After a few visits to local markets, I had to visit the Rainbow Coop. I texted a friend who works there to ask a few questions. Rainbow has changed policies to respond to the pandemic, and to protect the worker/owners and customers. Entry is controlled, many of the bulk items are not available, and Rainbow sent out an email saying wait times can be up to 30 minutes. My friend said that midday is usually a good time to go, but the line wait can vary. They have also reserved the first few hours for folks over 60 and immune-compromised, and their hours have been cut back.
After a few days of trying to get there, I showed up around 2pm today. The line was around the corner on Folsom, just at the edge of 14th St. People were standing about six feet apart and the line moved somewhat regularly. Across the street at Food Co., the line looked about 20-people long. Rainbow was at least twice that long!
Fifteen minutes into my wait, a Rainbow worker/owner, masked and gloved, handed out this era’s new sacrament: hand sanitizer. The store had bought a large bulk supply of hand sanitizer made with natural ingredients (even the alcohol), and bottled it themselves to sell 2 per customer. It went onto my hands creamy, smelling better than the mainstream products.
My wait lasted over an hour. The people in line were quiet and respectful of the distance, but other people had to walk by us all down the sidewalk. The corner of 13th and Folsom proved to me to be the stressful place to stand while folks walked by to cross the street. There seemed to be too much traffic on Folsom and 13th. Are all these people driving somewhere essential? The bike ride down had light car traffic, but now it seemed busier.
Six days into the shelter in place order and things are hard to comprehend beyond the WFH situation. I am in good spirits, but a strange spectacle happened outside my window today. The DPT stopped traffic on our block while several workers sprayed the parked cars with a kind of backpack pump. None of the workers were keeping a safe distance from one another, and I didn’t want to open my door to ask them what they were doing. Later in the day, my partner went on NextDoor to see if anyone knew what they were doing. There were only questions (and still no answers over a week later).
The economic fallout is starting to feel closer to my own situation. I have friends that have been laid off, artists I know who have lost all their work, and a niece who was sent home from medical school. My other niece has lost all her contract photography work and my sister’s new business has been shut down in South Carolina. Other friends are already stressing about the upcoming rent and mortgage payments, while one friend is surely freaking out in his jail cell in New Jersey. My elderly uncle is now stuck in his room in a care home and two of my cousins have developed COVID-19 symptoms in the UK. Their daughter is currently stuck in the US since she cannot fly home to London.
I’ve been obsessively looking at the news up until now, marveling at the dramatic historical swings of the stock market and not surprised at all with the federal government’s slow and sad response regarding testing, bailing out the people, and all the other balls they’ve dropped. Democracy Now has been giving cold, hard facts about the growing curve in the US and in New York, while those in the front lines are starting to feel the wave as it pushes into every state. Twitter feeds cover the rising rent strikes and worker walk outs that are starting to happen across the country.
In normal times, there is too much information to follow. Now I’m overwhelmed. I promise myself that I’ll back off on the news streams while I settle in to the shelter in place routines and now wait until the afternoon to click the news feeds.
The morning was spent dialing up my new WFH station and staying in touch with coworkers. My Director decided to buy a laser printer for my set up in case I had to mail service copies, etc. out (I work for an environmental nonprofit that mostly sues government agencies). We also have a petition to file with the Ninth Circuit today, putting Impossible Burger and US FDA on the grill for shady ingredient approval. We also had two other big filings coming up this week, so this first-ever week WFH will be busy.
My first day WFH went quite smoothly, and went by fast. Since San Franciscans can leave their shelter for essential exercise, I decided to take an after-work walk around my neighborhood up to Alamo Square. The first thing I noticed were the lack of tourists. There were none! “San Francisco is tourist free,” I mused. The hill across from the famous Painted Ladies held maybe a dozen people. One small group, others appeared to be distancing, were wearing green. Ah. Today is St. Patrick’s Day. No pubs were open for the amateur night. The parade had been cancelled. Peter Kuper had tweeted a great cartoon about it: One poor leprechaun marching down the street, with “Luck Has Been Cancelled” under the image.
I had a few anxious moments on the walk. Runners passed me a bit too closely a few times, making me avoid anyone that appeared to jog my way. I assumed the huffing and puffing could be a vector to the COVID-19. And I noticed that the dog owners were not being distant enough in the dog play area of the square. Another possible social vector for spreading the virus. Distancing is going to be tricky.
[B]eing an avid reader and writer of history, tomorrow was going to be an unprecedented announcement that the whole world would hear about. I had to experience it firsthand.
Sunday, March 15, 2020
There was an 11pm call tonight from someone we know. “Don’t tell anybody. Don’t post on social media,” the call began. “Tomorrow at noon your mayor is going to announce a shelter in place order. The whole Bay Area is getting it. Go do your grocery shopping now!” We were already in bed and don’t have a car to go to a 24-hour supermarket, if any are left in the City. But we had a serious talk about the near future.
We knew that the Coronavirus pandemic was getting worse, and that things weren’t being taken that seriously here in the United States. Prior to the March 11 pandemic designation, a coworker of mine had travelled to Taiwan for the holidays and said that this was a major epidemic. She had also self-quarantined after someone in her Bay Area family had potentially ben exposed. Another friend is married to an MD specializing in contagious diseases and also agreed that Coronavirus was going to hit the world in a big wave. Prior to tonight, my partner and I had been taking more trips to the local markets, and the Rainbow Coop, to stock up on a stash of food and medicine in case one of us got sick.
But tonight, we felt helpless, and a bit buzzed from the stress chemicals just released in our brains due to the serious call we couldn’t share. I slept lightly, knowing that I was going to go to the office of the environmental nonprofit where I work Monday morning. My work-from-home set up was not complete, and I needed to go in to pack my bags for the long haul.
About 15 years ago, I decided to produce a CrankyFest here in San Francisco. I felt then that this not-well-known storytelling device needed more spotlight. As part of the fun, I put together a DIY Shoebox Crankie design and encouraged participants to make their own during the event.
As people continue to click the DIY page, which makes me happy, I thought I’d give the Crankie pages another mention after all these years.
A simple search online shows that Sue Truman’s The Crankie Factory is still getting updated and has amazing links, history, and how-tos. Her website goes deep and is a great resource! Good to see that NW Puppet Center in Seattle is still hosting Crankie Festivals. Before she discovered my site in 2012, I had created a few pages to try to flesh out some Crankie history and mechanical details.
