FOLLOW US ON: follow us in feedly
GET THE NEWSLETTER
CONTACT US
Ladykillers: Murder ballads and the country women who sang them


 
Country music is my favorite genre to listen to if I want to hear really dark shit. My favorite tunes should probably come with warning labels. These amazing songs sound ridiculously upbeat to the point where they are disturbing as hell. If you can’t stomach true crime podcasts, serial killer interviews or horror films, perhaps relaxing with a drink and a Porter Wagoner album isn’t for you.

Thus we come to my favorite socially unacceptable subgenre: the murder ballad. Being a badass feminist, it IS weird that I love an entire collection of music where the majority of tunes are about men killing women or visiting horrific violence upon them. I can’t help it though. I can’t get enough of these songs.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The country music world has always been male-centric. For every forgotten woman like Rose Maddox, Wilma Lee Cooper or Moonshine Kate, there are ten famous male stars like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, or Merle Haggard. So when I come across my murder ballad-singin’ women, I rejoice!  Bring that gore to the floor, ladies! Country women who sing about murder and violence are extra subversive, especially if they are making that narrative gender-flip of and sing those stories usually sung by men with murder on their minds… 
 

The Coon Creek Girls

The Coon Creek Girls formed in the 1930s and were the first all-women string-band. Their manager, an exploitative jerk named John Lair, went so far as to change the band name from their self-chosen Red River Ramblers to Coon Creek Girls because he “thought it sounded more country.” Apparently he thought the low/working class exoticism of that band name would sell these Appalachian-raised women better at shows. It didn’t. These gals sold themselves!
 

Lily May Ledford of the Coon Creek Girls and her banjo

Banjo player Lily May Ledford recalls:

“What a good time we had on stage… jumping up and down, sometimes ruining some of our songs by laughing at each other. Sis, when carried away by a fast fiddle tune, would let out a yell so high pitched that it sounded like a whistle. Sometimes, when playing at an outdoor event, fair or picnic, we would go barefooted. We were so happy back then. Daisy and Sis, being good fighters, would make short work of anybody in the more polished groups who would tease or torment us. We all made short work of the “wolves” as they were called, who tried to follow us home or get us in their cars.”

Tons of “I drowned my girlfriend/lover/wife” songs exist in the murder ballad canon but “Pretty Polly,” is easily one of the nastiest and most violent. That’s what makes the Coon Creek Girls’ version is especially good. While I quite enjoy the song as sung by The Byrds, it’s not as unique as the all-female arrangement. Great band, great tune. 
 

 
Plenty more after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Ariel Schudson
|
01.15.2018
02:58 pm
|
‘The Defector’: The disappearance of an Australian Prime Minister
01.12.2018
11:12 am
Topics:
Tags:

01defectorposter.jpg
 
In December 1967, during the height of the Cold War, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming off Cheviot Beach, near Point Nepean, Victoria. Holt was a strong swimmer, enjoyed scuba-diving and spear-fishing and was in robust health. His disappearance led to one of “the largest search operations in Australian history.” Holt visited the beach with four friends, but only one of the group, Alan Stewart, went into the water with the Prime Minister. While Stewart kept close to the shoreline, Holt swam out into deeper waters. Eyewitnesses recalled seeing Holt swim then drift like “a leaf being taken out” as he was caught by the riptide and pulled towards the dangerous waters of the Heads. Despite the police search, Holt’s body has never been found.

In 1968, the police released a report which made no definitive findings on Holt’s “disappearance.” This led to various conspiracy theories filling the column inches like the suggestion Holt had committed suicide or that he had been assassinated by the CIA as dirty commie-sympathizer or that he was collected by a commie submarine and had defected to China. This last one led to the book The Prime Minister Was A Spy which claimed Holt had been a “sleeper” working for the Chinese since 1929. When Australian Intelligence Services discovered the (alleged) truth about Holt, the Chinese quickly arranged to have the PM taken out of the country.

Eventually, 2005, a coroner’s court returned a verdict of accidental death—but the rumors and theories about Holt’s disappearance did not stop.
 
02defectorhdl.jpg
 
So now comes filmmaker Scott Mannion‘s fictional take The Defector which owes a small bit to some of the theories already mentioned and a big bit of imagination. It’s a well-conceived and beautifully crafted short film which is most likely a calling card to a larger feature. According to Mannion, The Defcetor has already caused quite a storm and has apparently been “banned” in China—read into that what you will.
 
