Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Eve

I'm playing the Blues tonight at the Zoo Bar in Washington DC. This is the 7th or 8th year my band has played NYE at the Zoo, and, truth be told, I'd be pretty sad if we weren't.

Every year brings about a certain amount of change, but, ultimately, it's the things that don't change that begin to mean more and more to me.

Like the beauty of a Robert Johnson recording, or a Rembrandt self- portrait, especially the later ones. There are so many things, I won't attempt a list.

So, Happy New Year, gentle readers, we'll meet in the future sometime soon next year.

Thanks to all of you.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Where You'll Be Spending the Rest of Your Life

Windsor McCay, from Mr. Door Trees' site

As we approach the last of 2011, my thoughts seem to turn toward my old nemesis- the Future. Long- time L by L readers may recall my fixation with the Future, because it never seemed to arrive!

Here are some links: and

And now, on the eve of 2012, the year the Mayans supposedly predicted would be the planet's final one, I just keep thinking about the Future that never was, and how close we came to it.

I'm not talking about the total lack of anti- gravity belts; or cities in the clouds, or under glass domes, or on other planets (glass domes again, I guess.) Nor am I talking about controlling the weather, robot servants, and pills that turn into full plates of food! Rocket cars, highways made of clear, plexi- glassed tubed tunnels that never have traffic jams. Utopian societies w/ tunics that have space-age fins on the shoulders. Invisibility rays!

Well, you get the idea.

I'm talking about some things we used to have that can serve to remind us that the future was once right around the corner:

1. We went to the moon and played golf
I don't play golf, but if I were on the moon, I'd be happy to give it a few swings! The point being, of course, that instead of only one astronaut, all of us, by now, should be able to go to the moon and do some anti- gravity putting. In a glass- domed city. But we're not! And why not?

2. Monorails in department stores
My wife used to celebrate Xmas in Philadelphia, visiting her grandparents, and recalls riding in a monorail (hanging?- I'll have to ask) around Wanamaker's department store. This part of the future probably got litigated out of existence, a fate I imagine that curtailed a lot of the future.

<--- The Santa Land monorail, Meir and Frank's in Portland, Oregon, similar to the one in Wanamaker's.

3. Blimps and dirigibles
Oh, the humanity! Well before the explosion of the Hindenburg, blimps were a valid form of mass transportation. Unfortunately, prior to WWII, blimps were filled with highly flammable hydrogen, instead of stable but hard- to- find helium. Nowadays the only blimps we see are advertising blimps, a la the Goodyear Blimp (which, by the way, I rode in one time!)
Imagine this: it's a beautiful fall day, the leaves are changing and you and your honey decide to view the Skyline Drive from the air. You go to the nearby mooring station and take an elevator or escalator to the entrance floor where your Skyline Blimp is tethered, buy a ticket, maybe $2.00 tops, and rise quietly and majestically over the city to the Skyline Drive, your mouths full of "Oohs!" and Aahs!"

The more I think of it, the more the current view of the computer- dominated future seems physically static. Video games have replaced an actual reality, unfortunately. Virtual reality is seemingly without consequence, or so it may seem, and all the thought that would have gone into the time machine has gone into some current video game.

4. Contacting the Spirit world
Seem farfetched?
Not so! Back at the turn of the 20th century, huge amounts of people were confident that we could communicate with the dead. The Spiritualism movement was not unlike a religion, much like, say, Scientology today or the worship of angels as the benign messengers of Deities.
It wasn't until Houdini devoted much of the final years of his career to exposing mediums as frauds that the movement began to die out.
Actually it may be coming back. With the proliferation of television shows about Paranormal phenomena, I wouldn't be surprised if the movement makes a comeback. However, no one has patented a working communicating device that can reach the netherworld, wherever and whatever that may entail.
Strange when you think about it, isn't it? All those particons, and radio waves and we still can't drop a line to our nearest deceased and find out how they're doing? Vatican cover- up, anyone?

