The Decade That Rocked Photographer MARK WEISS – “I Shot Every Band Like It Was The Last Time I Was Going To Shoot Them”
September 4, 2020, 14 days ago
In a word, The Decade That Rocked is awesome! A superb photographic chronicle of hard rock and heavy metal in the ‘80s, all captured through the lens of Mark Weiss. Weighing a massive six pounds and measuring 9.25 inches by 12.75 inches, these 378 pages are glorious! A coffee table book you can look at again and again and again. Comprised of instantly recognizable, as well as previously unseen snapshots, of musical legends including: Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, KISS, Twisted Sister, Skid Row, and many others. Weiss had unparalleled access to the artists onstage, backstage, and behind the scenes. Improving upon The Decade That Rocked would be practically impossible.
“We’re doing second pressings already, so I can change some things around,” begins New Jersey native Mark Weiss. “There’s some thank yous I left out. But there was one thing that was bothering me, and that’s the table of contents. It was the last thing I looked at. It’s very generic, just numbers (1980, 1981, etc.). The last thing we did in the book were the titles of the chapters. We didn’t know what we were going to call them. Me, the writer (Richard Bienstock), and the editor (Mark Irwin) came up with all these things, and we forgot to incorporate that into the contents; I think that would have been cool. I kind of overlooked it. So now there’s a chance where I can… with that in there, it’s going to be perfect.”
Those who bought the first pressing of The Decade That Rocked need not worry, as no additional pages will be included in the second pressing. “It’s going to stay as it is,” confirms Weiss. “Originally, I designed a 600-page book, and we had to whittle that down to 400; it was only supposed to be a 300-page book. Insight Editions went all out, they really believed in it; they even kept the price down too. I might add one photo in the 1987 chapter that I found later on. It’s a picture of Sebastian Bach, Scotti Hill and Snake Sabo at Mingle Club in the chapter opener. It’s going to cover up the Ozzy RIP cover. I wanted that there really bad. I fought really hard for it. They said, ‘Too late.’ So, we’ll do it in the next run. Overall, it’s pretty spot-on. I wanted it to be perfect, and now it will be after the second run.”
“The plan was to do a different cover with a different band for each pressing. But for the first couple – they didn’t know it was going to go so quick – to put another band on the cover might be confusing to people. So, we’re going to keep Guns N’ Roses on it for the time being. When there’s a third pressing, then maybe we’ll put a different band on there. Or, if it goes too quick again, we’ll wait, cause I don’t want to confuse anyone into thinking it’s a different book. Once there’s enough press about it, then I think I can throw another one out there.
“There was a handful of people that could be worthy of a cover,” explains Weiss, as he elaborates upon the decision to put Guns N’ Roses on the cover of his book. “I didn’t want to do a multiple artist cover, I wanted to do one band, one photo that represents the decade. It was a choice between Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, or Guns N’ Roses. Out of those, I looked at the images to see what was the photo that really captured it. It wasn’t about the band; it was about the image. And that image says it all. 1987 – they were still opening; they weren’t even doing arenas yet. They had that hunger and excitement, and the danger. That was done after a show opening for Mötley Crüe. I was there shooting Mötley Crüe; I didn’t even know they were the opening band. I walk back there and see (GN’R drummer) Steven Adler. He’s all, ‘Hey Mark, how’s it going? I didn’t know you were going to be here. Come on back after.’ I said, can you talk to the guys and we can get some photos of the band when they come off stage nice and sweaty, cause they like that kind of stuff. Steven said, ‘I’ll talk to Axl and the guys, I’m sure they’ll do it. They love you.’ A month or two before, I’d spent a week with them in New York. I did a shoot at my studio and at (legendary nightclub) CBGBs. They did a show at The Ritz, or The Limelight, I’m not sure which one? So, I developed a good relationship with them. So, I go back there and set up my lights, they come walking in, and there’s Axl in the towel with the boots. It was a cool shoot.”
