Pope of Trash John Waters and Divine (“the filthiest person alive”) couldn’t look anymore adorable as amigurumi by knitting maven Captain Howdee. I just want to squish the hell out of these dolls ‘cause they’re so damned cute.
These were posted on Captain Howdee’s Flicker page back in 2007. I not sure if they’re for sale, but oh my gawd do I wish they were! I’d like to see an Edith Massey amigurumi. Imagine what that would look like! Why not a David Lochary doll, too?
Today we’re going to talk about discovering new things outside our sphere of existence and rediscovering old, dark things deep within. Chillstep and sadness.
Even with a house full of music on nearly every physical consumer format produced in the past 100 years, I still sometimes opt to do my listening online, through a pair of shitty little computer speakers, because the Internet makes it too easy to stumble effortlessly into new sounds. Earlier this week, I was on a late-night tear through YouTube, following links, uncovering new music, and rediscovering lost tracks from my youth, when a link on the right side of the screen grabbed my attention: “Sad chillstep hour of sadness.”
Chillstep? Something I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older: It’s not just that I don’t recognize the names of the new bands that “the kids are into” anymore, I don’t recognize names of entire genres—a harsh confirmation of one’s out-of-touchness. My first thought as I clicked the link was, “Chillstep is not even a real thing, right?” My second thought was, “I like sadness, let’s see how sad this thing really is. Bring it.”
A few seconds of buffering and I was into the sad hour of sadness. It struck me that “chillstep” was nothing at all like what I had imagined it would be—I was waiting for some wub wub wubs or some “drops” that never actually dropped. In fact, the whole thing sounded to me like a poppier trip-hop with what I usually describe as “new style girl vocals,” because, again, I’m totally old, and I was never really all that great at differentiating electronic music genres to begin with (though I can explain the difference between any type of “core” you care to name). As a tangent, let me interject here that when I say “new style girl vocals,” it’s not meant to demean or infantilize women—I find these particular adult female singers have a talent for sounding really young.
Zoe Johnston, adult female featured on the “sad chillstep hour of sadness”
So there I was listening to this “sad chillstep hour of sadness” wondering, “What makes this genre ‘chillstep’ as opposed to ‘downtempo’ or ‘triphop’ or ‘chillout’ or whatever,” and I decided to look to the YouTube comments for clues. What I found in that comment section did not answer my question, but instead, I discovered post after post of brutally real, absolutely heartbreaking stories of depression and suicidal thoughts. I spent the entire “hour of sadness” reading through the 500+ posts. Remarkably, there was very little trolling or assholeishness that I typically associate with YouTube comments sections. YouTube commenters are notoriously some of the biggest jerks on the Internet, but incredibly, that was not the case here. The sage advice of “never read the comments” did not apply in this instance. I couldn’t help but read ALL the comments, most coming from teenagers, who were experiencing depression, loss, and profound anguish.
Scrolling through these meaningful expressions of sorrow and desperate cries for help reminded me exactly of what my own teenage years were like. Though I didn’t have the Internet to share those thoughts with the world, it was always music—melancholic, depressing music, that helped to ease my pain. The fourteen-year-old me didn’t have a “sad chillstep hour of sadness,” but he did have a “sad goth 90-minute mixtape of sadness.”
It looked something like this.
Continuing to scan comment after comment of kids wishing for their own demise, I was reminded of the urban legends surrounding the 1930s recording “Gloomy Sunday,” also known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song,” which was purportedly banned from radio airplay for causing a number of suicides. Of course, it’s a “chicken or the egg” argument—did they kill themselves because of the song, or were they attracted to the song because they wanted to kill themselves? Perhaps this chillstep mix is the modern equivalent of “Gloomy Sunday” in that both are more likely to be attractive to people who are already depressed and suicidal, rather than being the actual cause of their desperate final action.
What I found most striking about stumbling onto this mix and its adjoining comments was the sociological significance of the music being a beacon to so many people of a particular emotional state—how the music reflected that emotional state and became a community for these people to express their sorrow. There are the clichés of the morose cafeteria lunch-table of goth kids, or emo kids, or, now I guess, chillstep kids—but these communities are naturally occurring phenomena when cultural forms reflect and acknowledge feeling. It just so happens that in this case, because of the Internet, we are watching this community develop publicly, in real time.
