Bob McPhail 5:30 p.m., May 25
Removing Brown M&Ms: Backstage Diplomat Speaks, plus My Worst Celeb Encounters
Fulfilling backstage riders, plus how not to interview a celebrity!
Fulfilling backstage riders, plus how not to interview a celebrity!
BACKSTAGE RIDER ON THE STORM
Brian Lewis didn’t hire the entertainment while serving as venue manager for Humphrey’s bar and concert showcase on Shelter Island. However, he feels the experience he gained there from 1990 to 1992 prepared him for booking and marketing jobs at several pivotal San Diego venues, including Mission Beach’s Catamaran resort hotel where he ran their Cannibal Bar. “I liked the backstage responsibilities [at Humphrey’s] best of all because of the interaction…I’ve been a big music fan since I first saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.”
“Humphrey’s was doing about fifty concerts a year, sometimes two shows on the same night. My job was making sure the performers were satisfied when they got there, setting up the backstage catering and fulfilling all the requirements passed on by the production manager. Or [I worked] from a list written into the ‘rider,’ [which is] part of the performer’s contract.”
Early on, he worried about being starstruck, but working closely with the venue’s famous guests wasn’t as intimidating – or as disillusioning – as he’d feared. “The type of acts at Humphrey’s aren’t usually known for bad behavior. Most…found the place so comfortable, they’d just relax and be regular people, their everyday selves. I didn’t recognize him at first [but] Huey Lewis was talking to me in the hospitality suite while we watched Clinton lying through his teeth on TV. Dana Carvey would come into the inside stage and just chat with everybody. George Benson will hang out at the pool bar and drink Mai Tais and then come inside and say ‘hi’ to people.”
He feels that most performers, especially A-list draws with the most to lose, don’t want any trouble due to the media’s willingness to tear them apart. “It’s usually in the audience where you find people with the biggest problems. The funny thing is we can have Michael McDonald and everyone’s dancing in the aisles and drinking like fish and nothing happens. Then Tony Bennett comes in…and we had trouble with this older woman acting up.” He says the woman was drunk and shouting, upsetting nearby patrons. “We had to kick her out and put her into a cab, and she was fighting the whole way.”
Growing up in Point Loma, the diverse tastes of his six older siblings exposed him to a wide array of songs and performers, but Lewis’ early career goals had little to do with musicians, nightclubs and Bennett-crazed inebriates. “I studied business in college, worked for the Spagetti Factory chain and at one point I was taking maitre de jobs and planning a career in food service.”
Twenty-seven years old in 1985, Lewis replied to a want ad by mailing his resume to a blank PO box. “I thought I was applying for a fine dining job…it turned out to be Diego’s on Garnet (Avenue, in Pacific Beach). I’d been there maybe once or twice with a friend but Diego’s liked me, liked my ideas and they said they wanted to hire me for a management position, with a generous salary.”
The offer caught him by surprise. “I think [I was hired] because I was creative and artistic, and that helps in designing ads and promotions. I was always interested in how things were sold. [I] even studied magazine ads, billboards and TV commercials.”
His new career allowed him to put his flair for design into new menus, a kitchen layout, newspaper advertisements and event promotions. “The weekends would be so busy that we’d need the weekdays to lick our wounds and recover in time for the next weekend. We did about five mil[lion dollars] that year…the dollar margaritas special was going on and we’d have lines around the building.” Diego’s and other nightclubs hoping to attract new patrons operated “in the spirit of friendly competition, whereas today it’s more of a battlefield.”
“There was Wrangler’s Roost in El Cajon for country [and] contemporary rock at Park Place, which is now a bowling alley. Our only real competition was Confetti’s in Mission Valley. They had a thing called Club Piranha, adult alternative music…I did a parody of [their] event and called ours ‘Club Mean Fish.’ The ads had a giant big mouth bass swallowing a piranha.” Asked about his proudest accomplishment during the two years he worked at Diego’s, he replies “I guess [it was] making the place busy every night. I brought in KGB on Sundays, on Mondays we had $1.50 Name That Drink, 91x had their own night…the crowds came by having radio stations sponsoring [events].”
