Interview circa 2008.
Punk Globe: First can you tell us about yourself. Where you grew up and what inspired you to take photos?
Jenny Lens: I was born in West LA, raised mostly in Northridge, near Cal State University, Northridge (where I later earned my BA in Art). I am really smart, curious, creative, talkative and helpful. My fellow students and teachers hated me. I was also fat and Jewish, a real outcast in my hood. I was torn between science and art, just like today. I realized the science world was too sexist, so I opted for art. My art was always displayed starting in elementary school, then museums and galleries when in college. But I didn’t want to deal with the snobby, head games in the art world, sitting on my ass, getting fatter.
I loved show biz, especially Broadway and some rock. I was influenced by Martha Swope, famous for her Broadway and ballet photos. But I could never live in cold New York. So when I fell in love with Dee Dee Ramone’s cheekbones the first night they played LA, at the Roxy, August 11, 1976, I picked up my camera, shot without a flash (and in focus) the next night, met them and never looked back. You never know how your dreams are going to be manifested!
Punk Globe: When you were growing up can you tell us some of your favorite bands?
Jenny Lens: I was such a Beatles fan til I saw them live at the Beatles at their first Hollywood Bowl show, August 1964. I just turned 14 the month before and never went to shows, especially cos I had NO friends and people always thought it strange I loved rock. Yes, my fellow school mates couldn’t understand my passion for rock, just cos I made art and studied art. I fought with my parents to go alone (which still amazes me, that I stood up for myself). I took at least 2 or 3 buses each way to the Bowl. But girls screamed the whole time, ruining it for me, so I rarely went to shows til college.
The Doors in high school and Creedence Clearwater in college were my ab fab favs. I love the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” (LOVE Devo’s version too). Jefferson Airplane’s “Go Ask Alice” and “Find Someone to Love,” but I also love Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. I discovered rock when I was about 11 and Elvis Presley’s movie, “Blue Hawaii,” circa 1961.
It’s easier to say whom I hated: all beach/surfer music cos I hated the skinny blond surfers who were snobby at school and that whole scene was so idolized and I burn in the sun, hated Motown/Soul/Blues, that’s probably it. KRLA (especially the Dave the Hullabalooer) was my fave radio station and they played EVERYTHING. Plus I listened to KHJ, Boss Radio. When I was in college (1968-1974), Dr Demento was an invaluable resource, playing new and oldies, just the wildest, wackiest, best music on earth. I had incredible exposure to music. I think that’s the number one reason punk took off in LA, and with the rise of Rhino Records, writers, so many in the music industry. We all grew up during the golden age of rock radio.
Plus I never watched “American Bandstand,” but I rushed home from school to watch the Lloyd Thaxton Show. I loved it when the Go-Go’s referred to that show on one of their songs! I watched Hullabaloo and Shingdig, the Monkees, all that great stuff on TV! Plus you could see amazing interviews and live acts on Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett, sometimes Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin (I loved him mostly for the old movie personalities).
Then of course the variety shows, like Sonny and Cher, my fave the Smothers Brothers (loved that political satire), That Was the Week That Was (and Tom Lehrer), and David Frost. That’s when radio and interview TV were really entertaining! Oh how did I make art, get mostly A’s in my classes, and watch so much TV? I surprise myself!
Punk Globe: What band’s music inspired you to get behind a camera and photograph them?
Jenny Lens: The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie initially. I saw Patti at the Roxy, January 30, 1976 (hearing Horses the previous November, 1975, and seeing her truly change my life), then the Ramones the following August, then Blondie and Ramones, Feb 1977, the Whisky. I moved into West Hollywood days before Blondie and Ramones, so I could immerse myself in this cultural revolution. I saw other bands from spring 1976 til Feb 77, but those were the three who really the lit the fire. The Damned, the first Brit punk band to come came to LA, April 1977, was the “turning point” for LA punk.
Punk Globe: You were right on the pulse taking photos of bands during the early days of punk. At what venue did you enjoy shooting bands?
Jenny Lens: The Whisky was always my fave place to shoot. I’d stand halfway up and halfway down the stairs, shooting all night, then run upstairs to the backstage area. Sometimes I’d shoot from the side of the stage or floor. But there was never a better place to shoot than the Whisky stairs.
Plus I lived across from Tower Records, a short walk from the Whisky. I could walk home, stoned outta my mind, wearing little nothing dresses, at 3 am, and feel safe.
Punk Globe: How did you feel about being a Woman during this era of punk rock?
Jenny Lens: I always had low self-esteem issues cos my mother made such a big deal outta me being fat (while telling me to finish my plate!).
I wasn’t as fat as many young women are today, but I always felt like such an outcast. Fat, loud, Jewish, bright, creative: those were my crosses to bear, plus I was a freakin’ angry chickie, cos my father beat me (cos he was mentally ill), so I had a lot of repressed anger. Not always so repressed.
I could get in people’s faces and get off on it in punk. I could dress up, wear all kinds of wild makeup inspired by Matisse and the Fauves, make my own jewelry and clothes or put something together quickly and cheaply, and have a lot of fun!
Punk and living in West Hollywood was the first time in my life I had a really active sex life. I wasn’t a virgin by any means, but I was out of school, worked part-time, there was plenty of time to do as we pleased.