Watch after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
01.12.2018
11:12 am
|
‘Undercover,’ John Ford’s instructional film gives tips for WWII spies behind enemy lines
01.11.2018
09:39 am
Topics:
Tags:


 
During World War II, John Ford worked as chief of the Field Photographic Branch of the OSS, the intelligence agency that preceded the CIA. When he went on active duty, Ford had already directed 1941’s Sex Hygiene, an Army training film with tips for avoiding the clap and the syph on R&R leave (“I looked at it and threw up,” was the review Ford later gave Peter Bogdanovich). To this, Lt. Commander John Ford added the Oscar-winning documentaries The Battle of Midway and December 7th. Bogdanovich writes that, after the war, Ford’s group began work on a seven- or eight-hour film that was to have been used as evidence at the Nuremberg Trials; in the end, the task fell to Budd Schulberg, also a member of the Field Photographic Branch, whose The Nazi Plan was entered into evidence at Nuremberg.

Some of Ford’s wartime movies were exclusively for OSS consumption, such as 1943’s How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines, a/k/a Undercover, an instructional film about how to be a spy. Like most movies of its kind, it teaches by illustrating dos and don’ts—Ford appears in the only speaking role of his career as the pipe-smoking case officer assigned to the “don’t” agent—and lays heavy emphasis on a single lesson, here the supreme importance of maintaining a believable cover story. Agonizing sequences depict spies blowing their cover through inattention to detail: anything from paying the bar tab with bills no longer in circulation to using “hair grease” they can’t get in Enemytown since hostilities began.
 

John Ford in ‘Undercover’ (via National Archives)
 
Undercover is available on Netflix, but the dialogue sounds like it was recorded with a Kleenex stretched over one end of an empty cookie dough tube, as if all the Allies’ microphones had been melted down for the war effort. The YouTube version embedded below is much easier to follow. If I owned a movie house, I’d program this with the short Don’t Kill Your Friends, a contemporary U.S. Navy training film starring my own grandfather as an inept pilot who offs civilians during aerial gunnery practice.
 
Watch it, after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Oliver Hall
|
01.11.2018
09:39 am
|
Hairy moments: The deep roots of women’s hair history
01.10.2018
12:09 pm
Topics:
Tags:

I want what they're having
 
This is one of my all-time favorite photographs. I have no idea who took it, where it was taken, dunno who the hell these ladies are. But goddamn. I adore them all.

I’ve seen tons of people look at this photo and mock these women for unconventional hairstyles, awkward facial expressions, and what is likely a highly Texan aesthetic (my geographic guess). Fine, laugh. But there’s something so charming, so uniquely pleasurable about the way these women (probably family) are enjoying each other’s company, standing out in that ratty backyard. That yard of dead grass laid out in front of a patio overhang that seems to be one short storm away from crashing to the ground. And our youngest girl—the one with the flowing hippie hair and glasses—she’s wearing pink slippers! There’s this weird strength reflected here in this cadre of creatively-coiffed chicks. I bet they made great cocktails and killer cookies.

Women’s hair and beauty dynamics are intensely personal. Since the beginning of time women have invested spaces like beauty parlors/salons with the power of the personal in order to have a location to freely access aesthetic self-care practices. Generally, we do this for our own benefit, to impress someone else, or both. These spaces have also traditionally served another equally important function: they are community social zones and “safe spaces” for women to gossip, exchange intimacies that they would never do around male friends/family. Beauty parlors have always served a critical function for women.
 

 

 

 

 
The cosmetology world made huge advances in the 1920s. Thanks to the invention of the hair salon (and hair salon franchise) by Canadian-American business woman Martha Matilda Harper, women’s beauty centers shifted from “home visits” to the communal environment we are now familiar with. Harper sold many of the franchise models to lower income women and ended up profiting greatly as a result. With Harper’s floor-length Rapunzel-like tresses, it was hard not to take hair advice from this marketing genius. 
 
Martha Matilda Harper - Wouldn't YOU take hair advice from this woman??
 
With these advances, there are some unfortunate facts. These sacred communal spaces were structured for Straight White Women and they have never quite lost that flavor, even today. What’s unfortunate (but not surprising) is that there are women of color who helped establish this space and who should be far more famous than they are. Women like Sarah Breedlove Walker aka Madame CJ Walker was born to freed slaves and was an extraordinary businessperson. Employing some of the highest numbers of black women in the United States, Walker developed her own line of beauty products and became one of the first self-made millionaires in the United States.
 