5. Anything Buckminster Fuller invented
For a smart guy, Buckminster Fuller seems woefully under- represented in our current future. Ever been inside a geodesic dome (answer: not since the late '60's)? A folding house? Driven an aerodynamically designed car? No? Not surprised. Very few have. But it all existed. And it looked cool too: a huge qualification of the future that also got ignored. How cool- looking is an IPad? It's an iPhone tray, for chrissakes! TV dinners looked cooler, especially on the box.

5. PF Flyers
Okay, so they weren't really shoes that could enhance your anti-gravity abilities, but at least they were thinking about it.

6. Anything in a Max Fleischer cartoon.

7. Backyard Roller Coasters
I knew of a kid in Chevy Chase MD whose dad had built him a roller coaster in their backyard. Johnny Koehler and I snuck in once and actually played on it, but the dad caught us and threw us out.

8. Personal rocket packs and
9. Floating cars
They had 'em, I saw 'em- where are they now? Expedia has one, but, like the blimps, their usage seems limited to advertising.

10. All of these:
and many, many more!

Let's not abandon our Steampunk vision of the future, please! Life is just morbidly dull and virtual enough as it is.

Long Live the Future- where you'll be spending the rest of your life!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa Drinks Coke

Haddon Hubbard "Sunny" Sundblom (June 22, 1899 – March 10, 1976) did not create the modern image of Santa Claus, but he certainly refined it. His Santa, created for the Coca Cola Company starting in the 1930's, entered the American consciousness, where it lives to this day. Virtually every commercial on television that has a Santa figure, from the Santa- bashing Best Buy ads to the pseudo- romantic Kay Jeweler spots, utilizes Sundblom's concept of Jolly Old Saint Nick. 
Sundblom was also an accomplished pin-up artist whose 1972 Playboy cover probably inspired many of the costumes from my "Xmas in a Primitive Land" blog.

Thanks to Mr. Door Tree for these images- be sure to stop by his excellent blog, Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

Sunblom's 1972 Playboy cover- his final published work

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Xmas in a Primitive Land

All photographs © 2011 Breton Littlehales

New Orleans, or, as longtime L by L followers know it, America's Greatest City, never ceases to amaze me. Here we are, six years since a devastating natural disaster that, according to Alaska senator Ted Stevens, should have closed the city permanently. Instead, Senator Ted got shut down and AGC is stronger and more amoral than ever.

So, why would I be surprised when I see over a hundred people dressed in strange variations on the traditional Santa theme? I don't know, but it still floored me.

They paraded down Royal, past the galleries and antique stores, past the toy soldier store and past Brennan's, home of the world's most boring breakfast, Bananas Foster (the one they set on fire if you feel like waiting awhile.) Yes, they even passed the courthouse which was rocking an invitation- only Xmas Party. They finally reached their destination at the end of Royal, set up a beatbox and danced their asses off (some even wore artificial asses.)

After watching all the pulchritude, I finally saw a beautiful woman slinking shamefacedly away from the crowd. "Are you okay?" I asked her. "I'm dying for a cigarette," she replied. "I don't want anyone to see me smoking."

They're sisters!

Definitely naughty.
They did their eyes before they'd let me shoot.

Still sexy- smoking, that is.

This is what Santas do after the stores close

Still Naughty

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy 176th Birthday, Mark Twain

Wish you were here, Sam. Of course, you'd probably be the most dangerous man alive, but I think you'd be able to handle it.

What would you say about America now? I wish I knew.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Over 50,000 Page Views!

Thanks everyone- 50,000 page views (49,999 of which may be from me- not really!) of this blog.

Some other interesting L by L stats: The London Eye post,, is the single most popular at 366 views. Next is Happy Birthday, Little Walter,, at 70 p. v.'s.

Why are these so popular? I have no idea. Really. I don't think it's only the subject matter, and I know it's not the writing, as much as I'd love to think that had something to do with it.

It's a mystery!

