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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SON OF POPULUXE

SON   OF            POPULUXE
By                    John Almada        still editing     

All I can say is that you know it when you see it.Sure, it’s a boomer thing but children can understand also. They call it “retro”, and retrogressive means culling from the past.  Clothes, interior décor, car design ………... Simpson’s do it. “The Incredibles” was based on a newly built 60’s ranch house with all that eras attendant artwork. Ren and Stimpy was so much about recreating the 50’s cartoon imagery, and Jimmy Neutron on Nicleodeon  was big on Populuxe design and color. All the best cartoons, really, have that motif. The Jetsons was Populuxe in the rocketing space age of the 60’s.


 




Thomas Hines wrote a book called "Populuxe", in 1986 or so. He has been trying to popularize the idea of what Populuxe is, and has coined this term with a specific meaning. His book, “Populuxe”, was published in 1986 and in the revised 1999 foreword, he is delighted to note that his word got into the dictionary. From the Random House Websters College dictionary, ”Populuxe, n, a flamboyant decorative style of the period 1954-1964. Implying pastel colors and futuristic contours to impart a sense of luxury in everyday objects, as cars, appliances and dwellings.” Instead of calling it Post Art-Deco, Thomas Hines has given the era its own identity.

          I see the Rogers Maris home run chase as the peak of populuxe. I wonder what Thomas Hines would think of that. 1961. It was also President Kennedy’s first year in office. At the time it must have been great to have two modern people for president and first lady.  
      These days we are all about the tragedy of JFK's passing, but during those three years he was president,  it became an anticipatory time. Untainted by the hopeless political and social quagmire that Vietnam became by the late 60's, the Kennedy years buoyed peoples spirits.  But not all.
                  



           Billy Crystal made a fabulous movie called “61” I think from 1962 onwards Populuxe went into decline. The heady heydays of too many choices and traditional male dominance began to splinter away. As women went to college, they found others in frustration and the divorce boom began in earnest through the sixties as the old fudies decried "this new permissiveness". Women realized it wasn’t all right that men run the family and beat their wives.                                                                                                                                              
          The automobile culture in 1962 was firmly entrenched; it wasn’t such a new thing anymore. 

           Tailfins disappeared and Detroit floundered till the muscle cars of the mid sixties became the fashion, and was another way Populuxe was ushered out. The suppression of male aggresion was able to be transferred. The Press was becoming the media. Press was the written word; and media became the term for all what was going on with news. The Roger Maris home run chase was an early exhibition of what was to become the paparazzi. Their merciless hounding undid Roger Maris' spirit and showed a dark side to the endless happy face of baseball. 

          The farmboy from North Dakota simply didn’t understand what was happening to him as he arrived home to embrace his family after a very successful road trip in 1961, he insisted family came before profit and chased them away like raccoons eating his garbage.  Reporters in his yard, the new paparazzi, reported in the papers he was enraged and hysterical.

                   The home run chase was a part of our boomer childhood that was pretty much forgotten till Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa had their home run race in 97. Roger was not a fluke or a freak. The previous year he was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player. Then the next year he breaks Babe Ruth’s record that had stood for 34 years. 

          Imagine you’re an embittered New York reporter. Maybe you’d seen the Babe, or saw his farewell speech in 1948 shortly before he died. Ruth was baseball. A few years before 1961, Elvis had led a parade of rockers that had really upset the older generation’s apple cart. Old people at that time really had their collective panties in a knot. They wanted their world to last forever.

                    In the movie it showed how Rogers hair started falling out near the end of the summer. Mickey Mantle was then an old veteran over 30 and was trying to help Roger deal with the mess. Babe Ruth Fans had written death threats as the trailer to the movie showed. The Press was constantly twisting his quotes around to make him look bad IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. All he wanted to do was help his team win. Trying to tell him that others faced the same monster, Mickey told him,” Hank Greenberg had 58 home runs with a week left in the season,” said Mantle, “He couldn’t take the pressure, then they conspired to not give him anything to hit……cuz he was a Jew.”

