Category Archives: Journalist


FOREWORD: I met peerless glam-punk photographer, Mick Rock, at a downtown Manhattan studio on a rainy night in 1998. Afterwards, I gave him an herb-induced ride uptown. He was a sweet guy who made a living shooting pix of famous glam-rock and punk idols – not knowing at the time these artists would be the cultural centerpieces they became. Though he nearly died from two decades of cocaine abuse, Rock’s still with us. This article originally appeared in Smug Magazine.

British photographer Mick Rock helped expand ‘70s counterculture through instinct and intuition. After studying revolutionary French literate at college, he worked for enigmatic designers Hipgnosis (whose cover art for Pink Floyd, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, etc. is legendary) before becoming a full-time photographer. As his career progressed, subjects such as David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Talking Heads found a place in front of his lens.

Rock emerged from the sexual and chemical indulgences of the ‘70s with a long list of accolades, including four Grammy nominations and numerous gallery exhibits. His erotic works have even been published in Penthouse. To truly understand the breadth of Rock’s work, log on to or peruse His book, Mick Rock: A Photographic Record 1969 – 1980 is also recommended.



One of the first people you photographed was Syd Barrett. What was he like?

MICK: Syd was an eclectic individual. I remember the first time I saw Pink Floyd in ’66 at the Cambridge Art College party. There was no particular reference for what I heard that night. It didn’t come from Rhythm & Blues or Country & Western. You couldn’t pin it to European avant-garde. They were definitely unprecedented. I suppose that’s why Syd retains his legendary status as a flawed, fucked up, burnt-out genius. There’s the beauty of the fact he’s still alive. (Editors note: Barrett died in ’07) He might just as well have died in 1970. I interviewed Syd for Rolling Stone in ’71, but he hasn’t done another one since. His phrasing influenced David Bowie. I remember swapping stories of Syd with David so he’d exchange stories of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.

Your photographs for album covers and magazine articles introduced an entire generation to the glam-rock scene.

MICK: That was in the late hippie period. There was a different mentality. It wasn’t about ambition. There weren’t many magazines or retro documentaries. You couldn’t sell a print at an art gallery. There was no great design. I was looking for the edge, not fame and money. Lou Reed wasn’t well known back then. Bowie and Iggy were obscure and Queen hadn’t had a hit when I shot their LP cover. Syd acquired a reputation because Pink Floyd became the preeminent English psychedelic band along with Soft Machine. When I first met David, it was the start of his Ziggy Stardust period. If I showed the earliest Ziggy pictures, you’d see how unsophisticated they were. He had done the Greta Garbo thing prior, with Hunky Dory.

Any crazy Bowie adventures you’d like to share?

MICK: These kids were like animals in Liverpool and dragged him offstage. He came down with legs in the air and head on the floor and laid there for a couple minutes. That was a trip. He got up, shook his head, and said, ‘That’s the luck of the draw.’ Bowie was the synthesizer who absorbed lots of influences. Igyy, Lou, and Mott The Hoople were going nowhere until David gained attention. By ’73, it was another story. David built his own mystique. There was a buzz about him in England, but it took a couple US tours with his androgynous look. Truckers would call you a poof or sissy. The feminine thing was in the air and mutated out of the hippie period and caught the imagination of the ladies. We’d get frequent sex with girls because of that and it coincided with the ‘coming out’ of the gay community.

What kind of influence did drugs have on Iggy & the Stooges?

MICK: It took them off into a million directions. Drugs, when you’re young and experimental, can have creative values. Of course, there are limitations. I never witnessed Iggy cutting himself onstage or throwing up. I saw him throw himself into the audience to get mauled by sticky young men. He had a dislodged personality. It took three near-death experiences for him to want to live.

Were you affected by the drug culture of the ‘70s?

MICK: In the beginning, it was LSD. The first pictures I took were on an acid trip with a young lady. I was hanging with rockers as a pothead college student. Back then you could get seriously busted for a joint. There was a direct link between sex and drugs – especially for those who mainlined. When I was in college, I let someone shoot me up on two occasions. I could have died. I threw up everywhere. A couple times I inadvertently snorted or smoked it. It’s different today. Media has expanded and AIDS scared everyone.

One of your most stark photographs graces Lou Reed’s The Blue Mask.

MICK: That came out of the Transformer period and was used eight years later. Lou’s a very nice person. He’s a bit paranoid about talking of kinky sex and drugs. That’s another time in his life. He’s very suspicious of journalists. But when I had bypass surgery, the first flowers I got were from Lou.

Why’d you have bypass surgery? Natural causes. (laughter)

MICK: I doubt that! I’m sure the cocaine I did and the cigarettes I smoked affected me. For 21 years, I was a serious cocaine addict. The good thing was I remained creative. The downside was it made me completely balmy when it came down to business.

In the mid-‘70s, you began shooting punk rockers when they became the new underground rage.

MICK: I saw the Sex Pistols first ever show at Chelsea Art College. Johnny Rotten insulted the audience. He was funny. But at the time, I thought, ‘What the fuck is this?’ They couldn’t play their instruments. While the Ramones moved the music forward, the Pistols moved the culture. I always thought Johnny Rotten was Ziggy. He had the same red hair.