Hopefully there are folks who look at everything or a lot of things when they come here. That would be nice. It's certainly part of my intention, but hey- I'm just happy with 50,000 page views!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thinking About Dwight Frye

Dwight Iliff Frye (February 22, 1899 – November 7, 1943)

As "Karl" in The Bride of Frankenstein

And here's what I was thinking: whatever it was that he did, he did it better than anyone else. Ever.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Smokin' Joe

Joe (right) and Marvis Frazier at Fight Night © Breton Littlehales
Joseph William "Joe" Frazier (January 12, 1944 – November 7, 2011) died of liver cancer, one of the few things he couldn't KO with his powerful left hook. He was only 67.

Frazier came of age as a boxer in the late afternoon of the fight game: early Don King, post- Sonny Liston and the obvious influence of the mob, and squarely in the last great years of boxing, the Muhammed Ali years. This I know, because although I've never followed sports, I knew who Joe Frazier was, just as I knew who George Foreman was, just as I, like almost every American male of my generation who saw Ali at the Norwegian Winter Olympics stand with his arm jerking uncontrollably, wept at the sight of the champ on his sad descent.

Joe Frazier was also a champ.

A relatively short but powerful man, Frazier was known for his devastating left hook, the partial result (it was said) of a childhood accident that permanently crooked his left arm. He came to national attention through the 1964 Olympics, where he won a gold medal, fighting his final opponents with a broken left thumb.

He defeated Ali in one of the greatest heavyweight bouts of all time, the so- called "Fight of the Century" in 1971, having secured the undisputed title by defeating Jimmy Ellis the year before. It was a fight that put both Frazier and Ali in the hospital. Frazier was 27, Ali 29.

In 1973 he was easily defeated by George Foreman in Jamaica. Although he would never be heavyweight champion again there was one more truly great fight left in him.

Dubbed the "Thrilla From Manilla", it was the fight that Ali said afterward made him think he was close to death. "They said you were through, Joe," Ali reportedly said during the fight. "They lied, pretty boy," Frazier shot back.

Frazier's trainer Eddie Fuch threw in the towel at the beginning of the fifteenth round, thereby giving the bout to Ali. Joe Frazier would fight again, but he was never able to recapture the glory he had achieved, even in defeat.

The fight left a permanent mark on Ali as well. His ring doctor Ferde Pacheco advised him to quit boxing. Pacheco felt the damage Joe had inflicted was too much on the charismatic fighter. "I told him to quit. I said he could really hurt himself if he kept boxing. But he kept boxing anyway."

Joe retired to Philadelphia, opened a gym and trained fighters, including his son Marvis. A brief comeback in 1981 convinced him to retire permanently and he was allowed, unlike, say, Joe Louis, or Sonny Liston, to age gracefully, mentoring young fighters happy to study with the champ. 

I met him at Fight Night, an annual event here in Washington, DC. I was photographing for the Washingtonian Magazine, shooting portraits of the great fighters in attendance. Joe was gracious to a fault, and wore one of the best- fitting tuxes I've ever seen. The only time he bristled was when I mentioned (in a very neutral way) Ali. "He's doing magic tricks now. That's all he can do," he said. He had never forgiven Muhammed for the verbal invective Ali had spat out in the months prior to their bouts. The old rivalry was still alive in these two.

My generation, the so- called baby boomer generation, is losing its heroes at a rapid rate these days. This is nothing new- it was a tough time in which to grow up. Every time you heard a radio station at night play four songs in a row of the same artist, you could be sure they were dead, like Hendrix or Janis Joplin. Otis Redding, John Lennon, Elvis, even a manque like Jim Morrison, all went way too soon.

It may seem, in that context, that an icon like Joe Frazier lived a good full life but now, as I am sixty, it seems to me too brief, way too short. A tough man, a good man, a mentor, a father... these are all things to be celebrated. But a lot of guys are those things or at least some of them (I'm not so tough).

But how many guys get to be the champ?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I've Smelled That Gas Before

Good old California.

As the Occupy Wall Street protest continues peacefully in New York City, police in Oakland, CA are hurling tear gas and arresting protesters. According to news reports, the mood remains festive (free barbecue and ice cream) and the smell of pot permeates the air. I love that last- the smell of pot and tear gas was THE smell of the California '60's- much like the smell of urine and Gauloise cigarettes in Paris during the same era.

Of course, that's what the press says, but it's probably true. In California it's less harmful and way less frowned upon to smoke a joint in public than a cigarette.

