TED KAMP’S INADVERTENT MUSEUM OF THE NINETEEN-SEVENTIES

A Tour with Photographs by the Docent, Mr. Kamp’s Younger Brother, David

In 1981, Ted Kamp left central New Jersey for the wider world, unaware at the time that he was a curator. He was simply a young man beginning the journey into adulthood, which would take him first to the campus of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY—its non-coeducational past still sufficiently recent for his father’s more paleolithic friends to remark with lewd grins, “Isn’t that a girlie school?”—and then to Chicago, and then to the greater Los Angeles area, where he resides today.

What Ted Kamp did not yet know was that his mother was possessed of a sufficiently strong sentimental streak that she would leave his oblong attic bedroom more or less unchanged in terms of décor as the years, and then the decades, flew by. Some furniture would be shuffled and rearranged, some closet contents would be hauled off, but the walls—ah, those goldenrod walls would remain exactly as they were left in 1981, which is to say, as they had remained for the better part of the 1970s, since Ted Kamp seldom edited, “redid,” or subtracted from his wall décor; rather, ke kept making incremental additions to his thumbtacked collage of American sports and cultural ephemera. By dint of this cumulative approach to decorating, and his mother’s subsequent willful resistance to making over his room, even after he no longer occupied it, Ted Kamp created an Inadvertent Museum of the Seventies. Come have a look.

Fig. 1

70sKnicks.jpg

The oldest piece in the collection is most likely the NEW YORK KNICKS WORLD CHAMPIONS poster (Fig. 1). It gives every indication of dating from 1970, the first of the Knicks’ two championship years in the seventies, featuring as it does not only the stalwarts Willis Reed (No. 19), Walt Frazier (No. 10), Bill Bradley (No. 24), Dave DeBusschere (No. 22), and Dick Barnett (No. 12), but also Cazzie Russell (No. 33), who was swapped for Jerry Lucas of the San Francisco Warriors at the end of the ’70-’71 season, and Mike Riordan (No. 6) and Dave Stallworth (No. 9), who, together, were sent later that same year to the Baltimore Bullets in return for the great (and conspicuously absent from this poster) Earl Monroe, a cornerstone of the Knicks’ 1973 championship team.

Your docent’s efforts to date this poster were initially thrown off by the presence of Phil Jackson (No. 18, the “1” on his uniform obscured in the photo). Jackson, though a Knick since being drafted out of the University of North Dakota in 1967, missed the entire 1969-70 season as he recuperated from spinal-fusion surgery. Yet he is shown in game action, reaching for a rebound. This is what crossed up your docent, who vividly remembers Jackson playing a crucial if graceless and hirsute reserve role on the ’73 championship squad.*

The suspicions of ’73 provenance were compounded by the fact that Ted Kamp did not ascend to his attic lair until some point in the mid-seventies. It is the hoariest of exercises to trot out a Brady Bunch reference when discussing things seventies-related, but it is nevertheless apt to note that it was on March 23, 1973—mere weeks before the Knicks clinched their second title—that ABC aired “A Room at the Top,” the Brady Bunch episode in which Greg Brady claimed the attic as his own baroquely decorated, single-occupancy bedroom. Precisely when Ted Kamp moved to his new custom-modified attic bedroom is lost to the ages, but it was certainly some time after “A Room at the Top” had aired, and it is not a stretch to imagine that Ted Kamp and his parents were at least partly inspired by the episode to imagine that their modest three-bedroom home’s large attic, if tidied up and retrofitted with electric baseboard heaters and nautically-themed curtains, would be a better place for Ted Kamp to spend his time than the small second-floor room he had shared with his older sister, by then pubescent and very irritable, since 1966.

One can only conclude that the makers of the NEW YORK KNICKS WORLD CHAMPIONS poster generously chose to include Jackson despite his inactive status during the ’69-’70 season, and that the poster sat idly, rolled up somewhere, until Ted Kamp’s attic room and future Inadvertent Museum of the Seventies came to be.

