• Happy Birthday, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth!

    Let's all remember Ed Roth, the creator of Ratfink, monster Tshirts, and endless custom cars on his birthday. Born Beverly Hills, March 4, 1932.

    When I was a little fink in the early 60's I drew a couple of my own "weird-ohs" riding in wild cars and mailed them to Roth at his California shop. He wrote back with some kind words of encouragement and in typical Roth-eese "hey, ain't ya' gonna buy a T-shirt, kid?" Years later I met him and he offered up some of his own advice to a fellow toy designer: "git a good lawyer!"

    Dig this homespun video from his sons who run a cool, metal flake paint business https://rothmetalflake.com/:

  • See amazing Northwest Coast Native artwork from Canada

    We're members at Seattle's Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and visit often now that things are re-opening. During the shutdowns, the Burke has hosted many on-line talks and presentations. Here is a recent one featuring items from the collection of the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I'm always amazed at the fantastically imaginative carvings, especially the masks with moving parts like working jaws and rolling eyes. Take a rare look at these distant treasures from the past!

  • Southern culture magazine is a musical delight

    I always enjoy the special music issues of Oxford America and Volume 23 is no exception. It features special articles focusing on the musical creators from the South, with essays interviews and personal remembrances. This issue, "Up South," has profiles of artists who migrated to the northern states and so had a huge influence on popular music. In addition to learning more about old favorites like Buddy Guy and Little Feat's George Lowell, I dug the pieces introducing me to Carolyn Franklin (Aretha's sister) and R&B singer Johnny Bristol. It comes with a 20-track companion audio CD as well as Spotify play codes printed in the articles.

  • Great stories and details in new Hendrix book

    There are plenty of books about Jimi Hendrix so why did I like this new one? Rock journalists and brothers Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik  have assembled a wonderful timeline-in-a-box full of photos, artifacts, and interviews that outline the event-packed last four years of Hendrix's life and career.

    It's told directly through the voices of the people who knew and worked with him: fellow musicians, record producers, journalists, promoters, family members, and many fans, both famous and unknown. The trove of images includes performances and candid snapshots, ticket stubs, recording session logs, proof sheets, trade ads, studio blueprints—lots of cool details all along the way. (I loved the shot of Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell "jamming" in a hotel room—with a copy of MAD magazine used as a practice pad.) Even if you already know his story, you'll enjoy this Hendrix collection.

    Jimmy Hendrix: Voodoo Child [Amazon]

  • The nutty Jay Ward TV show you never saw

    I found this obscure pilot for a TV show by Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the creators of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and the very first Cap'n Crunch commercials. It's called the "The Nut House!" and it sure is nutty!! It's filled with wacky 1960's humor and satirical send ups of Broadway shows and live TV productions.

    Why wasn't this show produced? I'm guessing one reason might be the same reason Stan Freberg liked RADIO: he could paint a picture economically with just words and evocative sounds and not have to stage expensive productions. "The Nut House!" goes the other way— the final number is so, SO over the top, with huge orchestra, choir, cast of characters, feather-headressed Las Vegas showgirls, a bevy of singing tap-dancers, marching band, and pyrotechnics that they must have blown through an entire season's budget on the just the pilot!

    (Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Laugh-In's Alan Sues and trumpeter/comedian Jack "I'm Only A Bill" Sheldon in the cast!)

  • Cool book of old school car renderings

    When I went to industrial design school in the 70's, we were among the last students to learn arcane techniques of creating cool drawings of concept cars. For me, this book brings back many fragrant memories of stinky Magic Marker ink (in the little glass bottles!), FloMaster naphtha solvent, freshly-sharpened cedar Prismacolor pencils, and dusty chalk pastels. Sadly, today's students only have their inert iPads and iPencils to sniff. Nevertheless, great visuals here!

  • Painterly panels in Monet graphic novel

    I enjoyed this graphic novel telling the story of French painter Claude Monet. That this book was created by a team of a screenwriter and an artist really shows: the panels are all rendered in full color illustration style (not comic book line art) and the story line is shown/told cinematically. I especially like the appendix which shows the famous Monet paintings that were used as reference and inspiration. Here's a comic book both high- and low-brow readers will love.

