Wait a minute; 2022 is over? Because of COVID and working from home since early 2020, I’ve lost all track of time, and don’t even remember what happened this year in music, cinema and other culture.
1) RETROSPECTION. I have a playlist entitled “What’s so Good About New Music?” and it’s full of my favorite songs that fit the sole criteria of being released prior to 1997.
2022 gave us some Super Deluxe box sets that were worthy as memory lane fodder, as well as a history lesson for younger people who wonder why us olds STILL fan-girl for Blondie.
These are my top 3 “investment” records:
Blondie – Against the Odds (1974-1982): I have been a fan since before I even heard their music. As a devotee of New York Rocker, I learned about all the NYC underground bands that helped create punk rock, and Blondie just jumped out as worth watching. Once I did hear them, they fulfilled all my niche pleasures: girl group sounds, surf guitar, B-movie kitsch themes, a pretty voice with a gritty band. Because they were always easy on the eyes and ears, and then had themselves a huge crossover hit with a disco-tinged single (“Heart of Glass”), it is easy to forget how trailblazing Blondie was since their career seemed to follow an organic progression. That would be overlooking the one thing that gives them their punk bonafides. They’ve always made the music they wanted to make. I have very little critical distance, as drummer Clem Burke has been a friend since the 70s, however, if you want to read an excellent take on this box set, I urge you to read Caryn Rose’s piece for Pitchfork.
The Beatles – RevolverIn 1966, Revolver was my favorite of all the phenomenal music released that year (AM radio played singles from Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde; The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds; Donovan’s Sunshine Superman; Nancy Sinatra’s Boots; The Byrds’ 5D). Yes, my 8-year-old mind was blown. I was born at the right time for all this music to mold me and in retrospect, it was a life-saver, as I grew up in a conservative bubble in the otherwise super liberal, hippie Southern California. The Beatles made listening to my own music at home with the parents easy. “Eleanor Rigby” is beautiful regardless of your musical taste, so no one looked askance when I played the hypnotic “Tomorrow Never Knows” on repeat.
I am not a fan of the Super Deluxe Box set for any artist. In the case of Blondie, it was partly an opportunity to replace beat-up vinyl records, purchased in real time, AND the book of memories and photos. And for The Beatles, it was also about The Book full of beautiful photos that includes the essay by Paul McCartney. Except for the “Paperback Writer” demos, I’m not interested in the progress of any given song. In fact, when The Beach Boys epic Pet Sounds Sessions were released 25 years ago, I refused to buy it because I am only interested in what Brian Wilson wanted to present in 1966. I feel like an album is a snapshot of its time, and a snapshot of the decisions of the time. Full stop.
Revolver gives us a few demos of “Yellow Submarine,” which started as a sad narrative and it boggles my mind how it ended up as a weird ditty. Least liked track in 1966, and in 2022. But “Paperback Writer” (and demos) is a revelation. Rumors in 1977 were that Glen Matlock was fired from the Sex Pistols because he was a Beatles fan. Great PR from Malcolm McLaren, trying to draw the line between the established and the upstart musicians BUT I think those Matlock compositions owe more than a passing nod to the rhythm tracks and structure of “Paperback Writer” and punk rock is the better for it! The 2022 Remix/Remaster disc is the one I listen to. And I flip through the book.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Live at the Fillmore 1997 Now THIS is the kind of box set I can get behind. It satisfies on many levels. For me, it is highly personal. The band played a 20-night stand at San Francisco’s Fillmore in January and February 1997, and I attended 17 shows. No two were alike, and the document that is this box set cements memories for me. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were the world’s very best bar band, whether they were covering The Kinks, JJ Cale, The Ventures, or going deep into their own (at that point) 20+ year career catalog. If you were going to invest a sizable chunk of cash for a box set, it pays for itself to have a piece of history, which thanks to recording technology is no longer a fugitive moment. Was I imagining Roger McGuinn joining the band and playing the weirdo Byrds b-side “Drug Store Truck Driving Man” ? No. They did and they recorded it! As a live music document, this set is in the pantheon with The Band’s The Last Waltz, The Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya Yas Out, Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison, The Who’s Live at Leeds and Jimi Hendrix Live at Monterey. No lie.
2) PATTI SMITH & CARYN ROSE – The poet who punked me, the woman whose own interests mirrored mine and tied a bow on it and gave me the first feeling of cultural inclusion—Patti Smith—has, 45 years later, once again taken a center stage position in my year, thanks to the writer, Caryn Rose. Released in the Spring of 2022, WHY PATTI SMITH MATTERS by Caryn Rose is the first book about the female artist written by a woman. In the book, Caryn eschews all the hackneyed linear biographical takes that have been published before and examines and contextualizes Patti’s WORK and WORK ETHIC, and unlocks the secret to Patti’s enduring career—the connection between performer and audience. In another essay, her review of A BOOK OF DAYS for VULTURE, Caryn again unpacks Patti’s abilities as a creator to illustrate why the poet is so good at social media, specifically Instagram. For those of us who have been following along, it is once again about WORK and WORK ETHIC and a direct connection with her audience. I am recommending both Caryn’s book on Patti, and Patti’s BOOK OF DAYS. If like me, you were influenced by Patti and her work, you will feel validated and vindicated for your own work ethic.
3) AMY RIGBY’S DIARY on Substack as Diary of Amy Rigby. I am thrilled that a woman of my generation writes so succinctly, emotionally, and realistically about being in this generation. Representation is everything.
4) SOLITUDE I am spending 8 days of my holiday break staying in a hotel, alone, scanning negatives and slides for my upcoming (and overdue) photo books. I am writing this from there too. I recommend self-sequestering/vacationing to all. It was absolutely dead here Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but not THE SHINING dead/slow and creepy. I’ve been in my PJ’s for a few days and have done quite a bit of work. The “Do Not Disturb” sign has been on the door since I arrived. I have the blackout curtains drawn, and there is no clock here. This is my idea of a productive work week.
