BOC fans know the name Gawlik simply from the three simple words "Cover by Gawlik" which adorn the back of the first two album sleeves. But not many people know much about just who he was and what became of him etc...
If you were hoping to find enlightenment on this page, then you're going to be sadly disappointed, I'm afraid. I've been able to find out only a very little about him...
However, I've got to put something on this page, so I've gathered together whatever mentions I can find of the enigma that is Gawlik and cobbled them together here.
If you have anything to add to this page, please let me ...
It's hard to come across any hard facts about Bill Gawlik, but here's what little I can work out.
When was he born? Dunno... Where was he born? Dunno... What about his early life, junior and high schools etc...? Guess what - that's right, I dunno that either...
At the moment, the story has to start when, according to Sandy Pearlman, Gawlik transferred to Stony Brook University from the Rhode Island School Of Design (although I'm not sure when). According to John Wiesenthal, however, Gawlik had dropped out of Parsons School of Design (a private art and design college located in Greenwich Village). John also says that Gawlik had been a student of William Katavolos (who was Professor of the Architecture School at the Pratt Institute Brooklyn NY), so did Gawlik go there, also? It's a bit confusing...
Also - there's also a bit of confusion as to what exactly Gawlik was studying - was it art and design or architecture? Pearlman seems to suggest he was an architectural student... He also likens him to Albert Speer, so unless Gawlik was also involved in wartime armament procurement, that would appear to suggest he was indeed studying architecture..
Anyway, I do know that in 1968, art student John Wiesenthal met Gawlik (presumably at Stony Brook) and the two became friends. Although John had graduated from Stony Brook the previous year, his involvement with the Underbelly and Meltzer/Pearlman together with the fact that he was still living just outside the University grounds in Bennetts Road often brought him on the campus, and this is presumably how he met Gawlik.
I haven't been able to determine if Gawlik actually graduated from Stony Brook - like Pearlman, there's no mention of him in the Specula Yearbooks - neither in any of the graduating classes nor as a part of any of the Sports teams, Clubs or Societies, so it looks like Gawlik kept a low profile during his time at Stony Brook, and didn't pick up much in the way of extra credits etc. Is it a stretch to assume that this maybe made him a bit of a loner?
Whilst at university, his main source of income seems to have been his night job as a taxi driver in New York.
But when did he leave Stony Brook? The only mention I can find of him in the Statesman magazine was in the 21 March 1969 edition, which said "Among the nouveau art forms is William Gawlik's "Beatles - John, Paul and Ringo," a three-paneled abstract watercolor which, although looking more like "Stars and Stripes Forever," is one of the standouts of the exhibit, if only for its size alone."
So he was there in March 1969 - and producing very large works with a pop culture theme - so maybe he left Summer of 69? Then again, maybe it was 1970...?
After leaving Stony Brook, whenever that was, and whether it was with or without a degree, he moved into a cold little garret on 14th Street in the city, and continued driving his taxi - probably during the daytime also, now...
The next time he pops up on BOC radar is around Fall 1971. BOC move into the Vanderbilt Parkway (Dix Hills) bandhouse and Gawlik is a visitor there.
Although his initial connection to the band had been through John Wiesenthal, Gawlik had later also hit it off with Sandy Pearlman, and the two had become friends. However, Sandy wasn't at the band house, so presumably Gawlik was friends with members of the band also - hence the visits...
Anyway, it was somewhere around this time that Pearlman decided to commission Gawlik to produce BOC's upcoming debut album cover for Columbia. Joe remembers him feverishly working on the artwork and the Kronos logo whilst at the house.
At some point, Gawlik moves in, but when? As usual, I have some conflicting info to contend with.
On the one hand, house occupant David Ramage says Gawlik never actually moved in whilst he was still living there and as he left around May/June 1972 (around the time of BOC's tour with Alice Cooper), then Gawlik must have moved in sometime after that date.
However, Joe Bouchard says that Gawlik was already living there when the two of them set out for that famous ("Hot Rails to Hell") subway trip in mid-April 1972 from Queens into New York to see Lena Horne. We know this is mid-April because it was only a couple of weeks after Phil King's death (which was 5 April 1972).
So - the only thing I can think of is that maybe David Ramage left the Dix Hills house before April 1972 or that Lena Horne gig was a few weeks later...?
Anyway, Gawlik did the artwork for the second album ("Tyranny & Mutation") also - presumably that would have been around the end of 1972 or the very start of 1973, as Tyranny came out February 1973.
