The Campaign - Why I need to photograph The Foo Fighters and Lady Gaga (and it's not why you think)
Music saved my life.
When I was 5 years old, my father took me to see Bette Midler for her "Divine Miss M. Tour" at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. I was THE only child there. She even made a comment to my dad. I remember her exact words like it was yesterday: "What? You brought a kid to my show? This isn't a kid's show buddy." But we didn't care. Her musical director and piano player was Barry Manilow. She told the audience that he was her "boyfriend." And THEN, my 2nd concert actually was Barry Manilow at a tiny club called The Bijou Cafe, also in Philadelphia. I think I may have been 7.
I saw The Last Waltz on the big screen at the TLA on South Street, when I couldn't have been more than 9. My mother LIVED for Barry White, Billy Joel, and I think she wore out Fleetwood Mac's Rumors within a week. I used to sit by the speaker, recording with my Panasonic tape recorder every album we own, and learned all the lyrics to everything. The Moody Blues, Queen, Lou Rawls, The Temptations,Pink Floyd, Donna Summer,The Band,Steely Dan, Crosby Stills Nash and Young,Richie Havens, Santana, Bread, America, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles,Bowie — I was exposed to every genre you could imagine . . . the list goes on and on! I mean on and on and on. Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, The Spinners, Luther Vandros, The Dead Milkmen, Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy, EPMD, Tribe Called Quest . . . ok, I'll stop for now. But for Christ's sake, I went to fucking LIVE AID!
Then, when I was 16, I snuck off with my best friend, Rachel Goodman, to New York City. What was I doing? Oh, just going to 110th and Lex into Spanish Harlem to hang out with the New York City Breakers and The Rock Steady Crew and watched a live show where the hip hop group Strafe sang "Set if Off.".. Mind blowing shit, I tell ya. The ROOTS used to hold jam sessions on my front stoop on Passyunk Ave. right off South Street. Do you get where I am coming from? Music, baby . . . all kinds just do it for me.
But when I really think back and try to explain how music saved my life, it was two things: dance and my transistor radio. Dance kept me out of my house, where things were a little . . . chaotic. And the radio? That little radio stayed under my pillow from the time I was 5. I listened to it EVERY night. Not only because I lived for music, but because it kept the noise out. The noise of grown- ups that were single in the 70's. You do the math.
When I was teenager, dancing for a company in Philadelphia as well as attending Creative and Performing Arts High School, my music exposure quadrupled. Now, I was exposed to serious funk, soul, punk, more jazz, and everything in between. My life was rich with creative people. And now, in my 40's, that exposure has shaped who I am today. My kids love all music. My music. Because the music I love, is MY HISTORY! And as a photographer, it's my job to capture history. Every time I tap my shutter, I am capturing someone's soul and holding it in time . . . forever. I take that very, very seriously. Whether it's for weddings, my work with autistic people, my family, music . . . any of it. If it's got a face, it has a history. I really consider myself sort of a historian, I guess.
People ask me: If I could photograph anyone or anything who would it be? What would it be? The answer changes from day to day. But right now it's Dave Grohl and Lady Gaga!
They are both so different, but at the same time— - they are exactly the same to me. Why? Well, yes, they are music makers. But they are much more than that. They are historians. They are story tellers. They are trying to preserve, expose, and save specific genres of music that are dying. Jazz and rock ‘n’ roll are slowly disappearing from the mainstream, if they haven't already. They are a becoming niche sound. At least, that is what I see happening. Where I live in Boston, the radio fucking sucks. There are ZERO jazz stations, none. The hip hop stations are practically non existent. You can search all you want, but no classic R&B anywhere on the dial. No true classic rock stations, and the classical station can only be found if I stand on my head with tin foil wrapped around my ankle attached to my antenna while I run down the block. Thank God for Sirius and Spotify and Pandora. But are the artists really getting their fair share financially from streaming sources like this? They need to be.
Fortunately, musicians like Dave Grohl & Lady Gaga are trying with every inch of their souls to save it. To expose it to the people. To show how so much of music is intertwined and how they inspire not only one another but a variety of other music forms as well. That this music transcends things like gender, race, sex, religion. Jazz influences blues, which influences rock, which influences funk, which influences hip hop, which gets along with punk. All these cultures save one another with music!
But terrestrial radio and the music business is dying. Filled with auto-tuned, big-boobed, one hit wonders; writing about where the party is, how we want to be bad, die young, throw your hands in the air, twerk your ass off and vomit like you just don't care. Where is the meaning? Where is the passion to move people to move mountains? It's not in top 40's these days. Hey, don't get me wrong, I love shaking my ass just as much as the next person. I come from a history of house music and EDM before it was called EDM! But where are the bands in one room making love to one another simply by playing music together? Real instruments! That's what is missing! But not Dave Grohl & Lady Gaga. They are preserving and making history at the same time.
Dave Grohl and the amazing Foo Fighters are educating millions of people with films like Sound City and their new series, Sonic Highways, about how different genres of music literally saved people. They are exposing audiences who would never give a rats ass about country western music (yes...me) to some amazing talent down in Nashville. I'm now a fan of Zac Brown - thank you very much Dave. They explained how the punk scene and the Funk and GoGo scene in Washington DC, both sorta of feeling like outcasts came together and enjoyed one another and their sounds.
Lady Gaga is pretty much doing the same thing for Jazz and Standards.The work she is doing with Tony Bennett is mind blowing. Her rendition of Bang Bang spoke volumes to me when I watched her special on PBS. One of my grooms is her trumpet player, Brian Newman. So of course I had to watch it to see him and originally that's why I tuned in, but when Ms. Gaga opened her mouth and let her soul be naked for the world, I was mesmerized. This was the music of my grandparents. And here she is - turning young people on to the music of their grandparents...even their great grandparents. And it's working. Her audiences are fascinated and she is gaining new fans every day. Because she is first and foremost a singer and an artist. She is preserving and passing on the history of Jazz music to the masses. It's fucking fantastic!!!! People who would never give her a second glance (older folks basically) are respecting her in a way that she most certainly deserves.
So why do I want to photograph them? It's not why you think. I'm not a groupie fan of either of these artists. I like their music a lot, but I LOVE THEIR MESSAGE AND THEIR MISSION. What I mean by this is that I am a fan, but my respect is for their passion to their art. To preserve and share the history of music. Every time I hear or see them speak about what they are doing, my heart races because I start visualizing what I could do to help them achieve that with photography. Documenting what they are doing while they do it. I could go on and on. I felt like if I blogged about this, and put it out there in the universe, maybe the stars would align and I could quietly be by their side clicking away and creating magic with them, for them.
I want to help document history by creating a story in images to match what these amazing artists are doing to save music. It could be a live show, working in the studio or just how they live their daily lives with their family and friends. Doesn't matter to me. And if I do it, you probably won't see it without their permission. I'm campaigning for them because I HAVE TO. Their interviews last week on Howard Stern solidified for me why I have to. Because I love what I do. They love what they do. I want to share that with them because they have already shared what they do for millions of people.
So if you believe in my vision. If you understand my mission. PLEASE SHARE AND TWEET THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. It would be the best gift I could ever receive.