Noir Classics: Those Who Walk Away – Patricia Highsmith by K. A. Laity

Art, Crime Fiction, Euro Noir, Existentialism, International Noir, K A Laity, Noir, Patricia Highsmith, Punk Noir Magazine

those who walk away

Don’t let the pull quote form Slavoj Zizek put you off. This too-little read classic by Highsmith is a cracking read. It’s suffused with an existential dread so thick you could cut it with a Derwatt paint knife. It starts in Rome and quickly moves to Venice, currently repopulated with swans and dolphins, which is no less bizarre than this book.

Adding to the head-jerking oddness, it’s dedicated to Lil Picard, ‘painter and writer, one of my more inspiring friends’ in Highsmith’s words. The Jewish artist was once part of the Dadaists scene in Berlin, hanging out with Brecht and Dix, then fled to New York where she hung out at Andy’s Factory and made performance art with Caroline Schneeman and Yoko. It’s a surprising choice for the notoriously anti-Semitic writer (they’d not spoken in a decade) but it speaks volumes to her yearning for art and artistry.

Art permeates the story: Ray Garrett is thinking of starting a gallery as he grieves for his wife’s suicide, fearing that he might have been able to save her if only he’d seen the clues (Highsmith dealt with the same when her lover, the artist Allela Cornell, committed suicide). This is the least of his problems, however.

The book opens with Garrett walking through Rome with his passive-aggressive father-in-law who, quiet suddenly, takes out a gun and shoots him, and then runs off. More shocked than injured, Garrett panics and runs back to his hotel to put a Band-Aid on the graze and clean the blood from his shirt. And to think: how did Colemon get a gun? What would he do when he discovered Ray was not dead?

This begins a weird tale of cat and mouse that quickly moves to Venice. ‘If he saw Coleman alone again just once, he could say it all plainly in words—say the plain fact that he didn’t know why Peggy had killed herself, that he honestly couldn’t explain it.’ But her father won’t accept the truth. So much so that Ray begins to wonder if he does bear some guilt. When Coleman shoves him off a boat into the wintery canal, Ray goes into hiding to let him believe he’s been killed. It may, in part, be fueled by the fever he catches from his soaking. But it becomes quite surreal.

He begins to think like a criminal, inventing lies sometimes for cover and sometimes just for a kind of romanticised desire to disappear from himself. Ray tells himself he’s not trying to change his appearance with the beard at the same time he’s cautioning himself to invent a ‘decent’ story: ‘The nearest to the truth was best, or so he had always heard.’ I love how Highsmith tips her hand here about her own easy story-making. Ray looks at himself (oh the cliché but this is 1967) and sees a lot more than he wants to:

It was an American face, slightly on the handsome side, hopelessly marred by vagueness, discretion, the second thought, if not downright indecision.

As gruesome as this all sounds, there is actually a lot of humour in the novel. Ray and his partner consider opening the Gallery of Bad Art in NYC, if they can’t find enough good painters to share. ‘Call it Gallery Zero, for instance. The public’ll soon get the idea.’ Highsmith obsesses over art and its quality in a very different way from Ripley’s blithe assurance that forgery is better than ‘good’ art. The humour pops out quite unexpectedly (like Highsmith’s own ‘jokes’ apparently) and so do the astute observations, like a sharp knife in the dark. I think Camus and Sartre would approve of this one which seems to sum up so much of her work:

Perhaps identity, like hell, was merely other people.

Stumpfer Gegenstand by GROTTO TERRAZZA

Art, CUT SURFACE, GROTTO TERRAZZA, Music, post punk, Punk Noir Magazine


Transforming from a blunt object into a smoldering saint, just another day thought on the never ending collage of life, a pattern that continuously evolves like Grotto Terrazza, the Munich based art/music/life project of Thomas Schamann.

‘Stumpfer Gegenstand’ (Blunt Object) is his musical debut for Cut Surface and Maple Death, a beautiful intimate album of translucent dark beat poetry, that flickers between rhythmical murder ballads, Neue Deutsche Welle, the early experiments of Palais Schaumburg and the industrial malaise of Cabaret Voltaire; this is art-punk that plays with musique concrete and finds it’s pop sensibility rooted in EBM and folk noir.

