handbill me down: fatal metaphors for an age

by Art Chantry:

this is b&w photocopy (all i have anymore) of a small 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 handbill for a concert at the seattle center’s memorial stadium (now next to the EMP. hendrix played his first seattle headline concert there, too.) the year was 1967, the airplane just had their first hit, the byrds already had a couple. the other bands on the bill are seattle psychedelic bands the “p.h. phactor jug band” and “magic fern”. i’ve seen this little flyer printed in blue ink on white paper and i’ve seen it printed red and black on yellow paper. i think they must have made cheaper handout flyers after they made the nice color versions. it was designed by the “JLR sign co.” nobody i know seems to know who or what that is or was. it was never reproduced larger than as a cheapo street flyer. they really weren’t yet doing ‘collectible gigposters’ yet at this point. nobody saved them. they all went into the trash (or into a memory scrapbook).

---AC:look how wonderfully that "JE" and sideways "A" become a buffalo head - complete with beard and horns! brilliant stuff. and check out that tail! now THAT'S a squiggle of utter confidence!---

i love this typography stuff here. it’s all obviously done by hand in a balloon style that is ‘pre-classic’ psych style. later, as wes wilson, mouse studios and rick griffin became prominent, you saw this balloony lettering style disappear for ages in favor of a more elaborate and spidery psych lettering style. actually, this lettering look became so out of fashion that is was dismissed as “cheerleader lettering” for over a decade. it wasn’t until Phase 2 started to do graffiti in this balloon style in the late 1980’s that the look revived as classic hip hop street lettering. strange how these things work, eh?

one of the things i love about old psychedelic imagery is it’s clumsy surrealism combined with the nearly always fatal metaphors of the age. for instance, when i was a kid, i read in a john birch society handbook that the name “jefferson airplane” refers to drug use in this fashion: “drugs are sold in ‘nickel bags’ (meaning it costs 5 dollars). thomas jefferson is on a nickel. and you use drugs to get ‘high’ – like in and AIRPLANE!!!” get it? as lame as that sounds, it’s stuck in my brain for 40 years. i always thought that was hilarious. now, i look at the jefferson airplane’s name and i smile.

so, when this flyer was done up, the popular period american indian icon of a buffalo (so radical chic) combined with the cheerleader lettering to create the buffalo and it’s landscape, looks suspiciously like the image on a buffalo nickel. thus – THE JOKE!! get it? geez. i doubt it. but it’s what i see. the object of surrealism (it’s dream imagery’ route) is to put seemingly incoherent images in juxtaposition and allow the viewers’ mind to read meaning into it. basically let the art speak to the mind directly and thus the viewer literally creates the meaning and the image (the ‘art’) alone in their minds. if you get good at it, you can even direct where the mind travels go to a degree, as well. but, it’s really hard to be that good. that’s why there are so few really great surrealists. so, when i see this image, i allow my mind to travel along those silly “john birch society’ paranoid ramblings to go straight to a lame-ass “buffalo nickel bag high’ joke. so goofy. and fun.

i also love the crude childish skill that is at work here. it’s utterly divorced from any ‘taught’ art world academic approach known to man. it’s basically a kid with a coloring crayon saying “let’s make poster!!! the result is so pitch perfect and so naively beautiful. i seriously doubt there is a working “professional” graphic designer in america today that could come up with something remotely like this. i mean it’s absolute perfection is beyond reproach – what would you “improve’? and it’s all so amatuerishly crafted. it’s stunning on so many levels.

in an era of computer generated design, there is a current trend away from the slick crisp work of a grid-minded machine. that’s why we have this enormous fad of crude ‘hand lettering’ you see everywhere from macdonald’s coke cups to the hipster underground record cover. in fact, it’s a fad that has worn out its welcome and quickly become a cliche – the cliche of the ‘oughts’. when you have scores of digital “fonts” that look like they were drawn by a twelve-year on brown acid, you know it’s past it’s prime. store-bought hip has never been where it’s at. remember this all you kids wearing branded name sneakers. ever notice all those sneakers you pay all that money for all looks like baby shoes? no accident, suckers.

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Marketing/Advertising/Media, Modern Arts/Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>