30 June 2013

Ans Westra: Wellington 1976

Recently I was delighted to secure a second-hand New Zealand book I'd never seen before, in amongst the buck-a-head collection at Thorndon Antiques across from the supermarket. The photographic collection Wellington: City Alive combines the imagery of the renowned Dutch-born New Zealand photographer Ans Westra - famed for her long career including the then-controversial 'Washday at the pa' photo-essay for the Department of Education - with text from the writer and editor Noel Hilliard, who is perhaps best known for his 1960 novel Maori Girl and his later career in print journalism including a stint with the Listener from 1965 to 1970. While Wellington: City Alive contains plenty of images that show off the capital's photogenic side, there is also a strong sense of social realism at work, both in Westra's subject matter and Hilliard's writing. This is not a photo book for tourists; rather, it is a book that tries to get under the skin of what Wellington was really like to live in in the mid-70s. (Which is way before my time here, of course).

The images of Wellingtonians at work and play are a reminder of how remote the mid-70s are to New Zealand life in the 21st century. The elderly dressed much as they would have in the 1940s, but young people were in the thrall of long hair and afros, big beards and plenty of denim. Westra covers the events she's interested in - protest sit-ins; a man re-painting the artwork in front of the Purple Onion striptease club while a boy looks on, intrigued; workmen drilling up the surface of Grey St; striking Maori meatworkers picketing the Gear Meat Company head offices, with one striker politely obscuring the cover of his copy of Playboy magazine for the camera. Carmen makes an appearance in Vivian St, and the night-time streets of Courtenay Place gleam in the rain.

The striking topography of the capital is evoked in some traditional hilltop vistas, but Westra is adept at finding new angles to approach the subject, such as the striking industrial detail revealed in her southward views through the railyard jumble, or the cover photo of a reclining youth gazing out over a sunny city from Mount St in Kelburn. This view and many others are intriguing because so much of what was visible in 1976 has been altered as the capital grew its high-rise CBD. In many city street scenes it's hard for a recent Wellingtonian to establish their bearings because so much has been torn down, rebuilt and torn down again in the intervening three or four decades. There's a shot of a homeward-bound commuter pausing to grin for Westra at the Bunny St crossing outside the railway station, standing in front of a modest two-storey 1930s apartment in the spot where the 17-storey Asteron Centre now looms. And on the corner of Lambton Quay and Bowen St, pedestrians huddle against the rain outside Rene's Takeaways ('Drink Fanta Orange - the real, real taste of orange'). How great it would have been to have a takeaway downstairs when I worked in Bowen House! (But of course that iteration of Bowen House didn't turn up until 1990).

Below: a selection of Ans Westra's photos from Wellington: City Alive. I do not own the copyright of these images, and will take them down if the owner requests.

Back cover: The Parliament lawns. Splendid tie, that man. 

Perrett's Corner (Willis & Manners St)

Early morning quiet, Jervois Quay

Traditional lawn (cliff) mowing attire, Karori

Courtenay Place at night

Ranfurly Shield match at Athletic Park, 21 September 1974.
Wellington lost to Auckland, 13-26. But there was sunshine!

Motorway & railyards from Sar St, Wadestown. I can see my house.

Aro St, Sunday morning.

In Hilliard's text there's also a reminder of the long-running war between traffic planners and the city, when he writes about the Wellington Urban Motorway, which at the time the book was published had reached as far south as the Hawkestone St / Tinakori Rd exits but would not reach its conclusion at the Terrace Tunnel and Ghuznee St until 1978. Huge tracts of old Thorndon including the Bolton St Cemetery had been ripped up to make way for the new motorway, and more was to come:

Progress used to be the advancement of the human person. But in the view of those with power to shape Wellington's future, progress is the care and feeding, accommodation and facilitation of the motorway. Well over $100 million is being spent to set up the private car in hostile competition with an already heavily insolvent and constipated public transport system. This expenditure takes the form of a motorway that will speed the passage of cars to a city centre already so clogged that the public buses can scarcely move at peak hours. The assumption is that the best means of moving people into and around and out of the city is the private car. 
Most big cities these days try to keep cars out of them - or keep out as many as they can. In Wellington the thinking is that if you build a huge motorway - a progressive thing to do even if it takes as much as a quarter of your prime ground space to do it - everything else will just happen. More room for cars, less room for people? [...] 
Under the original grandiose plan the motorway would have disgorged its hordes into the thriving metropolises of Hataitai and Kilbirnie. What were they to do when they got there? One dared hope they might do the only logical thing and drive right on into Cook Strait. But even this hope was dashed. The scheme was modified, and modified again; and then, with a sudden flash of brilliant insight such as comes to the very great, the decision was made to abandon the project at Ghuznee Street - the very heart of the city. In the downtown area between the railway station and Courtenay Place it's already quicker to walk than to go by bus, taxi, or car. 
The biggest sufferers so far have been the historically rich area of Thorndon and one of the most pleasant parts of the inner city, the Bolton Street cemetery. So attuned are planners and engineers to the beat of the internal combustion engine, so intoxicated by the fumes, so intent on building a motorway the mere mention of which will bring car and petrol and tyre salesmen cheering to their feet, that they are desensitised to every other consideration.

It is impossible to believe that future generations will find anything good to say about this hugely boorish car-sewer.

I suppose in a way it's a small mercy that the destruction caused by building the motorway in the 1970s only went as far as Ghuznee St, but as recent events have shown, engineers will always try to get their way in the end. After the bleak, Te Aro-splitting inner-city bypass and the new Karo Drive, NZTA currently want to link the new Buckle St trench with the Mt Victoria tunnel by means of a massive graffiti-magnet flyover, thereby despoiling the entire neighbourhood around the iconic Basin Reserve test cricket ground. And if they get their way at the Basin, the next step is to rip up part of the Town Belt on the other side of the tunnel to double the width of Ruahine St. Perhaps if the huge changes to the capital since Wellington: City Alive are anything to go by, present-day Wellingtonians shouldn't expect to recognise much of their city if they live to see 2050.

28 June 2013

The history of film aspect ratios

John Hess provides an 18-minute history lesson on the shape of modern film and TV projection, explaining the shape of what we see and how it has varied so widely since the first arbitrary decision of William Kennedy Dickson in the Edison Laboratory back in 1889. Includes the 1932 Academy Ratio, Paramount Pictures' VistaVision from 1954 (in which The Ten Commandments was filmed), and the 16:9 aspect ratio devised by Kerns H. Powers in the 1980s, which now governs the screen size of all HDTV sets.

The Changing Shape of Cinema: The History of Aspect Ratio from FilmmakerIQ.com on Vimeo.

See also:
Film: Dickson Greeting, c.1891
Film: Fred Ott's Sneeze, 1894
Film: Patton (George C. Scott's opening speech), 1970

26 June 2013

Specialists in all styles

This track by the Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab is an ideal entry point for those unfamiliar with its stirring style of Afro-Cuban crossover, which we in English-speaking lands tend to refer to as 'world music'. The term is about as accurate as the North American baseball competition being called the World Series, but who cares. This track, El Son te Llama, comes from the 2002 album Specialist In All Styles, released on the World Circuit label, and was the first of two album releases on World Circuit following a long band hiatus from 1987 to 2001. The band had a lengthy career in the 1970s and 80s, but reformed in 2001 after the huge burst of interest in world music following the success of the Buena Vista Social Club and the Senegalese superstar and Orchestra Baobab member (and current Minister of Tourism and Culture for Senegal) Youssou N'Dour. The clip below was made by a Mexican fan of the band.

In this 2008 interview band member Barthélemy Attisso discusses his self-taught method of becoming a professional musician:
What happened was, when I decided to devote myself to learning the guitar, I quit my day job and used my last paycheck to buy a guitar and an instruction book. I went back home and devoted myself to learning the guitar using this book. I'd quit teaching by that point.

From the book I learned the chords and a few of the notes. Then, what I started to do was record music on the radio-- this was all local musicians and orchestras. And I would play it over and over again, because at that point what I was really interested in was accompaniment. So I would listen to the music from the radio and accompany the singer on the recording.

