From Shorpy



Got an oil change today - oh, settle down, don’t worry, I can’t possibly deliver on a set-up that exciting, so adjust your expectations downward. First I went to the place that doesn’t charge much; I had a $9.99 coupon, too. They said it would be an hour and a half because they had two cars up on the rack in the bay. This is why they don’t charge much. No one goes there for just an oil change. Seven bays and they’re always busy. So I went to Valvoline, for which I had a $19.99 coupon. Already this is costing me more.

The team at Valvoline operates on military-style precision, with a grizzled Sarge barking out orders to everyone; the crew responds with crisp shouts. This is probably to make sure everyone’s on the same page, so they guy in the subterranean pit doesn’t have four quarts dumped on his upraised face. The upselling usually begins within the first five minutes: a guy brings in your filters, and it’s like a before-and-after anti-smoking ad. For the last few changes I’ve said my filters were fine, which always get a fine-your-funeral nod, but this time I knew they had to be changed. I don’t know if my belts were good. I’m not sure the car has any belts, or at least ones they could change.

Used to be a TBA man, myself, you know. Tires Batteries Accessories: TBA in Texaco lingo. For a summer I drove around service stations in Fargo distributing TBA. Hated it. Boss’ s kid. Nerdy boss kid in the dirty oily service station bays dealing with skinny guys with goatees and black hands. Don’t get oil on your bell-bottoms, dude. No amount of Gojo would wipe off the shame I felt.

How my dad ended up the TBA distributor for Fargo is something I’ll have to ask him. He had a promotional picture taken, too:



Yes, that was my VAN, MAN. Chick magnet until they got inside, and discovered that it smelled like someone had been huffing gasoline.



Hmm. That detail in the back of the first shot. Computer, enhance.


This mystified me when I noticed it just now, because it doesn’t conform to anything on the station. So I called up a picture of the old station:



Ah hah! Do you see it? A slight seam by the window? They must have ripped out the entire wall. I love this kind of personal archeology. Why, let’s find another shot from the era . . .


Wow! The seam sent right into the ground and up into space, changing the color of the sky!

Sigh. It’s a line from my attempts to merge two shots.

Anyway, the Valvoline guy handed me the keys and said “here you go, boss.” All that childhood garage awkwardness now gone, apparently.

"Oh," said the guy writing up the bill. "We saw the coupon you had, so we took that off. Annnd that's $95.39."

It was, was it? Really? Uh - this coupon I had for $19.99?

That was for ordinary oil. When I came in he'd asked if I wanted the same kind of oil I was using now, and I said yes. They had it in their computer. Regular oil was a double sawbuck. Fancypants Synth-O-Oil was three times that.

I said that was my fault, I guess. Probably because it was: I hadn't presented the coupon, I'd just said yeah, same oil.

"You're sure," he said. I wasn't sure what I was should be sure about, since it's not like they could drain the oil and put in the cheap stuff. I mean, they could, but c'mon.

I said I was sure.

"I could take something off," he said. "Five dollars okay?"

I said five dollars was just fine. I probably could have asked for ten. But it wouldn't have been right. Right? I mean, five dollars off for my mistake is a gift. Asking for five dollars more would be taking advantage of a generosity that was predicated on my mistake.

No doubt some are reading this with a slack jaw, thinking, what kind of rube doesn't put on some pressure when they're offering to charge you less? But I didn't want to be That Guy.

You know, the boss's kid.


Then I went to get my hair cut. WHOA, you say, you said this wouldn’t be exciting. But it had to be done; have a video shoot on Friday, and I’m wooly. The haircutter was a smart chap who is attending the U in Native American studies, and had written a piece that morning on Ethnobotany. The class, he said, had veered from historical studies to the discussion of Native American “subsistence” practices as an alternative to capitalism. I asked him if that meant we grew everything for ourselves in our backyard; more or less. A community should be able to feed itself.

I noted that capitalism and increased yields meant that people did not have to spend the entire day on food, and were freed up for things like science and art, and he said yes, that’s the tradeoff. I noted that it’s good to have strawberries in February, though, isn’t it? When the frozen food industry made it possible to have things in winter without the effort of canning, that was good. Right?

