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ON THE QT Presents

PEEP 2

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Publisher and Editor

Orrie Hitt Wrote the Great American Novel-- Over & Over/ Why "Confidential" Continues to Thrill/ The Sweet Ride of Mail Art/And Which Mayors Are Married to the Mob?
Who the Hell was Orrie Hitt? Orrie Hitt wrote "racy" pulp fiction in the 50's and 60's. Most of it published in PBO's (paperback originals). Skipping the hardback route, premiering in ephemera that sported covers alive with totally killer babes and guys in various states of mayhem. Married with children, Hitt wrote from a trailer in upstate New York, tossing back iced coffee and tapping out classics of sleaze on a battered manual in a matter of days. Meanwhile, angst ridden authors in cultural Meccas sweated bullets to produce a novel every seven years or so. God made the world in six days but Hitt made his in less. Again and again.

What was once considered raw and strictly for the boys, now barely compares to the wit & wisdom of primetime pimpettes. Hitt's language is almost genteel; at times precise and graceful. Just picked up "Unnatural Urge" (Tower Publications, 1962) at a bookstore in Cobleskill, New York, along with an armload of the infamous 50's scandal mag "Confidential". "Urge" is the story of a small town Peeping Tom in the upstate New York town of Clinton(!). It purports to be an "as told to" but obviously the tale grew from the brain of Hitt. Hitt also placed stories in second tier cities. With full gritty detail. Pulp from this period provides a vivid picture of life in mid 20th Century America. As lived by people who had jobs rather than careers. Charles Willeford, who eventually produced the powerful Hoke Mosley series, often made characters workers in greasy spoons. "Pick-Up" (Softcover Publications, 1967, Black Lizard reissue 1987) delivers the definitive lesson on searing a steak, plus a dissertation on the cheapskate restaurant trick of twice poured coffee grounds. Pulp's audience was largely male-- veterans of WWII and/or Korea. Guys who'd seen a lot and were bouncing around trying to find a place in the world. They were also the audience for tell-all magazines like "Confidential".

"Confidential" was the most well known of a raft of down and dirty mags that promised the lowdown on an entertainment industry that craved publicity but only the good kind achtung! Scandal mags also ranged beyond show biz, getting into hitherto unplumbed areas, such as consumer fraud. Scandal mags tackled tobacco and the big C, long before mainstream publications dared say boo to a cancer stick. They also mined politics. Though typically describing black actresses as "bronze bon bons", scandal mags also dug into racism in various American institutions. Including the U.S. Army.

The Cobleskill "Confidentials" most likely came from one person's basement or barn. Cobbleskill is in Schoharie County, which is as agricultural as it gets. An area of unearthly beauty. Vast valleys beneath Salvador Dali skies. To think of farmers reading "Confidential" invites sneers about gullible rubes. But "Confidential" was highly authentic. In the philosophical sense. Take the account of a night spent partying in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, circa 1956. The celeb: Marlon Brando. The hot stuff: highly dubious. What's on target is the vivid depiction of unfocused, energetic hipsterdom, and of a neighborhood where the theater world bled into slumland bohemia. And Confidential's graphics were ultra avant garde; its slip sliding blocks of text and bold primary colors an explosion of pop Futurism. A cheap, cutting edge style which resurfaced in Punk and New Wave and in turn influenced mainstream media. Scandal mag prose see-sawed between the outrageous but enjoyably bad (think Robert Leslie Bellum) and a fast, pun crazy, alliteration lovin', genuine American language creation. Just when you say it can't get any wilder, it goes one step beyond.

A last word on the sex stuff: in the 60's, people got vain on the subject. Thinking that prior to the period, Leave It To Beaver America didn't know squat about erotic practices. Scandal mags make it clear that average Joes (and Janes and Johns) knew plenty-- they just talked about it in more interesting ways. Not that folks were shameless. According to "Confidential" May, 1957, "Even The Cops Blushed When They Learned Where Marie McDonald Hid That Ring!"

