|Born||February 14, 1950|
Berkeley, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Music critic, music journalist|
|Subject||Pop music, rock music|
Joel Selvin (born February 14, 1950) is an American San Francisco-based music critic and author known for his weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle, which ran from 1972 to 2009. Selvin has written books covering various aspects of pop music--including the No. 1 New York Times best-seller Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock with Sammy Hagar--and has interviewed many musical artists. Selvin has published articles in Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, Billboard, and Melody Maker, and has written liner notes for dozens of recorded albums. He has appeared in documentaries about the music scene and has occasionally taken the stage himself as a rock and roll singer.
Selvin was born in Berkeley, California. He has stated that he failed to graduate with his Berkeley High School class of 1967. He moved to San Francisco and was hired as a copy boy at the San Francisco Chronicle. Selvin soon wangled a backstage pass for a show at The Fillmore and submitted his first piece to the Chronicle's Sunday Datebook in 1969. Selvin left the Chronicle for a brief, unsuccessful effort in undergraduate studies at the University of California, Riverside where he wrote for the school paper. Returning to San Francisco, he wrote a review of First Step by the Faces for Rolling Stone, published in May 1970.
In 1972, Selvin was hired as an assistant to Chronicle music critic John L. Wasserman, and began to write for both the daily and the Sunday newspaper issues, filing reviews of local shows with rock and roll as well as rhythm and blues performances. When Wasserman died in 1979, Selvin picked up the reins of the Chronicle's pop music coverage. A half year later, one of Selvin's more infamous pieces ran about Bob Dylan's first concert in San Francisco after his conversion to Christianity. In his piece entitled "Bob Dylan's God-Awful Gospel", Selvin wrote:
Genius may be pain, but this guy is not feeling any pain. Anesthetized by his new-found beliefs, Dylan has written some of the most banal, uninspired and inventionless songs of his career for his Jesus phase. He cannibalized melodies from some of his earlier songs to give the new ones their strongest moments.
In 1994, Selvin began managing other pop music staff writers, directing and overseeing their assignments, and editing their contributions, all while continuing to contribute his own reports.
Selvin reviewed music for the Chronicle for more than three decades.
On May 26, 2009, the Great American Music Hall hosted a retirement party for Selvin featuring appearances by "Big Al" Anderson, Booker T. Jones, Charlie Musselwhite, John Handy, Bonnie Raitt, Al Jardine, Bud E. Luv, Prairie Prince, Chris Isaak and Scott Matthews. Selvin's ex-wife Keta Bill and daughter Carla, both musicians, took part in the celebration. Gibson Guitar Corporation gave Selvin a Gibson SG guitar which was signed by many of the artists present. In January 2014, Selvin was given the Marquee Award for lifetime achievement at the annual San Francisco nightlife awards, the Niteys.
In 1990, Selvin published Ricky Nelson: Idol for a Generation, a biography of Ricky Nelson which was nominated by Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) for the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book award. The book was made into a TV movie entitled Ricky Nelson: Original Teen Idol, released in 1999.
In 2001, Selvin helped Paul Grushkin in authoring for Hard Rock Cafe, a book describing highlights of the restaurant and nightclub chain's extensive collection of rock and roll memorabilia.
In November 2010, Selvin published Smart Ass: The Music Journalism of Joel Selvin, a collection of 40 years of rock and roll reviews, interviews and articles centered on California performances, especially San Francisco Bay Area ones.
His book Peppermint Twist, co-authored with John Johnson Jr. (with Dick Cami), was published in November 2012 by Thomas Dunn/St. Martins Press. This is the secret story of the top Mafia chief behind the New York City nightclub made world-famous by the Twist dance craze.
Selvin also co-authored the autobiography of tattoo artist Ed Hardy, Wear Your Dreams: My Life In Tattoos, for Thomas Dunne in June 2013. He also co-authored with Epic Records chairman L.A. Reid, Sing To Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who's Next, for Harper Collins in 2016.
His Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues, published in April 2014 by Counterpoint Press, was called "a masterpiece of research, writing and investigative literature about one of the most influential and little-known songwriters in rock history" by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
The Haight, his 2014 book with photographer Jim Marshall, was named one of the ten best rock books of the year by Rolling Stone magazine. Gold medal winner--Best Regional Non-Fiction, 2015 West-Pacific IPPY Awards.
In August 2016, Selvin published Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, And The Inside Story Of Rock's Darkest Day, a history on the Rolling Stones' concert debacle at the Altamont Speedway.
His Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter in the Grateful Dead's Long, Strange Trip (with Pamela Turley) is a controversial insiders tell-all account of the twenty years of in-fighting after the death of bandleader Jerry Garcia that preceded the emotional reunion of the "core four" surviving members in historic concerts in California and Chicago in July 2016. The book was published in June 2018 by Da Capo Books. "...smartly steers clear of tie-dyed '60s mysticism," said Washington Post.
Selvin was one of the early members of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock and roll band composed solely of published writers. Their first public appearance was in 1992. Selvin sang as part of the "Critics Chorus" on one cut of the band's recording Stranger Than Fiction, and again joined the chorus for a performance in Bangor, Maine, in May 1998 where reviewer Kev Quigley noted Selvin's 30-second jumping, screaming vocal solo within the band's profanity-filled version of "Louie Louie".
Selvin wrote one of the chapters of the band's book Mid-life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America with Three Chords and an Attitude, published in 1994. Selvin said that "the magic of the Remainders is that they got to be a rock band--a royally treated rock band--without having to play like one."
Selvin has been interviewed several times on camera for documentaries about the music scene. In 2003, Selvin served as a consultant and appeared on screen in the TV movie Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest, covering the subject of the music world's activity in politics. In 2006, Selvin appeared as himself in the four-hour documentary Bob Dylan 1975-1981: Rolling Thunder and the Gospel Years.
For a minute there ... it was real, and we all knew it, and it was in our hearts and in our minds. And if we could've continued to act on that and grow on that, you know, who knows what happens? But we didn't. And what's left is like a ring around the bathtub. You know, it's just a residue of something much greater.
Selvin has taken part in museum events regarding rock and roll memorabilia. In May 1997, he served as featured docent for the San Francisco Sound half of a psychedelic era exhibit of London and San Francisco memorabilia at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
On June 16, 2001, Selvin gave an opening address entitled "What a Long Strange Trip It's Been: Setting the Tone for the Weekend" at the "Monterey Pop Revisited" symposium, a conference assembled in honor of a Monterey, California museum exhibition of memorabilia from the Monterey Pop Festival. Selvin told the audience that "Section 43" recorded in 1965 by Country Joe and the Fish was "the definitive recorded example of genuine acid rock."
Selvin was married to musician Keta Bill with whom he had a daughter, Carla. The couple divorced. Selvin and Keta Bill were active in Thunder Road, a youth-oriented alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. Selvin is an important[clarification needed] contributor to H.E.A.R. and is a board-member-at-large for the Arhoolie Foundation, an organization branched from Arhoolie Records to support "traditional and regional vernacular musics".