It was April of 1968, the year that will live in unsurpassed infamy unless Donald Trump does something to outdo it. The many citations of it that we hear in this 50th anniversary year only hint at how homicidal it was worldwide and how much of a mindfuck it was for the survivors.
Here’s what happened to me.
When 1968 was spawned, I was a part-time graduate student at Columbia University and a part-time writer for the university public information office. I also had begun freelancing on the subject of rock and the counterculture. But the only dent I made in the newspaper game was a weekly column, “New York Current,” observations of the counterculture in general and rock in particular, syndicated nationally by North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA), for which I was paid $25 a week.
I was 24 and living in a one-bedroom apartment one block from campus. I paid $127: a month, a rent that I covered by selling promotional copies of albums to Sam Goody’s in Times Square for a buck each. The core reason that I began writing about rock was to get those promotional copies to sell.
(In retrospective I should have hung onto that test pressing of the Beatles’ White Album.)
My draft status was 1A, the category that made you most eligible to be hauled off, taught how to kill, and be shipped to a rice paddy to do so. I was in analysis and taking full advantage of the psychopharmacology— both formal and informal—available at the time.
In January, the North Vietnamese launched their massive Tet Offensive, a military defeat but a strategic victory in that it scared the living shit out of Americans, especially those who were draft eligible.
My NANA column gave me the small amount of clout needed to sell a publisher on a quickie book about then-ascendant, pre-dead icon Jim Morrison, and in February I flew to Los Angeles to meet him. When I met him at Sunset Sound recording studio and shook his hand he fell to the floor, writhing in fake pain and crying “oh man, you broke my hand!”
THE LIZARD KING
Then he went off to a room, by himself but with the bottle he was carrying (in the hand I didn’t break, I guess). The other Doors and several others of us were in the control room listening to a playback when Morrison emerged and proclaimed “if I had an axe I’d kill everyone here ... ‘cept my friends.”
Jeez, Jimbo, the hand wasn’t that bad.
Or maybe it was. Nominally over money, the Doors rescinded their verbal agreement to work with me, and home I flew. I would defy their lawyer and write my quickie paperback without them. That is what I did in March, blasting Doors music the length of 113th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. I kept the whole $1,000 that was left after deducting the expense of flying to LA to break the lizard king’s hand.
Scared out of what I jokingly refer to as my wits by the draft, I got so into the whole William Blake / Jim Morrison / rock / death thing so earnestly that, two years later when Morrison died, Ben Fong-Torres in the obituary he penned for Rolling Stone wrote that I “preceded Morrison as the Lizard King.”
When I saw “Apocalypse Now” I thought back on 1968 and wondered if Martin Sheen hadn’t been reading my mail.
At the end of February, Walter Cronkite delivered his famous broadcast advising America to get out of the war. On March 12, Lyndon Johnson’s squeaker of a victory over antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary convinced Robert Kennedy to get into the race. Bobby had been dithering, despite pressure from friends and others.
Included among the latter was a tiny Upper West Side grassroots organization called Citizens for Kennedy and Fulbright. There were five members, among them New York Times night rewrite man Mike Kaufman and me. In the Spring of 1967 we announced our intention to enter Bobby’s name in the 1968 New Hampshire primary, got some headlines, and were told “thanks but no thanks” by him. We soldiered on nonetheless and opened a storefront office on Amsterdam Avenurse to be used in getting signatures on petitions and all those things that grassroots organizers do.
POLITICIZE THE HIPPIES?
I don’t remember what happened subsequently because I met Abbie Hoffman and my attention wandered. Smack in the middle of the Summer of Love, 1967, we had been sitting in his apartment on St. Mark’s Place when he lit a joint, took a toke, handed it to me and, with an adorable nod in the direction of San Francisco, said “we have to think of a way to politicize the hippies.”
The hippies were having nothing to do with creating peace other than talking about it endlessly. We despised them, for they made it easy for “the straights” (not a gay reference) to make fun of those who merely wanted to stop the war and attain social justice.
In December of 1967 Abbie held a press conference to announce plans to hold demonstrations to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention, which was scheduled for August in Chicago. There were only two people in the front row, Joan Baez and me. I sat next to her but didn’t ask her anything. Regarding leftist striving, she was yesterday’s news. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and the rest of the Village “protest singers” were increasingly irrelevant. The answer that they saw blowing in the wind was nascent onstage with Abbie and uptown with the kids at Columbia with whom I shared my days.
Scrawled on the door of the East Village Other underground newspaper was “Flower Power Is Dead; Long Live Fire Power.”
After LBJ laid an egg in New Hampshire, Bobby jumped into the race. Two weeks later, on March 31, Johnson announced that would not seek re-election.
On April 4, Martin Luther King was assassinated. While rioting occurred in many American cities, the response in New York was muted, largely because Mayor John Lindsay went to Harlem and chilled things out. I don’t recall much at all occurring on campus beyond the disruption of a memorial service by student-activist-vanguard SDS.
Relative silence on the King assassination notwithstanding, a lot was going on—a million little campaigns on a variety of local issues. The 17,000-student campus raged with foreboding and anticipation. As elsewhere across America, this brave and ancient land was alive with the death of the ancien regime.
Several targeted rage points were University involvement in military and intelligence, but the main focus was Columbia’s plan to build a gymnasium for undergraduates in neighboring Harlem’s Morningside Park. But all were surrogates for the war in Vietnam, which hung like a B-movie hterror fog over every draft-eligible young man.
DYING IN A SWAMP
Especially me, a 24-year-old nobody with no money and no likely future that didn’t include dying in a swamp on the far side of the earth. Okay, so I had taken a few tentative steps in the direction of a dreamed career as a writer, but dreams and a token—15 cents at the time, if memory serves—would get you on the subway to be mugged.
