Led Zeppelin IV: Jimmy Page versus Little Bo-Peep

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Background graphics by Aubrey Beardsley, 1893.

You’d think by now that everything would be known about an album with a Godzilla-sized cultural footprint like Led Zeppelin IV. I certainly thought so until last week when I turned up the source of something that the more obsessive Zepp-heads have been pondering for years. If this puts a bustle in your hedgerow then read on.

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Led Zeppelin’s fourth album has been around now for half a century which means there really is a lot known about every detail of its production. Mysteries that used to confound friends of mine when we were teenagers have long been solved, questions such as what the hell the four symbols assigned to each member of the group actually signified; not only do we know the origin and meaning of those symbols, the enigmatic “Zoso” sigil chosen by Jimmy Page has an entire website dedicated to its various manifestations. We know where the photo on the cover was taken (Birmingham), and why the sleeve is devoid of identification (Page was annoyed with the press reaction to the previous album); we know that the hermit painting inside the gatefold is based on the Tarot card by Pamela Colman Smith, and we also know a great deal about the writing and recording of Stairway To Heaven. Erik Davis logged much of this in his 33 1/3 study of the album, and while he examines the band symbols in some detail he doesn’t say much about the rest of the hand-written inner sleeve beyond this comment:

Is there a meaning to the nifty Arts and Crafts typeface that Page lifted for the Stairway To Heaven lyrics on the other side of the sleeve? Or just a vibe?

The source, if not the meaning, of this script has been intriguing Zeppelin fans for many years, but I wasn’t aware of this until I happened to be reading the Wikipedia entry about the album and found myself equally intrigued. The game was afoot, Watson.

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It makes them wonder: the hand-lettered lyrics.

A persistent question you see in fan circles is “What font was used to create X?” People will ask this question even when the design is a one-off, like Syd Mead’s logo for Tron, or something that’s obviously been lettered by hand. Led Zeppelin IV is an album guaranteed to raise the “What font?” question because the lyrics of the group’s most famous song, Stairway To Heaven, cover an entire side of the inner sleeve. On one of the fan forums I was reading someone was eager to identify “the font” because they wanted to apply the words to a bedroom wall. Many more people must have copied out those lyrics since 1971; I once had to do this myself for a female friend who was so besotted with Jimmy Page that she wanted the lyrics in a frame on her own bedroom wall.

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According to the Wikipedia entry, Page revealed the source of the lettering to be an issue of The Studio, the British art and design magazine which helped launch Aubrey Beardsley’s career and did much to develop and promote the Art Nouveau style in the 1890s. I’m very familiar with The Studio, many posts here refer to it, and I happen to have a complete collection of issues downloaded from the journal archive at Heidelberg University. Seeing the magazine mentioned in this context immediately made me want to find the design that Page had adopted, but before I started flicking through thousands of pages I looked around to see if any of the Zepp-heads had tried searching for the magazine themselves. Evidently not; all the discussion I’ve seen about the inner sleeve tends to recycle the Wikipedia entry, nobody seems to have bothered looking for copies of the magazine. Okay then…

Continue reading “Led Zeppelin IV: Jimmy Page versus Little Bo-Peep”

Mr Sandman

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The last cover reveal of the year isn’t my last cover of the year, two more will follow this one but they won’t be made public until next year. As before, I’ve only done the illustration this time, PS Publishing having an in-house designer who does the rest. Mr Sandman by SJI Holliday is another hardback novella, a horror tale with a sense of humour and a Monkey’s Paw-like warning about careless wishes:

Sophie is bored with her perfectly nice but deathly dull boyfriend Matthew. Sensing he’s about to lose her, Matthew takes her on a last-ditch attempt trip to the seaside, hoping to rekindle their dying flames. But things take a dark turn when Sophie visits Mr Sandman, a Haitian priest, who claims that he can change Matthew into the boyfriend that she wants. But does Sophie really know what she wants? Never has the phrase “be careful what you wish for” been more apt. Because Matthew does change…just not in the way that anyone could’ve predicted.

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Worthing is a seaside town on the south coast of England that’s generally regarded as a poor relation of nearby Brighton. Despite this status the town does possess an award-winning pier which is the main focus of SJI Holliday’s story, so this seemed an inevitable focus for the cover as well. My idea was for something in the manner of Tom Adams, an artist who specialised in arrangements of carefully-painted objects on vague or sketchy backgrounds, with the backgrounds often depicting the location of the story. Having grown up in another seaside town blessed with three piers I’m well aware that all these structures aren’t the same so the pier details have been properly researched. The Tarot cards are an example of artistic licence, however, since the novella doesn’t mention Tarot divination. But with a narrative that concerns a visit to a fortune-teller’s booth this didn’t seem like too much of a stretch, as well as being a convenient way of depicting the main characters. Pamela Colman Smith’s cards were the model for these; the two main characters look a little stiff but that’s the way the figures are represented on her Lovers card, and the awkwardness of the relationship is a dominant theme. As for the cupcakes, these are all very relevant to the story but you’ll have to read the book to find out why.

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Endpaper illustration.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Tom Adams Uncovered
Out of season

The Art of the Occult

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Cover art: Group X, No. 1, Altarpiece (1915) by Hilma af Klint. Design by Paileen Currie.

A surprise arrival in today’s post, the occult art compendium by S. Elizabeth which I would have wanted to read even if it didn’t contain one of my pictures:

From theosophy and kabbalah, to the zodiac and alchemy; spiritualism and ceremonial magic, to the elements and sacred geometry – The Art of the Occult introduces major occult themes and showcases the artists who have been influenced and led by them. Discover the symbolic and mythical images of the Pre-Raphaelites; the automatic drawing of Hilma af Klint and Madge Gill; Leonora Carrington’s surrealist interpretation of myth, alchemy and kabbalah; and much more.

