Meet Bob Gruen: Bugle Player for the Clash and Photographer of Rock Royalty
The most important thing about Bob Gruen is that he played bugle for the Clash. The second is that he shot a bunch of the most iconic rock and roll photos of the 20th century. John Lennon hired him as his personal photographer in the 70s, which resulted in that picture of Lennon in the New York City shirt that your dad probably has framed somewhere. He also took the picture of Sid Vicious bleeding from a cut up chest that you probably have unframed somewhere, and on one special night in 1975 he took a picture of Mick Jagger’s giant penis.
Gruen got into music photography in the mid-60s while living in Greenwich Village. He befriended bands that were part of the burgeoning folk scene at that time like the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Magicians, and in 1965 shot his first concert—Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival. Soon after Ike Turner personally selected Gruen to photograph Tina Turner, and from there his career exploded. Bob photographed rock and roll gods like the Stones, Bowie, and Zeppelin in their prime, but it was through his gig as John and Yoko’s photographer that he became involved with a group of mascara’d gentlemen who called themselves the New York Dolls.
Bob was the first photojournalist to document the Dolls in any real way. He took some of the earliest pictures of the band, and in 1973 went along with them on a West Coast tour. Now, Gruen is getting ready to release a documentary about that tour from the video he shot while on the road with them called New York Dolls, All Dolled Out. I called up Bob because I am jealous of his life and wanted to hear all about it.
VICE: How did you first meet the New York Dolls?
Bob: John Lennon was working with the Elephant’s Memory band, and they were managed by the same company as the New York Dolls. So I was bringing pictures to their office when one of the guys was like, “You have to see this other band we manage.”
I went down to the Mercer Arts Center and was totally blown away. Over the next few weeks I took pictures and made some videos of them. We worked together for the next couple of years—they’re like family.
Els Masturbadors Mongòlics Brought Punk to Fascist Spain
Barcelona’s Masturbadors Mongòlics are Spanish punk’s lost boys. The band were together for just a year, right around the time that democracy was making its first baby steps on the Iberian Peninsula after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. The foursome liked alcohol, they liked amphetamines and they liked getting in fights; they only lasted a year and you can count their gigs on one hand, but the legacy of their antics still reverberates today.
When Franco died in 1975, Spain was sent into a state of commotion. After four decades of the dictator’s iron rod making its way into every sphere of Spanish life, it was hardly surprising that, with freedom came huge social, political, and cultural upheavals. Many people had been slightly brainwashed by his regime and the dictatorship still had a bit of bite—five political dissidents were executed in 1975, two ETA militants and three from the antifascist group FRAP—but everyone knew it was on its last legs.
This allowed for the emergence of a nascent counterculture: a belated, disoriented version of what had happened in England and America during the previous decade—prog-rock, hippies, Mao’s “little red book”, Robert Crumb, weed and, if you were lucky, LSD. It probably felt progressive to the Spanish, but it showed Spain for exactly what it was during the mid-70s: a country at least a decade behind the rest of Western Europe.
I Started a Punk Zine in Racist Rural South Africa
Growing up in the shadow of apartheid in rural South Africa was complicated. Even by the time I turned 18, in 2006, an ignorant concept of the “other” was still deeply rooted in the psyches of a lot of people, which made life pretty difficult. As an English speaker in a predominantly Afrikaans agricultural region, I was often made to feel like a foreigner in my hometown, despite being born on the same soil as everybody else.
The African National Congress, the country’s ruling political party, had—and still has—failed to create an equal-opportunity society nearly 20 years after apartheid ended.Corruption plagues the ruling system and poverty is widespread, while crime andunemployment levels are high, and social mobility is near to impossible for most people. As a teenager, I felt that I—a poor, English-speaking white South African—had absolutely no voice in my province, which was paradoxically named the Free State.
While trying to figure out my place in the society I’d been born into, I realized that I lacked a cultural identity and any tangible economic prospects. Which is probably why I soon became fascinated with the British and American punks from a generation before me who were writing and singing about racism, unemployment, poverty, and other social issues.
