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Rockers: The Photos Of Bob Gruen @ The Morrison Hotel
Bob Gruen is a stealth artist. He's one of those people that's had a tremendous impact on rock and roll culture, produced work that's been seen and loved by virtually everybody, whether they knew the name of its creator or not. His first solo exhibition in town, Rockers, now on display at Morrison Hotel, provides a sidelong glance at the decadent 1970s from one of its most illustrious observers.
Certainly, among those of us who read Circus, Creem and Rock Scene religiously during the seventies and paid attention to the credits, Gruen was a rock star himself. All those incredible moments that we could never be cool enough to experience in person, whether it be Led Zeppelin showing off their private jet, John and Yoko Ono-Lennon showing off newborn Sean in the hospital, or Sid Vicious showing off his broken nose, he was there, taking pictures, showing us how great it must have been to be him.
As much as any photographer of the period, Gruen knew how to present the larger-than-life moment to the bored, suburban kid who needed a visual to go with the stacks of vinyl. Those were pre-music video days - we had no VCRs, no cable, and a grand total of six TV stations. Besides going to a show, your only chance to watch rock and roll was at the midnight showings of Tommy and Song Remains The Same. TV coverage was limited to an hour or two a week, usually consisting of lame, lip-synched studio performances, and usually late at night. You could read about bands like Suicide and the Ramones but you never got to see footage of them. Even if you managed to get hold of the records, you had to make up in your head what it all looked and felt like, based on the music, the record cover and maybe a few pictures in a magazine. Since the supply of available images was so limited, each one you did get to lay your eyes on became extra-important.
So it was in that climate, where kids getting into music still had to use their imaginations, that Bob Gruen came along, and basically owned the scene. His live stuff always looked thrilling, like the most intense concerts ever given by anyone, no matter who the subject was. He probably could have convinced me that Loverboy had something to offer if he'd shot them. And his posed shots, different though they are, all have an interesting quality: his subjects all seem to like him. They don't look at him as an outsider, he's right there in the scene with them. He was John and Yoko's photographer of choice for years, as well as the only professional journalist embedded in the Sex Pistols' 1978 US tour. That he pulled off both gigs says volumes about not only his technical mastery but his ability to be trusted with the moment, however intense.
The display at Morrison Hotel is a bit different from the one shown at the gallery's New York location in June. Larger works take precedence here, with a focus on the New York Dolls, the subject of Gruen's latest photo book. Thankfully, the faux bedroom plastered with scissor-clipped images from the rock rags is reproduced here, complete with comfy bed. I'm guessing more than one dude's going to walk in there and experience déjà vu, because, if you were ever the type to hang pictures of rock stars on your wall, some of them were inevitably taken by Bob Gruen.
Rockers is on display at Morrison Hotel, 7517 Sunset Blvd., through November 2. Call (323) 874 2068 for more information.