Since some critics have gone apeshit about the upcoming Brian Wilson release — see
Newsweek’s Malcolm Jones on
“Smile,” which he calls (unbelievably, to my ears) a “masterpiece,” or
Deborah Solomon’s interview with
Wilson in The New York Times Magazine — we offer our friend Bill Reed‘s more explicable Beach Boys
In the 1960s, while nearly all my rock crit brethren had the good sense to
direct their energies toward writing about such trendoid outfits as Martha Proud and the Birth of
God, AxeMeat, Urban Sprawl, the Desi-Rays, and the Triffids, etc., I had the “bad fortune” to be
deeply strung out on the uncool Beach Boys. I was flakking for the BB’s at a time when they
couldn’t even get arrested.
Pre-Beatles, they were the hottest thing in American pop, but by the time of the so-called
Summer of Love, in 1967, they were considered a joke. A 1969 concert at the Fillmore East
was a near disaster. They came on stage in ice-cream colored suits. Fillmore habitués liked
their groups grungy, raw and au courant, and the Good Humor apparition on the stage couldn’t
help but bring out their sadistic side. By the end of their set the Beach Boys were reduced to
goosing each other and acting like panicky circus ponies.
The “Boys” were so desperate for coverage of any kind, that I received their full cooperation
during this period on numerous pieces I wrote about them in Rolling Stone, Fusion and in ROCK.
For ROCK I had the opportunity to do a phone Q & A with the then notoriously reclusive Brian
BRIAN: Have you ever talked to Mick Jagger?
ME: I never have. Why?
Are you going to?
ME: I’d sure like to. But I don’t foresee it in the near future.
BRIAN: I think you should.
ME: What do you mean?
BRIAN: I think he
would be a really interesting rap. He’s in this movie “Performance,” where he’s dressed like a girl,
and I think he’d make a really interesting rap.
ME: Uh, okay.
In the same publication, after penning a slightly uncharitable piece about bubble gum music
purveyors, Buddah Records, I received a phone call from its president, Neil Bogart, that
essentially amounted to a death threat. It seems I had deemed most of their product “Mafia
Rock.” Big deal. It was the Sixties. I could write anything I wanted to. Big Man did manage to
scare little me, though; in the end, I begged Bogart’s forgiveness.
The last time I wrote about Bill Reed, in April,
he was just back from Japan, where he’d arranged the Japanese re-issue of jazz singer Pinky
Winters’s CD, “Rain Sometimes,” which he’d produced. He also
sold other masters for Japanese releases, but it turns out the trip was largely a bust. One company
went belly up since his return, and others didn’t follow through on their agreements.
The main problem, he says, is illustrated by the following joke. Man #1 goes into a
Japanese business meeting and makes Man #2 across the table an offer: “How would you like a
poke in the eye with a sharp stick?” Man #2 replies: “Let me think about it.” “In other
words,” Bill says, “the Japanese will absolutely not come out with an unequivocal NO.
They consider doing so an insult. Arghhhhhhh …”
Meantime, he has been working on a sequel to his funny, affecting memoir “Early Plastic,”
and he’s peddling it to agents and/or publishers. It’s called “Son of Early
Plastic,” and includes Bill’s paean to the Beach Boys as well as
passages like this:
In 1970, I sold my first article to a national magazine article, Rolling Stone.
Even at that relatively late date, RS was not the impregnable corporate monolith that it would
eventually become, and so I was able to slip this one in “over the transom.” Of course, it helped
that I was writing about some unreleased Bob Dylan recordings I came across while rummaging
through the closet of a Woodstock crash pad. None of the material was known to have existed
beforehand, so it was basically a case of “Stop the presses … Film at eleven.” A scoop as it were.
Eventually I began to write more, shall we say, “grown-up” material for non-rock publications
such as: Variety, the L.A. Reader, the San Francisco Examiner, International Documentary, and a
number of others. For a short while, I even wrote for TV sitcoms, namely the hit series “One Day
at a Time.” Yet another fluke … do we detect a pattern here?
My best luck with “go away kid you bother me” material was in the 1980s at
the free paper, the L.A. Reader, which eventually became New Times, which finally ceased to
exist altogether somewhere around 2001. The Reader’s editor James Vowell was almost always
receptive to my ideas, and several of my personal favorites in this collection [“Son of Early
Plastic”] — especially the Sally Marr and Lord Buckley profiles — first appeared in its pages.
The Reader was far from being the only Southern California publication to undergo multiple
foldings and mergers. Few magazines and/or newspapers in SoCal have been so re-conglomorized
in recent times as Los Angeles magazine.
Somewhere around 1990 one its editors approached me to write an article on L.A.’s
legendary black nightlife district Central Avenue. That’s the sort of thing I usually had to beg to
do. I completed the assignment in record time, then waited for the article to appear, followed by a
check. But weeks went by, then months. … I had been aware that during the interim, Los Angeles
had been sold again and was skedded for yet another format overhaul. I phoned them. The long
and the short of it was my editor who had assigned the piece was no longer there, nor was their
any record of the assignment. How much was I to have been paid? I told the truth. $5,000. A few
days later I received the check. Years later my head stills reels at the trusting efficiency of that
transaction. I might try it again with Los Angeles some day just to see if it still works: “Hello, you
don’t know me, but …” (Ah, the free-lancer’s life.)
Any agents or publishers out there interested in getting a more complete look at “Son of
Early Plastic,” feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to let Bill know.