Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History

From Issue # 2 of Wanted Mag.





Written Daniel Alonso

Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present
October 30, 2009 – January 31, 2010
Brooklyn Museum

For a generation reared by MTV (when there were actual music videos shown on television) and now for an even younger generation nurtured by the likes of YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, it is difficult for them to distinguish an artist from their trademark videos. If you listen to the grunge anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on your iPod, you cannot help but think of cheerleaders drudgingly waving their pom-poms as Cobain’s angst-ridden voice floods a school gymnasium. It is quite the sharp contrast when you hear a video-less song that conjures up memories of a specific taste, summer vacation or a particular ex-lover.  In its relatively short life span, music video has grown into a respectable art form but unfortunately has stolen a large portion of the spontaneity and intimacy photos have given the viewer. It begs the question; did video kill the radio star or did it annihilate the photographer?

At the Brooklyn Museum, curator Gail Buckland turned the curatorial lens onto the world of music photography by assembling Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present, one of the first major museum exhibitions to delve into the imagery that paralleled the rock and roll revolution. While Buckland’s background is in photography, she is self-admittedly not a music expert. This lack of intimacy aided her in being impartial by judging the work not by the colorful characters being represented but on its own merit. Who Shot consequently examines both the iconic and seldom seen images as a legitimate art form.

IMG_2152Ironically, many of the photos shown, whether large-scale black and white prints or Polaroid self-portraits, were not initially taken with artistic or even photographic excellence in mind. For example, there is an Amy Arbus photograph in the show depicting Madonna standing on St. Mark’s Place in 1983. Clearly, this was long before the “Material Girl” would become the indomitable queen of re-invention. Rather, the shot was originally taken as part of the photographer’s “On The Street” photo column that ran in the Village Voice. However, to Arbus looking through the lens, she was just another flamboyant personality that roamed the Lower East Side.

And then you had the group of photographers who were attracted to the nascent punk and new wave milieu almost a decade earlier. One such photographer, Godlis, documented that time shooting future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. This included then recent art school grads Talking Heads awkwardly performing on stage at the now defunct CBGBs and an early incarnation of the more radio-friendly group Blondie practicing during soundcheck. At the time, his work was not highly regarded within the art world’s caste system. Nor could he have predicted that this band of misfits he was shooting would go on to change the way we hear music. Godlis hopes this current showing will do the same thing for this genre of still images. “There’s always a right time for reassessing things, and rock photography has never been really taken quite as seriously as other types of portrait photography even though there are some really serious people doing the work” he was quoted as saying. While critics and fans have accepted other genres such as fashion photography universally, many feel the time has come for these photos.


Along with the candid shots displayed in the museum, there is also a fair amount of commissioned studio work, which has indeed been recognized during its time as beautiful portraiture – Richard Avedon’s striking series of individual portraits of the Beatles comes to mind. However, what Godlis fails to mention is that along with seriousness, there is an honesty that all these images exude; a certain degree of intimacy between photographer and subject that accordingly translates into the relationship between photograph and viewer.

Blondie_3_Photo_by_Eric_WeissWhat is striking is that the viewer is not only struck by the larger than life personalities captured on film but the execution and various technical aspects used by the photographer.  Andy Earl’s 1981 photograph for Bow Wow Wow’s album art served as both an example of beautiful composition and attention to detail as well as controversy. The latter was primarily due to the naked teenaged lead singer, Annabella Lwin, carefully positioned in the foreground of the shot. Malcolm McLaren, ex-manager of the Sex Pistols, and Earl art directed the cover taking inspiration from the nineteenth-century French painter Edouard Manet’s famous painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) of 1863. Stylistically, it did not hurt that Lwin’s male bandmates appeared in cutting-edge designs by avant-garde fashion designer (and McClaren cohort) Vivienne Westwood.

