Well, it’s that time again. The year is coming to a close and I’m looking back at significant shows, photos, artists, and albums that made 2017 great. As I reminisce, it occurs to me how pervasive music is in my life. Nearly every significant moment in my life is soundtracked by a song or album that played an important part in helping me through, inspiring me to persevere, bringing me joy, or making me smile. So, rather than do a chronological recap of the year, I thought I’d look back through a few different lenses. I’ll be looking back at my favorite 75 photos of the year, the important role music plays in my life, celebrating those we lost in 2017 and a cool new timeline of my favorite albums released this year.
Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy seeing 2017 through my eyes.
THE POWER OF MUSIC
A friend and I were recently talking about makes us like a song or artist. For me, the music I tend to like the most is that which makes me feel something. Whether it’s lyrical content or the mood of a song, if it elicits an emotional response, then I’m in. Through the years it has given me joy, put a roof over my head, pulled me out of depression, healed heartbreak, and soundtracked pivotal moments in my life. Songs can be so closely attached to a moment or a memory that they can instantly bring you immense joy or deep sadness.
On December 23, 2005 I was out with a few friends seeing a band play in a local bar. Upon leaving, a few of us decided to go to a local chili joint for some late-night food. On the way to the restaurant we were arguing about what the best Pearl Jam song was. I was arguing for State Of Love And Trust as my favorite, but my friend John told me I was stupid and that Alive was clearly their best song.
While waiting to turn left into the restaurant’s parking lot suddenly things went crazy. An unbelievably loud noise then a blur of motion. It seemed like it took an eternity, when in reality it was probably only a few seconds. Once it all stopped I struggled to piece together what had just happened. Confused and bleeding terribly from my nose, I attempted to open the driver’s door. It was stuck shut. At that point I realized that my friend in the passenger seat was unconscious. I crawled across him and out his door. By then customers from the restaurant had come out to help and see what had happened. As they helped me to the curb and told me to sit and stay still, a police cruiser came up with its lights flashing. It was at that point that I was told what had happened.
A man suspected of driving under the influence was pulled over in a nearby neighborhood. When the officer came to his window, the driver floored it and drove off, nearly running over the officer. The officer then ran back to his cruiser and pursued the fleeing driver. That fleeing driver, with no lights on, barreled down the four lane road, dodging the sparse early morning traffic. As I slowed down the car to a stop to wait for an oncoming car to pass before I turned left into the lot he swerved to miss another car and rear-ended the car us. His speed of more than 100mph sent our car spinning and forever changed my life, my friends’ lives, and all of our families’ lives.
At 2:23am on Christmas Eve morning 2005 my childhood friend in the backseat was thrown from the car and killed.
That moment sent me into a tailspin of grief and guilt. I thought of all of the things I could have done differently. “What if I hadn’t stopped to chat with a friend before leaving the bar?” “What if I had taken a different route?” “What if I had recommended a different restaurant?”… and on and on. I can’t say whether it was convincing or not, but I put up a front that everything was fine and that I was dealing with the situation in a healthy way. When in reality, I was like an old western movie set, convincing from afar but upon further scrutiny, just a poor facsimile of normalcy with nothing of substance behind it.
I was spiraling. I ran to alcohol to numb the pain. For nearly a year I ran. I contemplated suicide but I could never get past the pain it would cause my family. It wasn’t that I wanted to be dead or didn’t want to deal with life, but that I didn’t feel that I deserved to be here if John wasn’t. I stopped wearing a seat belt. I drove drunk on a nightly basis. I woke each morning to a bottle of whiskey instead of a bowl of cereal. I smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day. I shut out my family and friends in lieu of drinking buddies and enablers. I did everything I could to put myself in a position where fate could correct its mistake of letting me survive.
One morning I woke to go to work and I couldn’t remember where I had been the night before, didn’t remember driving home, and couldn’t find my car. On the front steps of my apartment in the middle of the busy village square it hit me. My legs gave out I fell to the step in a crouch and sat on that front stoop crying… realizing that I was no better than the man who took my friends life. The only difference between us was that I had been lucky enough to not hit anyone while I drove drunk. The weight of my irresponsibility hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t move. I was crushed by the weight of it all. I needed help.
