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CONTAINS NO NARCOTICS: The Legend of the Civil Defense Boxes
11:48 am



Here’s a little quiz for you: What’s the less obvious message this fallout shelter sign communicated to early-to-mid-60s Jazz musicians and Beatniks? Psst, it has very little to do with the Cold War…

That’s right, to more bohemian types, these once familiar signs were a loud and clear dog whistle that there were very likely government-issued narcotics, free for the taking, inside that building. I come from a family that includes professional musicians, and so I had heard of this “legend.” Is it true?

Back in the 60s and even into the 70s, we all wondered not if we’d die in a nuclear holocaust, but when. With both Soviet as well as American nuclear arsenals pointed at each other, a loud sneeze by Dr Strangelove could set everything off and then, before you know it,  those of us unlucky enough to survive would all be plunged into the middle of nuclear winter a la Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

As a kid in Washington Heights I remember hearing them testing the air raid sirens along Riverside Drive towards the end of summer, and man was that creepy. Our building had one of these signs and our basement was indeed equipped with radiation-proof walls. Under President Kennedy, an idea was hatched to provide radioactive fallout-proof shelter for all Americans, along with at least two solid weeks of food, water and medical supplies. Before this enormously expensive plan got scrapped, perhaps as many as 100,000 “fallout shelters” were built, and in New York city there are still thousands of them left, in the basements and sub-basements of apartment buildings and elsewhere.

In the event of the air-raid sirens going off for real, citizens were supposed to ensconce themselves deep within the fallout shelters. After the bombs had been dropped due to a Soviet counter-assault (which seemed inevitable given the amount of hardware we had deployed in Europe), there’d theoretically be at least a few survivors that would be kinda bummed out and in need of some serious chemically-assisted chillin’ (if not actual pain relief), so certain special types of those civil defense boxes came equipped, legend had it, with powerful narcotics that were of a very high quality. Not a lot of people knew this at the time, particularly as the narcotics-containing boxes were cleverly disguised by Federal masterminds (keep reading).

Operationally, when visiting the home of another druggy friend, if the fallout shelter sign was seen on the outside of the building, an expedition would often be mounted straight to the basement. After the likely door was identified, the arc of a claw hammer might briefly be seen knocking off a lock, or some other means utilized to open that door, accompanied by muffled laughter and a quiet susurrus. If the location of the civil defense barrels and boxes was verified, those boxes labeled NO NARCOTICS INSIDE (no, I’m not shitting you) would be shortly thereafter opened and the government-issued narcotics inside removed and consumed.

Could it really be true that the basements of apartment buildings throughout New York and other cities once housed civil defense boxes stuffed with high-grade government-issued drugs? Well lo and behold, today I discovered that the legends were true.

Trolling the Internet thingy I ran across the website of the Civil Defense Museum and spent several hours pouring over the photos and data pertaining to the good ole’ nuclear civil defense days. As it turns out, “Medical Kit A” (serving 50 to 65 persons) contained a bottle of 500 phenobarbital pills, while Medical Kit C (serving 300 to 325 persons) contained three bottles of 1000 phenobarbitals EACH. 3000 phenobarbitals could keep a musician and his “fallout boys” cool for, like, a solid week or two. At least.

Amusingly, the boxes also contained alcohol, and this would certainly have been considered a nice bonus for someone trying to score. And yes, the boxes did contain actual medical supplies in addition to the drugs, though what happened to those the legends never described.

What I still find amazing is the naivety expressed by those who ran this program, that they believed their diabolically clever NO NARCOTICS INSIDE box-labeling would actually PREVENT hardened druggies from cracking open the boxes, instead of the far more likely result, basically ADVERTISING the presence of powerful narcotics. No doubt there must be all sorts of conspiracy theories to explain this, but it seems easier to me to believe that the folks running the civil defense program just weren’t that bright.

