First lady of rock-and-roll journalism covers a changing scene
New York — ''You're looking very well yourself - what a beautiful girl she is, you out there in radioland,'' Mick Jagger coos. He sounds as if he's hamming it up to an old friend, and indeed he is.
He's talking with Lisa Robinson, the first lady of rock-and-roll journalism, who is interviewing Jagger on her new radio program, ''The Inside Track,'' produced by DIR Broadcasting and syndicated to about 150 stations around the United States (check local listings).
Lisa has a special knack for putting the superstars of rock-and-roll at their ease, and there's hardly a one - including Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Patti Smith, and the members of the Beatles and the Clash - who hasn't spoken with her at some time or another.
After 12 years as a syndicated columnist, in addition to her editorial duties with rock publications Creem, Hit Parader, Rock & Soul, Rock Scene, and Britain's New Musical Express, Lisa is now doing ''The Inside Track,'' gabbing away with her favorite people and playing their music - which happens to be her favorite music - in between. The relaxed, easygoing format of the program nonetheless manages to provide plenty of insight into the inner workings of these musicians, thanks to her questions and the trust that these musicians have developed in her over the years.
''I had always wanted to do radio,'' Lisa told me at DIR headquarters. ''Larry Berger, the program director at WPLJ, New York, called me in one day and said, 'You have unbelievable contacts, we've heard that you have access to the Rolling Stones, and we'd like to put you on the air as an interviewer a few times a week.' So I said great.''
After working with this format for a few months, Lisa called Bob Meyrowitz, head of DIR Broadcasting:
''I told him I had interview tapes of everybody from John Lennon to Linda Ronstadt, all of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones - and that there must be a way we could package these into a show. He said he didn't want to use the old tapes, but have me host a show instead.''
Lisa maintains that what sets this show apart from the usual tell-me-about-your-latest-album approach is not only the format - three guests instead of the usual one - but that she, the interviewer, is being promoted as a personality, and because of the unusual rapport that she has with the musicians she interviews.
Listeners get to hear people like Rod Stewart, Peter Wolf, and Pat Benatar talk about their feelings about performing, about their music, and about their personal lives. The overall effect is that these people become accessible - Lisa creates a kind of intimacy between artist and audience which is rare in the world of rock-and-roll. And she feels that sticking to feature stories, rather than criticism, has helped to create this rapport.
''One of the reasons I never became a critic was that I felt rock-and-roll was supposed to be fun. It was supposed to be outrageous, it was supposed to get us out of the house, and it was supposed to keep us young, so I didn't want to pick it apart. I think that's why I've been able to get a lot of people to trust me and talk to me and tell me in-depth stuff - they know that I'm not going to go and tear their work apart, because I'm really writing about the personalities.''
Constant contact with rock music and its creators and performers has given Lisa a certain perspective on the growth and progress of the genre. Recent talk about rock dying out and record sales decreasing has left her undaunted. She feels that the music is branching out, becoming broader in scope.
''You can go to a concert now and see a group like the Police, who try a whole lot of different musical forms - they do jazz, reggae, Caribbean rhythms - and hundreds of thousands of people come to their concerts, and millions of people buy their records. It's the same with a lot of the 'heavy metal' bands. What is happening today is that lots of different musical forms are coexisting under this larger umbrella that is called rock music.''
And, as Lisa also pointed out, it's impossible to deny that what was once thought of as the ''new'' or ''rebellious'' music has now come of age and become part of the mainstream. Everything from TV commercial music to film scores to Broadway shows has absorbed elements of rock-and-roll.
''Mick Jagger said to me that he thought it was amazing to look out into the audience and see 40-year-olds and 14-year-olds. It's no longer the alternative culture, the Woodstock generation. It's part of entertainment, part of show business. People like Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Mick Jagger, Elton John, and David Bowie, who at one point were just considered rock stars, are now movie stars, television stars, Broadway musical stars.
Lisa has a fondness for the experimental - ''the real underground stuff'' - and she feels that the more adventurous groups are finding their niche today.
''You can have a group like the Talking Heads, which is certainly one of the most innovative bands around. Or a performing artist like Laurie Anderson - she uses synthesizers and violins and does weird things with her voice and poetry, and yet she had a No. 2 single on the charts in England this past year. I think it's an exciting time for rock music in that regard.''
In addition to her new radio show and her journalistic duties, Lisa has recently completed a novel, ''Walk on Glass,'' published by New Market Press. She describes the book as ''a woman's love story set against the background of the music business. It's one of those behind-the-scenes show business books.''