My Dinner with Mick

When I was in my 20’s, in the Stone Age, I was married to a disc jockey and obsessed with Mick Jagger.  Several close friends and I had rich fantasies about him, so I arranged to write a story about Mick, covering the Rolling Stones’ European tour in 1970 for the Atlantic.Jagger_FentonI was kicked off  the tour after two days, for reasons I’ll explain, but I still had to do the story.  So I wrote a piece I thought was slight—embarrassingly slight.  I hadn’t looked at it in 40 years when I unearthed it last week.

I’m about to downsize, moving from a house in the foothills of the Rockies to a condo in the center of town. I’ve been purging my stuff, going through boxes I’ve been carting around for 30 years but never opened, which contain research files, notebooks, diaries and old articles. I pulled out a 1971 copy of the Atlantic with my story, “Mick Jagger Shoots Birds.” I started reading it and was surprised at how sharp and funny it was, not the embarrassment I’d remembered. Friends urged me to post it now, so I’ve done that below.

WHAT HAPPENED:

I flew to Copenhagen where the Stones were beginning the tour, and joined the crowd of reporters and photographers camped in the lobby of their hotel. I was wearing a lavender, form-fitting nightgown that, in those days, passed as a dress, and I’d straightened my long, then dark hair, so it hung to the center of my back.

003“They’re coming! The Stones!” people shouted. The hotel doors burst open and in they came, along with bodyguards and staff whose job was to keep “the boys” out of reach of the press and fans. The Stones were at their zenith of popularity then, with fresh songs that both created and reflected the zeitgeist: “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fighting Man.”

As they walked past me, Bobby Keys, the saxophone player who toured and recorded with the Stones, grabbed my arm.

“You play poker?” he said.

“Um… no.”

He shrugged. “Come and watch then.”

He pulled me into the elevator where I suddenly stood face to face with Mick. I went into shock. Bobby, obviously, thought I was a groupie, and the others started referring to me as “Bobby’s friend.” When we came out of the elevator and headed for Mick’s room, Bobby asked what I was doing in Copenhagen. “Actually, I’m a reporter,” I said. He stopped short, and blew out his breath. Then he said, “Don’t mention that,” and hustled me into Mick’s room

For the rest of the night, I sat paralyzed, afraid to speak, which supported their assumption that I was a groupie, a breed who have learned to be seen and not heard. While the boys played poker, smoked joints, and engaged in raunchy talk, I concentrated on memorizing what they said. I knew that if they found out who I was, I’d be cooked. Around midnight, I made up an excuse to tell Bobby  why I had to leave, and he urged me to come back the next day before the concert.

Bobby Keys, who played the saxophone solo on “Brown Sugar” and other hits, died of cirrhosis in 2014.

Bobby Keys, who played the saxophone solo on “Brown Sugar” and other hits, died of cirrhosis in 2014.

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Last Tango in Cuba

This is Part 5, the conclusion of a series about the time I spent in Cuba not long ago. To see all posts in chronological order, Click HERE.

The last place our group visits is Baracoa, a small town with old world charm, at the very eastern tip of the island. It’s where Columbus landed, and at Our Lady of the Assumption church, they have the cross he allegedly planted in the sand. Our guide, Liliana, tells us that the first land deed Castro signed over to a campesino was in Baracoa. “He started giving land back to the people at the same place where the Spanish colonizers started taking it.” baracoaOur hotel, the Castillo, feels like paradise, especially after some of the ones we’ve stayed at that had threadbare sheets, scratchy towels, lights that don’t work and only a trickle of water dripping from the shower. The Castillo sits on the highest hill in town, has a sparkling clean swimming pool, and rooms that look out on water in two directions—the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic.

I wander through the streets of pastel houses with decorative iron grillwork. Horses are pulling carriages, and people are eating pizza they buy for a few pesos from a window in someone’s home.cub man bara Continue reading

Midnight Call in Cuba

In 1961, 200,000 Cuban students—half of them girls—volunteered to leave their city homes and go live in remote villages to teach adults to write their names and read.

two girl volunteersGirl volunteers

I learned about this when our group visited the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, the  place where, in 1953, Fidel, who was 25, and his younger brother, Raul, staged their first armed attack, on the second largest military barracks in the country. Fidel had 120 rebels in a caravan of cars, but the cars got separated and the one carrying the heavy weapons got lost. The men who did reach the barracks started firing too soon and were outnumbered ten to one. They lost the battle and 61 were killed, but the revolution was on.

As we tour the Moncado Barracks, now a museum, I stop before a wall on which is written: “Every revolution has 3 phases: conspiracy, insurrection, and ultimately, the phase where it truly begins. Here was born the liberty of Cuba.”

