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Classic albums represented as vintage Penguin paperbacks
12:26 pm


Penguin Books

David Bowie, Aladdin Sane. Those red and blue spines seem artfully placed, hm?.......

I’ve collected Penguin paperbacks for years; I’ve always been drawn to the groovy mid-century aesthetic of the covers from the pre-1980 era (actually pre-1970 for the really good stuff), with the stately and ineffably British typesetting and the promise of erudite treasures within.

So something in me totally lit up when I saw the StandardDesigns shop at Etsy. Clearly whoever is doing this store is a kindred spirit. You see, their main stock in trade is making posters where each of the songs of certain classic albums (there’s an emphasis on Bowie and British postpunk and Britpop, but not to worry, it’s not like VU and Springsteen and the Pixies and Tom Waits aren’t also in the mix) are represented by a single book from the midcentury Penguins. Once you do all of the songs of Doolittle or OK Computer or Substance, say, you’ve got a tidy little shelf of dog-eared paperbacks, each with a title in the often-teeny Penguin spine lettering.

Appreciating these posters is assisted by knowing some of the basics of the Penguin paperback world. One great thing about midcentury Penguins was the wonderful rules they set down in order to communicate things. For instance, the Pelican imprint specialized in nonfiction subjects and used blue as the indicating color, while murder mysteries almost always used green.

The early (and quite famous) phase of Penguin paperbacks were dominated by Jan Tschichold’s 1940s-era design with author and title information set in Gill Sans, flanked by huge orange stripes on the top and bottom. In 1962 Romek Marber came up with a standardized layout for Penguin titles that came to be known as the Marber Grid, which did a great deal to clarify what a Penguin cover was supposed to look like. Opinions may differ but most of my favorite covers use the Marber Grid.

The Marber Grid
The posters go in for a lot of little in-jokes or otherwise apt use of the Penguin spines. The “shelves” for Nebraska, Velvet Underground and Nico, Aladdin Sane, Velvet Underground and Nico, Unknown Pleasures and a couple others strongly mimic the album covers they’re recapitulating, while in most of the other cases there’s just a vague color resemblance. For Velvet Underground and Nico they’ve worked in the name “Andy Warhol” as the “editor” of the volume Heroin. The one for Led Zeppelin’s “Zoso” album doesn’t mention the band’s name anywhere—just like the real cover—and also uses exclusively titles from the Penguin Poets series from the late 1950s, while OK Computer, quite aptly, is made up entirely of those blue nonfiction Pelicans. My favorite detail actually comes from the poster for The Queen Is Dead, where “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is the only spine that’s one of those green mystery covers, which is somehow totally appropriate.

Each poster costs $26.54 but there are bundle deals if you want more than one. If you want to learn more about the history of Penguin design, I can’t recommend Phil Baines’ book Penguin By Design strongly enough, and Seven Hundred Penguins is also a fantastic treat.

Click on any of the posters for a larger view.

Velvet Underground and Nico

Pulp, Different Class
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Download PDFs of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript and the Codex Seraphinianus for free
10:57 am


Codex Seraphinianus
Voynich Manuscript

Codex Seraphinianus
A few years ago we ran a post on one of the most mind-bogglingly awesome books ever written or conceived by mortal humankind—I refer to Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus, republished by Rizzoli in 2013. To this day it remains one of the most popular posts we’ve ever done, the degree of interest in this peculiar, fantastical volume of fanciful schematics, all in an invented language and alphabet, was quite stunning.

Similarly, The Voynich Manuscript, which dates from the early 15th century, is also written in an alphabet that nobody can decipher. The Codex Seraphinianus was written in the 20th century by a writer who is still among us, but the Voynich Manuscript isn’t like that. For centuries a great many people have tried to crack its elusive code, but nobody has been able to. So you get a very similar effect, marvelous illustrations of botanical fantasies, tagged with captions we can’t comprehend.

The Voynich Manuscript
Both of these are awesome coffee table books or just books to peruse idly and get your creative juices flowing.

A friend recently called my attention to this 2011 post by the Holy Books blog, which offers readers a chance to download the two books on PDF. It’s obviously been around for a while.

