Cover Story: My Teenage Rock Star Sketches

Music Personal Visual Art

Since I began publishing e-books three months ago, I've discovered that the most annoying part of the process, hands down, is marketing and publicity. The most fun part? Easy: cover artwork. I love designing covers, and I love working with artists like Vince Larue and Goodloe Byron (who's working on a cover for a new book I'm particularly excited about, which is coming out in August). For my latest book Chiaroscuro: Assorted Literary Essays I went digging into my own archives, and I thought I'd share with you what I found. You see, when I was a teenager I spent a whole lot of time doing pen and pencil sketches of my favorite rock stars.

I was always pretty good at drawing. My father is a graphic artist and cartoonist, though I never had his ability to draw figures in motion. I specialized in faces. I would sit around listening to my favorite music -- I'm talking about the classic rock and emerging punk rock of the late 1970s and early 1980s -- and drawing the people I was listening to. That's David Gilmour of Pink Floyd above, and this is Richard Hell of Richard Hell and the Voidoids:

Here's Bob Dylan, apparently in his "Street-Legal" period:

This is Dee Dee Ramone. I don't know if I left his hair undrawn because I was lazy or because I thought it looked cool. Probably a combination of both:

I also didn't finish Stevie Nicks' hair. The nature of the unfinished sketch here indicates that it was probably dinner time.

Here's Bob Marley. I always liked his hair:

Being color blind made working with colors hazardous, so I mostly stuck to pencil and pen, but occasionally used color pencils. I have no idea why I scrawled "a failure" on this quick sketch of Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park (a concert I had been to). I guess I was pretty self-critical at the time:

I didn't usually have the patience for paint, but this portrait of Led Zeppelin was a high school project that got me a little bit of badly-needed attention from teachers and fellow students in 10th grade. Yeah, that's me posing in front of my work. I was 15:

I always knew I had talent as an artist, and during this phase in high school I was much more involved with the art crowd than the literary crowd (too snooty). I also loved going to art museums -- my favorites included Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh (of course), Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Andy Warhol. But I never considered a career as an artist. Maybe this was because I was color blind, or because I could really never draw anything but faces. (If you look at Bob Dylan's or Robert Plant's hands above, you see that I couldn't even draw hands.)

Anyway, the reason I was digging through my archives is that I picked a visual art metaphor -- chiaroscuro -- for the title of my new book of selected literary essays, and I decided to use one of my rock star sketches for the cover, here:

I cropped only a slice of the picture, obviously, but I'm curious if any of you can guess this singer/songwriter's identity. He's one of the all-time greats, and a rather literary rock star as well. I hope some of you will try to guess it, and I'll post a scan of the full image in the comments later. Can you tell who it is?

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UPDATE: See my comment below for the answer and a link to the full image ...

19 Responses to "Cover Story: My Teenage Rock Star Sketches"

by judih on

What a cool view of you as artist. And your new cover is really sensational.

My guess: Syd Barrett

by Iglius on

those big eyes got to be either Tom Petty or Syd Barrett.

These are great. Have you considered putting together an ebook of these drawings alongside teenage diary entries? Teenage Musings on Art, Life, and Rock’n’Roll.

by Levi Asher on

Thanks! Syd Barrett is a great guess (another of my favorites) ... but nope, not Barrett or Petty.

No way. Those are really great sketches. I hope you still sketch?

by TKG on

I thought Art Garfunkel was Larry Fein. And Simon looks like Moe.

That's not a knock on your drawing, it's just what they look like.

These are great drawings.

For Chiaroscuro, the first thought flashed in my mind was Gram Parsons, but I'm pretty sure that's not who you drew there. So, maybe Keith Richard, of whom Parsons played a prominent role Richards memoir for a section.

Well, now. Could be Tom Verlaine.

by Claudia on

Levi, you're a man of many talents. Very nice sketches! Claudia

by Iglius on

or Patti Smith...

At the top of my iPhone screen, your book says "Chiaroscuro: Ass..."

by Levi Asher on

Damn iPhones.

Nobody guessed it yet.

by mnaz on

nice. i did some pretty good chalk portraits of bob marley ("rastaman vibration" cover), burning spear, and puma from black uhuru a few years back. i should get back into that sort of thing . . .

you're on a roll, mr. asher...

by Finn on

Yeah, these are good. Ditto to the suggestion you take it up again, and maybe work on some self- and/or family portraits.

by Rob on

Marc Bolan ?

by Milton on

My very first thought on seeing that cover was Clapton -- way back when he was darkly intense, coked up, and a little bit scary. I'll put my money on that one.

(After staring at it a bit, I could also see James Taylor, weirdly. But that would make very little sense as a cover for a book of literary essays. And I have considerable difficulty imagining the 15-year-old in that picture was much of a James Taylor fan.)

by Levi Asher on

Pretty good guesses! But here's the answer:

(Click to see image.)

The great Mr. Lou Reed. "That from which you recoil, it still makes your eyes moist ..."

Thanks, all, for the compliments.

Michelle, to answer your question -- I actually don't draw seriously any more, though I'll still amuse myself doodling faces in boring work meetings and stuff like that. I guess I just find more satisfaction in writing.

One of my favorite classes at CHS was Coach Dozier's art class. I didn't have any real talent... nothing like what you've displayed here ... but I developed an admiration for those who do. There are some great pencil sketches @ Kell's Irish Pub in Portland -- Bono and such, tho Samuel Beckett's wrinkled mug is my favorite.

by Mom on

I love seeing your sketches.

I'd like to be on the family list when you're ready to do our sketches.
Love,
Mom

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