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  1. #1

    Strollyourlobster's Avatar
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    Default An Old, Weird America Scent?

    I've been reading Griel Marcus's wonderful book on Bob Dylan and the Basement tapes, The Old, Weird America, in which Marcus uses this phrase to mean America as it is represented through old murder ballads and visionary folk art and the sort of egalitarianism of impoverished communities. It's been helping me think about America in a different way than I have in the past--less as a political thing and more as a hugely various confluence of different heritages swirling together in constant motion. Partly I'm thinking about this because I spent most of yesterday at a show where Old Crow Medicine Show, Levon Helm, Iron and Wine, and the Felice Brothers played. And I was wondering, looking around at the crowd of floppy hats, neotribal tattoos, fat babies, earnestly ironic flag t-shirts, what is our smell here in this crowd?

    But so I was wondering what perfumes might in some way be an expression of the Old, Weird America? Or if you prefer, think of Kenneth Rexroth's phrase for the America of Carl Sandburg's ballads, "the old, free America." What's the smell of America when you feel most hopeful about it and most a part of it?
    Last edited by Strollyourlobster; 17th August 2009 at 06:19 PM.

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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    I would think the scent would conjure body odour, rotting produce and fish monger smells. Whenever i have gone to Haymarket Square fruit, vegetable, meat and fish stands, in the open market in Boston, that is what the air is heavily scented with. This makes me think of Old American smells, before personal care products, super markets and air-conditioning came on the scene. Let me tell you, it definitely is weird smelling.
    Quand on boit l'eau, il faut penser sa source

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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Brielle87 View Post
    I would think the scent would conjure body odour, rotting produce and fish monger smells. Whenever i have gone to Haymarket Square fruit, vegetable, meat and fish stands, in the open market in Boston, that is what the air is heavily scented with. This makes me think of Old American smells, before personal care products, super markets and air-conditioning came on the scene. Let me tell you, it definitely is weird smelling.
    I don't agree. Those things might be universal omnipresent smells that come with living, but the scents people apply to themselves, to separate themselves from the smells of their environment, reflect a different understanding and aspiration.

    Since this thread went up I've been thinking about it and trying to find my own mental way to an answer, but it's sure a hard one. The USA is such a new country that historically its people's aspirations, abundant different groups of people for sure, and thus abundant different aspirations, can show such shifts I think, that I really want to come up with some thoughts on scents for an old, weird America.

    So I'm thinkin' over here!
    --Chris
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    DustB's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strollyourlobster View Post
    I've been reading Griel Marcus's wonderful book on Bob Dylan and the Basement tapes, The Old, Weird America, in which Marcus uses this phrase to mean America as it is represented through old murder ballads and visionary folk art and the sort of egalitarianism of impoverished communities. It's been helping me think about America in a different way than I have in the past--less as a political thing and more as a hugely various confluence of different heritages swirling together in constant motion. Partly I'm thinking about this because I spent most of yesterday at a show where Old Crow Medicine Show, Levon Helm, Iron and Wine, and the Felice Brothers played. And I was wondering, looking around at the crowd of floppy hats, neotribal tattoos, fat babies, earnestly ironic flag t-shirts, what is our smell here in this crowd?

    But so I was wondering what perfumes might in some way be an expression of the Old, Weird America? Or if you prefer, think of Kenneth Rexroth's phrase for the America of Carl Sandburg's ballads, "the old, free America." What's the smell of America when you feel most hopeful about it and most a part of it?
    This question is stunning to me. The "What's the smell of America when you most feel hopeful about it and most apart of it?" risks encouraging political discussion that's against the rules at the site, of course, but all the same there's a truth to the question--there are times I'm so pumped for the country when people set out living or presenting the change they want to make. There's absolutely a charge that comes and can be called something that's when you're most hopeful and a part of your country. And I deliberately put that phrase in the second person, because I imagine everyone has moments where they're very proud of the activity/history/culture of his or her country. I realize there might be a problem with the question also because it's an international forum. Further, (grunt) why does the rest of the world always have to talk about American stuff/culture? Isn't it stomping around with its culture too much already?

