1. A Backstage Party
September 1976: The Performer’s Lounge, Backstage at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. A windowless basement room with concrete-block walls. The furniture consists of several couches, some tables and quite a few folding chairs, all pushed toward the perimeter, leaving the center of the room empty. The room is decorated with a number of large standing plants and three or four modest but cheerful floral arrangements.
There is a portable bar assembled near one wall, tended by a waiter in a red jacket; thin-stemmed glasses and bottles of champagne are arranged carefully in front of him. A young muscular man in a three-piece suit sits against the opposite wall, in one of the folding chairs, reading a newspaper. He and the waiter are alone in the room.
From the adjoining hallway comes the sound of voices. There is a wild, uncontrollable giggle; and then a long, noisy, elegantly attired procession enters the room like a Chinese dragon. The waiter in the red jacket begins pouring champagne; the man in the three-piece suit folds his newspaper and gets to his feet.
“Great show,” one man says to another at the bar.
“Yeah,” the second man says.
“Just great,” the first man says. He is young and earnest; he has conservatively cut blond hair and a carefully trimmed moustache; he wears a watch chain across his vest.
“There were a couple of moments, though,” he tells his companion, “when I was worried.”
“Oh?” the other man says.
“Well, when she knocked over the microphone stand, how about that? How does that look?”
“Bad,” the other man says.
The young blond man takes a drink from the bar and considers the glass a moment.
“She’s beautiful, though, the way she gets out of things like that, isn’t she? Isn’t she beautiful that way?”
“Beautiful,” the other man agrees.
“Hey,” the first man says, raising a finger of warning, “but wasn’t that lucky? I mean, just think. She could have tied herself up with the cord, tripped over the fucking stand and ended up flat on her back, and how would that have looked?”
“Like shit,” the second man tells him.
Three men enter and stand near the doorway, observing the crowd. They confer a moment, then move among the people, easing them away from the middle of the room and creating a clear path from the door. There is a buzz of anticipation; the sound of conversation drops and fades, like a radio losing a faraway station in the middle of the night.
A rumpled, stocky, gray-haired man in a shimmering blue suit walks in, his hands clasped in front of him.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announces, “Diana Ross.”
There is enthusiastic applause as Diana glides into the room. She is dressed in a white gown, her hair pulled tightly back from her forehead, her expression glowing.
The man in the shimmering blue suit moves several steps in front of her, escorting her as if by remote control; she seems not to notice his presence. She blows a kiss to the crowd.
“Thank you!” she says. “Thank you all!”
She stands alone, her arms held out slightly from her sides. Everyone watches her from a distance.
“A beautiful show,” somebody calls out. There is more applause.
“You’re so nice,” Diana says. She turns to look at everybody.
“I feel so good!” she tells them. “I do, I feel terrific!”
She moves her body in an exaggerated shiver of good feeling.
A middle-aged lady with an enormous hairdo steps forward and takes Diana’s arm.
“You were breathtaking,” the woman tells her.
Diana hugs the woman and kisses her cheek.
“And the audience,” the woman says.
“Weren’t they wonderful?” Diana says.
“They were wonderful,” the woman agrees.
“That was such a beautiful audience,” Diana says, “and they made me feel so good, that I seriously did not want to stop singing. I feel good enough now . . . ” She stops, taking a deep breath. ” . . . I feel good enough now to do a second show, I really do.”
She turns to a man standing near her, a heavyset man in a dark suit and a red and white striped tie.
“That’s what I should do,” she tells him suddenly. “I should do two shows every night.”
“No you shouldn’t,” the man says.
“Oh,” Diana says, turning away, “but I could!”
“Let’s have a toast,” the man with the striped tie suggests.
“Let’s have some food,” Diana says. “I’m starving! What have you got back here?”
She looks at the waiter; he indicates the glasses.
“Champagne?” Diana says. “Don’t you have any food?”
The waiter shakes his head sadly.
“No food?” Diana says. “Where is that Berry Gordy?”
She searches the room with her eyes, like an Indian scout scanning the horizon.
“Mr. Berry Gordy sir!” she calls out. “Where are you?”
A small, bearded man in a silk tuxedo steps out of the crowd.
“Me?” Berry Gordy says. “You looking for me?”
“There is no food here,” she tells him.
“Say what?” he says.
“No food,” she says.
“No,” he says. “There’s no food.”
“Why not?” she asks.
“Can’t afford it,” he tells her. “See, what happened was – we spent the money that we had allocated for food.”
