- Written by Bill German
It's hard to believe that 30 years have passed since the assassination of John Lennon. I was an 18-year-old journalism student at NYU, living with my parents in Brooklyn. I was on the phone with a friend, shortly before midnight, when my mom said that WNBC-TV news had just broken in to the Johnny Carson show. "They're saying that someone shot John Lennon, right in front of his house."
The story didn't sound believable to me. What are the chances that a mugger would pick John Lennon? And even if it did happen, someone like John would hand over his wallet, end of story. I told both my mother and my friend that it had to be a mistake. "Some idiot thinks it's John Lennon, but it's not." I was either in denial or exhibiting my newfound journalistic skepticism.
I tuned in to WNBC-TV and phoned another friend. The news soon came that John Lennon had not only been shot, but that he was pronounced dead. My friend and I knew there was only one place we needed to be.
Within ten minutes, he picked me up in his dad's car and we zoomed up to the Dakota, the building where John lived and died. We stayed there until 4 or 5 a.m., alongside hundreds, if not thousands, of other New Yorkers and music fans. For one night, the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West was the center of the universe. Some folks sang Beatles songs, some folks had their ears pressed to the radio, and some folks simply stood there and cried. But we all experienced it as one. It was a sense of community that I'm not sure we have in our culture today.
The media was a different animal back then, so the Stones didn't feel the need to release any kind of press statement. But in an interview some years ago, Keith claimed he spent the night armed with a gun, searching the city for John's killer. I assume he started in the vicinity of the Dakota, but I know I didn't see him there.
- Written by Bill German
It's hard to believe that today marks thirty years since I first met the Stones, outside a nightclub in New York City. June 26, 1980.
I've written extensively about that day in "Under Their Thumb," but a new thought just occurred to me: My encounter with the Stones that day foreshadowed my future relationships with them. Mick was moody and aloof, Keith and Ronnie were friendly and inviting, Bill Wyman was quiet yet pleasant, and Charlie was absent.
I was 17 years old when I met them, and it was two days after my high school graduation. You might say I experienced TWO graduations that week -- and I don't need to tell you which one had the bigger impact on my life.
- Written by Bill German
Used to be, the Stones would only get busted for drugs. So when I heard last month that my ol' pal and co-author Ronnie Wood got hauled in for assaulting his 21-year-old girlfriend in England, I knew it was cause for alarm. In all the time I spent with the Woodman, I never saw him display a tendency toward violence.
Obviously, this was the booze working, but not by itself. Woody, at 62, is going through something of a midlife crisis. He's thrown away his marriage to Jo, one of the few stable people in his life, and that explains why the Woody of today is different from the Woody I knew in the 1980s and '90s. (Today would have been their 25th wedding anniversary. They'd been with each other since 1977.)
As I recently told an interviewer for the Wall Street Journal, Ronnie has a touch of ADD. He's all over the place, mentally and physically, and it's hard for him to say no to anything. Which is exactly where Jo would come in. She'd try her best to keep him away from the bad influences and from taking things too far. She's also the one who threw him into rehab several times. He could not have survived the last three decades without her.
I'm not sure who he'll listen to at this point. (The judge, by the way, let him off with a slap on the wrist.) Reports say that Keith hasn't spoken to him in a while, but I have no idea if that's true. All I know is that I haven't had an in-person conversation with him in five years. (I was about to send him a note with my book recently, but he moved into a love nest with his cocktail waitress and I couldn't get their address.) My fervent hope, however, is that after years of having people take care of him (his wife, his roadies, his managers, his co-authors), he'll finally take care of his own damned self and get back into rehab (among other long-term therapies).
My blind optimism tells me that he'll straighten himself out, which will be a good thing for him and his family, and that he'll be well enough to tour with the Stones in 2010/11, which'll be a good thing for the rest of us. The blogosphere and British tabloids, however, are currently rampant with rumors such as "Stones to replace Wood." They're all baseless and premature, but hopefully those rumors will help scare him straight.
Woody, the ball's in your court.
- Written by Bill German
If you attended any of my book signings in 2009, you may have had the good fortune to meet Dessie, my live-in girlfriend. She accompanied me for most of my book tour. I dedicated "Under Their Thumb" to her because she was there for me when I began writing it and was there for me when I completed it.
We first met in 1997 at a Stones concert in Port Chester, New York. By coincidence or fate, we wound up sitting right next to each other. It was a fairly exclusive concert (only 1200 seats) and we were in the VIP section, so she assumed I was only there to make the scene. "Are you even a Stones fan?" she asked me indignantly.
Dessie was a Stones fan since childhood, and she got into the Port Chester show through a scalper. When I explained to her that I'd spent 17 years of my life publishing a newsletter about the Stones, I think I answered her question. We went on our first date a few days later.
At the time, I had a "non-Stones-fan" policy when it came to choosing girlfriends (so as to separate my work life from my love life), but I made an exception for her. We went to several Stones concerts together in 1998, and I let her read the embryonic passages of what would become "Under Their Thumb."
We dated for a year before breaking up, but we then reconnected in 2006. We resumed dating like no time had passed. But unfortunately it had. She was now a stage-4 cancer patient.
