Posted November 2019
As teens, baby boomers very likely have seen the work of legendary rock photographer, Bob Gruen. Boomerocity readers know that we’ve interviewed him twice before. In fact, we’re very proud to say that Yoko Ono posted our first interview with Bob in its entirety on her website (archived here). We’re equally proud of our second interview with Bob (here), though it didn’t make it to ImaginePeace.com.
If you’ve read our past two chats with Gruen, you know that he doesn’t sit still. Always capturing our culture in images that interests us, he has done so, again, with his latest book of photos entitled, “Green Day – Photographs by Bob Gruen”.
Gruen has been a friend of the guys in Green Day for over twenty-five years. During that time, he has shot and amassed quite a treasure trove of images. Thus, the book. I called Bob up at his New York City gallery to talk about the book. But, first, I asked how the book we previously visited about, See Hear Yoko, did, and how Yoko is doing these days.
“Well, people who got it loved it. It was really well made, and it got a lot of great response. It wasn't a huge seller, but I wasn't expecting it to be, But it was very well received, which was what we wanted.”
And how is Yoko doing?
“She's pretty good. She's still busy. She has to get out as much as she used to. She's eighty-six now. She developed a problem with her knees by walking around so she doesn't get out as much, but she's still involved with millions - or dozens of projects, anyway.”
Gruen’s reputation is that he has always liked fast, loud punk bands – especially his friends, The Class. So, it is no surprise that he became a Green Day fan early on. That said, I wanted to hear directly from Bob what drew him personally to Green Day and what is it about them that allows them to connect with so many people around the world.
“Well, I think for me, rock and roll is about freedom. Rock n roll is the freedom to express your feelings very loudly in public. I think that's what The Clash certainly were doing, and I think that's what Green Day's doing. They're also big fans of The Clash. I think they're inspired a lot by them, as were so many bands.
“What I like about Green Day is they're like The Clash. Most of the bands that I personally like, they're saying something, meaning that they're saying something important. And they're not just talking about being lonely or they can't get a girlfriend, or they broke up with their girlfriend. Those are true sentiments, but they're not what I call social politics.
“Green Day is talking to social politics with songs like Minority and just so many of their songs, they're reaching typically alienated, lonely people who need, who want something to believe in. And not to believe in the band, but to believe in themselves. I think that the band inspires people to believe in themselves. I think that's the overall take away from them and the fact that they're just an awful lot of fun.
“They make great records. But they're also a really fantastic live band. They hit the stage running and they stay running for two and a half to three hours. And they just keep the audience's attention.”
Why this book and why now?
“Well, it's interesting, my relationship with Green Day, because I never worked for them and I was never even on assignment for a magazine for them. I met them as friends when I went with my friend, Jesse Malin's band, Degeneration, opened for Green Day. We had seen Green Day once or twice in New York, then - I saw them first in 94 at a party at Don Hill's club. Then, a little later, they had a party at Don Hill's club when their, I think, Dookie record came out. Then, Jesse was going to Europe to open for them and he suggested we come along. I had had a few drinks and I thought it was a good idea. Ha! Ha!
“Next thing I knew, me and my wife were in England and we saw Degen and Green Day three times in England. Then we went to Paris and saw the show there. After a week or so, I was a fan. I thought they were fantastic. I think that's when we first got to know each other. They're fun guys to hang out with. It turned out we had a similar cynical kind of sense of humor. And they were thrilled. They grew up looking at my pictures and they were thrilled that I was interested in taking pictures of them.
“I found them great practice because I don't work a lot nowadays. One of the reasons is it's so difficult to get any kind of access with a band and, when you do, you rarely get to own the photos and get to license them or make any money off them. But, with Green Day, I had complete access and they never asked me for any photos. It almost was a little disappointing. ‘Why don't you want to use my photos?’ Ha! Ha! But I also rarely even showed them to them. It wasn't that kind of relationship. They just like having me around, taking pictures, you know. Sometimes it was one picture in particular, the picture that's on the book cover that I knew that they were in the same building where I took the picture. I took a picture like that of The Clash on top of the roof where you can see the whole skyline of New York. It's in the RCA building where there’s a lot of TV studios and Green Day was there. I mentioned to them that it's the same building I took the picture of The Clash. ‘You could come up on the roof and we take another picture of them like that.
“They immediately wanted to do it, but it was a little difficult because they were in the building for Saturday Night Live, which is a live show. They (SNL) get very paranoid. They start rehearsing on Tuesday and by Saturday afternoon, you have to show up and they don't let anybody out of the studio all day because they don't want to be missing when they go live. It took a lot just to get permission to stay in the building and just go up on the roof for 20 minutes or so. But they did it. And that's all I did that day. And then I made up some prints.
