Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Lombardino’s Restaurant in Madison, WI. – In With The Old and Out With The New

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Other than I didn’t have a car so my world was very small when I went to college at the University of Wisconsin in the late 60′s, I don’t know how I missed Lombardino’s. Built in 1954, not a lick of this old-school Italian kitsch fest has changed since. Which is a real feat as the restaurant was bought in 2000 and a very fancy chef brought in. So although the ante’s been upped on the food, not a mosaic tile, not a twist of wrought iron, not even a cheesy slogan has been updated. This is a rarity in this day and age where new owners feel compelled to modernize and squeeze the last drop of soul out of their purchases. Here now is a brief tour through Lombardino’s, where I ate right after I conducted the marching band at the Homecoming football game last weekend.

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First of all, there’s the Lombardino’s sign painted on the side of the building. The restaurant is on one of those corners, University and Highland, that you pass all the time if you drive in Madison. The sign is a good 40 feet long and not a dab of paint has ever been applied to restore it. This is something that most people can’t keep their hands off of but it’s something that aKitschionados, collectors and architectural historians in general praise. Let things age with dignity, just like a human being who doesn’t pump themselves full of Botox, silicone or anything else that eventually cosmetically alters them into a Stepford wife.

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The sign connects to an equally long wall made up of multicolored 1 inch mosaic tiles, the same colors as in the mural so, all in all, a perfect color palette, albeit a little too dark to see well in my photos.

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Ceramic reliefs of figures I don’t know to be particularly Italian but I could be so wrong about pepper the tile wall leading to the entrance of the restaurant.

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Here are some close ups:

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It’s always a beautiful thing when someone keeps their fat fingers off trying to restore something historic, a move that can only make the actual value plummet, and they choose instead to just leave it to age naturally. In this case, the ceramic relief fell off but you still get the spirit of the party-going figure who once attended the side of the building.

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As you swing around the corner to get to the front door, which I unfortunately forgot to photograph, you get a hint of the wrought iron craziness that goes on inside.

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I also forgot to take an overview shot of the restaurant when I walked in. Duh… But I was still euphoric from standing up in front of 82,000 people and a uniformed-to-the-nines 300+ piece marching band and conduct them playing my songs, all of this without knowing how to read music. So these brain lapses are to be expected.  But I knew I was in the right place to celebrate when I saw this slogan on the overhang entrance to the bar:

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Tipping the camera down a little bit you can see that the wrought iron entrance is made up of a lot of grapes and Christmas lights. It’s always an excellent sign when Christmas lights are left up all year round.

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Once through the portals, there are two walls worth of astounding mosaic  and larger tile work.

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The ones made up of one-inch mosaic tiles are my favorites. Mr. Lombardino obviously loved his women.

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The scenes made up of larger tiles are pretty great too. I especially love the miniature pizza boy standing at the side of the table next to the actual diner who’s cooling his head with his Bloody Mary:

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The ceramic reliefs continue inside as do lots of little shuttered windows with wrought iron balconies. It’s always an excellent sign of kitsch when window treatments exist where there are no real windows and balconies exist only to have wine bottles hang out and peer at the guests.

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I’m assuming this big tile relief, at least 8 feet long, is some famous building in Rome but world traveler that I’m not, I can’t be sure:

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Another earmark of kitsch is when artwork such as this is backlit with Christmas lights and used as a bulletin board with guests at the Last Supper looking down upon it.

I’m pretty sure that this is on a wall leading to the bathroom:

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The two larger tiles make sense in the scheme of things but I’m always partial when ashtrays are haphazardly stuck in to enhance the design.

I forgot to take my usual close up photos of the seriously good food but thankfully I have this photo of who I ate it with there:

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From L-R, Mark Blackwell, who traveled to Madison with me to shoot my conducting debut, Jon Sorenson, from the University of Wisconsin Foundation who came up with the idea of me conducting in the first place and had the good taste to choose Lombardino’s for dinner, me, Comm Arts Chair Prof. Susan Zaeske, Professor Mary Louise “Lou” Roberts, and David Bedri. We ate like the pigs that this kind of decor demands.

I appreciated Lombardino’s even more because I started off my Madison trip as I have the three other times I’ve been back since I graduated, by going to see my old dorm, Carroll Hall, a stone cold classic Atomic Age building I moved into my freshman year. Both the interior and exterior left a lasting architectural impression on me that continues to this day. Carroll Hall was a stunningly modern Mid Century building with a beyond to die for lobby. I still have the brochure that made me choose it as a place to live:

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Though the building itself was a little too rectangular for my tastes, the steelcase windows and turquoise metal plates that matched the blue of Lake Mendota made me so swoon every time I rounded the corner to see it:

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To my horror, here’s what it looks like now:

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Yikes! What are people thinking to just slop right over the gorgeous puppy?! Whatever material they used was so cheap you can still see the lines of the metal rods that held the turquoise plates in place. And then you go and paint it brown?! So it will disappear into the lake, not drawing attention to itself like some geeky coed?  At least the blasphemers were bold enough to make it striped but shades of beige don’t really help much. And it’s really cheap paint, the kind that gets sucked into whatever material it’s painted over and even 100 coats will never give it any presence. Which is exactly what the owners of Lombardino’s didn’t do. Which is exactly why the first place I’m going to eat whenever I hit Madison again is Lombardino’s!

