COLUMN ONE, SEPTEMBER 1, 1995
(Copyright © 1995 The Blacklisted Journalist)
THE INVISIBLE LINK
(Photo Courtesy Linda McCartney)
OPENING NIGHT AT THE FILLMORE EAST: Bill Graham is
pictured beneath the ladder. The Invisible Link (The Blacklisted
Journalist) faces the street at the far right.
[With this, the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST's COLUMN ONE, a writer who once was one of the world's most powerful pop columnists but who has been effectively blacklisted for some 23 years, makes his reappearance before a reading audience by debuting on the world-wide Internet. As the author of a pop scene column in a major New York tabloid from 1969 to 1972, the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST amassed a vast following before he was unjustly banished from print.
["I didn't know it, but I wasn't supposed to score such a big hit," the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST said, "and one of New York's most notoriously corrupt executive editors got jealous. He made up all kinds of stories about me and finally drove that shaft up my ass right into my brain. I got shafted so bad, I went totally out of my head. One reason I couldn't get back into print was a lot of what i wrote was too crazy to publish."
[Although frustrated in his attempts to get back into print during those 23 years, the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST says he nevertheless continued to write because he had never learned or was ever successful at anything else. Many of the manuscripts he has written reminisce about his participation in many of the historic moments of the Sixties, an era which he describes as "one of history's most self-destructive binges of creativity."
[The Blacklisted Journalist's first piece on the Internet represents the opening pages of a work-in-progress which offers a collection of reminiscences as a history of the Sixties. In other words, this begins the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST's personal chronicles of "one of history's most self-destructive binges of creativity," a seismic era which the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST not only chronicled but also helped shape. Claiming to have been there when anything important happened during this era, he has given this work-in-progress the following working title: THE INVISIBLE LINK FROM THE BEATS TO THE BEATLES or WHY THE '60S WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN THE SAME WITHOUT ME. Mystifyingly, he says, publishers keep turning down this collection of manuscripts. The author now intends to publish them in this column, which will also offer up-to-date opinions, reviews, interviews, critiques, commentary, contemporary reporting, and whatever else might be on the writer's mind. Entitled THE INVISIBLE LINK, COLUMN ONE includes personal reminiscences about Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Linda McCartney, Chuck Berry and Bill Graham.
["It seems," the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST said, "that nobody has wanted to publish ANYTHING that I've written. Now, with this column on the world-wide Internet, I feel as if I have been finally freed after having been falsely imprisoned for 23 years."]
THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST
copping a smoke in the UMC lobby when this wiseass slides out from the panel
discussion being held in the Glen Miller Auditorium, walks up to a couple of
dudes in T-shirts, shorts and sneakers lounging limply on the unmanned
registration tables lined up in front of the auditorium doors and says to them
in a voice loud enough for me to overhear:
Allen drops one more name on us from the stage, I think we all ought to get up
this wiseass playing to me or am I getting paranoid again? Does he know who I am? He
must've seen me all over the University of Colorado campus cuddling with the
likes of Peter Orlovsky or Gregory Corso or Abbie Hoffman or Carolyn Cassady or
John Clellon Holmes or Timothy Leary or Herbert Huncke, all gathered in joyful
reunion beneath the awesome overhang of the Rockies to celebrate the 25th
anniversary of the nailing of On The Road to the door of culture.
I know I'm getting giddy being taken for a surviving Beat cult hero but
I'm not yet arrogant enough to imagine this wiseass is making this remark within
my earshot because he knows I might just turn out to be one of the most famous
name-droppers of my time. But why
is he dropping Allen's name in front of me?
Allen's is one of the names I like to drop the most.
Allen Ginsberg. America's
greatest living poet. He's been a
friend of mine for 23 years. I feel
pretty good about that."
the June heat of an amphitheater-type auditorium at the University of Colorado
in 1982, I am reading the foregoing aloud to an assembly which has convened as
the final event of the already-mentioned reunion.
What I am reading is something which I've written overnight in my motel
room as both a report about the event and a tribute to Allen Ginsberg, its
organizer. The purpose of this
assembly is to afford an opportunity to any of its members to address the
audience for no longer than two minutes each.
Some have gotten up and spoken extemporaneously.
Some have gotten up and read poems hastily written for the occasion.
There are several hundred in attendance and this assembly could last just
a little short of forever if everyone in the audience demands two minutes of
celebrity at the microphone. At the
time, I'm very proud of what I've written.
The audience seems to like it, too.
Jack Kerouac was the saint who inspired the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg was
the prophet who organized it into a movement.
That's an opinion I've stuck to since I first wrote about being dazzled
by Jack reciting October In The Railroad Earth to Stan Getz's sax
accompaniment down the steep cellar stairs at the Village Vanguard, since I
first climbed the three flights to the kitchen of Allen's Lower East Side Second
Street tenement walkup to begin sitting at his feet.
It was Allen who went through America, looking under every rock to
collect the madmen poets, artists, painters, writers, hiding like worms in their
dark holes of alienation, not knowing there were others like themselves hiding,
too, isolated beneath other rocks, waiting only for a prophet like Allen to dig
the underground network that connected them, a prophet to lead them out into the
sunlight where they could metamorphose like beautiful butterflies of thought,
voices in the crusade to save the human spirit.