The future began on April 23 when student activists began to occupy campus buildings. I’ll spare you the specifics, which are described in excruciating detail online. And the piece in the current Vanity Fair is pretty good. Important to us is that buildings were grabbed and, before too long, grabbed back. We were all waiting for that to happen, we being members of the press and Columbia media reps.
TEN MINUTES UP BROADWAY
Keep in mind a fact of geography. Columbia was a major research institution, true. It was an ivy with a pedigree going back to the 1700s, true. But it was also a ten-minute drive up Broadway from the global center of media. Our large public information staff was very much a research arm of the press. A reporter needs an expert on earthquakes to comment on that trembler in Tibet? He calls Columbia and the geeky kid in the press office gets him one. That’s what I did.
In the hours between midnight and 8 am, the press office was me. Because I lived on 113th Street I got to sit up all night with the press. And because he lived on 111th Street, New York Times dude Mike Kaufman got to sit up all night with me.
There were dozens if not hundreds of reporters of all stripes—print, radio, TV, local, foreign, national—with tons of gear. We had pushed our desks into the center of the huge office in Dodge Hall to make a city desk of sorts that all could use. In the wee hours we sat around, drinking coffee and talking, running out en masse every so often in response to a rumor (“a police van just pulled onto College Walk”).
The early hours of this one night, April 29 most likely, Mike and I were bullshitting idly when, out of nowhere, he said “you’ve written about folk/rock, right?”
‘Bob Shelton just quit and they’re looking for someone to replace him. Why don’t you send in your clips.”
A brief stunned silence in the brain, then the thought nobody starts their daily newspaper career at the New York Times.
I don’t recall what I replied. More than likely something sharp, like “dunno.”
Replace Robert Shelton? The legendary folk music critic and enthusiastic supporter of the Village folk scene who “discovered” Bob Dylan? Who was an unsung hero of the resistance to McCarthy-era suppression of the press?
The answer, my friend, was blowing in the ill wind that had marked my dreams to that point.
There was no time to ponder the question. I had a revolution to attend.
THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS
It arrived in full force I the early morning of April 30, when the Columbia administration called in the cops to expel the occupiers. The move came to be called “the Bust.” Here is an account published in connection with the 2008, 40th anniversary exhibit at Columbia’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
2 a.m.: The police removed black students from Hamilton Hall, after entering the building through underground tunnels. Alerted to the imminent police action, the students chose not to resist. The police made 86 arrests.
2:15 a.m.: Police entered Low Library through tunnels, removing occupying students. Again, police met no violent resistance, and made 93 arrests.
2:30 a.m.: Police entered Avery Hall through the main doors to clear the building of occupying students. The police met moderate resistance, and some students received injuries. The police made 42 arrests.
2:45 a.m.: Police entered Fayerweather Hall through the main doors to clear the building of occupying students. There they met scattered resistance inside and outside the building. A number of minor injuries occurred. The police made 268 arrests.
3:00 a.m.: Police entered Mathematics Hall, where they faced the strongest student resistance. The clearing of Mathematics resulted in several student and police injuries. The police made 203 arrests.
3:15 a.m.: Police on Low Plaza loading arrested students into vans began to charge spectators gathering in South Field. The subsequent stampede resulted in the most significant violence of the night—and the greatest public outcry.
Stampede? All I knew was I ran like hell from the one cop who had picked me out and was running at me, club ... there are common euphemisms, nightstick, baton, it sure looked like a club ... waving over his head. Other spectators on South Field bolted toward the southeast. But the campus exit there was further away, and there were other cops in front of Hamilton. The mammoth Butler Library blocked any thought of escape to the south.
I bolted southwest toward the exit at 114th and Broadway, the nearest to home.
But the cop was gaining on me and I turned to the right and crashed through the hedge in front of the Journalism building, stumbling and landing on my ass beneath the statue of Thomas Jefferson.
The cop didn’t follow me through the hedge. I got up, dusted myself off and looked up at Tom and, behind him, Journalism Hall.
Sometimes in the Course of Human Events it becomes necessary to embrace cliches. I sent in my clips.
YOUR DESK IS DOWN THERE
Several months passed. 1968 slogged on in ways that have become familiar. Valerie Solanis shot Andy Warhol, thoroughly confusing the just-established link between art and celebrity. Sirhan Sirhan shot Bobby Kennedy, making Eugene McCarthy the only one likely to save the country from Richard Nixon. The puny effort by Mike and me and our tiny band of Broadway renegades to create a second Kennedy administration with a second Kennedy went no further than had Abbie’s wish to politicize the hippies. He created his own, bringing the revolution to Chicago and blowing it up.
Then, the third week in October, my life went wild. I was presented with a draft deferment. The letter my shrink sent to the draft board came through. No rice paddy for me. No shin splints required (I had heard of that but deemed it bullshit unlikely to get me deferred). All those nights of rousing myself from sleep to write down my dreams had paid off.
I sold my first major magazine piece, a rather silly thing on Tim Buckley printed in Vogue.
And I was summoned to 229 West 43rd Street.
There had been no buildup, no job interviews, no portentous phone calls. Legendary metropolitan editor Arthur Gelb called me to the side of the legendary metro desk and, without bothering to sit or offer me a seat, said, in essence, your desk is down there. Start writing.
It was a large, plain metal desk with a spring-loaded trap door beneath which was mounted an old typewriter. The desk was located on the outer rim of Culture News, far from the center of culture news power, but where by craning my neck I could look down the length of the long City Room to the Metro Desk, which two years later was throbbing with excitement over publishing the Pentagon Papers.
Before he let me go sit at it, Gelb made me a speech. It went, and this is pretty verbatim, “the New York Times is the newspaper of record. Every day we write the history of the world. In 200 years, when someone wants to know what happened in 1968, he will read your words.”
Oh, cool. No pressure there. What year am I supposed to have eternal insight into?
Several decades later I had an email chat with Maureen Dowd in which she revealed that Gelb had said the same thing to her.
