Glen E. Friedman | In episode 64 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits sits down with photographer Glen E. Friedman
Glen E. Friedman was one of the kids that inspired the Dogtown and Z Boys movie. His photography is synonymous with that era and his passion for alternative culture persisted. He followed it to the Punk and then Hip Hop scenes and took photos that defined those moments as well. But Glen says that he owes it all to the fact that he was a genuine member of those communities. The photographer of seminal skate, punk, and hip hop scenes joins us on Light Culture Podcast to connect the dots from Z Boys to Black Flag, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes.Read Transcript
Glen E. Friedman has been in the right place at the right time. Which means that he was cool enough to be friends with, and smart enough to be inspired by seminal scenes on two different coasts that he began to document. From skateboarding with the legendary Dogtown and Z-Boys crew, that included Tony Alva and Jay Adams, to the early days of the LA hardcore punk scene of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and the Germs. To New York City, during the early days of hip hop, when he ran with Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys. All while snapping photos. He shot album covers, worked on movies, and published books, like Fuck You Heroes, with photos that have become definitive graphic documents that helped cement the importance of these radical subcultures. His contributions to the skateboard scene are considered so significant that he was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame as an icon. Welcome, Glen.
Thank you very much. Such a lovely introduction.
Well, you’ve done a lot. So what was it like to be inducted as an icon? Did you go? Did they have a ceremony? Did you make a speech?
Yes I did. I made a speech. And I think it’s one of the first one’s that was noted as being too long, maybe. [laughter] I had a great time at the Hall of Fame. And I was inducted in the same year as Jay Adams and Peggy Oki, two dear friends of mine. And particularly- And Mark Gonzales. And it was quite an interesting class of us all to go in together. You know, a lot of real rebels and even- and they even inducted- They used to have music inductees every year. And Black Flag, also, was inducted with us. And it was pretty amazing. It was great. And the Hall of Fame, you know, it gets bigger every year and gets more credibility every year. I think that was maybe the fifth year of it or something like that. Maybe the fourth or sixth. I don’t know. But it was- it was, you know, it was a great event and I had a really good time.
So what did you say?
And yeah, I was very honored. What’d I say? Well… I told everyone that skateboarding is where I cut my teeth. You know, a lot of them in that room were all still skateboarders, and that’s all they ever did in their life. And that’s a great thing. And they did other things, and they grew up. But, you know, I became well-known for doing these other things, and I went on to other things. Although, I never left skateboarding completely. And I wanted to express to them and let everyone in the room know that this is where it all happened, and this what, you know, skateboarding is what runs through my veins. And skateboard culture. I was a skateboarder. And for all those people who didn’t know why I was getting inducted to the Hall of Fame, I let them know why. You know, all I contributed and how I love skateboarding, and how great of an activity it is, and what it meant to my life. And even, you know, yeah. Forever. So that’s basically what I told them.
Well, skateboarding really shaped your life and added to it more than anything, right? Like, attitude about culture, about a society, mainstream society in general. You know, because you had found a group of friends, people you admired. Yet, they were not very respected, I would imagine in those days at all.
It’s great, the way you phrased it. Those skateboarders in that era, you know, just being there at that time was really special. And it did shape me, like you said. And their rebellious attitudes, and they weren’t necessarily very well liked but they were respected. Just like the gangsters in the neighborhood. People might not like them, but they respect them, you know? It’s like they had a certain class, a certain style, a certain power about them that needed to be respected, you know?
And, honestly, I was a lot younger. I was hanging out with these guys, for lack of a better- you know, ruffians. You know, I was from the nice side of town, they were from the rougher side of town. But a lot of the skate spots were in my neighborhood. [laughter] So they would come up to my neighborhood to skate, and that’s how I got to know them, you know? And it wasn’t so much, you know, and it certainly wasn’t snapping. You know, I really felt, as a skater and growing up, you know, with a very creative mother that, you know, I was creating images. I was seeing things that I didn’t see in the magazines. I was seeing, you know, there was Skateboarder Magazine, which was the Bible, which everyone read back then. And was, you know, spread the gospel all across the world, really. You know, by ’77 it was international and had a million readers, you know. And, David, as a magazine person, you know, back then that was huge.
It’s huge today too.
Yeah. Back then and it is again now. But I really felt as though something was missing. And I had a vision, and for some reason, at such a young age, I was able to begin to articulate it onto film. Right? It wasn’t just about snapping. It was about being there and feeling it, and being a part of it. And showing that in the pictures. And I think that’s, you know, what got me respect from them, and what led the way for where I was gonna go for the rest of my life.
You said they came into your neighborhood. Was that because of the swimming- of the pools that they were using?
It was mostly because of the back of schoolyards.
