beyond the roots of lounge

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motivation is easy, (musical) comedy is hard

Attend a big trade show or a national corporate meeting nowadays, and the non-PowerPoint entertainment might remind you of a very wealthy couple's wedding reception. Almost any touring music act you've seen listed in Pollstar--and a few informal "all-star" line-ups you haven't--is probably available for corporate gigs and private parties if enough cash is on offer. The aging Boomer audience that organizes and gathers for these events is out to have a good time on the company dime.

In the Lounge era, at a convention center near you, corporate gigs included a very different sort of on-site entertainment: the industrial musical. Like the industrial films that also flourished during the post-war era, the live shows were straight corporate propaganda. Companies wanted to get their message across to the creme of the workforce. They spent big money to hire well-known composers like Kander and Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) or Harnick and Bock (Fiddler on the Roof) to write motivational mini-musicals complete with sets, lights and costumes, that were performed by stage stars of their day (Hal Linden, Florence Henderson and Bob Fosse among them), all in the name of increased sales and higher morale.

Inextricably linked with Lounge (and published by strange music authority Irwin Chusid) is the commercial art of composer and arranger Bob Thompson--RCA's lord of Living Stereo and maestro of the Space Age Bachelor Pad sound. Thompson's industrial musical about the radio ad biz, That Agency Thing, featured the work of well-known voice-over artists like June Foray (Rocky the Flying Squirrel), Paul "Boris Badinov" Frees, and Herschel "Charlie the Tuna" Bernardi.

Industrial shows were all about preaching to the choir. Through sponsorships like AT&T's Bell Telephone Hour, companies got their message out to the general public as well, through the emerging high-tech entertainment medium of the day--television. Whether you are a pop music enthusiast or a cultural studies geek, the Bell Telephone Hour episode guide is guaranteed to ring your chimes.

the week in Woollcott

Alexander Woollcott Alexander Woollcott, the influential critic, raconteur and denizen of the Algonquin Round Table was the inspiration for at least two of our fave fictional characters, both so over-the-top as to be very Lounge indeed. The acerbic gossip-at-large Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger's Lounge-noir classic Laura was based on Woollcott. Woollcott was also the "real" Sheridan Whiteside, The Man Who Came to Dinner. Whether or not Woollcott ever composed his theatre reviews, radio commentaries or Talk of the Town pieces for The New Yorker in the bath (like Lydecker), his demonstrated unsuitability as a dining (the meal consumed at the Algonquin Hotel's Round Table was lunch) companion was apparently the literal inspiration for George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart when they wrote their play about the Whiteside character, played onstage and in the film adaptation by Monty Woolley.

With the release of The Complete New Yorker, the week-in, week-out work of wags like Woollcott, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley--and every other article published during the first 80 years of the magazine's run--is now available to the little old lady in Dubuque and any other reader without ready access to an academic library and a microfilm viewer.

In the issue dated October 13, 1928, Woollcott may have helped to usher in the modern era of logrolling in his time when he profiled his boss, New York Times drama critic Sam Zolotow, who had worked his way up from office boy at the paper quickly and with telling theatrical panache:

The office-boy arrived in a dinner-coat of such advanced cut and sported a gardenia of such dazzling elegance that it took all of the hostess's notoriously weak sense of class distinction to lead him to the bar and start him on his lowly task. Returning an hour later to see how he was getting on, she found that he had turned his apron over to one of the waiters. Later a posse reported that he had been run to earth on the dance floor, where he was treading a mean foxtrot with his arms enfolding Mrs. Lydig Hoyt.
The hostess was vaguely troubled.
"Isn't he going pretty far?" she asked.
"No," said one onlooker, "but give him time."

In the interest of (our, continuing) fair use, we wish to point out that The Complete New Yorker is a valuable cultural document that you really should buy right now, without delay--and not just because we're thoughtfully providing this convenient Amazon link.

sorry about that, bureau chief

The death of TV's Don Adams on the heels of Bob Denver's recent passing reminds us that observing what remains of the swirling firmament that was the Sixties Sitcosmos requires a delicate balancing act between CONTROL and KAOS. It's jazz radio astronomy: the stars are dying off. We could run a tribute to some indelibly Lounge star or show here every other day, but fortunately for you this writer (via TV Tattle) has already done a fine job of putting Get Smart in its cultural context--because she was there. However, we have a little bone to pick with the AP's apparently youthful eulogizer of Mr. Adams...

