On the Road with Gerry Beckley

By Kate Appleton
January 16, 2007
A founding member of the rock band America leads us through photographs from his View From the Hotel series.

Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell teamed up to form America in 1970, when they were fresh out of high school, and they have been touring ever since. The band has kept to a grueling schedule of about 100 shows annually, performing hits such as "A Horse With No Name" and "Ventura Highway" for crowds from San Diego to Sydney.

About 10 years ago, Beckley began passing the time by documenting the view from his hotel windows. "Everybody has their own routines when they get on the road to try and find some normalcy or regimen," says Beckley, who wanted to create "a dialogue of what it's like to continually live on the road."

He imposes strict rules on how to compose the shots, allowing only a minimal amount of zooming or panning. He won't change his hotel room, but will sometimes shoot 20 or 30 versions of a view. Over time, certain motifs have emerged: parking lots, upclose buildings or walls, panoramic cityscapes, and picture-perfect shots of sunsets and iconic landmarks. In his self-portraits, the camera captures Beckley's reflection in a window.

Beckley e-mails the photos to a close group of friends and posts them in chronological order on his website, gerrybeckley.com, where they form a sort of trip diary. "It's pretty astounding sometimes to just look at where you've been in, say, one given week," says Beckley.

America spent much of 2006 based in SoHo, where they recorded tracks for their double album Here & Now, a compilation of new and live songs released on January 16. James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), and Ryan Adams are among the guest artists.

A simple photography book--perhaps even of postcards--is now on Beckley's mind. He continues to tour and to add to his quirky collection. While some fans may prefer his classic travel-inspiring shots, Beckley says he strives for a mix. "The least appealing subject matter can sometimes turn into a pretty interesting shot," he says.

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Plan a 'Night at the Museum'

In the box-office smash, a late-night security guard (Ben Stiller) finds himself with some unexpected company when roaring lions, a T. rex, and other creatures from the American Museum of Natural History spring to life. Now you can get your own after-hours glimpse. The New York City museum, which has been flooded with requests, relaunched its sleepover program over the weekend. Hundreds camped out under the iconic 94-foot-long blue whale, roamed the marble halls on flashlight tours, and caught screenings of the adventure film Dolphins and the space show Cosmic Collisions. Future hopefuls will have to be patient--the sleepovers are so popular that they're already sold out through June (amnh.org, 212/769-5100; ages 8-12, $79). The movie has created a surge of interest at museums nationwide. In Chicago lately, the Field Museum has been taking more than 50 calls per day for its Dozin' With Dinos overnight program, complete with storytellers and hands-on workshops (fieldmuseum.org, 312/665-7400; ages 6-12, $47). Kids can make plaster casts of dinosaur fossils and meet their modern-day relatives--reptiles such as snakes and tortoises--while spending the night at Camp Dino at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Butterfly Dreams and Insect Quest are among other camp offerings (nhm.org, 213/763-3535; ages 5 and up, $43). To sleep under the stars, head to the St. Louis Science Center, where camp-ins take place under the planetarium's starry dome. In between the Omnimax movie screening and science demos, there's free time for roaming the DNA Zone or visiting dinosaurs in the ecology and environmental gallery (slsc.org, 800/456-7572, $43 for the planetarium; $38 for the main building; all ages). Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry is hosting a special slumber party on February 16, during which the IMAX version of Night at the Museum will debut (mosi.org, 813/987-6000; $34, all ages). Wherever you stay, be sure to BYOSB--bring your own sleeping bag! Related Stories:   Splurges: Spoil the Kids a Little   Top Travel-Inspiring Movies

Transcript: On the Road with Gerry Beckley

New York City, N.Y. "I really love downtown in New York and try to stay there whenever I can. We've recently completed a new album called Here & Now, and we're based in Soho. I love this skyline of these water towers, and this village environment that still exist down there. Every time of day this looks different. What's happening in this particular evening Soho shot is the dusk, and the bronze-gold is the reflection of the sunset behind me. I took dozens of these to get this particular final moment, when I can get the most gold on those windows, because it goes a bit lower and all the gold disappears, and you're basically left with a silhouette. There's something tranquil about this, and I remember coming back in the evenings from the studio and thinking, 'You know what? I've got a couple of invitations to go here and there, but I think I'm just going to have some room service and put my feet up.'" Quito, Ecuador "Quito is about 10,000 feet up in the Andes, and it's a really remarkable city. We were there April of this year, and obviously very changeable weather. One of my favorite moments is this contrast of storm and bright sun. It's just very fleeting. I remember being up there, and we would go for walks and stuff, but came back, not wanting to get trapped in what was obviously going to be a torrential downpour. This particular shot was just a moment. Although it's a nice shot of the hillside, it's really dictated by this bizarre weather condition." Oshkosh, Wis. "Oshkosh is a festival that we play along the water, and we've done it twice in the last five years or so. I really got fortunate here. To a certain extent you can't set this stuff up. You're really at the disposal of what's down there, but this just made a really great shot to me, and it was a matter of waiting for that sun to come out from the clouds." North Haven, Conn. "I'm on the first floor, or maybe the second floor, and there are lines and a very boring collection of cars or rent-a-cars. That engine that's in this picture is the back engine, and there was an engine in the front. Within another half second, that whole thing is gone out of view. So from the time I heard the rumble, to powering the camera up, to framing, to grabbing the last engine as it slipped out of view, at about 60 to 70 miles an hour. I was just very lucky." Sao Paulo, Brazil "Sao Paulo is what I call a Simpsons sky. It's one of these receding cloud-filled skies, like in the cartoon series, The Simpsons. Sao Paulo is one of the largest cities in the world, and it just goes on forever. We were at a brand-new high-rise hotel that was, as you can see from this shot, somewhat more on the outskirts, out near towards the airport. So I am looking back at one of the high-rise sections of the city. And, so, by being removed, there's a long expanse of suburb before you see this whole collection of high-rises again in the distance." Buffalo, N.Y. "Because of the reflective nature of that building, it was also a self-portrait. You can kind of see where I'm at. I'm in this older brick building across the way, and the reflection, even thought it's pretty severely warped, shows you the false front on my hotel building, the extended roof being held up by the beam, and I'm on the top floor, you can see me with the window up." San Diego, Calif. "It's a fantastic place. We actually hold the record for, I think, 14 consecutive years we've played and sold out this venue. I happened to look down and realize that there was not one person on the seats, and if I framed this right I can fill the entire window with the seats. So that was the concept, and I just lined it up as smoothly as I could, and got a pretty unique shot." Westbury, N.Y. "The Westbury shot is just one of those weird things where you look out and it's of a building across the way with some kind of irregular evergreens along the bottom. You couldn't have scripted it. You don't ever like things to be exactly too perfectly balanced and stuff. And what I have found is very often I'll shoot something like this, and I'll frame it the first time. And then I'll go and think, 'Hmmm, let me try a few other ways,' and very often I'll come back and realize that I got it with the first shot." Canberra, Australia "Australia is one of our favorite places to tour. Canberra--I don't know a lot about it. It's a business center, but in this particular hotel, I was looking inside. This was a fitness center. All of a sudden, this guy came in his Speedo, and I thought 'Oh, this might be good.' He got his goggles out and everything. I ended up taking a dozen shots, and had to be a little bit cautious, because I don't like to be spying on people. I ended up going with this shot here with the ripples where it looks like he just stuck his toe in to test the water, and he's about to head in for his swim. I think that it shows that, although the concept is 'view from my hotel window,' how widely that can take you. It isn't just 'well, here's what's out the window.' Sometimes, without going nuts, you can tell a little bit more of a story."