Home / Arts & Life / William Eggleston, at 78, in a New Key

William Eggleston, at 78, in a New Key

Comprising mostly self-compositions that, like many of Mr. Eggleston’s photographs, are untitled, “Musik” was entirely improvised. “Sometimes I play for friends and they’ll say, ‘I just that love that — would you play it over?’ And I say, ‘I can’t.’ I’m not able to record it in some part of my memory, so I’m not able to do it again.”

The album was put together by the producer Tom Lunt, a longtime fan of Mr. Eggleston’s photography who became aware of the artist’s musicianship through the 2005 documentary film “William Eggleston in the Real World.” About a decade ago, a Memphis-based friend introduced him to Winston Eggleston, the photographer’s son and the director of the Eggleston Artistic Trust. With the family’s blessings, Mr. Lunt began to methodically go through the Korg recordings, stored on 10 digital audiotapes, a handful of digital compact cassettes and 49 floppy disks.

Deep into the project, Mr. Lunt was chatting over drinks a few years ago with Chris Swanson, a founder of Secretly Canadian and an admirer of Mr. Eggleston’s photography. Having seen the documentary, he was interested in his music. As Mr. Swanson recalled, “We were talking about left-field dream projects, and I mentioned Eggleston, thinking he’d be like, ‘Huh?’ That’s usually the response I’d get. Tom was like, ‘I’ve cataloged hours and hours and hours of Bill’s keyboard playing.’ It was like, ‘We need to do this together.’”

Although “Musik” is Mr. Eggleston’s debut album, it’s not his first time on record: About forty years ago, he played piano on a somber version of “Nature Boy,” on the third album by the influential alternative band Big Star. (The song was written in 1947 by Eden Ahbez.) Mr. Eggleston had been friends with the band’s lead singer, Alex Chilton, who died in 2010. “Our parents were best friends, and I knew him as a child,” said the photographer, who also socialized with the band’s other members.


A plastic flower taped to the wall of Mr. Eggleston’s Memphis home.

Andrea Morales for The New York Times

“Even at that point, he seemed to be an old soul playing piano,” said Jody Stephens, Big Star’s drummer, who is now vice president of production at Ardent Studios, a Memphis recording facility. “I was always intrigued by him because he played by feel. You could see his imagination kind of turning with every note he played.”

Mr. Eggleston’s most famous image — of a red ceiling anchored with a cross of white cable leading to a light bulb — adorns the cover of Big Star’s “Radio City” album, released two years before his groundbreaking solo exhibition show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976. Since then, quite a few alternative rock musicians have been drawn to his photographs; Mr. Eggleston’s work appears on the sleeves of releases by groups such as Primal Scream, Silver Jews, Spoon and Joanna Newsom & the Ys Street Band.

“He finds beauty in what other people find ugly, which is why people like me can relate to him, because it’s a very punk thing to do,” said Bobby Gillespie, Primal Scream’s Scottish-born lead singer.

Although Mr. Eggleston frequently plays a Bösendorfer piano that is also in his home, the album consists solely of his performances on the Korg. “They’re two completely different animals, each of which I adore,” he said. “I’ve been playing the piano since I was 4 years old, and when I started playing the Korg keyboard, I fell in love with it too.”

On Oct. 18, the International Center of Photography in Manhattan will screen a short film about the making of the album, though Mr. Eggleston will not be attending. The event, which is open to the public, will include a talk with Mr. Lunt and Mr. Swanson.

Future records are planned, but, at age 78, Mr. Eggleston has no intention to start playing in front of large audiences. “I wouldn’t be afraid to do it,” he said. “I just don’t happen to be a professional public performer, or I would be a concert musician.”

Continue reading the main story

About admin

Check Also

Hear the Best Albums and Songs of 2023

Dear listeners, In the spirit of holiday excess and end-of-the-year summation, we’re about to make …