Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Name Dropper – In Conversation with Laurie Kaye
9 minute read
Imagine getting the opportunity to meet your idol.
And imagine they turned out to be everything that you’d hoped they ever would be.
That’s exactly what happened to music journalist Laurie Kaye on December 8th 1980, when she got the opportunity to interview Beatles legend, John Lennon.
And it was a day that proved to be pivotal, not only for Laurie herself, but for the entire music industry, and for millions of fans around the world.
Because only a matter of hours after Laurie completed her interview at the Dakota Building in New York City, John Lennon was shot and killed.
In Laurie’s new book, Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Name Dropper – My Life Leading Up to John Lennon’s Last Interview, Laurie reflects upon a life in the music industry, on the childhood that led her there, and on the lasting impact of that tragic day in New York City.
By pure coincidence, the day that Laurie and I get to speak on the phone is also the very same day that The Beatles final song, Now and Then, is released.
With The Beatles having played such a significant part in Laurie’s life – not only as a fan, but also as an interviewer – it seemed only right to begin our conversation by asking what she thought about the new song.
“It’s great, and I love the interview from both Paul McCartney and Ringo. It’s wonderful.” Laurie says affectionately. “Now and Then is important because for me it relates to what went on then and what’s going on now.”
At this point I’m not sure if Laurie is referring specifically to The Beatles or to events that are taking place in the world, or whether it’s a reference to how she feels about that tragic day in New York City. But the conversation is young and it doesn’t feel right to ask, and so I simply share my own thoughts about Now and Then.
Laurie’s passion for The Beatles and her love for music started at an early age.
Raised by a single mother and having never known her father, Laurie openly describes her homelife as having been dysfunctional. The neglect and emotional abuse that she experienced from her mother was further compounded by her stepfather. Though never physically abusive towards Laurie, his words and his actions took their toll, and ultimately, Laurie felt alone and like she didn’t belong.
This was when she discovered the power of music, having gotten hold of a transistor radio and a set of headphones; and as a young child, Laurie could now take her radio to bed and find a way of escaping her homelife.
“Eventually, as I was growing up, I got my own stereo system and could listen to more radio, and records. I could block out my parental problems.” Laurie explained.
“I was able to discover the joy and excitement of live concerts too. And I could grow up more positive, because I could concentrate on music instead of the difficulty I was having with my upbringing.”
Laurie’s words landed quite personally, understanding only too well how music can help us through difficult times as a child.
When you’re too young to understand the ways of the world, yet the world is hurting you anyway, music has a way of speaking to you. It’s able to make you feel seen. And it can become a means to surviving, and eventually, a gateway towards healing.
I ask Laurie if it’s possible to put into words what music has brought to her life.
“Well, everything.” Laurie begins. “It allowed me to overlook issues with my mother and my stepfather, and to ignore their sadly evil upbringing of their only child.”
Laurie’s tone becomes more upbeat though as the conversation turns towards her career as a music journalist, which she excitedly describes as ‘cool and creative’; and the path of which appeared to have been in some ways serendipitous.
Whilst still attending high school in 1973, Laurie entered a KMET radio phone-in competition to win tickets to a Rolling Stones concert; and she won! When Laurie and her friend, Allen, went down to KMET to collect their tickets, Laurie had the extra thrill of meeting her radio hero, disc jockey B. Mitchel Read, aka The Beamer.
This was one of those key moments in Laurie’s life, because as The Beamer presented Laurie with the tickets to the Rolling Stones concert, he paid her a compliment that proved life-changing.
“He looked at me and said, wow, with a voice like yours, you should be on the radio!” Laurie enthused. “That was my immediate awareness of what I was going to eventually do with my life. And he turned out to be right.”
While still stuck in a homelife where she was receiving no encouragement or any positive reinforcement, Laurie got to experience what it’s like to have somebody believe in her. And the effect was incredible, not only because it sowed the seeds for her eventual career, but because it also gave her the courage to plan and to execute her eventual escape from home.
I asked about the importance of being able to create your own families and communities, with Laurie having described her true family not as being where she grew up, but instead being made up of fellow live music lovers.
And having secured a working gig at Radio KFRC, Laurie describes the team there as being “the family I’d always dreamed of”, her years there proving significant. “Thanks to their support I was able to continue my climb up the stairway to a kind of personal redemption through my accomplishments in rock radio.”
Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Name Dropper truly lives up to its name.
With Laurie having spent the majority of her working life on the music scene in Los Angeles and San Francisco, it invites the reader to step into that incredible scene of the 60’s and 70’s. Whether viewing it through the eyes of an attendee at those gigs, or shared from the viewpoint of an interviewer that shared the company of those now music legends; it’s names like Neil Young, Little Richard, Tom Petty, George Martin, Paul Kantner, and David Bowie that are dropped throughout.
