Michele Benson’s camera has captured the greats at the Catalyst for three decades
October 13, 2005 / By Wallace Baine
Tina Turner’s legs. In the annals of famous American body parts, they have to rank right up there with Bette Davis’ eyes, Sandy Koufax’s arm and Bob Dylan’s hair.
Step into the Catalyst in downtown Santa Cruz, walk a few paces straight ahead and look to the top of the stairs leading up to the game room. There she is, the magnificent Miss Tina and those iconic legs, in a life-size photo that seems to be drawn directly from the Baby Boomer collective unconscious.
It’s a bit of surprise then to learn that this is essentially a local photo, shot right here at the Catalyst by Santa Cruz photographer Michele Benson.
The Catalyst is marking its 30th year bringing live music to Santa Cruz and Benson’s been there the whole time snapping photos of some of the greats, near-greats and not-so-greats.
Now, her photos grace the walls of the Catalyst, making it a kind of local rock-music museum. A shot of blues guitar god Stevie Ray Vaughan hangs almost exactly in the spot where it was taken.
"Now, her photos grace the walls of the Catalyst, making it a kind of local rock-music museum. A shot of blues guitar god Stevie Ray Vaughan hangs almost exactly in the spot where it was taken."
Other shots include Patti Smith, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison and Iggy Pop, clutching what is obviously his favorite body part. There’s a shot of Keanu Reeves, on stage with a guitar, back in the days he was a movie star slumming with his own band. Locals will recognize the Santa Cruz band Snail in its heyday featuring Bob O’Neill, Ken Kraft and Larry Hosford.
There’s a shot of Courtney Love taken just last year. “The media is pretty brutal to her,” said Benson, a longtime staff photographer for the Good Times, “but the photo I got of her is really very tender and sweet. She’s standing back from the microphone, closing her eyes, holding a long-stem rose. She’s very beautiful and soft.”
The photos are just a small sample of the thousands of photos Benson has taken over the years: “I’m drowning looking at the past right now. But I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
The Catalyst photos are part of a project that Benson hopes will be completed some time next year. She’s collecting many of her best shots, combining them with interviews with Catalyst staff and memorabilia in a book looking back at 30 years at the Cat. She’s also planning on including photos of her other passion, sacred sites of the world. Her working title of the book is “From Rock Stars to Stone Circles.”
She’s also working on a film project about the history of the Catalyst that she hopes will be ready to submit to the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. All of these projects are bringing her back to the file cabinets filled with negatives she’s shot at the Catalyst since the 1970s.
“Rather than me just having them all over the house,” she said. “The world’s going to see them.”