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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Parts Left Out of the Springsteen Memoir

Mother Jones just published my piece on how Springsteen (and Bowie) helped bring down the Berlin Wall, derived from my new book, The Tunnels.  So allow me to reflect further:

Forty-four years ago today I got a phone call at my office at the legendary Crawdaddy, where I served as #2 editor for nearly the entire 1970s, that would change my life, for several years, anyway.  It was from a fast-talking dude named Mike Appel, inviting me to catch his top (and only) act in a press event/concert upstate,  the following day, December 7, 1972,  in notorious...Sing Sing Prison.  The act was a total unknown whose debut album had not yet been released, by the name of Bruce Springsteen. 

With editor Peter Knobler,  I drove up to the prison with Bruce in the back of a van, leaving under the old West Side Highway--we were the only two from the entire NYC press corps who bothered to show up.  (See my little video below,)  Then we attended his first NYC gig with the band, at Kenny's Castaways.  We were blown away and decided right then and there to create an unprecedented monster piece on this unknown act who first album wasn't even out yet--though we quickly got a test pressing.

Then after two weeks of hanging out with Bruce and the band, and attending half a dozen club gigs (as one of the very few audience members),  I helped create the very first magazine piece about Brucie--and 8,000 words, at that--written by Peter for Crawdaddy.  We even put Bruce's  name on the cover.   Then, a year later,  I hailed his second album in a major review.  What was significant about all of this:  Most in the press were reacting to Bruce in a lukewarm (at best) fashion at that time and his record company was considering dropping him--until Crawdaddy doubled down, and then Jon Landau offered his crucial "I've seen the future of rock 'n roll" blurb.  We gave him his first magazine cover--two months before Time and Newsweek.

Many other Crawdaddy pieces--and dozens of concert  dates, from Central Park to Santa Monica--would follow and Bruce would become a friend for a number of years.  Crawdaddy even challenged the E Streeters to a softball doubleheader.   He even let me write a book at his house when he was away on his trip to England after Born to Run hit.  The self-described weak driver helped drive me to a gig in my hometown of Niagara Falls and back again. 

For whatever reason, Bruce does not mention any of this in his new memoir.  (His only reference to Sing Sing is in a long list of odd places Appel had him play the following year.)   Still, a gold record for Born to Run hangs on my wall.  He did write the preface to my book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long, in 2007.   And just this past June, his management gave me four free tickets for his concert in Berlin. 

Bruce even figures in my new book on escape tunnels under the Berlin Wall (and JFK trying to kill CBS and NBC coverage of them).   He performed in East Berlin. to his largest crowd ever a year before the Wall fell.  It's an amazing story in all regards.

Here's (below) a little video about the day I met Bruce in December 1972--in Sing Sing--which also includes excerpts from his very early live performances, including the acoustic  "Growin' Up".   Photo above from December 1972, days after the Sing Sing gig, with me across the table (photo by Ed Gallucci). 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Spayd on the Spot

UPDATE:   There's new controversy this week over Liz Spayd after her latest NY Times column on the use of "alt-right," and an appearance on Fox News, and slamming some of the paper's poltics writers for "outrageous" tweeting.  This is my piece from two years ago,  which I first re-posted a few weeks ago after Spayd, the new Public Editor at The New York Times, began drawing much criticism for her column on "false balance" (or lack of) in current political campaign.  (Jonathan Chait joins in here.)

Unlike a lot of media and political writers I am not one to let bygones be bygones, at least in a very few tragic or high stakes cases.  For example, the media failures in the run-up to the Iraq war, given the consequences.  This explains my reaction to the Columbia Journalism Review today announcing, after a widely-watched search, that it was hiring Liz Spayd of The Washington Post as its new editor.

Now, I suppose I should review her entire career, for context, though others are doing it and you can read about it in plenty of places.  She has been managing editor of the Post for years now and obviously supervised a good deal of important work (and some not so terrific, of course).  But I am moved to recall, and then let go,  one famous 2004 article, by Howard Kurtz, then media writer at the Post, which I covered at the time (when I was the editor of Editor & Publisher) and in my book on those media failures and Iraq, So Wrong for So Long.

In a nutshell:  The NYT, under Bill Keller, had printed as an editors' note  a very brief and very limited semi-apology for its horrific coverage during the run-up to the war.  The Post, almost equally guilty (see headline in photo), didn't even do that, leaving it to one of its reporters, i.e. Kurtz, to report it out.  His piece made the paper look pretty bad, with some embarrassing quotes from editor Len Downie, Bob Woodward and Karen DeYoung, among others.  And there was this passage about Spayd:
Liz Spayd, the assistant managing editor for national news, says The Post's overall record was strong.

