The Blacklisted Journalist Picture The Blacklisted Journalistsm

(Copyright 1997 Al Aronowitz)




When I tell people that Bobby Neuwirth was one of the hippest men I ever knew, they say, "Who?" They want to know didn't I know Bob Dylan? Didn't I know the Beatles? Didn't I know Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady? They want to know who the hell was Bobby Neuwirth? The answer, my friends, is that Bobby Neuwirth has turned out to be one of the best-kept secrets of the '60s.

As Esquire magazine described him way back then, Bobby was the "stars' superstar," one of the top 100 among pop music's insider heavies of that time. Nobody could play the game of Hipper-than-Thou better than Bobby and, although he never succeeded in getting his own name up in lights, he cast a spell over just about every "name" that lit up a big-time pop, rock or folk marquee. In the hip world of that time, in the pop, rock and folk culture, in the haunts of the Underground, Bobby knew everybody who was anybody and everybody who was anybody was one of Bobby's fans.

Too many writers trying to paint a picture of the '60s have made the mistake of dismissing Bobby as just another one of Bob Dylan's spear-carriers, giving a sort of historical legitimacy to what was actually a misconception shared by too many of Bobby's contemporaries who'd been pierced, wounded, cut up and otherwise maimed by Bobby's spears. With that tongue of his, as sharp, barbed and forbidding as the razor wire atop the walls of a maximum security prison, Bobby was capable of dicing anyone else's ego with the dispatch of a knife wielded by a chef in a Japanese steak house. Bobby knew how to cut you up bloodlessly. Like I say, he was famous for putting the diss into dissrespect. He implanted barbs in you that no surgeon could remove. As a hardball pitcher, he feared no one. As the saying goes, he took no prisoners and left no stone unthrown. He was almost as much of a hero to me as Bob Dylan. How could I help but be envious of him?

It's true that whenever Dylan made an appearance in those days, Bobby would be pasted to him like the bottom half of the Jack of Hearts. Go take a look at the film clips from Don't Look Back, the movie which documented Dylan's 1965 English tour. With their eyes shaded by identically sinister dark glasses, the two of them, Bob and Bobby both, seemed to be so much mirror images of each other that you could hardly tell them apart. Bobby wasn't just a supernumerary. He was Bob's off-stage co-star.

The truth is that I could never really figure out whether it was Dylan who'd copped Neuwirth's style or vice versa. So much of each had already rubbed off on the other before I got there that I couldn't tell which was the chicken and which was the egg. There's that question again! To me, it seemed that the two of them were like instant replays of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, the Beat Generation buddies. As Jack's real-life sidekick, Neal also became the prototype of Kerouac's fictional Dean Moriarty, the cross-country hero of On the Road, the novel which redefined the '50s and inspired the lifestyle of the ensuing countercultural '60s. Neuwirth, like Cassady, might've set the fashion and shown the way, but Dylan, like Kerouac, was the more charismatic wordsmith. For my money, Neuwirth himself could have been one of the heroes of On the Road, one of those people Jack was characterizing when he wrote this favorite famous passage in his novel:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'awww!'

For me, there could be no more an exact description of the Bobby Neuwirth I knew. Not only was Bobby Bob Dylan's inspiration way back then, but his fabulous yellow Roman candle explosions elicited "Awwws" from all the rest of us hangers-on, a group which included an impressive array of those surfing to stardom in Dylan's wake. Janis Joplin and Kris Kristofferson were only two of those for whom Neuwirth acted as guiding light, trail blazer, confidante and alter ego. He was instrumental in making their names bigger than his own. That was because, as venomous as his own bite was, he also had the kind of dazzle that could charm venom out of snakes. Bobby certainly was one of the greatest all-time hangout artists who ever lived, especially when it came to hanging out with those who could afford to pick up the check. In what I like to call one of the greatest self-destructive binges of creativity in history, Bobby was always a control freak, a leader who knew how to walk in and take over. He gave lessons in how to get drunk, stoned, bombed and totally out of it while still articulating, writing, playing and singing songs he'd make up on the spot. In my opinion, Bobby summarized, epitomized and personified the '60s.

But then, when the '60s began its 12-step march to AA and AA's alphabet cousins, who should turn up as grand marshall of that parade of recovering drunks and druggies but that champion reprobate himself? Bobby may still be anonymous to the rest of the world, but not to the Anonymous who surrendered their consciousness to Alcoholics Anonymous and its related drug anonymity's. Not that I'm against AA. AA has saved the lives of persons I love. I just don't believe in going to extremes. I've already been there.

The recovering alkies and dopers in what they call "The Program" see Neuwirth as a crusader, a paradigm, a recovery rooter and a sobriety stalwart. Among today's 12-steppers, which includes many who were anybody back in the '60s, Bobby still ranks as one of the hippest of the hip. The last I time I tried to contact him, I was told he was in England, where he was busy hanging out with and consoling millionaire rock star Eric Clapton, still grieving for his four-year-old son, Conor, who fell out of a 49th floor window in Manhattan in March of 1991. That was a grief we all still share. I've learned more recently that Bobby just doesn't want to talk to me. That's nothing new. He never did. Used to be he didn't want to talk to me because I wasn't hip enough. Now doesn't want to talk to me because I'm not sober enough.

Although Bobby became an immediate idol of mine, almost from the moment I met him back in 1963, he kept brushing me off with his own equivalent of "Not now, kid." Of course, I am maybe 10 years older than he is, but he considered me such a square-ass and, besides, it was his manner to be insulting. The first time I met him, he came on about an Ohio delicacy he called a hummingbird tongue sandwich. Do you know how many hummingbirds it takes to make one? Like Bobby's bosom buddy Bob, Neuwirth was always putting me on, never giving me a straight answer, always playing Hipper-than-Thou with me. Bob and Bobby both would forever put me on, but I was dazzled by their quick-draw tongues. Some of the scenes they put on were hilarious. Sometimes, they were like kids pulling the wings of insects. They were like kids who had fallen into the inevitable trap of the powerful. The powerful always waste a lot of their power simply by abusing it gratuitously. Like kids, Bob and Bobby had gotten hooked on making themselves feel bigger by making others feel smaller.

I've known many talented people, but I've always considered Bobby among the most talented. There were not too many others during the '60s who had as much going for them. So, how come Bobby never made it to the Big-Time? Meet Thomas Jefferson Kaye.


