lunes, 27 de diciembre de 2010

THE DAY I SAW JAMES HETFIELD SMILING IN THE BACKSEAT // A SHORT STORY WRITTEN BY JESUS RODRIGUEZ

Photograph taken from the web / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.

Today it’s December 27th. Merry Christmas everyone! I’ve been checking my email and some folks have been asking me to write some kind of Xmas special for the blog. I’ve been asked to write any anecdote or funny story that happened to me as a photojournalist.

I built up this blog to write about the work of photographers I really admire but I guess it would be nice to share an anecdote with you friends so you can get to know me better. So, I hope y´all like it. He we go!

THE DAY I SAW JAMES HETFIELD SMILING IN THE BACKSEAT

As soon as I step into the so-called "Third Press-van" I know it´s gonna be a long trip. Not because it is rush hour in Caracas, or because the drivers of the white vans (there are three of them) are standing away from the vehicles receiving instructions from a 19 years old girl who thinks she´s the queen of the galaxy. It is because I’ve been sent to a van where some (not all of them) passengers are known for their big egos, rather than for their work.

The so-called "bad boys reporters" of music and entertainments are chattering loud and clear about some groups they discovered on youtube. Serge Gainsbourg is singing loud in my IPod but I can´t remember if he is singing “Initials BB” or “L'Homme A Tete De Chou”. I move carefully to not touch or throw some TV cameras and cokes inconveniently placed along the corridor and I finally make my way to the nearest seat available. Seated next to me, a photographer I’ve met probably 3 years ago welcomes me and we shake hands. After some daily bases questions, such as "how you doing?" / "what camera did you brought today?" / "do you work this weekend?" and "Hey, I saw you on TV taking a photo in the National Assembly or was it covering a riot?" I feel more comfortable in the Van.

I realize that a freelance reporter for the Latin American issue of the Rolling Stone Magazine is seated in front of me (That´s what he says). The reporter starts yakking about U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, John Frusciante, Jack White, Meg White, Shakira and some others guitars players, he is sounding off like he had read all this stuff the night before. I can hear the last lyrics of “Five Years” by David Bowie and I turn down the volume. I try to start a conversation with the photographer next to me, asking him about a photo he took a couple of days ago that I recently saw published in the newspaper, but the rolling stone guy keeps yakking to the whole Van about U2. He giggles as he ask; -"how come everyone likes U2?. U2 is like one of those bands that everyone loves even when they don´t know why!" he laughs and acts like he´s thinking waiting for an answer. Some people laugh and others ignore him brutally. A few seconds later I can hear one of the drivers whistling and calling the other two drivers. It´s almost 6 o´ clock and I want to get out of the Eastside. I’m about to see one of my all times favorite band and I don´t want to be late.

Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones (ironically) sings “Well, You´ve got your diamonds / and you´ve got your pretty clothes (…) But don´t play with me, ´Cause you´re playing with fire”. I hardly hear another joke from the Rolling Stone reporter and I can think of an obvious nickname for him; The Comedian. Unfortunately, the song is too short and I catch the intro of his next joke. Randomly I skip a few songs and I can hear Chick Corea and Bella Fleck having fun playing “Mountain”.

I get out the Van and I find out we´re not even close to leave. I looked up to the sky and I can see it´s about to rain and I grumble because I don’t want the weather to take part of the event today. As I’m standing in the street, next to the van, I say hi to some colleagues I’ve met over these 3 or 4 years I’ve been working as a photojournalist and we shake hands. A Production assistant brings a box of cold cokes and water and I reach out for a cold coke, while the guys inside the van do the same. I can feel the raindrops falling in my arms and I cover my two cameras and the big 300mm 2.8 lens I’m carrying in my shoulders as fast as I can. I stay under a small tree next to the van and drink my coke slowly. After a while I realize it´s gonna take some more time to get out of this parking lot.


