By Larry Jaffee
I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of the influential album cover designer Storm Thorgenson, with whom I spoke in 2005 during a short transatlantic phone call.
Ultimately unsuccessful in my quest to land him as a keynote speaker of a media packaging conference that I chaired, I found Thorgerson polite and humbled that I thought so highly of his work.
Storm told me that it would take “an insane amount of money” for him to get over his fear of flying and consider a plane ride from London to Los Angeles.
I told him, unfortunately, my budget would only allow a $1,000 honorarium and a first-class plane ticket. “That’s not insane enough,” Storm quipped.
Attempting to change the subject, I segued to Syd Barrett, and Storm calmly told me “That’s not funny.” I quickly apologized for my insensitivity regarding his college chum, and he forgave me.
I also failed to impress him when I enquired whether he thought the minimalist cover of Coldplay’s then current album X&Y, depicting geometric shapes and color scheme behind a black background, might have been an homage to Dark Side of the Moon’s prism. Storm didn’t think so. We hung up soon thereafter.
Obviously, Thorgerson’s legacy is wrapped up in his iconic Pink Floyd covers (e.g., Wish You Were Here and its thought-provoking man on fire, Animals’ pig hoisted above London’s Battersea Power Station) he masterminded while running his design studio Hipgnosis, which set the creative bar for music packaging design in the early to mid 1970s.
Thorgerson also embraced the digital age, such as putting a blinking LCD light in the spine of the Pink Floyd double-live CD Pulse.
And of course, besides Pink Floyd, Hipgnosis maintained a diverse client roster including other superstar bands such as Led Zeppelin, as well as others who didn’t quite make it.
(My personal favorite Hipgnosis cover was Al Stewart’s Modern Times, which looked like a still from a Bogart movie, a line from “Year of the Cat,” his breakthrough single and LP of the same name a year later, also designed by Thorgerson.)
Thorgerson and business partner Aubrey Powell’s 100 Best Album Covers, published in 1999, still is the best in terms of insight and sleeve trivia for this type of coffee-table book, the best of many about his work. They ran the company together for 15 years, and the book provides hilarious insight, circa the days of ‘Swingin’ London’, into how they produced transcendent images in their dump of a studio decades before the advent of Photoshop. Trial by error was how they usually worked.
Dark Side of the Moon’s endurance 40 years after its release struck me last week when I was visiting my son at the University of Mississippi. A few days before Thorgerson’s death, the airline lost my luggage and I bought at Walmart a Pink Floyd t-shirt to have something to wear the next day. At least a half dozen 20-year olds stopped me to talk about the album and the band. What generation gap?