Purple Magazine
— S/S 2010 issue 13

Terry Richardson’s Life Story

Terry Richardson playing bass in his band SSA in Erik’s backyard in Ojai, California, 1982

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM 

episode 4


OLIVIER ZAHM — Here we go — the fourth episode of our interview: The teenage years, 14 through 18!
TERRY RICHARDSON — All right! The teenage years — lucky for some, unlucky for others.

OLIVIER ZAHM – Were you still living in LA?
TERRY RICHARDSON – Yes, in the same apartment building, The Villa Valentino, on Highland, three or four blocks up from Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.

OLIVIER ZAHM – And your mother was still recovering from her car accident, right?
TERRY RICHARDSON – Yes. I mean, I was nine when she had the accident. She had only partially recovered. She could walk with a cane, but because of the brain damage she was never going be able to walk normally. I remember her bringing my step-dad coffee in the morning. She had to climb the stairs one at a time, spilling the coffee everywhere, cursing all the while. It would take her ten minutes to get up the stairs with a cup of coffee. What is so beautiful about my mom is her strength. She’s a fighter. A survivor. Very independent — especially for someone who might normally be dependent on other people, given her physical problems. She never gave up. She’s an inspiration to me.

OLIVIER ZAHM – This was 1978, right?
TERRY RICHARDSON – — Yeah. I was skateboarding at the Marina Skatepark. The Circle Jerks played there. They did the cover photograph for their record, Group Sex, there. It looked like a circle jerk. [Laughs] Bunch of guys standing in a circle masturbating. That was big in college: six straight guys jerking off together. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM – What’s the point of it all?
TERRY RICHARDSON – The first guy to come wins. Kind of a strange kind of race. But if you really want to take it to the next level, you put a cookie in the middle. Everyone jerks off on the cookie and the guy who comes last has to eat it. But I never had to eat the cookie.

OLIVIER ZAHM – That’s a pretty traumatic game.
TERRY RICHARDSON – Didn’t you ever do that in high school in Paris?

OLIVIER ZAHM – No, I didn’t even know such a thing existed.
TERRY RICHARDSON – Maybe in Paris you could do it on a croissant and call it The Soggy Croissant…

Terry Richardson and Becky in front of Terry’s Volvo in Hollywood, California, 1983

OLIVIER ZAHM – I’ll never understand American teenagers! [Laughs]
TERRY RICHARDSON – We’re just totally wild, that’s all!

OLIVIER ZAHM – Totally free?
TERRY RICHARDSON – Totally. It’s a homoerotic experience. Face it, masturbating with a bunch of guys isn’t an entirely hetero thing. It’s a funny kind of male-bonding thing. Being silly together and getting off. I mean, you’re always horny, just being a teenager. Your hormones make you masturbate and want to have sex all the time. It’s a teenage pastime, like watching sports. Watching football and getting excited by the tight pants. Seeing the muscles, the bulges, the sweating…

OLIVIER ZAHM –  Those big asses, and the way they run around.
TERRY RICHARDSON – Yeah, watching it all and getting really turned on. Sport is a very strange thing — it involves a lot of bumping into other guys, tackling and wrestling them. But, anyway, letting a guy blow you doesn’t mean you’re gay. [Laughs] A little gay is awesome. I used to say that a little gay is good, a lot of gay is great. But now I say that a lot of gay is just a lot of gay. But it’s all good. Tri-sexuality…

OLIVIER ZAHM – What was school like for you?
TERRY RICHARDSON – When I was 13, I was in Junior High School. I would meet my friends Jeff and Matt every morning and we would smoke weed.

OLIVIER ZAHM – Before school?
TERRY RICHARDSON – Of course. Wake and bake, man. We smoked joints or did bong hits and went to school stoned. Basically, I was stoned every day of my life starting when I was 12, all through school. It was fun. We played sports. Rode around on BMX bicycles. Went to the skatepark. Went boogie-boarding out at the beach. I started to drink that year. You know, get some beers somehow. Steal them, maybe, or ask someone who was old enough to buy them for us. I partied a lot. Went to heavy metal shows. I’d go to New York in the summer to see my dad. The Ramones were the first punk band I saw. I saw them a lot – I was really into them. I loved Devo, too. But I had longish hair and was still into metal. Judas Priest. Iron Maiden. I was a metal-head.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did your teachers and family think that you were being rebellious? Or did they think that it was all just a normal part of growing up?
TERRY RICHARDSON – Well, if you liked Black Sabbath, it suggested a satanic element. Heavy metal was kind of like punk rock: a way to fuck with the norm. You scared people. People were terrified of Ozzy Osbourne. He bit the head off a bird. Blood, Satan, six-six-six, rebellious satanic symbols — it was all scary to the moral majority. They thought Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne were Satan worshippers and that they sacrificed babies and drank blood — even though they were all blue-collar English guys. The symbols were sacrilegious, but it was all really just theatrics, taken from horror films and stuff.

