Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to Be a Well Dressed Man about Town, Spring 2014 Edition

A few years ago I did a blog entry that ended up being read by over 2,000 people, making it one of my most popular posts. I suppose it could have been one guy reading it 2,000 times. But I don't think so. The piece also got picked up and re-posted on the "Rocker" website for an even larger audience.

The article was about fashion for working class dudes. Especially guys past 30, who want to dress well and stand out in this world of baggy sweat pants, over sized Wal-Mart T shirts and chunky white plastic running shoes.

Now, I must explain that when I say "fashion", I don't mean catwalks and runways and "Zoolander" haircuts. I am not referring to "blue steel" here, folks. Nor am I talking about the skinny-fit, "metrosexual" look. I am talking about timeless, classic clothing for work or play that won't ever go "out of style". I know this because the designs of much of the clothing I'm talking about originated 50 or more years ago, and are still commonly worn today.

(Photo: Anonymous, well dressed middle aged dude found on the internet.No idea who he is, but he "gets it".)

I wanted to do another piece about this, for guys looking to buy some items to wear this Spring (if it ever stops snowing). I wanted to emphasize low cost alternatives to the high end, fancy boutique men's store stuff. There are companies charging huge amounts for their high quality reproductions of classic mid century work wear and casual fashions. Alot of these are great, and they're also made in America, so you are supporting small businesses and helping to provide jobs for Americans.HOWEVER. If you just cannot afford to pay premium prices for these items, don't worry. I will show you how to get the classic, timeless look you want on the cheap.

Before I start, let it be known far and wide that a man does not need a huge closet full of clothes, unless he wants to have that. What most guys need for Spring, really need, is the following:
SIX SHIRTS:3 long sleeve and 3 short.
THREE PAIRS OF PANTS: One blue jean, one black jean, and one dressier pair of slacks.
A PAIR OF GOOD SHOES (sneakers, brogues, what have you)
ONE LEATHER JACKET (with removable lining)
ONE LIGHT SPRING JACKET (such as a Harrington or Eisenhower).
That's all you need. I personally have a drawer full of pants, two leather jackets, three pairs of boots, five or six pairs of sneakers, etc...but I'm just like that, you don't have to be. Now that you know what your basic needs are,let's get specific, gents. We're gonna start at your coconut head and eventually get down to your stinking feet nubs. Are ya with me? Let's go!

BRIXTON HEADWEAR: One thing every guy needs for those colder Spring days is a good hat. My choice is the Brixton Brood newsboy cap. It has a nice retro feel, like the newsboy caps of the 20's, 30's, and 40's. It's rugged and warm, and it goes with almost anything. Brixton has a great website full of good hat options, but remember one thing. Frat boys, "Jersey Shore" meatheads and "Mad Men" wanna bes have ruined the Fedora for everyone. Stay away from the Fedora at all costs.

RAY BAN GLASSES/SUNGLASSES: Whether you are slowly going blind as a bat like me, or you just want to keep the cursed sun out of your eyes, or you'd like to creepily check out girls without them being sure that you are staring, Ray Ban glasses/sunglasses are the way to go. The Ray-Ban Aviator was developed in 1929 to keep the glare from the sun and shiny plane metal out of the eyes of our fighter pilot boys in the skies. The regular Joe on the street wanted to look like the flyboy heroes too, so eventually these iconic shades became available for public purchase. In 1952, the ultimate icon of cool was introduced: The Wayfarer. You've seen these on the noggins of everyone from James Dean to Chet Baker to Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello and Huey Lewis, not to mention every rockabilly and punk rock rocker that ever lived. Ray-Ban recently introduced a "modern" take on the Wayfarer, and although it is usually an absolutely awful idea for iconic companies to "update" their eternally popular,classic designs, these are actually pretty great. Ray Bans tend to be on the expensive side, but check eBay for hundreds of cheaper copies, some of which are probably just as good.

