David Dalton, rock writer who lived on the scene, dies at 80
David Dalton, who chronicled the rock scene as a debut writer for Rolling Stone and brought first-hand knowledge to his rock star biographies for living the wild life alongside them, died Monday in Manhattan. He was 80 years old.
His son, Toby Dalton, said the cause was cancer.
Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Dalton showed a knack for being where cultural moments and shifts happened. Before he was 20, he dated Andy Warhol. In the mid-1960s he photographed the Yardbirds, the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits and other rock bands that were part of the British Invasion. He was backstage at the infamous 1969 Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in California. He was hired, along with Jonathan Cott, to write a book to accompany a box set release of the 1970 Beatles album, “Let It Be”. He traveled with Janis Joplin and James Brown and talked about Charles Manson with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys.
As his career progressed, he turned to writing biographies and helped celebrities write their autobiographies. Her books included ‘Janis’ (1972), about Joplin, revised and updated in 1984 as ‘Piece of My Heart’; “James Dean: The Mutant King” (1975); and “Who is this man?” In Search of the Real Bob Dylan” (2012). Among the autobiographies he has helped their subjects write are Marianne Faithfull’s “Faithfull: An Autobiography” (1994), “Meat Loaf: To Hell and Back” (1999), “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler. (2011) and “My Way” by Paul Anka (2013). He collaborated with Tony Scherman on “Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol” (2009).
Lenny Kayeband guitarist Patti Smith and a writer who collaborated with Mr. Dalton on the 1977 book “Rock 100,” said Mr. Dalton, early in his career, was part of a group of writers who took a fresh approach to covering the music scene.
“In the days of rock journalism, there wasn’t much of a separation between writers and artists,” he said in a phone interview. “Writers aspired to create the same type of artistic illumination as those they wrote about.”
“David became very friendly with a lot of people,” Mr. Kaye added, “and I think that helped improve his writing style. He had a way of taking on the personality of the person he was writing about. .
Mr Dalton’s wife of 44 years, Coco Pekelis, a painter and performance artist, said Mr Dalton fell into writing almost by accident. He had read that Jann Wenner was starting a new music magazine, Rolling Stone, in 1967 and had started sending in some of the group photos he had taken.
“He was taking pictures of groups like the Shangri-Las, and Jann wanted captions,” Ms Pekelis said via email. “So David started writing. And writes and writes and writes. I asked him the other day when he knew he was a writer, and he said, when his captions got longer and longer.
Mr. Dalton assessed his voluminous output in an unpublished autobiographical sketch, explaining how his work had changed over the decades.
“When I was writing rock journalism, I was younger,” he noted. “I was involved in the scene as it unfolded, evolved. I went anywhere at the drop of a hat. When I hit my thirties, I started writing about the past and have lived there ever since.
John David Dalton was born on January 15, 1942 in wartime London. Her father, John, was a doctor and her mother, Kathleen Tremaine, was an actress. His sister, Sarah Legon, said that during the German air raids, David and a cousin, who grew up to be actress Joanna Pettet, would be put in baskets and sheltered under a staircase or taken on the subway, the subway of London, for protection.
David grew up in London and British Columbia — his father was Canadian — and attended King’s School in Canterbury, England. He then joined his parents in New York, where they had moved, and he and his sister became Warhol’s assistants, Ms Legon said, helping him put together a first film, “Sleep”. In 1966, Mr. Dalton helped Warhol design an issue of Aspen, the multimedia magazine that came in a box or folder with matching ornaments.
“Coming from England in the early 1960s,” Mr. Dalton wrote in “Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol,” “I encountered Pop Art with the same burst of excitement and joy that I had experienced when hearing the blues for the first time. I was lucky enough to meet Andy Warhol early in his career, and through his x-ray specs I saw the brash, bizarre, manic underworld of advertisements, supermarket wares, comic books and kitsch brought to garish, swarming, bouncing- of his skin life.
In the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. Dalton spent time on the East Coast, West Coast and England, rubbing shoulders with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and more. In California, he spent time with Dennis Wilson, who he said once expressed his admiration for Charles Manson.
After Manson was charged with brutal murders in 1969, Mr. Dalton began investigating the Rolling Stone case with fellow writer David Felton.
“Like most of my hippie peers,” he wrote in an unpublished essay, “I thought Manson was innocent and had been hunted down by the LAPD. with long hair and drug smokers were not hippies of peace and love.
His thinking changed when someone from the district attorney’s office showed him photographs of victims of Manson’s supporters and the messages written in blood at the crime scenes.
“It must have been the most horrifying moment of my life,” Mr. Dalton said in Joe Hagan’s “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine” (2017). “It was the end of all hippie culture.”
For Rolling Stone, Mr. Dalton has also written about Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Little Richard and others. By the mid-1970s, he had moved on and was focusing on books, while still applying his total immersion approach. For “El Sid: Saint Vicious,” his 1997 book about the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, who died of an overdose in 1979, “I actually started hearing Sid’s voice talking to me,” he said. writing. David Nicholson, reviewing the book in The Washington Post, found it compelling.
“There is a certain hypnotic quality to the story that is akin to watching someone stand in the way of a speeding train,” he wrote. “The writing is graceful and intelligent, even when it’s in your face.”
Mr. Dalton once described his biography technique this way:
“Essentially, you distill your subject into a literary solution and get stoned, so to speak. Afterwards, we need brain detergent and we have to rewire his brain.
Mr. Dalton lived in Andes, NY His wife, son and sister are his only immediate survivors.
Mr Kaye said Mr Dalton had been there for both radical change and part of it.
“It was a fascinating time,” he said, “and David was one of our most important cultural spokespersons.”