While a few well-known album cover artists have been asked to exhibit their work in galleries known to promote leading-edge talent - with their works selling at "fine art prices" - it is more usually the case that this artwork is presented as part of exhibits dedicated to the display of rock music-related "merchandise". Hardly the place to expect well-heeled art collectors to seek out their next investments...
Of course, as it is that there have been a number of established fine artists who have been commissioned to create album cover art - Warhol, Rauschenberg, Scavullo and others come to mind - a connection between fine art and pop culture has been created that, on the surface, would lead those of us who are impressed with the works of art that have served to package some of our most-favorite music to believe that, someday, the creators of these images would gain the respect (and fame and fortune) that comes to the elite in the fine art world. Although Thorgerson's fine art prints are sold in a number of galleries world-wide at respectable price points, I wanted to get Roddy's take on why it is that the less-recognized works of so many other fine artists are selling for many times more than a limited-edition Houses of the Holy or Dark Side of the Moon, and so I broke from my regular interview questionnaire to dig deeper into this dilemna.
Part 2 of my interview with film maker Roddy Bogawa starts with a few unanswered questions about the making of his "Taken By Storm" documentary and then veers into - at least for regular readers of this column - a scintillating discussion between two people who have had their careers touched greatly by the art of the album cover....
Interview with Roddy Bogawa (Part 2 - interviewed May, 2011) -
Mike Goldstein - Let's talk a bit more about "the making of" your documentary. Some of your financing for this project came via Kickstarter, and some of those donors were also people with backgrounds in the music/art world. How important was it for you to get this kind of support from your peers?
Roddy Bogawa - Kickstarter is an interesting crowd-sourcing model in that it works. I raised financing to hire Karen, the editor, in forty-five days. In contrast, a grant for the film that I applied for took nine months to go through the process of being evaluated and, in the end, I didn’t get it. How can you make a film around that kind of uncertainty?
One of the things that is interesting about the hype around Kickstarter is the element of pre-publicity that happens from the excitement of the deadline for the funding drives. It’s brilliant because it uses all the social media platforms to reach out to potential funders as well as just letting people know about the project. As with things that are successful at this level, it’s a bit overrun already with too many projects, but since each project has its own audience and outreach, it still seems to be moving along. The other thing it does is that it provides a space for people you know and total strangers to give you money. Friends who pledged to the film might have given me some money if I had asked them directly, but when I told them about Kickstarter, this immediately finishes the conversation – “I need money”. For instance, this is literally the first film my parents have ever financially contributed to. I have also re-connected with friends I had long ago lost touch with, as well as making some new ones. Maybe that’s the most lasting thing about it - in such disconnected times, to be able to communicate with people again. Storm often says that he puts so much work into his covers for the “punters”, the fans, so it was a really great connection to actually involve fans in the completion and in getting the word out. I was quite pleased by the amount of support - the contributions, the recommendations and other communication - that I received.
MG - How did you choose the talent -the shooters, editors, lighting/sound designers, musicians, etc.- who would work with you on the Thorgerson film?
RB - Probably one of the most difficult things in filmmaking that’s self financed - that is, projects with low or no budget where you’re pulling yourself up by your bootstraps all the time - is finding the right people that will follow you over the cliff believing that you’ve sprouted wings and can fly. It’s a lot like being in a band when you’re trying to write a song and your band mate has had a fight with his girlfriend and is utterly distracted and you’re constantly saying “Come on, let’s make some art. It’s going to be great”. I’m lucky now because I’ve found some key people that I completely trust - honestly, would you tell a great drummer what to play?
With making films, you need people that are better at each technical aspect of what needs to be done than you are, but you also want their brain and their collective creativity. I’ve worked with the same cameraperson, Ben Speth, for my last three films and at this point, we’re close enough that we usually talk about the project in pre-production and that’s it. For me, it’s always been a priority to get good sound and so I’ve worked with the same two people – Encke King for location sound and Vin Tese for the sound mix.
