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Propaganda: The aesthetics of evil and why GOTH was a thing that had to happen
08:44 am



Founded in 1982 by New York photographer Fred H. Berger, Propaganda magazine was, at the time of its final issue in 2002, the longest running and most popular chronicle of gothic subculture in the United States. From its infancy as a punk fanzine, it grew in scope, covering the esoteric obsessions of its “Propaganda Minister”—post-punk, death rock, fetish fashion, body modification, BDSM, vampirism, horror literature, androgyny, and paganism were all tossed into its smoking cauldron. Over time, these disparate influences became codified into what we know today as “goth” culture. Never billing itself as a “goth” zine per-se, Propaganda had as much to do with developing the aesthetic of goth as any black-clad scare-band you’d possibly care to name.

Nancy Kilpatrick’s The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined called Propaganda “the only subculture publication known to just about every goth on the planet” for good reason. Its importance to that scene can’t be overstated. In fact, you could say that goth had to happen with Propaganda acting as a two-way mirror, both projecting and reflecting the dark music, fashion, art, and literature of its post-Cold War audience.

I didn’t discover Propaganda until the early ‘90s, when it seemed to be everywhere. I remember, at the time, being impressed that a zine so specifically targeted to a relatively small subculture was turning up in major newsstands and bookstores, even in the tiny South Carolina town where I lived. This was pre-Internet Age, when getting such significant distribution would have been a major struggle.  The striking, brooding images in those ‘90s issues, Propaganda‘s heyday, are burned into my mind. The models in Propaganda seemed to me, at the time, to be the most (depressingly) glamorous people on the planet.

I was able to pin down the man behind many of those images, Fred Berger himself, to talk to him about the magazine, its history and legacy, and where the gothic subculture has gone in a post-Propaganda world.

Propaganda publisher, Fred H. Berger, October 1985. (Photo by Wayne Arents)
Propaganda magazine, from the earliest issues covered punk and post-punk music as well as alternative—what could be described as “fetish”—fashion. You witnessed and reported on what became the birth of “goth” as we know it today, back when it might have fallen under the umbrella of “post-punk” or “new romantic” or “death rock.” At what point do you think disparate forms of music, literature, art, and fashion came together to form “goth”?

Fred H. Berger: I discovered goth when I saw Bauhaus in the vampire film The Hunger in 1983. For the two years prior to that, Propaganda was a hardcore punk fanzine. Propaganda’s first gothic issue was Issue No. 3, Summer 1984. It wasn’t called “goth” then – it was just “underground” or “darkwave.” I don’t think the term “goth” came into wide usage until later in 1984, and it applied to bands like Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Although Andrew Eldritch of The Sisters of Mercy said, “We are not a goth band,” and Siouxsie said, “There’s no such thing as goth.” I don’t think they wanted to be labeled, preferring to be whatever they wanted to be, which I can fully understand. In the ‘80s Propaganda covered the New York underground club scene, which featured mostly European bands – primarily British but also Dutch and German such as Clan of Xymox and Xmal Deutschland which were darkwave – not goth. And New York’s underground clubs such as Danceteria, the Cat Club and The World featured more fashion shows and performance art than bands, and much of that was of the fetish and avant-garde variety. Sure it was experimental, kinky and dark, but it wasn’t really goth in that vampiric and melodramatic sort of way. American goth grew more out of West Coast death rock with bands like Christian Death and London After Midnight. I didn’t come in contact with that until 1989, at which time the New York alternative scene was fragmenting with more people getting involved in the rave and clubkid scenes which I had absolutely no interest in. I was somewhat aware of what was happening in L.A. and headed west to see what it was all about. And that was when Propaganda became immersed in what you would call “goth” in the truest sense of the word – ankhs and rosaries, black lace and velvet, capes and corsetry – it was like a scene out of a Vampire Lestat novel. And it was all about bands, versus New York’s preoccupation with art and fashion. The biggest L.A. goth club was Helter Skelter, and in San Diego it was Soil, and in San Francisco it was House of Usher. By 1992 I’d been to all of them and saw that there was a distinctly California style of goth as opposed to New York’s more avant-garde and fetishistic variety and London’s Batcave scene which was heavily influenced by punk. Propaganda covered the West Coast scene so extensively that by the mid-‘90s the whole country adopted it as the quintessentially American version of goth.

