Flying under my radar was a fantastic documentary, Rock ‘n’ Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen playing on Showtime. Gruen, as Alice Cooper explains, “was part of the entire rock scene…as much as any band.” Certainly that shows; his body of work is basically a history of rock ‘n’ roll. He photographed (and hung out with) Zeppelin, the Stones, Ike and Tina, Aerosmith among many others, as well as becoming the photographer-in-residence for John and Yoko.
It is, however, the New York music scene that defines Gruen. I can remember staring at his images of Iggy and the Ramones, Blondie and the New York Dolls, the Patti Smith Group and CBGBs in Rock Scene and Creem and feeling somehow, someway a part of this strange backstage world seemingly a million miles away. “Bob’s best pix are the ones offstage,” says Iggy Pop.
And feeling is what Gruen’s work is all about. Many of his photos are slightly out of focus — “soft focus” as he (jokingly) says it became known as — but always capturing the moment perfectly. As he says “the photos aren’t always sharp, but the emotions are always clear.” Rock ‘n’ Roll Exposed is a great documentary and a nice personal and visual retelling of rock and roll history, with a vivid soundtrack and reminiscences from his subjects. Like the best of Gruen’s photographs, the documentary is “a lot of little moments all crammed into one.”
And while we’re at it; kudos to the film’s director Don Letts, an innovative artist in his own right. Letts is responsible for The Punk Rock Movie, The Clash doc Westway To The World, and played in the seminal band Big Audio Dynamite. To no one’s surprise, he is also the author of the must-read memoir Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rock.
Read 'em both, review 'em both…you know you want to.