My editor for TAKEN BY STORM was Karen Skloss, someone I kind of stalked for a year or so. She cut the amazing Townes Van Zandt documentary by Margaret Brown, BE HERE TO LOVE ME. She became my twin brain on this film and deserves tremendous credit for telling Storm’s story. It was important to me that the original music in the film be prevalent as it’s a balancing act, I think, between the new music and the well-known tracks like Pink Floyd's just completely taking over the film. This is also something Karen really worked hard on. With the original music in the film, I worked again with Chris Brokaw, who gave me unlimited access to his back catalogue as well as whatever he was recording at the time. The other original music in the film is by my friend Antony Genn and Martin Slattery who have a Britpop band, The Hours, who recently opened up for U2 on their 360 tour - they've also played with Oasis and Kasabian. "Ants" is really a phenomenal writer and Martin is probably one of the most accomplished musicians and arrangers around. Both started Joe Strummer’s last band, The Mescaleros, and we’ve known each other for quite some time. They gave me some original tracks that are spot-on for the film in terms of sound and texture - lots of atmospheric bits.
With documentary films, there’s usually so much emphasis on the content, so I think that what’s being told to the viewer is a bit reductive. Maybe that’s also from my background - having made narrative and experimental pieces that are more visual - but it was a goal to make the film something that is a work that not only tells Storm’s story, but complements it as well. Not as arch or intrusive as something like Julien Temple’s films, but more along the lines of the documentaries of Werner Herzog.
MG - Let's take a minute and go back to discuss some of your earlier films, many of which seem to have touched on the subject of rock music-related art and imagery. As I was researching your career, I saw that you'd done an exhibition a while back called All Quiet on the Western Front that included a display of album cover art titled "Unfinished History Project". How does album cover art help us document human history?
RB - It’s great that you mention this piece as I’d totally forgotten about it but certainly now it has a new resonance with my work, especially in view of the new film. In the early nineties, I had been asked by the great visionary gallery owner, Colin DeLand, to go to Paris to represent him in this huge group show. At that moment, Colin was extremely important in the New York art scene, having had great success with artists such as Cady Noland, Mark Dion, and many others and he kind of did a number on the curators of the show by sending me and another filmmaker, Frank Grow, instead of the artists they probably were expecting. I had done a piece in book form that listed all the songs from different Vietnam war films in a layout that looked like a memorial. The “Unfinished History Project” piece grew out of that – using the vinyl LPs from these films and mounting them on faux marble shelves - APOCALYPSE NOW, FULL METAL JACKET, etc. Also, on the shelves, there were tiny brass labels that categorized the film in some vague anthropological language. To me, this piece was really about a false history, since none of these films were shot in Vietnam - they were shot either in Northern California, the Philippines, on studio lots, etc. - and that, in popular culture, they were becoming the new history of this moment and even, sometimes, romanticized with popular music.
The LPs in this piece were specifically soundtrack records, so the covers weren't so interesting - other than as a commercial for the film - but I was interested in how they promoted either collections of songs or original scores in relation to how Vietnam was being portrayed in the films. They were displayed with their shrink-wrap intact - as if they were specimens - and I think Colin liked this piece because it was precisely so “American”, so "pop", and to show it in Paris in this context fit with his program to be a little shocking or risqué.
On another level, I think album art, or the best of album art, does function as some kind of document of a time, but perhaps more so as a document of culture rather than literal time. As pure design, even the choice of fonts or hand drawn type, etc. is revealing. Peter Blake - who I interviewed for my film - is an artist that has done many record covers beyond of course, his most famous - the one he did for The Beatles’ SGT. PEPPER. His imagery for Paul Weller or Oasis certainly is rooted in "mod" culture, which you could say might be part of his sixties pop art background and aesthetic. Both Jamie Reid and Peter Saville are incredibly identified to the punk rock era, but while you can make that correlation, I think their work also evokes something more abstract and far reaching, perhaps because the imagery can’t be separated from the fact that there is this "other thing" – that is, the music.