* It’s hard to articulate, given his silken Zenmaster demeanor now, how awkward, shaggy, and perspiratory Jackson’s style of play was: all elbows and flashes of armpit hair, every move to screen his man maximally effortful, every joule of energy expended.

Fig. 2
70sCat.jpg

We’ll move on more quickly from here, as I can see that I’ve already exhausted you with my explication of the NEW YORK KNICKS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP poster. The central feature of the next image (Fig. 2) is a cardboard promotional doohickey for the eight-track-tape edition of Cat Stevens’ Greatest Hits album. Ted Kamp had no great love for Cat Stevens, but, in those faraway days of unprofligate, unspoiled childhoods, with the Great Depression a living memory in the minds of most parents, you took what you could get, wall-stuff-wise.* This might also explain the somewhat discordant movie stills to the left, depicting, respectively, Bogie and Kate in The African Queen and Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik.

Ted Kamp did not own an eight-track-tape player, though his father for several years had such a player in his cars. Cars, plural, rather than car, singular, because Ted Kamp’s father, for most of the seventies, was the sales manager of DeAngelis Buick in New Brunswick, NJ, and therefore always drove a dealer-demo vehicle of the latest model year. (You can see one of DeAngelis Buick’s fender stickers carelessly sprawled across Willis Reed’s pelvis in Fig. 1.) Each dealer-demo Buick came with its own complimentary eight-track cassette—essentially a General Motors executive mixtape—that drivers could use to test out the car’s eight-track player. Your docent remembers these G.M. tapes featuring lots of “countrypolitan” balladry and middle-aged soft pop, e.g. Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl” and the 1973 version of Teresa Brewer’s “Music Music Music.”

* Your docent, though a diehard New York Giants fan from birth, never had a Giants poster on his wall. Somehow, at some point, through a work associate of his father’s or something, he received a poster of Brian Sipe, the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback. He duly placed it on his wall; it was thrill enough just to put up a poster of an actual NFL player, any halfway decent player.

Fig. 3

70sWPLJ.jpg

Fig. 4

70sPLJClose.jpg

These next two images (Figs. 3 and 4) depict the small closet door next to Ted Kamp’s bed. Fig. 3 shows a mini-collage composed of a small poster of WPLJ’s Top 95 Albums of 1976; a smaller, more graphically mundane poster of WPLJ’s Top 95 Albums of 1977; a typewritten mailer listing the 40 Best Albums of 1978 as chosen by the listeners of WNEW, then a hipper FM station than WPLJ; and a small poster advertising the Cosmos, New York’s team in the North American Soccer League*. Fig. 4 is a close-up view of the WPLJ Top 95 of 1976 list.

WPLJ was a New York-based FM station whose frequency was 95.5 (hence the “Top 95” formulation) and whose programming maestro, Allen Shaw, more or less invented AOR: album-oriented rock, featuring “deeper” cuts and hairier, heavier rock than the Top 40 pop that the AM stations played. Still, the selection and order of the station’s Top 95 of 1976, as arrayed in a grid in Fig. 4—a grid that your docent stared at glazedly for hours on end between 1977 and 1980—seem based on sales rather than exquisite programming taste. Yes, Stevie Wonder is there, as is Joni Mitchell, as are Mick and Keith, as is Bowie in his Thin White Duke phase, but so, too, are the Bay City Rollers, Barry Manilow, and, disco-portending their way into the final slot—uh-huh, uh-huh—K.C. and the Sunshine Band. It is to Ted Kamp’s credit as a teen with small-c catholic musical tastes that he owned about half of the albums pictured. Your docent was mightily impressed as a pre-teen by the perfectly realized “guitar face” that Robin Trower is pulling on the cover of Robin Trower Live (fifth row from bottom, all the way to the right), though, to this day, he has never actually heard the album.

