Table of Contents: Books


Hilton Kramer

The death of art critic and New Criterion founder Hilton Kramer is sad news down ‘ere… Kramer was among my favorite conservative cultural critics… his passion and rigor were always bracing and worthwhile as either an affirmation or a provocation. His early collection of essays – The Age of the Avant order vicodin online india Garde – has been indispensable, and, frankly, I always find something spot on, or at least worth considering, in every edition of the New Criterion. (Oh, one other thing – the Criterion’s serial cover design scheme is aces…)

Going to Melody…

Leon Wieseltier writing in the New Republic on the closing of his local record store. It’s an perfectly articulated tribute to the deep pleasures of browsing; a eulogy; and a defiant, fierce refusal to accept all this as collateral damage in the interest of progress. Read, treasure – and if it stirs you, take time to tend to and nourish the analog rhythms…

# # #

GOING TO MELODY, February 2, 2012

In a country as injured as ours, there is something unseemly about all this sagacious talk of creative destruction. A concept that was designed to suggest the ironic cruelty of innovation has been twisted into an extenuation of economic misery—into capitalism’s theodicy. Where there are winners, there are losers: praise the Lord and pass the Kindle. I have always believed that the losers know more about life than the winners, though I wish affluence upon us all; but it does not romanticize the poor to demythologize the rich, and to propose that sometimes creative destruction is not very creative but very destructive. The brutality of large businesses toward small businesses, for example, is neither brilliant nor heroic. They do it because they can. Last week a record store in Dupont Circle announced that it was closing. The immediate cause of its demise—it had outlasted national and regional chains—was Price Check, Amazon’s new idea for exterminating competition. It is an app that allows shoppers to scan the bar code on any item in any store and transmit it to Amazon for purposes of comparison, and if it compares favorably to Amazon’s price, Amazon’s special promotion promises a discount on the same item. In this way shoppers become spies, and stores, merely by letting customers through their doors, become complicit in their own undoing. It will not do to shrug that this is capitalism, because it is a particular kind of capitalism: the kind that entertains fantasies of monopoly. For all its technological newness, Amazon’s “vision” is disgustingly familiar. (“Amazon is coming to eat me,” a small publisher of fine religious books stoically told me a few weeks ago.) Nor will it do to explain that Amazon’s app is convenient, unless one is prepared to acquiesce in a view of American existence according to which its supreme consideration must be convenience. How easy must every little thing be? A record store in your neighborhood is also convenient, and so is a bookstore. There is also a sinister side to the convenience of online shopping: hours once spent in the sensory world, in the diversified satisfaction of material needs and desires, can now be surrendered to work. It appears to be a law of American life that there shall be no respite from screens. And so Amazon’s practices raise the old question of the cultural consequences of market piggishness. For there are businesses that are not only businesses, that also have non-monetary reasons for being, that are public goods. Their devastation in the name of profit may be economically legitimate, but it is culturally calamitous. In a word, wrong.

WHEN MY FRIEND at Melody Records told me about the death of his store, I was bereft. This was in part because he is my friend—after my father died, I received a letter from the Holocaust Museum informing me that he had made a donation in my father’s memory—and now he must fend for himself and his family and his staff in the American wreckage. But my dejection was owed also to the fact that this store was one of the primary scenes of my personal cultivation. For thirty years it stimulated me, and provided a sanctuary from sadness and sterility. “Going to Melody” was a reliable way of improving my mind’s http://www.honeytraveler.com/pharmacy/ weather. The people who worked there had knowledge and taste: they apprised me of obscure pressings of Frank Martin’s chamber music, and warned me about the sound quality of certain reissues of Lucky Thompson and Don Byas, and turned me on to old salsa and new fado. They even teased me about my insane affection for Rihanna. When they added DVDs to the store, my pleasures multiplied. (Also my amusements. Not long ago Marcel Ophuls’ great film arrived in the shop, and the box declared: “Woody Allen presents The Sorrow and The Pity.” Beat that.) Of course all these discs can be found online. But the motive of my visits to the store was not acquisitiveness, it was inquisitiveness. I went there to engage in the time-honored intellectual and cultural activity known as browsing.