OLIVIER ZAHM — These days, a ten-year old boy on the Upper East Side of New York can have a poster of AC/DC on his bedroom wall and his parents totally accept it.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah, but in ’78 that stuff was pretty radical. It scared people. It was the devil’s music, even though it was a small subculture. Sabbath became a huge band and played big arenas, became as mainstream as a band like Cheap Trick. So it became a big subculture. Heavy metal bands played to 15,000 people — Van Halen played to a hundred thousand. Punk rock started out really small. Punk shows might draw a hundred people. If a band got really big, it might draw 1500 people. Like what rock and roll was like in the Fifties, you know? Anyway, there were the different cliques in school. We were The Stoners, because we smoked weed and had long hair and rode around on BMX bikes. The Hollywood Stoners.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have pictures of yourself from the time?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. With the long hair and all. Stoners smoked weed and took acid and drank all the time and grew their hair long and listened to hard rock. I used to sell weed. When I was 14 I went to Hawaii with my mom and step-dad. I met two kids from Texas on the plane and we stole whiskey, vodka, and beer from the cart and guzzled it. I got so drunk I vomited all over the plane. I couldn’t make it to the bathroom. My mom was yelling. Everyone were freaking out. I got to Hawaii so hungover I was puking everywhere. In Hawaii I bought a massive fucking bag of weed, like a quarter pound. I wanted to go back to Hollywood with some Kona Gold from Hawaii, some really primo bud. So when we left Hawaii I had this giant bag of weed stuffed in my underwear. It was like that film, Midnight Express. I’m smuggling weed back — my underwear’s filled with enough weed to send me to jail for ten years. Serious business!

OLIVIER ZAHM — Didn’t it smell?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Sure. But I had it all double-bagged and I rubbed deodorant on it. And I made it! I got home with a huge bag of Hawaiian bud in my underwear. And we really celebrated, because it was great weed. It wasn’t hydroponic or Colombian Gold or Thai sticks. It was really good Kona Gold — Maui Wowie. Really hard to get.

Terry Richardson at age 14 with Bob Richardson in Woodstock, New York,1979

OLIVIER ZAHM — Who was your first girlfriend?
TERRY RICHARDSON — She was a Mexican girl. I was messing around with girls a bit in Junior High. There was this girl in drama class who’d take me backstage when we did theater productions. I was 13 and she was 14. She was a teacher’s aide. She’d pull me backstage after class to make out with me. I would look forward to her seducing me. I’d never been with a girl before. It went on for months and it was incredible. I never went inside of her, but she’d undo my pants and I’d come immediately. She didn’t even have to touch it — when you’re 13 you just explode. Then one day she cut me off. Started hanging out with another guy. It really destroyed me. I was wrecked. But the next year I got another girlfriend, named Rosie. She was 13 and I was 14. We’d make out. I never had sex with her but I did finger-bang her. She went away with her family for a vacation in the summer. She didn’t call me when she got back, and then when she did she said, “I met an older guy and I had sex with him and I’m breaking up with you.” I smashed up my parents’ apartment, broke lamps. Just screaming. I was so obsessed with this girl, my first love. She gets fucked by a 17-year-old guy. She breaks up with me and then he dumps her.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you really in love with her?
TERRY RICHARDSON — No, just obsessed. I was with the next girl a whole year but we never had sex. I was always ready to explode! I had a boner all the time when I was with her. I have pictures of me with her and you can see my boner. But we never did anything. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to ask her to “touch it” or “do this or that.” I was so afraid to put the moves on her. Then she started seeing another kid and fucking him every day! Doing that teenage sex thing, where once you start screwing, you screw all the time. It was devastating for me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — After you smashed up your parents’ apartment, did you explain to them why you were so angry?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. They didn’t really punish me. They came home and I was throwing things out the front door, smashing things. When I got upset I’d throw tantrums and smash things — lamps, phones, whatever.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I remember when you smashed up that room in The Bristol Hotel.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah, yeah, like 20,000 euros in damage. You were there. It was me and my friend Dennis Lanni. We smashed the whole fucking room up. It was fun for about a minute. You were grabbing me, yelling, “No, no! You have to stop! This is Paris!” We were throwing plates and furniture out the fourth-floor window. It was insanity. Oh, man. It looked like a murder scene. Red wine on the ceiling. So many things were broken. There’s that saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s funny — in therapy I’ve learned that if I can’t fix something, I break it. It’s like a metaphor. I flood with anger and I don’t know what to do with it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You had the same reaction when you broke up with Camille Bidault Waddington.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah, I smashed up my apartment in New York.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You took pictures of the broken phone. Didn’t we print it in Purple?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. I remember having a fight on the phone with Camille and then smashing the phone with a baseball bat — and hearing her laughing on the other end while I was smashing it. “Die phone! Die phone!” And she was laughing, saying, like, “You idiot!” And I was screaming, “Aahhhhh!” Stomping on it until the sound went dead. But I’m much better now. I don’t do that kind of thing anymore. Or, I haven’t done it in a couple weeks, anyway.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you sometimes became violent when you were young.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. When I’d get into fights with my parents. That’s how I acted out my frustration. Maybe it’s why I smoked weed and drank all the time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your first love ended in disaster, then.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. The first time I kissed a girl I was nine. Someone forced us to kiss, to make out. So we French-kissed. I was traumatized. I wasn’t ready. When I was young I had girls chasing me, calling my house, following me home, leaving me notes in my locker. But I was so shy. What’s that saying? “If I only knew then what I know now.” Sometimes I wish I was 13 and I could start all over. I mean, it was insane — I was so shy I would never make a move, ever. I was a late bloomer.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why were you so shy?
TERRY RICHARDSON — It’s probably got something to do with my mother. Traumatized by fear of rejection, having so little confidence with women. I was always nervous around women, especially if I liked them. I was afraid to make an advance. Even if a girl said, “I love you,” I would think she probably didn’t, really. Maybe that’s why I started drinking a lot. When I drank I was less withdrawn. It was easier for me to make a move, to be more aggressive.

