Lonesome Cowboys

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Years before Brokeback Mountain, and a few years before The Place of Dead Roads, another pair of gay cowboys were causing a stir on a T-shirt in the SEX boutique, London, a shop run by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood in the mid-1970s. Paul Gorman’s latest piece of pop archaeology examines the history and possible genesis of this shirt, one of a number designed by McLaren whose challenging nature made them ideal gear for the first wave of London’s punks. SEX specialised in transgression (and was famously the birthplace of the Sex Pistols), selling fetish and bondage clothing, and with a variety of erotic material on its hand-made shirts. But it was the Cowboys image which caused the most fuss in 1975 when the shop-owners were prosecuted for “exposing to public view an indecent exhibition”, a piece of police action that was all-too-common during that decade, especially where punks were concerned. McLaren’s cowboys might seem quaint today but in 1975 this was a shocking image for a country which had only decriminalised homosexual acts eight years before, and where the only gay people in the media (although they never admitted it) were camp comedians and flamboyant sitcom stereotypes.

So much for the history but we still don’t know the origin of the picture. Paul has his own theories; mine would be that McLaren borrowed this from one of the many gay mags which proliferated post-Stonewall. It’s not a Tom of Finland drawing, and it’s not George Quaintance either, an artist who drew many naked cowboys but never showed any genitalia. Vivienne Westwood still sells a version of the shirt: yours for ninety quid, dearie. Meanwhile, you can see a couple of the original Lonesome Cowboys here.

Update: That didn’t take long… It was Jim French after all. Paul has the details.

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More Queer Noise

No future in England’s dreaming

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A German print showing the 1649 execution of Charles I outside the Banqueting House, Whitehall, London.

…the so-called “English Civil War” of 1649–60 was more truthfully “The English Revolution”, as the Marxist author Christopher Hill has long maintained, being the direct precursor to both the French and Russian Revolutions. That the English killed their king well over one hundred years before the French Revolutionaries did the same is a fact often overlooked because our Commonwealth failed after only twelve years and the English monarchy returned in 1660. The regicide of Charles I having taken place so much earlier than other European regicides, however, scared future English parliaments into passing just enough reforms to appease subsequent generations, thus averting any real justification for total revolution.

Dorian Cope

Just think about the Queen for a moment. That is what is holding the whole of England back…the subservience on the part of a great majority of the English people to this bitch…I say there’s no hope for them until we have five thousand people out in Trafalgar Square screaming “Bugger the Queen”.

William Burroughs

The institution of royalty in any form is an insult to the human race.

Mark Twain

And if you need an explanation of the title of this post, go thou here.

Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010

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Coil, circa 1984. John Balance (left) & Peter Christopherson (right). Photo by Lawrence Watson.

The depths of the night sky
Reflects in his eye
He says “Everything changes
And everyone dies.”

Coil, Blood From The Air (1986)

Yes, everyone dies but you don’t always expect it this soon, six years after the sudden loss of John Balance. Coil and Throbbing Gristle were refreshingly direct about the transience of existence so we should no doubt regard these moments with the necessary degree of philosophy. And yet… I’ve said for years that we lack an adequate complement of innovators, genuine creators, rare minds, and what Robert Anton Wilson used to call Intelligence Agents; such people always seem too few, especially in a world where hatred and ignorance are encouraged by those eager to keep us unfulfilled, the easier to manipulate and control. There’s a natural desire each time you discover a like-minded soul to want them to stay around for as long as possible, to help shine a thousand lights in a darkened room.

