Big shot: photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s ‘rock and roll stories’
The Aspen Times
lynn goldsmith’s “Rock and roll stories”
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For a Deadhead like me, it was the obvious question.
“Sure, you dated Bruce Springsteen — and in the ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ era! — and directed the first rock ’n’ roll show ever on TV, and photographed every rock star worth mentioning, and had a major record contract yourself,” I said to Lynn Goldsmith when I first met her, maybe eight years ago. “But did you ever shoot the Grateful Dead?”
And for Goldsmith, there was an obvious answer: Nope. She explained that she was an East Coaster, a hardcore New Yorker, and didn’t do all that much work in San Francisco, the Dead’s base. Moreover, she wasn’t into the Dead, their music or their look. Goldsmith, a Detroit native, gravitated toward more urban, hard-edged sounds; to her, the Dead were an offshoot of country and western. And as a photographer, she liked artists who would dress up, put on makeup, play with some props and take seriously the process of being documented in visual images. The Dead’s shabby lack of style wasn’t her style.
A year later, Goldsmith had some news for me. Whoops — she had, in fact, shot the Dead, as she learned while looking through some old files.
“I was on a helicopter with them, coptering in and out of — someplace,” Goldsmith said recently. “Some big show, because they brought you in by helicopter.”
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Goldsmith still isn’t impressed by the Dead or by the fact that she has been so prolific over her four-decade career that she could have overlooked shooting and helicoptering with Jerry Garcia and Co. But she is a little impressed with herself for having forgotten Pete Townshend, guitarist of The Who.
“Did I tell you my story — I didn’t remember Pete Townshend? But he knew me. Turned out I’d been on a tour with him, with The Who,” Goldsmith said from Manhattan on a day when she already had photographed Patti Smith, a close friend and one of her favorite subjects, and was about to leave for the Apollo Theater to attend a memorial for Lou Reed, another friend. Goldsmith recounts the incident: At a dinner party, clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger brought Goldsmith over to meet Townshend. The guitarist was busy eating, but he jumped up to give a big hug.
“I thought, ‘Oh boy, I don’t remember,’ she recalled. “Well, you know, I forget a lot of stuff.”
That shortage of memory space, or the enormous amount of work the hyperactive Goldsmith has taken on, was reason enough to create the new book “rock and roll stories,” which runs for 399 pages of text, and photos from A (Paula Abdul, Gregg Allman) to Z (Frank Zappa, another favorite subject) and most everyone between (Dylan, Madonna, the Stones, Beastie Boys, Michael Franti, Leif Garrett, Bob Marley, the Go-Gos). The book, her 10th, is a treasure chest for a music fan — particularly one whose milieu was New York City in the ’70s and ’80s — but for Goldsmith it served as a way to refresh the memory of all that she has witnessed and done.
“I’d go over these photos I didn’t remember. So I’d call the people in them and ask them to remind me,” she said.
Goldsmith, who lives half the year in Old Snowmass, will introduce the book in a 7 p.m. event today at Explore Booksellers.
* * * *
Goldsmith was enthused to tell me about a shoot she did in Manhattan in November. It was a music star of a different sort: an older gentleman who goes by “The Birdman” and owns an overstuffed record store, Rainbow Music, in the East Village.
“I just walked in because it was so bizarre-looking,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith has always seen the camera as a tool not just to make images but to gain access and introduce herself.
“The camera will always be, for me, a way of meeting people, hearing their stories. Whether it’s a rock star or an ordinary person — not that I think anyone is ordinary,” she said. About meeting the Birdman, strolling into his store and making a portrait, she said, “Would a famous photographer do this? Yes. That’s what we do. We shoot pictures.”
The real pleasure has been in meeting people, becoming close and then collaborating on the art of the still image. Many of the photos in “rock and roll stories” reveal an intimacy and playfulness: Alice Cooper with a Barbie doll whose hair is on fire; Russell Simmons on a bed, giving the finger; Zappa in a living-room chair, reading to his family; a young Springsteen, shaving, looking at himself in the mirror. Goldsmith was at her best when there was no particular assignment, when it was just she and a subject/friend (who happened to be playing a multi-night stand at Madison Square Garden that week).
“The best images are made from collaboration. An artist would come to me with an idea, or I’d come to them with one, and we’d take it further and further, building sets, using props,” she said. “You’re not talking about music all the time; you share interests in writing, painting. You like hanging out with them. Sometimes it was just us playing — not an album cover, just having fun. The only time it feels like a job is when I have to deal with publicists, record labels, publications.”
As she explains in an extended introduction to “rock and roll stories” that serves as a colorful document of an urban, Midwestern baby boomer falling in love with music and art, Goldsmith came to dislike being identified as a rock photographer. Along with making music herself and managing Grand Funk Railroad, she had done various kinds of photography, including photojournalism and fine-art work. Over time, though, she has become more comfortable with the fact that people are going to remember her for shooting the likes of Elvis Presley, Tom Petty and Carly Simon.
“I not only embrace it — I welcome it,” she said. “It’s youthful, it’s sexy, and what more could a 65-year-old woman want than to be considered youthful and sexy?”
As much as she has accomplished behind the lens, Goldsmith still has some unfulfilled rock ’n’ roll dreams, the shots she didn’t get:
“Joni Mitchell — especially when she was young and beautiful.
“Neil Young — he’s in my chapter ‘Photo Nightmares.’
“Little Richard — particularly in his youth. I did photograph him, but it was in the ’80s. I really would have liked to photograph him when he had that big pompadour.”
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