Video Games

My oldest brother grew up in the late-1960s, when pinball was king.  I remember him telling me how cool pinball was and how much skill it took to master each machine, and how much I’d love it when I grew up.  By the time I was about 8-years-old, he was working full-time but still living at home, and he purchased a couple of used pinball machines–one was “Magic Circle” (1965) and the other was “Atlantis” (1975)–and put them in our somewhat unfinished basement.

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So, as a family, we had our own private arcade, and I’m sure I earned my captain’s wings with the amount of hours I logged on those machines…but, the thing is, I found them kind of boring.  Even as a little kid, I knew gravity was doing more than I was to influence the outcome.  Yeah, the graphics and lights were nice (there were graphics of cute gypsy women on Magic Circle) but, had you asked me if I wanted to be a “Pinball Wizard” I probably would’ve said no and hopped on my bicycle.

But then, in late-1979/1980, EVERYTHING CHANGED.  While Space Invaders came out in 1978, it was in 1980 that, in my opinion, the Golden Age of video games began.  Pac Man, Asteroids, Defender and Centipede all came out then, and I was suddenly very interested when I got an invitation to go the arcade.  And because my brother would hand me a $10 roll of quarters, he and I would be there a long, long time.

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For a while, I ate Pac Man cereal (yes, it was a thing), read books and magazines on how to beat the games and waited for the movie Tron to come out.  I was also the proud owner of an Intellivision system at home (even though all my friends had Atari!).  It’s safe to say I was a video-kid in the video age, and long before Max Headroom showed up (look him up!).

But by the time arcades died out in the mid-80s and home systems got better graphics, I was in my teens and more interested in hair gel, record-shopping and girls.  I just didn’t think about video games anymore.  And other than a brief flirtation with the original Sim City when I got my first home computer in the early-1990s, I didn’t have time to indulge, even though, by the 2000s, graphics were getting to the point where it was hard to tell them from live-action movies.  I was building a career in radio and print and, sadly, my schedule was full.

But that original love of arcades and videogaming never left me.  Not only have I fantasized about purchasing my favourite game from 1980, Defender, one day, I’ve always been curious as to how today’s games are made.  That’s not to mention the fascinating early history of interactive video….so join me as we explore the past, present and future of videogames on Where COOL Came From.

Yours in Coolness,

DLeB

(and my apologies to all you pinball lovers out there)

Cities – Urbanius exilius artistus

Urbanius exilius artistus – Easily recognized by their odd manner of dress and intense gaze, the species more commonly known as the “urban artist” prefers burrowing into spaces that are large, cheap and formerly industrial.  Co-habitation with sub-species (such as Urbanius dancerius or Playwriterii dramatis) is common, but the urban artist will seek isolation when necessary.  In recent years, habitats of this gentle creature are being threatened by Yuppibus gentrificatillius.

Perhaps it’s a by-product of being a huge and successful city.  Perhaps it’s because artists are visionaries, seeing beauty in spaces that others cannot.  Perhaps it is corporate greed.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that in Toronto and other big cities, artists are in constant exile.  Just as their communities begin to pulse and thrive, external forces slowly dismantle them.  Upscale galleries replace grittier artist-run affairs; coffee shops come to cater to gallery-goers; funky boutiques fill neighbouring buildings in an effort to create ‘destination’ shopping.  Finally, the old, crumbling buildings that house artists for pennies a square foot are sold to developers and converted to lofts or, worse, torn down for new construction.

Driven from 1960s hippie-haven Yorkville, Toronto artists moved south down Yonge St. and ended up at the first Queen West near Spadina (and the accompanying garment district to the south) by the late-1970s and 80s.  Next, it was Queen to Bathurst, then as far as Ossington.  Ten years ago, they leapfrogged over the Dufferin underpass to Parkdale (now called West Queen West) and spread north to Sorauren Ave. near High Park and Dundas West in the Junction.  Some went gone east to Leslieville’s factories on Carlaw.  But have you seen these areas today?  Condos, condos, condos.

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Glass artist/restorer John Wilcox is so frustrated after having been chased from four different spaces since the mid-1980s that he’s planning to orchestrate the next move himself.  When he leaves his current digs at 500 Keele St., it’ll be for the lake breezes, streetcar line and “stock of smaller 60s buildings” in Long Branch, New Toronto or Mimico, where he can afford to buy his own shop.

“By chance or survival, being an artist also means being resourceful and adaptable,” says Ric Santon, a painter and co-owner of Parts Gallery in Leslieville.  He agrees that those areas are a logical choice and, as a result, will experience an influx of artists over the next decade; some of the artists he represents have already made this move.  Going east, Mr. Santon suggests a likely destination will be the O’Connor Dr. strip in East York, since it too has ingredients he considers crucial:  “I believe any neighbourhood that at one time relied on light manufacturing and warehousing and is accessible to public transit is a readymade artist colony.”

But how far will artists go for large, bright, cheap studio space?  Will they stick to the romance of subway and streetcar lines or will they board buses, too?  Many have already left Toronto for Hamilton, a smaller, post-industrial city a 45-minute drive away, but chalk full of old buildings needing new uses.  They won’t go as far as the sticks, will they?!

Tune in to our Cities webisodes  to find out.

Yours in Coolness,

DLeB

Retro Leisure Sports

For most of my life, I’ve tried to avoid playing sports.  Yeah, as an 8- or 10-year-old I threw around a football with other kids on my street, played street hockey and rode my BMX bike like a stunt-driver, but I hated gym class and I tried to use my asthma as an excuse as much as possible.

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I wasn’t a ‘joiner’ for team sports in high school, either, even though I was told as a stocky 13-year-old that I’d be perfect for the football team. Oh, and there was this one time, while working at a branch of our public library in my teens, that my co-workers and I formed a baseball team and played other branches…but baseball doesn’t really count, you know?  There’s a lot of standing around with only short bursts of athleticism in baseball.

The result is I’ve gone through life wondering if I’ve missed out on something. Sports are so important to our culture, after all, and I know plenty of people who devote quite a lot of time and money to perfect their game, whatever game they choose.  I know that people are nuts about collecting sports paraphernalia, too.  On top of all that, the sense of community that sporting and leisure activities create is wonderful, and we need to strengthen our communities, don’t we?  That’s not to mention the exercise you get, which is something I could use, since walking is about all I do on a regular basis.

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Since I’ve always been more of an artsy, quirky kinda guy (and a retro-dork), I thought it might be COOL to see if there is a sport out there that speaks to me.  A lot of ‘new’ sports gaining popularity are really old sports that our grandparents played, but twisted just a little to re-invent them, and I like that notion of everything old is new again.

So: To bowl or not to bowl?  And what’s up with flying knives?  Fishing can’t be cool again, can it?

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We’re about to find out, on Where COOL Came From. Season 2 premieres this Friday, beginning with Retro Leisure Sports!

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

Watch Part 3 of ‘Searching for 1955′

And with this, you’ve seen all three parts of our search. The conclusion to our original web mini-series is live! Tune in –>http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/searching-for-1955-part-3/

Did we find 1955 – 1965? In many ways, no, we didn’t: We found the archeological remains. A special era depends upon a unique set of conditions that will probably never assemble themselves in the same way again.

