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Monthly Archives: June 2009

aoakleyABaltimore Afro-American, August 15, 1903. aothebelleofthemeall One wonders: was she expecting to find money in the negro’s trousers, or was the plan to fence them? In any case, I hasten to explain that, although Annie was a very handsome woman in her time, this story is otherwise pure bullshit. The hapless trouser thief was not the celebrated marksperson but a former burlesque ecdysiast fallen on even harder times. The real Annie Oakley brought 55 libel suits against various newspapers, 54 of which were successful. The Hearst papers were responsible for putting this counterfactual gem into circulation in the first place, and they tried to fight Oakley’s lawsuit by hiring a private dick to dig up some compromising dirt on her. They failed. The Hearst papers were always at the cutting edge of “human interest” journalism. As one Hearst reporter memorably put it, “A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

FriscomaniaABaltimore Afro-American, June 24, 1905. I’ve got no complaints about the vividness of the prose here–especially the awesome kicker–but this story is a little bit under-reported. One infers that the maniac Lobb was a sniper shooting from some lofty vantage point. Mounting mayhem after the jump. Read More »

hed phil jazzAphil jazz pantaloonsANew York Times, November 7, 1926. I seem to have accidentally captured the attention of the global jazz community with some of my recent, music-related posts, so I figured I’d cut a few more swaths from that very same rug. The above passage is my all-time favorite thing ever written by a Frenchman about American popular culture. I’m not exactly sure who the author is, and will leave readers to decipher this tortured attribution for themselves: “Messieurs Schaeffner and Coeuroy, writing in La Revue Musicale, quote parts from a volume entitled “Jazz,” which appeared in Claude Aveline’s collection of Modern Music.” (As Slim Gaillard would ask, “Is that clear-o-vouty?”)

Anyway, it goes practically without saying that the French intelligentsia were way out in front of their American counterparts in taking jazz seriously. About the only prominent American thinker writing positively about jazz in the 1920s (as opposed to spreading moral panic about it) was Gilbert Seldes, author of the 1924 landmark treatise on pop culture, The Seven Lively Arts. But all Seldes was basically saying was that jazz was another valid musical idiom among many and that the best of it was good clean fun. Leave it to the French to equate jazz with the zeitgeist and limn the ectoplasmic links between the banjo, aviation and “tall, supple girls, the pride of commercial firms, ascending in flashing elevators, with their arms full of official papers.”

Above all, I love the sepia-toned techno-futurism of the thing. Magnetos! Electric fans! Air machines! Zut alors!

If anyone can bring me up to speed on those intriguing “red pantaloons in the woods of Meudon,” please drop a line.

I’ll run some more of this crazy Gallic balloon juice in a bit. Right now I’ve got some deadlines to meet.

perfect1Chicago Tribune, October 23, 1933. Resuming our series of “Till death does you into parts” domestic dramas, here’s a deluded dude who thought his familiarity with whodunnit fiction of the day would stand him in good stead with the law. This is even lamer than it sounds, given the tea-cozyish artificiality of what passed for a murder mystery in the so-called “Golden Age” of the genre (’20s and ’30s). There’s more practical criminal training in the opening credits of CSI: Miami then in all the combined works of S.S. Van Dine, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie. Also: does a crime that culminates in living in a relief shelter even qualify as mediocre, never mind “perfect”? Read More »

lureAChicago Tribune, January 18, 1921. Well, this scenario isn’t exactly as described in Mr. Kipling’s famous poem “The Vampire,” but the basic message is the same: Men are boobs, see? Read More »

perilBaltimore Afro-American, December 10, 1904. The mysterious, horrible death of George Fahey. This is by way of counterpoint to the preceding item, in which an Irish maniac successfully killed a whole bunch of guys. Here a whole bunch of guys failed to save the life of an Irish maniac. Coincidence, or something much less? Read More »

pigA1ABaltimore Afro-American, June 12, 1909. That disemboweled Government inspector would have only been on the job for three years max, and owed his gig to socialist muckraker Upton Sinclair, whose novel The Jungle spurred the passage of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. But you don’t really care about such reformist folderol, do you? You just want to read some serious slaughterhouse mayhem. Well, brace yourself. Read More »

LangChicago Tribune, July 19, 1935. I really don’t understand this enthusiam–seemingly universal among hacksaw killers–for distributing body parts across the countryside. It only multiplies the odds of your crime being detected. When disposing of a murder victim’s body, it seems preferable to put all your eggs in one basket. And when I say “basket” I mean a well-considered and pre-excavated rural grave site, not a big black trunk in a ditch by a highway. If I found a trunk in a ditch by a highway, I wouldn’t even have to told what was in it: It’s either limbs or a torso, and either way I’m just phoning that shit in without opening the box. But I love how “Jung Moy Gee” is the guy’s “alias”. Hully gee, it sure does sound sinister. Read More »

baldnessChicago Tribune, 26, 1867. This would qualify cocaine as a double boon for balding firemen.

LegsAChicago Tribune, September 4, 1933. It occurs to me that we’ve been a bit light on actual mayhem lately, so we’re running a special on post-marital dismemberments. “Roughly hacked” seems like a telling detail: “We’re looking for an amateur here, boys, someone with no finesse. Exclude all packing plant workers from your criminal canvass.” Read More »