Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 20 Jan 00 18:58
Yes, hope it's great. And not to niggle or anything, but I believe it was <cdb> who posed the great question about the groupies issue since I didn't know about it until just now! So, for another quiz question. I am, at this moment peering at the masthead with *both* my reading glasses and a magnifying glass (neither of which would have been needed in 1975 when this issue came out). My question is: There are two people besides yourself listed as Senior Editors. Can you name them and tell us what they are doing now? For extra credit, tell us about the responsibilities of the National Affairs Desk as they were carried out by the person who held that job on November 6, 1975.
Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Fri 21 Jan 00 00:24
Yes, Cynthia, I am one busy dude. Before going to Cody's tonight--turned out great, thank you--I put together a short pile of videotapes and a script for the producer of a video-bio for the award I'm getting from the Oakland chamber of Commerce in March, and delivered the material to him, in the Oakland hills. Then sped off to Berkeley for an interview with a writer from a newspaper in Brazil. Then the reading. then a meeting with Matthew Kaufman, head of Son of Beserkley and the sobent.com site. Fortunately, that tete-a-tete was at Garibaldi's in Oakland, so, beyond the yakety-yak with King Kaufman, it was a pleasure. Now, it's midnight, and I'm back in the WELL. And tomorrow morning, I'm addressing a group of high school students visiting SF State's Journalism Department. Then off to work. I agree with Sharon that playing music -- and, as she notes, sitting in on a jam and improvising, and hitting all the right notes -- is more amazing than memorization. I'm in awe of the entire craft, frankly. Now, Linda: I don't know who my fellow senior editors at rolling Stone were for the issue you have in your hand. We had several changes. My guess would be Paul Scanlon and Jon Landau. If you're laughing at my wrong answer, I'd sub Joe Ezsterhas for Landau. But, since you asked: Jon Landau, of course, became the manager of Bruce Springsteen, and is rolling in music and dough, all minted in the U.S.A... Joe Ezsterhas got into the movies, and wrote FIST, Basic Instincts, Showgirls, and, for a change, Telling Lies in America, a nice, personal piece about a Hungarian kid in Cleveland who befriends a Top 40 DJ (Kevin Bacon). Joe, too, is rolling in dough. Paul Scanlon went on to a top editorial position at GQ. He is now working on a book about a former Warner Bros. Records exec. As for the National Affairs Desk, it had many heavy responsiblities, including sending out rejection notices to would-be poets. Once, Hunter S. Thompson was manning the Desk, got fed up with a batch of rhymes, and prepared "a prepak rejection note." Hide the kids, because here it comes: "You worthless, acid-sucking piece of illiterate shit! Don't ever send this kind of brain-damaged swill in here again. If I had the time, I'd come out there and drive a fucking wooden stake into your head. Why don't you get a job? Maybe snow-shoveling, or punching tickets on the ski lift. You dumb c--ks--kers from Aspen are all the same; like that dope-addled dingbat Thompson. Id like to kill that bastard for sending me all these poems...and I'd just as soon kill you, too. Jam your poems up your ass; that's where they belong." Aren't you glad you asked?
Andrew Brown (andrewb) Fri 21 Jan 00 08:22
yes. I'm glad she asked
Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 21 Jan 00 08:30
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 21 Jan 00 08:54
So, did you copy that from something, or had you memorized it? :-)
David Gans (tnf) Fri 21 Jan 00 09:59
You gotta love that HST! >Paul Scanlon went on to a top editorial position at GQ. He is now working on >a book about a former Warner Bros. Records exec. Which one? I remember Joe Eszterhas' '70s pieces very well. He went on to become a con- troversial screenwriter, known for violence and misogyny. Were those traits evident in his character, too?
Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Fri 21 Jan 00 11:12
Ha! This is fun. First, Sharon: Yes, I copied it an infamous in-house newsletter called The Corporate Giggle. (Our slogan, at one point, was "We believe in the cosmic giggle.") Issued by the art department, it was an unsparing and hilarious little pub, ranting at management, dispensing vicious gossip in two columns (Venom from Victoria and Filth from Frank), and revealing company memos. Unfortunately, there were only two or three issues. The one I quoted from also included this note: Fear and Loathing OF Hunter S. Thompson What the f--- is Hunter Thompson doing out there? Why is his copy always the last to arrive? We finish the issue early, all except for his hysterical toejam, then sit around doing fuckall for eight hours waiting for that pernicious crap to come in page by page so we can bust our nodes getting it to the airport in time. Do we really need him? Is this trip necessary? The next time that pissant prima donna gets his story in late, we're gonna attach them alligator clips to his cashews, slice 'em off and throw 'em on the courthouse steps. Yours in peace, The Staff As you can see, HST's way with words was contagious. Re Paul Scanlon's book about the unnamed Warner Bros. Records exec: It's Stan Cornyn, who created most of the label's best advertising in the late 60s and into the mid-70s for such artists as Captain Beefheart, Tiny Tim, Randy Newman, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell. Re Joe E.: Long before Basic Instincts, Jade, Showgirls, etc., he was Mr. Macho around the office--in a nice way. Fondly remembered for bringing his big buck knife into editorial meetings and, on occasion, slamming the blade into Jann's round oak table, for a bit of punctuation. But no, no violence or misogyny. He saved all that for Hollywood. Random Note: Cody's Books went well. Nice crowd; the usual range of questions, from thoughtful to out-there ("Was use were groupies for, anyway?"). I'm lucky to have been invited into some of the Bay Area's best shops--and next up are The Book Depot in Mill Valley (Jan. 26) and Book Passage in Corte Madera (February 16). Get in line now.
David Gans (tnf) Fri 21 Jan 00 12:07
Stan Cornyn was (is?) a genuine genius. Didn't he also institute that brilliant "loss leaders" series? I worked for a Rolling Stone spinoff called RECORD in the '80s, and I remmeber being in the RS offices for a few days while HST was holed up in a nearby hotel trying to get something finished. It was intense -- people going over there with various supplies, edgy editors waiting for those pages, etc.
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 21 Jan 00 14:12
You are way ahead of me, and good guesses! Senior Editors in this issue were Joe Ezterhas, Ben Fong-Torres, and Paul Scanlon. And yes, the National Affairs Desk for this issue was handled by Hunter S. Thompson, and your anecdotes are exactly what I was hoping for! Thank you!
Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Fri 21 Jan 00 14:59
Yes, Hunter was/is quite a case. I'm n ot sure the various movies about HST captured it, but there was nothing like deadlines for his pieces, which he'd let pass, then begin sending his pages in over the early version of the fax machine, which was so mysterious that we called it the Mojo Machine. David Felton was the editor assigned to "stand on" Hunter, and invariably, he'd grab a page as it rolled sluggishly out of the cylinder, at one page per four minutes. He'd look at it and swear, since HST often sent nothing but a single swear word, to buy himself more time. Since you--or at least one of you--like those screeds, here's one more, again from The Corporate Giggle. (Jeez, now I DO wonder whether these postings can be saved and printed out, as one friend asked. As Dick Clark said up there in an earlier posting, with today's technology, you publish something and it's out there forever. Anyway, here's Dr. Thompson ruminating on the workplace that was Rolling Stone:) Why is the staff so fuckin' lazy? It's getting so I can't even walk fast through the hallways any more without stumbling over some freak on the nod. Is it drugs? Has it come to that? If so, by God, we're going to clean it up pretty damn fast. My attorney has worked out a series of disciplinary measures that will zap this thing where it lives. Henceforth, anyone caught with narcotics, crazy pills or other stupor-inducing agents will be dragged down in the basement and have h is scrotum torn off...and, conversely, any offender without a scrotum will have one permanently attached to her. We feel such measures are necessary, even vital, to the health of this organization. This is the unanimous opinion of the Sports Staff, & as editor I mean to enforce it. This is a business -- not a goddamn dude ranch -- and any salaried person who feels he/she cannot abide by these new regulations had better get out NOW. There will be no second warnings. Copies of this notice will be posted in every corridor and they SHALL NOT BE DEFACED. Raoul Duke Sports Editor (Note from Ben: I think Duke was kidding. We didn't even HAVE a basement.)
Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Fri 21 Jan 00 15:04
To David Gans: Yes, Stan Cornyn was the instigator of a number of creative initiatives at Warner/Reprise, and "loss leader" sounds familiar, but I don't remember the specifics. Do you?
David Gans (tnf) Fri 21 Jan 00 15:36
My expert informant on this is not available to confirm that it was Cornyn's idea, but the Loss Leaders was a series of sampler discs with extensive and clever liner notes, sold for something like $2.50 via mail order. A great way to get turned on to new stuff at what was then the coolest label around.
