September 11, 2014

High Notes - A Rock Memoir

by Richard Loren (2014, East Pond Publishing)

Review by Frank Siraguso

Richard Loren’s High Notes is a glib, entertaining tale about his life as agent, manager and confidante for musicians and bands that included Liberace, with whom he got his start, to The Doors to the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia, in a career spanning the 1960s to the 1990s.

The 23-year-old Loren began working for Liberace in summer 1966. By the fall, Loren was working at Agency for the Performing Arts booking acts like Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and the Chambers Brothers. Ultimately, Loren managed the Grateful Dead and was personal manager for Jerry Garcia.

In December 1968, while in Germany on tour with the Chambers Brothers, Loren was becoming disillusioned with the life of a booking agent. His decision to make a change was sealed during an LSD trip while sitting on a bench in front of a Gothic cathedral.

“I realized I had to quit the tour and my job in order to search for a more authentic life. This time when I asked myself if I wanted a career in the agency business the answer was crystal clear. FUCK NO!”

After traveling in Europe and a brief, ill-fated fantasy interlude where he traveled to Lebanon to become a hashish magnate, from which he escaped none the worse for the wear, Loren became manager of the Dead and Jerry Garcia.

Loren populates his memoir with stories about Bill Graham, Mountain Woman, Marty Balin of the Airplane, Gilda Radner, Ken Kesey and other characters. Although all the bands Loren worked with had their challenges, they were essentially still just bands. The Dead were a whole order of magnitude of organization.

Loren’s biggest organizational headache with the Dead concerned the roadies. The good thing about the Dead was that they paid their roadies well. The bad thing was that because nobody in the band was willing to take charge of them, the roadies became a subculture unto themselves. Their salaries and lifestyles, which included the best food and drugs available, skewed the Dead’s economics. Loren’s job was to try and straighten it out.

The hardest thing for Loren to handle, and which ultimately lead him to part ways with the Dead and Jerry Garcia, was the band’s cocaine use and Garcia’s heroin addiction.

Mountains of cocaine turned the band members and road crew frenetic and paranoid. At 5 a.m. March 29, 1981, Loren awoke to someone pounding on his hotel door. “Wake up asshole! Open the fucking door!” Drummer Bill Kreuzmann exploded into the room and pinned Loren to the wall with a forearm across the throat. He accused Loren of stealing from the band and fired him on the spot. Although Kreuzmann later apologized, Loren soon left for good.

Heroin was the death of Jerry Garcia. Loren describes Garcia’s gradual withdrawal and loss of energy. This was doubly hard for Loren because Jerry Garcia was one of Loren’s best friends. Garcia died in August 1995.

Despite these low notes, Richard Loren’s High Notes is the fascinating story of a man who wasn’t just in it for the money.  He loved his work and was deeply, emotionally involved. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Loren Loren also lived to enjoy his retirement.

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