11:3 Lost Footage: Celestial Records

UNFINISHED DOCUMENTARY, STATE OF GRACE  |  Mid-1970s

Interviewee: KAROLINE ROSENDA

I was right out of college and living with a couple of roommates in a flat over the Communist Bookstore in the Mission. A friend of mind had wrangled me a job working for Zev Avidan—we called him “Z”—over at Celestial Records. This was back when their offices were still on Irving, out in the Avenues.

Celestial had somehow gotten the North American distribution rights for Devon Bentley’s new album, A-OK; sort of a Syd Barrett meets Van Morrison at a Captain Beefheart concert in Golden Gate Park sort of thing. To tell the truth, it was a hot mess, but you have to understand the times. The labels were a lot more willing to take a chance on some crazy act because you just didn’t know what was going to catch on.

Bentley still had some star power left from his years with the Nightingales, and whatever self-destructive thing he did to land himself in the papers on any given day only helped our situation. Of course, dying is one of the best career moves ever when you consider the back catalog.

I got involved because was Bentley was coming to town for a string of shows at Winterland. I think Albert King was opening for him and all three nights were completely sold out. This was the summer of ’71, right after Jim Morrison bought it over in Paris, and without the benefit of foresight, the company was a little concerned about their investment.

Z asked me to keep an eye on their boy; you know, keep him out of major trouble, and just make sure he found his way to the venue at a decent hour and in reasonable shape. I have to admit, I was a little star struck, I was young and still susceptible to English charm back then. Bentley would soon cure me of that.

Despite all the drugs and booze—or maybe because of them—our man had the lure of the disaffected poet about him. I have to admit when I saw him strolling up the jet way at SFO’s International Terminal, a pretty blonde stewardess on each arm; I was a little smitten and maybe just a little jealous.

Safely dispatched from Pan Am’s loving care, Bentley dismissed his fit yet still curvaceous handlers and made a rather elliptical beeline toward me. As he got closer, I could tell he was sloshed, but he still tried to double down on his remaining charisma.

“Hello, darling,” he purred—or slurred—I couldn’t yet tell which. Perhaps both.

I said something to the effect of “Mr. Bentley, I presume, how did you know I was waiting for you?”

“Because, darling,” he muzzed (yep, both), “who else would such a beautiful woman be waiting for?” And we were off to the races.

 

Interviewee: ZEV AVIDAN

Devon Bentley? May God rest his soul! That kid made Celestial Records a lot of money, I’ll tell you that much. Just ask my ex-wife. I kid! Put my secretary through hell. I had to hear about that meshugener for years.

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