Gonzo Chronicles: Promo Man Roger Lifeset

How Alice Cooper Trashed My Cambridge Apartment

By: - Mar 14, 2014

Roger Roger Roger Roger Roger Roger Roger

When promo guy Roger Lifeset conned me into having an intimate, VIP party after an Alice Cooper concert I had no clue what I was getting into. Some 300 to 400 people crashed and trashed my Harvard Square basement apartment on University Road in the legendary Murder Building.

So called for exotic murders including one by the Boston Strangler and another, never solved, with a Harvard anthropologist as a prime suspect. The female victim, a former student, was laid out in the ritual manner of Amazon aboriginals.

That meant that rent was cheap and the large complex attracted musicians, artists and hipsters. Annie Liebowitz dropped by to photograph Peter Wolf for Rolling Stone. Warhol associate Ed Hood held court. Nancy Michaels, A.K.A, Molly Maguire composed at her piano. Magic Dick hung out when not on the road. Tony Pink hustled. Rockers came and went. WBCN DJ Jim Perry sorted through albums while the station’s ad man Kenny Greenblatt trolled the watering holes of the Square. We attended the Mar y Sol rock festival on Easter Weekend in Puerto Rico for the Herald and WBCN. We split the jungle on Easter Sunday and actually reported from a bar in the Virgin Islands.

My gig was covering rock and jazz for the daily Boston Herald Traveler.

Recently Lifeset contacted me after a lapse of decades. In the hilarious dialogue that follows, with more to come, we talk about that Alice Cooper event and how in Roger’s words “It went south.”

Total gonzo.

Charles Giuliano Roger I want a lobster (evoking Captain Beefheart)

Roger Lifeset A big red one. (laughs)

CG I want a big red one.

RL I thought I paid for it the last time when I had an expense account.

CG Where are you?

RL I’m right on the line between LA and Ventura County. What is it 85 degrees today?
I’m there. (Compared to 30s in the Berkshires.)

CG You sound like the producer in Doonesbury.

RL That’s possible after all these years and so many changes.

I Google my own name occasionally. Your article showed up (WBCN The Rock of Boston) and you gave me good ink. That’s how I got in touch with you by posting a comment to the site. You always did by the way. It was mind boggling to me. There were great pictures. Very dated pictures of Charlie (McKenzie deceased) of course. The ‘Branch’ guy.

I married a lady, in my third go round, that Dennis Metrano introduced me to. At Daisy’s (Daisy Buchanan a watering hole on Newbury Street. At the time Metrano published a fanzine Sunshine. Later he published The Paper in Newburyport and contributed on rock to a number of publications.)

It’s where the promo guys went just as you described.

At the time he said to me and Rick Alberti that you guys have to come down on Thursdays. That’s when the stewardesses come in and they’re hot for promo guys. That’s all it took so we went.

I started talking to this lady Diane. Dennis introduced me to someone I found attractive. It was happening. That little glimmer was there. We were there a couple of hours. She said “You don’t recognize me do you?” I went “No, not really.” She said “I’m Diane who you went out with.”

I took her out when I was 16-years-old. I just had my driver’s license. With a friend from Quincy we drove to Nantasket Beach. If you were looking for Jewish girls that was a good spot. Particularly in the summer time. I was going to college that fall, Emerson, and this was the end of summer. I took her out once and never went out with her again for a number of reasons. So this is who I’m being introduced to seven years later by Dennis Metrano. A torrid affair started.

Several years ago we were back in Boston. I went to all my old haunts; Marblehead, Swampscott. We were on the North Shore and I heard that Dennis was in Newburyport. I found him pretty quick. We visited. He had his paper. We stayed at a hotel in the area. You know that gut he had. Like in the photo you published. No more. He’s svelte now and looking good. Where did the belly go? I got it. (laughs). Dennis was skinny and I was the f word.

I would have been shocked if I had seen that picture and not run into him earlier. Of all the people in those pictures Dennis was the last one I saw. It was probably half a dozen years ago.

CG You went to Emerson. That’s where you met Sherry who was best friends with my then girlfriend Nan Katsiff.

