Music is a big part of the Fallout games. For those unaware of Fallout, it’s a series of post-apocalyptic role-playing video games set during the 21st, 22nd and 23rd centuries. Fallout has a strong retrofuturism aesthetic with its setting and artwork influenced by the culture of 1950s United States and its Cold War paranoia of nuclear annihilation.
I’ve recently found Fallout Radio and I love it. Fallout Radio is part of the family of Old World Radio, which hosts several game themed streaming YouTube stations such as Fallout 76 Appalachian Radio, Rockabilly Radio and Vintage Radio.
Of the Old World Radio different stations I most enjoy Fallout Radio.The music is largely swing tunes from the Diesel Era (i.e. Jazz Age) along with American Standards. As part of the fun, they include odd songs such as Radioactive Mama by Sheldon Allman along with strange and darkly humorous Cold War themed Public Service Announcements. Fallout Radio music programs are set in the Fallout universe and include Cadillac Jack's Radio Shack, The Storyteller's Old World Tunes, and Radio FNGS.
The game Fallout along with Fallout Radio raises interesting questions for genrepunks and retrofuturists. With its mix of Swing and American Standards with 1950s Cold War culture is there really a genre that we can call “atomicpunk” or “atompunk”? If so, where does dieselpunk end and atomicpunk begin? Might what we call atomicpunk simply be a variant of dieselpunk, much like decopunk?
For now, I’ll let you, dear reader, ponder those questions. I plan to return to those at a later date. In the meantime, sit back, open yourself up an ice cold bottle of Nuka-Cola, and tune into Fallout Radio.
Most of my readers know that I’m a big fan of Blues and Jazz. I’m especially fond of the Blues of the 1920s. So I was excited to learn of the upcoming film on Netflix about the “mother of the blues” Ma Rainey.
Ma Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia, although some sources place her birth in 1882 in Alabama. Little is known about her childhood. She first appeared in the public at 14 in a local talent show called “Bunch of Blackberries” at the Springer Opera House in Columbus. In February 1904 she married William Rainey, a vaudeville performer known as Pa Rainey, and for several years they toured with African American minstrel groups as a song-and-dance team.
In 1902, in a small Missouri town, she first heard the sort of music that was to become known as the blues. Ma Rainey, as she was known, began singing blues songs and contributed greatly to the evolution of the form and to the growth of its popularity. In her travels she appeared with jazz and jug bands throughout the South. While with the Tolliver’s Circus and Musical Extravaganza troupe, she exerted a direct influence on young Bessie Smith. Her deep contralto voice, sometimes verging on harshness, was a powerful instrument with which to convey the depth of her songs of everyday life and emotion, and she was renowned for her flamboyant performances.
In 1923 Ma Rainey made her first phonograph recordings for the Paramount company. Over a five-year span she recorded some 92 songs for Paramount—including “See See Rider,” “Prove It on Me,” “Blues Oh Blues,” “Sleep Talking,” “Oh Papa Blues,” “Trust No Man,” “Slave to the Blues,” “New Boweavil Blues,” and “Slow Driving Moan”—that later became the only permanent record of one of the most influential popular musical artists of her time. She continued to sing in public into the 1930s.
In addition to being a pioneer in Blues and black women artists, Ma Rainey is known as a pioneer in LGBTQA rights. Although most of Rainey's songs that mention sexuality refer to love affairs with men, some of her lyrics contain references to lesbianism or bisexuality, such as the 1928 song "Prove It on Me":
They said I do it, ain't nobody caught me.
Sure got to prove it on me.
Went out last night with a crowd of my friends.
They must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men.
According to the website queerculturalcenter.org, the lyrics refer to an incident in 1925 in which Rainey was "arrested for taking part in an orgy at [her] home involving women in her chorus." The political activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis noted that "'Prove It on Me' is a cultural precursor to the lesbian cultural movement of the 1970s, which began to crystallize around the performance and recording of lesbian-affirming songs."
Towards the end of the 1920s, live vaudeville went into decline, being replaced by radio and recordings. Rainey's career was not immediately affected; she continued recording for Paramount and earned enough money from touring to buy a bus with her name on it. In 1928, she worked with Dorsey again and recorded 20 songs, before Paramount terminated her contract. Her style of blues was no longer considered fashionable by the label.
In 1935, Rainey returned to her hometown, Columbus, Georgia, where she ran three theatres, the Lyric, the Airdrome, and the Liberty Theatre until her death. She died of a heart attack in 1939, at the age of 53 (or 57, according to the research of Bob Eagle), in Rome, Georgia.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a film directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the play of the same name by August Wilson. Produced by Denzel Washington, Todd Black and Dany Wolf, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom centers on a fateful recording session of Ma Rainey in 1927 Chicago. It stars Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (in his final film role), with Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo and Michael Potts in supporting roles.
