Crank book covers

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Cover art by Tony Roberts, 1974. A book I received as a present for Christmas, 1974. Also the first place I encountered the words “Popol Vuh”, before discovering the music of Florian Fricke and co. a few years later.

Yes, “crank” is a pejorative word but it’s used with some degree of affection, as in “harmless crank”. It’s also a convenient umbrella term for the books referred to in the weekend post which embrace diverse subjects, from lost continents and “earth energy” to ancient astronauts and flying saucers.

The prime crank decade was the 1970s, a period when publishers were falling over themselves to cash-in on the massive popularity of Erich von Däniken’s dubious investigations, while also catering to the by-products of the hippy era and the occult revival. Books by Charles Fort, Immanuel Velikovsky and James Churchward (the Mu series) all received reprints, with some appearing in paperback for the first time. The British editions of these books were published by imprints like Corgi, Panther and Sphere who were also publishing large quantities of science fiction, a situation that led to many crank titles being packaged as though they were fiction or fantasy. Sphere was in the vanguard, presenting a wide range of books with the same cover designs, cover artists and Novel Gothic typeface as their SF titles. A cynical move, no doubt, but it also makes the crank books seem more like fiction than their authors might have intended.

This post presents a selection of crank titles with cover art by SF artists but there are many more examples out there. (Watch the skies!) I’ve limited the selection to British publishers but the same syndrome was evident in American publishing, as documented at Absolute Elsewhere. And I’ve included a couple of books by sceptics John Sladek and Dr. Christopher Evans. These were intended to dismantle the claims of L. Ron Hubbard, Erich von Däniken and co. but were still packaged in paperback to resemble the books they were attacking. The major demolition of Von Däniken is Ronald Story’s The Space Gods Revealed but covers for that one have always been relatively restrained.

Missing from this list are three paintings by SF artist Peter Jones for books by Dr. Celia Green. The art may be seen in Jones’s Solar Wind collection but I couldn’t find any of the printed covers, which suggests they had a limited run if they were printed at all. These are odd for being typical fantasy imagery attached to serious studies of lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences. Dr. Green is a philosopher and science researcher (she coined the term “out-of-body experience”) so she doesn’t belong on a crank list in any case. Also absent is the most popular British cover illustrator of the decade, Chris Foss, who would have been too busy working through his fiction commissions and creating designs for feature films.

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Cover art by Tony Roberts (?), 1974.

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Cover art by Bruce Pennington, 1974.

Evans was a computer scientist, an occasional contributor to New Worlds magazine, and also the model for the deranged Vaughan in JG Ballard’s Crash. Cults of Unreason investigates crank sects such as the flying-saucer worshippers of the Aetherius Society (hence the cover art), and the Scientologists who caused a stir in Britain in the 1960s when L. Ron Hubbard set up an outpost at East Grinstead.

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Cover art by Colin Hay, 1974.

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Cover art by Angus McKie, 1979.

Continue reading “Crank book covers”

Weekend links 542

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The Reverse of a Framed Painting (between 1668 and 1672) by Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts.

• New music with a cinematic flavour: Disciples Of The Scorpion (Main Theme) Heavy Mix by The Rowan Amber Mill is a taster for the group’s forthcoming imaginary soundtrack, Disciples Of The Scorpion (also a sequel of sorts to The Book Of The Lost); The Quietened Dream Palace is this year’s final themed compilation from A Year In The Country. The subject this time is abandoned cinemas, past and present.

San Francisco Moog: 1968–72 by Doug McKechnie, a collection of early synthesizer music using a modular instrument that was later bought by Tangerine Dream. “The quiescent, meditative pulse of the music has much more in common with what would come to be known as the Berlin school of German electronic music than anything coming out of the US at the time,” says Geeta Dayal.

• Sarah Davachi released a new album recently, Cantus, Descant, so The Quietus asked her to discuss her favourite albums. Related: XLR8R has a mix of the music that Davachi regards as influences. Kudos for the choice of Why Do I Still Sleep by Popol Vuh, an overlooked piece from the end of the group’s career.

