One Hell of An Eye
The Official Blog of Mike Salisbury
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“The first thing you have to do,” he said, “is rein in photographer Annie Leibovitz’ spending.”

After a long romance to convince me, I took the job to art direct and reformat Rolling Stone.  The first day in the office, sitting at a big round Haight Ashbury-era oak table across from Editor/Publisher Jann Wenner, he gave me the big surprise. The real job.

It could have been easier to rein in M.C. Hammer’s spending.

But I hired my cousin, who had been a producer for me, to be Rolling Stone’s first photo editor.  He got Annie on budget for each feature and cover shoot, he gave her more time for those by arranging to buy photos for the news and lesser articles from other photographers, and he arranged the resale of her Rolling Stone photos.

A few years later, Annie and I were working on the marketing of the movie “Memories of Me” with the cast in the photo here—Alan King, Billy Crystal and JoBeth Williams.

Mike w AlanAnnieBillyJobeth lg web

Up against the car...Alan King, Mike, Annie, Billy Crystal & JoBeth Williams

Marketing movies takes a lot of work and a lot of time in the developmental stages because each film is like an individual corporation, one that makes a very costly product to produce with the possible shelf life of just one day if it doesn’t sell tickets.

So there is a very real concern that the marketing creative works.

A lot of people get involved in the decision as to what creative to use.  The studio had bought a lot of the almost-eight-gazillion concepts my office created for the key art image—which would basically be the poster and advertising art.  One image was Alan King in a lobster suit.

MemoriesOfMe_sketch1_r

Concept sketch...the lobster suit.

The studio picked Annie to shoot that shot and the others.  Not really the best choice, as we already had the concept approved and we only needed to execute it.  Take the picture.

Not the best choice because Annie is an artist and a conceptual artist.  Not really just the utility player.

She came to me with her own idea, which is where we should have started if the studio wanted Annie.  She said to me, “I want to put the cast in a convertible, the JFK Continental kind, top down on a trailer, towing them along Ocean Avenue, shooting from the tow vehicle.”

As my chin fell slowly to my chest, bounced a few times and with a final thump, my eyes rolled back in my head and from my grouper-like opened and drooling mouth I asked, “How much will it cost to just rent that beachfront view from the city of Santa Monica?  How much to hire the crew for the towing?  The trailer? The car? The insurance?  The police to escort us?  How much time and money must I ask studio management for to mock up the new concept, in how many versions to re-convince all the motion picture company’s commanders-in-chief and their soldiers that we all were wrong and that there is a better way?”

Reins please.

We rented a photo studio.  And, after a lot of phone calling and being hung up on with plenty of (expletives deleted), I had been granted another round of meetings and approval, with a budget to do the car shot in addition to the other approved concepts.  In one day.

Another concept sketch...the lobster driving this time!

Another concept sketch...the lobster driving this time!

But shooting Alan, Billy Crystal and Jo Beth in a studio was fun.  Come on.  Alan King?  In the lobster suit, closing his eyes and shrugging his shoulders with cigar in hand delivering pants-wetting monologues?  Billy Crystal?  Like Hamlet talking to that skull, Billy was looking at any object he picked up as he worked the empty space and just free form improvising, the two of them giving none of us any time to breathe.  A good time was had by all.

But we had too much fun in the studio, lost the light and the car shot just didn’t get done.

And Annie?  Annie’s photography, at the time we were all at Rolling Stone, was like the writing in that magazine:  it all packaged what was outlaw music and lifestyle and made it legit.  I wanted her signature pictures bigger so I dropped the traditional Rolling Stone look of bordered single pages and made her big shots even bigger at two pages wide.  And Jann enlarged the size of the magazine pages and we took it into magazine land with a reformatting of its giveaway newspaper look.

Talent prevails.

Usually.

Memories of Me...the finished poster

Memories of Me...the finished poster

The studio picked the most mundane of all our concepts to produce for the marketing.

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I took this photograph the evening of June 6, 1968:

RFK last minutes

RFK's last minutes, photo by Mike Salisbury

The negatives from that night were sent as fast as I could get them to Magnum Photos in New York.    Magnum, “…whose members have been among the world’s most distinguished photojournalists…..since Magnum’s founding in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson…”

A short while after that night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated I called Magnum for my negs.  Magnum said they couldn’t remember my film.

They couldn’t remember?

I did.

I remember it was a celebration of Senator Kennedy’s victory in the California Democratic presidential primary election.  I remember working gently through the crowd, getting close enough to the stage RFK was speaking from to get that shot.

