Gary James' Interview With The Author Of
The Rock And Roll Book Of The Dead
The Fatal Journey's Of Rock's Seven Immortals
The Rock And Roll Book Of The Dead is not your usual biography book on famous musicians. Far from it. Author David Comfort takes you inside, I mean really inside, the lives of the people he writes about. And in The Rock And Roll Book Of The Dead, he writes about Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain and Jerry Garcia.
David Comfort talked with us about his book.
Q - David, I thought I knew everything about everybody you wrote about in your book. Was I mistaken! You have information that I've never seen before.
A - Well, I read everything I possibly could. Then I was interviewing some people too. In the Cobain case, I was in contact with Hank Harrison, Courtney Love's father, who is the first to say she axed him. Then the private detective
(Tom Grant). So yeah, there's a lot of stuff in there. The Cobain thing just astonishes me that it hasn't come to trial, but there it is.
Q - Tom Grant seems to know more than he is letting on.
A - Oh, he does!
Q - When you ask him about evidence, he will tell you he's holding onto it until something else develops.
A - I know that very well. We were actually collaborating, thinking of writing a book together. He was very protective of this extra information he had. He would not even reveal it to me before I signed a non-disclosure agreement. My point to him was, no publisher is going to take this unless you have some really riveting new material and I'm not sure he does. I think he spilled most of the beans to the guys who did Love And Death. So, I just don't know.
Q - Why would he give this impression that he knows more?
A - I tried to feel him out and we talked for hours and hours. I didn't really get anything substantially new from him. Of course, you are going to have to have proof, not just speculation here. That's really important. When it comes to actual proof, maybe he just doesn't have it.
Q - Don't you find it odd that he was retained by Courtney to find Kurt and once he found Kurt, he continued to investigate? Isn't that a little strange?
A - It is strange. His first detractor, Sgt. Don Cameron [Seattle Police Department] said you just smell bucks. You smell celebrity and want to make some money out of this. I don't think so. From my discussions with him, the guy is a real Boy Scout. He smelled something fishy right away. This was Courtney's alibi to use him.
Q - This book was published in 2009, so it's been on bookshelves for four years now.
A - Yes.
Q - Have you gotten any feedback from Tom Grant or Courtney Love?
A - I was a little anxious about the Courtney Love thing because it's sold well, but if it had become a bestseller it would've alerted her, and she's certainly become very confrontational if not threatening to the people who've done that before. That has not transpired. Tom Grant really liked the book. One thing we discovered at length was the possibility that this guy, Allen Wrench, was a fraud. He said later on that he was not the one who "whacked" as he put it, Eldon Hoke, for saying that Courtney offered him $50,000 and by saying Wrench was probably the guy who did it for her. Then of course Hoke gets run over by an Amtrak, 48 hours later. That sounded awfully odd to me, but Tom made a pretty compelling argument that people come out of the woodwork when stuff like this happens. "I did it – I did it," just wanting celebrity. It sounds like going through his argument that it may very well have been that Wrench was a fraud. When I wrote my book, I hadn't talked to him at that length. This was my only reservation about the treatment of that thing.
Q - Tom is very specific about the position of Kurt's body and how it would've been impossible for Kurt to have committed suicide. Yet, Sgt. Cameron dismissed it.
A - Well, Courtney was good friends with Cameron. She was narcing everybody out to Cameron, and his associates in the police department. They had a really close relationship. So, he wanted to protect Courtney and in fact, he did. She gave him the letter that Cobain had given her, which was essentially a divorce letter, in Rome, and she kept it under wraps and then she showed Cameron the letter. She was maintaining all along that it wasn't a letter of intent of divorcing her or anything like that. She was maintaining that it was the first indication that he was going to commit suicide. Cameron said "No. It doesn't say anything like that. If I were you, I'd get rid of this." And she did.
Q - Will this case ever be re-opened or is it pretty much dead in the water?
A - I think it's dead in the water practically speaking because it would be more than egg in the face for the Seattle Police Department. It would be humiliation. A major one. They don't want to cross that bridge, unless some Boy Scout comes along. When I was talking to Tom Grant, he was saying you remember the Skakel case. That was dead in the water until Mark Fuhrman got involved. At that point he was pretty much a celebrity investigator / author from the OJ thing. He was the one that got that back on the front burner and had it reinvestigated and tried. That was Tom Grant's hope, that someone like Fuhrman would come aboard and bring it the kind of publicity he needed.