WRANGLER WESTERN SHIRTS: It's Springtime. Some days are warm, some days are cold. You'll need a good short sleeve option as well as a long sleeve. For the long sleeve, go with a Wrangler western shirt. These things have never been trendy. These are American working class icons. They look good on almost everyone. They come in endless variations of colors and patterns. They are inexpensive and will last you for years. If you have the time and patience, look them up on eBay. You can likely pick up five of these used for the price of one new shirt. Now, there are hundreds of companies making shirts like this. Some are very, very cheap and some are ridiculously expensive for a piece of work wear. I'm telling you, go with Wrangler. If you are a larger man, do not tuck these in. If you are very tall and thin, you can tuck them in if you like. If you are of smaller build, like myself, tuck them in. They tend to be very long, so if the shorter fellas leave them untucked, it looks like we're wearing a dress. No dresses allowed here.

WARRIOR BUTTON DOWN SHIRTS: I usually recommend short sleeve shirts by brands like Fred Perry and Ben Sherman for that classic Ivy League springtime look. Those are great items, but they can be quite expensive. As always, check eBay. Many of my FP and BS shirts were purchased that way, for less than half of their original cost. If you want a crisp new shirt that has never known another man's arm pit...go with Warrior. Warrior is a Brit company that makes affordable reproductions of classic '60s button down shirts. Timeless, sharp plaids and checks, with button down collars and really nice details. You can find these in America at Angry Young And Poor, Sourpuss, and other in the know online shops.

NOCONA LEATHER BELTS: So many companies make good, affordable belts. The aforementioned Brixton, for instance, has great belts. But if you, like me, like to incorporate iconic tough guy western items into your wardrobe, please know that it's now safe. Madonna and Brad Pitt have stopped wearing these things, and they are no longer trendy. You may don them once again. I usually go with a brown belt for blue jeans and a black belt with black jeans. For your dressier pants, go with the brown for a dark pair of pants and the black for a lighter pair. If you are only going to have one belt, go with the brown.

LEVIS 501 ORIGINALS: Denim is a huge fetish item for a lot of people. If you start delving into the world of denim, you'll hear terms like "selvedge", "Japanese selvedge", "Neppy", "Vintage cut", and endless discussions of which thickness or weight of denim is the best. Even Levis themselves has gotten into the game of super expensive selvedge denim and re-issues of their iconic jean cuts from the past. That stuff is fun to look at, but you really only need one thing, and it's not expensive. A classic, iconic 501 original jean. This is something I would try to buy new if I were you. Get the raw, dark denim. If you buy the "Shrink To Fit" variety, know that you should buy about two waist sizes bigger than your normal size, and about three inches longer than usual for the inseam. They shrink. Hence the name. The idea is that they conform to your body as they shrink, which they do. But in order to get them to do that, you have to wear them wet. if you don't have that kind of time, simply go with the 501 Originals. Get your regular waist size, and a few inches longer on the inseam, because you will want to cuff them (fold them up) on the bottom. Either go for the chunky three or four inch rockabilly cuff or the sharp, two inch tight 60's style mod/ skinhead cuff. AVOID the modern "skinny jean" look. It is way too trendy these days, and looks terrible on anyone over 25. You want slim, clean lines, yes. You do not want to look like you are wearing denim pantyhose.

DICKIES 873 SLIM STRAIGHT PANTS: Dickies are always great. You can wear them to work, or with a nice button down as dress pants. Just make sure they're clean, dummy. A lot of guys feel that the original Dickies flat front work pant is a very baggy and unflattering cut, and I tend to agree. Again, you don't want anything skin tight. But you also, and I really have to emphasize this, do NOT want to wear baggy clothes. It tends to make a person look sloppy and out of date. My Motto: "Take the Time to Find Shit That FITS". Dickies makes a new "Slim Straight" option, the 873. These are perfect. In the photo I've chosen, the model is wearing a very new, unwashed pair of these, and he is also wearing them a bit long. This is making his pants look a little baggier than you'd want. If you buy a pair with a slightly shorter inseam than you'd normally go for, or cuff them with a nice two inch turn up, they will look great. Dickies also makes a "skinny" trouser for those so inclined, but again, it's not really our thing.