I remember it was my Leica M4 with the 21mm lens that I shot the picture with.  The camera with the brass chassis showing through the worn edges of the black finish.

I remember it was Kodak Tri X film in the camera.

I remember following the former Attorney General of the United States and his waving entourage as they left the stage all chatting with the smiling happy crowd following in the ballroom of the badly aging, sagging Ambassador Hotel.  The hotel at the end of a lawn the size of a football field, just across the street from the Brown Derby restaurant.  That one shaped like a brown derby. The hotel with the Cocoanut Grove.  The dead but unburied Cocoanut Grove.

I remember the tinny sound of small arms fire in that stainless steel kitchen pantry.

I remember standing over the head barely lifting from the black pool made by the blood of the bullet shot close range into the man breathing the last life of another murdered Kennedy.

Mike Salisbury, photographer - circa 1968

Mike Salisbury, photographer - circa 1968

I remember the snapshot-fast eruption of chaos in that kitchen. The screaming and stumbling of people running everywhere, getting nowhere.  Running into other people, arms askew in the air, tripping as high heels went sideways, others tripping over those falling.  I remember being madly pushed by a TV news camera crew trying to get a close-up of the dying with their big video camera that took more than one to carry.  I remember being purposely headbashed with that camera, carving a gash in the back of my skull.

I remember getting through somehow into the faded beige hotel lobby with the high ceilings and creepy stained carpeting.  The museum-size room that was wide enough for three cars to drive through side by side, now crowded to the walls with the escaping; the only escape route left open was jumping into the dribbling fountains all painted in the same sickly dirty beige.  It was full of running bodies making waves that washed over the fountain sides, tripping the panicked stampede.

I remember busting to the outside on that lawn, looking all around and up and down and not knowing where my wife was.  I remember when we found each other her telling me that it was the end of the world.

I remember seeing this photograph published.

I remember calling and writing Magnum…but Magnum, the world’s elite photo agency couldn’t remember.

“…..the (Magnum) archive was quietly sold to MSD Capital, the private investment firm for the family of Michael S. Dell, the computer tycoon.” The New York Times recently reported. “….the sale was $100 million…”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/arts/design/02magnum.Few html

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Comments:

I remember that night also. I was studying for a final, a total all nighter, when I got up to turn off the TV so I could maybe focus for a few hours on material I had not seen all semester.  As I walked toward the TV the world ended (according to your ex).  I could not study, no way.  So I cheated and got a B.  Bad deal all the way around.  Jerry K.

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Wow…. Bob S.

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I stayed up to watch his speech and when he was finished I turned off the TV.  Then found out the horrible news the next morning…what a bummer.  R

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Interesting.  You were a first hand witness to a shocking and significant event in history.  I read the NYT article link from your blog and it sounds like the collection will be in good hands in a scholarly institution in Austin.  It sounds like they “lost” your negs.  David S.

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A moment preserved for all of us even though it had a tragic ending.  I have often wondered what our lives and American Politics would be like if both JFK and RFK were not murdered.  Life is what it is.  You can’t change history.  Susan S.

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Great shot…better than great.  Chris N.

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Very cool; what were you doing there?  Ken M.

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Holy shit, Mike, you’ve been a witness to history in many, many ways.  A sad but splendidly detailed account of that fateful day.  Thanks for sharing.  End of the world, indeed!  Eric P.

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Oh my God, this is amazing…I was in 8th grade then.  Susan K.

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Carly Simon said, “Mike, celebrate your birthday by shaving off that beard.”
James Taylor-"Gorilla" cover, Pts. 1 & 2

James Taylor-"In the Pocket" cover

Jack Kerouac, Buckwheat, Tony “Two-Ton” Galento, Gianni Agnelli, Agent 99-Barbara Feldon, Salvatore “the Bull” Gravano, Liza Minnelli, Mitt Romney, Darryl Strawberry, Jon (Timmy of Lassie) Provost, Marlon Jackson, John Andretti…

Bearded Mike, photographer

"Before" shot: Bearded Mike, photographer

 

…add my cousin — who won’t cop to being related to me — Joseph.  (He always had this Anglo Saxon family side vs the Irish side thing…and to make the point visually, he never took that black ash dot off his forehead — all year long it was there.  I just think he just really didn’t want me to tell anyone he knew me.  And I knew that his brother ran guns to the IRA out of his florist business.  Explain that to anyone, let alone the cousins with the big eagle-encrusted agency rings in the FBI, ATF, Secret Service, CIA.  But I really think he was more sensitive about having the florist thing in the family rather than the IRA thing.)

Also list my late uncle, Gordon Dunning, CMDR, USN, and James Taylor and what do we learn, kids?

