Peter Hartlaub, the pop culture writer for the Chronicle is doing a feature on what it meant to be mentioned in the Herb Caen column in the same paper.
I told Hartlaub that a Caen mention was the equivalent of a young comic getting a shot on the Johnny Carson show. And depending on the length of the mention, a shot at the couch. A Carson thumbs-up might have included the ultimate: Johnny asking you to come over and chat a little on the Tonight Show panel.
Caen cache, particularly on the local SF PR/social scene was not only big, but great for business. A restaurant plug was magic, (just ask the folks who ran Tadich); an endorsement of a politician was political nirvana, (call John Garamendi and Willie Brown).
And yes, I had the pleasure of making Herb's column a few times. It carried significant weight. It was like instantaneous wow and legitimacy. It sure helped too to get that good seat at the Venetian Room when seeing a show.
Here's a story involving me that made Caen's radar. I was interviewing George Benson after a performance of his at the Oakland Paramount in 1988. At the same time, BB King was in the middle run of a two-week stint at the Fairmont. I knew the PR lady at the Venetian Room and suggested how great it would be to get Benson to show up and jam with Mr. King during a late show. A surprise. Of course, that was predicated on Benson agreeing to perform after his Oakland gig. I asked Benson. He said he'd be thrilled. So after the interview, we all made a trip across the bridge over to the Fairmont and Benson sat in the packed room. Word was relayed to BB that Benson was in the room. After a brief nod, Benson went up on stage near the end of the cocktail show and he and BB King jammed together for twenty or so minutes. The crowd went wild. Lucille, (King's guitar mate name), was enthralled.
A few days later, Caen noted the event. And he made sure to mention that I was involved in the Benson-King impromptu show. Was I juiced? Dang right! A story and event that I'll never forget, and oh, by the way, the show was a killer. You should have been there.
The greatest thing about Caen was his ability to write a massive thousand words or so six days a week. Sure, he had helpers, but he still had to knock out a piece. Day after day. And yes, his love affair with Willie was occasionally boorish but still entertaining. And yes, Caen never had to lift his wallet out while dining in a nice restaurant, but hell, everybody was in on it and nobody seemed to care. If Caen said you were good, the ensuing throng more than made up for Caen's comp. It was part of the program.
I had a chance to meet Mr. Caen at Tadich one day; shortly before he died in 1997. He was charming, overly-friendly, and made a point of mentioning how "persistent" I was at calling in to his assistant, Carole Vernier. I told Caen it was because you "always complain you need items!" So there! Laughter. And a handshake from the captain of vitamin V and shreaded wheat. Now that was cool.
Still miss you, Mr. Caen. There is, to this day, nobody like you.
*Follow me on Twitter