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But that doesn’t mean the spirit of that time is lost. You can see it alive in the eyes of those kids I talked to at the Drive-In, or the preservationists who fight to save pieces of “Googie” architecture when it’s threatened.

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I think people like Elon Musk, with his desire to change the world with sustainable technology, or companies like Apple, who make technology friendly and simple to use, would fit right into that Magic Decade, too.

Anyone, really, who isn’t afraid of the future, who believes that technology can be used for good rather than evil, and, on a less earth-shattering note, dresses up a little and believes that manners still have a place in society…THEY help to keep that era alive also.

And, upon reflection, I’ve decided I don’t really want to go and live permanently in 1955 – 1965. It’s a nice place to visit, but the twenty-first century is pretty freakin’ cool too.

Yours in Coolness,

Dave LeBlanc

 

 

 

Searching for 1955 premieres today!

Hey cool friends,

We’re thrilled to premiere part 1 of our documentary “Searching for 1955″.  http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/searching-for-1955/

Dave LeBlanc is a man obsessed by that post-war era of mass consumption and exuberant belief in progress between 1955 and 1965 known as “The Magic Decade”…at least his particular version of it.  Dave chooses to live like the Love and Beads Generation never happened, he’s a walking Don Draper wannabe long before Mad Men ever hit the airwaves.  

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But sometimes he wonders…is his obsession with the mid-century, that time of optimistic futurism, based on reality?  What about the Cold War and the dark shadow cast by the atomic bomb?  Is that why everyone was drinking cocktails and smoking like chimneys?  

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Leaving his carefully constructed lifestyle in the suburbs behind he goes on a journey to discover the truth, were things really better, more ‘authentic’ in the “good old days?  Or is the Mid-Century a time best forgotten?  Can he find out:  what happened to yesterday’s tomorrow?

Dave LeBlanc continues the search for cool…

Many of the topics we brought to you on Where Cool Came From’s first kick at the can—hats, motels, Modernist homes, cocktails—were familiar to your humble host. As an architecture writer who wears a hat as he visits a great many homes (where he might be offered a drink), and as someone who stays in motels when he’s on the road, it was a lot like Linus van Pelt snuggling under his warm security blanket.

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CARS_Ep_1_Still001Now, baby, for this second run of episodes, we are stomping all over that blanket and then SETTING IT ON FIRE! Well, not quite, but we are going outside of my comfort zone. We’re going to tackle things that are a little bit controversial, possibly illegal, supremely silly, and will definitely dig further into the heart of what makes cool, COOL!

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-Dave LeBlanc

Our last webisode of season 1! Dreaming of Wires

Electronic music is everywhere these days, but did you know it’s been around for more than half a century?  Though everyone can make a tune on their laptop these days, the pioneers of electronic music used expensive “modular” synthesizers, giant cable and knob infested devices, to create the strange new sounds that changed music forever. Tune into the season finale of Where Cool Came From!
http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/dreaming-of-wires/

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Modular synthesizers went extinct around the early 1970’s, replaced by digital keyboards, followed by laptops and software based instruments.  But over the last few years, a new breed of modular has emerged, and the once obsolete instrument is undergoing a modern-day renaissance.  You won’t find them at your neighbourhood Guitar Centre, but a growing number of small manufacturers have created a cottage industry of inexpensive and highly customizable components that can help you create your own, unique sound.

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Dave travels to Brooklyn to meet up with musician Robert A.A. Lowe to try out one of these modern day modulars and, hopefully, generate his own unique musical sounds.  It sure isn’t as easy as clicking a mouse, but putting in that extra time to get something special you can call your own is all part of ditching the digital, and going analogue!

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Vinyl Rules!

It’s hard to believe, but yes, there was a time before the internet, smart phones and home computers; and we got along just fine thank you very much. Here’s the newest webisode on Vinyl. Check it out!  http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/vinyl-rules/

There’s no doubt that the digital revolution has made things more convenient, to the point where we’ve gotten almost bored by it all; nobody seems all that impressed anymore that you can carry 1000 songs in your phone. In the search for something new and exciting, people have turned to something old: analogue technology, the way things were done before we digitized our lives.

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Take the amazing rebirth of vinyl records, sales have been doubling yearly and many bands now skip CD releases all together.  People have started shopping at record stores again, and, as Dave discovers, it’s not just old dudes in beards.Making new vinyl records requires some old-school skills which some select people still possess, as Dave learns from visiting a vinyl mastering facility, it’s not just robots stamping out records.  Master discs are individually cut under the careful eye of Dietrich Schoenemann who shows Dave “The Black Arts”.

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But Dave is a bit skeptical, is this just a fad, a way to make listening to music more of an occasion, or does vinyl actually sound better?  Dave experiences a mind-blowing listening test, courtesy of Kurt Martens of Essential Audio, comparing vinyl, CD and mp3, you’ll be surprised by what he finds out!

Dave LeBlanc’s musings on the Retro Life…

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I think those of us who live “The Retro Life” have always done it, even a little, since we were much younger.  It’s one of those things that just feels natural, and you therefore gravitate to it, just like there are some kids who pick up a pencil and start drawing at an early age (I was one of those, too!) and others who take apart their toys and know how to put them back together (the future aeronautical engineers or auto mechanics of the world?). In any case, my first foray into this world, I think, came when I was pretty young.

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I was sick a lot as a kid and missed a lot of elementary school in the 1970s, so I watched a lot of movies that were put on for housewives.  So, I was immersed in the world of Doris Day-Rock Hudson rom-coms and similar sitcoms from the 1960s such as Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Gilligan’s Island.  I guess you could say I felt at home in the Technicolor world of the 1960s so much, when I was a little older and in high school, I continued to watch those types of shows, and it just so happened that the music I was getting into, New Wave, had reintroduced fashions from that period (think of the B-52s or all of those “New Romantic” bands).  So, I could watch Get Smart, for instance, and take note of Maxwell Smart’s clothes, then go to the thrift stores to try and reproduce that look…and kids at school wouldn’t make fun of me!

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In my late teens, this expanded into learning about the furniture of the 1950s and 60s.  By my early 20s, I was collecting it.

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I wore so much vintage fashion in high school, as a matter of fact, I still incorporate elements of it into my wardrobe today; when possible, I buy new stuff that just looks old (like my Biltmore hats) so I don’t have to worry about it falling apart. That’s the great thing about being into vintage stuff: you can always expand your love into other areas and, since you like old and out-of-fashion stuff anyway, you’re NEVER IN STYLE and don’t have to worry about the latest trends.

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I’m sure if you are a “retro head,” you can trace your love of it to a much earlier part of your life, too.

If so, let us know here at Where Cool Came From! You can post photos in our Cool or Not section and check out our 3 part series on The Retro Life! http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/webisodes/

Retro Life Part 1 – Urban Jungle Drums: Tiki Rises

Watch a brand new webisode of Where Cool Came From, now live –>http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/urban-jungle-drums-tiki-rises/

Long before the Rainforest Cafe, there was another kind of exotic escape.  After WWII, the “tiki” bar–an American mix of Polynesian, Hawaiian and other South Seas cultures–rose quickly in popularity. Ex-soldiers now living in suburbia wanted to treat their wives to a little of the South Pacific paradise they’d experienced, but without the warships!

