Five weeks after I first met with John Helms, we got together again, this time for lunch at the latest and least appealing version of the venerable Cliff House in San Francisco, an increasingly up-scale eatery perched at the edge of the Pacific. The new Cliff House was a solid, stark and plain structure that reminded me of a concrete bunker overlooking Omaha Beach in 1945. But inside the building’s unimposing exterior, the view outside was quite imposing.
I don’t remember what John and I talked about during lunch, but I do remember standing and shivering outside the Cliff House in a stiff, fog-swirling wind afterwards and John asking me if I would be available the following morning to participate in a conference call with him and the estate’s lawyer. I would be and said so.
It was a real, real long phone call…over two hours…and a somewhat disturbing one. John said very little during the three-way call, which soon turned into an interrogation by The Lawyer about my background, my writing credits and so forth. At some point, The Lawyer said he needed to see samples of my work and I got really pissed off, which is not something I do very often. I mean, Chet never asked me a single question about my writing background and now this lawyer needed writing samples? He wasn’t a literary agent or an editor, he was a lawyer. Although I’ve never considered myself to be anything more than a competent, serviceable writer, I was deeply offended by the notion of The Lawyer judging my worth.
I felt as though I had become enmeshed in a Kafka novel. This was real, but it didn’t make any real sense. Not to me.
After more Kafkaesque discussion, I finally agreed to send The Lawyer a copy of an Eddie Money profile I had written for Rolling Stone about 15 years earlier. A day or two later, I dutifully dispatched the material to The Lawyer’s office, tried to put my desire to write Chet’s biography out of my mind and resumed my regular life.
This whole thing had become too weird for me and I was done with it. Finito, man.
That’s what I told myself anyway, but deep in my heart I knew it wasn’t true. I wanted to write Chet’s story: I needed to write Chet’s story.
Then, on September 19, 2005, 10 days after our lunch at the Cliff House, John Helms sent me an email. He said he wanted me to write his brother’s biography and that he was planning to contact several of his cousins and ask them to cooperate with me.
Problem solved, right?