It's about four o'clock in the morning when the telephone rings. Thomas Jefferson Kaye is asleep on his king-size mattress in his penthouse apartment, furnished entirely in Woodstock antique and situated on the seventeenth-floor roof of Number Two Charlton Street, just off Sixth Avenue, an address which is considered still a part of the trendy West Village at the same time it is also considered a part of the equally trendy Soho, a neighborhood of lofts at that time about to emerge as the "alternative art" capital of the world. The year is 1973. Cuddled on the king-size mattress with Thomas Jefferson Kaye is his second wife, Vicki.

Rrrrrrriiiiinnnnnng! At long last, Thomas Jefferson Kaye finally has been able to fall asleep and now the phone is ringing. His name is Thomas Jefferson Kaye, but his father's last name is Kontos. Of Greek descent, Thomas Jefferson Kontos decided to change his last name to Kay in 1958, when, at the age of 18, he took a job as head of A&R at Scepter Records. But Florence Greenberg, who ran Scepter at the time, told him:

"Put and 'e' at the end of it and everybody will think you're Jewish. Then, you'll make more money."

Everybody calls him Tommy. As Tommy Kaye, he has made a lot of money. He has produced hits by such recording stars as Three Dog Night, Jay and the Americans, The Shirelles and Maxine Brown. And now he has produced a hit by Loudon Wainwright III, the freshest of the fave folkie raves. Considered a genius in R&B, in blues, in pop, in Top Forty, Tommy has never before dared dip into the folkie bag. But Loudon's record is Number One on the LP charts and a cut off the album, Dead Skunk, is headed for Number One on the singles charts. The singles charts. The best-selling 45s of the day. A Top 40 hit!

In Loudon's two previous albums, classified as folk because he accompanied himself only with an acoustic guitar, Loudon's songs won thunderous applause from the critics, something which led Tommy to believe that, with the rhythm section of an electric band behind him, Loudon could simply burp and he'd get a hit with it. Hired to produce Loudon's third album, Tommy has indeed put a rhythm section behind Loudon and, although Loudon's singing on the album has certainly amounted to much more than a burp, Tommy's expectations have been much more than surpassed. Loudon's third album not only has taken the pop charts by surprise, but it has jarred the folkie community right off the Richter Scale. With Loudon's third album, Tommy has popped the folk bag with a bang, immediately snapping all folkie heads to turn in unison and pay attention. The acoustic-worshipping denizens of Folkie Heaven, located on the Village's MacDougal Street, within walking distance of Tommy's penthouse address, suddenly have found themselves being tantalized by the possibilities of electricity.

Now 33 years old, Tommy is feeling good these days because he has a lot of reasons to be feeling good. With his 29-year-old wife, Vicki, he has been celebrating. Outside their bedroom window, the moon could be seen smiling down on its reflection in the ripples of the Hudson River, providing dim but romantic illumination for a post card view of Manhattan's Lower West Side. Other windows of the penthouse offer breathtaking views of Manhattan in other directions. In their joy, Tommy and his wife have been up snorting cocaine past two in the morning and they finally have fallen asleep.

Rrrrrrriiiiinnnnnng! It's not the phone on the nightstand, its the house phone in the kitchen. The doorman is calling from the lobby.

"Mr. Kaye, I got somebody down here who says he's got to talk to you," the doorman says. "Here, I'll put him on."

"TJ," an unfamiliar voice says, "I wanna come up! This is Bob Neuwirth! I wanna come up and I wanna play you my favorite Bob Dylan album."


"I wasn't even aware of who he was," Tommy remembered years later. "Who's Bob Neuwirth? Out of a clear, blue sky, he calls me from the lobby and he wants to come up to my pad. He tells me he loved the Loudon Wainwright record and he wants to introduce himself. Listen, I was just as crazy as he was in those days. I was just as strung out on drugs and alcohol and I was just as nuts as anybody. So I say OK and he comes up and he plays me Self-Portrait. I like that record, too. And it sorta ended there. That was it!

"Well, I was hanging out a lot in those days with a writer named David Dalton. The next day, I told David that this crazy dude comes to my house and wakes me outta bed at three in the morning and he wants to play me his favorite Bob Dylan album, which is Self-Portrait. He told me his name was Bob Neuwirth. David says, 'Oh, Bob Neuwirth?' And he goes on to tell me who this guy was and what he's done and what he's doing. And David said, 'It's really crazy that he would pick on you and just come up!'

"In those days, I also had a band called White Cloud and I was using this band for everybody I was producing. They were my in-house rhythm section. We also were recording for Leiber and Stoller plus we had our own solo projects going, and we were playing all over the Village, Max's, Sam Hood's, the whole scene. And Neuwirth started coming in to see us at our gigs along with Dylan. He started following our band around. And finally he comes up to me and he says, 'I want you to produce my record.' He's very pushy. Very uppity. Kinda like very Ohio snob. But also crazy and he made me laugh. He made me laugh from the minute he would walk into a room until the minute he would leave. And he was always the first one to come to the party and the last one to walk out the door.

"I've seen Bobby treat people wonderful and I've seen him treat people like dirt. Him and Dylan both. I've seen Bobby do a lot of crazy things. But then, I also got very strung out on his songs. I never thought he was a very good vocalist but I would go to see his shows because I liked his songs so much. At the Gaslight, Sam Hood would say, 'Oh, Bobby Neuwirth, it's a big thing, a "Night With Bob Neuwirth."' The only thing is, Neuwirth would get onstage and he never sang more than one song. Everybody else would get onstage with him, Sandy Bull, John Hammond, Dylan, Eric Andersen. You had thirty people onstage and Bobby sang one song and then everybody came up and did their thing. I have never thought of him as a singer but as a character and as a person and as a songwriter who was so prolific, he really knocked me out. So that's how I started hanging out with Bobby. I hung out with him in New York for a good year or a year and a half, seeing him just about every night, just hanging out. We'd hang out at Max's until about four in the morning and then we'd go to somebody's house until seven the next day and then we'd be back at Max's at nine that night. And always with great, wonderful, creative, talented people. Bobby hung out with that type of crowd. And me, being a musician and an artist myself, I was very happy. But then, I moved to San Francisco. I had to produce an album by Link Wray and I fell in love with Wally Heider's studio and with the air-conditioned San Francisco climate and with the hills and with the cable cars and with Jerry Garcia. And in San Francisco, I get a call from David Geffen."

