HR Giger's Koo Koo album cover

leading from

Debbie Harry, Queen of Akku-Akku-Punk-ture!

Debbie Harry and HR Giger posing in a photo at the Hansen Gallery, NY

a) Giger meets Christ Stein and Debbie Harry
After the Academy Awards ceremony in LA, that took place towards the end of February in1980 , Giger his wife Mia, his friend Bijan Aalam and his manager made a stop in New York City and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. Due to the lack of a safe, the actual Oscar statue was kept overnight in a refrigerator

The following morning, Giger attended the showing of an exhibition of his Alien paintings at the Hansen Gallery on 57th Street. Chris Stein and Debbie Harry lived on 58th Street, Chris had to go, Debbie had to come along too, they knew of Giger's work when he was just known as a psychedelic European poster artist and Giger happened to be there and so he was introduced to them, he was familiar with who they were after he first heard Blondie playing back in February of 1978 while he was in England.  (Although by 1991, Giger did not recall hearing anything by the Blondie group since he was more interested in Jazz)

They they invited Giger to their Penthouse,  which created the impression for him of a furniture warehose that was only passable through narrow dark walkways, but held much promise. Although they felt very much at home in their nest, they were planning to move to a four story house. They became friends and from then on remained in contact

b) Initial thoughts
In their initial meeting Debbie had explained that she had enough of the group Blondie, had now coloured her hair brown and wanted to pursue  a solo career with her own name Debbie Harry, singing with the RnB band Chic (who Giger thought were named The Sheeks) He asked exclusively for a few black and whie front portrait photos to work with. When he got back to Switzerland, he picked up some excellent shots by Brian Aris, in which Debbie wore her combed sharply back.

Later Debbie called HR Giger about doing an album cover, and perhaps this was the time when he was submitting his suggestions to her, it didn't seem to be clear in the various retellings of the events, but he had already made these sunglasses that were a big safety pin which went through the nose and so Giger thought of her as a Queen Of Punks, punk for him was all about safety pins or something to stick into the flesh.

This album wasn't actually going to be a punk album, but more to do with RnB, but Giger was happily free to go off in his own direction. He painted the picture surrealistically, without thinking anything, and afterwards, he would discover what it all meant and then it all become explicable.
470b Debbie (1981) (100cmx100cm?)
 Giger's initial artwork for KooKoo  

c) Giger's Interpretation
Recently Giger had also been treated with acupuncture for an ailment by his friend and doctor Paul Tobler, who was the brother of his late girlfriend Li and little needles would be inserted into his ear, and he was very impressed by this.

The safety pins surfaced in Giger's mind to transtransformed into accupuncture needles on the Koo Koo cover, and here he took very big needles that would act as electrodes, representing stimulation, electricity and power coming through the air. And so he put the needles through her head, one near the eyes represented Fire, the one by the nose, represented Earth, the four needles would represent the four elements and an intended fifth would have one represented spirit. In his initial painting he managed to paint six needles but what the sixth one would have represented remains unknown.
Debbie II (work 472b)
(1981) acrylic on photo (100cm x 100cm)
KooKoo cover

d) Debbie Harry's interpretation
As far Debbie Harry could understand, she was seeing the lightning bolts as if this was something to do with the idea Frankenstein's monster, and so it was a statement of high energy and power. She also noticed that Giger playing with word associations was seeing the work "Punk" in the letters "punc" of "Acupuncture".  She was very pleased but the punk associations didn't really work for Debbie but she was allowing herself to see the cover as something to do with scifi.

However, Giger thought of a title "Akku Akku" that called to mind the 1957 book Aku-Aku: the Secret of Easter Island is a 1957 by Thor Heyerdahl, which sounded like the first part of the 'acupuncture word" and so Debbie took the "cu" part of this and turned it into Koo and then KooKoo as if she had to be cuckoo crazy to have metal rods going through her head.

e) Headband changes
Meanwhile the headband on the album cover art featured a design on it borrowed from Sony's new microchip and so there was a concern about copyright infringement, so a small device was put on the bottom to make it noticeably different

Giger working on the initial painting

f) Public confusion about the album cover
The nature of the image caused much confusion, with DJ's wanting to know how she posed for this picture, people were half expecting spikes to be driven through their head, it was also banned from the British trains and they wouldn't advertise it on television either, perhaps because they feared that children would try to ram spikes through their heads at home. Giger thought that perhaps some people thought it was like voodoo, where one stick needles into a doll to make magic, but that was not the idea that Giger had.

