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A Dangerous Minds exclusive: Previously unpublished interview with Allen Ginsberg
03.02.2015
08:17 am

Topics:
Books
Drugs
Literature

Tags:
Allen Ginsberg


 
In 1977, Michael Rectenwald was a disenchanted pre-med student with a secret passion for poetry—Allen Ginsberg and his influences in particular. After a couple of years of covertly consuming, studying and writing poems, he found his interest in medical school had entirely evaporated, so he left school and dove further into writing, eventually sending a letter and some of his poems to Ginsberg himself. Not only did Ginsberg write back, he invited Rectenwald to apprentice him at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Describing his fellow classmates as “a hodgepodge of Buddhists, failed and former beatniks, wannabe poets, acid trippers, mushroom poppers, Carlos Castaneda aficionados who thought they could fly, and many stripes of New Ager,” Rectenwald was thrown into an erratic world of “creatives” head first. He thrived, developing both a meaningful relationship with his mentor and practicing his craft, despite the frequently turbulent environment.
 

 
For example, one of Rectenwald’s “tasks” was watching over Billy Burroughs, Jr., son of William S. Burroughs. Traumatized by an unstable childhood and the death of his mother at the hands of his father, Billy’s mental and physical health had deteriorated exacerbated by alcoholism and a speed addiction his father had encouraged him to cultivate—the senior Burroughs saw drugs as a creative muse. Eventually Billy fled to Florida and died of cirrhosis shortly thereafter, though not before leaving a suicide note, which Rectenwald still possesses.

Eventually Rectenwald went back home and returned to school, this time for a B.A. in English from the University of Pittsburgh. His experience with Ginsberg, while formative, had been disorienting. In 1994, Rectenwald and Ginsberg met again for an interview, which you can read below. This is the first time it has run in print, and the warmth and the familiarity of their interaction is apparent as they meander from politics to the drug war to Buddhism to William S Burroughs.

Michael Rectenwald has since gone on to publish his own poetry and fiction. He has also taught, and produced scholarly work on academic writing, and the history of science and secularism (guess pre-med really did end up coming in handy). He hopes to complete his next book—on his experience with Ginsberg—soon.

M: Hello Allen.

A: Hi, Hello.

M: How are you doing?

A: Well, I just came back from a Chinese restaurant with an old painter friend whom I haven’t seen in New York in thirty years. Robert Levin who was a court painter for all the Beat generation and San Francisco renaissance poets like Kerouac and Gary Snyder and John Wieners. So he just arrived in New York for the big Beat generation festival at NYU and him and I went out to summer tonight.

M: and you hadn’t seen him in how long?

A: Well we’d seen each other in Seattle where he was, but I hadn’t seen him in New York, I guess for I guess thirty years or so, since the 60s.

M: Wow, and the Beat generation and legacy and celebration is taking place, actually as this interview is airing. I’ve got the schedule here in front of me and it looks like it’s quite of an array… everything from academic presentations to…

A: Art shows, particularly. There will be a reading at town hall with Gregory Corso and Ann Waldman and myself, Dave [inaudible], Michael McClure…

M: Ferlinghetti with paintings?

A: Ferlinghetti is both poetry and paintings. Almost everybody. It’s a show of… it began in the school of education and art. It began as an art show to show paintings by Ferlinghetti and Burroughs and water colors by Gregory Corso and photographs by me and Albert Franken and others.

M: Yeah, you’re quite photographer too. I don’t think everybody knows that.

A: There is a new big book out by Chronicle Books that is [inaudible]. It is back on the stands now.

M: I myself have been an admirer of your musical works. You putting Blake to music and you have several musical scores that you have done.

A: We have a lot of albums out now. It’s basically a libretto that I did with Philip Glass, Hydrogen Jukebox that came out on [inaudible] Records a couple months ago. A couple years ago, I had on Island Records what was called The Lion For Real with spoken poems with jazz backgrounds by a lot of very interesting musicians, the same guys that play with Tom Waits and sometimes with Leonard Cohen, [inaudible],  Mark Greenbo, Bill Frisell and others. So now I’m working on a fourth CD set of highlights of all my recorded stuff that has been put out over a thirty-year period.

