[Alan ‘Ollie’ Gelfland, 1979. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
At age 53, fine art photographer Glen E. Friedman still appreciates a well-placed F bomb. The word adorns his two most famous publications, FUCK YOU HEROES and FUCK YOU TOO. What sounds aggressive is more existential defense in the vein of “Fuck you, I have no choice but to do this myself.” It expresses the essence of DIY culture and serves as a way of maintaining some sense of personal integrity. Living by one’s own rules amidst the masses, a means of expressing boundaries, defining the point where you begin and others end. Whether documenting the Golden Era’s of punk, hip-hop or skateboarding like no one else, Friedman has a long, uncanny history of underground cultural exploration. What first began as an alternating residence, between North Jersey and West LA after his parents’ divorce, became a matter of being at the right place at the right time, all the fucking time. He became a self-described perennial “outsider,” but he says, “I was also an insider. I never fit into one scene.” He found access to anything he was interested in. Subjects trusted him and became his friends.
As luck would have it, Friedman managed to document some surfing during one of these right place/right time moments. During the late ’70s SkateBoarder Magazine (a division of Surfer at the time) published a few of his photos of DogTown skate legend Jay Adams surfing. On his website there are a few surf photos of “Bronzed Aussies,” Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew and Peter “PT” Townend at a contest in Seaside Heights, NJ. Friedman’s time at SkateBoarder put him in contact with ‘the father of skateboarding photography,’ mentor Warren Bolster, who was also associate editor of Surfer with hushed connections to the early ’70s Point Loma fish scene. During an Encinitas surf session with Jay Adams, and Bobby Piercy, Bolster got Friedman onto a surfboard, something he’d never do again.
This interview was conducted over the phone one Saturday morning in between our respective dad duties. At one point he took a call from his mother who needed help with her computer. This seemingly angry young man is in reality a devoted son and loving father. He has a vintage flip-phone that doesn’t send or receive texts, claiming “the level of communication has deteriorated, the social fabric is just destroyed by text. If you know me and want to talk, pick up the phone and you can hear my voice.”
[DogTown. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: Let’s start with the new book MY RULES that you signed at Pilgrim.
GEF: In 1982 I made the first ever “photo-zine” because I was frustrated with what was going on within the punk scene, I didn’t think there were enough good photos out there. I was infiltrating SkateBoarder, SkateBoarder’s Action Now and later Thrasher with some of my punk stuff, slipping through the cracks and getting into print at my urging. I thought the cultures were closely related and I had all these great photos. The punk ‘zines of the day printed photos postage stamp sized and there really weren’t any full pages like I was used to in SkateBoarder, just really beautiful stuff. One day I was in my dark room, which was in my mom’s house in the bathroom, printing for this book that was going to come out, the first book on California hardcore, really one of the first books on punk in America other than the Ramones era stuff, which didn’t really have books about it yet. This was the next generation called “Hardcore California.” So I’m in the dark room making all these prints from 7pm to 7am and I realize when I’m done, “You know these fucking kooks up in San Francisco? They don’t know shit and I just know they’re not going to print all the great photos that I have.” I said “Fuck it, I have to call these guys at Thrasher and ask them to help me print my own ‘zine” and they guided me through it. I had been working with magazines since I was 14 with SkateBoarder. Remember, laying out a mag back then is not like it is today. Back then laying out a mag was drawing on paper and laying things out with pencils and making a sketch of what you literally wanted to do. No Quark or InDesign, there was no such thing. Kevin Thatcher of Thrasher helped me do all that; on the weekends I would do it in their shipyard office up in SF. I paid them for all of it, used their printers and bindery to make MY RULES the original zine. It was printed on newsprint, on what they call a web press, the same kind of press they print a newspaper on, a big huge printing press not like what you print a book or high quality glossy magazine on. The press was located in the middle of nowhere and we took Black Flag’s van and went up there and picked them up and brought them back down to LA. I was living at my mom’s house at the time and the 10,000 copies took up half my room. Within the first two years I sold 8,000 copies. I mean, Thrasher wasn’t even selling 6,000 a month yet. None of the punk ‘zines were even selling half that at that time.
MM: How much did you sell it for?
GEF: Two bucks.
MM: Was there any skate stuff?
GEF: It was only punk. There was a collage on the front cover and back and in that cover collage was one little skate photo of Tony Hawk. I just put that on there because it was a print that I made in my own darkroom and thought he was what was happening then and was going to be the future. He made it onto the back cover; no other skater is on there. There’s a page with JFA and they were known as a skate band. There were very few bands known as “skate bands” other than them at that time. Other bands skated but JFA made it their thing. The Big Boys had part of their logo with the anarchy “A” and the skateboard across it, but JFA had a fucking skateboard picture, “Blatant Localism” was the name of their first seven-inch. While we were up at Thrasher laying out the zine I took four or five pictures off of layout in Thrasher that were all mine, and put them on, as elements of design on the JFA page of MY RULES. I don’t even remember who the people were they were just random skate shots. Other than that there’s no skateboarding and of course no one’s listening to hip-hop then. No one we knew.
