Tuesday, July 11, 2017

0033: Cast in Aluminum, Then in Lacquer

Reading "Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron" today, a person who began reading alternative comics in the past ten years might think it was a proposal for a cable TV series. Think "Preacher", "Fargo", "Walking Dead", "American Horror Story" and especially the return of "Twin Peaks". But when the story was originally published, it was not only inconceivable that it could be adapted for television, some people had a hard time believing it was being published as a comic.

The story actually predates not only those TV series but their source materials as well. If it had an influence in anything, it would be in the "Twin Peaks" predecessor "Blue Velvet" (1986), also the creation of David Lynch. The title, however, comes from the dialogue in Russ Meyer's "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"

Dan Clowes wrote and drew "Like A Velvet Glove..." as a serialized lead feature in his Fantagraphics series "Eightball". This is the same series that became the source for "Ghost World", "Art School Confidential" and "Ice Haven", which became two movies and a short. So, finding this "Original Soundtrack" would only serve to reinforce the suspicion that there was a movie in the making here, no? No. That is, there was speculation about it being adapted into a film in the 90's when everything from "The Mask" to "Tank Girl" was getting into national chain theaters, but this isn't intended to be a soundtrack to a movie. It was written to be a soundtrack to the comic.

Dan Clowes (left) and Tim Hensley (right), as drawn by Clowes

Tim Hensley is the son of Tom Hensley, decades-long keyboardist for Neil Diamond and others. He was also one of several veteran session musicians who recorded a synthetic-instrument Christmas album as Joy Circuit. The album, "Crystal Clear Christmas", was released on the Modern Art label in 1987, but Modern Art was a small independent with little in the way of infrastructure so the manufacturing and distribution was done by Word, Inc., an Irving, Texas-based gospel label (it has since changed hands and has offices in Nashville). Word would eventually be known for releasing early recordings of artists like Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, but in the mid-80's if it was known at all it was as the home of both revival tent acts (the Bill Gaither Trio) and "contemporary Christian" acts (such as the tone-deaf Sandi Patty). Given the irreverent liner notes on "Crystal Clear Christmas" [for the song "We Three Kings (of ornament R)" they add, "they journeyed onward in search of a full house"], it seems incredible that the ordinarily humorless Word would green light this. Maybe they don't play poker. The fact that it's a jazz album of holiday standards released on a fairly right-wing label at the height of the Reagan administration with sub-Ken Nordine liner notes makes the whole thing feel like an ironic satire dreamed up by Clowes. So, apparently son Tim shares his father's sense of humor. In 1987, Tim Hensley was a college student and comics fan with a band. He contacted Daniel Clowes to see if it would be possible for him to draw the jacket art, based on the aesthetics of Clowes' late 80's series "Lloyd Llewellyn". Apparently, Clowes agreed that they's be a perfect match, since he drew the front and back cover art for the vinyl LP "Split", released under the name Victor Banana [Splat-Co Records 100, 1989]. It was Clowes who then suggested to Hensley that he reciprocate by writing a soundtrack to a comic book series that Clowes was in the process of starting. The series became "Eightball", published about three times a year (initially) by Fantagraphics. Although they had no cover dates, the indicia date for issue #1 was October 1989. It was 32 pages without ads and included the new character Young Dan Pussey, old favorite Lloyd Llewellyn and the now-classic "Devil Doll" short. The lead feature was "Like A Velvet Glove...", in which a man named Clay discovers that his ex-wife appeared in a fetishistic porn film and goes on a road trip to find her. Instead he gets sidetracked and effectively trapped in a bizarre small town that seems to be a microcosm of conspiracy theories come to life.

(exterior of CD booklet)
According to Hensley, the song "O'Herlihy" existed in 1989, but for whatever reason had not been included on the LP "Split". Clowes incorporated the character into the story in order to ensure it would be included on the soundtrack. Then, Clowes continued to keep Hensley updated on the progress of the story and Hensley continued to write songs inspired by specific elements in it. In the middle of that, they both contributed to the faux lounge act Rube Ruben's 7" single "Shmendrick" (Sympathy For The Record Industry SFTRI 117) and the second volume of Ernest Noyes Brookings poems set to music, both in 1991. As 1993 began, the story finally reached its enigmatic end in Eigthball #10 (02/93), at 130 pages not including covers and promotional pieces. It was the only feature in all ten issues; Lloyd had given way to multiple short pieces after 1990. The first full-color Eightball T-shirt featured "Velvet Glove" characters and it was the basis of a silkscreen, mug and even a rubber stamp of Tina (the potato shaped mutant girl who appears on the CD booklet cover, above). Paul and Tina even appear in the two-page meta-story "Eightball" in issue #9.

(interior of CD booklet)
Eightball #11 (06/93) included the four-page satire "Velvet Glove: The Movie", detailing what a nightmarish disaster Hollywood would make out of any attempt to adapt the story to film, followed by a half-page ad for the 10" LP of the soundtrack. For the record, the front and back of the vinyl version were both completely different original Clowes art. The 500 copies disappeared pretty quickly and a year later Eightball #14 (no date; late 1994) offered the soundtrack on CD in the letters' page. The disc is easier to find (I think the print run was a few thousand) and definitely fits the story, although curious fans should be aware that it's about 16 minutes long (the "Split" album offered 20 songs in 35 minutes, so it's consistent with Hensley's style).

Hensley continued playing music, appearing as "Vic Hazelnut" (a nod to Vic Chesnutt) on a single by April March (the sleeve had liner notes by "Ren and Stimpy" creator John Kricfalusi) shortly after the soundtrack was completed. Also in 1993, the Joy Circuit Christmas album was reissued on the Jenkins Peabody label.
The label's next release appears to be the last Hensley/Clowes collaboration I can find. In 1995, Peabody-Jenkins released the CD "Refrains" under the pseudonym Neil Smythe. Reportedly it didn't sell as well, but CDBaby probably still has copies if you're interested. After 2000, Hensley made a belated debut as a cartoonist in his own right after working as a film editor. To date, his most successful effort is probably "Wally Gropius" (Fantagraphics, 2010). Clowes, of course, gradually turned Eightball from a one-man anthology into a series of one-shots in different formats and eventually stopped using the umbrella title sometime after it had already lost its definition. And Terry Zwigoff helped him evade the worst aspects of translating his works to film. In fact, odds are I'll probably stumble across another "other media" post topic involving Clowes before the end of the year.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Previously on "Sieve Eye Care"...