In Their Own Write

Adventures in the Music Press: Excerpt by Paul Gorman

In Their Own Write: Adventures in the Music Press is Paul Gorman's oral history of rock (and pre-rock) criticism, published this month by Sanctuary Press. It promises to be the literary event of the season. The following is a short excerpt from Gorman's exhaustive study: women getting in on the act.

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Lisa Robinson::   There were just a few women writing about rock music: Lillian Roxon, who wrote Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia and was an Australian running the U.S. office of the Sydney Morning Herald before she went to the Daily News, and Gloria Stavers, who did 16 magazine. Then there were two others: Ellen Sander, who wrote for Life , and Ellen Willis who wrote for the New Yorker. They were much more intellectual. Ellen Willis was a serious critic, capital S, capital C.

Robert Christgau::   The New Yorker critic Ellen Willis, who I lived with in the Sixties, had a tremendous influence on my thought.

Richard Meltzer:   Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia was the first even half non-worthless grocery listing of all that shit, which compared to the junk Rolling Stone puts out, you'd have to admit reads extremely well.

Danny Fields:   I first met Lillian at the press conference for Brian Epstein's band The Cyrkle. She asked him in the Australian accent of hers: "Mr Epstein, are you a millionaire?" I thought that was very ballsy.

Lisa Robinson:   Lillian Roxon was my best friend, so fabulous. She had been part of this very cool scene in Sydney with a bunch of beatniks which included Richard Neville and was a very beautiful woman who got hugely fat because she was mis-prescribed cortisone spray to treat her asthma. If you read her Rock Encyclopedia, it is infused with her individual take on stuff, full of witticisms. She had a gossip column for the New York Daily News while still writing for the Sydney Morning Herald and she'd drag these Australians for us to meet: "This is Australia's leading gynaecologist, and this is Australia's leading writer," who would be Germaine Greer before anyone had heard of her. She was very close to the Warhol set.

Richard Meltzer:   Lillian Roxon, hers I remember--her death if not her dying. Summer of '73, heart attack brought on by a severe asthma attack, itself brought on by an especially unbreathable two-three days of New York heat and smog. She died alone. And I went up and cried on the Empire State Building. And the next six months, every time I got drunk, I'd get all whimpery. 'Cause she was like the saintliest person I'd ever met. Every day she'd call up every person she cared about to sincerely encourage every fucking hopeless tangent they were on, like unconditionally.

Dave Marsh:   When you tell people that Gloria Stavers and 16 magazine basically invented rock and pop culture journalism as we know it today, they think you're just talking about the fact that Gloria was close to Jim Morrison of the Doors, or that she ran the early story that kept Rolling Stone afloat, or that she was the first person to take good photographs of teen stars, or that you're being charitable because Gloria had the courage to run an obituary in 16 for her great friend Lenny Bruce. Nope. Gloria was the first real pop journalist, no qualification necessary.

Danny Fields:   I was first introduced to Gloria when I went to see a friend at 16's offices. This friend took me in and said very politely: "Gloria, this is Danny, the editor of Datebook," and she started screaming: "Get him the fuck out of here!"

Ira Robbins:   I recall how the late 16 editrix Gloria Stavers, a fascinating and wonderful woman who we later persuaded to write a Doors article for Trouser Press, would manage to slip names like John Coltrane and Al Jackson Junior into her pages, along with ads, for some instrument company, that pictured Frank Zappa--and you thought it was all the Monkees and Man From U.N.C.L.E.!

Danny Fields:   In the summer of 1966 I'd be surprised if Datebook was selling 80,000 copies, but at this time the Monkees were enormous and 16 was up to 1.2m. It was a very powerful publication. She had a lot of power over these record company bosses and TV stations. She could take a show off the air by instituting a postcard campaign. Each magazine they figured got passed around by five or six girls so that could be 7m letters to CBS. Guys would steal their sister's copies because sometimes that was the only place you could read about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

Dick Clark:   She had her finger on the pulse of what kids were thinking, which impressed me. We both, as adults, could "think young" and see what was interesting and ascertain what the future would bring in the next few months. Gloria helped American Bandstand, and the show helped 16. it was a two-way street. We kept track of the kids and who was popular. She would publish stories about them; we would have them on as guests. It was a snowball effect, one augmenting the other. The show grew and so did the magazine.

Lisa Robinson:   Gloria was really glamorous, had been a model who became very spiritual and Buddhist. Stavers had affairs with Lenny Bruce and Jim Morrison, Paul Revere, or whatever his real name was. Gloria did not like serious rock criticism and, with Lillian, was a huge influence on me.

Danny Fields:   The 16 style was really personal and intimate and understanding of the fantasies about bands that young teenagers have. No sex, no controversy, stretching the limits of credibility with stories like:
"The day he almost died!"
Sensational headlines, sensational cover-lines and Gloria took the pictures herself with an old-fashioned flash-bulb.

Dave Marsh:   She read voraciously and widely, but she didn't dwell on book learning; she was shrewd as well and perhaps a little prescient--at least she always seemed to know what was going to come next, and if she didn't, she never let herself show the least bit of surprise. The silly movie The Idolmaker made her out to be an opportunist exploiter and that is what she never was. Bobby Darin might call from the West Coast trying to figure out what shirt to wear, and Gloria might figure it out for him, but she didn't need a commission--she did that because she loved Bobby, because he was smart enough, talented enough, beautiful enough to merit her interest.

Danny Fields:   Gloria had all the access. At that press conference for the Cyrkle they got all the press to the CBS building. When the press conference was over Gloria walked in by herself and was taken to meet the band alone. No press conference for her. So I got a lesson in altitude and pecking order.

Dave Marsh:   Gloria Stavers was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. Her skin was the most beautiful I have ever seen, her jet black hair could mesmerise almost as much as her piercing eyes, and her leggy elegance never wavered.

Danny Fields:   Gloria was mesmerised by Jim Morrison. Steve Harris, the promotion director of Elektra, who had known her way longer than I had, was convinced that Jim Morrison would play in 16 and sent her roses, and champagne, everything to convince her. My part of it was to wangle another trip to California and get a phone call between the two so she could use her extraordinary intelligence and Southern charm and little girl thing and flatter him. The purpose of the trip was to go to the Elektra office on Sunset Boulevard, him to come there, me to place a call to Gloria in New York and give the phone to him, have him mumble and her do whatever she did, hand the phone back to me and hang up. Then Gloria and Jim became lovers. But that's how I sold my acts. Hey!

Dave Marsh:   Of course she was laughed at in the (male-dominated) legitimate press, even called The Mother Superior Of The Inferior by people who ridiculed girls and women and what was meaningful to them.

Danny Fields:   Jim was mean to Gloria. They were having an incredible affair, she was giving him incredible blow jobs, fucking all over the place. They would go on mystical adventures and she would tell me he would dematerialise. If only he would! She couldn't wait for him to get to town and he called her up once and said: "I'm staying at the Chelsea and I really want to see you. Just come up to the room, the door will be open."
   So she went up there and called "Jim, Jim." She was scared, alone in a room in a weird hotel. He wasn't in the bedroom, bathroom. So she's out of there in a taxi and gets home and the phone's ringing as she walked into her apartment. She picked it up and it was Jim chuckling.

She said: "Where. The fuck. Were you?! I was just there. I looked all over for you."

And he said: "You didn't look under the bed."

What a chivalrous guy.

[Click here for another excerpt from In Their Own Write--courtesy of Rock's Backpages.]