Allen was the talent scout, the recruiter, the proselytizer, the
missionary, the clown and the straight man.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Beat Generation, written by Jack Kerouac but
produced, promoted and press-agented by Allen Ginsberg, who, in addition, not
only directed but also played himself. That's
only for starts. Allen always knew
what he was doing. He always knew
his power. I remember back in 1959,
when I was telling him how the editors of the New York Post really wanted me to
write a hatchet job about the Beat Generation, Allen kept insisting I let him
talk to them in person. "I can be
very persuasive," he said. But
not persuasive enough for me to let him do it."
at the audience, I detect no signs of impatience.
In fact, it seems to me that I'm going over pretty big.
My ardor to let so many people hear what I've stayed up all night to
write consumes me. For the past few
months, I've been giving lots of readings, but never before so large an
audience. I've been giving readings
from my book, The Blacklisted Masterpieces Of Al Aronowitz, a product of
my looniness which resulted from my having been slandered by the editor of the
New York Post, who fed my fellow journalists poison about me which they
swallowed without ever bothering to read the label on the bottle.
Published on a Xerox, The Blacklisted Masterpieces Of Al Aronowitz,
still available at a hundred dollars, was mocked in the press as an
"Underground best-seller." (I,
myself, took a full-page ad in the Village Voice that boasted:
"MORE THAN SIX COPIES NOW IN PRINT!")
in the University of Colorado auditorium, I don't realize that the attention I'm
getting from so large an audience has gone to my head, from which too many of my
marbles are already missing. The
insanity resulting from my getting unjustly fired has by this time been
exacerbated by subsequent events, not the least significant of which is that I
have turned into a cocaine freak. Onstage,
to my left, I notice that Allen is looking a little embarrassed.
He is standing with someone who keeps pointing to his watch.
Stubbornly, I continue reading:
can measure the strength of Allen's will by understanding how he deliberately
and consciously set out from childhood to grab the ball from Walt Whitman and
run with it like nobody else since. Which
history will judge is exactly what he did.
He changed the language and rhythms of American poetry with knee jerks.
Until Howl, people had to throw their copies of Tropic Of
Cancer overboard before the boat docked in New York.
His influence would've changed my life even if I'd never met him because
he changed the letters that are my life. He
has changed the lives of all of us. Knowing
Allen is one of the strongest drugs I've ever taken, one of the most
consciousness-expanding experiences of my life.
No wonder he's still illegal."
audience response is too encouraging. The
laughter seems to come at just the right times, leaving me unaware that I am
only part of the show. . . That the
audience is not only listening to me but also watching Allen's embarrassment. .
. An embarrassment arising not only
from the flowery praise I keep heaping on him but also from my determination to
keep heaping it on long past my allotted time.
two minutes are up!" Allen calls out.
audience convulses with laughter. I
pretend not to hear and I continue reading:
those who don't know him don't love him. He
is the most tenderhearted heavyweight I've ever met, and Allen is a heavyweight
among heavyweights, an actor who can play Moses to any Pharaoh, an intellect who
can cross words with any wit, a charmer who can make the hair of the Medusa
dance to the reason of his tune, a visionary who builds his web with the
patience of a spider, a teacher who has forged a new link in the chain of
knowledge, a Christ-type con-man camper who can make himself comfortable with
any lowly Gypsy, a holy wanderer through eternity, an immortal.
I'm so proud I know him."
each phrase that I characterize Allen, he acts as if he's been struck in the
heart by an arrow and the audience roars. I
refuse to let anyone gong me off the show.
I'm having too good a time to quit now. . .
For 23 years, he's been a main man to me, a guru, an oracle, a leader, a teacher, a master,
Allen and I
were good friends,
or at least I thought so
a counsellor, a consoler, a benefactor and a loyal friend.
Allen came to my 50th birthday party.
I went to the funeral of his gentle poet-father, Louis, buried in the
same cemetery as my mother, my father and my wife.
There was a summer my children stayed at Allen's farm in Cherry Valley.
Allen's the most considerate friend you'd ever wished you had, the
softest touch who ever couldn't say no. If
he hadn't taken a conscious vow of poverty way back when he was plotting to
succeed Walt Whitman, he'd still be broke.
Allen's a one-man welfare agency. The
only reason he earns any money at all is to give it away.
He's probably the most beloved man I know---?
I'm reading this last paragraph, the crowd's laughter convulses to a roar.
I've been so busy hogging the spotlight that I haven't noticed Allen
sneaking across the stage from my left to hook the curled handle of a bamboo
cane around my neck, pulling me away from the microphone.
This was the climax of The Al and Allen Comedy Show.
We got maybe the biggest hand of all at that final event of the Jack
Kerouac twenty-fifth anniversary Beat reunion.
We certainly got the most laughs.
those who don't know him don't love him,'" Allen mocked me scornfully
afterwards. "Everybody who
knows me doesn't love me! I'm not
beloved!" Then he started
naming a bunch of people who don't love him.
I didn't whip out a pen and pad and write all the names down.
I had never heard of any of them before, I don't remember them and, so
far, Allen refuses to repeat the list for me.
knows me very well and he hates me!" Allen said. "And So-and-so and So-and-so. . ."
always believed that art's most noble purpose is to inspire. Art can decorate. Art
can entertain. Art can titillate.
