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Stuck in the Mudd! Four decades later, the doorman of the wildest nightclub in NYC lets you in!

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Here’s a drink ticket—enjoy the post!

“If you’ve been standing here for more than ten minutes you’re not coming in” announces Richard Boch in a stern but cute, almost teenaged stoner way. Don’t get me wrong, he means it. This was how “normal people” were greeted much of the time at the door of the Mudd Club (and many other ultra hip clubs in New York City at the time). This made getting in a huge badge of honor and being turned away a major disgrace. Imagine riding on THAT possibility just to pay to go into a nightclub? An anonymous “sniper” refused entrance once even hit Boch with a dead pigeon from a few yards away and sped off in a taxi cab!

Back then these normal people showing up at Manhattan nightclubs were mostly referred to as the “bridge and tunnel” crowd (Queens, Jersey, Brooklyn) a term not heard much these days, but once heard hundreds of times every night in NYC clubs. Some were 9-5ers, some wealthy disco-types expecting to stroll in on the doorman’s view of their Rolex or hot girlfriend. These regular folks were basically told to cool their heels or fuck off while an 18-year-old kid like me dressed to the hilt in what may have looked to them like idiotic rags, parted the seas and strolled in like I was Mick Jagger. This was not Studio 54 as they would find out soon enough. What it was, though, was a trip into known and unknown galaxies of hip culture throughout history, like a living, breathing museum/funhouse/drug den/concert hall/discotheque, mixed with nitroglycerine and LSD and thrown into a blender to create the unknown. The future. THE NOW!

The Mudd Club was almost literally unbelievable. Inmates running the asylum on an outer space pirate ship. This vessel was founded, funded and schemed by Steve Mass, who was on every side of the street all at once. When I first met Steve, he was roommates with Brian Eno and got that input, but he STILL drove me out to my parents’ apartment in Queens to help pull my record collection from under my bed, my parents shrugging their shoulders until reading about us a year later in the New York Times, thereby making it “Okay.” But really he was always very curious, constantly grilling me, getting inside my head. I once told him I thought he should round off the corners and ceiling of the Mudd Club like a giant cave and have live bats flying around the club. He actually considered it! He did this with certain other kids, rock stars, Warhol superstars, models, designers, Hollywood royalty, junkies, freaks and lord knows who else. We all had a bit of our heart and soul in that place.
 
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Mudd Club owner Steve Mass. Photo by Kate Simon

The above mentioned Richard Boch is the author of a incredibly well-written new book from Feral House titled The Mudd Club. Boch was the main doorman there and the book is his autobiography or a coming of age story told in pretty much the aftermath of the glorious Sixties during the truly, in retrospect, harsh, dark, real version of what was hoped for, but lost in that previous decade. Richard’s story is all of our stories, those of us lucky (or unlucky) enough to have grown up or wound up in New York City’s grimy punk/art/drugged musical and historical mish-mosh. It was the Velvet Underground’s songs come to life after waiting a decade for the world to catch up to it, or crumble to its level.
 
To quote Richard:

I’ve always referred to the Mudd Club as the scene of the crime, always meant as a term of endearment. It was the night that never ended: the day before never happened and the day after, a long way off. There was nothing else like it and I wound up right in the middle. I thought I could handle it and for a while, I did.

 
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Author Richard Boch. Photo by Alan Kleinberg
 
Boch was given marching orders orders early on to avoid bloated seventies superstars and the limo crowd. On one of his first nights of work he was faced with a huge, loud, and very sweaty Meatloaf. “Definitely not something I wanted to get close to, physically or musically,” Boch says, and ignored him. My first ever DJ gig was early on at the Mudd Club and I was told told by Steve Mass to do things like play Alvin and The Chipmunks records when it got a bit crowded, to “make everyone uncomfortable,” including myself. Of course I had the record. I also gouged a 45 with scissors insuring the record would skip horribly and then pretend that it wasn’t happening. Just long enough to get the asylum to freak out a little bit.

Later this stuff went out the window but it was quite a formative experience. Humor filtered through even to the most deadly serious moments there. The Mudd Club was a place where twenty people could literally have had twenty different experiences on the same night during the same hour as there was just so much happening on different mental/pharmaceutical levels and different floor levels. Everywhere you turned there was someone amazing. From the way I had grown up, seeing Andy Warhol, John Waters, David Bowie and the Ramones within a twenty minute span was “my” Studio 54. Watching Screamin’ Jay Hawkins while standing next to Jean-Michel Basquiat, seeing the Soft Boys, girl groups like the Angels and the Crystals, Frank Zappa, Bauhaus, Nico, the Dead Boys, Captain Beefheart, John Cale, a Radley Metzger film presented by Sleazoid Express or an impromptu freakout by Warhol Superstar Jackie Curtis, well this was my dream come to life!