M: That’s excellent

A: We have a lot of Blake, that you like, plus some things you haven’t heard.

M: Great.

A: That I recorded with Dylan.

M: Oh really?

A: It’s about a half hour of work with Dylan, my own songs with Blake or compositions we did together, improvisations. Then there is a live cut with The Clash. A piece of an opera I did with Philip Glass, a duet between me and Glass. There is a duet with…oh, let’s see, who is the drummer for “A Love Supreme”?

M: Oh, you mean from the Santana album?

A: Elvin Jones, the drummer.

M: Is the cut from Combat Rock is that The Clash or is that another?

A; Oh that is a live thing we did, it’s one of my songs. We had Combat Rock, actually with the album I sing on with their words, but this was my own. Someone did it at a club in New York, improvised, years ago when I first met him.
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Kooky Kindle cover disasters
02.24.2015
10:09 am

Topics:
Amusing
Books
Design

Tags:
Kindle covers
bad art

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You certainly can’t judge a Kindle by its cover as some of these badly illustrated titles are certified Amazon bestsellers—which either means they’re good reads or the author comes from a very large family.

The best thing about Kindle is the opportunity it gives wannabe writers to publish their work, but conversely, the worst thing about Kindle is the opportunity it gives to wannabe writers who want to publish their work… because some of them will.

Then of course there are the Kindle covers which vary from the tacky to the plain bizarre to the truly fucking ugly. So popular are these bad covers there is even a Tumblr site celebrating their awfulness, from which this small selection of abominations is culled.
 
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More kooky Kindle covers after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Hey dummy, Gwyneth Paltrow wants to sell you $300 worth of books for $685
02.20.2015
09:35 am

Topics:
Books
Movies

Tags:
Gwyneth Paltrow


 
I was looking at Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop earlier today…. “Why were you there?” I hear you ask. This is a good question, as I’d never been there before. I was there because Goop had opted to showcase an awesome new book of poetry written by a friend of mine, Jynne Dilling Martin. (The book is called We Mammals in Hospitable Times and yes, you should totally buy it.)

So I’m there at Goop and I notice as a sidebar a weird product you can buy, which is called the “New York City Book Set,” whereby you pay Goop $685 (!) and they send you eight books. The books are New York: A Portrait of a City by Reuel Golden;
New York: A Photographer’s City edited by Marla Hamburg Kennedy and Helena Fang; New York in Color by Bob Shamis; Manhattan Classic: New York’s Finest Prewar Apartments by Geoffrey Lynch; New York Transformed: The Architecture of Cross & Cross by Peter Pennoyer, Anne Walker and Robert A. M. Stern; Central Park NYC: An Architectural View by Bernd H. Dams and Andrew Zega; New New York by Jake Rajs; and New York at Night by Jason Hawkes and Christopher Gray. What sets Goop’s product apart is that the books come with custom jackets that (when combined) create a handsome little picture of an architectural detail from New York’s Grand Central Terminal.
 

 
These all seem to be fine books, wouldn’t say a single negative thing about any of them. It’s safe to say, isn’t it, that nobody has ever thought about books in quite this way, right? Like books as ... a puzzle visual element centerpiece? That’s a new one for me. Note that the price of this .... display is $685, and you can get all of these books on Amazon for a total price of right around $300. So okay, they’re marking them up—A LOT—that’s not what bothers me here. What bothers me is that this is a crazy way to think about books.

I’m trying to game out what visitors are supposed to think when they enter your salon and see a pile of books that have connived to form a winsome picture redolent of old New York? “What are the odds?”

Or perhaps they’d feel pity for you for being such an idiot that you spent $385 on FUCKING BOOK COVERS.

Most people I know who like books, they have strong likes and dislikes about this or that author, and so the possibility that, you know, “I’ll never read a book by that guy again!” and so forth is always a live possibility…. now, probably nobody has such strong feelings about any of these nice picture books of New York but my point is, people who like books are likely to resent seeing them used as jigsaw puzzle pieces—or to be precise, as nothing more than jigsaw puzzle pieces. Sarah Palin writes books for people who don’t read, but Gwyneth takes this concept in a very different direction looking for her more upmarket marks. John Waters made that crack about refusing to sleep with anyone you went home with who didn’t own any books, but these Goop books don’t count.
 

