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Moms Mabley, the original wise old black lesbian comedian: ‘Comedy ain’ pretty’
01.13.2016
06:31 am

Topics:
History
Queer
Race
Television

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“He said, ‘Now what would you do if I died?’ And I said ‘Laugh.’”

If you have the opportunity to see the 2014 HBO documentary Whoopi Goldberg presents Moms Mabley, don’t pass it up. Clearly a labor of love, Goldberg recreated Mabley’s act as a young performer at Berkeley in the ‘80s and was obviously very inspired by her work. The doc was originally called Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ To Tell You and was supported by Kickstarter donations. Then HBO bought it and no doubt asked for a title change to include Goldberg’s household name due to the relative obscurity of its eponymous subject some forty years after her death in 1975.
 

 

“What’s she got that I ain’t had thirty years longer?”

Unless you’re a real comedy nerd or over the age of, say, 55-60, you probably have little direct experience of Jackie “Moms” Mabley or remember seeing her on television. She could be seen mostly on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, maybe Laugh-In and various talk shows doing a toned-down version of her “blue” stage act. She was billed as “the funniest woman in the world” and was one of the first female stand-up comics, black or white, if not the very first. (Even Phyllis Diller claimed to be indebted to Moms Mabley.) I only really knew of her via seeing her albums in the comedy album cut-out bins of the late 1970s or hearing snippets of her stand-up on a long-running radio show called The Comedy Hour that used to air after The Dr. Demento Show back then. Her act was that of a straight-talking, dirty-minded, toothless old black lady who made jokes about chasing young men around. I had but a vague awareness of her at best, so I can be forgiven for assuming that her comic persona was something akin to the way she might be in real life, but exaggerated a bit, like say Minnie Pearl.
 

 

“Did you know I was on President Nixon’s enemies list? Yes darlin’, I told Tricia that if the Pilgrims had shot bobcats instead of turkeys for food, we’d be eating pussy for Thanksgiving.”

Nothing apparently could be further from the truth: The mismatched old lady clothes and the Gilligan hat merely clothed a character that Jackie Mabley had developed—and aged into—from the late 1920s onwards on the black vaudeville touring circuit, or the “Chitlin circuit” as it was called, including the big rooms of Harlem, like the Apollo Theater. “Moms” had a costume, the character’s “look” completed when she took her false teeth out. In real life Jackie Mabley was a proud and defiantly out butch black lesbian woman, at a time when the very concept of such a person would probably not have computed even to people who worked with her on a day-to-day basis. Offstage the dresses she claimed to buy from the S&H green stamps catalog were exchanged for the sort of smartly cut men’s suit that Janelle Monáe might favor. (She can be seen in a man’s suit in 1933’s Emperor Jones.)
 

 
Moms Mabley was one of the great 20th-century comedians, up there with any of them, although she’s little recalled today. She’s also someone who figures into the civil rights movement and the nascent gay liberation movement, too. (Even if few actually knew it at the time. It’s not like she was trying to hide her sexuality from the world, because she obviously wasn’t.)
 

 

“That man so old… he’s older than his birthday.”

As Goldberg states at the beginning of the doc, the reality is that not all that much is truly and factually known about Moms Mabley’s life. One can surmise certain things, or know what sort of money she made ($10,000 a week, which was a fortune then and not too bad by today’s standards either) or find posters of her on a bill at the Apollo and YouTube clips of her TV performances, but the details of her life are quite scarce and ephemeral at this point. Most people who would have known her or worked with her in her heyday would be long dead. Goldberg deserves thanks for rescuing this fascinating woman’s life story and helping restore her rightful place in comedy history, not to mention her role in helping white TV viewers and nightclub audiences of the 1960s to understand the POV of a wise old dirty-minded black woman. Had she been a few years younger, it’s easy to imagine Moms Mabley in a Norman Lear-produced sitcom of the ‘70s and as well-remembered today as say, Redd Foxx is, another risque black comic who was lucky enough, for posterity’s sake, to be born 26 years later.
 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
One two-minute video that encapsulates every clichéd punk rock documentary ever made
01.12.2016
08:53 am

Topics:
History
Music
Punk

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Punk scholars, this is everything.