The "press guys" or the people responsible of coordinating this whole thing are expecting more people to come, some friends (I guess) and some other photographers and reporters. People get tired of waiting in the van and they get out to breathe some fresh air. The raindrops are all gone by now and I’m still under the same tree when I see the so-called "photographer of the moment" approaching to the third van. "Mr. Exclusive" or Mister "I-make-miracles-happen" takes a look around and after he sees me he remains in the same spot for maybe minutes checking his cell phone or pretending to. I´ve never been in a fight with another photographer or anything like that but I can´t remember why he doesn´t say hi to me.

Others photographers apparently get tired of the van and they all come out from the first and second van to talk. They all see me and say hi to me and I shake hands with most of them. After a while, a circle is formed and Mr. "Exclusive" is hesitating about taking part of it or not. I decide to get out of the comfort zone of the tree and I walk in their direction. Mister Exclusive joins the circle as well and i say hi to him while he replies with no particular expression in his face.


-Hey man! - says one photographer to Mr. Exclusive with a twinkle in his eyes. –I turn down the volume of my IPod for a good reason; Boston is singing “More than a feeling”.
-I couldn´t believe it was you on the news last week man! –says the photographer amazed. He waits for a response that never comes. Then he adds-: You, in the middle of that mess, taking those photos man like a crazy!. I watched you on TV, and later I checked it out on youtube man, it was awesome! - He waits again for a response-. Mr. Exclusive looks to his left, up to the horizon acting like he is about to say something big, he takes a big breath and laughing out of guilt he says; “It was me!”. -He smiles and raises his hands like a Southern preacher. 3 seconds passes and he finally adds; “It was a mess dude”.


I have no idea what they´re talking about. I haven´t heard about any riot or any looters running around across the city in these last weeks, but I finally get the joke when one of them talk about the band korn and the concert they performed in Caracas some time ago. By the time I try to remember what I’ve read about that concert, I notice they already changed the topic. Now the “miracles maker” brags about how many magazines are going to buy the pictures his going to take tonight at the Metallica concert. I turn up the volume and I listen to Otis Redding singing; “Rock me baby” and he says something like: “Roll me Baby / Roll me like a wagon wheel, no / Keep on rollin´, rollin´”.
And I wonder if we ever are going to leave this parking lot.


The Queen of the galaxy, a blonde, brown eyed and pail cheeks kind of girl with an intergalactic silver belt, starts asking everyone to get in the van because it´s almost 6 o´clock and we´re behind schedule. Everyone do as they told, probably because some people saw her kind of “talking” to the bus drivers before and I find quickly myself seated behind the Comedian, who is yakking this time about the last concerts he attended. He throws away a few names I’ve never heard of and he finally says that the last concert he attended was performed by Carlos Santana and no one seems to be surprised. The photographer seated next to me tells out loud his experience covering that concert and even when I also covered Santana and I took -what I consider a good photograph of “Devadip”, a nickname given to him for his former Guru Sri Chinmoy- I don´t feel like joining the conversation and I let it pass.
Devadip means “"The lamp, light and eye of God".


We leave the parking lot and as soon as the van is on the road the driver turns up the volume and we all can hear some vallenato, a Colombian popular folk music. Some self-proclaimed journalists of rock and roll yell at him and ask him to change the music. One of them, who didn´t have the courtesy to buy an original Album of Metallica, hands over a burned copy of the last album of the boys from L.A. called "Death Magnetic".


The driver grumbles and kills us all with his eyes, but he put the record on anyway. Death magnetic starts and everyone seems to have a rock hard erection for Metallica. Suddenly everyone is a hardcore fan and my years as a child listening Metallica in my sister´s bedroom seems to mean nothing compared to this excitement.
For a brief moment I remember my sister when she was about 14 years old telling me that she loves Metallica but beyond the music itself, she really likes the way James Hetfield calls us “friends”. I wake up from this daydream by the time Iggy Pop finishes abruptly “I´m Bored” and my IPod is going out of battery.


