Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Like a rolling stone

Sometimes I look in my rear-view mirror and can't believe all that has happened to me this year.

Between my cancer diagnosis and radiation and chemotherapy, I've been through the wringer.

So can you blame me if some nights I just want to throw on a T-shirt and sweatpants, pour myself a nice tall syringe of Isosource, plop down on the sofa and watch "Bubble Boy"?

That's what I had in mind for Tuesday as I drove home from work.

Then I remembered that an author named Bill German was appearing at Book Soup in West Hollywood to read from his new book "Under Their Thumb: How a Nice Boy from Brooklyn Got Mixed Up with the Rolling Stones (And Lived to Tell About It)."

Bill German had the best gig in the world.

When he was a teen-ager, Bill heard his older sister play records like "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!" and "Sticky Fingers" and fell in love with the band, much like I got turned on to the Stones by hearing "Hot Rocks" bleed through the wall between my big brother's bedroom and my own.

At 16 years old, Bill began to publish a mimeographed Rolling Stones fanzine called Beggars Banquet. On the day after his high school graduation, Bill stood outside of a night club in New York City where the Stones were having a party, and handed copies of the zine to members of the band as they exited.

Then Bill started dropping off Beggars Banquet at the Stones' record label's office in Manhattan, leaving a few with the doorman at Mick Jagger's building in the Upper West Side, and tracking down Keef and Woody to give copies to them, too.

The Stones liked the zine, so they hired Bill to produce Beggars Banquet as the band's official fan magazine. And for 17 years and 102 issues, Bill German hung out with the Stones in their homes, followed them on tour and chronicled their activities for tens of thousands of Stones fans worldwide in the pages of Beggars Banquet.

Bill German's "Under Their Thumb" is a rollicking read that sounds like it was vetted by nobody's lawyers. Like the best Stones albums that you want to play again and again, as soon as I reached the end of "Under Their Thumb," I wanted to keep the groove going and go back to Page 1.

I just had to meet the guy who wrote this book in person. I drove into the Valley just long enough to snatch my copy of "Under Their Thumb" off my bookshelf and then I headed back over to the hill to catch Bill German at Goats Head Soup, I mean, Book Soup.

He was a hoot, reading from the book and recounting stories about the Stones that he couldn't publish during the years that he and Beggars Banquet were under their thumb, adding color to his performance by doing spot-on impressions of Mick, Keef and Woody.

After German opened up to accept questions from the audience, I slipped a note onto his lectern with my question: Did he ever do impressions of the Stones in front of the band members themselves?

Bill read my question aloud, and then said that Mick once asked him to sing back-up for him. He said he tried but came off sounding like Dwight Eisenhower.

I got in line to get my copy of "Under Their Thumb" signed.

When my turn with the author arrived, I handed Bill a note saying that I couldn't talk, but wanted him to thank him for the hours of laughter I enjoyed reading his book, especially in the days that I was beginning my treatments for cancer. I'm never reluctant to play that cancer card, I guess.

He wrote in my book, "To Paul – Hang in there, pal! All the best, Bill German."

I considered scribbling another note pointing out the irony of a Rolling Stones fan getting a diagnosis for tongue cancer, but I felt as if I had held the line up enough as it was.

Bill handed me back my copy of his book and shook my hand. And I gave him a big thumb's up.


  1. Came here from a link on Bill German's blog, great story and looks like you were right to "hang on in there"!

  2. Paul,

    Keep fightin the good fight my man. Best to you and yours.