Codex Seraphinianus

The 2011 doc ‘The Book That Can’t Be Read’
After the jump, a fascinating Terence McKenna talk about the mysterious Voynich Manuscript; Rudolf II, the “mad king” of Bohemia; The Winter King and Queen; Doctor John Dee; Edward Kelley; Roger Bacon; and the book’s possible ties to alchemy and the Rosicrucian Enlightenment…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Charles Dickens & The Train of Death: The story behind the classic ghost story ‘The Signal-Man’
10:33 am


Charles Dickens

In his later years, Charles Dickens often suffered from siderodromophobia—a fear of train travel—caused by his involvement in a railway crash in 1865. If you suffer from say, a fear of flying, then you will appreciate the dread Dickens sometimes endured when he traveled by train thereafter—panic, foreboding, white knuckle terror. His son later claimed that Dickens never fully recovered from the experience and he died exactly five years to the day of the accident.

The Staplehurst rail crash occurred at a viaduct on the South Eastern Railway linking London to the coastal town of Folkestone, at 3:13pm on June 9th, 1865. A section of rail track had been removed. The foreman in charge of replacing the track misread the train timetable—believing his crew had sufficient time to finish the job before the arrival of the next train. His mistake had tragic consequences.
Illustration of the Staplehurst train wreck.
Apart from the trauma, the accident had serious implications for Dickens as he was accompanying his mistress Ellen Ternan and her mother to Folkestone where they were to catch a boat back to France.

Long before the 50-Mile Rule—which suggests one should never an affair with someone within a 50 mile radius of home—Dickens had been careful to keep the 27-year-old Ellen out of the public eye in France to avoid any possibility of discovery by his wife or by a prying press. The three were sitting in the first carriage when the train jumped the tracks and crashed over the side of a viaduct. Ten passengers were killed, 40 more were injured.
Photograph of the accident.
Ensuring Ellen and her mother were safe, Dickens busied himself aiding the injured and the dying. He described the accident in a letter to his old schoolfriend Thomas Mitton on June 13th, 1865:

My dear Mitton,

I should have written to you yesterday or the day before, if I had been quite up to writing. I am a little shaken, not by the beating and dragging of the carriage in which I was, but by the hard work afterwards in getting out the dying and dead, which was most horrible.

I was in the only carriage that did not go over into the stream. It was caught upon the turn by some of the ruin of the bridge, and hung suspended and balanced in an apparently impossible manner. Two ladies were my fellow passengers; an old one, and a young one. This is exactly what passed: you may judge from it the precise length of the suspense. Suddenly we were off the rail and beating the ground as the car of a half emptied balloon might. The old lady cried out “My God!” and the young one screamed.

I caught hold of them both (the old lady sat opposite, and the young one on my left) and said: “We can’t help ourselves, but we can be quiet and composed. Pray don’t cry out.” The old lady immediately answered, “Thank you. Rely upon me. Upon my soul, I will be quiet.” The young lady said in a frantic way, “Let us join hands and die friends.” We were then all tilted down together in a corner of the carriage, and stopped. I said to them thereupon: “You may be sure nothing worse can happen. Our danger must be over. Will you remain here without stirring, while I get out of the window?” They both answered quite collectedly, “Yes,” and I got out without the least notion of what had happened.

Fortunately, I got out with great caution and stood upon the step. Looking down, I saw the bridge gone and nothing below me but the line of the rail. Some people in the two other compartments were madly trying to plunge out of the window, and had no idea there was an open swampy field 15 feet down below them and nothing else! The two guards (one with his face cut) were running up and down on the down side of the bridge (which was not torn up) quite wildly. I called out to them “Look at me. Do stop an instant and look at me, and tell me whether you don’t know me.” One of them answered, “We know you very well, Mr Dickens.” “Then,” I said, “my good fellow for God’s sake give me your key, and send one of those labourers here, and I’ll empty this carriage.”

We did it quite safely, by means of a plank or two and when it was done I saw all the rest of the train except the two baggage cars down in the stream. I got into the carriage again for my brandy flask, took off my travelling hat for a basin, climbed down the brickwork, and filled my hat with water. Suddenly I came upon a staggering man covered with blood (I think he must have been flung clean out of his carriage) with such a frightful cut across the skull that I couldn’t bear to look at him. I poured some water over his face, and gave him some to drink, and gave him some brandy, and laid him down on the grass, and he said, “I am gone”, and died afterwards.

