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Rolling Stone, Covering Pop Culture

June 04, 1998|CATHY CURTIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five days after Rolling Stone magazine moved from San Francisco to New York, somebody walked into editor Jann Wenner's office and announced, "Elvis is dead." Scrounging desperately for a cover photo, the staff found an old poster of the fresh-faced young crooner wearing an open shirt and a crooked smile. The $1 issue was the magazine's all-time top seller.

"Rolling Stone: The Complete Covers" (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 273 pages, $39.95) is a boomer's dream: page after page of photos of the musicians, actors, comedians, politicians and outlaws (Patty Hearst was on the Oct. 23, 1975, cover) who have defined pop culture since the magazine began publishing in 1967.

Only 20 years old when she became a staff photographer in 1970, Annie Leibovitz would contribute such memorable cover shots as Fleetwood Mac members posed, with maximum innuendo, on an unmade bed (March 24, 1977) and Bette Midler vamping on a bed of roses (Dec. 13, 1979). Not to mention a nude John Lennon curled up against Yoko Ono, taken just hours before his murder.

While photos are the main event, excerpts from some of the stories bring back the irresistible cocktail of music and mayhem that fueled so many teenage fantasies.

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Did you hear the one about the wedding of an avant-garde theater director and a fishmonger? She walks down the aisle accompanied by kids dressed like fish. The couple decide to live separately because she can't stand the sight of men's underwear--and she and the fish-children sob through the ceremony.

Lois Smith Brady, the New York Times "Vows" columnist, tells this story in her introduction to "I do" (Picture This Publications, 96 pages, $14.95), a little pink book of unusual nuptial glimpses by famous and obscure photographers that range over several continents, decades, age brackets and moods.

For sheer variety, there's Elliot Erwin's shot of nudists taking their vows and Thomas Hospker's photo of a beaming Soviet couple sitting under a portrait of Lenin.

Except for the famous (radiant Jackie and John Kennedy posing in a field, Dustin Hoffman and bride fleeing their wedding in the final moments of "The Graduate"), the people in the pictures are anonymous. Which may be just as well for the bride swathed in hot pink with a black bow perched on her head.

But the lack of dates and locations seems pointless when the human mysteries are so much greater. You could write a short story based on Jean Gaumy's photo of a couple and their bedraggled wedding party walking down a suburban road on a rainy day, the newlyweds' faces eerily erased by the bride's wind-whipped veil.

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In 1945, the authors of a book on modern housing chided couples who dreamed of owning a quaint little Cape Cod cottage. They were more likely to get "either a cheap imitation or an outrageously expensive fake, and in the end, the whole thing is given away by the late model Buick at the front door . . . or the kitchen ventilating fan, or a television aerial."

As Lesley Jackson writes in "Contemporary: Architecture and Interiors of the 1950s" (Phaidon Press, 240 pages, $34.95), the lure of the newfangled kitchen had a big role in convincing people to choose a truly contemporary house. Building on Modernist innovations of the '30s--free-flowing interior spaces, more windows, man-made building materials--the '50s would usher in a new emphasis on texture, color and pattern.

Jackson, curator of decorative arts at Manchester City Art Galleries in England, writes with authority and grace about a key moment in home design. Rather than giggling about '50s kitsch, she takes the high road: leading architects and product designers, and their influence on everyday life.

More than 200 photos of homes, public buildings, furnishings and shelter magazine ads make the era come alive. Particularly scrumptious is a chapter of vivid, rhythmically patterned textiles.

Southern California was a major player, and the book devotes ample space to the airy postwar Case Study Houses. A photo of a Los Angeles living room with a carefully plotted design of square vinyl cushions in sky-and-sunshine colors sums up the vision of an era in love with a stylized notion of casual living.

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Just about everyone has heard of Christo, the artist who wraps buildings. But there are many others who transform the landscape for long or short periods of time with subtle, daring or just plain lovely work.

In "Earthworks and Beyond" (Abbeville Press, 216 pages, $35 paperback), John Beardsley writes in a clear, jargon-free way about such artists as Andy Goldsworthy, whose work, pictured on the cover, is a rock completely covered with yellow elm leaves.

Some artists help create extraordinary moments (such as Walter DeMaria's "Lightning Field" in New Mexico--a group of steel poles set up to attract theatrical lightning displays), while others quietly reshape a plot of land with an eye toward practical use as well as unusual metaphors.

Maya Lin, architect of the Vietnam Memorial, carved out a series of low grassy mounds at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor ("Wave Field") that look like waves from a distance but become private little shelters for students who want to curl up with a book.

* Cathy Curtis reviews art and photography books every four weeks.

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