Penelope Spheeris’ documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene. Filmed between December 1979 and May 1980, featuring Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, Germs, and X was this was the first of aserie of 3 ”Decline movies”.
Featuring interviews, live concert footage, and a feature on how punk was transformed from a trend to a way of life, UK/DK is a comprehensive look at the skinhead/punk movement. Some of the most notorious bands on the scene are featured, including The Exploited, The Vice Squad, The Adicts and many more bands from UK.
Veteran documentary filmmaker and hipster Lech Kowalski creates this film about his friend and hard-partying rock god Johnny Thunders,member of legendary proto-punk band the New York Dolls. Through archive footage and interviews with such musicians as Dee Dee Ramone and Sylvain Sylvain, the film details his stint with the Dolls, the formation of his other band, the Heartbreakers; his rise to fame, particularly in Japan; his descent into heroin addiction, and the mysterious circumstances of his death in a New Orleans hotel room in 1991. Born to Lose: The Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Movie also contains some rarely seen concert performances in Max’s Kansas City and the Mudd Club. The photo on the poster is by photographer Marcia Resnick.
From the interviews with seminal bands in their earliest stages, D.O.A features live performances by the Sex Pistols, The Dead Boys, Generation X (with Billy Idol), The Rich Kids, the X-Ray Spex, and Sham 69, with additional music from The Clash, Iggy Pop, and Augustus Pablo to the live coverage of the first Pistols show in America, ”D.O.A: A Rite of Passage” is thus far the ONLY film to truly capture the feel, spirit and philosophy of the era. A near-comatose Sid Vicious is hilarious, as is the truly terrible, ersatz punk band Terry and The Idiots, whose leader is interviewed about the scene throughout the film. The depictions of a very bleak, “no future” England sum it all up as succinctly as the music itself.
Jubilee is a 1978 cult film by Derek Jarman heavily influenced by the 1970s punk aesthetic in its style and presentation. Shot in grainy colour, it is largely plotless and episodic. Location filming took advantage of London neighbourhoods that were economically depressed and/or still contained large amounts of rubble from the London Blitz during WWII. Unlike the others this one is really a movie, not a documentary and that is why I thought it would be interesting to include it on the list. The Plot:When Queen Elizabeth I asks her court alchemist to show her England in the future, she’s transported 400 years to a post-apocalyptic wasteland of roving girl gangs, an all-powerful media mogul, fascistic police, scattered filth, and twisted sex. With Jubilee, legendary British filmmaker Derek Jarman channeled political dissent and artistic daring into a revolutionary blend of history and fantasy, musical and cinematic experimentation, satire and anger, fashion and philosophy. With its uninhibited punk petulance and sloganeering, Jubilee brings together many cultural and musical icons of the time, including Jordan, Toyah Willcox, Little Nell, Wayne County, Adam Ant, and Brian Eno (with his first original film score), to create a genuinely unique, unforgettable vision. Ahead of its time and often frighteningly accurate in its predictions, it is a fascinating historical document and a gorgeous work of film art.
Fresh from making his cinematic debut with The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, director Julien Temple wrote and directed this short promotional film Punk Can Take It for punk band the U.K. Subs. The promo mixed live performances—shot during the U.K. Subs’ tour to promote the single “Stranglehold”—with a comedic pastiche of Temple’s source material—a Second World War propaganda film London Can Take It, which had shown the plucky Londoners’ resilience to Germany’s bombing campaign. In Temple’s film the U.K. Subs provided the “symphony of war” while Eddie Tudor Pole and Helen Wellington-Lloyd are embattled punks fighting for victory against crass blood-sucking commercialization of the music they love. The U.K. Subs (short for “Subversives”) were among the original bands who led the British punk charge in 1976. Still performing and recording today, this film captures the Subs at an early high point in their career under the pairing of Charlie Harper (vocals) and Nicky Garratt (guitar) who created a blistering output between 1979-1982.
If you were disappointed by the shitty CBGB’s movie made a couple of years back starring Alan Rickman, then you will get a better sense of the energy, talent and musical revolution that took place at CBGB’s in the mid-1970s with this hour-long TV documentary Blitzkrieg Bop . Focussing on The Ramones, Blondie and the The Dead Boys, Blitzkrieg Bop mixes live performance with short interview clips and a racy newscast voiceover. It’s recommended viewing.
Punk: Attitude is a film by Don Letts. It explores the “punk” revolution, genre and following from its beginning in the mid-1970’s up to its effect on modern rock music and other genres. The cast is a veritable list of alternative musicians and directors offering their opinions on what has been called a musical revolution. One of the film’s celebrated attributes comes in the form of its cast, showcasing the who’s who of punk tock/alternative culture contemporaries like David Johansen, Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins, Captain Sensible, Jim Jarmusch, Mick Jones, Jello Biafra, Siouxsie Sioux, and Darryl Jenifer.
From Lemmy filmmaker Wes Orshoski comes the story of the long-ignored pioneers of punk: The Damned, the first punks on wax and the first to cross the Atlantic. This authorized film includes appearances from Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones (The Clash), Lemmy and members ofPink Floyd, Black Flag, GNR, the Sex Pistols, Blondie, Buzzcocks, and more. Shot around the globe over three years, the film charts the band’s complex history and infighting, as it celebrated its 35th anniversary and found its estranged former members striking out on their own anniversary tour, while still others battle cancer.
Jarmusch has commented: “No other band in rock’n’roll history has rivaled The Stooges’ combination of heavy primal throb, spiked psychedelia, blues-a-billy grind, complete with succinct angst-ridden lyrics, and a snarling, preening leopard of a front man who somehow embodies Nijinsky, Bruce Lee, Harpo Marx, and Arthur Rimbaud. There is no precedent forThe Stooges, while those inspired by them are now legion.“He added that the film “is more an ‘essay’ than a document. It’s our love letter to possibly the greatest band in rock’n’roll history, and presents their story, their influences and their impact, complete with some never-before-seen footage and photographs. Like the Stooges and their music, ‘Gimme Danger’ is a little wild, messy, emotional, funny, primitive, and sophisticated in the most unrefined way. Long live The Stooges!”
A movie by Ullie Lommel featuring Richard Hell,Andy Warhol and Carole Bouquet. Nada, a beautiful French journalist on assignment in New York, records the life and work of an up and coming punk rock star, Billy. Soon she enters into a volatile relationship with him and must decide whether to continue with it, or return to her lover, a fellow journalist trying to track down the elusive Andy Warhol. Also a 1976 documentary by the same name HEREfeaturing Patti Smith, Television, Ramones, Blondie and Richard Hell.
“Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)” is a documentary film that examines the early DIY punk scene in the Nation’s Capital. It was a decade when seminal bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Scream, Void, Faith, Rites of Spring, Marginal Man, Fugazi, and others released their own records and booked their own shows—without major record label constraints or mainstream media scrutiny. Contextually, it was a cultural watershed that predated the alternative music explosion of the 1990s (and the industry’s subsequent implosion). Thirty years later, DC’s original DIY punk spirit serves as a reminder of the hopefulness of youth, the power of community and the strength of conviction. There is also an earlier documentary called ‘‘A History of DC Punk” that predates Salad Days’ overlook of the DC Punk scene.
Roxy club disc jockey Don Letts was given a Super 8 camera as a present by fashion editor Caroline Baker.When Letts started to film the acts at The Roxy, it was soon reported that he was making a movie, so Letts determined to film continuously for three months. The film features live footage of The Clash, Sex Pistols, WayneCounty & the Electric Chairs, Generation X, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Eater, Subway Sect, X-Ray Spex, Alternative TV and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. Backstage footage of certain bands, such as Generation X, The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees, is also included. All live footage was shot at the Roxy, except that of the Sex Pistols, who were filmed at The Screen On The Green cinema in London on 3 April 1977. The performance was Sid Vicious’ first public concert with the band.
Vince Lombardi High School continues to lose its school principles. The students are more concerned with rock ‘n’ roll than their education until the new principle, Miss Evelyn Togar is hired. She promises to set Vince Lombardi High School straight, and get the students focus back on education. However, a Ramones concert is coming to town, and Riff Randall, the biggest Ramones fan at the high school, plans on getting tickets to the concert in order to give them a song that she wrote entitled “Rock N’ Roll High School”. A series of events including Miss Togar taking away Riff’s tickets, a record burning and a taking over of the high school by Vince Lombardi High students and the Ramones, leads to a school evacuation by the police and an even more surprising ending!
Let Malcolm McLaren show you how to achieve fame and fortune by making your pop group the most despised band in the world! This film about the brief but eventful career of The Sex Pistols primarily focuses on McLaren, their manager, as he presents his ten-point program on how to achieve success through chaos, ineptitude, and abusing the music industry. Despite some remarkable footage of The Sex Pistols’ infamous Jubilee Day performance and clips from their final concert in San Francisco, there’s surprisingly little screen time devoted to the group actually performing. Instead, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle offers McLaren’s agit-prop philosophies on music, culture, politics, and the entertainment industry, as well as an amusing (if often inaccurate) account of the band’s rise and fall. Along the way, we’re also offered some curious animated sequences, “film noir” episodes starring guitarist Steve Jones, footage of the band recording with exiled British train robber Ronnie Biggs, and Sid Vicious singing “My Way” (he had been dead for over a year by the time the movie was released). The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle began life as “Who Killed Bambi?”, a project written by Roger Ebert and directed by Russ Meyer, which closed down after two days of shooting when funding fell through. By the time McLaren and Julien Temple got it off the ground (with a radically different script), Johnny Rotten had left the group, which explains why the band’s front man is hardly in the movie. The rest of the group broke up a few months later. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story by Victor Bockris
Updated after Reed’s death in October 2013, Transformer, The Complete Lou Reed Story definitely offers a lot more than one can possibly expect from a biography. Saying that Transformer encompasses everything you can possibly want to know about the life and times of the rock icon/artist/persona would still be a huge understatement. Going way beyond the usual narration of dates, love stories, anecdotes, arguments, relationships, records and tours reviews, Victor Bockris takes us much deeper, into the artist’s mystifying mind without a single dull moment, unexpectedly delving into the psyche as well as various traumas thus making Transformer a masterpiece that may seem at times closer to an essay written with a truly contagious passion. As I was reading various passages about Lou’s most intimate, meaningful moments, I suddenly became a voyeur, travelling through space and time, only making halts to land, embedded in Lou’s cerebral cortex, at very specific, revealing moments, a caterpillar enthralled in a mind-blowing, heart wrenching, enlightening spiritual journey to redemption and self-completion.