That we all have the same birthday.

It was a March 12th afternoon after a Norman Seeff photo shoot for one of the two album covers we created for James, all totally wrangled by Grammy-winning producer, Russ Titleman.

James Taylor - "Gorilla" cover.

James Taylor - "Gorilla" cover

In their big Tudor house, James turned to Carly and me and said, “Happy one more birthday to us,” chugged down a Heinekin and with a burp and a satisfied smile said, “Nothing takes the edge off like beer and a Valium.”  Hmmmm.  I never thought of James Taylor as edgy.

I thought about what Carly said and asked myself, how could anyone say “no” to that, especially coming from her.  So I did it.  Cut it all off.  Right there in Sweet Baby James’ Beverly Hills bathroom, singing to myself, “You’re so vain…”

Mike & Zorro, post beard.

Mike & Zorro, post beard.

Not much later, on location at a classic period hacienda right in the best of the old L.A. left from the days of Cecil B. DeMille – Los Feliz – at another shoot for the marketing campaign of “Zorro, the Gay Blade,” I took my picture with George Hamilton. (I think I took all these photos with celebrities for the wall of the eventual pizza take-out or barbershop or Hollywood dry cleaners I would own.)

mike&zorro.sm.r

"After" - Mike & Zorro

Looking at that picture I took of George and me by holding the camera in our noses, I realized George is a really good sport and that this was the first time I had seen my beardless face in a photograph.  This is why he is the movie star, I thought.  He actually looks like one.

With Superman speed, grabbing my Sharpie before anyone found the evidence of my facial nudity, I quickly retouched the picture to make my naked face more dashing…like Zorro.

Cheers.

 

The young Birthday Boy explores his world.

The young Birthday Boy explores his world.

Comments:

I read Spirits in the Sky and Happy Birthday to Us today, in your honor.  Amazing prose, detailed experiences and a wonderful life well lived—cheers!  Best, Eric P.

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Happy Birthday, Mike. The blog is great.  Bob G.

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Oh, not “you probably think this song is about you”? Ha ha!  Happy Birthday!  Jill B.

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“There?” I asked. “After dark? ”

Monument Valley, Utah  photo by Mike Salisbury

Monument Valley, Utah - photo by Mike Salisbury

Facing northbound on the backside of the mountains east of Phoenix, I could see on the clear horizon the indelible skyline made by the tall towers of Monument Valley…the road was a straight line from me to them.  A really long straight road.

a really long straight road...photo by Mike Salisbury

A really long straight road...photo by Mike Salisbury

“That is where we will be probably just after dark,” my friend Steve Taylor said.

It was barely morning daylight.  I had thought this little skip to Marlboro country was going to be like the short hop from my house in Venice to the phony canyons at Disneyland.  Now, my anxiety was waking up for work with an ambiguous smile.  I could see my future.  Lunch, gas stops, snacks, photo ops, dinner…my whole day was in front of my eyes.  I could see my life lying there in the heat of the desert before me. I couldn’t see my “Close Encounter” though.

I was riding the Honda VFR to Monument Valley from Phoenix and back.  Great bike.  Won’t ever buy a long distance motorcycle without ABS.  Saved my life on the crowded freeway east of Scottsdale coming in for a landing after riding close to eight hours straight outta Kayenta to Flagstaff, sneaking into Sedona along Oak Creek in the canyon when the Phoenix rush hour traffic just stopped in front of me.  Stopped.  So did the Honda.

Leaving Mesa this morning, a day before all that drama, Steve, on his way home to Park City, wanted to have his picture taken “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” so we went this back way over the mountains behind Mesa east of Phoenix to Winslow and on and on into the valley.

Monument Valley butte - photo by Mike Salisbury

Monument Valley butte - photo by Mike Salisbury

Here on top of the mountain, parked at the top of a ski run to infinity he asked, “You a drinkin’ man?  Because if you want something with dinner tonight, this is the last chance to buy a bottle before the res.”

“Will power lasts about two weeks and is soluble in alcohol.” – Mark Twain

Honda VFR - photo by Mike Salisbury

Honda VFR - photo by Mike Salisbury

Seven butt wrenching hours of riding later, just before dark, after the after-effects of a Mexican combination plate lunch had worn off, a plate that was only a bloating combination of several kinds of deadly fats, I was gliding silently but deadly on the east side of Monument Valley coming to the road leading to Goulding’s Lodge.  Steve, not impressed with tall rocks seemingly the height of the Chrysler building, sped off leaving me motoring alone, wheels close to the white stripes that were reflecting the sun down the highway to infinity, the empty sand all around me blackening as the sun set.  The sky scraping rock spires become even redder as I got closer to them, heading into the setting sun.

