Me and My Friends
by Tony Woolliscroft
Twenty years. That’s how long Tony Woolliscroft has been photographing the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He was there when they went big with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He was there when guitarist John Frusciante abruptly left the band after a show in Japan. He was there for the Dave Navarro era, and then when Frusciante came back. Woolliscroft, however, dedicates over half of his book, Me and My Friends, to the last decade, from Californication up through Stadium Arcadium. You can tell that this was when he was more comfortable with the band and, more importantly, they were more comfortable with him.
Throughout the book, he captures the band at its craziest and most intimate. Every wacky concert costume (or lack thereof) is captured, from stellar shots of the band performing at Woodstock in their lightbulb costumes or in their hard hats with torches on top, to shots of nothing but strategically-placed tube socks and Flea performing with nothing but his bass. He also gives insights into those costume choices and others. When the band played the David Letterman Show to promote “Aeroplane,” they wore matching parkas because apparently Letterman keeps the studio “very cold all year around.”
But the highlights come when they are off the stage. The most amazing two photos have the most intriguing back story. The band was in Caracas, Venezuela, setting up the roof of a skyscraper hotel. Woolliscroft was setting up his camera on the helicopter landing pad when gasps caught his attention. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis was on a four-inch metal beam that was jutting off of the roof about eight feet. There was nothing but a bit of chicken wire between him and the ground, several dozen stories below. Woolliscroft took out his camera and shot as many photos as he could. The two that he included are breathtaking. While there are a few photos of the recording process for Californication, there are also several photos of Kiedis, Frusciante, and Rick Rubin during the recording sessions for By the Way that give a firsthand intimate view of the recording process for that album. He even tells the story of taking photos of Kiedis while he recorded the vocals for “Venice Queen.”
Woolliscroft includes several other stories about the band, like the time he accidentally pushed a set of speakers down a ramp while the band was playing. The only problem with the stories is that they have a “you had to be here” tone that isn’t real engaging. On the flip side, he’s not an author. He’s a photographer and his photos are what make this book. The concert photos are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because Woolliscroft has been with the band for so long that he knows when and where to photograph each band member. Maybe it’s because he’s actually onstage with the band. Maybe it’s because there is usually a story behind the photos, both concert and otherwise. Regardless, Me and My Friends is a treat for music lovers and Chili Pepper fans alike.
Abrams Image: http://www.abramsimage.com