I was diagnosed with PTSD and went to therapy for more than a year where I learned how to deal with my grief and how to overcome the feeling that I wasn’t worthy of life and love. Slowly I emerged from the darkness. That year saved my life. My friends and family who didn’t give up on my during my tailspin saved my life. My friend who lost his life, saved mine. I strive to honor his memory by making the best of my second chance, I can only hope to live up to that task.
For years after the accident I couldn’t listen to the song Alive. It hit too close to home, exacerbating my survivor’s guilt and binging back horrible memories of that night. One evening about 2 or so years after the accident, I happened to be flipping through channels and came across Pearl Jam on VH1 Storytellers and Eddie was talking about the song Alive. How when he wrote it was a song of confusion and feeling cursed by the loss of a father he never knew. He goes on to describe how the fans’ interpretations to the song changed the meaning of the song to him… lifting the curse.
As Eddie told this story, the exact transformation of the song’s meaning was happening for me as well. Instead of being angry that I was still alive, the realization that it could just as easily have been me who was killed that night became motivation for me to not waste the life I have. It has given me a resolve to make the best of every day since. I’m still alive.
I won’t claim that this song singlehandedly pulled me out of alcohol abuse and depression, but it certainly was an important part of understanding how to transform tragedy into strength.
In April of 2016 I had the privilege of photographing Pearl Jam and in April of this year they were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. As we near the 12 year anniversary of that terrible night, I can’t help but think of how excited John would have been for both of those things.
GONE TOO SOON
It’d be difficult to wrap up 2017 without talking about some of the musical giants we have lost this year. Some died of natural causes, some lost valiantly fighting terminal illnesses, and some succumbed to the scourge of substance abuse. The legacy left by artists like Tom Petty, Malcolm Young, Chris Cornell, Jessi Zazu, Charles Bradley, Walter Becker, Fats Domino, Glenn Campbell, and Gregg Allman, will inspire generations of musicians and music fans for years to come.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see and/or photograph many of those who are no longer with us. While I’m sad that they are gone, I’m glad that they lived and shared their gifts with the world. Let’s celebrate their contributions to music and crank it up.
Rest In Peace.
2017 BY THE NUMBERS
THE BIG PICTURE
- 719 Artists photographed
- 10,210 Photos posted
- 25 Music Festivals photographed
- 178 Individual events photographed
- 238 Days shooting shows
- 149 Artists nominated for at least 1 Grammy Award
- 1179 Total Grammy nominations by those 149 artists
- 84 Artists have won at least 1 Grammy Award
- 301 Total Grammy Award wins by those 84 artists
- 45 of those 84 have won multiple Grammy Awards
- 26 artists photographed are in Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAMERS PHOTOGRAPHED
- Gregg Allman
- BB King
- Beach Boys
- Jackson Browne
- Jack Casady
- Cheap Trick
- Dr John
- Buddy Guy
- Hall & Oates
- Billy Joel
- Jorma Kaukonen
- John Mellencamp
- Steve Miller
- Pearl Jam
- Tom Petty
- Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Mavis Staples
- Steely Dan
- Rod Stewart
- The Temptations
- Van Halen
- Neil Young
MOST GRAMMY NOMINATIONS
- Chick Corea – 64 nominations
- Willie Nelson – 49 nominations
- Dolly Parton – 47 nominations
- Emmylou Harris – 47 nominations
- Lionel Richie – 32 nominations
MOST GRAMMY WINS
- Alison Kraus – 27 wins
- Chick Corea – 22 wins
- Yo Yo Ma – 18 wins
- BB King – 15 wins
- Bela Fleck – 14 wins
MOST PHOTOGRAPHED ARTISTS
- Walk The Moon – 6 shows
- The National – 5 shows
- Jason Isbell – 5 shows
- Saintseneca – 5 shows
- Six bands tied at 4 shows
MOST PHOTOGRAPHED VENUES
- Riverbend Music Center – 10 shows
- Taft Theatre – 7 shows
- Bogart’s – 4 shows
- U.S. Bank Arena – 4 shows