RC How did you make the transition from Rock & Roll into Fine Art publishing?
Joe Stefko There really wasn't a transition from one to the other. I still play and when asked I always say I'm a musician. When you're on tour there is a lot of time to kill that I fill with reading. In the mid-eighties I discovered that some of the authors I liked had signed limited editions of their books produced. Flo & Eddie were into it too: the three of us used to go to rare book stores in every town we played. It was funny because we were on these tours where the other bands had drug dealers coming to their dressing rooms and we had book dealers coming to ours. After collecting for several years I felt that I wanted to do this, that I had a passion for a finely-printed and bound book. It's a labor of love because it's an expensive proposition if you do it right and it is an immense amount of work. I started in 1989 with an author named Tim Powers who I've done three books with, he's a wonderful writer, and two books with Dean Koontz.
What lies behind the sombre choice of imprint name?
A silly sense of humor. In America one of our big imprints is Random House, and I was just making a play on words, a charnel house being a place where dead bodies and bones were stored in the days of plagues. You're the professor, am I right? Also I started publishing fiction that fit the name. Although Keith's book fits in there very nicely I decided not to change imprints for this anyway. My logo is too good.
On what basis did Keith make the selection of words? Wouldn't it have been nice to make it a Complete Works?
Keith didn't want all of his material included. We whittled down two separate lists to get the sixty-six songs that are in the book. I never questioned why he didn't want certain songs but I was firm on some and he was firm on others - we made deals. It was all very civil and always with tea and pastries. He mentions it in his preface (author's introduction)
When checking the words for publication, are you using exactly what Keith wrote, or the text that Gary sings (not always the same thing!)
Everything is what Keith wrote. It is, I should say, how he wanted it printed. There are slight differences from the recorded versions, but then again if we went by what we thought Gary was singing we would each be singing something different!
How much input does the artist / author have into the materials used, and the lavishness of the finished product?
I asked Keith what color he liked.
What did he say, exactly? We have one or two fans who are fascinated by the range of colour imagery in his work.
I hate to disappoint you, but it's like the beanstalk line. He said, "Green." In talking about the leather for the deluxe copies he didn't want too dark a green, and he didn't want a black book. That is as much as was said about the exterior of the book, which is more than I ever asked anybody else. I wanted him to be happy with his book.
Now as far as the interior, he has seen all that because that is what we proofed although he has not seen it on the correct page trim with margins. Keith has asked me to change the way I designed a few of the songs if he didn't like the way they looked, and I would redo them - there were two or three. It's hard for most people to envision a book from looking at it's parts, anyway.
How did this collaboration come about (who approached whom, and are you a Procol Harum fan?)
I always felt that a book like this should be done - that I wanted one too. When I started publishing it was my dream book but I didn't think it would ever happen. Then two years ago we (The Turtles w / Flo & Eddie) were booked on the same show as Procol Harum in Belgium and I got some Charnel House books to Keith and explained what I wanted to do and it was a deal.
Yes, I'm a Procol Harum fan. A huge Procol Harum fan. I always thought that Keith's lyrics were far superior in every way to anything that anyone was writing. And BJ was a huge influence on my drumming (which gets me in to a lot of trouble).
Does this mean you are a dramatic flurrying percussionist when people just want a timekeeper?
Being influenced by BJ, Aynsley Dunbar, and Roy Wood (yes, Roy Wood!) at an early age warps your sensibilities. You hear things differently than most people and you play the unexpected, to say the least. It's foreign and retarded to those who hear normally. It worked in Meat Loaf, which was a very dramatic show, and John Cale, with whom I worked with Chris Thomas, and I manage to make it work with The Turtles, who are used to retarded drummers, but it's sometimes tough communicating. BJ, he was the best. A real classic. As I told his sister - you can't copy BJ, you take a piece of him and incorporate it with what you've got. That's the best you're going to do.
Have you got date and place for that Belgian gig?