IT IS A MATTER OF some importance that the nature of browsing be properly understood. Browsing is a method of humanistic education. It gathers not information but impressions, and refines them by brief (but longer than 29 seconds!) immersions in sound or language. Browsing is to Amazon what flaneurie is to Google Earth. It is an immediate encounter with the actual object of curiosity. The browser (no, not that one) is the flaneur in a room. Browsing is not idleness; or rather, it is active idleness—an exploring capacity, a kind of questing non-instrumental behavior. Browsing is the opposite of “search.” Search is precise, browsing is imprecise. When you search, you find what you were looking for; when you browse, you find what you were not looking for. Search corrects your knowledge, browsing corrects your ignorance. Search narrows, browsing enlarges. It does so by means of accidents, of unexpected adjacencies and improbable associations. On Amazon, by contrast, there are no accidents. Its adjacencies are expected and its associations are probable, because it is programmed for precedents. It takes you to where you have already been—to what you have already bought or thought of buying, and to similar things. It sells similarities. After all, serendipity is a poor business model. But serendipity is how the spirit is renewed; and a record store, like a bookstore, is nothing less than an institution of spiritual renewal.

MY FATHER HAD furniture stores. I grew up with the pathos of retail: you throw all your money into a location and an inventory, you hang out a sign, you trick out a window, you unlock a door, and (if you lack the resources to advertise formidably) you wait. If they come in, you use your skill; but they have to come in. When my father was ill, I would quit the library and mind the store. One day I set a house record for sofas sold because the store was located in a neighborhood where many U.N. people lived, and I knew more than most furniture salesmen about the crises in Iran and Cyprus. Eventually the store failed. But the failure of some stores is more repercussive than the failure of other stores. The commerce of culture is a trade in ideals of beauty, goodness, and truth. A hunger for profit exploits a hunger for meaning. If the one gets too ravenous, the other may find it harder to subsist. The disappearance of our bookstores and our record stores constitutes one of the great self-inflicted wounds of this wounding time.

NOTE: I’ve quoted this essay in its entirety because it deserves to be read widely. It says important things in beautiful ways. I’ve taken it, though, from behind The New Republic’s paywall. Pay them a visit. Linger, read, and please consider subscribing… thank you.

For Christopher Hitchens…

The first time I read an essay by Christopher Hitchens it triggered in me an almost magnetic alignment. It is what influence feels like, palpably. Your notions, deductions, biases, obsessions, interests, and proclivities drift, loosely organized in patchwork clumps, downstream. They bump up, shift, and self organize, when suddenly a forceful current snaps them into order. Everything just locks into place.

I wish I could remember what it was about, my first draught of this amazing, lusty, brilliant mind. Maybe it was about the culture of snitching in East Berlin, or the necessary example of Thomas Paine. A full throated and eloquently argued brief against the very notion of the divine. The disgrace of Clinton. The grace of the Kurds. The hangover scene in Lucky Jim. Orwell with a side of Orwell in an Orwell sauce. Later it may have been on poetry, the lovely considerations of Czes?aw Mi?osz, or Fenton, Seidel, and Larkin. Reading Lolita as a father. The rallying, with righteous and sometimes nearly blind fervor, to the fight against Islamofacism. Amidst the pamphleteering, a steady stream of passionate criticism, elegant and lingering appreciations of Wodehouse, Wolf Hall, and, most delightfully, that libidinous rogue, Sir Harry Flashman.

In a way, though, it hardly matters. It wasn’t really about concurring with his arguments; it was following the manner of his thought, tracing its grain. Wanting to think like that, argue like that. In conversation or argument insisting on the significance of the melodramatic flourish, a theatrical toss off… the gregariousness, the bonhomie, the relish…. the decency of it all.

# # #

People disproportionally focus on the atheism, lately. I get it, as it really was the topic that propelled him, like Richard Dawkins, to general fame. It’s a shame, though, because it misses the larger point of it all. It was religion’s ongoing project to extinguish the nourishing legacy of the Enlightenment that fueled his fury. Broadly speaking, Hitch advocated for the credit due to a species that could put aside its animal nature and build and nurture this miraculous idea of civilization. To suppress, punish, or deny humanity this achievement and its benefits was an act of the basest evil – a denial of humanity itself. The stupid, pointless loss, the vandalism – the human cost of all of this idiocy – is what called him to the thick of it. It was a front he never tired of patrolling and a battle he never failed to enjoin.