Schamann started collecting bits and pieces of this and that in order to use them for a cut-up of some sort in 2015. Slowly two distinct and cohesive pieces came to life, his editorial debut, “Trattoria Nihil”, a 250 page collection of beat poetry in German & drawings, and this album ‘Stumpfer Gegenstand’, started roughly in 2017 in Paris, France. Thomas was on tour with his other band, darkwave Berlin project Bleib Modern, with a few days off, and decided to split from his bandmates and embark on an odyssey through Pigalle and other parts of the city; this is where the seeds of the album were firmly planted.


Post PunkCabaret

Art, Indie, Music, Paul Research, Poetry, Poetry Circus, post punk, Punk Noir Magazine, Torch Songs, Voicex

paul research

Poetry Circus and Voicex present the phenomenal Post Punk Cabaret – an electrifying mix of spoken word, physical theatre and music.

Doors open at 7:00pm for a 7:30pm start.

Music Genres:

Electronic, Punk

The Bongo Club in Edinburgh

Friday 27th March 2020

7:00pm til 10:00pm (last entry 7:30pm)

Minimum Age: 18

Post Punk Cabaret tickets



F is for Fake, V is for Vermeer by K. A. Laity

Art, Crime Fiction, Films, K A Laity, Non-fiction, Patricia Highsmith, Punk Noir Magazine

Van Meegeren

I am probably always thinking about fakes and grifters, but just lately thinking about art forgery (see also this). Of course this is part of my ongoing thoughts about Patricia Highsmith’s Ripliad (so many thoughts), but just in general my obsessions with con artists and fakes.

In Ripley Under Ground, Highsmith has her alter ego muse on the superiority of forgers to artists, concluding ‘An artist does things naturally, without effort. Some power guides his hand. A forger struggles, and if he succeeds, it is a genuine achievement.’ Never mind that as an artist herself she knew just how much effort the work requires. I am fascinated with the concept that the forger works ‘harder’ or somehow ‘better’ than the artist because seemingly divine inspiration.

Ripley namechecks Han van Meegeren, one of the most notorious forgers of the 20th century. He forged Vermeers—you know, Girl with the Pearl Earring? Yeah, but he was smart enough not to try to forge classic Vermeer. He went for the missing period between the painter’s earlier, funnier period and the moody classics like The Art of Painting, inventing a bunch of religious-themed paintings that suggest the transition to the later secular works with a suggestion of the effort whilst he was still working up to genius.

He got others to buy in and then there was the weight of excitement and possibility—not to mention the war and rapaciously greedy Nazis. Oh and he might have been a collaborator and he might have enriched himself buying up property from the Jews sent off to the camps. At his trial he decided to keep the focus on the forger angle instead of the collaborationist one, even whipping off a quick Vermeer for the jury (I dunno, maybe he had Hedy Lamarr in mind that day). Yeah, he was convicted but managed to drop dead before he could serve any time. 

See this doco on Van Meegeren if you’re interested in seeing more.

Consider also watching Orson Welles’ fun F is for Fake.


(Almost) 25 Years of Punk Rock Art – K A Laity Interviews S L Johnson

Art, K A Laity, Non-fiction, punk, Punk Noir Magazine


S. L. Johnson is an artist and graphic designer who works with local radio stations, bands, indie labels, authors, publishers, arts centers and individuals. Her influences run from Saul Bass and Looney Tunes to punk rock flyers & album art; punk and rock & roll fashion; the surrealists Carrington, Fini & Varo; Inuit, Tlingit, Haida and Kawkiutl sculpture and graphic arts; nature—a wide variety. One of her longest running gigs has been for Marko’s Punk Rock Jukebox.

How did you start creating the art for Marko’s Punk Rock Jukebox almost a quarter century(!) ago?

That long ago?! I am not exactly sure, but I believe it started when Marko wanted something to offer as a premium for those folks who donated to WCNI during their fundraising event. I think I created the Punk Rock Guy for that purpose. 


What’s your process for reinventing the look each year? Do you brainstorm ideas or do you get requests?

