COLUMN THIRTY, FEBRUARY 1, 1998
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
MICK AND THE PRESIDENT (A "FOUND" MANUSCRIPT)
(Photo courtesy Mick Rock http://mickrock.com)
(Photo Copyright © Mick Rock 1975, 1998)
[I think it was 1977 when I met my Greek goddess, Elena, at Brian Hamill's wedding. She later told me she'd been attracted to me by the fact that I was wearing cowboy boots. At the time, I was a lost soul, driven bats by the avalanche of misfortune which'd buried me. My house of cards collapsed after my wife died and the notoriously corrupt executive editor of the New York Post fired me for no good reason at all. No good reason other than his overwhelming jealousy caused by my success with my POP SCENE column. I suspect he considered me too big a nebbish to warrant any kind of stardom. To him, I was nothing but a schmuck who didn't even know that my deceased wife'd been fooling around on me.
By that notoriously corrupt executive editor, by those other New York Post [bleeps] who'd swallowed the poison he fed them about me without ever bothering to read the label on the bottle, by that lame laugh of a labor union known as the American Newspaper Guild and by the sly ex-hooker who'd climbed into my bed after my wife died, I'd already been driven out of my mind by the time I met Elena. But Elena was a little crazy, too. She worked in the White House right next door to the Oval Office. Her mother owned a Mexican restaurant on New York's Upper East Side. I liked her a lot but she just couldn't afford to keep me in the manner to which I'd become accustomed.
At Columbia and Epic Records, my efforts as POP SCENE columnist had been so respected and admired that the staff'd been willing to surrender a portion of its yearly bonus to provide me with 12 months of paychecks. But I'd become too crazy to be very useful at CBS Records and so I didn't really earn what I was being paid. Now my employment at CBS had ended. I had no more income. I was about to be evicted from a house in Allendale, N.J., for non-payment of rent. I felt I had no other choice but to put my stuff in storage, abandon my 16-year-old son to his own devices and move in with Elena in her D.C. apartment. Elena was crazy enough to let me move in with her, but she wasn't crazy enough to continue living with me for long. I ended up on welfare in a pad only a short walk from Dupont Circle.
Close to 20 years later, I'm the Internet's BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST and I'm sorting through my pile of boxes full of papers from the past and I find a folder marked Mick and the President. I don't remember writing anything about Mick and the President. Which President? A few weeks pass before I can get around to reading the manuscript in the folder and immediately 1978 slaps me in my face. I'm held, spellbound reading it. I had forgotten all about even ever having written this story. In it, I can see the arrogance I'd once enjoyed as one of the world's most powerful pop columnists. And how nuts I'd been driven to be deprived of that power. As I read it, I kept wondering, how could I have been so crazy and still been able to write this memoir of the time I lived in D.C.
And so, I herewith offer Mick and the President as my Column Thirty in honor of Mick Jagger, one of the world's greatest showmen. As the guest of Andrew Loog Oldham, who helped manage the Stones to stardom and whom I hope to interview soon for another story, I was blown away by the Stones' Bridges to Babylon show at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., last October 17. Also blown away by the show was Paul Mozian, once part of the management team which guided into big money a rock group called Kiss, at that time one of the pioneers of latter-day bizarre. In the '70s, Kiss broke ground in the art of turning a rock show into something more of a spectacle, but even Mozian, sitting next to me in Giants Stadium, was awed by the expansiveness of the Rolling Stones' production we were witnessing.
"With Kiss, we put on some of the biggest spectacles of our time but we couldn't even imagine putting on a production as elaborate as this," Paul told me.
First of all, the show literally started off with a BANG! with the giant circular TV screen above the stage erupting in an explosion, showering sparks at the audience. Swept to its feet, the whole crowd remained standing in enchantment, mesmerized by the prancing, dancing Mick until, after a number of tunes, Mick suddenly departed the stage, leaving Keith Richards at the microphone for a few songs. Keith proved a showstopper. That is, he stopped the show dead after all the momentum Mick'd built up. At this point, the audience, which'd been kept riveted by Mick, lost excitement and sat down. Have the years robbed Keith of his claim to the spotlight?
A smaller stage with a drum set on it stood near the 50-yard-line in the middle of the audience as if it were a boxing ring and, following the first part of the show, the band was transported to this stage via a crane which reached out from stageright like a robotic arm to deposit our heros directly in the ring so they could perform in the round. My own feeling is that, spectacular as this robotic arm was with it's almost incredible reach, the show was unnecessarily reaching too far. Putting the band in the boxing ring only slowed down the proceedings. The show was never more powerful than with Mick prancing and dancing and posing and strutting along the specially built runways leading from the stage. And runway is the apt word because what Mick was doing on the runways was putting on his own fashion show. With each number, he'd change his costume. The runways extended out into the audience and the TV crews followed Mick's every step so that his image dominated the stadium from the giant TV screen, hung above the golden Himalayan-type statuary which framed the stage. Actually, the statuary was inflated like balloons, collapsible for easier transport from venue to venue.
Although Mick's songs stand up, his lyrics don't have the everlastingness of, say, a Bob Dylan, who does it all with music. But what Mick lacks in everlastingness, he more than makes up in showmanship. That's why he's a champion and that's why he continues to endure as a big leaguer. Mick's a giant. As a showman, Mick has the genius to enlist all the tricks necessary to make a Rolling Stones show as exciting as it was. I found the Rolling Stones' "Bridges to Babylon" show at Giants' stadium that night nothing short of hypnotic. Anyway, here's my "found" manuscript, Mick and the President. It's as if I discovered it in a time capsule from 1978.]
"Yer old friend Mick is pissed at the President."
"Mick. Your old buddy. He's pissed because the President snubbed him."
I am walking with Jonathan around the rim of Dupont Circle, which tries to make it as the same kind of prison yard hangout for D.C. that Washington Square is for Greenwich Village, except they don't beat the bongos in D.C. For me, Dupont Circle is like hallowed ground, my own historic battlefield, a personal Gettysburg where the government gassed me like a cockroach when I was covering the Dupont Circle Vietnam War riots for the New York Post. Pfssssst!