When I use relevance as a filter for determining what books to read, I’m failing to make myself available for an authentic encounter with otherness, something genuine art always offers. I’m presuming that I can guess, from the barest plot summary, whether a book will be useful in my life. But how can I know what I will find relevant about a work before I have submitted myself to the experience? I don’t think we are likely to be transformed by art if we try to determine that encounter in advance. Part of the vulnerability necessary for transformation is the recognition that I am, to a great extent, a mystery to myself. How could I know what I need?

Garth Greenwell on the idea that a novel is only worthwhile if it is somehow “relevant”

• “For a long time I had been encouraged by the world of fine art to remove references to the spiritual from my work,” says Penny Slinger in a piece by Hettie Judah exploring the resurgence of interest in occult art. Good to see S. Elizabeth and her book on the subject receiving a mention.

• Arriving on Region B blu-ray later this month is Spring (2014) by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, which 101 Films describes as Richard Linklater channeling HP Lovecraft. I enjoyed Benson & Moorhead’s Resolution (2012) and The Endless (2017) so this one is on pre-order.

• Topical books dept: The Man in the High Chair and Other Tyrannies by Kurt Fawver, a benefit publication for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

• We never know exactly where we’re going in outer space: Caleb Scharf on the difficulties of aiming for distant objects in an ever-changing universe.

• Submissions open soon for the contemporary Dada journal Maintenant 15, with a theme of “Humanity: The Reboot”. Details here.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Harry Smith, Filmmaker Day.

Pandemonium – Spring (1985) by Peter Principle | Silent Spring (2006) by Massive Attack feat. Elizabeth Fraser | Spring Stars (2009) by Simon Scott

Weekend links 541

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Virgil Finlay illustrates Hallowe’en in a Suburb by HP Lovecraft for Weird Tales, September 1952.

• Literary Hub does Halloween with an abundance with Draculas, a lazy option but the pieces are good ones nonetheless: Olivia Rutigliano attempts to rank the 50 best (screen) Draculas, and also recalls the Broadway production designed by Edward Gorey. At the same site, Katie Yee discovers that The Addams Family (1991) is really about the importance of books.

• The inevitable film lists: the always reliable Anne Billson selects the scariest ghosts in cinema; at Dennis Cooper’s, TheNeanderthalSkull curates…DC’s Weirdo Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, a list featuring a couple of oddities which have appeared in previous weekend links.

• More books bound with human skin: Megan Rosenbloom, author of Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin discusses the subject with S. Elizabeth.

Beyond all this, however, readers are most likely to read De Quincey for his compellingly strange writing on opium and its effect on the mind. For it is opium, rather than the opium-eater, he writes in Confessions, who “is the true hero of the tale”. He explains the drug cannot of itself create imaginative visions—the man “whose talk is of oxen” will probably dream about oxen. But for De Quincey, with his love for reverie, it gives “an inner eye and power of intuition for the vision and the mysteries of our human nature”. Wine “robs a man of his self-possession: opium greatly invigorates it”. It “gives an expansion to the heart and the benevolent affections”. “This”, he claims, “is the doctrine of the true church on the subject of opium: of which church I acknowledge myself to be the only member.”

“Thomas De Quincey’s revelatory writing deserves greater attention,” says Jane Darcy

• New music: Weeping Ghost by John Carpenter is a preview of the forthcoming Lost Themes III; Moments Of Clarity is a new album of psychedelic(ish) songs from Professor Yaffle.

• “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!” Sean Connery (RIP) was often playing kings in later life but he started early with this performance as Macbeth in 1961. (Ta to TjZ for the link!)

• Mixes of the week: a (non-Halloween) guest mix by Paul Schütze for Toneshift, and the by-now traditional Samhain Séance Mix from The Ephemeral Man.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ big new adventure: an illustrated “reinvention” of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête.

Drew McDowall (of Coil, et al) talks Musick, magick and sacred materiality.

• “No one loves the smell of a Kindle,” says Thomas O’Dwyer.