Terry Richardson at age 16 with Erik getting ready to go see Black Flag, 1981

OLIVIER ZAHM — When did you really start getting into the punk scene?
TERRY RICHARDSON — An English friend of my mom’s gave me the first albums by The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and an Irish punk band called The Lurkers. I remember getting really into these records. Then he took me to see Public Image play in LA. I was 13, or maybe 14. I guess it was ’79. Neighbors in our apartment building were punk rockers, so I started getting into it. I cut my hair and started going to shows. I was a skateboard guy hanging out in the punk scene — sort of easing my way out of the heavy metal scene.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So you went from heavy metal to punk. Is that why you cut your hair?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. If you had long hair at punk shows, you’d get beaten up, or people would pull it. At the very beginning of punk in Hollywood people had longer hair. They came out of the Iggy-Bowie-type glam rock thing and they had longer hair. The punk scene was militant. It was shaved heads and Mohawks. A lot of former football players, suburban guys with muscles who beat the shit out of people, became punks. It was just like football: you just got out there and started punching.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you were very shy with the girls. What about with the guys, were you the leader?
TERRY RICHARDSON — When I was in Hollywood I was part of the gang. I had friends, but I wasn’t the most popular guy in school. I became a leader later, when I moved to Ojai, California, to live with my mother.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you still in connection with your father?
TERRY RICHARDSON — In ’79 I went to New York City for the whole summer. It was the last summer I spent with my father. I was 14. I basically came and saw my dad and went to rock shows — Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, The Ramones, Iggy two or three times, AC/DC at the Gardens, high on mushrooms, Ted Nugent. I smoked weed and tried to keep it together. In New York we stayed at The Gramercy Park Hotel. My dad lived there for about four years. He had a room with two beds. We’d hang out and I’d ride my skateboard around the city — up to Central Park and back down to The Gramercy. I’d go to movies and concerts. I had tons of weed. I had friends in New York, and I’d go up to Woodstock to see my old friends. It was fun. I spent a lot of time on Eighth Street. I remember moments on my skateboard when I felt totally free. There was a skatepark in Queens I went to, and another in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I skated in parks and pools. I had my skateboard with me all the time. New York. LA. Everywhere.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did drugs start becoming a part of your life at that time?
TERRY RICHARDSON — The first time I took acid, I was like 13. We were hanging out on Hollywood Boulevard on a Friday night, skateboarding, playing pinball, tripping the fuck out. I remember being in the craziest situations on acid, on the street, like 13 or 14 years old. When I think back on it, it seems crazy to be so young on the streets of Hollywood, running wild. But it was always fun, no one got hurt, and I made it through.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, mushrooms, marijuana, acid. No cocaine?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Coke came a little later. I did a little bit when I was 14. What I really got into before coke was speed — Black Beauties, Pink Hearts, anything like Dexedrine. Take speed, drink, and smoke weed. And do Qualudes, which were great. They were like downers, meaning barbiturates. We did a lot of them because they were legal.