I was 26 when I took my first photos, but behaved and felt like I was 16 or 18, like Pleasant, Belinda, Alice Bag, all the teens running wild in Hollywood. I rarely slept alone, but mostly guys not into punk, whom I’d meet in my hood or at shows. Sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll. That was far more than a motto in those days! But at the same time, I felt very belittled on many levels. I was never quite feminine enough, or that I wasn’t taken seriously. So I cried a lot too. It was not all fun and games, but a lot was my own baggage, my own youthful neuroses.
Early punk attracted the truly outcast kids, the bright, creative, not-fitting in kids, no matter our age. We didn’t have the best social graces. But that also meant the women did as we pleased! We were so used to not being accepted or maybe we were but wanted to rebel. Whatever it was, LA women were powerful individuals, fun loving and brave without even thinking about it.
Punk Globe: Did you have any inspirations?
Jenny Lens: Hmm, photography inspirations? I only WISH I studied photography! I had NO idea which photos were hot, who were the top photographers, who were the writers. I knew nothing about rock mags, record companies, the business, none of it.
I hung with FAMOUS writers and peeps, and had NO idea who they were!
If I had any idea whom I was dealing with, I could have had such a different career. But I didn’t want a career, I just wanted to shoot this comet called punk and get out of there. I had no interest in shooting for the sake of shooting. I HATED PHOTOGRAPHY cos in those days, you NEVER knew what you had til it came back from the lab or out of your darkroom. The lack of control drove me nuts, the long time it took for the flash to recycle, not knowing when I’d run out of film while in the middle of roll or out of film, period, or batteries would die. Damn I hated all that! But I just can’t help wanting to capture some images and being able to do it well. Not bragging, but to quote Barbra in “Funny Girl”: “these are facts, and I got no axe to grind.”
Josef von Sternberg, the MOST amazing film director. Ever. Funny, I’m listening to Marlene Dietrich right now. Funny how that works. I absolutely fell in love with photography because of von Sternberg’s stills and films with his muse, Dietrich. “Scarlet Empress,” “Blonde Venus” (who can forget “Hot Voodoo”?), their first masterpiece, “Blue Angel,” and so on. I repeatedly studied [a FAB book,] “Pictorial History of the Talkies” in high school, then got more movie books in college, and devoured my art books, especially Impressionism, Symbolism, Surrealism, German Expressionism, etc.
This was 40 years ago, and FEW people were into ANY of this!
All l know about photography is from hours studying old movie stills and my art history/design classes in college, and my own innate talent and abilities. This is what I knew: I was fascinated by these little photos, laid out in a grid, whose names meant nothing to me. I studied how they looked year after year, wondering who were these people? Then I studied lots of movie books and ran around LA trying to see old films. This was before cable, satellite, videos, DVDs, Netflix or online.
When I took photos, I had a prayer. That if ONE lonely, alienated person got some joy from my photos as I had from movie photos, then I would have done something valuable. I wanted peeps to search out these bands and support them. I wanted the record companies and press to pay attention. I wanted to help bands succeed, to spread the joy, and to memoralize it so that years later people could look back and understand and/or enjoy this period of radical music. That’s what the movie books did for me. Movies, especially the ’30’s, although love silent.
In fact, there’s a great series called “Hollywood: the Pioneers,” by THE silent expert, Kevin Brownlow. I sure would love that series on DVD. I’ve seen it countless times. I didn’t even realize when I chose Punk Pioneers for my book title, I was paying homage to Brownlow’s masterpiece.
Dietrich is singing “Lili Marlene,” her famous WW2 song. She, and Garbo, and Kate Hepburn and Bette Davis were my inspirations. I will never forget seeing Dietrich when I was in college. When she sang that and then “Where have all the flowers gone,” I doubt if there were a dry eye at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in LA’s Music Center. Now that was inspiring!!
Oh, and you thought I listen to punk? Rarely. I live for Broadway and movie musicals.
Punk Globe: I adore the story you told me about meeting Bebe Buell? Can you tell the readers about it?
Jenny Lens: I met Sham 69 in Fall, 1979. They were truly some of the nicest guys I ever met in any band from anywhere. They put on a great show, but unfortunately were adopted by skinheads in England and never got the fame they deserved.
I also loved the Boomtown Rats, Deaf School and the Fabulous Poodles, all great bands to shoot and dance and hang out with, but none received the recognition they deserved.
Anyway, I was hanging out with Sham at the old Burger King on Highland, just north of Sunset, across the street from the Holiday Inn. The lovely Bebe Buell was accompanying them. I was treated so shabbily by pretty girls when I was younger, so any time a beautiful woman talked to me, I freaked out. I wonder why is this woman paying attention to me?
It’s something that I literally got over a few years ago when I realize I was being childish and passing up good friendships.
I also had this habit of constantly putting myself down. I wasn’t even aware of it at times. I had such an abusive childhood/teen years, which I really didn’t talk about, but I internalized these bad scripts I’d say.
So Bebe heard me or it was so obvious my confidence level was seriously diminished. I remember she told me to feel good about myself. I had read Elvis Costello wrote many songs about her when they were having an affair.
One is “This Year’s Model.” But I remember that he cared for her because she helped him feel better about himself. At least that’s my memory of all that. So when she was soooo nice to me, I recalled what I had read. I was so deeply impressed, because she had no motive to be nice other than she is a really special woman.