It was on 27 April 1996 at Sportpaleis in Antwerpen. The show was called Golden Years '96, and the line up was: The Equals, The Box Tops, The Spencer Davis Group, Slade II, The Troggs, The Turtles, The Monkees, & Procol Harum. It was great. I don't recall Procol's set, but everybody basically did their hits as the shows were condensed with so many bands. Our show was: You Baby, It Ain't Me Babe, She's My Girl, You Showed Me, Elenore, She'd Rather Be With Me, Happy Together. And then we all came on at the end and made a complete mess of things that Gary had arranged -Those f*cking Turtles! Never again!
Was no attempt made to persuade Keith to publish all or part of his play, which is a great source of interest to Procol Harum aficionados?
I asked him about it and got grumbles and groans so I asked for more tea. Like I said, I didn't want to print anything he didn't want printed. And I also knew how much work we were getting into, whether he did or not, and I wanted the experience and the end result to be enjoyable for both of us.
Will there be any words in the book that were written for Procol Harum songs but never used?
Yes. The songs are in chronological order by album periods so you can see where things would have been. There are pieces that never made Broken Barricades, Grand Hotel, Something Magic, Prodigal Stranger, and Gary's Echoes In The Night, as well as a bunch of new pieces.
What sort of illustrations do you envisage for the book?
There really aren't any illustrations in the book, in that the songs aren't illustrated. There is a diamond design that is used in the book, but it's the words. Each song, each page is the art. It's a big book - 6 ¼ inches wide and 10 inches long, 98 pages of 100 lb. luxurious paper.
I'd be interested to know more about the paper, who makes it and how you get it.
The paper for the text of the book is Mohawk Superfine. It is made in America and is a premium sheet. The Superfine is the top of the Mohawk line and the 100lb sheet is the thickest text stock available. The limitation sheet as well as the endleaves are Fabriano Ingress, which is a beautiful mold made paper from Italy.
While we're at it let's talk about the exterior. The numbered edition will be hand bound in a beautiful green Japanese fabric so lush that stamping was out of the question. A portion of the spine as well as the front board (cover) will be flattened and black leather labels stamped in gold will be inlayed. The book will then be housed in a hand made slipcase.
The lettered edition will be hand bound in full Moroccan leather (the finest bookbinding leather) stamped in 22kt. gold on the spine and front board. Simple but exquisitely handsome and quite fitting considering the contents.
Are there still movable-type printers around for this kind of work?
Yes, there are letterpress printers around today. I spoke to two such printers about doing Keith's book, one here and one in Italy, but the cost was too prohibitive. I really wanted to do it but the selling price would have been considerably more than it is, and let's face it, I'm probably pushing the envelope now. At $150.00, the pre-publication discount is really a great price for the book.
This is not a little poetry book with tiny type in two columns on a page. The words are designed differently for every song - don't get me wrong, I didn't break up Keith's lines or make a bird out of it, but the art is in the words and where they are placed on the page.
Have you got favourite typographers or publishing houses, like William Morris?
No, I do what I feel. I have no training except for what I learn each time I make a book. It's the same with the music, I think coming out of left field armed with nothing but creativity and instinct can achieve interesting results because you break every rule in the book. You don't say -"Oh, I can't do that!" or, "That's wrong!" - because there are no rules so you do what you want. I get flak and I get awards and I listen to neither.
Why has it been difficult to get permissions? Doesn't Keith Reid have a say in what happens to his own words?
It's not that there was difficulty in getting the permissions - we were going to get the permissions, it's just that the company seemed so antiquated - they didn't know how to deal with a book. You know, there is no airplay - it just came out of left field to them. The people are very nice (they are kind, good-hearted, well meaning people who could revoke my license, stop the book, and sue me if I piss them off ... so) but it was as though I had come from the future with this crazy hair-brained scheme - A Poetry Book. It's just taking a long time and now that I've got a contract (7 pages) with them it still has to be changed for my application. It's more frustrating than anything else. The book has been ready to go to the printer but for this matter.
And yes, Keith has a say in what happens to his words. I've had to call him in to clear some lumber for me, but pity the poor slob who didn't write A Whiter Shade Of Pale.
I don't quite get your meaning ...
