In what amounts to an oral history of Groovy Bob by his friends, documentarian Vyner knits hundreds of interview snippets into an engaging portrait of the 1960s eminence.
Though hardly a household name today, Fraser was a real presence in London’s swinging ’60s. He was a gallery owner, but mostly he was a taste-maker with little regard for legality or survival; he was a groovster, but also a relic of Old Eton and the King’s African Rifles, from whence he sprang. Vyner works her material—interviews, newspaper clippings, letters—like an orchestra conductor, at times bringing the reader to a near-swoon from the whirl of drugs, partying, sex, and lethal hangovers, then lightening the clip and freshening the air with breezy talk of soccer or the art scene. She allows her Fraser authorities to hang themselves with their own rope (Marianne Faithfull: “Mick was wearing a beautiful Mr. Fish jacket which had a face painted on the back, or something incredible, I really can’t remember what, but one of those wonderful silk jackets—perhaps a Michael Rainey jacket”), but mostly they come across as perceptive and articulate. We hear from Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Claes Oldenburg, even J. Paul Getty III—well over 100 contributors in all. They also emerge as type-A, high-octane types for all their laid-back cool, forever shuffling the pecking order. And Groovy Bob? Apparently he was one reckless fellow, self-destructive (he died of AIDS complications in 1986), elusive (especially when it came to paying his artists), brash, addicted, promiscuous, candid, iconic, and (ultimately) rather vacuous. Which is why, perhaps, many folks are going to be asking, “Bob who?”
Spontaneous and emotive, this biography works like a Seurat painting, a welter of fast dabs that fuse into a mesmeric picture. (50 b&w photographs)