Bob Gruen has written an insightful, thoughtful and very engaging autobiography that covers the arc of his whole life. Gruen, who turned 75 on October 23rd, goes back to his childhood, having grown up in Great Neck, Long Island, New York. That changed in 1965 via a connection with a local friend, whereby nineteen year old Gruen was able to move into a shared apartment in the spot he longed to be: Greenwich Village, Manhattan.
Approximately 25 miles away from Great Neck and the homogenous, insulated, suburban life that Gruen had experienced, Manhattan is a world apart. Greenwich Village, which has become known as the West Village, along with the East Village across from it, is the most progressive, youth driven and arty area in all of New York and the country at large. Being the home of New York University and Washington Square Park, the latter of which Gruen frequented often, they were and remain major contributors to this exciting and avant-garde culture that Gruen took to immediately.
That time and place of Gruen’s arrival, smack in the middle of the tumultuous and polarized 1960’s, was in the throes of the hippie movement that revolved around Gruen’s generation. Gruen himself identified with its ethos and especially the emphasis on freedom, which he was just now able to relish in.
The Village was the epicenter of it all, (along with the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco at the time) with its folk and jazz music clubs, outdoor coffee and meeting places, resident poets and poetry readings and an overall communial and like minded atmosphere. Many of its streets are narrow, winding and cobblestone, giving it a charm and quaintness that’s reminiscent of European cities like Paris.
It was at George Wein’s Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, July 22nd through the 25th, 1965 that Gruen’s love of music, especially folk at that time, and photography were merged. He managed to talk his way in as press, (it wasn’t easy) and emerged with many photos, most notably of literal folk hero and fellow West Village resident Bob Dylan, who made this festival the day that he first publicly held a black electric Fender Stratocaster guitar to replace his acoustic, and became an electric rock/folk artist. It was a big deal in the music scene, and sent the old guard folk purists, such as fellow present performer Pete Seeger into a tizzy. (Seeger reportedly threatened to chop Dylan’s guitar cable with an axe to silence it.)
The rest of Gruen’s book is about all the essential musicians/bands and notable experiences that he had, particularly with, in chronological order: Ike & Tina Turner, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, The New York Dolls, KISS, Deborah Harry and The Clash, although there were so many more. In the case of Lennon and Ono, it began in great part with them living around the corner from Gruen in the West Village, where Gruen remains in the same artists’ building that he was fortunate enough to be accepted for the year it was finished being converted from a Bell Telephone laboratories facility into a residential building, that being 1970.
50 years on from that milestone in Gruen’s life where he had a stable home and solace in the neighborhood that fit him so well, the book delves back into both his interesting personal relationships and professional work through the present, how they often intertwined, and the ways they have brought him far and wide throughout the world. There are lots of insightful photos throughout its pages to illuminate this, from Gruen’s own photos and others having taken pictures of him with his subjects.
The fine Abrams has published the book with robust paper stock and attention to detail, as they have for previous work from Gruen. They can be found at: https://www.abramsbooks.com/
With that, I don’t want to give any more away of this unique and colorful life story. Get a copy for yourself, and enjoy the full, wide angle view.