Thursday, December 4, 2014


Rick Rubin, NYC, Oct. 1985

I MIGHT HAVE GONE TO NEW YORK CITY TO SEE A GIRL but I was an ambitious young man and boarded the plane with a list. I consulted with my rock critic friends from Nerve and hit the ground with some phone numbers and appointments meant to fill the days while she was at work and I was at liberty in the media capital of the world.

Rick Rubin was still a name only music geeks and serious hip hop fans knew in the fall of 1985. (And it has to be understood that the only hip hop fans then were serious ones.) Def Jam Records was known for singles like LL Cool J's "I Want You" and "It's Yours" by T La Rock and Jazzy Jay, but albums such as License To Ill and Reign in Blood wouldn't come out until 1986, so Rubin was mostly known as the kid who'd run a record label from his NYU dorm room.

Rubin had moved out of his dorm and into an office at 1133 Broadway when I turned up to interview and photograph him. The office was, frankly, only barely more professional looking than the dorm room, with a huge yoga poster on the wall and a big overstuffed floral couch that screamed "parental cast-off." While I waited, Rubin did business on the phone sunk back in the couch, so I snapped a few photos.

Rick Rubin, NYC, Oct. 1985

The real hip hop fans at Nerve were back in Toronto, so I tried to remember the questions they told me to ask him. Def Jam looked like a rickety bit of business on that October afternoon, but I didn't doubt for a second that this kid with his beard and Black Flag t-shirt was probably going to be a big deal. I just wish I'd had a better reason to talk to him.

The photos I took are nothing special. I wouldn't call them portraits by any standard I hold - then or now - and they only barely succeed as snapshots. If they're worth anything it's as a record of a moment with a person who would succeed beyond even his own wildest dreams - or at least that's my intuition - at a moment that's somewhat underdocumented for his fans. I just happened to be there.

(2019 UPDATE: I've re-scanned and improved on the original shots I posted here, mostly because I was asked to provide a shot of Rubin for The Beastie Boys Story, a live theatre event, directed by Spike Jonze, that the remaining Beastie Boys are staging this spring.)