Here’s how the Times later described me, in an anecdote that appears to have become boilerplate. I shamelessly copped it from a nine-year-old blog post, So far it has appeared in my old editor Dick Shepard’s “The Paper’s Papers: A Journey Through the Archives of the New York Times”; Gelb’s “City Room;” and the obituary of its late managing editor Clifton Daniel.
“Mr. Daniel relished his role in expanding the Times’s coverage of arts news. ‘Any newspaper that didn’t cover a major industry in its community would be judged derelict,’ he said. ‘I thought the coverage should be conscientious, thoughtful, and thorough’ … In 1968, when the Times retained a long-haired culture writer as a rock critic, Mr. Daniel enjoyed breaking the news gently to the well-groomed former marine who was then the paper’s publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. ‘His name is Mike Jahn,’ Mr. Daniel wrote in a note to Mr. Sulzberger, ‘and he is going to write pieces on folk/rock music.’
“Mr. Daniel went on to report that another editor had reassured him: ‘Mr. Jahn wears his hair in a somewhat bizarre style–in fact he looks like a werewolf. But since his work will not require him to be in the office very much, I don’t think he’ll bite any of us.’”
Thus began my contribution to the debasement of American culture – introducing the New York Times to the coverage of popular culture, specifically rock and roll. Shelton had been a great folk critic, but he despised the Beatles and, presumably, all other rock bands. The Times had brought me in to expand the coverage to rock.
You can’t tell a werewolf what to do. In keeping with Gelb’s bare-bones, sit-down-and-write welcome, the Times never assigned me. Well, twice, to cover Elvis’s coming out of retirement and Woodstock. The rest of the time I assigned myself—decided who to cover and when. The desk didn’t know what I was up to until I did it. I came in, sat down, wrote, handed over the copy, and waited just long enough for to see if there were questions.
Then I split, often enough to Max’s Kansas City to join the little band of fellow ink-stained wretches I referred to as the New York Rock Critics Circle. We’d drink and make rude comments about everyone else.
The Times paid me $50 a piece—$350 today—and I wrote three or four of them a week. I was rich. I was the first full-time rock critic for major American newspapers, which I suspect meant the first full-timer for any major media. In short order I closed my NANA column to become a founding columnist of the New York Times Special Features syndicate alongside Clifton Daniel and Harrison Salisbury. I played DJ on WNEW-FM for a whole, and finding myself considered a name writer switched eventually to novels for a living. I generally enjoyed the life-affirming benefit of having survived 1968.
I am here to tell of it, and for that I apologize.
APOLOGIA AND SOCKO ENDING
Hey, let me leave you with some amusing trivia. To reward me for having written a bunch of books and getting an award for one of them and maybe also for the Times stuff, in 1984 Columbia established the Michael Jahn Collection of original manuscripts and correspondence. It’s housed in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, located at the south end of South Field in Butler Library, near the route I took running from that cop the night of the Bust.
Don’t let my 50+ published books and the Edgar fool you. I ain’t no best selling author nor am I wealthy. I’ve enjoyed critical and peer approval, more than enough.
And for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the Times summoned me back to make a tape along with a few other veteran scribes who covered the fuss on Yasger’s Farm. I walked in and saw the smiling face of Mike Kaufman, who I had lost track of other than to note that he was Roving Asian Correspondent for years.
I shouted “You! This is all your fault! You got me into this.”
He laughed and laughed.
In August I’ll be 75. I’m getting by like all of us. I’m still freelancing, and have gone back to being a science geek, covering developments in medical research. And like all of us I’m terrified of the future.
And I’m still in the Resistance.
I'm flying the astral plane again today.
I was writing up stories from a medical conference going on in Barcelona. I had a story on in Word up the iPhone when my Uber driver mentioned that his daughter-in-law was a microbiologist who at that moment was flying home from Barcelona.
Last night after following news coverage of the Spanish government’s brutal crackdown on the independence referendum voting going on in Barcelona, I posted about my thinking out loud about my great-grandmother having come from Barcelona. I wrapped up that post with the words “go Barca,” that being the nickname of FC Barcelona, the city’s famous soccer team of which I’m a fan.
This morning’s Uber driver? You got it. Barca jersey. I really am the fourth prince of Serendip. Shit happens to me.
Today's Uber driver was a Senegalese Muslim who listened to Koranic verses on the stereo in his rickety old car with no air conditioning, was very pleasant, didn't hear or ignored my asking if he was listening to Gregorian chant, and had the courtesy to put scotch tape over the bullet hole in the windshield.
Why can't I lay off my fondness for logic ... I ain't no Vulcan anyway ... and enjoy myself? I'm watching the current "Vikings" episode wherein Ragnar, I believe, is executed by throwing him into a pit of vipers after an days-long elaborate traveling ceremony. Ghastly; the Vikings were little more than roving homicidal thugs, never mind history's reputation-cleansing.
Rather than reveling in watching the carnage like a true 'Murrican I'm wondering where they got the vipers in venomous-snake-deprived England (Northumberland, no less). Only one species in Merrie Olde. That's why it was merrie, Vikings notwithstanding.
Using technology available in 900 AD, how did they locate and safely catch and warehouse 500, say, venomous snakes? How did they find 5,000, say, mice to feed them while waiting for the condemned to be brought to the pit? The trip appears to have taken days.
I mean, no thick snake-handling gloves. No suitable cages. No climate/ controlled housing. Further, ever try to run down a mouse? Five thousand mice?
Moreover, where'd they get the civic will to tie up a few dozen men who otherwise would be sacking Portugal? What did they tell them? Sorry, boys, no silver and gold this trip. Snakes and mice.
Hard to enjoy violence on teevee these day. Damned fake media.
I knew a lot of currently dead rock stars
This year marks the 48th anniversary of my becoming the first full-time reporter/photographer covering the rock beat at The New York Times and, as such, the first full-time rock journalist of any major American newspaper or other form of major media.