A partnership in a Mexican restaurant drew him briefly to Washington state, but he soon returned to San Diego to take a job as marketing and promotions director for a new club then dubbed Belmont At The Beach (later the Hop, then Chillers and currently ‘Cane’s). “I went head to head with my former employers at Diego’s. Their biggest thing was the Tuesday Dollar Margarita night and so on the same night I had 91X at Belmont with ninety-one cent drinks. Bikini contests had started there and I brought that over to Belmont…we just kind of buried them.”
However, Belmont never developed as he’d planned. “There were so many operational problems. We opened without a liquor license while we waited on it from the ABC so it was hard to compete with other bars. Plus, the dynamics of the beach area are low priced meals and we were serving expensive dinners. And from the get-go, there were protests about the whole Belmont Park development, on the liquor license, on the roller coaster being rebuilt…they [the residents] didn’t want the noise, didn’t want the traffic, didn’t want the natural things that happen when you develop and improve [an area]. The biggest problem was that the place was owned by a limited partnership of forty people. I put in a lot of blood and sweat but it didn’t end up working out.” He quit in early 1990 and the club was closed by summer.
“I ended up taking a position at Humphrey’s, in charge of entertainment and management for the inside bar and venue management for the outdoor theater.” The outdoor theater presented noise problems, though not from the music being too loud. “At some of the quieter and more intimate shows, we’d have people in the audience talking too loud, drowning out the music. We’d try talking to them about it at first and if they continued to cause a problem we’d have to remove them.”
He inked the next credit on his resume in 1992, when he took a marketing position at the Barefoot Bar, in the Princess Resort on Mission Bay. “Every Saturday and Sunday, we had a band called Doctor Chico’s Island Sounds…then their lead singer got arrested and went to jail for being a PB rapist! The group had gotten really popular and only one of the seven guys was a criminal so I met with them and talked them into staying together.” Lewis came up with a new name, the Banana Republicans, and the band remained a staple at the club for several more years.
He feels his marketing strategies for the club made it very profitable. “We did things like making footwear optional and you could even wear a bikini in the bar. There’d be a line for two hours to get in and we got to a business level where we did a hundred thousand dollars in one day. The previous year before I came in, I think they did less than a half million dollars in business. By the end of my first year there, we were doing two million. As to whether he received percentages or bonuses from the increased profits, Lewis replies “Let’s just say I quit in 1994.”
After taking some time off to try his hand at consulting work and fatherhood, he accepted an offer to work for Humphrey’s once again. “When the Rolling Stones played the stadium, we did a promotion called ‘Gimme Shelter Island.’ We rented three double-decker buses and had two hundred and twenty tickets for the show. [We] offered a package deal for $150.00 that included a commemorative T-shirt, a three course dinner, beverages and a tribute band called Sticky Fingers played a three hour show in the [Humphrey’s] bar. Then we put everyone on the bus and all of us went to see the Stones with Carlos Santana.”
In early 1999, the General Manager of Paradise Point, which had formerly been The Princess Resort, made what Lewis calls an offer he couldn’t refuse, if he’d return to work at the Barefoot Bar, a position he accepted and kept for nearly two years. “We almost doubled our previous numbers for the best day [income]. But at the same time, they were changing format and going through an entire renovation. The [marketing] I worked at didn’t match what the new owners wanted. They were catering to people willing to pay top dollar for the rooms. They didn’t want music festivals or theme nights, which is fine, that was their decision, but it kind of eliminates what I do for a living.” He walked away from Barefoot in August 2000.
Lewis’ next position was booking the Cannibal Bar in PB, bringing in top-flight acts like former Animals leader Eric Burdon and Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, as well as Hootie and the Blowfish, Dave Mason and The Psychedelic Furs.
“There’s a lot more competition nowadays,” says Lewis. “You have the Indian casinos, there’s Cox Arena. Humphrey’s ties up eighty-five to a hundred performers a year. Viejas is up and coming...when all the other clubs are bidding against each other to pull in a touring act that can only do one night and one venue in San Diego, I have to get pretty creative to come out on top. But I like being creative. And I definitely like being on top.”
MY WORST CELEBRITY ENCOUNTERS EVER!
I hear it all the time. "Wow, I wish I had your job - you get paid to have fun and hang out with famous people!"
What folks don't seem to understand is that 1) just cuz someone's famous, doesn't mean they're fun, and 2) the job of writing about celebrities is exactly that, a job. It's not "hanging out." We earn those nosebleed seats, preview passes, screener videos and stale backstage boccaburgers, baby, it's hard work getting publishable quotes outta your average creative type.
