Forgotten Fads and Fabulous Flops, by Paul Kirchner (Rhino Records, 1995)

We’ve all had those moments of brilliance, where some idea so astoundingly splendid and mind-bogglingly impressive that we can’t believe no one else has ever thought of it pops into our head. You know, like pet rocks. Paper dresses. Instant fish kits. The “Interbang” (a cross between ? and ! to symbolize What the?!). Earring Magic Ken.

You get the idea. Okay, so maybe there are times when we’re not such clever monkeys after all, and what seemed like a good idea at the time turns out to be a major dud, or forgotten within a year. Smell-O-Vision? Animal of the Month Club? The Amphicar (good on land and in the water)? Premature Burial Alarms?

The sad truth is that sometimes, we’ll try anything that’s neat and shiny and new. For, oh, five minutes. And that’s where the fun comes in. This is a book composed solely of the most ridiculous fads to capture our attention, the most profound flops, the silliest patents, and the ideas that never got off the ground. Even the great geniuses had their off moments, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mile-High Building, Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic House (and Geodesic Bathroom, Geodesic Car, Triton City), Thomas Edison’s Talking Doll, and Nikola Tesla’s Death Ray.

Yes, this fascinating book covers the sublime and the ridiculous, with 237 pages devoted to hundreds of our finest moments as a tool-using, sentient, self-aware race. Numerous pictures and diagrams provide incontrovertible proof that -someone- thought that Reverend Moon’s movie, Inchon, would be a success, or that goldfish swallowing was a smart and popular thing to do, or that Death Magazine would be a bestseller.

Air-cars. Coca-Cola wannabes. NEW COKE. (So good it deserves capital letters.) Failed celebrity franchise restaurants (such as Minnie Pearl’s Chicken, Willie Mays Say-Hey Restaurants, and Tony Bennett’s Spaghetti House.) Smokeless cigarettes. Kudzu.

Really, you’d think we’d learn better, after seeing what previous generations attempted. Rabage, a combination of cabbage and radish with none of the popularity. The Foot-Operated Breast-Enlarger Pump. Bird diapers.

Not everything in this book is completely useless. Some of it was just way ahead of its time, like the pneumatic subway, and picturephones. But then you get “No Frills Books,” which were the ultimate manifestation of the generic concept. Entitled, simply, Science Fiction, Western, Romance, or Mystery, they delivered just that, using every cliche in the book.

Those who forget the past are doomed to fail when they inadvertently duplicate something already failed. Avoid Vietnam-styled theme parks, iceberg aircraft carriers, and women’s urinals.

This book makes for truly fascinating reading, both out of morbid curiosity and genuine amusement. It’s one of the finest looks at our least finest ideas that I’ve run across. Rhino Records seems to have an eye on culture and society, and they prove it here with Forgotten Fads and Fabulous Flops. Well-researched and cleverly written, it’s like a time capsule of the damned.

Skunkguard. Trepanation. Rocket Belts. Forgotten bands of the San Francisco Sound (Blue Crumb Truck Factory, Immaculate Contraption, Fifty-foot Hose, and more!). Failed television shows like Huggy Bear and the Turkey, Weekend Nun, and Poochinski.

Wait. I remember Poochinski. Oh dear.

Anyway, this is one book that any pop culture fan will be glad to have, if just for the sheer giggles it’s sure to create. But go ahead and laugh if you want, and say that we’ll never be so foolish as to give in to fads like that, or ideas that awful.

Two words, bunkie.

Beanie Babies.

Have a nice day.

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