RL Sherry is still friendly with her. Now she prefers to be called Nanna. I have a picture of her in Harvard Square. In a short skirt she’s walking right near Nini’s Corner.

CG Before Warner Brothers did you work for Jerry Brenner?

RL I did. I worked for Jerry at Transcon. Then later at Music Merchants. Sadly Jerry passed away about two weeks ago. I hate to be the bearer or bad news. I saw a great picture of him on your website.

CG How long were you with Warner Brothers?

RL I was there the year the branch opened in 1973. I left there. I was cleaning out my desk when I got a call from ABC Records. Because of Johnny B and Charlie. We used to call it ABC Downhill. For that time for them to have three guys based in the same office was ludicrous. It was one thing for Charlie (McKenzie) and me to be at Warner Brothers. It was another thing to have three people working out of an office in Woburn right up in that general area.

For a number of reasons they decided they didn’t want us working in a branch office. They were going to rent an office of our own. In an office park where they could put four desks because we had a secretary (Pam Burton). We would work out of there as the promotion department. The distributor was in Medford. (Meffa) It was close to where we had the other part of the Alice Cooper saga, the Bal-a-Rou roller skating rink. The branch was within spitting distance on Medford Avenue.

CG You have it wrong. The skating party was for The Cars and I have photos of it.

RL Nope. I’m talking about the one for Alice Cooper. The Second Alice Cooper party was thrown in your basement apartment in Cambridge. The first Alice Cooper party was legendary. Like yours. It didn’t start until midnight. They were in concert that night and the party would start after the show.

Despite all the drugs and crazy shit going on you were pretty dead on accurate in what you wrote (for Berkshire Fine Arts on Boston rock). Particularly for what I could attest to. Like the Alice Cooper party.

I hired the cleanup crew as well as the guy who was going to check the guest list at the door.

CG The cleanup crew never fucking came. My apartment was totally trashed.

RL The cleanup guy came and looked in the door and went nah. (laughs)

CG The guys on the door were on LSD.

RL Yes he was. I realized he was very inept at this job.

CG Gee. Thanks Roger.

RL There’s a sidelight to that you’ll love.

CG Not necessarily.

RL No this is necessary.

CG You fucking trashed my apartment.

RL (laughing) I know. You wanted it there for starters.

CG Excuse me? (agitated) Back off a minute.

RL (laughing)

CG This is how it went down.

I met you shortly after joining the Herald Traveler through Nan. You said “You’re my new instant best friend.”

RL Yeah. I probably did. But I meant it.

CG Your exact words. “My new instant best friend.”

My understanding was that it was the first Alice Cooper gig in Boston. At the Orpheum Theatre.

You sent me a letter and I wish I still had it. It said “Dear Captain.” More or less I invite you to have an exclusive VIP party for Alice Cooper after the gig. It was to be a hand picked list of perhaps 50 of the best Boston rockers. You were going to take care of everything from booze and catered food to bar tender, servers and cleanup. I wouldn’t have to lift a finger. Don’t worry about a thing we’ll take care of everything.

RL We sure did. (laughs)

CG Yeah right. Everything will be first class. It’s VIP only. The best of the best. The cream of the cream. An intimate, underground, Harvard Square after party.

(My basement apartment on University Road in the legendary Murder Building.)

I told my boss, the arts editor, Sam Hirsch, a total jerk, that I was covering Alice Cooper. What an idiot he was.

RL I remember him.

CG He said who is Alice Cooper? I said well his real name is Vince (born Vincent Damon Furnier, February 4, 1948) but he calls himself Alice.

Hirsch said “We’re a respectable family newspaper and can’t write about drag queens.” So I never even got to cover the concert. I came running home from the gig.

That afternoon a neighbor knocked on the door and said there was a lot of stuff delivered for you to my apartment.

It was all the food and booze.

I met your doorman with a couple of his pals. He showed me the list and wasn’t supposed to let anyone in if he didn’t have their names.

Within a few minutes there was an endless stream and the sprawling, cave like apartment was packed. The last straw was when a dozen drag queens floated in. I went upstairs and said to the doorman “You can’t tell me that they were on the list.” The answer was “We thought that was Alice Cooper.” At that point I realized it was hopeless and said what the heck come join the party.