There's a mutual disdain and distrust between them, the "artists," and us, the press. They're tired of tabloid reporters and of fielding the same old ill-informed questions and we're tired of having to manufacture an interesting story from their self-serving PR spiel. Remember the scene in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" where even neophyte bottomfeeders in the celebrity biosphere have already ascribed reporters "the enemy?"
Over the course of about twenty years writing biographies (some authorized by their subjects, others not) and scribbling for rags like the Reader, Starlog, FilmFax, Cult Movies, Rock 'N' Roll Comics and others, I've had plenty of celebrity interviews go horribly askew, caused by everything from stupidity (as often as not my own) to setting to circumstance to outright sabotage.
Worst beginning for an interview: "I know you, you're the ass---- who spelled my name wrong on the cover of your magazine." Roger McGuinn [4-29-91, the Bacchanal, Clairemont Mesa]. I'd written an article about the one-time Byrds guitarist for the now defunct Soundwaves magazine, which misspelled his name "McGwinn" on the cover. I pled innocent to having a part in the editorial snafu and McGuinn-with-a-U agreed to talk to me, but only if I could spell his last name aloud (I could and did) and answer a trivia question - "Name one song I wrote, and if you say a Dylan song I'm walking away" (my "Chestnut Mare" reply got me the interview).
Worst disappointment: There I was, backstage at a Bob Dylan concert [7-24-91], the lucky winner of a press pool draw. Not only that but I was accompanied by a musician friend of mine, Rick Danko, who'd once been a member of Dylan's former backing group the Band. Score! Danko promised to get me exclusive access to the reclusive Dylan, who was keeping to himself in a well-guarded enclave of trailers. Over the course of about an hour, a guy kept coming out from Dylan's trailer to tell us "He's almost ready for you two, just a few more minutes." During that same hour, Danko managed to ingest, imbibe, inhale or absorb various recreational substances of differing degrees of potency and consistency, from gasses to powders to liquids, to the point where he was leaning against me and holding onto my shoulders just to keep from falling over. An effort which eventually proved fruitless.
When the trailer guy finally came over to say Dylan was ready to visit with his old friend and his friend's reporter buddy, Danko was sound asleep and dead to the world, lying on the grass, his head propped up against a cement cinderblock. With only one of us ambulatory, I was refused admittance into the inner circle of trailers. Danko and I stayed friends for years after that but he always insisted that we DID go into the trailer and talk with Dylan, even bragging about getting me the interview and accusing me of ingratitude for not being more thankful, so vivid were his apparent hallucinations. I've often wondered if Rick also saw a Dylan concert in his head that night while somnambulant in Satori - if he did, I hope it was better than the half-assed show I caught over here on this side of the cosmic veil (after pouring Danko into the backseat of my editor's car for a night-long "nap"). I would have liked to have at least asked the renowned poet/jester "Dude, don't you remember the lyrics to your own songs anymore?!"
Worst locale for an interview: Tijuana bordello [1-8-94] - A few hours before the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were scheduled to play Iguanas in TJ, singer Dickey Barrett wanted to take a walk with me and find a good place to chat. We ended up at a Zona Norte whorehouse called the Chicago Club, where loud salsa music drowned out my taped interview. Most of the conversation ended up being with swarthy club prostitutes anyway, as the two of us took turns describing the most outrageous and deviant sex acts we could think of, asking each woman "So how much would that one cost me?""
Worst health hazard: After sitting for a lengthy interview [May 1990], Paul Reubens AKA Pee Wee Herman offered me a tour of his L.A. home, a memorabilia-stuffed museum full of vintage toys and advertising, 3-D cameras and Viewmasters and other pop culture kitsch. Opening a small plastic garbage can full of snot-thick green goo, he suddenly became playful and held the stuff over my head, giggling "Look out, the Green Slime is coming!" Goo dripped wetly from between his fingers and suddenly the viscous fluid went kerplop onto my skull.