No, not really. The carbon footprint of the industry isn’t worth it. Example: eggplants. In the winter they only come from Europe. Better to do without than ship them over.

I nodded, if only because I don’t like eggplant, and decided not to pursue that particular line of discussion. After all, I didn’t have my glasses on, and he had a pointy scissors.






And now, let's change our entire graphics paradigm once more! It's the semi-sort-of regular Thursday feature.


Believe it or not, this.



Not for the song; it's okay. You mean to say the music business is shallow and run by people who are in it for the money? Heartbroken, I am.

Do you know why the song is called "Have a Cigar"? I'm quite sure it's because it rhymes with "you're going to go far." How many record-company executives met with a singer or guitarist and offered a cigar?

No, I mention it because of the designer. That's the work of George Hardie. I wish I could tell you more about him, but online info is scant, except to say that he teaches college now.

There's another version of the logo, where the colors are explained:



And by "explained" I mean "elements and locations alluded to for unspecified reasons." Okay, water, sky, desert . . . sun. Sky? Sun. Sunset? Doesn't matter: it's the isometric style that seemed remarkable at the time. He used the same style for the illustrations on the"The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" sleeves which abstracted the concepts of the song down to the basics. Can you tell what this is?




It's this: in the rather incoherent and sophomoric story, the protagonist is walking in Times Square when he sees a giant wall moving towards him. When it hits he passes through a collage of images and characters drawn from 20th century American culture and advertising, after which he passes into the realm where he will chase his snipped-off dongle and find meaning in life. Anyway, that's the moment he's hit by the Wall, right up there. Curb, lightpost, foot, hand.


In the 70s, album art was the main visual medium for youth; there weren’t any videos, and the comics were either kid-stuff or “alternative” comics for beard-pickers and stoners eager for as much pseudo-Crumb reefer-funnies as they could get. Album art could be any medium, any style; you’d love one for its perfect photo, another for its airbrushing, another for its watercolors. When a new album came out that was the first thing you judged. You flipped it sideways to see if it opened up. Most often it did, and most often if it did it was a disappointment in the end. Groups got one of those when they’d hit their commercial peak, something that often coincided with the exhaustion of their inspiration.

The next step after you got the album home: slid the plastic with a thumbnail and take out the record itself, hoping hoping hoping YES! LYRICS! TINY TYPE! Something to study and memorize, pick apart for meaningful and immediate references to your own situation or worldview. Then you withdrew the record from the sleeve - it crackled with anticipation - and played it. When you were done you could figure out how the album’s art applied. If if did.

It’s the only visual art form in history that was defined by its uniform size and nothing more.

It’s hard to pick a favorite. Some work because they have a “new” style that reinforces your believe that music has changed, and it’s great, because you’re right there when it’s changing, up to date and hip as hell. Sometimes the album itself is a wash except for one killer cut, but you love the art. Sometimes the art is nothing much but you love the album so much you’re happy when you see it. Sometimes the art plugs into something the music or band never explicitly stated, but the designer intuited - I remember the cover for the Blue Oyster Cultlive album, which had a limo pulling up in front of a church. Totally! Monks and dark twisted rituals, man! Like, imagine Buck Dharma doing “Buck’s Boogie” standing on the altar at midnight and calling forth, like, dark rock gods of the ages! Because there were of course dark rock gods waiting to be summoned forth, so that thou shall rock.

But sometimes there’s a combination you only get once or twice in your life: favorite artist, the right time, the right mood, the perfect summation of the emotion you feel when you drop the needle on the first track.


I bought it on an autumn day overcome with fog, too. I'm here to tell you that the first two tracks on this were so instantaneously amazing at the time that I have never forgotten sitting on the floor of room 718 in Middlebrook Hall at the U of M, hearing something that was everything I wanted to hear. It was overwhelming, as these things are when you're 18.

Can still feel it at 54.

There’s a reason every song in my iTunes library has an album cover. If I ripped an CD, I added the art. The songs have to have a cover. It’s the wrapping you undo to get to the present, every time you open it, again, and again, and again.



One more 'til Friday. The week has been dense but moves with nimble speed Like Sidney Greenstreet. New Motels, Tumblr, Strib blog . . . as ever, all yours for a song. Enjoy! See you around.





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