My dream hasn’t changed in 40 years. I’m still in awe that it happened. And in the middle of all that I was allowed to put on my own demented conceptual events with friends (“The Puberty Ball,” etc.) and be a regular DJ. The people I came to know in the punk world who wanted more found it at the Mudd Club. Our mad obsession with the Sixties, especially the Warhol/New York sixties, informed much of what we did, and at the same time the Warhol Factory itself became more corporate. The Superstars were by then getting older and pushed out, but they were looking for more themselves, and they were looking to us to inform them, making for some extremely insane morality and immorality plays coming to life before our eyes. Mudd had the pull of what the press called “downtown,” and for the downtown types, well our voices were about to be heard loud and clear.
 
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David Bowie and Dee Dee Ramone. Photo by Bobby Grossman
 
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Howie Pyro deejaying at Mudd

Richard Boch understood all this, and was also an artist himself so he knew who everyone in the art world was, as well as all the new punk stars and celebutantes, no wavers, new wavers, culture vulture gods and the ones who would become gods themselves in a year or so. In the book he talks about being nervous about starting working there but man, he was the one for the job. In the pages of The Mudd Club, Boch’s quite candid about everything you’d want to know (gossip but not mean gossip: sex, drugs, more drugs, and getting home at ten AM, having done every drug and a half dozen people along the way—normal stuff like that). It reads in one, two, or three page sections, my favorite kind of book. You can put it down in ten-minute intervals or read it in any order you want, IF you can put it down at all. I have literally read certain sections backwards for 40-50 pages while looking for something and didn’t really notice. It made me laugh out loud, and it brought tears to my eyes. It’s kind of like “Please Kill Me, the Day After,” though it’s not an oral history as such, as it is written from Richard Boch’s point of view, but it has the same immediate anecdotal feel.
 
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‘TV Party’ at Mudd. Photo by Bob Gruen
 
The club’s benevolent benefactor, Steve Mass, was responsible for making this incredible witches brew keep bubbling and kept the happenings happening. He was willing to do anything, just for the sake of doing it. Steve originally owned an ambulance service. For my 19th birthday they had a huge party for me on the second floor of the Mudd Club. Since Steve had medical connections, and since we were ALL junkies (well, a good 85% of us were), he furnished a massive cake with dozens of syringes with the plungers & needles removed so they could put the candles in the open syringes. This of course turned into a massive cake fight with the participants looking like the Little Rascals (with pinned eyes). Steve was always down for this sorta stuff. As for the main floor, the bands, writers and performers that I saw in a single month’s time was staggering! More than some people see in a lifetime.
 
From the book:

January 1979. The Cramps freaked out The Mudd Club with a loud Psychobilly grind that included such hits as “Human Fly” and “Surfin’ Bird.” A few months later, the “big names” started to appear…

He goes on to say:

The legendary Sam and Dave got onstage a few weekends later, and it was the first time on my watch that I got to see the real deal. By late summer, Talking Heads took the stage while Marianne Faithful, X, Lene Lovich, and the Brides of Funkenstein waited in the wings.

There were so many great performances: Scheduled, impromptu, logical and out of left field. The locals and the regulars were the staple and the stable and performed as part of the White Street experience. They included everyone you could imagine and some you never could. John Cale, Chris Spedding, Judy Nylon and Nico, John Lurie and Philip Glass were just a few. Writers and poets such as William S. Burroughs, Max Blagg, Cookie Mueller, and “Teenage Jesus” Lydia Lunch all wound up on the Mudd Club stage. The talent pool was so deep and occasionally dark that even Hollywood Babylon‘s Luciferian auteur Kenneth Anger got Involved.

Steve’s willingness and generosity along with his guarded enthusiasm offered support to a local community of artists, musicians, and filmmakers. Together with Diego (Cortez)’ and Anya (Phillip’s) short-lived but “dominating” spirit, the Mudd Club became an instant happening, a free-for-all with No Wave orchestration and very few rules.

