Speaking as a student of computer science, these articles make me very sad because I grew up reading books/magazines and I believe there is just so much missing from devices like the Kindle. The fun of collecting, admiring, the artistic touches that cannot be accurately conveyed digitially, even going as far as that new book smell that all added to the experience of reading a new novel is just being taken out piece by piece. It will be a lonelier generation of readers that do not get to enjoy books like they were meant to be.Another friend of mine privately emailed me some months back when discussing the Kindle. He views it as "pure evil." But then, he clips newspapers for a living. And yeah, it's kind of the buggywhip manufacturer's critique of the automobile. OTOH, he has a point--what happens when the last newspaper disappears into the 'net? (OR THE LAST LAWBOOK!!?!?!)
A taste of what we could lose can be demonstrated by what is today already a lost art: the album cover.
I love album covers.
Album art is lost to us; it was shrunk to irrelevance when the CD became the dominant form of music distribution; now it's disappeared completely now that we legally (I should hope) download music via ITunes or whatever. Back in the day, though, the images on those 12'' x 12'' squares would burn into the brain.
Back when I was in school I'd sit on the floor of the living room at my home at 28300 Gladstone, listening to LPs while holding a stack of three or four in my lap, using them as a desk for writing school assignments while I cranked jams. Even today, my lovingly preserved LP collection has what can best be described as embossed artifacts of my handwriting from those days 35(!) years ago.
Some of those albums are still so impressed in my memory that I was able to pick a good solid dozen off of the top of my head as purely awesome. Here they are, in no particular order....
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON - PINK FLOYD
Let's start with an unabashed classic. This moebus strip of a cover--the light beam exiting the one edge reenters the same edge at the same spot on the back, giving your average teenaged burnout the incentive to keep turning the album in his hands while the acid kicks in--is a classic of its kind. Simple, clean, plain, with a striking design. Only the really, really annoying sticker in the upper right (which thankfully came off with the cover plastic) detracted from the effect. A great cover to the greatest album ever made.
COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING - KING CRIMSON
The original, ur-ELP band, King Crimson, produced only one memorable song, but that song is the brilliant title track, which manages to evoke a score or more archetypal fairy-tale characters with a single line of description each. And this horror is either one of the greatest covers ever created, or one of the worst: I still haven't decided which yet.
TARKUS - EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER
The art on the cover supposedly was connected with the names of the songs on the album within; the armadillo-tank thingie with the guns is the Tarkus; and as Wikipedia usefully states, "The inner gatefold sleeve features a sequence of pictures depicting battles between Tarkus and other half-mechanical creatures, until its eventual defeat by a manticore - the only creature in the tale that is wholly organic. "Tarkus" is then shown as a defeated shell in "Aquatarkus". The band later named its own record company Manticore Records."
I always thought these critters would have made awesome AD&D monsters. Maybe they did.
BRAIN SALAD SURGERY - EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER
HR Giger created what is probably one of the most disturbing album covers ever made. The following from his web site puts it very well:
The album cover is considered one of the most memorable (and often disturbing) of its time. It features distinctive Giger monochromatic biomechanical artwork, integrating an industrial mechanism with a human skull and the new ELP logo (created by Giger). The lower part of the skull's face is covered by a circular 'screen', which shows the mouth and lower face in its flesh-covered state. In the original LP release, the front cover was split in half down the center, except for the circular screen section (which was attached to the right half). Opening the halves revealed a painting of the complete face: a human female (modelled after Giger's wife), with 'alien' hair and multiple scars, including the infinity symbol and a scar from a frontal lobotomy. The two images of the woman are very similar, but the outer image (in the circle) contains what appears to be the top of a phallus below her chin, arising from the 'ELP' column below (the second painting originally had the complete phallus, but this was removed at the insistence of the record company)."At the insistence of the record company"? Yikes. Yathink??!?!! Until I started doing this article, I had no idea that 'Brain Salad Surgery' was 70s slang for what we now call 'The Full Monica.' Apparently the phrase is also used in the Dr. John classic, "Right Place Wrong Time." You learn something every day, although you can't always share that something with your kids....