To give this all a bump for 2019 (it has been a while since I’ve posted crankie content), here are most of the older HappyFeet links all in one list. Please note that some of the external links in these older posts may not work anymore.
What were MAD magazine’s publisher Bill Gaines and editor Al Feldstein thinking when they decided to publish the magazine’s ultimate bonus-filled book “The Ridiculously Expensive MAD” (1969; World Publishing Company)!? For a mere $9.95 ($68.56 in 2019 dollars), Gaines and Feldstein offered a hardback book that included black and white reprinted material, three fold-ins, full color covers, and the now infamous six inserts pulled from MAD’s 1960s-era “Worst From” and “Follies” specials. Included on the dust jacket was the classic composition book gag for the discerning student trying to get their yucks on during school hours. Gaines and Feldstein only gave the book a first edition, so no reprints or second editions exist. To use obvious adjectives, it was a mad, ridiculous idea to publish a book like this for the thousands of snot-nosed boys that read the monthly issues.
To add to this Silver Age book’s now hard-to-find-perfect reputation, the instructions for Bob Clarke’s Mad Mobile (from MAD Follies #4 (1966) and found on p. 208 of the hardback) must have been accidentally left out. How do we know this? The publishers had to print a sheet (flyer or broadsheet) of the instructions and insert them into the book. Most of the copies for sale online do not have this loose piece of paper. Many do not even have dust jackets. Some have all the inserts, but they may not be attached or partially used. This book has many parts, making it a treasure to find in good shape.
Our Adventure Begins
During my almost two-years of researching The Ridiculously
Expensive MAD (REM), I have looked at a copy in my local library, sought and
bought a near-fine copy, and continued to track the copies that get posted on
websites like Ebay, Heritage Actions, and AbeBooks. I can blame my MAD
email-pal Kevin for getting me hooked on the collectible and frustrating REM.
Thanks for the favor, ya bum!
This MAD book is one of the more collectible ones. Finding a Near-Mint copy is practically impossible, even though Heritage currently has one on offer from a seller that may have already sold a few times since 2004. This unread copy is a Bill Gaines pedigree copy still in its original cellophane wrapper! That’s insane. The San Francisco Public Library has one of the largest humor collections in the United States (who knew!?), and the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor has a The REM. When I found out it was in-library use only, I literally cut work to go look at their copy. I gave the humor librarian my ID and she brought it out of the archives. I couldn’t take the copy of The REM out of the room. Though not unused like the Gaines pedigree copy, the library copy was almost completely intact. It gave me a chance to flip through and take notes about the contents. Why would I do that? Any hardcore collector would want to know everything about an item before buying it. After only a week on EBay, many people selling copies of REM had no idea what was supposed to be inside. Posts said “has all contents” but gave no proof. Emails to sellers didn’t work since I didn’t know what all the contents were. Doug Gilford’s Mad Cover Site has REM’s table of contents extensively hyperlinked but still didn’t give all the details. I think he’s updated his page since to add more info since this page is probably the only place to dig into the insides of REM.
Which Brings Me to a Quick Aside
I’m writing this post because Kevin in Arizona made me! Just kidding. I’m putting my information and experience on here, because REM is a complex publication that the auction and seller sites can give deceiving information about their copies up for sale. Sure it is seriously “caveat emptor” out there online, but the Internet should also have some information on how to geek out in a fun way and enhance your awesome MAD magazine collection. This is why I’m writing this post.
Let’s Get Back to the Chase
The SF Library’s copy opened me up to the book’s amazing contents and inspired me to try to find as decent a copy as possible. The library copy of REM was not perfect. There was a resale pencil mark on the cover for $40. The dust jacket had a cut corner, showing that it was a liquidated copy. The dust jacket’s paper quality was low and the acidic nature of wood pulp had stained the endpapers glued to the boards (cover stock).
Most of the inserts were attached, which got me excited. The
stickers on p.32 showed a hole where one went missing. I fantasized that an
earlier viewer took that sticker as a souvenir. The record was attached on p.
80.5. The book covers (8 total, on 3 pages, with one page uncut) were intact on
p. 128. I found the bumper sticker on p. 160.5. The prized and often missing
mobile broadside insert was included with this copy of REM, and the mobile
itself was on p. 208. I have read accounts that the broadside is perforated,
but can confirm it IS NOT. Finally, I looked at the stencils on p. 240 and only
a few of the throw-away pieces within the cut out parts had come loose.
The observations continued. Jaffee’s three fold-ins (pp. 45, 85, and 245) were unfolded. The boards and case cloth looked great. Beyond the cutout price on the dust jacket, it was in great shape as well.
After reading the last three paragraphs, one can imagine why a few photos and a few sentences stating “in great shape” are inadequate for someone about to drop serious money on a copy of REM. Not knowing this at first, I continued to look at the copies posted on EBay, but turned to Heritage and AbeBooks to drop the serious questions with the serious sellers. I first got hung up on trying to buy a NM copy on Heritage. I was sorely outbid for the pristine copy that needed no photos or descriptions to confirm. Heritage appears to stand behind their items quality descriptions and always include high-resolution photos of the dust jacket and outside of the book.
I then turned to the serious sellers on AbeBooks. My first attempt to buy a copy that had a basic description and more than a few photos didn’t go too well. The “complete” copy turned out to have detached stickers, a loose record, and reseller pencil markings. The second attempt was a winner! The seller was in New England and answered my huge list of questions. He also sent extra photos to me to show the complete parts of the book. For those courageous enough to buy your own copy, here are the questions):
Is there damage on the dust jacket? Is a Mylar protective cover included?
Are the glued endpapers stained by dust jacket (answer is almost always yes)?
Are the fold-ins NOT folded in?
Are all six inserts attached?
Are all stickers present, attached and not stuck together?
Are all eight book covers intact and attached?
Is the broadside/flyer for the mobile inserted in the book?
Are the mobile parts all intact and not loose?
Are all the stencil throw-away cut-out parts still intact?
What do the boards and cover cloth look like?
