Mick Rock, self-titled King of Glam Rock Photographers, looks back on his career capturing stunning images of Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, The Stooges, Queen, David Bowie and Blondie
If you want to know intimate details about a rockstar, you talk to their close friends. On May 16th, I went to a screening of a documentary at the Roxy Hotel that proves that point. Iconic rock photographer Mick Rock not only helped paint our culture through vibrant photographs, he taped many conversations with his close pals, David Bowie and Lou Reed. In Mick’s new documentary, Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra Of Rock, Bowie is caught on audio in 1972 saying that the motivations of the artist don’t really matter because one has never changed the world. “I like your name, it can’t be real,” David tells Mick, who was appropriately born Michael David Rock, as if his future was sealed by the stars. On another tape, Lou Reed quips, “There are 50,000 junkies in New York alone and they deserve a song too,” referring to the Velvet Underground’s never-ending song on the addicted, “Heroin.”
He saw Syd Barrett as a “soft poet,” like Arthur Rimbaud, very sensitive and creative. Just one of the bohemians himself, he was accepted into an elite pack and the photos happened organically. As the bird that Syd was playing house with lounged naked behind him, Mick snapped the legendary photo which became the cover of Syd’s album, The Madcap Laughs. Eventually, Syd who just wanted to jump around and play guitar, lost interest in interviews and photo shoots.
“The Double D’s as I call them David Bowie and Debbie Harry, you really can’t take a bad picture of either of them.” – Mick Rock talking about his favorite muses on Access Hollywood.
Mick snapped the perfect black and white image of Lou Reed that graced the cover of his album, Transformer. It was taken when Lou jumped on stage for the encore with David Bowie during the Save The Whales concert at Royal Festival Hall in London in 1972. Can you imagine how hard it would be to focus on just one of them? The image of an androgynous Iggy in metallic pants with a full face of make-up for The Stooges album, Raw Power, was another magical moment taken by Mick. Queen reached out to Mick after acknowledging his success, “Taking photos of famous poofs,” the outspoken photographer says, “They wanted to look the fucking part.” They hired him to shoot their album, Queen two, which is one of the most powerful group photos ever taken. His inspiration taken from a picture of the actress Marlene Dietrich, who was exceptional at finding her light, something these blokes weren’t great at. Mick stuck with it and eventually got the shot of a lifetime.
Struggling with a heavy cocaine addiction which helped him to stay up and keep working, eventually ravaged his body, leading to an almost fatal heart-attack. The documentary pans back to a mock version of Rock on a gurney, an obvious turning point in his life. These days he uses breathing exercises, a brain machine, mantras and head stands to relax and stay centered before shooting rockstars. The Cambridge-schooled artist cites an extensive list of poets and writers as his first motivators: The Symbolist Poets, the English Romantics and the American Beat Poets. Along with acid. The film imitated the experience of making LSD by showing paper with William S. Burroughs painted on each tab and the liquid acid being dropped on top of Burroughs’ face. “The lysergic experience opened up my third eye, you might say,” Mick adds.
The movie is a romantic vision of a friend, fan, and talent who loves New York because of its edginess, and the excitement it brings about. He saw The Ramones as “The ugliest band around” and “Punk rock as a big rodent.” Mick jokes that The Ramones were known to hate photographers and have no money to pay with but he said yes anyway. Maybe his intuition steered him towards their potential. The red album cover for End Of The Century, you could say was The Ramones’ Rock & Roll High School yearbook picture.
“I am the king of glam rock photographers,” Mick states as photos of Eno, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Bowie and Queen are pulled up in his attic. He loved taking photos of pretty boys and girls especially Debbie Harry of Blondie, who he saw as the Marilyn Monroe of Rock & Roll.
“I just think if you have the right obsessive nature, it could be a sick obsessive nature, but you have to have the capacity to be fascinated.” – Mick Rock
After the movie, we were ushered into the Django, which is the basement club of the Roxy Hotel. Michael Houghton and The Bashers were about to play. They are made up of Andy Hilfiger on bass, Derek Hawkins on guitar, Rock & Roll fashion designer and artist Michael Houghton on vocals, and Jimbo Cacala on drums. The party, also a celebration of As If Magazine, ushered in eye-popping, six foot tall models who caroused with music industry insiders such like Clem Burke, Marky Ramone, Bob Gruen, Legs McNeil, and Jimmy Webb. The Bashers were loud and lively, keeping the crowd interested. Even Tommy Hilfiger was spotted up front smiling ear to ear. All of their songs paid homage to Mick Rock’s subjects starting with “Jumping Jash Flash,” by The Rolling Stones, with Matt Sorum of Guns N’ Roses on drums. The Dead Boys, “Sonic Reducer,” came next taking the party up a notch. David Bowie’s “Jean Genie” had people singing along. Marky Ramone was brought up to appropriately play drums for The Ramones’ “Cretin Hop,” unfortunately something broke in the drum set half way through the song. They stopped and started again, trudging on while the audience filled themselves up with free booze at the bar. With semi working drums they played “Blitzkrieg Bop,” the Velvet Underground’s, “Sweet Jane,” and The Stooges, “ I Wanna Be Your Dog,” with Blondie’s Clem Burke jumping up on the piano to chime in on the keys surprising the band.
During the encore, Clem Burke worked his magic on the drums for Velvet Underground’s “White Light White Heat,” and The Stooges, “Search And Destroy.” Legs and I just looked at each other in awe of the stand out performance that Clem brought to the table. The band definitely stepped up their energy during the encore. Afterward, we all escaped for some fresh air and cigarettes.