In a "Day of Mass Action" the Port of Oakland has been shut down in the general strike and banks have closed. ATMs were blocked by trash dumpsters and protesters smashed windows at Wells Fargo and Bank of America branches.

One woman was delayed in traffic fifteen minutes while marchers blocked the street. She honked her car horn in solidarity. However, a man driving a Mercedes tried to run his car (what a detail- of course it was a Mercedes!) into a group of protesters, injuring two. Or so it has been reported.

Maybe this is the beginning of the '60's again, just as the '60's were the beginning of the Beats again, etc., etc. I guess it really does go in cycles (or circles).

Wouldn't it be great if they do something about the music while they're at it?

Thanks to Time Magazine for these fine photographs.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hal Foster's Tarzan

Edgar Rice Burroughs' most famous creation Tarzan of the Apes came in many forms: books, movies, radio and in the comics. I discovered Tarzan through a wonderful book my father had and passed onto me. The reason the book is so great is not just because of Burroughs' plot, which includes Tarzan's origin, but because of Hal Foster's drawings.

Foster (August 18, 1892 – July 25, 1982), who later became famous for "Prince Valiant", first drew Tarzan in January, 1929 for the comics section. He left the strip but came back In 1931 to draw only the Sunday episodes. An expert draughtsman and storyteller, Foster's panels read like storyboards for the best Tarzan movie never made.

Subsequent Tarzan artists (most notably Burne Hogarth) left their mark, but I never liked them quite as much.

Unfortunately, as in so much of the culture of the '30's, there are elements in these strips that I thought unconsciously racist and for that I apologize in advance. One hopes these elements will not hamper your enjoyment of Foster's line too much.

Years later I saw a copy of a Conan comic in which John Buscema inked his own pencils. There it was- that great Hal Foster look. Obviously John loved Foster's run on Tarzan as much as I did!

John Buscema channeling Hal Foster in Conan # 39

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Goodbye, Mr. Jobs

Stephen Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011): inventor, visionary, innovator, master showman, cancer survivor, cancer victim.

I've never owned a computer that wasn't an Apple. I still have, somewhere here in the chaos that is my basement office, one of the Macintosh models pictured above. I've kept it. It's not worth anything, and the software to run it is long gone, but I kept it because I felt that it was an important machine, and I'm not all that fond of machines. Yet there it is, sitting on a bookshelf, looking just like the ones in the picture.

My tiny I-Pod is in my car, waiting until I go to the gym tomorrow, when I'll plug it in my ears to ease the psychic pain of the elliptical trainer. I'm typing this blog on my wireless Apple keyboard, into my latest Mac: OS 10.6.8. It's about the size of a square paperback book.

Of course, I could go on and on. 

Steve Jobs has touched the lives of billions around the world. His machines and inventions, like Pixar, have enriched society in such a global way that his name has become synonymous not just with commerce, but with the narrow world that embraces creativity and commerce, ideas and production, financial and aesthetic success. 

Steve Jobs was somehow able to marry creative thinking with commercial success, beautiful design with titanic application. He was able to take on every challenge and solve them in the most elegant way possible.

Except the last one. He wasn't able to live long enough.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ed Wynn

Much like Joe E. Brown and Oliver Hardy, Ed Wynn had the kind of face that lent itself to caricature. His cartoon likeness turned up in Warner Bros.' "Shuffle Off to Buffalo", and his face graces a pot of jam in Max Fleischer's  "Betty in Blunderland".

A successful vaudeville, radio and television comedian, he took on dramatic roles in the last decade of his life at his son Keenan's urging (although the two always seemed to be the same age to a dumb kid like me.)

A lot of things are sweet about this ad: it's originally done in watercolors, it's signed, there's a horse's nose in it, and it's about a fire- chief sponsored by a flammable product. I suppose Texaco water would have been a tough sell back then, certainly much harder to market and far less profitable.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Cult of Stupid

I don't want to join the Cult of Stupid.