The embanked schoolyards, the schoolyards had these incredible asphalt banks because they were- it was used to help the drainage through the canyons, really. And just to dig out and have a flat area for kids to play on, you had to have, you know, the canyon is going downhill and this is why all these banks were built. Like the schools were built in the canyons. Um. And so whether it was Kenter Canyon School, or Brentwood School, or Paul Revere Junior High School. I actually went to Kenter and at Paul Revere. I was a student there, you know, before skateboarding. And then- I mean, in the ’70s anyways- skateboarding was always happening at those schools, even in the ’60s there’s incredible footage of that stuff. But I went to those schools. And these guys would come up from Venice, and from Santa Monica, and from Mar Vista, Culver City, and they would come up to Brentwood in Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades. And that’s where the schools were. And we had these unique asphalt walls to ride. And the swimming pools too, of course. Cause, yeah, it was a more affluent neighborhood, and there were more pools, so there would be more empties. So, you’d be searching for more empty swimming pools in those neighborhoods too. But in Southern California there were pools just about everywhere.
And do you remember the first time that you were struck by skating as something special, you know, beyond just like an activity?
Craig Stecyk’s stories really gave me a perspective, reading them as a twelve-year-old, that like what we were doing was something unique, and incredible, and culturally significant. Even at twelve-years-old, I was like, “Wow. I’m like a part of this history. This is really weird because he’s talking about guys that I know.” And then just being there… at this pool that day, or at the schoolyard, and seeing what we were doing and knowing that this is not happening anywhere else on the planet. The boards were built in the neighborhood or we made our own boards. And the equipment was coming from Southern California. And we were using it, and the guys were using it around me, all of us were – in ways that no one else was anywhere in the- in the world. So it was really unique. And there was no dad to come help you learn how to skateboard. It was like everyone was doing it on their own. So all of that. That it was our own thing. I used to go to the schoolyards when I was twelve-years-old and just hang out all day with, you know, guys from ten to fifteen to sixteen to seventeen-years-old, but we would all just be hanging out. Really creating everyday what skateboarding would become. And I did have a sense, at that time, that it was unique and that it was special. Part of the reason I started making the pictures is because I wanted everyone else to feel what I was feeling. This independence and this creativity building something that hadn’t been built before. It was exciting.
Originality. I mean, this is like the beginning of something that has now become like a global, you know, phenomena. You say that it was already popular at some levels, but I feel like there was something extra added to this. Which is the culture side of it, you know, where we talk about subcultures. So just skating, physical activity is not a culture in itself enough to define a culture or subculture, it also needs other elements–photography, art, music.
You’re a hundred percent correct. I mean, as a culture, Craig’s stories kind of put it in a place. But the fact that we also had mixing of cultures, different kinds of kids all doing it together and this creativity coming out. And us feeling that it was important, or that I did, enough to wanna, you know, portray it and document it and share it with other people, and spread this word. It was so exhilarating and so exciting. And yeah, and I think that Craig really had a lot to do with the culture part of it, honestly. His stories are in our book. We have the book, Dogtown: The Legend of the Z-Boys. And that first appeared in Skateboarder Magazine.
You know, those stories, I really think, did help cement it as a cultural phenomenon. It’s just the way he articulated and looked at it, and his perspective of it in the greater picture, not just like, “I’m a baseball player on a diamond and I throw the ball fast.” It’s like, we’re skateboarders and this is how we relate to architecture. You know? We’re skateboarders and this is how our creativity comes out in what we’re doing. Whether we’re drawing on the boards or how we’re thinking of ways to ride in these places that no one has ever even conceived of being used for such a purpose before. And he articulated that on the page, and I think that’s really what cemented as a culture, as opposed to it becoming, you know, like I said in the movie, just little league.
Little league, right. And in the movie you alluded to, Dogtown Z-Boys, which you had a big part in helping to create, right? With a lot of your images. I don’t know if you shot any film for it as well. Like video of the-?
I had a lot to do with that film that I didn’t get credit for, you know. I was the one who brought Sean Penn to be the narrator, I picked most of the music that was in the movie. I made a lot of the trajectory of the film was stuff that I recommended to my old friend, Stacy Peralta. You know, we had talked about it two years before it happened. We talked about what we might do. And I told him that he was crazy, because there was no way he was gonna be able to make everybody happy. But he had a mission. He wanted to do it. And no one really knew at the time that his mission was to help him maybe get to do a feature film later. We were all too innocent, and that’s why a lot of people had resentment towards him later. Because they saw it was really just a stepping stone for him, to many of us, we thought that. And, you know, most of us are still friends. He’s a great guy. But he’s just a Hollywood director, you know? And, again, they have ways they go about doing things.
But yeah, I mean, we made the movie. And, you know, I like my credit. I was a creative consultant, and I did that with the movie about Dock Ellis too. I liked being the consultant. I like having that kind of perspective, and people will, you know, let me have that kind of input in the film. And certainly, in that film, you know, I flew back and forth while they were editing several times over the six months that it was made. And, yeah, it’s a great film. I’m really proud to be a part of it, and I’m proud of what I did with it. I’m also disappointed in some parts of it, you know, it’s not perfect. But I mean so many people have been inspired by that film in so many different ways. Not just skateboarders, but it’s just such a great story. And it even inspired, I think, it brought the level of documentary filmmaking, you know, to a new place. Like people all of a sudden, when they saw that film, they felt like, “God, I could do something like that.” You know? Cause it was pretty raw, and the music was- it was very visceral, right? The whole thing. And I think it really made people feel good. So yeah, I think it inspired a lot of other films as well.