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So, it was head-first into these dark, mysterious, and fun places with names such as Trader Vic’s, Don the Beachcomber, the Mai Kai, Ports of Call and the Kahiki, where a drink in a hollowed-out coconut shell or tiki mug you could take home was the norm, and the Pu-Pu platter was meant for sharing.

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By the early 1980s, however, the tiki bar was all but extinct in North America.  By the late-1990s, younger, keen observers of popular culture were finding mugs and menus in thrift stores, and, by the early-2000s, a full-on tiki revival was underway.

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Today, as Dave discovers, there are a growing number of people who choose “tiki” as a way to live The Retro Life.

Cars part 2 is live! – Electric Dreams

Give up cars?  Many believe the era of the gas guzzler is rapidly coming to an end, and Dave isn’t too happy about it, what could be the answer?
Some believe the electric car will keep us on the road, but will we have to give up the romance of the luxury vehicle or the thrill of the muscle car? Watch cars part 2 now! http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/electric-dreams/

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Dave gets a chance to drive what may be the ultimate solution for those who just can’t bear to ride the bus….the Tesla.  An all-electric car that with zero emissions and zero compromise when it comes to luxury and speed.  But before our host gets too excited, there’s one little problem…can you guess what it is?

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Gadgets Part 2 is now live! Film’s Not Dead

It’s that time again! We just launched part two of our series on gadgets! Watch now! http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/films-dead/

Kicking it old-skool with Super 8, Dave discovers film is way more fun than his iPhone!

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Although dad really wanted all those whizz-bang gadgets he saw on 1960s television, there was one pretty amazing tech-toy he could own: the Super 8 movie camera. Kind of like the iPhone of its day, the Super 8 reigned until video came along in the 1980s. In 2014, a growing number of people are rediscovering its unpredictable charms!

Smoking part 3 – On the Vapour Trail

Where Cool Came From has released part 3 of our series on smoking! In this webisode, Dave rolls his own cigar then ‘vapes’ an e-cigarette.

Watch here –>http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/vapour-trail/

Only a little out of breath, Dave traces the rise and fall (and resurrection) of the popularity of cigars and even learns to roll his own at the last Cuban cigar factory in North America. He also ponders the future of smoking with the new trend of ‘vaping’ with e-cigarettes.

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New Webisode – Spirit in the Smoke

We begin our exploration of smoking with a traditional hookah!

Watch the new webisode here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/spirit-smoke/

Dave explores the development of tobacco smoking from its ceremonial use by First Nations in the Americas to its wildfire spread across the globe. He gets a chance to smoke the Persian way as Zein Adris teaches him about the Middle Eastern tradition of the hookah pipe.

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New Webisode – Hotels – Do Not Disturb!

Tune in to part two of our series on Hotels –>http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/disturb/

Craving less-formal lodgings, Where Cool Came From decides to check out and check in at some old-school motor-hotels.

But in an age of budget chains with look-a-like rooms, where can one go to see what the original motels looked like?  Five and six decades later, are there any postwar motels left to bunk down in?

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Wildwood, New Jersey, boasts North America’s highest concentration of 1950s and 60s motels in existence; in recent years, it’s become a destination for folks looking to re-create that authentic experience.  Wildwood has even given their motels style its own name: “Doo-Wop” architecture.

Our host checks into one of the wildest of all the Doo-Wop motels, The Caribbean, which looks like something out of “The Jetsons.”   All swoops and curves and filled with period furniture, it’s hard to believe, but The Caribbean was recently added to the National Trust for Historic Preservations “Historic Hotels of America” list—imagine that, a 1950s motel on the national register!

Booze part 3 is Live – Brewed Awakening

Yuck or Yay? Dave tastes the results of his home-brewing experiment. Watch the webisode here http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/brewed-awakening/

Whether craft beers or complicated cocktails, we are living in an age where alcoholic beverages are being made with love and care. At Indie Ale House, Dave’s home-brew, “The Davenberg” is put under the microscope, while the explosive Atomic cocktail is released in Las Vegas. Back home, Dave stocks his home bar at BYOB, then learns the secret code of the bartender.

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Booze part 1 – Thirsty Travellers

Part 1 of our series on Booze is now live.

Watch the webisode here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/thirsty-travellers/

Can Dave stomach the “house ale” at a rural inn?

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Whether it was for safety of just a good excuse, almost every town and village in the nineteenth century encouraged drinking the “house ale” over the local water, and travellers were happy to oblige. In the bowels of an old inn, Dave learns how beer was made long before Prohibition, and then decides to become an amateur brew-master himself!

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Thirst.  We’ve all got it.  And for many folks, lemonade just won’t cut it.  That’s why when the Volstead Act came into effect in 1920, booze didn’t disappear overnight.  In fact, for some it was a license to print money!  And cities that shared a border with a very wet country called “Canada” were hotbeds of activity…such as Detroit.
At Tommy’s Detroit Bar and Grill, we go underground, literally, to uncover a piece of Prohibition’s past that may also be haunted.
Then, it’s off to the Big Apple to see how Prohibition-era drinks are making a comeback.  And while the cops won’t be banging on the doors of these new watering holes, you may have trouble finding them, since, like in the old days, many are found behind secret doors.
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Part 2 of our Booze webisode launches next Wednesday!

Homes part 3: A Kinder, Gentler Modernism

Tune in to the third instalment of our episode on homes –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/homes-gentler-kind-modernism/

A house made of what?

Experimentation in architecture didn’t die in the 1960s! While Where Cool Came From now knows what was considered cool 60+ years ago, the big question is what’s getting people hot- and-bothered today? Straw bale, baby! And we’ll learn that even though it’s located in the country, an energy-efficient, straw bale home doesn’t have to look like it belongs in The Shire.

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After admiring the solar panels on the roof, our host will check out a tiny inner-city home that sips energy like a SmartCar sips gas.

With so much strain on the energy grid, are these the houses of the future?

Just Released! Homes part 1 – Philip Johnson’s Glass House

Our latest instalment of webisodes is on Modernist Architecture.
Watch part 1 here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/homes-philip-johnsons-glass-house/

While it may look like a house from the 1950s, Philip Johnson considered his iconic 1949 Glass House in Connecticut to be from the 1920s! That’s because his inspiration came from across the pond…and the past.
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A massive fan of Modern architecture, Dave tours Johnson’s human fishbowl to see if it fits his lifestyle: would a bathrobe and slippers work here?

Dark Days in NYC

Check out the newest webisode of Where Cool Came From.

Tattooing was banned in NYC for 30-plus years. But that didn’t stop Mike Bakaty.

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Until recently, tattoos walked a fine line between freakish, criminal and cool. Even ultra-cool places like swingin’ sixties New York City found reasons to ban them; there, the inkwell ran dry for three decades! But where there are rules, there are rebels, and Dave visits the James Dean of the Needle Set, Mike Bakaty, to learn about the dark days.

