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How’s It Going Today?

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I’m feeling a little retrospective and nostalgic today, so if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to acknowledge a couple of personal milestones.

1. Today marks 19 years of me doing <a href="http://kottke.org" rel="nofollow">kottke.org</a> as a full-time job. What. The. Actual. F? I kinda can’t believe it. Before this, the longest I’d ever stayed at a job was about two years…and the average was closer to 9-12 months. Aside from dropping out of grad school to bet my life on the World Wide Web, choosing to turn this website into my job is the best decision I’ve ever made.

Some of you may not know this, but when I went full-time, I ran a three-week “pledge drive” to fund my activities on the site. In 2005, this was an almost unheard-of thing to do — people did not send money to strangers over the internet for their personal websites. But it worked: that initial boost sustained me that first year and allowed me to build this career sharing the best of the internet with you. Those brave folks got a pretty good return on their risky investment, I’d say.

Several years ago, I circled back to the idea of a reader-funded site and since then, the membership program has completely transformed the site and my engagement with the work I do here. Incredibly, some of the folks who supported me back in 2005 are still supporting me today — a huge thank you to them and to everyone else who has supported the site along the way.

2. This is a less-obvious milestone with diffuse edges but one that came to mind this morning as I looked back at some photos from a couple of years ago. When I announced I was taking a sabbatical in May 2022, I wrote about my fiddle leaf fig and the metaphorical connection I seem to have with it:

I’d brought this glorious living thing into my house only to kill it! Not cool. With the stress of the separation, my new living situation, and not seeing my kids every day, I felt a little like I was dying too.

One day, I decided I was not going to let my fiddle leaf fig tree die…and if I could do that, I wasn’t going to fall apart either. It’s a little corny, but my mantra became “if my tree is ok, I am ok”. I learned how to water & feed it and figured out the best place to put it for the right amount of light. It stopped shedding leaves.

I went on to explain that my tree was not doing that well…and its condition was telling me that I needed a break. Well, what a difference the last two years have made. On the left is a photo I took two years ago today of my fig and on the right is from this morning:

side-by-side comparison of a fiddle leaf fig tree, two years apart

Oh, there are a couple of janky leaves in today’s photo (the product of some inattentive watering earlier this winter as I failed to adjust to the winter dryness), but the plant is happy in a bigger pot and there are several new leaves just from the past two weeks (as the amount of daylight increases). There are also two other fiddles in the house that are descended from cuttings I took from this one — they’re also thriving and both have new leaves coming in right now.

I still have not written a whole lot about what I did (or didn’t do) during the seven months I was off, but after more than a year back, it seems pretty clear that the sabbatical did what I wanted it to. I feel like I’m thriving as much as my tree is. In recent months, I’ve launched a couple of new features (including the comments, which I’ve been really pleased with) and added another voice to the site. There’s a new thing launching soon (*fingers crossed*) and I have plans for more new features, including improvements to the comments.

More importantly, the site feels vital and fun in a way that it hasn’t for quite awhile. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops (nothing is — I’m looking at you, tax season), but I’m having a blast, am engaged with the work, and am feeling pretty fulfilled lately. So another huge thanks to everyone for hanging in there while I sorted my shit out — I appreciate you.

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digdoug
4 days ago
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I've been a member since 2005. I've given Mr. Kottke several hundred dollars now, I guess. I'm 100% happy with my investment.
Louisville, KY
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What's new: a quick trip down memory lane

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What's new: a quick trip down memory lane

I started working on MetaFilter in the Fall of 1998, but just before launching it I realized the new blog I built was for a community, not just me. So I built a little blog engine to power my personal domain starting in Summer of 1999.

What's new: a quick trip down memory lane
my first personal blog with my ICQ number and boasting about my DHTML chops

By early 2000, I moved things to Blogger (remember the joy of FTP?) and off my own custom blogging engine, and eventually I got lucky enough to work at Blogger, on Blogger. Good times.

What's new: a quick trip down memory lane
Haughey.com in early 2000, people thought I was a moody goth because of the photo

When my time at Blogger ended in early 2001, I bought the cheeky self-deprecating domain "wholelottanothing.org" and built a new blogging system in one night out of spite for the previous CMS, and launched this very site here at the new domain a.wholelottanothing.org.

What's new: a quick trip down memory lane
the launch version of this site in early 2001

I loved this first version of this blog. Since I built it completely myself, I made my own posting page and it was just a blank white page with a title and a big blank area for the content of a post and nothing more and I loved the focus and simplicity. I also loved doing custom stuff like having this top/bottom design where only my latest post was above the fold in the white area, with the rest of the page below (something Blogger couldn't do at the time).

