Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

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A Thanksgiving Story From Bill Graham

“Fifteen! Fifteen, and that’s my final offer. You’re bleeding me here. You’re cutting into my flesh and sapping me of my blood. Do you understand that? Fifteen. Take it or leave it.”

“And free garlic bread.”

“No garlic bread, no deal! After everything I’ve done for you, after all the pizzas my organization has ordered from you, you gonif? How dare you! Garlic bread or Bill Graham is out!”

“Good! And make sure there are napkins in the bag. You always fuck us on the napkins and we have to wipe our mouths with unsold Klaus Nomi tee-shirts. That was a bad booking, but Bowie asked for a favor. When Bowie asks, you give. Why are you still on the phone and not making my food? Leave me alone, I have an anecdote to tell!

JEWISH PHONE SLAM

“This was ’76, the spring. Cartermania was about to take hold. We’re still doing shows at Winterland, and I’m there just about to plotz. Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Wishbone Ash, and Styx. It’s just caca. I’d rather be locked in an airplane bathroom with Ron Delsener than listen to another second of it.

“Phone rings. It’s Robbie Robertson. Robbie is one of the great geniuses of rock and roll, I mean that, and I pray I’m never in the same room with the son of a bitch again. He wants to talk. Where are you, I say? Malibu. I get in the convertible and I’m in Malibu by dawn.

“He’s up. What you have to understand is that no one in rock and roll slept during the latter half of the 70’s. Everyone stayed up for three days doing coke, passed out for twenty hours, and did it again. This was not seen as bad for you at the time.

“Robbie’s yakked out of his mind, in his underwear, playing a guitar on the floor of the living room. You can see the Pacific behind him. It was very glamorous until he shot at me. I wrestle the pistol away from him, and he apologized, blaming it on his Native American heritage. He says to me, ‘Bill, The Band’s breaking up.’

“This is shocking to me. The Band was the real thing, man. They were there when Dylan went electric. There was no one like The Band. Everybody else sounded like plastic; they sounded like wood. I always did very well presenting them in my venues. Shocking.

“He then accuses me of being an undercover Mountie trying to extradite him back to Toronto for crimes against the bourgeoisie.

“Robbie, I say, why are you committing crimes against the bourgeoisie?

“The conversation became less reasonable from there. At dusk, he got to the point. The Band would perform one last show at Winterland; I would produce. One thing, he says. There’s always ‘one thing.’ Every conversation I’ve had in this business, same ending: ‘One more thing, Bill.’ Sometimes I wanna tell people right when I start talking to them: Say the one thing first. The thing you’re saving for the end? Lead with that, so I can yell at you quicker. One thing, Bill, he says. We’re broke. No money at all.

“Robbie is holding a rock of cocaine the size of a matzoh ball, and I can see the Pacific Ocean over his shoulder. He’s broke. No money at all. One thing, Bill. The bullshit I gotta put up with. Sol Hurok, the great impresario, he had this office in Midtown. Magnificent. Leather and wood and quiet and nice. The bar cart with the expensive crystal, just so. Nice. His phone doesn’t ring. His secretary’s phone rings, and she puts it through. When people come to see him, they dress their best. It’s all dignified. Me? I gotta drive 400 miles to get lied to by a guitarist in his underwear.

“Robbie, I say. No problem. I got it. We’re gonna do this right.

“I chipped a kreplach-sized chunk of coke off the matzoh ball, got back in the convertible, and went home, where I immediately raised the price of hot dogs by a nickel.

“Everything I do, everything. Clean Winterland up. Sets from the San Francisco Ballet Company. I got a whole concept. We do dinner. It’s Thanksgiving, so we do turkey for everyone. Come in, and the floor is covered with tables. Sit down. There’s a vegetarian option. When everyone’s done eating, we have an orchestra play dance music. Take the tables away when people get up. And now all the tables are gone and it’s a concert. Then, The Band. That night had to be magic.

“I also needed to get enough coke to kill all of Hannibal’s elephants.