Caterpillar….As I was sifting through other reviews, I paused as I read the word ”butterfly” and pondered. As the biography evolves you really get the sense of a colorful and vivacious punkcaterpillar struggling with an acute egoistic hedonism.Reed was constantly and desperately looking for a way to become a magnificent butterfly that proudly spreads its wonderful, astoundingly colorful wings with a rare dignified wisdom that is rarely reached by those who have such a big ego as Reed. Reading the book, you just know that in the end he had reached this point since with an ego, you cannot bend, and with an ego how can one be really dignified? How can an ego give you grace? It would be just a superficial posture, empty, impotent posture. Nothing inside, just an empty shell without any content. Reading Transformer, it is very obvious that Reed tremendously suffered from his ego all through his life. At times he may have had the posture but he was obviously to clever and sensitive to not come to the realisation that something was missing. A man should be able to be undignified too. If you are always dignified you cannot laugh, you cannot joke, you lose all humanity and become inhuman.
The book bluntly starts, and very rightly so, with the shock therapy treatment Lou received starting in the spring of 1959 after Lou’s conservative parents, Sidney and Toby Reed, sent their son to a psychiatrist, requesting that he cures Lou of homosexual feelings and alarming mood swings. According to Lou, the shock treatment helped eradicate any feelings of compassion he might have and handed him that fragmented approach that took over most of his life. Lou could be so loveable that you wanted to invite him to supper and meet your family but then behaving in such a way that you wanted to kick him out the door the next minute.
Bockris really takes his time detailing with an almost scientific manner how screwed up his relationships became from then on, not only because of the treatment itself but also how it put his relationship with his parents in a twisted love-hate trauma because he simply could not fathom how his parents could have agreed to the torture that the shock treatment therapy represented to him, and yet, he simply couldn’t remove his parents from his life, even if he really felt the urge to do so. So there you are, Bockris gets you a privileged seat in the house, an overview of Lou’s entourage through his own mind. Of course it doesn’t explain everything but it sure explains a lot of his writings and the poetry of many of the songs that songs he has written. You get an even more seizing pregnant image of Lou’s relationship with his father towards the end of the book when Bockris hands us a very important of the puzzle when he writes ”One day, as a child, Lou’s hand strayed into close proximity to where his father was standing. He received a sharp smack for this action, recounts Reed’s close friend Julian Schnabel, who adds, “He never got over the cruelty of that.”
Those who see Lou Reed as a punk icon are right, he is and will hopefully remain one but as you get further down the line reading this biography you get the urge to spread the word that he is way more than that. To me White Light/White Heatwas the first punk song ever to be recorded. Far from fast forwarding on that era, Bockris still goes through that era with all the required details even if the book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story, by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga and is based on interviews with Nico, Cale, Reed, Morrison and Tucker, as well as others who became part of Andy Warhol’s circle of artistic collaborators. It remains widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest rock books ever published and is an utterly interesting, if not vital complement if you want to know the complete story because in this biography Bockris does not talk about that part of Lou’s life in details. You also get to see how Lou Reed desperately needs to be the center of attention as the original formation rapidly disintegrated. After the release of each album they loose one of the original member. First Nico, followed by Cale and then finally, Reed himself. You get a really good sense of his ”behavioral pattern” in one of Reed’s favorite movies called The Ruling Class featuring Peter O’Toole.
Fortunately you also get to know other aspects of Lou’s life, especially towards the end his life when he met the one and only person who managed to rekindle all those inner conflicts that were constantly harassing Reed’s mind; his magical, almost mystical, third and last wife, Laurie Anderson. The process had already been put in motion with Robert Quinn without ending well as always but Bockris is the only one who managed to take us to a place that enabled Reed to get closer to functioning as a normal human being with the updated version of the biography. It is through the character of Lulu, who originally came to life in two plays by the ground breaking German playwright Frank Wedekind, an author who came to prominence around the same time as Oscar Wilde in the 1890s. Two great extrapolations of the play are G.W Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box.
Just the fact that Reed finally managed to reach what is the closest thing to serenity through his art and music is revealing of how much of a thoroughly honest and sincere artist Lou Reed always was. Each and every record brought him a piece of the solution, even if he sometimes got lost in the way, he obviously always made sure that each and every single thing he did was meaningful to him as an artist and as a human being. Lulu is a totally underestimated album, a collaboration between him and the band Metallica, the best band he could think of to help him forge this masterpiece that finally managed to set him free, reconciling this ongoing battle between male-female and female-male, the jealousy, the fear of being rejected, all those complex feelings he was constantly struggling with came to be irremediably exposed and somehow ”tamed”. That is why Bockris in another masterful stroke of genius explains in details everything that was implied in the making of Lulu. You may not like the album, but you must take the time to think about everything it represents. Think of it as Lou and Metallica having violent, bordering non-consensual but this twisted passion is honest and not without hope and can be seen as an exorcism with Laurie Anderson’s precious help. It was the final touch that allowed Lou Reed to spend his final years at peace with John Cale with whom he released Peel Slowly and See, the ultimate Velvet Underground re-edition as well as the Deluxe Edition of White Light/White Heat . During the last six month of his life he also worked on his final collection of photographs Rimes/Rhymesand he even went to England to publicize Mick Rock’s limited edition ofTransformer, a great collection of Lou Reed’s photographs.
Of course this isn’t the only collaboration described in Transformer. You get to witness Lou’s collaborations with some of the most influential artists of his times, from John Cale, Andy Warhol (Reed and Cale made an album called Songs for Drella in Warhol’s honor after his death), and Nico, through David Bowie, Bob Ezrin, Robert Quine, Robert Wilson, Laurie Anderson and the ghost of Edgar Alan Poe on The Raven as well as many, many more. Reading Transformer you do really get the sense that there is a convergence leading to Lulu and get to understand why Lou Reed finally reached a point where he finally got some closure and could sit back and enjoy life, love, friendship and joking around. Maybe he just stopped trying to be perfect in the end, at last. Bockris states that he had learned to enjoy what he had, what he was and was proud of what he had done and was at peace with himself and for that, I think everyone can only be happy for him.
By the way, reading transformer never gives you the overall feeling that Lou Reed was a complete degenerate asshole. On the contrary, you simply learn to get to know him and appreciate him for what he is and respect all the attempt his made to find out what really lies down at the end of every path he could take. Thanks to this book, I know that those of us who dare to try, no matter how fucked up we are, will one day reach a place that can be called home; that perfection can only be found deep inside our heart if only I we have the courage to let it bleed for the things that deeply, truly matters. I now understand that there is no such thing as an end, or death, only constant renewal. Reed reinvented himself so many times and in so many different ways. One MUST take that into consideration despite the despair and the fear the fear of the unknown. There is no ugliness, there is only a beauty that has yet to revealed itself, hidden in our deepest fears. This book is a major statement and is for sure as close as you will ever get to Lou Reed’sRock’n’Roll Heart. Make sure you give it your undivided attention because just like it’s subject, this book will slap you in the face if you don’t!
”The next step may be the electrification of all mankind by the representation of a play that may be neither tragedy, comedy, farce, opera, pantomime,melodrama or spectacle, as we now comprehend these terms, but which may retain some portion of the idiosyncratic excellence of each, while it introduces a new class of excellence as yet unnamed because as yet undreamed of in the world”
Micheal Alig was one of those people who spent a very unhappy childhood in South Bend, Indiana because he couldn’t fit in. He was bullied, humiliated, laughed at beaten and so forth.Back then you either went to LA or New York. He went to the latter just that he could be his real-self. Problem is it must have probably work too well, too fast because Alig became totally unhinged and it all ended in a ”Disco Bloodbath” for Angel, the ”Spiritual-Super-Drug-Hero-Dealer” who’s body was sent floating on the Hudson by Alig and Robert “Freeze” Riggs, dismembered so that he could fit in a cardboard box. The river’s current usually sends everything to the ocean but a climate change had reversed the process and that’s how the body washed up on Staten Island instead. He was lucky to be found at all.
Alig could be described as a devilishly appealing guy from the Midwest who took the ’80s/’90s NYC clubs by storm with his subversive energy. Michael Alig always talked quickly, injecting a cackle between phrases, as he cooked up all sorts of mayhem and provocation. With aggression, smarts, and an anything-goes sense of creating fun, he quickly rose up the ranks of nightlife, becoming the darling of major domos like Rudolf Pieper and Peter Gatien, who later found that Alig was also a demon who could whip up tons of trouble as easily as he could dream up an open-bar party or a nutty performance art review.
He managed to create a scene that was totally surreal, crazy, glamorous yet not at all the same time. This was VERY profitable and it just kept on getting better and better. Alig’s notorious “Outlaw Parties”, which were thrown in various unconventional places including a Burger King, a Dunkin’ Donuts, abandoned houses and a subway, helped to revitalize the downtown New York City club scene which Village Voice columnist Michael Musto declared had atrophied after artist Andy Warhol died in 1987. Alig’s parties also became notorious due in part to his own “bad behavior”. Alig would throw $100 bills on crowded dance floors just to watch people scramble for them. In other instances, he would urinate on clubgoers or urinate in their drinks and stage falls wherein he knocked others to the ground.
As Alig’s popularity in the club scene grew, so did his drug use. He was arrested several times for drug offenses and entered rehab, but continued to use drugs. In 1995, Alig’s boss Peter Gatien sent Alig to rehab once again. Alig later claimed that after he completed his stint and was released, Gatien fired him.
