Paul McCartney at the Van Andel in Grand Rapids? Paul Jendrasiak was there.
Metallica at Muskegon’s L.C. Walker Arena? He was there, too.
Pearl Jam at Kalamazoo’s State Theatre, Morrissey at the now defunct Vinyl Solution in Grand Rapids, Elton John at the Van Andel? You guessed it: Jendrasiak was there. [Side note: if you want to see Morrissey hanging out with his West Michigan fans at Vinyl Solution—opened by the current owner of Grand Rapids’ Vertigo Music—in 1992, check out this MTV segment.]
For close to three decades, Jendrasiak, a photographer who grew up in Grand Rapids and now lives in Grand Haven, has had a front row seat to the bands and singers who have dominated our country’s musical landscape. From hair metal to grunge and modern-day pop, he has captured an eclectic wave of cultural touchstones: Willie Nelson, Aerosmith, and Marilyn Manson. Tool and Stone Temple Pilots. The Flaming Lips and The Smashing Pumpkins. And the list goes on.
Now, the public will be able to see his work chronicling the intersection of Michigan and international superstars in a new exhibition, “Lights, Camera, Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Music Photography of Paul Jendrasiak,” which opens at the Muskegon Museum of Art this Thursday, May 23.
With work spanning decades, the show is something of an emotional powerhouse for Jendrasiak: it’s not only these iconic musicians forever captured by his camera that burrow a place in his heart, but the fact that each image represents a career fueled by a deep passion for music.
“The first time I walked into the gallery, it definitely hit me emotionally,” said Jendrasiak.
“I’m glad to be able to share it with folks, and share it with folks in West Michigan who would’ve been to those shows, whether it was a show they saw last year or a show they saw 30 years ago,” he continued. “Music is the underlying fabric of our lives.”
These are photos that are as much about our own lives as those of the people in front of the camera: the narratives behind the images are ones of going to the concerts on first dates, of birthdays and friends and songs you’ve belted out while driving with the windows down. They too can be poignant reminders of the passage of time: of concerts you went to years ago with people who may no longer be here, of artists who have helped you navigate life’s harder moments. And they’re a celebration of the communal experience that is live music: the thousands of people all coming together under one roof to sing and sway and dance and raise their lighters (…or cell phones…) to the songs that have been the backdrop to our lives.
For Jendrasiak, it has been these moments that have allowed him to do what he loves. A teenager during the heyday of hair metal, the photographer got his first guitar for his 14th birthday—and he dreamed of the spotlight on him, his big hair and his guitar.
“By the time I got to 18, I said, ‘I don’t this is necessarily going to happen,’ so I said, ‘What’s another avenue?’” he said. “I saw there was a magazine, Music Revue, which was like the local Rolling Stone magazine. I saw KISS was coming through town, and I said, ‘I’ll get you an interview with KISS, with Gene Simmons.’ I didn’t have any experience, any connections. I figured out how to contact the publicist, and, a few days later, I was on the phone with Gene Simmons.”
Following that first interview with Simmons in 1990, Jendrasiak went on to interview 150 people while working for the Music Revue, now called Revue, from Ozzy Osbourne and Jon Bon Jovi to Sarah McLachlan.
“It was such an interesting time period—in 1990, hair metal was king, and, as you rolled into ’91, you had such a change to grunge,” he said. “You had bands like Poison and Motley Crue, and the next day everyone’s wearing flannel and into Nirvana. It was this big polar shift in music and culture.”
Throughout his career, Jendrasiak—who too had his own radio show and has started a few internet and software businesses—has also had his work featured on GRNow.com, Guitar Player, Vintage Guitar, RIP Magazine, Hit Parade, Kerrang, BURNN, and Young Guitar. As the musical landscape has shifted, so has photography. In our age of technology, professional photographer jobs, especially in media, have taken a significant hit—but Jendrasiak said the passion makes the more difficult times worth it.
“We all have certain things in our blood that you want to do because it’s your passion; it’s your calling,” he said. “If you can make a livelihood doing it, fantastic. If not, do it because it fills your soul.”
Now, to be able to share his work from throughout the years is something that makes Jendrasiak feel “humbled and honored.” And, he said, he’s particularly thrilled that the show will be at the art museum.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of the Muskegon Museum of Art; it’s one of the great jewels of West Michigan, and I always encourage people to go visit there,” he said. “They’re doing such an incredible job.”
The opening reception for ‘Lights, Camera, Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Music Photography of Paul Jendrasiak’ will be held at the Muskegon Museum of Art [296 W. Webster Ave. in downtown Muskegon] on Thursday, May 23 from 5:30-8pm. Jendrasiak will give a talk at 7pm. The opening reception is free and open to the public. For more information, please click here.
Photography courtesy of Paul Jendrasiak. Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.