What were the Ramones like?

MICK: I remember sitting with Dee Dee Ramone when he was complaining that he wrote “Chinese Rock” instead of Johnny Thunder. They spent time doing heroin together so who knows. Once I saw Patti Smith getting in trouble with bouncers at a Ramones show for shouting and throwing up. She was a wild one…


I first met Pot Culture author/ CelebStoner host Steve Bloom at, ironically enough, a 1st anniversary party for co-author Shirley Halperin’s now-defunct indie rag, Smug (one of my early writing gigs). It was a fortuitous night down in the Bowery at CB Gallery (an extension of illustrious dive, CBGB’s), since Bloom then hooked me up with High Times, the leading counterculture marijuana publication, a freelance job I’d only dreamt of. I took Bloom out for a bowl within minutes of meeting him, and my social life in the city, already topnotch, got elevated – more interviews with highlife celebs, better contacts, and softball with High Times’ infamous Bonghitters.

Alongside Bloom, Halperin, soon-to-be MTV editor Joe D’Angelo, and prominent photographer Dennis Kleiman, we essentially owned Roseland Ballroom at its indie rock height (‘93-’99), gathering at dozens of downtown shows, imbibing on-house drinks galore, smoking the best herb, and getting the freest tix. Halperin went on to prosper at Rolling Stone, US Weekly, and Enertainment Weekly, becoming a notarized celebrity hound frequently commentating for MTV, VH1, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and E! I reminded her of a “long lost uncle.” She borrowed small amounts of cash, begged for late night rides back to Williamsburg, married renowned producer (and ex-Pernice Brothers bassist) Tom Monahan, moved to the Left Coast (boho hipster refuge, Silver Lake), and no doubt haunted Bloom to complete ‘joint’ endeavor, Pot Culture (Abrams Image). The tidy A to Z guide ‘to stoner language and life,’ readied for release April 20th (a.k.a. 4-20, the international time zone to toke up), is literally a Whole Earth catalog for fiendish weed demons and doobiously dawdling dabblers alike.

A fun read, Bloom and Halperin’s stony tome never directly snubs America’s antiquated marijuana laws, but indirectly encourages consenting adults to turn on, tune in, NOT drop out. Perhaps most easily palatable for skeptical dilettantes and casual readers are the purple-paged Pot Culture Picks, a nifty addendum encompassing favorite stoner movies, scenes, characters, and dialogue, plus druggy dramas, comedies, sci-fi, cartoons, slogans, and stony recipes –no to mention a handy section on best pot-influenced music!

Original onscreen stoner, Dennis Hopper (starring in summer of love flick, The Trip, and ‘69s preferred Easy Rider) is said to “embody the fear and loathing inside every pothead’s heart,” a re-contextualized phrase snatched from gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s exalted beat-styled treatise. Cheech & Chong are credited as the best pot comedic duo while Sean Penn’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High surfer dude and Carlito’s Way cocaine-inhaling mongrel afford him most famous solo pot act status.

Pot Culture should convince all but the most abstinent person to strike down ridiculously strict laws governing the friendly weed. Better yet, vote out the deadwood clogging our log-jammed congressional system. Free the weed and the mass will follow. (Download Charlie Daniels’ outspoken libertarian rally “Long Haired Country Boy” here for proper musical affect).

For the uninitiated, ‘pot’ unequivocally encourages and magnifies artistic ideas, enhancing all five senses. And let me add a vicious ‘fuck you!’ to wrongheaded androids denying marijuana medication to a bulky handcuffed populace. Only the most sober individual could validate an opinion against the cursed ‘evil weed’ since alcohol is dangerous while pot is, holy shit, probably not. Safer by a fuck-load than beer and wine, marijuana’s cautious harmlessness shames all legal drugs and habitual cigarettes. An unprocessed indigenous plant lacking negative long-term effects, marijuana guilelessly outshines alcohol, uppers, downers, nicotine, and recreational cocaine-heroin. Alcohol overdose kills 5,000 yearly while pot’s psychoactive intensification stimulates brain receptors and eschews toxins. Unlike alcohol, tobacco, and coke, its prenatal use does not, I insist, cause birth defects. So stuff that in your hashpipe during pregnancy!

As we indulge at former long-time High Times editor Steve Bloom’s spacious Brooklyn apartment, the Jewish redheaded Bronx-raised website publisher, movie reviewer, sports fan, Obama supporter, and conversational pot icon commences, “Pot Culture was Shirley’s idea. She lived in Jersey, went to Rutgers, started Smug, and came up with the stoner dictionary/ encyclopedia. While I was High Times editor in ’06, she contacted me and mentioned a proposal to collaborate on the book. She was still at Us Weekly. It’d been percolating in her mind since the ‘90s. Our combined experience as stoners – I represent the Baby Boomers, she reps the younger crowd – plus my professional experience as a marijuana journalist and her orientation with celebrities, combined for a tightly written Pot-o-pedia. We siphoned information and wanted an exciting book full of pictures like a magazine – full-page spreads, visual elements, and sidebars. My knowledge is deeper in marijuana history, science, and activism while Shirley takes on everyday stoners and how they speak and act.”