Quote sources
  1. HR Gger: My second trip to America, which I made in the company of Mia, my wife at the time, gallery owner Bijan Aalam, and my manager, had in its purpose the Academy Award nomination of Ridley Scott's film, Alien. On the return trip from California we made a stop in New York City and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. Due to the lack of a safe, the freshly conquered Oscar had to spend the night in a refrigerator.

    The next morning we visited the Hansen Gallery on 57th Street, which was showing an exhibit of my Alien paintings. There I was introduced to a very beautiful woman, Debbie Harry, the singer of the group Blondie, and her boyfriend, Chris Stein. They were apparently excited about my work and asked me whether I would be prepared to design the cover of the new Debbie Harry album. I found both of them immediately likeable; so I readily agreed and was greatly pleased to be allowed to create something for such an attractive woman, although I had never heard anything from the group. This was due to the fact that I was more interested in jazz.

    They invited me to their apartment, which made upon me the impression of a furniture warehouse, that was only passable through narrow, dark walkways, but held much promise. They both felt very at home in their nest but were planning to move to a single, four story house. During this visit Debbie explained that she had had enough of Blondie, had colored her hair brown, and wanted to pursue a solo career, using the name Debbie Harry, singing with the black group "The Sheeks". I asked exclusively for a few black and white front portrait photos. When I was back in Switzerland, I picked up some excellent shots (from Brian Aris) in which Debbie wore her hair combed sharply back. Since I had just had acupuncture treatment from my friend and doctor, Paul Tobler, the idea of the four needles came to me, in which I saw symbols of the four elements, to be combined with her face.

    I submitted the suggestions by phone to Debbie and Chris. They liked the idea and, in addition, they commissioned me to make two videoclips (music videos) of the best songs. For the title of the album I had thought of something like "Akku Akku," calling to mind (Thor) Heyerdahl. From that Debbie made Koo Koo. Conny de Fries, who had already finished the models of the needles, took over the work on the set décor and special effects of the clips. Then, on the day of the filming, the director did not show up, so with the help of the cameraman/editor, Urs Thoenen, I took over the directing and production. Thus the cover and clips came into being while Debbie and Chris took a vacation in Switzerland.

