Here Comes The Sun...On A Klaatu Album! An Iconographical Analysis of Klaatu's 3:47 EST Using Pa
June 6, 2016
Klaatu is a Canadian progressive rock/pop trio group from Toronto that formed in 1973. The band featured John Woloschuk (vocals, bass, and keyboard), Dee Long (vocals and guitar), and Terry Draper (vocals and percussion). They named themselves after the extraterrestrial Klaatu portrayed by Michael Rennie in the 1951 film The Day The Earth Stood Still. In the movie, Klaatu and a robotic policeman named Gort came to earth from another planet to warn the countries on Earth about the dangers of their wars. They advise people to stop fighting amongst themselves, or else the human race would be obliterated. Since the band identified with Klaatu and Gort's mission of life preservation, they adopted the Klaatu name, and it became their collective identity.
Klaatu identified with this fictional character and began including a cartoon Gort in their press releases and marketing. It is important to note that the band members did not reveal their identities on album covers or in magazines. The only visual information fans were exposed to was the album art of Ted Jones. This was because the trio hoped to maintain private lives while creating music. Klaatu wanted people to focus on the music as opposed to who created it.
I wanted to take a closer look at the visual side of Klaatu's work, focusing primarily on Klaatu's first album, 3:47 EST, as it played a huge role in how fans perceived Klaatu to be the Beatles. For instance, fans claimed the sun's eyes were Paul McCartney's, and the nose was John Lennon's (Bradley 2012). Similarly, the seven plant roots on the bottom were representative of the seven letters found in "BEATLES" (Bradley 2012). Fans were quick to form a connection between the visual of the sun and the previous Beatle songs "Sun King", "Here Comes The Sun", "I'll Follow The Sun", and fifteen other songs that mentioned the sun and sunshine ("Good Day Sunshine", "Across the Universe", "Dear Prudence", etc.) (Streetmouse, 2016).
I have taken an iconographical approach to analysing the content of the album cover, in an attempt to unfold the cover's meaning potential. I have used art historian Erwin Panofsky's three-stage method of analysis, where data collected from one level forms the basis for each subsequent level of investigation. Baxandall, De Vries, Chapman, and Machin have all used Panofsky's method in their own visual analyses. They believe the major strength of Panofsky's method is that it removes premature bias and conclusions of content and meaning through its "disciplined, structured, methodical process" (Chapman p. 137).
Step One requires a description of the cover using words to form primary data for the next step. Art historian Michael Baxandall refers to this step as "a written representation of a picture" (Baxandall p.3).
Step Two of Panofsky's analysis looks at the primary data collected in step one, and uses interpretation to identify possible signs, codes, and symbols. The objective is to find how specific themes or concepts might be communicated. To complete this step, I have used David Machin's methods for defining colour and typographical qualities in album covers.
Step Three investigates what the meaning is behind these previously identified themes or concepts, and concludes what message(s) the cover may be attempting to communicate to an informed or semi-informed audience. Through Machin's methods for defining colour and typographical qualities from step two, I am able to extrapolate these themes and concepts further with their possible meaning potentials and metaphorical associations.
We must also take into consideration the style of music the album contains, the cultural environment in which this album was produced, and the potential audience this cover was being marketed to. To further understand these exterior questions, I have asked Ted Jones, the album artist, his personal interpretation of the cover’s meaning potential, as well as the influences behind the cover and the marketing techniques he employed. The goal of adapting Panofsky's analysis into a formal album cover study and interviewing Ted Jones, is to demystify and pursue an enlightened conceptualization of Klaatu's 3:47 EST album cover beyond the scope of simple, primary subject-matter identification.
