Hair metal, heavy metal – Mark Weiss shot it all

Geoff Edgers

THE WASHINGTON POST – Not that long ago, when hair spray and rouge were as important as a Marshall stack, a photographer named Mark Weiss got a job at Circus magazine.

He was just 18 in the late 1970s when the now-defunct glossy began paying him to shoot rock shows. By the mid-’80s, Weiss was the undisputed Richard Avedon. He bopped from photo pits to backstage, capturing everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Aerosmith and Twisted Sister.

What made Weiss so good? “He was a pain in the neck,” Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider said, laughing.

“You can’t walk lightly and be a photographer and get the shot. You’ve got to get in there and fight your way through and push for more. The album cover shot for Stay Hungry was the last roll of film taken after 22 hours of shooting.”

Now 60, Weiss is publishing The Decade That Rocked, a 376-page coffee table book that captures the glory of the hair band era.

Dee Snider (L) and Alice Cooper in 1985, one of the photos in the new book by photographer Mark Weiss, ‘The Decade That Rocked’. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
David Lee Roth and Van Halen in 1980

Here are some of his photos and personal observations of the shots, which he recently offered from his home in New Jersey, where he was quarantining.

ALICE COOPER AND DEE SNIDER, 1985

Dee was, at that point, unstoppable. And Alice Cooper was his childhood hero. Alice was on a downslope at the time.

Alice was problematic in the ’70s and he wasn’t looking good, but then he cleaned himself up.

And he’s very boisterous and knew what he wanted. And he wanted Alice. It was at a video shoot and I just grabbed him off the side.

At first, they’re just standing there and I want a little bit more. One of the things I always say is “Do something with your hands”.

Alice goes to me, “I do the hands.” So I said, “All right, no problem,” so he took the whip.

AXL ROSE, MOBILE PHONE, 1988

Every time I went to LA, I would see who is around and what’s going on. And I reached out to (Guns N’ Roses) publicist Bryn Bridenthal.

I said, “Let’s not make this a big photo shoot. They don’t like that. Why don’t we just meet at the Sunset Grill. I’ll buy them some lunch and we’ll just take some photos.”

Axl didn’t show up that day, so I shot him the next day by himself. We took some photos in front of the Sunset Grill sign.

Just some portraits. And then at the end, he started making a phone call and he’s like, “Mark, check out my phone. I’d never used one of them before”.

I don’t think there’s many pictures of him with a beard. They were in between tours or records. It was just very natural. It wasn’t posy.

JUDAS PRIEST CROWD, 1982

That’s my favourite crowd shot. It just epitomises that era.

The beautiful girl and the smile. If you were going to cast someone in a movie, that would be a person. The first concert I went to was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and that might have been the day that Nixon resigned and David Crosby announced it, and it felt like those 50,000 to 100,000 people there, we had a sense of community.

In the ’80s, it felt kind of the same. Everyone was like brothers and sisters. Everyone was hanging out. And high-fiving each other.

That decade, those fans, they’re different from a Madonna concert back then. It was more of a culture. Heavy metal and rock.

OZZY OSBOURNE HOLDING CIRCUS MAGAZINES, 1981

Rolling Stone was more mainstream, political. It had stories about things other than rock ‘n’ roll. Creem magazine was a kind of a sarcastic magazine, a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff.

Circus was a builder. I don’t think they ever gave a bad review. It was like a fan magazine.

They praised the bands. They saw the good in them and didn’t see the bad.

For a new band, Circus was the golden ticket. And because I worked with them, I’d get little more love. I’d get to shoot the whole show and then do backstage photos.

DAVID LEE ROTH, BIG LEAP, 1980

Depending on the lens you have or the angle, you can make things look different, and I had the wide-angle lens, zoomed in a little bit, and it just gave it that perspective.

If I had a fish eye, if I had any different lens, it wouldn’t have worked like that. I had shot multiple shows, so I knew when he was going to jump.

You just have to be ready and plan for the moment. There would be times in the show, maybe two or three times, that I knew I had to keep my eye on the lens and be focussed on David.

DAVID LEE ROTH, STRETCHING, 1982

The other guys (in Van Halen) – when I went on tour for a few shows, I would pop into all their dressing rooms, “Can I take a photo?” “Yes, no, maybe.”

The yes was always from David. And one of his security handlers would look for me and said, “David wants you in there.” In those photos, when he’s stretching, he didn’t have to be stretching then.

He started stretching when I got there. He knew my photos would end up in the magazines, and he wanted to show what a rock star does.

BON JOVI, ‘SLIPPERY WHEN WET’ PHOTO SHOOT, 1986

Look, it was the ’80s. It was fun. The ’60s and ’70s were love, and the ’80s were a little more mainstream.

I would be on the road with all these different bands. Maybe two weeks with Ratt, a couple weeks with Crue and I’d see the same cheer group.

JOAN JETT, 1981

I didn’t know her when she was in the Runaways. She was trying to reinvent herself as a solo artist.

She’s rock. She’s punk rock. She’s kind of like an Elvis type of character. Black hair and a little heavy on the eyes back then. She wore leather. Just a cool chick.

She made punk mainstream just like the Ramones.

They both kind of crossed over at the same time. And she was very, very easy. She did whatever I asked her to do.

She always said, “You sure you got it, Mark?”

ANGUS YOUNG, 1988

You just got to keep your eye on him. And make sure you get the shot. You only have 36 chances on the film roll.

That’s why I had two or three cameras. It’s that one epic moment where a half-second earlier and a half-second later, it wouldn’t be that shot.

These days, you can just grab it and spend two hours editing it, and you’ll find that shot. But back then you really had to wait and just go for it. The lighting was right. I even love that Brian’s in the background. You can see him. He’s soft.

When I angle myself in the photo pit, I don’t just angle myself so I’m in front of the person. So I have a choice. Do I want to hide that light behind Angus? If I did, I would just go a foot to the left.

But if I did that, I wouldn’t see Brian back there.

RONNIE JAMES DIO, 1987

He was a small man. He was the singer in a band called Elf. But with a big voice.

Every time I shot Ronnie, he always had the persona of this dark, evil guy, and I wanted to show the softer side of him.

The first day I met him, I was doing the Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult shows, and then Ronnie stayed behind and just started talking to me.

“How you doing, Mark? Everything OK?” Very concerned. He said, “Do you want to take some solo photos?”

No one’s ever been that nice to me. That’s how he is with everybody.