Interview with Al Aronowitz (5-5-04)
By Ronnie

Right: Al Aronowitz (photo by Myles Aronowitz)

I was really nervous at first about interviewing Al Aronowitz. No, he is not a big-time musical superstar. No, you won’t see him featured on one of those VH1 “Behind the Music” episodes. But Aronowitz’ life has been no less fascinating than some of the most colorful rock stars - he was hanging out with the Beatles and Dylan in the '60s; he was at Woodstock and The Isle of Wight festival; and he has hung out with George Harrison and many other rock stars for the last three decades following the ‘swinging sixties’.

But a so-called “hanger-on” does not a legend make. And Aronowitz is a legend - not for who he hung out with, but what he did to rock journalism. Known as both the "Blacklisted Journalist" and "the godfather of rock journalism", he was instrumental in forcing the world to take rock journalism serious.

After reading his book, BOB DYLAN AND THE BEATLES, I had tons of questions to ask. But what does a non-professional and untrained “journalist” such as myself ask a journalistic legend? I simply ended up picking questions that his book brought to my mind – and hoped he didn’t find them too…boring!

E.C.: While your book is a collection of some of your various manuscripts, when put together it reads very well as a continuous story. And your writing comes off as factual reminisces instead of a "tell-all" or "gossip" book. Is this just due to your writing style or was it a conscious effort?

Al Aronowitz: I wrote the pieces at different times without any forethought that I might collect them into a book.

E.C.: After reading about the summit meeting between the Beatles and Dylan that YOU orchestrated, I tried to think of any other such meeting that had such historic ramifications. Sure, the Beatles finally met Elvis in '65, but that was a huge let-down (for both parties); Lennon met Elton John & David Bowie in the '70s (and some hit singles resulted) - I simply could not recall any other meeting which carried the weight of the Dylan/Beatles meeting of 1964. How long did it take you to realize that something special had happened? Did you ever have any indications that such creative sparks would eventually fly?

Al Aronowitz: From the very beginning, I considered Dylan and the Beatles as immortals and I just wanted to cop a little immortality for myself. I fully expected what happened afterwards to happen as it did.

E.C.: I love your boast that, "The '60s wouldn't have been the same without me." Do you ever fun into people that strongly disagree?

Al Aronowitz: I run into a lot of envious assholes.

E.C.: Speaking of the long reaching effects of the Dylan/Beatles meeting - you suggest that the psychedelic movement in music was one result. What about the other bands of 1966, which had what you could call "psychedelic" music? Or do you mean that Sgt. Pepper single-handedly "popularized" psychedelia, while Dylan's influence was more subtle (like his influence on the Byrds - on of the bands that went psychedelic in 1966)?

Al Aronowitz: All the copycats went to great lengths to come up with gimmicks that would allow them to claim originality, but they all were influenced by the originals. With even so original a band as then Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia told me the idea of his band was inspired by the Beatles, Dylan and the Beat Generation, a nexus for which I claim to be the invisible link.

E.C.: As for psychedelia - there has been a lot of interest in the recent Brian Wilson unveiling of 1966's lost psychedelic Beach Boys album SMiLE (played for the first time in February of 2004). Do you think that the Beach Boys SMiLE album would have been as influential as Sgt. Pepper if it had been released (as originally planned) in January of 1967?

Al Aronowitz: As great as the Beach Boys were---and they giants, too---and as great as SMILE was, that they were overshadowed by Dylan and the Beatles is a matter of history.

E.C.: You seemed to find Lennon as the most fascinating Beatle, yet you seemed to be closest to Harrison. What were your impressions of McCartney & Starr?

Al Aronowitz: Ringo is the only one of the Beatles who doesn't collect copyright royalties, yet he was an essential part of the Beatles magic. As were press officer Derek Taylor, manager Brian Epstein, assistant road manager Malcolm Evans and especially road manager Neil Aspinall, who is now the Managing director of Apple Records as well as the acknowledged Fifth Beatle (acknowledged by the other four---including Lennon and Harrison, who said as much before their deaths). From the start, Ringo was a favorite of fans, many of whom were delighted to be compare him to Harpo Marx, whose memory still delights. McCartney was the hardest for me to get to know. Was that because of his snootiness? I still hope to get to know him.

E.C.: The story of the recording of Bobby Neuwirth's solo album almost reads like Lennon's "lost weekend" and his recording with Phil Spector. Was that just the modus operandi of behavior of rock stars recording in the '70s? Have there been any other memorable recording sessions that come to mind?

Al Aronowitz: Neuwirth was a great seminal figure of the '60s. He has since tried to live down his antics of the '60s. But he was an original. Most musicians got drunk or stoned in order to achieve epiphanies. I found alcohol to be more deleterious than marijuana---alcohol proved to be as deadly as heroin.

E.C.: Your book is a fascinating analysis of the psyche of Bob Dylan. You paint him as both a brilliant, yet sometimes ruthless person (almost a textbook example of the eccentric genius). You say in the book that Bob "still infects my psyche" - just what is it about Dylan that has this "hold" on you? Is it the power (and originality) of his words? His personality?

Al Aronowitz: Dylan spoke a lot about "psychic power." Psychic power is what charisma is made of. The ability to sway, to have an effect on, to influence an audience. Dylan no longer has the "hold" on me that he once had. But he still haunts my dreams.

E.C.: In addition to your portrayal of the many sides of Bob Dylan - the ultimate mystery of your book remains your banishment from his "inner circle". The reader finds himself analyzing each Dylan section of the book to come up with the reason. Yet the book ends without you yourself knowing the real reason. Does this still gnaw at you? And more importantly, after all these years would you welcome a one-on-one with Dylan? (Although after reading your book, I doubt he would ever give you a truthful meaning as to just "why"!)

Al Aronowitz: I wouldn't know what to say to him. And I certainly wouldn't be inclined to believe anything he might say to me. But, yes, I would welcome a meeting with him just as I would welcome reconciliation with anyone who has abused me.

E.C.: You mentioned that you have more stories to tell than you have years left in your life in which to tell them all - does that mean that we can expect more books?

Al Aronowitz: I am readying many more books that are not necessarily about Dylan. He was not the only giant I walked with in my however troubled career as a journalist.