Lyrical Substance Deliberated

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Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds from Yellow Submarine (1968).

The advent of spring invariably gets me listening to favourite psychedelic songs, and this year has been no exception. Earlier this week I was idly wondering how many songs there are that follow the Beatles’ lead in telegraphing their drug metaphors by using the initials L-S-D in their titles. Wikipedia’s page for Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (1967) relates John Lennon’s oft-repeated claim that the initialism in the title was a coincidence, and the song itself is really a bit of Lewis Carroll-like whimsy. This might be credible if works of art only ever carried one meaning but they don’t, of course, and the song is both a piece of Lewis Carroll-like whimsy as well as being a pretty obvious paean to the drug experience: “Climb in the back with your head in the clouds / And you’re gone”. Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit (1967) was similarly ambivalent with mushrooms/pills replacing acid.

Among the many things birthed by the enormous success of the Sgt Pepper album, a small flurry of songs or instrumentals have imitated Lennon’s initialism for their titles. The ones that came immediately to mind are detailed below, and they make a curious group. If anyone knows of any others—there must be others…—then please leave a comment.

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Burning Of The Midnight Lamp/The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice (Aug, 1967).

The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s B-side not only alludes to LSD but also to STP. The song itself doesn’t go very far before collapsing into freakout mode.

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The Trip (1967).

Not a song but included here for that “Lovely Sort of Death” tag. Written by Jack Nicholson! With Dennis Hopper as the acid dealer! See the trailer here, then watch the whole film here.

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Lost Soul In Disillusion (November, 1967).

Hard to imagine anyone in London would have heard this in 1967. The Power of Beckett were a Montreal garage group who only released two singles. Lost Soul In Disillusion turned up years later on compilation albums.

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Newspaper record covers

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Gazette Vol. 2 (1961) by Pete Seeger.

More elaborate record sleeve design. Was Pete Seeger the first artist to have a fake newspaper as a cover design? Gazette Vol. 2 is the earliest example I can find. Some of these examples were suggested by this earlier overview. If anyone knows of any omissions then please leave a comment.

Newspaper covers offered understandable attractions to a musician: a vinyl sleeve is almost the same width as a newspaper, and, for the more verbose artist, they give an opportunity to wax satirical at the expense of print media and newspaper readers. Disadvantages would include increased production costs, more design and copywriting, and sleeves that don’t always last very long, especially if actual newsprint is used for the paper. Given the recent resurgence of vinyl I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon see a further examples of this kind of design.

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The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (1968) by The 4 Seasons. Design: Desmond Strobel.

The 4 Seasons album is a surprise since it’s not so well-known yet features a very detailed newspaper sleeve. An 8-page insert continues the theme, and even includes a colour comic strip.

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Volunteers (1969) by Jefferson Airplane. Design: Gut (Allen Turk).

Did Jefferson Airplane copy the 4 Seasons album? Seeing the progression of these designs you have to wonder who was imitating who. The Airplane album also had an insert with more newspaper pages.

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Thick As A Brick (1972) by Jethro Tull.

Jethro Tull went further than everyone by making their album a 12-page newspaper which wraps around the vinyl. The content of the pages is filled with a satirical jab at concept albums and numerous in-jokes. Even if you don’t like the band’s music very much (I’ve never been keen) you have to admire the amount of work that went into this.

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Weekend links 130

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Sarah and Writhing Octopus (New Wave Series, 1992) by Masami Teraoka.

Strange Flowers continues to push all my buttons. For a while now I’d been intent on writing something about the strange (unbuilt) temples designed by German artist/obsessive naturist Fidus (Hugo Höppener) but I reckon James has done a better job than I would have managed. Also last week he wrote about Schloss Schleißheim, a palatial estate outside Munich with connections to Last Year in Marienbad and another eccentric, pseudonymous German artist: Alastair (Hans Henning Voigt).

• The circus poster that inspired John Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper song Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! has been reproduced as a limited edition letterpress print. Related: Wikipedia’s page about Pablo Fanque (1796–1871), “the first black circus proprietor in Britain”.

• The first two volumes of The Graphic Canon, both edited by Russ Kick, are reviewed at Literary Kicks. I’ve not seen either of these yet but volume 2 contains my interpretation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Related: the second book previewed at Brain Pickings.

You only have to read [Alan Bennett’s] diaries to see that, underneath the wit and humour and sandwich-filled pottering around old churches, there is a deep resentment at what has happened to England in his lifetime and an instinctive distrust, sometimes amounting to deep loathing, of most politicians. Listening, for instance, to Alan Clark and Kenneth Clarke talking on the radio about the arrest of General Pinochet in 1998, he writes: “Both have that built-in shrug characteristic of 80s Conservatism, electrodes on the testicles a small price to pay when economic recovery’s at stake.”

