Perhaps, it’s really no coincidence at all I’d read author Glenn Berger‘s memoir of his time serving under the legendary A&R Recording studio recording engineer, record producer, and pioneer Phil Ramone. He being the “R” in “A&R” with co-founder and then-business partner Jack Arnold. We’re of similar age and surely share a love of the same music that perfused our formative years and painted the inside of our skulls with the colors and notes we see to this day. Even a love of the same hats…just with less hair.
‘Course that’s where the similarities end.
Mr. Berger grew up on the East coast to my West, and in a New York City I’d only experience through movies, TV shows, and novels the ’60s and ’70s thrust upon me. Okay…I sought them out, but they made that sort of in-your-face impression. His life far more fascinating than mine. Especially during the Seventies when he got his foot in the door at A&R as a schlepper and neophyte in the music recording world. Studded as Never Say No to a Rock Star‘s sub-title declared, “…with Dylan, Sinatra, Jagger and More…”
Oh, to be alive in the midst of this turbulent period while “miking” this lot as they laid down wave after analog wave that still echo all these years later.
This the closest I’d ever get to it, and I have Glenn Berger’s memories to thank. Some of which I previewed while reading his blog prior to this. Enough to have me anticipating the memoir’s upcoming July release. As one would expect, folk like me love to read the life histories of those who’ve prevailed in a distinctive period like this one. Marinated in the kind of culture and celebrities only a studio like A&R could brew. Seemingly chronicled for those of us “of a certain age” under some clear parameters.
I’d only have to point out my fellow blogger Bruce who itemized the important considerations of such in his memoir book review last April:
“Now, taking the “rock ’n’ roll” part as a given, what are the most important things we want from a memoir by a middle-aged rock musician? Here is an inventory*.
Top 10 Things A Rock Memoir Should Have
- Lots of sex and drugs
- Some personal anecdotes that reveal the real character of the author/artist
- More 1, including legally dubious activities
- An insider’s insight into the music
- Even more 1, preferably with slightly shocking/revolting detail
- Some stuff we didn’t already know
- Some more 1, dripping with salacious name-dropping
- Prose written sufficiently well that it appears effort has gone into the construction of meaningful, entertaining sentences
- More 1, with minimal boasting, thanks
- An index to look for favourite bits
- More 1.
It had to go up to eleven, didn’t it?”
Now, did Mr. Berger, who’s not a rock ‘n’ roll musician but was there recording a good number of them on tape, nip a sufficient number on such a checklist to make it a worthy study? Certainly for those of us who once wore long hair and tight bell-bottom jeans way back when, I’d say, “Hell, yeah.” Yet, we’re not talking head-banging our way through the ’70s and beyond in a rambling, brooding purple haze. This, to a greater extent, a meticulous, reflective account that plays more like a fine LP this era gave rise to.
And few knew what such endeavors entailed, and Glenn’s behind-the-scenes narrative lays it out for those of us who perused record bins1 and liner notes for a clue.
Never Say No to a Rock Star straightforward reading not only for the sublime artists showing their virtuosity (and angst) through the best and worst of times in the recording studio, but also capturing the span that birthed it. Berger both a witness and eventual participant in the creative madness we, as fans, knew took place. Here delivering a brief glimpse as promised on the cover. Even a well-made album has tracks invariably better than others, but to get something out of it, you shouldn’t skip a one.
Considering the man was once an assistant to Phil Ramone, later successful recording engineer and producer in his own right, and now a psychotherapist and relationship counselor, the insights offered are different than what you’d suppose of the span’s rock, jazz, and R&B legends. More poignant than what I’d have presumed, and I’ve read more than few drug-fueled rollercoaster journals. The career track with the reaper nearby; the gas tank bone-dry, a confused smile left on a youthful corpse.
Glenn’s personal laments, obtained by surviving such a tumultuous time, may well be my favorite part of the book. Not to say, it’s all touchy-feely…it’s not. For the tech-heads and audiophiles, there’s just enough material to whet their appetites, mostly for an era where the equipment and method were undergoing significant change. Besides, the continuous waves morphing to the 1s and 0s our children take for granted today2. Chiefly, what’s here is self-discovery via the magic carpet ride of sound and music.
Is this music-based monograph comparable to those I’ve read, you may ask? Phill Brown’s Are We Still Rolling? and The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman immediately came to mind while the pages turned. Never Say No to a Rock Star as meritorious as the latter, and much easier to sustain for this reader than the former. Hell, it would be that alone for his unexpected and singular chapters documenting his post-production involvement in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, a film that’s mesmerized me since 19793.
Didn’t want it to end, so yeah…the book has value by the time you reach the Acknowledgments page.
Memoirs can be dry and rote as any reading material out there, to be sure. Read enough of them to discern that. The best ones make you re-examine the artist; even re-run their works to catch those moments with new perspective. Having had a flash at whatever hair pulling or exasperation it took to bring it all in. Went off to pick up a used Paul Simon’sLP (Columbia – PC 32855) from my local record store because of Glenn just to reappraise the work anew with the secrets (and the screwdriver) I now knew.
Even ran a finger down Phoebe Snow’s debut album liner notes to find Berger’s [Second] Engineer credit, at that. Feeling a tad proud of myself recognizing the East Coast studio artists who also gave new meaning to my own Jazz Fusion era. One that consumed me during the ’70s on the left coast as Mr. Berger’s booth time trended upward. Replayed “Poetry Man” not only for Phoebe’s unique vocal stylings but Ralph MacDonald’s deft percussion contribution that brought yet another highlight to the recording.
Glenn Berger’s Never Say No to a Rock Star may not be everyone’s accepted subject to read. You may discover things you never wanted to know about an artist dear to your heart or something along those lines, but it was for me. Don’t get me wrong, while we have a lot in common, not everything the man said I’d agree with4. But, then again we “boomers” are an opinionated, perhaps self-absorbed lot. Just the way it is, or so says Bruce Hornsby. Either way, it’s earned a place on my library shelf, for the memories and music alone.
Full disclosure: not one bit of compensation was had during the writing of this post. Dammit! The author did generously provide moi with an advanced reading copy of his book for my honest review. But I was planning on getting a copy anyway, so there. No animals were harmed during the making of this movie, either.
- An activity that is making a comeback I’m happy to report. ↩
- Another thing we’ve both in common, just on different fronts. ↩
- Seen at the AVCO Westwood, where it premiered on the West Coast. ↩
- My favorite part of the book relates to Bob Fosse and his All That Jazz film, but I disagree with Glenn about its finale. Not to say his impassioned reasoning was not valid; it was thought-provoking, but we come to different conclusions. ↩