                    During the heat of the season the Commissioner of Baseball, the evil Ford Frick, decides an asterisk would indicate that the record wasn’t broken in 154 games. Major League baseball had switched over to a 162 game season since the old days of Babe Ruth. This gave Roger more pressure to do it “in a timely fashion.” on the other hand it’s been pointed out that Maris didn’t get a homer during the first 11 games. So in actuality if you take the last 151 games in the season he hit 61. 

              In 1962 I was 8 years old and started playing baseball and in time started collecting cards. But I remember that season, how everyone was talking about the home run race. I woke up in different ways that year and baseball was like what video games are today and Roger Maris was my hero. I even pretended to be Roger Maris Jr. when a hobo staggered down the street and our little posse started chatting it up with him.
              By the time I was 12, I was a paperboy waking up at 5 00, and the first thing I did was check the box score if the Yankees played. Right down to where Roger was. Fourth in the lineup. He hit 33 home runs and batted in 100 in 1962 which was a big disappointment to all. Just a fluke they said but keep in mind he was MVP Most Valuable Player two years running. 
           He had a good year in 63 but was injured a large chunk of the season. In ’64 the real decline began but damage had been done. the stress of the world weighed heavy on his feel good do good farmboy simplicity. He was never really the same. One of the greatest sporting feats of the century and it ruined his spirit instead of nourishing the man.                                                                                                                                                       
           Can’t you be just good at what you do and not have a press corps plucking at you?  The emotional water boarding of the vicious New York Press was the most avaricious ever concocted. It wasn't about being a man, it was about being an asshole. In ’66 it was clear he would not fulfill his potential as a longtime slugger after he had a second bad year in a row. In ’67 he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and I became a Cardinals fan following Roger as he switched leagues. 

        Apparently he was viewed as a seasoned pro and was highly regarded, despite only hitting 9 home runs. He won some games with timely hits and became a good clutch hitter helping the Cards reach the World Series. He had his best series ever and hit .385 going 10 for 26. He was 2 for 3 in the last game as Bob Gibson pitched a 3 hitter, winning the series for the Cards. 
        It was the most exciting World Series I ever remember, and it was the last good ball I’d ever watch him play. The Red Sox played some gutsy ball but Gibson won 3 games and was unbeatable. Roger played another year and was in another World Series in ’68 then retires at age 34. He was done. I still had a paper route and still religiously checked the box score for every game the Cardinals played. 

                    In 1969 I was 15 and at a loss after retirement. I didn't like the Yankees but was not exposed to the Boston culture enough and as I thought about it, I came around to becoming a Red Sox fan for 35 years. Finally achieving satisfaction in 2004 when they won the World Series. Uncle Joe would have been proud. He was a foam at the  mouth Red Sox fan and was happy when I converted. My dad was a lukewarm Yankees fan and grew up 104 miles from Fenway Park in Boston and 115 miles from Yankee Stadium. Those of us growing up in the Connecticut River Valley were split on our allegiance so I would show an interest in the Red Sox and the World Series in varying degrees over the years.

           Back on the road Mantle tells him. “We’re chasing a ghost Rog. Frick used to be Ruth’s ghost writer, they were tight.” On television they watched a news item about the Mantle and Maris feud?”  “Are we feudin?” they laughed and asked each other. "Must be, its on the TV."
           The movie pointed out how destructive the media can be. Later evolving into the relentless paparazzi that chased Princess Diana when she crashed and the ever intrusive snoops looking for something to keep the rabble buying the various rags that pass for entertainment. they made up the story about a Mantle Maris fued.
                    Roger got letters that said, “DIE Roger DIE” Fans began to boo him on those days after he was misquoted in headlines. He’s supposed to just deal with this? He does somehow and ends up with the unassailable 61 home runs. Till 1997, 121 years since the first professional baseball league began, only one person hit more than 60 home runs. . –All those great home run hitters of the past Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Greenberg, Hank Aaron, Ralph Kiner Rocky Calovito and many others could not achieve what was Rogers that fateful year called 1961.

