an essay describing the making of this record cover photograph
BLIND FAITH, A STAB AT IMMORTALITY
by BOB SEIDEMANN
Detroit was burning. The police were rioting in Chicago. Watts was being eaten by its inhabitants. One enormous cultural icon after another was biting the dust, ground to a pulpy mass before the eyes of the children of the radiant box, Lenny Bruce, Malcolm X, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and on and on.
There would be more, many more. Numberless units of our best and brightest. A generation of bourgeois white kids would fry their brains on the griddle of the cold war.
It was new car time. But they were junk so fast! Doctors smoked Camels. Father knew best, mother knew her place in the electric kitchen, and the bomb would make electricity too cheap to meter. Jack Kerouac was off the road now. Alan Ginsberg had made his run through the Negro streets in search of an angry fix. The man was in a gray flannel suit. If you didn't fit in, the man would get you. Ask Lenny.
It was better living through chemistry. Pain was history. Why feel it? Your doctor would prescribe a jar of Valium, mother's little helper. The whole country was losing weight on Dexedrine by the handful. Jackson Pollock had drowned himself in splattered paint and booze. The bastard couldn't paint anyway. It was all plastic can't you see? Doesn't anyone see?
To a kid from New York, San Francisco was Oz. A fairy tale city of Victorian wood. Ken Kesey was a government intelligence experiment gone wrong. He would invent the acid test and fail it himself. With what was left of his mind he took the Dead on a bus ride through a crack in reality and into history. Many would join the dance at the Dog and the Fillmore. A dance of longing, a dance of hope, a dance of love, a futile dance of naive believers. God it was good. God it was brief.
It was nineteen sixty eight. Last year was the summer of love. You could stand on Haight Street and see the soldiers coming. They came in bright new uniforms, their faces scrubbed and young. They came to see what Time magazine was talking about. They would be shipping out in the morning, and the girls were beautiful. Oh the beautiful girls.
Nam was on. Nam was on with a vengeance. The soldiers would not come home the same. None of us would be the same. We were all soldiers. They would fight in Nam. We would fight at home, at home on the mushy battlefield of our minds. The casualty rate was about the same.
The geeks came too. The lonely ones, the hungry ones, the ones without a prayer. They were in search of their own salvation, in search of love. They heard it was free. They walked and drove and clawed their way to the street called Haight. When they arrived they stood with the soldiers and gaped at themselves. It was not what they imagined. A mind was a terrible thing to waste, and their minds got wasted.
I was "being" on the scene because it was happening. It was ground zero of the Cultural Revolution. How I managed it was by producing a handful of photographs for a small poster company I was a partner in. The company was founded by a raving poet with a hundred dollars and a picture of the face of Christ, supposedly an impression on the vale of Mary Magdalene. His name is Louis Rapoport, today he is night editor of the Jerusalem Post. It was our first poster and it was a hit. My work consisted at the beginning of pictures of Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. They were impressionistic and successful. Then I began making more far out images depicting my sense of the time, culminating with a rendition of Michelangelo's Pieta.
Mercy master, spare me the Judeo-Christian symbolism. Americans carry those symbols on their backs like a hump and the hump burns like a fiery brand. It was a portrait of the end of the scene. It was a picture of the end of love, of death, and it worked. Buddha where are you? Carry me to the endless, unremitting, unthinkable, unnamable. I would fly there myself but my wings are weak.
Detroit was burning. The police were rioting in Chicago, cultural icons were dropping like flies, the love generation had been kicked to death by CBS, NBC, Life, Look and Newsweek and I wanted out. I called Eric Clapton in London to ask if he would put me up for while. He did. I stayed at his flat in Chelsea with a wild crowd of ravers. The party had been going on for some time when I arrived. Other residences of the never-ending, day-for-night, multi-colored fling were Martin Sharp, a graphic artist and poet with an uncanny resemblance to Peter O'Toole, and the wildest of ravers, Philippe Mora a young film maker who looked like a cheery Peter Lorre and their handsome girl friends. I bunked on a ledge under a skylight in the living room. All of the London scene came through. It was wild and wooly.
A year passed and I had my own room in a basement flat in the same part of town with another bunch of ravers. The phone rang. It was Robert Stigwood's office, Clapton's manager. Cream was over and Eric was putting a new band together. The fellow on the phone asked if I would make a cover for the new unnamed group. This was big time. It seems as though the western world had for lack of a more substantial icon, settled on the rock and roll star as the golden calf of the moment. The record cover had become the place to be seen as an artist.
I had sold my cameras in San Francisco after the Pieta poster because it scared me so much, vowing never to pick up a camera again. The picture gave me the heebee jeebees and the willies all at the same time. If you pinned it to the wall, the wall would smoke. It was a picture of death alright. If I was going take up a camera again to make a cover for Eric's new band it would have be the antidote to the Pieta image, a picture of life.