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This webisode is dedicated to Mike Bakaty 1936-2014

This webisode is dedicated to Mike Bakaty 1936-2014

Watch the webisode here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/dark-days-nyc/

 

Hats Off…Hats On Again

Draper, Depp, Beyonce and White.  Not a law firm, but the way these cats are wearing hats, you’d think they’d passed a law or something.

Yes, hats are back for the celebrity crowd, but are they the only ones driving 21st century fashion?

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Is our host an individual, trendsetter, lemming or hipster doofus?  For a question that big, Dave calls on the legendary Jeanne Beker.

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Watch the webisode here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/hats-hats/

New Webisode Launched! Of Hats and Men

We’ve just released a new webisode of Where Cool Came From!

Ever wonder why grandpa used to rock that fedora? Turns out he was just trying to be all gangsta… the old-school way.

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Until the late-1960s, men put on hats almost as often as their underpants. Born when hats died, our fortysomething host took to hat-wearing in the 1990s as an inexpensive way to cover his ever-expanding bald spot, but found they also made him feel more ‘put-together’ too.

But why have noggins been topped with crowns, cones and furs for centuries? To truly understand why “the hat makes the man,” Dave puts on his deerstalker and visits fashion historian Ingrid Mida.

Watch it here –>www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/hats-men-ever-wonder-grandpa-used-rock-fedora-turns-just-trying-gangstah-old-school-way/ 

Where there’s smoke….

Spirit in the Smoke

In our smoking episode, Dave explores the development of tobacco smoking from its ceremonial use by First Nations in the Americas to its spread across the globe. He gets his chance to smoke the Persian way as Zein Adris teaches him about the Middle Eastern tradition of the hookah pipe.

The Hollywood Factor

What’s a film noir without a smoking femme fatale? The silver screen has been smoke-filled since Edison’s first films.  Sharing a bag of popcorn with film critic Richard Crouse, Dave delves into how the power of Hollywood helped bring cigarettes to the lips of millions.

On the Vapour Trail

Dave traces the rise and fall (and resurrection) of the popularity of cigars and even learns to roll his own at the last Cuban cigar factory in North America. He also ponders the future of smoking with the new trend of ‘vaping’ with e-cigarettes.

HUREN: Bring the Noise

Electronic musicians are ditching their laptops for real knob and cable infested hardware.

In our episode on all-things-analog, Dave visits sonic terror industrial noise artist Huren aka David Foster (no relation to the guy who won all the Grammys) who specializes in pushing audio gear to the limit in his one-man show.

Will he ever recover?

Meet Dave LeBlanc, the host of Where Cool Came From

When I was a little kid, nobody was cooler than Snoopy’s “Joe Cool” character. Yeah, I’m dating myself, I guess, but the image of Joe/Snoopy standing by the water fountain, shades on, trying to pick up chicks, has always stayed with me.

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The thing is, watching this clip today as an adult, and I find something I never picked up on way back in the 1970s: Joe Cool is a failure! Despite his attempts to get the ladies to come drink at the fountain, they stick their noses up in the air as they walk by (as that smooth singer cries out “Joe Cool, playin’ the fool…”). Back in class, he’s getting his paw caught between the sharp jaws of his D-ring binder and lookin’ the fool, and then, the ultimate humiliation, he’s sent flying out the front door of the school to land on his furry butt.

That’s the thing: if you try too hard to be cool, you’re gonna fail, big time.

While the old definition of cool—and I’m talking about how it was used in the 1940s and 50s—might have meant to be detached or disinterested, I think by the 1970s it was starting to mean something else entirely, and Peanuts creator Charles Schultz picked up on that.

Cool is about being engaged. Being so engaged in what you believe in, as a matter of fact, that whatever it is that moves you becomes contagious. People see how interested you are in comic books or coffee or gadgets or cocktails or cars or whatever, and they want to be around you, they want to know more.

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At least, that’s what I think. And coming from a guy who used to worry a lot about what other people thought (like are my sunglasses cool enough for Joe Cool?) that’s saying a lot. So I hope you’ll join me as I go in search of Where Cool Came From. While I’m going to try really hard to find the answers, I won’t try too hard to be cool while I’m doing it ;-)

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

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Graffiti

It was only two feet long and probably took all of 10 seconds to create, but I sweated over the graffiti tag on my backyard fence for days.

This was a number of years ago, when I lived in a suburban backsplit that backed onto a commercial street. The tag was on the public side of my fence, but I still felt my private space had been violated. I was so angry, in fact, that as soon as I could, I matched the fence colour and rushed out to buy cover-up paint; when I realized the colour worked for other fences along the street, I took a walk with my can and brush and painted out every other tag I could in an act of vigilante justice.

I didn’t want to live in a place that looked like the title sequence of Welcome Back, Kotter, and I still don’t.

But at the risk of contradicting myself, let me also state that I like graffiti: I think it’s a highly expressive, bold art form that adds an interesting layer to the shared sociological experiment we call the big city. And my big city, Toronto, has plenty of it.

I didn’t notice graffiti in Toronto until the late-1980s or early-1990s, so I was surprised to learn in Toronto Graffiti: The Human Behind the Wall (compiled, edited and self-published by Yvette Farkas) that there were a few pioneers working as early as 1981. The book’s interview subjects all agree that “Ren,” a Parkdale-based painter, is the graffiti grand-daddy. Now “retired” for over a decade, he remembers finding himself so alone in those early years he “felt like a reject… it’s so meaningless but I’d still keep doing it.” By the 1990s, however, there were many crews, often amicably swapping members.

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While some “graff” artists were self-taught, many were Ontario College of Art students (now OCAD-U), as evidenced by reproductions of pencil sketches and photographs of sculpture in the book. And, contrary to what you might expect, many are female and the scene isn’t necessarily tied to hip hop music, since many interviewees associate themselves with the punk movement. It’s interesting, too, to learn of motivation–while some are obviously attracted to the criminal element, others hope to do meaningful work that will delight onlookers by transforming grey, forgotten parts of the city–and of the gradual transition from a covert form of communication to something looser and, at times, even humorous.

Take a walk along Toronto’s famous “Graffiti Alley” near Queen St. West and Bathurst (Google Maps can point you there!) and see for yourself how fun and silly it can be. And should you find yourself a little west of there, at Bellwoods Ave., travel north to the yellow-painted brick building at No. 65 and head east along the alley beside it. There, an OCAD-U graduate who goes by the pen-name “Elicser Elliot” taught me how to do a “piece,” for Where Cool Came From’s amazing three-part look at street art (Google him, by the way, his portraits will blow you away!).

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Despite being given permission, doing that piece felt cool and dangerous; I guess I can now partially understand what was going through the mind of the person who tagged my fence all those years ago. Maybe that person now paints on canvas. Maybe they do both!

It’s a weird time for graffiti: Partially out of the shadows, there’s tension between artists who remain underground (and illegal), and those who see nothing wrong in doing demonstrations at swanky corporate events or by helping companies with interior design; we’ve all been to a restaurant that has a commissioned piece inside, right? Does a piece in a restaurant devalue the art form?

