The Tempest illustrated

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“Such stuff as dreams are made on”: Heathcote Williams and Toyah Willcox.

DVD viewing earlier this week was Derek Jarman’s wonderful adaptation of The Tempest which he directed in 1979. This is my favourite of Jarman’s films, partly because the play is my favourite Shakespeare (along with its polar opposite, Macbeth) and also because it’s a film infused with an occult sensibility which comes directly from the director’s own interests, rather than being the usual film or theatre conventions of what magic entails. An example of this is the grimoire which Prospero (Heathcote Williams) is seen leafing through which Jarman reveals in his autobiography, Dancing Ledge, to be his own 17th-century edition of Cornelius Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy. In his account of the filming he also describes his conception of Prospero as being based on Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan occultist who Shakespeare would certainly have known of, and may even have met since the pair both had business with Elizabeth I’s court. The most explicit reference to Dee comes in the shape of Prospero’s magical glass (above), based on Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica, and a prop I’d dearly love to own. Dee was also a character in Jarman’s Jubilee (1978), and his Angelic Conversations gave a title to Jarman’s later filming of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Seeing Jarman’s adaptation again had me thinking about the various representations of the characters. Ariel is generally depicted as a fairy type although he’s a lot more powerful than the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As for Caliban, like Grendel in Beowulf, he’s an all-purpose monster whose predominant attributes seem to be whatever Ariel isn’t: ugly, earthbound, stupid, treacherous, and so on. I’d be tempted to propose the island’s quartet as representing the four elements—Prospero: water; Miranda: fire; Caliban: earth; Ariel: air—but I’m sure that’s not an original idea given the amount of academic trawling through the Bard’s corpus. Rather than dig for symbolism, what follows is a few pictures found during another trawl of my own through the Internet Archive, where the books aren’t drowned but patiently await their rediscovery.

Continue reading “The Tempest illustrated”

Weekend links 20

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Transfiguration (1952) by Sulamith Wülfing.

• Observatory posted photos of its Lovecraft art exhibition; see if you can spot my pics. Related: Write Club has more photos. Also, A Word From Our Sponsor.

Taking the broooooaaaaad view of things: A Conversation with James Grauerholz on William S. Burroughs and Magick. Related: Beat Memories—The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg.

• Adam Curtis on BP and the Axis of Evil; how the the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company became British Petroleum and helped give Iran over to the Ayatollahs.

• The Quietus interviews Peter Christopherson (TG, Coil, etc) and Dr John.

The Strange World of Adolf Hoffmeister at A Journey Round My Skull.

An Artists’ Dialogue On CocoRosie’s Grey Oceans at Stereogum.

Werner Herzog and David Lynch combine their talents.

Jon Savage on The Residents versus The Beatles.

• BUTT magazine interviews James Bidgood.

• The Daily Drop Cap.

The Gay Rub.

Can on German TV in 1971.

A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!

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It’s become a tradition here to post a playlist for Halloween so here’s the one for this year, a collection of favourite “voodoo” music. Most are these pieces have as much to do with real voodoo as Bewitched does with real witchcraft but I like the atmospheres of Voodoo Exotica they evoke.

Voodoo Drums in Hi-Fi (1958).
Beginning with some ethnographic authenticity, this is one of many recordings of genuine (so they claim) voodoo drummers from Haiti, and was probably released to cash-in on the Exotica boom of the late Fifties. For the genuine article, the drums here sound less dramatic than the pounding rhythms familiar from Hollywood rituals, but that’s still a great cover. Voodoo Drums in Hi-Fi has been deleted for years but a worn copy of the vinyl release can be found on various mp3 blogs. For a more recent recording of voodoo rhythms, there’s Spirits Of Life: Haitian Vodou on the Soul Jazz label.

Voodoo Dreams (1959) by Martin Denny.
This, meanwhile, is the genuine kitsch from Denny’s Hypnotique album, a slow arrangement of a syrupy Les Baxter tune. More drums and bongos than usual for a Denny piece, and a suitably spectral chorus.

Voodoo (1959) by Robert Drasnin.
When composer Drasnin was asked by the Tops company to get hip to the Exotica craze the result was an album entitled Voodoo (with unconvincingly exotic white people on the cover), from which they released a single, Chant of the Moon, and this track as the B-side, one of the best pieces on the album.

