Bring out the horses and the hoses, the whiskey and the wine, the Dead are back in town. While the Grateful Dead, played Virginia a total of 37 times, only 5 were in Richmond (2nd to Hampton's 21 shows), the Mosque in 1977, and the Coliseum in 1983, 1984 and these last two. The local police did not appreciate the Comes A Time, China Doll and Morning Dew played over these two nights.
The first night was the show of 1985 according to the Deadbase XI polling, while the second night hardly received a vote. Have fun these were groovy nights, complete with video footage, audio, and a nice contemporary Bill Graham Rolling Stone Interview at the bottom.
The Rolling Stone Interview: Bill Graham
Michael Goldberg, Rolling Stone, 19 December 1985
The P.T. Barnum of rock & roll celebrates his twentieth anniversary
TWENTY YEARS ago, on November 6th, 1965, Bill Graham produced his first concert. It was a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and it featured an eclectic group of artists: poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, the Jefferson Airplane and improvisational comedians the Committee. The show was held at the troupe's Howard Street loft, and thousands of people showed up. In the ensuing months, Graham held two more Mime Troupe benefits. By then, he had discovered an auditorium in San Francisco's Fillmore District – and his calling. "I came to realize what I could do with my life," he said. "I am not an artist. But I had found a means of expression."
Graham was born Wolfgang Grajonca in Berlin on January 8th, 1931. His father died in a construction accident two days later; his mother placed him and his youngest sister in a Berlin orphanage so she could work. His earliest memory is of being taken to an orphanage in France, which is where he was in 1939 when war broke out between France and Germany. Two years later, a Red Cross representative helped Graham and sixty-three other children flee the Nazis. It was a nightmarish journey that eventually landed him in New York. Graham's mother died in a Nazi concentration camp.
Today, the fifty-four-year-old Graham is a multimillionaire who rules over a music-business empire that grosses more than $100 million a year. Though still best known for the hundreds of concerts his company, Bill Graham Presents, stages each year, he also has a management division (Santana and Eddie Money are two of his clients); a technical division; a merchandising company; record-production, music-publishing and film-production wings; and even a food and beverage company, Fillmore Fingers. In addition to presenting nearly every major rock and pop act that comes to the San Francisco Bay Area, Graham has promoted national tours by Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, and he was the producer of the Band's farewell concert, the Last Waltz, and of the American portion of Live Aid.
Graham, who has two sons (David, 17, and Alex, 8) and a stepson (Thomas, 18), has been married once, and is now divorced. He currently owns a home in Marin County, an office-apartment in Manhattan and shares a vacation property in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. His spacious, million-dollar Marin County home, which is where these interviews were conducted, sits on nearly nine acres in the hills thirty minutes north of San Francisco. A quarter-mile driveway, lined with eucalyptus trees, leads up to the house, past an immense, slowly spinning lighted globe and a gigantic skull – both props from some Grateful Dead show – set on the hillside. There's a swimming pool, basketball court and volleyball court. A silver Mercedes 280SE and a brown Jaguar convertible sit in his garage.
Inside the house, Graham is surrounded by his past Framed Fillmore posters. A painting of the stage from the Rolling Stones' 1981 world tour. Photos of Keith Richards, the Grateful Dead, Marlon Brando, Bob Dylan. A shredded black vest that once belonged to Richards hangs in his study. And, in a frame, a tambourine and microphone used by Janis Joplin.
Graham has mellowed considerably since the late Sixties and early Seventies, when he could often be found outside the Fillmore East or the Fillmore West, shouting down some hippie who wanted free admission. Yet he remains extremely sensitive to the accusations that he was, as Graham himself puts it, "a capitalist pig ripoff."
"The minute somebody starts attacking me in that area, something happens to me," said Graham. "I'm like a cobra whose head is rising and sss...." Late in the second session, he talked about what makes him happy these days. At one point, in his deep, gruff voice, he said, "Not to be accused."
You've been involved with rock & roll for twenty years now. How have things changed since you started out?
Rock & roll is now the music of the land. Broadway. Movies. TV commercials. Miami Vice. It's the music of America. It's certainly not the music of the alternative society. Somebody, a guy who used to go to the Fillmore East all the time, had a comment about Live Aid. He said, "Isn't it amazing, Bill. In twenty years, the outlaws became the heroes." Hall and Oates at the Statue of Liberty. Live Aid. Farm Aid. Royalty at Wembley. Rock & roll is in the White House!
