Photographer Mick Rock is known as “the man who shot the 1970’s,” for his iconic photos of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Queen, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, Blondie, and many more. He not only captured the era with his photos, but took part in the action as well and we hear all about it. TASCHEN Gallery is hosting an exhibition of his work now, and have released a collector’s edition of his new book, The Rise of David Bowie.
- Buddy Holly - "Peggy Sue"
- Bob Dylan - "Visions of Johanna"
- Velvet Underground - "I'll Be Your Mirror"
- David Bowie - "Life on Mars?"
- The Ramones - "I Wanna Be Sedated"
Anthony Valadez: Hey, I’m Anthony Valadez, and I’m here with photographer Mick Rock. He’s often dubbed the man who shot the 1970’s, for his iconic photos of Lou Reed, Queen, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, Blondie, and many more.
Mick Rock: David Bowie.
AV: David Bowie too! Speaking of David Bowie, you were his official photographer from 1972- 1973, and Taschen will release a collector’s edition of your new book, The Rise of David Bowie.
Mick is here to talk about some of the songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. You brought in some records! What’s the first record we’re going to listen to?
MR: Well, we’re going to go back in time to a true classic record - it’s “Peggy Sue,” by Buddy Holly. They were very big in England. I don’t know how big they were in America in those days. As time has gone on people appreciate that Buddy Holly and the Crickets influenced so many people, including… the Beatles! Because, I mean, Beatles…Crickets…I mean, it’s not a big hop, is it?
AV: No, not really.
MR: But this one in particular, if you knew "Peggy Sue" then you know why I feel blue. You could see the early Beatles lyrics being kind of like that ‘love love me do’, you know, and I still love it. And, I mean, what’s a great track that you want to keep coming back, it’s like a wonderful lady, a great single.
People ask me what is a great photo and I say, well, I don’t know. I know what I like, but I think the same thing applies. It’s a picture… for whatever reason you want to keep looking at it. Or maybe every time you come back to it you go, “oh yes, that echoes somewhere in my subconscious.”
Song: Buddy Holly – “Peggy Sue”
AV: That was “Peggy Sue,” by Buddy Holly, selected by Mick Rock. Great cut. What’s next?
MR: Well, I do remember in 1965, someone took me to see Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall and, the first half was acoustic and the second half was when he brought the band up. And I do remember one of the tracks he played was “Visions of Johanna,” very mysterious I found it.
AV: How did you find this song mysterious?
MR: Well, for one the sound. But I mean he certainly changed the way lyrics were written and obviously he was doing that from the earliest records, but "Visions of Johanna"… you know, it’s about a love in a sense. You know? But with Bob Dylan you’re never quite sure.
Song: Bob Dylan – “Visions of Johanna”
AV: That was “Visions of Johanna,” by Bob Dylan. What’s next?
MR: “I’ll Be Your Mirror”, by the Velvet Underground. Obviously written by Lou Reed, but actually sung by the amazing Nico.
They had an affair; I mean I know from the lips of the master. It was the very first album that says it was produced by Andy Warhol. Basically Andy just sat there, and every time they played him something he said “fabulous”.
But obviously, the Andy connection, they thought would help. And of course this gave, in retrospect, the Velvet Underground this art reputation. They were the first band to be talked about in terms of art. And even though it’s definitely rock n’ roll, obviously the Andy connection had a lot to do with that.
And it’s a very unusual lyric. He wrote it for her to sing to him, so she was going to be his mirror.
AV: You know I noticed you mentioned the name Warhol a couple of times-
AV: That’s such a visual connection for you, given what you do…
MR: Definitely. Definitely. Andy was as rock ’n’ roll as anybody. He helped usher in the idea of art rock. And, of course, I could tell you a lot of stories about Andy. Including the day I shot him as Santa Claus along with Truman Capote for a High Times 79’ cover at the Factory.
At one point I was bouncing up and down and Andy said, “excuse me man, I think you are standing on some of my canvases.” So I was treating his canvases like grapes, I was stomping what later on turned out to be millions of dollars worth of art in my booted feet.
Song: Velvet Underground – “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
AV: That was the Velvet Underground with “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” selected by Mick Rock. Alright man, I’m having a ball.
MR: Me too! I’m having fun.
AV: And this next one I’m pretty sure you’ve got some great stories about.
MR: Well, “Life on Mars?”, would have been early 1972, and I had access to Impala records. They were promotional records, and you knew they were promo records because they had a little hole punched out in the corner.
And in those days, you picked up the arm, and if you want to repeat the song, you had to actually pick up the needle and plunk it down where you thought it should go. So I played it so many times in that first night, that I actually ****ed it up.
Which meant the next day I had to go out and actually lay out money to get a new copy of it. Which I did. I mean, I used to live off freebies.
AV: That means you really loved it.
MR: Oh yeah! And as a result of that I sought out Bowie and, in those early years, not only did I shoot, but I would also do little interviews and I would provide a picture. That way they got a cheap deal, and I could get a double whammy.
Anyway, I also, not that year, but the following year, I made the video for “Life on Mars?” There should be a question mark after it too. I never knew quite why there was a question mark, but there is actually a question mark in the title.
Song: David Bowie – “Life on Mars”
AV: That was David Bowie with “Life on Mars?” selected by Mick Rock as part of KCRW’s guest DJ project. We’re really moving along in the chronological order of time, I noticed.
AV: So that brings us to 1978.
AV: What’s that?
MR: “I Wanna Be Sedated.” When I shot the Ramones at the end of the century I would call it, I had a wife and a house in London, and I had a girlfriend and an apartment in New York.
AV: At the same time?
MR: Oh yeah.
MR: I was taking advantage of my English accent, because that got you lots of places! You could get away with a lot. You could lie about everything. I mean, there were no cell phones, there’s no bloody internet, I mean that’s blown a lot of young gentleman’s cover you know.
But back in those days you could. I…and I had this space and it was a commercial building, but after six o’ clock there’s nobody in the building and I was right on the top floor. And I would, you know, I mean this is cocaine gone mental. And it’s all disco and punk.
But this track, I would come back, whoever I was with, and you carry on partying until you know, the dawn, because now I look back I go you ****ing needed to be sedated Mick.
You were bouncing. So, I mean I like the track anyways, but I do associate it with the late 70s, early 80s, in New York, and uhh, and cocaine.
Song: The Ramones – “I Wanna Be Sedated”
AV: That was “I Wanna be Sedated” by the Ramones, selected by Mick Rock as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Mick thanks so much for coming through.