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John Lennon - Butcher Cover
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Butcher Cover Explained

Post: 16990 of 17007
From: (TV's Big Dealer)
Subject: the REAL butcher
Date: 13 Jun 1994 21:16:32 GMT
Organization: The_Donaldson_Corporation
Lines: 115
Distribution: world

The following is a reprint from an article in Goldmine magazine, Nov.
15, 1991, concerning Beatles' photographer Bob Whitaker.

GM = Goldmine; W = Whitaker

GM: You photographed one of the best known photos of the Beatles,
the one originally used on the cover of their American album called
Yesterday and Today, which Capitol Records quickly withdrew and
replaced with one it found less offensive. The original album
jacket has come to be called the "butcher cover" among collectors.

W: Beastly title.

GM: Does it have a real title?

W: It's in fact called "A Somnambulant Adventure."

GM: How did that photo, featuring the Beatles among slabs of meat
and decapitated dolls, come about? Was it your idea or the

W: It was mine. Absolutely. It was part of three pictures that
should have gone into an icon. And it was a rough. If you could
imagine, the background of that picture should have been all gold.
Around the heads would have gone silver halos, jeweled. Then there
are two other pictures that are in the book [The Unseen Beatles.
Collins Publishers, San Francisco, 1991], but not in color.

GM: It ended up being a formal portrait shot, with a white

W: Yeah, well in those days one would make a print and start
splashing the gilt-edged paint around. That was what was going to
happen; the whole thing was going to go into an icon. But it got
snatched away and eventually was pretty well taken out of context.
Why is this photo something that would be of interest to Goldmine?

GM: Because the album that it was used on was pulled from the
market almost immediately and another photo was pasted over it. The
cover with the meat and dolls has subsequently become one of the
most valuable Beatles collectibles, worth several thousand dollars.

W: Is it really? I have the original printers' proofs of it. Plus
the transparencies. That does astound me, and having really had
little to do with the memorabilia of 25 years ago, I'm beginning to
find all sorts of things out.

GM: How did you prepare for the shoot?

W: It was hard work. I had to go to the local butcher and get pork.
I had to go to a doll factory and find the dolls. I had to go to an
eye factory and find the eyes. False teeth. There's a lot in that
photograph. I think John's almost-last written words were about
that particular cover; that was pointed out to me by Martin
Harrison, who wrote the text to my book. I didn't even know that,
but I'm learning a lot.

GM: Why meat and dolls? There's been a lot of conjecture over the
years about what that photo meant. The most popular theory is that
it was a protest by the Beatles against Capitol Records for
supposedly "butchering" their records in the States.

W: Rubbish, absolute nonsense. If the trilogy or triptych of the
three photographs had ever come together, it would have made sense.
There is another set of photos in the book which is the Beatles with
a girl with her back toward you, hanging on to sausages. Those
sausages were meant to be an umbilical cord. Does this start to
open a few chapters?

I had toured quite a lot of the world with them by then and I was
continually amused and amazed by the public adoration of four people
who were no more nor less than THEY were as people. My own thought
was how the hell do you show that they've been born out of a woman
the same as anybody else? An umbilical cord was one way of doing

The other side of the triptych should have been George Harrison
banging nails into John's head. Which just goes to show that
they're as solid, or an illusion, as much as that of a piece of
wood. Why worship? 

Then there was some stage John said they were more
popular than Jesus, which I think offended an enormous number of
people. John and I had had a conversation about that particular
statement and how upset everybody was at it, as a statement. But it
was possibly, in context, perfectly correct at the time. I think he
probably got it slightly wrong.

That's how it all came about. I think we were all really fed up at
taking what one had hoped would be designer-friendly publicity
pictures. It gave me an enormous chance to continue putting my own
thoughts on the paper. I just happened to have four pretty amazing
guys to carry on with it. It was a good fun day.

GM: Were you aware when you shot it that Capitol Records was going
to use it as a record cover?

W: No.

GM: Were you upset when they did and then when they pulled it and
replaced it with another photo?

W: Well, I shot that photo too, of them sitting on a trunk, the one
that they pasted over it. I fairly remember being bewildered by the
whole thing. I had no reason to be bewildered by it, purely and
simply, because it could certainly be construed as a fairly shocking
collection of bits and pieces to stick on a group of people and
represent that [the "butchering" of the Beatles' records] in this
country [the U.S.].

GM: It caused something of an outrage in this country.

W: Yes (laughs). If it had been taken with a bit of tongue-in-cheek
then it might have perhaps come around in a more fruitful and fun
way. I think even Time magazine wrote it up as a mistake the
Beatles had made. But then over here it was written up as the only
true pop-art cover ever to have been made.

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