Did you ever think, back when you first opened the Fillmore in 1965, that twenty years later you'd still be in the music business, and on such a grand scale?
The scene at that time was in its embryonic stage. Did I know that it was going to be that lucrative? Impossible. I went into it not so much as a way to earn a living – although I had to earn a living – but as a way of life. It was a means of expression. There was no conception of what the whole thing would be like twenty years later. How did you learn how to put on a rock concert?
We have to leapfrog back in time to the mid-Sixties, when there were no rules, no blueprints. The rock & roll business – the weekly concerts, the Fillmore, the Avalon – that all started in 1965. All of a sudden, there was the Fillmore, and there was the Avalon. And oh, those are agents? Is that who you talk to? And the posters and the light shows. There was no rock & roll college. And yet, the promoters that followed... I know a major promoter back East, for example, who stood in the lobby of the Fillmore East and made notes and notes and notes. Well, we didn't take notes.
So you didn't know much about the concert business when you put on the benefit for the Mime Troupe?
I want to show you something. [Graham leafs through a scrapbook from 1965 and stops at a small handbill advertising the Mime Troupe benefit.] A few weeks before the benefit, a man called me, and it turned out to be Chet Helms, who told me he was with the Family Dog [a communal group that later became Graham's chief competition]. He said, "We'd like to donate our services."
Well, when he arrived the night of the show, I asked him where the dogs were. I didn't mean it as a joke. I actually thought that they were a dog act. And the proof is that they're listed right here among the other entertainers: Jefferson Airplane, the Committee, the Family Dog! At the time, that was the extent of my knowledge of the scene.
When you first started presenting concerts at the Fillmore, you coproduced one show – featuring the Paul Butterfield Blues Band – with the Family Dog. But it seems they rubbed you the wrong way.
They ran their business differently than I did, and in a way that in the long run couldn't make it You can't invite so many people in as friends and then be able to conduct your business... If an artist travels thousands of miles, he's owed something. He's owed your awareness that he needs to eat and needs shelter. I'm not relating it to Chet. I'm relating it to anybody. Chet meant well. His image was the exact counterpoint to mine.
On one hand, this hippie – flowery, long-haired Chet Helms. And on the other, Bill Graham – the guy with the clipboard who knew how to deal with city hall.
Chet was a product of that era; I was a product of an earlier era. At our company, at that time and today, you can't do drugs on the job. Why? Somebody has to be clearheaded. And that's us. What I'm trying to do, indirectly, is tell you the difference between Chet and me. I wish the Utopian theory of life could work. But to cross a bridge, you gotta have a coin for the toll. And I think sometimes that was forgotten.
For a long time, the Grateful Dead were trying to dose you with LSD. Eventually, they succeeded. What exactly happened?
That was at the Fillmore West, during my 7 Up era. We'd put plastic barrels full of sodas and ice in the dressing rooms. And they took the 7 Up cans on top in these barrels and used a hypodermic needle to put in their goodies. They figured that sooner or later I'd pick one up. And on one of my trips, just as I habitually would do, I picked up a can of 7 Up. Just about the time they were going onstage, it hit. Rather heavily.
One of the guys, [drummer] Mickey Hart, asked if I would like to come onstage with them. He gave me a drumstick and said, "Feel free to play anything you like, and hit the gong whenever you like." Now, I've always felt as the producer that the stage belongs to the artist. But that night I felt no inhibitions about staying up there. I spent the next four and a half hours onstage with the Dead. I didn't think I'd made an ass of myself. I just had one of the great evenings of my life.
How do you feel about drugs in general?
I have never been a heavy drug user, ever, except there was a week, maybe ten years ago. I was in New York, and it was very late, and I had to get up early the next morning. A friend was with me, and I said, "I don't know how I'll get up." He said, "I've got some coke. Take a little hit." I have never enjoyed coke the way other people have or seem to have. It's just like a bamboo pole up my ass. It will wake me up, but it doesn't take me away. But he gave me a small vial of it. That first morning, I took some, and I felt good. I had a very tough day. The next day, I had another tough day, and I thought, "Thank God I have got a little bit of this stuff." I did that four mornings in a row. The fifth morning, I found myself getting up and automatically going for it I stood in front of a mirror with a nail file, and I put the nail file into the little vial. I saw myself in the mirror, and I knew that I had done it automatically. That woke me up forever, I think. I hope.