It was nineteen sixty nine and man was landing on the moon. Our species was making its first steps into limitless space and I had a shot at immortality. That's what every artist hopes to achieve, a stab at greatness, to make something that will last for a little while. To scratch an image on a wall and hope the wall outlives him. The lights were on, the curtain was going up, and I was coming down. Down from San Francisco. Down from the height of blinding insight. Down from the top of the mountain. Down from that lofty battlefield. Down from Dr. Strangelove and 2001. The pop world was awaiting the new pop idols, and I had been asked to create their emblem.
Technology and innocence crashed through the tatters of my mind. Only a thread of an idea, something I couldn't see, something out there just beyond my vision, an impulse rippling through the interstellar plasma. I stumbled through the streets of London for weeks, bumping into things, gibbering like a mad man. I could not get my hands on the image until out of the mist a concept began to emerge. To symbolize the achievement of human creativity and its expression through technology a space ship was the material object. To carry this new spore into the universe, innocence would be the ideal bearer, a young girl, a girl as young as Shakespeare's Juliet. The space ship would be the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the girl, the fruit of the tree of life.
The space ship could be made by Mick Milligan, a jeweler at the Royal College or Art. The girl was another matter. If she were too old it would be cheesecake, too young and it would be nothing. The beginning of the transition from girl to woman, that is what I was after. That temporal point, that singular flare of radiant innocence. Where is that girl?
I was riding the London Tube on the way to Stigwood's office to expose Clapton's management to this revelation when the tube doors opened and she stepped into the car. She was wearing a school uniform, plaid skirt, blue blazer, white socks and ball point pen drawings on her hands. It was as though the air began to crackle with an electrostatic charge. She was buoyant and fresh as the morning air.
I must have looked like something out of Dickens. Somewhere between Fagan, Quasimodo, Albert Einstein and John the Baptist. The car was full of passengers. I approached her and said that I would like her to pose for a record cover for Eric Clapton's new band. Everyone in the car tensed up.
She said, do I have to take off my clothes? My answer was yes, I gave her my card and begged her to call. I would have to ask her parent's consent if she agreed. When I got to Stigwood's office I called the flat and said that if this girl called not to let her off the phone without getting her phone number. When I returned she had called and left her number.
Stanley Mouse, my close friend and one of the five originators of psychedelic art in San Francisco, was holed up at the flat. He helped me make a layout and we headed out to meet with the girl's parents.
It was a Mayfair address. This is a swank part of town, class in the English sense of the word. The parents were charming and worldly with a bohemian air. He was large and robust, she was demure. They knew the poet Alan Ginsberg, owned a tenth century manor house outside of London and were distantly related to two royal families, one English, the other German. The odds against this circumstance were astronomical and unsurprising.
Mouse and I made our presentation, I told my story, the parents agreed. The girl on the tube train would not be the one, she was shy, she had just past the point of complete innocence and could not pose. Her younger sister had been saying the whole time, "Oh Mommy, Mommy, I want to do it, I want to do it". She was glorious sunshine. Botticelli's angel, the picture of innocence, a face which in a brief time could launch a thousand space ships.
We asked her what her fee should be for modeling, she said a young horse. I called the image 'Blind Faith' and Clapton made that the name of his band. When the cover was shown in the trades it hit the market like a runaway train, causing a storm of controversy. At one point the record company considered not releasing the cover at all. It was Eric Clapton who fought for it. If this was not to be the cover, there would be no record. It was Eric who elected to not print the name of the band on the cover. This had never been done before. The name was printed on the wrapper, when the wrapper came off, so did the type.
This was an image created out of ferment and storm, out of revolution and chaos. It was an image in the mind of one who strove for that moment of glory, that blinding flash of singular inspiration. To etch an image on a stone in our cultural wall with the hope that that wall will last. To say with his heart and his eyes, at a time when it mattered, this is what I see and this is what I feel. It was created out of hope and a wish for a new beginning, innocence propelled by BLIND FAITH. ©Bob Seidemann
"The Archetypal supergroup was Blind Faith formed by Eric Clapton in 1969 out of the death throws of Cream. The band consisted of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Ric Grech and Steve Winwood. Unfortunately most supergroups were highly unstable due to the temperaments of their members. Blind Faith was no exception. The group recorded only one album, but the cover by Bob Seidemann became as celebrated as the band. It featured the head and torso of a naked pubescent girl and was promptly banned in America. Its unequivocal subject matter and its photographic surrealism would be extremely influential during the '70s."
Quote from the book "Album, style and image in sleeve design" by Nick de Ville