SOME record stores have refused to carry it. Others have covered it up with a plain brown wrapper. Most have continued to sell "as is," knowing that the supply will soon be exhausted.
"It" is the controversial cover to a somewhat innocuous collection of Beatles novelty songs from the '60s. The drawing, by William Stout, shows a number of Beatles fans gathered around a banner heralding "We Love You Beatles." One of them is Mark David Chapman, convicted slayer of former Beatle John Lennon.
Rhino Records, a small, independent record company based in Los Angeles, says future pressings of "Beatlesongs!" will feature a new cover, sans Chapman. As a result, the 10,000 copies currently in circulation have become instant collectors' items. It's an ironic corollary to the Beatles' "Yesterday and Today" album cover from 1966 in which they were photographed in white butcher smocks holding slabs of raw meat and decapitated dolls. After widespread negative reaction, a new cover was quickly pasted over most of the copies that went out, but uncovered copies fetch as much as $1,000 in today's marketplace. A drawing of it is in the lower right-hand corner of "Beatlesongs!", next to a shattered pair of glasses, reminiscent of Yoko Ono's "Season of Glass" cover.
The 32-year-old Stout recently worked with Ron Cobb on the designs and sets for "Conan the Barbarian" and has just published a large-format art book called "The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic Review of a Lost Era."
"Some people are completely missing the point," Stout said from his Los Angeles studio. His cover, he insists, shows "the whole range of Beatles fans at a Beatlemania convention: the wide-eyed nostalgic who's 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 a lot about money; the guy who had 15 minutes of fame because he looked like Ringo; a girl too young to be a first-wave Beatles fan but who doesn't want to miss any of the fun; the guitar player who hopes some of the magic will rub off if he owns a piece of a Beatles instrument."
And then there's pudgy Chapman, eyes obscured by thick glasses, wearing "John" buttons, holding an autograph book, "Catcher in the Rye" at his feet, the Nowhere Man hiding behind his legs. "I did not try to portray him sympathetically," Stout explains. "It sounds sick to say it but he's the ultimate Beatles fan in that he collected one of the Beatles and in his own mind became one of the Beatles. His portrait on the cover serves as a warning to fans not to take their hobby so seriously that it gets to the point of obsession."
Stout, who calls Lennon his "favorite Beatle" and who has a complete collection of Lennon's works, admits he did have some initial reservations about using Chapman until "I realized one cerebral truth--that in the darkest depths of fandom, Mark David Chapman is the ultimate fan. He completes the range. I wanted people to reevaluate their obsessions. The cover was created out of anger, a sense of loss and a sense of John's own sardonic humor."
Stout is "disappointed" about Rhino's decision to alter the cover; he refused to change the Chapman character himself, so the new cover will sport the Beatles paraphernalia currently on the back cover. "I thought they were braver than that. They have a reputation for irreverence, and though I don't think my cover is irreverent, I think it's right there in line with John Lennon's sense of humor. I think the people that are most bothered by it either don't have a sense of humor or see a little bit of Mark David Chapman in themselves . . . and those are the exact people I'm trying to reach."
"Beatlesongs!" has inspired "lots of response and some of it is alarming," Stout says.
"Recently I got a phone call from a guy in Covina. Did I want to do an album cover for Paul McCartney and Wings? He wanted me to do a painting and he would try and sell it. The more he talked, the more excited he got. The peak was when he said, 'Boy, this is just like talking to John Lennon!'
"It does worry me that so many people out there are out of touch with basic reality. It's like the people who come to Hollywood; once they purchase the map to the movie stars' homes, they feel they have the right to enter those homes. It's real bizarre that people can't separate illusion from reality."