And then of course, there’s John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
My experience of the book was like stepping into a world that I’ve heard about many times before, yet Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Name Dropper… is told from a completely unique perspective. Because not only do we get to hear about the musicians, gigs, and venues of that time; it’s all seen through the eyes of a person who was there, and who was growing up and figuring out life at the same time.
As a reader we become immersed in the deepest aspects of Laurie’s life; the highs, the lows, and some of the crazy escapades she engaged in, such as the hilarious story of experiencing an LSD trip while on the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland.
“That’s why I called it Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Name Dropper: My Life Leading Up to John Lennon’s Last Interview.” Laurie explains. “Because I consider myself to be a rock and roll name dropper, and these are my confessions.”
Confessions… is a deeply personal read, gifted to us by an incredible lady that is ready to share her story. Laurie has poured her heart and soul into it, and when I express my enthusiasm for it, she seems truly grateful.
“It’s important for me to hear that. It’s not a Beatles bio like so many people might expect it to be and like so many experts on The Beatles have written.” Laurie explains. “It’s my memoir. It’s my early life story wrapped around what tragically turned out to be John Lennon’s last day on the planet, which I was, unbelievably, able to spend a good part of with him and Yoko.”
Though this is not a book about John Lennon or The Beatles, fans will no doubt find Confessions… to be a fascinating read with respect to that subject, with many personal insights being shared about ‘The Fab Four’ throughout. And I ask Laurie what it was like to have interacted with them (1).
“They were all extremely open, and nice, and especially John Lennon. He was extremely validating to me. In fact, they all were. They just appreciated my questions and really seemed to enjoy talking to me, so it was really exciting. And I appreciated talking to them of course.”
With the book having already covered a really heart-warming conversation between Laurie and George Harrison, and also a wonderful interview with Paul McCartney, and his then-wife Linda; the book ultimately leads us towards that tragic day in 1980.
The emotional extremes that Laurie experienced that day are intense to read, and I try to place myself in her shoes by imagining that it’s me that was meeting one of my own idols.
Having been given clear instructions on what should or should not be discussed prior to the interview – most notably, there were to be no questions asked about The Beatles – it would’ve been easy to assume that the interview may have been a potentially difficult experience.
But the opposite couldn’t be truer, and the almost-instant rapport between Laurie, John, and Yoko, is evident. And with respect to any restrictions on Beatles-related questions, it was John himself that eventually brought up the subject of his former band with Laurie. This in itself speaks volumes of the relationship that struck up between them, and Laurie describes the validation that she felt from him; his warmth, in particular, shining from the pages of Confessions…
When I ask Laurie what he did to provide such validation, she replies quickly and excitedly; his words clearly having had a lasting impact.
“He did everything from responding to my questions or comments, by saying, “EXACTLY!”, or, “THAT’S IT LOVE!”, or “YOU’RE RIGHT!”. Just to have somebody do that is amazing.”
I can’t help but imagine young Laurie, listening to The Beatles on her transistor radio in the bedroom of a house in which she felt she didn’t belong. And then, all these years later, it is her idol, John Lennon – the man that had sang in her headphones, and who she saw from high up in the stands of Dodger Stadium back in 1966 – that provides her with the validation that she never got from her own mother.
It was clear that a genuine friendship had begun, having arranged to meet John and Yoko again in San Francisco for dinner. The experience of meeting her idol had gone way beyond what she ever expected it could be and when Laurie left the Dakota Building that day, she was on an unimaginable high.
“I felt that John and Yoko and I were going to be lifelong friends, so it was absolutely horrifying to hear what happened just a few hours afterwards.” Laurie says. “Not only because I lost a friend, but because I lost one of my musical idols, and somebody that I’d just met and had validated me and just made me feel so incredibly important. It was tragic.”
As Laurie exited the building that day, she describes bumping into a man that was behaving strangely and who hassled Laurie for information about John. Understandably, she played things down, kept things pleasant, and got away from him as soon as possible. But this man – whose name is well known, yet whose name Laurie refuses to speak (2) – turned out to be the man that would shoot and kill John Lennon.
This is still a difficult subject for Laurie to talk about, and I become wary of not wanting to push too much.
“It turned out to be the best and worst day of my life, and his being shot and killed within a few hours after our interview ended. It still affects me to this day, and I still feel guilt.”
Life hadn’t been smooth on the build up to the interview either, with a terrifying ordeal occurring just two months before.
While out with her good friend, Brian, in Los Angeles one evening; a young couple had stopped them in the street and asked for directions. But within a matter of moments, there was a knife being held against Laurie’s throat and a gun pointed at Brian’s forehead.
The incident ended with Brian being stabbed in the chest, right next to the heart. And though he very luckily survived the attack, it had a profound and lasting impact on Laurie, leaving her with an overwhelming sense of both fear and guilt.
These two events, in such close succession of each other, are almost impossible to imagine. And although more than forty years have passed, Laurie still feels as though she bares some responsibility for not reporting that man outside the Dakota Building.