Issues one through five of Propaganda, charting the transition of coverage from punk to what would become “goth.”
As “gothic culture” developed, how much credit would you take for creating the feedback loop that codified the tenets of that culture? Obviously you were reporting on your own personal interests. How much of that reporting became reflected back in terms of narrowing the definitions of what it meant to be a “goth?”

FHB: Propaganda reported on the punk, goth and industrial movements in a selective way according to my own personal tastes and interests, and I also introduced certain elements based on that subjective criteria. David Bowie and ‘70s glitter rock introduced me to androgyny, and that is something which I focused on throughout most of Propaganda’s 20-year existence. The ideal which I sought out, and also fabricated to some extent, was that of a gender-ambiguous, painfully thin and ghostly pale creature based on Ziggy Stardust, but of a darker, more sinister persuasion. That darkness would be rooting in certain taboos, such as vampirism, demonism, fetishism, homosexuality and Nazism – things that would shake up mainstream society. But it was more about the aesthetics of evil (“forbidden fruit” if you like) rather than the actual practice of it. I thought evil had a sensual and stylistic edge over virtue, but I’ve personally always lived by the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Propaganda never advocated Satanism, occultism, Nazism, sadomasochism or homosexuality, but that didn’t stop some people from making accusations to that effect. Being an aesthete, I see things from a stylistic standpoint, but people who aren’t often read a lot of political and philosophical meaning into the imagery. I proclaim my innocence with regard to any agenda other than art, but there were some who never accepted my “artistic license” defense. Even so, Propaganda was the biggest, most popular and most influential goth-industrial-postpunk publication in the United States throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was carried by all the mainstream retail chains and was reviewed in mainstream newspapers and magazines. Sure a few people were offended, and were very vocal about it, but for the most part Propaganda was seen as iconoclastic and artistic, and not directly associated with any of the maligned “isms” which it referenced for dramatic effect.

Propaganda Issue No. 15
The idea of one person’s aesthetic being the launching point for what becomes a cultural uniform is fascinating to me. I’m reminded of Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, whose personal style was basically lifted from The Leatherman’s Handbook—and that style becomes copied by legions of adoring (mostly straight) fans, and eventually ends up being the “uniform” for heavy metal in the ‘80s. Is it fair to say that your personal aesthetic, which was reflected on the pages of Propaganda in your photography, became a “uniform” for kids who were attracted to the music, art, and literature covered in the magazine?

FHB: Well, “my” personal aesthetic was composed of an amalgam of different influences, which can probably be described in cinematic terms as a confluence of The Night Porter (1974), The Road Warrior (1982), and The Hunger (1983). I never intended to determine what the “uniform” should be; I was only shooting what I liked and it just caught on. Nor was I really conscious of the fact that my work was having that much of an effect on the goth-industrial look, but occasionally people would tell me “you created the goth look” or “Propaganda set the style.” But more often than not those comments fell on deaf ears because I’ve always been somewhat oblivious to accolades (and criticism), being more introspective than reactive. But when the mainstream press started to give me credit for practically founding the goth movement I decided to change direction and opted for an increasingly queer and fetishized heroin chic sensibility. That happened in the mid-‘90s and remained Propaganda’s basic aesthetic until the termination of the magazine in 2003 and the website in 2005. I continued to work in the queer and fetish publishing fields until 2012, but stopped when I finally realized that everyone is a photographer and a writer now courtesy of this 24/7 wired world of blogs and social networking and file sharing where all intellectual properties are considered public domain and no one wants to pay for anything anymore.

Propaganda Issue No. 11.
Propaganda seemed ubiquitous in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The magazine had an incredible distribution for being geared to a very specific, relatively small subculture. How were you able to achieve that sort of wide reach? And how much of your buying audience do you suspect were cultural voyeurs?

