“Popular music has been characterized by some as a rather disposable art form associated with youth culture, and yet the performers and their songs have the capacity to stay with us and embody deeper meaning as we grow older — and there is great power in this dichotomy. To quote Patti Smith, ‘Our music grants us a coat of invulnerability, a spring in which we bathe with abandon, methods of response, moments of respite, and a riot of self-expression.’ With these photographs, Annie Leibovitz illuminates and celebrates the full range of experience contained in American Music.”
. . . and so the sign greeted us at the beginning of the fabulous American Music photography exhibit, currently in residence at the FAC Modern in downtown Colorado Springs. It is a journey through the landscape of current American music, with most pictures shot in the past several years by famed Rolling Stone/independent photographer Annie Leibovitz. Organized by and premiered at the Experience Music Project in Seattle in 2003, the exhibit has travelled across the country and may be coming to your town soon. If it is, I highly recommend a trip.
I love rock ‘n’ roll photography. There was an excellent exhibit in San Jose last year (at the Tech Museum) with portraits and live concert shots spanning the entire gamut from Bono to the Beatles to Charlie Watts to Michael Hutchence to Michael Stipe. I love rock photography because of the way a good photograph can look into these artists’ souls and give you a voyeuristic chance just to stare at all their wrinkles and warts (or glowing luminous skin and teeth, depending on the subject of the photograph).
While the Tech Museum exhibit last year was a broad and far-reaching look at rock music across the last 50 years (and I loved it), Annie Leibovitz’s exhibit strives to capture American music at this precise moment, in all of its broad forms from jazz to soul to rock to country to rap to blues. I don’t think any picture in the exhibit was taken before 1999 or so. It was fascinating. It would have been perfect, perfect, unbelievably celestial for me if the exhibit came with headphones and a digital music player – so that as I looked into these faces that told so many stories I could also listen to their souls come out in the music they make. I knew many of the artists, but a lot of them I didn’t recognize, especially in some of the genres that I am still learning about.
I am having a hard time finding online where the American Music exhibit is travelling to after it leaves the shadow of Pikes Peak, so if you want to see some of the pictures, you can either order her excellent American Music book (containing all the photographs and some superb commentary from Ryan Adams, Patti Smith, Roseanne Cash, and more), and/or you can view many of the pictures in the exhibit here, although it lacks the same punch (I am admittedly a total museum whore and love just being in a museum).
Here are some of my snaps from the exhibit last night. I didn’t get a good one of the stunning Iggy Pop portrait pair, so check that link right above to see the leathery road map that his skin has become. I’ll say it again: fascinating.
That White Stripes photo is just fabulous. You can’t see it in this shot, but I love how Meg White is just so impassive. She’s like, “Okay, Jack, whatever you say.” Someone once told me that Meg White was a good woman because she does what she is told.
Mike Ness is seriously one of the baddest mofos ever. I am overdue for a post on him and his music. His skin is an art form in and of itself.
This is supposed to be Johnny Cash with Roseanne Cash on his front porch, but my haste to take covert pictures blurred it. A better shot is here. I love this because of the distance in Johnny Cash’s eyes as he plays. The music is taking him somewhere that is hard to place.
Country roots and wings with Bonnie Raitt and the Dixie Chicks. Raitt is photographed backstage in New York: I found the bottle of Dial soap sitting on the ratty old sink somehow poetic. I love little tiny details like that and I can’t say why.
Brian Wilson looking more than a bit like my dad, in that bathrobe and I think my dad has the same slippers. Sorry for the blur, see here for a good shot (my picture above looks all artsy blurry – it’s my attempt at, uh, social commentary about the speed with which we age). Wilson looks sad and lost and suburban.
Life imitating art.
(We’ve already established that I am a geek, so, ya know . . .)