Listen to ‘Chillstep hour of sadness’ after the jump…
Twelve years ago I found myself at Cinefile Video in West Los Angeles when I happened to notice a movie poster on the wall for the 1967 film, The President’s Analyst. The duotone pink and green poster depicted James Coburn wearing a `60s mod wig and sunglasses holding two gong mallets in his hand with the tagline, “Is your football helmet crushing the flowers in your hair?” What the hell kind of movie is this? I had recently developed a fascination with James Coburn after discovering the sixties spy-spoof films Our Man Flint, and the sequel, In Like Flint. Perhaps it was due to exposure to late `90s pop culture references like the Beastie Boys album Hello Nasty or the movie Austin Powers (both of which named dropped the character Derek Flint) that Coburn had been embedded into my subconscious at that time.
I went home that night and watched The President’s Analyst. It was absolutely fantastic in the way it ridiculed virtually every important `60s institution—establishment and anti-establishment alike. But unlike most 1960s-era political satires and comedies, it was surprisingly fresh, relevant, and still laugh-out-loud funny in the present age. A man I had never heard of named Theodore J. Flicker was credited as the film’s writer and director. After repeated viewings I began to wonder: who is Theodore J. Flicker? How come nobody’s ever heard of him? How is it possible for someone to make a film this good and then vanish completely from sight? The lack of information available on the internet only fueled my interest, but I eventually learned that Mr. Flicker had been blacklisted from Hollywood. But why, how could that happen? I would end up going to great lengths to answer these questions, including a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico to find Flicker, who spent the last twenty years of his life as a sculptor.
Ted Flicker in Santa Fe, Sept 2013. Photo by Doug Jones
After failing to open a theater of his own in New York City, Theodore J. Flicker headed to Chicago in 1954 to check out the improvisational Compass Theatre by recommendation of his college friend Severn Darden. According to Flicker, the Compass was in terrible shape when he entered: the players were unprofessional, wore street clothes, had a lack of respect amongst their fellow performers, and were basically “all over the place.” However, Flicker saw potential in the company and in 1957 he launched his own wing of The Compass Players at the Crystal Palace in St. Louis. Mike Nichols and Elaine May arrived in St. Louis, and Flicker auditioned Del Close who had come highly recommended by Darden despite the fact that he had no previous improv experience. Ted hired Del on the spot after seeing him perform a fire-breathing act from the work of Flaminio Scala. They all felt that the “meandering” Chicago style of improv did not sustain the audience’s attention for an entire show. Realizing that new techniques were needed if improvisation were to transform from an acting exercise into an art form, Flicker began developing a new technique which he referred to as “louder, faster, funnier”… the audiences responded. His goal was to re-create the Chicago Compass without any of the people involved and without the experience of Viola Spolin’s teachings, Flicker wanted to invent his own way. Every morning after a show, he would sit down with Elaine May and examine what went wrong the previous night and then determine how it could be corrected. Through these sessions “The Rules” for publicly-performed improv were formulated, including the importance of the Who? Where? and What? of each scene needing to be expressed, avoiding transaction scenes, arguments, and conflict as they usually lead to dead ends, and playing at the top of one’s intelligence. “We came up with a teachable formula for performing improvisation in public in two weeks,” Flicker said. These new rules differed greatly from the rules of Viola Spolin, who wasn’t a performer and explored improv only as an acting exercise. This was a new era of improvisation.
Following the collapse of The Compass Players, Paul Sills launched the successor troupe “The Second City” in 1959. Nichols and May went on to become a smash hit on Broadway. Del Close moved back to Chicago and spent the rest of his life developing, refining, and experimenting with Ted’s rules. Del became an improvisational guru for three decades with a student roster that included Dan Aykroyd, John and James Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Andy Dick, Harold Ramis, Mike Myers, Bob Odenkirk, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter, Tina Fey, and all three founding members of the Upright Citizens Brigade (Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Amy Poehler.) Unquestionably some of the biggest and most influential names in the comedy world, and it all circles back to Flicker. “I never could have done it without the sheer force of Ted’s will and discipline,” Close said.