I try not to fall asleep. I’ve been working since 8am and I listen (barely, because Dylan is loudly starting “To be alone with you”) a senior journalist talking to some colleagues about some radio shows. I think I met him probably a couple of years ago and I notice that even when I know he isn´t a Metallica fan, he seems to know about a lot about Metallica or more than some of the prima donnas seated in front of me. The only thing is that he isn´t bragging about what he knows. I take off my headphones and the van is quieter than I remember. A couple of girls, probably between 21 and 25 and obviously fans of john Mayer, are shaking his heads trying to follow the sound of “My Apocalypse”, the tenth song of Death Magnetic and the last one. I pull out my phone and I try to text my sister to tell her that this is the day I finally will see Metallica live, but while I’m writing an income call from a photographer I met probably 3 and a haft years ago interrupt me.


I barely talk to him because “My Apocalypse” is in the best and heaviest part. After He hears me saying "what?? And "come again?" again and again it´s pretty clear that we can´t really have a conversation. I put my cell phone back in my pocket and I totally forget to text my sister. I notice that we actually are pretty close and I take my headphones back on. Queens of the Stone Age welcome me with a song and I keep humming it until the van suddenly stops. I look through the window and I can see probably about 6 or 7 police motorcycles, plus a couple of blue fellas with mean faces ordering the bus driver to pull over away from the road.


The bus driver grumbles for the second time in the day and does his best to pull over away but he doesn´t have space to do so and he stays almost in the same spot. 3 black S.U.V(s) are passing by fast and furious and a couple of more motorcycles of the military police do the same. The photographer next to me is still talking to the yakker and I have to move to keep my eyes outside watching whatever is happening outside the van. Suddenly a lonely motorcycle passes by and later another black (but not as fast as the others) SUV passes by with the back seat window rolled down and I can see clearly Mister James Hetfield smiling in the back seat. His arm is resting in the window while he seems to be enjoying the view. For a brief moment he looks at the van and I can see his sunglasses reflecting the dying sun light in the city. He smiles again even when I’m pretty sure he can´t see inside the van and he turns his back letting me see his red and green casual plaid short sleeve shirt that reminds me the perfect outfit for rock stars.
The SUV leaves me biting the imaginary dust and some stupid asked loud and surprising "was that Metallica? I mean...James? -Everyone ignores him and I feel speechless.


We finally get into the backstage and the "press guys" ask us to do a line in order to enter to the small set built for the press conference. We do as they told and because I’m one of the first to enter inside the improvised room, I find a nice place between two grumpy cameramen that can´t see the time to get the hell out of this place. A translator announces herself as the moderator for the occasion. She speaks Spanish with some mixed accent I can´t tell, an accent between Mexican and Argentine. She ask the journalists to not ask the band questions about napster, the last time they were in Venezuela (she says they probably don´t remember anything), Jason Newsted and pirated or burned Metallica albums. Most of the people ignore her accent and 10 minutes passes until I see Kirk (far away) drinking some kind of tea just before he shows up with the other guys to start the press conference.


Robert Trujillo seems to be really relaxed as he walks in, while Lars, wearing sunglasses, takes a look around before he finally seats. I can see that James changed his shirt and he is wearing a black t-shirt now. Kirk looks kind of like a surfer but with some features of a spiritual guy or something like it. A journalist asked a stupid question about Metallica using some kind of strategy to not make a new album in 9 years. One of the guys says; “What´s she trying to say?” and Lars replies to all of us but specially to her saying; “what she´s saying is that it takes us nine years to get out of the bed” and we all laugh at her stupidity. After 20 minutes the press conference is over, the guys stand up for the photographs and I don´t have time to change my lens, so I improvise with what I got. I watch them leave the room and I check the photos I took during the press conference as I hear Mr. Exclusive SAYING; "LOOK WHAT I GOT!...something, isn´t it?" a couple of times to others photographer while he shows his photos to them.