Art can make me cry. But
I've always believed that art's most important function is to inspire others to
the other hand, James A. Wechsler, like most famous radical hand-me-downs from
the '30s and '40s, seemed to believe that art should be used to promote leftist
causes. Wechsler had been one of
the heroes of my growing-up. I used
to read him on the pages of PM, that great journalistic experiment, a newspaper
without advertising. Years later,
calling himself "an unreconstructed radical," Wechsler became the
editor of the New York Post, where I eventually was encouraged to call him
Jimmy, which started me thinking I was a hot-shot writer.
had a son named Michael whom he loved and doted on as any devoted father would.
But when Michael hit his teens, Michael fell under the spell of a poet
friend who idolized Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation.
This annoyed Jimmy, who had planned for his son to grow up to be an
unreconstructed radical like himself. As
part of his own personal crusade to prove to Michael that Michael's idols were
assholes, Jimmy agreed to participate in the so-called Brandeis Forum, which
had, as its subject, "Is There A Beat Generation?" In what turned out to be a major cultural event for the
under-thirty college crowd of the day, this soon-to-be-legendary great debate
took place on November 8, 1958, at New York's Hunter College Playhouse, where
Jimmy joined elderly Princeton anthropologist Ashley Montague and British Angry
Young Man Kingsley Amis in ganging up on a very stoned Jack Kerouac.
Clearly drunk when he arrived, Jack had been promised 20 minutes and
dreamily tried to read from a prepared text which was later published in Playboy
under the title of The Origins of the Beat Generation.
Dressed in his trademark checkered shirt, black jeans and ankle boots in
contrast to Wechsler, Montague and Amis, who all wore suits, Jack was swaying at
the podium but delighted the student audience with his visionary, metaphysical
and romanticized interpretation of what had been happening in America, saying:
is because I am Beat, that is, I believe in beatitude and that God so loved the
world that he gave his only begotten son to it. . . Who knows, but that the universe is not one vast sea of
compassion actually, the veritable holy honey, beneath all this show of
personality and cruelty?"
his otherworldly poetic musings on love and death from his Mexico City Blues
and tracing the origins of the Beat Generation from Harpo Marx, Lamont Cranston,
Krazy Kat, Popeye, modern jazz saxophonist Lester Young plus "the glee of
America, the honesty of America" and America's "wild, self-believing
individuality," Jack warned:
unto those who don't realize that America must, will, is changing now, for the
better, I think. . . Woe unto those who would spit on the Beat Generation---the
wind will blow it back."
five minutes into Jack's reading, the moderator, a certain Dean Kauffman,
apparently annoyed because he thought Jack was evading any point of argument,
imperiously interrupted Kerouac to announce that his time was up.
response to Jack, a very polished Kingsley Amis, got up to deny, with much
erudition and polish, that there ever was such a thing as a British literary
movement of so-called "angry young men."
Ashley Montague characterized the Beats as the "ultimate expression
of a civilization whose moral values had broken down."
As for Jimmy Wechsler, without even so much as an "en garde!"
he was out to run Jack through. Describing
himself with emphasis as "one of the few unreconstructed radicals of my
generation," he insisted that "life is complicated enough without
trying to make it a poem." Jimmy's
message was "Live your lives out," but, as the evening drew to a
close, Jack bellowed:
Love your lives out!"
I listened to the debate, I remember thinking that although these heroes of mine
were all on the same stage, they might as well be fencing with one another from
different planets. Jimmy was aiming
his fire where, according to Jimmy's unreconstructed radical way of thinking,
Kerouac should have been. But all
the while, Jack was actually on another world.
Calling the Beat Generation a joke compared to the progressive causes
from which he'd earned his own medals, Wechsler attacked the Beats' "flight
and irresponsibility." Jack
didn't know what Wechsler was talking about and wondered aloud whether Wechsler
did, too. Jimmy became more and
more outraged at Jack for being so unresponsive to Jimmy's best thrusts.
Unresponsive, that is, except to push Dean Kauffman aside, grab the
microphone and call Wechsler, Montague and Amis "a bunch of communist
shits" bent on "the Sovietation of America," a place in which no
such debates would ever be allowed. Unresponsive, that is, except to clown, roam impolitely over
the stage, giggle, shout interruptions, sit beside Jimmy, grab his hat, put it
on his own head, slump down in his chair to mimic Jimmy, and then, like a
grownup teasing a child, rebuff Jimmy's attempts to get the hat back.
later, Beat scholar Dennis McNally, writing in his book, Desolate Angel,
a Kerouac biography, would characterize Wechsler as playing the role of
"the most vigorous Philistine since the hero of Front Page."
Gossip about this great debate was all over the New York Post city
room and Jimmy, in assigning me to write a twelve-part feature series about the
Beat Generation, didn't need to make it clear that he wanted me to expose,
ridicule, humiliate, crush, pulverize and otherwise assassinate these cultural
upstarts. . . These literary
switchblades. . . These artistic
nihilists. . . These unrealistic
dope fiends . . . Which, somehow,
is the way I remember him describing them to me.
Jimmy didn't need to make it clear because the other editors at the Post
all but handed me the hatchet with which they wanted me to do the job.