  • Read Italian film director Gipi's graphic novel

    This fantastic 2020 graphic novel [Amazon] by Italian film director and artist Gipi (aka Gianni Pacinotti) interweaves multiple storylines to tell the tale of an institutionalized writer and his great grandfather's experiences in World War One. I love how the art switches back and forth between delicate line work and full tonal watercolor paintings to change timelines. The each panel is a masterful watercolor on its own and yet the sequence of images flows smoothly. Maybe it's that Gipi is also a film director which informs his storytelling style with the effective use of lighting and pacing. (Now I need to find his films.)

  • We love these artisanal treats from Japan

    My wife and I like watching Sinichi and Satoshi on their YouTube channel TabiEats. It's the next best thing to traveling to Japan with lots of great unboxing/tasting reviews, Japanese city tours and cooking tips. (See prior boingboing post ). Through them we discovered Kokoro care packages: boxes of unique, curated food items from Japan. We have plenty of local import foods stores here in Seattle (maybe you do, too) but we're enjoying these harder-to-find artisanal treats direct from Japan. Chili crisp sauce is very popular now, and we've enjoyed the Rayu Chili Oil in our latest Kokoro box. It's smokier, sophisticated, and with a subtle heat that's great on tofu. Kokoro has subscriptions and single purchase items. Great for a splurge or special gift.

  • Get your own kooky Cameo from retro-culture vulture Charles Phoenix

    If you're a fan of kitsch and Americana, you probably already love Charles Phoenix. His over-the-top "found" slide shows are always a window into the world of roadside attractions, classic cars, holiday horrors, and the wacky and wonderful. But we're not here to talk about that—No!—We're here to talk about his Cameo video greetings. Perky! Peppy! Personalized!

    I booked one for my sister and Charles did not disappoint. He raved out, revealed local recommendations from his travels across the country, and sang a spirited Happy Birthday, complete jungle animal sounds! He's a scream.

  • Three great art books that'll arrive by Christmas

    Still looking for gifts for art book-loving friends or family? Just in time for holiday gift giving (or wish-listing) here a few reviews the best art books I discovered this year.

    From the Land of the Totem Poles

    "From The Land of The Totem Poles" by Aldona Jonaitis [Amazon] is a wonderful read that is more like two books in one. One part is the story of the American Museum of Natural History as it collects artifacts from the Northwest Coastal tribes in the 19th century. Lots of tales of conquest, competition, back stabbing, and tribal rivalries—and that's just between the various personalities from the museums! It took a German immigrant to become the American Museum's trusted ambassador.

    The other part is the story of the Native Americans and a visual treasure trove of luscious color photos of carved masks, rattles, copper panel, and more from the Northwest Coast tribes. I was fascinated to see the early examples of formline design and the ingenious transforming masks. Also fascinating are the details about the clever stagecraft used by NW tribal shaman, like how they used kelp tubes secretly buried in the ground as sound pipes: voices magically came from the burning fire!

    268 pages crammed with handsome and historical photos and maps.

    The Art of Mark Ryden's Whipped Cream

    Here's another great holiday gift book idea, to give or to get: "Mark Ryden The Art of Whipped Cream" from American Ballet Theater [Amazon]. This large format art book  (232 14" x 10" pages!) is the best souvenir from the coolest ballet you never saw.

    German composer Richard Strauss's 1924 production features the story of a boy who overeats at a Viennese bakery and has fevered dreams of crazy characters, like whirling Princess Tea Flower, leaping Prince Cocoa, and dancing whipped cream sprites. Nuttier than the Nutcracker! The text explains the political allegories to the politics of pre-WWII Germany, but the dreamlike visuals are astounding and speak for themselves.

    And who better to create the over-the-top, candy-coated world of dreamy Viennese treats than fantasy artist Mark Ryden? I really enjoyed seeing the entire design process from Ryden's earliest sketches of sets and characters, to color palates and fabrics, and finally his full color paintings of the spectacle. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes photos showing the luscious sets, unusual costumes, and Ryden-y props. The book's huge 28 inch wide double-page photo spreads dramatically capture the panorama of the wild stage production, giving you a front row seat!

    Robert Williams: The Father of Exponential Imagination

    This holiday book suggestion is only for a special kind of person on your gift list. "Robert Williams: The Father of Exponential Imagination" [Amazon] is the catalog from an amazing retrospective show of "low brow" artist Robert Williams. As Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (who was Williams' boss) might say, if I have to explain it, you wouldn't understand. If you like Hieronymus Bosch, hot rods, Salvador Dali, tattoo art, Mad magazine, 1950's girlie pulps, and Juxtapoz magazine (which he founded), then Williams is your guy.