Muses always fascinate me. Women like Patti Smith and writer Anais Nin (whom I shot, although out of focus, and have her hand-written letters) also read and wrote about Muses. In their cases, they became creators, not just inspiration to creatives.
We often think if we looked like this person, or wore these clothes or weighed this or that, changed our hair, whatever, we’d be more successful in life and/or love. But there are many beautiful people (especially if you live in a city like Los Angeles), but few with beautiful souls.
I was not surprised when Bebe’s daughter Liv always gave credit to her mother. Bebe is a beautiful survivor and inspiration! And creative too, a writer and being a good mother is an artistic too! It’s why I never had children. I knew early on my deep rooted need and ability to make art in a variety of media would be a full-time endeavor. If I can’t give my all to children, I wouldn’t have any flesh and blood children. My archive is definitely my family, my progeny! LOL! It was an easy choice for me. So I admire Bebe for so much she’s done in her life!
A BIG regret is I simply didn’t stay in touch with peeps. I am totally addicted to ’email, but even today, when someone wants me to mail something, it just isn’t going to happen very soon nor often. I needed an assistant, what can I say!!
Punk Globe: In LA you had strong women like yourself, Pleasant, The Go Go’s, Alice and Pat Bag, Hellin Killer, Maggie, Meri St. Mary, Diane Chai, Tequila Mockingbird to name a few. Care to elaborate.
Jenny Lens: My list, being from LA, would be Pleasant, Alice Bag, Belinda, Lorna Doom/Germs, Exene, Margo (all of the Go-Go’s), Hellin and Trudie, Mary Rat, Gerber, and pretty much most of the women I shot and hung with, had chutzpah! (sorry, but not enough room to list everyone!) Unfortunately I met Tequila when I was really strung out on speed and one foot outta Hollywood. I am sorry I didn’t stay longer, get into video direction and so much more.
But who knows where I’d be if I stayed? Dead, alive, broke, successful? So although I wish I stayed, I had to get out before I truly destroyed myself permanently. I could only watch Tequila from the sidelines.
Not all were born here, but migrated here and SF, knowing this is truly the last bastion of freedom in the US. Is it the weather, entertainment and military-industrial complex (which are intertwined on more levels than many realize)? LA is the City of Dreams, and so many have become famous for so many different reasons. Or is it the water? It’s the subject of a book that G-d willing, I am actually in the process of writing.
Punk Globe: I know in San Francisco we had many strong Women involved with the music.. Penelope Houston, Sally and Sue Mutant, Olga DeVolga, Nyna Crawford, Jennifer Miro, Deborah Iyall and so many more.. Of course Ruby Ray, Sue Brisk and the Women at Target were strong females taking photos…
Jenny Lens: I wish I knew more of the SF scene, but whenever I came up, I either hopped a plane or drove my big car.
I rarely had anywhere to sleep, so it was always so exhausting. I loved shooting Penelope; my photo of Jennifer Miro, which I took at the Whisky, adorned the Mabuhay window; and I love Romeo Void, having seen them at the Country Club in the early 1980’s. I read about Deborah Iyall on Facebook. She was a great talent whom I feel was held back due to various industry issues. “Never Say Never” was just brilliant!
People always think I know other photographers, but in LA, the scene was very competitive. I was so busy shooting or dancing that I rarely hung with other shooters. I was shocked when I was in NY for the first (and so far, only) time in 2007. I had dinner with Roberta Bayley and Godlis, who were so friendly. Bob Gruen was out of town, but they and others have shown together and shared shoots back in the day. That just didn’t happen in LA. There’s one female photographer who constantly says and writes things behind my back and her bio is lifted from my resume. I helped her out, which ruined a friendship I had with someone else, cos she ripped off my friend. Whatev, she’s welcome to the world of punk photos. I am so over it.
Tired of feeling like Sisyphus, pushing that eternal rock up the hill. I am SO glad I re-emerged when I did, but it’s time to expand my wings and fly to new heights! Defying gravity!
Punk Globe: We have spoken so much about the standard mode of life during those days and that was a shoe string budget?
Jenny Lens: One of the major reasons I jumped into punk was I knew our whole society would change soon. Reagan had been California’s governor and it was likely he’d be president. I saw the irreparable damage Reagan did to California. We had the best school system in the US, ’til he ruined it and our mental health system.
Think of this: in 1977, I taught 10 hours a week for the LA School District, made $15/hr, got health insurance, my rent was $150/mo. I could work 1.5 weeks or 15 hours a month and pay my rent! In 2000, I taught computer programs at CompUSA, making $15.69/hr and my rent was over $1,000/mo. 23 years later and I’m making the same money, and my rent is 7 times as much!!
Thank you, greedy Republicans and spineless Democrats!
I flew stand-by to see the Clash in San Francisco, 1979. I showed up 30 minutes before the plane left and paid $13! Extrapolate that on every level and you get an idea of the great financial freedom we all had!
It is sooo freakin’ hard to be an artist these days! When do you have time to actually make art, or afford even the basic tools, no matter your media? Oy vey, when a society makes it prohibitive to be an artist, that society is in deep do-do.
