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The Bar Exam—With Paul Scanlon

I thought I’d start a new semi-regular (maybe monthly) feature here at TWM. It’s going to be a feature where I interview someone at a bar. Maybe a writer, maybe a musician or maybe a total stranger, who knows? As usual, I’m just winging it here. To start off this series, I asked my friend Paul Scanlon who’s various credits include being the Managing Editor at both Rolling Stone and G.Q. and last year editing the book: “Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson” with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner. I met Paul at our usual meeting spot, Mumbles Bar and Restaurant for some drinks and some questions. Paul’s had a great career in journalism, but since I grew up with Rolling Stone, I thought I’d keep the questions to that particular time in Paul’s history. And now, live from Mumbles, the debut of, “The Bar Exam.”

Marty: First off, great to see you, and cheers!
Paul: Cheers right back, and TWM rocks!
Marty: Thanks, Paul! You were the Managing Editor of Rolling Stone for most of the 1970s. How did you get the gig?
Paul: I had worked on the San Francisco State University paper with Ben Fong-Torres, who was one of the early Rolling Stone hires. I started reading Rolling Stone when I was in the Army, stationed at Ford Ord, near Monterey. Ben invited me up to San Francisco for a couple of days. He took me to the first Rolling Stone office on Brannan Street. I was amazed by the sheer energy of the place and of the people. I got out of the Army and got reporting  job with the Palo Alto Times. It was a good gig, and my beats included a nearby NASA research facility and the Stanford campus. Got a call from Ben late in 1970. He said Rolling Stone was looking for someone to "write about rock music in the Bay Area." I got the job. The short version of the next part is that Rolling Stone was very much in flux and that time, and nine months later I was the Managing Editor.

Marty: Some people see those years at Rolling Stone as the "glory years." What do you think?
Paul: Well, it was San Francisco and it was the 70s, and that was pretty damn great. It was also the period when the magazine took some giant steps and established itself in the national conversation. The Manson Family and Altamont issues won Rolling Stone's first National Magazine Award in 1970. An exhaustive investigative piece on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst caused a sensation in 1975. On the day it hit the newsstands, the story led off all three networks' primetime news broadcasts. Walter Cronkite talking about Rolling Stone? Holy shit! There was also an amazing aggregation of talent on staff, not the least of which was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

Big Sur Editorial Conference, December, 1971. Left to right, rear: Tim Ferris, NY bureau chief; Andrew Bailey, London bureau chief; Grover Lewis, dark glasses; Paul Scanlon, dark glasses; art director Bob Kingsbury against wall; Jann Wenner; Jerry Hopkins behind Jann; Hunter Thompson in hospital gown; Bob Chorush, LA bureau chief; Jon Landau, in front of Chorush; Bob Greenfield and Joe Eszterhas; Tim Cahill in plaid shirt. Left to write, front: Tim Crouse, Charlie Perry, Ben Fong-Torres and David Felton. Jonathan Cott was on assignment in Europe. Photo by Annie Leibovitz.

Marty: What were your day to day duties there?
Paul: I edited all the staff writers in San Francisco, L.A .and London, and a bunch of freelancers, to boot. Ben Fong-Torres was the music editor, so I really didn't have much to do with rock and roll, but if Ben, or Chet Flippo or Cameron Crowe wrote a cover piece, I was usually the editor. I also edited a sort of op-ed section called News & Opinion, and Ralph Steadman was our political cartoonist. Working with Ralph was so much fun I almost felt guilty.

Marty: You were one of the first people to read the manuscript for Hunter Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." What was it like reading that for the first time?
Paul: It was actually only about a dozen pages, with Duke and his attorney roaring through the desert in the Great White Shark. Hunter loped in one day—he never really walked—and handed a sheaf of legal-sized pages to me and two other editors, Charlie Perry and Grover Lewis, and loped out. It was amazing stuff and none of us could stop laughing. By that afternoon, most of the staff had read the pages, and we were tossing lines back and forth: "One toke? You poor fool. Wait until you see those goddamned bats!"
Marty: Do you have a classic Hunter story to share?
Paul: Actually, all the best ones are in my introduction to "Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone." (Nudge, nudge.) But here's a quick Hunter-related bit: The head fact-checker in San Francisco had a sign over the doorway of her office: "If you call someone an ignorant pig fucker, you had damn well better be able to produce the pig."—Hunter S. Thompson.

