Bob Gruen on Billie Joe Armstrong's Rehab: "Keith Richards Never Apologized"
Legendary music photographer Bob Gruen has worked with most of rock music's biggest talents. (He shot the iconic image of John Lennon in his New York City tank top.) But that doesn't mean he isn't willing to play favorites.
"Mainly the group I like, and it's hard to call them a new group now that they've been around for 23 years, but they keep doing new things, is Green Day," he told Crossfade. "They're probably my favorite group these days. They really carry rock 'n' roll forward. Powerful songs and great lyrics."
As with Lennon and the other bands he's worked with, Gruen couldn't help but get close to Green Day, which made Billie Joe Armstrong's recent entry into rehab hard to watch.
Green Day in New York, 2009.
Photo by Bob Gruen
"They're very human. Very, very human," he said of the band. "They're all susceptible to human frailty but I don't think he had anything to apologize for. I was kind of taken aback by the nature of the public apology. Keith Richard never apologized. But I think he's doing exactly what he needs to be doing."
Gruen was in Miami for Art Basel, showing some of his photos at New York gallery Morrison Hotel's popup location at the Dream South Beach. Miami hasn't been a frequent stop for Gruen over the years but it has been a memorable one.
"I was here in 1986 to do a session with the Bee Gees," he recalled. "They were getting ready to go on tour and so I took them to a place I'd found that had three highways crisscrossing in the background. I thought it would symbolize all the different directions they would be going."
Except for maybe Michael Bolton, few of our soft rock megastars are roadkill enthusiasts who may be found frequently at the side of an interstate. As such, the Bee Gees weren't entirely sold on the idea.
"They were very nervous to get out of the car and just stand on the shoulder of the highway," Gruen told us. "They kept asking, 'Are you sure this is okay?' and I'd say, 'Sure! Just smile and it will be all right.'"
How well they followed Gruen's advice will be left to viewers of the photo to decide. Although in defense of the Brothers Gibb, Crossfade's glee club president S. Pajot attests that exhaust fumes can play hell on a fellow's falsetto.
The Bee Gees in Miami.
Photo by Bob Gruen
"They were nice guys. I also shot Diana Ross recording in their studio with Michael Jackson," Gruen said. "Those are two pretty good ones for not being here very often."
But Gruen doesn't only work with massive rock and pop stars.
"There are a couple of small bands I like," he says. "One's called the Sex Slaves. Very exciting. Very explicit lyrics. And I just met a band from Crete called the Barb Wire Dolls. They're really fun."
It's his love of music -- Gruen moonlights as a DJ for kicks -- that keeps him searching for the next band, the next perfect image. And though he doesn't get to Miami often, he's found more than his share here.
"I was in town visiting my in-laws and I saw some punks hanging outside a bar," Gruen remembers of a drive through Miami. "They looked interesting and I had some time. That's how I met Henry Rollins and Black Flag."
And now Gruen was back in Miami for Art Basel, the consummate outsider now one of the insiders.
John Lennon in New York, 1974.
Photo by Bob Gruen
"For a long time, photography in general has been outside the mainstream of art. But since the '70s, it's been changing," he said. "Maybe it's because people can take pictures themselves, they have a hard time calling it art. But anything that elicits a feeling, a response in the viewer, to me that's art."
Gruen has been recording our shared musical legacy for decades now and, while it sometimes feels like there is little he has missed, he does regret not being present for one moment in particular:
"The Monterey Pop Festival. I always wished I could have met Otis Redding. I think he was probably a pretty cool guy and I've met a lot of cool guys. But hey, I've done pretty well with the ones I've got."
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