“On what?” she says.
Berry Gordy raises his glass and smiles broadly.
“On champagne,” he says.
2. Tracee’s Surprise
July 1976: A Spacious, high-ceilinged living room of a two-story suite at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. There are tall French windows opening on small concrete balconies. The windows are open, admitting a hazy, fragmented view of the East Side of Manhattan; the draperies are motionless and indifferent in the still summer heat.
“I recorded this last night after the show,” Diana says.
“I’ve been recording every night this week, after I leave the theater. I’ve been trying . . . “
She takes a reel of tape out of the cardboard box.
” . . . you know, to get some material together, work out some things that are ideas of mine.”
She stops, puzzled.
“What’s this?” she says.
Diana turns the cardboard box over and studies it carefully.
“This isn’t it,” she says. “This is something else.” She tosses the reel of tape on the couch.
“Where did I put that? They sent it over this morning. I remember the envelope, and I had it right here, holding it in my hand.”
She brings her hands together, holding an invisible object.
“And now where did I put it?” she says.
She rests a closed fist against her mouth in a pantomime of thought. She is standing in the middle of the room, her bare feet sunk in thick blue carpeting. She is wearing an Indian cotton skirt and blouse; no makeup, no jewelry.
“Maybe I took it with me into the kitchen,” she says at length. “Did I do that?”
She leaves to investigate. From another room voices and a little girl’s high-pitched laugh; somebody turns on a television set and flips to a cartoon show.
“I found it,” Diana says, returning with another reel of tape. She threads it into an elaborate machine which sits on a table in front of a large fireplace with a delicately carved mantel; huge speakers stand at either side.
“Have you ever been to Electric Lady?” Diana says.
“Yes,” I say.
“That’s where we did this,” she says, playing with the tuning controls. “I don’t have the best of what we did last night on tape. I found out afterward that for some reason they weren’t recording for the half of the session when we did the best of what we did. This is the first half.”
She starts the machine; the tape rolls but there is no sound from the speakers.
“Damnit,” she says.
She stops the tape and examines the speaker wires.
“They were supposed to be recording,” she says, rewinding. “For sure that’s what I was there for, but after we’d finished they said – oh this and that and one of their channels wasn’t working, and I said, do you mean we did all this for nothing?”
She starts the tape again and this time the speakers function.
“I just couldn’t even begin to believe it,” she says. “Here I’d left the theater at 11, I’d just done a show. I’m tired. I get all the musicians down there, have to take care of all that. The studio is costing me money; more importantly, the whole thing is costing time – which is what’s really upsetting, is that my time’s being wasted. I’m telling you, if I’m at a recording studio at three o’clock in the morning I want to have something for it. I told them there, I said, listen, I don’t have time to screw around. I said it like that so they’d understand what I was saying.”
She turns up the volume until the music is very loud.
“They’re probably going to send somebody up here, throw me out,” she says.
“I don’t think so,” I say.
“No,” Diana says, “neither do I.”
She moves to a cart, covered with a light pink tablecloth, that holds the remains of a room-service meal. She picks up a roll and breaks it in two; a shower of crumbs falls on the carpet.
“Here, we did a disco version of this same tune,” Diana says, walking back to the fireplace. She advances the tape to another track. As it plays, she begins to dance around the room. She throws her arms out like a scarecrow; her head moves to the music like a spring-action toy.
“I love this,” she says. “I have to play this for Shelly. Shelly!”
A moment passes; nobody answers.
“Shelly!” she shouts. “Come in here and listen to something!”
Shelly, a Motown management aide, materializes: a husky man with a full, tangled head of gray hair and a bushy beard. He is wearing a blue and white knit tennis sweater, jeans and patent-leather loafers.
“I can’t hear you,” Shelly says in a loud voice. “What’d you say?”
“I want you to listen to something,” Diana says. She plays the song for him.
Shelly listens, keeping his eyes on the tape machine as if watching his only child give a piano recital. He taps a rolled-up copy of the Hollywood Reporter against his leg.
“I like it,” he says at last.
“You do?” Diana says.
“I do,” he says.
“You really like it?” she says.
“Yeah, I really like it,” he says, nodding thoughtfully.
“It’s got rhythm. And I like the bass.”
“You like that?” Diana says.
“Yeah,” Shelly says.
“Did I tell you they didn’t get some of my stuff last night?” she asks him.
“They didn’t?” he says.
“No. They messed it up.”
“Messed it up? How did they mess it up?”
“They just did,” Diana says, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m going back there again.”
