"I'd like to go back in time and see what that young man was thinking at that moment" mused Ringo Starr, looking up from his seat on the stage of screen #10 at Hollywood's Arclight Cinema, at the overhead slideshow as it paused on a pensive self-portrait that Starr had taken in the early 1960s; his mirrored image gazing intently as he holds a camera like a pro.
The Arclight Multiplex Cinema in Hollywood, hosting last Wednesday's official unveiling of Ringo Starr's new book "Photograph" treated Starr's amateur efforts with all the respect it would normally reserve only for a world renowned professional photographer such as Henry Diltz. Yet here was Diltz himself, sitting onstage being interviewed by journalist Melinda Dillon, telling that morning's audience-comprised of both journalists and fans-that he holds equal respect for Starr's artistry as both a photographer as well as a musician. Speaking as a person who holds Diltz's work in the highest esteem, who am I to argue?
Diltz shares impressive company in his awe of Ringo Starr's unique artistry. Said Steve Gorman: "From day one I've payed tribute to Ringo. I've spent my whole life paying tribute to or ripping off Ringo! He is the greatest rock & roll drummer in the world! Ringo's my favorite!"
Noted Dave Grohl, "No one plays drums like Ringo! I try to play like him, but I can't do it! Ringo's the only one who can do that "Ringo Roll." When I try to do it, I look like I'm putting out a fire with my jacket! When Ringo plays, it comes from a 'real' place! He is the original rock & roll drummer!"
Early that morning, approximately 100 ardent Beatles fans had lined up patiently outside The Arclight Cinema in Hollywood, waiting to attend the book launch event. Their admission fee had varied greatly. Some had paid a mere $40 for admission, while other more "well heeled" fans availed themselves of one of two expensive "package" deals.
The first of those "deals" consisted of receiving a copy of the book-autographed by Starr himself-plus a "VIP" seat at the book launch...all for the jaw-dropping price of $740. However, this was a "steal of a deal" compared to the second package that was offered: an "All Access Areas" ticket that covered the price of the book, entrance to the book session as well as the rehearsal/performance, their choice of a signed, limited edition print of one of Starr's photos and a photo of themself with Starr...all for $4,415! Amazingly, Genesis co-owner Nick Roylance announced that day that "AAA" buyers had flown in all the way from Europe, as well as Japan, New Zealand and Australia. Clearly "Beatlemania" is alive and well, even in 2013.
However, there is no arguing that the book itself is anything less than impressive, both inside and outside. Selling for a whooping $550.00, it's hand-bound in genuine leather, in a limited edition pressing of only 2,500 copies, each numbered and signed by Starr himself. Its 304 pages abound with approximately 240 photographs, many of which were shot by Starr over the decades of his career in music. Other photos, many of which came from his mother's private collection, have more murky origins. Some are so old that time has faded their patina to a soft blur. Of particular interest to fans is the sheer rarity of these photos; many are being seen here for the very first time. For fans who-like myself-cannot fathom paying that dear a price for any book, fear not: it's also available for iPad. The book will have its release to the general public on November 22, 2013.
All proceeds from the book's sale will go directly to the Lotus Foundation. A nonprofit organization that was founded by Starr and his wife Barbara Bach, it was created in an effort to support charitable projects which endeavor to advance social welfare. Roylance, CEO of Genesis Publications, has announced that his company, which also issued Starr's previous book "Postcards From the Boys" in 2004, would also make a donation to the Lotus Foundation for each book that's sold.
"I never went to any 'school' to learn how to take pictures, and I never took a drum lesson either!" Ringo proudly declares. Nonetheless, quite a few of the images he has captured over the years rival anything I have personally seen captured by "expert" photographers. Scanning one's eyes over the steady stream of photos presented on that morning's slideshow presentation, held directly above the stage where host Melinda Dillon interviewed an impressive array of guest speakers (Henry Diltz, Dave Grohl, Steve Gorman, to name but a few) it registered like dazzling eye candy for much of the audience present that morning. "FANTASTIC!" exclaimed one man, in response to a striking portrait of a fiery-eyed John Lennon, leather whip in hand as he stared intensely into Starr's camera lense in 1965. "Awww! He looks so SWEET!" blurted out a dewy-eyed female journalist, in response to a stunning portrait shot taken by Starr of a dreamy-eyed, too handsome for words George Harrison, shot in the mid 1960s.
Of equal interest to most in attendance that day was the rich cache of photos taken by various other, unknown photographers, all carefully preserved through the years by Starr's mother. Discovered in an unmarked box after her demise, Starr and his wife were left speechless when they opened the box and discovered its contents. Said Starr, "We opened the box and there were all these photos, most of which I had long forgotten!" And what an amazing collection of photos they are, running the gamut from candid childhood shots of Starr to the very beginning of his illustrious career as one of rock's most iconic drummers. One photo in particular that drew several surprised gasps from the audience was an almost claustrophobic shot of Starr-taken during the early years of his career-performing on a club stage so tiny that his back is quite literally to the wall, his head almost touching the ceiling. Said Starr: "The stage in that club was so small that I could barely move me arms!" Indeed!
On prominent display on the stage, directly below the slideshow which continued to play long after the guest speakers had departed, were an even dozen of Starr's stunning shots all framed and displayed proudly. Among the celebrity VIPs in attendance who admired them was none other than Spencer Davis. Looking frail after a prolonged bout of ill health, his trademark dazzling-almost boyish-smile has remained intact, as has his gracious charm and quick wit. He moved about the crowd, happily posing for photos with fans, signing autographs, patiently listening to one fan give him detailed health advice ad nauseam and even gave a spontaneous "concert" of sorts on a ukulele handed to him by a fan!
As his fans are aware, Spencer Davis has suffered from various health problems as of late. Said Spencer, "This is the first time I have been out and about in over a month! However, my health is slowly coming back and I'm on the rebound and planning exciting new projects that my fans will love...including a new tour SOON!"
Of all the framed photos on display, perhaps the one which drew the most interest was a spontaneous shot that Starr took on The Beatles' first tour of America. In the shot are seen five American teenagers aboard a Chevy Impala, looking directly at Starr's camera lense, their expressions ranging from curious to startled. Starr took the photo in 1964, and liked it so much that he decided to include it in his book, despite the fact that he doesn't knows their identities...much less has actually received their written permission to include their image in his book. Starr-with the help of his friends and fans worldwide-is seeking to discover their identities, with the public promise that if/when he does so he will gladly arrange to meet up with them when his upcoming World tour returns to American soil in Las Vegas, Nevada.
UPDATE: With a little help from his friends, Ringo Starr has now discovered the identities of all five of those mystery teenagers, and is keeping his promise to arrange an upcoming meeting with them when he returns with his band to perform in Las Vegas, Nevada! The exciting story of their discovery, with a heart warming interview clip of all five of those "mystery" teens-all of whom are now grandparents-can be seen HERE: http://www.today.com/video/today/53394163#53394163
Said Starr: "How great that they found these people! And how cool to now know a little of their story and what that moment was like from their perspective. Right now I'm off in Latin America on tour and I won't be back until November when we play two shows at the Palms in Las Vegas. I look forward to meeting them when I get back. See you in Las Vegas! Peace & love, Ringo"
Look for Part 2, which continues with Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band's Concert and Q&A, on Thursday, October 31, 2013.