Fast forward a few years and I was getting tired of maintaining my own code and I was loving Movable Type for every other blog I wrote on, so I created a hybrid site where Movable Type handled all my blogging entires, but it spit out files I could include in custom templates, letting me make my site do anything I wanted.

What's new: a quick trip down memory lane
What's new: a quick trip down memory lane

This 2004-era version of the site was probably my absolute favorite. I spent months working with various APIs to build the right sidebar dynamically.

This was the early era of Web 2.0 where anyone could finally create things on the internet by just clicking buttons and filling out forms on web apps. But as I used these services, I got kind of bummed when thinking how I was posting but not on my personal site. To combat this, I used all the data sharing features of Web 2.0 to pull in my recent music listens, upcoming events I was attending, longer essays I wrote, my daily photo, a blogroll, my Flickr photos, and even links to comments I made on other sites.

I called this iteration "The Temple of Ego" and it felt like the ultimate expression of what a personal blog could do for the owner. If you wanted to know who I was, you could scroll down the sidebar and get a pretty complete picture of every single thing I was doing online at the time.

(plus: how cool was it to use old timey wallpapers on a modern blog?)

A year or so later, I got tired of fiddling with my own code again so I moved this site to TypePad, which was a hosted version of Movable Type. This was huge for me, because it was the first time I ever used an outside service for hosting all my content. I still made my own custom templates at Typepad, but I didn't have to run my own server, and I instantly felt relieved.

What's new: a quick trip down memory lane
This site in 2007

Around 2010, I grew tired of Typepad's stagnant features and decided to finally go all-in on Wordpress. I'd played with Wordpress since the early days but didn't move my personal site to it until I felt like it was miles ahead of everything else.

And that's what I've used for the last 15 years to maintain this blog. Until today, as I've moved to Ghost.

Picking a blogging system in 2024

Blogging is in a pretty weird place these days and while there are a ton of small blogging engines on GitHub just a few giant players remain on the hosted side. I felt like Wordpress has grown long in the tooth, and I was no longer having fun with the extremely-locked-down nature of Wordpress.com so I began to look for other options.

You could say blogging is going through a bit of resurgence, in the form of newsletters. And while I would never touch a service like substack, or even move to only sending email newsletters, I was interested in finding tools that could combine blogging and email in modern ways as I admit there really isn't much difference between a blog post and a blog post delivered via email newsletter.

The big thing that made me slap down a credit card and spend three days importing 3,500 posts from the past 25 years was seeing their posting page, which looks like a modern version of the very same thing I built for myself in 2001.

What's new: a quick trip down memory lane
A screenshot of the new post page at Ghost

Today I finished importing all the old posts (thanks Greg and Mark) and got copies of every photo and image for all those posts. I also imported my old pieces from Medium.com, which you might spot in archives.

💡
If you want to follow along and get all my new posts over email, hit the subscribe link on the front page of this site.

Ghost so far has been fun and I like the design of most templates. I'll probably start working on my own custom layout that brings back archives and UI the way I like to see them, and somehow incorporates my Mastodon content.

Fun new software means I'm happy to write more often, so expect to see a more regular posting cadence here.



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digdoug
4 days ago
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mathowie is on my internet mt rushmore.
Louisville, KY
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Firehouse Five and the Cinderella Surprise

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My goal was to preserve some never-before-heard recordings of an incredible Dixieland jazz band made up of mostly Disney employees, the Firehouse Five Plus Two.

But along the way, I accidentally discovered an incredible lost song that was cut from Walt Disney’s Cinderella.

And you’re about to hear it too. Let’s go.

photo via D23

Here’s the backstory. In the early 1940’s, a bunch of talented folks in the powerful orbit of legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball, which naturally included plenty of folks from the Disney animation and sound departments, discovered that they shared a common love of jazz.

During World War II, they started a studio band called the Huggajeedy Eight, and mostly played as part of Disney “camp shows” — vaudeville-style programs put on by studio personnel for soldiers at local military bases. Then, around 1945, Ward met a local trumpeter, Johnny Lucas, and together they started the San Gabriel Valley Blueblowers, playing frequently around LA.

With that foundation, here’s how Ward likes to tells it:

“Some of us used to gather in my office at lunchtime to listen to my records of jazz legends. We decided to really get into the spirit of the music by playing along with the records. Then one day the phonograph broke down right in the middle of ‘Royal Garden Blues’. Undaunted, we kept right on playing and found to our amazement that we sounded pretty good all by ourselves!”