“Oh, and now: it’s a movie. Marty Scorsese is going to direct. I’d seen Mean Streets and loved it, just loved it. Marty comes in to Winterland and he’s already talking. The girl that brought him up says he was already yammering when he got out of the car. I can’t understand a word. Maybe he mentioned Cocteau. Kept asking me for Rolling Stones stories, but then he’d keep talking. Did that thing with his hands a lot, the director thing, you know, you make the frame. Runs around the place for two hours, never shuts up, leaves. I later receive a baked ziti in the mail.

“Now the arguments start. Robbie’s making phone calls with my money, so he’s flying in half the world first class. Clapton? Sure. Clapton, you fly him first class. But not the fucking tuba player. Tuba player’s lucky he’s not on a bus. Marty Scorsese is a maniac. He wants to attach a camera crane to the Ceiling. Marty, I tell him, Winterland’s ceiling only stays on out of habit. You can’t suspend things from it or we’ll all die.

“All the stars are coming out. Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. We got everyone from The Band’s past, all the people that influenced them. We got Ronnie Hawkins; they used to be his backup band. Van Morrison is semi-retired at the time and living in a castle an hour south of Dublin. I went there personally and lured Van back to the stage with the promise of cocaine and jumpsuits. On that trip, I discovered U2, but that’s a different story.

“Before I left, I told one of the staff at Winterland to get the coke. Had to be good stuff. Guy’s name was Brian, and if it wasn’t written on his underwear, he would forget it. Man walked around in a fog. Best electrician in the city, but he got lost in the bathroom sometimes. So I wrote down what I needed. I figured a quarter-pound would do, but I wrote it 1/4 pound and the dumb fuck bought 14 pounds of coke. I’ve accidentally become the third or fourth largest drug dealer in San Francisco.

“Robbie and Marty Scorsese are now breaking into my house at night to jabber at me about how the lighting needs to be warm. And then to demonstrate warmth, they set my comforter on fire. Everything about this is becoming less and less fun.

“Bob Dylan keeps sending telegrams. He’ll do it. He won’t do it. He’s a Hindu now. He’ll do it, but we’ve got to move the whole show to New Delhi. He caught something in New Delhi. He’s not a Hindu anymore. He won’t do it. He’ll do it. It’s a whole mishegos with the man. Never easy, but it’s Dylan. Always worth it.

“Show day. The fans come in. They’re sharp, man. Some of these people are true hippies, farmers and wackadoos that live in cabins, but they’re dressed to the nines. Everyone’s polite, quiet, nice. I feel like Sol Hurok for a second. Then I see Neil Young sprinting naked around the balcony. My Sol Hurok moment is over.

“My stars are in the back. I took a dressing room and turned it into the Nose Room. There’s little toy noses stuck to the wall and a couple couches and a big glass table. Big bowl full of drinking straws cut in half. I was going for a theme. My staff has tackled Neil Young and they throw him in the Nose Room, which is starting to look like the stateroom scene from that Marx Brothers’ movie, but instead of Margaret Dumont, it’s Ringo Starr.

“Everything’s running smooth. Dr. John comes out and does his voodoo-shmoodoo, and Neil Diamond for some reason, and the crowd is getting off and all the rock stars are happy. I’ve lost $40,000, but already have a plan to bilk it out of the Jefferson Airplane. My secretary comes running up. Apparently, word has gotten out about how much coke is in the building, and numerous criminal organizations are on their way to steal it. Hells Angels, Yakuza, Mafia, Black Panthers: the worst representatives of every ethnicity.

“I hate to leave the music, because I do it all for the music, but I run out of Winterland to head off the gangs. I met each of them on the street, talked to ’em man to man. These guys know who I am. This is my town, too. I got juice here. Talk to all the bosses. Tell ’em, Guys, this is a peaceful happening. It’s a party, it’s a celebration, it’s nothing but good vibes in there. This is rock and roll history, dammit! I look ’em right in their eyes and tell ’em they aren’t getting in. Then I tell ’em that the coke isn’t here, anyway.

“They wanna know where it is.

“I give ’em the address to Robbie Robertson’s beach house in Malibu.