I don't want to assume vaccines lead to "mental retardation."
I don't want to call Social Security "a Ponzie Scheme."
I don't want to strap on my gun to attend a political rally or a townhall meeting.
I don't want to make less than $20,000 a year and still support lower taxes for the rich.
I don't want to condemn intellectuals.
I don't want to condemn homosexuals.
I don't want to condemn people who belong to non- Christian religions.
I don't want to hate black people or any other minority or majority for that matter.
I don't want to stop government grants and loans for college educations.
I don't believe the president was born anywhere else than Hawaii. I don't need to see his birth certificate any more than I need to see anyone else's.
I don't want America's aesthetic culture to decline any further.
I don't want to elect leaders who pretend to be stupid just to get votes.
I don't want to elect leaders who actually are stupid.
I don't want to join the Cult of Stupid.

But, hey, that's just me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Honeyboy Redux

The death of David Honeyboy Edwards last week (see post below) marked the end of the blues players who came up in the era of Delta- country blues: the first wave of blues, and also the blues that gave way to rock and roll, one of the most popular forms of music on the planet.

Honey, as his family called him, was born in 1915 in or near Greenwood MI, a town on the edge of the Delta and the edge of the Hill Country. By the 1920's, Charley Patton (b. 1891) had developed a large following in the Delta, playing a very raw, pure form of guitar- driven blues. Patton first recorded in 1929, and by the time Robert Johnson (like Edwards, a student of Patton) recorded in 1937, Delta and country blues were becoming diluted, thanks to the accessibility of radio and the emergence of the electric guitar. Both Honeyboy and Johnny Shines, who traveled with Robert, recall having to play the popular hits of the day, songs like, "Ain't She Sweet," and "Some of These Days."

Edwards grew up hobo-ing throughout the south, constantly moving from town to town, staying with whatever women would have him, gambling, drinking moonshine and playing his guitar and harmonica. In short, living the classic Delta bluesman life.The life that virtually no one of my generation who likes or plays blues can truly relate to, unless they were homeless and lived in a shelter.

But Honeyboy was rarely homeless, and rarely broke, because as long as he had his guitar, he could make some money playing on Delta streetcorners or jukes, or speakeasies.

And he was by no means unique: after the depression, a good- sized segment of mostly male and poor people rode trains in and under boxcars, hitched rides with strangers and ate whenever they could by doing odd jobs for people with the means to feed them.

Throughout his autobiography, The World Don't Owe Me Nothing, he refers to his early life as "great" and "lots of fun."

In the course of his 96 years, he met or befriended virtually every blues legend that ever played in the Delta, as well as Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis, Gary, Austin, Dallas and Houston. However, much like early jazz performers in New Orleans, like, for instance, Bunk Johnson, some of Honeyboy's stories seem somewhat apochryphal.

He's there to warn Robert Johnson about the evils of taking drinks from strange women in juke joints only days before Johnson does exactly that and dies. He's in Chicago when Sunnyland Slim pulls Muddy Waters off his truck- driving job to record with Leonard Chess (although he's definitely incorrect that Muddy drove the truck for one of Chess's businesses.) He already knows Muddy and Sunnyland from the Delta.

He knows everybody! If I had to list them all, this blog would stretch into the next three blogs, and it's already been continued from the last blog!

I have not heard much of Honeyboy's early recording, like the Lomax sessions he describes, but I have heard his Drop Down Mama from a great Chess collection by the same name issued in the late '60's . And Honeyboy is, well, good. Not great... not even neglected great, like Robert Nighthawk or Baby Face Leroy. Just good, as in not bad at all.

Ultimately it doesn't matter how good a blues musician he was, because his strength comes from his longevity. He was able to do what none of the others were able to do, save the recently deceased Pinetop Perkins. He was able to live for 96 years.

He was the last man standing in a ring full of genius and near- genius contenders. From what I know about him, he did it with grace, dignity, wry intelligence, talent and luck.