Before joining High Times in the early ‘90s, Bloom admits to being “a pretty average stoner oblivious to New York’s Washington Square Park rallies” and didn’t see himself as an activist. Coming up through the ranks, the future Central Park softball commish had broke into the biz writing for Downbeat, Soho Weekly, and Rolling Stone. He credits editors Jim Henke and Peter Occiograssi with giving him a break. Fortuitously, he enjoyed funk, soul, and disco, black music overshadowed by the ’77 punk explosion. He found his niche covering Kool & the Gang and Brothers Johnson (for $5) and kept the ball rolling. He interviewed James Brown for a Soho Weekly cover and became a lifetime friend of the Godfather of Soul. As video games took over local arcades, Bloom pitched an assignment then published his first book, Video Invaders. Music editor Henke allowed him to cover the coveted New Orleans Jazz Fest, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Pretenders, and Eric Clapton.

“My peak piece for Rolling Stone was a feature on Wynton Marsalis. I was into the jazz scene and wrote for Downbeat early on. Wynton was a 19-year-old new on the scene. I pitched the story, called “Young Man With A Horn.” But I could never work my way into the Byzantine world of Village Voice. I didn’t like their stridently leftist view…and I’m a lefty,” he laughs.

Soon after, he got the gig that would define his bohemian lifestyle. As a High Times news editor, he became informed about the expanding marijuana community.

High Times was fun because it was advocacy journalism. I believed in the marijuana cause and wanted to change people’s opinion on legalization. I stress in Pot Culture how we don’t use negatives. The government spends billions convincing people marijuana’s bad. I didn’t want to play into that. We didn’t refer to pot as a vice or ‘lesser evil.’ It’s the opposite – within reason. Nobody should sit on a couch watching t.v. all day toking and being inactive. That’s the stereotypical perception – passive apathetic people with no life ambition. Be open for discussion. Pot may cause bronchial problems but is it causing cancer? No. And the THC in pot inhibits the expansion of tumors,” he insists.

The loquacious Bloom acknowledges modern marijuana is much stronger than the ‘70s stuff he used to toke. He admits marijuana was condensed, flattened out, seedy, brown, and came overseas from exotic countries back then. There wasn’t radiant green marijuana with flecks of red, orange, and purple covered by snowy oozing resin. Truly, today’s beautifully delicious plants with grown-out buds are spectacular.

Bloom goes on to explain the disparity between indica and sativa strains.

“There’s a genetic difference between tall, tropical, spindly sativa, an energetic, uplifting strain, compared to indica, shorter, bushier, tighter nuggets – sleep-inducing mountainous weed from Pakistan that withstands harsher weather conditions.” He swoons, “Most marijuana’s a combination now. Pure sativa is haze, but it’s been crossed. Indica is generally Northern Lights. I like mostly skunky, fruit-flavored indica with full taste that won’t make you gasp for breath strength-wise, but has a deep flavor you’d get from a Cabernet Sauvignon red. I love the fullness on the palate of a good strong smoke, the fruity bouquet and the nice heavy pull into your lungs that has a thick impact. From the second you smoke it, you think, ‘That’s good stuff!’”

Dutifully, Pot Culture advocates proper smoking etiquette. Lighting the corner of a bowl instead of passing a scorched pipe is an obligatory nicety. Childproof lighters are a no-no. And while pot smoking isn’t a replacement for nausea-inducing chemotherapy, according to singer-guitarist Melissa Etheridge’s 2-page scoop, it’ll ease the recuperative pain. Bloom encourages readers to move around the book instead of going front-to-back. The index quickly guides readers to subject matter. While lengthily discussing the stoner album covers illustrated, Bloom cites David Peel’s ’68 mandate, Have A Marijuana, as the first to feature the ‘good herb.’

Then my fifty-something buddy leads me on a journey through marijuana’s dark, glorious past.

“The book has a wide spectrum of data, dating back to the ‘30s Reefer Madness era. Actor Robert Mitchum and musicians Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa’s marijuana arrests may go unrecognized as celebrities who took hits for being busted and suffering for their right to smoke. There was no NORML for protest. Following Jazz, the Beat’s in the ‘50s embraced marijuana. The Beats were influenced by jazz. Jack Kerouac was into Charlie Parker and be-bop. They were into pot – and Benzedrine, because they liked the upside of things. That was cool daddy-o!” Bloom continues, “They were puffing, drinking, traveling. The Beats led to the hippies’ ‘60s psychedelic era. Ken Kesey was part of the new generation coming off the Beats. He and Timothy Leary were the next players addressing the drug issue broadly. Kesey on the West Coast and Leary on the East were the first to proselytize LSD.”

Though Pot Culture focuses on natural narcotics (marijuana/ hashish/ mushrooms/ peyote), chemically altered drugs such as LSD and ecstasy, relatively safe if used properly, are discreetly endorsed while dangerous anodynes such as cocaine and heroin are shunned. The deaths of musicians Jerry Garcia, Rick James, and Gram Parsons are related to hard drug abuse, but none are traced back to non-addictive substances such as weed, schrooms, or cacti. Even Pink Floyd acid casualty Syd Barrett is listed as dying from “natural causes,” forty years after getting tossed from his acclaimed prog-rock band. Rightfully, college heads laughed at stupid government-aided anti-marijuana movies such as Reefer Madness upon its ‘70s re-release. Hypocritically, during World War II, the government actually sponsored brief film, Hemp For Victory.