Immediately apologetic, Reubens tried to assist pulling the gunk from my shoulder-length hair but it just got more matted-in. Then I felt a burning sensation and my eyes began watering as if exposed to ammonia - the green slime, I found out later, was nearly a decade old and the chemical breakdown was having decidedly unpleasant interaction with my scalp, hair and eyes. The photographer accompanying me whisked me to a hospital, where I was attended by a middle aged nurse who luckily remembered the alcohol-based concoction often called upon to treat green slime related mishaps of the early 80s. Reubens was still apologizing the next day when he phoned to make sure I'd lived to tell. He kindly picked up the tab for $975, which covered the cost of my hospital visit and of the hair stylist later called upon to "fix" those spots where slime-encrusted hair had been excised from my shaggy 'do. The resultant haircut can only be described as a cross between a mullet and a Banzai tree and my scalp still itches like hell anytime I see something both green and gooey ("Honey, how come you always pick your nose and scratch your head at the same time?")
Worst timing for an interview: Kurt Cobain, shortly before or possibly during a heroin overdose [5-2-93] - When I called the Seattle phone number given to me by Nirvana's publicist, I was expecting to reach Kurt Cobain, to discuss a proposed Nirvana comic book. The person who answered the phone spoke only a few words - "Yeah, what do you want?" - before lapsing into fits of giggles and then long silences. I hung up and dialed back but the line was busy all afternoon. The following day, I found out Cobain had overdosed on heroin the previous afternoon - no followup interview was ever arranged and the "official Nirvana comic book" never happened.
Worst dueling diva dilemma: While editing an adult oriented line of very-graphic novels called Carnal Comics, I was scheduled to meet in L.A., at different times on the same day, with Aja and Pamela Des Barres - the former a legendary porn star and the latter known as "the world's most famous groupie," whose book "I'm With The Band" famously detailed her liaisons with members of Led Zeppelin, the Who and dozens more. It was to be my decision which starlet would be featured in her own mass market comic book. First, there was lunch with lubricious Howard Stern Show fave Aja, during which I mentioned my upcoming meeting with Miss Des Barres. "My God," Aja grimaced, "how can that woman do what she does? I mean, ----ing guys just 'cause they play guitar? At least with me, it's my job, my profession. I'm great at what I do, I get paid well for it and then I go home feeling good about it all. She's nothing but a screwed up slut with delusions of grandeur!"
During dinner with Des Barres, I dropped Aja's name and said I'd met with her that afternoon. "What a filthy little thing," Des Barres frowned. "When I have sex with a guy, it's because there's something about him I'm already attracted to. I know and respect his music, I feel something from him and I want to share some of myself with him in return. That girl's nothing but a porn slut - hand her a few bucks and she'll do it with anybody. That's just plain nasty." Carnal Comics ended up publishing the Aja comic, which went into three additional printings, but passed on doing a comic version of Pamela Des Barres' "I'm With The Band."
Worst question that got the best answer: Asked of Joey Ramone 11-6-95, backstage at the Sports Arena: "So do giant mice still have to wear earplugs at your concerts to avoid exploding?" The obscure reference to a recurring gag in the film "Rock And Roll High School" elicited a chuckle and a quote much more sparkling than the query merited - "No, but the roaches do!"
Worst question ever, period: "When did you first realize you were a one-hit wonder?" Asked of Eric Denton [8-99] of the San Diego based Monroes , whose one and only hit record "What Do All The People Know" ("All the people tell me so, but what do all the people know.") came out in late 1981. Denton 's reply - "What kind of question is that? How am I supposed to answer? Nobody ever says to themselves 'I'm a one-hit wonder, my life and career, it's over.'"
Worst phone interview: Actress Traci Lords, former underage porn star and B-movie cult icon, was available for an interview, but only during my afternoon shift managing a music shop called Robert's. I gave her publicist the store number for Lords to call.
"Robert's, this is Jay, may I help you?"
"Uhhhhh, is Jay there?"
"This is Jay, can I help you?"
"I thought you said this was Robert."
"This IS Robert's. I'm Jay. What can I do for you?"
"You've reached Robert's. Can I help you?"
"Yes, can I speak to Jay?"
"This IS Jay. Who's calling?"
"You said you were Robert."
"No, I said this is Robert's. I'm Jay."
"That's who I'm looking for. Jay."
"I'm Jay. You're speaking to Jay."
"Okay. Then why were you pretending to be Robert? I'm so confused."
And indeed she was. Shortly after we figured out who each other was, Lords terminated the interview because I hadn't signed the faxed agreement forbidding me from asking questions about her adult film career. It was fun for a moment anyways, playing Abbott to her Costello (or Cheech to her Chong - "Dave's not here, man").