—Ward Kimball, legendary animator (and train enthusiast)

The group included also-legendary animator Frank Thomas on piano, assistant director Danny Alguire on cornet, designer and Imagineer Harper Goff on banjo, and more. Interestingly, folks like Goff and Alguire were band members first, and were later hired at Disney, sometimes through the intervention of Ward (like Alguire) and sometimes on their own merits (like Goff).

These lunchtime listening sessions became lunchtime jam sessions. Soon, they were being asked to play parties and dances. And before you know it, the Firehouse Five Plus Two was born.

“When the band was asked by the local Horseless Carriage Club to play for its auto tour to San Diego, I quickly found and restored a 1914 fire truck and with the group now uniformed as firemen, we logically changed our name to the Firehouse Five Plus Two.”

—Ward Kimball

Why the Plus Two? Simple. “The ‘Plus Two’ was added so that people who hired us would know that they were getting seven musicians!” Duh.

As the band’s popularity grew, their day jobs remained.

“Walt always liked music and he was very proud of us. He couldn’t get over the fact that some of the guys who worked for him as animators and artists were all of a sudden the toast of the music world.”

—Ward Kimball

It was inevitable, then, that the Firehouse Five Plus Two would also work their way into the Disney canon. The band made an iconic appearance in the (very strange, very Charlie McCarthy-heavy) Alice In Wonderland-promoting television special One Hour in Wonderland (1950).

photo via @wardkimball

They appeared in an episode of the Mickey Mouse Club:

The band also makes an animated, hilariously-caricatured cameo in the Goofy short How to Dance (1953):

The Firehouse Five Plus Two became, if you’ll forgive me, white hot. Ward summarizes:

“We made movies at MGM and Universal Studios, played for Bing Crosby’s golf tournaments and radio shows, appeared on national television with such diversified luminaries as the Disney Mouseketeers, Milton Berle, Ed Wynn, and Lawrence Welk, culminating with over 15 years of summer appearances at the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland. By the time we decided to retire the band in 1971, we had managed to record 12 albums which have sold worldwide. All this in our spare time.”

—Ward Kimball

What an incredible success for a side project.

Eventually, Ward — and the Firehouse Five Plus Two — fell out of favor with Walt. Ward had a string of unfortunate conflicts, including a promotional ad for “Babes in Toyland” that put Ward front and center as director and angered Walt so much he had him removed from the picture entirely, and the band got caught up in the fray.

“I remember [Walt] was having a picnic at the Golden Oak Ranch, [but] I had to leave at 2 o’clock and drive to San Diego to play at the Hotel Coronado with the band. So I went over and asked them if I could have a plate of food earlier.

Walt walks up, while I’m sitting all by myself, with Betty [Kimball’s wife], and I’m eating, and he says to Betty, ‘Don’t you feed him at home?’ I said, ‘Gee, Walt, I have to go and play a job in San Diego.’ He made some sarcastic remark: ‘Don’t we pay you enough?’ You see, this fed the way he was feeling. Walt couldn’t understand why I would leave a Disney party that he planned, desert it at 3 in the afternoon, and go to San Diego and play with the band.

He was so proud of that band for years. When these things all got added up, the band got thrown in the hopper, too.”

—Ward Kimball, talking to Michael Barrier

Still, even today, the Firehouse Five Plus Two remains a culturally important part of Disney. Maybe you spotted this familiar logo in The Princess and the Frog (2009)?

Even better, this great homage just made it into the real world — at Tiana’s Palace at Disneyland, in 2023.

There’s one other reason I’m fascinated by this band.

Firehouse Five Plus Two perfectly captures a kind-of longing and nostalgia for a something I wish I could’ve experienced: a very special, early, creative, just-a-group-of-friends time at the Walt Disney Company. Just think: nobody got fired for this side project. This was Ward’s idea with no studio affiliation or investment. He didn’t have to CC:’d and BCC: this dream across huge teams of PR folks or lawyers. They practiced at lunch — during work hours. They were even allowed to sell their albums on a non-Disney music label. And yet, Walt even appreciated and leveraged the group to his benefit. A lot of this was simply the power of Ward, but still, could this happen today? It’s maybe not impossible, but it feels unlikely.

Hey… wait a second! That was a lot of blabbering.

Do you want to hear what the Firehouse Five sounds like?!

Here are a handful of Firehouse Five albums on your favorite streaming services! Click on any cover to enjoy. (There’s more, but these ones are available everywhere.)

(Also, a Cabel reminder to always buy the music you want to keep forever — these albums can, and will, disappear from streaming services at some point in the future.)

Ok, you’re caught up. That’s the Firehouse Five Plus Two.

Let’s just say… it caught my eye immediately.

The auction listing read:

Lot #: 452

Description: (ca. 1947) Collection of rare, unique live master recordings by The Firehouse Five on (6) original 78rpm records. These early direct-to-78 recordings capture the group as their swinging Dixieland sound began to coalesce.