Sarah Breedlove Walker
 

 
Continues after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Ariel Schudson
|
01.10.2018
12:09 pm
|
‘All I eat is raw meat’: REALLY weird letters to Santa from 1920s rural kids
12.22.2017
06:55 am
Topics:
Tags:


 
Some believe that today’s generation is perhaps the most spoiled and entitled in history,  which is certainly debatable, but if you want anecdotal evidence that kids were perhaps much less spoiled a few generations back, I humbly offer these unbelievably weird “letters to Santa” which were printed in South Carolina’s Abbeville Press and Banner in 1922.

These rural kids didn’t seem to have a whole lot of use for Santa and his promise of gifts—some, going so far as to call ole St. Nick a fraud and threatening him with violence. The few kids that don’t straight up call Santa out, ask him to leave presents for other kids who are worse off than them. Times were definitely different.

“I have a big dog in my yard to bite you if you come around this Christmas.”
 

 
Robert Jackson, the “Fighter of Church Street,” only eats raw meat. Abbeville, your kids are fuckin’ weird.
 

 
Maybe this kid was going for some kind of reverse psychology on Santa, or had some kind of martyr complex?
 
More after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Christopher Bickel
|
12.22.2017
06:55 am
|
Erotic illustrations for Baudelaire’s ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’


An illustration from 1935 by Italian-born artist Carlo Farneti for a posthumous edition of Charles Baudelaire’s book of poetry ‘Les Fleurs du Mal.’
 

“That heart which flutters like a fledgling bird,
I shall tear, bleeding, from his breast, to pitch
It blandly in the dust without a word
To slake the hunger of my favorite bitch.”

—a passage from Charles Baudelaire’s poetry book, Les Fleurs du Mal.

When French poet Charles Baudelaire first published his poetry book Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) in 1857 it caused quite the scandal. Baudelaire, his publisher Poulet Malassis and the book’s printer were all prosecuted for creating “an insult to public decency.” Baudelaire would eventually be convicted on two charges—obscenity and blasphemy. He was also forced to remove several poems from the book when it was republished in 1861. Below is a portion from Les Fleurs du Mal “Une Charogne” (“A Carcass”) in which Baudelaire beautifully romanticizes a decomposing corpse:

“The blow-flies were buzzing round that putrid belly,
From which came forth black battalions
Of maggots, which oozed out like a heavy liquid
All along those living tatters.

Then tell the vermin as it takes its pleasance
And feasts with kisses on that face of yours,
I’ve kept intact in form and godlike essence
Our decomposed amours!”

 
The controversy over Les Fleurs du Mal would eventually lead to the demise of Baudelaire’s career as a poet. Heartbreakingly, Baudelaire would pass away in 1867—ten years after the publication of Les Fleurs du Mal, addicted to opium, penniless and in a state of perpetual paralysis. Les Fleurs de Mal was published yet again in 1868 to include previously unpublished poems written by the poet. This publication would reignite interest in his work which would continue to grow in the years following his death. In 1935 Italian artist Carlo Farneti created a series of evocative illustrations for Les Fleurs du Mal for Parisian bookstore Gibert Jeune. Farneti had relocated to France in 1926 and quickly became a sought-after artist creating illustrations for books by renowned French novelist Émile Zola and Edgar Allen Poe (who Baudelaire referred to as his “twin soul.”) Twelve of Farneti’s exquisite illustrations for Les Fleurs du Mal follow—some are gorgeously NSFW.
 

 

 

 
More after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Cherrybomb
|
12.21.2017
01:54 pm
|
Chilling images of Hitler celebrating Christmas & decorations inspired by the Nazis


Christmas ornaments produced in Germany during the rise and rule of Adolf Hitler.
 
In the 1930s as Hitler and his Nazis were coming to power in Germany, they began a war on Christmas, a quest to dismantle age-old Christmas traditions and replace them with Nordic/pagan practices and folklore. The Nazis wanted everyone to follow their lead when it came to their image of the holiday—which at some point included displaying swastikas on Christmas trees. In Germany, Christmas is called “Weihnachten” which the Nazis also took it upon themselves to rename Rauhnacht, which translates in English to “the rough night.”

The Nazis’ changes to Christmas included anti-Semitic activities such as actively avoiding doing business at Jewish-owned establishments during the holiday so that their celebrations would be “free of Jews.” Christmas carols were modified to reflect socialist Nazi beliefs and ideology including replacing references to the “Savior” with a nod to Hitler himself, “Savior Führer.” While many of the Reich’s changes to Christmas took hold, there was one aspect of the holiday that they could not do away with—the image the jolly old fat man, Santa Claus—even in Hitler’s Germany, Santa remained a fixture of the newly Nazified celebration.

