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?

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

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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.

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 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.

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

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.

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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.

 

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

Tattoos – Meaningful Art or Meaningless Decoration?


I was about 21-years-old when I got my first tattoo. 

Back then, I was a bass-playin’, motorcycle-ridin’, cigarette-smokin’ fella who hung out downtown and fancied himself a hipster.  However, back in 1989, tats weren’t the huge fad they are now, with shops on practically every street corner, so a person wasn’t able to “shop around” (this article says they’re almost as common as espresso bars today; it also claims that their “cool has already left the building”).  So, I asked my older brother, who had the shocking amount of TWO tattoos, to recommend a place.

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My brother’s tattoos were of various cartoon characters he’d admired growing up, so I thought about what mine should be.  Luckily, I was smart enough, even back then, to know that putting the name of my current favourite band (or, worse, the band I was playing bass in, which was called “Circle of Ill Health” – can you imagine THAT branded on your arm, or some other body part, for the rest of your life?!) on myself would be foolish, because tastes change. So, since I’ve always been a nostalgic person, I decided to put some cartoon characters of my own on my upper arm but, unlike my brother, these would be ones that I’d created myself when I was a tiny little guy of about 5- or 6-years-old.

With the help of my other, even older brother, these characters, Goldie, George and Rhino (based on three stuffed animals I still have), starred in a series of comics that I drew up until about the age of 13.  I’d even hand-painted a T-shirt with their faces on it, and that’s what I brought to the tattoo parlor to show the grizzled old guy; I remember him telling me he’d done a lot strangers things, so don’t worry.

While that little tattoo is now relatively faded, it’s still meaningful to me as it represents a very rich and imaginative period of my life.  Since my family moved at the time of my 12th birthday, it also represents the old house and the old friends I had on that street.  The newspaper article linked above calls this type of tattoo “personal narrative” and I think that about sums it up.

Fast forward to 2013.  The most significant thing in my personal narrative, nowadays, is that I’ll soon celebrate a decade of my weekly Globe & Mail column on architecture, “The Architourist.”  I’ve always loved architecture, even as early as my comic-drawing days (while most kids at school knew the names of all the Maple Leafs, I knew the names of the architects who’d built Toronto’s downtown skyscrapers), but I’d never gotten into it in a professional way.  Much like my Goldie stories, which could take place in the land of Star Wars world or the Old West, writing about architecture is a way for me to live vicariously in that world.

With that in mind, it didn’t take me long to figure out what to put on my arm.  My greatest architectural love is for the Modernist period (1945 – 75), and my love of my home city knows no bounds, so I picked Toronto’s greatest building from that period, Toronto City Hall, to represent my achievement at the newspaper. City Hall, I should note, was jury-selected from over 500 international entries in 1958, and the winning design – two curved towers cradling a flying saucer – was penned by a Finnish architect, Viljo Revell (the building finally opened to the public in 1965).

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And because I didn’t want to get too serious about it, I had Jacqueline Pavan at Soma Tiger Tattoo do it in a sort of comic book style rather than as an architectural rendering.  We even put a comic-y ‘energy burst’ in behind the building, to illustrate the power that radiates from good architecture…which, unfortunately, looks like fire to most people, since they always ask “Why is City Hall on fire?” when they see the damn thing!

While I do worry about that my ink will become smeared or unintelligible in 25 years (thanks, James Kunstler!) I don’t regret my choice of subject matter.  Besides, with the way the technology is going, by then I’ll just get it zapped off and start all over again!

Here’s hoping if YOU take the plunge, you’ll give it a lot of thought as well.

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

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FILL ‘ER UP, WITH CAFFEINE!

I can attest to how bad coffee was in the 1970s, even though I didn’t start drinking it until the mid-1980s, when I was a senior in high school.

Latte

My parents, who probably started drinking coffee in the 1950s, hadn’t changed their routine much by the 70s, and drank big mugs of steaming amber-coloured stuff that smelled a little like coffee, but also like the plastic lid that sealed up the big can the grounds came from.  The even crazier thing is that my dad – who was a produce manager at a grocery store – kept the freezer well stocked with Coffee Rich, the world’s first frozen non-dairy creamer.

