death cover

by Art Chantry (

rolling stone magazine’s ‘death covers’ are the koolest krap ever. i think this brian jones cover from august 1969 (#39) is the first of them (perhaps you can help me on this). since then, there’s been the morrison cover, the janis cover, the jimi cover, the john lennon cover, the elvis cover, the belushi cover, etc etc etc. they should put together a compilation book of just death covers. they certainly have enough of them to fill a book. good money in death.

AC:no doubt they covered bonham's death. but, if they weren't considered "iconic" enough (aka - money making), then they got maybe a cover mention. like, sid and joey and people of lesser boomer value and 'not yet a godhead' status. the full bore "frameable" death cover, well, that's always been reserved for guaranteed profit centers....

this brian jones cover is a particularly audacious intro to this bizarre sub-genre of magazine covers. i men, look at this thing. from the infamous stoned monterey pop festival photo by jim marshall (notice that his eyes are closed? clever, eh? it’s almost as if he’s already dead!!!! snort.) to the color scheme (chocolate brown and black ink. mourning colors.) the cape brian is wearing in the photo looks like a funeral shroud. these bonehead choices are no accident.

even the astonishing headline “brian jones: sympathy for the devil” pulls no punches when it goes for that knockout “national enquirer” style exploitation of the tragedy. art director robert kingsbury (rolling stone’s original art director, i believe) was very much a product of his times and was no slouch when jann wenner (rhymes with ‘yawn’) went for that mass market top dollar “let’s make a lotta money, boyz!” approach to what they laughingly referred to as “journalism” back then. come to think of it, that magazine hasn’e changed a whit since then, either.

i wonder who gets the next death cover? shall we do that ‘rocknroll dead guy’ bet? i’ve wondered about keef and (my god, he’s still alive?) jerry lee lewis. but, i’m always taken by surprise when it turns out to be tupac or poor little curt. so, those are sucker bets, for sure. you never know who’s the next in line. keef has been dead for years, anyway. just that nobody has the nerve to point it out to him.


AC:i didn’t even understand how sneaky and insidious this marketing concept was until i actually found myself buying the elvis death cover and setting it aside as an ‘investment collectible’. then, i realized what i was doing and swore to never fall for that bullshit again.

but, i have….

…then there’s the strange tiny use of the rick griffin masthead – what’

at about?

nah, if you go back and look at all of those old hippie papers from back in them dayz, the rolling stone layout of the early robert kingsbury periods was simply situated right into the DIY hippie standards exhibited in every single underground and ‘bubbling under the mainstream’ periodicals that counter culture produced.

it’s only because of the familiarity of rolling stone from the length of publication that we actually begin to see them as a unique institution. but they really really weren’t. they looked just like everybody else back then.

nothing to see here, folks. move on.

it wasn’t until madman mike salisbury took over the reigns that the modern personality of rolling stone started to come forward. and of course, fred woodward’s standard bearing innovative brilliance mowed the lawn of magazine design for next couple of decades….

…the last great ‘dead guy cover’ was probably the ‘poor little curt’ death cover. they sold a poster version of that one, didn’t they? i know they still dig out the morrison death cover and use it as promotion in their ad sales….

…i always thought it was funny that the REAL hippies were all art nouveau junkies (total back to nature rebellion and anti-industrial) and the FAKE hippies were all into victorian (an embrace first industrial manufactured style). so, the very idea that RS was victorian in appropriation is very very telling in itself.


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