Stiv Bators, 1980
David Arnoff‘s post-punk era photography appeared in the NME, Melody Maker, Trouser Press, N.Y. Rocker and many other publications. The Cleveland-born, but London-based photographer and disc jockey’s work captures iconic bad boys and girls, relaxed and at their most playful. Arnoff is currently readying his photographs for a book and is looking for a publisher. I asked him a few questions over email:
Tara: Tell me about the Stiv Bators shot.
David Arnoff: I was hanging around with Stiv and his post-Dead Boys band in their hotel—pretty sure it was the Sunset Marquis—and we decided to do some shots of him on his own. He’d been messing about with a new air pistol, so we brought that along and just stepped out into the hall, after which it occured to him to maybe go back in the room and put some shoes on, but I said not to bother. We started out doing some rather silly and predictable 007-type poses before he chose to just sit on the floor and look disturbed. I always thought the stripey socks made him look even more so.
Nick Cave, 1983
Tara: You worked with Nick Cave several times. He seems like a guy very concerned about his image, yet playful, too. What’s he like as a subject or collaborator?
David Arnoff: Nick is very easy and unaffected to work with. That shot with Harpo is the result of what started out as another cancelled session at the Tropicana Motel. He apologized for being up all night and indicated all the empty bottles on the TV as evidence, but was perfectly happy for me to carry on regardless even though he was not looking his best. The only downside was he was trying in vain to play “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” not really knowing the chords and the guitar was painfully out of tune. Not an enjoyable aural experience. He was quite happy with the photos though.
Jeffrey Lee Pierce, 1983
Tara: Maybe it was the era, but several of the people you shot were junkies. Any “colorful” anecdotes about the likes of Cave, Jeffery Lee Pierce, Nico or Johnny Thunders?
David Arnoff: Far be it for me to say whether or not any of these people were actually junkies, but it’s funny you should mention Nick and Jeffrey together because I did squeeze all three of us into my little Volvo p1800 to go score on the street—Normandy, I think, around 3rd or somewhere. We then went back to my place in Hollywood, where Jeffrey became convinced they’d been ripped off. But Nick seemed more than happy with his purchase. Afterwards we went to that lesbian-run Mexican place near the Starwood. Nick tried to remember what he’d had previously and proceeded to attempt to describe what he wanted it to the baffled staff. I think they just gave up and sold him a burrito.
I had arranged to meet up with Nico at the Tropicana the day after her Whisky gig for some photos, but when I turned up as scheduled she was in tears about managerial and financial problems and didn’t want her photo taken, which was understandable. What she wanted to do instead was have a drink and go to her friend’s place where she would be able to speak German. So that’s what we did. Nico was a very large woman, so it was another tight squeeze getting into the car. We stopped at the liquor store by Barney’s Beanery and she knocked back an impromptu vodka-and-orange in the passenger seat. Then we went to her friend’s apartment and she really relaxed and cheered up and was very grateful. And I was pleased as well, even though I never got to take any off-stage shots.
I only really got to know Thunders much later on, at Stiv’s place in Paris. Mainly I remember him really having a go at Stiv about some of his dodgier jokes, saying that “You just can’t be into rock music and be even the slightest bit racist,” which Stiv duly took on board. He also told me that “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” comes from a Honeymooners quote (Ralph: “You can’t put your arms around a memory, Alice.” Alice: “I can’t even put my arms around you!”), which is a pretty funny thing to become aware of. The pair of them joined up for a local gig the following day and I was surprised to learn that I was meant to play as well, on “Just Like Me.” I had tried to teach it to their French guitarist but he couldn’t get a handle on it for some reason. Fortunately for me the gig fell to bits before they got to that song.
Lydia Lunch, 1981
Tara: My husband knows Lydia Lunch a little bit and he says she’s quite sweet in real life, not at all what you might expect. You agree?
David Arnoff: Put simply: I agree with your husband. I like her a lot.
Bryan Gregory, 1981
Joey Ramone, 1976
Tara: Who are/were your favorite subjects?
David Arnoff: Off the top of my head: The Cramps, Stiv, Thee Hypnotics, The Scientists, Nick Cave, Lydia and Exene…I do wish I could have spent more time with some people, the Ramones and X, for instance. But I’m not complaining.
Booji Boy, 1976
Tara: What was the most memorable live musical event you’ve shot?
David Arnoff: The first cut is the deepest. Patti Smith at the Roxy and the Damned at the Starwood changed everything.
Photographs from the galleries are available as limited editions. Each signed and numbered. You can find out more over at David Arnoff’s website.