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I Walk on Gilded Splinters (1968) by Dr John.
Mac Rebennack was working as a session musician in Los Angeles when he recorded his debut album in an atmosphere far removed from the swampy New Orleans miasma which the music conjures. Gris-Gris owes a great deal to Robert Tallant’s book, Voodoo in New Orleans (1946), a popular recounting of the city’s occult legends from which Rebennack borrowed not only his new persona (chapter 5 concerns the history of the real Dr John, a 19th century voodoo practitioner) but also many of the transcribed chants which he set to music. In chapter 3 we read this:

A song given to a reporter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune was printed in that newspaper on March 16, 1924. Probably a very old one, it reflects the dominance of the queens in New Orleans Voodoo and boasts of their tremendous power. Originally sung in the patois known as Creole, it is given here in English:

They think they frighten me,
Those people must be crazy.
They don’t see their misfortune
Or else they must be drunk.

I—the Voodoo Queen,
With my lovely headkerchief
Am not afraid of tomcat shrieks,
I drink serpent venom!

I walk on pins
I walk on needles,
I walk on gilded splinters,
I want to see what they can do!

They think they have pride
With their big malice,
But when they see a coffin
They’re as frightened as prairie birds.

I’m going to put gris-gris
All over their front steps
And make them shake
Until they stutter!

Anyone familiar with Gris-Gris will recognise the lyrics of I Walk on Gilded Splinters (misspelled “Guilded” on the sleeve) which Dr John did a great job of fashioning into a classic voodoo song. The entire album might be ersatz, then, but it remains one of my favourites by anyone, and for me it’s still the best Dr John album.

Mama Loi, Papa Loi (1970) by Exuma.
Gris-Gris was too weird to be a success when it first appeared but Dr John’s music and extravagant stage presence were very distinctive and helped Blues Magoos manager Bob Wyld recast singer Tony McKay as “Obeah man” Exuma for Mercury Records. Exuma’s self-titled debut album is ersatz stuff again but manages to sound even more deliriously swampy and sorcerous than Gris-Gris, with jungle sounds, zombie gurgles and a clutch of enthusiastic voodoo-inflected songs. “Mama Loi, Papa Loi / I see fire in the dead man’s eye” he sings here, and for the duration of the album Tony McKay is Exuma.

Zu Zu Mamou (1971) by Dr. John.
After Gris-Gris Dr John gradually pared away the voodoo songs but saved one of the best until his final occult outing, The Sun, Moon & Herbs, which includes contributions from Eric Clapton and, somewhere in the bayou distance, Mick Jagger and PP Arnold on backing vocals. Zu Zu Mamou is the spooky highlight which made a fleeting appearance in Alan Parker’s 1987 Satanic noir, Angel Heart.

Voo Doo (1989) by the Neville Brothers.
Of all the songs I’ve heard which equate falling in love with a voodoo spell, this one from New Orleans’ Neville Brothers is the most evocative, a track from their marvellous Yellow Moon album.

Invocation To Papa Legba (1989) by Deborah Harry.
Yes, it’s Blondie’s Debbie Harry singing a very authentic-sounding voodoo chant, arranged by Chris Stein. This was a one-off which appeared on a Giorno Poetry Systems collection, Like A Girl, I Want You To Keep Coming, along with a William Burroughs reading (a staple of GPS albums), New Order playing Sister Ray live, and other pieces.

Litanie Des Saints (1992) by Dr. John.
Goin’ Back to New Orleans, like Gumbo before it, saw Dr John revisiting the musical history of his native city. Most of the songs are old jazz and blues covers with the notable exception of this opening number, another voodoo invocation. A great string arrangement and vocals from the Neville Brothers; I’d love to hear a whole album like this.

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Zombie’ites (1993) by Transglobal Underground.
Zombies are a voodoo staple despite their current degraded status as the cuddly monster du jour, a development which has made me tire of seeing the word “zombie” in almost any context. A shame because I used to have a lot of time for films such as White Zombie (1932), I Walked With a Zombie (1943), and the later George Romero movies. White Zombie was the first zombie film and stars Bela Lugosi in a weirder and more effective piece of horror cinema than the stagey Dracula which made his name; I Walked With a Zombie was one of Val Lewton’s superb noirish collaborations with Jacques Tourneur; both films have their voodoo chants sampled on this track by Transglobal Underground from Dream of 100 Nations, with the opening chant from White Zombie forming the pulse that drives the piece. Along the way there’s another invocation from Voodoo in New Orleans—”L’Appé vini, le Grand Zombi / L’Appé vini, pou fe gris-gris!”—samples of Criswell from Plan 9 from Outer Space, and a moment of pure bliss at the midpoint when singer Natacha Atlas rides in on a magic carpet made of Bollywood strings.