Well, it really did something for me. Because I grew up, you know, in New York. I’m older than, you know, most of these people who are much older now, and I’m still older than they are. And I didn’t really know very much about skateboarding. It wasn’t really happening in Brooklyn, in my neighborhood certainly, at any level to compare with what was happening there. And then, of course, as I got older and more involved, and I saw the importance of the scene in New York, even in the ’90s. You know, when it was kind of returned when Aaron Rose opened his space and he started showing a lot of the California skateboarders and their art in that space. And, so obviously it really mattered, to me and others to get an understanding of why people skateboard. I still have to say, cause I live near Tompkins Park, which has that skateboard, uh, park part of it.
The TF, yes. Yeah.
And I used to think endlessly like, “Why do they keep doing that?” You know, trying to do those things over and over and over again. But, you know, I realized that that was just my not doing it. You know, just not having ever been a skateboarder. Whereas, I could keep shooting baskets forever and never get tired even though I miss most of the shots. I still keep trying. So I never made that analogy until now, but it’s pretty much-
It’s a great analogy. And how gratifying is it when you get that three-pointer in as a swish, you know? It’s the same thing when guys do their tricks. I mean, when I skated, it wasn’t so much about over and over and over, repeating the same thing. You know, when we skated, when we were younger, you know, in the ’70s, there were guys that did that stuff and we kind of called them freestylers. And we looked down on them, to be honest. You know, they were kind of like- they were more mechanical, and they just do the same things and they practice these tricks. My era of skateboarding was more about style and flow. It was like, you know, most people were riding because the waves were flat, and you were trying to get that same feeling of, you know, just cruising. And feeling the air and feeling the excitement. Not just mechanical, over and over and over doing the tricks. I actually am kind of baffled by it by myself. But your analogy really does make it really good. [laughter]
But what I respect is kids concentrating on something and really working towards a goal on their own, where no one else is really telling them. Other than their friends, maybe, helping them. But I think kids really find something in themselves while they skateboard. And even when it was just cruising, it’s something that is really a way to become very self aware and conscious of… of just completing a mission. Of just accomplishing something on your own. It’s not what anyone else is forcing you to do. It’s purely just done by yourself. It’s not a teacher telling you to do your homework, and it’s not a parent telling you to, you know, practice your instrument.
You get to go out and do it on your own. And that is why I just love it so much. And there’s a group aspect to it too. You know, the comradery that skateboarders have. Back in 1980, I graduated high school. And I could literally travel anywhere in the world, and for my high school graduation I got to go to London. Cause, you know, punk rock. And I just wanted to go to London and see what things were going on, and I had an aunt there. And all I had to do – and I could do it, literally, anywhere in the country, and I used to do it when I’d travel – is just I could just call up and say, “Hey, I’m Glen Friedman.” And, you know… And it’s like a skate shop I would call. And I’d say, “Hey, are there any spots or anything?”
And this comradery, we all knew each other. Every skateboarder would say, “Oh my god, you’re in our town. Let’s go skate. Let’s go do something.” And I’m saying that’s my personal experience, but certainly any skateboarder, even back in the ’70s, if you went anywhere in the world – Cause there was, inevitably, in most major cities, there was, not necessarily a big scene but there was always someone. That’s your brother. I mean, when you go down and you look at the LES, you know, under the bridge there, the skate park, or you go to the Tompkins Square, the TF, or, you know, it used to be Union Square. Remember in the ’80s, when everyone used to practice in Union Square late at night? You know, in the park. In the, um, you know, flat area up there. Anyone could show up. And you’re a skateboarder too, you know. It’s a brotherhood? And it really is. And it’s incredible how it’s gotten so much more urban as it’s grown, and I just love it. I mean, and, again, it’s that freestyle stuff that I’m not really a fan of, but the comradery that brings about in between young people and how they work together, and they hang out together and they socialize, and anything that’s not organized by any adults. I think it’s just something really special.
And it’s also, you know, being there and watching them. Cause I take my dog there often. And the joy when they land one of those tricks for these kids who are just learning. Or even, you know, more advanced. You know, that look on their face, like that moment, I’m sure is worth everything.
They accomplish something.
Yeah. Landed that trick.
For their own gratification. Not for anyone else’s. Just for themselves. It’s beautiful.
And you mentioned that, you know, punk and how you went to London because you were a fan. So, you know, it seems like it’s a kind of seamless transition from skateboarding to punk rock, but I imagine it wasn’t so clear back then.
So in the early ’70s, we were listening to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Ted Nugent – of all people, you know, was one of our biggest heroes. And, turned out to be a total scumbag. But back then, he was like, he had a great energy. And with skateboarding, it wasn’t about being mellow, it was about being radical, right? And the more aggressive and fast and loud the music was, that’s what made us feel good. We’re all these young people with a lot of fucking energy. And the music was a big part of it. Whether you’re there listening to music or you’re going to where you’re gonna go skate, right? When we started hearing punk rock, it was just like the next extension of that. It was harder, and it was louder, and it was faster. And it’s everything we wanted. So all of a sudden, punk rockers, you know… I mean, skaters started getting into punk rock music.