"Yeah,," Jonathan says, "Mick came into Washington for the tribute to Leonard Bernstein at the Kennedy Center. He had his new girl friend with him, the one with her hair down to her ass and her neckline down to her bellybutton. Everybody was checking her out. But the President didn't invite Mick to the White House because he was up tight about Mick's cocaine image, so Mick got pissed off."
"Really! I didn't know Mick had a cocaine image."
"Yeah., the President must've thought Mick'd turn Amy into another Margaret Trudeau."
"Jeez! And Mick never even bothered to call me!"
I am hurt. I have to hear it on the Dupont Circle grapevine that Mick was in town. Mick never calls me any more. He never bothered to call me the last time he was in D.C., either.
"C'mon," Jonathan says, "I'll buy you a cup of coffee and a roll at Kramer's."
Jonathan is kind. Jonathan knows I'm broke.
"Yeah, that's a good idea," I tell him.
Kramer's is where the Dupont Circle crowd really hangs out, especially in the winter, when the National Park Service benches on the circle green are too cold even for an occasional bum to sleep. Kramer's is what we call Kramerbooks & Afterwords, a local institution where the effete meet Dutch treat, on Connecticut Avenue about a half-block north of the circle. Like most other eat holes in D.C., it tries to make up in chi-chi what it lacks in menu, which means you choke on continental atmosphere when you'd rather pig out on food, except the nearest Greek diner of any sensation that I remember is in Bergenfield, N.J. D.C. doesn't have any diners. All it has is cutesiepoo cafes dedicated to stuffing Barbie dolls with quiche, croissants and cappuccino. What makes Kramer's easier to swallow is the crowd, a looser mix of politically hip young arty types attracted by the fact that eating at Kramer's is more fun than eating in a library because you're not allowed to talk in a library. Kramer's is a book store. Even the dust jackets scream at you. Some nights there's also a live jazz combo squeezed among the tables on the tiny token mezzanine. Kramer's is the closest that anybody at Dupont Circle can get to New York.
It was my girl friend, Elena, who first took me to Kramer's. That was when she was working at the White House and could afford the prices. Elena was a Greek olive packed on the streets of Astoria, Queens, which was as close as the White House could get to Brooklyn. I thought it was just Elena's New York hustle when I saw her take a brand new copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay's Sonnets off a Kramer's shelf to devour with her cappuccino as if she were a kid copping a free read of a comic book while sipping an egg cream on a sticky tabletop in a corner candy store back in the Big Apple. The owner of the candy store on the corner where I grew up used to slit our throats if he caught any kids reading comic books without buying them.
"Don't they scream at you here when you take the merchandise to the tables?" I asked Elena.
"No," she insisted. "Everybody does it. It's like listening to records in a record store."
That'll probably be the next type of continental cafe in D.C. A restaurant in a record store. But it's true. Kramer's is usually packed with people trying to finish a book over a cup of cappuccino without splashing the pages before stashing it back in the racks for someone else to buy. I find Kramer's easy to take and hard to believe. When Jonathan and I score a table, I start reading the Washington Post.
"Hey!" I tell Jonathan. "It says here on the front page of the Style Section that you're wrong!"
I start reading aloud:
"'In what may be remembered as one of the encounters of the century, Mick Jagger met Jimmy Carter yesterday evening at the White House. If it was not love at first sight, Jagger carried away an impression of "charm."
"'Yes, the President and I exchanged a few words," he recalled later. "Carter was actually very polite---and, of course, I was," he said during a disco party in the new East Building of the National Gallery.
"'Accompanied by his girl friend-roommate Jerry Hall, whose waist-length blond hair and fur decolletage turned more than a few heads, Jagger was asked whether the President of the United States knew whom he was talking to.
"'"I would assume he did," said Jagger. "After all, I had my name emblazoned across my chest."'"
Jonathan can't believe this. Jonathan claims connections who smoke the roaches left in Admiral Stansfield Turner's ash tray. Admiral Stansfield Turner is the head of the CIA, and the CIA never lies. Jonathan thinks the Washington Post reporters are an arrogant bunch who have their noses so stuck up their asses that they can't see what's really happening because they have no peripheral vision.
"They're wrong!" he keeps saying. "They're wrong! I'll prove it t'ya."
Meanwhile, the Washington Post also says the tribute wasn't for Leonard Bernstein. It was one of those tightass Kennedy Center Honors galas, with awards going to contralto Marian Anderson, choreographer George Balanchine, composer Richard Rodgers, pianist Arthur Rubinstein and actor Fred Astaire, all heros of the geriatrics ward. It started off with a roast beef buffet at the White House, with Leonard Bernstein one of 500 guest celebrities, and ended with a disco party at the National Gallery, with dimmed lights, crabmeat soup and 200 tables in the basement cafeteria. Sandwiched in between was a show at the Kennedy Center, taped for a TV special to be shown on the tube tonight. According to the Post's TV critic, Tom Shales, don't bother watching it. The show's a big yawn. The most electrifying applause of the night came when Senator Teddy Kennedy walked down the aisle with his family to find their seats. I feel a twinge of being overlooked while I'm reading this story. I never get invited to these snob bashes any more. I don't rank in D.C. Nobody wants to know me.
"What else does the story say?" Jonathan asks.
"It says: 'Jagger, accompanied by President Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records and his wife, Mica, left early in search of "some eats." Jagger was wearing a knit cap and track shoes with his tuxedo. "I can't eat here; I'm a vegetarian," cried Jagger, who capped his evening by swinging through the revolving doors several times on his way out.'"
"Yeah.." Jonathan says, "well I'll check into it. But they're wrong! Jagger never made it to the White House!"
Dancing home alone from Kramer's to the pad I sublet from a family of mice, I am struck with the thought maybe Mick doesn't even know I'm in D.C. Maybe nobody gave him my messages the last time he hit Our Nation's Capital. That'd been six months earlier, when the Stones played Washington's Warner Theater as one of the stops on their tour to hype the Some Girls album. To Mick it might've been just another day when he woke up feeling like he needed a limo to get from the bed to the toilet, but to D.C.'s dope elite it was the biggest monster movie since Chicago got eaten.