“Don’t, “Shelly says. “The hell with them.”
He leaves. Diana turns the volume control down slightly.
“Did you write this?” I say.
“Yes,” Diana says. “Do you like it?”
“Tell me,” she says, “how do you think it sounds? I mean, what do you think it sounds like?”
“It sounds like one of your albums,” I say.
“Yeah,” she says. “I guess so.”
“But I like your albums.”
“Yeah, so do I,” she says. She settles into a large side chair and brings her feet up to the seat. “But I’m trying to develop something of my own. That’s why I want to do some more producing and arranging, because I want to be able to recognize something as coming from inside me without any outside influences. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
“Have you done that?”
“I think it takes a while before you know,” she says, “I get ideas all the time, though. All the time I get ideas for things I want to do. You know, like a song, or an idea for a movie, something like that. And you know what I do?”
“I write it all down in a notebook,” she says. “I have this notebook, and every day I put in it all the things that I’ve thought of to do that day, because if I don’t – if I don’t write it down that day – then I’ll never think of it again. Yesterday I was in a store doing some shopping and I heard this one lady telling another lady this story and I said to myself, for sure there’s a movie, and when I came home I wrote it down. Do you do that, write ideas in a notebook?”
“And do you use them? Do you follow up on them?”
“Sometimes. There’s always another idea, though.”
“Isn’t that just right?” Diana says. “Whatever comes to you, if you wait a little bit, there’s always something else that comes along that takes that first thing right out of your mind. That’s just right.”
She stands up, moves to one of the windows and stares out in the direction of Park Avenue. The tape continues to play but there is no longer any music on it.
“Do you know I was almost killed twice in one taxicab this morning?” she says. “Twice in one cab, is that something? I know what they say about cabs in New York, but I couldn’t believe this driver. We’re flying up this street, zooming down another street. I could not believe what the man was doing. I knocked on his shield, you know, whatever that thing is between him and me; I knocked on it and said, are you in some hurry I don’t know about, mister? And he turned around . . . turned around – this is where he almost killed me the second time – and he says, ‘Hey! Ain’t you Diana Ross?’ “
She mimics the rough voice of the cabbie.
“I said, ‘No, I ain’t Diana Ross, I’m a whole lot tougher than Diana Ross, and if you don’t slow this thing down you’re going to see what I’m talking about!’ “
She steps back from the window.
“There surely are a lot of stories in New York,” she says. “I was at Cartier this morning – before I was almost being killed – and I swear! Everything that was going on in that whole store was a movie. It really was! Wait, I have to tell Shelly what I bought. Shelly!”
“Yes?” Shelly says, coming to the door.
“I went shopping this morning,” Diana says. “I didn’t tell you what I bought.”
“What’d you buy?” he asks.
“I went to Cartier,” she says.
“And you bought watches,” he says.
“Yes!” Diana says. “How did you know?”
“I guessed,” he says. “How many did you buy?”
“Only two,” Diana says. “That’s all. I got one that’s red around the rim – you know the outside of the face of the watch – and it has like a blue-jeans color inside. With a red band.”
“Ah,” Shelly says.
“It’s beautiful,” Diana says. “And the other one – the other one is green with a black face and a green band.”
“Great,” Shelly says. “Was it crowded?”
“Was what crowded?” she asks.
“The stores,” Shelly says. “The outside.”
“Oh, it was crazy,” Diana says. “Everybody’s in New York.”
“That’s for the Fourth of July,” Shelly says. “Listen, I’m going to be going over to the theater in a little while, check on a few things. Anything you need while I’m out?”
“No,” Diana says. She walks back to the window and looks out at the city.
“Okay, I’ll be back later,” he says. “You should try and take a nap.”
Diana nods without answering. She watches the outside for several moments.
“I haven’t seen any birds around,” she says finally. “Are they all dead?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Probably,” she says. “Probably they’re all dead.”
A little girl, Tracee, comes skipping into the room. Her hair is in pigtails, and she is wearing a green dress with red flowers on it and a yellow band around the middle. Behind her back she carries a small box wrapped with stationery paper and Scotch tape.
“Here, mommy,” the little girl says.
“What’s this, honey?” Diana says, taking the box in her hand. “Is this for me?”
The little girl nods.
“I wonder what it is,” Diana says. She bends down so that she is at eye level with her daughter.
“A present,” the little girl says.
“A present?” Diana says. She looks at the package, which appears to be a ring box. “Where did you get it?”