 
There are two similar products for sale at Goop. The New York product has a counterpart, the “London Book Set,” which also costs $685. This set includes London: A Portrait of a City by Reuel Golden; The Light of London by Jean-Michel Berts; Living in Style: London by Geraldine Apponyi and Monika Apponyi; Great Houses of London by James Stourton and Fritz von der Schulenburg; Unseen London by Mark Daly and Peter Dazeley; David Gentleman’s London; London Interiors by Barbara Stoeltie, Rene Stoeltie and David Gill; and Creative Living London by Emily Wheeler and Ingrid Rasmusse. This product combines to create a little picture of Big Ben with some double decker buses rolling toward the camera, and to be honest I like this picture a little more than the Grand Central Terminal picture. This set of books, if purchased individually, can be also purchased on Amazon for $300.

There’s also a thing called the “Goop Cookbook Club” but it costs just $295 and I find the idea of a six cookbooks arrayed to simulate a carving knife on a cutting board not too bad, really.
 

 
Anyway, all of this is to say, it might be that Gwyneth Paltrow is the Jay Gatsby of our time. A number of you may already have thought of this passage from chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald—it seems perfectly apropos:
 

A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles, was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.
“What do you think?” he demanded impetuously.
“About what?” He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.
“About that. As a matter of fact you needn’t bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They’re real.”
“The books?”
He nodded.
“Absolutely real — have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and — Here! Lemme show you.”
Taking our scepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the “Stoddard Lectures.”
“See!” he cried triumphantly. “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too — didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?”
He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse.

 

 
I wonder if the pages in the books Goop is selling are cut or not…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Keep it prim and proper in the bedroom with this Victorian era sex guide
02.16.2015
08:13 am

Topics:
Amusing
Books
History
Sex

Tags:
sex
Victorian


 
A while back I found some excerpts from the 1712 physician-penned sex manual, The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Revealed, a hilarious little tome of outdated bedroom advice (though with a surprisingly decent take on anatomy). One would hope vast scientific (and socially progressive) improvements would be made in 150 years, but this 1861 Victorian sex manual, The Book of Nature; Containing Information for Young People Who Think of Getting Married, on the Philosophy of Procreation and Sexual Intercourse; Showing How to Prevent Conception and to Avoid Child-Bearing. Also, Rules for Management During Labour and Child-birth (yes, that is the entire title), proves otherwise—those Victorians, man! Here are some choice highlights!

The proper time for sexual indulgence is an important consideration, inasmuch as carelessness in this respect may tend to dyspepsia, indigestion, and other affections of the stomach. Persons who are predisposed to such diseases should never have sexual intercourse just before eating, nor very soon after a full meal. Its peculiar effect on the stomach is calculated to weaken digestion, particularly on the part of the male; and many a miserable dyspeptic might trace his unhappiness to imprudent acts of sexual intercourse. From two to three hours after or before eating a full meal, is the proper time for this business.

Burgers in bed may be poor sexual etiquette (depending on the situation—one wouldn’t want to refuse a dish from one’s host), but I’m fairly sure medical science has since given us the go ahead on that one.
 

 

Coition, or sexual union, may be compared to a fit of epilepsy, or to an electrical shock.

Either you’re doing it very right, or you’re doing it very wrong, but I’m intrigued by your description, so go on…

When a man is performing this act, if his thoughts wander, the product will be feeble, and if his wife become pregnant the offspring will be inferior. This fact is applied to the offspring of great geniuses, who are supposed to be thinking of something else when they beget their children, and hence their descendants are often much below them in intellect. In further confirmation of this theory, history informs us that some of the greatest men the world ever saw were bastards—children begotten with vigor, and when the minds of the parents are supposed to have been absorbed in the one idea of a loving sexual embrace.

As a bastard myself, I’m moved to concur, but my commitment to the truth supersedes my ego in this particular situation and I must correct you, sir—I don’t think a man’s wandering mind makes his kid stupid. We live in a busy, modern world, yet it’s not entirely inhabited by idiot distraction-babies.

