Rock 'n' roll is blind
19 November 2021-
Photographer Mick Rock passed away yesterday at the age 72 — we think. A somewhat enigmatic artist whose career spans most of British rock history, he leaves behind an unparalleled visual legacy...
We tend to talk about musicians on this blog, which makes sense since this is after all the musical blog of a music information platform. Now and again, however, we have to recognize other kinds of individuals who did just about as much for music than the musicians themselves. Such is obviously the case for Mick Rock.
You may not know who Mick Rock is, or what he does even: he was always good at remaining behind the camera. But you’ve definitely seen his work one or another. A lot of it has actually reached iconic status: he was the one who created Queen’s Queen II artwork, which was then reprised for their legendary “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video. You know the one, where all four of the bandmates’ faces are looking up with only their faces lit up. You probably also saw the cover of Lou Reed’s classic Transformer, with that chiseled, over-exposed shot of the artist that became a signature look. Then there’s the Stooges’ Raw Power artwork, with a wildly mysterious Iggy Pop taking center stage. The list goes on, and essentially reads like a who’s who of rock royalty.
If you saw any photograph taken of David Bowie in the 1970’s, chances are he took it: not only were they close friends, but Bowie was in many ways his favorite subject. Which is no surprise, seeing as the singer had a knack for shapeshifting and visual antics that Rock was amazing at capturing. He even acted as his official photographer for a while and shot the cover for 1973’s Pin Ups. He took a bunch of legendary pictures of the man, including of Bowie wielding a saxophone, that moment caught on a train with him and guitarist Mick Ronson enjoying lunch in outlandish attire (and make-up), the first shots of what was to become Ziggy Stardust… And, in case you’re thinking videos for “Space Oddity” or “Life On Mars” share the same aesthetic, you’re not wrong: Rock also directed those. In short, he was everywhere, creating a visual landscape of a pivotal moment in modern musical history.
Perhaps his definitive shot — as far as we are concerned — is one of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed standing together at a press conference in London in 1972. In the picture, Bowie looks rather subdued (for a change), while Reed hides behind sunglasses (indoors) and Pop is seen holding a pack of cigarettes in his teeth, with a big fat grin behind it and an arm on both the others’ shoulders. This scene very much symbolises the era, depicting three of its most important creative geniuses, albeit of the envelope-pushing kind. Which totally makes sense coming from a photographer who did not particularly care for what the norm of the day was…
In 2001, Mick Rock published a book entitled Psychedelic Renegades about a certain Syd Barrett. In case you are wondering, we’re talking about the Syd Barret, i.e. the original driving force behind the band Pink Floyd who tragically began losing his mind around the time they were recording their second album and eventually retired from public life entirely, passing away in relative obscurity in the middle of the 2000’s. Rock managed to convince Barrett to sign copies of the book, the first promotional activity of any kind the one-time musician had been a part of in decades.
Such was the importance of Mick Rock: he commended the respect of the legendary musicians he photographed because he too was a one-of-a-kind creator. And greatness attracts greatness… Rest in peace, Mister Rock.