* With his father and your docent, Ted Kamp attended a number of Cosmos games in the mid-to-late seventies, the peak of the team’s and the North American Soccer League’s success. Ted Kamp and your docent can even be said to have been devoted Cosmos fans, faithfully memorizing the team’s roster, which consisted of such past-their-prime international all-stars as Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Franz Beckenbauer, as well as such lesser known but still exotically named players as Santiago Formoso, Erol Yasin, Andranik Eskandarian, and David Brcic. Soccer seemed to be a sport ascendant in America in the late seventies, and Ted Kamp took it up dutifully, if middlingly, as his high school team’s goalie. Still, it was a romance not to last; the Cosmos and the NASL faltered in the eighties, and Ted Kamp, his father, and your docent realized that they were kidding themselves about being soccer zealots. Realistically, they had attended so many Cosmos games simply for the pleasure, then novel, of watching a winning team play in Giants Stadium.

Fig. 5
70sPele.jpg

The next image (Fig. 5) features a small poster of Pele, rendered in the totalitarian-state-godhead style of portraiture that the soccer great inspired in the mid-seventies. (Was every Brazilian home required to have a framed version of this poster hanging over the hearth?) Though Ted Kamp’s family was too common and unconnected to “score” choice seats to prime events, it did somehow manage to get upper-tier seats to Pele’s final game, which took place on October 1, 1977, in Giants Stadium. Pele played the first half for his former team, Santos of Brazil, and the second half for the Cosmos, who won, 2-1. Your docent remembers that the scoreboard flashed the names of famous people in attendance, and that MICK AND BIANCA JAGGER were among the names flashed. Your docent further remembers that Pele, in his pregame address to the crowd, commanded us all to recite the word “love” three times in a row, which we did, like Moonies at a Unification Church mass wedding. The solemnity of the Pele poster is undercut by the JESUS SAVES—BUT MOSES INVESTS bumper sticker below it. One is tempted to read some mischief into this juxtaposition, ascribing to the teenaged Ted Kamp an intent to comment wryly on the messiahs that humankind creates and prostrates itself before. But, more likely, Ted Kamp probably just picked up the bumper sticker at Spencer Gifts and tacked it up because he thought it was good Jew humor.*

* Spencer Gifts, a novelty-store chain that opened its first retail outlet in 1963 in the Cherry Hill Mall, roughly sixty miles from the future Inadverent Museum of the Seventies, specialized in novelty items with a frisson of naughtiness, if not sexual explicitness, to them. Ted Kamp further procured from Spencer Gifts a bumper sticker bearing the words START A MOVEMENT—EAT A PRUNE and a t-shirt bearing the word BULLSHIRT. In the seventies, Spencer’s—which, astonishingly, still exists as a going concern—also did a vigorous business in bulb-based entertainment: black lights, black-light posters, lava lamps, plug-in 7 Up cans with flicker-flame bulbs protruding out of them, and so on.

Fig. 6
70sBaskin.jpg

Fig. 7
70sEagles.jpg

Further along, we come to the cross-temporal wall collage of Figs. 6 and 7. The colorful hodgepodge of Fig. 6 includes a mini-poster distributed in Baskin-Robbins ice-cream shops in 1976 to commemorate the chain’s “31-Derful Years” in business: a play on the company’s claim that its shops always sold 31 flavors of ice cream. Yes, that is O.J. Simpson in the illustration for 1974’s representative flavor, Hold That Lime—an unappetizing notion for an ice-cream flavor irrespective of Simpson’s later infamy. The Alfred E. Neuman posterette below the Baskin-Robbins promo poster bespeaks a preadolescent phase of Ted Kamp’s life (note the sloppily inked TEDDY KAMP stamp near top left), while the loom-woven craftsy yarn hanging to Neuman’s left evokes still-earlier days—of an Earth Day ’70 ethos, and, perhaps, of a dexterous sister who might have made a gift of said crafts project. Meanwhile, the small Peugot and Adidas objets point the way forward to 1979, when Eurosportiness went semi-mainstream with Peter Yates’s cult film hit about cycling, Breaking Away, starring Dennis Christopher.

