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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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?!?
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/
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”.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
Now, 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!
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/
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.
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!
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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!
In my late teens, this expanded into learning about the furniture of the 1950s and 60s. By my early 20s, I was collecting it.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Today, as Dave discovers, there are a growing number of people who choose “tiki” as a way to live The Retro Life.