In her funny, candid memoir, The Only Girl, Robin Green, a former writer for Rolling Stone magazine, emerges almost as an accidental feminist trailblazer – a woman living through fast-evolving and turbulent cultural, socio-political, professional, and personal times, often just trying to hang on as best she could.
Green was indeed the only girl to be listed on the Rolling Stone masthead, when she worked there during the 70s. The magazine’s co-founder and publisher, Jann Wenner, removed her name when she failed to deliver an article on the children of Robert F Kennedy – though, as becomes clear, Green had her reasons. She had slept with one of her subjects, Robert F Kennedy Jr, on his college water-bed, an event she relates in a chapter entitled: “A Big Journalistic No-No”.
Green, now in her 70s, was again “the only girl” as part of the writing team for Emmy-garlanded The Sopranos; she and her husband, Mitchell Burgess, worked on each of the show’s six seasons, and went on to create Blue Bloods. However, all that comes later. The book opens with Green attending a 2007 Rolling Stone reunion. From there, in scattergun “gonzo” style, she takes us on a wild ride through her life, from being “an Oscar Wilde/George Eliot/Lena Dunham of a baby” growing up in a tightly wound Jewish household (an unfeminine disappointment to her “black hole of need” mother), to attending Brown University, to arriving at Rolling Stone in 1971 in her mid-20s, expecting secretarial work, but instead being commissioned to write about her old workplace, Marvel Comics. Green went on to deliver a series of observant ironic pieces, on everything from a crazed Dennis Hopper, to the uncooperative Bee Gees, to a bland David Cassidy, garnering praise from her heroine, Joan Didion, along the way.
Green paints a vivid picture of being at the epicentre of the new rock’n’roll bohemian culture with the Rolling Stone crowd, including Joe Eszterhas, Greil Marcus, and her married lover, David Felton. At one point, she shares a hot tub with, among others, twitchy, introverted Hunter S Thompson (“the line that distinguished his actual self from the literary persona he created became increasingly blurred”) and hyper-focused Annie Leibovitz (“a big–footed and taciturn galumph of a girl”).
It’s a heady time, and, throughout the book, Green is transfixed by an old photo of her young, happy (masthead-inhabiting) self on the beach. If she was nonplussed to hear that a male Esquire editor had rung the office to (admiringly) ask: “Who’s the new bitch?”, she was pleased to be part of what she considered to be an emerging “sisterhood” in the Rolling Stone office – though it sounds as though it took its own sweet time. Women were still outnumbered when I worked for the NME almost two decades later. In Green’s day, as Wenner’s “chick writer”, she was a novelty, a rock journalism unicorn; even with everybody sleeping with everybody else, Rolling Stone remained an intrinsically chauvinistic boys’ club. As Green says wryly of women like herself: “We weren’t threatening anything – not yet, anyway.”
Although Wenner gives a quote for the back cover, he doesn’t feature much – maybe because, when he dropped Green, he asked her not to write about him. Green contents herself with a couple of mischievous swipes (“social-climbing, star-fucking Jann”), and the revelation that she and Wenner once spent the night together, claiming that the details are “blurry” because of quaaludes. Elsewhere, Green is far franker about her sexual exploits, including rhapsodising about her young Kennedy subject being well endowed (surmising that this could be the key component of the family’s political appeal). “I slept with almost every man I met in those days, so why wouldn’t I have sex with this gorgeous Kennedy?” says Green. Fair enough. However, when it leads indirectly to her leaving Rolling Stone, Green’s confidence is shattered and her life drifts into a series of (fear and self-loathing?) missteps and dramas that include heartbreak, pubic lice, druggy escapades (during one LSD session, a dog urinates on her), and, as life rolls on, career doldrums, abortions, miscarriages, the death of her parents, and the suicide of her troubled best friend.
Was Green a Rolling Stone casualty? At certain points, maybe, but she wasn’t alone. When she later tells Wenner that her years at the magazine were some of the best and worst of her life, Wenner’s partner and future husband replies: “You can’t imagine how many of you come up to him and say that.” Then again, only Green also had to deal with being “the only girl”. It seems a testament to her talent and determination that she wound up successfully writing for television – though Green was sacked by Sopranos creator David Chase in highly toxic-sounding circumstances (personality clashes; office politics) that she seems (rivetingly) keen to offload about.
The Only Girl perhaps couldn’t be viewed as a definitive book on the burgeoning rock’n’roll era, or even on Rolling Stone, as it has an eccentric, wilful, albeit charming, tendency to weave, back and forth, through time zones, with Green mulling and remulling (and even re-re-mulling) on people, events and thoughts, seemingly as the mood takes her. Not that it matters – there are already books on Rolling Stone, and on the era, the majority of which are written by men. This one is about a woman navigating the uncharted territory of her crazy expanding new world, not only armed with the requisite “groovy” access-all-areas pass, but also the self-awareness, humour, and resilience that an “only girl” needs.
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