CBN.com I quite literally had to keep pinching myself to realize that I was not dreaming. For I was still starry-eyed, and all of this seemed fantastically romantic. I was standing backstage at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre, where New York’s most famous disc jockey Murray the K was putting on a super-rock show. All the big name rock stars were there.
Could it be that I, Scott Ross, from Hagerstown, Maryland, was assistant music director at New York’s biggest rock station, working side by side with the great Murray himself? Could it really be that after I had fled to New York upon my father’s death, trading on a tenuous series of contacts, I’d parlayed my five years’ experience into a job with all the excitement and glamour I had ever dreamed of?
This was my world, I reflected, as I stood in the wings waiting for my date. I felt totally at home in the behind-the scenes show biz confusion people yelling for make-up, yelling for clothes, running up and down stairs, music throbbing up from the pit. Even the chorus girls waiting to go on stage in their tinselly dresses looked beautiful to me.
And then the Ronettes came offstage. Behind them thousands of rock fans stomped and whistled. I smiled to myself, thinking that one of these stars was my date tonight. The Ronettes had teased me when I first met them, two years ago: at twenty-two I had still been wearing T-shirts and pullover sweaters, short hair combed straight back from my forehead. They couldn’t laugh at me now. Now I was part of the music scene, dressed like everyone else. I looked at myself in the full-length rehearsal mirror: new light blue suit, pink shirt, Western boots, trench coat, shoulder length hair. Not bad, Scott from Hagerstown.
The three Ronettes were waiting for the pandemonium to die down. Nedra gave me a big smile, then they ran back on stage for their encore. They sang "Be My Baby," their big international hit that fall, 1963. For eight weeks it had been number one on the charts. There they were now in the spotlight: Ronnie, the leader, still only nineteen; her sister Estelle, twenty; and little Nedra, their first cousin, eighteen years old and to my mind the prettiest of the bunch. Nedra with her mixture of black, Spanish and Indian blood was petite, amber skinned, high cheek-boned. She was something else too. Naive? Unassuming? I didn’t know the word for it. I only knew that in a high-pressure world she was something very special.
Now the girls ran off again and I knew they weren’t going back on stage, no matter how long the kids out front roared. As they ran past, Nedra blew me a kiss, and I followed her into the dressing room. Again, I had that too-good-to-be-true feeling as I waited for the girls to get out of their costumes behind the screen. How lucky could you get to walk into WINS precisely at the moment when they had fired an assistant director. They’d needed someone who knew how to program a show. Sure, I had said boldly. I can do that.
Okay, well use you on a trial basis.
By the end of the week they hired me and nothing was the same after that. Overnight, because I chose the records the deejays would play, I became an important man to the recording business. Nothing was too good. Promoters took me to Broadway shows, they took me to the Copacabana. They flooded me with records and booze. I loved it. I loved the music. I loved the life including this grungy dressing room with its peeling walls and the stained sink at the end of the room, and the hot sweaty people running in and out.
"Scott Ross, you look great." I turned around. Nedra had changed to a trim beige suit. Her eyes were so black I couldn’t find the pupils.
You look greater, I said. Let’s get out of here, I want to talk to you about the Beatles.
Beatlemania was just then heating up in the States. I had a dream, and my friend Nedra played a big role in it. I wanted to start a rock radio show of my own. I’d been sounding people out and sure enough there was a station interested. The show would be part music, part interviews with the people who made the music. Through my work I had gotten friendly with The Rolling Stones, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, The Animals, many others, but had not yet met the Beatles.
The Beatles had recently arrived in the U.S., and the first thing they asked was, "Where are the Ronettes?" I told Nedra. "If I could tape an interview with them," I said over dinner, "it would really help me sell my show. Do you think you could set it up?"
"Sure Scott. It would be fun. Lets dance."
So we danced. After a while I shared with Nedra the sense of unreality I felt about it all. This place, even the candles and the tablecloths. Talking to one of the top female singers in the country about my own radio show and you not laughing at me. If you want to know, Nedra, I’m still the kid who snuck into that studio in Hagerstown and sat there in the dark. I can’t believe I really know you, and all those other names.
