'The Rolling Stones 1972' at EMP
A photo shot backstage at the Forum in Los Angeles 40 years ago, shows Keith Richards holding a bottle of Jack Daniel’s while unnamed women lurk in the background. In another, Charlie Watts rests—is he anticipating performing or coming down from its high?—in a white shirt with enormous ruffled sleeves, like the caricature of a ballroom dancer. In another still, Mick Jagger sings “Tumbling Dice” in a velvet jumpsuit dotted with rivets, and a pirate-style, open-front top laced up and sashed at the waist.
This July, as the Rolling Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary and Mick Jagger his 69th birthday, Experience Music Project unveiled a small exhibit of gorgeous Stones photographs by Jim Marshall, whose work appeared previously at EMP in the 2010 exhibit Taking Aim, Rock and Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash.
Here, Marshall’s work documents a couple of weeks in California on the 1972 tour for Exile on Main St. On assignment for Life Magazine, the photographer was given an insider status that allowed him to capture expressive, candid shots like one of Keith Richards reclining with a guitar at the Sunset Sound studio, wearing his own band’s T-shirt and smoking a cigarette, eyes closed. It’s what artist and subject both consider “the quintessential Keith photo.”
Although Exile was the Stones’ 10th studio album, it fostered their biggest tour to date—what Richards, in his recent autobiography Life calls “The Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise Tour or the STP, Stones Touring Party.” (Richards also says that those who overly mythologized the goings-on were either “exaggerating” or “very innocent.”) In notes from the exhibit’s accompanying Chronicle book, Marshall says that the magazine continually bugged him for more images. But on this raucous tour, “It’s a miracle anything got done.”
Life is a self-aggrandizing and utterly spectacular rock memoir, and here it served as an excellent companion to Marhsall’s fly-on-the-wall photographs. The book provides the backstory of the conflict that brewed between Mick and Keith as they made Exile at Richards’ rented Riviera villa. They recorded the album’s raw material in its basement on a mobile studio, over many sleepless summer nights. Jagger was busy with his wife Bianca and Richards was mired in addiction. Despite their growing distance, Marshall recalled that he’d never seen guys work “this in synch before.” His images of the men recording into microphones or sharing one onstage belies their come-hell-or-high-water creative bond.
Not only focusing on the frontmen, Marshall captures quiet and telling moments from the other players. One live action shot features a plaintive Mick Taylor practically dissolving into the stage background. Richards speaks of Taylor’s mysterious gloom in Life: “You realize, some guys you can spend a day with them and basically you’ve learned all you’re ever going to know about them. Like Mick Jagger in exact reverse.”
The gallery includes a video loop of performances from one of the Forum concerts Marshall photographed, interspersed with interview footage of Marshall, who passed away in 2010. In it, the hard-living artist says that he’s proud of his innate sense of “what looks right,” and the fact that nobody ever complained about his image choice. Of his three favorite things—cars, guns and cameras—only one kept him (marginally) out of trouble. In the Stones, he found subjects and comrades who were also saved by art.
Curator Michelle Dunn Marsh, who worked as an editor with Marshall for many years, talks about the iconic image Marshall shot of Jagger at the Forum—in a variation of the velvet jumpsuit—which ended up on the cover of Life. It was billed as having been taken at Madison Square Garden, but in her research Dunn Marsh learned that was chronologically impossible. She added a note in the book to explain that “how we remember things and how they actually end up being are not always the same.”
She says Marshall’s primary concerns as a photographer were trust and access. He took the artists seriously and didn’t violate their privacy: his reward was uniquely intimate images.
Dunn Marsh saw him at work once, at a party. “It was like a bird fluttering, it was Jim with the Leica. I have to imagine that that’s all that any of them ever felt. For somebody who had a really big personality, he could remove himself and simply be. I think that’s how these photographs came to be.”
The Rolling Stones 1972, Photographs by Jim Marshall is on view through Jan. 6, 2013, at the EMP. Above: Mick Jagger backstage at the Forum, Los Angeles, Calif., 1972. This image is copyrighted and courtesy Jim Marshall Photography LLC.