Michael Billington on Alan Bennett: a quiet radical

Hauntologists mine the past for music’s future: Mark Pilkington draws a Venn diagram encompassing Coil, Broadcast, the Ghost Box label, Arthur Machen, MR James, Nigel Kneale, Iain Sinclair and others.

Hell Is a City: the making of a cult classic – in pictures. The mean streets of Manchester given the thriller treatment by Hammer Films in 1959. The film is released on DVD this month.

The Function Room: The Kollection, Matt Leyshon’s debut volume of horror stories, has just been published. The cover painting is one of my pieces from the 1990s.

New Worlds magazine (now apparently known as “Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds“) has been relaunched online.

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A drawing from Anatomy (part 1), a series by Alex Konahin.

• The forthcoming Scott Walker album, Bish Bosch, will be released on December 3rd. 4AD has a trailer.

Cormac McCarthy Cuts to the Bone: Noah Gallagher Shannon on the early drafts of Blood Meridian.

• The Velvet Underground of English Letters: Simon Sellars Discusses JG Ballard.

• Michelle Dean on The Comfort of Bad Books.

The typewriter repairers of Los Angeles

Cats With Famous People

Marienbad (1987) by Sonoko | Komm Nach Marienbad (2011) by Marienbad | Marienbad (2012) by Julia Holter.

(Thanks to Ian and Pedro for this week’s picture links!)

Tomorrow Never Knows

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Episode 38 of The Beatles (1967).

The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine was released on Blu-ray earlier this month. The quality is as good as you’d expect, it looks and sounds fantastic with the songs really benefitting from their remixes and high-definition audio. The film atoned for Al Brodax and George Dunning’s earlier role as producers of the lamentable The Beatles animated TV series which ran for 39 episodes from 1965 to 1967. The series as a whole may be cheap and nasty but the penultimate number is notable for being the only one featuring two of John Lennon’s songs inspired by his acid trips: Tomorrow Never Knows and She Said, She Said. These tiny eruptions of psychedelic culture into children’s film and television have always fascinated me, and this is one example I’d missed until now. No wonder it had to end, the Fab Four were getting far too weird. Okay kids, sing along now: “I know what it’s like to be dead…”

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
Yellow Submarine comic books
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
Heinz Edelmann
Please Mr. Postman
All you need is…

The art of Ronald Searle, 1920–2012

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Undertakers. From Punch magazine (undated).

I started trying to draw like Ronald Searle when I was about eight. So there was Jabberwocky and Ronald Searle I was turning into by the time I was thirteen. You know, I was determined to be Lewis Carroll (giggles) with a hint of Ronald Searle.

John Lennon, 1968

Does the late Ronald Searle need any introduction? Everyone knows he created the anarchic schoolgirls of St Trinian’s in the 1940s, although their exploits had the greatest audience in the films based on Searle’s cartoons rather than the original drawings. Searle’s work first came to my attention through reprints of the Molesworth books he produced with Geoffrey Willans in the 1950s—Down with Skool! (1953), How to be Topp (1954), Whizz for Atomms (1956) and Back in the Jug Agane (1959)—a masculine riposte to St Trinian’s which allowed for a broader range of humour than the slapstick and short-skirted salaciousness the films drifted into. The Molesworth books are perhaps best appreciated at age 11 as this LRB review notes; looked at with older eyes all I see is a portrait of a rigidly class-bound nation whose boarding schools, gowned masters, “maters” and “paters” could only inspire affection in the Etonians currently attempting to govern Britain. But the drawings remain a treat: wiry and mordant with flashes of a viciousness that make Searle the godfather of Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

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The girls of St Trinian’s, Lilliput magazine, December 1949.

Given Searle’s influence on generations of newspaper cartoonists it’s no surprise that the British papers are being free with the plaudits. Links to various stories follow. The images here are taken from earlier posts or pulled from my bookshelves. The illustration of Engelbrecht below is from the Savoy Books edition of Maurice Richardson’s The Exploits of Engelbrecht which I designed in 2010.

Guardian obituary | Telegraph obituary | NYT obituary
• Ronald Searle in pictures: Telegraph | Guardian
Ronald Searle: a life in pictures by Steve Bell.
Mike Leigh: ‘Ronald Searle was my inspiration’.
Ronald Searle: Now let’s have some fizz: Gerald Scarfe remembers his friend and childhood hero.
Ronald Searle was our greatest cartoonist – and he sent me his pens, says Martin Rowson.

Other links:
Perpetua, the Ronald Searle tribute
Searle at VTS
Winespeak at BibliOdyssey

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Engelbrecht versus Grandfather Clock. From The Exploits of Engelbrecht (1950) by Maurice Richardson.

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“A trap for dere Santa”. From How to be Topp (1954) by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.

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The Coming of the Great Cat God (1968).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Engelbrecht lives to fight another day
Ronald Searle book covers
Engelbrecht again