Friday, June 11, 2010

Exploring Cover Art: Lowell George's Thanks I'll Eat It Here

Libraries of books have been written on this subject, but that’s not going to stop me. In a new (whenever the mood strikes me) series, I’m going to explore my relationship with album cover art….

As we rapidly accelerate into a digital only world, I’m worried bands are going to put even less thought into their album cover artwork. Being a lifelong music collector, album covers have often influenced my purchasing decision. When I was in junior high, I might have never discovered the Dead Kennedys if it weren’t for that twisted image on the front of Plastic Surgery Disasters.

But it can work both ways. For years I’d see copies of Little Feat records and quickly go right past them. I had no idea what the music sounded like, but based on the cover art, I was confident that it sucked (admittedly a very superficial rush to judgment). But fairly recently all that changed. For the first time in ages, I heard Lowell George’s “20 Million Things” on the radio and it clicked. I immediately picked up George’s Thanks I’ll Eat It Here and have subsequently bought several early (Lowell George fronted) Little Feat records.

The man responsible for the Thanks I’ll Eat It Here cover as well as those Little Feat covers is Neon Park. Park’s first “big” album art job was doing the cover for the Mothers of Invention’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh (Lowell George was the rhythm guitarist). It was controversial at the time and has since become an iconic cover.

After George left Mothers of Invention, he formed Little Feat. He didn’t use Neon Park for the first Little Feat record, but used him thereafter. Park’s designs were frequently inspired by other images (for example, Weasels Ripped My Flesh was inspired by a Man’s Life cover; Sailin’ Shoes by Fragonard’s “The Swing” and Dixie Chicken by a lipstick ad).

The jarring thing about this collaboration is that there’s no obvious relationship between Park’s art and George’s music (other than occasional humor in George’s lyric). In very basic terms it’s surrealism, social commentary and bright vs. soulful, laid back and pastoral. The background of the cover for Thanks I’ll Eat It Here is inspired by Manet’s “The Lunch on the Grass.” In place of the family figures in Manet’s painting, Park inserted Marlene Dietrich, Fidel Castro and Bob Dylan (and they’ve got a copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl lying open beside them).

It all gives me a little cognitive dissonance. What do you guys think? Do you like?

1 comment:

Satisfied '75 said...

I love Lowell and Little Feat, and I too was thrown off by the cover art back in the day.

In regards to this LP, I love the Dylan sitting on the lawn.