It’s hard to imagine a world without televisions. Today, TVs are not just ubiquitous, they’re everywhere. But in the 1940s, television was an expensive, new gadget that very few households owned. When the World Series was televised for the first time in 1947, only 44,000 TV sets were in use in the entire U.S. In 1948, only ten percent of Americans had ever even seen a television program.
The only thing more scarce than TV sets was TV programming.
Radio had been widely adopted for decades, with over 40 million sets in use in the late 1940s. So, the majority of talent and advertising money was still going into radio. In addition, television was so new that no one had really figured out what to do on TV yet. In just a few years, skyrocketing viewership would cause radio hits like Dragnet and Jack Benny to move to television. But in its infancy, many early TV shows weren’t much more than radio with a picture.
The traditional radio music program was adapted to TV by simply showing the musicians playing their instruments. That was a TV show. And, it was pretty amazing stuff by 1940s standards.
A music show that premiered during those pioneering days of television was Korla Pandit’s Adventures In Music. It was broadcast out of KTLA in Los Angeles beginning in February 1949 and had more of a hook than your average music program.
Pandit was Indian musical prodigy born in New Delhi. He played exotic themes on a Hammond organ or a piano (sometimes playing both instruments at once). As he played, the turban-clad musician gazed wistfully, directly into the camera. His only communication with the viewer was through his transe-like stare and what he called “the universal language of music.” He never spoke on the show.
What at first glance seems like a simple music program became something wildly exotic and otherworldly. Pandit’s organ arrangements were accompanied by dark lighting, slow camera moves and close-ups of his eyes. The resulting show was all at once hypnotic, noir, exotic and surreal. He performed Adventures In Music live on the air, five days a week. Over 900 episodes were aired, but only a few survive to this day.
Pandit’s show aired during TV’s boom years and he became wildly popular. In 1951, he played a two-hour concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and was called back for three encores.
A version of the show was syndicated to independent TV stations nationwide and he became a huge hit. He became friends with eastern religious figures and released dozens of albums. His music laid a foundation the exotica genre, made famous in the 1950s by musicians like Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Yma Sumac.
But what seemed wild in the uptight days of 1948 was considered laughably tame by the freaky-deaky standards of 1968. Pandit and other exotica musicians fell out of favor. Korla Pandit’s celebrity faded, but he worked as a musician and a music teacher, and continued releasing albums through 1971.
He reclaimed some of his fame during the exotica / lounge revival of the 1990s, but passed away shortly after.
Director John Turner has just finished a feature documentary about Pandit’s life called Korla.
The documentary doesn’t just tell the lost story of a TV pioneer or an Indian musician. It also tells a story that turns out to be uniquely American. And it’s based on a secret that Pandit kept hidden even from his own family. It’s a secret that wasn’t discovered until years after his death.
Korla – Trailer from Appleberry Pictures on Vimeo.
As a musician, Jon Wurster is best-known as the drummer for Superchunk, The Mountain Goats, New Pornographers and The Bob Mould Band.
He’s also half of the comedy team Scharpling and Wurster.
Tom Scharpling was the host of a radio show which originally aired on WFMU. Scharpling and Wurster struck up a friendship, and Wurster started regularly calling into Scharpling’s radio show, voicing different characters.
The Best Show aired for 13 years, and an exhaustive collection of the show’s shenanigans featuring Wurster’s crazy personnas, has just been released as a box set.
We talk to Wurster about his early days in the Philly punk scene in the 1980s, becoming a professional musician and coping with life on the road.
Wurster also reveals the surprising inspiration for the voice of one of his most notorious Best Show characters, Philly Boy Roy.
The “Best Show” box set by Jon Wurster and Tom Scharpling is now available at Amazon, and includes 16 CDs, a book and lots of bonus material.
You can listen to new “The Best Show” as a webcast and podcast through TheBestShow.net
he groundbreaking TV show Mad Men is now in its final season. For seven seasons, the show has immersed its viewers in the treacherous world of New York ad executives.
It centers around the iconic Don Draper, whose genuine talents and charisma are constantly being undermined by his self-destructive behavior.