I'm not gonna tell ya t' slice their balls off just because they're a bunch of
dumb-fuck pansies posing as poets!" I remember executive editor Paul Sann
giving me my marching orders when he assigned me to write the Beat Generation
instructed, I stormed the slum tenements of the Lower East Side, but Allen
Ginsberg immediately charmed me out of my hatchet. I also remember him coming on a lot, but I was too much of an
uptight middle class nerd even to think about sex with Allen.
Today, of course, he writes, "No way!
You're hallucinating. Preposterous."
So, I guess I must've been imagining.
I remember putting Allen off by promising him we'd be dirty old men
together. Otherwise, I've made a
fool of myself always coming on to women. Now
that I've become a dirty old man, Allen doesn't come on to me any more.
or not he tried to get into my pants, Allen seduced me spiritually.
I remember his voice alone casting a spell over me.
I fell in love with his gentleness.
He had read widely and his scholarship impressed me.
In our conversations, I felt I was listening to a great teacher.
He was always very self-possessed, very calm and very patient, certainly
much more patient that he is in his present incarnation, which is that of a
great artist taking himself seriously while busy being world-famous.
Whatever came out of Allen's mouth made perfect sense to me at the time.
He seemed to reek with wisdom. I
hung out in the kitchen of his third-floor tenement flat, hypnotized by
everything he had to say. It was
Allen who inspired me to practice my profession as an art rather than to let
myself be satisfied with just considering myself a pro.
Allen opening all the doors for me, usually at the top of a fifth-floor walkup,
I got to know all the poets, painters and musicians rallying around the Beat
cause like artists grabbing hold of the spokes of a Maypole.
I began to romanticize the Beats to be an artistic movement, just like
the Impressionists of the Parisian Left Bank or Ernest Hemingway's Lost
Generation in Paris. More and more,
I began to feel that this was a bona fide literary movement which was going to
be recognized as significant, which was going to make history, which was going
to end up as a college course. My
next problem was how to walk the tightrope of writing what I really thought and
still get Jimmy Wechsler and Paul Sann to print it.
Years and years later, I still bump into people who tell me that they saw
copies of my New York Post Beat Generation series posted on bulletin boards in
various colleges across the country when they were younger.
I like knowing that.
Jimmy Wechsler never did succeed in saving his son from the Beat Generation.
I was always fond of Jimmy, an excellent editor, and, in fact, the only
one of the word-butchers at the New York Post who ever edited my copy
without ruining my rhythm. I had
Jimmy over to my house for dinner once. Another
time we went to a Rutgers-Columbia football game at Columbia's Baker Field.
As sports editor of Rutgers' student newspaper, I was so rabid a Rutgers
fan that I kept going to every football game on the schedule for years after I
got out of college. Jimmy, who'd
begun his leftist career as a Columbia student, was still as unreconstructed a
Columbia football fan as a political radical.
Jimmy and I got into the habit of making a friendly bet on the
Rutgers-Columbia game every year. As
a matter of fact, another reason why Jack Kerouac infuriated Jimmy so much was
that Jack had walked out on a promising career as one of Columbia Coach Lou
Little's star Lion running backs.
coulda been All-American!" Jack once boasted to me.
No, Jimmy never did succeed in saving his son Michael from the Beat Generation. Michael began to smoke pot, maybe tried other drugs, got into all kinds of trouble, and spent some time in a psychiatric institution or two. Eventually, Jimmy was faced with the sad task of writing a column about Michael's suicide.
One of the greatest treasures in
my memory is the night Billie Holiday introduced me to Miles Davis and I
introduced Billie Holiday to the Beat Generation.
This historic event occurred back
in 1959 in the course of my research for my New York Post series about the
Beats. When I learned that Jack
Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were as gaga about Billie and Miles as, say,
teenyboppers would be screeching for the Beatles some 15 years later, I thought
it would be interesting to learn what Billie and Miles thought of Jack and Allen
and their Beat Generation.
And I was determined to find out.
After all, the whole Beat movement owed so much to Jazz.
As for me, I easily recognized Billie's singing and Miles' trumpet as two
of the most distinctive voices in all of music.
An important person in this story
is a woman named Maele. I've now
lost track of her and believe she is long dead. But I bless both her and her
spirit, wherever they may be. Maele
could vouch for what I tell you because she was there.
In fact, she engineered the whole evening. Maele had all the energy of a keg of dynamite.
She had the shape of one, too, but she always had an old man.
She's had three different last names to go with three different husbands
that I know of, but I never knew what her maiden name was.
Multi-lingual, sophisticated and
world-traveled, Maele was one of the glamorous female pioneers of Hip back when
she was married to an actor named Freddie Bartholomew.
Possibly, most kids today never heard of Freddie Bartholomew, but when I
was a kid, Freddie enchanted me as Little Lord Fauntelroy, the American boy who
becomes a British Earl---except Freddie didn't have to play at being English
because he was a Brit in the first place.
When I last saw Maele, her last
name was Trimiar and she was an assistant to the chairman of the Navajo Nation
on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and Arizona.
I owe Maele a great debt for things that happened since this particular
night with Billie, but that's another story.
In 1959, Maele was married to
Bill Dufty, who was one of my colleagues in the so-called "Poets'
Corner" of the Post city room.
Bill was later to make big news by marrying aging silent screen star
Gloria Swanson, but when he was still married to Maele, he hit the big-time by
ghostwriting Billie Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings The Blues, which
starts out: "Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was 15, she was 16 and I was three."
