A BOXER’S UNFORGIVABLE BRASHNESS | THE CHAMP WHO DARED TO BE BLACK

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Jack Johnson. The American boxing great still awaiting a pardon, on long ago trumped-up charges, that he’s more than due to receive.  Obama, for some reason, is dragging his heels– causing many to speculate that it’s because his old foe John McCain is the one strongly behind the effort to bring exoneration to the Black champ’s legacy. Democrats or Republicans– it’s always the same circus, just different clowns.

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Arthur John “Jack” Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas on March 31, 1878– the first son in a family of six children born to Henry (a former slave) and Tiny Johnson.  Jack Johnson grew up poor– dropping put of school in the fifth grade so he could work on the Galveston docks to help support the family.  As a teen he began boxing in Negro matches organized to entertain proper white folk.  The winner of the match would collect whatever money was thrown in the ring by the appreciative spectators.

Johnson soon rose to the rank of Negro boxing’s heavyweight champion, and was called the “Galveston Giant.” Johnson wanted a shot a Jim Jeffries, the current White heavyweight champ, who refused to fight a black man. In 1910, they finally squared off, with Jeffries coming out of retirement to challenge Johnson– who had become the “unrecognized” heavyweight champion by knocking out Tommy Burns in 1908. Jeffries was hailed as the “Great White Hope” –a rallying cry started by none other than famed author, Jack London. He, and scores of Whites like him, wanted to see the boastful Black boxer beaten in the ring by a White man, in order to erase that “golden smile” from Jack’s face, and restore White America’s pride and position in what was being billed as– “The Fight of the Century.”

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Jack Johnson

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“If the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbours.” –The New York Times

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A LOVE FOR THE OLD WILD WEST | VINTAGE AMERICANA POSTCARDS

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Yes, I have a thing for vintage linen postcards– with old Curt Teich works being at the top of that list.  I also love the lore of the American Wild West (the maverick, pioneer spirit lines-up well with my own modus operandi)– bowlegged, dusty cowboys with tobacco-stained fingers and hooded eyes, and the soulful sages that we call Native Americans with their incredible art, customs and culture.  I could feast on these beautiful little pieces of art for days.

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1917 — American Map Showing Vital Spot to Hit to Kill the American Spirit of Justice. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

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Circa 1925, Pendleton, Oregon — There are many tribes of Indians in the Northwest and they live on reservations. The Bannocks and the Nezperces of Idaho, the Umatillas of Oregon and the Yakimas of Washington are the chief tribes. Fishing and hunting is part of their livelihood. They have great meetings at the rodeos where they parade in war costumes and perform their tribal dances. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

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Circa 1943, Elk City, Oklahoma — Texas Kid, Jr., Riding “Joe Louis.” A past time Range Sport of the Pioneer Southwest, being reproduced by a crack rider during Woodword Elks Rodeo. Stock furnished by Beutler Bros., Elk City, Okla. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

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Circa 1939, San Antonio, Texas — OLD “TEX,” the best known specimen of that hardy race of cattle, the famous TEXAS-LONGHORN, escaped the early day cowboys who herded and drove them to distant railroad shipping points. He roamed the prairies of Southwest Texas to an undetermined age and is now full body mounted as shown and stands as one of outstanding exhibits in the Buckhorn Curio Store Museum, originally the Famous Buckhorn Bar in San Antonio, Texas. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

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Circa 1933 — NAVAJO INDIANS SPINNING YARN FOR RUGS. Navajo Indian Rugs are famed the world over for their beauty and durability. In infancy children receive the ambition to create designs which express their understanding of life, supply, or surroundings. No two rugs are designed identical. The picture shows one rug just completed, and the never idle fingers are spinning yarn from the raw wool and preparing for another rug of some design which inspired thoughts have conceived. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

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20TH CENTURY AVANT-GARDE ICON | TSY STYLE HALL OF FAME JEAN COCTEAU

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“An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.”

