Dayton, Ohio-19 Something And 5
Have I every been to Dayton? I don’t think so. Arthur P. Dickson, on the other hand, was born and buried in Dayton. And it suddenly struck me that, while I’d been obsessively researching his life, I’d also been listening to a Dayton-based soundtrack.
It would be crazy to make too much of this. Such coincidences happen all the time. They even have psychiatric term (apophenia) for people who “seek patterns in random information.” I may have come down with a mild case of apophenia, but it doesn’t make me a full-on apopheniac.
So, with that in mind, please bear with me. Think of this one as an experimental blog post, highlighting some meaningless, coincidental connections.
Music can be sort of perishable, I think. A great song has a peak period when you like it so much that you can play it over and over again. But eventually, like most things, a great new song starts to grow old. Or maybe just too familiar? (Full disclosure: Perishable Song)
A couple months ago, I resolved to re-up my playlist, but what did I want to hear? I wanted to hear some good 60’s-style songs that I didn’t already know.
I used to listen to quite a bit to the Dayton-based band: Guided by Voices. Thanks to Robert Pollard’s prolific songwriting, their songbook is unknowably vast. This, I figured, might be might be a good place to start.
Pollard’s short 1996 song “Dayton, Ohio-19 Something And 5” for example:
Isn’t it great to exist at this point in time?
Where the produce is rotten but no one is forgotten
On strawberry Philadelphia Drive
Children in the sprinkler, junkies on the corner
The smell of fried foods and pure hot tar
Man, you needn’t travel far to feel completely alive
On strawberry Philadelphia Drive
On a hazy day in 19 something and 5
A happy childhood recollection of life in his Dayton neighborhood, circa 1965? Or was it 1995, closer to when he wrote the song? In dating the experience, he hazily omits the third digit, as if to make it timeless.
I was just reminded of Randy Newman’s similarly titled Dayton, Ohio – 1903 and now realize that Pollard’s song was surely written as a reference and contrast to Newman’s earlier song.
The brilliant “Dayton Ohio – 19 Something And 5” is an irreverent update to Randy Newman’s “Dayton Ohio – 1903,” swapping out Newman’s nostalgic imagery of friendly neighbors and cups of tea for children in sprinklers, junkies on the corner and the pervasive smell of fried food.
Morgan Enos, Glide Magazine
My great uncle Arthur would have been 17 in 1905. Closer to the time period of Randy Newman’s song than to Pollard’s time, but Arthur’s childhood in the early 1900s was maybe not as idyllic as portrayed.
I like this album cover: Guided by Voices’ Propeller (cover #338). A flattened out six pack as an album cover.
Do the collapse, only with packaging. And they didn’t just print a photo of this Natural Light® beer 6-pack carrier. This is the actual, grimy “found object” that you’d find shrink-wrapped to the record cover. That is, if you were lucky enough to own this particular edition. (338/500)
The initial vinyl “Propeller” release of 500 copies featured album covers that were hand decorated by the band, Pete Jamison, and some of their friends. Many of these albums were given to radio stations as promotion for the band, but, since Guided By Voices was relativly unknown at the time, most of them have been lost and forgotten in the archives of these radio stations.
from the Guided by Voices Database
So, Propeller was released as a “limited edition” album with 500 unique, handmade covers. (Similar idea: Songs About Packaging)
But whose package design is #338? Not entirely clear…The Guided by Voices Database tell us: Pete Jamison, former “manager-for-life” created the cover.
Front cover by Pete, writing on back cover by Bob. Shown in the Watch Me Jumpstart Video. This is 1 of only 2 Propellers with a physical object attached to it. The other (#241) features a cigarette.
With that video clue, I quickly discovered that the Natural Light cover #338 did not appear in any video for the Guided by Voice song, Watch Me Jumpstart. But rather, in Bank Tarver‘s documentary about Guided by Voices, also entitled: Watch Me Jumpstart.
I’ve cued this video up to begin where cover #338 is shown. Someone—I can’t quite tell who’s speaking (is it Jamison?)—says that using the Natural Light six-pack cover was lead singer and songwriter, Robert Pollard’s idea.
At any rate, no use quibbling over authorship with conceptual packaging. The GBV Database also cites Jamison as the “owner” of this edition. Pollard’s idea + Jamison’s execution = Propeller cover #338?
Natural Light: 2 Kinds
Another thing I like about this cover is that the “Natural Light” brandname has a double meaning.
On the one hand: yes, the unidentified voice in the Tarver’s film tells us “that’s what we were drinking that night.” (Pollard has, for years, performed with a cooler of “light” beer onstage during performances.)
But on the other hand, natural light is daylight—an artist’s preferred alternative to artificial light. Band-member Tobin Sprout, for example (who identifies himself in the film as “an illustrator”) has included on his website an art essay by T.R. Brogunier with sentences like: “Natural light is king is Western art.”
See also: Coca-Cola Light(s)
A lot has been made of Robert Pollard’s former day job as a school teacher in Dayton. He taught for 14 years at Lincoln IGE Magnet School and elsewhere. The fact that Pollard was able to eventually quit his day job and pursue music full-time, gave a generation of aging day-jobbers hope. (Perhaps false hope, in my case!)
