[Legendary rock photographer Jim Marshall passed away last week at 74. One of our own photographers and writers, Anna Webber, wrote this personal reminiscence about Marshall and his legacy. She contacted Marshall's fellow purveyors of iconic '60s images and got their exclusive permission to reproduce here some of their shots of Marshall. This is a rare chance to see the man behind the camera captured by some of his best colleagues.]
The Water is Muddy, the Belly Is Lead, the Wolf is Howlin, the Heat is Canned. Jim Marshall, Rock and Roll Photography Legend, 74, Dies.
After getting the message about Jim Marshall's passing last Wednesday, my heart went narrow. And my hand — surely leaked mojo. “Too close for comfort, baby,” I thought. “But as always, too far away.”
Jim was responsible for some of the most iconic rock n' roll photography this world has ever seen. His work can be seen in galleries internationally, and his legend, like fellow music photographer Neal Preston explains below, “truly preceded [him] — like an R. Crumb cartoon character, drawn walking down a street with his feet and legs 10 feet in front of him.”
I met Jim while I was working for Baron Wolman, most famous for his seminal photography for Rolling Stone Magazine in the late 60s through the early 70s. At the time, Jim made it abundantly clear he wasn't thrilled by me — a 19 year-old girl with a camera who liked to take pictures of rock stars.
It was the mere thought of yet another music photographer that made him twitch, in a world where music photography is so saturated — almost demeaned — and where few new photographers seemed to know the difference between aperture and f-stop, or that it was a trick question.
Jim did not feel that way because he was threatened. How can anyone ever attempt to be as good as him? He'd taken all the pictures already. So, little girl, what are you gonna do? That's Jim. Jim is the guy that will inspire you, the guy so close yet so far from reach, the guy who would look at you — a wide eyed kid — and say, “The world doesn't need another music photographer.”
Jim Marshall's legend will not only live well beyond our lifetime. It now has the chance to take the mythical, otherworldy form perhaps only big-screen gurus like Tim Burton, David Lynch, Cameron Crowe, Tarantino, Scorsese, et al could take on. Which one, I can't say.
But if they won't, I will.
When I can see a character onscreen who pulls a gun on an encroaching photographer in a photopit at the SF Fillmore West circa 1968, or watch someone tell Johnny Cash to pose for the Warden and receive the iconic San Quentin finger shot, I'll have been delivered. I can definitely see a feature film bent on Jim Marshall's scathing, extraordinary persona, artistic lunacy, confidence and candor.
The way I see it, it's a Big Fish sort of film, where the story gathers into some mythical world, with an abrasiveness only Tarantino could conjure (with guns, mud and ammo), or a humorous reality which could only hurl headlong from the wit of Cameron Crowe (or David Lynch), or a “No Direction Home” type of documentary from Scorsese stock.
After March 24, 2010 perhaps, this film will be made.
When I thought about how to conceivably write a piece on Mr. Marshall, now as a 23 year-old full-time career music photographer (take that, Jim!) I figured it had to be a compilation of stories, anecdotes, thoughts and reels from Jim's life, from Jim's closest friends and colleagues.
I've heard stories. Dare I try to speak them? It would only be a piece fueled by rumors (of which there are countless). I contacted these greats, asked targeted questions, then realized who I was asking and wrote back: “Or, you can talk about none of that and just write what you want.”
They did anyway.
I spoke with Baron Wolman, Neal Preston, Lisa Law, a few other close friends and acquaintances, and regrettably, could not track down our own, Henry Diltz. I'm including their intact responses to me on Jim, all of which can now be filed under historical memorabilia.
I was a friend of Jim Marshall's for 35 years.
He was a very complicated person. As the news of his passing spreads, a lot of things will be said and written about him- and I dare say all of them will be true. His much-larger-than-life personality was legendary.
He was stubborn, crass, and temperamental to a fault. He could be extremely mean, aggressive and threatening – even towards someone he'd just met…and as his friends can attest to, that was just the tip of a very dark iceberg. Jim was more comfortable around loaded guns than anyone I've ever known, and that includes cops, drug dealers, military, and D.E.A. agents. In fact, I'd always thought that when Jim died it would be caused by some sort of cocaine-and whiskey fueled gunplay gone awry.