“Jack Herer, author of pro-hemp scrapbook, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, and fellow activist, Maria Faro, traveled around during the ‘90s, selling t-shirts and going to DC’s Library of Congress, digging up Hemp For Victory, a 15-minute short patriotically saluting ten foot high hemp plants waving in the wind. The government wanted hemp for rope, parachutes, and ships. It’s strong, durable, and benefited our overseas effort. It became popular when Reefer Madness gained a cult following. Interestingly, NORML founder Keith Stroup discovered Reefer Madness, brought and released it in the ‘70s. Herer suffered a stroke recently but nonetheless has an initiative to legalize marijuana in Santa Barbara. He no longer travels to campuses.” Bloom continues, “I took on college tours to educate students while at High Times, discussing pot’s use beyond recreationally, as an industrial plant used for paper and rope or for medicinal purposes. The seed could be used for soap, shampoo, food items.”

Happily, the ‘90s decade was a boon for marijuana subsequent to the conservative ‘80s. Though decriminalized in some states during the ‘70s, the ensuing ‘Just Say No’ Reagan era had put a temporary crimp on the pro-pot movement. Presently, there’s a rebirth of activism ratified by California’s Proposition 215, legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. In fact, there are several worthy stoner inventions recently unveiled.

Bloom chimes in. “Indoor growing allowed American cultivation to expand. Kind bud is a stoner innovation. Many innovations don’t come from big corporations. It’s done through grassroots underground efforts. Glass pipes, grinders, and vaporizers were invented by reliable stoners. But if marijuana were legal, there wouldn’t be the pursuit for, and accentuation on, indoor growing. It’d be made available in many ways.”

Thankfully, Bloom’s CelebStoner site parallels veritable godsend, Pot Culture. The beliefs and travails of pro-pot dignitaries such as Willie Nelson and Tommy Chong are interspersed with ‘toking gun’ pot-related news stories. Top Ten Celebstoners, January ’08, included Snoop Dogg (number one), Bill Maher, Matthew Mc Conaughey, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, and Woody Harrelson. Approximately one hundred pot-friendly celebs were recently listed supporting different ’08 presidential candidates.

Though he regularly samples high quality marijuana, Bloom contends the stronger stuff will allow people to smoke less and lead healthier lives. Just don’t mistake Bloom for a pro-cigarette espouser, since the harmful legal smoke, unlike marijuana, poses extreme health risks “poisoning the system.”

He exhorts, “Cigarette smoking is a plague that must be eradicated. I’m offended by laws that prosecute marijuana users when there are 400,000 people a year dying from legal tobacco. It’s a foul habit. It’s rude to see half-smoked cigarettes in the gutter. It’s gross. You may not like marijuana, but it’s not a despicable habit turning lungs black or affecting people around you. I steer away from cigarette smokers when walking down the street. Do it privately. If you can’t smoke joints in the street, why are cigarettes o.k.”


Shirley Halperin, a diligent Israeli-American with a hard-working reputation enjoys the high-pressure life of a celeb reporter. The respected entertainment editor graduated East Brunswick High School, attended Rutgers University, then had the unmitigated nerve to drop out with one semester left to start Smug Magazine, New York’s best alternative rock source from ’93 to ’97. It was a ballsy move that earned her immediate indie cred, and subsequently, through US Weekly and Enertainment Weekly, aboveground notoriety. She’s consistently done television commentary, lending lucid content to Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies, Britney Spears True Hollywood Story, American Idol Untold, and soon-to-be-revealed Pussycat Dolls True Hollywood Story.

Obsessed with popular culture and an admitted t.v. junkie, Halperin originally poo-poo’d reality shows, but now loves them too. Four years at Us Weekly befriending Hollywood stars prepared Halperin for more mainstream coverage at EW. Yet beyond the faddish reporting and hyped-up documentaries, the persevering lass decided to go back to her subterranean roots by anthologizing marijuana fun facts for Pot Culture.

“I’d been working on the book before I took the EW job. They’ve been supportive. As a woman in the corporate world, it’s difficult enough to battle. Luckily, I’m strong and independent. Some find that intimidating. But I also smoke pot,” Halperin affably permits.

Keeping up with Hollywood gossip while preparing for Pot Culture exposure, the industrious author used her L.A. connections to amp up mod marijuana coverage.

“I did a Rob Thomas ‘In The Studio’ piece for Rolling Stone. Within ten minutes he pulled out a bong. We became friends and he was the first person I called for a celebrity essay. The stoner bond is very strong. Once you smoke with someone, you’ve got common ground. On a certain level, we could relate strictly because of that,” she shares. “Adrianne Curry from America’s Top Model, who’s married to Christopher Knight (a.k.a. Peter Brady), is a huge pot head. It’s rare to find visible female celebs volunteering information. She talked about the troubles she went through hiding weed stench. She was very open. Not every stoner’s a lazy slacker that’s crunchy, dreadlocked, and tie-dyed.”

