"Born in 1954, we grew up together on Long Island. Originally from adjacent suburban towns, we merged into one group when we met up in junior high school. Collectively we have referred to ourselves as
“The Boys” ever since. Post-high school and college some moved to the periphery or out of the picture completely. We lost Andy in 1977, most likely a casualty of our romance with drugs and alcohol, but we
were never quite sure. For the nearly half century since school, fourteen of us managed to stay close despite a variety of unavoidable lapses - moving, launching careers, starting families, serving prison
sentences, battling addictions. Somehow The Boys stayed intact.
Now there are twelve." *
I approached Rick Schatzberg’s The Boys with a degree of cautiousness.
It seems that although we are complete strangers separated by thousands of miles, there is still a certain familiarity that resonated within me, as I am sure it will with many others who come into contact with this book.
Well there is a certain Everyman quality to The Boys, in that, whoever you are, whatever gender or social class you may belong to, it is sure to have you looking back on our own past and maybe even doing a little emotional house cleaning of your own.
When one of his friends unexpectedly passed away, Schatzberg turned to memories and photography to come to terms with his loss.
The realisation that the relative calm that is the pond of your life, only remains that way until someone throws a rock into it.
That calm will inevitably return, but first you have to deal with the ripples and splashes.
Schatzberg was born in the fifties into an anonymous Long Island town, itself the product of industrialisation and commerce.
A blue collar neighbourhood stacked to the brim with nothing to do.
During his adolescence he formed a close bond with guys that he met at school. Inevitably there were some that were there for a minute or two in the context of a life, but others hung around, bonded by a sense of comradery and understanding, of tolerance and forgiveness, of family.
Fourteen men who made their way through their respective lives always with the safety net of their friends - the boys - to fall back on, and it is through his scrapbook of photographic memories that Schatzberg turned to recall those times.
Joy filled pictures of the simple stuff that most of us are able to identify with, downing a beer and talking crap, lounging around on warm summer days, smiling and laughing about everything and nothing.
Same ‘ole, same ‘ole.
The occasional supporting cast member, drifting through, again a common connection;
“What was his/her name again?"
”I wonder what they're doing now?"
Faces that but for emulsion on paper, would be as hazy as the moments in which they featured.
With his senses sharpened by the realisation that chapters were starting to close around him, Schatzberg made the decision to photograph the remaining “Boys“ as they are now.
Armed with his large format camera he spent time with each of them. The results of these photographic endeavors are secreted in the embrace of gatefold pages as we progress through the book. Fast forwarding the years by peeling back the paper.
Beautifully detailed colour portraits of his friends each posed, many naked from the waist up, their biographies evident in the very folds of their skin, and tone and texture of their hair.
A sense of melancholy emanating from some, from others a mischievous twinkle in eyes that remain young at heart.
For half a century, the boys have had each other's backs. Through the tidal change of relationships and careers.
Through lives that for some had a run a straight and smooth course, and for others that saw themselves diverted through choppier rougher terrain. Substance abuse, incarceration.
Bad choices or The Big Man upstairs having a little fun?
A life play, about to enter its final act.
In compiling The Boys, Rick Schatzberg has composed a love letter to his friends, his musketeers. A story that will continue to unfold whilst inevitably winding down.
Their numbers will dwindle, such is life's one certainty. However with this record, it is certain that a light will continue to burn. That children will remember grandfathers and great grandfathers. An immortality of sorts, between the covers of a book.
We all have histories that may tell a different yet similar tale. I’m certainly fortunate enough to have my own group, the oldest of which also goes back nearly fifty years now, and although separated by half the circumference of the globe, visits are made and conversations picked up every time.
We don’t always agree, and we are certainly very different people, but he’s as much a brother to me as my own flesh and blood.
But my memories, no matter how much I would enjoy recounting them, are not the subject under review here.
However tangible the strength and nostalgia imbued by The Boys, it is such that without moving slowly through its pages, and sharing in Schatzberg’s recollections through the sea of smiles and tears, that I may not have so fondly have spent time with my own.
It seems that The Boys is indeed a story for us all, and indeed, for all generations....it’s just that some of them don’t know it yet.
I will leave the final word to Schatzberg.
"As with Jon and Eddie, I see Brad and Fred more vividly now, my thoughts focused like images resolving on the camera’s ground glass. This sudden clarity surprises me. As petty
judgements fall away, what’s left is love." *
* from The Boys by Rick Schatzberg
The Boys by Rick Schatzberg is published by Powerhouse Books
Sent from my iPhone