You've presented almost every major rock act except the Beatles. Did you ever try to get them to do a show?
In the first year and a half that I was in business, on three different occasions, I wrote letters to Brian Epstein, saying: This is who I am, you visited the Fillmore, ta-da-da-da... I said, If you are ever going to come back to America, I now have so much money saved, and I offer you this amount of money.... Just to have the Beatles play here would be an honor. And when I had saved $10,000, I wrote to them again. I remember the highest amount I offered them was $28,000. But I never got a response.
How much money did bands usually make when they played the Fillmore?
Well, the most significant early-day figure that I remember is for a week of shows with the Jefferson Airplane, Gabor Szabo and Jimi Hendrix, who was the opening act. Jimi made $750 for the week.
How much did the Airplane make?
The headliner would make $2500, perhaps, or $3000, something like that. For a weekend – three nights.
For years you felt you were forced to assume, as you put it when you announced the closing of the Fillmores, "the role of Antichrist of the underground." People hated you because they thought you were ripping them off, charging too much for tickets and so on. They called you names. Swore at you. How did that make you feel?
When people shit on you, it stinks. Who wouldn't be affected by that? To be verbally attacked, psychologically attacked. In the early days of this business, I retaliated very strongly against accusations by challenging people verbally rather than trying to make them really understand. I'd get into a screaming match with the person. There were hundreds of situations where I didn't feel good about what happened. The anger came on so strong. I was engrossed in "you have no right to do this" – whatever you were doing. If you would show me an instant replay of some of those incidents, I could look at myself and say, "What an asshole."
How do you deal with your anger now?
It's almost nonexistent. There are still times when I'll snap, but I'm not as possessed, obsessed. And something happened: The audience changed. The promoter no longer was "the capitalist." In the early years, I would walk through the crowd, waiting for some negative things. Somebody would say, "Money." Or just, "Fuck the pigs! Why do you charge so much? Capitalist ripoff!"
If I had this conversation once, I've had it a thousand times – where somebody says, "Well, why is the ticket price so high? I know if it was up to the artists, they'd play for nothing." And then I would say, "How much do you think the artist makes a night? Their take was twelve times mine." Still, they weren't satisfied, because they weren't concerned with how much the artist made. The artist was a member of their family. I wasn't. I was a businessman. I don't experience that anymore. Now, more often than not, it's "Hey, Bill, great show!"
What's the most memorable show you've produced?
The Mime Troupe benefit was, is and always will be the most exciting night of my life in theater. Here were these filmmakers who met these poets for the first time. And jazz musicians and rock & roll musicians. It was a totally different thing than I'd ever seen. People dancing with people they had never met before. Men and women and kids were just dancing. And all of a sudden, it was six o'clock in the morning – it started getting light – and Allen Ginsberg was doing his mantra chants.
When I think about the past twenty years, I think about the Stones tour, the Dylan tour or Live Aid. I think about the Last Waltz or the closing of the Fillmore or the opening of the Fillmore East. And, of course, the early days. There was a gig with the Butterfield Blues Band and B.B. King, and both Albert King and Freddie King showed up and played.
When the power structure was different, we were able to put on Howlin' Wolf with Janis Joplin, or two one-act plays by Leroi Jones at a Byrds concert at the Fillmore. To see the faces of Grateful Dead fans listening to Miles Davis; to watch a roomful of really hyper Who fans being blown away by Woody Herman. Turning the house-lights on with Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles and the King Curtis band, and the band went into twenty minutes of laying down this incredible beat, and Aretha and Ray both stopped playing and singing, and Aretha just held Ray's arm, and the two of them just rocked back and forth on the stage. [Laughs] That was pretty much nirvana.
Those kinds of shows – where you present a soul or blues or jazz act to the rock audience – rarely happen these days. Rock & roll is much more segregated now. Does that bother you?
More than any single aspect of this business, it bothers me the most, and I miss it the most. In the first six or seven years, I was able to do that. It gave me pleasure, it gave the public pleasure, and it also educated the public and me at the same time. I'd never seen these people perform. I couldn't believe Howlin' Wolf the first time I saw him. The effect of Mavis Staples keeping time by snapping her fingers. Rahsaan Roland Kirk walking through the audience like a Pied Piper, playing two saxes.
