Thursday, June 23, 2011

Great Album Covers- Blonde On Blonde

Do yourself a favor sometime and go the Albums section of Bob Dylan's official site. A wall of images greets you, small thumbnails arranged in reverse chronological order. For a man who has more than half a dozen iconic covers under his belt--even the first Greatest Hits is iconic--the one that still sticks out to me is Blonde On Blonde.

During this time it was common for bands to appear on their covers. Sometime in the mid-60s, though, the true art of album covers took off. Sure, jazz artists sometimes used works of art as covers and the like, but pop musicians never before tried new things. The most interesting Beatles cover to me is not the busy-yet-lush-and-detailed Sgt. Pepper's one, but the ultra-minimalist White Album. In fact, if memory serves, it's the only cover they don't appear on.

So why then did I choose one in which the artist does appear? Well, for two reasons. One, Dylan may be on the cover but his name and the album's title aren't. This had to have been one of the first examples of a pop musician not having their name or album title on the cover; it's as if Dylan is trying to get beyond his name and its attached fame, trying to make you dig deeper into the music instead.

And the second reason? I just adore this picture. It's hazy and out of focus, belying the druggy/boozy music contained therein. I don't know when this picture was taken or why, and I want to keep that mystery. This has always been the irony of Dylan to me; I don't really want to know the "real" Dylan like so many do. I prefer the image and the mystery; I prefer the music and lyrics without direct explanations of who/what they're about. This is the sort of record cover that appeals to my imagination, by which I mean, I fill in the blanks myself.

To my mind, he has just emerged from a house with a bad hangover and wishes nothing more than to smoke a cigarette without it making him want to puke before he gets on his motorcycle to head to the recording studio. A press photographer from across a street spies him while getting a coffee at a diner, rushes outside, and snaps a few quick shots with shaky, anxious hands. It's like spotting Bigfoot and knowing you have mere moments to get a clear photo. Dylan squints, annoyed, and heads back inside, deciding to stay home instead. The photographer hurries back to his dark room and develops the photos, impatient all the while, but the only one even halfway usable is still a little out-of-focus and Dylan has a sour look on his face. Still, Dylan's two-fisted-son-of-a-bitch manager Albert Grossman tracks down the photographer's publication and sues to get the photos back. Dylan, in his usual contrarian way, loves the real-ness captured in the photo and decides to use it for his next album cover.

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