Album art has been seen, until very recently, to be part of the "commercial art" world, but record covers have had a tremendous effect on society and subcultures, as well as the art world. When I was young, album art was the first place I saw the work of Andy Warhol or Robert Frank. For music fans, certain songs will always recall moments in someone’s life – when they first fell in love, when they were pissed off, when they were in hormonal revolt – and the imagery also can’t be separated from that.
MG - In your answer to my question earlier about how album cover art helps document human history, you say that you think that the best of album cover art "functions as some kind of document of a time, but perhaps more so as a document of culture rather than literal time" and talk about how Peter Blake, Jamie Reid and others' works are rooted in the prevailing cultures of the day. Let's expand the discussion a bit to re-examine the artists you mentioned and then add in Jim Flora's Be-Bop era designs, David Stone Martin's pen and ink designs for Verve jazz, and Saul Bass and his work for Otto Preminger's films, I think, personally, that some of these designs were ground-breaking in the same way that Picasso's women or just about anything by Magritte were just a bit beyond the design aesthetic of their times. What do YOU think?
RB - Good design, like any form of art – be it music, painting, sculpture, film, etc. - is always forward-thinking and forward-looking. I’m not fully versed in the entire history of record cover design you reference, but I certainly know some of the examples you mention and would agree, in part, that good album design move beyond the aesthetic of their times. I think artists that are pushing boundaries move from their context into a new realm, one that speaks of the moment but is also dislocated from it. In film, for instance, I might mention something like FARENHEIT 451 by Francois Truffaut, a film that is true to the Bradbury text and which one could argue had all the visual and narrative clues already in it. It was utterly "mod" while really moving backwards and forwards in time, which is also the case with Jean Luc Godard’s ALPHAVILLE, which does similar moves and I like much better.
Peter Saville’s cover for Joy Division - the one with the wire frame landscape - seems ultra-contemporary today, even though it was created nearly thirty years ago. Some of those Chet Baker photos by William Claxton seem completely of another time – one that hasn’t come yet – and so record covers, when they’re good, can really exist in another plane. I think also this has to do with the relation of image and sound which shows, of course, my bias as a filmmaker. When people used to cherish the vinyl LP, while playing the record they enjoyed an ethereal experience, operating on many planes of consciousness - sometimes nostalgic, sometimes rooted in a Proustian memory, sometimes utterly emotional. Covers then, while really the placemats or "holders" of the music, went beyond their function and had a key role in this experience. I agree with Storm 110% when he said to me once “why would a band want a mediocre cover for their record?” I have always said this when talking about films. Why do many documentary films look like absolute crap? Yes, maybe the content is privileged, but why do they have to border on aesthetic disregard and disgust? Werner Herzog got it right and his documentaries will exist far beyond the scope of their production and time. His film, FATA MORGANA, was a big influence on me when I was in film school and I always loved how he had described it as "a science fiction made by space aliens". I was subsumed by the film for many of the same reasons as Storm’s LP covers. I was lured by beauty and beguiled by meaning.
MG - Interestingly enough, as I do research on another album-cover project I'm working on, it seems pretty clear to me that you and I are a couple of the very few people who know the names of ANY prolific album cover artists or photographers besides the Warhols and Rauschenbergs and Peter Maxes of the world - that is, "fine artists" who have also done album covers. Die-hard fans know the names of a few - Roger Dean, maybe Storm, maybe Jamie Reid - but if you ask anyone outside the music business - particularly those in the fine art world - about their feelings aboutalbum cover imagery AS FINE ART and then for the names of the people who created the images, they'll be hard-pressed to identify the best of the best and attach any value - as collectible works of fine art - to all but a few images. This is why you can buy a limited-edition signed print of Drew Struzan's amazing cover of Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits for less than $2000 and one of Tony Wright's Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys for Traffic for less than $300, whereas lesser-known prints by Jim Dine, Hockney or any of the other Modern Masters - not to mention more mass-marketed artists such as Peter Max or Thomas Kincaid - that don't provide people with the same sort of emotional attachment that album art does via a fan's love of the associated music - can sell for 10-1000X more.
