Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monsters Of Rock

My father has been a photographer for over 50 years.  I picked up my first camera at the age of 12, and took my first really proficient, well composed photograph later that year.   It was of three elk walking through water.  I entered it in a print competition at the Professional Photographers of Washington convention, and received a score of 76.  Pretty good for a 12 year old.  I was so hooked.  I studied photography and all things photographic for the next thirty years.  During those years, much of my time was spent photographing rock stars.  I was a concert photographer for about ten years.

My concert photography began illicitly.  The first concerts I photographed, Van Halen, Def Leppard, and Heart were done with a camera that had been smuggled in, in pieces.  
I would go to the concert with a friend, give him or her the camera body, and I would take the long lens.  We would wear bathing suits with liners, and jeans two inches too large in the waist. That way the body and the lens would fit between our legs.  Going through a security frisk really tickles when you’re smuggling something.  When we got through, we would go to the T-shirt stand, and buy shirts. Then we would go to the restroom, take the contraband camera out of our pants, wrap the lens and body in our new shirts and take our seats.  
In case we got caught, I rolled the loading tab inside the film canister of one roll, and my friend kept all the exposed film.  That way if we were caught, it looked like I had an exposed roll of film with me.  We were betting they wouldn’t check him/her since after we put the camera together, I kept it with me.
It was exciting and all, but the photographs were too distant and too grainy and I wanted to be able to show my work.  What I needed was press credentials.  
The Monsters of Rock tour was coming to Spokane, and Seattle.  Some how, I got the phone number of the promoter or the publicist...I can’t remember which.  I called them, and after being put on hold for a twenty minutes, they were nice enough to tell me what was required to photograph a show; an assignment from a magazine.  Okay...That shouldn’t be too hard to get.  I called and talked to the photo editors from Rolling Stone, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Time, Life, I even, I think, put in a call to National Geographic.  All with poor luck.  They all  put me on hold long enough to watch my hair grow, and then told me that they already had photographers.  And all of the magazines that were covering the tour, were already covering it in different places, like L.A. or New York.  The concert in Seattle was too late on the tour for the magazines. At the time I made my requests, they already had their photographs, and their articles, and probably had already gone to press.  Besides, they had not seen my work, and they weren’t about to hire some 21 year old photographer off the street that just called one day.  
I went down to the studio to work in the darkroom a while, and spoke to my father before starting.
He said, “What’s going on Brent, why the sad face?”
I told him what I had spent the whole morning doing, and he asked me if I’d tried Rangefinder, a photography trade magazine. It didn’t even occur to me to put it on the list of possibilities.
“What are you doing right now, Dad?” I asked
He said “I’ve got to go water the lawn.”
“How about I go do that, and YOU call Rangefinder?”
So after I explained exactly what I needed, I went and watered the lawn.  I came back in to find my father smiling.
“Good news?”
“Yes, after I agreed to an interview, he agreed to send you an assignment.”
So...I went to the concert in Spokane, while my assignment was being reviewed by the publicists.  I was approved.  The day before the Seattle concert, my press passes came in the mail.  I was okayed to shoot Kingdom Come, the Scorpions and Van Halen.
I went to the concert with a couple of friends who were brothers. One was living over in Seattle then, so the other brother and I drove over, and met him at his apartment.  From there we went to the Kingdome.  
When we got there, I looked around for the press door, and met up with a couple people from the Oregonian, who were looking for the same thing.  Meanwhile, my two friends went through the regular entrance.  
We found an open door, and entered into the backstage area.  I was astonished at the lack of security.  The two Oregonian guys and I were able to walk around with out anybody saying anything to us.  
Walking by about ten little Airstream trailers in rows, I didn’t know what to expect.  It was like a little campsite, in the Kingdome.  All of a sudden, one of the trailer doors burst open, and the members of Metallica, jumped out, one after another...all screaming at the tops of their lungs.  
We met up with a security guard who took us to our scheduled meet and greet with Kingdom Come.  
When we walked into the room, the drummer from the band was working on a solo on his practice drum kit.  He sounded like a machine gun, and soon took a break. He looked at the road manager, closed one nostril with his index finger, and inhaled, while flaring his eyebrows, as if saying, “Is it time yet?”  The road manager put an index finger up to his mouth, and shook his head, as if saying, “Shhhh!”  
I smiled and said to the photographer from the Oregonian, “Did we really just see that?”
He laughed.
Pretty soon all the members of the band came in and we met them, were introduced, and had a little photo session.  Then we were led to the other side of the dome, upstairs, to a press room complete with an open bar.  
But, no time for beer because it was time for the first set.  We went to the back of the stage, and this is where I found out that the only way to the photo pit was UNDER the stage.  We took our first trip under it and ended up at stage level.  To look back from our position in the pit was absolutely amazing, 20,000 people on the floor.  And it seemed is if they were all looking at us.  
Soon the lights went down, and the concert started.  After, we were led back to the press room, where Don Dokken was actually making out with one of the other photographers.
On the way to photograph the Scorpions, in the elevator, Don Dokken looked at me and said, “You’re not using a flash!  That’s great!”  He said, “The last time I was on the cover of Hit Parader, the photographer used a flash!”
A photographer at the back of the elevator raised his hand, “That was me.”

