Michael Friedman has done a lot in his 78 years.
The Staples High School Class of 1961 graduate produced “Hello, It’s Me.” He managed Todd Rundgren and Kris Kristofferson — as well as (with Albert Grossman) the careers of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, Odetta, and Peter Paul & Mary. He did publicity for the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits.
He sold Americana and folk art. He owned the Ash Creek Saloons in Fairfield and Norwalk, along with Darien’s Goose restaurant.
With such varied careers — and so much going on — he could be forgiven for losing the negatives of photos he took half a century ago.
They were not random snapshots of the Friedman family at the beach, or their naked newborn in a bathtub.
These were up close, personal — and superb — shots of some of the biggest names in the music world.
The Stones. Janis Joplin. The Band. Johnny Winter. Gordon Lightfoot. James Cotton. Ian and Sylvia. All are artists Friedman worked with in the 1960s.
In 2016, his wife Donna stumbled upon them. They’re remarkable — not just for their power and professionalism, but because they’re atypical musician images.
They’re much more human. Freidman took his photos as a friend, not a “photographer.”
But he was a damn good one, for sure.
Friedman spent several months printing, restoring and mounting the photos.
He displayed them at a pop-up gallery the next year, in Bedford Square. Developer David Waldman offered him the space, after seeing one photo and hearing his stories.
The show was well received. The photos were shipped to the California Heritage Museum, then to a year-long exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Attendees in LA and Cleveland repeated what Westport gallery-goers said: Michael should compile them into a book.
More than 5 years later, that daunting project is almost complete.
“Exposed: The Lost Negatives and Untold Stories of Michael Friedman” is in the Kickstarter phase — almost ready to print. Many of the 100 photos have never been seen — not even in the photographer’s shows. They’re accompanied by essays and explanatory text.
It was a long process. One of the hardest parts was figuring out exactly where each photo was taken, and when.
Donna spent many of hours researching. For example, a shot of an outdoor concert with Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge looked like a college — but there were no records they performed outside, on a campus.
Finally, Donna saw a photo online of a building that matched one in the background. The site: Columbia University.
Friedman also had no idea where he took a well-composed image showing a mother, child, VW bus and police officers.
Eventually, he and his wife realized the police officers were not Americans. They followed that rabbit hole all the way to the 1970 Festival Express in Toronto. They found a documentary film from 2003, which showed the same scaffolding behind the bus.
Friedman’s essays complement the photos. They are short but insightful portraits of nearly everyone he’s met in the music industry, from mega-stars to mighta-beens.
The essays also provide context for his life — including his introduction to rock music, as a Westport boy growing up in the 1950s.
He describes Mike Borchetta, the Staples High School student who brought Bo Diddley and Harvey & the Moonglows to town (and who asked 15-year-old Friedman to take over as drummer, when the Moonglows’ percussionist passed out drunk).
Friedman writes about his time with Westport’s first rock band, the Schemers (with lead singer Barry Tashian, later of the Remains).
Prodded by Donna, he brings the reader into the photos. “People want to know what it was like to be 25 years old in 1968 — in the middle of the music business,” he says. “I want them to take the journey with me.”
But it’s the photos that take center stage. The Stones on stage. Janis Joplin chatting in a hallway. Todd Rundgren in the studio. Levon Helm being Levon.
Those images fill the 233 pages of “Exposed.”
Michael gives his wife — who found the negatives in the first place — credit as “curator, director, producer, editor, consultant and psychiatrist” for the project. “She had a clear picture in her mind, of how to put it all together.”
Unwilling to cede creative control to an agent or publisher, the Friedmans are self-publishing.
It’s a risky — and costly — venture. But it’s in fitting with Michael’s multi-varied career.
And his personal philosophy, honed in the music business and articulated by his longtime friend Kris Kristofferson: “By not having to live up to other people’s expectations, I was somehow free.”
(To see the Kickstarter page for “Exposed,” click here.)
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