Some of Alig’s behavior could be explained by a personality disorder; he was diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder. He stated that “The doctor said I was the most extreme case he’d ever seen. Everything has to be completely over the top and exaggerated. It worked well for my job – I was a promoter.At first Alig was totally against drugs and thought that anyone who was using was an absolute loser. Well that surely changed radically and soon Micheal Alig became a very heavy user of every drug you can possibly imagine, sinking low into depravity but always managing to have brilliant ideas and promoting what would become a way of life in itself: The Club Kids were born.
Now of course Micheal Alig had realised than drugs were bringing a lot more money than the admission entrance and the alcohol so he thought it would be stupid to let anyone else than him benefit from the profits generated by his parties so he created some sort of super hero figure that would be a guardian angel, offering you the boost you need to feel on top of the world again!! So he created Angel, a guy all dressed in white or silver wearing giant angel wings, able to offer you whatever drug you need whenever you need it. Of course in exchange of making Angel the official drug dealer of what was the hippest ”clientele” of the New York Scene, Alig could ask for almost whatever he wanted up front and largely benefitted from this arrangement, until the debt became a too high a problem….
Andre “Angel” Melendez was regular on the New York City club scene and worked at The Limelight. He also sold drugs on the premises. After the bar was closed by federal agents when an investigation found that Peter Gatien was allowing drugs to be sold there, Melendez was fired. Shortly thereafter, he moved into Alig’s apartment. On the night of March 17, 1996, Alig and his friend Robert “Freeze” Riggs murdered Melendez after an argument in Alig’s apartment over many things including a long-standing drug debt. Alig has claimed many times that he was so high on drugs that his memory of the events is unclear.
After Melendez’s death, Alig and Riggs did not know what to do with the body. They initially left it in the bathtub, which they filled with ice. After a few days, the body began to decompose and became odorous. After discussing what to do with Melendez’s body and who should do it, Riggs went to Macy’s to buy knives and a box. In exchange for ten bags of heroin, Alig agreed to dismember Melendez’s body. He cut the legs off, put them in a garbage bag and stuffed the rest into a box. Afterwards, he and Riggs threw the box into the Hudson River.
In the weeks following Melendez’s disappearance, Alig allegedly told “anyone who would listen” that he and Riggs had killed him. Most people did not believe Alig and thought his “confession” was a ploy to get attention.
I told you the main lines of the story but I just wanted to make sure that if you were caught up in the story that you would watch this documentary on the subject.
In 1999 a memoir written by James St.James ”Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland” was released and Disco Bloodbath has since gone out of print but was re-printed in 2003 under the title ”Party Monster – The Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland”. It was also made into a movie that you can also watch for free here:
We must not forget the fact that this man killed and dismembered a human being and if it come across as a side note in this story, I am deeply sorry but it is not that I do not care about the horrible torture and death that Angel suffered. I just wanted to let people decide for themselves by watching the documentary, the shockumentary, the movie or reading the novel. Micheal Alig is out since May 5th, 2014. Will he be able to reinvent himself and create something new and funny and healthy and cool and…. or not?
”FEED MY MORBID CURIOSITY. LIFE IS A BLOOD BATH, ADD SOME GLITTER & PLAY IN THAT SHIT”
Punk, disco, hip hop, the blackout, Son of Sam, Tony Manero, CBGB, Studio 54, Max’s Kansas City, Show World, Paradise Garage, cocaine, polyester and leather—1977 in New York City was exhilarating, a nightmare, fun, dangerous and never boring. It was the year I arrived in downtown Manhattan with a beautiful woman, no money and a rock and roll band. I hit the streets running and never looked back…unless it was to watch my back.
I was living in the decaying Hotel Earle in the West Village when NYC went black. The power failure of July 13, 1977 knocked the city to its knees. I was sitting on the window sill of my room keeping cool or as cool as one could keep during a sweltering summer night in the city. I was drinking a nice cold beer and listening to the music of the streets when at around 9:30 p.m. everything suddenly went completely dark…and I mean dark, dark as Aleister Crowley’s asshole. It was the strangest fucking thing you could imagine. One moment the city was there, then next it was gone. The only illumination came from automobile headlights lacerating the night like ghostly Ginsu knives. My girlfriend and I clutched hands and felt our way down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. We walked to Bleecker street in spooky darkness. We weren’t alone. The avenues were teeming with the dazed and confused. Not that unusual for the Village, but the confusion was different. Was the world coming to an end?
By midnight the streets where mobbed with people who had figured out that civilization wasn’t ending, it was on vacation. There was a festive vibe in the air. It was like Mardi Gras for the blind. The bars and pubs that stayed open were candlelit and booze was flowing for free. Refrigerators weren’t working and there was no way to keep perishables from spoiling so instead of facing the prospect of throwing food away some joints were feeding people for free. A few cabbies got into the spirit of things and maneuvered their taxis in such a way as to shine their headlights into the cafes providing diners with surreal mood lighting. It was a prison break theme park. And this wild night was bringing out the best in New Yorkers. But it didn’t last. As the blackout continued through the next day and night, things started to change. The novelty of the crisis wore off and it got ugly. What had started out as a party turned into looting and violence. An unexpected payday for the poor and desperate.
The blackout put the whole gamut of what makes New York marvelous and miserable on display: the “I got your back, brother” slamming into the “fuck you!”
These were times when the city was an unseemly beast, a scabrous, moulting fat rat that was exciting to look at but terrifying. Part of the excitement came from the ever-present sense that things could go haywire at any minute. I lived intensely in the moment, acutely aware of everything around me, jacked up in a state of heightened consciousness that was both Zen and manic. Being in the here and now of New York City in 1977 wasn’t a hippie thing, it was survival. And when I got inside the safety zone of Max’s or CBGB, among my tribe, I was ready to get fucked up, to get high, to dance and celebrate.
In the city of night, we went to bed at dawn and rose at dusk. We were vampirebefore vampires became hip.
The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed by Dave Thompson
(3 shows in 2 nights!)
A Few Chosen Extracts:
Aylesbury Friars would be Bowie‘s final show for a month, before he headed into the studio first and then Mott the Hoople. It was also designed to be Bowie’s introduction to an American press that MainMan had flown in for the occasion, writers and tastemakers who had read so much about the new British superstar in the imported papers, but we’re still waiting to be convinced themselves.
The Spiders’ U.S. tour was now scheduled for September 1972, and if all went according to MainMan’s plan, reviews and reports from the Aylesbury show would see the excitement reaching fever pitch right around the time of the first concert.
On Saturday July 15th,wined and dined at the height of luxury, lodged in the finest hotels, and shepherded every place they needed to go, the American journalists felt like royalty as they were driven into the leafy confines of Aylesbury ushered into the Friars Club-and confronted with an audience that was even more rabid than the British press reports had ever warned them. Boisterous though they most have been, and determined to remain aloof, that first rush of adrenalined shrieking caught them off guard, sending their ears reeling before they’d even found a place to stand. Then their eyes took over, bombarding their senses with the sight of a thousand wide-eyed Bowie clones, Angela doubles,Ronson doppelgangers.
”Ode to Joy” piped through the PA, Loud enough to shake coherent thought from their heads, but not deafening as to be painful, and then the band appeared, ripping straight into ”Hang Onto Yourself”, and all reservations fell away. The show was stunning, the performances seamless, and when Bowie started throwing his silk scarves into the crowd, the writers were as desperate to catch them as the kids.
The Lou Reed show the previous evening had been a revelation. Taking the stage shortly after midnight and kicking right into a deliciously clunky ”White Night White Heat”, Reed was at his best, a spectral ring-leader, not quite ad-libbing his lyrics but certainly having a wonderful time teasing the Tots with his timing, and if he was the only person in the room who didn’t cringe a little when the band unleashed their backing vocals, that didn’t detract from the sheer thrill of seeing him up there.
”Waiting for my man”, layered with flourishes that the song had never before carried; a resonant ”Ride into the Sun”; a fragile ”New Age”, Reed singing instead of mumbling as expected,; on and on through the best of Lou Reed and the finest of the Velvet Underground, Reed may have been leading the crowd into unchartered territory for much of the set, but the roar that greeted ”Sweet Jane” was as heartfelt as the smile with which Reed repaid the recognition.”I Can’t Stand It” was punchy, ”Going Down” was gentle,”Wild Child” was brittle, ”Berlin” was beautiful, and if ”Rock’n’Roll” picked up more applause than the eerie, closing ”Heroin”, that just proved how much easier it was to find Loaded in a British record store than any of the records that preceded it.
The Stooges would really need to be on form to top that.Again the show started after midnight, allowing the handful of Bowie fans who’d also hit Aylesbury to race back in time for the Stooge’s, together with all the journalists who accepted MainMan’s offer of a bus back into London. A few of them might have thought they knew what to expect, nursing memories of the shows the band had played back in New-York a couple of years before. But they left their expectations on the dance floor. Mick Jones, four years away from forming the Clash at the birth of the British punk movement, was there, astonished by the incandescence of the show. ”The full-on quality of the Stooges was great, like flamethrowers!”
Iggy lived up to his outrageous reputation, dressing in silver leather trousers, with matching silver hair, black lipstick and made-up eyes. After lurching and prowling over every inch of the stage in the first two numbers, he decided to wander into audience, followed where possible by spotlight. He stopped occasionally to stare deep into people’s eyes, talking about wanting to find something “interesting” and calling the crowd hippies that didn’t inspire him.Pop was everywhere trailing a mix cord the length of the building as he wandered out into the audience, alternately grabbing and caressing whoever lay in his path. One girl discovered him sitting in her lap, staring into her eyes as he serenaded her; one boy found himself being shaken like a rat as Pop grabbed hold of his head and used it to catch the rhythm of the song. At some point, there was a problem with the sound. Pop stood still for a moment, stock-still and scowling, then howled with rage and hurled his mic to the ground. It shattered on impact., so he walked to another one, and treated the silent crowd to ”The Shadow of your smile” a suave accapella that kept everyone entranced while the problems were solved. Then it was back to the programmed set, loud, lewd and brutal. The concert was attended by a group of noisy skinhead types, who voiced their impatience during one of several breaks due to technical problems, which caused Iggy to respond, “What did you say, you piece of shit,” as he advanced threateningly across the stage. The cat-caller’s memory suddenly failed him as he melted back into the crowd. After the microphone was fixed, the Stooges commenced another song but halfway through one of the amplifiers broke down, causing a long delay. Later in the show, the leader of the skinhead gang went down to the front of the stage to shout obscenities. This time, Iggy went berserk, leaping across the stage to aim a boot in the guy’s face. Roadies pounced on the guy and bundled him out of a side exit; the rest of the mob shut up completely.
