Thursday, December 01, 2005

NME: The Stone With The Golden Arm

This the original text of the Dick Tracy story that appeared in the NME on Noveember 18th, 1978.
Valuable additional research for the story was done by Jamie Mandelkau in Canada plus help from Kathy Kelly in London.

It seems it was just one of those strange coincidences that the bad boys of the old wave and the new wave were both in court within a week of one another. Down in New York, Sid Vicious was charged with murder at the Chelsea Hotel, while in Toronto Keith Richards was facing the trial of his life over a rather different kind of a hotel room incident.

Strongest of all connections was the junk network.

Vicious was undergoing methadone treatment for heroin addiction, a habit that Richards, perhaps more than any other rock star, had made chic. Richards' title of The World's Most Elegantly Wasted Human Being had served to make the hard drug socially acceptable in certain circles, the ultimate hip kick; Vicious subsequently earned the title of The World's Most Inelegantly Wasted Human Being . . .

Vicious only had a few friends, his mum, Malcolm McLaren and Virgin Records to call to his aid. Richards, an important lynch pin of the Stones corporate empire, had money, influence and power. The verdict should surprise no one, but the events surrounding the case have been undereported over here.

What follows is the fullest account to date in the British press of the case of the Stone with the golden arm.

The tangled tale began on February 24,1977, when Keith Richard, Anita Pallenberg and their son Marion arrived at Toronto Airport. Maybe they hadn't heard of the airport's reputation of being a 'suicide alley' for drug smugglers, with a crack narcs squad always on hand.

Anita had 28 pieces of luggage with her, and customs became suspicious. In the search a bag containing 10 grams of "high-quality hashish" was unearthed, plus a spoon with traces of heroin on it.

According to a source close to the Stones, Keith "was groggy at the airport and, when their luggage was being searched, actually thought it was record company people who had come to the airport to help him. He had no idea it was the RCMP."

Pallenberg, 34, was arrested and was later to be fined $400.

Meantime Keith and his family checked into Rooms 3223-24-25 at the Harbour Castle Hotel under the name of K. Redland. Another Stones employee reported that their suite was "almost a fortress, with security guards imported from Buffalo to keep watch." Inside, he said, "their room looked terrible, because they didn't want maids snooping around. Both Keith and Anita looked awful."

It was just three days after the airport incident, at 4.30 am on the Sunday morning, that the big bust came down.

Rumour has it there was a tip-off from another guest in the hotel. An unspecified number of Mounties and Ontario provincial police arrived at the hotel with a warrant in Pallenberg's name, spent 45 minutes locating Richards, burst in and searched the suite. In the bathroom they found a leather pouch containing heroin, a hypodermic needle and a teaspoon with traces of what later turned out to be cocaine. Richards and Pallenberg were arrested, their passports confiscated, and all hell broke loose.

MICK JAGGER arrived in town on March 3 and, by all accounts, took control of the situation.

The Stones were in town to complete their live American tour album and start work on a new LP. Out on bail, Richards attended the rehearsals held every night at Cinevision, a film studio in the suburb of Lakeshore.

A Stones employee later told reporters: "I was amazed Keith made it to rehearsal every night because his situation with the arrests had almost ostracised him from the band. They were supportive, but they felt uneasy about the pressure."

Worse was to come when the Stones appeared at the El Mocambo Club and in the audience was Canada's First Lady, Margaret Trudeau. She followed the band to New York, bringing scandal and sensationalist publicity in her wake.

Canada had been a bad place for the Stones — and the future of the band looked bleak indeed.

THE WHEELS of justice everywhere in the world grind slow, and it was almost 18 months before Richards
was to return to Toronto for his court appearance.

One can only speculate on the deals that went down over that period. Richards' only public interviews concentrated strongly on what was to be the main plank of his defence — his cure at a clinic in New York. The man in the dock was obviously to be presented as a reformed character.

