Fine Tuning: Country Music

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I arrived home from a concert last night (more about that in a minute) and discovered that our scanner had died on Kim. As this will inhibit photo reproduction somewhat in the near future, please bear with me while I take the opportunity to meander down a path and bring those of you who follow the personal aspects of my life up-to-speed.

Last week I hit the two year mark at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Since it also happened to be our Gala I didn’t really have the bandwidth to pay much attention to the fact – nothing like more than 600 people for dinner and a concert to distract you. Subsequent to that I was knocked low by a stomach virus which only left me considering whether or not to head to the ER or if urgent care would do. Mostly recovered with the help of time and the miracles of medicine, last night I attended a concert featuring highlights of Ken Burns’s upcoming documentary on country music (to air on PBS in mid-September) paired with our Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra which I had been looking forward to and I was pleased not to be denied the pleasure of it.

I will begin by stating that I know almost nothing really about country music. Unlike Kim’s family, my folks didn’t listen to a lot of music, but they did have a handful of folk music albums and as I stumbled into nascent consciousness about music I gravitated for a bit in that direction. My father had worked on a documentary for ABC News on Woody Guthrie and for some reason the soundtrack had to be recorded on our home stereo (resulting in a day of tip toeing around the house, interesting equipment and strange people for small child Pam which I still remember) and a pile of those albums remained with us. (Meanwhile, my mother was a fan of Joan Baez and the sound of her singing takes me immediately back to my childhood in a way few things can.)

As I poked and stumbled through what appealed to me musically I found my way to people like Jimmie Rodgers. (Blue Yodel No. 9 was featured in the concert last night with Wynton on the trumpet doing the Louis Armstrong part and Marty Stuart on guitar and vocal as Jimmie Rodgers. The 1930 recording of Rodgers and Armstrong found here via Youtube.) I liked the stories and the music stayed with me, but I didn’t have access to a lot of it and my musical attention, such as it was, strayed. I eventually found radio stations that played jazz and suddenly I was getting warmer. Some of you already know that in college I stumbled across early popular music genius Rich Conaty (memorialized fondly in a post here) who introduced me to the broader music of the 1920’s and 30’s that ultimately became the mainstay of my music diet.

I first discovered Rich’s show when spending the weekends in Manhattan during the fall of my senior year in college. I had exhausted the opportunities I had to work in life from the figure in the art program at my Connecticut college. I had been passionate about drawing and sculpting the figure from life since high school and so I arranged my classes in a way so I could come to New York on Saturday and take an early all-day life class at the Art Student’s League on Sunday and head back to New London early on Monday. I stayed in a small apartment my father kept so he wasn’t forced to commute everyday during the final years of his long career.

It was sort of exhausting and I didn’t know anyone in New York so most of those evenings I spent alone in the apartment, listening to the radio while I ate and before bed. (Yes folks, actual radio. Someday I will expound here on my love of the radio – I adored it as a child and have never entirely deserted my fondness for it. While I mostly access it via the internet these days, I will never forget my childhood fascination with my first transistor radio. It was simply, a really great thing.)

It was during one of those New York weekend stays that I first discovered Rich, who at the time, and on and off over his many decades at Fordham’s WFUV radio station, had both the Saturday and Sunday night slot. His Sunday night show was the one I grew to love and listen to faithfully over the years however and it rarely strayed out of the popular music genre or period. The Saturday night show was a tad more freewheeling – at least this is how I remember it all. I couldn’t say for sure, but I believe it was the Saturday show that featured early country music. It was a revelation and I always wanted to know more.

I lost touch with Rich’s show for a year or so after I stopped coming to Manhattan on weekends. The radio signal was weak and I could not pick it up in Connecticut although I did try repeatedly. It was a year or more later before I was back in New York and resumed listening to him, although another couple of years before life was settled into enough of a routine that I became a regular and devoted listener.

