Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Skull Fuck Cover Art and the Rubaiyat

Artifacts of the Week: Edmund J. Sullivan's Illustrated Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the 9/16-17/66 Avalon Poster and "Skull Fuck" on 8-Track Tape
Tape of the Week: 9/16/1966

This week, Dark Star Palace is going to continue coverage on the Grateful Dead's 1971 masterpiece, Skull Fuck (a.k.a. Skullfuck, Skull and Roses, Grateful Dead, etc.).  For the Artifacts of the Week, we will be looking at the famous Mouse and Kelley cover artwork that was lifted from Edmund J. Sullivan's masterpiece illustration for Omar Khayyam's Persian poem, the "Rubaiyat".  We will pair up the Palace's first edition of this text/artwork with some images showing the evolution of this iconic skeleton as well as a copy of Skullfuck on analog 8-track tape (you know Sultans love that analog tape!).  The Tape of the Week will be a soundboard stream of the 9/16/66 Avalon Ballroom show, which was the show that Mouse and Kelley did the famous poster art for....so let's dig in!

The first time the famous Skull and Roses image hit the San Francisco hippie scene was on an Avalon Ballroom concert poster advertising the concerts of 9/16-17/1966. The artists, Mouse and Kelley, were part of the early Haight-Ashbury poster art scene.  They were known to spend their days in the back rooms of the San Francisco library digging through art books to derive inspiration for their new psychedelic poster art. When Mouse saw Edmund J. Sullivan's illustration of the skeleton in the Rubaiyat he said, "This has Grateful Dead all over it. We had been looking for something to use for the Grateful Dead. Kelley and I just looked at each other and said 'There it is... the perfect picture.' And so we designed a poster around that picture. We knew when it was finished that it was really hot because it felt right. It just fit so good with the name. The skeleton that symbolized death and the roses that symbolized rebirth and love. It just said Grateful Dead." And so a legend was born....Skull and Roses!

Today, that Avalon poster is seen as one of the iconic 1960's psychedelic poster art images.  It also commands a price tag of $13,000+ and can be found in art museums the world over.  Seeing as Mouse and Kelley basically forged Sullivan's classic image, it is no surprise that the Avalon poster was soon forged as well...in fact, there are bootlegs of this poster going back to the late 1960's.  As the poster was so popular, many official reprints appeared over the years.  Here is a quick breakdown of those reprints in case you aren't looking to lighten your wallet by 13 G's!  Some of these can be found quite cheaply if you know where to look....  
  • The 1st printing is on vellum and bears "The Bindweed Press, San Francisco" in the border on the right hand side above the ticket outlet strip. It measures 14 3/16" x 19 15/16" and was printed prior to the concert.
  • The post-concert 2nd printing is on vellum and has "26(2)" in the lower left corner. While the Bindweed credit still appears, "(c) Family Dog Productions 1966 1725 Washington Street San Francisco (415) 673-3050" is added to the lower left corner. It measures 14 3/16" x 20". 
  • The 3rd printing is on uncoated index and changes the Family Dog credit to "(c) Family Dog Productions 1966 639 Gough St., San Francisco, Calif. 94102." The number "26(3)" appears in the lower left corner, and the Bindweed credit remains. It was printed after the concert and measures 14" x 20".
  • In 1977, a 4th printing was printed at twice its original size to measure 19 1/2" x 28". Along the bottom "(c) Kelley/Mouse Portal Publications Ltd. Corte Madera, California 94925 Litho in U.S.A." appears.
  • The post-concert 5th printing adds a "RP 006" before the "(c) Kelley/Mouse Portal Publications Ltd. Corte Madera, California 94925 Litho in U.S.A" on the right side of the bottom margin. It measures 20" x 28". 
  • The 6th printing is from a 1992 Family Dog portfolio. It measures 12 7/8" x 14 7/8" and does not display publishing or copyright information.
In 1971, Mouse and Kelley decided to revisit their early Avalon skull and roses image and used it for the Dead's 2nd live record: Skullfuck.   This week's 2nd Artifact of the Week is an original Ampex 8-track tape of Skullfuck.  Even on this small format (granted, it's bigger than cassette or a hot pocket), the cover image looks amazing. We'll do the HDCD vs. 1971 Ampex 8-track showdown when we really have some time on our hands. Maybe through the old McIntosh amps? Perhaps it's time to get back to some gear posts again soon, eh? (yeahhhh....here's a call-out to all the emails I got this week...and I thought that I was a Dead Freak!?!@! You people are like the cast of Planet of the Apes on break and hungry as hell somewhere in Santa Barbara).