If you’ve ever watched ANY documentary on the early days of punk rock, this video will make perfect sense. As a parody, it’s almost too spot-on. The only overt hint that it’s “taking the piss,” so to speak, is the very end where the typical talking head gives an absurd list of musicians’ names who attended the Sex Pistols Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall gig.

The boisterous nostalgia merchant in this clip is Nigel Buxton, a.k.a. BaaadDad, father of Adam Buxton from the BBC Channel 4 comedy series The Adam and Joe Show. Sadly, Mr. Buxton passed away last November.

Ladies and Gentlemen: here we have EVERY clichéd punk documentary ever made in one two minute video.

“You can do this. You don’t have to take this bullshit anymore.”
 

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Stunning vintage portraits of Canada’s First Nation People
01.07.2016
11:14 am

Topics:
History

Tags:

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Chief Owl—Blackfoot circa 1886.
 
During the 1880s, Canadian Alex Ross photographed many of the First Nations people who lived around Calgary. In particular, Ross documented many of the men, women and families of the Blackfoot—mainly of the Siksiká Nation—and the Tsuu T’ina—or as they were originally called, Sarcee.

Ross started his photographic career as an assistant in Winnipeg, but decided in his early 30s to relocate to Calgary and establish his own studio. The practicalities of taking pictures in situ—carrying equipment out on location where one was open to the vagaries of the weather—led to a boom in such studios, where backcloths could replicate any South Sea island, summer palace, or traditional suburban drawing room. Add to this the possibility of owning a seemingly permanent portable reminder of a loved one, family member or even deceased relative made photography a very profitable business.

Unlike some of his business rivals, Ross took a growing interest in the local First Nations and between 1884-91 he started photographing as many of the indigenous peoples as possible. He also photographed various of their camps across the Alberta province.

In 1891, Ross unexpectedly closed his business down. He died three years later in 1894 at 43 years of age. The Glenbow Archives own 125 of Ross’ original photographs—from First Nations people to family portraits, country scenes and livestock which they describe as “a brief but important visual record of the last two decades of the 19th century.”

Today there are 634 officially recognized First Nations governments, or bands, spread across Canada, “roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.” The total population is more than 850,000.
 
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Blackfoot children, date unknown ca. 1886-94.
 
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First Nations man and his wife, 1886.
 
More of Alex Ross’ photographs of First Nations people, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The forgotten mole men of Vienna’s sewers
12.29.2015
08:32 am

Topics:
Books
Class War
History

Tags:

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Long before Orson Welles (as Harry Lime) was chased thru Vienna’s subterranean sewers in The Third Man, the city’s labyrinth of tunnels, waterways and culverts offered a secret refuge to many of the homeless poor.

The story of those who lived amid the squalor and effluence may have been long lost had it not been for the work of journalist Emil Kläger and amateur photographer Hermann Drawe, who in 1904 started documenting this secret world. With a local criminal as their guide, Kläger and Drawe descended into the city’s lower depths. In case of attack, they carried knuckledusters and guns—police could offer no protection here.

Drawe photographed these men huddled together under staircases, piled like stones in culverts, or wandering across the dark waters of the River Wien—lost men who lived, slept, smoked, ate, fought each other and shared dreams of a better future. Sometimes with their help Drawe would reconstruct certain scenes—a robbery, a fight—based on testimonies collected by Kläger. They also visited and documented the lives of the homeless men, women and children who lived in the Christian hostels above ground.

Between 1905 and 1908, Kläger and Drawe presented their work in a series of lectures—the photographs shown as slides to Kläger’s commentary. The authorities tried to stop them. This was not how the they wanted Vienna to be seen—this jewel of the Hapsburg Empire, the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, of waltzes, Art Nouveau, Kings, Queens, and Sachertorte.

The public disagreed. The men gave over 300 lectures. It led to the publication of a book of their work, Durch die Wiener Quartiere des Elends und Verbrechens (Journey through the Viennese quarters of crime and despair) in 1908. 
 