Nedra squeezed my arm. "I know, Scott. I can never get over Ronnie and Estelle and me making $1,500 for half an hours work. But as for names, people are people, aren’t they?"
It worked out just as I had dreamed it would. Nedra and I went to visit the Beatles in Brian Epstein’s suite at the Worcester. They were just as easy going in person as they were in public. Fun to be with, relaxed, ready for a party.
"Listen to Glasgow in his voice," John said. With the Beatles I had instantly lapsed back into the accent I had tried so hard to wipe out. I told them how I’d been teased in grade school for the way I talked. "Do you know what I did when I started working for a radio station?" I confessed to John. "I used to sit in front of a tape recorder by the hour trying to erase the last burr."
"Well never mind," George said, "we might learn to like you anyway."
Somebody had sent up a basket of fruit and Epstein, the manager, sat on the couch sullenly taking a bite from an apple, putting it down and picking up another. Nedra and Ringo were out on the balcony identifying various buildings on the skyline. I knew Nedra and Ringo had dated. Sometimes it made me feel, I don’t know, irritated. The doorbell rang and a delivery boy brought in four suits of clothes cut to order for the band, sent up by some promotionally-minded department store. The boys held them up to each other, laughed and tossed them aside.
When at last I asked if they would let me interview them for radio. Epstein objected. I was small stuff and he didn’t want to bother. But the boys thought it would be fun. So right then and there we taped a good horsing-around interview. When I walked out of the apartment that day, I had one of the top radio exclusives of the year.
Over the next couple years, having my own show exposed me to a side of the music scene I’d only observed from a distance until that point. I saw that kids were hungry for something they weren’t getting elsewhere. Love? Attention? Importance. I saw that they were attempting to get these things by getting near to what they figured was important. Whatever it was, it was a genuine compulsion that attached itself not only to the performers, but to anyone connected with them.
Since I talked to the rock stars on my show, getting close to me was getting close to them. Every time I came back to my apartment on Eighty-fifth street knots of teeny-boppers thirteen-, fourteen-, fifteen-year-old girls were standing around outside. At first they just stared at me. But as time passed they grew bolder. Someone broke into my mailbox and stole letters. One day a girl called me at the radio station and started reading a letter from my mother which I’d never received. It was a warm and affectionate note and the woman insisted that it was from a girlfriend. She didn’t believe there was anyone called "Mum," and she was angry because she wanted to be my girlfriend.
Another time I was mobbed in the street outside the studio by a group of these teenagers. They ripped my suede jacket right off my back. Then several of them grabbed onto my hair and would not let go. When I finally pulled loose there was blood running down my face. And one evening I was trying to leave a Beatles concert at Shea Stadium, where I had been one of the emcees, when a hundred or more screaming kids surrounded my car. All I could do was roll the windows up, lock all the doors and wait for the police to rescue me.
Thus, I was really glad when I met Martin. Martin was so rich he didn’t know how many millions he had. He was my age, twenty-five, and interested in finding a rock group to sponsor. One day I was talking with Martin about the trouble I had getting in and out of my apartment.
Why don’t you come live with me? Martin asked. You can keep your other apartment and stay here as much as you want. We’ve got three door men downstairs to keep the kids away.
What a set-up. Martin’s penthouse was on Central Park South. It was like a Hollywood movie set. Gold furniture. Sofas twenty feet long. Rugs so deep it was like walking through the grass. Picassos on the wall, real Picassos. A view of the park. It was the wildest living I had ever imagined.
First of all, it was the girls. Young bodies who drifted in and out of our lives for an evening or a weekend, then disappeared into whatever fantasy had brought them.
Then, the booze. I was already drinking fairly heavily but now it was a morning-till-night round of scotch, gin vodka, beer, wine, rum, all taken one after the other until I was stoned out of my head.
The first time I dropped pills was with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. I think I knew, even then, that one day Brian was going to kill himself with an overdose. He went at it in a crazy way, mixing ups and downs, red pills, yellow pills, pills with stripes on them.
You ought to try this, Brian said, handing me a fistful of multicolored capsules. I don’t think he even knew what there were. Somebody had given them to him and Brian was the kind who would try anything. It was an early November afternoon in 1965 and we were on the terrace of Martin’s apartment. Behind us a party was going on, had been going on for four days. Brian popped four of the pills into his mouth. "Groovy," he said.
