Saturday, March 31, 2007

The perils of owning too many records ...

Holly of Sweetheartville, a self-described "bitch kitty on wheels," finds a vintage Flora cover in—well, you'll never guess where.

She also observes that "covering a dining room wall with record sleeves hung with thumb tacks [is] too college." Perhaps decoratistas can agree on a Flora exemption.

UPDATE (02 MAY 07): Mr. Hall wonders if we're "making fun of [Mrs. Hall] in some way." No way!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Did Flora invent South Park?

Jim Flora passed away in 1998, one year after the TV debut of SOUTH PARK. We don't know if he ever watched it. Yet there is incontrovertible evidence that Flora telepathically transmitted artistic ideas to series creators Matt and Trey.

Exhibit A: In the New York Times, March 15, 1959, Flora depicted the stork delivering a litter of South Park denizens:

Forty years later, the above figures would have reproduced in sufficient quantities to populate a small Colorado town.

Exhibit B: In an undated, untitled, and unpublished early 1960s Flora tempera, Kenny makes a cameo appearance:

There is no indication that Flora repeatedly killed the above figure and then inexplicably brought him back to life. Research, however, continues.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Bet your moose can't toot his own horn! Know why? Three reasons:

1) You didn't sign him up for lessons;
2) Clumsy, cloven hooves—can't work keys; and,
3) He's not a Floramoose!

Detail from December 1942 Columbia-Okeh new release monthly. Complete booklet featured in The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Another zoological curiosity

We guess that's a three-legged dog and we suppose he's got a bone. That could be the moon peeking through the curl of his tail. But perhaps we're being overly literal. Detail from an untitled work ca. 1960s. Another detail appears here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Baroque and subversive"

Eloquent, music-skewed review of The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora over at J.B. Spins, a blog devoted to "jazz and improvised politics."

Friday, March 16, 2007


New York Times Magazine, October 1, 1967

Monday, March 12, 2007

Is that an Amberol cylinder in his pocket, or is he just feeling frisky?

The music business is infested with characters who are unpleasant — few more so than Courtney T. Edison, a.k.a. "The Old Codger," who occasionally hosts radio programs at WFMU. He plays nothing but 78 rpm records—"Like they're goin' outta style," he asserts, with a spray of saliva. The Codge is a nasty piece of work—an ornery, crusty, useless, misanthropic, cigar-chomping anachronism. How old? Allegedly between 116 and—well, at his age they mark birthdays by the decade. Claims he knew Ambrose Biercewhen the latter was a wee lad.

Codger despises all musical storage media except 78s and cylinders. Has no use for CDs, mp3s, LPs, 45s, cassettes, or 8-tracks, and gets volatile if you attempt sonic rapprochement. He'll duel you to the death with a chromium stylus. Elect him president and he'd make surface noise the national anthem. Rumor has it that for about three days in 1930 he was known as "Mr. Nice," but this incident may be apocryphal. For the most part, he refuses to budge from his perch atop Mt. Cranky.

Courtney served as poster coot for Columbia Records in 1943 (he was old then!), and Flora was assigned to render his sordid portrait.

In an unpublished memoir, Flora later recalled drawing from the model: "He was gratuitously mean-spirited and uncooperative. It was all about him. Yammered on and on about 'the good old days'—even in 1943! Tucked in his nostalgia blankie, he blathered with self-absorbed gusto. I worked faster than usual, just to get away from him sooner."

A few years ago, the Codger was inveigled into recording a few songs backed by DIY legend R. Stevie Moore. He expected the tracks to be released on a 78 album with a Flora cover. However, some young upstart at WFMU (currently in the second week of its annual fund-raising marathon) posted the tracks in the iTunes Music Store and didn't tell Courtney. Please don't spill. It would break his heart. Really, don't even try to make contact by calling him. He's had the same home phone number since 1892—it's "6"—but you didn't read it here. Resist the impulse to dial. Leave the geezer cocooned in the sanctity of his own delusions.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Digging Flora's "fossils"

Year Zero in the Flora Revival was 1992 when Michael Bartalos cold-called the 78-year-old artist to ask about his 1940s and '50s album cover illustrations, which evoked a mothballed era to the robust, productive retiree. Recalling Mike's curiosity, Flora later said, "I felt like a fossil that had just been dug up."