And that's pretty damn cool.
From left to right: Walter Horton, Honeyboy, Sunnyland Slim, Floyd Jones and Kansas City Red. Honeyboy is surrounded here by a few of his oldest and best friends.
w/ Michael Franks, his long- time manager and benefactor
Honeyboy's best friend, Little Walter Jacobs, playing guitar instead of harmonica

There are only two pictures of Charley Patton, and this is the better by far.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Honeyboy Edwards Says Goodbye After 96 Years

David Honeyboy Edwards
June 28, 1915 - August 29, 2011

David Honeyboy Edwards, the "Last of the Great Mississippi Delta
Bluesmen" has died. This morning Monday August 29, 2011, about 3 am
while resting peacefully at home, Honeyboy moved on to blues heaven. He
lived a long, full life, and he felt at peace. He loved to say, "The
world don't owe me nothing." Just shy of his 96th birthday, Honeyboy
played his last gigs at the Juke Joint Festival and Cathead
Mini-Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi April 16 and 17, 2011.

Prior to his health turning for the worse in late April, Honeyboy was
scheduled to play numerous gigs in Chicago, across the USA and in
Europe, including today at Millennium Park in Chicago for the noon time
concert series. His manager Michael Frank had to cancel all those dates
due to Honeyboy's declining health. He maintained a strong spirit until
the end, telling stories and showing off his dexterity in his hands.

Visitation will be Thursday September 1 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, with an
open mic for comments by his friends and fans from 7:00 to 8:00 pm at
the funeral home. Services will be private on Friday September 2.

McCullough Funeral & Cremation Services
851 E. 75th St.
Chicago, IL 60619
Phone: (773) 488-8900

David "Honeyboy" Edwards was, until 3AM this morning, the last man standing. And he knew it too.

Unlike Godot

...Irene came and went, leaving us none the worse for wear. Lost power, got it back.

Lots of little twigs on the ground, some branches dented my wife's car, but all in all, we were very lucky and, for that, I am grateful.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Waiting for Irene

6:10AM, Silver Spring, MD. My wife and I just dropped our youngest daughter at the Amtrak station so that she could catch a train back to Philadelphia and her husband. I'm about to put the seats back in the Caravan- the ones that have sat all summer on the front porch. I vacuumed out the French drain in the outdoor stairwell and got everything valuable off the floor in our flood- prone basement.

We'll lash the trash cans to the front porch railings with bungees, and I'll overturn our grill in the backyard to keep it from blowing away.

I'm counting on a power failure, so I've charged up my cell phone and my laptop, for all the good that will do me. If the power goes, so goes the WiFi.

Waiting for Irene.

This is a fraction of what my friends in New Orleans do almost every year since 2005 and Katrina. The Freeman- Archers (not their real names) have permanently packed boxes in the foyer under the stairs with candles, batteries and flashlights. I've seen them. In fact, I bet those boxes are there right now.

Irving Banister parked his car at the post office near his house in the Uptown section of New Orleans the night before Katrina broke the levees. When he returned a year later, his car was gone, along with everyone else's, stacked like brightly colored metal logs under the I-10 freeway.

Of course, it won't be that bad. Katrina was the storm of the century, at least to the people of the Gulf Coast, and certainly in terms of lasting impact to everyone in the United States.

But it will be more intense than I'd like. We'll be fine, along with the rest of DC. But what about my father, sitting in his house with my stepmother there in Keller, VA on the Bay? And my daughter in NYC, in her tiny apartment she shares with her fiance near Columbia. We asked her to come home, but she said she would be okay. I have no choice but to believe her. My sister asked my father to come stay with her in Charlottesville, but, again, he said they'd be okay. I wish I was that confident.

Waiting for Irene.

It's supposedly going to be sweet and sunny here by Sunday afternoon. We may be powerless by then but I bet the air will be wonderful- scrubbed clean by Irene, the chambermaid of hurricanes.

Just seems a little apocalyptic that we'd have an earthquake (really weird feeling, that) and then a hurricane. Like we're borrowing someone else's natural disasters. We are generally panicked, calm, unprepared and over- prepared.

Gotta get those car seats now. I'll let you know, gentle reader.

Waiting for Irene.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Photo Overflow

Here are two pictures that did not make the POTD blog, but I liked them enough to publish them, so:

©2011 Breton Littlehales

©2011 Breton Littlehales