Happy Halloween! And don’t forget to feed the loas…

Vampire-hunting in New Orleans

Previously on { feuilleton }
Voo-doo: Hoochie Coochie and the Creative Spirit
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
Exotica!
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode
The Séance at Hobs Lane
Exuma: Obeah men and the voodoo groove
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box
Voodoo Macbeth

Poe at 200

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Poe by Harry Clarke.

Happy birthday Edgar Allan Poe, born two hundred years ago today. I nearly missed this anniversary after a busy weekend. Rather than add to the mountain of praise for the writer, I thought I’d list some favourites among the numerous Poe-derived works in different media.

Illustrated books
For me the Harry Clarke edition of 1919 (later reworked with colour plates) has always been definitive. Many first-class artists have tried their hand at depicting Poe’s stories and poems, among them Aubrey Beardsley, Gustave Doré, Arthur Rackham, W Heath Robinson and Edmund Dulac; none complements the morbid atmosphere and florid prose as well as Clarke does. And if it’s horror you need, Clarke’s depiction of The Premature Burial could scarcely be improved upon.

Honourable mention should be made of two less well-known works, Wilfried Sätty’s The Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe (1976) and Visions of Poe (1988) by Simon Marsden. I wrote about Sätty’s collage engravings in Strange Attractor 2, and Sätty’s style was eminently suited to Poe’s work. Marsden’s photographs of old castles and decaying mansions are justly celebrated but in book form often seem in search of a subject beyond a general Gothic spookiness or a recounting of spectral anecdotes. His selection of Poe stories and poems is a great match for the photos, one of which, a view of Monument Valley for The Colloquy of Monos and Una, was also used on a Picador cover for Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

Recordings
These are legion but among the outstanding one-off tracks I’d note two poems set to music, Dream Within a Dream from Propaganda‘s 1985 album, A Secret Wish, and The Lake by Antony & The Johnsons. The latter appeared on the landmark Golden Apples of the Sun compilation and also on Antony’s own The Lake EP.

Among the full-length works, Hal Willner’s 1997 2-CD collection Closed on Account of Rabies features lengthy readings set to music from a typically eclectic Willner line-up: Marianne Faithfull, Christopher Walken, Iggy Pop, Diamanda Galás, Gavin Friday, Dr John, Deborah Harry, Jeff Buckley (one of the last recordings before his untimely death) and Gabriel Byrne. Byrne’s reading of The Masque of the Red Death is tremendous and the whole package is decked out in Ralph Steadman graphics.

Antony Hegarty appears again on another double-disc set, Lou Reed’s The Raven (2003), a very eccentric approach to Poe which I suspect I’m in the minority in enjoying as much as I do. An uneven mix of songs and reading/performances, Reed updates some Poe poems while others are presented straight and to often stunning effect by (among others) Willem Defoe, Steve Buscemi, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Amanda Plummer and Elizabeth Ashley.

Films
Once again, there’s too many films but The Masque of the Red Death (1964) has always been my favourite of the Roger Corman adaptations, not least for the presence of Jane Asher, Patrick Magee and (behind the camera) Nicolas Roeg. I wrote last May about the animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA. That adaptation, with narration by James Mason, is still on YouTube so if you haven’t seen it yet you can celebrate Poe’s anniversary by watching it right now.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA
William Heath Robinson’s illustrated Poe
The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931

Exuma: Obeah men and the voodoo groove

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Do Wah Nanny by Exuma (Kama Sutra LP, 1971).

I came down on a lightning bolt
Nine months in my Mama’s belly.
When I was born, the midwife scream and shout,
I had fire crystals coming out of my mouth.
I’m Exuma, I’m the Obeah Man!