Hitch’s ultimate argument, then, was to not to advocate against religion but for literature. He resolutely maintained that it was in our poems, our books and our paintings that we really grapple the most honestly, the most subtly, and the most fully with the fundamental questions and dilemmas of our existence.

Oh, and yes, there’s the drinking. And yes, it was herculean. But looking at it through the framing conceit of mere drinking, whether to condemn or to celebrate, is shortsighted and, I think, a little vulgar. Again, we’re missing the essential point of it all. As he put it:

I always knew there was a risk in the bohemian lifestyle… I decided to take it because it helped my concentration, it stopped me being bored — it stopped other people being boring. It would make me want to prolong the conversation and enhance the moment. If you ask: would I do it again? I would probably say yes. But I would have quit earlier hoping to get away with the whole thing. I decided all of life is a wager and I’m going to wager on this bit… In a strange way I don’t regret it. It’s just impossible for me to picture life without wine, and other things, fueling the company, keeping me reading, energizing me. It worked for me. It really did.

Exactly. No, seriously – exactly. This is the wager we enthusiasts make – appetite and curiosity always pushing, unbalancing our keel, lurching into the waves to feel the contour of experience…. Hitch nailed it here. He’s written reams of defiant endorsements of bohemian life before, squarely standing his ground against pious pick-nose hall monitors, amidst a swirl of smoke, clinking glass in hand. This time buy vicodin chicago it’s tempered. Caution enters the frame. The bet has been called. He wagered too much. He didn’t get away with the whole thing. With this last dash of restraint, the recipe is complete. Mix well and enjoy.

# # #

Appreciations of Hitch are always anchored by anecdotes. It seems his essence was in person, when all these aspects were gathered up in the full force of his personality. Like many of this readers, I’m sure, I’d daydream now and then of what it would be like to find myself in his company. Absurdly enough, chance and accident tumbled in my favor one evening in Los Angeles, in the late 90’s.

Hitch was touring his new broadside, No One Left to Lie To-The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton and I went to go see him read. The reading was raucous, funny, and bracing. Afterwords (after the cops led out the LaRouche plant) he held a signing, and when my turn arrived I basically thanked him for the company of his bullshit detector, and, if I remember right, mentioned the Chicago journal The Baffler, with which I was really besotted at the time.. After some appreciative nods Hitch thanked me, and as I walked away, a young Anglo-Indian named Palash Davé, who was filming the reading, asked me if he could interview me for a documentary about the book tour. Sure, I said, and asked him to join me for a smoke outside. After a bit of a filmed banter between me and a young black labor organizer we just started grousing as the crowd dispersed.

I asked him if there was a way I could keep in touch with him to keep track of the project. He said yes, then asked if I would like to have a drink with him and Hitchens that night. Cue all sputtering cliches…

So I end up going back to his hotel room… Hitch greeted us at the door and wolfishly explained that it was the same suite where Clinton stays when he’s in Los Angeles (he couldn’t wait to mark the room with smoke and whiskey). Along with Hitchens and Palash were his wife Carol Blue, Steve Wasserman- the editor at the time of the LA Times book review, and old leftie whose name I can’t recall, and the guy who shot Saturday Night Fever.

Hitchens was an effusive and diligent host. Asked me what I wanted to drink, and then led me out to the balcony, where he and I talked for about an hour, drinking Jack Daniels and smoking his Rothmans’s… Folk began to leave and the night eventually boiled down to me, Hitchens and Palash, drinking and talking until we cleaned out the mini-bar.

What a chat – From Clinton, of course, to the fate of the Left, our generation, Dylan, more on the Baffler and the art/music/politics mafia of Chicago, a long boozy dissertation on the film “Glory,” books and more books, authors (Murry Kempton & John Dos Passos, mostly) and the private tax revolt of home packed cigarettes.

The drink and tobacco exhausted, he offered a round of coffee and room service. I declined, feeling the onset of the mental fog I could no longer hold back. The bill had come due. Home, then.

# # #

There’s a reason we’re anxious about influence. To be shaped by external forces means, as individuals, that we need to yield, to go just a little slack, so our posture shifts, changes, molds. We surrender. We risk being supple for the promise of being shaped. You strike a balance between being propelled and being subsumed.