Q - And that hasn't happened.
A - That hasn't happened.
Q - This April it will be 19 years.
A - It's stunning. I think she's gotten away with it. Obviously she didn't do Cobain herself. She had it done. She's got her network out there.
Q - I read the chapter in Danny Goldberg's book on Cobain.
A - I think he knows way more than he's revealed. His wife was in the thick of it. But she was the lawyer for both Cobain and Courtney, trying to play both sides. Actually she revealed some things that were really shocking. She said that when Courtney was in her office, she left her backpack. This was when Kurt was supposedly missing in Seattle, but she knew exactly where he was. She left her backpack and Rosemary went into the backpack and found those sketch sheets where she was practicing Cobain's writing for the suicide note. I'm really surprised she revealed that
Q - She probably realizes nothing is going to happen now.
A - Oh, yeah, right.
Q - How long did it take you to put this book together and gather the information?
A - I was actually reading and researching for about seven years on it. A long time. But, it was a fun seven years because it was so fascinating. The more deeply you dig, the more you just get riveted. The other big aspect of the book is, I didn't anticipate and I should have, those seven people are Gods to many fans. Truly. They frankly do not want to hear anything negative about them, especially like Lennon. Lennon could be a pretty nasty character. So could Elvis. They don't want to hear that. So there was some blowback to a certain extent there.
Q - We've read about Lennon's personality in Tony Barrow's book and Albert Goldman's book. It shouldn't be that much of a surprise.
A - Albert Goldman especially. He got crucified for that. It sold really well and his book on Elvis sold really well. People were just absolutely frosted. Who was it, Bono of U2 said he'd be ready to kill Albert Goldman for what he said? McCartney came down pretty hard on him too and McCartney certainly knew how do nasty John could be.
Q - Paul McCartney has a vested interest in promoting the Beatles as the lovable mop tops. That's money in his pocket.
A - Yeah, right. He sure does. How much more does this guy need? (Note: Paul McCartney is reportedly worth $1.5 billion).
Q - Speaking of Rock personalities, in 2009 when your book came out, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston were still alive.
A - Amy Winehouse.
Q - You could write Part Two of The Rock And Roll Book Of The Dead.
A - Yeah, you sure could. The themes of the book which you probably saw are two. One, this weird thing with not only Rock 'n' Roll artists, but with any artists, painters, what ever, there's this weird thing with super creative people who can also be super destructive, self-destructive. I wanted to really explore that. The other aspect of the book is just the toxicity of super fame. I mean it's hard to survive, especially at a young age. If you make it to 40, you might be okay, but The 27 Club is just overwhelming. But yeah, there certainly is a second book for this kind of thing.
Q - You didn't include
Bobby Fuller in your book. Have you heard of him?
A - I have, but I don't really know very much about him.
Q - Another theme I picked up on in your book is how unhappy these people were. They were absolutely miserable.
A - They were. I mean there was a "rush" for a few years. I just heard Charlie Sheen on Piers Morgan and he was saying the same thing. Morgan was asking how was super fame. Sheen said it was just bitchin' for a year or two and then it was just crash and burn. And, at least half of 'em wanted to get out of it, and they were too far in.
Q - One of 'em might have gotten out, but more about that in just a minute. The other theme in your book is drugs. Once drugs enter the picture, you're playing with fire.
A - It dovetails with the whole issue of the toxicity of super fame. They were using those drugs. Most of them went from expander drugs like LSD or pot, through coke, into heroin, which basically is the closest thing to being dead. It was only through heroin that they were pulled down from the pedestal and didn't feel the pressure, that divinity and that image they had to sustain.
Q - With Kurt Cobain, we were always told that he had such terrible stomach pains, that's why he turned to heroin for relief. Yet in your book, you write that towards the end of Kurt's life, that problem had been fixed. I never heard that before.
A - The kid really changed him. Frances Bean. It was the first really positive life affirming thing in his life. He was crazy about her. I think it really helped him out a lot. That said, he knew he was in for a child custody battle with Courtney and that really made things pretty complicated in the end. But he was starting to mature. But then again, he admitted in spite of all the stomach problems, "hey, heroin? It's the union card, and I want to be part of the union."
