Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Crazy World Of Crazy Golf

As a number of my posts suggest, I spend a lot of my time daydreaming about junky Americana of one sort or another, from Christian acid-rock to Harlem Globetrotter pinball machines. Recently I have been obsessing for no particular reason about Miniature (or Crazy, Goofy, Adventure...) Golf. I like activities that are simple, dumb, imaginative and fun. I also like stuff that's been minaturised. (Like model villages, I dig them the most.) So mini golf ticks a lot of boxes for me. The more I've investigated, the more it seems like the best American minature golf courses are little psychedelic road-side wonderlands, self-contained junk-yard universes populated by over-sized pirates, giant skulls, windmills and pyramids.

The first trade-name course was established in 1926 at the Fairyland Inn (wow!) holiday resort on the Tennesee / Georgia border, under the name 'Tom Thumb's Golf'. In keeping with the fairy-tale theme of the resort, patrons of Tom Thumb's Golf were required to negotiate Brothers Grimm-ish obstacles like Little Red Riding Hood, elves and gnomes. By 1929, Tom Thumb golf courses were being manufactured and distributed nationally, and by mid 1930 mini golf had exploded into a bone fide national phenonemon, with an estimated 25,000-30,000 courses being enjoyed by 4 million Americans every day. Insane, huh? Like any good pointless fad, at the height of Mini golf mania there were a clutch of quick-buck pop records released to cash-in on the trend, including "I've Gone Goofy Over Miniature Golf", "Since My Wife Took Up Playing Miniature Golf", and "I'm Put-Put-Puttin' on the Dinky Links All Day".

'Cos then The Depression hit and apparently most Americans didn't consider mini golf fees an essential part of their budget. Whatever, Americans.


The unstoppable spread of suburbia and the post-war baby boom contributed to a resurgence in mini golf popularity during the 50s and early 60s. This was when things got really crazy in terms of obstacles, hazards, stunts and themes. Courses were often attached to drive-in movie theatres or motels or mom 'n' pop road-side diners. While there was a handful of national companies servicing the mini golf industry, distributing pre-fab branded kits, most courses were home-made works of redneck ingenuity, folk-art essentially, hammered together with lumber, scrap metal and poured concrete. I cannot think of a pursuit more noble than the creation of an awesome mini golf hole. Check this out:

How ace is that?

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Pinball Machines: The Best Thing Mankind Has Come Up With So Far

After a period of long and careful consideration, I have decided that the Pinball Machine is the Best Thing That Mankind Has Come Up With So Far. Jukeboxes, crazy golf, Junior Kickstart and Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars made the short list, but deep down I always knew that the pinball machine would edge it. I guess when God put us here a few thousand years ago he figured that once we were up and running with the basics, like the wheel, and fire, and clubs, and clubbing things, and clubbing each other, that we would find time between clubbing stuff to invent cooler and cooler shit, less essential than fire and wheels and clubbing stuff, but probably easier to brand as part of a movie franchise merchandising operation. The best thing we've come up with so far is the pinball machine.

Pinball machines look cool, sound cool, and are universally desirable in a way that few other objects are. Ask around. Ask people if, should the the opportunity arise, they would choose to have a pinball machine in their home. They get to pick which one. A 1960 Wagon Train pinball machine. A 1979 Rolling Stones pinball machine. A 1990 Back To The Future pinball machine. I mean, you'd have to be some sorta insane pervert to say no to a Back To The Future pinball machine, wouldn't you? If you don't want a Back To The Future pinball machine, you've lost all sense of perspective and humanity. You are, essentially, a robot.

And seeing as Pinball is the best thing mankind has come up with so far it follows that Multiball Magazine, a short lived American publication devoted to pinball, was the best thing ever published. You would have to say that the people who put this magazine together were pragmatists: "Pinball is the best thing mankind has come up with. Therefore if we are to produce a magzine, there is no point in making the magazine be about anything other than pinball." Then they made their magazine even cooler by putting split 7" records on the cover by kick-ass super-hip garage bands like The White Stripes and The Dirtbombs, singing about pinball, with song titles like Pinball City and Cave Ball and Deathball 2000. Feeble human brain...struggling to comprehend...ridiculous level of...coolness...These 45s have been collected on two compilations, Hot Pinball Rock Volumes 1 & 2. As befits a trash-as-high art endeavour like this the quality of the tracks varies pretty wildly, but the good stuff is really good. I particularly dig The Bellrays 'Mother Pinball', which is like a rough-ass James Brown number, a"there's a brand new The Pinball" sorta affair. The White Stripes' 'Hand Springs' is Route One Jack 'n' Meg patented garage punk, unremarkable in itself, but features a genuinely brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny lyric about Jack taking his girlfriend bowling, and how there's this smooth pinball wizard kid there giving her the TV eye, impressing Jack's gal with his flash flipper skills, and Jack gets all bent outta shape about it, so:
"I dropped my red bowling ball
Through the glass of his machine
I said 'are you quick enough to hit this ball, Mr. Clean?' "
Which is a pretty great lyric in anybody's book. (Note that it's a red bowling ball, natch.) Now, if somebody would just make produce a White Stripes pinball machine, we could really all just give up and go home.