Saturday, June 17, 2006

My prior writings - part 4...the end already!

My other web-only piece for Atomic (from 2003) turned out to be the last original piece done for the site before it was frozen in time. The magazine had gone away (a victim of politics and of 9/11 ) and while my piece was due to be the last page of the current issue, it didn't turn out that way. I did a last page for them in a previous issue on Bettie Page. It was her 80th birthday that year, so I wrote about that. By the way, you can still buy back issues of Atomic right here.

I wanted to do a longer piece on Bing and an interview I did with author Gary Giddins, but the piece ended up being what it is. I hope you like it. It's short, so you can get back to wasting you time in other areas of your life.

Remembering Bing Crosby
by Tony Adams

Contrary to popular opinion, this year marks the
centennial of one of the greatest entertainers of all time: Bing Crosby. Although born on May 3rd, 1903, a year was shaved off his age early in his film career by his brother Everette (who actually thought he was shaving off two years) so that Bing might appear younger to movie-goers. Consequently, most reports list his date of birth as 1904. But ATOMIC has the inside scoop, and we are proud to pay tribute to this legendary performer’s 100th birthday while the mainstream media is playing catch up.

In an amazing career that spanned decades, Crosby’s legacy sadly has been reduced to two items of note: either people think about him only during the holidays for his timeless rendition of “White Christmas,” or they want to know if he really beat his kids. That gives short shrift to an artist who personified the American Everyman on hundreds of albums, as well as on the radio, in films, and on television.

Early in his career, Crosby broke new ground in popular music by bringing Jazz to the masses in his recordings as a Rhythm Boy with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra and as a soloist. He later became the voice millions of Americans tuned into weekly on the radio during the height of the Depression, World War II and the post-war American high life. His future accomplishments as a performer are too numerous to mention, and he reached heights no other entertainer has achieved since. This short list — taken from Gary Giddins’ wonderful biography, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903-1940 — provides just a small taste of his monumental legacy:

  • He made more studio recordings than any other singer in history (about 400 more than Frank Sinatra)
  • Between 1927 and 1962, Crosby scored 368 charted records under his own name, plus 28 as vocalist with various bandleaders, for a total of 396. No one else has come close; compare Paul Whiteman (220), Frank Sinatra (209), Elvis Presley (149), Glenn Miller (129), Nat "King" Cole (118), Louis Armstrong (85), and the Beatles (68)
  • He financed and popularized the development of audio tape, revolutionizing the recording industry
  • He scored more number one hits than anyone in music history: 38 for Bing, as compared to 24 by the Beatles and 18 by Elvis Presley

All of this by a guy who was raised with a Jesuit education by a strict mother and a happy-go-lucky father.

A celebration of Bing’s birthday was held earlier in the year in his hometown of Spokane, WA, and there are plans for a shindig to be held in New York City. With the confusion surrounding his date of birth, the centennial celebration will likely last well over a year.

The extended tribute — like the man himself — will be a blessing to us all.

My prior writings - part 3

Here the first piece I ever did for anyone. Leslie at Atomic Magazine (now gave me my first shot and I can never thank her enough. It all started with my wife Dawn finding Atomic Magazine at the bookstore. It was a great magazine all about retro culture - and they even asked people if they wanted to write for them (I think it was on the website). I asked and told what my measley experience was and she gave me a shot. The piece didn't make it into the actual print magazine, but it was still important to me. I came up with the idea for the story because we knew someone in the group. I interviewed a few people and that was that. Trust me, I didn't do it for accolades or anything but no one from the group ever even said "thank you" - hell, no one even said if they'd read it and/or were happy with it. Oh, well.
(the original piece can be found here)

Naptown Stomp Swings Past the Hype
By Tony Adams

I've always been fascinated with swing and the culture that surrounds it. It may have started when I was a kid, watching old movies where people danced in ways that looked humanly impossible but were also cool as hell. Or it could have taken hold of me through my grandma's old albums by Nat "King" Cole and too many big bands to name. Who knows the actual point of impact on my soul? To put it plainly: I love the music. I love the dancing. I love the fashion.

I hated the hype.

In 1996, when Vaughn and Favreau were saying "baby" this and "money" that and big band music burst on the scene, the media latched onto the movement like a pack of hungry wolves. Although the rebirth of swing culture was a great thing indeed—with the Cherry Poppin' Daddies zoot-suiting it up on MTV and The Gap selling chinos to a jump blues beat—the media whirlwind left many swing fans with vertigo.

As with any pop culture movement, when the hype gets to be too much, you just have to step back, bide your time and reassure yourself that this too will pass. The media doesn't stay on anything too long. Like vending machine bubble gum—when the flavor's gone, you spit it out.

Naptown Stomp's Marketing Director, Quinton Snodgrass

Swing's Still the Thing
But here in Indianapolis, Kathy and Aaron Altschul had a different idea. Last February, they decided to start a swing dance club called Naptown Stomp. It wasn't the easiest undertaking, since by 2001 the attention swing had received just a few years before was gone. That wasn't an entirely bad thing, though. Not everyone likes gum.

The group's main focus wasn't the media trappings that turned up in ads or boring exposé pieces in weekly magazines. It wasn't about modern-day zoots or chompin' on stogies or jumping on the bandwagon. As group member Roland Walker puts it simply, "It's about the dancing."

Reaching Out to a Broader Audience
"Naptown Stomp was organized to teach and educate the general public on swing dancing, specifically Lindy Hop, swing music and its history," says the group's marketing director, Quinton Snodgrass. "We conduct a series of classes to introduce beginners to the dance as well as perform private shows for groups or clubs who are interested in adding some flare to their functions."

Although the members of Naptown Stomp are trying to keep swing going in Indy, once the heat of the "Swing Craze" died down, it became hard for folks who enjoyed the scene to find a place to do their thing.

"Money is the main issue," says Quinton. "Some clubs that jumped on the swing wagon during the '90s, when it was more of a fad, have really fallen by the wayside. It is tough to keep a swing venue in the black. Most of the dancers aren't big drinkers, so they go to the bar and order water. But most of the places that did swing figured out that they could make more money catering to the college crowd, who were less interested in dancing and more interested in the drink specials. I think this has pretty much happened across the country, and is one of the things that has made swing more of an underground phenomenon again."

The Naptown core consists of only five officers, with an additional group of indispensable volunteers. These are the "Swing Geeks" who go to weeklong workshops in Chicago or travel cross-country because they heard about a cool place to dance.

And it's that kind of spirit that gives me hope that something I cherish and admire so much won't be forgotten after the media's eye has turned to The Next Big Thing. Naptown Stomp is not going to give up. Swing music and dance are too important for these people, who continue to celebrate this enduring cultural movement.

To view the Naptown Stomp calendar of swing events in Indianapolis, visit