It was just a natural thing that happened, because everyone listened to the radio when we were kids. Or to alternative radio. And skateboarders, by nature, are very open people. Just like punk rockers. You know about culture; you know what’s going on in the street. You don’t go to your average places to find out your information. People just talked and listened, and had their ear to the ground. And so when punk rock started coming up, you know, some of, you know, at first, it met some, you know, resistance. Like, you know, people say punk is bunk. And I love- there’s a great, great meme that I see on the Internet, and it says, “I used to be punk rock when it was called hey faggot.” [laughter] And it was like, people didn’t get it. But that’s what it was always like being a skateboarder too. They’d say things like, “Well, you’re fifteen-years-old, why are you playing with that toy?” People who didn’t know, you know? And, you know, even back then in the ’70s, it was like, no one thought, you know, that people would be twenty-years-old still riding their boards. Tony Alva, I remember on his twenty-first birthday at the Dog Bowl, you know, it was like he was old. You know? He was like basically retiring and getting ready to start his company, you know, Alva Skates. You know? But, you know, he’s sixty-three today and still just ripping pools better than he did, you know, forty years ago. It’s incredible.
Speaking of Alva. I saw this documentary that Vans did that you’re in, as well.
That sort of tells the story of his, you know, going through everything he did and ending up like clean and sober. And, you know, energetic and thin as ever. Looking pretty cool.
It’s an amazing story.
Yeah. Tony’s an incredible story. I mean, I’ve known Tony since I was twelve. Before I took pictures of him we knew each other through the schoolyard. I used to sell boards for him at school. He would get boards from the sponsor and he needed money. I would go sell the boards at school for fifteen bucks a piece. And he’d give them to me for ten and I’d sell three and I could buy one myself. That’s how I got to know him. And going to his mom’s house and picking up the boards, and he’d have all these free skateboard wheels and we’d try and sell them and get that money.
Then I started taking pictures and my pictures were good. People liked them right away. Stacy said, “Wow. Glen, you should send these down to the magazine.” Stecyk was like, “This is what you need to do.” And I went and did it. I shot, I figured out I had to shoot the right kind of film, cause I was originally just working on a Pocket Instamatic. But I’m saying it all started with Tony and Jay, these guys. And I was in the right place, but I put myself there and I worked hard at it and I loved what I was doing. It was my life, and I think that’s why my pictures speak to people–these are things that I love. I’m not a voyeur just taking pictures of other people’s shit. I love punk rock. I live for it. I love hip hop. I love it. It was the next creative thing for me. And they all went one right into the other. And to go back to your question about how, you know, from skateboarding to punk rock. The music was energizing our lives. It became our new soundtrack. And then some of the guys even became so enthralled in the music that they stopped skating and they started bands.
Because skateboarding was beginning to take a little downturn by 1980. Because of the industry, and the sport evolving too quickly for its own good. And, it was good for the sport, for the activity, but it wasn’t good for the industry. You know, it got rid of the riff-raff, really. But because the business wasn’t as successful and people weren’t having the contests and that never really meant much to us anyway. But people started making bands. And we started going to shows, because it was more exciting than anything else. And we were all getting older too. You know, guys now would want to go out to a club at night. And you would see this music and, you know, the first people that were stage diving, and slam dancing, those were all skaters. That was skateboard energy coming into the fold of this old punk rock, you know? In New York-style punk rock. We all loved the Ramones first, then we loved the Sex Pistols. And then you know, David, you grew up here.
You know, I was in LA at the time, but I was a bicoastal kid, right? My dad lived here, my mom was in LA. So every summer I was here until my last years in high school. I was here and going there for the summer, to California. That’s why I was able to be in touch with those scenes so much. But like when I would go to the Mud Club on 77 White Street back in 1978, I was kind of scared. When I was standing outside of Max’s Kansas City just north of Union Square, I was a little kid. I was a little bit scared. I didn’t drink. And there were drug addicts and artists. And it was kinda, you know, it was gnarly. But then, at the same time, that’s why our own generation started starting their own bands, right? Like The Stimulators were here in New York. In LA, you had people like The Weirdos who were the equivalent to the Ramones, right? They were the older group of bands, The Alley Cats, The Crowd, all these bands. But then you had, you know, Black Flag, and The Circle Jerks, and Red Cross.
And even, you know, stuff that later on- And in DC, you had Minor Threat, and SOA, and all these bands that were being inspired by the English stuff. And the early New York stuff, which obviously inspired the English stuff.
But it was a lot of skaters. Fucking Ian Mackaye was a skater before he was a punk rocker. Henry Rollins was a skater before he was a punk rocker. I could say the same thing for a lot of guys in bands in California, you know? It was a really great energy. And it was that sense of self, that do it yourself thing, the individuality that really made it its own culture, right? It wasn’t a part of anything else. And I think that’s why people, such as yourself, were attracted to it. You knew it was something special. And the even greater thing about it, which I can’t say for a lot of the art scene and a lot of the shit that was going around New York, this shit is fucking pure. A lot of that shit is bullshit. But skateboarding and what became known as hardcore punk, really fucking pure, no one ever did it for the money. People did it because of their heart. It was what they felt. They didn’t think that they were gonna get anywhere in life doing it. It was just what they did to express themselves. It’s what they needed to do. It was vital. It was vital to me, and that’s why I portrayed it.
