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Archive for the ‘Popular Culture’ Category

Willie Davis, who succeeded Duke Snider as the center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and used his blazing speed to steal 20 or more bases 11 straight years, led the National League in triples twice and set a record of three stolen bases in a World Series game, was found dead on Tuesday at his home in Burbank, Calif. He was 69. . . .

“Frank McCourt, the owner of the Dodgers, said in a statement that Davis was ‘one of the most talented players ever to wear a Dodgers uniform.’ Davis played 14 seasons for the Dodgers, on teams that were almost immediately the stuff of legend. Among his teammates were Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Maury Wills. His 31-game hitting streak in 1969 is still a team record. It was the longest streak in the majors since Dom DiMaggio’s 34 games in 1949 for the Boston Red Sox.

“Davis holds six other franchise records, including hits (2,091), extra-base hits (585), at-bats (7,495), runs (1,004), triples (110) and total bases (3,094).

“Davis lifetime batting average was .279, and he had a total of 398 stolen bases. He made it to the major leagues in 1960 and retired after the 1979 season.

“Over his career, he played more than 2,200 games in center field, was a two-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner for his defense. He won World Series rings in 1963 and 1965, stealing three bases in one inning in the 1965 Series.” (more @ NY Times)

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“When Jack Kerouac wrote his will shortly before his death in 1969, he was broke. Forty years later, a ferocious battle rages over his multi-million dollar literary estate. Kerouac, at odds with his third wife, Stella Sampas, had left everything to his mother, Gabrielle Kerouac. But when Gabrielle Kerouac passed away in 1973, her will indicated that the entire estate would go to Sampas, news that had shocked Kerouac’s remaining blood relatives—his daughter, Jan, and his nephew, Paul Blake Jr. When Sampas died in 1990, her siblings inherited the Kerouac literary estate, with the youngest brother, John Sampas, acting as executor. It was a stunning series of events for Kerouac scholars and fans, but the real surprise was yet to come. Last July, a judge in Tampa, Florida ruled that Gabrielle Kerouac’s 1973 will was a forgery.

“Gerald Nicosia, author of the acclaimed Kerouac biography, Memory Babe, first suspected foul play in 1994, when Jan Kerouac saw a copy of the will for the first time and noticed that her grandmother’s name was misspelled.

“‘We are dealing with perhaps the most influential American novelist of the twentieth century, after all, and it is now proven that his $30 million estate was stolen, plain and simple,’ said Nicosia.” (cont’d @ Fine Books & Collections)

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Eric Rohmer, the French critic and filmmaker who was one of the founding figures of the internationally influential movement that became known as the French New Wave, and the director of more than 50 films for theaters and television, including the Oscar-nominated ‘My Night at Maud’s‘ (1969), died on Monday. He was 89. . . .

“Aesthetically, Mr. Rohmer was perhaps the most conservative member of the group of aggressive young critics who purveyed their writings for publications like Arts and Les Cahiers du Cinéma into careers as filmmakers beginning in the late 1950s. A former novelist and teacher of French and German literature, Mr. Rohmer emphasized the spoken and written word in his films at a time when tastes — thanks in no small part to his own pioneering writing on Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks — had begun to shift from literary adaptations to genre films grounded in strong visual styles.

“His most famous film in America remains ‘My Night at Maud’s,’ a 1969 black-and-white feature set in the grim industrial city of Clermont-Ferrand. It tells the story of a shy, young engineer . . . who passes a snow-bound evening in the home of an attractive, free-thinking divorcée.” (more @ NY Times)

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“The closest toy store to Tiger Woods’ boyhood home is a Toys ‘R’ Us in Huntington Beach, California. There’s a strong chance Earl and Kultida Woods shopped for Christmas presents here when then their son was young, and the store yesterday was girded again for the holiday rush, with Barbies and pottery kits stacked up front. For those on a budget, there was a clearance sale on action figures in the back: the NFL’s Jay Cutler in a Broncos uniform (he’s now a Bear), the NBA’s Ben Gordon as a Bull (he’s now a Piston)—and native son Woods. Regularly $15.99, the Woods action figure had been slashed to $9.98.