I was high profile at the time, at least in New York music and publishing. I was called “a name writer” and didn’t have to be IDd to publishers.
Part of the reason that it was, you know, it’s The New York Times and you can’t understand the power of that institution unless you’ve labored in its vineyard. Said legendary Metropolitan Editor Arthur Gelb when he hired me, “we write the history of the world. In 200 years, when people want to know what happened in 1968 they’ll read your words.” O-kaay, what a year to start in.
Just a little pressure. I thought he was referring to me only until about a decade ago, when I had an email correspondence with Maureen Dowd in which she revealed “he said the same thing to me too.”
In the years that followed I met a lot of rockers, famous or nearly so. I've known and loved and praised, hated and insulted, been insulted by, run into, run from, abused substances, had my ears assaulted, or otherwise invaded the private spaces of a lot of rock stars who have since become deceased, snuffed it, ceased to be, rung down the curtain, kicked the bucket, croaked, shuffled off this mortal coil, or in one way or another joined the choir invisible.
The number of dead rockers -- some of them good and talented people -- of my acquaintance stands at 48. Keep in mind that this list is of the ones I knew, not all rockers. The total list fills volumes. There’s at least one huge site dedicated to it. Regarding mine, most were musicians, but a few were important music insiders. There are three recent additions, Leonard Cohen, David Peel and Gene Pistilli. Also this year I’ve added expanded commentary and another yarn. And, at last, internal links that work.
It's tempting to think that drugs were behind most of these abrupt departures. However, in many cases death came via largely unrelated medical problems -- heart attacks, strokes, or cancer, mainly. A number did die of overdoses of either drugs or alcohol, sometimes both. Others succumbed to crashes by aircraft, cars, and one by skiing into a tree. There was one fatal infection (I expected more). There also were murders and one suicide, possibly to avoid death by any of the aforementioned.
If you're adding up and tracking deaths per band, we’re talking about three-fifths each of Canned Heat and MC5, three-fourths of the Doors, half each of Sonny and Cher and the Who, one-third of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Peter, Paul and Mary, and a quarter of the Beatles. They were rockers who died, died. Here's the list, New Years Eve 2017 update.
SPIRITS OF ROCK STARS PASSED [sic]
Hoyt Axton -- folk and country singer and son of the co-author of “Heartbreak Hotel.” His own writing included “Joy to the World,” the worldwide hit by Three Dog Night which became the theme of The Big Chill, the movie that chillingly summed up my grad school experience and the years thereafter. (You’ll simply have to guess which one of them I was.) Of Three Dog Night, Hoyt dropped a couple of tidbits on me. Both concern their renditions of his song “Never Been to Spain.” They objected to using the line “but I kinda like the Beatles” because they considered themselves competitive with the latter. But they sang it. However, they changed his line “in Oklahoma, born in a coma” to “in Oklahoma, not Arizona.” Considering the political climate in Arizona lately, I’ll take the coma. He died of a heart attack in Victor, Montana, on October 26, 1999, two years after his mother drowned in a hot tub in Tennessee.
Steve Baron. Folk/rock/fusion singer, songwriter, guitarist, fixture on the national coffee house circuit for years, and a good friend. Of hepatitis at the Nashville hospital where he had a second career as a nurse after giving up his music career and burning his masters. Died March 2002. He never had a hit record but made my list due to his friendship with Pete Townshend and me and his contribution to one of the legendary moments in the annals of rock and roll in general and the Fillmore East in particular. See Cissy, Whitney, and life within the yurt.
Sid Bernstein -- August 21, 2013, at age 95. Sid was the soft-spoken concert promoter who brought the Beatles to the U.S. in 1964, where among other things they packed Shea Stadium and made me terrified of the power of massed 14-year-old girls on a mission. Of a shadowy figure moving about a dugout in the pre-concert terror, “That’s George! Only George stands up like that!” I last saw Sid in Zabar’s. Well, what would you expect?
Sonny Bono -- of skiing into a tree, January 5, 1998. Former Tin Pan Alley songwriter with extraordinary taste in women. You’d have to chat with her to fully understand that.
David Bowie – of liver cancer at age 69 on January 10, 2016, in New York. Well, okay. Complex subject. He was universally loved by rockers of my generation and the one after it – millennials I don’t know. He was the worst interview I ever did. I subsequently learned that he had the flu and shouldn’t have invited me to his hotel room. He answered everything as “yes” or “no” while sitting with some unnamed but probably hip-cult-star girl and the two of them ate Fiddle Faddle (upscale Cracker Jack). He didn’t offer me any, which I considered rude. Finally he said “I guess I’m just a boring person.” Pissed off, I left.
As I recall, I never wrote up the interview for my New York Times Special Features column. It never appeared in the Times. Instead I wrote a piece on Bowie's first New York appearance. Surf over and read “One more freak show -- David Bowie's famed Carnegie Hall appearance.” Ground Control to Major Dave: Have some Fiddle Faddle and chill.
Harry Chapin -- in a car accident July 16, 1981. Harry was one of life’s really good people, and I don’t say that simply because he was grateful enough for my career-launching review to put me on his Christmas card list and invite me to his wedding.
Leonard Cohen -- in his sleep after a fall at his home in Los Angeles, November 7, 2016. Where to begin with Leonard Cohen? Well, here: This story about Leonard Cohen has sex in it.
Jim Croce -- in a plane crash September 20, 1973. I have no recollection where and when I met him, only that I did.
Michael Davis -- played bass for MC5. Died February 17, 2012, of liver failure. Notes Wikipedia, "Sometime in the mid-1970s, Davis spent time in Kentucky's Lexington Federal Prison on a drug charge, where he was unexpectedly reunited with [MC5 guitarist] Wayne Kramer." God, I love rock and roll.