I never met Peter Christopherson but I saw him on stage with Psychic TV in Manchester in 1983, and as part of Coil for their thrilling performance at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in 2000. We corresponded sporadically via letter and email throughout the 1990s, and spoke on the phone a couple of times. Coil wanted me to create a cover for one of their releases and we talked about this on and off for several years but nothing ever came of the plans, something I regret to this day. Peter bought a drawing off me ten years ago (this one), and he remains one of the few people I’ve sold any artwork to. I broke my usual rule on that occasion out of respect for his work. That work is mostly acknowledged as being musical, and it’s the music—as a member of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil, and TG again—that other obituaries will rightly celebrate. But he was also a talented photographer and graphic designer whose earliest public works were for the design group Hipgnosis in the 1970s. He joined Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell as an assistant in the mid-70s and became a full partner in 1980. As a freelance photographer he shot the first promo pictures of the Sex Pistols in 1976, photos which (if I remember correctly) Malcolm McLaren decided not to use because they looked too heavy. Or maybe too queer…see this appraisal by John Gill from his book Queer Noises. It was Peter Christopherson’s design authority that gave the Throbbing Gristle releases a quality many other independent productions lacked in the post-punk era. He brought the same visual finesse to Psychic TV in 1982 and it was painfully obvious when that finesse was withdrawn after he and John Balance left PTV in 1983 to form Coil. I owe Coil more than I can easily articulate. I’ve spent hours and hours listening to their music whilst working; the full range of their interests probably matched mine more completely than any other group I’ve encountered. It was a real shock when everything crashed to an end in 2004. It’s good to know that the Coil site at Brainwashed has a wealth of interviews and articles going back through the years. And there’s still the music, of course.

Fellow TG members Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter issued some words of remembrance a few hours ago which they end by saying: “Peter was a kind and beautiful soul. No words can express how much he will be missed.” A few examples of his photography and design work follow.

Update: Full Guardian obituary by Alexis Petridis | Genesis P-Orridge Pays Tribute To Sleazy.

Continue reading “Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010”

Weekend links 13

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Watch the trailer for the newly-restored version of Fritz Lang’s masterwork, Metropolis.

My cover design for Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch was voted best cover in the 2010 Spinetingler Awards.

• Figment announces the 2nd Annual Figment Album Cover Design Contest. The judge this time round is William Schaff.

• Two interviews at The Quietus: Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle and Richard H Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire.

• “Merely a Man of Letters.” Jorge Luis Borges interviewed in 1977.

• Another Engelbrecht: The Miniature Theatres of Martin Engelbrecht.

The Unearthing Box Set by Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins.

• The gays: RIP Felix Lance Falkon, author of the landmark study, A Historic Collection of Gay Art (1972). The Independent is the latest newspaper to look at sexuality in the animal kingdom.

Publisher to Release Philip K Dick’s Insights Into Secrets of the Universe.

• Roger Ebert shows the world a draft of his unfilmed Sex Pistols screenplay, Who Killed Bambi? Jon Savage comments.

• Further Flickr sets: History of the Book/Typography and Dutch Graphic Design. Related: more Dutch graphic design at the NAGO.

Far Red: Video by u-matic & telematique, music by Monolake.

Has steampunk jumped Captain Nemo’s clockwork shark yet?

An edge over which it is impossible to look.

Surrender. It’s Brian Eno.

Ecstatic Peace Library.

• Songs of the week: See Emily Play by Pink Floyd and Metropolis by Kraftwerk.

Weekend links 10

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One of a number of vintage ads and ephemeral items at this Flickr set.

• From 1971: The Anthony Balch/William Burroughs/Jan Herman video experiment.

• The NYT reports on World on a Wire, a neglected science fiction drama by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

• “While some of the technology industry’s brightest minds were inventing the first PCs and developing groundbreaking software, they were also feeding their heads with LSD.”

• The archive of author and illustrator Mervyn Peake has been acquired by the British Library for £410,000.

• Thames & Hudson are publishing I Wonder, a book by the wonderful Marian Bantjes, later in the year. Her site has a preview. I want.

• The gays: It’s election season in the UK so My Gay Vote looks at how the three main parties have supported LGBT issues. (No data for the graphs, however.) Is theatre finally glad to be gay? Yet more Tumblrs: I heart skinny boys & Cute boys with cats.

• Trend-spotter, “svengali”, Situationist and the man who named the Sex Pistols: RIP Malcolm McLaren. The Guardian ran a number of memorial pages. Related: Anarchy in Gardenstown.

• Dublin’s One City, One Book choice for April 2010 is The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Catastrophist: Christopher Hitchens on JG Ballard.

Steampunk Taxidermy by Lisa Black.

• LIFE looks back at Aleister Crowley.

• Groovy songs of the week: Julie Driscoll (with Brian Auger & The Trinity), a pair of songs by Bob Dylan—This Wheel’s On Fire—and Donovan—Season Of The Witch—and sets which look like a collaboration between Verner Panton and Marcel Duchamp. Amazing.