But what was next for Theodore J. Flicker? In the sixties he wed Barbara Joyce Perkins, television actress and star of dozens if not hundreds of commercials, and the two set their sights on Hollywood. Theodore’s first feature film The Troublemaker, which he co-wrote with Buck Henry, described as an “improvised adventure” and was a moderate success, and the next thing he knew the phone started ringing. He was offered to write a feature film to launch the careers of Sonny and Cher; however, when the project fell through Flicker instead penned a screenplay for Elvis Presley, the 1966 “racecar musical comedy” Spinout.
It was Paramount Pictures that gave Flicker a chance to write and direct a major motion picture studio film in 1967, the first movie Robert Evans greenlit as a studio executive. The President’s Analyst was a fantastic, on-target satire. James Coburn plays Dr. Sidney Schaefer, who is awarded the job of the President’s top secret psychoanalyst. When Dr. Schaefer’s paranoia sinks in and he realizes he “knows too much,” he decides to run away and the film becomes a fast-paced action adventure romp involving spies, assassins, the FBI, CIA, a suburban family station wagon, flower power hippies, and even a British pop group. An unusual sci-fi plot twist reveals the movie’s most surprising villain: The Telephone Company (referred to in the film as “TPC”).
Problems began when the FBI got ahold of the screenplay. Robert Evans claims he was visited by FBI Special Agents who didn’t appreciate their unflattering and incompetent portrayal in the film. When Evans denied their request to cease production, they began conducting surveillance on the film’s set. Evans refused their demands, but increasing pressure led to extensive overdubs during the film’s post-production phase: the FBI became the FBR, and the CIA became the CEA. Even the Telephone Company got wind of their negative portrayal in the film, and Evans believed that his telephone had begun to be monitored by either the Bureau or the phone company. Evans’ paranoia would ironically mirror that of James Coburn’s character in the film’s storyline.
The President’s Analyst hit theaters on December 21st, 1967, the same day as Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Both films were instant hits and received critical and box office praise. Roger Ebert called The President’s Analyst one of the “funniest movies of the year.” However, two weeks later Flicker received an unsettling phone call from his agent who told him, “You’ll never work in this town again.” Apparently FBI head J. Edgar Hoover had seen the film and was outraged by 4’7” actor Walter Burke whose character name Lux (like Hoover, a popular brand of vacuum cleaner) as the head of the “FBR” was blatantly poking fun at him. J. Edgar called the White House who called Charles Bluhdorn at Paramount, who called Flicker’s agent to inform him they were pulling the movie from theaters immediately. “What the hell are you trying to do to me?” Bluhdorn said on a phone, “But we have a hit!” “What the hell do I care about your hit, I have 27 companies that do business in Washington?” A millionaire at age 30, Charlie Bluhdorn didn’t just own Paramount; he owned Gulf and Western, Madison Square Garden, and Simon & Schuster publishing. As Flicker delicately put it, “The shit hit the fan.” Overnight he was officially no longer part of Hollywood’s A-list. He and Barbara had to foreclose their home and his agent stopped returning his phone calls.
More on the life and times of Ted Flicker after the jump…
From the Dangerous Minds archive, a post about John Sex on what would have been his 59th birthday.
John Sex was a New York City-based performance artist, male stripper and disco singer who was a standout personality of the East Village art scene of the 1980s. He’d sing schmaltzy Vegas numbers in glittery smoking jackets, shiny Ziggy Stardust-esque zip-up jumpsuits, 10-inch platform heels, and assless leather pants. His trademark was his bleached-blond hair which stood straight up on his head in an exaggerated pompadour which he said was held aloft by “a combination of Dippity-do, Aqua Net, egg whites, beer, and semen.” He also had a pet python, named “Delilah,” and a suit made of 500 light bulbs. In his X-rated version of the Sinatra standard “That’s Life,” he’d sing “I’ve been a hustler, a hooker, a honcho, a hero, a dyke and a queen.”
