Flipping through the pages of The Last Whole Earth Catalogue, a resource that was in 1971 basically the internet before the internet, Jim James stumbled upon a distorted photo of “The Illuminated Man’ by Duane Michals. Immediately moved by the photo, he asked for permission to to use the image as the album cover of Uniform Distortion. The first request to Michals was rejected. In hopes of changing his mind, James wrote a letter to Michals personally and was ultimately allowed to use the image. The letter, which sheds some light on the album and James current state of mind, reads in full below:
“hello duane- your piece “the illuminated man” was used in “the last whole earth catalogue” in 1971. i wasnt even born yet. i was born in 1978…but i found my copy of “the last whole earth catalogue” about 6 months ago in a thrift store and it blew my mind. i have been feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the speed of technology and its place in our lives and here was this beautiful book/catalogue from the past showing me me all these beautiful things and amazing images to help one learn different ways to look at the world… or “get off the grid?” funny they had no idea back then just how crazy “the grid” would get. or did they?
so i am trying to put down my phone… use the computer and social media less… and just focus on real life and the people i love and my art. of course i am not fully “off the grid” because i am sending you this email in hopes of you changing your mind about letting me use your image as it appeared in “the last whole earth catalogue” in 1971 because when i saw it on the page there it spoke to me so deeply of how my head feels like it is exploding with the amount of information we are forced to consume on a daily basis and how that information is so DISTORTED there is almost no longer any tangible truth. the name of my new record is “UNIFORM DISTORTION” because i feel like there is this blanket distortion on society/media and the way we gather our “news” and important information…and more and more of us are feeling lost and looking for new ways out of this distortion and back to the truth…and finding hope in places like the desert where i write this email to you now…finding hope in the land and in the water and in old books offering new ideas and most importantly in each other and love.
i feel like there was a reason i found “the last whole earth catalogue” and there was a reason your art spoke to me… and i really think it would speak to others who would see it exploding out at them illuminating from the record store shelf or the glow of their phone or computer screen and feel its organic mind blowing distortion connect with this new music.
i also like the natural “distortion” that time and the pulp of the paper meeting the ink from “the last whole earth catalogue” add to your original image and that is why i am asking your permission to use this “distorted” version of your original beautiful image.
i hope you are well and thanks for listening-