“Even so, there were times I saw freshness and beauty. I could smell the air, and I really loved rock ‘n’ roll. Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams. I liked movie theaters, the darkness and intimacy, and I liked the deep, sad summer nights.”
― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

There was live music at the start.

Today, when I came home from work, instead of doing something useful and trying to make this world a better place I sat down and watched (for no reason) a bunch of old episodes of Shindig! on Youtube.

I’m old enough to actually remember the show, I think. Let’s see… the show aired from September, 1964 to January, 1966 so I was seven, eight and almost nine. I guess that’s old enough to remember, but not enough to understand. I remember Shindig!‘s folk-oriented predecessor Hootenanny too – though barely.

What I really remember, and really didn’t understand, were the Shindig! dancers.

The television is grainy and not very well preserved. But the music! I hate to sound like the old man shouting to get off of his lawn – but that stuff was so much better than what we have to listen to today.

So much better.

Fallout Shelter

[Strangelove’s plan for post-nuclear war survival involves living underground with a 10:1 female-to-male ratio]
General “Buck” Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn’t that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?
Dr. Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious… service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
Ambassador de Sadesky: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor
—-Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

You don’t see very many of these anymore.
Waxahachie, Texas

The Federal Government is moving forward to bring into operation fallout shelter space for large groups of people under very austere conditions. Many homeowners, communities and business firms can and will provide more adequate and better located shelter space for their own needs. The Federal Government is backing this effort with a massive dissemination of technical information. In addition, we will inform those who cannot afford costly structures on low-cost methods of improvising shielding against fallout radiation. The people of this country will be urged, by me, by the Governors and by other leaders to do what is within their means.

I look forward to the closest cooperation between all levels of government in the United States to move rapidly towards this goal. Your committee is making a major contribution in stimulating participation by the state governments in the nationwide civil defense effort.
Letter to the Members of the Committee on Civil Defense of the Governors’ Conference. October 6, 1961

Someone younger than me would find it very hard to imagine how ubiquitous the “Fallout Shelter” sign was during the time of my youth. They were everywhere.

This was the time of “Duck and Cover” films being shown in school. Even at that young age I remember looking down at a puddle of sweat on the floor where it had dripped off my forehead as I crouched under my school desk in an air raid drill and thinking, “What the Hell? We are all going to roast!” I had recurring nightmares of Russian nuclear strikes, air raid sirens, and the end of mankind.

But times have changed… if not improved, and I haven’t seen a Fallout Shelter sign in decades. Until we stumbled across one on a photowalk in downtown Waxahachie.

So, if “Rocket Man” fires off his missiles in anger and insanity I guess you better get in your car and haul ass to Waxahachie, Texas, and hope there is room in their fallout shelter. It’s right off the town square, across from the statue of the Confederate Soldier. There should be plenty of room.

I won’t be there.

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Survival kit contents check. In them you’ll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days’ concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.
—-Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)


The last few weeks, whenever I would sit down at the computer – dipping my toes in the very shallow edge of the warm and wild sea of the internet – looking for youtube videos of old and tacky musical performances – I kept coming across the word “Scopitone.” A lot of musical chintz, commercial pop from the early sixties, especially stuff from Europe…

Some of the best (and worst) of it had the word Scopitone floating above the tawdry grin and shabby outfits, grainy film-transfer, inane and incongruous background singers, and abysmal dance routines. I assumed that Scopitone was a brand, or a record label, or something else rooted in the second-rate musical world of the time. I was right about that, I guess, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I stumbled across what Scopitone actually is.

It is a machine. A musical video jukebox of the time. MTV for the sixties. An Ipod of the day, the size of a refrigerator.

A Scopitone Machine

A Scopitone is a way to pay to view sixteen millimeter films of the stars of the day. The short musical films were stored on reels inside the complex mechanism and delivered up for view on a dark, dim, blurry screen atop the contraption while the sounds, carried on an innovative magnetic track beside the filmstrip, bellowed out of tinny, static-filled speakers.

The Scopitone was developed in France after World War II. The story is that two French engineers built the prototype projector from a 16mm aerial spy camera and used other leftover war equipment for the mechanism. It was very complex and wasn’t perfected until the late 1950’s. I can’t imagine the difficulty of building a mechanism to automatically thread and rewind a pile of 16mm film reels, all in a portable machine the size of a refrigerator.

The interior mechanism of a Scopitone

The machines were mostly placed in loud, noisy, crowded bars full of desperate drunken young men. That is why so many feature skimpy outfits on skinny starlets, shimmying whatever it is that they’ve got for the three minutes or so the song spends wearing itself out.

A classic Scopitone – Neil Sedaka with Showgirls. (Is Miss June Barbara Eden?)

I love the idea of these whirring, clanking, clumsy mechanical marvels competing for spare change with the stale pretzels on the bar. What pitiful echoes of sophomoric erotic thoughts would course through the alcohol-fueled young minds while viewing something like this:

The only thing stranger that the short success of the Scopitone is the fact that these films are still around today. You can buy DVDs. There are blogs dedicated to them. I can go online, type Scopitone into the youtube search field and my screen fills with a list of hundreds of these ancient artifacts. Is it stranger that they are available… or that I actually like to look at them, or even write about them.

Oh well. It is what it is.

This is actually a great song. But why are they singing to a bear?

This one is straight from a burlesque show… and I remember the Dean Martin James Bond spoof of the same name. Did the song come first?

Have to have one with dancers wearing fringed bikinis.

This is the most heartfelt song I’ve ever seen that involved women in bikinis playing skee-ball. “Hey Kids! Play with Peppy”

Always had a soft spot for instrumental “twist” music.

Most of the Scopitone music is obscure and second-rate – but this is one of the best songs of all time… and an interesting visual of the time

And of course, Bang Bang