Forgot to blog because I thought it was Tuesday, so you get this image-heavy rush-job. I’ve mentioned on this blog just how terrified that Bruce Davidson shot of a man at gunpoint on a train made me when I was younger, reinforcing every rotten apple stereotype that a childhood of obsessing over 1980s VHS sleaze that showed a city overrun by “wallet inspectors” who’d take you for everything you had in front of witnesses (thank you William Lustig, Abel Ferrera, Martin Scorcese and Frank Henenlotter).
That picture turned out to be a member of the New York Transit Police’s “Subway Stars” aka. the Decoy Squad — 24 undercover cops in a variety of disguises; like a crime fighting Village People, to take on the rise in packs of younger muggers hunting prey on the trains. The whole Decoy Squad concept sounds like the plot for a great b-movie and when the team assembled in 1985 in a post Bernie Goetz climate of paranoia, brutality and potential vigilantism (and Davidson’s 1986 Subway book with its glum faces in those tag swarmed surroundings indicates that the trains were no joke back then), it was the subject of plenty of media coverage, presumably for reassurance and political PR.
Bruce Davidson shot plenty of images of the crew at work for a June 1985 New York magazine feature called Hunting the Wolf Packs, with an incredible crew photo of everyone in their disguises, ready to “play the vic” or be a bystander ready to strike. Officer Lyons plays a sleeping Jewish lawyer, Officer Quirke plays a blind man, Officer Doran is a pizza maker returning from his shift and Officer Carter is the undercover man in the satin jacket, Cazals and baseball cap making an arrest in the photo that had me shook. Carter makes plenty more appearances in the images to accompany the article (the black and white images are from 1985 newspaper pieces on the squad), looking cooler than any real world cop has ever looked. It must have been slow, tedious work with quick bursts of intensity.
Entrapment via exposed gold chains and fake Gucci on people pretending to be fake yuppies, dozing Asian tourists, plus gang members looking like they stepped out the Bad video is present in this 1987 footage from a WCBS-TV 60 Minutes episode (scroll down). Allegations of the unit acting illegally with wrongful arrests ended the program in winter that year, but if you were amused by Stallone dressed as an old lady to take down a thief to a Keith Emerson soundtrack in 1981’s Night Hawks or Kramer being saved by a cop posing as a blind violinist on the subway in an early Seinfeld, you’ve got to love the whole Decoy Squad project. Three finger rings and backward hats were an interesting 5-0 uniform for a minute.
24 hours late on the blog updates and still not much to say. The leather jacketed or vested ne’er-do-wells of old always fired my imagination in movies and magazines, but I can’t help but think that gangs were making more of an effort to dress back in the day. Juvenile delinquency looked particularly fucking cool in the 1950s and 1960s, back when the dawn of the teenager had “squares” bricking themselves at grease-slicked haircuts and tribal uniforms. These pictures from a 1957 LIFE feature on Upper Westside and Bronx gangs called Teen-Age Burst of Brutality make alleged thugs look like rock stars. An Egyptian Kings member looks cool calm and collected on the way to be quizzed for a murder, complete with fans peering in the window, and the crew shot of the Laughing Jesters in Manhattan makes them look like the best gang ever. People generally seemed to look more excellent 50+ years ago.
While the gang jackets in this anti-hoodlum film from the 1950s are the worst thing ever, the gangs in the 1961 San Francisco based documentary Ask Me, Don’t Tell Me which has some kind of religious redemption overtones (and did the blog rounds back in 2009 when it seemed to go into public domain) has crews of dudes who are deeply stylish, until they start doing decorating and digging holes and being productive members of society because society asks them to be — it completely does the opposite of discouraging anyone from not wanting to stand on a street corner playing elbow tit (as depicted in The Wanderers). Even in the 1970s, the gang jackets on the cover of New York Magazine‘s March 27, 1972 cover story on east Bronx gangs (which can be read here) would almost certainly have a kid reaching for the marker pens to decorate a garment so he and his friends could rumble with neighbourhood rivals.
Ralph Bakshi has drawn some great hoodlums in flicks like American Pop and Coonskin and given his escalating inability to work within the system, an initiative like Kickstarter is the perfect way for him to raise capital. He’s currently working on a series called Last Days of Coney Island with pledged voice work from folks like Matthew Modine and there’s some amazing incentives to pledge some dough here ($35+ for a Bakshi character doodle?). And I’ve talked about Ralph’s work here a lot of times, because Wizards, Fritz the Cat and Lord of the Rings, plus shows like his Mighty Mouse redux had such a big impact on me — if you don’t know who he is, educate yourself immediately by picking up a copy of Unfiltered and reading this interview with him from a year ago. The sketches and imagery from Last Days of Coney Island look pretty good so far.
