Rock Journalist Al Aronowitz Dies at 77

Al Aronowitz, right, shown with New Orleans R& B and blues artist Dr. John, covered entertainment, including the emerging rock scene and the Beat poets in the 1960s.
Al Aronowitz, right, shown with New Orleans R& B and blues artist Dr. John, covered entertainment, including the emerging rock scene and the Beat poets in the 1960s. (Al Aronowitz's Private Collection)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Al Aronowitz, a big-talking journalist who introduced the Beatles to Bob Dylan and, he claimed, to marijuana, and who led as colorful a life as the rock stars he chronicled, died Aug. 1 of cancer at a hospital in Elizabeth, N.J. He was 77.

As a reporter with the New York Post in the 1960s, Mr. Aronowitz was among the first mainstream journalists to write in-depth, complimentary articles about rock music, the writers of the Beat Generation and other artists who brought about a cultural revolution. Sometimes called the godfather of rock journalism, he freely crossed the line from observer to drug-taking participant long before Rolling Stone magazine had ever heard of Hunter S. Thompson.

In his heyday, Mr. Aronowitz was a well-known entertainment writer who could get Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and Marilyn Monroe to return his calls. His work appeared in national magazines and was reprinted in anthologies. Modesty was not one of his more notable traits.

"The '60s wouldn't have been the same without me," he said.

Mr. Aronowitz first heard folk-music sensation Dylan in the early 1960s and, in his own words, "fell in love."

"To me," he wrote, "no other artist had ever come along with such wit, perception, insight, charm, cleverness and charisma."

In 1964, he went to England to investigate the growing mania for the Beatles and wrote a 10,700-word article for what became the best-selling issue of the Saturday Evening Post.

The high point of his career, in more ways than one, may have come on Aug. 28, 1964, when he brought the Beatles together with Dylan at the Hotel Delmonico in New York. According to inside accounts, Mr. Aronowitz opened his private stash of marijuana and offered some to the Beatles, who apparently had never tried it. John Lennon asked Ringo Starr to be his "royal taster."

"Soon, Ringo got the giggles," Mr. Aronowitz wrote years later, and "the rest of us started laughing hysterically at the way Ringo was laughing hysterically."

The meeting proved musically fruitful, as well, because it led both the Beatles and Dylan in new directions.

"The Beatles' magic was in their sound," Mr. Aronowitz told Mike Miliard of the Boston Phoenix last year. "Bob's magic was in his words. After they met, the Beatles' words got grittier, and Bob invented folk-rock."

In another interview last year with the Star-Ledger of Newark, Mr. Aronowitz said: "Until the advent of rap, pop music remained largely derivative of that night at the Delmonico. That meeting didn't just change pop music, it changed the times."


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