When you look at the sky, what do you see?
Dreams? Distant stars? A comforting vastness of possibilities dwarfing your troubles?
Or maybe you see pigs fly.
..Yes, well good for you. You’ve been at the thinners again. And as I’ve said before, that stuff is just for paint brushes, mate – gimme that.
But while we’re tarting up our metaphysical scenery here, what images does music paint for you?
There is a word the music industry would rather no-one ever mentioned. Though I think I mention it all the time. And you‘d rather I stopped mentioning it. Because it pricks the bubble of romance that the entire industry is built on – and the notion of building anything industrial on the petal pink fancies of romance ruins everything, so hush that thought, you clumsy oaf. And don’t say that word. Credibility. Bugger.
It’s the word that everything in the business of selling records is built on, ‘credibility’. It’s relative, kind of – but the very coolest of cats always seem to have universal credibility, don’t they? Which everyone knows when they see. ..Dippy white boys from Bournemouth do not – they have to sweat feverishly at trying to work out what the hell it is, while others breeze into a recording studio and grunt their instant qualification with some inarticulate magic about them. This is how gifting is handed out; some people can simply see magic eye posters. Or understand why JLS splitting up has any meaning.
But if credibility is the ugly diesel engine under the floorboards, there is something else that is the parabolic observation roof it thrums along to open with mechanical majesty.
Music is meant to get you staring at the sky. Wondering. Dreaming. Forgetting real life. Or seeing it differently. ..Hoping. If the magicians at their instruments are to stand a hope of suspending your baddass cynical disbelief, however, they had better be credibly sorcerery. God-like in their spell casting. Creating such a first impression that you want to stop and listen at all. So credibility is sort of the animatronics behind the curtain of the music industry, but I for one don’t want to look. Like I’d know it if it leapt from behind the curtain and tore my throat out anyway.
Yet, the greatest illusionists, like the greatest servants of humanity, are the invisible ones.
Every band has members you don’t see. Phil who drives the bus. Martine who convinces thirty venues from Portsmouth to Port Stanley to part with a timeslot for her ragged band of squabbling indie brothers. Whole sailing ships of crew taking Columbus over the edge of the world. Terry Gilliam in Monty Python.
Storm Thorgerson in Pink Floyd.
Music needs no help at all in putting ideas into your imagination. But putting the idea of a music artist or band into your imagination takes more than music.
When you are thinking of Pink Floyd, you are really thinking of the graphic work of Storm Thorgerson.
One of the most iconic album images of all time is, of course, the cover to Dark Side Of The Moon. That was his work. And the two men shaking hands, one of whom is on fire, on the back cover of Wish You Were Here – Thorgerson’s art direction again. But his qualification to be called the unseen member of the band – though I don’t know if anyone ever called him this directly, perhaps since Syd Barrett seemed to corner this role early – is built from more than a couple of nice bits of work. For one thing, he went to school with founder members Barrett and Waters and was also teen chums with David Gilmour. These guys knew each other as people.
But the truth of his work for Pink Floyd especially is that he built a whole visual language around the group’s music. He articulated the idea of them, while they were articulating all kinds of musical ideas. A brand – an impression, a perception – built on the edgy credibility of a certain surrealism. A questioning. And what is teenage music meant to be if not a protest or a statement or a questioning of the status quo? Which is why Status Quo’s band name is a bit ironic, you might say. But you’re being mean.
His work famously reflects modernist icons like Man Ray and Dali – as appropriate as I can think, not just because these artists were questioning our ways of seeing, which any edgy progressive band worth its salt would wish to be seen to do, but because they themselves were blurring the lines between art and stunt. Dali was as much showman, making self-conscious teases of modern art as he was instinctive artist. And Thorgerson, studying film and TV as well as literature, understood the language of advertising and visual communication so well, his work is a blur between art and design.
In the days when information on and evidence of your favourite band was rare as production photos of your favourite science fiction show, the LP cover wound open the parabolic roof over your head. With nothing other than it to focus on, in 1973 you’d have strapped into your favourite headphones on your parents’ record player and lost yourself in the sonic playground of wonder that Pink Floyd painted across your mind. But all the while, you’d be staring at the images across the varnished cardboard that you carried the vinyl home in, looking for clues. Hints of meaning. Left ambiguously incomplete, like true art – porous, for your own dreams.
Seeing one of these iconic covers, large, in a record store rack, or in poster form on the wall, you’d have stopped in your tracks to gaze and want. It would make you pick up the musical work of the band. Only then, once Storm had done his job, would Gilmour and Waters and the musicians take over. It would be up to them then – you’d only go back to live in that sonic world again if they’d done their job. But if Storm never had, you’d never have known either way.
Mercifully, all members of the band did their work. Together they created wonder and myth. Helping eachother paint landscapes of a particular attitude that won legions of loyal fans and fellow wonderers. All of who collectively created far more meaning and potential in those images and those sounds than the band themselves ever had in their minds when instinctively writing.
Storm Thorgerson was in demand in the 70s especially and is responsible for a dizzying host of successfully well-known LP designs, right up until the last few years. He even made music videos. His health caught up with him last week, however, and he died on April 18.
I’m tempted to say that the greatest artists are prolific. Probably because they are restlessly driven to explore. Thorgerson seemed so and as such his body of work is a testimony to this true motivation behind all great creativity and, indeed, wonder. The romantic bit is the real bit – however much the record companies need people like Thorgerson to bring alive the marketing of their latest four-piece commodity, the best graphic artists will be a true band member – inspired by the same creative instinct and vision as those wielding instruments, not cameras or pencils.
Storm Thorgerson said he liked to mess with reality. To bend it. If, worldly wise as you are now, when you consider your teenage dreams of music you ask yourself jadedly: What is real, and what isn’t?… you’re still playing right into his hands.
Go on, look up. That IS a pig flying.