With the huge financial investments at stake in the Stones' future, nothing was to be left to chance. Obviously, the Stones' power as a live and recording act wou'd be severely muted if Richards spent time inside.

Court Drawing: Laurie McGaw/Toronto Star

CUT TO Toronto a week before the trial is to begin. Down at the courthouse on University Avenue, special security precautions are being arranged. Rumours are circulating the city that Richards will not show, a story quickly squashed by Stones publicist Paul Wasserman, whose other clients include Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan.

"That's silly," he pointed out. "After all, if he didn't turn up for the trial, he could be extradited from almost anywhere, with the exception of somewhere like the Yemen. And they don't have 24-track recording studios, so he couldn't go there."

Sure enough Richards arrived, very much the family man, with his mother and two kids, Marion and Dandelion, in tow. There was no trace of the man who had a string of drug and other convictions stretching back ten years, the hedonist who had once owned a yacht called Mandrax. Richard was under heavy manners and facing the heaviest bust so far.

With money no object, the Stones had hired the best Canadian lawyer they could find: Austin Cooper, a 49-year-old criminal lawyer with 25 years experience, a man well respected in legal circles for being the prime mover behind introducing the legal aid system in Ontario. He was to tell reporters: "I'm just a lawyer and I'm really awfully dull. I don't even play the guitar."

The case was to be heard by Judge Lloyd Graburn, a 52-year-old with a college haircut and two sons. Unaware of who exactly Richards was, he had to ask around before realising the true celebrity credentials of the defendant.

As is common in most legal cases, plea bargaining was the order of the day.

With the judge's approval, the more serious charge of trafficking heroin was dropped, as was the cocaine possession charge, leaving Richards to face a simple heroin possession rap. This still meant, though, that he was looking at the chance of going down.

The defence tactics soon became clear. Cooper explained to the court that Richards had bought the heroin in bulk to reduce the chances of detection. His New York score amounted to 22 grams of 34% pure smack which, when diluted, was enough for 440 injections with Richards shooting them up at the rate of 10 a day.

Cooper's oratory was overwhelming. Richards was described to the court as a man with "a poor self-image .... a tragic person who became addicted to heroin to prop up his sad personal life." His name was ranked alongside such other tormented artists as Van Gogh, Judy Garland, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

The Cooper version of Richards' habit began in 1967. "H was after a very gruelling schedule with the group, and he was exhausted after all the playing and touring. He experimented with drugs.

"In 1969 he started with heroin, and it got to the state where he was taking such quantities of the drug and getting no euphoria from it. He was taking such powerful amounts — as much as 2 1/2 grams a day — just to feel normal."

The first cure came in 1972, "but he fell back into the cauldron." Another cure attempt at a Swiss clinic the following year worked for a while. Cooper claimed, "but again he fell off the wagon, so to speak."

In 1974 he failed again, but since May 1977 Richards had been undergoing treatment at the Stevens Psychiatric Centre in New York, and this time he was winning the struggle.

Health factors aside, Richards' habit took a heavy financial toll. In just two years, the court was told, Richards spent $650,000 on heroin.

Cooper pleaded eloquently: "He should not be dealt with as a special person, but I ask your honour to understand him as a tortured creative person — as a major contributor to an art form. I ask you to understand the whole man."

Perhaps the strangest note of Cooper's defence came when he claimed that Richards was in the process of setting up an international addiction centre at an undisclosed location. Richards later told a press conference that he did not instruct Cooper to say that, and claimed: "It may be true and it may not. I'll let you know when I've paid the lawyers."

The defence rested, and the prosecutor asked the judge for a jail sentence on the grounds of the amount of heroin snatched, Richards' previous record and his age. The judge decided to retire and deliver sentence the following day.

THE VERDICT was a shock to nearly everyone. The judge said jail was out because Richards was taking the cure. "His efforts to remove himself from the drug subculture can only have a salutary effect on those who admire him." Secondly, because Richards had money — it has been revealed that in 1977 Richards earned some $300,000 — he was unlikely to resort to crime to support his habit.