So let's sum up what we've learned so far:
Classic, timeless work and casual wear is ace
There are expensive options, but they are not necessary
SLIM is good, TIGHT is not
BAGGY leaves you saggy

For your jackets, you cannot go wrong with two old standards. 1)The Levi's Trucker Jacket, and 2) The leather bomber jacket. Shoes or boots by Doc Marten and/or Red Wing. The thing to remember is have fun, tailor your personal style to your interests and what appeals to you, and wear it confidently. Ladies be likin' that!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Staring Into Damnation's Hole: The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X!

A few months back, I was clicking through the great wasteland of cinematic detritus that you may know as "Netflix", looking for either something "good" to watch (unlikely) or something that would be horrendously bad enough that I would enjoy it for it's very ridiculousness (possible). I did not expect to find a new movie which I had no previous knowledge of that would instantly take it's place among the very finest of the campy kitchsy classics that I hold so dear. When I found Paul Bunnell's "The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X", I found just that.

I'm tempted here to describe at length the concept of the B Movie and detail the plots of some of the greatest. Having nixed that, as I'm writing a blog not a novel, I started to think I should write about Ed Wood, Roger Corman, other geniuses of the low budget, low production value, trash-schlock film making of the 1950's and 1960's that is an American treasure and an absolute joy to be obsessed with. Again, that would take a year long series of blogs. I'm also going to assume that since you are reading my blog, you are most likely aware of these things already. What I will say is that "The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X" is in the fine, fine, tradition of these cinematic bursts of passion and frivolity. It both epitomizes and lovingly parodies this great underbelly of American cinema in a way that's sure to warm the hearts of anybody who loved movies like "Plan 9 From Outer Space", "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", or even later John Waters stuff like "Cry Baby" and "Hairspray". Much like the great Ed Wood, Paul Bunnell (despite his relatively young age) is a true Golden Age Hollywood Eccentric. Possibly the last of a dying breed.

This movie is an obvious labor of intense love for the genre, and the aesthetics of the 1950's juvenile delinquent era. It was shot rather gorgeously on black and white film...yes, FILM. Just in case you don't know, they don't make movies like that anymore. It was shot, in fact, on the very last of Kodak's B&W "Plus-X" film stock. The film has a thick, stark, black white and grey creamy dreaminess to it, utterly crisp and clear.

The plot is a convoluted and never fully explained Sci-Fi/Juvenile Delinquent coming of age love story, if you get my planetary drift. There is a classic "James Dean vs. neglectful Daddy" situation going on. There is a crazy jump suit that gives it's wearer the power to re-animate the dead. There are leather jackets and cuffed Levi's. There is hair grease and doo-wop. There are 35 year old juvenile delinquents from outer space. There is a mix of 1950's and 1960's automobiles, fashions and music forms. In short, everything that is great in life crammed into one glorious, classic, perfect mess of a movie that looks like it was as much fun to make as it is to watch.

The gang of alien JD's in the movie are called "The Ghastly Ones". When I saw this, I wondered if anyone had approached the legendary California Surf-punk/Horror surf band The Ghastly Ones and asked them either for permission for the use of their name, or for the use of their music. THAT would have made a great movie greater. Alas, there is no Ghastly Ones music in the flick, a missed opportunity if ever there was one. The soundtrack is comprised of orchestral theme music, surf-rock background tunes, and the musical numbers sung and danced to in the movie. The orchestral stuff is awesome. Booming 1930's-1950's Film Noir/Universal Monsters type stuff with a spookily wailing theremin. The surf-inspired backing tunes by the Moon Rays are just OK, and I'm going to have to re-iterate that the (real) Ghastly Ones should have been involved. As for the musical numbers throughout the movie, they're fun, goofy and catchy, but totally not authentic to the '50s period. Sure, I'd prefer to hear these characters singing some authentic rockabilly or '50s R&B, but what we have here is an audience-friendly pastiche that works in the fun spirit of the movie.