Worst awkward meeting: Before I agreed to write the unauthorized biography of Marvel Comics figurehead Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man and the Hulk, I should have thought about the fact that Lee and I would likely come across each other on the comic convention circuit, promoting our respective endeavors. My bio raised a lot of still-open questions about who really "created" Marvel's best known characters, scripter Lee or illustrators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko who dispute their former boss' recollections as to who deserves the most credit, not to mention compensation, the bulk of both having long since been claimed by Stan Lee. This revisionist look at the foundation of Marvel's eventual empire caused a lot of discussion and controversy in both the mainstream and comic industry trade press.
Sure enough, Lee and I ended up scheduled side by side, signing autographs at the San Diego Comic-Con. A small crowd gathered as I was introduced to him as the author of his unauthorized bio. Cameras flashed and onlookers seemed to be expecting (or at least hoping for) fisticuffs to erupt any moment, such was the public animosity the book had stirred. Lee reached out, shook my hand.and told me "I'm sorry." I was mystified. Why was HE apologizing to ME? Was he sorry to have met me? Sorry the bio exists? I asked what he meant - "I'm sorry," he said, "that I didn't lead a more interesting life, because perhaps then your book about me would have been more interesting." This gentlemanly way of telling me that he didn't think much of my work came accompanied with a diplomatic smile that stayed plastered coolly on his face the whole time we posed for photos together.
I'd come prepared with a copy of the bio in question, which I pulled from my briefcase and asked if he'd autograph. Hey, it's Stan "The Man" Lee, okay? And I figured if his hands were busy signing my unauthorized biography then he couldn't punch me in the head. He graciously did the deed (signing, not punching), we mugged for a few more snapshots with me holding up my prize and then we parted, never to cross paths again - other than the personalized letter of rejection I later got when I applied for job at his [since failed] internet company Stan Lee Media, signed "Tough luck, True Believer!"
Worst sabotaged introduction to a rock star: Meeting Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger [10-11-98], introduced by an unfriendly (to me, anyways) local promoter - "Robbie, this is the guy who wrote the Doors comic book you never got any money from."
Worst insult or threat from a rock star: Axl Rose [9-30-92 Jack Murphy Stadium] to publicist Tom Holtz, pointing at me - "If that mother------ steps over the line and comes on our side, I don't care who invited him, I'll smash his ------- face!" I was backstage as a guest of co-headliner Ice-T of Body Count, who was unaware of the bad blood between Rose and I stemming from a Gn'R comic book I'd written. Just a few months previously, in a cover feature for the April '92 issue of Rolling Stone, Rose had singled out my Rock 'N' Roll Comics #43 to badmouth - "A comic book says how Izzy comes to me and says 'you know, I just don't feel I'm up to this.' And I go 'Yeah, and you're scared, too, aw ----.' Well, that ain't the way it went down." (The scene was laid out according to events described to me by Izzy himself).
Backstage at the stadium, someone in the Gn'R encampment pointed me out to Rose and informed him that I was the guy behind said comic book. He went ballistic, having to be held back as he hurled increasingly profane insults and threats my way, both amusing and flattering me whereas I suspect his intent was to frighten, or at least intimidate. Later, while Gn'R played onstage, I crossed over to the group's wagon train of busses and trailers, snuck into their catering tent and scattered around a dozen copies of the comic book that had so incensed Rose, for the band's post-performance enjoyment. Nine years later, I mentioned this during a chance encounter with Slash and he was nearly apoplectic with laughter. "Dude, I thought Axl's ----ing head was gonna explode when he saw those comics!" Ahh, the power of the press.
Worst actors from the worst movies: "Vampira" (real name Maila Nurmi) is probably best known for appearing in the so-called worst movie ever made, Ed Wood Jr.'s "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Nurmi agreed to an in-depth in-person chat with me at L.A.'s Glamourcon convention (November 1995) for an article about horror TV hosts - her glamour ghoul Morticia Addams-style character debuted on TV in April 1955, hosting late night horror movies shown on KABC channel 7 in L.A., predating copycat Elvira by decades (even Elvira's name rhymes with Vampira's). I also wanted to ask about her fabled friendship with James Dean (who told reporters that he thought Nurmi was a genuine sorceress, before finding out she was a mere horror movie hostess).
