Cover versions.

American democracy is not well … but it did not receive the burking yesterday that a lot of people thought it might, so for that I am quietly grateful.

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Fifty years ago today, numerous American newspapers carried a wire item reporting on the unusual death of a 22-year-old disc jockey in Oregon. Michael D. Roberts of KYXI took his own life (off-mic) in the middle of a predawn shift on November 8, leaving the station transmitting silence.

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Another of my Bandcamp recordings will be along in the very near future, and this past weekend I spent some time on a step in the process that usually comes last — album cover design.

This basically consists of me combing my Flickr account for pictures that can be used or abused in some fashion … and the name of the album sometimes changes over the course of the cover design process, based on the pictures I decide to play with.

(This depends on whether there are lyrics and/or an overarching theme to influence the process. Ontario Queen of the Lakes, an album of songs more or less inspired by Rochester, was always gonna be Ontario Queen of the Lakes; it wasn’t gonna suddenly become, say, Buick Implosion Superstar. But most of my other crap — er, stuff lends itself more freely to artistic interpretation.)

This upcoming album began life as Bargain Arse, then mutated wildly through American Excitations, Unlimited Pleasure, Foul Ground and Please Come In. I’ll tell you the final title, and show you the final cover, in a day or two. (I’m not holding off because I think anyone cares; it’s just ’cause I haven’t made the album live yet.)

Usually the losing cover designs sit forever forgotten in a file folder. This time around I thought it would be kicky to show you some of the losers. Here are some things you won’t see on Bandcamp:

excitations

I took this photo years ago, in Pennsylvania, on my biscuit camera — a very small, very crappy Japanese digital toy I have since discarded. The photo looks like I imagine it looks like after you’ve had six beers and two shots and you try to drive home, if you’re still stupid enough to try that in the year 2022.

This made me think about how often the things that we are supposed to enjoy, and that have a reputation as treats, often end up making us duller or heavier or more gluttonish (think beer, or chicken wings.)

From there I free-associated to the non-word “excitations,” as used, wide-eyed and innocent, in the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” (“She’s givin’ me ex-ci-ta-tions!”) Somehow I imagined a 35-year-old in a Pennsylvania tavern, “enjoying” his weekend off from the cement plant, suddenly finding his weekend “excitations” of loaded nachos and Coors Lite and televised pro sports supremely unsatisfying.

That’s a long way back around to telling you that you won’t see this one on Bandcamp.

excitations2

More of the same only blue. Incidentally, Flickr used to have a great built-in photo-editing suite but has long since gotten rid of those useful tools. Now I use one or another free online photo editor to develop these things. The choice of typeface is always limited, which is why I tend to stick to a couple.

(Edit: Maybe I’ll call the next album More Of The Same Only Blue.)

FOUL GROUND

More biscuit, more Pennsylvania. The photo in this case is a field in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where a Detroit Tigers farm team played for, like, two seasons in the 1940s. I rather liked this design, and for that matter I don’t 100 percent rule out using it someday.

The only catch is that, whenever the next recording comes along, the cover design process will start anew, and I’ll jump in and come up with something else. Designs that are already made and in the hopper tend to lose their luster when compared to the shiny new ideas … even though they might actually be better.

PLSCOMEIN

I liked this one a lot at first (guess what? it’s more biscuit and more Pennsylvania. This is a nondescript building on a side road in the quiet, obscure borough of Coplay.)

But after I looked at it a while, it began to take on an air of slapstick, of easy humor. I’m not always sure what I’m going for with these things, but it’s almost never humor. Seen from a certain point of view, this is a cheap haw-haw … like calling your album Bass Solos and putting a picture of yourself mugging on the cover while holding a Bigmouth Billy Bass.

*a frisson of loathing runs up my spine and across my shoulder blades*

Yeesh.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(I don’t know why I can’t get this one to center. For a refreshing change, this is not the biscuit, but rather a digital point-and-shoot photo of El Paso, Texas.)

I liked the look of this, especially the twin slanted names, which is very late-’70s/early ’80s. But then I remembered that I used a color-tweaked photo of a different city on an earlier album cover. And even though no one saw the old one, and no one is going to see the new one either, I still didn’t want to repeat myself, or risk somebody perceiving that I was repeating myself. So this one landed on the scrap heap.

UNLIMITEDPLEASURE2

One last. Pretty sure this is not the biscuit either, though I don’t remember. I don’t remember offhand where I took it, either, though I’m pretty sure it’s Pennsylvania someplace.

This design died the death because, in the end, it simply had nothing to do with the sounds on the record. But if I ever did a Gram Parsons-style “cosmic American” rock-country album, this cover would be perfect.

*a frisson of loathing runs up my spine, etc.*

Yeesh.

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