Section 1: Defining & Describing The Objects
Objects: Sun & Sky
The cover is an oil-paint drawing of a surrealist nature scene. A bright canary-yellow sun is the focal point of the drawing. Although it is not in the foreground, it is the largest object on the cover, and dominates the centre. The sun's face is a circle comprised of thin eyebrows, wide eyes, a thick nose, lips with slight curls at either end to suggest a smile, and a bubble-like chin. The lines on the sun's face are similar to the lines on Canadian currency, and add dimensions and contouring, outlining the sun's cheek bones and slightly recessed eyes. The gaze of the sun is very intense, looking back at the observer. The face is not completely vertical. Instead, the face appears slightly tilted to the sun’s right. Surrounding the sun's face are two repetitive geometric boarders. The inner boarder consists of triangles and oculiform shapes. The outer boarder's pattern consists of an ellipse surrounded by a thinner ellipse on either side. Extending from the outer boarder are the sun's rays, which are various in shape, size, and width, and similar to flames. Some rays are longer than others, and contain several lines, while the shorter ones contain highlights and shadows. The sun's features, inner geometric boarder, and inner rays are all outlined in a rusty-orange colour. The sun's outer geometric boarder and rays are outlined in black. The sun's pupils are also rusty-orange, however the irises are the same canary yellow as the rest of the face. There is a large contrast between the canary-yellow sun and the sky, which is a mixture of cerulean and sky-blue.
Objects: The Ground, Plants, & Animals
Below the sun is the foreground, consisting of plants, animals, rocks, earth, and roots. The left side contains a few tall pieces of grass with the occasional leaf and weeds. Many shades of green are used for this section, including moss, juniper, chartreuse, and pine-green. In front of the grass are two Satan's Bolete mushrooms, each with orange and brown caps with white undersides. To the right of the two mushrooms is a porous cloud and coin-grey rock and a slightly wilted beige dandelion. Directly under the sun on the ground is a dead hickory-brown leaf. To the bottom right of the sun are six small penny-brown rocks, and a cedar and umber-brown field mouse with rose-pink ears sitting on its hind legs and staring at the sun. Another dead leaf is to the right of the mouse, followed by more grass, leaves, and weeds similar to the ones on the left side. To the right of the sun are three umber and tortilla-brown Umbonate straw mushrooms, with one lying on the ground. Above the grass, leaves, and weeds on the right side is a burnt-yellow daffodil, a canary-yellow and black monarch butterfly, and above the butterfly, a white daisy facing the sun. It is important to note that the flowers, mushrooms, leaves, butterfly, and mouse are either leaning into, or directly facing the sun. The very bottom of the cover contains earthy cedar-brown soil with dark brown specs throughout, and a darker walnut-brown on the ground's surface.
Objects: The Boarder
The entire album cover is framed by an elaborate boarder with curvature similar to the style of Baroque architecture. The left, top, and right sides of the boarder contain leafy vines that wrap around the boarder four times. The leaves on the top are a chartreuse-green mixed with pear and lime-green. However, the leaves on the sides are a mixture of pickle and basil-green. The bottom of the boarder contains seven roots, similar to the shapes of bare trees, which wrap around the boarder seven times. Each corner of the boarder contains two half circles, which merge into a flower bud in the middle. On the bottom corners, the buds are mint-green, whereas the buds in the top corners are canary-yellow. Overlapping the two half circles in each corner is a 'C' shape, similar to that of a horseshoe magnet. At the end of each horseshoe, is a design similar to a fur de lease. Once again, all of the 'C' shape corners, buds, leaves, and roots of the boarder face the sun. It is also important to note the colour changes in the boarder. At the top, the boarder is a rusty-orange, similar to the features of the sun. This colour merges into the canary yellow buds in the corners, and then transforms into the same pickle and basil-greens of the leaves a quarter of the way down from the top. This green colour transforms into a cinnamon-brown three quarters of the way down from the top. As the colours change in the boarder, the texture changes as well. Due to shading, the yellow section looks metallic, similar to a copper wire. The green sections are a similar texture to the stems of plants. The brown section contains many lines, giving a grainy texture similar to wood. Finally, the name "Klaatu" appears above the sun in a sepia and latte-brown Arnold Böcklin font, an Art Nouveau art style, with penny-brown outlining.
Section 2.1: Colour Qualities
Part of the comprehension of an album cover's meaning potential can be derived from analysing the colours being presented to the observer. The following colour qualities are defined by Machin as such:
Hue "has meaning potential due to the associations and symbolic associations of the colour itself. This is the scale that runs from blue [coldness] to red [warmth]" (Machin p.67).
Brightness: "The meaning potential of brightness rests on the fundamental experiences we have with light and dark. Most cultures appear to have rich symbolic meanings and values based around this distinction" (Machin p.62).