But you weren’t, you know, of the same mindset. Your life was more comfortable, you had direction – not that they didn’t – but, you know, they were throwing everything into the music in a way that nothing else matters. And a lot of it was just a lot more aggressive or even, you know, violent on the stage that turned into violence in the theaters.
I think that the violence is very, very overblown. I don’t think any of them were a violent scene. I think that there was some violence involved. But I think that that is just all stuff titillating people. I think it’s bullshit. I hate it that people even bring up that word when they talk about punk rock, and like that horrible, disgusting documentary, you know, American Hardcore. What a piece of shit that was, you know? Didn’t do any justice to the scene at all. A couple of people, they’re voices stand out and even the people who made it, I know they’re good people, but they don’t know what the fuck they were talking about. They really didn’t. And everyone has their own perspective.
Punk rock is yet to be documented fairly, I think. You know, in a way that was true to the people who were really there in the beginning, and of that era of punk rock. Not the first era. The first era has been documented by all those people from Punk Magazine and Legs McNeil, and all these people. You know, your generation. Pretty authentically, you know? My generation of people, we talk about it. Mackaye talks about it, Rollins talks about it very articulately sometimes when he wants to. He’s kind of moved on. But for the most part, it’s a lot of self-aggrandizing and it hasn’t really gotten real discussing the violence to people who don’t know anything about it – parts of the scene.
That music was fucking creative at the time. I mean, the bands that were coming out of LA and DC and New York – well, not New York so much, I have to say. I think New York had its heyday in the ’70s. After the ’70s, New York punk to me was whack. It really wasn’t that good. You know, the Bad Brains came up from DC. But I didn’t really care for any of the bands, even though I had friends in them in New York. It wasn’t creative. It was very- a lot of meatheads. LA, in the early ’80s, I mean, you’d see, between the Adolescents and Black Flag, and all the different bands, you know, so much incredible stuff. Circle Jerks, Social Distortion, even Youth Brigade. So many, you know, people sounded different.
And then by ’83 or ’84 kind of sounded, everything started kind of sounding the same. It was very generic and coincidentally, what happened? I’m starting to listen to a lot more hip hop. I’m getting records sent to me from my friends in Brooklyn of the Funky Four. Plus One of Treacherous Three. The first enjoy twelve inches. And this is happening as I just produced Suicidal Tendencies’ first album. I became a producer, what do you know? You know, after photographing. This was family to me though. Cause of course, the singer of Suicidal Tendencies was the younger brother of Jim Muir the famous Dogtown skater, who looked after me like a little brother when we would go on skate missions, and go down to San Diego, without my parents knowing, overnight, stuff like that, from LA.
And so Jim’s little brother, Mike- we were at Santa Monica College together. And he gave me his demo. And so it’s skateboarding to punk rock, and so I did that Suicidal thing and had great success, relatively speaking. We weren’t looking for it, we just did it. But my energy, and the energy of the band, and my enthusiasm got them on MTV. Got them on Rodney Bingenheimer’s radio show, cause I knew Rodney. You know, from working at Skateboarding Magazine and Action Now, which became into music, which was a bit ahead of its time. I don’t know if you ever knew about that magazine. They made some bad mistakes and that’s why it went out of business. But it was very ahead of its time. After Skateboarder, there was no industry to support Skateboarder Magazine anymore. So they tried diversifying to have more sports, right? But because they presented them in a very watered down, milktoast way, the magazine just died within a year. You know, if they had handled it like Craig Stecyk’s articles and showed the cultural significance of these other activities. They were just beginning snowboarding and mountain biking, and things like that. It could have really been something great and could’ve stayed around. And people were excited for it. Maybe skateboarders weren’t, because it took away from their coverage. But there was no industry to support a glossy magazine. I’m only bringing this up because you’re a magazine man.
[laughs] I was a magazine guy. Now I’m a podcast guy. [laughs] It’s my new thing.
Now you’re a podcast guy. But anyways, I’m sorry if I go off on tangents too far, but I’m just showing you the connection. That after that punk rock sort of became a little generic, and even after I had great, you know, fun and a kind of success – not financially, just in the sharing, the cultural success of Suicidal Tendencies and the song that I produced, Institutionalized, and the album. You know, after that, like Black Flag kind of changed their route, people were doing different things. It just wasn’t as vital to me anymore. And right at that time, I’m hearing in my ear… It’s Like That, or Sucker MC’s by Run DMC. And I’m just like-
Yeah. I wanna talk about that. But just before that, just one final thing about-
The Penelope Spheeris movie. You know, that had, what was it? The Decline of Western Civilization?