"I believe we pushed as hard or harder than anyone to question the administration's assertions on all kinds of subjects related to the war. . . . Do I wish we would have had more and pushed harder and deeper into questions of whether they possessed weapons of mass destruction? Absolutely," she said. "Do I feel we owe our readers an apology? I don't think so."
In some ways, the "hero" of the Kurtz piece was Walter Pincus, the longtime national security who had tried to get more skeptical stories on Iraq WMD in the paper (or get them on the front-page).
But while Pincus was ferreting out information "from sources I've used for years," some in the Post newsroom were questioning his work. Editors complained that he was "cryptic," as one put it, and that his hard-to-follow stories had to be heavily rewritten.

Spayd declined to discuss Pincus's writing but said that "stories on intelligence are always difficult to edit and parse and to ensure their accuracy and get into the paper."
Michael Getler later reviewed his years as ombudsman at the Post from 2000 to 2005, and offered a strong critique of the role of the paper's editors in the Iraq WMD disaster. He observed:
I should say at this point the Post is an excellent paper, and it also did some excellent reporting before the war—more than you might think. But I also had a catbird seat watching it stumble and, while my observations are necessarily about the Post, they may be more broadly applicable. From where I sat, there were two newsroom failures, in particular, at the root of what went wrong with pre-war reporting. One was a failure to pay enough attention to events that unfolded in public, rather than just the exclusive stuff that all major newspapers like to develop. The other was a failure of editors and editing up and down the line that resulted in a focus on getting ready for a war that was coming rather than the obligation to put the alternative case in front of readers in a prominent way. This resulted in far too many stories, including some very important ones, being either missed, underplayed, or buried.
Gelter chronicles the many important stories the Post either did not cover or buried deep inside the paper (including reports on large antiwar marches).   Then he adds:
Here’s a brief sampling of additional Post headlines that, rather stunningly, failed to make the front of the newspaper: “Observers: Evidence for War Lacking,” “U.N. Finds No Proof of Nuclear Program,” “Bin Laden-Hussein Link Hazy,” “U.S. Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms,” “Legality of War Is a Matter of Debate,” and “Bush Clings to Dubious Allegations About Iraq.” In short, it wasn’t the case that important, challenging reporting wasn’t done. It just wasn’t highlighted.
Of course, Liz Spayd was just one of a group of editors and hardly deserves full blame for the Post's performance.  But she did defend that record afterward--and said no apology was needed. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

When Cohen Did Austin

The gang at Austin City Limits just posted this entire show from 1989, calling it a "classic," that captured Leonard Cohen during his (first) comeback tour at a time when he had been largely forgotten in USA, but new albums would change that.  They say he and band flew in from LA on red eye, barely made rehearsal, he never changed clothes but was fortified by tequila...

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bruce Meets Leonard Cohen

Amazing rarity, Springsteen and band cover live in 1967 Leonard's "Suzanne" in a rock version, actually quite terrific.  Bruce already with his "Backstreets" voice--or it's the recording.

Friday, November 11, 2016

When Barry Met Silly

Harry Shearer imagines this week Obama-Trump meeting....

Leonard Cohen,"In Flanders Fields"

One of the greatest poets, rest in peace, recites an earlier classic.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

When We Followed Bob and the Boys Down

There is, believe it or not, a new 36-CD  treasury of Dylan's shows abroad in 1966 (I attended a show in Buffalo in late 1965).  NPR has chosen a few highlights for you free, but this song (later re-done with The Band/Hawks in "The Last Waltz") shows that the Hawks were the best rock 'n roll  and in the world that year, not the Stones or Beatles. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Click Here for Early Reviews of My Book--and My New Blog

Just a reminder that Crown has launched a cool site devoted to my upcoming book The Tunnels, and I have been blogging there, related to that, while continuing on other subjects here.  It includes videos, photos, excerpts from the book and posts derived from it (including U2 and Springsteen and an MGM drama), and naturally the latest early acclaim for the book and blurbs from well-known writers.   So far there's praise from the Washington Post, The Guardian and Christian Science Monitor, a "starred" review from Publishers Weekly, a rave from Kirkus, and blurbs from Bill Moyers, Alan Furst, Frederick Forsyth and others.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Samurai, I Am

New film out next month on one of the true greats, Toshiro Mifune, who needs no introduction here, I hope.  I met him very briefly once at the Japan Society in NYC, about the time I got one of the rare U.S. interviews in that era (1970s-1980s) with my hero, Akira Kurosawa.  Here is the trailer:

Tom Hayden and The Chicago 'Police Riot'

Tom Hayden, who helped create SDS and other 1960s political movements, married Jane Fonda, served many years in the California state legislature, and wrote numerous books, has died after a long illness.  You will see many obits and personal reflections today.  Here is one at the New York Times.  I only met Tom a couple of times, although I did interview him for a New York Times Sunday Magazine piece, chatted with Jane Fonda when they were together, and assigned and edited a lengthy feature for Crawdaddy by his old pal Stew Albert when Tom ran for the U.S. Senate against John Tunney in 1976 (he lost).