Does anyone else recall Champion’s Japanese licensee putting Champion on some extremely underwhelming hiking boots in 1995 to capitalise on a boom in hiking heritage? I thought I dreamt it until I pulled out this old ad again. They really did a number on the iconic ‘C’ right there.
I’m out the country for a week from tomorrow and I’m suffering from Wi-Fi paranoia, so why not drop a phenomenally lazy (down to the wonky scans) blog post on the off-chance I don’t get back online? When it comes to coverage, Supreme is thorough, but James Jebbia stays in the background. There’s chats on the brand history in ‘Interview’, the Rizzoli book and a scattering of Japanese magazines, but part of the brand’s appeal is in how a red rectangular box does the talking. Remember when Suge Knight called out executive producers all on the records dancing? He kind of had a point. If you’re doing things properly you’re probably too busy or/and successful to require a blog that charts your meals, freebies and new watches. The Supreme piece by Jeremy Abbott in the new edition of British ‘GQ Style’ is pretty good, with James mentioning his time at Morgan Allard’s Parachute store (a retailer with a pioneering pick of Japanese brands) and Ari Marcopoulos on photography. Don’t expect an excess of insight, because giving too much away hinders longevity, but it’s worth reading. And there’s more in it than in the ‘New York’ piece (above) from May 1994. Go buy the magazine if you want to see more images.
Just as some sites seem to have fostered Kitty Genovese syndrome on a global scale, with hordes more likely to whip out the phone to film before they’ll ever call for help, I’ve long felt that social media has a tendency to sustain grieving to the point where it simply becomes crocodile tears. If it’s not a death, it’s a birthday of a dead person, then the anniversary of that death and I felt that I’d become a little hardened to all that. After all, how can you feel real sadness for the passing of somebody you never met? Then Adam Yauch died and I felt guilty for being so cynical, because — trite as it sounds — it genuinely felt like I’d lost a mentor.
This blog can’t be neatly summarised, but I can assure you that at nearly every level, there’s some Beastie Boys influence — despite MCA’s admirable achievements as an individual, I’m afraid that I see the trio as one. Instead I treat the Beastie Boys as a leaping trinity of differently pitched sounds operating in unison. I can’t pin down the people who visit here either, but I know — from comments on skate and clothing entries in particular — that the Beastie Boys had a vast impact on them. The Beastie Boys were a conduit for pretty much every sub-cultural element I’ve ever taken an interest in. Lee Perry, John Holmes, Spike Jonze, Minor Threat, Slayer, Ben Davis (see above for evidence of that brand’s impact on me), adidas Campus, PUMA Clydes and all the rest were all interconnected by Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D’s joyous brain farts of cultural references. Let them decipher it rather than offer a simplified path — those that get it will get it eventually. ‘Grand Royal’ magazine’s frequent journalistic gems opened my eyes to the joys of self-indulgent long form writing, Todd James’ Brooklyn Dust logo is still one of my favourites, the talk of deadstock shoe sourcing (and we’ll forgive them for inadvertently spawning the crappy Sneaker Pimps) and Mike D’s involvement in X-Large is a pivotal moment in street wear.
A fair chunk of the industry I work in is the byproduct of something that the Beastie Boys contributed to significantly and I know, from Russ at Unorthodox Styles’ office on my first job interview there, that they’d made a mark on him too. So I kind of owe them for providing me with a source of income and as a founder member, Yauch can take a fair amount of that gratitude from me. If you operate in the street wear realm at any level, you’ve got to doth a snapback to the man — think back to the X-Fuct era, Nigo doing his homework by studying X-Large’s ape preoccupation (which went full circle when Ad-Rock wore Very Ape and the crew wore and collaborated with Bathing Ape) and MCA wearing a Supreme coach jacket to meet the Dalai Lama. They embraced the internet pretty early on too (I can remember thinking X-Large shunning paper catalogues for a website wasn’t going to catch on — turns out I was wrong). All that and I haven’t even mentioned the music.
