Jennifer Greenburg’s book, The Rockabillies (google to find it), will be published later this month, and those of you in Chicago can go to her book signing at thet the Museum of Contemporary Art this week, Tuesday, Jan. 26. After publishing my first feature on The Rockabillies, I asked Jennifer to answer a few questions about the Rockabilly interior design aesthetic. These are our retro kin — is it possible that we all shared past lives together? Read on.
I served up the following questions to Jennifer:
1. Is there a “rockabilly interior design aesthetic”? If so, can you describe it?
Certainly. I think it is best described by my photographs! My book, The Rockabillies, contains 55 images and I would say 2/3rds are of interiors depicting this aesthetic. To put it into words, it is wistful, exaggerated, and joyous; Majestic Z Lamps, Heywood Wakefield in champagne, Haegar Pottery, chartreuse, turquoise, bamboo and chrome~! You step from the depressing aesthetic of Anywhere U.S.A into a photograph from a 1950’s Life Magazine. It is the kind of interior work that transports you to another place that is calm, stressless and visually seductive.
2. I’m interested in the notion of how tiki, rockabilly, and the explosion of artists (such as on etsy.com) who are using “found materials” are sort of merging… What do you think of that idea?
Are they merging? I am not sure the etsy craze is the same thing. Etsy seems to be about transforming found objects into something new. Rockabilly and tiki is more about finding things that are in disrepair, forgotten, or even perfect sometimes, and returning these found objects to their original context, as opposed to recontextualizing. And it’s an amazing skill. It takes a lot of foresight to look at something like a chartreuse green lamp of a dancing lady with an exaggerated tiki shade and know that when put with a bamboo living room and a bright chartreuse wall that magic will happen, like in the photo of Mr. & Mrs. Hughes in their Living Room. When sadly placed in a dusty corner of a thrift store, it is hard to imagine the possibilities. The Rockabilly aesthetic isn’t afraid to commit to bold decisions in order to give an object its original vitality.
3. Let’s get deep. After all your research and immersion, why do *you* think folks get drawn into the aesthetics of the postwar lifestyle? My readers and I are, to some degree. Your subjects are. You are, it sounds like. Do we all share some personality dynamic – and if so, what do you think it is?
As I have mentioned in other interviews, one of my most conservative subjects thinks we share a past life experience. I am not sure I can agree with that, but it is an interesting idea. I feel that most people are looking to belong to a community. Organized religion seems to be unable to offer most young people what they are looking for. People no longer make friends with their neighbors. Our melting pot has made ethnic affiliations no longer relevant. SO what’s left? Subculture. And this particular subculture is a great one. I can travel to any place in the U.S and I know I have a good friend to hang out with and stay with. And who doesn’t want that. Friendship and community are the fabric of personal happiness. As for why this specific connection? I think most people drawn in are extremely visually sophisticated. Furniture, cars, etc., were designed by skilled and trained designers. Things were not moved through factories at the same rate as today. Design was king and manufacturing was done with pride. There was no Ikea culture that buys today and throws out tomorrow. And anyone visual would be hard pressed to not be turned on by the design aesthetic. As for the connection to the era… I think it is easy to forget all the negative things that were realities in that era and replace them with cartoonish dreams birthed by things like Life and Look Magazines. If you look at the political climate or at the position of women and minorities, no one would ever long for the post-war American era. But we forget those things.
Thank you, Jennifer. Every time I look at your photographs, I am more and more mesmerized. You get my vote (so far) for Retro Renovation Book of Year. I can’t wait to get my copy. I think that what you say about the visual sophistication of rockabilly folk also is very applicable to readers of this blog. Many readers are graphic designers, editors, artists, or otherwise very visually attuned. Lots of car and appliance collectors, too. And, like rockabillies, I think that this shared interest — along with the ability to connect via the internet — is creating a vibrant subculture. Like you, I know I have friends in cities all across the country. It’s amazing really. It’s interesting to hear your take on the etsy phenomenon. I still tend to think there is a link, even if at its most basic, it’s a shared respect for objects — including ephemera — from the past. Again – many thanks, and best of luck with the book and your teaching.