'fanzine' captures the raw spirit of l.a. youth
In photographer Brad Elterman's new zine, 70s rock stars and super groupies get down with Cherry Glazerr and Starcrawler.
Bebe Buell and Stiv Bators
Brad Elterman has been photographing the world’s biggest rock stars since he was a teen in the 70s. In his storage locker in the San Fernando Valley, where he keeps his archives, there are rare candids of the most artfully hairsprayed legends to ever frequent the Rainbow Bar & Grill. But on a recent visit, there was one that caught his attention: a middle-aged man in large glasses and a pinstripe suit, carefully placing a jumbo marinara shrimp onto the famous tongue of KISS’s Richard Simmons. The man in the suit is Richard Creamer, Elterman’s longtime friend and mentor, who recently passed away. “It was like an epiphany, Elterman tells i-D over the phone from L.A., explaining the origin story of his latest zine, FANZINE, dedicated to his lost best buddy.
You couldn’t blame the photographer for being overly nostalgic about the era of backstage shrimp and lobster buffets. But Elterman, after taking a long hiatus after the demise of punk rock, is now equally excited about today’s generation of budding legends. The new zine includes photos of acts like Starcrawler, Sunflower Bean, The Garden, Lemon Twigs, Cherry Glazerr, and Mac Demarco. One double-page features an iconic Elterman photograph of Joan Jett eating fries on Coney Island, next to a recent photo of inimitable Starcrawler frontwoman Arrow de Wilde. Elsewhere, Debbie Harry is placed next to an equally peroxide-blonde, albeit slightly more polished in this particular photo, Clementine Creevy. Aesthetically, FANZINE is a tribute to 70s mag Rock Scene, which a then-teenage Elterman would submit photos to in the hopes of being cut a $5 check. But the project is as much inspired by the raw spirit of youth today.
I love the photo of Richard Creamer feeding Gene Simmons shrimp. Can you tell us more about your friend?
Before I used to take photos professionally, I was a fan, and I used to look at Rock Scene and see all Richard’s photos of David Bowie, Kiss, Robert Plant at the Rainbow Bar & Grill. Eventually I started going out. I’d take my parents car and drive to the Sunset Strip. I would see this eccentric-looking cat there who didn’t quite look like he belonged. He was middle aged, and a little bit chubby, and he didn’t have a lot of hair. He had these big glasses on and he spoke in a real shrill voice. It was love at first sight. We became best buddies.
All these rockers adored Richard. He had an incredible sense of humor and he was very clever. When The Runaways were playing one of their first gigs at the Starwood, we heard that Robert Plant was going to be there. Richard made this shirt that said “Robert Loves Kim,” meaning Kim Fowley, the producer of The Runaways. He gets Robert wearing this shirt, which was just brilliant and iconic. He also made this T-shirt for Alice Cooper that said “Photo Credit: Richard Creamer,” because Richard would always get pissed when a magazine didn’t put a photo credit. He got a picture of Alice in it and of course it ran in all the magazines. I wouldn’t have been so lucky in my career if I didn’t have a mentor like Richard. I remember after he passed away, the woman who was handling his archives said she was having the photos destroyed because she saw nudity in there and there were no model releases.
You said the layout of FANZINE was inspired by Rock Scene magazine from the 70s. With the Japanese script covering the pages? Did you used to work in Japan too?
I used to take photos for this magazine called Music Life. It was published by Shiko Music Publishing. They had another magazine called Rock Show. It was probably Richard who told me about the Japanese magazines. I couldn’t afford to get a car or move into my first apartment on the Sunset Strip off $5 a photo from Rock Scene. I would send these packages of photos to Music Life and they’d publish nearly everything I sent — parties, backstage, bands coming to visit here… the Japanese would publish reams of this stuff. They couldn’t believe I had photos of girls with guitars. I was kind of a correspondent or conduit to what was happening in Hollywood. There was no internet, so if Kim Fowley had a new band, you didn’t know about it until one of us would send it to them. The editor of Music Life used to call me — she couldn’t figure out the time difference so she’d call me at my parents house at 2am, this is before I got my own phone line.
You seem to really enjoy working with young American bands like Sunflower Bean, The Garden, Cherry Glazerr, and Starcrawler. What about them do you find so exciting?
I think there’s an essence of coolness. Look at Arrow de Wilde — she’s got something. It’s the same thing as when I met Joan — I don’t know if I even really understood what charisma was back when I was a kid, but she just had something. I sure see that in Arrow. I like what she’s doing on stage, the theatrics and so on. And I love Sunflower Bean — I dig their music and they photograph so well together. Mac DeMarco is kind of an iconic character and I love his music too. He’s one of a kind.
He’s great. What’s he doing in that photo with the wheelbarrow filled with concrete?
He’s in his backyard. Those are the kind of photos I love to take — something that tells a story, something that’s candid, something that’s offbeat. These aren’t far off from the photos I would take of Joan eating an icecream cone. It’s nice to show something that’s real. I see all these fashion houses embracing this kind of photography — it’s raw, it’s candid, it’s real. It’s not overproduced and you don’t get the feeling that somebody’s trying to sell you something. That style is definitely hot.
Do you shoot fashion much then?
I did 10 pages for CR Fashion Book with Selma Blair, I just shot a campaign for Neuw denim, and I just shot a lookbook for Amiri. I did something with this cat Børns for German Vogue, and he was in my living room. Gucci sent all the clothes. So yeah, I guess.
Some of your most striking photos are taken in your home -- including Brooke Candy on your bed and a woman Kari floating in your pool in a rhinestone thong.
The girl in the pool in 1980 is Kari, my muse, my confidant. I live in a cavern — it’s a bungalow. When Brooke came by with her entourage of 20 people you could barely turn around here. I like it because I know the area and it’s comfortable for me to shoot here. My home is called “Villa Le Reve,” but it’s not a villa, it’s an 840 square foot bungalow in the canyons. I haven’t done much with it lately because I like to find new locations. I like to shoot in the street too. We do have magnificent light here.
Do you ever get tired of LA after shooting there for so many years?
I would love to spend more time in Europe. L.A.’s fun but it’s just such a grind with the traffic. I’m getting up there, the big 6-0. But it’s an exciting time. The internet has opened up a new world. You have to know how to connect the dots and use your time. One reason I want to move around a bit is that I just find L.A. a bit stagnating lately. I want to find new, interesting talent to photograph.