In September 2007, she moved into my cramped studio apartment on Manhattan's upper west side. We tried to not let her cancer get in our way. She read the final drafts of my book and was thrilled about its publication in 2009. I think the excitement of it all -- watching me finish the book and joining me on the tour -- added some quality (and maybe some quantity) to her life.
Meanwhile, she was teaching me to appreciate every breath. She celebrated all of life's milestones -- from friends' kids' birthdays and grade school graduations, to Super Bowl Sunday, to the latest Stones release -- and never stopped going to concerts, dinners, museums, and movies. On certain days, we'd watch the sun set in Riverside Park and she'd literally get me to stop and smell the roses.
There were a few times when her chemotherapy schedule made it impossible for her to escort me to a book signing event. If it was a local event, she'd be waiting up for me when I got home. And if it was out of town, I couldn't wait to phone her as soon as I got back to the hotel.
Dessie was hospitalized in February of this year and never came home. I visited her every day, until she passed away on May 9, at the age of 49. It was days shy of the "Exile on Main Street" re-release and of her daughter's 21st birthday (from a previous marriage). Two milestones she would have loved to celebrate.
We buried her in her Rolling Stones jacket (the tuxedo that was given out at the Buffalo '78 show) and in one of her Stones blouses. Almost like she was dressed up for another concert.
I've got some book signings coming up soon and I'm looking forward to them. But it's going to be tough not being able to call her from the hotel or having her here for me when I walk through the door
- Written by Bill German
A lot of people have been asking me what stories I left out of "Under Their Thumb." The final version of the book is about half the size of my original draft. But take heart, Stones fans: The stories I cut had little or nothing to do with the Stones themselves -- including the one about Andrew Loog Oldham.
Considering that Andrew was the guy who "discovered" the Stones and served as their first real manager and producer, it seems ironic that my Andrew story wouldn't be relevant to my Stones-related book, but such is the case.
I first met Andrew when I was 16 years old at a New York City nightclub called Trax. It was June 1979, and it was the first time I'd ever gone to a "grownup club." (The drinking age was 18, but they didn't card me.) I went to see a singer named Neon Leon, who was a black punk rocker -- a friend and neighbor of Sid Vicious's -- and who was rumored to be the next act on Rolling Stones Records. I heard that Andrew was going to be at the show, so I geekily brought my Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra LP for him to sign. He did so graciously, as you can see from the photos below.
The next time I made contact with Andrew was in 1982, when I was 19. I was doing free publicity work for an unsigned band from Brooklyn, called L.A. Trash. They were friends of mine, so I was sort of their manager-until-they-got-a-manager. They had a gig at a nightclub on the Bowery and were determined to lure as many industry people as possible. We scoured issues of Billboard and came up with 80 bigwigs to invite. I wrote up a press release and, along with the guitarist, hand-delivered it to all 80 offices. We knew someone whose dad owned a messenger service, so we were able to dress up in official-looking caps and use official-looking delivery labels. We hit places like Atlantic Records and told the receptionist, "Please see that Mr. Ertegun receives this."
To make a long story short -- it'd take me a dozen pages to tell it all -- we delivered a press release to Andrew's residence on 57th Street. The guitarist, pretending to be a messenger, got Andrew to sign for it.
Of the 80 industry people we invited to the show, Andrew was the only one who turned up. Even after his success with the Stones -- and a 1970s period where he describes himself as being "out to lunch" -- he was still musically curious and adventurous. (Very rare traits in the music biz.) He enjoyed the band's set that night and, when he recognized the guitarist as the messenger from the day before, he knew he'd found a diamond in the rough. He told me how he loved the band's pretentiousness and determination.
He signed them to a management deal and took them into the recording studio, where he produced their cover of "The Last Time." (It was my idea for them to do that song.) I worked with Andrew for almost a year, between 1982 and '83. This, of course, was at the same time I was developing my relationship with Keith, who was living at the Plaza Hotel. (See chapters 5 and 6 of "Under Their Thumb.") I was 20 years old and I was the only person in the world who'd speak to Andrew Loog Oldham and Keith Richards on the same day. And of course, I didn't tell one about the other. (At the time, Andrew was still semi-employed by the Stones' arch enemy, Allen Klein.)
In the end, nothing came of L.A. Trash's relationship with Andrew. He moved to Bogota and Vancouver , and I didn't see him for almost 25 years. But we reconnected recently, and he invited me to his radio show. I'll be on with him this Saturday, May 16, over Sirius-XM's "Underground Garage" station, beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern. (That's channel 25 if you've got the Sirius unit, and channel 59 if you've got XM. Oh, and the show will be repeated on Sunday the 17th, at noon Eastern.) We'll discuss our "previous life" together and maybe spin some interesting records -- like my Neon Leon 45 (a cover of "Heart of Stone" featuring Mick Jagger on back vocals) and L.A. Trash's "The Last Time" (produced by the inimitable Andrew Loog Oldham).
By the way, I'd recommend Andrew's show whether I was set to appear on it or not. He's worth the price of a Sirius-XM subscription alone.