Mad Men’s unhurried story lines and morally feeble characters have broadened the possibilities for a basic cable drama. Its plot lines are rarely wrapped up at the end of a single episode. Some plots last several seasons long, giving the show the pace of a novel, rather than that of a TV series.
Another one of Mad Men’s essential elements is its ambitious visual style. One part is the show’s meticulously-recreated post-war fashion and decor, complete with cigarette smoke so thick, you can almost smell it coming out of your TV.
The other part is Mad Men’s cinematic photography. It lends the show a gravitas normally reserved for feature films. It also bolsters the show’s vintage elegance in a way that makes this journey to another time seem even more authentic.
As the ads for the Mad Men’s final season state, this is the end of an era. In honor of the show’s final days, we’re going to talk with Chris Manley.
Manley directed several pivotal Mad Men episodes and was the cinematographer for almost the entire run of the series.
We’ll hear about the challenging career choices that brought him to work on the show.
We’ll also discuss the ideas behind big and small choices that were made while directing and shooting Mad Men, including what Lou and Cutler were saying in the computer room when Ginsberg went nuts.
The series finale of Mad Men airs May 17th on AMC.
Chris Manley is now directing and shooting for Masters of Sex, which begins airing new episodes July 12th on Showtime.
Dialogue editing on this episode was by Seven Morris.
We took this episode on location to the 2015 Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California. The GNRS is easily the biggest hot rod show in Southern California. The best of the best of the best of the hot rod world get polished up to the nines and put on display here every year.
And don’t let the name fool you, there’s way more than roadsters here.
You’ll find traditional hot rods, rat rods, kustoms, drag racers, gassers, bikes and even some low riders here. Plus, they have live bands, pinstripers, artists and vendors of all kind.
So, yes the GNRS is so huge, that you really have to hustle if you want to see all of the cars in one day. It’s like a giant karnival of kustom kulture. And I don’t just mean for the attendees.
I originally went out to the GNRS planning to interview car builders. But I found myself more interested in talking to the vendors, and here’s why.
Hot rod shows are regional. But a lot of the vendors are from out of town, and they follow the hot rod show “circuit” through its entire season, like a traveling carnival.
And I used to do it, too. I would haul my booth, magazine racks and print copies of Barracuda out to Billet Proof, Paso Robles and Viva Las Vegas year after year. I even made to the Hot Rod Hoedown in Philly one year and won a trophy for farthest traveled.
I’d set up my tent at some ungodly hour in the morning. By sundown, it would all be loaded back in the car and you’d never know I’d been there.
I had been a hot rod carny and I didn’t even know it.
When I first realized I’d been a carny, it made all of my hard work seem a little less earnest. At the same time, I had to laugh at how apt the analogy was.
By what’s so horrible about being a hot rod carny? You’ve got this pack of artists, pinstripers, parts dealers and clothing makers working at their booths all day, selling really weird stuff to people who really get it.
And nearly every vendor I’d ever seen was a Mom and Pop-style operation, started by one or two people who had an idea to start a business. So what if you’re selling pomade or skull shifter knobs? It’s still a hands-on, do it yourself business that you’re keeping afloat. That’s awesome. And that’s why I wanted to talk to the vendors.
Our first interview is with Melinda Miles. Back when Barracuda was a print magazine, Melinda was one of our Barracuda Girl pinup models. She appeared in a couple different issues and was featured on the cover of issue #23, our all-Barracuda Girl edition.
Much more than being just another Betty, Melinda is real-deal car nut. She’s a member of the Hell’s Belles, an all-girl car club with chapters in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. She’s also written for Car Kulture Deluxe and Ol’ Skool Rodz.
In 2005, she and her now-husband Bobby Walden opened Walden Speed Shop in Pomona, California. The shop builds hot rods and offers parts like new roof inserts and door skins, plus weekend classes in metal shaping and chassis building.
I caught up with Melinda at the Walden Speed Shop booth and we talked about the challenges and rewards of starting a hot rod shop from scratch.
Visit Walden Speed Shop on the internet at WaldenSpeedShop.com
Kustom kulture has bred its own artists and its own aestehtic, borne out of the post-war popularity of hot rodding.