Below are large black and white photos of the faces of the 61 killed. They’re so young—the average age is 18. Each has a unique expression, with singular eyes and set of mouth. I look at each face, sounding out the young man’s name. I can imagine what they felt: the rightness of their cause; the passion to transform an illiterate, poor country into a society where every person would learn to read, have free health care, education, housing and a job.

It was this passion, I suspect, that spurred so many Cuban teenagers, after Fidel triumphed in Havana, to take a year off school to go teach campesinos to read.

And it came to me: if I’d been a Cuban in my teens or 20’s at the time of the revolution, I probably would have been with Fidel.

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Women, $ and Weed

They came wearing stiletto heels, running shoes, cowboy boots, ballet flats and even high heel sneakers. They were hard-working professionals, most of them mothers, gathered around a fake campfire at the five-star Cordillera Lodge in the Rocky Mountains. Despite the occasional rain shower, they roasted marshmallows for s’mores, howled with laughter, and soaked naked in the Jacuzzi while eating crème Brule.

It was May 15, the first night of the Leadership Summit organized by Women Grow, a group whose mission is to train—or “cultivate”—women to be leaders of the cannabis industry, which the Arcview research group has called “the fastest growing industry in the U.S.”

Leaders of Women Grow

Leaders of Women Grow

Now that marijuana is medically legal in 23 states plus the District of Columbia and fully legal in four, Women Grow asserts that it’s time for women to claim their place.

The Summit sold out quickly, drawing 121 women from 20 states, ranging from 23 to 68. They included lawyers, doctors, farmers, dispensary owners, research scientists, financiers, and C.E.O.’s of companies, one of which is valued at $40 million.

Every conversation began: “What do you do in the industry?” By day they attended panels and made deals, and by night they let loose—dancing with abandon and gathering in groups to try new marijuana strains, massage oil and edibles.

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Men, Marijuana and $

Delusional Confidence?    Report from the Marijuana Investor Summit

“When we want to raise capital,” said Dooma Wendschuh, the 38-year-old co-founder of a cannabis company called ebbu, “I go up to someone and say, ‘Would you like to invest in my company? Here’s how it will work. One: you may go to prison for making this investment. Two: I may go to prison, and you might lose all your money. Three: Our minimum investment is $250,000. Sure you want to play ball?”

There was nervous laughter from the crowd. It was the first day of the first Marijuana Investor Summit in Denver, and Wendschuh was speaking on a key panel, “Raising Funds.”

Dooma Wendschuh

More than 800 people from across the country had come to the Summit at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the airport. It was a testosterone-fueled crowd, mostly white men in suits—entrepreneurs mixing with hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. But there were outliers: an Orthodox Jew, with a long white beard and tzitzit, whose family in Philadelphia wants to obtain the first license to grow medical marijuana in Pennsylvania; an African-American man who spent 17 years on Wall Street, then left to grow pot near Detroit; and a female doctor who wants to start a practice treating chronic diseases with cannabis.

All were convinced that the ongoing legalization of marijuana is creating an opportunity for people with a high tolerance for risk to make a killing.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the story on NewYorker.com.

Dancing with Cubans

This is Part 3 in a series about the time I spent in Cuba not long ago. To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

There are two questions I start asking everyone I meet: “Why are the women so flamboyant in flaunting their bodies?” And, “Can the Cuban government change its spots?”

When I tell our tour guide, Liliana, about the women I saw at the Casa de Musica, she shakes her head. “Those were jinateras, girls who sell themselves to make extra money.”

“But most of the women around here dress like that. Why?”

“Ask the men,” she says, turning to a group of locals drinking coffee at the next table. They give several reasons: “the climate,” “it’s the style,” “the custom,” and “the men like it.” Laughing, one adds, “We don’t have dangerous animals in Cuba. Only women.”

cub girl phone

Girl with jury-rigged phone on street

Liliana says the two major forms of entertainment are music and sex. At most clubs they have condoms on the menu, and sex education starts early. “They use a banana,” she says.

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What’s with the Cuban Women?

This is Part 2 in a series about the time I spent in Cuba not long ago. To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

On Sunday, a 28-year-old novelist, whom I’ll call Raffi, joins us for the day’s sightseeing. Wearing a straw hat with a black band, gray pants, and sunglasses tucked in the V of his yellow polo shirt, Raffi has an open face and dark eyes quick to smile. He’s a friend of one of our leaders, Trish, who’s guided many trips to Cuba.

