I'm headed to California at the end of this month for book signings in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But first I want to thank everyone who showed up to my first-ever book signing, which took place on February 26 at Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn. The turnout was overwhelming, and I was thrilled to meet and to reunite with some of my old Beggars Banquet subscribers. The event exceeded Barnes & Noble's expectations, so I'm both happy and sad that they sold out of books before everyone could get one. One of my old subscribers came all the way from New Hampshire and had to leave empty-handed! (And he didn't even win the award for coming the furthest. An old subscriber surprised me by flying in from London. Like I said, it was a truly gratifying and overwhelming experience for me.) The photos below were taken at the event by legendary rock photographer Chuck Pulin.

To California. I'll be at Book Soup in Hollywood on Tuesday, March 31, to discuss and sign the book. 8818 Sunset Boulevard. Kicks off at 7 p.m. I first learned of Book Soup in 1987, when I accompanied Ronnie Wood during his book tour for "The Works" (the book I co-authored with him). The line went around the corner, and I was flattered when some people asked for my signature, too. (I actually mention it on page 138 of "Under Their Thumb.")

After Book Soup, I'll be headed north to sign books at the San Francisco Art Exchange on Saturday, April 4. I first learned of them that same year, 1987, as they were one of the first galleries to exhibit Ronnie Wood's artwork. They've never stopped. They're the only gallery in the world to show his work for 22 years straight. They've got his old stuff, his new stuff, plus lots of Stones images by other artists and photographers, such as Sebastian Kruger, Michael Cooper, Dominique Tarle, and Ethan Russell. Images that'll blow your mind. So, after you get me to sign your book, stick around, feast your eyes on what they've got on the walls, and maybe take a piece home with ya. They're located at 458 Geary Street, and the event begins at 2 p.m.

I can't wait to come out there and see as many of you as possible.

 

    

I've begun doing interviews for the book and have enjoyed chatting with my fellow journalists. One of them said that he loved my book, but had a single complaint. He didn't like how I used the word "alright" because the correct spelling is "all right." "It's two words," he said. "Not one."

I told him that I chose to spell it as "alright" -- above the protests of my editor at Random House -- because it felt more "Stonesy." The first place I ever saw that spelling was on the Stones' "Got Live If You Want It" album when I was ten, and, ever since that day, I've spelled it that way. (My dictionary says that although it's incorrect, it has become somewhat acceptable -- as long as your reader knows it's "a token of willful unconventionality rather than a mark of ignorance.") 

"I'm Alright," which appeared on the "Got Live If You Want It" LP, was the Stones' take on a Bo Diddley song. And it was because of the Stones that I fell in love with Bo and his music. They covered a lot of his songs (like "Mona," "Diddley Daddy," "Crackin' Up") and would talk about him in their interviews.

People may know Bo for the "Bo Diddley beat" and for his influence on artists like the Stones, but some people don't realize the impact he had on gender relations. In a world (1950s America) where females were relegated to the kitchen, and in an industry full of misogynists, Bo showed respect for women by employing them in his band. Peggy Jones was his guitarist in the 1950s, and a woman known as The Duchess was his guitarist in the '60s. For the last 25 years of his career, his bassist was Debby Hastings, and his keyboard player (who also served as his manager) was Margo Lewis. (In the 1960s, Margo played in Goldie and the Gingerbreads, who were, to my knowledge, the first all-female band to play their own instruments. They opened for the Stones in 1965.)

When Ronnie Wood introduced me to Bo in 1987, I was beyond honored. It took place at Top Cat Studio in New York, when Woody and Bo were rehearsing for their "Gunslingers" tour. Bo was wearing his trademark black Stetson and thick-rimmed glasses. He shook my hand and said, "Pleased to meet you, young man." (I was 25.) He then reached into his pocket and handed me his business card. It read: "Kids, don't do it. Stay drug free."

I got to spend time with Bo along the Gunslingers tour, and he was nicer than I ever could have hoped. Unlike Chuck Berry, his old label mate at Chess, Bo never had a chip on his shoulder. He was phenomenally courteous, gracious, and you could sense the respect he had for women, whites, and for young people like me.

I saw him a few times in the 1990s and he never disappointed, both onstage and off. The last time I saw him was in February 2007 at BB King's nightclub in Times Square. He had to sit throughout his concert, but still exuded his old magic. He was sharp as a tack and still full of energy. Backstage before the show, he told me how he'd recently looked into the mouth of an alligator and how he'd recently saved his granddaughter from choking. He even offered to give my girlfriend a gold coin that he had. (She refused.) Despite his physical aches and pains, he was the same sweet guy I met in 1987.

Below are mementos from my first and last meetings with him, twenty years apart. On the left is the business card he gave me, and on the right is a photo from 2007. (We're flanked by Margo and Debby.) Three months after this photo was taken, Bo suffered a stroke. He never fully recovered, and he died in June 2008, at the age of 79. He was truly one of a kind, and I treasure every moment I spent with him.