    I realize there are those risks, and I beg my fellow members to indulge me as I try to think of the way Americans crave to find something from their roots, yet almost always with a new and fresh turning to the old. In a significant way it's too bad the USA is the superpower it is--this question could be so interesting about a place if it weren't burdened by superpower status. Which is what the essence of the question is: what's the old, weird America scent for murder ballads, visionary folk art, and egalitarianism of impoverished communities?

    I'm going to have to search for murder ballads, because I don't know any. However my city has museums of the best folk art the country has to offer, and American stories of impoverishment are well known. (Grapes of Wrath, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and many many others.)

    As I said in my first post on this thread, America is a new country. When people here wanted/want luxe, they graft it from the cultures that are much older. French and English stuff. "We've got class here, just like those tastemaking places, so, of course, I want the roses-smelling-juice they've got over there as the best." For evidence, look to the threads we so frequently have here--"how do I pronounce this scent?" Many of them started by Americans. Those hard to pronounce names are often the sought ones and who wouldn't want to demonstrate he/she is in the know about their pronunciation?

    But for the old, weird America, which isn't looking to graft elsewhere's luxe, that's the question, ain't it?

    The answer isn't just as simple as an American scent brand name, I think. So many of them are just trying to cash in by being peers of European stuff. I also don't think the answer has to do with drug store scents like Jovan Musk in today's aisles, although in some measure I'm sure there's a part to that. The answer might lie in hair tonics, powdery lavender of the barbershop. Olfactory symbols of cleanness probably abound for the old, weird America. Probably some oiliness.

    Maybe I'm getting too hung up on the murder ballads and thinking about Weegee photographs.

    Let me come out and say it: I simply love the hippie association with patchouli. The hippie movement--back to the land, communal sharing, rejection of capitalism's definitions and social presentation obligations, that's one element of the egalitarianism of impoverished communities that makes me charged with pride for the seekers in my nation. And that they picked patchouli as their stuff, well, that simply rocks the planet. I happen to like smelling patch myself.

    So for a first complete thought on this topic, I say patchouli is the commander of the do-it-yourself part of this aspect of the country.
    --Chris
    That girl, that bottle, that mattress and me.

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    Sugandaraja's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    I imagine dark, earthy, strange fragrances... things like Profumum Fumidus, Ajmal Musk Gazelle, Tauer Lonestar Memories, Ava Luxe Incense Noire, Santa Maria Novella Patchouli. I associate that type of music with a folky primitivism. ( Though perhaps American Gothic wasn't what you were going for. )

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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Quote Originally Posted by DustB View Post
    This question is stunning to me. The "What's the smell of America when you most feel hopeful about it and most apart of it?" [...] I say patchouli is the commander of the do-it-yourself part of this aspect of the country.
    --Chris
    Sorry for the truncation. I love this entire post. "Patchouli" was the first thought that came to my mind too, but I love the thoughtfulness you've expressed here as an essay on what makes up Americana. Also, I'd never heard the term Weegee photography, so I learned the word for something I've always found fascinating and beautiful.

    Chris, it's really great to have you on the boards as a participator rather than a moderator. While I know your skills at peacekeeping were needed, this place is so much richer for posts like this.

    I also want to give mention to Knize Ten for a scent that harkens to the Old West, Gold Rush, and Industrial Eras. A period of expansion, courage, greed, fortune, and lawlessness.
    Eddie: Sweetie, what are you drinking?
    Patsy: Oh, this? Chanel No. 5.
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    So Christopher .... what does money smell like ?

    Quote Originally Posted by DustB View Post
    I don't agree. Those things might be universal omnipresent smells that come with living, but the scents people apply to themselves, to separate themselves from the smells of their environment, reflect a different understanding and aspiration.

    Since this thread went up I've been thinking about it and trying to find my own mental way to an answer, but it's sure a hard one. The USA is such a new country that historically its people's aspirations, abundant different groups of people for sure, and thus abundant different aspirations, can show such shifts I think, that I really want to come up with some thoughts on scents for an old, weird America.

