Rock’s greatest photographer chronicled rock’s greatest era
If you don’t think the cover of Transformer — Lou Reed strumming his Gibson 335 looking to his right in heavy mascara in 1972 London—is the perfect embodiment of everything special about 1970s rock and roll, then you’re not my friend.
Mick Rock took that photo and a hundred thousand just as great. Madonna licking her shoulder. A tiny sliver of Johnny Marr’s face. Freddie Mercury worshipping the golden fingers of Brian May.
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Iggy and The Stooges, The Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, The Ramones, Joan Jett, Roxy Music, Thin Lizzy, Michael Stipe, John Cale, Peter Gabriel, Tina Turner, Squeeze, Cat Stevens, Ozzy, Pharrell Williams, Ray Davies, Phil Collins, Ian Hunter, Bob Marley, Lady Gaga, Jack White, Mötley Crüe, and Blondie. And of course, his muse, David Bowie, for whom Rock served as official photographer during Ziggy.
These are well-photographed celebrities. And a shocking number of the greatest photos ever taken of these people were taken by Mick Rock. Mick covered artists with pure joy and lust for life rather than an arty distancing. I think that’s why his shots of David Bowie and Lou Reed in particular are so memorable, because those artists are especially hard to understand and he just got right up close and captured them smiling and talking and being normal and sometimes kissing.
They called him “The Man Who Shot the Seventies” but by the time I got to know him a tiny bit, in the 20teens, he was still full of exuberant energy and uncynical from a life spent staying up all night with the hardest partying rockers from an era when that was still cool.
In 2014, I was editor of the New York Observer. We had this super talented writer Matthew Kassel — an old soul young man who was interested in stuff like birdwatching and jazz and how New York used to be. He told me Mick Rock was having a show in Tribeca — could he interview him? Hell, yes. I told Matt that Rock had been one of my cultural touchstones practically my whole life. In fact … maybe I could somehow cobble together enough funds to buy one of his prints. My wife was the only person I knew who loved David Bowie more than I did. And no one loved Lou Reed more.
Matt put me in touch with Mick’s “people” (a nice lady called Pati) and I about died when Mick himself emailed to tell me he loved Matt’s interview and was a fan of the Observer. I was astonished to see his name in my email in-box. We arranged for me to buy two great prints, including a heartbreaking shot of Nico and Lou from 1975, him smoking, her holding a whiskey. I’ll Be Your Mirror, indeed.
Mick took that shot at the Hammersmith Odeon, his hometown venue. Nico told him that Lou had been her younger brother in a former life.
When we got divorced, my ex-wife and I both wanted the legendary shot of Bowie, Jagger and Reed. But Mick had written a dedication to me on the bottom. For her birthday the next year, I reached out to Mick and explained the situation. He gave me a break on the even more famous shot from the same evening, the legendary Reed-Bowie kiss. This morning at 6:45 am, my ex-wife texted me about that photo. “I look at it every day.”