Saturday, July 24, 2010

Four Winds Tower

No dark weird stuff here, just something which brings back a whole era in my life. In the late 80s, I was friends with a group of highly sophisticated, esoteric/occult Grateful Dead fans. These are the types who memorized the lyrics and sang along with the band, compared song lists from different concerts, and who could interpret the Dead's lyrics with the complexity of PhD theses. Which some of these fan friends also had: graduate students and postdoc Deadheads. Since the Dead's lyrics were mostly written by a bona fide surrealist poet, Robert Hunter, who had a vast amount of knowledge of various kinds to draw on, you could spend all night talking about them. Especially if the usual sacrament of the Grateful Dead was smoked in sufficient amount.

Not only were my friends esotericists, they were also science fiction and fantasy fans. They participated in Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" fandom, which flourished during the 80s. Local Darkover fan groups were organized into "Towers," a reference to the towers in Darkover where the psi-magic users gathered to do group workings. The Tower I and my friends belonged to was called the "Tower of the Four Winds." This was not just a Bradley fan group but an esoteric/occult study group as well. Marion Z. Bradley was a longtime esotericist, so she served as an example and sometimes guru for these groups.

The Grateful Dead have a song called "Franklin's Tower." It's a cheerful song with words by Robert Hunter. The lyrics have allusions to Benjamin Franklin, the Liberty Bell, and other American historical themes. The Four Winds are mentioned in it, too. For an example of the PhD-level exegesis of Hunter's lyrics, see here and especially here. (Although there is definitely a bit of high-intellectual pranking going on as well.) Since the song was sort of about a tower, which was also a lighthouse, our Darkover fan group was sometimes known as "Franklin's Tower."

My friends commissioned me to do a logo for our Four Winds Tower, and I came up with this. The Four Winds swirl around an archetypal lighthouse tower. Each wind was represented in a different color, the three primary colors red, blue, and yellow, and the secondary color green. These were the standardized four directions and colors of late 19th century and 20th century Western esotericism. I did this in a medium that I was experimenting with at the time, silkscreen-colored paper cut and glued to a background. This looked good when it was first finished, but the paper was very fragile and any slight pressure or scratch would fade the color or fray the paper edges. I also used shiny copper tape around the edges. In this rendition of the image, I have enhanced that copper edge using Photoshop, because it came out black in the original photo.

I continued to experiment with colored paper until I found digital media, especially CorelDraw (in 1991). Once I saw that I could make vector designs with the same clear colors, smooth blends, and geometric edges as the colored papers, I was converted. I wouldn't have to use that breakable paper any more.

This was more than 20 years ago. Darkover fandom has faded away, and our Tower has vanished, and the Grateful Dead without Jerry Garcia are a dim, aging echo of the original. I have not seen my old friends in many, many years. The past evaporates like aromatic smoke.

"Four Winds Tower" is cut and glued paper on illustration board, 11" x 14", winter 1987.

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