Though I wasn’t happy with the quality of the dust jacket (thanks Bill Gaines, for using low-quality paper), all the inserts (including the broadside/flyer) were present, full, and intact. The stencil parts were loose in a few places, but I had a great copy of REM that I could buy. I dropped $300 for it in June 2018. Don’t worry, I’ve been selling my collection over the past five years to fund the few new items I’ve decided to presently collect. It didn’t force me to eat ramen to make rent.
Once I got the book, I got some acid-free paper (basically high-end, watermarked stationary) and inserted them in places where the different types papers touch. That took about a dozen pages of stationary. The dust jacket and end papers are the obvious example of paper that doesn’t chemically react well over the years, but I didn’t want to see if the other different papers do the same. The copy came with a Mylar dust jacket cover which is a necessity for more expensive collectible books. I also eventually bought an acid-free box to put it in so it would not degrade with direct sunlight. For fun, I printed out color copies of the front dust jacket cover and spine text and taped it on the box. Not satisfied with the torn dust jacket, I kept looking online to see if a cover would ever show up. It hasn’t. Instead, I have continued to see sellers trying to move low-quality copies of REM for big bucks.
Are You Now Hooked…
… into seeking out and buying your very own copy of The Ridiculously Expensive MAD? If necessary, please copy/paste the above Questions to send to the seller. Make sure to also include page numbers and information from those three Paragraphs describing the SF Library copy. You can even send this post’s hyperlink to the book dealer if you wish. Finally, you should also get to know book-collecting terms (end papers, boards, dust jacket, broadside, grading terms, etc.). I use a few sites, but the Biblio glossary of terms is a great start. AbeBooks also has a nice glossary.
Certain scenarios to think about are: See an item for sale with a few photos and no description? Then send them the Questions and Paragraphs above. Does the seller have no idea how to answer these questions? Do they give you pithy replies? Move on! Simple descriptions like “complete”, “œvery good condition”, “a very nice copy”, etc. (I just looked at ONE copy for sale on EBay to pull those useless quotes) are not adequate. Send the Questions and Paragraphs. Many of the copies that get put up for sale on EBay have at least one photo. You can see how collectible the better-quality versions are by seeing the trashed versions for sale on EBay. Check them out to learn and get more excited about finding that copy that meets your price and quality levels.
Many listings do not have any photos. Some just show the cover and/or cloth boards. Ask for photo proof showing all the inserts. My first attempt to buy on AbeBooks made the seller take a photo of the stickers to prove they were complete. He then had to admit that the stickers were detached and sent the photo anyway. AbeBooks tends to not have photos and the sellers use cut/paste descriptions for REM. Prices vary greatly. I’m looking at one copy on AbeBooks now for a CHEAP $1,363.75. This copy’s listing shows five photos of the outside (for book collectors, dust jacket quality is very important in final price of item), but the listing has a pithy three-sentence description. SEND THOSE QUESTIONS! For that much money, the seller should answer them all in great detail. And you may find out that price doesn’t mean all inserts attached.
Do you have your own story about finding that great copy of The REM? Please share! I’ll curate the comments for this post, but will gladly approve any replies that help other collectors with their fun searches. Since I poked fun at him in this post, I let Kevin read a pre-post draft. I have revised a few things that he suggested, and added this one interesting comment: Are sellers using the fact that the title of the book has the word “Expensive” in it as a way to post up low-quality copies of this book at too-high prices? Would high-grade copies of this book be as rare a find if it was titled “MAD Garbage”? Great (conspiracy) theories, Kevin! He does admit that this first edition book is a great collectible, because it has “so many bonuses!” I agree. All ribbing aside, from serious collectors, come serious ideas about how a seller thinks.
The Final Word
The Ridiculously Expensive MAD it is a cool book to add to your collection. Where in the MAD universe can a collector find one hardback book with full-color pages, fold-ins, covers, and six 1960s-era bonuses? Doug Gilford has an 11-minute YouTube video where he flips through The REM (he has a nice copy). The video doesn’t show all the details I mentioned above, but it is a tempting visual that shows how cool this book is.
Good copies can be hard to come by, but for the patient and thorough collector, there may be one waiting for you in the near future. Hopefully your future copy’s price won’t force you to eat ramen to pay rent. Fifty years ago, this Silver Age book offered good, clean fun for the whole gang. One new millennium later, the fun can still be had, just like Bill and Al visualized it. They’d probably laugh at the fact that The REM is even more ridiculously expensive than they could imagine.
DC and modern publishing houses haven’t caught on to the fact that people would pay for a 2019 reprint of The Ridiculously Expensive MAD. Maybe an executive somewhere will try to get this done for MAD’s 70th anniversary in 2022, but I’m not counting on it. For now, save your lunch money and lawn-mowing profits, put your pennies in a jar, and start your new collecting adventure. You’ve taken the first step by reading this far. The rest, as they say, is POIUYT!
When I last visited Vermont [in Aug. 2004], I spent 3 crazy days in mud, sadness, and relief at Phish’s last stand, Coventry. Mud season had hit early via three tropical storms that blew over right before the festival opened. All the planned fields of parking were fields of shit-smelling mud. My life-long friend and brother Mark helped me make it to the show, wanting one last goodbye to all our years of Phish shows (and hoping to cheer me up as my life began to unravel). The locals were super nice, the sunsets were amazing, and I promised myself that I’d return to Vermont soon. – HappyFeet Travels entry, from VT, in April 19, 2006.
Once again, I have written a comment about a Phish festival experience (I wrote about the Clifford Ball here). Someone on the Phish subreddit asked if anyone had fun at the Phish Coventry festival. I had to think about that for a minute. Was it actually fun? Two memories vividly popped up; one was spending a few hours near the entrance cheering on the folks walking in from the freeway. Another was seeing my friend Mark’s hilarious photographs of shoe wear (or lack of shoes) from other phans. And a police horse.
Getting digital photos back in 2004 wasn’t as easy as it is now (Cloud storage was about a year away from becoming a new and easy way to share). Mark didn’t even use a phone camera to snap the pics. He eventually gave me digital copies, which ended up on a hard drive with other photos. I rediscovered them a few years ago, and frequently look through them for a laugh. Mark had a great time meeting folks and giving their shoes, etc. funny titles. It was a great way to participate during a sad, dreary, shit-smelling weekend.