After alledgedly becoming a "person of interest" to NYC's boys in blue for a while (see later), it seems he then got "dropped" by Pearlman and after this Gawlik seems to have dropped out of the picture.
Sometime after this, Pearlman seemed to "drop" Gawlik - maybe he considered him too unstable, too much like hard work - I don't know, but once "Tyranny" was out, Gawlik seems to have faded into the ether...
When he left the Dix Hills house and what he did afterwards, what became of him and where he is now are all currently unknown.
On June 23rd 2005, Sandy Pearlman did a lecture entitled "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control" at the Purcell Rooms in London's South Bank Centre (part of Patti Smith's Meltdown festival) and was asked straight out: "Is Bill Gawlik still alive?"
"Yes", he replied...
But like I said, that was 10 years ago... If you have any information to add to this particular jigsaw, please let me ...
I've gathered together as many quotes as I can find below to help try and help piece together the tale of Bill Gawlik - if you know of any others, please let me ...
Bill Gawlik! I brought him in! He was a crazy design student who'd dropped out of Parsons School of Design.
He'd been a student of William Katavalos and was exploding with ideas about cosmology, WWII, social transformation.
He was an insomniac and we'd stay up all night filling up rolls of butcher paper with magic marker diagrams.
I met him in 1968 and I wasn't surprised to see that he'd drawn the covers for the first two Cult albums.
He stored some of my early oil paintings at his parents' house when I went back to California studying hatha yoga at the SRF in LA which led to meeting with Ram Dass and taking a "spiritual journey" with Kagel and Jackson's dear, late sister, Berbie (who had introduced me to Jackson in high school.)
The following quotes are taken from Martin Popoff's book: Blue Oyster Cult: Secrets Revealed!":
Sandy Pearlman on Gawlik:
And who better to graphically depict such a curious record than clearly bonkers school chum Bill Gawlik? Sandy retells the story of the enigmatic draftsman: "Gawlik had gone to the Rhode Island School Of Design, and he had left there and transferred to Stony Brook. He was living in the dorms, and I had ran into him, quite literally on the day when he was unfurling the huge scroll on which he had all of his architectural designs. He was sort of like the Albert Speer of H Quad at Stony Brook. You know, Speer was commissioned by Hitler to design all of future Europe.
And Bill Gawlik was designing all of future America, although he was not being commissioned by Hitler or anyone else. And so a lot of the cover art really is on those original scrolls, which were so long that they would go the entire length of the building. It was like 4:00 in the morning when we were unfurling these things, and anybody who was up and moving around at 4:00 in the morning didn't seem to mind (laughs). Anyways, that's where I first ran into the stuff."
"He was sort of eccentric to say the least," continues Sandy. "He lived alone in a little garret when he got out of Stony Brook on 14th Street above a children's clothing store that catered to Hispanics.
And his neighbour across the hall I believe was Wayne County, or one or another of those Warholoids or something like that, some person who was famous at The Factory not for 15 minutes, maybe for years.
And he was a cab driver; that's how he paid his bills when he left Stony Brook. And when Taxi Driver came out, I really thought that Scorsese must have ridden around with Bill Gawlik, you know, talked to him and got the idea for the film from him!
So all of these things came out of his stint at the Rhode Island School Of Design. He was probably there when the Talking Heads were there. It was about the same time. Now you should understand, since there's no such thing as coincidence, the Rhode Island School Of Design is located in the historic district of Providence, Rhode Island.
And just down the hill from what they call the RISD hill, where the school is, is the intersection of Benefit and Angell Street where Lovecraft lived. So you can sort of roll down the hill, or sled down on a snowy day, and you would arrive at H. P. Lovecraft central. I don't know if he knew this.
I was talking to some people from Providence the other day, and we were talking about all that. But yeah, there's something there." As Sandy is wont to do, another connection has taken place: "I also, as it turns out, not knowing it until I read some biography of Lovecraft, grew up in Lovecraft country, Arkham and Dunwich. I grew up in one of the towns that actually was Arkham and Dunwich in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. I think it was Arkham that I grew up in (laughs). I didn't know that at the time.
My family had a lot of property up there. They had 200 acres on the Connecticut River, which Lovecraft called the Miskatonic River. And I would walk around there, like at night, and it always seemed kind of strange to me; this place seemed weird.
