Amoeblog

John Joseph Houghtaling 1916 – 2009

Posted by Whitmore, June 22, 2009 11:39am | Post a Comment
Put in a quarter
Turn out the light
Magic Fingers
Makes you feel alright.
- Steve Goodman from “This Hotel Room”

Maybe it wasn’t quite up there with jet packs and flying cars as what the future might hold but in the 1960’s the vibrating Magic Fingers bed was a sign that the future was here. And it felt kind of weirdly good.
 
John Houghtaling, inventor of the vibrating Magic Fingers bed, died this past week in Fort Pierce, Fla., of a brain hemorrhage after a fall. He was 92.
 
Probably the first significant hotel room amenity after the TV was the Magic Fingers bed, and in its time it was a veritable goldmine. The vibration system offered fifteen minutes of mild massage to the weary traveler for only a quarter. At the height of their popularity 250,000 machines were in service across the United States. With the average revenue of just $2 a week per machine, they generated approximately $2 million a month.
 
In 1958 Houghtaling had been hired to design a combination mattress and box spring with a pre-installed vibrating mechanism. Neither the beds, nor the concept, sold well. But later as he worked in his New Jersey basement he devised a small motor that attached directly to the existing box springs.Magic Fingers relaxation service! The brilliance of the idea was not in the motor itself, but the idea to install this simple mechanism in hotel beds across the country for a newly mobile culture.
 
Magic Fingers have become a popular reference point in American culture, frequently appearing in movies and television like National Lampoons Vacation, Planes, Trains and Automobiles -- which features a can of beer exploding on a vibrating bed, and an episode of The X-Files where Agent Dana Scully is seen dropping quarters into a Magic Fingers in her hotel.

(During which the author suspects ruin is imminent.)

Posted by Job O Brother, June 16, 2009 01:15pm | Post a Comment
school

The "homework feeling." That’s what I’ve got.

It started when I was a kid. It would be after school, and I was finally at home. The sense of relief was huge, because I hated school. Every school day was something to survive – forget about excelling.

Not that I attended schools that were innately dangerous, mind you. In fact, my Ma made sure, humble means or no, that I went to private, reputable institutions. But my antipathy was unconditional. I have the test scores to prove it.

Having finished a day of school there still remained, however, a most evil of responsibilities: that heinous curse, homework.

It haunted me every hour I didn’t do it. Whether I was watching You Can’t Do That On Television, or making my culinary invention – Sweet, Scrambled Pancakes* – or writing cry-for-help puppet shows, there was always that voice in the back of my mind reminding me in a chiding tone that I had homework.


I pretty much never did homework. No amount of privileges revoked, respect lost, or threats of future failure could convince me to do a sheet of fractions. Heck, the homework could have been to sit in a chair and clap twice – I would have found a way to avoid doing it.

To this day, most any time I’m not actively doing something responsible and productive, I feel guilty, or like I’m forgetting something important and, as a result, my life will be sent into a furious, downward spiral. I know it’s neurotic, but all it takes is two hours of enjoying listening to music and daydreaming for me to worry that I’ll be living in a rotted cardboard box by Tuesday.

Hugh Hopper 1945 – 2009

Posted by Whitmore, June 10, 2009 07:09pm | Post a Comment
 
When I was about 13 years old I became a regular customer at Platypus Records on Hollywood Blvd about a half a block east of Vermont in Hollywood. It was all about their inexpensive used records. I still spent a small fortune from money I earned the old fashioned way; recycling cans and bottles, mowing lawns and stealing money from my mom’s purse. I found great records for pennies. And one that left an indelible mark on my rookie ears was the Soft Machine album, Volume Two, released in 1969 and featuring Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals, Mike Ratledge on piano and Hammond organ, Brian Hopper on saxophone and Hugh Hopper on bass and guitars. I think I paid 99 cents for the album.
 
When I bought that record all I knew about Soft Machine was that they were part of some mysterious and legendary English Canterbury music scene, they hung out with Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd and once toured the US as an opening act for Jimi Hendrix. Volume Two is still one of my all time favorite records. Over the years I’ve worn out more than a few copies.
 
This past Monday, idiosyncratic composer, art-rock bassist extraordinaire, veteran of some two dozen diverse solo albums and Soft Machine member, Hugh Hopper, succumbed to his year long battle with leukemia. He was 64.
 
In his years before Soft Machine, Hugh Colin Hopper, born April 29, 1945 in Canterbury, Kent, found himself immersed in the burgeoning Canterbury scene and emerging bands like Gong, Hatfield and the North and Henry Cow. In the mid sixties he was working with Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt in the Daevid Allen Trio. That band evolved into the Wilde Flowers, an almost mythic pop and soul band consisting of his brother Brian, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Richard Sinclair that spun off into two influential progressive rock groups, Caravan and Soft Machine.
 
