A while ago, I watched Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which features the line: "Socrates lived in 470 BC, a time when much of the world looked like the cover of the Led Zeppelin album Houses of the Holy." So I Wiki-ed Houses of the Holy, and sure enough the entry included the movie quote! And the album cover is creepy. I then went on a hyperlink binge about Led Zeppelin's other albums and discovered that Physical Graffiti's "original album jacket for the LP included die-cut windows on the building shown on the cover; as the inner sleeves for the discs were inserted in different orientations, various objects and people would appear in the windows." How cool is that?
Adding to the coolness is Zeppelin's cover for In Through the Out Door, which is so cool that you'll have to read about it. I recently spoke to Ashley about the creativity that once went into albums: The Rolling Stones's Sticky Fingers featured a real zipper, and Pink Floyd regularly included stickers and postcards in their albums -- Atom Heart Mother even had a German menu that might have inspired Alan's psychedelic breakfast. I asked Ashley where that "out of the box" thinking went when CDs became mainstream. She brought up that her father's CD of Ummagumma includes a folded-up poster of the original album cover.
But what of modern artists? I fear that original approaches to anything physical will eventually become obsolete. (Honestly I probably like David Gilmour's On an Island not for its music but for its book-like binding, a rarity with CDs.) Form following function takes on a new meaning in the burgeoning digital age; there exists no form.
And, because I always like to think I'm ahead of my time, I found a Gothamist post about Physical Graffiti asking the St. Mark's Place inhabitants to re-create the album cover. Instead of returning to nostalgia, people should be making their own art. Ashley introduced me to an artist from El Barrio, James de la Vega. Though some see his work as graffiti, I believe he elevates graffiti to an art; succinct aphorisms like "Become your dream," "Sometimes the king is a woman," and "Connected at the heart" aren't included with mainstream graffiti tags.
The aesthete in me will always appreciate art found in the least likely places, whether I'm on the M4 passing a de la Vega original on a construction site's plywood that begs "POST NO BILLS" or if I find a discarded paper crane in a classroom. And don't forget the art in nature.