I desperately want to make Laurie feel better by assuring her that, looking at this from the outside, she has absolutely nothing to blame herself for. But I know that there’s nothing I can say that Laurie wouldn’t have heard already, and from people that are much more significant than I.
And so, I cut my words short and simply acknowledge everything that she had to experience in that two-month period, and in particular, on December 8th 1980.
I ask Laurie how she is doing with it all now.
“I try to make it easier. And people try to help me make it easier, but, yes, I still feel guilty, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”
When I ask Laurie about what’s next in her life, her focus is very much upon promoting Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Name Dropper, and she hopes to be able to engage in a book tour.
I ask if she’ll make it over to England, and she enthuses about the possibility of visiting Liverpool. I tell her that I hope to meet her someday; that maybe we’ll get to share a drink in The Cavern Club.
“Maybe I’ll write another book.” Laurie adds. “And I want to enjoy as much live music as possible.”
As we bring the interview to a close, I ask about her husband, Curt, who she’s penned a heart-warming dedication to at the start of the book. A man, it seems, that provides her with incredible support in her life, particularly when it came to writing her book; and its proof that finding the right person and having somebody believe in us can make a tremendous difference in our lives.
And that’s something that’s been key for Laurie, becomes it’s not only Rock ‘n’ Roll names that get dropped throughout this book, but also the names of all those people that have become family to Laurie Kaye; Curt, The Beamer, her KFRC colleagues, and all those wonderful people from live music venues.
Laurie is living-proof that no matter what life may present you with, you don’t always have to accept it. And instead, you can find the people that are meant to be in your life, by following your heart and pursuing the things that matter to you most.
As I sit back and reflect on the incredible life that this lady has lived, there’s just one final question that I need to ask.
“What’s the definition of a life well-lived Laurie?”
After a moment of silence, she replies.
“Managing to overcome whatever problems one might have growing-up, and creating a positive outlook, however possible.”
Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Name Dropper – My Life Leading Up to John Lennon’s Last Interview is released on December 8th and is available to order in the UK at Amazon.co.uk
You can also find out more by visiting Laurie’s website – please click here
For more information about Laurie Kaye, the book, and reviews, please see below the footnotes
Whether you’re a casual or die-hard music fan, and no matter what era you enjoy most, Confessions of a Rock ‘n’ Roll name dropper is a must read. And for anybody that’s interested in music journalism or if you just enjoy reading about the interesting lives of people, you will not be disappointed. And of course, for anybody that has a particular fondness for John Lennon and The Beatles, then this is a wonderful addition for your collection. Please pick up your copy today by clicking here.
And just for clarity, no, I am not on commission for any books sold. My enthusiasm comes solely from my genuine appreciation for the story that Laurie Kaye has shared with us in her book.
(1) Although I make reference to ‘The Fab Four’, it’s important to note that Laurie never got to interview Ringo. The interviews featured in the book are with George, Paul, and John, respectively.
(2) And out of sincere respect for Laurie, I will not include his name in this article. Laurie’s reasons for omitting his name – as explained in the book – are completely understandable.
On December 8, 1980, twenty-something rock journalist Laurie Kaye entered the legendary Dakota apartments on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to co-conduct an interview with her longtime idol, John Lennon. It was the last interview Lennon would ever give – just hours later, outside that same building, Lennon was shot dead by a twenty-five-year-old man (whom Kaye refuses to refer to by name) whom Kaye herself had encountered after finishing the interview and stepping outside onto the street.
Kaye has beaten herself up ever since over her failure to recognise that the assassin – who blocked her path and harassed her with questions like “Did you talk to him?” and “Did you get his autograph?” posed a danger and should have been reported.
This book also includes discussion of interviews with such titans of the music industry as Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Talking Heads, The Ramones, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger.
“Her inspiring story culminates in the scoop of the decade – a joyous interview with John and Yoko, ending with the sudden tragedy that shattered her psyche and shook the whole world.” – Madeline Bocaro, author, In Your Mind – The Infinite Universe of Yoko Ono
“Laurie Kaye makes it possible for readers to experience ‘being there’ with her rock ‘n’ roll confessional.” – Dave Sholin, former RKO exec/executive producer; current air personality/assistant programmer, KSJJ/KGMX Bend, Oregon
“Name-dropping? Well, they say it ain’t bragging if you really did it, and Laurie Kaye has really done it.” – Chris Frantz, drummer/cofounder, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club; author, Remain in Love
About Laurie Kaye
Laurie Kaye began her career in radio at KFRC-AM San Francisco, for years one of the nation’s greatest top 40 stations, where she started as an intern and worked her way up to on-air reporter and anchor. She wrote and coproduced numerous radio rock specials for RKO, including RKO Presents the Beatles (later expanded and retitled as The Beatles from Liverpool to Legend), and The Top 100 of the 70’s before moving on to write Dick Clark’s weekly radio countdown show and syndicated newspaper column. Kaye then moved on to television and film as a writer, producer, and casting director, where she still works today, handling both creative content and line producing for docuseries pilots.
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