Diego described the Mudd Club as “a container, a vessel, but certainly not the only one in town.” What made the place unique was its blank-canvas emptiness. When the space filled up, IT happened and everyone wanted to be a part. A living, breathing work of art, it was beautiful and way off center, a slice of golden time.

I was lucky, and soaked it all in.

 
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Nico playing her wheezing harmonium. Photo by Ebet Roberts

All of us who got to be there were lucky. This was a timeless world of it’s own. A world that could be compared to any and all magical artistic movements, scenes or spaces. Dada. Warhol’s Factory, the Beats in NY and SF, Surrealism, etc.—times, places, people all endlessly written about as there’s just so much to say. Everyone involved had a unique experience, true to themselves. This wasn’t just a nightclub, it was so much more. It almost seemed like a private place where, on the best nights, people’s lives and fantasies were put on display and the public was allowed to watch. The public who just came to do coke and dance (as we all did) but who accidentally got touched by a bizarre and wonderful world that lived in the shadows of the city then, usually just brushing against them like a ghost in the night. Whether they even noticed or not, well, who cares?

This first book on the subject (I guarantee it will not be the last) is Richard Boch’s own experience, peppered with those of us who he interviewed for the reminders. This book is about his eyes opening, his chain-wielding power stance, his blowjobs, his drinks, his drugs, all of which are plentiful. It includes a little of most of us, the people we loved, the ones we lost, the games we played, and the love we shared of each other and our mutual history. Still though, there are a million stories in the Mudd’s microcosm of the naked city, this is just one of them.

And what a glorious place to start: right at the front door.
 
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The trailer for the book
 
More Mudd Club after the jump…

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Posted by Howie Pyro
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09.19.2017
02:47 pm
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CB Action: (Apparently) CB radio wasn’t just for sad, lonely middle-aged men?
09.18.2017
01:10 pm
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Okay, I’ll admit it. Everything I know about CB Radio comes from that episode of Family Guy where Peter Griffin sat naked in his basement talking dirty to truckers on the freeway. I honestly had no idea CB radio was mainly used by scantily clad ladies talking about UHF, antenna tuning, and license fees. If I had, well hell, I’d have become a truck drivin’ man and got myself a big rig a long, long time ago.

Breaker. Breaker. Nudge nudge, wink wink

Somehow, I’d (deliberately) forgotten that CB radio was the Twitter of the seventies. No, it was more popular than that. In fact so unbelievably popular that it spawned (and I use that word advisedly here) a string of trucker movies like White Line Fever with Jan-Michael Vincent and Kay Lenz. Smokey and the Bandit with big Burt Reynolds, little Sally Field, and sweaty Jackie Gleason. Maybe hard to believe now but Smokey and the Bandit was the second highest grossing film of 1977 beaten only by Star Wars at the box office.

If that weren’t enough to block your rear view mirror, then there was also Breaker! Breaker! with Chuck Norris, Jonathan Demme’s Citizens Band AKA Handle With Care and something called High Ballin’ with Jerry Reed, Peter Fonda, and Helen Shaver. Even the great Sam Peckinpah (perhaps surprisingly) got in the act with Convoy starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, and Ernest Borgnine, based on that unforgettable “classic CB radio” song “Convoy” by C.W McCall. Yeah, that one.

Breaker. Breaker.

Not only were their CB radio/trucker films and records but a whole slew of magazines for the CB enthusiast which generally featured young happy women on the covers with a hot speaker microphone in their hands. Just like these racy covers to Australia’s former #1 citizen’s band radio magazine CB Action. If this doesn’t make you want to take up CB radio immediately then I guess I don’t know what will…
 
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More glossy covers featuring CB enthusiasts, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.18.2017
01:10 pm
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Test Dept to mark centenary of Russian Revolution with ‘Assembly of Disturbance’ festival
09.08.2017
07:53 am
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Test Dept, the industrial group that invented the “Stakhanovite Sound,” will mark the 100th anniversary of October 1917 with a festival at London’s Red Gallery. Along with the live premiere of material from Test Dept’s new album Disturbance, the lineup includes live performances by Puce Mary, Hannah Sawtell, Kris Canavan, Disinformation, Prolekult, and Fuckhead, and DJ sets by Trevor Jackson and Nina. There will also be installations, film screenings, talks, and an exhibition of Test Dept artifacts called Culture Is Not A Luxury!