Unlike tobacco-averse Bloom, Halperin is an on-again off-again cigarette smoker (though Bloom smirks at the off-again part). She admits smoking cigs is hard to stop and agrees marijuana may not be addictive.

“Quitting cigarettes is tough. They’re extremely harmful and have become a great tragedy I still struggle with,” Halperin confirms.

However, unlike Bloom and I, she’s wearily unsure of marijuana’s dissenting quandaries. “Pot hasn’t been studied long enough to know if there’s physical and mental dependence. Are the carcinogens damaging? Are there any proven cases of lung cancer due to pot smoking? I don’t think so.”

One of Halperin’s favorite marijuana strains, Sour Diesel, has become increasingly common out West, where growers have seemingly perfected the once-indigenous East Coast bud. She understands there’s different smoke for different folk.

In step with Bloom, Halperin concludes, “I’ve learned from California Medical Law that certain strains are better for certain people. Sativa is lighter and gives most people more energy whereas an indica strain like Kush could put you to sleep. Some patients may need to be sedated to cope while others want to be invigorated and animated. So picking the right strain is important. People should be able to medicate for both common and uncommon ailments.”

No argument here.

In the future, the enterprising authors hope to publish updated Pot Culture guides, since technological advances, innovative methodology, and newfound material need amended ascertainment. One glaring omission may’ve been the exclusion of High School Confidential, an audaciously forward-thinking ’58 film featuring West Side Story ’Jet’ Russ Tamblyn and platinum blonde hottie, Mamie Van Doren. Brought to my attention by Bloom, the legendary drama is loaded with much of the jargon modern stoners still utilize. A fascinatingly sympathetic morality play informed by James Dean’s rebellious Rebel Without A Cause flick, it disses heroin but leaves open the argument against marijuana as a gateway drug.


‘Gonzo’ journalist Hunter Stocton Thompson committed suicide in his Aspen, Colorado ranch home February 19, 2005. Cleverly installing himself into many semi-fictional plots adventurously undermining sociopolitical ideologues, the drug and alcohol-addled, aviator glass-wearing gun enthusiast wrote several audaciously satirical novels, such as Generation of Swine and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (the film version starred Johnny Depp). An acerbic counterculture icon whose inceptive 1959 book, The Rum Diaries, wasn’t released until his popularity peaked in the ‘70s, Thompson will undoubtedly be remembered for thumbing his nose at ambiguous traditional beliefs.


Modern indie rock couldn’t exist in its fullest form without shy, soft-spoken San Franciscan rock aficionado Greg Shaw, a.k.a. ‘The Pope of Punk’ and ‘Father of Rock Journalism.’ In late October ’04, the venerable renegade succumbed to heart failure after beating life-threatening kidney disease during ’98.

Shaw helped promote and expose admirable obscure artists through ‘66-launched publication Mojo-Navigator (the blueprint for Rolling Stone’s format), moving to L.A. to start up ‘70s Who Put the Bomp, which concentrated on emerging alternative glam culture (New York Dolls) and pre-punk happenings (Flamin’ Groovies).

He then wrote Creem’s singles column, ‘Jukebox Jury,’ and assembled marvelous long-lost tracks for influential ‘60s-garage compilation, Nuggets, then Pebbles lofty 30-disc series. His own label, Bomp!, commenced in ’74, releasing several delightful works by savage Detroit punks Iggy & the Stooges, arty Ohio new wavers Devo, L.A. scum-punks Germs, Chicago’s pop-rooted Shoes, and numerous hard-to-find perishables.

In recent years, he bolstered controversial indie rockers Brian Jonestown Massacre, who’ve now gained cult acclaim and a modicum of disputation. Go to for more info on this subterranean legend.


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FORWARD: In his last year prior to dying of cancer, I got to know Al Aronowitz, the highly respected and much-maligned journalist responsible for introducing the Beatles to Bob Dylan (possibly the greatest cultural meeting of white musicians in music history). He actually confided in me and felt compelled to call one afternoon to tell me he had terminal cancer. That was difficult. I felt privileged to have met his acquaintance.

But Aronowitz was a stubborn man who despised magazine editors and hated the way book deals went down. He began organizing his works prior to death but felt publishing agents were trying to rip him off. In the ‘70s, he became sidelined by cocaine abuse and time spent in jail on drug charges. He never got his big break or a chance to tell his stories to the mainstream, but the books he left behind, especially “Bob Dylan and The Beatles: Volume One of the Best of the Blacklisted Journalist,” offer compelling evidence of his involvement with the greatest musical icons. Also included here is my second Aronowitz interview concerning his book  “Bobby Darin was A Friend Of Mine.”

Quite simply, Al Aronowitz is a living legend. As the “Godfather of Rock Journalism,” he was an ambassador to young folk and rock aspirants during the most rebellious, politically challenging decade – the Swinging ‘60s. As a writer for Saturday Evening Post, Aronowitz had unlimited access to beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, but more importantly, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other disparate genre-defining rockers. He developed a personal relationship with these icons, gaining their trust and confidence before getting involved with crack cocaine while destroying his career in the ensuing Me Decade.

