Back to the Bars
I have difficulty remembering precisely when things happened. Often, I sort of draw a line between the years I spent in California and the years in Arkansas as an abrupt shift from pictures to words. But that isn’t exactly how it happened. Old habits die slowly. I moved to Arkansas in late 1995. I was chasing something I didn’t catch; I wound up homeless and deeply broken. It took most of 1996 just to find work, shelter, and enough self-esteem to stick my head out the door. In 1997, I tried my old way of making sense of things—photographing them. I headed back to the bars.
It didn’t work for me that well. I made some transitory friends, but having lost all audience for my work, taking bar photographs lost its thrill. In fall of 1998, I went back to school. I’m still pursuing that track, and its leading to another state. It’s been weird sorting through old photographs and realizing that I actually did make a few while I was here—before school took over.
So, as I leave Arkansas, I thought I should put a few pieces of the self I used to be up online, especially the parts I’ve nearly forgotten—starting with a gallery of 72 Arkansas bar photographs. I was having a conversation with a friend last night, who also returned to school after a hiatus (sometimes called having a life). We both agreed that one of the major problems involved in making big changes is a weird sort of feeling that a person is only allowed a certain number of “lives.” It takes a while to get over that. I think you can have as many lives as you want.
Thinking about a bizarre transition I made as a photographer, I started thinking about a band named Lilly Cigar. The night after I decided that I wouldn’t do infrared photography in bars anymore, but would use traditional flash instead, I went out to shoot them. They were a bunch of Bakersfield, California, guys that were usually fun. I shot photographs of them many times, mostly when I was just feeling restless and stressed. It was sort of like watching cartoons. Presented for your amusement: The Lilly Cigar Gallery.
I think the first time I saw them, I had walked into a little club called “Sharks” at around five-thirty in the afternoon. They were onstage, and sloppy drunk. I’ll never forget the singer flaunting that fact, yelling “We’re drunker than you are!”
These guys were like an advertisement against taking anything too seriously. The guitarist was just, well, earnest. But the rest of the guys—I think they were just in it for the free beer. As for their name, I never bothered to ask why. Some stories are probably best left untold.
Some people find photographing rocks, flowers or trees relaxing. Others might go for old pick-ups or double-decker busses. For me, it was always bands. Maybe it’s because I always liked being under the influence of music. It was a weird compulsion that I really don’t have anymore. The thing that has always puzzled me about this sort of “hobby” is the preference among most people for celebrity images. I suppose it went through an unusual arc for me—from an artistic pursuit, to a way of making a few bucks to support my photographic habit, and finally into a “hobby” of sorts. Photographing bands was what I chose to do to relax. So, the more anonymous the band was the better—sometimes celebrities were fun, but more often they made me feel like a paparazzi.
I gave photography up around 1997 as I got more serious about school. I was digging through some old pictures, tossing out the mildewed ones from the floods that have occurred in the last few years when I found some images of one of the last bands I shot. The female singer was the “celebrity” of sorts—as I recall, she was part of a Lilith Fair tour. But I can’t for the life of me remember her name. Anyone out there know?
I put together a gallery of the images of this mystery band, as part of my current project to stuff my life into little boxes and move it. There will be a bunch more things like this in the next few weeks (I hope). My memory has been fading about a lot of the images I’ve made, so I was thinking if I blogged them it might help.
In one of those peculiar confluences, I hadn’t really thought that I was writing for an audience of Heavener residents. But thanks to search engines, there is quite a discussion going on in the comments of a blog entry I wrote in 2002. I hope I can make it back there to take some more pictures before I move out of this part of the country.