Tommy has never produced a record for Asylum, which is Geffen's label but David tells him:

"I just signed Bob Dylan. He's going to make a record for me. Also, I just made a bet with Albert Grossman that I could get a record out of Bobby Neuwirth, which is supposed to be impossible. I made a ten thousand dollar bet with Albert and I spoke to Neuwirth and Neuwirth said that if anybody is ever going to produce his first album, it's going to be you!"

Eighteen years later, Tommy chuckles:

"Mind you, I didn't know at the time that Gordon Lightfoot had tried to produce a record with Bobby at Bearsville for Albert Grossman and that afterwards Bobby had sneaked into the Bearsville studios and burnt all the master tapes. I didn't know that Dylan also had produced an album by Bobby and that after they had finished the whole album, Neuwirth again had sneaked into the studio and cut up all the master tapes. He sliced them into little pieces. I didn't find this out until later, and so I told David, 'OK, as soon as I finish Link Wray's record, I'll do Bobby's record.'"


As one of the great gray eminences of the music business, Albert Grossman had a silhouette which some have described as resembling a grizzly bear. He was an enormous man with the bulging midriff and booming voice of an opera star, except that Albert's basso was something less than melodious. Not only was it impossible for anyone to shout Albert down in an argument but I also found him surprisingly fearless, even telling very dangerous looking people where to get off when they got out of line. Albert was much heftier than Ben Franklin, but, as I've already indicated, from his graying pony tail to the shape of the eyeglasses on his face, Albert could have passed himself off as a C-note.

Like Albert, David Geffen also had immaculate taste in the acts he signed. You must have heard of David Geffen, one of the three magi of the New Hollywood. Like all those of great wealth, he obviously feels touched by the finger of God. As for me, I think that too many of the rich forget that God's touch also anoints one with responsibility for others. In any event, David started out at 20 as a mailroom clerk at the William Morris Agency and, at 47, hit the front pages as one of the wealthiest men in America, the result of a stock deal he made with MCA in 1990 that was worth more than 550 million dollars.

When I first met him, David was one of the sweetest kids in the music business, with a big,

What prompted David
to make that bet
with Albert?

boyish smile which instantly disarmed anybody he aimed it at. He was always one of the friendliest impresarios I knew, but now that he has grown so important, with an estimated net worth in excess of seven hundred million dollars or so, I suspect he doesn't find it cost-effective to return my calls. I know that David wasn't the only music business connoisseur to be seduced by Neuwirth's charm, talent and reputation. Now it's years later and David has grown very rich. I keep trying to get in touch with him. I'd like to ask him whatever in the world prompted him to make that bet with Albert.


Almost 20 years later, a chain-smoking Tommy is slim, slight and as close to sober as he can get. With his handsome, boyish face beneath a shock of whitening hair which sprout from dark roots, he is holding auditions to find a fifth wife for himself from among a field of applicants top-heavy with 22-year-old topless dancers, whose blonde hair also sprouts from dark roots. Now a diabetic, Tommy has been keeping death confined to the other side of the doors of the various hospital rooms where Tommy had been kept confined himself. He now has to shoot up with insulin twice a day and kids himself that he no longer needs drink or drugs to lubricate his tongue, even though he keeps chug-a-lugging more than an occasional beer. However, he says his quick finger on the bedside button of the apparatus which allowed him to administer demerol to himself at timed intervals made his most recent three-and-a-half-month hospital stay seem like three days. At first, the doctors thought they were going to have to amputate his left foot, but Tommy thinks he leads a charmed life. The doctors ended up settling for his big right toe. Even though his aging body is getting covered with more stitches than Frankenstein's monster, Tommy still has the kind of looks which make him eligible to be called "The Kid." Dorian Gray has nothing on Mr. Kaye. Tommy's eternally boyish looks, in fact, remind me of Neuwirth. But then, so does Tommy's glibness. Like me, Tommy says that hanging out with Bobby was one of the great adventures of his life.

"I told you I've seen him treat people wonderful and I've also seen him treat people like dirt?" Tommy asked. "There was one time he took me over to a party at Dylan's house on MacDougal Street. We get to the party and there's all kinds of famous people there and Neuwirth sidles up to me and says, 'Stay close to me, Tommy. Bob is very unhappy. He's not having a good time. These people are bringing him down. He wants everybody to clear out, but not you, Tommy, you stay next to me.' The next thing that happens is Neuwirth picks up the phone, calls Scully's Angels and orders a fleet of cabs to come to the house. When the cabs arrive, Neuwirth announces to everybody: 'OK, people, we're moving the party. There are taxis outside that'll take everybody to the party's new location.' Then he hustles everybody into the cabs, tells the drivers to take them to some corner way up in the heart of black Harlem and, bye-bye. Me and Neuwirth and Dylan, we go back into the house."


In San Francisco, Tommy finishes work on the Link Wray LP and flies down to Los Angeles to join Neuwirth, who has jetted in from New York at Geffen's expense. Neuwirth's date with Tommy in the studio is still at least a month away and the two of them are supposed to spend that month planning Neuwirth's album, or at least that's what they tell Geffen. Actually, Bobby and Tommy spend the month at their favorite preoccupation, having nothing to do but hang out. Of course, hanging out with Bobby Neuwirth means twenty-four-hour days fueled by cocaine, speed, pills, alcohol and lots of glamorous poo-tang. Movie stars. Hollywood beauties too famous to risk the lawsuit which might come as a result of naming them. Bobby collects them in the way flypaper collects flies. As both a disser and a kisser, Bobby is a pisser. One of the reasons Bobby is my idol in these days is the way he attracts beauties. Bobby is a world-class stud. He lines them up in front of Tommy and says, "Take your pick."