From seeing the Beastie Boys get vilified on the cover of ‘The Sun’ when they toured with Madonna, I found myself festooning crudely drawn characters with equally poorly rendered VW logos at the age of 9 in every notebook at school. The Beastie Boys had strippers and the press said that they made fun of disabled kids. As a kid myself, that seemed funny. Just as the charts were riddled with comedy raps, the contents of ‘Licence to Ill’ seemed to fit in perfectly (and in retrospect, given the boys’ misunderstood self-parody, satires like ‘No Sleep Til Bedtime’ were doubly weak). Then they vanished for a minute after cropping up in a Sky Movies classic, ‘Tougher Than Leather’ (despite being regarded as a flop, an album that helped cement my love of hip-hop way more than ‘Raising Hell’ did — I know a few other rap nerds that feel the same). After ads cropped up in the specialist press and ‘Smash Hits’ alike, ‘Paul’s Boutique’ seemed to hit with a thud, despite the deserved good will it amassed later down the line. I especially like the revelation in the articles below that the Beastie Boys horror-comedy film they were meant to make with Russell and Rick — ‘Scared Stupid’— which was going to be followed up by a ‘To Catch a Thief’ remake starring Oran’ Juice Jones was deaded when Molly Ringwald talked Ad-Rock out of making it because it might harm his acting credibility.
My blood boiled when 3rd Bass took potshots at them (“Screaming ‘Hey Ladies’? Why bother?”) at the close of ‘Sons of 3rd Bass’ (Whiteboys calling whiteboys “devils” always confused me). Then the Beastie Boys owned the decade that followed and taught me that being unpleasant to ladies wasn’t that cool, growing up publicly. Not a lot of bands can do that and while the whole instrumental jam and comedy ‘Country Mike’ material never did anything for me, you had to respect the willingness to experiment. Plus they proved to we rap-loving crackers that just being your damn self and getting whiteboy wasted was the key to longevity, rather than haplessly trying to be “down”, and that through a few degrees of separation, pretty much everything was hip-hop in one way or another. I still kind of blame them for inadvertently creating Limp Bizkit and co, but despite that charmless mutant offspring misinterpreting what went before, the good far outweighs the bad.
Skipping from talk of skin colour, how many rap groups from the early 1980s are still together and more importantly, how many would you still pay to see? That’s the real mark of the Beastie Boys’ achievement. Some argued that forty-somethings spitting fly gibberish over distorted drums might have started to lose its appeal as an MP3, but live they could still crush it. Plus, they really seemed to be friends offstage — this was no marriage of convenience, which makes Adam’s passing all the more heartbreaking.
At a push, if I had to pick, MCA was the best rapper of the trio — as with the equally missed Guru, it’s mostly the voice, with those gruff tones counteracting the nasal nerdery at work. I’m particularly fond of his insanely stoned delivery on an early demo of ‘Car Thief’. Yauch’s film work (not dissimilar to George Harrison’s work with Handmade) with Oscilloscope Laboratories is significant too in supporting great output — ‘Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot’, directed by Adam, was strong. This is just a scraping of what MCA achieved too — it’s the art of turning music, art, clothing, film, sport and print into one big playroom, but somehow adding integrity into the mix too. Nobody else will ever match that, but even a handful of lessons learnt are enough to keep things moving.
Apologies for the picture quality here — I just developed an Instagram addiction far later than everybody else, which means gratuitous shots of things I’ve spotted lately to pad out blog posts. Eventually my iPhone will get lost or stolen and I’ll be back to the cataract image resolution of the BlackBerry. Consider this a phase. The image above is something I’d been meaning to up here before — it’s the eccentric window display of a large store that sells cheap tat in Bedford Town centre. I see it every day, but it gets odder and odder – who puts airsoft replica Kalashnikovs, cheap dolls, fake flowers and hookah pipes together? There’s a school of retail that extolls the notion of singling out one thing and doing it well — I prefer the slightly more haphazard bric-a-brac approach.
That male doll appears to be dressed like a gang member too, with that top buttoned mini Pendleton, khakis, beanie and headband. There aren’t too many one-stop spots for houseplant seeds and a convincing looking Glock copy — this is one of them. What also caught my attention was these Kevlar branded lace tips on the new Nike Elite range — Kevlar laces are nothing new and while that branding’s hardly necessary, there’s something oddly appealing about that attention-to-detail. Bulletproof shoelaces are the future.
Films you’ve been placing into the “recent” category are officially old. I never realised that ‘Shallow Grave’ is 18 years old. The film’s old enough to legally buy a copy of itself. Arriving at a time when British films were of ‘Splitting Heirs’ with Eric Idle standard, you’ve got to give it to Danny Boyle for bringing a blend of populism and quality control back home. That’s not to say there weren’t fantastic British movies around at that time (that’s a whole ‘nother entry), but Boyle pushed things forward. As Ewan McGregor’s face on a film poster becomes a harbinger of twee or dull (though ‘Knight and Day’, ‘This Means War’, ‘Larry Crowne’ and posters for anything starring either or both Jennifer Aniston or a post ‘300’ Gerard Butler are the most significant never-watch-pledge reverse-marketing campaigns of recent years), he probably needs to man up and apologise to Danny.
