NEEDLESSLY DETAILED PREAMBLE …...
This post was initially prompted — I shit you not — by a t-shirt I saw for sale in the window of a posh TriBeCa pilates gym.
In this era of implied irony, misplaced nostalgia and rampant subcultural appropriation, it should no longer be shocking to see seemingly incongruous symbols or iconography employed in circles that have no tangible connection to those images' origins. Fashion waifs sport spikes and Mayhem t-shirts. Kanye West riffs on old Pushead Metallica design motifs for his concert tees. Justin Bieber wears Nirvana t-shirts. People simply adopt what they think is cool without necessarily bothering to do any research. For an insufferably pedantic purist/fanboy like myself, this sort of thing drives me right up the goddamn wall, but most people don’t seem to care, or have bigger fish to fry.
About two weeks back, I was walking home from work and spotted the iconic Misfits logo — that signature grinning skull — on a black t-shirt hanging in a TriBeCa storefront. Only, instead of the legend, “MISFITS” on the top in the old "Famous Monsters of Filmland" font, it boasted another word. That word was “Pilates.”
Both curious and miffed, I stepped inside to ask the remarkably fit young lady behind the counter about the t-shirt. “Yeah, I know — those are cool,” she chirped as I asked to look at one. I then asked if anyone from Glen Danzig or Jerry Only’s respective camps had ever gotten in touch. She looked at me blankly. “Y’know,” I tried to explain, "from the Misfits?” “Who are the Misfits?” was her reply. I said never mind and left.
I suppose it no longer matters that the design in question comes from a band. Things are now so mix-and-matched, sampled, “mashed-up," borrowed, re-imagined and "re-booted," that specific affiliations — to many peoples’ minds — seem outdated and fuddy-duddyish. Silly me for thinking that you should probably know from whence an image originates before you appropriate it for your own ends.
Of course, taking things a step further, the Misfits logo — a.k.a. "the Crimson Ghost” — was itself appropriated, its now-ubiquotous visage borrowed from a schlocky 1946 noir film series of the same name for the sleeve of the Misfits 1978 single, “Horror Business.” If I’m not mistaken, I believe the central obstacle still impeding a full-scale Misfits reunion between founders Danzig and Only is the ongoing dispute over ownership of the trademark. I’ve always wondered, however, what about Republic Pictures, the distributors of the original “Crimson Ghost” series? Don’t they have some sort of stake in it as well?
This question led me to the post below, which — in turn — took off in a different direction….
.... END OF PREAMBLE
Back in about 2004, a sort of middling New Jersey power-pop band called Smash Palace had the temerity to release an album called Over the Top. I never heard it. Musically speaking, it might have been excellent, but I never laid ears on it, so to speak. I was too busy calling for their beheadings. Why? Well, invariably due to some lack of foresight or simple ignorance on their part, they decided to grace the sleeve of this album with a very distinctive image, that being this one….
Ring any bells? If it doesn’t — don’t beat yourselves up. It’s not a crime, although it invariably means you’re probably not much of a music geek (and there’s certainly wrong with that either). For die-hard fans of a very specific and comparatively very established band — that being, of course, KILLING JOKE — said image is as close to sacrosanct as one can possibly get. Maybe you remember if from this rendering….
In a nutshell, Killing Joke released their eponymous debut album in 1980, the cover of same sheathed in this ominously iconic image. While, no, Killing Joke may not quite be a household name, but they have more than cemented themselves in great continuum of contemporary music, to say nothing of the market place. My point is that if you’re a member of a middling New Jersey power pop band, you really should have known better than to have appropriated their album cover art for your own little rinkydink collection of jangly power-pop ditties.
I’d love to say that the backlash was swift and feral, but beyond my fellow bug-eyed zealots in the Killing Joke camp, I’m not sure anyone noticed. I do remember firing off an angry e-mail to the Smash Palace website, but don’t recall if they ever bothered to get back to me. Time moved on. The world continued to rotate. In 2010, Smash Palace released an album called 7 which essentially replicated the design of Revolver by the Beatles. That one seemed like less of a coincidence.
Back to the Killing Joke sleeve, though, it should be noted that said design was dreamt up and executed by one Michael Coles, an early comrade of the band, stakeholder in their indie label, Malicious Damage (which he revived and continues to run several years later) and, with most distinction, the creative mind behind most of the band’s most memorable iconography. Not just the collages of another punky-pastiche-practitioner, Mike Coles’ artwork for Killing Joke’s discography was as instrumental in cultivating the band’s palpable mystique as the music itself, steeped as it was in the same brand of disquieting otherness. Were it not for the band’s own oft-cited bloody-mindedness, Killing Joke and — commensurately — Mike Coles would be more celebrated names today. But, alas, they are not. Instead, their work is held dear by a sizable cult following who appreciate their work as if it was a lovingly-prized secret for only a few to share. In a way, it sort of is. That’s nice, but it would have been a bit nicer for Coles to see a bit more appreciation for his work. In the short term, you should check out his website, and if you’re as invested as I in his art, you should order yourselves the forthcoming collection of his design, that being the aptly named “Forty Years in the Wildnerss.” Go fetch.
