January 28, 2008 by A.C. Rhodes
disappointed by someone in journalism whom you admired? Did you find any resolution later, or did you find yourself holding a grudge?
Category: Question of the Week
In 1980, Dave Marsh came to town, promoting his first Bruce bio on the back of Springsteen’s tour. The college newspaper sent a tag team of three reporters to interview the great man: myself and two future rockcrit.com interviewees. Frankly, I wasn’t a big fan of Marsh’s writing or Springsteen’s music for that matter but respected Dave for early Creem and championing of Dee-troit rock.
Anyway Dave was a bit rude and arrogant in my memory, swilling cognac and basically dismissing our questions. Asked what we were listening to and when I touted Gof4′s then-new Entertainment — figuring he’d be all up in its politics — he just sneered.
Now I’m sure we came across as pretentious college boys — we WERE pretentious college boys but I walked away very disappointed. One of my friends drew the short straw and wrote the piece for the paper. (When I asked him about this a few years ago he didn’t remember!)
Flash forward to 2005: the tables turned when I met Dave Marsh as a guest on his SIRIUS radio show and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy, complimenting me on Playback and recalling some fairly obscure articles I’d written for Musician 15 years before. What a surprise, I really expected this fire-breathing hothead who’d start fights about Michael Jackson etc.
I still don’t agree w/Marsh about much but it’s nothing personal, he’s a regular guy after all.
Once when I was doing editing for Magnet my head editor called me and asked me if I’d seen the latest Raygun (I think that was the magazine). I hadn’t, so he faxed me an article on the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion written by Stanley Booth, and in the article there were a couple of quotes that were exactly the same as some quotes from a Magnet piece on the band we’d run a year or so earlier. So I was given the task of contacting Raygun to request that a clarification/retraction/some form of acknowledgment be published in their subsequent issue.
The Raygun editor first reacted very huffily, then he turned apologetic when I showed him that the quotes were verbatim, word for word, and that he’d ask Booth about it. Upon following up, he told me that Booth had very grudgingly admitted that the Magnet quotes had “accidentally” gotten into the story. But THEN he turned around and got angry with the Raygun editor that they would even dare to accuse him of something like this and wound up DENYING everything. He ultimately said he’d never write for them again. (This is all hearsay information I realize. But it’s what I was told. And I also talked it over with the Blues Explosion rep at Matador, and he told me that a copy of the Magnet article was definitely part of the presskit that Booth had received prior to doing the Raygun piece.)
Even though Raygun promised they would run a correction, they never did, so essentially the whole matter got swept under the carpet. They were clearly embarrassed about it but obviously didn’t want to pursue the matter so at Magnet we decided to just drop it ourselves as it wasn’t worth the energy even though we did feel like the original writer (not me, by the way) of the Magnet piece was owed an apology by both Raygun and Booth. Or just an explanation: “I goofed. I did let those quotes slip into my story.” The only satisfaction we got, I guess, was that Raygun folded not all that long afterwards… it was a shitty, self-congratulatory, visually chaotic, rag, so good riddance.
(Incidentally, I still have both articles in my files somewhere. I realize that during the course of promoting a new album, a musician will sometimes start giving the same pat answers when he gets the same questions. But the offending quotes were, as I said, verbatim, and the fact that the Magnet and Raygun interviews were conducted at vastly different points in time would suggest that the likelihood of the bandmember saying the same thing were at least diminished. And of course Booth admitted lifting the quotes before he subsequently denied it. Pretty damning.)
Now, I have always been a huge, massive Booth fan. Read his stuff from the get go. His Stones reporting — just groundbreaking.
Cut to a couple of years later. Something about Booth comes up in an issue of Atlanta zine Stomp & Stammer (I write a monthly column for it called Shake Some Action), and it was such a suck-up job to Booth I felt compelled to writer a letter to the editor and recap the Magnet-Raygun incident by way of pointing out that this respected, legendary writer wasn’t quite so respected anymore, at least not in my house. I dunno, maybe I shouldn’t have re-aired the dirty laundry. But seeing Booth sainted in print again just stirred up the old aggravation — my sense of justice.
Booth subsequently wrote a letter to S&S (he lives or lived in Georgia) in which he trotted out all his legendary exploits (something about “rubbing Allen Ginsburg’s tummy” was in there) and who are you going to believe, some piss-ant hack writer for some tiny indie rock mag no one has heard about, or me, the guy who did dope with Keith Richards? Tellingly, he avoided addressing the implied accusation in the Magnet/Raygun tale.
If Booth had been a man about it at the outset and simply admitted he made a mistake, all would have been okay. It probably wouldn’t have even gone any farther — a private apology probably would have sufficed. Instead, he alienated an entire magazine staff (granted, not a huge one), and in particular disillusioned a lifelong fan of his reporting and his writing.
Danny Sugerman: let the erstwhile junkie scumbag and Doors go-fer rot in his grave. His hagiographic approach to rock history notwithstanding, I’d been a fan of his stuff (Wonderland Avenue was great). I was researching a Doors piece and he agreed to do a 10-15 minute phoner. Which he proceeded to blow off twice. When I finally got him on the phone, rather than answer a few quick questions he said that he didn’t have any time to talk to a writer from a weekly newspaper because he was finishing his Guns N’ Roses biography. *Click* he hangs up on me. I’m literally standing there stunned. Oh well. I got to interview several of Morrison’s best friends in lieu of wannabe Sugerman, and I went on to have my Doors piece published in six publications and in three countries. And his Guns N’ Roses bio sucked. Asshole.