Criterion’s edition of ‘Shallow Grave’ drops in June and the cover art brings back hammer time, looking like a Wickes catalogue money shot to the uninitiated and something more sinister to anyone that’s seen the film. Criterion are also putting the excellent white person problems comedy-drama ‘The Last Days of Disco’ (14 years old) onto Blu-ray in July, with my favourite Chloë Sevigny (between this and ‘American Psycho, during 1998 and 1999, she covered the decade prior pretty well) performance ever and a smart use of 1980s New York that doesn’t try too hard to place period detail by chucking brands and body poppers all over the place. I’d be surprised if Danny Boyle didn’t take a few notes for the song and dance ending of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Matt Keeslar’s character’s speech about why disco can never be killed is cinematic gold.
I really sold people who read this blog short with that one. On the Chloë Sevigny topic, ‘Gummo’ is 15 years old and I still can’t get enough of the whole Mark Gonzales chair wrestling scene. It’s probably an indictment of much that followed that ‘Gummo’ is still a truly odd experience. The chocolate bar from the bath still unsettles me more than any amount of gore and mayhem. The prospect of James Franco as a RiFF RAFF style character in ‘Spring Breakers’ alongside Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens is very appealing too. The Entertainment Tonight preview of it promises “real” and more “real” plus loads of beautiful girls in bikinis, but perhaps it’s set to truly confound folk by being relatively conventional. The 1997 ‘New York’ magazine profile of Harmony from 1997, painting him as some enemy of morality is interesting — plus it has Nan Goldin on photography duties.
Oh shit, more Ralph Lauren talk? Like the anonymous caller that ushers ‘Protect Ya Neck’s Shaw Brothers headnod “Ah yeah, again and again…”
It’s been a busy week. I’m feeling lazy, work is breaking balls and I was desperate for something to fill this evening’s blog void. If in doubt, I fall back on a couple of things close to my heart – Polo and Champion. I think I’ve exhausted the latter, but there’s always mileage when it comes to the former Lipschitz’s empire. First things first, I’m re-reading Dana Thomas’s ‘Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre’ – essential reading for the brand fiends out there – though it’s worth noting that while the fragrance industry catches an slap to the head in Dana’s book, Hermès and LV are still projected as premium. If you’ve never picked it up, from the headquarters of brands to the truth about manufacture and Rodeo Drive’s origins, plus the LVMH interest in Asian-friendly outlet shopping, it’s a good one for the commuters out there looking for more insight than the usual vapid fashion week talk.
The real appeal of Ralph Lauren lies in those visits to the wood-furnished Ivy League looking stores, where to quote Lenny Leonard on clocking the Fleet-A-Pita van outside the Springfield power plant, “It looks like it doesn’t even need our business!”
In tribute to Ralph, here’s a few recently unearthed Polo-centric happenings – firstly, the always-excellent (seriously, for spotting James Jebbia’s brief classroom TV appearance he gets props over here) Martorialist just talked Zhigge, and noted that they’re pioneers of the Lo’ Life references on record* as well as wearers of some fine garments linking the group to Hiroshi in a roundabout way that 99.9% of bloggers would lack the knowledge to execute. A little remnant of my ‘New York Magazine’ pillaging post from last month, the ‘Ralph’s World’ cover story from September 1993 is based around the opening of the Polo Sport store and the launch of RRL (“The leather jacket, the worn-out flannel shirt, the beat-up hat represent living, not fashion’ he spits out the last word.“) and is a good piece of Ralph history.
In line with my attempt at doing my bit to kill the e-pollution of retrospective pieces, my token spot of retro-offsetting arrives in the shape of a short Q&A with Ralph from the new ‘Man About Town’ via Philip Utz – I laughed at editor-in-chief Huw Gwyther when he appeared on ‘Dragon’s Den’ asking for cash. The joke’s on me, because this is a good publication (I’ve never picked up ‘Wonderland’) – Simon Foxton is in remarkably restrained mode, still on a young black teenagers vibe (and I’m not talking whiteys with dreads and Reverse Weave hoodies), but showcasing some clean Polo and Purple Label pieces in a Parisian setting. The shoot’s right here, but the interview is worth your time too.
*Though the non-major label antics of Boostin’ Kev preempt Zhigge by a year.