Once I had sort of gotten a handle on playing with the recordings, I would go to some of the local nightclubs and actually listen at the door, and what I was really listening for was how [the guitarists] were accompanying the singers. So I would hang out outside and listen, and then I would go home and practice and see if I could re-create what I had heard. 
There were a lot of nightclubs at that time. There was the Star, which was one of the biggest, the Palladium, the Calypso. I went to all of these, and I would listen to the guitar, and how it accompanied the singer. And I really learned how play behind a singer the way it was supposed to be done.
Attisso still mixes his Orchestra duties and touring with his law practice work in Lomé, the Togolese capital.

23 June 2013

Repairing the Kaitaki

The Interislander ferry Kaitaki slipped its moorings during the big storm in Wellington the other night and the vessel and crew ended up having to spend the night anchored in the harbour to wait out the storm. The next step was for divers to assess the damage. The new mooring is right in front of my apartment, so I had a good view this afternoon at four o'clock as a large crane lifted off a huge twisted piece of metal - hopefully a hatch or internal bulkhead rather than the bow freight doors or a piece of the hull! (Click photos to enlarge).

Creed Bratton

This 1969 performance by pop group The Grass Roots of their single 'Bella Linda' - a re-write of an Italian pop song - features an opening shot of group member Creed Bratton. He was with The Grass Roots from 1967 to 1969, but it didn't end amicably:

Creed Bratton became frustrated by [record company] Dunhill's refusal to allow the band to write its own songs and play the instruments on its records (although the members did play alone at concerts). After a disastrous appearance at the Fillmore West in April 1969, a "slightly inebriated" Bratton was asked to leave the band.

Bratton later achieved fame playing a character also called Creed Bratton on the US version of The Office. There's a nice interview covering his career and his new album on Popdose.

22 June 2013

'Why would I need a TV licence for a TV I stole?'

“Why would I need a TV licence for a TV I stole? Nobody knows I’ve got it.”
(Kilmarnock, Scotland)

“I have lost weight and had to buy new clothes. I could not afford a licence.” 

“I had not paid as I received a lethal injection.” 
(Location unknown)

“Apparently my dog, which is a corgi, was related to the Queen’s dog so I didn’t think I needed a TV licence.” 

“I don’t want to pay for a licence for a full year. Knowing my luck I’ll be dead in six months and won’t get value for money.” 

“I could not pay for my TV licence because the Olympic torch was coming down my road and I could not get to the shop as the road was too busy.” 

“I only use my TV as a lamp. If you switch it on it gives a good glow which allows me to read my book.” (Dundee)

“Only my three-year-old son watches the TV. Can you take it out of the family allowance I receive for him? He watches it so he should pay.” 

- Kunal Dutta, 'I only use my TV as a lamp... and other excuses for not paying your licence fee', Independent, 18 June 2013.

The licence fee, which pays for the BBC, is currently £145.50 for colour sets and £49 for black & white.

18 June 2013

Channelling every sitcom dad ever

Bob Jones, in an typically colourful opinion piece about mayoral competitions around New Zealand, offers his thoughts on Dunedin's jaw-droppingly expensive covered stadium and its roster of visiting musical acts.

A contentious issue is the debt burden from building New Zealand's only roof-covered stadium. It was a bold move although it's pointless carrying on about it now. 
Dunedin is our driest city, but the theory was that such an arena would attract so-called concerts by idiot bands with silly names, plus shrieking females prancing about in their underwear, thus drawing vast numbers of visitors. 
That's eventuated although whether there's much value in despoiling that lovely city with visiting halfwits wanting to watch factory hands and madwomen bawling into microphones, this racket purportedly music, is highly questionable.

- Bob Jones, NZ Herald, 18 June 2013

Bob Jones is 74. He would also like you to get off his lawn.  The total city debt for Dunedin, thanks in large part to the stadium, was $586m in 2012.