FHB: Propaganda was born into the zine revolution of the early ‘80s, when all you needed was a few hundred dollars to start a magazine. The first issue had a print-run of only 300 copies, but in the ‘90s Propaganda’s press runs averaged about 22,000 copies. That doesn’t sound like much, but the magazine had amazing distribution - it seemed to be everywhere that it needed to be - hip college towns and urban centers, affluent suburbs and even isolated rural pockets of alienated youth. And my distributors told me that Propaganda had an unusually high percentage of sales – typically 80 to 90% per issue which was about double the average for other youth-oriented music and lifestyle magazines. Propaganda had a very strong cult following, and many fans preserved their copies in plastic sleeves and still have them to this day, and they often refer to them as “holy relics.” This cult status also applied to the Propaganda videozines, 10,000 of which were sold from the early ‘90s to early 2000s. And the buzz around all of this was accentuated by numerous release parties at the country’s leading goth-industrial clubs which collectively gave the impression of Propaganda being this massive multi-media enterprise. Propaganda’s heavily trafficked website and foreign expansion enhanced its image that much more. But contrary to appearances, it was all produced on a shoe-string budget with a small part-time staff and a workaholic editor-in-chief (yours truly) operating out of a 1-bedroom apartment. As for voyeurs, I really can’t say – the only one I can identify for sure is myself.

The photos in Propaganda are, if I may apply an overused term, iconic—some of these images are forever etched into my mind. You had a very clear aesthetic and a sharp eye. What were your influences as a photographer? 

FHB: During it’s twenty years in print, Propaganda had about fifteen contributing photographers, as well as stock houses, movie studios and record labels that provided us with images, but I still managed to take about 1/3 of the photos that appeared in the magazine. About half of my photography was purely journalistic, covering musical performances, fashion shows and the club scene. The other half was a body of work which I created using models, some of whom became what people called “Propaganda super models” – John Koviak, Wayne Arents and Scott Crawford for instance became household names. Most of my top models were male androgynes – which was my aesthetic ideal, and they had thousands of male and female fans. In fact some straight guys accused me of turning them gay because they were so incredibly beautiful. Part of that was the models themselves, who were in their late teens to early 20s and were naturally very attractive; the other part was my styling and art direction. Some of my models were such chameleons that people often did not recognize them from one shoot to the next. I even had a couple of female models who posed as boys and no one detected the ruse. But only one of my female models achieved super model status – Tia Giles. She and my best male models appeared in numerous photo shoots in the magazine, and also acted in the Propaganda videozines which featured my art films as well as music videos provided by various bands. Many of my influences were literary, with the most inspiration coming from gothic horror authors Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite as well as queer counterculture authors Jean Genet and Yukio Mishima. But there were also historical figures and events that inspired my Propaganda photography and filmmaking such as Joan of Arc and Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the Holy Inquisition and the Holocaust.

Propaganda Issue No. 3
I remember watching SNL when Goth Talk was a recurring skit, and in one episode they aired a parody video featuring Rob Lowe—and I remember thinking AT THE TIME, “this is totally ripping on Propaganda‘s videos,” and wondering what the people behind the magazine thought of that. Have you seen the skit I’m talking about?

FHB: I remember Rob Lowe in Goth Talk and I thought it was painfully hilarious. Although I don’t remember thinking it resembled any footage I had shot. My films dealt with witch burnings, war crimes, lesbian vampires, and human sacrifice. You may have noticed a similarity to one of the band videos, but I did not produce those – they were submitted by the bands for inclusion in Propaganda videozine.

Rob Lowe as “The Beholder” alongside Azrael Abyss and Circy Nightshade on SNL’s “Goth Talk.”
As a lifer, what do you think of the shift in gothic culture away from the original “death rock” aesthetic to the more “techno-goth” style—musically, and fashion-wise—I’m talking the shift from black lace and corsets to synth dreads and steampunk goggles. Furthermore, how do you feel about Post-Irony Age events like “Bats Day” at Disneyland or gothic cruises?