Last year if you were short of a blog post inspiration you could just go and plunder LIFE’s image archives or go steal something from A Continuous Lean or The Selvedge Yard and add your own half-baked commentary on it. You could also up a lookbook that had been posted several times already, again, with a sprinkling of pointless opinion. But Google Books – aka. the print industry’s nemesis (don’t worry print, techno-book won’t replace pulped trees in my affections any time soon) just made blogs even easier. I plead guilty to abusing this online resource. Vibe’s up there almost in its entirety (a few holes in the mid ’90s), as is Spin, but the crown jewel is New York Magazine’s back catalogue. Shouts to Sofarok for putting me onto some pieces from the magazine’s past pages last year. It still packs a kick, with some excellent writing – the KAWS cover last year and the Dash Snow piece a few years prior were good, but over the years its been in the proximity of some zeitgeist moments by mere blocks, while we wannabes were soaking it up from a distance.
GWARIZM relevant highlights of a casual browse? A Valentines issue from February 1986 with the romantic tale of Futura 2000 and then-wife Christine Carrie, a tiny piece on Supreme from May 1994, a couple of weeks after the store opened, some coverage of the Phillies Blunt phenomenon from August 1992, a lengthy Ralph Lauren interview that’s actually picked from a conversation from the out-of-print, but pretty good (get your Amazon Marketplace on and you’ll find it for a penny plus P&P) ‘Fashion: The Inside Story’ by Barberalee Diamonstein on Rizzoli from October 1985. Mark “Search all issues” and bookend your terms with speech marks to stumble across gem after gem. Considering the excellent Rolling Stone magazine archive cost around £40, that New York Magazine hands it over like this for nada is a major bonus. You want more? Hunt down Craig Unger’s ‘Attitude’ article from July 1982, Unger’s ‘The Lower East Side: There Goes the Neighborhood’ piece from May 1984, ‘Prep-School Gangsters’ by Nancy Jo Sales from December 1996 and ‘Hard-Core Kids’ by Peter Blauner from May 1986.
But the absolute best part of a trawl is Anna Wintour’s work as then-fashion editor of New York Magazine between 1981 and 1983. There’s a lot of reasons why she commands such respect, but look to the ‘New York, New York’ shoot from March 1982 to see Ali, Dondi White and Zephyr getting involved – also note the use of a bike courier in the same shoot – prescient of the current editorial clichés used in efforts to look edgy. Go article hunting right now, right here.
But I’m conscious I’m dwelling on the old, so here’s a new concept – retrospective offsetting. To counteract the old stuff revisited, here’s some newness that gets me hyped:
ARC’TERYX VEILANCE GORE-TEX ENVELOPE
I heard about this method of promoting the excellent Arc’teryx Veilance line at Capsule earlier this year. Conceptually a GORE-TEX envelope sounds like something Ghostface would mention in a lyric back when he spat lines like “Meet the black Boy George, dusted on my honeymoon/Bitch like my wife, she popped my Ghostface balloon.” As a result I needed to own this. Steve Mann kindly gave me one of these oddball promo artifacts. That the envelope inside it tough to remove is irrelevant – this is one of the best pieces of PR ephemera this year, and when the year is out, you’ll all be cock jocking Veilance. Trust me on that one.
Australia should, with that hazy, slightly sweaty atmosphere that comes built in with any motion picture shot in any of the country’s suburbs, churn out some brilliant crime films, but bar ‘Chopper’ and the deeply disturbing but necessary ‘The Boys’ (hunt it down if you can stomach it), the curse of the knockabout Guy Ritchie twattisms meant films like ‘Two Hands’ and ‘The Hard Word’ fell short despite their potential. Post ‘Underbelly’ there should have been a new breed of flicks. With good buzz after a Sundance showing last Summer, the Melbourne-based ‘Animal Kingdom’ looks intelligent, beautifully shot and deadly serious. This full-length trailer is slickly edited, culminates with a nice matter-of-fact typeface and uses Air Supply’s ‘I’m All Out Of Love’ to winning effect. do we have a potential classic on our hands?
NIKE SFB MID BOOT
Nike seem intent on getting you excited with their new releases if you got bored to tears with the Air Max 1 tsunami (Patta are the exception to that boredom) – the SFB Mid Boot is a more crowdpleasing use of the military technology the brand’s been pushing and it’s another Free soled classic in the making. Is it getting a UK release? Apparently not. This is to the Revaderchi what the Wildedge was to the Wildwood, even if, wisely, it steers clear of anything corny like ‘Air Revaderchi 2010’, it’s an update of both versions of the whimsically titled ACG release. Ace.