David Bowie, Madison Square Garden, 1978
New York City was a wild place to be in 1977. Economic hardship plagued the nation, but the Big Apple was especially bankrupt. Couple that downturn with spikes of crime and violence (the Son of Sam murders, followed by a 25-hour city-wide blackout in July's stifling summer heat) and you've got a powder keg, a metropolis on the edge. But while the city around them was quite literally crumbling, young New Yorkers began crystallizing urgent new creative scenes and musical movements. Uptown, Bronx breakers and beatsmiths planted the seeds for hip-hop; downtown belonged to the punks. The world was on fire, but at least the music was good. Ed Rosenbaum turned 17 in 77, and captured some of the era's most enduring musicians at some of the city's most iconic venues.
Lou Reed, Capitol Theater, 1978
Rosenbaum decided to bring the Pentax his brother-in-law gave him to all of his favorite gigs. Throughout the late 70s and early 80s, Rosenbaum photographed David Bowie, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, The Pretenders, and more at now-shuttered spots like CBGB and The Palladium (the East 14th Street hall where the Rolling Stones stopped on their first ever American tour, now an NYU dorm), and, of course, Madison Square Garden. Rosenbaum didn't have press credentials or prime backstage access; he shot from the floor, the pit, and sometimes, from the nosebleeds. He was a fan, first and foremost.
Freddie Mercury, Madison Square Garden, 1977
By the mid-80s, though, Rosenbaum had given up documenting gigs, and landed a job as a doorman in an apartment building downtown, where he's worked for decades. He recently came across his concert photo negatives, and shared them with one of the building's tenants, an NYU student. When Esopus Magazine editor Tod Lippy lectured one of her classes, that student told him all about Rosenbaum's images. Fast-forward, and the never-before-seen photographs have been collected as Golden Years, a forthcoming 56-page book published by Esopus.
Peter Gabriel, The Palladium, 1978
To celebrate Golden Years's launch, Lippy has curated a corresponding exhibition of Rosenbaum's rock 'n' roll images, presently on view at Pioneer Works in Red Hook. Golden Years is a testament to the power of teen enthusiasm and passionate fandom: what Rosenbaum initially saw as simply "a way to remember the shows you went to" has become an important visual document of NYC history.
'Golden Years' is on view at Pioneer Works through November 13, more information here.
The Jam, CBGB, 1978
Blue Öyster Cult, The Palladium, 1979
Text Emily Manning
Photography © 2016 Ed Rosenbaum / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York