This is my new birthday tradition – starting a month before the big day (October 8th), I gift myself with a bunch of interesting music, movies and books. The results of this spree are pictured above, along with a few other gifts from family. I ended up getting a lot more books this year, which is wonderful. One of them, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé by Saint Etienne musician and writer Bob Stanley, has been on my radar since the author mentioned it on his Croydon Municipal blog last year. Although I’m just a few chapters in, so far it’s fantastic – a detailed, factual yet charmingly idiosyncratic history of Pop music from the ’50s to the dawn of the Napster era in the late ’90s. Stanley doesn’t subscribe to that hoary old Rock Canon thing that all the important music from that period came from white guys playing guitars – he understands that Pop at its essence is a democratic thing (payola and the whims of record labels and deejays played into it, too). Apparently this book was revised for the U.S. edition, nevertheless I’m enjoying Stanley’s insights into less-familiar musical styles such as Skiffle, which was the British take on Rockabilly.
The other book from this pile I’m currently reading is the 1971-72 volume of Fantagraphics’ chronological hardback reprints of Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts daily comics. Despite having the lamest-ever celebrity “introduction” (Kristin Chenoweth’s piece is pretty much a brief interview, and a shallow one at that), this volume’s strips are getting more focused (lots of Charlie Brown/Peppermint Patty interplay) and philosophical at this point. This one contains lots of strips with Sally fretting about school – some of my favorites! I’m also looking forward to Victoria Wilson’s giant-sized biography of Barbara Stanwyck, despite the frequent criticism that it needed editing down. This 1,044-page volume only covers the iconic actress’ life up through the year 1940! It looks tantalizing, and besides it should be a breeze compared to Moby Dick. Unless Miss Stanwyck did some whaling in her free time, I don’t see any other comparison between the two.
Cat Food for Thought is a cute little volume given by my brother and sister-in-law. Those who remember the zippy vintage packaging collected in the authors’ Meet Mr. Product (2003) and Ad Boy (2009) will find the same thing here, with a twist. This and the companion book Dog Food for Thought presents more vintage pet food designs alongside various clever quips about dogs and cats. (Since Christopher also gave some vintage animation cels from a ’70s Good Mews commercial, this will heretofore be officially known as my cat food birthday.)
The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design is another one that I’d been anticipating for awhile. Todd Polson had a dual purpose in mind when putting this book together. It’s both a visually sumptuous tribute to the background artist and designer behind innumerable classic Warner Bros. cartoons and a handy tutorial for artists and animators seeking practical advice on color theory, composition and movement. Not only is the instructional aspect clearly presented and quite handy (I could definitely use the help on color – and Noble was a master at it), the biographical info and copious reproductions of Noble’s beautiful layouts make it a wonderful tribute. Shown stripped of their usual context with Bugs Bunny and/or Daffy Duck overlaid on top, one can truly see that this stuff is art.
I also made sure to get myself a great vintage illustrated book – last year it was James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book with art by Alice and Martin Provensen; this year, it’s The Abelard Folk Song Book, a 1958 sheet music and history collection featuring the whimsical art of Abner Graboff. This Ward Jenkins blog entry from 2009 shed some light on this overlooked illustrator, along with several examples of his work. It was actually Ward’s detective work that inspired me to look out for his books! I’m happy to finally have an example of his art in my library.
There’s more. Christopher gave me this neat brochure produced by American Cyanamid, in which a prototypical ’50s housewife character named Mrs. Holliday demonstrates the benefits of Formica, Melmac and other completely unnatural substances. It’s all pretty funny, yet the art of Mrs. Holliday and her family are beautiful examples of the modern, cartoony look so popular back then. I really need to scan all of them (the artist is uncredited, unfortunately), but hopefully this one photo will suffice. C. also surprised me with a copy of Automotive Quarterly, a hardback publication geared towards vintage auto enthusiasts. We already saw this particular 1975 volume at the auto museum in San Diego – the cover story is an illustrated essay speculating on the future of car design from our favorite futuristic concept designer, Syd Mead! I’m gonna have to get the scanner out for this one, too.
I like birthdays.