“You know the rest. Dylan wound up playing, everybody boogied, Marty made his movie. I wasn’t in the movie. Robbie was probably mad about his house, but fuck him. The next night, we presented Ted Nugent. Wanna understand show biz? One night it’s The Last Waltz, the next it’s Ted Nugent.

“Go downstairs and see if my food is here. If the kid doesn’t have my garlic bread, send him away.”

Don’t Ever Talk To Me Or My Son Ever Again

Fun fact: the Russian rock show that Bill Graham was telling stories about yesterday? It really happened. Look:

And read.

Steve Wozniak really did pay for it, too, at least the first half-a-million. (The subsequent cash infusions were just Bill Graham embellishing the story.)

Funner fact: If the Woz wants a shoulder-pocket, then the Woz gets a fucking shoulder-pocket.

Back In The U.S.S.R.

You look like Chico Marx.

“Shut up, putz. This is how you open up the conversation? With insults and little jokes? I’ll throw your ass out of here, buster.”

I’m in my own house.

“You think this matters to Bill Graham? I’ve thrown people out of their own houses before. I knew they would cause trouble at the show that night, so I swung by their pads in the afternoon and 86’ed ’em. Never saw it coming. Most thanked me for the professional manner in which I tossed them out a window.”

Why would they thank you?

“I opened the window first. Most promoters wouldn’t do that. John Scher used to buy orphans just so he could hurl them through plate-glass. A real schmendrick, that guy. Not Bill Graham. I go the extra mile The crowd needs? I provide. The artist wants? I get. Carlos Santana needs cocaine in Moscow during the Cold War? I get.

“Phone rings. This is ’86. That schmuck with the splotch, whatshisname, he’s in charge over there. Gorbachev! Gorby, right, Gorby. This guy’s no Kruschev. Wants to open up the Soviet Union a little bit. Not too much. Just a bit. Economy’s terrible and the kids are getting ansty. Figures a rock concert might mellow them out. There’s no bread in the country, so he’ll import a circus.

“I pick up. It’s Gorby. I scream at him in Yiddish for ten minutes and hang up.

“Phone rings again. Gorby again. Now I got him on the ropes! Little nudnik thought he was talking to some moron like Reagan, may he rot in Hell that bastard. Who’s this asshole ever negotiated with? I could get 80% of the door and all the tee-shirt revenue from him with my dick tied behind my back, never mind broadcast fees. Putz.

“At this point, I still do not know why he’s calling.

“He tells me about his idea. Rock concert in Moscow. My mind starts racing. Bill Graham presents The Wall behind the Iron Curtain! Bill Graham presents Bruce Springsteen in Red Square! The Stones. Baruch hashem, the Stones. I might just end the Cold War myself through the power of my promoting.

“Then he tells me about his budget. I end up begging Steve Wozniak for half-a-mil and hiring the Doobie Brothers, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne. I didn’t have to pay Jackson because of a favor he owed me about a thing I didn’t tell anyone about.

“We fly in. I got 40, 50 people with me. Lights, production, lawyers, a couple CIA guys I knew through the Dead. Every one of us is wearing at least a dozen pairs of Levi’s, and we peel them off throughout the day in exchange for drinks and Communist blowjobs. Go to the stadium. Dynamo, it’s called. DEE-nah-mo. Place looks like if concrete could take a shit. Gloomiest fuckin’ stadium you’ve ever seen. We ask to see the power supply: it’s a babushka holding an extension cord. We’re gonna have to bring in everything.

“When I get back, I ask Steve Wozniak for another half-a-mil.

“He says yes, but only under one condition.

“What, Steve? Anything, I say.

“I wanna meet the Doobie Brothers, he tells me.

“So I stare at the phone for about a minute wondering if I’m being fucked with. I’ve met the Doobie Brothers a million times. Never that fun. Who am I to judge? Woz wants an audience with the Doobies, then he gets one.