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Persian: رباعیات عمر خیام) is the title that Edward FitzGerald gave to his translation of a selection of poems, originally written in Persian and of which there are about a thousand, attributed to Omar Khayyám, a Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer. A Persian ruba'i is a two line stanza with two parts (or hemistechs) per line, hence the word "Rubaiyat", (derived from the Arabic root word for 4), meaning "quatrains". 

Omar Khayyam was born in Nishapur, Persia (present-day Iran) in May 1048. He was a mathematician, astronomer and a poet. In astronomy, he and seven others reformed the calendar. He measured the length of the year to the incredibly accurate 365.24219858156 days. His work on algebra was famous throughout Europe. He died in December 1122 in Nishapur. His works live on...in books and on hot chick's arms!

Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
Of the Two Worlds so wisely--they are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter'd, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.

Edmund Joseph Sullivan (1869-1933), usually known as E.J. Sullivan, was a British book illustrator who worked in a style similar to Art Nouveau. Here's some info I picked up on 'ol EJ on the web: Sullivan was the son of an artist. He, however, decided to concentrate on the emerging field of graphic design and book illustration, which was flourishing at the end of the nineteenth century. Sullivan worked at the Daily Graphic from the age of nineteen, moving to the Pall Mall Magazine in 1893. During this period he produced standard news and portrait illustrations, but began to work on illustrations to literature at the Magazine. He soon graduated to the more prestigious role of book illustrator, producing illustrations for editions of Lavengro and the plays School for Scandal and The Rivals. Sullivan's style is comparable to that of Aubrey Beardsley, but is more romantic than acerbic, in Beardley's manner. He also illustrated The Complete Angler and Tom Brown's Schooldays. By the end of the decade Sullivan's designs were in high demand, leading to the publication of his most ambitious work, an illustrated edition of Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, published in 1898. This contains 79 illustrations ranging from emblems to full page pictures. Sullivan adapted his style to use the faux-Rococo techniques he had developed in his play-illustrations in order to combine them with bizarre images of strange fantastical figures, drawing on the genre of the grotesque. Sullivan later also illustrated Carlyle's The French Revolution, though his work was far less varied than for Sartor Resartus. He used the same combination of Rococo and Grotesque to emphasize the violence erupting into the decorative world of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's court.

For more information on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, please check out:  

Tape of the Week: 9/16/1966  
    I Know You Rider
    It Hurts Me Too
    It's All Over Now Baby Blue
    Good Morning Little School Girl
    Dancin' In The Streets
    E: Midnight Hour

    This Week's Tape of the Week comes from the 9/16/66 Avalon Ballroom gig that gave us not just some great poster art, but a few fine quasi-legal records as well!  Both the "Historic Dead" and "Vintage Dead" LP's that came out in the 1970's stemmed from a soundboard of this show. It's a pretty decent recording and the band is in some fine-fiery-'66-form here.

    Sultans Unite!  Fire up your hookah, start up the '66 stream, dig in to your copy of the Rubaiyat and settle in for another exotic night at the Palace! See you soon........


    1. I owned both LPs and they "disappeared". Are the tracks available anywhere? Thanks!

    2. I owned both LPs and they "disappeared". Are the tracks available anywhere? Thanks!