The profound ‘60s uprising, with its frenzied excitement and social turbulence, created a truly bizarre, totally necessitated phenomenon that still engulfs a less naïve, though still cruel, world desperate for enlightenment 40 years hence. Now a defiant septuagenarian with a walking cane, depleted voice, facetious half-smile, and pissy disposition, Aronowitz embraced the Beat Generation as a fly on the wall during the great countercultural revolution that influenced the whole Civil Rights Movement, provoking the universe to think differently and more independently.

When I visit Aronowitz at his cramped Elizabeth, New Jersey apartment, there are tapes, CD’s, and newspapers scattered about walls and floors. He has covered the shelves holding his extraordinary record collection to prevent the landlord from ripping off more valuables. He takes me to the local post office to mail promotional material for his newly released book, Bob Dylan and The Beatles: Volume One of the Best of the Blacklisted Journalist. A journey back in time, the bold text revisits old acquaintances, pulling no punches and cleverly hiding many mind-bending particulars ‘til the last chapter.

The son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Aronowitz was named after 1928 Democratic presidential candidate, Al Smith, a liberal-minded sage he seems proud of. As a child, his older sister would take him to the library, where he initially became interested in writing stories. He attended Rutgers University, broadcasting football games for a year while studying journalism. By the ‘50s, he befriended the beat poets, Bobby Darin, and sundry well regarded artists. But it was his meeting with Bob Dylan at West Village speakeasy, Chumley’s, that would forever change his life.

“Many people thought Dylan was the messiah. I did. He’s the Shakespeare of our time,” Aronowitz says retrospectively. “But I wasn’t a music critic. I wanted to write stories with a punchline at the end.”

By ’64, Beatlemania swept America and Aronowitz got to hang out with the Fab 4 at Manhattan’s posh Delmonico Hotel, eventually introducing marijuana and Dylan to the Beatles. Believing Aldous Huxley’s claim that marijuana opens the doors to perception as nourishment for the brain, he turned on the young, impressionable Liverpudlians straightaway. Lennon was cracking up so much the first time he inhaled, he’d subsequently quip, “let’s have a larf” as a rally cry to party.

So began a long relationship with the biggest band the universe has ever seen. Soon, Aronowitz would get a reluctant Dylan to rendezvous with the Beatles, thereby influencing the poet laureate to go electric and the moptops to bring in folk elements. By ’65, Dylan penned “Mr. Tambourine Man” at Aronowitz’s Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, home (the historic 56 Briarwood Drive West) after listening to Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get A Witness” repeatedly. The Beatles, conversely, brought Dylanesque acoustical refinement to ‘66s twin pillars, Rubber Soul and Revolver.

But life wasn’t a bowl of cherries for this storied writer. His wife, who died of cancer in the ‘70s, played him for a fool, cheating during marriage with the New York Post editor that hired, then fired him, and possibly, Dylan. He was able to promote a few poorly attended Country concerts featuring legends Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Charlie Rich at Madison Square Garden that ended up in the red. In fact, his Bob Dylan and The Beatles trove discusses his fall-outs with Paul Simon (“I owed him $10,000 I never returned”), creepy radio personality-hustler Murray The K, cranky misfits The Band, and more profoundly, Dylan.

“I think he was fucking my wife. I didn’t satisfy her so she went elsewhere,” the formerly gullible white-haired maven claims. “Dylan would play head games by making others feel small. He’d make up his past. First time I met him, he said he spent time in an infirmary. One time we were walking through the Village, and he lied about (folkie) Richard Farina getting killed.”
Spookily, Farina died shortly thereafter.

Aronowitz candidly dispels a few myths about Dylan, inferring “I was with Dylan when he bought the (infamous) Triumph bike he may’ve crashed on. He made it sound so dramatic. I think he was full of shit.”

Instead, Aronowitz maintains Dylan dabbled in white heat, a thought that evaded him ‘til his own ‘70s cocaine problems struck. “He had a heroin addiction so why would he care about my cocaine craze. But I’ve never seen tracks on his arms.”

Even Dylan’s former road manager agreed he used to score drugs for the folk legend. Drugs were so rampant that Aronowitz, after being fired by New York Post, sold them to gain funds for his own troubled lifestyle.

“I used to score junk for Mick Jagger in Berkeley Heights, but the dealer started ripping me off, so I disassociated myself from him. Mick and Keith Richard were long-time junkies,” he shockingly avows ‘bout the Rolling Stones’ famed Glimmer Twins, before recollecting, “Brian Jones’ drowning death was a setup. He was getting stoned, trying everything for recreation. I tried a lot with him. He got into amyl nitrate. Then, he had epilepsy, which I got too from smoking cocaine. He had an epileptic attack and drowned. Mick was mad because Brian wasn’t showing up for rehearsals and wasn’t focused. Mick felt really put out because Brian wanted to stay with the Blues.”

More disturbing, he recants, “The Band were buying coke from me. I caught Richard Manuel ripping me off for boots and a shirt. I put a curse on him. (guarded laughter) He hung himself! The Band went through a fortune being big time stars in California and trusted the wrong people. Levon (Helm) and Rick (Danko) now can’t stand Robbie Robertson for taking all the writing credits.”

