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Watching Washed Up Rock Stars Give Autographs Is Depressing

Let me say that The Rock n Roll Autograph Show raised money for the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. That’s a good thing. As for everything

Located next to Los Angeles International Airport, the Westin hotel is the last place any real part of the rock music scene would ever be found. It’s a hotel for people that don’t know anyone in Los Angeles, only in town for business and not wanting to stray too far from their path of escape. At night, the nearby roads are probably a good place to find a hooker. By day, it’s nearly abandoned. Except for recently, when it played host to the Rock N Roll Autograph Show, which is exactly what it sounds like.


Let me say that The Rock n Roll Autograph Show raised money for the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. So, regardless of anything else, that’s a good thing.

As outlined in the event’s website, Corky, the founder of the event, “will give Rock ‘n’ Roll fans the biggest, best, and most exciting opportunity to meet their rock heroes and take home a piece of rock music history.”

The first thing at the convention is a table full of rock n’ roll nicknacks for your autographs, and then other items like shot glasses and beer koozies for souvenirs, though it is beyond me why you’d need a souvenir from an autograph show, where the autographs are by definition souvenirs.

Which, in a sense, calls out the problem with this kind of thing at its core. Autographs are supposed to commemorate a moment. You get one at a concert and you remember the concert when you look at it. But getting autographs in mass, no matter who it is, to commemorate getting the autograph, is missing the point. But for the price of admission, ranging from $25-$250, maybe a “rock n’ roll experience” would be provided.

Opening the door to the convention room floor, a sensation overcame me. There is a distinct feeling that comes when you are in the presence of greatness. Unrelated to that feeling, there is also a distinct feeling that comes when you are lost in a hotel and not sure if you are in the right place. It was somewhere between those two feelings.


It was the right place, and I made my way down the first aisle to see what stars I might find. Two ladies, maybe near 60-years-old, sat at a table and revealed themselves to be The Angels. When I asked them what they were famous for, they informed me that they sang the song “My Boyfriend's Back.” The ladies informed me that the third Angel was not with them, and while I gave them my condolences, they clarified that she was getting something to eat, which, I assured them was much better than having her be dead.

Unfortunately, they would not allow me to photograph them without paying their $30 fee.

Apparently, a lot of people were getting something to eat, like presumed germaphobe Lou Gramm, frontman of 70’s rock titans Foreigner.

And, Ted Neeley, Jesus from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Also, Prescott Niles, the bass player from The Knack.

Is this for real? How do you have an autograph show without people to sign autographs?

The real crown jewel of the event was Mackenzie Phillips, born into the rock and roll world via The Mamas and the Papas, with member John Phillips being her literal papa. She starred in the film American Graffiti when she was 12 and then the sitcom One Day at a Time, before slipping into three-decade-long war with drug addiction, as well as a Disney Channel series. She peaked with her book that alleged having a ten-year sexual relationship with her father.

Believe it or not, this was not nearly the most fucked up backstory in the room. That goes to Missing Persons frontwoman Dale Bozzio, whom, I swear to god, became a cat lady who left her cats to go on tour and then the cats were discovered in a scene of cat apocalyptic hell reality litter box bloodbath. I didn’t really want to meet her.


Mackenzie Phillips was one of the few people there that had heard of VICE, and I told her she was one of the few people at the convention I had even heard of. She asked if it was from her Disney Channel show So Weird or maybe from One Day at a Time, and I said no, it was actually from knowledge of The Mamas and the Papas, and that she is name-checked in a song by The Hold Steady, “Cattle and Creeping Things.” She was unaware of the song, but asked what they said, figuring it was about her doing all kinds of drugs. I half-lied and told her no, it wasn’t like that. This seemed to make her day.