FHB: Well, I’m not “a lifer,” in fact I never was a “goth.” My appearance, my home décor, nothing about me comes across as goth. Upon first meeting me, people from the scene often expressed surprise at how non-goth I was. I come across as a pragmatic photojournalist – very businesslike. Actually, referring to my relatively bland persona and lifestyle, one of the Propaganda staff members said, “You are the least likely and least worthy person to be in charge of the country’s #1 goth magazine.” Yes, everyone called it a “goth magazine,” but in reality over it’s 20-year run it was about 10% punk, 15% darkwave, 30% goth, 15% industrial, 5% glam, 5% metal, 10% fetish, and 10% queercore – more or less in that chronological order from 1982 to 2002, although there was considerable overlap between genres. Moreover, after terminating Propaganda I became a freelance writer and photographer for a number of gay, fetish and transgender publications for the next ten years. In November 2013 I launched the Propaganda magazine Facebook page which has thus far acquired over 21,000 followers, but I don’t plan on maintaining it past the end of this year due to the rising cost of Facebook fees which commercial and promotional pages have to pay to reach their fans and customers. As for the shift in gothic sensibilities, I’ve seen the dark rock phenomenon go from Alice Cooper to Christian Death to Marilyn Manson and Black Veil Brides, and there has been a common thread of melancholy, melodrama and men in makeup, with just a hint of irony. And from the Blade movie franchise and the Hot Topic boutique chain to Disneyland and gothic cruises, there have always been attempts to corporatize and trivialize it. I’m not a purist, and I’m certainly no one to pass judgment on anyone else, but it seems to me that the more things change the more they stay the same.

The final question is simply, what’s next for Fred Berger and Propaganda?

FHB: Well, the Propaganda magazine Facebook page has allowed me to pay the bills over the past 18 months via the sale of Propaganda’s back inventory of magazines, VHS videos, calendars, and T-shirts, as well as various publications that feature my photography and writing. But that inventory will probably be exhausted this Fall at which time it won’t pay to maintain the page. Because Facebook charges commercial and promotional pages to reach their fans and customers, they need to sell something just to pay the fees. So when I have nothing left to sell, it will no longer be feasible to maintain Propaganda’s presence on Facebook. Although recently I have been contacted by a couple of companies that want to market Propaganda T-shirts and re-release the Propaganda videos, which is a promising prospect. I’m also starting to develop a Propaganda magazine page on Tumblr which thus far doesn’t charge any of its users. The other advantage of Tumblr is it doesn’t censor erotic imagery. So we’ll see how these things develop. But in retrospect I feel as if I’ve done everything and gone everywhere I ever wanted to, and whenever people suggest that I do this or that, I simply tell them, “been there, done that.” I’m quite content to leave my legacy just the way it is.

And what a deliciously dark legacy it is. Back issues of Propaganda are available directly from Fred Berger via the Propaganda Facebook page. Below is a selection of Berger’s work for the magazine:

Issue No. 13, “The Doomsday Issue.”  Model: John Koviak (Photo by Fred H. Berger)
Much more after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
The singer of Negative Approach is a social media genius
08:47 am



@RealJohnBrannon on Instagram: “check it out happy new year”
I’m sure many DM readers already know that John Brannon of Negative Approach, Laughing Hyenas, and Easy Action is one of the American nation’s greatest hardcore singers. That’s why I’m so excited to tell you about his contributions to social media.

@RealJohnBrannon on Instagram: “check it out im not ‘happy’”
In his 53 years between heaven and earth, Brannon has mastered the art of the non sequitur. Part life coach, part Eastern mystic, the hardcore frontman’s every utterance shatters received ideas and emancipates fettered minds. Somehow, Brannon always seems to know just what you need to hear to move your life forwards, and you’ll find more wisdom in his oracular words than in any newspaper’s astrology or advice column. As the man himself says:

Courtney Love can keep Tony Robbins; I’ll stick with Brannon. I’ve never been quite the same since I heard his introduction to one song Easy Action played at a show about ten years ago. Though I can no longer remember which song it was, I’ll never forget how he set it up. Staring at something no one else could see—something that made him very, very angry—Brannon growled into the mike:


If you follow @RealJohnBrannon on Twitter or Instagram, you can have a revelatory, life-changing experience like mine every few minutes. Check it out:






So get over to Twitter. What are you waiting for? Your life begins today!

Thanks to my friend Lars Panquin.