The following is what I wrote for the subreddit post (with a few revisions for clarity). We had a madcap adventure, which swore me off of flying around for music festivals. It was the end of the 2.0 era of Phish, which was thankfully short. I didn’t mention a few other memories on the subreddit post. One that really stands out is of a strung-out young hippie coming up to our car/camp site and asking us if we knew where any “pharmies” were. Before we could ask her what she meant, a neighbor interrupted and furiously told her to piss off. We asked him what she meant, and he explained that it was legal prescription “hillbilly heroin” that was ruining the scene. And Trey’s life. Oooooooh. That’s what Trey is addicted to. Damn.
Coventry was a surreal, exhausting, muddy experience.
My bro and I flew into and met up in Montreal a day before gates opened. We saw on the hostel’s desktop that phish.com had a notice saying that three tropical storms had delayed the gate opening the next day. Wait to drive in, they requested. I looked at my bro and we both agreed to “leave first thing in the morning and get there ASAP!”
Driving into the USA sucked, but were were older phans and intentionally drove in looking clean cut with no contraband. The dogs found nothing, but a few other cars/phans weren’t so lucky.
We bought groceries (and mud boots) in town, and a tow truck driver shopping there told us how bad things were on site. He drew us a shortcut to get closer to the gate, saving us about 8 hours of waiting in a longer line of traffic! Driving in was a painful and brutal experience. People kept falling asleep in the car line, and we spent 8 hours hopping the sleepers (I’d yell to try to wake them).
Finally through the gate, we saw a surreal scene of empty fields of mud with huge-wheeled tractors pulling cars into the middle parts. “Screw that” we said and literally drove into the mud on the edge of one of the “roads” (where most cars parked). Setting up a quick tent, we called it a day, instantly passing out from the trip. I awoke hours later, hearing the “do not come to Coventry” message that Mike had recorded. The message was playing over and over on the pirate radio station set up for the festival, and probably being broadcast as far as Boston on rock stations. Our neighbors were abuzz over what was going to happen next. No one had any idea how the folks still stuck in traffic, or about to leave from New England cities, were going to deal with the announcement.
After eating, hydrating, and getting settled, we saw an RV alone in a muddy field flying a South Carolina flag (our home state). We trudged down there to say howdy. They were exhausted, not too happy, and freaked out about how to get out of the field (they paid the huge tractor to tow them in there). Bummer. We trudged out of that swampy field and wandered around a bit. Up on a hill, I saw a beautiful sunset that day and told the person beside me, “what an amazing sunset!” She said “I know. I live here!” umm, ok.
Heading to the first show was surreal. After a very long walk from our car, near a vending area, wooden pallets literally lined a small path through a pond of deep mud. Cut the line in the mud at your own risk! I kept hearing the “cowbell” SNL skit as we trudged with the masses on the tiny path. The pallets eventually ran out, and 1000s of phans had not choice but to head to the entrance in a pool of stinking mud. I heard the groans of 100s as they entered the swamp, so knew something horrible was coming. Beyond being yet another metaphor of Phish’s last concert, I consider the walk to the first night as a ring of hell to this day.
At the gate to the show, fences were torn down. No one was looking at tickets, so it was a free concert (if you weren’t in traffic). Too bad the music quality was mixed. First impressions in the show area? Trying to get close meant hitting a river of mud. Huge boulders were in front of the stage, a literal reminder that Trey’s addiction was blocking the whole experience. Or maybe the boulders were a symbol of the weather creating massive difficulties for the fans to even get to the shoe. As for the music, after a few horrible flubs, I couldn’t take it any more and went back to the car to rest and listen on the radio. I had to turn it off after a while. Mark stayed at the show and enjoyed it, saying it wasn’t as bad and I thought it was.
Day two was actually quite fun, in a schadenfreude kind of way. We set up chairs at the entrance and cheered on the immigrants from the Interstate. The sun was shining. It was great to see the exhausted shoe-bums finally get into the last-ever Phish show! I recall the most popular item brought into the festival area were coolers. Beer and food! My bro took his camera and photographed muddy feet and shoes. His photo project was hilarious once he developed the film (I have digital copies if anyone is interested). There was food, fresh water access. We had beer and bud. No one really wanted to talk about the quality of last night’s show, but seeing people arriving from the Interstate was all smiles and cheers.
Getting in that night wasn’t as miserable as first night. We tried to get closer, but ended up on the audience-right wall that was officially an open urinal and smelled horrible. There was a river of mud that few dared to go into, but Mark tried. I had a good laugh over it and saw others laughing at his getting stuck in a mire.
Back to the Page side of the stage, we climbed a hill and watched the scene. Again, the band was barely together. Hearing Page and Trey cry was such a sad moment. We heard the encore at the “gate” of the concert area, ready to leave fast to beat more hell traffic. It was a sad moment to an exhausting weekend, but we did manage to have some fun.
Prior to that last note ever at the gate, earlier in the day, we had neighbors help us push our car out of the mud, and we parked in the “day lot” to get a fast exit out of the festival. After that last note, we beat a downtrodden path to the lot. Security blocked us off at a road that led out of the backstage area. We watched three different buses drive out of there; it was the band. Page actually gave a forlorn wave to us from one of the windows as we gave one final cheer to the boys. We all knew that Trey was probably alone and isolated in his own bus. Damn.
We were probably one of the first cars out. Driving past dozens of cop cars with lights blazing, we wandered into dark Vermont back roads until we found a lodge with a clean bed and – most importantly – a shower! Drove back to Montreal the next day and, after trying poutine for the first time, flew back home.
After all of that, I swore that I’d never travel to see Phish, or go to another festival. I’ve broken that first vow, and may eventually break the second.
Postscript: When I went back to Vermont in 2006 to work for Ben Cohen’s Sensible Priorities art car carnival, I managed to head back to Coventry for a visit. The site was easy to find, especially with no traffic! I parked my van, and walked onto the field. After only two years, the fields had recovered. I recall that the boulders were still there, as well as some infrastructure that had sunk in the mud. As always, the vistas were of beautiful Vermont countryside. During that quiet moment, I tried to visualize the mud and masses, the sadness and exhaustion. Phish was gone. Trey hadn’t been arrested yet. And, in 2004, we all had to take care of our shoes that weekend. Some of the unlucky ones are probably still stuck in the cow field muck. And the others are photographs and memories.
