The art of surreal writing

Genesis Live album cover

Back in the early days of the super-group Genesis there was the advent of their first live album (ingeniously titled ‘Genesis Live’).  On the back cover of the large vinyl sleeve of ‘Genesis Live’ was a story written by Peter Gabriel, the band’s original singer, which was not reproduced on the subsequent CD releases (no doubt due to the tiny format of a CD cover).  Anyway, for all those impoverished owners of the Genesis Live CD here is that story in all its glory –

4:30 p.m. The tube train draws to a halt. There is no station in sight. Anxious glances dart around amongst the passengers as they acknowledge each other’s presence for the first time.

At the end of the train, a young lady in a green trouser suit stands up in the centre of the carriage and proceeds to unbutton her jacket, which she removes and drops to the dirty wooden floor. She also takes off her shoes, her trousers, her blouse, her brassiere, her tights and her floral panties, dropping them all in a neat pile. This leaves her totally naked.

She then moves her hands across her thighs and begins to fiddle around in between her legs. Eventually, she catches hold of something cold and metallic and very slowly, she starts to unzip her body; working in a straight line up the stomach, between the breasts, up the neck, taking it right on through the centre of her face to her forehead. Her fingers probe up and down the resulting slit finally coming to rest on either side of her navel. She pauses for a moment, before meticulously working her flesh apart. Slipping her right hand into the open gash, she pushes up through her throat, latching on to some buried solid at the top of her spine. With tremendous effort, she loosens and pulls out a thin, shimmering, golden rod. Her fingers release their grip and her crumbled body, neatly sliced, slithers down the liquid surface of the rod to the floor.


The rod remains hovering just off the ground, a flagpole without flag.
The other passengers have been totally silent, but at the sound of the body dropping on the floor a large middle-aged lady wearing a pink dress and matching poodle stands up and shouts, “STOP THIS, ITS DISGUSTING!”

The golden rod disappeared; the green trouser-suit was left on a hanger with a dry-cleaning ticket pinned to the left arm.  On the ticket was written-


Draconian Times indeed

Cover art of Paradise Lost album Draconian Times

Every once in a while there comes along a really new style in art and rock, goth and metal bands have often been the first to pick up on the new art and commission an artist to produce a cover for their latest album in that style. Very often the art is so associated with the band that more than one cover ends up being done with a similar style or even by the same artist. This was the first cover commissioned by Paradise Lost from artist Holly Wurburton but has some similarities to the style of Dave McKeane who did the earlier ‘Shades of God’ and ‘As I Die’ covers. It was also the last one in this style as they changed their style musically and artistically quite radically after this album.

Probably the earliest artist-band symbiosis and also the most long-lived one was that between landscape surrealist Roger Dean and the progressive rock band YES (although Roger Dean did plenty of covers for many other bands too).

If you are looking at the cover for Draconian Times above and puzzling over the names of Holly Wurburton and Dave McKeane and particularly wondering why the latter seems so familiar (possibly because you have been living on the planet Pluto for the last ten years or ended up on this blog by mistake whilst looking for knitting patterns) then Dave McKeane was the artistic genius behind the covers for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics and the designer for the incredible film Mirrormask. If you love McKeane’s art then you must see that film! It is to large extent Dave McKeane’s art come alive and it is wonderful to see his creatures come alive like that.  Holly Warburton has had perhaps less involvement in the fantasy horror comic genre than Dave McKeane but has produced a fabulous array of fantastic art that you can see on her website.

Returning to the Draconian Times cover, the music, providing it is a genre you are into, is excellent. The first track Enchantment has the most incredible melody that seems so familiar that you feel you must have heard it before. No-one here has managed to figure out where it comes from if it is not original though. Any guesses? There was a large poster of the artwork of the Draconian Tiomes cover produced by the record company but sadly they’d all disappeared before we could lay our hands on any of them. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all …

Holly Warburton art here and Dave McKeane art here

Great album art and strange stories

Way back in the hippy days of the sixties a monster of an album burst forth on an unsuspecting world in 1968. Robert Fripp, a guitarist of no small talent and a penchant for originality, had put together a new and unusual group fronted by a singer called Greg Lake who was destined to go on to dizzy heights later with ELP. The lyrics for the first album were oddly enough by someone who wasn’t in the band and whose own singing abilities (to be kind) were less than wonderful. But as a poet he was way ahead – reading the words to 21st Century Schizoid Man and then reading the newspapers today it is hard not to think of him as some kind of prophet. But we’re here to talk about art so here are both the outside cover and inside cover of ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’ painted by Barry Godber –

Front cover for Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson

Inside cover for Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson

The front is the schizoid man and the inside is the Crimson King with his jolly smile and very sad eyes. The artist Barry Godber was in fact a computer technician who the lyricist Pete Sinfield knew. In fact, he was the only artist he knew so the choice of who to ask was easy! Sadly, Barry Godber barely survived to see his artwork printed on the cover as he died in 1970 from a heart-attack at the tragically young age of 24. The cover and the album went on to become hugely venerated icons of art and music name-checked as influences countless times over the years. The raw emotion portrayed in the front cover and the way that the face is almost bursting out of the frame of the cover attracted many people to the album even if they hadn’t heard a single note of it. Strangely enough, given his tragic early death, the painting was based on a distorted reflection of the artist’s own face. The album itself was remastered for the final time in 2003 when they finally found the original master tapes, which is a bit like finally remembering you left the Rembrandt down in the cellar :-)

Black Sabbath cover - first Black Sabbath album

From painting to photography. The first Black Sabbath album has this classic photo on it. The place is Mapledurham Watermill but the odd thing is that nobody knows who the woman was who modelled for the cover. Bit spooky eh? Not so spooky was the record company cashing in on the satanist hype in the media by putting a reversed cross on the inside cover much to the annoyance of the band who actually weren’t satanists. Made on a shoestring budget in a a couple of days it turned out to be one of the most influencial albums ever made. The title track is probably almost single-handedly responsible for the births of the genres of heavy metal and goth music. So now you know who to blame … or praise :-)