Other changes inflicted by the Nazis during the period before their eventual fall in the mid-1940s was the use of Christmas decorations. If you were not already aware, the tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas time got its start in Germany in the 16th century. The most problematic issue for the Nazis was the gleaming star on the top of the tree—a six-pointed star signified Judaism and the Jewish community. A five-pointed star was associated with communism which was less than appealing to the Nazis as well. Instead, Germans were encouraged to replace tree-topping stars with, you guessed it, a swastika or the symbol for the SS (the “Schutzstaffel” or “Protection Squadron” formed under Hitler). Ornaments were transformed to contain Nazi images, slogans like “Sieg Heil!,” and glass-blown baubles in the image of their beloved leader Adolf Hitler. The metamorphosis took approximately six years to complete, though it would all come to an end in 1944 which marked the very last Nazified Christmas. Hitler would meet his maker four months later on April 30th, 1945.

The images that follow are haunting historical documents of how the Nazis tried to change Christmas (and the world) and failed. 
 

 

 

 
More chilling Nazi Christmas images after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Cherrybomb
|
12.15.2017
08:50 am
|
Listen to Paul McCartney’s ‘lost’ experimental Christmas disc for his fellow Beatles from 1965

001maccapb.jpg
 
Christmas 1965, Paul McCartney secretly recorded an “album” at his home in London as a present for his fellow bandmates John, George, and Ringo. There were only three discs ever made of this special festive recording, which have since either worn out or disappeared. This is how author Richie Unterberger described Paul’s Christmas album in his mammoth book The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film:

Unforgettable

For years, it had been reported that Paul McCartney recorded an album at home around Christmas 1965 specifically for the other Beatles. Supposedly, it included singing, acting, and sketches, and only three copies were pressed, one each for John, George, and Ringo. In a 1995 interview with Mark Lewisohn, Paul confirmed this in some detail, explaining, “Yes, it’s true. I had two Brenell tape recorders set up at home, on which I made experimental recordings and tape loops, like the ones in ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’ And once I put together something crazy, something left field, just for the other Beatles, a fun thing which they could play late in the evening. It was just something for the mates, basically.”

Continued McCartney, “It was called Unforgettable and it started with Nat ‘King’ Cole singing ‘Unforgettable,’ then I came in over the top as the announcer” ‘Yes, unforgettable, that’s what you are! And today in Unforgettable...’ It was like a magazine program: full of weird interviews, experimental music, tape loops, some tracks I knew the others hadn’t heard, it was just a compilation of odd things. I took the tape to Dick James’s studio and they cut me three acetate discs. Unfortunately, the quality of these discs was such that they wore out as you played them for a couple of weeks, but then they must have worn out. There’s probably a tape somewhere, though.”

If it ever turns up, it might be the earliest evidence of the Beatles using home recording equipment for specifically experimental/avant-garde purposes—something that John and Paul did in the last half of the 1960s, though John’s ventures in this field are more widely known than Paul’s.

Barry Miles in his biography of McCartney Many Years From Now notes the former Beatle had been regularly making experimental tapes for his then grilfriend Jane Asher which pips Lennon to the post as far as pioneering the avant-garde. As McCartney told Miles:

I would sit around all day, creating little tapes. I did one once called Unforgettable and used the Unforgettable Nat King Cole “Is what you are ...” as the intro. Then did a sort of “Hello, hello ...” like a radio show. I had a demo done by Dick James of that, just for the other guys because it was really a kind of stoned thing. That was really the truth of it.

This stoner recording has popped up on bootlegs but thanks to DM pal author, biographer, musician, and all-around good guy, Simon Wells we can share with you the whole of McCartney’s Unforgettable Christmas recording from 1965.
 

 
Thank you Simon Wells!
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
12.04.2017
10:27 am
|
Wearing a vizard kept women pale and interesting in the 16th and 17th centuries
12.01.2017
10:25 am
Topics:
Tags:

01visard.jpg
 
The other evening round at DM Towers, Glasgow, as I lay reclining on the chaise longue in my plus fours, smoking jacket, and fez, quietly puffing on my Meerschaum and idly fingering Roget’s Thesaurus, an unholy apparition appeared at the library door. It was my girlfriend. Yet, I would never have recognized her, as her whole countenance had vanished into a grotesque black hole from hairline to chin.

“What infernal magic is this?” quoth I (we do a lot of quothing round our house) in my best quivering voice from behind the chaise longue.

“Why it is only I,” rejoined my girlfriend.

