Thursday, October 14, 2010

KILL CITY, and photos by Suzan Carson

James Williamson and Iggy Pop, photo by Suzan Carson, circa 1975

Kill City by Iggy Pop and James Williamson, produced by the latter--- it's as much a classic as their Raw Power by Iggy and The Stooges: it's merely not as earth-shatteringly ground-breaking. It was supposed to be a shovel-ready batch of demos to reveal a more commercial if still compellingly idiosyncratic side of its makers who had been major label artists heretofore.

Instead after several years of banging heads against the usual brick walls of the music industry, Kill City was sold to and released on Greg and Suzy Shaw's alternative/garage/punk oasis in the 1970s, the Bomp! Records label.

Any artist's tenure in L.A., then as now, ends in external or self-corruption and quasi-failure 90% of the time, eventually proving no different for Iggy and The Stooges. Therefore, Kill City's subject matter grittily presages the decades later fad for keeping it real about the depressing underside of life, still only a glimmer in the eyes of punk, rap, hip hop and reggae. (This last precept I know personally, as publishers' instructions for my mid-70s book on Bob Marley and the Wailers commanded I gear it to the intellectuality of college students, as the audience one might have presumed receptive for reggae, African-Americans, still preferred the glitz of Diana Ross and The Spinners to that of urban decay in those days.)

Kill City's sound is, to steal a description of the contemporary version of Keith Richards, elegantly wasted, alternately both energized and utterly laconic, the early morning chill out from the night before's former blast of raw power.

Another writer correctly deemed it "Exile On Stooge Street" and I agree its innate quality definitely should have put those two into The Bigs alongside the Stones. Excellent song-writing, excellent playing, excellent if harrowing delivery, and now with the remastering, you can hear everything going on! (This newfound clear audio also reveals at least one of the bases of James Williamson's and Scott Thurston's sympatico, as the keyboard and guitar parts complement one another wafting in and around each. It's also mostly the ensemble David Bowie poached for his future Iggy plans.)

How can retinkering the same ingredients make such a difference, which it most certainly does? Firstly, thirty-five years ago it initially was recorded on the cheap and on the fly with donated studio time and a lead singer carted in on day passes from the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Ward. (I used to witness Iggy projectile vomiting and falling down repeatedly in the gutter in front of The Whisky when I photographed acts there. I'm ashamed to admit that my early 20s self did not call for help for a young man obviously in much physical distress, but I was young and though one doesn't like to admit same, actually didn't know everything at the time. Thank heavens for his own later moment of clarity to self-admit to the UCLA ward to rehab.)

Secondly, consider it similar to the fine-tailoring of a bespoke suit instead of someone wearing one off the rack. You just perceive that the person comes off better and classier without knowing exactly why. Everyone involved credits Ed Cherney and rightly so for the new, remastered engineering mix which invisibly highlights what actually should be.

Subjectively, I'm likewise glad my late friend Suzan Carson's photos are showcased here sumptuously with her byline credit intact for a change. Boo on Getty Images for anonymity of her legacy therein. She was a fabulous photographer and a genuinely nice person, so nice I wasn't even jealous that she got most of the assignments I might have coveted, but understandable for her as we shared musical tastes for the adventuresome in that proto-punk era. We also shared the same circle of UCLA graduate chums who had morphed into the local entertainment biz.

When I emerged from my serious illness in the 80s, she was one of the first people I wanted to see, with thoughts to jump-starting my photography after this lay off. We talked about sharing costs for renting a studio together since we sort of worked similarly and knew that we could get along (important: I got stiffed/betrayed bigtime by my best friend when I had worked at a major record company. At least after the requisite cooling off decade, this person and I were and are friends again.) Then Suzan got her serious illness, and she didn't emerge.

Lastly, I used to play the original release in darkened rooms over and over and over because it seemed to mirror the unlikely combo of arrogance and despair in my own quest to get the art out and the love in. I'm glad those days are long gone for everyone connected with Kill City and everyone survived those queasy times, with the exception of Greg Shaw and Suzan Carson, talents taken away from us all far, far too young.

L-R: Models Mary Kay of The Dogs and Kirk Henry with Suzan Carson at my shoot for a Warner Brothers tv commercial, 1986

Treat yourself to this important release. Obtain here: LINK
and get a taste of Suzan Carson's fine photography in it and one of the amazing Kill City tracks in the video below:


Retro Kimmer said...