    H.R. Giger, 1991
  2. Giger: I don't feel strong enough now, especially to direct actors. The film we're making is fun and easy because you've let me do what I want without restrictions and Debbie is easy to work with. The first time I heard Blondie music was in February 1978 when we were in England at Shepperton Studios with Alien and I discovered punk. I made these sunglasses that were a big safety pin which went through the nose, so when Debbie called to do the cover I thought of her as quite the Queen Of Punks. The safety pins are transformed into acupuncture needles on the Koo Koo cover, which represent stimulation, electricity and power coming through the air. So I put these needles through her head and after I found the one near the eyes is fire, near the nose is earth, the fifth one in the film is spirit. I did it the Surrealist's way, without thinking anything. Afterwards you discover what it means and it all becomes explicable. (Interview magazine)
  3. Debbie Harry: It has a lot to do with the cover art , HR Giger did the cover art and it has a lot to do with erm accupuncture. He was thinking about you know, the "punc" part of that accupuncture because like he was thinking more of you know like me being a punk rock singer or something. It has like a scifi look, you know with the album cover has like lightning bolts, has a thing about like Frankenstein , you know, it has things like metal rods through my head and stuff and so it was like a painting of high energy and power and the er puncture in the accupuncture and the punk in accupuncture and all this kind of stuff, so er, it didn't really work for me 'cause I didn't think that I had much to do with punk or that the record did. Um, I didn't want to changed the cover art 'cause it's really great, so I took the "cu" part and made it into "koo" you know, the accupuncture, so it's like "koo koo", I mean it has, I mean having these rods through your head, you know, it had to koo koo, you had to be crazy to do that, so. (
  4. Vice: Did you discuss the stories behind the videos?
    Christ Stein: I guess? The KooKoo album title came from him because of acupuncture. The "koo" came from the koo in acupuncture. So he was referring to that. He thought it was the ultimate punk thing even though it's kind of sci-fi. The cover contrasts with the record, which is sort of R&B. It kind of works.
    Vice: The cover is so different from all the Blondie stuff.
    Christ Stein: They banned it from the British public transport. They made a safe-for-work version with a triangle so you couldn't see the needles, which seems crazy to me in retrospect.
    Vice: What's the significance of the needles going through Debbie's face? Just shock imagery?
    Christ Stein: I think he was thinking about punk. He may have done some sketches with safety pins. He has used safety pins in his drawings.(
  5. Chris Stein and Debbie Harry on Meeting GigerChris Stein: After the Alien prints came out , that's when we first met him, just that
    Debbie Harry: We went to the Academy award and it was a small gallery show
    Chris Stein: In New York on 57th Street
    Debbie Harry: On 57th Street. We lived on 58th Street, you know and got wind of it and you know, Chris, couldn't tie him up, I mean we had to go so. We went over there and he happened to be there.
    Chris Stein: Yeah, with the academy award
    Debbie Harry: Yeah
    Chris Stein: So we, so we invited him to our house, I mean, you know, he knew who we were, after that we were always in contact   
  6. Chris Stein on Giger's Microchip
    Chris Stein: The story is this was taken from a chip that Sony had just put out. This was actually a microchip, and somehow they were really worried about copyright infringements, so they put this thing on the bottom, the actual microchip is completely round so he put that on the bottom so that it would be different (
  7.  HR Giger : I like very much music, rock music. everytime when I'm painting, I have music,  gives me stimula, as a stimulation, and in otherwise, it was a very good meeting when I met Chris and Debbie at the Hansen gallery in New York when I had this Oscar award or how you say the academy award. We have the meeting and Debbie she liked my work very much, so she came and we, they invited us to her penthouse and so we had the first contact, and when she made her own album, when she liked to change her image, she asked me by telephone to do maybe a cover for her and I, I was, once, once I was sick and er I was treated with acupuncture, so I had the idea because she's a kind of, she's queen of punk really, and punk for me was always safety pins, or to stick something in, into, and I have these things together, the acupuncture needles, er, I put her through the head and kind of stimulation and the f... the lightnings in  back, in the back, they are, it's taking energy from the air to stimulate her (DEBBIE HARRY_ H.R.GIGER-NEWSNIGHT-BBC 2-1981)
  8. Chris Stein: We knew his stuff before Alien, We knew he could do something which had a lot of impact and was memorable... It's always so difficult with Blondie because everybody has to look good!”(Blondie: Parallel Lines)
  9.  Chris Stein: Ever since we met Giger at the Hansen Gallery in New York nearly two years ago,we've thought ofworking together, Similar loves for science fiction, skulls, and pagan archetypes forged an automatic union. We remembered his postersin the late sixties whenhe was the firstEuropean psychedelic-poster artist .Then we knew of him as the artist of Alien. And we found out that Giger began listening to us while working on Alien in England.(Blondie: Parallel Lines)
  10.  Giger: I asked [Deborah] to make a portrait of herself to give me. At the time, a friend of mine was a doctor who made acupuncture where they went into your ear with little needles. I was very impressed by this, so I took very big needles and I used them for her portrait - I stuck them through her picture. Then I airbrushed it so that it looked like the needles went through her head to suggest stimulation, to turn on the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire, Water... She was very pleased but I think some people thought it was like voodoo, when you stick needles into a doll and make magic, but that's not what I meant by it. (Blondie: Parallel Lines)
    by Deborah Harry and Chris Stein