Over time I got to know Rich and in retrospect I could really kick myself for not asking him about that country music show. I am not aware of his devoting any substantial air time to the subject subsequently, not in a dedicated way. I think country swing was probably the tributary that beckoned and was new to my ears, but hard to say how reliable memory like that of decades ago actually is. It stayed with me, but in the fall of 1985 with limited knowledge of Manhattan’s resources, nor armed with much information, it was never an avenue I really explored.

(Bob Wills, San Antonio Rose, 1938 can be found here.)

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Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

 

Last night, listening to Ken Burns talk about the dawn of country music those dusty musical memories started to emerge again and the musical curiosity of a 21 year old Pam stirred and itched at my brain anew. As someone said to me after discussing how great the concert was, however, just another Friday night for you at Jazz at Lincoln Center and I thought, not quite, but it is the very best part of my job indeed.

 

Aesop’s Fables: the Stationery

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is an item which fills me with a sort of jaw-dropping amazement. It is a single sheet of unused letterhead from the Aesop’s Fables Film company – so fragile that I worry that even framing it would hasten its demise and so riotously decorated it left little room for any actual correspondence. The idea of a single blank sheet fascinates me – it would be less mysterious if a letter had been saved, even a mundane one. Some smart person with foresight came across this sheet early on, appreciated the singular nature of this stationery, squirreled it away and somehow it was rescued – ultimately passing most recently into my hands.

I purchased this on eBay. Despite my fascination it was initially listed for such a princely sum that even I could not summon justification for purchasing it. Nonetheless, to even have seen it and known that it existed pleased me no end to start. Much to my surprise, the seller continued to re-list and lower the price until suddenly I thought – it’s mine! And here we are at last.

For Pictorama readers who might be new to the world of Aesop’s Fable cartoons I will provide a crash course. Launched on May 13, 1921, Paul Terry produced a series of popular animated short cartoons which was populated by a riotous cast of cats, mice, dogs and other animals in never-ending loops, usually with an outraged Farmer Alfalfa in the midst of it all, and each ending with a comic moral such as the one on this stationary, It’s a great mistake to drop the real thing for a fake! or the one cited on Wikipedia, Go around with a chip on your shoulder and someone will knock your block off. Paul Terry’s cartoons were evidently what a young Walt Disney aspired to when he started making cartoons.

With weekly cartoons being produced in the silent days, 449 titles are listed for the years between 1921 and 1929 when the move to sound and production slows a bit; 270 cartoons were produced in the final years from 1929 until 1933. However, Paul Terry leaves Aesop Fables in 1929 as well, to start the company which bore his name, Terry Tunes. The Aesop Fables cartoons continue to be produced by Van Beuren Studios until 1936. (As I write this Kim shares that Paul Terry took the Farmer Alfalfa character with him to Terry Tunes. He also tells me that Paul Terry eventually sold the company and became resident at a Westchester country club near where a young Kim Deitch was growing up – and that he even made a prank call to Terry once.)

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Paul Terry swiped from the internet, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I adore these cartoons with their anonymous black cats chasing comic mice and in turn being pursued equally by cartoon dogs – with the occasional other chicken, cow or other farm animal thrown in. Long-standing Pictorama readers know that in conjunction with these cartoons, a line of stuffed toys were produced. These have always represented a gold standard for toy collecting to me and I am proud and pleased to own several. (Posts about that aspect of my collection can be found herehere and here, just for starters. A sample of the cartoons can be found at A Jealous Fisherman.) The production history of these toys is a bit obscured and I find pulling at this string of animation-cum-toy history endlessly fascinating.

Aesop Fable Doll

Which doll is this? Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As for the stationary itself, starting with the address it should be noted that the Palace Theatre still exists. A glorious vaudeville turned movie theater in its day, evidently the original facade lurks behind the billboards of today’s Times Square in some sort of mediated agreement between the landmark’s commission and developers. The original, or at least restored, splendor remains inside the theater as some online photos indicate as below. It is nice to think it was not gutted of its charms. Presumably the offices referred to on the stationary were above the theater and noted as the Annex.

