Monday, April 20, 2009

4.22.09 -- Happy Earth Day!

This is my first ever entry in a blog that I'll hope you'll like, endeavoring to provide interesting content for you covering a veritable potpourri of past, present, and possible future eras and their various different (PoP)cultural, (eco)logical, philosophical, political, psychological, sociological, and yes even sometimes religious permutations and ramifications-- that and just plain FUN!
So without any further ado-
=save, print and view with Red & Blue glasses="...that's one small step for giant leap for Mankind..."

And to those of us who watched and listened in 1969 in that iconic moment the world seemed as one with all nationalities, ethnicity's, and even religions, united as never before when Neil Armstrong uttered those immortal words.
Fast forward a year.
1970 and with it a new decade: The 1960's officially over as The Beatles break-up, while simultaneously & paradoxically the growing counterculture becomes even ever more pervasive as the (then) new shopping centers- later 'malls' -have all sorts of products & supplies for the faux wannabe-hippies in most of the civilized United States: day-glo fluorescent posters, incense sticks & cones, bead curtains, 'psychedelic' lightbulbs, underground comix, and the requisite LPs, Compact Cassettes, and 8-Tracks
So pervasive that the (then) President of the United States, Richard Milhouse Nixon (aka 'Tricky Dicky' by some) decides to extend a symbolic olive-branch in a photo-op moment to deflect his handing of the seemingly never ending and unpopular Vietnam War, to the also growing by leaps and bounds Ecology Movement, of which Garrett De Bell and his Friends Of The Earth group were at the vanguard of.
April 22 therefore was hereby proclaimed Earth Day and all the focus on ecology and anti-pollution becomes very trendy- celebrities and politicians, as well as major corporations, jump on the bandwagon.
Before Earth Day no one had the 'smoggiest' notion what 'ecology' was or what it meant, except of course conservationists, the burgeoning counter-culturalists, environmentalists,

and progressive forward-thinking people such as Frank Herbert, author of the D U N E series, and Dennis Weaver TV's 'McCloud'.
Other than that most mainstream Americans were clueless- but that situation changed rapidly.

The Environmental Handbook is published, and me being a curious sort, a progressive-minded 13 year old, bought a copy through the Scholastic Book Service- the same folks who brought us Harry Potter years later -in Mr. Giger's 7th Grade Class Washington School, and then read up on all the wonderful things that had to be done by us as individuals vis a vis the ecology.
The book was a #1 seller for a time and basically 'the Bible' of the ecology movement.
This societal trend culminated at least for me when the RCA Corporation right here in Harrison NJ, and the entire Harrison School System had announced a 'Pollution Poster Contest', where all the schools from Kindergarden, First through Eight Grades, and Harrison High School were invited to participate, with the Grand Prize to be an RCA AM/FM radio to the winning student and a brand new RCA Color-Trac console Color TV to that student's school.
Now to those of you who know me all this is 'ye olde' news, but to those unfamiliar and at the risk of boring everyone else to comatose catatonia here's the story:
Skeptical I was over this alliance between public education and private enterprise, so much so that I had absolutely no plan to enter anything at all as it would violate my own self-imposed prohibition in participation in any and all contests- to me contests and competitions were silly exercises in self-promotion and ego-gratification and really weren't the solution to any problems.
I had a knack for art, but I vowed not to participate.
As I remember it- which is a wonder to me that I can remember anything -the contest was on for like a month, and as the clock was tick, tick, ticking away towards the deadline, I was friendily persuaded by others to enter something, anything, but my position was clear with unshaken resolve.