Its styles started out as a way to kustomize a car’s paint job. Initially, there were pinstripes (which were actually a common adornment on horse-drawn carriages). Then came two-tone paint jobs, scallops, flames, gold-leafing, bright colors, metal flake and airbrushing.
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, hot rod painters began to be recognized not just as artisans,
Punk Rock Blitzkrieg is the new book by legendary punk drummer Marky Ramone of The Ramones.
The book tells the story of Marky’s life behind the kit, playing drums for one of the most influential and iconic punk bands of all time, The Ramones. Long before any books were written about the band, wild rumors about The Ramones had been the stuff of punk rock urban legend. Such as: all of The Ramones had served in Vietnam, Joey was in a mental institution, Dee Dee was a heroin addict and a street hustler, Johnny was a right-winger, Tommy had dropped off the grid and was the owner a fleabag hotel in Florida, Marky was in a revolving door of rehab and CJ was a former roadie who was AWOL from the Marines.
ne of the most pervasive myths was that Phil Spector had pulled a gun on the band during the recording of End Of The Century. (The version of this myth that I’d heard back in the ’80s was that after a long day of recording, Spector had held them all at gunpoint, making them play pinball at his house all night.)
Punk Rock Blitzkrieg cuts these tall tales down to size, but Marky’s first-hand accounts of the animosity in the band are gut-wrenching. They turn out to be far more severe than the rumors ever had been.
The rumor was that Joey had written “The KKK Took My Baby Away” about Johnny, and that Joey and Johnny didn’t like each other very much. According to Blitzkrieg, that song wasn’t about Johnny at all, but Joey and Johnny did not speak directly to each other for years. Like divorced parents, they would shuttle messages back and forth through Marky or the band’s tour manager, even if they were riding together in the van.
As many gruesome stories as there are, Blitzkrieg doesn’t read like mud-slinging or an airing of old beefs. It just seems like Marky’s explanation of the way things happened, warts and all. His frustrations with his band mates are quite apparent, but he says he considers them his brothers. Marky loved the energy they were creating and said it made all of the aggravations worthwhile.
And Marky does cop to his own shortcomings. Alcohol slowly gets the best of him and his life spins out, resulting in the loss of his career, identity as a Ramone and his longtime girlfriend.
He gives an honest glimpse into the struggles of an addict with a horrifying account of a being driven back to drinking by a case of the D.T.s. After several false starts, he finally drags himself out of the pit of alcoholism and rejoins the band.
ome say that the grudges and tensions were an essential ingredient to what made The Ramones so great. Dysfunction is never the wind in your sails, it’s the unnoticed anchor dragging along the ocean floor behind you. It’s a subtle but important distinction to say The Ramones were great in spite of their problems, rather than because of them.
Which is all the more reason to appreciate that The Ramones ever existed. Finding four people anywhere that can click musically is like catching lightning in a bottle. Yet The Ramones came together at that special time and place. Then they stayed together (albeit in a state of wild dysfunction) long enough to record 14 studio albums and play thousands of shows all over the world, lighting the fuse for a worldwide punk rock revolution. That’s nothing short of a miracle.
We talk to Marky about the cruel fate that met some of his most beloved cars, the power of a transistor radio and the snare drum sound that was so bad, it set him on the road to sobriety.
P.J. O’Rourke is one of the most popular modern American humorists, but he’s also a car nut. We find out that O’Rourke comes from a long line of Buick men and then take a humorous look at the sad state of the American auto industry as we discuss his book “Driving Like Crazy.”
Starting with his days at National Lampoon magazine in the 1970s, O’Rourke went on to write for magazines such as Playboy, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper’s and Rolling Stone.
He’s also the author of best-selling books like Republican Party Reptile, Parliament of Whores, Give War A Chance and Peace Kills: America’s Fun New Imperialism.
He’s best known as a political humorist, but he’s also an automotive journalist, having written for Car and Driver and Automobile.
We discuss his book, which is a collection of auto-related stories, celebrating his love of cars and mourning the sad state of the American auto industry.
The full, official title of the book is Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years Of Vehicular Hell-Bending, Celebrating America The Way It’s Supposed To Be, With An Oil Well In Every Backyard, A Cadillac Escalade In Every Carport And The Chairman Of The Federal Reserve Mowing Your Lawn.