To be honest, I never thought I'd be standing in legendary photographer Bob Gruen's teenage bedroom. The unkempt bed covered by a Led Zeppelin blanket, the shelves of rock memorabilia, the walls plastered with photos and cutout articles from vintage rock magazines like Creem and Rock Scene… it is a room just like any other music fanatic's room. It looks just like mine once did, when as a kid I hungered for anything and everything even slightly related to decadent, hedonistic rock and roll.
Okay, so in all fairness it is a recreation of his old bedroom from the '70s or '80s, part of Gruen's current “Rockers” exhibit at Morrison Hotel Gallery in Hollywood. Nonetheless, it is a striking installation that infuses his photographs with youthful urgency and, as the viewer, makes you feel like you were right there holding your breath as his shutter clicked.
Recreation of Bob Gruen's teenage bedroom. Photograph by Timothy Norris. Click on image for entire slideshow.
Morrison Hotel's “Rockers” opened on Saturday October 11th and marked Gruen's first L.A. solo exhibit, featuring iconic rare images of the New York Dolls, Kiss, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin, Deborah Harry, Green Day, Courtney Love, Yoko Ono, Joan Jett and more. The show was packed and I barely had enough room to snag a glass of free wine, though I did manage to bump into Rodney “On the Rock” Bingenheimer who said about the exhibit, “It's fantastic. I've known Bob Gruen for years. He and the New York Dolls actually filmed in my club. A lot of memories.”
Henry Diltz, another renowned photographer and one of the partners who owns Morrison Hotel, said of the opening, “It's fun for me. We had a big show of Bob Gruen's in New York at CBGBs so we're glad to bring it out here.”
L.A. Weekly caught up with Bob Gruen himself to talk about the exhibit, his new book of New York Dolls photographs, partying until dawn with Joe Strummer, and why Yoko Ono does in fact have a sense of humor.
L.A. Weekly: This is your first solo exhibit in L.A. Why now?
Bob Gruen: Well, it was a matter of finding the right gallery at the right time. Also, I have a new book out now, New York Dolls Photographs by Bob Gruen. It just came out so I wanted to do a signing out here in L.A. and [this show] was a good way to call attention to it.
L.A. Weekly: Your days with the New York Dolls must have been some crazy times.
Bob Gruen: Oh yeah. All of them [laughs]. About half the Dolls pictures in the exhibit were taken in L.A. There's one I particularly like of Johnny Thunders in front of Hollywood High School, looking like he's waiting for the girls to get out.
L.A. Weekly: Did they ever try and drag you into any of their shenanigans?
Bob Gruen: Oh, they didn't have to drag me. I ran willingly [laughs]. Although I didn't really dress like them, I learned a lot about how to dress from the New York Dolls. How to be a little stylish, a little brighter. I think the book is actually going to become a fashion bible because it really does show a lot of different aspects of their outfits and the attitudes that go with it.
L.A. Weekly: You were also John Lennon's personal photographer in the 1970s. How did that relationship come about?
Bob Gruen: I met John and Yoko through an interview and they used one of my pictures for their Some Time in New York album cover and we just got to know each other. They lived around the corner from me in New York and the relationship developed naturally.
L.A. Weekly: What do you think is the biggest public misconception about John Lennon?
Bob Gruen: That Yoko doesn't have a sense of humor [laughs]. People tend to think of Yoko as very serious but you couldn't live with John if you didn't have a sense of humor. I don't think people realize what a good time they had together.
L.A. Weekly: What about the Sex Pistols, the Clash or Courtney Love? What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about them, considering how closely you all worked together?
Bob Gruen: I think people tend to think of punk as a violent, angry movement. And while it was angry about some things because they certainly wanted change, it was a very positive movement. It wasn't really violent at all. Some would say punks are just hippies with short hair.
L.A. Weekly: I think that's what Iggy Pop would say.
Bob Gruen: [Laughs] They had similar goals: wanting a better world to live in and more opportunities to be free and to be themselves. I think the hippies and the punks shared that.
L.A. Weekly: Do you have any favorite memories of working with Joe Strummer?
Bob Gruen: All of them. Joe was a great guy. I don't have any bad memories of being with Joe. Let me put it this way, my wife and I always say that when Joe Strummer came to town, when you went out to dinner with Joe, you'd have to bring your sunglasses because you knew you weren't going to come back until early morning. When you walk out of a bar at 9:30 in the morning, you need your sunglasses [laughs]. All my life I've been friends with musicians and artists and I'm very comfortable with that. Part of the reason I got these intimate pictures is because I didn't just visit this lifestyle at a certain point in time, I lived this lifestyle.
Bob Gruen's “Rockers” exhibit runs through November 2nd at Morrison Hotel Gallery, 7517 W. Sunset Blvd.