Abigail Rockwell isn't offended by the title of Lana Del Rey's latest album, "Norman F---ing Rockwell."
"It's not really about him," Rockwell said Friday, referring to her late grandfather. "It's about her and her perception of who Norman Rockwell is."
On Aug. 30, the pop star born Elizabeth Grant released her highly anticipated record to a chorus of acclaim; music news site Pitchfork writes that the LP establishes Del Rey "as one of America's greatest living songwriters," and Rolling Stone calls it a "pop classic." Yet, some listeners have been puzzled by a 34-year-old pop star using a mid-20th-century illustrator's name, along with the expletive it sandwiches, as an album title.
"It's not like Elvis Presley, but it's out there," Del Rey said when a radio host questioned her about the popularity of Rockwell's name. (Del Rey could not be reached for comment for this story.) Later in the interview, she said that Rockwell's name is familiar because of its ties to "nostalgia."
"And then I liked the `f-ing' in the middle just to let you know there is a little bit of lightness somewhere in the album," she said.
The lyrics in the record's title track don't directly mention Rockwell. They instead include a Laurel Canyon reference and verses that Del Rey said made her "laugh." But Rockwell's name does appear in "Venice B----."
"Paint me happy in blue / Norman Rockwell," she sings.
Abigail Rockwell, a singer-songwriter herself, long has been a fan of Del Rey's "vibe," she said.
"She has this whole numbed-out, disillusioned America melancholia that is very appealing to so many right now, and I get it," Rockwell said.
Yet, in April, Rockwell was on the receiving end of some Del Rey fans' criticism after a rumor began circulating that the Rockwells were an obstacle to the album's completion.
"I found out that somebody had posted on an anonymous music board that the Rockwell family was threatening to sue Interscope Records if they released the album with this title, and that's a complete fiction," Rockwell said.
Despite her appreciation for Del Rey's music, Rockwell, who noted that she doesn't speak for her entire family, originally was a bit disappointed with the record's title. "I think my initial reaction was, using NR's name, Norman Rockwell's name, for a statement, she doesn't need to do it," Rockwell said, "and she probably doesn't really get Norman Rockwell."
Yet, Rockwell quickly changed course, understanding that the record is "really about that smashed American nostalgia and melancholy that is so much her vibe."
"I think there are some people who are taking umbrage to it, and that's their right, but I just get it," Rockwell said, "and she's bringing his name to a whole new generation. A lot of them didn't know who Norman Rockwell was."
Norman Rockwell Museum Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt offered a similar observation in an emailed statement.
"The juxtaposition of Norman Rockwell with an expletive was a bit astonishing to us when we first heard about Lana Del Rey's album title. We were also delighted to see a new generation connecting with Norman Rockwell and by the chance to connect with the devoted fans of such a popular and esteemed artist as Lana Del Rey," Moffatt wrote.
"We'd love to have Lana visit the Museum and see Rockwell's work, around which she has framed her album. We hope that this encourages a new audience who may not be familiar with his art to learn more about his life, work, and his humanitarian values that still resonate today. It's fun to see Rockwell appeal to a new generation."
Outside Pittsfield High School on Friday afternoon, a smattering of students interviewed were as likely to know Rockwell's name as Del Rey's, and only a couple had heard about her latest album.
"It's not in conversation here," junior Hannah Wheeler said. "It's more online."
And what would Rockwell think of Del Rey's record title if he were alive today?
"I think he would absolutely see the humor in it and chuckle," his granddaughter said, "and then just go back in the studio and keep painting."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.