Amorous females generally breed female children, while those of a colder temperament breed boys. When both are moderate in their desires, children of both sexes are produced. When the female is unnaturally amorous, (and such cases frequently occur,) she seldom becomes impregnated at all. The following mode of influencing the sex of the child, some physiologists assert, is really effective, and it looks reasonable.

 

 
I assume boys were considered prefereable at his point, so this line apparently encourages frigidity? Are they trying to sneakily trick horny newlyweds into making babies by promising them they’re too lusty to have children (ha!)? Is this an earnest misconception? So many questions!

The causes of a non-development of the Penis are various. Sometimes a general torpor of the Testes retards its growth. Disease or excess will frequently make it wither and decrease in size; and many a youth by early masturbation prevents the full development of the organ.

Sorry dude, they’re still gonna do it. You can tell them self-love causes instant death, they are still gonna do it.

You can find the entirety of the text here.
 
Via The Paris Review

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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The amazing, unpublishable burlesque pop-up book
02.02.2015
07:22 am

Topics:
Art
Books
Sex

Tags:
burlesque
Peter Larkin
pop-up


 
Peter Larkin, 88, was, in his day, a Tony Award-winning production designer, who, in the mid-‘50, took top nods for his work on Ondine, The Teahouse of the August Moon, No Time for Sergeants, and Inherit the Wind. He’s also a highly-informed burlesque aficionado. In 1994, he illustrated the book The Best Burlesque Sketches, and in the twenty years since, he’s been mocking up a pop-up book on the subject, with the delightful working title Panties Inferno. The Paris Review published a series of photos of the mock-ups, along with a detailed interview with Larkin.

I started doing pop-ups in 1994. My early ones were pretty crude. I had to figure out the engineering, if that’s what they call it—but I had fooled around with pop-ups before, because I used to make theatrical models for stage sets, so with my experience that wasn’t too difficult. I was a good draftsman and with a drawing board and triangles I could figure it out. You have to use the motion of opening the book to power the whole thing. Nowadays, there are guys who use string and elastic—all kinds of strange things in there, which as a purist, I would say aren’t exactly pop-ups. There’s also a certain amount of tumescence involved there. It’s sort of phallic, the pop-up. Why would you make a book that things popped up out of?

The book is arranged as if it’s a whole evening of burlesque, from start to finish. It always ended with a really awful production number. They got a set of steps—stairs—and covered it with some kind of sleazy material. Then there were all kinds of strange things.

Sadly, due to the complexity of Larkin’s pop-ups, the sheer expense of producing it has led publishers to deem it unpublishable. Mr. Larkin, again, is 88 years of age, so someone please tell him about Kickstarter, and quickly!
 

 

 

 

 

 
More wonderful images and animations at The Paris Review.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
Looking for a ton of burlesque matchbook covers? Well, you can stop looking.
‘How to Undress in Front of Your Husband’: the exact opposite of a feminist film

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Even in death women are not free of sexist idiots

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Yesterday, the best-selling author and neuroscientist Colleen McCullough died at the age of seventy-seven. McCullough was one of Australia’s best-known and most popular novelists, whose success was firmly established with the publication of her second novel The Thorn Birds in 1977. It was later made into a highly successful TV miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain. McCullough followed on her success with a string of bestsellers including An Indecent Obsession (1981), The Ladies of Missalonghi (1987), The Touch (2003) and her Masters of Rome series of historical novels. McCullough’s books have sold in excess of 30 million copies.

But McCullough had originally studied medicine before successfully moving into neuroscience and becoming a respected teacher at the Department of Neurology at the Yale Medical School in New Haven, CT.

By any standard, most people would be content with just one of McCullough’s incredible careers, and one would think that a national newspaper like The Australian might write a glowing obituary, eulogizing this talented and brilliant Australian woman. Well, most of us would, but that’s not what The Australian decided to focus on when writing her obituary, instead they considered her most relevant attributes as being “plain of feature, and certainly overweight,” though she was also “a charmer.”
 

 
It’s dispiriting to think how this ever got past the paper’s sub editor’s desk—unless of course the paper is completely staffed by sexist idiots—which, who knows, perhaps it is? What is more disturbing and inexcusable is how a woman of such great achievement should be so casually demeaned and undervalued.

