Locals can attend ‘Good, Bad, and Butt Ugly’ book discussion with local author Martin J. Smith
In the 1960s, clean-cut pop band The Monkees and psychedelic guitarist Jimi Hendrix went on tour in one of history’s most unlikely acts.
Author Martin J. Smith chronicles the musicians’ tour-turned flop in his novel, “Oops: 20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes That Shaped America,” co-authored with Patrick J. Kiger.
In an interview with Sky-Hi News, Smith describes how Hendrix was met with vitriol from The Monkees teen fans.
“Hendrix, who is arguably the greatest guitarist of all time, was getting booed off stage by 12-year-old girls who wanted Mickey and Davey and the other Monkees,” Smith said. “There can be fascinating pop culture mishaps.”
History is full of both popular culture mishaps and aha moments, often with consequences that change modern life.
Smith and Kiger’s two works, “Oops” and “Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America,” take readers on unexpected turns.
On Sept. 9, Smith will present both his books at the Cozens Ranch Museum in Fraser. This interactive history lesson will take attendees beyond dry classroom textbooks and into the most bizarre corners of America’s past.
Inspiration from innovation
Just like every invention and fad, a book starts with a spark. Smith described what sparked his collaboration with Kiger.
“We started thinking about history in a different way,” Smith told Sky-Hi News. “Not so much history with a capital ‘H,’ which is wars and treaties and presidents and things like that. We started thinking about history with a small ‘h’ – things that ended up having a profound impact on the way we live today, but don’t get mentioned in history books.”
To write “Poplorica,” Smith and Kiger searched for innovations that are unique, yet also part of the fabric of daily living. Smith cites the disposable diaper – a seemingly mundane invention that changed a lot for moms.
“The invention of disposable diapers made it much more convenient. It created other problems too, but it gave women a chance to get out of the home and work, now they could have careers,” Smith said.
The disposable diaper was introduced to American households after World War II. Before this, women were tied to tedious task of washing diapers every day.
“That’s the kind of history we were looking for,” Smith said. “… Unnoticed moments that that fundamentally altered the way we function each day and look at the world.”
Teens say no to ‘Hey Joe’
Smith’s favorite chapter to write in “Oops” was on The Monkee’s disastrous tour.
In the wake of the British Invasion and The Beatle’s popularity, American producers decided they needed their own ‘Fab Four.’ So they created one – literally.
“Somebody decided, let’s invent a pop band called The Monkees and give them a TV show,” he said. “They actually had really good music, but these guys weren’t necessarily musicians, they were actors.”
The American Fab Four got really popular, as teen girls around the nation began worshipping them from their living room.
“They decided to put The Monkees on tour. Well, these guys had to learn how to play instruments and stuff,” Smith said.
The Monkees mastered their instruments, and it was time to hit the road. Producers decided that Jimi Hendrix would be the perfect opening act for The Monkees. Hendrix was just rising in his career as a rock star. However, The Monkees’ teenybopper fan base was unprepared for his six-string guitar.
“Hendrix was psychedelic, acid, you know, a guitar virtuosity, versus these kind of mop top guys that did funny things,” Smith said.
After getting consistently booed off the stage by young girls during his opening act, Hendrix finally gave up the tour. But not all was lost; he was now finding his true voice.
“Hendrix’s failure to connect to The Monkee’s fanbase also freed him from further commercial pressure to appease mainstream tastes,” the book describes. “He pursued his avant-garde muse on a wild ride,” which included everything from psychedelic rock to jazz fusion.
Kudzu crawls over the south
Humans have a habit of getting into trouble when they try to influence nature. The fast-crawling Kudzu vine is a perfect example of this. Smith and Kiger write how the insidious invasive species took over the south.
When the dustbowl hit the American South in the 1920s and 30s, soil erosion took a toll on farmers.
During the harsh drought, “the U.S. government had the idea, let’s get a whole bunch of this kudzu and plant it to prevent soil erosion,” Smith said. “They were sending out samples of free kudzu and urging farmers to plant it.”
The climbing vine is native to Asia and grows extremely fast, about a foot a day. The kudzu worked a little too well. As soon as it’s planted, the vine is impossible to stop. As it rapidly grew, it put down more and more roots.
“Everything in the south these days is covered in Kudzu – telephone poles, barns, houses, if you’re not careful,” Smith said. “It started out as a very well-intentioned government program to stop soil erosion, but those things can go wrong, and the consequences can be quite extraordinary.”
Air conditioning: Smith explained how the invention of air conditioning effected everything from architecture, to the environment, to even political power.
“How did how did the south and the west become so powerful in this country? If you connect the dots from the current realities back into the past, you come to the idea that the invention of air conditioning made parts of the south and the west habitable,” Smith said.
Suburban lawns: In ancient times, lawns were once reserved for kings and presidents. In the 1800s, a landscape architect wrote a book that inspired ordinary people to create their own lawns. Suburbanites meticulously maintained lawns to create a beautiful community.
“All of a sudden, we were producing 50,000 lawn mowers a year. And that continues today. Maintenance of a lawn continues to run weekends for just about everybody.”
How La Femme became ‘La Fiasco’
The best laid plans often go awry, from the government manipulating mother nature, to automakers selling their design to a misunderstood market. Smith and Kiger tackle the brief history of the Dodge Chrysler La Femme in “Oops.”
The 1955 La Femme was designed as a “distinctive car for the discriminating modern woman,” according to Dodge Chrysler executives. This distinctive car came with everything a woman could possibly want, from lipstick cases to clothes.
“You can imagine how many women were on the Chrysler design team,” Smith said. “These guys in business suits sitting around a table decided this is what a woman wants in a car – she wants it to be pink! She wants it to have heather rose upholstery with gold accents and dainty rain boots, weird, absurd ideas.”
At a time when most American households only had one car, the La Femme fell flat. Only about 300 to 1,500 Les Femmes sold. Chrysler had to recall the cars, lipstick cases and all.
“This is my favorite part of that story,” Smith said. “They repainted them black and white, and they rebranded them as the Dodge Lancer.”
Smith explained that the La Femme received a new “gender identity,” after designers realized their imaginations didn’t match with what women really wanted. The real world was more complicated than pink versus black.
“So we did a whole book on failures like that, and their failures are actually as much fun to talk about as successes are,” Smith said. “Because people love a good rip-snorting failure.”
History beyond the textbooks
During the “Good, Bad, and Butt Ugly,” at Cozens Ranch Museum, Smith will share images and stories related to his works. The event begins at 5 p.m., with options to buy Smith’s books in hardcover or paperback. Twenty percent of the book sales will benefit the Grand County Historical Association.
Both books are light-hearted and insightful reads, illuminating how missteps and successes have shaped our society.
“If you connect the dots back in history, you can usually find a flash point where everything changed,” Smith said. “And that’s what we were looking for with these books.”
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