One of the early recovering alcoholics in AA was an artist named Ray C from New York who joined the fellowship in February 1938. He was asked to design the dust jacket for the first edition of the Big Book. He submitted various designs for consideration, including one that was blue and in an Art Deco style. The one chosen was red and yellow, with a little black, and a little white. The words Alcoholics Anonymous were printed across the top in large white script. It became known as the circus jacket because of its loud circus colors. The unused blue jacket is today in the Archives at the Stepping Stones Foundation
RayC’s story is told in the first editon of the Big Book, entitled The Artist’s Story. He quotes the New England transcendentalist and writer Thoreau to describe something of his own anguish and quest for sobriety and peace of mind. ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’
For Ray, the ‘neurotic drinking’ was a symptom of the desperation that had characterised much of his life. A turning point came when after a meeting with another recovering alcoholic (probably Bill W), he met with 20 other men who had also ‘achieved a mental rebirth from alcoholism’. He detected an invisible source of power and influence at work in their lives and this energy became for him a Higher Power in which he could have faith. The ‘flirting’ with religion was over.
“It is only when a man has tried everything else, when in utter desperation and terrific need he turns to something bigger than himself, that he gets a glimpse of the way out. It is then that contempt is replaced by hope, and hope by fulfillment.”
There is an postscript here that I discovered while browsing through the Akron archives. In 1974 Ray C starts one of the first AA meetings for homosexual and lesbian al coholics at St Margaret’s. The first Lambda meetings in Virginia begin shortly afterwards and in 1975 Lilian Fifield publishes On My Way to Nowhere: Alienated, Isolated Drunk, a study of alcoholism in the gay community in Los Angeles. As I read that title tears came into my eyes: on my way to nowhere. The outsider status of so many artists, so many LGBT alcoholics cast adrift by their families, driven into ghettos, silenced by homophobia. And RayC was there at the outset, contributing his design skills for the lively assertive cover of the book that would reach thousands of likeminded suffering alcoholics right across America as the world teetered on the brink of global war.
One morning in 1938 Ray C met 20 recovering alcoholics who changed his life. This is what he said of this connection and I love to read it because when I walked into my first meeting I had the same feeling: here was my new family, men and woman who had the answer, who were living in the solution, who had moved beyond discrimination and social roles. The energy crackled around them like high voltage current or lightning.
‘These men were like lamps supplied with current from a huge spiritual dynamo and controlled by the rheostat of their souls. They burned dim, bright, or brilliant, depending upon the degree and progress of their contact.’