If you don’t know who Charles Phoenix is or have never attended one of his riotous slide shows during the February Modernism Week events, do yourself a big favor and catch his Super Duper Double Decker Bus Tour of Palm Springs during Modernism Week’s Fall Preview, Oct. 9-12.
Phoenix will bring his unique take on America’s kitschy past during his funny “histotainer” on a double decker bus tour of Palm Springs' midcentury collection.
PalmSpringsLife.com caught up to the “King of Kitsch” by phone recently to discover what bus passengers can expect.
How does your tour differ from the other Mod Week Double Decker Bus Tours people have come to know and love?
“It’s the same route but I’m what’s different about it! I bring a different, sometimes oddball, perspective. My insight to some of the properties on the tour will be different from the other Modernism Week bus tour. I’ve been doing tours for 15 years and have known Palm Springs all my life. Also, I give tips for shopping and where to eat that might not be included in the other tours.”
How did you get started as an “Ambassador of Americana” and a “Histotainer”?
“The day I came home from the hospital I was intrigued by the vintage car my dad had. My dad was a car dealer when I was a kid and I became interested in the design of cars of the time.I was always looking around at my surroundings and I found architecture interesting. I grew up going to Disneyland where I first became attuned to “hyper design.” I define that as themed environments or extreme design, things that are unique. Over time I developed an eye for things that are stylistically unique such as the midcentury modern era.
“And I’m good at explaining it. I’m hard wired and very connected to the audience. I know they’re listening to me and it’s a great way to teach history. I learned to disguise it with humor and it came naturally to me.”
You perform shows all over California. For the uninitiated, what can people expect from a Charles Phoenix Americana adventure?
My shows are an enthusiastic retelling of my adventures going in search of kitschy remnants of classical American life and style. I look for vintage imagery mostly Kodachrome slides; I’ve been collecting them for 25 years. I actually go out in the world in search of this stuff about places and people. I search flea markets and thrift shops wherever I travel to. I learned by teaching myself to look through layers of time; peeling back the layers and facades as a time traveler if you will.”
What does your house look like?
“It’s an apartment in Silver Lake that is fairly eclectic with objects from my travels over the years.It’s not a showplace. It’s more of a studio of my collections that happens to have a bedroom it in it rather than a home.”
It sounds more like a cultural laboratory.
“It is more like that. I don’t do tons of entertaining here, it’s more like I live in a studio.”
What is it about Palm Springs that keeps you coming back?
“Palm Springs is like everyone has acknowledged. It’s a magical place for lots of reasons starting with the physical environment, situated against the mountain. Plus the glamour, the fame, money, style, and design. Also it has the legend of virtually coming back from the dead. We’re talking about a town that kind of dried up; it got pretty shabby for a couple of decades. Then it got resurrected but it kept the mystique intact. It’s a micro culture, there’s no other place like it.
“From the time I was a child growing up, and still to this day, when I enter Palm Springs at the “Welcome to Palm Springs” sign, I still have the same exact feeing. I feel a little more glamorous all of a sudden just because I’m in Palm Springs. There’s something powerful about a place that facilitates that kind of magic and rare experience.”
Charles Phoenix Super Duper Double Decker Bus Tour of Palm Springs, Oct. 9-11, 8:30-11 a.m. Tickets: $99 (seats are all on the upper deck); www.modernismweek.com