Each record includes multiple tracks, and retains a Walt Disney Productions label hand written (presumably by Kimball) with cheeky titles. An incredible, one-of-a-kind relic of underground Disney history.

Mysterious acetate wafers that might contain one-of-a-kind, never-heard moments from this incredible band?!

I had to get and/or hear these.

So, I bid — and $1,000 later (once again, welcome to the world’s least profitable blog), a package showed up.

I opened this vintage “His Master’s Voice” record folio as carefully as possible…

…and when I took a look at that first label…

…I knew I was in for something special.

It began to sink in that what was in front of me was literally one-of-a-kind — and contained recordings that, most likely, nobody has heard in 70 years.

And then I told myself:

“Cabel you really can’t screw this up.”

I needed a way to get these archived. Folks, I wasn’t about to slap them on an Urban Outfitters USB Turntable.

That’s where Bryce Roe comes in.

I emailed the Northeast Document Conservation Center, which I found via some Googling (“old records safe digitize no destroy important”, probably). They’re a non-profit conservation and preservation center in Andover, MA, that offers book, paper, photograph, and audio conservation, digital imaging, and more. Bryce replied:

“We would be delighted to work with you to preserve your valuable recordings. These appear to be lacquer instantaneous discs, and they are quite fragile compared to vinyl — you were wise to be cautious about handling and playback! We offer traditional stylus playback reformatting for discs that are in stable condition, and we also offer a ‘non-touch’, optical scanning method using IRENE for discs that are too damaged to be played via a contact method or as a safer alternative for playable discs.”

—Bryce Roe, NEDCC

Ok, yeah, NEDCC seemed like a good lead. So after spending even more money on this post (someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this. my blog is dying), I put the records safely in the mail.

If you want to get technical — and I do! — Karl Fleck, who did the archiving work, shared with me some process notes:

“There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to transferring audio from a disc. Many of those parts have to deal with the lack of standardization in the characteristics of disc recording. So before I began the actual transfers, I ran a couple tests. First, I played the disc and captured some audio with different sized styli because the groove dimensions on discs were not standardized at the time and varied depending on the original disc cutting machine. Then, I compared the test audio and listened for which stylus produced the cleanest audio, or, the audio with the least amount of noise and distortion. Another technical setting was the playback equalization – AKA EQ. This setting determines the overall frequency balance of the audio content. Similar to the stylus selection, I listened to many EQ settings and determined which one was most appropriate for the time period and which had the most natural frequency balance.”

—Karl Fleck, NEDCC

Eventually, the work was done, and some digital files arrived at my doorstep.

I took a deep breath, put on my headphones, and hit play.

Let’s listen to these records together!

But before we start, I want to note that I spoke with some wonderful people who helped me here. Theodore Thomas is a talented filmmaker — and also the son of Frank Thomas, Disney animator and Firehouse Five pianist. Don Hahn is a Disney legend, historian, and producer (Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Atlantis, etc.) Stacia Martin is an encyclopedic source of Disney knowledge, an equally incredible artist (just watch her draw Figment — while talking!!), a 40+ year Disney employee and true delight.

So, here we go:

1. Yes Sir! That’s M’Baby

Go on, hit play!

The first thing I have to mention, of course, is that Ward Kimball couldn’t help himself — on this label, he’s temporarily renamed the band to the “Outhouse Oaters”. (In modern terms, I think this loosely translates to “Crappy Western”.)

This song is a Firehouse Five classic, but what’s interesting is that it’s surprisingly slow for them — I think what’s happening here is that we get to be in the room as they’re finding their footing and learning the song, playing it slow to get it under their belt.

Also, this is clearly recorded with a single microphone — this isn’t a professional mixed record. This was almost certainly a lunch-time, skunkworks deal.

2. Shake That Thing

First, omg, “Outhouse Oaters” was just the beginning. Now, the band’s temporary name is the “Farthouse Fuckheads”!!

Every time I look at that label, I laugh. Every time.

(It’s also funny, because we don’t really imagine folks in the ‘good old days’ using this kind of language, do we? Maybe because it’s not in that media. But, oh, they did.)

Second, this disc is particularly special to me — I think this song isn’t available on any Firehouse Five record! It was normally just part of their live set. Now it’s saved!

I’m also delighted by the strikethrough on “Walt Disney Productions” (“no copyright intended”) and the “throw away when finished”. Whoever didn’t do that — thank you.

3. Everybody Loves My Baby (Warm-up)

This mysteriously-labelled disc contains a very short snippet of the band getting up to speed on Everybody Loves My Baby. There’s a much longer version a few discs down.