Wikipedia describes its premise as,
“Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary "Mother of the Blues," Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio's claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman) – who has an eye for Ma's girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry – spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories, truths, and lies that will forever change the course of their lives.”
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom promises to be a great film. It’s scheduled to be released on December 18, 2020, on Netflix.
Cerberus and the Gulyas LevesThe latest installment in the Tales from the Black Hart series. The evil Dr. Minneapolis St. Paul is still evil and intent upon ruling the world, and the Professor takes time from smoking his pipe and becomes engaged in the search for an errant…
“This is a true story.”
As horrible as the year 2020 has been there is one positive thing about it. There have been a lot of great small screen Dieselpunk. The most recent addition is season four of the award winning series Fargo.
For those unfamiliar with the television series, Wikipedia describes Fargo as an American crime drama-black comedy anthology television series created and primarily written by Noah Hawley with the Coen brothers as executive producers. Named after the Coen brothers 1996 film by the same name, the television series follows an anthology format, with each season set in a different era, location, story, characters and cast. In addition, each episode begins with text, “This is a true story. The events depicted took place in [location] in [year]. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred,” which is a nod to the original motion picture. However, like the movie, the story isn’t true.
Seasons four of Fargo is set in 1950. The series distinct dark comedy with bizarre characters and, without giving away any spoilers, there are some scenes that clearly makes it Dieselpunk.
Fargo season four has a great cast. Chris Rock plays Loy Cannon, the mob boss for the African-American mob. Jason Schwartzman plays Josto Fadda, the mob boss for the rival Italian-American mob. Jessie Buckley plays the bizarre nurse Oraetta Mayflower. E'myri Crutchfield plays Ethelrida Pearl Smutny, the 16 year old daughter of a funeral home owner and the show’s narrator. Timothy Olyphant plays U.S. Marshal Dick 'Deaf' Wickware, who is usually on the hunt for escaped criminals and is trying to bring down the Kansas City underworld.
I cannot praise this season of Fargo enough. I highly recommend it. It’s currently showing on FX and Hulu.
Nothing seems the same for 2020. That includes Halloween this year. There will be fewer parties, few public events, and no children going door to door yelling “trick or treat.”
However, dieselpunks are resilient. We’re not going to let the pandemic spoil our fun. So here’s a few Halloween tips to help.
Dark and Deco at Joann Fabrics
Recently the Dark Cabaret entertainer Aurelio Voltaire visited his local Joann Fabrics store for his video series Gothic Homemaking. There he found that their theme this year is called “Dark and Deco”. He described it as though Gatsby had become a member of the Addams Family. I’ve included his YouTube video. If you want to jump to the Joann segment, it begins at 15:50 minutes.
On a side note, check out the cover of his album "Then and Again."
Lee Presson and the Nails: “Last Request”
Lee Presson and the Nails always deliver great quality music. And their most recent Dieselpunk CD “Last Request” is perfect for Halloween, although I listen to it year around.
Classic Diesel Era Halloween
Want some classic Halloween from the Diesel Era? Thanks to the magic of YouTube that’s easy.
For music, I recommend the YouTube video “13 Vintage Halloween Songs from the 1910's, 20's, & 30's”
Of course, there were great cartoons from that era as well. Here’s just a few:
Silly Symphonies - The Skeleton Dance (1929)
The Haunted House (1929)
The Mad Doctor (1933)
Modern Disney Animated Short
I found this odd Disney contemporary short entertaining and fitting.
Ghoul Friend | A Mickey Mouse Cartoon
Dieselpunk Gothic Music Videos
These videos speak for themselves. Great Gothic Dieselpunk fun:
Black Swamp Village - the Speakeasies' Swing Band!
Ghost of Stephen Foster - The Squirrel Nut Zippers
If you’re not already watching HBO’s Lovecraft Country, you should be. Lovecraft Country is without a doubt the best small screen Dieselpunk since HBO’s Carnivàle. And it’s perfect for Halloween.
Speaking of Carnivàle, the first season episode Babylon was one of the scariest ever.
Here's wishing everyone has a fun and safe Halloween.
Due to family obligations I'm unable to write a blog post this week. I plan to write a new one in two weeks. In meantime, enjoy this piece of Gothic Dieselpunk surrealistic art.
"The Station is Chaos" by tris31
While bored one night I was surfing through Netflix for something to watch. I was pleasantly surprised to find Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm (1993). This entertaining animated movie was part of the Batman: The Animated Series franchise of Warner Brothers. The plot was inspired by Mike W. Barr's Batman: Year Two comic book story arc, but features an original antagonist, the Phantasm, in place of the Reaper.
The opening of Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm is a long beauty shot that travels across the rooftops of Gotham allowing us a great view of the amazing Dark Deco design created for the animated series. It’s truly a sight to behold. For your viewing pleasure I’ve posted a YouTube video of a segment of the opening. Even if you're not a comic book fan, the opening is worth seeing.