She’s a horrible fucking piece of shit. She’s an exploiter of people, okay? That movie has some great live moments, but there’s a lot of intelligent smart people in that scene. And she gave people alcohol and made them look stupid to entertain people. I was at a screening when she screened Suburbia, which Roger Corman gave her money to do. And people- Some guy stood up as soon as the screening was over, some hippie dude stood up, and just, at the top of his lungs, in a small UCLA theater where we were students in a film class. I snuck in. And at the top of his lungs, he yelled, “Fuck you!” [laughter] And he wasn’t even a punk rocker. He could see the exploitation of this director coming in, and just taking and taking and taking. And making people, you know, look like idiots to entertain people. She wanted to show the decline Western civilization. There were plenty of intelligent people in that punk rock scene. People like you, people like who- You know, you’re in New York, but the same types of- creative types of people who care, who love culture.
Like you, for example? Right.
But she was just an exploiter. So all I can say about that film that’s good is some of the live footage of Black Flag is great, live footage of Circle Jerks. Some of the other bands I couldn’t give a shit about. They were there because they were on the record labels. Slash that put up the money to make the movie. I’m sorry that I put down both those movies. But like I told you, there’s been no definitive movie of punk rock that’s told the story properly. It hasn’t been done yet. And it’s like they have all these documentaries, but you mix in fucking Nirvana and Iggy Pop with Black Flag and, sorry, it’s not… it’s not getting to the root.
Well, you gotta do it, man. You’re the guy.
I’m working on it, David. I’m working on it. [laughs]
Okay. Cool. Good. So to hip hop, now, for a second. So, you know, we have an idea of what that sounded like, the LA hardcore punk sound that you were very deeply involved with. And then hip hop, totally different, right? This is like black music, lots of it is sampled from old classics. It’s a completely different, musical style, let’s say, alone. If not, completely a turn from that. Why did you respond so viscerally to those tapes that you were hearing that people were sending you?
One simple word, David. Fucking attitude. They had the same attitude. The same bravado that a lot of punk rock had. And I’m not talking about macho bravado, I’m talking about having something you want to say and you want to say it loud. And I loved it because, as a punk rocker, as a skateboarder, I was open to new things. At the time, it’s not so much like that now, but skateboarders and punk rockers were open-minded, very liberal-minded people at the time. And to hear something new like hip hop was just an extension of that. I used to talk about it back then as being, you know, black kids’ version of punk rock. Plenty of people call it that now.
But back then, people didn’t.
Well, I can tell you, Afrika Bambaataa did. You know, and I heard him say it to me, you know, that this is- this is punk rock. He always identified hip hop with punk rock.
I appreciate that. And that’s probably why he did that record with John Lydon. Right?
It was just different and new, and it was raw, and it was people doing something on their own with scratching records, just like inventing something out of nothing. Or taking the roots of the past. Like skateboarding came from surfing. Punk rock came from early rock and roll. Hip hop comes from old records, right? And people wanting to, you know, and break beats and people wanting to just rap over that, and make their own stuff out of it. You know, it’s a lot of incredible creativity, and I was just drawn to it. You know, I just loved it. I just started really liking it. I really like the music. It was really making me feel good. You know, David, you said something before about, you know, like I wasn’t in as desperate a place because of where I happened to grow up. But that’s not true at all, because every fucking teenager is desperate. It doesn’t matter where the fuck you grow up.
[laughs] That’s a good point. Yeah.
Right? You know what I’m saying? I remember being thirteen- fourteen-years-old and sitting in the back of a truck going to a skate spot with Tony Alva. And he articulated that. He’s like, “Everyone’s got problems.” You know, we’re just teenagers. But he articulated it. Someone who was like five years older than me. It doesn’t matter where you come from, we’ve all got our fucking angst and our problems. And they’re all just as valid.
You know, it just comes in different ways. And this is a teenage Tony Alva, the most self-centered motherfucker in the world, at the time. [laughs] You know, but he was able to recognize that, and that’s probably one of the reasons why we’ve been friends our whole lives. And we could laugh together, you know? And he was in New York a couple years ago. We met over at, you know, Pier 62 skatepark and took the crosstown bus back home together just laughing afterwards.
Two old fucks on the fucking crosstown- in the M14-
[laughs] With skateboards.
Yeah. The M14 with skateboards and a camera. I had my camera. I got a new lens off of eBay that I wanted to try out. Cause I was replicating one of my old lenses and we got some good shots and had a great time.
What about the visual representation of hip hop? So do you remember anything, what you saw visually that excited you about that?
What I saw that excited me visually about hip hop was what I was seeing. Much like the other things that I had made photographs of, right? In punk rock, I didn’t think there were good live photos. People weren’t capturing what I was seeing. In skateboarding, people weren’t capturing what I was seeing. In hip hop, people were not fucking capturing what I was seeing. They were taking people in a fucking studio. It’s street music. You shoot music on the street, because that’s where their music comes from. You don’t take them into a fucking studio. But I understand record labels needed things clear, and this was something that was selling. There were a couple of people that were shooting stuff on the street, and inevitably those were the greatest photos. But sometimes the quality just wasn’t that good. My photos, I’m talking about character. And quality. You know, composition. It’s not documenting to me, so much as it’s composing. And sharing a story, and showing people what the fuck is going on here? Not just taking a snapshot.