    So I'm thinkin' over here!
    --Chris

  8. #8
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Galamb_Borong View Post
    I imagine dark, earthy, strange fragrances... things like Ajmal Musk Gazelle,
    REALLY

  9. #9
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Florida Water

  10. #10

    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    My immediate thought was Tauer's Lonestar Memories. Though I really like LM, I hesitate in suggesting it because doing so kinda makes me feel like a victim of marketing. How much do I think of LM because a) it's weird and b) its marketing is built around the American West. But the more I think about it, the more it fits.

    Incidentally, my favorite visual invocation of the "old, weird America" is the final sequence of Todd Haynes's (underrated, IMO) film about Bob Dylan, I'm Not There. The film is a kind of highly fictionalized biography of Dylan in which bits of his story are transposed onto a series of other characters, some closer some farther from the actual Bob Dylan and played by a variety of actors (including Christian Bale, Kate Blanchett, and Heath Ledger, among others). The story line starring Richard Gere as Billy the Kid (i.e. Bob Dylan) is specifically supposed to invoke Greil Marcus's vision of the old, weird America. And it does so extraordinarily effectively.
    Last edited by PhinClio; 18th August 2009 at 01:48 AM.

  11. #11
    Sloan's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    My initial reaction was, "What would Woody Guthrie or Tom Joad wear?" The only thing that came to mind was the clean smell of Ivory soap. I'm thinking Sam the Lion from one of my favorite novels/films, The Last Picture Show. Sam the Lion was true salt of the earth. Maybe an after shave from Mennen or Old Spice on days he felt like shaving, attended a social function or church.


  12. #12
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Quote Originally Posted by PhinClio View Post
    My immediate thought was Tauer's Lonestar Memories. ...
    Me too.

  13. #13

    Strollyourlobster's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    I'm so grateful for the responses so far. Thanks, all.

  14. #14

    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    I like the post. However, having lived through the period, and at the risk of deflating anyone's idealization of the late 60's I can say that the actual smell of those years in those environs was a pervasive, sickening mixture of marijuana, cheap incense, low grade patchouli and body odor. Match that with lots of gaudy block printed gauzy fabrics, long unwashed hair, beads and pandemic anorexia, and you have it nailed.
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    I don't know if this qualifies as old, weird America, but I have vivid scent memories of small town heartland America, where I spent my summers in western Missouri and eastern Kansas in the early 60s, I was treated to a rich tapestry of smells - worn, sweat-soaked straw Stetsons, ferrmenting grassy hay barns, mimosa trees in bloom, tiger lillies, petunias, and geraniums (pelargoniums), the rich, old wood smells of general stores, witchhazel barber shops. None of these memories really evoke specific commerical fragrances, but they're unforgettable nonetheless.
    Last edited by Snafoo; 18th August 2009 at 02:36 AM.
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  16. #16
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Any from the Perry Ellis stable will fit the bill IMO.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Aramis - dry, dusty just like the Old West.
    "I exist for myself, and for those to whom my unquenchable thirst for freedom gives everything, but also for everyone, since insofar as I am able to love - I love everyone. Of noble hearts, I am the noblest - and the most generous of those that yearn to give love in return. - I am a human being, I love death and I love life."

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    My classics: Dior Homme EdT, YSL Rive Gauche PH, Helmut Lang Cuiron, L'Occitane Neroli (vintage), Davidoff Zino, L'Occitane Eau des Baux

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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Original Old Spice? Sure it's simple, but it was supposed to represent the early colonial seafaring scene in the 1700s.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Strollyourlobster View Post
    What's the smell of America when you feel most hopeful about it and most a part of it?
    The two that I remember as being omnipresent from my "old American" childhood are Shulton Old Spice, a kind of prolepsis of Habit Rouge without the European refinement (or, maybe Americans of that day would have said "frippery"), and Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, which is what barbers would put on you after shaving the nape of your neck at the end of your haircut.

    These both seem very naive and sweet-barbershoppy today, but that's what all the boys smelled like back then, before the advent of Aqua Velva, Hai Karate, and English Leather, the next wave of soi-disant masculine elegance...
    Last edited by JaimeB; 18th August 2009 at 04:52 AM.
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  20. #20

    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    "Brylcreem" a (not so little) dab will do you: Get the sunglasses and smelling salts.



