Serious Play 2-book set by Larry Vigon
posted February 24, 2022 by Mike Goldstein
I’m not a critic. In my mind, to be a critic, you need to know a lot about a topic and, to make your criticisms more believable, you should also have some first-hand experience and/or expertise in the creation of some things similar to what you might be expressing your opinions about. While the word “critic” is first defined (on dictionary.com) as “a person who judges, evaluates, or criticizes” (with the definition then expanded to “a person who judges, evaluates, or analyzes literary or artistic works, dramatic or musical performances, or the like, especially for a newspaper or magazine”), it’s the third definition that’s given – “a person who tends too readily to make captious, trivial, or harsh judgments” or a “faultfinder” that seems to better-define many of today’s professional critics in the arts and, for that reason, I’ve stayed away from really ever saying anything critical about the work of the people I cover on the ACHOF site.
Of course, it can be said that I do make value judgements when deciding what to include on the site or in my monthly news postings, and I really can’t argue with that. Editors and writers are critics by default, since we’re choosing to present a story (or a character in that story) from our own unique viewpoints, but I’d like to think that I’m presenting people and their stories in such a way that you as the readers are given enough basic information so that you then can make up your minds as to whether a story has been worth your time and/or has left you with some sense of satisfaction having learned something new and exciting (even when the subjects might have been well-covered previously). I’ve made one example of this – any article I find in which has been headlined something along the lines of “the Top 10” or “the 25 best album covers of all time – a running joke in my writing over the years, as I’m sure some of you have noticed. Yes, people are entitled to their opinions but, in most cases, scant thought or evidence of any specific method of how these “best” things are determined is ever presented and so, in those cases, I’ll either present them to you with a short-but-snarky intro or, perhaps more often lately, I’ll leave them for you to stumble across in some other fashion.
With all of this as an introduction, I’m deciding today to break somewhat from my efforts to always remain neutral when presenting an item for your review. I’m not a believer in the “there were good people on both sides” form of “balanced” journalism as its true meaning has been blown up over the past several years and, as I stated earlier on, I don’t think I’m qualified to be able to deliver any criticism regarding today’s topic, which is artist/designer/art director Larry Vigon’s recently published career retrospective book set titled Serious Play. I’m not going to “review” this book, per se, but, instead, I’m simply choosing today to share with you some info and personal commentary on a book now in my personal collection that I’ve become quite fond of, with the hope that this overview will motivate you to take a look at this book – and perhaps other, similar tomes – as objects of both beauty and insight into the creative mind(s) of the people who’ve published them.
A little more than two years ago (in February, 2020), just a few weeks before the world was turned upside down due to the introduction and rapid spread of the coronavirus, I published an article in my “Featured Album Cover Artist Portfolio” series that was based on interviews I’d done with Larry over the course of several months and which served as both an introduction to his work (which came in particularly handy as he’d recently been inducted into the ACHOF!) and an artist-guided tour through examples of the album covers he’d worked on during his long and distinguished career in that area (you can revisit that interview/article on the ACHOF website at https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/2020/02/13/featured-album-cover-artist-portfolio-larry-vigon/). Larry was very helpful to me in my effort to present some of his “greatest hits” in the annals of album cover art, and I felt that it was one of my better efforts after I’d published it (the comments on social media were quite supportive as well). Even so, one of the things that I came away with from the experience was that there were aspects to this guy’s work that were quite special, particularly after I’d followed up to track down and buy a copy of a book that he’d published – Dream: A Journal by Larry Vigon (published in 2006 by WW Norton in NY) – which was based on his efforts to record – and then paint pictures of – every dream he could remember over the course of 17 years. While most of the books in my collection are more-generally about album art/package design, I have on occasion purchased books by particular artists whose work I’ve enjoyed as a fanboy/collector (Brian Griffin’s Pop, Drew Carolan’s Matinee, Simon Halfon’s Cover To Cover and others), but I felt that Larry’s Dream was a book that was unusually insightful and, at times, even a bit disturbing, so when I had the chance to add a book that stood to bring me a bit closer to understanding the stories behind some of the world’s best-known album covers, I said “yes”.
The book arrived a couple of weeks ago and, since then I’ve spent several hours digging through one of the two books that make up the set – the one subtitled “Art Direction and Design” (the other book included in the set, titled “Personal Work”, presents an eye-popping compendium of Vigon’s fine art work – I’ve included a couple of pix from that tome that brought an immediate smile to my face at the end of this article), which includes samples and stories about his work as a commercial designer, all prefaced with several pages about his childhood and education, how he got into the album cover art business (coming as the result of one of his teachers at LA’s Art Center College of Design being famed A&M Records creative director Roland Young, who’s also an ACHOF inductee) and a nice foreword by Larry’s former business partner at the Vigon/Ellis agency, David Ellis . After that short intro, readers dive into the substance of Larry’s work, with each of the chapters (titled “Music”, “Print”, “Logos”, “Magazines”, “Books” and “Advertising”) presenting dozens of examples of his output in these areas.