Q - As smart and creative and rich as Kurt Cobain was, he didn't learn from the musicians of the past who fell victim to heroin.
A - Right.
Q - He probably just thought it wouldn't happen to him.
A - Yeah, you wonder. I mean, it's speculation, but had he not been murdered, how would things have turned out? He was quitting Nirvana. He wanted to go solo. He was talking about independent projects with [Michael] Stipe and maybe he would've done that. Just like Hendrix was talking about getting out of the circus, the rat race, and starting to concentrate on jazz and working with some of the jazz musicians. I don't know.
Q - Another theme of the book is how dark and gloomy the lives of these people are.
A - Yes.
Q - They don't come across as being very likable.
A - No, they don't. Frankly, they don't. Garcia is probably the most likable or the least un-likable.
Q - You're right.
A - I'm writing a book now on writers, famous writers, and I'm also into painting. Frankly, a lot of great artist where scum bags. They were real ass holes. Very immature. Very narcissistic. It comes with the territory.
Q - I've found over the years that if you question an associate or relative about the mysterious death of say a Hendrix or Cobain, you are met with hostility and anger.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Did you encounter that with anybody you interviewed?
A - Well, I did, yeah. Have you heard of Dave Marsh?
Q - Sure. He's a writer.
A - Yeah, he's a writer and I got a huge hostility from him. I suppose the basis of that hostility is – who the hell are you? How can you write this book? He said, "I was in the room with John Lennon." I could care less if he was in the room with John Lennon and that's about it. Did he really know John Lennon? I think there was a built-in resentment from someone like that. He was truly a rock 'n' roller and an insider and I'm an outsider and how dare you even talk about these people? But I think an outsider perspective is very important, quite frankly, because you don't get into that kind of clanishness and that kind of adulation. Certainly hostility from other people. Just the people who really worship these people and don't want to hear anything negative about them. I'm not trying to be negative about them. Any truly artistic personality is a very complicated human being. Conflicted. So many different contradictions in their personality. To me, that doesn't diminish them. It just makes them more interesting.
Q - Again, when you interview someone about suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of say Jimi Hendrix, as a writer you are only trying to clear the perception of Hendrix as a drug addict. That's all.
A - And it also shows you the ruthlessness of rock 'n' roll. It's a business and there's a lot of money in it. Whenever you have that level of money, you're going to have some homicides. And [Mike] Jeffrey couldn't tolerate being fired and having all that exposed. I don't get people. Why even consent to an interview if you are going to be hostile to begin with? If you don't want to discuss it, don't talk.
Q - You believe that Hendrix's manager, Mike Jeffrey, may have faked his death and did not die in a plane crash?
A - That's a very strange thing that happened, that airline accident. They found I think a bracelet of his or some of his jewelry, but they didn't find any remains. This is just the kind of guy from MI-6 who would have done that.
Q - Let's talk about Jim Morrison. Do you believe he's dead?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - I interviewed Alan Graham. Did you talk to him?
A - No, is that Courson's brother?
Q - No, that's Jim's brother-in-law. He was married to Jim's sister.
A - Oh, okay.
Q - When I talked to Alan in 1989, both of Jim's parents were alive then. They thought Jim faked his death. And there were reports of a Morrison look-alike in the Paris nightclubs at that time, a German fellow. So, Jim Morrison was being accused of things he didn't really do. Reading your book, there's no mention of any look-alike.
A - No. There was a lengthy article about Sam Bernett. He was the manager of The Rock And Roll Circus at the time. He hadn't said anything for years and years. He wanted to get it off his chest by the time he was 60. He had a lot to lose. He was an executive with Disney in Paris or something like that. He finally said, "I was the manager there and this is what happened: He [Morrison] OD'd in the bathroom. We had to take him out the back, take him back to the flat and put him in the tub." It sounds pretty legitimate to me. You study Morrison and the kind of state he was in before all this happened and he was definitely on his way down.
Q - So, we have to believe what this manager said?