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Palace theater interior – photo not from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The Fable of The Dog and The Bone runs down one side, complete with illustration as shown below. (Signed by Paul Terry but Kim casts doubt that PT actually executed suggesting that, like Disney he may have routinely signed the drawings executed by his staff for this purpose.) The tale wraps with a moral, like the cartoons. I cannot help but wonder if there were other fables (and morals) on different versions of the stationery – how splendid would that be? Running along the bottom is a riotous parade of Aesop animals and the quote, Aesop’s Fables are to a show what pepper and salt are to a chop. It is a two color job meaning they spared no expense back when it would have added cost. As I started this post by speculating – not much room was left for actual correspondence. I have to assume that they had a second sheet produced that allowed for a typed sheet with somewhat more generous margins.

I am sure many mundanities were executed on these jolly sheets. Yet I do love the spirit of a company that would find expression right down to the stationary – and who wouldn’t find even a past-due notice more charming if executed and arriving on this paper?

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Detail from Aesop Fable stationary, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

 

 

Time for More Men in Hats with Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo postcard was purchased several weeks ago and put aside, found and remembered today as I was having a quick paw through my piles of photos currently waiting to be deposited into storage containers or, more rarely, in line to be framed up. This postcard is in remarkably pristine condition for such an old card, never mailed, written on, nor put in an album.

The photographer had a good eye for setting these gentlemen up perfectly in front of this interesting house with bay windows and porch. (I have a soft spot for a good porch and I am ready to curl up on this one with a book for the afternoon. In fact I am slightly in love with this house in general and would love to explore its nooks and crannies further.) The upper story of the has these octagon shingles that I find especially cheerful too. I admit to being uncertain about the purpose of the post they are posed near – for horses perhaps? I never understood how horses were patient enough to stay casually looped to a post. I always feel that, like dogs, they probably should be leashed more tightly but, at least from watching westerns, evidently not.

However, most notably, the men have chosen to display this interesting early bike and to scoop up their kitty to include as prized possessions. Unfortunately, the cat has moved with feline impatience and is just a blur. I like the shot of the bike very much. (Watching American Pickers has given me an interest in the aesthetics of early bikes I admit.) Unintentionally, these fellows have given us a visual tour of chapeaux of the day – two variations on bowlers, fedoras and a newsboy cap. I think it is fair to say that the hats are largely worn at a jaunty angle by all. Four are clad in suits of various design and fit showing the sartorial options of the day – from baggy to quite tight – our biker sporting a more casual turtleneck sweater instead.

A subset of photos of hat-sporting men photographed with cats makes up a small portion of my collection. (Some posts about those can be found here, here and here.) I am a sucker for them. From soldiers, to guys sitting on a bench or a lone gentleman scooping up his kit for a snapshot, I am pleased that man clearly does not live by canine alone.

 

Changing Taste

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Fair warning that today’s post is a little bit of nothing that has been nagging at my brain lately, but for those of you who are willing to indulge me a bit, I am considering a an odd morphing of taste that has occurred over the last eight months or so. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of my preferences ebb and flow on a regular basis and a fondness for monochrome black clothing can easily give way to a mad desire for wild prints for example. However, I think of some patterns and desires to be as much a part of me as my brown eyes and it never occurred to me that they would change. I am thinking in particular of my consumption of coffee and tea.

The first significant shift in my coffee drinking predilection started quite awhile ago when I started drinking it cold in the morning. It started with not wanting to waste coffee after making it I would refrigerate it and heat it up. (I am a percolating coffee maker which I know puts me in the minority these days – I meet people in their twenties who don’t even know that percolating coffee pots on stoves exist. Kim is an instant coffee drinker and that preference remains truly mysterious to me.)

While I always drank coffee cold in hot weather, I also started drinking it cold before working out in the morning – and I loved this! Nothing like a fully caffeine charged workout with coffee consumed quickly on the way out the door into the pre-dawn morning. When traveling on business I would buy a cup of coffee and stick it in the fridge for my pre-workout the next day. (That was when hotels had refrigerators – when did they disappear? Am I the only person who had use for them?)