4. Has Anybody Seen My Gal?

Good lord. Just when I thought we’d reached the alternate-name comedy peak, here come the “Jackoff Jackrabbits”!!

This recording is starting to feel a little bit more like the pace of a Firehouse Five song.

Also, at the beginning there’s a little bit of dialog, that to me sounds like “Five foot two with a Charleston gimme, hey Johnny, what is the beat?” After that you can hear trumpet-player Johnny Lucas exclaim “A-wat-dat!” and stomp out a six-count for tempo. It’s like being there.

5. Brass Bell (Frank’s Rag)

More great chatter up top: “This is called Frank’s Rag, that title’ll have to do for now. Frank wrote it himself, right Frank?” I love this, because it captures a brief moment right before the song was formally known as “Brass Bell”, another Firehouse Five classic, as it was labelled.

Again, it feels so dang slow! But I guess that’s what practice is all about?

The song ends with a fantastic Ward “How do ya like it?!”

6. Everybody Loves My Baby

No funny band name here, just a really nice recording of a great song with a fun Frank piano solo in the middle.

7. Silver Threads Among The Clinkers Gold

It was inevitable. Our beloved band has another new, temporary name, via Ward Kimball: the “Whorehouse Five”.

(And once again I thank whoever ignored the “Please Destroy” instructions written on the disc.)

This is another song I don’t believe was ever released on a Firehouse Five album! And I love the coin-operated player piano gag at the beginning — it’s all played so straight until it starts to swing half-way through!

The end of the song, though, is a treat. (Skip to 3:45). If you listen closely, there’s great real-life band discussion that takes place. My best transcription:

“What’s the idea, Ed?”

“Yeah, let’s hear this idea!” (That’s Ward talking to Ed Penner, Tuba player.)

“Well, so you know [unknown venue] has a kitty at the front?”

(Ted Thomas reminds me a kitty was a container — a barrel, a basket, a jar — to collect money and tips for the band.)

“Yeah…”

“Let’s make a kitty barrel and let’s rig it up so that if anybody [puts money in?], a firecracker goes off, a smoke bomb, bells ring, lights, I mean really…”

“I suppose I’m going to have to make it?” (Ward, of course.)

“You know, Lucas hates kitties!”

“You know I made [a barrel] for a kitty up there in Pasadena, and no one put anything in it…”

(Ward’s referring to one of the earliest jobs the Firehosue Five ever had as a band in Pasadena.)

“But you know at the Cavern…”

(Ted also notes that the Cavern might be the Beverly Cavern, a club on Beverly near Normandie that was a mainstay of the New Orleans revival, and is now a Karaoke joint. Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, and the Firehouse Five all played there. The band ended up playing there regularly through the 1950s.)

“…they had one where lights would go off, electric bell would ring, and really…”

“Give ’em a show!!”

Rigging up a donation jar to shoot off fireworks and ring bells is a perfect distillation of the fun vibes at play.

I wonder if they ever did it.

Our Firehouse Five Rehearsals have now ended. I hope you enjoyed listening to that as much as I did!

Ted Thomas gave me his thoughts:

“These recordings of the proto-FH5 are definitely rehearsal discs, likely done in 1948, as the band was starting to gel into a professional unit. At the end of ‘Silver Threads Among the Gold’ there is mention of a gig in Pasadena, where they played many of their early jobs, even before they were officially the FH5. Also, the rendition of ‘Brass Bell’ has the flavor of it being fairly new to the band, and Frank wrote it after they played a house party in Beverly Hills early on. He originally titled it ‘Lullaby for Penny’, named for actress Penny Singleton who lived next door to the party and called the host repeatedly complaining that the band was too loud for her to sleep.”

And Don Hahn added:

“My hunch is that these were recorded on B Stage. It was the dialogue stage [at Walt Disney Productions] and although they could do multiple mics, it would be most often just one mic set up for dialogue. My guess is that they did this at lunch, which was a normal time for them to play and they just used the mono mic set up that was common on B Stage. I speak from total ignorance, though — my two cents, worth every penny!” 

It all adds up.

They’d meet up at lunch (or whenever), sneak into B Stage, setup a microphone, and play their hearts out.

I’m not sure if you listened to all of those tracks to the end (it’s ok if you didn’t), but did you notice anything?

Let’s listen closely to the very end of Shake That Thing:

You hear someone… calling some… chickens, right?

That’s not just my imagination?

Stacia Martin thought it sounded just like Ilene Woods, a.k.a. Cinderella. Remember this scene?

Wouldn’t those calls fit perfectly here? Is it possible this was an earlier idea they tried?

Hmmmm.