It’s remarkable that Mark Weiss engineered that session because Robert John was the photographer for Guns N’ Roses. He was Axl’s buddy. In 1993, Robert John released his own photo book spanning 1985 to 1992. Much smaller than The Decade That Rocked, it’s called Guns N’ Roses – The Photographic History. For them to allow somebody else, other than Robert John, to photograph the band is pretty impressive.
“Well, there’s a story behind that,” recalls Weiss. “When I first shot Guns N’ Roses in 1986, when Axl’s hair was really up high, they didn’t want anyone to shoot them but Robert John. The publicist, Bryn Bridenthal, who I worked with for Mötley Crüe when she was at Elektra (Records). Now she was at Geffen (Records), doing press for Guns N’ Roses. She wanted the band to shoot with other photographers. She knew they’d get in more magazines, they needed to develop more relationships. They were fighting tooth and nail on that. I told her I was in town, and she really fought for me. She told the band, ‘You’re really going to like him! Have Robert come to the shoot, whatever. You need to start opening your eyes and checking out other photographers. Mark’s the perfect guy for you.’ So, we did it. It was a quick shoot; Robert John was there. I talked to him; he was just starting out. I didn’t want to be a threat to him; I could see how I would be. They liked the shoot, a year later they came to New York and I did some more. Then I ended up doing more shoots with them – the Sunset Grill, where Axl has a beard. They liked me, so I got in there. Robert was their guy, but I got them in the magazines a lot. I was the other girlfriend.”
Going back to the beginning, Mark’s career had a really unique start. As a teenager in the ‘70s, he was sneaking into concerts by Aerosmith, KISS, and Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in New York City – with his camera. Unlike smart phones today, cameras back then were big and bulky. He was taking pictures and selling them out of his high school locker! 75 cents for a 5” x 7”, and $1.25 for an 8” x 10”.
“It was pretty crazy, but it was fun. I took advantage of what… I don’t know, I just did it. I got a lot of attention; I loved the bands. The money that I made went towards film. I used to sneak into concerts with fake ticket stubs, then I’d jump over the barricades and get real close to the stage. I’d sneak my cameras in by putting one lens down – I used to wear these big Frye boots. I’d dismantle my camera, put film in one, the lens in the other, and put the body around my neck backwards, so it would be behind me. When they frisked you, they didn’t usually check the back of you, just the sides. I had this whole thing down.”
One fateful night in December 1977, Weiss get arrested outside MSG for selling unauthorized photographs of KISS; subsequently, he spent the night in jail. “Yeah, I was in the back of this paddy wagon with all the shirt sellers, and there’s me – this kid with my photos. We had to wait for the judge, and he basically said, ‘If you want your pictures or t-shirts back, you’re going to have to come back to court.’ I was like, ‘Just don’t tell my parents!’ And I left. The next day I went to Circus Magazine. I had a subscription to Circus, I looked at my magazine – oh wow, they’re in New York. I just popped in there, told them what happened. I had my portfolio, the art director came out, I introduced myself to him. He told me to come into his office, we chatted for a bit. Then Gerry Rothberg, the editor / owner of the magazine came in and started talking to me. He said, ‘We can’t always get photos cause sometimes the bands don’t give us photo passes, they have their own rules. If you can sneak into the concerts and get some pictures, we need them. That’d be great. Stay in touch.’ Then Aerosmith played a few months later at Giants Stadium with Ted Nugent, Journey, and Mahogany Rush. I snuck my camera in there and got pictures. They needed a picture of Aerosmith, so I dropped them off at the office. A couple months later, the October issue, I remember The Beatles were on the cover. I opened it up and there was a centerfold of mine! Steven Tyler with my name on the bottom, it was a great moment!”
Mark has photographed so many iconic artists, yet Ozzy Osbourne seems to be the most accommodating, and perhaps enjoyable to work with. He’ll do pretty much anything. Sometimes by request, sometimes Ozzy happens to spy something in the corner of the room. He’s dressed up in a ballerina tutu, boxing gloves, an Easter Bunny costume, in drag looking like a housewife. “We hit it off right from the beginning,” says Weiss. “He trusted me, and we just started coming up with goofy things. Basically, two kids having fun taking photos. We kept trying to out-do ourselves, without too much effort either.”
A lot of bands take their image very seriously. You wouldn’t expect Ozzy – The Prince Of Darkness, to be such a goofy character. “Yeah, I think the goof started with our first photo shoot. We were just supposed to shoot a cover of Circus Magazine, cool rock star photos. But Circus also wanted me to take a black and white photograph of Ozzy for this section called The Rock And Roll Yearbook. On that double-page spread were going to be black and white photos of rock stars: Loverboy was The Most Romantic, Ted Nugent was… they had some wild thing, cause he had the loincloth. They had names for each of the, maybe 15, small photos. Ozzy was going to be Most Athletic because he’d jump around a lot on stage. So, I brought some boxing gloves to play off it a little bit. When I got there and told Ozzy the idea, he decided to get a pink tutu and came out wearing that for the photoshoot. It was just supposed to be a black and white photograph. However, I shot it in colour; I couldn’t resist, of course. I sent the pictures to the magazine, and next thing you know, those pictures ended up on the cover. They weren’t supposed to be the cover. They (Sharon and Ozzy) weren’t too happy with me in the beginning. But then he got all this attention, all this publicity from it, and then they embraced it. That’s when we started doing these other crazy things.”
“The Easter Bunny outfit wasn’t even planned. Like you said, that was kind of an accident. I was doing this other shoot with Ozzy in drag. He did a play-off Diary Of A Madman, we did a Mother’s Day issue called Diary Of A Mad Housewife for Faces Magazine. They came into the studio; it was all planned out. But as Sharon and Ozzy walked in, Ozzy saw an Easter Bunny outfit with flowers and all that. He asked, ‘What’s that Mark?’ I asked, what’s what? Cause I really didn’t know what he was talking about. I looked over, and I saw this bunny outfit. I said, ‘That’s your bunny outfit you’ve got to wear for the cover.’ I just made that up. I shared my studio with another commercial photographer; I rented it out. That was left over from a shoot for some Easter thing, so I just played off it. Ozzy’s like, ‘Really? I’ve got to put that on?’ He looked at Sharon and she said, ‘Have fun boys.’ She gave me a wink like, do whatever you want to do. I actually got him in the outfit; he put it on, reluctantly. Then he started having fun, hopping around and all that. Basically, after that shot, I thought, I can’t even show them these photos. This is beyond funny, it’s so silly stupid. It wouldn’t have been right at that point in his career to put those photos out. I didn’t even want to show it to Sharon, but I did. I put them in the files for years. Eventually, when social media started kicking in, I sent her a scan of it. She didn’t even respond, she just put it on social media; Ozzy bunny was out of the closet. Every year she posts it, I post it; everyone posts it now.”
Unlike today’s digital era, photos in the ‘80s were shot on film, which meant Mark would load up on “Probably about 10 to 20 rolls for a live performance, which was really expensive back then. It would end up costing $400 to $500. In a big shoot, it could be up to 40 rolls of film, 36 exposures each. To buy and develop was over $30 a roll. $30 times 20 rolls equals $600. Then there was Polaroid for $20 each. It might end up being $800 or $900 on a photo shoot, just for expenses. I looked at it like, these are moments here. They’re not going to happen again. I don’t know if I’m ever going to shoot this band again. I shot every band like it was the last time I was going to shoot them. You never knew what would happen, they could break up. So, I always overshot. That’s why I didn’t make a lot of money back then, because I invested in all the film and everything. I made a lot of money, but I spent even more.”
Studio versus concert shoots, a different mindset is required for each situation. “Definitely. Live is fun. You’re hanging out with the band, you’re away from your house, you don’t think about it. You see a nice moment… you take a picture. In the studio, you have to set up the background, that’s a little bit of hassle and work. But when it’s a studio shoot, it’s more rewarding in the end because it’s usually for an album cover or publicity photos. It takes more time and thinking, more prepping. It’s a little more stressful. Each one has its own strong points for what’s needed out there. I like doing both, but for all different reasons. I prefer to just go on the road, hang out, and take photos.”
The Decade That Rocked ends in 1990, but Mark’s career certainly didn’t. “Yeah, ’90 hit, I remember I was on that ‘Cherry Pie’ video with Warrant; they sold millions of records… but when Nirvana came out, the record company just pulled the plug, and everyone just started dropping. I tried to keep it going. I figured, I’ve got some good album covers under my belt; Ozzy’s photographer, Mötley, Bon Jovi, but little did I know, bands like Soundgarden that I shot, Alice In Chains, they really didn’t care about that; they didn’t care about photographs either. If I were to mention that I shot those bands, I’d be shunned upon. I had mentioned it; I learned not to. It was a decade (the ‘90s) that those bands didn’t embrace the photographer. They knew they had to do photos, and the magazines picked up on that too. Then the fans picked up on it. All the magazines started dying out because there wasn’t really a market for it. The bands wouldn’t give photos, they weren’t fun and interesting.”
Come 2000, Mark did Slayer’s War At The Warfield cover. “Right. I always kept in there. In the early ‘90s Skid Row was still around for a good couple of years. They had Slave To The Grind, that was a good, heavy record. I was doing a lot of touring with them cause they were my friends. Then KISS came back in ’96 for their reunion tour, so I did some stuff with them. Other bands started trickling in, but really, from the mid ‘90s to the 2000s, I started working for this label called CMC Records that had a lot of reissues like Eddie Money, Lynyrd Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, 38 Special, all these bands I liked in the ‘70s, so I was starting to work with them, doing art direction, photo shoots, home videos. That kept me busy. Then I started working for a German magazine called Bravo. Aside from all this rock and roll stuff, I’ve done a lot of pop artists. I shot Cher, Drew Barrymore when she was in E.T… I worked for US Magazine. I shot Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, a lot of movie stars, Johnny Depp. I don’t really show that off, but I have that body of work. Bravo had me shoot a lot of the pop artists in the ‘90s. I did a shoot with Christina Aguilera on the ‘Genie In A Bottle’ video when she was just starting out. She liked me, we got along. I started working for her, I ended up doing an album cover. She did a Spanish album called Mi Reflejo, developed a relationship with her, went to Hawaii. The same with Black Eyed Peas and Gwen Stefani. The bands from the ‘80s that I really liked weren’t really doing anything, and I couldn’t make a living out of it. I was making a living by doing a lot of pop stuff. To me, they’re all rock stars. They had the attitude, and that’s what I like. I like colourful people.”
Having been a highly respected photographer for 40 years, the question beckons, is there any band you always wanted to shoot, but never got a chance to? “You’ve got to go for the three Js – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. Those three would have been awesome. I would have loved to have gone on the road with The Stones in the early days, Led Zeppelin in the early days.”
As for the rest of 2020… “I actually have a clothing line. I just signed a deal with Recycled Karma. They’re going to take my photos, but it’s not going to be the typical concert shirt with the band name, it’s going to be more about the artists, the individuals. I’ve been talking with Sebastian Bach on it; they’ll be in high-end boutique shops like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s. They’re going to go for over $100. We might have some lower priced ones too. It’s going to be more on the imagery, more of a fashion statement.”
“And I just released my first episode of The Weissguy, which is an adventure of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. It’s about these two guys from the ‘80s that never grew up, and they stalk me. They always manage to know where I am, they want me to get them backstage. I was shooting the Tesla concert and they snuck on Tesla’s bus, we kicked them out. Then I had my kid’s graduation party, there was a band playing. We did this fantasy scene with Chip Z’Nuff with ‘Fly High Michelle’. That was kind of cool. We were just about to shoot the flashback scene, then the pandemic happened. I just put it out there anyways, it’s 12 minutes,” and it can be seen below.
Order your copy of The Decade That Rocked now at TheDecadeThatRocked.com.