[JFA, Blatant Localism. Photo by unknown.]
[Tony Hawk. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: So no more FUCK YOU titles?
GEF: I was going to call the new book FUCK YOU ALL but here it is twenty years later having fuck you on the cover of a book does not have the same impact that it did in 1994. I thought I kind of wore out the whole thing and why not just bring it back to the basics. MY RULES is a combination of the best photos from FUCK YOU HEROES and FUCK YOU TOO all in one book. Printed bigger and better than ever, higher quality than ever seen before because of technology. The scans are better. Everything is better. When I made the original FUCK YOU HEROES I thought that was going to be my only book, my one shot and that was going to be the end of it. I wanted the photos to look very respectful. Everyone said I should make them look more punk or more skate or hip-hop. Fuck all that, I want it to be respected like it was in a museum already. I wanted people to analyze and look at that shit for real like I did. So I printed every picture full frame. You can see the edge of the film in every shot and that was really important to me back then. I still think it’s important in the way I shoot, to fill the frame and make every moment count. But in the new book I allowed myself to crop. Some images no one’s ever seen before from the same great sessions but you go back twenty thirty years and look at the proof sheets and go, man, there’s a couple photos that slipped through the cracks, why don’t I put them in? RUN DMC seem to be the luckiest in that sense because there was a ton of shit that I had of them that wasn’t published and was really good. Probably too many pictures as I look back at the book [laughs] but there were just so many great shots and I had really great access to them. We were friends and got to do some good photos and that’s what MY RULES is about. It’s ninety percent of the photos from FUCK YOU HEROES and forty percent of the photos from FUCK YOU TOO, (which is a very rare find that’s out of print and you’ll probably never see it again) and like thirty percent of stuff previously unpublished.
[RUN DMC and the Beastie Boys, NYC. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[LL Cool J. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Public Enemy donning Minor Threat. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[RUN DMC. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: FUCK YOU TOO was a Consafos edition?
GEF: Burning Flags and Consafos are basically the same thing. Consafos are my distributors. Burning Flags is me, I self published all my books except FUCK YOU TOO, which was published with Consafos. They took on the responsibility of paying for the printing. (“Consafos”) Kirk Gee is my man. Kirk is the best.
MM: Getting back to the title of the new book…
GEF: The inspiration for the title came from the zine of course, and at the urging of Guy Picciotto of Fugazi. He said it was really classic and really important to him, even though a lot people of didn’t know about it. It would be a great title to bring back and really represents an era. I was concerned people might think it meant the “me me me” selfish era that came about for the next generation when Reagan got elected and things got really selfish in the country again. I didn’t want it to be misinterpreted and Guy assured me it wouldn’t be. ‘My Rules’ is actually a song by Black Flag, which inspired the original title because it talks about having your own rules because you don’t need anybody else’s. Having integrity. We live our own life but not in a selfish way but we’re not being guided by the old conservative rules and the ordinary way of doing things. Also MY RULES was the fact that this is my own fucking magazine and I have to do it on my own because no one else will do it properly. So I did everything by myself to get it done. That’s part of it as well. All of my books have been like that, but also talking about integrity, MY RULES is about that.
[Guy Picciotto of Fugazi. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, 1980. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: I wanted to ask you about your connection to surfing. You spent time in North Carolina and New Jersey; did you ever surf as a kid?
GEF: I was born in North Carolina, my dad was in the army then and we moved up to Englewood, New Jersey, which is right here by Manhattan just over the George Washington Bridge by Fort Lee. As a child I would go down to the Jersey Shore, my mom had family in Deal right on the beach but I was never a surfer. Then I moved from New York to California and was the dark, curly haired Jewish kid out. It was all white boys. Being a Jew in California then, and I’m non-practicing, I’m a Sephardic Middle Eastern Jew. In fact, my mom’s family comes from Iraq, I’m half Iraqi and so I have a little different coloring. At that time in southern California ninety percent of the kids had blonde hair and blue eyes, if you were Caucasian. I didn’t fit in amongst the whole DogTown crew even; I got teased for having a big nose and coming from the nicer side of town. Aside from being different in that way, getting up early in the morning to go surfing was not something I was down to do. I was more in the group of kids who were racing BMX or skateboarding.
[Columbus Circle, NYC. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: No surfing during the DogTown years either?