"What'd y'think 'f th'Stones' concert at the Warner Theater, Stephanie?" I asked Stephanie Mansfield, anchor person of the team that covered the event for the Washington Post. This was months afterwards.
"Oh!" she said. "It was like having King Kong in your living room."
What? King Kong never comes to Washington. There's not enough Metro trains for him to squeeze, no skyscrapers for him to shimmy. Washington gets monsters like Richard Nixon, Vice Premier Teng, the Shah of Iran, but no King ever visited D.C. by the name of Kong. There's never even been a Godzilla or a Gorgo in D.C. The place is just too small-time. Would anybody in New York ever think to compare the Rolling Stones with King Kong? D.C.'s still a hick burgh, a simple settlement, so retarded that when the Rolling Stones show up at the Warner Theater, Stephanie Mansfield imagines this big hairy ass in her lap. King Kong in a living room doesn't leave much living room for an audience. But isn't that why Mick played Washington in a 1,900-seat house when the Stones could've sold out a few nights at the Capital Centre, the D.C.'s 20,OOO-seat arena?
He's so quick, Mick, so sly and cagey. When you get to be an act as big as the Rolling Stones, it's always fun to play an occasional club. You chase the thrills of bygone toilets. The audience is sitting on top of you. You can see the secrets in their eyes. They can read your body language. It's close and personal. When Mick sat down to plan this Stones tour, he knew it'd create excitement if he sacrificed the gross for more intimate venues in two or three key cities, where, instead of seeing the Stones as five dots in an echoing sports crater, the locals could fantasize King Kong in their living rooms.
The fact that Washington'd been haloed by Mick as one of these key cities was immediately interpreted by D.C.'s unofficial drug jaycees as further evidence of Washington's eruption as a pop-glamor media capital, thanks to Jimmy Carter's presidency. Besides, the Warner Theater'd be the smallest living room on the Stones' itinerary. Nobody else in the country'd get this chance to get this close to Kong. Who in D.C.'d ever seen the Stones play a small concert anyway? The management may as well've tossed chunks of beef to hungry dogs as open the box office window. The announcement wasn't made until a day or so before the concert. When the announcement came on the radio, mothers dropped their babies in the middle of diapering to go camp out for tickets. In the White House, up on Capitol Hill, everywhere that weed-loving activists of the 1960s Underground'd been legitimized into the government, titled tokers had to compete in a Mr. Universe Contest of flexing muscle for the big shot seats. Any head boastful of his clout had to get into the Warner Theater that night or else go home and slash his wrists. To be seen at the Stones' concert in D.C. was to show off how heavy you were.
I was living with Elena in those days, trying to help her make the rent on a house in Southeast Washington. By that time our phone'd been shut off for non-payment and I had to do my own hustling for tickets from a coin box outside the laundromat across the street. They weren't going to stiff me, the most fabled pop journalist in the world, a legend in his own time. I called my old buddy, Earl McGrath, the President of Rolling Stones Records. I called Stu Ginsburg, the chief flak at Atlantic, which distributes Rolling Stones Records. I called Neshui Ertegun, Ahmet's brother, who's head of Atlantic International when he isn't busy being an owner of the Cosmos, New York's soccer pros. I begged. I argued. I threatened. I told jokes. I sang The Star Spangled Banner and did impressions.
"After all, Mick and I used to kick the gong around," I hinted darkly. "Even I can't get any tickets," Neshui lied to me. "I'm head of International. If the Stones were playing a concert in Cairo I might be able to get you tickets. But Washington? No!"
Elena was as determined as I was to get a ticket. As a Carter carpetbagger, she had to show off her clout, too. This Greek olive'd housed me, clothed me, fed me, bought me cigarettes, dope and a car and given me a hot bed to sleep in after a landlord'd gotten a deputy sheriff to evict me on a warrant three days before it was legal from a house in Jersey. If I couldn't help Elena pay the rent, at least I could get her a ticket to the Stones' concert. After a day and a half of hanging around the laundromat, I was told to call Michael Lehman, who was working for Paul Wasserman, the Stones' press agent.
"I can only give you one ticket," Lehman told me.
"Yeah, well I need another one for my lady. She works in the White House."
"I have a total of only 10 press tickets allotted for this show. I can only give you one. Just to give you one, I have to take it away from somebody else."
"Yeah, well y'gotta take another one away from another somebody else, because I need two. And I'd like t'see Mick when he gets here."
"He's not giving any interviews."
"Well, I don't want an interview, I just want t'say hello."
"He's not going to see anybody. He's going directly to the hall from the airport and he's going directly back to the airport from the hall."
"Well, tell him I was asking for him."
"If I get a chance, I will."
Elena kept hoping until the end that she'd get a ticket. On the day of the show, she dolled herself up in a sexy summer dress and rode with me to the Warner Theater, where I had a date to meet Lehman, who'd told me he'd hand me my ticket after arriving from New York on an early afternoon flight. A crowd was already buzzing around the theater entrance like flies on a melting candy bar when we pulled up to the marquee in the chocolate Mercedes on which Elena was a few payments behind. I checked the crowd out. Bright colors camouflaged by war surplus khaki. Bearded freaks out to score tickets. Tourists with price tags hanging from their clothes. Theater security heavies in their bulging bright t-shirts. Scalpers taking up early stations like shadows in the bright mediumrare sizzle of the sun. Photographers loaded with cameras and credentials. A radio reporter wired for sound with a cassetterecorder hanging from his shoulder. A pad peeps out the breast pocket of a lanky four-eyed reporter in a summer suit. Like me, he asks for Lehman. The chief theater rent-a-cop tells us Lehman hasn't arrived yet. I stand with my thumb up my ass while the crowd grows. A TV crew starts setting up. A black dude with his hair in dreads parades in circles underneath the marquee like a picket without a picket sign. He looks like he wants to start a conversation but is to scared to accost anyone. After a while, Marion Barry shows up in a three-piece suit and starts shaking hands.
"Hi, I'm Marion Barry. . ."
He is running for mayor and he shakes my hand, too. Elena gets tired of waiting. She wants to split for a while.
"I've got some errands to do," she says.
