3 weeks ago
The following quote is from the latest edition of Rolling Stone. It’s lifted from a long and detailed piece called “The Trouble With Johnny Depp.”
“I imagine Johnny doing a version of Jack Sparrow at 70, at 80,” his friend Penélope Cruz tells me. “It will be as charming and as great.” But the things that were charming when he was 28 – doing drugs and running around the scaffolding on a high floor of Atlantic Records’ L.A. building – seem disturbing at 55. (Cruz ends our conversation by telling me about Depp trying to pull his own tooth at a London restaurant while having dinner with her and Stella McCartney.)”
First of all, can I say that this is an example of the ultra-annoying double-name-drop anecdote? Penélope Cruz and Stella McCartney. It’s the name-drop equivalent of going to Liuzza’s and ordering a Po’ Boy that has both fried oysters and shrimp. You do not need the oysters and the shrimp, my friend. Nuh-uh. One of them is enough. Adding the shrimp does not make the oysters taste better.
Secondly, here’s the real trouble with Johnny Depp: His career has been eviscerated by Robert De Niro Grandpa Disease (look it up — it’s in the latest edition of the DSM, that book that’s in the office of every psychologist). I’ll explain: Once Robert De Niro, arguably the greatest actor of his generation, realized he could get paid more for playing Cranky Grandpas then he could for playing the meaty, intense parts that made him famous, he was sunk. Over. Done. Auf Wiedersehen. The same thing happened to ol’ Depp: Since they fill an oil tanker cash every time he does that silly accent and plays that damn pirate, it’s been kind of hard to say no. Ergo, a whole generation only knows him as a goofy pirate, and not a versatile, remarkable actor.
But back to that matter at hand.
See that bit about 28-year old Johnny Depp “doing drugs and running around the scaffolding on a high floor of Atlantic Records’ L.A. building”?
I was there. I was the only witness (except for Evan Dando, who was running around that scaffolding with Depp). That’s my damn anecdote. And I am very likely the only person who ever told anyone about it since I don’t think it was one of Evan or Johnny’s prouder moments.
So, I am utterly delighted to take credit for the fact that, thanks to me, this curious event has been passed down to history. So, Mister Rolling Stone writer Stephen Rodrick, next time, please add, “As witnessed by the vaguely legendary journalist, musician, and record executive Tim Sommer, and reported in RealClearLife.”
(I also note that Mr. Rodrick has written numerous articles on the late, great Tom Petty. But did even one of these articles note that Tom Petty had Tiny Muppet Feet? See, I interviewed Petty once, oh, many years ago, I think even before Bill Clinton was President — my god I must have been in my twenties — and I was totally distracted by his Tiny Muppet Feet. Mr. Petty’s legs were crossed in front of me, and those Tiny Muppet Feet were dangling just ten inches or so from my clipboard. And I could not stop staring at them. I was literally terrified that I would accidentally say something like, “Tell us about working on your new album with producer Tiny Muppet Feet, er, I mean Dave Stewart.”)
All of which provides me with an absolutely wonderful excuse to give a brief summation of this event Mr. Rodrick notes, sans appropriate citation, in the new Rolling Stone. Now, none of this, except for one sentence, reproduces my earlier telling of this story, so you need to read both, dammit.
It was the autumn of 1993. My traumatic encounter with Tom Petty’s Tiny Muppet Feet was, thankfully, beginning to recede into the fog of memory. His Tiny Muppet Feet were no longer the first thing I saw in my mind every morning when I woke up, and no longer were those same Tiny Muppet Feet dancing in front of my eyes as I dropped off to sleep. I had recently begun working as an A&R rep at the Los Angeles office of Atlantic Records. My office was on the 8th floor of a 9th-floor building, exactly at the part of the Sunset Boulevard where the strip cracks to the left and becomes Beverly Hills.