Saturation "is the scale that runs from intensely saturated colours to the most diluted versions of the same colour where they become pale and pastel, or dull and dark. The meaning potential of saturation lies in its ability to express emotional 'temperature'" (Machin p.62-63).
Purity "is the scale that runs from maximum 'purity' to maximum 'hybridity'...the terms purity and hybridity themselves suggest something of a meaning potential of this aspect of colour. Purity can mean simplicity and certainty, whereas hybridity can mean ambiguity and uncertainty" (Machin p.64).
Modulation "is the scale that runs from a fully modulated colour (i.e. a blue that is richly textured with different tints and shades), to a flat colour (i.e. comic strips). Flat colour may be experienced as simple and bold...highly modulated colour may be perceived as subtle and doing justice to the rich texture of real colour" (Machin p.65).
Luminosity "is the scale from luminous colour, which looks as though light is shining through it (i.e. coloured glass), to its opposite. Luminosity has a long history of being associated with the unworldly glow of magic and supernatural beings or objects" (Machin p.67).
Since I have already discussed in detail the hue of each object, this section will focus on the overall flow of hues used on the cover. The most governing hue of the album is the canary-yellow of the sun, which occupies a large portion in the middle. The colour is warm, gentle, bright, optic, happy, inviting, innocent, and contrasts nicely with the pale blue background. This contrast catches the eye because the colours are crisp and clear, but the contrast is not so stark as to be overbearing. The yellow asserts its presence without dominating the observer's. The yellow is framed by organic earthy shades of green and brown, and surrounded by the pale blue. This light blue presents a sense of calmness, and creates balance between the pale blue and bright yellow. The innocence and purity of the yellow are echoed in the yellow of the butterfly and the white daisy. The organic earthy colours continue the theme of calmness, and offer grounding, solidarity, stability, connection to roots, strength, life, and health from the organic greens.
The entire cover is extremely bright, with light shadows on the ground. The brightness offers a sense of spirituality and purity. The brightness is very energetic and lively, adding to the cheerful mood, and demands the attention of the observer. The brightness of the sun has a restorative, or curing, quality. The bright yellow with the sky blue continues to present a sense of optimism and clarity.
The intensity of the colours is very vibrant, and expresses emotional temperature quite well. The saturation allows the cover to seem playful, adventurous, fun, and full of energy. At the same time, there is no sense of urgency or panic with the highly saturated colours. The pale blue balances the vibrancy of the yellows in particular.
Aside from the Klaatu font, the butterfly, and the two geographic boarders of the sun, the cover does not contain a lot of pure colours. The majority of colours are either hybrid (the mixing of several colours) or modulated (shaded). This lack of purity signifies complexity and retrospection in the art.
The modulation is extremely intense. The usage of tinting and shading are used to add realistic detail to this surreal image. The album is very textured, adding depth perspective, and becomes relatable to the observer. The contrast between realism and surrealism also adds a sense of fantasy and wonder while maintaining realistic objects and scenarios.
Although the sun as an object seems to be the source of life and light in the picture, this arrangement is not made obvious from the sun's luminosity. Other objects lack shadows that would be cast from the sun. Also, the ground closest to the sun is darker in comparison to the ground that's furthest away from the sun. Similarly, the sun does not seem to be emitting light, as it does not have the glow one would expect.
Section 2.2 Typographical Qualities
Weight "is about how bold or heavy a typeface appears. This is not a binary but a gradual contrast - there is a continuum of boldness. Increased weight is of course frequently used to increase salience" (Machin p.70).
Expansion: "Typefaces may be condensed, narrow, or they may be expanded. Here there is a range between the maximally narrow and maximally expanded. The metaphorical potential of this feature is connected to our experience of space and how objects and persons take up space" (Machin p.71).
Slope "refers to the difference between cursive, sloping, 'script'-like typefaces and upright typefaces as characterized by print. There are degrees of 'slope'. ...The contrast here is between writing and printing. The meaning potential of this contrast is therefore predominantly connotative, based on the meanings and values we associate with handwriting and printing" (Machin p.72).
Curvature: "A letterform can stress angularity or it can stress curvature. Many typefaces mix straight and curved of course. The significance of these may be based on experimental and cultural associations with essentially round or angular objects (Machin p.72-73).