Eventually I began drinking my coffee cold every morning. (To be accurate, I will report that I also have a hot cup I picked up on my way to work every day as well.) As strange as this was, something much odder happened. Our food delivery company, Fresh Direct, sent us a container of cold brew. Since it was there I stuck it in the fridge and added it to my coffee one morning. As someone who values coffee first and foremost as a caffeine delivery system, there is no surprise at all that I quickly became addicted to the high octane combination brew.

What does surprise me however was when about five months ago I noticed a vanilla infused cold brew and decided to try it. Please understand, I have actually actively disliked vanilla coffee for years. It is safe to say there was a time when I would have considered it an abomination of sorts.  And yet, I had an undeniable yen and yes, I now add vanilla cold brew to my cold coffee each morning. I sit here drinking it as I write this morning. I keep wondering if it is a desire that will eventually just pass.

The other predilection which surprised me is an interest in tea which until recently I only consumed when sick – typically then with honey. However, I was on my way to see my folks in New Jersey one chilly morning and I saw a man with a covered paper cup of tea and it suddenly I was seized with the idea that a hot cup of tea with brown sugar would be just the thing. As it happened, I didn’t have time to indulge this desire and it was a few weeks later when I found myself home with a cold that I made some tea and dumped some brown sugar in. Now almost every afternoon these days find me indulging in this beverage which in my mind is still associated with childhood and I now find unbelievably comforting.

tea and sugar

These two seismic shifts in routine have me stumped.

For those of you who are totting up how much caffeine I am consuming, you are right to raise an eyebrow. My cut off time each day is 3:00 if I don’t want to risk insomnia. Less surprising to me, I will admit that I am also unnaturally interested in the newly unveiled Vanilla Orange Coke Zero (sounds heavenly to me) at the moment and planned to snatch some up as soon as it arrives in my neck of the woods. In addition, I report that there is a bottle of Jack Daniels received as a parting gift at an event recently (along with a John Grisham novel which I am now reading) sitting in a bag by the television. I haven’t had Jack Daniels since college, but I am eyeing it and there may be a future preference post in those beverage choices as well.

 

Toy Love

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased this photo awhile back and it was put to one side in the heat of birthday purchases and other indulgences of recent weeks and months. I pull it out now and realize how much I like this photo. It is a somewhat perfect example of its genre. (That would be the children posing with a Felix doll category – in case you are new to the Felix photo genres of my collection – it is a whole swath of it.) It is a slightly odd size, 6″x 8″, and despite being mounted on thick cardboard there is evidence it was also pasted into an album at one time. Because of that, I think, it is curling a bit.

This is obviously a studio photo and therefore Felix is undoubtedly a prop, borrowed for the picture, rather than her own beloved toy. However, as she looks out at us with a bit of a smile for whoever is on the other side of the camera, for his part Felix appears to be looking up at her with an impression of real fondness. As I look at it the somewhat odd thought occurs to me that even in my most anthropomorphizing moments I can no longer see love in the eyes of my toys. I do have a flickering memory of looking deeply into the eyes of my dog Squeaky with adoration and finding it returned however. With strangely long eye lashes and glass eyes which roll open and closed, I remember being deep in communication with him when I was a tot and he accompanied me everywhere. (Those of you who are regular Pictorama readers know that I still have Squeaky. A very old, battered and beloved stuffed toy indeed. I have shared photos and other thoughts about the special place he has in my childhood in posts that can be found here and here.) I am quite sure I knew his affection for me equaled mine for him.

I wonder what the adult equivalent of toy love is. The closest I can come is the somewhat mystical relationship I have had with my cats which has continued more or less unchanged since childhood, although sadly I don’t have long hours to commit to communion with them I did as then. Of course cats, in this case a long line of them, are alive so it is different. (Kim offers that he has lost a feeling of tapping into deep cat wisdom he had enjoyed with kits as a child. He too still communicates with them however – I see him and Cookie and Blackie go about their daily routine and the three of them are clearly of a mind.)

