11 December 2017

Bad Boys (of Rock & Roll)

The big news in the world of rock – and especially rock photography – is what happened over the weekend at the KROQ “Almost Acoustic” show. Saturday night, Queens of the Stone Age lead singer Josh Homme was seen, and caught on video, walking past a photographer in the pit before turning around and kicking the front of her camera, driving it back into her face. I feel certain there was a reason for it, but there was absolutely no excuse. Whatever that reason was is something Mr. Homme, his bandmates, and his fans are going to have to reflect on long and hard before they can figure out where they want to go from here.

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age - St. Louis, MO
The photographer isn’t one I’m familiar with, but I’m starting to learn more about her. Her name is Chelsea Lauren, and her work is pretty damn amazing. She was there working, covering the show, and she continued to do so. Some people have already pointed to that and said “she must not have been hurt that bad if she kept working!” That’s a load of crap, and I hope anyone saying that knows it. She went to the ER after the show, and there are likely to be charges filed through the police department. We’ll be hearing more about this story in the days to come, I have no doubt.

But there’s a broader story here, a wider topic I’ve seen discussed. “It’s a rock show! Sometimes things get rowdy at rock shows! That’s the chance you take, right?” This is the refrain I’ve seen on a number of pages and comment-sections. The answer is no, this is NOT the chance you take, and – contrary to popular belief – it never has been. Yes, there have always been performers with attitudes, and sometimes they even act belligerently towards the crowds, the very people paying to see them. For some fans, it’s expected. They know this is how “their guy” or “this band” acts on stage. But calling names from behind the microphone is still a far cry from actual physical assault/battery. You hear all the stories of rock star antics from trashing dressing rooms and hotel rooms to walking off stage in the middle of shows. But it’s exceedingly rare that you hear of a performer getting truly physical with anyone, and even less so that it’s a deliberate act.

In this case, it wasn’t even an audience member. It was a photographer who was there, working, trying to cover the show and give some press to the band, generally in a flattering light. The photo pit isn’t home to paparazzi. This is the realm of people that want “the shot!”, that one amazing photo that the artist will want for posters and t-shirts and album covers and magazine articles. This isn’t tabloids looking for “gotcha” moments or things to make the artists looks like idiots. As a photographer, if you post too many photos like that, you’ll suddenly find yourself on the outside looking in.

The myth of the “bad boys of rock & roll” has always been more hype than reality. Yeah, things used to be more chaos incarnate, but even then, it wasn’t as bad as legend has it, and they still knew you didn’t cross certain lines, or it would cost you your career. And now, in this insta-view, auto-post, live-streamed society, it’s even more crucial that even the “bad boys” are more reigned in than ever. A stage persona stays on the stage. If a performer truly doesn’t like photographers, they simply don’t let them in to the show. They don’t invite them in and then abuse them.

This story will be very interesting to follow. I do hope for Ms. Lauren’s health, and I know she’s picked up at least one new fan from it. Unfortunately, the opposite is likely to be the case for Mr. Homme and the rest of Queens of the Stone Age. From the other side of the lens, I can say this won’t affect me at all. This was a freak situation. Whatever the reason behind it – again, reason, not excuse! – it’s not a common occurrence, and it doesn’t worry me in the least.

If any musicians happen to read this, just keep in mind that the men and women behind those lenses down there in front of you want to be there, and they want to make you look as good as you want to look for them. Let’s make it all work, and do it together, whaddya say?