Jonny Podellwas oncethe hottest agent in rock, a lunatic legend as large as Keith Moon with a tasteof drugs to rival Keith Richards. Among the numerous Hall ofFame artists Podell represented includes the Allman Brothers Band, Alice Cooper, George Harrison, John Lennon, Blondie, LouReed, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant. He collaborated with long-time friend Bill Graham to put together the historic 1974 trek by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young — the first stadium concert tour ever -- selling out 50,000 seats in every city and establishing a new way to present rock ‘n’ roll. But ten years later Podell got so high he hit rock bottom. After losing everything including his family, job, home and nearly his life, he crawled back to the top with the Podell Agency which serves spiritualteachers, artists, writers and healers worldwide. Boy Scout talked to Podell, the ultimate rock androll survival act, about making love, mediation, and Muhammad Ali.
Boy Scout: If you arrived in New York City in 2019 filled with great ambition, how might you ascend to your artistic summit?
Jonny Podell: Lead a meditation of 2 billion people minimum, move forward the conscious revolution, and bring light to New York City and the world.
Boy Scout: The late Harry Dean Stanton believed “Everything is predestined. Nothing is important. Life is an illusion. It’s all a movie. Nobody’s in charge” which is lovingly referred to as his Appreciation of Nothing. Do you have a guiding life philosophy that keeps you on the path?
Jonny Podell: My guiding light, I like to call my moral compass… Also, a hero of mine, also one of the three most important men in my life… was Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali taught me several things, and one of which when I asked him how it felt to be the most famous man in the world, and how it felt to be The Greatest… and I told him I bought it all. I bought the whole story… and with the panoramic sweep of his hands… we were in my office, he came to me to ask me to represent him because he had no way to make money anymore because he has given up his right to fight… (famous story). And with a panoramic sweep of his hands around my gold records and platinum records, he said “Well, you obviously know what fame is and being on top” but he said “The measure of the man is…” and I leaned in because I knew I was about to hear a lesson. He said “The measure of the man is what you do when you get knocked on your ass.”
And I'm pretty sure in my deepest, darkest moments of my drug addiction, when maybe I had been up for a three day run, and then woke up in like some junkies basement pad… I remember this one day “God, I can't do this anymore” and I immediately saw pictures in my head of my two children and I couldn't let that happen. But I wonder if this strength inside came from my hero, my idol, “it's what do you do when you get knocked on your ass,” that gave me the courage to get up for one more round?
And then later on, six and a half years ago, he furthered my education with a quote that I own heard then but I think it's been around forever, and it was “Service to others is our rent for being on the planet” and I would say those two things, “It's what you do when you get knocked on your ass,” not what you do with you're on top and “Service to humanity is our rent for being here,” I think those are the two things that guide me every day.
Boy Scout:From the outset you have lived hand to heart creating some of the most interesting sights and sounds in modern music. Can you describe the act of creating such powerful guidance?
Jonny Podell: In order for me to work successfully, and do what I do well, when on occasion I hope I've done things well, I always first and foremost had to be inspired and then I need to be excited. They're similar but they're not the same. And then with that enthusiasm, which I'm told I have some, I would go forth, and with a little, healthy sprinkling of ego, try to make these experiences memorable, joyful, and remarkable. The only difference was in music, I really didn't have a higher cause that I knew of at that time. It was pre my awakening. It was just about creating a magic moment, because I've been told I'm very childlike, and we all chosen love magic. So, trying to create magic.
In the in the arena, in the world on the now of consciousness, spirituality, and serving humanity, I'm more focused. The intention is always for it to be fun, Deepak Chopra one of the four principles, he says he lives by every day, is that is to have a lightness of being, so I try to maintain a lightness of being, because I believe it's easier to get the message across if it's laced and sprinkled with humor and lightness of being.
I once said to Bill Graham, the famous rock impresario who almost created the business of rock and roll, and owned the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West, I said to him “I don't understand why you would put Dizzy Gillespieto open for The Rolling Stones, or the great vibe player who’s name was Lionel Hamptonto open for The Who, and he leaned in and he taught me a life lesson, he says “Well, you got to give them the steak and then you make them eat the vegetables.”
So, I believe when trying to help wake people up, help people see the light, help people help me, help you. If they're having fun… if they don't know they're being taught something, if they're being hit blindsided by the truth I believe when they leave an event, that let's say I've create or be part of, they've had a great time --- When they leave, I'd like to believe that they would say to each other “That was fun! Oh! Let's do that again,” ….”Hmm, did you hear what he says about such and such?”And so, but the key you know, there's a famous quote… I got to tell you something, there's a famous quote I've now adopted it to be my own. My wife says “you can't plagiarize” but I do! And, it's some little story of when I was five years old. My mother taught me that happiness was the key to life.