5) BOB DYLAN I traveled all over from NYC (late 2021) and across the South this year to see him. At one show, I saw Beck reprimanded by security for daring to bring out his cel phone, and also saw a fella in my row at the Chattanooga show get ejected for same. I’ve been a fan since I first heard “Positively Fourth Street” lo-fi blaring from my purse-sized Toshiba transistor radio as I played hopscotch in my driveway when I got home from the first day of school (I was 7). I was drawn to the snotty tone as he sang “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend.” It was not like anything I had heard before. The personage he was complaining about in the song sounded like so many people about whom my father complained. My father was 20 years older than Dylan, and the lyric and its delivery illustrated better than any class lesson I ever had in poetry/literature about a writer making the personal universal. Bob was a young guy trying to get ahead in his career; my dad was an old guy at the top of his career, and me, a kid, also recognized this personality trait in people. Bob made me wise. And as an old geezer, he still entertains me.
Get Back: Let It Be Remix (Info Dump for the Insatiable)
Have The Beatles finally mined everything from their brief but splendid existence with GET BACK? Perhaps not for The Beatles Industrial Complex, nor for scholars. GET BACK stands as peak postmodernism, where culture commodifies its own cultural production, and in a critical twist, vindicates the original object of its discontent.
The original 87-minute LET IT BE was received as a downer, and its release at the time of The Beatles breakup compounded ill feelings about the film, Yoko, Linda, and Paul McCartney himself, all of which were suggested to have contributed to the breakup.
GET BACK was met with almost universal praise for its eight hours of restored cinema vérité. In lauding this new access to the exact duration of each long-gone perceivable present of the Beatles’ past, the loudest voices in social media chose to fawn over producer Glynn Johns’ fashion sense or delight in slamming LET IT BE director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s pompous personality (bloviating while desperate to find a climactic spectacle and deliver his project on time, or at all).
Seeing three weeks in the life of The Beatles’ process confirms that neither Yoko nor Linda caused their breakup, and their husbands brought them to the studio of their own volition. Billy Preston saved the day musically. His talent and convivial personality together with his bona fides (he played in Ray Charles’ combo) revived The Beatles’ passion for being a band. GET BACK unequivocally showed Paul McCartney as a stone-cold craftsman who pulled “Get Back” and “Let It Be” out of his pocket with elan.
I asked filmmakers and musicians alike what they thought. Although they share expertise with the subjects, they speak for the whole of the viewership.
Film Editor1: “Get Back was not a tectonic shift in any way. Nine hours of edited content, released on a major outlet could have been something of a game changer. But it was… not really.”
Showrunner: “Will we see another mini-series based on the remaining 50 hours of footage?”
Musician1: “This captures how long and tedious recording sessions really are.”
Musician2: “This is the fantasy I’ve been waiting for.”
Me: Get Back = Let It Be Remix (Info Dump for the Insatiable)
Filmmakers can see what Sir Peter Jackson had and more important, didn’t have, to work with. As one editor told me, “the cadence of the cutting revealed how much the story that they wanted to present took place in audio only, and they worked for years to make it look like the cameras caught it.”
Director Allison Anders astutely re-centered the discussion. She praised Michael Lindsay-Hogg for “gaining the trust and creating an atmosphere where the most famous musicians in the world at such a critical time could feel free to share with you, and us, the intimacy of creative process, and for always having the cameras in the many right spots—the most incredible accomplishment!!!” (I felt 100% vindicated by her Instagram post)
Lindsay-Hogg’s career was already stellar. As director of Ready, Steady, Go, and music videos for the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” and the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash,” he knew how to cover musicians in their natural habitat. He conceived The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus, but the band hated it and didn’t release it until 28 years later, when it had become the stuff of legend. And in the end, all Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s work, despite or because of his attitude and the bummer that is the original LET IT BE, has been vindicated by fans’ overwhelming desire to see more deeply into the creative process of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. CF
HARD + FAST, a collection of Melanie Nissen’s photographs from the period 1977-1980 in Los Angeles as punk was forming, is the book my OG LA punk friends and I have always wanted to exist. We all knew that we were living in a special time when you could see culture and society changing, and we couldn’t wait to document it ourselves. It was an era rich with samizdat—independently published zines about our scene, shown and told in our own words and pictures. Mainstream media were not covering the epochal change in pop music, art, and fashion, save for the occasional “look at this crazy new teen fad” filler on tv or in print. ¶ Our subculture took it upon themselves to document our own lives, much like a high-school yearbook does. Melanie, together with her then-partner, Steve Samiof, created SLASH, an era and genre-defining magazine with such an imprimatur that it organically grew into an avatar branding first wave punk. Melanie’s book of photographs overflows with the love and friendships that we LA punks shared, and yearbook/time capsule references to this important documentation is a recurring Proustian theme in this 2022 chat between two zine photographers. Intro and interview by Theresa Kereakes (who was also documenting the scene back then) / Photographs by Melanie Nissen
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST CF: A lot of the things that I like about the book have nothing to do with punk rock, but everything to do with presenting a chapter of our lives that we lived at the same time. There are buildings that you photographed that are no longer there. Melanie Nissen: I have to say that’s what the book has become for me. I look at it the same way. It’s become documentary to me. You don’t see people on the street selling LA Times newspapers anymore [p 98, with Tommy Gear/Screamers]. You don’t see people on phone booths anymore in Hollywood [p 108/Tomata duPlenty/Screamers]. You don’t see old pool halls where you could just go into, or old eating places that were on the street, and old bars that existed that don’t exist anymore. For me, it’s like a time capsule. I think I really appreciate it on that level. And I’m really sentimental about it on that level, because I felt the same way that you did. You just don’t see this stuff anymore. CF: It’s like a yearbook. Melanie: Exactly. That’s how I feel about it now. I can look at the photos and it’s so funny, and you’ll probably relate to this—I can feel when I took that picture. I remember. I remember where I was. I remember how I felt. I remember taking the photo. I remember everybody’s face. I had a hard time with everybody’s name for the book, but I never forgot their faces. Ever. Everybody was, I think, really open to me taking photos and I really appreciate it.