"The hours are crazy, the alcohol thing is crazy, the pills are crazy, the people are crazy," Tommy remembers. "Anyway, we get to the point we're now going to go into the studio. We worked it out because Bobby was very close to Kris Kristofferson. We had a lot of meetings with Kris and his old lady, Rita Coolidge. I really hadn't been aware how tight Neuwirth was with Kris. I really didn't fully realize at that time how responsible Bobby was for making Kris Kistofferson who he is. I didn't know that. I mean, Bobby took Kris from the recording studio to Bobby McGee to Janis Joplin and that whole thing. Bobby played a major, major role in making Kris a star, but I didn't know that, see. And Kris played a major, major role in making sure this record was gonna happen. Kris was like a producer's dream. He said, 'I'm gonna make sure Bobby gets to the studio,' and this and that and Kris was there every night during the four or six months it took to make this record."


The Asylum Recording Studio is in Hollywood on LaCienega near Sunset. Studio A is on the first floor, with a large control room that includes a state-of-the-art twenty-four-track console. A leather couch sits like a bleacher behind the seats where the engineer and the producer sit behind an elongated console while they look out through a plate glass window that is about eight feet high and fifteen feet wide and especially thickened for soundproofing. On the other side of the window is a studio about the size of four living rooms with a very high ceiling. Tommy describes the studio as certainly large enough to accommodate at least two dozen violin players and their instruments.

On a night during the late summer of 1974, Tommy Kaye walks into the control room of Studio A for the first of Bobby Neuwirth's recording sessions. Sitting on the couch is actress Julie Christie. Also actor George C. Scott. Also James Brolin, star of the Marcus Welby TV series. Also Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone. Christie, Scott, and Wenner all wear headphones which are plugged into the console. Also there is Neuwirth, looking something like a mod squad terrorist behind his sinister shades. He takes Tommy aside and says:

"TJ, whaddya think of the peanut gallery? Check it out, man! Dig your audience!"

Tommy is properly impressed. Then he turns toward the plate glass window and sees in the studio on the other side of the window what appears to be four bass players, eight guitar players, three piano players and 19 drummers. Tommy turns to Neuwirth with a look that asks why are so many musicians here?

"Take your pick, TJ!" Bobby says. "They're yours, man. You're the genius. Pick the players out, man. OK?"

Suddenly, out of nowhere, appears Rick Danko, who joined the '60s as the bass player in The Band. Rick, well known for his space travel, makes no attempt to camouflage the fact that he is now flying in a very high orbit.

"What the fuck is going on here?" Rick says. "Hold it, man, hold it!"

Tommy has never before met Rick, but Rick puts an arm around Tommy's shoulder and commands, reassuringly:

"Hey, pick the players, Tommy!" Then, pointing to Neuwirth, Rick adds:

"See him over there with the rose glasses on? Fuck 'im! Pick the players, Tommy!"

"It was like an elimination thing," Tommy remembers years later. "With the help of Kris Kristofferson, I start picking the players. I tell myself, 'This is some way to start an album!' But I had known from the start, mind you, that this is gonna be a crazy experience and I was up for it, man. I was just as high as everybody else and I was up for it! So we finally pick out the five or six guys, and all of them, including the rejects, are very famous musicians, but the rejects have to leave."

At last, the microphones are ready, the musicians are ready, the engineer is ready and they are about to begin recording when there's a knock on the control room door. The door opens and a head peeks in from behind it. The head belongs to David Geffen.

"Hi," he says, "I'm here with Dylan and The Band. Can we come in?"

"Aww, er, yeah!" Tommy says. "Yeah, of course!"

As Dylan walks in behind Geffen, Neuwirth approaches Tommy, pulls him into a corner and motions toward Dylan.

"TJ," Neuwirth says. "C'mere! Look! See! He's got the same sun glasses on as I do! He's wearing the same sun glasses, man!"

"So, why don't you take yours off?" Tommy replies.

"Oh, you're a fucking genius, man!" Neuwirth says. "You're a genius! I'll tell you somethin' else, man! He's gonna wanna play harmonica on my record. I don't wanna hafta tell 'im. You're gonna hafta tell 'im! You're gonna hafta tell 'im he can't play harp on my record!"

Years later, Tommy remembers:

"Now the peanut gallery includes Kristofferson, Dylan, Robbie Robertson and Geffen and what am I gonna do? I have just gone through the whole thing with the sun glasses and now he wants me to really tell Bob Dylan that he's not to play the harp on Neuwirth's record? So, all of a sudden, the door opens up again and it's Donnie Everly, drunk as a skunk, with his guitar case and this six-foot-three Amazon. I don't know who she was."

The Everly Brothers loom large in rock history as inspirations for just about every musician who ever became a more famous inspiration. Now, Donnie Everly staggers into the control room and, weaving unsurely, opens his guitar case without a hello to anyone. Turning to Neuwirth, he says:

"Bobby, look at this!"

Inside the case, Donnie displays a scratched up guitar.

"The beautiful thing about this," Donnie sloshes, "is that I gave my brother's guitar to the Nashville Hall of Fame. But to play on your record, I went back down there and borrowed my brother's guitar back and then I bought a new guitar and scratched it up and then I gave the scratched up new one back to the museum to put in its place. So this is my brother's original guitar!"

"Wow!" Tommy joins all the others in mumbling. "What a beautiful thing!"

"I never have done a duet with anybody else other than my brother," Donnie garbles on, looking at Neuwirth while struggling to put what he wants to say into words in the same way he'd drive a car in the oncoming lane of a superhighway, "and I'm here to do my first duet with someone else. I'm here to do my first duet with you, Bobby, and we're gonna do it right now, and we don't need drums!"

Tommy rolls his eyes heavenward and tells himself, Fucking great! At least we're now gonna get something done! Years later, Tommy remembers:

"So, this is how this album starts out. They go into the studio and the duet turns out to be an incredible thing, a song called Legend In My Time, written by Don Gibson. A great song! They go out in front of the microphone and run the song down two or three times and everybody's just amazed. Geffen is just standing there. He's dumbstruck by this beautiful song that he's just heard. Everybody in the studio is amazed. Me, too. This is all so nostalgic for me. Just to be in the same room with Donnie Everly is a whole other thing for me."

The tape starts rolling and Donnie Everly, in a duet for the first time with anybody else other than his brother, Phil, sings into the same microphone with Neuwirth:

If they gave gold statuettes
For tears and regrets
I'd be a legend in my time . . .