–Jean Cocteau

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Jean Cocteau.  Quite possibly the most important art icon of the 20th century, who could seemingly do it all, and with great style– painter, poet, playwright, novelist, actor, film-maker, the list goes on and on. But he was first and foremost a poet at heart– and a truly incredible one at that.

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Stunning photo of Jean Cocteau by Irving Penn.  Damn, the man had style.  Borrowing a page out of The Duke of Windsor’s book– perfectly pairing classic menswear patterns with elegance and ease. “Penn made this portrait of Jean Cocteau during a 1948 trip to Paris for Vogue.  Each thread of Cocteau’s tie, vest, and suit is etched in light and shadow; the patterns and the texture pop out in vivid, tactile detail.  The drape of his coat over an extended arm adds drama and balance to the composition. Cocteau is dressed in the sartorial attire of a dandy, which, by all accounts, he was.  There is an air of flamboyance about him, until you look at his face.  His dead-serious expression registers the fierce intelligence of a keen observer, as if he is taking our measure while deigning to allow us to take his.” –Philip Gefter via

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August 1955, France– Picasso with Jean Cocteau at a Bullfight –Image by © Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau knew one another for nearly fifty years. They met in 1915 following Picasso’s departure from martre, where Cocteau’s friend, the poet Max Jacob, had shared an atelier with the painter– one using the only bed by day, and other by night. Picasso made an immediate and lasting impression on Cocteau, who considered him as one of his three masters. via

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Jean Cocteau sketching model Elizabeth Gibbons in a Chanel dress in his hotel bedroom (Castille in the Rue Cambon), surrounded by posters of his latest theatrical productions, photos of friends, medicine bottles, books, stage sets and pencils, 1937.  –photo by Roger Schall via

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A LOST ART OF DAYS GONE BY | VINTAGE CURT TEICH LINEN POSTCARDS

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I’m crazy for vintage Curt Teich linen postcards. The warm, fuzzy, softness of color, printed (sometimes slightly off register) on the linen-weave stock, of scenes when America had a youthful glow. It makes me yearn for a life and times that I was born too late for, by golly.  I find myself gazing at neighborhoods and cities, trying to chronologically piece them together.  I ask myself– what was it like here 100 yrs ago… which houses came first… which were layered in later, and when?  A lot of the scenes in these incredible windows to the past are places where I’ve lived, or passed through that are in one way or another core to who I am.

Imagine living again in a time with no cell phones, internet, and the other so-called modern conveniences that “save us time.” I could go back in a New York second.  Technology and consumption is moving at a scary pace, folks.  I wonder what we’ll be looking back at with nostalgia-glazed eyes 25 yrs from now… Planet Earth?

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Ford Model T – 1908-1909, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan

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Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor, New York City

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Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, New York City

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THE RUGGED ROAD | AN AMBITIOUS MOTORCYCLE JOURNEY FOR THE AGES

In 1934, two incredible women, Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron, set out on a 600cc single-cylinder Panther equipped with sidecar and trailer and rode from London to Cape Town, South Africa. No modern roads, no back up plan, just a giant set of balls that any man would envy. Both women were already accomplished competitive racers, who were savvy enough to raise corporate sponsorship– which just goes to show how seriously they were taken as motorcyclists. The pair shot straight across the Sahara through equatorial Africa, and South to the Cape, on the long and brutal trek without so much as a compass.  A feat that no man had dared to even attempt.

Here’s the AMA’s account of their story, and the incredible account of Theresa Wallach’s lifetime on two wheels.  No wonder she was inducted into their Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Warning: If you’re anything like me, reading this may make you feel like an epic under-achiever.

Motorcycling pioneer ~ Theresa Wallach

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Theresa Wallach was a pioneering motorcyclist whose lifelong involvement in the sport included being a racer, motorcycle adventurer, military dispatch rider, engineer, author, motorcycle dealer, mechanic and riding school instructor. Wallach overcame numerous obstacles that confronted women motorcyclists of her era to become an enduring advocate of the sport. Wallach’s willingness to turn from traditional roles led to a lifestyle full of exploration, adventure and a never-ending dedication to motorcycling. Wallach was in the vanguard of redefining the role of women in motorcycling.