Evanesco said...

Damn it. Blog made me cry. Keep shooting and it lives forever.

Fast Film said...

Since I'm in a confessional sorta mood here, I might even admit there's a tad of subjectivity attached to wanting to see the work of a friend live on, a friend whose photos are familiar to those in the know of rock history, but whose name just hasn't been as familiar. But then again one has to be reminded that Suzan indeed was as nice a person as I've described, really.


Bravo !!!


Bravo !!!

Fast Film said...

Addenda: I didn't want to overstate my knowing Suzan, which would have distracted from the content I put in place not only to remind of the quality of Kill City, but to spotlight Suzan's talent. James Williamson persisted for over a year trying to round up her shots for this release so she'd be better remembered: I know for a fact he's a really good human being despite others' rehashing his former fearsome image.

Suzan and I saw one another and chatted at many gigs and of course before then at UCLA. Jo and Suzan were the two trendiest girls on campus, easily standing out in a student body of 40,000. And Jo went out with John Mendelsohn's roommate Ward, which is how I met them.

But we did discuss sharing a photo studio together at Chao Praya Thai restaurant in Hollywood. It was not to be, and remains one those imponderable what ifs, in same category of potentially broader scope for people beyond ourselves similar to what if the L.A. Times actually had acted on Pete Senoff's recommendation that John Mendelsohn replace him as head music writer instead of Robert Hilburn? I think John's open-mindedness and liking for the subversive would have fostered a very different and better local music scene and a very different and better set of lives for anyone in (John and my better half Mr. Twister's band) Christopher Milk, for Iggy and James, and for anyone locally who pushed the musical envelope of the '70s instead of conforming to chart hits' templates. Instead, we got Hilburn's endless retreads of The Eagles, The Band, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, the Boss, The Eagles, The Eagles, The Eagles...

Suzan's good friend Anita Oswald wrote in the following which rounds out the overall picture:

Heather, I love your memories of Suzan, who I count as one of the best people who graced my life. I met her through Richard Cromelin, who was a high school friend of my ex. I'll never forget when my dear friend, Jerry Dreva, informed me that Richard had a new girlfriend and she laughed a lot. I loved her the instant we met. Always fabulous and fascinating, she made me happy just to be around her. I marvelled at her talent, her many interests, adored her red hair and her joie de vivre. She made Richard a better person.

As I said, she made life a party and, in fact, she hosted one of the last farewell parties for me before I left LA for the wilds of Colorado. She made the best drinks I ever tasted in my life.

If you are lucky, you meet a few people like Suzan in your life. I will always miss her.

Fast Film said...

Here's some more on topic, heartfelt reminisces of Suzan by Harvey Kubernik, my friend, occasional house and dog sitter and record producer (see Hollyword blog before this,) plus author of five books who worked closely with Suzan in the early 80s on many Henry Rollins' projects amongst others:

I am very moved and touched by the words and offerings directed your way from people informed by Suzan Carson. As you of all people know, I thank her in every book I write.

We had a lot of fun together. The best rock 'n' roll or rock 'n' roll stroll couple were Suzan and Richard. He offered some small doses of encouragement when everyone laughed at my early work. She always phoned or talked to me at a press party or a gathering and at their pad, always imploring me to write more and do my own thing. She also touted other photographers, too. She was not a red-headed stranger but a friend to the artists and musicians. Not a competitive bone in her body. The way the world used to be.

I accepted the request to house sit during her illness. I now remember being scared but somehow got empowered over the spiritual obligation handed to me at the moment. I now perceive the chore as a special gesture to monitor the task at hand and protect the property.

There was always food in the fridge and every rock 'n' roll book available to glimpse. And her photos on the wall were so revealing and West Coast in energy and mood.

In our last chat I ran down a comical recent chick bummer. She handed me a pair of sunglasses and laughed, suggesting I go to a club to check out some band she had lensed on their first trip to Hollywood.

I still have the glasses.

Fast Film said...

I miswrote, had a copy malfunction, so mentally you all must change the name "Pete Senoff" to "Pete Johnson" in my own comment herein, which is immutable unfortunately. Many brain cells of the past were lost to the mists of time and pursuits of the era...

Jo Carson said...

Heather, it is wonderful to read all these thoughts about Suzan. She was every bit as wonderful as you say. I'll miss her forever. I love your "what if" re: John Mendelsohn & the L A Times. Feels true.

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