Thanks to all the subscribers who joined in the past weeks! Who knew Mac and Cheese was so popular? Everyone, I think. So much so that Mac and Cheese Ice Cream sold out 2,000 pints in one hour.
Kevin and I consider many subjects for this newsletter, but alas, not all have the depth or cultural tentacles to make up a full post. Even in subjects that turn out to be less interesting than we had hoped, there are fun lessons and stories to share. This week, in a deviation from the form, we will briefly Consider an object, a food and a place, each of which - while interesting - did not have enough substance for a full post.
The Speaker that Powered 10,000 Parties
The JBL L100s have distinctive pressed foam covers that, once you see, you will notice everywhere in rock photos from the 70s, 80s and 90s. This thread is a great repository. The most iconic shot of them is in a Maxwell Tape ad from 1983. In the ad, a lucky listener is being blown away by the sound from an L100. (Worth noting that he is sitting in a very Considered-worthy Corbusier LC 2. Did you know Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret were cousins? I did not until researching this!).
In the 1960s, Capitol Records, EMI and Leo Fender (later of Fender Guitars) partnered with a sound engineer, Bill Thomas, to create a speaker that they could install in all of their recording studios. The challenge facing recording engineers at the time was that every studio had different sound systems, so they would make audio choices based on the speakers in front of them - but unfortunately the music would sound terrible everywhere else. This idea of “reference” audio let sound engineers develop their own distinct sounds, no matter where or who they were recording with.
JBL realized there was an opportunity to provide your average listener with the same type of sound they would hear in a recording studio, which led to engineers developing the JBL L100. While “prosumer” or consumer versions of pro products are pretty commonplace these days (think of DSLR cameras, carbon steel pans, pick up trucks, etc.) this was not done in the late 1960s. The JBL sales team worried that a consumer version would harm the sale of the pro version, weaken the professional identity and reduce the cachet they had.
JBL wanted to give the consumer version a distinctive identity. When a speaker sits on the shelf, all you see are the plain black grilles and it is near impossible to tell one speaker from the other. They decided to create a 3D effect that would be instantly recognizable (create a status product) and allude to the 3D nature of the sound (skeumorphism). The team tried a number of materials (including Dacron, which is the material that “permanent press” leisure suits were made from) and ended up using the same foam that is found on microphone covers. The speakers became as well known for their distinctive look as for their sound. The orange colour and waffle texture became as distinctive to JBL as robins egg blue is to Tiffany or yellow and green are to John Deer.
According to the legendary Bob Lefsetz (whose newsletter Kevin refers to as “boomer chain mail”), the originals (JBL L100 Century) retailed for $333 each back in 1976. Because the L100 remains so popular, JBL decided to reissue the speakers in a nearly identical look and feel. The contemporary L100 Classic starts at $2,000 each.
I had a hard time finding a pair with the original foam still intact (or finding a pair at all, to be honest). From checking on Audio Mart and other vintage hifi threads, you are looking in the $2,500-$4,000 range for a pair from the 1970s.
How a Fermented Food Gained Popularity On the Back of Midwifery
Sometimes things go together in unexpected ways. Mac and Cheese and Ice Cream. Goats and Yoga. Tempeh and the demedicalization of childbirth. Thought to have originated over a 1,000 years ago, tempeh is a pressed cake of soybeans and other vegetables that were indigenous to the island of Java in Indonesia. I love it, but most people are “eh” on it at best.
After Indonesian independence in 1949, many of the Dutch Indonesians felt that Holland was too cold and migrated to California, bringing tempeh with them. It was first sold commercially in the early 1960s but became popular because of The Farm. The Farm is an “intentional community” which was started by Stephen Gaskin when he led a caravan of 60 busses and vans across the US from San Francisco to Tennessee in 1971. The residents of The Farm ate a strict vegan diet, and soybeans were their primary protein. As a result, they rediscovered tempeh. After members left The Farm, they opened some of the first vegan restaurants and health food stores across the United States and brought tempeh with them. The first cookbook to popularize veganism was the Farm’s own The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook. Think of it as a predecessor to The Moosewood Cookbook.
The Farm is much better known for Stephen’s wife, Ina May. Her leadership led to The Farm being the epicenter of the rebirth of midwifery in the United States and the popularization of the home birth movement. Most contemporary midwives can trace their education back to someone who learned “on The Farm.” Over 200 people still call the Farm home, down from 1,100 at its peak. The Farm is probably worth considering on its own for all that can be learned from its growth and evolution over the years. But for now, we’ll shout it out for tempeh.
Lawry’s Prime Rib
Not for the Beef, for the Sundae
Lawry’s Prime Rib has a long history. It is the oldest restaurant in LA still controlled by the same family. There is much to say about the fact that it only serves one thing, prime rib, or its history of hosting both teams that are competing in the Rose Bowl.
The restaurant became internationally famous for a seasoned salt it offered patrons (Lawry’s Seasoning Salt). With a distinctive L logo designed by the GOAT Saul Bass, it can be found in kitchens across North America.
But really, what we are here to talk about is Lawry's hot fudge sundae. Served with a cup of extra fudge on the side, it is a thing of beauty. Ever wonder why the ice cream treat is spelled Sundae? It was made famous by a guy named Sontagg, which is Sunday in German and somewhere along the way it lost the Y. Guess that doesn’t help answer the question, but it’s all I could find.
The Lawry’s family bought out CC Brown, the inventor of the Hot Fudge Sundae. CC and his son Clifton brought copper kettles and candy making equipment from their home in Ohio in a covered wagon (that's how far back they go). Clifton tinkered with chocolate sauce recipes for years and the shop served their first ice cream sundae in 1938. Judy Garland once worked at CC Brown and it was a favourite of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando (who would eat in his car while his family dined inside). Lawry’s still makes the fudge the same way. Every other hot fudge sundae is just a copy of this perfect version.
I hope everyone enjoyed reading these odds and ends as much as I did writing them! If you have any suggestions on where to find a great sundae on the east coast, please let me know, my mouth is watering!