OLIVIER ZAHM — They’re anti-depressants, right?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. They were great. Everyone would get ’luded out and have sex. You’d be as loopy as a noodle. Qualudes were the party drug of the Seventies. Rora made them. Lemon 714s.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What about heroin?
TERRY RICHARDSON — No, no. I didn’t do any heroin back then. But I remember when I was 14 the girl I was fooling around with backstage drama class gave me a handful of pills that she stole from her parents. I took the whole handful of them and vomited everywhere. I had to have my stomach pumped at the hospital. I ate like 40 pills around noon and I didn’t even know what they were. It was a whole fucking drama. And then, of course, I said, “I have a stomach flu,” and somehow got out of it. When I did crazy things I’d charm my way out of them. I had a lot of close calls.

Terry Richardson starting the hair bleach process, Ojai,<br />California, 1983

OLIVIER ZAHM — What about your mother and step-father? Didn’t they think that what you were doing was dangerous?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Well, they let me do what I wanted to do. My step-dad was very tolerant. I’d say I was going to stay at a friend’s house, or I’d invite a friend over, and they’d say, “Well, as long as you’re with someone.” Then we’d sneak out and when I’d get back home they’d be asleep. There wasn’t much supervision, so I ran wild. It wasn’t, like, “You have a problem,” even though I was using everything I could get my hands on.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How was New York, compared to LA? Did New York seem more dangerous?
TERRY RICHARDSON — The thing is, in the Seventies LA was really seedy. Where I lived on Hollywood Boulevard was great for me, but it was also full of porn theaters, pimps, hustlers, gangs, and junkies. There was this place called the Gold Cup that was full of male teenage prostitutes. Everyone hung out and took drugs. New York was very similar. Areas of New York were just as rough and dirty, but there was this vitality, energy, and spirit. I still love New York City. It has such an amazing energy. But it was wilder then, and dirtier. There was garbage everywhere and rats and filth and glamour. Now it’s manicured. It’s clean. It’s shaved. The city physically looked different. It was much more rundown back then. The Fifties were very conservative. The Sixties were radical — because of the music and the movements and the war. The Seventies saw an infestation of drugs — cocaine and heroin. The Eighties were all Republican America and Reagan and “let’s clean up everything.” The Seventies were really like The Wild West. It was the period before the transformation. By the Eighties everything started getting cleaned up. The Seventies were dirty. New York is still an amazing city, but it’s clean. The vibe is different. The Seventies will be remembered as a time of excess and freedom and experimentation, of not worrying about consequences. The city was a dump, a mess, filthy — but great. There was camaraderie, spirit, and energy. Hollywood had that, too. It was seedy, but with palm trees and sunshine — and the lushness of Beverly Hills.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Feeling the energy of New York when I was a teenager created a kind of imprint on my mind, an urge for freedom.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah, to be out there cruising.

OLIVIER ZAHM — These days teenagers have mobile phones — their families can reach them anytime they want to.
TERRY RICHARDSON — In the Seventies, when your kids went out the door, you didn’t know what was going to happen, what was going on, or how to reach them. You were cut off. I’d have to go to a payphone to call home. If I went to a different neighborhood no one could find me. There was a freedom and a danger in that. Now when I ride my bicycle I feel that kind of energy. It’s like being a kid again.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is that why you have like so many bicycles?
TERRY RICHARDSON — I love bikes. I’m happiest when I’m riding. Cruising clears my head. It’s funny. I was just thinking that when I was young I never had a teacher — sexually, I mean. I never had an older brother or friend teach me about the birds and the bees, how to kiss, how to touch. No one told me that this is what you should or shouldn’t do. I had to figure it out myself and it took me a long time. One girl kind of seduced me. But she had all the power. She controlled the situation. Did you ever have anyone like that? What was your first experience like?

OLIVIER ZAHM — It was with an older woman, a friend of my parents. A philosophy teacher.
TERRY RICHARDSON — I remember touching a girl for the first time. I didn’t know what the hell to do. You’re like rubbing her all over and you put your finger in… How old were you?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Fourteen.
TERRY RICHARDSON — How old was she?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Somewhere between 32 and 35, I guess — twice my age. She took my hand.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Having an experience like that gives you a certain confidence.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Absolutely. After that, back in school, being with girls my age … well, you know…
TERRY RICHARDSON — You were experienced.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I was confident.
TERRY RICHARDSON — So how many times were you with her?

Terry Richardson with a guitar in Ojai, California, 1982

OLIVIER ZAHM — A lot. I saw her all summer. She was one of my father’s lovers.
TERRY RICHARDSON — You were sleeping with your father’s lover? That’s incredible!

OLIVIER ZAHM — She came to our vacation house. I was with her on the side. But I also learned from reading books and magazines, and from watching films.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. When I was 15 there was a cheerleader at Hollywood High, a Polish girl, this big, blonde girl. She was different, and a year older than me. I went out with her, but we never did anything. We’d just make out. I couldn’t figure out where we could go to have sex. Then one night we went to her house and had sex. No condom. It lasted maybe a minute or two. Afterwards I didn’t want to be with her — and she was a fucking blonde Hollywood High cheerleader! She was in love with me and I rejected her! In a weird way maybe I was traumatized. Then she said I was avoiding her. One day she said, “I gotta tell you something. I’m pregnant and I’m gonna keep the baby.”

TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. You can imagine? I’m 15. For a month I’m hysterical. Totally overwhelmed. After a month, she says to me, “Just kidding.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — She got her revenge.
TERRY RICHARDSON — That was it for me. No more women that year.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Not even in New York?
TERRY RICHARDSON — I had my friends, Greg and Alexis. We would hang out and skateboard and smoke weed and go to the park and play frisbee and softball and, you know, just run around.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And your father was still living in the hotel?
TERRY RICHARDSON – Yeah. He still shared a studio with this guy, Paul. Annie Liebowitz shot stuff there. It was at Fifth Avenue and 17th Street. I remember hanging out there all the time. We’d eat cheeseburgers and read magazines. He’d have castings and do jobs there. Models would come over and have parties all the time. My dad always took me to parties. He’d go out at night and drink and smoke weed. He had a really good friend who lived in Gramercy Park, a make-up artist who lived with a stylist, or something. We’d go over there every night for dinner and they’d all do coke. It was fun. But I wasn’t smoking weed with him, or anything. My dad was strict that way. But I was around all that stuff, hanging out with people and being treated like an adult. We’d go to Little Italy, or to Mr. Chow’s when he had a bit of money. We’d have breakfast on Third Avenue and Twentieth Street. I’d have bacon and eggs. Or we would just eat at The Gramercy, which was a beautiful hotel back then.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You always ate out?
TERRY RICHARDSON — There was no kitchen in his place. He only had a little hot plate to boil water. I’d put the kettle on and make him a cup of instant coffee, and I’d have some orange juice from a carton. He’d chain-smoke Newports. Every morning. It was a great routine.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So your father was more like a friend.
TERRY RICHARDSON — He was cool. We’d go for walks and we’d talk. When he wasn’t shooting we’d go to the movies. All through those years I went to movies every day with my dad. One day it might be a kung fu movie, with Bruce Lee, maybe, and we’d talk about it. Then we’d go to a foreign film. We saw just about all the Seventies movies. He loved them. He always wanted to make films. We saw The Godfather, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Cousin Cousine, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon in the gangster movie, Borsalino. All the films of Truffaut and Pasolini, like Pasolini’s religious films. Arabian Nights, The Decameron, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Salome — though I probably saw that later. Truffaut’s films played in New York all the time. But I also saw Enter The Dragon, Shaft, Fred Williamson’s movies. We’d go to the Paris Theater uptown. There was one on Eighth Street, and one on 23rd Street and Lex which always showed foreign, subtitled movies.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you have a conflictual relationship with your father?
TERRY RICHARDSON — I don’t think so. He’d have his dark moods, but he loved me. He wanted to be a good dad and provide and hang out with his son. It probably made him happy, because he was lonely, in a way. When we were together, he was so proud of me. It was great.

Terry Richardson making out at age 17 in Ojai, California, 1982

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was he with a woman then?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Not after Anjelica Huston. I don’t think he ever had another love after her. He hung out with girls, but Anjelica was his last love. He dated, but I don’t remember him having a girlfriend. I remember his photographer friends, like Art Kane, all had a lot of model girlfriends. But he never did. It’s weird to think about that now.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But he was so stylish, so rock and roll.
TERRY RICHARDSON — I know. But he never said, “This is my girlfriend.” Never. I don’t know if it was because of his breaking up with Anjelica, or if he had girls on the side. But he never had another girlfriend — for the rest of his life, 33 years or something. I suppose he had sex, but if he did have another girlfriend, he didn’t tell me about her.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was his career still going strong? Did he still have money?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah, he still had some. He lived at The Gramercy Park Hotel and still worked a bit. But at that point he wasn’t doing stuff that he was happy with. He was doing commercial stuff he didn’t really care about. I think he became disillusioned with it all. He just wasn’t inspired anymore.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And he wanted to be a filmmaker.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. He made a short film with the model Donna Mitchell, and a few other short films that I’ve never seen — I don’t know where they are. And he was working on a script. One that I did see is about a woman who wakes up and goes to see her lover, just like in the song, “A Day in the Life.” Really simple. He’d wanted to be a filmmaker even when he was with Anjelica. I think he saw the limitations of photography, even though fashion images like his were so powerful and dark and moody and beautiful and haunting. He still wanted to make films. He was really inspired by Antonioni’s L’aventura. Monica Vitti crying on the beach. That’s what his pictures were like — movie stills. He wanted to do that. He’d get fashion jobs and wouldn’t show up. Or he’d tell people to go fuck themselves. He’d walk off shoots. He was very difficult. After a while people would hire him just to see if he’d come and shoot even a few pictures, thinking that maybe he’d be in a good mood. People stopped working with him because he just didn’t care. His reputation suffered, and he still didn’t care. I understand that. If you’re not inspired, a photography shoot can be very depressing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The end of the Seventies marked the end of a dream.