                    When Mark McGuire was on his record pace he made it clear that if he broke any record it was Rogers.   Mark got  payback for the New York media dissin of Maris.  Mark was a California boy but understood the Roger Maris story like others of us. After al,l did any other records get the asterisk it was asked? Suzuki’s 262 hits recently? Maury Will’s 104 stolen bases in 1962? It was  Ford Frick versus Roger Maris who told the press, "sic em boys".  I don’t care what anyone says about the 50’s. There was too much verbal harassment and threats and meanness. Relentless hostility. If only he lived long enough to see the respect he would eventually earn.       Roger only lived to 1985 which was his 51st year. 
           His movie son said to another son, during the McGuire Sosa home run race, “It’s like the best year Dad ever had.” Mcgwire smashed 65 homers by the 154th game thereby making sure Ruth’s record was buried forever.                                                                                                                
             1961. Game 154 of the season, Roger still has 59 homers. His last at bat in the game. One last chance to tie Babe Ruth. The white Sox sent in Hoyt Wilhelm, the knuckleballer whose strange floating pitch was difficult to hit. It was not even about winning the game. Stop Roger. There are virtually no home runs hit off the knuckler.
             Fast forward to 1997. Mark McGuire was about to smash Rogers and Ruth’s records. In a press conference Mark Held Roger Maris bat with reverence and respect. as Rogers’s wife Pat handed it to him. He touched it with his heart and made no mention of Babe Ruth. Put a tear in my eye, that finally, my Populuxe idol finally got his just due. 
                                  **************************

         The beatniks………………… 
  part 2 of the Son of Populuxe. What is a way to identify this era? Those 50’s diners everybody loves.
The roadside diner is so Populuxe. Outdoor movies also.
         The previous stylistic  era was what was known as Art Deco. 1925-1940? 1923-1938? 1921-1941? It all depends on who you ask. While it was happening it wasn’t called Art Deco.  It was the jazz moderne or moderne era among other names. Well the stylistic flourishes of that time period were interesting and modern and the Empire State building being the most prominent example. 
         Then there was the grim era of depression and of war, even to this day people are still grumpy about a couple of years they spent going through hard times. Its been hard times for some of us for 30 years. 
         After World war two the modern era began running on all 8 cylinders. Free college, forests being destroyed for the cheap housing boom. Material growth rocketed as the space age approached. Atomic waste created for cheap electricity. Water was clean and free. The greatest generation was using up resources in the most reckless ways possible.
         
         The Modern Era of the Mad Media began here. Roger was one of the first victims of the tectonic sociological shifting that was about to occur.
         Roger, the reviled mantle wanna be, was booed and abused, but when he hit his 61st, it was a celebration of triumph and national exaltation.
Except for those bitter Ruth diehards, it was a historical transition from the old era to the new. Soon Cassius Clay would rock the oldsters with brazen outspokenness. He would handle the glare of the modern era much better. 
         No. 61 was the nexus of the Populuxe Era. Whether you were a surfer or a housewife. September 30 1961 was when the modern era was born. The Era of Youth. A 43 year old president. A 27 year old breaking Babe Ruth’s 37 year old record. Astronauts and movie stars and youth oriented television. The Stop and Think generation would question everything but were hoodwinked by a phony event called the Bay of Pigs invasion. Pacifists pitted against the warrior elite.
          



Populuxe was really about the material enthusiasm after World War 2 and the rapid improvements of convenience, leading to the rampant over consumption and the empty busyness of modern life. Critics call it, enthusiasm for the tacky, but look at those cars from the 50’s. Recognized worldwide for their industrial artistry, it was an era of too many choices but worthy experiments.
Inventions were showing the world a new way back in the 30’s, but  the World War Two put the kibosh on everything. Drills, saws, refrigeration, cooking, plumbing, electricity, lawn mowers and thousands more improvements came on line. It appeared Americans, and others around the world were inventing themselves out of the depression during the 30’s and World War two usurped this momentum. Many factories, owned by a few corporations, profited greatly from government money to convert to wartime production to say nothing of the profits cread by accoutrements for the 'dancers of death'.