By the time Bill completed work on Billie's book, Billie had adopted
Maele as her "white sister." That's
what Billie called Maele, "my white sister."
By the night I met them, they really seemed to be as tight as womb-mates.
Not only did I want some quotes about the Beats from Billie, but I was a big fan, too.
a magical charisma
Naturally, I wanted to meet her.
I asked Bill Dufty if he could arrange it and Bill asked Maele.
Sure, Maele said, come on over, bring your wife, I'll cook us up a
dinner, Billie would love to meet you.
If memory serves me right, the
Duftys lived in an apartment at a fancy address somewhere in midtown Manhattan.
Don't ask me to remember the meal Maele cooked up.
What I mostly remember is how tall Billie looked, much taller than her
five feet and seven inches, even without her high heels.
Another thing I remember is that there was a droop to her mien in the
same way a drape sags. But still she looked regal.
There was also enough baggage under her eyes to need some help from a
Redcap. Billie looked like a
But as eroded as the years had
left her, she still radiated a magical charisma which I liked to think is the
stuff that halos are made of. From
the shambles of her body still glowed the moon shining through flowering tree
branches on a romantic night in May. She
still had the hint of spring in her. As
an adoring fan, I was delighted to discover she was flesh and blood, somebody
real, somebody I could talk to, somebody who was actually hamish.
Except, it was hard for me to
understand what she was saying. Maele
seemed to catch every word, but to my wife and to me, Billie sometimes was
almost unintelligible. At first, I
never even gave Billie's addiction a thought but it soon became obvious that she
was expressing herself in a junkie's garbled drawl.
"Ahm sayin''Ehm ooma blmmmm
blmmm wnnnn ugggh, y'know?"
But even if I missed a lot, I
still enjoyed Billie's relaxed and easy-to-get-to-know kind of charm.
After dinner, it was Billie's idea for us to go down to Birdland, where
Miles was playing with his Kind of Blue quintet, John Coltrane on tenor,
Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums and Bill Evans on piano, or was
it Wynton Kelly? It was his Kind
of Blue album alone that qualified Miles in my own mind as an immortal. At Birdland, he came over to our table as soon as he finished
his set. When Billie introduced me
to him, I rose to shake his hand. Still,
I had to chase him into the men's room to get a chance to talk to him.
I was standing at the urinal next
to him when I asked him what he thought of the Beat Generation.
Coltrane, standing at the urinal on the other side of Miles, snickered.
Miles glowered at me as if in anger because I had asked so silly a
question. In the hiss that was his
wreckage of a voice, Miles growled:
"The Beat Generation aint
nothin' but just more synthetic white shit!"
It was after grooving to a set or
two at Birdland that we piled back into my station wagon and I tried to steer
Billie to a Beat poetry reading at a Beat hangout called the Seven Arts Coffee
Gallery, located in the unlikeliest of places, Hell's Kitchen, on the second
floor of 596 Ninth Avenue, around the corner from 42nd Street.
God knows what's there now, but poetry readings at the Seven Arts Coffee
Gallery loom large in the history of the Beat Generation.
Sure, Billie wanted to know what
the Beat Generation was all about and, sure, she'd listen to the poetry and,
sure, she'd take a ride over there. But
when I pulled up in front of the coffee gallery, she suddenly decided she didn't
want to get out of the station wagon to go upstairs.
Instead, I went up and brought
down two of the poets, the late Joel Oppenheimer and Leroi Jones, now known as
Amiri Baraka, the fiery militant artist-activist.
On this particular night, both Joel and Roi tried to stick their heads in
through the partly rolled-down window of the back seat, where Billie was sitting
next to Maele.
Oppenheimer said, "Just, thanks. That's
all I can say is thanks. Thanks!
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thanks.
Just thank you for being you."
He said something like that.
He said it as if he were reciting a poem.
He said it so powerfully that I can't remember what Amiri said, except
that Amiri expressed similar gratitude for Billie's existence.
When I asked Amiri years later if he remembered what he said, he told me
he didn't remember. Was he putting
me on? If I had my pick of moments
to live over again, this night would be one of them.
In the back seat of the station wagon, Billie told Maele that Amiri
looked cute and then she said:
"Come on, let's get the fuck
out of here!"
I forget all the small talk that
we made. What I remember most of
all is that, with my wife in the front seat with me, I turned and asked Billie
over my shoulder:
"How come you never
recorded"---and I sang the title---"My Man's Gone Now"
That's one of my all-time favorites, you know, from Porgy and Bess.
By George Gershwin."
Yes, My Man's Gone Now was
and still is one of my all-time favorites.
Why Billie had never recorded it always had been a big mystery to me and
here was my chance to solve the mystery by getting the answer from Billie
herself. That is, if I could make
out her drawling and mumbling. Oh,
maybe I'm exaggerating! She really
wasn't that strung out.
"Ah know! Ah know!" she answered
"He asked me to sing that song when they opened that show.
He asked me to play the part of the girl who sings that song."
"Who asked you?"
The woman who sings My Man's
Gone Now in Porgy and Bess is a character named "Serena."
She sings the song after learning that the villain, "Crown,"
has murdered her husband. The role was created in the original 1935 production by Ruby
Elzy. She sang the role 800 times.