I sat inside the car. I sat on the hood. I paced the sidewalk. Still no Michael Lehman. A couple of hours passed before Elena got back. We leaned against a fender while she watched a scalper in a doorway. Finally, she went over to talk to him.
"He wants $40 a ticket," she said. "Maybe I should buy one."
"Where're you gonna get $40?"
A phalanx of cops on motor scooters arrived. I put out the joint I was smoking. Suddenly the place was crawling with heat. A girl'd had her purse snatched with her tickets in it. I watched them hustle her into an unmarked car to cruise the neighborhood looking for the perpetrator. The sun was dropping to the west. Suddenly I saw a Hertz pull around the corner from Pennsylvania Avenue and head up 13th Street with two men inside. One was a handsome young blond Anglo type with a tour badge on his lapel. All my years in the rock and roll business told me this was Lehman. The Hertz double-parked in front of the theater and I walked up to him as he unfolded himself from the car and restuffed himself with importance.
"I'm Al Aronowitz."
"Oh, here's your ticket."
He pulled a batch out of a pocket and handed me one. Elena nearly fell over the hood of the car trying to count how many he was holding.
"This is my girl friend, Elena."
"How are you?"
Elena's bustline was too spectacular to be real. She leaned forward to show it off and smiled at Lehman with all her teeth. Her eyelashes were fluttering.
"You don't have another ticket for me, do you?" she said sweetly.
"No, I told Al on the phone, just one."
"Oh, you must have another one," she flirted.
"No, sorry," and he headed for the lobby.
"Did you tell Mick I was asking for him?" I called out, but Lehman disappeared into the theater. That's the last I ever saw of him. I heard months later that he committed suicide.
For D.C. heads that night, the Warner may as well've been Grauman's Chinese Theater with searchlights crossing star swords in the sky. Limos pulled up, mostly Caddies, a Rolls or two, maybe a Bentley. There was no red carpet from the curb to the lobby but there were lots of cops plus sawhorse barricades to keep the crowd back. Betsy Ashton was doing sidewalk interviews for Channel 7 News and rumor had it that the scalper price'd skyrocketed to $200 a ticket. Me, I never pay to get in. I'd already been to more Concerts Of The Century than Washington'd seen in 200 years. In the drench of all this Hollywood East splash, I kept catching droplets of Fremont, Nebraska, on a Saturday night. I was still too much of a D.C. rookie to recognize any of the local celebs peacocking through the lobby but once inside the theater I'd hear snatches of the latest bulletins:
"Heyl The President's son just arrived backstage with his Secret Service bodyguards!"
"No, I heard it was Jeff."
"How'd they get all those tickets?"
"When you show up at the stage door with an SS escort, you don't need tickets. If you get a hassle because you're not on the list, the SS pull out their guns and blast away."
"Did you hear? The Kennedy kids are here!"
On the carpeted rear of the theater behind the orchestra seats where the bar was set up, the screaming joy that everybody felt at being among the chosen to be let into the living room with Kong got was hushed by the awesomeness of King Kong's gigantic stature. Instead of the luded out rowdyism I'd seen at other rock shows in this theater, there was now a plush hush, as if too much horseplay might offend this monster. Everybody was acting so respectful, you'd think you were at the opera. The rags ranged from jeans to Givenchy but the whole audience had the same scrubbed look. Even the theater carpeting seemed like it'd just gotten shampooed. No crushed popcorn or spilled soda pop on this particular night. At the bar you could only get beer or wine. Oh, well. I'd dropped an eskatrol for the show after smoking gold all day and I needed a wet sugar fix. I settled for a drink at the water fountain, where I bumped into Mark Heutlinger, a marijuana lobbyist for NORML.
"Have you been checking out the fashion show?" he asked.
"I've been checking out the peekaboo boobs."
Mark was with George Farnham, another NORML lobbyist. I'd met them at the marijuana conference where the President's drug advisor was fingered snorting coke.
"If we'd've had some notice, you'd've really seen some outrageous threads," George said. "They didn't give Washington enough time to prepare its wardrobe."
We headed over to the bar to see who else we knew, picking up Stuart Levitan, house hippie of the Senate Press Gallery and D.C.'s most famous freak journalist. He was wearing red knee socks, hot pink satin track shorts, a scarlet bowling shirt that said VAL LANES, a Stuart plaid Scotch cap and shades as outrageous as you could find in a small town like D.C. Me, I was wearing my blue sateen EPIC A&R basketball jacket and a pair of slacks because that's all I had.
"I had to pay a scalper $70 for my ticket," Stuart said. "Well, I can go a week without eating but this is a historic night in the annals of rock 'n' roll."
"Really!" I said.
The current of the crowd around the bar kept forcing us back to a curtained aisle entrance where we found Bob McNeely, the vice president's personal photographer, with his camera bag hanging from his shoulder. Elena'd introduced me to him as a quiet collector of talented people.
"Nobody's allowed to shoot from out front," Bob said, "but they gave me special permission as long as I keep the pictures for myself."
What he meant was that if you were from the White House, you didn't always need an SS escort for privileges. How come Elena couldn't score a ticket? I'd had to leave her home. She'd find something else to do. This was a Thursday night. On Sunday afternoon, I'd make it up to her by taking her to the first White House jazz festival, scheduled for the South Lawn. This was a busy week for music in D.C.
"I heard," someone was saying, "that Ben Bradlee sent a note down telling the Style Section he didn't know how many tickets they were getting but two of them better have his name on them or else. Which means the editor of the Washington Post and his old lady are here tonight."
We all laughed. I don't know why. I'd once talked with Ben Bradlee on the phone. He told me he didn't look like Jason Robards. Ben's old lady was Sally Quinn, famous as a fancy blonde journalist who wrote with a scalpel. They were just living together in those days, but I later heard there was a joke going around that Ben'd promised he'd marry her when a Polack got elected Pope. Suddenly I realized I was having a good time. I wanted to light up a joint. Somebody passed me a film can. It was full of mushrooms. I put a healthy dose in my mouth and chomped it down.
