Graphic designer Chip Kidd is best known for his unforgettable book covers, from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park to David Sedaris’ Naked. He picks a favorite from The Partridge Family, seeks solace in the lyrics of Beach House, finds the depth in a synth pop classic, and locates the elusive connection between songwriting and graphic design. He recently authored a book called GO: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design.
For More: http://chipkidd.com/
1. The Partridge Family - "I Think I Love You"
2. New Order - "The Perfect Kiss (Extended Version)"
3. The 'Letter Aria' from the opera Emmeline, by Tobias Picker, libretto by J. D. McClatchy
4. Radiohead - "Let Down"
5. Beach House - "Myth"
Eric J Lawrence: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I’m here with author, editor and graphic designer Chip Kidd. He is best known for his unforgettable book covers Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and David Sedaris’s Naked among them. Today we are here to talk about some songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Chip, thanks so much for joining us.
Chip Kidd: Well thank you for asking me.
EJL: Well what is the first track you got for us?
CK: It is “I Think I Love You” by The Partridge Family. It’s sort of impossible to effectively relate just how much this TV show affected me as child, the whole idea of a family being a rock band.
It really sort of was a head of its time in some of the themes it was taking on, believe it or not. You know women’s liberation, multiracial families, and to me this was second grade, this “I Think I Love You”.
The kind of hilarious thing about it in retrospect is it’s about romantic love, but it could be about any kind of love that you have for another person. But this whole idea of, you know, waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to sleep because you love somebody and it’s just, of course, catchy as hell.
Song: The Partridge Family – “I Think I Love You”
The story arc, if you will, of every episode was there would be some sort of problem that they had to solve during the episode and then they would end it all by playing a song. And that sort of seemed like a logical thing, all leading up to a pop song. If you’re raised on musicals that sort of makes a kind of perverse kind of sense.
EJL: That was The Partridge Family with “I Think I Love You”, as selected by our guest Chip Kidd. What’s the next track you got for us?
CK: This is “The Perfect Kiss” by New Order. So when I first heard this song, I was at college. I was at Penn State. I was studying Graphic Design and, of course, this was before computers and we were pulling all-nighters all the time.
A lot of these pieces of music only seem to make sense to me upon many repeated listenings. I think on first listen, this just sounds like generic, perhaps not so great, disco.
When I finally heard the extended version, all I could think of was like this would be if Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were making musicals in the mid 1980’s, this would have been the finale in one of them.
I mean, it’s just, it becomes so orchestral and so beautiful, fascinating combination of form and content which also what I was learning in graphic design at the same time.
In graphic design, form is what something looks like and content is what it says and/or means. But with a song the form is what it sounds like and then the content is what they are singing.
Song: New Order – “The Perfect Kiss”
CK: The last line is “the perfect kiss is the kiss of death,” and he is singing about a friend of his who is not going to be around much longer. And yet, if you didn’t understand what he was singing, it would sound like some rapturous sort of disco symphony, that frankly wasn’t appropriate at all with what he was singing about.
EJL: That was New Order with “The Perfect Kiss”, the extended version, as selected by our guest, Chip Kidd. What’s the next track you got for us?
CK: It doesn’t even really have a title but, for lack of one, it is the “Letter Aria” and it’s from an op era called Emmeline. The music is by Tobias Picker and the libretto is by J.D. McClatchy.
In the interest of full disclosure, J.D. McClatchy eventually became my husband and shortly after we first met this opened at the Santa Fe Opera. This is just an incredibly beautiful, subtle, yearning piece of music and singing.
It’s just incredibly beautiful and it reminds me of how he and I first met. He wasn’t exactly singing under my window, but sort of in his own way doing the equivalent.
EJL: Well here is “Letter Aria” from the opera Emmeline composed by Tobias Picker, featuring a libretto by J.D. McClatchy as selected by our guest Chip Kidd.
Song: The "Letter Aria" from the opera Emmeline, by Tobias Picker, libretto by J. D. McClatchy
EJL: That was a selection from the opera Emmeline, as selected by our guest Chip Kidd. What’s the next track you got for us?
CK: It’s by Radiohead, it’s called “Let Down” and it’s from OK Computer.
I remember when that album came out, it was really seen as groundbreaking and experimental, and it was – but every time you hear something was experimental, I sort of raise an eyebrow and wait to see if the experiment has failed or succeeded and certainly this one succeeded in just a tremendous, soul satisfying way.
Song: Radiohead – “Let Down”
CK: They manage this incredible balance between, sort of, alienated emotionlessness and then the opposite of whatever that is, like a full engagement with what it means to be human and how painful that can be. I mean, I’ve interpreted this song to be about touring.
And, you know, how many of those songs have been written? A zillion, and most of them are these just sort of, self-pitying, or poor me I’m so successful I have to be on the road all the time, it’s so soul draining blah, blah, blah, whereas this is just a brilliant reimagining of what that genre can be.
EJL: Well here is it, Radiohead with “Let Down”.
EJL: What’s the last track you got for us?
CK: Oh, this is “Myth” by Beach House.
I had two friends who were dying when they really shouldn’t have been. You know, they were about my age, or a little older, and each had a lingering disease and then I heard this song… and it sounds so banal… but it seemed to be the perfect soundtrack to that. I just kept thinking about this song, she says “you just can’t keep hanging on to what is dead and gone” and she keeps asking “help me to make it, help me to make it, help me to make it”, and that kind of became my mantra.
EJL: It’s interesting to me, because the song kind of works in the same way that maybe a book cover does.
CK: Yeah, it becomes about encapsulation, distillation. Distilling something down into two or three minutes, or 5x8 inch space on a piece of paper. You become an interpreter of this other piece of art with something new that you’re going to create to represent it.
EJL: That was Beach House with the song “Myth” as selected by our guest, Chip Kidd. Chip, thank you so much for joining us here at KCRW.com.
CK: Well thanks for having me, it was a real privilege.
Image Credit: John Madere
Chip Kidd, graphic designer