[3 November 2008]
If you are a certain age, or have an older sibling who was a music freak, doubtless you spent many hours staring at Hipgnosis album designs. You may not remember this very well, possibly due to an altered state of consciousness at the time. Of course, your consciousness is never altered any more: you’re all grown up now, a hockey mama or golf dad. So consider Mind Over Matter a stroll down a hazily recalled lane, a road lined with the Storm Thorgerson’s work on Pink Floyd records.
Reviewing an art book presents an interesting dilemma. Most purchasers of these expensive books, arguably “niche” specialty items, buy them for the photographs. Only die-hard fans, reviewers, and art students are likely to study the text in any depth. So let me say that the art is exquisite, compelling, and fascinating, even for people who think Pink Floyd is a kind of mixed drink. Like certain magazines, you should buy it for the pictures, of only for stunning images from Dark Side and Wish You Were Here. You might also gaze upon the photographs of a youthful Floyd, as Thorgerson obviously does, with great sadness, for poor Syd is gone and Richard Wright, the band’s keyboardist, died last month.
Thorgerson is resolutely, unabashedly old-fashioned in his views, an alternately charming and irritating stance. He barely knows how to use a computer. He hates “automatic” cameras. He tells us all of the bullshit written about the 1960s was true. He is especially poignant on the subject of Syd Barrett:
“One of the many extraordinary things about Syd was that he was not so extraordinary—at least not to us at that time ... It’s amazing what you don’t notice because it’s right next to you.”
Referring to Dark Side’s explosive fame, he continues:
“By this time, however, Syd had long departed, orbiting wildly into regions unvisited by the rest of us ... I hope you’re alright wherever you are, Syd, though I sadly doubt it. We have your music, and the purity of your words to remember you by. God speed.”
These hankie-evoking words contrast with his views of women, which are hidebound indeed: girls are strictly ornamental. I could overlook this if Thorgerson could just shut up about it, but he can’t. He mentions Floyd’s 1975 tour, wherein typical bad behaviors abounded, speaking out righteously regarding the infidelities that transpired. Yet in writing about A Nice Pair:
“I hate to admit it, but I think it (the title and cover art) could be an example of male chauvinism. Perhaps the title, illustrates, in part, what I think might be the band’s misogyny (or my own)—like a lot of men, they love women but see them sometimes as objects, as affection turns to mistrust and respect turns to fear.”
Pangs of conscience prevented him from allowing the nice pair in question to be the sole cover image, admitting this doesn’t exonerate him. I was almost prepared to forgive until I reached the “Back Catalogue” section, wherein remastered Floyd CDs were advertised on British television. The ad features six naked women, seated on their bottoms beside a pool, their backsides painted with Floyd covers. Though the original mock-ups included male models, Thorgerson admits to “the old misogyny” and tossed the guys, going on to mention the “charming, friendly, and gentle atmosphere” created by the women during the shoot.
Color me disappointed.
There are some Spinal Tap moments. Consider the shoot for Animals. On day one, the inflatable pig succumbed to technical difficulties. One day two, high winds knocked it free, shooting it skyward into incoming air traffic from Heathrow, freaking out numerous pilots before returning to earth on a Kent farm. Then there was the bed image from A Momentary Lapse of Reason. In a momentary lapse of reason, Thorgerson felt seven hundred beds on an English beach was just the thing, so the beds were trucked in and set up, but England being England, it began to rain.
There are some awkward spots. Thorgerson stumbles when writing about Roger Waters’ acrimonious split from the band and the impact it had on both the music and his design work. The Wall, with artwork by Gerald Scarfe, is hardly mentioned, possibly for legal reasons. Still, there is so much work—40 years worth—that Thorgerson manages to move forward, into current work—Pulse, The Delicate Sound of Thunder. There are plenty of alternative designs, t-shirts, commercial stills, and other Floyd art paraphernalia to keep the fanatic fan happy. Do consider it for as a gift for the Floydian in your life ... just make sure she only looks at the pictures.