Bream on irking Zep and Prince
Jon Bream is one of the longest-running popular music critics in the United States, having reviewed concerts for the Minneapolis Star Tribune since 1974 (when it was still the Minneapolis Star). He is "author-in-chief" of a massive new book about Led Zeppelin, Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time, and previously authored one of the first books about Prince, Prince: Insider the Purple Reign. Read him blogging at Pop Life. He appears today at Barnes & Noble in Minnetonka, at 3:30 p.m., and has Zep collectibles to give away.
Could you tell the story again of how reviewing Led Zeppelin got a reaction during one of their performances?
The year was 1977, and it was the first time ever, and the only time, that an arena-sized band played two different shows in the Twin Cities on two different nights. Back then we had the Met Sports Center out in Bloomington and the St. Paul Civic Center in St. Paul. They came to the Twin Cities and played the Met Center show first, and being an earnest young critic, I pointed out what I thought of the show. I said that Plant lacked feeling and concentration on a sloppy version of "Stairway to Heaven."
The next day at the St. Paul Civic Center, Plant had apparently read my review, which appeared in the Minneapolis Star, which was then the afternoon paper. He didn't mention me by name, but he made a few choice comments and addressed some of the things I said in my review, and they ended up pretty much kicking butt that night. I don't know if it was my review or they were in better spirits.
Do you remember what he said specifically?
No, I just remember it was something we couldn't print in the paper.
What have been some of the other times you've been called out onstage by an artist?
It's happened many other times. With Prince, I had written a story about Michael Jackson at the Motown Anniversary Show where Michael Jackson did the moonwalk for the first time, and I talked about what a dazzling dancer he is. I think it was at the Minnesota Music Awards out at the old Carleton Celebrity Room where Prince said, "Watch these moves, Jon Bream," because I'd just had that story about Michael Jackson.
He called you out by name because you were one of the first people to cover him, weren't you?
Yeah. I was in the studio with him when he was recording his first album. He's called me out a few times on stage. During the Purple Rain tour in 1984, there were five shows in the St. Paul Civic Center, and I had a different seat every night, and one night I had sixth row center on the main floor and he nailed me with the squirt gun guitar. And afterwards he went backstage and told all the people, "Got Bream! Got Bream!"
Was that playful or was he angry about something?
A little bit of both, but probably more playful than angry.
I heard you got banned from Prince shows for a time. Is that true?
He had me removed from a concert at Glam Slam, which he owned, shortly after my review of Graffiti Bridge came out. And there were other times when he wouldn't allow access the way you'd traditionally allow press access, so sometimes I'd have to buy tickets.
Have things smoothed over since then?
I haven't talked to him in years, but I don't think there's a problem. The problem was always from his end, not my end. The last time he said anything verbally to me was when I went to a press conference for the Emancipation album out at Paisley Park. I'd been invited by someone who worked at Best Buy, but didn't know until I got there that it was a Best Buy-only presentation. He played a half dozen songs, and then walked out from the control room and said, "Anyone have any questions?" And there was complete silence in the room. And then he said, "Well surely, Jon, you have a question. I see you sitting back there." So I asked a question which was something about the recording deal he had. He answered the question quickly, and said, "We'll have to get together and talk soon and bury the hatchet." And I was thinking, "Bury the hatchet?" I didn't even know there was a feud here.
We haven't talked since then. I did see him in his Vegas show last year, and the second night, I was standing in the audience and I realized he was going to walk right by me. He was singing as he was walking through the audience and I was standing on these little steps near the back of the room, and I knew he was going to walk right by me. So I'm going to tap him on the shoulder so he'll maybe look up and make eye contact with me, I don't expect him to say anything because he's singing. So just as he gets to me, I reach out to tap him on the left shoulder, and his left hand comes out and clasps, and shakes my hand left-handed, and just kept walking, never raised his head. I have no idea if he knew it was me, or just any other fan there.