And what about those artists who’ve left the street for the art gallery? Join us on WCCF and we’ll explore these questions together.

Yours in Coolness,

DLeB

 

The Modern Gent

At some point between grades 10 and 11, I switched from concert T-shirts to what I now consider grown-up clothing.

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It was the middle-1980s and I, like many other kids of my generation, was influenced by the music videos I saw on television.  These were the days of “New Wave,” “Mod,” and “New Romantic” music, and scenes of guys wearing (oversized) suit jackets, peg-legged pants, short hair (at least on the sides) and 1950s-inspired skinny ties were everywhere on MTV and Muchmusic.

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And because I didn’t have the budget to shop for new stuff, I became a regular at thrift stores; this, of course, worked out well because the clothes of the 50s and 60s were just 25 years old then, and soon my closet was well-stocked with enough outfits to rival that of David Bowie’s…well, not really, but that’s when I started playing “dress-up” to imitate my heroes.

And speaking of “dress-up,” I’ve always thought that that’s how most people feel when they first put on something they’re not used to wearing.  If you’re a construction worker, and you put on a suit to go to a wedding, you feel a little out of your element, or like you’re playing a role.  I sure felt like that when I started wearing suit jackets to high school, or beat-up brogues on my feet rather than running shoes.

But the thing is, after years of wearing something, it ceases to be a costume and becomes YOU.  Once you forget you’re wearing it, once you don’t think everyone is staring at you (because they probably aren’t!), it’s no longer a “look.”  It’s just clothing.

And where does all of this lead us?  Well, WCCF is taking a fun look at the “recent” trends in men’s grooming; specifically, we’re looking at how men are taking more time in choosing their wardrobe, whether that’s thinking about pocket squares or having their pants hemmed by a tailor (rather than letting the sidewalk, er, ‘trim’ their pants to the correct length), and how some of this new “dandy-ism” still looks a little foreign to some of us.  We’re also looking at those big lumberjack beards a lot of guys are currently rocking, and we’re asking if these are just a fad that’ll blow over, or do they have staying-power?

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Well, it all depends.  For some fellas, wearing well-constructed clothes is something they’ve always done, or maybe they did it in high school (like I did) and after a decade or more of wearing more casual stuff, have come back into the fold.  Some guys have always played with facial hair, and a big beard is just a bolder statement of their follicular obsession.  For these guys, there is no bandwagon—they’re just doing what feels right.

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Other guys, well, they’ll absorb what they see in ads, on television and on the street, and decide to join the party.  Are they posers?  Some are…and in a few months or a few years, they’ll feel as if it was all a little bit of dress-up and go back to what’s comfortable.  Others will find a new love and adopt that look, whatever it is, for their whole lives.

So join us as we separate the boys from the men, the fashionable from the fanatics, and the well-groomed from the just plain messy, on Where Cool Came From.

Yours in Coolness,

DLeB

Watch Searching for 1955 part 2 now!

Hey cool friends,

Part two of Dave’s journey into the past (and then back to the present) airs today -http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/searching-for-1955-part-2/

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If we can turn to the look of the past for comfort, why can’t we do the same with the Magic Decade?

During the magic decade, many middle class folk were dreaming big for the future. So to understand this past, we need to understand ‘the future’.

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“Tomorrow can be a wonderful age. Our scientists today are opening the doors of the Space Age to achievements that will benefit our children and generations to come. . .The Tomorrowland attractions have been designed to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future. Right when we do Tommorrowland, it will be out dated.” Walt Disney.

Tune in and let us know what you think! Oh, and don’t forget, the epic conclusion of ‘Searching for 1955′ premieres next Thursday!

Where Cool Came From Season 2 premieres Fall 2015

Okay, now it can be told: WCCF is back and we’ve got an amazing bunch of stories to bring to you! I know what you’re thinking, “Dave, how on earth can things get more interesting than your insightful look into pop culture trends such as tattoos, coffee, analogue music, vinyl records, vintage motels and super-cool Modernist architecture? How?!?”

Gee, when you put it that way, it makes me feel insecure and confused. But WAIT! I’m not insecure: NO, I’m confident that you’re going to love our new batch of webisodes.

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Why? Well, our team is going deeper into what’s cool; yes, we’re examining the language of cool and how it came from jazz music but now appears in scholarly dictionaries. We’re examining current trends to see if they have the staying power to be timeless, such as the return to men’s grooming and those big bushy beards we’ve all been seeing in big cities across the US and Canada. And we’re getting in touch with our inner nerd to explore topics such as live-action role playing (LARPing) and video games (we may even interview one of the creators of one of the first video games ever invented!).

Oh, there’s more. But it depends on how much you want me to tease you! Okay, twist my rubber arm. Get a load of these: graffiti and the gentrification of cities.

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There are even more but I’ve got to leave a few things to your imagination. Trust me, however, when I say that I’m very excited about what’s upcoming, and I can’t wait to hear what you think, too!

Until then, I remain,
Yours in coolness,
Dave LeBlanc

On the road to Coolsville

Sammy Yi loves hot sauce.

There we were, in a Middle Eastern restaurant in suburban Detroit, ordering lunch. Sammy, as usual, asked for extra hot sauce to accompany his meal; he also said “It’s really hot, right?—because I can do hot.” The waiter assured him that it would be. After a few minutes, the food came, and Sammy got his dipping bowl of hot sauce. After a few minutes, the waiter came to check.

“How is it?” he asked.

“Meh. Not hot.”

“Really? Okay, hold on, I’ll ask the cook to make you the kind we eat,” he answered with a smile.

We all kept eating—your humble WCCF host, Rob the director, Rebecca, our line producer, and Tim, a.k.a. “Kid Camera”, our fresh-faced, young camera guy—and cautioning Sammy-the-sound-man that he might be in for some punishment, challenging these guys on their sauce, as it were.

Our waiter returned with a small bowl of stuff that looked a little like salsa and apple sauce combined. It’s possible those wavy heat-lines you see in the desert were coming off the bowl. “This will get your taste buds going, sir,” he said with a wicked smile as he pushed the bowl in front of Sammy as if it were Plutonium.

Sammy tried it. We watched. Heck, even guys came out from the kitchen to watch.

“It’s kinda fruity,” said Sammy without a hint of suffering. “Oh, yeah, there’s the heat…it’s okay…thanks.”

Crestfallen, the waiter left with his tail between his legs.

*          *          *

It’s hard to be Hot when you’re on the trail of Cool, I guess.

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As a print and radio journalist, I’ve interviewed countless people, but both of those gigs are done in a sort of isolation, so I wasn’t prepared for the sort of on-the-road fun I’d have hosting Where Cool Came From after the on-camera interviews had been shot. It’s my first time doing a web/television series and I’ll forever remember how fun it was to drive through the Mohave Desert with Damir Chytil, our camera guy, and Rob, looking for the trailer park called Hicksville, but stopping to look at the sky even though we were running late because it was just so freakin’ beautiful.

