June 25, 2015 by Thomas Wictor
My nausea prevents me from posting tonight. All the behind-the-scenes folderol having to do with my documentary—Operation Four Little Martyrs: A Hamas Deception that Fooled the World—has wiped me out. Stress is the worst thing for Meniere’s disease. It’s what exacerbates the symptoms more than anything. Every book I published relied on the cooperation of others, so I always swore that each book would be my last. I had no idea how much more reliant I’d be on others when making a film. As shocking as it seems, people are so petty that they try to sabotage those who pay their salaries. They call you “My friend!” as they scheme to cut you down to size.
Why? Because you threaten them. They’re envious that they didn’t think of it themselves.
To leave you on a positive note, I’ll tell you a story about the greatest act of generosity ever perpetrated in the Los Angeles entertainment industry. The author of this act is Neil Zlozower, one of the finest rock-and-roll photographers in history.
He’s extremely funny. When I knew him, he wore what he called a “Jew-fro.” His hair was huge. Somehow I convinced him to let me record him talking for several hours. Here’s a segment.
Neil Zlozower on music photojournalism.
Music magazines aren’t interested in quality. I mean, they’ll publish a photo of a guy if he’s striking a really dynamic pose with the guitar, and he could be makin’ just the ugliest f*ckin’ face and have three chins!
(Click the photo.)
The magazine doesn’t even look at the face and chin. They’re thinking, “Wow, look at this guy’s dynamic strumming!” They don’t care if his tongue is hangin’ right outta his mouth. The art directors at most magazines suck pretty bad. All they want are flash photos.
When I was coming up, it was unheard of to use a flash when taking live shots, but in the late seventies, early eighties, it got real popular to shoot with Kodachrome ‘cause it’s so fine grained. You need a lot of light for that, so everyone started using flash units. So here you are, a rock star, trying to be all cool and sh*t, singing, and you have ten people in the pit all using flash units. You look down for a second, and ba-ba-ba-bap, they get you right in the face.
So the bands started saying, “Look, we don’t want these f*ckin’ guys flashing in our eyes all night,” so they instituted the three-song limit for photographers. It’s totally unnecessary. I mean, I never use a flash. I always thought even the lamest photographer would know how to use ambient light, but they don’t, so they use a flash, and since you’re shooting from below, it can illuminate a lot of ugly sh*t, like double chins.
Publicists say they want photo approval. Here’s someone who knows nothing at all about photography to start with, and now she wants to approve the photos! To me, a publicist is nothing but a professional liar. It’s pretty funny. The publicist says that her client needs all these things. “There are some things we need in order for this shoot to happen.” No, they don’t need anything except to get here and have me take their f*ckin’ photos. They just want stuff. That’s cool. I want lots of stuff, too. I just don’t make other people get it for me.
The publicist says, “We’re gonna need full catering,” and I say, “Great! Give me the money. I’m not paying for it outta my own pocket.” And they always give it to me. It’s the same with makeup artists. “You want makeup? You’re ugly? You pay for it,” is what I tell them. It’s ridiculous! “My client needs these things.” It just shows how f*ckin’ incompetent most publicists are. We’re doing a photo shoot here, not going on a picnic! If the client eats a big ol’ ten-dollar turkey-and-Swiss-cheese sandwich from the deli, they’ll get all stuffed and then they can’t move or pose for me. They’ll just want to go to sleep. They’re all outta their minds sometimes.
I was at this interview with [a British music legend]. He’s totally f*cked-up lookin’, all white and pasty, with a shaved head and real grungy clothes like a street person. Every time the interviewer asked him a question, he’d scream, “Wot a fookin’ load o’ crap! You fookin’ Yank interviewers are all the fookin’ same! You all ask the same fookin’ stupid fookin’ questions!” But then he’d answer the question all calm. That’s how the whole interview went.
He was screamin’ at the top of his lungs in this thick British accent, droolin’ and the veins poppin’ out all over his head. Well, I went home and had a nightmare he was in my bedroom doin’ that to me! It was terrible! I shoved a wastebasket down over his head to shut him up ‘cause he was screamin’ so loud he was gonna wake up my wife and baby, but then once I got it on him it made his voice even louder, like he was in an echo chamber! He was just sittin’ there at the foot of my bed, and all I could see was this ragged suit with an upside-down metal wastebasket on top with these screams comin’ out of it. God, it was horrible!
For some reason there’s a higher percentage of totally maniacal psychos in photography than in any other business. They burn out fast—photographers, assistants, everyone. I’ll be burnin’ out myself one of these days.
Neil didn’t burn out, nor did he rust or fade away.
After Mel Zerman decided to publish In Cold Sweat, he changed his mind about it being mostly text and said it should be lavishly illustrated with photos. I set about trying to collect them. All the photographers were given the deadline, and most sent me what they had far ahead of time. Two of the giants in the rock-and-roll photo industry, Jill Furmanovsky and Neil Zlozower, were the most helpful, offering some of the best images in the book for very reasonable rates.
One big-named guy, however, simply did not follow through. I’d call, write, fax—no response, or “They’re on their way.” Three days before the deadline, in desperation I went to Neil Zlozower’s studio and begged him to look through his collection to see if he had any more of the musicians I needed.
“Who’s the photographer you’re waiting for?” Neil asked in his unique voice, which makes him sound like a hit man. If you heard that voice coming out of the darkness in your apartment at night, you’d fall right over dead. You’d instantly give up the ghost.
I identified the photographer, and Neil said, “I know him. Let me give him a call.” So he did, and he asked in a jovial, menacing way what the holdup was, because he had the writer sitting right there with him, freaking out, and the deadline was only three days away. What was the deal? I heard the guy whine something, and then Neil thanked him and hung up.
“He said you didn’t give him a drop-dead deadline, so he thought he had more time.”
Then Neil Zlozower did something that showed the sort of person he is: He gave me original, irreplaceable negatives and let me take them to a local photo lab, where—since he’s a legend in the industry and he’d called ahead—they made prints immediately, on the spot, and I brought Neil back his negatives an hour later. I then FedExed everything to Mel and made the deadline with a day to spare.
Neil saved my bacon. He had no reason to do so, and he risked negatives that are worth thousands because they’re part of his decades-long body of work. He did it purely to help me.
Thank you, Neil. I’ve never forgotten it. In Cold Sweat is in its fourth printing. It’s outlived most of the publishing houses that rejected it, most of the literary agencies that rejected it, some of the actual literary agents who rejected it, and entire book-store chains. I think your act of kindness blessed it and made it immortal.
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