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Residents of ‘The Fortress.’
 
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Men sleep on piles of rubble.
 
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Sleeping under a spiral staircase.
 
More of Drawe’s photographs, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Imagine that it’s 1968 and you are hearing the Beatles perform ‘Hey Jude’ for the very first time
12.18.2015
11:26 am

Topics:
History
Music
Television

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There’s a sweet new HD Beatles VEVO channel that I wanted to call your attention to, dear readers. Utilizing clips taken from the spiffy-looking new 1+ Blu-ray box set, the channel has been uploading these sharp HD music videos for a while now and they’re adding new ones all the time (there’s a lot to work from, the deluxe 1+ BD set has over 50 lovingly restored Beatles promo films).

Embedded below is the famous performance of “Hey Jude” that was broadcast on Frost, the talk/variety show hosted by David Frost in Great Britain on September 8, 1968, and on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the US a month later, on October 6. (Apparently there was also a version shot with Cliff Richard introducing them.)

TV’s Ready, Steady,Go! director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who would go on to direct Let It Be (and had already produced other film promos for the Fabs, such as the ones for “Rain” and “Paperback Writer”) helmed the production. Paul McCartney designed the set for the shoot, with a two-tiered riser for the orchestra, which took place at Twickenham Film Studios on September 4. It’s worth mentioning that Ringo Starr had actually announced that he’d quit the Beatles just two weeks earlier due to a dust-up with Macca, who’d criticized his drumming on “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

They shot twelve takes, but after that McCartney announced “I think that’s enough.”
 

This is how it looked for most people back in the day. Probably sounded B&W, too! We moderns can now watch The Beatles in HD on bigass flatscreens in 5.1 surround sound.

As you are watching, try to imagine what it was like to hear this for the first time, and also bear in mind that the Beatles had only just released the astonishing Yellow Submarine film a few months prior to this! “Hey Jude” topped the charts in Britain for two weeks and for nine in America, where it became The Beatles’ longest-running #1 single in the US. Without further ado, here it is, “Hey Jude” as it was more or less experienced in its premiere airing. Of course it can now seen in far, far better quality than you’d ever have been able to see it in during those original television broadcasts, back when most people in Britain and America would have been watching it on low resolution B&W TV sets. (The Beatles themselves wouldn’t have even been able to see it in this kind of quality back then either).
 

 
More Beatles in HD after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Frozen Charlotte: The creepy Victorian-era dolls that slept in coffins and were baked into cakes
12.16.2015
11:09 am

Topics:
Amusing
History

Tags:

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Antique dolls can be rather creepy. But antique dolls kept in coffins or served up in puddings and cakes for ravenous young children are definitely creepy. But wait, how, you may ask, did all this creepiness come about? Well dear reader, back in your great-great-great-great grandmama’s time, children were given a tiny pottery doll to play with. This doll was made from one piece of unglazed porcelain with no moveable limbs—pale white with only the slightest coloring on hair, cheeks, lips and eyes. Not exactly an iPad.

The doll was originally manufactured in Germany in 1850 and sold as the perfect playmate for baby’s bathtime. However, it soon became associated with a popular poem of the day “Young Charlotte” written by humorist Seba Smith in 1840. The poem recounted the grim true tale of a young woman who had frozen to death one New Year’s Eve while out riding with her sweetheart in an open sleigh. This poor unfortunate lass had failed to heed her mother’s advice:

“O, daughter dear,” her mother cried,
“This blanket ’round you fold;
It is a dreadful night tonight,
You’ll catch your death of cold.”

“O, nay! O, nay!” young Charlotte cried,
And she laughed like a gypsy queen;
“To ride in blankets muffled up,
I never would be seen.”

Smith’s poem inspired the folk song “Fair Charlotte”:

“He took her hand in his — O, God!
’Twas cold and hard as stone;
He tore the mantle from her face,
Cold stars upon it shone.
Then quickly to the glowing hall,
Her lifeless form he bore;
Fair Charlotte’s eyes were closed in death,
Her voice was heard no more.

