1995 Vol. 2 No.1


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 out. 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 the 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, and I'd 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 friends were already experimenting with punk rock.

Glen: Well, skateboarding was probably a major point of my life for three 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 are important.

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 was 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 hardcore and hip-hop?

Glen: Well, we were all listening to rap, and come to think about it, that 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 energy 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 thing 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 rebellious.

ego trip: Do you think that there is a fourth level of fuck-you-heroes being created today?

Glen: Actually, part of the reason that I did the book was because I 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 images that you create, or is it just time a circumstance?

Glen: Well, first of all, if someone other than me can take the picture, 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 how 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/ Glen: Yeah, 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 2. 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 me that 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 of mine 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. (laughs)

ego trip: Interestingly enough, that's probably a fitting way to end this.

Glen: (smirking) If you think so.

- Norm Arenas

(2 page spread w/4 B&W images from FYH)