    I fondly remember Williams' wild weirdo ads for Roth's Rat Fink T-shirts in 60's car mags. My mind was blown when I saw the traveling version of this Williams retrospective at the Bellevue Art Museum in 2020. Your mind will be blown by this hard-to-handle book—it's HUGE!  450 12" x 14" pages and weighing in at 11 pounds!! Some people might also find Williams' lurid imagery and very NSFW subjects hard to handle, but for the true low-brow fan this is an unblinking look at the eye-popping drawings, paintings, and sculptures—and imagination—of Robert Williams. (I loved Williams' synopses for his paintings where he explains his thinking and inspirations in great detail: always whip-smart, funny, self-deprecating, yet unapologetically frank.)

  • Corn is a healthy vegetable snack, right…?

    People from Chicago rave about their Garrett Mix special popcorn, with a mix of half caramel corn and half cheese flavor. At first that sounded to me like mixing Cracker Jack with Cheetos—ugh. But when I tried some, I learned that the odd-sounding combination makes a highly addictive blend. Somehow the powdery cheese popcorn provides the perfect umami + buttery flavor with the sweet, candy caramel corn. Plus, the cheese corn's puffy, soft texture is a great contrast to the hard, crunchy caramel corn. I found a very similar "Chicago Mix" popcorn available locally from Cretors. Warning: Costco has GIANT sized bags—way too easy to binge! A safe approach is to get the multi-packs of smaller bags: stays fresher and provides automatic portion control.

  • Follow the Music is a BIG book on the history of the music biz

    The 1960's was a heady time for the music biz and Follow the Music: The Life And High Times Of Elektra Records In The Great Years Of American Pop Culture is a huge 441-page book—and a fantastic history of industry pioneer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jac Holzman. Sure, I loved the endless details on the famous artists on Elektra, like The Doors, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, and Jackson Browne, but just as interesting was the story of the business side of the early days record business.

    Jac Holzman started recording folk music when he was just 19 and time and again his instincts served him well as a clever record producer and businessman. I was reminded of the many Elektra LPs I have owned, from less famous folk music to the recordings of stereo sound effects and environments, which as Holzman explains, was a thrifty way to make royalty-free records. He also came up with the concept of producing sampler LPs with an assortment of Elektra artists on one LP—great promotion and low cost!

    Rather than a continuous narrative, the book is collection of interview snippets, edited and sequenced in chronological order to create a talking time line of various memories and points of view. I like how Jac Holzman's usually gets the last word.

  • Marbits for cats?

    Why should people have all the freeze-dried fun? Our two cats go CRAZY for these PureBites cat snacks made of chicken. No, I haven't tried them myself, but they have the same feel and crunchy texture as the little freeze dried marshmallows (called "marbits") in Lucky Charms cereal. I like that they have just ONE ingredient: chicken. So do our cats.

  • Masterful and Fun plein air painting demos

    My wife and I both to love to watch artist James Gurney's fantastic plein air demos. (He's the guy who did those great "Dinotopia" books!) We think he's a really talented painter and also a terrific video blogger. He chooses lots of different subjects (not just "pretty" outdoor scenes), and undertakes rather bold and brave approaches. He'll demonstrate crazy limited palates and color gamuts, but no matter the creative risk, he manages to pull it off. It's fun to watch him paint himself out of a corner! We joke: "we're watching paint dry" but he's really fun to watch. His videos have lots of creative touches in the production as well: creative audio drops of viewer comments, props and gizmos, and subtle video effects.

    image source: YouTube

  • Jimmy Messina and His Jesters' "The Dragsters"

    image source: YouTube

    Record Store Day never fails to unearth rare, sonic treasures and one of this year's offerings is a 1964 recording from a young Jim Messina (later of Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Loggins & Messina). This fun reissue LP of surf music is "full of fierce, fiery, and infectious surf rock instrumentals with just enough sounds from the strip to get your motor running!" Come for the guitar picking, stay for the sound effects of revving motors, squealing tires, and reverberated rhythms. Available as streaming, mp3's, audio CD, and best of all, pressed in cool, clear blue vinyl in the original graphic LP sleeve! (While you're there, check out the rest of the amazing Sundazed catalog–and by the way, please go support your local record store!)

