"No one really does packaging like this anymore because no one even buys records anymore. Well, maybe if the records were packaged a little better, people would buy them. When I was a kid, buying records, it was as much about the album cover. I didn't hear Led Zeppelin on the radio, I just thought the album covers looked really cool and I just wanted to know what it sounded like. And it turned out to be Led Zeppelin." -Patterson Hood
I've seen some amazing pieces of art. I've seen Michaelangelo's Creation of Adam. I've seen Picasso's Guernica. I've even seen Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. I can't say I felt anything worth mentioning when I gazed upon any of them.
I knew I was seeing important things, fantastic and masterful pieces of work, but none of them fascinated me like the dobro floating through the clouds on Brothers for Arms. I remember staring at the cover of that tape in my dad's old red Hundai Pony listening to the "Walk of Life" very vividly. Or maybe it was Stevie Ray Vaughn on the cover of In Step, crouched on one knee, his hands the only visible part of skin. What did that man look like? I was enthralled with the mystery of this guy who played "The House is Rockin'," and rocked my eight-year-old ears.
Covers were always important. Remember the first time you saw the burning monk on the cover of Rage Against the Machine's inescapable debut? I can't even describe the mix of anger, sadness and confusion that image stirred up inside of me. I still have a habit of grabbing the most well-crafted, colourful thing in a collection where I have no frame of reference. It's inside of me. Sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - even CD packaging still gets me riled up. Look at Kid Koala's 12-Bit Blues. That thing has a functioning plastic and cardboard turntable set-up built in! Egads, man! (Has anyone actually built that thing. I'm a huge nerd and can't bring myself to use these pieces. Though, I'm fairly certain they were meant to be used.)
One of the first people I reached out to was the great Wes Freed, creator of the most iconic series of album covers in many a year, those of the Drive-By Truckers. Those covers are as much a part of those albums as the songs. Each one is its own separate world, existing in the same universe - the counties of a dark, forgotten State. That catalogue single-handedly kept me interesting in owning physical copies of things when my faith began to wane and digital files starting to tempt me more and more. "In a digital age, the art has to create the desire to own the physical package - the disc, the cover, booklet. It's been a rough period for album art in some ways, but a great opportunity in another. The challenge is to create a package engaging enough to attract buyers at actual record stores. Something that I've been kinda proud of is when people tell me that they picked up a DBT record because of the cover art. Of course once they listened to it they were completely hooked and fans for life, but to be even a small part of introducing the RAWK to somebody who might not have found it just surfin' the web, is a damn good feeling."
The Turntable (Fan-Tan Alley, Victoria), my home record store, is where I've learned more about sound quality, music criticism, and the notion of music-fandom-as-community, than anywhere in the world. The place is plastered with posters. The ones on the roof are originals; Posters whose worth lies not in dollars, but in the memory of acquisition each one represents. These are important moments. And I've built up quite the collection of my own moments. The walls of my house are littered with memories.
But more importantly, because music has meant so much to me, my the walls of my house are littered with badass art. Works of art that contain as much sound as the artists they represent. Little mementos to accompany the stacks of CDs and records that may slow down, but never seems to stop piling up. As we inch closer and closer to the (Admittedly convenient, and probably more green) Digital Age, I get more stubborn and cling harder to these absurd little pieces of some vaguely made-up personal history that exist with or without the silly feelings I put into them. But those silly feelings mean all the world to me as I get older. So while I will continue to travel and see great, historic pieces of art, I know the best stuff will still be waiting for me on the racks at the record store and on the merch tables of the first-class venues and the shitty little bars of a town near me.