And I read Sprague DeCamp's biography of Lovecraft and realized, well, it felt weird for a reason. Anyways, all of those architectural structures and patterns come off the scroll; he had a colour monitor in his head (laughs) and he added colour and it made it more selfconsciously structural as in the structure of a building."
"There's two things he did for us that essentially came off the scrolls," Sandy recounts with respect to Gawlik. "He also came up with the name Tyranny And Mutation. He said that this is the way he worked; he would lock himself in this garret. He didn't have any money for heat, and he didn't have much money for food. So he would basically lock himself in a cold garret and not eat much and just work on his stuff.
And I remember we had to get that second cover from him about an hour before the absolute deadline that would have thrown the record back by at least two or three months. And the band had a tour to go out on so we really needed that cover. And you know, he just couldn't get it done. We just had to grab it from his frozen fingers and say that's it, we're going to go with this.
But his theory was that we should lock the doors to the studio, turn off the heat - of course we were recording in the winter - and that's the way we would get the best result. That was his working method so he thought that we would, we should follow that working method also, and you should call the record Tyranny And Mutation. I'd like to claim it for my own. In fact, Secret Treaties was mine, Blue Oyster Cult was mine; most of them were mine, but not that one."
Lenny Kaye, in the liner notes to Tyranny, suggests that Gawlik saw the band's rehearsal space ("Columbia's studio in an old church on E. 30th Street"), and the atmosphere of the band working furtively in it, and deemed the situation tyranny and mutation. And one final (fanciful?) tale has Gawlik deeming the record so after listening to it for 24 hours straight.
Albert Bouchard on Gawlik:
Al Bouchard corroborates the tale, save for the naming of the album! "I still think that was a brilliant cover. Sandy just said 'I found this guy Gawlik,' a crazy architecture student, and Sandy had found that bit in his City Of The Future and we were very happy with it. This was part of his project, and Pearlman picked out things he thought were cool and he more or less sat on him until he modified it in such a way that it was good for us.
And after the second one, Pearlman said that's it, this is too much torture. As a matter of fact, he had told Murray, this is like tyranny and mutation, and that's where the album title came from. Just the pain of getting the work out of him, because Sandy never liked what he did. I mean, he liked the basic idea but he wanted changes which was very difficult, because this guy was very neurotic. I don't know that he ever did get his graduate degree. I think he ended up as a cab driver or something. He got 500$ for each cover."
Another important Gawlik contribution to saga O'cult is the mesmerizing, all-pervading band logo, the cross with dot and hook, the inverted question mark, symbol for Saturn, the sign of Chronos or Kronos (Greek) or Cronus (in Webster's)... who really knows for sure? It apparently appeared on Gawlik's architecture school Master's thesis.
Meltzer on Gawlik:
Richard offers his recollection of the enigma that was Gawlik. "Well, a seminal figure with the Cult was a guy named John Weisenthal, who was a friend of Roter's. Roter, me and John hung out a lot together at Stony Brook.
Weisenthal is now teaching classical guitar in Rochester NY. But he was a charter member of the Soft White Underbelly. He played keyboards, guitar; he would get them to practice when they didn't feel like it.
Basically, in a certain moment, Pearlman decided this guy must go; he's disruptive. Because he could think and had some ideas, and they conflicted with Pearlman's. So anyway, in the course of him being eased out and forced away, he brought Gawlik over; he knew Gawlik.
And Gawlik was kind of an annoying, one of these guys who was an ear-bender, one of these guys who would start talking and never leave you alone. And Pearlman was that way too. So he and Pearlman hit it off.
And when he saw Gawlik's art, he was like, 'I'm going to give this guy a lifetime contract.' And I tried to tell him, no, this guy's stuff is really not that good. Look at the draftsmanship here; these lines aren't parallel, blah blah blah.
At a certain point Gawlik was in Connecticut or upstate New York. He was just driving through somewhere, and he had stopped. Some cops had pulled some people over. And he stopped just to take a look and it was like, 'Well, what are you doing here?'
And they took down his name; they weren't quite sure about him, because they were investigating a murder. Somehow they thought his interest was a little too acute, and so there was the thought. He had been told not to leave town, and Pearlman thought, oh oh, we're going to have to get him a lawyer; this is going to cost money. And it got to the point where Pearlman decided that Gawlik wasn't essential.
I never saw much more than those two covers. I mean, I saw the original versions of those two covers, and I liked the originals better. Pearlman didn't want to hear that either. He said the originals looked too much like R. Crumb. The kind of line he had was more freehand. I liked the originals better."
