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COLUMN ONE, SEPTEMBER 1, 1995
(Copyright 1995 The Blacklisted Journalist)

THE INVISIBLE LINK


(Photo Courtesy Linda McCartney)
OPENING NIGHT AT THE FILLMORE EAST:
Bill Graham is
pictured beneath the ladder.  The Invisible Link (The Blacklisted
Journalist) faces the street at the far right.

[With this, the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST's COLUMN ONE, a writer who once was one of the world's most powerful pop columnists but who has been effectively blacklisted for some 23 years, makes his reappearance before a reading audience by debuting on the world-wide Internet.  As the author of a pop scene column in a major New York tabloid from 1969 to 1972, the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST amassed a vast following before he was unjustly banished from print.

["I didn't know it, but I wasn't supposed to score such a big hit," the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST said, "and one of New York's most notoriously corrupt executive editors got jealous.  He made up all kinds of stories about me and finally drove that shaft up my ass right into my brain.  I got shafted so bad, I went totally out of my head.  One reason I couldn't get back into print was a lot of what i wrote was too crazy to publish."

[Although frustrated in his attempts to get back into print during those 23 years, the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST says he nevertheless continued to write because he had never learned or was ever successful at anything else.  Many of the manuscripts he has written reminisce about his participation in many of the historic moments of the Sixties, an era which he describes as "one of history's most self-destructive binges of creativity."

[The Blacklisted Journalist's first piece on the Internet represents the opening pages of a work-in-progress which offers a collection of reminiscences as a history of the Sixties.  In other words, this begins the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST's personal chronicles of "one of history's most self-destructive binges of creativity," a seismic era which the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST not only chronicled but also helped shape.  Claiming to have been there when anything important happened during this era, he has given this work-in-progress the following working title: THE INVISIBLE LINK FROM THE BEATS TO THE BEATLES or WHY THE '60S WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN THE SAME WITHOUT ME.  Mystifyingly, he says, publishers keep turning down this collection of manuscripts.  The author now intends to publish them in this column, which will also offer up-to-date opinions, reviews, interviews, critiques, commentary, contemporary reporting, and whatever else might be on the writer's mind.  Entitled THE INVISIBLE LINK, COLUMN ONE includes personal reminiscences about Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Linda McCartney, Chuck Berry and Bill Graham.

["It seems," the BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST said, "that nobody has wanted to publish ANYTHING that I've written.  Now, with this column on the world-wide Internet, I feel as if I have been finally freed after having been falsely imprisoned for 23 years."]

BY THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST

I.

I'm copping a smoke in the UMC lobby when this wiseass slides out from the panel discussion being held in the Glen Miller Auditorium, walks up to a couple of dudes in T-shirts, shorts and sneakers lounging limply on the unmanned registration tables lined up in front of the auditorium doors and says to them in a voice loud enough for me to overhear:

"?If Allen drops one more name on us from the stage, I think we all ought to get up and hiss."

Is this wiseass playing to me or am I getting paranoid again?  Does he know who I am?  He must've seen me all over the University of Colorado campus cuddling with the likes of Peter Orlovsky or Gregory Corso or Abbie Hoffman or Carolyn Cassady or John Clellon Holmes or Timothy Leary or Herbert Huncke, all gathered in joyful reunion beneath the awesome overhang of the Rockies to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the nailing of On The Road to the door of culture.  I know I'm getting giddy being taken for a surviving Beat cult hero but I'm not yet arrogant enough to imagine this wiseass is making this remark within my earshot because he knows I might just turn out to be one of the most famous name-droppers of my time.  But why is he dropping Allen's name in front of me?  Allen's is one of the names I like to drop the most.  Allen Ginsberg.  America's greatest living poet.  He's been a friend of mine for 23 years.  I feel pretty good about that."

In the June heat of an amphitheater-type auditorium at the University of Colorado in 1982, I am reading the foregoing aloud to an assembly which has convened as the final event of the already-mentioned reunion.  What I am reading is something which I've written overnight in my motel room as both a report about the event and a tribute to Allen Ginsberg, its organizer.  The purpose of this assembly is to afford an opportunity to any of its members to address the audience for no longer than two minutes each.  Some have gotten up and spoken extemporaneously.  Some have gotten up and read poems hastily written for the occasion.  There are several hundred in attendance and this assembly could last just a little short of forever if everyone in the audience demands two minutes of celebrity at the microphone.  At the time, I'm very proud of what I've written.  The audience seems to like it, too.

If Jack Kerouac was the saint who inspired the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg was the prophet who organized it into a movement.  That's an opinion I've stuck to since I first wrote about being dazzled by Jack reciting October In The Railroad Earth to Stan Getz's sax accompaniment down the steep cellar stairs at the Village Vanguard, since I first climbed the three flights to the kitchen of Allen's Lower East Side Second Street tenement walkup to begin sitting at his feet.  It was Allen who went through America, looking under every rock to collect the madmen poets, artists, painters, writers, hiding like worms in their dark holes of alienation, not knowing there were others like themselves hiding, too, isolated beneath other rocks, waiting only for a prophet like Allen to dig the underground network that connected them, a prophet to lead them out into the sunlight where they could metamorphose like beautiful butterflies of thought, voices in the crusade to save the human spirit.  Allen was the talent scout, the recruiter, the proselytizer, the missionary, the clown and the straight man.  Ladies and gentlemen, The Beat Generation, written by Jack Kerouac but produced, promoted and press-agented by Allen Ginsberg, who, in addition, not only directed but also played himself.  That's only for starts.  Allen always knew what he was doing.  He always knew his power.  I remember back in 1959, when I was telling him how the editors of the New York Post really wanted me to write a hatchet job about the Beat Generation, Allen kept insisting I let him talk to them in person.  "I can be very persuasive," he said.  But not persuasive enough for me to let him do it."