My question to you is whether you think that album cover artists will ever gain the respect of the fine art community, and the support of well-heeled collectors?
RB - This is a tough question, and my first instinct would be to say "no". That is, however, tendered with the reality that artists like Storm and Po still have some of the original paste up boards from their Hipgnosis designs and those, in my mind, are invaluable. The fact that record cover images were mass-produced affects their reception when they try and move into the fine art world, but perhaps more of an issue is really that there’s not really a marketplace for this art. The music-related art market doesn’t have the type of structure of collectors, auction houses, secondary market, etc. that the fine art world functions with. For years Storm made his silkscreen prints with Coriander Studios, which is the same printing house that turns out work for Damien Hirst and dozens of other artists (Editor's Note - Coriander is now owned by Christie's Contemporary Art). His print of Peter Gabriel’s first solo album - the one with the photograph of him sitting in a car dotted with rain drops - is made with something like twenty-seven passes of silk screen colors! He did this not only to get the right tonality of blue and green, but also to raise the texture of the white highlights of the droplets. It’s an attention to detail that surely rivals Damien’s prints with diamond dust and yet, while Damien’s prints as you mention may sell for $10K or scads more, Storm’s prints will max out at a few thousand for the rare ones.
The infrastructure is inherently different. Damien makes a one-off platinum cast skull covered in diamonds that sells for 100 million dollars and then offers hundreds of collectors the ability to purchase print editions of the image. Storm and other album cover artists are making prints of images that were mass-produced in the millions to begin with and are then trying to go the other way round. As commercial art, as also with paintings for book jackets, the original artworks were seen as elements to the finished design and subsequently weren’t considered of much value. I think the thing specifically with Storm’s imagery is that something that’s key to making these prints are really about being able to control the quality - that is, improving on the relatively poor printing quality of images on LP cover cardboard - and also have them at a larger scale than the 12” x 12” LP format or CD size.
Rock posters have been around forever, selling in head shops to teenagers, while only recently have fine artists been conversely making posters. A few years ago, a friend was visiting from Australia and we saw a Richard Serra show. I talked him into buying a signed poster for $50 - which seemed like a lot at the time - and it’s value has steadily increased to where it’s worth a few thousand dollars now. Someone gave me a DVD of the documentary on Klaus Voormann the other day and there’s a bit on the Revolver image of course and Joe Walsh is interviewed about owning the original pen and ink drawing. I hope he paid a lot for it. I think all of Storm and Po’s designs during the Hipgnosis years should be in the British Museum as national treasures.
MG - In an interview I read where you described your motivation for your film I Was Born, But... , you'd said that you found a great deal of inspiration from meeting other punk music fans from around the LA area and from other cultures, sexual orientations, etc. You also said that this experience helped you realize that you were different and that effort to push back on this forced assimilation would ultimately shape your approach to your career and art/film-making in general. How important do you think that Thorgerson's history in the U.K. - that is, how he was brought up, and when - was to his efforts to try and be different in his design work?
RB - The punk scene in Los Angeles was a real eye opener but at the time. Things were happening so fast that no one knew how important it would be for so many people, but the excitement was tangible. That ethos of “learn three chords, start a band” that those groups preached led me to get a guitar and start a band and, also later, to pick up a camera. In I WAS BORN, BUT…, I went back to Los Angeles to my parent’s house and found all these 35mm photographs I had taken and reprinted them for the film – photos of X, The Alley Cats, Minutemen, Minor Threat, The Replacements, The Dickies, Gang of Four, Killing Joke – and it was interesting because I couldn’t recall why I even took them at the time. It was really more to show my friends what they were missing out on and, as you mention, really what was great about that moment in the formation of my identity was that in a homogenized and segregated city like Los Angeles, this was where you met all the misfits. I found a new tribe in those years. I applied the same ethos when I started making films, which was seen as something too large to do in the DIY sense, though filmmakers in smaller scenes in San Francisco or New York had been doing this since the fifties.