There are several minor celebs in the film, mostly in cameo roles, such as 1970's icon Paul williams in the role of smarmy talk show host "Uncle Quilty", Reggie Bannister from the '80s horror classic "Phantasm", and 1950's movie star Kevin McCarthy in what would be the final role before his death. Most impressive though is Creed Bratton (of the American version of "The Office"), who plays washed up 1960's rock'n'roll star turned zombie Mickey O'Flynn. This is a great role for the underrated actor, who imbues this character (who is sort of a mash up of Screamin' Lord Sutch, Alice Cooper and maybe a white, dead Screamin' Jay Hawkins) with a sort of dazed, lost humanity which is both funny and sad. The musical numbers that he sings/performs are some of the best in the movie. The other actors in the film, while being less familiar faces, all deserve a shout out, especially Will Keenan as the angry alien "teen" Johnny X and Deanna Joy Brooks , who is quite alluring as the breathy-voiced femme fatale Bliss.

I could babble on all day about how fun and cool this movie is, but sadly, I have a life. A life which was greatly inproved for a couple of hours by this movie. If you're at all intrigued, get on Netflix and give this baby a spin. Also check out the Youtube clips and reviews, as well as the always kooky and entertaining interviews with director Paul Bunnell and various cast members. It's not every day you find a new classic in a much maligned and much beloved meta-sub-sub-genre like this. I'll leave you with the film's trailer. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sailing Sideways Up the Back Hole of Not Sane-ness: Best Records Of 2013, Says Me.

If you've ever read my Blog before, you know I'm way into several different genres of music. I'm not even going to go into a long disclaimer again this year. Suffice it to say that this will be an eclectic list. Music is music, you like it or don't. Labels are for bottles of pills. Furthermore,these are in no particular order. Ranking is for Roger. Let's DO this, sexy internet warlocks and witches!

GIUDA- Let's Do It Again
70s inspired, bell bottom wearing, soccer playin', chant along, sing along, bombastic guitar glitz from the way back machine. Stumbling along the same gutters as Slade, Gary Glitter, Bay City Rollers, Cocksparrer. Oh, you best get to buyin' this.It's makin' all the skinheads fall in love!

JOHNNY MARR- The Messenger
While his former partner Morrissey has made consistently good records since the break up of the Smiths, Johnny Marr has flitted about, joined other people's bands and formed his own(Pretenders, Bryan Ferry, Modest Mouse, The Cribs, The The, The Healers etc), experimented, mucked about, made money and changed his hairstyle multiple times. He's always been interesting, but he's never lived up to his legend for shit. Not playing wise, not any-wise. Clearly, getting away from his legend was what was important to him in those years. All that changed rather abruptly and violently with the release of his newest solo album "The Messenger" this year. It's catchy, rockin', emotive, dark, perfect. Lurching about the same atmospheric, anthemic, dark alleyways as Echo And The Bunnymen, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Church, etc.

NIKKI HILL- Here's Nikki Hill
Wow. Just wow. This very classy, very raunchy, very inspiring lady came out of nowhere in the last year or two and already she's being touted as the next Tina Turner. Her husband and guitarist Matt Hill is the perfect foil for her soulful, raspy and sweet as-needed vocals. Matt keeps it raw and bluesy, slashing at his beat up Fender slab like Ike Turner. You've now noticed two Ike and Tina references, but I'm not talkin' about fisticuffs. I'm talking about very obvious true love and fated partnership. These kids are formidable and adorable together, and this record is fuggin' brilliant.You like Otis? Early Ike and Tina? Early Black Crowes, Small Faces, Little Richard, late 60s early 70s Stones? Who doesn't love that stuff? You'll love this.

