Bill Cosby in Concert

Bill Cosby Ohio University 02-09-1969SEMO Classmate, photo buddy and, eventually, best man, Andy McLean introduced me to Bill Cosby. Andy had every Cosby LP every pressed and had memorized every routine until he could do them better than Cosby.

So, when I had a chance to see Cosby in concert at Ohio University in 1969, I snagged two tickets for Fiance Lila and me. We had a front-row seat for his performance in the round (OK, it was in the square, but I didn’t do all that hot in geometry, so I didn’t quibble).

Unusual experience

Bill Cosby Ohio University 02-09-1969This was an unusual concert for me. Usually I’m so busy shooting the show from every angle, including the overhead catwalks, that the actual performance is a blur to me. Well, my pictures are sharp, but my memory of what the artist performed is fuzzy. This time, though, I enjoyed the performance as a civilian. I still shot pictures from my seat, but I got to enjoy the show.

Depending on your generation, you may remember Cosby as Fat Albert, Cliff Huxtable or the guy who pitched Jell-O, but he’ll always be Noah to me.

“Come around, Idiot, Come around”

Bill Cosby Ohio University 02-09-1969Cosby’s routine about driving a stick shift in San Fransisco resonated with me. See, Athens is said to be built on seven hills, and some of them are ungodly steep. Usually with a stop sign at the top of them.

I had never driven a manual transmission before, but I wanted a Volkswagen Squareback. I bought the car and trusted that Lila could teach me how to drive it. Trust me, if your girlfriend can teach you to drive a stick and still be willing to marry you, then you better snatch her up.

There was one killer hill (with a stop sign) on the way from the house to the office. She taught me the technique of pushing the clutch down with my left foot, putting my right foot on the gas, holding up on the emergency brake with my right hand, and frantically waving my left arm out the window while shouting, like Cosby, “Come around, Idiot, Come around.”

Did he cut it short?

Bill Cosby Concert Ohio University 02-09-1969I had a coworker on The OU Post who thought Cosby had cheated the audience by putting on a short show. If it WAS shorter than usual, the audience around me didn’t seem to mind.

Well, maybe Andy could have done it better, but I was pleased with the performance.

Other performances

I was telling someone the other day that I’m embarrassed to have shot a bunch of performances and paid so little attention to them that I don’t know if they were famous or not when I run across the negatives. Here are some I DO remember:

Bill Cosby photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Covering Simon and Garfunkel

When I shot this photo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in concert at Ohio University on Oct. 29, 1968 (if you can believe the negative sleeve), I didn’t know then that the body language might be a hint of the breakup of the duo coming just two years later.

The two singers met in elementary school in 1953 (where they appeared in the school play Alice in Wonderland) and recorded their first record as Tom and Jerry in 1957. The went off to separate colleges, but got together after Paul Simon wrote some folk songs, including one dedicated to murdered civil rights worker Andrew Goodman. Goodman had been a friend of both men and a classmate of Simon’s at Queen’s College. They cut Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., which initially flopped when it was released in 1964.

Is THIS Paul Simon?

I recognized Garfunkel right away, and the sleeve was tagged Simon and Garfunkel, but this guy didn’t look like the Paul Simon I was used to seeing. I wondered if he was a backup singer. It wasn’t until I covered up the scraggly beard and mustache that I saw Paul emerge. His eyes and nose definitely give him away.

Simon and Garfunkel were at their peak

After a few stumbles, they caught fire. The single Sound of Silence became a #1 hit in 1966 and the album by that title made it to #21. Wednesday Morning came back and climbed to #30. The songs kept coming in 1966: Homeward Bound; I Am A Rock; The Dangling Conversation; Parsley, Sage Rosemary & Thyme; A Hazy Shade of Winter. They definitely provided the soundtrack of our lives that year and for the next few.

Mrs. Robinson was the biggie

In January, 1968, Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate was released. Peter Bart wrote in a May 15, 2005, issue of Variety that Nichols had been obsessed with S & G’s music while he was shooting the film and had producer Larry Turman cut a deal with Simon to write three new songs for the movie.

By the time they were nearly finished editing the film, Simon had written only one new song. Nichols begged him for more but Simon, who was touring constantly, told him he didn’t have the time. He did play him a few notes of a new song he had been working on; “It’s not for the movie… it’s a song about times past—about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff.” Nichols advised Simon, “It’s now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt.”

Personal tensions and creative differences caused a strain that reached its breaking point during the production of their last album, Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970. The album was originally supposed to contain twelve songs, but Simon refused to record a Garfunkel pick and vice versa. It was finally released with only eleven songs on it.

What do I remember about the concert?

Not a lot. When you’re shooting something like this, you have all your visual senses working. You’re concerned about angles, light, shutter speeds – technical stuff – not the music. I’m sure they played all the favorites, but I don’t know that I actually heard any of them.

I learned early on that I couldn’t count on being the best shooter at an event: I had to be the one who showed up earliest, stayed the latest and was willing to scout out the odd positions. I’d cover myself by shooting the standard, “safe” shot, then go looking for the unusual.

I took these high-angle photos from the lighting catwalks high above the concert floor. You don’t ask permission to do something like that because people will find a dozen ways to turn you down. If you just do it, though, everybody assumes that it must be OK.

Not every shot works. This one doesn’t, but you don’t know until you try. It’s always a mistake not to push the button when your instinct tells you to. Something drew your eye there, and if you don’t shoot it at that moment, the magic will leak out if you stop to think about it. You can always discard; you can’t recreate.

Look at the audience

I was surprised to see how well-dressed the audience was. This is a folk-rock concert, so you’d expect to see a lot of casual hippie-type clothing, but most of the guys have on suit coats, if not ties. Hair lengths are Kennedyesque, not shoulder-length. Skirts are delightfully short.

Other concert photos

Simon and Garfunkel photo gallery

There are a lot of “magic moment” photos in this selection that I knew at the time would never make it into the paper, but were recorded anyway. Now that I’m not constrained by the cost of dead trees and ink, you’ll get to see them. Like I said before, most of them don’t work, but they do give you some insight into my thought process and how a picture evolves. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery. Humming of music is allowed.