EGO TRIP MAGAZINE
1995 Vol. 2 No.1
PUNK-ASS PHOTOGRAPHER: GLEN E. FRIEDMAN
Glen E. Friedman is probably the most famous person that you've never
heard of. If any part of your life claims hip-hop, punk rock, or
skateboarding as its heart and soul, then chances are that this
quintessential photographer and his exceptional work have nestled
themselves somewhere close by. I can almost bet on it. His first book is
aptly titled Fuck You Heroes (Burning Flags Press), and in a face-slapping
obvious way, Friedman is able to connect three of this generation's most
threatening subcultures through the vivid visual expressions of his photo
art. See the youthful Tony Alva as he flips you the bird mid-ollie.
Witness the charismatic defiance of a stick-to-your-guns idealist like Ian
MacKaye. And don't forget to shiver as you stare into the eyes of Chuck
D.--Public Enemy mastermind and conspiracist over through complacency. In
each of their unique ways, Friedman's heroes of choice have managed to
give the proverbial "fuck-off" to their mainstream antagonists, and by
doing so, have managed to become virtual youth icons. Which particular
high school in America con proclaim to have classrooms devoid of
skate-rats, hardcore kids, or hip-hop
enthusiasts? You couldn't have received a negative answer in 1980-but
things are different now. These days, we practically need to coerce our
offspring to give due credit to their progenitors. And if any one person
has been neglected to his deserved respect, allow Glen E. Friedman to step
up to the podium. Ignore the figures in front of the camera lens for just
one moment and focus in on the man who flicks the switch--a friendly
personality who not only upholds an impeccable sense of ethics, but is
well-endowed with the necessary knowledge to apply action. He shuns the
use of intoxication, and follows an animal-free vegan diet. He remains
environmentally active and politically aware. And even despite the high
prices paid for a well-taken photo in the music industry. Friedman refuses
to shoot an artist that he doesn't believe in. The wide-eyed gentleman
with the warm-hearted smile is, in and of himself, a fuck-you-hero. Don't
even try to get in his way unless you plan to get scraped off the
sidewalk. We walk through Tompkins Square Park, across the street from the
A7 club - a dingy bar where Friedman shot many of the earliest East Coast
hardcore punk outfits including Bad Brains and Minor Threat, among others.
Only a few blocks away, he would meet a gang of three who dubbed
themselves "The Beastie Boys." If the story should be told anywhere in
this city, it's here. And even though a picture is worth a thousand words,
Glen E. Friedman is worth his weight in gold.
Glen: When I started going to A7, I was just trying to check things
I wasn't taking pictures at the time, I was just trying to see the Bad
Brains, you know?
ego trip: Lets try to go back to the beginning. You began shooting
skate scene in 1976, when you were thirteen. I'm assuming here that you
were a skater too, and that you just wanted to shoot your friends.
Glen: Sort of. Everyone would meet at the different schoolyards,
be at the schools everyday, just hanging out and skating. I'd see the
magazines, and after a while I realized that I already know everyone who
was in them. And the thing was, I never really felt like these magazines
were really capturing the essence of what I thought that I could capture.
I was taking pictures of the same guys, but I was shooting it from more of
a skater's angle. Not to mention that I was there every day. Those
magazines would show up and shoot once a month, sometimes once every three
months. They were missing a lot of what was happening. So anyway, I kind
of looked up to my friends because they were in these magazines, and to
tell you the truth, I was never really good enough myself to get into the
magazines as a skater. But I wanted to get in there with my friends
somehow, and that's when I started taking photography a little more
seriously. I took some shots on a 35mm camera, and called up the editor
for SkateBoarder. People don't realize it. All you have to do is pick up
the phone and talk to people. It's so easy to get a hold of anyone if you
look at the back of a record, or if you look inside a magazine. This was
in 1976. The next thing I knew, I got an envelope in the mail with a
tearsheet of a full-page picture in Skateboarder and a check for $40. I
couldn't believe it.
ego trip: From that point on, I'd imagine that some of your skater
were already experimenting with punk rock.
