This week we begin the week with an artistic experiment in mimicry. Today’s image started out as a photograph taken from the “L” platform at Cermak/Chinatown on the Red Line. You see the entrance to Chinatown, at the intersection of Cermak Road and S. Wentworth Avenue. I wanted to try to give the picture sort of the look of a vintage postcard, and that took a lot of playing with contrast, saturation, tint, and color balance, and then quite a bit of digital painting to give it the look of a colorized image from a century earlier. I decided not to put in fake tears or weathering on the image. Seemed a bit pointless.
I was very happy with the way the final piece turned out. Every Monday in January we will present another image inspired by a scene from our recent trip to Chicago, but each one will be in a drastically different artistic style.
Meanwhile, over on The AIR, we debut our slightly-remodeled schedule The Monday Marathon has shrunk from 24 hours to 8. It still kicks off at 7 AM, every Monday, and it still showcases one of our popular music programs, but now it wraps up at 3 PM, to make way for two weekly marathon presentations of the best of two of our regular shows. At 3 PM you can settle in for eight hours of great New Wave music with Sydney’s Big Electric Cat. Then at 11 PM you can spend you overnights with eight hours of the best Progressive Rock of the last half-century on Prognosis. Today’s Monday Maraston features Nigel Pye with Psychedelic Shack.
Every day this week we will unveil the new programming schedule for that day on The AIR, right here in PopCult, and if all goes according to plan, we should have new episodes of ALL of our music shows this week.
You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on this embedded radio player…
This edition of the anthology variety show was hosted by Adam West…in costume as Batman. In addition to Mr. West’s dulcet tone crooning “The Orange Colored Sky” and “The Summer Wind,” we are also treated to dynamic vocal performances by Ray Charles and The Rayettes, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and none other than Joey Heatherton!
We also get a pre-hippie George Carlin doing a routine about the American Indian, and novelty acts include a ventriloquist, a high-pole performer, and a slapstick troupe of little people.
The Hollywood Palace was an hour-long variety show from ABC from 1964 to 1970. It was named after its host venue, the one-time Hollwood Palace theater (now known as Avalon Hollywood). On the first season, the “billboard girl,” who would change out the placques with the performer’s name was a then-unknown Racqel Welch.
The show itself unintentionally became a bit of a train-wreck clash between established Hollywood, and the 1960s rock generation. The Rolling Stones made their US television debut on The Hollywood Palace, and were mercilessly mocked by that episode’s host, Dean Martin. Throughout the series, a mix of established stars like Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Louis Armstrong and Ginger Rogers mixed with then-cutting-edge comedians like Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, Jackie Mason and Shelly Berman, and then-daring rock performers like Janis Joplin, The Hollies, The Cyrkle and Marvin Gaye.
You gotta love a show that lists Martha Raye, Ravi Shankar, The Muppets and Tiny Tim among its roster of guest stars.
Anyway, enjoy this taste of 53-year-old pop culture insanity.
This week we go back to August, 2012 for a special episode of the show that, in reality, takes us all the way back to December, 1989. At the time I called it “my most self-indulgent episode of Radio Free Charleston.” “Wild Adventure Shirt” broke our usual format and used a skit to set up vintage footage of a 1989 concert at the legendary and defunct Charleston Playhouse by the band Clownhole.
Clownhole was a punk trio consisting of drummer Randy Brown, bassist Chris (Flair) Canfield, and Defectors veteran John (Sham Voodoo) Estep. This concert was held during the Christmas season in 1989 and fell into my lap when Randy got in touch with me and put a copy of it in my hands.
This was pure nostalgic glee for me. The Charleston Playhouse, which I’ve written about here in PopCult almost since day one, was a very important place in my life. I met many lifelong friends there and even met the love of my life, “Mrs. PopCulteer,” Melanie Larch, about two weeks after this concert took place.
This episode of the show was a blast, and was made even more fun by the silly improvised host segments featuring me, Mel and my imaginary daughter, Kitty Killton. You can read more about this episode at the original production notes HERE.
As a bonus, the night before this episode went live, I posted a NSFW preview using footage that we left out of this show. You can see Johnny Mac and Sham Voodoo hamming it up on stage below.
The truncated week combined with a sudden influx of interruptions has left your PopCulteer a bit flummoxed this week. As I have been known to do in the past, when faced with adversity and chaos, I elected to punt.
The essay originally scheduled for today will be postponed until next week so that it can be re-written, thought-out a bit better and extensively proofread before seeing print. In its place today I will run a photo essay of random images from the last couple of months of 2018. Many of these are leftover from the early-December trip to Chicago, but others are local and date back to November, when a lot of cool stuff happened while I was compiling the Proust-length 2018 PopCult Gift Guide.