And what about the very end of Everybody Loves My Baby?

That’s right — after the band plays, there’s a little snippet of Cinderella herself, humming “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”! Remember this scene?

What the heck is going on here?

What are these random bits and pieces of Disney sound history doing at these end of these Firehouse Five tracks?

And that’s when I realized…

The Firehouse Five weren’t using fresh, blank acetates to record their practice. That’d be a waste of company resources! Ward was simply recycling acetates lying around his office, anything with a little bit of blank space.

What was on these discs before they recorded on them?!

Let’s start with a vinyl side labeled, simply, “Samba”.

8. Blame It On the Samba (Novachord Tests)

Ok, this is wild and amazing! What is it?!

Stacia Martin figured this one out immediately — it sounds like an alternate idea for a sequence in the middle of “Blame It On The Samba”, a part of Melody Time (1948).

Hear for yourself! It’s totally the same Samba beat in the background, right?

I’m really enjoying imagining what they would’ve animated to these bizarre and funny keyboard lines.

And the label notes “Novachord”, which means some of these weird notes were played using the world’s first polyphonic synthesizer! (1939… 72-voice polyphony… 163 vacuum tubes and 1,000 capacitors!)

What a treat to get to hear this snippet of lost history.

9. Two! Three! Four!

This mysterious, unlabelled disc really surprised me.

I love listening in on any recording session.

But what was this strange count-off for?

Who were these people?

Stacia Martin — who, once again, is the greatest — cracked this one immediately. This is a count-off used in the Mickey short Nifty Nineties (1941) — and that’s Ward Kimball himself counting, along with animator Fred Moore!

I love hearing them get more and more intense as they go.

(And I wondered, is this the only surviving recording of a Ward Kimball voice session?)

10. The Apple Song (Demo)

I warn you in advance: once you listen to this track, there is no coming back. It’s in your head forever. Enjoy.

The label says everything, really: this vinyl flip-side contained a charming demo recording of The Apple Song, used in the Johnny Appleseed sequence in Melody Time (1948). That’s Dennis Day singing both parts!

I really appreciate the simple piano accompaniment. It’s really shockingly close to the finished product:

The common thread to all of these discs is Ward Kimball. We’re pretty confident that’s Ward’s handwriting (and absolutely sure that’s his sense of humor). He animated on Blame It On The Samba. He was a voice in Nifty Nineties. He worked on Johnny Appleseed.

He also designed Gus & Jaq, the mice, in Cinderella.

When I flipped over my last Firehouse Five rehearsal track, I came across the most interesting label of all.

It was crossed out multiple times in pencil. But unlike all of the other discs, the label was typewritten, so it felt significantly more important.

“Work Fantasy”, it read.

Dated 5/2/49.

And it was five minutes of something truly special.

11. Work Fantasy (A Lost Cinderella Demo)

Cinderella had a long and complex development, and one of the hardest sequences for the team to crack was called the “Work Fantasy” sequence. The basic idea: right after the stepmother tells Cindy that she can go to the ball — but only if she finishes her chores — Cinderella fantasizes about cloning herself. Having an army of Cinderellas would be the only way she could ever truly finish the task.

While many attempts were made, the sequence never made it into the film. And as I listened to this disc, it hit me.

On this acetate was a long-lost, never-released attempt to make the Cinderella “Work Fantasy” sequence work!!

And to think it was just hiding there on the other side of the Firehouse Five playing “Brass Bell”!

Go on, hit play. And as you listen, take a moment to let it sink in that you’re one of the first people to hear this music in nearly 75 years.

One version of this sequence was fully storyboarded, so please consider this imagery as you listen!

The whole track is incredible.

The mice dialog at the beginning. The beautiful “how happy I would be…” transition melody. The marching piano inserts from “Ollie” — that’s Oliver Wallace, who did the music. The hilarity of Cinderella essentially bossing herself around. And her exasperation after waking up.

But the real treat for me was three minutes in: Ilene Woods as Cinderella singing an incredible, complex three-part harmony with herself. Amazingly, this was also one of the first uses of overdubbing in film.

So, what happened to this “Work Fantasy” sequence?

Stacia Martin suggested I read the book “Disney Legend Wilfred Jackson” by Ross Care, which includes a day-by-day diary of his work at Disney, including on Cinderella.

Using it, we can piece together a pretty good timeline:

  • March 1st – Wilfred wrote “Meeting with Walt and Ollie on Work Fantasy”, as it was deep in development.
  • March 22nd – “Storyboards for Work Fantasy”.
  • April 28th – “Shooting live action on Work Fantasy”.
  • May 2nd – This recording was made.
  • May 10th – One week later, a big meeting with Walt: “running entire picture and discussing changes.”
  • May 20th – “Recording mice singing Work Song”

Did you notice what happened?