And what you shoot is with film, right? And you’re still devoted to film, as opposed to digital?
I always shoot with film. I still shoot with film. If it’s important, I shoot with film.
You know, talking about hip hop and the visual representation. So, in your case you know, your previous work on the West Coast, cause now you’re in New York. You’re living a different life, right? Have a totally different scene. And the way you work is that you like to immerse yourself in – not you like to – but that’s what- that’s who you are. You know, you’re attracted to it because that’s where you want to be. That’s is the coolest place that has the most creativity, interesting people, and all of that.
So how did that happen? You know, you come like you’re not part of the scene. It’s not like LA where you knew everyone.
The Beastie Boys is how I got closer to hip hop. We had a mutual that grew up with Yauch that introduced me to them. And they started making rap records. They came to Los Angeles while I was in college. And remember, I’m still going back and forth all the time, between New York and LA. Because I was in school there and here for my school vacations, or vice-a-versa. Whatever it was. But by that time, I was in college. But the Beastie Boys came out to LA on the Madonna tour. And they were right there. They were being managed by Russell and everyone else. And the Beastie Boys hadn’t put out a record yet-
But, I’m sorry, I’m gonna backtrack just a little bit. In 1983, Adam Yauch told me to hang out after a screening of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle at The Roxy Roller Skate Rink. And I was there in ’82. And we were there, and after the screening of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle there on just a little twenty-four inch TV screen. In the middle of the roller rink, where we’re all these, about thirty of us punk rockers were just sitting there seeing this movie for the first time in America, cause there were no DVDs, no screenings in America, that was it. After the movie, he said, “Glen, you should hang out. These guys are gonna come here and they’re gonna be breakdancing and stuff.” And I’d never even heard of what breakdancing was yet, you know? “They’re gonna be breaking, and it’s really good to be a cool scene. You should check this out.” And so I stayed. The Rocksteady Crew shows up, and there’s a circle, and they’re in the middle of the roller rink at The Roxy. And people are still riding- People are roller skating around them. The roller rink is a roller rink, it’s not a hip hop venue yet. It’s a fucking roller rink. But these guys, in the middle of the rink where people aren’t riding, they’re breakdancing on that nice wooden floor. And that was my introduction to real hip hop, and to see what was going on. I met Crazy Legs that day. And I even asked him, “Do any of you guys skate?” Cause it seemed a lot like skateboarding. And he pointed to one of the guys. He says, “Yeah. I think he does over there.” Turns out that was Doze Green. You know, which I didn’t realize until many years later that that was him. I didn’t put it all together. And he was a skater from New York. And so the parallels. There’s these, you know, there’s all these intersecting cultural things that brought me to it.
But then, the next year or two, the Beastie Boys made that Pookie- Cooky Puss record and they got on the Madonna tour, they came out of LA. They didn’t know anybody. They came to LA for three days of the Madonna dates at the Ampa- Universal Amphitheater, and I showed them all over LA. I was the only person they knew in LA, and I was like their guide. And I was being inspired. I had just quit managing Suicidal Tendencies about six months earlier. And they came into town and this was just like an all new energy for me. And this was like the hip hop thing, and I was already loving Run DMC, and I was loving a lot of the new music I was hearing. And I was inspired that my friends were making a rap record, so I made photos of them while we were in town. I said, “Let’s just do photos.” I just wanted to, I had the energy. I love creating good images. Especially when I’m inspired, and I was inspired by them at the time. And we did this photo session over a couple of days while we had off time. We went to Malibu, we went to a couple of the spots- You know, we just went to the beach. I was just showing them around Southern California. And then, of course, we did all the prank shots of them with celebrities for the publicity. You know, Bill Adler or whoever it was that Rush said they needed a picture of the Beastie Boys with- with Madonna. And so we tried getting the picture, and she wouldn’t pose with us. You know, she’s so self-conscious at the time. She had not yet received her first gold record. She did that- the night after that, but she was about to just only receive her first gold record. She was very self-conscious, she was getting very famous. This is my perspective, anyways. And she didn’t want people shooting her picture. She wanted to be in control of it. She wanted everything to look like a beautiful Herb Ritts photo, and she knew a publicity photo wouldn’t. She was very short, she was chubby. You know, you had to make her look right. [laughter] You know, I mean, just the reality of it, right? You know, I get it. Even when she got her gold record at that party that we all went to later. She held it up in front of her face. She didn’t want people to see her.
