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‘The Mind Benders’: The true story behind the cult classic psychological thriller

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The writer James Kennaway was working as a publisher’s agent when he first heard talk of the sensory deprivation experiments carried out at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, during the early 1950s.

Kennaway’s job entailed traveling across England seeking out academics and scientists to contribute texts for Longmans catalog of books. The stories he heard at Oxford University were just idle chat shared over cups of milky tea or warm beer in pubs. Rumors someone had heard from somebody else that students were being paid to undergo a week of sensory deprivation—so far no one had succeeded. Though still an unpublished author, Kennaway knew he had found material for a very good story.

James Kennaway was born on 5 June 1928 in Auchterarder, Scotland.  His father was a successful lawyer, his mother a graduate of medicine. The younger of two children (his sister Hazel was born in 1925), Kennaway’s early childhood was one of tradition and privilege, with the expectation that he would one day follow in his father’s footsteps.

His childhood idyll ended when Kennaway’s father died in January 1941. Though at a preparatory school in Edinburgh, the twelve-year-old felt obliged to take up the role as “male head of the household.”  He suppressed his own emotional needs and began to write letters to his mother full of the advice and emotional support he felt his father would have given.

The untimely death made James feel that he too would die young, and this early trauma, together with the pressure he felt to succeed at school led to a fissure in his personality that would widen with age. Kennaway’s biographer, Trevor Royle described this gradual change of character as:

James was the sophisticate, Jim the “nasty wee Scot”. Later, he came to characterize the split as James the domesticated man constrained by society and Jim the artist who should be allowed any amount of license.

Or, as Kennaway later described it:

James et Jim, man and artist, wild boy and introvert.

At school “James” was the likable, eager-to-please pupil; while “Jim” was beginning his first thoughts towards a career as a writer—as Kennaway explained in a letter to his mother:

...I feel I have been granted with more than one talent; in such a life my talent of sympathy would shine but my other talents would lie buried. On my part I would get lazier and fatter every day. I might however do this at the same time as I write and really go in for writing, but I must learn more about the English language before I can write any stuff worth reading.

After school, Kennaway carried out his National Service in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders before going up to Oxford to study Modern Greats (Politics, Philosophy and Economics or P.P.E.). It was here he met Susan Edmonds, whom he married in 1951.

After university, Kennaway worked for a publishing firm, and in his spare time, started work on his first novel Tunes of Glory.
 
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Published in 1956, Tunes of Glory was the story of a psychological battle between bully Major Jock Sinclair and war-wounded Lieutenant Colonel Basil Barrow for control of over a peacetime battalion stationed in a Scottish army barracks. The story had been inspired by many of the people and events Kennaway encountered during his National Service.

Max Frisch noted in his novel Montauk that a writer only ever betrays himself; this is true for Kennaway who channeled the experiences of his life through the prism of his writing.

The book’s overwhelming success brought Kennaway more work as a writer: a commission to write an original screenplay. This became Violent Playground, which was filmed in 1957 with Stanley Baker, David McCallum, Anne Heywood and Peter Cushing. Its story of a juvenile delinquent holding a classroom of children to ransom was inspired by real siege in Terrazanno, Italy, when two brothers, armed with guns and dynamite, held ninety-nine pupils and three teachers to ransom. The brothers threatened to kill their hostages unless various demands were met. The siege ended after a teacher attacked and disarmed the brothers allowing the police to rescue the children. Kennaway followed the story in the papers, keeping numerous press clippings, and using the story for a key scene in his screenplay.
 
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The following year, Kennaway was commissioned to write another film, this time he relied on the stories he had heard from academics at Oxford in the early 1950s.

The term “brainwashing” was first used by journalist (and CIA stooge) Edward Hunter in an article he wrote for the Miami News, 7th October 1950. Hunter used the term to bogusly describe why certain U.S. soldiers had allegedly co-operated with their captors during the Korean War. Simply put, Hunter was suggesting the Chinese had used various psychological techniques to create a false sense of friendship with which they could undermine, reprogram and brainwash American soldiers. This led to Western governments commencing their own brainwashing experiments.
 
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In June 1951, a secret meeting at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montreal saw the launch of a CIA-funded, joint American-British-Canadian venture to fund studies “into the psychological factors causing the human mind to accept certain political beliefs aimed at determining means for combating communism and democracy” and “research into the means whereby an individual may be brought temporarily or perhaps permanently under the control of another.”