Phillips was gracious and in the moment, not pretending to be anything she wasn’t, and with no ego at all. She then told me that if I was writing a story, I should really talk to Pamela Des Barres, noted groupie of the 70’s that wrote the book I’m With the Band. Phillips excitedly told me about the men this lady had known and dated, including Robert Plant, and, I sensed that she got it. She knew this was the kind of rock and roll experience people wanted, stories of the world we don’t see but want to, without the sad realities of where rock and roll singers end up decades later.

Then there was Richie Ramone, which was another one of the more notable names on the bill. The drummer for the Ramones from 1982-1987, Richie seemed morose as he sipped on his booze and coke, and told me that he never does these things, and that it reminds him of Vegas. Like Vegas without any of the fun parts I replied, and got him to laugh, and we chatted for a few minutes, ending with me feeling sorry for him, not for where his life is, but that he clearly was somewhere he didn’t want to be at the moment. And he tried to sell me a record.


There were certainly people having a good time in some sense at the convention, but this was not anything like what rock and roll experiences should be.

I don’t even know what kind of experience this was, but it was unsettling at best.

The people signing autographs and the people buying them were hard to tell apart.

And what seemed like innocent fun never became relatable to me.

Outside the main hall, there were a few stray booths that extended past the entrance, I walked up and rugs covered the already carpeted ground, and as i stepped on one I noticed the labeling “Luther Vandross” and quickly hopped off, looking over my shoulders to make sure no one saw. The most out of the way exhibit was full of the weirdest shit.

Like a column from Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour.

Or this Duran Duran couch.

“You know you want to sit on it,” a voice said from out of view. A girl, 20’s, poked her head around the corner, possibly watching me all along.

“That couch was used by Duran Duran when they needed a break, after a set or after soundcheck. Try it out.”

I assured her I was fine standing and she commented that no one is partying hard enough to be worthy of that couch. “That couch has seen some real parties,” she said. “Wanna see the coolest thing here?”

Of course I did and she showed me this cabinet, and inside were boxes and she watched with a smirk, waiting for me to “get it.” I didn’t and she had to tell me.


“Those are Woodstock. The original reels that it was recorded onto. It’s the original, only of its kind. It’s priceless.”

Of course it depended on who you were, but $300K could buy you the recordings. The collection was her father’s, a man whose stories easily trumped anything heard on the main convention floor. He was blown up by The Rolling Stones, friends with the Beatles, and ran the sound at the Great Western Forum for decades.

He saved his sticky passes and badges from his entire rock and roll experience, just as I have at my own home, and it was stunning to see.

Yeah, he had the Emmys and Grammys and Oscars. He had the Bad tour and Zoo TV. He had the motherfuckin’ pope. The girl, Miranda, told me about her childhood, growing up with rock stars hanging out at her house, and not realizing how otherworldly it was until later. She talked fast, like she had said all this many times before, but that scripted dialogue made the moment cinematic, the part of the movie where the lead wanders out of the party they don’t belong at, and finds an isolated room and discovers the owner of the house doing the same thing. I think that happens in Batman.

Soon I would meet Miranda’s father, Daniel, and he talked fast as well, giving me something worthwhile, if not a direct rock and roll experience, but a connection to this family and their fascinating tales. He lived the authentic rock and roll experience as an outsider unlike the ticket buying people could. And that experience is so valuable, people will pay just to have a connection to it.


And when the night ended with a VIP party with the musicians jamming terribly and nothing feeling real or spontaneous about it at all, it was obvious that you can’t quarantine the past as Malkmus says. These people have to get out there and experience music in its natural habitat, put themselves in the position to have the creative world touch them. And if it ever does, grab a coaster from the bar or take a picture with your phone and hold onto that memory, but know that its only value should be its value to you, the value of the memories you attach to it.

Phil Cosores is a writer and photographer living in Los Angeles. He's on Twitter - @Philip_Cosores


If you like us interacting with classic rock people, try reading our interviews with Ted Nugent or Dwight Yoakam, and check out our episode of Guitar Moves with Billy Gibbons and Kid Rock.