Going into the studio this afternoon to chat with author, historian, and archivist Sam Stephenson.
Sam’s got a monkey on his back. Now, when’s the last time — if ever — you heard that phrase? It used to be the euphemism of choice to describe somebody who had an addiction, often heroin. Sam’s monkey isn’t so soul-crushing and body-destroying. His addiction is Gene Smith.
Smith was a photojournalist — some say he was America’s premier shutter-clicker back in the 1940s and ’50s. His work appeared regularly in Life magazine, particularly his lurid, heart-rending images shot in the Pacific during World War II. Then Smith chucked it all — family and swanky country home — and moved to a dingy space in Manhattan in the late 1950s. There, he became friendly with fabled jazz musicians like Thelonius Monk, Zoot Sims, and Chick Corea, who, among many others, riffed in a neighboring loft. Some of the musicians who frequented the loft also carried a monkey — the kind that derives from the poppy. Smith collected audio tapes and images of those musicians, some 1700 recordings and 40,000 pix all told. The collection documents the works and lives of some definitively American artists.
Smith’s Unblinking Eye Revealed War’s Truths
Sam Stephenson is the world’s foremost expert on Smith’s treasure trove. Sam’s written several books on the photog and has overseen several exhibitions about him and his work.
His latest book is entitled Gene Smith’s Sink. You may remember Sam’s earlier tome, The Jazz Loft Project.
In any case, I’m eager to learn all about Sam and you’ll get the chance to learn about him as well Thursday at 5:00pm on Big Talk during WFHB‘s Daily Local News. If that whets your appetite, then you can cool your heels until Friday when I post the entire, uncut interview with Sam on this global communications colossus.