Being the ticket maven and willing to fill out the forms and buy the cashiers check (this was before anything could really get purchased over the Internet), I snagged four tickets for The Clifford Ball through the Phish newsletter’s mail order. Mapquest was brand new, so I doubt we used it to find the small New York town of Plattsburgh. Had we kept track, we would’ve seen our 4wd SUV click over 1,000 miles to get to the weekend festival. The event was a wild scene, but totally peaceful and chill. The band drew all types of subcultures to the promise of a good time and some fun music to dance to. When Ryan Randazzo posted about this article, I had a great time trying to recall my feelings and experiences around the weekend. I have a few stories that he didn’t use, and may tell them at a later date.
Flashback: Phish’s Clifford Ball, August 16-18 1996 A beacon of light in the world of flight
By Ryan RandazzoJul 16, 2018 (LINK to NYS Music page)
In the summer of 1996 an estimated 70,000 to 85,000 Phish fans drove to a former Air Force Base in Plattsburgh, NY to attend an event that would forever change the landscape of modern music festivals and add yet another dimension to Phish’s already polarizing live music experience: The Clifford Ball. Fans camped out from August 16-18 to see Phish performed three sets of music and an encore on each of the two show days, as well as a secret jam, the Flatbed Jam, at 3:30 a.m. on the night of the first show. The audience was four times the size of the county the festival took place in, Clinton County, and for that one weekend Plattsburgh became New York’s ninth largest city.
The Clifford Ball was the first festival Phish had ever thrown, and since then they have kept the tradition going with their upcoming festival, Curveball, as their eleventh installment. Going in, fans had no idea what to expect, and most were completely astonished by the experience they had that weekend. In addition to the music, attendants were treated to flights overhead by bombers, gliders, and other aerial vehicles, carnival rides, wandering jugglers, fireworks, a classical violin quartet, a blues quartet, guitar soloists, a choral quintet, a full orchestra, movies in the camping area, a full village built on a hill, a vast array of food and drink vendors, a general store, trampolinists, a aerialist swinging on ropes, and scattered art installments. The carnival vibe filled fans with glee and wonder, and those who attended still say it was one of the most stupendous experiences of their lives. For those interested in watching the festival in its entirety, Phish released a massive seven DVD box set in March 2009. Below is a look back on experiences had at the festival by friends of NYS Music and Phish.net:
Anticipation and Arrival:
John Demeter, Contributor to The Phish Companion, Third Edition: “Oddly enough, we didn’t really expect some Dionysian party, beyond what we were accustomed to (see what I did there?). There were literally a million other places we could go camping that are better than a shitty closed airfield in Plattsburgh. We were expecting to hang out during the days, entertain ourselves, and then see Phish outside the construct of a regular venue. The baseline expectation was Sugarbush from the prior year, which was really nothing but rows of tents in the ski area parking lots.
We had no idea what “festival” in that sense meant at the time. We were calling it “the camp out” right up to the show. We didn’t even consider that there’d be vending, art installations, gliders, and trampoline skiers and such.”
Todd Wimer: “I was beyond stoked when I opened up my mailbox, took out the latest Doniac Schvice, and saw the Clifford Ball announcement. This was how I got Phish news back then, not months in advance via rumor gurus like Attyaloew. Coming off of the New Year’s ’95 run, with 12/1, 12/15, and 12/31/95 being the most recent shows I had seen, I was obsessed with Phish at the time, so the timing was pretty ideal. My high school crew all felt the same way and it was an understood thing that we’d make it up to the festival no matter what.
[Going in] the enthusiasm everywhere was palpable. Phish felt like this big inside joke at the time, and the festival was astounding in that we all looked around and acknowledged that a lot of people were in on the joke. And that was fine, because I love being around Phish people, so the more the merrier (barring tough-ticket shows and scalpers who have since learned to capitalize on this rabid fandom.) My first few shows in â€™93 and â€™94, the crowd was a lot of white-cap collegiate dudebrahs and nerdy guys with glasses who looked like they played D&D. The wook element was there at those shows, but not as present until after Jerry died the previous summer.”
Russell Howze: “[My initial] reaction was excitement. I knew it would be large, but it was an incredibly large crowd there. I did not expect the art and creativity that happened when the band was not playing, and was also amazed at how many different subcultures were there for the music/party/scene. I expected a huge police presence (the Grateful Dead’s horrible tour/riots/gate crashing were still fresh), but there were only about four mounted, pot-friendly, Texas sheriffs. The gathering of all those people, with no real authority present made for a laid back good time.”
Dan Hewins: “I was in Vermont at a friend’s house about three hours from Plattsburgh. We (three of us) decided to leave on Thursday about 11 o’clock. We thought we’d beat the traffic by arriving at two and that there should be some people there since the gates opened at noon. Well the surprises began immediately upon entry. There were so many people already there, the lots were filling, and the camping areas were already fully inhabited. The place was booming when we got there so we quickly closed up the car and began moving about the masses. We took a walk to get our bearings and see what we could see. All I could think for a while was, Damn. All this for one band? We explored, danced some by the DJ bus, and explored more.”
“I had been seeing Phish for two years at that point (five shows) but wasn’t the ‘true’ fan as many others tried to be. I was there for the party. Really, it could of been a Dave Matthews Band fest and probably would of gone. I don’t remember much of the drive there except the closer we got the more we knew we were in the right place. Getting up to the gates there was a huge line to get in, of course, but not like the lines you see today.”
The Festival Scene:
Marco Esquandolas*:”The Clifford Ball was also my first show. Honestly one of the biggest memories that sticks out to this day, non-musically speaking, was just the fact that I managed to find everyone I was looking for, in that pre-cell phone era. Near my campsite there was this big corkboard wall where hundreds and hundreds of people had posted things hoping other folks would see their messages and connect. I picked up a paper plate off the ground and wrote a Sharpie message on it telling my best friend where my tent was magically he saw that note amongst all the others and found me. nearly miraculous!”
Mark Larezzo: “I remember it as a giant chaotic mess and total 24 hour party. That and it was CROWDED. I saw the first set on the second day from so far away that the only thing I could make out on the stage was a tiny bright green dot that was Mike.”