The spy gadgets, which aped those of the Bond movies, were a popular feature, especially the pre-cell-phone telephone in a shoe.

Yeah, yeah--that's "shoe phone" to you, Junior. (Not to be confused with the cigarette lighter phone, the longhorn phone that rang LBJ, or the cheese sandwich phone.) Lower the cone of silence and listen, chief: if we wanted to scan an obit by some journalistic Hymie the Robot too young to have actually seen Adams' show, why...we'd be reading TV Squad. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry would never have written "telephone in a shoe." It's got no comedic rhythm. The phrase "shoe phone" is still as funny as the prop it describes, and we'll be remembering the way Don Adams sneered into his for as long as it takes the reruns of Get Smart to reach the outer limits of the universe.

palm springs eternal

Google Maps aerial view of Sinatra East Alejo house, Palm Springs Fall's cooler temps make it a swingin' season for a visit to that oasis of excess, the very Lounge resort of Palm Springs. Founded by Cahuilla Indians, the area that attracted Sinatra, Hope, Einstein and Annenberg has long been more than just a desert hot spot, whether you're there to play through or dry out.

Because modernism (including the houses, etc. that Frank built) is so important in Palm Springs, it has organized support including the Palm Springs Modern Committee, which conducts its annual house tour in October. And at the Palm Springs Art Museum through December 4, 2005, an exhibition of images by photographer David Glomb is sure to include many of the local interiors and exteriors. Not your kind of mod? Feed your 90s nostalgia with a re-read of the novel that wrote the book on upscale slack, set in Palm Springs: Douglas Coupland's Generation X.

caveat emperor
he left his head in San Francisco

Emperor Norton I On September 17, 1859 an amusing British nutjob by the name of Joshua Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico--Norton I. (Yes, megalomania is very Lounge.) Not surprisingly the "Emperor" was in San Francisco at the time. "Emperor" Norton had two dogs (one eulogized by Mark Twain), his own currency and a marked predilection for issuing proclamations. [He was both proto-Lounge and a proto-blogger.--Ed.] Like quite a few of the poor souls who have found themselves wandering about with too much time on their hands in San Francisco, Norton also had enough fairly serious psychiatric disorders to fill a veritable Norton Anthology of the DSM.

The latest Barbary Coast characters to name themselves for him or by some variant go by the name The Sons of Emperor Norton (no relation to the L.A. record label of similar name). The Emperor's boys wrote to recommend their music as a heady blend of Lounge and Americana. Surely they realize that nobody else on Earth does that particular shtick quite like Brave Combo--but the Sons' stuff is swanky enough for us, so all hail the Emperor and his latest progeny. You can't have missed that we'll drink to just about anything, so while we're raising our glasses, here's also to the day before the eve of International Talk Like A Pirate Day. [Aye, these little trips round Robin Hood's barn arrrgh thirsty work, indeed.--Ed.]

like, we're getting all misty

Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs It's just an unhappy coincidence that he happened to head for the big syndication package in the sky around the same time as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States--as far as we're concerned, the flags have been flying at half-staff for actor Bob Denver. Though he'll always be that Not Lounge mighty sailin' man, this L.A. Times essay by Meghan Daum makes clear some reasons why hepcats everywhere will honor the memory of Denver's other great TV persona: the medium's original jazz-loving, bongo-playing beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs. Daum says Maynard was the original slacker; his true legacy is even more (or less) profound. As sure as Dobie Gillis was the prototype for every TV teen who came after (up to and including Dawson Leery), his pal Maynard was the first of many counter-culture caricatures that would make the sitcom scene throughout the 60s, paving the way for "crazy" hippies, "militant" protestors and assorted other authority-subverting stereotypes who were handy guest-starring foils for the genre's regular know, the normal folks like Granny, Major Tony Nelson or Samantha Stephens.

Unfortunately, Denver and the other actors who populated the festival of weird that was the Sixties Sitcosmos usually have to die before they finally get the credit they deserve for creating the kind of memorable characters that will live forever in every domestic market and international territory where television is consumed. We hope it's not beyond the bounds of taste [around here, that's really saying something--Ed.] to imagine that wherever Mr. Denver is now, he is near a quiet lagoon, and that bongos are always nearby.

By the way, our friends at Fox 20th Century Television need to get their assets in gear and bring The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis out on DVD. Warren Beatty should just sign the release already; his work as Milton Armitage was neither better nor worse than the performance he gave in Splendor in the Grass, and that's already available for the whole world to see.

