Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Palm Restaurant and the Music Industry in the 1970s

The Palm is a famous “steak and lobster” place on Santa Monica Blvd which is known for many things, including the illustrations and caricatures of famous Hollywood actors, producers, directors. It is also well known as a music industry hang out, or it was, as it is closing at the end of September and moving to Beverly Hills. The illustrations will be taken down and given to the people who are represented, to the extent that they can be found and want them.  The building it is in is one of those cheap Los Angeles buildings of no particular interest except perhaps for the fact that this restaurant was there for so many years.  I presume the building will be torn down.

For some reason, I never ate there that I can recall. I don't know why, to tell you the truth. I certainly lived and worked in the neighborhood and went past it a billion times. Maybe I just thought it was too expensive, or I thought it was steak and lobster only, which it may have been. Not my aesthetic.

But the Palm was famous for its Hollywood and rock and roll associations and I have a story from the 1970s that I heard from a friend.  This story should help describe Los Angeles in the 1970s and the role the Palm played in that period.

Now I dont know if you are aware of it, but Los Angeles in the 1960s and the 1970s was famous for being an epicenter of the rock and roll music industry as well as having a reputation for having lots of sex and drugs.   I know this may be a surprise to you given how chaste Los Angeles is today but its true, that was its reputation back then.

I am personally a big fan of infrastructure and procedure.  How did people get from place to place, how did they get those drugs we famously hear about?  Further, how did they get their companies to pay for them and still be able to write them off on their taxes.   So this little story is intended to explain some of that.   The story comes from a friend who was in the music business at the time and everyone will remain nameless in order to protect the guilty.  This all comes second hand to me, I was no where near what is described here.

My friend was at the time a music industry A&R guy for a major record label. You have heard of this record label, and we are going to keep things anonymous here, so I am not going to name it. A&R starnds for “Artists & Repetoire” and it refers to the people who discover bands for the record label, sponsor them inside the company, work with them to develop their careers, and of course help them produce and release their albums. In many ways, an A&R person might be analogous to a “case officer” in the intelligence business. This friend of mine was certainly a member of a very select and powerful team. He lasted a certain number of years in this business which is famous for churning through people and he had a measure of success in his tenure at this company.

The 1970s were the days of the major expense accounts and when you could still write off liquor from your taxes when entertaining for business. So my friend, who at the time was quite overweight from his lifestyle of eating steak and lobster or whatever every day and drinking and going to clubs every night until they closed to listen to bands, would go to the Palms several times a week for lunch.

It was part of his job to entertain people in the music business.  These people could be other executives, producers, managers, and of course the bands themselves.   As part of his job as host he also provided cocaine for the bands in the normal course of business.  Apparently back in the 1970s when you were a known person in the industry this was not so hard to do.   He would just go to lunch with the band or whomever at the Palm and order several bottles of $600.00 champagne and of course when the bill came he would pick it up and expense it to the company as he was expected to. Except some of those bottles of champagne would not be bottles of champagne at all but 1/4 ounces of coke, or whatever $600 would buy back then, as provided by the bar.    It was not clear to me whether this was an independent service of the bartender or whether it was actually a service the restaurant sponsored in an unofficial manner, but it doesn't really matter as long as he could get the proper receipts so that deductions could be made and properly accounted for.  Supposedly he had an (unofficial) $20,000 / month budget from the record company for entertainment purposes.

But as I say, those were more civilized times. It was convenient, the record company could write it off, entertainment was provided and presumably one had a nice if not too healthy lunch at the same time.

But that was in the glory days of the 1970s in the Los Angeles music industry. In general it is said that if they were doing cocaine in the 70s or the 80s, they were doing Prozac in the 90s.

Alas those days of the glamourous music industry are no more.

An article on the closing of The Palm is at 

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