I can still remember what it said on the side of the carton: “An Edible Oil Product.”  I remember thinking, too, how weird it was that my folks were putting oil in their coffee, since, as a kid with an active imagination, my thoughts would go directly to dad in the driveway, changing the oil on our family’s chocolate brown Gran Torino.

Coffee Rich has a rich history, by the way.  In this fascinating online book http://bit.ly/1bNtZx9, I learned that the first non-dairy creamer was put on the market in 1950 by Presto Food Products of California.  Coffee Rich, out of Buffalo, NY, didn’t come along until 1961 (the frozen version a year later, which the author calls “a huge breakthrough”) but quickly became the “largest seller” perhaps because it could be “manufactured, distributed, and sold at a lower cost in man hours” than traditional dairy products.

The thing is, coffee shop culture as we know it in the twenty-first century was in its infancy back then (Seattle’s Starbucks was just a baby in the 1970s, and so was Canada’s Second Cup), and my folks weren’t the kind of people to go downtown to a French restaurant or a coffeehouse to get “European style” stuff.  Well, I take that back, because in the early 1960s my parents did frequent Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood to see Gordon Lightfoot sing, and perhaps they choked down some strong coffee at The Riverboat (http://www.nicholasjennings.com/magazine-articles/the-riverboat-coffehouse) and wonder what the heck had been done to their java!

In any case, even as recently as the 1980s, when I became a coffee drinker, the place most folks consumed their cuppa joe was at home, at a greasy spoon, or a donut shop.

So when did we start hanging out at the coffee shop?  Good question, and I think the answer might be regional, and have something to do with one’s ethnicity, too.  I’m sure a lot of people were doing it in Seattle before Toronto.  But I’m sure Italians in Toronto’s Little Italy were doing it before almost anybody else (Canada has the 6th largest Italian population in the world), save for New York City, of course, where Caffe Reggio’s Dominic Parisi brought the first cappuccino machine into the U.S. in 1935 and installed it in his popular Greenwich Village shop, which opened in 1927 (http://www.cafereggio.com/).

Echoing what happened in Europe hundreds of years earlier, places like Reggio’s started to attract writers, poets and musicians; where else could you sit around all day and wait for inspiration for just a few coins?  La Dolce Vita, you know?  By the 1950s, the Beats would be banging on bongos and reciting angst-ridden poetry in coffeehouse basements.

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That’s because coffee – the real stuff, not my parent’s version – has always been cool, and cool things cause people to gather.  And so, today, while we’ve got the big chains (some of them quite good) and a lot of quirky independent watering holes, it’s not uncommon to visit someone’s home for a dinner party and spy a big, beautiful, and expensive machine sprawled out on the kitchen counter…I usually take note of this, of course, so that the next time I visit, I can produce an empty Tim Horton’s cup from my pocket and say “Fill ‘er up, please, with regular” just to keep things light.

 

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

 

 

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

Join the Cool Community and be entered to win an amazing bar kit from BYOB Cocktail Emporium

Happy New Year cool kids!

We here at WCCF simply can’t wait for the web premiere of the series Feb 15th 2014! In light of this amazing news (and because we want to spread the cool around) we are giving away a truly awesome bar kit from BYOB Cocktail Emporium!

Manhattan Bar Kit from BYOB Cocktail Emporium

Manhattan Bar Kit from BYOB Cocktail Emporium

From BYOB’s site “The Manhattan from Picnic Time’s Legacy Collection is a portable cocktail case that has everything needed for your cocktail party on the go. Fully-insulated and made of premium leatherette, the Manhattan has a beautiful velveteen interior lining that helps to showcase all its amenities. The Manhattan features a divided, insulated compartment to carry two bottles, an adjustable leatherette shoulder strap and a suitcase-style handle for easy carrying. Why wait for the party, when you can bring the party with you?”