A - I don't believe it just because it seemed compelling enough in the context of what I knew about Morrison at the time. He obviously was escaping The Doors. He was escaping the whole rock 'n' roll circus, which he hated and he always wanted to be a poet who was taken seriously. This was his ex-patriachon to Paris and all the rest. It seemed from many other sources that he couldn't create a thing and it was really bumming him out, that he was creatively dead, which applies to a bunch of those other people too. He writes in his notebook that "the poppy will get you in the end. It's gotten me" or whatever it was. [Pamela] Courson (Jim's common-law wife) was a junkie for so many years. He always said no for many years. "Heroin is for people who are into death. I'm into life." I think he finally turned the corner. He was so depressed. He was so bummed out. He was so empty at the end that he actually did start doing heroin. You can do heroin, but you can't drink with heroin. It's just a toxic mix.
Q - Here was a guy who was deathly afraid of needles, but you say he was snorting heroin.
A - Yeah. That's what Clapton did. That's what a bunch of people did. They just snorted it. Garcia hated needles, so he "chased the dragon" as they say. He smoked it. It's a lot more expensive.
Q - Lennon too.
A - Oh, yeah. I was really shocked in my research. I knew listening to "Cold Turkey" that he had a heroin problem, but I didn't know it was early on. I mean, it was during "Sgt. Pepper" that he got involved with it, which is really quite early.
Q - Actually, it's before that. According to Lennon Remembers, he was snorting heroin during The Beatles' last tour of the US in 1966.
A - It could've been.
Q - I did an interview with
Gerald Pitts back in 2009, who says Morrison is alive and well in Oregon.
A - Really?
Q - Do you remember hearing about that?
A - No.
Q - He told me six months after Morrison's reported death, Jim came back to the US, withdrew money from a bank in Louisiana, signed his name James Morrison, and no one even raised an eyebrow.
A - I just have a hard time believing that. I'm not going quite as far as the whole "Elvis is alive" thing. It's astounding that guy [Elvis] made it to 42, the kind of drugs he was taking. Any of the rest of us mortals would've been dead way before that. I can't imagine that Elvis Presley would've survived. It's just amazing he went as long as he did.
Q - In your chapter on Elvis, page 179, you have Wolfman Jack asking Elvis what it's like to be Elvis Presley. Elvis responds, "it's very, very uncomfortable."
A - Yeah.
Q - On page 180, you tell the story of a guy who was in the hospital at the same time as Elvis was, having plastic surgery to look like him. Elvis says "I think I'm going to swap places with him. He can have all this shit and I'll just take the every day, normal life." Can you see how these stories would lead people to believe Elvis faked his death?
Linda Hood Sigman maintains Elvis is very much alive. She writes and talks to him all the time and has since 1992.
A - Where does she maintain Elvis is living right now, or probably she's not revealing that.
Q - She doesn't say.
A - So they put a dummy body in the grave she would allege?
Q - How it was done was not discussed.
A - As far as I know it was an open casket. Like 100,000 people went by. Did they have a dummy Elvis in there? An Elvis impersonator?
Q - Some people would say – yes!
A - Presumably his father would have been in on this charade, right?
Q - I can't say Vernon Presley was. I've been told Col. Parker was.
A - Then that whole story that's in a bunch of texts is bogus. He of course blamed Dr. Nick. Nick went to some Bowl game down there with another doctor, not too long after Elvis died. Remember in that book? He was shot. Elvis' father said "God dammit! They shot the wrong guy!" The quantity of drugs this guy [Elvis] took was just superhuman. Twelve were found in his system when he was dead. The Six Attack Protocol he was on – it would kill an elephant!
Q - These drugs were also being used by his entourage.
A - Well he had his entourage signing for them so he could get more and more, yeah. Sure he wanted to dope up his entourage. They were all on dope. In the last 18 months of his life, it's about 12,000 prescriptions. [Laughs].
Q - How can you rehearse, record, tour and even stand if you are taking that many prescriptions? It almost seems like you'd have to be standing over a sink with a glass of water most of the day.
A - Well, he collapsed on stage a number of times towards the end and he had to be carried out weeping. He had another tour coming up. It was almost like the [Michael] Jackson thing. He knew he couldn't do it, or he really didn't want to do it. Jackson was in even more desperate shape.
Q - But Elvis agreed to the tour. He gained 50 pounds before the tour was to open in Portland, Maine. He didn't order any new costumes. He didn't have his existing costumes tailored. What was he going to wear on stage? I can't get anyone to answer that question.