Buck Dharma on Gawlik:
Buck: "That was a gift. I think the graphic of the first album cover pretty much sprung whole from Gawlik's mind.
As for the logo, that was a great gift. We can't take credit for creating it. It was Gawlik's thing. That came fully realized into our lap."
Joe Bouchard on Gawlik:
Joe recalls specifically the invention of the band's iconoclastic logo as a mystical experience, at least for its shadowy creator...
"He spent a lot of time on it, several weeks, and he had pasted it on the wall in our living room. And he would stare at it for hours and hours, and he was so concerned about getting the curve of the logo just right, and I remember him debating how that should go for a long time.
I wasn't really in on when he was doing the album, but I do remember him actually working on the album cover in our living room for like weeks on end. It seemed like he was really obsessed with getting the logo just right. And then he was a lot of fun.
One of the reasons I wrote Hot Rails To Hell was because he asked me if I wanted to go to a concert in New York. And we were so poor we couldn't afford to park the car in the city, so we would park the car on the street in Brooklyn and then we would take the subway into the concert; it was this jazz concert with Lena Horne and one of these really radical sax players.
And so we went to the concert, and it was very intense, but coming back on the subway, I got this whole vibe that... you know, Phil King had just been shot, who was our agent at the time. They get that wrong on the internet. 'Phil King was a member of the band.' No, he was actually just a guy who was sort of our agent in the early days.
So I'm riding back on the subway with Bill Gawlik and it was just one of the more bizarre nights of my life, and I was thinking about Phil King who was living with us in the same house with Gawlik, and we were rehearsing in the living room, and Bill Gawlik is doing the logo on the living room wall, and it just came together."
Where did Gawlik end up?
"He was a taxi driver in New York, and you know, I haven't heard from him since. I do not know. He certainly was a character though. And so I lived in the house with him and Phil King was there, and I think Eric Bloom was there. The other guys, I think they were living in other places. Actually I think Allen Lanier was there too.
We had a big house in Long Island. It was a rehearsal place, and it was our place when we were not touring. I mean, touring back in those days, it was like any kind of club, anything we could get. Yeah, that's my knowledge of Bill Gawlik, but I haven't seen him since."
"Bill Gawlik. He used to live in our band house. Drove a taxi in the city and had a machete underneath his seat. True."
I once handled and viewed the "Gawlik Scrolls"... the 100ft roll of 3' wide butcher paper that he drew all those images on, the stuff that was on the first 2 albums was a drop in the bucket of all the images on the roll... that artwork is all in a 3' x 3' format.. all hand drawn with a pelikan pen...
It was at the "Black Cube" aka the CBS (now Sony) building in NYC... where is it now...?? I suspect Iron Mountain would be a safe bet... but whether it could be found is another story...
What Sam says there is interesting because that makes it look like Columbia bought the actual scrolls themselves off Gawlik.
The accepted story is that he was paid his $500 each for the two album cover artworks only. Obviously these two covers were based on just parts of the scroll and Meltzer further up this page alludes to the fact that he liked the originals better - by which , I presume he means the scroll itself.
So - did Columbia buy the scroll off Gawlik separately or was it part of the two $500 deals somehow...?
Whichever it was, it's a crying shame and a criminal waste to keep the scroll locked away - we need to see it in all its unfurled glory in a gallery somewhere...
On being asked did Sandy Pearlman design BOC's logo:
"No, that was Bill Gawlik, who did the first two album covers. Nobody can find him, by the way. There are a few guys from that era that were associated with us, in one way or another, and we don't know what happened to them."
"We really do wonder where Bill Gawlik is."
"I was hanging out with the guy who did the album cover, Bill Gawlik. We took the subway because he was too cheap to pay for a parking space in New York. "
"We would drive to Queens and then we would get on the subway and go to New York. We went to a jazz concert in the city and then we took the subway back to Queens."
"On the way back to Queens, on the subway, the whole idea for "Hot Rails to Hell" came to me. The guys liked it and it was the right song for our second album. It was put out as a single. "
"It is a great song and it has survived the test of time."
The following is from "The Gawlick Era" by Jeb Wright, a feature on BOC's album art...
The band was more dedicated to making the best and most original music they could come up with than they were about worrying about the artwork.
Pearlman was already one step ahead of both the record company and the band. He already had an artist in mind - an artist who was just odd enough to understand what he wanted to create. That artist was fellow Stony Brook student Bill Gawlick.
