The cover of the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
It starts with the picture, back in the time when the picture comes first. Before we’ve slipped out the white paper inner, before we’ve pulled out the black disc inside—three fingers on the label, the meat of the thumb resting along its edge. Before we’ve lifted the lid of the turntable, placed the record over the spindle, before we’ve set the whole thing running. Before the needle comes down, before that bump and crackle as it rides the run-in grooves. Before the music. A creation myth. The very first time.
A big room, hard to make out, curtains and a gilt mirror at the back, half of a reflective, misshapen globe, a sun sinking (or rising?) through clouds and smog. The floor wooden, or etched with double lines to make it look wooden, the pinstripe on the suit of a god. A ring of votive candles, seven or eight in the shot, each set on a thin stick stuck into a blob of gold, the flames running horizontal—quite a distance—in such a way as to suggest an open door, or fan, or a complete lack of walls, as if the shot were taken on a platform high up in the sky, levitating above a city. But not a gust, nothing variable, utterly under control. Each flame uniform, part of a set, so that the candles seem to be pointing at something or someone just beyond the frame.
There are six figures. It’s possible, if we squint, to see a seventh, distorted by the light from the sun at the back. But what we can interpret as a head and shoulders blocking the light is in fact a cutaway, and what we’ve seen as a circle—that rising sun—is a huge, stylized W, their emblem. Legs bent, shoulders hunched, arms out in front of them. Gun fingers toward the back, thumbs cocked. The hand of the second figure distorted, so that the thumb seems to grow over the top of its index finger. The front-most figure making signs, right hand pointing downward, left hand the kind of shape you form to throw the shadows of a duck or an alligator onto a wall. Fingernails very white, overexposed, long and thin and graceful. Maybe we know how to interpret these hand signals, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. It’s not important. Read More