INTRODUCTION TO MITCH’S COOL LOS ANGELES
I rolled into Los Angeles from the Bronx in 1979, pretty much unaware of the city except for bland images I saw of it in “Dragnet,” “Starksy and Hutch” and Annie Hall. The only cool thing about Los Angeles I knew came via an amazing performance I saw in the fall of 1978 by the group X at the Manhattan rock dance club Hurrah. They were punk and rockabilly, with wildly etched male/female harmonies and sharp apocalyptic lyricism, all in one mix. “Maybe Los Angeles ain’t half bad,” I remember thinking.
It wasn’t easy to leave New York to accept a job as a publicist in LA at the firm Solters/Roskin/Friedman. NYC, after all, was the place where I experienced Mott The Hoople at the Fillmore East, the New York Dolls at Mercer Arts Center, local glam heroes like Wayne County at clubs like Club 82 and Max’s Kansas City, all the early punk bands at CBGB and the next wave of them at the Mudd Club, not to mention the disco decadence at Studio 54. I had the chance to see hundreds of concerts for free as a rock critic for Good Times, Crawdaddy, Circus and Rolling Stone, working with amazing editors like Paul Nelson, Jon Pareles and John Swenson, all of whom encouraged me to dig deeper in my album and live reviews.
Much as I enjoyed being a rock critic, the money I earned as a freelancer hardly promised a rosy future. I figured I’d give publicity a shot, but it wasn’t easy finding a job as a publicist back in those days since there were only a few record labels and independent publicity firms compared to what it’s like now. Having no luck in my job search, I sent my resume out west in the fall of ’78 and got a call from Lee Solters asking if I wanted to be interviewed at the firm’s NYC office for a job as a junior publicist. I subsequently met Monroe Friedman and soon after Solters called to say I got the job.
Outside of its nascent music scene, NYC was rotting in the ‘70s (try Jonathan Maehler’s incisive book “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning” for more on the subject); besides, I wanted to roll the dice some place else. I landed in LA in January and was immediately struck by the balmy weather and the pure physical beauty of the mountains, ocean and palm trees. I found a large studio apartment on Norton Avenue in West Hollywood near Fairfax Avenue and waited for my car—a pimp-green Buick Skylark with nostrils on the hood—to arrive via a company I hired to have the car driven across the country.
My first clients at Solters/Roskin/Friedman were Melissa Manchester, Leo Sayer, Leif Garrett and Daryl Hall and John Oates. It was amazing to study publicity during the day under the tutelage of the endlessly creative Lee Solters–and then immerse myself at night in the exploding LA music scene. To my good fortune, I had the chance to experience the beginnings of the NYC punk scene and now here I was in LA, going out every night and seeing artists like the Screamers, Wall of Voodoo, The Plimsouls, the Know, the Blasters, the Go-Go’s, the Textones, Johanna Went, the Castration Squad and, of course, the great X. From Hollywood (Masque, Roxy, Whisky, Gazzarri’s) to Chinatown (Madame Wong’s, Hong Kong Café) to the Westside (Club 88) and Silverlake (the ON Klub), I lived at the clubs and wrote about what I loved in reviews and in my column “Talk Talk” for BAM magazine.
Through all of this, my love affair with LA was blooming. I actually thought it was great that you really didn’t have to walk anywhere—until years later when I had to get on the treadmill to erase the weight I had put on. With the dial tuned into KROQ (especially when the immortal Rodney Bingenheimer was on), I would drive around, constantly on the hunt for new places and classic L.A. landmarks like Union Station and the Self-Realization Shrine near the ocean.
I left Solters’ company in 1982 and went back to freelance writing for magazines, supplementing my income by writing artist bios for record companies, mainly Epic. Good fortune intervened in 1983 when publicist Michael Levine searched me out on a tip from manager Michael Lippman. Levine asked me to start a music division at his company, Michael Levine Public Relations, alongside his clients like Demi Moore and Michael J. Fox. Early music signings like the great Everly Brothers, Rita Coolidge and the Textones gave way to more artists like Sheena Easton, REO Speedwagon and Wang Chung. Lightning struck in March 1987 when, in a 30-day period, I signed Ozzy Osbourne, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Heart and Eddie Money. A few months later brought another boon: Gloria Estefan, KISS, Whitesnake and Yes.
The company morphed into Levine-Schneider Public Relations in 1988, and the signings kept rolling in while we were perched in an expensive office building on Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood: David Bowie, Aerosmith, Prince, The Cult, Janes Addiction, Faith No More, Dwight Yoakam, Soundgarden, Janet Jackson, and the Offspring.
Much as I enjoyed working with Michael (with whom I remain great friends), I felt it was time to go it alone and operate as a purely music company–a feeling that was advanced when the Northridge Earthquake in January 1994 shook things up, forcing my wife Rana, daughter Sorrell and mother-in-law Yvonne to sell our badly damaged home in Tarzana. MSO launched a year later, in February 1995, in a Sherman Oaks office building along Ventura Blvd. I knew it was a good sign that Rolling Stone phoned on our first day of business with an offer to put Tom Petty on the cover. Stevie Nicks was the first client to pay an MSO invoice; one of our first signings was the then-unknown 20-year-old artist Alanis Morrissette before the release of Jagged Little Pill; and we signed X shortly thereafter, which completed a circle for me.
Despite the earthquakes, the riots, the floods and fires, I still love LA (and live in a new home in Tarzana); the city keeps growing with exciting new places opening all the time in Hollywood, Silverlake, Los Feliz, Echo Park, downtown and elsewhere. If I ever leave the world of publicity–doubtful, since I truly live inside the music for spiritual sustenance–I probably would angle for a concierge gig at a five-star hotel (like the Four Seasons or the Peninsula) and provide guests with suggestions about all that is cool and fun in the city.
So here’s my attempt at being a concierge…enjoy the guide (which makes no attempt to serve as a complete guide)…
…I traveled a lot of miles to experience it all and lost some of my hearing at all the great gigs!