ART FOR ART’S SAKE CF: Did you know when you were in the midst of it, that punk was going to be the transformative movement that it became? Melanie: Not at all. It was a very unusual time. It was like this big art group that all decided to pitch in and work together. It wasn’t really about anything else except the music. It was very unique that way. It’s so seldom that you get to have freedom in art, and that’s what it was to us—to show anything we wanted, say anything we wanted in the magazine. That’s a luxury in art. Those opportunities don’t come around a lot when there really aren’t any politics there, there’s nothing, money’s not involved, it becomes just a real art project. But no, I didn’t know at the time. I didn’t even take very good care of my negatives to be really honest with you. CF: I’ve talked to a couple of other people from the scene who just really put this stuff in the garage and it’s like, “Well, this is my stuff from the ’70s.” Melanie: That’s what it was. Except unfortunately, I had three really bad floods in garages. CF: So have I. Melanie: Did you, too? CF: Yes. I lost a lot of stuff in Hurricane Sandy. I moved to New York in the ’80s. Melanie: Yikes. CF: I was really devastated then I heard an interview with Laurie Anderson on NPR, where she was talking about the album she recorded with the Kronos Quartet, called Landfall, which was about everything that happened in Hurricane Sandy. And she had lost basically, her entire professional life: staging, work, all of her props and a lot of notes and stuff. Melanie: Oh, God. CF: But her voice was so calm. And I thought, “Well, if Laurie Anderson can get past this, then I can.” Melanie: Well, I did too. But at the time, it’s like you think, “Oh, what a bummer.” Then you just get over it and I think, “Well, that’s it.” Because I didn’t even really know if I would be using my photos again. Do you know what I mean? They were in bags. I didn’t really know I would be actively using them. I didn’t want them to get ruined and it was disappointing when I looked at them, but it’s like, okay, well, so this is what I have left. You move on.
CF: Right. In the spirit of that, is it astonishing for you to see the legacy and the influence of Slash, just from the graphic style to the writing style? Melanie: It is. Steve Samiof was my partner at the time and we started it together. I think the very first issue, I really think it was the consciousness that we’re going to do a one-off art magazine. I really didn’t think we thought we would do more issues. I don’t know if we really thought it would go further than that. So it was a big surprise. We had read all about all the punk stuff happening in London and we were fascinated, because there wasn’t much of it here yet. So we went to record stores and bought every single we could possibly buy, and had to come home and listen to everything over and over. ¶ It’s like we both fell in love with the music, with everything about it. Everything about it was appealing; the fashion, the politics, everything. But did I think it was going to go on and on? No, I didn’t. CF: Yeah. We were just not like other people and we didn’t fit in anywhere, but we all fit in with each other. Melanie: Well, it’s funny. I have to say, everybody asks “Oh, what was it like?” And really, everybody for those three years that I worked with, was on the same wavelength. Everybody was generous with their work. Everybody helped everybody else. Every band helped each other. Everybody gave free work away for the bands to use. CF: I read a quote of you saying, “The first three years were magic, but by 1980, Orange County bands started taking the scene in a direction I didn’t love.” I related to that so much because I felt the same way. I don’t know if you doom-scroll Wikipedia, but the entry for Slash in Wikipedia, have you read it? Melanie: No. CF: It’s like a paragraph, but it conjectures that Slash just stopped because punk was considered dead anyway. But I relate to your quote, “the bands started taking the scene in a direction I didn’t love.” That makes sense to me. Melanie: Yeah. I also didn’t know them. I really didn’t know who they were. I can’t think that I have photographed a lot of them. It’s like I had spent three years with the same bands and all the beginning bands. It’s like it becomes a weird family in a weird way. Nobody cared about me with my camera. Everybody was used to seeing it. We would do photo sessions on the street. We’d never get permits or anything like that. It was very spontaneous. I don’t know. I just think after three years, all my favorite bands were going away. They weren’t really playing anymore. They all were off in different directions. ¶ Then you had the Orange County stuff, and I just didn’t know it. I just thought it was time to move on. I had been in it a lot and it was just time to do something else for me. CF: Do you agree with this: Slash as a magazine is a finite set, it’s like it’s a box set of LA punk rock being born, it’s almost like you inadvertently created LA punk. So, your book is its title. It’s just 1977 to 1980. Hard and Fast, in and out. This is a box set of that period. Melanie: Yes. CF: Did you intend to do it, or did you set the book up that way because that’s what you had? Melanie: I only was in it for those three years, so that’s really all I have to talk about. I don’t have anything to really say about punk. Your life moves in a different direction sometimes, and that’s what mine did. I had a full-time job.
CF: I was just going to ask you that. Did you and Steve and everyone else for the core of Slash, did you keep your day jobs? Melanie: Well, I had to. Steve’s day job was Slash, which it needed to be, because it needed one really strong leader that was there every minute. And he was that person. I worked full-time and I have a daughter. It was a lot. I used to go in the dark room and print all my own prints on the weekend. Yeah. It was a lot of work. CF: You bring back all these memories for me, flipping through your book; that image of the envelope from Richard’s Photo Lab [p 217] ! Melanie: I know. Do you love that? CF: I love that because I have boxes full of the same thing. Melanie: It’s like everything was at Richard’s in the beginning. It was all at Richard’s. He’d develop it, and then I had access to a really great darkroom, which I was lucky enough to get on the weekends. So I’d have Richard develop it and then I would go print it. But that is funny, Richard. That’s where you went. CF: One thing I really appreciate about your book that I haven’t seen in too many other punk photo books is that you’ve included Black Randy [p 62], The Screamers [pp 18-31], and The Kipper Kids [pp 112-113]. The Screamers were just so unique. And Tomata, before The Screamers, had quite a track record as a performer. Melanie: Yeah. Yeah. How good was he to photograph? CF: He was a living art project, right? Melanie: He had the best body language and the best space and the best tattoo. I could have just looked at him forever. I could have photographed him forever. Luckily, a lot of that stuff of him didn’t get wrecked, and I’m so glad I have so much of that early stuff. He was really great to work with. ¶ And Black Randy was such an underground star in the scene. He got up and performed in his underwear and a cowboy hat. It’s like, who are you? Then I became one of his backup go-go dancers at one of his live shows with Belinda from the Go-Go’s, Alice Bag from The Bags, Connie. And myself. We all had wigs on and all this makeup somebody did for us and we had dashikis on. We were his backup dancers. ¶ Black Randy was in our bed while Steve and I were designing the magazine in our bedroom. He just got in bed and just talked to us. He was so weird. CF: That’s this unique thing that only other people who were in that scene would understand. If you tried to tell someone Darby Crash was in your dorm, it’s like, well, they don’t understand. He was just a guy who I knew. And I had a TV and he didn’t. It was just that. Melanie: I thought he had a very sweet side to him. Am I right or wrong? CF: Yes, and I just thought he was really smart. Melanie: I thought he was smart and I thought he was always … I don’t know. I thought he seemed like a really kind person to me.¶ Yeah. Everybody asks, “Oh, and what about Darby Crash? What was that like?” And I’m thinking he was really nice.