She even sang it at a recital in the White House.
The last time she sang it was in Denver in 1943, the final stop in a
national Porgy and Bess tour.
She was on her way back to New
York for a performance at an all-Gershwin concert in Lewisohn Stadium and a solo
career that was to include her grand opera debut in the title role of Aida when
she felt ill and stopped to see a doctor in Detroit. The doctor discovered
a benign tumor in her uterus and recommended its immediate removal---an
operation that, doctors have said, "did not appear to be dangerous."
It was after the surgery in the recovery room of Parkside Hospital, Detroit that
she went into cardiac shock and died at the age of 35.
We were nearing Columbus Circle when Billie drawled from the back seat of
my station wagon:
"Naw, I couldn't sing that
song night after night after night. It's
too sad. It's the saddest song ever
sung. That song breaks your heart.
It woulda killed me. It
killed the girl who got the part. She
sang it night after night after night and she died.
It broke her heart. Singing
that song woulda killed me, too."
And then, Billie began to sing
it, a cappella, in the back seat. She
sang it as I have never heard it sung before or since.
She sang it as only Billie could sing it, turning an operatic aria into a
blues song, cornering the lines with mournful catches of the throat.
Out the gravel of her voice and the slurred mush of her enunciation, the
clear and beautiful sound of her singing rose up to fill me with thrills and
cover me with goosepimples:
man's gone now,
Aint no use in listenin'
For his tired footsteps
Climbin' up the stairs. . .
I had to wipe the tears from my
eyes because I couldn't see to drive around Columbus Circle.
Beautiful music always makes me cry.
Then Billie asked me to take her to her favorite Chinese Restaurant so
she could get some food to go. I
could just about decipher what she was saying but she made a big fuss about how
necessary it was for her to get a takeout from this particular Chinese
restaurant. I've always wondered, perhaps naively, whether the takeout
could have included a hit of junk. Billie
died only a few months later.
recognizable, yes, both Miles' trumpet and Billie's singing are two of the most
distinctive sounds in all of music. I
easily got as hung on Miles as I ever got hung on any one of my collection of
superstars. And when I adored,
worshipped and revered an artist, I really went overboard.
To me, Miles was a romantic black prince with what I imagined to be
supernatural powers. He was an artist obviously anointed by higher powers.
He was his own brand of Black Messiah, a Divinity, a man of mythic
proportions, a Pan who gave new dignity to horn-blowing.
For me, Miles was one of the prizes of my collection.
He had the most discriminating taste of all.
In both his art and his style, when he was playing the role of the
perfect minimalist or even when he was too much, Miles was always just right!
I've never heard him blow a wrong note and I don't think anyone else has,
either. Some people have told me
they fear Jazz will one day fade into obscurity, but my prophesy is that Miles'
music will still be listened to long after the world has forgotten that there
ever was any kind of debate over the merits of African versus European musical
Miles was arrogant and self-possessed and feisty and he walked with the swagger
of someone who knew he was one of the wonders of the world.
He used to boast to me that he was a "nasty nigger."
But he was also one of the kindest men I have ever known.
When my wife died, Miles called me up and said:
I said, sadly. "No.
No, but thanks for asking."
know somethin' you need," he said. "You
Miles called his accountant back from vacation in Florida to give me a check to cover the funeral expenses.
It took years for me to really get to know Miles and then I still didn't really get to know him. Not until some time after I first met Miles did Bob Altshuler, the publicity genius at Columbia Records, aware that Miles was one of my heroes, ask me if I wanted to write a story about Miles. That was at a point when Miles was contemplating another of his periodic comebacks with a new album for Columbia and Altshuler wanted a story by me as part of his hype campaign. This was in the Sixties at a time when Miles, having set a style as tight as his tight suits---in which, as the ultimate, unruffled and immaculate "Mr. Cool"---was a regular visitor to a gym in Harlem, where he trained with his boxing friends. During his conversations, he had a habit of punctuating his sentences with a combination of punches, sometimes throwing them at nobody and sometimes right at me or at whomever else he was talking to, getting close enough to make me or whomever else a little nervous. Still, I didn't mind his throwing punches in my direction and I never asked him to stop. In fact,
decorated in circles;
even the bed was round?
felt proud. I felt that was Miles'
way of paying attention to me. For
me, just being with Miles was the ultimate hit.
Because he made his contempt for whites so clear to the world, I felt all
the more honored to be allowed to hang out with him.
For me, Miles was magic. Just
looking at his face was a joy. I
thought Miles was one of the most beautiful men ever born, with his sexy good
looks adorning a face that sizzled with intensity while reflecting contempt for
and anger at an imperfect world. For
me, Miles had a dazzle which lit up his otherwise deliberately dull, dingy and
dim West 77th Street townhouse, decorated especially with Africana by an
interior designer who had done the place almost all in circles.
Does my memory stumble or did Miles even have a circular bed in his
bedroom? This was about the time he
first began living with actress Cicely Tyson, long before they initially broke
up and then eventually got back together and married.
She even cooked us a tasty fish dinner one memorable night.
got tighter yet with Miles after I started writing my New York Post Pop Scene
column in 1969. I sometimes used my
column as a cudgel to protect Miles from an unscrupulous concert promoter or
two. At one point, Miles even asked
me to be his manager. I think parts
of his old Shure sound system might still be in my storage bin.