I mean that if it was another writer, who didn't write a classic such as A Whiter Shade Of Pale, I doubt his call would get returned by the president of the company, never mind having the guy call me immediately after to tell me that things would be worked out. Success carries a certain amount of clout.
It would be different if I were recording Keith's songs or licensing them to put on a compilation record but I'm just printing the lyrics so I really just need to note who owns the songs. A publishing company collects money for the songs that they own for uses like radio play, recordings, usage of passages from songs in novels. I once had to get rights to Al Jolson's Sonny Boy for a novel I published by Tim Powers called Last Call, and let me tell you - you don't screw around with Al. And he's dead!
What's the history of limited editions and how can punters be sure that they really have got a rarity?
The publisher and the public make a rarity. If the author is famous and a limited amount of product is made, especially if it's signed and numbered, it's a rare item - if the people want it. The fewer made, the rarer it is: that is why the John Lennon Bag One Lithographs were made in an edition of 300, and Jim Morrison's first poetry book was made in an edition of 250. These guys could have sold more copies but that was not what those editions were about. These things were crafted by hand, signed and numbered, and today they are worth a fortune if you can find them. That's a rarity.
Autographs are dubious on their own but can be authenticated, but if you buy something like this from an established publishing house that is working with the author publicly you know you're okay. In other words, I'm not going to sit here signing Keith's name while he's telling everyone about his book. When you buy a limited edition from Genesis Publications you know that George Harrison signed it. It's different than looking at a signed picture that somebody took out of their pocket at a convention.
As usual I'm going ass-backwards, but the history of limited editions? Well, all I can say is that in centuries back everything that was printed was a limited edition because everything, each letter, was set by hand and each page was printed one at a time. The type and woodcuts would wear down after a couple hundred passes anyway.
Once there were printing presses the limited edition was reserved for those who wanted to make lovely, hand-done books for art sake, and then in the 1980s the limited edition was soiled by greedy people who were basically selling autographs in terribly-produced books (not even up to the standard of a trade hardcover) because everybody just wanted the author's signature. The authors are flattered to have this done and are not discerning about fine books. The readers, or "collectors", aren't buying fine books, they're buying ink. It goes on to this day in the field of modern fiction and makes it hard for those who want to do it right because the price differential is drastic and the public is kept ignorant to the fineries of the true art.
When Byron, or Shelley, or Wilde had a piece or a collection printed it was a limited edition, sometimes numbered, usually not signed except if it was presented to someone from the author, although I have seen signed Wilde limited editions. That is how I envisioned Keith's book. This is not a book you will find on the shelf in a Virgin Megastore. This is something that moves only certain people who are paying good money for a book that is hand-crafted by artisans one book at a time using exquisite materials, and, if I dare say, pride.
Will fans who order get a personalized endorsement from KR or is he going to write the same in each book?
Keith is going to sign a limitation sheet that will state the run of the edition as well as that copy's number or letter. The sheet gets bound in the back of the book. It is the very last page. Don't call me complaining that your book isn't signed until you've looked through the book! It happens ...
When do you foresee a release date?
I'm shooting for March 2000. The permissions run-around has knocked me back a few weeks but if the fabric arrives from Japan in good time we should be okay. These books will be bound one at a time and dispatched in the order that the sales come in. If anything is up I will update BtP as well as my site, charnelhouse.com.
You've got to remember something: I'm making this book for me because nobody else did, and I'm making it my way because I think Keith, as well as his fans, deserves this.
You can see some of the books Joe Stefko has made at the Charnel House website, which reveals that "Charnel House was founded in 1989 with the commitment to produce state of the art limited edition books. We believe that book craftsmanship is an art form and the limited edition is a work of art, a luxurious read and a tactile experience, as well as being a highly collectible piece.
"Incorporating elements of the story into the design and production of our books has made for some interesting and collectible editions. We have bound uncut sheets of dollar bills, poker chips, bullets, canceled checks, original art, tarot cards, lizard skin, lace stockings, and garter clips into books. We import the finest materials from all over the globe from fine Japanese fabrics to Moroccan leather. Master printers and bookbinders are utilized to achieve our vision for each edition."
This book can now also be ordered from Amazon USA