Crass’s Penny Rimbaud Doesn’t Care About Urban Outfitters Profiting Off His Band’s Name
A few weeks ago, Urban Outfitters, your cool little sister’s favorite clothing store, started selling a “vintage men’s punk leather jacket” for $375. The jacket had a bunch of crappy hand-painted logos of some of the most notable punk bands of the 70s: the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and Crass. That the company already peddles Joy Division and Sex Pistolsshirts to angsty teens of all ages is a given, and the commodification of punk rock has been going on basically since the invention of the phrase punk rock. But selling a jacket featuring the name of the most famous anarcho-punk band of all time at a price no upstanding anticapitalist could afford seemed, at least, a little problematic. (The jacket was the only one of its kind, and someone bought it.)
Hoping for an angry tirade, I called up Penny Rimbaud, one of the founding members of Crass, at his home in England. Instead he took the opportunity to tell me how much he dislikes the current crop of DIY punks.
VICE: Did you already know about this jacket before I told you about it?
Penny Rimbaud: I hadn’t actually seen the jacket in question, but yeah, I’d heard about it. I personally don’t have any troubles with it. I mean it amused me that Crass is sort of the main feature on it and the Sex Pistols and the Clash dropped down to the bottom. But they haven’t actually used the symbol so it’s not really an unacceptable use; it’s more of a naff artwork than an attempt to sell a Crass jacket.
As far as I’m concerned, if the wealthy want to spend $400 on a rather naff leather jacket and go to book launches and gallery shows and all the things that those literati and glitterati do, then that’s great because it means that we’re getting the name floated around in areas where it’s very difficult for us to penetrate. I actually quite like it when people like Angelina Jolie and David Beckham wear Crass T-shirts.
Do you think Crass fans might be pissed off, at least?
I know that a lot of the DIY punks and the anarcho punks are going, “Oh, bloody rip-off!” Well, they’re not being ripped off. The anarcho punks have been ripping us off since the beginning of time, doing rather pale reproductions of both our music and our art. So as far as I’m concerned they’re just in for what they can get, and that’s laissez-faire [economics] at its most extreme.
I’m quite sure some people who follow us will be pissed off. But they’re not looking at the bigger picture. The sort of people who will be pissed off are the sort of people that are very happy to be working on a very small, almost ghetto existence within a particular genre of thought, a particular genre of action, a particular genre of behavior, and particularly a predictable set of political ideas. Well, the world’s changed a lot in 30 years and I think we’ve got to get hip to that. I want to get out into a bigger outreach because that’s what I’m here for. My business is information and getting it out there. My job is to look for the best outlets, the best opportunities to promote ideas.
Dee Dee Ramone was one of the strangest people I’ve ever met. Whenever we saw him, we were never sure if we were going to get the good Dee Dee or the bad Dee Dee. In the 90s, when I was asked to write a forward to his book, Lobotomy, I described him as, “the last of the dying breed of authentic rock star, an authentic bad guy who got over it, and in so doing, changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll. Dee Dee was the archetypical fuck-up whose life was a living disaster. He was a male prostitute, a would-be mugger, a heroin user and dealer, an accomplice to armed robbery—and a genius poet who was headed for an early grave, but was sidetracked by rock ‘n’ roll.”
Needless to say, I doubt we’ll see any more Dee Dee Ramones coming along in the near future. Rock ‘n’ roll these days is just too clean. And if I had to put a diagnosis on what Dee Dee suffered from, I wouldn’t know what to say. He was that unique.
The following interview was conducted in 1989, a few months after he left the Ramones. He called me and said he wanted to spill the beans. Since we’d been friends since 1976, I was happy to turn on the tape recorder and let him go—which he did for about ten hours.
DEUTSCHLAND UBER ALLES
My parents fought a lot. I don’t wanna get into that, but I remember it vividly—I mean I remember a lotta other crumby things, and some good things too—but I had a bad childhood.
What I did to compensate for it was to live in a total fantasy world. I grew up in Germany and when I went to school, I failed the first grade and never went back. Actually I tried to go back the next semester, all my friends were going to the second grade—and I had to make a left and go down the hallway—and they said, “Where ya goin’?”
I said, “I’m going home!”
That was in Munich, it was an American army school for the military people stationed there. We didn’t live right in the city, we lived on the outskirts, and there was some farmland and a lot of old bombed out houses and stuff. I’d wander around there and do things like swing on the swings—and I’d go into these intense fantasies—and imagine I was a fighter pilot.