Coles’ sleeve for the first Killing Joke album is essentially a manipulated version of a suitably jarring image by lauded war-photographer Don McCullin. If memory serves, the original image displays a group of Irish youth fleeing a gas attack in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles.” Coles, I believe, originally discovered it in a magazine. I, meanwhile, first saw the original photograph quite by accident while perusing through a long-since-shuttered photography bookshop in SoHo (one that is today a pricey lingerie emporium). Upon spying McCullin’s picture, I let out an audible gasp. Suffice to say, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that it didn’t actually say “Killing Joke” on the wall in question. Here is that original image.
Quite striking, eh?
This got me wondering if, upon or after the 1980 release of the Killing Joke album, Don McCullin (who is still with us, incidentally, at age 80) ever reached out to Mike Coles or Killing Joke to say “oi, that’s my bloody photograph, that is!” Not too long back, I asked Mike — who I’ve known for several years via The Gathering — if he’d ever heard from anyone from McCullin’s camp. According to the estimable Mr. Coles, "permission was sought and granted before release," although he admits that no one -- band included -- ever thought the sleeve would go on to become such a recognizable icon (albeit evidently not in certain areas of New Jersey). Coles also said he suspects, based on some cryptic hearsay, that McCullin's representatives got back in touch more recently and another payment from the band was settled upon.
This was the point in the original version of this post wherein I was going to launch into the saga of the Misfits' logo (now appended to that preamble above), but upon further ruminating about the Killing Joke sleeve, I started to wonder about something else.
If you've spent any time on this blog, you'll know that I sometimes spend an inordinate amount of hours trying to track down the New York City-specific locations from various photographs and album covers. I'd like to think I'm reasonably proficient at it at this point, but the real master is a gentleman name Bob Egan, who compiles his similarly inclined work on PopSpots.
In any case, I know for a fact that the McCullin image Mike Coles manipulated for the Killing Joke sleeve is not in New York City, but I was wondering .... is that wall still there? Is the wall those hardscrabble Northern Irish youths are frantically running from still standing somewhere? And if so, has anyone ever made the connection?
I decided to take that question to the afore-cited Gathering, hoping that they might be able to shed some light. Here was my question:
Been attempting to compose a longer piece on my silly blog about Mike Coles' iconic artwork for the fist Killing Joke album, and it got me thinking ..... does that very spot (the wall depicted in the shot).... still exist today?
As I understand it (and please jump in if you know more), the original photograph by revered war photographer Don McCullin was snapped circa 1971 in an area known as The Bogside in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. It depicts a "gang of boys" fleeing a CS gas attack .... as one would.
I cannot help wondering if that wall is still standing, moreover if anyone has tracked it down to do a sort "then and now" juxtaposition.
I first spotted the original McCullin photo in a huge book several years back in a photo book store in SoHo, NY (sadly long gone ... now a lingerie emporium) and letting out an audible gasp. I remember being disappointed that it did not, in fact, feature the words KILLING JOKE scrawled menacingly across the brickface.
Are there any Irish Gatherers who might know more?
I didn't necessarily think anyone was going to know, but I figure it was worth asking, no? As it happens, however, a fellow Gatherer named Paul (who goes by the nom-de-plume "Dub") wrote back....
Bogside, Derry, County Derry : ) It comes from the Irish for a line of oak trees, Doire.
Will have a look later and see if anything that stands out and might be able to use Google maps, but to be honest, I would not hold out much hope, as the original picture was from sometime in the 70s, when the troubles were still ongoing, but Derry, as with other cities in the north, has had a huge amount of work done in building and regeneration of areas hit hard, and the Bogside was one place that did get it bad unfortunately. Looks like it was in one of the housing estates (projects) too and them streets are identical for huge parts of the city.
On further examination of the picture, the wall itself, looks like footings or foundations for a building.
You can see what looks like bent rebars, on the tops. So would be a substantial building or most likely a block of low flats, 3 or 4 storeys.
A lot of these were built in the 70s, because in this particular part of the city, large amounts of houses were burnt out for one reason or another, will leave that aspect to another day : ) Interesting and long history.
Also, the amount of building materials, particularly roof ridge tiles, on the ground, would lead one to think it was a building site anyway.
The only other identifying parts to buildings are the shutters on the gable of one of the houses. This is possibly a shop, but many such shops in that part of the Bogside, but again may well be long gone. Or may not even be a shutter at all and just a corrugated zinc panel/sheets, they would have been used to shore up burnt out houses. I've looked at other pictures taken by the photographer at around the same time and although features recognisable, they are just other parts of the same area and long since changed.
So sorry, I can be of no help. Best bet would be ask the man Don McCullin, himself. He is 80 and lives in Somerset. He still exhibits, so may well be contactable, a chance to use your journalistic sleuthing skills : )
Only other thing I can think of is ask one of the Undertones, a band formed in that very place, not to many years after : )
Then, gradually, Dub started to get really invested....sending this first image below
Not "the" picture, but from same series and quiet possibly same riot, is this McCullin, photo.
Just out of boredom, I was able to pinpoint it to William St, Derry. The building the soldiers are running past, is gone, just a market stall there now.