Whatever occurred in that May 10th meeting with Walt, the song had changed dramatically — it was quickly rerecorded, was now sung by the mice, and became what you probably know as “Cinderelly, Cinderelly”. The “fantasy” was gone.

And, lucky us: we got to hear one step on that journey.

The rest is history.

(And some bonus full-circle trivia: the voice of Gus and Jaq, the mice, was James MacDonald, who played drums in the Firehouse Five Plus Two. And one last fascinating footnote: this “lost song” was actually rewritten, without the fantasy/cloning part, then released as promotional record for the movie, sung by a super-jazzy Ilene Woods. You can hear it on YouTube.)

So that’s my little musical adventure.

We just got to hear the Firehouse Five find their footing. We got to hear some demos and recording sessions from Disney history. And we got to hear a song from Cinderella we’ve never heard before.

And don’t worry, it’s all preserved: I’ve put this entire set of records up on the Internet Archive. (.zip)

I had a lot of talented help with this one. Starting with former-Imagineer Tom Morris, who introduced me to Stacia Martin, who introduced me to Don Hahn and Ted Thomas. World-class composer Chris Willis who helped me confirm Cinderella was singing three-part harmony. Bryce Roe, Karl Fleck, and NEDCC for their disc preservation. And finally, Amid Amidi for his amazing Ward Kimball knowledge. (His upcoming book is going to be a must-have.)

Extra special thanks for LostTurntable for cleaning up audio gunge in the recordings, and my old friend Louie Mantia for the beautiful cleaned-up label artwork.

I’m extremely happy to have saved these wonderful little snippets of Disney audio history. Side quests like this give me infinite energy and make my life feel worthwhile.

I hope you enjoyed listening as much as I did.

Best,
Cabel

PS: the Apple Song will never leave your head

PPS: if you really, truly liked this post, I’ve set up a Stripe so you can send me some thanks-bucks (thucks®) and fund this kind of madness, but it’s a very optional test.





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digdoug
6 days ago
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Louisville, KY
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Feedle

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new-to-me search engine for blog posts and podcasts, with an RSS feed for every search and a solid trending posts list #
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digdoug
14 days ago
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I actually added this feed to newsblur.
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The Shadow of Ingenuity s Damaged Rotor Blade

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The Shadow of Ingenuity s Damaged Rotor Blade On January 18, 2024, during its 72nd flight in the thin Martian atmosphere, autonomous Mars Helicopter Ingenuity rose to an altitude of 12 meters (40 feet) and hovered for 4.5 seconds above the Red Planet. Ingenuity's 72nd landing was a rough one though. During descent it lost contact with the Perseverance rover about 1 meter above the Martian surface. Ingenuity was able to transmit this image after contact was re-established, showing the shadow of one of its rotor blades likely damaged during landing. And so, after wildly exceeding expectations during over 1,000 days of exploring Mars, the history-making Ingenuity has ended its flight operations. Nicknamed Ginny, Mars Helicopter Ingenuity became the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet on April 19, 2021. Before launch, a small piece of material from the lower-left wing of the Wright Brothers Flyer 1, the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on planet Earth, was fixed to the underside of Ingenuity's solar panel.
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digdoug
15 days ago
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-pours out his whole 40-
you were a real one, Genny.
Louisville, KY
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Remaking Podcasts For Text

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The RSS format is very close to its 25th anniversary, which hits next month, and it is an important tool, if a somewhat neglected one. It makes the internet better, but it often does not get the attention it deserves from publishers. (Unless your name is Dave Winer.)

RSS is widespread and a lot of platforms use it. (Tedium has an RSS feed.) But when it comes down to the mainstream medium a lot of people expected it to become, it’s only really had its moment in the sun in the form of podcasts. As Anil Dash noted this week, there’s something truly radical about podcasts—a format that can make a lot of money for its creators, can be spread broadly, and appears to be difficult to bury inside a walled garden. Spotify tried to close off the podcast ecosystem, and largely failed. It’s a radical media format.

Meanwhile, newsletters have essentially turned into the tool that RSS was supposed to be for content—a distribution format controlled by the creator. It’s not a perfect one—it’s built around decades-old technology, and it breaks frequently. Email is designed to flood you with information, no matter the source, and newsletters have to compete with every piece of junk mail you get—which mean it looks like junk mail, too. But as a direct distribution mechanism, it works pretty well.

