“I can’t keep up! I can’t keep up! Out of step with the world!”
Minor Threat’s 1983 LP Out of Step is arguably one of the ten most important American hardcore albums, both in terms of its musical power and overall lasting influence. For ‘80s punk kids it was one of those “gateway” records, much like Black Flag’s Damaged or Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables—ubiquitous, readily available at any mall in any podunk town, anywhere across the USA. Camelot Records might only have had twenty titles in their “punk” section, but Out of Step was one of ‘em.
The producers of the excellent documentary on the DC hardcore scene, Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC (which is currently available for pre-order) maintain a Facebook page which routinely shares articles and factoids about Minor Threat and their contemporaries. This page recently reported that the band’s original intention was to have the Out of Step cover art illustrated by famed punk artist Brian “Pushead” Schroeder, but at the last minute the band decided to go in a different direction, enlisting the help of friend and art school student Cynthia Connolly.
Connolly’s iconic design of the crude black sheep leaping away from a pack of finely watercolor-rendered white sheep, besides being a spot-on symbol for youthful rebellion, is as masterful a work of “branding” as the instantly recognizable DK logo or Black Flag bars. The meaning instantly connects, while being tonally subtle—in stark contrast to the majority of early ‘80s “brutal” punk sleeve art. The child-like rendering of that libertine lamb says more than a thousand radioactive skulls ever could.
DC artist and photographer, Cynthia Connolly—taken from her book, Banned in DC.
Connolly, who also faithfully documented the ‘80s DC scene, is responsible for the essential book Banned in DC, which is available through Dischord Records. Dangerous Minds had the opportunity to speak with Connolly about the sheep, “Mr. Sheepy” as she calls him, and what it symbolizes.
Dangerous Minds: What can you tell us about the design of the Out of Step cover?
Cynthia Connolly: Minor Threat had asked me to make a drawing for the Out of Step cover. Ian Mackaye and I discussed something to do with a black sheep. The obvious idea was a black sheep that was leaping away from all the white sheep. The black sheep symbolized all of us, the kids that were doing something different, going against the grain of what was going on at the time. I thought of us as young and energetic. I was just 19 when I drew the sheep, I think. I was young and energetic! It was 1983.
Anyway, the white sheep were illustrated in water color with fine lines. They were elegant and sophisticated, but looked like they were bored, and perhaps even happy about being bored. The black sheep, on the other hand, had his eyes open—an important detail some people miss when getting it as a tattoo!—and is leaping from the drab sophisticated crowd. He’s making a choice on being different and is happy about it. The crayon, of course, is a symbol of youth and innocence. One thing I didn’t do is that I colored the sheep in like an adult… not as like a child (in circles… adults would fill in the shape from left to right).
The funny thing is, that drawing was a one shot deal. I just did one drawing. Showed it to them and was done. I did practice the black sheep a couple times on another paper, but once I got it down, just drew it on the watercolor of the white sheep and I was done! So punk! I call him “Mr. Sheepy” now, when people ask about him.
Ian MacKaye displays sheep sketches. Photo by Peter Beste.
It’s noteworthy how “gentle” the image is—in contrast to typically dark or aggressive “punk art” of the time.
Exactly. He’s NOT angry—as so much punk depicts—he’s merely making a choice to be different and has no qualms about it. He is intentionally jumping away. I love what he symbolizes and is still a guiding light in ways for myself. In the end, it’s about not having the fear of following your passion, being creative, and stepping out to support your ideas and the ideas of your friends.
Connolly, pictured here with a dress made from the same silk screen that was used to create the “Out of Step” test press covers. “We threw the dress into the mix. It’s like a punk poodle skirt!” Photo by Jim Saah.
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