CF: You could tell that you were friends in the pictures of him and Pat and Lorna. There’s not a menacing glance. And the young Don Bolles, he looks like a little angel. [pp 12-17] Melanie: I know. I know. I know. No, they’re pretty raw photos. It’s very more documentary than I thought it would be. CF: Is that what got you the most? Is that when you went back 40 years later and you thought “this is a documentary”? Melanie: Yeah. I thought it was a time capsule. I thought here is this one unique period of time in my life and everybody else’s life that was involved in that. And I’ll probably never see it again. This is not going to happen again. And there was that part of me that realized that part, that this was something very unique and wasn’t ordinary. I really appreciate it from that point of view. It was really fun and interesting and creative. ¶ The one thing that I find really interesting, is that it’s true, punk never dies. It never dies. It reincarnates itself. You see it in young bands. You see it in fashion. You see it in hair. You see it in jewelry. You see it in everything. Right now, it’s like hot pink and hot green DAYGLO, and black are the colors of the season. Well, that was punk. Those were the punk colors. And every once in a while, you see photos of chokers with big spikes on them, and then you have Marc Jacobs who’s looking at all the punk stuff. It just gets created over and over and over again, and I don’t really think that time’s ever going to go away, musically or fashion. It’s like Vivienne Westwood. She’s still making clothes. ¶ There’s a little band, a little punk band that was out there… Fidlar. I don’t know if you know them. They’re really good. They remind me a little of The Ramones. They were a very fun little band. You could just see it. And they knew all the people from the punk things. They’re really and they were totally into Slash. And I think, “Wow.” CF: I’m glad to hear things like this, and like you publishing the punk rock yearbook, time capsule. And it brings everyone back together to say hello and wow, wasn’t that something? Melanie: Well, and this is it for me. You know what I mean? I don’t have anymore. I don’t have a lot of punk to show anybody anymore. This is what’s left, or what I have. CF: You know what? It’s still definitive. It’s the foundational visuals of LA punk rock. It really is. Melanie: I don’t know. I hope that people get to see themselves in the book because it’ll be so fun for them.
CF: I think that they will, people will bring it up to them. They’re going to get a call from someone like, “Oh, my God, you’re in this book!”
DIY Melanie: If I never have to go through another box again, I’ll be really happy. I’ll tell you, the hardest part of this whole project was just digging stuff out and editing. It was really, really hard. And getting stuff scanned. Nothing was scanned, at all. ¶ I wound up too, and I hope it’s not boring for people, I put a lot of fan photos in there, fans and people that hung out. They’re not stars or anything. CF: I was so excited when I saw Cheri the Penguin [p 85] ! Melanie: I know. This was so part of the scene that I documented. It wasn’t just the bands. There hardly was anybody that I didn’t take photos of. And I thought, “Well, I’m going to put them in the book, even though nobody is probably going to know who they were unless you were there.” ¶ And is that going to appeal to people? Because basically, a lot of younger people would just be looking at strange people they don’t know. So I was a little concerned about that, but it’s like, how can you do the scene if you don’t do the people in the scene? CF: It’s like you just said earlier. It’s a documentary. It’s how people dressed. Melanie: Yes. CF: What’s so great is that everybody had their own unique style. It wasn’t like they could go to a Hot Topic and say, “I would like the punk uniform for Saturday night.” Melanie: Yeah. But you know what was great? They all made their own outfits. It’s like they had to plan. They had to make something. That was half the fun of looking at everybody, is to see what they came up with and what they created. It was really interesting, and everybody really made an effort for the most part. CF: Yes. Do you think that has anything to do with because it was the analog era? You literally couldn’t phone it in. You had to make a commitment. Melanie: Yeah. You did. There was nothing technical at all, right? CF: Right, there wasn’t. I was envious of people who had motor-driven cameras. Melanie: Yeah. And I was so happy to have access to a darkroom. I thought that was the height of luxury because there was nothing like being in the darkroom and seeing that image first come up. It’s so exciting, whether the photo is good or bad or whatever. It’s just thrilling. CF: The smell of the chemicals. Melanie: Yeah, which people don’t even use anymore. That’s why they really don’t want to develop black and white, because you have to get rid of those chemicals in a certain way now. CF: Oh no, I know. But it’s just they’re gorgeous. And I like the way you printed your photos with the carved out negative carriers. You could see the edges. Melanie: That was fun. I didn’t do that with everything, but I don’t know. I think for me at my age now and everything and from what I have left, this is like doing the last issue of Slash for me. Do you know what I mean? CF: Well, what is the future? What do you want to do? What would you like to do? Melanie: I don’t know. Well, I still take photos. Not a lot of people anymore, but I do a lot of abstracts and landscapes and all that kind of stuff. It’s different now. There are still artists that I work with because I went into the music business for the rest of my career and life. So I always wound up working with musicians, forever, which I felt really well-suited for after Slash. And that I get it and I get them, and they get me.
CF: How did the book come into being, finally? Melanie: I have a friend who designed the book. His name is Mike Lohr. We have been friends for like 20 years, and we have a wonderful friendship and rapport. When we thought about doing this book and was asked to do the book, I said, “There’s only one person who I’ll do this with. And it’s Mike, because he’s such a beautiful designer.” ¶ We did a series of weird punk T-shirts at one point and tote bags. We never did anything big. It was all little and nothing ever made any money, but we liked working together. So when this book came along, we had a chance to do a book together. ¶ Half of the project was that for me, that I got to work with Mike. And we worked together for almost, I don’t know, three, four years on it because he has a full-time job as an art director. We were limited to maybe two weekends a month, one weekend a month, so it took a long time. But I was so happy I got to work with him. It’s like our culmination together, and it’s really nice.
