inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #51 of 120: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #52 of 120: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #53 of 120: Andrew Brown (andrewb) Fri 21 Jan 00 08:22
    
yes. I'm glad she asked
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #54 of 120: Moist Howlette (kkg) Fri 21 Jan 00 08:30
    
Me too!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #55 of 120: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 21 Jan 00 08:54
    
So, did you copy that from something, or had you memorized it? :-)
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #56 of 120: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #57 of 120: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #58 of 120: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #59 of 120: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #60 of 120: 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.)
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #61 of 120: 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? 
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #62 of 120: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #63 of 120: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #64 of 120: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #65 of 120: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #66 of 120: Shaun Dale (stdale) Fri 21 Jan 00 21:11
    
I still own those loss leaders.  They're treasures.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #67 of 120: 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--
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #68 of 120: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #69 of 120: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #70 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Sat 22 Jan 00 10:01
    

That movie sounds promising!  Who plays you?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #71 of 120: 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
inkwell-hosts@well.com

Readers inside the WELL: you know how to post!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #72 of 120: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #73 of 120: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #74 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Sat 22 Jan 00 22:52
    
Heh!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #75 of 120: 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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