As I found my way though the corridors, I discovered that a great deal of these images are so ingrained into the public consciousness, most viewers are unaware of the interesting and often sordid back stories as these images are not standard fare for art history textbooks. Buckland stated “many of the images on album covers or posters were done by people whose names we don’t know, but they’ve had unbelievable impact on our lives.” I think that aspect makes the work and the show that much more powerful and in a way poignant as we each somehow have a personal connection to the photos.

Video may not have completely wiped out a half-century’s worth of images that preceded it, but who is to say if this particular art form can survive this century. Through this show, we are able, if only for a moment, to experience a more raw time in the history of music, art and photography. The sex and drugs may have faded along the way but luckily for us, these images continue to radiate.


The Raveonettes @ Webster Hall, NYC


It may have been record freezing cold temperatures in New York City last night, but it could not get cooler inside Webster Hall where Danish group THE RAVEONETTES headlined.

Guitarist/vocalist Sune Rose Wagner and his cohort, the striking Sharin Foo [(who is now a mother)](also on guitars/vocals), brilliantly served their sound to a hungry audience. That sound being the trashy love child of early American rock and roll and distorted post-punk – plenty of feedback please.

Unlike previous U.S. tours which took a much more minimalist approach, with Sune and Sharin taking turns on guitars and drums, on this go they brought a four piece band on the road to strengthen their towering wall of sound.

The set tended to focus on their latest release, last year’s Lust Lust Lust. However, the band did touch upon tracks from earlier albums such as 2002’s EP Whip It On and 2005’s homage to classic rock and pop from decades past, Pretty in Black. Highlights from the night included the girl group style of “Dead Sound” and “Love in a Trashcan” to the toe-tapping electro rock of “Twilight.” They ended the night with an encore of the oh-so-sexy “Aly, Walk With Me”.

(Orignally posted on Brooklyn Vegan, January 17, 2009)



THE ETTES: Look At Life Again (Album Review)

One part Nancy Sinatra/Shangri-Las-type vocals. One part distorted guitars. Add a driving beat, stir, and there you have it — The Ettes are back with a new album full of garage rock grooves that will have you twisting in no time.

Released last month, Look At Life Again Soon picks up where 2006’s Shake The Dust left off. Rather than going off and experimenting with unknown sounds or embracing new technology, the band continue their quest for the rock-n-roll holy grail. Recorded in London with producer Liam Watson at the helm, The Ettes (made up of lead singer Lindsay Hames, guitarist Jeremy Cohen and drummer Maria Silver) honed their talents by fusing a Spector-esque wall of sound with fuzzy, lo-fi guitars. The end result can go toe-to-toe with any of their contemporaries such as The Kills, The White Stripes and the Detroit Cobras.

The standout track is the last on the record. While not as upbeat as most of the other songs on life, the goth-country Where Your Loyalties Lie provides the listener with a sound reminiscent of post-punk roots music (think early gun club) underlined by an echoing, menacing guitar riff.
The standout track is the last on the record. While not as upbeat as most of the other songs on life, the goth-country Where Your Loyalties Lie provides the listener with a sound reminiscent of post-punk roots music (think early gun club) underlined by an echoing, menacing guitar riff.

At just under half an hour, my only complaint is that the album is too short. However, what it lacks in length, it makes up for in timeless rock.

The Ettes will be playing two area shows later this month —
sat 9/13/08 – Williamsburg Music Hall
tue 9/16/08 – Mercury Lounge



How many people can say they designed stage outfits for their downstairs neighbor [Blondie’s Debbie Harry], collaborated with artists and designers, [Keith Haring, Marc Jacobs, etc.] and hobnobbed with icons of the art world [Andy Warhol]. Well, Stephen Sprouse could.

Rock on Mars is a retrospective exhibition of Sprouse’s (1953-2004) wide range of work, from neon clothing, pop-influenced paintings, fabrics designed for Knoll, fashion sketches displayed under black light and a floor to ceiling wall of Polaroids.

