On Books/Opinion: L.A. music scene as captured by Zevon cohort

When George Gruel found me, I mixed him up with Duncan Aldrich.

"Hey," I told my wife Karen. "Looks like I just got an email from Doctor Babyhead."

A small minority of you know what I'm talking about, but we don't print the newspaper for that small minority (we print it — or rather digitally publish it — for a slightly larger small minority). So I'll explain here that George Gruel is a name familiar to me from decades of poring over the liner notes to Warren Zevon albums. And Duncan Aldrich is a musician/recording engineer/ producer who often accompanied Zevon on tours. On stage, Zevon often referred to Aldrich as "Doctor Babyhead." I don't know whether or not Aldrich appreciated that or not, but friends often take certain liberties.

Anyway, Zevon usually referred to Gruel as his "aide-de-camp," which meant he was something more than a personal assistant. Aldrich was another indispensable part of his support system, especially in those years when Zevon was touring without a band, doing solo shows (sometimes with Doctor Babyhead helping out). I confused the gentlemen. I apologize to them both. They look nothing alike.

Gruel had read something that I'd written about Zevon. And I guess he liked it. Or at least he saw a marketing opportunity. A few years ago, he'd published a coffee table book of photographs called "Lawyers, Guns and Photographs," consisting of his photos of Zevon and other denizens of the Los Angeles studio rock scene like Jackson Browne, Waddy Wachtel, David Landau, David Lindley, Greg Ladanyi and a whole lot of other names you'll remember from the fine print of Asylum Records album sleeves. He said he'd recently turned it into an e-publication and that if I had a Mac or an iPad he'd send me a download code.

I actually thought about it for a moment. Because it's a specific product — Gruel reports that some people have been able to get the ebook to work on a Kindle Fire, but it's really just a Mac-only product right now. And there are a lot of people out there who don't have access to an Apple product.

But then I thought again. The way things are now, the overwhelming majority of you are reading this column via our newspaper's iPad app. For most of you, "Lawyers, Guns and Photographs" is just a couple of clicks and keystrokes (and a $19.99 charge to your credit card) away. So I told Gruel to please send a download, that I'd consider it for review (even though it's not what some people might identify as a "book").

And, while granted it's a very specific, targeted product, I don't have any problem recommending that you go ahead and get it if you've got any interest at all in Zevon or the Los Angeles pop scene Gruel documents. I'm actually excited about the possibilities of this format, the 135 audio tracks he scattered throughout this photographic memoir of his time with Zevon make it seem like a cinematic experience. You really can get rather lost in the experience: You open the book via your iPads' Apple Books app and flick through it, soaking up all the rock 'n' roll photographs while hearing these little intimate behind-the-scenes glimpses of life on the road, and at home, with Zevon.

It's not a biography of the singer-songwriter, much less a "warts and all" tell-all. What it reminds me of, in spirit and tone, is a high school yearbook, decorated with the memories of friends and allies. It's the sort of thing an arty person might make for a loved one, a little catalog of apprehended moments. It's sweet and genuinely touching and it's all the better because Gruel is a talented (and trained) photographer who knows how to compose a shot and work the light. He shot the gorgeous album cover for Zevon's 1980 album "Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School," which is included here, along with some outtakes from that shoot.

I like it so much that I went online to try to find a physical copy of the book, which was published back in 2016. The cheapest copy I found was $349. I don't guess I can expense that.

And I don't need to — the quality of the photos comes through on the iPad, and the dead tree version doesn't come with audio.

Obviously, there are a lot of potential uses for this sort of thing — I don't imagine it will be too much longer before we'll be able to craft our own multi-media e-publications at home via some digital tool or other. Maybe there's already something out there. And that'll be great for sending the people we love birthday greetings and souvenirs of our affection.

But sometimes people will be able to use the form to make something specific and personal that also resonates in the hearts of those with no direct connection to the principals. They'll be able to make a kind of art. Like George

Gruel has.




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