I love music. We had a piano in my big Boston Irish family; my mother sang Handel, my father loved John McCormack. An aunt gave us the Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall LPs--I flipped for “Sing Sing Sing.” In high school I wore out my Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington records, but convinced I’d never learn to play jazz, I became a writer instead.
“Hit the Road Jack” introduced me to Ray Charles in college. A girlfriend knew all of Chuck Berry’s lyrics, and a drummer pal took me down to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to dig James Brown. I panned the Beatles in my campus column, praising Martha and the Vandellas instead. This, my first “rock writing,” got people talking.
I covered the civil rights movement for the Boston Globe, racing to Philadelphia, Mississippi when they found Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney’s burned-out station wagon in a ditch. I met Mario Savio teaching Spanish to black kids months before Free Speech made headlines in Berkeley. In “Freedom Now!” I heard freedom for myself.
After college I reported for Newsweek from “Swinging London”: Carnaby Street and King’s Road, the Who playing the Marquee. Rubber Soul converted me to the Beatles. I interviewed John--abrasive, challenging--and Paul--almost too charming. Newsweek transferred me to San Francisco in time for the Human Be-in in ‘67 as psychedelics, and the Haight-Ashbury became national news. The Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms were my beat; Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia my inside sources. At Monterey Pop I sat in the press section and let my mind be blown.