It was about a quarter past 7, and as far as I could tell, everyone on the 8th floor had left for the day. I was staying late, doing expense reports and watching Sportscenter. “Outside my window, the skies were turning from bright blue to ash blue, and the orange and red lights of the Sushi gardens, video and liquor stores, and nightclubs of the Sunset Strip were just beginning to blink on.” (That’s the only line here from my original, longer account of this event; it was so good I wanted to use it again).
I looked up from my desk and Evan Dando, a rising star on the label, and his pal Johnny Depp were standing in my doorway. Now, in 1993 you could still smoke in your office (hell, I’m old enough to remember when you could smoke in elevators). See, that is why Evan, who I was slightly friendly with, stopped by my office to bum a cigarette (I smoked at the time).
From his wobbly perch in the doorway, Evan mumbled, “Can me an’ my friend John get a cigarette and listen to some tunes?”
I gestured to the two empty chairs in front of my desk. Evan and Johnny then swayed into the room, really, like they were on a Slip ’N Slide, and flounced into the chairs across from me.
We lit the Marlboros. The room filled with blue/green smoke, and we listened to Stereolab (which I recommend you do right now or listen to the new Immersion album, which is really much the same vibe). Johnny and Evan didn’t say a word, but they frequently giggled and smiled like children keeping a secret.
Near the end of the second Marlboro, Evan leaned over the desk and confided that he and Johnny were “on a trip.”
A minute or so later, they sluiced out of my office on the same Slip ‘N Slide on which they came in.
All was well for the next two minutes or so. I excitedly compiled a list in my head of all the friends I would call to tell about this unique celebrity encounter. Curiously, it was not my strangest celebrity encounter, but it would be far too complicated to stop now and explain how I ended up watching Drew Barrymore have sex on the floor of the Pyramid Club in New York City.
I was snapped out of the process of making the mental phone list because of a very, very odd sound, one that I could absolutely not identify. It sounded like the kind of bumpa-bumpa-thumpa-thump that you hear in an earthquake, only nothing was moving; actually, it was a lot like the sound you hear when large dogs are running around in the apartment right above you. Whatever the sound was, it was getting closer and closer every second. Very freaking weird.
Oh now is a good time to mention that they were doing construction on our building, and the entire exterior of the 8th and 9th floor were covered in a scaffold.
Then I saw one of the strangest things I have ever seen.
Evan Dando and Johnny Depp were running laps around the building, on the outside, roughly 108 feet over Sunset Boulevard. They were going pretty fast, too, and laughing their heads off. Perhaps they were staring at the grinning, leering skull-face of death and saying, “Come get us, Death! Put a pair of Hell-Red Capezios on those Tiny Muppet Feet and try to catch us!” (As you surely know, many cultures believe that The Dark Lord has feet no larger than the outstretched palm of a small child).
Depp and Dando continued to run laps, so I weighed my options:
First: Climbing out on the scaffolding would very likely only make things more treacherous. Second: Dialing 911 or building security would not in any way increase the likelihood of Depp and Dando surviving, and it might get them in serious trouble with the law. Third: As the only non-high, responsible adult on the premises, it would most certainly reflect very badly on me if Dando and Depp plummeted to their deaths and people found out I had been there. “Timmy,” my wonderful boss Danny Goldberg would say, “Timmy,” (he always said my name in italics) “you killed our hottest young rock star, so, really, my hands are tied here.” Who knows, there might even be charges from the police, I don’t know, aiding and abetting High Movie Star Self Destructive Behavior. I would need the name of Cathy Smith’s lawyer.
So I did the only logical thing: I quietly left the building and drove home, fairly certain that no one would have any idea I had ever been in the office that late.
I got home, opened a can of soup, and listened to KNX 1070 All News Radio, awaiting a bulletin announcing a curious Movie Star Defenestration on Sunset Boulevard.
But that didn’t happen. Dando and Depp lived on. I was not fired, and about six months later I signed Hootie & the Blowfish.
But we’ll talk about that next week.