About halfway through the tune, Dylan takes out his harmonica, asks for a microphone and walks from the control room into the studio. At Bob's approach, Neuwirth, singing along

The commotion somehow
did not get recorded
on the tape

with Donnie, frantically tries to wave Dylan away. Ignoring Neuwirth, Dylan merely leans into the single microphone which Neuwirth and Everly are both using, puts his harp to his lips and start blowing.

"And it turns out beautiful!" Tommy remembers. "And all this commotion somehow does not get recorded on the tape. And they did two takes, and that was it. I did not want to deal with anything after that! I just said, 'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here. It's been a pleasure. Time to go home.'"


Yes, I'd like to know if David made that bet with Albert after he signed Neuwirth, or did he sign Neuwirth because he made the bet. Whatever made David think he could win the bet? I start trying to get hold of David. I leave phone messages. I send letters. Should I slit my wrists that I never sucked up to David when I had a chance to?


"It turns out every night there's a different kind of insanity," Tommy remembers. "It almost put me in the hospital. In the psycho ward. Like, one night, he decides he wants to do a song called Honky Red and he decides he's going to have The Committee come in from San Francisco."

The Committee is an improvisational comedy group that has hit it big time. Flying The Committee's four members to L.A. from San Franciso doesn't cost all that much but Neuwirth also rents a portable bar as part of the album costs. He places the bar in the studio and he hires a professional bartender to serve drinks from behind the bar.

"They were gonna have a conversation at the bar that they were gonna overdub onto the track," Tommy remembers. "But everybody really had to be legitimately drunk to record this thing because it had to be authentic because it was Bobby Neuwirth and there could be no acting and they had to be drunk and they had to have a bartender. A real bartender. Well, they sat down at the bar and they did this dialogue and we recorded it and it was totally ad libbed. The song was about a guy who got his legs shot off and they got good and drunk and Neuwirth would say, 'Ah, ah, ah, have you ever been to the circus?' And the guy from The Committee goes, 'Oh, the service, yeah, I been in the service.' It was absolutely insane, with the bartender shaking the martinis and their rap has got the engineer and me laying on the floor, dying laughing."


There is also the night that Bobby brings in the black horn players. These are to be the first African-American musicians ever to perform on a record bearing David Geffen's Asylum label.

"This is gonna be a cause for the cause," Tommy remembers. "We get the most famous black horn players in the entire music industry. Names like Blue Mitchell on trumpet and Plas Johnson on baritone sax and Clifford Scott and Jerry Jumonville on tenor. All very famous jazz guys and rock and roll guys and blues guys. Of course, Neuwirth is used to dealing with people like Dylan and the folkie crowd and Neuwirth thinks the very proper thing to do is to get everybody a a bunch of Irish Rose and Thunderbird and stuff like that. And they start crackin' up and they start goofin' on Bobby and we start crackin' up because Bobby is not hip to the fact that they're goofin' on him because they are not interested in that stuff. These are very famous horn players.

"Well, we get through that and the next thing is Bobby decides he wants to have a hundred and one strings on his record. Now, in those days going over the budget is a common thing. You know, it's usual to go over the budget by ten or twenty-five thou when you're making a record in those days. But when you're like a hundred and forty thousand over the budget, a guy like David Geffen, even though he's a very creative guy and he gives his artists all the freedom they want, I start getting calls from David from phone booths in Hawaii in between flights asking me, 'Have you finished the epic yet?'

"Mind you, all of these people who come to play on the record are doing it because they want to. All these people really want to be there and participate. Nobody is getting paid. Nobody will even accept a W4 form. But we're flying them in like crazy and we're putting them up in the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Continental House and the Tropicana. It's now going into three or four months, and every night there's a different mob of people. And these are all very famous people and they are all there because they really want to be there. And I want to be there, too, because there are great moments of creativity, high plateaus that I've never experienced before. Not only was this the first duet Donnie Everly has ever sung with anybody other than his brother Phil, but there is also Kris and Rita and her sister, Priscilla Coolidge, and Dusty Springfield and Clydie King and Corey Wells and Richie Furay and Chris Hillman and Gene Clark and Dylan and this is also the very last recording that Cass Eliot ever sings on. We had one session that was the thrill of my life with all these people singing at the same session. The credits go on and on. Over 75 different people are on this record. So David Geffen says to me, 'If you finish this record like tomorrow, I'll give you another project to do. Anything or anyone you want to do on my label.' I said, 'David, man, it's going as quickly and as well as we can.'"


"We had these really incredible nights," Tommy remembers, "and then there were hell holes, nights that I'd go home and have nightmares. And again, if it wasn't for Kris Kristofferson, Geffen never would have won his bet. We would never have gotten this record done. Kris was there every night, and I really could not have done it by myself. And every time Neuwirth would get off on one of his bad moments, I could never complain. I was like a lumberjack in Canada whose finger gets cut off with a buzz saw. Lumberjacks never complain. I was like a star receiver who breaks his leg on the football field, the game goes on. Nobody cares, and that's it. Casualties are part of the thing. I never really got into complaining. All we could say was how great it was.

"And finally, we get to the point where we have all of these marvelous tracks down with all the overdubs completed, with the horns and the violins and the background vocals. For the hundred and one violins, I couldn't fit them all into the studio, so I put some of them in Geffen's reception area. Boy, did he get pissed! And we even get to the point where Bobby sings the vocal on the song he wrote with Janis, the very last song we do, Mercedes Benz. It was like a real special thing to him. He makes us put all the lights out. We have to record him in the dark."


There is also a night that seems to be charged with tautness, tension and subtlety. Instead of the nightly insanity, instead of the groupies, instead of the entourage, instead of the mobs of people coming in and out of the control room, instead of a peanut gallery consisting of the Who's Who of the pop world, Tommy walks into the studio to find only Neuwirth, the engineer and a female Tommy remembers as "the strangest looking woman I have ever seen in my entire life." The woman, with a mole at the end of her nose and with wrinkled stockings that have fallen to her ankles, is knitting. That's all she does. As if oblivious to everything going on in the control room, she just sits there and knits.

Years later, Tommy doesn't know who the woman is and I can't find anybody else who's willing to tell me. Tommy remembers that the previous four months of craziness finally starts to catch up with him on this night. Tommy realizes that he can no longer put up with Neuwirth's excesses. Standing with his back against the approximately eight-feet-high by fifteen-feet-long thickened plate glass window, Neuwirth looks at Tommy, who is sitting behind the console. Neuwirth says in his sarcastic hiss:

"Well, TJ, what're we gonna do tonight?"

