Tuesday, June 30, 2015

This Day in Pop Culture: June 30th

The First Corvette Rolls Off the Production Line, 1953

What I lack in any knowledge of the mechanics of cars I make up in aesthetic appreciation. I've been to many classic car shows and while true afficianados discuss the evolution of the power train, I can articulate at best the insightful assessment of "cool". But the afficianados love the aesthetics as much as I do, so we get along just fine. They're a welcoming bunch.

1953 Cherolet Corvette

But if you refer to the 1953 Corvette as the first American sports car, you'll quickly be re-educated with a firm explanation that feels like it was driven by its own power train. You see, there are some topics that a car enthusiast is willing to immediately battle over.

Like, what was the first American sports car, or what qualifies as a sports car.

Second things first. I try to keep my criteria for a sports car simple. Its smaller than the average car with usually only two seats. Its designed for speed over the open road so more than just speed, it needs to handle well around curves. Finally, it needs to be both sexy and impractical.

American men returned from the Second World War with some exposure to small European cars that couldn't have been more different than the living-rooms-on-wheels touring cars they saw at home. By the late forties independent auto manufacturers, as well as some dedicated amateurs, began designing there own version of a sports car. Sometimes they only made a few, sometimes only one. Often they made the body out of molded fiberglass because they lacked the facilities to stamp out steel.

Many with greater knowledge in these matters believe that the 1951 Nash-Healey deserves to be recognized as the first mass-produced American sports car from a major (at the time) manufacturer, beating the Vette by two years. Looking at the image below of the car, the only thing that I can add to that argument is "cool".

1951 Nash-Healey

So where does that leave the birthday boy? I think of it this way. How many people outside of die-hard car enthusiasts have ever heard of the Nash-Healey? William Holden drives the '54 model in "Sabrina", but that takes us into the realm of deep, deep trivia more obscure than the car itself. Nash Motors was bought by AMC in 1954 and the Nash-Healey was almost immeditely abandoned by its new parents.

The Corvette wasn't much of a car when it was launched. The engine was small and it handled poorly. So other than being sexy and impractical, it barely meets my qualifications as a sports car. In fact it almost failed, being saved only be Chevrolet's deep pockets and a major redsign in 1955. But by the end of the fifties the Vette was the most popular sports car in the US.

So lets give the Vette its due. It may not have technically been the first American sports car, but where it's predecessors failed, the 1953 Corvette eventually survived and established its place in the heart of American pop culture.


We found this interesting 22 minute video on YouTube. It a "home movie" of the production of the '53 Vette. Don't try to adjust your speakers. There's no sound. But its interesting to watch how the fiberglass body is molded and glued together and it gives the first Vette the feeling of a custom car.

Here's a link to the New York Times obituary of Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Chevrolet engineer responsible for successfully evolving the car in the 1950's.

And for a few more pictures of the birthday boy please head over to KultureKat on Pinterest

Follow KultureKat's board Corvette on Pinterest.

A History of the Stone(d) Age

I have to admit that I have never given stoner culture much thought. For someone of my generation stoner culture was just always there. I grew up on Dobie Gillis, the Doobie Brothers, and Scoobie Doo. I mean, Shaggy was ALWAYS hungry. Then there was The Dude from The Big Lebowski, Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Cheech and Chong from well, Cheech and Chong. Everyone laughed at Reefer Madness. Stoners were just part of the cultural wallpaper.

Wasn't it always like that?

Well I've now been enlightened (there's a pun in there somewhere) thanks to a recent article on Vulture.com which lays out the history of stoner culture from the publication of The Hasheesh Eater in 1857 (who knew?) to Snoop Dogg and beyond. Its time for all good KultureKats and Kittens to stare deeply at that wallpaper and unpack its complexities.


Here's the link to the aforementioned article, The Making of the Modern Stoner

And I feel the need to pick out the perfect stoner meme as a gift from my generation to your's. As I've already pointed out, there are SOOOO many from which to choose.