Then I stumbled over a lady lying on her back against a little pollard tree, with the blood streaming over her face (which was lead colour) in a number of distinct little streams from the head. I asked her if she could swallow a little brandy, and she just nodded, and I gave her some and left her for somebody else. The next time I passed her, she was dead.

Front cover of ‘London Illustrated’ showing Dickens tending to the injured.
The accident caused Dickens to lose his voice for two weeks, and he was often visibly panicked on train journeys after that—on one occasion hurling himself to the floor of the carriage convinced another crash was about to take place. However, he was not a man to waste his own experience—no matter how painful—and he used the events in his ghost story The Signal-Man—one of literature’s most famous supernatural tales.

The Signal-Man tells the story of an encounter with a signalman who tells the unnamed narrator of his haunting by ghostly premonitions prior to a series of train accidents. The story formed part of Dickens’ Mugby Junction series of stories. It is a subtle and beautifully told tale, and was adapted by the BBC in 1976 for Ghost Story, starring Denholm Elliott and Bernard Lloyd. Elliott is perfect as the man haunted by a ghostly visitor, whose message he tries to understand.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Sven Hassel and the strange obsession with Nazi fiction

The Second World War claimed over 60 million lives and flattened most of Europe. Seventy-one years after it ended, the Second World War is still the got-to global conflict for hundreds, nay, thousands, of books, movies, TV series, comics, and gung-ho trigger happy violent computer games. The Second World War is the war that just keeps on giving.

One old soldier who made a small fortune from writing about his exploits fighting with the Nazis during the war was Sven Hassel. His fourteen semi-autobiographical books have sold 53 million copies worldwide, with a staggering 15 million sold in the UK alone.

Hassel’s books were “pulp fiction staples in the 1960s and ’70s to a male cohort that may have its equivalent today in those who sustain a billion-dollar industry in war-themed video games.” His tales of the band of renegade German soldiers, deserters and prisoners—a Nazi “Dirty Dozen”—who fought on the Russian front were supposedly based on the author’s own experiences. This band of brothers hated Hitler, hated war, killed their superior officers and indulged in “steamy sex with consenting local women.” It all sounds rather fantastical—and led one Danish newspaper to denounce Hassel as a fraud, claiming he never fought with the Germans but saw out the war at home and based his best-selling novels on secondhand stories and movies.

These claims can still be found on Hassel’s Wikipedia page—despite Hassel presenting documentary evidence in the form of his Heeresstammkarte (Hassel’s official military record—issued by the German army), photographs, medals and scars to prove he had indeed fought with the Wehrmacht. This led to a retraction from the newspaper that published the allegations.
Author and soldier Sven Hassel.
Hassel was born Sven Pedersen in Fredensborg, Denmark, on April 19, 1917. He did military service with the merchant navy, before leaving Denmark to look for work in Germany. Hassel later claimed:

Germany was obviously not the right country to move to, but then again, you must remember that those times were chaotic and at that point there was still no war.

There may have been no war, but the persecution of the Jews was well under way and the Germans had been involved in horrific bombings of civilians during the Spanish Civil War—so, it does seem (shall we say) rather unbelievably strange why he chose to move to Nazi Germany rather than France or Belgium or even the United Kingdom.

Hassel signed up for the Wehrmacht in 1938—after falsely claiming his father was an Austrian—enrolling in the “2nd Panzerregiment and later in the 11th and 27th Panzerregiment (both in the 6th Panzer Division).”

We were trained to become the world’s best soldiers through the use of Prussian methods that surpassed any evil and terror you can imagine.

Maybe that was why Hassel attempted to desert. He was caught and sent to the penal battalion of the 27th. Here he met many of the characters who later appeared in his novels. He was wounded eight times, and “transferred to the Abwehr (espionage) in Denmark for a few months (from December 1944 to January 1945).” Denmark was occupied by Germany throughout the war—4,000 Danish volunteers died fighting alongside the Germans on the Eastern Front.
Photograph of two German soldiers purportedly “Tiny” and Portas who featured in Hassel’s books.
After the war, Hassel was a P.O.W. in various prison camps, before he was returned to Denmark where his citizenship was canceled and was again sent to jail. It was during his time in prison that Hassel started writing The Legion of the Damned. Since its publication in 1953, The Legion of the Damned has never been out of print—making it the only “Danish novel that has been sold consecutively for more than six decades since its first edition.”