From the beginning, Tommy has hated to be called TJ. Nobody but Neuwirth has ever called Tommy TJ. Since Neuwirth started calling Tommy TJ, everybody has started calling Tommy TJ. In the past, everybody has always called him Tommy. He likes to be called Tommy. He doesn't like being called by his initials, as if he were some cold character in a soap opera.

"What're we gonna do tonight?" Neuwirth repeats in his tormenting tone.

"Well, if you don't pick the song. . ." Tommy starts to say.

"No!" Bobby interrupts. "You're the genius! You pick the song!"

Tommy picks the song. Years later, Tommy says it really never mattered much which song he picks. He doesn't remember which song it was.

"Now," Tommy says to Neuwirth, "just go out in the studio and put the headset on and we'll record."

"OK," Neuwirth answers, "but ya gotta tell me somethin', TJ, ya gotta tell me when I get to the door, do I turn the handle to the right to open it or do I turn it to the left to open it?"

"Bobby," Tommy commands, wearily, "just go open the fucking door! Go out into the studio and put the fucking headsets on!"

"But, TJ," Neuwirth teases, "you're the genius. Just tell me. Do I turn the handle to the right or do I turn it to the left?"

Tommy picks up a tape cassette deck which has been sitting on the ledge at the top of the console.

"Bobby," Tommy threatens, "I'm gonna count to three and I'm gonna tell you somethin.' When I say, 'Three,' I'm gonna throw this tape cassette deck right in your face, so that when I say 'Three,' you better duck!"

Neuwirth stands his ground.


Neuwirth doesn't move a muscle.


Neuwirth doesn't flinch.


Tommy throws, the engineer ducks, Neuwirth ducks, and the tape cassette deck goes through the approximately eight-feet-high by fifteen-feet-long plate glass window, especially thickened for soundproofing. God knows how much the window will cost to replace.

As if scornfully shaking off the dust, Neuwirth's head slowly rises from in front of the console as he says in a stern and mocking tone:

"TJ, you didn't have to embarrass me in front of my old lady like that. You could take me out in the alley and beat me up, but you didn't have to embarrass me in front of my old lady."

Tommy has been struck by a thunderbolt. He falls to the floor, a casualty. Medic! Tommy starts rolling around on the floor along with the engineer, a tall, long-haired, bearded and good-natured man named Tony Reale. They both roll on the floor and hug each other as they laugh. Meanwhile, the mystery woman with the mole at the end of her nose just sits there and keeps knitting as if nothing has happened.


"The next day, at the studio, they wanna know what happened to the window," Tommy remembers years later. "Well, it broke, that's what happened to the window! It's part of

thought the record was 
a 'thing of beauty'

the project. We needed it as a prop. That's what happened to the window. So I figured we'd go up to San Francisco to cool off. I need better performances on the vocals. The tracks are all incredible. Done by great veteran heros of mine. People I have never before met. People I never would have thought I would ever be working with. But the vocals need work, so we go up to San Francisco and Neuwirth becomes the perfect artist, showing up every day, like a heavyweight world's champion boxer in training. All of a sudden, he is very serious, he's gonna do it, and that's the kind of album it is. We all knew goin' in that there wasn't gonna be no such thing as a hit single out of it. But to me, lyrically, with the feeling, the musicianship, all of that is there on the record. I loved the record. I thought we had accomplished a thing of beauty."


Back in L.A., Tommy goes into the studio to mix and Neuwirth remains the perfect gentleman by not coming to any of the mixing sessions. Tommy is mixing for three days and three nights and finally collapses in his room at the Continental Hyatt House. He is exhausted. The phone rings.


It's Neuwirth.

"It's me. I'm in the lobby. "You gotta wake David Geffen up right now!"

"Bobby!" Tommy protests. "It's three o'clock in the morning!"

"No! You don't understand! I'm comin' upstairs! I got David's hotline number, the one he keeps next to his bed in case somebody dies, the one he keeps next to his pillow!"

"Bobby," Tommy insists. "Look, first of all, I am not calling this man at three o'clock in the morning! Second of all, I'm fucking exhausted!"

"Oh, by the way," Bobby says, "I got Julie Christie with me, and I want her to hear you sing that song of yours, I'm All Cried Out. It's my favorite song."

"Get out of here!" Tommy warns.

Ignoring Tommy's warning, Neuwirth comes up, but without Julie Christie.

"TJ," Neuwirth says, "if you don't get Geffen up, I'm gonna keep you up all night. I wanna see 'im at nine in the morning. I have a concept for my album cover and I wanna see 'im at nine o'clock, man, before he starts his day, man. I wanna be the first guy he sees and talks to while his mind is fresh."

"But, Bob!" Tommy pleads. "I can't do it!"

"I'll keep you up all night and all day, TJ. I'm not leavin'."

"All right, gimme the number!"

Tommy dials.

"Who died? Who died?" David answers sleepily.

"David, this is Tommy Kaye. Look, I'm sorry to wake you up, man, but like I'm in my room with Neuwirth. He just woke me outa bed. He needs to talk to you at nine o'clock in the morning, and I had to call you up now because either it meant I didn't go to sleep tonight or maybe for the rest of my life."

"OK, all right, OK," David says. "Nine o'clock in the morning."

Neuwirth grins and says:

"You're a genius, TJ. Thank you."

Neuwirth leaves. Tommy lies down and closes his eyes. At a quarter-to-nine in the morning, Neuwirth phones from the lobby and says:

"C'mon, TJ, we're gonna see Geffen!"

Oh, shit. Tommy figures he is already a hundred and eighty grand over the budget at this point and David had not been too happy with this project to begin with. They get into David's office, which is in the same building with the Asylum studio.

"Well, what is it?" David asks.

"I have a concept for my album cover, David, and I know you're gonna understand this, man," Bobby says.

"Uh, huh," Geffen answers.

Years later, Tommy remembers:

"I'm looking at Geffen and Geffen's looking at me. I can see that Geffen is not very happy. But Neuwirth is excited. Now, he's got the president. The president of the record company. He's got David Geffen and it's nine o'clock in the morning and he is flying and he is gonna get his album cover concept across. And I'm thinking if I could make a phone call to hire a hit man to come by to assassinate him at this point. I've been up for three days, I haven't slept for hours, and now I hafta hear this nonsense?"