Larry’s cover for Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, along with several other Tusk-related collages
Since this article follows up the longer one I did two years ago, I’m not going to spend too much time revisiting his album cover work, which takes up most of the “Music” section, other than to say that it’s so nice to be able to see these images laid out so nicely, with many accompanied by text by Larry that gives us more details about how works were done and what his mindset was when he approached these projects. For example, the first grouping of covers we tour through were the ones done for Fleetwood Mac, including Rumours (which featured Vigon’s hand-drawn logo/lettering), Mirage, Fleetwood Mac Live and Tusk, an album that showcased the talents of several photographer (Peter Beard, Norman Seeff and Jayme Odgers) in a series of collages. The memorable “dog bites man” cover is actually an image of Scooter – a dog owned by one of the record’s producers – playing with his owner’s pants leg.
You’ll also be impressed with the addition of recently-submitted words of praise from most of the band members, which reminds us that these projects are collaborations between a number of interested parties – musicians, record label personnel (C-suite, marketing, “bean counters”, etc.) – and the creative/production teams assembled to create packaging that, when done right, motivates retailers to highlight these products and fans to buy them. When things go well, life-long relationships – often both personal and professional – are built as many musicians will long be grateful to designers whose work has helped promote and sell their records.
Chicago 17 album cover and some other wrapped-item art experiments
And as I paged through the book, noting examples of Larry’s work for Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Chicago (see the artwork for Chicago 17, above, along with some other examples of art he did for some other projects in a similar fashion), Eric Clapton, Bob Welsh, Counting Crows, JJ Cale, Oingo Boingo, Thomas Dolby, Sparks, Carole King, Boney James and many others, I couldn’t help but notice how many examples of where Vigon (& Co.) had done multiple packaging projects for each of these artists, which must have given him a great sense of satisfaction.
Album covers for Counting Crows and Oingo Boingo
After taking a break that gave me the time needed to reinsert my eyeballs into their sockets, I continued my tour through these books, noting that, in each section, the final products delivered to clients were, in nearly every case, works of art that I’m sure had to have made those who’d hired Larry wonder why his deliverables were just so different than those from others they’d hired in the past.
One of Larry’s commercial projects – House of Blues branding
In the book’s foreword, Larry’s former design firm partner David Ellis recalled one time when they’d been hired by a company with “a justifiably proud but irascible visionary who inspired fear and obedience” in his employees and, I’m assuming, his outside vendors as well. The company wanted someone to deliver a new brand ID package for its products and services, but it seemed clear from the initial meeting that the aforementioned CEO was going to dictate the direction the creative team should take. Mr. Vigon, however, had a different vision for what would be most-impactful in the long run for the company and presented a first round of “comps” that, rather than following the obvious path – one that simply fed a businessperson’s ego – were much more metaphoric and surreal in nature. “His team was shocked”, Eliis continues. “The CEO had more than met his match and was surprisingly open – even deferential – towards Larry’s ideas”.
Here’s a series of images done for a season of events at the LA Opera
Paging through the remaining sections of the book, each example of work served to remind me that, throughout my time as an executive in fast-paced (and often low-budget) creative/production environments, it was only on rare occasions that I’d been able to deliver something extraordinary and that, when they did happen, they usually came as the result of the extraordinary talents of one or two exceptionally-capable people I’d been lucky enough to have on my team. It because I was able to locate and find people like these to work with that I was able to enjoy a fair amount of success during my career, so it is with great deference that I’m happy to have been able to share this overview of Larry’s new books as it has become quite clear to me now that its because of people like Mr. Vigon that the music industry – in spite of all of the format changes over the years that have challenged fans to make important decisions about what products to invest in (over and over again, sometimes) – has and continues to be able to deliver great multi-sensory products to its retail customers.
Once again, you can get your own copy of Larry’s Serious Play via his website at https://www.seriousplay-book.com/
Hope you’ve enjoyed this rare gush from another collector and music/art fan – I’d love to hear/read any comments you might have on the topic, so I’ll leave the “Comments” on for a week or so in case you’d like to pipe in with your own thoughts/feelings on the subject.
PS – noted art and design historian Steven Heller recently penned his own review of this book, which you can read at https://www.printmag.com/daily-heller/the-daily-heller-brace-yourself-for-larry-vigon/ and which also includes an interview with Larry about his career and the making of this career retrospective.
Unless otherwise noted, all text and images included in this article are Copyright 2022 Mike Goldstein and AlbumCoverHallofFame.com – All Rights Reserved. Photos of pages from Serious Play by Larry Vigon are used with the artist’s permission. All of the trade names mentioned in this article are the properties of their respective owners and are used for reference only.