“The show! We’re going to Moscow! I got two passenger planes and a cargo plane for the equipment. Carlos Santana talks to a stewardess about Jesus for the entire flight. The Doobies are drunk and crawling under seats to bite ankles. That one with the hair like a girl and a mustache does it hard, too. Bonnie Raitt has talked one of the pilots into letting her fly. Jackson Browne has accidentally been loaded into the cargo plane. Rock and roll, baby.

“Upon landing, all of the equipment and Jackson Browne are confiscated by the Red Army and held for ransom. I call Woz and ask him if he’d like to meet Santana. He wires me another half-a-mil.

“You thought the stadium was bad before; it’s worse now. Soldiers everywhere, but they’re not in uniform. Track suits and army boots and AK47’s. I start to wonder if maybe a week before I had a psychotic break. Maybe I’m in the booby hatch imagining all this. Because it can’t be happening. It can’t be real. The one thing–the ONE THING–Bill Graham had INSISTED on was that there be no soldiers. How can the kids groove and get loose with all that heat? I’m screaming at the top of my lungs.

“I want to see Fedesov. He’s the big megilla. He’s the macher. Supreme Soviet, this guy. It’s July, and he’s wearing a giant overcoat. I never saw a hat this fuzzy. He’s not used to being yelled at. Well, they called me, motherfucker. ‘Please, Bill Graham, come help our shitty country with no lettuce.’ I didn’t call them.

“I’m serious about that. Didn’t see a piece of lettuce the entire trip.

“So I’m screaming at Fedesov really letting him have it, and the translator’s frozen in fear. You don’t talk to a Supreme Soviet like this!

“But this guy’s tough. He smiles. Says in English,

“Is no soldiers. Is security.

“I start screaming again. Ten full minutes. I WILL PUT MY ACTS BACK ON MY PLANES AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF YOUR NO-LETTUCE-HAVING SHITHOLE, that sort of thing. I’m giving him the full shpritz.

“He says, no can do. Is security.

“This is gonna kill my show. Guys with rifles all around. Something bad’s gonna happen. What if the kids get rambunctious? The Doobies get the party started. Drunken anklebiters that they are, they can turn any floor into a dance floor. It’s a dangerous situation. I play my hole card, which was seeing if Steve Wozniak wanted to meet Bonnie Raitt.

“It turns out he did, and I bribed Fedesov with half of the half-million. I kept the rest in overhead and assorted fees.

“The soldiers marched out of the stadium, and the kids came in. Jackson Browne, who had been bought back from the Russians, played his songs about California. Bonnie Raitt came out and did her thing in a pair of remarkable trousers. These little Commies had never seen pants like this before. Everybody danced to the Doobies, and then Santana closed. There was no politics, no mishegos, nothing. These kids lost their mind for Santana. Rapture. That’s what it was. The whole place was in rapture. This was something new. They’d never heard anything like it, and Santana felt it and so did the band and everyone backstage. It was a magical moment.

“Santana came offstage, demanded cocaine, and threw his sweaty do-rag at me. The magical moment was over.

“Shocking as this may sound, it wasn’t easy to find rock star-grade cocaine in Moscow in 1986. The Doobies and I had to break into a hospital. I got the cocaine for Santana, but all the Doobies were arrested.

“I call Steve Wozniak and ask him if he wants to meet the Grateful Dead.

“He tells me that he’s met them.

“I ask if he wants to meet them again.

“He sends me a half-million dollars, I get the Doobies out of jail, and we fly home. Three years later, the Soviet Union would collapse. Funny story: Fedesov was executed.”

For what?

“Caught him taking bribes.”

Sure.

Beck And Will Call

This might be the only time I can say this: Bill Graham is adorable.

OR

That woman’s hair is crooked.

OR

Those are Ovation guitars, Young Enthusiasts. They were made of polymers and petroleum squeezings, and their backs were big salad bowls made of tacky, thick plastic. They were popular because they were (one of) the first acoustic-electric guitars, which meant they had built-in pickups and you could plug them right into the amp. Before this, you would hold your acoustic guitar in the vicinity of a microphone; this would produce a sound made of 90% feedback, 5% extraneous noise, and 5% music.