Hassel’s novels are but one part of the bizarre enduring fascination the West has with the Second World War, in particular the Nazis, those scum-sucking evil psychopaths who perpetrated genocide on the Jewish people and slaughtered anyone else who disagreed with their policies or didn’t quite fit the desired profile.

This cultural obsession with these fuckers attracts some very strange bedfellows including hipster favorites like Lemmy—who liked collecting Nazi memorabilia; Bryan Ferry—who once admitted a passing regard to the stylishness of Nazi iconography; punk rockers who wore swastika armbands to allegedly shock the very people who had fought the Nazis back in the day; just as Brian Jones had once dressed up as a Nazi—with his then girlfriend Anita Pallenberg—to shock the flower power generation; and let’s be honest, even those damned hippies, gott in himmel, drove Volkswagon Beetles—which are nothing short of Hitler mobiles.
Sid in swastika T-short, Lemmy and his collection, Brian posing for the camera.
Not that any of these lovelies were or are Nazis—rather they are examples of a strange cultural phenomenon—an interest in Nazism—be it uniforms, iconography, medals or weaponry—that has lasted for over eight decades. It should also be pointed out that these musicians are all English—as the country has a very strange relationship with the Nazis and the Second World War.

In England or Britain as a whole, Der Fuhrer and his gang of merry Nazis are fodder for long-running sitcoms like Dad’s Army or ‘Allo ‘Allo! or failed sitcoms like Heil Honey I’m Home or skits by Monty Python and Spike Milligan.

And then there are the endless TV dramas of life during wartime like Colditz, Back to the Land, Secret Army, Danger UXB, Foyle’s War.

The Brits, you see, have this thing where they can go on and bloody on about past battles, victories, defeats and yon noble war heroes who sent people homeward to think again or died for King and Country. From Gordon of Khartoum, to Wilfred Owen, to Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and the Normandy landings. It’s in our national anthems. It’s in our street signs and place names. It’s deep within our national psyche.

It’s no accident the Brits produce TV series like Downton Abbey as we love to wallow in an idealized nostalgia of a fantasy past where people are reassured that things were better in the olden days when life was structured (or class-ridden) and everyone knew their place.

This cultural obsession with the past might also explain why the Brits, or in particular the English, have an obsession with the Nazis as they represent the uber bogeyman whose defeat (in two world wars and one World Cup) enhance the national self image as one of great strength, bravery and utter moral superiority.

Of course, none of this mattered a jot to Sven Hassel who just counted the royalty checks. Anyway, Hassel considered his books as anti-war:

My books are strictly antimilitary. They correspond to my personal view of what I experienced. I write to warn the youth of today against war. I am writing the story of the small soldiers, the men who neither plan nor cause wars but have to fight them. War is the last arm of bad politicians.

Hassel died a wealthy man at the grand old age of 95 in 2012. Not a bad innings.
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Apocalypse Then: Monsters, nightmares & portents from ‘Augsburg Book of Miraculous Signs’

When Oliver Sacks was starting out on his career in neurology, he noted that many of his colleagues never seemed to read or make reference to any scientific papers more than five years old. Sacks found this strange, for as a teenager in England he had devoured numerous books on the history of chemistry and biology and even botany. However, to his fellow neurologists Sacks’ interest in the “historical and human dimension” of science was considered “archaic.” Undeterred, Sacks was convinced the historical narrative offered a better understanding of scientific investigation.

This became evident with his diagnosis of a patient who suffered incessant jerking movements of the head and limbs. With his knowledge of previous scientific investigations, Sacks was able to correctly identify the cause of the patient’s illness while at the same time confirm a theory put forward by two German pathologists—Hallervorden and Spatz—in 1922, which had almost been forgotten. This only further convinced Sacks of the great insights to be gleaned from having some historical understanding of science.

