Mick Rock, known as “The Man Who Shot Down the 70s”, played a vital role in mentoring David Bowie. A key part of the British rockstar’s entourage in the early 1970s, he took hundreds of photographs of Bowie over the years. Among the most striking were photos of Rock from the Ziggy Stardust phase, taken over an 18-month period in 1972-73, which were assembled into a book in 2002, titled .
It also featured words from Bowie, talking about his most famous character and commenting on Rock’s photos, which led todescribing the publication as “the closest we’ve ever gotten to a straight Bowie autobiography”.
Originally released as a limited edition co-signed by Bowie and Rock, unsurprisingly copies have sold out and in recent years have changed hands for huge sums. A new edition of Moonage Daydream has been released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the classic album’s release,.
The Modern Edition may not have the autographs – Bowie died in 2016 and Rock died in November 2021 – but it comes at a much more affordable £50.
Rock was a larger than life presence, even in a room full of rock stars, and I’ve been lucky enough to encounter it many times over the years. Born in Hammersmith in 1948, he came across as an enchanting mix of Cambridge dandy (having studied there) and London boy.
He had already shot album covers for Syd Barrett () and Rory Gallagher ( ) at the time he met Bowie. He would also shoot album covers for Queen in the 1970s and more recently broke the cover for by Miley Cyrus.
“A lot of people think I did the Ziggy cover, but it was shot about a week before I showed up,” he told me. “As you can see in the book, David looked pretty wild for an audience in 1972, he got more sophisticated after he came back from Japan in all those clothes of [celebrated designer] Kansai Yamamoto. Also when he brought in Pierre La Roche to do his makeup for 50 pounds but David was pretty good at doing his own makeup.
Just when Bowie was “getting into his stride,” as Rock suggests, he invited Lou Reed and Iggy Pop to London. Just days after Bowie appeared onperforming Starman, broadcast on July 6, 1972, the photographer would photograph the art-rock triumvirate of Bowie, Iggy and Lou together at the Dorchester Hotel in London.
“I rocked that shot together,” Rock explained. “There was a bit of a hype for David but Lou and Iggy were very underground characters. Lou hadn’t come outagain and you couldn’t give away the Stooges’ first two albums – they couldn’t get a deal anywhere. They came over that summer to work with David, play a few gigs and finally they got a deal.
Just days after Dorchester’s photo, Rock was on hand again to capture two of the most iconic album covers of the 1970s,and taking pictures of Reed on July 14, 1972 and Iggy Pop the following night.
“It was instinct, intuition and good luck. I just wanted to be there and had access to it because I was David’s friend. Both are performance images, but because they’re so iconic , you don’t consider them live shots, to me they’re a pair, taken a day apart at the same location that was a movie theater that turned into a rock n’ roll venue on the weekends.
Could Bowie have done more in July 1972? Rock recalled Mott the Hoople by releasing the Bowie-penned theme that summed up the era. “I was there the night David wrote , which was sort of the soundtrack to the movement. I remember he used to play there [Hoople bassist Pete] Overend Watts and him being very enthusiastic about it, which prevented Mott from parting ways. It all happened in a short time, Ziggy’s launch, those two (Iggy and Lou) that happened, Mott’s single, a lot happened that summer.
Bowie would soon have his first chance in America under manager Tony Defries. “I was just a pawn in the game,” Rock recalls. “Tony’s mantra was ‘treat David like a star and he will be’. Others tried and it never worked but of course Bowie had the talent. In September David was hanging out with bodyguards at outside of New York in pockets like Detroit, Cleveland and Philadelphia – people didn’t know who he was. Rock was there to shoot almost every moment, only missing Ziggy’s development in Japan and a few long-haul trips The 600 photos ofcapturing Bowie’s star in the ascendant, and what makes it so compelling is the tangible sense of illusion turning into reality.
As Rock points out, it was American rock critic Lester Bangs who suggested that Bowie’s first Ziggy promo was “the very moment the modern idea of a video was born”. Rock produced a notable series of later videos, including, and before the end of 1972, as well as the following summer.
“David was like, ‘We’re going to America next week, we need a promo… three hundred pounds; can you shoot it? I would be like, ‘Well, I’m going to have a crack. We were shooting before soundcheck, there was no playback machine, it was so primitive and cheap because Bowie didn’t have much.
“I was ready to do anything in the circumstances and I wasn’t looking for anything. I remember that David asked me to put the video fortogether the day before we left for England by boat [in December 1972]. We shot this at the RCA studio in New York.”
Rock remembers Bowie as a very simple person to deal with, despite his “crazy times”. “He was basically a very clear-headed person who knew what he liked and what he wanted, with him there was no buzz.”
Rock has mixed feelings about not having met Bowie in 1976, during that infamously crazy time in Berlin. In full swing of cocaine addiction and immersed in the character of the Thin White Duke, the star would nevertheless reach another creative zenith.
“During the summer of 1976, I got three calls in three or four days,” says Rock. “I had Bowie and Iggy in Berlin, then a call from Lou Reed in New York who all wanted me to shoot. Things might have been different if I had gone to Berlin; I’m not saying better or worse.
“I was still married and had a home in London but I walked into the belly of the beast. New York was like the Wild West and Sodom and Gomorrah had gone mad. There was a lot of crime but the chemicals were good and the girls were wild and willing; I was still young enough to thrive in all of this.
- (anniversary edition) by David Bowie with photographs by Mick Rock is published on June 16, priced at €50. Order: www.BowieBook.com