JPG: Back to the book, you have a Foreword by Wayne Coyne and an Introduction by Michael Franti. How did those come about? Did

JB: Typically, when we make books, we look for somebody significant that has something to do with the book, which obviously helps from a marketing standpoint. Both Wayne and Michael are in the book. Both of those artists I’ve been photographing for over 30 years. I first shot Michael Franti in 1987. I first shot Wayne Coyne in 1989. So it’s 35 years into a friendship with Michael and 33 years into a friendship with Wayne.

So I called or texted Wayne and said, “Would you be interested? What I would like for you to do is write anything from 600 words, which is about a page for a coffee table book, up to whatever you want. You want to write a book, write a book, we’ll edit it and use it.”

RB: Wayne was a good choice for us too because when my brother and I were kids, my dad would take us to Flaming Lips shows and we would dance on stage with them. My brother and I have all these photos of us onstage with the Flaming Lips and dancing with them. I grew up listening to their music and singing along to it. Wayne Coyne was very sentimental for it, too. It meant a lot to both of us.

JB: You probably saw Ricki wrote a little essay, and there’s a picture of her onstage at the 2006 Yahoo Christmas party that the Flaming Lips were playing at.

Wayne, who’s a very creative person and very brilliant and writes amazing songs, he’s not used to writing a thousand words about me. We said, “We’ll help you. If you can’t sit down and write it, we’ll get a writer to come and interview you and give you notes back that you can write it from or if you write it, we’ll edit it and clean it up.” And he wrote it.

Wayne is a funny person. He doesn’t really use a computer. He only uses his phone. So he started texting it to to me and then I put it in a Word document and texted it back to him and then he kept working on it on his phone in the Word document. Then, he would send it back to me in notes and as files and stuff like that. But he wrote the whole thing and, of course, because you’re doing it on the phone, there’s all these typos but we’d give it to a proofreader, and they’d clean it up and make it all right.

Then, for Michael I said, “I’d love for you to write the Introduction.” I gave the same exact input. “We can help you. We can interview you. We can give you talking points.”

Wayne gave us two or three versions and I said, “This is great and this is great but can you take this section and expand it? Here’s a really great point you’re making but you’re ending it too soon. Tell us more about what you mean there.” He was like, “Oh, okay. I get it. I get it.” I’m a pretty decent editor when it comes to text and making things so that they really make sense. I would feed him ideas back. I’m like, “This is great. Keep going.” “Okay. I’ll give it a shot.” Then, three days later, I’d get another three paragraphs. I’d be like, “Excellent.” My editor, the same woman who wrote all the text for my Hippie Chick book, she’s my main editor. She went in and cleaned it up and fact-checked the years with me and the things that he was saying and then we sent it back to Wayne “Here it is, cleaned up and edited, is this your voice? Is this your thing?” He read it. Probably changed one or two very minor things and then it was done.

Same thing with Michael Franti. I shot Michael in a small club with a band that he had called The Beatnigs back in ’87. Met him that night very briefly. His next band was the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and I shot the back cover of that record when it came out. I have two back album covers with him, magazine features. I’ve directed videos with him. We’ve done a lot of stuff over the years, and Michael was just thrilled.

There’s a limited-edition version of this book, 225 copies signed by me and Wayne and Michael and Ricki and I had to wait for Michael to come back from Bali to San Francisco. He was living in Bali during the pandemic.

They’re my friends and they wanted to help and be part of it.

JPG: With Wayne it’s like you’re creating a song with him as far as the back and forth.

JB: That’s how a lot of songs are written these days over the internet because of the pandemic. It was a free-flowing exchange of creative ideas to help do the best that he could. Wayne doesn’t remember all of the things we’ve done together and then I remind him, “The first time you walked in the Bubble at Coachella. I was there.” He’s like, “Oh, of course.”

I also did a book with Wayne. We did a Flaming Lips book a number of years ago. So yeah, I would remind Wayne of “Remember that time that we walked into Beck’s dressing room when you were his band?” “Oh, right!”

JPG: It’s nice timing that your son came into the room to work because that leads to the idea of three generations of Blakesbergs being involved with images. You mentioned in the book about borrowing your dad’s camera when you took your first photos at concerts. I’m wondering about the influence of your dad, Bill Blakesberg, on your photography or being helpful, in general.

JB: He was a serious amateur shutterbug. He just loved to take pictures. He was actually good at it. Back then, in order to properly expose color film, which was color slide film, you actually needed to have technical skills. He also had a good eye and he’s always been a shutterbug. He’s always had cameras his whole life. It’s always been a hobby for him. He’s a CPA. So, did he influence me on a professional level? No. Did he help me with my business starting out? Absolutely.

There’s something creative that he had because he does have a good eye, and I think how many pictures did you remember your friends taking when you were in high school where you give them a camera and say take a picture with a film camera and it was from your chin up and then there was 10 feet of sky right above the photo because people don’t have an eye. They don’t know how to compose pictures.

