Punky Meadows, lead guitarist for Angel

Marvin asked me if Scott every showed me any of his pictures. The answer to that is a little weird. Yes and no. He showed me some work he did for local music rags, but he didn’t really show me much more than that. I asked, but he was fairly dismissive of his photographic past.

Pondering that question, and the huge amount of time we spent looking at pictures and talking about them, I was suddenly reminded of another great influence on Scott that hasn’t been mentioned before. The rock band Angel, which featured the infamous Punky Meadows on guitar. Scott spent some time with them in Hollywood. Punky (and his pout) were immortalized by Frank Zappa:

In today’s rapidly changing world
Rock groups appear every fifteen minutes,
Utilizing some new promotional device.
Some of these devices have been known
To leave irreparable scars
On the minds of foolish young consumers.
One such case is seated before you:
Little skinny Terry ‘Ted’ Bozzio,
That cute little drummer!
That’s right!
Terry recently fell in love
With a publicity-photo of a boy named Punky Meadows…
(Oh Punky!)…
Lead guitar player from a group called Angel.
In the photograph,
Punky was seen with a beautiful shiny hairdo
In a semi-profile which emphasized the pootched out succulence
Of his insolent pouting rictus,
The sight of which drove the helpless young drummer mad with desire!

The influence wasn’t musical, of course—it was Scott’s big lesson in the power of the camera. The story goes something like this:

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13 Photographs

Slim the Drifter @ Vinos, Little Rock, Arkansas
My camera wasn’t the only thing out of sync that night

I like my town with a little drop of poison
Nobody knows they’re lining up to go insane
I’m all alone, I smoke my friends down to the filter
But I feel much cleaner after it rains

And she left in the fall, that’s her picture on the wall
She always had that little drop of poison

“Little Drop Of Poison”
(Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan 1997)

When Scott called me in February of 1997 and told me that he was ready to get out of Bakersfield and try a new start, I knew that things probably weren’t that cut and dried. It wasn’t the first, nor the last, time he tried to put it behind him. When he went to Los Angeles (multiple times, in multiple years), as he told the tale, “He told them he was from Bakersfield a couple of hundred times.” It is hard for anyone who has done time in the place to put it aside; the dirt doesn’t wash off in the rain. And by 1997, he had certainly smoked most of his friends down to the filter. Even Falling James had cut him loose.

There was a girl (isn’t there always?) after Mary who lived somewhere near Shafter or McFarland who had broken Scott’s heart, and he’d decided that he just had to get out of town. My ex-wife and I had split up and left California, just before Scott and Mary split up. Our break was amicable, and we both offered to give Scott a place to stay if he came our way.

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An open letter to N.L. Belardes.

I was pleased to stumble on your web site when my friend Scott died. Rex left me a message here to let me know while I was out on the road earlier in the summer, and when I got home I was really happy that you were instrumental in putting together the tribute show (which I hear went really well). Through your past writing, I also found out about the death of Pete Williams, another Bakersfield musician I knew. Though I might not have said so at the time, I also enjoyed your podcast using Pete’s music—some of which I had not heard before. I left Bakersfield over a decade ago, and it’s been useful to find out more about my old friends. I’m glad you cared.

I’m glad you put out the effort to try to bring people together. Death can do that—it can forge a community when there are too many complications to get across when people are alive. Bakersfield has always had some identity problems that way. People tend their own gardens and defend them against all incursions. I’m glad that you are trying to promote the place and its music in a variety of venues. I know a lot of the people you write about. It is nice to see them get some attention.

I would have preferred to talk to you by phone. Since you hung up on me when I tried to talk to you, I have no alternative. There’s no venom or ill-will, just frustration. I don’t really know much about you, other than the fact that you identify yourself as a novelist. The most salient facts about me are: I am a writing teacher who specializes in nonfiction and technical writing (for the last eight years or so) and a documentary photographer (for about thirty years). I was a friend of Scott Sturtevant, and was chosen by him to document several phases of his life. He taught me more than I can really describe. You seem to believe that I’m upset with you personally. I’m not. I’m upset with you professionally. There’s a big difference. I tend to be quite direct in my speech and writing. I regret that you took it personally.

Continue reading “An open letter to N.L. Belardes.”

Tourist Trap

Mena, Arkansas, 1986
Mena, Arkansas, c. 1986

Over the years, most of my prints have been given away or destroyed. I’ve got all the exhibition prints from shows, but other work mostly hangs out in my memory. Most of the people I’ve shot pictures of have more intact copies than mine; I was always too busy working to archive much of anything in accessible form. I left California with thousands of prints, but a series of water-park type disasters have ruined them all. Besides that, all the really good prints were given away to the people who could use them most (like Slim).

It didn’t surprise me that much that when Slim came to Arkansas in 1997, he brought with him a box of my prints (all he had left, I suspect). When his attempt at “a new start” failed and he returned to California, it also didn’t surprise me that he gave them back to me. He also left a four-track master tape labeled “Gospel Album,” his car, and some trinkets. There is a lot I’d like to say about the last time I saw him; but it pales in the light of the memory of that first phone-call after he got back to California that told me he’d been in the hospital due to overdoses three times in the space of a week.

It’s hard to think about this stuff. So I’ve been digging out some other lost memories, such as the farm I grew up on. There’s too much to say about everything. I really need to say something regarding the bastard copies of some of my photographs that popped up. It isn’t being displayed that bothers me; it’s that anyone would have the gall to claim the crap copy as their own. There are fresher, better versions on the way soon as I can bear to look at those negatives again. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive about it, but grief is a difficult thing, especially when it is stretched out over decades.

May 17, 1990

May 17, 1990
Slim at a downtown Bakersfield street fair.

A couple of weeks after I first met Slim, he turned up at a street fair on Chester avenue. I was there to shoot OP Stylee because Paul and Daniel liked the photographs I took at the Moonlight Lounge and invited me to do more. The entire course of my photographic career shifted in those few weeks. Prior to this, I was mainly working on a conceptual project and just plain drifting around town making pictures. I still enjoy photographing large gatherings, I think. I just haven’t done it in years.

These old pictures of Slim make me remember his sense of humor; it’s interesting to see some of these because I didn’t print them at the time I shot them. I was working on so many different things that I didn’t dwell on any of the individual sets for long. Now, it is really fun to see them as a slide show.

No Dummies

Como Park Conservatory
Como Park Conservatory, the fern room

Krista and I went to visit the gardens at the Conservatory in Como Park yesterday afternoon, and we took some pictures. I do that a lot. A guy was passing by some people taking turns making pictures of each other; he volunteered to take a picture of the entire group. Some people are nice like that; people volunteer like that when they see Krista and I out shooting pictures together too, although we never really take them up on it. We generally make our own pictures.

Talking to Kyle Wyner (the infamous truck driver in the video for “Ballad of Bill”) and Rex on the phone last night, some interesting issues were raised. Kyle was pissed that no one bothered to tell him about the tribute concert (where his face was on the screen every five minutes) for Slim. We got to talking about the people we’ve lost in the last few years and the impact that their absence has. Athough we really don’t know each other, our friends overlap in bizarre ways. I didn’t know that he used to date Suzy, for example. I’ve met Kyle several times over the years, and he has a unique take on things—I enjoy it every time we talk.

Rex and I were talking earlier in the day, also, regarding the way that the recording of events changes your memory of them—if someone produces a video or takes pictures at a place you were at, you tend to remember the media representation of the event more than your own physical, sensory memory of it. Trusting someone to tell your story is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. When you hand someone else the camera, you’re implicitly trusting them to be fair to the scene before them—a trust that shouldn’t be violated. Though technically the person making the recording has the rights to it, copies of copies cannot be copyrighted. No one owns the scene in front of the camera either.

No one can know the full picture. To try to “surround” the event takes more than one perspective. We talked a lot about doing something about that, hopefully soon. A person’s memory should not be left to fade after it ceases to be “newsworthy.”

Wall Street

The Wall Street Alley, Bakersfield, CA, c.1987

I was racking my brain trying to remember the name of the Californian photographer who Slim hired to do the cover for “Here Comes a Lily.” It was Ed Homich. Thanks to the Californian for digging through their file; they published several other images from that shoot. The Californian has done a remarkable job of printing facts rather than hearsay about Slim. The article by Robert Price will probably expire soon, so if you’re at all curious I’d read it now. It cuts through the melodrama to more tangible facts. It was a good memory jog. I forgot that Phil Lutrell gave Scott the name “Slim DeWayne”—I went to Foothill High with Phil, and later worked with him at Sun Stereo. Price implies that Phil was the source of the Hank Williams allusion. Not as I recall; that was Scott’s own modification of the gift, dropping the “DeWayne” in favor of “the Drifter.”

I didn’t know Ed Homich, but I remember that when he put his Leica M6 up for sale other photographers from the Californian warned me against buying it—“Ed just drags his cameras on the strap behind him.” It’s strange the things you remember; I couldn’t remember his name, but I’ve got a picture of him shooting pictures around here somewhere…

It’s also strange what you can find around here. I was looking at the Half-Price Books on Ford Parkway and ran across Bakersfield Picture Album compiled by Chris Brewer and Don Pipkin in 1986 from various sources. There were a few interesting shots there; including some of the infamous Wall Street Alley.

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Karaoke Cowboy

Watching the video of Bakersfield by Social Distortion (via Bakotopia) I decided to go ahead and post the entire “Karaoke Cowboy” tape from Slim the Drifter. My copy was in this DIY case—Scott and Mary dragged a bunch of spraypaint art down to Cheryl Mestmaker’s shop and shot it with her Polaroid passport camera. They ran Xeroxes onto label sheets and cut them down to stick on cassettes. Most things Slim did were homebrew collaborations among friends; I figure friends who google Slim might find some of these posts. I could be wrong about the titles; he seldom wrote them down.

The songs can be found below the fold.

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