Hopper joined Soft Machine in 1968 after their tour with Hendrix, contributed two compositions to their first self titled album, recorded in New York. Their sophomore release saw Hopper not only adding his virtuoso bass work to the mix but also composing half the tracks. He would remain with Soft Machine through 1973 and the album entitled 6. About the time Soft Machine was moving from a psychedelic, progressive rock sound into more of a jazz/fusion outfit, Hopper departed, recording his classic solo record 1984 at about the same time. His first effort was a decidedly non-commercial adventure filled with avant-garde soundscapes, tape loops, and free improvisation.
 
After his stint with Soft Machine, and in between his own solo projects, Hopper worked with some of the most original musicians of the last thirty years; Carla Bley, Keith Tippett, Robert Wyatt, Elton Dean, Pip Pyle, Stomu Yamashta, Phil Miller, Lol Coxhill, Allan Holdsworth, Chris Cutler, Yumi Hara Cawkwell and bands like Gilgamesh, Isotope and Soft Heap. In 2002 Hopper began a new association with several former Soft Machine members. Originally named Soft Works, they later renamed the reunion Soft Machine Legacy; besides touring extensively throughout Europe and Asia, they’ve also released four CD’s, two studio and two live recordings.
 
After his diagnoses last summer with leukemia, a benefit concert was held for him at London's 100 Club in December, featuring friends and many of his legendary musical collaborators from all phases of his career.
 
Just two days before his death he married his longtime companion Christine.




Vinyl Confidential, 1.1 – the odd order of oblong boxes

Posted by Whitmore, May 26, 2009 08:34pm | Post a Comment

Why the record boxes? Why the art work? Why the hell don’t I write more about dumpster diving? Many questions are piling up here on the ol’ TV tray…
 
The theory goes: Disorder increases with record collecting because we measure collecting in the direction in which disorder increases.
 
Any theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it, no matter how long you may scream into somebody’s contrarian ear, or pound your fist into a table or a disagreeing face. And no matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time around the result will not contradict your precious little theory. But as philosopher of science Karl Popper has emphasized, a good theory is characterized by the fact that it makes a number of predictions that could in principle be disproved or falsified by observation and survive.
 
For example, each time a new box of records with distinctive artwork is observed to agree with the predictions, like selling quickly, that’s a good thing. The theory, ‘art covered record boxes are cool', not only survived but found revival. Hallelujah and pass the collection plate! Our confidence is increased! But if a new box, covered in great artwork, is put out on the floor yet contains only random, scratched, dusty and chipped records, sprinkled with rat poop, the resulting observations may be a bit negative. We may feel obligated to abandon or modify the theory, even though this collection of records didn’t match the usual criteria. Nevertheless the theory of ‘artwork on record boxes’ is still solid. However, amending our assumptions is not out of the question, especially if we have to deal with irate customers and a significant berating by management. A slight re-adjustment in the theory might conclude that the art work is just the carrot, and yes, you can lead a record geek to water, but without any water in the 45 box to wash down that rat poop stuck in his throat … well, you know … anyway, next time around we should just toss those ruined, scratched records in the dumpster and note; disorder increases because we tend to measure in the direction in which disorder increases.

Hugh Van Es 1941 - 2009

Posted by Whitmore, May 16, 2009 11:15am | Post a Comment
Hugh Van Es, a Dutch photojournalist who covered the Vietnam War, capturing some of the most enduring images of the era, has died. Last week he suffered a brain hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. He died on Friday at the Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong. Van Es was 67.

One of his most famous photos is that of the fall of Saigon in 1975, showing evacuees scaling a ladder onto a helicopter from a rooftop. The image, in no subtle way, became a metaphor for the United States’ profound policy failures in Vietnam.

Van Es arrived in Hong Kong as a freelance photographer in 1967, joining the South China Morning Post. After a stretch as a photographer for the Associated Press from 1969 to 1972, he covered the last three years of the Vietnam war for United Press International. His first celebrated photo was of a wounded soldier with a tiny cross gleaming against his dark silhouette taken in May of 1969 during the battle of Hamburger Hill.
 
But Van Es’ most lasting image was taken on the final day of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam on April 29, 1975. Van Es was in the Saigon UPI bureau offices when he saw a few dozen Americans climbing a ladder trying to board  one of the CIA’s own Air American helicopters on a rooftop just a few blocks away at 22 Gia Long Street, which sat about a half a mile from the embassy. From his vantage point on the UPI balcony, Van Es captured the scene with a 300mm lens, the longest one he had. The building in the picture was an apartment that housed C.I.A. officials and families and not Saigon’s American Embassy as has been erroneously believed over the years.

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