“I had an older brother — 11½ years older than I —who was a hippy,” the 51-year-old Squirrel Hill native recalled. “So when I was 7 years old, my favorite song was “Born to Be Wild.” I got indoctrinated early.”
In fact, he got indoctrinated many times over.
He recalls watching the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He grew up playing bass guitar. And when he graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1982, he landed a job on the Detroit Free Press covering the music scene — everything from Motown to Kid Rock.
These days, Graff is known for his books. He has 11 titles to his credit, the most recent, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Myths: The True Stories Behind the Most Infamous Legends,” which he co-authored with friend and collaborator Daniel Durchholz, came out in May from Voyageur Press.
Now, after 30 years in Detroit, Graff has come home. He was in Pittsburgh this week to accept indoctrination into the Taylor Allderdice High School Alumni Hall of Fame. The ceremony was held Thursday, Oct. 11.
In addition to Graff, the other inductees were Murray Chass, Douglas Holloway, Henry Mankin, Evan Wolfson, and Bonita (Bunny) Morris.
Graff, who wrote for the Free Press until the Detroit newspaper strike of 1995, is now a freelance journalist whose work appears in many publications, including Billboard. He has also written for the Detroit Jewish News.
In his latest book, Graff is mining the wealth of pop culture that has grown up around rock ‘n’ roll music since its earliest days
“The idea here was to create a fun talker kind of book,” Graff said, “to take a bunch of classic rock ‘n’ roll pop music stories and write about whether they’re true or not.”
• Paul McCartney is alive (true).
• Gene Simmons — an Israeli — had a cow tongue transplant (false).
• KISS stands for Knights in Satan’s Service (false).
“That’s kind of the philosophy of the book,” Graff said of these offbeat stories. “Rock is so much bigger than life and, of course, over 50 years, it’s created these great myths around it. We still don’t’ know how Brian Jones [of the Rolling Stones] died around in 1969.”
Many of the myths he writes about touch on Satanism, but not because Satanism is part of rock ‘n’ roll.
“It was the conservative attempt to debunk rock ‘n’ roll, which they felt was corrupting youth,” Graff said, “This was their tool.”
In fact, Satanism has cropped into the stories going all the way back to the origins of the Delta Blues — a forbearer of rock ‘n’ roll — when Robert Johnson, a Blues legend, was said to have gone down to the crossroads of the Mississippi Delta and made a pact with the Devil in return for his incredible talent.
“I’ve been to the crossroads and nobody in a spike tail and horns has ever approached me,” Graff said, “but it’s a great story.”
Asked if his book might appeal to Jewish readers, Graff, who once interned at the Chronicle, sounded hopeful.
“It might,” he said. “There’s nothing you would put a hechsher on, even though we have a little about KISS and Brian Epstein (the Beatles’ producer). This is not the book of Jewish rock myths, but there are many entry points to draw in Jewish readers. The Jewish audience is very educated, very knowledgeable about its music consumption.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)