Lead Graffiti does a few crafts shows, and we love talking up letterpress. A lot of people introduce themselves or close family members as having been in the printing trade at some point. Lots of times it was precisely letterpress.
So, Bill Roberts, of Bottle of Smoke Press, and I were in New York City for the JFK/NYC/OMG poetry reading on the anniversary of JFK’s death. Bill printed a beautifully printed keepsake book via letterpress containing Allen Ginsberg’s poem Nov 23, 1963: Alone to be given away to the attendees to celebrate and remember the evening. One of the readers at the event was Grant Hart. Grant was the former drummer and co-songwriter in the influential 1980’s punk band, Hüsker Dü. Afterward, he was the singer and guitar for the alternative rock trio, Nova Mob. Anyway, at the post-party at the event organizers’ Greenwich Village apartment, I took the shot of Grant below.
I like shooting photos holding the camera at waist level to give the image a different perspective. This photo, having a spontaneous feel, popped into my top five favorite letterpress portraits that I’ve ever taken, which brings us to the critical part of this story.
I’m guessing that life in an 80’s punk band was a somewhat different than the experience I was having during some of my most memorable days teaching in the Visual Communications Group at the University of Delaware.
Bill and I were talking with Grant about music when he mentioned liking the letterpress keepsake. Then out of nowhere, he starts grilling Bill and me about the order of the cells in a California job case. Huh? “What are the top row cells?” and we would stammer a bit and start reciting the list. Then Grant would fire another question.
Out of nowhere, Grant said, “Let Me Now Help Out Your Punctuation With Commas."
It turned out to be a mnemonic for the middle row of lowercase cells in a California job case. Strangely, after almost 12 years of letterpress, I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of these memory aids until Grant blurted out with them. So, sometime in Grant’s lifetime, he had done some letterpress.
“Be Careful Driving Elephants Into Small Foreign Garages.”
Also, how can you not like a guy who was in a band that had two umlauts in the name? According to Wikipedia, the term without the umlauts means, “Do you remember?” in Danish and Norwegian. The group added the heavy metal umlauts for effect. I could love Hüsker Dü for the umlauts alone.
Grant was playing a solo performance at the Cake Shop later in the evening, which Bill and I wanted to check out. When we got there, Grant was standing right at the door. He grabbed us, and we headed for the stairs. He told the cashier who was taking money that we were friends and to just let us through. The three of us, connected by letterpress, headed down into the basement theater for an hour of great Grant Hart music. Most definitely a night to remember.
I do love this portrait. Now to figure out how to get Grant to want us to print his next CD cover via letterpress.
It seems like I should show Bill’s Bottle of Smoke Press keepsake book (shown below) that was given away free to those in attendance. Some days I like letterpress more than other days. This day was one of the good ones.
I'm sorry to add that Grant passed away September 13, 2017, of complications from liver cancer and Hepatitis C.