Dr. Donald Hebb of McGill University received a grant of $10,000 to examine the effects of sensory deprivation. Volunteers were paid to lie on a bed, cradled in a foam pillow (to block out external sounds), their arms wrapped in cardboard tubes (to limit movement and sensation), whilst wearing white opaque goggles. Without any external stimuli and only short breaks for testing, feeding and use of the toilet, the volunteers quickly began to hallucinate—seeing dots, colored lights, and faces. The experiments had disturbing affects on the volunteers with only a few managing to continue beyond two or three days—no one lasted the week.

The experiments progressed with the use of flotation tanks that became central to Kennaway’s screenplay.
 
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In an article “The Pathology of Boredom” published in Scientific American, one of Hebb’s associates wrote:

Most of the subjects had planned to think about their work: some intended to review their studies, some to plan term papers, and one thought he would organize a lecture he had to deliver. Nearly all of them reported that the most striking thing about the experience was that they were unable to think clearly about anything for any length of time and that their thought processes seemed to be affected in other ways.

It was also noted during these experiments that the volunteers were overly susceptible to external sensory stimulation—making them open to ideas or beliefs they may have once opposed. In A Question of Torture, professor Alfred McCoy of Madison University, noted that during Hebb’s experiments “the subject’s very identity had begun to disintegrate.”
 
More on James Kennaway’s ‘The Mind Benders’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman


 
Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art has announced the mounting of 91 artworks and ephemera relating to the life’s work of the eccentric LA bohemian legend Marjorie Cameron. The show goes up on October 11 at MOCA’s Pacific Design Center annex and will close on January 11, 2015. “Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman” will feature paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, poetry and correspondence between Cameron and her husband rocket scientist/occultist Jack Parsons, and with the great mythologist Joseph Campbell.

In recent years Cameron’s work has begun to be reassessed by the art world, in part inspired by her close association with artists like Wallace Berman and George Herms, actor Dennis Hopper and underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger. As interest in their work increased, so has curiosity about the odd, flaming haired creature from Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Sadly much of her work was deliberately burned by the artist herself in the 50s and can only be glimpsed at in Curtis Harrington’s short cinematic portrait of Cameron, “Wormwood Star.” (See below)
 

 
The show will highlight the recent publication of Songs for the Witch Woman, an absolutely stunning coffee table art book / facsimile reproduction of Cameron’s drawings and watercolors along with Parsons’ metaphysical and occult poetry produced by Fulgur Esoterica. (The book was printed in a very limited edition, and is available now. If this seems like the kind of item that you would like to own—it’s a knockout, finely published at a very high quality—buy it now instead of waiting until next year when it’ll be selling for $500 on eBay. If you like this kind of thing, I’ll say it again, it’s particularly nice. There’s a beautifully composed foreword by the OTO’s WIlliam Breeze, who knew Cameron, to recommend it as well.)
 

 
The exhibition is being organized by guest curator Yael Lipschutz with MOCA’s senior curator Alma Ruiz along with the Cameron-Parsons Foundation. The museum will produce a full color catalogue with 75 illustrations for the exhibit.

Below, Curtis Harrington’s “Wormwood Star.” Heartbreaking to consider how many of these paintings are gone forever.
 

 
And speaking of Cameron, her biographer, Spencer Kansa sent me this curious piece of 60s experimental filmmaking that Cameron was involved with:

Za is an early-70s cinepoem by Elias Romero, the underground filmmaker, and one of the main pioneers of the liquid light shows that he began projecting in the late-50s in San Francisco and at Ben Shapiro’s Renaissance Club on the Sunset Strip. Za was filmed in Big Sur and features the movie actress Diane Varsi, portraying an alchemist cum poet. Varsi had already runaway from the superficiality of Hollywood by the time this was filmed, in order to pursue a more artistic and meaningful life. And, interestingly, the raggy dayglo outfits she wears in the film were created by Cameron, no less. Cameron and Elias were old friends by the time this film was made. He had been married to Cameron’s confidante, the poetess Aya. In Wormwood Star Aya admits that: “For years, Cameron never forgave me for splitting up with Elias.”

