Jackets Required and a Secret History of Pavement’s Brighten the Corners
I love books about books, and books about book cover design in particular. Not long after I started here, in the late 1990s, I found one that is still a favorite of mine: Jackets Required: An Illustrated History of American Book Jacket Design 1920–1950, by Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast, published by Chronicle Books in 1995. The era it covers was a really exciting time for illustrated jackets, featuring work by Alvin Lustig, Arthur Hawkins Jr., and Paul Rand, among many other greats, and it’s the kind of book I can pore over endlessly.
Sometime shortly after, I bought a CD (it was the late 1990s) of Pavement’s Brighten the Corners, still one of my favorite records of theirs no matter what anyone else says. I had probably just put on the CD again and was looking at Jackets Required for the hundredth time when I recognized the snake from the record cover from the jacket for William Carlos Williams’ A Voyage to Pagany on page 67.
Then, wait a minute, those eyes from the album cover are right there on the jacket for As I Look at Life on page 37.
And the little figures in the corner are from The Circus of Doctor Lao on page 58.
So unless the band has an enviable collection of first edition illustrated jacket hardcovers from the 1930s (maybe: they seem like literary guys), they must have used our book to create their album cover. The idea that one of my favorite bands had cut up one of my favorite books was weirdly thrilling. Although of course cutting up books is bad. Very, very bad. But here: exciting! And sure enough, all the other features of the album artwork come from sources in the book, except for the title lettering and the photos of the band.
I was especially (nerdily) interested to see that the roof lines of the houses on the back cover, which look like low res computer graphics, are actually rendered that way on the book cover source. The album design is uncredited, so I’m not sure who created the artwork, but it’s fun to know that someone in the band was inspired by one of my favorite books.
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