As I was watching HBO’s Perry Mason (which is very dieselpunk, BTW) I was shocked to see Sister Alice McKeegan. Her similarities with Sister Molly Finister on Showtime’s City of Angels were too much of a coincidence. I knew there had to be a historical source. I was right. Her name was Aimee Semple McPherson. But everyone called her Sister Aimee.
Aimee Semple McPherson was born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy in 1890 on a Canadian farm. Before she turned 18 she married an Irish missionary named Robert Semple. Semple would later die from malaria on a missionary tour in Asia.
After returning to the US, McPherson married an accountant named Harold Steward McPherson. McPherson’s drive to be an evangelist was too much for their marriage and they ultimately divorced.
McPherson established the Foursquare Church. The name was drawn from an idea of McPherson in which Jesus formed the corners as the "Only Savior," the "Great Physician," the "Baptizer with the Holy Spirit," and the "Coming Bridegroom."
In 1918, she set up a home base in Los Angeles. Later, 1923 she opened her first church, which she named the Angeles Temple, and which offered religious services in five different languages.
McPherson was an unusual evangelist in her time. First, she was a woman. Most ministers were men. Second, she was Pentecostal and would speak in tongues and perform feats of faith healing. While Pentecostals were common in many parts of the US in that era they were rare as evangelists. Sister Molly isn’t shown faith healing and talking in tongues but they do show Sister Alice in the same light.
Sister McPherson also differed from both the fictional HBO and Showtime evangelists on the issue of race. While she did integrate her church service and public charity, McPherson demonized Japanese-Americans and endorsed the KKK.
McPherson is widely acknowledged as one of the first televangelists. She knew how to use film and radio to spread her message. She also owned and operated the radio station KFSG, which began broadcasting in 1924. According to the BBC, McPherson started a trend that led to the modern conservative talk and religious broadcasts.
However the preacher is perhaps best remembered for her bizarre disappearance in May 1926 from Los Angeles and reappearance a month later in a town in Mexico. McPherson insisted that she was kidnapped. However, Los Angeles officials believed the kidnapping was a fake. They charged her for making a false claim but they later dropped the charges because the witness was unreliable.
McPherson continued to draw crowds and preach after her alleged kidnapping in spite of the ridicule from the media. In 1944 she was found dead in her hotel room from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.
One of the meanings of “punk” in Dieselpunk is alternative history or what historians, such as Harry Turtledove, term “counterfactual history.” Essentially this is the “what-if” scenario. What if the US had joined the League of Nations when founded and had given it some teeth? What if Hitler had died from the gas attack on his squadron during the Great War? What if Huey Long had not been assassinated in 1935?
Today, August 15, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the ending of the war in the Pacific, also known as VJ Day. This anniversary gives us an opportunity to ask another what if question:
What if the US hadn’t dropped the Atomic Bombs on Japan at the end of World War II?
The standard line goes like this. We had no choice but to drop the Atomic Bombs on Japan because an invasion was the only alternative to stopping the war. Any invasion, we’re told, would have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and maybe millions of Japanese lives. Therefore, dropping the bombs was actually merciful in that fewer died than would have during an invasion.
So the story goes.
In a recent Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times titled “U.S. leaders knew we didn’t have to drop atomic bombs on Japan to win the war. We did it anyway,” Gar Alperovitz and Martin J. Sherwin argued that the standard line is wrong. They claimed that dropping the Atomic Bomb or massive invasion weren’t the only two choices. Alperovitz and Sherwin argue that there was a third-choice and that the Allies knew it and chose not to follow it.
According to Alperovitz and Sherwin, the Soviets were poised to invade Japan in 1945. They had already invaded Manchuria, which the Japanese had conquered in 1931. And the Japanese were much more frightened of a Soviet invasion and occupation than they were of an American. The US State Department knew that the Japanese would be willing to surrender to the US rather than be occupied by the Soviets.
Contrary to the standard line, seven of the eight five-star generals at the time opposed dropping the bomb. Admiral William Leahy wrote in his memoir that the Atomic Bombs were “of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.” MacArthur later wrote that if Truman had modified the terms of surrender so that the Japanese could keep their emperor then, “the Japanese would have accepted it and gladly I have no doubt.” And Eisenhower wrote, “the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
Therefore, according to Alperovitz and Sherwin, Truman knew that to end the war all the US had to do was to take unconditional surrender off the table. As long as the Japanese were assured that they would keep the emperor, much like a European-style constitutional monarchy, then they would surrender and accept any other terms demanded by the Americans. All of this without the need for the use of the horrifying Atomic Bombs or a bloody invasion.
Dieselpunk literature has long questioned the necessity of the Atomic Bombs in the war. I highly recommend the Dieselpunk short story The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson published in The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg.