Not Fade Away: The Ballad of Jim Marshall

My office in San Francisco was on Union Street, and my mail carrier was a sweet-tempered guy named Randy. One day, Randy poked his head into my office doorway and handed me a package of 35 mm color slides, returned from a client. I thanked Randy and told him that, in the future, if I wasn’t around, he could just leave a package by my office door.

“I can’t do that,” Randy said. “These are photographs, aren’t they? They’re valuable. I used to deliver the mail for Jim Marshall, so I know about photographs.”

Apparently Marshall had put the fear of god into Randy. I can just picture it. Marshall must have told Randy in no uncertain terms which parts of his anatomy would vanish in a hail of small-arms fire if he ever—repeat, ever—mishandled, mistreated, misplaced, or had the misfortune to damage, destroy, or—god forbid!—lose a single Marshall photograph.

The Ultimate Rock-and-Roll Photographer

You’d never connect the expression “going postal” with Randy, but it fitted Marshall to a tee. He was, after all, the quintessential rock-and-roll photographer—as hair-trigger with his temper as with his finger on the shutter button of his Leica, which always dangled from a strap slung over his shoulder. Physically unimposing, Marshall cultivated an outsized gonzo persona, amped up by a fondness for whiskey, recreational pharmaceuticals, and firearms.

He was the Robert Capa of rock photographers—if you’re pictures weren’t good, you weren’t close enough. Marshall insisted on getting close, full-frontal access. And when that changed to a first-three-songs PR session, he refused to shoot.

Fortunately, Marshall got close without stepping on anything explosive (as befell Capa), no mean feat in a world that took no prisoners and left many casualties on the battlefield. Marshall returned to tell us and show us: he brought back photographs that defined an era and the performers who supplied its soundtrack.

Marshall’s 50-year career produced iconic images of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, and the Allman Brothers Band, all stunningly reproduced in his classic book, Not Fade Away: The Rock & Roll Photography of Jim Marshall, published in 1997 by Bulfinch Press.

The Chicago-born, San Francisco–raised photographer was at Candlestick Park on the night of August 29, 1966, when the Beatles gave their last concert together. Marshall was the only photographer allowed backstage to make a complete visual record of that historic event.

Marshall was also in Monterey the following June for the first Monterey International Pop Festival, capturing the classic shot of Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. That photograph, a rare color image, is on the cover of Monterey Pop, written by Joel Selvin and published in 1992 by Chronicle Books.

Of course, Marshall was at Woodstock in 1969, where he helped the other photographers work with festival organizers to document the three days of peace, music, and mud, which included performances by counter-culture heroes such as County Joe McDonald, Jerry Garcia, and Sly Stone.

And he went to Seattle in 1970 to cover the Hendrix funeral, coming away with a feeling of unease at the behavior of his fellow photojournalists. “There’s a very fine line between invading someone’s privacy in a moment of passion of grief, and documenting something that needs to be documented,” he said.

In 1972, Life picked Marshall for the ultimate ride-along—the photographer was embedded with the Rolling Stones for their “Exile on Main Street Tour.” His photograph of the band’s stage-strutting star, Mick Jagger, was used on the magazine’s cover.

Marshall’s photographs appeared in many other magazines, including Rolling Stone, Look, Saturday Evening Post, and Guitar Player. He also has between 500 to 600 album packages to his credit.

Jim Marshall died in his sleep on March 23 of unknown causes. He was 74. Marshall was in New York to celebrate the publication of his new book, Match Prints, a collaboration with celebrity photographer Timothy White. Marshall was also planning to attend the March 26 opening of an exhibition of photographs from the book at the Staley-Wise Gallery in New York.

Getting Ripped

I was with Marshall one night when he went postal, although the details are a bit hazy—the reason for which will soon become clear.

We were attending an event in San Francisco—it may have been a charity auction—that included some of Marshall’s photographs. Taking umbrage at a perceived slight having to do with the way his photographs were displayed, Marshall decided the only way to repair his bruised ego was to set off on a vision quest.

In this case, Marshall’s vision was the city’s last remaining bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon. Sweeping up hangers-on as he stomped out, Marshall led us into the night.

We eventually tracked down said bottle at the Hayes Street Grill, whose quiet elegance lent to the proceedings a decorum they might otherwise have lacked. Fortunately, the bottle was half-full, so Marshall bought it, and over the next hour or so we killed it.

At one point, Marshall went off in search of the men’s room, so the ladies present all refreshed their lipstick and planted juicy red kisses on the bottle’s label. We signed the bottle and presented it to Marshall when he returned. I think he was touched, but in truth I don’t remember much after that.

The Promise

Despite his reputation as a wild man, Jim could also be a pussycat. When our 19-year-old niece and photographer, Posy Quarterman, came to San Francisco to visit, she wanted to meet Jim, and he agreed to join us for lunch.

After lunch, Jim invited us back to his apartment, which was just off Market Street in the Castro district. There, in file drawers, were prints made from some of the 20,000 rolls of mostly black-and-white film Marshall had shot since the late 1950s. “Pick one and I’ll sign it,” Marshall said to Posy. “But first you have to promise to do whatever I ask.”

Posy promised, and in return got a signed Jim Marshall photograph of Janis Joplin. She didn’t pick the famous one—where Janis is slinked on a backstage couch, smiling, one hand on hip, the other cradling a bottle of Southern Comfort.

Instead, Posy went for a sadder variant, with Janis upright, no smile, bottle in both hands, three bare light bulbs on the wall above, rip in the couch clearly visible, and other backstage and performance paraphernalia—guitar, amp, paper bag, roll of paper towels—scattered about.

We called Posy the other day to tell her Jim had died. We asked about the Janis photograph. After a moment, Posy said she hadn’t thought about the Marshall print for years—marriage, a child, buying a house, and starting a business had intervened. But several weeks ago, Posy said, she took Jim’s photograph to a shop to get it matted and framed. So now she’s fulfilled her promise to Jim.

“I don’t care if my pictures are in galleries or museums,” Marshall once said. “I want them in people’s homes. The music was so important to people that they want a picture to remind them of the music. Like a musician with a horn, I was there with my camera. I think my pictures are as good as the music.”

Facebook Memorial

There is a Facebook memorial for Jim Marshall, where you can see photographs and read more about this remarkable man.

Rest in peace, Jim….

Leave a Reply