As an adult and as much as I love my toys and they bring me a certain joy, I no longer communicate with them in the secret language of being a child. I ponder if this is true of some of my toy collecting colleagues. I think especially those folks who collect toys because they didn’t have them as children may have a different relationship to them, although this isn’t a question I have put to any of them. (I am grateful to report that my childhood was in no way deprived of toys.) I regret that loss a tiny bit as I consider it and I think I wouldn’t mind slipping back into that world – and perhaps there is a little gleam of approval in Squeaky’s eyes now that I take another look.

 

Train tracking

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I wrote yesterday of my reluctance to leave home (hearth, Kim and kitties) to commence travel in general. Now, as I write, I sit on an Amtrak en route to Boston, parked in New Haven. It brings to mind a trip several years ago, also on business, when a derailment somewhere in the Northeast had delayed a trip, I had commenced at 5:30 in the morning, by hours and hours in effect killing a day of business entirely and reminding me of why I always pack too much reading and food.

That day we inched our way up the east coast and I spent more than an hour on the train in this particular spot, looking at this same view. It was fall instead of spring. I think if you work in the Northeast and do any business travel this corridor (and perhaps this story) is familiar, although perhaps others have more tales of airports. Other than one occasion when it was late April and my flight in Boston was prevented from taking off in New York due to a snow storm in New York, most of the stories of travel are Amtrak ones.

I can almost remember being young and naïve enough to think that travel by train in this country might remotely resemble what I had seen depicted in early films. (Think noir, compartments, dining cars with service and china.) It most certainly does not and I had this drummed into my head on my very first trip to Washington DC from my New Jersey home, back when I was in high school. There was a problem, I want to say something fell across the tracks which is sort of fatal to train travel, and our trip home became a thing of family legend, involving total abandonment by Amtrak at a station off the beaten path (think woods) somewhere in the general area between Philadelphia and the New Jersey border, as night was falling, requiring several non-train methods of transportation and many, many hours beyond the requisite four or so before we arrived home.

Still, one can’t fly everywhere and I have put in my time on America’s trains. Coming home from college in New London, Connecticut – standing a long part of the way on a crowded train from New London to New York at Thanksgiving, before changing to a NJ Transit train there. (Today when the New London stop is announced in about forty minutes I will twitch with memory of getting on and off there. As above – entering New London and the video of leaving below – it looks pretty much as it always has.)

Young adulthood found me with a boyfriend in upstate New York which resulted in many Amtrak hours logged – delays, electrical failures and the like becoming part of the routine. Hard to believe, but there were things about that relationship that were worse than the train time and after Andrew I said adieu to my weekend warrior status on the train. However, I can’t be on one, chugging toward Boston or DC, or perhaps the lesser route to Albany, or even up to Toronto, without flickering memories of trips past, successful and otherwise.

In college I had found my way to Europe and those trains, in Britain, Scotland, France and Italy, carried a whiff of the old world rail charm old films had teased me with. They also carried a level of efficiency the heights of which Amtrak would never, at least in my experience, reach. Dependable, generally clean, the rail system is the primary travel artery for most of Europe and Asia in a coherent way that I fear ours is not.

In my thirties a friend found a cheap tour to Russia – flying into Moscow and then the train down to St. Petersburg. It was February, but reasonable warm for a Russian winter. Our tour group consisted of about six people in addition to my friend, her mother and myself. Suzanne’s mother, Jean, had been my painting teacher and was in her early eighties when we made the trip.

Jean and I shared an ancient compartment on the train overnight. It was exactly as I would have expected and hoped such a train would be – down to watching snow out the window overnight as we dashed through the countryside, wolves baying – really! We had been warned by our guide to lock our doors however, and to refuse to open them to anyone overnight which we did – I have no memory of anyone attempting to enter however.

Meanwhile, the Russians seemed to have great respect for older people and took a genuine interest in Jean wherever we went. They would always take the time to help her from the bus or over a step and to say a few words to her in one language or another. Sadly Jean is gone now, although she lived well into her nineties. She was a good traveler and made international trips, albeit gradually easier ones, for another several years after that trip to Russia.

