Graphic design in the Fifties and Sixties was the playbill version of Googie: exuberant, absurd, energetic, Atomic Age America.
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In our youth, my husband was a bass player with Buffalo bluesman, Shakin’ Smith. We drew straws to see who had to get a real job, and he lost. He still plays, and he’d like to play more. The trouble is that his contacts are few up here in midcoast Maine. There doesn't seem to be as much of a live music scene here as in Buffalo. That's odd, considering this is a tourist destination.
Buffalo’s last bar call was at 4 AM. This created a world of its own for musicians, who generally had to wait until the last drunk stumbled out before the owner would unfist his cash. Often, musicians wouldn’t even start playing until 11 PM. One fine summer morning, Doug and I returned home after a gig to find his father up painting the garage door. He seemed inexpressibly old, but he was younger then than we are now.
This schedule was a remnant of an era when the mills roared 24-7. Bars stayed open to accommodate shiftworkers. That world is documented in Verlyn Klinkenborg’s elegiac The Last Fine Time.
Neither of us want to stay up all night drinking in seedy dives, but Doug does want to play. Howard likes music, so I called to see if he had any ideas.
No, but he needed a poster designed for a series of swing shows he’s organizing in Northport this summer. Back when Doug was playing the bass, I was doing graphic design using paper, an X-Acto knife, waxer, rapidograph pens, and other obsolete tools of the trade. I quit long after the transition to computers—almost exactly twenty years ago, in fact—but I still remember the basics.
Most of those mid-century type treatments were hand-drawn with pen and ink. Nobody was particularly fettered by so-called good taste or rules about the number and kinds of display fonts that were tossed together. Graphic design was the playbill version of Googie: exuberant, absurd, energetic, Atomic Age America.
I didn’t have enough time to hand-letter a poster. I made a passable imitation using Adobe Illustrator. It was great nostalgic fun, but no, I don’t want to design your logo. I'm way too busy painting. (If you need a designer, contact Victoria Brzustowicz.)
Meanwhile, I’m off to see The Zombies in Northhampton, Massachusetts this week. Colin Blunstone is approximately at the age my father was when he died after a long, pottering retirement. Blunstone’s on tour. Even old people aren’t what they used to be.