My seat was in the seventh row center. I waved to Earl McGrath., the President of Rolling Stones Records, sitting three rows behind. As usual, the show was late getting started. There was a rumor that Mick'd been sick. He had a cancelled look on his face when he first walked from the wings. It seemed this show was the last thing in the world he wanted to do. He'd have to squeeze it out. But he broke into his boyish horse grin with the first cheers while the band started on Let It Rock, a Chuck Berry tune that I'd never heard on a Stones' album. The mushrooms hit me at about the same time.
I was pure instinct, one giant nerve-ending, a human antenna picking up all the vibrations around me, a sensor measuring the quality of the energy, monitoring the radiations between the crowd and the stage. The flow passed through me with a happy buzz. The audience kept registering a basic high, but I was waiting for the needle on my mind's control panel to jump into the red. Mick was working hard, struggling to get it on, trying to raise a roar of exultation in himself and in the crowd. He looked stupid in his outfit, a pair of sneakers, orange-red socks, a flappy golf cap, a double-breasted cream jacket, a hideous nightmare-print shirt of clashing colors and baggy black plastic trousers with crazy draw strings, no apparent underpants and a weird wet look. If Mick wasn't King Kong, he was King Dong. The weird wet look did nothing but accentuate his bulge. It seemed like he had a broomstick in his pants. He kept grabbing hold of it. Was I not supposed to notice?
He pranced and danced. Mick's always great. Mick has one of the most authoritative voices in the world. You can set your watch by his timing. His phrasing's been a model for millions of singers since he took his giant step onto the pop scene. I could only guess what kind of dope he was on. Me, I kept smoking marijuana, like most everybody else in the audience. I was feeling no pain. The show went by so fast, the tunes ran into each other. I couldn't remember one from the next. I kept hungering for more thrills, but only once did I find my mushroomed self applauding spontaneously. That was about a third into the concert when Mick, hunched over his electric guitar, began working up goosepimples with the band. The groove not only got me off, it got Mick off. It felt so good, he looked up at the audience from his guitar and broke into an even horsier grin. He'd finally caught an up elevator, but it was on an instrumental. Mick always wanted to play guitar. That was when he gave me the biggest goosepimples that night. Why can't I remember exactly which tune that was?
Was the show like old times? I'd seen the Stones in dozens of places, including London's Beat City in 1964, when the crowd was packed like asparagus tips and the dressing room was so sweaty that drops of condensed sweat were raining from the ceiling. It'd been a few years since I'd last hung out with Mick. It'd been longer since I'd last hung out with the rest of the band. Bill Wyman, standing like the Tin Man with his booming bass, managing a smile once or twice. Charlie Watts, the old jazz buff, with a crewcut now, drumming out the backbeat like he was a machine. Keith Richards, who'd always seemed the friendliest, next to poor dead Brian Jones. That was in the old times. But as the rest of the band started getting lost in the lengthening shadow of Mick's image, Keith became less a partner than a royal consort, always following Mick three steps behind. Keith was the most important Stone to Mick, the music collaborator in all those classic Stone hits. I watched Keith playing old pro now, his guitar the effortless and unmistakable anchor of the Stones' sound. The rhythm section wasn't just tight. It'd been welded together. But the others'd let themselves become Mick's backup band because Mick'd become the greatest lead singer they'd ever get to play behind. Mick'd also proved he knew how to keep making them King Kong cash.
I'd never met the other Stone, Ron Wood, the guitarist who succeeded Mick Taylor, who succeeded Brian. Ron didn't seem to have any inferiority complex, hopping around the stage in brief competition with Mick. At times, Mick'd run over to Ron and they'd start licking tongues. Now what did that mean?
The concert ended all of a sudden. The Stones were sizzling through Jumpin' Jack Flash when they just stopped dead. Keith glanced up from his guitar and jabbed an angry middle finger of his right hand into the air. The Stones looked at one another, dropped their instruments and split. To drugged me, that was the way they always ended a concert. They'd quit all at once, sprint to the limos and be halfway to the hotel before the audience could think to mob them.
Like everybody else, I stayed in my seat. It wasn't the Stones' style to do an encore after finishing like this, but I had nowhere better to go. Then I noticed the red jeweled amp lights were out. The audience was confused. Everybody was waiting for the next thing to happen. Roadies began scurrying on the stage. After a while a voice from backstage announced that the amps'd unexplainably lost power. Did that mean the concert'd resume? After another wait, the voice said the power couldn't be restored. The show was over. Honest, folks, it was the electricity that quit, not the Stones. I got up to leave. Walking out, I realized the Stones used to bludgeon me with more force than that. I flashed on driving around D.C. a couple of months earlier with Roger McGuinn, the original Byrd.
"The Stones're over, don'tcha think?" he'd said.
I didn't know that the Stones were over. They weren't inciting riots any more but people were mistaking them for King Kong.
By the time I get home from coffee and a roll at Kramer's. I am puzzled by this mystery. The Washington Post says Mick met the President at the White House. The Dupont Circle grapevine says Mick never got past the front gate. How could the Dupont Circle grapevine be so wrong? It's got the whole town bugged. Confidential secretaries, big-eared bartenders, listening limo drivers, off-duty security men, invisible dope dealers, they all report back to the circle. Jonathan's bullshit is usually maggotted by truth. Jonathan is one of my best buddies in D.C. I started hanging out with him after Elena and I moved into separate pads. When he walks down the street, all the girls smile at him because he's so pretty. Jonathan is spoiled, a star stud, one of Dupont Circle's beautiful people. Right now he's in the middle of breaking up with his No. 1 twitch, a Jewish Puerto Rican who takes my breath away. Their first big fight was over a manuscript I wrote about the night I took Mick up to meet Miles Davis. Yeah, I know Mick.
I'd like to think that he never calls me any more because he doesn't know how to get hold of me. The time of the Warner Theater concert, my phone was shut off. Now he doesn't have my new number. Of course, I am jerking off to fantasize that Mick wouldn't leave me to starve to death in D.C. like this.
"Yew'n John Lennon're th'two biggest gossips I know!" he once told me.
"But you're biggern bo'f us!" I answered.