Posted by Em | Discussion
The Bohemian World of Betty Boop
10:00 am

Pop Culture


Image by Michael Paulus
Although today we tend think of Betty Boop as little more than a trademark seen on various consumer items, or in advertisements, at one time, Betty Boop, a creation of Fleischer Studios (who also came up with Popeye the Sailor) was looked upon similarly to the way we regard The Simpsons or South Park today, animations where much of the humor is aimed primarily at the adult viewer.

First of all, unlike Daisy Duck or Minnie Mouse, Betty was drawn with cleavage and frilly panties. And she was a human girl, not a duck or mouse girl. Modeled on the archetypal 20s jazz flapper, singer Helen Kane and the “It Girl” of the silent movie-era, Clara Bow, Betty Boop’s sex appeal was seen as somewhat upfront for a cartoon character. She was also seen, in the course of her adventures in certain less than savory situations, squalorous nightclubs and against run-down backdrops.

Barely disguised sexual innuendo is plentiful in Betty Boop cartoons and even images of gambling, drug paraphernalia and alcohol abuse are seen in one particular vivid nightmare sequence. One cartoon showed Betty and Koko the Clown getting high on Nitrous Oxide. Eventually the gas escapes outside and even the mailboxes have a giggle fit. In two others, she is topless. By 1934, Betty’s bohemian antics were toned down to appease the National Legion of Decency and the Production Code.

Some of the best-remembered Betty Boop cartoons are the ones featuring jazz legends like Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway. In 1932’s (I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead) You Rascal You, Armstrong appears in some of the earliest footage ever seen of the great musician as a menacing, disembodied floating head, chasing Betty, Bimbo and Koko the Clown through the jungle, and performing with his orchestra. (“The High Society Rag” is also performed).

Cab Calloway was featured in several Betty Boop cartoons such as the classic Minnie the Moocher, where he sings as a walrus surrounded by ghosts to a runaway Betty. In 1933’s Snow White, Calloway, in the guise of Koko the Clown, moonwalks and sings St. James Infirmary Blues. Koko’s dance moves came from rotoscoped footage of Calloway (Max Fleisher, in fact, invented the Rotoscoping technique). In The Old Man Of the Mountain, Calloway performs three numbers.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Jack Kerouac: His last interview with the ‘Tampa Bay Times,’ 1969
04:52 pm



And of course there are those times when so much is happening—the emails to be read, the dog to be walked, the work to be done, the ‘toothpaste to be squeezed’—that a story occasionally slips by unnoticed, unacknowledged. So, it was with this piece from the Tampa Bay Times that was posted in March.

It tells the story of reporter, Jack McClintock, who:

..visited several times with Jack Kerouac at Kerouac’s home on 10th Avenue N for this story, which was published Oct. 12, 1969. Kerouac died nine days later, on Oct. 21, at St. Anthony’s Hospital.

According to Kevin Hayes, author of the book Conversations With Jack Kerouac, McClintock’s interviews were Kerouac’s last.

Kerouac was unlike the imaginary Beat writer that millions venerated. He was a maudlin drunk, who clung to his childhood beliefs, spoiled by drink, a bitter Republican, who was dismissive of the hedonistic culture his work had inspired. It’s sometimes inevitable that the youthful firebrand will evolve into the tweedy curmudgeon. Often this phase of an artist’s life is dismissed or edited out (look how Allen Ginsberg tirelessly ignored or defended, as somehow ironic, his friend’s homophobia and anti-semitism). Still, I find such phases as interesting and as valid as the sunny, glory days—in the same way “fat Elvis” is as compelling a narrative as “Sun Records Elvis,” but for wholly different reasons.

McClintock went looking for Kerouac wanting to know what happened to the Beats in the “Age of Aquarius?” After a week of no-shows, McClintock at last saw a recognizable face with “grizzled jowls and red-rimmed eyes under spikey, dark tousled hair.”

Kerouac? The face said, “Yeah,” and then: “You want to come in?”

Although the sun was two hours from taking its evening dip into the gulf 10 miles to the west, the house was dim inside. A television set in the corner was on, soundless. The sound you heard was Handel’s Messiah blaring from speakers in the next room.

