SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra Of Rock – Mick Rock on Photographing Bowie and More
SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra Of Rock is a new film from the perspective of music photographer Mick Rock. “The Man Who Shot the Seventies” has photographed bands and musicians like Queen, David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Geordie, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Joan Jett, Talking Heads, Roxy Music, Crossfade, Thin Lizzy, Mötley Crüe, and Blondie. We got a chance to chat with Rock about his work, doing the film and looking back at the decade of glam rock and the birth of punk. All you have to do is look at the movie poster above to see some of his famous work. Check out what he had to say below.
Legion of Leia: One of the things we see in the film is your long-term yoga practice. Some of your method included doing yoga, and some was drug-induced. How did that affect your work?
Mick Rock: Well, I still do the yoga, but it’s been twenty years since I did any cocaine! [laughs] Or a cigarette when it comes to that! But I can go to the same place. I think, if you’ve had certain experiences, they live in the memory of your nervous system. I can, through the techniques I use, I can tap into the same energy. Well, it helps to have a cup of coffee as well, I will admit. Yoga, massage and caffeine. [laughs] Not yoga and cocaine. It was an experimental time. I think what came out of that hippie thing of the sixties – and you know, I was, I suppose, a hippie student in the late sixties at Cambridge, and LSD and yoga, which I got into very early on, and meditation – I learned TM [transcendental meditation] very early on. I was just interested, like a lot of other people in my generation, I was interested in all the different possibilities. I mean, life was not very exciting until LSD came along. I mean, Steve Jobs talked about LSD and what it did for him, you know. It’s a lot of people. I mean, maybe in the bigger picture, not so many, but within – I mean, there was an alternative culture. There was an underground one. Nowadays, all of that’s been absorbed into the mainstream culture. Nothing you can actually make a documentary about. About a rock photographer, that’s not just me either. My pictures are in museums, galleries, cultural centers all over the world now. To me, that always seemed a bit nutty, because we were supposed to be outsiders. We were supposed to be experimenters. We were supposed to be subversive. I don’t know how you’d be subversive anymore. Of course, that could be something to do with my advanced years. We don’t need to overstate that, but my wife certainly thinks that has something to do with it! [laughs]
Legion of Leia: I was actually going to ask you if you think anything can be subversive anymore.
Mick Rock: I don’t think it can! But I will tell you, I have been into kundalini yoga heavily, which is taught by Sikhs…the gentleman Lucky, he’s a Sikh and does all of my printing, scanning, retouching, everything. I trust him like I trust nobody else in the world…one day I went in there, and we were going to do a bit of retouching on something and he said, ‘Come and have a look at this, mate. I know you like weird things.’ And he showed me this footage – I mean, they were hacking off limbs and eating them. I think I saw something recently on CNN about it. He turned me on to this about five years ago. But it seems to have surfaced. They don’t kill people. Or, they claim not to. What they do is they find corpses, especially fresh ones. They eat corpses. So, that’s pretty weird s***. You wouldn’t have seen it before the internet. That would not have surfaced. And, of course, there’s all that naughty sex all over the internet nowadays. I don’t know. What is subversive? I think, beautiful things are subversive, because they can change the way you look at things. Something beautiful. That’s why art is so important. And I don’t want to get political. Of course we live in the age of the philistine…a philistine who thinks he’s President. I won’t go there anymore, because I promised I wouldn’t…but my friend Shepard Fairey, who’s on the panel after the [film’s] Q&A, I’m going to let him do that. He puts out very socially conscious missives. [laughs] As me another question. I think I’ve gotten lost in my own brain! [laughs]
Legion of Leia: I wanted to ask you about David Bowie and what you saw in him that might have given us an inkling about what he was going to become.