Something similar is going on here in the phantasmagorical Augsburg Book of Miraculous Signs from 1552—which presents a continuous religious narrative from Biblical stories through historical events, and assumed portents and signs right up to the 16th century—the era when Protestantism became the dominant Christian religion in England, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland.

Privately commissioned in the German town of Augsburg, this “miracle” book was published in “123 folios with 23 inserts, each page fully illuminated, one astonishing, delicious, supersaturated picture follows another.” While church reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin denounced Catholicism for its superstitious and idolatrous beliefs, the Augsburg Book of Miraculous Signs served to remind its Protestant readers of the hand of God working thru various strange and ominous events—earthquakes, plagues of locusts, weird beasts, monstrous births and unusual solar activity. Like many of his fellow reformers, Luther believed such portents signified The End of Days and the coming Apocalypse—a trope that continues to this day. 

But for the modern secular reader, these beautiful water colors and gouaches describe meteorological events—floods, hailstones, storms; seismic activity—the Lisbon earthquake; solar activity; and the cyclical path of comets; all of which—as Oliver Sacks understood—can give science its human and historical dimension.

M’colleague, Martin Schneider previously posted on this wondrous book, stating he wished he was able to read the descriptions accompanying the images. Well, this where possible I have now done or have described the scene illustrated. For those who would like to own their own copy, a facsimile edition of the Augsburg Book of Miraculous Signs has been published by Taschen and is available here.
The great flood—in the center what maybe a representation of Noah’s ark.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Moses parts the Red Sea.
More ‘divine’ revelation, after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The forgotten mole men of Vienna’s sewers

Long before Orson Welles (as Harry Lime) was chased thru Vienna’s subterranean sewers in The Third Man, the city’s labyrinth of tunnels, waterways and culverts offered a secret refuge to many of the homeless poor.

The story of those who lived amid the squalor and effluence may have been long lost had it not been for the work of journalist Emil Kläger and amateur photographer Hermann Drawe, who in 1904 started documenting this secret world. With a local criminal as their guide, Kläger and Drawe descended into the city’s lower depths. In case of attack, they carried knuckledusters and guns—police could offer no protection here.

Drawe photographed these men huddled together under staircases, piled like stones in culverts, or wandering across the dark waters of the River Wien—lost men who lived, slept, smoked, ate, fought each other and shared dreams of a better future. Sometimes with their help Drawe would reconstruct certain scenes—a robbery, a fight—based on testimonies collected by Kläger. They also visited and documented the lives of the homeless men, women and children who lived in the Christian hostels above ground.

Between 1905 and 1908, Kläger and Drawe presented their work in a series of lectures—the photographs shown as slides to Kläger’s commentary. The authorities tried to stop them. This was not how the they wanted Vienna to be seen—this jewel of the Hapsburg Empire, the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, of waltzes, Art Nouveau, Kings, Queens, and Sachertorte.

The public disagreed. The men gave over 300 lectures. It led to the publication of a book of their work, Durch die Wiener Quartiere des Elends und Verbrechens (Journey through the Viennese quarters of crime and despair) in 1908. 
Residents of ‘The Fortress.’
Men sleep on piles of rubble.
Sleeping under a spiral staircase.
More of Drawe’s photographs, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Have a very scary Christmas with Vincent Price

Habits often start through the comfort they give. While the tree may be up, the decorations hung and the lights a-twinkling I never feel truly festive without rereading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s a habit I started long ago, a ritual you might say, and each holiday I return to those opening lines:

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

It’s the mix of atmospheric ghost story with a deeply humanist moral that makes Dickens’ tale so irresistible. There were, of course, many other ghost stories before A Christmas Carol but none that so intrinsically linked the festive season with the supernatural.

The story of the ungrateful miser Ebenezer Scrooge finding personal redemption after a visit from three ghosts was inspired by the deleterious effects of the Industrial Revolution on the children of poor and working class families. Dickens was horrified at the conditions of the poor and originally considered writing a political pamphlet to highlight the issue—An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child—but thought that such a pamphlet would have only a limited appeal to academics, charity workers, liberal politicians and philanthropists.