Any song you played on an Ovation sounded like Bon Jovi.

OR

That couch is mostly semen and marijuana seeds.

OR

Seven drinks for five people. Sounds like Grateful Dead math.

OR

“Um, excuse me.”

Oh, hey, Bobby. What’s up?

“You seen my beard?”

Look to your left.

“Okay.”

And twenty years in the future.

“Ah, there it is.”

OR

Hey, David Gans, author of This is all a Dream we Dreamed. Is that you next to Bobby?

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

  • Hitler was a snappy dresser.
  • Pol Pot’s name is so easy to spell.
  • Yes, 700 young men died in the USS Arizona, but remember that shot from Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor?
  • Stalin’s hair was gorgeous.
  • Many people in the burn ward forge lasting friendships with their fellow patients.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank has earned its publisher millions of dollars over the years, spurring job creation.
  • The Reverend Jim Jones had a very diverse congregation.
  • Mobuto Sese Seko could wear the fuck out of a leopard-skin pillbox hat; most people–hell, most dictators–couldn’t pull that off.
  • Mao was prolific.

And we close once again with the Big H:

  • No Hitler, no Bill Graham: if the Nazis don’t exist, than Wulf Grajonca stays in Berlin and grows up to manage Can.

This is a fun game, New York Times. Can we not play it anymore?

And You Will Be The Leader Of A Big Old Band

“Get off the seat, schmuck! Yes, you. The schmuck I’m pointing at. Why would you stand on my seats? I don’t come to your house and stand on your mother. Get down or I’m gonna find out where you live and jump up and down on your mother’s chest like a gorilla, I swear to God. You stand on my seats? How DARE you! After all that Bill Graham does for the community, for the fans, for this rock and roll music that we all love so much, you stand on my seats?

“Better. Okay, we got some announcements before the J. Geils Band comes on. They’re just great, very high-energy, fantastic look, you’re gonna love ’em. Tee-shirts are available in the lobby. Next week we’ll be featuring Iron Butterfly, and maybe they’ll be better than last time. Nice guys, terrible band. Boom boom boom, who gives a shit? Music to take ‘ludes to. We put on the acts the kids want, so they’ll play here, but they’re just snooze time for me, y’know?

“Now, Chuck Berry? That’s the other end of the spectrum. Musically? The best, no peer, you can’t touch him. He’s Chuck Berry, y’know? Without him, you’re still playing jazz. In my opinion? The King. Forget Elvis, that pinky-dicked hillbilly. You got Little Richard, and you got Jerry Lee, but above all of them is Chuck. Top of the pyramid.

“And the biggest pain in the ass you’re ever gonna meet. We’ve presented him a number of times, starting back in ’67. I always asked the acts, ‘Who do you wanna see?’ and they always said the same thing. ‘Naked girls.’ And then I would say, ‘No, putz. Musically! Musically!’ And always the same answer: Chuck Berry. Fine, so I’m gonna book Chuck Berry.

“No manager. No agent, booking guy, whatever. You gotta call Chuck direct. I get his number.

“‘Chuck, this is Bill Graham. I’m a promoter in San Francisco blah blah blah.’ I give him the whole sales pitch and he says,

“‘How much?’

“I tell him $600. This is ’67. That’s good money for a show.

“Silence.

“I say ‘$700.’

“Nothing. Don’t even hear him breathing.

“I say ‘$800’ and Chuck says,

“‘What night?’

“I tell him the night, and he goes,

“‘I need a band, a Cadillac, and three white women.’ and hangs up the phone.

“Shit, I can do that. First, I need a band to back up the great Chuck Berry. I was gonna call the Dead, but they didn’t even know their own songs at that point, and I was pretty sure they would scare the shit out of Chuck. I booked them to open, anyway. Then, I called the Jefferson Airplane but I got in a screaming match with Paul Kantner and I told him to go fuck himself. I tried the Flaming Groovies, but they were booked that night.

