LOOKING AT THE COVER OF THE Jan/Feb 1994 issue (below), you might think that we did a little computer magic to create that image of Michael Manring toasting marshmallows over a burning bass. But no … we really did set an instrument on fire—inside our office, in the middle of the afternoon.
I had interviewed Michael about his new album, Thonk, which I described as a “radical departure from his previous work on Windham Hill.” It was, I explained, a flat-out rocker, with a “powerful, pounding, in-yourface sound that’s sure to amaze those who had previously dismissed Manring as a granola- munching new-age nerd.” (I’m not sure if he ever forgave me for that description.)
How to convey that in a cover image? How to say that this music rocks? Well, there is no more iconic rock image than Jimi Hendrix kneeling over his burning guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. So we decided to reproduce it, tongue in cheek, with a burning bass … and some marshmallows.
First, we scrounged up a decent-looking pawnshop bass and visited a nearby market for a can of lighter fluid and a bag of marshmallows. Then somebody went outside and found a suitable branch on a nearby tree. We set up everything in our small in-house photo studio, putting the bass on a tarp so we wouldn’t set the carpet on fire. (We’d just moved into this office building in San Mateo and didn’t want to offend our fellow tenants—who, I’m glad to say, had no idea what we were up to that day.)
Michael Manring thought we were nuts, but he was game. He showed up in his best ’60s psychedelic outfit, complete with headband. After several dry runs to get the lighting right, Paul Haggard was ready to shoot the cover photo. I think Scott Malandrone was in charge of dumping the lighter fluid on the bass and igniting it. It flamed up beautifully, and pretty soon Michael was kneeling behind the instrument, toasting away. I’m not sure how many shots Paul took before the flames died down, but the one we put on the cover was dead-solid-perfect, with the bass burning, the marshmallows roasting, and Michael looking suitably bemused.
My job, aside from shouting encouragement, was to stand behind Paul, holding a fire extinguisher. Just another day at the office.