The only industrial outfit explicitly committed to socialism—at least, none of the others worked with the South Wales Striking Miners Choir or wrote about Comrade Enver Hoxha—Test Dept promises to bring historical perspective to the nightmare we are living through. From the press release:

[T]he festival explores how one hundred years on from the Russian Revolution, which unleashed radical artistic forces that sought to build an idealistic new society, the current socio-political climate is also engendering a need for a profound shift in governance. As such, Assembly of Disturbance invites you to join an assemblage of artists to consider the prevalent and pressing intersection of art and activism, challenging and disrupting the current state of affairs in Britain, and beyond.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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09.08.2017
07:53 am
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War is Over: When John Lennon and Yoko Ono met Marshall McLuhan
09.07.2017
05:11 pm
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Although John Lennon and Yoko Ono were undoubtedly two of the very most famous and talked about people of 1969, Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan was no slouch in the worldwide fame department himself. And so it was an inspired pairing indeed, organized by the Canadian Broadcast Company, when the peace-promoting Beatle and his avant-garde artist wife met up with the celebrated intellectual and author of The Medium is the Massage and Understanding Media on December 19th.

Lennon and Ono were in snowy Toronto doing press to bring attention to their “War is Over” billboard and poster campaign. Huge posters and billboards had been posted in twelve countries proclaiming “War is over! If you want it. Happy Christmas from John & Yoko.” The campaign was launched in the major cities of New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Helsinki. There were over 30 roadside billboards put up in Toronto alone and a large billboard hung next to the US Armed Forces recruitment office located on New York’s Times Square.
 

 
McLUHAN: “Can you tell me? I just sort of wonder how the ‘War Is Over,’ the wording… the whole thinking. What happened?”

JOHN: “I think the basic idea of the poster event was Yoko’s. She used to do things like that in the avant garde circle, you know. Poster was a sort of medium, media, whatever.”

YOKO: “Medium.”

JOHN: “And then we had one idea for Christmas, which was a bit too vast, you know.”

YOKO: “We wanted to do it.”

JOHN: “We wanted to do it, but we couldn’t get it together in time.”

YOKO: “Maybe next year.”

JOHN: “And to do something specifically at Christmas. And then it got down to, well, if we can’t do that event…”

YOKO: “We did this.”

JOHN: “...what we’ll do is a poster event. And then how do you get posters stuck all around the world, you know. It’s easier said than done. So we just started ringing up and find it out. And at first we’re gonna have… we had some other wording, didn’t we, like, ‘Peace Declared.’ And it started up, there’s a place in New York, where you can have your own newspaper headline, you know. There’s a little shop somewhere in Times Square. And we were wondering how to, sort of like, get it in the newspapers as if it had happened, you know. And it developed from that. Well, we couldn’t get the front page of each newspaper to say war was over, peace declared or whatever.”
 
Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.07.2017
05:11 pm
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Fantastic Beasts: Fabulous illustrations from classic Persian book of fables
08.31.2017
09:47 am
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Once upon a time, in the land of Persia, there lived a very wise old King called Anushirvan who had heard of an ancient book of tales told by animals and reptiles and the birds of the air. The King he decided he would very much like to read this book as he had read all of the other books in his library and he desperately wanted something new to read at bedtime so he could completely relax after his wearisome day ruling and begetting stuff and doing kingly things. The King asked his doctor, Burzuyah, who was the smartest man he knew, to go off in search of this book and bring it back to him. One bright early morning before the birds started singing, Burzuyah left the King’s palace and went off in search of this fantastic book of tales.

The book is called Anvār-i Suhaylī or Lights of Canopus and that is how our story begins. It sets the frame within which we are told a series of inter-related fables mostly involving animals that are intended to offer good counsel to the reader.

For example, one story (which sounds a bit like The Gruffalo) tells of a big, greedy, ferocious lion and a smart, little hare. When the lion meets the hare, he asks him why he is so late as he was due to be the lion’s dinner hours ago. The hare is most apologetic and tells the lion he is ever so sorry for being late but an even bigger, greedier, far more ferocious lion had stopped him on his way and tried to eat him. Thankfully, the hare escaped otherwise he would never have been in time for his dinner appointment. The lion thinks he’s got a rival so asks the hare to lead him to this other lion. The hare does so, taking the lion to the still of a pond where he points to the lion’s reflection on the surface of the water. The lion is so enraged by the look of this other ferocious beast that he jumps straight into the water and drowns.

