By Bronwen Dickey, Garden & Gun
Excerpt: To a male-dominated, marketing-driven industry that fetishized youth, she didn’t belong—at least not in the way record executives wanted her to. There would be no spangles or shoulder pads; she wore dark eyeliner and leather jackets with her cowboy hats. Her songs blended folk and blues, rock and country, punk and zydeco, with an undercurrent of Southern gothic, as if Flannery O’Connor had joined Tom Petty for a late-night drive. Like traditional folk ballads, most of them didn’t have bridges, and they weren’t easily packaged for mainstream radio. They were songs for people who cared about storytelling: personal and direct, plain and profound, filled with misfits who were still worth loving.
The Tumble Inn sign before its hat and top of the cowboy’s head was removed to begin restoration. (Jonathan Thorne)
Jake Nichols, Cowboy State Daily: Almost as colorful as the Tumble Inn’s neon sign is the history of the business it promoted.
From steakhouse to roadhouse, the Tumble Inn was a place many an imbiber stumbled out of. Through its legacy, the juke joint was a haven for prohibition violators, exotic dancing and even a murder.
Back in the day, the historic U.S. 20 was the longest continuous highway in America, spanning from Maine to Oregon. After interstates took over, the section in Wyoming between Casper and Shoshoni was still a long one for many vehicles to navigate without handy watering holes like the Tumble Inn.
An early version of the Tumble Inn was reported to have been in operation in Ten Sleep. Also, according to newspaper clippings, a place of business operating as the Tumble Inn was raided in 1925 and its bartender, S.A. Michaelson, arrested for serving moonshine during prohibition.
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Bettie Page, Creative Commons.
By Steve Beard
Ah, those jet-black Bettie Page bangs. Sixty-five years after they were immortalized on a pin-up icon, you still occasionally see them on the pale hipsters with the cat-eyed glasses. That’s just one of the lasting manifestations of Bettie Page’s industrious and enigmatic seven-year modeling career. She was a splash of rockabilly, a dash of Goth, and an extra helping of sass.
Today would have been her 100th birthday.
She died at the age of 85, on Thursday, December 11, 2008. She suffered a heart attack and had been placed on life support, never regaining consciousness. Her funeral was conducted at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles by the Rev. Robert Schuller, founding minister of the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California. In attendance, was Page’s longtime friend Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine (she appeared in the magazine in 1955), and burlesque actress Tempest Storm, who starred with Page in the 1950 film “Teaserama.”
In some ways, Bettie Page is more popular today than she was in the Eisenhower-era. You can purchase her image on playing cards, t-shirts, lunch boxes, beach towels, lighters, key chains, and fridge magnets. There are even a few Bettie Page action figures. Continue reading
Agnes Renee Leihiwahiwaikapolionāmakua Thronas Brown at Merrie Monarch Festival. Photo: Merrie Monarch Festival Facebook.
By Steve Beard
You know you’re in a truly enchanted location when the television evening news on Maui closes out the broadcast with a graceful troupe of hula dancers. It’s not a marketing ploy. Instead, it’s part of cultural preservation – as much a part of the rhythm of Hawai’i as the pounding of poi and the crashing waves of the Pacific.
Over the years, I have learned to respect this treasured indigenous art form – language and history in motion. This past weekend, Agnes Renee Leihiwahiwaikapolionāmakua Thronas Brown won the Miss Aloha Hula competition at the 2023 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai’i. For 60 years, the week-long celebration has been the top-tier competition for hula – male and female, ancient and modern, solo and group. It’s going on my bucket list.
For aficionados, the festival is the Olympics of hula for the islands. It showcases traditional chants (oli) and dances (hula kahiko), as well as modern counterparts (hula ‘auana). Through hand gestures – some resembling the steady waves of the ocean – and movements, they tell legends of the islands, great leaders, and beautiful locations. I spent my weekend watching the performances online. Continue reading
Mosaic of Father Damien at Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina, Maui. Photo by Steve Beard.
By Steve Beard
Looking across the shades of aqua blue water from the northwest coast of Maui, there are two Hawaiian islands seen in the distance. One is Lanai, once home to the largest pineapple plantation in the world. Today, the island is privately owned by billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle and known for its exclusivity, luxurious accommodations, and spectacular golf course.
The other island is Molokai, known around the world for over a century because of the selfless ministry of Father Damien. From the first time I saw the two sparsely populated islands, Molokai’s tragic and triumphant saga of faith and kindness has held a magnetic appeal.
In 1866, the Kingdom of Hawaii forcibly exiled those suspected of having leprosy (known today as Hansen’s disease) to a small plot of land on Molokai. Called Kalaupapa, the peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the majestic Pacific Ocean and boxed in by a towering 3,600-foot cliff. Father Damien called it a “living graveyard.” Continue reading
Sex Pistols perform in Paradiso, Amsterdam. Creative Commons.
By Steve Beard
When the notorious Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon) appeared on the fledgling punk rock scene decades ago as the front man for the Sex Pistols, he didn’t appear as a likely candidate for being fully committed to a 44-year marriage.
Instead, he was Public Enemy #1 in Great Britain and routinely denounced by politicians. He brutally mocked the monarchy in “God Save the Queen” and stirred a cauldron of teenage discontent with songs such as “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “Pretty Vacant.” His band savored unhinged chaos at their shows, and Rotten declared his intention to destroy everything.
Rolling Stone’s 1977 story on the band began by invoking a biblical notation: “Instead of perfume here will be rottenness” (Isaiah 3:24). “Rotten is perhaps the most captivating performer I’ve ever seen,” reported Charles M. Young. “He really doesn’t do that much besides snarl and be hunchbacked; it’s the eyes that kill you. They don’t pierce, they bludgeon.”
In the midst of that era’s mayhem, Lydon fell head over stilettos for Nora Forster, the woman who would capture his heart. At the age of 80, she died on April 6. They had been married since 1979. “The first time I met Nora, everyone told her not to talk to me because I was completely horrible,” Lydon (67) said with a smirk in an interview with Irish TV. “We ended up laughing and loving each other.” Continue reading
Brian Setzer Orchestra, 2013, Houston. Photo by Steve Beard.
By Steve Beard
Sending the grandest Happy Birthday wishes to Brian Setzer. Most well-known for his hair “piled high” and shredding on a vintage Gretsch guitar, he played a monumental role in reintroducing young punks like me around the globe to the retro sounds of rockabilly and roots rock.
The magnetism of that bygone era when rock and roll was young and brassy permeated Southern California while I was in high school in the early 1980s. Seeing Stray Cats and Blasters shows in LA was all the ignition that my bandmate Troy Meier and I needed to launch The Belvaderes, our own fledgling rockabilly band. There were garage bands percolating all over the Southland. Having cut our teeth on punk rock shows in smaller clove-smoke-filled clubs, those larger electrifying concerts flipped our world upside down. Setzer, the Alvin brothers, and other local rockabilly bands (The Red Devils, The Lifters, Jimmy and the Mustangs, the Rockin’ Rebels, the Paladins) provided the kind of atomic inspiration we needed.
The spotlight on stage in that era, however, was trained right on Setzer. He was the stylish Pied Piper with a peroxide-blonde pompadour of 1950s-infused rock. There was even an aggressive touch of punk in songs such as “Storm the Embassy” and “Rumble in Brighton.”
Fans were mesmerized by the seemingly primitive instrumentation of a stand-up drum kit, a dog house acoustic slap bass, and Setzer’s vintage Gretsch hollow-body guitar. Continue reading