RL That’s a good version of it. Pretty close to what I know.

CG Every rocker with a hundred miles was there. We had everyone from WBCN and all kinds of bands from J. Geils to the Sidewinders, James Montgomery and Modern Lovers. Loudon Wainwright was strangling his wife Kate McGarrigle on the kitchen floor. There was an old piano for a jam session.

Alice Cooper showed up but was so freaked out that the band soon left.

Everyone finally left and around dawn a neighbor put a pin in my doorbell.

By about 10 AM I staggered into work totally hung over. That afternoon after work I was totally dead and the doorbell rang. It was Maxanne from WBCN. She wanted to visit and see the aftermath. We had tea and a recap of the madness from the night before.

The cleanup crew never came and it took more than a week to get things back in order. The rug was soaked with beer and cigarettes. The apartment reeked. I got you to pay for having it sent out and shampooed. Even that was pulling teeth.

RL If you can find the rug I said. (laughing)

CG So Roger you fucked me. You fucked me.

RL I did. (laughing) Now I can say it. I felt awful about it.

CG Oh, did you? How touching. You’re breaking my heart.

RL The security guard was one of my trashy teenage friends from Marblehead. They were all headers. The guy who was checking names, whatever, was Wayne Ward. He didn’t look right to me when I saw him that night. That’s why he was perfect for the job. The people who came were all artsy fartsy deviants or whatever. They were perfect for an Alice Cooper party.

In the middle of it you blew a 30 amp fuse and said “Who are all these people? How did they get in here? I thought you said there was like security.” I went over to Wayne at that point because I was a little concerned about it also and I asked him “Who are these people?” He said “They all were invited. They all have passes and credentials.”

At that point I saw one of the drag queens. He was an old drag queen. Really just a deviant street person. Kind of a weirdo. He was dancing around and drinking beer and eating the food. I said to Wayne “Who’s he?” He went “Oh, that’s Alice Cooper.” The whole thing had gone south.

CG The band didn’t stick around. It was too crazy for Alice Cooper. Years later I would run into perfect strangers who said “I was at your Alice Cooper party.” The entire Cambridge scene showed up. Would you say we had 300 to 400 people?

RL That sounds about right. What’s surprising is that the cops never showed up. How could that be?

CG It was in January during what we call the January Thaw. It was a balmy spring like evening and a lot of people spilled out onto the alley because it was so crowded. It ended up being a winter block party.

RL There was probably a full moon that night. That’s a legitimate rock ‘n’ roll medal on your chest. It was a part of an overseas campaign. If you attended. You were there. You know about it. The Alice Copper party prior to that gave me the confidence to let this one rip. The one at the Bal-a-Rou the security I admit was a little better. I paid a guy to make ham salad and peanut butter sandwiches. Just sandwiches and beer is what we had. For that party Alice Cooper was going to attend. I hired a band that Charlie found called the Shittons. Which was a riff on the Chiffons. They played all the 60’s girl group songs.

CG There’s another part of the Alice Cooper promotion. You hired two girls from Swampscott.

RL The Dancing Beer Cans (Budweiser for Alice who then drank a case a day).

CG They had Budwiser beach towels formed around them. They were to greet Alice at Logan when he got off the plane.

RL Actually they made the costumes. I was quite proud of them.

CG One of the girls who I got to know was upset and sent me a copy of the letter you wrote to her. In it you refused to pay them an agreed upon fee because they had acted unprofessionally by screwing the band. You said “I didn’t pay you to fuck the band.”

RL That’s right. Previously I introduced them to another band and they did the same thing. They were groupies. That’s what they wanted to do. They didn’t need to get paid. That’s not what they were doing it for. They were going to be at the airport. The dancing beer cans. They were good looking girls.

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Alvin Lee and the Birth of Gonzo.

Rock in Boston: Charles Giuliano and Steve Nelson.

Origins: Charles Giuliano and David Wilson.

Remembering WBCN a photo album.

Ron Della Chiesa on the early days of WBCN.

Charles Giuliano and Arnie Reisman on Boston media in the 1960s.

Gonzo Chronicles: Roger Lifeset Two

Gonzo Chronicles: Roger Lifeset Three