By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
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Still, with his well-publicized taste for pornography and books of straight and gay erotica, an area no other major art-book publisher has dabbled in, Taschen is likely to remain the bad boy of illustrated publishing. Unlike any other publishers in the field, he and his wife have given the Taschen imprint a strikingly personal touch. Photographs of the Taschens, separately or together, are featured prominently in their catalogs, along with pictures of parties at the Chemosphere. (In one, Angelika can be seen dancing wildly with Kelley.) The impression is of a fashionable couple enjoying a fabulous lifestyle with the occasional time-out to publish books. In fact, both Taschen and his wife — whom he considers an equal partner in the enterprise — work extremely hard.
"Taschen knows everything about the company," Heimann says. "He could probably tell you what they're serving for lunch at the Cologne office tomorrow. He's very hands-on. There's nothing that doesn't go through him. But he also has lots of people giving him ideas, including his wife. He roams around — Cannes, Italy, Spain, London, Cologne — but it's always work-related. He works nonstop. With the amount of involvement he has with the publishing house, he has to. And I think he derives tremendous enjoyment from that."
"I always did it because I liked it," Taschen says when I ask him how he accounts for his astonishing success. "I never did anything as business because of business. It's not that I don't like business. It's the opposite — I love it. But I only love it if I like what I'm doing. And I think, for me, and I can say the same thing for my wife, it's impossible to do something because of money. First of all, I think it does not work" — he laughs — "because people are not so stupid. Maybe it works once or twice, but after that they see or feel where it comes from. I only respect people in business if they make money with quality, because there is no reason to do it otherwise. If you make lousy things all day long, it's not good. Mentally, it will bring something of a disorder."
Taschen speaks scathingly of publishers who create focus groups — "10 assholes in a row" — to find out what the public is after. "You never get anything interesting out of this, especially when it comes to taste. Because, first of all, most people have no taste." He picks up a copy of Exquisite Mayhem, a large-format book about apartment wrestling filled with bodacious women in bikinis stomping on one another in sleazy settings. "If you show this to 10 different people, nobody will say, 'Yes, this is exactlywhat we've been waiting for!'"
The way he says this cracks me up. When I've finished laughing, he leans forward and says, "Now tell me more about this sauna."
It's a late night in Hollywood, and I'm tailing Taschen's car en route to an obscure karaoke bar, where we are going for dinner, wondering how much faster he'd drive without a journalist behind him. At Thai Hollywood we are joined by Andy, the German designer working on the Ali book, who's wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Clint Eastwood on it. Taschen orders a round of Sapporo beer, chicken satay and a spicy fish soup. Along with Musso & Frank, this is one of his favorite L.A. eateries. "People are making fun of me because I always choose B-graded restaurants," he says, chuckling. "I didn't even know there was a grading system."
As Jim Heimann said, Taschen works pretty much all the time. "It's hard to say what's not business," he answers when I ask him how he spends his leisure time in L.A. "It's all mixed together." Even now, at the restaurant, he eagerly examines a sheaf of proofs of the Ali book Andy has brought over from the office. "If there were an Oscar for books, this book would get 10!" he says, delighted with what he sees.
"Are you a big reader?" I ask.
"I can't imagine a life without books," he replies. "I read many biographies. I also love to read fiction when I am not being disturbed." On Taschen's current reading list is Dostoyevsky's The Gambler, a biography of Truman Capote, and the diaries of Hitler's secretary — "She wanted to become a dancer," Taschen says. He's also reading a memoir by Chairman Mao's personal physician. "You can't imagine how banal it all was," he says. "If Mao was going on a trip, they built up all this fakery so everything looked very prosperous. And this guy spent most of his time lying in bed with young girls!"
Feeling relaxed and enjoying his time in a city he loves, Taschen is in an expansive mood. "After a few months in Cologne, I feel terribly bored, like a hamster," he says. But L.A. is different. By his third beer, he's even singing along to the karaoke songs. "If you're going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear flowers in your hair," he croons as the ancient Scott McKenzie number booms from the speakers. Andy tells me that Taschen holds an annual party in Cologne for all the staff members from the company's various offices. This year, he says, they had a karaoke contest.