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The Panther Redwing Model 100 motorcyle that Wallach & Blenkiron used was fitted with extra heavy-duty Webb forks, heavier gauge wheel spokes, wider mudguards to accommodate Fort Dunlop 3.5 inch car tires, and a Moseley block pillion saddle. The sidecar was a standard Watsonian touring model with long, heavy-duty flat leaf springs at the rear and coil springs at the front. Go read “The Rugged Road”, by Theresa Wallach.

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EVEN COWBOYS GET THE BLUES | VINTAGE PHOTOS OF DUDES IN DENIM

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Times sure have changed.  Playing “Cowboys & Indians” outside has been replaced with playing “Halo” or “Call of Duty” in a darkened room.  Heck, it’s probably so politically incorrect to even mention “Cowboys & Indians” that someone somewhere is having a tizzy.  The American cowboy is an icon of grit, honor, independence and masculinity.  Hard work, long days, and little pay except for the open sky, a horse to ride, a hot meal and a drink or two to wet your whistle.  Maybe even a dance with a pretty girl if yer’ lucky– and don’t stink to high heaven.

The 1910s – 1930s saw the Wild West American lifestyle move largely from a way of life, to ever-increasing faded memories and mythology.  Our country was getting smaller. Technology and transportation were ushering in a new era of industrialized cities and advanced accessibility.  The real jean-wearin’ cowboy lifestyle of days past were kept alive over the decades largely through the Western fashions worn by the stars of silver screen and music.

These images are some of my favorite captures of the American cowboy at the very end of his reign– many not surprisingly taken by LIFE photography giants like Loomis Dean, and Ralph Crane to name a few. Some, unfortunately, are uncredited.  If you know the pic, give me a shout  so I can give the photographer their due, please.

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circa 1934– “Rear view of a man wearing chaps and spurs”  –Photo McCormic Co., Amarillo, Texas.

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Lubbock, TX, 1940– Matador, A Texas Ranch: Seven cowboys sitting along corral fence draped w. their chaps (which they don’t wear while not working), as they wait for brand irons to heat up during cattle roundup at Matador Ranch, the second largest in the state.  –photo by Hansel Mieth

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ROBERT MITCHUM, PT. I | A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH HOLLYWOOD

 

“There just isn’t any pleasing some people. The trick is to stop trying.”

–Robert Mitchum

I can’t say it any better than Mr. Kinsley–

“Bob Mitchum was one of the good guys. He was a smoker of cigarettes and cigars, a drinker of Irish and Scotch whisky in large quantities, and a smoker of hashish and sinsemilla marijuana joints the size of White Owl cigars. He did 2 months in jail in 1949 for smoking pot when the cops set him up through an informer. But he was a tough guy too, “rode the rails” as a boy, and was on a chain gang in Georgia at 14 for vagrancy, escaped, and later had 27 fights as a professional boxer. His sardonic comment on the California jail was: ‘It was just like Palm Springs — but without the riff-raff.’”

“He was born in 1919 and he died, of emphesyma and lung cancer, in 2001. How did this talented actor and hell-raiser survive for nearly eighty years? He must have had leather lungs, a cast-iron stomach and the metabolism of a uranium burner. Or somebody up there certainly liked him, and kept him going, with his jokes and his storytelling, his sense of humor and his sarcastic jabs at fellow actors.”

–Peter Kinsley, The Storyteller

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1955– Robert Mitchum in ‘The Night of the Hunter’  –Image by © Corbis. Many consider Robert Mitchum’s portrayal of Harry Powell (The Preacher) to be his finest. Based largely on the real-life murderer Harry Powers, AKA “the Bluebeard of Quiet Dell” who terrorized West Virginia back in the early 1930s. Convicted of killing a widow, her three children, and another widow– Powers was hanged to death on March 18, 1932, at the West Virginia Penitentiary.