Don turned and said, “Ya it was him!  Anyway, when you’re on stage, it’s like a hundred and twenty degrees, you can’t help but sweat!  And that makes the flash just glare off of your skin!”
I smiled and said, “Yeah, I think it ruins the ambiance.”  I didn’t know WHAT I was talking about....but it sounded good.
Before that set, I turned to the crowd and captured an award winning image.  After I shot it, I was told I shouldn’t take any more of the crowd. I thought...Shouldn’t or couldn’t?  
After we photographed the Scorpions, we ducked under and we could hear them running around on the stage above us.  The media girl, on accident, led us by a bikini clad blonde, with a fairly sizable chest, laying in a hammock, strung between two of the stage supports, reading a Wall Street Journal, by elbow-lamp.  We instinctively got our cameras out, and she was already hamming it up and smiling, but we were told we couldn’t photograph the crew.  
The next set was Van Halen.  We were led to the same spot, but before the guard or the media girl could give us any instructions, a guy fainted in the middle of the crowd.  He was being passed over the crowd on hands, towards the front, where he would see a backstage medic. He got within forty feet of the front of the stage, when he was dropped.  I got a photograph of his leg towering above the crowd, before it fell.  Out cold, he was lifted again and made the final trip to the medic.  Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have taken that image...but I could, and I did.

The first three songs of the Van Halen set lasted twenty five minutes.  I used about 25 rolls of film.  At one point, I set my monopod on a stage-front monitor.  
Before long Sammy Hagar came up, kicked the monopod and said, “Get that the f#@k out of the way!”
I said, “Okay!” I moved the monopod.

Sammy did a five minute guitar solo right in front of me.  I focused on his eyes and then the strings, and then back to his eyes, and then back to the strings.  He placed himself there for me and only me.  I had the shots, the composition...For that five minutes, Sammy Hagar was all mine.
After that shoot, we went back up to the press room.  I sat down at the bar, and had a free beer, my first of the night.  
The bassist from Kingdom Come sat next to me, “How’s it going?”

I replied, “Not bad, not bad at all.”  No sooner did the bartender get him a beer than two blonde groupies, wearing next to nothing, came, got him, and left. 

That night, at my friend’s apartment, I packed all the exposed film.  The next day would bring another adventure.  I was sending the film back with his brother, and meeting my mother and father at Sea-Tac.  We were flying to Fiji that morning.  
After a week there, we flew to Auckland, New Zealand, for a photographer’s convention where my dad was speaking.  Then we flew to Australia.  
Somebody at the convention had told us about a nature reserve about 50 km South of Canberra called Tinbinbilla.  We spent a couple days in Sydney, and then we went to Tidbinbilla.  There we photographed koalas and kangaroos.  In fact, I took my second trophy winning photograph that month, of a kangaroo couple, with a joey’s head sticking out of the mama’s pouch.  I called it “The Enchanted Forest”.

I was walking by this gray kangaroo feeding area, watching a little kid feed this kangaroo a loaf of bread, piece by piece.  I walked up, and held out my hand.  The kangaroo hopped up, sniffed my hand, and I petted him with the other hand.  I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I had nothing for him, or I was invading his personal space by petting him, but he punched me in the stomach.  I thought I’ve just been punched out by a marsupial.  
About ten years later I was visiting a sick friend at a nursing home.  He had an infection that just wouldn’t go away.  
He asked, “So, Brent, what do you want done when you die?  Where do you want to be buried?”
I thought about it a bit, and remembered, for some reason, that concert, “I wanna be dumped over the Kingdome.”
“So, you wanna be cremated.”
I paused for a second and answered matter of factly, “No.”
He laughed and laughed at that, and started getting better.  The imagery in his head was of my nude body falling from a helicopter over the Kingdome.  In his head, it went through the dome during a Rolling Stones concert, and landed on stage. 
Keith Richards came up to my dead, naked body and asked, “Who the bloody hell are you?”


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