Drawn from forty years of reporting in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere. “Smart Ass” from Parthenon Books will for the first time collect the work of the award-winning music journalist and best-selling author of “Summer of Love” and other books.

From the Redding ranch of country maverick Merle Haggard to the humble Hawthorne beginnings of the Beach Boys in South Central Los Angeles, Selvin tracked rock and roll lore throughout the state for the Chronicle since 1970. “Smart Ass” brings together his finest reporting on California rock and roll – a collection of feature articles ranging in subjects from Phil Spector to Tom Waits, Glen Campbell to CSN&Y, the Grateful Dead to the Beach Boys – all peppered with his trademark insights and acerbic asides.

Highlights include Selvin’s historic interview with Augustus Owsley Stanley; the award-winning series on the Bill Graham probate case; the controversial account of the life and death of Sheryl Crow boyfriend and mentor Kevin Gilbert; his frightening chronicle of the making of “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” by Sly and the Family Stone that first appeared on the cover of England’s Mojo magazine.

Selvin specialized in coverage of the Grateful Dead and “Smart Ass” features a full selection of his greatest hits – from behind-the-scenes at studio sessions for “Terrapin Station” with producer Keith Olsen to his chilling tale of despair and anguish that led to the suicide of Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick. He also covered, almost as extensively, the Beach Boys and his classic interview with Dennis Wilson about Charles Manson is included. His interviews with John Fogerty earned Selvin a subpoena in the lawsuit by Fantasy Records founder Saul Zaentz and his liner notes to  Creedence Clearwater reissues won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award.

Ironically, in March 2009, shortly after laying the initial groundwork for “Smart Ass,” Selvin left his staff position with The Chronicle, part of drastic staff reductions by the failing newspaper. With arts coverage in newspapers slashed and rock music producing fewer and fewer giants, columnist Selvin clearly operated during a golden era of music journalism. His epic biography of the little known rhythm and blues songwriter Bert Berns will be published next year and he is currently co-writing the Sammy Hagar autobiography for Harper Collins.

“Smart Ass” (420 pages, $19.95 ISBN: 978-0-943389-42-4) will be published in September 2010 by Parthenon Books, a division of SLG Books.

Contact: Roger Williams (510) 525-1134

FOREWARD By Greil Marcus

Years ago I read an interview with Joel Selvin where he said, in essence, it’s a privilege for me to interview James Brown, but it’s also a privilege for James Brown to be interviewed by me.  That wasn’t merely the most arrogant statement I’d ever heard from a critic—it struck me as unbelievably arrogant.  Even though I’d been reading Selvin for years, I couldn’t imagine what sort of person could say such a thing—for that matter, I couldn’t imagine how such a person could get through an interview with James Brown without Brown  having his bodyguards throw the guy out.  Smart ass didn’t come close to covering it.

Years later, when along with Roy Blount, Jr., Dave Marsh, and Matt Groening, we were fellow members of the benighted Critics Chorus in the all-author band the Rock Bottom Remainders—“This is the nadir of western civilization,” our band director Al Kooper, himself a published author, said after one rehearsal for our big number, an execution of the Swingin’ Medallions’ “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love).”  “Right here, in our show”—I discovered that with Joel, what seemed like arrogance was a big sense of life.  It wasn’t simply that, alone among we five (one of the few San Francisco bands not covered in this book), Joel could sing: loudly, with delight, bravado, and, the one quality we all shared, shamelessness.  It was that in Joel’s company, anything seemed possible.  There was no door that couldn’t be talked open, no obstacle that didn’t reveal a short cut, no refusal that wasn’t topped by a story of a better one

What Smart Ass captures completely is the expansive and generous spirit of a writer who cannot take no for an answer.  If the subject of a given piece isn’t talking—Sly Stone, for example, in “Lucifer Rising,” a shattering account of the making of There’s a Riot Goin’ On, or Phil Spector in the deadline-yesterday “Over the Wall”—Selvin will tease out the story from other people, from the ambiance of place and time, a feel for dead ends and locked rooms, an ear for truth and lie, and his own vast knowledge of who was where, when, and why, until rather than sensing the absence of a subject, the reader can sense that figure standing on the outside of the piece, looking in, wishing he’d had the nerve to talk while there was still time.          

There is perhaps less of Joel’s humor, his sarcasm, his ability to unmask a fraud with a sentence of that person’s own words, perfectly placed, than there might have been here—but this is the record of a man covering a beat, knocking on the same doors again and again, until they seem to open without a touch.  The story here is not only the story of music in California over the last forty years or so.  It’s also the story of one man earning the trust of other people, to the point where, at the end of a tribute to a colleague, the late Ralph J. Gleason, his widow, the late Jean Gleason, will tell Selvin, “He was not a good writer.  He wrote about interesting things,” and it can seem like the finest epitaph a writer could ask for, and most of the people in these pages speak that plain language, because Joel knows how to hear it.

-Greil Marcus

From the Introduction …

By Joel Selvin

            When I started, they used to squeeze my pieces between the adult theater ads and the edge of the page. It was more than a year before so much as a one-column mug shot ran with one of my stories. Now they call it music journalism and teach courses about it at the universities.
            The ‘60s party was almost over when I first began writing for the San Francisco Chronicle. There were still some people who had stayed too late and enough wreckage around to indicate what kind of a bash it had been. On Thanksgiving night in 1972, I left my parents’ dinner table in the Berkeley hills and drove down to a toilet called Keystone Berkeley, where a sweaty, steamy, beered-up mob waited for Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen and the Elvin Bishop Group to play a benefit for ailing harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite, who’d been injured in an auto accident and needed to pay some bills. That was where I walked in.
            I’d been around before. As a Berkeley High School student, I frequented the Fillmore, Avalon, the Jabberwocky, the New Orleans House, the Berkeley Folk Festival at the Greek Theater, anywhere there was music and, in San Francisco and Berkeley in 1965-7, there was music everywhere. After failing to make it across the finish line at high school, I ended up joining the copy boy crew at the Chronicle, where I earned $55 a week and could get on the guest list at the Fillmore. No greater aspiration occurred to me until I found myself writing about rock music for my college newspaper and started getting free records in the mail from record companies. Then I was done. When Chronicle columnist John L. Wasserman hired me to substitute for jazz singer Jon Hendricks, while he took a six-week engagement at a nightclub in London, I couldn’t envision any greater rewards in life. But I was 22 years old – what did I know?
            Over the course of the years, from my post as the Chronicle’s pop music man, I have been able to pursue my rather single-minded fascination with American music up close and personal. I have met the people who could answer the questions I wanted to ask. When I first got the bug, there was no Rolling Stone magazine or books about rock. I stood for hours after school and weekends reading the backs of album jackets in record stores along Telegraph Avenue. I checked out old folk and blues records from the public library. In a sense, my journalistic enterprises have been a series of post-graduate papers on my studies in the field.
            Although I have spent my career writing for a San Francisco daily, California has always been my beat. I have always seen myself as a Californian. In Europe, when people ask me if I’m American, I always tell them, no, I’m from California. They understand. Growing up in California in the ‘60s, the Beach Boys told my story as much as the Grateful Dead did….

San Francisco Chronicle pop music critic Joel Selvin started covering rock shows for the paper shortly after the end of the Civil War. His writing has appeared in a surprising number of other publications that you would think should have known better. People all over the world are still pissed off about pieces in this collection.

My opinion? San Francisco is the greatest town for live music, hands down. Why, because the audience is curious, enthusiastic, and smart. And relaxed. Sounds a lot like Joel, now, doesn't it?

Joel is a San Francisco Music-writing man - 40 years on the job - and that's another thing San Francisco and Joel Selvin have in common: it's a union shop, all the way! Joel is not no show business industry town mouthpiece, you dig? What's that make him, the last of the real music writers? You be the judge. -- Ry Cooder

Push the book into the 8 track slot in the back of your head and Sly Stone begins to play LOUD! Try on Ralph Gleason's raincoat; Phil Spector's  purple shades and enter the Fillmore. You will perspire and be slapped around as fascinating arcane details about the eccentric and bizarre world of music are poured into your ear: blood tests, pimps in hair salons, guns on the console, 21 year old millionaires, jail terms, and pit bulls in wedding chapels. Selvin stitches the myth to the truth 'cos that's music too! -- Tom Waits

Erudite King Selvin remains unchallenged.  Having pounded out a long list of dutiful accounts, from the audience, backstage, the studios, the labels, the clubs, by telephone, and the streets, Joel, with his courage and honesty, has been a friend to artists and listeners alike. -- Booker T. Jones

I had to pick myself up off the floor laughing. This is going to be a great read whether you love or hate the Beach Boys!   --Al Jardine of the Beach Boys
Love him or hate him, he was there – read ‘em and weep.
-- Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead

Joel really understands where the music, the musicians and the fans are coming from. He just gets it. He's hip, incisive and writes with a lot of style and a clear point of view.  -- Bonnie Raitt

Joe Silvein, What a hack he did everything he could to make me a star and failed miserably Fuck him and the Examner. -- Steve Miller

For much of the last 4 decades Joel Selvin has been one of the most revered (and feared) music journalists and critics in North America. His insights and purity of artistic standards put him in a class by himself. But Joel was unique in a way that set him aside from all other journalists. He had an innate ability to actually insert himself into the lives of many of his subjects -- counseling, advising and actually playing a pivotal role in the success of many legends. Incredibly, he played this role while maintaining his objectivity in evaluating the work of the people he befriended, and he had no hesitation in lambasting these artists when he didn't like what he saw and heard. The articles in “Smartass” are an invaluable collection that is a rare chronicle of modern pop culture. -- Joan Jett

There never was an artist that didn’t need a critic like you.  -- Bono

The Mickey Spillane of rock journalism.  -- Sam Andrew, Big Brother & the Holding Co.

I don’t even know about Joel Selvin. -- Sly Stone

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