Breakfast with a Beatle
The Beatles were in the news this week, with Paul McCartney headlining the 12-12-12 concert benefiting victims of Hurricane Sandy. And last weekend was the anniversary of the death of John Lennon. So I was reminded of this post I wrote back in 2005, describing my meeting with another member of the seminal band of my youth.
It’s obvious that you guys love the show biz stories. So in a pathetic attempt to get you all to keep coming and commenting — and even come back to read my posts about how boring and mundane my life is now — I’m going to honor a request and expand upon one of the items I mentioned in yesterday’s post: My interview with Ringo.
I’ve mentioned before that my first full-time job after college was at a legendary radio programming and consulting firm called Drake-Chenault. I got this job quite by accident — they happened to be located in a nondescript office building in Canoga Park, while I was still living with my parents in Chatsworth during my last semester at CSUN. I had just finished an internship at KHJ-TV and wanted another one; they happened to be looking for someone to assist with research and writing of a syndicated Top 30 countdown show.
I went in for my interview and I was given an article about an artist who had a hit song at the time. I was asked to read the article and write a couple of blurbs from it that would serve as introductions to the hit record.
I didn’t get the internship. Instead, they offered me a full-time job with pay. It wasn’t much pay, but for a 24-year-old rock fan, it was a gift from God. I got free records (the first CD had not yet come on the market and MTV was a year away from being launched), free concert tickets — and I got to interview the artists who would have hits on the Billboard Hot 100.
Although our radio show was syndicated on a couple of hundred stations throughout the country, we were definitely not on the record companies’ “A-list.” Interviews with superstars did not often come our way, but all the new artists did. Since in 1981, you had no idea if an act, say the Go-Go’s, was going to be a one-hit wonder or a superstar, you agreed to do the interview because tape pretty much lasted forever, and you could use an artist’s reply to a question about her childhood decades after you talked to her, and it would still be true.
And because company founder Bill Drake had been a radio superstar in his own right in the 60’s and 70’s — and had the foresight to save hundreds of radio interviews conducted then — we had access to artists who wouldn’t talk to us any longer: Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson (although his voice hadn’t yet changed), etc. I became a master at taking an old Smokey Robinson tape and finding quotes that would be relevant two decades later.
Of course, you can only recycle old interview material so many times before you long for an update — which is why we also jumped at the chance to interview those once-bright stars who had lost a little of their luster. (We also played selected oldies interspersed with our current hits, and periodically updated a landmark 52-hour radio special called “The History of Rock and Roll” — so we did have ways to use new reminiscences by artists who were past their celebrity prime.)
We also managed to score interviews with big stars who were part of groups but had solo albums to promote — which is how I got to talk to Phil Collins, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (among others).
Ringo, of course, was in a different category altogether — always relevant because the music he made with the Beatles remained that way (and still does).
In 1981, Ringo was promoting a new solo album called “Stop and Smell the Roses.” During this period, record companies were using all kinds of gimmicks to make their vinyl products more interesting — I still own some fun picture disks from this era. The Ringo record wasn’t one of those, but it was manufactured with the scent of tea roses.
Anyway, I jumped at the chance to meet with Ringo at his Beverly Hills hotel (the Beverly Wilshire, now famous as the location for “Pretty Woman”).
My employers thought they would use this for some publicity and for the first (and only) time, sent a photographer to document the event.
By this time, I had been on the job as an interviewer for almost two years, and had become pretty blase about chatting with the rich and famous. But THIS was something else entirely. I was pretty excited about it — but determined to appear cool.
I arrived on time for my early afternoon appointment with Ringo. I was ushered into the parlor of an enormous suite, and told that he would be with me shortly.
I waited. And waited.
Eventually, Ringo and his wife, former Bond girl (and co-star of “Caveman”) Barbara Bach, entered the room. He apologized for keeping me waiting — they had only just gotten up after a late night. (Years later, after he’d confessed to years of problems with alcohol, I realized that both were probably hung over, but I was pretty young and naive back then — it didn’t even occur to me.)
Barbara (beautiful even without makeup) sat on the couch by the window and nibbled on a room service breakfast while Ringo and I sat at the dining table and did our interview thing.
I had read that Ringo was the one Beatle that everyone got along with, which is why all the others would contribute songs to his solo efforts. They loved the guy. And in person, he was just as nice as he was reputed to be.
I went through my list of questions. I always prepared for these interviews by reading everything I could get my hands on about the artist, and we had a lot of material on hand. (We had several file cabinets filled with official bios and clippings gathered from every publication you could think of, and in Ringo’s case, these went back several years.) I knew that he didn’t like talking about The Beatles (and according to one article, only ever referred to them as “The Fab Four”). It was my habit to first talk about whatever the artist was promoting, which always made him or her happy — that was the reason I was granted the interview in the first place. After we got that out of the way, I could ask my other questions — and at that point, most artists were relaxed and happy to comply.
So I began by asking him how the album came to be, and to talk about each of the tracks (some of which were contributed by the two other remaining Beatles, so I got some tape of that). There was a method to this — at this point, before the album was even in the stores — we had no idea (a) if it was going to be a huge hit or not and (b) which songs would be released as singles and possibly hit the charts. So this way, I was covered.
We finished talking about the album and I honed in with questions about the Fab Four (yes, I called them that — whether or not the article was true, it seemed a good idea). And then I couched the inevitable question. I told him that I knew it was a painful subject for him, but I would not be doing my job right if I did not ask him about John. (At this point, Lennon had been dead for less than a year.) And as I said in yesterday’s meme, tears did well up in his eyes as he talked about his old friend’s murder and how he missed him.
At the conclusion of the interview, he shook my hand and said, “Thank you, my dear. You made it very easy.”
It was one of my proudest moments and a memory I cherish to this day.
This is one of a series of old blog posts I’m re-publishing in honor of my 9/10’s of a decade writing SoCal Mom.