25 February 2013

Today would have been George Harrison’s 70th birthday. I never met him, but I felt like I did. 

My editor in chief at Billboard, Timothy White, was close to Harrison, as he was with several other music superstars from his days at Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone.

White was a titan in the world of consumer rock journalism by the time he came to Billboard in the early '90s and he rocked our trade magazine’s boat in ways both good and bad. He was a very complex person, whip smart and fascinating, yet there were people on staff that he treated unfairly due to his own very human shortcomings. Despite some initial skirmishes, he was great to me in many ways, including promoting me to Billboard’s West Coast Bureau Chief in 1998. It was after I relocated from New York to Los Angeles that we became much closer, in part because he worked very late the nights that he was in New York (he commuted every week from Boston) and would often need an ear. I would be the only one to call since everyone in the New York office had long departed and I was working late in Los Angeles as well.  

One of the greatest honors I received at Billboard was when he asked me to serve as his editor on a few pieces, including an in-depth interview he conducted with George Harrison that ran in early 2000 after he'd spent time with Harrison at his residence, Friar Park. I remember being terrified. It was pretty easy to set Timothy off with some unsuspecting comment, plus his writing could be a little longwinded, but I realized if he was asking me to edit him, he really wanted my opinion. So I gingerly, but confidently, suggested a number of changes, all of which he agreed to or, if he didn’t, had a very good explanation as to why not. We were on the phone at some absurd hour-- maybe 11 p.m. my time/2 a.m. his time and it was an extremely easy, congenial, collegial endeavor that I enjoyed immensely. Editing that story and one of his Music To My Ears columns about the Blues Brothers remain two of my most precious memories of Timothy. Instead of boss and employee, we were two writers hashing through a story about a man dear to both of us: to him personally and to me as a fan.

Harrison died Nov. 29, 2001 at 58. What none of us could have known was that seven months later, Timothy would be dead too after suffering a fatal heart attack in the elevator at Billboard's New York office after coming back to lunch with his best friend and his family. He was only 50. 

I should probably save this for the anniversary of Timothy’s death in June, but I will never forget that day. The Los Angeles office was having its company picnic and Howard Lander, Billboard’s then publisher, called me to tell me that Timothy has collapsed (at that point, we didn’t know he’d died). He told me to send my staff to the picnic (which was in the office backyard), but that I needed to stay by the phone. About 20 minutes later, he called me to tell me that Timothy had passed and that I need to write his obit since Timothy had the unfortunate timing of dying just as we were going to press. With no time to even process what had happened and still in shock, I had to go tell my staff and then I had to try to sum up his life in 1000 words in 60 minutes, including that he was leaving behind 10-year old twins. 

I rarely think of George Harrison without thinking of Tim, which prompted me to tell this tale. 

In honor of Harrison, today’s $10 goes to Harrison’s Material World Foundation, a non-profit he started in 1973. According to the organization’s website, the Foundation encourages “the exploration of alternate and diverse forms of artistic expression, life views and philosophies as well as a way to support established charities and people with special needs.” In some ways, that perfectly sums up Tim.

56 down, 309 to go.

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