“Later, Tre' was saying to me that they hired another guy who traveled with them for like two months. He was a fashion photographer who were taking a load of pictures with the idea of making a book that he never made because he took too many pictures and couldn't edit it down or something. I don't know. Maybe he took too many and didn't get any good ones.
“But Tre' said that I just show up. I'm there for 20 minutes and I get the money shot and I don't bother them. That's how I worked with them the whole time. Like, as they say, they never hired me and never had an assignment. I just went because it was fun. And after 25 years, it seemed like, ‘What am I going to do with all of these pictures? There's so many great pictures.’ So, we decided to make a book.
“Fortunately, the company that I work with, Abrams Image, liked the idea. And so, we made a really nice book. The art director, Shawn Dahl came up with some great ideas to make the book more interesting instead of just square photos. (He said), ‘We should change the shapes on all the different pages.’ Billy actually came up with the idea of having Avi Spivak do little drawings all over the book and that made it very ‘Green Day’. It makes it very kid like. And then Billy Joe sent it forward that he wrote, which is three pages handwritten on like school paper, like, lined the paper up. And it just looks so Green Day. We printed it as he wrote it. We didn't type it up. We just photographed the pages and put them in. It's really a fun book. Tre' and Mike also added comments - and Billy - throughout the book. It's really fun. I mean, any fans would surely like it. We tried to make and simple. Nothing formal, that's for sure.
As for what the band – and the band – thinks about the book, Bob said:
“The band likes it very much. I mean, the reaction I got back from them, they thought it was great. They're really happy that I made it. And as far as sales, within a month, it went into second printing already. So, that's a good reaction.
Gruen has photographed some of the biggest names in rock and roll. So, I was just curious as for photographing Green Day, was that any different than any of the other bands or acts that he has photographed over the years.
“Well, that wasn't different in the sense of bands like The Clash or other bands that I had total access to, where I was just hanging out with the band and took pictures when they look good. We didn't really ever have a session. I think once, when they were in New York and they were staying on Mercer Street, and they had scheduled to go somewhere. Before they left, we planned to do a half an hour out on the street. I think that was the most scheduled we ever did was just to walk up and down Mercer Street for 20 minutes before they left. But other than that, it was just the idea that I had access to them; that they always look good. As far as photographing them, they move fast, so that made me work, which is what I was looking to do. I mean, I was trying to get some photo exercise there. So, it worked out pretty well on that level. Ha! Ha!
Just as I did during our “See Hear Yoko” interview, I asked what he thinks is the biggest misperception about Green Day or the band members individually.
“I don't know because I don't get to see so much criticism about them. For Yoko, there is often a lot of criticism that people come up with. But with Green Day, I don't know. I mean, one thing that I thought was kind of funny is that people attacked them for having punk roots and then ending up playing stadiums. I remember one night, Billy Joe was kind of upset that somebody in a book called them sellouts because they played such big places. Billy Joe said, 'Is it my fault that we're really good? I mean, should we play in a club for 60 people when 60 thousand wanna come? Do we have to keep fifty-nine thousand people out in the street? Why shouldn't we let them in if they want to come in?'
“So, I think, you know, for me, they've really kept their punk roots. I mean certainly their attitude, their humor. They use common language, the same language that their fans use. But sometimes, like Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart sells about two thirds of the records that are sold in the United States. More than half of the records are bought at Wal-Mart stores, as far as music. But they have strict rules and they don't - so many bands make a G rated album. And there's like an explicit lyrics and a G rated lyrics (version of an album). The G Rated lyrics, they can sell in Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart doesn't like explicit language.
“And Billy Joe, when he was asked about why they wouldn't change their album, make a second version for Wal-Mart, he said, 'Well, Wal-Mart thinks that some of our lyrics are dangerous. Why don't they just put him on the other side of the store and sell them with the guns and knives and other dangerous things they carry?' That's the kind of, you know, common sense humor that I like. Yeah. And that's why I like Green Day.”
With the Green Day book in stores and online now, I asked Bob what is on his radar for the next year or so.
“Well, right now, I'm working on a biography. I'm hoping to finish that in the next couple months and have that out next year. I've been organizing my archive. I want to have some more traveling exhibits going around because I'm just a lot of pictures here. I'd rather get them on walls out there in the world so people can see them. So, I’m working on exhibit projects and similar projects.”
Until Bob Gruen comes to your next of the woods, you can order his Green Day book by clicking on the widget on this page as well as order some of his other books by clicking on the select items, below. You can also keep track of Bob’s latest activities and offerings by visiting BobGruen.com.