Sloppily written and frequently silly, Road Mangler Deluxe, by Phil Kaufman with Colin White, is nonetheless one of the most honest books ever written about a life lived in the culture of rock & roll. Since the late ’60s, Kaufman has spent most of his professional career as a road manager to music acts like the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, and Emmylou Harris-that is, whenever he wasn’t producing Charles Manson’s music, giving drug-smuggling advice to Bobby ”Boris” Pickett (remember ”Monster Mash” ?), or sharing some hashish with Evening Shade’s Elizabeth Ashley back in ’78.
Kaufman brings new resonance to the phrase seen it all, done it all. Need a job description of a road manager? Kaufman quotes the person who hired him, for $100 a week in 1968, to oversee Mick Jagger: ”Look after him, get him to the studio on time, get his medicine, keep him fed, keep him out of trouble.” It’s a thankless job, but one that has suited Kaufman because-while lacking the fame and wealth of a pop star-he has two things many such eminences do not: common sense and discipline. Though perfectly willing to get as loaded as the next fellow in his off-hours, Kaufman earned a solid rep as a creatively take-charge guy while on duty. Jagger dubbed him Executive Nanny, and Kaufman himself garbled his job description into road mangler to capture some of his chaos-in-the-midst-of-order style.
Oh, sometimes Kaufman may have taken his sense of responsibility a bit too far. He was, for example, employed by the gifted but troubled country-rocker Gram Parsons when Parsons died after a drug and alcohol binge in 1973. Parsons’ family planned to bury the singer in New Orleans, but Kaufman decided to carry out what he claims was Parsons’ true desire, to be cremated at Joshua Tree National Monument. As Kaufman tells it, he and a pal stole the coffin containing Parsons’ body from Los Angeles International Airport, drove out to Joshua Tree, opened the casket, doused the corpse with gasoline, and struck a match. The price the law exacted for this bleak stunt? Kaufman was fined $300 and ordered to pay the cost of the ruined coffin.
Loyal, good-natured, but compulsively blunt, Kaufman strews Road Mangler with details and opinions: ”Marianne Faithfull was having a slight drug problem. She needed to get back into shape in order to record some new material so I got Percodan and a masseuse for her.” Joe Cocker ”didn’t do hard drugs” but drank a lot of Bacardi and diet Coke because he thought it was ”slimming.” Given the nature of his job, Kaufman has seen most of his bosses at their worst and doesn’t mind telling you about it-yet there’s never a trace of nastiness or revenge in his tales of dissolution and depravity.
Indeed, Kaufman seems untroubled by much of a fine moral sense. He first met future mass murderer Charles Manson while doing time in jail for smuggling marijuana. And like many who came into contact with Manson before the infamous 1969 Tate-LaBianca killings, he found him a charming fellow. Most of Road Mangler maintains a spirit of ribald good humor, but in this instance, Kaufman’s stream-of-babble observations might make your blood run cold: ”I don’t think (Manson) ever did physically murder anyone. He planted the seeds and other people did it. I looked after some of the girls after Charlie’s arrest because I didn’t think any of them were guilty. When I looked at the papers and read the names of the perpetrators and their accomplices, I realized that I’d had sex with every one of those murderesses.”
Kaufman-who is currently employed by Emmylou Harris-doesn’t seem to be in it for the money, but rather for the sex, drugs, and rock & roll. An instinctive nonconformist lucky enough to have made his mark during rock’s wildest years, Kaufman may not be a household name, but he sure is a character. B+