  • "The Birth of Loud" by Ian S. Sport: R&R gear history book goes to 11

    I totally dug this wonderful book of the early days of rock and roll [Amazon], featuring the creators of the music and the gear. Even if you already know some of the history of Leo Fender and Les Paul, you'll enjoy this imaginative retelling of how Stratocasters, Fender amps, and Gibson Les Paul guitars came to be. It's like you're right there at Leo's backyard cook out with Paul Bigsby and Les Paul sharing—and stealing!– the latest cool guitar innovations. Sure, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix are included, but it's the lore of the early days that really comes to life, like guitar slinger Dick Dale and his wild man, loud style that fried amps and shredded speakers. Just for him, Leo birthed 'The Showman,' the first powerful "stack" amplifier with special heavy-duty JBL speaker–and instantly lost the hearing in one ear while doing it. That's LOUD!  Even non-musicians will enjoy reading this lively tale of the rock-and-roll arms race.

  • "To My Great Chagrin: The Unbelievable Story of Brother Theodore" is a fascinating look at a comic madman

    I remember a really odd guest on the Merv Griffin Show back when it was broadcast from NYC in the 60's. In the middle of the usual anodyne talk show chit chat came a most highly unusual dark and dour figure: a stout man with a Moe Howard haircut, mad flashing eyes, and permanent scowl.

    Image source: YouTube

    He'd make the wildest, non-sequitur pronouncements in a booming Germanic voice "Einstein is dead. Schopenhauer is dead… and I'm not feeling so well myself!" Many years later he turned up as frequent and agitated guest of David Letterman, who described Brother Theodore as "a noted philosopher, metaphysician, and podiatrist." Who was this wild character?

    This docu presents the life and career or Theodore Isidore Gottlieb: a Dachau survivor, chess master, actor, and comedian infamous for his dark, rambling, stream-of-consciousness monologues. Mesmerizing! Find it on Amazon Prime.

  • The longest running Japanese comedy series that you've never heard of

    Although largely unknown in the west, Otoko wa Tsurai yo (男はつらいよ, "It's tough being a man" but commonly referred to as Tora-san) was a hugely popular series of 48 (!) movies that were made in Japan from 1969 to 1995, earning a Guinness Book of Records entry as the longest-running single-actor film series. The main character is a endearingly blundering fool, who makes his meager living as an itinerate street peddler of cheap novelties. Nearly every installment finds the oblivious Tora-san dropping in unexpectedly on his family, causing chaos and hurting everyone's feelings (including his own), and always being "unlucky at love." Just as suddenly, he packs his sample case and slips away…until next time.

    There's also a Tora-san museum in Shibamata Tokyo with set recreations and Tora-san festivals with cosplay.

    image source: YouTube

    A few years ago we found an American market (DVD region 1!) box set of 4 of the Tora-san movies and loved the great slice of life look at Showa era Japan. The extra features and audio commentary was essential to understand the many cultural references, the kooky gags and slang, and the background of the character. We wanted to see more! Luckily we have Scarecrow Video nearby us in Seattle with their huge foreign film collection for rent. Many of the Japanese market DVDs had English subtitles—yea! We used an old DVD player–equipped Powerbook to play the region 2 discs.

    Good luck finding that American box-set. Last time I looked on Amazon it was over $250 from a few sellers but Netflix was offering all four excellent region 1 DVDs on their rental service.

  • Life and times of folk-blues trio

    In 1963, three musicians traveled from Minneapolis to Milwaukee for a stripped-down, one-day recording session in a church. What they laid down was a thumpin', jumpin', and jammin' acoustic country blues record that set the staid folk music community on its ear. John "Spider" Koerner played a modified 7-string guitar, Dave "Snaker" Ray picked a big-bodied 12 –string, and Tony "Little Sun" Glower blew harmonica. Hard to believe this authentic funky blues was played by three white kids from Minnesota.

    image source: YouTube

    Their raucous tunes, spirited singing, and foot-pounding rhythms were an unpretentious smash and a huge contrast to the milquetoast "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore" folkies. (Remember in the film "Animal House" when Blutarsky grabbed the annoying folk-singer's guitar and hilariously smashed it against the wall?—kinda like that but more musical and fun!)

    They reworked old country blues, field calls, rags, folk stories and did original tunes. KR&G went on to record more albums, as a trio, as duos, and solo projects, as well as appear at the famous 1964 Newport Folk Festival. This 2+ hour 1986 documentary tells KR&G's story with lots of great concert footage and interviews. (I recently rewatched the film for free via Access Video On Demand through my local library system. The DVD is also available thru Amazon.)

    "Blues, Rags, and Hollers, The Koerner, Ray & Glover Story" documentary: