Classic Album covers : Aoxomoxoa - Grateful Dead

Aoxomoxoa is the third studio album by the Grateful Dead, and was released in June 1969

The Designer

Rick Griffin became famous for his psychedelic posters for the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore West in San Francisco during the late 60s. Gerry Garcia met him backstage at one of the band’s concerts. The Dead hired Griffin and told him he could design anything he visualised, giving him total artistic freedom. They were confident he’s come up with something they liked based on their love of his posters

Griffin was the archetypal Californian surfer dude. Apart from his poster and album art, he’s most famous for designing the masthead for Rolling Stone magazine. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1991, but his art is very much alive and reminds us that in Rick Griffin’s world the cosmic wave will surf forever onto a golden shore

Madam I’m Adam

The title of the album is a palindrome created by cover artist Griffin and lyricist Robert Hunter. According to manager Rock Scully’s memoir, Living with the Dead, the title is pronounced “ox-oh-mox-oh-ah”

What does it all mean?

According to Ida Griffin, Rick’s wife “the cover for Aoxomoxoa is a sufer’s paradise of sunshine, blue sky and life growing all around. It was during this time in Rick’s life that our second daughter was born. The cryptic skull and crossbones represented life and death in a circle of the sun, paradise, the Garden of Eden and planet Earth awareness. Rick would say the whole design was ‘tribal’. The lettering was based on an old English style that flowed into liquid edges, through the influence that water and the ocean had on Rick’s life”


The words “Grateful Dead” on the front of the album, written in large, flowing capital letters, are an ambigram that can also be read ‘we ate the acid’ (try it!)The artwork around the bottom edge of the album cover depicts several phallic representations

Courtney Love

Yes, it’s true– Courtney Love’s father, Hank Harrison, was the on-again, off-again manager of everyone’s favorite hippie band in the late 60s.  The back cover of Aoxomoxoa, pictures the Dead on a hillside somewhere in Marin County.  That’s Pigpen in the hat, splayed out in front of course, and to the right, in the front row, is the five-year old Courtney Love.  Bob Weir is just behind her; you can probably make out Jerry Garcia in the third row, left hand side of the photo, behind the girl to the left of Pigpen.  They’re all in there– Phil Lesh, Tom Constanten, Bill Kreutzmann, a big ol’ Dawg, somebody’s horse. And so on

Courtney Love, who said, “I’m not a woman; I’m a force of nature.”  And Jerry Garcia, who said, “Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.”

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March 01, 2012

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