Ignored Obscured Restored
A while ago I read a very interesting article titled “My Dad Painted the Iconic Cover for Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung,’ and It’s Haunted Him Ever Since.”
You can follow the link above and read the full story but I’ll provide a thumbnail summary here.
It turns out Burton Silverman had a long and successful career as a well-respected realist artist. But all that takes a back seat to what he is most famous for – painting the cover to Aqualung.
To add insult to injury, Silverman was paid a flat fee of $1,500 for the three paintings that made up the front and back covers and the gatefold of the album. (The artwork was also in the background of the lyric sheet insert.)
Silverman’s paintings were inspired by the lyrics to the title cut, “Aqualung.”
Sitting on a park bench
Eyeing little girls with bad intent
Snot’s running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes
Silverman “decided to place the figurant of Aqualung in a lonely, dank doorway, gripping his shabby coat for warmth and menacingly warding off all comers like a cornered animal.”
The artwork adds a visual dimension to the song and album that enhances how the music is perceived and can’t be separated from the enduring popularity of the record.
From here the story strays into the details of legal considerations due to Silverman’s resentment that he was paid so little for the artwork he created that is now plastered on all sorts of merchandise, earning money for lots of people, but not him!
I was a big fan of Aqualung when it came out 50 years ago. I first heard it when my brother brought it back from college in May 1971. I confiscated his copy, never to be returned. As I think about it, that’s almost a metaphor for the Silverman story.
Enjoy… until next week.