The exhilaration, though! – when you encounter, and engage such a force, and, under your shaky grip, you let it sweep you away…. His moral clarity, his insistence on literature, and art, really, as the soul of humanity, and the lusty brio with which he lived have profoundly formed and informed me. If all the world’s a stage, he was a character for the ages. We are vastly poorer for his absence. Civilization has lost one of it’s great knights and I have lost one of my brightest guiding stars. Farewell Hitch. That was a damn good show.

The Adventures of Mr & Mrs Jim & Ron

Flipping through a dense stack of auction catalogs I came across this oddity – an unassuming, glossy softcover book with a cheap, haphazardly typeset title, The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Jim and Ron. It’s a 1970 collaboration between poet Ron Padgett and pop expressionist artist Jim Dine.

The poems are just fantastic – prime specimens of a sort I’m a helpless sucker for. They’re short dreamy little narratives, shot through with strange shifts, breaks and fissures amongst the phrases. Odd juxtapositions emerge, only to be smoothed together by easy grammatical connections. It’s like a slow pan across a radio dial tuned to the psychic landscape of America – pocket buy vicodin reviews dramas, aspirations, product instructions, laconic observations, snippets of philosophy, fragment of bracing truths. They evoke, at times, Lydia Davis’ flash fiction, Ann Magnuson and Laurie Anderson’s brainy free associative monologues, Eve Babitz’s LA stories. Silver Jew David Berman’s poems too, here and there. Based on this book, this Padgett cat should be a joy to explore.

Jim Dine’s artwork is ok. I like Dine fine, and some of it’s sharp and smart (like the excerpts above), but the bulk of it is a too doodle-y and dashed off compared to the well turned poems they accompany. Still, the whole book is well worth tracking down.

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane



Now these are a blast. Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane in the late 60’s and early 70’s underwent a kaleidoscopic recombination of her character. It was a result of a desire by DC Comics to extend the line of superhero stories to girls who were captivated by romance comics. What they arrived at was an exuberant pop cultural mashup.

The comics are a swirling melange of styles – the overheated emotional sakes & teary cliches of the romance yarns; the can-do spunky mystery vibe of Nancy Drew. Light moments of the basic superhero world blow in and out, and sometimes there are gales of sci-fi weirdness. Compositionally, it’s the classic Lichtenstein/pop art configurations, and the art is as fine an example of va-va-voomish good girl art as you could hope for.

Wonder Woman was swept up in these currents as well – reconfigured as an Emma Peel-eque Mod avenger. Also, great fun. I wrote more about that era here, and the books were recently collected by DC. For Lois Lane, you’re still gonna haunt long boxes.

(Also to those interested in this confluence of styles and sensibilities there’s a great site that explores them – Sequential Crush, which is a blog devoted to preserving the memory of romance comic books and the creative teams that published them throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The woman who edits it, Jacque Nodell, also published a PDF of a lecture she gave on the topic. It’s called The Look of Love – The Romantic Era of DC’s Lois Lane, Supergirl and Wonder Woman. It’s a great read, smart, and replete with well chosen art. The blog is just as ace. Go, poke around.)

Sweet Savage Love

Images and outtakes from my forthcoming article in Uppercase Magazine on romance cover art. It focuses on the formative years of the genre, in the early seventies. The liberated sensibilities inside the books called for equally brazen cover art. This need provided a welcome haven to a recently dispossessed group – the pulp and movie poster artists. In the mid sixties photography began to supplant illustration. Pressed out of the genres that made their careers, and in some cases fortunes, some illustrators retired to fine art, some to advertising. Others, in the case of Robert McGinnis and Robert Maguire – two of the absolute best, whose work is featured above – migrated to romance covers.

I did a post a while back on the same order generic vicodin topic, focusing solely on McGinnis’ work, here. Also, while researching all of this, I came across the first four books, published in 1974/54 by Avon, that are credited launching the modern romance era – Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower and The Wolf and the Dove, as well as Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love and Dark Fires.

Two aspects of these books had seismic implications on the genre: They were the first romance novels to be published initially as a paperback, to be distributed promiscuously and cheaply in 5 & Dimes and department stores; and the amorous coupling detailed within them got down to some frisky, frisky business. In detail. Thier ace covers are, in unfortunately lo-res, below.

Sweet Savage Love
Uppercase Magazine #10

Romance_1 Romance_2

The classic paperback “bodice-ripper” is an undeniably hot mess – the very things that make it disreputable – the tawdry, formulaic, overheated melodrama rendered in prose so purple it might as well be written in marmalade – are exactly what makes it awesome.