Watching it today, the film is, er, interesting. I guess back then it probably helped that most of its original viewers were heavily dosed-up.

 

 
Thank you Lyvia Filotico!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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The Hawkwind sci-fi trilogy
07.25.2014
07:45 am

Topics:
Books
Music

Tags:
Hawkwind
Michael Moorcock


 
There are lots of ways to have fun with Hawkwind albums, but one of the more wholesome is to pretend that the members of the band are real live outer space aliens. Weigh space anchor and hoist the star mizzen? Aye aye, Cap’n Brock! We were born to go! But if you find it hard to fantasize in this vein, there exist three official tie-in products that relate Hawkwind’s adventures in the far reaches of the cosmos.

In 1976, a sci-fi novel called The Time of the Hawklords appeared in the UK and US, crediting Michael Moorcock and Michael Butterworth as co-authors. Aside from Dik Mik, all your favorite members are there: Lemmy (“Count Motorhead”), Stacia (“the Earth Mother”), “Baron” Dave Brock, and Nik Turner (“the Thunder Rider”). Even Moorcock, who had collaborated with Hawkwind since the early 70s, plays a part in the story as “Moorlock the Acid Sorcerer.”

Moorcock immediately disowned the book, according to Carol Clerk’s band biography The Saga of Hawkwind: “While the saga was based on concepts of Moorcock’s, he vehemently denied being involved in the writing and fell out with the publishers.” Nevertheless, his famous name also featured prominently on the cover of the following year’s sequel, Queens of Deliria, which bore the lawyerly credit “by Michael Butterworth based on an idea by Michael Moorcock.”
 

 
The back cover of Deliria promised that the third volume of the trilogy, Ledge of Darkness, would be published in 1978. As it happened, Ledge of Darkness was not published until 1994, when it turned up as a graphic novel in Hawkwind’s scarce 25 Years On box set (not to be confused with the 1978 Hawklords album of the same name).

In the decade-plus that has passed since I purchased my copy of The Time of the Hawklords, I have never yet made it past this sentence on page eleven: “Next came Lord Rudolph the Black, most recent champion sworn to the ranks of the Company of the Hawk.” It seems better suited for bibliomancy than reading. Since the jacket copy on the back might be superior to the actual contents of the book, here it is in its entirety:

Rocking on The Edge of Time

From a ruined London on a burnt-out Earth, the Hawkwind group beams out its last, defiant concert. The Children of the Sun, the tattered remnants of the Hippies, gather to listen. But when the music ends, withdrawal symptoms begin—a dreadful, retching illness only the Hawkwind sound can allay.

This new malady may be more than debilitated mankind can withstand. Desperately the rock group begins research: first, with the few electronic instruments miraculously still intact; then with a book whose existence is an even greater miracle—an ancient, magical tome, The Saga of Doremi Fasol Latido, whose prophecies seem to be coming true.

And here’s the sales copy from Queens of Deliria:

Earth had already been devastated by the Death Generator.

Then the Red Queen meddled with the very laws of Time to advance her evil ambitions. She transmogrified the planet into a world stalked by decaying ghouls and policed by satanic Bulls, their amplifiers meting out the punishing music of Elton John.

Only the Hawklords could save the remnants of humanity – only the Hawklords could restore the forces of Good.

Their sole ally Elric the Indecisive; their sole weapon their music; they fought to the death with their awesome enemies, the macabre Queens of Deliria.

ROCK AND ROLL SCI-FI

This is the second volume in the trilogy which began with The Time of the Hawklords.

The final volume Ledge of Darkness will be published in 1978.

Below, the BBC’s excellent Hawkwind documentary. That’s Michael Moorcock seen in the still frame:

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Magic mushrooms inspired Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’
07.25.2014
07:07 am

Topics:
Books
Drugs

Tags:
Dune
Frank Herbert
magic mushrooms

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Anyone who has read Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune will have pondered on the inspiration for the book’s fictional spice melange—supposedly the most valuable commodity in the universe. This naturally occurring drug can only be found on the planet Arrakis. The spice is much sought after as it can give users heightened awareness, longevity and the ability to see into the future. Melange is also the source of power for the Spacing Guild’s spacecrafts called “heighliners”—the drug allowing users to safely steer the heighliner during a “navigation trance.” It’s a useful drug. The downside? The spice leads to addiction, turning the users eyes a luminous blue. Withdrawal can be fatal.