RB: I think we still see that today.

JB: You give your cellphone to take a picture and it’s like, “Why did you cut off me at the chest?” So, my father had an eye. I had an eye and she has an eye, and he has an eye because he shoots, produces and direct videos. I think some of that is certainly a natural ability that maybe you’re born with and some people learn it but I was always able to compose a good picture early on for me. I didn’t have the technical skills. That’s something that I try to teach her to understand; how to be creative with your shutter speed and your f-stop and your ISO choice and how you can use those things that are technical tools on creative level. That’s the next level you get to once you understand your tools that you’re working with.

My father definitely was an influence and supportive. He loaned a stoned out 16-year-old kid an expensive, 35-millimeter Pentax camera with zoom lens, at the time was probably a couple thousand bucks of gear.

JPG: Tell me about the upcoming exhibit at the Morris Museum.

JB: An old friend of mine, my best friend since kindergarten, Mark Gershman, his mother, Jackie, was a volunteer at this small regional Smithsonian museum in New Jersey called the Morris Museum. And one day, she said to the curator, “My son, Mark, his best friend from kindergarten is a famous rock photographer. You should look at his work.” They said, “We’d love to talk to him.” Mark called me and we connected with the guy and we started a conversation. “We like the idea. Get back to us in 14 months.”

I literally put on my calendar to call them the third week in January in 2022. It was 14 months and I thought, “These people don’t care about me. They’re not interested in doing a museum exhibit.” About a week later I got an email from the museum that said, “Circling back. We want to talk to you about maybe doing this exhibit.” We had a Zoom call with, Ricki me, the curator, the assistant curator, the head of the museum, and they said, “We’ll get back to you in a week and let you know.” And they said, “Okay, we want to do this. We want to do a career retrospective with you.” A week later, the curator who brought me on left, and I was like, “Well, that’s the end of that.”

Then, the new woman came in, “We’re gonna keep going. We’re doing this.”

The Morris Museum is, my impression before I got a tour of the place and started to see photos, I just thought it was this tiny little museum in Morristown [New Jersey] but it’s a 40 or 50,000 square foot museum that started out as a brick mansion that’s probably six, seven, eight thousand square feet and then they built the museum around it. Steel and glass and everything cover the sides and the back of this original building. The front of that building is still an exterior. It’s the only Smithsonian affiliate in New Jersey.

Me and Ricky went there in June and I was like, “Wow!” They have a giant exhibit, permanent exhibit, of the largest collection of musical mechanical instruments in the world that was owned by a member of the Guinness family who donated it. When he was getting old, he interviewed all these museums to decide where he wanted to bequeath his election of antique, worldwide musical mechanical boxes. These are boxes that are anything from this big (hands separate a few inchese) to half a room.

RB: The museum retrospective came at such a good time because “RetroBlakesberg” is a reference to Jay’s photography and life.

JB: We were already doing the book.

RB: We were deep into doing the book. We were in our final stages. So, when the museum came back to Jay, this is a really good opportunity for us to figure out a way to collaborate the two ideas. The entire exhibit is all film. It’s the exact same format as RetroBlakesberg. It’s just a really good opportunity for us to find the parallels between the two. We’re exhibiting “RetroBlakesberg” it’s all RetroBlakesberg, and it’s really exciting. It’s almost like bringing the book to life.

JB: And there’s about 125 prints. There’s four galleries. There’s a portrait gallery. There’s a performance, live concert gallery. There’s a Grateful Dead Gallery, and then there’s an early foundation work gallery that’s the opening years of my career, high school photos.

RB: And that was fun, too, because we got to collaborate in curating it, and he gave me most of the reins of picking the photos. He got final say but…we work really well together in this in picking the same images that we wanted.

JB: We credited the curation of the Museum to Ricki, Jay and Michele Marinelli, the curator at the museum. Me and Ricki picked out 100 pictures and sent them to her, and then she did it electronically on their program and made a PDF of each room. Then, we got it back and we went, “We’ve got to switch that photo and that photo…” It was nothing on her. We just picked the wrong photos at first. We couldn’t visualize it on their walls. 

RB: Also, something to take note of is you’ve spent half of your life with these images. I just spent the last two years working closely with these images. So, our relationship with understanding what makes sense together, what needs to be on the same wall or what shouldn’t be next to each other comes so much easier to us because of the relationship we’ve had with these images.

For us, once we had a layout of the gallery, it became very obvious what made sense, and it was really nice working with Michelle because she was so flexible, and she also helped us understand the layout, and all three of us worked really well to understand what made the most sense to produce an exhibit that’s wonderful.

JB: We thought we gave her a good selection of photos and after we saw what she did with them, we realized that we failed. The first round, we probably lost 50% of what we gave her, thinking, “These are the shots.” Then, we realized, “No. Those are not even anywhere near the shots.” That was just us not understanding the format and the layout of the rooms quite yet because we were just learning it. After we saw the rooms, we were like, “Now, we understand it even more” and we were able to make more changes.

