’80s rock ‘n’ roll photographer Lynn Goldsmith reveals stories of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and more
Lynn Goldsmith never thought she would make a book about the 1980s.
“If you mentioned me this decade, for some reason I went ‘blech!’,” the legendary rock ‘n’ roll photographer told the Post, twisting her face into an exaggerated grimace.
“Most people in my age group feel that,” the 76-year-old added. “The era began with the assassination of John Lennon…I think Chris Stein [of Blondie] best said: “The 80s murdered what was left of the 60s”.
When an editor suggested she dig through her old photos from the decade for a possible project, Goldsmith reluctantly began going through her negatives. But as she sifted through her treasure trove of images, she realized that the 1980s were actually pretty awesome.
“I really saw what a creative time it was,” the Detroit native said. “When I started putting it together I thought I could do it in alphabetical order to visually show the range – how different Bananarama is from Barry Manilow.”
“Music in the Eighties” (Rizzoli) showcases the dazzling breadth of the Me Decade: from the Rolling Stones to the Boss; Herbie Hancock to perform DMC; Madonna to Goldsmith’s former college pal Iggy Pop; Suitors to, yes, Barry Manilow.
“I asked myself, ‘How could I have photographed all these people? Said Goldsmith, who was also making his own dance music under the name Will Powers at the time. “How did I sleep? Did I ever have sex in the 80s? had to leave out a lot of artists because there weren’t enough pages!
She captures these personalities at their most startling, glamorous, and true—probably because she’s a musician and artist herself. “I film from a fan’s perspective,” she said.
Here, Goldsmith shares some of her photos and stories from the 80s.
The first time Goldsmith heard The B-52’s, the campy, cartoonish New Wave quintet from Athens, Georgia, she knew she had to meet them.
“I thought, ‘They’re going to be huge!'” she recalls. So Goldsmith traveled to the band’s new home in Nyack, NY to photograph them at his own expense. (She said 90% of the images she produces are “bespoke” or with the hope of selling them later – “That’s how much I have to believe in myself and the people I photograph.” )
“It was just a normal house,” Goldsmith recalled. Next, they went to roommate and stylist Robert Molnar’s bedroom, with its retro wallpaper, kitschy lava lamp and colorful fabric scraps on the floor. “They called it the sewing room,” Goldsmith said. “I knew it was [the setting for the picture]because it is really with their clothes and their hair that they become the B-52.
“Generally, taking pictures of five people is a nightmare,” Goldsmith said. “No one can have their eyes closed. There are personalities [competing with one another]. But it was never like that with the “B”. Even though it’s five very different people, it was almost like shooting a single entity.
When Apollonia arrived at a shoot ahead of her debut solo album in Los Angeles, the Prince protege brought her own clothes, including a sexy two-piece swimsuit with a tiger-stripe top and high-cut bottom that Goldsmith adored.
After snapping a few photos in the studio, Goldsmith suggested getting out, “We threw a lot of clothes in the car and drove to Malibu.”
They ended up throwing a black coat over the two-piece — “I thought she’d be more comfortable,” Goldsmith said — and started shooting. The first images looked pretty, but the photographer wanted something with more attitude. “They would have been nice for TIME magazine,” she said, “but if I wanted to get her into Creem magazine, I needed her to give me the middle finger!”
That’s how Goldsmith got the perfect provocative portrait: Apollonia, one hand on her hip, her middle finger raised in the air, and her coat flapping dramatically behind her in the wind.
“Apollonia wasn’t just a woman who released an album. Apollonia was an actress,” the photographer said. “Before MTV, people just weren’t comfortable in front of the camera. But Apollonia was able to take the lead and add something of her own.
From the first time Goldsmith met Van Halen – before the release of the band’s self-titled debut album in 1978 – she could tell there was tension between guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen and flamboyant frontman David Lee Roth.
“David and Eddie never really got along,” she said. “It was clear that David was really comfortable – maybe too comfortable; sometimes I had to calm the pose – do visuals, when Eddie just wanted to play his guitar.
His job was to make it look like they liked each other.
“The moments on stage where they were having fun, where they were getting along together over the music they were making, that was what I wanted to capture,” Goldsmith said. “Because fans want to believe bands are sibling bands. But like siblings, they fight, it’s like family, you know.
Goldsmith worked with rocker Tom Petty from the late 1970s, in his early days, until his death in 2017.
“He was incredibly nice,” she said. “He gave a quote for one of my books: ‘Lynne has always been the best rock and roll photographer; you felt like she lived in the same world as you and that was worth a lot when you’re all young and distrustful of authority.
This mistrust of authority – of working for the man – bound them together. They first met when Goldsmith was photographing Bruce Springsteen in the late 1970s, and a young Petty would occasionally tour with them.
At the time, Goldsmith said, Springsteen did a bit where he was hiding behind E Street Band member Steve Van Zandt or behind a speaker during part of a song. “Then a year later I went to see a Tom show and saw him do his own take on this move,” Goldsmith said. Petty, however, held his guitar slightly in front of him, crouched down, almost as if hiding behind it.
“I just felt it was so Tom: he was someone hiding behind the music,” she said. “I always wanted to capture that.”
The first time Goldsmith met Michael Jackson, her manager took her to a recording studio to see how the pop star would react to the photographer. “Michael and I shared a desire to be five or six, so we played well together,” she said. “I’ve been hired.”
“Music in the 80s” includes several photos of Jackson, including this electrifying concert close-up.
“I remember all of Michael’s performances where he gave his best, every moment of his breath, because I think that’s where he was most alive,” Goldsmith said. “The sweat, everything about Michael’s performance, was totally about him.”
“I shoot from a fan’s perspective,” she added of this image of Jackson, with a red jacket, his sweat glistening, his face beaming. “I really want artists to feel good and to feel that [my picture] captured for a moment. But the most important thing is that the fan feels closer, more connected. … That’s what I try to do with my photos.