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Annie Leibovitz – and Ike Turner – Take Their Shots

Annie Leibovitz, whose latest book, Annie Leibovitz At Work, just earned a positive, full-page review in the New York Times, and is already a best-seller on its hit parade of books, was our wedding photographer.

That’s right. Annie, whose subjects have ranged from John Lennon and the Rolling Stones to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Queen Elizabeth II, chronicled Dianne and my wedding day, May 1, 1976, from morning to midnight.

By then, she was pretty well established as Rolling Stone magazine’s chief photographer, and we’d gone out on numerous assignments, from Grace Slick and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Starship to Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and the Stones.

I think of Annie, in those days, as a gawky, rather insecure young woman. It may have been a front. For one thing, her photographs turned out marvelously; she had a knack for both journalism--capturing whatever was going on, backstage and onstage--and portraiture, which she would develop, over time, at Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and for such clients as American Express. For another, my recordings of interviews with various musicians remind me that Annie was often there, tossing in comments and questions, which invariably helped make things more conversational, more relaxed.

Her shooting of our wedding, then, was her special gift to us. The photos are on display in our home; the last shot is now signed by Annie, who dropped by during one of her visits to San Francisco for one of her many books.

For Annie Leibovitz at Work, from Random House, she came to town in November to promote it. For an artist of Annie’s stature, that means an onstage appearance at the grand Herbst Theatre, as part of the City Arts & Lectures series. The theater was packed with paying fans who oohed and chuckled at her photographs, blown up on a gigantic screen, and her stories, delivered off-handedly, as if she were still somewhat insecure. She’s still emotional about losses in her life, from Susan Sontag, her partner of many years, to Lennon (who she photographed, with Yoko, just hours before he was murdered in December, 1980). “You don’t ever get over it,” she said.

She drew laughs with her story about Schwarzenegger, who suggested bringing a horse to his photo session. It was a muscular white stallion, and, as the future governator of California, bare-chested and dressed in tight, white jeans, sat in the saddle, Annie couldn’t help thinking, “The horse looks like Arnold!”

An audience member asked for her formula for success. “I’m a perpetual student,” said Annie. “I hate to quote Nike, but it IS just about ‘doing it.’ If there’s an important thing I did, it’s that I never gave up.”

Her will came to the fore when she was asked by Buckingham Palace to photograph the Queen. At one point, she asked Her Majesty to remove her “crown.” “I was thrown off,” she explained. “She was supposed to come out with the crown off.” The Queen did remove her tiara for a few shots. “She didn’t want to take it off because the hair gets messy,” said Annie.

“You know, she does her own hair and makeup,” she added. Priceless.

Afterwards, we said a quick hello backstage, and, before heading off to sign books for a long line of fans, she mentioned that she’d mentioned me in the book.

I, of course, promptly forgot, until I read the Times review, by Thomas Mallon. He wrote: “After she told a writer she’d seen ‘vats of white powder’ around Ike Turner when photographing him—and the information found its way into print – Turner called her: ‘Annie, this is Ike. How could you are done that? We have ways to take care of people like you.’”

In my article, I didn’t mention “white powder” of any sort, and don’t recall using any info from Annie—there were plenty of others who spoke about Turner’s nose for cocaine—but Turner’s menacing comment rings true. In Not Fade Away, my collection of past pieces, as an epilogue to the Ike and Tina story, I disclosed:

A year or so later…Jodi Powell, an assistant to (Jann) Wenner, dropped by my office and asked the strangest question. “Have you had an arm or a leg broken in the last year?” People around us stopped and stared … I told her I couldn’t recall any recent bad breaks. It turned out that the San Francisco police had arrested a man who was trying to lighten his load by peddling them a story about how he was once hired by Ike Turner to come to town, find Jann Wenner and me, and break a limb each…

It was just a story, since nothing happened. Still, it made you wonder.

In her new book, Annie reminded me that the Grace Slick feature was her first assignment for a cover story. I did the interview in Slick and Paul Kantner’s bedroom in the big Jefferson Airplane house near Golden Gate Park. Annie writes: “I took pictures while Ben was doing his interview. He was sitting on the edge of the bed. I liked taking pictures when the subject was occupied with the writer. In the photograph of Ray Charles in a hotel room in San Francisco you can see Ben’s hand holding his microphone.”

That is true. I remember once, while noting that I never asked Annie—or any photographer—to snap shots of me with the artists we were working with—that the closest I got was with my hand and my Sony mike. Now, of course, I wish I’d had photos taken with Ray Charles … and Mick Jagger …and Marvin Gaye …and Steve Martin ... and Diane Keaton … and even, yes, Ike & Tina Turner.

But, then, Annie shot our wedding. I can’t complain.

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Hey, your blog reads better than any celeb magazine.

Wow, Ben! You're a living, breathing member of the Haute Monde.