I just submitted the following comment to the Nonesuch Records blog in reference to Steve Reich’s unfortunate decision to change the cover art for his forthcoming recording WTC 9/11.
I’m a composer and recently blogged about wtc 9/11 on my Web site (http://dtoub.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/wtc-911-some-thoughts/) and reviewed it for Sequenza 21 (http://www.sequenza21.com/cdreviews/2011/08/wtc-911/). I think that the cover is perhaps not what I would have chosen, but that said, who cares? It’s a cover. There are no bodies, in close up, falling from one of the towers (although that would certainly have made a more powerful statement than the current cover with the plane and the WTC). Just as with Different Trains, there are no images of bodies being piled up. I don’t think SR should have changed the cover, any more than I thought the Islamic cultural center a few blocks away should be moved. If some people are disturbed by the cover, so be it. They probably wouldn’t listen to the piece anyway. And Nonesuch might realize that the controversy, such as it is, might spur others to listen to the piece and purchase the album. I think it’s ridiculous, just like the objections to the John Adams opera about Leon Klinghoffer.
When I was a kid growing up in the 60’s, I had a LP set of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 that had the photo of a poor Russian boy on the cover. Given that we were in the midst of a cold war and nuclear tensions, I don’t recall anyone complaining that he/she was offended or disturbed by the cover. I also had a recording of Shostakovich’s 13th symphony with a distorted, Munch-like photo of an old Jewish woman who one could imaging is being burned. Again, no controversy. Nor should there have been.
WTC 9/11, if you read my review and even worse, my blog post, is not my favorite piece by SR, whom I’ve met several times (I interviewed him 2-3 times in the early 80’s for my college radio program at the U of Chicago) and who had an important influence on the direction of my own music. But that’s my point-it’s the music that matters. Not the album cover. I am disappointed that the cover art is being changed. Artists should not bow to convention, even if the art in question is disturbing. Guernica is disturbing. Should we replace that too?