Friday, January 1, 2010

Who Shot Ska?

One of my few excursions over the Xmas holiday break--since I started to feel kind of human again a day or two ago--was a trip to the Brooklyn Museum with the kids and their cousins to see "Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present." (Music critic Tony Fletcher has a good overview of the exhibit on his iJamming site; and here is a review of the show from The New York Times.)

Since this exhibtion is generally focused on both iconic and lesser-known photos of rock 'n' roll royalty and (now mainstreamed) '77 punks and new wave/post-punkers, it was a nice surprise to come across a picture of The Specials by Adrian Boot. His 1981 photo captured a moment from a live gig at the Top Rank Theatre in Brighton when the stage had been completely overrun by a writhing mass of fans--the only members of the band visible are John Bradbury behind his drum kit and Jerry Dammers at his Hammond--and both are in the background of the shot. The picture conveys the manic energy of youth (and The Specials' shows); the intentional lack of barriers between The Specials and their followers (who exactly are the rock stars here?); and even a bit of mystery (what the hell is going on--is Terry Hall buried under the crowd?).

While "Who Shot Rock and Roll" isn't particularly cohesive or illuminating, many of the photographs are fascinating and I was thrilled to have a chance to see them up close. I particularly appreciated the photos of The Clash, Ramones, Joy Division, Pretenders, Richard Hell, Debbie Harry, The B-52s, John Lennon, New York Dolls, Grace Jones, and Bunny Wailer (above, in 1976, by Kate Simon). But, as The Times reviewer points out, it's more about what the viewer brings to these images (if you don't know the bands, their sound, and place in music history, this will be one boring-ass show; context and background are everything here). Are all of the photos great works of art? Many are--but some are important just for the moment they've captured in the rise of the superstar (like the Polaroid of Courtney Love taken during the recording session of Live Through This, just before Kurt killed himself, and another of Madonna sucking down a martini at Danceteria in the early 80s). And for someone like myself in sagging middle-age, it's a bit of a kick in the head to see how impossibly young and beautiful all of these musicians were when they made it big time.

If you are in the New York area, the show is definitely worth seeing--it's up until the end of January. After that, the exhibit is slated to travel to:

Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts
March 5th - May 30th 2010

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee
June 26th - September 26th 2010

Akron Art Museum, Ohio
October 23rd 2010 - January 23rd 2011

Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina
February 24th - May 22nd 2011


Unknown said...

Bob Shot Ska!

Thanks for another great report, Steve. I do read all your stuff and usually have long-winded replies floating around in my head for a day that I never get to post.

However, this one reminds me that I still have bucket loads of photos (no pun intended) from the old About site, from interviews and concerts, that I want to get back on the internets some day. Crappy quality, I'm sure, all pre-digital and badly photoshopped, but might be worth sharing at some point.

Steve from Moon said...


Thanks for your kind words about my humble blog. Always feel free to leave comments, no matter how long or short! It helps keep me going!

Please seriously consider creating a new blog and uploading your photos from the glory days of the Third Wave for all to see. There is a real lack of good info/documentation about the 90s ska scene on the web, so whatever you can contribute will be greatly appreciated and valued!

And I gotta get out and see you and The Hard Times! So far, the stars have just not aligned (work, family, etc.), but I hope that this will change in 2010. There is always hope in a New Year!



Unknown said...

Yes, Steve, I'll make that one of my 2010 resolutions.

Look forward to saying hi at any of the upcoming Hard Times shows or elsewhere.