Another tale recounts how a cat is caught in the net of a hunter’s trap. The rat the cat had been chasing is happy to see his old adversary caught. But then the rat realizes that without the cat’s protection, he is vulnerable to attack from some of the cat’s other prey like the owl and the weasel. Knowing the cat is trapped, the owl circles the sky looking for the rat to feast on. While the weasel sneaks behind a tree waiting for the rat to return home, so he can have him for his dinner. The rat decides it would be best to free the cat and begins to gnaw through the ropes that hold him. All the while, the rat implores the cat not to eat when he is free. The cat agrees but somehow his words never quite reassure the rat. So the rat decides to set the cat free at the very last moment when the hunter returns. The hunter returns. The owl flies away. The weasel runs home. The rat bites through the last rope. The cat flees from the trap and hides up a tree. And the rat goes back to his home knowing he is safe once again.

You get the drift.

And so the stories go with one tale setting up the next and so on. The idea is that the reader will learn something from these stories about human nature and perhaps about themselves…
 
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More fabulous illustrations, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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08.31.2017
09:47 am
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The story of Keith Haring’s courageous Berlin Wall mural (which is now lost to history)
08.11.2017
10:23 am
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What is the most politically effective thing that a street artist has ever painted on a wall? Was Banksy the person who did it? Did it read “ROMANI ITE DOMUM” (or “ROMANES EUNT DOMUS” for that matter)?

Of street artists to whom we can apply a specific name, you could certainly argue that Keith Haring was the one who takes the prize, for his hundred or so meters of familiar Haring-esque figures that he painted on the Berlin Wall in October of 1986. It was a big enough deal to make the New York Times the next day.

To review: The East German government put up the Berlin Wall in a surprise move in 1961 to keep its citizens from defecting to the West. The Berlin Wall was a very serious business; more than 100 East Germans were killed over the years attempting to escape the dictatorship.

One of the best-known gates through which to pass from East Berlin to West Berlin and vice versa (with the proper documentation, of course) was Checkpoint C, which quickly became known as Checkpoint Charlie, as it became something of a tourist attraction for Westerners to take photographs of the ominous barrier.

The entirety of the Wall lay a couple of meters inside East German territory, which meant that the many West Germans who eventually decorated the Wall with provocative art were technically violating East German sovereignty and in theory were fair game to be shot by the many vigilant East German guards on patrol.

In the mid-1980s, the director of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, a man named Rainer Hildebrandt, extended an invitation to Keith Haring to come to Berlin and use the Wall for his canvas. When Haring received word of the invitation, he was touring Europe and was eager to exercise his agitprop instincts in a world-historical manner by attempting to “destroy the wall by painting it,” which in a way was exactly what ended up happening, not to overstate Haring’s importance to that process.
 

 
In order to prepare for Haring’s visit, employees of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum painted a hundred-meter stretch of the wall yellow according to Haring’s instructions. The next day, October 23, 1986, Haring “completed the mural in somewhere between four and six hours,” which is pretty remarkable when you think about it, even though Haring’s ability to work quickly was surely honed by his years defacing the walls in the New York subway system in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

According to Haring, “I decided on a subject, which is a continuous interlocking chain of human figures, who are connected at their hands and their feet—the chain obviously representing the unity of people as against the idea of the wall. I paint this in the colors of the German flag—black, red and yellow.” Haring called the provocation a “humanistic gesture” as well as ‘‘a political and subversive act—an attempt to psychologically destroy the wall by painting it.’’ As the New York Times reported the next day,
 

Since the first six feet of land on the Western side belong to the East, the artist was not just defacing property of the East German Government—he was entering that country without a visa. A West Berlin policeman used a megaphone to warn him of the fact. But Mr. Haring continued, sporadically leaping back onto Western soil when East German border guards looked as if they were about to arrest him.

 
As soon as East German guards ascertained that Haring was not “defaming” East Germany, they left him alone to proceed with his art, even though he had technically entered East Germany without official authorization.

Haring was asked whether the mural was just a publicity stunt, and he replied, ‘‘The main objective here is that it is not an insignificant act that goes unnoticed. The entire world should know that it happened, reinforcing its political significance.’‘

Hilariously, the New York Times quoted a young citizen of Berlin who scorned Haring’s contribution to the Cold War art, saying ‘‘This is Valium, there’s no provocation in it. In every third toilet in Kreuzberg you can see the same graffiti.’‘

Haring’s mural did not last long at all. According to Jennifer Mundy of the Tate Museum in London,
 

That night or early the next day, however, someone painted large sections of the mural grey, perhaps in political protest against the upbeat message of the American’s work. Quickly, other artists and graffitists painted on the hundred-metre section that Haring had used. Within months there was very little left to see. Paradoxically, it was not censorship by the East German authorities that Haring needed to have feared but other artists.