But gradually, the struggle was with the power system of our industry.
I can sit here as a producer and say, "Wouldn't it be nice to see Talking Heads and King Sunny Ade on the same bill," but that also takes the artists' doing. If two artists really want to get together, they could. Nothing stops them.
How would you compare the big stars of today – say, Madonna or Prince or Michael Jackson – to the stars of the Sixties? Are there more prima donnas today?
The obvious problem we have with that type of question is that as a producer who's dealing with these people, if I start tearing anybody down by name, I'll lose that relationship.
The days of insisting on a white limousine are gone. Because the stars found out that people pound on limousines. So let's not take limousines; let's take station wagons. They learned through the years. In between, it was difficult. There was an artist we lost because I would not get him a white limousine; the only white limousine was in L.A., and I wasn't about to schlep to L.A. for a white limousine.
There was a certain English group some years ago that asked us for bottles of a highly expensive vintage wine. But I found out after a few visits that they never opened them. So one time I went into the dressing room and said, "Hello, how are you? God, that's a nice wine." And I picked up a bottle as if I were going to open it. And someone said, "Don't touch that bottle!" And I realized one of the leaders of this organization was a wine collector. And he was just gradually amassing this amazing wine collection. From then on I said, "Why should I be feeding your wine collection?"
Let's talk about some of the rock stars you've known. What's your favorite memory of Janis Joplin?
Janis and Grace Slick were the two queens of rock & roll in the Sixties. Dual royalty on the feminine side, both living in San Francisco. Once in the late Sixties, Janis came off her second set and said, "Bill, you wanna hang out, get something to eat?" She had never said that to me in her life. We weren't friends, and therefore it was very unexpected.
We got into her car, which was a psychedelically colored Porsche, and went to an all-night place where you could get food. She had some booze; we got some cheese and salami and crackers and Oreos – just garbage food. Then we went driving across the bridge to an area where you can look at the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin side. We sat down and talked about how insane life was, how tough it was to pull down the blinds and just be off on your own.
Janis had just become really huge. She'd done a few tours, and she talked about the horrors of the road. The key sentence was "You know, you're in Des Moines, in the middle of a tour and at the end of a gig, the guys go back to the Holiday Inn, and they can go down to the bar and see what's happening. What does a woman do in this society?"
Janis made me realize that in spite of "making it," you could still have great difficulty balancing work and play and joy. In the end, a truck driver can be luckier than Janis Joplin.
What about Jimi Hendrix?
There was a night in New York that is among my favorite incidents of all time. He played New Year's Eve and New Year's Day at the Fillmore East – two shows a night – and they were recording it for an album. It was the Band of Gypsys, with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. During the first show, he was really having fun, humping, grinding, putting the guitar behind his back. Usually, he would do that later on in the set. First, he would really play. But that night, that stuff started very early on, and it bothered me.
While we were clearing the house before the second show, Jimi came down to my office and said, "How are you doing, man? What did you think?" He never did that. Jimi Hendrix was a very quiet, private person.
There were other people in the office, and I asked them to leave. Then I said, "I'll tell you something. I saw you humping and laying down, playing behind your back. You did all that shit, but you forgot one thing. You forgot to play." And he looked at me like he couldn't believe what I said. He didn't really say anything; he just sat a minute or more. Then he turned to me and very seriously and gently just pointed to me and said, "Bill, you are here for the second show, right?" I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Okay, man. Thanks."
At the second show, he proceeded to play eighty minutes of the most brilliant music, emotionally and technically, that I have ever seen. He moved very little. The audience sat there as if they were watching a ballet. He came off, and the people were applauding, and he saw me standing there. He came up to me and looked very serious and very drenched in perspiration after giving energy that was awesome. He looked straight at me, maybe three inches from my face, and said, "All right?" And just stared at me. "All right?"
And then he went out and did a fifteen-minute encore of nothing but shit, nothing but circus. All the bumps, the grinds, the fire, the humping, guitar behind the neck, somersaults – all of it – as if to say, "Okay, you got yours, now I'm gonna just have fun."
What do you remember about Jim Morrison?