I took two and they were groovy, all right. When we walked back into the party a little later I felt like I was the tallest one in the room. Brian wanted to get some pot but Martin had passed out.
"Let’s go over to my hotel," Brian said. "I’ve got some of the good stuff, straight from Mexico."
I had never smoked marijuana, but with the mood I was in, anything sounded good. As Brian’s chauffeur-driven Cadillac was heading across town, the street lights began to look brown to me. I figured it was the pills. But then they went out altogether. The lights in the stores were out too.
"What’s going on, driver?" I asked.
"I don’t know, sir," he replied.
I rolled down the window. Women were screaming.
"Maybe the world is coming to an end," Brian said.
The traffic lights weren’t working and the limousine slowed to a crawl. Automobile headlights were the only illumination on the streets. At last our driver weaved his way through the snarl to the hotel where Brian was staying.
I wouldn’t have believed it. In spite of the weird blacked-out city, there was a group of teeny-boppers in front of the main entrance waiting for Brian’s Cadillac to come back. "There he is!" they shouted.
"Quick!" Said Brian.
He pushed me through the service door and waved to the man on duty. Obviously the guy had been through this before because he had the door locked behind us almost before we were through it. He handed us a candle and showed us how to get up to the lobby the staircase since the elevators weren’t working. The lobby too was candlelit. We climbed many flights to Brian’s suite. We were taking our coats off when there was a knock on the door. Brian took the candle and opened it. It was Bobby Dylan with a bunch of people.
"It’s an invasion from Mars," said Bobby.
They all came in and we stood at Brian’s windows looking out over the dark city. It was wild. It was like Glasgow during the war.
Someone said, "Let’s turn on. What better time. The little green men have landed."
Brian rolled me my first marijuana cigarette. Neither he nor Bobby could believe that I had never smoked pot. I wondered myself why I hadn’t. There was certainly plenty of it where I was staying. Martin bought grass by the shopping bag. He had a special machine in his apartment for making filter tip joints. I inhaled deeply. Beyond the window everything was black; only the flicker of the candle danced in the dark glass. By now they were saying on the transistor radio that the blackout was probably nothing more than a massive power failure. But we knew better.
It was the end of the world, and we were going out on cloud nine.
Instinct told me to stay away form LSD. Although most of my friends were
dropping acid, and Martin kept vials of it in the refrigerator egg tray,
I didn’t try it until one day- it was New Years Day 1966 I met a
friend from Life magazine outside my own apartment on Eighty-fifth Street.
I had not been going back there too often because the teenagers were really
incredible. One night I returned to my apartment to find a young girl
in my bed waiting for me. She got very angry when I told her to go home.
Anyhow my friend from Life, David, and I bumped into each other on the street just outside my place. He lived nearby and he asked me over because he had some really good acid he wanted me to try.
This will really open your head up, he said as he unlocked the door. You’ll know new things, Scott. You’ll know true things.
"If you eat of this fruit, you will be like God," I quoted, "knowing good and evil."
David stared at me.
"It’s from the Bible," I said.
"Yeah? No, man, I mean it. You gotta try this," he insisted.
He went into the kitchen and came back with a piece of sugar soaked with LSD.
If I could have looked ahead I would have let it fall right on the floor.
All the time I’d lived in Martin’s apartment, the police had never once bothered us. But one day that same year, 1966, a girl named Susanna freaked out. She went screaming out of Martin’s apartment half naked, jumped into the elevator, ran through the lobby and across the street to the park.
At first the rest of us were so stoned we thought it was funny. Then we woke up to what would follow. We ran through the apartment picking up all the grass, pills and LSD we could find and flushing them down the toilets.
Sure enough a few minutes later the police were at the door. That time we were lucky. We were clean.
To celebrate we really did get stoned. Martin was so wrecked he just lay on the floor babbling. Money fell out of his pocket. I reached over to pick up the roll and counted two thousand dollars.
"You shouldn’t carry that kind of cash around," I said to Martin, stuffing the bills back into his coat.
