A Beatles Journey: 09.09.09 in New York City

When Bob Gruen – John Lennon’s personal photographer – emailed to thank me for the review I had written about his book ‘John Lennon: The New York Years’, I responded by asking him if he wouldn’t mind signing a few copies of his book that I had purchased.  Within twenty four hours, his studio manager Sarah emailed to make the arrangements… I was to meet Bob Gruen on Sept 9, 2009.

The date – 09.09.09 – was already practically a Beatles national holiday.  It was on that day that both The Beatles Rock Band video game and The Beatles re-mastered boxed sets (in stereo and mono) were slated to be released, while rumors abounded about The Beatles music finally being made available for download on iTunes.  What better day to travel to The Big Apple and have a Beatles adventure?

I contacted my friend and colleague Kevin York, who is an accomplished photographer and a fan of both John Lennon and Bob Gruen , and asked him to join me.  Admittedly I thought it would be a great idea to have a photojournalist along to record the trip, but I thought it would be even better to to recruit a helper to schlep all of those books I wanted signed all around Manhattan.

Kevin and I took the Amtrak train from Trenton into Penn Station in N.Y.C. and then hopped a taxi to Mr. Gruen’s studio. We arrived shortly after 11:00 a.m. and we were greeted by Sarah who brought us inside to meet Bob.

Bob Gruen in person is very real, and very down-to-earth.  He is as much of a witness as he is a photographer, considering he is the man who had not only documented the last decade of John Lennon’s life, immortalizing him in photo after photo, but is also likely one of the greatest and most accomplished rock and roll photographers in the world.

After some initial chit-chat, Bob got down to business, signing almost a dozen copies of his book for us and graciously answering a barrage of questions I had about John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, and a multitude of other rock legends who Bob had had the pleasure of meeting and photographing. Looking around his studio, it was clear to see that he is a true music enthusiast, having what seemed to be thousands of CDs and records (while Ringo Starr played in the background) and walls filled with photos of almost every imaginable famous rocker.  Although the camera that Bob’s mother bought for him as a youth may have introduced him to the art, when I asked, “Why rock & roll photography specifically?”, he smiled and replied “I’m not a 9 to 5 kind of guy… especially the 9 part.”

Bob Gruen & Craig Sumsky

After an hour or so of chatting with Bob, he asked if we would like to see the John Lennon exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Annex.  Naturally we said yes, and he arranged a few complimentary passes for us, yet another unexpected treat.  All in all, I am grateful for Bob Gruen’s willingness to not only sign some books, but to take the time out of his busy schedule to meet and chat with us.  The measure of Bob’s generosity particularly hit home when, on our way out we met some folks on the way in who asked “Are you with Rolling Stone or VH1?” to which I replied, “Nahhh, I’m just Craig.”

John Lennon Exhibit

Our next stop was the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Annex, which was really cool, particularly the opening film (you were right, Bob), and the Lennon exhibit.  Unfortunately we weren’t permitted to take photos inside, so you’ll just have to check that one out for yourself.

Lastly, the one place I just had to see for myself was The Dakota, John & Yoko’s New York home on Central Park, and the place where in December of 1980, John Lennon was needlessly taken from us all.  The doorman behind me in the photo is about to tell me to move along, so at least it’s good to know The Dakota has ’stepped up’ the security since that fateful night.

I was happy to return home that night, put down those books (have I mentioned how heavy they were?) and kick my shoes off.  I still haven’t picked up my Beatles Rock Band or boxed set or any of that yet, but thanks to Bob Gruen, I have a 09.09.09 memory that I won’t soon forget.  Thank you Bob.

-Craig Sumsky

Photos by Kevin York
(Be sure to visit Kevin’s blog for more photos from our visit with Bob Gruen)




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