GEF: I tried surfing once, other than bodysurfing. It was about three foot and I was with Jay Adams, Bobby Piercy and Warren Bolster. That was in Encinitas and I couldn’t even get out. I remember the waves broke really far out and if you’re not a surfer you don’t go more than ten yards out. There’s really not a reason to and that was the only day I tried surfing. That is my entire surfing experience other than living in the culture. Back then I went to the beach and that was a part of my lifestyle. We all dressed in OP and combed our hair straight even though I had curly hair and we all wore Vans (‘cause they were cheap and light). I was intimidated by having to get up early and having a surfboard and all the people who did it. I was just too intimidated to ever even try, I was too much of an outsider and wasn’t going to try and surf. I went to the beach to hang out with the girls and my friends and there were all surfers in my school, a lot of Jeff Spicoli types for real, like Sean Penn based that character on them. Hold on this is my mom calling…
MM: There are some awesome vintage surf photos on your website, at a contest in Jersey.
GEF: The contest shots were from when I was here one summer visiting my dad. There was a guy named John Kerr; he was a Surfer writer who they also asked to write for SkateBoarder and said to come down to Seaside Heights. I had shot pictures of surfing in Photography I at Paul Revere [Junior High], but this was the fist time I used proper film and a long lens and contributed. As with skateboarding, I got stuff published the first time I submitted photos. They used my photos in the 20th anniversary issue of Surfer. First and only time, they ran one or two shots and it was great to be able to do that. I had a really good portrait of Wayne Rabbit Bartholomew. I didn’t know these guys, it was weird but I got a good shot. I was stoked. Usually I know everyone who I shoot really well and that’s how you’re able to get a portrait — to have a relationship with people, it makes a big difference in getting a good shot. I got that shot of Wayne and some others that I put on the “rare and unseen” section of my website. There were some others too but I don’t know where they are, a lot of that shit gets lost.
[Kevin Casey, Seaside Pro, Seaside Heights, NJ 1978. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Peter Townend, Seaside Pro, Seaside Heights, NJ 1978. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholemew, Seaside Pro, Seaside Heights, NJ 1978. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: What can you say about Bolster? Rest in peace…
GEF: Bolster was incredible. Stecyk is the godfather of skateboarding period. Not just of photography or writing but he’s the historian. He’s just it. Bolster is the father of skateboarding photography. He’s the one to take the fish-eye lens out of the water and shoot skateboarding with it. The first editor of the re-incarnated (from the mid ’60s when they had printed 3 or 4 quarterly issues) SkateBoarder magazine, the photo editor and he was the man. When I called up SkateBoarder as a 14 year-old to say I’m going to send in some pictures, I asked to speak with him and pretended that I was older. I said that I wanted to get my negatives/slides back because there’s no scanning at this point in time. This is twenty years at least before anyone ever scanned a photo at home and I’m sending him my original film and I got to be sure I get this back. So I spoke to Bolster and he said sure we’ll get your pictures back to you if we use them. I told him about these great pictures I had of Jay Adams who they’d heard of and maybe even had one photo or two photos of in the magazines at that point. They published my photographs from that very first roll of film that I sent in. Over the years Bolster would give me tips. A few months later he gave me my free first rolls of when I met him in person and he was surprised at how young I was. He had heard I was young but he hadn’t met me yet. I was this little kid and he gave me three rolls of film — that totally stoked the shit out of me — and he said he’d keep doing it. He’d write me letters once in awhile giving me tips; like when I didn’t know what to do photography-wise and he’d give me these tips here and there. We developed certain processes even and perfected things using a flash; fill in flash stuff like that with the wide-angle lenses. When it came time with these new magazines popping up he wrote me a really incredible letter that I still have somewhere. Here I am, like 15 or 16 years old, and he’s informing me that there are all these opportunities with all these magazines and that we really appreciate you here and would really like you to stick with us if you can. We know you live up there in DogTown and there’s all this precious stuff and you’d really like to do that, but if you could stay with us we’d really appreciate it. I’m like are you fucking kidding me? SkateBoarder Magazine is the mother-fucking bible. I’m not moving, none of this bullshit; Skateboard World or Wild World of Skateboarding stuff. Mind you this is at least five years before Thrasher, there were other mags popping up but they all sucked and there was no way I was going to leave SkateBoarder, but to hear from Bolster that was incredible. An seeming old man asking me, a kid, saying that my contribution was that important that they didn’t want to lose me. They started paying me a retainer, a couple hundred dollars a month whether I had photos in the magazine or not, it was just amazing for back then.