”We did a bunch of things that were new and we started wearing lots of makeup for one thing.and that was different, Williamson recalled. I think we had rehearsed pretty much by that point. It didn’t seem unique to me. We did a lot of stuff with the crowd at that show, which was bizarre for the Londoners, but it was typical for us. That’s what we were used to doing.”
They took Pop’s activities in stride, ”It was part of the show, but we had to really cover a lot for him because he was very improvisational, as was the whole band. We knew, but if you weren’t used to it, you didn’t know when he was going to start a song or when it was going to stop or what to do in the middle because it wasn’t exactly you’d recorded it. He was very unpredictable”
In attendance at the King’s Cross Cinema were several aspiring musicians, who would go on to become highly influential in the British punk rock movement which exploded a few years later, including Joe Strummer (the Clash), Johnny Rotten (the Sex Pistols),Brian James (the Damned), and Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees). The concert has been called the birth of British punk rock. “That show changed the history of English music, because of who was there,” notes Iggy. “People checked us out and realised we had changed the playing field for what was possible.”
The Stooges drew predominantly positive reviews, although it was obvious that they made the British critics somewhat uneasy. “The total effect was more frightening than all the Alice Coopers and Clockwork Oranges put together, simply because these guys weren’t joking,” said Nick Kent in New Musical Express. Michael Oldfield of Melody Maker felt Iggy and the band were on the verge of the dangerous, “It’s like a flashback 200 years, to the times when the rich paid to go into insane asylums and see madmen go into convulsions.”
Photographer Mick Rock admitted that he felt “distinctly intimidated” as he photographed the show.He never did precisely know what he was preserving. When MainMan called him down to the show, he was told only that the night needed to be captured in all its flaming Glory. It would be another year before one of the shots he took that evening was blown up for the cover of the Stooges’ third album, a close up of the singers torso, leaning on his mic stand, his face set and beautiful, staring into space. Pop later claimed that he hated it.
Pop, Rock said, ”was already in my mind more mythological than human. His appeal was omnisexual; he was physically very beautiful, (and) the silver hair and silver trousers only added to the sense of the mythological. He seemed to have emerged from some bizarre primal hinterland, so much bigger than life, emoting and projecting a tingling menace. He was…a cultural revolutionary, operating well ahead of his time.” The question that nobody dared ask was, was anybody truly ready to take the burden on? …..
14-07-72 (technically this was really 15-07 because Lou did not play till after midnight)
SCALA CINEMA, KING’S CROSS, LONDON, UK
White Light/White Heat – I’m Waiting For The Man – Ride Into The Sun – New Age – Walk And Talk It – Sweet Jane – Going Down – I Can’t Stand It – Berlin – Cool It Down – Wild Child – Rock And Roll – Heroin
David Bowie 15-07
Dubbed The most celebrated gig in Friars history
Friars Aylesbury, Borough Assembly Hall, Market Square, Aylesbury, UK
HANG ON TO YOURSELF; ZIGGY STARDUST; THE SUPERMEN; QUEEN BITCH; SONG FOR BOB DYLAN; CHANGES; STARMAN; FIVE YEARS; SPACE ODDITY; ANDY WARHOL; AMSTERDAM; I FEEL FREE; MOONAGE DAYDREAM; WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT; GOT TO GET A JOB; SUFFRAGETTE CITY; ROCK N ROLL SUICIDE
Iggy Pop and The Stooges:
15-07 (technically this was in fact 16-07 because they did not play till after midnight)
SCALA CINEMA or King Sound (I guess was the name of King’s Cross Cinema, at least temporarily), KING’S CROSS, LONDON, UK
I got a right, Scene of the Crime, Gimme Some Skin, I’M Sick of you, The Shadow of your Smile (Tony Benett cover) , Money That What I Want (BARRETT Strong Cover), Tight Pants,Fresh Rag, Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, Search and Destroy, Penetration
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” ― Lester Bangs
I have just finished reading ”Just Kids” for the second time and I can’t help feeling a bit of anguish as I’m about to express my perception of Patti’s first book of prose mainly, I suppose, due to the fact that it’s a best seller. Not that I disagree, Au contraire! All the praise about ”Just Kids’‘ is very well deserved, but so much has been said already that I forbade myself to read any of it so that everything I would say would be 100% mine. Therefore I will simply pretend I’m the only bloody diamond geezer who was clever enough to read it, heartily hoping to bring something new to the table in the process. I chose this quote by Lester Bangs as an opener because these words seemed to be the very foundation of one of the most sincere and coolest relationship ever, one that’s been told through the pages of ”Just Kids”, a true story that would in itself become an inspiration for so many more to come. It’s a call to be who I really am no matter what, because by doing so, I might be able to bring something unique and new in this bankrupt world.
”There Will Always Be Us!”
In ”Just Kids”, legendary, highly authentic American inspired singer-songwriter, poet, and visual artist Patti Smith, who became an influential component of the New York City punk rock movement, offers a very unique, never-before-seen glimpse of her honest, enduring, sister-brother, Yin/Yang, boyfriend/girlfriend magical everlasting relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpein the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late 60s and 70s.
The relation itself is the guiding light and the whole purpose of this book and if, at times, certain passages might seem trivial, well, they never were. This unconditional love they shared – creative, sensitive, stimulating and artistically prolific – becomes a sincere and deeply moving story of youth, friendship and ultimately success. The best thing being that anyone can relate to it in a very intimate, personal way. ”Just Kids” fully grasp the heartfelt passion and holds this very same unique, sensitive and lyrical quality that is written between each lines of her formidable body of work, from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.
No one else could have better described all the ins and outs of the unique, constantly evolving story she shared with Robert Mapplethorpe, and this means way more than just itemizing their body of work, for the whole represents way more than the sum of it and their relationship in itself was on its own an expression of art. It just couldn’t be contained in its entirety in little works nor in big works for all to see. Parts have been laid in music, paintings, poems and photographs but even all these, as inspired and beautiful as they are, fail in giving us a complete picture. Even if it celebrates a friendship that left a permanent impact on almost every artistic aspect and style in America, it still had to be told in a book. It was essential and sacred. Patti had to share their journey under the blue star, a symbol of their undying love for each other,one last time.
Patti writes in a Last Note to the Reader:
”We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and their nights together. Only Robert and I could tell it. Our Story, as he called it. And, having gone, he left the task to me to tell it to you. ” – Patti Smith, Just Kids, May 22, 2010
What makes this book so special is how Patti manages to express a magic that started almost immediately. Patti arrived in NYC with almost nothing but her wish to accomplish something no one has done before. Robert was already in NYC and struggling on an urban survival mode, but nevertheless they both had a deep sense that life had something very special in store for them and that it was written in the stars. They never thought it would be so hard, that they would have to struggle so much just to survive but nevertheless it didn’t take very long for them to be able to recognize the signs. We can feel that they saw in each other something true and very real, something which they felt they would later be able to rely on as persons and as artists. Of course there were moments of doubts but maybe it was these crucial moments that would prove them to be essential to one another. It never was a give and take type of relationship. The base for it might just be honesty, true faith in each other’s talent, the hope that there was a place for them as they were and that with a lot of work, perseverance and a little bit of luck, they would both find their niche as people and artists. Lots of spoken, unspoken pacts were made, very few ever broken.
Despite a certain ”twinlike” aspect, their part in each other’s life could also definitely be seen as complementary. One could say that Robert was the eternal dreamer, on some aspects, even alien to practical knowledge and certain everyday life faculties and that Patti possessed a more down to Earth perspective on life but this is only a half truth since, when needed, on several occasions, they could trade roles and when the other one would be in dire need of a trait that would normally be the other one’s unsaid character/task assignment, they would put their egos aside and would manage to trade places if it would help the other to get through a rough patch.
”The premise was simply that one of us always had to be vigilant, the designated protector. If Robert took a drug, I needed to be present and conscious. If I was down, he needed to stay up. If one was sick, the other healthy. It was important that we were never self-indulgent on the same day.
In the beginning I faltered, and he was always there with an embrace or words of encouragement, coercing me to get out of myself and into my work. Yet he always knew that I would not fail if he needed me to be the strong one”
The Chelsea Hotel
“I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively”
Back in those days, New York City was a very dangerous place. Some areas were filled with what is commonly regarded as the lowest forms of the human species likes thieves, pimps, rapists, thieves, hookers, murderers and so forth. Being young artists who strive to survive, of course they were bound to have to live in such areas. At one of their lowest points they were plainly told that they had to get out, that they wouldn’t make it if they stayed. Fortunately, there was a place that offered hope if you were an artist, a little island of optimism, gathering past, present and future generations of artists of all kinds where you didn’t even need to have money right away. Stanley Bard would keep your portfolio, or take a work of art until you could get it back and you were now part of a community that was very special, during the 60s and the 70s especially. The Chelseaplayed a huge part in the history of the new generation of artists of the 60s and the 70s.
”Gregory made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to own, encouraged me and challenged me. Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new University. ”
”The Moon Turned Blood Red”
Yet they came to a point where one or both of them needed more space, more freedom. Some things are meant to be faced and dealt with on your own even if they knew the other one will still be there for me if need it be but never taking one another for granted and always being grateful of each other’s effort to play the right part when needed, never taking advantage of one another. In one word: Respect was of course the cement that sealed the ”deal”. Robert soon had to face his inner demons and question his sexuality again and again. Of course this was heart wrenching for both of them.
”He had been with a fellow and not for money. I was able to give him some measure of acceptance. My armor sill had its vulnerable points, and Robert, my knight, had pierced a few, though without desiring to do so.”
