The Philadelphia Museum Of Art Has The Photo That’s On That Big Star Album Cover
BY JOEY SWEENEY
Here is a fun thing to do when you are bored and online and sick of giving your eyeballs to @Jack or Zuckerberg: Go spelunking via the search function at philamuseum.org. The PMA’s art holdings, as you might imagine, are so vast that they could not possibly display all of it, even after the very exciting expansion project that is currently underway there. Type in a word: Any word! It’s like roulette for vibes.
Though I can’t for the life of me remember how I got there, that’s how I found out that one of the key images of my glorious misspent youth is in the currently unseeable but permanent and safe keeping of the Philadelphia Museum of Art: William Eggleston’s Greenwood, Mississippi, sometimes also referred to as The Red Ceiling. This image will be recognizable to many as also being the cover image for Big Star’s equally iconic second album, Radio City.
Eggleston and the band were fast friends in what purports to be a pretty wild scene in early 1970s Memphis, and in this relationship, you can get a sense of Eggleston’s own rock and roll vision, which right around that time would also jump the fence from photography to pioneering video art — in some cases, with the band in tow:
As for the image in question, made somewhere around 1973-1974, it’s notable for a few reasons, not least of which is that red, borne from a dye printing process more closely associated with advertising back then. Secondly, there’s its location, unknowable from the image itself: A brothel. Finally, there is, yep, its association with Radio City, and the common wave both works share. Both convey a hot and sticky devil-may-care decadence that could go one of two ways — deeply sketchy or death-defyingly daring.
In this case, it’s both. Maybe best to keep it under lock and key for now, after all.