A funny incident happened when he was at the Fillmore. He took the microphone and started swinging it like a lariat, letting more and more of it go. It started swinging over the audience, and I immediately went through the crowd and tried to stand in front of the stage, because I could see that sooner or later he was going to lose it, and I didn't want it to hit anybody. I was standing maybe ten people back, waving my arms, trying to catch his attention, and then he loses it And out of 2000 people in the hall, it hits me right in the head. There's this lump on my head. Afterward, I went downstairs, and we joked about how ironic it was.
The next time he came to the Fillmore, he gave me a gift. It was a psychedelically painted pith helmet – a protective pith helmet that I should wear during the show.
In 1970, the Who were playing a week at the Fillmore East There was a grocery store on the corner of the theater, and during the latter part of the performance one night, someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the store. It started to go up in flames. Some of the flames started coming in through the side door of the Fillmore, and all of a sudden, with maybe three or four minutes of the performance left, the fire department started coming in through the front doors. The audience was totally convinced that this was part of the show, and they cheered. Nobody left the building. And then they saw the smoke coming in and thought it was special effects.
The first fireman went down the aisle and jumped up on the stage. Roger [Daltrey] didn't know who they were, and he goes and kicks the guy off the stage. Pete [Townshend] comes over and wants to hit the guy with his guitar. The audience was going crazy and applauding; thought it was the greatest thing they'd ever seen.
Well, everyone was finally evacuated from the building. But the fire department was pissed: Who were these guys kicking us off the stage? And the police were looking for the members of the Who. So I took them to my apartment, which was around the corner. The next afternoon, their lawyer surrendered them to the police. They held them at the station for a number of hours, took some statements. The end result was that they were released about a half-hour before it was time for them to go back onstage at the Fillmore the next night.
How about the Stones? There's a beat-up pair of Keith Richards' boots sitting in a cabinet in your dining room. How'd they get there?
Every time Keith walked onstage during the Stones' 1981 tour, he wore a different outfit, but he always wanted to wear these handmade Spanish boots. After a while, after playing many cities, a little piece of suede came loose, and they had to glue it down. In another city, the stitching or the sole might come loose, and they'd put some tape on it or nail it together. There was tape here, gauze there, glue there, nails... But it got to a point where the boots became a major concern of mine, because he loved them and wanted to wear them all the time. Finally, at Candlestick Park [in San Francisco], the Stones were just about to go on, and the heel snapped off and broke.
I said, "Aw, jeez, do you really want to wear those? Do you have something else?" He said, "Yeah, but I just feel like..." He didn't go crazy. And I said, "Well, I'll try." So I leave the trailer and go out and ask everybody who works for me, "What are you wearing? Let me see your heel." "What do you want?" "Let me see your heel!" I couldn't find anything.
But then there was a guy at a table in the other backstage area who had a pair of boots on, and the heel was just about the same size – a little higher, but the same shape. And I said to him, "Do me a favor. I can't explain it to you now. Let me have your shoes for fifty bucks." He didn't know what I was doing. I got them and took them back to the tech area. Two of the guys got a nail and hammer, shaped the heel down a little and put it on Keith's boot. Up and away it went. He used it. After that date, there was more paper, more glue, more spit, more rubber bands. He always wanted to wear those boots.
On the plane back to New York after the last date, he said, "Hey, Bill, I want to see you for a minute." And we stepped into the toilet area. "Man, I just want to tell you, I really drove you up the wall. Sometimes it was insane. But..." And he had this package wrapped in newspaper with a rubber band around it and a rose attached, and he just said, "Thank you." And I knew what it was. It was the boots.
What was it like working with Dylan in 1974?
At the beginning of the tour, I said to my staff, "I'm not assuming that you don't know who Bob Dylan is, but he's going back out, and he's going to be looked at in every town with adulation and respect and love and affection. It's really going to come at him. He's going to get that all the time. We should just be loose. Some of you may say, 'Hey, Bob, good morning.' But don't make him answer, because he's going to get that in every city. He's going to get, 'Hey Bob, hey Bob, hey Bob.' So just know who he is, and let him have his space."
On the third date, in Cleveland, late one night, Bob called and asked if I could come to his room. Everything seemed quite nice the first few days – getting the kinks out of the lighting and so on. He was blown away by the public acceptance. The encores. So it was the middle of the night I went up to his room, knocked on the door, walked inside, and he said, "Why isn't anybody talking to me?"
Around that time, you also produced national tours for George Harrison and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. In doing that, you essentially took on the roles of both agent and promoter. Agents, as well as other promoters, didn't like that. They felt you were stepping on their turf.
