A Ghastly Christmas Gift

Thought I’d do a little cross-promotion here – I’m presently selling off a great Disney relic – an original Haunted Mansion gate plaque resin cast. Arguably the most iconic item from the attraction. With a 7-day auction and a Buy-It-Now option, you have a chance to make it yours today.

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Check the auction out here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/121035795996?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT& _trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649

 

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“Let Me Bow, Before The King”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got Boardwalk Empire fever. Now that’s good television. Actually, it’s superb television. The authenticity found within its romanticized 1920’s Atlantic City backdrop is inspiring. The perfect blend of fiction and factualness.

One of the most well-done elements of the show is the wardrobe. While not 100% accurate, it is, again, romanticized. They took the best components of 1920’s attire and intensified it by a thousand. The brightly colored checks, plaids and stripes used in their suits – that’s some sweet eye candy. Or, if we’re talking about an antiqued Atlantic City, it’s some sweet eye taffy. Does that make sense?

Since I began following the series, I’ve been searching for similar suits from the era. Now, that poses two challenges. The first is finding that 90+ year old suit that’s not caked in dust and moth holes. And two is finding that 90+ year old suit in my size. That’s the biggest challenge. Goddamnit, everybody out there is size “m” and “l.” What the hell happened to us “s” and “xs” folks? Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one.

Luck was on my side a few months ago, however. First time in years. And probably the last time for years too. A navy pinstriped suit turned up online that I ended up spending way more on than I thought I’d have to. Quite the bidding war ensued. Circa 1920’s. With the original tailor tag inside, indicting it as being of Chicago origin. Not exactly Nucky’s turf, but Torrio and Capone are cool too. Navy pinstripes, small peaked lapels, angled breast pocket, center vent and belted back. How I’ve yearned for an authentic suit with a belted back. And if those features weren’t enough to date it to its era, you can easily tell by its distinctive, long hourglass form. Notice how the jacket is longer than modern suit jackets. I had it modified with a small loop behind the left lapel through which I can stick a boutonniere should the opportunity to wear one arise. I’m showing it off here complete with a gold collar bar and a gold swordfish tie clip. As I was looking through my jewlrey box for an appropriate clip, I stumbled on it… didn’t even know I had it. But since this whole post is Boardwalk Empire inspired, a swordfish works!

That’s all for now. By the way, the quote in the title of this post is spoken by Mickey Doyle. One of my favorite characters in the whole show. Why do I always take a shine to the weasels? Hhhmhmhmhmhmhm (my best spelling of his signature snicker.)

And God Saw The Light, And It Was Good

I’m not going to ramble a lot here, but I have a few things I want to share. I mentioned in a previous post I was waiting for some light fixtures to arrive with which I planned to decorate my room, and they finally came in. When it comes to lighting fixtures, authentic is the only way to go. Other furniture pieces can be cheap, but not light fixtures. They’re too cool a decorative element to ignore. There are two in my room, both featuring antique-styled Edisonian light bulbs (there’s a growing trend out there now favoring the use of the vintage-style filament bulbs, and they add a lot to any room.) Both fixtures together pose the unanswerable question “Deco or Nouveau?” but I think their brassy aesthetics compliment each other and thus add continuity and harmony to the room, despite them being of such drastically different design styles.

They are both intense fixtures, but my favorite of the two is the art deco bridge lamp. I like most vintage design styles, but I am especially drawn to pieces of styles that do not necessarily exemplify the style. In this case, this deco bridge lamp is rather unusual. The bridge portion almost looks retro-futuristic, like a jagged lightning bolt typical of some later style of futurism. The shade is completely original, made of mica. Hexagons are my favorite shape, so I particularly love it – and the radiating lines on each side are accentuated by the lines engraved into its octagonal base. Overall, a fantastic piece from the 20s in great working order, and one that possesses both opulence and rugged charm.

The second fixture is also from the 20s, but is quite quintessentially art nouveau. This four-armed electric fixture’s greatest feature is its green onyx body, which is both beautiful and complimentary when compared to the palms both inside and outside of the room. This fixture is most likely of French origin, which makes it a perfect match to my French bronze bear. The two elements make for a delightful vignette!

And speaking of authenticity, I thought I’d throw in a snippet about my bedding. I knew nothing of bedding before this, but after days of research I finally settled on an almost colonial, late 18th, early 19th century style bedspread. Very soft and extremely neat looking. The advantage of the bedspread is that it is easy to make, and it drapes almost all the way to the floor. How comfortable and inviting looking! With some parlor palms and a great piece of Imagineering artwork from Disneyland Paris, I’m very pleased with the antiqued aesthetic I was able to achieve! And don’t forget the fully-functional 1924 Victrola in the corner too! All the room needs now are some fur throws and a taxidermy weasel or two.

Now You’re Singing With a Swing!

With phonographs on my mind lately, I’ve been contemplating scores of phonograph-related ideas. Just anything that would come to mind that was related to the machine. Needle tin designs, stories, sight gags, characters, et cetera. I know, that’s a little bit strange. But healthy, I think. There are so many objects and devices we, as contemporary human beings, know a lot about and can readily employ in a piece of art, story or anything else creative. Ask any art student to come up with a humorous comic strip revolving around an iPod and they can probably do it with ease. Ask one to do the same, but about a phonograph? Probably not so easy. A basic conception of a device is not enough to perpetuate that we are familiar with it by using it in prominently a piece of creative work. That’s why I want to familiarize myself with all there is to know about the machines – how they work, the different types of records they are capable of playing and so on. And this doesn’t just go for phonographs, but anything antiquated. Vintage automobiles, typewriters, candlestick phones… anything.