Looking at the audience, I detect no signs of impatience.  In fact, it seems to me that I'm going over pretty big.  My ardor to let so many people hear what I've stayed up all night to write consumes me.  For the past few months, I've been giving lots of readings, but never before so large an audience.  I've been giving readings from my book, The Blacklisted Masterpieces Of Al Aronowitz, a product of my looniness which resulted from my having been slandered by the editor of the New York Post, who fed my fellow journalists poison about me which they swallowed without ever bothering to read the label on the bottle.  Published on a Xerox, The Blacklisted Masterpieces Of Al Aronowitz, still available at a hundred dollars, was mocked in the press as an "Underground best-seller."  (I, myself, took a full-page ad in the Village Voice that boasted: "MORE THAN SIX COPIES NOW IN PRINT!")

Onstage in the University of Colorado auditorium, I don't realize that the attention I'm getting from so large an audience has gone to my head, from which too many of my marbles are already missing.  The insanity resulting from my getting unjustly fired has by this time been exacerbated by subsequent events, not the least significant of which is that I have turned into a cocaine freak.  Onstage, to my left, I notice that Allen is looking a little embarrassed.  He is standing with someone who keeps pointing to his watch.  Stubbornly, I continue reading:

You can measure the strength of Allen's will by understanding how he deliberately and consciously set out from childhood to grab the ball from Walt Whitman and run with it like nobody else since.  Which history will judge is exactly what he did.  He changed the language and rhythms of American poetry with knee jerks.  Until Howl, people had to throw their copies of Tropic Of Cancer overboard before the boat docked in New York.  His influence would've changed my life even if I'd never met him because he changed the letters that are my life.  He has changed the lives of all of us.  Knowing Allen is one of the strongest drugs I've ever taken, one of the most consciousness-expanding experiences of my life.  No wonder he's still illegal."

The audience response is too encouraging.  The laughter seems to come at just the right times, leaving me unaware that I am only part of the show. . .  That the audience is not only listening to me but also watching Allen's embarrassment. . .  An embarrassment arising not only from the flowery praise I keep heaping on him but also from my determination to keep heaping it on long past my allotted time.

"Your two minutes are up!" Allen calls out.

The audience convulses with laughter.  I pretend not to hear and I continue reading:

Only those who don't know him don't love him.  He is the most tenderhearted heavyweight I've ever met, and Allen is a heavyweight among heavyweights, an actor who can play Moses to any Pharaoh, an intellect who can cross words with any wit, a charmer who can make the hair of the Medusa dance to the reason of his tune, a visionary who builds his web with the patience of a spider, a teacher who has forged a new link in the chain of knowledge, a Christ-type con-man camper who can make himself comfortable with any lowly Gypsy, a holy wanderer through eternity, an immortal.  I'm so proud I know him."

With each phrase that I characterize Allen, he acts as if he's been struck in the heart by an arrow and the audience roars.  I refuse to let anyone gong me off the show.  I'm having too good a time to quit now. . .

For 23 years, he's been a main man to me, a guru, an oracle, a leader, a teacher, a master,


Yes, Allen and I
were good friends,
or at least I thought so


a counsellor, a consoler, a benefactor and a loyal friend.  Allen came to my 50th birthday party.  I went to the funeral of his gentle poet-father, Louis, buried in the same cemetery as my mother, my father and my wife.  There was a summer my children stayed at Allen's farm in Cherry Valley.  Allen's the most considerate friend you'd ever wished you had, the softest touch who ever couldn't say no.  If he hadn't taken a conscious vow of poverty way back when he was plotting to succeed Walt Whitman, he'd still be broke.  Allen's a one-man welfare agency.  The only reason he earns any money at all is to give it away.  He's probably the most beloved man I know---?

As I'm reading this last paragraph, the crowd's laughter convulses to a roar.  I've been so busy hogging the spotlight that I haven't noticed Allen sneaking across the stage from my left to hook the curled handle of a bamboo cane around my neck, pulling me away from the microphone.  This was the climax of The Al and Allen Comedy Show.  We got maybe the biggest hand of all at that final event of the Jack Kerouac twenty-fifth anniversary Beat reunion.  We certainly got the most laughs.

"'Only those who don't know him don't love him,'" Allen mocked me scornfully afterwards.  "Everybody who knows me doesn't love me!  I'm not beloved!"  Then he started naming a bunch of people who don't love him.  I didn't whip out a pen and pad and write all the names down.  I had never heard of any of them before, I don't remember them and, so far, Allen refuses to repeat the list for me.

"So-and-so knows me very well and he hates me!" Allen said.  "And So-and-so and So-and-so. . ."

II.