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While I’d known Robert Fantinatto for a number of years, it’s different when you share meals, hotels and leisure time with someone (although leisure time is pretty scarce when you’re shooting); I now know that Rob has a hate-on for vegetables. He’s a meat-and-potatoes or pizza kinda guy, and watching him try to choke down a salad is pretty funny. To his credit, however, he allowed us to drag him into various ethnic restaurants (Damir is super-adventurous when it comes to food) where vegetables were definitely the star.

I now know that Rebecca, our line producer, can be tough-as-nails when she needs to be, especially when her charges (us) start to act like schoolchildren, but she’s also the sweetest gal working this industry, too. Rebecca is so adventurous, she and a partner have been running a food truck since our little show wrapped (check out http://picnicpec.wordpress.com/). And “Kid Camera” spends his free time making Hollywood-style action-adventure films in Waterloo, Ontario.

As you can see, cool projects attract cool people…and I’m honoured to have worked with these crazy cats; there are other crazy characters at Stornoway (our production company) that I hope to introduce to you another time…maybe season two?!?

Until then, I remain,

Yours in Coolness,

Dave LeBlanc

 

Ditch the Digital – This goes to 11

A guitarist’s best friend, besides their guitar, has to be their amp!  And, as Dave discovers, nothing beats an amp that’s powered by some seriously old-school technology, vacuum tubes! Watch our newest webisode ‘Ditch the Digital’ now!  http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/this-goes-to-11/

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Long before your TV set hung on a wall like a painting, it was a big wooden box filled with glowing glass tubes; they were hot, heavy and fragile.  Those days are long gone as tubes were replaced by transistors, which were replaced by integrated circuits.  So why is it that musicians seem to prefer big heavy amplifiers filled with these archaic devices?  Dave finds out what happens when you turn one of these things up to “11”.

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And when “11” just isn’t enough, where do you go from there?  Dave visits industrial noise artist Huren to find out what happens when you push your gear over the edge, where no computer dares to go!

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Retro Life part 3 – At Home with Retro

Sometimes, what starts out as a phase or a fad becomes something much more important; an interest in something considered ‘retro’ in one’s 20s can become so familiar, so ingrained 20 years later, it becomes part of the fabric of that person’s character.  Does anyone consider Kate Pierson of the B-52s weird any longer?

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In his quest to understand those who choose to live “The Retro Life,” Dave meets award-winning graphic novelist Seth, who has lived in a 1930s/40s world of his own Retro Life part 3 – At Home with Retro creation for so long, its hard to imagine him any other way.

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Watch Retro Life part 3 here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/at-home-with-retro/

 

Retro Life Part 2 – Rockabilly’s Eternal Teenagers

Hey folks,

Tune into a new webisode of Where Cool Came From –>http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/rockabilly-seternal-teenagers/

There’s no denying that some of us have been living the “Retro Life” for a lot longer than others.  The Rockabilly subculture is in its fourth decade and still going strong, and every major metropolis–from the near west to the far east–has a thriving scene.

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The great thing about Rockabilly, which takes its name from the rock/hillbilly-hybrid music of the 1950s, is that it’s such an established look (think pompadours and big pleated pants on guys and crinolined dresses, Bettie Page bangs and tattoos on girls), it has crossed into the mainstream, and into other retro groups: Rockabillies are comfortable mingling with tikiphiles, swing-dancers, vintage car enthusiasts, new wavers and those obsessed with mid-century modern furniture.  That’s why Dave and legendary Bopcats drummer Teddy Fury get along so damn well!

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Cars part 3 – Two Wheels Good?

Dave is worried, he loves driving, it’s the coolest way to get from point A to point B; but if the fossil fuel era is coming to a close and the end of happy motoring is near, how will we get around in the future?

Tune into a brand new websiode– > http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/two-wheels-good/

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Dave travels to Detroit, the birthplace of the automobile to find the answer, and it may ride on two wheels instead of four.

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Motown, the car-city, has ironically become a mecca for that pedal-powered, tubular framed mode of transportation known as the bicycle!  From a working bike factory to the world’s largest industrial ruin, Dave pedals his way through the history and possible future of transportation.

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The New Shape of Motion. Cars part 1 is live!

Are cars cool?  Do we even need to ask?  But how do car designers know what the public will accept as “cool”?  Dave visits a place that few mortals ever get to see, the General Motors Heritage Centre, where you can find the secret weapons that drove car design for the last century:  concept cars. Watch it now! –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/tailfins-dagmars/

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These fantasies on four wheels gave designers a chance to go wild without the fear of bankrupting the company.

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Showcased at auto-shows, these one-off fantasy cars were used to gauge public opinion and they gave birth to such innovations as sliding doors, power windows and collision detectors.  Some of their features didn’t last, the most famous being the tail fin…but who knows?  Perhaps the tail fin will rise again in the next “dream car of tomorrow”.

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Gagdets part 3 – Hack Your Life!

Part three of our gadgets series is now live. Watch it here –>http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/hack-life/

Surrounded by technology today and with more on the way–Google Glass anyone?–there is bound to be backlash.  At an event called “Maker Faire,” Dave meets techopreneurs looking to take things back to their grassroots.

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At Toronto’s Hacklab, he meets a group taking technology apart, changing it, and then putting it back together!  Warm up your soldering irons!

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Gadgets Part 1- Phasers on Stun

 

Where Cool Came From has  just released  part 1 of our 3 part series on Gadgets. In this webisode award-winning sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer shows Dave his tech-toys. Tune in and watch the video here —>

http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/phasers-stun/

Technology is such a part of our lives, we’ve become blind to it. But there was a time when cool gadgets were exclusive to spies and science fiction heroes on film and television–leaving average people to dream. Dave visits Hugo- and Nebula-award winning sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer to talk 1960s tech…and Trek!

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Smoking part 2 – The Hollywood Factor

We’ve added a new webisode! Check it out here –>http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/hollywood-factor/

In this webisode, Dave learns how the power of the movies was used to sell smokes.

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What’s a film noir without a smoking femme fatale? The silver screen has been smoke-filled since Edison’s first films. Sharing a bag of popcorn with film critic Richard Crouse, Dave delves into how the power of Hollywood helped bring cigarettes to the lips of millions.

Hotels Part 3 is now live! Happy Trailers

Imagine a hotel room you can take with you wherever you go!

Tune in to part 3 here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/happy-trailers/

Well, they already exist, and they’ve been around for almost as long as the wheel.  Yes, travel-trailers come in all shapes and sizes—from the tiny Canadian Boler to the better-known shiny American Streamline—and, these days, more and more are being restored and re-hitched as families look for inexpensive ways to take the family on vacation.

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But Where Cool Came From isn’t your average show.  To really understand trailers and the kind of people that love them, we’re off to the high California desert to visit the owner of “Hicksville,” a secret artist’s colony filled with “themed” trailers, where Dave will learn a thing or two about “glamping” (that’s glamorous camping)…and…uh…zombies?

New Webisode – Room at the Inn

Watch the newest webisode of Where Cool Came From here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/room-inn/ 

People have always needed places to stop over and lay their head while on the road. One particular couple, a long time ago, found “no room at the inn”…and had to settle for a stable.