Storm’s history growing up in Cambridge in the late fifties and early sixties, post war, etc. probably has had a big impact on his approach to his imagery. That he was also childhood friends with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Syd Barrett and Douglas Adams - who wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy - shows that the people in his peer group were vastly creative types who would go on to careers in film directing, writing novels and such. Obviously, this was a pretty stimulating and fertile time and place. Joe Strummer, who appears in I WAS BORN, BUT…, used to say “you must have input to have output” and Storm surrounds himself with people that challenge him creatively and intellectually. I don’t think he really aspired to be “different” in his design work but, rather, there’s an innate speed to his thinking process - like someone who is five moves ahead of you in chess - coupled with a real humanist side to his intellect. My feeling is that these things crossed with his sense of humor to create a really compelling alchemy with respect to image-making.
You can tag certain things to the covers of Hipgnosis and Storm’s continued design work - like “surrealism” or “gloss” - but one thing that always made these images stand out for me was the tableau aspect to them – an implied narrative. Storm and Po were both trained as film directors, and in covers like IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR for Led Zeppelin or Bethnal’s CRASH LANDING or FRANCES THE MUTE for The Mars Volta it feels like you’ve come into a narrative at mid-point, which ultimately leads the viewer to try and put together the rest of the story. There’s some relation to the idea of the “definitive moment” of photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, but maybe it’s closer to the photo documentation of more time-based art forms such as the images of Robert Smithson’s asphalt pours or Spiral Jetty or the Fluxus performance works - things that are ephemeral, happen, and then disappear.
I don’t think there were many record cover designers who were considering this approach. You had it somewhat with the great Jazz LP covers, but these were still primarily focused on the image of the musician. Design, at that moment in time, was really mostly about creating a graphically well-composed image, usually of the musical act or band. Storm and Po staunchly went against this, and so the covers that they did together - and that Storm continues to design - absolutely resist cleverness, even while they explore visual puns, word games, suggestive narratives, etc.
MG - So, with all that being said, what are your views regarding the future of graphic/visual design in the music industry as it moves on to the many new distribution platforms? Are you seeing new opportunities for your talents?
As images are used, however, in the music industry, I’m not sure what’ll happen. Bands still need images for marketing purposes, either for tour posters or logos, but will these images have the same power that they used to?
Album covers used to be central to how audiences visualized records. What is it about the cover of DARK SIDE OF THE MOON that has had such a huge impact on people’s psyche? Is the prism the band and they, in turn, interpret sound to make beautiful colors? Is the prism a triangle? Is it just a cool graphic? As with a lot of Storm’s imagery, these kinds of visual games and puzzles really enrich their function - it could be this or that or all the above.
One of the biggest revelations I’ve had while making the film is that Storm’s images have had a lot of this strategy at their core, so essentially you have a static image, photograph, or graphic that is constantly shifting in meaning, so it’s interpretation is never fixed. It’s brilliant because if you listen to some music and are looking at the artwork, you’ll see something different each time, depending on your state of mind.
In terms of filmmaking, it’s suffering a total meltdown because of technology though, thankfully, most people still enjoy the experience of going out to a movie theater and seeing a film at a scale they can’t at home and sharing that with a crowd of total strangers. At the base level, we like that experience - like the first time I saw Pink Floyd at the Anaheim Stadium. Because I use the computer on a daily basis and it dominates much of how I communicate, write, and now edit my films, I hate watching films on it. I’ll do anything to get away from it.
There are bands that now just give away their music and, maybe, filmmakers will end up in that mind set, but if you ask anyone that’s now trying to release a film, it’s a whole new world now in terms of strategizing distribution.