“I don’t know,” the little girl says, tugging at the hem of her skirt.
“You don’t know where you got it?” Diana asks as she unwraps the present.
“A place,” the little girl says. She giggles and covers her mouth.
“You didn’t get this off my dressing table, did you?” Diana says.
The little girl shakes her head solemnly from side to side.
“It’s a surprise,” she tells her mother in a whisper.
“Oh, it’s a surprise,” Diana whispers back. “I see.”
Diana takes the box out of the paper; the little girl watches her with an intent and serious expression. Diana opens the box and looks inside. It is empty.
“Surprise!” the little girl shouts.
3. Diana’s Fears
October 1976: A Small private dining room at Le Restaurant, on Melrose Place in West Hollywood. The room has one mirrored wall and a narrow floor-to-ceiling window that looks out on the main dining area. There are flowers on the table and several small cut-glass containers holding assorted brands of cigarettes. Shelly is lighting one of these cigarettes with a gold lighter.
“Diana could play the big halls,” he says, snapping the lighter shut. “She could play the Forum. She could do four nights at the Forum and make a hell of a lot more money doing that than doing what she’s doing. But she doesn’t. Do you know why?”
“Why?” I say.
Shelly exhales a cloud of smoke.
“Because she’s not interested in that, that’s why,” he says. “Take somebody like Sinatra. Sinatra plays the big halls: stadiums, arenas, Madison Square Garden. He doesn’t care, the bigger the better. All he’s interested in at this point is making as much money as he can, every time he sings. And you know why? Because one morning he wakes up and the voice is gone. Suddenly he can’t even sing in the shower. People will pay to see Sinatra now, but there’s a limit to what people will pay to see. That’s why he has to clean up while he can.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” I say.
“There’s a time in every performer’s life,” Shelly says, “when he starts thinking just that way. When you’ve got more years in back of you than you’ve got in front it turns you a little bananas, you know what I mean? It distorts your values.”
He flicks the ash on his cigarette.
“Now Diana’s got a lot of performing years in front of her,” he says. “Thirty years, maybe. Who knows, maybe more. She doesn’t have to fuck around making every dollar she can overnight. That’s why she doesn’t do concerts. What she does is a stage show, a theatrical presentation. It’s a whole different thing from an artistic point of view. More sophisticated.”
He grinds the cigarette out in an ashtray.
“You can’t do sophisticated material in Madison Square Garden,” he says. “You can hold a hockey game, yes. But you can’t do sophisticated material.”
There is a light knock at the door; a waiter in a white shirt and a black bow tie steps into the room.
“Excuse me,” he says, “but Miss Ross just called and asked that you be told that she is on her way.”
“She called?” Shelly asks him.
“Yes, sir,” the waiter says.
“And she said she’s on her way?”
“Yes, sir. She mentioned she had gotten lost.”
“Lost?” Shelly says. “She said she got lost?”
“Yes, sir,” the waiter says. “I believe she said something about having gone to the wrong restaurant. Perhaps you would care for more coffee while you’re waiting?”
“No,” Shelly says. “Everything’s fine.”
“Yes sir,” the waiter says. He closes the door behind him.
“How about that?” Shelly says. “She went to the wrong restaurant.”
He ponders this a moment.
“Wait a minute,” he says. “She picked this restaurant. This is where she said she wanted to have lunch. I remember talking to her on the phone and asking where she wanted to eat and she said here. Ha! Jesus, that’s funny!”
He shakes his head and takes another cigarette from the table.
“I never come here myself,” he says. “The food’s too rich.”
On the other side of the window, a thin maitre d’ with closely cropped hair and a Latin dancer’s moustache leads two young ladies to a table. Both girls have long blond hair, and both are wearing jeans tucked into the tops of high-heeled boots. The maitre d’ settles them into their seats with the swiftness and grace of a hang glider making a pinpoint landing.
At an adjoining table, a middle-aged man and woman are eating lunch. The woman is heavily made up and wears a diamond ring set with emeralds; gold chains are draped around her neck like tinsel on a Christmas tree. The man she is with stares over her shoulder and watches as one of the blond-haired girls struggles to free herself from a suede blazer. The man smiles to himself and runs his fingers absent-mindedly around the rim of his wine glass.
The waiter with the black bow tie reappears.
“Miss Ross has arrived,” he says.
The waiter steps out of the way just in time to avoid colliding with Diana as she rushes into the room.
“I got lost!” she says breathlessly.
“I know,” Shelly says to her. “We just got your message.”