The REAL tragedy is WE allowed it to happen. It’s like women’s reproductive rights: women today don’t give a damn. Well, if I didn’t have an abortion in 78 or 79, my archive would not exist. It was cheap and easy to get one in those days. Think about that!
Punk Globe: Did you have alot of good thrift stores and places to get clothes?
Jenny Lens: Most punks, in LA, SF, NY and somewhat in England, DID NOT have money for clothes (interestingly the Brits bought the bondage clothes, but I think ‘cos it was so cold, they could justify the cost. It was too bloody hot to dress like that in LA!) I remember when Debbie Harry first came to town and Plez took her to church bazaars and thrift stores.
LA, being home to so many movie studios and socialites, had tons of thrift stores and in those days, no one wore vintage. The amazing clothes my pals wore. I loved taking photos of them! They were soooo creative. They were too young to have seen much of the clothes first time round, but I was older and loved the ’60’s, but the Hollywood 40’s and 50’s only cost a few dollars were so thrilling for me to photograph.
They NEVER wore the same things twice. But you could get high heels for 50 cents which cost hundreds of dollars today.
Then, like now, I was always lacking two things: money and time. Clothes have never been an interest in my life. I have petite boobs in comparison to my big hips. I simply cannot find clothes. I gave up long ago.
I designed all my own clothes in junior and senior high school. College was all about art, so I rarely sewed. I made a few clothes, but it’s hard for me to date myself in photos based on clothes. I had about 3 or 4 dresses for the most part! I put ALL my money into film, developing, postage, mags.
I made NO money and taking photos was expensive, even then! I’d spend $30 a night on film, and nothing on clothing! I still don’t have time for clothes. I literally wear t-shirts I find in the trash when I’m out walking. I look like a bag lady, but a clean one! How I would LOVE to find affordable clothes which fit well to show off my now-slimmer body. Oh well . . .
Punk Globe: I know I had issues with money and buying a ripped up t-shirt with a safety pin in it for $50 was not part of it. Did you know any of the GTO’s ? I had heard they worked the thrift shops in the late 60’s and 70’s?
Jenny Lens: Miss Mercy showed up when I started getting into speed and diet drugs. I had no idea who she was, nor the GTO’s. She was so much fun, with these stories about people, none of whom I knew anything about. It’s amazing that she and I are still around, and both clean of course! She looks the same as back then.
I run into Miss Mercy at Miss Pamela’s parties out on the Westside. I shot Miss Pamela and her then-husband, Michael des Barres, a few times, but punk was not their scene. I was in school during glitter, so our paths rarely crossed. I gotta say they are all wonderfully nice peeps.
I took and posted photos of Miss Pamela’s 60th birthday party, September 2008 (in one of my Facebook albums). She looks half her age! Amazing pale skin and her vivid red hair, and blue eyes. Michael has that bone structure which is always devastatingly spectacular.
Punk Globe: During the early days of LA Punk it was a known fact as to how nasty the Police were in LA. Where you at that now famous show at The Elks Lodge?
Jenny Lens: That Elk’s Lodge event was St Patrick’s Day, 1979. By that time I had my fill of most LA bands, as so many NY and Brit bands were coming into town. I never had money, so I had to be careful and not shoot everyone. I HATE driving (I haven’t driven in a couple of years cos a mutual “seedy producer” person whom you, Penelope, Lisa Fancher and I know, ripped me off two years ago, and my car still needs work). I didn’t like driving to dangerous parts of town.
This is actually an important fact: why didn’t I go eastside, downtown, or South Bay? In addition to hate driving, I would leave shows alone, carrying expensive camera equipment, wearing little dresses (only because I get soooo hot, so I still dress lightly, but I worked so hard I wore little nothing dresses), and walk in strange hoods to my car, then have to stay awake to get home, and usually have to stop at two photo labs, one color, one black/white, before hitting bed. At 3 am. I was scared shitless, cos I could not run with my equipment. So I missed that infamous show. I am glad I did!
I used to see old movies at the Vagabond, around the corner from the Elk’s Lodge. (One time I ran into Anais Nin and her younger husband. I was with poet David Trinidad, who wrote about this online. He was speechless but I talked to her. She was on her way in to see the Ingmar Bergman films we had just seen. That was around 1972-74).
Around the time of these punk shows, I drove from West Hollywood to the Vagabond. I parked, looked around, and visualized what it would be like after dark, around 11, walking back to my car. I drove home and missed the old movies. I have been in some very dangerous hoods, at weird hours, by myself. I thank G-d I’m ok, but I play it safe. I own my fears and listen to my inner voice.
However, I NEVER was hassled by the police. I was hassled by everyone else! The record company peeps, press and managers thought I was soooo weird. No other photographer had magenta hair, wild makeup, tons of punk pins, handmade dresses, ranting on and on about the Ramones or X or the Screamers or whomever. Other punkers thought I was part of the press. Or worse, peeps thought I was so famous I was unapproachable. I was SHY. I was used to being rejected, so I didn’t think anyone wanted to be close to me.
I have a terribly bad memory when it comes to faces and names. I couldn’t hear in the din of shows, so often I didn’t know names cos I couldn’t hear or forgot. I was too embarrassed to ever admit this. Now I tell peeps not to take it personally if I walk right by them. It’s a brain glitch. I really work on this, but still, I meet so many peeps and it’s just hard for me to sort it all out.