Brüder des Schattens (1979) by Popol Vuh | Nosferatu (1988) by Art Zoyd | Vampires At Large (2012) by John Zorn

Weekend links 497

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Poster by Zdenek Ziegler for Roma (1972), a film by Federico Fellini.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: a short history of Straight to Hell, a long-running fanzine launched by Boyd McDonald in 1971 dedicated to true stories of men having sex with other men. The post gives an idea of the contents but for a deep dive I’d suggest Meat (1994) at the Internet Archive, a collection of the best of the early editions of STH. Related: “Straight to Hell was an immensely popular underground publication. John Waters, William S. Burroughs, and Robert Mapplethorpe were fans; Gore Vidal called it ‘one of the best radical papers in the country.'” Erin Sheehy on Boyd McDonald’s determination to kick against the pricks.

• RIP psychedelic voyager and spiritual guide Richard Alpert/(Baba) Ram Dass. The Alpert/Ram Dass bibliography includes The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (1964), an acid-trip manual written in collaboration with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner from which John Lennon borrowed lines for the lyrics of Tomorrow Never Knows. But the most celebrated Ram Dass volume is Be Here Now (1971), a fixture of countless hippy bookshelves whose first editions were all handmade.

• “An Einstein among Neanderthals”: the tragic prince of LA counterculture. Gabriel Szatan talks to David Lynch, Devo and others about the eccentric songwriter, performer and voice of Lynch’s Lady in the Radiator, Peter Ivers.

• For the forthcoming centenary of Federico Fellini’s birth Stephen Puddicombe offers suggestions for where to begin with the director’s “exuberant extravaganzas”. Related: Samuel Wigley on 8½ films inspired by .

• “I met resident Tony Notarberardino for the first time in 2015 and entering his apartment was like crossing into another dimension.” Collin Miller explores the Chelsea Hotel.

• “More green tea, professor?” The haunted academic, a reading list by Peter Meinertzhagen. Related: Our Haunted Year: 2019 by Swan River Press.

• “30 July, Yorkshire. Thunder, which is somehow old-fashioned.” Alan Bennett’s 2019 diary.

• More acid trips: Joan Harvey on the resurgence of interest in psychedelic drugs.

• At Lithub: Werner Herzog’s prose script for Nosferatu the Vampyre.

Tief gesunken, a new recording by Bohren & Der Club Of Gore.

In Heaven (1979) by Tuxedomoon | Die Nacht Der Himmel (1979) by Popol Vuh | Roma (1981) by Steve Lacy

Weekend links 466

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The Simulator (1936) by Dora Maar.

• Surprise of the week for me was the discovery of a new album, Kshatrya – The Eye Of The Bird, by cult French composer Igor Wakhévitch. This had been out for a while but I’d managed to miss the announcements. The music was recorded in 1999 so isn’t exactly new but it’s the first new Wakhévitch release (as opposed to a reissue or compilation) since Let’s Start in 1979. Very good it is too, almost completely electronic but not as discordant as his synth-dominated Hathor album.

• “Popol Vuh is a Mass for the heart.” Gerhard Augustin talks to Florian Fricke about Popol Vuh’s music in a “rare” (lost? previously unseen?) interview. Undated but the City Raga album is referred to as a recent release so it’s probably around 1995.

Brian Dillon on the voraciousness and oddity of Dora Maar’s pictures. Related: Rick Poynor on The Simulator by Dora Maar.

The Secret Ceremonies: Critical Essays on Arthur Machen, edited by Mark Valentine and Timothy J. Jarvis.

Juliette Goodrich on the tale of the Buchla synthesizer, the repair engineer, and a dormant drop of LSD.

Scott Tobias on Midnight Cowboy at 50: why the X-rated best picture winner endures.

• A Hidden History of Women and Psychedelics by Mariavittoria Mangini.

• Previews of Chords, the new album by composer Ellen Arkbro.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 290 by Mark Stewart.

• “Somehow I became respectable,” says John Waters.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Walerian Borowczyk Day.

• The Bandcamp Guide to Earth.

Gén #1 by Ray Kunimoto.

Secret Ceremony (Theme From Brond) (1987) by Scala (Bill Nelson & Daryl Runswick) | Healing Ceremony (1990) by African Head Charge | Ceremony Behind Screens (1995) by David Toop