MOLLY HATCHET - LIVE
I remember seeing a movie somewhere about a heavy metal rock group that was described as "not bad for a two umlaut band." Molly Hatchet, though certifiably umlaut-free, likely qualifies on that score. The album cover above, however, is unforgettable--the horse-riding baddie obviously being the unnatural love child of Conan the Bavarian and the King of the Nazgul. Scary dude.
BAT OUT OF HELL - MEAT LOAF SONGS BY JIM STEINMAN
I make a point of including the Jim Steinman part simply because the best part of Meat Loaf songs were always the surprisingly intelligent lyrics. Steinman deserved rock stardom but never quite got the credit he deserved for his creations on his own. Like another lost genius, Lester Bangs, he should be remembered. And the cover above certainly leaves an impression.
WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY - MOTHERS OF INVENTION
WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY - MOTHERS OF INVENTION (INNER(?) COVER)
One of Cal Schenckel's earliest creations, this brilliant parody of the Dr. Pepper's cover was so spot on that a judge supposedly ordered the album to be released with the inner cover on the outside so that nobody would buy it thinking it was The Beatles. (As if....)
My brother's copy had a second voice balloon added to Frank's sneering "Is This Phase One Of Lumpy Gravy?" The added voice balloon read as follows: "No but this album belongs to MARK R and nameless maladictions shall pursue the unauthorized malapropriator!" He gave it to me as a present; today, somewhere in Lansing, Michigan, that copy languishes in someone else's album collection. I had to sell it to a collector store in 1986 because I wanted to eat. I've regretted it ever since.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL - FRANK ZAPPA
For pure strangeness, little or nothing can top this one. The intergalactic sofa, the clockwork planets, the finger of God setting Saturn to spin--pure Frank (and Cal Schenkel) at their finest.
YELLOW SHARK - FRANK ZAPPA
Technically this doesn't count (it's from the tape version and I don't know if this album was released on vinyl.) Still: his final and IMHO greatest album; I include the otherwise ordinary cover picture as it clearly shows Frank in the last days of his cancer. You can see the suffering etched into his face. (I saw a TV interview with him, available here on Youtube, which shows how the cancer had changed him--and had transformed him to something I would almost describe as angelic if it weren't so Zappaesque to describe Frank as an angel.) One of the greatest disappointments of my life is that I will never see him play with the New York Philharmonic at Kennedy Center in his 80s.
WHIPPED CREAM AND OTHER DELIGHTS - HERB ALPERT AND THE TIJUANA BRASS
Easily the second most obscene album cover ever made (the first one is the notorious original BLIND FAITH album cover; no, I'm not going to post it as I don't want to go to prison in today's paranoid day and age). I'm surprised this one got by the censors. You don't have to be Freud to figure out why. (Although it is depressing to consider that the model, Dolores Erickson, is now 73 and certainly collecting Social Security....)
TO OUR CHILDRENS' CHILDRENS' CHILDREN - THE MOODY BLUES
Supposedly an album honoring man's landing on the moon. Brillian concept, caveman painting on a wall an image of a man carrying a rifle. What would reduce us to such a state where cave painting is again an active art? Beautiful.
BREAKFAST IN AMERICA - SUPERTRAMP
Supertramp's magnum opus had also their greatest album cover. I never imagined you could reproduce the New York skyline with the contents of the breakfast section of your local grocery store, and the image of the Statue of Liberty as an orange juice carrying waitress-of-a-certain-age is a wonderful conceit. The background Twin Towers as a couple of flimsy cerial boxes is painfully prophetic--alas.
AL STEWART - YEAR OF THE CAT
And finally, the album cover that inspired this otherwise pointless collection. A HIPGNOSIS special, it portrays a woman who is, ahem, fixated on felines. I especially like the cat logo in the lower lefthand corner.
Anyway. I'm sure my readers have their faves. Send 'em in (except the one of the girl with the airplane!); I'll be glad to do a followup entry.....