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Saturate before reading

Mar 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Editor's Desk

I like to think I am a good listener, but over the years I have experienced my share of auditory embarrassments. One day, for example, a couple of other ladies at work and I were making lunch plans. “I know,” said one. “Let’s go to that great topless place.”

“Excuse me?” I said. “I don’t care how much people rave about those buffalo wings. I’m not going.”

“Fine,” my colleague responded. “Because we’re going to that great TAPAS place. You know, tapas, the little dishes from Spain?”

“Oh,” I said. “I’ll get my coat.”

The guy behind the famous images
Last year, when a paper company’s PR guy invited me to meet designer Gary Burden I was momentarily confused. “Gary Burden,” I said. “Is he still around? Wasn’t he the lead singer for “The Animals?”

“Nope,” the PR guy said. “You’re thinking of Eric Burdon.”

“Oh,” I said, regretfully concluding my impromptu, yet heartfelt rendition of “House of the rising sun.” “Who’s this Gary Burden?”

The PR guy explained that this Burden designed many famous album covers for The Eagles (“Desperado”); The Doors (“Morrison Hotel”); Joni Mitchell (“Blue”); Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Déjà Vu) and Jackson Browne (“Jackson Browne”).

“Burden was working on Neil Young’s Greendale project when he started researching evironmentally responsible papers,” he explained, “and that ultimately led to the idea to recreate these old album covers on Domtar’s EarthChoice.”

“Neil Young,” I said. “The Sanka guy? Is he still around?”

The PR guy sighed. “That’s Robert Young. Neil Young sings stuff like “Heart of Gold.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I’ll look forward to meeting him today at the reception.”

The PR guy, sensing this was a cheap excuse to launch into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones, quickly hung up.

Burden was easy to identify in the largely corporate crowed. He wore jeans and had a magnificent mane of white hair. He looked like Buffalo Bill Cody.

I thought he might be one of those wacky, stuck-in-the-1960s guys, but he was unpretentious and clearly has a sincere interest in environmental issues. Burden shared fascinating stories about his famous friends, several of whom are featured in Domtar’s EarthChoice album-cover promotional piece.

Papa’s got a brand new water bag
Reading the “Behind the Music” type stories (see, I realized I not only misheard some lyrics, I also misread some album covers. For example, I always thought one of Jackson Browne’s early albums was called “Saturate Before Using.” I also assumed the cover was supposed to look like it was printed on burlap.

But as Browne explained in the promotional brochure: “I had this water bag on my wall. Gary and I were discussing ideas over the phone and I said we could make it a water bag. It’s a canvas bag made of flax so that it expands when you submerge it in water, probably in the tire trough at a gas station, then when you pass through the super-heated Mojave desert, the water evaporates through the radiator grill to help the car stay cool. On my bag it said ‘Saturate Before Using’ on the back. When Gary mocked the cover up I said, ‘People are going to think that is the title of my album.’ Gary said, ‘No way, they never would think that. They would know that’s not part of it.’ After so many years of people calling it ‘Saturate Before Using,’ the record company finally believed that was the title and they put it on the spine of the CD.”

I didn’t confess my burlap lapse to Burden. The designer, also quoted in the brochure, said he tried to make the cover look like a real water bag. “Using a black-and-white photograph Henry Diltz took, I created a high-contrast image to give it a silk-screened look,” said Burden. “The inside sleeve was a beautiful color shot of water printed on shiny paper.”

Although I enjoyed learning the real stories behind some of my favorite albums, there’s a larger point that shouldn’t be overlooked: For many years, “green” papers conjured up images of gray-flecked sheets. They may have been environmentally friendly, but these papers often were ugly, expensive and in limited supply. That’s certainly no longer true. See “It’s easy being green,” p. 52.

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