[Jay Adams. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
Bolster was influential and an interesting figure and he is the father of skateboarding photography. Bringing the fish eye in from the water it changed the whole fucking game. You use a fish eye because you want to get to the action as close as possible but still show the environment. It’s just as important and you can show the intensity without these long lenses that are used in all of these other sports that you can’t get close to because you’ll get hit by a ball, or hit by a bat or you get hit by someone participating or you’re not allowed on the court or the field. In skateboarding you can get right up close in the shit and you can get hit by a board but you that’s the only risk you have and that can be a great risk. We all tried a lot of different things and learned some stuff from Bolster, I certainly did. He was, I wouldn’t say a father figure but an adult figure to look up to at the time. Then bad things happened. Drugs took over and a lot of people got lost. I don’t know, I can’t go as so far as that happened to him but it appears that he lost his way and things got a bit crazy. They brought in a new editor, they brought in a new photo editor, Cassimus who was a technical photographer just like Bolster but more so. Very shy, he was a great friend of mine and a great guy but a very shy dude. People like that are more likely to be technical because they delve into that side of photography. Where someone like me who’s more social, it’s about being next to the people close and tight so you photograph and get character like no one else. Steyck, too, it was more about the culture to him, correct? And so we had a different angle on the whole thing. Bolster was the man but he had his demons I think that haunted him for many, many years until he finally let them go. Very sad. I haven’t talked about that before.
MM: Amazing history, you talk about being given three rolls of film and it’s amazing that you captured all these images with very few exposures. Whereas now people take a million digital pics and are bound to get something…
GEF: I was a kid. I didn’t have shit to be paying for film, that was part one. Second, I was hanging out with Z Boys and I was younger than all of them and from the nice part of town so I’m just getting shit automatically. I can’t just be there shooting pictures all day and not get dope shit. You know what I mean? That’s sucker shit. I had to prove that I didn’t fuck around. I learned and cut my teeth hanging out with them, a lot of my attitude comes from hanging out with the Z Boys. I mean, I had attitude before them but a lot of it comes from them and being able to push back. If you’re who I was at that point in time and privy to see and experience the things that I did, if you don’t produce you’re not hanging out. If you can’t back your words you’re not hanging out.
[Brian “Dig It” Maples, Asbury Park, NJ, 1978. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Terry Sullivan, Asbury Park, NJ, 1978. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: Was there a trial period?
GEF: We all hung out on the school playgrounds at Kenter and Revere, and I was just one of the local kids, just shooting pictures with my pocket instamatic occasionally. I skated, I wasn’t a photographer, I was a skateboarder. Actually, I consider myself one of the first generations of pure skateboarders because I didn’t surf. Everyone else at that schoolyard, ninety percent of them all surfed. All I did was skate. To all of those DT guys skateboarding was an afterthought. To Tony, to Jay to Stacy to Muir to Shogo; skateboarding was an afterthought until they started making money at it. Skateboarding was all they all did when the waves were flat, but the only person who was at Kenter when the waves were big was Friedman, because I was a skater. I didn’t wake up early to go to the beach. I didn’t give a shit.
MM: Your early stuff was shot on an instamatic?
GEF: I took photography class at Paul Revere with a little pocket instamatic, which is a piece of plastic that uses tiny film. You can’t even focus the thing it’s one setting, no light adjustment, no focus, period. All of a sudden my friends started getting into the magazine, which was only bi-monthly at that point. People gained reputations around town and I just started taking pictures of things I didn’t see in the magazine and started thinking my pictures were better than the ones in the magazines. I’m like 13 or 14 saying this. I’d take pics and then bring them to the schoolyard and show the guys, “Oh Friedman shot some good stuff.” I would go to the “Photo-mat” store and get prints made and get duplicates, and would give them to the guys. Some of them still have original prints. Chris Dawson who was the skating policeman that Stecyck took photos of, he was one of the guys on the original Zephyr Team not in the photo, he was a freestyler. Dawson was also on the original Hobie team from the ’60s. He’s as OG as it gets from that area of town. He designed the original Zephyr ads and did all the graphics. Chris still has an 8×10 that I made of him doing a handstand on his skateboard, that I printed at Paul Revere. That’s like the oldest print. I handmade that in school and it’s a miracle to me that he still has it. I wish I had some of my old prints like that.
MM: Are you still skating?
GEF: I skate sometimes but very rarely. If Kenter were still there I’d ride it. It’s semi-destroyed. I skated Revere about five years ago but since I had my kid I don’t want to take that risk. I’m old too, my back aches sometimes, but if there were a nice little reservoir for me to ride, hell yeah I’d ride it. I don’t ride vertical or anything like that but I still have three boards here in New York. I used to push around town but then I hit a cab. Yeah, it didn’t hit me. Like I said it’s just too dangerous. I do ride a Citi-bike around town but with skating you can’t really predict the holes in the street and I don’t ollie. I knew Ollie (Allan Gefland) but I don’t know how to ollie. I wish I did. I mean what an evolution in the sport. You don’t have to pick up your board to get over cracks or holes in the street or manhole covers. You can just pop right over it, what an amazing trick. I skated last summer in the streets. I’ll use it for transportation on the West Side Highway park or whatever, but I’m too old to do that shit [laughs]. If I were better I wouldn’t say that I was too old, but I was never that great of skater. I’d say in 1975 I was a good-to-average skater. Back then if you could get over the light in the pool you were an average skater. Better skaters were beginning to kick turn on vertical and that’s about the time when I stopped progressing as much as everybody. My athletic abilities were not as great as everybody. I remember telling Chris from Pilgrim that the ramp that Alva’s skating in the pic he loves so much, up there in Brentwood, was the only one I ever got vertical on. I went up kickturned, I was vertical frontside, made it down and genuflected when I got off that ramp. Weightlessness was not something for me to handle. It was too out of control and I didn’t progress any further past that. Truth be told.