Negative Approach live on Detroit public access, 1982

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Ten-hut! X-rated ‘Beetle Bailey’ comics
08:31 am



If you’ve ever so much as glanced at any Beetle Bailey strip involving General Halftrack leering at his secretary, the buxom Miss Buxley, you won’t be all too surprised that Mort Walker, the creator of the comic, at some point dashed off a few strips that, ah, were not intended for publication in a family-oriented newspaper.

The strips are pretty harmless, but they are unmistakably about boners and fellatio. So there’s that.

These comics appeared in a Swedish book about Beetle Bailey. Apparently the Swedes dig Beetle Bailey, where he is called “Knasen.” According to Google Translate, “Fräckisarna som stannade på skiss-stadiet” refers to something that is “cheeky” that “stayed at the sketch stage,” and “Varning för Snusk” means “warning for smut,” which is hilarious.

Varning för Snusk! You have been warned.

More smutty ‘Beetle Bailey’ after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Satan’s daughter is getting baptized tomorrow?
08:04 am



“Satan’s mother” placed an advert in Sweden’s daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Tuesday announcing the baptism of her daughter Lucy on Saturday 23rd May in Elmsta.

The advert read “Welcome to the world beloved LUCY,” and carried a picture of a cherubic (demonic?) child with dark piercing eyes and 666 kiss curls. The ad included an RSVP email address from “rehtom.snatas”—which as all good occultists know is “Satan’s mother” backwards.

Alas, for all those expecting the end of days, fire, brimstone and alike, the announcement is part of a “guerilla” advertising campaign promoting the Elmsta 3000 Horror Fest.

Some eagle-eyed journalists noted their paper had been duped and carried a story about the advert later that day. This was the second time something unusual had ended up in the paper’s pages recently. On Sunday an essay in the culture section of the paper contained capital letters at the start of each paragraph that spelt out the word “P E N I S.”.

This time the mistake (cock-up?) in the Svenska Dagbladet was picked up by its rival newspaper Göteborgs-Posten RSS.
Via the Local

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Ape’: Fake newspaper promotes ‘Planet of the Apes,’ 1968
03:36 pm



Comedian Dana Gould, who might actually be the world’s most fervent Planet of the Apes fan, often says that the appeal of the first movie lay in the fact that it featured “Moses dressed like Tarzan running from King Kong dressed like Fonzie.”

In the run-up to the final episode of Mad Men, AMC generated these self-congratulatory videos in which prominent people gush about how awesome the show is. Gould took advantage of his segment, linked at the bottom of this post, to point out that Mad Men had included the historically accurate touch of Don Draper reading a copy of The Ape in “The Flood,” an episode from Season 6 in which Don takes his son Bobby to see the sci-fi classic (a new movie in the narrative, of course).

Don Draper enjoys The Ape in Season 6 of Mad Men
Yes, it does appear that 20th Century Fox went the extra mile and had fake newspapers called The Ape and Future News printed up. Given the headline on the Future News one, it’s likely that that one was intended to promote Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which came out in 1972. The idea of a newspaper called Future News (and billing itself as “The Future’s Picture Newspaper”) is pretty hilarious in itself. You know how we all live in the future from the perspective of our ancestors, so we do that all the time too, right? The date on that one is “Monday, May 22, 1992,” which is consistent with the plot of Conquest, which starts out in 1991, but that day was actually a Friday, and most memorable to some people as the final night of Johnny Carson’s tenure as host of The Tonight Show.

Solving the tangled chronology of the Planet of the Apes—even just the first five movies—would take the combined brainpower of MIT, and something similar goes for trying to suss out the details of these promotional newspapers, about which there isn’t very much information online.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Jonathan Richman fills out the N.Y. Rocker questionnaire
12:03 pm



The February 1978 edition of N.Y. Rocker ran a feature by Craig Zeller called “Jonathan Richman: A Roadrunner for Your Love.” The article has one of the better opening lines I can remember: “I’m straight and I used to be in love with Jonathan Richman.” Not only does it reference one of Richman’s defining tunes, “I’m Straight,” but it also puts forward the prospect of falling out of love with Jonathan Richman. (Actually, having seen Richman complain about the A/C the last two times I saw him play live and also reading Zeller’s account of Richman’s prickiness as an interviewee, I get it.)