So Richards was put on a year's probation, ordered to continue his cure and to play a concert for the blind. Richards gave a clenched fist salute to the packed courtroom before leaving with his bodyguard. Another trial, another day.

Reactions to the verdict in Canada were mixed. Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was outraged and urged an appeal, but the largest paper in Canada, The Toronto Globe, described the verdict in its editorial as "a model of enlightened sentencing, one which should pave the way for a more equitable and civilised treatment of convicted drug addicts in Canadian courts."

It should be made clear that less than half the people convicted in Canada of simple possession of heroin go to jail.

But it was the concert for the blind that raised most eyebrows. How had the judge reached that idea? Onestrong rumour was that Cooper had suggested it, but this was tracked down to blind superfan Rita Bedard,who attended the trial every day and was invited in by Cooper to meet Richards and get his autograph. It turned out that she was responsible for the story; Cooper dismissed it.

In fact the judge had called John Simmons of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) just 30minutes before going into court onthat final day. Simmons claims: "He asked me if I would object if he sentenced a young musician to play music at the Institute. We only foundout later it was Richards. We were *shocked and pleased."

But not everyone was that euphoric. CNIB's John Rae said it could negatively affect public attitudes towards blind people, and called the verdict "outrageous, bizarre and patronising".

"We're seeking equal rights, not a handout," he said. "If the judge intended to help blind people, there are a number of organisations besides the CNIB that should have the opportunity to benefit as well."

The big problem for the CNIB now is that their auditorium on Bayview Avenue only holds 200, and their switchboard has been jammed with people hustling for tickets. The owner of the 16,000 seatcr Maple Leaf , Gardens has offered his venue for the event, but no final decision has been reached.

THE COURT scene over, Richards arrived an hour late for a press conference, his last public appearance before waving Canada goodbye. Wearing jeans, a scratched leather jacket and a T-shirt with the legend 'Robbie Rocker' on it, he fielded a barrage of press enquiries.

How had the whole incident affected him?

"Oh it's all show business. Every day of my life is show business. I didn't give it much thought until the last few days. I mean, it wasn't as if I was waking up each day thinking the trial is coming."

Had he made any jail contingency plans?

"I just wondered if the uniform was with stripes or arrows?" He described his probation officer as "sweet".

On the subject of heroin, he said he gave up his addiction because it was boring and commented: "You lose your respect and confidence. Once you get to the stage of addiction it is just where you get to ask, 'Where is the dope?' You wonder what you're doing sitting in an apartment with four men who are dribbling . . .

"I'm happy to be off it ... I have become a lush."

When asked about the Stones' reaction to the verdict, he said: "They were very ticked off I didn't get put away for 30 years. I'm going to use the bail money to bribe the rest of the band to do the benefit."

Of the judge's comment that some Stones' songs glorified drug use, he said: "I think that is a misconception. There are drug overtones in about one per cent of the band's material and Mick wrote them, not me."

So Richards is out once more. Meanwhile Vicious spends time in Bellevue psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt. Another week in the history of rock and roll.

NME: Adventures in the Music Press

Dick Tracy's first and only cover story, investigating record
and tape piracy. July 22nd, 1978.

It was a recent weekend Guardian magazine profile of Tony Parsons that initially triggered all this off – a flood of memories. Tony, now a best-selling novelist and a regular columnist for The Mirror, was interviewed in connection with his just-published novel ‘Stories We Could Tell’ based on his time at the New Musical Express (NME). The least said about that the better. Paul Morley's review 'Those Weren't The Days' is right on the button I think.