"happy" is their business...their only business

CC Flickr vintage cocktail image by olivander We could use some levity...and a nice stiff one...right about now, couldn't you? Beer's the bevy that made Milwaukee famous--for being a shot-and-a-beer kind of town--but there and on the Web there is a retailer that promises to "happily support ALL drinkers," whether they prefer wine, the hard stuff, or a mere glass of beer. They want you to have your beer in a glass, aluminum boy, because the proprietors know It's Always Happy Hour Somewhere and they're ready to sell you the barware and drinking accessories to prove it.

As if their main storefront site isn't swanky enough, these helpful enablers also operate an actual terrestrial retail establishment and two blogs about more things cocktail. The brand-reinforcing It's Always Happy Hour Somewhere covers exotic glassware, plugs the shop and invites readers to partake of enough bar supplies and cocktail-themed decor "to make any hour a happy hour and any place...your lounge-away-from-lounge."

Their other site, brand-extending Cocktails from gets down to business with instructions about what to imbibe with the new equipment. If we ever decide to stop quaffing our famous Bloodies out of vintage Russell Wright Eclipse glasses, now we'll know where to go.

NOLA contendere

Never Closed sign at Johnny White's Sports Bar in the French Quarter In the city that hitherto knew no care, there has been chaos--catastrophic devastation of one of America's brightest spots for music and pleasure. The cradle of America's musical civilization is New Orleans. Even if your taste is more Louis Prima than Louis Armstrong, more Al Hirt than Wynton Marsalis, the pivotal role of New Orleans in American music--even Lounge music--is undeniable.

We were particularly grateful to read that one of our favorite New Orleans musicians escaped the flooded city: Allen Toussaint, one of the city's greatest. Where Toussaint is concerned, it's just not enough to know that he is the composer, producer, arranger or performer on so many unique, fine and funky American hits; you simply must hear some of his performances of his own work.

Bless his art, Toussaint is also the writer of at least three genuine Lounge classics. His "Java" was a big hit for Al Hirt. To compare Toussaint's powerfully atmospheric, avant garde recording of his "Southern Nights" to Glen Campbell's thoroughly NashVegas mega-hit version is to hear the role of the arranger in popular music. Toussaint also cut his own rendition of his delightful "Whipped Cream" before it was popularized by Herb Alpert. Like Alpert's recording of "Spanish Flea," "Whipped Cream" was featured as a cue (though it is often cited as the main theme) on TV's Dating Game, a Chuck Barris Production. [These tunes were among a small number of cues and themes for his shows that Barris didn't write himself.--Ed.]

With the spirit of the music that helped make her our nation's headquarters for fun and good living, NOLA is a contender. She may only have been America's sixth drunkest city, and she'll never be (remotely?) the same again. But we're hopeful that, musically speaking, les bontemps will roulez again someday and the Crescent City will, eventually, get back on her feet stilts.

we'll have what he's having

detail of a cocktail napkin at Ephemeraholic At Eye of the Goof, Mr. BaliHai is serving up a delicious gallery of booze-related print matter. Ephemeraholic is a "collection of classic drinking-related images for the nostalgic barfly." We're getting a little misty in our cups just thinking about some of these gems of cocktailiana, with their 75-cent, 17-year-old whiskies and their delightful retro imagery. We might have to put a nickel in the Frank-ylizer® lest we forget where we are. Barkeep, save us a place; we've got to see a man about a dog.

you meet the nicest people on a gas line

from Honda 50 ad Maybe you weren't around when we waited in line to bow down to our petroleum masters during the 70s gas crisis. Just in case you haven't lately been touched by the noodly appendage...of a gas pump nozzle as it sucks the life out of your wallet, do not be alarmed when you start seeing more and more of these things on the streets where you live. While Vespas still look much the same--just as mod as they did when they first arrived from Italy in the late 40s--they have modern working-parts, including a crack team of brand-evangelizing bloggers.

Sadly, the Honda 50 that introduced a generation to the nicest people seems to be just a collectable memory. As cool as the 50 (a.k.a. the Cub) looked to the consumers of its day, the cycle maker of 60s story and song now sells gas-sipping models designed to appeal to today's contemporary market. Whether you're retro or metro--better get on your bike and ride. As the price of petrol spirals into the stratosphere, it's clear that scooters are not just for beatnik chicks wearing head scarves anymore.

the guy's only doing it for some doll...