Not every band can do the moves that Radiohead did with IN RAINBOWS, which not only made loads of money with the "pay what you want" download but also sold out the collectible vinyl/digital package. DVD’s seem like they are on the way out, but what will be next? There was a story a few months ago that turntable sales have risen again and also more bands are doing vinyl specialty releases. Storm was always lucky because many of the bands that he works with still do vinyl releases – Biffy Clyro, The Mars Volta, Audioslave (see behind-the-scenes photo, below), and Muse all put out 7” vinyl singles as well as the occasional 12” gatefold release. Think again about how DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was packaged. It came with two posters and two stickers. That’s pretty special. You should think big like that and I’d like the film to be released with a similar attitude. I’m not sure how yet, but I’m thinking along those lines. As Robert Plant said in his interview about Storm and Po’s design for IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR, “All power to pomp!”
MG - So, if I look a bit more into your answer regarding the future of graphic/visual design as it relates to the music industry, you talk about how people will still go to theaters to see films/video-based entertainment in order to both enjoy the scale and being part of a crowd. As someone who's had the pleasure of seeing some incredibly well-filmed and produced concert events (both live and recorded for IMAX/iWerks Entertainment), I think that there's a chance that, in the right venue, with the right musical acts, folks could opt to see concerts that way vs. going to see a concert at a 20,000 seat arena. I know that Fathom Events and others are doing this now with live opera, orchestra concerts, etc. Do you see a future for totally-immersive music experiences in theaters, harkening back to the Psychedelic light shows and "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" shows that Warhol used to stage?
RB - This is an incredibly well-tuned insight and, in fact, I’m fielding several offers for my film along these lines. Storm and I always talked about the film touring with exhibitions of his prints and us doing lectures and presentations together, and I’ve always thought the film could screen in venues with bands scheduled to play after the screenings. Growing up in Los Angeles, this was something that was more common in the mid-seventies – surf films playing in rock venues, etc. – and I want people to experience some of that when my film gets released. I haven’t had a film play theatrically, but this one is something I think could be not only fun, but also innovative in terms of how it can get out into the world.
And you’re spot-on recalling the "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" shows. At South by Southwest, besides the four screenings of the film, Storm and I did a lecture at the Blanton Museum where I showed a few outtakes from the film and Storm orchestrated a performance where everyone held two white cutout stars in front of their eyes and Rupert Truman, his photographer, took a picture from the stage, which is available for download from the museum’s site. We also had an after party following one of the screenings at a great café venue called Spiderhouse, where we hung up ten or so silkscreen prints of Storm’s work and the editor of the film, Karen Skloss’ band – Black Forest Fire – played with Storm’s designs projected on them. Coincidentally, as the swirling cosmos of Storm goes…he’s now designing their debut LP cover. After Karen's band played, one of my favorite Austin bands, …And You Will Know Us by The Trail of Dead, played and, between bands, Storm did a $5 raffle and gave away a print of Pink Floyd’s WISH YOU WERE HERE. It was mad! Something like two or three hundred kids attended, and it was loads of fun. I hope the distributor I end up working with realizes this potential.
I’m not sure about high-end digital projection concerts replacing actually going to live shows, but certainly there is something to be said for superior sound quality and close up views, etc. I think that, in a way, people love going to rock venues - there’s still a bit of danger and excitement, even with all the shortcomings of the experience. I think it’s back to the feeling of how anything could happen live, whereas in an edited concert film, it’s all groomed and manicured. I remember a long time ago running out to see The Replacements, who were on their LET IT BE tour opening up for X, and at one show they played completely tight and were pure energy and professionalism and then, a few nights later at a different show, they were all drunk and it completely fell into chaos with on-stage fighting, five minutes of beer drinking and yelling between songs and then Bob Stimson taking off all his clothes. Both were brilliant, though!!!!