After a few tours, some agents and managers and promoters invited me to a luncheon up in Long Island to discuss the industry. Knowing what this meeting was going to be about, I wanted to make it a little more merry. So I hired some people from Central Casting. And as we're getting into it, these black limousines drive up, and this group of gentlemen – about twelve of them – gets out. They were all dressed in Untoucbables-style clothes – Prohibition-era suits, Stetson hats, spats – and they all had musical-instrument cases.
The door to the room we were in opened, and the first guy, a very large man, stepped in and said, "Everybody sit down. Nobody moves!" The guys spread themselves out around the room, and within fifteen seconds, the first guy leans across the table – and just before they came in, I lit a cigar – and says, "Excuse me, Mr. Graham, is everything satisfactory?" And I just nodded my head. And they all got their musical-instrument cases and opened them, took their jackets off, stuck them in the cases and started to leave. And on the back of each of their shirts was written Bill Graham Presents. I wanted to take the edge off. As if to say, "If you had my shot, wouldn't you take it if you were smart enough?"
In 1971, you were famous. The Fillmore West and Fillmore East were both great successes. Yet you closed them both. Why?
Running the Fillmores had begun to take its toll. I was flying back and forth across the country. I was beginning to lose some acts to bigger places. The business of rock & roll got so big, and the managers said, "You can make as much in one night at the Garden as you can in three nights at the Fillmore."
But one day I got a phone call from Sol Hurok, the great Russian impresario. He was the only person that I really looked up to, so I went to see him in New York. I went in, and there was Mr. Hurok, sitting behind this large marble table with a lot of press clippings on his desk. He looked at them for another few minutes. Then he looked at me and said, "Yes? Oh, you've come." He shook my hand. He looked at me, he looked down at the papers and said, "It says here you've got lots of guts and balls. Is true?" First thing he ever said to me.
His reason for asking me to come was that he had a contract to do a month with the Stuttgart Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, and they had canceled. He had a free month, and he didn't know what to do with it. He had paid the rent So the idea was that we would present a month of the best rock & roll we could get into the Metropolitan Opera House. Well, I was flabbergasted – this was the citadel of the arts and music world, the most popular facility in the world.
In the ensuing months, some groups said yes, some said maybe, some said no. But I wanted the great artists, and I was having difficulty with a lot of the managers. One night, I was in my office at the Fillmore East, and the manager of [an up-and-coming] group returned my call. I tried to explain to the manager: "The band has to do five nights, and this is all you are going to make. But this is the Metropolitan!" I went through the whole thing, and he finally said, "Bill, you expect my boys to play all week for a lousy fifty grand?"
That was the trigger. This was the Metropolitan Opera House! Look at the opportunity you've got to break through to that fucking yo-yo world out there that doesn't trust you. And you have the balls to say to me that I have no right to ask you to play for a lousy fifty grand a week? You piece of shit I just said to myself, it's not worth it. If I was totally healthy at the time, totally free of problems, it might not have affected me that hard. But it blew my mind. I just said, Fillmore East, Fillmore West – that's it.
Michael Jackson initially wanted you as tour consultant to help run the Jacksons' 1984 tour. One of the Jacksons' advisers told me they decided not to use you because you were "too egoed out." Were you?
For me, that criticism has no foundation. You can always use somebody's personality against them: Well, Bill isn't soft-spoken; Bill may speak his piece if you ask him a question. Your ego, as best as I know what ego means, is a feeling that you have a particular gift for something. I think we are good producers; I think we are ethical people.
Many people's names came into the picture. Mine fell out somewhere early on. The end result was that, as we know, Mr. Sullivan, Mr. King and some other people were involved in that project. Everybody lost. The show lost, the public lost, and Michael Jackson lost... You want to talk about ego? I really don't know the fight game, Mr. King, or the business you're in, Mr. Sullivan. But I know you spat on the public and you spat on the artists. He wanted to make a killing. For the last time, do you want to talk about ego?
How would you have produced the Jacksons' tour?
One thing I would have done was made the ticket price more commensurate with the going price for any major superstar. Maybe twenty dollars, but not double the going rate. I would have used local promoters, and I would have had community involvement because of who the Jacksons are and who Michael Jackson is. At the time, I mentioned x amount of dollars to go toward sickle-cell anemia.