But no police harassment. I’m always a nice Jewish girl, even with magenta hair, stoned out of my mind.
It worked against me time and time again, cos peeps could not figure out this earth mother hippie punk. One hand I’d have speed, the other vitamin C crystals, which in those days were not sold at the local stores.
I’m Pollyanna meets Kali. Hey, us Russian Jewish peasants women are mavens, herbalists with fire in our soul.
It’s our aura, energy fields. My mother told me her mother escaped from the Cossacks by hiding out in the woods. My mother was more amazed that her 13 year old, uneducated mother evaded the wolves, than the Cossacks. But I would never fear wolves either. But strange neighborhoods, yes, that’s when I was careful!
Punk Globe: You are probably best known for your wonderful shot of Debbie Harry. Who else did you enjoy photographing?
Jenny Lens: Ginger, I loved it all!!! Wouldn’t you agree, most of us were having a blast, no matter the usual crap in our lives. For me, the constant hassle to get permission to take pix, to raise the money for the film, developing, mailing, etc. Rejection, personally and professionally, all that stuff, well, that’s life. But when we got together, it was bliss, even through the tears!
My faves: the Screamers. The Screamers. The Screamers. When they imploded, X rose up to be ah-mazing. The Clash were the MOST incredible live band. OMG. The Ramones were just everything you’ve ever heard or read. Patti Smith. Blondie’s first LA shows, the Whisky. But as I’ve indicated here, there were bands I loved but who disappeared (Boomtown Rats, Fabulous Poodles, and Deaf School come to mind, plus I LOVED Cheap Trick, Devo, and so many parties, hanging out backstage or at X’s apartment or the Screamers or even my place).
Then bands like the Damned, who were memorable for their outrageous last show (nude Captain Sensible, another infamous shot of mine), but I was never a Damned fan. Same with Dead Boys, Dictators, and others. Great great shots which were seen long ago or revived now in major projects, but I could care less about their music or show, then or now. Sacrilegious to most punk fans, but I call it as I see it.
In the early days, these bands were ALIVE, energetic, optimistic, gave it their all, as they could do being young and feeling the rush between them and the audience. So I enjoyed shooting the Damned and Dead Boys for that moment, but no feelings towards their shows like others.
It’s very easy for me to dismiss certain photos of mine. I can tell who really turned me on, and whom I shot and got something passable now and then, both with my memory and a quick glance at my archives. Friends and fans tell me I’m too critical, cos they like photos I rather throw out (and have done so). But most of the time it was magical. When I felt a visual and musical connection with the band, shot after shot are breathtaking, alive, energetic, fun, incredible. When I dig up shots, and see so many of them, it’s so amazing, I shake and cry and am overwhelmed.
It’s like the friends and lovers in anyone’s lives. Some are barely memorable, but the ones who touched your heart stay within you forever, You are able to conjure up the image, who was there and with whom, the laughter, the energy, the truly good times, experiences that photos can begin to recall, far better than words. It’s that favorite line of Anais Nin: we have four chambers of the heart. My memories, stories, photos (and stories told me from pals whom I shot or shared the same show or party), all “occupy a chamber of my heart.”
Punk Globe: In what year did you decide to release your own book of your photos?
Jenny Lens: Punk Pioneers, April 22, 2008, is my one and only solo book. What an ordeal! I’ve been approached about a solo book and solo shows since 1980! But there’s no money and it’s a really huge ordeal, if you don’t have decent computer equipment, nor a darkroom nor someone paying for the roof over your head.
It’s a really great story re the birth of my book. Keith Schieron, producer of “We Jam Econo,” about the Minutemen, wrote me for contact info re Naomi Peterson, who shot a lot of SST hardcore bands. I had no idea who she was, but I tried to find info for Keith.
Shortly after that, Joe Carducci, formerly of SST Records, contacted me for info re how to put Naomi’s pix online. Joe found my site after he and Naomi’s brother became caretaker of her archive. Because I knew Naomi had created an unique archive according to Keith, I helped Joe.
I was fascinated that a young woman was in the center of hardcore and I had no idea who she was! Another case of a talented woman being overshadowed by the more ego-driven men in hardcore.
Joe was in the midst of writing “Enter Naomi,” the most touching tribute of a photographer — a troubled alcoholic woman, who died young — and the rise of hardcore in LA/OC. I was very generous with him, giving him tons of info. He wrote me about his friendship with Glen E. Friedman.
I had looked at and greatly admired Glen’s Fuck You Heroes when it first came out. I will never forget the older clerk at the Santa Monica Barnes and Noble couldn’t believe they carried a book with that title! Joe put me in touch with Glen per my request.
I just wanted to say hi to Glen, not having any idea he knew quite a bit about my archive, having seen it as a kid when he was starting out. Glen met an agent at Rizzoli, one of the oldest, largest, most prestigious art publishers in the world. He walked me through the whole procedure and because of his influence, I was offered an advance twice what anyone thought I’d get. Without Glen Friedman my book would not exist. I was a wreck, crying and broke and defeated. That was October, 2005.
Punk Pioneers came out on Earth Day, April 22, 2008. It was a difficult ordeal and I have no plans to ever do another photo book. Ever.
