I was recently blessed with the greatest piece of pop music gossip I had ever heard, who heard it from a friend of a friend (isn’t that always the source)? My friend heard from his friend’s friend that the folk singer turned pop singer Jewel (remember Jewel?) once played a show at a large college venue wherein staff were informed never to look her in the eye. This is—to my mind—the perfect piece of gossip because it 1.) centers around an obscure celebrity, 2.) is totally unverifiable, and 3.) highlights an unexpected eccentricity that is probably not true, but is nonetheless hilarious to imagine.
Picture it—Jewel—one of the original Lilith Fair performers—with her wholesome sweetness, her acoustic guitar and her trademark yodeling, leaves her hometown in rural Alaska, surviving for a while in extreme poverty—at one point even living in a van—only to become the sort of mega-diva that demands people not look her in the eye. It’s hilarious. And probably not true. The exact same story has been said about so many celebrities, it’s just funnier because Jewel, okay? (If you read this was something demanded by, say, Elton John or Julia Roberts, then it’s not funny at all is it?)
Bound by my love of dumb celebrity gossip, I felt obligated to share what is most certainly a completely fabricated story—I even offered the caveat, of course, that it’s probably not true because I’m a nice person—and this in turn encouraged others to come forward with their favorite celebrity rumors and stories. The best one though, via a friend of a friend (natch) on Facebook was a very thorough, very believable first person account by a former record store employee—and this one… well, I think that I am I’m inclined to believe. Remember The J.Geils Band? “Freeze Frame”? “Love Stinks”? “Musta Got Lost”? “Whammer-Jammer”? Or my personal favorite, “Centerfold”? The lead singer of The J. Geils Band was not J. Geils, it was Peter Wolf—who had a bit of a diva reputation in his day. What follows is an account I can neither confirm nor deny, but it’s a fantastically detailed story—make of it what you will.
Alright, here’s my Peter Wolf story.
So. Peter is a bit of a townie in Massachusetts and is pretty buddy-buddy with a lot of the local institutions. He‘s the kind of guy that walks into his regular haunts and expects to be noticed and applauded regardless of where he goes (as an aside, there’s a story that he went into Bukowski’s Tavern one time. Ordered six drinks, and on his tab he wrote “Peter Wolf” and signed it without leaving money).
So this being said, when he does something, he expect as much attention as possible on a local level. When he released one of his solo albums, I was working at a big record store in downtown Boston. and we were told that it was going to be huge. The reason being is because he was signed to a label at the time that had a partnership deal with our chain as opposed to Newbury Comics (a better independent store at the time, still better but less music-y and more merch driven). This means we got the deluxe edition of the album, posters, and the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to do an in-store signing and performance with him.
Everyone that worked there was beyond excited (lie). So the main manager contacted his PR person and asked about an in-store. No big deal. right? Well…
Peter asked us to meet the following demands for the in-store:
1-We were to open an hour earlier than normal
2-We needed to play his new record throughout the day because he wanted to come in and “hear his work.”
3-We could only allow people to attend it they purchased the new CD and we gave them a wristband (something that at the time was last demanded by Billy Corgan who wouldn‘t even let the fucking staff members talk to him).
4-He wanted the back room to be catered
I saw the email and told my boss that it was absolutely ludicrous and that “we weren‘t even going to sell a dozen of these things.” He ignored me, and we decided to follow suit.
I was scheduled from open to close that day because I was good at handling in-stores and such, so I opened the location an hour early (6:00 AM in the middle of summer, mind you), strung posters all through the store, wrote up the wrist-bands and put on the record. Please note that he NEVER SAID WHEN HE WAS GOING TO SHOW UP.
Flash-forward to 3:45PM. One of the floor people says that Peter is in the store. And, by “Peter is in the store” he meant “Peter darted into the store and is now circumnavigating the entire store while going on his tip-toes to hear the album.” I rush downstairs to meet him and I am stopped by one of the floor people who was responsible for selling wristbands. I asked him how many we’ve sold (note: the album went on sale at the beginning of the week and we took little note-cards with receipt transaction number information so the people could come back for wristbands) and he said “Well today we sold three copies, and we’ve given away five wristbands total.” I am starting to panic at this point because his record label expected it to be the turnout of the century. So, right now I’m mustering up the courage to tell Peter WolI the truth (that he probably knew already) that his solo career wasn‘t cutting it.
As I am walking over to him one of the weird regulars we have saw him and sprinted in front of me. I froze. I didn’t know what he was going to say to him, but I was terrified regardless. The conversation went as follows:
Dude: HEY MAN! WHAT‘S GOING ON. I LOVE YOUR MUSIC. MAN!
Peter: Hey, thanks! That’s wicked nice of you. Do you like this one? (he says as he points to the ceiling).
Dude: Nah, man. That sounds like that asshole from J. Geils I hope this ain‘t the new Cars record!
The dude thought that Peter Wolf was Ric Ocasek from The Cars (for those that don’t know, The Cars are a Boston band too and Ric and Peter have a bit of a feud [further aside: Peter has gotten into fights with every mainstream Boston lead singer this side of Aerosmith] and the face Peter made was that of a man who just saw an atrocity. Without hesitation. l burst out laughing in the aisle and I tell the guy “Nah, dude, that‘s Mr. Peter Wolf!” To which the guy said “Jeez, I gave him too much credit, huh?” and walked away. Meanwhile. Peter is standing there in pure silence and as I walk up to him to introduce myself, he goes “Why the fuck do I bother, man?” I obviously have no idea what to say, so I throw my hands to my side and tell him there’s food in the back, and he says “Unless it’s my mother’s cookin‘. I think I’m going to the other fuckin’ store.”
It took an hour and a half to convince him to continue with the signing, and after all that was said and done (he signed like 100 posters for the other stores, and 12 people showed up for the actual in-store) he said “Well, I’d like to see the fuckin’ CARS do that shit” and walked out of the store without saying bye to anyone. As soon as he left. the manager looked at the staff and said “Okay, new rule. If any of you play anything Peter Wolf-related in this god-forsaken store, you’re fired.“
Oof. Brutal. But if you’re worried about Peter Wolf, don’t be. The guy managed to get his career together, and he’s still a working musician. His latest solo album even got some acclaim in Rolling Stone a few months ago! Congrats Peter, and thanks for the tunes!