OLIVIER ZAHM — At the beginning of the Eighties things started getting very commercialized.
TERRY RICHARDSON — The freedom was gone. Even in the magazines. In the Eighties they became big, glossy things. But there were these wild spirits who were let loose — they had all the freedom and they became revered and respected. People like Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus. Richard Avedon organized that show for Diane Arbus, after she died, at the Museum of Modern Art, or the Whitney. It was the first time photography was even put in a museum. You know, it was not taken seriously, it was not even an art form. But I know these fashion photographers — like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Chris von Wangenheim, Guy Bourdin, and my father — were revered in the industry. Their images were so powerful and strong that they still haunt people. They were radical at a time when people didn’t really take fashion photography seriously. They thought it was just a superfluous glamour job fashion photographers did to make money and to present the clothes. But these guys created intense personal images — this was their art. They were radical because they really pushed the medium.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think your father was getting more and more radical himself?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. In his best work, especially in that of the Sixties and early Seventies, he really fucking pushed it. He cared so much about a goddamn picture that he would put all the energy he had into it. It was so important to him that it be powerful and perfect. When he was with my mom, in the Sixties, he would put a piece of tape on the floor, and my mom would have to say to people, “You’re not allowed to cross this line. Bob will be working over there. You have to stay behind this line.” Then my dad would go into the bathroom, pull out his syringe, inject crystal meth, and walk out like Jesus Christ Superstar. Then he’d shoot a half a roll of film and disappear. For an ad, it would be one great picture and he’d just be, like, “It’s my fucking vision! I don’t have to listen to you! It’s my picture! Go fuck yourself. Get outta my way.” When he took speed he obviously became delusional. Throughout the Seventies he didn’t want to compromise, he didn’t want to illustrate someone else’s idea and do cheesy commercial ads. He just couldn’t. So, little by little, he became frustrated.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you witness all this?
TERRY RICHARDSON — A little bit. I didn’t really notice it in his work, but I knew it from his becoming more despondent. His reputation suffered, so people wouldn’t hire him. They wanted to hang out with the photographer. They wanted to hire a person that’s nice and professional and didn’t give them a hard time, you know? He told too many people to fuck off — not everyone, but a lot of people. And then he stopped working. In the summer of ’81, I turned 16. I got a job at the Hollywood Bowl, where they held classical concerts. I went to punk shows, skateboarded … but I didn’t see my father for some reason. There was some sort of disconnection from my routine of going to see him.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s go back to Hollywood and life with your mother.
TERRY RICHARDSON — My mom was hard to deal with. All of a sudden she told me we were going to move up to Ojai, a little town near Santa Barbara in Ventura County, about 180 miles from Hollywood. Some friends of hers from Woodstock lived there. I was so fucking angry. She left my stepfather and moved into a rented house up there. I had to go with her. I was supposed to go live at my friend Scott’s, with him and his mom. I didn’t want to leave Hollywood. It’s a drag when you’re in the middle of fucking high school, you’ve been in Hollywood for six or seven years, and then you have to go to a new high school in some little town. I worked all summer and hung out with my step-dad, and then at the end of the summer he said, “You gotta go up and live with your mom.” But I had a great summer. I went to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and the Starwood and saw bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, X, Adolescence, and Fear. The punk scene was thriving. You really did feel part of a subculture. That was the great thing about it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did it feel like a community?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah, a defiant community, one that scared people. When you walked down the street with a fucking iron cross and purple hair people freaked out. They crossed the street. Everybody hated it — even the cops. They’d never seen kids in suburban California looking so fucking weird. [Laughs] Shaved heads, leather, chains, and flannels — similar to how I dress now. But a lot of that punk look was actually clean-cut: t-shirt, jeans, and boots or Converse sneakers. It was almost all-American preppy, with a crew-cut. A lot of those kids were very healthy looking. The Valley and beach kids were really fit, tanned, and slim. The Hollywood kids were druggie junkies. But you’d go listen to these bands and there’d be slam dancing and it was great. But then I left. I had to go live with my mom and go to a new school.

