Sanford Biggers created the “shadow” image that will appear on the cover of my new album.
Sanford works in a variety of media – including film/video, installation, sculpture, and performance – but I think of him as the piano player I jammed with in middle school. We had most of our classes together in 7th and 8th grade, and occupied the school’s rudimentary music room during free periods. I suppose that room was more than rudimentary: there was, at least, an electric piano, and a hollow-body electric guitar that resembled the Gretsch played by Brian Setzer in The Stray Cats. The instruments may not have been top of the line, but you could make some noise, and that’s what we did.
One song we tried was “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” a deep cut from Prince’s 1999. I don’t think Sanford would mind my revealing that he was way, way into Prince. 1999 came out in 1982 and was hugely popular at our school and everywhere, but he also knew Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981), both of which he taped for me. Dirty Mind blew my mind, of course. Head?!? Sister?!? I’d never heard anything like it. I still haven’t heard anything like it. That whole album is great, but it was When You Were Mine – an earworm par excellence – that has stayed with me.
Anyway: the “band” didn’t last long because we couldn’t really play, and then Sanford transferred to another school for 9th grade. We touched base only rarely over the years, but in 2002 I practically collided with his art. My newish girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I were driving through the museum district in Houston (her hometown), when I spied the marquee of the Contemporary Arts Museum, which read “Sanford Biggers: Afrotemple.” He was headlining the museum! We screeched to a halt and took all the time we needed to absorb the work of a guy the official program described as a “B-Boy Buddhist.”
Sanford didn’t create this image with my album in mind, but it perfectly represents the songs, which concern grown-ups who are perceived as healthy and happy but maybe not as settled as you might think they are, or they might like to be. There’s an earlier version of the album cover, featuring a striking image that represents the songs equally well.
This photo comes from Danny Rothenberg, who – if you can believe it – is another friend from middle school who is now an accomplished artist. Danny and I never played music together, but we played a lot of basketball. A pass-first point guard with more heart than size, Danny was a natural leader who knew how to get his teammates involved. If he were here, he’d bring up the time I considered – considered! – blowing off a sudden-death playoff game in favor of two Grateful Dead shows at the Frost Amphitheater. In the end, I made the game and the shows, which is lucky since that was the last time The Dead played Frost. The game, which we lost, marked the end of both of our basketball careers.
Basketball actually played a role in Danny’s early development as a photographer, owing to the fact that his father worked for the Los Angeles Clippers. That may not have been anything to brag about in the Showtime era, but it got Danny the press pass that led to his taking an iconic action shot of the young Michael Jordan. Quite a few years later – when Danny was a well-established professional – we worked together on my second album, Welcome To My Century. And, a few months ago – keying on a new song called Big Sur that he heard when he dropped by a recording session – he took a bunch of pictures for Lost Soul on Highway 1 between the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Here are a few more gorgeous shots from that journey:
So, why didn’t I go with the original cover or another of these images, which are obviously very compelling and appropriate? In the end, I felt I needed something sunnier. The album’s called Lost Soul, and some of the subject matter is dark, but it’s not exclusively a “dark” album. In fact, there’s quite a bit of “light.” My concern was that the combination of a lonely title and a lonely image would misrepresent the album.
Huge, sincere thanks to my old friends Sanford and Danny for their contributions to this project.