I liked Mick. He was intelligent. Being with him was worth the price of the ticket. We'd hang out like a couple of yentas. I used to worry about him. I used to wish I could help him realize himself. I remember the day that Ladies And Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones was supposed to open at the Zeigfield Theater in New York. It was a concert movie, nothing but footage of the Stones' rock 'n' roll show. The producers'd gotten permission to close off 54th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues for a superhype block party. They'd mobilized a mob by promising the Stones'd show up, too. I was with Mick in his suite at the Hotel Pierre. He had no intention of attending the opening. He'd never told the producers he would. He was booked to catch a flight to London instead. That afternoon, Mick and I cruised the city. He kept talking like he'd rather be an actor. He made me think he wanted to be someone more useful than a fop-pop star. After walking back to the Zeigfield for the premiere, I started cringing at the sight of all his little silly tricks in cinemascope, his mugging and his clowning, the cute, dumb anythings he's always willing to do to make a spectacle of himself. It wasn't long ago that I'd seen him to his limo on his way to the airport, and now I felt strange watching the closeups of his stage act in the movie. In the end, I knew it was only rock 'n' roll but he liked it. He wanted to be an actor but he was already an actor, possibly one of the greatest of his time.
Mick can't make a move any more without raising dust in the public prints. What's going on behind the dust? Even the fact that the Dupont Circle grapevine got it wrong is worth a story. Mick and the President. I decide to call up Tom Shales, the Washington Post's TV critic, to ask if he's got any clues. Tom ought to know something. Tom was there.
"Hi, Tom, this is Al Aronowitz.
"Al. . ."
"Look, I'm on deadline now! I'll call you back!"
He doesn't even bother taking my number. Jonathan is right. The Washington Post reporters are an arrogant bunch. I think about how I'd handle the story if I was still writing a daily newspaper column. After all, this was one of the encounters of the century. The President Meets King Kong. If I wasn't so broke, I'd send Mick an ape suit just as a gag.
You have to admire the way Mick mines his niche in the public consciousness. When Miss You first hit the D.C. air, I could see the record making everyone's heads snap to attention. By the time of the Warner Theater concert, Miss You was the tune that made everyone want to dance. For months afterwards, every party I showed up at, they'd play it every third tune. At the discos, the girls'd climb on the jocks' backs to spin it over and over. It was the kind of record that jerked you by the arm onto the dance floor, where Mick's satanic lash'd whip you into a frenzy of wanting more. This kind of S&M didn't hurt, did it, if that's what it was? Sorry, Roger, I guess the Stones aren't over yet. By the Fourth of July, they're inciting a riot in Buffalo. Fourteen years later, ladies and gentlemen, and the Rolling Stones are giving us our sound track for the Summer of Seventy-Eight. It's the Some Girls album.
"It's the best album the Stones've ever done!" my son kept telling me. Every time he recorded a new album, Mick used to come to New York, call me to his hotel room and play it for me. But the first time I got to hear Some Girlsi was over the PA at a Patti Smith concert in the folding chair echoes of the Georgetown University gym, where they played Some Girls over the PA between acts. For me Patti couldn't follow the record. She couldn't even follow Root Boy Slim, the opening act. I got turned off as soon as she got onstage. Each one of her songs started to sound like the same kind of shriek. [Sorry to have to give you a bad review, Patti, but that's the way I felt at the time.] I split early to catch Mick on Saturday Night Live! Patti'd announced before she started singing that she'd probably quit early for the same reason.
Listening to the LP that night, I persuaded myself that Some Girls was Mick's torch album for Bianca, his big Brand Ex. I figure it'll be a long time before she fades into a memory motel. If Mick really needed this album, he can thank Bianca for it. In my own mind, the songs were about her, for her, at her, despite her. I persuaded myself that these were Mick's heaviest lyrics yet, his most righteous rap. I never thought a superman like Mick could get wounded that bad. I'd always supposed Mick to be an emotional ironman, impervious to injury. But I guess that no matter how big a star gets to be, there'll always be some female capable of brain surgery. My mother said women would fly around my head like birds and drive me crazy. She was right. Even King Kong allowed himself to get tickled by a blonde.
Art gets squirted from agony but Mick'd learned how to bleed without letting it drip. The most famous cut on the album, Miss You, was as haunting as a friendly ghost, but my favorite was Beast of Burden because Mick's hurt sounded like my own. Aint I rough enough? Aint I tough enough? Aint I rich enough? . . . Listening to the album, I remembered a double-date we went on, Mick, Bianca, me, and my old lady at that time, the sly ex-hooker. We went looking for the right Szechuan in New York's Chinatown, with Mick sprinting down bumper-to-bumper Mott Street, trying to catch a cab. Mick sat with his arm around Bianca in the restaurant that night. They laughed and flirted and kissed over fried rice.
The Warner Theater concert was held on June 15. As on all Stones albums, the lesser cuts began to wither next to the bigger ones, but Mick's King Kong outfit kept getting inflated like it was going to join Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It was the title cut, Some Girls, that ended up with all the publicity. That happened when Jesse Jackson came charging out of his black militant trenches because the song says black girls just wanna get fucked all night. That's what the song says. French girls like to party, Italian girls want cars, American girls want anything in the world you can possibly imagine, and black girls just wanna get fucked all night.
I was amazed that any black stud'd interpret that line as an insult. Mick was only talking from experience. I knew for a fact Mick'd had lots of experience. What'd been Jesse Jackson's experience? He demanded a meet with Mick. He wanted the album recut. Mick ignored him. The controversy raged for days. I remember listening to the latest details on a news broadcast over a black radio station from a speaker outside the shoe shine parlor on P Street near 14th, where the sidewalk's littered with broken wine bottles. I never bothered learning the outcome of Jackson's beef. I thought it was a cheap shot. Months later, Richard Pryor is coming to town and when I tell Jonathan's black friend, Marvin, that I'm getting tickets to the Capital Centre that night, Marvin takes me by surprise. He says:
"Nigger Night at the Capital Centre?"
"'Nigger Night'?" I try not to use that term any more.
"Well, aint that Richard Pryor's favorite word?"