    "It's not the scent that recalls the person; it's the person who recalls the scent"
    LaNose

  21. #21
    Sugandaraja's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    This thread has me wondering what a New Weird America fragrance would smell like. I'm actually more familiar with that genre - and similar "freakfolk" bands from elsewhere - and find it an interesting fringe of pop/folk music. I'm thinking something from Demeter would fit well.

  22. #22

    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Bourbon and tobacco. I wouldn't even call it a "scent", but it's what came straight to mind when I first read the title.
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  23. #23

    Strollyourlobster's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    I like that gerbick. I wonder what the scent is. Tobacco is easy; bourbon and tobacco is more difficult. You're going to send me chasing through all my frags thinking about bourbon and whiskey. Actually maybe the closest thing I can think of is boozy patch fragrances like L'Orientaliste's. Or actually I can get a sort of boozy/grain note from Lonestar Memories, come to think on it.
    I really like the patchouli idea, too, in part because it's inexpensive, with a sort of figure-it-out-yourself spirit that seems both cosmopolitan (open to the East anyway) and egalitarian (cheap, smelly). The love of patchouli suggests to me this mostly quite lovely openness to new cultures, and a willingness to adapt old forms to new ends.
    I was actually thinking of vetiver, the way that my favorite vetivers like Guerlain and Sel de Vetiver combine earth and air, the practical and the visionary.
    I also really appreciate the sort of common grooming smells and ambient smells that JaimeB and others have suggested. This is helping me a lot. Thanks.
    Last edited by Strollyourlobster; 18th August 2009 at 06:18 PM.

  24. #24
    Basenotes Junkie anomie et ivoire's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    But so I was wondering what perfumes might in some way be an expression of the Old, Weird America? Or if you prefer, think of Kenneth Rexroth's phrase for the America of Carl Sandburg's ballads, "the old, free America." What's the smell of America when you feel most hopeful about it and most a part of it?
    Found this thread searching around for something a bit substantial and American history of fragrance-themed since recently falling for vintage Estee/Aramis/Clinique. The French narrative in perfume is richly nuanced and interesting, but the American history of fragrance is often represented just by trends and successful advertising: Calvin Klein and Tommy, the sports scents. Lots of people wear and appreciate Aramis and Lauder scents, but they aren't exactly fabled and oohed and ahhed over (except among perfumers and diehard fans perhaps).

    Anyway, I'm loving the OP's approach to analysis and association. Marcus's The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy in the American Voice is a worthy follow-up to Old, Weird America.

    To keep things relatively apolitical and answer the original question of what an Old Weird America scent might be, I've been wearing vintage Clinique Aromatics Elixir lately, and its extremity, complexity, and rebellion mixed with a certain classic attractive alertness and warmth feels like a Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, original Dylan composition, or Karen Dalton song sounds. WEIRD, off, complex, and American.

  25. #25
    Dependent rynegne's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Slumberhouse Baque

  26. #26
    Basenotes Junkie psychoskip's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Get some Tuscan Leather in there and call it a day, cowboy.

  27. #27

    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Quote Originally Posted by gerbick View Post
    Bourbon and tobacco. I wouldn't even call it a "scent", but it's what came straight to mind when I first read the title.
    This would be my answer and I would add leather.....Gary

  28. #28
    Dependent forfreddie's Avatar
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    The first fragrance I thought of when reading the title of this post:

    Sepia by Aftelier

    She created the fragrance after being inspired by the ghost towns of California
    The mix of oud, jasmine, tobacco, earth and resins portray this musty, trascending fragrance perfectly.

  29. #29
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    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Baque screams MERICA. Here's the description from Indiescents: Baque is a warm amber tobacco flower perfume containing notes of smokey apricot, cedar, straw, vanilla, tobacco leaf, davana, ambergris tincture and parchment. Elegant, rustic, golden and warm properly sum the four corners of its tobacco and honey heart.

  30. #30

    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Americans themselves surely can give better answers but how about Aramis New West and Gant fragrances .. I've always thought they represent something of American spirit (?)
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  31. #31

    Default Re: An Old, Weird America Scent?

    Old Spice (from way back)

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