The open door is to a company that was called City Radio Cabs and as can be seen in the picture, had a phone number 4466. The company is still there just at the back of where the stall is in the lower picture and called City Cabs now, but still has the same last 4 digits in their number. The A D that can be seen, is from Bradley & McLaughlin undertakers, who still trade on the other corner of the street.
As you can see all the buildings are relatively new, possibly 80s.
So again, to try hunt down the exact position of the album cover photo, would be next to impossible, unless you had been there as such.
I do hope you have more luck though, if you follow it up Alex.
I'm not done yet ...lolI think I have it cracked. With the help of a friend in Derry, Google Maps and perseverance!
I was not able to let it go, so I asked a lad I know, who is an amateur photograpeher and lives in Derry, where he thought it might be. He immediately said "that's up at Little Diamond". We already knew it was in the Bogside area and this is indeed in that area, on the way up to the Cregan and the topography of the area matches. It's a small stretch of road at the top of William Street, where the soldiers running picture was taken.I found this old picture online ...
...and was able to focus on the top right hand corner,...
Bear in mind this picture is from a year later and taken as part of the inquiry into Bloody Sunday, which happened August '72, but still shows a wasteland area. This turns out to be the old sorting office. So today that area looks like this (very bottom on left is where City Cabs is from other picture) ...
.... and a little closer like this.
I'm not sure when the swimming pool was built, but it could be what was the old sorting office building, which was burnt out.So fellow Gatherers, without further adieu, I present to you, what will be from this day henceforth, known as The KILLING JOKE wall! or what's left of it ...
...lol Maybe someone with better PhotoShop skills than I, can do an overlay of the Killing Joke, album cover on to the picture, but to my mind it all checks out.I shall still refrain from giving my own opinion on The Troubles, as it's a pointless exercise, that just stirs up old grievances and emotions. Not something that will go away, but let's just be thankful for things as they are. There is peace in Ireland, for now and long may it last.I too enjoyed the look back and to be honest was amazed at the amount of photographs and videos online documenting a time in history, that is still hard to believe happened in our lifetime. I'll be up that way in June, as part of this, so will try get a snap at the angle of the original and maybe get a gang of lads to jump off it lol I've also asked the mate, to take a picture too, so hopefully will have that soon, but in meantime Google Maps, will have to do.If you've not seen the rest of Don McCullin's, photos from Derry in '71, try here, were picture 16/17, confirms the pictures location. Also you might like Clive Limpkin's, pictures from around the sametime. One of which ended up being a mural on a gable down by the Free Derry Wall. Which incidentally looked like this circa '71 (and this). Some other blurb on them here. The movie '71 too, gives a good look at the north at that time and a different perspective, albeit fiction.Anyway hope this helps you Alex, and rest of Gatherers enjoyed it. I'm not going to bother put this on Facebook, but if anyone else wants too, by all means do. Look forward to reading your blog too Alex 👍
Just a couple of corrections and a bonus 😉My spelling was never the best (or my grammar for that matter lol) and spell check tends not to catch place names spelled wrong, especially in Irish, but Creggan, is spelled with a double g (my excuse and I'm sticking to it).
Next mistake. Bloody Sunday occurred on the 30th of January, 1972. Not August as I stated previously. August though was always associated with unrest in Derry, as the Apprentice Boys parades take place then, hence it was in my mind.July 10-12th was also another couple of days unrest was a certainty, all across the North. As the Orange Lodges, would march and the bonfires were lit.Last mistake, I hope. I'm relearning my left and right again. The City Cabs office, from the running soldiers picture, is of course on the bottom right corner, not left as stated. Here Circled in blue.Bonus: As I was looking through 100s of pictures, I came across the inner sleeve too, here you go. 😎
With only having Google's and Bing's, satellite imagery to work with, getting the angles and perspective is next to impossible, but you get the idea.The inner sleeve shot, was taken literally a stone's throw away from the front cover shot location (pun intended 😜). In fact if you look closely at the original shot, you can see a gang of stone throwers in the shadows across the road, to the left of the first lad running away from the wall..In the next set of pictures, I have shown where I am guessing Don McCullin, stood to take the pictures. Again due to the limitations of the satellite pictures, angles are not 100% correct.Also an old school photography camera, would have had a lot of settings adjusted, i.e. shutter speed, film speed, and aperture. Lens size to would be a factor. With it adjusted, depth of field, would play tricks with the eye. Also remember, the row of houses, behind the wall were not built then and the top 6 courses of blocks and cap stones, were not there. So he would have had a clearer line of sight. The photos may well have been cropped too. Here it is ...
And finally, while looking at more of his photos, there is one that has a sequence of 3 and was calling out to be made a GIF file. So I did and here it is.So until I am up in Derry City, this June, or my friend sends me a picture taken at the correct angle, that's all from me on the matter.As you were....
Anyway, there you have it. I only planted the idea, but boy did our man Dub pick it up and run with it.
Another one solved......NOT SO FAST! ---> CLICK HERE FOR CRUCIAL ADDENDUM!
And should you be curious (I'm looking at YOU, Smash Palace), THIS is fucking Killing Joke....