Alan Thornton (sd) Fri 21 Jan 00 18:41
Some cool stuff. The Big Ball, Warner's Record Show and Zapped! Zapped had Ella Guru and The Blimp!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 21 Jan 00 18:47
Wow, David, I remember those. I think I did read somewhere that Cornyn was responsible. There was a whole scene emanating from Cornyn's direction: blooz a la Ry Cooder, Little Feat, Randy Newman, etc. Maybe Stoneground? (Whatever happened to Stoneground? and Ron Nagel?) I was off in Texas reading about this stuff and spinning disks and absolutely losing my mind. When you dig back into the history of rock & roll, the Jackie Lomaxes and Ron Nagels and even Ryland P. Cooder are barely if at all acknowledged... who am I leaving out? Oh, Ron Elliot! I don't think much about these guys but I was listening to them in heavy rotation while tripping, smoking dope, screwing, baying at the moon, etc. Despite Chet Flippo, Rolling Stone never focused quite enough on the Texas scene, which was spilling energies onto the west AND east coasts. D'you think, Ben, that RS was too SF-provincial, like the Old WELL?
Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Fri 21 Jan 00 20:28
Yep, the loss leaders were a stroke of marketing genius--and, thanks to the artists who got exposure through it, musical genius as well. I still have all of mine. They were the first box sets, in a way. I'm not sure I agree with Jon's feeling that Rolling Stone was too SF-provincial. Sure, we covered a lot of San Francisco, but there WAS lots happening here--and not just the acid rock people kept saying we were producing in the late 60s-early 70s, but all kinds of music, from Creedence's Bayou boogies to Sly & the Family Stone's pre-Prince funk and Santana's early Latin-rock-blues blends. And we didn't blindly and deafly root for hometown acts. Think Janis Joplin. It might be more accurate to say we were music centers-centric, with more pieces from SF, LA, New York, and London than from anywhere else. But that, too, would be understandable. Although I think we made an effort to avoid overloading on our own scene, I wouldn't be surprised if a study of our datelines showed far more San Francisco stories than the musicians here may have deserved. And with that, I'm close to ending my visit with you on The WELL. That is, unless David or you sneak in some more questions before midnight tonight (Friday). Thanks for a great time. Hope you'll check out the book, or a reading, or my home page (which is being revamped in the coming weeks) at www.benfongtorres.com, or the music site where I'm editorial director, myplay.com, or the Chinese New Year Parade, which I'm cohosting with Thuy Vu on KTVU-San Francisco February 19 at 6 p.m. I'm also on Bay TV's excellent "The Show," doing some karaoke kraziness around the first of February. Or, why not, check out ALL of it! Stay well.
Shaun Dale (stdale) Fri 21 Jan 00 21:11
I still own those loss leaders. They're treasures.
From DANA FLINK (tnf) Fri 21 Jan 00 22:39
Mr. Fong-Torres, I have recently read your behind-the-scenes book and was impressed by both the great artists you have met and the access you were allowed by them and the style in which you pass this on to the avid music fan. I had read the Rolling Stone book that came out about 8 or so years ago (which was more or less a historical piece about the magazine and its evolution), and must say I was envious to not have been around (that is, old enough) to have had a chance to experience the glory days of rock and roll (and the freedoms/opportunities the times seemed to have afforded). What marvelous tales you must have of writing for a (at the time) great and visionary magazine. Anyway, thanks for sharing (candidly) the times that you ex- perienced and bringing these journeys/discoveries to the music fan with such sincere and unmistakable enthusiasm for your subject. I envy the experiences that you have had the fortune to live through but, more than this, I am grateful that you have the talent and generosity to pass them on to a hungry and appreciative reader. Rock On! --Dana Flink--
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 22 Jan 00 01:53
> It might be more accurate to say we were music centers-centric, with > more pieces from SF, LA, New York, and London than from anywhere else. Right, and there was definitely some coverage of the 'third coast' (Texas/Louisiana) scene, however it was marginal. This was unfortunate, considering the area's influence on the evolution of blues, jazz, psychedelia, etc. ... and the robust scenes in places like Austin and New Orleans.
Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Sat 22 Jan 00 09:43
...not to mention Nashville, Chicago, and other towns that would explode with scenes of their own. We did, of course, have correspondents and free-lancers submitting pieces, but, big as we were getting, we weren't able to support offices or full-time writers in more than a couple of cities. Thank god we had Flippo in Texas. Chet, by the way, filed a nice obit of Doug Sahm in Rolling Stone. Even though he now works for Billboard, he knew that he had to write the tribute to Sir Doug for RS. And when he called, Jann responded with the word that he'd just been thinking about calling on Flippo to write the piece. And when I was in LA, watching Cameron Crowe directing "Stillwater" in the recreation of Rolling Stone's SF offices circa '73, the actors playing the editors were doing their editorial-meeting scene when Cameron dashed over to me. "Did Chet go on the Who tour in '73?" he asked. I had no idea. But, I said, "We always called him 'Flippo,' not Chet." Instantly, the change was made. Each in our own way, we still try to do the right thing.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 22 Jan 00 10:01
That movie sounds promising! Who plays you?
David Gans (tnf) Sat 22 Jan 00 10:02
By the way, readers, this interview is going to continue for another week. Please feel free to add your own questions or comments. Readers from outside the WELL are invited to send questions or comments to email@example.com Readers inside the WELL: you know how to post!
Judy Bunce (judyb) Sat 22 Jan 00 10:38
Well hey Ben! I'm just catching up here in Inkwell and it's great to see your interview. I'm pretty sure that I worked at RS in '72 because I remember something about the Presidential election and McGovern being the first candidate to receive the magazine's endorsement. But, the times being what they were, those memories remain hazy. So you haven't said much about your personal life here. I have an idea that, while most of us were drinking and drugging our days and nights away, you remained fairly sane. And I seem to remember reading somewhere that you'd married and now maintain a stable family life. Is that true? And, if so, how the hell did you pull that off?
Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Sat 22 Jan 00 18:19
Yo,David: Re the Cameron Crowe movie about his early days at Rolling Stone: After checking out more than 100 actors in North America, he picked Terry Chen, out of Vancouver, B.C. On his way to Hollywood, he visited me in S.F. to observe me for a few hours. He's a native of Calgary, has a role in a Nick Nolte film, "Trixie," and a Jet Li film, "Romeo Must Die." A great guy. After he got settled on the set, I went and watched him playing me. I did a piece about the whole crazy experience for the Chronicle (August 30, 1999). As for Judy Bunce: Yes, you silly. You were at Rolling Stone in '72. Your name is etched forever in the masthead of the time, under "Advertising Staff." Does that help? I haven't said much here about my personal life 'cause I haven't been asked. As it was, I had to be talked into writing The Rice Room, which is ALL about my life. In fact, it was people's response--that they now knew all about my growing up Chinese and the journey into the Sixties, rock & roll, radio, and Rolling Stone, but that I hadn't offered enough stories about the music side of my life, that inspired Not Fade Away. Now you get almost all music stories, with short backgrounders on what was going on with me--and with the magazine--while those stories were being reported and written. The year you were there--and I think you stayed more than a year--was probably my worst, on a personal level, as my older brother Barry, just a year and a half older than me, was shot to death. He was 29 and a probation officer who specialized in working with young people. I won't go into the details here, but in the aftermath, I went on kind of a bender, not helped at all by the fact that my parents forbade me from looking into the murder (which remains unsolved). Work was a healer, and I continued at both Rolling Stone and KSAN, but the recovery continues. Around that time, I saw a good number of women, and wound up marrying a former college acquaintence, Dianne Sweet, in 1976. Ironically, she, too, was a probation officer. Maybe that's what kept me on the (relatively) straight & narrow, as I had to check in with her regularly, or risk a bench warrant... Beyond Dianne as the most steadying influence in my life, I'd say that my family background, the Chinese work ethic, and a tendency towards loyalty (to the job, to the company, and to fellow workers) kept me away from the kind of excesses that took place in the world of rock and roll. Sure, I got crazed once in a while, not to mention lost and double-crossed, but once was usually enough for a good long time. What's that, Gans? You caught a bit of sampling in that last sentence? Go for it!
David Gans (tnf) Sat 22 Jan 00 22:52
Judy Bunce (judyb) Sat 22 Jan 00 23:58
Thanks for that response, Ben. I'm glad you found your way through such a dark time. It's great seeing you here on the Well.
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