MICK ROCK - Loud But Never Square

Here I am with another rock photographer friend Mick Rock, last night at Pretty Green, a clothes shop, sorry fashion boutique, at the southern tip of Carnaby Street where he was signing copies of a new edition of his book Exposed: The Faces of Rock’n’Roll, and launching a line of five t-shirts that feature his pictures of David Bowie on the front.
              Mick is the gentleman dandy of rock photography, very boisterous and imposingly tall, with wild hair that tumbles over his forehead into eyes that are invariably hidden behind shaded glasses. I’ve known him for years and nowadays avoid taking him out to lunch because his voice is loud and his language on the fruity side and likely to offend adjacent diners. Of all the rock photographers I’ve encountered over the years – and there’s been a lot – none have anything like his self-confidence or promotional skills, and if a camera hadn’t fallen into his hands at Cambridge where he was studying modern languages he’d probably have ended up as a music biz PR, shouting from the rooftops about Bowie, Queen and Iggy instead of taking their photographs. As it was he left Cambridge in circumstances that suggest an academic career was unlikely and photography beckoned. Luckily for him he had a nose for what was happening, an ear for tomorrow’s sounds and an eye for the theatrical, so it was perhaps fortunate that he stumbled on the rock scene just as glam was getting off the starting blocks. He’s just not the type to take pictures of rock musicians in faded jeans and check shirts, far too artistic for that, even though he did once take a picture of Rory Gallagher – but Rory rejected it as being too arty. He was and remains as glamorous as the stars he shoots.
              Mick is best known for his work with Bowie, most famously the now iconic picture of Ziggy bending low to lick the strings of Mick Ronson’s guitar, but not far behind are his Queen shots, including the Queen II image in which their four faces and Freddie’s crossed hands shine out from a black background like religious incarnations, and Lou Reed’s Transformer look, all black eye shadow and Pierrot pathos. There’s hundreds more, too many to list here, and I’ve worked with Mick of several books now, one on Iggy, one on Queen and one called Glam that assembled many of his pictures from this period of the seventies. I should add that unlike most other rock photographers Mick branched out into other areas, as a writer, interviewer and disc jockey, and he was one of the first in his trade to find other uses for his work beyond the printed page.
              There are five David Bowie t-shirts at Pretty Green, all of them priced at £95 which for a t-shirt is going some, but unlike other DB t-shirts that you can find on line for less than a quarter of that price these have been ‘authorised’ by David, as Mick and he are still pals and he’s honourable in this way, not the type to use his classic shots of stars for mercenary gain. They’re all from the Ziggy era, doubtless because this makes for a more colourful look, and I especially liked the one where DB is playing the small saxophone his mum bought him when he was just 13.

Mick Rock and I have known one another since the seventies, and in a post elsewhere on Just Backdated (about The Bee Gees) you can read about how I introduced him to a beautiful girl with whom he lived for several years. She was far too high maintenance for me which made her just right for an extrovert like Mick. Once a serious debauchee in the classic rock’n’roll tradition, in 1996 Mick had a near death experience, underwent heart bypass surgery and cleaned up his act to the extent that he’s now the only man I know who interrupts business meetings to stand on his head for a few minutes in order to collect his thoughts. “We’re both fucking survivors,” he yelled in my ear as I left him autographing books last night, as loud and unruly as ever. I love the guy.


Suzanna said...

Fantastic classic rock images, with a look that faux film replications and too many megapixels can only try to achieve. And look at the saturated colors in his classic shots--again, a look much emulated today and mashed up with HDR and who knows what else for a Photoshop taste of the day promo shot or album cover. Rock's work inspires one to learn when a good shot is good enough.

milo said...

Be interested in seeing the pic that Rory thought too arty.

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