“So it goes these days with greatest brand in sports, now that he’s been revealed to be a horn-dog of the highest order. At press time, his major sponsors were behind him. Nike has Tiger’s back. So, too, does Gillette. And it will be hard to tell if Tiger’s travails have any effect on sales of Buicks in the short term. But as it’s Christmas shopping season, the sales of Tiger videogames (through Electronic Arts), action figures (through Upper Deck), and memorabilia offer an immediate window into the scandal’s effect.” (cont’d @ The Daily Beast)

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jazz band“Long before we debated what real punk-rock was, what true hip-hop was, or what made indie-rock authentic, jazz heads grappled with what is and isn’t jazz music. Now, the debate is whether jazz is dying off or not.

“Not long ago Jae Sinnett, a jazz drummer, composer, educator and radio personality, told NPR that jazz is dying because people are falling out of love with it. Hip-hop, Sinnet says, stole jazz’s thunder. He also blamed club owners for removing pianos from their venues to save space over the years.

“Sinnet’s claims are not unfounded. The Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout reported in August that the audience for America’s great art form was withering away, based on data in the latest survey of public participation in the arts. According to the report, America’s jazz audience is not only shrinking, it’s aging. Attendance at jazz performances has dropped 30% since 2002. The median age of concert patrons in 2008 was 46; in 1982 it was 29. . . .

“Teachout said the problem is that most Americans see jazz as a form of high art. Sinnet confirmed that ‘the masses don’t understand the music,’ largely because there are fewer places to hear it. Getting ‘these kids’ to ‘realise [jazz] is something worth their time is difficult because they don’t hear it on TV or MTV.’ The word ‘jazz’ itself has even become sandbagged with lofty associations (Time Out London goes so far as to call it the ‘J Bomb’).” (more @ Intelligent Life)

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Robert Johnson“The mystery surrounding bluesman Robert Johnson‘s life and death feeds the lingering fascination with his work.

“There’s the myth he sold his soul to the devil to create his haunting guitar intonations. There’s the dispute over where he died after his alleged poisoning by a jealous man in 1938. Three different markers claim to be the site of his demise.

“His birthplace, however, has been verified. The seminal bluesman came into the world in 1911 in a well-crafted home built by his stepfather in the Mississippi town of Hazlehurst.

“Now, 71 years after his death, local officials want to restore the home in hopes of drawing Johnson fans and their tourism dollars to Copiah County, about 100 miles from the Delta region that most bluesmen called home.” (cont’d @ Variety)

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D'Lugoff“Art D’Lugoff, who was widely regarded as the dean of New York nightclub impresarios and whose storied spot, the Village Gate, was for more than 30 years home to performers as celebrated, and diverse, as Duke Ellington, Allen Ginsberg and John Belushi, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 85 and lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. . . .

“Opened in 1958, the Village Gate was on the corner of Bleecker and Thompson Streets. The cavernous basement space it occupied — the building’s upper floors were then a flophouse — had once been a laundry. . . .

“The club closed its doors in 1994, amid rising rents, a changing market for live music and the aftermath of some unsuccessful investments by Mr. D’Lugoff. It briefly reappeared on West 52nd Street in 1996 but sputtered out after less than a year. . . .

“The Gate may have lacked the cachet of the Village Vanguard, a more intimate West Village club, but it was a bright star in the city’s cultural firmament for decades. A young Woody Allen did stand-up comedy there. The playwright-to-be Sam Shepard bused tables there. A waiter named Dustin Hoffman was fired there for being so engrossed in the performances that he neglected his customers, though service was by all accounts never the club’s strength. Dozens of albums were recorded there, by musicians like Pete Seeger and Nina Simone and by comics like Dick Gregory.