17 June 2013

The oil in the wheels of Westminster

Last night at the Cuba Lighthouse I was fortunate to see a film version of the National Theatre's production of James Graham's play This House, about the turbulent politics in Britain from 1974 to 1979. During this time the Labour Party ejected Ted Heath's Conservative government but then struggled to maintain a majority in the House due to the shifting allegiances of minor parties and rebellious backbenchers. The four and a half years of the Wilson / Callaghan government saw economic crises, labour unrest, and rising acrimony in Westminster, and the play reflects this by focusing on those with arguably the hardest job in Parliament: the party whips, who cajole and corral allies into voting with the Government in whatever way they can. It's a comedy, certainly, but it also offers a strong dramatic portrayal of a hugely tense and frustratingly chaotic environment.

What's striking in the play is that despite the bitter partisan rivalries, many of the participants seem to feel a genuine sense of camaraderie for each other. This is particularly evident as the huge impact of mortality amongst Labour ranks in particular during the years the play covers. Labour lost 17 members out of around 300 during the term, which is huge when you think about it, and doubly significant because due to bad blood and accusations of Labour cheating, the Conservative opposition had withdrawn the pairing system that allowed the votes of sick and absent members to be counted. (This isn't a problem here in New Zealand since under Standing Order 140, MPs no longer have to be physically present to cast their vote).

This spirit of camaraderie, the lack of a partisan political preference evident in the script (all sides seem to be treated relatively fairly) and the strong focus on comedy interspersed with the politicking, allows Graham's play a sense of kinship with the legendary world of Yes, Minister, which depicted the world of Whitehall and Westminster with such wit and accuracy that many joked it was more of a documentary than a comedy. It's also closer to the spirit of the original than the current stage version of Yes, Minister, which is entertaining but suffers somewhat from a bleaker outlook than the wry, gently chiding tone of the original.

Part of the fun of This House is seeing the ensemble cast, many of whom play a multitude of roles. It was grand to see Charles Edwards playing the Tory Deputy Whip - he was tremendously Palinesque as Senor Benedick in last year's RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing. But my favourite was probably Matthew Pidgeon. His turn as Norman St John-Stevas, whom I've mentioned before (he was said to have 'boundless immodesty redeemed by self-mocking wit') portrayed the member for Chelmsford (my old manor) as a strutting peacock in a traditional mid-70s gold buttoned navy blazer. And there's his brief but hilarious cameo as the bouffant-laden Michael Heseltine, who in 1976 famously menaced his rivals with the ceremonial mace on the floor of the Commons 'during a heated debate on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill'. (He was also rumoured to be a damn fine shot too).

As befits a playwright who wasn't actually born when the events in question took place, a few minor aspects of the play do feel a little like caricatures - but then so were many aspects of Yes, Minister at the time. For one, the excellent songs played by the live band at the back of the stage - two Bowies and one Sex Pistols - may evoke the era perfectly to us now, but at the time they would hardly have been relevant to many if any of the MPs. (And both of the Bowie tracks, Rock 'n Roll Suicide and Five Years, were actually from 1971, but who's counting).

The Wellington screening may have been a month after the live screening direct from the South Bank across the world to dozens of cinemas, but it was still a huge treat to see. I'll definitely be in line for future performances, and I can't wait for the Royal Shakespeare Company's offerings too. If only we could watch them live too!

See also:

Blog: Leonardo Live, 24 February 2012
Blog: Stratford-upon-Avon, 24 February 2010
Theatre: Good Kate, he is no gentleman, 27 February 2009

16 June 2013

A cure for scurvy

Over time people noticed that sailors with scurvy tended to recover when they got to a port and received fresh foods, but nobody could agree what it was about those foods that helped them. Some thought it wasn't the foods at all, but just a change of air. In any case, it wasn't possible to keep foods fresh for weeks on long voyages, so simply identifying efficacious vegetables and the like was slightly pointless. What was needed was some kind of distilled essence - an antiscorbutic, as the medical men termed it - that would be effective against scurvy but portable too.

