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Category Archives: Stuff people actually used to do

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 18, 1898. Gosh, isn’t mental illness is just so adorable, so “picturesque”? The awesomeness here is sent stratospheric by the inclusion of a crazy guy dressed as Napoleon. Read more.

Charlotte Observer, June 1, 1891. Read more.

Salt Lake Telegram, June 14, 1902. Getting tied to the tracks was not generally a posh pastime, but on occasion it did happen to the quality too.

Okay, so I’ve roughed out a provisional draft of alternate lyrics to “My Favorite Things” for our own Jackie of Finland to record, per our contractually-binding exchange in this comment thread. I’m also in negotiations to get the two surviving Seidlitz Brothers to dub some backing vocals, though according to their agent, Shlomo’s voice box is pretty much shot from three packs of Chesterfields a day since the McKinley administration. No matter: that’s why God made Pro Tools and the electrolarynx.

I’m kind of going back and forth on the first verse here, as it lacks the 100% concrete historicity that the other verses have. Though maybe I could fix that by nailing down concrete references to back it all up.

Barrel-clad hobos and window-ledge pastries
Irish patrolman and drunks with the DTs
Blackguards and maidens and oncoming trains
These are a few of my favorite thangs

Phials of acid in ex-lovers’ faces
Naked wild women in desolate places
Negroes with blue gums who kill when they bite
This is a load of my favorite shite

Mince pies for breakfast, and luncheon, and dinner
Corpses injected to make their eyes glimmer
Med school students defiling the dead
This sort of thing tends to fuck with my head

Cuckqueaned wives killing spinster cult leaders
Cats sold as rabbits to unwitting eaters
Show-offs igniting their cee-gars with bills
These are symptoms of society’s ills

When the dog brings
Dynamite back

When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I feel truly bad

Jackie: Far be it from me to impinge on your creative process, but I was thinking this would work best Lento assai and in a minor key.

Biloxi Daily Herald, November 19, 1919. A vital sartorial tip: Never attempt to wear a barrel without suspenders. Unless you’re a showgirl working a gimmick to get a little press, at least. (Hey, does anybody know what a “picture hat” is?)

So here’s what I can tell you about the origins of the wearing-the-barrel trope qua signifier of destitution. Near as I can tell, it was born from the confluence of two prior memes. On the one hand, you’ve got the precedent of the “Drunkard’s Cloak,” which was a medieval and early-modern legal incentive against public inebriation. The association between habitual intoxication and poverty seems pretty clear, right?

The second precedent is the ascetic Greek philosopher Diogenes (circa 412-323 B.C.), who supposedly made his home in a big clay jar. “Jar” somehow got mistranslated as “barrel” in popular consciousness from the early-modern through the Victorian era. (And yes, there did used to be popular consciousness of Diogenes.) I’m guessing the guy-in-a-barrel has real early theatrical roots and takes off from there.

Columbus Enquirer, July 9, 1909. I sympathize with this young woman, but at the same time I find the sheer mythological purity of her plight insanely pleasing.

Savannah Tribune, November 9, 1922. Call me judgmental, but that is just plain bad parenting.

Chicago Inter-Ocean, September 2, 1894. That bit from silent movies in which the bad guy ties his victim to the railway tracks before an oncoming train? That is totally Stuff People Actually Used To Do. Not just once or twice either. It seems to have been an enduring favorite in the Blackguard’s Playbook. Read More »

New York Times, January 25, 1899. I’ve long been fascinated by the folkloric/pop cultural/editorial cartoon trope of the arrogant rich guy lighting his cigar with a flaming banknote, which I reckon I first encountered while basking in the majestic comic strip universe of Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Read More »

Indianapolis Sentinel, May 24, 1874. This is inexplicable even if you don’t take into account the constituent ingredients of shoemaker’s wax.