Tribute to Paul Wasserman
By Gil Markle From “Diary of a Studio Owner”
“I’ve made you, Gil. I can break you.”
Paul Wasserman is the publicist for the Rolling Stones. That doesn’t mean — as it would with almost any other client in the world — that it’s Paul Wasserman’s job to get publicity for the Rolling Stones. Everybody wants to write about the Rolling Stones, to do a feature interview with a band member, to “get inside” with a portable TV camera and a handful of radio mikes. A good interview with Mick Jagger could make a young reporter’s career.
No, the band doesn’t need to “get publicity.” It needs instead to control the publicity it’s already got — to put out only those bits and pieces which flatter the myth. Part of that myth, of course, involves the general inaccessibility of the band to the watchful and intrigued public.
The Stones stay largely out of sight. And so most of Wasserman’s job involves saying “No” to people. “No, there is no possibility for an interview.” “No, we are not taking pictures today.” “No, you can come with a pad and pencil, but you can’t bring a camera crew… ” Etc.
Paul jokes all the time. Paul jokes about things which other people take seriously. And, since most people do not understand his jokes — which are generally both refined and cynical — Paul gets to deliver a profound and inspired monologue on the state of things with every assurance of privacy, and confidentiality. A muse alone. Paul Wasserman jokes largely with himself.
“Poker Chip Theory,” Paul shouted to me over the phone. He’s in New York City at the Helmsley Palace Hotel, and I’m at my office in Worcester.
“Poker Chip Theory,” Paul repeated. “That tomorrow’s scoop is going to be bigger than today’s. That’s why reporters will always double the ante, if you want them to.”
“Whaddaya mean, Paul, ‘double the ante’?”
“I mean they’ll always give you silence today for double-the-bang tomorrow. Look at that situation of yours up there, for example. Everyone knows the Stones are at Long View. So what? Everybody knows that already. It’s the penetration they’re after. That one-on-one personal interview with Mick Jagger, a night in the barn during rehearsal, or something like that. If they think something like that’s in store for them, they’ll shut up in the short run, and give you another week’s breathing time. Maybe.”
“So I can say we’ll help them later, Paul?”
“Double the ante, little partner, double the ante.”
“Well, I guess that’s what I’ve been doing, without knowing exactly what theory it was.”
“Poker Chip Theory,” Paul reminded me.
“Yes, I know that now. I’ve just been saying that publicity will drive them away, and ruin everything for us all, so be quiet please, and maybe Wasserman will arrange something interesting before it’s all over.”
“Good work. I’d call that the ‘Modified Poker Chip Theory,’ but my reasons needn’t concern you. Listen, do you know what they call a Rabbi in a whorehouse?”
“A Rabbi in a whorehouse. Do you know what you’d call him?”
This was one of Wasserman’s jokes. But I hated jokes like that. Couldn’t stand them.
“How about ‘a publicist in rock ‘n’ roll’, Paul?”
“‘A publicist in rock ‘n’ roll’,” I shouted again, now getting ready to get off the phone, and on with my day’s work.
“All right,” I hear on the other end of the phone. “All right. So I won’t tell you. Just one last word of advice, however, little partner.”
“What’s that?” I asked, exhilarated that I had killed the joke about the Rabbi.
“I’ve made you, Gil. I can break you.”
“You can what?”
“I’ve made you. I can break you.”
Paul was now laughing out loud at the other end of the phone, and was the first to hang up. In Worcester, I was a bit slower, and preferred to stare somewhat dumbly at my red telephone until the circuit broke, and the dial tone reestablished itself, setting things up for my next phone call, which turned out to be from a reporter from Los Angeles interested in an interview with the Rolling Stones.
Reprinted by permission from Gil Markle’s “Diary of a Studio Owner,” 1982.