Photograph taken by Jesus Rodriguez / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.

The journalists are talking to each others about the attitude of Metallica and sharing some quotes and comparing notes while the grumpy cameraman in my right is picking up some cables and murmurs something I can´t hear clear enough. The other in my left side sighs and adds seconds later; "Metallicaaaaa" but I can´t tell if he is saying that because he is a fan or because he thinks they are "a bunch of losers" like Jeffrey Lebowski said in the 1998 movie "The Big Lebowski".


I walk away from the cameramen and Mr. Exclusive put his camera in my face repeating the same thing; "LOOK WHAT I GOT...something, isn´t it?". I honestly don´t have an answer to his question and because I’m still thinking about the movie, I end up quoting “The Dude” and I say to him; "yeah man, it really ties the room together". The “Miracle maker” doesn´t understand the joke and he walks away to show other people his photos.


All the cameramen are shutting down their light sets and the room is now getting dark. I walk out and I find outside 4 or 5 photographers I didn´t see in the parking lot. I walk to them and as soon as they see me, one of them says; "ohhh!! Wait, wait!" - The rest remain in silent- "Mr. Omnipresence is in the house!". Everyone laugh and I reply; "well, That´s pretty much the benefits of being a correspondent here man!". One of them adds; "that! Or the benefits of being an exploited photographer". -Everyone laughs again-. I come closer and I say; "well my friend...(I make a pause to create a bit of suspense) in my position I’ve been able to share my days with rich people, poor people, presidents, musicians, actors, writers, politicians, babies, models, homeless people, thieves and a bunch of other people. I´ve seen the face of this society fellas. -Would you change that for... (everyone is looking at me and I add with a funny French accent) being all day with the crème of the crème, attending playboy house parties, photographing hot babes, picking up girls you don´t know and later make out with them and finally...if you don´t have enough, there is always a night event you can attend with no invitation at all, (because your camera is your ticket! -I add whispering) and drink all the whiskey and wine you can handle for free "all you can eat-kind of style" and...Let´s not forget...let´s not forget! Every aspiring actress in town will want a piece of you. So... (Everyone acts like they´re considering what I’ve just said) so I ask again; -Would you change my experiences for this? -One of them says; "my life is boring man, I totally would!" and we all laugh.


The music is extremely loud and we are standing at the right side of the stage. Some dj is putting rock and roll music with no particular order at all. It seems to me that rock and roll isn´t his favorite music but he had to take the job to make some bucks. I can barely hear the photographer who called me "Mr. Omnipresence" trying to explain to my colleagues why he calls me that way and I try to find a bathroom looking over everybody’s head (unsuccessful). After a while, the others finally get the joke (about me covering all kind of assignments and occasionally being seen on TV photographing models, actresses, presidents, street riots or anything at all) and I say; I guess everyone´s nicknames are rising up to the surface tonight, eh?!. One of them asks me why I say that and because I don´t feel like explaining that, I pretend I don´t hear him.


I can hear the dj turning up the volume of AC-DC´s classic song: For those about to rock. It’s a live version, probably from the 1991 Donington concert. One of the "Press guys" yells "Everybody! Follow me" and I feel like an actor in “The Messenger: The story of Joan of Arc”, being directed by Luc Besson and all. I sing "we roll tonight… to the guitar bite" as I walk behind my colleagues. I approach the so-called "leader" or "organizer" or whatever and I ask him if there is a bathroom or something I can go before the concert starts. The “Joan of Arc wane-be” has the balls to tell me that there is no time for a bathroom break. I look at him for a couple of seconds killing him with my eyes and look over and I find a bathroom way ahead of us. -There is one! I say to him. -He says that if I go I’ll be probably left out from the group and I won´t be able to walk into the front of the stage to take photos of Metallica.


