How Rush Wrangled Rabbits for Quirky ‘Presto’ Cover
Many of Rush's album covers were silly: the workers literally moving pictures on Moving Pictures, the Dalmatian lingering near the fire hydrant on Signals. But the prog-rock trio reached another level of playfulness with their 13th LP, 1989's Presto.
The humor of the front image — a group of rabbits on a hillside, with one bunny magically levitating in a top hat — is so obvious that drummer Neil Peart seemingly cringed when explaining it to a curious fan.
"No one ever laughs at the explanation of a joke," he wrote in the band's Backstage Club Newsletter. "Anyway, the idea was that these bunnies are taking matters into their own, um ... paws, and making themselves appear from the hat, and flying around in it. Go on — laugh your head off!"
As Hugh Syme, the band's longtime art director, tells UCR, that's the full extent of the title-art connection. "The fact that magicians pull rabbits out of their hats — that's the only allusion to 'presto,'" he says. "That and the number of rabbits on the hillside adding to the prolific nature of that hat."
The concept may have been hilariously simple, but the creative process was a bit more complicated.
"Do you remember the days of backdrops? [For example, in] The Andy Griffith Show, they'd do a set for the sheriff's office, and when you open the door up, what appeared to be across the street in Mayberry was painted," Syme explains. "The whole sky backdrop I found over at MGM Studios. They had these canvases that actually rolled through a slot in the floor so you could do a painting that was 100-some-feet wide by 60-feet tall.
"It was a massive loom, and you could roll the canvas to work at eye level," he continues. "If you're doing leaves on a tree, you're up in the tree. If you roll it up for the long shot, it could serve as a background. They had a huge number of beautiful storm skies available, and I rented that from them so it could be in-camera. I got some grass mats and built this huge hill out of hay bales."
The trickiest part came when he introduces the rabbits themselves. A couple were taxidermic, but the rest were live — and the studio space, naturally, got messy.
"We brought in the rabbits so they could spend the next four hours pissing and shitting all over [photographer] John Scarpati's gratefully concrete studio floor," Syme says. "They aren't models — we knew it was happening and would have to deal with it later. It was a fun day."