Supertramp: Breakfast in America
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, reads the inscription on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. Dedicated in 1886, it welcomed immigrants as they arrived by ship and fast became a potent symbol for the ‘land of opportunity’.
Visitors arrived by air in 1979 and it’s through a plane window that we see Supertramps’ re-imagined New York. Manhattan is now a giant diner – it’s buildings replaced by ketchup bottles and egg cartons; its famous icon a matronly diner waitress who holds aloft a glass of orange juice.
Breakfast in America was the band’s first LP after moving to the US and it would go on to sell 11 million copies worldwide (4 million in the States alone). It also won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package
Art Director Mike Doud took his inspiration from the title and worked up various sketches of surreal images and visual puns. One of the rejected concepts involved giant Cheerios rolling down Arizona’s Monument Valley in a flood of milk. Just imagine.
If Doud had the vision and ambition, cover designer Mike Haggerty had the chops to pull it off. He assembled the cornflake box, ashtray, cutlery, eggboxes, vinegar, ketchup and mustard bottles and spray painted them all white. Haggerty’s original instinct was to cast a busty young stunner as the waitress but the band preferred Kate Murtagh, whose bingo-wings and manic smile contribute so much to the cover.
It’s the first time I’ve thought about what an important American archetype the diner waitress is, almost as ubiquitous as the cowboy, the cheerleader and the policeman. Sometimes she’s beautiful and sometimes she’s motherly – but she’s always street smart and careworn.
While Kate Murtagh’s advancing years are key to the cover’s success, it was a strange and cautious kind of vanity that kept Supertramp off their own record covers. “We wanted to be around a long time, and we didn’t want people watching us getting older” says keyboardist Rick Davies. It’s an interesting concern and one that makes more sense when you realise that back then record covers were a band’s primary form of self promotion. As it is, fans could check the band out on the back cover, being served at “Bert’s Mad House.”
Photographer Aaron Rapoport captures the long-haired band in a relaxed moment, seemingly unaware of the time warp that has transported them back to the American fifties. It’s a nice touch that they all read newspapers from their home towns in Britain, even though they were never as popular in the UK as they were overseas. In many ways they are just another group of immigrants, finding rich inspiration and a warm welcome in the creative and popular culture of America.