But the fact that Pollard had been a teacher in Dayton also seems to coincidentally connect my GBV playlist to recent family research.
My grandmother used to speak reverently of her mother teaching school in Dayton, Ohio, but it wasn’t just her mother. Her father also taught in Dayton schools for a time, later becoming an attorney.
In the late 1880s, her parents, Samuel and Augusta (a.k.a: “Gussie”) were well known in Dayton as the star-crossed civil war orphans who met as children at The Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan’s home. After graduating from “the Home” they attended Muskingum College, later returning as teachers to the same orphanage.
Their first child, Arthur P. Dickson (the subject of our previous post), was born in 1888. As the of oldest child of teachers, he seems to have had hard time meeting his parents’ expectations.
In a series of hectoring letters from his father, we learn that Arthur was expelled from public school and was was sent to a series of remedial private academies. The “Schauck” school (A.B. Shauck’s school in Dayton), “Staunton Military Academy” in Virgina, and finally “Miami Military Institute” in Germantown near Dayton. (See also: Pollard’s song, Germantown)
… Your letter made us very sorrowful. You are our only son and we love you more than you will ever know unless you should live to have a son of your own. You know, Arthur, that you have reached a place here altogether impossible of continuance. We sent you to private school because you were not getting along very well, and did not work in the public school. When Miss Thomas told us that she could not keep you any longer, it was a great blow to our pride and hope.
…then you thought you could do better, if you had a teacher that would help you as you were studying, and I sent you to Schauck’s school and you could have done good work, but you shirked all you could and finally played hookey from both school and music.
… and then, my dear boy, you remember how you almost broke your mother’s heart and humiliated me with the professors at the high school by your conduct there. Then as a last chance and hope we decided to send you to a military school.
… I have had to borrow the money, and your mother and I have had to deny ourselves many things this year in order that you might have this last and best opportunity to redeem yourself. You took hold in the right spirit, and it has more than compensated us to feel that you were at last about to come into your own and make us proud of you.
… I am not able, Arthur, to do more for you than I have done. If we were able to bear the expense which a change to Germantown or any place else would necessarily entail, it would be a bad thing for you. Every critic you ever had, would say, “I told you so. He makes a failure everywhere he goes.”
December 1st 1905
Samuel ended this letter to his son with a postscript. “Answer this letter and then destroy it: You would not want anyone to see it, as these matters are between ourselves.”
Despite the tough-love talk, his father soon relented and allowed Arthur to move back to Dayton and attend Miami Military Institute, after all. Samuel Dickson died 6 months later. His obituary (in June, 1906) mentions Arthur “aged 18, a student of the Germantown school.”
I was surprised that Arthur “played hookey” from music. I wonder if that was simply part of the curriculum. Piano lessons or something. (No mention yet, in these early letters, of Arthur pursuing an art career.)
Cadets smoking pipes in 1904 at the Miami Military Institute (from Wright State University’s Martha McClellan Brown Papers)
I like the photo above. It was taken two years before Arthur enrolled at the Miami Military Institute, so he’s not in it. But although he’s not one of these pipe-smoking cadets, he did smoke a pipe. So it seems likely that he picked up the habit here or at Staunton.
I’ve read that the school was originally a music school, before it became all militarized. Maybe these 1904 lads were thinking of starting a band?
Virtue and “Manliness” in Dayton, Ohio
My brothers and I chuckle at the purple prose of Samuel Dickson’s obituary from the Dayton Daily News:
A Manly Man
No kinder, gentler character, no manlier, squarer man ever lived than Sam Dickson…
… in the very prime of his magnificent manhood…
… a good, true, unselfish, warm-hearted man, who stands like an oak in the storms of life…
But the virtue of “manliness” may have meant something a little different in those days. In 1905 Samuel sent his son to Staunton, the “perfect home school for manly boys.” (In those days “home school” meant: boarding school.)
In his letters, Samuel would sometimes implore Arthur to be more manly, but I don’t think he was criticizing his son for being effeminate. I think he meant it more as a synonym for “adult.” He’s telling his turn-of-the-century boy to man up.
The meaning of “manliness” may have changed a bit, but athletic skills and bravery in combat have always been considered manly. (Academic excellence?—not so much.)
Fear of Failure
“My junior year, when I pitched the no-hitter, I got into a fight with my assistant coach, Bo Bilinsky, who was a police detective,” says Bob. “It was probably not a good idea. My coach had taken me out and said to me, ‘When you learn to pitch, then you’ll be a pitcher,’ which pissed me off because of course when I learn to pitch I’ll be a good pitcher; one would certainly hope so. I got off the field and I was talking… Then Bo Bilinsky comes over and says, ‘You can’t stand out there with your thumb up your ass, Pollard.’ And I probably was standing out there with my thumb up my ass, but I said, ‘Fuck you, Bo.’
“I got up to walk around at the edge of the dugout, and I heard pow-pow-pow-pow—footsteps. He came up behind me and grabbed me and dove on me and we went down. And it’s funny, when we went down fighting—I was pissed, I was cussing—I heard all these noises coming from the metal bleachers where another team was waiting to play next, and they were all running down the bleachers to come watch. I could hear all these cleats hitting the bleachers.