This was when Miles began insisting that he had outgrown jazz and instead
started making eyes at the exploding and much more lucrative youth market.
To Miles, jazz had become another classical music, something to be
preserved in museums. He didn't
want to be labeled as a jazz artist any more and he would go into a rage when
anyone classified him as one. He
didn't want to be labeled at all! He
wanted to be recognized by everybody, not just by jazz freaks.
He wanted to reach the pop audience.
He said he was sick and tired of struggling to get his $5,000 a night
when Jimi Hendrix was being paid $50,000 a night.
By then, Miles had met Jimi and they had gotten tight.
But not so tight that Miles couldn't say no when Jimi wanted Miles to
play on an album with him.
told him, 'Sure, I'll play on it,'" Miles told me, "'but I want
$50,000.' That's how much Jimi gets
paid for playin' on someone else's record.
Why shouldn't I get it, too?"
kept asking Miles and Miles kept asking for $50,000. And Jimi kept telling Miles that his business managers kept
vetoing that price. They were still
haggling when Jimi died. I had to
talk Miles into going to Jimi's funeral with me.
"Sheet!," he hissed. "I don't like funerals. I didn't even go to my mother's funeral!"
was not only one of the world's greatest musicians, he was one of the champion
studs of his time. When he wasn't
talking about music, he was talking about "bitches."
That was one of his favorite words.
He described himself as a "confirmed cunt-hound."
He used to boast about all the wives of famous men who tried to and who
often succeeded in getting him into bed with them.
He said bitches knew their way around men much better than men knew their
way around bitches, except in his case. He
said he always got his way with women. I
remember one beauty, a woman named Jacki, whom Miles summoned out of a crowd at
LaGuardia Airport by simply beckoning to her with his finger.
had just come off a plane gettin' into the city," he said, "and I was
catchin' a plane to fly out on a gig. I
saw her on the other side of the lobby and I called her over and told her to get
on the plane with me, and she did."
listen for hours to Miles lecturing about the secrets of what he called
"the sneakier" sex.
can always tell who your mother is," he would rasp, "but you aint
never sure who's your father!"
liked to sit and philosophize and tell me about his conquests. He also liked to tell me all the things I didn't know about
women. I loved hanging out with
him. The tragedy is that Miles died
too soon. To me, he had the gift of
eternal youth. I thought he was
another one of those beautiful men with aging Dorian Gray-type portraits in
their closets. He always filled me
with the self-importance of knowing I was hanging out with an immortal.
Today, I'm proud to think I had a hand in helping Miles become a Pop
star. It was my idea for Miles to
make his debut before America's young rock audience with an appearance at Bill
Graham's Fillmore West and I was the go-between who arranged it.
I started out by taking Miles to watch rock concerts from a private box
in Bill Graham's Fillmore East. I
introduced Miles to rock stars like James Taylor.
I once even brought over Mick Jagger to meet him, but that's a whole
other story. When I told Miles of my idea for him to play the Fillmore
West, I explained he would have no problem breaking through to a pop audience.
He had the name, the talent, the glamour, the mystique, the charisma.
Who had never heard of Miles Davis?
A performance at Bill Graham's Fillmore West would showcase Miles to what
was probably America's hippest, happiest and "highest" audience of
young music freaks. I argued that
San Francisco's kids were not about to dismiss Miles Davis as one of Jazz's old
men. Is there a music freak
anywhere who has not been transfigured by Miles' Kind of Blue album? No, I insisted, there was no chance that Miles would bomb out
and when I took the idea to Bill Graham, he agreed.
had known Bill since he first introduced the Jefferson Airplane to New York with
a big press party at Webster Hall. That
was when I was managing an act in partnership with Gerry Goffin and Carole King,
then a hit songwriting team destined for enshrinement in Rock and Roll's Hall of
Fame. Like almost all the giants
with whom I matched strides, Bill Graham could be very gracious, charming and
solicitous one moment and in the next second he could be a stone prick.
For instance, Bill gave me all the leftover cold cuts from the Webster
Hall party to take home to my hungry family.
I was low on funds at the time as I have been for most of my life.
Still, my three kids remember Bill as the bully who tried to humiliate me
right in front of them by picking a fist fight with me at a free Jefferson
Airplane concert in New York's Central Park.
how out of shape you are!" Bill taunted me and he began menacing me so
threateningly that if someone had handed me a gun, I would have felt obliged to
shoot Bill in self-defense. I
reached to pick up some kind of weapon, grabbing the nearest thing lying on the
ground, something which turned out to be not much more than a twig.
I had no way of defending myself against the younger, stronger, taller
and more athletic Bill. He drew back a fist to strike me and I thought I was done
for. After all, I was on my way to
pushing 240 pounds. I had been out
of shape for as long as I could remember. And
the truth is that Bill Graham had a widespread reputation for having a lot of
bully in him. At the Central Park
concert, he was angry at me about a Pop Scene column I had written in which
another promoter, Howard Stein, had accused Bill of being just that, a bully.
Stein alleged that Bill used bullying tactics which denied headliners to
other promoters, such as Stein, who were trying to line up shows in suburban
venues. I asked Bill for a response before I printed the column, but
instead of answering Howard Stein's accusations, Bill demanded that I not print
the column at all. He said that for
me to do so would be a breach of loyalty to him.