When Richard's in town, the ghetto gets down. Soul sanctification with flashes of ermine and pimpmobile hats. I had two extra tickets that I sold to a couple of 14th Street hookers at the gate. They couldn't believe how good the seats were. The audience couldn't've been any blacker if the lights were out. Out of 20,000 faces, I couldn't see more than a dozen white ones. And they were very hard to miss. The crowd was as happy as chocolate champagne bubbling with smiles. Patti Labelle opened for Richard, wrenching the crowd out of its seats like a church singer leading a bench walk to salvation. The energy was high waiting for Richard to come on. The crowd rapped expectantly while the house played records over the PA. Suddenly Miss You started coming out of the giant speakers.
How did Richard Pryor's constituency feel about the Rolling Stones after so much publicity about Mick saying black girls just wanna get fucked all night? As soon as the opening notes of Miss You became recognizable, the audience broke into a wild ovation. They didn't do that for any other record played over the PA that night.
I'm proud I know Mick. He gets to meet the President. I can't get to meet the President. I can't even get to meet Mick any more.
They're trying to evict me from the place I'm living in because of non-payment of rent, but I keep them tied up in Landlord and Tenant Court. I'm one of the poor looking for a free ride. The building I live in is the same one where John A. Paisley had an apartment before they found his body in Chesapeake Bay, weighted down with someone else's scuba gear after he was shot in the head by a bullet from his missing gun while preparing a solitary lunch aboard his luxurious little cabin cruiser, outfitted with souped-up electronic equipment unnecessarily sophisticated for a guy who just uses the boat for weekend spins on the water. Though officially retired, Paisley was working on a supersecret project for the CIA. Of course he was ruled a suicide by Maryland State Police, but I kept seeing my building on the TV news for days afterwards. Washington, D.C., is where they manufacture the fiction which every patriot is expected to accept as the truth.
Because the Soviet Embassy sits shuttered like a microwave oven the next block around the corner on 16th Street, it's convenient for the ambassador to quarter some of his staff in my building. I see them in the elevators, big burly guys whom I recognize as natural-born cops, except they weren't sent here by the Moscow Police Department to direct traffic. They're KGB-type cops. About the time that Paisley was busy committing suicide, three of them rode down a floor with me all dressed up in fishing gear, with rods in their hands and flies hooked in their hats. They looked like they were from the Soviet submarine crew in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, posing as casual locals and trying to talk Americansky slang.
"Where c'n y'fish aroun' here?" I asked.
"Ya. Ve go in duh Padomeek."
"Y'c'n acktually fish'n th'Potomac? I mean aint it all polluted? Wha' kind'f fish c'n live'n th'Potomac? C'n y'eat'em without gettin' poisoned?"
"Ya. Tchad. Ve go out in small boat."
"What kind'f fish?"
"Tchad. Dey rooning now. Dey alvays roon dis time in year."
"Wha' kind izzat?"
I watched them jaywalk across 15th Street to a beat-up Vega illegally parked with DPL plates. They roared off like a sputnik. D.C. isn't suppose d to be America's entertainment capital but it sure has more B actors than any other city. In D.C., they give prizes to which bureaucrat can keep the straightest face while telling the biggest lie.
I had to take my marijuana plant out of the window when it got so tall I'd see people pointing up at it from the sidewalk and laughing. My window opens on Massachusetts Avenue, Lower Embassy Row. Sometimes I look outside and catch a glimpse of London. The parks, the monuments, the triangles, the ungarbaged gutters, the curving streets. General Winfield Scott, a big name during the Civil War, sits like a fat pompous slob atop his bronze horse on a stone pedestal in the middle of the circle bearing his name. The sirens in this neighborhood are almost as loud as New York. Ambulances, fire trucks and motorcycle escorts for visiting monsters.
Inside my room, I have my desk, my typewriter, my foam plastic mattress and a TV without sound. The hi fi equipment I got as a gift from the Pioneer factory in Moonachie, N.J., broke down a long time ago. A channel cuts out. I don't know how I keep making it. My telephone bill runs about $150 a month alone. It sits on the floor next to the mattress. It rings and I pick it up.
"Hiya doin', hiya doin'. Lissen. I've made a few calls'n I c'n tell y'this: Mick Jagger definitely did not meet the President at the White House. NO WAY!"
"I don't care what the Washington Post says. The Washington Post is wrong! I've talked to my people and no way was Mick Jagger at the White House. NO WAY!
Jonathan is just like a lawyer. A pain in the ass. Challenge one word of his, and he'll argue you to death rather than admit he's wrong. He'll split hairs and rationalize and play all kinds of word games to weasel out of total defeat. If he can't dominate you by copping an authoritative attitude, he just raises his voice and shouts you down. He argues like a bulldog. With all his yapping, he doesn't really say anything. He just takes a bite into one side or the other and never lets go. He's a fast-talker, Jonathan, a real smoothie. Even when you show him in black and white that he's wrong, he still insists he's right. Me, I can't stop being amazed that the Dupont Circle grapevine could make such a mistake.
"Well, lissen," Jonathan says. "I've already done some checking and I'll do more. I'll find out what the story is."
When I finish talking to Jonathan and hang up, I keep staring at the phone. Suddenly I get a flash. Naw, the Washington Post couldn't've been that wrong. But who could I call who might've talked to Mick? Locally. I don't want to run up any long distance charges. I'm still staring at the phone when it rings again. I pick it up. It's Deep Throat, Elena'd introduced me to him, too.
"I'm sorry I haven't called you sooner, but I've been out of town and running around. . ."
We rap for a while. Personal stuff. He likes my writing. It's nice of him to call. He encourages me. I don't expect him to deliver me any Watergates, but he's an interesting guy to know in D.C.
"Y'didn't go to the bash at the Kennedy Center last night?"
"No., but I heard the President and his party had a good time looking at Mick's girl friend's tits."
"Where was this?"
"At the Kennedy Center."
"Didn't Mick meet the President at the White House?"
"No, Mick never made it to the White House."
"The Washington Post says Mick met the President at the White House."
"This time the Washington Post is wrong."
Days pass. I start to write this story. Mick and the President. I don't know how it's going to turn out. Was the President really up tight about Mick's cocaine image? Was Mick really pissed? How come Art Garfunkel was one of the 500 guest celebrities at the White House and not Mick?