I've always believed that art's most noble purpose is to inspire.  Art can decorate.  Art can entertain.  Art can titillate.  Art can make me cry.  But I've always believed that art's most important function is to inspire others to inspire others.

On the other hand, James A. Wechsler, like most famous radical hand-me-downs from the '30s and '40s, seemed to believe that art should be used to promote leftist causes.  Wechsler had been one of the heroes of my growing-up.  I used to read him on the pages of PM, that great journalistic experiment, a newspaper without advertising.  Years later, calling himself "an unreconstructed radical," Wechsler became the editor of the New York Post, where I eventually was encouraged to call him Jimmy, which started me thinking I was a hot-shot writer.

Jimmy had a son named Michael whom he loved and doted on as any devoted father would.  But when Michael hit his teens, Michael fell under the spell of a poet friend who idolized Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation.  This annoyed Jimmy, who had planned for his son to grow up to be an unreconstructed radical like himself.  As part of his own personal crusade to prove to Michael that Michael's idols were assholes, Jimmy agreed to participate in the so-called Brandeis Forum, which had, as its subject, "Is There A Beat Generation?"  In what turned out to be a major cultural event for the under-thirty college crowd of the day, this soon-to-be-legendary great debate took place on November 8, 1958, at New York's Hunter College Playhouse, where Jimmy joined elderly Princeton anthropologist Ashley Montague and British Angry Young Man Kingsley Amis in ganging up on a very stoned Jack Kerouac.   Clearly drunk when he arrived, Jack had been promised 20 minutes and dreamily tried to read from a prepared text which was later published in Playboy under the title of The Origins of the Beat Generation.  Dressed in his trademark checkered shirt, black jeans and ankle boots in contrast to Wechsler, Montague and Amis, who all wore suits, Jack was swaying at the podium but delighted the student audience with his visionary, metaphysical and romanticized interpretation of what had been happening in America, saying:

"It is because I am Beat, that is, I believe in beatitude and that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to it. . .  Who knows, but that the universe is not one vast sea of compassion actually, the veritable holy honey, beneath all this show of personality and cruelty?"

Interpolating his otherworldly poetic musings on love and death from his Mexico City Blues and tracing the origins of the Beat Generation from Harpo Marx, Lamont Cranston, Krazy Kat, Popeye, modern jazz saxophonist Lester Young plus "the glee of America, the honesty of America" and America's "wild, self-believing individuality," Jack warned:

"Woe unto those who don't realize that America must, will, is changing now, for the better, I think. . . Woe unto those who would spit on the Beat Generation---the wind will blow it back."

But five minutes into Jack's reading, the moderator, a certain Dean Kauffman, apparently annoyed because he thought Jack was evading any point of argument, imperiously interrupted Kerouac to announce that his time was up.

In response to Jack, a very polished Kingsley Amis, got up to deny, with much erudition and polish, that there ever was such a thing as a British literary movement of so-called "angry young men."  Ashley Montague characterized the Beats as the "ultimate expression of a civilization whose moral values had broken down."  As for Jimmy Wechsler, without even so much as an "en garde!" he was out to run Jack through.  Describing himself with emphasis as "one of the few unreconstructed radicals of my generation," he insisted that "life is complicated enough without trying to make it a poem."  Jimmy's message was "Live your lives out," but, as the evening drew to a close, Jack bellowed:

"Nay!  Love your lives out!"

As I listened to the debate, I remember thinking that although these heroes of mine were all on the same stage, they might as well be fencing with one another from different planets.  Jimmy was aiming his fire where, according to Jimmy's unreconstructed radical way of thinking, Kerouac should have been.  But all the while, Jack was actually on another world.  Calling the Beat Generation a joke compared to the progressive causes from which he'd earned his own medals, Wechsler attacked the Beats' "flight and irresponsibility."  Jack didn't know what Wechsler was talking about and wondered aloud whether Wechsler did, too.  Jimmy became more and more outraged at Jack for being so unresponsive to Jimmy's best thrusts.  Unresponsive, that is, except to push Dean Kauffman aside, grab the microphone and call Wechsler, Montague and Amis "a bunch of communist shits" bent on "the Sovietation of America," a place in which no such debates would ever be allowed.  Unresponsive, that is, except to clown, roam impolitely over the stage, giggle, shout interruptions, sit beside Jimmy, grab his hat, put it on his own head, slump down in his chair to mimic Jimmy, and then, like a grownup teasing a child, rebuff Jimmy's attempts to get the hat back.

Years later, Beat scholar Dennis McNally, writing in his book, Desolate Angel, a Kerouac biography, would characterize Wechsler as playing the role of "the most vigorous Philistine since the hero of Front Page."  Gossip about this great debate was all over the New York Post city room and Jimmy, in assigning me to write a twelve-part feature series about the Beat Generation, didn't need to make it clear that he wanted me to expose, ridicule, humiliate, crush, pulverize and otherwise assassinate these cultural upstarts. . .  These literary switchblades. . .  These artistic nihilists. . .  These unrealistic dope fiends . . .  Which, somehow, is the way I remember him describing them to me.  Jimmy didn't need to make it clear because the other editors at the Post all but handed me the hatchet with which they wanted me to do the job.

"Now, I'm not gonna tell ya t' slice their balls off just because they're a bunch of dumb-fuck pansies posing as poets!" I remember executive editor Paul Sann giving me my marching orders when he assigned me to write the Beat Generation series.

