Monday, January 02, 2023

Somerville Photographer JJ Gonson brings the Boston Music Scene and more, to the walls of the Bloc11 Cafe


Elliot Smith photographed by JJ Gonson

You might know JJ Gonson. You may have seen her ubiquitous photograph of Curt Cobain floating around in the ether on the Internet. You may have attended her music venue the ONCE LOUNGE and BALLROOM, or you might have sampled some of her food from her catering company. In any case, I became more familiar with the punk/rock/grunge scene after talking with her at my favorite haunt-- the Bloc 11 Café--where she has an exhibit of her work.

JJ Johnson is a caterer-- in order to make the daily nut. She told me she first got her foothold in Somerville  at Kitchen, Inc., which was located on Somerville Ave.-- across from where Target is now. Then she move to 156 Highland Ave to another kitchen/catering space.

As for her time running the Once Ballroom and Lounge, she told me a plethora of musicians performed there. People like Amanda Palmer, Phoebe Bridgers, Mitszi, a lot of heavy metal bands hit the stage--to name just a few. The ambitious Gonson told me, " " I also run a Somerville-based summer music series at the Boynton Yards development. We use their huge parking lot for our venue--people hear bands playing all day, and have a great time."

During Gonson's college years in the 80s, she was always at clubs like the Rat in Kenmore Square, T.T. the Bear, in Central Square Cambridge,  and many others. The bands playing there were her friends, and she took photos of them in action. Her work was appreciated and bought by such publications as The Boston Globe, The Boston Phoenix, Boston Rock, and others.

In terms of her photography, which started when she was a student at the Massachusetts College of Art, she said " Photos are about memory, what we hold on to, what we choose to preserve." And indeed, Gonson is a curator of her own memory.

One of the many musicians that Gonson befriended and photographed was Elliot Smith.  Smith was an acclaimed song writer with a melancholic sound. He was part of the vibrant music milieu of Portland, Oregon, and released some highly influential albums. Gonson recalled, " I was working in a cafe in Portland, where I met some of Smith's friends. I wound up going to the second concert he ever did. His talent just oozed out of him, his voice, his mastery of the guitar, etc..." Gonson said she did the cover for his first album, and they were close friends for 2 or 3 years. Gonson reflected, "We moved to different places eventually and lost touch. He later committed suicide. He came from a troubled and abusive background. I am still in touch with his sister."

As for her display at the Bloc, she explained " A lot of my pictures are in 'visual storage.' Some are in record stores,  and some are stored at a production company. So I took a lot of them to display on the walls at the Bloc.

Gonson pointed out a portrait she did of Billy Ruane--a champion of the Boston music scene, who passed about 12 years ago. He was responsible for bringing the music scene to the Middle East, a famed venue in Cambridge, Mass. Like Smith, Ruane was troubled--suffering from alcoholism and manic depression-- thus his early death at 52.

As we looked around the said café Gonson had photos of Henry Rollins, Elliot Smith, Curt Cobain and many more on the walls. There was an intensity to these photos that made you stop and look.

Gonson does not make a living from her collection of photography. She said, " My pictures are all over the internet. To track down everyone would be a major project --time-consuming, and not a very lucrative one  at that." Her photo of Curt Cobain for instance, has been used by thousands on the Internet. Gonson laughed, " They even made tattoos  of that photo."

Gonson hopes that her passion will eventually be her sole living. But until then she will cater delicious food, and keep an eyes, or lens out for another fabulous shot.

No comments:

Post a Comment