I will always be eternally grateful to Glen E. Friedman’s generous spirit, his wonderful, rebellious strong sense of self, and his amazing friendship. I also thoroughly enjoyed designing the book with my best friend, Mark A. Martinez. Mark brought my rough layouts to life. We had so much fun tripping down memory lane. Mark knows my archive better than I. And the stories HE tells! OMG.
But think about this: Keith contacted me for Minutemen photos, a scene I never even heard of, which lead to Naomi, then Joe contacted me, which led to Glen which led to my book. THAT is my life. I try to be kind to everyone, never knowing how things will turn out.
Joe and I are HUGE old movie fans. Old as in silent films. We’ve exchanged emails about it. He’s writing a film book. He was just in town last week. He took me to Larry Edmunds Bookstore and the Margaret Herrick Library, part of the Academy/Oscars. I pass it all the time, on La Cienega and Olympic. I held old movie stills from the 1930’s. I couldn’t afford digital prints, but brought home a stack of laser copies. (Kay Francis!!! Oh those photos are soooo amazing). I had no idea it’s open to the public. I could spend years in that library and be very happy!!
Punk Globe: Tell us the name of the book and how the readers can order it?
Jenny Lens: Punk Pioneers, cheapest and easiest from Amazon. I LOVE Amazon. I just ordered a ton of things, a new ergonomic keyboard, a yoga headstand, plus YinYoga dvds and books. I haven’t bought things since summer. Oh joy, to have money and buy what I need. My keyboard is driving me crazy, hope the new one works out better!
Punk Globe: In what other magazines and books can people see your work?
Jenny Lens: I haven’t updated my resume page in two years. Let’s see, there’s “Encyclopedia of Punk,” “Punk 365,” “Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley,” “Bomp!: Saving the World One Record at a Time,” plus later this year, the “Kids in the Black Hole,” plus tons of other books. Those have the most, at least off the top of my head. They’ve all come out in the last two years. I re-emerged just in time to ride the wave of punk books. We won’t be seeing quite as many punk books from major publishers for a long time. You can just use the Amazon link for my book, and search for those and others.
There’s a story about “Punk 365” which breaks my heart and wallet. I was supposed to have TWICE the shots, nearly 50, but no, my publisher threatened legal action if I had ANY photos in the book. I negotiated with them, and we settle at half. I had to pull my NY and most Brit shots. I am a LA gal, and wanted LA bands to be well represented in the book. I also contributed a ton of captions for Punk 365, the LA section, as did Pleasant and Phast Phreddie. Whenever I look at Punk 365, I see my words popping out in my face, and think of my Patti, Blondie, Ramones and others which I had to pull. Lost a couple thousand dollars too!! Enough to fix my car and then some!
Punk Globe: At a certain point you decided to take a break from Photography. Can you tell us what you were doing?
Jenny Lens: OMG, I fled from punk because I was so burned out. NO band paid me to take pix, nor hired me although I got so many published internationally, which helped their career more than mine! I had such a hard time getting photo passes, making money, being treated with any respect. It’s probably the main reason it’s been so hard to work on my photos. At first just all the pain would envelope me.
Then the sadness at so many who died.
Now it’s just frustrating cos no matter how hard I work, there’s still little money, too many people take forever to pay me, and it’s a constant hassle. I cry in the shower, thinking about sooo many incredible photos no one has seen, not even I. Now I can scan them and it’s like several movies running in my head at the same time. So vivid. But what can I do? Now, like then, people want to see my work, but I simply can’t afford to keep killing myself over it.
I fled back to the valley, married the very wrong man, was in a miserable marriage for almost 20 years, finally divorced him, thus ruining my credit and finances, but free at last! During that period I lived on the computer. I gained invaluable technical skills. I taught, wrote, created, but mostly stayed in a small little world.
I worked in a vast arena of businesses, plus taught thousands who worked in just about every industry. I met a lot of unhappy, stressed peeps who didn’t want to learn new skills to remain employable. They were working but many lazy. I struggled to make a living, always learning new things. Now the table’s turned and I have many options to make money. Which is an issue cos I am spread too thinly. But getting by, and every day gets better! All that teaching, research, learning is starting to pay off now, because I can use my skills to help others by building better online presences. I love to help peeps. That’s my number one passion in life. Plus making art.
Punk Globe: You are certainly to be admired because you have also gone to school and studied Web Design and then to be a Paralegal. I know you have sites up for your web work. Can you give us the addresses?
Jenny Lens: jennylens.com is my best site, but I keep changing it. Because it’s my site, I get distracted and bored easily. You gotta laugh at life and not take this all to seriously, you know!
Oh Ginger, you are so sweet re “admirable” because I keep learning. I was raised to use my head. My parents always said Jews survived because we use our heads, intellectually and creatively. We’ve been discriminated and not allowed to do some things. But no one can stop anyone from using our brains, hearts and souls!
My mother always told me those who survived the Holocaust the best used their imaginations, remembering art, music, books, etc and never gave up. No matter how tough things are, I thank G-d everyday no one comes in the middle of the night to throw me on a truck, then a train to an extermination camp. That is truly what keeps me going! My parents encouraged learning and making art.
It’s part of my heritage. It was the ONLY validation I ever got for most of my life.