After addressing a political rally in Manchester in October 1843, where he encouraged workers and employers to join together to bring social change, Dickens decided that it would be far better to write a story that could carry his message to the greatest number of people. Thus he wrote A Christmas Carol. Since its publication in 1843, it has never been out of print and its humanistic themes—to learn from our mistakes, enjoy the moment and find value in human life not things—continue to inspire generation after generation.

While I enjoy reading Dickens’ tale, I can think of no greater delight than hearing it told by Vincent Price—one of the few voices that could read YouTube comments and make them sound interesting. On Christmas Day of 1949, the debonair Mr. Price hosted a holiday special where he read an edited version of A Christmas Carol....

After the jump, Vincent Price and “the oldest extant straight adaptation” for television of ‘A Christmas Carol.’

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Nothing so dangerous as an idea: Ralph Steadman’s illustrations for Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’

Ray Bradbury needed somewhere quiet to write. His wife had given birth to a baby daughter and their neat home did not seem so large anymore. Bradbury couldn’t afford to rent an office, so he spent his writing time in the UCLA library. Then one day he heard the Morse code clatter of keys on rollers and discovered the library offered typewriters for hire in a basement typing room at ten cents per half hour. Loaded up with a bagful of dimes, Bradbury started work on his latest story Fahrenheit 451.

Bradbury never liked to know what he was doing or where he was going when he wrote—he just hammered out the words from “the secret motives within.” It took him ten days to write Fahrenheit 451. Ten days to run up-and-down stairs and pull books off shelves to find random quotes for his book. Ten days not knowing what he was writing just following the course of the words that tumbled out of his head to tell their tale.

Published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is the story of a future America where books are banned and firemen are professional arsonists who patrol the cities burning every book they find. The title Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. Books are banned because they contain ideas that make people unhappy. The firemen burn the books to keep the people happy in their safe little spaces. Bradbury’s story could be our America today, where “politically correct” college students shut down ideas they cannot handle, and where “debate” means only talking to those who agree with you.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fahrenheit 251 in 2003, renowned artist Ralph Steadman was commissioned to illustrate Bradbury’s classic tale with his signature manic scratch and splatter style. Steadman had famously collaborated with Hunter S. Thompson on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and over a long career has illustrated numerous books, articles and films as well as producing a vast collection of personal work. Though Steadman was said to be “jaded” about illustrating any more books, he was thrilled to illustrate Bradbury’s classic as he considered it “as important as 1984 and Animal Farm as real powerful social comment, because it’s about a fire brigade burning books.”

As someone once said, I think it was me: There is nothing so dangerous as an idea. Particularly one whose time has come…

When Bradbury saw Steadman’s vibrant illustrations, the author paid the artist the highest compliment:

You’ve brought my book into the 21st Century. Thank you.

Steadman’s flamboyant penmanship suits Bradbury’s style of writing “at the top of [his] lungs”—as both work intuitively, allowing accident and inspiration to lead them towards unknown destinations.

There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.


It was a pleasure to burn.
More of Steadman’s fiery illustrations for Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Somebody put this airport waaaay too close to the beach
12:46 pm


Josef Hoflehner
Jakob Hoflehner

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747-400 from Amsterdam
I think these marvelous photographs by prominent Austrian photographer Josef Hoflehner and his son Jakob pretty much speak for themselves. They were taken at Maho Beach on the Caribbean island of St. Martin (it’s a little more than a hundred miles east of Puerto Rico)—the beach is right next to the short runway of the Princess Juliana International Airport. Since it’s on the southern, or Dutch, side of the island, it’s actually called Sint Maarten.

Josef and Jakob visited four times between 2009 and 2011, each time for about three weeks. Josef told Slate:

It’s an extraordinary place. There simply isn’t anything like this airport anywhere on the planet. With all the heightened security we have today, one can not get that close to a plane anywhere else without buying a ticket.


On average, there were only five or six passengers jets coming in per day, and often there as an hour or more between the landings. It’s not like we were relaxing on the beach like other beachgoers. We had the cameras in our hands, standing on the beach, since you never know when exactly the plane is arriving. When we’d go to the restroom or go get something to drink, then the plane, which was usually late, would suddenly come in.

In 2012 Most Press put out a bound volume of the photographs under the title Jet Airliner: The Complete Works.