I got drunk with him and the rest of the band at a hotel lounge in Cincinatti in early 1969. The loung band kept asking "MC5" "MC4" "MC6" and asking them to come up and jam. That would have been some trip, wouldn't it.
John Denver -- in a plane crash October 12, 1997. Cooler than he has been painted.
John Entwistle of the Who, and the only one of them who was capable of standing still -- June 28, 2002 of a heart attack also involving cocaine and a prostitute. In Vegas, naturally.
Steve Ferguson of NRBQ. He was the guitarist who is credited with their eclecticism, which included rockabilly and experimental jazz. I was an unabashed NRBQ fanboy in their late 60s years, wrote them up as often as I could, and dragged Clive Davis to see them, which got them their first recording contract.
Then I dragged Hendrix to see them and they goofed on him. He threatened to throw a table at them, then walked out, shaking his head. That was the last time I ever saw him. I lost interest in the band thereafter. Steve left in 1970. He died of cancer, October 7, 2009.
Rory Gallagher -- Irish blues rocker, died June 1995, of complications of a liver transplant. I should have gone with him that night backstage at the Rod Stewart and Faces show in Anaheim when he said "come have a jar" and beckoned me toward his dressing room. But I had just had a jar with Rod and the boys during the ride from L.A. Also in the limo was a raisin saleswoman Rod has picked up at the hotel pool. Whatever happened with Rod, in the limo she had to endure a string of raisin jokes.
Jerry Garcia -- died August 9, 1995 of a heroin-related heart attack doubtlessly aggravated by his lifelong taste for junk food. We had a classic San Francisco rock conversation upon meeting in a soggy in an otherwise empty VIP area under a tent near the stage at Woodstock.
Sound of pop tops popping. Silent watching of whoever the fuck was onstage.
San Francisco rock.
Bill Graham -- legendary concert promoter and foul-mouthed pain in the ass. We had a rocky relationship but eventually made up. He died October 25, 1991, of a helicopter crash while returning from a Huey Lewis and the News concert.
Tim Hauser -- founder of the beloved jazz/fusion vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer, of cardiac arrest in his sleep at a hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania on October 16, 2014. Their cover of "Java Jive" is one of those tunes that stays forever in your head. I lost touch with him after the first few years; he remained a respected advocate for vocal music. The band is still out there with a new lineup.
Richie Havens -- died April 22, 2013, of a heart attack at age 72. He was rock’s giant (6’5”) spiritual icon, supporter of childrens’ and environmental causes, and the man universally recognized for opening Woodstock by singing for three straight hours while the immense and restive audience waited for the rest of the acts to get there. His ashes were scattered from a small plane over the site of the 1969 festival.
Richie was my first rock interview, published in ’66 or ’67 in the East Village Other, which titled it “On Earth as It Is in Richie Havens,” such was the aura he projected. We hung out a bit. He showed me his paintings, which he kept in a pile atop the fridge. He got me into Slug’s, a blacks-only jazz club in Alphabet City, to see Sun Ra.
He told me about his teeth, which he lost to speed as a young man growing up in Brooklyn. While his denture was being made he used something like a hockey teeth protector, one reason that this basically happy guy never smiled for his early promo pics. The teeth protector and the eventual denture gave him a slight lisp that you can hear in his early recordings.
Being of NBA height, he had huge hands and long fingers that, I think, dictated his choice of open tuning on his guitar. It involves the ability lay a finger atop all six strings while using the thumb to sneak around the neck and hold down a couple of the bass strings. If you think that’s easy ...
The open tuning also allowed his signature sound, which was to strum faster than any other known human. I jokingly attributed that to the speed, but I was probably wrong.
Havens was a War Baby like me, having parents who dealt with raising kids in the Depression. In consequence thereof, he was, at least when I knew him, frugal. When he started to make it and the cash began coming in, he opened savings accounts at 10 or 12 banks around Manhattan, depositing $15,000 in each. At the time that was the amount to which the FDIC would protect your deposit. Richie was a wonderful man, but one who never quite got over the Summer of Love, if that bothers you. But he made one think that maybe, just maybe, “love one another” was a pretty good way to live.
Since his death a lot has been written about his Woodstock performance and his versions of “Freedom,” “Handsome Johnny,” and the other better known recordings. I think instead of his slowed-down “San Francisco Bay Blues,” which stands alongside Streisand’s take on “Happy Days Are Here Again” as being a majestic way to re-imagine a song. It occupies a prominent place on my iPod.
Jimi Hendrix -- died September 18, 1970, of a drug overdose. He would be humiliated by his surviving family's messy fight over his estate. See "Jimi, Harry and Me" elsewhere on this site.
Bob Hite -- six-foot, 300-pound singer for Canned Heat, died of a heart attack April 5, 1981. He proclaimed me “a freak” at a time when it was considered high praise. See “When Canned Heat Plied the New York Times With Weed,” elsewhere on this site.
Janis Joplin -- died of a heroin overdose October 4, 1970. That'll learn her for snarling at me. See “That night I was in England making a ham sandwich for Mama Cass,” also elsewhere in this blog. She butchered "Me and Bobby McGee," which of course became the version the public remembers. I wish I knew more intimate details about you, despite having also spend time with Leonard Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel. Not the same kind of time. Like him, I can't keep track of each fallen robin.
Paul Kantner – jutting-jawed guitarist for Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship and resident musician in Grace Slick’s crib. The couple produced actress China Wing Kantner. He died in San Francisco at the age of 74 on January 28, 2016 from multiple organ failure and septic shock following a heart attack. Grace and he were sitting behind me – weirdly in the topmost and absolutely worst seats in Madison Square Garden watching Cream -- when I turned around and said hi to Grace. He smiled faintly. History records him as having been a tad grumpy. Don’t you need somebody to love, Paul? Oh, got her.