Marty: What was it like when Rolling Stone moved from San Francisco to New York?
Paul: I was lucky because I moved here 11 months before everyone else to run the New York  City bureau while continuing as Managing Editor. The plan was for everyone to follow me in about three months, but moving a magazine and its staff from one coast to the other turned out to be complicated and expensive. We put together a special New York issue here and had it in the can so the San Francisco folks could have a little breathing room. But just as they arrived, Elvis Presley died, very close to the end of the two-week publishing cycle. We shelved the New York issue and put together an Elvis tribute in four days and nights. It was 1977, the Summer of Sam, and the city was still in the grips of a vicious heat wave. The new offices on Fifth Avenue were only partially furnished, the paint wasn't completely dry, and there was no air conditioning. Welcome to New York!

A photo of Jann Wenner in 1976 announcing to the Rolling Stone staff that the magazine is moving to New York City. Paul Scanlon is on the far left, leaning in the doorway.

Marty: As you know, I'm obsessed with bars and enjoy the occasional beer or twelve. What can you tell me about Jerry's Inn, the San Francisco bar where Rolling Stone's writers and editors took refuge?
Paul: Rolling Stone was located  south of Market Street, which was a very gritty, light industrial district with blue-collar taverns not friendly to young people with longish hair (Nowadays it's almost totally gentrified, and known as "SOMA"). Jerry's Inn, just across the street, was slightly more upscale. Jerry and Ken Francheschi welcomed us with open arms, possibly because Grover Lewis, Joe Eszterhas, Tim Cahill and I could really knock them back. By 1973 it was our clubhouse, not just writers and editors, but art directors, ad sales people and accountants. The booze was plentiful, Ken's lunches were decent, and the vibe was excellent. Between lunch hour and cocktail time, the place was pretty quiet, and we'd often entertain visiting—and thirsty—musicians. I remember having beers with Doug Sahm, Bob "the Bear" Hite of Canned Heat, and Ramblin' Jack Elliot. Jerry didn't have the foggiest notion of who these folks were. One day Ben was entertaining Bob Thiele, legendary record guy and John Coltrane's producer, and his wife Teresa Brewer, who had been a pop singing megastar in the 1950s. Jerry went completely nuts. For weeks he would say : "Little Tessie Brewer was in my place!"

Marty: What are some of your favorite New York bars these days?
Paul: I have to give a shout out to The Lion's Head in the West Village, one of the last great saloons, that closed in 1995. It was a literary bar, and the regulars had their book jackets framed on the back wall. One day a tourist wandered in and said, "Is this the bar where writers with drinking problems hang out?" The late, great Joe Flaherty shot back a reply: "No! This is the bar for drinkers with writing problems." I love Bill's Gay Nineties on East 54th Street. It was originally a speakeasy and has a terrific piano bar. I've been going to Molly's, on Third Avenue near 23rd, since I moved here, It's an authentic Irish "Shabeen." And of course there's Mumbles, a great place to watch sports on TV and the home of two of my favorite bartenders, Hal and Sarah.

Marty: It's time for another round. Any parting words?
Paul: Sure. Sarah! Another Harpoon lager, please.

Further Reading: The Wall Street Journal, Blog Critics and Good Reads.

Memphis Underground and New Orleans by Herbie Mann

Surprise link, click on it...I dare you!

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Reader Comments (35)

Man. Great interview. I was listening to Canned Heat this weekend. What are the odds that Bob Hite gets name dropped on TWM.


February 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrandall

Well fuck. I'm impressed. Very interesting interview. A nice peek into when Rolling Stone was quite relevant. It's nice to acknowledge now and again that there was some stuff going on between the summer of 67 and when Reagan was inaugurated; and this gentleman was definitely part of it. Kudos again TWM.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercsp

Great interview.Marty!

