Someone's got to play in the lounge in the chinese restaurant. (Click to see Flickr photo sideshow. Don't worry, that's the raciest one.)
Well, that's not fair, really -- at least around here in New England. I'm a little out of the circuit, and have been for a while; but if memory serves, the lounge in the chinese restaurants in these parts have really good Country and Western cover bands in them. There aren't any lounge singers that look like 150 pounds of ground chuck in a 100 pound satin sack in there. And maybe it's not fair to the people in the photos, either; maybe they're more fun than a picnic for people with delirium tremens would be for a hungry ant. And even though some of them seem to have attended too many picnics for their spandex, we really have no idea who any of them are. Maybe they were swell.
I don't remember where I first saw these photos, but they lead back to something called Sharpeworld, a place where someone definitely has an eye for the obscure and odd. And if this isn't obscure, and odd, I don't know what is.
These photographs were found in the trash and rescued from oblivion; the oblivion that time will bestow even on entertainment much more popular than the people on the photographs. These people seem to be equipped with a sort of instant oblivion, like they're black holes for charisma. They're the lounge entertainment version of Men in Black :In a flash, you've forgotten you've seen them, and even forgotten what you yourself were doing when you saw them. Some have faces that can stop a clock, all of them make the clock run backwards.
It's a wonderful array of the people who were playing at the wedding of your distant cousin -- you remember, you got food poisoning from the chicken and shells; the comedian hired for the Rotary Club Medal of Achievement dinner you missed because you had the flu; the combo on the deck (in the rain) at the golf tournament banquet from that course under the high tension power lines -- where you got poison ivy; and the stripper that wouldn't take any of her clothes off from that lounge your college buddies from upstate took you to as a hoot. You may have been too drunk to fully appreciate them, or maybe the acts were too drunk, who knows? Anyway, everybody draws a blank here.
It's not the photographer's fault. The pictures were taken by James J. Kriegsmann, who by all accounts was no slouch. I went looking for Kriegsmann, and was astonished by what I saw.
He died in 1994. He was born and educated in Vienna, Austria, and in 1929 came to New York and started photographing celebrities.
And what celebrities! Michael Ochs Archives has a wonderful set of some of Kriegsmann's work, and the people in them are astounding. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Eartha Kitt (rowr) Cab Calloway, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis; dozens and dozens of the most famous acts in the world for decade after decade.
I imagine that Kriegsmann's notoriety among the glitterati brought the lumpen people to his doorstep, thinking that if they plunked down the cash, some of the leftover celebrity might still be in the lens. And so Kriegsmann worked, and worked hard, and made the same attempt to portray these subjects as sympathetically as he could. It boggles the mind what they must have looked like when they walked in his door.
The proprietor of Sharpeworld put these on Flickr hoping that someone would remember something about these folks. It's a fool's errand, I'm afraid. Would you remember who was singing O Sole Mio in the Terminal Lounge in 1979 in Trenton when you went in to get out of the rain for five minutes to use the pay phone?
Though we laugh, the camera was kind -- in that it captured them as they wished to be, and maybe as they were, at least for one or two brief shining moments: Somebody.