Connectivity: "Letter forms can be connected to each other, as in running handwritten script, have hooked feet that extend to various degrees to the next letter, or almost touch it, or lack any of these features so that the letter forms are quite separate and self-contained (Machin p.73).
Orientation: "Typefaces may be either oriented towards the horizontal dimension, by being comparatively flattened where they have equal or even greater width than height or can be stretched in the vertical direction, where height is greater than width. The meaning potential of horizontality and verticality is ultimately based on our experience of gravity, and of walking upright" (Machin p.74).
Regularity: "Many typefaces have deliberate irregularities, or an apparently random distribution of specific features. Regularity and irregularity have their metaphorical potential. If a product brand name or movie title were to appear in such irregular letters, there would be associations of playfulness, wackiness, instability or lack of conformity...punk bands use irregular fonts to communicate chaos and non-conformity" (Machin p.74-75).
Flourishes: "Typography has developed a wide range of flourishes and additions which also carry meaning potential. These may be rounded and expansive, include large loops or circles for the dots on the letters 'i' and 'j'. They may even include other iconography imagery. One important flourish is the 'foot' we find at the top and bottom of letters referred to as 'serifs'. These are associated with tradition. Where they are not present there is a sense of modernity" (Machin p.75).
The letters of Klaatu are very heavy and large. The colour is solid and asserts the importance of the band name. To add to the boldness of the font, a thick brown outline has been applied to each letter, which adds more space between the letters. The letters now take up more space on the cover, drawing the attention of the observer, and making the importance of the band's name and identity very clear. The thickness and detailing of the letters may also foreshadow the depth and complexity of the music within.
Klaatu's typeface is very wide-spread, taking up as much space as possible. This makes the name's presence widely felt on the cover. In keeping with the outdoor theme, the spaces between the letters gives a sense of breathing room, as there is space for the font to grow, move, and be comfortable. The font's movement is not at all restricted, nor are the letters overcrowded. Although the letters themselves are not touching, the outline of the letters are. I will expand on this concept in the "Connectivity" section. The expansion of the letters may also suggest for the observer to have an expansion of the mind, with ample room for contemplation when listening to the music within.
The Arnold Böcklin font used for the band's name does not have a slope. Instead, the letters are strictly vertical relative to the text's curvature.
The Arnold Böcklin font contains no sharp points, making each letter a series of curves. The overall effect of the rounded letters add a soft, smooth, natural, and even organic component to the cover, which complements the contemporary organic aspects already present in the nature scene. It is important to note that an upper case "u" was used, instead of the lowercase "u" at the end of Klaatu. Nevertheless, the "u" is not bigger than the precedent lower case letters. It does, however, have more curvature than the other lower case letters. This adds balance and symmetry, as the capital "K" and "u" are flourished and the lower case letters in between are not.
As previously mentioned, the letters themselves are not touching, but the outline of the letters are. This connotes a sense of individuality and separation from others (letters), whilst maintaining a sense of connection and community (outline) simultaneously. This notion of individuality may apply to the band's willingness to be different from other bands at the time, whilst maintaining a connection to the listener. Through this connection, a sense of community could form amongst the fans. The band's collective identity seems to also incorporate universal cohesion, through the interaction of the sun with individual life forms on the cover.
The text seems slightly flattened, as the taller lowercase letters "L" and "t" are not much taller than the other lower case letters. Usually the taller lowercase letters range from 50%-100% taller than the other lower case letters, but in the Arnold Böcklin font, the upper case letters and taller lowercase letters are roughly 25% higher. This font is almost a hybridity of horizontality and verticality. On the one hand it's airy and whimsical, but on the other it shows solidarity and grounding. This generates a schizoid dissonance within the possible meaning potentials and metaphorical associations.
In this case, the lettering of "Klaatu" remains regular, as the font style, size, and letter positions do not change. The only irregular aspect is the arch the text seems to follow. Thus, the text appears reserved, stable, and respectful of conventions.
The flourishes on the Arnold Böcklin font are grand, but not obtrusive. Although it is not traditional in the sense that it lacks serifs, the font it not quite modern either. Since the font comes from the Art Nouveau art style, it delivers an antique feeling that is ancient and wise. It possesses quality in craftsmanship, as the font would have been hand-drawn, rather than computer-generated. A single line outlines the left side of each letter, adding texture and finesse.
