Sunday, June 27, 2010

The power of cover

Wired Magazine 1 votes Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band the Best Album Art of All Time:
The Beatles' influential 1967 record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band blew minds wide open. The Grammy-winning cover was created by art champion and director Robert Fraser, and married the work of designers Peter Blake and Jann Haworth with more than 70 artists, writers, thinkers and figures influential to The Beatles. The Beatles themselves appeared alongside simulations of themselves, a nod to the death of Hard Day's Night–fueled Beatlemania. The cover, which included cutouts for mustaches and badges, eventually warranted its own legend for disciples who just love to Geek The Beatles. The whole epochal art project proved about 100 times more expensive than any cover made before. Its influence has been immeasurable.
Ok, that's that. But you cannot take away the force of Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast. Admittedly, Heavy Metal has been construed by some as "an arena of gender, where spectacular gladiators compete to register and affect ideas of masculinity and sexuality," 2 but TNOTB rightly deserves "hell" for delivering its poetic-satanico-political message during Ronald Reagan's conservative reign.  

"Run to the Hills" is my second favorite cut of the album (after the album's title song) with Maiden's trademark galloping rhythm underscoring the images of warriors on horseback:
White man came across the sea
he brought us pain and misery.
He killed our tribes
he killed our creep
He took our game for his own need.
We fought him hard
we fought him well
Out on the plains we gave him hell.
Satan has good company! Milton received similar criticism for his (political?) portrayal of the Lord of Darkness in Paradise Lost.3
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tow'r; his form had yet not lost
All her original brightness, nor appear'd
Less than Archangel ruin'd, and th' excess
Of glory obscur'd: as when the sun new-ris'n
Looks through the horizontal misty air
Shorn of his beams, or from behind the moon
In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs. Dark'n'd so, yet shone
Above them all th' Archangel; but his face
Deep scars of thunder had intrench'd. ( PL 1.589-601)
1Wired does not explain what criteria was used for this selection. 2Jeffrey Jensen writes: "... there are also adolescent girls whose sensation-seeking tendencies are high enough for heavy metal music to appeal to them. Furthermore, the alienation that draws so many of the boys to heavy metal also exists among some girls, and they, too, find an ideological home in the subculture of heavy metal." See Metal Heads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation (Westview, 1996) p. 139.  3 See Walter S. H. Lim's John Milton Radical Politics, and Biblical Republicanism (University of Delaware Press, 2006). One understands Milton's Paradise Lost better through Lim's careful analysis. In a sense, the trials of Adam serve to unfold Satan's radical political platform (my take, not necessarily Lim's), which explains Milton's coded ambivalence between good and evil.