The first time I saw The Clash at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, I made my way to standing one person back right in front of the stage and then the lights went down while an Ennio Morricone song from a Sergio Leone western started as the band plugged in. Then, explosive white light as they played "Safe European Home" and by the end of the song I was literally bounced back nearly to the rear of the place, sweaty and smiling ear to ear. That memory is permanently burned into my brain and I’m not sure I’ve ever had an experience like that in a movie theater. That being said, one of the distributors I’ve been meeting with has been talking up doing screenings of the film with live events and also simulcast events. As much as the film distribution world is vaporizing like that of the music industry, there might be some really interesting possibilities ahead.
MG- Any final thoughts or anecdotes about Storm or any of the people featured in your film?
RB - All the musicians I interviewed were incredibly generous and, I think, genuinely supportive of the film. In some ways, maybe the story of Storm’s life and the disappearance of vinyl parallels their own stories. There was a totally fascinating element of the film production that was unexpected and really maybe answers part of this – it's based on the fact that I used 16mm film instead of HD video. Almost all the musicians remembered film cameras and were shocked that I’d be shooting in this format. A few of them changed clothes once they saw the 16mm camera.
Robert Plant said this great thing to me before his interview – “So you only want diamonds from me!” And David Gilmour is actually really knowledgeable about cameras, so we ended up talking about his new HD palm-corder for about ten minutes. They’re now so used to tiny video cameras just rolling all the time that for my interviews, they did give me all "diamonds". I like to sit and talk a lot before rolling, not just to get comfortable but more to give context to what I’m interested in and, perhaps, this helps when the film is actually rolling. A16mm film magazine load is about eleven minutes, and for most interviews I shot two or three cans, so it was a pretty compact and concise method of shooting.
It was, certainly, totally surreal meeting all these musicians. The day I shot Robert Plant at his office in London, I then jumped into a taxi and interviewed David Gilmour in the Astoria, his houseboat recording studio. When I was packing up the film gear, David Gilmour picked up his acoustic guitar and starting strumming the song “Summertime” about a foot away from me, and it was hard not to stop working on the camera and just stare. You realize that, after talking with most of these musicians, they are rock stars and they do have an undeniable presence while, at the same time, they are just people. The interviews in the film I think are quite different than most you’ve seen in other films though, and I think people will see another side of them.
Storm is into numerology and believes in chance and - maybe - UFOs but not space aliens - and making the film was totally surreal. When we were in Los Angeles, we were planning to shoot an interview in Death Valley, where he shot the cover for Blinker the Star, which featured an ice swan sculpture glistening and melting in the heat. Storm had a gallery show opening in Hollywood and some meetings scheduled, and the drive to Death Valley was going to be a long one, so he casually said to me, “Well, since we can’t get out there, why don’t we do an interview at the Burbank studios where we shot WISH YOU WERE HERE?” I had no clue how this could be done, so I went back to my hotel and spent the night searching the internet for Burbank Chamber of Commerce, Burbank Studio, etc.. Out of desperation, I called an old friend who is a film editor and I told him about Storm and the project and he said, “Well, my friend works there. Let me call him”. The next day, we got visitor passes for the studio lot and found the spot where Po had photographed the burning businessman, so we jumped out of the car and shot the interview right then and there. I don’t know if I was more in shock from getting on the studio lot or being able to set the interview with Storm there.
Later, at the gallery, Storm came over to me and handed me a 8” x 10” framed picture of Pink Floyd sitting on a park bench and said “Roddy, I’d like this image enlarged to about five feet wide so I can hang it in the gallery window. Can you take care of this?” I was, like, “What? I haven’t lived in California in over twenty years” and Storm, of course, wouldn’t even let me take the picture out of its frame. I went down Sunset Blvd. to the first copy shop I could find and started talking to the manager, who had his hair spiked up with gel. All the different ways to blow up the image would cost about $350, and since Storm hadn’t given me any money, I thought to try and impress this guy by asking him if he knew that this was a picture of Pink Floyd. He was unresponsive but I kept at it, mentioning how Storm had done the covers for Audioslave, Muse, and The Mars Volta. The moment that I name-dropped these bands, he whipped out his cell phone to show me pictures of Omar and Cedric from The Mars Volta that he had taken, telling me how they were his "favorite band of all time". He not only blew the picture up for me - which looked pretty amazing - but only charged me something like $35.