Wow, managing editor in 9 months - that's amazing. What a time.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGoggla

Fantastic, Marty! Looking forward to more!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterroadsidewonders

@randall: Thanks, too funny you were listening to Canned Heat over the weekend!

@csp: Glad you liked the interview, Paul certainly lived in interesting times. I need to start work on my Time Machine and get back there!

@Goggla: Thanks, Paul has some great stories and it was cool of him to share them here! He's a great guy!

@roadsidewonders: Glad you liked it, I look forward to doing more of these in the future!

February 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Nice interview and very cool stories!

The Lion’s Head or as it was called by regulars “The Head” was one of my favorite bars of all time!

“The late, great Joe Flaherty shot back a reply: "No! This is the bar for drinkers with writing problems.”
That’s interesting; I’ve seen that quote attributed to both Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin. Now I know who really said it.

I saw Roger Grimsby who was the local ABC News anchorman pass out there, he leant back and kept on going. Several people rushed over to pick him up, when he regained conciseness, he said “I hate fucking gravity!” When Sid Vicious died it was the lead story on the news that night, Roger looked into the camera and with a deadpan look and voice: “Sid’s no longer vicious….He’s dead”

Thanks for this very cool post, Marty!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Superb interview! I love bar exams! Many favorites mentioned, Hunter, Bob the bear Hite,Beer! Great job motherfucker!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterProfessor Dungpie

Love the new feature, Marty. I look forward to future Bar Exams.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Davis

You outdid yourself this time Marty...great post!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaws the Cabbie

@Martin: Loved those Roger Grimsby stories! Especially the "gravity" line! The Lion's Head was a great place and I'm glad I got to drink there before it closed.

@Professor: Thanks Motherfucker! This was a lot of fun to do!

@Bruce Davis: Thank you, glad you liked it! Hopefully there'll be another one in a week or so.

@Jaws: Thanks, Jaws! I appreciate the nice words!

February 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Oh, we're big rock singers.
We got golden fingers.
And we're loved everywhere we go.
We sing about beauty,
And we sing about truth
At ten thousand dollars a show.
We take all kinds of pills
To give us all kind of thrills,
But the thrill we've never known
Is the thrill that'll getcha
When you get your picture
On the cover of the Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone...
Wanna see my picture on the cover.
Wanna buy five copies for my Mother.
Wanna see my smiling face
On the cover of the Rolling Stone.

I got a freaky old lady
Named Cocaine Katy
Who embroiders all my jeans.
Got my poor old grey-haired daddy
Drivin' my limousine.
It's all designed to blow our minds,
But our minds won't really get blown
Like the blow that'll getcha
When you get your picture
On the cover of the Rolling Stone.

We gotta lotta little teenage blue-eyed groupies
Who do anything we say.
We got a genuine Indian guru
Who's teaching us a better way.
We got all the friends that money can buy,
So we never have to be alone.
And we keep getting richer,
But we can't get our picture
On the cover of the Rolling Stone.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShel Silverstein

Ralph Steadman Gonzo comics were awesome in the 1970s. Great job Marty, keep going ;)

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMykola Mick Dementiuk

@Shel Silverstein: Say hi to Cocaine Katy for me!

@Mykola Mick Dementiuk: I always loved Ralph Steadman's art, glad you enjoyed the Bar Exam!

February 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

totally awesome..
made me homesick as hell though.
three places i was always asked to show visitors was the original RS office.. bill grahams office(which was off my street) and the purple hotel in the haight.. no clue why.
I lived there long after the haydays of the seventies.
but in the eighties and nineties it was never weird to to see a RS writer over at BGP..(bill grahams office)
as i think they still had an office there till recently
and we all went to the same restaurants and bars.
my SOMA neighborhood was one of history making and danger mixed with coolness.and even with the highrises building around it and the little bars dissapearing the little offices of history remain.
and a side bit of trivea.. the movie about bruce lee was filmed next door to me in the bike messenger office/warehouse.which in the backyard of that building you could see BGP..I could see it from my roof.I had a alley between us.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

I passed!!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie

@Gidget: Glad you liked this, but sorry about the homesickness! I shot photos of the original RS offices on Brannan back in 1997 for an oral history of RS that I did in fishwrap. That's cool about the Bruce Lee movie!