And then, out there in the literal middle of nowhere, the sun just dropped.

The sky went black. The valley went lightless. I looked into the nothing above the end of the headlight hitting the asphalt. I felt vibes and heard muffled screeching voices and then got hit in the face!

Soaring and swirling phosphorescent specters erupted in my face like the abrupt opening of the lost ark in “Raiders.

My body shocked…my heart jumped out of my chest and my eyes bulged into space, like that horny Tex Avery cartoon wolf suddenly aroused by a flirty dame.  My helmet leapt off the top of my head stretching the straps and slapped back down over my eyes.  Screaming, I twisted the throttle until my knuckles hit my wrist.  Racing on tires now elliptically shaped by speed over the serpentine road, racing up and down, in and out of the gullies and washes barely in front of a cloud of desert sand, racing them all-demons and spirits, sand cold after sunset, racing to the warm safety of the lodge.

Gulping an emergency glass of wine at the hotel, I tried using my cell phone.  It wouldn’t make calls and couldn’t accept calls.

We stumbled in the half dark of a not full moon on foot from our rooms to dinner up at the hotel.  This was the first time I heard my friend swear.  He was bummed about the recently bad aesthetic the hand of commerce had dumped on this iconically sacred, unique American landscape.  I guess he had forgotten Dinah Shore singing about the Chevys perched up on the spire of rock that was claimed to be Monument Valley.

The ’64 Impala convertible sitting up there for real– long before computers could do it.  That live trick for commerce may have been the beginning of the end.

John Ford only took heroic pictures of the valley; he didn’t dress it like a sideshow freak.  But right now, I was staring at the black plastic thing in my hand, still lost in the mysteries of my now soulless phone.

Valley view - photo by Mike Salisbury

Valley view - photo by Mike Salisbury

After the ride, back in Mesa at the phone store, I found that my number had been “suspended” from the system the day I fought the demons (though my daughter Victoria’s number on the same account was always working) and the memory of any calls made or received with my phone in Monument Valley had been erased….

It all may have been symptoms of my reactions to a long and at times sad trip…800 miles in two days and we could not find much of the Southwest of the Santa Fe Railroad posters out there.  The place where I was born. A place with no name that no one recalls.

Young Elizabeth with Monument burro - photo by Mike Salisbury

Young Elizabeth with Monument burro - photo by Mike Salisbury

The white domes of Navajo hogans are gone replaced by many more trailers some rotting on the red sand.  The sheepdogs and log corrals are gone because the sheep are gone…the fry bread stands are gone because the new Burger Kings and KFCs and Subways are hiring and feeding.

What should be good news is that Goulding’s Lodge, where John Ford and John Wayne made westerns, is busy again – so busy, it is going to be torn down and relocated as a new “modern” hotel not rising up under the red bluffs but sprawling out down in the flats.

John Wayne's The Searchers poster

John Wayne's "The Searchers" poster

“Gambling?” I asked Steve.

“No people out here, no money.” He replied.

I am sure, I thought, somebody said that to Bugsy Siegel standing on the bare plot of ground the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas would be built on.

puppy_victoria

Young Victoria with Navaho pup - photo by Mike Salisbury

There are good new things there.  On the Hopi reservation is a new medical center. There are new schools on the reservations with billboards announcing national scholastic achievements of the schools. There are new Indian courthouses and tribal police stations and jails.

And there is one new hogan at Gouldings.  They will move the new replica hogan down there to the new hotel site along with the Porta Potty all set up recently for the tours.

All just in front of that national and natural monument that the Chevy sat on.

Sad.

Perhaps all the spirits of the valley are sad too.  And a little angry.

Originally published http://www.bikeland.org/story.php?storyID=39539 www.bikeland.org – Thanks Ray, Oliver and Steve.

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Comments:

Cool stuff, Mike….Hope you’re doing well.  Matt B.

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It’s the hippest blog in the world. The images have only one thing in common, you.  As a copywriter, the thing I appreciated the most is how you lay type, or lettering, down on the page and give it an authority like no other designer I ever worked with.  Type design: when Mike lays it down, it stays there.  Alan M.

Mike:  Thanks, Alan. Means a lot to me.  Lorraine, my assistant, is a big help.

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Mike, I am always amazed on finding your gift/talent/genius/scent/footprints around so many different projects, products, personalities and landscapes – you are living a rich life and will leave this earth with lasting impressions. I am fortunate to know you as a friend.
Hope all is well in Venice.
Enthusiastically,
Franz