PARTING GIFT Melanie: I’ll tell you one thing that I had to learn that was very interesting for me. I had never shot concerts before. I had never shot music, and I had to learn how to shoot the bands live. I had to learn how to get up front, no matter what was happening or who was shoving who or pushing who. I was very fast. I shoot very fast, and I think you have to if you’re shooting live. I don’t know how else you get it, really. It was really a great challenge for me to have to do something new like that, and learn something new like that, and practice. I got better as time went on, but it’s something that I really valued that I thought, Oh, I have a split second to take a photo up here. Everybody’s shoving me and I have to do this. I have to get a good photo. I have to get something. And I loved learning that. That was a very good learning experience for me. CF: I think it’s all in the learning. Melanie: It is. Everything.
The very existence of Mike Nesmith inspired me my entire life, whether I was aware of it or not, from the time I first heard “Different Drum” until I took an early retirement from PBS.
Mike Nesmith was a fearless visionary. He was not afraid to follow his whims, and he was not afraid to defend himself. If all he had done was compose “Different Drum,” he’d still be lauded, but for decades after writing the song that would put Linda Ronstadt on all our radar, he continued to experiment and invent delightful escapes into storytelling, whether through book, song, or visuals.
Little did I know in 1966, when I was 8 years old, I was completely swept up in boy-band-mania because of the excellent job NBC-TV’s PR team did when they launched The Monkees television show. TV Guide first introduced me to The Monkees and in short order, a magazine called Tiger Beat appeared out of nowhere and featured them all the time. I also didn’t realize that the publishers of Tiger Beat had a stranglehold on the teen “consumer” market and worked in lockstep with the television networks and record companies for mutual benefit. It makes sense now, and it also doesn’t matter because it was through the pop culture mill that I discovered the Monkees, the Brill Building songwriters, and Mike Nesmith, who passed away on December 10, 2021, just 20 days shy of his 79th birthday.
The TV Guide introduction to The Monkees set them up as a parallel to The Beatles, whose own image was turned into a cartoon series debuting on television one year earlier. The story had brief bios on each band member/actor, and to this kid, they all seemed bonafide. Clearly, the TV Guide writer and editor were copying the NBC press releases as they identified Nesmith as “Wool Hat,” which was not only a stupid nickname, but never caught on. Again, I realize this 50+ years later.
During my childhood and adolescence, all things Mike Nesmith slowly seeped into my consciousness and formed my artistic preferences. It was no mystery why I liked his Monkees songs the best. He wrote “Different Drum,” a hit song for the Stone Poneys that I cranked whenever it came on the radio. When I bought Monkees’ singles, I always preferred the Nesmith-penned B-sides, particularly “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” over the hit A-side, Neil Diamond’s “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” And from this, I also learned about songwriters and the Brill Building, for in addition to Neil Diamond, Carole King and Gerry Goffin were supplying songs for The Monkees.
In the situation comedy itself, while we’ll never know if the screenwriters crafted the TV Monkees’ personalities to match the real-life Monkees’ personalities, Mike always came across as the normal one and the one true musician. Mike Nesmith set the bar for 8-year-old me and how I would evaluate musicians in the future.
During the year I started working at PBS, the organization made a deal with Nesmith’s prescient video production and distribution company, Pacific Arts, to distribute PBS produced programs (most notably Ken Burns’ The Civil War, as well as a slew of other less noteworthy bulk). At a point in the relationship, things soured, and my employer was so clearly in the wrong. When you work in law firms or corporate legal departments, you work to develop a clear separation of how you feel versus the job you must do. But this one was impossible to rationalize. My relationship with PBS lasted as long as Nesmith’s. While his relationship was filled with lawsuits and trials (in which he prevailed, and gloriously), mine was an easy exit. As a government-funded entity that must have its operating budget reauthorized by Congress every three years, many of the stations made attractive early retirement packages for employees. I took one the year that the Pacific Arts relationship crashed. Although I was a member of the legal department, I was not involved in the Pacific Arts deal. But due to my membership on this team, I was peripherally part of the ruination of Mike Nesmith – my childhood idol – and his pioneering media company.
However, by also seeing peripherally into what Mike Nesmith had forged in the media landscape brought me back to punk rock and DIY. Mike didn’t invent punk rock, but he most certainly took DIY to new heights at a parallel time. I’m sorry I never saw a Monkees reunion show, but I cherish my old 7-inch singles and will continue to travel to the beat of a different drum. I thank Mike Nesmith for putting a name on it.
It is December 30, 2021, but it feels like just yesterday, and also a decade ago that the Years of the Pandemic began dividing our time into manipulated managed segments with the end result being that I have no idea what day, month, year, or decade it is. I had to verify that the following entries on my list were all from 2021. I could have sworn I’ve seen many more movies, but that was 2020, when I was still a film fest juror and screened perhaps 200 films in 6 weeks, and then never “attended” the festival (online) because by October, after 7 months at home, in front of the computer, I longed to be watching films from anywhere but there.
In 2020, I strived to maintain some semblance of emotional normalcy during the lockdown and post-tornado recovery, and invited people over on Sundays during the summer for cookouts and listening to music in the backyard. But in 2021, I embraced the solitude and devoted my leisure time to headphone listening and viewing. The records and movies I took in were for comfort more than entertainment. Comfort AND familiarity (I’ve watched TWISTER a half dozen times this year, on cable; HARRY POTTER too) were the criteria. In some cases, confirmation bias just made me feel better regardless of the quality of the programming. I attended maybe 5 concerts in person but enjoyed countless live-streamed shows.
The theme for my 2021 in life and culture was “swaddle self in comfort; believe the women; support POC and science.”
Aimee Mann- Queens of the Summer Hotel
Sleater-Kinney – Path of Wellness
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Georgia Blue
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Carnage
Reigning Sound – A Little More Time With Reigning Sound
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Barn
Summer of Soul – documentary, director: Questlove
Movie theatres can get away with selling fewer seats to maintain a safe distance between viewers, but concert promoters cannot. I took few chances with congregate settings this year. I chose iconoclasts and I believe I chose well.
