Monday, November 1, 2010

Backwoods Revival: Buy, Buy This Americana Pie

This last weekend, I went to Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a city in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia they were having a Philly Bike Expo, which is why I went. In Philadelphia they also have a movie theater that shows dirty movies. It was right next to my hotel but I didn't go. Movie theaters that show dirty movies are sticky and I didn't want to get sticky. Also, Pee-Wee Herman got arrested in a movie theater that showed dirty movies and I didn't want to get arrested. Still, I had fun in Philadelphia. You can have fun in Philadelphia without getting sticky or arrested.

My first order of business in Philadelphia was to preside over a BRA (or Book-Related Appearance), which actually took place in a church basement. I liked this, since it gave the proceedings a sort of intimate, Alcoholics Anonymous meeting kind of feel. First, I gave a PowerPoint presentation, and then after waking everybody up I moved on to the "giving away fabulous prizes" portion of the afternoon. Unfortunately, I didn't have any fabulous prizes, so I gave away some crap instead. I concluded the BRA by signing people's books, and in many cases I actually had to wrest the books from their hands while they pleaded with me not to ruin them. In all, I had a great time, though I can't speak for the people who attended. At the very least, I'm pretty certain most of them had a nice nap, and I'm very grateful to all who came, and to Bilenky for inviting me.

In addition to the BRA, I of course visited the Expo itself, which was housed in an armory:

For all my feigned indifference and talk of bike porn-induced cottonmouth, the truth is I'm a bike dork and as such I am as wont to slaver over nice bikes as any other bike dork. At the bike show there was much to slaver over--like the Engins, which I mentioned on Thursday, as well as the work of many other fine builders and craftshumans. There was also stuff to walk briskly by and try not to look at, like the Ukraine Bicycle Project:

I don't know what this was, but I was afraid that if I stopped and asked the next thing I knew I'd be waking up in a cargo plane bound for Kiev.

Plus, the Bike Expo even had "helmet hats:"

As you can see, there were many fine styles, from "flapper:"

To "urban cowpoke:"

The salesperson was a talented huckster, and I'll be goldarned if he didn't almost get my handler into one of these purple Zelda Fitzgerald numbers:

They also had one of their sponsored riders on hand to sign autographs:

Next, we went outside to enjoy some food and beer on the side street that served as the de facto dining area and beer garden. It was also where the "bad kids" were hanging out, loitering in dark clothing and holding a fixed-gear freestyling "sesh:"

They seemed to be enjoying themselves, though as a spectator seeing it without the soundtrack or video editing is kind of like when you see a movie star on the street and think, "Huh, he/she's actually pretty short and dumpy in real life:"

(Fixed-gear freestyler rides bike up one side a pile of wood and down the other side.)

This is emphatically not true of Wallace Shawn, however, who I can assure you in real life is an absolute dreamboat:

He can also do mad barspinzzz for dayzzz, and he totally "schooled" Minnie Pearl in the tricks comp.

But like any bicycle show, sometimes the most interesting bikes are the ones that are parked nearby:

That is one serious cockpit:

It even features what appears to be a top tube-mounted toiletry kit:

For obvious reasons, this bicycle was not locked to the city-issued bike rack right nearby:

Though I did help myself to some antiperspirant and dental floss.

One thing they did not have at the Bike Expo, however, was designer woodsman's tools. You may recall the so-called "Best Made Company," which takes this $60 axe:

And then paints the handle, puts it in a presentation box, and sells it for $180:

Or, they'll sell you an $80 "personal sail," with which you can relive all your running-around-in-your-underwear-and-a-beach-towel childhood superhero fantasies:

(Hapless "hipster" plummets to his death.)

Well, a reader has informed me that the whole designer-tools-for-urbanites-with-soft-hands craze has become so big that one of the "Best Made" people has left in order to launch his own brand:

By the way, don't make the mistake of calling these people "fakerjacks;" what they're actually doing is taking part in "the Americana backwoods revival:"

If ever there was a product that defined a zeitgeist, it was the Best Made axe and the Americana backwoods revival of the last two years. Wherever you turned, it seemed, there was Best Made…in print, in pixels, no matter where you looked, another beautiful Best Made. Last year, however, one of the founders, Graeme Cameron, left to pursue his own vision of a company, brand, and fine cutting instruments. This morning, his Base Camp X opened for business, with a product line of four axes and a very cool Nepali knife.

Probably the best part of this "revival" is that you don't actually have to know how to do anything even remotely backwoodsy in order to be a part of it. Instead, all you've got to do is buy a tool and stare at it:

Best Made was really embraced by the design community and the media and became a bit of a poster child for North American backwoods revival and so-called the Williamsburg lumberjack. What does that say to you about people’s need to be connected to the outdoors or to a more elemental time, if anything?

I think there are a ton of people out there looking to connect with the environment. There is a very real romantic notion that one gets when picturing themselves in a simpler time. Could you make it? Would you have what it takes to actually get it done out there? Whether that is done physically or through a brand…people want a story and they most definitely want honesty. Not everyone can or wants to pick up an axe and head to the back 40, but they might just want to be a part of a brand that represents the ability to do that. I think that products can be a very effective portal/transport device to those places. You might be sitting in your living room in downtown L.A., but that axe on your wall will take you places far outside of the confines of that room…with just a look.

In other words, don't worry: you won't need to actually kill and gut a yak with that Nepalese knife. You will, however, have to ask for it properly:

Rest assured, though, that "Base Camp" guy and his "Best Made" former partner don't just sit around looking at their axes and knives--they're honest-to-goodness real-life woodsmen. In fact, here's a picture of them on one of their recent camping trips:

("You got a purdy axe.")

Not only are they handy, but they also know how to relate to the locals. (Though things did go somewhat awry for them in Turkey when they tried to smuggle out some scimitars.)

Speaking of the Great Outdoors, the third place "Cockie" finisher recently forwarded me some background on his submission:

I'm sure Mr. Boehm will be fielding lucrative job offers from "Americana backwoods revival" companies soon.