

2. Paula Scher


Paula Scher is arguably the most accomplished and well-known female designer alive at present. Her famous poster for a Broadway musical in the early 90s:


She also designed the Jon Stewart book America. When I saw her, it was a joint lecture between her and the producer of the Daily Show, and they talked about how the book got made, the collaborative process, etc etc. The producer even talked at length about Stewart’s infamous appearance on Crossfire when he savaged the hosts.

The best part, though, was when they discussed ideas and jokes that were ultimately deemed too offensive to leave in the book. One omitted joke included a plan to present a diagram of the political left and right sides of the brain with a small area on the far right occupied by Ann Coulter and named… The Cuntal Lobe. Genius.


Mundane superpowers

I’ve long been drawn to the idea of mundane superpowers and just found out about the documentary Confessions of  a Superhero, which pretty much steals my thunder. Apparently, it’s a documentary about the ordinary people who schlep around Hollywood Blvd dressed as superheroes and, I gather, sort of follows in the same vein as Anvil! bio-pic by simultaneously portraying them as spirited fighters and obsessed sad sacks. Then, more to the point, there’s this promo photo for the film:


Love the green cast and wallpaper. Still, just as it’s Superman’s fate to be eternally upstaged by more personable superheroes, so does his photo eventually pale in comparison to this completely amateur and totally great image of Spiderman struggling to get back into shape:


I found this on the site of a Swedish designer and emailed him to ask for info about the shot, but apparently his entire server just got wiped out and he’s too deranged by grief to recall where he got the image himself. Shame.

I’ve often thought that if you were to aspire to a reasonably-attainable mild superpower, a good choice would be to have the ability to make people’s limbs fall asleep (either numb, or occasional wracking pins-and-needles, depending on what the situation called for). This would be reasonably useful, but you wouldn’t be over-reaching by asking for something like, say, the ability to fly, which is – let’s face it – a bit far-fetched.

Update: Rasmus Andersson (whom I previously introduced as the grief-stricken Swedish designer) has apparently come to his wits sufficiently to source the spiderman photo:

I managed to track down where I found the Spiderman picture — from photographer Chris Leah:http://www.chrisleah.com/portfolio_1.html

Thanks, Rasmus! The Chris Leah site is great and has a little vignette of spidey photos. Check it out.

A Journey to the End of Taste

celineI am reading, and very much enjoying, this little book about Celine Dion.  It’s part of the 33 1/3 series of books about single albums (link is to the series blog), which is pretty awesome — for a retired record collector, the books (each of which is pocket sized and featuring the album’s cover on its cover) recall a little of the fetishistic pleasure of buying the record itself.

I previously read the edition on the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, which was great, but mostly in a sort of “extended Rolling Stone article” sort of way (great stories and interviews about the album’s creation, etc.).  This one is a little deeper than that — it’s written by a self-confessed music snob (a music critic named Carl Wilson) who grew up in Canada, and who therefore hated Celine Dion above all else, and it represents his effort to explore and better understand an artist who is both hugely, hugely popular, and also widely despised.  He traces her roots in a particular French Canadian “chanson” tradition, and speculates that one reason she is so hated (more, for example, than certain equally cheesy African-American singers) is that it is so difficult to locate her in any sort of well-understood musical tradition that it makes her seem all the phonier.  This is a topic that holds great interest for me, because I was raised in a snobby indie rock musical tradition, and worked for a college radio station where you would get in trouble for playing records that were on major labels, etc.  Anyhow I have always taken great pleasure in certain Top 40 hits, while truly despising others, including Celine, so I’ve spent some time puzzling over the question of what value there is in my snobby view, if so many millions disagree with me.  (One of my fondest classroom memories from college is the graduate seminar on Popular Music where the professor spent a 2-hour session purporting to demonstrate, objectively, why “Sweet Caroline” was so horrible and tasteless.) 

I’m not done yet, so I don’t know yet if Wilson comes to any significant conclusions, but it’s great poolside reading in any case.  I’ll also note, without comment, that James Franco somewhat mysteriously name-dropped this book on the Oscars red carpet earlier this year.

Harris 20th Century Railroad Attachment

One of my favorite possessions is a replica Sears Roebuck catalog from exactly 100 years ago. For a great many rural Americans at the time, the Sears catalog was the only access to goods outside of their local general store and, as a result, the catalog – sometimes called ‘The Consumer’s Bible’- contains basically every commercial product under the sun and thereby provides an inventory of everything that the average American of the time could have possibly thought of to own. You can buy a violin. You can buy a gun. You can buy a cure for baldness. You can buy records with racist ‘humor’ songs on them. For several hundred dollars, you can buy an unassembled two-storey house– as in, Sears delivers all the materials and some plans, and you put the thing together.


You can also buy this baffling Harris 20th Century Railroad Attachment that promises to make ‘a regular railroad velocipede out of an ordinary bicycle’. I like how the product is meticulously described – all the features, portability, popular with men and women, handsome black enamel – except for the key detail of what you are supposed to do when a train comes barreling down on you from behind, which is left totally unexplained.

Another nice thing about the catalog in general is that it predates the era of product photography. I don’t know whether it was too expensive to shoot all the products, or if the halftone screen wasn’t far enough along to allow for mass printing of photos in 1909, but in any case, the book contains thousands upon thousands of etchings of household items. One can only imagine the army of commercial etchers who must have been scratching away morning, noon and night to produce all this imagery.

Mock neighborhood

Through the platform that powers this blog, I’m able to view user statistics and see how many people visited on a given day and what (if any) search terms they used to get here. Through extensive analysis, I’ve determined that we’re now ranked #3 on Google for the phrase Sanders antique perm machine. To quote Harry Truman, prosperity is just around the corner!

Ranked just ahead of us at #2  for Sanders antique perm machine is the Antique Hair Museum In French Lick, Indiana (Larry Bird’s hometown, no less). The AHMIFLI is apparently the private collection of one Tony Kendall and features “an authenticated lock of Elvis Presley’s hair and a framed antique hair wreath” as the crown jewels of its exhibition.