From The Desk Of Kristian Hoffman: Picture Book

Kristian Hoffman and Lance Loud met in high school back in the early ’70s in Santa Barbara, Calif. After starring in PBS cinéma-vérité documentary An American Family, they formed the Mumps, moved to New York and shared Max’s and CBGB stages with all the legends of the punk/new-wave explosion of 1976: Television, the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie. Hoffman and Loud also had front-row seats for the Mercer Arts Center incubation of the New York Dolls, before that. In our book, that grants you unlimited license to open the floodgates. Fop (Kayo), Hoffman’s latest solo album, is an ornate masterpiece of baroque pop, well worth your attention. Hoffman will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Q&A with him.

Hoffman: As Lux Interior sang, “Yes, I’ll teach you how to read the book of life/You can just look at the pictures if you like.” Well, I had two brief dalliances with reading. One, circa seventh grade, when I inexplicably got an award for “wide and intelligent reading,” the prize being, aptly enough, a Family Of Man-type book of photos called Children Of Many Lands that had no text. Later, in about 1974, when I moved into artist David McDermott’s Upper West Side brownstone (his portrait of me is featured in the booklet for Fop), he was so dedicated to legitimate restoration of the apartment that he actually had all the electric removed, and we “entertained” each other during long winter evenings reading aloud by candlelight.

Other than that, I have basically followed Lux’s exhortation to “look at the pictures,” and from the time my parents were reading aloud to me from East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, illustrated by the immortal Kay Nielsen (who designed the “Night On Bald Mountain” sequence in Fantasia and actually lived next to us when I was a child!), I became addicted to the imaginary journeys that one could merely fall into by gazing at the exquisitely rendered “other worlds” of golden-age illustration. In fact, it was always supposed that I would be an illustrator of some sort, because I had displayed a moderate childhood facility for the discipline, though I stubbornly preferred songwriting, an endeavor for which I had no aptitude. I kept expecting that I might “grow out” of this obsession with “pictures,” but it proved to be my personal form of acid, and I can still spend hourly reveries engrossed in the beautiful watercolor and ink drawings of a Rackham or Tenggren.

When I was in sixth grade, our house burned down and with it my mother’s extensive collective of rare classic volumes of fairy tales. Through high school and beyond, I would spend days (and embarrassing sums of money) poring through used book shops trying to replicate this library and eventually became acquainted with even more fabulous illustrators. A girl named Ann worked at the public library and she, with an amoral felon’s lack of guile or conservator’s conscience, steamed out the inner covers from the mint copy of Maxfield Parrish’s The Knave Of Hearts, which had been stored in the not-for-lending, private treasure room, and that shredding, wrinkled remnant of a masterpiece of color and shade began one more life-long affair—and one more quest to complete.

The reason I’m telling this story is there are now several volumes that had the most impact on me that have now been tastefully reproduced at prices so far below what I paid for them that it makes me cringe, and for which I spent literally years of agonized search until I finally held one or the other in my hand.

One is the John Austen version of Hamlet, which is the most perfectly presumptuous elaboration on the themes left behind by Aubrey Beardsley, and despite Austen’s propensity for rather untoward, Keane-styled “big-eyed girls,” the ballet of his decadent line makes it one of the most beautiful volumes ever published. I even included (appropriated?) one of his drawings for the credits page of my Fop CD booklet.

Three other must-haves are Poe’s Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, illustrated by Harry Clarke, another prodigy of line stolen from history when he was only 32. His drawings are not only sensually overwhelming in the precise opulence of his rendering, but they are the only Poe illustrations I know of that are truly horrific. Also, The Knave Of Hearts is Parrish’s true masterpiece, before he descended into his girls-on-rocks period and his subsequent, rather squelchy, nostalgia for Northeastern snowscapes. And lastly, the impossibly rare and aforementioned East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon, Kay Nielsen’s masterwork, combines an eccentrically haunting take on Norse iconography with the Japanese flirtations of Beardsley and the stained-glass watercolor of Dulac.
Put on the Kinks’ “Picture Book,” and enjoy a fabulously trippy mind trip into the world of fancy only these geniuses can conjure!

Video after the jump.