The modern era of the romance novel begins in 1972, with the publication of Katheleen Woodiwiss’ “The Flame and the Flower” Two things about it had seismic implications on the genre. It was one of the first romance novels to be published initially as a paperback, to be distributed promiscuously and cheaply in 5 and dimes and department stores. And, pertaining to the amorous coupling detailed within, it got down to some frisky, frisky business. In detail.

Along with giving succor and stimulation to it’s devoted readership, the modern romance novel preformed an additional cultural service. The liberated sensibilities inside the books called for equally brazen cover art. This need provided a welcome haven to a recently dispossessed cadre – the pulp and movie poster artists. In the mid sixties photography began to supplant illustration. Pressed out of the genres that made their careers, and in some cases fortunes, some illustrators retired to fine art, some to advertising. Others, in the case of Robert McGinnis and Robert Maguire – two of the absolute best – migrated to romance covers.

Robert McGinnis is one of  the deans of American illustration. His reputation rests on the more 1000 pulps that literally define the genre, as well as the iconic movie posters he did for Barbarella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Odd Couple. Running through all his work is a superb level of craft and technique. He painted the indelible James Bond posters for Thunderball, Never Say Never Again, and Diamonds are Forever. However his masterpiece may be a serial one. McGinnis did scores of covers for the long running Carter Brown crime series. Each is a lovingly painted lusty variation on a simple theme – a fetching seductress, a come hither pose, a hint of danger, and a hastily sketched background.

When you think of the classic image of the crime noir femme fatale, with her ruby lips, china white skin, mane of technicolor hair, you are thinking of the work of Robert A. Maguire. His was a rougher technique than McGinnisis’, but no less controlled. What he sacrificed in finesse he gained in melodramatic effect. He preferred slashing bands of over-saturated colors, calligraphic and sketchy brushwork, and high can you buy vicodin legally in mexico contrast, nearly electric highlights. Prolific even given the absurdly demanding standards of the day, from the 50s to the late 60’s he painted thousands of covers. Maguire did masterful work in just about every category of pulp – men’s magazines, crime novels, sexploitaiton, and lascivious historical romps.

What makes both McGinnis’s and Maguire’s romance cover paintings so compelling are the the techniques and sensibilities that they brought over from the pulps. Their penchant for eggshell hues, alabaster skin tones, muted colors and gestural brushstrokes gave the paintings a real allure. Also, they conjured powerful atmospherics – an epic historical sweep, a genuine sexiness, more than a touch of danger, and a sense of swashbuckling adventure.

Both Maguire’s and McGinnis’s paintings lift the covers from from usual ham-handed, frosted glop to the status of real melodramatic art – which requires, along with an overheated imagination, more than a fair share of skill and technique.

Maguire’s covers, while painted with vigor, hew a little closer to the conventions of the form and seldom transcend them. However, he remained a master at conjuring iconic women, and the romance paperback has seldom seen heroines as genuinely riveting and seductive.

McGinnis’s work is simply exquisite. Also the fact that he was rendering complete backgrounds in-line with the conventions of the genre gave his work and unprecedented lushness. As a painter he was in his prime, with a deftness suggestive of the the Andrew Wyeth-esqe fine art he was making concurrently.

Again, he distinguished himself over the course of a series. In this case it was the first 13 books by author Johanna Lindsey. In addition to the quality of the artwork, design-wise, they are seriously great. The typesetting is perfect in its own way and the compositions unusually dynamic and well ordered. As a exercise in serial design they are superlative, issuing forth in double-barrelled salvos of modes – color blocked, on-white, and full lurid bleeds. Aesthetically, these are the heaving peaks of the genre, simply the best romance paperback covers ever made.

(The McGinnis books are taken from my personal collection. More on his work can be found in The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis by Art Scott, and Tapestry: The Paintings of Robert McGinnis by Arnie & Cathy Fenner. The Maguire images are from Jim Silke’s fabulous survey Dames, Dolls & Gun Molls. Also, to anyone inclined to this stuff, I also heartily recommend the blog “Get Yer Bodices Ripped Here”)

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Fine art’s always gone for filthy lucre

Seriously, this is a must read. It’s a detailed description of the unhinged, lunatic magnificence of a 15th century “living painting.” As the author Anita Albus makes vividly clear – “it’s pointless to look for the line where kitsch ends and fine art begins.” Utterly how to order vicodin online gobsmacking… just contemplating it nearly defeats the imagination.