In the 1760s, a Scottish doctor named William Stark, evidently encouraged by Benjamin Franklin, conducted a series of patently foolhardy experiments in which he tried to identify the active agent by, somewhat bizarrely, depriving himself of it. For weeks he lived on only the most basic of foods - bread and water chiefly - to see what would happen. What happened was that in just over six months he killed himself, from scurvy, without coming to any helpful conclusions at all. In roughly the same period, James Lind, a naval surgeon, conducted a more scientifically rigorous (and personally less risky) experiment by finding twelve sailors who had scurvy already, dividing them into pairs, and giving each pair a different putative elixir - vinegar to one, garlic and mustard to another, oranges and lemons to a third, and so on. Five of the groups showed no improvement, but the pair given oranges and lemons made a swift and total recovery. Amazingly, Lind decided to ignore the significance of the result and doggedly stuck with his personal belief that scurvy was caused by incompletely digested food building up toxins within the body.

It fell to the great Captain James Cook to get matters on to the right course. On his circumnavigation of the globe in 1768-71, Captain Cook packed a range of antiscorbutics to experiment on, including thirty gallons of carrot marmalade and a hundred pounds of sauerkraut for every crew member. Not one person died from scurvy on his voyage [...]

The British navy itself was not so quick, alas. In the face of all the evidence, it prevaricated for another generation before finally providing citrus juice to sailors as a matter of routine. (The Naval Board used lime juice rather than lemon juice because it was cheaper, which is why British sailors became known as limeys. Lime juice wasn't nearly as effective as lemon juice).

- Bill Bryson, At Home: A short history of private life, London, 2010, p.179-181.

See also:

11 June 2013

'The steam over the frog pond is merely fog'

The intention of fluoridation was to protect aluminium and fertiliser industries from law suits over pollution from their plants.

The danger of fluoride was kept from the public when fluoride was used to develop the atom bomb in the Manhattan Project. Check out the indisputable, verifiable evidence from such sites as fluoridealert.org and associated links. There is no excuse not to.

Otherwise go back to sleep. All is well. The steam over the frog pond is merely fog.

- Anti-fluoridation activist Owen Carson, letter to the Southland Times, 11 June 2013 (excerpt)

See also:
NewsThe dying art of conversation in Northland, Stuff, 6 June 2013
News: 'I hate onions with a furious passion', Waitaki Herald, 30 November 2012
Blog: Hold the front page!, 20 May 2012

10 June 2013

Thatcher in office

[Margaret] Thatcher arrived in office in May 1979 more clearly defined by what she wouldn’t do than by what she would. She was the alternative to two approaches to politics that had both run out of road. One was consensus: at various points during the traumas of the 1970s it was mooted that only a national government of all the parties and all the talents could save the country (the octogenarian Harold Macmillan apparently spent much of the decade waiting for the call to lead such an administration, which goes to show what an unrealistic idea it was). Thatcher’s solid parliamentary majority of 43 put a stop to all such talk, at least for the time being. The other was confrontation: the Winter of Discontent had tested to destruction the idea that a managed wage policy could produce anything other than permanent antagonism between the government and the union movement, as each looked to see how far it could push the other. Thatcher’s alternative to both consensus and confrontation is conventionally understood to have been monetarism. A Thatcher government would withdraw from the industrial battlefield and focus its attention on tightening the money supply in order to attack the primary cause of inflation. Wage policy would be a matter for individual employers to determine, with the state’s role limited to enforcing the rule of law (beefed up where necessary) in any confrontations that might ensue. The government would not seek industrial agreement but neither would it attempt to impose its will by fiat. It would take a step back to create the monetary framework within which sustainable economic growth could be achieved without constant derailment by pressure-group politics and crisis management. The conventional understanding is, however, wrong. It is true that Thatcher was determined not to have a wage policy and she stuck to that. It is also true that she had an initial go at monetarism. But she didn’t stick to that. It turned out that her alternative to both confrontation and consensus was simply another sort of crisis management: she made it up as she went along.