Russell Howze: “Folks weren’t really into wearing the costumes back then, but my friend made me a crazy costume to wear (fish-themed fabric, like a Scottish kilt/sash). I also brought a tuxedo and walked around like I was a butler during one of the daytime sets. The stares and drunken drink orders were priceless. The memory I still love is: While chilling under a shade structure on one of the night set breaks (I think it was during a set break), a guy walked in with a flashlight on a tripod. He set it up, turned it on, checked his focus, and then threw a brilliant hand shadow show up on the shade tent’s white-fabric roof. I just had to roll over on my back to watch it, and when he finished, dozens of folks gave him a round of thunderous applause.”
Todd Wimer: “There was a big movie screen in the campground that was showing Simpsons episodes. Drum circles. Many many grasshoppers. Mounties. I’ll tell you some fun that we didn’t have at the campground: the flatbed jam! We were fast asleep and when it passed by, twenty feet away from our tent, we slept right through it. I think there were newspapers being printed daily and circulated on site and we read about the flatbed jam or someone told us about it and we were just confused. ‘Whattaya mean? Where was the stage? Was the truck moving?’ I thought they were trolling us.”
Dan Hewins: “There was a town square replete with Barber Shop, Ball Court, Ball Diner, some kind of chapel, General Store, and a statue of Clifford Ball himself in the center. On the outskirts was an artist area where people were making, building, painting, and creating. There was another building that contained giant asphalt balls. One was about five feet in diameter and some of the others were a bit smaller, but they were all painted like a street. Outside of that building there was a guy standing in front of a huge log about three feet in diameter. He was chopping at it with a hatchet, a tiny hatchet, he was making very slow progress. There was a theme here and if you can guess what it was you win. It was Clifford Ball. Ball was the theme. Artists were sculpting and decorating balls of all types. Inside on of the buildings in the square there were plaques up on the walls with words: orb, sphere, dance, globe, testis, bullet. I got orb, globe, sphere, and dance but I wasn’t sure what testis was.
Jim Pollock was in a tent signing art that he had done. There was a special deal, if you were wearing a shirt he designed you got a dollar off a purchase. I bought a three dollar sticker for two bucks. There was a music tent too, there was a saxophone quartet, that’s all I remember. There also was a place to ‘confess to Phish.’ It was attached to the chapel. It was a small room with a mic and a podium that you would sit behind and ‘œconfess’ in front of a camera. Hmmm. The barber that I mentioned before gives haircuts too. He only cuts one hair though. I found him giving a haircut to a camera crew guy’s fuzzy microphone. I chose the hair that he should cut and then presented the cut hair to the guy holding the mic. So basically, Clifford Ball square was cool.”
Tela Esquandolas*: “Clearly there were so many musical highlights in retrospect. At the time the Phish I knew best was A Live One and the studio albums up to that point, so a good deal of nuance was lost on me at the time, but what I will never forget is the ‘Chalkdust Torture’ opener. The opening notes sent a wave of goosebumps over my body the roar of the crowd only increased them! I was there! I had finally arrived! this was it! Still to this day if I play that ‘Chalkdust’ or watch the video of that opener, I get goosebumps: it was the true beginning of my obsession with their music.”
John Demeter: “Seeing Mike’s outfit when he took the stage on day two was among the funniest things in the world. The sound was phenomenal. One hundred bigger and better than anything I could imagine. (Having never experienced the wall of sound. Or heard of it at that point, for that matter. But I had been to plenty of other arena and stadium shows. No comparison.) I can still hear the end ‘Life On Mars’, the perfect articulation of all those notes across the massive field. I didn’t even know the song at the time, but the sound system permanently etched it in my memory.
Todd Wimer: “Musically, I remember the opener because my best friend and I were up against the rail and had to wait a long-ass time for them to go on, and the bigness of the ‘Chalkdust Torture’ opener made it all worthwhile. The band were obviously thrilled and so were we. It was loud, and everyone was unabashedly pumped. I also remember the sort of acoustic set that they played I think the second set of that night, just because that was when we needed to bail from the rail, so we could go piss and get some water and nourishment, and that the timing for that interlude set seemed perfect as we kicked back and had some chicken fingers.
Other highlights were the 2001, the ferocious ‘Antelope’ with the UVM ski team on trampolines? Or the chick swinging around on the rope? And also, the ‘Harpua’ encore on the last night. I recall the band being a little bit miffed at something during this, and ever since then my friends and I had assumed it was a miscue. I think the glider with the sparkling trails was supposed to be doing its thing after Trey’s narration but had gotten the timing wrong and released the luminescent sky writing early so the very end of the festival was kind of â€¦curious. And my impression was that people who had an absolute blast for the whole weekend weren’t thrilled with the ending. We were only slightly confused, but definitely not unappreciative!”
Russell Howze: “‘Brother’ stood out. Ben and Jerry sang horribly on that one and it was hilarious. The ‘Tweezer’ circus spectacle was fun. The flatbed truck jam was amazing, and the highlight of the weekend. I still wish I could’ve kept running along the truck longer than I did (it was a long day and they weren’t stopping).”
John Lockerby: “The ‘Chalkdust Torture’ was the perfect way to open the festival. The energy was indescribable. You can see from Trey’s face how much fun the band was having. I don’t think they knew what they were in for. Whenever I hear the ‘Chalkdust’ riff I think of Jeff and me running down the runway. I think I was pissed at the encore. Not that ‘Amazing Grace’ isn’t a fun tune, it’s just not what I drove all day to see.
We missed the late night set. I guess the truck didn’t drive by us. I didn’t bring a tent, so I slept in my car. (It was a hatchback though so there was plenty of room for me.) Maybe that’s why I missed it.
[The second day was the] best concert of our lives, but once again, we were bummed out by the encore. I mean it was only half the song. Luckily, I didn’t know ‘Harpua’ at the time, so I had no idea what was missing.”
John Demeter: “The end of the festival was abrupt and very confusing. I fully expected that some massive cosmic energy had manifested over that spot and some great energetic event would occur. But they didn’t even finish the song, really. I am still confused.
Leaving was disgusting. An absolute embarrassment of waste trash garbage people ditching perfectly good stuff. Gross. Figured more of us knew approximately what ‘leave no trace’ meant.”
Mark Larezzo: “I remember it being a mess in the camping area and musically amazing. I am thankful I was so young because there is no way I would survive it now. The only other festival I have been to is Magnaball and it was 100 times more civilized but not quite as exhilarating as the Clifford Ball.”