I also lived in Pirmasens, which is a small town right on the French border. The German side of the border was called the Siegfried Line and the French side was the Maginot Line. I used to wander round in the old bunkers and look for war relics. I used to pick ‘em up all the time, like old helmets and gas masks and bayonets and machine gun belts. This went on for like a year and I started dealing these war relics—but I used to have fun with them too.
I’d always been fascinated by Nazi symbols—from finding them in the rubble in Germany. They were so glamorous. They were just so pretty. My parents were very upset by that.
One time my father said something fucking ridiculous. I had found a Luftwaffe sword that was beautiful, and I knew I could keep it or sell it for a fortune, like 80 marks. When I brought that home, my father got uptight and said something really sick, he said, “Can you imagine all our guys that died because of that?”
I thought, This guy is a real asshole. As if he really cared. I didn’t figure my father for any passions like that, about anything. And from that day on, he just became a total joke to me—and I stopped fearing him.
MONDO MANHATTAN IS BEING SCREENED TOMORROW IN NYC
Mondo Manhattan is a film that was made over a decades-long period by the super-slept on NYC punk band Chain Gang. (Their one real album, also called Mondo Manhattan, was released at some point in the 80s and is a real gem. If you can find it, buy it, you won’t regret it. Also: Don’t confuse them with Ian Svenonius’ Chain and the Gang.) Anyway, the film’s being screened for what is only the second time tomorrow. We haven’t seen it yet (we’ll be there tomorrow) but, based on the trailer, it’s fucking nuts. We can’t wait! See you there?
Aside from emo stars, the sparrows tattoo is probably the most cliché of all scene tattoos. For ladies, anyway. Dudes who have sparrows tattoos have bigger problems on their hands than being cliché. There are two places you can get the sparrows. The first is on your hip bones, which is a delightful way to let anyone about to get into your pants for the first time know that this territory has already been charted by the singer of a mid-level screamo band.
Buttwater Is a Legendary Party Trick
For the past few weeks, I’ve been touring around doing standup comedy, opening for a band called KEN Mode, and we recently found ourselves in Boston with nothing to do. It was a Monday, and some guy invited us to his barbecue kegger. We arrived, I quickly got wasted, and halfway into my second ball of bacon wrapped chicken, a man named Dan—who’s been traveling with a band called Flying Snakes—approached me. In a southern drawl, he asked: “Hey, y’all wanna see a video ‘bout buttwater?” I obviously said yes and when I saw it I almost dick watered my own pants from laughing so hard. Buttwater is a legendary party trick—with an anal waterfall punchline—and it was born in Orlando, Florida.
While this footage was unfortunately shot on an ancient cell phone, the beauty of buttwater is that it doesn’t require glorious 1080p video to get the message across. Water coming out of a butt is funny at even the lowest resolution. But this blurry video of a grown man expelling water from his poop chute did not completely satisfy my curiosity. Who is this guy? Where did buttwater originate? What’s up with the mask? In order to learn more, I asked Dan to get me in touch with the buttwaterer himself—a man called Vulture. Here’s how my conversation went.
VICE: How did you get the nickname Vulture?
Vulture: When I was about 16 years old, after punk shows we would go out to a diner or something like that and I wouldn’t order food because I knew there would be leftovers. I’d pick at everyone else’s food or pick food off of another table. My philosophy was: I had money, I had a job, but the less money I spent on food, I could buy more punk-rock shirts and see more punk-rock shows. Then one night my friend’s girlfriend was like, “This guy is like a fucking vulture. He’s eating off every table in here.”
So do you have a lot of sweet punk T-shirts now?
Yeah, well, I don’t fit into them anymore. I got a little bit fat as I got older, so I decided to sell most of them.
Oh well, life goes on. So, when did you figure out you have a gift for shooting water out of your butt?
I remember hanging out at someone’s house late one night. We were swimming and our friend, who was a couple years older, was talking about this technique (that would later become buttwater) and saying how it was possible. I thought it was bullshit. I just didn’t believe it. So he told me how to do it. We were probably drinking, so I gave it a whirl. You just have to have the “I don’t care, I’m not embarrassed, whatever” attitude. So I went ahead and did it. Everybody cracked up. I get the same reaction every time.