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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Six

Stout’s annotations are in italics.

ARCUDI: Talk to me about BeatleSongs.

STOUT: My concept and art for the cover of the 1982 Rhino LP BeatleSongs is hands-down my most controversial record album cover, more so even than the bootlegs.

This press release that follows was requested by Rhino Records from me at the time in response to the avalanche of press inquiries that resulted from the release of BeatleSongs, the retail and public outcry over and rejection of the record, the recall of the album and the death threats to both Rhino Records and myself that followed the LP’s release.

The BeatleSongs Controversy
by William Stout

Recently there has been a tremendous amount of controversy over the new Rhino Records release of BeatleSongs, an innocuous collection of novelty songs by fans of The Beatles about their heroes (examples: “Ringo For President”, “My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut”). The controversy stems from my cover for the LP, a group portrait of fans at a Beatlemania convention.

Depicted is a complete range of Beatles fans: a wide-eyed nostalgic, there because of her affection for the lovable mop-tops and their music; the greedy dealer who could care less about The Beatles (but cares lots about money!); a guy who had his 15 minutes of fame because he looked like Ringo Starr; a little girl too young to be a First Wave Beatles fan but who doesn’t want to miss out on any of the fun; a guitar player hoping some of the magic will rub off on him if he owns an original piece of a Beatles instrument; and the rest of the assorted folk who make up these friendly gatherings.

The fans stand behind a large banner embellished with lettering that reads “We Love You Beatles!” The banner is being held by two young men.

One of them is Mark David Chapman, the alleged (“alleged” because at the time this was written there had not been a trial) assassin of John Lennon.

Because of this, many stores are stocking the record in your good ol’ “plain brown wrappers”. These are the few stores that haven’t refused to stock them at all.

I will not attempt to explain the black humor behind the cover concept because attempts to dissect such humor always evaporate that fragile vapor of funniness.

Instead, let me give you my serious reasons for producing what Cashbox magazine described as “the sickest cover design concept seen in quite a while”.

When I had decided that the cover design was to be a scene at a Beatlemania convention, the thought of putting Lennon’s alleged assassin on the cover streaked through my mind.

“My god,” I exclaimed to one of my studio mates, “wouldn’t that be the absolute worst in bad taste?”

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized one terrible truth: in the darkest depths of the thing called Fandom, Mark David Chapman is the ultimate Beatles fan. He collected (and in his mind — according to psychiatrists at the time — he became) one of The Beatles. Chapman completes the range of fans shown on the cover.

This observation compelled me morally to include Chapman and present him as a cautionary warning to hardcore fans everywhere (it was only the hard-core fans who recognized Chapman — the president of Rhino Records didn’t even realize whose idiot grin that was). It is my sincere hope that fans who might see a bit of Chapman in themselves reevaluate their obsession in terms closer to reality. At the risk of sounding obvious to non-fans: Musicians aren’t really gods here on earth in human form. Show these people you admire respect by purchasing their products but not by intruding upon their lives — their fair share of breathing room.

Now I have to confess that in my art school days John Lennon was my guide to sartorial splendor and that to this day I maintain a complete collection of his recorded works. But I never believed that the arrogance of an intrusion by this fan would enhance his life.

The folks most upset by the cover, of course, are the humorless lot that do see a bit — or more? — of Chapman inside their own obsessive little heart-of-hearts.

The rabid would-be Chapmans can take heart. In an unprecedented move by a previously brave little company, BeatleSongs is being reissued with the back cover of Beatles paraphernalia now as the front cover image. I have refused to alter Chapman’s face as requested by Rhino records so my art will not appear on the back cover — nor anywhere else within the album’s new packaging.

The BeatleSongs cover was created out of anger, a sense of loss and a sense of John’s own sardonic humor.

A friend of mine went into a six-month depression upon the assassination of John Lennon. When I showed him the BeatleSongs cover, he looked at it and replied with a statement that puts to rest in my mind any arguments over taste: “It’s so true.”

2008 update:
In retrospect, this 1982 release that I wrote seems extremely self-absorbed and overwrought. I don’t know — maybe it had something to do with the death threats! I still love the cover, though, and consider it one of my best works.

Because the LP was pulled from circulation and the remaining covers were destroyed, BeatleSongs has, of course, become a collector’s item, regularly changing hands in recent times for about $250 each (I stashed away two boxes of them in anticipation of their collectability).

Over the years I heard through some pretty reliable sources in the music industry grapevine (since I never have personally met her I don’t know whether this is actually true or apocryphal) that when Yoko Ono was shown the cover she broke into a smile and said, “John would have loved this! This was his favorite kind of humor!”

Here’s a BeatleSongs Cover Identification Guide:
Back row (from L to R): A fan wearing The Walrus costume from Magical Mystery Tour; Self portrait by William Stout, wearing a Help! scarf; winner of the Ringo look-alike contest; giant beetle; Beatles balloons with caricatures from The Beatles TV cartoon show; convention security cop.

Front row (from L to R): Nowhere Man, clinging to the fat ass of Mark David Chapman (the fan who collected one of The Beatles); neo-hippy prepubescent second generation Beatles fan dressed in 60s flower power garb; female John Lennon fan (somewhat similar in features to Stout’s wife) clutching two Beatles dolls; baby fathered by one of The Beatles (or so claims the memorabilia dealer); avaricious Beatles memorabilia dealer; male John fan in John’s In His Own Write period garb; hippy in Sgt. Pepper uniform; someone’s dog.

Items of interest on the floor (from L to R): Copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (found on Chapman at the time of his arrest); Beatles bass drum head; sheet music; Beatles collector cards; yellow submarine; half-eaten hot dog; acid sugar cubes; matchbox, pills and joints; cracked Beatles LPs and 45s; old issue of Rolling Stone; John’s glasses as they appeared on the ground at the time of his assassination; hypodermic needle; The Beatles’ infamous “butcher cover”.

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