Among the Chicago images you’ll find a few from The Green Mill, the legendary nightclub where your PopCulteer and his wife spent an evening enjoying the sounds of Alan Gresik’s Swing Shift Orchestra. I was so impressed by this genuine Big Band Swing music that I included a tune from that night in the latest video episode of Radio Free Charleston, which debuted last Sunday night and you should go watch RIGHT HERE if you haven’t already. This latest installment of our video show also includes music from Brooke Brown and The Velvet Brothers, and even more of our trademark mind-hurting weirdness.
Each photo will have a caption, and chances are that this week’s PopCulteer will be filled with typos…moreso than usual…because I’m cranking it out in a hurry. The lead image of this post is a Chicago nightscape, as seen from our hotel window.
Hopefully this photo essay will have something for you to enjoy, be it Batman, wrestling, toy news, travel photos or whatever. It’ll help us get this year off to a random and disorganized start!
In December, 2018, your PopCulteer and his wife, Mel Larch, visited The Willis Tower in Chicago, one of the tallest buildings in the world, and rather than ascend to the famous SkyDeck, we immediately went to the second-sub-basement for the arcade near the gift shop. There we beheld two MOLD-A-RAMA machines. This video captures that experience.
MOLD-A-RAMA machines are huge beasts of post-war engineering, giant vending machines that make and dispense a cool little injection-molded plastic toy while you wait. The machine was introduced in 1962, but really took off at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, and soon spread across the country, thrilling kids with its distinctive smell of freshly-molded waxy plastic. Invented by Tike Miller, this cool novelty inspired the cult-television show, Wonderfalls, and created lasting memories for hundreds of thousands of kids.
There are still over a hundred machines operating in eight states, and Chicago is a hotbed of MOLD-A-RAMA activity because the company than currently owns the rights to the machines is based there. A separate company operates the same machines as MOLD-A-MATIC, and those are primarily found in the South.
The engineering that goes into these machines is amazing. The vat that holds the plastic is heated. The molds are refrigerated. There are hundreds of moving parts, and the temperature of every piece has to be perfect, plus the molds have to fit together tightly. Hot plastic is injected into the molds, where it solidifies instantly. The remaining hot plastic inside is then blown out (which also cools the insides a bit). Then, once the mold halves part, a little knife slices the toy loose from the nozzles, and slides it into the retrieval basket.
This is the kind of engineering that got us to the moon.
I was inspired to seek out these machines after Tom Wheeler sent me a video link to a story about them, and through that I discovered that MOLD-A-RAMA has machines all over Chicago, a city that PopCult readers know I like to visit regularly.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are a lot of great MOLD-A-RAMA videos on YouTube, particularly by Carpetbagger, who has been covering MOLD-A-RAMA much longer than we have, as well as tons of other cool raodside attractions..
This visit documents our baby steps, but late in 2019 the plan is to return and record a full-fledged video safari with as many as two-dozen MOLD-A-RAMA machines captured in action. The video above shows our first two MOLD-A-RAMA machine sightings. I expect we’ll have many more. You can visit the official MOLD-A-RAMA website to get an idea of where we may be headed next. And now, we’ll give you a few bonus photos…
It’s an odd mix of pop culture topics, and I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by our most-read story, because to be honest, I didn’t think that it would be quite the powerhouse it turned out to be. I think the main reason that this post was our most-read has a lot to do with the fact that nobody else seems to have covered this story on the internet, at least not without linking to my post.
Here are the top-six stories in PopCult for 2018:
1) Monster High Closed
Mattel’s strange decision to abandon what recently been a two-billion dollar a year brand continues to mystify industry observers and die-hard collectors of Monster High. As the year ended, it was clear that Monster High was done, at least for now. You can read the original story HERE, and a follow-up HERE. What was strange about this story was that, while it did initially garner a lot of hits, around the time of the San Diego Comic Con, the number of people reading it daily almost tripled, and stayed that high through today. It remains in the top-three or five PopCult posts read every day.
The only product available in Walmart or Target was leftover items that shipped early in the year. K Mart stores (those that are still open) had some Monster High dolls in stock, but those were items that initially shipped to other retailers in 2017.
As the year progressed, Mattel’s strategy seemed to be to discontinue any fashion doll line that might compete against their star brand, Barbie. Their CEO made a remark in one interview that fashion doll trends today, aside from Barbie, only had a shelf-life of two or three years, so their plan was to pull the plug early and move on to what they hoped would be the next big thing. It seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Mattel has seemingly shut down lines that still have a lot of life left in them.