Then I got the flu.
Well you know I had the usual symptoms: cold chills alternating w/ fever and buckets o' sweat, congestion, dizziness, no food, etc., bedridden for like the better part of the week.
Later as my temperature stabilized and appetite came back, my father offered to take me to the Big Apple- New York City -or what was then called 'Fun City', after a successful ad campaign by (then) Mayor John Lindsay and the NY Chamber of Commerce.
The New York of 'Midnight Cowboy', 'They Might Be Giants' and 'The Projectionist'.
The New York of 'The Odd Couple'- the TV version with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, not the earlier movie with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, even though the theme song was better in the movie as they used an electric guitar as well.
Naturally I jumped at the opportunity and the next thing I knew we were driving through the Lincoln Tunnel and on to Times Square, Broadway & 42nd Street.
After parking the car my father and I strolled down the neon-festooned street with garish and gaudy scenery, and all sorts of curious creatures: there were middle-aged Jewish businessmen trying to look 'with it' and 'hip' with their mod sideburns and longish-hair toupees, micro-miniskirted hookers wearing maxi-coats, black pimps in their regal regalia, Puerto Rican biker babes and boys, obviously homosexual men- or women? -cruising for an evening's encounter, out of town fat Joe College 'frat boys' from NJ suburbia gazing, gawking and goofing, Afros and dashkis, drag-queen transvestites from transexual Transylvania, 'Ma and Pa Kettle', Officers Krupke, Toody, and Muldoon, Ratso Rizzo and the junkies, Chinese Take-out delivery guy, news vendor from kiosk selling 'Screw' magazine and hippies- honest to goodness real hippies!
Okay, fake hippies then- the real hippies died in 1967 in a media event at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.
Fun City indeed.
Well my little 13 year old brain was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of 1970 New York, and even more so when my father left me at the landmark Joke and Novelty Store right on the corner of 42nd and Broadway with its cheezy display of X-ray Specs, Joy Buzzers, Whoopee Cushions, and Rubber Masks- you can be Tor Johnson, Bela Lugosi, or (gulp)
Like, Alfred E. Neuman!

The reason he left me there was obvious to anyone who was familiar to circa 1970 - early 1990's Times Square, as that was the heyday (and payday!) of the Adult Entertainment scene, and out-of-town tourists would make it their Mecca-like destination on their pilgrimage to 'Fun City' in search of vicarious pleasures and salacious thrills.
Today's generation can't conceive of a time when you couldn't get 'Porno On Demand' as one can do nowadays online, or on DvDs, or cable and/or satellite TV, but people had to actually travel to the major cities to look at 25 cents a minute 'peep shows'- either an 8mm silent filmstrip, or a 'live nude girl' bumping and grinding -or glossy color mags, or and same 8mm for their home projector.
He came back just in time because the store salesman, an older gentleman was getting exasperated by me asking him all sorts of questions and I'm sure he was glad to see me go since I wasn't going to buy anything anyway.
Not even a Whoopee Cushion.
To me the whole thing thing was all very surreal, as the whole atmosphere was straight out of a Fellini movie, as all the Adult Bookstores and Peep Shows were freshly painted like some perverse carnivale or Barnum & Bailey's on acid.
So after several hours of this we went home and I trance-like started to work on manila oak tag paper scrawling in No. 2 pencil whatever came into my head- hey, I'm entering something in the
RCA Pollution Poster Contest!
I hoped to convey an important and profound message, not just a flashy, disposable piece of art, but something that would be my statement:
"A I R, W A T E R, and
L A N DPollution is 'IN'- Yes, in your lungs,
rivers, towns, and cities!"
and all this was done in a Heinz Edelmann inspired type style as I just saw Yellow Submarine and wanted to do something with a current up to date design and iconography.
I also dug 'psychedelic' art immensely.
Had this 'poster'- actually the back of an old SiCK Magazine from 1966 -Scotch-taped to my wall in 5 different apts since buying it in '66 in Orange NJ, when I was in 3rd Grade.
Had no idea what 'protests' or 'conformity' was- hey I was 8 going on 9 -and only got it because the MAD wannabe SiCK was spoofing the MADison Avenue icons on the cover: The Green Giant, Esso Tiger, Italian Swiss Colony's 'Little Old Winewmaker', Captain Crunch, Ajax 'White Knight' ('Stronger than Dirt!'), Quaker Oats, etc., -- it was well before the 'Wacky Packages' were created by Topps.
The issue was entitled 'The Brand X Issue' as it not only offered send-ups and spoofs of Madison Avenue Ads, but also offered an alternative product: Brand X!
SiCK at the time claimed that all the 'Brand X' products were not fakes or mock-ups, but were actual -- and years later after looking through a December 1960 PLAYBOY found an real ad for 'Brand X' Cigarettes!
Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand...

