The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

The Existing State of Things, and Other News

November 11, 2015 | by

Joseph Severn, Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound, 1845.

  • The Bodleian Library has recovered a lost poem by Shelley—the ambitiously named “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things,” written when he was just eighteen. It’s 172 lines of pure political invective, and its themes, as one professor said, “remain as relevant today as they were 200 years ago.” It’s true. Certain lines (e.g., “cold advisers of yet colder kings … who scheme, regardless of the poor man’s pang, / Who coolly sharpen misery’s sharpest fang, / Yourselves secure”) resonate quite well on this, the morning after the GOP debate.
  • We’ve all wondered, in our lives as readers, how our cohort could be so fantastically wrong about some author or another—why such fantastical lapses of taste are celebrated far and wide. And so it falls to Tim Parks to ask the question on everyone’s mind: How could you like that book? “I live under the constant impression that other people, other readers, are allowing themselves to be hoodwinked. They are falling for charms they shouldn’t fall for. Or imagining charms that aren’t there. They should be making it a little harder for their authors … What might really be worth addressing here is the whole issue of incomprehension: mutual and apparently insuperable incomprehension between well-meaning and intelligent people, all brought up in the same cultural tradition, more or less. It’s curious, for example, that the pious rhetoric gusting around literature always promotes the writing and reading habit as a powerful communication tool, an instrument for breaking down barriers, promoting understanding—and yet it is exactly over my reaction to books that I tend to discover how completely out of synch with others I am … Could this be the function, then, or at least one important function of fiction: to make us aware of our differences?”
  • Here, I brought you these rhetorical questions about the cloud, that most porous of metaphors for digital space: “How did we come to place our faith in a symbol that is so ephemeral—all vapor and crystal? … What kind of thinking does the cloud, so porous and diffuse, enable? Does our participation in the cloud require us to surrender a bit of our privacy? Can it help explain the rise of the meme and our increasingly lax attitude toward notions of authorship and origins, the way something on the Internet begins to seem ubiquitous and ambient, as if it had always just been there?”
  • Michael Bierut is responsible for a lot of the high-profile signage you see around New York—his new book How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World testifies to his reach as a designer and his expectations for design. His designs all emerge from his notebooks: “ ‘I get very protective about them, like children, pets, lucky charms and security blankets,’ he says. One spread shows sketches of the deconstructed Saks Fifth Avenue logo for the department store’s shopping bags from a decade ago. He remembers one of the designers in his firm screaming after blowing it up into fragments. Bierut ran over immediately to look, and compared it to a Franz Kline or a Barnett Newman piece. ‘I remember at that moment saying, Wait, this could be it, sixty-four squares—each one of them was like a beautiful abstract painting.’ ”
  • At the start of the twentieth century, Arnold Genthe, a German immigrant, took photographs of San Francisco’s Chinatown. They’re some of the only remaining photos of the neighborhood from that period; most were swallowed in the earthquake of 1906. “Genthe was fascinated by Chinatown and took hundreds of photographs of the area and its inhabitants. He used a small camera and sometimes captured his subjects covertly. He later cropped some of his images to remove western references.” “Some day the whole city will burn up,” a friend told him. “There’ll never be another Chinatown like this one, and you have its only picture record.”

California Dreamin’

July 7, 2015 | by

Stanley Mouse and the sixties psych-rock aesthetic.

40-41 hot rod 1

Get Bent.


If I were to pick half a dozen of the definitive 1960’s people, Stanley Mouse would be one of them. —Bill Graham

Read any book about the sixties scene in San Francisco and you’ll run into Stanley “Mouse” Miller. Born in Fresno and raised in Detroit, Mouse moved to San Francisco in 1965, where he was commissioned by the concert organizer Bill Graham to illustrate the rock posters for which he would become best known. Mouse spent the years around the Summer of Love hocking T-shirts, designing posters for hundred-dollar commissions, running a successful hot-rod memorabilia company, and eventually designing album covers for the likes of the Grateful Dead, Journey, Neil Young, and Jimi Hendrix.