 
Here is how Haring’s contributions looked just a short while later:
 

 
On February 16, 1990, Haring died of AIDS-related complications, so he was still alive when the Wall finally fell on November 9, 1989. Remarkably, just eleven months earlier, Erich Honecker, the longtime leader of East Germany, who would crucially no longer be in power by the end of October, predicted that the Wall would stand for at least 50 more years. He was only off by about 49 years.
 

 
More after the jump…...
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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08.11.2017
10:23 am
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Spectropia, the popular 19th-century method of conjuring demons and ghosts
08.08.2017
10:13 am
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The world is ever divided into the superstitious and the enlightened, and while the enlightened have shown the clear trend of being on the rise, it doesn’t always seem so. Ghosts and horoscopes and good-luck charms abound, and poindexterish explanations of why they are all poppycock merely tend to make one an un-adored party pooper—even though this is certainly the correct view.

There’s a tendency to consign all of pre-modernity to the superstitious (one might say “religious”) camp, but that really isn’t the case. Mathematicians and scientists have existed for the entirety of recorded history, which must be the case since language and writing technologies are products of the experimental mindset. The Enlightenment was a turning point, as rationality was increasingly given a central place in the arrangement of social affairs, and even if irreligious skeptics were (and are) outnumbered, you could still always count on finding someone in the vicinity willing to scoff at the hocus-pocus of superstition.

In the 19th century, some scholars were able to use interest in the paranormal to undermine its premises entirely. One such person was J.H. Brown, who published a book in New York City under the title Spectropia; or, Surprising spectral illusions showing ghosts everywhere and of any colour in 1864. The book was popular enough to merit a print run in London in 1865 and a Dutch edition in 1866.

Here is the cover of the U.S. edition:
 

 
To produce his popular occult-adjacent book, Brown relied on the optical phenomenon of “cone fatigue,” whereby prolonged exposure to an image of a specific color produces an afterimage (with reversed colors) in the eye for a few seconds after the initial image is replaced with a white field. A common example is an inverted image of the U.S. flag, which produces a more or less color-accurate version in the eye afterward.
 

 
Brown didn’t use the flag—he used pictures of demons and angels and skeletons. In the book Brown stated that his goal was
 

the extinction of the superstitious belief that apparitions are actual spirits, by showing some of the many ways in which our senses may be deceived, and that, in fact, no so-called ghost has ever appeared, without its being referable either to mental or physiological deception, or, in those instances where several persons have seen a spectre at the same time, to natural objects

 
Here are Brown’s instructions on how to see the “spectres”:
 
To see the spectres, it is only necessary to look steadily at the dot, or asterisk, which is to be found on each of the plates, for about a quarter of a minute, or while counting about twenty, the plate being well illuminated by either artificial or day light. Then turning the eyes to the ceiling, the wall, the sky, or better still to a white sheet hung on the wall of a darkened room (not totally dark), and looking rather steadily at any one point, the spectre will soon begin to make its appearance, increasing in intensity, and then gradually vanishing, to reappear and again vanish ; it will continue to do so several times in succession, each reappearance being fainter than the one preceding. Winking the eyes, or passing a finger rapidly to and fro before them, will frequently hasten the appearance of the spectre, especially if the plate has been strongly illuminated.
 
Here’s an amusing item from the New York Daily Tribune of September 13, 1864, in which the publisher introduces to the public “the new ghost marvel” that can produce “without apparatus, machine, or expense” all manner of demons and ghosts “upon the wall, the doors, the curtains, or any white surface whatever!!”
 

 
I figure this was sort of the Magic Eye of its day. Below are some of the images from Spectropia, but you can see the whole book at Public Domain Review.
 