So, forty-five minutes later, I was back at the gallery with this five foot high blow up. Not twenty minutes later, we were having lunch next door to the gallery and Storm handed me a tube and said “I’ve got a few rolled up prints in here, can you get them framed for tonight?” As I was eating my pasta, a woman who was at the table next to me leaned over and said “Excuse me. Did I overhear that you need a framer? My husband’s shop is around the corner” and handed me a business card. “Here you go” I said to Storm, and handed him the card. At that point, his jaw finally did drop. I think that, at that moment in time, he thought I could do anything.
About the film-maker, Roddy Bogawa (in his own words) -
I made several short films that played the festival circuit and then did my first feature, titled SOME DIVINE WIND, which screened in the Dramatic Competition at Sundance in the early nineties. Sundance was very different back then – over half the films in the competition were made for under $50,000 - but this was also the year that RESERVOIR DOGS was screened, so everything changed afterwards. My second feature wasn’t music-based, although it had loads of music in the soundtrack. It was a low-fi science-fiction film titled JUNK that was a love story set in some unidentifiable time where everything was in complete decay – weather patterns, language, the environment, etc. The soundtrack was full of music– Fugazi, Steel Pole Bath Tub, Come, Seam, Drunktank, Chavez, Codeine – that is, all the bands that I listened to while writing the script. I had some strange idea that, in the future, culture has collapsed into a Blade Runner-like hodge-podge, so the soundtrack should be post-punk.
My third 16mm feature was I WAS BORN, BUT… which really started when Joey Ramone died. I live around the corner from CBGB’s and kids were leaving such amazing objects and things in memoriam of Joey. One morning, I went out around 7am and shot some 16mm - thinking I should just get it on film as a time capsule - but then it opened up to a whole project about my growing up in Los Angeles and thinking about place and memory. I had become friends with Joe Strummer a few years earlier and one night we were hanging out and he asked me about what I was working on and when I told him about the film, he immediately sneered “why aren’t you shooting me?” On that tour, he was playing The Ramone’s "Blitzkrieg Bop" as their encore in tribute to Joey so it made perfect sense and, in fact, I had been trying to build up the nerve to ask him. I ended up flying to L.A. a couple of months after September 11th and shooting from the side of the stage and front at the Troubador for two nights. I was a little freaked out about taking a plane at that point, but I thought that I needed to confront this fear. It’s a decision I’ll be always glad I made, as it was only a year later that Joe suddenly passed away. Joe was such an incredible person. I got a Christmas card from him and his wife Lucinda the day before he died and it all completely freaked me out as the film begins with the death of Joey Ramone and was going to end with Joe playing "Blitzkrieg Bop". I couldn’t work on the film for several months afterwards. What was strange was that during the time I refused to edit, I’d be in a bar talking about Joe with someone and a Clash song would come on the jukebox. This is the absolute truth and it happened three or four times. Finally, I went back to the film, finished it and it premiered at the New York Underground Film Festival where it was the closing night film and won the "Festival Choice" award.
Roddy's other awards and grants include those from the Creative Capital Foundation, the American Center Foundation, the Jerome Foundation Independent Filmmaker grant and New York State Council on the Arts.
To see more of Roddy Bogawa's work and find out what he's doing now, please visit his web site at http://www.roddybogawa.com
In each UnCovered feature, we'll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. - all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.
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All images featured in this UnCovered story are Copyright 2011 Roddy Bogawa - All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2011 - Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) - All rights reserved.