Today, however, the hotel ante keeps getting upped: besides cleanliness, folks now want luxury, uniqueness and architectural character, and all at reasonable prices.  So, the “boutique hotel” was born to fill that need, and Where Cool Came from explores one of the best, Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel, an 1889 charmer that was saved after a long period of neglect.

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But has this kind of unique luxury always been around? After tucking himself into the Gladstone’s crisp sheets, our host dreams about the sorts of places that were available to weary travelers back in the 1800s: it turns out he might have to get to know his fellow guests a little more intimately than he thought!

Booze Part 2 – Forbidden Fruit

We’ve just launched a new webisode on Booze!

In this installment, Dave goes underground in search of the remains of 1920s Prohibition.
Watch the webisode here http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/forbidden-fruit/ 

Roll out the illegal barrels, because Dave is digging deep to find the remaining watering-holes of the Prohibition era. At Tommy’s Detroit Bar & Grill our host is led downstairs to discover a secret in its basement that may be guarded by gangster ghosts! In NYC, our host finds the green fairy and the spirit of the 1920s alive and well in the twenty-first century. Imbibing has never been so fun!

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Booze Part 3

It’s Judgement Day for Dave’s home-brew, “The Davenberg.”  Will it cause applause…or an ulcer?
Dave swings by Indie Ale house to see what the experts think of his, er, poison.
But beer isn’t the only thing that’s getting crafty in the twenty-first century.  The custom cocktail craze is in full swing, and regular people are getting braver and braver in what they’ll order from the barkeep, who must keep up on all the latest recipes. After getting the lowdown from some professionals, Dave visits the owner of retail store who can turn even the most butterfingered novice into a master mixologist in no time!
Booze part three premieres next Friday!

Booze Part 1 – Beer

It’s funny that, to some, planning in April, planting in May and harvesting their own vegetables in August is a pleasure.  To me, it’s drudgery, it’s work, and it’s far easier to go to the farmer’s market or grocery store.

Yet I’ll wait a year or more for the “right” piece of vintage furniture to cross my path–looking at the empty space where I’d like it to go!–rather than go buy something new.  I guess that’s why they call them hobbies, right?  If you didn’t enjoy the process, well, it wouldn’t be a hobby!

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Recently, the same can be said of beer.  Thousands of folks are amateur brewmasters now, and have formed collectives and clubs to support their hobby.  Others sink hundreds of thousands to open brewpubs.  And me?  Well, I’ll try anything once, so I’ve got my beer-making kit ready to go…and a nagging feeling I’d rather just go buy a pint at the pub!

Part 1 of our Booze webisode launches next Monday!

New Webisode – Glass House on a Hill

Watch the newest webisode here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/homes-glass-house-hill/

What happened to that “can-do” spirit of the 1950s and 60s?

Back then, architects used all sorts of new materials –glass, steel, plastics, and even aluminum—to push the envelope and test new ways of living. Albert Frey, a Swiss architect, tapped into that spirit when he relocated to Palm Springs. There, he built Frey House I in 1941, an almost all-glass house, and Frey House II in 1964. As well as using new materials, Frey decided that his second home would be built on an unbuildable lot on the side of a mountain, and, further, he’d allow a HUGE rock to come inside and take up residence beside his bed!

After exploring Frey’s work, Where Cool Came From checks out a house made almost entirely of aluminum in Rochester, NY. Alcoa’s space-age, 1957 “Care-Free” home—which feels a little like living inside a Christmas ornament—becomes the setting for our host and homeowner Steve Plouffe to cook up some TV dinners and mix a few martinis.

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Sticks, Stones and Glass Houses

Not only is hot-off-the-runway couture fashion financially out of reach for most people, it’s just not practical for everyday life.

And that’s also true of high-concept architecture, since it’s essentially the same thing.  So why get angry at a one-off building designed for a rich client, even if it seems entirely impractical? However, this is exactly the reaction I’ve encountered a number of times when telling people how much I adore Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1945),

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or its little brother, Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut (1949).

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Cut from the same cloth, these two beauties are all glass, a little bit of steel, and would both completely suck to live in if they were plunked down in the middle of a subdivision.

But that’s not the point.  These two homes, in quiet, pastoral settings, work wonderfully for what they are: big ol’ sculptures that a person can also happen to live in.  They were never meant to be prototypes for houses of the future, and their architects never thought they’d roll out these designs for the masses.

Yet, just like in fashion, their influence did trickle down to you and I.

Architects, reading trade magazines and scholarly journals, started to incorporate details that borrowed heavily from the two glass houses and, indeed, the progressive European buildings that came before (Mies van der Rohe was designing glass buildings as early as 1921 in his native Germany): open floor plans, big picture windows, more gently sloping rooflines (as opposed to severe hip roofs) and better connections to the back garden.

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Some architects/builders in warmer areas such as California, were building semi-glass houses in tract neighbourhoods for the average person. While Joseph Eichler and the Alexander homes

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are probably the best known of this group, there were others (building what we now call “Likelers”), and the style even got up to the Greater Toronto Area, where traces of California can be found in Don Mills, Scarborough and Mississauga’s Applewood Heights.

And for those who didn’t want to live in a semi-glass house but still wanted to participate in the future, there were all sorts of businesses or restaurants where one could experience the same thrill.

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Not everyone found this new look sexy, of course. As early as 1956, The Crack in the Picture Window

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found fault with suburbia, and, later, in 1981, Tom Wolfe wrote a bestseller that really took the romance out of the style, From Bauhaus to Our House.

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Yet many of us still crave transparency: just look at the condo boom of the early 21st century in many major cities.  While not quite the same as suburbia, new and glittering glass boxes in the sky are the new starter homes for many.

But energy is no longer cheap; we can no longer just dial up the thermostat to combat heat-loss. If we still want to live in glass houses, we’ve got to find financially responsible and, more importantly, ecologically responsible ways to do so.

Part 1 of our webisode series on homes airs Monday March 24th!

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

Tattoos – Warrior Culture

For as long as human beings have walked the earth, we’ve decorated our skin…and our host is no exception.

Although it’s been over 20 years since Dave got his first small tattoo, ink’s recent rise in popularity has him intrigued.

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But with so many urban warriors running amok, he wants to consider his options before pulling the trigger on tattoo number two.

Hatless in Manhattan

Just released!  The next webisode in the Where Cool Came From Series continues on with the topic of Hats.  In this instalment Dave ventures inside Manhattan’s oldest hat shop, in business since the jazz age.

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Risking a sunburn, Dave arrives in the Big Apple without his trusty porkpie. After two decades with the same melon-topper, he thinks it might be time to stir the pot. But where to begin? Piled to the rafters in a rainbow of colours, shapes and styles, the insane inventory at J.J. Hat Center makes it look like a Hollywood wardrobe warehouse! Thankfully, Marc Williamson steps in to soothe Dave’s haberdashery headache.

Tune in here –> http://www.wherecoolcamefrom.com/video/hatless-manhattan/

Tattoos – MAUVAIS GARÇONS

Tattoos are ubiquitous today. But, in decades past, they were the markers of outlaws and low-lifes. In other words, not something you brought home to mother.

