As always, my notes are distinguished by a "Tess' Note" precursor, and remember that everything you read here is absolutely true.
Happy #ThrowBackThursday and remember that the Grumpy Old Man column runs here every Monday!
Tess' Note: If you're really into 80's pop culture, this post will blow your mind...if you're not, it'll still blow your mind. I'm going to hyperlink every name you see if you want to put the time period into context. Happy reading everyone!
Tess' Note: Before we begin, if you've ever seen the movie "Money Talks", Charlie Sheen's character is pretty much inspired by my dad. The "jeans on bottom, formal on top" look was started by my dad because well, "They only shoot you on TV from the waist up."
The second picture is of dad reporting around 1988, the third is one of him covering a wildfire in Oakland in 1991, a year before my ass was born.
I’d been working as a reporter at KNBC in Los Angeles for nearly three years, so the star-struck kid who’d arrived from Tucson in 1985 was long gone, replaced by a grizzled veteran of the Hollywood media wars. By this time, I could eat a burger at Hampton’s in Burbank and barely notice that Anthony Perkins (famous for playing serial killer Norman Bates in Psycho eek!) was dining in the adjacent booth.
Heck, our anchor woman (Kelly Lange) was married to film director John Landis (director of Michael Jackson's Thriller music video); a fellow reporter, John Marshall, was married to Knott’s Landing star Joan Van Ark; and anchor man John Beard was dating Charlie’s Angels star Kate Jackson. I had interviewed the likes of James Stewart, Bob Hope, Raquel Welch and Bo Derek for various stories. I even sat next to Vanna White (from Wheel of Fortune) in the makeup room a few times.
Truthfully, I was never a celebrity worshipper.I was a “hard” news guy. I preferred to tell stories about common people whose lives had been devastated by earthquakes, floods, fires and gang shootings. I had won my first L.A. Emmy two years earlier for coverage of a jetliner crash in Cerritos that killed 84 people. [Tess' Note: Any Breaking Bad fans will know this event, as it was the basis for the plane crash over Albuquerque that ends Season 2] I’d won others for covering wild fires, major earthquakes and high-profile murder trials, like those of the Menendez Brothers and Marlon Brando’s son, Christian.
So, it was with limited enthusiasm that I listened to the urgent request of our managing editor, Pete Noyes, that I leave Burbank at 3:00 p.m. in search of Axl Rose, who was said to be living in an apartment in West Hollywood.
[Tess' Note: As an avid rock and roll fan and musician, this assignment would have sent me through the roof with enthusiasm, but alas, I am not a grumpy old man, but we continue.]
“Apparently, he’s being accused of all kinds of things,” said the man who was the real-life model for TV’s Lou Grant. “The assignment desk has the details. We need something on the air by six, so you’d better hit the street.”
“I’m more of a Neil Diamond guy,” I admitted. [Tess' Note: COME ON DAD] “Do they have a picture of the Rose character?”
“I think they might. Bring it by here when you get it so I know what he looks like, too,” said Noyes.
Tess' Note: This is before the internet, smart phones and even cell phones for most peeps, so don't keep asking questions like "why didn't he just look it up?" Throwback Thursday people.
The assignment desk had acquired from a friend of a friend of the agent of Guns N Roses’ guitarist Slash [Tess' Note: one of my favorite blues guitarists of all time] the address of a building in West Hollywood where Rose might be living. It wasn’t one of those basic assignments where you could call ahead and set up an interview.
It was more like a hostile wild goose chase—one of those complex assignments that reporters and photographers dread because even if by some miracle they find the subject, he won’t want to be interviewed. On top of that, KNBC’s newscast producers were the kind who assume that every story assigned will come off without a hitch and will be reported exactly as expected—no matter the degree of difficulty. (This one’s degree of difficulty was an 11 on a scale of one to 10.)
At about 3:30 p.m., my photographer (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious) and I arrived at the Sunset Boulevard address the assignment desk had provided.We did not expect to find anyone there, least of all Axl Rose, who had been criticized for writing what could easily be construed as racist and homophobic lyrics for the new Guns N’ Roses hit One In a Million. We were there to get his response to the allegations, as well as to inquire as to his involvement in some sort of vague (to us) drug-inspired assault case.
I knocked on the apartment door with my camera man rolling just in case someone actually answered. A few seconds later, someone did. A rock-star-looking guy with a marijuana joint in his right hand and a can of beer in his left asked, “Who are you?”
“Matt Stevens with KNBC,” I said. “We’re looking for Axl Rose.”
“Let ‘em in,” yelled another rocker type from inside the smallish apartment.
It was Slash.
We walked inside and saw half a dozen people, all males, sitting on a couch and three chairs. The one in the middle on the couch looked like Axl Rose.
“What can we do for you?” Rose asked.
I explained our assignment, fully expecting to hear “no comment” or something foul. Instead, I heard this: “Sit down and have a beer with us and I’ll give you an interview.”
“I can’t really drink on the job,” I said. “It’s pretty much frowned upon.”
“Come on! Have one!” said another fellow, handing cans of beer to my photographer and me.
So I asked myself, “If you were in the newsroom and took a poll of those who mattered, would they tell you to drink the beer and get the interview? Or would they tell you to maintain your professionalism and leave without it?
Tess' Note: THAT A BOY DAD!
I guzzled the beer and said, “We’ve got a pretty tight deadline, so…”
“So have one more,” said Slash with a straight smile.
“No. I couldn’t,” I said.
“One more and you get the interview,” said Axl.
“All right,” I said. “What the hell. But then we really have to go.”
After we’d guzzled five beers each, Axl finally said, “Okay, Let’s talk.”
By this time, I was totally buzzed, but managed to pull myself together and ask the right questions. His answers were straightforward and articulate. We thanked them all and staggered from the apartment. I suggested that we call one of the NBC couriers and have him pick us up.
“We don’t have time for that,” said the camera man. “I’m fine.”
He managed to negotiate the drive down Sunset and over the hill on Barham Boulevard to Alameda Avenue. I ran the tape into the edit room before anyone could stop me for a conversation. I called Noyes from the edit bay and told him to come and look at the tape. He brought the executive producer.
“You got him?” Noyes asked.
“Yup,” I said. “But here’s the deal: They made us drink beer with them before they’d do the interview. I’m pretty drunk right now.”
Noyes never raised an eyebrow. He watched the video and consulted with the E.P. They had the editor put some sound bites together. They wrote an introduction for the anchor to read. “Our exclusive interview with Axl Rose” aired at five, six and eleven.
They had to mention that I had done the interview because I appeared in the shot a few times and could be heard asking questions. They never explained why I wasn’t fronting the story. [Tess' Note: Dad couldn't appear on camera because he was wasted. Let's face it.]
Until now, only a few people ever knew the truth about my encounter with Axl Rose.