Most of the books I’ve seen on this subject have either been very general and in need of an update (Thames and Hudson’s venerable Magic: The Western Tradition) or exhibition catalogues which are never comprehensive and become increasingly hard to find since they don’t get reprinted. The Art of the Occult is an ideal introduction to the subject for the curious reader, as well as being a useful overview for the aficionado (or initiate) which spans several hundred years of art and illustration, from the earliest occult manuscripts to contemporary works. Occult art is a house with many mansions, a form which can encompass photo-realism, Symbolism, Surrealism or total abstraction without the definition breaking down. The Art of the Occult contains a satisfyingly wide range of examples, 200 in all, and includes many artists whose work I hadn’t seen before. It also reinforces the origin of abstract art in occult concerns, a lineage that went unmentioned for many years by critics who couldn’t accept that their beloved “pure” idiom was tainted by mysticism.

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My piece is a portrait of the serpent-haired Abyzou, one of the Solomonic demons I depicted for The Demons of King Solomon in 2017. The picture was one of the better representations in a series I would have preferred to have more time to work on. I was pleased to see my contribution facing one of Elijah Burgher’s sigil drawings; I like Burgher’s art so he makes a good companion. This is the first and maybe the only book where my name is listed in an index between Pamela Colman Smith and Aleister Crowley.

The Art of the Occult will be published by White Lion Publishing on 13th of October, just in time for the annual spook-fest.

Update: Haute Macabre has a new post by S. Elizabeth showing more pages from the book’s interior plus the opportunity to win a copy.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Calendrier Magique
The Demons of King Solomon
Typefaces of the occult revival
The art of Frieda Harris, 1877–1962
The art of Fay Pomerance, 1912–2001
Songs for the Witch Woman
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
The art of Scott Treleaven

Weekend links 455

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• At Expanding Mind: Tarot expert Mary Greer talks with Erik Davis about Tarot artist Pamela Colman Smith, the Golden Dawn, the art of illustration, Jung’s active imagination, Smith’s musical visions, and the recent study of Smith’s life and work, Pamela Colman Smith: the Untold Story.

• Almost five years have passed since the last album from Earth (if you discount the Bug vs. Earth collaboration Concrete Desert) but the band will release a new album, Full Upon Her Burning Lips, in May. Cats On The Briar is a taster.

Charles Bramesco on Sergei Bondarchuk’s astonishing 7-hour adaptation of War and Peace. I watched the whole thing last weekend: all superlatives are justified.

• The History of the Future: James Conway on leaving Australia for a life in Berlin and publishing. Related: Where is Rixdorf?

• At Spoon & Tamago: Keisuke Aiso‘s artworks, including the Ubume sculpture that became the face of the Momo Challenge hoax.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 282 by Tourist Gaze, and Big Sister’s Scratchy Singles Vol 1 by radioShirley.

Alexander Rose on the 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument Hidden in Plain Sight.

Rebecca Cole and Janise Elie go in search of the Brocken spectre on Burley Moor.

M. John Harrison: Critical Essays, edited by Rhys Williams and Mark Bould.

Forest of Resonating Lamps – One Stroke, Cherry Blossoms by teamLab.

• Tour de France: Jonathan Meades selects 13 exercise-bike Classics.

• At Greydogtales: The Cthulhu Mythos for Beginners.

The Black Tower (1987), a short film by John Smith.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean Rollin Day.

Ishmael Reed doesn’t like Hamilton.

Babylonian Tower (1982) by Minimal Compact | The Tower (Black Advance) (2007) by Mordant Music | The Tower (Empty Fortress) (2007) by Mordant Music

Weekend links 418

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Poster by Roman Cieslewicz for the 1963 Polish release of Vertigo. Via The Hitchcock Zone.

• Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is sixty years old this year. It’s a film I’ve always found to be preposterous and very over-rated, despite the considerable strengths of its cast, production, etc; consequently, any claims to its being an unalloyed masterpiece (such as being voted the best film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll) have been difficult to accept. For the latest anniversary, David Thomson examined the film in the light of changing social attitudes.

• Currently seeking funding at Unbound: Stars, Fools and Lovers: An illustrated guide to the art and history of the Tarot by Joanna Ebenstein, Laetitia Barbier and Mark Pilkington. Another Tarot-related book, Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story by Stuart R. Kaplan with Mary K. Greer, Elizabeth Foley O’Connor and Melinda Boyd Parsons, will be published next month.

• Everybody wants to talk to Jon Hassell at the moment, which is no bad thing: recent interviews have appeared at The Vinyl Factory, Red Bull Radio and Vice.

• Coming soon from Lazarus Corporation: England’s Dark Dreaming by Paul Watson.

• Sean Kitching on The Strange World of Charles Hayward (This Heat et al).

• At Dennis Copper’s: The title sequences of 56 mostly horror movies.

• Stone circles: Adam Scovell chooses 10 notable cinematic examples.

• “You gotta be selfish. It’s a terrible thing,” says David Lynch.

Wolf’s Kompaktkiste shows off a serious record collection.

Boy with Cat (1966), a short film by Donald Richie.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 256 by Nina.

Tank (2018), a short film by Stu Maschwitz.

Phantom Islands—A Sonic Atlas

Letraset, design and music

• Vertigo (1988) by Flash Cero | Psyko (Themes from Psycho and Vertigo) (1993) by Laika & The Cosmonauts | Vértigo Magnético (2014) by Liquidarlo Celuloide