"There’s more where that came from. Let's take a trip," Martin said.
"Were on a trip, old buddy," I said.
"No. I mean a real trip, on am a-ree-o-plane." Martin said.
So Martin and I and seven other people got into taxicabs and drove out to JFK.
We want to go somewhere. Anywhere, Martin said to the not-at-all perturbed face at the counter, handing her a wad of bills. Someplace interesting, and a plane that’s leaving right now.
The girl put us aboard a jet bound for Puerto Rico. We went down to San Juan, gambled until he’d lost the rest of the money, and came back.
We stayed wrecked for several days. Little threads of memories are all I have left.
Where’s the motorcycle, Scott?
I don’t know.
Well, you rode it last.
Yeah? Maybe we’d better try to find it. But we never did.
Another day we went to see the movie Goldfinger. In the movie James Bond drove an Astin Martin. It was a fantastic car "and named after me," Martin pointed out. He called the Astin Martin people and asked how much a car like James Bond’s would cost. Fifteen thousand five hundred dollars, they told him.
Martin went to the bank and got a certified check for $15,500 and drove his new car out of the showroom. It was a tricky machine to keep tuned though, and Martin soon tired of it. As far as I know its still in the garage where he left it one night when it didn’t start up right away.
Then we got busted.
I had been writing a newspaper column called Scott on the Rocks. On the morning of the bust I’d been on an all-night partying binge with some friends in the music industry. I came back to Martin’s place at six o’clock in the morning, wrote my column, and fell into bed.
The next thing I knew, the place was crawling with cops.
Either there hadn’t been time or no one had been awake enough to get the stuff down the toilet. The police found marijuana, hashish and LSD. But instead of arresting us, they hung around. They stayed all day long drinking Martin’s booze and eating his steaks and ogling the girls who were in the apartment. Then around five o’clock in the evening they tried to take him for $20,000.
Martin asked me, What should I do?
I said, "Man, you know, if you try to pay them they can get you for bribing an officer."
So Martin said, "OK. Maybe wed better not do it."
At six o’clock they finally took us down to the Tombs. They fingerprinted us, then stood us in front of cameras: full face, side view, the whole thing. Then they booked us for possession.
We got out on bail a few hours later, and as it turned out, for reasons that were never clear to me eventually the whole case was dropped.
But the damage had been done as far as my radio show was concerned. I was through. All the years of work, of building my contacts, watching my ratings rise, all of it had been destroyed overnight. Apparently it was one thing for a performer to be arrested on drug charges. It was another thing altogether for a disc jockey to be arrested under these circumstances. The deejay was hired by the station, and the station had to answer to angry parents.
I was out. At twenty-six there wasn’t a rock station in the country that would hire me.
I went to work with Martin trying to build a new rock group which Martin would finance and I would manage. But for the first time I began to ask myself where all this was leading. I remember sitting in Martin’s penthouse one night talking with Nedra. I hadn’t seen her for a while; she didn’t think much of my lifestyle.
Nedra was telling me about the new tour they’d just signed to do with the Beatles the next summer, New York, Memphis, Chicago, Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco. I figured shed be seeing a lot of Ringo.
Around us in Martin’s apartment a wild party was exploding as if there had never been an arrest. Music, scotch, grass, heavy sex. Laughter. Serious, nonsensical monologues. Laughter.
"This is where it’s really at," I said.
Nedra said nothing. I looked around at the girls sprawled all over the furniture; I looked at the hangers on, all of them out of their heads, and part of me asked, "Man, is this where it’s at?"
David was on the scene again. He showed me some articles Life had been running about LSD and the high claims that were being made for the chemical.
"LSD can answer your questions, man," he said.
I started dropping acid regularly. Only I found that when I went into a trip with one question, I came back with five more. Then I had to take more acid to try to get my head straight.
On and on it went. Day after day, dropping acid. Things changed in front of my eyes. I remember being amazed one night because I’d never before noticed that New York was made of foam rubber. Everything the streets, the buildings, even the trees. I was standing out on the terrace wondering why I’d never realized this before. You could bounce from tree to tree all over Central Park. I swung both legs over the railing and looked down twenty-nine stories to the soft, springy sidewalk straight below. If you landed on your feet you’d bound right over Fifty-ninth Street. Have to aim carefully though: those cars down there were made of metal everybody knew that. I didn’t want to hurt myself.