Elvis Costello & the Imposters – Atlanta, GA
Bob Dylan – Rough & Rowdy Ways tour – Beacon Theatre, NYC
Squirrel Nut Zippers Holiday Show – City Winery, Nashville, TN
Mondays – Instragram to Table – Alice Carbone Tench (Instagram Live)
Wednesdays – Sweet Home Quarantine /Live From Tubby’s – Robyn Hitchcock & Emma Swift (Mandoline)
Thursdays – Post-Apocalyptic Malone – Bryan Malone (FB and YouTube)
Dracula – Bram Stoker with illustrations by Edward Gorey (Sterling)
Crime & Punishment – new (2014) translation by Oliver Ready (Penguin Classics)
SMUG CONFIRMATION BIAS CONSUMPTION FOR PASSING THE TIME
Don’t Look Up – director Adam McKay
Being the Ricardos – director Aaron Sorkin (watched on Prime, not in theatre)
State of Terror – novel by Hillary Clinton & Louise Penny
Learn more about Theresa Kereakeshere in our 2020 interview with her.
anyone who has seen the go-go’s documentary has seen some of theresa’s photographs. she was out and about taking photos of the los angeles punk scene back in the day, including photos of joan jett, billy idol and the jam. this interview focuses heavily on the go-go’s! see more of her photos here.
interview by gail o’hara / photographs by theresa kereakes
chickfactor: how are you today!? can we save the world from evil? theresa: hi! I am doing well, but I am concerned about saving the world from evil. we can, but there are so many variables. like the willfully ignorant. are you currently living in nashville or LA or both? nashville. I’ve been here for 12 years, but I do visit LA two or three times a year. despite its horrible traffic, its overdevelopment, loss of characteristic architecture, displacement of normal people to make room for business plazas no one now needs, and homes no one can afford, I still do miss living there. my LA of the ’50s through early ’80s is noir LA, punk rock LA, and even though it was always the second largest city in the states, it felt like a town because the metropolis is so spread out. my LA is weirdly the LA of tarantino’s once upon a time in hollywood, which I enjoyed for the nostalgia factor. for the most part, some sections of the valley and of hollywood still seem untouched by the 21st century. I miss NYC too. I lived there for 20 years, and have been back once or twice a year since I left, but damn, if it isn’t so expensive.
how and when did you meet the go-go’s? (and billy idol, joan jett and paul weller) I met belinda carlisle when she was still belinda kurczecki, during her time on her high-school speech and debate team, as I was on my high school’s speech and debate team. we competed in the same events over four years’ time—original oratory, impromptu speaking and debate. an aside, I was known as the squirrel queen of debate. this means I was able to present and argue a case so ridiculous and squirrelly and yet prevail. I often tell people I’ve been pro-UBI since 1974, and that’s because in 1974, the policy debate topic was: resolved: that the federal government should guarantee a minimum annual income to each family unit. the case against it was always comprised of the same old GOP talking points you hear now about UBI and unemployment insurance—people wouldn’t work because: free money. my rebuttal to this was “mother’s milk leads to heroin addiction.” I love absurdity. I love taking a debate opponent off track with a flippant response, and then being able to control the argument philosophically.
when the participants’ names were called in the awards presentations, belinda and I were the two girls with the unpronounceable K names, and we bonded over that. we were also both fashion oriented and spent time in between the speech and debate rounds talking about the latest issue of Vogue and identifying designers we liked and styles we thought we could get away with wearing in school. my mom was a fashion designer, so I’d get her to copy all the latest styles and make them for me. I’d be wearing kenzo! we also both liked shoes and accessories and vintage style—back before it was called “vintage” and just known as thrift shopping. our bond was made over weekends through our high-school years; I graduated early—january 1976 (I applied and was accepted to start mid-term at UCLA) so I could start college a term earlier and in reality, I just wanted to move to LA proper and be on my own.
after I had graduated, and was living in the UCLA dorms, I’d see belinda and teri ryan (lorna doom to the world) every weekend in the rainbow parking lot. that was a scene. you’d go to see and be seen. the rainbow bar & grill is next door to the roxy theatre. all the rock & roll people would drink and dine at the rainbow (great pizza; good bars; DJ upstairs), including rock stars, so even if you didn’t have money to dine, or weren’t old enough to drink, you could still be a part of the scene and catch a glimpse, a chat, a photo or an autograph with any of the local and visiting rock stars. belinda and lorna would go to shows, hit the rainbow parking lot, and then drive an hour back to their home in thousand oaks. after they graduated, they eventually found an apartment in west hollywood on holloway drive, just off the strip, in an apartment building next door to the one where sal mineo was killed in his driveway. I was very aware of the location because mineo was killed right when I moved into the dorms and started hanging out in west hollywood, and when my parents saw the news stories on television, they made me call them every night to check in. since we didn’t have cell phones back then, of course, it was to make sure I was in my dorm room (or somewhere inside, with a phone). it was walking distance to tower records (a scene and a hang! you could honestly see elton john or alice cooper shopping there) and licorice pizza record stores, the whisky, the roxy and the rainbow parking lot. that’s centrally located, because as you know, nobody walks in LA, they even drive to their mailboxes!
so by the fall of 1976, we were all living in LA proper. I was in the dorms until april of 1977 and then I got a place in hollywood, which became known as the famous lobotomy apartment (because pleasant and I would put the zine together there). the address was 7231 franklin ave., on the northwest corner of franklin & la brea. la brea was the avenue that separated classic hollywood from “real estate west hollywood.” I believe west hollywood actually has a boundary that’s further west of la brea, such as fairfax—but this is real estate speak here. we were on the OK side of the tracks, and this is important in punk living because so many people lived in old hollywood proper (which many uppity people considered the wrong side of the tracks—la brea being the dividing line) in the canterbury apartments on cherokee ave., spitting distance to the masque, where bands rehearsed and played, and where punk rock people hung out. now, 45 years later, the canterbury touts its punk past as a selling point (see “connection to history”).
