November 5, 2009

Trust: Photographs of Jim Marshall

TrustMy heroes aren’t musicians or photographers but writers like the late Jack Kerouac and Richard Brautigan. There is an exuberance in their work that I also find in this “must have” coffee-table book of Jim Marshall classics. His work is not the hype but the genuineness of such geniuses as Otis Redding, Janis Jopplin, Miles Davis, John Coltrain, Mick Jagger, Joan Baez, the original Weavers, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and just about any other top music performer from the fifties to the turn of the century. We’ve embraced their myths, but forgotten their humanity—at least until now.

Sure there is Jimi Hendirx burning his guitar and Bobby Dylan rolling a tire, but look at the tenderness in Odetta’s gaze as she embraces Elizabeth Cotton backstage at the Berkeley Folk Festival (Odetta had been all but forgotten working as a domestic for a long time until she was rediscovered). Or Johnny Cash’s thoughtful stride going into Folsom Prison in 1968 to do a recording his record company, Columbia, didn’t want him to do. Marshall recounts, “They weren’t expecting any trouble but they had armed guards up in the towers… Not all the men would have been Johnny Cash fans before but by the end they certainly were. If Johnny would’ve said follow me out of here to the prisoners, they would have followed him out.”

There’s the shot of  Miles Davis taking a call at a phone booth in the middle of a work-out; he cradles the receiver in a boxing glove. A young Aretha Franklin looking like a girl on a first date. A shirtless Frank Zappa looking like someone’s brother. I like Marshall’s Introduction and the little verbal sidelights he provides that put the pictures in context. There are a few surprises. Did you know that Harry Dean Stanton has a great voice? He and Willie Nelson played a half hour show together for the crew on the set of the Big Bounce with Owen Wilson.

Marshall likes to come across as a tough dude (“I worked hard but I never really considered it work. I always enjoyed myself and only did it if I had complete control and access. My reputation was such that managers didn’t, and don’t fuck with me.”), but he has a real sense of what makes photography work. As Jason Fine, Executive Editor  of Rolling Stone Magazine, adds in his Afterward to the book, “What comes across is a deep empathy for the musicians he photographed with an ability to capture their pride and sense of purpose.” Jim Marshall: “I love all these musicians—they’re like family. Looking back, I realize I was there at the beginning of something special.”

There is no trick angles, no cropping, no Photoshop manipulated imagery. This is like a family album of our pop culture, where we study the pictures looking for what was to come in faces pure and full of dreams. As the poet Richard Brautigan wrote, “we stopped at perfect days / and got out of the car.” – John Lehman

Omnibus Press, ISBN: 9781847726490, Price: $29.95, Height:12″, Width:10″, Pages:168, Binding: Hardback, Publication Date: Sept 1, 2009,   ISBN-10: 1847721109 ISBN-13: 978-1847721105, $34.95  Available here from amazon.com.


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