“Finally, I called up Stevie Miller. He was always around, and he would work cheap. I gave him the whole shpiel, what an honor it was to back up Chuck, rock and roll legend, yadda yadda. Pretty little putz bought it hook, line, and sinker. Got a band for $20 and a couple cases of beer. They’re gonna learn all the songs, wonderful.

“Afternoon of the show, I send the white women to the airport in Chuck’s Cadillac. Couple hours go by. No Chuck. I call the airline. Plane landed, no problem. But no Chuck. I’m shvitzing here.

“‘Play longer,’ I tell the Dead. They were fine with that. Instead of playing the songs for twenty minutes, they played them for a half-hour. They’re real pros.

“Finally–finally!–here comes Chuck up Post Street in the Cadillac with the three white women, two of whom are dead.

“Chuck! Did you kill the white women?’ I yelled at him.

“Chuck gets out of the Cadillac, he’s carrying his guitar case. No luggage, nothing. Just him and his guitar and a Cadillac and three white women, two of whom are dead. Says nothing, just holds out his hand. I give him the check. Chuck looks at the check, back at me, at the check. Opens up his hand and the check drops to the ground. Gets back in the Cadillac, stares straight ahead. Says one word.

“‘Cash.’

“It’s ten o’clock at night in a bad neighborhood in 1967. Where am I gonna get a thousand dollars from? I run back into Winterland. I gotta go by the stage, and Phil Lesh yells at me as I pass that they’re running out of material. I make a mental note to scream at him in Yiddish later, but first I gotta get a thousand bucks in cash.

“I got two hundred, something like that, so I shake down everyone who works for me. I give ’em IOU’s. Forty bucks from him, twelve dollars from her, whatever. It’s not enough! What am I gonna do? Fuck it: I go into the crowd and start looking for people I know.

“‘Hey, Bill.’

“‘Hey, yourself,’ I tell ’em. ‘Gimme all your cash; I’ll pay you back.’

“Bill Graham invented crowdfunding!”

“It takes an hour, but I get the money. At this point, the Dead are completely out of material, and have been playing a 12-bar blues for 25 minutes. I go outside and Chuck is still sitting there in the Cadillac staring straight ahead. All of the white women are now dead. I count out the money into Chuck’s hand, every dollar. When I get to a thousand, Chuck lights up. Biggest shit-eating grin you’ve ever seen.

“‘Let’s do this, Bill,’ he says.

“We go inside, he doesn’t even say hi to the Stevie Miller Band, just tells them the key of the first song and boom right into it. The kids went nuts, y’know? Chuck Berry. That’s rock and roll right there, no matter the hassle. We disposed of the three dead white women and cleaned out the Cadillac, and next time Chuck played our venue, we made sure that there was cash on hand.

“Interesting post-script: the Dead dosed Chuck around a dozen times, and the cops found him naked on Embarcadero at dawn.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the J. Geils Band.”

A Double Negative Is A No-No

I don’t mean to be a stickler, but that poster–if read literally–advertises a concert against not-AIDS.

WHY WAS HUEY LEWIS ADVOCATING AIDS?

Bill Graham Addresses The Crowd At Live Aid

“Good morning. We welcome you on behalf of the Ethiopians.

“We’re gonna get started in just a second. We’ve got some great bands on the lineup, and we also have George Thorogood. Both Durans are here. Joe Piscopo is one of our celebrities, so who knows what crazy mishegos is gonna take place? Piscopo’s a wild card.

“Some short announcements before we get started.

“There is a blue Chevy Caprice in the parking lot with its lights on. License plate number RVA-119.

“Fuck Paul Simon.

“And finally: Philadelphia, you are a rock and roll town. Like my good friend Huey Lewis, who can also go fuck himself, says: the heart of rock and roll is in Philadelphia. We couldn’t do this show anywhere else. So, that said: please do not throw D batteries at the performers. If you want to keep throwing them at the cameramen and roadies, then go to it. But not the performers, please. If you must throw batteries at the stars, then keep it to a double-AA.

“Except Stephen Stills. You can throw car batteries at that putz for all I care. You see what he’s wearing, that putz?