Thus instructed, I stormed the slum tenements of the Lower East Side, but Allen Ginsberg immediately charmed me out of my hatchet.  I also remember him coming on a lot, but I was too much of an uptight middle class nerd even to think about sex with Allen.  Today, of course, he writes, "No way!  You're hallucinating.  Preposterous."  So, I guess I must've been imagining.  I remember putting Allen off by promising him we'd be dirty old men together.  Otherwise, I've made a fool of myself always coming on to women.  Now that I've become a dirty old man, Allen doesn't come on to me any more.

Whether or not he tried to get into my pants, Allen seduced me spiritually.  I remember his voice alone casting a spell over me.  I fell in love with his gentleness.  He had read widely and his scholarship impressed me.  In our conversations, I felt I was listening to a great teacher.  He was always very self-possessed, very calm and very patient, certainly much more patient that he is in his present incarnation, which is that of a great artist taking himself seriously while busy being world-famous.  Whatever came out of Allen's mouth made perfect sense to me at the time.  He seemed to reek with wisdom.  I hung out in the kitchen of his third-floor tenement flat, hypnotized by everything he had to say.  It was Allen who inspired me to practice my profession as an art rather than to let myself be satisfied with just considering myself a pro.

With Allen opening all the doors for me, usually at the top of a fifth-floor walkup, I got to know all the poets, painters and musicians rallying around the Beat cause like artists grabbing hold of the spokes of a Maypole.  I began to romanticize the Beats to be an artistic movement, just like the Impressionists of the Parisian Left Bank or Ernest Hemingway's Lost Generation in Paris.  More and more, I began to feel that this was a bona fide literary movement which was going to be recognized as significant, which was going to make history, which was going to end up as a college course.  My next problem was how to walk the tightrope of writing what I really thought and still get Jimmy Wechsler and Paul Sann to print it.  Years and years later, I still bump into people who tell me that they saw copies of my New York Post Beat Generation series posted on bulletin boards in various colleges across the country when they were younger.  I like knowing that.

Unfortunately, Jimmy Wechsler never did succeed in saving his son from the Beat Generation.  I was always fond of Jimmy, an excellent editor, and, in fact, the only one of the word-butchers at the New York Post who ever edited my copy without ruining my rhythm.  I had Jimmy over to my house for dinner once.  Another time we went to a Rutgers-Columbia football game at Columbia's Baker Field.  As sports editor of Rutgers' student newspaper, I was so rabid a Rutgers fan that I kept going to every football game on the schedule for years after I got out of college.  Jimmy, who'd begun his leftist career as a Columbia student, was still as unreconstructed a Columbia football fan as a political radical.  Jimmy and I got into the habit of making a friendly bet on the Rutgers-Columbia game every year.  As a matter of fact, another reason why Jack Kerouac infuriated Jimmy so much was that Jack had walked out on a promising career as one of Columbia Coach Lou Little's star Lion running backs.

"I coulda been All-American!" Jack once boasted to me.

No, Jimmy never did succeed in saving his son Michael from the Beat Generation.  Michael began to smoke pot, maybe tried other drugs, got into all kinds of trouble, and spent some time in a psychiatric institution or two.  Eventually, Jimmy was faced with the sad task of writing a column about Michael's suicide.

III.

One of the greatest treasures in my memory is the night Billie Holiday introduced me to Miles Davis and I introduced Billie Holiday to the Beat Generation.

This historic event occurred back in 1959 in the course of my research for my New York Post series about the Beats.  When I learned that Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were as gaga about Billie and Miles as, say, teenyboppers would be screeching for the Beatles some 15 years later, I thought it would be interesting to learn what Billie and Miles thought of Jack and Allen and their Beat Generation.

And I was determined to find out.  After all, the whole Beat movement owed so much to Jazz.  As for me, I easily recognized Billie's singing and Miles' trumpet as two of the most distinctive voices in all of music.

An important person in this story is a woman named Maele.  I've now lost track of her and believe she is long dead. But I bless both her and her spirit, wherever they may be.  Maele could vouch for what I tell you because she was there.  In fact, she engineered the whole evening.  Maele had all the energy of a keg of dynamite.  She had the shape of one, too, but she always had an old man.  She's had three different last names to go with three different husbands that I know of, but I never knew what her maiden name was.

Multi-lingual, sophisticated and world-traveled, Maele was one of the glamorous female pioneers of Hip back when she was married to an actor named Freddie Bartholomew.  Possibly, most kids today never heard of Freddie Bartholomew, but when I was a kid, Freddie enchanted me as Little Lord Fauntelroy, the American boy who becomes a British Earl---except Freddie didn't have to play at being English because he was a Brit in the first place. 

When I last saw Maele, her last name was Trimiar and she was an assistant to the chairman of the Navajo Nation on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and Arizona.  I owe Maele a great debt for things that happened since this particular night with Billie, but that's another story.

In 1959, Maele was married to Bill Dufty, who was one of my colleagues in the so-called "Poets' Corner" of the Post city room.  Bill was later to make big news by marrying aging silent screen star Gloria Swanson, but when he was still married to Maele, he hit the big-time by ghostwriting Billie Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings The Blues, which starts out: "Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married.  He was 15, she was 16 and I was three."  By the time Bill completed work on Billie's book, Billie had adopted Maele as her "white sister."  That's what Billie called Maele, "my white sister."  By the night I met them, they really seemed to be as tight as womb-mates.