Section 2.3 Object Symbolism
Objects: The Sun
The sun itself is arguably one of the most tortuous subjects when it comes to depicting meaning potentials, metaphorical associations, and symbolism. Sun symbolism in art is as vast as all that its light touches. The most common association with the sun, is life. Without the sun, the inhabitants of earth would cease to be. The sun is a provider of vegetation, warmth, nutrition, energy, and light. It runs the centre of our solar system whilst maintaining gravitational stability. In Egyptian culture, the sun was viewed as a supreme deity and was worshipped accordingly. This brought spirituality, meaning, and community to this culture and others. The sun therefore, is often associated with spirituality, purity, ancestry, history, wisdom, and communal and life connections. The sun was also used as a measure of time in accordance with the sun rising and setting. Almost every culture makes reference to the importance of the sun and the critical role it plays on earth and human life. The sun, in a nutshell, represents universal life and all that that entails.
Objects: The Ground, Plants, & Animals
The ground can be viewed as stability, strength, and a platform for the inhabitants of earth. Its solidity makes it the foundation upon which all else is built. It is dark, rich, and dense. If the sun provides the energy, the ground provides the foundation and nutrition of life. In many cultural representations, the earth is the mother, while the sun is the father – the yin to the yang.
Plants symbolize health, wellness, vitality, life, and nutrition. In modern culture, mushrooms tend to signify magic, psychedelia, darkness, medication, nutrition, and tenacity.
The mouse can represent several sets of meaning potentials. It can be thrifty, unclean (impure, tainted), clever, intelligent, polite, resourceful, and tenacious. It can also mean innocence, youth, and underestimated potential (the underdog). In other circumstances the mouse can be seen as the victim, and not in control of its own destiny. It can also wreak havoc on elephants and housewives.
The butterfly appears innocent, airy, light, bright, vibrant, colourful, and whimsical. The butterfly usually represents peace, hope, harmony, tranquility, and unpredictability. It is a symbol of metamorphosis and change over time, usually pertaining to self-improvement. It represents freedom as well as adaptation with its ability to flutter upon the winds…of change!
Objects: The Boarder
A boarder can be seen as a window to another world. It confines and organizes the image. Similar to a picture frame, the boarder connotes a sense of importance, purity, value, class, and dignity. It could also represent the opposites of these meanings (rickety, old, abandoned, cryptic, etc), depending on the shape, colour, and style of the boarder, and artist intentions.
Section 3 Solving The Symbolism
In the previous section we explored all of the possible meaning potentials through colour qualities, typographical qualities, and object symbolism. Through the collaboration of these three elements, we must deduce which meaning potentials are the most predominant and relevant to Klaatu’s 3:47 EST album cover. We must also take into consideration the style of music the album contains, the cultural environment in which this album was produced, and the potential audience this cover was being marketed to.
The most dominant element of the album cover is the bright canary-yellow sun. The tilt of the sun’s gaze suggests compassion, curiosity, and interest in the observer. There is also a sense of trust with the openness of the eyes, the arching eyebrows, and the warm smile. This trust is further accentuated by the calming presence of the sky blue background. The sun is suggestive, enticing the viewer from a distance to observe the sun the way they're being observed by the sun. There's a compulsion to find out what the sun is a part of, why it's on the cover, and what lies behind that cover. The canary-yellow mixed with the sun’s features suggest relaxation, acceptance, and pure joy. These could be the reactions of the observer if only they give the album and its music a chance. The colour, shape, and intensity of the sun's wide eyes make the cover pop from the record store shelf. Plainly put, it's enticing marketing tactics at their finest.
The simplicity of the sun’s features mixed with the complex geometric patterns and lines of the face create a very sharp contrast. This mixture of simplicity with a touch of complexity foreshadows the diversity of the music within the album. For example, “California Jam” and “True Life Hero” are relatively simplistic pop songs that follow the typical AABA pop format, with a lot of repeated melody lines. However, “Little Neutrino”, “Doctor Marvello”, and “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” are extended progressive/psychedelic rock-oriented pieces. These pieces contain several complex musical sections as opposed to a typical AABA pop format. They also make usage of time and key signature changes, as well as sound effects that are typically uncommon in pop music (i.e. the bass blast at the end of "Little Neutrino").
