It’s been quite a year for me, I have essentially gone from looking back on a pile of thirty-year-old photos, to realizing my dream of being an accredited photojournalist. Quite honestly, I never imagined the writing part, only the photography. I literally didn’t know i had it in me. And in the end it turns out that this was the specific thing that has helped gain me some small amount of recognition. Quite fitting as I honestly believe what I do with a camera is more luck than skill; there’s not much separating me from the other photographers in the pack at the front of the arena. As recently as the beginning of October, I was going through my photos the night of the Van Halen show at The Hollywood Bowl, comparing them with what I had already seen on-line, bemoaning the fact that I never do quite “get the shot”. And then, there it was, jumping right out of the computer; what I consider to be one of the best photos of a guitarist I have ever taken. What separates that photo from one of Kevin Mazur’s? A millisecond or two, that’s it. There is perhaps a subtle change in lighting, subject, and sound. If we’re all shooting with similar equipment and standing next to one another, after you brag about composition, it all comes down to luck, or at least that’s what I think.
To quote Little Steven, “but I digress”. I’m doing a retrospective in what has turned out to be the best year of my life from an artistic standpoint (I hope that this doesn’t sound too pretentious). The year started innocently enough, the way it normally does or at least seems to; with The Rolling Stones. I mention The Stones quite a bit, and one could be forgiven for thinking I’m a huge Stones fan. I’m not really, it’s just that I never really liked them until around 2013, and with all the other classic rock having been beaten to death, I discovered that maybe they weren’t so bad after all, and started listening to the tracks they don’t play on the radio every 27 minutes. It’s April of 2015 and The Stones have already announced a series of shows across the U.S. and are going to be kicking off the tour in San Diego. That can only mean one thing; the rehearsals are going to be right in my neighborhood, just as they were in 2013. Where am I going with all of this Rolling Stones talk? It was The Stones that inspired me to pick up the camera after thirty years….
The Stones were rehearsing right down the street, at a facility I’m familiar with having rented from there a few times myself. Before the entire crazy Stones community has clued into the whereabouts of the band, I’m standing in the courtyard of Third Encore discussing price while twenty feet behind me I can hear them playing “Beast of Burden” at a level that would have to be heard to be believed. These guys could put a teenager to shame with their volume. Oh, and Keith Richards comes out for a smoke break while I’m standing there. No big deal. So, long story short, I listen at the rehearsals, and then through pure luck, I get chosen to give video testimony at The Fonda theater, which grants me access to the most anticipated show in the history of The Rolling Stones (don’t worry, I’ll move off The Stones in a minute). Two nights after The Fonda, I’m in San Diego for the tour opener and witness one of THE WORST concerts ever, ruined mostly because security was seemingly provided by gestapo Inc, but that’s another story.
My real job (yes, the dreaded daytime gig) informs me that I’m to fly out to Minneapolis in two weeks to meet with the heads of a very large, unnamed corporation who’s head office is in Minneapolis, and it just so happens that, yes, The Rolling Stones are playing the same night. I figure “O.K., third time’s a charm” and secure a really good seat to the show. But here’s the kicker; I do a bunch of research into what the photography policy for this show is. I phone the stadium. I talk to the promoter. And I go out and buy the best, cheap camera that is allowed into the show. Still, essentially a “pocket shooter” I figure I’ll come away with some barely-acceptable snapshots. I’m sitting in seat 8C somewhere above one of those “flyover” states and the photos are astonishing. I start to notice the people in the other seats are elbowing each other and pointing at me. For the first time in thirty years, I experience that feeling, the one you can only experience with a lanyard, a lens, and a dream. I decide right at that point, I’m going to be published.
Two day later, I’m googling “music publications” and listing them all in a spreadsheet, going methodically down my list, telling them that I’d like to shoot for their publication. And like a lottery, I get that hoped-for email saying “we would love to have you working for us”. And so started this wonderful odyssey, my journey with The Los Angeles Beat.
A few days later, I hear that Ringo Starr is going to be celebrating his 75th birthday in front of the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood on July 7th. Armed with nothing more than my determination and a borrowed camera, I leave work early and head down there, showing up at the press table. “I’m with The Los Angeles Beat” I tell the press lady at the barricades, and hope they’ll let me in. Nothing had been pre-arranged and I’m just throwing the dice, and it’s at that moment that my awareness makes a quantum leap from the 80’s to the present. Way back when, you had to make endless phone calls to secure your spot, but you could also fake your way in pretty easily. On this day however, I see how our connected world can work in my favor, and how I can use it to my advantage. After a few minutes of checking my credentials on her smartphone, the velvet rope moves aside, and I’m ushered into the photo pit. Right in front. Like maybe two feet from where Ringo is going to be standing.
Out comes Ringo and I’m crouched inches in front of him, shooting like mad. Out comes Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Matt Sorum, Jim Keltner, and a host of other celebrities. But enough about those guys, this is about me, right? But seriously, I go back and look at the photos, and think “I may be on to something here”. I start telling colleagues about these unlikely dreams coming true. I borrow camera gear from co-workers. I keep telling myself that once I get into concert X I will break down and buy a camera rig.
So, to make a long story short, here’s the retrospective I promised you. Notice how I got you to wade through my somewhat self-absorbed tale? Maybe I have learned a thing or two in my quest to become the next Bukowski.
Shows I saw or photographed:
Sheryl Crow with Alex Cuba
Heart with Liv Warfield
Taylor Swift with Haim and Vance Joy
Van Halen with Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp - Ginger Baker, Tony Franklin, Quiet Riot, etc.
Ascencia Urban Blues Festival with Walter Trout and Guitar Shorty
Rockers Against Cancer
Revolutions 2: The Art of Rock
WAX: The Record Fair with a tour of Capitol Studios
Pattie Boyd (ex-wife of George Harrison & Eric Clapton)
Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind
Lisa Fischer from The Rolling Stones
Quite a list of shows and happenings no? I thought it was a good effort for what essentially is the sophomore era of my intended path to fame, fortune, or both. But the one thing that I took away from all of these things, are the friendships I’ve made, and one in particular. I’m not going to name the person because a friendship isn’t something that goes on a list, it supersedes it. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that. Oh, and I did end up buying all the camera gear I could carry, after about the fifth show I got into. I’m sure it will pay for itself around 2062.
I hope that 2016 will turn into something even more special for me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to do that thing where you dance on your desk at work, say something obscene, and laugh your way off into the distance, the yells and hoots of your ex-colleagues echoing off the cubicle walls and masking their sheer envy of it all. Save me a stool at the bar Charles, the cops will surely hand back my license in a minute or two….