I start making phone calls. I still know a few people. I begin to piece together a fuzzy picture of what happened but I just can't sharpen the focus. From the East Wing, I pick up bits of gossip. The East Wing makes all the White House social arrangements. The East Wing is the First Lady's domain.
I decide to give Jack Anderson a call. He knows everybody who is anybody in D.C. He's been a Capital City fixture for ages, starting as an assistant to the late and great Drew Pearson, famed Washington columnist. Then he was Drew's collaborator and then, after Drew's death, Jack took over the column, syndicated all over America. I'd interviewed Jack for Gallery, a T&A mag, so we were on a first-name basis. Jack was the guy who told me that every year the legislatures of America pass 100,000 new laws and repeal none. Jack knew everything that was happening in the government. Ring, ring and he's not there. I leave a message. He calls me back from out of town, but he doesn't tell me where and I don't ask.
"Did you hear any gossip about why Mick Jagger didn't get into the White House the night of the Kennedy Center Honors?"
"No, I hadn't heard about it."
"Well, I hear Mick was invited to the White house but he shows up at the last minute with his girl friend and she doesn't have clearance, so they can't get in. . ."
"No, we never used anything on that."
"Well, if you can find out anything about the East Wing's version, I'd appreciate it."
"OK, maybe we'll check into it. If I hear anything, I'll let you know."
The rumor from the East Wing is that Mick had an invitation to the White House. It'd been expedited by Atlantic President Ahmet Ertegun, who has a few D.C. connections himself, considering he grew up in the Turkish Embassy as the ambassador's son. Mick could've come to the roast beef buffet, I find out. He was just too spaced to make up his mind. First he was coming, then he wasn't. Then he shows up in D.C. at the last minute with his girl friend, Jerry Hall. The picture I get is that Mick had clearance to get into the White House but Jerry Hall didn't.
All I know about getting clearance into the White House is that when you make an appointment, you give them your name, social security number and date and place of birth. When you arrive at the White House gate, the guards are ready for you. They have your name on a clipboard. You show them your ID, they give you a badge to wear and you pass into heaven. God knows what they find out about you from your name, social security number and date and place of birth. Presumably the SS feeds it into a computer and gets your TRW credit report.
Unless you have a White House Staff badge like Elena did, you can't get past the gate without clearance. The White House and its grounds are swarming with uniformed SS officers waiting for you to try. Technically they have orders to shoot on sight if you're not wearing a proper badge. The White House has lots of guards because it has lots of customers. When the White House has to clear 500 names through the computer for a roast beef buffet at 6 p.m., it's polite to give the SS an hour or two just to punch the keyboard. You can't visit the White House on the spur of the moment, although Elena used to bring me in with her on Saturdays. Probably Elena could've brought Jerry Hall into the White House, too, but Mick couldn't. By the time Mick showed up in D.C. with Jerry Hall, the East Wing told him it was too late to add another name to the list. Mick was pissed.
I keep studying this picture. I know how arrogant Mick can be. Did he call the White House when he hit town? Or did he just show up at the gate with Gerry in his limo? That would've been asking for trouble. Ahmet and his wife, Mica, must've also been in the limo with Mick. Wasn't the East Wing flexible enough for emergencies like this? Would the East Wing've turned away the King of Kong if he unexpectedly brought Fay Wray? What'd the East Wing have against Jerry Hall anyway? If Mick got turned away at the gate, he must've been really pissed. Now he's got nothing to do except drive around for two hours until the Kennedy Center Honors gala starts at eight. I can imagine Mick, Ahmet, Mica and Gerry sitting in the back of the limo making sarcastic remarks. I mean this situation is not like Pat Nixon trying to get at Yoko Ono by kicking John Lennon out of the country. What did the East Wing have against Jerry Hall?
"Did ya see the correckshun?"
I look up from breakfast at the Trio to see Jonathan smiling at me from behind his tinted shades. Jonathan is always smiling, a cheerful beacon of rosy cheeks, like some hip Dostoyevskian character with a dozen sweaters beneath his zippered leather jacket and a long scarf dangling from his neck. He wears jeans and a checkered shirt and his sparkling blond hair falls straight to his shoulders. We always meet in the Trio, the local greasy spoon, at 17th and Q, with its old crone truckstop waitresses who treat you like a bum because nobody decent'd ever think to come to a place like the Trio to eat. Me, I love the Trio because it's cheap.
Jonathan sits down opposite me.
"Did ya see th'correckshun'n th'Washington Post?"
I am trying to get more cream for my Sanka. They always bring you just one little sealed plastic container of Half and Half with a cup of hot anything at the Trio, even if you ask for more. The waitresses give only one-stop-delivery-per-meal at the Trio. Anything you don't get when she brings it, forget about it. Like in the Postal service, it's been a long time since they delivered the mail twice a day.
"They ran a correckshun 'n th'Washington Post about Mick meeting th'President at th'White House. I thought y'saw't. Dintcha know about't? They ran it th'next day."
I know I'm going to have to get my own Half and Half. I need butter, too. But eggs and home fries are only a dollar-ten-cents at the Trio.
"So they ran a correction, eh?"
"Yeah, th'nex'day. Y'dint see't?"
"No. did you?"
"Naw, somebody read't t'me'n th'phone. Yeah, Mick was pissed. Y'know, Jimmy was connected w'th'Allman Brothers, and he doesn't wanna get involved with th'rock scene any more since Peter Bourne got busted. Y'know th'White House musta been up tight Mick'd snort in th'men's room. Did Jack Kennedy have t'go int'th'men's room t'snort 'n th'White House?"
"Really? Whyncha order? Then I c'n get s'more butter'n cream."
"Yeah., this guy w's at th'National Gallery disco party. He saw Mick there. All th'guys were hangin roun Mick's girl friend and all th'girls were hangin roun Mick. Secretary types. He kept lifting their skirts. He was acting silly. His girl friend flirted with th'guys. The two of'em, skirts 'n' flirts."
I got up to get my own cream and butter. I love to eat at the Trio. It's very, very cheap there. ## NEXT: PART 9: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ: CHAPTER NINE: SAN FRANCISCO SCENES
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