Jerry Leiber, August 23, 2011, of cardiopulmonary failure. Do I really have to explain who Leiber and Stoller were? Let me just say “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand By Me,” “On Broadway,” "Spanish Harlem" and on and on. Of their songwriting partnership, Leiber said "I yelled, he played." They did it for me once, using an old upright piano, at the Brill Building, which also needs no explanation. That private performance was one of the most wonderful rock and roll moments I ever had.
John Lennon -- murdered on December 8, 1980, outside his apartment building, New York's 19th century landmark the Dakota, which also was the setting for "Rosemary's Baby." He would have enjoyed the subsequent deification. See “‘The New York Times’ Writes About Me” elsewhere on this site.
Ray Manzarek -- the Doors’ wooden keyboardman, of bile duct cancer, May 20, 2013. In an interview he compared himself to Miles Davis. Well, he played some of the same notes. It has been pointed out to me that I use some of the same words as James Joyce.
Linda McCartney -- one-time photographer (I bought some photos of Jim Morrison from her) -- and part-time, sort-of backup singer; I first saw her getting into the elevator at Andy Warhol's Factory. This was a year or two before she told Lillian Roxon she was moving to London with the intention of marrying a Beatle, any Beatle, and snagged the prize. She died April 17, 1998, of breast cancer.
Keith Moon -- the Who's wild man drummer; drowned in his own vomit following a drug overdose on September 7, 1978, surprising no one.
Jim Morrison -- died July 3, 1971, by one account of a heroin overdose and choking on upchucked sweet and sour pork, surprising even fewer than were later surprised by Keith Moon. He would have enjoyed the postmortem idolatry, especially since current cultists are building a religion around him.
Scott Muni -- legendary New York DJ and early pioneer of progressive rock radio. I forgive him for standing in the control room and making rude gestures at me while I was trying to record my awful weekly roundup of new releases. I sucked as a DJ, prompting colleague Jonathan Schwartz -- whose show followed mine on Sunday evenings -- to go on the air with the comment “everyone thinks they can be a DJ these days.” I also forgive “Scottso” for opening his show with “Elusive Butterfly.” (That was a lie. I don’t.) That “summer of love” cringe-inducer sucked even more than I did while saying the words “this is Mike Jahn on WNEW-FM, Metromedia Stereo in New York.” Scott died September 28, 2004, possibly of a stroke brought on by the memory of my attempt to jockey disks.
Murray the K -- died February 21, 1982 of cancer. The former Murray Kaufman was pure old show biz, even doing borscht bell shows before becoming a manic, howling top 40 DJ in New York in the late 50s - early 60s. That in and of itself would have kept him far from my list of elite dead rockers. But Murray transformed himself into one of the earliest proponents of “progressive rock” (as it was often called at the time), playing alternate tracks, albums cuts and generally doing all he could to promote quality rock. And he did it beginning in 1966, way before almost everyone else. Hey, things moved fast those days.
In the three years of Murray’s transformation, the Beatles went from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to “Strawberry Fields Forever.” During his manic, Top 40 days, he billed himself as “the Fifth Beatle.” He followed them into rock history. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about Murray the K except that in his West 60s apartment the dining room ceiling was upholstered. Seriously. Pleats of fabric radiated out from an immense central button. I suppose the effect was that of a sharkskin sunflower. Sitting at the table, I couldn’t help glancing up in fear that the thing would snatch up and swallow me, much like the homicidal begonia in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Felix Pappalardi of Mountain, April 17, 1983, murdered in his East Side luxury apartment building. Never cross Fifth Avenue, gentlemen, I keep telling you. If the street sign doesn't have a "W" on it, you're in mortal danger.
Steve Paul, legendary proprietor of Steve Paul's Scene at 46th and 8th. It was there that many of the star-studded jam sessions you heard about took place. The Scene was three blocks from the Times and easy to drop in after work, which is to say at one in the morning. It was harder to remember what happened the next day. He died October 21, 2012, at a hospital in Queens, the cause curiously hard to find.
The Scene was the setting of my "documentary novel" -- I did that in those days -- of the same name. It was the latest attempt by Bernie Geis, the publisher who inflicted "Valley of the Dolls" on an unsuspecting world, to duplicate its success. "Expect to make $500,000," he told me. I made $8000.
What was even freakier than the Scene habitues who inspired me was the visit I got in the early 1980s from a representative of Dick Clark, who was interested in making "The Scene" into a film. Dick Clark producing a film version of "The Scene." Courtney Love would have been perfect for the role. What a long strange trip it's been.
David Peel -- of a heart attack at a Manhattan VA hospital on April 17, 2017. David Peel and the Lower East Side were street rockers with an East Village gestalt and an obscene outragiousness that now seems rather quaint. I met around the time that his LP "Have a Marijuana" was released in 1970. Those days it was shocking when he sang "Up Against the Wall [motherfucker]" and naughty when the tune was "I Do My Bawling in the Bathroom." It was customary back then for the hip to refer to the core sex act as "balling" and not "fucking," which was considered crude. Ever sensitive to societal sensitivities, Peel used the word "bawling." Some snickered.
Gene Pistilli, December 28, 2017. Founder of Manhattan Transfer and an all-around good guy.
Elvis Presley, August 16, 1977, drug overdose aggravated by too many fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches. He would have been embarrassed by the deification. See “A 'hunka hunka' of an anniversary.”
Billy Preston -- R&B keyboardman who became famous for keeping the Beatles from killing one another during the "Abbey Road" days, June 5, 2006, of kidney failure.
Paul Revere -- as in "Paul Revere and the Raiders," a mid-60s smash hit teenybopper band that dressed in Revolution War costumes and had several hits -- "Kicks" being the big one. He died of cancer at his home in Garden Valley, Idaho on October 4, 2014, age 76.