Thus began the archaeology, which continues to unearth ancient marvels. The above flashbulb-bleached vignette was snapped at A-D Gallery in June 1943 during Flora's first NYC exhibit. Flora (R) is seen chatting with Alex Steinweiss, the man credited with (at least) two major artistic developments: 1) the invention of the illustrated record album cover (for Columbia, in 1938); and 2) the hiring of Jim Flora (also at Columbia, 1942). Flora's quirky illustrations for the label's ads and new release monthlies attracted enough attention in one year to warrant an exhibit at this very prestigious gallery.

But—what are those inscrutable petroglyphs on the wall behind these gents?

The photo, provided by Flora's son Joel around 2003, appeared in our 2004 book The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora. Naturally, we puzzled over the whereabouts of those amazing artifacts viewable only in grainy black & white and partly obscured.

When the Flora family accorded us access to their late father's immense private collection in 2005, we discovered the following:

This tempera on paper matches the lower work displayed between Flora and Steinweiss. A name scribbled on the back reveals that it's a portrait of the aptly named New Orleans jazz legend "Bunk" Johnson, an early trumpeter whose lips blew smoke in more ways than one.

However, the topmost work on the A-D Gallery wall was not in the collection. Barbara scanned the pic at very high resolution and sharpened the image in Photoshop to reveal the following:

A procession of Calder-strung cowboys and cattle heads. The whereabouts of the work remains a mystery.

In late 2006, Joel discovered a number of his father's sketchbooks in a trunk. Among them was a deteriorating scrapbook in which the artist had glued several hundred pen and pencil drawings from the early 1940s. One sketch depicts a rough outline of the above work, and supplies the title:

Our search for the finished version of Stampede continues.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Invading your earspace

I've hosted a radio program at WFMU since 1975. Thirty-two punch-drunk years.

WFMU is a non-commercial, Free-Form station—one of the charter FF outlets, being entertainingly anarchic since 1968. We play anything—popular/obscure, new/old, good/bad; the tasteful juxtaposed with the creepy. We're an aural curio shop, and "Genre" is a poltergeist who got discouraged and went a-haunting elsewhere. A typical WFMU program sounds like an overactive iPod shuffle. The station has a four-decade reputation and retains an eccentric identity, with an unpredictable and Fun approach to radio. In the late '60s, there were dozens of such adventurous stations. Today there are—well, let us know of ANY for whom the three-letter 'F'-word is a guiding principle.

WFMU is not partnered with any Public Broadcasting system. NPR, PRI, MPR, APM, and PBS stylistically comprise the Starbucks Radio Network, a standardized upscale chain whipping up audio lattés for affluent Boomers. We're head-scratching lower primates—like you! We're not owned by a university (Upsala College, from whom we purchased our license, went out of business in 1995). We own ourselves. In fact, we own our headquarters (a.k.a. the Magic Factory) situated in a tony Jersey City enclave. We bought when real estate values were down. We have a tenant. A realtor. THEY pay rent to US.

And no, we're not a bunch of aggrieved Pacifica burnouts—we're a Breughelesque swarm of misfits and malcontents scratching out risk-taking radio on the cheap. Air staff does not get paid. Our operating expenses are covered by the checks and PayPal accounts of listener-supporters (many of whom volunteer in our offices throughout the year). No commercials, zero gov grants, no corporate underwriting. Two weeks a year are devoted to an on-air fundraiser called a Marathon: a ragtag rent party, auguring fourteen days of staff self-abasement. Our devoted audience invariably comes through, because we're part of the primeval food chain in which LISTENER = MONKEY, WFMU = BANANA.

What does this have to do with Jim Flora?

Over the years, WFMU has adapted Jim Flora art on bumper stickers, T-shirts, hoodies, a fund-raising mailer, and elsewhere. Not because the art was offered free of charge (it was)—but because WFMU appreciates Jim Flora. His mischievous images befit WFMU's idiosyncratic character.

The WFMU 2007 Marathon begins Monday, March 5, and concludes Sunday, March 18. You can listen, you can volunteer, you can donate. WFMU has always been a quirky phenomenon that works in practice, but not in theory. Flora has made a posthumous artistic contribution. While you're still alive, you can contribute financially.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Bulbnose walks the 9-legged hound

From The X-Ray Eye of Wallingford Hume, a proposed children's book, 1943. Project abandoned, images unpublished.