Stephen Sprouse’s name is synonymous with 1980s New York City. He successfully fused the downtown punk rock/club kid sensibility associated with haunts like CBGBs and Mudd Club with uptown quality and recognition. His fashions are instantly recognizable and added much needed character to a city that is known for embracing an all-black uniform. For Sprouse, it wasn’t just a little splash of color – it was an all out day-glo assault.

His professional career ebbed and flowed but he experienced a resurgence when he joined forces with Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton with his graffiti-ed monogram bags in 2001. Jacobs resurrected his late friend’s designs for a new limited edition collection now available in Vuitton stores across the globe.

The show at Deitch Projects also coincides with The Stephen Sprouse Book, the first major book detailing Stephen’s work. The publication is available in four different day-glo colors, a subtle homage to the 1987 Rockbird album cover he designed for Miss Harry.


Rock on Mars Exhibition: January 09, 2009 — February 28, 2009

Deitch Projects
18 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 941-9475

Blondie: Parallel Lines 30th Anniversary Tour


To commemorate the 30th anniversary of their landmark album, Parallel Lines, punk/new wave icons Blondie played a sold-out hometown gig Sunday, June 22, at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square.

Named after an unfinished poem written by Debbie Harry, Blondie tore through each song from Parallel Lines for the first half of their set and rounded out the second part with a mixture of greatest hits, a few covers and a smattering of Miss Harry’s recent solo work. Strutting onto the stage to the opening chords of “Hanging on the Telephone,” punk rock’s original bombshell looked beautifully surreal and decades younger than her 62 years. With her trademark blonde bob and clad in a slinky silver & black dress, Debbie effortlessly transformed stage personas with the blink of an eye – from seductively cooing on songs like the eerie “Fade Away and Radiate” and the sweet “Sunday Girl” to thrashing around like a rag doll to rock classics like “One Way or Another” and “Call Me.” But this was no solo effort – Harry was joined by original bandmates Chris Stein (guitar) and Clem Burke (drums), who also had their shining moments throughout the night. Rounding out the rest of the band were guitarist Paul Carbonara, bassist Leigh Foxx, and newcomer Matt Katz Bohen of New York’s Daddy, who filled in for keyboardist Kevin Patrick.

Opening act, the L.A.-based Miss Derringer, warmed up the crowd in anticipation of its hometown heroes. Lead singer Liz McGrath was a direct descendant of Debbie Harry’s dynamic frontwoman lineage. Heavily influenced by the roots of rock n roll, the band blended country, ’60s girl group pop and blues.

Starting over 30 years ago in New York City, Blondie emerged from the CBGB punk scene alongside the Ramones, Talking Heads and Television. While these bands may have initially enjoyed critical success, Blondie went from being the band least likely to succeed to evolving into the most commercially successful of that era. With crossover hits such as “Heart of Glass,” “The Tide is High,” and “Rapture,” their styles spanned the gamut. They were the visionaries that brought punk, disco, reggae and even hip-hop into the mainstream charts – years before Aerosmith’s rap-rock fusion with Run-DMC. They disbanded in the early ’80s only to re-emerge in 1999 with their album No Exit and number one single “Maria.” Since then, they have released three other albums and have toured on and off, both in the US and abroad.

As a lead singer, Debbie was an original – fusing innocence with aggression and femininity with overt sexuality. She created a complex stage character that could rival male counterparts like Iggy and Bowie. Her influence can still be detected in today’s frontwomen, such as Gwen Stefani, Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Gossip’s Beth Ditto and, of course, Madonna. punk/new wave icons Blondie played a sold-out hometown gig Sunday, June 22, at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square.
Blondie will wrap up their Parallel Lines tour at the end of the month in Wisconsin before heading across the globe to the UK, MidEast and Russia. For more info check out Blondie.net or http://www.myspace.com/blondie

Set list

Parallel Lines album


“Screaming Skin”

“Necessary Evil”

“Prescience, Dear”

“Rapture/No Exit”


“The Tide is High”

“My Heart Will Go On” (Celine Dion cover)

“Get Off My Cloud” (Rolling Stones cover)