Diana braces herself against the back of a chair and inhales deeply; she fans her face with her hand.
“I didn’t really get lost,” she says. “I mean I knew where I was, I was just at the wrong place.”
She throws her things down and takes a seat.
“Would you like a cocktail, Miss Ross?” the waiter asks her.
“Definitely, yes,” Diana says. “A vodka gimlet, please.”
She throws her head back and runs her fingers quickly through her hair; a stack of silver bracelets rattles on each of her wrists.
“I’m a mess,” Diana says. “I washed my hair and didn’t have time to do anything with it. Look at it. It’s just hanging here on my head.”
“It looks great,” Shelly says.
Diana turns her face to the mirror and examines herself.
“It doesn’t look terrible?” she says.
“No,” Shelly says. “How could you look terrible?”
“Let me tell you, this is a day for looking terrible for sure,” Diana says. “What a day! Six o’clock this morning I wake up and find out that one of my girls has peed all over me.”
“She what?” Shelly says.
“She peed on me,” Diana says.
“Jesus,” he says.
“I know,” she says. “Tracee must have crawled into bed with me in the middle of the night, and at some point . . . “
She gestures helplessly.
“Jesus Christ,” Shelly says. “You should do something about that.”
“Yeah, I should do something,” Diana says, “but I don’t know what it is I should do. I can’t get angry with her when something like this happens, because it’s not her fault. This happened once before, and I did that, I got angry. I woke up to this terrible smell, and before I knew what was happening, I was shouting. And Tracee, you know, she wouldn’t even look at me for the rest of the day. I felt terrible! I read a book that said you have to be very careful how you handle a situation like this or your child can become emotionally disturbed.”
“What did the book say to do about it?” Shelly asks.
“This book just told you what to do after the child wets the bed,” Diana says. “I have to find another book that can tell me how to keep the child from wetting the bed.”
The waiter brings Diana’s drink and sets it in front of her. She picks up the glass and takes a sip.
“Anyway,” she says, “that’s how the day started, and so far, that’s been the best part. Honestly, I don’t know how I went to that other restaurant, I don’t know what was on my mind. I’m the one that wanted to come here, wasn’t I?”
“That’s exactly what I thought,” Diana says. “And when I walked into St. Germain, as soon as I walked in, I knew I was in the wrong place. The maitre d’ got all excited. He said, ‘Miss Ross, we didn’t expect you!’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, you will excuse me, but I’m supposed to be someplace else,’ and I ran right out the door.”
She makes a lickety-split motion with her hands.
“Just like that, I ran right out the door. That maitre d’ is probably telling everybody how crazy Diana Ross is at this very moment.”
“You are crazy,” Shelly says.
“I am not crazy,” Diana says. “I just look crazy on account of my hair the way it is.”
She looks at herself in the mirror again.
“Listen, I have to tell you what happened yesterday,” she says. “Now this was crazy. I came home from doing some errands yesterday morning, and there was a film crew outside my house. All set up and everything, equipment and stuff – all in front of my house. I nearly called you, Shelly, because I knew your reaction would be worth hearing.”
“What were they doing?” he says to her.
“Well,” Diana says, “I talked to them, and they explained what they were all about, and they said that they wanted to take some pictures of the outside of the house. They were making some kind of film about celebrities’ houses or something.”
“A film about celebrities’ houses?” Shelly says.
“Well, something like that,” Diana says. “But that isn’t all. I told them, okay, take your pictures, just don’t ruin the plants – you know – and I went inside. A little while later the doorbell rings and they’re asking if I’d mind coming outside and posing for some pictures.”
“Pose for pictures!” Shelly says.
“I knew you’d like that part especially,” Diana says. “Yeah. Pose for pictures.”
“You didn’t,” he says. “Did you?”
“No,” she says. “My housekeeper spoke to them and said that they shouldn’t disturb me for such and such a reason and besides I had been kind enough to permit them to do what they asked for in the first place, which I guess they accepted because they packed their things and left. But isn’t that something?”
“Jesus,” Shelly says. “There’s no privacy anymore. There’s no sense of decency.”
“Well, I tell you, Shelly, it didn’t bother me because you know what it made me think of? It made me think of when we were in Rome, and we wanted to shoot something, and we didn’t have a permit, and we just went and did it anyway. Remember? Berry saying to me, ‘Yeah, just go sign some autographs, that’ll cool ’em out.'”
“You did do that, didn’t you?” Shelly says, smiling.