Terry Richardson at age 18, 1983

OLIVIER ZAHM — She still lives there, right?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. She says, “I wanna live somewhere beautiful. I wanna live in the country. I wanna enjoy my life. I don’t wanna live in the city. There’s nothing there for me.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — She wanted to live surrounded by nature. I can understand that.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. It made sense. But for my mom to leave my step-dad was fucking radical. But she did it. She fucking did it. She rented the goddamn little house she still lives in today. I remember going up there to visit before I finally moved up there. My step-dad took me. I started punching holes in the walls, screaming, “I don’t wanna be here!” I was a punk. Then the next-door neighbor kid came over. His name was Erik and he was a year younger than me. He said, like, “You wanna get high?” So we got high and rode skateboards. He ended up a punk like me. I shaved his head. Everyone at school was, like, “Wow!” I became the most famous kid in school. Everybody was in awe of me because I was from Hollywood. I became the star of the school.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You were, what, 16 at this point?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. Everyone was curious — all the girls, too. I started cutting kids’ hair, doing Mohawks. Starting a punk scene. We started a band and I started having crazy sex and group sex — did all the things I had never done before. All of a sudden it came to me. I had girlfriends who’d stay in bed and fuck all day, as many times as we could fuck, for hours — outside, in cars, in the woods, at school. You know what I mean? All of a sudden I just blossomed.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Out in the countryside.
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah, in this little town. And there was coke, ecstasy, booze, weed, and every fucking kind of pill. We went to punk shows in Hollywood and Santa Barbara and saw Black Flag, The Misfits, The Dead Kennedys, and Bad Brains. There was a music scene called Nardcore — bands like Aggression, Ill Repute, and Dr. No. We called our band SSA. I was the big fish in the little pond. I was still angry and smashing up things. But I had so much fun. I got into more trouble there than I did in Hollywood, because all you can do in a small town in America is drink and have sex. [Laughs] There’s nothing to do! At night it’s deserted. There was only one stoplight in the town!

TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. Because of which I have this SSA tattoo. Our band name was an acronym for Signal Street Alcoholics, because Erik and I lived on Signal Street. Now there are a few more stoplights. But it was so much fun. We got high all the time, met girls, and had a school gang of three, then four, then five of us. Then there were ten, then 20 of us. Then there was this whole crew — a whole punk scene started up. It was incredible. We’d have parties and everyone would hang out at my house after school. There’d be 30 kids all on the porch, in the bedroom, in the living room, smoking and drinking. Parties every night, blasting punk rock music. With my mom there, too. It was like the ultimate suburban California dream: you’re in high school, your crazy mother is freaking out, yelling and screaming, and you’re punching holes in the wall.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you have a car?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Not when I was 16. But there was always someone with a van or a car, and we’d cruise around. I started to feel kind of free, you know? Going to see bands, playing the bass, jamming, running around.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have any recordings of the music you made back then?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah, I have some cassettes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I know you were close with your grandmother. Was she another mother for you?
TERRY RICHARDSON — That’s a complicated story. My grandmother moved up to Ventura, this little beach town, to be near my mom. My mom and I would go visit her, and my mom would be screaming at her. My mom couldn’t stand her mom. And my grandma would say, like, “Why are you mad at me? I’m just trying to help you. I’m here for you. I love you!” My mom couldn’t stand her mother, who’d given up her retirement in Florida to come look after my mom and me. But my mom rejected her, and my mom was always crying because they would fight so much. She would throw these tantrums. When she got angry she was like an animal, screaming, yelling, cursing, “You fucking bitch. Ahhhh fucking God!” She’d freak out at supermarkets, at restaurants, screaming like an animal. I’d be so embarrassed.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How far away was your grandmother’s place?
TERRY RICHARDSON — About 15 miles, maybe half an hour by car. But my grandma would have to take the bus. So she bought me a car. I was 16-and-a-half, or maybe just turning 17. I still had another year left of high school. I got a Seventies Volvo. Then one night at a party, wasted on downers, and after drinking about 12 beers, this chick said to me, “Let’s go to my house!” But she wouldn’t get in my car with me. She said, “I’m not getting in. Give me the keys. Let me drive!” And I was like, “Fuck no, I can drive!” We were in the sticks, outside of Ojai, up a mountain. I left alone. Just started driving. I was doing about 75 miles an hour and I nodded out and hit a power line. No seatbelt, naturally. I ripped my whole forehead open.