“I like to watch television like that,” Kerouac said.
“You ain’t going to take my photo are you? You better not try to take my photo or I’ll kick your ass.” A threatening leer, then a laugh.

“Stella. Hey! Turn the music up!” Stella went and turned the music up. Her feet were silent on the floor.

Kerouac dragged up a rocking chair for the reporter, then slumped into another one in the corner.

He was wearing unpressed brown pants, a yellow-and-brown striped sport shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow. The shirt was unbuttoned and beneath it the T-shirt was inside out. He pointed to his belly, large and round.

“I got a goddam hernia, you know that? My goddam belly-button is popping out. That’s why I’m dressed like this … I got no place to go, anyway. You want a beer? Hah?” He picked up a pack of Camels in a green plastic case. “Some whiskey then?”

Kerouac has a hernia, his gut swollen over his pants, “My belly-button is popping out,” he said. McClintock wanted to know what Kerouac was working on:

“Well, I wrote that article,” he said, a trifle belligerently. His agent was busy selling a piece Kerouac had written, entitled “After Me, the Deluge,” his reflections on today’s world and what he might have contributed to it.

Anything else?

“Well, I’m going to write a novel about the last 10 years of my life …

The conversation moved onto the Beats, Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey (“I don’t like Ken Kesey…He ruined Cassady”) before Kerouac began his drunken ramblings about the Mafia, the Communists and “the Jew,” and talking about his experiences with drugs:

“I smoked more grass than anyone you ever knew in your life,” Kerouac snorts. “I came across the Mexican border one time with 2½ pounds of grass around my waist in a silk scarf. I had one of those wide Mexican belts around me over it. I had a big bottle of tequila and I went up to the border guard and offered him some, and he said, No, go on through, senor.”

Kerouac laughed, remembering how that was.

“It should be legalized and taxed. Taxed. Yeah, ‘Gimme a pack of marijuana!’ But this other stuff is poison; acid’s poison, speed is poison, STP is poison, it’s all poison. But grass is nothing.”

By the end of the interview, Kerouac revealed a spark of his old self, his essence, his enthusiasm for writing:

“Stories of the past,” said Jack Kerouac. “My story is endless. I put in a teletype roll, you know, you know what they are, you have them in newspapers, and run it through there and fix the margins and just go, go – just go, go, go.”

McClintock has written a powerful and memorable portrait and the whole article can be read here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats

Via the Tampa Bay News

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The shop-keeper who unleashed a revolution: Documentary on Punk’s Artful Dodger Malcolm McLaren
07:40 pm

Pop Culture


Malcolm McLaren unleashed the greatest revolution of the last quarter of the 20th century. This was in part because McLaren was really a shop-keeper, a haberdasher, a boutique owner who knew his market and, most importantly, knew how to sell product to the masses.

Unfortunately, when it came to music, the talent was more than just product, and McLaren regularly mis-used and manipulated the musical talent (New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Adam and The Ants/Bow-Wow-Wow) for his own personal gain. It was the behavior of a man who couldn’t and didn’t trust anyone—perhaps because (as he claimed) he had been abandoned by his mother—an act of betrayal he never forgave. There is the story of how years later, McLaren was have said to have traveled on a London Underground train, only to find his mother in the same carriage. The pair sat opposite each other, with neither acknowledging the other’s presence, and each alighting at their separate stops.

McLaren was bewitching, relentless and always on the make. But for all his scams and incredible machinations, little is really known about the man himself. He re-wrote his biography so many times it is almost impossible to know what is the truth. He also carefully edited out those who had helped his success, and fabricated wonderful, picaresque tales of misadventure—-for example, the time he failed to have Nancy Spungen kidnapped, in a bid to remove her insidious influence over Sid Vicious.