 

I recently saw the film "Cadillac Records" and mostly enjoyed it. I was delighted that a bunch of African American kids were sitting next to me in the theater. They need to know that their culture contributed a lot more to popular music than Puff Daddy and Jay-Z. But at the end of the film -- a biopic about the founding of Chess Records -- I realized that it never mentioned Bo. And that is not alright in my book.

 

  

Amidst all the hoopla of the recent inauguration, I was reminded of the one Stones connection to the festivities.  It happened twenty years ago, when Ronnie Wood appeared as a guest performer at George Bush Senior's inaugural ball.  He played behind Bo Diddley, Percy Sledge, and Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave fame).  At one point in the proceedings, the new president took the stage.  I've got a picture in "Under Their Thumb" of Ronnie standing next to Bush, and you can see how befuddled he looks.  Also in the photo (and on guitar!) is Bush's late campaign manager, the controversial Lee Atwater.  Following their onstage collaboration, Ronnie became Atwater's pal, despite their differing political views. Atwater used to play in a band with Percy Sledge and had recorded with Sam Moore, so Ronnie felt he had some rock 'n' roll credibility.  (Moore, by the way, supported McCain in '08, and got annoyed when Obama used "Hold On, I'm Coming" as a campaign theme song at some rallies.)

It's twenty-five years since the first "official" issue of Beggars Banquet rolled off the presses.  I can't believe it's been that long.  I'd been publishing the fanzine on my own since 1978, but, after the Stones approached me in 1983 about making it "official," the 'zine went through some changes.  I therefore labeled the new version "Volume 2," to distinguish it from the previous "independent" incarnation.  (Mind you, none of those earlier issues were referred to as "Volume 1," the same way World War I wasn't called "World War I" when it was actually going on.)
 
After piecing together "Volume 2, Number 1" in January 1984, I was excited to get my first "official" issue to the printer.  But as the job was being run, I received a phone call saying Mick didn't like the way he looked in the cover photo and that I had to change it. So I called my printer and said, "Stop the presses!"  (In "Under Their Thumb," I detail how my relationship with the Stones affected my editorial freedom.)
 
Well folks, for the first time ever, here is a look (below center) at the cover that Mick didn't want you to see.  To the right is the cover that all Beggars Banquet subscribers eventually got.  And to the left is the advertisement the Stones inserted into every copy of their 1983 "Undercover" album.  As you can see, it's the exact same photo that Mick later said I couldn't use.  He was fine with a million people seeing it in 1983, but not with anyone seeing it in 1984.  Changing one's mind is a rock star's prerogative.
 
    

After taking the summer off, I'm excited to be doing a few more discussions and signings.  First up is the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday, November 7, where "Under Their Thumb" will be featured by the museum's Book Club.  I'll be speaking/signing at 9 o'clock that night, and it's part of the museum's monthly First Saturday series, where admission is free.  My appearance will coincide with the museum's "Who Shot Rock & Roll?" exhibit, so it'll be a unique opportunity to view some great rock 'n' roll images (including photos of the Stones) and everything else the museum has to offer, free of charge.  (They do sell food and booze.  And parking's just 4 bucks.)  Check the Events page or the museum's web site for more info and directions.

I want to convey my gratitude to everyone who showed up to my events in the spring.  I was overwhelmed by the turnouts at chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders (in New York and Philly), as well as indie stores like Book Soup (in Los Angeles) and the Book Revue (in Long Island).

At some of the events, I was thrilled to reunite with the characters from my book.  People I hadn't seen in years -- like the guy who sneaked me into my high school's mimeo room to print the first copies of my fanzine (see page 6) and the guy who called to tell me about the Stones' "Out On Bail" bootleg while I was in the process of almost losing my virginity (see page 5).

But there were bittersweet moments, too.  At one book signing, I was approached by the sister of Lisa, the wheelchair-bound girl from page 284.  Lisa had MS, and won my contest in 1993 to see Mick's private club gig at Webster Hall.  She was so eager to see the show, she didn't care that the club wasn't wheelchair accessible.  "I'll climb the stairs on my hands and knees," she told me back then.  (The end of that story is on page 294.)  Sadly, Lisa died a few weeks before my book signing near her town in Long Island.  Her sister said that if Lisa were still alive, she would definitely have been there.  So she and Lisa's best friend came in her stead.

At Book Soup in Los Angeles, a stranger handed me a note during the Q & A portion of my spiel.  His note said that he was unable to speak, but that he still had a question for me.  I read it aloud to the audience.  He was asking whether I'd ever performed my Stones impersonations in front of the Stones.  (At each of my book signings, I usually throw in a couple to amuse the audience.)  I relayed the story (from page 90) about how I tried to do Mick in front of Mick but sounded more like Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Later, when the guy approached me to get his book signed, he handed me another note.  It said that he couldn't speak because he had tongue cancer.  I told him to "hang in there."  And yes, in light of the Stones' famous logo, he does recognize (on his own blog) the irony of a Stones fan getting tongue cancer.

The November 7 event at the Brooklyn Museum should be a lot of fun.  If you live in the New York area, I hope to meet you there.  Tell me your stories and I'll tell you mine.