In Zeller’s lengthy intro, he puts himself across as a die-hard Richman fan frustrated that Richman’s recent work hasn’t lived up to the initial early promise. He tells of an NYU gig of October 29, 1977, singling out the new songs “I’m a Little Airplane,” “My Love Is A Flower (Just Beginning To Bloom),” “I’m A Little Dinosaur,” and (Zeller’s favorite) “The Morning of Our Lives.” The interview that ran in N.Y. Rocker took place after that show in chilly Washington Square Park (how about finding a bar somewhere, guys?) and was by his own admission a bit awkward.

This 1998 interview with Richman includes a reference to Richman’s distaste for N.Y. Rocker because “they had misquoted” Richman and “distorted some of [Richman’s] comments” and because “they had ‘lied,’” but what I can’t figure out is if this is the feature Richman was upset about—N.Y. Rocker covered Richman more than once, after all. What’s odd is that the interview reads like a verité transcription of what happened (there were four people present, and the interview is presented in straight (lengthy) Q&A style). And yet Zeller himself goes out of his way to explain Richman’s sensitivity on this matter, saying “I promised not to misquote him or take his answers out of context, which is one reason why he is averse to doing interviews.” It seems unlikely that Richman would single out this piece of all pieces for an accusation of distortion, but anything’s possible.

Zeller’s article is still an interesting and engaging read. One of my favorite tidbits is Richman’s mention of an earlier name for the Modern Lovers, that being “Jonathan Richman’s Rockin’ Roadmasters,” a fact that could be corroborated on the Internet solely by this Spanish-language article from 2003. It appears to be not widely known that RIchman had once favored that name for his band.

Tucked in on the final page of three is a quirky questionnaire, presented entirely without explanation or caption, that clearly has Richman’s answers on it…

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Famous Monsters: The eerie movie-monster portraits of Basil Gogos
09:04 am

Pop Culture


In it’s late ‘50 to early ‘70s heyday, Famous Monsters of Filmland became legendary. Though it thoroughly covered the horror film scene, it did its job with a surfeit of cheek that made it accessible to younger readers, making it a semi-serious film rag that appealed to the MAD magazine demographic. (Its publisher, Warren Publishing, was also home to MAD visionary Harvey Kurtzman’s Help!.) It spawned imitations, and soldiered on for over a decade past its useful life, to fold in 1983. The mag was revived in 1993, and after some legal contention, it continues today as a web site and a bimonthly print publication.

Between MAD magazine and Playboy, there was Famous Monsters of Filmland. For kids growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was one of the landmarks of adolescence; something that was frowned upon or simply beyond the comprehension of their parents; something that was uniquely their own. It was Forrest J. Ackerman’s genius to recognize that kids would love exploring the worlds of horror and science fiction and it was Jim Warren’s genius to grasp that by making the magazine scholarly but humorous, it would diffuse the subject matter’s dark side and make that younger readership feel welcome. In fact one of the striking elements of FM’s early years is how much interaction there was with its readership, through its lengthy letter column (which regularly printed reader photos) to the “You Axed for It” request pages and the fan club/“Graveyard Examiner” sections. The magazine had a curious innocence (engineered by Ackerman’s persona of a friendly, endlessly punning uncle), mixed with a sense of transgrescence. For all the jokes an light-heartedness, this was still a publication filled with images of monsters, the undead, vampires, and corpses which carried with it a frisson of danger and the forbidden.

The Warren Companion

One of the factors that distinguished Famous Monsters in its prime was stunning cover art, most notably the expressionistic character portraits of Basil Gogos. Gogos was a Greek national born in Egypt, whose family moved to the US when he was in his teens. He studied illustration under the Art Student’s League’s Frank J. Reilly, and began illustrating pulp westerns at the end of the ‘50s. His leap to the horror genre came quickly—his first FM cover was a 1960 portrait of Vincent Price, and he went on to do more than 50 utterly distinctive works for the publication.