RB: Once the exhibit does go up, this is something Michelle and I have been talking about, what can change up until the day you hang them.  It might look different.

JB: The other thing that we’re doing is we’re printing them all on metal. They’re all going to be on archival metal. ChromaLuxe is the brand that gives us the metal and Magna Chrome is one of the very first labs in the country that do these metal dye sublimation prints.

JPG: Does the exhibit mimic the book or is it a little different — timewise or photo selections?

JB: It is a little bit different photo-wise.

RB: There’s a little bit of a timeline in one of the galleries.

JB: Out of the 125 photos in the exhibit there are 20 to 30 images that are in the gallery that are not in the book. To give you an example, in the book is the color Joni Mitchell portrait. In the exhibit it’s in black and white, different shot, same session. That’s because all the other portraits there are black and white and didn’t work in color, and Ricki said, “Let’s pick a black and white.”

We were also trying to balance it out between black and white, color, men and women, because we didn’t want it to be like, “Here’s a bunch of white guys that Jay’s photographed.” That is a lot of what I photographed but we want to be equitable in terms of representing all these incredible people. I shot people like Joni Mitchell and Siouxsie Sioux…

RB: This is actually a good transition into understanding RetroBlakesberg. We want RetroBlakesberg, whether it’s through the book or the museum exhibit or the Instagram, to be approachable for everyone. Jay has a very targeted demographic with the Dead Heads.

My goal with this exhibit and the Instagram and the book is to reach a wider net and say, “This is stuff that Jay has shot. He’s captured so many musicians and artists and scenes since the ‘70s and ‘80s.” That’s what’s important about this. It isn’t a Grateful Dead exhibit and “RetroBlakesberg” isn’t a Grateful Dead book.

JB: But there is a Grateful Dead gallery.

RB: And we’re always going to touch on that because that’s a huge factor of Jay’s work but keeping that in mind that this is a chance to showcase Jay’s diversity and all the stuff that he has captured. That’s what so important about this retrospective and this book.

JPG: That leads to the final question, which I think I’ve always dropped every time we’ve talked – the last time being for Jerry Garcia: Secret Space of Dreams. Do you have any plans for your next project? At that time you were considering a Bob Weir book, a book on festivals and a book with essays from people changed by psychedelics.

JB: The Bob Weir is on the back burner because I was asked by his management team to wait until his autobiography comes out that he’s writing. That’s fine.

The festival book is still on the radar and the “Psychedelic Cowboys and Other Outlaws” book, we actually went full steam ahead on, and the woman who was writing the book got COVID in January of 2021, pre-vaccine, and was sick for two weeks. Got better for two weeks, and then became a COVID long hauler. Couldn’t get out of bed. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t walk to the other end of the house. That went on for months and months and months. The deadline for all the text was like March and in January, she’s like, “I can’t do this. I can’t even think. I can’t even see straight.” So, we had to pull the plug on that book because she was no longer able to do it and a big part of it was the text in that book. I don’t know if it’ll ever come back. We have a lot of material on it. We have all the photos pulled for it but right now, it’s just back-burnered.

Shortly thereafter, I was the one who brought up the RetroBlakesberg book idea to Ricki after I saw the Instagram going and I realized that “Psychedelic Cowboys” was paused indefinitely I said, “What do you think about doing RetroBlakesberg for a book?” And that’s how that started.

JPG: Are there any others that you care to talk about as potential books in the future?

JB: My son has been working on a documentary that he’s directing and I’m producing that’s about Deadheads and me and my time following the Grateful Dead in the early 1980s. I’m super overwhelmed with projects that I’m not really thinking about the next book.

Although, in the back of my mind…Funny today, when I was walking the dog, I was thinking, “I’ve got to talk to Ricki about what our next book is going to be.” I think it needs to be either the festival book or JAM 2 but it’s something that we probably won’t even start for a year.

I’m helping David Gans do his self-published Kickstarter book and wrote the Foreword. I’m producing a book for a tattoo artist who specializes in Grateful Dead tattoos. That and the David Gans one are in production. I’m helping a couple do a book on the trajectory of Bob Weir and his symphony projects. They’re the ones who got him into doing the symphony thing 10 years ago when he did a benefit in Marin [County].

The other big thing that’s going on, which will still be happening when this article comes out is the San Francisco Airport does museum exhibits in the airport. They’re putting together a small exhibit of around 20 to 25 images of the history of rock and roll in Golden Gate Park. I’m going to have about 12 of my photos in that exhibit in Terminal 3, the United terminal as part of a group exhibit. (It runs through Oct. 11.) That’s another thing that got dropped in my lap. So, I’ve been hustling to get that done.

I’ve got so much stuff going on right now. I’m not really thinking about what my next book is because I’ve got to get through the “RetroBlakesberg” and the exhibit and the documentary film.

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