Moving on to another hidden treasure, I first heard of Mail Art in the early 80's from Jim Souter, a member of the avant noise/free jazz group Borbetomagus. Jim mentioned it in relation to the cassette movement, which was a growing, international phenomena of musicians trading and distributing each other's work via cassette. Either for free or for the cost of recopying and mailing. Many of the same people were involved with Mail Art. Mail Art had started simply, decades earlier. A handful of artists, when sending each other mail, started making their envelopes and post cards an extension of their work. Not only did they trade art by mail, but they played with the very process, adding fantasy postage stamps, sending serial image postcards and building elaborate visual jokes. Some projects were like chain letters, travelling from artist to artist-- collaborations that crossed thousands of miles and took years to complete. No doubt some are still going. Over time more and more artists joined in. By the early 80's, mail artists numbered in the hundreds of thousands. And Mail Art kept on growing and growing and growing...

Mail Art was a traveling show, visible to all along the way. It wasn't superimposed on a mezzanine wall or a subway platform for "the good of the public" nor paid for with their confiscated dollars. Yet it leapt out of the gallery and into everyday life. Though some artists curated government funded shows and did indeed advance careers via Mail Art, that was never the main point of Mail Art. Love moved it. It was fun. It was free. Motivations increasingly inexplicable in the culture at large. Plus, Mail Art didn't mean being sentenced to life in an "artist neighborhood", those stifling hot boxes where art is a fashion accessory and a real estate sales tool. Mail Art displaced no one. It was immaterial whether Mail Artists lived in a "hot" nabe in a hip and happenin' city, or a cold one in an old factory town. Or in a suburban dacha. Or for that matter, Orrie Hitt's trailer. Via Mail Art, artists from all over the world met and created in a free mental space. With its decentralized network structures, playfulness and resistance to commercial models, Mail Art was a prefiguration of the best of the Internet.

PEEP PIX: Click & See! Artist Contact Info at Bottom.

1) PEEP Cover: A Mondo QT Production
"Peep" does its regular take on scandal mag covers, featuring subjects of concern to today's noir urbanists. This issue: "Which Mayors Are Married To The Mob?". Check the lovely gracing the cover-- Va-va-va-voom! Any mayor would sell his soul/city for a tryst with this crooked hook-up...

2) The Lady & The Tiger. Artist: Masami Akita,
Among the first Mail Art pieces I received. Masami Akita, of Merzbow Music in Japan sent me many remarkable, lush collage works. This is a detail from one. In an interview, Masami Akita has said "I named my project (Merzbow Music) after a great work by the German collage artist Kurt Schwitters which he called "The Cathedral of Erotic Misery". He made art from oddments he picked up on the street...Probably the greatest idea of Surrealism for me is "Everything is Erotic. Everywhere Erotic."

3) Little Man Eaten by Larger Man. Artist: Henning Mittendorf
German artist Henning Mittendorf has worked with Mail Art for over two decades. His carving and printing techniques are highly sophisticated and he expands and elucidates his images via recombination. The spare and elegant images presented here were done in the mid 80's and evoke late medieval art plus popular imagery related to the Mexican Day of The Dead. A very active mail artist, and a theorist on the subject, Henning Mittendorf has recently expanded to the Internet.

4) Gryphons vs Skeletons. Artist: Henning Mittendorf
5) Jersey Turnpike Venus. Artist: Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

From the Noir Urban Venus series. A goddess-- in a comic, stripped. Elizabeth, shrine figure from the land of 1000 oil tanks, ruled by a crooked cast of concrete kings. Along the Turnpike eternal flames burn, lighting the way to the Holland Tunnel. Abandon hope all ye who enter: leaving the garden state can make you crabby!

PEEP Next: The brilliant Paula Jesgarz/The effervescent Rudi Widerjans/ The amazing Zan Man/Bubble Dancing Fannie Mae/The Lost Nudie Pics of Mao Tse Tung/Paint By Number Masterpieces
"Is it right that man's life and society should be ruled by material expansion above all?"

A World Split Apart, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

"You're here with me, like I'm there with you"

To Susan on the West Coast Waiting, Donovan

Artist Links

Borbetomagus, http://www.j51.com/~borbeto/

Masami Akita/Merzbow Music,
http://www.hut.fi/~omertalo/Merzbow.html

Henning Mittendorf,
http://www.sztuka-fabryka.be/review/poudium/pou015.htm

PEEP, an On The QT publication, is online at: http://mondoqt.com/peepmag

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updated 8/25/2002