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”

Weekend links 607

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Jerry (1931) by Paul Cadmus.

• “I wanted to photograph naked young men as opulently and as attentively as those professional ladies appearing in Playboy-type magazines.” RIP James Bidgood, photographer and director of no-budget gay-porn classic Pink Narcissus. Also in the obituary notices this week: Monica Vitti and John Appleton, composer of electronic music and inventor of the Synclavier sampling keyboard.

• “…the Sola Busca deck is limited in its use for divinatory purposes today, and yet, since its enigmatic imagery irresistibly invites decoding, the deck nonetheless beckons twenty-first century cartomancers into a game of high imagination.” Kevin Dann on the mysteries of the world’s oldest complete Tarot deck.

• “This Missouri company still makes cassette tapes, and they are flying off the factory floor.” Jennifer Billock reports.

He attended to his own talent, not in the interest of bombast or self-aggrandisement, but rather like a faithful watchman. He had the fixity of the great and therefore no need of vanity. He estimated that three shillings would be a reasonable price for Ulysses. A tiresome book, he admitted. At the same time he was dogged by fear that the printing house would be burnt down or that some untoward catastrophe would happen. He assisted Miss Beach in wrapping the copies, he autographed the deluxe editions, he wrote to influential people, he hawked packages to the post office. He knew that the illustrati would change their minds many a time before settling down to a final opinion and that many another would know as much about it as the parliamentary side of his arse.

Edna O’Brien on James Joyce

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on The Secret Glory by Arthur Machen, another novel now in its centenary year.

• At Aquarium Drunkard: It Is Not My Music, (1978) an hour-long Swedish TV documentary about Don Cherry.

• At Bandcamp: The transportive psychedelia of Moon Glyph records.

• Mix of the week: Fact Mix 844 by A Psychic Yes.

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Show.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Guitar.

Mumblin’ Guitar (1960) by Bo Diddley | Electric Guitar (1979) by Talking Heads | Impossible Guitar (1982) by Phil Manzanera

Prints update

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The Major Arcana (2006): a C-type print on Fuji gloss paper. A1 or A2 sizes.

I’m continuing to add artwork to Etsy which will be available as prints in a variety of sizes and papers. I would have done more of this by now but I’m still very busy working through the commissions of the past few months so progress has been slow. The system does actually work as intended, however, with orders being routed automatically to the printer then printed and shipped within 24 hours. The initial setup may take longer than places like CafePress but the benefits are multiple, not only a faster turnaround (and cheaper worldwide postage) but now I can create prints of any size I want, and with a variety of papers and finishes. Most of the items there at the moment are the things I consider “greatest hits” so the latest additions include new poster versions of my psychedelic Alice in Wonderland artwork, together with the International Symbols Tarot poster and yet more Lovecraftiana. Requests are, of course, still welcome.

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Psychedelic Wonderland (2009): a C-type print on Fuji gloss paper. A1 or A2 sizes.

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Psychedelic Looking-Glass (2010): a C-type print on Fuji gloss paper. A1 or A2 sizes.

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Cthulhu (1998): a giclée print on Canson Aquarelle rag paper. A3 size.

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Dagon (1999): a giclée print on Canson Aquarelle rag paper. A3 size.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Prints at Etsy

Weekend links 564

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Fantastical Tree (c. 1830) by Carl Wilhelm Kolbe.

• “It’s just a square and a semi-circle at the end of the day.” Pete Adlington navigates the rapids of high-profile cover design for the UK edition of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and The Sun. I’m not always keen on the minimal approach but the Faber edition is a better design than the equally minimal US cover whose circle in a hand makes it look like a reprint of Logan’s Run. Faber also produced a limited edition with the sun circle wrapped onto sprayed page edges.

• “‘With a mysterious smile on her lips,’ writes the Chilean film director Alejandro Jodorowsky, ‘the painter whispered to me, “What you just dictated to me is the secret. As each Arcana is a mirror and not a truth in itself, become what you see in it. That tarot is a chameleon.”‘” The painter referred to is the now-ubiquitous Leonora Carrington whose own Tarot deck is investigated by Rhian Sasseen.

• “‘Horror is an emotion,’ Douglas E. Winter tells us. I would respectfully like to amend that assertion. Horror is a range of emotions. And each of these moods, if they are to be successful, must be cultivated differently.” Brian J. Showers offers his thoughts on horror fiction.

• “You move from awareness of—and preoccupation with—how sounds affect our bodies, into how that might create a web of connection with the external world—with the natural world.” Annea Lockwood talking to Jennifer Lucy Allan about her career as a composer and sound artist.

• Gay cruising and its geography in cinema and documentary, a list of films by Mike Kennedy. Related: Shiv Kotecha on O Fantasma (2000), a film by João Pedro Rodrigues.

• Coming from Strange Attractor in June: Coil: Camera Light Oblivion, a photographic record by Ruth Beyer of the first live performances by Coil from 2000–2002.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on The Star Called Wormwood (1941), a strange novel by Morchard Bishop.

• At Unquiet Things: Ephemeral and Irresistible: The Spectacular Still-life Botanical Drama of Gatya Kelly.

• “Fevers of Curiosity”: Charles Baudelaire and the convalescent flâneur by Matthew Beaumont.

• 1066 and all that: Explore the Bayeux Tapestry online.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 311 by Arigto.

• New music: Terrain by Portico Quartet.

Fever (1956) by Little Willie John | Fever (1972) by Junior Byles | Fever (1980) The Cramps

Weekend links 559

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Cover art by Toshiyuki Fukuda for the Japanese edition of the new novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

• “The story here is how between 1978 and 1982, this impulse shed its novelty genesis and its spoils were divvied up between gay producers making high-energy soundtracks for carnal abandon, and quiet Hawkwind fans smoking spliffs in Midlands bedrooms.…this excellent compilation offers fresh understandings of a period in sonic history where the future was up for grabs.” Fergal Kinney reviews Do You Have the Force? Jon Savage’s Alternate History of Electronic Music, 1978–82.

DJ Food continues his history of mini CDs with Oranges And Lemons, the 1989 album by XTC which was released in the usual formats together with a limited edition of three small discs in a flip-top box. The cover art by Dave Dragon is a good example of the resurrected groovy look.

• “If Austin Osman Spare, William Burroughs, Mary Butts and Kathy Acker got together for a séance, the transcript could well look like this.”

• How Leonora Carrington used Tarot to reach self-enlightenment: Gabriel Weisz Carrington on his mother’s quest for mythic revelations.

• Mixes of the week: Sounds Unsaid at Dublab with Tarotplane, and To Die & Live In San Veneficio by SeraphicManta.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: 5strings presents…Solve et Coagula: An introduction to Israel Regardie.

• The Joy of Silhouettes: Vyki Hendy chooses favourite shadow-throwing cover designs.

Emily Mortimer on how Lolita escaped obscenity laws and cancel culture.

Freddie deBoer has moved his writing to Substack.

• New music: Wirkung by Arovane.

• Children Of The Sun (1969) by The Misunderstood | Children Of The Sun (1971) by Hawkwind | Children Of The Sun (2010) by The Time And Space Machine