What had been intended as a German bath toy soon became known in America as a “Frozen Charlotte.” The dolls cost a penny and were insanely popular—some being sold with their very own coffin and blanket-cum-shroud. In Britain these dolls were often baked into a pudding or cake as a fun surprise for children to discover—or more likely break their teeth on—at Christmastime.

Frozen Charlotte dolls are highly collectible and if you fancy getting your hands on one, well put a bid in here.
 
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More creepy Frozen Charlottes, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Sid Vicious’ handwritten list of ‘What Makes Nancy So Great’
12.16.2015
09:24 am

Topics:
History
Punk

Tags:


 
In 1978, a 20-year-old Sid Vicious made a list in numerical order naming all of his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen’s “great” qualities. A few months after this list was penned, Spungen, a diagnosed schizophrenic dubbed “Nauseating Nancy” by the British music press, was found stabbed to death in the Chelsea Hotel on October 12. Sid Vicious was the main person of interest in her death, but died himself of a heroin overdose on February 2, 1979.

What Makes Nancy So Great By Sidney

1 Beautiful
2 Sexy
3 Beautiful figure
4 Great sense of humour
5 Makes extremely interesting conversation
6 Witty
7 Has beautiful eyes
8 Has fab taste in clothes
9 Has the most beautiful wet pussy in the world
10 Even has sexy feet
11 Is extremely smart
12 A great Hustler


 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Gorgeous color photographs of Paris from over a century ago
12.14.2015
01:34 pm

Topics:
History

Tags:

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In 1909, millionaire banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn traveled to Japan on business. He was accompanied by his chauffeur and the photographer Alfred Dutertre, who he commissioned as his own personal Instagram to document his travels. Upon his return to his home in Paris, Kahn looked through the dozens of photos Duterte had snapped and decided he wanted to create “a photographic record of the entire Earth.” He therefore commissioned four photographers—Leon Gimpel, Stephane Passet, Georges Chevalier, and Auguste Leon—who were despatched, under the stewardship of project manager Jean Brunhes, to the four corners of the world with the simple directive to capture “a unique cinematic and photographic testimony of life of the people of the world.”

Using Autochrome Lumière—an early color photographic process that created color images with dyed potato starch on glass plates—and some early movie cameras, the photographers created an historical record of over 50 different countries between 1909 and 1929—taking 72,000 color photographs and shooting over 600,000 feet of film.

They documented in true colour the collapse of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, the last traditional Celtic villages in Ireland, and the soldiers of the First World War. They took the earliest known colour photographs in countries as far apart as Vietnam and Brazil, Mongolia and Norway, Benin and the United States.

Kahn was an idealist. He believed documenting the world through photographs and movies he could create a cross-cultural understanding between nations and bring global peace. Neat idea. However, with the Wall Street Crash in 1929, Kahn was forced to abandon the project. He died in 1940 leaving behind one of the most important and extensive historical photographic archives.

In 1914, Paris was one of the cities documented by Kahn’s four photographers. They captured the “City of Lights” on the very brink of the irreversible changes wrought by the First World War.
 
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More incredible color photos of Paris from 1914, after the jump….
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The ‘real’ New York: Gritty scenes of NYC street life, 1970
12.11.2015
08:20 am

Topics:
Environment
History

Tags:

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Avenue C, Lower East Side.
 
The photographer and documentarian Camilo José Vergara uses photographs as “a means of discovery, as a tool with which to clarify visions and construct knowledge about a particular city or place.” Pictures, for Vergara, are the starting point in asking questions or linking to other images or investigating new territories and ideas.

Born in Santiago, Chile in 1944, Vergara started his career as a photographer after he arrived in New York City during the 1960s. He graduated with a B.A. in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, and went on to study an M.A. in sociology at Columbia University. It was while at Columbia that Vergara saw the potential in using photography to document the changes in the city’s urban environment and its influence on social behavior. This eventually led to Vergara’s work in rephotography—literally then and now photography—where he documents one location over a number of years or decades.