Of the Raiders, lead singer Mark Lindsay became a screaming teen idol and celebrated by renting the house where Sharon Tate and housemates were later slaughtered by the Manson Family. Actually, I'm not sure of the timing. As for Paul Revere, I went in for the interview certain I was going to hate him for the Revolutionary War getup and all the teeny fan magazine covers. I wound up loving the dude. He was a great guy with a good perspective on himself. BTW, his name was Paul Revere. Good luck wherever you are, Paul. One if by land.
Lillian Roxon -- August 10, 1973, of an asthma attack. An Australian, she was New York correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, an early rock journalist and one of the connections between the rock and Warhol scenes. As such she was very good to know. She wrote “Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia” and was fun to chat with at the table at the front of Max’s Kansas City, where what I call the New York Rock Critics Circle assembled. She had a famous public falling out with Linda Eastman for marrying McCartney and then shunning all her old buddies.
Doug Sahm -- of the Sir Douglas Quintet and a dozen other bands and a very influential figure in tejano. He talked faster than anyone I ever met. His embullience let him sing the line "you're such a groove you blow my mind in the morning" and make you like it. From his hit "Mendocino." He died November 18, 1999, of a heart attack in a hotel room in Taos. I would like to think there was a bottle of Lone Star on the nightstand.
Fred "Sonic" Smith -- of MC5, later husband of Patti Smith (no blood relation). Died November 5, 1994, of heart disease.
John Stewart, of the Kingston Trio and a long solo career that included writing "Daydream Believer" for the Monkees, "July You're a Woman" for everyone, and "Chilly Winds," a tip of the cowboy hat to the glory days of folk's road songs, for his old mates in the Kingston Trio. Try his tune “Cannons in the Rain” if you get the chance. He died on January 19, 2008, of a stroke.
Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary, September 16, 2009 of cancer. The only folkie to come out of the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene who actually grew up in Greenwich Village. We hit it off, an iffy sort of thing with people whose performance you have to review. Mary was a keeper.
Rob Tyner -- singer for MC5, died September 17, 1991 of heart failure while driving home from the grocery store.
Dave Van Ronk - "the Mayor of Macdougal Street" and early nurturer of many folksingers, including the young Bob Dylan. Only Dave could get away with singing "Swing on a Star" in a Village club. Good man. I had a cheeseburger with him, in the Village of course. He died February 10, 2002, of colon cancer.
Henry Vestine -- guitarist with Canned Heat; died October 20, 1997, of a heart attack.
Alan Wilson -- guitarist with Canned Heat. He killed himself in Bob Hite's backyard September 3, 1970.
Johnny Winter -- Died July 17, 2014. The Lone Star State's albino blazing blueser. He was quite a sight, black leather over pure white skin and hair. An article about him in Rolling Stone prompted Steve Paul to make a hasty call to be his manager and, successful, flew him to New York that same day or something like it to make his New York City debut.
Steve, the club’s maître ‘d Teddy and I raced through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, driving upside down like in "Men in Black," and picked him up at JFK. I recall walking through the terminal, high on THC, my boots a foot off the floor, later recalling it after reading "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- "The secret to flying is to hurl yourself at the ground and miss." We found Johnny, drove him straight to Second Avenue, the Fillmore East or somewhere else nearby, it doesn't matter, where he got onstage with a blues band, which one ... same thing, it doesn't matter.
Johnny played the frets off the other guitarist. I wrote that he was "the finest blues musician to ever play" the place, not sure that there ever was one. Clive Davis later grumbled that the line added $100,000 to Johnny's contract price. Johnny was worth it, Clive could afford it, and there began a long and respectful career.
Frank Zappa -- died of prostate cancer on December 4, 1993. He was rock's cranky innovator (House with a guitar before Hugh Laurie was House with a guitar) and first-amendment advocate who clashed famously with anti-rock activist Tipper Gore over censorship of rock lyrics. When I met him he was at a so-so New York hotel in bed with a naked groupie, pulling apart a barbequed chicken. He was wearing the same "PIPCO" tee shirt that he later wore on an album cover. Swallow that, Tipper.
Keith Richards lives on, thumbing his well-travelled nose at all the aforementioned.
I just had an epiphany.
Thank you very much, bartender. I’ll have another.
In this festive autumn of doom, it occurs to me that my career has been in thirds.
In the first I was a reporter covering rock stars and their fabulous deaths.
In the second I wrote novels about jolly New Yorkers who killed one another.
In the third I’m covering medical research designed to keep people from dying.
Thank you, commie (well, sort of) Dad for telling me, at age 10 in 1953 at the heart of the McCarthy-inspired purge of red- and red-leaning newspapermen like him, that “the fascist takeover of America is imminent” and that he would be one of the first taken out and shot.
Thank you, Dad, for my career. And my sense of humor.
Yes, this is the heart of the memoire I’m writing. Now I have an outline.
Thank you, Donald Trump, for being the man my father warned me about.
Thank you again, bartender. Keep ‘em coming,
The village green is ghostly with pallid tweens wandering in apparent trances following the light of rectanglular boxes that they point here and there and occasionally squeal at in short-lived glee. And then they're off in search of whatever digital graphic treasure may be found amidst the toking layabouts who loiter in the shadow of the train station. "Bienvenedos a America," the town cries to the Mexican newcomers.
David Bowie died recently. You may have heard. I wasn't a full-tilt fan and in consequence thereof didn't rend as many garments as some. As might be put by someone within hailing distance of youth, the dude was okay. He occupies a small amount of real estate on my playlist. One of them, "Putting out Fire with Gasoline," the theme from the 1980s remake of "Cat People," I went considerably out of my way to get.
Why do I bring it Bowie up now? Because in all the public mourning and celebration-of-life in print over the past week or so I don't recall seeing much about Bowie's super-legendary introduction to "New York's large and influential counter-culture, most of whom had never heard of David Bowie," as put by the site "The Ziggy Stardust Companion." That would have been September 28, 1972, his Carnegie Hall debut, which was the mightiest display of the power of the hipper-than-thou ever seen in the City that Doesn't Understate.