The “character” of John Sex was not all that much off from the “real” John Sex, but more of a mythical version of himself as an omnisexual rockstar parody or phallocentric version of Tom Jones. He couldn’t turn it off if he wanted to, which I can assure you, he did not. He would often claim that his parents were immigrants who “Americanized” their original Irish surname “Sexton” to “Sex” so they would fit in better, then adding “and if you believe that one…” The real story is that during a period of “rampant promiscuity,” Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi renamed art student John McLaughlin, the nice Catholic boy from Long Island who was everything his mother never wanted him to be, “Sex” and for obvious reasons, I think the name just stuck!
John Sex with Ann Magnuson, early 1980s
John Sex was a smart, super creative, fun, funny and endlessly inventive guy. Everyone loved him. There was absolutely no reason not to. John was a total sweetheart, a great raconteur and he always had the best showbiz stories and gay gossip you ever heard. He is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. There was constant laughter when he was around. You can see a little bit of what John Sex was like in this clip shot by video artist Nelson Sullivan. John and his friend Craig Vandenberg (who often played John’s washed-up showbiz loser father in shows they’d do together) trade lines in the basement of the Pyramid Club, warming up before a performance there. His boyfriend, Willfredo, the guy with sunglasses, is seen taking pictures about 2:45 in. You can see the performance itself here.
With his female backing singers, The Bodacious TaTa’s (Wendy Wild, April Palmieri, Micki French, Myra Schiller and others) and wearing his exaggerated showbiz finery courtesy of his friend (and sometime TaTa) fashion designer Katy K, John Sex played to nightclub audiences at venues like Club 57, the Pyramid Club, Danceteria, Limelight, The Palladium and The Saint. Many of his shows would end with him stripping down to a glittery jock strap, or beyond, during a song called “Jet Set.” Some of his other notable numbers were “Hustle With My Muscle” (see clip below), “Sex Appeal,” “Bump and Grind It” and “Rock Your Body,” a song he did with noted hip hop producer Man Parrish, that I made a music video for in 1988 (see bottom clip).
“Hustle With My Muscle” directed by Tom Rubnitz, This was shot at the Area nightclub in 1986 when the theme of the decor was something like “rednecks” or “trailer trash.”
YITT stands for “Yep, I’m the Toaster” (shades of James Hetfield’s vigorous declaration of his status as a table?), and it’s the nom de mash of a self-proclaimed “Amateur mashup artist/producer/drummer, photographer/mashup video editor” from the Bay Area. His Soundcloud page is full of goodies, but he’s lately posted a little piece of genius. In answer to pomDeter’s highly amusing “Call Me a Hole” from a couple of years back, YITT has made an unholy chimera of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole.” The recontextualization makes Trent Reznor’s angst sound… so… HAPPY! I do so wish Trent could be happy all the time. And the video mixing is every bit as skillful as the sound.
And here, I didn’t think the Internet was going to cough up anything funnier today than the Hard Times’ torpedoing of One Life Crew.
At Babylon Falling I stumbled across this remarkable full-page image of countercultural satire at its sharpest and most dangerous. Fifteen trading cards for the “Outlaws of Amerika,” featuring radical rock stars like Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver and Huey Newton and less known figures like Cha Cha Jimenez and Roger Priest. This image has been variously attributed to The Chicago Seed and the Black Panther publication Lumpen. According to this article in the Atlantic Monthly, the BAMN Anthology from Penguin claims that it was created for the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
However, according to this listing on abebooks, it definitely appeared in the “Second Birthday Issue” of RAT Subterranean News, March 7-21, 1969. (This reddit thread gets this information substantially correct but blows the year.) Whether it appeared anywhere before that, I can’t say.