at some point late in 1977 (I was living in the famous lobotomy apartment at this time), I ran into belinda and lorna out and about and they were telling me they were trying to stay out until daylight because when they were trying to go home, they heard suspicious and dangerous noises in the bushes around the alley by their apartment. knowing where they lived, and the sal mineo murder still fresh in my mind after a year, I invited them to spend the night at my apartment. they ended up staying for a few months while looking for a new apartment (or two) of their own. I had a wurlitzer electric piano and at several times over the weeks and months she was there, I’d hear belinda muse about being in a band. I think they were probably still bunking at the lobotomy apartment when everyone made the trip up to san francisco to see the sex pistols. in february, the king tut exhibit came to los angeles and every punk who wanted a job as a ticket taker or whatever, really, at LA county art museum got one. I guess all that kohl eyeliner made them instant thematic fixed-term employees. so around that time, you saw a huge surge of punks becoming first-time renters because they had jobs, most of them getting places at the canterbury, or renting houses as a group. belinda did not work at LACMA though. as far back as I remember, she always had a hard-core work ethic. she had a job at the hilton hotel in the administrative office. a real job!
I met charlotte caffey in line in front of the whisky a go-go one summer as we were waiting for doors to open for a ramones gig. she soon started a band she called the eyes, who I frequently saw. they played a gig on my birthday, 1978, where they opened for the jam. that is when I met the jam, together with the rest of my lobotomy cohorts. I still remember the publicist at polygram’s name: len epand (I even have a photo of him with rick buckler!). the “daft PR stunt,” as paul weller has referred to it in post-1978 interviews, involved the label hiring two red double-decker london busses and squiring a bunch of journalists to the king’s head pub (where legit english people did hang out) in santa monica from the starwood in west hollywood. there was fish & chips & mushy peas, all the booze the bartenders could pour and darts. we made a big deal about it being my birthday, and as we (the lobotomy zine crew: me, pleasant, and co-founder randy kaye) were the same age as the band members, and actual real punk rockers, the jam took to us. that’s how we met them, and I maintained a casual correspondence with paul’s father, john weller, for decades. mr. weller would always get me on the guest list, no matter where I lived, or how tight the gig, and he was always completely accessible. the last time I saw them was in NYC in the early ’00s. paul had performed at the town hall, and we went back to their hotel and closed the bar. I spent a great deal of the night talking with mr. weller, as we were both interested in writing a memoir of the early punk days.
joan jett was friends with pleasant and randy since high-school days when they all hung out at rodney’s english disco, which I didn’t do very much. they grew up in beverly hills and in the valley and I was in santa barbara, although I did spend many a long weekend in LA, and during the summer, convinced my parents to let me and various friends spend a week at a time in town each month. my dad and a couple other of my friends’ dads had offices in LA, and also LA pied-à-terres that we could stay at. we also took advantage of our parents’ season tickets to the hollywood bowl, universal amphitheatre (went opening night to jesus christ superstar in 1973; I snuck in a cassette recorder and taped it) and also the more grown-up downtown venues like the marc taper forum (I saw matthew broderick in one of the brighton beach plays). so my rodney’s visits were limited. joan, however, was an emancipated minor (I suppose because of being in the runaways, being a professional musician and traveling the world), and she had her own apartment before anyone else. by the time I had moved to LA and started hanging out with pleasant, dropping in on joan was just part of a regular day. she was one of us, and she was also a rock star. In our eyes, she was a huge rock star.
pleasant had an obsession with billy idol, and I was friends with a guy who worked at chrysalis records, so between us always dropping in on rodney bingenheimer’s radio show, and my friendship with brendan (bourke, who would later work as billy’s manager), we kind of had a lock on him whenever he might come to town. because of the zine, we had a legitimate reason to go drop in on rodney, and he even put us on the air a few times. we would have benefits for ourselves at the whisky, and we’d promote the shows on his radio show. we always booked local bands, and rodney was the radio station champion of local bands. we had the best of all possible symbiotic relationships. I’ll interject that a few years ago, in retrospect, I branded us inadvertent teenage entrepreneurs. we were doing marketing and events and not really understanding that was an actual job—we were just trying to support our zine. pleasant and I very much planned to talk with billy idol on the phone when there was a scheduled call-in from him for rodney’s show. we did speak with billy for a long, long time after his on-air interview with rodney concluded. he told us he would be coming to the USA to do a promo tour in advance of the american release of the generation X album. we became his tour guides. that’s how my friendship with brendan turned into a mutually beneficial thing. he got to actually spend time at his office getting work done while we entertained billy, AND he also got to include pleasant and me in all of the activities he had to do with billy. all the photos that I took during the week we spent with billy show more than just an english kid visiting LA. they illustrate how the ’70s were so much different than times are now. it’s the difference between an analog life and a digital one. it’s the difference between a world where people have some sense of decorum and one where they have zero filter. we took billy to the airport when he was going back home. we accompanied him right to the gate, and I took pictures every step of the way. that would be impossible now—or even in the 90s. I don’t know if we had a false sense of general safety and trust, or if the world has gone to shit. both can be true.