Their relationship morphed and this had major effects on their everyday lives. It is during theses major changes and adaptations that could have tore them apart that we see that love makes all the difference in the world and that instead of trying to exert control on each other’s lives, they simply went ahead with the flow and they grew stronger. I would say that we witness how something some would see as a humiliation becomes merely a chance to humble ourselves and let life take its natural course. Never stop to love and support those who are true soul mates. A bond stronger than marriage.
I will not spoil all the fun and tell you everything that happens. I already told you the big lines and a few little ones but Here is one last thing that I realised reading ”Just Kids”.
I so happened to notice that in general there can be two different kinds of artists. Some very callous, careless, aloof and undisciplined that are successful because of their God-given talent and so much passion that they seem to evolve in a different space and time, going all the way with everything they’ve got, with all their worries and genius. They truly appear as some unstoppable forces of nature, pushed by some alien powers. Then there are others with which they share the same gift, also having a remarkable imagination, but very rooted in their reality, very lucid and conscious of the space they occupy in space and time as well as having a clear view on what is their place in society and what their relationships made of, how strong can they be.
Now certain artists are lucky enough to have just about the right proportion of each of these components within themselves, to be well supported by a team of people they trust and that have faith in their work. I think ”Just Kids” is about the encounter of 2 people who miraculously manage to complete each other perfectly as people and as artists.
”Where does it all lead?What will become of us? These were our young questions and young answers were revealed.
It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”
Together the Smiths had a son, Jackson (born 1982) and a daughter, Jesse (born 1987). Jackson, a guitarist, was married to Meg White (formerly of indie band The White Stripes). Jesse is a pianist. Both have performed on stage with their mother along with other members of the Patti Smith Group.
Patti Smith never forgot Robert Mapplethorpe and wrote ”Just Kids” in 2012. She had made a promise to Robertthat she’d write a book about them and she did, Patti wrote this memoire of their friendship in her own unique personal, direct, sensitive and wholhearted style and we should be all damn happy she kept her promise!
John Cale to Perform AlbuminFull in Liverpool and New York
Following a recent concert at the Philharmonie de Paris, our favourite viola-scraper has announced details of a major open-air gig in Liverpool, the city the Welsh musician sailed from on his journey to America more than 50 years ago, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Velvet Underground & Nico. The show at Liverpool Docklands on 26 May 2017 is the only European date for Cale’s celebration of the Velvet Underground’s iconic debut LP, with the album to be played in full alongside a specially assembled band at a purpose-built stage facing towards the Atlantic Ocean. Widely regarded as one of the most influential albums in history, the epochal albumwill only be played again in full at one further show in New York.
“I’m often reluctant to spend too much time on things past, then a time marker shows up – The Velvet Underground & Nico turns 50! As so many bands can attest to, it is the fulfilment of the ultimate dream to record your first album. We were an unfriendly brand, dabbling in a world of challenging lyrics and weird sonics that didn’t fit into anyone’s playlist at the time,” said Cale, quoted in The Quietus .
“Remaining ferociously true to our viewpoints, Lou and I never doubted for a moment we could create something to give a voice to things not regularly explored in rock music at the time. That bizarre combination of four distinctly disparate musicians and a reluctant beauty queen perfectly summed up what it meant to be The Velvet Underground.”
The 1967 album, which was backed by Andy Warhol and featured the voice of budding singer and model Nico, remains an ur-text of avant-rock after five decades, with its influence reaching from Roxy Music, Echo and the Bunnymen, Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500 to most of the punk, jangle-pop, shoegaze and noise underground.
The first show will take place on May 26 at a bespoke open-air stage facing out to the Atlantic in Liverpool’s historic docklands. Cale will be joined by a number of “high-profile collaborators” to perform the album – their identities will be revealed in the run-up to the show. This year’s Paris concert featured The Libertines, Animal Collective and Mark Lanegan.
Tickets for the Liverpool gig go on sale at 9am on Friday, October 28, from all the usual outlets. Further details on the New York show will be announced later. For a taste of what to expect, here are a few of clips from the Paris show last spring, including Saul Williams guesting on “Heroin,” Mark Lanegan singing “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and Lou Doillon singing “Femme Fatale.” Hopefully that all happens again at the New York show.
Following my review of Andy Warhol’s biography by Victor Bockris, I was pleased to know that the author himself was kind enough to grant me an interview regarding the book itself as well as the recent deal that was made regarding the making of a biopic involving Jared Leto. The actor Jared Leto, the producer Michael De Luca and Terence Winter are teaming to tackle the life of Andy Warhol, the famed pop art artist whose blend of art and commerce made him a household name. Winter, the ”Boardwalk Empire” creator who wrote ”The Wolf of Wall Street”, will pen the screenplay, using the 1989 Victor Bockris book, ”Warhol: The Biography”, as a jumping-off point. Leto and De Luca jointly acquired the rights to the book, having had a desire to partner on a project for some time now and since it is now a done deal, I thought it was the perfect time for a little chat with the author of the well acclaimed biography which has been published in nine countries since 1989 and remains in print in several.
LAN: Do you remember how, where, why and under what circumstances Andy Warhol caught your attention for the first time?
Victor Bockris: Andy Warhol had a tongue in cheek “Retrospective” at the I.C.A. on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia in October 1965. (Tongue in cheek because he had only started showing paintings in 1962 and it usually takes much longer than three years to get a retrospective!)I had moved from my British boarding school Rugby to Central High School in Philadelphia in February, a week before Malcolm X was assassinated in New York. My transition from the one school to the other was fraught with the most extreme culture shock I had ever experienced in a life of shocks. During my first two months at Central I had a nervous breakdown, which I kept confined to the afternoons at home so nobody else knew about it. The trauma faded as soon as I started making friends amongst the cool kids who were all folkies. They were mad about Bob Dylan and took me to Convention Hall to see him on the early 65 tour he did with Joan Baez. My closet friend, Elliot Fratkin, invited me to go to the Warhol opening in early October.
As we approached the I.C.A that night walking across the lawn at the center of the campus I started seeing people standing around in small groups hugging each other and crying or lying on the ground like the victims of a nuclear attack in Peter Watkins famous film The War Games, which I had seen in the same place the previous week. As we got closer I could see and smell the aftermath of some hideous event such as a lynching or a riot.
I was right about the riot. Apparently when Warhol swept into the gallery with Edie Sedgwick, Girl of the Year and star of eight films Andy shot in six months, Gerard Malanga, superstar stud of the Factory, and Henry Geldzahler, curator of modern art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the ecstatic crowd of students packed like penguins in the small space and spontaneously exploded in a riot that reminded Geldzahler of a Beatles concert. People were screaming and crying “Andy and Edie! Andy and Edie!” This was the moment at which Andy crossed over from being a famous artist to something more akin to a rock star, somebody who has transformed themselves from a person into a magician. Of course I was not there, but Andy Warhol’s essence hung in the air like the acrid smell of machine guns and wild horses.
LAN: What made you decide back then that Warhol was to be the subject of your next bio? Do you have similar reasons for the other biographies you wrote? Is there a link? How do you connect the dots (if any)?
Victor Bockris:I did not decide to write the Warhol biography. My agent, the young and ambitious Andrew Wylie just at the beginning of building his literary agency, suggested it in 1982. I was spending the summer writing ‘‘Negative Girls” into a book in Philadelphia. He called right after the girl who inspired the book phoned to tell me she was getting married, (to a rock star!) which drained all the desire and drive to finish Negative Girls out of my frenzied mind. We discussed the book for six weeks before I decided to take it on. There was much at stake, not in the least my friendship with Andy. I knew nothing about biography, which is a complex form one can only master by learning on the job like The Ramones did on stage. I decided to do it because Andy was the most mysterious figure in the vanguard of the American culture. Nobody knew anything about his childhood or the years before he became a pop artist. He was also a sitting duck for a writer who wanted to grab the attention of the country. Earlier that year Jean Stein had done just that with her bestselling book, “Edie” (Sedgwick). The most powerful part of that book was the long section about Edie’s relationship with Andy. According to Stein He was a verrrry bad man. His nickname at the Factory, Drella, summed up the impression. He was a monster, half Cinderella half Dracula. He never slept, he never ate, he drank blood. He wanted to be machine, he did not believe in love, and that was the tip of the iceberg. I had known Andy for almost ten years and I loved him the way you love a hero, like a comrade in a war. Believe me, stating your alliance to Andy Warhol could still ignite a bar fight in 1983 New York. He was still the most hated artist in America, but he was the most loved artist in France, Italy and Germany.
There are several links between all my books: I never wrote about anyone unless I knew them well enough to see how they got through the day; everyone I wrote about was a remarkable talker; everyone I wrote about played a role in the development of the Counterculture in New York in the 1970s. They were all living in William Burroughs Magic Universe.
As soon as I garnered good reviews for the Warhol biography I wanted to dash off and write my own biography. However my Dutch Uncle and mentor in biography, Albert Goldman, who published a masterpiece, ”Ladies and Gentlemen Lenny Bruce!” as well as first class biographies of Elvis and John Lennon, told me, “You’ve just mastered how to write a biography, don’t throw away what you’ve learned, do at least two more.” Keith Richards was a dream subject and ”Keith Richards: The Biography” was published right before the release of his first solo album. The book has been published in ten countries and stayed in print in the English language since it’s original publication in 1992. The third book in my trilogy of biographies, ”Transformer: The Lou Reed Story” was well received in the U.K. and U.S. in 1995 and did a lot to broaden his audience in the six countries in which it was published.
This biography obviously required an incredible amount of work. So many subjects, so many people! How did you manage to achieve such a complete story of his life without being drowned in archives of all sorts!? Did it require a different methodology than your other books??
Victor Bockris: It required a one hundred percent commitment for five years. At several stages I employed an editor to keep me on track. Writing a biography is quite different from writing the portraits I had previously published of Ali, Burroughs,Blondie and The Velvet Underground. Warhol was by far the hardest book I ever wrote, in fact it almost killed me. I have always been lucky with my timing. My first seven books were perfectly timed. Andy died two and a half years before the book was released. It was the first and remains the only real biography of Warhol. I started it by going to Pittsburgh with Keith Haring and meeting Andy’s oldest brother Paul Warhola, who was a lovely man and became a good friend who helped me out until the very end. Andy did not want me to write the book but he never told anybody not to talk to me. I think he realized that somebody was going to do it and he was in safer hands with me than with some hack who did not know him and would mess it up.