I generally come up with something, but occasionally I get a request. I know Marko and what he likes, so I just go with that. The Sneaker T was brainstormed by my friend Bernie & myself; the Punk Mag rip-off was Marko’s request, I believe. And we often disagree on ideas as some are just overdone, or people just won’t get them. I’m appalled that one absolutely terrible design is the favorite of several people. Just trying to come up with something using the same Punk Rock Guy every time can be a bit frustrating, but it does push me a bit, which is always good.

I do offer various past designs in my online shops, so people can replace a well-worn fave if needed. And I have found some designs online, plagiarized, which sucks.


Plagiarists should suffer warts and eternal itch! What are some of your favourites and why?

The Sneaker and the Punk Mag rip-offs as they are punk rip-offs of punk icons and they’re fun; The Punkfather, especially the poster version which has a slight touch of colour as I made the safety pin red; the 2010 because it’s just kind of random, weird and experimental and almost has an 80s “new wave” vibe to it; and the 50 Punks Can’t Be Wrong (the Elvis album rip off) — the original version had glittery gold jackets, a cheesy take on Elvis’ gold suit, and I think the redux from a year or two ago is decent. Basically, all of them kind of amuse me. And they have to, as ripping off stuff a la punk is pretty much played out and not really a big deal in this age of constant easy plagiarism. The early t-shirts, like the 50 Punks, were done by cutting and pasting photocopies together and then drawing elements in. Those almost look best because they’re really not slick at all.

Is it frustrating if people don’t get the witty cultural references?

Every damn time. So, maybe they’re not so witty! I try to pick something recognizable, or something that might resonate,  because in the end it’s to create something people will want to buy and wear and references the Golden Age of Punk — hahaha. And sometimes I massively fail – the Oswald and Mayor Vaughn tees were met with a resounding ‘WTF’ by many, and there are a couple of other clunkers.


For the record, I love the Mayor one! You also do book and CD covers: is the process different?

Oh, definitely. The audience is specific for these t-shirts — fans of Marko’s show/supporters of WCNI. I don’t think anyone would see any of these randomly on a rack and think, “oh yeah, cool, I gotta get this.” It’d certainly be great if they did! There are less choices to be made as they all feature the Punk Rock Guy and are white ink on black shirts. Book & CD covers can involve so many more elements & colours, as well as the various bits to design and also the need to speak to more diverse audiences.

What’s next for you? Any projects on the horizon?

Always — finished 3 illustrations for a new publication from Fox Spirit Books, finishing up stickers for a friend, another Punk Rock Jukebox design to be made for 2020, and let’s see….right on the tip of my brain….oh, yeah! An art show with you — and creating brand new works in a medium new to me. That should be both wonderfully terrifying and very fun!!

It’s going to be awesome!


Stephanie Johnson can be found at and you can buy her cool designs on a wide variety of merch.

Marko’s Punk Rock Jukebox happens every Thursday 12-3pm (GMT+5) on WCNI and Friday 11-2pm (GMT+5) on WECS (or your fave radio app) 

K. A. Laity is mouthy gadabout.

Recommended Read: Frank Sidebottom-Out Of His Head by Mick Middles

Art, Frank Sidebottom, Humour, Manchester, Mick Middles, Music, Paul D. Brazill, post punk, punk, Punk Noir Magazine, Recommended Reads, The Fall, The Freshies

The mind of Chris Sievey was clearly a treasure trove – indeed, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave – of bright and shiny ideas, many of which, thankfully, came to fruition. Most notably in the effervescent forms of The Freshies and Frank Sidebottom.

The Freshies were a brilliantly eccentric power pop/ new wave band who cheekily surfed the Manchester pre-punk, punk, and post-punk scenes, and came painfully close to success with a bouquet of great singles such as ‘I’m In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk’ and ‘I Can’t Get ‘Bouncing Babies’ By The Teardrop Explodes.’

Sievey’s later creation, Frank Sidebottom, was a surreal half-man/ half-puppet version of George Formby whose anarchic performances enlivened kids television shows and late night TV alike in the ‘90s, and whose live shows seemed to have garnered an strangely obsessive fan base. When Chris Sievey died in 2010, however, he left behind a hell of a musical legacy that showed the he was more than just a novelty act.

