A highpoint of my recent trip to Chicago was spending time with my brother. Hanging out with him for a few hours on that chilly Chicago evening, I was in my element. He drove me around his town in his new Honda Fit (I envy!) and we talked about music, work and life in general.
At one point, we ventured into a record store and browsed and talked music for a good hour or so. I hadn't talked music like this since I hung out with some Tom Waits fans before his Ryman show last summer. It's what I miss most about my record store clerk days. I'd clock in and stock those longboxed CDs all night long. Every workplace conversation (with co-workers and customers alike) was the same wonderful topic: Music, and not limited to any one genre; oh, how I learned and taught so much back then.
My brother and I, driving around along Lake Shore Drive, found ourselves discussing the (ever increasing?) demise of album cover art. I remember well my dad showing me Steely Dan album covers and Yes album covers when I was so young. To think that a Roger Dean won't have the medium of music to showcase his artistic talents seems a shame to me. I even remember holding my first album (ELO's Greatest Hits) and studying its very simple cover (a gold medal as I recall) and appreciating it as a part of the cool experience of what I was hearing on my turntable.
"Paradise Theater" by Styx was another one of those that I spent hours taking in as something very important. There on the front was that Paradise Theater in its heyday, all lights shining brightly and crowds of people arriving for the "Gala Premiere" as its marquee indicated with such luminosity. Flip to the back cover and a different image of the same theater some years later was pictured in its sad demise. With windows broken and litter on the empty street before it, the marquee now informed any potential passersby that it was "Temporarily Closed."
The stories weren't just in the songs; they were on the album covers as well. Now, the story is not that album covers seem to be less and less important in this digital age, but that there is a whole generation of music buyers who don't understand why anyone would care about its demise. It's about the music, right? What does a picture have to do with whether or not a song (or collection of songs) is any good? The thing is, I guess there is a good point in that. It's time for me to take my spot on the old fogey soapbox and rant about how the present is not as good as the past, at least as far as album covers are concerned.
Here I am with my iPod. It's a Mini so there is no picture screen. I don't even get the tiny jpeg image to squint at. I could have more space for more artists on it, but along the same lines of my old-school ways, I only put entire albums on it. Even if I only really like a few songs from an album, I put the whole thing on there because I feel that the artists worked too hard on their albums to only have a song or two remembered. But that's another rant for another day.
My brother and I were of the opinion that there was dwindling hope for the continued appreciation of the album cover. (Don't get us started on liner notes!) Today, however, I came across an article stating otherwise in Wired magazine. The author writes about designers doing their part to keep the covers cool and relevant with Flash Lite. Here's the link: Designers Work to Rescue a Dying Art Form -- the Album Cover
(I recommend reading this while eating barbecue at Mothership BBQ in Nashville. All cool restaurateurs should decorate their walls with old album covers like this guy.)