Monday, August 17, 2015

This Day In Pop Culture, August 17

Kwik Kwiz Kulture Kats:

What date in pop culture can we celebrate miletones in punk rock, transgressive literature and baseball?

This one!

Ramones Play First Show at CBGBs, 1974

Is it possible to write a post about the Ramones that can be read in the two and a half minutes which was the typical length of one of their songs?

On this day in 1974 the Ramones emerged from one of the fouler abcesses of lower Manhattan, CBGBs, and kicked music in the butt, much like the Beatles had done ten years earlier.


Bassist DeeDee Ramone counted down the first song as he would every other they would perform. It was DeeDee, sensitive, sincere, sometime street hustler, who wrote many of the band's early songs and provided their initial aesthetic of leather jacket, jeans and gym shoes. Joey Ramone draped himself over the mic and assumed the alter ego to which he escaped from his awkward, dysfuntional, obsessive-compulsive true self. Stage left was Johnny Ramone, always angry, always defiant, caught left leg forward in mid-ax-hero stride, pounding downstrokes, only downstrokes onto the guitar strings. Tommy Ramone sat behind the drum kit, an island of normalcy along an atoll of misfits, keeping the bunch on the beat, both musically and often emotionally.

Rock music goes through cycles in which bursts of energy and creativity slowly devolve into the corporate humming of clones, until vanquished by the new upstart escaping Liverpool, Seattle or in the case of the Ramones, Flushing.  Rock in the early '70s had become self-indulgent with the extended musical explorations of the Grateful Dead and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and the personal explorations of James Taylor and Cat Stevens.

That first night the Ramones reminded the world that of the three main ingredients of rock - musicianship, energy and attitude - the last two go a long way.

Leggs McNeil, who would go onto spread the gospel of the punk scene was at CBGBs that night:
 "They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song... and it was just this wall of noise... They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new."
McNeil was on to something. The Sixties had passed from the calendar and the heart a few years earlier, collapsing under its own excesses without leaving a cultural bequest to the next youth cohort. That night in 1974 the Ramones, along with others, began construction of a new youth culture that would be all its own.


Below is a rough video of the band taken at CBGB's a few weeks later.

And for a few more pics of the band and CBGBs, visit the Kulture Kat Pinterest board below.

Follow KultureKat's board The Ramones on Pinterest.

Charles Bukowski Is Born, 1920

Bukowski came into this world today, inhabiting only it's darker corners for the following 70 years. He wrote poems and novels, unnoticed for much of his life, on the three things he loved best: alcohol, sex, and Los Angeles.

Sometime ago I wrote a review of Factotum, a biographical treatment of Bukowski's later years. What follows are a few select paragraphs, repurposed for this post.

...Bukowski was born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Germany in 1920. His family escaped the economic dissolution of his birth country in 1924, eventually settling in Los Angeles, Bukowski’s home for most of his life. As a teenager, Bukowski began his love affair with alcohol, and shortly after, his affair with writing. Bukowski was always the outsider, alienated from others by his accent, the anti-German bigotry of the war years, and the severe acne scarring on his face.

In his early twenties, Bukowski published two short stories. Becoming quickly disillusioned with the publication process, Bukowski began what he calls his “ten year drunk”. He only achieved recurring success with his writing in 1969, at the age of 49.

Most of Bukowski’s work is written from the perspective of the alienated outsider. His style was raw and unsympathetic. He wrote most often of the hopelessness which binds together the lowest rung of society, thus earning the title “The Poet Laureate of Skid Row”.

Factotum, like all of Bukowski’s work, is a near perfect exemplar of transgressive fiction. In many ways, the common achievement of works of transgressive fiction is to create a discomforting disorientation by having the character the reader sympathizes with violate accepted social norms and act in unsympathetic ways...

If you'd like to read the previous post in its entirety, you can find it here.

Ray Chapman Dies After Being Hit By Pitch, 1920

Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman came up to bat against Yankee star pitcher Carl Mays in the 5th inning of a game at the Polo Grounds. Mays threw hard and with a near underhand release which made it especially difficult for a batter to judge. The last pitch Chapman would ever see tailed up and in, hitting him on the side of the head. The crack of the impact was so loud that Mays fielded the ball, assuming it had hit the bat. Chapman was helped from the field and died the next morning from a severe skull fracture.

Most baseball fans have never heard of Ray Chapman, but his death helped usher in a more exciting power hitting era of baseball.

Team owners hated wasting money, whether on players or baseballs. Over the course of a game, a new ball would be introduced only when the previous ball was irretrievably lost. In the later innings, the ball was often scuffed, torn, deformed and softened. It was also discolored by grass, dirt and tobacco juice. Pitchers liked it this way, it gave them an advantage in what would later be called the "dead-ball era".