Sweden's In Solitude are probably the greatest young metal band to come along in 20 years. Less gimmicky and silly than their more popular counterparts Ghost,they nonetheless share that band's gift for haunting melody and punchy guitar dirges. This record dips into 80s UK Goth territory for sure. There is a definite Sex Gang Children/Ausgang/Birthday Party-esque quirkiness to some of the guitars, and the melodies are darker, catchier and more coherent on this album. "Sister" on the whole is also slower and more atmospheric than the last. For fans of Sisters Of Mercy, early Iron Maiden, NWOBHM, Ausgang, Joy Division, King Diamond,etc

LION'S LAW- A Day Will Come
This album punched me in the very taint! IN MY TAINT! Anthemic, catchy, sing along boot boy rock and roll played by a bunch of prole Skins from Paris (of all places). Really strong, solid songwriting with a sing along in every tune. Hard as nails, rocking Les Paul and Marshall Half-Stack guitar wallop throughout, and melodic but raw throated vocals. Punk ain't dead, it just shaved it's head. Kicking big Doc Martens down the same violent streets as Cocksparrer, Angelic Upstarts, Sham 69, The Clash, 4 Skins, Cockney Rejects, etc. OI!

Nikki Hill makes a second appearance in my countdown, yes ma'am. She is that awesome. Paired with the extremely personable Deke Dickerson, she shines blindingly on this four song EP of country-inflected soul tunes. Her soulful wail sits nicely next to Deke's warm, calming country drawl. One definitely misses a kick-ass Matt Hill guitar solo here and there, but other than that I hear no flaws on this frickin' superb vinyl platter. As great as Deke is on this, if Nikki ever decides to duet with Dwight Yoakum I will soil my undergarments (and yours) in utter drooling joy. So if you collect Stax and Sun singles with equally insistent grabby-fingers, you will enjoy this 'un, boogie chilluns.

SATYRICON- Satyricon
Norse Black Metal legends Satyricon return with this stripped down, pummeling, slinky temptress of an album. It's perfect for the bleak winter with its brittle icy guitars and blasting, freezing rain drum beats. For fans of Norse BM (which does NOT stand for Bowel Movement, in this case)and classic NWOBHM.

The best roots music label in the world right now. Special props for releasing Aussie rockabilly/r'n'b prodigy Pat Capocci's brilliant record "Call Of The Wild". Pat's gonna be the next JD McPherson if he gets half a chance. The label also dropped incredible sex bomb platters by The Black Mambas, The Hurricanes and more this year. Rockabilly, garage rock, classic punk, blues, you name it, they are cornering the market on it. Seriously, dummies, Wild Records. Google it.

This would make my list just for the brilliant Beatles meets Sabbath style pop dirge "Poison Apple" alone. Inventing a new, more specific meta-genre with every release, Brit garage-pop-metal-biker-horror-glitter-doomsters Uncle Acid are part of a new wave of accessible, classic sounding hard rock/metal bands that appeal to non metal heads and metal heads alike. For Fans of early Black Sabbath, The Beatles, "Man Who Sold The World" era Bowie, MC5, early Alice Cooper, Blue Cheer, The Sonics, The Cramps, Electric Wizard.

The hipper among you may remember JD Wilkes from his former band Th' Legendary Shack Shakers, who were a powerhouse punk-blues-rockabilly juggernaut of a live act in the early 2000s. His lyrics have always been filled to the brim with backwoods good'n'evil, every song a scintillating story of sin, hellfire and redemption snatched away. He has lightened up a bit with his newer outfit the Dirt Daubers, who have always been a sort of Shack Shakers Lite, incorporating more folksy, acoustic, bluegrass style sounds. On the new Daubers platter "Wild Moon" however, the band has amped up the Chicago Blues style tube overdrive on the guitar and turned in a rocking disc full of darkly compelling tunes. The secret weapon here is Jessica Wilkes (JD's wife) who lends her sultry vocals and thump-heavy doghouse bass playing, among other things, to this slinky blues-devil of an album. For fans of scratchy old blues and bluegrass 78s, Legendary Shack Shakers, The Cramps, etc.

That's it, people. I'm sure I forgot something, but I grow weary, and require a sandwich. Please support the artists I've named here, and for your sake and mine, check out more independent music. Remember, folks...your next door neighbor could be a better songwriter than Lady Gaga (and probably is)...who would you rather support? -CM