But our closest association, you might say, came at the 1968 protests and police riot in Chicago for the Democratic Convention, which he helped organize (and for which he famously faced trial).  I happened to be there at the age of twenty.   Here's a post, below, I wrote not long along ago about how I witnessed that at close hand.  I've also posted a piece at the blog for my new book The Tunnels--which covers escapes under the Berlin Wall and JFK's suppression of CBS and NBC media coverage--re: Tom's view of the coming of the Wall in his famous 1962 "Port Huron Statement."
 ***
Forty-eight years ago my trip to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention would culminate in the crushing of Sen. Eugene McCarthy's anti-Vietnam crusade inside the convention hall and the cracking of peacenik skulls by Mayor Richard Daley's police in the streets. Together, this doomed Hubert Humphrey to defeat in November at the hands of Richard Nixon.

I'd been a political-campaign junkie all my life. At the age of 8, I paraded in front of my boyhood home in Niagara Falls, N.Y., waving an "I Like Ike" sign. In 1968 I got to cover my first presidential campaign when one of Sen. McCarthy's nephews came to town, before the state primary, and I interviewed him for the Niagara Falls Gazette, where I worked as a summer reporter during college. I had been chair of the McCarthy campaign at my college. So much for non-biased reporting!

My mentor at the Gazette was a young, irreverent City Hall reporter named John Hanchette. He went on to an illustrious career at other papers, and as a Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent. Hanchette was in Chicago that week to cover party politics as a Gazette reporter and contributor to the Gannett News Service. I was to hang out with the young McCarthyites and the anti-war protesters and Yippies. To get to Chicago I took my first ride on a jetliner.

To make a long story short: On the climactic night of Aug. 28, 1968, Hanchette and I ended up just floors apart in the same building: the Conrad Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago.    I'd been out among the protests earlier that week, which had already turned bloody, but avoided any harm to myself, which was my way.  Just after the peace plank to the DNC platform was defeated that evening,  and with many of those around me in tears, TV coverage switched to shocking scenes of young folks getting beaten with nightsticks on the streets of Chicago, but we didn't know where.  Then we smelled tear gas and someone  the curtains along a wall of windows and we looked out  to see police savagely attacking protesters with nightsticks at the intersection directly below.

Soon I headed for the streets. By that time, the peak violence had passed, but cops were still pushing reporters and other innocent bystanders through plate glass windows at the front of the hotel, so the danger was still real. I held back in the lobby, where someone had set off a stink bomb. Some Democrats started returning from the convention hall -- after giving Humphrey the nomination even though McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy won most of the primaries -- as protesters inside the Hilton chanted, "You killed the party! You killed the party!"  And: "You killed the country." And, of course, "Dump the Hump!"

Finally, I screwed up my courage and crossed to Grant Park where the angry protest crowd gathered, with military troops in jeeps with machine guns pointed directly at us. And there I stayed all night, as the crowd and chants of "pig" directed at the cops increased. Many in the crowd wore bandages of had fresh blood on their faces. Phil Ochs (later a friend)  arrived and sang, along with other notables, including some of the peacenik delegates and a famous writer or two.  This was Zuccotti Park but with heavily armed soldiers ready to swoop in, not simply NYC cops. Somehow we survived the night. 

When I returned to Niagara Falls that Friday, I wrote a column for that Sunday's paper. I described the eerie feeling of sitting in Grant Park, and thousands around me yelling at the soldiers and the media, "The whole world is watching!" -- and knowing that, for once, it was true.  Months later organizers of the protest such as Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, faced charges at the notorious trial of the Chicago 8.   Abbie and the attorney, Bill Kunstler, later became regular writers for me at Crawdaddy.  I interviewed Tom for a New York Times Magazine piece and edited a major feature on him at Crawdaddy when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1976 (he lost but later served many years in the California state legislature).

More than 35 years later, after I had written two books on other infamous political campaigns, I returned to Chicago for a staged performance of a musical based on one of them. As I got out of a cab to make my way to the theater, I had an eerie feeling and, sure enough, looking up the street I noticed Grant Park a block away -- and the very intersection in front of the Hilton where skulls were cracked that night in 1968.

P.S. Norman Mailer's terrific book, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, is still in print.