“Though most often thought of as a jazz space — among the eminences heard there over the years were John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk — the Gate offered nearly every type of performance imaginable. There were blues artists like B. B. King; soul singers like Aretha Franklin; rockers like Jimi Hendrix; comics like Mort Sahl and Richard Pryor; and Beat poets.” (more @ NY Times)

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Shameless self-promotion, I know, but . . .

Anson Program“Since the 1970s, as a collector, as a dealer, and as an auctioneer (one-half of the highly respected Sloate & Smolin Auctions and the sole owner of About Time Auctions), Jerry Smolin has been well known as a baseball historian and as a true connoisseur of baseball memorabilia. He is one of the few collectors or dealers whose experience spans from the earliest days of the organized hobby as we know it to the present day, and he is universally respected and recognized as a true scholar in the field.  Some of the greatest treasures of baseball memorabilia of all types, especially nineteenth-century items, including cards, photography, documents, and display pieces, have passed through his hands in private sales and at auction over the past thirty years. One special area of personal collecting interest that has been a constant for all these many years has been early baseball programs. This collection of thirty-five programs (which will be presented in twenty-eight lots) was assembled with great care and patience, and with an eye for quality, rarity, historical significance, and display value. This is by far the best collection of early baseball programs we have ever offered or even seen in one place. Only the best examples of their type were added to the collection, one program at a time, armed with a great appreciation and an unmatched knowledge of what is special in the field of program collecting.” (cont’d @ Robert Edward Auctions)

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soupysalesSoupy Sales, whose zany television routines turned the smashing of a pie to the face into a madcap art form, died Thursday night. He was 83.

“Mr. Sales’s former manager, Dave Usher, said the entertainer died in a hospice in New York City after suffering from multiple health problems.

“Cavorting with his puppet sidekicks White Fang, Black Tooth, Pookie the Lion and Hobart and Reba, the heads in the pot-bellied stove, transforming himself into the private detective Philo Kvetch, and playing host to the ever-present ‘nut at the door,’ Soupy Sales became a television favorite of youngsters and an anarchic comedy hero for teenagers and college students.

“Clad in a top hat, sweater and bow tie, shuffling through his Mouse dance, he reached his slapstick heyday in the mid-1960s on ‘The Soupy Sales Show,’ a widely syndicated program based at WNEW-TV in New York.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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Matchcover“If smoking was their sole raison d’être, restaurant matches should by all rights have disappeared by now. After being overtaken by the disposable lighter, they have run into smoking bans of varying severity. (Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia now have laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants, according to the American Lung Association, and local jurisdictions impose their own smoke-free rules.)

Matches“Yet matches appear to be struggling back from the brink to reassert their pre-eminence among the rabble of coasters, business cards, cocktail napkins and swizzle sticks charged with hawking a restaurant’s good name. In an era of instant information access and viral publicity, logo-bearing matches may have the edge as ambassadors that convey distinction in their very physicality.” (more @ NY Times)

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SgtPepperLucy O'Donnell“Lucy O’Donnell, the woman who inspired the classic Beatles song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, has died aged 46.

“The song [was] featured on the ground-breaking 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

“John Lennon’s elder son Julian said it was inspired by a picture he drew of his classmate Lucy O’Donnell when they were at a nursery school in Weybridge, Surrey, in 1966.

“Julian said he took the picture home and showed it to his father, explaining, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.'” (more @ Daily Telegraph)

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wolcott-0908-01Pity the culture snob, as Kindles, iPods, and flash drives swallow up the visible markers of superior taste and intelligence. With the digitization of books, music, and movies, how will the highbrow distinguish him- or herself from the masses?” (James Wolcott, via Vanity Fair)

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jim_carrollJim Carroll, the poet and punk rocker in the outlaw tradition of Rimbaud and Burroughs who chronicled his wild youth in ‘The Basketball Diaries,’ died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 60. . . .

“As a teenage basketball star in the 1960s at Trinity, an elite private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Mr. Carroll led a chaotic life that combined sports, drugs and poetry. This highly unusual combination lent a lurid appeal to ‘The Basketball Diaries’ the journal he kept during high school and published in 1978, by which time his poetry had already won him a cult reputation as the new, Bob Dylan.