Neuwirth starts out his meeting with Geffen by saying:

"First of all, David, we're not going to have Bobby Neuwirth tee-shirts. I want the BVD tee-shirt, plain, black tee-shirts with the pocket. And we'll have a little note in the pocket that says, 'Here, have a Bobby Neuwirth tee-shirt!' And I want Bobby Neuwirth socks. But the cover, David, I wanna call the album Bob Neuwirth/Woolly Fish. I wanna be standin' in back of a fish aquarium, photographed through the aquarium and I want all those little fishes swimming around, and, David, I know you've got the right tailor, David. You've gotta have little wool suits made for the fish. You've gotta leave room for their fins."


After Neuwirth leaves, Geffen tells Tommy:

"I was really very angry at you, man, but I can't be angry at you now. I mean what you've done here. . . I don't know if it's a work of art or what it is, but you really have done something. You've done something I can't do and I can do almost anything in the world, except get these little fish their little wool suits and leave room for their fins. I suppose he wants high leather shoes for their fins, too. Needless to say, this album has cost me a fortune to make and do you know how many records I'll sell? Maybe six. That's how I feel about it. That's how excited I am about this Bobby Neuwirth record."

For the album cover, Geffen hires a famous photographer who is not so famous that Tommy can remember the famous photographer's name. The famous photographer flies in and sets up his equipment in a studio. Neuwirth shows up for the photo session and insists on standing in front of a mirror. The photographer readies his Polaroid camera to take a test shot. There is some banter about Neuwirth needing to comb his hair.

I have never thought of Bobby as having "pretty boy" looks, but women often have

'That's it!
That's the picture I want! 
That's my album cover!'

remarked to me what a handsome man he is. To me, however, his mouth seemed a little on the thin-lipped side when it wasn't curled in a smile or a sneer or a scowl or a snarl or a growl or a howl. He also talked out of the corner of his mouth a lot. At the stage of his life when he is in the studio with the famous photographer, he is wearing a beard and a mustache. His hair on his head is just short of a Prince Valiant cut. He is wearing a cowboy shirt embroidered with flowers and he is always in motion. There is more banter about hair-combing and Bobby eventually manipulates the photographer into combing his hair in the mirror. Suddenly, the timer snaps the shutter of the camera. When the Polaroid picture with the famous photographer combing his hair in the mirror comes into focus, Bobby looks at the photograph and says:

"That's it! That's the picture I want! That's my album cover!"

And then, Neuwirth stalks out of the photo studio.

When the album sleeve is printed, the photo credit on the back of the sleeve goes to "Polaroid SX 70."


"To make things worse, it's Christmas time," Tommy remembers years later. "David Geffen throws a big party in his recording studio and Bobby shows up at David Geffen's Christmas party with a bullwhip. Finally, the album comes out, and Geffen is right. It does sell six copies. Neuwirth probably ends up giving away every copy that is ever pressed. Actually, the album has ten fantastically wonderful and melodic songs on it. The record is not really commercial, but it has songs on it that really say something. It's probably one of the my favorite records that I have ever done. About a year after the record comes out, Bobby is having dinner with Glen Frye and Jimmy Buffet and their wives and my name happens to come up in the conversation. 'Oh,' Bobby says, 'Thomas Jefferson Kaye! The demise of my career!'

"So that's where it's at. Thomas Jefferson Kaye, the demise of Bobby Neuwirth's recording career. And now, he is in The Program and I am in The Program, and every time I go to California, he is the first person that I call. And the minute he says, 'Go to a meeting with me,' he is the only person I will not attend a meeting with, though I go to meetings often, NA as well as AA. And he thinks I'm crazy and I know he's crazy and we're still crazy friends. And do you know how the credits came out on the album? 'Directed by Robert Neuwirth. Produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye.' The demise of his career! Mind you, I think it was a beautiful album. It's beautiful, innocent, brilliant and drunk. It has every ingredient you could possibly imagine and it's all documented, right there in the grooves. So, I'm proud of it."


As Thomas Jefferson Kaye is telling me this story, I am thinking I must get in touch with none other than billionaire Geffen himself. I have just a few questions to ask him. Has David really spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars to make this album just to win a $10,000 bet? Was it worth it?

Today, it's a tossup as to whether Bobby Neuwirth or the album that cost David Geffen close to $200,000 is the best-kept secret of the 'Sixties. So few copies went into circulation that, by 1993, when I asked professional record hunters to find me Neuwirth's album, they searched for many months and months and couldn't come up with it. I'd still like to get a copy. As of this writing, nobody knows where to find one. Tommy himself said he once had a copy but didn't know what happened to it. Tommy's copy may have been the last in existence.

As a footnote, Tommy remembers another event.

"I've been up for three days, mixing all the final mixes after four, five, six months in the studio," Tommy says. "I haven't been to bed in three days and I have to fly to Dallas, Texas, the next day at four o'clock in the afternoon and its about seven in the morning when I finally fall asleep."

At exactly five minutes after eight, the telephone rings. It's Neuwirth again.

"TJ," Bobby says, "get up and put Channel Four on!"

"Bobby," Tommy answers, "what the fuck are you doing? I been up for three days and nights straight, man, and I just fell asleep! Come on man, what time is it?"

"It's five minutes after eight, man!" Neuwirth says. "You gotta do this! You gotta do this!"

Tommy gets out of bed, turns on Channel Four, gets back into bed and picks up the phone again.

"Turn the volume up so I know you really got it on," Neuwirth commands.

Tommy gets out of bed once more, turns up the volume, gets back into bed and picks up the phone again. On the TV tube, he sees Captain Kangaroo with Farmer John, who is wearing overalls. With big orange gloves on his hands, Farmer John is playing a guitar and singing:

"Old MacDonald had a farm, eee ay, eee ay, ohhh. . ."

"That's what my album's all about!" Neuwirth says. "You're a genius, TJ! Thank you!"

And, boom! Neuwirth hangs up.


Other than a broken window, this story doesn't have any car chases through flower stands or spectacular explosions bringing down skyscrapers or any other kind of breathtaking booms or bangs and there's no room for a single oh-so-thrilling special effect in it. But wouldn't this story make a dynamite movie? Plus the sound track could be outta sight. And was there ever a better man born to make this movie other than David Geffen himself?