My story begins back in the days of what was then called the ‘underground press’. I was part of Frendz magazine, one of a number of nationally-distributed haphazardly-produced mags and papers that documented the counter-culture of the period. It was here that I met Nick Kent who turned up and asked me if he could write some rock reviews for the papers. Good writers of any kind were hard to come by, particularly ones that didn’t want paying, and within a few weeks Nick was pumping out live and record reviews that immediately convinced that here was man with real talent. We became best mates

Within a few weeks it seemed, Nick was suddenly everywhere, hanging out with the Grateful Dead and Keith Richards. (He took me once to Richards house in Chelsea but he wasn’t in). I remember travelling down to Brighton with him on a coach with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, hanging out in Wembley with the legendary San Fran rock band The Flaming Groovies (later seeing them live with Nick at their appearance at the legendary Iggy Pop gig at the Kings Cross cinema)

Frendz, in its last incarnation, was being designed in Osterley by Pennie Smith (later to acquire legendary status as a rock photographer par excellence for the NME) in her funky converted railway station pad, helped by our dear departed friend Kevin Sparrow. I remember Roxy Music being the big thing at the time.

Inevitably Frendz came to a close – there was no money left and only a few survivors on the staff – and our last issue, designed by George Snow, featured news of an exclusive Lou Reed piece by Nick Kent which never materialised, we had to print a big apology in the paper. By now Nick and Pennie had migrated to the NME.

The New Musical Express (NME), founded in 1962, had begun recruiting from the underground press and Nick and Charles Shaar Murray, one of the schoolkids featured in the infamous OZ issue that became the subject of the longest obscenity case in British legal history, between them ushered in a whole new era of rock writing – inspired by Lester Bangs and Creem magazine – that made the paper a must-read for so many at that time. This was New Journalism of an irreverent drug-fuelled kind that captured the spirit of the times.

It must be remembered that, at that time, there was no coverage of music in the national press at all – except for headlines when one of the Beatles got married or such like. Hence the strength of the music press and feelings that attached to them. This was vital reading for music fans and the NME along with its rivals Melody Maker and Sounds saw their circulations rise rapidly during the 1970s with the NME way out on top in a dominant position before the decade was out.

Clustered here were the some of the best writers and editors around – the late great Ian McDonald, Tony Tyler and the editor Nick Logan, who would go on to found Smash Hits and subsequently his own magazine The Face, the style bible for the decade to come.

I was determined to get into the paper if I could and it was thanks to Mick Farren, former editor of International Times, who had also joined up, that I managed to get a gig around 1976. I believe my first piece was a three-line story about a guitar-plucking contest which carried my by-line. I remember leaping up-and-down with excitement. I had made it into the NME – the nearest thing we’ve ever had in this country to a national youth newspaper.

Amongst the great writers on NME were Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill, perhaps the best known now to a mass audience, but music journalist afficianados will recognise not only Kent, Murray and Farren but also the truly excellent Chris Salewicz, Vivien Goldman, Brian Case, Danny Baker, Paul Morley et al

The best source of information to date on NME and the other papers of the period is ‘In Their Own Write: Adventures in the Music Press’ by Paul Gorman [Sanctuary Publishing 2001], consisting entirely of interleaved interviews with the above mentioned and others.

What is missing from this account, and from other assessments I have read about the NME is the fact that although the paper carried principally music journalism, there was also a great deal of material on books, films and the general youth culture.

From my earliest days at the NME it was clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to compete with the music writers but I found my niche as the person who wrote everything that wasn’t music. In the process, I became Dick Tracy, investigative journalist and, under that nom de plume, wrote a considerable amount of stories between 1976-82. A few pieces appeared under my own name but Dick Tracy acquired a bigger profile and cachet than my real identity.