Just then Martin came out on the terrace. He got both arms around me and hauled me down. "What you want to kill yourself for?" he said, really mad.
But I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was feeling great. After that, whenever Id read about some acid head jumping out a window, I’d remember...
I got into strange fear-filled relationships with people. One night a boy named Jeffrey came over to me and said, "Do you know who I am?"
As I watched, Jeffrey turned into one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen, all shining around with light. But he couldn’t keep it up.
"Yeah, I know who you are. You’re just Jeffrey." I felt I had to insist on this.
I didn’t want to, but Jeff forced me with his eyes. And as I looked he turned back into the beautiful figure. This time he held the image longer. Now he asked me, "And who are you?"
"Who am I? I’m Charles Edward Ross."
Are you? Do you remember the desert?
And suddenly without wanting to, I was lying on the floor, my arms out sideways as if I was on a cross. I lay on the floor, crucified, and I could see through the walls. I could see the people in the next room. One minute they were beautiful and the next they were covered with blood.
"Jeffrey, help me."
"Don’t call me Jeffrey. You know who I am and I know who you are."
I was running out of the room. I was Jesus Christ, crucified and running down the street. Only I looked at my hands where were the nail marks? Maybe I wasn’t Jesus. Then I saw it across the street. Huge neon letters over a doorway: HOLY ROSS CHURCH. It never occurred to me that there was a C knocked out. To me it was the confirmation that I was the son of God.
I ran all the way to my own apartment on Eighty-fifth Street.
The place was full of people. Brian Jones and Bill Wyman of the Stones were there. I locked myself in my bedroom. Brian was banging on the door yelling, "Scott! You okay, man?"
"I’m okay," I said.
I opened the door to show him that I was in my head. Brian had on dark glasses and for some reason that scared me. I ran back and lay on the bed. Brian and Bill and some other people came in and tried to talk to me. A stranger sat down beside me. I’d never seen this guy before. He leaned over and whispered into my ear.
You can’t get away from me. Remember the desert.
Now I was lying on the floor again, but I didn’t know if it was the same night. Maybe it was another planet. I lay on the floor watching the earth explode. I was on a flying saucer, and that made me doubt a little. Why would I need a flying saucer if I was Jesus?
I thought I better phone Mum to let her know what was happening. How I was Jesus, and all. A girl was in the room and I got her to dial the number in Hagerstown. She handed me the phone.
"Charles! Are you all right, dear? It’s awfully late."
I looked at my hands. There were no nail holes, but that didn’t prove anything. "Mum, I cant talk long now. There’s so much to do. I’ve got to fight this Satan thing tomorrow. I’ve got to go out to Golgotha. But don’t worry, Mum," I assured her, "I’ll dress warmly."
I hung up and a while later the phone rang.
A man’s voice said, "This is Vernon Miles."
Miles. I thought a minute. Sure, I knew. The preacher from the church Mum and Anne went to now, and he was calling to bawl me out. I knew the whole sermon before he gave it. He was gong to tell me what a good woman my mother was, and how I was hurting her, and then he was going to quote seventy-nine scriptures. Imagine he was going to quote the Bible to Jesus!
But Pastor Miles didn’t preach, and he didn’t quote anything. "I just want you to know we love you, Scott," he said.
He went on talking: news of the church, how Anne was teaching in the Sunday School this spring. He wasn’t blaming me, he wasn’t accusing me; he was just loving me over the phone, holding me with his warm, gentle voice. It really blew my mind.
The more he talked the better I remember him. Glasses an inch thick and a shirt collar several sizes too big. Why did I keep getting these crazy ideas, then, that it was Jesus talking to me over the phone?
It was Vernon Miles, a hick preacher from a hick town, but try as I would not to, I kept hearing Jesus in his voice.
It began to bother me.
If Vernon Miles was Jesus . . . then who was I?
This excerpt from Scott Free is reprinted with permission from the author. Any use of this material without written consent of the author is strictly prohibited.
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