After careful consideration, I offer to you Arlo Guthrie's 1969 performance at Woodstock of "Coming Into Los Angeles". It's known, but not a cliche, and it escapes the attention of the Vulture.com article. I hope you enjoy it.

Finally for a few more stoner memes, visit the KultureKat board at Pinterest.

Follow KultureKat's board A History of the Stone(d) Age on Pinterest.

Monday, June 29, 2015

This Day in Pop Culture: June 28th

Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five Record 'West End Blues', 1928

More has been written about this 3 minute 21 second piece of music than any other in jazz history. There's little I can add. But I will offer a cheat-sheet summary for those unfamiliar with the song.

 'West End Blues' was written by Armstrong's musical mentor, King Oliver. Oliver recorded his own version only 17 days before Armstrong and his Hot Five entered the recording studio on June 28th, 1928. By the time they left, Armstrong had set the course for modern jazz.

From its earliest origins, improvization was at the core of the jazz performance, but it was the band that improvized together as a unit. Armstrong opens West End Blues with a fifteen-second trumpet solo which signalled to musicians the future of individual improvizational creativity using the band as backdrop.

As a young clarinet player, Artie Shaw drove to Chicago in 1928 to hear Armstrong at the Savoy. Armstrong opened the evening's performance with West End Blues and, as with all other jazz musicians, changed Shaw's perspective on jazz.
I heard this cascade of notes come out of the trumpet. No one had ever done this before. So I was obsessed with the idea that this is what you had to do: something that was your own. I was influenced by him not in terms of the notes but in the idea of doing what you are.


For more on West End Blues, follow this link to an article from NPR. You can hear the song for yourself on YouTube.

And for a few photos of Armstrong and The Hot Five, please visit KultureKat's board on Pinterest.

Follow KultureKat's board Louis Armstrong on Pinterest.

Monday, June 8, 2015

In Passing: Julie Harris, Helped Bring 'Swinging London' to US

In a recent post on the hard-hat riots of 1970 we wrote about one dimension of the 1960's counterculture: youth politics. Today we have an excuse to write about the decade's defining fashion look with the recent death of Julie Harris.

On the set of 'A Hard Day's Night', 1964

Julie Harris was a costume designer for British films from the late 1940's to the the 1970's. But it was her work in three films in the early '60's that helped bring the fashion style of "Swinging London" to the US. These three films were A Hard Day's Night (1964), Help (1965), and perhaps the most influential, Darling (1965).

British youth culture in many ways lead the US version, most famously the "British Invasion" which re-exported rock music back to the states. And so too, with women's fashion. Mary Quant and the "Chelsea Girl" look (the subject of a future post) began evolving in the early '60s with bolder colors and ever rising hemlines.Women's fashion in 1964 America was more like the conservative look of the 1950's.

Then in August of 1965 John Schlesinger's film Darling was released in the US, winning a handful of Academy Awards in 1966, including Best Costume Design. Julie Christie plays Diana Scott--the "Darling" of the movie title. Scott is shallow, self-centered, young, beautiful and fashionable. The movie traces Scott's path through the film, advertising and media strata of Swinging London and its Mod culture.

Mses. Harris and Christie channeled the then fashionable look of 1960's London into Scott's screen style of short pinafore dresses, miniskirts, and knee socks. The look gave girls an everyday uniform for the fun, free and sexually liberated youth culture of the decade that clearly separated the generations. Older women were shocked by the look and found it difficult to incorporate into their lifestyle.

Julie Christie as Diana Scott in 'Darling', 1965

The effect of the Beatles on fashion was more limited at the time. Suits became a little tighter and lapels a bit narrower. Some in the US wore the Chelsea demi-boot that was part of the Beatles look. But after all, the boy's were rockin' suits in the movies and men's fashions were moving in a decidedly less formal direction.


For the New York Times obituary for Julie Harris, please click here. For something about Mary Quant and the "rise" of the miniskirt, click here.

If you'd like to see some photos of Swinging London fashions or from the movie Darling, please visit the KultureKat Pinterest board below.
Follow KultureKat's board Julie Harris and the Look of Swinging London on Pinterest.