by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org):
SINCE i’ve talking about old record covers (yet again! i swear these things will someday be sold in art galleries as fine art prints), there is another weird little category of collecting i tripped across. it’s called the “altered cover” or sometimes the “kustom kover.” it’s basically the results of bored drunk teenagers sitting around listening to their records and scribbling on the covers of records to pass the time. you know, just like you used to do.
in an era of downloads and mix tapes and home releasing,the concept of making a cover by hand for your little listening project doesn’t sound to odd. but, during the era of vinyl releasing, the record were treasured as fetish objects. the idea of creating a hand-made cover for you personal copy of a disk is akin to sewing a custom wardrobe for your dog. it was out on the very edge of sanity.
in fact, there are websites out there dedicated to this phenom. one fella i know, who owns a used record shop, has a wonderful collection of covers that have been “improved” by their owners.
i used to save them as well. the pride of my collection was a copy of dino, desi & billy’s first LP (i think it was titled “i’m a fool”). some mind-dulled twit began drawing new faces on the photo of the band and just kept going. before too long, he’d (i assume it was a ‘he’, because D,D&B were teeny-bop idols, and teenage boys hate teeny-bop idols cuz boys are macho). finally finished the “artwork”, the entire cover had been carefully traced, every piece of type, every photograph, every graphic element had been outlined in ball-point pen ink. it was psychedelic, pure mind-blown boredom at it’s finest. i wish i still had that to show you.
for the more arcane and serious collector, there is yet another category deeper into the realm of weirdness. this is a category that basically collects the work of other obsessive collectors. the bottom line in this category is finding entire covers literally made by other collectors to protect and decorate their precious little records. now, this stuff gets weird.
the example i show you is one i found in a thrift store somewhere. i think it was likely done by a young person, judging by the naive style – but, really who knows? it could have been done my anybody, really.
the record this person chose to create a custom cover for is a 45 rpm 7 inch recording of a mediocre nat cole tune. that’s about as un-hip as imaginable. was nat “king” cole ever considered hip in the mainstream? granted, in his beginnings, he was an underground jazz superstar, but by the time he released this single, he was a hopeless middle-brow sentimental balladeer selling records to middle class white women. so, why on earth was this record valued enough by anybody to warrant such an elaborate and lovingly created cover to protect it? it’s beautiful, coy and sad.
more often than not, where you find this stuff is on rough underground punk or industrial or club records. in fact, in the most extreme cases i’ve encountered, where i run into home-made record covers that were used to package entire releases editions.
there is precendent for this approach in the underground industry of the bootleg LP. the very first (and most famous bootleg of all) was the bob dylan double release that was generally referred to as “the great white wonder.” it actually packaged two seperate recordings as one 2-disk release. (dylan later released better quality master for this same material as “the basement tapes”.)
the covers of these early bootlegs were blank white cardboard that were identified with a single rubber-stamped piece of type on each cover. later, other bootleg efforts upped the “kwality” by adding rubber stamped illustrations and slipping in illustrated pre-printed pieces of paper you could tape to the cover. this sort of set the path, primed the pump, for the DIY onslaught that was come.
over the years, i’ve owned DIY releases with covers that were literally silkscreened by the recording artist in their basement. i’ve seen record packaging that was constructed of elaborate wooden containers made from whatever scrap was laying around the artist’s shop or apartment. i’ve seen covers entirely built out of duct tape. i’ve seen record covers where every single copy is decorated by a drawing executed by the releasing musician.
one artist in seattle named andy wood (he sang in bands like ‘malfunction’ and ‘mother love bone’) had a small outside recording ‘career’ where he donned the moniker “landrew the love child”. he would record his songs directly into a tape machine and then decorate little covers his cassette release. every one was different, each one painstakingly created by hand. and what was strangest of all, each tape was unique. he didn’t make a master tape and duplicate them, he sang each one he sold INDIVIDUALLY into the tape recorder. he actually had a mail following and mail order biz. kind of hard to image the amount of effort involved.
one cassette release (on apraxis records) was literally buried in a wire mesh cage/tray affair. it was buried under dirt and then seeded on top and left in the ground until the grass grew. then, after you purchased the recording, you literally had to “dig up” the recording to listen to it. i can’t think of any packaging i’ve encountered more extreme than that.
well, except a package i was going to use on a record that never got manufactured. it was for dave crider at estrus records. we were going to put together a package for a great ‘puke blues’ band called “jack o’ fire”. it was going to be a 10″ single, pressed on extra thick vinyl (1/4 inch if we could find somebody to make it) and recorded in 78rpm – all to make it appear to be a record from 100 years ago. then (the coupe de gras) we were going to silkscreen the cover on sand paper – but fold the actual sandpaper surface on the INSIDE of the package. so, every time you slide the record in or out of the sleeve, it would scratch the vinyl and make it sound really old and trashed! just like something you’d find in a thrift store. a self-destructing record!
actually, records played at 78rpm spin so fast that the needle will essentially play over the worst scratches imaginable and still sound fine. it’ll just have more ‘pops’ and ‘hisses’ – just like an old record. but the band broke up before we got to make that. pity.
however, my all time favorite “Kustom Kuvver” was crude folded and taped chunk of chip cardboard (that lousy mousy grey color you see) that had been fabricated by some eager punky geek to protect his rare copy of The Dictators’ “Go Girl Crazy” LP. it was very crudely done and carefully scotch taped to the front was an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of notebook paper with a ball point pen (blue ink) drawing of a bust of Frankenstein’s Monster – but drawn with safety pins in his face. it looked like something an 8 year old would draw for halloween and his mom would use magnets to hang on the fridge.
i cherished that thing.