Lynn Goldsmith's 'Rock and Roll Stories'
by brett sokol
Goldsmith with Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, in full regalia
“A lot of people think that I have glitter dust on me for having been in the presence of greatness,” laughs Miami Beach expat Lynn Goldsmith. “People go, ‘Oh, you were on the road with Bob Marley, with the Rolling Stones!’ It’s not the fabulous place people think it is.”
The proof of a more complex rock reality lies within the pages of Goldsmith’s Rock and Roll Stories, a new collection of sumptuous images detailing her work as a music industry photographer over the past four decades—capturing an array of pop stars both on and offstage, in controlled settings as well as in revealing, impromptu moments. Many of these images have become deservedly iconic—Goldsmith’s work appears on the covers of seminal albums from Patti Smith’s Easter to Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti, as well as in publications from Rolling Stone to Newsweek. Yet the true power of Rock and Roll Stories is in its willingness to pull back the camera lens, zoom out, and show us the business side of the music biz. It is, as Goldsmith insists, often anything but fabulous.
With Ozzy Osbourne
Indeed, what emerges is a portrait of repetitive drudgery, long stretches of hurry-up-and-wait inside gloomy rooms within the bowels of anonymous theaters and arenas. Here’s Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, there’s Police frontman Sting, each grimly contemplating their bare lightbulb-lit surroundings and platters of cold food. If it’s Tuesday, it must be Toledo….
Goldsmith also isn’t shy in her book about dishing on the bizarre behavior of many musicians, a product of their bubble-like existence, whether it’s Prince petulantly refusing to speak, and then bolting from his own photo shoot (twice!), or James Brown nearly causing his dangerously overloaded tour plane to crash. “To be able to go into worlds where people think their world is the whole world is very intense and exciting—for five minutes,” Goldsmith quips. “And then I want to go somewhere else.”
Shooting Mark Wahlberg, then known as Marky Mark, 1992
Her sense of wanderlust came early. As a teenager at Miami Beach Senior High School in the early ’60s, Goldsmith was already trekking to Coconut Grove to perform as a folksinger in that burg’s coffeehouses. By 1965, as a freshman attending the University of Michigan, she was palling around with kindred restless spirit and fellow student Iggy Pop (still Jim Osterberg, as far as the school’s registrar was concerned), and itching to explore the various countercultural scenes unfolding on either coast.
Photography was less a conscious career choice than a “passport,” Goldsmith writes: “It was my way into people’s lives, into places that I otherwise might never see…. Musicians were the dominant subject matter because it felt like I was simply hanging out with my friends, my family.”
Frank Zappa, 1988
These days, Goldsmith divides her time between New York City and Aspen, with occasional visits to her old Beach stomping grounds. And she’s as apt to shoot for herself as for a corporate client. But it’s precisely that sense of distance which brings a historical sweep to Rock and Roll Stories. Shots of teen idol David Cassidy in 1972, juxtaposed with heartthrob Marky Mark in 1992, offer insight into why only the latter was able to reinvent himself for an older audience; an early ’80s diptych of gruff British punk rocker Joe Strummer and the poster boy for laid-back Californian empathy, Jackson Browne, is no less striking in finding the earnest commonality between the two singers.
“Some photographers want jobs where they’re hired to do exactly their thing,” Goldsmith explains. “You can easily recognize their style, or they’ll only shoot people like Patti Smith and Bob Dylan, the ‘true singer-songwriter poets.’ They would never photograph ‘N Sync or New Kids on the Block. I’m all over the place because I think I can learn from everybody, and that’s the whole point of having a camera. It’s just a tool to learn things.” E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
photography by lynn Goldsmith