(Taken from Albus’ The Art of Arts, which I’ve only just begun, but is emerging as one of the best books I’ve ever read on the mechanics and philosophy of painting.)

A Signet Gothic

She had come back to bury the nightmare past – only to find new love and new terror…

Bright Young Things, Pt. 2: Bowie Edition

Fascinating! So, I’m searching online for some an image along the theme of “bright young things” to accompany last week’s post of Muriel Sparks’ poem The Yellow Room. I come across a fragmentary result identifying Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies as the wellspring for David Bowie’s theatrical, spent, and off-kilter masterpeice Aladdin Sane (Vile Bodies? a hilarious, disjointed 1930’s Bright Lights Big City about the careening, hedonistic society set in the 20’s… excellent overview here.)

…the notion seemed familiar, like I had read it somewhere, but vague. The link led to a lovingly preserved recreation of a mesmerizing article from a July 1973 Circus Magazine. (On the cover Alice Cooper, Uriah Heep, free Robert Plant calendar, Seals and Crofts, and Marc Bolan)

The article was entitled “Bowie Sees America in Flames – the inside story of Aladdin Sane” This is relatively familiar territory for Bowie-philes… discussing it he’s always framed the album as Ziggy goes to America (The Velvet shout-outs, Detroit, Sunset & Vine, etc…) and discovers an near apocalyptic decadence.

In the Circus article, though Bowie, says flat out that the idea for Sane burst from him nearly fully formed while reading Vile Bodies, as the full circus of American rock celebrity and decadent notoriety is erected around him.

David Bowie sat in an overstuffed armchair in his suite aboard the ship Ellinis, returning to London from his first triumphal tour of the States. His delicate brows knit in a look of perplexed recognition as he read Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies” – a 40 year-old, futuristic novel about a society of “bright young things” whirling through lavish parties in outlandish costumes, dancing, gossiping and sipping champagne.  Suddenly David lowered the book to his lap, picked up the spiral notebook and pen sitting on the small mahogany table at his side, and began to write the words to the title song of his new LP, Aladdin Sane

“The book dealt with London in the period buy vicodin prescription just before a massive, imaginary war.” David would later confide, touching one finger, with its green-painted nail, lightly to his chin.  “People were frivolous, decadent and silly.  And suddenly they were plunged into this horrendous holocaust.  They were totally out of place, still thinking about champagne and parties and dressing up.  Somehow it seemed to me that they were like people today.” But who was the frivolous, romantic young man Aladdin Sane?  At first David merely cupped his hands in a fragile cage and said “I don’t really think he’s me.”  Several days later, Bowie realised who – or rather what – the song, and in fact the entire album, were about.  “It’s my interpretation of what America means to me.  It’s like a summation of my first American tour.”

Knowing this goes along way towards explaining a distinctive stylistic coloring to the record – a dandyish swing that now makes perfect sense in light of the disjointed flapper flamboyance in Vile Bodies. (Songs like “Prettiest Star,” the title track, and especially “Lady Grinning Soul”for your pleasure, below –  are fuller, fed by their associations with the novel.)

Watching him dash away, dragging
an old bouquet-dead roses
Sake and strange divine.
Um-m-m-m-you’ll make it
Passionate bright young things,
take him away to war-
..don’t fake it.
Who’ll love Aladdin Sane
Battle cries & champagne just in
time for sunrise…

The whole article is a must read. There’s a great Philly shout out, highlighting that Bowie was “one of the even fewer rock performers to attract a following so large in one city (Philadelphia) that he was forced to play there nine nights in a row.” Also, there are walk-ones by Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Wayne County, Iggy Pop, Cyrinda Foxe and, my personal fave, punk publicist Cherry Vanilla. (profiled a year ago on the blog, here) Seriously, read it.

David Bowie: Prettiest Star [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/PrettiestStar.mp3]

David Bowie: Aladdin Sane [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/AladdinSane.mp3]

David Bowie: Lady Grinning Soul [download]

[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/LadyGrinningSoul.mp3]

Pour la mer et de la Lune!

