Cover StoryThe cover is called “Fuck Your Symbols” and I did it because I’ve always wanted to burn an American flag. Garett Holden took the picture while my best friend Peter and I set fire to everything. I got the flags from a creepy old street vendor who had crossed eyes and I bought two flags because they looked so cheap that I thought they would burn too quickly to photograph. While he searched the cardboard box in his van for the flags, he asked me where I was going to put them. I immediately said that I was going to send one to my mom and put the other up in my house, which was a blatant lie. He leaned into me and whispered, “You display this with pride. I did a year in the European theater in WWII and this flag is what America is all about. Let me tell you one quick story...” I wanted to tell him that I was planning to burn the flags and sell copies of the picture to degenerates like me, just so he would shut the fuck up. I got a face full of what I am guessing was whiskey and he said, “My buddy was fightin’ the Japs and he got shot in the back of the head and it [the bullet] came out through his eye. He lost sight in both eyes... [ten minutes of depressing, semi-coherent rambling excised]... Today that man is a minister! A blind minister!” To me it sounded like the biggest waste of a life, ever. From hired killer for his government to a blind, deluded stooge for religion. Boozy McStreetvendor thought it was supposed to be inspirational but it just sounded pathetic to me. As I gave him the $5 for both flags, I noticed that the packaging said the flags were made in China. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his symbol of freedom was probably made by a slave laborer in Communist China because I didn’t want to dispel his illusions. I would like to dispel your illusions because unlike that vendor, you can read, you bought this zine and I am hoping you that have a brain in your head. If not, please try InStyle.
To get the shot we took a flag and taped it to the handle of a Swiffer and then taped that to the top of a ladder. Peter and I stood on either side of the flag with rolled up newspapers and lit the bottom of the flag. Rather than burning up too quickly as I had feared, we merely burned a small hole from end to end at the bottom of the flag. It was tragic, so we sprayed the whole flag with lighter fluid. It still didn't burn very nicely and I was relieved that I had two flags to burn. I wanted the flag to be engulfed in flames so after we lit the flag, we moved our torches to the foreground to add more fire. After about a week of working on it in Photoshop to get it to look like I wanted, I decided that it sucked and we needed to do it again with a better flag.
I went to a shitty chain store called Odd Job and found a flag on a wooden pole for $15. I figured the pole would support the flag much better than the Swiffer handle (that I probably shouldn’t’ve used in the first place) and this time we could hang the flag perfectly straight. Before we burned the flag, we did a bunch of shots where we held our newspapers up near the camera with the flag in the background, to see if it made any difference and through the tiny screen on the camera, it was difficult to tell if it worked or not.
In the weeks between the shoots, I thought it would be a good idea on the second attempt if I stapled the flag to a piece of black construction paper, sprayed that paper with lighter fluid and then burned the whole thing. I figured in the low lighting conditions the flames would show through the flag and the black paper would help hide the background and keep the fire burning.
After the flag was lit, we moved our newspapers up to the camera again. We had a technical issue with the camera in that the files it generated were so large that it could only do them in bursts of 3, then it would have to write the data to the memory card for a few seconds and you couldn’t shoot until it finished. The newspapers started burning down to our hands, so we dropped them into a huge puddle and stomped on them while Garett kept shooting. The black paper burned really well and most of the flames on the cover are the paper burning, not the flag. At this point in the shoot Peter and I were really excited because it was burning really well. Peter’s brother-in-law Harris stood behind us with a fire extinguisher at the ready. At this point a car pulled into the alley where we were taking the picture but luckily they just stopped and let it burn.
Below is one of my favorite versions of the cover.