When I later went to school, the teacher asked me “What I want to be when I grow up?” I wrote down “happy,” she said “I don't think you understand the exercise,” I said “I don't think you understand life.” Now, I think that sums up who I am, and what I do. It’s just now there's a real purpose to it.
Boy Scout: You were one the hottest agent in rock, a lunatic legend as large as Keith Moon with a taste of drugs to rival Keith Richards. But ten years later you hit bottom before crawling back to the top to create the Podell Agency which represents spiritual teachers, artists, writers and healers worldwide. You are the ultimate rock and roll survival act. What feelings does this life arc elicit in you?
Jonny Podell: When I think of my life past, present, reflect. What I was doing in music and now, what I'm doing in consciousness and serving humanity is: “Grateful… Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful…” and you know, not everybody's had a chance, the chance that I've had. Yes, you know, I rose to the top in rock and roll, and as quickly, and meteorically as I rose up, I crashed and burned due to my relationship with drugs.
And so very, very grateful that I'm here. That I'm breathing. That somebody cares enough to interview me, and ask me my opinions. Grateful, that I was able to see the light, have a spiritual awakening to remember some of the messages I got. And the gratitude is what drives me. Because I believe, when six-and-a-half years ago, I had relapsed after many years, 20-years of no rehab. And due to a simple operation on my hand … but with the prescription pain pills, it was a slippery slope … and it took me down emotionallyas deep as my cinematic bottom that was so widely covered in the mid-80s. And when I was there, is when I had my awakening. But I had no idea when I walked up those steps… I felt like I was in 100… I felt like life with the spirit was over. And that I would just, you know, kind of play out my life as an old man with two grandchildren and to be grateful for that.
I had no idea what was in store for me. I had no idea that I would be able to start another family. I currently have a 20 month old in addition to grown children, grown grandchildren, everybody gets along... Many survivors of drugs who were also successful, have come back. And come back through an awakening. And it's just wonderful. It allows me to bring my experience to others, and some wisdom I've obtained, and still be hopefully energetic enough, enthusiastic enough, inspired enough, and vibrant enough, to bring the message. To bring the light to others.
Boy Scout:From the Bowery Boys to Lenny Bruce, there is something innately important about troublemakers who aspire. In finding your way with little in your pockets, was desperation ever a great motivator for you?
Jonny Podell: Desperation was a definite motivator for me… it's a definite motivator for everybody. But you know, when I ran out of money and was addicted… someone's desperate to get drugs… I used all my guile, all my wits, all my endurance, all my strength, everything to get, what I needed to get. So desperation… you have to hang on to your clean life your sobriety with the desperation of the man being from a life preserver. If one could imagine being in the ocean, choppy waters, and somebody throws you a life preserver, you cling to it, like life. And I think in many ways… it's really interesting… in many ways. So my desperation drove me to get what I needed to get what I needed to get it (drugs), and when I when I saw the light, a different light, or maybe the same light of sobriety, the only way to survive, was to be desperate. And to do the things that a sober man has to do to get, and then stay sober. Which includes passing it on. Passing on so freely what we've been given so freely. So yeah, desperation. Desperation is a great …. and several other times… yeah, I hit rock-bottom a couple times … desperation was the impetus, and the Muhammad Ali quote, was the impetus for me to start my way back.
Boy Scout: Anthony Bourdain’s wrenching “Parts Unknown” finale takes place in New York’s lower East Side where a good deal of your history resides. In that episode, Lydia Lunch says: “People were beautiful, doing things because they had to do it—not because of any other grand idea. Happiness was not the goal; satisfaction was the goal, as it still is. . . . We had to do something because we were burning; our blood was on fire.” Lunch made very clear that in the present day, she wastes no time pining for that bygone time—but Bourdain seemed a little more wistful. As a cultural significant, are you ever wistful for an older, grittier New York?
I tend to live in the present. Either I have a bad memory, or I’m just in denial… but I don't look back. if I would say anything about New York then and New York now? I like New York better when it wasn't corporatized. So, using Duane Reade just as an example… it's not like they're the bad guys… when a drug store was a drug store, and convenience store was a convenience store, a newsstand was a newsstand, and the Fillmore East was the Fillmore East… and it wasn't about how much money, and scalping tickets you know to see Madonna or Lady Gaga… it was simpler. I did enjoy the grit without knowing it at the moment. I've evolved with the times, because I think in order to be successful in all the meanings of success, you have to move with the times. If you're going to spend your life talking about “Ah, life is so better before we had this stupid Apple phone.” Yes, in many ways, no in many ways. But life has moved forward and you have to move with it.