These images are just some of the amazing archival photos we unearthed for our second webisode on the history of tattoos.

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They were taken by a retired French police officer at the turn of the Century. Some serious Irving Penn sh*t.

Click here for more information on the book: http://sangbleu.com/2013/08/03/mauvais-garcons-portraits-de-tatoues-1890-1930/

Be sure to check out our Where Cool Came From webisode on Tattoos, airing the week of March 10th!

 

Hats Hats Hats!

A little bit of History and Other Haberdashery

Until the late-1960s, men put on hats almost as often as their underpants.  Born when hats died, our fortysomething host took up hat-wearing in the 1990s as an inexpensive way to cover his ever-expanding bald spot, but found they also made him feel more ‘put-together’ too.  But why have noggins have been topped with crowns, cones and furs for centuries?  To truly understand why “the hat makes the man,” Dave puts on his deerstalker and visits fashion historian Ingrid Mida.

Fast forward to present day… 

Yes, hats are back for the celebrity crowd, but are they the only ones driving 21st century fashion?  Is our host a trendsetter, lemming or hipster doofus?  For a question that big, Dave calls on the legendary Jeanne Beker.

                                               

You always remember your first…martini!

The first time you rode a bike, kissed, or went downtown by yourself.  Or how about the first payday at your first real job? 

These are universal ‘firsts’ to most North Americans.

But there are other firsts, too, and depending on what your interests become when you get older, they can be great dinner-party stories to tell to likeminded friends. For instance, I’ve been drinking martinis regularly for about 15 years now, but even as an adult it took some time to develop a taste for them, since they are, in essence, pure alcohol.  With enough practice and a mature palate, however, they become sublime.

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But my very first martini was way back in the mid-1980s, when I was still in high school.  I’d been reading the original James Bond books (I worked in a library and the 1960s Raymond Hawkey covers were still around, and as an artsy kid they blew me away!) and, like all young men do while reading these, I began to fancy myself a sophisticate…no pizza slices before the multiplex movie at the mall for me, no sir, only beluga caviar and French art films! And martinis!

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Luckily, there was a restaurant near my school that wasn’t too worried about losing their liquor license.  So, one day, a few friends and I went over there and, in our best calm, adult voices, ordered drinks.  I think my friends just ordered beer, but when the lovely young Greek waitress got to me (she was probably the owner’s daughter and all of about 22-years-old) I said “Vodka martini, please” but left out the “shaken, not stirred” part since I didn’t want it to seem like I was quoting from a book.  I remember her look of bemusement and concern when she answered “Really, are you sure?” to which I answered back, indignant, “Of course, drink ‘em all the time.”

She left with our order and a little smile on her face, and boy-oh-boy, we 17-year-olds felt pretty freaking proud of ourselves, I can tell you.

When she plunked the very authentic-looking martini in front of me, she was smiling even more, and while this might be my memory playing tricks on me, I’m pretty sure she didn’t wander away very far…since she wanted to see my reaction after the first sip.

Well, it probably looked something like this.

I mean, it was like drinking GASOLINE.  My eyes watered, my nose ran, and I could barely speak.  I tried to hold it together, look cool, but I knew it wasn’t working when my buddies asked me if I was alright.  “Yeah, sure,” I choked, “just went down the wrong pipe.”  Yeah, and that pipe was my throat. I’m pretty sure I heard some muffled laughter coming from around the corner, too!

Scared straight, I did not return to Mr. Bond’s favourite libation until the swing dance craze of the mid-1990s, and, even then, I made them with bianco vermouth so there’d be some sweetness.  After a few years, I was finally able to take those training wheels off and drink them with regular vermouth.

Dave explores a modern #speakeasy that’s trying to bring some sense of danger back into bar crawling. Dave learns how to make a few “dangerous” drinks...some featuring the Green Fairy...

Dave explores a modern #speakeasy that’s trying to bring some sense of danger back into bar crawling. Dave learns how to make a few “dangerous” drinks…some featuring the Green Fairy…

Oh, and being a purist, I switched to gin at that time, too, as a real martini is composed of gin, dry vermouth and a garnish of either an olive or lemon peel.  That’s it.  In fact, Bond’s choice of vodka over gin and his “shaken, not stirred” instruction has more to do with Ian Fleming’s desire for his character to be an iconoclast than a true reflection of what people were actually drinking in the 1950s and 60s; this piece says before Bond came along, vodka wasn’t even on the radar.

Which means, I guess, that that first drink I had wasn’t a real martini after all: Whew! Dodged a bullet on that one!  Cheers!

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

 

Watch the Tiki Bar Mixology Preview here:

Photo Booths

Photo Booths

Don’t forget to register on www.wherecoolcamefrom.com and you’ll be entered to win a truly great bar kit from our friends at BYOB Cocktail Emporium!

Manhattan Bar Kit from BYOB Cocktail Emporium

Manhattan Bar Kit from BYOB Cocktail Emporium

‘Geek Chic’

I’m not the best one to ask about the whole Jock-vs-Nerd thing.  I certainly knew about it as a teenager–heck, I’d read my dad’s old magazines from the 50s and see the ads aimed at the “98-pound weakling” and how he should muscle up so he wouldn’t get sand kicked in his face at the beach–and I very much enjoyed the movie Revenge of the Nerds when it came out in 1984.

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I went to an art and music high school, you see, and things were very different there.  With so many odd creative types around, I guess the fellas on the football team (and we did have one, full of preppie guys who listened to Phil Collins) and their cheerleader girlfriends knew there were just as many of us as there were of them, so we all lived in peaceful co-existence.  In fact, I even remember going to a few parties at jock houses and, when other jocks from other schools showed up and started to make fun of us, our jocks stepped in to defend us: “Hey, these guys are okay, leave them alone.”

Well, I do remember one kid, actually.  He wasn’t in the art program and he wasn’t into sports.  He was a real dyed-in-the-wool nerd.  Small, messy, socially awkward, and so into computers he could write programs from scratch (he once wrote me something that made random colourful lines and patterns that looked much like today’s screensavers, but in 1984 and on an Apple IIe).  This little guy, let’s call him Norbert, once stood up to do a book report and called the characters “carbon-based lifeforms” after he’d decided he’d said their names too many times. Norbert didn’t have many friends and I’d often see him sitting alone in the cafeteria while I’d be sitting with my group of cool, artsy New Wave friends.  But because it was a pretty accepting school, no one would be throwing things at him and I seem to remember most of us who shared classes with him would at least nod hello.

It’s to guys like that–and to the gals who collected programs on floppy disks rather then friends–that I’d like to dedicate these episodes of Where Cool Came From.  Quarantined in the computer room, these kids had a tough teen-hood, but are, today, the ones occupying the top echelons of Google and Apple.  Or they’re the mad scientists who’ll one day discover a way end our dependency on oil, or find a cure for cancer.

So here’s to the nerd, the geek, the dork and the outcast.  Your time in the spotlight has come…not that you noticed or give a crap anyway ;-)

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

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