Book Review: Picture Book
To see or not to see
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Dec. 4, 2009
Grungephotos by Michael Lavine
Abrams Image, 160 pp., $24.95
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Me and My Friendsphotos by Tony Woolliscroft
Abrams Image, 224 pp., $24.95
Travelin' Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Segerby Tom Weschler & Gary Graff
Wayne State University Press, 168 pp., $27.95
Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixtiesby Ethan A. Russell
Springboard Press, 240 pp., $35
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The First 25 Years: The Definitive Chronicle of Rock & Roll as Told by Its Legendsedited by Holly George-Warren
Collins Design, 256 pp., $39.99
"Picture book, pictures of your mama taken by your papa a long time ago.
"Picture book of people with each other to prove they loved each other a long time ago."
– "Picture Book," the Kinks
Internet killed the radio star, Internet killed indie record stores, Internet killed picture book connoisseurs. Once, tombstone-sized rock & roll leaf-throughs propped up lopsided coffee tables as conduits to our idols, alternate family albums collecting images from across decades of Life, Rolling Stone, Creem. Debbie Harry became to Hit Parader what Betty Grable had been to World War II. Today, there's Google's image search.
Obsession powers the Internet as much as search engines and porn. Bandwidth determines just how TMZ our cyber communities choose to be. Everything after that depends on your ink-jet color printer. Tacking up a copy of Keith Richards standing under a bulletin that reads, "Patience Please ... A Drug Free America Comes First!" proves no more complicated than a few keystrokes.
Kill your idols, but collect their icons. Download it, stream it, burn it for free. Then buy the vinyl for posterity. Records include digital doppelgangers now anyway. Fetish means never having to say you're out of shelf space. Encyclopedias, history books – can the bookcase support another 16 pounds of new visual music ephemera at this late date?
Thurston Moore's essay on Grunge credits the titular term to Sub Pop staffer Megan Jasper: "On one hand, that word was ridiculous, horrible, completely straight-up dumb, and on the other hand, [it was] just beautiful: a smart and amusing shrug within the American scream-dream."
Scholarly and stylish, Sonic Youth's architect supplies the best insight into black-and-white scene documentation by the Seattle imprint's lensman, Michael Lavine, whose first half of Grunge stumbles with the early 1980s street kids of the Pacific Northwest before Buffalo Tom and the writer's endearingly shabby crew appear. Then it's the deluge: Dino Jr., Pussy Galore – Jon Spencer looking like a young Daniel Day-Lewis – and an Urge Overkill shot glinting a Vegas ghost of the MC5's Back in the USA LP cover steam room.
Sexy young Breeders, Babes in Toyland, L7's English sheepdog Clairol hair ad, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Butthole Surfers, and a sensitive solo portrait of Gibby Haynes, clean hair and polar bear. Kurt Cobain's junkie complexion toward the end is shocking considering the Photoshop charisma on the Grunge front. Moore's band bios at the back glimpse the guitarist's "relentless quest to defy expectation and mortality." His punk thesis equivalent to Time Regained remains the Moby Dick of unwritten music reference tomes.
Down the West Coast, more rag-tag post-punks get the tour diary treatment in Red Hot Chili Peppers: Me and My Friends. Behind-the-scenes insightful beginning at 1990's Mother's Milk, UK snapper Tony Woolliscroft's portfolio becomes one big close-up through his thorough documentation of each photo series.
Fire helmets on the Chilis at Lollapalooza 1992 leave a visual burn, but Anthony Kiedis riding on the shoulder of a temple-sized Samoan from the Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. spells t.r.i.b.a.l. The quartet as light bulbs for Woodstock 1994 could be Devo, They Might Be Giants, or the Residents, but the group in Fela Kuti suits at Wembley Arena in 1999 for the last date of the Californication UK tour bursts piñata. Chateau Marmont as backdrop for Kiedis' vocals on By the Way and Rick Rubin lying on a couch reading fresh lyrics precede Woolliscroft's LP shoot for the career-high disc and match the live shots of the individual band members that end the book along with a postcard from the singer that seals the deal like "Venice Queen" battens down By the Way. If all your sock pairs are one-member affairs, Me and My Friends is your athletic supporter.
Travelin' Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger – which one's the day job, road hog or photographer? Either or both for Tom Weschler, working one of Detroit's Big Four (the others being Motown, the MC5, and Iggy Pop) and managing to finish college while doing it, including LP design and witness to "Turn the Page." Ramblin' gamblin' captions and snapshots of behind-the-scenesters accompany keepers throughout, including such captures as Seger's Beatles haircut and turtleneck from 1969, cigarette dangling from his lip.
Before too many pages, he's adopted the Beautiful Loser long hair and beard, Seger presenting an LP sales trophy to CKLW deejay Rosalie Trombley, who wouldn't play his music and about whom he wrote a tune, famously covered by Thin Lizzy. Then there's the money shot: Seger and Springsteen backstage, '78, their first meeting, but they look like brothers, one long-haired, the other short, both beaming beauty of the Gods. When a Seger bio is finally penned, picture-window installation will come courtesy of Weschler. Now ... which LP, Night Moves or Nebraska?
Last, roll two tie-ins, one for live dynamite Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, newly reissued and set-designed by Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties tour photographer Ethan Russell, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The First 25 Years: The Definitive Chronicle of Rock & Roll by Its Legends, backstory to recent concert celebrations for the music mausoleum.
The only photographer on the 16-man crew for the Stones' 1969 U.S. trek, Russell's dramatic opening account of the entourage fleeing the free but fatal tour encore as if on the last chopper out of Saigon and making it back to his hotel in San Francisco by 9pm dominoes into his first-person recall of modern rock's darkest morality tale. The author's contextualization of his visual brands through reporting and new interviews, including Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, and most quotably Stanley Booth ("I was in the rafters with Gram Parsons ... we're smoking this killer weed"), add up to a tour de force, a visual index to Booth's masterpiece The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones.
Keith Richards in sunglasses, scarf, shag haircut, and Coke patch on his jacket, leaning up against a water fountain under the aforementioned just-say-no signage, takes a backseat to Let It Bleed's final hazy shot of the Stones posed high on an L.A. hillside, as haunting as contemporary pictures from the Altamont Speedway today.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's version of music history unfolds via induction and acceptance speeches, plus a filing cabinet's worth of publicity band stills and a smattering of actual photos from the events themselves. Pete Townshend's Stone veneration of Keith Inc.; Paul McCartney's letter to John Lennon; Little Steven's Jersey folk ballad-type intro of the Rascals landing him a call from The Sopranos casting director; Boss Springsteen's hilarious, on-point induction of U2 in 2005; Ice-T's speech on Sire Records' Seymour Stein; and Metallica's Hetfield & Ulrich killing on their Black Sabbath reading: The stuff of legends. Pity there are no pictures to match.