The Kit includes

2 martini glasses (handblown glass 7 oz.)
1 stainless steel shaker (19 oz.)
1 stainless steel two-sided jigger (1oz./2 oz.)
1 stainless steel ice tongs
1 stainless steel strainer
2 stainless steel olive picks
1 (Vermouth) mister (1 oz.)
1 combination fork/spoon stirrer
2 napkins (100% cotton/14×14 inch)

Contest Blog Entry

So join our community now and be entered for a chance to win this stylish bar kit sure to make you the host with the most! When you join the community you will get info on the coolest show around, access to sneak peaks and the ability to vote on our Cool or Not page. Don’t forget, we want you to upload your own cool (or not!) photos!


bartender contest blog entry

Also, make sure to check out our webisode on Booze and Beers for some amazing bartending tips!

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…

 

 

Hats off…to you!

I’m sure this has happened to you: you trade in your old Chevrolet Creampuff for that new Toyota Roadtickler (yes, I am making these names up!) and then, suddenly, you notice all sorts of people driving around in Roadticklers, too.  I mean, they’re just EVERYWHERE.

Well, they’re not really everywhere, it’s just that they weren’t on your radar until you started looking at one in your driveway every day.

Back in the mid-1990s, when I first started wearing fedoras and porkpies on a regular basis, this is exactly what did NOT happen.  I felt like I was the last man on earth.  I felt like I’d stepped out of a time machine.  All those bare heads, and then, me!  And while I may have found an odd sort of pleasure in feeling exclusive, what I didn’t like was that imaginary spotlight following me around to make sure people noticed how freakin’ different I was: “Hey look at this guy, he’s Mr. Retropants!”  Luckily, I was living in Montreal, Quebec, where there were a lot of flamboyant fashionistas, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been; besides, what was left of my rapidly thinning hair needed to be protected as survivors of a once proud and dynamic civilization.

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When I moved back to Toronto just before the turn of the century, I was, fortunately, so used to donning ‘adult’ headgear I didn’t much care if I was generating that gobsmacked look from others. Live and let live, I’d say.

Fast forward to 2014, however, and I’m guessing a person who takes their first steps into the wide world of hat-wearing will experience that Roadtickler thing — they’ll start to notice a lot of likeminded folks have returned to the hat styles of yesteryear.  In time, they might be able to identify the different styles, too (and there are many!).

While hats are not exactly everywhere, stand a busy street corner in any urban centre and you’ll pick out about 1 in 10 with headgear on, I’d wager (not including baseball caps).  Compare that to the 1980s, when you’d probably count 1 in 100, and that one person would likely be an old woman or man who didn’t give up the practice in the late-1960s, when the rest of the world did.

So what’s driving the return of the fedora/porkpie today?  I’m not sure you could just say “Mad Men” to make your case: while that multiple Emmy award-winner is driving fashion to a certain extent, a 14-year-old kid who’s rockin’ his dollar-store-fedora isn’t doing it because of Don Draper.  He’s probably doing it because practically every pop star from Jay-Z, Rihanna, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Justin Beiber and Justin Timberlake is wearing one also.  And, of course, since this has been going on for a few years now, it’s starting to get slammed:

http://www.complexmag.ca/style/2013/07/gallery-every-celebrity-wearing-a-fedora-needs-to-fire-their-stylist/

But I don’t think this is the death knell for the ol’ noggin-topper.  How can it be?  The formal hat has been around for centuries, and, as such, it’s going to experience the ebb and flow of fashion.  The reason it seems cool NOW is because it wasn’t cool for a few decades previous to now.  And it probably won’t seem cool by about 2020.  Then, in 2045, a whole new generation of kids will discover hats again (probably at thrift stores, where I bought my first few) and think they’re being terrifically original…and, in a way, for their time, they will be.

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And for that small percentage of people who will continue to feel like they’re not completely dressed until they’ve put on their felt (like yours truly!), the mighty fedora will live on during those future dark days, and hat shops will be able to keep their doors open. Some, like J.J. Hat Center in Manhattan, may even thrive.

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Because this former symbol of conformity isn’t just a way to shield your head from the sun, it’s a way to communicate.

Yours in coolness,

DLeB

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.

http://peanuts.wikia.com/wiki/Joe_Cool_(song)

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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