A drug-addled warlock himself, Jerry Garcia was one of Aronowitz’s favorite musicians.

“He was uptight about what happened to his (stumpy middle) finger,” Aronowitz divulges. “His daughter, Sunshine, at the end of our interview, said ‘Did you tell him how your brother cut your finger off!’ He was all upset.”

Nevertheless, that hacked-up unit gave Garcia the clipped guitar sound Deadheads craved.

Another scandalously unrevealed admission is that Aronowitz was the Velvet Underground’s first manager.

“Lou Reed was hostile. The only reason Moe Tucker became their drummer is the former percussionist didn’t want to carry equipment upstairs where they’d play. (Tormented diva) Nico wanted a band to back her up even though she couldn’t sing for shit. (She appears on their debut.) But she was a beautiful piece of ass. But I have no respect for (ensuing manager/ pop art geek) Andy Warhol. I don’t like his art. He was lazy. His concept of editing a film was when the reel ran out.”

He brings forth so many disreputably delicious details in Bob Dylan and The Beatles that expounding upon the peculiar facts seems trite.

“John Lennon was a mean drunk,” he consents.

“Paul Mc Cartney was hard to get to know. He could be harsh but we got along fine. His wife, Linda, was a stabilizing force,” he reminisces.

Remaining friends with George Harrison ‘til his cancerous death despite scoffing over $50,000 from the ex-Beatle in unpaid loans, Aronowitz asserts, “He had the right attitude. He didn’t think he deserved all the money. Money changes everybody.”

Because of Aronowitz’s begrudging demeanor, distrust for editors (“They’re fucking assholes”), and suspicion towards agents, Bob Dylan and The Beatles has been self-published. According to him, former drug predicaments ruined his vocation. He couldn’t get a decent writing gig and felt like a man sentenced to life imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit.

Notwithstanding, he agrees there’s therapeutic evidence of marijuana’s lingering positive affect on our culture. Chapter One pictures him with buddy, George Harrison, enjoying a joint at Friar Park.

“My voice has deteriorated so I’m congested and stay away from it. I cough up phlegm,” he insists. “Last time I had marijuana it was in a cookie. It’s easier. You’re stoned all day.”

He claims “the government is full of shit” and prohibition created the Mafia, which in turn led to drug gang crime.

“Pot could be a good Kentucky cash crop. I wouldn’t recommend hard drugs. I had my taste and now I have too much to do in my golden years. But I don’t like politicians,” he declares. “Bush stole the election and took over the country in a coup. It’s totalitarianism. He wants to start a Christian crusade. He’s a cynical moron and evil liar.”

Obviously, this old hipster may be withered, but he’s not feeble, though he’d rather watch 60 Minutes or Nightline than pay attention to newer artists. He pops in a tape of powerful mezzo-soprano Jean Maderi leading the Vienna Symphony Orchestra after discussing beloved musician-friends Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, and Ornette Coleman.

Aronowitz plans on releasing more books as soon as possible. Perhaps the Bobby Darin treatise will surface next. Either way, there’s no denying Aronowitz’s rightful place atop the elite literary pop culture pantheon.
-John Fortunato


How many times do you befriend a cultural figure who had the luxury to turn the Beatles on to weed, introduce Bob Dylan to the Fab Four, hang out with nearly every important ‘60s artist imaginable, and stand by terminally ill premier Italian-American ‘50s entertainer Bobby Darin from the beginning? If you’re a valued columnist like my own humble self, the answer is ONCE! That’s how much!

So before 75-year-old self-described ‘Black Listed Journalist” Al Aronowitz finally succumbs to whatever heart, leg, or throat complication he next tries to endure (editor’s note: he died of cancer by ’06), you’d better give this prized writer his fuckin’ due. (Are you listening, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame snobs?) Continuing to mount a strong comeback after cocaine addiction nearly destroyed his life two decades hence, this true “Godfather of Rock Journalism” follows up recent godsend Bob Dylan and The Beatles: Volume One of the Best of the Blacklisted Journalist with equally compelling Bobby Darin Was A Friend Of Mine.

Unlike more recognized rock and roll raconteurs or media peers such as American Bandstand’s Dick Clark, troubled New York discjockey Murray The K, and olden television host Ed Sullivan, Aronowitz maintained unlimited access to the era’s most talented and widely exposed stars. He’d contributed frequently to now-defunct Saturday Evening Post and the still-viable New York Post (whose editor fired Aronowitz in ’73 shortly after the luminary reporter’s wife died of cancer, most likely contributing to his spiraling junkie downslide). Absolutely nobody gained as much first-hand knowledge concerning the inner fears, turmoil, and contradictory lifestyle rock’s tumultuous giants experienced as Aronowitz did. The proof is in the pages of both above-mentioned tomes this once-Berkeley Heights, now-Elizabeth, New Jersey native drafted.