Plenty more, plus a TV documentary about Basil Gogos, hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
The Donald Fagen song that’s so obscure, Donald Fagen himself probably doesn’t even remember it
12:37 pm



A few weeks ago I was poking around John K. King Used & Rare Books, Detroit’s incredibly massive used bookstore—it’s one of the best bookstores I have ever been in—and I stumbled upon a curious volume, colorful and bright: The 90s: A Look Back—A History of the 1990s Before They Happen, edited by Peter Elbling and National Lampoon honcho Tony Hendra. Practically a magazine in book form and bearing a copyright date of 1989, the volume is some kind of satire of the media’s addiction to end-of-decade reviews. I popped it into my cart and didn’t think much more about it.

After I got home, the book began to puzzle me even more. The Hendra link obviously called to mind National Lampoon, but the presence on the masthead of the names Graydon Carter and “Kurt Anderson” (sic) suggested some kind of relationship with Spy, which was smack in the middle of its glorious heyday in 1989. A perusal of the table of contents yielded an astonishingly impressive list of contributors—David Mamet, Bill Murray, Ann Magnuson, Mike Wallace, Keith Haring, Paul Krassner, etc. Some nugatory Internet researches revealed the existence of a prior volume ten years earlier, edited by Christopher Cerf and Tony Hendra, that was far more successful, under the title The 80s: A Look Back at the Tumultuous Decade 1980-1989. Any decade that includes hefty doses of President Ronald Reagan is going to be somewhat impervious to satire, and this “90s” volume appeared to have come and gone without much comment.

Not surprisingly, the real world has a tendency to outstrip satire. The joke of the book is that the 1990s are described before they happen, and even if the joke were better, the transpiring of the actual 1990s we all lived through would inevitably reveal the project to be far less prescient (and interesting) and far more of its time than contemporaneous assessment would ever imagine. The gags of Japan and Disney purchasing everything, both tropes that were très big in 1989, predominate, but nobody thinks of the 1990s in those terms anymore. One exception to the rule is the contribution from George Carlin, entitled “S.P.I.N.,” an acronym standing for “Subscriber Preference Initiated News,” which predicts with devastating accuracy a post-newspaper world in which a reader’s news diet is tailored to his or her preferences, a media landscape that the Internet depressingly made all too familiar.

In the back of the book a few musically inclined luminaries including Spinal Tap‘s (and, lately, Better Call Saul‘s) Michael McKean, Weekend Update co-creator Herb Sargent, and not-yet-Disney-axiom Randy Newman collectively come up with the “Songs of the Millennium.” One of the songs is by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, whose previous full-length album, The Nightfly, had come out a hefty six year’s earlier.

Fagen’s contribution is called “The Mop Song 2000,” and purports to present the chart-topping hit of “Stend’or of the Rill,” who hails from “102nd Starfleet, Sector 1267H4, Earth Orbit 10021,” which is probably future-speak for New York’s Upper East Side. The ditty, which shows every sign of being tossed off, neatly ties together a cute, 1980s, sci-fi premise and the rejuvenating pessimism of millennialism, telling the tale of an Earth so fucked up that aliens show up to “mopify,” i.e. clean up, the mess we’ve made of it. Humanity’s time is “fini” so the best thing to do is to let the aliens wield their “Fire-Mop” and start afresh. Lord knows we can’t do it.

I’ve searched on Google for information about this song, and found precisely zero references to it, so DM duly offers it up for any Steely Dan completists out there. If anyone finds a bootleg track of Fagen demonstrating a melody, that would be mind-blowing and great, but in all honesty you can pretty much supply your own “Babylon Sisters”-ish vocal tracks in your head as you read the lyrics.


The Mop Song 2000

Say Mop-d’dwee-dit
The sky is falling
Men of Earth
Your time is up
We have come
To decorate your world
To mopify your planet
Say Moppity-mop-d’dwee-dit

Say celebration
Der Himmel fällt
Hombres de la Tierra
Votre temps est fini
It’s party time
But first a thorough cleaning
We’ll mopify your planet
Say Moppity-mop-d’dwee-dit

Our leader told us
That y’all are psycho
That soon you’ll be
Right in our face
Say Hallelujah
The Fire-Mop is hungry
We’ll mopify your planet
Say Moppity-mop-d’dwee-dit


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Contemporary celebrities inserted into art masterpieces
11:32 am



Miley Cyrus in “A Spanish Beauty,” by Henri-Guillaume Schlesinger
A French woman named Bénédicte Lacroix has a Tumblr going called “Voyage dans le temps” (Time Travel) in which she inserts photographs of 21st-century famous people into artistic masterpieces. We’ve all seen variations on this general idea, but I especially liked the execution here—not all of the paintings are so familiar, and in fact I would say that in every case, if you click through to the original painting (I’ve supplied the link at each title), you are guaranteed a glimpse of something sublime.