There are by the way two distinctly different versions of my biography. When Andy died in February 1987 my British editor, Paul Sidey, at Hutchinson (Random House UK) got in touch and played a strong role in helping me complete the book. This climaxed with an all expenses paid six-week visit to London during which I was given a full-time editor and copy editor. By the time Sidey gave me the retyped 721 page manuscript of ”Warhol: The Biography’‘ I was in heaven, because it had come out much as I originally envisioned it. The British were planning to publish in May 1989. This euphoria was short-lived. A week after I delivered it to my agent, word came back, or so I was told, from Warner Books that the manuscript was “unpublishable.” I never found out if this was actually true, but the long and short was Warner wanted a re-edit. At this point I was exhausted. I had given it everything I had. Finally Hutchinson published their version ”Warhol: The Biography” in May 89. It received wonderful reviews and was published in paperback by Penguin. Warner Books published their version, on which I worked for six weeks with an editor they had flown in from England, ”The Life and Death of Andy Warhol’‘, in October 1989. It was about one hundred pages shorter and much of the life had been cut out of it.
Whereas the U.K. edition did well and remains in print twenty-seven years later, the Warner edition was a fiasco. Although it was well reviewed it suffered very disappointing sales for the advance they had paid me. Today, the British edition is in print in the U.S. (with DaCapo) and in France and Poland. With the movie coming out in 2017 we are looking forward to seeing it in print in several other countries.
LAN:How do you perceive Warhol’s contribution to the literary world? I know you feel pretty strongly about a: A Novel…?
Victor Bockris: I think it’s a disgrace that Andy Warhol’s books have not been released in uniform paperback editions or in a complete twelve volume set. Starting in 1967 and continuing until after his death Andy published a series of between nine and twelve books. They are as vital to an understanding of his oeuvre as his paintings and films. There is much more interest in his writing in Europe than America. Language is the basis of all Warhol’s work. In his college years his confrontation with the American language distressed him so much it became the root of his artistic drive to portray America as a land of Deaths and Disasters. He is a conceptual artist. His first works like the Campbell’s Soup Can paintings and his first film Sleep were seen by few people, but their names became part of our culture. He published at least three classic books: ”a: A Novel;The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Diaries.”His collected literary works are ignored by the Warhol Foundation because they do not make enough money to warrant even an investment of time. They appear uninterested in developing his literary reputation and have done nothing with the unpublished books in his archives. There appears to be nobody taking care of Andy Warhol’s literary works and nobody to defend the books against people who claim they wrote them. Andy Warhol’s writing is pure Warhol. I hope one day somebody will wake up to the fact that there is actually a goldmine yet to be discovered in the many unpublished volumes in the files of the Warhol Museum. Somebody should write a book called ”Andy Warhol: The Writer”, but they might have a problem getting permission to quote from his writing. There appears to be a determination to keep him down or out of print. I have published six essays about Andy’s writing in various sources, including the current DaCapo version of the Warhol biography.
LAN: You were obviously close to Warhol. What were the most valuable things you learned from him or about him?
Victor Bockris: The most valuable things I learned from Warhol: To grow my ambition higher; to realize works is the most important thing in my life; to simplify; to minimize and to recognize that most growth comes via connections to people who open doors to other people. To never let anybody take your work away from you. To collaborate. To do interviews without questions, to just let them happen. To connect to the power in yourself. To be a very tough businessman. To never lose your self-respect. To treat people well. To not get hung up on your problems. To discipline yourself to not waste your life on alcohol or hard drugs. To believe that you can transform yourself.
LAN:Do you feel you have resolved the enigma of Andy Warhol’s persona through this book?
Victor Bockris: Jared Leto told me my book was the only one who made him feel that he got Andy, got to know him and understood him. My original motivation for writing this book was to reveal Andy so that people could feel as if they knew him and liked him. So, yes I think I succeeded.
LAN: Do you feel that part of the enigma of Warhol persona is whether he was a psychopath or simply an oversensitive person who simply just couldn’t afford to deal with a heartbreak, betrayal or negative feelings of any sort?
Victor Bockris: This question is difficult for me to understand. Andy was not a psychopath in any way. That sounds like the kind of word somebody desperate to write something new about Warhol might come up with, but I can’t imagine anybody who knew Andy saying that. He was, much like William Burroughs, the opposite of his image. Andy was a supersensitive romantic who found it harder as he got older to be alone. He certainly denied his emotional distress, but there is no question that he became increasingly lonely as he got older. At the same time he was turning out an extraordinary stream of great paintings.There is something almost too poignant for words about his final works, The Last Supper paintings which regained the vitality of the Car Crash paintings. And the fact that when he died he had so much work to do but perhaps nobody to look forward to seeing. Nobody he could give his love to. He checked into the hospital under the name Bob Robert. In his last phone call to Vincent Fremont, Vice President of Andy Warhol Enterprises, he was full of energy and humor. Some people called him Superman some called him the Angel of Death. He was an otherworldly figure who gave us everything he had.
LAN: Do you feel Warhol’s works and ideas are still relevant today?
Victor Bockris: Much has been written about the Legacy of Andy Warhol. I think he will be relevant forever in the sense that Shakespeare is still relevant. I wrote his biography and it would be hard for anybody to write a new one because most of the sources on the first thirty years of his life are dead. However, I don’t think anybody has yet put together an understanding of the impact of his collected work, not in the least because nobody has recognized the importance of his writing in his oeuvre. A writer who could show us the overall influence of Warhol’s contribution, without being over influenced by the prices of his art, but saw the art the films and the writing as the triangular base of his huge body of work would be doing us a great service. Andy Warhol may be the greatest artist of the twentieth century because he harnessed the century’s theme of death. But we will not know until somebody emerges who isn’t frothing at the mouth about the money.
Andy’s brother Paul Warhola told me Andy never really changed. Sophisticated art dealers might scoff at that remark, but Paul is right. The Andy who drove his assistants mad by endlessly pushing them with his divine energy was the same Andy who as a child drove his brothers wild in the same way with his insistent, “What are ya gonna do now?”
LAN: How do you feel about your book becoming a biopic next year and Jared Leto with his very talented friends being so enthusiastic about co-producing it and playing Warhol himself?
Victor Bockris: I have seen several opportunities to make the book into a film come and go, starting with Gus Van Saint in 1992. I’m sure he would have made a good film, but I don’t think there was the large international audience for Warhol’s heroism back then. I hope we are going to see a film about a revolutionary culture hero who changed the world with his brilliance and his machine like drive. Something like ”Lawrence of Arabia” but with the desert being the streets of New York. Mind you this comes from a fevered brain in the middle of a hurricane. I am confident that Leto will be Warhol by the time he starts making the film and I imagine he will give us something we cannot even imagine until we see it. Something Magic.
LAN: I wish you all the best!! I hope you will finally get all the credit you deserve for the quality of your books and that the world will remember your name and that the movie will be an incentive to check out the rest of your work as well. You do have a very special place as the witness of an era, an author and as a very special friend, you most certainly had a huge influence on everything that went on since the 60’s. It seems it’s not about to stop…
Victor Bockris: Thank you Tobe for the opportunity to talk about Andy. It went well because you asked stimulating questions and I enjoyed answering them. I wish you all the best with Loud Alien Noize. And I look forward to contributing some of my favorite pieces to you in the future. I hope your readers enjoy with what we’ve come up with above.
It’s time for the next installment in the Metal Injection artist series, Artists in Metal and it’s a big one! got a chance to speak with John Dyer Baizley, one of the most renowned visual artists in the metal/hardcore community and the vocalist/guitarist of Baroness!
Baizley recently completed work for Coliseum and Black Tusk, but has worked with several other acts such as his own band Baroness, Darkest Hour, Kavelertak, Kylesa, Pig Destroyer, Skeletonwitch, Torche, and even Metallica just to name a few. In this interview we chat about his beginnings as an artist, look into his process, and much more…
Michael: You’re a rare exception in that you are an established visual artist and in a successful band. What came to you first the visual arts or music?
John Dyer Baizley: When I was really young, I gravitated towards the visual arts first. I feel that’s what comes most naturally to me. I’ve always had an immediate proclivity towards making visual art and I was a really tactile kid. Both of my parents had a background in the arts; so that was a language both of them spoke fluently and as such, I developed my interests in art prior to music.
I should note: I think they both saw the creative impulse or drive in me; they tried to surround me with all of the tools that creative people would need in order to express themselves. At a very young age, I had access to a to many of the artistic implements which I continue to favor, and I was also given a guitar at a very young age. My parents weren’t musicians themselves, so I didn’t have anybody to help me work through those immediate musical issues, but honestly I’m glad that I didn’t. When I hit adolescence I discovered punk rock, where you didn’t need any training at all. I saw it as counterproductive in those days to have a formal or technical skill set.
Michael: Did you end up going to art school for college, or where you mostly self-taught?
JDB: At first I did teach myself and took the classes that were available to me, which were admittedly quite limited given my geography, in the Shenandoah Valley, southwestern Virginia. In middle school and high school I got the opportunity to develop a bit by getting involved in some of the local college courses. Once a week, I would drive up from my hometown of Lexington a half hour up to a little town called Staunton where they had life drawing classes. In Lexington, I took what art instruction was available. The importance of drawing and painting from life were impressed on me from a very early age.
Art came fluidly, so I was able to teach myself many of the things I thought were important by copying and mimicking my artistic idols. When I graduated high school I really had no other inclination other than going to art school. I ended up going to Rhode Island School of Design for a very productive three years, before dropping out in 2000.
Michael: RISD is a very established art school. Would you say it helped you a lot in evolving your art process, or did you gravitate towards you early beginnings from the DIY punk scene?