    H.R Giger is a man easily misunderstood. Dressed in black with his intense
    fascination with bones and skulls. Yet, like his many fantasy art contemporaries, he is merely attracted to the imagery.
    The clandestine has always attracted people, just as the forbidden fruit has. The same goes for Giger and his powerful work. He goes beyond conventional; he takes things further than most of us do.  When the movie Alien first appeared, it was Giger's designs that stirred up all that pseudosensationalist bullshit. Giger became internationally notorious as Alien, and the Alien images became banned. Theaters in England even offered special treatment for Alien shock. The full sized Alien, face hugger, and baby Alien that burst out of the man's stomach were all "too" strong.
    When KooKoo came out, there was the same intense reaction. "Did you hear about your cover being banned by British Rail?" asked an English journalist during a phone interview while we were in Switzerland.
    That was the first we heard of the reaction. Then another British station
    banned the cover from televison. The expalanation: it was too disturbing.
    We knew the cover would cause reaction, but may be we were overconfident, even naive, to belive it would simply be taken as art. It was a risk we were
    willing to take. Risk taking was something we have been familiar with. We were conscious of what was involved. It is a matter of having style more than anything else, something Giger understands and possesses as well.
    Giger also play the opposites; that is the essence of his work. In a
    philosophy called aesthetic realism, th use of opposites makes things in art
    and life challenging. What is beautiful and horrible, appealing and
    frightening, whatever draws you and repels, biological and organic in Giger's
    own vision is all related. Even in music production it is the same
    combination of opposites, of working with machines to produce the organic
    sonds of music.
    Ever since we met Giger, we've thought of working together.
    Similar loves for science fiction, skulls, and pagan archetypes forged an
    automatic union. We remembered his posters in the late sixties when he was the first European psychedelic-poster artist. Then we knew of him as the artist of Alien. And we found out that Giger began listening to us while working on
    Alien in England. Our ascendance paralleled his as we simultaneously became
    aware of each other. So when the decision faced us to do the album cover, a
    phone call was made, arrangements were discussed, and Giger was on the job. From a head shot by English photographer Brian Aris, Giger did four massive airbrushed paintings, all of his own design. But that was only the beginning.
    We decided he would direct the promotional video made from two songs off the album and he chose them.  Giger is an industrial designer, which is very apparent to you the moment you step into his home. Even something as alien looking as his chairs is structurally sound.

    Audience member:We were talking about artwork, Debbie can you comment feedback you've had for the cover art of this album. It seems that it's pretty controversial... 
    Debbie Harry: Yes, erm, I'm pretty surprised by this, you know, sort of taking it personally, as if they were expecting you know, er spikes to be driven through their head or something, erm, and a lot of people there, I was really surprised, sort of a, serious erm, business people like DJs and stuff saying they want to know how I posed for the picture and stuff like that, I mean, sort of, sort of funny, I had to really explain this, a , a lot, this cover, more than, you know, more than any other cover obviously
    Lisa Robinson: In case anybody isn't familiar with the cover, Debby has acupuncture needles going through her head, and it was banned from where, the subway or something in London because
    Debbie Harry:Yes, trains
    Lisa Robinson: Because, kids might try to do it
    Debbie Harry:Yeah, the train stations in the, and they wouldn't advertise it on television either.
    Chris Stein: But you see the power of the printed word whereby, I heard somebody say England, see, everybody got, everybody over here got the word that the thing was banned in England when in reality it was only banned in the subway, and I don't know where that comes from but it just goes to show, you can't believe anything you hear in the media
    Lisa Robinson: Well, with some exceptions
    Chris Stein:Yeah
    (audience laughter)
    Audience member: But when you read it, it's the truth
    Lisa Robinson: Unless you know better
    Audience member: It becomes the truth, that's the terrible thing 
    Chris Stein: That's another course, but another, the album cover was very controversial, the record failed miserably, we didn't have a hit now, but that's not true. The record did okay, it went gold, but we didn't have a big hit from the record, unfortunately. It was number 6 in England
 (Deborah Harry & Chris Stein - The Class of '81)

No comments:

Post a Comment