Posts Tagged ‘seventies’

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Greatest Hits: You Stay Classy, America

October 5, 2009

Just the other day, I was having yet another conversation with Mr. Jalopy about the halcyon days of our shared youth. Sure, the seventies always gets a bad rap; in many respects, deservedly so. Just forget about the gas lines, rampant inflation, and polyester, and try to remember the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, fiberglass-bodied Chevy Vega funny cars and Evel Knievel.


Our conversation began (as it almost always does) with a discussion of the glory days of drag racing, reflections brought on by the purchase of the book mentioned in the previous post. Truly, giants stomped on MOON aluminum accelerator pedals in those heady days, ten-foot-tall, mutton-chopped gladiators whose driving skills were matched (indeed, sometimes exceeded) by their reckless, uninformed-by-focus-groups-style and showmanship. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Connie “The Bounty Hunter” Kalitta, Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney, “Jungle Jim” Liberman, (and his bodacious muse, Jungle Pam!)


These were our bellbottomed gods and goddesses, coming down from the shag-carpeted comfort of Mt. Olympus in their metalflaked chariots to feud and fight for the entertainment of we mere mortals. The giants all went away eventually, and real drag racing went away with them, with the last example of the extinct species left in the person of motormouth pitchmeister John Force, bless him.


Drag racing was not the only place these sideburn-sporting titans battled with the fickle forces of Horsepower. From Formula One and Indy, all the way down to small-time demolition derbys, it seemed like our American birthright was finally being realized in a select group of crazy bastards willing to strap themselves in behind (or in front of) a Very Bad Idea and throw themselves at danger like flinging a water balloon at an electric fan, their only reward a shiny trophy, a can of Old Style, and the admiration of some sweet young thing with Farrah hair and a tube top.


Of course, if the subject under discussion is that of heroes dedicated to commiting acts of complete insanity involving internal combustion, lack of concern for life and limb, and white-toothed, white trash showmanship, then you need go no further than the apotheosis of the breed, Evel Knievel. He is the end point of the evolutionary line, the Tyrannosaurus Wrecks that tests the sustainable limits of the ecosystem. After he is gone, only small furry rodents remain.


It would be hard for someone born after 1980 to understand the hallowed place Evel held in the imagination of a kid back then. Forget fakes like Superman and Spider-Man, we had a real-life superhero to worship, a hero who dressed like a star-spangled Elvis, rode a Harley, smashed his bones like brittle Ortega taco shells, and who, in his ultimate act of insanity (and some would say of hubris) climbed into a red-white-and-blue rocket and shot himself over the gaping chasm of the Snake River Canyon. Like Icarus, he didn’t complete his flight; missing the far side of the canyon, he plummeted to the canyon floor, narrowly avoiding drowning in the river below. I can still remember witnessing this event on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports. just as I can instantly recall his painful slo-motion Caesar’s Palace crash, the Zapruder film of my generation. As a kid, I had all the Evel Knievel toys, of course, and later tried to jump drainage ditches on my dirt bike in imitation of Knievel, earning a broken collarbone for my troubles.


Yes, Evel was perhaps the ultimate example of the madness of the seventies, and held an honored place in the kid pantheon alongside Fonzie, Catfish Hunter, and those fat, minibike-riding twins from the Guinness Book of World Records (the book we couldn’t wait to order every year from the Scholastic catalog.)

This wasn’t meant to be merely another empty exercise in nostalgia-humping. As fun as it might be just to blather on about all this stuff, the more important question is this: what happened? Why did these giants vanish from the earth, only to be replaced by bilious actors, slutty anorexic debu-tarts, and insolvent vulgarians with orangutan hair-hats? When will the giants return?

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Greatest Hits: Such A Supple Wrist

October 5, 2009

Since Blogger screwed up my original blog, making it impossible to search, I thought I’d re-post some old stuff over here. First one:

Mister Jalopy just found a flippin’ sweet near-mint Captain Fantastic pinball machine, a castoff that a neighbor had set out at the curb for the trashman. (We should all be so lucky!) Captain Fantastic is one of my favorite Bally electro-mechanical pinballs from the seventies, and a sister machine to my Wizard pinball, and both are, along with Fireball, in my all-time top three. All three machines feature artwork by the king of pinball artists, Dave Christensen.

Few outside the world of serious pinball maniacs would recognize Christensen’s name, but I consider him a major influence on my own work, despite the fact that I only learned his name less than a decade ago. I grew up in the seventies, and I can distinctly remember playing machines designed by Christensen, and being mesmerized by the blinking tableaus of lowbrow decadence, images filled with lots of in-jokes, eyeball kicks and a heaping helping of big-boobed sexy girls that tantalized my adolescent libido.

There’s not a lot of background info on Christensen on the internet, beyond some basic biographical stuff. (I did just order this book, which I found whilst Googling for this post!) Most of the artists of that era worked for the silkscreen company in Chicago (Ad Posters) that screened backglass and playfields for all the pinball companies, but Christensen started at Bally, writing operators manuals, before becoming an artist for the company. He ended up co-designing and providing artwork for some of the best pinballs of the era.

Like the rock star that he is, Christensen is best remembered for one of his earliest hits, Fireball. From 1972, Fireball is generally considered one of the best electro-mechanical pinballs ever, with features like zipper flippers, multiball play (a real novelty at the time) and a spinning rubber disc “Grabber”. While the linework isn’t as accomplished as his later work, already his trademarks are evident, with sophisticated hand lettering on the playfield, a brilliant color scheme, and a detailed belt buckle worn by the blazing demon on the backglass. Bally tried to make lightning strike twice with Fireball II, but it was an early victim of the pinball malaise of the post-Pac Man era, and sadly not as good as the original.

Fireball was a huge success at the time, and Christensen became Bally’s star artist. All through the seventies, Christensen created a series of beautiful machines, all the while developing his idiosyncratic style with pinballs like Monte Carlo, Bon Voyage, Ro Go, Twin Win, Air Aces, Old Chicago, and on and on. Christensen’s deft handling of celebrity likenesses meant he also produced art for several cool licensed machines as well, beginning with Capt. Fantasic & Wizard, both created to as a tie-in with the film version of The Who’s Tommy. Christensen did machines for Dolly Parton, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Bobby Orr’s Power Play, a machine I remember fondly, having shoved endless quarters into it at a local bowling alley, when I was a mere pup.

Another favorite of mine as a kid, that I hope to eventually add to my collection, is Voltan Escapes Cosmic Doom. From 1978, it’s a full-blown work of mature genius from Christensen, here at the height of his powers. The backglass is unbelieveably baroque, evoking old Republic serials, classic sci-fi pulp illustrations, and the airbrushed faux-Frazetta van murals of the era, combined with a wink of camp, and oozing sleazy sex appeal. Just Fucking Awesome. Despite my prejudice against digital scoring, I would buy this one in a heartbeat.

One last thing, a few years ago, a private collector commissioned Christensen to do a backglass for an X-Rated Pinball, called Big Dick. The NSFW image can be seen here. I’m happy to report that I have this backglass in my collection!

Update. I recently participated in an art show dedicated to the art of Mr. Christensen, and loaned out my Wizard and Fireball pinballs for the show.