Focusing on Bobby Darin Was A Friend Of Mine, Aronowitz details the dramatic accounts of Bronx-bred Walden Robert Cassotto. Born May 14, 1936, to 16-year-old mother, Nina Walden, whom he believed to be his sister ‘til post-fame adulthood, and unschooled low-level mobster, Saverio Anthony Cassotto, killed prior to his son’s birth, Darin fulfilled his adolescent dream of reaching major worldwide stardom. Growing up poor in various tenement dwellings with rent-skipping parental vagrants, ‘The Kid,’ as Darin referred to himself, suffered from rheumatic fever and was heavily pampered by matriarchal grandmother, Vivian Fern Walden. Before husky, hulking professional agent Steve Blauner took over Darin’s business duties, brother-in-law/ stepfather Charlie Maffia worked as Darin’s original trusted road manager, and astonishingly, womanizing companion.

Recalling Darin’s gloriously sex-starved star-fucking days, Aronowitz affirms, “Bobby liked to walk in on other people when they were fucking and he liked others to walk in while he was fucking. He’d even wear a condom onstage because he’d sometimes reach orgasm.”

After becoming a commercial jingle singer sponsored by rising entrepreneur Don Kirschner, novelty ’58 debut hit, “Splish Splash,” put ‘The Kid’ on the charts, leading to legendary Las Vegas gigs at the Sahara Hotel. Battles with headstrong manager Blauner (wonderfully staged by Aronowitz early in the book), took place often, but never to the detriment of Darin’s career.

“It was Blauner who demanded Darin to cut “Mack The Knife” as a single, even though no one else gave three pennies for its chances,” Aronowitz writes.

Preceding this crescendo-building Swing Jazz rendition of Kurt Weill/ Bertold Brecht’s Threepenny Opera German murder ballad, which easily became 1959’s runaway smash, Darin had gained notorious teen icon status with “Queen Of The Hop” and “Dream Lover,” inspiring the Italian-American pop idol craze. Fellow Bronx native, Dion, and lesser talents Fabian and Frankie Avalon profited from Darin’s massive success.

Aronowitz claims, “Bobby didn’t pay much attention to them. He didn’t acknowledge their achievements. He concentrated on getting to living legend status by age 25 because he knew he wasn’t going to live long. Then, when he found out his supposed sister, Nina, was actually his mother, it came as quite a shock to him because all his life he never liked her. She was a very crude person and had a mouth like a stevedore – very uncultured. All of a sudden, he finds out she’s his mother and he goes a little crazy. He then wants to be Bob Dylan and write protest songs.”

On his own label, Direction Records, Darin cut political song, “Long Line Rider” and a few unfairly ignored albums, which were dropped on the heels of his last Top 10 Atlantic Records conquest, ’66s sympathetic Tim Hardin-penned neo-Classical ballad, “If I Were A Carpenter.” Incredibly, Darin never consumed drugs during the hippie-dippy ‘60s, despite dabbling, jabbling, and rabbling with tons of well-known marquee tranquilizers, making him quite an anomaly amongst sundry acid-tripping, marijuana-inhaling peers.

“He tried marijuana once or twice and didn’t like it. But his manager, Steve, was a big pot head. We’d smoke in front of Bobby but wouldn’t let him in on it,” Aronowitz recollects with guarded laughter.

While Aronowitz brings out the fragile nature of many renowned musicians in Bob Dylan and The Beatles, the only significant fragility Darin endured was a weak heart from childhood. A consummate all-around professional entertainer in the manner of Sammy Davis, Jr., Darin toyed with different instruments, executed vigorous dance routines, told jokes, and occasionally pontificated during magnanimous performances, receiving myriad plaudits as a true blue one man spectacle.

“He’d say, ‘People hear what they see.’ He was a great showman the same way Mick Jagger’s a great showman,” Aronowitz explains. “Bobby was special. I loved hanging out with him and going to his shows. He was a regular guy – a practical joker and a hell of an impersonator.”

Was he as charismatic as Dylan and the Beatles? I ask.

“No. They beat him by a mile. Bobby was in his own niche. But he had such a fantastic story. He had a tremendous life fighting the odds against death. He’d do such great shows into the early ‘70s. Then, he would be so exhausted he couldn’t climb two steps down off stage. He wanted to die onstage.”

During Darin’s final months in ‘73, he had called Aronowitz to come out to the West Coast to start writing his memoirs, but quickly began struggling with paranoia, senility, and bowel problems. So Bobby Darin Was A Friend Of Mine got compiled post-death from piles of notes the aged-in-the-wool author had been saving instead.

*Coincidental Happenstance:  ‘Beyond The Sea’ film*

Anyway… Famed actor Kevin Spacey recently directed, performed, and sang in the semi-biographical Beyond The Sea, a post-Christmas ’04 movie named after one of Darin’s biggest, snazziest, horn-blarin’ hits and apparently reliant on only half the facts.

Aronowitz clarifies, “It’s been fictionalized like all biopics. When Bobby dies in the film, he’s still with (formerly naïve actress, ex-wife) Sandra Dee, not last love Andrea Yeager. Hollywood just can’t do true stories. They don’t have room for that. But Steve Blauner wants the movie to be a success because he thinks it’s the only one that’s gonna get done on Bobby. He wants to start a whole Bobby Darin buzz. His records will start selling again and he’ll get a piece of it.”