“‘I met him in 1970, and already he was pretty much universally recognized as the best poet of his generation,’ the singer Patti Smith said in a telephone interview on Sunday. ‘The work was sophisticated and elegant. He had beauty.'” (more @ NY Times)

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Peter & Gordon“Gordon Waller, who formed half of Peter and Gordon, a successful pop duo that followed the Beatles to America as part of the British Invasion of the 1960s and that scored a No. 1 hit with ‘A World Without Love,’ died on Friday in Norwich, Conn. He was 64 and lived in Ledyard, Conn. . . .

“The song, a lilting, plaintive ballad, opens with the lyrics, ‘Please lock me away/And don’t allow the day/Here inside, where I hide with my loneliness/I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay/In a world without love.’

“Peter and Gordon toured the United States and appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show‘ and other network variety shows — part of a wave of British groups that swept the United States, among them Chad and Jeremy, the Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits.” (more @ NY Times)

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Tom WilkesTom Wilkes, an art director, photographer and designer whose posters for the Monterey Pop Festival and album covers for the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, George Harrison and others helped illustrate the age of rock ’n’ roll, died on June 28 in Pioneertown, Calif., in the high desert east of Los Angeles. He was 69. . . .

“For the Rolling Stones, he created a controversial cover for the album ‘Beggars Banquet,’ using a photograph of a toilet stall with the name of the band prominent on a wall filled with graffiti. The record label initially refused to release the cover, and replaced it with a fake invitation to a dinner. Mr. Wilkes’s version was released later.

“For Dave Mason’s ‘Alone Together,’ Mr. Wilkes photographed Mr. Mason wearing a top hat and a long-tailed coat against a backdrop of canyon rocks. For Joe Cocker’s ‘Mad Dogs & Englishmen,’ he placed a photograph of the long-haired Mr. Cocker flexing his right bicep within an illustration of a mirror frame. For George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass,’ he depicted the former Beatle as if he were a woodsman in a fairy tale, surrounded by reclining trolls.

“Only hours before Janis Joplin’s fatal drug overdose in 1970, Mr. Wilkes photographed her for the album ‘Pearl,’ colorfully dressed and coiffed and looking remarkably relaxed and happy. He photographed Eric Clapton, sitting in a chair in a white suit, for his first solo album, and for Neil Young’s ‘Harvest,’ he created the typescript title over a red sun set against a wheat-colored background.” (more @ NY Times)

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Giant Pez“It took more than 30 years for the creators of Pez candy dispensers to give the little plastic figurines feet, and they never did get hands. But now the long arm of the Pez Candy Co. has reached all the way from Linz, Austria, into U.S. District Court, where it has slapped the tiny faces that fill Burlingame’s Museum of Pez Memorabilia with a lawsuit.

“The legal broadside, which was filed in San Francisco last month, singles out a 7-foot-10 snowman, built especially for the museum, that has been recognized by the Guinness record keepers as the world’s largest Pez dispenser. Pez seeks to have the snowman melted down.” (cont’d @ San Jose Mercury News)

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12petr600.1“John Heneghan tugged a large shellac disc from its brown paper sleeve, placed it on a turntable and gently nudged a needle into place. Behind him, in the corner of his East Village apartment, sat 16 wooden crates, each filled with meticulously cataloged 78-r.p.m. records. The coarse, crackling voice of the blues singer Charley Patton, performing ‘High Water Everywhere Part 1,’ his startling account of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, rose from the speakers, raw and unruly. The record is worth about $8,000.

“Mr. Heneghan, 41, is part of a small but fervent community of record collectors who for decades have hunted, compulsively and competitively, for 78s: the extraordinarily fragile 10-inch discs, introduced near the turn of the 20th century and made predominantly of shellac, that contain one two- to three-minute performance per side. At a time when music fans expect songs to be delivered instantaneously (and often at zero cost) online, scouring the globe for a rare record — and paying thousands of dollars for it — might seem ludicrous.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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Food, Inc“MOVIES about food used to make you want to eat. . . .