“Look at him. Captain of the USS Cocaine. Putz. I’m wearing a long-sleeve button-down shirt with shorts and I still have moral standing to critique his outfit. That’s how much of a putz he is, that putz.

“Okay, so here we go. Feel free to get loose with each other and boogie. Tee-shirt concessions are open.”

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Lawn

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the press. Let me start off by saying ‘Fuck Paul Simon.’ Just a schmuck. A real schmuck, y’know? It’s a charity concert, we’re trying to raise money for Africans who are very hungry, and I gotta deal with calls about his hairpiece budget. I say to him: Paul, every dollar we spend on your skull is a dollar less to put in an African’s stomach. He says: no toupee, no Paul play.

“So again: Fuck Paul Simon.

“When Bob Geldof, who is a schmendrick, called Bill Graham Productions and begged us to produce Live Aid, I was honored but then I wound up screaming at him over the phone for two hours. He wasn’t thinking big. ‘Bill,’ he says to me. “I’m thinking about inviting Status Quo out for drinks.’ I say, ‘No, let’s have two simultaneous concerts on two continents.’ Geldof says, ‘Your idea is better.’ It was a transatlantic call, so it probably cost around a hundred bucks just to call an Irishman an asshole.

“And what does he do, this little pisher, this one-hit wonder mieskeit? He torpedoes me! This whole time, he torpedoes me.The Beatle he keeps, The Who he keeps, Bowie he keeps. All the good limeys. Sends me fat Ozzy and that little Phil Collins person. I didn’t ask for Phil Collins. Duran Duran? I didn’t want one Duran, but he sent both.

“The whole production, Geldof’s treating it like a competition. He calls me up, ‘I got Charles and Diana.’ He’s so excited, he’s bipping and bopping on the phone, and I just couldn’t bear to hear him so happy. Though the show was only two weeks away, I got on a plane to London so I could scream at him in person.

“On the plane ride back home, I thought about names. Royalty. They got royalty? Fuck ’em, we got royalty, too. Who, though?

“If this were next year, I could have called Refrigerator Perry, but he’s not famous yet.

“If we were doing the show in the Bay Area, I would call up Willie Mays and Joe Montana and be done with it. Montana ain’t gonna fly in Philly. I need a movie star. Stallone is perfect, but he’s out of the country. Clint! Clint Eastwood, right? Who’s bigger than Dirty Harry?

“Clint refuses to take my calls. I fly out to whatever that little beach village he rules with an iron fist is called, and the police meet me at the town line and throw me in the local jail. The charges are Conspiracy to Bother Clint and Vulgar Ethnicity.

“It’s a white little town. I stood out.

“Luckily, I was wearing my lock picks on my giant necklace right next to my Africa medallion. Just as I escaped from the Nazis, I escaped from Clint Eastwood’s goons.

“Now, your normal promoter–your Ron Delsener, your John Scher–is going to need a day or two to decompress after that experience, but I immediately made for the Hollywood Hills. Jack Nicholson. I’ll get Jack Nicholson, who is a better actor than Clint Eastwood anyway, and isn’t the tyrant of a seaside bedroom community.

“Jack refuses to take my calls. Luckily, he lives right next door to Marlon Brando, who I know from doing Apocalypse Now with him. I call the great Marlon Brando and explain my plight. Marlon won’t talk to Jack, but he will let me use the zip-line the two of them have in between their homes.

“I say, ‘Why the hell do you two have a zip-line?’ He says, ‘Girls and cocaine.’

“The great Marlon Brando.

“The plan is that Marlon will call Jack up and tell him there’s something coming. Then I zip over, and I figure I got maybe ten seconds before Jack starts shooting or calls the cops, right? Marlon agrees, and hands me a tranquilizer gun that he had handy.

“This is the part of the story where I remind you that I’ve been up for 60 hours straight at this point, and also I was abusing cocaine quite heavily with the great Marlon Brando.

