Delivering scares, according to Wyllis Cooper, was a matter of "raiding the larder." His radio program "Lights Out," which premiered in 1934 on NBC station WENR in Chicago, aired at midnight, specializing in tales of the horror and supernatural. Food, pots and cutlery provided sound effects for a wide range of disturbing acts from Cooper's scripts, including breaking bones (cracking spare ribs), burning flesh (frying bacon), severed appendages (chopping carrots and cabbages), being murdered (stabbing raw pork), cannibalism (eating spaghetti), and so on. Cooper, a former advertising copywriter and continuity editor for CBS and NBC, ran the show for two years, exiting for a career in Hollywood (to write such [...]
Thirty years ago today a pop music album came out that, for those of us who can count ourselves as members of the Star Wars generation, was a lot like Star Wars. Meaning that it was so culturally dominant for a stretch of our formative years that it became a part of the way that we would think and talk and view the world for the rest of our lives. Regardless of whether or not we even liked it back then, or of how we have come to feel about since, Michael Jackson's Thriller is closer to something like an objective truth than anything else in music history: it [...]
It's Friday, and still so hot that all I want to do for the rest of the day is drink seltzer water and watch this new Beirut video over and over and over again. It's directed by Houmam Abdallah and Beirut's Zach Condon says it has "brought the song somewhere that I had only been able to describe to myself, now available for others to see and feel it much more as I had in the process of writing it." That's about the nicest thing a musical artist could say about a video for one of his songs, isn't it? But I wonder whether they had to [...]
You have to live in Hamburg or Chelsea (London) or SoHo (New York) or Hollywood or Beverly Hills or Köln or the like to have a Taschen book store, because they like being fancy. (The rest of you must make do with the website.) But behind the books that cost $1500 and the piles of bountiful, oversized photo books—many of which are delightful! The revised Helmut Newton book really is incredible—are extremely affordable titles by the publisher-purveyor. Their "Basic Art" and "Basic Architecture" series are usually priced at $9.99, which surely has to be at a loss. And they're great for us who know a [...]
In the 1950s, a DJ named Jean Shepherd hosted a late-night radio show on New York's WOR that was unlike any before or since. On these broadcasts, he delivered dense, cerebral monologues, sprinkled with pop-culture tidbits and vivid stretches of expert storytelling. "There is no question that we are a tiny, tiny, tiny embattled minority here," he assured his audience in a typical diatribe. "Hardly anyone is listening to mankind in all of its silliness, all of its idiocy, all of its trivia, all of its wonder, all of its glory, all of its poor, sad, pitching us into the dark sea of oblivion." Shepherd's approach was summed up by [...]
The Australian art critic and historian Robert Studley Forrest Hughes died yesterday at the age of just 74. He'd withstood such a lot, coming back after weeks in a coma following a terrible car accident in Australia in 1999. I thought he was so strong that he would still live to be 100. Part of his name, even, was 'Studley'! And that is just what he was.
What is the best thing Hughes ever did? How to choose from this embarrassment of riches? The obvious answer would be his stately, gorgeously comprehensive history of the convict settlement of Australia, The Fatal Shore (1987). Equally obvious: the 1980 TV [...]
Three things you probably didn’t know about your toothbrush: There are five common toothbrush grips, including one with the suggestive name of 'the death grip'; fat-handled toothbrushes make for a more comfortable grip; and, despite perceptions otherwise, straight-handled toothbrushes make for better brushing than bent-handled ones.
I learned these random tidbits while listening to "99% Invisible," a tiny little radio show about the world of design, focused on the design of things we often overlook. As Roman Mars, the show's host, notes at the end of the toothpaste episode: “In design, the thing you don’t think about or notice probably had the most thought put into it.” Mars' [...]
You know when you’re in a panel discussion in New York and the topic turns to gentrification, and the audience gets very quiet while everyone prays there won’t be some guy who stands up and says something excruciating? L. J. Davis was that guy.
Davis, a writer whose career was long enough that a lot of people forgot who he was for stretches along the way, died last week at 70. He wrote four novels in the '60s and '70s and, over a longer span, produced a substantial body of cranky and annoyingly accurate journalism. (A Harper’s article that essentially called the 1987 market crash won him a [...]
It's worth mentioning how I first heard about Lipa Schmeltzer—from my grandparents. They'd just flown back to Melbourne from a visit to New York, where they’d attended a wedding made by the Flatbush contingent of my extended family. The groom, my second cousin, was my age, and the wedding was a particularly extravagant affair. My grandparents were raving about how 1. the event featured a bar made entirely of ice, and 2. someone called Lipa Schmeltzer had performed for the guests. "He had a song all about diets!" exclaimed my grandfather. "How did it go, Nechama?" he asked my grandmother, both of them laughing. That was a number of years [...]
Apart from the various ways her artistic genius displayed itself, Nora Ephron was brilliant with people and brilliant with New York City. One small way: she was always terribly kind to kiddo reporters, reasonable in a former New York Post reporter, and as a family member to yet more reporters. No matter how stupid the story, you could email her and she'd write back—Oh hello, I'm in Greece (or Italy or on a boat or en route to Los Angeles or just plain "traveling") but let me think about this marvelous idea and get back to you just as soon as I can, and she did. And here is something [...]
Romance fiction is widely reckoned to be a very low form of literature. Maybe the lowest, if we're not counting the writing at Groupon, or on Splenda packets. Romance fiction: probably the worst! An addictive, absurd, unintellectual literature, literature for nonreaders, literature for stupid people—literature for women! Books Just For Her!
Low or not, romance is by far the most popular and lucrative genre in American publishing, with over $1.35 billion in revenues estimated in 2010. That is a little less than twice the size of the mystery genre, almost exactly twice that of science fiction/fantasy, and nearly three times the size of the market for classic/literary fiction, according to [...]
This month marks the twentieth anniversary of All Shook Down, the final album by the Replacements, a band from Minneapolis that I am now finding greater difficulty writing about than I thought I would because of their huge, huge importance to me. Let me puke out something like that, in the mid-80s when I was a teenager and they were at their peak, their fuzzy, blaring rock n' roll was the sound of truth and freedom and glory as I heard it, and that Paul Westerberg's lyrics carved what I felt to be a secret message into my soul that told me what it meant to be alive. Okay, [...]