While RSS doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, is worth celebrating. (Andre Pan/Flickr)

This was supposed to be what RSS did for published content. But it didn’t do that, and I think it is in part because of how it’s delivered. Video does very well online. So do podcasts. And while video is often presented on hosted platforms like YouTube due to its high costs, podcasts are decentralized, and can come from basically anywhere. That is powerful—and it reflects the fact that podcasts are the perfect “weight” to thrive on the open internet. Videos, historically, have been too heavy. Written content and image-based content has often been too light. But podcasts offer a great mix of value and distinct weight that make them well-suited as a commercial open-web entity that people can build their lives and careers around.

I think the obvious question, looking at podcasts in this light, is this: How can other types of content match its perfect-weight strategy on the open web? To me, the answer is by beefing up the delivery mechanism. RSS, as a specification, does a lot, but one thing it does not do is offer a presentation or distribution strategy that puts the publisher front and center. One can argue that this is by design, and people will state that they want their own fonts and designs in their RSS readers.

 
 

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Keep Us Moving! Tedium takes a lot of time to work on and snark wise about. If you want to help us out, we have a Patreon page where you can donate. Keep the issues coming!

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But I argue that, as we look to the next 25 years of digital syndication, we need to come up with ways to take the lessons we’ve learned from newsletters and the lessons we’ve learned from podcasts to make a higher-quality distribution mechanism, one that gives a little more control to the publishers over their own destiny.

A few ideas for what this could look like:

  • A modern, content-focused subset of HTML and CSS. I think companies should be trusted to brand and promote themselves, and the failure to make this part of the RSS specification may be one factor that might have turned off publishers from investing more deeply into RSS. So, let’s give it to them in the form of some basic design, including access to fonts, graphics, and simple layout intended for a narrow space. The content should be static, to be clear—no JavaScript here—but it should allow for enough flexibility that if people want to experiment, they can. We already have an existing spec that does much of this—the open-source AMP standard, developed primarily by Google—though I understand if we don’t want to use it, due to its controversial history. Whatever this theoretical looks like, it should be flexible and easy for end users to implement.
  • Features to encourage use of rich text. Adding features like data visualizations, graphics, and embedded video that are not part of the regular RSS specification could add appeal to this new format by offering something that newsletters do not have, while giving it advantages over a standard RSS feed.
  • Built-in access management. If you, as a publisher, want to gate all or part of a feed item, you can do so, and offer your own integration as to how to resolve the block. Essentially, build subscriptions or regwalls directly into the feed—and make it so that you don’t have to work with a middleman like a Substack to do so. Don’t want the bots or the LLMs to access your life’s work? Build in a regwall.
  • Built-in integrations for distribution. RSS is built for distribution, but I wonder if this new thing I’m suggesting should talk ActivityPub, or easy to distribute in a newsletter format for people who still want to read in their inbox. Make it so that people can follow you wherever they’re comfortable, rather than being forced to read in a newsletter format, or a social media format.
  • Limited, but useful, analytics. You should know how many people read your newsletters, and you should know how they’re read, but you probably shouldn’t know much else. Podcasting has benefited from a lack of data poisoning the well—and honestly, resetting the conversation around data could really help strengthen the content ecosystem at this juncture.

Whatever the future of feed-based distribution ends up looking like, I do think there needs to be some consideration of the role of the creator or publisher in the next iteration of feed technology. The fact is, by failing to properly consider the economic or cultural value of the information being produced, it’s forced creators to have to lean into the commercial ecosystem to build lasting value from their work. RSS should be the solution to the walled garden—but if it gradually siphons value, it may unwittingly contribute to it. I think that is why it is worth reconsidering at this time. (And why I realize this suggestion may be seen as controversial.)

Six years ago, I suggested that the path forward for newsletters was to move away from marketing tools and lean into technologies that work closer to content management systems. I think that was a pretty good prediction as to where the market eventually went.

I don’t know if this idea, this suggestion that we modernize RSS for the newsletter era will go anywhere or inspire anyone. But I do think that, if we want our content ecosystem to be organic and focused on the needs of the users over commercial platforms without our best interests at heart, it has to be where this conversation starts.

I want more than just podcasts to benefit from the internet’s open architecture—I want creators to feel like they can have a slice of that value, too. Let’s add some heft to other kinds of digital content.

 
 
Feeding Links

Cool tool I found over the weekend: Cosmos, a self-hosted container manager with built-in security.

I have watched a lot of Apple Vision Pro content in the past four days, and I must say, it has been a weird experience watching people walking outside wearing these highly specialized masks, or destroying their devices on camera for the views. Today, I watched someone wear one on a plane. The best piece of content in this microgenre, of course, was created by Casey Neistat.

Smart toothbrush DDoS attack? Smart toothbrush DDoS attack.

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Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal! And back at it in a couple of days.

 



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digdoug
17 days ago
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