As good as it gets, as far as the futuristic sub, menacing shark, and heavy-duty diving suit genre goes. You can almost feel imagination catch fire. Oh, and to add to the radness factor, the book has its own logo – a submarine crossed with a rocket! The whole jacket is amazing, and can be seen here.

Damned Flappers

I’ve had an itch to read Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned lately… mostly because I’ve had the phrase echoing in my noggin, thanks to an odd propensity of my iphone to play the the similarly titled song by Ultravox!

Anyway, poking around online for a suitable edition led to some fine discoveries. First and foremost are the two volumes above, designed by the able Megan Wilson. In fact her whole Vintage Classics series is gorgeously rendered – spare and powerfully evocative. Browse them, and more, on her site, here. I found Beautiful and the Damned over at the Caustic Cover Critic, an excellent Australian book design site. Its author, James Morrison was kind enough to refer me to Mme. Wilson’s work. The editions above are available, priced to move, here & here.

Ultravox!: The Wild, The Beautiful & the Damned [download]
[audio:http://shepelavy.com/audio/Ultravox_Wild_Beautiful_Damned.mp3]

Neil Krug & Joni Harbeck

A most excellent series of handcrafted hemp-soaked vignettes by photographer Neil Krug and his wife, model Joni Harbeck. Krug had long harbored a desire to shoot in a style that would evoke Bob McGinnis’ paperback cover paintings. One frisky late night while fooling around with a Polaroid camera, some expired film, an Indian headdress and a cigarette, the couple stumbled on something close – a sunburnt, grainy buy vicodin in spain instance of pulp. This led to a formal series, Pulp, which drew on Sergio Leone westerns, weathered thrift store records, Italian giallo flicks, and woolly late night b-movies for inspiration. The project culminated in a hardbound LP sized book, available this month, here. Both their Flickr pools and websites are worth visiting – here, here, and here – as is an interview with both, here.

The Outfit

Splash pages from Darwyn Cooke’s masterful comic adaptation of Richard Stark’s hard-boiled noir, The Outfit. In and of themselves they are wonderful pieces of art – gestural, sketchy, but deliberate, brilliantly composed, and thoughtfully detailed. The whole book, though, like it’s predecessor the Hunter, is fantastic, distinguished by innovative graphic storytelling techniques. The most striking is a bravura sequence detailing a series of simultaneous heists, illustrated in successive retro styles that evoke Noel Douglas Sickles, the UPA Studio, and classic Hanna-Barbera. Examples from it can be seen here, as part of an in-depth interview Cooke conducted with the Comics Alliance. With the now classic New Frontier, Cooke transcended his inspirations. With the Parker series he’s securing his reputation as one of comics defining talents.

Cristiana Couceiro

A lovely instance of constructivist inspired design in this week’s New York Times Book Review led me to the work of illustrator Cristiana Couceiro. Her work evokes Russian avant-garde design and the style of mid-century modern masters like Paul Rand, Alexey Brodovitch, and, especially, Erik Nitsche. She’s a brave one for it – mining these 20th century titans carries a tremendous risk of cliche. What distinguishes her work are exquisite compositions, a finely calibrated sense of proportion & balance, great taste in appropriation, and dollops of panache. Based in Lisbon, Portugal, here portfolio can be found here, and her blog, Hue + Saturation, here.

Peter O’Donnell: 1920 – 2010

“Stateless by birth, British by choice. Multilingual. Expert at judo, karate, gem carving, smuggling, and exotic espionage techniques… Former master criminal who retired with well over a half a million sterling. Hobby: Danger… The worlds most dazzling female secret agent… Modesty Blaise.”

Blaise is the the sovereign princess of Spy-Fi, a shapely Venn diagram of the finest aspects of Flint, Helm, Palmer, and Bond. Whether in va-va-voom-ish comics or in expertly overheated novels, she was a triumph, as the New York Times put it, of the “hyperbolic imagination” of Peter O’Donnell, who died this weekend…

The thing is, the “hyperbolic can i buy vicodin in cancun imagination” is among the hardest sensibilities to wield. Kitsch, absurdity, sentimentality, schmaltz, and general idiocy lie on all sides of its narrow beam. But when expertly trained, nothing can match its light and heat – and therein lies the true measure of O’Donnell’s accomplishment and as well as the weight of his absence.

(above, pulp maestro Bob McGinnis‘s covers for the first three Modesty Blaise novels, plus the first edition of the debut)