Tuesday, September 11, 2007

a ROCKIN' look back at a 1966 garage-band car song based upon an art controversy in L.A.

(above) artist Ed Kienholz's "Back Seat Dodge '38" multi-media sculpture
(above) the '45 on Mustang Records, by Opus 1 (1966)
(above) artist Ed Kienholz in his studio

This past Saturday at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, musician John "Chris" Christensen from the fondly-recalled mid/late '60s Long Beach, CA garage combo Opus 1, was a featured speaker at the "Riot on Sunset Strip" event produced by my friend and distinguished L.A. historian, Domenic Priore.
Opus 1, pictured at left in the only photo I could find, created the post-surf, pre-psychedelic song "Back Seat '38 Dodge" in 1966, their tribute to a very controversial art installation of much the same title at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a sculpture built by artist Ed Keinholz in 1964 (shown at top).
"Back Seat Dodge '38" is an assemblage, built of polyester resin, paint, fiberglass, clothing, chicken wire, beer bottles, artificial grass, and plaster castings, all depicting a steamy backseat encounter in Kienholz' vision of a truncated 1938 Dodge.
Kienholz, who died in 1994, was a constant presence at Idaho, Houston, and Berlin, Germany flea markets. "We would just wander aimlessly around and look for things that had magic," remembered his wife Nancy Reddin Kienholz. "Then, we'd bring the stuff home and fool with it."
The Kienholzes' use of found materials enabled them to create life-size sculptures and entire environments, which in turn made for sardonic social commentary.
According to www.beatmuseum.org/kienholz/edkienholz.html, "Detractor's opinions of the Kienholz's work haven't changed much since 1966 when Ed's "Back Seat Dodge '38," which features an impassioned couple [going at it], caused a media frenzy after its premiere at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art."
Ed Kienholz's funeral itself was quite an event. "His corpulent, embalmed body was wedged into the front seat of a brown 1940 Packard coupe," recalled art critic Robert Hughes (whose art column appeared in Time Magazine for many years). "There was a dollar and a deck of cards in his pocket, a bottle of 1931 Chianti beside him, and the ashes of his dog Smash in the trunk. To the whine of bagpipes, the Packard, steered by his widow, rolled like a funeral barge into the big hole: the most Egyptian funeral ever held in the American West, a fitting [exit] for this profuse, energetic, sometimes brilliant, and sometimes hopelessly vulgar artist."
You can see many photos of "Chris" Christensen and his bands, and listen to "Back Seat '38 Dodge, at My Space:
Opus 1, short-lived an rather obscure today, appeared on the Perry Mason tv show in 1966. Christensen remembers, "We had the distinction of being in the very last black and white episode of Perry Mason ever shot. We were supposed to be ourselves, but when we showed up for filming they called us "Gabe and His Angels," and we mimed to some real fruity movie-rock-and-roll version of "The Jersey Bounce." They made my band mates Doug and Brian stand close together and in front of me (I was the drummer) to hide the bass drum head that said 'Opus 1'".
There's an interesting story about how the Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have been "evaluating the feasibility of eradicating museum insect pests by placing an infested object ("Back Seat Dodge '38") in an atmosphere devoid of oxygen for an extended period." Go to http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/waac/wn/wn16/wn16-1/wn16-102.html.
There's additional information on Christensen and Opus 1 at http://www.beatbrothersrecords.com/
Crazy, man, crazy.


Anonymous said...

what a great time, reminds me of the good ol days you know? Going down to las vegas in the spring, gettin drunk, and feasting your eyes on a cute little mexican midget. mmhmm. good stuff.

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