I didn’t need ANYONE’S approval to learn and create. I learn and create for my own joy and to share with the world. That’s why when peeps give me a hard time I get, um, well, a tad uppity and in their faces at times. Like my art or not, but don’t push me. The wonderful thrill and knowledge of learning and making something from my head, heart, and soul.
But I’ll be paying my school loans off for a long time. I’ve earned several degrees and completed nearly 12 years of college! After my BA in Art, CSUN, 1972, I earned a Master of Fine Arts, Cal Arts, 1974, (but NEVER studied photography, not the art nor the technical aspects), then punk, then computer graphics in early 80’s and UCLA cert 1987-1989, then a Legal Secretaries cert and then the ABA Paralegal Cert, 2002.
I ONLY studied law to protect me when dealing with my photos. It cost me a lot of money, but the knowledge and peace of mind is incredible! Now I take online classes, read all the time, search forums for all kinds of info. I’m just an info junkie.
I always say my web work is like the shoemaker’s kids are all barefoot. I just hate sitting in front of the computer. So I spend time on the phone instead of building sites. I really don’t have many great sites to brag about. I just give advice to others!
Punk Globe: Can you give the readers your Website, MySpace and Facebook addresses?
Jenny Lens: jennylens.com. I need to seriously work on my site and rebuild a shopping cart. IF you are interested in purchasing or licensing photos, please read the info in Read First and Bands buttons on the top, then write me if you still need help. Please be aware that until recently I’ve had to borrow money to pay my rent. So I cannot work for free. Please do not ask.
I am very very happy people love my photos. But it’s killing me. Just today I posted a few email threads regarding an upcoming Clash doc. I was very hurt by the rude demeanor and somewhat libelous content in the emails sent me. So please do write me, but remember a real woman with real feelings and needs is answering your emails.
However, my time is getting increasingly limited, so please don’t be offended if I can’t write back right away or in much detail. I do appreciate your sharing stories of your lives and things. Just don’t expect me to write your college papers (that happens) or give you hours of stories or pix for free. I was so hungry in March I could barely function. I’ve been ripped off personally and professionally, and never made much from my pix. I don’t regret what I’ve done, but I have to be more careful how I spend my time.
Myspace and Facebook. I HATE Facebook and dislike myspace. IF you want to contact me, PLEASE do so at my own jennylens.com site. If you want to be my Facebook friend, never ever never send friends suggestions, invites, events, games, gifts, apps, groups. Using those apps over-rides privacy settings. There’s a woman who steals my photos and identity, and has done that to others online for 8 years.
So I have very strong privacy settings on Facebook. I periodically delete peeps or Facebook deactivates me cos they think I am a fake. Seriously. I can’t file emails from myspace or Facebook. I just use it to find some peeps, but ANY and ALL business or serious emails MUST be sent to my site.
Punk Globe: Looking back at all the people you have photographed is there anyone you did not photograph?
Jenny Lens: The Who, Elvis, Bruce Springsteen. Those are my only regrets. Elvis died Aug 77 and didn’t play LA. I saw the Who July 76 at Anaheim Stadium, Keith died 1978, and I don’t think they played during the time I was shooting. (I LOVED the Who and always thought they were early punks!) I saw Bruce summer 76 at the Santa Monica Civic. He left me cold, but I was seated far away. Sometimes the magic happens up close and personal.
I don’t understand never shooting Dead Kennedys when they opened for Sham 69. I knew NOTHING about hardcore, so I missed Black Flag (I think they opened at some X shows, but I was usually backstage), Middle Class, all that. Fear opened for X at the Starwood. Why didn’t I shoot them? I thought Lee Ving had a Robert Mitchum uber masculine sexiness, but never even tried to shoot them. There’s a few bands here and there which I missed. So it goes.
Punk Globe: Tell us about what you are presently doing?
Jenny Lens: Strategic Alchemist, web consultant, UX/user interface guru, artist/designer. But my personal passions: writing, raw foodie, yogini. Joomla [NOW ONLY WordPress!!] User Group leader, juglawest.org. Joomla is a free, open source powerful content management system used to create websites. I put a lot of time into the user group! I organized it through Meetup, and now I am involved with a lot of Meetup groups: mostly technical and some yoga too. It’s quite a different mind set than punk. Or low brow art. I go to lots of art shows, but it’s depressing. I get offers for shows, but no money to put on shows. It gets kinda boring, standing around, so I drink.
Yoga makes me move and do things I wouldn’t normally do, which is so liberating, empowering and healing, physically and mentally. (I’ve been toying with yoga since PRE-punk. I have a photo of myself doing yoga around 1972!). Or other Meetups wherein I’m learning or sharing info. Taught computer programs, major colleges/firms and am getting back into training. Peeps keep telling me I have a lot of energy. I get bored if I’m not learning, doing, sharing, creating. That gives me energy!
Very excited to be back into technology. I’ve been using the personal computer since 1987, although I studied programming around 1981 or so. I turned down a scholarship to become a programmer around 1986, because I didn’t want to learn Unix or C++ and work in mainframe computers. I had NO idea how important programming would be to an artist! Oy vey, that’s my biggest regret: turning down that programming op. I wish I had time to study PHP and CSS!! I am a web consultant, more into UX, user experience, search engine optimization, social media, etc.