The song is finishing and I know how it ends. Joan of Arc looks at me waiting for me to say "I can wait". Instead, I yell at the same time of Brian Johnson; "Fireeeeee!". I get into the bathroom while I can see him turning his back mad!.


By the time I get out the bathroom I hear the drums beats from "Welcome to the jungle" and the voice of Axel making wild the crowd. I walk to the line of photographers and cameramen and not much had happened since I left. A roadie put his flashlight in our faces to check our credentials. He yells something like: "Ok! Guys, you have 3 songs to take your photos, and you guys (pointing at the cameramen) you can record only the first song. And after the 3th song, you guys have to leave, no more photos allowed". –“None of them speaks English!” Says Joan of Arc laughing. "I´ll tell them what you said" says the stupid. The roadie nods and Joan repeats everything in Spanish. Most of the guys ignore him or don´t hear him because of the voice of Axel screaming "Yeahhhhhhhhh".


The red light of the roadie´s walkie-talkie starts flashing. I can see it because everything is as dark as it gets in this kind of situation. No one seems to care but quickly I prepare my two cameras. One of them, the oldest doesn´t want to turn on, I freak out. I try again to turn it on unsuccessfully. I have to remove the lens and I forget about this back stabber cameras. The other one is working fine and I put the lens I removed inside my right pocket. My camera is ready to rock and roll and the roadie come closer and say to us; "guys, go ahead, enjoy!".

Photograph taken by Jesus Rodriguez / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.

Apparently some guy kicked out the dj and I can start hearing the wonderful intro every fan of Metallica would recognize in a second; “L'Estasi dell'Oro” / The Ecstasy of Gold. One of my favorites musical compositions by Ennio Morricone. Images of the movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are in the big screens placed at the sides of the scenario. The people start to scream and my heart starts beating faster. At this moment I can´t see anything, not even my own hand in this darkness but I can feel my camera and that´s what counts. My ears feel the noise from the big speaker in front of me as someone screams “METALLICAAAAA” so loud that I can hear it even this close to the stage. The show is about to begin and I think to myself; my goodness… all this years...


Lars comes out of nowhere! I can see him screaming and probably cursing for maybe a second on top of his drums. Faster than a bullet he seats and the music starts. A blast of sound shakes me and blows my mind. I try to get my things together and stay emotionally cold to be able to do my job right, but while I’m at it, I can see James running wild in my direction with his guitar shining (probably because of the lights properly placed in the stage) and he starts to screams something I can´t even translate in my coolest time. I interpret it as a "long time no see friends" but I know He probably just made a face. Robert Trujillo walks into me as a spider rocking his bass guitar like a caveman and I can´t believe my eyes and I try to find Mr. Hammett quickly. I can see him playing an insane solo, a “face melting solo” with the energy of the universe.


The drums are so loud and strong that my dead camera shakes against my stomach. I check my good camera before I start shooting and Mister Hetfield welcomes us saying; "Caracassssssssss". CREAPING DEATH sounds so loud that I think every newspaper and all the magazines covering this concert should write the whole article is CAPITAL LETTERS. I shoot some photos and I realize the ISO is kind of high. I adjust it as fast as I can and I work on the proper speed. James is moving insanely fast and so are the rest of the guys. I walk fast to the right to take some photos of Kirk but I don´t stay too much time there because a lot of photographers are at that spot pushing each other. I move to the left to where Robert Trujillo is and after I take some snaps I decide to change the lens. It’s time for the "Fatso" I think to myself. I put the 300mm 2.8 lens, a heavy weight lens, and I take some really close up photos of Trujillo shaking his head as a maniac, as a real rocker!.

Photographs taken by Jesus Rodriguez / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.

James stays in front the mic and I can see his tattoos with this lens. I shoot some more photos of James with the “Fatso” and I sing along James: "Now / Let my people go / Land of Goshen / I will be with thee / Bush of fire / ALLRIGHT!