So you’ve listened to Dr John‘s Gris-Gris over and over and become addicted to its swampy, voodoo-inflected psychedelia. Where to go next? Dr John’s subsequent career isn’t much help even though he dallied with voodoo themes on his next couple of albums; nothing there quite achieves the distinctive flavour (dare we say “gumbo”?) of his first album. Praise Dambala, then, for Exuma, whose career was launched on the back of Dr John’s success but who often manages to sound more “authentic” (whatever that means) than the New Orleans maestro. These are recording studio confections so authenticity doesn’t really enter into it even though both artists strive to sound like feathered and beaded voodoo-priests lifting the curtain on their spooky rituals.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was one of the first to go this route in the 1950s, albeit in a more comical fashion, with I Put A Spell On You (1956) and the very swampy Alligator Wine (1958). The latter wasn’t written by some chicken-sacrificing Baron Samedi but by Leiber and Stoller, a pair of Jewish boys in New York City. Mac Rebennack also started out doing rock’n’roll novelty records, among them Bad Neighborhood by Ronnie & the Delinquents and Morgus The Magnificent by Morgus & the 3 Ghouls. His new persona of Dr John (full designation: Dr John Creaux, the Night Tripper) was taken wholesale from Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans (1946), a book which features a chapter detailing the exploits of the original voodoo chieftain of that name, and whose text includes a number of the songs and chants (including the classic I Walk on Guilded Splinters) adapted by Rebennack for Gris-Gris. His debut album sounds like it was recorded in some deconsecrated church in a New Orleans swamp but was actually created between very mundane pop sessions at Phil Spector’s Los Angeles studio with other session musician friends. Which brings us to Exuma. But who was Exuma? Perfect Sound Forever asked the same question:

Who was Exuma?

• He was a spirit who came from a planet, now extinct, brought to us on a lightning bolt, who had communed with Charon, the ferryman of the River Styx and Vodun priests. When he informed the world of his travels and even warned of Armageddon, he left the Earth, perhaps tiring of the corporeal and moving to the ethereal.

• He was born McFarlane Anthony McKay on Cat Island in the Bahamas in the early 1940’s. He then relocated to New York, to study architecture at the age of 17. He ran out of money for his studies and in 1962, participated in folk music hootenannies. Gaining confidence, he started a group called Tony McKay and the Islanders. He also was in a show called A Little of This ’n’ That in 1965, along with Richie Havens.

• He was a marketing nightmare. Who knew how to peg him? Finding his records has never been an easy task. Often, through dint of color, he was placed in the Soul or R&B bin, even though his music, while soulful, does not belong in either. When his first album was released in 1970, there were sections for music of other countries, however, since he lived in New York and recorded for Mercury, it may have looked out of place there. His music was not Ska or Reggae. He was a contemporary of Bob Dylan’s and Peter Paul and Mary, even playing the Café Wha? and the Bitter End in Greenwich Village, but his music wasn’t quite from the same branch of Folk singing as Dylan, Woody Guthrie or Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. His albums couldn’t be placed in Rock; besides, who would get it if it was put there?

All of the above answers are, in varying degrees, “correct.”

Continues here. Typically with fugitive culture of this kind there isn’t much information around but there’s another appreciation of Exuma’s talents here. As with much black music there’s a political dimension also, despite the magickal doodlings. On Fire in the Hole from the second album, Exuma sings “You can’t build a nation off of bloodshed and expect the blood not to stain the land.” The reference originally would have been to the Vietnam War but that line and others can’t help but have a resonance today.

McFarlane Anthony McKay left the planet Earth in 1997 but happily his early albums are all available on CD. If you’re feeling unfulfilled by current servings of musical minestrone get yourself down to the swamp for a dose of gumbo, authentic or not.

Exuma (LP Mercury 1970, CD TRC 1993)
Exuma II (LP Mercury 1970, CD TRC 1993)
Do Wah Nanny (LP Kama Sutra 1971, CD Castle 1993)
Snake (LP Kama Sutra 1972, CD Castle 1993)
Reincarnation (LP Kama Sutra 1972, CD Castle 1993)
Life (LP Buddah 1973, CD Castle 1993)
Penny Sausage (Inagua 1980)
Going to Cat Island (??)
Universal Exuma (??)
Rude Boy (ROIR 1986) (originally released as Street Life)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Metabolist: Goatmanauts, Drömm-heads and the Zuehl Axis
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box
Voodoo Macbeth
Davy Jones