“People think I have an interesting walk. Hell, I’m just trying to hold my gut in.”

–Robert Mitchum

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DAMN RIGHT I’VE GOT THE BLUES | LEGENDARY BADASS BLUESMEN

Townes Van Zandt was famous for saying– “There’s only two kinds of music, Blues and Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” Boy, was he ever right. I say, gimme the Blues. The  most perfect sorrow-drownin’, tear-jerkin’, soul-howlin’, baby-makin’ music there is. Mystic sounds born from blood, sweat & tears — still giving birth to the best Rock & Roll bands to this day.

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R.L. (Robert Lee) Burnside — Born in Mississippi hill country back in 1926.  Worked as a sharecropper, picked up the guitar as a young man, heavily influenced by bluesmen — Fred MacDowell, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters (who was married to his first cousin). Burnside shook the Mississippi dust off his heels some time in the ’50s and headed for Chicago.  Within a year, his Father, brother, and uncle were all murdered.  He went back home to Mississipi where he ran into trouble himself — killing a man.  “I didn’t mean to kill nobody… I just meant to shoot the son of a bitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord.”  R.L. Burnside gained a huge following and critical acclaim finally in the ’90s when he teamed up with Jon Spencer, releasing the masterpiece — “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey.”  Burnside died at the age of 78 in 2005.  –Image by Jim Herrington

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John Lee Hooker — Born in Mississippi, the youngest of 11 children, back in 1917 to a sharecropper family.  His Daddy was also a preacher, and when he was just 4 yrs old, his parents split-up.  His Mama married a bluesman, William Moore — a young Hooker took-up guitar, and credits his stepfather with being a major influence on him musically. With his own unique style of talking blues, infused with boogie-woogie, Hooker racked-up a string of hits — including“Boogie Chillen” (from 1948) and “Boom Boom” (from 1962), and my favorite John Lee Hooker tune is — “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.”  John Lee Hooker passed away in 2001.

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DJANGO REINHARDT | THE GYPSY GODFATHER OF HOT JAZZ GUITAR

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If you’re a guitarist, or just an avid fan of music history, you may be aware of two mythical icons who are the equivalent to the Holy Grail of guitar.  In the world of Blues, Robert Johnson imediately comes to mind– legend has it, Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his Blues guitar chops.  And in the world of Jazz guitar, there is no one more revered and influential as the one and only Hot Jazz hero, Django Reinhardt.

Django had only two operable fingers on his fretting hand (he was badly burned in a fire at age 18), which is unbelievable when you listen to the recordings of him noodling up and down the neck.  But it wasn’t the novelty of his playing with two fingers that made him a sensation– Django’s techniques and tone are legendary, and still cited as a major influence by the world’s best guitarists, past and present.  His early and unfortunate passing at the age of 43 yrs old (1910-1953), forever cemented his icon status.

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Gypsy Jazz Guitar virtuoso, Django Reinhardt.  Here you get a good look at his crippled left hand.

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“Django Reinhardt was arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived, an important influence on Les Paul, Charlie Christian, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins, and many others. Handsome, charismatic, childlike, and unpredictable, Reinhardt was a character out of a picaresque novel. Born in a gypsy caravan at a crossroads in Belgium, he was almost killed in a freak fire that burned half of his body and left his left hand twisted into a claw. But with this maimed left hand flying over the frets and his right hand plucking at dizzying speed, Django became Europe’s most famous jazz musician, commanding exorbitant fees—and spending the money as fast as he made it.”

Michael Dregni

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1934, France — Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) and Stephane Grappelli, of the Quintet de Hot Club de France. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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“Amazingly, several of the Gypsy guitarists who came along after Django played with just two fingers in an effort to get the tone he had—guitarists like Jacques Montagne. Even today, players like John Jorgenson or Sam Miltich will every now and then play a song with two fingers for fun, and they are able to do it, but four fingers is certainly better.”

Michael Dregni

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Django Reinhardt, 1942.

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