JDB: It’s hard for me to say what would happen if I didn’t go to art school. It wasn’t that I learned any specific painting or drafting skills at school that I felt I couldn’t have taught myself. However there is something quintessentially unique and important that you gain by immersing yourself in a scholastic and creative universe, and being held to certain academic standards while being surrounded by artists of varying disciplines. I think that the critical thing was to help me open up mentally and be exposed to a wide variety of artists with wildly different styles, mentalities, and processes. Through my exposure to such a diverse collection of artists I was learned to separate the artistic wheat from the chaff, and find the sort of things that would become useful to me in the future.
I’ll say it would have been a much slower process if I hadn’t gone to art school, but I don’t think it was critical towards my eventually becoming an artist. As far as I was concerned, that had already happened.
Michael: I’m not sure if this was during your time at RISD, but what got you into doing commission work for bands?
JDB: That’s sort of a funny thing. I was only in art school for three years, I dropped out because of some personal and substance-abuse related issues, and I stopped creating anything at all for about a year and a half. When I finally felt I was starting to get ready to re-enter the arts I moved from Virginia down to Savannah Georgia, where Baroness officially started. I began making album artwork out of necessity, though I certainly wanted to do it. Baroness needed merchandise, we needed covers for our EP’s and demos, so that started kicking me back into making visual art.
Baroness started out by sometimes playing 250 shows a year and, as it goes, we met a lot of other bands. They saw our merchandise and often said, “Would you be interested in working with us?” I also made a lot of friends on the road and always offered my help; it was just something that felt like an easy fit. I loved the sense of community, and I wanted to be part of it.
Several years down the line I realized that, whereas I had started out with an interest in becoming a fine artist, I now saw myself taking on commissions in the more proper role of an illustrator or designer, which I’ve never been entirely comfortable with. Through every path that I’ve chosen, I have tried to claim full authorship over what I make, so it can suit my needs as an artist first, and then, by proxy, the musicians and artists that I work with are happy with what they get. It’s a hard-line stance, but one which bears the most fruitful results.
Michael: Not entirely comfortable with commission work?
JDB: Not at all. I guess I’m skirting around the issue here, I hate art direction and the necessity to sell a product. It was one of the major hang-ups that I had with art school or art/design as a profession: that the idea that making a living off of making personally-driven art would at some point have me wrestling against art direction and commission-driven work. With that struggle comes the understanding that you’re ultimately trying to appease someone else with your art. That’s never been the impulse for making art. I must satisfy my needs as an artist first, and then if the message is good and the theme or the content is worthy, then the audience may find those qualities as well. I think that’s true of most good art, so yeah, I’ve always had this contentious relationship with doing commissions trying to “make other people happy,” or see their vision come to fruition.
Michael: With doing those commissions, I notice that you go back to a lot of bands. For instance you’ve done work for Skeletonwitch with two major releases, Beyond the Permafrost and Serpents Unleashed. Do you go out of your way to be a little more selective about the people you try to work with to allow a more artistic license?
JDB: Yeah, I think you have to. If you want to create something that’s worth doing you have to self-edit from the get-go. You really must be careful and selective with whom you work, you must constantly ask yourself the hard questions about your art, and you must set a nearly unattainable standard for yourself. If I’m in the business of making artwork that is designed on some level to sell a product, then I have to be very comfortable with the people I’m working with and I’d like to be proud of the end result regardless of its sale-ability.
I can say thirteen years into doing this full time, I really appreciate the artists I have had the chance to work with, even if it’s something slightly outside the box or something that’s very obvious, it’s what I want to do. I’m not going to put myself into a project that I’m disinterested in, because I think that the integrity of the end result will be threatened.
Skeletonwitch was one of the bands we hooked up with when Baroness first started touring, playing in basements, warehouses and anything just shy of actually playing inside a club. We’ve had this connection since the DIY days, they have changed so little in their enthusiasm, and that’s something I find myself gravitating towards, even though I’ve recently made a concerted effort to move away from focusing entirely on the punk/hardcore/metal community. Punk rock and metal has always been a home to me, it’s where I cut my teeth; and those are the friends that I have, and the bands that I love.
I really try to work with an artist who is trying to create a long legacy of quality rather than trying to jump aboard a trend. Frankly I don’t need to do that, but, and I can’t stress this enough, I’ve been fortunate in that I can eke out a living being this selective. A lot of my friends who are commercial designers and proper editorial illustrators often have to take whatever jobs are given to them. I’ve made a very strong effort to have the power to say no to something, and I think that’s a crucially important right for every artist. No one wants to be in a position where they are desperate for work; desperation breeds sub-quality artwork. I can’t say I love 100% of every mark that I’ve made, but more often than not I’m pretty happy, and I’ve learned the value of making personal improvements as a result of mistakes and missteps.
Michael: It really seems to me like you created this great situation with Baroness gaining popularity in conjunction with your artwork. Would you agree that’s what’s gave you the ability to be selective?
JDB: Oh yeah, for sure! They are both equally important projects for me, and I’m really lucky to be a part of both. I’m not like most album artists who have to create off of another artist’s pre-existing imagery. I make the music and the art simultaneously and there is really an elevated level of synchronicity happening, allowing me to be a little bit more personal. I don’t have to have conversations with the artist to find out what’s going on. I’m able to have that insight without a conversation; there is something nice about that; it streamlines the process as well. This ability to work on Baroness’s vision, has allowed me create and expand my style.
Michael: Would you say that it’s difficult as a commission artist to really take the time to do your own personal work, or do you feel that merch and album art of Baroness becomes that personal work, since you are involved in all aspects?
JDB: That’s a tricky question. For the better part of a decade I didn’t really delineate the difference between commission work and personal work, I just say “If I’m getting paid to do it, by virtue of that fact it is a commission; but I’m going to make it a personal work for myself, and I’m going to fulfill the need of the artist that I’m working for simultaneously.” It requires a little bit of pig-headedness and self-confidence to adopt that kind of stance.
I also get to create album art as a fan of the music, enhanced with the insight that the band gives me. Therefore, I know what they think it’s about, and as a fan I can make the artwork from the standpoint that I’m trying to figure out the music in a separate way. Concurrently, I have the insight of what it’s like to be the musician, the visual artist, and the listener. Working amongst these three tiers can offer a broader perspective on the work.
I think a lot of musicians have a very difficult time articulating what their music is about in a visual sense, and at the same time visual artists can have great difficulty taking something sonic and translating it to a focused visual work. There is such a great divide between the audio and visual. When the pairing works well it can open up new layers and insight for the music, and it makes the experience a much more rewarding one. That being said, when you miss-fire and when ideas don’t synchronize, things can be very confusing. No artist wants to have the weight on their shoulders of the failure or misrepresentation of a record, based on their visual content. Musicians are handing you their baby, this work that they have crafted and put all this love into, and you don’t want to fuck that up, you want to elevate it. You can’t honestly say your going to achieve perfection 100% of the time, there is always going to be that little bit of risk involved, which for me makes it exciting.
However, to get back to your original question, having done what I do in a somewhat linear direction for a while now, I’m starting to realize I do need to carve out some time and do something more personal, some art that that won’t have a logo and barcode attached to it. There is a space in my life that needs to be filled, concerning the purely visual side of things, where the concept for the artwork comes from somewhere other than packaging. I’ve started working on that recently, I’ve been lowering the number of projects that I take on, because I don’t want to become a market-flooding-ubiquitous -album-cover-artist.
Depending on labels release schedules, even if I try to space all of my projects out, sometimes three albums will come out the same month that will have a cover I have done. It’s not as if my work is incredibly dissimilar one piece to another; its all very recognizably mine. I know as a fan I will gripe about it whenever somebody seems to be ”too visible”, devaluing the individual pieces that they are doing. In light of all of this I have made an effort over the past two or three years to work with bands I am familiar with and pare back the overall output. I’ve also been quite busy with music.
It’s not like there aren’t good new bands starting; I just have limited time. I could spend all year just doing visual art and the same is with music. It’s become a difficult balancing act… For which I’m very fortunate! I am, however, an avid listener, and I’m always trying to find some great new artists to work with, as contradictory as that sounds.
Michael: Would you say you split the time you work on the visual arts and the time you work on Baroness, or do they sometimes have to happen in tandem with one another?
JDB: It would be probably be really nice if I could dedicate myself to split my time up evenly, but that’s almost impossible for me at the moment. The fact of the matter is that the average life span of a band is much shorter than that of an artist. Music is working well for me right now; it’s giving me what I need at this point in my life, and so I would say for the moment that it has become more of a priority. I realize that at some point the band won’t be there. I could become too old to play, or the well- spring of creativity will dry out more quickly than it will as a visual artist. On the other hand, I can’t stop making the art that I make, it’s important to me and to my sanity.
We schedule the band first, and we’re not active every week of the year, so whatever spaces open up I just schedule for art. It does sort of work out to be a nice balance, nearly 50/50. Sometimes there is scheduling cross-over, sometimes I have to make art projects on the road, or make sacrifices in order to meet a deadline.
I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where when I get tired of making art I can make a smooth transition into making music and vice versa. There is always something to do.
Michael: You mentioned you sometimes have to work on art on the road. Does the process become more limited in that scenario, for instance can you only work on drawings instead of paintings?
JDB: We were just in Australia for a couple weeks touring, I took a condensed but complete set up. I took pens, paints, paintbrushes, pencils, and paper, everything I would normally use. I spent a good deal of time in hotel rooms and in the back of clubs, working.
It’s definitely not the optimal environment to work, but sometimes you’ve simply got to get something done. I tend to overextend myself without really thinking through the realities of completing so many projects in a year, which generally means I’m going to be a little bit behind. I suppose that’s the nature of the beast.
Michael: So the road doesn’t stop you…
JDB: As long as the tour can support that. There are some tours where the entire day is spent working on tour-related issues. Some are easier and have more down time, and those are the ones where I can get artwork finished.
It drives me insane; it’s really draining to do both at once, so I try not to when possible. I do need to sleep at some point right?
Michael: What influences in your artwork? I do sense an Art Nouveau angle, mixed with heavy metal / hardcore punk art like Pushead, but you have a certain romance to your work with your use of female figures.
