To better understand Al Aronowitz’s career, we would have to compare him to Woody Allen’s Leonard Zelig character; or perhaps Forrest Gump, with his knack for connecting with the most prominent characters of his time. But beyond the silver-screen fantasies, Aronowitz’s exploits can be explained by his professional role. In the early 1960s he was the pop music expert at the New York Post newspaper and The Saturday Evening Post weekly magazine; unusual positions considering how, at that time, the mainstream media did not value youth music as anything but an excuse to produce vaguely sociological reports.
He knew how to gain the trust of musicians. When he interviewed John Lennon in London, the Liverpudlian confessed his obsession with Bob Dylan’s lyrics, to which Aronowitz replied that he could arrange a meeting with him New York. Later, on the night of August 28, 1964, Aronowitz and Dylan showed up at the Delmonico Hotel, where The Beatles were taking a break between concerts at the Forest Hills Stadium. The place was besieged by fans, but the visitors were expected and were granted access to the floor reserved for the Fab Four. Dylan had brought a small present: some high-quality marijuana from his Woodstock retreat in the Catskill Mountains.
Dylan was under the impression that the song I Want to Hold Your Hand included a reference to getting high. He was wrong: in fact, The Beatles had no problem with amphetamines, but they had serious reservations regarding marijuana, which they considered more akin to heroin. Later they would claim that they had already tried weed in Hamburg, but that might not have been entirely true: according to Aronowitz, they were unaware of the rituals, and Ringo Starr, who had the first taste, smoked the first joint all by himself, without sharing it. Still, they got the hang of it and all four Beatles (plus a few members of the inner circle) were soon laughing their heads off. From then on, every time Lennon said “let’s have a laugh,” everyone knew it was time to get stoned.
Was that relevant? It was for The Beatles: their lyrics grew more introspective and their music grew bolder. It was also a turning point for Dylan, who overcame his prejudices against The Beatles and, a year later, steered his sound towards rock.
There were other decisive interventions by Aronowitz. At the end of 1965, he was managing The Velvet Underground; in fact, it was him who got them their first paid gig. A futile effort: they left him for a musical illiterate named Andy Warhol — and stole a tape recorder, too.
Al Aronowitz’s hectic life derailed in 1972. That year his wife died, leaving him with three children, and he was fired from the New York Post due to the incompatibility between his duties and his commitment to management. What followed was a descent into an open grave: he collaborated with Rolling Stone and Circus a few times, but the commissions began to wane as he lost reliability when it came to delivering his imaginative texts.
He pinned his hopes on the possibility of writing his friend Allen Ginsberg’s biography. Although he had supported the beat generation since the late 1950s, Ginsberg rejected him, stating that his biographer had to be gay. In truth, the poet was wary of cocaine addicts (and Aronowitz was already on crack). He ended up publishing some artisanal books, presenting himself as a “the blacklisted journalist.” He died in 2005, without being rehabilitated.
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