Speaking of assholes, semi-off topic, I have gotten, if not disillusioned, generally peeved when so-called “cool” writers and editors don’t reply to emails. I risk throwing stones in a glass house here, but do these people really think that their time is so much more valuable than mine (or whoever may be writing them) that they can’t simply respond with a basic “got your email, on deadline, will reply soon as I can….”? I’m sorry, but I don’t care if your big ass book on the big ass superstar that you are writing for the big ass publishing house is due TODAY; some common courtesy needs to be addressed. I don’t send out random email blasts (not even when I’m drunk); when I have a question for someone, it’s generally something important to me.
Yes, there are a number of so called top-tier writers who apparently think that their shite don’t stink and like to play the unresponsive card as a power thing. But be careful who you give the brush-off to; they might be someone that you need something from in the future.
I’ve taken that lesson with me and always try to reply to queries in a semi-timely manner, whether it be a fellow writer trying to track down some info, or some college journalism student asking for advice (this happens often, and I always say, “Don’t go into rock writing…”), or simply a civilian asking about this or that. It takes less time to reply, however briefly, to an email than it does to read it, ponder it, decide you don’t have time to mess with it, and delete it. And I tell my writers to do the same thing — be as courteous and respectful with your email correspondence while doing your job as you would be on the phone.
Now waitaminute, Mr. Wronged Said Fred. Recently you dubbed yourself the new Rodney King on this website, as you just couldn’t understand how there could be so much dissension among the CREEM ranks. (You know, that mag you said will be remembered far longer than the writers themselves.) Never mind that one faction had deemed the rest of us permanent non-persons. All we were asking for was the right of return.
You’ve evidently taken this Stanley Booth business much harder than that if you’re still seething over it long after Raygun went out of business. So he lifted a band’s quote from a press kit? It’s not like he was stealing actual creative writing.
I had just the opposite experience with Danny Sugerman. Back in 1981, when he found out I was writing one of the features for CREEM’s Doors special, he called me up out of the blue one night, and hustled me for 20 minutes or so about what a hot band the Doors had been, as though I didn’t already know that. I told him he was preaching to the choir, so then he said he’d send me copies of all of the Doors’ albums to make sure I was equipped for my task. I gave him a list of the Doors albums I already had on hand, and told him just to send the missing titles. He couldn’t believe that non-hustle either, so ended up sending me their entire catalogue. Maybe he sensed through the phone that my birthday was December 8th too, same as his hero The Lizard King & I could do Anything. Or maybe it was simply the power of the CREEM name next to my byline. Which might explain why I still defend that connection now.
Rock yer rama,
My experiences with Danny Sugerman were always good, too; though I suppose we all (well, not me) have our “asshole” moments. With mitigating circumstances, of course.
I had grown up (so to speak) in great admiration of a guy named Tom Nolan. He wrote on mainstream subjects, but was quite knowledgeable and literate on pop (well, pop-rock) music, as well. (Later, he wrote a very good biography of mystery writer Ross MacDonald).
When I moved to Hollywood from a small town, it wasn’t too long before I met my idol, the esteemed Tom Nolan. And was I steamed that this guy whose writing I had been reading and admiring for years (well, three, maybe) was younger than me.
To the best of my knowledge, he still is.
Lester Bangs wasn’t the jerk I’d imagined him to be.
I asked a question and two people were good enough, and gutsy enough, to initiate responses, thereby facilitating further discussion.
Someone sharing an experience, upon being asked, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are taking it “much harder” to the point of “still seething over it.” If they are, it’s their own business – sort of like other respondents’ recent positions.
As for the author’s Rodney King self-proclamation, I don’t recall it. I read the line rather as a fan’s (perhaps idealistic), wish that things could turn out differently; a sentiment not so unusual.
In light of your exchange with the late Danny Sugarman, your consequent opposing stance seems most probable.
Briefly responding, regarding the Booth incident, it simply offended my sense of justice and equity (and remember, it was another writer who actually was wronged, not me… maybe I should have asked him if it bugged him that much too). And in the context of the original question: the experience soured me on someone I’d previously admired, and the story was about why that change of opinion happened.
On Sugerman: as with all people, we come away with different impressions from the people we meet or encounter in some fashion. I’ve heard D.S. described in many contexts, from hustler to die-hard enthusiast to family man to, in comments made by John Densmore and Frank Lisciandro, annoying little sycophant and wannabe. (“Nothing Here But A Pack Of Lies” was Lisciandro’s preferred title to the Hopkins-Sugerman hagiography of the Lizard King). All that aside, he was a jerk and and asshole the time I dealt with him, so that will always be my impression. Maybe he should’ve gotten a good Rodney King beatdown at a young age to thump some manners into him…
I’ve always counted Greil Marcus as a bedrock influence, and the fact that he’s barely ever commented on any of the music that’s meant the most to me the past 15 years or so–unless he’s done so in places I’m not aware of, a possibility–hasn’t really changed that. So it was jarring a few years ago when he wrote something flippant about the Spin Doctors’ singer getting diagnosed with throat cancer, a comment that was grounded in his loathing for a particular lyric from “Two Princes.” I brought this up in the e-mail forum that rockcritics.com did with Marcus, and, to his credit, he didn’t try to cover his tracks at all. (If he’d been running for president, I’m sure he would have responded with something to the effect of, “I was merely authorizing the last-ditch use of throat-cancer jokes after the prerequesite U.N. inspections had been completed.”) I still think there was animus there way out of proportion to the lyric in question.
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