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Categories: Architecture, Art, Drink, Food, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – UW Marching Band Conductor and One Of The Best Days Of My Life-Part 2

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I LOVVVVED conducting! I hope that’s evident in this clip. I’m grateful I got the footage I did though I’d planned to have at least five times as much of it to edit from. But as the journey below illustrates, the path was a little more crooked than I’d anticipated though well worth every swing of the drumstick!

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Categories: Creative process, Discography, Earth Wind & Fire, Fashion, Friends theme, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Music, People, Place, Self expression, September, Songwriting, video

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – UW Marching Band Conductor and One Of The Best Days Of My Life-Part 1

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I just got back from spending three of the most fantastic days of my life. Seriously. As I’ve been blabbing about for weeks now, I had the great honor of conducting the 300+ musicians in the Marching Band at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, as they played my songs at the Homecoming football game which, btw, we won!

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Me and My Marching Drums

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As we speak, I’m most likely on a plane to my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, where I’ll be conducting the Marching Band who will be playing my big hits at the Homecoming football game on Saturday. This is not only exciting but insane as I don’t read a stitch of music despite the fact that my songs, 9/10ths of which I also write the music for, have sold over 50,000,000 records. What I’ve learned from watching marching bands on YouTube is that versions of the songs they play not only differ from the records but also differ from each other. So I’ll just be winging it. In front of 82,000 people. Here’s a video I found on YouTube when I decided I should see how big the band is. I almost had a heart attack when I saw this:

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Allee Willis’ “The 365 Days Of September” – Day 16

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All I can say is “And now, Mr. Robert Anton, up close and personal”.

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – 1964 Band Directors Guide Book

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As I’ve never learned how to read music, even that which I’ve written and somehow managed to plunk out on a keyboard note by note until I build a full record, it’s going to be quite a kitsch adventure conducting the Marching Band at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, when I go there this weekend for the Homecoming football game where they’ll be featuring my songs at the tailgate party and pregame show. If watching the hundreds of marching bands I’ve seen on YouTube is any indication, marching band versions differ greatly from the records. So I will just have to bounce around up there on the 20 foot high conductor’s platform and follow as best I can as I attempt to lead, taking advantage of the fact that I’m very good at reacting spontaneously when curves are thrown at me.

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Vintage Party Bling and The Party I Forgot To Wear It To

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I bought this Party Pendant at a thrift shop recently, brought it home, shined it up and glued little rhinestones on it. I’ve only worn it out a couple of times but people have ooh’d and ahh’d as if I’d gotten it at Tiffany’s. So I decided to make it a habit and wear it when I knew I’d be attending a hot party. I did, in fact, know that Nancye Ferguson’s birthday party Sunday night would be hot as all of her parties are at her amazing Atomic house that gives you one of those aerial postcard views over the entire city of LA. But when I got home and dumped my photos I realized that not only had I forgotten to take a photo with Nancye, the Party Pendant along with every other piece of jewelry I meant to wear had been forgotten in a drawer at home, replaced with my Color Purple backstage pass that I still had on from earlier in the day when I went to see the fabulous new cast of my musical at the Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks. As proud as I am to have that pass swinging from my neck, I do wish that my ratty ass cheap Party Pendant were also present as it would have been so appropriate hanging in the following photos.

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Allee Willis’ “The 365 Days Of September” – Day 15

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Once an intro includes shooting a blank wall and someone tripping on stage you know that you have the potential for something great. Once the singing starts though I thought it was going to pan out to be a little too good. But that Caucasian-spiked arrangement I talk about a lot that so many school chorale groups follow with all the “hey hey heys”, new harmonies and rhythms straightened out to be so on the beat that the funk gets thrown out like an old piece of fish, is alive and well here. The fun really starts at 1:43 when someone steps out to solo. That’s when I am certain that whoever wrote this arrangement was drinking. I don’t know where they got the melody from – literally not one note of is right for that point in the song as it jumps from the lead vocal to a bizarre background note. And then there’s that wrong lyric that constantly drives me nuts that, because someone was too lazy to get the sheet music from the publisher and thought they were hearing it correctly from the record, went with it in their arrangement, perpetuating the inaccuracy forever.  It’s also fantastic how the mic is handed off to a second soloist who then steps out front with it dangling at his side and continues singing backgrounds as if only a lead vocal needed a mic. The vocal that finally comes left me speechless. Only to be capped off by that funky little ending the aforementioned arranger, who I’m certain only listens to theater music, wrote.

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Categories: 365 Days Of September, Fashion, Kitsch O' The Day, Lyrics, Music, September, Songwriting

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Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Gertrude Stein/ Alice B. Toklas Mug and Stephanie Miller’s Coming Out Party

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I don’t usually like mugs with serious faces on them but “The Gertrude Stein” mug made by Fitz & Floyd in 1976 is a rare one featuring legendary and first-outta-the-gate lesbian life partners, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Gertrude actually looks like Gertrude while Alice looks like a mushroom person, the kind of  poisonously sweet little gnome-like being that ceramicists were somehow infatuated with in the late 1960′s and 70s.

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Allee Willis’ “The 365 Days Of September” – Day 14

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Do “The Graig”! Solo with a broom.

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Categories: 365 Days Of September, Dance, Kitsch, Music, Self expression, September, Songwriting

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