Baby, Can You Dig Your Book Cover? – Stephen King’s The Stand

Posted: December 1, 2013 in Books I Like
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Baby, can you dig your man?
He’s a righteous man

The_Stand_cover Since I first set eyes on this book (a hefty library copy), this first edition cover image has stayed with me. A junior high school English teacher recommended the book (along with Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead! – I know, more on that later) when he saw me reading Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, still one of my favorite ghost stories. I’d never heard of King, or maybe I had (and why wouldn’t I have?) but hadn’t gotten to him yet. I was in that no man’s land between my adolescent reading – books of adventure and war, books of the sea and the mountains in which man tested his limits against nature and other men, books of discovery that inspired me to tack a map of the world on my wall and mark out wrecks and mysteries I wanted to explore when I became an oceanologist – I didn’t, too much math, I learned – and Wuthering Heights, a gothic I should have loved then, and do now, but didn’t.

I chose King’s The Stand over Rand’s Fountainhead primarily because of the cover, though Rand’s book had a sort of cool but small cover  too, an ambiguous image of frosty light rays shining from above and through the beams of steel construction. I had no idea what it meant but Rand’s book would righteously fuck me up later and turn me into the biggest asshole I’ve ever been. Still trying to shake off some of that craziness.

King’s book did the opposite: it opened me up to epic, like Homer did it, like Cervantes and Coleridge did it, then later on an individualized scale like Defoe and Melville and Whitman. Seems a backward trajectory but I learned about music in the same way, tracing my contemporary heroes backward via their influences. Surely King would approve of the route I followed.Fountainhead

So, the cover: I must have stared at the King cover for hours before even opening the book, hunched in the shadowy stacks of the public library where I worked, holding the doorstop book in my hands, the attacking figures of good and evil – what else could they be? – in combat amid an arid plain, sword and sickle in the aggressive air, fighting for the earth, for man, for what, I didn’t know, it didn’t matter. I was drawn to both  – the man in white like a Jedi knight with flowing blond hair and pointy Robin Hood shoes and the hooded reptilian figure in blue, the two locked in battle.

It simply looked epic. I loved that evil was in assault as good fends off the sickle with his sword. I loved that they stood alone in a vast desert. I loved that the reptilian evil had its snout-mouth open to reveal shark-like teeth. I loved that good, his face hidden behind his arm, fiercely defends but to my mind looks also desperate, the fate of man on his shoulders.

This image would fire my imagination and lead me to finish the book in a weekend, a 1200 page page-turning weekend in which I neither spoke nor slept, barely stopping to eat, ignoring family and friends and the world, content, insistent even on immersing myself in King’s epic story of Captain Tripps and its consequences, the Walking Dude (“he put his boots on and he walked.on.down.the.hall…”), Larry Underwood (“Baby, can you dig your man?”), Frannie, the Trashcan Man, Nick Andros and Tom Cullen (M-O-O-N spells Moon), Nadine Cross, Harold Lauder (always thought of an evil version of Ignatius Reilly), Stu Redman, Mother Abigail, and the huge cast of good and evil doers, a perfect modern dystopia turned post-apocaplytic showdown.

To this day, I still see this image, and it is still my favorite book cover design (anyone know who designed it?), so much better than some of the generic, lazy cover designs that I see now, and proof that sometimes we should judge a book by its cover.

Well the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much it’s doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker he blows a futile horn
“Come in” she said
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm”.
I’ve heard newborn babies wailing like a mourning dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love
Do I understand your question man is it hopeless and forlorn
“Come in” she said
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm”.

– “Shelter from the Storm”

Bob Dylan*

*I would buy Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (on vinyl then – what else was there?) simply because of this epigraph and spend yet more hours holed up alone in my room listening again and again, flipping that album over and over and exploring the details of the cover too, waiting for “Shelter” nearly closing side two (or more of a denouement) until “Buckets of Rain” slips into really close. For some reason, in a later unedited, etc., etc. printing of the book, this epigraph was replaced with a line from Country Joe and the Fish – “What’s that spell?/What’s that spell?/What’s that spell?”

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