Thatcher’s personal attachment to monetarism was never very steady. She was no economist: as one of her advisers put it, she was ‘good on finance … not good on economics’. She had read the high priest of monetarism, Milton Friedman (she and members of her shadow cabinet had met with him often), and she knew she wanted the same things he wanted: sound money, an end to stagflation, limits on government profligacy. But he was far from sure that she understood his prescription for getting there. There was one thing she liked even less than high inflation and that was high interest rates. They unnerved her because she felt she had direct experience of their effect on small businesses and ordinary families, especially those with mortgages. Her government’s first foray into controlling the money supply included punitively high interest rates, which made her uncomfortable. They also made Friedman uncomfortable because he thought this was the wrong way to tackle the problem: in his universe it was doing things back to front to use interest rates to control the money supply rather than acknowledging that the rate of interest simply reflects the supply of and demand for money. Friedman wanted the Bank of England to print less of the stuff and let things take their course from there. But Thatcher did not have the time or the political patience to let things take their course. Her tough monetary stance had had the unintended side-effect of boosting the value of sterling, so making it much harder for British industry to export. Within a year of coming to Downing Street her government was presiding over rapidly rising unemployment, stubbornly high inflation, an expanding money supply, sky-high interest rates and falling exports. It was time to try something else.

This is what she did in the autumn of 1980. Just as she was making her famous ‘The lady’s not for turning’ speech to the party conference, the lady turned. She wanted lower interest rates. She also wanted a more competitive currency. Her government, under the direction of her chancellor, Geoffrey Howe, returned to traditional methods of exchange rate management through adjustments to interest rates and fiscal policy, hoping to patch together a short-term fix to get her over the worst. At the same time, she didn’t want to signal any weakening of resolve. She turned her personal attention to getting the spending of government departments under control. This was much more her style.

- David Runciman, London Review of Books, 6 June 2013, reviews Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography. Vol.1: Not For Turning, by Charles Moore.

See also:
Blog: 'This Monty Python, is he one of us?', 8 October 2010

09 June 2013

Insanity laughs under pressure

Freddie Mercury and David Bowie's performance of 'Under Pressure', with the music stripped away electronically is an intriguing glimpse at two rival vocalists at the top of their game. The original was released as a single in 1981 and appeared on Queen's 1982 album Hot Space, and numerous Bowie compilations. As a single it topped the charts in the UK, the Netherlands and Argentina - the latter during the Falklands conflict, to the consternation of General Galtieri.

Nicholas Pegg in The Complete David Bowie (2000) thinks that the battle of wills and voices between Mercury and Bowie seesaws back and forth through 'Under Pressure', lending the speedily thrown-together track a rare magic:

Throughout, the pendulum repeatedly swings between Bowie's preening art-rock and Queen's pumped-up glam. This is the track's strength: it sounds like both a duet and a duel. "To have his ego mixed with ours was a very volatile mixture," said Brian May later, recalling that Bowie was "very aloof" during the session; "It made for a very hot time in the studio." An interesting qualification of that memory is provided by Bowie's particular friend in the group, Roger Taylor, who said in 1999 that "We'd never actually collaborated with anybody before, so certain egos were slightly bruised along the way."

[Via Reddit]

06 June 2013

The dying art of conversation in Northland

A 19-year-old convict on home detention is serving the final month of his sentence in prison because he found home life too boring.

In an interview with Marcus Lush on RadioLive this morning, Whangarei Senior Constable Paul Nicholas told of how the Whangarei teen - 10 months into an 11-month sentence of home detention - called police when it finally came to be too much.

Begging to be allowed to spend the rest of his sentence in prison, he threatened to remove his electronic monitoring bracelet if police didn't oblige.

Nicholas told Lush if the man had removed his ankle bracelet, police would have been forced to arrest him anyway for breach of his conditions.

He said it was an "odd" situation.

"It's the first time I've ever come across it... Perhaps he should have brought a PS3," he told Lush [...]

The teen is now spending the next month at the Ngawha Prison in Northland.

- 'Prison more interesting than home', Stuff.co.nz, 6 June 2013

See also:
NewsCutting out the middle man, 9 April 2010
News: Jailers & derailleurs, 28 May 2009

04 June 2013

The Beatles logo

Ringo records 'She Loves You', 1 July 1963 (via TheBeatles.com)
Backstage in Boston, two hours before the gig, Paul McCartney is doing what he does best - reliving the glory days. It is August 2009. He has just soundchecked at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, where, in front of an audience of eighty, he played songs he remembered from the Cavern Club and Abbey Road. 'And this is a new one,' he announced, as he began singing 'Yesterday' [...]

