Art + Design

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.
Pavement Brighten the Corners Cover
A Voyage to Pagany
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.
As I Look at Life
And the little figures in the corner are from The Circus of Doctor Lao on page 58.
Dr Lao
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.
CD Back Cover
The White Panthers and Black Oxen
Open CD Booklet
Granville SharpCD Booklet Back and Tray
A Passionate Rebel
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.

Steve Mockus
Senior Editor

Steve Mockus

Steve Mockus

Steve Mockus is a senior editor in the entertainment group at Chronicle Books.
Steve Mockus

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9 Comments

  • Kristin Anderson December 18, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Very cool article. Brighten the Corners is one of my all time favorite albums as well….. Great to see where the artwork originated… Good work!

    Reply

  • Emee July 20, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Steve, I really thank you for writing this article!
    I am a Pavement fan too. They are cryptic and the one and only band.
    Probably SM would do such bad thing cutting up the book. I am only echeloning my dream though!
    I enjoyed your article so much. Every time I looked at album jackets of Pavement I wanted to know who did those art works! I feel so fine now and I can go and make morning coffee.
    Because when I woke up this morning I typed it in as I was putting on Brighten the corners.
    ”who did the art work of Pavements album jackets?” onto Google. I am glad to come here to read.

    ARIGATOU!!

    Reply

  • Ignacio July 31, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    Hi Steve

    Great article!, i love Pavement and the Brighten the Corners cover art is one of my favourite, also i was looking for the person who made it and i found your article, so thanks for this.

    Reply

    • Steve Mockus August 1, 2018 at 10:54 am

      Hi Ignacio,

      I’m so glad you found the piece and found it interesting! It’s one of my favorite of their records too, one I listen too maybe more than any of the others these days….

      Reply

    • Baltimore Walker May 20, 2019 at 8:24 am

      Also trying to find album cover artist for Brighten the Corners. V cool to learn it came from a book from Chronicle.(I worked as a buyer for card and gift shops and Chronicle’s books were a great seller.) Love Pavement, finally saw them in VIP at Pitchfork, bucket list checked.
      **as an artist, cutting the book to create even more great art makes perfect sense

      Reply

      • Steve Mockus May 20, 2019 at 11:36 am

        Hi Baltimore,

        It makes me really happy whenever someone finds this article, thanks for the note! I’m a Bay Area native and had a chance to see them, too, which I’m also grateful for, but missed them during the Gary-handing-out-cabbages era, alas.

        Reply

  • Paul KS September 30, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    Love this article. BTC artwork has always been one my faves!

    Reply

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