So anyways, we didn’t get the photo of the Beastie Boys and Madonna. But we got pictures of them with Gene Simmons, with Billy Idol, with all these others, you know, Rob Lowe. All these silly Hollywood people that were all out to see Madonna. David Lee Roth, Sean Penn was courting Madonna, I got a great shot of them. You know, those shots are just junk. That’s just a throwaway. We were just doing that as a good, cause, you know, I don’t shoot paparazzi bullshit. I don’t do that. I just did that for them, for the fun of it. We were just fucking having a prank on everybody. But of course, the record company loved it. [laughter] And they wanted it. And then I had all those great shots of them though. I shot with my wide angle lenses and my stuff that I like to do. And Rick Rubin and Russell saw them and they just loved the stuff. You know, they just loved it. And then, from that point on, whenever groups came to California, they would hang out with me. And because of my helping with Suicide- my experience with Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag and working very close with promoting those groups, I had inroads into, you know, rock and roll press, and I helped all the Def Jam artists get more mainstream press in Los Angeles and on the radio, even, sometimes. And then I became like a Def Jam West Coast representative. Like I was like the tour guy when they came to, you know, after just managing Suicidal, besides my photography, and then as a side thing I would also shoot new pictures of these bands, right? But, again, my thing was just keeping it very real with all the photographs, to get back to your main point, was keeping it very real and what I saw in the artists. Whether it was a toughness, or a ruggedness, or coolness, or an urban thing, you know, just being very black, whatever it was. I was there to accentuate that and to show that personality, right? And that’s what I think was necessary. Not just a posed, publicity shot, you know. Not just a normal shot. It had to show attitude. Because all my work is all about attitude. All my work is about inspiring rebellion. Inspiring people. Not just about fucking sitting around. You know, it’s not just about playing la di dah music, you know. You can do that too, but it’s not about that. It’s about kicking people in the fucking ass and waking them up, and showing them what the hell is going on. That’s what I’ve been always trying to do.
You’re a very, you know, known for your uncompromising principle, which I think people are hearing coming out of you, as well. And, you know, and today, you know, just sort of jumping ahead, to what’s going on today in your life, as well. Because, you know, what is there that you want to point your finger at today? You know, cause it’s a different kind of world. It’s very hard to find a scene. You’re older in the same way. So now that that’s not so much a part of your life in the same way as it was then, what do you want to shoot? What is it that motivated you today?
You know, I don’t really shoot that much anymore. I almost don’t shoot at all. I work almost exclusively off my archive. I’ve got a lot of great, inspiring images that still inspire people to this day. And I like to show people, through my old work, a time that wasn’t a way it was portrayed, and great things that were going on. And to show people integrity, cause I don’t even know if that word exists in the vernacular anymore. I don’t think people know what integrity is. People just want to make money. Famous. And, you know, and there’s no understanding of like, no, we don’t want a movie made about us. Or, no, we don’t want corporate sponsorship for our tours, so we can make money. It’s just- it wasn’t like that, right? Today-
And that’s, you know, I mean, hip hop, for example, is a big purveyor of that, right? I mean, they’ve bought into it more than anybody.
Absolutely. But, I mean, it was always about upward mobility for a lot of people. A lot of hip hop art was made for survival.
Yeah. True. True.
You know, but today, I mean look at- I’m fifty-eight-years-old, you know? I mean, I don’t need to be out in the trenches shooting at stuff. I think that’s for the responsibility of that generation. People who love it and get a life’s kick out of it. Things that inspire me as a fifty-eight-year-old, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That’s about it. [laughter] I want to shoot a photo session with her. If you were still at Paper Magazine, I’d say, “David, could you please get me a photo session with her?” I’ve been trying to get a photo session with her since before she went to Congress. As soon as she was elected, I’ve been wanting to shoot a photo with her on a stoop in her neighborhood. You know, because I feel her, and I have compassion for her, and I love her for how she is trying to change the world like all my friends have always done. And only because she inspires me so much, do I want to shoot and make a photograph of her. Make a portrait of her. Because she inspires me so much. You know, I’ve shot a couple of people over the last few years. You know, photos. But it’s very rare, very far and few between, because I’m not as inspired. I am actually quite disappointed at times, when I see where we are in the world, with this piece of shit in the White House. And the way people just lie and cheat and steal, and they think it’s okay, and they just get away with it. They’re just so ruthless with it. It’s really hurting me. Physically and mentally, and like it is everybody now. With Covid and everything else that’s going on in the world. It’s just like, where are we going? You know, where is the world going? I thought what we’ve done all these years, punk rock and hip hop, I was under an illusion that we changed the world. We didn’t change the world. But we certainly added something to it, and maybe inspired a lot of people. I don’t think there would have been a Barack Obama with an NWA, or without a Public Enemy or Ice-T. Barack Obama, great politician. But a black man would not have been President if it wasn’t for hip hop culture. No one before hip hop could have ever told you that there was gonna be a black President. No way. I think hip hop culture helped people who didn’t understand black culture- I’ve grown up, you know, my best friend was Native American in first grade, in the first fully integrated public school in the country, or one of the early ones, in Englewood, New Jersey. Before I moved to California. And had black friends my whole life. You know, I understand the culture. I always have. I’ve always been enamored. But where we move in the future, you know, is really up to us. And… and that what I was saying about Obama and stuff like that, I just think the culture did change some things but not enough yet. And I just hope we move forward and things get better. And that’s all I’m hoping for.
Well, thank you, Glen E. Friedman, for- for your take on everything, all the great work you’ve done in the past. You’re fabulous books, which I would recommend to all our viewer- or listeners to check out.
And I hope I can see you one day soon, physically.
I see you walking around the street. I see you, David, all the time.
Alright, my friend. Take care.