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Published: 2005/07/07
by Pat Buzby

Featured Column:Album Covers

The blessing and curse of the internet is that it never closes. That doesn't mean that it offers up something useful every day quite the opposite at times. But there's always the potential, so it's necessary to take extreme measures to resist its lure.

One of the internet’s surprise attacks came a few weekends ago when someone posted these links (http://porktornado.diaryland.com/albumcover.html and its sequel, http://porktornado.diaryland.com/covers2.html) on the Grateful Dead newsgroup. Kudos to the unknown person/people who compiled these images and the Pork Tornado (not Fishman’s band, I take it) gentleman who added his comments, even if they do seem focused a bit much on the, err, homoerotic overtones (undertones?) of some of them. (And, to add some jamband content, I must agree with the guy on that group who was indignant that Go To Heaven didn’t make the cut.)

Looking at twenty of these in a row makes it clear that there’s a certain mastery, a sense for the combination of elements (typography, title, backdrop, extraneous stuff like price tags, not forgetting the clothing, hairstyles and facial expressions of the people themselves) that’s necessary to arrive at the perfect bad album cover. It reminded me of the New Yorker’s current contest where they run one of their potentially hilarious single panel cartoons minus a caption, leaving it to the readers to complete the joke. The message that has emerged from this contest is that a certain type of humor requires professional skill. (Related to this, perhaps, is that it seems from the funny papers that the surest route to a desperately _un_funny cartoon is to imitate the Far Side.)

Admittedly, after a look or two most of these images lose their interest. There are a few examples of 80’s post-P-Funk black tastelessness, a few examples of various eras of white pop/rock tastelessness, and a couple of 50s attempts to address the question of physical deformities which, I suspect, didn’t quite work as intended. The Reverend In Rhythm is actually kind of cool, especially since I’ve known of a few preachers who had worse delusions than thinking they could be Frank Sinatra. A few, though, hang onto their power, perhaps none more than the peculiar scenario of Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday, which gets sicker the more you think about it. (Fitting that a web search on John Bult yields no information other than several other references to this cover.)

The last two, though, provide some food for thought beyond the whole matter of album art. Take All My Friends Are Dead. Now, this looks like a country record, so presumably this is someone’s idea of a tug at the heartstrings. The result is not so much depressing as perplexing, though. I mean, I’m not a very social type, but my friends are scattered in enough diverse places that I don’t think I’ll outlive them all unless I live to be 90, and perhaps then I’ll have picked up a few new pals at the nursing home.

Or another thought it’s probably from sometime in the 60’s, so maybe this guy and his schoolmates shipped out to Vietnam and he was the only one who made it home. But I see from the e-mail followups to the web posting that the singer is now a televangelist type and aren’t those guys usually pro-war?

Most thought-provoking of all, though, is the final offering Jim Post’s I Love My Life. Now, I don’t know about you, but I find a shower to be one of the purest moments of unadulterated pleasure that an average day has to offer. Trying to share such personal moments to the world, though, puts a weight on most of them that they can’t bear. It’s a cautionary tale. (Did Paul McCartney ever see this cover? Or John Fogerty, who I gather is now prone to writing love songs to his kids?)

Two cautionary tales in one, it turns out. I see that Post’s grandson tells us that the cover came about because Post’s record company liked the photo and Post "didn’t care[;]he just wanted to make music." A lot of bad things can happen to guys who "just want to make music," but telling them doesn’t work. They can’t let go of the fantasy of recording one or two of the best rock albums of all time on the way to OD’ing or blowing their heads off or getting a million bucks in the hole with their record label. Perhaps this cover might do the trick. The next time your friend signs a contract without reading it or thinks of giving some local dude who knew Soundgarden before they made it a cut of his gig money, tell him to consider that the result might not be a rockin’ "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but perhaps something closer to a jubilant "I Love My Life."

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