By the time Metallica finish his first song, it passed 7 minutes and 52 seconds since the whole thing started. James quickly says: "Caracas...Metallica is with you!". -Lars hits the drums loud and “For whom the bell tolls” begins. I’m having troubles changing the lens, I can barely see where they are and the weight of the “Fatso” is making my work a little harder. I search in my pocket and I pick up the 18-55mm lens. There haven´t been an opportunity when James and Kirk are playing together and that´s one of the photos I’m looking for. Everyone is playing on their own space and dedicating every moves to the audience that it´s getting wilder and wilder. "Take a look to the sky / Just Before you die / It´s the last time you will" screams James and the house lights are off for a second. Once the lights are on again I can see the roadie checking us out. The cameramen are already coming out and he is making sure no photographer is recording anything. He looks at me and I nod at him, but he doesn´t seem to care about me.


I look at the stage again and James is next to Kirk playing and laughing together. I take a few pics and the caveman Trujillo is acting like a spider again. I look at him, enjoying the performance for a while before I take a couple of photos. Next to me, there are probably 10 or 15 photographers walking and moving like crazies in the dark, trying to get the best shot. I remember I got to take a good photo for the first page and it should be a vertical one. I get as close as I can from James and I wait for the opportunity. James is moving across the stage until he stops in the center and after some lyrics he sings madly he pick up the microphone and aims it to the audience. I take the photo I needed right there.

Photographs taken by Jesus Rodriguez / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.

“For Whom the Bell tolls” ends with intensity and James says; "GIMME FUEL! GIMME FIRE, GIMME THAT WHICH I DESIRE!- OH!". I remember for a brief moment my sister singing that song in her bedroom, my friend Juan singing that song in college, my friend mike complaining about that song, myself singing it this morning on my way to work. I take more photos and I realize I already have enough for the newspaper and for my own ambition, so I decide to watch the guys for a while. "Burn baby burn" says James and Kirk makes an awesome guitar solo. "Burn Baby Burn!" says James again and I notice that time flew and this is the end of the song.


The roadie is there taking out the photographers and I take a few last pictures. The roadie kills me with his eyes and I nod at him again but now I know he doesn´t care at all. "Thank you guys!" says to us while he is walking with us to the closest exit and I can hear James saying; "Hola Caracasss! -He pauses-. It´s good to finally be back! Did you miss us? -People scream-. He adds; "Oh we missed you too! Were you here the last time?-People scream “YEAHH!”-. I guess he points out a guy in the crowd and says; "No, you´re too young!" and later he laughs.


Once we all are outside Joan of Arc tells us that if we want to stay and enjoy the concert we need to get rid of out photograph and video equipment. We all agree like school boys being instructed by the teacher and we go to the van we shared on our way to the concert. I leave my cameras and lens in my seat and Joan of Arc tell me that I have to come back in 30 minutes or the van is going to leave without me. I nod and say; “If you got to go…colleague!” as I accept the fact I don´t have any other choice. I come back faster than the speed of sound to the concert. 30 minutes passes and after a tear I dropped in one of my favorite songs is dried, I go back to the white van that takes us away from the show. This time I seat next to the driver, I don´t feel like talking and I can see everyone is checking their photos in their cameras. Even the grumpy cameramen are watching the video they recorded. I check the hour in my cell phone. It’s almost midnight and I watch the road getting as dark as it gets in this kind of situation. I watch the driver, who is getting sleepy and I make myself comfortable in the “co-pilot” seat. I close my eyes.


I wake up in the same parking lot where it all began. The music stopped. Ball´s over.

Photos taken by Jesus Rodriguez published on the newspaper / Used only for purposes of illustration/nonprofit.

Happy New Year Amigos!
Take care!

Bye!
Written by Jesus Rodriguez
Feel free to comment!
jrphotojournalist@gmail.com

1 comentarios:

iyacat123 dijo...

Wow.... :) You are so lucky!!! :) I felt like I was part of the concert too. XD

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