Mattel wound up pulling the plug on their Enchantimals line even sooner than expected, barely hitting the nine-month mark at retail with that concept.
However, Barbie sales were up 11 %, so perhaps in the short term, Mattel’s plan was working. It’s just a shame that Barbie’s resurgence seems to have been built on the corpses of Monster High, DC Superhero Girls, WWE Fashion dolls and Ever After High.
It’s still possible for Monster High to be revived, but with lines like Super Monsters and Vampirina eating up market share, it may be to late for a return from the dead.
2) The John K. Story
John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy and Ripping Friends was accused in print of engaging in unacceptable and irredeemable behavior. There are no reasons to doubt any of these accusations, and I wrote about them HERE.
The only update to this is that Kricfalusi issued a public statement in May, that only made things worse. The first page of his statement read like a reasoned, if tepid apology, and had he stopped there, may well have been the best that he could possibly have offered in the way of a public apology.
Unfortunately, his statement continued for an additional ten pages that showed off the worst of his delusional and narcissitic personality. It pretty much confirmed that, not only was every accusation about him true, but that he had yet to learn anything from the experience or change in any meaningful way.
3) The Marx Toy Museum
The Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville closed in 2016, which you can read about HERE. In 2017 the museum re-opened to allow American Pickers to come in and visit and buy some classic Marx Toys from the museum’s founder, Francis Turner. You can read about that visit HERE, and see a couple of videos about their encounter with Big Loo HERE.
The episode of American Pickers featuring the Marx Toy Museum originally aired in November, 2017, but every time this episode gets repeated, thousands of people flock to Google and find their way to PopCult to read more about it.
For now the museum is still closed, but it usually re-opens on a limited basis during the annual Marx Toy Convention, which is held nearby in Wheeling at The Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. We expect to pop in for a quick visit this June, and you can see some of last year’s convention coverage HERE.
Eleven-and-a-half months ago PopCult lost a friend, Rhonda Baffes, the proprietor of the Bizarre TV Roku Channel. Rhonda succumbed after a long battle with cancer, and her channel, which she’d programmed to run on auto-pilot, kept going for several months following her death.
5) Captain Marvel vs. Racism
Last summer, following DC Comics’ decision to cancel a deluxe hardback collection of the first long-form serialized comic book story, “Captain Marvel vs. The Monster Socieity of Evil,” I managed to procure a copy from public domain comics re-publisher, Gwandanaland Comics, and reviewed it HERE. My conclusion was that, due to the overwhelmingly racist elements in parts of the story, it was a wise move by DC not to put this out in advance of their big “Shazam” movie.
Sadly, after I discovered Gwandanland and started buying up their collections of classic Captain Marvel stories, it was discovered that those stories may not be in the public domain after all, and they discontinued their Marvel Family series. They remain a wonderful source for reprints of great Golden Age comics, just with a little less of the stuff I really, really like.
Marty Abrams’ MEGO returned to mass-market retail after more than thirty years in limbo, and you can read our coverage of that return HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. It was a pretty big deal in the action figure collecting world, and fans are waiting for the arrival of the fourth wave of figures, currently expected sometime around March.
There were other big stories in PopCult in 2018, the saga of The Bakery, the end and fizzzly resurrection of Toys R Us and lots of your PopCulteer’s travel adventures. We’ll take a look at some of those tales of pop culture next week.
Today you can listen to The Swing Shift all day long on our sister internet station, The AIR. Tune in at The Website, or listen right here on this embedded radio-type player…
I’ve made no secret of my love of Swing Music. Each week I bring you a new hour of The Swing Shift, in addition to the other programs I host on The AIR (Radio Free Charleston, Beatles Blast, Radio Free Charleston International and maybe some new shows in the new year). The truth is that Swing Music holds a special place in my heart, going back to my chance purchase of Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive way back in 1981. That was the spark, and Mel Gilliespie’s Big Band Music class at WVSC whipped it into a fire that has yet to go out.
So, to ring in the new year, since so many of my readers and listeners are enjoying the day off, and I’d sort of like to do that as well, I’ve programmed 24 hours of The Swing Shift, beginning Tuesday morning at 9 AM.
We’ll have some other programming stunts on The AIR this week as we prepare to unveil our new schedule next Monday.
In the meantime, PopCult wishes you a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year. Remember, it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.