The first thing you need to make a movie is muscle and David certainly has got that! He's a veritable financial Hercules! The second thing you need for this movie is an ear, because the sound track is just as important as the story. Of course, David wouldn't be sitting where he is if he didn't have an ear. And the third thing you need is connections. Well, super music man David has teamed up with super movie-maker Steven Spielberg and super studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, former ruler of the Walt Disney kingdom. Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen are creating their own empire, Dreamworks SKG, which aims to turn out the biggest and the best and the boomiest Hollywood blockbusters ever. No, I really didn't want to slit my wrists for not having sucked up to David when I had a chance to but maybe I should start thinking of tearing my hair out. I keep sending him letter after letter. I forget how many. I get no response. I need David to tell me his side of the story. To win his $10,000 bet with Albert Grossman cost David approximately $200,000. Was it worth it? Also, did Albert ever pay up? Ultimately, I send David a preliminary draft of the story. Finally, a letter dated May, 30, 1996, the very day of my quadruple bypass heart surgery, arrives in the mail. David writes me:

"Dear Al, Thanks for writing. We moved offices so it's possible that your letters got misdirected. Regarding your inquiry about Bobby Neuwirth, I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about. I made a deal with David Braun, and Albert Grossman wasn't involved in any part of it. In fact, I never had a bet with Albert about anything ever. Sorry I couldn't be of more help. Good luck with the website. Regards, David."

Obviously, somebody's bullshitting me. But then, in the music business, everybody bullshits everybody. When you tell fibs in the music business, your nose doesn't grow, your bankroll does. Was it Socrates who said that no big piece of change ever got amassed without a little cheating somewhere along the line? Does David expect me to be so impressed and so intimidated by his wealth, his power, and his success that I will actually swallow whatever he tells me? The only lesson I ever really learned in my life is that EVERYBODY'S full of shit?

By July 17, 1996, I unfortunatley think I have recuperated from my heart surgery well enough to write David a reply. I say "unfortunately" because now that I reread the letter I see I must've written it while still stoned out of my gourd from post-operative pain killers. Otherwise, how could I have composed such an asskissing piece of shit? Could it be that I really was intimidated by David's wealth, power and success? Was I drugdreaming that I might really get him to turn this story into a movie? If I didn't suck up to David Geffen years ago when I had the chance, I found that in this letter to him of July 17, 1996, I was sticking my tongue all the way up his anus. Rereading the letter, I realize that that yes, I must've still been in Rxland when I wrote it. I obviously wasn't in my right mind.

"It is to my great regret that not until this very moment have I ever had the opportunity to tell you what a great fan of yours I am," I started my letter to David. "You have the most irresistible smile, more irresistible than that of anyone in the world I know, with the possible exception of Bob Dylan, whom you equal as one of my greatest of idols," I wrote him.

What bullshit! Although David does have a famous, a great, a winning and an infectious boyish smile. In my letter, I tell David that his smile and his boyishness were key factors in his success, but I also get down on my knees in homage to David's brainpower. His creativity, I bullshit him, is maybe equal to that of Dylan himself. Of course, my true opinion is that nobody equals Dylan's creativity. Bob is the master. To me, Bob tops everybody. It's hard for me to keep rereading the letter without holding my hand to my nose, not to see if my nose is growing but so I won't smell the stench of what I've written. But then, after all this asskissing, I finally let him have it. I tell him that instead of implying that Thomas Jefferson Kaye is a liar, he should run with the story and let it become part of his legend. Is he afraid this story is going to make him look like a fool? For God's sake, David, are you afraid to be seen as colorful?

I explain to David that this story helps illustrate "how you helped change the course of contemporary music like Hercules diverting a river. That you would spend $200,000 to let a talented and far-out innovator like Bobby make a record that didn't stand a chance of selling six copies is the best illustration possible of how you were willing to let your stable of innovators work the magic that made you and them gazillionaires, no matter how far out their ideas and innovations might have been. Just as no one could say no to your smile, you couldn't say no to their creativity and, to the proliferation of beauty in the world, you let them soar."

As someone who lived in Woodstock as Albert's guest for a number of years during the 1980s, I tell David that everybody up there knew how big a liar Albert could be. I tell David I've heard that Albert chortled over how Neuwirth would "drive you crazy before you would ever get a finished album out of him." Up in Woodstock today, I tell David, the consensus is not that Albert made the bet with Geffen but that he was too much of a welsher ever to pay it off.

"But hero that you have always been in my opinion," I wrote David, "you disappoint me by choosing to imply that the late Thomas Jefferson Kaye was nothing but a fabulist." Fabulist. That's a crossword puzzle word for prevaricator. But, like I say, we're all full of shit, aren't we? Poor addictive Tommy! It wasn't the diabetes that finally killed him, it was a fatal dose of Tylenol. He was staying at the home of his old friend, Marty Kupersmith, one-time guitarist and backup singer for Jay and the Americans, who kept telling Tommy, "Do me one favor! Please don't die in my house!" Marty considered Tommy too good a friend to admit that, in his last days, Tommy was "sponging" off Marty. But the truth is that in Tommy's last days, he sponged off everybody! Like Neuwirth, Tommy was a member of AA, except Tommy couldn't quit drinking. After he died, Marty found empty vodka bottles stashed in every corner of his house. Tommy couldn't quit smoking ciggies, either, even though smoking clogged his capillaries. That's why they had to start amputating his extremities. He developed a form of toxemia and, to combat the pain, he asked Marty to get him a bottle of Tylenol. The next day the bottle was empty and Tommy was dead. He died in St. Anthony's Hospital in Warwick, N. Y. the day before Hank Williams' birthday in September of 1994. Tommy isn't around to contradict David any more, but I have Tommy's story about producing Bobby Neuwirth's album on tape.

So, does David say the story of the bet is untrue because he's too embarrassed to admit he spent $200,000 on Bobby Neuwirth's album just to win a $10,000 bet with Albert Grossman? Then again, as Marty Kupersmith said, Tommy was a bullshitter, too. Either way, aint this a great story, David? The biggest problem you'd have with making the movie is figuring out who's going to play you. ##



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