The usage of the sun also reinstates the prevalent sci-fi theme of Klaatu’s collective identity. The sun becomes a symbolic extension of Klaatu's assumed extra-terrestrial identity. The sun is also loosely connected to the mission of Klaatu from the 1951 movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Klaatu was on a mission to save humanity from itself, by warning them to cease their violent ways against one another and promote peace instead. The sun of the cover seems to be on a similar mission to perpetuate life with its energy, peace and wisdom. The animals seem to be receptive of this peace offering, as the mouse, butterfly, and even plants are all facing the sun openly. The butterfly contains the most contrasting colours on the album with its black and yellow wings. As a result, it grabs the attention of the observer shortly after the sun. Perhaps an emphasis was put upon the butterfly in order for its message of self-improvement to be picked up by the observer, making the butterfly character relatable. With the butterfly also symbolizing metamorphosis, it suggests self-improvement upon the observer, echoing Klaatu's message for mankind to change their ways of life for the better.
The leaves, roots, buds, and 'c' shaped corners of the boarder are all directed inwards towards the sun. This symbolizes a further attraction to the sun and its message of life, as if drawn in by a magnetic or gravitational pull. The intent is for the observer to also be drawn towards this sun, just like the other objects and even boarder of the piece. This inward shift towards the sun suggests that the sun has the ultimate power and that everything, including the observer, must revolve around it.
In Conversation With Ted Jones
After identifying possible marketing techniques, metaphorical associations, meaning potentials, and connections to the music, I wanted to know how much of these qualities were intentional, and what Mr. Jones' personal ambitions were for the cover.
According to Jones, it was John Woloschuk's idea to have a sun on the album. Jones comments that with "Klaatu being this spacey, universal thing, and the sun being a universal focal point, source of life, it makes sense" (Jones, 2016). Due to the alleged Beatle rumour of the sun containing Paul's eyes and John's nose, I asked Jones if he had any particular face in mind when painting the sun. He started out with a sketch and began researching different art histories from the Mayans and the Aztecs looking for suns with faces on them. But what inspired him the most, was the Queen on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill: "The dollar bill has these lines, gives it sort of that currency look. That’s how [the sun] came to be as I reflect back on it" (Jones, 2016). At the time, Jones had not heard much about the Beatles rumour, specifically regarding the sun's face: "I didn’t hear much about it. I heard about the Beatles rumours, but I just kinda said 'Yeah, yeah' and blew it off. I didn’t know to what extent it was going on" (Jones, 2016). Jones was also unaware of the roots and letters connection, joking: "Well, I got lucky with that, didn't I?" Jones believes the Beatles rumour was simply "marketing gone bad" (Jones, 2016).
Jones' preferred medium is oil paints due to their vibrancy in colour, texture, and their slow drying time, which allow for corrections. According to Jones, watercolours are not as forgiving as oils when fixing a mistake, and are one dimensional. For Jones, colour vibrancy, texture, and contrast are the key attributes for communication:
"Yellow has the most optic value. And so we invest millions of dollars to realize that, and that’s why road signs are yellow on black. You have to start thinking, okay contrast sells. You can communicate. Things aren’t too blended together. If there’s not much contrast, you can’t see it, it doesn’t communicate, it doesn’t work. When you put an album cover out with a big sun on it like that, it has power. It’ll out-hustle a lot of other things on the shelf" (Jones, 2016).
For Jones, the purpose of the cover is purely packaging - a means to sell the product. However, Jones believes it is important for the cover to look the way the music sounds. As an artist presenting a visual component of the music, he feels his role to the fans is to "represent visually what you feel the music sounds like, and to have a piece that resonates and provides an experience. That’s my obligation" (Jones, 2016). Jones believes his art accurately represents the music of Klaatu, as both the music and art are very detailed: "[The music] really does resonate with my style of art. I try to do detailed work with lots of elements and things happening, and their music’s like that. It’s got all kinds of different sounds and elements, it’s very tight" (Jones, 2016).