               
               Every area of the country  shook off its Bank depression  in different ways and at different times. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I believe World War Two slowed down the momentum of what could have been a long term, economic recovery. 
           A corporate mantra I heard as a youth, that was embedded in our minds,  said war was very profitable for America. The era of Madison Avenue, it's propaganda and commercials, became a heavy influence in the 50's and people believed 'war lifted us out of the depression.' but this was a psychological setup  up for the Vietnam War.
     The Warrior elite would like you to believe that building bombs and jet planes and bullets for World War 2, was what got us out of the depression. The burgeoning Military Industrial Machine that Dwight Eisenhower warned of in his farewell address, seemed to have a plan. Now we know the plan is called War Without End.
          That coven of conspiratorial compadres, the International Bankers, giggled with glee at the debt that was to be amassed during a world war. They offered Hitler and others some low interest loans. 50 million lives later, It was 1946 and the smell of spent bombs was still in the air, and then effluent from their production began the silent slaughter of aquatic regions.

Appliances and other household items saw a dramatic rise in sales after the war.  In 1948, signs that automobile design was going to enter the “jet age” began. Refrigeration was turning the “icebox” into a distant memory. Land was cheap and wood was even cheaper. The titans of the Logging Industry saw advances and huge profits when the ten foot chain saw was invented. 
The Mad Men of Madison Avenue could convince people of anything. Destructive, ecosystem destroying logging, was portrayed as 'inexpensive homes for war weary citizens.' Aw.

            The poor and discriminated against, the abused and beaten, and the crazy aunt still in the cellar, were still invisible to rampaging consumers. Taxes were low as these societal ills were continually hidden under the rug as the trillion dollar toxic waste cleanup is today.  
      Everything was okay, you know, just consume a lot of products, throw litter right out the window of your car, and always trust the boss, the company, the police, your priest, and what the government tells you. Meanwhile the Beatniks                                                                                                                                                                                  
 The sheriffs' son in a small town could still get away with anything. American Liberty was subject to local censorship. Business was booming for the production of chemicals as WW2 stockpiles were spread across the land like cheap margarine. Taxes weren’t used yet for cleaning toxic waste. Car pollution wasn’t smoky enough to need pollution controls in 1948. No cars were built between 1941 to 1945, and there was a pent up demand that was filled and then television became very popular after 1952.
  The interstate highway system was quickly developed during the Eisenhower years and I saw it as a good thing. We rode the unfinished highway on our bicycles after making highways in our sandboxes. Americans were now able to go anywhere in their two ton death wagons. The Industries of the Warrior Elite continued full steam since all the weapons were used up in the world war. More weapons, more jobs. The taxpayers were footing the bill so high wages for all!(According to plan) The Russians tested the hydrogen bomb in 1952 and the cold war was on.

         By 1954 television was entering homes at a much quicker pace: from the saloon to the living room. Radios were household items and getting smaller. In 1958, the transistor radio came on the market and in five short years it seemed every young person had one stuck in their ear. Music could now be everywhere.

The tailfin era began and styling reached a disquieting zenith. In 1961 I was seven years old and poised to absorb this cultural tsunami. From the men in the world I heard about baseball.  Friends of Dad, guys at church, fathers of friends, I became initiated into the baseball tradition. Geez, look at those Yankees. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris both looked like they were going to hit over 50 home runs as the summer of 1961 proceeded. Mantle got injured, then it became Rogers quest for Babe Ruths record.  

In 4th grade I listened to my first pop radio. I was all about the big bands till then. I remember walking down Ritchie Casasantas driveway and hearing “Tie me kangaroo down, sport” We just stood in his driveway and listened to the radio. Hey we had a radio!
  ‘Richies family listens to other radio stations.” Mom and Dad probably gave each other wary glances as I suggested we listen to other stations. The modern American culture was about to enter our home. “That’s such trash, we don’t need that kind of music in our house.”   
    “My Boyfriends Back “was a song that made an impression on me. The drums were SO huge. Syncopated clapping and the heavenly singing by The Angels. There were cool instrumentals like Pipeline and Telstar. Barbara Streisand’s “People” and Ray Charles “I’m busted” were some of the earliest crossover songs. These songs were on “my stations.’ AND MY PARENTS CORNY STATION.
    Later in ‘65” Louie Armstrong’s hit, “Mame” was something everyone could love. Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schein” was both  stations also.  