At the time of publication in 1965, many thought Herbert was making reference to LSD—something director Alejandro Jodorowsky considered when he planned to film the book back in the 1970s, when he claimed his movie:

...would give the people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without hallucinating.

In fact, Herbert was making a reference to psychedelics in particular his own predilection for magic mushrooms, as Paul Stamets explains in his book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World:

Frank Herbert, the well-known author of the Dune books, told me his technique for using spores. When I met him in the early 1980s, Frank enjoyed collecting mushrooms on his property near Port Townsend, Washington. An avid mushroom collector, he felt that throwing his less-than-perfct wild chanterelles into the garbage or compost didn’t make sense. Instead, he would put a few weathered chanterelles in a 5-gallon bucket of water, add some salt, and then, after 1 or 2 clavs, pour this spore-mass slurry on the ground at the base of newly planted firs. When he told me chanterelles were glowing from trees not even 10 years old, I couldn’t believe it. No one had previously reported chanterelles arising near such young trees, nor had anyone reported them growing as a result of using this method.” Of course, it did work for Frank, who was simply following nature’s lead.

Frank’s discovery has now been confirmed in the mushroom industry. It is now known that it’s possible to grow many mushrooms using spore slurries from elder mushrooms. Many variables come into play, but in a sense this method is just a variation of what happens when it rains. Water dilutes spores from mushrooms and carries them to new environments. Our responsibility is to make that path easier. Such is the way of nature.

Frank went on to tell me that much of the premise of Dune — the magic spice (spores) that allowed the bending of space (tripping), the giant worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Freman (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by tales of Maria Sabina and the sacred mushroom cults of Mexico) — came from his perception of the fungal life cycle, and his imagination was stimulated through his experiences with the use of magic mushrooms.

You can find a PDF of the book here.

Meantime, here’s a rare clip of the sci-fi bard on television.
 

 
Via the Daily Grail

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Sherlock Holmes recreated as police composite sketch
07.21.2014
06:04 am

Topics:
Art
Books

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Sherlock Holmes

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We all have a different image of Sherlock Holmes usually associated with the actor we first saw playing the great detective. For some it will be Bendedict Cumberbatch with his petulant manner and curly question-marked hair; or the intense white-faced Jeremy Brett and his quivering flared nostrils; or Peter Cushing forever toying with a prop; or better still the pipe-clenching good sportsmanship of Basil Rathbone, who was my celluloid introduction to Sherlock Holmes in the 1970s.

Of course, these are all variations on a theme and we have to go those timeless tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in particular the first full novel of Holmesian adventure A Study in Scarlet to find a description of the man himself:

His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination.

But how would Holmes look if we were to make a modern composite police sketch based on this description?

Well, this is exactly what Brian Joseph Davis has done over at his The Composites web page, where he uses police sketch software to create composite portraits of famous literary figures.
 
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His Sherlock Holmes has a hint of Midge Ure from Ultravox circa early eighties mixed with thin lips of William S. Burroughs.
 
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Here you’ll also find Emma Bovary from Madame Bovary, Rochester from Jane Eyre, and Keith Talent from Martin Amis’ Money, who looks uncannily like the comic Jimmy Clitheroe.
 
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Even Humbert Humbert from Lolita (who looks a little like Alan Arkin meets an aging David Byrne).
 
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And Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby—though she lacks the fatal beauty of the character in the book.

I guess that’s my problem with these images—they all begin to look the same after a while, and the uniformity of design makes them drab, lifeless, like formulae for a human equation. Anyway, here’s Peter Cushing to breathe some life into Sherlock Holmes in this BBC production of A Study in Scarlet.
 

 
H/T Nerdcore

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Poking a Dead Frog: Mike Sacks’ conversations with today’‘s top comedy writers
07.15.2014
09:09 am

Topics:
Books

Tags:
comedy
Mike Sacks


The author at work. He looks really, really familiar somehow, doesn’t he?