After the young actor's death in September 1955, Nurmi claimed to the press on several occasions that she was in contact with Dean's departed spirit: "The Ghost Of James Dean" was a 5-page cover feature written by Vampira herself for Borderline magazine in January '64. When asked about this, the 74 year old actress was put off by my query and reluctant to discuss Dean at all. I asked about an article from the February '57 issue of Whisper Magazine, a cover feature entitled "James Dean's Black Madonna" - "What did you think when tabloids published rumors that you were a jilted lover who put some kind of curse on James Dean shortly before his fatal car crash?"
Nurmi stiffened in both poise and tone. "The gossip magazines made that story up, after I wouldn't talk to them any more about Jimmy," she said icily, adding "I'll have you know that I personally destroyed the only known photograph of James Dean and I together, just so that people like you couldn't accuse me of cashing in on my friendship with him." This belied previous interviews she'd given but I pushed on, asking about her failed infringement lawsuit against Elvira (1989 Nurmi v. Peterson - Nurmi lost because the court ruled "character likeness means an exact copy, not a suggestive resemblance"). This served only to get her more agitated - "As far as I'm concerned, she stole the entire 'Vampira' concept from me, that's all I'll say."
With two strikes against me, I figured what the hell, if looks could kill I would have already been wearing a toe tag. "Is it true your TV show was cancelled in early 1955 because parents complained that you promoted witchcraft and because you made a joke on the air saying 'My sister was lynched for raping a snake'?" This oft-repeated rumor first turned up in 50s magazines like Whisper and Confidential and I hoped to finally get either a confirmation or denial of its veracity, straight from the sorceress' mouth, as it were, but she gave me neither. Instead, she stood up and turned swiftly on the heels of her sensible black shoes, marching away from me without another word.
Her tablemate at Glamourcon, 63-year old Conrad Brooks, also had a role in "Plan 9" (as "Patrolman Jamie") and he sat nearby watching as my chat with Vampira abruptly ended. "You can interview ME," he offered with a hopeful grin, putting his arm around my shoulder with unnerving familiarity. My assignment was write an article with some kind of "cult movie star" angle so I said "sure" and went to start my tape recorder. "No, wait, you have to buy one of my movies first," he insisted, pushing a VHS copy of "Baby Ghost" into my hands, an apparently homemade Casper knockoff that, when I tried to sit through it later, made the worst entry in Ed Wood's inept oeuvre look like "Citizen Kane." It ended up costing me $15 ($10 for the video and $5 for an autographed B&W photo) to talk to Conrad Brooks but at least he told me a colorful story about the time cross-dressing counterculture hero Ed Wood burst into tears because his favorite bullet brassiere had shrunk in the wash.
Worst interruption or distraction: Courtney Love's cootchie [Civic Theater 12-12-94] - Backstage at 91X's Christmas concert, I was trying to have an earnest conversation with legendary crooner Tom Jones, but seated on a bench just opposite where we stood was Hole singer Courtney Love. Love kept lifting her short raggedy dress to her chin every time Jones looked in her direction, knees akimbo far more than was necessary for us to ascertain that she wasn't wearing panties and that her hygiene routine apparently didn't include razors or wax. Love winked at Jones with every flash but the Welsh sex symbol, to his credit, didn't even acknowledge the dark and frightening pelvic forest she was trying to lure him toward. That is until just as I was turning off my tape recorder to leave, whereupon he leaned over and whispered in my ear "On the bright side, I don't have to worry about her throwing her undergarments at me!"
Worst misunderstanding: In February 1989, I was one of several people being considered to write a mass-market biography of Gene Roddenberry, the writer/producer to thank/ blame for the revered/reviled Star Trek phenomenon. Roddenberry and his wife, veteran Trek actress Majel Barrett [Nurse Chapel on the original series], sent word that they wanted to meet with me and with writer David Alexander at separate occasions, to get a feel for our respective approaches to the project. My interview took place over a poolside brunch at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and all seemed to be going well at first. Roddenberry was explaining how he wanted this to be an unbiased "warts and all" account when he excused himself to visit the men's room. This left me in the position of making small talk with his wife, who at the time had a recurring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lwaxana Troi, the flamboyant mother of Enterprise crewmember Deanna Troi.