 
More spectral demons and skeletons after the jump…....
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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08.08.2017
10:13 am
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Three centuries ago, that garden gnome in your yard would have been an actual human being


 
Ever wonder why anyone thought it made sense to have a weird little ceramic homunculus taking up real estate in your front yard? Who came up with that, anyway? Garden gnomes are a fun part of homeownership for some, and they surface in popular culture in unexpected places with some frequency, such as the globe-trotting gnome in Amélie or (my favorite) the Gnome Chomsky garden gnome

The trope of the hermit, on the other hand, seems a bit more distant from our concerns. I recently finished a brief trip to the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean, and while I was there I had the opportunity to visit a hermitage on an extended hike (I opted to do something else). Right this minute I’m in the Austrian countryside, and I can hike for less than an hour up into the woods and encounter a hermitage there as well. The man who is currently occupying the position of local hermit is (somewhat paradoxically) quite welcoming to visitors.

One appearance of a hermit in popular culture that I can think of was courtesy of Monty Python, who inserted a sketch about gossipy hermits into episode 8 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, right before a certain unforgettable two-hander about a dead parrot. Anyone who has seen Tom Stoppard’s outstanding play Arcadia will surely recall the salience of “the hermit of Sidley Park” to that narrative.

Americans don’t really have hermits—we have crackpots, cranks and crazed loners—but there is a phantom relationship between the hermit and the garden gnome. Because the garden gnome really started out as a hermit—a hermit who was encouraged to live on an individual’s private estate. The term for the such a person was “garden hermit” or “ornamental hermit,” and their heyday was Europe and England of the 18th century.

One of the earliest hermits of this type, according to Wikipedia, was St. Francis of Paola, who lived in a cave on his own father’s estate in the Italy of the early 15th century. It’s a little unclear how this phenomenon went big, but sometime around 1700 some tipping point of excess wealth among the gentry led to the popularization of ornamental hermits, who were hired on to spend years at a time in hermitages, grottoes, or rockeries on the estates of wealthy landowners.
 

 
Abby Norman found a wonderful example of a want ad for an ornamental hermit that dates from the early 1700s that was placed by Charles Hamilton, 6th Earl of Haddington, who was renowned for his innovations in park layout and topiary and suchlike. Hamilton’s hermit would…
 

be provided with a Bible, optical glasses, a mat for his feet, a hassock for his pillow, an hourglass for timepiece, water for his beverage, and food from the house. He must wear a camlet robe, and never, under any circumstances, must he cut his hair, beard, or nails, stray beyond the limits of Mr. Hamilton’s grounds, or exchange one word with the servant.

 
An ostensible reason for bringing a hermit onto one’s estate would be to forge some connection to nature, representing a return to authenticity that today’s enthusiasts of artisanal macaroons might also understand. But that explanation is somewhat undermined by the fact that some of the ornamental hermits were replaced by, um, robots. As Karl Shaw writes in Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Extraordinary Exploits of the British and European Aristocracy:
 

In the 1830 a Lord Hill installed a human hermit in the grounds of his home at Hawkstone in Shropshire. The bare-footed “Father Francis” was required to sit in a cave with an hourglass in his hand and exchange bon mots with passing visitors. He was eventually replaced by an automaton that would nod its head whenever someone came by, but according to regulars, the effect was disappointing.

 
I’ll bet.
 

 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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08.07.2017
10:02 am
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Sweet Apple’s new video, filmed in a haunted train car
07.26.2017
08:52 am
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In Steuben County NY on August 30, 1943, the Lackawanna Limited passenger train drove at 70 miles per hour into a freight engine that hadn’t cleared the track. The wreckage was brutal; published estimates vary, but around 110 people were injured and 28 died. But most gruesome was their manner of death—only one passenger, one Frank Meincke, was crushed in wreckage. The rest were trapped in a coach that landed atop the freight engine, which emptied itself of steam into the coach. The victims were basically cooked alive. From The Troopers Are Coming: New York State Troopers, 1917-1943:

The Lackawanna Limited struck the left side of a freight engine, tearing up three hundred feet of track and leaving a twisted mass of wreckage scattered along the right of way. A steam jacket torn from the freight engine allowed escaping steam to enter some of the passenger coaches, causing agony and death. Twenty-eight passengers and crewmembers were killed and 117 passengers were injured.

 

 

Images via the Painted Hills Genealogy Society

But though it entombed over two dozen people, the passenger car itself was unharmed, and this grim piece of transportation history remains not just intact, but restored in the disused B&O roundhouse that now serves as a museum and restoration workplace for the Midwest Railway Preservation Society. Due to that key event in the car’s past, it’s acquired a reputation as a haunting site, and is referred to as “The Death Car.” According to Seeks Ghosts, a web site for paranormal enthusiasts,

While this old passenger car was at this yard being renovated many people connected to this society began to believe it was haunted. In fact, the volunteers at this yard dubbed this car—the ”Death Car.”

