Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1986

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Costello and the rock photo wars

David Crook

A rock star who once wailed "I Wanna Be Loved" doesn't, it seems, care to woo the press. Indeed, Britain's Elvis Costello is taking liberties to show that the aim of the news media's cameras is anything but true.

He has barred news photographers from his six-city U.S. concert tour that opened Wednesday at a theater in Beverly Hills.

In the latest escalation in a widening dispute between the news media and rock musicians over the shooting of news photos during concerts, Costello, once known as the angry young man of British rock, has imposed a news photo blackout on his five local public performances and plans to extend the ban throughout his four-week tour, his manager said Thursday.

While such blackouts are still relatively rare, many musicians increasingly impose restrictions on newspaper and magazine photographers that, some journalists believe, are efforts to manipulate news coverage.

In some instances, musicians have refused to issue press passes to news photographers who won't grant photo approvals or won't sign waivers limiting commercial use of photographs. In the case of one overweight singer who toured last summer, photographers were refused access unless they agreed to stand more than 120 feet from the stage.

Virtually all rock acts limit photo shoots to specific numbers in their performances, usually the opening or closing songs of a show, say journalists who cover the rock-music world.

"The restrictions concerning photos at rock concerts are completely ridiculous," said Joel Selvin, pop music columnist for the San Franciso Chronicle. "They smack heavily of news management. These guys (rock groups) are using the camera pass to manage the news."

"I can give you plenty of outrage on it," said Jonathan Taylor, entertainment editor at the Los Angeles Daily News. "Elvis (Costello) is notoriously difficult with photographers."

Other performers mentioned frequently for their restrictive policies toward photo-journalists include: Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Prince, Julian Lennon, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie, Duran Duran and Neil Diamond.

Representatives of such pop and rock musicians argue that restrictions are necessary to protect the public images of performers, to limit the use of photos in unauthorized commercial enterprises and, in the case of Costello, because performers don't like the press.

"Most newspapers and magazines in this country aren't worth reading," said Jake Riviera, Costello's manager, in a telephone interview from his suite in an exclusive West Hollywood hotel.

Photographers, he said, "ruin the show for the 1,300 people who bought tickets." The Costello performances, he said, are a "simple, old-fashioned show" and not "media events."

Costello has hired a photographer and will supply the news media with pictures of the concerts, although few reputable news organizations will publish such so-called "hand-out" pictures. Costello made that concession "just to keep our record company happy. We don't consider ourselves pinups," Riviera said.

Costello, who ends his appearances at the Beverly Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard Sunday, is scheduled to appear next week in San Francisco. Other cities on the tour are: Chicago, Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

Shelly Selover, director for West Coast publicity for Costello's record label, Columbia Records, said the photo ban was a "management decision" — one with which, she intimated, Columbia may not have been in total agreement.

However, she said, such bans do occur "periodically" — naming the CBS recording group Wham! as an example. Generally, Selover said, groups try to ban news photographers because "they just plain don't like the photos. They feel they are not complimentary."

Los Angeles public relations veteran Bob Gibson endorsed the idea of performers restricting photo access to their acts while acknowledging that it is "unrealistic" to exert total control over photographers. Most acts and their publicists will settle for the "illusion of control," Gibson said.

What often results, however, is that reputable photographers accept the restrictions while others ignore them, Gibson said.

"Anyone with a $50 Brownie can take a photo from the eighth row," Gibson said, noting that at this week's Costello concerts photos almost certainly were "taken somehow by someone" despite the stringent press restrictions.

"I don't know anyone who's outright banned," photographers, although restrictions are fairly commonplace, said Paul Wasserman, a Los Angeles public relations executive who represents the Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt among others.

He said restrictions often are imposed because photographers distract bands and that performers hope to limit the commercial use of their images.

The latter, say publicists and photojournalists, is a much greater problem with free-lance rather than staff photographers of major publications. As a general rule, free-lancers retain rights to all their photos and make their livings by selling pictures over and over.

Copyright 1986 Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1986

David Crook reports on photography blackouts at rock concerts, including the US leg of the Costello Sings Again Tour.

Chris Willman reviews Elvis Costello with The Confederates and T Bone Burnett, Thursday, October 2, 1986, Beverly Theatre, Los Angeles.


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The Costello watch, night 2:
Subdued 'n' sensitive

Chris Willman

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When Elvis Costello opened a five-night stand at the Beverly Theatre on Wednesday by playing a fiery set with his longtime backup band the Attractions, it proved to be bang-up rock 'n' roll at its best: visceral, cerebral and pretty darned noisy all at once.

But its greatness was predictable, given the conservative nature of that night's greatest-hits-oriented set list. Could he chart a more adventurous course in the various formats he'd employ on the four subsequent nights and still be just as consistently captivating?

Place any and all bets on the affirmative side, judging from the stellar second night. Thursday's show found Costello just as much of an attraction without the Attractions — on stage all by his lonesome for the first half of the show, and surrounded by compadre T Bone Burnett and the loose configuration of souls known as the Confederates later on.

In contrast with the first night's loud 'n' tight aesthetics, Thursday's show was subdued 'n' sensitive during the solo segment, then ragged but right in the rootsy Confederates segment.

The highlight: a gorgeous solo reading of "I Want You," an unnerving song from the new Blood & Chocolate album likely to stand as the most powerful and emotionally naked number Costello has ever dared to croon. During the crucial last lines in this dissection of lost, unrequited love, the singer stopped strumming his electric guitar and finished the final, delicate bars a cappella. That tactic was a real risk, knowing how frequently his 1984 solo date at the Universal Amphitheatre was punctuated by the senseless shrieking of fans, but this audience didn't make a peep. Hurray, Elvis. Hurray, crowd.

Illustration by Patricia Mitchell; 1982 photo by Don Kelsen.
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Page scans.
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