We wrap up 2018 in PopCult with a pencil drawing based on the decorative pagoda near the entrance to Chinatown in Chicago. This started life as a real-world pencil sketch based on a photo I was looking at on my phone. When I finished, I realized that I have yet to reconnect my printer/scanner after last February’s move to a new computer, so the sketch was photographed, and after I looked at the photo of the sketch, I did a little more digital tweaking, losing a few smudges and elminating glare along the way. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out, since I’m still sort of teaching myself how to use my hands again.
As usual, you can click the image to see it bigger.
Also, in case you missed it, yesterday I posted a Brand-New episode of the Radio Free Charleston video show. You can see it and read about it HERE, or just scroll down one post on the main PopCult page. It was only one post ago.
In honor of the new RFC, we are going to present a 24-hour marathon of Radio Free Charleston on radio…on The AIR, beginning Monday at 7 AM, and wrapping up Tuesday morning. Next week we are going to do a major reset of the schedule of The AIR, so this will be the final 24 hour Monday Marathon. We’ll tell you all about that in the coming days.
You can tune in on The AIR website, or on this cool New’s Year’s Day toy we call thel radio thingy…
Also just like last year, it’s the only one we did this year.
You PopCulteer and humble host still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of shooting music video while taking loads of medicines for Myasthenia Gravis. However, things are looking up, as two of the songs in this show were recorded within the last four weeks.
This episode of the show, “Chess Records Shirt,” features music from Brooke Brown, The Velvet Brothers and, from Chicago, Alan Gresik and The Swing Shift Orchestra. We also have what I believe is the last bit of animation from the late Third Mind Incarnation, and a new dancing Batman, courtesy of Frank Panucci.
Brooke Brown is an old friend and former Gazzblogger who has become a formidable singer/songwriter. We caught up to Brooke just a couple of weeks ago at Gonzoburger, and both Brooke and Gonzoburger make their RFC debut, coincidentally on a show that is being posted on Brooke’s birthday!
Brooke treats us to a clever original tune called “Asking For A Friend,” and we hope to hear more from Brooke on future shows, and on the RFC radio show on The AIR.
Brooke has been performing regularly at Gonzoburger on Thursday nights, and you can check their Facebook page to see if that continues. You never know when Mrs. PopCulteer, Mel Larch, might jump and and join in on a song or two.
Our animation is “We Takin’ Applications,” which is the final bit of work we have left from Third Mind Incarnation, the chief creative force of which contibuted to our early shows, then feuded with us and made us cut out his cartoons, then fell ill and on his deathbed gave us permission to restore his old “Pentagram Flowerbox” cartoons to RFC, and to also use his other short films on the show. Then, as he asked me to say, he croaked.
The Velvet Brothers are national treasures who operate on a local level. Jim, Greg, Bryan, Al, Craig, Dave and I’m probably forgetting a few are master musicians who specialize in the art of lounge music. They are the epitome of cool, and back in 2017 Mel and I caught them at The Cantina in Kanawha City, and posted a few songs online, outside of the context of Radio Free Charleston.
With this episode we go back to that night, and bring you their ulta-cool velvetty mutation of “Secret Agent Man.”
Playing us out this week is a rarity for RFC. It’s a band with absolutely no ties to Charleston. Earlier this month your humble host and his wife made a trip to Chicago and visited the legendary Green Mill nightclub. We chose to go on Thursday night because that’s the night that they have Swing Music.
If you read PopCult regularly, or listen to The AIR, you know that, in addition to being a huge advocate for all types of local music, yours truly is a major fan of Swing Music. Charleston does not currently have any Swing bands, and I don’t see much chance of one forming any time soon (but if they do, I’ll be there), so to get a chance to hear a top-notch Swing band cut loose, we went to The Windy City. Besides, in Chicago this IS a local band, so there.
Alan Gresik and his crew put on an amazing show, and if we lived there, we’d go every week. They present the evening as if it’s a live radio broadcast from years gone by, complete with commercials and special announcements. The night we saw them they had a rotating crew of four or five singers and a tight and remarkably well-rehearsed 12-piece band.
Of course, I’m always armed with my trusty Kodak Zi8, and managed to capture a song or two before the dancers overwhelmed my view. We bring you “Drummin’ Man” to close out this episode of RFC.
Chances are, we’ll do at least two or three times as many episodes of the show next year, but for now, I didn’t want to go a calendar year without bringing you at least one new edition of Radio Free Charleston‘s video show.
Our host segments were recorded on December 30, 2018, the same day this post goes live, on Charleston’s West Side and in front of The Clay Center, after we discovered that it was “race your cars without a muffler down Washingto Street” day. Our title shirt comes from Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation. Remember, you can catch the radio version of the show all the time on The AIR.
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