It must have caused untold anguish to parents and teachers back in 78 when the young Bob Geldof (whatever became of him, I wonder) snarled and swaggered his way onto our TV screens, proclaiming “Gonna get outta school, work in some factory!”
At the time, factories were numerous, with millions of semi-skilled workers busy producing typewriters and pencil sharpeners and slide rules and prams. The song ‘Rat Trap’ is a bile-soaked outburst against the establishment and all its stifling codes of acceptable conduct.
But the album cover for ‘Tonic for the Troops’ gives no hint of this anger and frustration; instead, it depicts a serene view with the band members lining up against a stylised backdrop of featureless brown earth and flat blue sky.
And I fell to thinking about record sleeves and their designs – particularly in the age of the download, when music has escaped from its physical medium. Surely we should be glad, at last, that music can be taken on its own terms with no cultural baggage; rather like the sixties, when some teenagers listened to Motown songs on their tiny tinny radios, unaware (and unconcerned) that the singers were black.
But the classical music industry has taken advantage of packaging, with CD covers having a gorgeous, pouting soloist (Vanessa-Mae, anyone?) in high heels and a short skirt, clutching a Strad.
My own record collection includes some delights and some howlers: Tubular Bells II and III are both lazy and obvious; Graffiti Bridge is fascinating and unhinged; and several of the Naxos budget CDs have delightful images, usually perfectly matched to the music (the Olexander Borodai picture for Lutoslawski, or Trevor Chamberlain’s watercolour of Umbrellas for Dvorak). And I can’t remember what the booklet design looks like for my Berlioz, since I printed off a copy of ‘Mort de Cleopatre’ in French (no idea what it means) and this text now fills the jewel-case.
I recently went back to the Whitworth Gallery, and found some new exhibitions installed; one of these was ‘The Devil’s Wall’, a series of black pillars with holes sunk into them (rather like a depiction of the energy well round a black hole) and carrying lines from the Koran in gold lettering. It made me think of headstones trying to turn themselves into Klein Bottles. Next time I go to this gallery, I shall wear my MP3 player and create a suitable aural landscape, perhaps something by JMJ or Robert Rich or FSOL.
Or maybe the Whitworth could arrange an exhibition of paintings by van Vliet, and have selected highlights from the Beefheart canon relayed over speakers at different points in the gallery….but first of all, we must have a new design for the cover art of ‘Bluejeans and Moonbeams’. And a new title for the album.
Journal Entries, July 2004:
Rob asked me for a 5-minute chat and said “we’ve been in the production meeting and it’s been noted that there are delays in getting batches out to customers. Wot are your thoughts?” So I pointed out that we had a 10-fold increase in Supra production this month, and later on left the QC record sheets in his pigeonhole.
Steve M launched into a tirade about how we’d all lose our effing jobs if we didn’t get this effing primer effing sorted. It was almost like being in the canteen with Andy C.
(Commentary: We had a few problems with Perkins’ primer; it turns to jelly on storage, because we use white spirit instead of xylene to thin it down. Because the WS is incompatible, it takes much more solvent to reduce the viscosity, thus bringing the raw material cost down.)
At work today Rob gave me a booklet he’s printed in which I am to record the in- and out-times of QC batches. Apparently it’s taking too long to get products out the door and it’s all my fault. So I filled in this log and we went through it; he said ‘this is just naïve’ meaning that I should actually log the exact hours spent per job.
And then he says “How come G— manages to finish QC jobs more quickly even though she’s got her own work to do?”
(Commentary: I didn’t point out to him that G— didn’t bother carrying out any of the actual tests, but just inserted suitably convincing numbers and signed the sheets. The viscosity readings were already checked by the production dept, but they didn’t realise that there was a layer of debris in the orifice of their flow-cup, causing erroneous results.)
Last night I painted out a panel of Tony’s pedestal adhesive. This morning it still hadn’t gone dry. Turns out F— forgot to put the catalyst in. Still faffing about with the SP02 primer; Steve keeps asking what happens if we leave out the Claytone.
There is a whole raft of issues where we have gone against the recommendations of Scott Bader and DSM and VIL. Rang Tony Phillips at SB – he said we shouldn’t use white spirit or driers with that resin.
(Commentary: we had recurring problems with primers turning to snot on storage because we had used white spirit to thin them instead of xylene. “We can’t use xylene” said Steve, “it cuts the viscosity too rapidly and pushes the raw material cost up.” So to save a bit of money we add white spirit, the paint thickens up, the customer sends it back, we spend two days in the workshop opening the tins and scraping the contents into a vat, adjusting the gloss and viscosity again, and filling out into new tins generating more waste when this two-day period could have been used making a new batch of paint worth several thousand pounds.)
Like the song says: ‘Gonna get outta school, work in some factory…’ and it turns out I ended up doing just that, having spent six years at college in order to be able to pour paint into a steel cup and see how long it takes to drain out again….
Deep within my body lies a flaw;
Perhaps lacuna, or a tiny breach
Of syntax, just enough to mar
The perfect beauty of the twisted stairs that reach
On out to where the world begins to end:
To hear the song you must have ears to lend.
Or could the defect lurk within my brain?
Some ember that contaminates the gloom
And while too small to see, this bitter grain
Helps propagate a demon in the womb.
While some say Genes, and others Lucky Star
These tarnished blueprints make us what we are.
25 Jun 2004