Todd Wimer: “I mean, only for a band like Phish can ‘making it big’ be something beyond selling out Madison Square Garden. Yes, that was amazing. But being a sort of indie band and building a tent city from the ground up by luring 70k people all the way up to Plattsburgh, that was awesome. And we all felt it. One of my lasting takeaways from the Ball was that I forever wondered if and when they would release the video footage of the shows. We saw the camera crew on stage for the whole weekend and kept speculating about why they were filming it. Years later (15?) when they announced the 5.1 mix and the DVD set I was almost as excited as when I first heard about the festival.
I saw three festivals during 1.0 and two so far during 3.0 (Can’t wait for Curveball!) I lump together the ’97 and ’98 festivals, I guess because they were held at the same spot; and I do the same with the two previous Watkins fests. But The Clifford Ball was its own thing, and stands out for being so huge, timed perfectly, 100% FOR the fans, and very positive. And now that I read that back, I think those positives apply to â€™11 and â€™15 as well, but in â€™96 we didn’t know what to expect or that it would be as special as it was.”
Russell Howze: “Looking back, the Clifford Ball was a fun event. Compared to the disastrous Coventry (the only other festival I’ve attended), it was a perfect slice of rock n roll heaven. Being at the first Phish festival means to me that I really don’t have to go to another Phish festival. I left CB exhausted, but it was worth the effort.”
Nala C. Egapal: “The atmosphere was so incredibly warm and welcoming. I recall such a large amount of vehicles but I feel like traffic (getting in and out) was not a problem. One of my biggest memories was watching Trey on the screen almost lost staring at the ‘Mr. Sausage’ booth and those words coming out: ‘Mr. Sausage’ I had never been to a festival before, but this opened my eyes to how awesome they could be. There was so much to explore, people on shakedown, the giant art pieces, people getting lost within themselves playing devil sticks, etc. The weather was hot and clear from what I remember, and nights were perfect. I did not see the set the band played on the flatbed trailer but remember hearing about it the next day. My favorite set was definitely set 1 just because of the energy level, my but favorite song was either ‘Makisupa Policeman’ or ‘Chalkdust Torture.’ One cannot forget Ben and Jerry singing.”
Darren Barcomb: “I had seen the Grateful Dead in 1994 and 1995 in Highgate, Vermont, and can say that the Clifford Ball definitely established Phish as the premier festival group in the post-Grateful Dead era. The Plattsburgh airbase was a perfect spot for a 70,000+ person weekend performance but I do recall issues with heavy traffic and high demand for food/water. Overall, it was a well received show by those in attendance and is still discussed in Plattsburgh routinely 22 years later. I’m not sure if the local community loved the event, but those in attendance enjoyed a historic weekend.”
I Made Bob Clarke’s 1966 MAD Mobile (So You Won’t Have To) Part 2: Hanging the Mobile, Taking Photos, and Final Thoughts Part 1 is here; and fancy gifs are here.
NOTE: Click thumbnail for a small version of photo. Click again for full size.
HANGING THE MOBILE
Wow! After about two hours of work, the mobile is completely assembled. Thing is, it’s horizontal so technically not yet a mobile. Where to hang this thing? It is about three feet long and two feet wide. Hanging off a wall won’t work. I found a spare shower curtain hook, taped it to the floor light I was using, and put the top string’s tied-off loop onto the hook.
Picking the mobile up, I realized that it is very light. I feels delicate, and all the straws are drooping (i.e., leaning vertical)! Clarke’s brilliant note about “sliding the straw back and forth to balance” the parts did the trick. It took a tiny adjustment here, a little nudge there, and some more sliding over there to get the straws to start balancing and hanging horizontal. Interestingly the bottom parts started taking shape first, so I worked down to up to get the mobile to hang properly. I worried that the top straw wasn’t going to balance properly, so put some tape on what I thought was the lighter end to get it to balance. Not sure if I needed to do this. I kept moving the center threads in very small amounts. Suddenly, it all worked: a balanced, hanging MAD mobile!
Being a kinesthetic object, the mobile has depth and movement. It constantly looks different, which is very cool. At first, I was anxious walking past it too fast, fearing that it would fall apart. But Clarke’s design skills must have included the fact that the mobile should take breezy walk-bys. I was also afraid to take it off the hook, so left it on the lamp over night.
The next day, it was still hanging and moving fine. My Sweetie gave it a few puffs of air to see it move. It is tougher than it appears (and weighs. It probably only weighs an ounce at the most). I had joked that there was no way a child could hold the mobile like Alfred was doing on the MAD Follies cover, but I was proven wrong. I set up a hook on a hanging ceiling light and had no problem moving the mobile to its new spot. I did go slow, but it kept its shape as I held it and walked the three feet to a more permanent hanging spot.
I really do not have a place to display the mobile, so I do not know how long it will hang. One thing to think about while it hangs is how gravity will pull the threads from the paper parts, especially with Alfred’s head. Alfred E. Neuman holds all the mobile’s weight, so I wonder if the old, dry paper can keep the thread from working through and falling apart.
The main reason I assembled the mobile – and the zeppelin – is because there are no photos or recorded/written documents of how and what these MAD inserts were like to assemble. Taking a photo of a moving object proved tricky. It kind of has a front, which is constantly changing. I spent a good deal of time following Alfred’s face and waiting for the two Spys to align. I pulled out a white sheet and had my Sweetie stand behind the mobile so I could get the objects to “pop” and not get lost in the background. She eventually took better photos while I held the sheet.
One VERY FUN thing is creating gif loops with close ups from the iPhone’s live function. I made a few videos too, which were fun, but the mobile gets lost with anything behind it. In general, the depth of Clarke’s mobile makes it a more enjoyable in-person experience. And it is also fun to see how he got creative with the two-sided aspect of the parts. For example, “ECCH” has the E and the H spaced in a way that it reads correctly both ways. And Clarke put different gags on the panel that the Don Martin figure is painting as well as the egg and Arthur parts.
HOW ABOUT THAT ZEPPELIN? HOW ABOUT BOB CLARKE?
After almost two years, the zeppelin is still on display and still staying together. The mast still proves to be the weak spot due to using plain photocopy paper, but the vessel is still ship shape. After a few months, the mobile is still hanging fine on the ceiling light. We frequently adjust the tied middle threads to make it balance better, and the paper shows no stress at the tied threads. It still isn’t an ideal location, but is good enough for now.