A self-portrait of Terry Richardson at age 18 with Marion, 1983

OLIVIER ZAHM — You could have died
TERRY RICHARDSON — It was pitch black. There was no one around. I’d wrapped the car around the pole. I was in shock, but managed to get out of the car and walk away. Luckily, I didn’t go through the windshield. I hit the steering wheel, which had jutted out during the crash, with the hardest part of my forehead, the part you headbutt someone with. I didn’t hit my nose or teeth. I still have a scar between my eyes, right through my eyebrow. The muscle ripped and the skin on my forehead peeled open. I managed to walk to a friend’s house and his parents took me to the hospital.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And the girl?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Thank God she didn’t get in the car with me. The cops came to the hospital and were about to arrest me. They asked me, “Were you drinking?” Of course I said I hadn’t been. They said, “Count backwards from a hundred.” I’d left the scene of an accident and I was intoxicated. The police were about to take me to jail. Lucky, my friend’s mom’s boyfriend’s cousin was there. He was a cop, and he said, “Look, the kid’s face is ruined. Don’t arrest him. He doesn’t need to go to jail. Give him a break. He’ll be scarred for life. I think he’s learned his lesson.” So they didn’t arrest me or charge me with DWI. So, they stitched up the muscle and sewed up my forehead and let me go. I ended up spending the night at my friend’s house. The next day his mom and step-dad brought me home. My head was swollen up like a fucking cantaloupe. My mom had been really worried and started yelling at me, throwing things, and screaming, “You didn’t come home!” And I had this serious fucking headache.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you fall in love during that time? Or did you just go from one girl to another?
TERRY RICHARDSON — I was with a lot of different girls. I’d date someone for a month or two. I also had these two girls who’d come over for a three-way. But when I was 16, the drummer of the band I was in was sent to boarding school in England. He had a girlfriend named Marion, a very sexually active, very provocative, very beautiful girl.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What was the drummer’s name?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Reb. His girlfriend was this beautiful blonde with big tits — just so fucking hot. We started seeing each other, fooling around, having really intense sex, fucking for hours, doing everything — regular, anal, fucking in cars, in motel rooms. I fell completely in love with her.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was she your first real love, then?
TERRY RICHARDSON — It was sex and emotion. Sexual emotion — when your whole body is electric. Plus, she lived right up the street from me, just up the hill.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was she the same age as you?
TERRY RICHARDSON — A year younger. Everyone was after her. She was very promiscuous. But once we started seeing each other we fell completely in love. But things were kind of fishy. She’d go to LA and sleep with men for money. She’d go see a hairdresser in town and come back with a bag of coke and, like, a thousand dollars. She was 15 and turning tricks. I remember a limo picking her up and bringing her back a few days later. I was kind of OK with it. We had drugs and money. And she was mine, so it didn’t matter. But when I think back, it was weird to have a girlfriend who was such a nymphomaniac. She loved fucking — and all the attention she got from men.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was she in love with you?
TERRY RICHARDSON –  Yeah, totally. But there was always something going on — and so many men were after her.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you jealous?
TERRY RICHARDSON — Yeah. I’d get really jealous, and then we’d have even more intense sex. I was also drinking and getting high, and fooling around with little punk rock girls I’d hang out with and have sex with.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Secretly?
TERRY RICHARDSON — I don’t think she knew. I didn’t say anything. This went on for four, five, maybe six really intense months. Then my friend — the drummer of my band — returned and wanted his girlfriend back.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Oh, shit!
TERRY RICHARDSON  — Yeah. But I kept fooling around with her, which was crazy. I was in love with her. She was mine. But he wasn’t giving her up. He started sleeping with her on the side, while I was still with her. He was seeing other girls, but still wanted her. It was the most intense kind of sexual jealousy imaginable. Jealousy is a horribly intense and violent emotion — painful and stressful. She loved to have sex, loved men’s attention, and loved to make men jealous.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you were all so young.
TERRY RICHARDSON — And so free to experiment. I did things with her I’d never done with anyone else. When you really love someone the sex is so intense. You come at the same time. It’s physical and violent and powerful. It was all that stuff: the teenage crush, the other guy coming back, him and the girl starting to fool around, and him keeping up his pursuit of her. I was obsessed. Totally losing my mind. Hysterical. Smashing things. Always upset.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did it all turn out?
TERRY RICHARDSON — One afternoon Marion called and said, “Terry, I really want to see you. Come up and see me, right now.” She was the kind of girl who could make you run. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience. I was so excited I fucking ran. I couldn’t get up there fast enough. And when you’re 16, you can really run, right? I mean, I ran right up that fucking hill! [Laughs] Maybe I hadn’t seen in her a few days. I’m thinking, “It’s gonna happen!” I opened the door of her house, and there’s the drummer, fucking her from behind. They both look up at me and say, “Hi, Terry!” And he’s smiling, like he’s laughing at me. I just fucking lost it. I ran back down the hill crying and screaming. It was the most traumatic and sadistic thing a woman ever did to me. It fucked me up for a long time. Just smashed me to pieces.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Wow. What happened to the band?
TERRY RICHARDSON — The drummer and I kept on playing together in it. But that’s another story.

[To be continued]

[Table of contents]

S/S 2010 issue 13

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS





purple NAKED

purple LOVE

purple BEAUTY


purple TRAVEL

purple Paris

purple NIGHT


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