And it was. But that face—what had happened to it?

As it, fortunately, turned out, my dearest was merely sporting an antique item of fashion called a vizard. That is a type of mask once worn by posh birds to avoid unsightly contact with the sun which could result in the unfortunate bronzing of the skin and the worrisome fear of being considered a lowly working-class woman who spent her days toiling in fields under the sun. (“Tanning” wasn’t considered a “thing” until beach vacations were invented for rich people.)

This was all rather serendipitous in a way, as I had, only that morning, been reading young Master Pepys’ diary about his visit to the Royal Theater where he had chanced upon Lord Falconbridge and Lady Mary Cromwell. As the public began to fill the house, Lady Cromwell “put on her vizard, and so kept it on all the play”. Pepys said the vizard had “become a great fashion among the ladies, which hides their whole face.” Meeting the fashionable Lady Cornwell encouraged Pepys to go to “the Exchange, to buy things with my wife; among others, a vizard for herself.”

Intrigued by my fair lady’s latest fashionable accessory, I decided to find some fine examples of the vizard from history with which to share. It would seem, the vizard was once very popular in England during the late 16th and most of the 17th centuries, roughly from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I to the Restoration. They were worn as sun protectors, and on occasion to keep a woman’s face wrapped from the biting chill of a winter’s wind. They were also a means to create coquettish mystery—just as the Venetians wore masks to flirt with each other. The vizard was large, spherical in shape, with a black velvet exterior and a silk lining. There was a small rectangular niche for the nose and two small oval openings for the eyes. The mask was held in by the wearer’s teeth, as it is described in The Academie of Armorie (1688):

A mask [is] a thing that in former times Gentlewomen used to put over their Faces when they travel to keep them from Sun burning… the Visard Mask, which covers the whole face, having holes for the eyes, a case for the nose, and a slit for the mouth, and to speak through; this kind of Mask is taken off and put in a moment of time, being only held in the Teeth by means of a round bead fastened on the inside over against the mouth.

Not everyone was so taken with the latest fashion, the writer Phillip Stubbes wrote in Anatomy of Abuses (1583):

When [women] use to ride abroad, they have visors made of velvet… wherewith they cover all their faces, having holes made in them against their eyes, whereout they look so that if a man that knew not their guise before, should chance to meet one of them he would think he met a monster or a devil: for face he can see none, but two broad holes against her eyes, with glasses in them.

The playwright John Dryden was similarly droll in the prolog to one of his lesser-known plays, The Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards:

[W]hen Vizard Masque appears in Pit,
Straight every Man who thinks himself a Wit
Perks up; and, managing his Comb with grace,
With his white Wigg sets off his Nut-brown Face;
That done, bears up to th’ prize, and views each Limb,
To know her by her Rigging and her Trimm;
Then, the whole noise of Fops to wagers go,
Pox on her, ’t must be she; and Damm’ee no:

The vizard was fashionable among the higher classes until around early 1700s, when it became the preferred disguise for prostitutes to sell their wares.
 
010visardAhorsemanwithhiswifeinthesaddlebehindhim.jpg
‘A horseman with his wife in the saddle behind him’ circa 1581.
 
09visardPietroLonghi1751rhino.jpg
Pietro Longhi, ‘Rhinoceros,’ 1751.
 
More masked mystery ladies, after the jump…
 

READ ON
Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
12.01.2017
10:25 am
|
Bizarre and amusing list of reasons people claimed they were fired from work in 1905
11.28.2017
08:34 am
Topics:
Tags:

03yourefiredharold.jpg
 
An article in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois, on October 15, 1905, supplied a list of reasons given by people as to why they had been fired from their jobs. The list included such bizarre reasons as tearing a hole in an employer’s pants, having a nosebleed which stained a pair of socks, and perhaps best of all getting sacked for laughing at the boss when he was kicked by a cow—which is something worthy of inclusion in anyone’s resume.

There are also some of the usual no-nos like being drunk, running away, laziness, carelessness, and being impudent, as well as a few unexpected and definitely odd entries like “refused to marry boss’ sister,” “told ghost story,” “joined the wrong church,” and “too good for job.” This list shows how work was shifting from predominantly land-based agriculture to town and city industry/white collar employment. It also suggests work back in those days was very much dependent on the whims and prejudices of the employer. So nothing has changed?
 
01whytheywerefired.jpg
02whytheywerefired.jpg
 
Thanks to Steve Duffy, via Vintage Blognook.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
11.28.2017
08:34 am
|
Page 1 of 194  1 2 3 >  Last ›