[Steve Olson. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Luke Moore, Hamptons NY, 1978. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Tony Alva. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: Do you remember your first punk show?
GEF: I can’t tell you that I remember my very first punk show but the thing with punk; it was just a natural progression. Skateboarding was starting to wane and a lot of us were getting into this music that had a lot of energy and we just started going to shows. We were just teenagers and you were barely allowed into most night clubs at this point so you had to go to a concert hall to see Devo playing at the Santa Monica Civic. That was huge. By fall of 1978 I moved back to New Jersey and would go to California for the summer and the Christmas vacation, so I was back and forth between New York and LA. My first nightclub shows were in New York City where only twenty people were there.
MM: You have some incredible early Bad Brains pictures from A7.
GEF: Think that pic is from 1979. The pics of the Stimulators were probably some of the first punk shows that I shot. I did a lot of things but didn’t always shoot. Most shows that I went to I didn’t shoot, didn’t bring my camera. I didn’t want to be a camera nerd. That just wasn’t me. I would shoot when I was inspired to, when I needed to and would say ok, tonight I’ll bring my camera, in my backpack and shoot the band I liked. Not sit on stage and shoot every band. The first small shows that I shot nightclubs, real shows here in New York City of the Stimulators. A month later I saw the Bad Brains and didn’t shoot pictures. I was just there. I had gone to some punk shows in LA prior to that, I saw a Germs show, X played a lot, the Alley Cats, the Go-Go’s and then it was all about Black Flag and Circle Jerks. Christmas of 1980 I had imported slam dancing back with me from LA which I had picked up at an X show. No one had ever seen it in New York. This was at a Bad Brains show at the “Botany Talk Lounge”, which if you remember New York had the Botany district in the 20’s on 6th Avenue. You can still get stuff up there but the rents are way too expensive now to just sell trees and plants. Anyway, there were only thirty people at that Bad Brains show, a band called Even Worse played and that was a pivotal moment in New York punk. It wasn’t called hardcore yet. Then I went back to California and the next time I came back to New York it was just a mess, full of no brain idiots dancing in circles. It just became like a bad ill informed tribe, New York never had a good punk rock or hardcore scene in my opinion. It inspired some which is cool, but the music was always horrible and the intelligence level was very low. It was a very whack scene. There were some friendly guys and a lot of the kids were, but New York had it’s hey day in the late ’70s with the older, art junkie punks.
[Agression (Nard-core) hard core punk from Oxnard, CA. Cover photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Henry Rollins, Black Flag. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Bad Brains. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Bad Brains. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: “Please Kill Me” era…
GEF: Yeah, I was too young for that. My generation of New York was the Stimulators and the Bad Brains. You had a small handful of good bands, like Heart Attack, the Mob, Kraut and of course the Misfits from New Jersey and the Undead from Manhattan. There were some good bands but there were a lot of whack bands too. Then that whole hardcore thing happened and from 1982-84 it was just a mess. All generic and sounding horrible but they were inspired by great bands, some of those people, but they just couldn’t pull it off. Hardcore was a natural progression as was hip-hop. Punk rock started becoming generic and boring to some of us, eating itself with violence and stupid things and the scene becoming very not so original anymore. It’s destined to happen if you have a small core of people closely knit, tied to it and dedicated before the masses. They’re going to be the more hardcore than the people who come later, the enthusiasts. They’re not going to know the aesthetic that it came from and can’t be a practitioner to the same degree as the originators. They’re just kind of following. It doesn’t mean they don’t have something incredible to add. Often they do and sometimes even make it better. In fact that’s what happened. Look what Black Flag did to the Weirdos and to the Ramones. In LA you had the suburban bands like X but the beach bands like Black Flag took it to a whole other level. They made it hardcore punk rock. Not hardcore but I call it “hardcore punk” and that’s how they idealized those scenes and what they thought it was. The same with hip-hop, you had Grandmaster Flash, The Furious 5, Cold Crush Brothers, Fresh MC’s and all these different groups.