@Melanie: Hooray! I'll give you your gold star the next time I see you!

February 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Great post!. I used to hang with Paul at Jerry's when I was a music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Q and A made me nostalgic for the good old days. Paul has a million stories about drinking at Jerry's and the action at Rolling Stone in San Francisco. At the Bar with Paul should become a regular post.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdennis

I agree with Dennis!
Paul is awesome..
wondering who Dennis is and if i know him.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

@dennis: Thanks, great to hear from you and cool that you've spent time with Paul. And now Gidget has me wondering, do you know her?

February 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Great new feature, Marty, & an excellent title. Loved reading this!

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteronemorefoldedsunset

@onemorefoldedsunset: Thanks, glad you loved reading it, I had fun putting it together and hanging out with Paul! Welcome back!

February 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Marty, I'm in awe in every possible way. As a teenager my favorite book was The Great Shark Hunt.
Can't say enough about how impressed I am by the subject of your interview/drinking buddy/friend.
I'll conclude before I make a babbling nitwit of myself. Selah.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaveW

@DaveW: Thanks, I loved the Great Shark Hunt too! You should check out \"Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone,\" the unpublished correspondence between Hunter Thompson and Jann Wenner is worth the price of admission and the stories have been re-edited and are great to read. Selah, indeed!

February 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty


February 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermeleah rebeccah

Wonderful post. The Bar Exam is a great idea, keep up the great writing.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeoria

An Amazing 'trip' today!
Sorry I'm late getting to the party.
I just got in from a long day and readi it.
Being the HST fan that I am, I never tired of reading his work and related books
Yes, including 'Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson'
(my kudos to Mr. Scanlon for a great piece of work)
Having read Rolling Stone since the early days, it's my one 'Always Read' publication.
(Hell, I've had my subscription alone for over 35 years)
(I think I have most of the issues packed away as well)
I love the 'Bar Exam' and by featuring Paul, you have set the 'bar' pretty high for yourself.
This is going to be tough to beat.
Makes me proud to see the banner above such a great column.
Kudos on a job well done!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter"Boris"

Wonderful stuff, Marty, a nice addition and direction for your blog. And not for nothin', you couldn't have started with a better subject than Paul Scanlon. I know him, he's a gent and he's seen it all.
Good luck, friend!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterscribbler50

@Meleah: Thanks and I love the word, \"Amazeballs!\"

@Peoria: Glad you liked this, I hope to do another one soon!

@\"Boris:\" Cool that you have the \"Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone\" book. A must read for Hunter fans. I too still subscribe and enjoy the archived issues at the RS website. And your banner is still the icing on the cake to everything here. Great job on that Daddio!

@scribbler50: Thanks and I agree, Paul is a great guy with wonderful stories! He has seen it all and there's more to come!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Great interview Marty! & the comments are always filled with nuggets. If you pass the bar exam, then you can practice a lot more.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

Man, what an amazing interview!!!! I really enjoyed this! Can't wait for more interviews! You are such a great interviewer. Paul's stories are fantastic!!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

+ 1. iApplaud you on this interview.

You should have asked Paul why Alison (the fact checker in Almost Famous) was always angry. What was her deal, man?

Try to snatch Lady Gaga for your next interview.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteresquared

Van Halen is in town to play MSG tonight & Thursday .... you could meet Eddie again !

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGENE

@Marco: Thanks and yes, practice makes perfect!

@Lindsay: Thank you, glad you enjoyed it and Paul has some great stories for sure! It made my part easy!

@Esquared: Thanks for the +1! I'll ask Paul about Allison during our next get together. And I have to admit being a little scared after reading the word, \\\"snatch\\\" so close to Lady Gaga!

@GENE: Somehow I don't think I'm on the guest list for a backstage pass, but I'll try if I can!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

So cool, Marty. I've always loved your interviews!

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBiff

@Biff: Thanks, Bifferoonie, but Paul did all the hard work!

February 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

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