Jim really reveled in that dark persona. He loved that his legend truly preceded himself – like an R. Crumb cartoon character, drawn walking down a street with his feet and legs 10 feet in front of him.
Where that dark legend that he'd cultivated so lovingly came into play was when it came to business. There wasn't a record company art director alive that didn't cower when the time came to call Jim about a project. Picture researchers with less than 20 years tenure were not even people he'd speak to on the phone, much less work with. Usually there was one lone person at a record company or magazine that by default was designated “the guy that Jim likes” or “the guy that gets Marshall on the phone”…. or the ultimate compliment, “the guy that can cut a deal with Jim and actually get him to send pictures”. It was an art or photo department badge of honor to be that person. Trust me, there aren't a lot of those people out there. They know who they are and they know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.
He loved the finer things in life and didn't give a rat's ass what anybody thought of him OR his lifestyle. But Jim's really filthy nasty secret was that he was a sweetheart of a guy who was generous and extremely kind to the people he cared about. He just wanted to dole out that kindness on his own terms. He'd badger rich people for cash to buy his prints and he'd give the same prints away to some girl he'd met 10 minutes ago. Just last month, at a dinner for 10 people where he picked up the check (easily $1000), I watched him berate one of our waitresses for 2 hours and then slip her a $100 bill above and beyond the huge tip he'd already added to the bill. She looked as if she couldn't decide if she wanted to slug him or kiss him. There isn't an art director on the planet that hasn't felt that way about Jim.
But there was something else, something deep in his DNA, that lived inside of Jim Marshall that was beyond bluster or ego. That something else was a simple, unshakeable sense of supreme confidence – the confidence that came with knowing that he was THE master of his chosen craft. He was the best there ever was and the best there ever will be.
Studio City, CA
I'm writing this from Munich, Anna, where I and some fellow photographers and musicians learned the sad news. There is so much I could tell you, but I must be brief.
First this from another well-known rock shooter, Lynn Goldsmith, who emailed me yesterday:
“Jim passed on last night
in his sleep
I'm sure he's partying with Janis”
Jim was an eccentric and brilliant photographer whose memory will live on not only in his extraordinary pictures but in recounting the tales of his storied behavior. His photographic legacy is incomparable, his archives a visual history of decades of our
greatest jazz and rock musicians.
Jim was a hugely talented unique man, an irreplaceable “one-of-a kind” friend who will be sorely missed by me and countless others.
Love you. xxoobaron
I was travelling with the Doors to San Francisco where they were playing at the Avalon ballroom.
I had heard about Jim but we had never actually met.
I established my 'place' in front of the stage as I always did and waited for the boys to go on. The room darkened and I felt someone elbow me and say “Hey motherfucker you're in my spot. I saw by the cameras it was another photographer who wanted my position. I told him I was there with the Doors and to fuck off. He elbowed me again and opened his camera case to show me a snub nose .38 revolver. He looked at me and said, “it's loaded.” ….I gave him my spot.
I never saw him again until a dinner David Fahey hosted for Jim many years later. I related the incident and he said, “Man I was nuts in those days.” but didn't apologize. That was Jim.
A few years ago I ran into him at the Mondrian and he asked if I would donate some prints to an MS auction that he was sponsoring for his beloved assistant.
Jim was a good man, charitable and kind in his later days.
I still would not want to be in his position at a concert, you never know.
Rest in Peace brother Jim.
On shooting Knight's Film Rock Prophecies with Jim… and other Jim scenarios.
Me: I love that photo of Jim with the tissue stuck to his bloody chin. How'd that happen? Did he… fall on set?
Robert: He called me and asked if I would help him on a shoot, and wanted me to find a studio – which I did. And then he asked to borrow my lighting and be at the studio at 8AM. He came in with all this blood on his shirt with the paper hanging from his chin. No one said a word. Finally I asked at the end of the day what happened. He said he cut himself shaving!!! Maybe?
He had a Hasselblad with him but forgot how to load it and asked me to do it. He also could not hear the beeper on the power back and was shooting too fast, so I had to slow him down and tap him each time it was charged up. He suddenly stopped shooting and wanted to eat and drink something – but made the Doobie Brothers stand on the backdrop until he was done. It was a real Jim Marshall moment.