A - Really. It seemed like in the end he had absolutely no reason to continue to live. No will to live.
Q - You say that John Lennon had a nervous breakdown? When was that?
A - Well, during what they call The Lost Weekend in LA when he semi broke up with Yoko. He almost drank himself to death and had a nervous breakdown towards the end of that. I think he might of had another one right before that, a few years before that. I think a few years after he left The Beatles and all his stuff was tanking and McCartney's stuff was launched, which he found absolutely intolerable. That whole "house husband" - a bunch of nonsense. It wasn't a house husband period. Yeah, he was in the Dakota baking bread or whatever, but he was creatively dead. Everything he had done certainly didn't come up to his expectations. I think he said, "most of what I've done since I left the Beatles is shit."
Q - But he was baking bread, wasn't he?
A - Yeah, he was for a little bit for his son. He was mostly in his room getting high and watching TV.
Q - John and Yoko were in a car crash that nearly cost them their lives?
A - Yeah. It was up in Scotland or North England. They came out with stitches. Apparently he crawled out of the crash and said "I'm alive!" It was pretty serious. He was one of the worlds worst drivers, except for maybe Hendrix. [Laughs]
Q - What year was it that he would have had that crash?
A - Oh, I think it was the early '70s, '70, '71.
Q - You write that on the very day John was murdered, according to Jack Douglas, all he would talk about was death. He had a premonition he was going to die. I never heard that before.
A - Then on his last tour he was absolutely petrified that he was going to be shot. I have it in the book. A firecracker or something went off in the audience during one of their performances. He's looking at himself thinking "where am I hit?" He was thinking he had been shot. He was pretty terrified the whole tour. Of course that was after "the Beatles are more popular than Jesus" and they got all kinds of death threats.
Q - You quoted Hendrix as saying "It's better to be a ditch digger than a Rock star." What a strange comment when everybody would like to be a Rock star.
A - Yeah, he just wanted to get out of the whole thing. They wouldn't have become who they were had they not been almost pathologically motivated. All of them became stars and once they became stars they saw it was more than a gilded cage, it was like a black hole. The thing about Elvis being alive; I can't imagine Elvis being a private citizen. Can you?
Q - It's hard to imagine a person being used to the star treatment giving it all up.
A - When he was in the room, he expected to be treated like a king. Everybody deferred to Elvis. I don't think you can change that personality. I can't imagine him in the middle of Iowa on a farm someplace, reading. [Laughs]
Q - Unless his life was so hellish, he wanted out. I had a member of law enforcement tell me Col. Parker offered Elvis a way out – and he took it!
A - Well, from my reading, Elvis was becoming more of a problem for the Col. than what he was worth. He was looking for ways to get rid of him, in a very profitable way of course.
Q - Elvis was tiring of the Colonel's gambling addiction.
A - Yeah. He was a major gambler.
Q - The mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of the people you have in your book never seem to end.
A - I think the front runner for a resolution seems like it would be Hendrix. The corner himself said somebody drowned him, basically took bottles and drowned him in wine, which is kind of a Mafia thing to do. And of course, Jeffrey was involved with all of them and all the rest. They tried to reopen it in the mid-'90s, but dropped it again because of insufficient evidence.
Q - I'd like to end the interview on an upbeat note, but I'm not sure if that's possible.
A - Just the example of these people to the survivors, to the people who are still out there, I think they've certainly learned their lesson to a certain extent. It's certainly a cautionary tale, all of them. People like this are a lot more aware than they were pre-Hendrix, when all that stuff started happening. I mean, how is Keith Richards still alive? How is Eric Clapton still alive? Townshend? Wilson? Crosby?
Q - You didn't put Brian Jones in your book.
A - If I'd had the opportunity, it was a lengthy issue, I would've put him in there. I wrote a few blogs about him. A fascinating character. Speaking of conspiracy stuff, were Jagger and Richards involved in that? He was drowned by the guy who was fixing up his house, who was basically a friend of Keith Richards who fixed up his house, and he recommended him to Jones. That's right when they wanted to get Jones out of the band and they hadn't settled financially with him yet. So, it would've been easier just to "off him", wouldn't it, but speaking of conspiracy theories...
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