I'm feeling mildly discombobulated. I just found out an hour ago that Jim Marshall died in his sleep last night (Tuesday night) in his hotel room in New York City; he was there for another show opening and to give some lectures. There are no details at this time. I imagine his body simply...stopped. He was 74, and honestly it was amazing he made it this far.
There's a photo of Jim himself here.
Jim didn't treat that body well. Understand that I hate the term "substance abuse." Our strait-laced, puritanical society considers any use of mind altering substances outside of the legally-accepted norm to be "abuse." Sorry to burst that bubble...wait, no, I'm not sorry at all...but society is filled with highly productive people who spend substantial amounts of each day in, um, altered states. They use, they don't abuse.
Well, that wasn't Jim. Jim abused. He abused in spades. His clean and sober periods were short intermissions in a lifelong tightrope act. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll epitomized most of Jim's adult life (okay, I'm guessing about the sex part, but, you know, given the temper and the times, it's kind of hard to imagine it any other way.)
Copyright by Jim Marshall, all rights reserved
I started printing for Jim in April of 2001. Six dye transfer prints of this photograph of Miles Davis. Up to that point I had run my business on a cash-up-front basis. Made billing and bookkeeping a hell of a lot simpler. I told Jim that's how I worked and he said, "Sure, no problem!" By the third invoice, he was having me run an account for him. It just kind of happened. Jim was one of those forces of nature; he liked to do things his way, and the whole world warped itself to make it possible.
Practically the first thing Jim told me was to make a print for myself of anything I printed for him and he'd sign it. For all I know, my collection of Jim Marshall prints is worth more than everything he paid me over the last decade. He could alternate between being ridiculously tightfisted and incredibly generous. Mess with his intellectual property rights and he would go for your throat, literally and legally. Lots of people tried to rip him off, sometimes people who should know better like major magazines and television networks, sometimes just people who thought they could get away with putting a photograph of his on a T-shirt. Jim made a lot of money off of the many people who tried to rip him off. But ask Jim for something, almost anything, and if he didn't think you were out to rip him off, he'd say yes.
I digitally printed this photograph for Jim late last year. I thought it was one of the best photos of his I'd ever printed; it was like rich velvety chocolate. When I brought my copy to him to be signed, I told him how good I thought that photo was and that I was going to give it to my best friend as a birthday gift, because she was a huge Miles fan. Jim said, "That's cool. Print up another one for yourself and I'll sign that too."
Unless you follow the music business or have been a fan of Jim's, you really have no idea how many famous photographs he made. Check out the collections on his website, and be sure to click through the little square thumbnails; they're crops for identification purposes, not the whole photograph. People going to that site to buy work know what they're looking for, and the thumbnails work as commerce, not as a good displays of art.
But there's a whole body of Jim's work that's hardly known, civil rights photography that he did in the South before he became famous for music photographs. It's serious, profound, fascinating work. He should be famous for it. Of course he won't be. He'll be remembered for his iconic music photographs, unless some curator "rediscovers" him 50 years from now.
Then there's the other Jim. It drove me crazy that he'd casually throw out epithets like "nigger," especially because I knew that if there were ever a white man who didn't have a racist bone in his body (and I'm not convinced there is) it was probably Jim. It's that Jim didn't care; when he felt like being offensive, he was oblivious to who he offended and how. He just vented. Some people would say he spoke his mind. Some, from a distance, might even think that was an endearing trait. I was there. It so very much wasn't.
And if he was on a tear, you didn't want to be in his way. There's a story that in his younger days he and Hunter Thompson got in a pissing match and Hunter Thompson backed down. I entirely believe. Nobody wanted to be on the wrong side of Jim, and we all did a lot of tiptoeing and a certain amount of fancy footwork to make sure we didn't get there.
It didn't always work. Two years after I started printing for Jim, he took great offense at something I did. I insisted upon giving him an estimate for a rather large job before I started on it. It set him off; he was hugely offended that I didn't trust him to pay me no matter what the job cost. Go figure. Have I mentioned that Jim was not entirely rational?
He was so upset he wouldn't even talk to me about it. Ever. I didn't hear from him again for four years.
I got off lucky. A colleague of mine who was doing custom film processing for Jim some years ago had a gun pulled on him! Kind of soured that relationship.