As the collage continues in Fig. 7, we see mid-adolescence asserting itself in the menacing glares of the Eagles circa Hotel California* and the cockeyed gaze of John Belushi as Bluto in Animal House. (The poster’s caption, obscured in the photograph, reads “U.S. SENATOR BLUTARSKY,” an allusion to the movie’s clever “Where are they now?” epilogue.) No longer the innocent who derived easy thrills of transgression from reading Mad magazine, the Ted Kamp of this part of the wall collage is feeling himself out as a subversive, a jaded post-Watergate cynic. Yet, as Ted Kamp would discover, cynicism was not tantamount to nihilism. If it was, he wouldn’t have collected that handsome bronze plaque commemorating his completion of Tufts University’s summertime sailing program in 1977, nor would he have tacked up a photograph of a smiling James Taylor from 1979’s socially conscious No Nukes concert and concert film.

* Your docent was terrified of the Eagles as they appeared in this giveaway poster, which came tucked inside of Hotel California’s sleeve. Don Felder (second from left) looked like a nefarious pimp, Glenn Frey (center) like a short-fused barroom brawler, and Joe Walsh (far left) like a dissolute version of the fellow on the Quaker Oats canister.

Fig. 8

70sCloset.jpg

The closet-door collage of Fig. 8 is similarly transitional. To the left is a poster for a film rooted in the seventies but actually released in 1980, Where the Buffalo Roam, Art Linson’s unwatchable quasi-adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “gonzo” dispatches in Rolling Stone magazine. Despite an appealing performance by a game Bill Murray in the lead, Ralph Steadman’s awesome poster remains the best thing about the film. To its right is another black-and-white still from the No Nukes concert film (recorded in ’79 but released in ’80), with James Taylor sharing a mic at left with former Orleans frontman and future New York State congressman John Hall, and, at right, Taylor’s future former wife, Carly Simon, sharing a mic with Graham Nash and Jackson Browne. Below the No Nukes still is another album-insert giveaway poster, the reunion shot of Jethro Tull’s second and third lineups that came with 1976’s M.U. — The Best of Jethro Tull.*

Beards, gonzo journalism, singer-songwriters—from the look of this display, along with the rest of the Inadvertent Museum of the Seventies, you would think that Ted Kamp was a quintessentially denimy, hempy, goofball specimen of seventies male teendom. You would never know that he was, in fact, a remarkably progressive and forward-looking figure, cottoning early to Talking Heads, Blondie, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the Specials, and Elvis Costello. You would never know that, in his final years of full-time residence in this room, he was sufficiently “arty” in appeal to have dated both a swan-like Rutgers University faculty brat who would later star in Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan and a stock-serious ballet dancer who, in a high-school talent show, would perform an avant-garde solo dance piece that she herself had choreographed to the instrumental title track of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Architecture & Morality. You would never know that, by 1978 or so, most of the vinyl spun on Ted Kamp’s Technics turntable featured the bleats, boops, and skronk of post-punk and New Wave bands—that is, when Ted Kamp wasn’t being more adventursome still, spinning spoken-word albums by the Jamaican dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson or Moanin’ by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

How curious that so little of this Ted Kamp is evident in the décor of the Inadvertent Museum of the Seventies. How odd that this side of him found so little expression on those goldenrod walls.

* For a full exegesis from your docent on this Tull poster, please go here.

Fig. 9

70sPlaybill1.jpg

Fig. 10
70sPlaybill2.jpg

But we are afforded a tantalizing glimpse into this questing, intellectual part of Ted Kamp’s teenaged being, in the form of his collection of Playbill and stagebill covers (Figs. 9 and 10). Even the partial view of his collection as shown in these photographs illustrates how voracious and broad-minded a theatergoer he was in his teens, taking in fare as mainstream as Sweeney Todd, The Wiz, and The King & I, and as challenging as Whose Life Is It Anyway? (starring Tom Conti as a quadriplegic who wishes to be euthanized), Wings (starring the early screen star Constance Cummings as a stroke victim), and Bent (starring Richard Gere as a gay prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp).

That these Playbill covers can coexist with one another on the same wall, much less with the vast variety of sports, music, film, personal, and commercial ephemera that comprise the Inadvertent Museum of the Seventies, is testament to how rich in experience the youth of Ted Kamp was—and, indeed, how rich the seventies themselves were.

Docent out!

April 28, 2012  Link  General Posts  Share/Bookmark

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