I am glad that Gaines and Feldstein let Clarke create these two mid-1960s inserts. Unlike all the other special bonuses, these took craftiness, skill, patience, and creativity to design and assemble. Clarke pulled off designing both of these objects with great thought and care. Even tough the mobile instructions end stating that “everything falls apart, you tear your hair out, and you swear never to buy MAD again,” there is room for getting it right. And we have Bob Clarke to thank for knowing that his designs would work.
More MAD Mobile pages: Part 1 is here; and fancy gifs are here.
I Made Bob Clarke’s 1966 MAD Mobile (So You Won’t Have To) Part 1: Preparations, Cutting, and Threading Part 2 is here; and fancy gifs are here.
NOTE: Click thumbnail for a small version of photo. Click again for full size.
After constructing the MAD zeppelin, designed by Bob Clarke for the 1965 “The Worst From MAD,” almost two years ago, I had already decided that I was going to build Clarke’s 1966 MAD mobile next. I bought a copy of the MAD Follies Number 4 right after buying the Worst From and made the mobile’s color photocopies at the same time I copied the zeppelin insert. The zeppelin proved to be a fun and moderately difficult project, with the major flaw being the thin paper stock I used. The most difficult step was the threading/rigging of the two main parts.
With copies in hand, I sat on the assembly for months, mostly fretting over the situation with the paper. Unlike the zeppelin, the mobile is two sided, and Clarke had only put the “cut here” hashed line on one side of the insert. Cutting two parts of each piece, gluing them together, and then threading them on the straws just didn’t sit well with me. After the delay, I finally bought a low-grade copy of the MAD Follies that still had an intact mobile. I had decided to cut out the original inserts in this yellowing, well-read and folded-in copy and make the mobile with old paper, not my color copies.
One interesting pre-step of the mobile assembly was that I needed to find straws. I didn’t want to buy them since I don’t need more than the six that Clarke’s instructions call for. Freely available everywhere, they were not hard to find (even in the oceans). After my first run to Popeyes down the street, I realized that Clarke’s design called for “king size” 10-inch straws. The Popeye’s straws were compostable, and only 8 inches long. Luckily, I found 10-inch straws at a Starbucks. That was easy!
OK. Time to make this classic MAD special.
I’m a bullet point guy, so Clarke’s instructions – laid out in one long paragraph – didn’t work for me. I wrote numbers for the steps, underlined what supplies I needed, and made a few interesting discoveries. First, I am much better at cutting with a blade, so I opted for an X-Acto knife instead of a big pair of scissors. I did need small scissors later in order to cut the threads. Using a blade also meant that I would need a cutting mat. (See photos in album below.)
If you look at the design that Clarke’s supplies, you will see that the straws and threads are all measured. Somehow Clarke left out the fact that a ruler was needed to assemble this mobile. I have a metal one I use all the time, so finding one wasn’t a problem. Since all the instructions point the young 1960s MAD reader to his mother’s sewing kit, I guess a tape measure would work just as good.
Second, there are two very important tips in the instructions: do not puncture the tied off parts in the middle of the straws, and – this one needed a magnifying glass to read – the punctured ends of the straw are 1/8 an inch from the edge. That’s all you need to know to get started.
ASSEMBLY WAS MOSTLY EASY
I tried to tear out the first inserted page and the 50+ year old paper was dry and tore in a way that could have destroyed the mobile parts. I used a blade to cut the rest. Clarke’s hashed lines made the cutting easy. Cutting the straws was easy, but my compostable straws didn’t cut as well as the plastic. These steps were all quite easy compared to the zeppelin assembly.
Then, I followed the instructions and measured out the straws and parts while they were laid flat on a table. I used Clarke’s illustration to place the parts flat on my table, much like the mobile on the MAD Follies cover.
Next step(s): time to thread it. Other than measurements and Clarke’s “thread either free or punctured” rule, there are ZERO instructions about how to tie off the parts. Like stringing his zeppelin, this proved to be the hardest part.
First, what kind of thread should I use? I had single-strand and a thicker type from my sewing basket. I was lucky to have a needle with a large eye, so I choose the thicker thread. It caused some problems with making the knots, but was easy to wet the ends and thread it through the needle.
As for threading method, I ended up pulling a long piece of thread through the mobile part and tying the very end of the thread to the part while keeping the needle in the other end. Then I stuck the needle through the straw and pulled the string through. This method worked for most of the pieces, but the “middle” parts (Alfred’s head, the MAD logo, below the zeppelin) as well as the thread in the middle of the straws didn’t work this way.
I made a list of steps for what I think is the best way to thread (most of the time): 1) thread needle; 2) put through mobile piece; 3) pull through and tie off bottom end; 4) measure from straw; 5) hold with fingers, use needle to tie off; and 6) trim ends.
Threading the mobile was easy, except for getting the measurements to be exact. It was very hard to tie off a piece at exactly one inch. Or six inches. I had to re-do a few parts after the final measure came up too long or short. This took some patience, which made me wonder if the children in 1966 actually had the patience to get it all right. In the end, I will say that the measures were very close to what Clarke wanted. Fingers crossed that the mobile will still balance.
I Made Bob Clarke’s 1966 MAD Mobile (So You Won’t Have To) This Post: Gifs to Amuse Your Soul.
Part 1 of assembly is here; Part 2 is here.
After assembling Bob Clarke’s MAD zeppelin (LINK), I had already turned my attention to Clarke’s 1966 mobile MAD Follies no. 4 insert. I had bought a very nice copy of the Follies and I had already made color copies of the mobile pages.
Unlike the zeppelin, Clarke’s mobile was two-sided. He designed the pieces to only have the hash line on one side, so I was instantly unsure how to cut two sides out in a way that looked good glued together and didn’t cause any kind of balancing problems. So I sat on the assembly project for months until I decided to buy a lesser-grade copy of the Follies that still had the insert. Not only did the copy I bought have that pulpy/musty smell, yellow – almost crisp – pages, and serious foxing, the guy that sold it to me shipped it rolled in a tube! For the first time in decades, I was ready to destroy a copy of MAD magazine… (to be continued. See links above to keep reading).
As a teaser post, I created two gifs from the assembled mobile. It is a dynamic, no-sided object, so I still don’t think I took a perfect photo of it hanging complete. The gifs show its kinetic properties quite nicely.