Friday, 24 May 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Ed Ochs talks about the Acid King

At Christmas my presents included a copy of the Philip Norman biography of Mick Jagger. I have always liked Philip Norman, ever since reading his biographies of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones thirty odd years ago.

In his biography of the latter band he discussed the infamous 1967 drug busts at some length. Undoubtedly the most enigmatic character involved in this unfortunate series of events was a Canadian known as "Acid King" David Schneidermann/Snyderman/Sniderman (take your pick) who disappeared soon after the bust never to be heard of again. Bizarrely Norman insinuated that he was basically a phantasm of the times, a tulpa-like character who sprung into existence for the duration of the Redlands drug busts and then disappeared again.

Despite my Fortean leanings, I always thought that this was somewhat unlikely, especially as in Albert Goldman's scurrilous The Lives of John Lennon published a few years later, Schneidermann turned up as a bit player in Goldman's description of the 1969 Toronto Rock and Roll Festival.

Imagine my surprise, when - on Boxing Day, after Olivia had gone home, and Corinna, Mother and I had settled down to our various activities, I discovered that not only had Schneidermann lived for several decades in Los Angeles under the nom de guerre of 'David Jove', but that both Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were aware of the fact. Norman also stated that Schneidermann/Snyderman/Sniderman/Jove was an employee of the security services intent on discrediting The Rolling Stones.

Bloody Hell I thought and had a pootle about on line. I not only discovered that this was now fairly common knowledge, but that other books had been written claiming that he was no spy, but an employee of The News of the World. I began to get rather obsessed, and fair hammered my paypal account buying a whole slew of Rolling Stones books on eBay, until I discovered this - a biography of the man by the bloke who was probably his best friend. What's more it turned out that Schneidermann/ Snyderman/ Sniderman/Jove was also a singer songwriter, and - a quick go on YouTube showed me that he was a rather good one.

Intrigued, and with a head full of questions I wrote to Ed Ochs, the author...

I enjoyed the book very much, but a couple of things confused me. In all the Rolling Stones books written until Philip Norman's biography of Mick Jagger last year, it is either stated or implied that David disappeared, and no-one knew where he was. But he was in clear view all the time, and it appears that both Jagger and Marrianne Faithfull knew all about him. Have you any idea why it took so long for his whereabouts/identity to be made public?
Good point. If Jagger had really wanted to find David he could have found him in Toronto until 1970, nightly acting out a cross between James Bond and Robin Hood. By then he had changed his name to David Britton, which fogged his trail as he zig-zagged through Europe. After changing his name a few more times, he settled into Jove -- and "Schneiderman" disappeared until Marianne stumbled across him in LA in the '80s. He lived the life of an underground filmmaker off the grid, but the irony was he craved attention and stood out wherever he went, whatever he did. By the way, David performed Shakespeare in England and, most mysteriously when discussing disappearing acts, he had an older sister, Barbara, who lived in England and is/was married to a judge. I don't know her married name. She's probably still there... (I'm not precisely sure what time period you're referring to here -- immediately post-Redlands or years later. Let me know if I strayed from your intended question.) 
Right from the beginning he appears to have been an elusive character. Even in the mid-1960s, false passports were not that easy to obtain. How did he get hold of them? And why did he live such a charmed life?

Good question. Actually, fake passports weren't all that hard too obtain in the mid '60s. You have to understand: That was the height of the Vietnam War draft in the US. Fear and paranoia ran rampant. There were books circulating with titles like "How to Create a New Identity and Disappear" and "The New Identity Tool Kit." Millions were looking for any way out of the draft and death in a rice paddy; many jumped to Canada. David had a lot of money. (His father, Max, was a successful realtor and gave him whatever he wanted.) He could buy as many passports as he wished on either side of the border -- no problem. In 1970, having skipped bail in Toronto, all those passports came in very handy indeed. He attributed his charmed life of escaping tight spot after tight spot to being "protected," by which he meant protected by his magical spiritual training as heir to Crowley, which meant he could talk his way in and out of just about every situation imaginable. Then again, how charmed a life was it really for a man on the run from the law for most of his life, drenched in drugs, booze and paranoia, who never got the recognition for being the enormously talented artist he was, and never went home again.
It is obvious from the book that you were very fond of him. But it is also obvous that he was not an easy character to work with. Could you have written the book while he was still alive?
Brilliant question. The answer is no. He would never have cooperated. He wouldn't talk about his past. He worked hard to conceal it and reveal nothing. The last thing he wanted was a book about him, and certainly the last book he wanted was an honest book that revealed his past and him as a human being with flaws. Whenever the past came up he quashed it, changed the subject. He was very disciplined like that. He lived completely in the moment, moments that could last for hours, days. While I was fond of him I was also profoundly disappointed in his sabotaging everything we did and after a while it became vital to my survival that I keep him at arm's length or risk losing everything in his whirlpool. If I lost my my job, my girlfriend and my home he would have been happy with that because he thought I could then hang with him full time. I knew if I didn't have a life of my own he would snatch it and take it over for his own use. I was endlessly conflicted. I was fond of him and also very burned by him at the same time. Not only was he not an easy character to work with, he was impossible. You worked for David, not with him, despite what you may have thought or hoped, because it was always and forever all about him.

Do you know whether there are any plans to reissue any of his music? Or indeed the record that you made with him? I have heard snippets on YouTube and they are much better than I was expecting.

I don't think the online snippets are of decent quality or representative. I could imagine, in the hands of a bold entrepreneur, his two LPs might make an interesting Stones novelty item in the UK. Someone would have to place an inquiry with his daughter, rock violinist Lili Haydn, in LA and make a basic licensing deal for his LPs. As for our EP, "The Bones of Hollywood," his former business manager holds the masters. Funny to think that one of Rod Stewart's former producers/writers ("Do Ya Think I'm Sexy") co-produced it; we wanted that rock-disco sound... Cold financial fact of the matter is that nobody here sees any money to be made in marketing this material at this time -- or has the creative vision to foresee what a great story, with David, the Stones, Redlands and the historic trial, it all is and what a great movie it would make... and buy the rights and grab the headlines that would come with it.

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