|The Traffic Logo|
Although the name Traffic was lettered in many different ways, their Wheel of Fortune logo, designed by Carol Duskin, appeared on all of their albums. A jeweler by trade, Duskin was an old friend of the band who adapted the logo, with some input from Chris and Jim, from the seal of the mythical Myrrdin, an ancient deity later known as Merlin in Arthurian legend. With its four arrows representing the members of the group, Myrrdin's wheel fitted with traffic's folksy, mystical leanings. In 1969, when the group released Last Exit, their final album before Winwood left to join Blind Faith, the wheel was split apart on the cover.
-- "Q" Magazine quoted in Coloured Rain issue 23
The history behind the symbol that graces the covers of all the Traffic albums and the early Island pink labels is that it was designed by Chris Wood, being based on the Celtic fiery wheel of fortune, which is similar to the Celtic signs for the spirit and family. Also part of the Circles of Creation, or the Hebrew wheel of light. Also, based on the ancient fire-wheel of luck. The four segments were representative of each member of the group.
The symbol appeared in white on the Mr Fantasy album, above Chris Wood's head, white being the color for higher nature. On all the Island pink labels, it was in black, meaning protection; and on the CD version of Mr Fantasy the symbol appears in gold - intuition.
On the second album, Traffic, the symbol appears between Jim and Chris, with Chris pointing to it. On Last Exit the symbol, although green (fertility), appears broken. This represents the break-up of the group.
The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys sees it between Jim and Steve who are both looking towards the symbol. On When the Eagles Flies the symbol appears in the hand of Chris.
The symbol again appears on Chris on the front of the "Hole In My Shoe" EP. On "Smiling Phases", it is red (energy) on the front cover and yellow (creativity) on the inside.
The symbol appears on the 1994 album Far From Home in red behind the fluteman. This album is dedicated to Chris. Chris brought many interests to the other members of Traffic, like that of theology / astronomy / burial mounds, and must have enjoyed the years living at Sheepcott Farm, Gamekeeper's Cottage, Aston Tirrold, with its ghost. The cottage, which over the years has taken on a mythic status, is said to have a ghost with a powerful presence. Footsteps could be heard going in one direction, plus other strange stories, like that of a young man who hanged himself by the well, and you could still hear the ghost of his dog howling for him. Or the mischievous spirit that moved things around. One story about Mr Fantasy is that it was written as a tribute to the spirit, whereas "House for Everyone" was a Dave Mason song written about the cottage.
"John Barleycorn", a traditional English folk song about the myth of ale, the mischievous off-spring of the land, which strives for the soul of man and wins, was brought in by Chris via the Watersons. Other songs that weave a mystical timescape are "Withering Tree", "Rainmaker", "Rollright Stones", and "Tragic Magic".
--SG in Coloured Rain issue 23
Well, I never. A mere 25 years pass, and suddenly (thanks to Q's "collections of daft things" articles) folks are talking about Traffic's wheel. I was intrigued by SG's comment that Chris did the logo. At the time the reports said "a friend" and "a girl we knew" had done the logo, and Chris had done the Mr Fantasy cover. I've seen the name of Carol before.
I had 2 feelings about the logo when I first saw it. It was pretty clear it has to do with the 4 members of the band, and it was associated with what Jim said at the time about the genesis of the band's name - that they went out of the officer (Chris Blackwell's office at Island, I think) one day, there was all this traffic bustling about full of energy, and that seemed like a pretty good name for the band. That always seemed to me like a very Jim-ish idea, especially as they were about to buzz off to the country for a bit of peace and quite. Traffic was always a city/countryside band, not one or the other. So the logo seemed to me like a roundabout. OK, it's going backwards. Bearing in mind the band's early history, the comings and goings, at the time it didn't seem like such a daft idea! Logo as destiny - just down the road in Hemel Hempstead is one of those roundabouts that you go round either way; it puzzles the hell out of people using it for the first time, but it works. I also like the movement of the traffic wheel, the way it has a wee ripple in it, rather than being round like a hoop. The pattern is actually 4 arrows moving outward from a hub, and round on themselves, moving back towards the centre and onwards past it at the same time. You can't draw it with a compass, you have to cut it from a series of arches. It's a sharp piece of drawing, as if it was indeed drawn by a graphics artist and jeweler. It would look nice done in silver.