I mentioned to Mrs. Roddenberry that I enjoy the way her character is portrayed as being far into the Autumn of her life, yet still shown as very sexual, amorously pursuing a twitchy Captain Picard and taunting him with a rotating roster of competing suitors, once even going into pheromone-frenzied "heat" and, in another episode, turning up nude on the Enterprise promenade. "Yours is one of the most sexual characters on the show," I was telling her, just as Roddenberry stepped back up to our table.
He apparently misheard me - "For chrissakes," Roddenberry bellowed loud enough to make the orange juice in my glass ripple like the scene in Jurassic Park where T-Rex is approaching. "I walk away for five minutes and come back to find you hitting on my wife and telling her she's the sexiest thing on Star Trek!" At first I thought he was pulling my leg, impressing me with acting skill hitherto unsuspected on my part. But then he was grabbing her arm and nearly yanking her to her feet, before either Mrs. Roddenberry or I could clarify, muttering "This is why I never bring my wife out in public any more." Before a reaction could so much as register on my face, they were off the patio, out the doors and making their way toward the valet parking lot, leaving me with a breakfast bill of $57 for three orange juices, muffins, coffee and two fruit salads.
David Alexander completed his nearly 600 page love letter to Roddenberry after the Star Trek creator passed away in 1991 and the book became a mid-level bestseller. I ended up scripting two much-less-circulated comic book bios about Roddenberry and his (quite lovely) wife, both of them unauthorized but neither unflattering. Majel Barrett recently autographed a copy of her comic for me, apologizing for the way her husband's jealousy resulted in me losing a primo writing gig. "God love him," she said with weary affection, "he believed I was the most beautiful creature on Earth and was convinced every other man in the world wanted to steal me away from him."
Worst and most unsettling wrap-up: "Let's come up with something that we can all make money on, and that way our attack dog lawyers won't have to go after you and drag you like carrion to my doorstep." - Gene Simmons [8-2-93]. This was pretty much the final word in a taped phone conference between Simmons, myself and the publisher of Revolutionary Comics, where I was managing editor at the time. Our company had previously produced an unofficial, unauthorized issue of Hard Rock Comics about Kiss.
Simmons "unofficially" liked our comic and, instead of suing us, wore a Hard Rock Comics T-shirt on the cover of "Kiss Alive III" and then phoned our office for the above referenced conference. He was proposing a "joint publication" between the band and Revolutionary, albeit under vague threat of attack dog litigation over the earlier unsanctioned comic. Simmons and RevCom never quite came to an agreement about the joint publication and Kiss ended up producing the new bio comic themselves, published in their "Kisstory" hardcover book. They hired the same creative and production team from our company's Kiss comic book to do it, essentially getting themselves a Revolutionary comic without having to pay Revolutionary Comics. Oh well, at least I didn't end up getting dragged like carrion (or maybe he meant "carry-on," as in luggage?) to Gene Simmons' doorstep (where he seems to have installed a revolving door, judging from the umpteenth Kiss lineup currently failing to sellout arenas on their umpteenth "farewell" tour).
Worst interview subject: Dr. Dre [4-8-92] - The NWA lyricist didn't give up a single usable quote during this taped phone chat regarding his debut solo album "The Chronic." My article instead ended up being about how many times the rapper said "You know what I'm sayin'" without actually saying anything - 178 times in just under twenty minutes, averaging once every six to seven seconds. I still got paid for the article, which is why Dre was the worst interview subject but not the worst interview ever.
Worst interview ever: Arthur Lee [7-23-94] - I met with the leader of legendary 60s L.A. band Love outside the now-defunct and then-funky Flash Café in Mission Valley . About ten minutes into what seemed like a perfectly normal chat, Lee - who has a reputation for being, um, mentally unpredictable - suddenly shouted that I was a "lying son of a bee-yach" and that I wasn't really a reporter, I was an undercover police officer trying to trick him into admitting he'd done something illegal, on tape (I hadn't said a word about anything other than music). Lee snatched a $200 recording machine from my hands and smashed it to the ground, kicking it across the asphalt and leaving the unit in pieces before turning to flee into the building.
Randy California's band Spirit was also on the bill that night and California witnessed Lee's tantrum and the ensuing destruction from just a few feet away.
"You're lucky he only thought you were a narc," California offered casually as I bent over to pick up the busted remains of the most expensive tool of my trade. "He hates reporters a lot worse than he hates cops."
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