McCartney said he had always been fascinated by the appearance of things. A few weeks after his Boston show, his old band would make their first appearance in a video game, The Beatles: Rockband, which involves playing along to Beatles songs on plastic instruments and scoring points for how well you can strum with George or keep pace with Ringo. This game was being packaged with huge posters showing the band around the time of A Hard Day's Night. The font used to display the band's name looks like the one the band used at the time: thick black letters, small spiky serifs, the large boastful B at the start, that long T that extends below the baseline of the other capitals.

This was the logo-type that Ringo pounded behind on his bass drum skin when they played Shea Stadium in August 1965, the one that came up for auction at Sotheby's in August 1989, the logo that attached itself to most of the repackaging and merchandising after their split. The video game designers have adapted it slightly for the drumkit that comes with their game: the B is taller, the counter space in the B and the A is larger, and the bottom curl on the S has lost its serif and instead snakes devilishly towards a fine point.

'It wasn't a typeface,' McCartney says. 'I think I drew it when I was at school. I used to sit around endlessly with notebooks, drawing Elvis, drawing guitars, drawing logos, drawing my signature. At that sort of time we were starting the Beatles and I think in my drawings I hit upon the idea of having the T long. It's not going to do me any good to really claim that, but it's quite possible'. Others have also claimed credit - Ivor Arbiter, the London drum shop owner who claims to have designed it for £5, and sign painter Eddie Stokes who worked for Arbiter painting drum skins in his lunch hour. Whoever was responsible, it seems likely that the main subconscious influence on the look of the letters came from Goudy Old Style - which would place the nameplate of the most famous English pop group of all time firmly in the heritage of early twentieth-century America.

- Simon Garfield, Just My Type: a book about fonts, London, 2010, p.269-272 (links & pic added) 

See also:
Music: Jarvis Cocker reviews The John Lennon Letters, 10 October 2012
MusicPaul McCartney in Hyde Park, 4 July 2010
Movies: Review - Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy, 10 February 2010

01 June 2013

The 'legendarily nasty' CBGB toilets

The breakout star of “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” the new fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is neither the maverick designer Vivienne Westwood nor modern punks like Gareth Pugh and the sisters of Rodarte, but a toilet. At the show’s entrance, visitors are immediately confronted with a re-creation of a filthy restroom of CBGB, the Bowery club that was one of the birthplaces of punk, as it would have appeared in the mid-1970s — drawing reactions, at least among those who remember the original facilities, ranging from amazement to ire. There are three urinals, two toilets with the seats up, two sinks, a bare light bulb, a brick wall, countless used cigarette butts and a whole lot of graffiti, mostly the names of the bands that performed at the club.Patti Smith once said “all the action happened in the toilets,” according to Andrew Bolton, the curator of the exhibition, and it is a place where history is literally written on the walls.

The re-creation of the graffiti is based on images taken in the 1970s by the photographer David Godlis, who documented the New York rock and punk scenes. Several band names indicate that this is how the bathrooms would have looked shortly after 1976, when Dead Boys, a punk band managed by CBGB’s owner Hilly Kristal, first played at the club.

Debbie Harry said the walls resonated with the voices of CBGB. “The messages from all of them were greetings and calls to be recognized by anyone who stepped into the zone of clandestine fulfillment that existed on the Bowery and especially at CB’s during the punk years,” she wrote by e-mail. “The tradition of writing on bathroom walls wasn’t particular to those toilets, but the ferocity was definitely related to the club, the music and all the people who went there.”

Visitors have wondered about the lack of privacy, but Jimmy Webb, the manager at Trash and Vaudeville, recently recalled that it was common to see both genders using the toilets for their intended purposes and for illicit ones. “There literally were no barriers, so anything and everything went, and I don’t mean that in a negative way,” he said. “You would see the most beautiful people in there, and there wasn’t much difference from Studio 54, except for the culture.”

David Byrne described the toilets as “legendarily nasty.”

Fran Lebowitz paid a visit to the restroom “for less than a minute,” she said in an interview this month. “By the way, there wasn’t a huge difference between the cleanliness of the bathroom and the rest of the place.”

- Eric Wilson, 'A Necessary Stop', New York Times, 29 May 2013