Mick Rock: Well, I didn’t think about what he was going to become, but I did believe he was going to be important. But also, you’ve got to remember that I was in my early twenties. What was my opinion worth? [laughs] It was the culture – what became the rock and roll culture was still very young. I think in a way, he kind of hypnotized me. What turned me on to him was “Hunky Dory.” Certainly the track “Life On Mars?,” which was like a little piece of magic. And of course, you know I did those videos…last autumn I did a re-edit of “Life On Mars,” and I think it got even better. Even though I know there were people who loved it already. But, I didn’t know it at the time that I heard it. That wasn’t in my mind, other than the fact that I loved it. He had a different sort of consciousness, and you can definitely hear it on “Hunky Dory.” And a track like “Changes,” which is like a Buddhist chant in many way. I mean, that’s what the yogis will tell you and the Buddhists will tell you; change is constant. You can’t hold back time. That’s why the idea of being conservative is kind of, you know, contra-the way the world is. It will keep changing whether you like it or not, and that’s for better or worse. And, like it or lump it, that’s the way of the world. Sometimes it’s for better, and sometimes you get an idiot who will f****** slow things down for you. But it’s not going to stop. Climate change is real. Every f****** scientist in the world, except for a couple of whore revisionist who take the money and then spread tales that it’s not real. Everybody knows it is. Anyway, I met him and I interviewed him, as well as taking pictures. That’s where – you’ve seen the documentary? That’s where those little bits of sounds of me talking to David and to Lou [Reed]. They’re actually interviews I was doing. Well, that was another way to make a bit of money. I suppose I knew something about – there was a point to me having my classic English education. [laughs] I could spin a word or two. It as cheaper for the publishers if they only had to pay me, and they could get me to do both. That’s only one set of expenses for starters. So I think that was part of how I got into more intimate relationshops with a lot of these people, from Sad Barrett onward. I actually did the very last interview with Syd Barrett. He was my friend and it was after the Marakash sessions, and I wish I still had that tape, but I don’t. But what I do have is a bit of that footage that you see near the front of the documentary. But to me, I always thought of him as being more creature-ly, like something out of the woodlands. They had a certain chimeric quality. They were not quite human. I mean, I bought into it completely. I was a true believer. David Bowie emanated these electromagnetic waves, to talk in yogic terms. All that electromagnetic cycles. But everybody emanates. Some people emanate more than others. Especially singers, because of what they do physically. Obviously not just because of the moving. It’s because of the vocals. It’s like chanting. I don’t know if you’ve ever chanted, but it’s powerful stuff. I mean, they talk about prayer and it’s true. I think prayer is a form of chanting. And I chant every day. I have done that, probably for the last six or seven years. Not in the early day. In the early days it was yoga and meditation. And then the cocaine. Just to jazz it up a little, you know? [laughs]
Mick Rock: It’s hard to tell, because a lot of the – I have a way of not – again, I think it’s got a lot to do with yoga. I can detach from things, when I’m not actually doing them. I mean, that poster, f****** was horrible at first. You know, the poster for the documentary. I didn’t want anyone to see it. I meditated one day. I told them they couldn’t use – because I can, contractually – that they couldn’t use any of my iconic pictures in it. But I knew they all wanted to. ‘But Mick, we need it to sell,’ and all that b*******. But I could understand it, and I meditated one day, and I could see how it would work from my perspective. I talked to Barney about it, because he was the director. He was certainly entitled to a say in it. I said, ‘You know what, Barney?’ Because I told him no first. Then I said, ‘You know, I think it could work if we, in a way, copy, or at least invoke the sequences that you put together in the documentary where you have all those energies streaming. So that became the concept for the poster. I said, I don’t want to see ‘hard.’ It’s got to have this streaming energy. And he went to the designer and told him, and that’s what we got. I think the poster does look well. I mean this thing. This monstrosity, people are like, what do you think? I’m like I don’t know. People have put a lot of money into it. There’s nothing I can do to control it. I mean, it’s on it’s way, so I have to be supportive. I don’t mind it now. I hated it for four years. Lots of to and fro. So I was the number one critic. But in the end, it seems to have worked. In the end, there is something about Barney and me, there being a certain tension. I always loved Barney, but there is a certain creative opposition there. But I think it produced something very original in the end. And I think that happens when you have a certain amount of tension in the creative process.
Here is the official synopsis: SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra Of Rock is a deep look into the mind of one of rock’s greatest living photographers: Mick Rock. Rock’s work with some of the most accomplished personalities of the past forty years – David Bowie, Queen, Blondie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop – created many of the images that would come to define them. Presented in his own words, Rock takes us through his journey from the glam rock shimmer of London, through the snarl of NYC punk and into the new millennium, combining a portrait of the man who did the work, with a look at what the work did to the man.
Check out the trailer below and let us know what you think. SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra Of Rock hits theaters, OnDemand, on Amazon Video and iTunes today.