My trips are no longer romantic or liaisons, and are mostly driven by conferences and these days concerts. Much of the travel time is now devoted to work. Despite that and the issues above, I generally find my time on a long train ride calming. Watching the world go by and eventually hopping off at my destination, mildly changed, hopefully for the better, by the process of getting there.

 

 

Travel

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This little kid clutching (his?) toys is my jumping off point for a brief post before grabbing my roller bag and hitting Amtrak for a business trip this morning. This photo was part of the birthday loot from the great Antique Toy Shop (I like to promote my friends and a link can be found here!) in Chelsea. This little fellow in his winter togs has his toys so he’s ready to go wherever.

As a child who had to travel with a certain retinue of toys, I can remember that decision making process even now. There were, to some degree, toys which had to go with as I remember. Squeaky the dog was probably the primary one and there was a koala bear (and a successor one) that also did some road time. There were toys of the moment and toys to entertain (Colorforms anyone?) but those two toys were the mainstays of maintaining happiness abroad. Of course travel when I was small was rarely more than a trip to my grandmother’s house. The Butlers were not a traveling family for the most part. It is, however, all relative and leaving the house was travel when I was a tot.

I am a mix of contradiction about travel. There is an adventurous side of me that gets a gleam in my eye at the thought of a trip to a remote Buddhist enclave hidden in the Himalayas and only accessible via three days hike with our bags strapped to yaks. (I have been to Tibet twice and would love to go another time; Patagonia and Machu Picchu via a trip with the Met Museum, Russia and Europe. The Buddhist kingdom of Mustang has long been on my list.) And yet I am always conflicted about actually leaving home and routine – Kim! Kitties! Morning coffee at the computer with Kim and them. I am both the daughter of my father, who happily traveled world-wide in his job as a cameraman for ABC News, and my mom who has rarely left New Jersey and has only flown, to my knowledge, twice in her life.

I guess as a child I mitigated that travel anxiety to some degree by having my toys with me. As an adult you instead run through the plethora of bits you don’t want to forget – a myriad of charger cables, shoes for the event on Sunday, socks, a plethora of appropriate ID if flying, instructions for the hotel and restaurants. (I once showed up in Boston for a conference with only the name of my hotel, sadly a generic one like Hilton, and no address. The cab driver made a lucky right guess with the first try as there were several in town. Since then I always check that I have that.) It is a pity that there really is no adult substitute for toys.

I travel for business with some frequency, although as Pictorama readers know these days I sometimes also travel with the orchestra. (I have written about my orchestra adventures from Florida to Shanghai and samples can be found here and here.) There is comfort in being of that well oiled machine, and once I am under the purview of the great road manager Ray Murphy I am secure in the knowledge that I will get where I am going on time, will be well fed, and in general all will be good and run with military precision.

However often, like today, I will travel on my own and only meet up with them briefly for a concert. I am, of course, all competency and capableness once started – not to mention that these days I am blessed with an extraordinarily efficient assistant in the form of a human dynamo named Sandra. She has organized me almost in spite of myself for this particular trip which I paid almost no attention to in the fray of other work needing to be tied up. Thank you Sandra!

I will drag my heels about getting out of the house to some degree although not enough to endanger my actual schedule; I am too compulsive for that. The suitcase is half packed on the floor causing some distress among the cats already. Kim is off to the MoCCA comics con shortly and I am left with a nagging desire to be in two places at once. I am always good once I begin. Travel efficiency will kick in and I have people I am looking forward to seeing in Boston, as well as those I will enjoy meeting. A few days in Boston is largely an enjoyable outing.

Traveling with Kim is of course entirely different, although we don’t do it very often. For me in many ways, having Kim with me and going somewhere is sort of like taking my toys with me. I will have to write about that as well. Now if only we could figure out bringing the cats.

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Not my bear but one like it via the internet.

Squeaky in 2015

Squeaky the dog. He’s clearly worse for all that travel!