“The editor from Esquire called and asked ‘Who’s the new bitch?’ And my name was added as a contributing editor on the masthead, where, among those guys, I was the only girl.”
-Robin Green (from The Only Girl, pages 60-61)
I have an octogenarian friend; a retired University professor who in the 60’s and 70’s was a stand-up comedian that opened for Lenny Bruce and appeared on The Dean Martin Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; he was also a writer for National Lampoon and wrote songs that were recorded by renowned artists. It goes without saying, he has led an interesting life. On numerous occasions he has regaled me with tales of drug-fueled debauchery and mayhem with multiple comedy and musical icons and their antics before they became legends. (I would have run amok in that era, but no! I had the sad misfortune to come of age in the button-down, bland and boring Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney ‘80’s. Woo-freaking-hoo!)
Journalism in the time of unfretted recreational hallucinogenic narcotic use and free love is the basis of the new book The Only Girl: My Life and Times on the Masthead of Rolling Stone by Emmy-winning writer, producer and journalist Robin Green.
The book begins in the late 1960’s when Green became a contributor to Rolling Stone magazine. It follows her through her time as an academic and then into her second birth career-wise as a writer and producer for televised broadcast shows like Northern Expose and The Sopranos, recounting her personal and professional experiences and the pitfalls and triumphs of being an independent woman working in and navigating around the writing business during those epochs.
The Only Girl begins with an unnecessary introduction by the author that sets the tone and pace for the entire effort. Green telegraphs her punches with circular writing that dilutes the impact of the material by repeating facts, not uncommonly more than two or three times, and just sputters about, never really going anywhere. For example whenever a new person is introduced, she gives us a mini, two or three paragraph bio that tells us their life and often death story, so that when they reappear later in the book we already know where the narrative is heading.
When it comes to anecdotes of famous names like journalist Hunter S. Thompson or TV producer David Chase the stories are thin and contain few new or interesting revelations or insight. Green drops more names than a skydiving phonebook (in the first half if felt like Joan Didion’s was mentioned almost every other page), but fails to give us anything substantial. To be fair the book did pick up in the second half with more intriguing yarns, most likely because Green could remember it better than the chemically-obscured ‘60’s and ‘70’s, but that still was not enough. A book I reviewed a few years back called Difficult Men by Brett Martin had more interesting insider content.
But my main complaint about The Only Girl is that it is quite dull. Robin Green did have personal setbacks, and certainly I do not mean dismiss or make light of any of them, but they were no worse than the everyday kind of stuff we all have to go through. There was no stints in rehab or a mental asylum, no complete financial ruin or tragic, permanent life-altering injuries or illnesses; no real monstrous obstacles. She didn’t have to face any horrible, career-threatening sexual harassment like the kind described by Illeana Douglas in Fired!, Rose McGowan in Brave or several other books I’ve read like Becky Aikman’s Over the Cliff. Even being hired at Rolling Stone was a mere matter of her showing up and asking for work. In fact getting on the masthead did not seem to take all that much effort beyond just doing her job well; she didn’t face a glass ceiling and no one objected or seriously tried to block her. And her removal from there was not an unjust incident.
Over and over, the one thought that went through my head as I read The Only Girl: My Life and Times on the Masthead of Rolling Stone was…So?
***The preceding review was based on an advance promotional copy of The Only Girl: My Life and Times on the Masthead of Rolling Stone. The published version may vary***