Only a few writers were underwhelmed: Robert Christgau (Newsday), who wrote "I must concede that the performance did not impress me at all. In fact, I told my assistant, who accompanied me, that I thought he was a classic example of the star established though hype. Obviously I was wrong, but I wasn't wrong about that concert. It was nothing and the atmosphere was one of frenzied hype stirred up by RCA."
Al Aronowitz (New York Post, who didn't go but relied on notes from his assistant) "He baffled the straights, bored the hip, delighted the stoned freaks and had flowers thrown at him." That was about the most complimentary Al got.
And then there was this dolt, writing in his "New York Times" syndicated column that was printed in the daily papers in all major markets except for NY, LA, and DC.
The "Baltimore Sun" was one of them. Here's the text file:
Mike Jahn, Baltimore Sun, 15 October 1972
"One more freak show"
NOTHING LIKE a freak show to keep the blood flowing. You don't have to take it seriously; you can just sit there and giggle. Iggy Stooge, Alice Cooper — they're good for a laugh. I thought Alice Cooper was the last of that breed — Sixties nostalgia, the revival of the psychedelic carnival. But no, there's another, Britisher David Bowie.
Already the owner of a best-selling LP, "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," (RCA), Bowie arrived last week for his Carnegie Hall debut. Outside, a light truck had a beam sweeping the skies, the type of light used for Hollywood premieres and supermarket openings. It cost $150, but the man running it was disturbed. "It's the air pollution," he said. "We can reach 20 miles in the country. Here, we're lucky to get higher than the pigeons."
Inside, a long line of elegant drag queens was searching for seats. One had a floor-length, silver evening dress matched with silver sparkles glued above the eyes. Another had velvet pants and six-color, tie-dyed Afro hair. I took a long look at the crowd and decided to trade my good seat for one in the back.
Warhol and Co.
It turned out to be the best seat in the house. Andy Warhol walks in and plants himself in the seat in front of me. With him is Gerri Miller, the huge-breasted woman who appears in his movies, notably "Trash." One by one the drag queens come by and pay their respects. The concert starts.
Bowie walks on stage to a fanfare, a tape of some baroque keyboard music and three strobe lights. Fillmore Auditorium circa 1966. He is tall, thin, with bright red hair that goes straight up on top, and straight down in the back. His cheekbones are so high they're feet over is head.
Bowie looks like a skinny version of 1956 Elvis Presley, except that Bowie's gold suit is skin tight, not baggy like Presley's was. Bowie's concert is loud and chunky, like Alice Cooper's but better-sung and unconcerned with snakes and whips. He has one song called 'Andy Warhol'.
"Andy walking, Andy tired
Andy take a little snooze
Tie him up when he's fast asleep
Send him on a pleasant cruise."
In front of me, Andy's gang is plotting. Gerri Miller is going to take a bouquet of flowers and run up to the stage. She will hand them to David Bowie and tell him they're a present from Andy. Since David must be thrilled by this, he will invite Gerri onstage. Then she will take off her clothes, which is something she does at the drop of a hat.
Gerri squeezes by Andy, and makes for the stage. She crouches halfway down the aisle, waiting for her moment. The song David is singing builds to a crescendo, then is over. Gerri dashes for the stage, huge chest doing a good job of breaking out of her lace-up dress.
Bowie is thanking the audience for its applause. Gerri reaches up and thrusts the bouquet under his nose. He doesn't notice, and goes on talking. She waves it back and forth. Nothing. Then finally his eyes drift down. He sees this woman trying to talk to him. He smiles halfheartedly, takes the flowers, and without hearing a word, drops them on the floor. An RCA press agent explains:
"He hates to get flowers. Last week in Memphis a girl gave him a bunch of roses. He cut his finger on a thorn and had to stop the show while someone went for a Band-Aid."
© Mike Jahn, 1972
Rebel rebel, your face is a mess ...
1.23.16: Forget naming a star for your sweetie. Forget uploading that porn tape you made on your honeymoon. The star will blow up. It’s called a supernova. The porn tape will blow up. It’s called a tort.
Name a roach for your ex. This Valentine's Day, let your special someone know your love is everwhere. Under the sink, for example. Name one of the Bronx Zoo's Madagascar hissing cockroaches for your ex. Tens of thousands of roaches ... well, the Bronx Zoo is in the Bronx -- remain nameless and would make a great symbol of your devotion. For $10, we'll send your loved one a digital certificate to cherish for years to come, featuring the name of your Valentine's roach. Stuck for a name? “Trump” works for me.
This year, you can even up the romance by adding chocolate. For $25, there’ll be a printed roach certificate and something sweet. Go for it.
1.21.16: Palin doesn't want to help Trump -- she just wants to give Bristol the opportunity to conceive her next illegitimate child in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Watching “Dr. No” (1962) for the first time in years. Enjoyed the moment where the screen hero changed forever. Someone fired six shots at Bond to no effect. Bond “got the the drop” on him and, after a little repartee, the man picked up his gun and tried to fire again, but it was empty. Bond said “that’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.” And plugged him. Then put another in his back as he lay on the floor.
Not much, you say? But it was about the first time that a hero, given the option of beating the bad guy up, locking him in the cellar, lashing him to a tree, whatever, and calling the cops, as movie heros had done forever, simply shot him. Twice, the second time in the back as he lay on the floor. I remember it being remarked about at the time. What had happened to the movie hero? Most recently Lady Judy Dench remarked to the current Bond, “quite a body count you’ve racked up.”
Well, 1962 was the height of the nuclear annihilation scare. I organized a beer party in the college parking lot. We drank and looked toward New York City, 50 miles away, waiting for the fireball. But 2013 is the height of the ridiculous amateur politician. I look at the Twitter feed and giggle.