So, no I don't really look back. But let’s say, I do look back and just go it was a blast. It was a blast, it was fun, people that aren't my age, many wish they were there then. You know, it was a defining moment in American history. It was the perfect storm of events. It was hippies versus hard hats, the birth of rock and roll, the birth of safe sex, birth control pills, the birth of what we thought drugs… the drug revolution… we didn't know about addiction. We thought addiction was shooting heroin. We thought cocaine was safe. We thought all these things were safe… and at that moment of the perfect storm of politics, of music and art, of drugs (for better and worse), for free love, “Make Love, Not War,” it was a moment that I am so thrilled I experienced. And one that may happen again. I mean everything might happen again, but it was a magical moment. And so, the gritty part of New York played a big part of that I guess. But I don't really … I don't think I look back wistfully.
Boy Scout: The last couple of years has seen a country divided. Has the current political climate inhibited or infused your sensibility?
Jonny Podell: I happened to be giving a talk. I asked everybody at the end of the talk to indulge me in a meditation. And the meditation was called “The Loving-Kindness Meditation,” and I asked everybody to, you know, assume the position. feet on the floor on cross, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, meditators know how to do that. And I led them in the following meditation:
I asked everybody to picture a person that they loved, family, husband, wife, best friend, whatever, and to repeat the words. Finally, what I said out loud: “May you be happy. May you find peace. And as I am, so may you be: free of suffering, of all kinds, in your mind, your body, and your spirit.”
And then I sat. I let them sit with it for like 20-seconds, silently. And then I moved on, I asked everybody to picture everybody in the room. some of whom they knew, some they just met, with their eyes closed and repeat the same meditation: “May you be happy. May you find peace. And as I am, so may you be free of suffering in your mind, body and spirit” and then I said every person in your contact list or your family, friends, we repeated it. Every person in your city, we repeated it. Every person in the world was now spreading the light … you could feel it in the room… and I said, now we're going to go to a hard one. Picture a person you don't likepicture person love scorned. You got fired, you got screwed out of an apartment, you got stolen from. See that person. With that same energy “may you be happy, may you find peace, and as I am so may you be free of suffering in your mind, your body, and your spirit” and I let that sit. Then I said and one more. I want everybody to picture Donald Trump. I know we all know what he looks like. He’s in the news every day. (I've known him or met him several times, done business) and I said, just follow me, and repeat the same exercise, “may be happy, may you find peace, and as am I, so may you be free of suffering, your mind, your body, and your spirit.”
I can feel it right now. And I let it sit for 30-seconds. I invite everybody to open their eyes, and come back to the room, and open it up for questions and answers. But before we begin, I said to everybody, the reason I did this, and I said I don't want to get into politics here it’s not what this talk was about… but using Donald Trump as an example --probably for most of us in the room-- a very unpopular cause right now…
I said the idea: “You can't fight hate with hate,” You can't fight darkness with darkness. So when you go into your room tonight, your apartment, your home …and you trip over the baby's toy in a dark apartment… you go “oh shit, oh shit” you didn't bring light to the room. So I believe, and I'm requesting, and it's obviously gotten harder these last two years, to try to bring love and light the Donald Trump. He was created in the same way we were. Somewhere things went amuck, many of us believe, but hating, fighting with sticks and stones is not going to get anywhere. So I believe we need to fight darkness with light and that was the purpose of the meditation. And when it was over, you know, went around the room, and everybody really had been moved -- and that doesn't mean they didn't go home and saw something on CNN and got you know hateful again -- but I believe this is the ending, or the completion, of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I don't think it failed, I don't think it didn't succeed. I think it is now completing, and the light is here, and the world is waking up, and before it does—There was much darkness we see all over the world. An example I like to give is, if I get invited to your house, that day, I'm in the neighborhood, “Can I come over?” “Yeah, love to have you, come on over”and say “What do you want to drink? Water? I don't have much here”you say “I’ll have water”and you say; “Okay, well let me rinse out my mug where I had coffee”and so you rinse it out. and then you open a bottle of Poland Spring water and you pour the water in. No matter how much you rinse it out the water at the beginning is not totally clear. Because there's still some coffee grinds on the bottom that rise to the top to make room for the clear water. To make room for the light. And that's what I believe is happening now.
Boy Scout:In a media mad world, can sincerity still be a virtue?
