Maurice White, founder of the epitomized and long standing successful band Earth Wind and Fire and lead singer died last year on February 4 following complications related to Parkinson’s disease.
Pausing a moment to remember Mr. White is really an invitation to travel through mysterious landscapes.
The 16 member band formation named after the elements impacted the music industry in profound and enduring ways. Artistically as performance, sociologically because the music became a vehicule of relating for so many different populations, but also visually. The distinct collages of landscapes on the album cover art were flights of fantasy.
As a child growing up in a house of percussionist music makers and affectionados of everything musically inspiring –from Beethoven to Bitches Brew– I would spend hours looking at the album cover art of my fathers 4000 piece collection when I was not pouring over world maps and atlases.
Books and more books, but the encyclopedias and the maps kept my young mind busiest, as I traced the leylines of family members’ birthplaces. Rewarding my ever inquisitive self, and my short reach, the oversized world atlases and the piles of LPs belonged in the same class of thing: They got me to places.
The mystical album covers of Earth Wind & Fire, were pieces of art to jump into where cartography had gone wild with possibility. It was like suddenly aquiring visitation rights to alternate dimensions I knew other people had discovered.
Historical or Fantastic. Jungles or Galaxies. Celestial Spacesscapes or Earthbound expanses. Surreal or hyper realistic, the 31,43 cm album cover square format was admittedly an incredible support for the visual and graphic arts of the day. Landscapes, gardens, and spatial utopias of all sorts were regularly imagined accompaniments to the musical journey imprinted in vinyl for thirsty ears.
I could say that I had my head in the sky, since my feet were no longer quite on the ground.
Of course Earth Wind & Fire was not the only band fronting enriched imaginary environments in which to play with imaginary friends. There are many album covers meriting attention for their ability to rip open the tableau of everyday existence and beckon us to step onto the new ground of new worlds.
Here is a selection of my favorite album cover Landscapes from various performing artists of the same period. Su Ra, Alice Coltrane and Santana, Miles Davis.
But then here also are Stevie Wonder or Funkadelic, where things got “real”. From Spacescape, back to Earth, I suppose I wondered then, what would be my part. How does it feel this earthboundedness? And is the ground different in different places? Depending on what one is doing with it? Can the distinctions be felt in a blind man’s hand very subtly, or would one need to be buried up to the neck in the soil of the Earth?