I am finding, however, that when pushing the humor card with something people just don’t know anything about, folks just aren’t going to get all of the references or humor. They’re just not. You’re putting 110% into something that will elicit the response “I don’t get it” time and time again. I don’t mind it so much, as long as I amuse myself. If people know what I’m talking about, then I count myself lucky. It’s a bonus.

And so I’ve been amusing myself with a character that came to mind recently. He’s hardly defined but the most basic elements of him are there. The idea started out with the hummingbird – their beaks reminded me of phonograph needles (a phonograph needle is a 1/2 inch long needle that is attached to the reproducer and that makes contact with the record – the needle must be replaced after playing each record.) The idea of using a hummingbird as a needle for some woodland creature’s machine struck me as funny. A classic sort-of sight gag one might find in stories like Song of the South. Something that, in a round-about sort of way, payed homage to the bird-related needle brands of decades past like the British-make, Songster. But the idea progressed to other animals, and when it comes to needles, what animal is more apt than the porcupine?

The idea here is that he does not manufacture needles, as one would assume, but that he plucked them off of his own body, hence his being naked from the neck-down (he couldn’t reach the ones on his head.) The entire character is one big sight gag. And to make it even cornier, the style of collar he is wearing is called a “poke” collar (presumably Arrow Brand… with a diamond-pointed bow tie, of course.) Nyuck, nyuck nyuck, get it? I put a lot of thought into this stuff! A little bit of obscure knowledge, like styles of detachable collars, can go a long way.

And for the fun of it, here’s Vincent Lopez and his Orchestra performing Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” That’s right, Louis Prima wrote this number. I’ve always been one of the masses who merely assumed it was Benny Goodman. Embarrassing to admit, as it is. This is a fairly obscure recording (when comparing it to Benny Goodman’s arrangements, obviously) but I like it comparably as much! Have a listen and judge for yourself.

The Song Is Ended, But The Melody Lingers On…

“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” – Walt Disney

One of my favorite animated films is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) and the reason it’s my favorite is because of the Wind in the Willows segment. And the reason that’s my favorite is because of J. Thaddeus himself. It’s natural for us to want to identify with fictional characters, either because we think they’re cool, we happen to act like them in our own lives, or because life is so miserable we want to put our heads in something slightly more fantastic. J. Thaddeus Toad and his story? He fits under all three reasons. Most importantly, to me, is his fickleness. He’s a flake. And I am fortunate that the spirit of this eccentric toad and others like him is festering inside me. It’s one of the few intrinsic things I like about myself. If you look closely on the plaque over the entrance of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Disneyland, it reads “Semper Absurda.” Semper Absurda, indeed. I’ll drink to that.

The reason I’m speaking of J. Thaddeus right now is because I got to thinking how relatable he is after I (only just recently) started on my newest mania. My red, hot-looking motorcar. Something I might’ve signed the deed to Toad Hall away for if I had the deed to Toad Hall. A phonograph. A functioning piece of antiquity. A link to the past.

I need a link to the past. It’s the only place in which everything’s good. I get along with everyone there. Because I don’t have to interact with them, there’s no room for awkwardness or hate. And if there was, it could easily be chalked up to the disparities in eras and the mindsets of our respective times. We all need a link. It helps us appreciate our forefathers, what they’ve done, what they’ve built and so on. More can be taught from people and events that have already happened than our own ridiculous opinions and speculation about what is going to happen.

The acoustic phonograph, then, is a perfect relic to cling to. It’s classic, quintessential, interesting and fun. Very fun. The one I just acquired is a 1924 Victor Victrola. A common model that, even if you don’t know anything about these machines, exhibits exceptional humility. At the time of this machine’s release 88 years ago, it was an entry-level model. Nothing fancy. No extra bells nor whistles. Just an honest, quality, good old American phonograph for listening to all your favorite 78’s on. See? When we actually produce goods in this great country of ours, they’re pretty damn good.

Now that I’ve got the machine, I get to get to the really fun part – buying 78’s. Almost all of my favorite songs are, well, old. Bechet, Sissle, Calloway, Whiteman, Goodman, Dorsey, Cole, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The classics and the standards are a delight to listen to on these old machines (I just picked up a record of “Sing, Sing, Sing” that I hope won’t send me into a coma of giddiness when I play it for the first time once it arrives.) But then there are songs that you’ve never heard of. Just random, catchy melodies that haven’t been played in a hundred years. Literally.

Such is the case of one of my first records that was thrown in with the machine, a Brunswick record of Irving Berlin’s “The Song is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On)” performed by the Regent Club Orchestra (the singer himself is not labeled on the record… how mysterious!) I personally cannot think of a more appropriate, if not more haunting, song to sum up the novelty and thrill of playing these machines. Think about it: this song is most definitely ended. How many people are honestly familiar with it these days? But the melody lingers on… the melody lingers on, indeed. Very haunting. When I first played this record, it caught my ear in a way that was driving me insane – I was certain I had heard it many times before. And sure enough, a search in my iTunes library revealed an ever rarer recording from the 1895 Ruth Carousel Organ from Crescent Park Carousel, one of the most exquisite carousels in the country and a frequently-visited landmark of my youth. Here’s a brief snippet of the song being played on the machine.

 

If anyone is interested in me publishing videos here or on YouTube of some recordings, drop a comment here and I’ll see what I can do – I’ve got a lot of the classics arriving soon, and recordings of some are nowhere to be found online. I would like to do a service to anyone who would be legitimately interested in hearing them.