Jon Gnagy art kit Unable to draw a straight line [much less walk one--Ed.] ourselves, we will cop to a sick weakness for certain types of representational commercial art. We know some would say it's a bit déclassé just to draw pretty pictures or dig them--but when you show us paper dolls of the saints or Harlequin and Mezzetino, we'll let down our not-inconsiderable guard a little. The illustrator, Chicago drama teacher David Claudon, has filled his site with page after page of historical pageantry and retro goodness, including decorating tips from the 40s and 50s and, quel surprise--a GLBT honor roll. (What, no Paul Lynde?)

Now, if you'll excuse us, we have to finish cutting out the Medieval royalty, Renaissance artists (remember: Michelangelo is Lounge...Leonardo...not so much) and Restoration figures cast of our upcoming Beyond The Roots of Lounge Puppet Theatre production of The Importance of Being Earnest.

truth is Lounge-er than fiction, pt. 1

TV's Chuck Barris Schlockmeister, songwriter, cancer survivor. TV humiliation pioneer Chuck Barris has worn a lot of hats in his extremely Lounge life, and yes, "novelist" is one of them. His contribution to airport literature, the quite-a-bit-more-than-semi-autobiographical You and Me, Babe, has been reissued in paperback. We dimly recall reading this work of so-called fiction via Interlibrary Loan during the heyday of the The Gong Show. A game show producer who writes a novel about a guy who creates TV game shows is already rocking a veil (or hiding beneath a hat) that is pretty thin. Once he stepped out from behind the curtain, Barris' stories actually became more interesting as their reality-to-fiction ratio increased.

We're not referring to the alleged spook sideline that Chuckie-baby so famously revealed in his Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. It is in his other, currently out-of-print memoir The Game Show King that Barris finally described a lifestyle befitting his legend. At one point he chucked it all [cue rimshot, Mr. Delugg--Ed.] and spent 10 years in the south of France, yachting it up at St.Tropez (see below) and becoming a fixture in the local boules league. Now that is a story worthy of exhaustive verification--perhaps HBO can squeeze an authentic Barris bio-pic out of it.

the pleasure-giver

Miss Ann-Margret Nightclub entertainer, stage performer, movie star--"the female Elvis," Ann-Margret is an undeniable triple-threat. Her long and uneven movie career encompasses Bye Bye Birdie and Kitten with a Whip, Carnal Knowledge and Tommy, Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men. Viva Las Vegas aside, it is the trio of swingin' career-gal-on-the-fake-make movies she made for three different studios between 1963 and 1966 that will forever enshrine Ann-Margret in our hearts as one of the great Lounge icons. Sure, in George Sidney's The Swinger from 1966 she rode a motorcycle in tights and cornered Tony Franciosa in the men's room as she played a writer trying to break into big-time magazine journalism under a Hef-like editor (well, not really under him--and that was the point). And in Boris Sagal's Made in Paris...she wasn't, not by Louis Jourdan, not even after some enthusiastic frugging to music by Mongo Santamaría.

For our money, the first of these movies was the sweetest and is still the best. Jean Negulesco's The Pleasure Seekers was a Fox remake of his Three Coins in the Fountain, relocating the three-nice-girls-nab-three-cads formula from Rome to Madrid and substituting butch and irascible Brian Keith for bitchy and irascible Clifton Webb. Ann-Margret's ardent performance of the Cahn-Van Heusen title song is still one of the cinema's more bizarrely innocent paeans to hedonism.

Like the other two titles in our Ann-Margret Lounge trilogy, The Pleasure Seekers is unavailable on video. Until somebody at Fox Home Video wises up, keep checking the Fox Movie Channel site (as lame as the channel itself, they apparently have the television rights to Valley of the Dolls under synergistic lock-and-key as well) or placate yourself with this primo piece of c. 1964 promotional nonsense.

there will be an accounting for taste

another fine Enoch Light Command lp Perhaps in your preferred version of the great hereafter, all of the harp playing or pitchforking will be wildly inventive, groundbreaking and improvisational. It will swing like hell (wherever it originates) and will have a distinctive melodic sense. It will be incredibly interesting and sound unlike anything you've ever heard before. In other words, the music being made will be both irresistible and new.

According to this fantastic essay (from those observers of extreme capitalism at Opinion Journal), that's not bloody likely:

...maybe "postmodernist" is merely a polite way of saying that, after many decades of pop culture, we have finally run out of new ideas.