When we went to his house to film him, the night before the director was told to wear body armor. Rumor was, sometimes if Jim did not know who was at the door, he would shoot at it… It was all good but, my director was scared to death the whole time.
I have known Jim Marshall's work for years – I recently met him in Seattle attending a book launch and exhibit for Graham Nash's “Taking Aim”. We both had pictures in the book and the exhibit. We shared not only the common bond of being photographers, but of being chroniclers of Johnny Cash. Jim photographed Cash during the 70's including the notorious Folsom Prison concert, and I from 1987 onwards. I met Jim briefly at the Bob Dylan Tribute concert at Madison Square Gardens in 1992 — I was there with Johnny, but Jim was preoccupied and a bit gruff that day.
Fast forward to February 5th 2010 in Seattle, meeting Jim was a memorable occasion. I found him to be a passionate and kind man who loved photography. He told stories and spoke about his pictures as if he was talking about his children or grandchildren. Jim's photographs were his children. He was proud of them and knew he had brought some great ones into this world.
Jim was so excited about his current work and projects. He phoned me just before I left for a trip to England to see if I had received the 'Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison' book that he sent me and signed. I had, I told him and thanked him for his gift. Jim was delighted that he had just sold eight prints on his website. Those people have possibly the last Jim Marshall hand signed prints.
He was a lovely man and one of a kind. A real photographer and a Leica man. He just got his first digital camera, a signature M9 Leica, when I last saw him.
Alan Messer – Nashville Tennessee
I lived in Forest Knolls in 1967 with my husband Tom. We would go to the Haight Ashbury almost every day – that is where it was all happening. Ron and Marshall Thelin, who owned the Psychedelic Shop, lived right down the hill from us. There was music in the panhandle every weekend and all the groups were getting together and playing in the streets and in the park. Tom was writing for the Oracle and I was shooting photos of everything for them too. It was a wild time.
Jim Marshall was there doing his thing. Every time I looked around… there he was, dripping with cameras. So, I started shooting him shooting, and did so in the Haight, at the Human Be-in and later at Woodstock and even up to recently when we did a show together at the Duncan Miller Gallery in LA for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. My daughter Pilar had the idea for the show and Jim, Henry Diltz, Baron Wolman and myself were the four photographers. The four Musketeers, I called us. Over 1000 people came for two nights to view our work but most of all to see us all at once. The cameras were flashing all night and we signed some 200 posters that Baron had made of one of his shots. Jim was in great form as we all were. Hey, it had been 40 years since we shot Woodstock and we were all still doing our thing. Those photos were a big part of our work.
From Jim I learned to add 0's to my fees. I was charging way too little for my work.
Jim was Italian and had a very quick wit and many times, were very abrasive. He would always curse when he was talking about someone who would give him credit or pay him. I remember for years he would wield a gun, playing the tough guy. If he liked you though, he was very sweet and always helpful.
Nion McEvoy of Chronicle Books met him once and told me he would publish him only after he was dead. He was so hard to get along with but eventually, they worked it out and they published his book 'Proof' in 2004.
I heard of his death by email from Chip Monck, as a matter of fact. He lives in Australia and was up before me to get the news. I am in Santiago, Chile at a Hare Krishna ashram. I dropped back into my seat in the office and took a deep breath. Good grief I thought. Another one disincarnating. Another friend gone. A great way to go though… in your sleep reading a book.
I hope I go as easy as that.
What a character he was and I am really going to miss him. He had a great eye and used only the best cameras. Loved his work with the Beatles.
Love and Peace, Lisa Law
When in LA, you walk into the Samy's camera stronghold, up creaky licentious stairs that vow to one day sink through and take with them some lesser species of photographer like you or like me. You see Jim's iconic images on the walls. Late Wednesday, those pictures went up in value to the point where you definitely screwed yourself for either not having bought one when you had the chance, or not having rolled one up into your hipster makeshift camera bag.
Dear Jim, there is something to be said about an ice cold Corona with fresh lime that tastes so much better when you think about being dead. To a man who has taught us all so very much about being so very alive.