Vanity Fair editor Mike Sacks’ new book of interviews, Poking a Dead Frog is a nearly 500 page volume featuring contributions from Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, Adam McKay and even Mel Brooks. There’s a fascinating interview with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. Daniel Clowes is in the book, WFMU’s Tom Scharpling is in there, too and so is Bob & Ray’s Bob Elliott. It’s essential reading for comedy lovers (as was its predecessor And Here’s the Kicker which featured interviews with the likes of Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Dick Cavett, Larry Gelbart, Merrill Markoe and even Marx Brothers writer Irving Brecher.)

Mike Sacks’ informed questions draw out these amazing talents on how to write funny and how to think funny. I interviewed the interviewer over email.

Dangerous Minds: When I was a kid, I used to check out Super 8 Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton films from the local library and watch them on my father’s movie projector. Then I discovered Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe, Woody Allen and Steve Martin and then soon after that, Lenny Bruce, Fernwood2Night and Firesign Theatre. When you were young, who were the performers that really got you into comedy in the first place?

Mike Sacks: Woody Allen, particularly in Play It Again, Sam, which I think is underrated. There are two scenes that I loved: Woody getting ready for the blind date, and Woody walking up to a woman in an outdoor restaurant area and ruining her salad. What’s sometimes forgotten is just how great Woody is at physical comedy. He wrote the movie but didn’t direct it; one of the few where this happened. But it’s almost ballet, the scenes are so beautiful.

But more than anyone, it was Letterman and Chris Elliott, when Chris was on the show. Bizarre, surreal, angry bits that I just loved and still do.

Did you start doing the interviews for a book or for another purpose?

Only for the book. These interviews are way too difficult to do for any other reason. They require upwards of 20 hours of research and then up to 20 hours of talking over the course of months, if not years. They take a lot of work and a lot of time. Now I do put together shorter interviews for various websites, but if they run this long and are this complicated, they’re only for books.

Wasn’t there a secondary motive of “I want to know what makes this person tick” or something like that? Napoleon Hill went around interviewing the titans of American capitalism and then distilled the essence of their collective wisdom in his Think and Grow Rich. I think you’re doing that for the titans of American humor.

Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, definitely. The whole purpose of both of these interview books was to have an excuse to talk with my favorite comedy writers. How did they get into the business? What are their main influences, both comedy and otherwise? What would they recommend young writers do and (just as importantly, if not more) what would they recommend young writers NOT do in order to achieve success? And what is even considered success?

When I was young, the field of comedy writing was a huge mystery to me. I had no idea how one became a comedy writer, and the idea fascinated me. To make a living writing jokes for Letterman or SNL, how in the hell does that happen? It seemed a lot more fun than the type of work I probably would have been doing if I stuck around Maryland.

If, like Napoleon Hill, you had to narrow it down to the “universals” of how comedy works, what are the most glistening pearls of wisdom these folks offer on being funny and thinking funny?

I’m not sure anyone in this book really knows how comedy truly works. I mean, they know but they don’t know. And it’s almost as if they don’t want to know. To make someone laugh is a mysterious, almost magical skill. No one who’s unfunny can taught to be funny.  However, I do think that funny writers can be taught to be even funnier. But they have to teach themselves. No courses and no books (including mine) will teach them that. It has to come from within. With that said, there are some constants that can be seen among these successful writers. They were funny to begin with. They’ve worked very hard. And they’ve never stopped, even after “failures.”

Since the book concentrates on comedy writers, I won’t ask you to pick a favorite or anything, but in terms of stand-up comedians, who do you rate highest these days?

My favorite comedian might be Brian Regan. I think he’s an amazing performer and a great writer. And this is going to sound goofy, but he appeals to everyone of every age. Not easy. I think this, in particular, is an underrated skill. To use language that appeals just as much to a ten-year-old as to that of an 80-year-old. Very difficult to do, but he does it very well. His main focus is the stage, not TV or movies, and he’s just a master. If you can see him, I highly recommend it. From what I heard, Patton Oswalt, another amazing comedian, thinks of Brian Regan as being one of the best.

Who are you hoping to get for the next installment?

I have a “bucket list” of people I’d love to hoodwink into participating. I’d love if they said yes this time, but who knows? They do have better things to be doing. As far as specific names, let’s just say that I’d love to talk with the dude who produced the 1980s UPN sitcom Homeboys in Outer Space. Why not.