In 1970, Vergara began documenting New York street life capturing the children, families and communities living among the city’s urban decay. Vergara’s photographs showed parts of New York that looked like bombed-out war zones, deprived areas suffering the worst of both city and state indifference.

Since this early work in New York, Vergara has documented poor, minority communities in Chicago, Newark, Detroit, Los Angeles and sixteen other cities across the U.S.A. This work has produced an archive of over 14,000 color slides, numerous books, exhibitions and film documentaries. Vergara intends this enormous back catalog to form a basis for The Visual Encyclopedia of the American Ghetto to “visualize how ghettos change over time, understand the nature and meaning of social and economic inequality in urban America.”

For his photographic work, Vergara’s has won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2002, the Berlin Prize in 2010 and the National Humanities Medal in 2013. The following is just a small selection of his photographs taken on the streets of New York during 1970.
 
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Girls with Barbies, East Harlem.
 
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Fifth Ave at 110th Street, East Harlem.
 
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South Bronx.
 
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South Bronx.
 
More of Vergara’s powerful photographs from New York 1970, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Where were you when you heard that John Lennon had been murdered?
12.08.2015
02:12 pm

Topics:
History
R.I.P.

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John Lennon was just 40 years old when he shot 35 years ago by Mark David Chapman in the archway of The Dakota building on the Upper West Side of New York City on December 8th, 1980. Lennon and Yoko Ono had just returned home that evening from working at the Record Plant when Chapman approached him. The former Beatle sustained four fatal gunshot wounds and was declared dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.

They say people who were around then can always remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard that JFK or Martin Luther King had been assassinated. I was 14 when John Lennon was murdered and I first heard about it via the headline in the local paper, the Wheeling News Register and Intelligencer the next morning. I always read my neighbor’s paper every morning while waiting for the school bus. There had been an intense snowfall in my hometown of Wheeling, WV early that morning and I was standing about calf-deep in fresh snow which was falling all around me. Just the night before I had begun “going steady” with my first serious girlfriend and we’d spoken for hours on the phone. I woke up high on life due to this exciting new development in my fledgling teenage love life. I was in an especially great mood.

Then I opened the paper and was smacked in the face with the shocking news that John Lennon was dead.

The world—well American football fans at least—first heard of Lennon’s death when it was announced by Howard Cosell on ABC’s Monday Night Football, a show on which Lennon himself had appeared in the past. He and the famous sportscaster were actually friendly and Lennon had been a guest on Cosell’s radio talk show as well.

“Remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead … on … arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which in duty bound, we have to take.”

 

 
Stevie Wonder broke the terrible news to an audience at the Oakland Coliseum (flanked by, among others, poet Gil Scott Heron):
 

 
Here’s a YouTube comment from a woman named Laura Agigian, who was there that night. Sure enough her memory of the event was as strong as if it had just happened:

I was there.  I was at that concert.  It was at the Oakland Stadium on December 8, 1980.  During the concert, I remember feeling disappointed because Stevie seemed to be “off,” disconnected from the songs he was singing, and just going through the motions.  He played many of his songs back to back in a medley, as if to get it over with.  At the end of the concert, I knew why.

Even now, in 2014, I remember almost every word of that speech, which left me speechless.  I remember getting more and more worried as he started to talk.  I remember the collective “gasp” upon hearing the name of the artist who had been shot, and the incredible silence for a few moments afterward.  The stadium, filled with thousands of people, was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

I was so overwhelmingly shocked, I could not speak.  I couldn’t believe that most of the audience were singing along with Stevie after that.  I don’t remember if he sang, “Give Peace a Chance” or “Imagine.”  I was just crying my eyes out.  When I got home, I turned on the radio and they were holding an all night call-in vigil.  I called in and told my story of the Stevie Wonder Concert.  I stayed up all night with all the other callers, trying to make sense out of it, or even to believe it. 

Wow.  I never, ever, ever thought I would hear this speech again.  I feel like I was there all over again.  Wow.  And it is almost exactly how I remembered it.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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