“We fought for a while, then they broke it up. The athletic director was walking with me, trying to calm me down, but I was going, ‘I quit!’
“I’ve always had a big fear of failure. I wasn’t that good a student, I wasn’t that smart, so I really had to work my ass off. I always went to class, I always took notes, because I just—I can’t fail. The worst I ever did in college was first quarter of my freshman year. I had three Cs and a D. I was pretty proud, too, because that was the hardest I ever worked in my life. High school, I don’t remember having to do anything. I don’t remember ever doing homework in high school.”
Guided by Voices: A Brief History
Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll
From what I’ve read, Pollard’s dad was nothing like Dickson’s, but when Pollard remarks “I just—I can’t fail,” I am reminded of Samuel Dickson’s letter telling his son: “he makes a failure everywhere he goes.”
Also—compare Pollard’s discussion of his college grades above, to Arthur Dickson’s discussion of his college grades below (from a letter to his little sister—my grandmother):
… got my marks for the last year Saturday, and they were: E, 3 D’s, and B (in English — How do they do it?) And I also got an A (but it was in a minor course, Physical Ed.) I’m going to cherish that A, as it will be about the one and only I ever got or ever will get.
[Surprisingly, Dickson would have been 38 years old during that P.E. class. That cherished “A” was earned at Columbia University’s summer school (circa 1926). By that time, he had already been working 11 years as an art director for Fox Film. And was still half-heartedly hoping to get a college degree.]
We know that Arthur Dickson left Dayton (sometime around 1910) first for Chicago to study art, and then to New York City where worked as an art director for Fox Film’s Publicity Department. He was the oldest and his 2 younger sisters and his even mother gradually left Dayton and followed him to New York.
As photography began to edge out illustration in the promotion of movies, Arthur began to rely on collage as a technique.
Collage is also Robert Pollard‘s preferred visual medium. He’s made collages for many of his record covers (package design) and also makes collages for exhibit and sale (fine art).
The Dickson collage for “Do and Dare” (above) features a similar multitude of little cut-out faces.
Earlier, when I’d been trying to unearth illustration work that Dickson might have done for Fox, I found a lot of posters for Tom Mix cowboy movies. But Arthur hadn’t created any of those.
It sort of figures that the one ad for a Tom Mix movie that Dickson created, would be the one where the famous cowboy wears a monocle and a top hat. (“Thank you” to cousin Alice for this lead)
l: Dickson’s photo glued to 1918 (wood veneer) letter to his sister; r: Pollard on the back cover of 1996 Not in My Airforce
I like comparing these two cut-out figures. They each have a similar “ready-for-action” stance.
Pollard is wearing a Sgt. Pepper style marching-band jacket. Does “CHS” stand for Cleveland High School?
I hesitated to credit this particular collage to Pollard. On my copy of this album (vinyl) the cover design is credited to “Bob Ohe & Mark Ohe.” While Mark Ohe is a well known designer of album covers, who worked for Matador Records, I suspected that “Bob Ohe” might actually be Bob Pollard. (What with the collages, and all.)
I reached out to Mark Ohe for clarification and he graciously replied:
“Bob Ohe” was a moniker Bob Pollard came up with to more-or-less signify a collaboration between Bob and myself, where he preferred to credit himself as “Bob Ohe” because I believe he liked the idea that we were, “The Ohe Brothers.”
Bob also sometimes chose to use another moniker he came up with, “A Burning Lizard Creation” for graphic collaborations. At least I think that’s what I hazily recall how we referred to it. I do know that we used that name (or something like it) on ‘Mag Earwhig‘ and possibly another collaboration or two.
He’s awesome. Obviously. One of a kind. In all the best ways. A true original. No one will ever be like him in, in the, as yet, unwritten history of the human race. Past, present, or future
… The back cover—was cut-out, collage style… by Bob.
Not saying there’s anything supernatural about these or other parallels that I’ve drawn here. I reckon you could find similar stuff in common comparing almost any two people. But, even if such coincidences are merely a matter of mathematical probability, the fact that people do similar stuff for similar reasons seems like a universal truth. Or something.
I recently downloaded the 2012 Guided by Voice album entitled: Let’s Go Eat The Factory. (I like its self-referential packaging, of course.) And I must have played this short song 7 times the first day that I heard it: Doughnut for a Snowman.
Starts off her day
With a Krispy Kreme® doughnut
As sweet as life can get
Runs out to play
With the promising uncles
Who promise her a pet
from: the GBV database
And hearing the song when I did, that line about the “promising uncles who promise her a pet” jumped out at me. It reminded me of my Mom. She’d recently described Arthur as a “playful uncle” to her and her sister, who could be counted on to have some tiny toy animals in his jacket pocket when visiting.
For more apopheniac comparisons of artists’ lives, see: Brownjohn vs Cooper
For more anachronistic album cover design see: All the Young Dudes Album Cover: illustrated in 1917 and Our interview with “Dude ’72”