[Ice T. Photo by Glen E. Friedman.]
MM: Were you around those early guys?
GEF: No, I wasn’t around during these early days, but the point I’m trying to make is that you have those guys from the outlying boroughs like RUN DMC, Eric B and Rakim, De La Soul from out in Amityville, and LL Cool J, and everyone is from Long Island or from Queens. They are idealizing what they thought it had to be. They thought it was tough inner city, they thought it was hard-ass and so they pretended to be even more hard ass than their heroes were. But by that point their heroes were dressed like Michael Jackson chic. It was inner city and the outside kids are idealizing what they think it is. Trying to be that urban kid but they’re really not. Same with punk rock, look what the D.C. kids did to what they saw punk as and took it to the next level. They thought this is what has to be done and very often those people push it much further that the originators and I think that happened with Black Flag. They weren’t the originators; they came a little later after the golden era but sprouted these things.
MM: When did you first get introduced to hip-hop?
GEF: When you’re a punk rocker in 1978, ‘79, ‘80, ‘81, and ‘82 you’re the type of person who seeks out interesting culture. That’s the kind of person you are if you’re into punk rock during that time. You’re not an average kid, hip-hop is something that you might be exposed to because it’s another music form and you were in this alternative music world before it was called alternative music. You were in another realm. You would go to import record stores, you wouldn’t be going to the big shops like Peaches, Licorice Pizza or Tower necessarily or Sam Goodies. In New York you’d be going to Bleecker Bob’s and 99 records on MacDougal, the original one, or Zed, Vinyl Fettish, Moby Disc, Rhino, out in LA.
MM: I love the 99 label stuff, Liquid Liquid, the Congos, Branca…
GEF: This was even before that, before the label they were a shop that sold new wave clothes.
MM: That’s right. Ed Bahlman’s girlfriend had the shop and he started bringing in import 45s and stuff.
GEF: Yeah, that’s where I bought Dead Kennedys California Uber Alles when it first came out; he definitely had some import records there. I bought my day-glow tie there when I had to wear one in 11th grade. It was punk and new wave, all mixed together. These were the places you would go to and find shit because that’s just what you were doing, being that type of person or being a New Yorker at the time. I met a girl at a punk show in NYC, who later introduced me to the Beastie Boys as a punk rock band and a year later she started sending me hip-hop mix tapes of some of the first singles on Enjoy Records and Sugar Hill Records and some radio stuff. It’s exciting and alternative because unless you live in the community you barely heard of this shit and that’s how I got turned onto hip-hop. It was just something us punk kids were listening to. Punk kids at the time were very progressive music listeners, listening to everything and things normal people just don’t listen to. By 1983, I had just produced Suicidal Tendencies’ first album and I was all hyped up on music but a lot of punk rock was getting very generic for me and I was getting turned off by everything that was going on. It wasn’t really progressing but at the same time this stuff, hip- hop is just taking off. I was enjoying it and looking at it as black kid’s version of punk rock. I was living in LA and started listening to Arabella’s hip-hop mix tapes while driving in my car. Then when RUN DMC’s first album came out in 1983 I heard the song “Jam Master Jay” and that song had a dynamic that was just mind-blowing and I’m like “I have to get involved in this shit. This is the next level.” I had just quit working for Suicidal Tendencies and here comes this new shit from RUN DMC. Black Flag was beginning to suck, they were my favorite band but by the end of ’83, ‘84 their new music was not good to me. Anything post “Damaged” except for three or four songs I did not care for. It did not represent the band I loved. They are still my favorite band of all time but all pre-‘83, pre-’82 almost, without Chuck Dukowski in the band it just wasn’t of interest to me. That’s no discredit to the people who came after, that era, but Chuck was the soul of the band. I didn’t think they were a group without him and sure there were talented people in the group who did some interesting things but I wasn’t into it. About a year later I hear the Beastie Boys are making a rap record and then all of a sudden they’re coming out to LA on tour with Madonna. I was already intoduced to them when they were a joke hardcore band, sitting on their skateboards outside CBGB’s. We had met thru our mutual friend Arabella and now they’re coming to LA and they’ve never been out here. I show them all over, they have a great time but ask me to take them to horrible places. They wanted to go to the Galleria because of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and I’m like I come from the Westside of town, the beachside, and I’m not taking you to the Valley. I can’t do that, you guys are going to have to do that on your own. Then the whole trip they teased me about not going to the Valley. I took them up to Malibu and shot pictures of them on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway, which were some of the first shots I took of them. You know, on the back of that car. It was a rented Lincoln they had on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” tour, just hanging with all those stars backstage goofing on everyone. We became really good friends on that trip and they would just make me laugh to tears whenever I hung out with them for years from that point on. In fact Rick [Rubin] calls it one of his favorite photo sessions of all time. Everyone was just blown out of the water when they saw the photos and I got to be the guy who took pictures of the Def Jam artists when they came out to California. But the only people in hip-hop who would’ve known about my punk and skateboarding work would be Hank Shocklee and Chuck D. They knew my work. They had seen MY RULES the zine because they worked in a record shop, they knew about Black Flag, they knew about the Bad Brains.