Others suggest, perhaps more cynically, that nostalgia is our economic destiny--that is, a generation of relentless media consolidation has made dips into the archives inevitable.

But some recent research suggests that we may have it all wrong. The nostalgia industry may not be the result of business or cultural trends at all but rather the product of our own psyches.

If the researchers are right, the nostalgia industry is less a corporate or artistic plot than an accommodation to biology. The culture doesn't dictate the nostalgia. Our nostalgia dictates the culture.

[Ooh, he said "nostalgia industry," we are so in love...--Ed.] Meanwhile, up, down or out there somewhere and here on terra firma, provocative, persuasive, ever-pertinent percussion purveyor Enoch Light's centennial is being well-promulgated. Key site Spaced Out points to other commemorative links as it instructs, "please charge your glasses and toast the memory of the father of ping-pong stereo." That was new, once--and the Command cover art alone is always worth a tip of the hat, er, glass. Drink up!

it is if you're doing it right

Farrah Fawcett as you remember her

I can remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty.--George Burns

No matter what the air quality is like where you are, conditions are always favorable for a trip down tacky retro sex memory lane. The proclamation in San Francisco of Charo week to commemorate a rare appearance there by her nightclub-cum-flamenco act has been quite widely reported, considering that many of our younger hepcat friends never had the pleasure of watching the former Mrs. Xavier Cugat play the guitar (quite well, in fact) and make with the "cuchi, cuchi, cuchi" bit on late-night TV. [By the drag queens shall they know her...--Ed.] This news coincides with the posting online (links via Boing Boing and Bedazzled) of a selection of Spanish "S"-rated film posters and a piece about the Ohio brothers who created the iconic poster of Farrah Fawcett that graced many a bedroom wall in the 70s--a perfect convergence of cheesecake ephemera.

But here's something sexy and retro you may not have seen yet unless you remember it from the first time around: At L.A.'s Erotic Museum, Sex Ed 102, a selection of educational media and artifacts documenting sex-ed in the free-love era. That's the 60s and 70s, kids--and you thought nothing from then was truly Lounge...

do you know the way to St. Tropez?

St. Maxime, France (This is actually a view of the beachfront near Sainte Maxime, just east of St. Tropez. Our subject is not available for aerial viewing, even though Brigitte Bardot is long past the age of toplessness.) Seek it here, seek it there, but forget about conducting any business in France during August--they're closed for va-cay. This year as always, the newspaper of record knows quite a bit about what's doing in the Côte d'Azur, in case you're planning to navigate to one of the world's Lounge-est spots in one of these yachts.

Can't make it to France this August? Fall by this Chicago lounge for a $135 Champs-Elysees cocktail: Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac, Grand Marnier, orange juice and sour mix, served in a crystal cognac glass rimmed with powdered sugar, and you get to keep the glass. [If you're going to pay that kind of money for a sidecar, you should take home the bartender to go with the glass.--Ed.] Better yet, use the $135 toward a flight from O'Hare to Orly, connecting service to Nice.

vive les Poupees de Paris

detail from a Les Poupees program offered on eBay It explains a lot about the World of Sid and Marty Krofft that prior to their highly successful run of live-action/big weird puppet TV shows (like H.R. Pufnstuf or The Bugaloos or the trippiest-of-them-all, Lidsville--starring Lounge icon Charles Nelson Reilly), the brothers teamed up for the first time on a popular burlesque puppet show for adults, Les Poupees de Paris. This puppet Folies Bergere featured a bare-breasted Mae West and other send-ups of the Krofft's pals from years in sho-biz, including Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Pearl Bailey. Les Poupees premiered in an L.A. dinner theatre but later played Vegas and appeared at the Seattle and 1964-65 New York World's Fairs, at the Krofft's own Hollywood theatre and at Playboy® clubs. The puppets sang a score composed by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, cavorted on elaborate sets featuring a waterfall and an ice rink, and wore lots of sequins and real furs. In other words, they were very, very Lounge.

Après Les Poupees, the brothers supplied Dean Martin's original 1965 Golddiggers, the wooden ones. Later, once the Kroffts had conquered Saturday morning, they went on to keep the variety show flame burning in prime time during the 70s with everyone from Donny and Marie Osmond to Barbara Mandrell, proving that it's not such a long way from Liberace to Land of the Lost.