Behind the Curtain: The Stress Test of Interviewing George Harrison at Warner Bros. HQ

Behind the Curtain: The Stress Test of Interviewing George Harrison at Warner Bros. HQ

George Harrison (600 x 400)

—Ed. note: Sometimes, the thrill of speaking with a hero can be enough for a story – but in this case, Steve Rosen had quite an adventure even GETTING the chance to speak with George…making it a pretty epic day, we’d say. 

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The day was a California postcard. A startling and fiery sun perched high above in a crystal blue sky, blazed down in diamonds of promise. It was an essential day, a meteorological marvel meant to be stored away for future reference. A day by which all other days would be measured.

“Dude,” a friend would ask the following week, “was last Tuesday the best day ever?”

You tell him it was—a sui generis day like no other. Even if the day itself was all you’d been given, that would have been gift enough. But the weather was merely an underscoring for the occasion, a gilded and golden opportunity to spend an hour with George Harrison.

You would forget how to breathe before you forgot this. Simply saying the words out loud was enough to render you stupid all over again because the event was cloaked in so much magic and improbability. You muttered the words to yourself in a hushed and reverential whisper: “I hung out with a Beatle.”

You think back a week to that irenic meeting. You wondered if maybe Harrison himself had ordered up the perfect day. We all knew George communicated with God regularly and if He was going to listen to anybody, He was going to find a minute or two for a Beatle.

So, anyone who recalled a particularly glorious Tuesday back in 1974, somewhere around August or September perhaps and the presence of just a soupçon of magic imbedded in the sunrays, you can thank God and George (though not necessarily in that order).warner-bros.-records-extralarge_1307030858761 (462 x 600)

The verbal exchange was scheduled to take place at the Warner Bros. Records offices in Burbank, California, a tidy little suburb that was home to the label as well as Disney, various television stations, and a multitude of pre- and post-production film facilities. The buildings were tucked away on Warner Boulevard, a small side street hidden from prying eyes.

Turning up the street, you had to park on one of the smaller residential lanes that stretched out perpendicularly  from the main drag.

I arrived early—my heartbeat already pounding like a drum—but still had trouble finding a place to park. California streets were littered with cryptic hieroglyphs posing as posted traffic warning signs. Woe be to any driver who innocently misinterpreted said postings.

The hammer that would come down on any individual running afoul of a vehicular driving mandate was swift and heartless. Expensive violations. Cars towed. George may have been able to control the weather but he held no sway over municipal parking laws. A spot at the end of a small thoroughfare finally presented itself.

I sat in the car for a minute, attempting to calm a galloping heartbeat that was threatening to stroke me out. The fat end of an hour still loomed in front of me. There were 60 hard minutes of down time before the interview, so I took a moment to run through a  personal inventory.

Not in any self-reflective sort of manner—at least not at this point—but more in an interview-preparedness routine assessment. I had already double-checked everything before I left home. Can anyone say obsessive-compulsive?

INTERVIEW GEAR CHECKLIST 

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1)      Blank cassettes: I brought 6 x 60-minute tapes. One would have been sufficient. Two would have ensured a failsafe had tape number one malfunctioned. Three was overkill and four and over was insanity. I kept envisioning the tape on one cassette after another either breaking or getting hung up on the tape recorder heads and spooling out like brown spaghetti all over the floor.

This really wasn’t an impossible scenario since these tapes were possibly the worst cassettes ever assembled. They had been purchased at Grant’s department store—a forerunner of Wal-Mart—and cost three @ $1.00. I used them for the first 10 years of my career.

2)      Batteries: There were 8 x 1.5 volts in my bag. Completely superfluous since I used an A/C power cord. Don’t even ask.

3)      Power cord: (Described above) One  standard-issue cheap cassette player cord.

4)      Pens: I brought along a stationery store including 3 x blue; 6 x black; 2 x red. All Sanford Uni-Ball Micro. I knew I wouldn’t need them but I loved pens.

5)      Pencil:  1 x Papermate. Papermate makes over 50 types of pencils. I don’t like pencils so I only brought one.

6)      Paper: 152 sheets of 8 ½ x 11. 20 lb./104 brightness. White. Why I brought along so many sheets of paper was a mystery. Maybe I thought George would write a song for me and might need something to scribble on.

7)      Interview questions: 8 x single sheets 8 ½ x 11. Typed.  Double-spaced. I knew I’d never get through even a quarter of those questions but since I’d brought along a cache of cassettes and batteries sufficient to sit there for over six hours, it seemed counter-productive not to come equally prepared with enough questions to fill up eight sheets of paper.

8)      Cassette recorder/microphone: 1 x GE. I made certain to double/triple up on anything I thought I might need, but I was thinking moronically when it came to the most critical piece of the arsenal. This was a used tape player I’d unearthed in my garage.

The motor did this horrific whining/whirring thing like an asthmatic septuagenarian and every crepitating and crying sound was then picked up by this impossibly cheap plastic microphone I’d purchased for $2.00 at the local electronics store.

George in non-media-press-conference mode.
George in non-media-press-conference mode.

Virtually every interview I did for 10 years or more was marred by these mournful squeaks and squeals emanating from the tape machine and then recorded on tape. It was as if the machine itself were being interviewed. On top of that, this GE was top-loading—you hit a release button and a lid would come up. You’d insert the tape, push the lid down and the cassette would engage with the heads.

However, my machine was so old and decrepit, when you hit the Open button to raise the lid, the entire piece would fly off into space [the hinges were broken]. It was like a gun ejecting a shell. One time this plastic piece disengaged, hit me in the face and would have taken out an eye had I not been wearing glasses.

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5 Responses to "Behind the Curtain: The Stress Test of Interviewing George Harrison at Warner Bros. HQ"

  1. Karen   January 9, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    I’m curious as to why in 1974, the interview would have been at WB. George’s Dark Horse album was released by Capitol Records. In 1974 George had a relationship with A&M as his Dark Horse Record label office was located there. AND, the photo with your article was actually taken in 1979, when in fact George was contracted with WB. Do you think maybe you have forgotten what album George was actually promoting at the time?

    This is the album he was promoting in 1979:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Harrison_%28album%29

    I don’t mean to be critical, as I know memory can fade as time rolls on. But as a devout Harrison fan, I thought you might need to know.

    Cheers,
    Karen

    Reply
  2. Carol S   January 10, 2015 at 3:35 am

    I loved this article. George was/is my favorite Beatle. 😉
    I , though, would definitely have had a more physical encounter with the receptionist. While reading, i already pulled her hair out, and gouged her eyes out. Oh, by the way, I NEVER would’ve had several cups of coffee before this meeting!

    Reply
    • Steve   July 10, 2017 at 10:20 am

      Hi:
      Thank you so much. My first inclination was to pop her in the nose but then I thought George was all about peace and love so I opted for a verbal approach.
      Best,
      Steve

      Reply
  3. Lauren Reale   January 11, 2015 at 1:42 am

    I find your writing style to be extremely entertaining!

    Reply
    • Steve   July 10, 2017 at 10:21 am

      Hi:
      I really appreciate that Lauren. I’m trying to find the balance between telling a story and including myself in that story without getting crazy.

      Best,
      Steve

      Reply

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