Stone Free, the third volume of Andrew Oldham's autobiographical trilogy (after Stoned and 2Stoned), is a meditation on the art of the hustle, from the man who managed the Rolling Stones and produced their records from 1963-67. Oldham knows whereof he speaks -- he's hustled and/or been hustled by an array of entertainment biz honchos since he was a teenager publicizing the Beatles.
Stone Free devotes a chapter to the late Pete Kameron, Oldham's long-time close friend and partner in hustledom. Oldham sees Pete as a "Zen hustler," a quality I witnessed up close and personal during our time together at LA Weekly, where he was an original investor and board member and I was publisher.
Pete expressed his business mantra succinctly: "Ya know, sometimes you have to be yin, sometimes yang." During one spectacularly contentious board meeting circa 1992, psychiatrist Oscar Janiger (best known for giving LSD to Cary Grant) rose to say, "I'm sensing there's anger in the room." That was about the moment Pete reminded me to be (or at least to act) yin. When I didn't grasp his meaning, he translated: "Shut the fuck up and let them come to you." (Billionaire Leonard Stern -- of the eponymous Stern School of Business at NYU -- who bought The Weekly shortly thereafter, gave me substantially the same advice, sans the spirituality: "All you need to know about business is when to kick ass and when to kiss ass.")
Equally comfortable with gangsters, corporate CEOs and Tibetan masters, Pete sometimes wore lush spiritual robes (or, when he got older, worn-out bathrobes) to the meetings we had at his Jupiter Drive home on Mount Olympus. (I'm not kidding; that's the L.A. neighborhood where he lived for years.) Once, he descended the stairs brandishing a favorite gun.
When cutting a deal, Pete strove relentlessly to get exactly what he wanted without hurting the other party. But in his drive to win, he could be stone cold when he had leverage. In Stone Free, Oldham recalls a time when, having been outhustled by Allen Klein, he was at a low point financially. He enlisted Pete and Kevin Eggers (the very non-Zen hustler behind Albert Goldman's execrable bio Elvis) to help him close a lucrative deal for writing his memoir. After a series of stops and starts -- including a hilarious misadventure with Michael Medved, who went on to become an annoying right-wing pontificator -- the deal fell apart when Oldham grokked that what Kameron and Eggers had in mind was a lurid tell-all. This stung, but mutual respect, affection and a shared sense of the absurd kept the Oldham/Kameron friendship intact. Oldham writes, "(If) someone's going to take your money, better to call him a friend."
There's one deal no mortal can hustle. At 87 and facing terminal liver cancer, Pete stayed remarkably yin when he said his goodbyes to Andrew and other friends and colleagues in mid-2008. I'm told by one of Pete's comrades that his final words were those of a frustrated but determined negotiator. Waking up in pain after a nap for the last time, he demanded, "What the fuck am I still doing here?"
Next time: more on Stone Free, featuring Sergei Diaghilev, Albert Grossman, Malcolm McClaren and Allen Klein. Plus a previously untold tale of Oldham, Phil Spector and record industry vet Seymour Stein, whose collective knowledge of pop/rock music could fill Borges' "Library of Babel."