“But that was then, before Wal-Mart started selling organic food and Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. Before E. coli was a constant in the food supply, before politicians tried to tax soda and before anyone gave much thought to the living conditions of chickens.

“Into this world comes Food, Inc.,’ a documentary on the state of the nation’s food system that opens in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday. . . .

“‘Food, Inc.’ begins with images of a bright, bulging American supermarket, and then moves to the jammed chicken houses, grim meat-cutting rooms and chemical-laced cornfields where much of the American diet comes from. Along the way Mr. Kenner attempts to expose the hidden costs of a system in which fast-food hamburgers cost $1 and soda is cheaper than milk.” (more @ NY Times)

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CB021034“Slang is like a breeze; it softly comes and goes, as new times bring new buzzwords. Some stick (‘cool’ defiantly endures); some induce cringes when dusted off (‘groovy’ is now in the dustbin of irony). It’s obvious when slang becomes less funny or less meaningful through overuse: ‘Internets,’ for example, has become too widespread to be implicitly derisive of George W. Bush. Slang, in other words, is inevitably ephemeral–but it’s not always incidental. When hip-hop listeners crack the codes of songs en masse, rappers know it’s time to invent anew. The refusal of normative, dominant culture–beginning with the fundamentals of language–is embedded in the form. Baseball vernacular, for its part, isn’t so expressly political, nor is its obscurity as deliberate. Baseball belongs to the same class of folklore as, say, jazz, hamburgers and even hip-hop–but to employ Ken Burnsian hyperbole about the significance of its wordplay is a tough sell. It is what it is. As [Paul Dickson, author of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary] writes, it’s ‘low-key and light’–slang for its own sake. In other words, the richness of baseball’s old, weird vernacular is pure, pointless creativity. . . .

“Baseball slang is an avalanche of skewed logic. The commonest words take on very precise meanings. ‘Stuff’ refers quite specifically to the totality of a pitcher’s arsenal: his array of pitches and the velocity and movement with which he throws them. A pitcher can easily have good stuff but not succeed if his ‘command’–the ability to locate pitches accurately–is erratic. Terms associated with dirt and filth are highly complimentary. A hitter respectfully calls an excellent pitcher ‘filthy,’ a term that evolved out of common adjectives from a decade ago: ‘nasty’ and ‘dirty.’ ‘Dirtbags’ and ‘dirt dogs’ are consummate hustlers, guys with perpetually soiled uniforms and caps and batting helmets stained with sweat, tobacco juice and pine tar. Naturally, dirtbags and dirt dogs play ‘dirtball.’ A player who is ‘pretty’ is the opposite of a dirtbag, as is a ‘muffin.’ Food references are as prevalent as the television announcers who longingly mention the hallowed postgame buffet in the players’ clubhouse. The ball itself can be an egg, apricot, apple or stitched potato. ‘Jelly beans’ are rookies and inexperienced kids, the type a veteran might relentlessly call bush for a year before acknowledging him properly. Reaching base for your team’s big hitters is ‘setting the table.’ ‘Fat’ pitches are hittable ones, almost exclusively delectable treats, my favorite being ‘ham-and-cheese.'” (more @ The Nation)

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Kerouac Baseball“Almost all his life Jack Kerouac had a hobby that even close friends and fellow-Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs never knew about. He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

“He collected their stats, analyzed their performance and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. During those same teenage years, he also ran a fantasy horse-racing circuit complete with illustrated tout sheets and racing reports. He created imaginary owners, imaginary jockeys, imaginary track conditions.

“All these ‘publications,’ some typed, some handwritten and often pasted into old-fashioned composition notebooks, are now part of the Kerouac archive at the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. The curator, Isaac Gewirtz, has just written a 100-page book about them, ‘Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats,’ to be published next week by the library and available, at least for now, only in the library gift shop.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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