I’m building a cool website for a client and must learn a ton of new software. That’s the number one issue in technology: you NEVER stop learning. Never. All I needed to do to take photos was push a button. (Plus some serious art training/talent helps!) All you need to use a phone is push buttons. Now I’m a car mechanic, under the hood, often without a manual, but surviving by my wits and research.
Thank G-d I have a great brain. It’s exhausting, but I’m finally making money and having fun. I’m also learning how to deal more effectively with people. All these years in the punk and photo trenches taught me a few life lessons!
Punk Globe: What is in the future for Jenny Lens?
Jenny Lens: Yoga, raw foods, riding my bike, walking, reading, writing books and more websites to help businesses which are focused on people, environment, holistic health, metaphysics, social issues and art. I want to write more than I want to work on my photos. I have soooo many stories and references to art, music, books, movies, culture, women, so much more, which puts punk in a new light. I sent a treatise to someone very involved in music and he was blown away by it. If I can impress him, I know I have a best-seller! But it’s a 6 -12 month 24/7 venture, and I can’t afford the time right now.
It would be wonderful to have friends who live near me, to share some of these adventures. How I miss the community we created in punk! We saw the same people so often, sharing so many great shows and parties, our own little family.
I think that’s a feeling many people share. We have all this technology, but traffic, high cost of living, and it’s so hard to develop close friendships with people you actually can see more than once in awhile. I’m changing so much, inside, out, financially, emotionally, that it’s very hard for me to try a relationship with a man.
I’m so busy, and the woman I am today is not who I will be six months from now. It’s hard for anyone to keep up with me. I also am soooo blessed to have sooo many friends, not just online, but still, it’s not the same as it was. But that’s a small issue in my life. I’m just toooo busy to dwell on this. My biggest wish is to do yoga everyday, then meditation. I have to put aside some of my studying, learn to say no, and be more focused and disciplined.
But I’m really getting the raw foods down well! It all takes time, developing good habits. It’s been a life-long journey, dealing with physical and emotional health (financial too).
Punk Globe: Thanks so much for the interview and do you have any last words of wisdom you would like to share with Punk Globe readers?
Jenny Lens: “Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.” — Swedish Proverb.
Express yourself. If someone is rude, let them know, but don’t be rude about it. I’ve learned that some expect free photos or drag their feet paying me. They then accuse me of being responsible for not being paid! I’ve met their deadlines and they treat me like dirt.
So it’s getting easier to say no. Right now, as you know, Ginger, a Brit mag owes me about $500.
Today I got an email blaming me! I also blogged about a new Clash doc, because the men behind it were so rude to me. I posted the whole email threads. IF that Brit mag doesn’t get it together by end of this week, TWO months after they promised payment, their emails are being posted!
Stand up for yourself. But also do not be selfish! I meet so many who ONLY see the world from their point of view. That’s a lonely life, one which causes more problems than it solves. Especially if you are in a relationship. If you don’t want to see a friend or lover again, for G-d’s sake, call or email them! Even Carrie’s breakup with Burger, via a Post-It seemed rude, it’s better than nothing! [re “Sex and the City,” the infamous episode “He’s not into you.”]
Communication is a GOOD thing. If I didn’t tell Ginger so many stories, she wouldn’t have thought to ask me to contribute to Punk Globe.
The smile you send out returns to you. Not always from the person you smiled at, but remember, energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Put out the good vibes. G-d knows we all need it good vibes. You reap what you sow!!
I would add: I’ve lost and kept off over 60 pounds for 8 years by mostly being a raw foodie. Peeps keep asking what about protein.
There’s more protein in romaine lettuce than meat, folks, plus more calcium. I have NEWS for you: vegans have long, lean muscles.
I have never been stronger nor more limber. The combination of yoga and raw foods is incredible, and cheap too!!! Eat enough of greens and you will not be hungry!
Increase consumption of local, in-season fresh greens, which means lots of veggies and some fruit (support your local farmer’s markets or small health food stores vs that big supposedly “wholesome” foods store, if you can); cut down or stop eating any and all animal products, which means dairy, eggs, oils, flesh, etc and stop eating over-cooked, microwaved food; cut back wheat products plus soy/tofu (both are sources of many food allergies), plus corn (watch out for fructose, sucrose, corn syrup).
Eat more raw, start every meal and snack with raw. STOP BUYING WATER IN PLASTIC BOTTLES. Stop the caffeine addictions!
Stop smoking! Get off junk mail lists. Walk walk walk and stop driving just a few blocks. Stop being such a disposable consumer!
Think globally and act locally. Move your body and your head and heart follows.
“No walls, no fears. Nothing hold me back from adventure. I feel mobile, fluid.” Anais Nin.
“Focusing on the act of breathing clears the mind of all daily distractions and clears our energy enabling us to better connect with the Spirit within.” Author Unknown.
“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies. “Erich Fromm.
“Angels are all around us, all the time, in the very air we breathe.” The Angels’ Little Instruction Book, Eileen Elias Freeman.
Some info outdated, but I decided NOT to update or edit this. ONLY reason reprinted here: I cannot read white text against black background. I refuse to read all centered body text. All this violates ALL common sense and ages-old typography and readability RULES. Original story if you wanna see the photos with this and original story, but with white centered text on black background (ouch).