I was lucky that Sharon Steele, a photographer friend of mine, invited to me a show in Vancouver by the legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen. She’s a music photographer herself so she had the insider knowledge about the show.
Bob Gruen is very important to me. I grew up in a very boring suburb. And when I say boring I really mean it. It was surrounded on one side by farms, on 2 sides by a big thick forest with bears, and on the 4th side by a canyon known for cougars and other wildlife. It was great in many ways but for obvious reasons parents didn’t really want us to play in the forest on our own. And there wasn’t anything else around! Not even a movie theatre. Absolutely zip. We had to “make our own fun” which for me meant getting up in the night doing downstairs and secretly watching late night movies. I saw all the Cormans, all the Hammer Horrors, all the groovy biker movies, all the hardboiled film noir…
I guess I got used to hanging out with my imagination, which was pretty good.
Anyway, one time I was heading out on vacation with my parents and I went into a store to buy a comic book. It was a long car journey so I needed something meaty to kill the time in between fighting with my brother. But the selection was lame. Suddenly my eyes slid past Archie and Jughead, and Spiderman (yawn) to something that wasn’t exactly a comic book. It was called Creem; I picked it up. It had a lot of photos in it of people who looked frankly – by the standards of the time and place I was in – outrageous. There were other magazines on the stand – Hit Parader, and one or two others. Yes, I blew ALL the allowance I’d saved up for the trip and bought 3 magazines. I read and reread those zines all the way from suburban Vancouver to Peachland to Lake Shushwap to Merritt and all the campsites in between. When I got home I took the photos I liked best and put them on my bedroom wall (mother = horrified). Did I actually understand those articles by Lester Bangs or Robert Christgau? No, not at all. I was in elementary school! But I read a lot in general and it wasn’t any more bizarre than Brave New World, or Treasure Island which was my favourite book (and still is!).
But it wasn’t the words that made an impression. It was the photos. They showed me hard evidence of a world where you didn’t have to be lame and boring. You could in fact be edgy and fabulous. And wear whatever you liked even if it was a gender-bending freakshow. And you could have your hair any-which-way. And you could be in places like New York or London or Hollywood, and not the suburbs! And you could go there and not have to visit relatives!
And the name that appeared beside the best of the photos, the ones I was so impressed by, was almost always the name “Bob Gruen.” How could I ever forget that name? He did the mindblowing (at the time! my brother and I bowed down before it!) cover of Kiss Dressed to Kill! His pics of the Clash are the greatest ever taken of that magnificent band.
So, back to the show; I had a little chat with Gruen, who is lovely, a perfect gent (which is obvs why so many artists gave him the time to do his great shots!) , and bought myself a copy of his superb book New York Dolls. Now that’s another thing. By the time I found out about the New York Dolls they’d long been split up, but oh my god their music! And their style! I just fell for them, and am still totally fallen. I listen to them all the time (and saw them finally, many years later when they reformed, in London). What a great, GREAT band. Glam fashion style and proper Chuck Berry rock music. Smart lyrics, killer licks. And Gruen, again, took the best photos of the Dolls that exist.
And I still just love rock photography. Influenced by these mags, which I read right through my teens, I also took quite a lot of music photos, never as good as Bob’s or Sharon’s but good enough for my portfolio to get me into film school.
So thank you again Bob, for all the great pictures! Long make you snap that shutter!
- according to Wikipedia there’s going to be documentary about the history of Creem. Hope this happens.