[Beastie Boys. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Beastie Boys. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
[Beastie Boys. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]
MM: Were they listening to that stuff?
GEF: Chuck and Hank worked in record stores and were DJs, they didn’t necessarily listen to those groups but they knew about them. Those guys are smart. Those guys are no fucking joke. Hank was record store manager, Chuck was a graphic artist going to Adelphi University and also an MC and they had their own radio show and DJ thing called Spectrum City out in Hempstead Long Island. Public Enemy was a production team made into a group. It was a production tool for them, they were never meant to be group. Rick Rubin told them you have to take these demos and make a group out of this.
MM: Did you document any graffiti culture during the early days of punk and the hip-hop?
GEF: I didn’t know any pioneering writers at the time but every kid who had any rebel attitude was into it. In the ’70s I was living in Fort Lee during my last two years of high school and would come into Manhattan. My first time ever going on the subway, we just ran through the gate. I was just following someone and didn’t know about getting tokens. My friend said here comes a train let’s run and I jumped over the gate and ran through. We had markers and we’d just write little “mosquito bites” as they called them. Putting your name up on the inside or outside of the train. Just writing your shit. Everyone that I knew would do that, just write your name. I actually had tiny little SkateBoarder Magazine stickers that were about the size of a quarter that I’d put up. Sometimes I wrote a graffiti style “E” with a cross through the end of it like my middle initial. Coming from the Westside of LA and DogTown I used to write my signature in a cool way. I had my own style that I still write to this day when I sign things. But of course it is all very connected. Zephyr the graffiti artist, who did the Wild Style logo, I didn’t know this until years later but he was a skater and named himself after the Zephyr team and the Z boys, which to me is mind-boggling.
MM: Zephyr was a skate friend of Kessler’s.
GEF: I didn’t know Kessler in the ’70s; I met him when he was building the Riverside skate park. When FUCK YOU HEROES came out MTV was using me for a whole segment on their MTV sports show and I told them we should film it up there at Kessler’s park. We became really good friends, he had a lot of respect for my photography and we just always got along well. I call Kessler the “Mayor of New York.” He was just the good guy that everyone liked and he had connections to everybody. Kessler was always good by me. One of the heaviest things I ever attended was his funeral. Someone your age out of nowhere just dying from a wasp sting, there was no sickness before. One day you’re here one day you’re not and such a great spirit, a good soul. Just to hear him talked about by the rabbi who was doing the proceeding, it was otherworldly, it was surreal. All the hardcore New York skate crew was there, I met a lot of people I’d never met before. Alva and Olsen came out from California. He was well loved, man.
MM: Absolutely. Kess went out on top though. He was in really good place. It was still tragic and heartbreaking but he was in a really good space.
GEF: I don’t really believe in spirituality or any religion I think its all malarkey but there’s something about him and Jay passing. They both should’ve died a lot of times beforehand and there was something in their bodies that kept them going. Let’s not end on a bad note; let’s end on a good one. They were like you said at their peak of goodness in many ways and were really in good places. And maybe if you believe in spirituality, let’s get them through this rough period and let them out on a high note. Yeah, he should’ve died in 1978 or 1984, could’ve gone then, deserved to go a long time ago, did fucked up shit and should’ve been gone but somehow he sneaked by. Let him go out on a good note because he’s about to go to hell, if you believe in that shit [laughs].
MM: Are you still buying records?
GEF: I just love my old record collection. I have CDs and music on my iTunes. I don’t buy music through the Internet. I’ve never bought an .mp3 file but I just have friends who we share music files. I listen to new music when I’m exposed to it but I don’t seek it out like I used to. People are so motivated by these false appetites that capitalism creates and I’m kind of happy with a lot of shit. As far as my own work and the music that inspires me I don’t always need something new all the time. That’s not part of my M.O. I think a lot of people are really fucked up by that. The least favorite question I’m ever asked is what’s next? I’m like who the fuck cares. I’m here now, motherfucker are you caught up to me? You need to catch up.
MM: Are there albums you go back to?