The artist was Lester Dore, who went by the nickname “Wanderoo” (you can barely read his signature at the bottom). The All-Stars are classified into “Social Deviants,” “Third World Revolutionaries,” and, in a single instance, “Native Americans.” The cards wittily use icons such as a raised fist (protest), a bomb (use of bombs), an M-16 (violence), a tomahawk (Indians’ rights), a marijuana leaf (drugs), an electric chair (outlaw is on death row), and an ohm symbol (resistance). On the right hand side, in small print, it reads “Save a complete collection ... If sent with a Wanted Poster or reasonable facsimile thereof, good for: a wig, a complete set of phony I.D., and am M-16.” On the bottom it reads, “Wait for the second series of Amerikan Outlaw Trading Cards ... You may be next!!!” The logo on every card is “KOPPS,” a play on Topps, which had well-nigh monopolistic control of the baseball card market for many years until rival companies entered the market in the 1980s.
(In case you are wondering, yes, Afeni Shakur is Tupac‘s mother.)
(Click below for a larger version of this image.)
More of Amerika’s outlaws, class of 1969, after the jump…
I bookmarked these videos of Malcolm McLaren being interviewed on the intersection of fashion, rock music and marketing to young people a while back but didn’t get around to watching them until this morning. Absolutely fascinating stuff. If you have any interest in the history of fashion or in the wiley Mr. McLaren himself, trust me this is most certainly worth an hour of your time.
What this is is three 20 minute Betacam camera reels (raw footage) of McLaren being interviewed for Rock Influence what is presumably a program firstly about fashion and secondly about music as it relates to and influences fashion trends, in late 1984. In the first of the tapes, he starts off talking about the birth of Parisian couture fashion, and how Christian Dior’s signature La Belle Époque-inspired silhouette ended up being adopted in the 1950s by American girls who “wanted to dance with James Dean.”
Throughout the hour-long interview, in which the interviewer gets to ask precious few questions—as anyone who ever met him can tell you, “conversations” with Malcolm McLaren were so decidedly one-sided that “monologue” would be a better term to use—the infamous trouble-maker who spun “cash from chaos” spends a lot of time talking about the Beatles and their influence on fashion and contrasting them, and what they stood for, with the Rolling Stones. He discusses clothes being marketed to post-war Britain’s youth for the first time beginning in the mid-1960s, gay fashion in London, Teddy Boys, the “Cinderella” women of Motown and Carnaby Street.
There’s one particularly interesting section, I think it’s in part two, where he explains the sort of shops that were open on the King’s Road in London in the early 70s when he and Vivienne Westwood first opened their boutique (which had various names like Let It Rock, Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, Seditioaries, SEX and World’s End). Basically it was stores catering to glam rock and glitter all around them, but what they were doing was simply buying up overstock on the togs of 1959 and reselling it for Teddy Boy and rockabilly revivalists. Consider that even a few years before this, there would have been NO “cool” or “fashionable” section of town, any town, even in a city like London, to begin with. That entire notion was just beginning to be expressed for the first time historically, but already, in one of the small handful of such stores in the capital city at the time, the marketing of nostalgia was starting to rear its head. Today there’s any number of “looks” one can choose in the supermarket of style… punk, hippie, Victorian, Edwardian, that fucking Jeremy Scott look that DAZED magazine always pushes, etc, but at that point and time, selling the clothes of 1959 to young folks was a fairly bold—almost counterintuitive—thing to do. Also, consider that selling 1959’s fab gear in 1972 would be comparable to selling the fashions of 2002 today, for a lil’ perspective.
Always remember that the distance from the doo-wop era to Sha Na Na aping it ironically at Woodstock was a mere decade. McLaren makes a pretty good case here—without intending to—that he and Westwood were among the very, very earliest pioneers of marketing “vintage” clothing. Because of the short distance from the beginnings of the modern fashion industry to the 1984 date of this interview, McLaren makes one great point after another that have retrospectively become even more true in the three decades since this was taped.
Being one of The Beatles meant being mobbed, followed and even stalked everywhere you went. They quit Liverpool for London for its mix of anonymity and excitement—and because everything happened there. Eventually, John, George and Ringo moved on to the stockbroker belt to find peace, quiet and happy isolation. But even there, Lennon had unwelcome visitors who wanted a photo or to say that they understood what his songs were about, and touch the hem of his clothes.
