I thank the music gods on a daily basis for somehow convincing the masses to start buying LPs again. Who’s to say how that actually happened, but I’d like to think the size of the record art and sleeve has a lot to do with it.
You can’t deny the greatness of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bookends” LP cover, a simply stated black and white image that would grace their last album of the 1960s, one created by the late legendary photographer, Richard Avedon.
Avedon was the reason I wanted to own a camera. I knew the man’s work well before I knew his name, a fact that continues to fascinate me to this day. I don’t know how the he did it, being able to squeeze out the essence of his subjects without even really trying (as far as I can tell…his work makes photography look easy), but he did. The curious gaze of Paul Simon (left) couple with the ‘I know I’m the shit’ stare of Art Garfunkel indeed makes this one of Avedon’s most important and provocative images of the 1960s, if not ever.
I would like to see some of the outtake images from this photo session, however that might take away some of the classicism of the album’s original image. What the hell am I saying…I’m sure the outtakes are just as good, which warrants that idea of “Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that photo session!”
The only comment I can make against the album’s cover is the use of the text at the bottom. The album didn’t need a title on the front to sell millions of copies, or to even let people know what it was they were looking upon. Avedon’s photo could do/did all of the hard work, as did the S&G’s work prior to this release. Without the text, the album’s cover would rival that of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” for title of ‘most-iconic-album-cover-of-all-time’. (I’ll challenge anyone to this argument at my favorite local pub, by the way.)
I wonder how well the album would be/ had been received if the photo had been taken in color? Would it be as striking, or does black and white film add the perfect amount of nostalgic perception? I could argue that the album would have a completely different feel if the cover had been in color. There is an ironic sense of innocence present in Avedon’s work here that might not be present in a color photo; an innocence long since devoid from two artists who were town criers, so to speak, during a monumental moment of historical, social and political change in America during the 1960s. Who better artist to reflect the faces of a couple of social spokespeople than Richard Avedon himself, an artist who did well to reflect the faces of those who were reflecting the mesmerizing change of the day.
I swear I could honestly write a book discussing my thoughts and feelings toward this album cover alone, which is something I might possibly do one day. However, the world at large should know and/or celebrate the greatness of this work of art, both visually and sonically. If the rebirth of the LP is here to stay, new artists could take a cue from “Bookends” and do their damnedest to try and come close to its importance in music history and popular culture. However, not to be a total pessimist or anything, but the photo world isn’t producing people like Richard Avedon anymore. At least, I don’t think so…