Not only did I want some quotes about the Beats from Billie, but I was a big fan, too.


Billie 
still radiated 
a magical charisma


Naturally, I wanted to meet her.  I asked Bill Dufty if he could arrange it and Bill asked Maele.  Sure, Maele said, come on over, bring your wife, I'll cook us up a dinner, Billie would love to meet you.

If memory serves me right, the Duftys lived in an apartment at a fancy address somewhere in midtown Manhattan.  Don't ask me to remember the meal Maele cooked up.  What I mostly remember is how tall Billie looked, much taller than her five feet and seven inches, even without her high heels.  Another thing I remember is that there was a droop to her mien in the same way a drape sags.  But still she looked regal.  There was also enough baggage under her eyes to need some help from a Redcap.  Billie looked like a dolled-up wreck.

But as eroded as the years had left her, she still radiated a magical charisma which I liked to think is the stuff that halos are made of.  From the shambles of her body still glowed the moon shining through flowering tree branches on a romantic night in May.  She still had the hint of spring in her.  As an adoring fan, I was delighted to discover she was flesh and blood, somebody real, somebody I could talk to, somebody who was actually hamish.

Except, it was hard for me to understand what she was saying.  Maele seemed to catch every word, but to my wife and to me, Billie sometimes was almost unintelligible.  At first, I never even gave Billie's addiction a thought but it soon became obvious that she was expressing herself in a junkie's garbled drawl.

"Ahm sayin''Ehm ooma blmmmm blmmm wnnnn ugggh, y'know?"

But even if I missed a lot, I still enjoyed Billie's relaxed and easy-to-get-to-know kind of charm.  After dinner, it was Billie's idea for us to go down to Birdland, where Miles was playing with his Kind of Blue quintet, John Coltrane on tenor, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums and Bill Evans on piano, or was it Wynton Kelly?  It was his Kind of Blue album alone that qualified Miles in my own mind as an immortal.  At Birdland, he came over to our table as soon as he finished his set.  When Billie introduced me to him, I rose to shake his hand.  Still, I had to chase him into the men's room to get a chance to talk to him.

I was standing at the urinal next to him when I asked him what he thought of the Beat Generation.  Coltrane, standing at the urinal on the other side of Miles, snickered.  Miles glowered at me as if in anger because I had asked so silly a question.  In the hiss that was his wreckage of a voice, Miles growled:

"The Beat Generation aint nothin' but just more synthetic white shit!"

It was after grooving to a set or two at Birdland that we piled back into my station wagon and I tried to steer Billie to a Beat poetry reading at a Beat hangout called the Seven Arts Coffee Gallery, located in the unlikeliest of places, Hell's Kitchen, on the second floor of 596 Ninth Avenue, around the corner from 42nd Street.  God knows what's there now, but poetry readings at the Seven Arts Coffee Gallery loom large in the history of the Beat Generation.

Sure, Billie wanted to know what the Beat Generation was all about and, sure, she'd listen to the poetry and, sure, she'd take a ride over there.  But when I pulled up in front of the coffee gallery, she suddenly decided she didn't want to get out of the station wagon to go upstairs.

Instead, I went up and brought down two of the poets, the late Joel Oppenheimer and Leroi Jones, now known as Amiri Baraka, the fiery militant artist-activist.  On this particular night, both Joel and Roi tried to stick their heads in through the partly rolled-down window of the back seat, where Billie was sitting next to Maele.

"Thanks!" Joel Oppenheimer said, "Just, thanks.  That's all I can say is thanks.  Thanks!  Thanks!  Thanks!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thanks.  Just thank you for being you."

He said something like that.  He said it as if he were reciting a poem.  He said it so powerfully that I can't remember what Amiri said, except that Amiri expressed similar gratitude for Billie's existence.  When I asked Amiri years later if he remembered what he said, he told me he didn't remember.  Was he putting me on?  If I had my pick of moments to live over again, this night would be one of them.  In the back seat of the station wagon, Billie told Maele that Amiri looked cute and then she said:

"Come on, let's get the fuck out of here!"

I forget all the small talk that we made.  What I remember most of all is that, with my wife in the front seat with me, I turned and asked Billie over my shoulder:

"How come you never recorded"---and I sang the title---"My Man's Gone Now"  That's one of my all-time favorites, you know, from Porgy and Bess.  By George Gershwin."

Yes, My Man's Gone Now was and still is one of my all-time favorites.  Why Billie had never recorded it always had been a big mystery to me and here was my chance to solve the mystery by getting the answer from Billie herself.  That is, if I could make out her drawling and mumbling.  Oh, maybe I'm exaggerating!  She really wasn't that strung out.

"Ah know!  Ah know!" she answered  "He asked me to sing that song when they opened that show.  He asked me to play the part of the girl who sings that song."

"Who asked you?"

"George Gershwin."

The woman who sings My Man's Gone Now in Porgy and Bess is a character named "Serena."  She sings the song after learning that the villain, "Crown," has murdered her husband.  The role was created in the original 1935 production by Ruby Elzy.  She sang the role 800 times.  She even sang it at a recital in the White House.  The last time she sang it was in Denver in 1943, the final stop in a national Porgy and Bess tour.