Glen: Well, skateboarding was probably a major point of my life for
or four years before punk became really heavy. It seems like a lot longer
of a time when you're young. But yeah, both sets of my friends from New
York and LA had begun listening to punk rock at that point.
ego trip: You seem to be somewhat connected with the Washington DC
contingent as well.
Glen: Definitely. When I met those guys, they all knew me from
SkateBoarder magazine, and I believe I met them at a Circle Jerks show
here in the city. Henry Rollins came up to me and gave me a couple of
copies of the "State of Alert 7" that had just come out to get a review in
SkateBoarder, and I thought that was cool. Later on, I met Alec Mackaye
when the Faith came up to play with the Bad Brains. I really liked him a
lot. I didn't really talk to Ian that much, and at the time, I didn't
really know that much about Minor Threat. It wasn't until I heard their
"In my eyes" single that I started to really take notice. I just thought
that was the greatest record that I'd ever heard, and from there I become
both a fan and a friend. They were the greatest band, and they had the
greatest things to say. The straightedge thing was a really great ideal to
work towards, and I thought it was very important. Especially when Minor
Threat were coming up, a lot of people were burning out on a number of
things. And no one verbalized it the way Ian did. He said exactly why he
thought it was fucked up, and I agreed. I wanted to help
them in anyway that I could, and to this date I'd say that he's still one
of the best friends I've ever had. I really appreciated their integrity,
and it's nice to see other people believe in the same things that you feel
ego trip: And from the hardcore scene, you'd meet the Beastie Boys.
Glen: I just met them by chance. They were just another band that
around back then, and I happened to have a girlfriend who grew up with
them, so I became close with them because of her. I never really shot them
as a hardcore band, they were more of a joke hardcore band-which was cool
because it was good to have a sense of humor in the scene.
ego trip: Where do you think they made the connection between
Glen: Well, we were all listening to rap, and come to think about
same girlfriend gave me my first hip-hop tape. It was the next thing.
Hardcore was getting a little generic, and rap was something new and
different. I'm talking about the Treacherous Three, Sugarhill Gang and
Grandmaster Flash. It was cool to us and it was something that no one else
was really listening to at the time. Even Rollins was recording
TroubleFunk tapes for me. So when the Beasties started with that Cookie
Puss record, it had to be a joke, because they were bullshitters-but they
were great bullshitters. And people took it seriously, so they built
things on that. Next thing you know, they're on tour with Madonna. It all
happened around the same time that I quit managing Suicidal Tendencies. I
was so beat down by the who bullshit that punk rock began to represent to
me. Not all punk, but it just seemed to go into a direction that I didn't
really appreciate. So I was really into helping the Beastie Boys out, just
getting them on all these radio shows or
non-rap magazines. I shot them at KXLU, we took pictures at Malibu, at the
Madonna record party - we took all these goofy stupid-ass-pictures just to
fuck with people. Anyway, they loved the pictures and wanted to use them,
so they sent them over to Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin and they bought
everything. They had never paid as much for photos as they did to me that
day, and it was relatively nothing, but before that, I don't think they'd
ever paid anyone anything other than expenses. So from that point on,
whenever Russell had a band come out to LA, they hung out with me. They
had their urban radio covered, but they knew that I could hook them up
with the more alternative-type coverage. And that was no problem with me
because I wanted people to be aware of this stuff. I wanted these bands to
get on stations like KROQ in LA - they started a lot of trends there. But
yeah, it was the next thing for me. Scratching, break-dancing, hip-hop
style-it was phenomenal.
ego trip: What was it that really attracted you about it.
Glen: It was something that people had never done before. There was
involved, and in a way, it made something out of nothing. It was creative,
you know? Listen to Run DMC's first record, and I don't mean "Rock Box"
either. I don't like that song, and fuck everybody who does - I don't
care. Russell will scream about how that was the most important rap
record, and it was alright, but for someone who knew what guitars really
sounded like, that was a weak-ass crossover record (laughs). But "Jam
Master Jay"-that was the shit, you know what I'm saying? "Sucker MC's,"
all that shit. They were had-assed, just asking for fights. And back then,
that appealed to me.
ego trip: Is that how you connected the three?