As the tour progressed, the word got out that it wasn't such a hot show. Dates weren't selling out. There was a bad feeling about the tour.
It started at the beginning, with the handling of the tickets. You couldn't buy two tickets. You couldn't buy two tickets. And you had to send your money in way in advance to some place back East, and they sat on your money for months. Sooner or later, an aura surrounds everything.
Woodstock was heralded as a major countercultural event. You were there, but you didn't see it that way.
It was great for some people, but it was a horrific experience for others. I met many people ten, fifteen miles away who pitched their tents or sat in the back of a truck and didn't get any closer 'cause the roads were jammed. And some had driven from Iowa.
I felt badly for those who didn't get what they came for. But it was the forerunner of them all. I always imagined that as Woodstock took place... I had this image of sleeping corporate giants waking up and waxing their mustaches and saying, "Aha! Rock & roll. Very interesting." If hundreds of thousands of people would get together on a farm in upstate New York, that's big business. And Woodstock, more than any single event, heralded the era of big-business music.
Do you think that Band Aid and USA for Africa and Live Aid have brought back some of the Sixties spirit?
Yes, I do. Bob Geldof should be remembered in history for suggesting that a lot can be done if we tap this power source. And the power source is music and the people who make it Give me another element of our society that could have drawn as many people as Live Aid. A sporting event? An international soccer match? I don't know. I'm trying to show what a rare position these artists are in – that a group of people can say: You want to raise $10 million?
When I first saw that film [about the famine in Ethiopia], I thought of doing something, but I never really thought I could do what Bob did. And I realize why. He's an artist, asking another artist. To follow that mania and do what was seemingly undoable – I take my hat off to him.
You were born in Germany around the time of the Second World War. What was your childhood there like?
Other than what my sisters have told me, I have absolutely no direct memory of the first nine years of my life. When my father died, my youngest sister – there were five girls and one boy – and I were put into an orphanage. My mother made and sold hats in a hat shop in Berlin because she had to go to work after my father died. And she would take care of the other four girls. And on the weekends, we would come home or they would visit the orphanage.
In the summer of 1939, a group of French-Jewish orphans went on a two-week exchange with the children that were living in the Berlin orphanage. And this orphanage was southeast of Paris, in Chaumont. During the two weeks that we were in France, war broke out between France and Germany, and the French children perished in Berlin.
Eventually we were moved onto the grounds of a chateau. When the raids really started in Paris and the surrounding areas, we dug shelters beneath the grounds of the chateau. And I remember when the air raids came, we went into these shelters. In the rainy season, they became almost flooded full of water, and we stood in water up to our waists. The biggest fear of my life – I feared them forever and ever – was a little snake and a toad that jumped up at me. This little short snake. I've had a fear of snakes, and anything in the reptile family, all my life.
The raids were pretty constant. And then, as the Germans broke through the lines and it was inevitable that France was going to fall, the International Red Cross sent a man to our community to take all of us south. The whole nation was moving south. The roads were full of cars and carts and people, just walking with their belongings. It was just like in the movies. Everybody fleeing. I remember, outside Lyons, the Germans had these suicide parachuters to demoralize the public. And I saw this happen. These fanatics would parachute into an area of the country that wasn't yet occupied, and they would be throwing hand grenades as they came closer to the ground. I saw the French Resistance forces capture one of these men and put him against a wall two streets away and riddle him with bullets.
And as we were moving, some children ran away. And the group became smaller and smaller. And very little food. We got to Madrid and then went to Lisbon, and in Lisbon they put us on a freighter to Casablanca and eventually across the Atlantic to Bermuda. And on the crossing, we were stopped by a German U-boat. We were on [the freighter] for nineteen days. All we had to eat were cookies and oranges. When we got to New York, they put us in a bunch of barracks run and funded by the Foster Home Bureau. What they did was ask people, preferably Jewish homes, to take young people in.
On weekends, the families would come up to these cottages, looking at us as though they were picking out a pet in a pet shop. And all of us wanted to be taken by somebody. Nine weeks passed. Finally, on the last weekend in November, a family came, a couple with a boy who was two years older than I was. I've always felt that the primary reason that they took me into their home was that the two languages their son was studying were French and German. I was taken by them and began my life in New York City.
Growing up in the Bronx, you spent a lot of time in the streets.