She was on her way back to New York for a performance at an all-Gershwin concert in Lewisohn Stadium and a solo career that was to include her grand opera debut in the title role of Aida when she felt ill and stopped to see a doctor in Detroit.  The doctor discovered a benign tumor in her uterus and recommended its immediate removal---an operation that, doctors have said, "did not appear to be dangerous." It was after the surgery in the recovery room of Parkside Hospital, Detroit that she went into cardiac shock and died at the age of 35.  We were nearing Columbus Circle when Billie drawled from the back seat of my station wagon:

"Naw, I couldn't sing that song night after night after night.  It's too sad.  It's the saddest song ever sung.  That song breaks your heart.  It woulda killed me.  It killed the girl who got the part.  She sang it night after night after night and she died.  It broke her heart.  Singing that song woulda killed me, too."

And then, Billie began to sing it, a cappella, in the back seat.  She sang it as I have never heard it sung before or since.  She sang it as only Billie could sing it, turning an operatic aria into a blues song, cornering the lines with mournful catches of the throat.  Out the gravel of her voice and the slurred mush of her enunciation, the clear and beautiful sound of her singing rose up to fill me with thrills and cover me with goosepimples:

My man's gone now,
Aint no use in listenin'
For his tired footsteps
Climbin' up the stairs. . .

I had to wipe the tears from my eyes because I couldn't see to drive around Columbus Circle.  Beautiful music always makes me cry.  Then Billie asked me to take her to her favorite Chinese Restaurant so she could get some food to go.  I could just about decipher what she was saying but she made a big fuss about how necessary it was for her to get a takeout from this particular Chinese restaurant.  I've always wondered, perhaps naively, whether the takeout could have included a hit of junk.  Billie died only a few months later.

IV.

Instantly recognizable, yes, both Miles' trumpet and Billie's singing are two of the most distinctive sounds in all of music.  I easily got as hung on Miles as I ever got hung on any one of my collection of superstars.  And when I adored, worshipped and revered an artist, I really went overboard.  To me, Miles was a romantic black prince with what I imagined to be supernatural powers.  He was an artist obviously anointed by higher powers.  He was his own brand of Black Messiah, a Divinity, a man of mythic proportions, a Pan who gave new dignity to horn-blowing.  For me, Miles was one of the prizes of my collection.  He had the most discriminating taste of all.  In both his art and his style, when he was playing the role of the perfect minimalist or even when he was too much, Miles was always just right!  I've never heard him blow a wrong note and I don't think anyone else has, either.  Some people have told me they fear Jazz will one day fade into obscurity, but my prophesy is that Miles' music will still be listened to long after the world has forgotten that there ever was any kind of debate over the merits of African versus European musical origins.

Yes, Miles was arrogant and self-possessed and feisty and he walked with the swagger of someone who knew he was one of the wonders of the world.  He used to boast to me that he was a "nasty nigger."  But he was also one of the kindest men I have ever known.  When my wife died, Miles called me up and said:

"You need anything?"

"No," I said, sadly.  "No.  No, but thanks for asking."

"I know somethin' you need," he said.  "You need money."

Miles called his accountant back from vacation in Florida to give me a check to cover the funeral expenses.

V.

It took years for me to really get to know Miles and then I still didn't really get to know him.  Not until some time after I first met Miles did Bob Altshuler, the publicity genius at Columbia Records, aware that Miles was one of my heroes, ask me if I wanted to write a story about Miles.  That was at a point when Miles was contemplating another of his periodic comebacks with a new album for Columbia and Altshuler wanted a story by me as part of his hype campaign.  This was in the Sixties at a time when Miles, having set a style as tight as his tight suits---in which, as the ultimate,  unruffled and immaculate "Mr. Cool"---was a regular visitor to a gym in Harlem, where he trained with his boxing friends.  During his conversations, he had a habit of punctuating his sentences with a combination of punches, sometimes throwing them at nobody and sometimes right at me or at whomever else he was talking to, getting close enough to make me or whomever else a little nervous.  Still, I didn't mind his throwing punches in my direction and I never asked him to stop.  In fact,


His townhouse was
decorated in circles;
even the bed was round?


I felt proud.  I felt that was Miles' way of paying attention to me.  For me, just being with Miles was the ultimate hit.  Because he made his contempt for whites so clear to the world, I felt all the more honored to be allowed to hang out with him.  For me, Miles was magic.  Just looking at his face was a joy.  I thought Miles was one of the most beautiful men ever born, with his sexy good looks adorning a face that sizzled with intensity while reflecting contempt for and anger at an imperfect world.  For me, Miles had a dazzle which lit up his otherwise deliberately dull, dingy and dim West 77th Street townhouse, decorated especially with Africana by an interior designer who had done the place almost all in circles.  Does my memory stumble or did Miles even have a circular bed in his bedroom?  This was about the time he first began living with actress Cicely Tyson, long before they initially broke up and then eventually got back together and married.  She even cooked us a tasty fish dinner one memorable night.

