Lascivious lasses of the LPs

The long-lost women of vintage album covers take us into a weird and idiotic sexual world.

By Gary Kamiya

Published March 22, 2002 8:49PM (EST)

The house of sex has many mansions, but few of them are genuinely silly. Eroticism and goofiness just don't go together, as a general rule: Henry Miller's "laughing cunt" is not something one encounters every day. Nor does sex often come in unfathomably odd packaging. From the lifelike gyrations of Britney Spears, that orifice-free blow-up doll designed for the Age of Ashcroft, to the absurdly cropped humping broadcast on the Playboy Channel, signifiers of eros are all too familiar now. This is a pity: Today, more than ever, a jaded America needs not just ridiculous sex, but sex that is totally inscrutable.

Which is where "Vixens of Vinyl" comes in.

The vixens of vinyl are those peculiar dames who graced the covers of old albums, fabulous beyond-irony albums like "Jackie Gleason Presents Music to Remember Her" and "101 Strings' Italian Hits" and "Shep Fields and his Orchestra's Cocktails Dinner and Dancing." A frightening and delightful collection of these women is served up in an eponymous and witty little volume by Benjamin Darling, published by those slick graphic packagers over at Chronicle Books.

These women come from an unknown sexual asteroid. Even if they look 16, they all seem incredibly old. Is it the archaic bouffants? The strange, lurid lighting? The unreadable facial expressions? The weird combination of some long-lost code of sexual come-on and the sheer corniness of that era? The fact that many of them do not conform in the least to the cookie-cutter mold of high-cheekboned beauty that is now de rigueur for sex symbols? That some, in fact, are borderline sleazy? That one or two are pretty much butt-ugly? That the cheesy innocence of the whole concept of these cocktail-Casanova albums is heartbreaking and pure and forever lost? Whatever, it's their unfathomableness, their sheer, irreducible oddness, that makes these women so memorable. They are a mercifully unknown pocket of sexuality, an archaeological dig in a Barbie factory, filled with stupid mystery.

Gary Kamiya

Gary Kamiya is a Salon contributing writer.

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