GEF: Punk era stuff from 1979-82 has a very big place in my heart. Fela Kuti is something I discovered in the late ’80s, afro-beat stuff that I love. “Toys in the Attic” and “Rocks” are two great Aerosmith albums. The shit they made in the ’80s sucked. Zeppelin, Hendrix, some Nugent, he’s been so tarnished by what an asshole he turned out to be. All that stuff that you grew up with still inspires the fuck out of me. The Stooges, a lot of that garage rock punk stuff that came out of the ’60s like the the Sonics, that shit is great! Black Flag, Minor Threat and Fugazi still inspire. I listen to modern hip-hop too, some stuff is good and some stuff is not. There’s good and bad everywhere. Barkmarket from the ’90s were really cool, The Buzzcocks were one of my favorite bands of all time, I like the first Clash album but don’t care about anything else they did. I like the Damned’s first album and don’t care about anything else they did. I’m very particular. I like early Devo, I thought they were great. I like the Descendents a lot and in fact tried out to be their new singer when Milo went to college. The Evens are incredible. They’re adult punk rock. That’s Ian Mackaye’s current band. They’re just great. That Rick Rubin stuff with Johnny Cash was really great; The Specials were great, Ultramagnetic MC’s. There’s a picture of them in the new book, it’s not a great picture but I wanted to have one of them in there. They were a really great group. The X-Clan was another really great, underrated hip-hop group. I still like the Weirdos and those first two Stone Roses albums, Sly and the Family Stone are one of the all time greatest groups, I like Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor is pretty brilliant. I never shot him but I dig his stuff. He’s someone I would’ve liked to have shot at his peak. I don’t like to shoot people after they’re known, unless I was there with them in the beginning. It’s kind of corny to shoot them after the fact. I prefer when they need a good photo and no one has shot it yet or they’ve done something inspirational now. I have access to people sending me records and giving me free stuff but the last record I bought that I absolutely had to have was the Wu Tang’s first album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” I bought that.
MM: Have you photographed them?
GEF: By the time they came around hip-hop was becoming way too organized for me. Everyone had managers and stuff. I mean Run-DMC had a manager but I was able to speak with people in the groups. I didn’t meet Eric B through his manager, I met him at a show and we started talking about my work or something. Ice-T knew me because we just talked, I met RUN DMC through the Beastie Boys because we just talked, I met Public Enemy from Rick Rubin. It was all because of people you meet. Once people started managing photo sessions I wasn’t into it. That’s not the way I shoot. I wanted to shoot Method Man for my FUCK YOU TOO book and against better judgment I did what I had to do to get in touch with him. I never even talked to him I talked to his manager, who was one of their cousins. We were supposed to meet at a really obvious location, which was at Russell’s house at the time on W 4th and Broadway. I was going to shoot him on the roof there. The album hadn’t come out yet; it was just a couple of singles, “C.R.E.A.M” and “Method Man” the song. He didn’t show up twice and I said I’m not fucking around with hip-hop anymore, it’s too mainstream, and it’s too professional. Fuck this.
MM: Is it a matter of integrity?
GEF: I think the term integrity…most people don’t even know what the word is anymore. It’s not in the vernacular. With the early punk rock groups it was all about integrity. Hip-hop has always been about self-expression but making money has had a lot to do with it. The social economic status of the kids who were making it had different goals but the majority of it was artistic. The guys who became internationally famous and made a lot of money I still don’t think were motivated by it necessarily. There’s just a different understanding of integrity these days. I don’t think its understood at all it’s escaped people and they have a different way of seeing things which I think is just bullshit. Polluting the entire atmosphere of creativity not to mention the fucking planet. Part of why I made this book is to remind people of where we came from. Where these cultures came from, why we did these things that still inspire people to this day. Where we were coming from when it actually happened, what got us to that moment. To that first front-side air or that first gold record. Twenty two essays in the book with people as varied as Chuck D to Lance Mountain to Tony Alva to Rakim, Gary “Dr. Know” of the Bad Brains to Duane Peters to Henry Rollins, Jeff Ho, Adam Horovitz, DMC, Jello Biafra, Rick Rubin, and not one of them says they did it for the money. Not one of them got to the point where I was photographing them because of money. The point is it’s more, it was a way to express yourself and it was something you kind of had to do, just walking down the street it was like breathing. It’s just how things were and things get tainted over the time, the nature of media and communication. Now everyone needs content, everyone needs to post things all the time. It’s not the 24-hour news cycle; it’s the fucking every second news cycle. It’s a different world and people have different understanding of things mostly to our detriment. The ability to communicate all over the world instantly is fantastic and with a lot of greatness comes a lot of bullshit. So you have to be able to have your guard up and filter between what’s good and what’s not. Some of us are successful in the normal means, and some of us are successful in that we’re happy and can look ourselves in the mirror everyday. It’s about your own rules, your own integrity. I got MY RULES and hopefully you have yours.
Signed copies of Glen E. Friedman’s MY RULES are available at Pilgrim Surf + Supply Brooklyn. Stop by the shop or call 718-218-7456 to order your copy.
– Words by Michael Machemer
[DogTown. Photo by Glen E. Friedman]