Larry Magid is a quiet guy.
He's not crazy about shining the spotlight on himself. Rather than use the words "I" or "me" when he talks about his Electric Factory Concerts, he always says "we" — even if some of the people he's referring to are out of the business or, God forbid, retired.
After more than four decades of producing the biggest live rock shows Philadelphia has ever witnessed (the world, too, if you count 1985's Live Aid and 2005's Live 8), Magid’s put together a new coffee-table book, My Soul's Been Psychedelicized: Electric Factory — Four Decades in Posters and Photographs (Temple University Press, May 25). The thick volume is stuffed with snaps of all the rockers who made their bones in Philly after co-founder Magid opened his Electric Factory live club in 1968. There are 200 pages of one-of-a-kind posters generated for events at the Spectrum, Bijou, Tower, every iteration of the now-Wells Fargo Center, his second Electric Factory club space and more. The book is visually impressive, a work of art itself.
Yet on the day we sit down for a chat in his new office in the Piazza at Schmidts, Magid is more interested in talking about playing baseball as a kid on 59th Street, or adopting his dog, Midnight, than about Psychedelicized. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
In a room dotted with old posters (he's put on tours for artists like Bette Midler and Richard Pryor), a Tony Award for Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays (he’s helped birth more than two dozen Broadway plays) and a few personal tokens (like the 20-gallon hat Bob Dylan gave him), Magid says he's lived his life and run his business organically. "I let things happen. I haven't necessarily pursued things. I let things pursue me." He smiles. "That’s a great way to be. Unless things don’t go your way."
Psychedelicized is a great example of something Magid never thought to go after on his own. "I couldn't see how anybody would want to read a book about my life," he says. "You have a life and some success, but the idea of sharing that story is difficult. Bill Graham [a fellow legendary concert promoter] wrote a book, and it's very interesting. But much of his family was wiped out in WWII, and he escaped a concentration camp. That's a life. I just escaped West Philly."
Then there was the idea of writing uncomfortable things. A book about sex, booze and drugs or anything salacious wasn't only distasteful to Magid, it was passé. "Kiss-and-tell memoirs were shocking maybe 30 years ago. So-and-so did drugs. There was a girl backstage. Who cares?"
Plus, that wasn’t ever his lifestyle. "I may forget my keys," he laughs, "but the absence of drugs in my life is why I remember everything."
Psychedelicized was born during a Temple University luncheon in honor of Lew Klein, one of the guys who started Bandstand in Philly. There, Magid met Temple's publishing army, and discussions about a book ignited. "I thought about a history of the company, the people who helped build it and how we changed the landscape of Philly’s future."
Magid recalls that when he, the Spivaks (Allen, who stayed Magid's partner for years; Jerry and Herb, for a while less) and Shelly Kaplan (who got out of the music biz more than 30 years ago) opened the first Factory in 1968, this was still a Quaker city where you couldn't get a drink on a Sunday. "That's a worthy story," Magid says, "that we were a centerpiece to the counterculture here. It was happening all over the world and wasn't going to stop, but we might have been the catalytic agent in Philly. We were part of freeing up opportunities, the first restaurant renaissance, the buildup of Center City, that business model. Watching a city change around you was truly something to be part of."
As one of the first live rock clubs in the area, the Electric Factory helped bring Philly kicking and screaming into the 20th century. "I thought talking about what the city was like at that time, and our role in it, would be interesting," says Magid, who penned 13,000-plus words for the book himself. But it's not just the entertaining asides, it's the sociology of it all that gives Psychedelicized real substance.
"That's what I like in my music, as well — depth," says Magid. "A great pop song is essential. But give me something with depth and you've captured my interest. … I was young enough then and old enough now to see the changes. Zappa. Hendrix. Lady Gaga. It was all about rebellion."
Speaking of which, Magid also felt it was important to discuss how the Electric Factory fought the law — and won. "We beat City Hall," he says enthusiastically, recalling when, in 1968, then-Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo tried to close the club, at the time located at 22nd and Arch. Maybe it was because there were blacks and white dancing together. Maybe it was the mass of kids lined around 22nd Street waiting to get in, dressed as shaggily as the musicians they were there to see. But in the end, there wasn't any trouble to warrant police interaction.
"I don't think we ever had a fight inside or outside of the club," recalls Bobby Startup, a former Factory stage manager, who kept a Nikon in his sound booth so he could snap photos. There were others taking pictures, too. Some worked for Magid. Some, kids like Eric Bazilian and Michael Lessner, showed up with their cameras simply because they loved rock 'n' roll. Each wound up continuing on in the business, in various professional capacities.
One morning, when Magid woke up to the idea that the Electric Factory had truly done something worth documenting, he began to dig through the archives for historic posters that are, along with decades of concert photographs, part of the legend. But not everything survived. Some personal items, given to him by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, have been given away. And many of Magid's original artist contracts got lost in a flood at the old Electric Factory offices on Vine Street.
But the memories remain clear — and not just on his end. One contract that survived the flood is between Magid and an agent representing a then-unknown Simon & Garfunkel, whom Magid booked for a Penn State show with The Four Seasons. "I brought that up to Paul Simon not so long ago," he says, "and he remembered the whole thing."
Though My Soul's Been Psychedelicized is about looking back, it's also about the future. For Magid, when it comes to running Electric Factory Concerts, there’s no slowing down. He's like a shark. "Stopping would be a death sentence."
But the book is, in his mind, a template for whoever enters the arena after he's done. "That wasn’t a part of the process, but it is part of the book — that the next person who wants to make and take this business tends to it with respect."