The Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl” video features Joe Jack Talcum singing in the Rotunda as Rodney Anonymous walking around the cellblocks of ESP reading a newspaper

Most Philadelphians are familiar with Fairmount’s massive landmark Eastern State Penitentiary. The looming structure, which closed in 1971 after 142 years as a prison, reopened in 1994 for guided tours, and has since become a destination for thrill-seekers during Bastille Day and Halloween season. However, beyond the zombie-fied chaos, the space itself offers an amazing backdrop for, well, anything.  We decided to look back at a few ways musicians and other visual artists have used ESP over the last few decades.


Tina Turner

Tina Turner, “One of The Living” (1985)

“One of The Living,” oh man. Sweat isn’t the only thing glistening in this video- check out those studs on Turner’s guitar strap.This cheesy video is 80s-tastic—dizzying zoom shots, a hazy fog for spook effect, and Turner’s iconic bedhead look. You might recognize some of the film clips in the video from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (also 1985),which starred Mel Gibson and featured The Queen of Rock herself. Turner’s primary stance was filmed in the center of the prison, where the cell block hallways converge.

The Dead Milkmen, “Punk Rock Girl” (1988)

What’s more punx than an abandoned prison? This video’s actually quite charming, following a young Joe Jack Talcum’s whirlwind romance with, none other than, a punk rock girl. This video views more like a blooper reel as the band goofs off while filming at the prison, and shows the couple on a John Waters-esque series of escapades through Philly. This song, arguably the band’s most well-known, was released on the band’s Beelzebubba album.

Whitney Peyton, “Crazy” (2010)

You might have heard us buzzing about Peyton earlier this year when she took home the 2014 Tri State Indie award for “Emerging Indie Hip-Hop Artist of The Year.” In this video for her 2010 single “Crazy,” a strait-jacketed Peyton funks things up in the penitentiary, playing the part of an asylum patient going beserk. Oddly enough, this isn’t the only time Peyton has played a part in a jail cell; Peyton appeared as a roughed-up inmate in Cover (2007), a dramatic thriller starring Vivica A. Fox. Peyton is currently touring with the electropop duo Blood On The Dance Floor– sadly no Philly dates on this tour but we hope she’ll return to her hometown soon!

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

Kanye West (2013)

Yeezy spared nothing to promote his critically-acclaimed 2013 album Yeezus. Part of his marketing campaign included nighttime projections of himself rapping the single “New Slaves” on sides of buildings in major cities throughout the world, and in May 2013 his face lit up the side of Eastern State. Love the guy or hate the guy, say what you will, but this move was an innovative way to make (more) people pay attention.

There have also been some non music-related but equally cool visual projects shot at this location as well.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

12 Monkeys (1996)

This ’90s sci-fi flick (adapted from the 1965 film La Jetee) follows post-apocalyptic Bruce Willis time travelling from the year 2035 to 1990 (his intended destination was the year 1996). Held in a mental instituion (where the film makes use of Eastern State), Willis encounters Brad Pitt’s character, a devoted animal rights activist. This film veers from the horror genre but will leave viewers in the wake of existential questions about the fate of humanity. Scary.

Return to Paradise (1998)

In this movie, Vince Vaughn plays a thrill-chaser whose close friend lands in trouble with the Malaysian justice system. He and Anne Heche embark on a trip to Malaysia to square the issues away, but find themselves implicated in the problem as well. If the Southeast Asian prison looks familiar to you, it’s because it’s really our very own Eastern State Penitentiary.

“Scariest Places on Earth” Season 1, Episode 2; 2:08-10:12 ; SOME CONTENT MAY BE FRIGHTENING

I mean, it was a massive prison in use from 1829 to 1971- did you really expect that it not to end up on “Scariest Places of Earth?” However, even after watching this excursion into the fortress, I still think the yearly Terror Behind the Walls is waaaay creepier than the “evidence” this episode’s demonologist claims to find. If you want, check it out for yourself, but consider this a word of caution to the easily frightened.