We’re email friends, never met in person. Do you ever get mistaken for Jon Hamm? You look just like him in your author photo…

Yes, all the time. It’s annoying but what can I do? I used to get mistaken for Jim J. Bullock but luckily I grew out of that phase. Seriously, Jon posed for three hours for free, in his underwear. Nice guy. Can’t imagine any other actor doing that. I love the dude. And if he ever wants me to pose nearly nude, he knows where to go…

Mike Sacks’ reddit AMA is here.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘Happy Days’ created by David Mamet and other sitcoms we’d like to see

Happy Days created by David Mamet
 
I love these mind-bending title cards from some memorable TV series from four or five decades ago—I only wish there were more of them. They appear to be the Photoshop handiwork of Johnny Walker. To adapt a witticism of one of the commenters on the page I found this, it’s only a rumor that early drafts of David Mamet’s first play used the title Sexual Perversity in Milwaukee.

Delirious possibilities for other TV shows abound: how about Get Smart created by George Orwell? Or The Patty Duke Show created by Vladimir Nabokov? Gilligan’s Island created by Kurt Vonnegut? Saved by the Bell created by William Golding? Diff’rent Strokes created by Richard Wright?

Your turn!
 
I Dream of Jeannie created by Germaine Greer
 
Mork & Mindy created by Philip Roth
 
via Ken Levine’s blog

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ turned into an illustrated scroll
07.01.2014
06:09 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
Jack Kerouac
Paul Rogers

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Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road is currently being turned into a beautifully illustrated scroll by artist Paul Rogers.

Rogers is drawing one illustration for each page of the book, producing the work on one long scroll, just as Kerouac wrote his famous novel on one scroll of teletype paper—though he did it in “three coffee-soaked-benzedrine-fueled days.” .

A member of faculty at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, Rogers has painstakingly researched “cars, buses, roadside architecture, and old signs” to insure his drawings match Kerouac’s America of the late Forties and early Fifties.
 
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Rogers has also added extracts from Kerouac’s text which he hopes “makes the series feel like a journal and not a carefully planned out illustrated book, and it seems to capture some of the spirit of Kerouac’s ‘this-happened-then-this-then-this’ writing style.”

You can scroll through Paul Rogers’ illustrated version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road here.
 
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Via Open Culture

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Naked lady perfectly blends into bookshelf
06.30.2014
12:02 pm

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
body painting


 
Sadly, there’s only a single image of this body-painted woman who blends in nicely with a bookshelf. Since books have already been done, I’d like see nude people with body paint blend in with their vinyl shelves.  That would be awesome. Has anyone done that yet? Veruschka maybe? I’ve given you task pro-body painters… now get to it!

Photograph by Bill Waldman. Body paint by Adam DuShole.

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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‘UnAmerica’: God doesn’t love America. Quite the reverse.
06.28.2014
08:47 am

Topics:
Books

Tags:
Momus


“Patriot” by Dimitri Drjuchin, 2014

Scottish songwriter/performer/blogger Momus, the cynical, sex-obsessed eyepatch-wearing, world-traveling postmodernist who gave the world such unforgettable ditties as “Coming in a Girl’s Mouth,” “Enlightenment” and “Welcome to My Show Trial” (which Grant Morrison told me is his favorite song of all time) is now an author.

In fact, the man once called “the most famous unknown in pop” has actually got three novels under his belt and the latest, UnAmerica makes four. Already a big fan of his music, I enjoyed it immensely. It makes sense that a musical purveyor of witty wordplay like Momus would get into the novel business.

From the press release:

The nation is in the iron claw of capitalism, Christianity’s basic principles are flouted daily, the South has won the Civil War, slavery is widespread, exploitation rampant, and God—now working as a janitor at Tastee Freez with late-onset Alzheimer’s—is rapidly losing the plot. In an effort to obliterate his botched creation from memory, the fallen divinity recruits retail worker Brad Power to enlist a crew of twelve for a seafaring adventure. The mission? To uninvent America.   

It’s never too late, apparently, for an act of creative destruction.

UnAmerica is published by Penny Ante Editions as part of their “Success and Failure Series”.

Chapter One

It’s a sunny afternoon during the month of Hekatombaion. Wild pear trees—glabrous, their leaves cordate, nearly orbicular, their nuts oval—are coming into flower. I’m headed eastbound on Tupperway Drive. I make an illegal U-turn at the Boone Hill United Methodist Church and am soon pulling my Dodge Custer into the Tastee Freez car park.

