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VANILLA ICE - in the 90's
THE DAY I SHOT VANILLA ICE IN MALIBU
It was a beautiful drive on the coast and as I pulled up the mountain all the way around a winding road, I ended up at a beautiful place up on a grassy hill. It was a sort of ranch house overlooking the ocean with a recording studio in it and you would not even know it from the front. A friend of mine asked me to come and shoot photo's of Vanilla Ice while he was trying to make yet another "comeback" after his hits in the early 90's. I was not that excited at the thought of shooting this celebrity who was made fun of in the industry on a daily basis.
I was also a music publicist at the time and I was working with bands and artists like Billy Idol, Warren G, Ice Cube's record label, Tower of Power, and lots of other artists doing well at that time. A friend of mine who was a writer would often ask me to shoot photo's of artists that she was writing about. When she arrived we all went into the recording studio and there was an engineer there but no sign of Vanilla Ice. I knew that my friend was there for a very well known publication and honestly after growing up in this business was concerned about Vanilla Ice getting trashed in the magazine. I had seen the music business from so many angles and I knew that nomatter what today was going to be a "trash the artist day."
When Vanilla Ice walked through the studio he stared at me for a moment and walked by and said "Hey, my name is Rob." Then he kept walking and I followed him to a sound booth. He was shy, but kind and I could see in his eyes that he was putting on a brave face. He had his wife there at the time with a child and before we did the shoot he sat down to talk with my friend and I observed from a distance while I shot candid shots of him just hanging out. I felt his panic of trying to sound interesting after so much time had passed and it made me feel for him because in order to stay in the public eye, you have to remain interesting. Plus he had not had a hit since "Ice Ice Baby" and it had been way too long to keep his profile up.
He then went into how he had become a born again Christian and how his life had deeply improved and I knew that it was just talk. Maybe it wasn't but the way he was talking about it sounded like a PR campaign and my friend was not buying it at all. I sort of wished he didn't give her so much and disappeared after a quick interview because by the time he finished an hour later, he was just so "dull" and uninteresting.
Now I'm always the one to give others that "extra chance" and I believe he was fortunate to become so famous at one time, but I do believe that some make bad choices and he was one of them. Somewhere down the line he decided to become a "puppet" and there was a huge trade for that choice. I have known many to make the same choices in life and they have had huge successes at one time, but they can never come back because in the beginning they sacrificed who they truly are. It is not always their fault either because sometimes an artist is not in control when they sign contracts with whoever offers to pay them. I had made quite a few mistakes as a young artist too and I understand the business enough to not like it at all.
When we all headed into the studio I shot a lot of photo's of him in the sound booth that were eventually published in Time Magazine. I wanted to shoot him close up with the microphone with his tattoos in focus because it looked so different then his famous posed photo's in the late 80's and early 90's. I did come out with some cool shots, but they looked like a "grunge" version of him and a bit too edgy, but cool.
Since I had spent my life in recording studios since a very young age, I got really nervous for him when the label executive put the new track on. We all sat there in anticipation and I really hoped deep down that he would surprise us. I saw my friend look at me with that sort of expression "this will definitely suck look" and I felt a bit of a pang in my gutt. Vanilla Ice sat there near the engineer and I really wanted him to leave the room. When the engineer started the track and I heard the first notes, I was really stressed out. He had redone a much harder rock version of "Ice Ice Baby" where he would yell the chorus at the top of his lungs like he was angry and I knew he was finished. My friend stared at me because she always said that I cared too much and I knew that she was on her way to her best piece yet. There was nothing I could do to change her mind or her angle on her story.
When we left that day I was a bit sad because I truly wished he took a chance and came out with something that was truly him. What he did was make himself a complete outcast and I felt that yet again he must have listened to someone who knew nothing about creating music or being an artist. They just wanted to sell records and once again Vanilla Ice was made into a clown. I do believe that if he really has talent in music he can always try again, but the business just will bring him down again and again. This is the way the industry works. Sad really. Deep down I really hope he tries again and creates something great.