So much so that the following small notice was run in the paper on May 20th 1978 in connection with a piece I wrote called ‘Cloning Papers’:

‘Contrary to popular belief, Dick Tracy is not the pseudonym used for NME team efforts. Tracy is one man who works alone, albeit with occasional help from both inside and outside NME central. The only journalist to unearth the covert activities of the Animal Liberation Front, the only journalist to present an alternative view of Operation Julie acid purge, Dick Tracy now offers the most convincing theory to date about The Man Who Was Cloned.’ [An interview with David Rorvik, author of ‘In His Image’ which claimed to be the true story of the first human cloning]

I don’t have a complete record of everything I wrote during this period so what follows is a fraction of the total but includes some of the most important stuff:

FILMS: During the mid-1970s cinema attendances had collapsed, to be subsequently revived by the new generation of sfx films led by Star Wars. The film industry was desperate to get coverage in the NME and I was, in the beginning, one of the paper’s principal film writers, with access to major film studios, artists and writers.

- Exclusive first- run interview with Julian Temple about the first Sex Pistols film
- The first piece, some six months before the film was released, on ‘Quadrophenia’ followed by interviews with Franc Roddam and Phil Daniels.
- Interview with Milos Forman about ‘Hair’.
- Interview with Steven Spielberg about ‘Close Encounters’
- Interview with Billie Hayes and Brad Davis, the actor who played him in ‘Midnight Express’
- Feature on the films of Clint Eastwood.
- UNPUBLISHED: Interview with David Mingay on the Clash film ‘Rude Boy.’

PLUS: Numerous reviews of movies beginning with ‘The Missouri Breaks’ (Jack Nicholson/Marlon Brando)

DRUGS: Wrote a regular drug column called Inside Dope. Major pieces on Keith Richard’s heroin trial, on British drug prisoners on foreign jails, on Operation Julie.

- Worked as part of a team, with Angus Mckinnon, Ian McDonald and others, to produce the four-page NME Guide to the Nuclear Age. There was a nuclear explosion on the cover of that week’s issue. (June 11th 1977)
- Numerous pieces on the Animal Liberation Front and the birth of what has become a worldwide radical movement.
- Number of pieces on the Save The Whale movement and campaigns – the biggest environmental issue of that time. Also the seal culls in Newfoundland

Much of this sort of coverage was taken up in a more expansive form by Andrew Tyler, who now runs the excellent Animal Aid. Hats off to a great writer. See details of his latest campaign here.

MUSIC BUSINESS: I was one of the first journalists to write investigative pieces about the music industry itself, profiling major corporations and pillaging the trade papers of the times for juicy leads. This led to MY ONLY COVER STORY, on Record Piracy. Also did major piece on The Elvis Industry following the death of the King plus similar piece on the mass cross-marketing of Saturday Night Fever.

The NME years were genuinely exciting. The power and reputation of the paper was such that doors opened wherever you went. Johnny Rotten, Paula Yates, The Stranglers and the like would drop round the office, always full of the pressure cooker atmosphere of a weekly paper.

Yes, I spent a lot of time in the legendary ‘kinderbunker’ with Tony and Julie, who liked what I was doing and were real mates to me, inviting me to a number of punk events – like the memorable Johnny Thunders deportation party – encouraging me to go and interview Blondie but also supporting the animal liberation coverage I was writing for the paper.

I was not a major figure on the paper but I made a contribution. Thanks to Chris Salewicz for saying in ‘In Their Own Write’: ‘John May was very good as Dick Tracy. He started the film coverage with what was called Silver Screen and he was quite instrumental in changing the paper.’

Thanks also to Phil McNeill, who took a real interest in the investigative journalism I was writing and supported some very ambitious and difficult stories.

So much more to be said. Consider this a 1st Draft memory exercise.


1. Mick Farren’s account of those times can be found in his biography ‘Give The Anarchist A Cigarette’. I am covered by a sentence that reads: ‘Old underground press contacts came up with stories on bizarre media events, weird performance art, animal rights, the environment, recreational drugs and drug enforcement.’

2. For Neil Spencer’s recent account as his period as editor (1978-85), see here.

3 Am currently chasing up the ‘Inky Fingers’ documentary on the NME, shown on July 4th, 2005, on BBC4. Some of you lucky people who can get digital tv will have seen it already. Further comments to come.

4. A huge amount of journalism from the NME and other music papers can be found at Highly recommended.