        Thomas Hine’s “Populuxe” is a scholarly address of the many details of life back in that era and i recommend you read it. Is there a reason to historically recall those times? Some of us think so. I e-mailed T. Hine, telling him what a great book he’s got and how I enthusiastically support his idea for making the era special in our history. Oddly I got a response. He sounded thankful and kind and said it could help to request another printing by asking for it at places like Amazon.com.  

          When was the Populuxe Era? 1946 to 1966 is the most expansive time span and I like to use those 20 years instead of the ten years described in the dictionary. In 1967Everything changed..                                                                                                                          
        I have a populuxe display or two in the house and it’s about cars from 1947 to 1967. Die cast cars. I have black crouching jaguars that complements grandmas homemade pillows. Well, maybe they didn’t match but they were the most distinct object d’art in her house. Blue glass ashtrays, Silver of pewter candy dishes. Some crap that never wore out whatever little things I can find. Probably filled with lead but it's been a good life. 
           We saw the past fade away during the Populuxe Era. It seemed like hardly anybody had an outhouse anymore. It was a new,  modern,…...clean era. Jet Age style. There was debates about clothes dryers, should we spend 10 dollars a month on electricity instead of 8. That was the choice. Clotheslines were such a common site. Using air to dry clothes. Free air no less.  I would carry wet laundry outside. As one of the New Lazy Youth, I was too modern to help out much more than that. You know how laundry piles up.
    Imagine squeezing the water out of clothes one by one? Then dragging them outside. But back then, there was no Oprah to nail laundry oppression to the couch. Laundry smelled fresher and dried softer when hung outside, but now Americans are too good to do that anymore. It's not womens work either fellas. We insist on more stuff. Make everything cheaper regardless of quality, Americans needed more stuff and eschewed anything reminiscent of Old Europe during the Populuxe Era.  
           

                    Populuxe was the push button era. My grandmother Eva (memere) was the only person I knew who was willing and able to buy these things. Her dryer had buttons. Her boyfriend/driver’s car had the buttons. “Drivers car,” that’s funny. I was creating a deception. She wasn’t rich but how do you describe her fella? They never got married because they were strict Catholics and he was divorced, taboo. They spent every Sunday together. Anyways he had the Rambler Ambassador which was a fancy version of the Ramblers we had. Before that He had a 59 Chevy with full Dagmars and fancy chrome. She was the first to get a self propelled mower. 

                 The Populuxera is really about the postwar boom. World War 2 in case some of you are too young to remember... Burgeoning suburbia. Too many choices, too many colors, not enough carports. The houses from the most extreme fringes of populuxe design are on the verge of being appreciated.
         In the Populuxe era service was different. Americans took to the road. Other Americans learned about the tourist dollar. Or just good customers. An older friend of mine named Joe often spoke of the era. I remember as a child going to the beach and experiencing the hometown hospitality when we got our gas. Going further back in time Joe reminisces,”…check your oil, fill your gas tank wipe the mirrors, check other things, even greasing the U-joint… all that….for two fuckin’ bucks.”
           everyone looked out for the kids. Would know when they had seen someone last. There was the milkman. Fresh milk and eggs from nearby farms. What was wrong with that system?
         There were still hobos. At an abandoned railway stop we found hats with fishing hooks in them. They looked like hobo hats, so we called them that. “Look, hobo stuff!” In many neighborhoods at the end of the row of houses would often be some woods or an open area. Those who grew up during the inital birth of suburbs had plenty of places for wild play.  We had the fun of skipping rocks on actual unaltered streams before theey became storm drains. Magazines hula hoops little pedal cars Frisbee banana bikes, infinty nauseum. We had a gushing of goods from the toy manufacturers.


        As  1953 progressed, the bigger hydrogen  bomb was being tested by America and by the Soviets.  From June ’53 till testing stopped, Atomic weapons were tested in the American Desert. Did radioactive fallout  drift down on my mother as she hung the laundry outside? What was going on inside the secret America. 1953 was a great year for a new car and kept you distracted from what the CIA was doing in Guatamala. 






Meanwhile beatniks were being refused service





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