Bullshit! I said. He flew
into a tantrum and started dropping H-Bombs on me, barring me forever from
attending any shows at his Fillmore East. But
Bill and I couldn't stay enemies. We
needed each other. We were too
important to each other. Bill knew
he was wrong. Afterwards, he tried
to make it up to me in a bunch of little ways.
I used to love hanging out with Miles. I'd
spend hours with him in his upstairs bedroom overlooking West 77th Street as he
sat at his piano and played me new tunes he had written or talked about his
investment in Kenyan coffee or made his daily calls to his Wall Street broker
and to his agent.
two calls you can be sure I'm gonna make every day!" Miles used to say.
As for Miles' debut at the Fillmore West and his introduction to the pop audience, I was the go-between who helped engineer it but I didn't even get to go to the show. I couldn't afford to buy a plane ticket to San Francisco on my own and nobody thought to pay my way.
know, Al," Bob Dylan would later tell me, "you're invisible.
Sometimes you can be seen smoking a cigarette, but you're invisible.
You're the invisible man."
Of course, Bob meant it as a dig. To be the constant targets of digs from Bob was the price each of us paid for hanging out with him. He was, after all, some kind of Messiah to
reporter is supposed
to be invisible---being invisible
was my style
each of us, and so each one of us in his inner circle willingly paid the price. Bob liked to feel big by making his hangers-on feel small. But when Bob accused me of being invisible, I chose to accept that remark as a compliment. I was, after all, a newspaper reporter and a magazine writer. Yes, I accepted Bob's dig as a compliment because I knew that a reporter is like a spy. A reporter is supposed to be invisible. Being invisible was my style.
Linda McCartney. I knew Linda when
she was Linda Eastman and I was feeling grumpily self-important enough to
mistake her for a rock 'n' roll groupie posing as a photographer.
That was when we were all hanging out in the swank apartment of Deering
Howe, heir to the Howe Harvester fortune. Actually,
Linda turned out to be as much a part of the history she was chronicling as I
ever was and just as artistic and professional a chronicler.
The day after Linda met Paul McCartney, she and I found ourselves fellow
press corps members covering a rock festival at a Florida racetrack and she
couldn't stop talking about Paul. She
couldn't stop asking me questions about him, either.
Suddenly, the rock festival didn't look like it was going to come off for
a lot of reasons, the first of which was that there was a sudden thunderstorm.
I told Linda she should photograph the commotion of everybody scurrying
to get out of the way of the lightning. But
the lightning proved too dangerous. A
bolt hit the track railing and you could see the electricity circle the track.
Linda and I took cover with Chuck Berry, the three of us piling into the
front seat of Chuck's Chevy rental. Immediately,
Chuck started coming on to Linda. I understood things like that.
I used to come on to every beautiful and buxom woman I saw, too.
Didn't I even come on to Linda, too?
But Linda was already in a free-fall for Paul and she quickly escaped as
soon as the rain let up.
here's Linda's book of pictures called SIXTIES: PORTRAIT OF AN ERA.
One of the photos on the Title Page of the book is captioned: "Bill
Graham (Fillmore East opening night)."
The picture shows Bill under a Fillmore East marquee that says,
"MAR. 8 BIG BROTHER, TIM BUCKLEY, ALBERT KING, THE JOSHUA LIGHT SHOW."
But wait a minute! Who's
that unidentified guy standing at Bill Graham's left elbow?
It's the invisible man, that's who it is!
It's yours truly!
was so invisible that I now feel compelled to write this for presentation at the
gates of Heaven as certification that I really was here on this earth. For instance, a few years after I quit smoking cocaine, I
sent Allen Ginsberg some of my early attempts at reminiscences, which he
criticized just as unmercifully as he dumped on the opening paragraphs of this
manuscript. In effect, he told me
that my stories would work better if I didn't keep trying so hard to make myself
Then there were the days when Pete Hamill was my apprentice at the New York Post, where he told people I taught him how to write. There came a time when he begged me to introduce him to Norman Mailer and when I finally brought Pete over to Norman's Brooklyn Heights apartment, they became fast friends. Today, Pete has written highly complimentary things about me, but he refuses to reply to my letters. And the last few times I saw Norman Mailer, he looked right through me as if I weren't there. Taking into consideration the fact that neither Miles Davis nor Bill Graham also never saw fit to acknowledge my existence in their autobiographies and that one Dylan biographer already has dismissed me as "a notorious pop star lackey," I'll have to concede that yes, I was invisible and obviously I still am. But after all, I'm the guy who introduced Allen Ginsberg to Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan to the Beatles and the Beatles to marijuana. As one of the most powerful pop columnists in the world, I was the one who hooked everybody together in those days. From the Beats to the Beatles, I was the invisible link. The Sixties wouldn't have been the same without me and anybody who tells you different is blowing smoke out of his or her ass. So, right now, I'm sick and tired of being invisible. I want to be recognized. I'm going to materialize out of thin air before your very eyes. ##
CLICK HERE TO GET TO INDEX OF COLUMNS
Blacklisted Journalist can be contacted at P.O.Box 964, Elizabeth, NJ 07208-0964
The Blacklisted Journalist's E-Mail Address:
THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST IS A SERVICE MARK OF AL ARONOWITZ