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Photograph by Michael Goldberg

Enjoy Canada: 'Jez' is among Goldberg's older, and more smiley, subjects.

Addicted to Joys

Rock writer Michael Goldberg turns his eye to new challenges

By Gretchen Giles

"Most of the photographs I've taken have been of rock stars," says Michael Goldberg with complete modesty. Seated in the back of Petaluma's Deaf Dog coffee shop on a recent winter morning, Goldberg is frequently hailed by the cafe's regulars, the spiked and tattooed out-of-school crowd who could perhaps themselves be mistaken for rock stars. "Hey man," says a sweet-faced youth of about 20, approaching the table. "Do you know Photoshop?" Goldberg smiles patiently and nods yes. "Well, could you, um, Photoshop out that cigarette I'm holding? My mom comes in here a lot."

"Let's just call it a prop," Goldberg laughs.

Yet another reason not to smoke: the young man's portrait is one of 20 photographs that Goldberg is exhibiting through mid-March at Deaf Dog under the title "Bohemian Petaluma." But he probably needn't worry about Goldberg's abilities with Photoshop. After all, Goldberg has been at the cutting edge of technology since this new smoker was beginning fourth grade.

A senior writer and editor for Rolling Stone magazine for a decade, Goldberg walked away from print journalism in 1994, bankrolling himself for a $5,000 chance at a new opportunity then more laboriously known as the World Wide Web. Appropriating a room in his San Francisco home as an office, Goldberg used his $5k to start one of the first, and ultimately one of the most influential, music magazines ever to appear on the net: Addicted to Noise. What's more, unlike any other Internet publication you might be able to name, ATN made money. Lots of it.

"At one point, I think we had 65 people on our editorial staff," Goldberg, 51, remembers. "I had at least 10 editors just for the niche genres like hip-hop, folk and jazz music."

A leader in streaming audio and video over the Internet, ATN also introduced a 24-hour rock-music news channel that was syndicated to hundreds of other sites and championed indie artists. Tall, thin and unassuming when seated over a cup of herb tea and plain toasted bagel, Goldberg was hailed as an "Internet visionary" in 1996 by Newsweek. In addition to editing ATN and acting as senior vice president on its business side, Goldberg continued to hone his love of photography, shooting stills and videos of such artists as Patti Smith, Neil Young, Sleater-Kinney and Ani DiFranco. More recently, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Jolie Holland used one of Goldberg's portraits of her as the cover for her single "Sasha."

Of course, all the usual dotcom unraveling happened, with ATN being sold to a larger company which itself was sold to another, all of which were eventually subsumed by MTV. Goldberg got out just after the bubble burst in the spring of 2000. "It was a frantic time of information overload," he says, describing himself as a former Blackberry-wielding type who was on the cell phone from the minute he backed out of the driveway each morning. "While it was happening, it was totally great."

But then it wasn't happening anymore, and Goldberg and his wife, Leslie, impulsively moved to the town of Sonoma, a place she'd never even been to and he'd only visited twice.

Goldberg discovered the funky environs of Deaf Dog while waiting each Saturday morning for Leslie to finish a morning class at the SRJC Petaluma campus. Taking a photography class at the campus himself, he found himself unable to complete an assignment, shooting desultory pictures of antiques and hating the results. He slowly realized that the patrons who frequent Deaf Dog interested him hugely.

"A lot of the people I photograph remind me of myself and my friends when we were in our teens and in college," Goldberg says. "I think that they are doing their best to be themselves, to be individuals, to not conform to the straight world. In a way, that's my romantic vision of what bohemian Petaluma is." He began approaching other customers and asking them to pose for him.

The resulting shots offer a slice of late-adolescent life in western Petaluma, gorgeous brooding youth with something darker in their eyes. "I think that there's a lot of angst--not just when one is young--throughout people's lives, and that's one of the things I'm drawn to," Goldberg explains softly. "It's not that I don't like pictures of people smiling, I'm just trying to show something real."


'Bohemian Petaluma' exhibits Jan. 15-March 15 at Deaf Dog Coffee. A reception is slated for Saturday, Jan. 15, from 6pm to 8pm. Free. 134 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.762.3656.

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From the January 12-18, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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