Picture-Perfect

Ten days ago Rob Berg and I rounded out the Bachelors Anonymous studio catalog with The Big Picture. Rob came up with the album title and the cover design: a rainbow emerging behind us as we frame ourselves (at a 1990 New Year’s Eve party held at the home of Anne Atwell-Zoll, who sang backup with Ann Russell). My first thought was that the rainbow is passé, but with the resurgence of a loathing that never left, I’m reminded of those peace symbol posters from an earlier era: Back By Popular Demand.

My wife Andrea Carney and I met one of the people who claimed to have created the rainbow flag. We were in San Francisco from L.A. for a demonstration against the impending invasion of Iraq and I’d obtained a corporate flag from Adbusters for the occasion. We needed a pole for the flag and found a maker open that Saturday of the protest, October 26, 2002. A “Steve” ushered us into his studio. We gave him the flag and he went to work. “I created the rainbow flag,” he told us. “You can read about it over there while you’re waiting,” pointing to a framed article on the wall. I remember something about his having fabric remnants of several colors, and I think he denied being gay, but that’s about it. The pole he fashioned for us was nicely sturdy, measuring 8′ x 1″ with a gilt ball-style finial and a rounded toe, the flag fastened at its grommets with screw eyes. It barely fit inside our Prius.

I don’t know Steve’s surname, so I’ve been unable to follow up on his flag these twenty years later. I know I’d read about a controversy regarding whether the rainbow flag’s putative creator, Gilbert Baker, had some assistance in dreaming up its design. Baker died in 2017, just shy of the 40th anniversary of the flag’s 1978 debut, and in 2018 The Advocate named the names of those who claimed collaboration. Last year the Los Angeles Blade posted a lengthy interview online with two of those collaborators, Lee Mentley and Lynn Segerblom (aka Faerie Argyle Rainbow).

In any case, you can’t play an album cover, as we used to say back in the day of dog-eared LP sleeves. The music behind The Big Picture’s cover is some of the Bachelors’ finest. Picture-perfect or purt-near, as my maternal grandmother would say.

The Album

The Big Picture leads off with “What’s This Feeling?” which I wrote about in December, followed by “In Another Time,” written for Andrea’s 50th birthday celebration at which Bachelors Anonymous performed. I consider the lyrics to be my best, likely because I was not writing in the abstract. Read the story behind the song on our BachelorBlog.

“Our Creation” and “Laissez-Faire” are reincarnations of—improbably and respectively—songs about the neutron bomb and a specialty coffee drink. The latter was an instrumental that Rob wrote in about 1992, asking me for “rap” lyrics last fall. I began my draft on a theme of the song’s original title, “Big City Latte,” but I took so long that Rob fashioned a tune that called for a new lyrical incarnation. As I write in a forthcoming post on the BachelorBlog, “I imagined a protagonist less cynical than the typical Bachelor of three decades ago. And so it’s ironic that Rob’s original scratch choruses provide a cool counterpoint to the earnest entreaties of the verses.”

“Seriously,” as I’ll explain on the BachelorBlog, was “an answer to the voices in my head that questioned my moving to the dark side” in my conversion to Catholicism that began in 1989.

In “Father’s Day” I lifted a line—and overall inspiration—from a poem I wrote during an apprenticeship with Allen Ginsberg at Naropa in 1978. It’s a bittersweet song made more bittersweet by the memory of dedicating it to my father at a show my parents caught in 1990, with Madonna and Sandra Bernhard leaving before our set.

The album ends with two cover songs, so to speak. “On, On, On, On…” appeared on the first LP by Tom Tom Club, the Talking Heads offshoot. We had only a vocal-less backing-track mix in our archive, with a peculiar lead-in featuring stock jungle-animal voices. We couldn’t recall its purpose, so we omitted it, but the song’s instrumental break gave us a chance in performance to introduce members of our live act, and gave us a chance on this album to repurpose that break, as you can hear.

“Exercise in Revolution” was adapted from a score we crafted in 1987 for director Zack’s UCLA production of Megan Terry’s Home. The text is by Julian Beck, cofounder of The Living Theatre, from The Life of the Theatre (originally issued by Ginsberg’s publisher City Lights). We approached Julian’s son Garrick for permission to adapt his father’s prose and, gratefully, it was granted.

The album credits are available here. As mentioned above, we’ll be telling the stories behind the songs (and recordings) on the BachelorBlog in the coming weeks.

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