How Rush Wound Up With a ‘Marquee’ Cover for ‘2112’
That's a reliable refrain from the band's longtime art director. As he notes, it's a fool's errand predicting which images will become iconic — time alone can tell that tale. And in this case, he modestly deflects praise for the sleeve, instead redirecting credit to the prog-rock trio's ambitious fourth album — particularly "2112," the side-long, 20-minute sci-fi epic exploring themes of liberation and oppression.
"If you ask me, as an artist or an art director, how I feel about the cover, I look back on it as being pretty formative, pretty primitive," Syme tells UCR. "But I realize that I somehow intuitively managed to tap into my conversations with [drummer-lyricist] Neil [Peart] about the arc of his story: the content of the hero confronting the evil red star and the Solar Federation."
The cover features the glowing star and a galactic backdrop, with the band name and album title hovering above. Ironically, the signature piece is found inside the gatefold, where the "Starman" character — depicted by Syme's "bare-assed" friend Bobby King — stands defiantly against the looming star. (King became a semi-fixture of Rush covers: "He showed up again in the wings of Exit … Stage Left, and he was also the prime mover — no pun intended — for the Moving Pictures cover," Syme says. "I made good use of his good will … and his cheap modeling fees.")
Syme notes that he "didn't ignore" Peart's lyrical concept with the cover, but the end product wound up giving more real estate to text. "It's one of the few covers I'd call a 'marquee,' where the title occupies most of the space," he says. "Management loved it for that very reason. It's as my grade seven art teacher used to say: 'Fill the space.'"
Even though Syme doesn't consider 2112 one of his definitive works, it remains one of the band's most famous: The "Starman" later appeared on several other Rush covers: It hovers above Peart's drum kit on their 1976 live album, All the World's a Stage, and if you squint, you'll see it displayed in one of the paintings hauled around on 1981's Moving Pictures. It's essentially a band logo — and Syme says the merchandising numbers prove its enduring popularity.
"It certainly found its place in history because of the music," he says. "It's recognizable in its association with that lovely album. I think the music plays heavily into any merits that people attribute to the art itself."
"My favorite [comparison] is the Blind Faith cover with the crudely cut out girl with the art deco hood ornament airplane thingy [on their self-titled 1969 album]," he adds. "It's a pretty primitive technical feat, but a memorable and impactful cover. I think certain elements in art find their place in history — in this case, it's more born of the music, and the cover follows suit."