Monthly Archive for: ‘April, 2016’

Bill Graham exhibit builds rock ‘n’ roll walk of fame

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★☆]

Featured in “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is this picture of Graham giving his son, David, a piggyback ride in 1969. Photo by Bonnie MacLean.

Featured in “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is this picture of Graham giving his son, David, a piggyback ride in 1969. Photo by Bonnie MacLean.

In 1990, my wife, Nancy Fox, interviewed rock ‘n’ roll impresario Bill Graham one-on-one in his office for two hours.

She was impressed.

With his tales of surviving the Holocaust, although his mother and one sister didn’t.

With his tales of wooing and cajoling rock stars into performing in Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York venues he created and selected.

Like San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium.

But she was most impressed by his being a rock star in his own right — even though he played no instrument, didn’t sing, and lit no guitars on fire.

His celebrity and fortune, he told her, meant never carrying cash (someone was always there with money), and never worrying about running out of toothpaste (someone would replace it).

So it didn’t surprise me that she wanted to see the exhibit on his life at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum.

I, too, was interested in “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” — since I’d assigned stories about him during my tenure at San Francisco’s Jewish Bulletin.

It was an invaluable trip into the city.

The exhibit is as impressive as the man himself was. It includes 250 pieces of memorabilia.

Janis Joplin’s velvet top and bell-bottoms, feather boa and tambourine are among mementos in “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” exhibit.

Janis Joplin’s velvet top and bell-bottoms, feather boa and tambourine are among mementos in “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” exhibit.

Shot of Bill Graham just before closing San Francisco’s Winterland in 1978 is part of “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” exhibit. Photo by Michael Zagaris.

Shot of Bill Graham just before closing San Francisco’s Winterland in 1978 is part of “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” exhibit. Photo by Michael Zagaris.

It features photos and other items from Graham’s childhood and stint in the U.S. Army; pictures, posters, artwork and other materials pertinent to the Summer of Love, the San Francisco Mime Troupe and concerts at the Fillmore; objects related to Big Brother and the Holding Company and its lead singer, Janis Joplin; a chunk of a Fender smashed by Jimi Hendrix in a London performance; and photos from Winterland, successor to Fillmore West and Fillmore East that hosted Bruce Springsteen, the Sex Pistols, The Who’s Pete Townshend and Jim Morrison.

Most of the artifacts, I believe, are only slightly less spectacular than the exhibit’s photos, which constitute in effect a rock ‘n’ roll walk of fame.

But the display also includes music that’s classic.

For example:

Shot of Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia performing in 1987 at Day on the Green in Oakland is part of Bill Graham exhibit. Photo by Ken Friedman.

Shot of Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia performing in 1987 at Day on the Green in Oakland is part of Bill Graham exhibit. Photo by Ken Friedman.

Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” Joplin’s “Summertime,” the Grateful Dead’s “Terrain Station,” Santana’s “Europa,” the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Purple Haze.”

Graham — born Wolfgang Grajonca in Berlin in 1931 to Russian Jews — had escaped Nazi Germany when his mother put him on a children’s transport to France in 1939.

She died on a train to Auschwitz, the concentration camp where his 13-year-old sister, Tolla, also perished.

In 1941, he immigrated at age 11 to the Bronx, where he was taken in by a foster family and read headlines aloud to purge his German accent.

Upon arrival, he’d been suffering from malnutrition, rickets and a bone-marrow problem. He weighed 55 pounds.

His first rock ‘n’ roll show — 23 years later — was a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. It starred Jefferson Airplane and the Fugs.

The troupe’s Peter Coyote subsequently called him “a cross between Mother Teresa and Al Capone.”

Graham later gained worldwide fame for promoting charity events as well as rock concerts, including Live Aid in 1985 for famine relief in Africa.

That same year he joined a Union Square rally in protest of President Ronald Reagan’s

Mutilated telephone, taken from firebombed Bill Graham Presents office, is among artifacts in museum exhibit.

Mutilated telephone, taken from firebombed Bill Graham Presents office, is among artifacts in museum exhibit.

proposed visit to a Bitburg cemetery in West Germany where members of the Nazi Party’s Waffen-SS were interred.

Two days later, his Bill Graham Presents offices were firebombed, causing a million dollars in damage.

Graham had been, of course, partially responsible for the Summer of Love in 1967 and its predecessor, the Human Be-In — and had provided his staff’s technical expertise to Woodstock.

Shortly before they died in a helicopter crash in 1991, Bill Graham and his companion, Melissa Gold, posed for this picture, which is on exhibit. Photo by Ken Friedman.

Shortly before they died in a helicopter crash in 1991, Bill Graham and his companion, Melissa Gold, posed for this picture, which is on exhibit. Photo by Ken Friedman.

After Graham died — along with his girlfriend, Melissa Gold — in a helicopter crash west of Vallejo at age 60 in 1991, at least 350,000 people filled the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park for a tribute concert.

It was free, like many he’d produced for others.

My wife still remembers Graham’s warmth and directness, his helping the downtrodden — and the lack of doors on his office.

The exhibit zoomed it all back, reminding her how he’d transformed himself.

And become, in her words, “a phenomenon.”
“Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” will be on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., San Francisco, through July 5. Tickets: $10-$12, free to members and those under 18. Information: 415-655-7800 or www.thecjm.com.

Contact Woody Weingarten at at voodee@sbcglobal.net or www.vitalitypress.com.

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