JDB: As I stated before, when I was young I was given a fairly comprehensive art history background. Both my parents, my mother especially, gave me that exposure. I was in museums frequently, and was exposed to the great masters from the Italian Renaissance, the Impressionists and the Northern Europeans like Caravaggio, DaVinci, Monet, Degas, Rembrandt, Bruegel, etc.
As a teen when I got into punk and metal and saw those record covers that changed me, Metallica, all the Black Flag records, that became my initial exposure to the importance of album art. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained a broader variety of influences from other album artists, especially those from the 70’s. For example I’m a huge Roger Dean fan, very much into his Hipgnosis and especially Storm Thorgersonalbum covers. I have a preference for 12”x12” vinyl layouts, so I try to refer to those artists a lot.
The classical elements I spoke about before, work for compositions, referring to those old master paintings. The Art Nouveau thing works very well for album covers, those bold lines and bright, but not comic-book-like colors, allows the imagery to be graphic, colorful, and expressive all at the same time.
There also is a little bit of a comic book reference to my work as well, and occasional pop-culture references. I do like to add a bit of classicism and romanticism to the artwork that I do. It’s always about my particular visual vocabulary; I think asalbum artists we all use certain elements unique to ourselves, and I feel in some way we try to keep our lexicon limited in order to be recognizable as an artist, allowing us to get our message across over the course of different records by different bands.
Each band has it’s own musical language that you have to pay respect to, but what I like to do is then take those things that are direct, immediate, and obvious. I‘ll start with the obvious imagery and themes and work backwards, utilizing my style and technique along with less-obvious references: icons and metaphors from old stories, a lot of Greek/Roman mythology (if the project I feel demands it). Of course there is a lot of pseudo/quasi religious stuff in there from the types of images that I make, they require a very specific sort of imagery.
It’s my intention to make something stand outside the realm of album art, but it also feels comfortable to me to be in it. It’s tricky and definitely a requires striking a delicate balance. I take myself seriously and want my image to me more than just something aesthetically suited towards selling records. I find the most intriguing covers those that least heavy-handedly refer to the direct album concept or title. In fact, many musicians are the happiest when the artist and audience re-interpret or re-imagine the content of the songs. Drawing from art history and mythology allows me to connect with viewers in a familiar, yet loose visual framework. Blending disparate histories and themes can give the overall presentation a recognizable, yet unique flavor.
Michael: When you work on album artwork, do you work together with the artist/band or is it more or less give me the record and I’ll listen to it and give you my interpretation?
JDB: I’ve learned over the years how important it is to be really up front with bands that I work with. When I first talk with bands the set-up usually goes like this: “I want to do this album, I will put 100% of myself into it, my aim is to make this the best album cover that you have, but I can’t take art direction.” It’s just not who I am, or how I work. I have no problem if a band moves on to somebody else because of that stance. If they want to have more influence that’s perfectly fine, I respect a band being in total control of their visual identity. Similarly, I know how important it is for me to adhere to my method. I’d rather not waste everyone’s time getting bogged down in a situation I know to be artistically harmful.
It can be difficult to mediate a compromise between what I have in my head and what the musician has in mind, which is often 180° different when it comes to the finished product, so it requires that element of trust from somewhere. The point I make to them is “You’ve seen what I do, so just trust me and we will come up with something exciting.”
Michael: Referring back again to you working with similar bands over the years, that trust is already there.
JDB: The times I run into problems are when the musicians get stuck on those very little details that to me, as a visual artist, are inconsequential. Sometimes they want something like a portrait and they are unhappy with their likeness, or they want less red or less blue, those elements don’t really cut to the core of what we’re trying to achieve. That’s the kind of criticism I struggle with, in order to give the collaborator a finished product that I’m proud of.
Michael: What is your typical process like when it comes to image creation?
JDB: The first thing I do is research, as I talked about before, most of my work wants to have an outside reference point to it, so whenever possible I get the music or the demos from somebody first and then get the artist’s interpretation of what it’s about. Then I try to figure out what effect the music has on me, and try to find some old story, maybe from mythology or from religious or historical text, something that I feel can work in conjunction with what I think the album is about. From that literary standpoint I can then start to develop a set of images, subvert things, twist them around, use them in an obvious or a figurative way, all to help get my point across. After all that prep work I start sketching.
I draw everything from life, so I’ve got to find models and go out and take pictures, set up lights, all that sort of stuff. I work a sketch until its finished and I show the band that sketch and say “Now is the only opportunity you have to weigh in on anything, if this isn’t working for you I have to start from scratch.” The main reason for that final warning is that I work in permanent watercolors and inks. It’s not like oils or acrylics where you can paint over things; once it’s there it’s there. So the whole set up for the band is “This is how I see it going, it’s going to change, it’s going to grow into something totally different once the color and the line weight is put in, but if your cool with this sketch I’ll get going and show it to you when it’s all done.”
After that nobody hears from me in a month, and then, “here is your album cover I hope you like it.”
Michael: With your visual artwork, are you trying to work on one piece at a time or are you doing projects in tandem?
JDB: I usually work on one thing at a time. I get pretty immersive in the process.
Michael: You also seem to do a fair amount of screen print work that seems based mostly off your paintings. Do you ever do screen print work that is planed form the start to be a print?
JDB: Yeah, the screen print thing is nice because one of my goals, from the get go really, was to make things that were worthy of collecting but not prohibitively expensive.
I don’t actually silk-screen them, I work with my friends at BRLSQ of North America who do that. For the longest time though the only place where you could get my work was at a Baroness show, which for me was really important, to have that kind of connection with the people who understand the sense of community in the little realm of the music industry that I’m a part of.
Since then I’ve outgrown that because of a larger demand than I could satisfy by hand-to-hand art sales, so I’ve taken on bigger silk-screeners, and its not because I love silk-screen, I just want to make things that people will display that don’t have to be super expensive.
It’s been fun to continually have some prints going on and things like that; it’s just not my primary goal. It’s what people like, and it’s a great way to get the work out there.
Michael: It could be my bias as a printmaker, but I feel it’s a great medium for the metal/punk community. While some of us are doing well financially, the majority of the culture is working class, so having that accessible art is extremely important.
JDB: When I was younger I was impressed when I could actually get my hands on something that I wanted. It’s important for me to have different tiers of value for the art. Some of the silk-screens are really affordable, but I do have some high-end silk-screens that are several color layers and a little more expensive, and then I have the paintings that can get way up there.
Michael: I’d be remiss not to discuss this a little bit, but after the accident that Baroness was involved in during 2012 a lot of reports focused on your recovery to playing guitar. I was wondering if you were still able to work on visual art during your recovery?
JDB: For the first eight months of recovery I couldn’t do anything, I was just in too much pain, too bent out of shape, and just too broken to make anything. Once the acute/extreme stuff had healed or at least scar over, I found it pretty easy to pick up a pencil again and start working.
I was fortunate that the side of me that was destroyed was my left side, and I’m a righty, so that was working perfectly by the time that I needed it to. Guitar was more difficult though, because I needed both hands to do that.
I think the first thing I did after it was the Kvelertak ”Meir” album cover. That was a big piece, lot of paint, lot of stippling. It was nice to get back into making artwork with a band I have a good relationship with, and to work on an album I knew a lot of people would dig.
Michael: Did you find it even more therapeutic than before, seeing as it was a part of your recovery in a way?
JDB: It had always been very therapeutic before the accident, but afterwards even more so. I would say that I have a high level of gratitude to still have the ability to create art. It was very nearly not the case, and I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about how lucky I am to have survived, but I did, and I’ve got both arms still firmly attached.
There is an elevated sense of gratitude for that, its good.
Michael: You’ve done a lot of work in the metal scene and a little bit outside of it. Is their any artists you look at today that you would like to work with in the future?
JDB: Yeah, there are plenty of them. The thing is, I don’t want to mention any of them. I will stop making album art when there aren’t goals to me, or bands that I have yet to work with that I find important and they are still around. That’s in part what keeps me involved, I recognize that no matter how old I get, how many records I’ve done, or what the public perception of me is, there are still exciting things that I haven’t done. As long as that’s the case I will keep doing this.
Michael: What projects are you working on currently? I noticed your doing something with Coliseum.
JDB: I just did a re-boot of their self titled first record. Personally that was a fun project to work on. In fact, I remember back in the day when Baroness was coming up with Coliseum playing the first show they ever did. Ryan (Guitarist and Vocalist of Coliseum) and I have had that close relationship for many years. That makes it not just a passion project for me, but something that I can put a lot of history and a lot of weight behind.
Right now I’m finishing up something with Black Tusk that will be coming out on 7”, I got some big prints that are coming down the pipeline, and I’ve done some work on the new Baroness album.
Baroness records tend to be big, hundreds of hours, lots of research, development, and attention to detail. When I’m done with all those things I just don’t want to be seen for a week.
Michael: For sure, because it’s your representation on both ends, you got the full package on your plate.
JDB: It’s masochistic! I know it’s going to punish me and run me through the ringer. That’s the feeling I always get before getting into these things. I think it’s why I keep doing them, that demand of so much attention. The concept has to be strong, the heart, soul, and expression has to be strong, the presentation has to be strong, the music has to be awesome, the lyrics have to be good. It’s a total beast.
Michael: What advice would you give to younger people coming up in the art world that would like to do artwork for bands?
JDB: It’s the same advice I’ve given for years. If what you want to do is make artwork for bands, you have to love doing it because there is almost no money in it. In order to start doing it, you just have to put yourself out there, work for bands you love and for as little as possible to start, if not free, that’s what I did for years. Give your stuff away and if it’s good, people will come to you.
Do the work, and always ask yourself why, ask yourself what its about, be able to answer the questions other people will have about your work. Don’t try to make some overly pretentious statement, be direct and make your own shit. The important thing isn’t that your technically great, I think it’s the power of your expression. Speak with your own voice and be as unique as you possibly can.
This is a creative field and it’s all subjective, not everybody is going to love what you do, but you have to be yourself, that’s what’s most important. Bring it as hard as you can.