“He says, ‘Just start firing away first thing. Jack’s quick, and he’s armed. He is a dangerous adversary, Bill Graham. Use your Jewish instincts.’ And before I had time to ask him what he meant by that, Brando pushes me out the window. ZZZZZZIPPP I cross the lawn twenty feet up, and I crash into Jack’s bedroom.

“There he is! I shoot him, like, seven times with the tranquilizer gun. WHAM! Right down!

“I hear laughing from Marlon’s place. It’s Marlon, but it’s also Jack! The sonofabitch is in the window with Marlon, and he’s grinning. You know, Nicholson. The grin.

“I yell over, ‘So who did I tranq?’ And they’re laughing so hard they can’t answer. It turned out to be a teenaged hooker that Jack was bored of! When he can breathe, Jack says that he’ll do the show. And then the grin, you know? Nicholson. The girl died, but I had my royalty.

“We’re also please to announce that Ashford & Simpson have been added to the lineup, and fuck Paul Simon.

Bill And Bob

bill-graham-phone-office-bw

Hey, Bill Graham. Whatcha doing?

“What am I doing? Working! What, does this look fun to you? Sitting here, arguing with gonifs all day long? Phone keeps ringing, one putz after another trying to steal from me. Every call is like a robbery and you wanna know what I’m doing. Unbelievable.”

Today’s an anniversary for you.

“Yeah?”

Died.

“Eh. Not as bad as Dylan died when he did his Christian bullshit.”

No, Bill. You actually died.

“And I’m telling you: still not as bad. When I booked him, he was a Jew! Shows up with a cross around his neck like a preacher, singing this dreck about Jesus. You ever some have asshole waste your time? Some jackoff thinks he’s funny, he tells you one of those stories sounds like a joke, but it just goes on and on? Like that, except with a crowd. Around an hour in, the kids realized they weren’t getting any of the hits. Got ugly. Had it not been for the strict ‘No Refunds’ policy I adopted a half-hour in, I would have been ruined.

“I go backstage after the first show. ‘Bob! You’ve blessed us,’ I tell him. Dylan’s skittish, so I’m kissing his ass. Can I get, can I do, the whole song-and-dance. He wants Jujyfruits, so I get him Jujyfruits. Gotta admit: that’s a solid candy choice. Man’s a pain-in-the-ass, but he’s got taste in candy. Bob Dylan has his candy, his bible, he’s thrilled with life.

“Meanwhile, I got a house full of miserable customers. I mean: in between the songs, which are caca, he’s haranguing people. ‘We’re all gonna burn in Hell, and this and that.’ You can’t even imagine the effect this was having on t-shirt sales. Shit night for ancillaries from the beginning: when he walked in, Bob overturned the merch table. Screaming about money changers in the temple. Still: it’s Bob Dyan. You make allowances for genius. If Stephen Stills had pulled this shit, I would have thrown him out the window.

“So I’ve made nice with Bob, he’s got his candy, he’s happy. And we’re schmoozing about this guy, that guy, and I get into what I came in there for.

“‘Bob,’ I say. ‘What about the dessert? The kids are here to hear your message. They love you, Bob. Great show. And you give them a meal, Bob. Your message is a meal. After a meal, though? A treat, a reward. You give ’em an old number. Anything you choose, a short one.’

“And then it’s quiet in the room for a good long while. I just sit there. Who knows with Dylan?

“Finally, he says something.

“‘RRmnbwaugh fmum bismny mmmm.’

“It’s Bob Dylan with a mouth full of Jujyfruit. I got no fucking idea what he’s saying. I just keep nodding. ‘Yes, Bob. Yes, Bob.’ What the hell am I agreeing to? Not a clue.

“All of a sudden, this huge grin comes across his face, and he leaps out of his chair and grabs my head! He drags me over to the shower, and would you believe that crazy motherfucker baptized me? That’s what he was saying! I figure at least we made a deal, a baptism for a a Mister Tambourine Man, something. I’ll take a baptizing for show biz. I’ve taken worse.

“Nope, bupkes. Fourteen shows, fourteen sermons. Roughest two weeks of my life, except for the part with the Nazis.”

You have the best stories, Bill Graham.

“True.”

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