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom as the stupidity of the Australian’s obituary has seen an amusing response from the Twittersphere, where people (including writers Caitlin Moran, Neil Gaiman, Joanne Harris and comedians Katy Brand and Craig Ferguson) have been tweeting their own mock obituaries (#myozobituary), which you can read below.
 

 

 

 

 

 
H/T Metro.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘The Gourmet Cokebook: A Complete Guide to Cocaine,’ 1972
01.27.2015
11:53 am

Topics:
Books
Drugs

Tags:
cocaine


 
I stumbled upon a reference to this marvelous book The Gourmet Cokebook: A Complete Guide to Cocaine, and I instantly knew I had to have it. I’ve never done cocaine, so how else am I supposed to learn about it, aside from watching Goodfellas or listening to Sticky Fingers?

The Gourmet Cokebook was published in 1972. There is conspicuously no author information provided, but the name “Daniel Chasin” appears on the copyright page, which was either a piece of misdirection or undermined the purpose of avoiding the attention of the authorities. I don’t know who Daniel Chasin is, but a Daniel Chasin is credited as acting on the movie Hussy from 1980, and a Daniel Chasin is also credited with writing and directing the 2003 It’s Tough Being Me, apparently a mockumentary about the inventor of the “Fart Machine,” which I suddenly absolutely HAVE to see. I know it’s a longshot, but I really hope those are all the same person.

The publishing company of The Gourmet Cokebook is listed as “White Mountain Press,” which I find hilarious and perfect. The book cost $2.95 at the time, which I know because the price is printed in rather large letters on the back. It has that Loompanics feel of a semi-clandestine operation designed to teach you how to pick locks or make a fake passport.

In truth, the idea of a “Gourmet Cokebook” is hilarious but in principle, the idea isn’t so bad. As the author (Chasin?) points out, there really wasn’t any proper resource around if you wanted to find out more about the drug—the authorities certainly weren’t going to help. There wasn’t any Internet, of course. The book is mostly sensible and helpful, supplying information about the history of the drug and some nuts and bolts information. But in 1972 cocaine was a new drug for mainstream America, and it would take a decade or so for the down sides of its excesses to become plain to all. The book has an idealistic edge to it that doesn’t sit well with the aura that surrounds cocaine today. There’s an appendix at the end addressing the relationship between cocaine and sex, and to the author’s credit the single paragraph is quite up-front about the fact that after excessive use, “the strong sexually stimulative nature of the drug changes to one of frustration, where erections and orgasms become almost impossible.”

Here are a few pages from the book. The bit that opens chapter 2 is an amazing piece of coke-writing that I love. Click on the image for a larger version.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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James Ellroy’s obsessive and murderous world

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James Ellroy. Often writes. In. One. Word. Sentences. Sometimes two. It’s a style he developed when editing his novel White Jazz—the final volume of his famous (first) L.A. Quartet. He thought the manuscript too long—the action held back by unnecessary descriptive passages—so he slashed whole paragraphs and sentences to one-word blasts. The result was powerful, explosive, relentless—like being punched by a champion heavyweight, or poked in the chest by a speed freak keeping your attention focussed on his latest conspiracy theory.

Ellroy is the greatest living historical novelist/crime writer—historical novelist is how he describes himself—writing rich, complex novels—filled with multiple plot lines and characters—all held together, with Tolstoyan skill, in a single narrative.
 
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Ellroy as a child pictured next to his mother in news report of her slaying.
 
If the past is a foreign country then Ellroy is a pioneer of that territory. He maps out America’s hidden criminal history—a dark foreboding underworld—which he situates between the twin poles of his personal obsession: the unsolved murder of his mother in 1958 and the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the “Black Dahlia,” whose tortured, brutalized and severed body was discovered in January 1947.
 
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LA Times report on the ‘Black Dahlia’ murder, 1947.
 