Eric Bloom recalls, "We left it all in Sandy Pearlman's hands. He put the band together. He knew Bill Gawlick. Bill went to Stony Brook along with Pearlman and Meltzer. We had a band house in '71-'72 and Gawlick almost moved in with me but it didn't quite work out."
When asked to describe Gawlick, Bloom candidly states, "He was sort of a unique and eccentric artist. He had blueprints for full size exoskeletons that people could wear. He had really unusual drawings of robots and all kinds of different line drawings. He seemed like a natural to lend us artwork for the first album cover."
Legend holds that Pearlman met Gawlick in the dorms at Stony Brook. Gawlick had transferred from the Rhode Island School of Design. Apparently, Gawlick was inspired by the work of Nazi artist Albert Speer. Speer had been commissioned by Adolf Hitler to design all of future Europe. When Pearlman met Gawlick the artist was hauling around complex architectural drawings in scroll form.
The drawings contained within were Gawlick's version of the future of America. Pearlman and Gawlick unfurled the scrolls and they went the entire length of the school buildings at Stony Brook. Upon looking inside, Pearlman knew he had the man to create the first Blue Oyster Cult album.
Gawlick moved out of the dorms at Stony Brook and into a small garret.
Bloom speculates, "I can't swear to this but I guess Sandy got a budget from CBS and sent Gawlick to work and he came up with the front and back artwork for the first album cover. We saw it and I liked it right away. I don't think there was too much 'fix this or fix that.' He got it pretty right, right away."
The original drawing was about the size of an album cover and the medium used was ink and paper. The cover shows futuristic architectural structures on the front and what appears to be a set of railroad tracks on the back - perhaps the hot rails to hell?
In addition to the unique monochrome look of the album cover, Gawlick innocently added a touch that became forever linked with Blue Oyster Cult - the symbol. There were no deep conversations between band members and management and the artist. There was no demanding that they come up with a mysterious symbol to represent the band.
Bloom humbly admits that, "The logo was put in there by him and we adopted it. He got it from a book of symbols." Perhaps it was nothing more than kismet. Either way, when Gawlick added the hooked cross, the album art was done. This was Blue Oyster Cult.
What the symbol means is not clear to anyone within the band. Some say it is the symbol of the Greek Titan Kronos. Others say it is an ancient alchemist symbol for heavy metal. It has also been called an inverted question mark. It becomes quickly apparent that this mysterious symbol fit perfectly with BOC's image.
When the debut album sold well, Pearlman commissioned Gawlick to create the cover for the next album. The original work Gawlick came up with was very small - quite a bit smaller than the first one. While BOC was beginning to have success, Gawlick was becoming even more odd than before. He didn't have enough money to afford heat in his garret. Gawlick would shut himself in and hardly even eat while working on his projects.
Bloom remembers that getting the second album cover was not as easy as the first, "Sandy had to ride Gawlick a little bit to get the cover done on time." Bloom is actually being kind in his description. Pearlman made several visits to Gawlick's garret trying to get the artwork. The band was getting ready to go on tour and the music was completed but they still had no cover.
Finally, after much pressure, Gawlick relented and gave Pearlman what he needed, barely beating the deadline. Like the first album, the band accepted it pretty much as is. The only major change to the album came at Pearlman's request. The original cover, like the first, was monochrome. Sandy had Gawlick add red at the base of the futuristic structure.
In addition to creating the art, Gawlick actually named the band's sophomore effort. Eric Bloom recounts the tale, "Sandy rehired Gawlick to do the second album cover. He had a couple of copies of album one in his apartment. He had an old record player that had an arm on top that would let you lower multiple albums down onto the platter of the turntable. He kept playing side one and side two of the first album over and over.
Sandy went over to visit him one day to see how the artwork was coming. Gawlick had been up for twenty hours listening to side one and side two of the album over and over. He looked at Sandy and said, 'This music is like tyranny and mutation.' That is where the title came from."
The first two albums laid the groundwork for a career that has been going on now for 34 years. The cryptical state that surrounded Blue Oyster Cult has faded as the band's fan base has grown older and wiser.
However, there is still one mystery that remains: What happened to Bill Gawlick? Eric Bloom reveals, "I don't think I have seen him in thirty years. He was a very clever guy who created great artwork for us. What happened to him after that I don't know. I have actually done web searches and looked for him and there is nothing. I don't know where he is."