Bob Gruen Discusses Snapping Iconic Photo of John Lennon
On Aug. 29, 1974, Bob Gruen snapped a photograph of John Lennon that, 30 years later, is easily one of the most iconic shots of him -- or any musician for that matter. This week (Dec. 8), the world celebrated the life of Lennon as millions mourned the anniversary of his tragic death -- and we had the somber privilege of chatting with Gruen about his friendship with the Beatle.
"You know, I used to wear a shirt just like that," Gruen recalls of the shirt Lennon is wearing in the above photo. "I had about half a dozen of them. Guys used to sell them on the street in Times Square -- they were homemade, you didn't get them in a store. It wasn't a brand, just some guys who wanted to make the shirt, and I liked the design so I bought a bunch of them. Every once in awhile when I bought some more, I'd give them to a friend. So one night I gave one to John when I went to see him at the Record Plant."
It wasn't until a year later that the photo would be taken, though. "We were on the roof of an apartment he had here in New York, we were taking pictures of the skyline all around," the photographer recalls. "I asked John if he still had the shirt -- what impressed me was he knew right where it was. He put the shirt on and he looked great in it. We had no idea that the photo would become so popular."
So why did Gruen ask Lennon to put that particular shirt on? "He had been living in New York long enough," he explains. "People were starting to think of him as a guy from New York. Everybody in New York comes from somewhere and he just happened to come form England. By the time we took that photo, he was really a New Yorker."
As for the anniversary of Lennon's death, it's been a long healing process for Gruen. "At the beginning, it was very painful, the whole experience of his death was extremely painful," he admits. "It's like having a deep wound -- eventually, though, you can recover. Eventually, the wound heals over. It never goes away, but you get used to it. As time passes, there are more good memories and less of the pain. Last week, they had a big celebration, the John Lennon Tribute concert. When they first started having that event, it was too painful for me to be there. Now, it's really nice to see so many people really appreciating what John has left us. We only have what he left us. That's what we should be thinking about -- not how he left us, but what he left us."
During our conversation, the humble Gruen focused solely on the life of Lennon, but it's important to note that at this year's Lennon Tribute concert (the 34th annual), the photographer was honored with the first-ever Real Love Award. And for Gruen, that's what the memory of Lennon is about: love.
"He was a very good friend and we had a lot of good laughs," Gruen tells us. "His message was always about communication and love and peace. He left a lot of inspiration -- and I don't say that as a friend, I say that as someone who got to hear his message. He was very emotional and he understood how difficult it was to be peaceful. I'm very proud to carry that message. I think we all should, it's so important. Go in peace, live in peace and imagine peace."
We'd like to thank Bob Gruen for his generosity with his time, sharing his memories of John Lennon. If you'd like to see more photos from Gruen's amazing career, head over to his official website.