“That’s right,” Diana says. “Next time I’m in Italy they’ll probably come for me in the middle of the night and throw me into jail on a two-year-old trespassing charge.”
“It would be so like them,” Shelly says.
Diana finishes her drink, and the waiter returns to take the order. He writes everything down with great deliberateness on a small pad of paper.
“A salad?” he says to Diana.
“Yes,” she says. “A green salad.”
“With the house dressing?” he asks.
“Yes,” she says.”
“Endive?” he says. “Mushrooms? Bean sprouts?”
“Surprise me,” Diana tells him.
“Yes, ma’am,” the waiter says; he picks up a dirty ashtray and leaves.
Diana pulls a silver bread basket toward her and raises the cloth covering. She selects a piece of melba toast and butters it lightly.
“I’ve been reading that book,” she says to Shelly.
“What book?” he says. “The toilet-training book?”
“No, the one about Roosevelt,” she says. “The one you got for me.”
“What do you think of it?” he asks.
“I like it,” she says. “It’s fascinating, his whole life story. It’s like a movie. Did you know he had polio as a young man?”
“Yes,” Shelly says.
“And he fought it,” Diana says. “Can you imagine that? What a strong man he must have been.”
“Very strong,” Shelly says.
“I didn’t know any of that,” Diana says. “I didn’t know anything at all about Roosevelt. I think the first time I ever heard his name was a couple of months ago when somebody was in my dressing room, and they repeated this saying of his: You have nothing to fear but fear itself. When I heard that I said, that’s marvelous! They said, you mean you never heard that before? I said, no, I never have, what’s it from? They told me Franklin Roosevelt said that, and I said, well, I don’t know anything about him but he must have been a brilliant man to have had such a powerful thought. You have nothing to fear but fear itself! I took an eyebrow pencil and wrote it on my mirror so I’d remember it.”
“What else did you find out about him?” Shelly says.
“I found out he died the year after I was born,” Diana says. “That’s probably why I didn’t know anything about him.”
“His wife, Eleanor, was a very strong person also,” Shelly says.
“That’s what the book talks about,” Diana says. “But I don’t think she could have been near the kind of person he was, what with all the things he accomplished for himself.”
“Does he sound like he was a good president?” Shelly says.
“I don’t know what that means,” Diana says. “I don’t know what being a good president is. When I talked to Governor Carter a few weeks ago, I asked him what he thought the presidency should be. Not what it is, but what it should be.”
“And what’d he tell you?” Shelly says.
“Well, he had this long involved answer,” she says, “but what he finally said, which I felt was the right answer, was that the presidency is like a service job. I thought that was good, even though I didn’t like the way he went about saying it. I also asked him if he’d ever seen an organization that worked. He was saying how he wanted to make the government run efficiently, like a business, and I wanted to know if he thought there was such a thing as an organization that worked.”
“I bet I know what he said,” Shelly says. “I bet he said that the state of Georgia, when he was governor –”
“That’s right,” Diana says. “That’s exactly what he said. I told him that the only organization I’ve personally been involved in is Motown, and how, when it started, it worked. Because it was a family, and everybody knew everybody else. But when it got bigger, and it wasn’t a family anymore, that’s when it began to run less efficiently. People would want to get to Berry and he wouldn’t be available. There wasn’t any more communication. Nobody knew what anybody else was doing. Once something gets past a certain size, you can’t manage it anymore. That’s why I don’t understand Carter when he says he’s going to reorganize. I don’t see how he’s going to do that.”
“He’ll just say he’s done it,” Shelly says, “and everybody will think he has. Nobody knows what the hell’s going on with the government anyway. All you know about the government is what the government tells you.”
“I guess that’s so,” Diana says.
“Sure,” Shelly says. “Lenny Bruce used to have this routine about the bomb. You know, in the Fifties and Sixties everybody was worried about the bomb. Our bomb, their bomb, the whole bit. Lenny Bruce said, ‘Hey! There is no bomb. You think there’s a bomb? How do you know? They told you, right? Did they show it to you? Of course not! Then how do you know there really is a bomb? You don’t. You just have to take their word for it. And imagine taking the word of people who would be insane enough to build a bomb in the first place.”‘
“Still,” Diana says, “I don’t think Carter would do something like that. Lie to people, I mean.”
“Why not?” Shelly says. “They all do it. That’s what politics is all about.”
Diana shrugs and turns away. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she raises both arms and holds her hair in a tight knot at the back of her head.
“Maybe I should wear it something like this,” she says.
This story is from the August 11th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.