Finally, Amelia, his walks-on-water assistant, convinced him in 2007 that he really needed to be dealing with me if he wanted to get any more dye transfer prints made. But he still couldn't stand the idea of talking to me. Everything had to go through her as an intermediary. That nonsense went on for about eight months. I knew it was ridiculous; Amelia knew it was ridiculous. Jim was being...well...Jim. But by this point I'd figured out some of Jim's buttons. I made a nice digital print of one of my photographs he really liked (the Apollo 17 liftoff), signed it to him personally, giftwrapped it, and gave it to Amelia to give to him as a Christmas gift.
Mid-morning, December 26, the phone rings: "Hey, Ctein, buddy, it's Jim. I really love that photograph. Thanks so much, man! I need some stuff printed, when can you have them for me?"
And life was back to normal with Jim Marshall, if I am allowed to use the words "Jim Marshall" and "normal" in the same sentence. I managed to avoid ticking him off after that, although there were a few perilous missteps along the way. It worked out okay; if he pushed too hard, I pushed back...very, very carefully. And rarely without consulting with Amelia, in case I was about to misstep. Sometimes I felt like dealing with Jim was not like walking on eggs—it was like walking on hedgehogs. Barefoot. At least he never threatened my life.
The last time I printed for Jim, it was three dye transfers of Jimi Hendrix in his blue shirt and a digital print of Janis on her psychedelic Porsche, a previously unprinted and unpublished photograph. Not the same one that's in his books. This one has the trademark Janis grin. I like it better.
And that's all he wrote. Possibly the most generous and irritating man I've ever worked with. I'd be surprised if I ever meet anyone more generous. I sure as hell hope I never meet anyone more irritating. Alkie, druggie, abusive, and open-hearted. An exhausting combination.
F*ck that sh*t
Some of you reading this may be mildly offended by the tone of what I've written. Or even majorly offended. Too bad. This is the kind of attitude that Jim respected and liked. I'm really sorry he's gone, and he'd be happy to know that I'm really sorry he's gone. Jim always wanted badly to be liked. And I really did like that royal pain in the ass. But if I got all pious and holy and handwringing on him now, his ghost would rise up to haunt me, rattling chains and saying, as Jim frequently did, "F*ck that sh*t, man!"
I can't wait to see the photos the man is gonna send back from hell. They are going to be dynamite!
Jim Marshall, dead at 74. I could say R.I.P., but honestly I think that would be altogether last on his wish list.
Ctein's regular weekly column on TOP appears every Thursday morning.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Paul: "Of course my favourite Jim Marshall images are those of Jimi Hendrix. I suppose there will be one big party this weekend up in the sky. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and loads more all posing for Jim Marshall. There will be one very lonely M4 missing his owner down here."
Featured Comment by David Seelig: "I knew Jim for 25 years or so nice obit Ctein and very accurate as to how Jim was, I will miss him."
Featured Comment by Nick Despotopoulos: "As the guy whose company built & ran Jim's website for the past year plus, a collector of his work and a close friend since 1988 I can say that Ctein has it the way it was man...no sh*t! Also let me say that working with Ctein on Jim's stuff for the past few years has been a pleasure—he's a true professional. Now where's that bottle of Wisers Whisky...Nick Despotopoulos, Groovy Collectibles LLC for groovycollectibles.com."
Featured Comment by Jeff Kausch: "Jim was an Advertising Photographers of America San Francisco Executive Board Member, a close friend of many APA members, and a central character in the Bay Area Photo Community for decades, so we have created a special section on the APA SF blog to help honor him. Photographer Jock McDonald and agent Norman Maslov are just two of Jim’s friends who have already contributed. If you have any stories or photos of Jim or relevant links to share, please email them to us. Thanks."
Featured Comment by Fern: "Thank You...you have so beautifully captured the essence of this man. Through the lovely Amelia I had the honor of meeting Jim. While perusing his photos one afternoon when he graciously offered to donate any photo I wanted for my special breast cancer fundraiser, and before I could even think about leaving after being mesmerized for hours by his incredible work, I had to celebrate some occasion with Jim, who would simply not allow me to decline several shots of fine whiskey. I also had to work really hard at graciously declining his requests to come away with him for the weekend! Rock on Jim!"