The Roger Federer one is especially clever.

Leonardo DiCaprio in “Self-Portrait,” by Vincent Van Gogh


Megan Fox in “The Girl With The Pearl Earring,” by Johannes Vermeer

Steve Jobs in “The Son of Man,” by René Magritte

Beyoncé in “The Necklace,” by Jean-François Portaels
More of these after the jump….....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Real total war has become information war’: ‘This Is Marshall McLuhan’ wild experimental NBC TV doc
04:01 pm



In the 60s and the 70s, Marshall McLuhan, the pithy and eminently quotable Canadian philosopher of media and electronic communications occupied a rarefied niche (along with R. Buckminster Fuller) that really doesn’t seem to exist much in American culture anymore, that of the “public intellectual.” More to the point, McLuhan, who never met a TV camera he didn’t take an immediate liking to, was an intellectual celebrity.

Marshall McLuhan was once such a ubiquitous part of the media landscape that you could turn on the TV and see him hamming it up on the Today show or read Sunday funnies where cartoon characters debated his ideas. McLuhan even appeared as himself, employed as a human punchline in Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning Annie Hall. These days only someone like Slavoj Žižek has anything even close to that same sort of “smart guy” star power, but it’s difficult to imagine NBC devoting an entire hour to his work, like they did with 1967’s This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage.

An episode of the NBC Experiment in Television series, this was in fact pretty experimental stuff. A quasi-documentary cum visual essay (based on McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore’s best-selling coffee table book, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects) it was heady and decidedly avant garde programming for middle America in 1967. Just how avant garde was it you ask? Well, it’s got Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman in it for starters. She’s not playing her cello topless here of course, but is seen wrapped in plastic. Artist Allan Kaprow, father of “the Happening” also makes an appearance. There’s a long quoted passage from John Cage and the piece is littered with Pop art trappings and evocative visuals. The producers, Ernest Pintoff and Guy Fraumeni, were obviously making a sincere effort to be forward-thinking. And it was, and is still very much a satisfying viewing experience nearly half a century later. The only thing I can think of today that would be similar in any way would be one of Adam Curtis’ films. (There’s one section where the VO discusses how all pervasive the mediasphere is on all of our lives while onscreen hands are seen kneading dough as a stand-in for our collective brains. It practically screams Adam Curtis.)

McLuhan reveals that many of the subjects he investigates are things that he in fact finds irritating and exasperating, causing him to wish to mentally “take apart” things like television and radio. It’s might seem counterintuitive to view him as a Luddite, yet here he all but describes himself that way (which makes him even more fascinating, if you ask me.)

Topics include the “causes” of go-go dancing and “the discothèque,” the passing of one style of humor in favor of one favored by younger people (Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart and Bill “My name — José Jiménez” Dana are shown as examples of the new!), how politics had become show business, why teens often seek out corporate involvement for their fashion trends, the influence of the Beatles, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman and Pablo Picasso, how images of abundance (things as commonplace to us as refrigerators) seen worldwide via our television programs would have inevitable and far-reaching consequences in poorer nations who would perceive themselves as deprived of something which they would then aspire to.

The Velvet Underground and Nico make an appearance in McLuhan and Fiore’s book in this two page spread.

We hear McLuhan’s blunt musings on the Vietnam War, the first televised war, which the nation was then in the middle of. Also touched upon is how the media revolution would eliminate entire classes of jobs. That would have seemed an eerie thought at the time, a sci-fi prediction if you will, but flash forward to today and we’re living in that future.

As Tom Wolfe once asked “What…if…he…is…right?” In retrospect, McLuhan was right about practically everything! From the perch of nearly fifty years ago, he was extraordinarily prescient. His track record as a futurist is much better than… well, anyone’s, when you get right down to it.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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