Out Of His Head was written by Sievey’s friend the journalist Mick Middles and is as intoxicating and sobering as Sievey’s life seems to have been. The book’s timeline spans more than a quarter of a century and includes cameos from Sievey’s family and friends as well as the likes of Mark E Smith, Steve Coogan, Jon Ronson, Caroline Aherne, Chris Evans, Mark Radcliffe, and, er, Bros.

Frank Sidebottom – Out Of His Head is a fascinating and bittersweet read, and is very highly recommended.

out of his head

Gerry and The Holograms

Art, CP Lee, Frank Zappa, Gerry and The Holograms, Humour, Indie, John Scott, Manchester, Music, New Order, Paul D. Brazill, post punk, Punk Noir Magazine, Slaughter and The Dogs

Gerry meet the disisidents

Manchester post-punk band Gerry and The HologramsCP Lee and John Scott – released their debut single Meet The Dissidents on Absurd Records in 1979.

The ‘theme song’ – ‘Gerry and The Holograms‘ – clearly served as a blueprint for New Order‘s mega-hit Blue Monday, though neither band seems to have admitted to this!

Later the same year, they released their second single, ‘The Emperor’s New Music‘, which was literally unplayable. The record was actually a badly pressed Slaughter and The Dogs record that was glued to its sleeve.

They became one of Frank Zappa’s favourite bands. They eventually released an LP in 2017.

The ‘Spook’ Racket by K. A. Laity

Art, K A Laity, Nightmare Alley, Non-fiction, Occult, Punk Noir Magazine, William Lindsay Gresham


smoke and mirrors1

In William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley and the film adaptation, Stan Carlisle starts out as a carnival mind-reader but soon his ambitions outstrip the penny-ante midway to head where the real cash awaits: ‘the spook racket’ as he calls it. People pay good money to talk to the dead. Whether for love or guilt, they want answers. Stan was more than willing to offer them.

smoke and mirrors 2.jpg


The Wellcome Collection exhibit ‘Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic’ offers some insight into this phenomenon as well as showcasing a wide range of paraphernalia from the magic trades. The wild work of spiritualists, séances and the debunkers who followed in their wake makes for a fascinating journey. From the Fox sisters to the Cottingley Fairies, you can see the ways that people were manipulated and tricked into believing their very eyes (never believe your eyes) – including people who thought they knew better, like Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. But it’s not really surprising: we have a deep desire to believe in magic. Watch the joy in children’s faces as they watch a parlour magician.

smoke and mirrors 3.jpg


But that desire is so easily exploited. In the exhibit there’s a spirit trumpet like Carlisle used in his grifting. This section of the novel did not appear in the 20th Century Fox film; studio chief Darryl Zanuck allegedly hated the film from its start and these shenanigans would have outraged many. There are spirit boards, disembodied hands, and cameras for ‘spirit photography’ as well as photos of ectoplasm and other ‘proofs’ of success. Lurid posters of the era show the draw these artists of the ethereal had in the early 20th century between two big wars with so many mourning.

smoke and mirrors 4


The zeal of the believers was only matched by the equal fervor of the debunkers. The early versions of ghost hunters included entire toolkits for exposing charlatans who used the tricks of the magical trade not for entertainment, but like Stan Carlisle, for money and influence. He used a lot of research, too. But he had a knack for the psychology of it, right off the bat. Like many a grifter, Stan gilded his patter with nuggets from the good book. Bible quotes add a veneer of veracity for many a doubter.

smoke and mirrors 6


At the far end of the spectrum, there’s the place we find ourselves now, where people will believe insane conspiracy theories despite all logic and proof because…honestly, I don’t know (yes, I do, but it’s depressingly hard to fix). There’s a huge drawing that links up magic from John Dee and the Salem Witch trials to Jack Parsons (but not Marjorie Cameron) and Montauk (and I’m kicking myself for not noting the creator’s name, so if you know it, tell me!). Better to think about the fun way magic gets used, everything from The Amazing Kreskin’s ESP board game and comics, to the sublime comedy magic of Tommy Cooper.


Just like that, I feel better.

smoke and mirrors 7


Smoke and Mirrors continues through 15 September at the Wellcome.

smoke and mirrors 5