A new book, California Dreams, pays tribute to Mouse’s imagination and colorful, explosive aesthetic. He honed his style on the hot-rod scene in Detroit, where he pinstriped cars, sold T-shirts featuring drag-racing characters, and custom painted dashboards for six-packs of beer, all while still in high school. His early art portrays the speed and metal of American automobiles, but it’s also heavily influenced by the deformed monsters who took center stage in the golden age of TV sci-fi circa the 1950s, a cathartic genre for post–A-bomb Americans and their cold war anxieties. Read More »

The Reality of People: An Interview with Dian Hanson

March 18, 2015 | by


Zodiac Lovers Day-Glo poster, 1973.

Dian Hanson has made a career of “probing the subtleties of male lust.” In 1976, she began to edit such successful fetish magazines as Juggs, Oui, Leg Show, and Outlaw Biker. Pornography, at that time, had just gone through one of its more awkward phases. Amid the psychedelia and taboo-busting of the sexual revolution, men’s magazines weren’t sure how far to go in depicting free love; an industry built on forbidden fantasy risked being outpaced by real life.

That dilemma is at the heart of Psychedelic Sex, which catalogs, with more than four hundred pages of art, the attempts by men’s glossies to offer an authentic hippie sex trip. More than an exercise in kitsch, the book captures a shift in male sexuality—it reminds of a time when pornography and the stories it tells about our culture were completely different than they are today.

Hanson, who’s now the official “sexy editor” of Taschen Books, is uniquely informed, having seen pornography as a photo and text editor, an advice writer, an occasional model, and a true fan. From her home in Los Angeles, she spoke to me about changing mores, the contempt for pornography even among those who make and consume it, and the many misconceptions of the male psyche.

Psychedelic Sex is about magazines from the late sixties and early seventies, which you seem to have a vast knowledge of, even though you didn’t start editing magazines until 1976.

This book was an offshoot of my six-volume history of men’s magazines. When I was doing the fourth through sixth volumes of that, I hooked up with a collector in San Francisco—Eric Gotland, who was a rock manager. He made a lot of money with Third Eye Blind and used it to fulfill his adolescent fantasy of owning every issue of every men’s magazine ever made. Of course, once he started on this journey, he found that there were so many men’s magazines that it was impossible to buy them all. Still, he filled a warehouse in the Potrero Hill section of San Francisco with these magazines, buying like a lunatic on eBay and everyplace he could find them. I would go up there and go through the boxes with him, which was a joy. We started finding all this psychedelic stuff, and he was a particular fan of it—he’d been too young to be a part of the sexual revolution, but he was fascinated by it, as any ten-year-old boy would be. We decided that this would make a great book on its own, mapping this strange subgenre that tried to represent hippies and hippie sex and the drug experience for straight guys who felt left out of the whole sexual revolution. They went on from about 1967 to about 1973. Read More »

The Best Medicine

February 25, 2015 | by


“He just simply couldn‘t stop it / He never knew when it was coming”: Winsor McCay‘s Little Sammy Sneeze, 1905.

If you’re not sick, you soon will be, and all the hand sanitizer in the world won’t save you. Everyone is a potential foe; no one wants to admit it. This morning on the subway, everyone was coughing and sneezing with varying degrees of discretion. The only people who seemed at all comfortable were two Japanese tourists wearing paper surgical masks. Well, maybe also the old man with a roll of toilet paper hanging around his neck on a loop of string. I envied all of them. 

All you can do is read Mark Twain. He wrote “How to Cure a Cold” for the Golden Era shortly after arriving in San Francisco in September 1863. Twain may never have actually said the famous thing about a San Francisco summer being the coldest winter he’d ever known, but the Bay Area fog was presumably enough to aggravate a lingering head cold—well, that or a nineteenth-century cross-country train ride. According to a series of humorous letters to the editor Twain sent in to the Call and the Enterprise around this period, he’d had the cold—and an ensuing bout of bronchitis—for at least a month when he wrote this piece chronicling various home remedies. Read More »

Shep and Dorothy

November 15, 2014 | by

A husband-and-wife team and their influential midcentury designs.

