Mick Rock Through The Ages

By Briana Mutlu
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David Bowie stared into a mirror at Haddon Hall, it’s 1972, applying make-up. In mid-action, photographer, Mick Rock captured Bowie as he transformed into Ziggy Stardust — the iconic rocker known for a red spiked mullet, a full face of make-up and a cut-to-the-navel glam rock shirt donned with belted trousers.

 

Ziggy Stardust was Bowie’s way of rebelling against the norm and Mick Rock was there to capture the essence of Bowie and the iconic phenomenon of 1970s self-expression.

Picture of David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust era.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mick Rock

At Haddon Hall in 1972, Mick Rock, behind the camera, captured David Bowie before a performance.

From the glam beginnings in London to the depraved underground of Manhattan’s Bowery, Rock photographed the most influential performers of the 1970s, ranging from the New York Dolls to Carly Simon to Lou Reed’s album cover Transformer.

Picture of Lou Reed’s album cover “Transformer”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mick Rock

Mick Rock shot the cover of Lou Reed’s 1972 Transformer album.

‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Marijuana, In Moderation’

Unfortunately, the burden that brilliance must pay comes around sooner or later. As Rock strove to live in the depths of madness and appreciate the creation that comes from the border of that consciousness, he found himself deep into cocaine and speed. In the mid 1990s, the cost of living life in the fast lane caused him to crash, and during a shoot, he collapsed. 

 

“Curiosity is what did it,” Rock said. “And it did indeed kill the cat.”

 

Rock had life-changing surgeries that were the deciding factor to separate himself from hard drugs, a quadruple bypass, heart surgery in 1996 and a kidney operation in 2012. Although he got these operations in two separate hospitals, both of his doctors advocated for the use of marijuana to help the healing process. 

 

“There’s nothing wrong with [marijuana], in moderation,” Rock said his doctors said. 

 

“Marijuana has broken a lot of barriers around the world medicinally,” he added.

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The Marijuana Sustainable Lifestyle

Though he is still the genius lunatic he was when he was a young man, Rock has adapted to a more sustainable lifestyle. Never into drinking or downers, presumably, because they slowed one down. Rock is only interested in the extravagant and fantastic. Pass the joint — he hasn’t touched anything stronger than coffee or marijuana in over 25 years. But beyond the lingering smoke, it’s the touch with the metaphysical and a deeper sense of consciousness marijuana bridges and accesses for him.  

 

“I only do the hippie speedball now,” Rock said with his charming Brit smirk. “Just coffee and marijuana and the only time I smoke is if I’ve done all my other crap and I’m doing a shoot.”

 

Rock met Syd Barrett through a friend and took the cover photos for his first solo album, The Madcap Laughs. The photos have a strange and captivating painted expression about them since Rock only had daylight film and was shooting inside. As Rock put it in his documentary, SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock, the photos appear that way because “technically they’re fucked.” 

Marijuana played an important, although not entirely definitive, role in Rock’s photography career from the beginning to his now-iconic state. 

 

“Marijuana was part of my experience,” he shared. “It helped me to get so loose I could be open to the possibilities, even though I’ve shot for Gucci and things like that, and they’re quite disciplined.” 

 

Fascinated with faces, shapes and the attractive lunacy of brilliance, Rock naturally gravitated toward a photography career, and once someone paid him five dollars to shoot a local band — the rest is history.

The Marijuana Sustainable Lifestyle

Mick Rock’s destiny of madness-greatness began in West London, where he went on to study literature at Cambridge University. His classic British education helped define his articulate and philosophical character, accentuated by the scarves that almost always don his neck. 

 

As a young man, Rock found himself enamored with altered states, a state of mind on the border of consciousness that allows one to access different modes of thinking, he shared. Although this state may be achieved through meditation, fasting or not sleeping, Rock’s first brush with altered states came through marijuana and LSD. 

 

“Marijuana opened the door, facilitated it,” Rock said in a Zoom interview with CampNova, “There became another way of thinking about things, another way of seeing things.”

 

During one of his early acid trips in the late 1960s, Rock picked up his roommate’s camera and snapped a few pictures of a lady friend who accompanied him. The rush of energy that Rock observed with each snap was the catalyst to his career, the beginning of his obsession that would propel him to his iconic status. 

 

Even as Rock sees in retrospect, it seems as though there was a little conscious decision to become a photographer. His legendary career was an amalgam of destiny, happy accidents and humble genius.

The Man Who Shot the Seventies

Through Bowie and Lou Reed, Rock found his first longtime muses, which reflected the delirious symbolist poets of the 19th century which he kinned to the edge of consciousness in search of truth and freedom. But it was that sense of freedom, for the most part, that fostered the breeding ground of the culture  and music that did not sound or look like 1972 and yet still sounds and resonates epicly in 2021.

All The Fabulous People Go To New York 

New York became a prominent muse to Rock, like the glam and punk stars that make up the most recognizable of his portfolio. The energy that emanates from the city, particularly Manhattan, fuels a magnetism present nowhere else, except possibly London, according to Rock. 

 

“All the fabulous people have to go to New York at one point,” he said. “Otherwise they won’t be fabulous.” 

 

Rock’s propulsion as one of the most recognized photographers in America and abroad was brought about by his incredible intuition and the discipline he applies to his spirituality. Before each shoot, Rock practices Kundalini yoga and recites his mantras internally, and does a 15-minute, at least, headstand. He contends no matter what type of state he is in before his ritual, Rock is ready to shoot after completing these steps.

From Bowie to Lady Gaga

Rock emanates the same star quality that surrounds all his subjects, from Bowie to Lady Gaga. There is unmistakable confidence and hunger for the fantastic in life. Fearlessness oozes from his being and puts all his subjects, friends, or anyone he comes in contact with at ease. It is hardly a surprise that he found himself naturally surrounded by legends. 

 

Other subjects he’s shot also include — Snoop Dogg, Father John Misty, Lenny Kravitz , Janelle Monaie, Jimmy Fallon, The Black Keys, Karen O, Ellie Goulding, Alicia Keys, Michael Buble, Daft Punk, Perry Farrell, Motley Crue, TV On The Radio, Pharrell, Josh Groban, Flaming Lips, Nas, Rufus Wainwright, Kings of Leon, The Black Lips, Queens of The Stone Age; among others.

 

Since his surgeries, Rock has lived a steady life in New York with his wife, Pati, daughter, Nathalie and furbabies, a Maltese named Charlie and Manecoon cat, Bellini. He is currently working on a new book that features his art, vibrant colors and collages combined with his photographs. 

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