When I first got to the Bronx, I didn't speak English. But to the kids in school, it didn't mean anything that I was a refugee. To them, I wasn't a Russian Jew. To them, I was a German. All they knew was that I spoke German, and Germany was the enemy. And I used to get my head kicked in all the time at school. They would goose-step in front of my house and say, "Nazi go home." My foster brother, who was two years older, said, "Not only are you going to have to learn how to speak English very quickly, you also have to lose that accent". So on a daily basis, he and I sat down and read the newspaper headlines, and I practiced every day with a mirror. Getting rd of za accent ven you go down ze street to ze store. Within six months, I learned English, and I lost my accent
Later, you were in the army, fought in Korea and were awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. You also had started to fine-tune your business skills.
I was on board a ship, headed overseas. I was working in the kitchen. The crossing was, I think, eleven days. Well, I started running a little crap game. And the first night, people had cookies from home to eat. By the second night, nobody had anything. So I made a couple of sandwiches, took them down – people got hungry in the middle of the night – and sold them for a dollar each. I figured out roughly that from apples and oranges and sandwiches and whatnot, I took in about $1400. And from the crap game, I was up about $1300. I was twenty-two years old, and I had $2700 in my pocket. When we pulled into base, they started a game on deck. Well, I lost all the money. I got off in Tokyo without a dime on me.
You also worked as a waiter at resort hotels in the Catskills.
What I learned as a busboy and a dishwasher and a cabdriver, and then eventually as a waiter, is how to be a qualitative surface conversationalist. You get an instinct: Does this person want to talk? Or not talk? You learn to say: How are the greens today? I can't spell golf. I know nothing about golf. But you learn certain words. How many laps did you do? Did you ride the horses today? Whatever it is.
Every morning, I would buy three copies of The New York Times and three of the Daily News. And my guests would come in, and I'd say, "See the paper today?" "Oh, thanks." What did it cost me? Twenty cents or thirty cents. I know nothing about real estate, but I can have a conversation with real-estate people. They leave the table feeling, you know, Bill is really interested in my business. That must have come in handy later on.
You meet them [performers] for a night, and it's not that you're conning them, it's not that you're playing games with them. If there are 60,000 people out front, 99 times out of 100 the act will do an encore. And if they don't, I will find the one way to get them to do that encore. I'll tell stories until the cows come home to get them to do an encore. Or if there are 10,000 people outside making noise, I'll say, "Let me tell you the last time this happened..."
It's like an honest con game. I've always thought of myself as an honest con. Meaning, if it's not going to be bad for you and bad for anybody else – it looks like a con to you, but it's okay.
Your son David, who is seventeen, is a big rock fan. Would you want him to become a musician?
Probably not, because I've seen very few musicians who truly live a balanced life. Most famous artists have difficulty on the private side. And I gave up something that I shouldn't have – the breakup of my family. If my son said, "Dad, I think I'd really be happy running a restaurant, but I also know I'm a very good musician and I can paint. I think I could become a millionaire as a musician and be known by the world. Or I could make a very good living running a restaurant and painting." You might not believe this, but I would choose the smaller financial return, because there are involuntary prices with fame on a level that you might not be able to deal with. If you make it.
Somebody sees Van Halen onstage or Neil Young and says, "I'd like to do that" Look at the odds. How many garages are there with instruments in them? You want to be a musician, understand the odds. Don't give up your dream and your goals, but try to also deal with the most difficult thing for us to deal with – reality. I'm not just saying, be prepared for failure. Even if you are one of those who beats the odds, what do you have? It's a very different life.
For twenty years, you have been totally consumed by your work. One wonders, though, if there's more to life for Bill Graham than putting on the next concert?
Yes, there is. If there is something – not to conquer but to experience – it's the man-woman experience. The ultimate other expression in life. What do you do with your life, and who do you share it with? It's tough for me to believe that any person would say that their choice would be not to share most of their private life with another person. And yet, because of the lives we all live, for one reason or another, it doesn't occur. Some are luckier than others, and they may be laborers, but the loved one is there to share with, through tough times, through good times. I don't think I am any different than anyone else in that capacity.
For me, the missing link is only one. There is nothing else I really need. I'm fifty-four years old, and I'd like to share what I and one other person could have. That stuff, it's been difficult because of the life. It's just obviously not nine to five, and obviously it's time consuming, and obviously, for many years, it's taken the form of the consummate mistress.
© Michael Goldberg, 1985