I got tighter yet with Miles after I started writing my New York Post Pop Scene column in 1969.  I sometimes used my column as a cudgel to protect Miles from an unscrupulous concert promoter or two.  At one point, Miles even asked me to be his manager.  I think parts of his old Shure sound system might still be in my storage bin.  This was when Miles began insisting that he had outgrown jazz and instead started making eyes at the exploding and much more lucrative youth market.  To Miles, jazz had become another classical music, something to be preserved in museums.  He didn't want to be labeled as a jazz artist any more and he would go into a rage when anyone classified him as one.  He didn't want to be labeled at all!  He wanted to be recognized by everybody, not just by jazz freaks.  He wanted to reach the pop audience.  He said he was sick and tired of struggling to get his $5,000 a night when Jimi Hendrix was being paid $50,000 a night.  By then, Miles had met Jimi and they had gotten tight.  But not so tight that Miles couldn't say no when Jimi wanted Miles to play on an album with him.

"I told him, 'Sure, I'll play on it,'" Miles told me, "'but I want $50,000.'  That's how much Jimi gets paid for playin' on someone else's record.  Why shouldn't I get it, too?"

Jimi kept asking Miles and Miles kept asking for $50,000.  And Jimi kept telling Miles that his business managers kept vetoing that price.  They were still haggling when Jimi died.  I had to talk Miles into going to Jimi's funeral with me.

"Sheet!," he hissed.  "I don't like funerals.  I didn't even go to my mother's funeral!"

V.

Miles was not only one of the world's greatest musicians, he was one of the champion studs of his time.  When he wasn't talking about music, he was talking about "bitches."  That was one of his favorite words.  He described himself as a "confirmed cunt-hound."  He used to boast about all the wives of famous men who tried to and who often succeeded in getting him into bed with them.  He said bitches knew their way around men much better than men knew their way around bitches, except in his case.  He said he always got his way with women.  I remember one beauty, a woman named Jacki, whom Miles summoned out of a crowd at LaGuardia Airport by simply beckoning to her with his finger.

"She had just come off a plane gettin' into the city," he said, "and I was catchin' a plane to fly out on a gig.  I saw her on the other side of the lobby and I called her over and told her to get on the plane with me, and she did."

I'd listen for hours to Miles lecturing about the secrets of what he called "the sneakier" sex.

"You can always tell who your mother is," he would rasp, "but you aint never sure who's your father!"

He liked to sit and philosophize and tell me about his conquests.  He also liked to tell me all the things I didn't know about women.  I loved hanging out with him.  The tragedy is that Miles died too soon.  To me, he had the gift of eternal youth.  I thought he was another one of those beautiful men with aging Dorian Gray-type portraits in their closets.  He always filled me with the self-importance of knowing I was hanging out with an immortal.  Today, I'm proud to think I had a hand in helping Miles become a Pop star.  It was my idea for Miles to make his debut before America's young rock audience with an appearance at Bill Graham's Fillmore West and I was the go-between who arranged it.  I started out by taking Miles to watch rock concerts from a private box in Bill Graham's Fillmore East.  I introduced Miles to rock stars like James Taylor.  I once even brought over Mick Jagger to meet him, but that's a whole other story.  When I told Miles of my idea for him to play the Fillmore West, I explained he would have no problem breaking through to a pop audience.  He had the name, the talent, the glamour, the mystique, the charisma.  Who had never heard of Miles Davis?  A performance at Bill Graham's Fillmore West would showcase Miles to what was probably America's hippest, happiest and "highest" audience of young music freaks.  I argued that San Francisco's kids were not about to dismiss Miles Davis as one of Jazz's old men.  Is there a music freak anywhere who has not been transfigured by Miles' Kind of Blue album?  No, I insisted, there was no chance that Miles would bomb out and when I took the idea to Bill Graham, he agreed.

I had known Bill since he first introduced the Jefferson Airplane to New York with a big press party at Webster Hall.  That was when I was managing an act in partnership with Gerry Goffin and Carole King, then a hit songwriting team destined for enshrinement in Rock and Roll's Hall of Fame.  Like almost all the giants with whom I matched strides, Bill Graham could be very gracious, charming and solicitous one moment and in the next second he could be a stone prick.  For instance, Bill gave me all the leftover cold cuts from the Webster Hall party to take home to my hungry family.  I was low on funds at the time as I have been for most of my life.  Still, my three kids remember Bill as the bully who tried to humiliate me right in front of them by picking a fist fight with me at a free Jefferson Airplane concert in New York's Central Park.

"Look how out of shape you are!" Bill taunted me and he began menacing me so threateningly that if someone had handed me a gun, I would have felt obliged to shoot Bill in self-defense.  I reached to pick up some kind of weapon, grabbing the nearest thing lying on the ground, something which turned out to be not much more than a twig.  I had no way of defending myself against the younger, stronger, taller and more athletic Bill.  He drew back a fist to strike me and I thought I was done for.  After all, I was on my way to pushing 240 pounds.  I had been out of shape for as long as I could remember.  And the truth is that Bill Graham had a widespread reputation for having a lot of bully in him.  At the Central Park concert, he was angry at me about a Pop Scene column I had written in which another promoter, Howard Stein, had accused Bill of being just that, a bully.  Stein alleged that Bill used bullying tactics which denied headliners to other promoters, such as Stein, who were trying to line up shows in suburban venues.  I asked Bill for a response before I printed the column, but instead of answering Howard Stein's accusations, Bill demanded that I not print the column at all.  He said that for me to do so would be a breach of loyalty to him.  Bullshit! I said.  He flew into a tantrum and started dropping H-Bombs on me, barring me forever from attending any shows at his Fillmore East.  But Bill and I couldn't stay enemies.  We needed each other.  We were too important to each other.  Bill knew he was wrong.  Afterwards, he tried to make it up to me in a bunch of little ways.

