Ten Minutes With Rich Cohen
Co-creator of HBO's "Vinyl" and celebrated writer talks music, TV, and touring with the Stones
Photo by Gasper Tringale
Rich Cohen is co-creator of HBO’s “Vinyl,” a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, and author of The Tough Jews; Lake Effect; Sweet and Low: A Family Story; Monsters: the 1985 Chicago Bears; and The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones, about touring with the band, to be released May 10. He lives in Ridgefield with his wife and four children.
What was it like hanging out with the Stones?
It was the ultimate backstage experience. It was really cool. But I was so focused on being a professional and not a fan that I didn’t take any pictures.
Did you travel with them?
Yes. During one show, I was in the van behind the police escort and heard the music inside the arena, then they stopped playing and jumped into the motorcade. We were in the air and the crowd was still cheering.
Did you meet interesting people?
I was with Mick rehearsing at Radio City one day. When he was done, Bruce Springsteen came out to rehearse. Mick said, “Meet my friend Rich Cohen.” So when people ask if I’ve met Bruce Springsteen, I say, Yes, I was introduced by Mick Jagger.
Why write the book now?
I feel rock ’n’ roll died when Kurt Cobain killed himself. So I’m writing the obituary, and using the Stones as the lens—you tell their story, and you tell the story of rock ’n’ roll.
You are the co-creator of “Vinyl.” How did that happen?
I wrote a story for Rolling Stone about the recording industry—which always seems like it’s dying. Jagger, who liked my stuff, and Scorsese had talked about doing a movie about rock ’n’ roll. This is 1997. I had just written Tough Jews, heavily influenced by Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Scorsese loved it. They both thought I was the perfect guy. It finally resurfaced after all these years.
Your grandfather invented Sweet’n Low, but when he died, you got nothing.
We were in the will, but when he died, my Aunt Gladys was determined to keep my mother out of the will, because of stuff that happened when they were kids. There was a lot of money, but I didn’t get any.
You like the Chicago Bears?
Yes, I do. I grew up outside Chicago. But my father told me not to be a Cubs fan. A Cubs fan will accept losing as the natural course of things, and therefore will not succeed in life. He really believed that.
Why do the Stones endure?
They have an incredible body of work. Most great bands have one moment. They appeal to the 15 year old and then those people grow up. The Stones realized you have to reinvent yourself—and did four times.
In the book, do you talk about Keith living here?
I was flying back to New York on the Stones plane and it banked and he says, “That’s where I live. Weston, Connecticut—the greatest place in the world.”
Why The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones?
I was interviewing Keith—in about 1995. He said, What year were you born? I said 1968. He started to laugh—because I was so young. He said, “For you, the world is the sun and the moon and the Rolling Stones.”