Eventually, Lennon moved again, this time to New York where he said he could walk the streets without anyone bothering him. Going by these fan photographs of Lennon in London and New York, it’s obvious he was just as mobbed by devoted fans in the Big Apple as he had been back in the Big Smoke.
These fan snaps capture Lennon from the late 1960s, through his relationship with Yoko Ono, to just before his untimely death in 1980.
John Lennon signing an autograph outside the Abbey Road Studios, 1968.
The Monkees are often referred to as the “Pre-Fab Four” in reference to the fact that they were a TV knock-off of the Beatles, recruited from a help wanted ad in Variety. Still, no matter how “uncool” they were supposed to be, the Monkees casting was a rare example of stroke of genius by committee. It’s difficult to imagine anyone but the four of them having the same chemistry, both comedically and (eventually) musically. And to further refute their “uncool” rep, John Lennon called them “the Marx Brothers of Rock” (he was right about that) and the Beatles even hosted a party for the Monkees in London when they toured England. (Furthermore, Mike Nesmith was present at the Abbey Road recording sessions for “A Day in the Life” and Peter Tork played banjo on George Harrison’s eclectic Wonderwall soundtrack).
Even that most far-out of the really far-out musicians of the day, Frank Zappa himself, made not just one, but two onscreen appearances with the Monkees: First in a TV segment where Mike pretended to be Frank and vice versa (which certainly foreshadowed Ringo Starr’s portrayal of Zappa in 200 Motels) before they destroyed a car with a sledgehammer to the tune of “Mother People,” and again in a brief cameo in Head.
I don’t think I’m too far out on a limb in assuming that John Cozzoli probably has a completely amazing house. Cozzoli collects 20th Century monster movie ephemera, and he’s the best kind of collector—the kind who shares. He curates the online archive Zombos’ Closet, a vast trove of endearingly cheap thrills, including movie and book reviews, and scans of his collections of cinema pressbooks, goofy paper-cutout Halloween decorations, and his amazing collection of Mexican lobby cards from B-grade films. If you have time to descend into a serious rabbit-hole of marvelous trash-culture nostalgia, visit that site just as soon as you possibly can and revel in its contents. And if that’s not enough for you, Collectors Weekly ran a terrific in-depth interview with Cozzoli in 2012. But for now, enjoy some samples from his lobby card collection. This barely even scratches the surface of what he’s got to offer on his site. I went mostly for lurid horror, but he’s got TONS of luchador movie art, as well.
Cozzoli:There’s a mistaken belief that having a big budget guarantees a good movie: It doesn’t. Many movies with modest budgets have outdone movies with bigger pockets to draw from. I love seeing how creative a director and set designer can be when faced with limited resources to work from. Horror movies were originally A-listers, drawing notable actors and production teams. Over time they switched to B and C status as the studios realized they could still make a profit on a cheap movie. Even the bad movies sometimes show a sparkle of wit or style or dramatic directness that makes them enjoyable to watch.
While many Mexican lobby cards promote American movies, they also made cards for Spanish-language movies, often illustrated with vampires, witches, and mummies; Japanese movies, like those made by Toho Studios; and other non-Spanish-language movies. Really, just about any movie that could be shown in a local theater, foreign or domestic, had cards done for it. If the lobby cards were done for American or other non-Spanish-language movies, the compositions usually derive to some degree from the movie’s poster campaign, so these cards tend to be more, let’s say, sedate, and tone down the sex and mayhem. Spanish-language lobby cards are usually more vibrant and suggestive.
Monster kid and movie historian Professor Kinema (Jim Knusch) was the person who turned me on to these wonderful examples of movie promotion for theaters. It was while perusing his collection of lobby cards and pressbooks that I fell in love with both. One reason I focus on Mexican lobby cards is because at $5 to $10 a pop, they’re a lot cheaper than American cards, making them easier to collect. Additionally, Mexican cards for native Spanish movies are usually more colorful and dynamic, and the Mexican cards come in larger sizes, which make them more interesting and displayable.