Page 34-35

From Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream.

Lucky is the designer who can see in both two and three dimensions. Luckier still is she or he to be married to someone with equal gifts—especially if that mate is a collaborator and not a competitor. So appears to have been the case with Dorothy and Otis Shepard, whose enviable creative lives have been captured in the absorbing, moving, and lushly illustrated new book Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream, by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel.

Both Dorothy and Shep (his nickname since childhood) got their start as commercial artists during San Francisco’s billboard boom of the 1920s. The Federal Highway Act, signed in 1921, helped fund the expansion of U.S. roadways, and advertisers took the opportunity to reach audiences beyond the traditional black-and-white pages of mail catalogs by posting colorful advertisements along America’s highways. Shep, a veteran of World War I, was a man of great adventure, with a strong and lasting interest in the theater. He was well regarded as a commercial painter while employed as an art director at Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising Company, a top Bay Area agency of the period. In 1927, he wisely hired the gifted and highly praised Dorothy Van Gorder straight out of the California School of Arts and Crafts, from which she had graduated in only three years, as valedictorian. According to family lore, Dorothy was unabashedly outspoken (and just plain unabashed—she was once evicted from an apartment for sunbathing nude on the roof), and it cost her the Foster & Kleiser job, but almost as soon as she was let go, she was rehired for her prized skills. Hathaway and Nadel write that either in spite of or because of Dorothy’s brashness, Shep, the “raconteur,” soon began courting the “young bon vivant.”

And so their joint artistic adventure began—most markedly with a honeymoon in 1929 to Paris, Venice, Zurich, and Vienna. While there, they purchased Bauhaus furniture and had the good fortune to meet the great modernist Joseph Binder, who was a leader in the European abstract graphic style. “Shep and Dorothy already wanted their work to convey meaning through compositional structure—instead of realism,” write Hathaway and Nadel, but Binder’s reduction of “an image to a series of shapes and forms and [integration of] typography into his pictures” helped refine their approach to design and illustration. Both Dorothy and Otis had been following the modernist movement with great interest back home, but seeing this work and the new techniques in person and to scale had a profound and lasting effect on them. Read More »


Deconstructing Édouard Levé

November 5, 2014 | by


From the cover of the English-language edition of Autoportrait.

I find myself ugly more often than handsome. I like my voice after a night out or when I have a cold. I am unacquainted with hunger. I was never in the army. I have never pulled a knife on anyone. I have never used a machine gun. I have fired a revolver. I have fired a rifle. I have shot an arrow. I have netted butterflies. I have observed rabbits. I have eaten pheasants. I recognize the scent of a tiger. I have touched the dry head of a tortoise and an elephant’s hard skin. I have caught sight of a herd of wild boar in a forest in Normandy. I ride. I do not explain. I do not excuse. I do not classify. I go fast.

Édouard Levé’s “When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue” appeared in our Spring 2011 issue, and it’s been a staff favorite ever since—a beguiling and sui generis self-portrait. It’s taken from the pages of Autoportrait, which Levé wrote in 2002 while he was traveling across America, taking the photographs that became “Série Amérique.” He’s still best known as a photographer, but his four works of prose—Oeuvres, Journal, Autoportrait, and Suicide—have begun to find the wider readership they deserve. Levé delivered Suicide to his publisher eight days before he took his own life, in 2007, at the age of forty-two.

If you’re in San Francisco, join our editor, Lorin Stein, in conversation with Jan Steyn for “Deconstructing Édouard Levé,” tonight at The Lab. (Lorin and Jan have both translated Levé.) Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito, a certified Levé-ian and the coauthor of The End of Oulipo?, will moderate the discussion:

“We will immerse ourselves in the artistry and ideas behind his books—and we will also invite the audience to participate in creating some Levé-ian artworks and texts of our own. No prior knowledge of Levé or experimental prose necessary!”

Entry is free, and the event begins at seven this evening.