Years later while watching a documentary on Dylan, I saw this picture where he and Joan Baez were standing in front of a similar poster for Booth's Gin at Newark Airport in 1964
Found out later, much later, it was created by one of the foremost graphics designers in the '60s, Seymour Chwast.
Never missed an episode of The Now Explosion on WPIX Channel 11
Saturday afternoon-evenings, either:
originating from Atlanta, Georgia with all kinds of experimental music videos looong before MTV, so I was well versed in the style.
The new non-toxic watercolor markers just hit the shelves recently and even though professional artists were using something similar,it wasn't until they became available for the neophyte that they really took off in popularity.

It had an eye in the center of the design,

not unlike the eye on the back of the dollar bill, with a tear coming out of it, which was supposed to be reminiscent of the weeping Native American
(who I found out later, much later, was Sicilian!)
in the 'Keep America Beautiful' ads running on TV

but was actually taken from the Beatles Illustrated Lyrics,
a book I saw at Bobby Corrado's house:

^eye similar to Alan Aldridge illustration on the far left of gallery
Then there was another image of a green limousine, influenced partially by some of the 'art cars' I saw in NY and also the psychedelic Rolls-Royce that John Lennon had in 1967, but the license plate was an ominous vanity plate which read
Actually wanted to use 'Big Daddy' Ed Roth's 'Rat Fink'
or 'Weird-Ohs'
symbolic yes of American 'kar kulture' but figured that those were kind of passe in 1970 and it would make a bigger impact if the scary message would be affixed to a seemingly benign car, instead of obvious 'monsters in a monster car'.
(1313 Mockingbird Lane)
It was also very wordy with all the letters merging, swirling, melting together, or alternately half-submerged under water, or floating on a drifting cloud, or emerging from drainage pipes, balloony letters that later on would be quite familiar to those who ever saw or did 'guerilla graffiti' on buildings, buses and trains in most metropolitan areas, so similar it was in looks and style.
Who knew?
So I did the whole poster in like maybe 17-18 hours with barely a break for food and after staring at this thing I had in front of me I actually lost track of time and entered an 'altered state of consciousness' and started to hallucinate.
Yeah naturally-- with no drugs (yet).
Fasting and colorful stimuli are known methods- the religious ascetics knew this since the time of the Ancients -to achieve hypnagogic states.
Auto/self-hypnosis, for fun and prophet!
Probably too the combination of being ill the week before and wasn't eating much anyway, probably all the cold and flu remedies, probably the trip to 'Fun City'- all combined -helped me to create this pulsating, crackling with energy, poster.
Well next day, went to school with the poster rolled up and when I arrived everybody in
Mr. Zarbetski's 8th Grade Class wanted a look-see.
Everyone was enthusiastic and excited, but I was frankly exhausted as I only had like maybe 5 hours of sleep and was apparently still recovering.
Still recovering.
I heard murmurs and whispers that 'I was gonna win' and 'it's great', etc., etc.,
but I really didn't care at that point.
To me it was therapy- whatever compelled me to do the poster, whatever was still in my system from all the over the counter remedies, Lipton Turkey Noodle-O Soup mix, whatever I perceived on my sojourn to New York, and return, was there all there on that 2 x 3 piece of manila school oak tag.
And it was healing and it was curative.
Less than a week later the winners were announced, and as expected I was one of them.
What I didn't expect though was actually winning the Color TV for the school.

(sorry 'bout the quality, it's from an old microfiche)
Truth be told, I really wanted that TV instead of the AM/FM table-top radio,
but in retrospect actually was better off with the radio anyway as it introduced me to the wonderful world of FM radio which was pioneer territory still: WNEW, WBAI, WABC (soon to mutate into WPLJ), and other stations I can't remember airing the most incredible music and comedy stuff before the censors and 'suits' seized total absolute control over the airwaves.
Even AM was better than as WMCA had Alex Bennett and Long John Nebel,
WOR had Jean Shephard, and even WABC-AM had the DJs that were way better than what came later with >ugh< 'simulating talk' radio.
Also regretfully, I never saw the other work of my peers, the other winners of this contest, except for the guy from Harrison High, George Jaworski, who did some fine-art with watercolor and brush and was very impressive in execution.
My work was destroyed in early 1980 when my landlord's bratty kids used a duplicate key and entered my apartment illegally rifling through and destroying my stuff.
"Shaddup an pay yer rent!"
But all of that may as well have happened on another planet or in an alternate dimension
for all the good that it did-- but at least we tried...

Again, today marks the 39th year since the first Earth Day-
April 22, 1970-and what I want to know is this:
"Wha' hoppen?"

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