These two murders underscore much of Ellroy’s life and fiction. He was just a ten-year-old kid when his mother was murdered by person or persons unknown. The trauma of this act led Ellroy into a world of petty crime, drug addiction and prison. He daydreamed and plotted and ran movies in his head where he saved a fantasy amalgam of his mother and Elizabeth Short from torturous demise. He knew his life was in free-fall—he was on a one-way ticket to the morgue. After a near fatal incident—a lung infection caused by his drug and alcohol addiction—Ellroy saved himself by writing crime fiction.

Last year, Ellroy published Perfidia—the first volume of his second L.A. Quartet—which follows (in real time) factual public and fictional private deeds across Los Angeles in the days around Pearl Harbor. Perfidia documents the racism and brutality of the cops and everyday Angelenos as Japanese-Americans are rounded-up and dumped in internment camps. It is a remarkable book, an adrenaline charged assault on America’s secret history and is arguably the best book he has written.

In 1994, Nicola Black made an astounding documentary on Ellroy called White Jazz that followed his quest to find his mother’s killer. If that had been available I’d have posted it here. Instead here is James Ellroy’s Feast of Death a BBC documentary form 2001 that covers similar ground but with the added bonus of a round table discussion on the Black Dahlia killing held in the Pacific Dining Car restaurant between Ellroy and a bunch of ex-cops and interested parties—including a briefly glimpsed Nick Nolte.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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X-libris: Awesome vintage erotic bookplates
01.23.2015
09:21 am

Topics:
Art
Books
Sex

Tags:
ex libris


By Jozsef Farkas for Alfred Fährmann
 
I’m a bookish sort, to be sure, but the whole concept of the “ex libris” bookplate seems from a wildly different time. I never related to them, but that’s probably a generational thing—I stopped writing my name in my paperbacks when I was a teenager, so the concept of glueing in a large sticker with your name on it ... seems like a very outsize, unnecessary gesture. They make me think of my maternal grandfather, who grew up in Vienna in the early 1900s—he had a huge library of leather-bound books and I wouldn’t be surprised if he used bookplates, although I couldn’t say I ever saw one.

Ex Libris is a Latin phrase that means “from the books.” So to say “Ex Libris Carrot Top” is to say “From the library of Carrot Top.” I didn’t realize how popular these bookplates must have been, but I stumbled on a massive gallery of adult-oriented bookplates and that’s just a tiny percentage of the whole, you’d have to think. It apparently was a thing, you’d open to the inside front cover and there would be a charming image of an amorous couple in the throes of passion or a little doodle of a male appendage—or a whole field full of male appendages!

Martin Hopkinson is the chief chronicler of the development of the bookplate, as is evident from his book Ex-Libris: The Art of Bookplates. We’ve selected some of the more fun images, but there are lots more where these came from, as you can see for yourself if you click over to this fantastic page at ex-libris.net.

Needless to say, it probably isn’t appropriate to look at these images in many workplace settings. Or a library.
 

By Miro Parizek
 

By Christian Blæsbjerg
 

By Franco Brunello
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Gay Semiotics’: Hilariously deadpan taxonomy of San Francisco life in the 1970s
01.16.2015
08:53 am

Topics:
Art
Books
Queer
Sex

Tags:
Hal Fischer


 
Post-Stonewall. Pre-AIDS. Thus is defined a period, which we can for convenience also term “the 1970s,” that has special significance for homosexuals in the United States. The genie of liberation, especially sexual liberation, had been loosed from its magic lamp, but the devastating toll of plague had not yet made its mark. Under those circumstances, while still enjoying or enduring marginalization in society, homosexual males could engage in behavior that was at once highly promiscuous and yet highly coded. The task of melding one’s own interest in, say, cowboys or sports and more generic signifiers of homosexuality created the possibility of a developed taxonomy of gay life. That is, you could be “gay” but of the butch/leather/jock/urbane type, and so on. During this time, it’s safe to say that many homosexuals became highly attuned to such signifiers.

Into this situation wandered a photographer named Hal Fischer, who published a monograph in 1977 with the provocative title Gay Semiotics based on pictures taken in San Francisco, especially Castro Street and Haight Ashbury. In it Fischer presented straightforward photographs of aspects of homosexual garb, etc., complete with explanatory labels, quite like a museum exhibit.