In essence, Malcolm’s greatest talent was his own self-promotion—his unique role as a cultural PR man, who changed history. If there is anything to be learned from his particular type of genius, it is to make headlines out of even the worst situation. On his deathbed, Mclaren’s last words were said to have been: “Free Leonard Peltier.” As he had done in his life, McLaren had once again grabbed hold of someone else’s notoriety.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Superb documentary on Malcolm McLaren from 1984


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Ferrante & Teicher: The Forgotten Gods of Easy Listening Music
09:38 pm



Some Dangerous Minds readers will immediately recognize the names of Ferrante & Teicher, the prodigiously talented dual piano purveyors of the easiest easy listening who sold 90 million albums in their five decade career, but those readers will be of a certain age or else crazed crate diggers.

I just asked my wife, who has deep knowledge of all kinds of zany things, what the names “Ferrante & Teicher” meant to her and she said “Nothing” (we were even listening to them at the time). Most people under 45 will draw a complete blank when that question would be posed to them. However, those of us north of that age will likely recall the “grand twins of the twin grands” from various light entertainment TV programs in the 60s and 70s (they were probably on The Lawrence Welk Show a lot) and our grandparents record collections. The pair was primarily known for their dexterously executed two piano mind-meld arrangements of popular classical music pieces, film themes and Broadway show tunes. They were a huge draw on the “pops” classical concert circuit. Along with the likes of Peter Nero and Arthur Fiedler, they produced the whitest, most inoffensive music ever made—which isn’t to say that they weren’t great, because they were really quite extraordinary musicians.

Before becoming the of the biggest selling instrumental acts of all time, Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher were classically trained pianists who met at Juilliard. The pair started out doing John Cage-influenced “prepared piano” pieces (sticking cardboard between keys, laying metal bars across them, using glass mallets and so forth) and used a lot of studio manipulation, operating in the Joe Meek/hi-fi demonstration territory a little bit, too. Some of their early material, as heard on mid-1950s albums like Soundproof, Blast Off! and Soundblast sounds like, I dunno, an Eisenhower-era version of Tangerine Dream (Isn’t that description intriguing? I’m proud of that one…).

When the duo signed to United Artists in 1960 it was suggested to them that they might want to record some movie themes and their career instantly took off with their version of the theme from Billy Wilder’s classic comedy, The Apartment and their stirring rendition of the “Theme From Exodus” (which made it to #2 on the singles chart). Many people might have assumed that Ferrante and Teicher were a gay couple because of the dressing alike “twins” nature of their two piano shtick (they were neither related or twins), but the matching mustaches, horn-rimmed glasses, pompadour toupees and the bargain basement Liberace tuxedos were just a part of the act. Both were married at least once and had kids.

I expected that Ferrante & Teicher would have some sort of critical re-appraisal, like Esquivel did during the whole “lounge” craze—they’re awesome!—but that never happened. It’s kind of strange considering HOW LARGE of a flea market and 25 cent record store bin footprint they left behind. Imagine a warehouse with 90 million albums in it. A lot of their records are still floating around. Why haven’t young people with ironic facial hair discovered Ferrante & Teicher? Why haven’t more of their songs been sourced for obscure break beats? Why have virtually none of their 150 albums ever been released on CD?

To add insult to injury, there’s precious little about Ferrante & Teicher on the Internet, their website has hardly been updated since they died and they have almost no presence on the torrent trackers. At least there are several choice clips of them on YouTube, doing what they did best.

A great example of their more avant-garde earlier work, the gorgeous, Martin Denny-esque “African Echoes”:

Amazing, right?

I have a special memory of Ferrante & Teicher because I actually went to see them in concert on my first real “date,” believe it or not, when I was in the 8th grade, with the young lady who would end up being my girlfriend throughout much of my teens. Perhaps it’s an event recalled decades later with particular fondness because it was such an auspicious night in my young life, but I would honestly have to say that it was one of my peak concert going experiences, it really was (up there with Einstürzende Neubauten, Crass, dozens of Nick Cave shows, the evil Psychic TV gig I described the other day and Radiohead at the Hollywood Bowl). The show was held in an intimate outdoor amphitheater and I still have a strong sense memory of being there, where we were sitting relative to the stage, the lightning bus and how dazzling, virtuoso and telepathic their playing was.

“Midnight Cowboy:

More Ferrante & Teicher after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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