Glen: It came together for me because as each thing faded, this new
was coming up-that was one thing. But yeah, the attitude and the energy
that everyone had, it was pretty similar. There was always shit going on,
there was always a new gig or a new band to do the new thing. The police
were after us again...whatever. Especially skaters, people were getting
arrested for real. I've had guns pointed at me, I've been chased by people
with fucking chainsaws - I swear to God. When you come in and skate in
someone's pool or trespass on their property, they're going to be fucking
mad at you. Then you go to punk rock shows, and again, the authorities
don't like what you're doing. They don't want to see people who are harder
than they are, not taking shit from anybody. Police were shutting down
almost every Black Flag show for a while. I've seen police break a girl's
leg. I've seen police break car windows while they're telling people to
leave the scene. What the fuck is that all about? So after the punk rock
thing...I mean, I was still listening to punk rock, but remember "The
Message"? It was so great at the time, but you think about it now, before
Run DMC, a lot of the early rappers were kind of trying to do their own
versions of Michael Jackson. They really wanted to be big stars. Run DMC,
though, it was totally different. When they came out with these velour
hats that Tony Alva used to wear five years before that, it was cool. They
wanted to be old-school gangsters. It was more accepted than punk rock,
but compared to the black music that was out at the time, it was totally
ego trip: Do you think that there is a fourth level of
being created today?
Glen: Actually, part of the reason that I did the book was because
didn't see this kind of rebelliousness or these ideals happening again.
Maybe it's because I'm not fifteen anymore, and because I can't relate to
a fifteen-year-old as easily as I used to. That might have something to do
with it. But let's say it doesn't, let's say that I am seeing the reality.
I just don't see a fourth level happening. And it's not because there
aren't any rebels out there or anything. It's because of mass
communication-video cameras, cable access, MTV, Macintosh desktop
publishing-all that shit. There's such a glut of information going on
right now that people find out about things right away. Something that's
totally radical today can be mainstream tomorrow. That shit is profound.
So it doesn't seem like it could go much further.
ego trip: Do you think that it takes a special person to shoot the
that you create, or is it just time a circumstance?
Glen: Well, first of all, if someone other than me can take the
then I don't think it's a picture worth taking. Let them do it. That's why
you don't see me trying to make a lot of money shooting paparazzi
pictures, or shooting bands that I don't like or bands that I don't know
personally. I'll very rarely shoot those bands if [unless] I think that
there's something interesting there that I can capture or if a friend of
mine is friends with them and asks me to do it. Some critics have looked
at my photos and have mentioned that there is an essence there that other
people don't capture, and that sometimes, the essence that I've captured
goes ahead and becomes the essence of the group. It becomes the
representation that people become familiar with. Another thing is that,
sometimes, the people involved bring out the creativity in me. They might
know what they want to do, or what their image is, but they may not know
to go about it. If they communicate that to me, I can help them portray
that. Chuck D made a very thorough drawing of what he wanted the first
Public Enemy album cover to look like. He just sketched it one day sitting
in his car. So yeah, just having that input, that idea from the person,
made all the difference.
ego trip: I've heard you're already working on another book/
it's about eighty pages done.
ego trip: What will the focus be?
Glen: Well,. for one thing, it's not going to be a Fuck You Heroes
It's going to have a lot of old pictures, a number of bands that didn't
fit under the title of this book, some that do, pictures taken from after
1991, and a lot of landscape and architecture shots. It will basically
consist of a lot of stuff that doesn't even involve people, just art
photography of my own. I don't know if you could call it conceptual, but
it will be really varied. I'm going to call it The Idealist, and it
probably won't come out for another couple of years.
ego trip: One last thing. A photographer friend of mine once told
his motto was: "Never turn down a job." You seem to feel vehemently
opposed to that sentiment.
Glen: I've turned down so many jobs that it's ridiculous. Friends
think I'm an asshole because I don't work enough, or because I turn down
so much work because I don't like the group. They just don't understand
that. But if you don't understand that, then you don't understand me, and
maybe you're not as good a friend as I thought you were, you fucking jerk.
ego trip: Interestingly enough, that's probably a fitting way to
Glen: (smirking) If you think so.
- Norm Arenas
(2 page spread w/4 B&W images from FYH)
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