I can’t remember ever seeing this exact tone before, so deadpan and dry that the material is effectively turned inside out. Taxonomizing people isn’t necessarily the nicest impulse in the world—think of racist representations of African-Americans in the 19th century or Nazi depictions of Jews in the 20th…. Less harmfully, think of countless spreads in MAD Magazine that are funny and harmless but still not necessarily so nice. Nobody likes to be defined to that extent, one can almost hear the pushback…. “Hey, I’m gay and I don’t care about red handkerchiefs!” or whatnot. However, at this point in the development of gay culture, it seems that the trinkets had taken on iconic value within the culture and this winking look at it was most likely seen as funny and not malign.

We’ve supplied some of the more amusing pictures and captions here, but you can see the entire (I believe) book at the Queer Cultural Center. The book is hard to find and currently sells for $500.
 

BLUE HANDKERCHIEF
Handkerchiefs signify behavioral tendencies through both color and placement. A blue handkerchief placed in the right hip pocket serves notice that the wearer desires to play the passive role during sexual intercourse. Conversely, a blue handkerchief placed in the left hip pocket indicates that the wearer will assume the active or traditional male role during sexual contact. The blue handkerchief is commonly used in the treatment of nasal congestion and in some cases holds no meaning in regard to sexual preferences.

RED HANDKERCHIEF
Red handkerchiefs are used as signifiers for behavior that is often regarded as deviant or abnormal. A red handkerchief located in the right hip pocket implies that the wearer takes the passive role in anal/hand insertion. A red handkerchief placed in the left hip pocket suggests that the wearer plays the active role in anal/hand insertion. Red handkerchiefs are also employed in the treatment of nasal discharge and in some cases may have no significance in regard to sexual contact.
 

EARRING
An earring in the right lobe may suggest that the wearer prefers to play the passive role during sexual activity. Conversely, an earring in the left lobe may signify active behavior on the part of the wearer. Unlike the other signifiers, however, Right/Left placement of the earring is not always indicative of Passive/Active tendencies on the part of the wearer. Furthermore, the earring or stud is often adopted by non-homosexual men, thus making the earring the most subtle of homosexual signifiers.
 

KEYS
Keys are an understood signifier for homosexual activity. A key chain worn on the right side of the body indicates that the wearer desires to play a passive role during a sexual encounter. Conversely, keys placed on the left side of the body signify that the wearer expects to assume a dominant position. Keys are also worn by janitors, laborers and other workers with no sexual significance intended.
 

AMYL NITRITE
Amyl nitrite is a prescription capsule drug used in the treatment of angina pectoris (heart disease). Amyl nitrite, or “poppers” as it is known in slang terminology, is inhaled through either the nose or the mouth. After inhalation the user experiences a quickened heartbeat and the sensation of blood rushing to his head. Amyl nitrite is especially popular on dance floors and immediately prior to sexual climax. Since Amyl Nitrite is available only by prescription, manufacturers have created a number of commercial substitutes as well as a variety of inhalers. Although Amyl is used by heterosexuals, its immense popularity among gays has earned it the title “The Gay Drug.”
 

STREET FASHION
BASIC GAY
 

STREET FASHION
JOCK
 

ARCHETYPAL MEDIA IMAGE
WESTERN
The western or cowboy prototype is identified by articles of clothing: cowboy or western boots, jeans, flannel or western style shirts and in some instances hats. When the image appears in gay magazines the settings are usually barns, corrals or fence posts. The cowboy represents the frontier and a male-only society. The machismo qualities of the western archetype are vigorously exploited by advertising. Modern cowboys are used by the media to play up masculinity and sexuality in ways that are subconsciously understood by the gay populace.
 

ARCHETYPAL MEDIA IMAGE
LEATHER
The leather prototype is the most easily recognized look. Black leather items include everything from hoods to jackets, pants, caps and underwear. Accoutrements include motorcycles, chains and various sexual items. In the gay media black leather becomes a symbol for the unknown or untried. It is entirely, vehemently, macho in appearance. While the other archetypes have their roots in myths accepted and celebrated by the culture-at-large, the leather cult, like its straight counterpart is rooted in non-acceptance and non-conformity.
 

BONDAGE DEVICE
MEAT HOIST
 

Cover

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