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The Hit Factory: New York's Brill Building

David Kamp, Vanity Fair, November 2001

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I spent much of 2001 interviewing the songwriters, machers, and artists of the Brill Building era for this oral history. It was the most joyous reportorial experience I've ever had… Sitting in Ellie Greenwich's Chelsea apartment as she overflowed with Joan Rivers-like zingers… Listening, agog, to the divorced but still friendly Carole King and Gerry Goffin recall their songwriting and romantic partnership at King's house in L.A. … Spending an afternoon in the upstairs section of the New York theater-district restaurant Joe Allen with Shadow Morton, who was basically what you'd get if Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman's Midnight Cowboy characters had a baby together… Discovering Walter Becker and Neil Diamond to be way more welcoming and convivial than I'd expected them to be… Having lunch with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller at Leiber's place in Venice Beach while the two men lovingly prepared deli sandwiches together, a ritual they had clearly honed over several decades. As it happened, the documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville (later to win an Oscar for 20 Feet from Stardom) was working on a Brill Building TV series at the same time that I was doing this story, and we had a mutal friend. So Morgan and I met and decided to pool our resources, offering each other copies of our transcripts. The Mary Weiss, Little Eva, and Jerry Wexler interviews come courtesy of him, as do some supplemental comments from King and Goffin.

As this article was being readied for publication, the Twin Towers fell, two miles due south of my Greenwich Village home. In our collective state of grief and horror, we Vanity Fair editors and writers considered shelving this article and all others commissioned for that year's Music Issue. But Graydon Carter, V.F'.s chief, ultimately decided to go ahead with the issue. We rallied to report and put out a separate, special 9/11 issue that was published concurrently with the November 2001 issue. And we learned that, in the big picture, readers still want their pleasure reading, no matter what else is happening in the world.


Total word count of piece: 12453


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