Aside from incorporating a sun, Jones had a lot of artistic freedom, and suggested the complex boarders and mouse, which became Klaatu's mascot. While the mouse represents "life" according to Jones (Vernon, 2005), the boarders were a "feeling" Jones had when doing the first album. He believed the boarders emphasized the sun's power and gravitational pull: "You have this boarder that almost looks like magnets that are being drawn to the sun. The earth and the solar system orbit around the sun. This boarder is drawn towards the sun. Everything’s pulled towards it. And it had a nice feeling to it."
The notion of "life" seems to be the predominant theme for Jones' artwork. The sun is the giver of life, while the mouse symbolizes its manifestation. For Jones, even the vegetation suggests life: "The vegetation is life. Things are alive. You look at the album and you feel the painting is alive" (Jones, 2016).
Along with the mouse, boarders, vegetation, and sun, a theme began to occur in the following four Klaatu albums, as each one contained these four aspects. Jones believed these reoccurring elements created an artistic format that helped cement Klaatu's identity to the listener, and endorse the significance of "life".
But why the visual emphasis on life? And was Jones' emphasis on life successfully communicated to the listener?
With Jones' personal reflections equating the mouse, sun, and vegetation to represent "life", I have concluded that "life" is the main meaning potential in Jones' art. Since Jones claims that his main obligation as an album artist is to represent the music of Klaatu visually, this "life" theme is highly appropriate. The opening track, "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" begins with insect chirps, running water, frog croaks, and someone walking through some sort of vegetation. Already the music has been represented visually through Jones' vegetation and small animals. The message of the song revolves around acquiring contact with extra-terrestrials in order to help stop the destruction of earth. This is evident with the lyrics in the bridge section: "Please come in peace we beseech you/Only a landing will teach them/Our earth may never survive/So do come we beg you/Please interstellar policemen/Won't you give us a sign/Give us a sign that we've reached you".
Again we find the preservation of life driving the meaning potential of the lyrics. Similarly, "True Life Hero" is the story of the narrator being saved by a lifeguard, equating them to being a true life hero, and wondering what it would be like to be a hero as well. Unfortunately, due to the musical and lyrical diversity of the album, the theme of life does not comply as cohesively with the other songs. For example, "California Jam" is a nod to the Beach Boys and life as a Californian. While the lyrics allude to a particular lifestyle, life preservation is not employed. Although "Little Neutrino" is not an example of life per se, the narration comes from the neutrino itself, giving the illusion of life to an otherwise inanimate object. The lyrics also allude to the struggles of life including birth ("I fought a battle won/To the surface of the sun/Through fires on and on") loneliness, ("Solus is not far away/Its face is brighter than a day
So don't turn me away"), and even negligence ("And now I'm passing through/The one who's known as you/And yet you'll never know I do"). Keeping with the notion of "birth", we must also keep in mind that the album itself is the "birth" of the band. In this infancy comes their first sounds, thoughts, and initial impact on the world. What better theme to welcome this new life into the world than the concept of life itself?
But did the listener pick up on the visual and musical emphases on "life" and its preservation? I believe a case study with Klaatu's fan base is required in order to fully comprehend the fan's perspective of the album, both musically and visually. However, as a fan myself, I believe that the central theme of life and its preservation is evident on the album cover, but more so in the music. Musically speaking, "Calling Occupants" is the strongest advocate for life preservation because it represented Klaatu's ideologies immaculately. It echoes the same ideals and urgency for life preservation as The Day The Earth Stood Still film, which was the inspiration for the band's very identity.
After combining Panofsky's methods of analysis with Machin's and applying it to Klaatu's 3:47 EST album cover, I don't think the album cover alone promotes the life theme with absolute clarity to every observer. Despite the cover's lively colours and the sun being a major advocate for life, the theme remains vague at face value. As seen in section two, there are so many possibilities of what the cover's meaning potential could be. Beyond face value, every object does have a connection to life as a possible meaning potential. However, it becomes crystal clear that life really is the theme of the album when the visual is paired with the music. In this case, the visual merely enhances the lyrical contents. On its own, the visual's main theme is lost. It is the collaboration with both the music and lyrics, (and to an extent the band's inspiration for identity), that allows the listener to draw conclusions of the cover's theme, meaning potentials, and metaphorical associations.
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