Legendary music agent Elliot Roberts, who died a little more than a year ago, was the best kind of friend, wickedly funny, warm and engaged, and always with the most remarkable experiences exploding around him.
Elliot discovered Joni Mitchell and managed Neil Young through his whole career. At one point he was also managing Bob Dylan. Young asked him to choose one of them, and Elliot went with Neil.
“Dylan is probably the most brilliant person I ever met,” he explained to me, “but mostly what he does is write songs and tour. Neil is interesting.”
Elliot started as an intern at the William Morris Agency, where he met and became fast friends with David Geffen. (In 1971, they founded Asylum Records — Eagles, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Warren Zevon). Geffen was far more driven and determined, and he graduated from intern to a real job at WMA, while Elliot did not.
Eventually Elliot was hired by Chartoff Winkler because of his naivete, not in spite of it. The company had been managing stand-up comics and was getting into film production. They wanted to cut the comics loose, but rather than buy them out of their contracts they hoped having tenderfoot Roberts managing them would lead them to quit.
Mostly, this worked. Elliot told me how he arrived at the home of the then very successful comic team Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller (parents of Ben Stiller) one day. Opening the door, Jerry screamed, “Anna! Anna! The kid is here to teach us our business!”
I’m pretty sure that was the same tone heard at the Independent when I finally submitted this column, even though the editor had invited it. I had been a columnist for the Austin (Texas) Chronicle and was retiring to the Cape. “Hey, everybody! Louis is here to tell us all about living on Cape Cod!”
I did spend part of each summer for four decades visiting the Cape, often renting a house in Truro for July. Then, in 2017, I bought a house in Wellfleet, which feels far more like a town to me.
On the first visit to the house, I didn’t even go inside, just sat on the porch listening to the ocean. I knew I was home. Some people are at home where they were born and grew up. They find their comfortable place relatively quickly. Some, like me, don’t feel comfortable in their own bodies, much less the place where they grew up.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, 1974. My friend Everett was at the wheel of a 1952 Chevy Deluxe as we drove into Austin. I was 24.
Checking to see who was playing that night, we took it as more than a sign that Doug Sahm was at Soap Creek Saloon, a honkytonk out in the hills.
Living in Vermont, we had one night parked at the end of a dirt road after getting lost and headed toward a dark building far ahead. When we got there the door seemed to fly open, as light, sound, and energy exploded. We were in one of the Lord’s churches, and what was going on wasn’t just music but sacred. Doug Sahm and band were playing.
Standing at the bar, holding a 75-cent rum and Coke in his hand, a kid who had never fit in anywhere knew he was home. Forty-three years later, I had that same feeling here, in Wellfleet.
I’m a Jersey kid — in a way, the poster child of a mongrel state. Over the decades in Austin, I have worked at creating community: co-founding the Chronicle and the South by Southwest festival and helping to launch and run the Austin Film Society and Austin Music Awards. But I was convinced for most of my life that I would never find peace, certain that, if I did find it, I was guaranteed to soon lose it. But for a moment, listening to Sahm, and decades later with the music of the ocean in Wellfleet, I relaxed.
There is the real life on the Cape, and the imagined life, and the one-week-a-year vacation life, and all these lives toss and tumble. New Jersey. Vermont. Austin. Now I am here.
How and where we choose to be is revelatory. It reveals why we think we are. For me that is still a quest, but one now undertaken sitting in a chair in the night wrapped in a blanket, listening to the ocean.
Louis Black has written for the Austin Chronicle, Texas Monthly, and Spin, among other publications.