The InsiderOne Daily Report
Wednesday, March 21, 2001
InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: I opened up a box of old photographs this morning and fell into the past. The box contained a few hundred 8 x 10 prints I'd made between about 1975 and, oh, 1983. There were the pictures I'd taken of Tom Waits, in a dressing room at the Berkeley Community Theater in the late '70s. He was squatting on the floor, which was where he'd decided to conduct the interview. Why? Only he knew, and he wasn't talking. He was dressed all in black slacks, shirt, sport coat, and scuffed shoes and sucking on a cigarette. He appears to have used an awful lot of goop to slick his hair back in those days. Then there was Captain Beefheart. We spoke in his manager's San Francisco apartment one night, while his wife Jan hung out in another room. We sat on a couch, as he explained the meanings of some of his lyrics, in some cases just by quoting them. I was surprised to discover that quite a few of his songs dealt with the environment. I remember the apartment was pretty dark, so I had to open the lens wide to photograph the Captain, which meant not a whole lot of depth-of-field. Beefheart, who abandoned music many years ago, would likely find that funny. My sense is that he thought most people didn't have a whole lot of depth-of-field. Real shallow focus on not a whole lot. By the time I met him, Beefheart had had a falling out with Frank Zappa, leader of the Mothers of Invention; Zappa had once been Beefheart's friend. Some people think Zappa got a lot of his ideas from Beefheart; Zappa produced what many consider Beefheart's masterpiece, Trout Mask Replica. For quite a while, Zappa's manager also managed Tom Waits. These days, I don't think Waits has fond feelings regarding his former manager. I found a couple of portraits I'd taken of Zappa. I like the one where he's sitting in his room at the Miyako Hotel (just up the street from Winterland, where he was performing that night), clearly bored and fed up with the tenderfoot journalist from the Berkeley Barb who'd come to interview him. There's also a close-up Zappa smirking, pointing an out-of-focus finger at me (not a lot of depth-of-field in that hotel room either). I looked at these photos, and they pulled me back in time. I could feel what it was like in those rooms. The disappointment that Zappa thought I was a fool; the realization that I was making Frank Zappa, someone I've admired since I was about 13, mad. Or the sinking feeling that it was going to be impossible to connect with Waits. I found a portrait of Professor Longhair, the genius New Orleans singer/piano player. I took it when he came out to San Francisco to perform for the last time before his death, and his health was failing. He's wearing shades, and I can see my wife, who interviewed him with me, reflected in one of the lenses. Whenever I could, when I interviewed an artist, I would take photographs too. There's Jerry Jeff Walker, a cigarette sticking out of the left side of his mouth, photographed in one of the downstairs dressing rooms at the Great American Music Hall back when what they called "outlaw country" was big. And Ramblin' Jack Elliott, clearly plastered, sprawled in a chair in his dressing room at a dive somewhere near Point Reyes. And John Lydon, after the Sex Pistols were over, in town to talk about Public Image Ltd. and their then-new album, Second Edition. Sometimes I would try to get an artist to pose. I once convinced Randy Newman to lie on his back on a couch in his manager's office, so that I could photograph him from above. I put the photographs back in the box, and put the lid on it. Sometimes a little bit of the past goes a long, long way.
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Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.