were you friends with them or just part of the scene? sowith the go-go’s, I was closest to belinda, because I knew her from before. and I knew charlotte, but she was kind of a loner. I’d see her at shows, but her social life seemed very private. considering her solid musicianship and songwriting chops, I guess I figured she was just home creating. I saw her a tiny bit more socially when she was dating guys I knew, but then again, not that much more, because it was still just at gigs, but our conversations would last longer and be more substantive because there were more of us keeping the conversation going. pleasant and belinda became the very best of friends, so the three of us became collaborators in addition to just being friends. I wanted to make all kinds of pictures and pleasant and belinda, together and individually, were willing to be in them. a couple years ago, jane wiedlin asked me why I had photographed belinda almost exclusively, and that’s when it hit me that we did so much work together because we already knew each other before the punk scene happened. I was always in awe of jane, who at the time called herself jane drano. she made cool punk clothes, and because my mother was also a fashion designer, it was something I respected at some level where I felt like I didn’t want to trespass. the other members of the go-go’s I knew only from being at shows, just like the dozens of other punk people I knew. we all recognized each other, because the scene was really small—maybe the same core 100 people, overall. it was like high school in that you had your bubble and stayed there, but you all knew who everyone else was
what kind of camera were you using when you started out? I had a pentax spotmatic F and a nikon FM. I sold the pentax, which was a christmas gift in 1973. I had seen the faces earlier that year and didn’t have a proper camera—ie: an SLR; I shot as much as I could on a canon super 8mm motion picture camera) and bought a nikkormat. I’m still using the nikon FM. the nikkormat got splashed unmercifully when I was crossing the irish sea between wales and ireland and I couldn’t afford to get the work done on it, so I put it in an oxfam donation box. was the go-go’s doc director around way back in those days? if she was around, I didn’t know her! if you’d directed it, what would you have done differently? what is missing from it? what is your favorite part? the way I see it, there are two ways to do a music documentary for the mass audience. either way, you have to figure out what story you’re going to tell, and then tell it without putting in everything and the kitchen sink. allison elwood did a great job. of course, small things—details that only friends of the band members or people who were deeply involved in the scene would know or care about—and for minutiae’s sake, really—are what’s missing; but I don’t think the film or the band’s story is the worse off for it. there was enough back-story and a lot of stark honesty about the usual rock & roll subjects— drugs, personnel changes, record and management deals, breaking up. a few people from back in the day have either contacted me directly, or posted commentary on social media about events and people who were missing. but overall, the story is told, and the people who tell that first-person story are all there—all the band members, past and present, former manager, record label, members of bands they toured with, a couple friends. the other way to tell the story is the tabloid way, and I’m not a fan of that. what do you learn from that? when you see a film about an artist, or read a book about them, what’s really much more interesting is their process. that’s the beautiful part about the go-go’s documentary—you heard both charlotte and jane’s songwriting process. that’s valuable. that might be my favorite thing about the film—hearing how charlotte wrote “we got the beat,” and how jane wrote “our lips are sealed” based on lyrical ideas from terry hall. I liked hearing how much charlotte loved kathy valentine’s “vacation” and then helped transform it into a hit. how many of your photos are used in the film? I think there are 4 that made the final cut. They’d requested another one specifically, but that one isn’t in it. the one they requested that didn’t make the cut? it’s your favorite! how many books of your work are out there and are they still available? every year, I make a limited-edition punk rock day of the dead, which is a cumulative in memoriam collection, that unfortunately grows bigger every year. I only make 20 or so of them and each edition is sold out. I make a small run of catalogs that correspond with exhibits I do, and I don’t have any left. my work is featured in many other books though! punk 365 by holly george warren, barnes & noble’s in-house press did something called the encyclopedia of punk that I’m in; todd oldham’s joan jett book has a couple of my photos, as do the bomp!book and the creem book. the author dave thompson has used my work in his books about patti smith, joan jett and the iggy/bowie/lou triumvirate. there’s a book about jews in punk calledthe heebie-jeebies at CBGB’s: a secret history of jewish punk that includes a photo I took of stiv bators doing the goose-step.
were there other bands from that time you think should have gotten more attention? the screamers are woefully unrepresented; everyone in LA loved them, and san francisco did as well. but outside the big cities, no one knew who they were, and they didn’t have a record, so word of mouth and photos will have to keep them alive. I loved the alley cats. dianne chai, the bass player, rocked this ronnie spector look. the band was tight and fierce. the last were a fantastic power-pop group that played well in any bill, from hardcore to pop. their songs were strong. they’re on one of the rhino compilations and worth seeking out.
tell us about what you’re doing now. I have an actual day job utilizing skills I learned in college! I work for warner music group, doing back office things. my work is not creative or conditional on any artist having a hit, which is about as much job security one can have in the music business. the role I occupy provides a service to the labels (I work in royalties; it’s a little bit business affairs, a little bit finance). if I fuck up, of course, I could lose my job. my point is, with this kind of job, it is mine to lose—my position isn’t dependent on a specific project being a hit. I do a fair bit of guest lecturing and speaking at universities about punk rock, and it turns into a lesson in inadvertent feminist entrepreneurism. I also talk about copyright and recording agreements. when I was younger and had the fortitude, I worked in entertainment law firms, and I still read recording agreements every day. my alma mater UCLA is my main university outlet, and a couple times a year, pleasant and I work with jessica schwartz, the resident punk-rock professor in the herb alpert school of music. I am currently involved (as much as one can be in a pandemic where you can’t travel) with a theatre group in LA that is mounting a production called adobe punk, a deeply fascinating and layered play that’s a coming-of-age story involving kids whose life epiphanies are often delivered through punk music. in february, I attended and spoke at one of their work-in-progress readings together with richard schave, who is an historian of LA culture and architecture. I can’t say enough about its greatness and potential. then COVID interrupted live performance work.
I feel like I have been working on putting together a photo book for decades. actually, I guess I have been. back in the ’80s, when punk was hitting its 10-year mark, I tried to do gallery shows and put together a book based on that but not a single gallerist anywhere recognized contemporary street or documentary photography as “art.” I knew a lot of self-proclaimed cutting-edge people in the art world in NYC and even they too were like, “photography is not art.” this bothered me for years, until very recently when I watched a documentary about robert mapplethorpe, who also ran into many roadblocks being considered an artist and getting shows. photography was ghettoized. so, of course, I chose the DIY/punk route of getting shows. I set up shows just like bands do in-stores, and all the interaction I had with people who were fans of my subjects, or people who appreciated photography taught me a lot. and while doing my never-ending photo exhibit tours, I realized having a theme or some kind of unity in a collected body of work is important. so now I am over-thinking unifying themes for photo books.
I’m also collaborating and solo organizing storytelling/spoken word events. this grew out of the guest lectures; students were always asking about the fun times and wanted stories about people they only knew about via urban legend. that’s how the war stories project got started. I want to do another project not unlike war stories, but I would like to gather groups of photographers and do a show & tell kind of event, and also gather groups of punk memoirists to read from their books (which would also give them additional opportunities to sell them). I keep thinking it would be like a live action rashomon of punk… we’d all pick a time/event/band everyone wrote about and compare/contrast. and except for working alone at home with my scanner, none of this can be done until it’s safe to be around groups of people. CF