Yes, I used to love hanging out with Miles.  I'd spend hours with him in his upstairs bedroom overlooking West 77th Street as he sat at his piano and played me new tunes he had written or talked about his investment in Kenyan coffee or made his daily calls to his Wall Street broker and to his agent.

"That's two calls you can be sure I'm gonna make every day!" Miles used to say.

As for Miles' debut at the Fillmore West and his introduction to the pop audience, I was the go-between who helped engineer it but I didn't even get to go to the show.  I couldn't afford to buy a plane ticket to San Francisco on my own and nobody thought to pay my way.

VI.

"You know, Al," Bob Dylan would later tell me, "you're invisible.  Sometimes you can be seen smoking a cigarette, but you're invisible.  You're the invisible man."

Of course, Bob meant it as a dig.  To be the constant targets of digs from Bob was the price each of us paid for hanging out with him.  He was, after all, some kind of Messiah to


A reporter is supposed
to be invisible---
being invisible
was my style


each of us, and so each one of us in his inner circle willingly paid the price.  Bob liked to feel big by making his hangers-on feel small.  But when Bob accused me of being invisible, I chose to accept that remark as a compliment.  I was, after all, a newspaper reporter and a magazine writer.  Yes, I accepted Bob's dig as a compliment because I knew that a reporter is like a spy.  A reporter is supposed to be invisible.  Being invisible was my style.

VII.  

Take Linda McCartney.  I knew Linda when she was Linda Eastman and I was feeling grumpily self-important enough to mistake her for a rock 'n' roll groupie posing as a photographer.  That was when we were all hanging out in the swank apartment of Deering Howe, heir to the Howe Harvester fortune.  Actually, Linda turned out to be as much a part of the history she was chronicling as I ever was and just as artistic and professional a chronicler.  The day after Linda met Paul McCartney, she and I found ourselves fellow press corps members covering a rock festival at a Florida racetrack and she couldn't stop talking about Paul.  She couldn't stop asking me questions about him, either.  Suddenly, the rock festival didn't look like it was going to come off for a lot of reasons, the first of which was that there was a sudden thunderstorm.  I told Linda she should photograph the commotion of everybody scurrying to get out of the way of the lightning.  But the lightning proved too dangerous.  A bolt hit the track railing and you could see the electricity circle the track.  Linda and I took cover with Chuck Berry, the three of us piling into the front seat of Chuck's Chevy rental.  Immediately, Chuck started coming on to Linda.  I understood things like that.  I used to come on to every beautiful and buxom woman I saw, too.  Didn't I even come on to Linda, too?  But Linda was already in a free-fall for Paul and she quickly escaped as soon as the rain let up. 

Now, here's Linda's book of pictures called SIXTIES: PORTRAIT OF AN ERA.  One of the photos on the Title Page of the book is captioned: "Bill Graham (Fillmore East opening night)."  The picture shows Bill under a Fillmore East marquee that says, "MAR. 8 BIG BROTHER, TIM BUCKLEY, ALBERT KING, THE JOSHUA LIGHT SHOW."  But wait a minute!  Who's that unidentified guy standing at Bill Graham's left elbow?  It's the invisible man, that's who it is!  It's yours truly!  

I was so invisible that I now feel compelled to write this for presentation at the gates of Heaven as certification that I really was here on this earth.  For instance, a few years after I quit smoking cocaine, I sent Allen Ginsberg some of my early attempts at reminiscences, which he criticized just as unmercifully as he dumped on the opening paragraphs of this manuscript.  In effect, he told me that my stories would work better if I didn't keep trying so hard to make myself visible.  

Then there were the days when Pete Hamill was my apprentice at the New York Post, where he told people I taught him how to write.  There came a time when he begged me to introduce him to Norman Mailer and when I finally brought Pete over to Norman's Brooklyn Heights apartment, they became fast friends.  Today, Pete has written highly complimentary things about me, but he refuses to reply to my letters.  And the last few times I saw Norman Mailer, he looked right through me as if I weren't there.  Taking into consideration the fact that neither Miles Davis nor Bill Graham also never saw fit to acknowledge my existence in their autobiographies and that one Dylan biographer already has dismissed me as "a notorious pop star lackey," I'll have to concede that yes, I was invisible and obviously I still am.  But after all, I'm the guy who introduced Allen Ginsberg to Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan to the Beatles and the Beatles to marijuana.  As one of the most powerful pop columnists in the world, I was the one who hooked everybody together in those days.  From the Beats to the Beatles, I was the invisible link.  The Sixties wouldn't have been the same without me and anybody who tells you different is blowing smoke out of his or her ass.  So, right now, I'm sick and tired of being invisible.  I want to be recognized.  I'm going to materialize out of thin air before your very eyes.  ##


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THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST IS A SERVICE MARK OF AL ARONOWITZ