One of the best known players in the music world during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s was Bill Graham (1931-1991), whose life and work is the subject of an exhibition titled “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution.” Organized by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the show is on view through July 5, 2016, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
What makes the exhibition so moving is not its collection of rock posters from the Fillmore, Winterland, Fillmore West, and Fillmore East. Nor will gallery-goers be surprised by the photographs of Graham hobnobbing with everyone from Mick Jagger to Janis Joplin. That stuff is definitely fun to see, but “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution” is special for the insight it gives us into the man himself—from his extraordinarily difficult childhood in Germany (his father died the year he was born; his mother died on a train bound for the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, where his 13-year-old sister died), to the charitable and civic-minded causes that consumed so much of his adult life. Indeed, it’s the Jewishness of Graham, who Peter Coyote once described as “a cross between Mother Teresa and Al Capone,” that comes through most via the almost 400 objects in the show, revealing the motivations that drove this deeply passionate man.