Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fascinating peek into early 1970s world of Long John Nebel

I'm about a third of the way through Long John Nebel: Radio Talk King, Master Salesman, and Magnificent Charlatan, a biography by Donald Bain that was published in 1974.

So far, to be honest, it's not very interesting. The book has been dominated thus far by the "salesman" portion of Nebel's life. That's not what I came to the book wanting to read about. I'm more interested in his many years as an overnight radio talk-show host who dabbled in bizarre and paranormal topics, bonded with Jackie Gleason, and influenced the likes of Art Bell.

The best part of the book so far has been the opening section, which describes Nebel's whirlwind marriage to Candy Jones and his home and lifestyle in early-1970s Manhattan. (Nebel died of cancer in 1978 at age 66.)

These are some of contents of Nebel's cluttered apartment on Manhattan's East Side, as detailed by Bain:

  • massive professional tape machines
  • a Musser vibraphone
  • expensive stereo equipment
  • books stacked in every room and corner, including the hallways
  • guitars
  • banjos
  • magazines
  • top-of-the-line cameras, never used2
  • thousands of record albums
  • multiple telephones
  • multiple answering machines
  • machines for taping phone calls
  • telephones that automatically dial when a pre-punched card is inserted3
  • automatic clothes presser
  • portable TV
  • radios
  • six bedroom copies of Overcoming the Fear of Death by Dr. David Cole Gordon

The living-room furniture consisted of "a couch, some chairs, and a few tables," none of which were accessible because of all the stuff.

Part of Nebel's "stuff" problem was that he had previously occupied two side-by-side apartments at the end of his hallway, with one serving as his office and recording studio. But, at the time this book was written, he no longer had the office and thus had crammed everything into the single apartment.

But, no matter how much available space he had, I think it's clear that he had some hoarding issues, and this section of Bain's book provides a kind of time capsule of his existence in Manhattan four-and-a-half decades ago.4

1. Other current reads:
  • The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, by James Rebanks (just finished yesterday!)
  • Time and Again, by Clifford D. Simak
  • Latest issues of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Captain America: Steve Rogers
2. Bain writes: "the best cameras, none of which has ever had a roll of film run through it because Nebel, the former professional photographer, doesn't want to risk scratching them."
3. Some telephones of this type, called Western Electric Automatic Dialers, can be seen here.
4. For a description of some other eccentrics crammed into a different Manhattan apartment, circa 1992, check out "The Mountains of Pi," an article in The New Yorker by Richard Preston.

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