IMG_0135Raffi, two others and I climb into a taxi—a ’55 Chevy that’s been painted “Havana blue” and completely refurbished, with air conditioning, a rebuilt motor, new upholstery and paint, and stereo sound coming out of the ancient radio. The drivers use ingenuity and parts they scrounge on the black market to keep the cars in peak condition.

Raffi tells me the driver makes more than surgeons, who earn about $25 a month. “I have friends with Ph.D.’s who drive taxis,” he says, explaining that there are two currencies in Cuba—CUC’s (called kooks), for tourists, and CUP’s, or pesos, for Cubans. The CUC is worth about a dollar but the peso is worth four cents. Taxi drivers and others who work with tourists get paid in CUC’s, but all other Cubans get the measly pesos, and they can’t live on pesos alone. Some earn cash from illegal activities and others get money sent from relatives abroad.

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Got My Mojo Back in Cuba

This is Part 1 in a series about the time I spent in Cuba not long ago. To see all 5 posts in chronological order, Click Here.   

I heard music—guitars and maracas—coming from a baby blue building in Baracoa, a small town at the Eastern tip of Cuba, where Columbus first landed on the island. Looking through the door, I saw a four-piece band on a wooden dance floor, with several couples doing a provocative salsa and others sitting in metal folding chairs.

cu hot danceI sat down, alone, intending just to watch. I’d recently come to the realization that I’m at the age where I’m invisible. When I walk along the street, no one looks at me, especially not men, and if their eyes accidentally do meet mine, they carom away like billiard balls cracking off the table rail.

I’d no sooner settled in my chair, however, than a man wearing an orange shirt and a shark’s tooth necklace asked me to dance. I hesitated; he looked younger than my son and I hadn’t done any Latin dancing in years. But he stared straight in my eyes, smiling, and moved me about the floor with such assurance that I was soon dancing better than I thought I could.

This was Cuba, where, I’d been told, “Men learn to dance in the crib. It’s genetic.”

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White House for Hanukkah?

The email arrived late Friday: “The President and Mrs. Obama request the pleasure of your company at a Hanukkah reception at the White House on Wednesday, December 17, 2014.”

I read it again, and again. It was exciting, but why had I received this?InviteAs It happened, I was about to fly to New York for a week and could easily take the train to Washington.

But what would I wear? The invite said, “business or holiday attire.” In Boulder, where I’ve lived the past 12 years, business attire means a clean shirt and jeans.

Peter Swift, who’s the mayor of Gold Hill, CO, stopped by that night, and I showed him the invite. It asked me to RSVP with the “date of birth, social security number, city and state of residence and country of citizenship of your guest and yourself.”

“It’s a scam,” Peter said. “If you send all that info, they’ll have your accounts cleaned out fast.”

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Ari Shavit Proposes 3rd Way for Israel/Palestine peace

One day after the Jerusalem synagogue attack last week, Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land, proposed a Plan B—an alternative peace process that is gradual and informal, and offers a “horizon of hope.”
Shavit
When I spoke with him in Denver on Wednesday, Shavit said that formal talks to attain an all-inclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty have always failed, creating a vacuum that has led to accelerating violence. “It’s on the brink now of spiraling out of control.”

What happened in Jerusalem is perilous, he said, “first because you see the influence of ISIS. To attack people while they pray in such a barbaric manner—using meat cleavers—you can see ISIS penetrating the minds of young people in the region.”

The second cause of alarm is that “it’s becoming a religious war,” Shavit said. Before it was primarily nationalistic, but now, “we have a struggle between religious Jews and religious Muslims over the holy city. And the combination of a religious war with ISIS inspiration is a lethal cocktail.”

Shavit repeated this Wednesday night at a sold-out talk capping the Denver JCC’s festival of arts, authors, movies and music. Since publication of Shavit’s book a year ago, his talks across the country have sold out. The book was an instant phenomenon: a captivating and sometimes startling history of Israel that presents all points of view. It soared onto the best-seller list, was praised and occasionally attacked by people from both the left and right, and won the Natan Book Award and the Jewish Book Award.

I found Shavit to be a great bear of a man with a rich, baritone voice. He’s tough-minded but owns an endearing humor and humility. Describing how he wrote the book as a personal historical narrative, he said, “I like my book, and sometimes I even like myself.”

In our interview, Shavit said it’s not realistic to try for a comprehensive peace agreement now, “although I would love to have one.” There’s too much violence and instability, he said. “There’s no leader for peace, no Martin Luther King or Gandhi in the region, and extremists are getting stronger on both sides. We need an alternative peace concept that will give hope and be an organizing principle for stability in the Middle East.”

The alternative he proposes is: a two-state dynamic that proceeds gradually, and will lead, in the long term, to a two-state solution.
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