During this time, a "power hitter" might have only a handful of home runs for the entire season. Frank "The Home Run King" Baker led the American League in homers from 1911 to 1914, yet in his best season hit only 12. The offensive strategy of the game was "small ball": add together the right sequence of singles, steals, and sacrifice bunts and a team might manufacture a run in an inning.

The outcry which followed Chapman's death lead to a rule change which required a ball to be replaced as soon as the umpire judged it to be discolored. Shortly after, the dead-ball era of baseball was over and the home run became the dramatic highpoint of the offense. In 1921, four times as many home runs were hit than in the 1919 season.

To be sure, the new rule which resulted from Chapman's death was not the only reason baseball changed so suddenly. At almost the same time. it became illegal for pitchers to doctor the ball with spit or by abrading the surface. Perhaps as important, Babe Ruth's hitting style of full, powerful swings at the plate was adopted by other players who had previosuly used a shorter chop when batting.

But to this day, Chapman is the only player ever to be killed in a professional baseball game. If we don't remember him for his stats, we can at least remember how his death helped change the game.

For a few more pictures of Chapman and Mays, visit the Kulture Kat Pinterest board below.

Follow KultureKat's board Ray Chapman on Pinterest.

Greenwich Village 1910-1920, In Pictures

Which is the capital of Bohemian America, Greenwich Village in Manhattan or San Francisco's North Beach? Any casual survey of 20th century pop culture will inevitably lead you through one of these metro hamlets. Both have long-served as sanctuaries of the alternative-inclined.

Bohemian communities attract those compeled to alternative approaches to life. They are often thought of simply as artists communities, a view that is true but limited. In general, bohemians reject, or at least are not dominated by the materialistic drives of the larger society. Their political views are liberal, and sometimes radical. Their approach to sex tends to be unlimited by monogamy. Like most other communities, they seek out others who share their lifestyle.

Bohemia are cultural incubators in which alternative ideas are street-tested, mutate, often die and sometimes escape into the greater culture-sphere.

A few months ago I came across an article in Slate about Jessi Tarbox Beals, one of the first women newspaper photograpers in the US and a resident of Greenwich Village in the early decades of the 20th century. The pictures in the article were all taken between 1910 and 1920, the period in which Greenwich Village first became self-aware of its bohemianism.

The early history of the village, its notable residents and places, and its contributions to American pop culture will be the topics of future KultureKat posts.

Until then, here are a few pictures of the original Greenwich Village Bohemians from the Slate article and a few other sources. Look at the faces in these black and white photos and consider that some may be our cultural grandparents.

"Group portrait of people gathered at the Garrett Coffee House." (14 Photos Of Greenwich Village From Before You Were Born)

"In 1916, a small monthly magazine called The Ink Pot began publishing stories from its headquarters on Sheridan Square. With one Peter Newton acting as the editor, The Ink Pot was one of a number of short-lived publications in the neighborhood that covered the colorful lives of various Village bohemians. It also provided advertisements for shops, restaurants, and galleries in the area." (The Ink Pot' on Sheridan Square, Then & Now)

"Dancing in Charley Reed's Purple Pup, 186 West Fourth Street, Greenwich Village, circa 1910-1920." (Photos of Bohemian Partiers in New York’s Greenwich Village, 1910-1920)

"The corner house, now demolished, was at one time the grave digger's residence at the potter's field. In the early 1900s, it was occupied by a popular ice cream and soda shop on the ground floor and, for a while, by Bruno's Garret on the second floor. By the time this photograph was taken, Bruno was gone, and Grace Godwin, visible in the second-story window, had taken over the upstairs. Godwin added window boxes and served breakfast, afternoon tea, and after-dinner coffee." (This 1920s Washington Square Garret...)

And finally, meet Jessie Tarbox Beals. Born in 1870, like many educated women of her time, Jessie Tarbox trained as a teacher. She received her first assignment as newspaper photographer in 1899. She and her husband, Alfred Beals, opened a studio in Greenwhich Village in 1905, where she continued to photograph many of its residents for the next 20 years.


For the original Slate article which inspired this post see Photos of Bohemian Partiers in New York’s Greenwich Village, 1910-1920.

For a summary of the life and career of Jessie Tarbox Beals, Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942) at the Library of Congress website. ANother good summary is this New York Times article A Pioneer in a Man's World, She Was Tough Enough.

For the entire collection of Teal's Greenwhich Village photos, visit the New York Historical Society's Pinterest board. For a smaller selection of my favorites, go to the KultureKat Pinterest board.
Follow KultureKat's board Greenwich Village, 1910-20 on Pinterest.