Corsair Boeing 747-400 from Paris

Delta Air Lines Boeing 757-200 from Atlanta

American Airlines Boeing 737-800 from Miami
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!’: The unsparing memoir of a punk rock killer

Punk rock documentia—and there’s been a ton of it lately, revisiting crucial scenes now that their prime movers are approaching old age—has overwhelmingly tended to focus on the reminiscences of musicians whose importance has survived multiple generations of fan consensus. Thus we get Rollins, MacKaye, and later arrival Grohl in every fucking documentary ad infinitum. (The Hard Times nailed this perfectly.) But obviously there was so much more to punk and hardcore than precious drops of received wisdom from the revered Elders of D.C., and it’s becoming increasingly rare to hear those other perspectives, from the ordinary fans and alienated kids who truly comprised the movement.

Of course, the record hasn’t been written entirely without fan perspectives; who could forget the interviews that opened The Decline Of Western Civilization? And punk kids of all backgrounds were routinely trotted out as exotica talk-show fodder throughout the ‘80s, much of which material survives on YouTube. But Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!, a new book by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone, has gone a step beyond. They’ve located and produced a memoir with an L.A. hardcore scene habitué whose story is uniquely compelling—a chieftain in one of the ultra-violent gangs that turned that city’s music scene into a war zone.

Fittingly for an L.A. hardcore memoir, Disco’s Out…Murder’s In! features Raymond Pettibon cover art, but its contents aren’t as easy to take as a Black Flag album. It’s told in a first-person narrative by its subject, “Frank the Shank,” a punk kid who rose through the leadership ranks of the La Mirada Punks (LMP) street gang in early ’80s Los Angeles. When the book reaches the point where Frank’s career approaches its peak, it regales the reader with unsparing descriptions of utterly mortifying and entirely senseless crimes—beatings, stabbings, shootings. This was one of the guys that literally ruined punk, transforming it—in L.A., at least—from a rebel youth culture and musical phenomenon into a serious threat to the lives of its participants. There are passages so viscerally revolting I actually reconsidered my opposition to the death penalty—fuxsakes, LMP stabbed a guy to death because his manner of dress was “too ska”—and yet I could not put the book down. It’s not just that there’s been no other punk document like this before; Frank’s story is riveting as a narrative of a dead-end kid searching for a place in the world, as a true crime story, as a serial killer’s candid confession, and as a dispatch from a largely uncharted shadow of American music.

In a revealing passage, Frank—not unlike a PTA mom or a tacky local news reporter, really—passes the blame for the violence off on the bands, for their violent imagery and harsh music. Later in the book, though, he does ultimately cop to his culpability:

Everybody was pointing fingers at the kids who lived brutally. Bands were upset over losing friends to the crusade, but still kept feeding it with their lyrics and sound, then wanted to cry about it? Every single band wound us up like A Clockwork Orange, yelling something violent and negative on every record. Was there one happy punk record? I don’t think so. Everyone in the scene dealt with some type of bloodshed. Most didn’t have a choice if they wanted to survive the hardcore punk scene in Los Angeles.

“Be an individual, don’t be a follower!”

Easy for you to say when you were protected on stage, or behind a typewriter, but the trenches were another story. And bottom line, we were the majority of the kids who bought tickets. Nearly all of you so-called musicians and punk rock scholars wouldn’t have lasted a minute.

If violence is art, then LMP was the Jackson Pollack of punk. Our victims, more often than not, wound up looking like one of his paintings … abstract expressions of red splatter on black cement. We definitely shared Pollack’s inability to take criticism with any sort of reasonable acceptance. How dare they! The audacity of fools, they had no idea of what we’d accomplished. —pp180-181

Too many people died at the hands of punk rock violence. I got lucky, some didn’t. As an ultra-violent punk rock gangster, I admit my part in ruining the scene. L.A. punk stood to be a magical moment of youth expression like no other and, for a little while, it undoubtedly was. The gangs ruined punk rock. I still have people telling me today that they quit punk because of LMP. Kids with talent in our scene expressed anger through music or art. We, on the other hand, took our rage and confusion out on the streets. I’m far from that person today, but as that famous Black Panther said, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” —p222

Authors Mattioli and Spacone were gracious enough to spare us some time to discuss the impetus for the book and the process of crafting it:

Heath Mattioli: We had a friend who passed away, he was from a smaller punk rock gang called Lakewood Punks. His house was like a hub for dysfunctional kids, whether a punk rocker or a greaser or just some confused kid. It was a place to hang out, it had a skateboard ramp, and some LMP guys, Frank being one of them, would always go over there and hang out, and it turned out he was recruiting other guys, younger guys from these other gangs. And just hanging out with other punk rockers, talking music and pussy and whatnot, and that was where I initially met Frank. That was probably ’86.