I didn't know at that time that it was meant to be a wheel of fortune, vaguely Celtic, anyone's seal or a sun-sign. That last one was said somewhere, possibly in one of the Rolling Stone articles, but I didn't find out till much later. All the same, I could see the likeness to a swastika, which I knew. Someone had taken the trouble to tell me this, because I am a Kipling fan and J. Lockwood Kipling put the symbol into some of his pictures, not of course as a Nazi token, but as an ancient Indo-Aryan religious symbol. The Kiplings were believers in a syncretistic approach to religion - not exactly the middle of England church people that one always assumes. It was hijacked by the Nazis to give pseudo-historic credibility to their megalomania. I knew that bit of the story. I didn't at the time know that the circle with 4 arms within it was a symbol associated with the sun and fire right across Europe - probably including the Celtic cross. At least so say modern commentators, and it seems very likely, as burning wheels were used to celebrate various spring festivals (not so much in the Celtic world as in Germanic Europe, as far as I can tell. The Celts seemed to prefer bonfires. Fewer wheels to spare, possibly!). But it seems that the swastika is one of the oldest forms of the 4 armed circle, and appears first on a carving of a bird made of mammoth ivory. If Joseph Campbell gives a date, I'm darned if I can find it (it is not necessarily as old as the mammoths), but I would like to think it's older than the god Myrddin. He certainly exists in old poems, not as a god but as a juvenile wizard, and later going wild in the country. I had no idea he had a seal. I wonder where that idea came from? Campbell quotes someone who speculates that the swastika was based on a flying bird. My marginal note says "birds aren't circular". He also says that because it's counter-clockwise, it's associated with the flight from dreams. But I'm suspicious of that - how do you tell which way round a swastika is turning anyway? In modern times, counter-clockwise has been associated with magic and witchcraft. That's a Christian view of it, not an old one; all we know about counter-clockwise is that it unwinds the path of the sun, and opens things not generally seen in sunlight, and that it's the direction of French roundabouts! At least the Traffic wheel has little arrows on it, so we know which way it's going. At some stage you have to decide what a symbol means to you: make up your own mind, but take it from me, like traffic it's a whirly thing with the sun in it, always has been. A sun-sign going widdershins? Come on, this is Traffic we're talking about!
Chris often holds the symbol. Chris was a moon person, but it's not a contradiction. The moon follows the sun, at least so it seems to us earth people.
By the way, if Myrddin was a great wizard he would have been one of the scientists of his day, so he could bear in mind those little multi-coloured propellers that inventors are meant to wear on their heads. This moves us conveniently on to the subject of colour symbolism... I don't take issue with anything SG says about colour except that (as I like dashing off on these red herrings, I like to tough ground now and then) I have a suspicion that the fold on the CD has more to do with packagers' gold-leaf than intuition. But the front of Mr Fantasy always seemed to be about being in firelight, and the shapes made by firelight. Oddly, of all people, the figure of Mr Fantasy himself has always reminded me of Muff Winwood.
SG and "Q" both note that the circle is broken on the cover of Last Exit, but he hasn't said that green is also the colour of little green apples with great big teeth in them, and that to an apple enthusiast (I'm very partial to Granny Smiths. I'm related to one in fact.) the back cover says in letters nine miles high "RIP - the singer nipped off to work with Eric". When I say 'nipped off' I am being polite, although I was a fan of Eric's (and Ginger's) at the time. Somebody was whining that the photo on the front cover is reversed. Okay, okay, these things happen, only note Dave is standing in the drum kit, and Chris is drifiting across a bush. We are looking at things that no longer exist, disembodied, through a glass darkly. The only "real" things in the picture are Jim and the wee girl. If anyone wants an excuse for printing things back to front on that cover, they've got it. It's a strong piece of design. Sadly, what I'd really like to know is, did the designer fortuitously have a photo of Steve eating an apple, or did someone get him to pose for it? And if so, who? And what did they say to him? "Lunch break"?
Anyway, he came back, and off Traffic went again.
-- HA in Coloured Rain issue 24
The history of the mysterious "Traffic symbol" will always be the subject of debate amongst Traffic aficionados. The symbol, a twisted wheel of four-arrows, is subject to interpretation regarding both form and color. The symbol first appeared on their debut Mr. Fantasy in white, hovering above Chris Wood's head. It would continue to grace Traffic sleeve-artwork up until even their most recent release, Far From Home, whose background is dominated by a red representation. In reference to the symbol's actual form, Trouser Press released this explanation in a posthumous 1978 article:
"...[A]ccording to Steve, it was the creation of a lady called Carol Duskin and the band adopted it because they liked it and there was really nothing more to it than that. A simple explanation that could be true, however a few facts should be pointed out. Among other things it's a Celtic representation of the Wheel of Fortune (something which crops up in several songs including 'No Time To Live' and 'Dealer') and it's also connected with the Hindu swastika, the three legged Isle of Man design and is later to be found on Irish crosses. Also Myrrdin, later to metamorphose into Merlin, the councilor and magician of medieval Arthurian fantasy claims the symbol. So another pattern emerges; evidence of Traffic's folkloric passions..."
Still others insist that the symbol was designed by Chris Wood (due to its frequent appearance near or upon him); or that is was based upon the Circles of Creation; the Hebrew wheel of light; or even a flying-birds motif, representational of "the flight from dreams."
Regarding color, the original white symbol has been interpreted as "higher nature". In the later "pink label" versions of Mr. Fantasy, it appeared in black, symbolic of protection. The symbol later appeared with a green hue (on Last Exit). This has been interpreted in three manners: as a reference to fertility; as a symbol of a "green light" to their creative ventures; or simply representational of nature, within which they had settled in Berkshire. On the 1990 compilation Smiling Phases it appeared twice: on the cover in red (energy) and on the booklet in yellow (creativity). Still, these interpretations are purely speculative, the colors could simply be the coincidental result of good graphic design.
Page created November 10, 1997.
Last updated November 10, 1997.
Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999 by Paul Minkinnen & Jan Inge Sommerseth.