Inside the restaurant I’m ushered to a booth where I order a Hot Fudge Sundae with a large side of fries.

This is not the sort of food I normally eat, or even like very much, to be honest.  I prefer to picnic alone in the middle of a field somewhere, with a pot of raspberry jam, two slices of crisp bread, a hard-boiled egg, and some unsugared tea in a Thermos flask.

The wind might rustle in the willows, rabbits might graze in the boskiness of a hedgerow, and John Constable would probably be standing at an easel nearby, whistling as he smears flecks of Cremnitz white from a soft metal tube into a lowering and turbulent paint sky.

After lunch I will push my bicycle over the recently-ploughed sod, casting a lustful yet repressed eye at a handsome farm labourer stripped to the waist, and cycle to the nearest village, where I will seek out junk shops selling bric-a-brac, or perhaps stumble on a serendipitous church fete.

“Brad?”

The frail, fussy voice takes me by surprise; an old man dressed like a janitor emerges from a utilities closet.

“Brad, thank you for coming. I know that many people would assume this was a hoax. You have shown yourself to be a true believer.”

“Uh, great to meet you!”

God’s handshake isn’t particularly firm. His foreign accent, darting brown eyes, swarthy complexion and cheap nylon janitor’s uniform make him look like an illegal kitchen worker from the Middle East.

“Now Brad”, says God, “you’re going to have to make allowances for me. I have late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that!”

“Yes, it’s my cross to bear, so to speak. I’ve totally forgotten how to create things. Do you know what my main project is right now, Brad?”

“I wouldn’t presume to guess or know, sir!”

“I want to uninvent America, a nation I have come to despise.”

This is surprising.

“Why do you despise America?”

God knits his brows.

“Because Americans have lost touch with everything important. They’ve become fat, greedy, selfish pigs.”

God explains how little he was impressed by the mass extermination of indigenous peoples, the triumph of the slave-driving South over the Yankees during the Civil War, and the Confederate States of America’s use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations in Britain during the Second World War.

“That sounds fair enough”, I observe. “I’m a secret British sympathiser myself.”

My sundae and fries arrives. God is talking about the Hutterites; how they were the only Americans to have followed his injunction in the Acts of the Apostles to pool their possessions, sell all their goods and distribute them according to need.

“And you know what they got for this, Brad? They were called communists, jailed, beaten up, killed. The states started passing laws forbidding them to buy more land. They had to move to Canada.”

“Brad, Americans have become the opposite of everything I intended humans, and especially Christians, to become. If I still could, I’d smash this nation to potsherds, or flood the entire continental basin from sea to shining sea.”

God becomes suddenly businesslike.

“I am seeking a faithful servant to recreate in reverse the voyage of Saint Brendan, dearly beloved to me. Do you know much about him?”

Nibbling on a french fry, I confess that I don’t know anything about Saint Brendan.

God explains that the monk set off from Ireland in the early 6th century, inspired by a holy man called Mernoke, who had discovered a magical land beyond the western horizon where every herb was full of blossom and every tree full of fruit. This, says God, was Eden, or Tir na nÓg, the earthly paradise where death and disease were unknown. Brendan set off in a coracle with twelve hand-picked associates, hoping to discover this land. After seven years of paddling from island to island, he succeeded.

God shakes some hundreds-and-thousands onto the surface of my fudge sundae. Calm, epic music punctuated by the cries of sea birds fills the air.  We crane over the glass and seem to be zooming in on a tiny boat crossing an ocean of whipped cream.

The Irish discovered America, says God. But the earthly paradise has become an unparadise. The whole situation has to be reversed. America has to be undiscovered. People need to turn their backs on all it stands for. People need to learn about—and learn from—the rest of the world.

Now it’s the rest of the world that needs to become the shining example, the Tir na nÓg, the Shangri-La, the Golden Fleece.

“You, Brad, and your twelve hand-picked companions must learn—and teach the world—how to become as unAmerican as possible. That is my final wish, and my last command. Do you accept the challenge?”

What can I say?

UnAmerica is published by Penny Ante Editions as part of their “Success and Failure Series.”

If you don’t like reading, Momus explains what UnAmerica is all about and then reads the first chapter in a quite passable American accent in the video below.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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