David Spacone: If you went to punk shows you kind of needed to have backup. All of us that hung out at that house went to shows. Whether or not we participated in the whole gang thing, it really didn’t matter. As it says in the book, it was pretty dangerous, so those guys were always around at shows with us as well. That way nobody messed with us and we could just enjoy the music.

HM: I wasn’t really in the shit—a different type of shit, maybe? But I was a periphery guy, I listened to the music, but I wasn’t dedicated because I came from a more loving family, I couldn’t commit myself like these guys did, and if you wanted to be a “punk rocker” you had to put up with all that shit and I just wasn’t willing to do it. Dave was a little more in there.

DS: Yeah, I was more involved. It was OK to not be a punk rock gangster, but you had to have affiliates. But I just went to the shows for music. I was at the edge of the pit, and the gangsters were IN the pit.

Dangerous Minds: The book reads as a first-person narrative, so I take it it was written as an “as-told-to?” How much of the book, if any, represents your authorial voices, or was your function more conducting, transcribing, and editing interviews? Could you talk about your process?

HM: Our challenge was getting Frank to go back to that place mentally, to his youth. We weren’t interested in how he feels now, in hindsight. He’s a totally different guy. We didn’t want that, we wanted to hear how he felt in the moment. We would interview him in the middle of the night or early in the mornings, because he’s a graveyard shift worker. There would be times when he just didn’t want to get into it, and times where he’d talk for an hour. Answering your question of how much of us is in the book, we tried to live in Frank’s shoes and only speak the way he would speak. We had to tie things together and do our due diligence in talking to other people.

DS: What is us is how it’s stylized. We had to come up with a way for you to viscerally experience Frank’s journey through punk rock and being gangster #1.

Dangerous Minds: Frank describes active participation is some mighty repellent crimes. I’m curious how much of the specificity in his claims to criminal conduct might just be an old guy enjoying some attention and maybe exaggerating his “accomplishments?” How much is corroborated in terms of individual incidents described?

HM: The book is as close to how things went down as you could get without having a camera there. We were ferocious when it came to asking the same questions over and over, sometimes years apart, revisiting the same nights and making sure we were getting everything straight! We also asked other guys in the gang who were there, and stories were lining up. We had to dance around a little bit of the actual specifics of weaponry and maybe some street names.

DS: If you were around at the periphery at the time, all of these murders and other incidents that took place were all scuttlebutt. These were events we knew about from back in the day. Some of these stabbings and beatings and gang clashes were infamous

HM: We were bringing questions that we had as youths to the table, and Frank would say “Oh, you heard about that? Here’s how it went down…” I guess there weren’t a lot of rats in the punk world, so people hardly ever got brought in for questioning about these murders, and in Hollywood, and L.A. in general, it wasn’t patrolled like it is today, and there weren’t cameras everywhere, so these guys could do their dirty deeds and jump on the freeway and be home in bed pretty quickly after they killed somebody.

DS: One of the major reasons we wrote this book is that we were so familiar with the stories, and we knew that one day it all had to come to light. We ran into Frank all those years later, and his were the best stories to tell, he could tell the whole thing.

HM: We started out thinking we were gong to write about ALL of the punk gangs in L.A. at that time, but the more we talked to Frank, the more we realized his story was special, and so we decided to dedicate all our time to this one kid’s journey through the dark side of punk rock. So we ended up spending five years interviewing Frank. I couldn’t go to sleep so many nights after talking to Frank and hearing these horrific stories about these confused kids, who hated themselves and wanted everyone to feel what they felt. So now the reader gets to feel a little bit of that…

DS: The whole scene was really Clockwork Orange and we wanted to make the reader feel that.

Continues after the jump…

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