One volunteer, Charlie Sedgley who works for the society restoring cars believes he encountered at least 17 separate ghosts in the 1943 wrecked passenger car.

The society gives tours of the old train cars they restore. A trustee of the society, Steve Karpos was leading one of these tours when he led his group into the Death Car.

As he spoke a female member of his tour group interrupted him to ask why he didn’t let the other man behind him speak. Karpos didn’t know what she was talking about. She then asked about the “man dressed in the funny suit.”

Karpos recalls that, “Everyone else was saying there was a ghost in the car.” When the tour exited the Death Car several members saw, “a ghost sitting on the roof with his feet hanging over.”


That article goes on to say that the MRPS no longer owns the car, but it is indeed still there, and Sweet Apple have used it as the setting for “World I’m Gonna Leave You,” the first of four videos from their new LP Sing the Night in Sorrow. Sweet Apple is made up of members of Dinosaur Jr, Witch, and Cobra Verde, and the song includes vocal contributions from Mark Lanegan and Bob Pollard. The video is far cheekier than the train car’s grim history would suggest—the band’s namesake bassist Dave Sweetapple enters the haunted car and is bedeviled by—well, the Devil played by singer John Petkovic in a cheap mask. Drummer J Mascis and guitarist Tim Parnin also appear, as do eleven other passengers and, evidently, at least 17 separate ghosts.
 
Watch after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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07.26.2017
08:52 am
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Amusing vintage photos of people posing with their TV sets
07.24.2017
08:55 am
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Evolution: Fire, fireplace, radio, television, computer, smartphone.

Once upon a time, families gathered in front of the fireplace to have their photographs taken. The flickering flames, the giver of warmth, the focus of a family at rest was quickly and dramatically usurped by technology—first the wireless then television from the 1950s onward. Now kith and kin gathered together to pose in front of the flickering cathode ray. Next time some know-it-all from the last century tut-tuts your obsessive use of a smartphone or numerous hours spent clicking “like” on Facebook, just remind them that once upon a time they too did the very same when they sat and supped from the glass teat of television.

Though television has been around in one form or another since the 1920s, it wasn’t until the fifties that TV became the first choice for family entertainment. America pioneered the way, producing a golden age of dramas and serials and films. For most people, TV sets were expensive, very expensive. They were considered valuable assets, signifiers of a family’s wealth and status. To own a color TV in the 1950s was to be part of a much-hyped affluent jet set (and presumably a big Perry Como fan as his show was just about the one thing to watch in color during that decade). Up until the late 1960s color TV sets were still pretty much a rarity.

I was a wireless kid. My parents first rented a TV sometime in the late sixties-early seventies. Even then, a new TV was way too expensive for many British families to buy outright, so most people rented their TV sets from companies like Granada or Radio Rentals. “Great service you get/Renting your color set/From Granada” went one of the cheesy ads for TV rentals in 1977. TV sets came in ornate boxes sometimes with doors on the front to disguise the set as some kind of tasteful item of furniture—a drinks cabinet maybe or a redwood sideboard credenza. And don’t be fooled, most TV pictures were pitiful when compared to today’s 4K sets as TV signals were atrocious. The public spent most evenings fiddling about the TV aerial trying to find a better picture. Applying a ball of tinfoil was the sole option to improve the signal, decidedly low tech “hack” that was a common enough sight.

Yet, TV was everything. And that’s why people posed for photographs in front of their expensive, valuable, and trusted friend the electronic eye.

For the past decade or so, artist Oliver Wasow has been collecting found images on the Internet and organizing them into some kind of order. Pictures of families celebrating birthdays, or blurred images, or teen titans working out, or people holding cameras, or children holding guns, or just couples arm-in-arm or dressed for a night out. One set that particularly attracted my attention consisted of people standing beside TV sets looking proud and happy as if introducing a new family member to the camera: “Here’s our new grandchild,” or “Here’s my new husband.” These images brought back memories of how TV sets were once such very potent symbols of status. And how people once considered the TV set as being a part of the family—a companion—strange though that may seem today. Just look at the joy some of the following people show on their faces while in proximity to their little box of delights.
 
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More found photos of people posing with their TV sets, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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07.24.2017
08:55 am
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