The Burning Baby

(Liluma, Central West End)

Graham and I once worked together at an advertising agency. He's an exceptionally talented copywriter. So talented, in fact, that he was finally fired. As was I, eventually: The best compliment the advertising industry can give their finest talent is to fire them outright.

Graham understands exactly (and uniquely) where relevant and preposterous overlap, where dull becomes interesting. In appearance, he resembles a college fraternity brother — the one who, despite his tortoiseshell glasses and preppy look of erudition, is always on the verge of flunking out. He once was precisely that fraternity brother.

We've been working on a Halloween poster for a Grateful Dead cover band whose signature style is to take the exact song list of an old concert — say, for example, Denver, Colorado, October 12, 1974 — and duplicate it perfectly. Together Graham and I dreamed up a variety of arbitrary concepts, all of which had nothing or little to do with anything evidently relevant. One of the concepts dealt with aliens pulling a bunch of people into a UFO tractor beam; another portrayed a man shaving with a lawn mower. One of Graham's ideas was an image depicting an enormous infant. This idea was born when he said: "What about the whole ‘stealing candy from a baby' thing?"

"What about it?" I asked.

"What if we reversed it?"

It was my idea to depict the baby on fire. To render the baby in any other fashion would be absurd. Who could argue with it? Who could understand what it meant?