Jonny Podell: Sincerity and authenticity… and although they're probably not synonymous, I believe they're of the same energy. Sincerity and authenticity always have a place. Because that's the truth, that's the truth, that's who we are. Regardless of media spins, regardless and seeing other people yet away with stuff without it. At the end of the day, you know, all we have when we're gone, is how did we affect other people? What affect did we have? Where did we make a difference? Where did we inspire? Yes, so regardless of the media's attempt at “the spin” and to the point it's gotten absurd, it may just be more of this darkness. Kind of making their last stand. Because I guess that's what I believe. I believe its darkness his last stand. The Beast. The Devil. Kabbalah calls it “The Opponent,’ you know, they see the light, and they're not going down without a fight. And part of the fight, of the light warriors the soldiers of the light, is sincerity and authenticity.
And at the end of the day we can all understand sincerity and authenticity, and I think it affects people. You know, it's funny, sincerity and authenticity, you almost don't have to explain. I'll bet you if I was having conversation… I just met somebody from Brazil… and, you know, they speak pretty good English, and they were very bright… I'll bet you if they didn’t actually know the definition of sincerity and authenticity, they’d understand what it meant. The same way, you know, when my son was four, my son Cassidy, we were walking along and I said “I gotta stop in the drugstore to get something, to get some medicine”and he said “Why?”and said “I have heartburn” he said “Wait, is your heart burning”and I said “Well, no” and he said “Well, how do you know you have heartburn?”and then “that's a very good question.”You just know when you have heartburn” and just that's the knowing. You know you have heartburn. The word “heartburn” doesn't even really describe it. It's in your stomach. In your chest. Well sincerity and authenticity there will always be a place. And without it. we're going down. Without it, the darkness wins. So, sincerity and authenticity are really tools-- they're bullets in the belt of the light.
Boy Scout:What has fatherhood taught you?
Jonny Podell: Fatherhood has taught me … I’m going to start to cry… Fatherhood has taught me the meaning of love. The meaning of unconditional love. The meaning of joy. You know, I've had a very colorful life as most people attest to, you know, sex drugs and rock and roll, and now my awakening. And Sex, drugs and rock and roll, we all assume part of that is “thrills.” So, most people would say “Okay, what's your greatest thrill? Was it being on the Starship with Jimmy Page? Just you and him flying across country in their own private 747 Jumbo Jet? Was it this with Mick Jagger? Was it this with Jimi Hendrix?”and this is really I consider a very profound statement, and it's true, and I constantly make it: The greatest thrills of my life, bar none, including the highs of drugs, before it got bad, when it was good, and you’ve seen God, and “Oh my God! I love everyone,” …The greatest thrills in my life have been associated with Fatherhood.
The greatest thrills in my life have been associated with fatherhood and it's really all I can say. They’ve taught me, and now I’ve had a chance to be it again with my 20 month old son Joaquim, and I probably cry three times a week. We just look at each other, and we understand, and it’s heart to heart. It's actually more beautiful even with an infant than when they grow because so much of your communication, if your present, is heart to heart. Because they don't understand every word you say. And you sure as hell don't understand anything they say. So, the communication is heart the heart and it's about sincerity and authenticity.
Boy Scout:What is your greatest fear?
Jonny Podell: My greatest fear has always been a long-term imprisonment. I don't know why. That's my boogeyman. My wife's greatest fear for example is drowning. Fear of water. Some people, many I would say people are scared of dying an unpleasant death or a painful death. So, my greatest fear, over the years, is losing my freedom. I don't mean overnight being arrested like I used it when I was stupid, and, you know, getting arrested to drugs, or disturbing the peace, but long-term imprisonment, the loss of freedom, is so frightening. That's why meditation is so helpful. Because in those 20-minutes, or 20-minutes twice a day, you have alone with yourself. The way you would be behind the walls of the prison. But it still would scare me. And it still would be my boogeyman. But I would say now there's an additional fear. I don't like to use the word “fear, but the fear is that I won't get done what I promised God I would do. Because in that rehab that I told you about, I believe it was a crossroads, like the famous story in Blues, about Robert Johnson, the great blues player in the 30s going to the crossroads to meet the devil. And supposedly he said “teach me to play the guitar like no one ever has” and the devil supposedly said “Fine, but I got your soul.”
Well, if that rehab, that I was at six years ago, I believe God came to me and said “I will save you a skinny, sorry, pathetic, white Jewish ass, one last time but you're working for me” and I take it very seriously. And when four o'clock comes a lot of days and I'm walking, and I say “I haven't done anything to make a difference today I didn't help one person, who can I call, what can I do?”You know, we all we all make foxhole prayers but then we forget real quick. I don't forget. So, I guess my biggest fear is that I won't accomplish the meditation of two billion people. And I won't accomplish you know waking up the world.
Boy Scout:How would you like to be remembered?
Jonny Podell: I'd like to be remembered as a man who made a difference in people's lives. I'd like to be remembered as a man that touched people, eased their pain, made them smile, and gave them a little hope.