On the Masthead of the Rolling Stone: Robin Green’s ‘The Only Girl’
In the very first story of hers that appeared in Rolling Stone in 1971, Robin Green recounts her encounter with Dennis Hopper in his Taos, New Mexico, desert compound. He had invited a group of journalists for a screening of his film The Last Movie — and it turned out to be the last movie he would make for several years — and, during the interview he granted the group, he humiliated his publicist, rambled incoherently about the erotic patterns in the rug, and never did give the interview that Green hoped he would. Nevertheless, Green writes up her article, and it’s so good that it’s listed third “in a compendium of ‘Ten Interviews that Shook Hollywood,’ and so good that Joan Didion [Green’s hero] asked a mutual friend to phone and tell me how much she liked it.” Not long after the article appears, an editor at Esquire calls the Rolling Stone office and asks, “Who’s the new bitch?” As Green points out in her entertaining, page-turning, and scorchingly candid new memoir The Only Girl: My Life and Times on the Masthead of Rolling Stone, she was so thrilled that Esquire was calling, she didn’t think about what it meant to be called a bitch. “It is true,” she reflects, “that the Dennis Hopper story and pretty much every story I wrote from then on at the very least stung my subjects and at the most cost them their careers of landed them in prison.”
When Green first moved to the San Francisco area, she little expected to be working at Rolling Stone, much less to be the only woman listed as contributing editor on the magazine’s masthead back in those heady days of rock journalism. In hindsight she describes herself, as a student at Brown University from 1963 to 1968, as “a star of sorts, a townie with chip on her shoulder … who was John Hawkes’ pet and who wrote poignant yet earthy short stories and skulked around campus in black turtlenecks, jeans, black boots, a would-be bohemian made editor of Brown’s literary magazine and as such the only girl on the editorial staff of the Brown Daily Herald that year.” Following graduation, she heads to New York, hoping to land a job in publishing. She so palpably describes her first night in New York that her loneliness scores our own bones: “I checked in and was shown to my room — a heart-sinkingly small, dark pit with one grimy window looking onto an airshaft, a sad single bed, a creepy little closet, and a stain on the carpet that looked like blood. I sat down on the bed and sobbed. I wanted to be anywhere but here. I wanted to go home. I wanted to die.” The staccato sentences strung together cut into our emotions and deepen the stark, claustrophobic feeling of aloneness and disappointment and momentary hopelessness.
As it turns out, she finds a job working for Stan Lee at Marvel Comics, moves out of her hotel into an apartment in the Village, and heads uptown every day on packed commuter trains to a vaguely dissatisfying job. When her boyfriend, David, arrives one day to whisk her off to a wedding in Montreal, her life veers suddenly in a new direction. Although the couple drives to Montreal, she has planned to fly back, and when she is unable to purchase a ticket, she heads to Chicago with David, leaving New York, and her job, behind. The couple eventually makes their way to the San Francisco area where Green waits tables in a faux-British steakhouse, HS Lordship, where she soon tires of slinging roast beef, wearing a “little serving-wench outfit.”
One afternoon a friend from college, who’s been working for Alan Rinzler at Macmillan, calls up Green to ask her to be a bridesmaid. The friend tells Green that Rinzler has recently moved to San Francisco to become publisher of Rolling Stone’s book division, Straight Arrow, and that Green should look him up. Green sets up an appointment with Rinzler, goes to see him — he’s “literate, chatty, exuding enthusiasm” — and she tells him how much she loves the magazine and that she’ll do anything to work there, such as typing, filing, or working as a receptionist. He immediately asks why she would do that and asks her if she wanted to write something for the magazine. Rinzler sets up a meeting for her with Jann Wenner, and Wenner gives Green her first assignment, to write about Marvel Comics. “I had always wanted to be a writer (maybe not a journalist, but still),” she writes, “and now I was — published, paid, and printed. The year was 1971, and I’d just turned twenty-six.”
The Only Girl is brimming over with stories of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and there are clear-eyed but sympathetic descriptions of some of the more famous denizens of the magazine at the time, such Hunter S. Thompson: “He was strange. Guarded to the extreme. Jumpy. He didn’t make eye contact and he muttered … It looked like a big put-on, Hunter’s act. To protect himself, I supposed, so he wouldn’t have to actually talk to anyone. Or maybe it was the drugs.”
Yet, the power of The Only Girl lies in Green’s willingness to acknowledge the vulnerability she feels early in her career, her willingness to share her struggles and triumphs of making her way, finding her voice, and her embrace of her hero Joan Didion’s words in Green’s own writing: “People tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.” Green’s fierce honesty and her way with a story makes The Only Girl an electrifying read.